Rooster: Maverick decided she wanted to wrench on bicycles. She had been helping me with a couple of the bikes that needed fixing at MRA, and really fell in love with the satisfaction that comes from resurrecting an ailing machine. She also wanted to maintain her own mountain bike without relying on me. Plus, if we want to keep up this nomadic lifestyle, it helps to have some portable skills. It was a great idea.
So we both decided to take a course on bicycle mechanics. I’ve been wrenching on bikes since I was a kid, but I’m a self-taught hack, so it was time to learn the proper way to do things. We found a week long course in Ashland, Oregon called United Bicycle Institute (UBI).
The instructors and facility were amazing, and I can’t believe how much we learned in just one week. The bike industry is exploding with new technology and riding styles right now, and it was almost overwhelming to explore the possibilities. Plus, Ashland is a beautiful town, with a great biking culture. These folks are hardcore. I was invited with some locals on their “casual” Wednesday night ride, and it nearly broke me: it started with a 4 mile climb with over 1600 feet of elevation gain. Easily the hardest climb I’ve ever done. Then, bombing amazing single track back into town. Total stoke!
Since we were in Oregon, we decided to take a trip up to Bend. I had been there a couple years back with my Mantrek buddies, and had been telling Mav that we had to ride Mt. Bachelor. It’s a ski resort that has lift serviced mountain biking (no climbing!), and there were a couple runs that I knew she would love.
But Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating. At around 6000’ of elevation, even the parking lot was getting a layer of wet, windy snow. The mountain bike park decided to shut down. We headed back down to Bend, and it was raining pretty hard there too. But we decided to wait it out. We were rewarded with enough of a break in the weather to enjoy an afternoon session on some local trails.
So, as I write this, we are back on the road. We are heading back to Wisconsin to visit friends and family. In addition, we’ll be preparing for our next adventure, which I’ll detail soon!
Rooster: I’ve been slacking! Our time in Kernville has been a whirlwind of activity. As I write this, we’ve already left California for new adventures. I’ll get to those in future posts, but let’s wrap up all the great times we had on the Kern River.
We had previously mentioned on Facebook that a fire that sprung up nearby in August, but it’s hard to convey the devastation that these things cause. As we left Kernville on Friday, the French Fire had consumed over 25,000 acres, and was only about 55% contained. It had burned several buildings and a couple residences. The smoke in the air ranged from being a mild eyesore to blocking the sun, irritating your eyes and lungs. While Kernville itself was never critically in danger, Maverick and I often drove up into the high country after work to get away from the smoke, and stayed overnight in the van. But even that option was taken away when California closed all National Forests in the state. Other, even more destructive fires had stretched the fire and support crews so thin that they closed most public lands.
Despite all this, work carried on at Mountain River Adventures. Because of our very low water year, whitewater rafting was over by mid July. We concentrated on standup paddleboard (SUP) and mountain biking trips, which Mav and I both had a chance to guide. The campground filled up every weekend with city folks looking for some fun on an unusually calm river. Being in the desert meant that we would often cap off a hot day of work by soaking in the river with a cold drink.
We had a very welcome visitor from Wisconsin: Robin, aka ”Toots Magoots”! She hiked the PCT in 2013, and was also the inspiration for us getting into trucking. We were able to give her a little taste of our life by taking her on a three day roadtrip. We started by going to the Sequoia National Forest to see the big trees. We camped there the first night, then took a long meandering drive to the base of Mount Whitney. Along the way we stopped at Kennedy Meadows to visit the general store there, an iconic place among PCT hikers. We camped at the Whitney Portal that night, and took a beautiful, but strenuous 14 mile hike the next day. Our destination was Meysan Lake, an alpine lake above 11,000 feet. Toots wasn’t leaving without jumping into the frigid waters, and Mav and I couldn’t let her do it alone! That night, we camped down in the Alabama Hills, an eerie landscape where hundreds of Westerns were filmed.
Living in the van has been mostly good. The absolute freedom we have to just bug out to a new place, and enjoy our coffee with a beautiful view makes us giddy at our good fortune. It’s also rewarding to live within such an efficient space. We have only what we need, and it’s all within arm’s reach. Even when we stayed in the campground, we would sit and stare at the mountains, enjoying the antics of the deer, lizards, and woodpeckers that shared our space.
The downsides have been few, with our small and not particularly comfortable bed topping the list. I’ve also been fighting through some electrical issues. Despite all the insulation we installed, our refrigerator still had to work overtime in the 100+ degree heat. This often led to the solar panels not being able to keep the battery topped off. A combination of more ventilation fans, an isolator, and a strategy of parking in the sun in the morning, and shade in the afternoon have improved matters somewhat. Once we start heading to cooler climes, I’m hoping this will become a non-issue.
As we move on, we reflect on our good health and fortune to be able to live this life. We have met so many great people this summer, and deepened relationships with others. Tops on this list are John and Rhonda at MRA, who have been so gracious and welcoming. We consider them lifelong friends, and know that our paths will cross again.
Enjoy the pictures, it was a struggle to pare them down! More updates to follow…
Life has been a happy blur since we arrived in Cali. It’s busy season at MRA, so there’s been no end to the projects and daily tasks that need accomplished. We’ve been spending time in the bustling office/store, driving shuttle buses/vans full of excited rafters, and turning wrenches on mountain bikes. We are SO loving it. But it’s been HOT. Oppressively hot. As you probably know, the west/southwest is experiencing unprecedented highs in temperature, and this area is no exception. Even when there’s wind, it’s like an oven blowing in your face. So, when we both had the same two days off, we ran to the mountains for an off-grid trip that would allow us to cool off and be rejuvenated.
Tim had spent an overnight in Big Meadow while I was in Washington, and just fell in love with the area and how secluded it was. And so, after a stop at McNally’s for a [locally] famous burger and milkshake, we drove the 90 minutes around winding roads, deeper into the Sequoia National Forest so I could experience what he’d found. It was beautiful, and not a soul in sight.
Our first afternoon, we lazed around in the hammock, played cards, and watched the meadow for animals (Tim had seen a bear the last time there). It was cold enough to need our sleeping bags that night in the van, versus the single sheet we’d been sleeping on since we arrived in the desert.
The next morning, we relaxed with coffee and a view, then packed up for the day’s adventure. We rode our mountain bikes two miles toward Siretta Peak (elev 9977’), our goal for the day, on loose, sandy roads. After locking them off-trail, we threw on our packs and started up the even sandier hiking trail. It was warm but gorgeous out. The trail was steep, gaining 2,000 feet in just over 2 miles. Near the top, the well-tread trail fell away, and we followed cairns to the pile of boulders we scrambled up to reach the summit. What an incredible view in all directions. After signing the register, we sat in the sun with a breeze and ate lunch, then headed back down to camp. The entire trek was only around 9 miles, but we’re still acclimating to being active at elevation, and spent the evening in rest/recovery mode. We’ve just scratched the surface of the playgrounds at our fingertips here, and are so excited to continue exploring!