Veteran’s Day Excursion Part 1: Sierra Foothills

You’re only as good as your next ride.

It’s great to have highly memorable experiences, but the problem is they always have you wanting more.

A few months ago, I was heading up to the Bay Area planning to take a side trip in the Sierras before picking up my wife in Oakland.


A family emergency forced me to scrap those plans, so getting a second chance has always been in the back of my mind.

Because of the shortened daylight this time of year, I knew that I didn’t have time to go as deep, so I mapped out a moderate route in the lower elevations.

Since I’m pretty unfamiliar with the area, I ran the route by Eric Bruins, the Sage of the Sierras who approved the ride and told me where there was water, but the note to do the loop counterclockwise was the insider info I needed.



I parked right off of Highway 168 and started out along the rolling hills on Sample Road.

Out of my giant steed of bikes, the only one functioning was my gravel commuter, which is heavy and I had only 38s available, a bit wider than I wanted (turned out I had no tubes for my 28s).



As I turned onto Pittman Hill Road, the landscape reminded me more of the San Luis Obispo region with oaks trees and golden hills.

I thought things were going to be greener, otherwise I wouldn’t have worn my “camo” OrNot Jersey.



Watts Valley Road came up sooner than I thought and I almost missed the turnoff even though it was my only option for miles.

The road was without a center line, which was so much more soothing as the two cars that came up were already approaching calmly.

This would have been a far more enjoyable climb, but I rode through pretty much all my gears as I cursed the resistance making me feel like I was running on snowshoes.



As I neared the peak of this intermediate climb, the hillscape started to open up heightening the power of climbing alone.

It was a tad charred from an earlier fire, by the comforting openness was a good trade off.



The downward portion was fun and covered some loose pieces of gravel, so I was thankful for the wider tires, but I reserve the right to bitch and moan for the duration of this article.

The good times stopped as I turned onto Burroughs Valley road as it was mostly climbing even as some portions took me by some homes.



I got a nice look back into the Burroughs Valley, but what I really wanted to see was big mountains.

After all this climbing, wouldn’t it be nice to have some type of reward.



I turned onto Tollhouse Road which of course, led me to the town of Tollhouse.

Had I done better R & D, I probably wouldn’t have brought by rear bag filled with extra water.

There were plenty of spots along the way to stop, but part of the reason was to keep moving.

Remember, I’m riding 38s.



The road then started to twist up the hillside.

I couldn’t help but stop to enjoy the view back, even though I was interrupted by the buzzing from the powerlines.



This rock formation was the defining vantage point for the last ten miles, kind of like Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Yet there were very few forms of intelligent life.



As I crossed the sign indicating I entered Sierra National Forest another lovely formation sat relatively close.

I could see Highway 168 cut over it’s top, but it was a bit deceiving that our roads would soon converge as Tollhouse turned away leaving about another three miles of climbing.




At least I was starting to ride among big trees.

All I really need is to feel like I’ve biked through some type of forest to have some sense of accomplishment.

Even Forest Lawn does it for me too.



Nearing the top, the ambering of fall had a sweeping effect on the landscape.

Who says we don’t have seasons?



I crossed over Highway 168 which is a bit harrowing with its posted 60 mph speed limit.

There was a school right across the way that Eric told me I could grab some water at.

I couldn’t quite find a fountain, but one of the cafeteria workers was nice enough to let me grab some water before my search intensified.

Continuing my loop, the road’s name changed to Auberry and while I was rolling through the same elevation for a little bit, this area seemed a lot more wooded as I rode.



Off in the distance between the trees and the oversized homes, I could start to see what I was looking for.

Mountains! Snow capped mountains!

On one hand, I really wished I was riding there.

But on the other, it would have been freakin’ cold!


There was a really long descent coming down Auberry Road.

I really wish I could have snapped some pics, but coming down at about 45 mph I think I made the right move keeping my camera in my pocket.

The remarkable thing I have to describe with words is how the landscape features were more solitary as I looked back west as many of the hills stood on their own like a herd making its way across the plain.


Near the bottom, I came up on concurrent signs saying, “Loose Gravel” and “Oily Roads”.

If you believe in the comedy rule of threes, the next one would have said, “Thumbtack Convention”.

I was glad to have the wider tires here, but still….


The bottom ended at the town of Auberry, which was like a metropolis compared to Tollhouse.

I cut through a road called SJ and E to head towards Lodge Road and my way back.

It was relatively flat and wide open, but as I neared Sierra High School, there were a few more cars on the road with a few of them not maintaining a friendly passing distance.



After about 55 miles, I finally saw my first cyclist.

We were pretty happy to see each other, but we both had to keep ahead of cars.

It could have been a little more pleasant.



The final few miles were golden as the setting sun glimmered the landscape.

It’s a bit depressing that this is happening at 3:30 in the afternoon, but it makes for some good pictures.

I finished doing 6,500 feet of climbing which felt more like 10,000  on this bike (I won’t stop).

This wasn’t the most epic ride I’ve ever done, but in the wake of such an eventful week, it was the proper antidote to exhale a bit.

I’ll definitely be adding more rides like this when I visit the Bay Area, but I’ll probably wait for a bit more sunlight for the next time.

Everyday I count my blessing that we’re this lucky to have so much riding like this well within our reach in California.

Tomorrow Part 2: Redwood Regional Park