My last full day, and it is a day of blues sky and wonder. Wake up with the sun hitting the mountainside, perfect skies marked only by vapour trails.
I am properly excited about seeing Yosemite. Despite the fact that it has this mythological status in climbing circles, and I watched movies about the place I have very little idea what to expect.
The road back up to Yosemite follows the Merced river, a great torrent of a river, thundering cascade running into deep swirling pools. There is a park ranger in a booth, with his green uniform. You pay for entry – a $20 one off fee. It feels a bit wrong, but see it more as donation to protect a natural wonder of the world.
Then through the woods you glimpse the mountains beyond. It is a 20mph speed limit, so this is about the scenery and not the ride. Then through the trees you see El Capitan. It isn’t a sight that you would ever forget, but amusing not long after I got back my Mac laptop updated its OS to 10.11 OSX El Capitan. And the desktop has a beautiful picture of exactly this monumental rock face.
It is a legendary granite wall, the testing ground of hard big wall climbing, and famous not just for the quality of the rock but for the quality of the party at the foot of the face in the infamous Camp 4.
The gentleness of the flower filled pastures in the foot of the valley seem incongruous in the shadow of vast near vertical rock faces which rise up from the valley floor. You will take pictures but you will never do justice to the sight. I spotted tiny dots of climbers on the lower pitches, which gave a sense of the massive scale of this endeavour.
There is however this other side to Yosemite, and it was rather summed up by my breakfast. Riding up the road beyond El Capitan you come to Yosemite Village – a small purpose build hamlet with a surprisingly large supermarket, information centre, guide hut and cafe. I thought I would have breakfast there, and I was presented with a recycled paper plate of reheated powder egg and microwaved sausage and bacon and an ‘english’ muffin. Literally the most processed, prepackaged dreadful gastronomic experience of the whole trip.
Yosemite is a wonder of the world and you must see it, but there is something pre packaged and reheated about the whole thing. From the tour busses trundling round a one way system, the pedestrianisation of the high mountains. Perhaps this the price you pay to protect the rest of the natural environment, and it seems churlish to criticise something so utterly wonderful. But the High Sierra are wild mountains. And Yosemite is the opposite of that.
The good news that I picked up in the information centre is that Glacier point road had reopened. I’m sure the best way to see glacier point is by hiking it – that is certainly what they recommend. But this is a road trip. So back on the bike I did another loop of the one way system around the valley and then off to the Glacier point road. It is a long detour, but My Lord it is worth it for the view. I would have hated to do it in a car though. It would have been a long slow crawl behind a queue of other cars.
Glacier point offers the most dramatic views of the Half Dome, the waterfalls and the rest of the valley. Words and even pictures don’t do it justice. Stunning, and justifiably a must see part of the trip and a fitting climax. I lingered here, visited the gift shop and looked at the sort of nonsense souvenirs we buy in order to try an hold on to the intangible.
But I could feel the end drawing near. I might never see these things again but I’m glad I did.
Back down the glacier point road, all that is left is a question about how I make my way back to San Fransisco. I spot Mariposa Grove in the wrong direction, but I don’t want this to come to an end. It is a good ride to a beautiful Sequoia grove. Time spend around giant redwoods is never wasted. But then it is the inevitable return down the mountain and into the valley.
All of a sudden you are confronted with the normality of California. There is nothing romantic about towns like Merced and Modesto. Down here it is properly sultry and hot, and crumbling infrastructure and the tyranny of the automobile are apparent. After so much cold, the heat is actually luxurious and I end up riding in a T-shirt. It is a long ride and the Sunday night Traffic is building rather unpleasantly. Hours later on the outskirts of the bay area Interstate 580 grinds to a halt and tired and hungry I decide to leave the final few miles until the morning and I stop for an excellent 5 Guys Burger and a cheap soulless night in a Motel 6. I was beyond the ability to make better decisions than that.
Up early the next morning for the ride back over the Bay Bridge, I race around the Streets of San Fransisco for one last time and then return the bike to Dubbelju.
I’m stupidly expecting some kind of reception, some triumphant return. But it is just another transaction for them. Unpack the bike, last pat on the fuel tank and call an Uber to take me to the airport.
California. It was worth the wait. It is superb riding country and I hope I get back again some time – I’d like to do route 1 north, I’d like to see those desert hot springs. But if not, then that trip will do me.