June 21, 2005 GMT
Yosemite, Sonora Pass, frostbite and Bridgeport

Our plan for the day was to ride into Yosemite National Park, into and back out of Yosemite Valley, the ‘highlight’ of the park, and then cross over the Sierra Nevada mountain range on Highway 120, which runs through the middle of the park.

The road into Yosemite

The first set back came as we entered the park—a notice stated that Highway 120 was closed because of snow and ice. In late June!!! I asked the ranger at the booth if this was really true and she confirmed it. So we were going to have to take another way across. But we put that to one side while we ‘did’ the Valley.

Yosemite river

What a spectacular place! We were lucky with our timing, because all the waterfalls in the park were at their best, with the streams swollen with melt water. And the park was not too full of tourists, as it was still early in the season. We just wandered along the road through the park, riding slowly with our visors open to drink in the smells and the sights, stopping often to take photos. David really is an excellent photographer.

Yosemite waterfall

I would love to go back there again and spend more time, maybe hiking into the mountains or fishing in the streams. It really is a wonderful place.

But it was time to get the map out and plan our next move.

There wasn’t much choice, there are only two roads that cross the Sierra Nevada anywhere near Yosemite—the 120, which was closed, and Highway 108, over the Sonora Pass. But that meant backtracking nearly 60 miles west towards San Francisco before heading east again into the mountains. And Sonora Pass is nearly 10,000 feet!

The road into the mountains was spectacular, twisty, climbing incessantly. We stopped so that I could put on my sweatshirt (I had been wearing only a t-shirt under my motorcycle jacket) and continued climbing. As we climbed, we passed the snow line. The road was clear and mostly dry, but either side were frozen banks of snow. Spectacular, beautiful, but cold.

And then to cap it all, the sun set and the temperature dropped like a stone. We were at the top of Sonora Pass, 10,000 feet up, and all we could do was press on. The last place we had passed through was about 30 miles back, the next place on the map, Dardanelle, was about 15 miles further on.

Sonora Pass at sunset

To cap it all, the back brake on the Harley decided to fade away to nothing on the way down, which was no fun at all. Endless switchbacks, melt-water running across the road and no back brake to steady progress. I reckon I held second gear pretty much all the way down.

When we got to Dardanelle, it was a winter training centre for the Marines and all closed for the summer! The next place on the map was about 20 miles further on, where the 108 joined Highway 395, which runs north-south on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. But when we got there it was just a junction with a name, not even a petrol station! By this stage, we had done more than 120 miles since the last time we had filled up, and the tank range on the bike was only 150-160 miles, so I was getting worried.

Again, all we could do was keep going and head for Bridgeport, the next place marked on the map (and hope it was more than a signpost!). The map said it was only 17 miles away.

(By the way, as we were coming down from Sonora Pass, the moon rose, and I am convinced it was twice as big as I have ever seen it—but that might just have been because I was freezing!)

By the time we reached Bridgeport I was deeply chilled, shivering uncontrollably, so we pulled in to the first motel we saw (Best Western, I think). I knew it was going to be expensive, but I just had to get off the bike and into the warm.

After standing under a hot shower for ages, I started to feel human again and we went out looking for something to eat. But everywhere closes early in the States, or so it seems, and we ended up having to eat at the local hotel. The steaks were excellent but it was about the most expensive meal we had the whole time we were there. But we were desperate.

On the way back to the motel, we saw the ‘vacancy’ sign on one of the motels had been switched off, and now read ‘No’—just ‘No’. We nearly died laughing (hypothermic hysteria?).

No! This sign made us break up laughing

Posted by Paul Neate at June 21, 2005 05:13 PM GMT

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