The Eastern Sierra Obliged, Day One

Four Hours 'Til Sunset

At the general store in Walker, CA, I’m still new to the whole Garmin thing. So I fumble around until I get the route on the screen, hoping the arrow just follows along and nothing dies. If only they gave awards for such high levels of preparedness.

U.S. Route 395, the Three Flags Highway, when passing through the eastern end of that third, southern-most flag, takes advantage of the low elevation and flat expanse of this Antelope Valley, California. I’m only on the highway for a few minutes, passing October’s husks of what was the summer’s saltbush. Mill Canyon Road slowly curving west, then south, doesn’t announce where I’m going, just that I better not be a damn fool and start any fires. Like, I kinda know where I’m going though. I mean, I’ve stared at the satellite maps enough in the time leading up to this that I have the gist memorized, and then that goofy gps is there under my nose drawing a purple line through the wilderness. It’s funny, having spent so much time online and seeing bike campin’ folks write about their Garmins and the gpx files, that I’m finally becoming one of the many who rely on a little purple line and a set of double A’s to keep from dying in the wilderness.

That’s how I rationalize the gizmo, by the way. “It helps me not die in the wilderness.” This road out of the valley into the Sierras is already, though unsurprisingly, a decent uphill grade. It’s a fun road though, with a layer of sandy washboard of top and a dog-leg bend that dips into a creek slowly collapsing with signs up telling cars not to drive any further- not that I care on my little bicycle. The creek is decorated every few inches with scat. The sun disappeared behind the mountains as I pass the sign informing me that I’m in Toiyabe National Forest. “We’re not sure when that happened either” would be a cheeky addition to this sign, if anyone from the Forest Service is reading this. Around 5pm I’d guess, the Ponderosas who’ve hung back along the first ridge finally come up and introduce themselves. Their pinecones are all over the road, like holy crap all over the road. Like okay I’ve been climbing for two hours and now I really must pick my lines or monster truck over all these pinecones all over the road.


Spend enough time traveling through remote areas, and you start to pick up on marks of general human interaction with the outdoors. For one, if people actually used this road, these slippery, off-axis landmines would be kicked out of the way or otherwise crushed under the weight of OHVs (off-highway vehicles). Their presence reminds you you're on your own and for god's sake pay attention unless you want your front wheel to bounce eight inches sideways.

Astute viewers will notice the second set of tire tracks when, for example, I must turn around and go back to capture these amazing knocked-over port-o-potties. A lack of any other tire track around them supports the idea that mischievous bears knocked them over and ran away snickering.

P i n e c o n e s .

Baby Pine Cone Iron-On Patch

Started from an intense desire to make a cute, little patch and a love for pinecones. Who knew they'd turn out so adorable?

  • 1.5" tall
  • heat-activated adhesive backing
  • made in USA in a women-owned embroidery shop
Add To Cart

It’s fine. I'm fine. Listen, I'm over the pinecones. Today’s the easy day, I’m taking pictures of trees at 1/30th of a second with the last gasps of light that turn everything pink. Mill Canyon Road dead ends in a clearing with a sign marking from here on it’s trail open to hikers and, sure why not, let's put a bike on that sign too. Ambition is always high in the beginning, so I pull out my headlamp and ride onto the trail, twisting upwards ever steeper, while ignoring the fact that it’s pitch black, I’m surrounded by, though not in, designated wilderness, and I’ve never been here before. The trail is so narrow my handlebars are high-fiving branches, and I tolerate twenty minutes of my own ignorance before the likelihood of me spooking something I don’t want to spook out here sends me back to that clearing at the trailhead.

The aspens make such beautiful scenes- fluttering spots of yellow-green standing independent of the dark pines. It was pitch black while I hung my hammock near the tree line, but I could still see those spots reflected in my headlamp. Unmoving at first, then a second set of spots appeared. Obviously, I'm not talking about an aspen any more.

Route Map