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THE FIRST IS ALWAYS THE HARDEST

Mark Friis

SEPTEMBER 2010

From mishaps and mistakes you learn a lot when you step into a new adventure. I never planned on making more of this first tour. It was suppose to more of a training camp for the now defunct Everest Challenge, a leg crushing, psychological mind f**k (as it's been described to me, I never did it). A two day trip turned into a 4 day weekend with 5 high mountain passes, Ebbets, Monitor, Sonora and Tioga both ways. As the weeks progressed, the word got out that it was ON and folks I never met wanted in, including a women's team, DUDE GIRL. All together we had 17 riders and personnel. 

As stated this being my first and not envisioning more, I just gathered equipment from my shop and friends. Looking back and comparing the set up from then to now, holy crap what a difference.  I retrofitted a Harbor Frieght-like trailer to house all the bikes (no roof racks then). Also the kitchen situation turned out to be pathetic, luckily we only had one night at a campground to make dinner and breakfast, and it was a disaster. So the caravan left Redlands to meet in Angel's Camp to make due and make memories.

The first morning we allowed most of the group to head off about an hour early, as a few and myself loaded up the vehicles. Mark, Jeremy, Eric and I headed off and set a blistering pace that would prove to be Mark's undoing just before the summit of Ebbets. He sooned slowed then eventually stopped, dismounted and assumed the fetal position with not so much as a word, he did manage some grunts. We waited in hopes that one of the 3 vehicles would come back for us. We debated whether one of us should head on but soon Andy showed up and we piled in. As Andy enriched our shorts with his hair raising driving, we reached the bottom of the descent and the ascent of Monitor, where the first victims of the day were gathering along the roadside. It was warm and many were in need of food and water. The group was so split, it was hard to keep track of all of them. So with everyone attended to and just a few more miles to the campground, it look like survival was obtainable. Oh how wrong I was. Those few miles, according to the early Google maps (some entries were way off), was to be a campground about a mile from the 395 intersection. Our 96 mile outing turned into 114 and the discrepancy wasn't just a mere 16 miles of flat road but a headwind hell. As I drove down 395 looking for Bootleg Campground it was apparent that there was going to be carnage back along the route. So we unloaded everything and quickly sent vehicles out to gather the corpses. It was worse than I had imagined at that time. Cramps, mental breakdowns and more left most in a miserable mood wanting nothing more than dinner and to crawl into their tent to have a sleep induced nightmare instead of the real kind. In the fray of rounding up we managed to lose a rider. He was in such distress that he just laid in a ditch and the van never saw him. He awakened disoriented and unable to figure out where to go. Lucky a pick up truck loaded him up and found the camp just before sunset. He was a bit pissed to say the least. Dinner time, yet another nightmare. That wind, well it played havoc with the Coleman stove and it took an hour just to get water to bubble, forget a rapid boil. Three hours of frustration finally led to something to digest. And the wind continued all night long disassembling tents and keeping weary riders awake. On top of that, I had a mid morning panic as my dog managed to unzip the tent with her needle nose and disappear. After hours of horror, I found her cuddling with my wife in another tent with her friend who didn't want to be alone. In that time of searching, I was thinking what hell the next day would be with this wind and how I might be strung up as sacrifice to the biking gods. 

Day two morning, the wind stops along with might flight syndrome. For all that was wrong with Day 1, everything was right on Day 2. That said the grade near the top of Sonora Pass left one thinking "How the heck didn't the pavement just roll downhill when they paved this thing. STEEP!". A 60 mile (mostly) descent and into Sonora to Jeremy's in-laws. As we hit the final little climb to the host's home, we saw a house on a hill with a redneck slip and slide, giant tarp, with kids attempting to mitigate the 96 degree heat. I'm not one to pass on a cooling off, so I rode up the driveway and sparked up a conversation to our plight and soon was enjoying the wet slide in full kit. AHHHHH! The host had a beautiful home and we made the most of the extra beds and family room. Spirits were lifted and things were on the upswing. Well, till tomorrow.

As we awoke for our third day, a mighty breakfast and rest, had us all ready for another spectacular day, albeit tough 100 miles and 14,000'. All was good and the gate into Yosemite was light with traffic, things were set for the final grind to Tioga summit, just 6,000 more feet. Just one turn to continue on Hwy 120 and we would see Tuolumne Meadows, so I thought. I stopped to say farewells to my wife and a few others that needed to head back to the Monday grind. As riders passed I told them to make the next left, they waved and I set the vehicles off and saddled up. As I maneuvered into the left head turn pocket I glanced to look to see what I could see of Yosemite Valley. As I did so, I see a couple of bikes descending to the valley floor. Disbelief was quickly displaced by action. With no vehicles to retrieve them (the trailer lost a tire and was sent to Lee Vining), I had to bomb down to turn them back up. This proved to be my most insane downhill, as I dodged oncoming traffic and a motorhome that was hell bent to not let me pass (he even turned the vehicle into me twice that I had to put my shoulder against it). I finally got around and after 6 miles of screaming at the riders to turn around we all were pointing the right direction. You would think that would be enough of a chore but no. One of the ladies was done she could barely pedal up the hill. I tried pushing her along but the constant motorhomes made that rather frightening. So I tied a couple of tubes together and wrapped them on her bike and over my shoulder. With the leftover adrenaline, I turned the pedals in frustration to get this over with. Fortunately, the van driver recognized that he couldn't find any riders and that something was wrong. He came back to retrieve us just as a hail storm broke open. The one rider that did listen was out in the storm solo with no where to seek shelter, Roger, in his late 60's, managed to make it to Lee Vining, our only rider to do the whole day. We hotelled it that evening and enjoyed food, beer (lots of) and entertainment at the famous Mobile Station in Lee Vining. 

Day 4 was a short ride back up Tioga from the east then load up and head back. The thought of doing another one of these seemed akin to a colonoscopy. But as with much of what I do, it's more about the adventure with all the mishaps that make for a lasting story and the yearning for yet another memory. Plus, most of the sickos that did this one wanted another sufferfest and so was born tour #2, Santa Cruz Challenge.

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