Tour de California Day 2: Bonus Shuttle Down Sonora Pass

My buddy Jim Norman and I recently took the DH and XC bikes on an adventure around California. After enjoying some sweet single track on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in South Lake Tahoe, we headed south toward Mammoth. This was the week after Labor Day, and there was zero traffic. The sky was perfectly clear, and the mountains were awesome. On a whim, we decided to hang a right on Highway 108 and check out Sonora Pass, a Sierra crossing near Yosemite.

We drove across an expansive meadow past the USMC Mountain Warfare School. A line of tracked personnel carriers stood ready for winter training. NCOs barked a bunch of soldiers, freshly outpuked by buses, into formation. A shiver reminded me of my first days at military school.

Across the street, a soldier in full camo, wearing a camo Camelbak, carried a spinning rod across the meadow. The dude probably signed up for the Corps in Kansas; now he’s up in the Sierra hunting trout. Good for him.

A few miles into the canyon, we rolled past an open gate, and the road pointed up like a roller coaster. Clank, clank, clank. My AWD GMC Safari van, aka The Panzer, strained up the 12-23% grade. The views were immense, the pavement perfect, the turns sinuous. The road was like black ribbon lain from a roll. I couldn’t possibly drive the van back down.

A road bike with good slick tires would have been perfect, but the Enduro would have to suffice. At the 9,624-foot pass I pumped my 2.4 Mutanoraptors to 65 psi and engaged lockout front and rear. Pedal, pedal and the measly 46×11 was spun. I swooped through a turn, knobs whining, past a red pickup. The 9,000-foot sign whipped by as I laid into a 120-degree left. The knobbies clawed and slipped. I corrected then corrected again.

Swoop, swoop, swoop. This was like a woodsy singletrack, but 5 times faster and totally exposed. I hung a 180-degree right, pedaled past a truck then tucked. Zoooom. Nose on the stem, wind howling, turn impending at 55 mph. I got on the Hayes, hard. The bike dove, and a crazy resonation set in: whoolee whoolee whoolee! Whoa. I let off the brakes, passed the apex and whipped the bike into the turn. My chin drove above my weighted left grip. Side knobs strained at 35 mph.

My front tire hit a rock and skipped 8 inches to the outside. It caught, the lockout blew off and the big meat glommed onto the asphalt. Whew. Maybe the mountain bike was a good thing.

Those 12 minutes broke up the drive nicely. Next stop: Mammoth Mountain DH session.

Mono Lake is a Trippy Place
Mono Lake sits right dab on the eastern side of the Sierra. Water flows in…but it doesn’t flow out. Evaporation has concentrated the minerals to 2 1/2 times the salinity of the ocean. If you go swimming be prepared to float.

Mono LakeBack in the day, calcium in underwater springs reacted with the lake water to form these towers of limestone, called tufa. When L.A. water diversions dropped the lake level, the tufa towers were left high and dry. Here Jim gets to know some brine shrimp and alkali flies, whose sole purpose in life is to be eaten by birds. Yeah, rock and roll!

One of the world's coolest signs.One of the world’s coolest signs.