I left Fresno at 6am, but it was not early enough. The temperature reached 104 in the city, and I was only starting my climb into the Sierra Nevadas by 10. I was incredibly hot and exposed as I switched to my lowest gears to slog my bike up the winding asphalt. My sun helmet was earning its keep.
I had picked up all the items I'd sent ahead to Fresno, plus my laptop which I had mailed from San Diego. All told, it added about 50 pounds to my bike. It creaked under the strain, and I inevitably snapped a spoke and punctured a tube. It took me an hour to correct the problem on the side of the scorching Highway 180.
As I continued up out of the valley, I was sweating buckets. I quickly ran out of water. I crawled into the tiny town of Squaw Valley (not to be confused with ski lodge near Lake Tahoe) and bought more water from the gas station. I needed the containers. I refilled all my bottles, plus the new bottles, adding another 10 pounds of water to my load.
I only made it a mile or two past SV when I had to stop. I was moving too slow and getting dizzy in the heat. I felt like I was going to pass out. I pulled off onto a dirt side road and laid down in the shade for two hours to let the heat of the day pass.
I had started at about 180 feet elevation that morning, and knew that I'd have to break close to 8,000 before descending to Montecito, so I set a goal to reach 4,000 before camping for the night. Roadside elevation signs marked my progress.
As soon as I passed the sign for 4,000 a lodge came into view. I had actually drank all my water, so I rolled up and asked the owner if I could fill my bottles from the tap. I wanted to camp by the road since I was in the National Forest, but that meant packing in all my food and water myself. The owner told me I was being ridiculous and to pitch my tent on the lodge property behind the cars for free. I filled my bottles with ice-cold water from the cooler. A family even shared some of their dinner with me. It was such an unexpected evening, and definitely better than camping alone.
In the morning I started riding well before dawn to avoid a repeat of the previous day's dehydration. I made it above 6,000 feet and into the entrance for King's Canyon National Park. The man at the gate laughed at my helmet and sweaty clothes, and handed me a temporary employee pass into the park.
The ride through KC was incredible. Every vista warranted a stop and a photo. I exited again into the Sequoia National Forest (confusing, I know) and climbed to my highest point at 7,800 feet: the trailhead for Big Baldy Mountain. From there I coasted downhill to the lodge entrance, took a victory photo, and slowly crept toward the buildings. I went to the front desk and explained who I was, and my new boss was radioed to come meet me. So there I was, out of breath, sunblock running into my bloodshot eyes, filthy clothes, and smelling like a bag of old hockey equipment as I met and shook the hand of my new employer for the first time. I wouldn't want it any other way.
I unpacked in my new cabin, showered, and went to the buffet to feast like a beast. I'm the first of the seasonal employees to arrive, so it's a prettily relaxed environment at the moment. I went down to the bike shop and faced my first challenge. There was a bike with stripped crank arms that needed to be removed to change the chain rings. This may not mean anything to most people, but believe me, it was really hard. The other mountain biking guide and myself found a gear pulley used to take the propeller off of the motor boat, and we made that work. Two victories in one day!
I'll be here for the summer, biking and guiding. It is absolutely beautiful, and I'm definitely in shape for the rides. I'm still getting used to the altitude, but it'll come with time. Staff training starts on Wednesday, so until then I'm getting the fleet of bikes ready for the trails. Life is good.