Day 59 (5/16): Owens Valley

Morning.  We linger again and are about to get out later than planned, but Masha finds the campground owner and he gives her a lift half the way up the mountain.  Though he offers to drive her all the way up, she insists on stopping sooner for fear of sitting alone on the side of the road waiting for me.  Frankly I can’t understand what the big deal is with being alone on the road — there are no maniacs here, just tourists.  Plus she still has the pepper spray I got her for Mexico.  Yet every woman we ask about this agrees with Masha.

We reach the top of the 5,000-foot-tall Argus Range relatively easily (a 3,000-foot elevation gain from Panamint Springs), in part thanks to the intricate switchbacks that make the scenery change all the time.  Yesterday was different:  the road to Towne Pass was almost straight, adding tedious monotony to the physical challenge.  On the other hand, yesterday’s summit was immediately followed by a swift downhill, whereas today’s turns out to be an endless hilly plateau that drives us crazy in anticipation of a downhill.  We pine to see the infinite snow-covered wall of the High Sierra, but it keeps hidden from view.  At last, it appears as the highway begins its long slide to Lone Pine, the gateway to Mt. Whitney.  We’re a little sad to be leaving Death Valley behind.

We pass the famous Owens Lake.  Back in the 1930s it served as a water source for the City of Los Angeles and was eventually drunk dry.  This caused frequent dust storms in Owens Valley.  LA got sued and lost the case.  Now the LA water department is pumping water back into the lake as part of a multi-decade Owens Lake environmental remediation plan.  But the dust still blows across the road and the sandy shoulders look like the Sahara.

The strong tailwind helps us pass the miles. Right before Lone Pine, the highway makes a sweeping left turn and puts us directly into an amazing view of Mt. Whitney, the Sierra, and Alabama Hills in all their glory. Mt. Whitney is the tallest peak in the contiguous U.S.  I climbed it with Yura last year before we picked up Masha and went to Death Valley.

By the way, notice that the route of our current bike tour is very curvy and twisty, unlike the 2007 tour’s.  I’ve planned it this way on purpose.  Back in 2007 we didn’t know our strengths yet and so chose the straightest/fastest way across the U.S.  This time, I’ve intentionally selected a route that covers specific points of interest to me.  For example: San Antonio, TX; Petrified Forest; Grand Canyon; Zion; Las Vegas; Death Valley; Mt. Whitney and Hwy. 395 in California; Pyramid Lake and Black Rock Desert in Nevada; Crater Lake National Park; and Highway 101 in Oregon/Washington.  That’s why our route is so winding and long — and very scenic!

Masha decides to stay in Lone Pine and catch up to me in a few days.  But I fly on the wings of the glorious southern tailwind down Hwy. 395 another 40 miles to Big Pine.  Magnificent mountains line both sides of the road.  The white Sierra with a black lining of pine forests — on the left.  The Inyo Mountains, bone-dry and devoid of vegetation — on the right.  The Inyos are in the “rain shadow” of the Sierra:  the Sierra stops all the rain and snow that come from the Pacific, and the Inyos get almost none.

I’ve been craving a shave and eager to cut my nails, so after three nights camping I allow myself to indulge in a motel room.  Masha has settled in a youth hostel on Whitney Portal Road back in Lone Pine.

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