To the top of the Sierra Nevadas
In the morning I went downstairs at 7.30 am and Joanne had made a great breakfast spread of eggs, bacon, bagel and cream cheese, a selection of fruit pieces, orange juice, and coffee. This was perfect for someone who had been cycling uphill for the past week. I packed and was wished well for my journey. I promised to send a postcard once I'd finished.
The day ahead was a big one. There was a 12 mile section of freeway and over 3000ft of ascent. I rode along to Baxter and joined the freeway. I was following instructions form the Old Highway 40 pamphlet Eric had given me back in Colfax. The freeway, being a motorway, was not somewhere I felt that comfortable being so I stayed well over to the right of the hard shoulder. Actually, it turned out to be much more pleasant than I expected. Most of the trucks even pulled out a lane even though there would have been plenty of space. So I generally had a huge, full-American-lane-sized hard shoulder and another lane of gap. What a difference to UK roads where you are lucky if you get a foot of clearance.
About three cars beeped on this section of freeway. The beeps weren't agressive and I decided to take them as signs of encouragement on the constant uphill to over 5000ft. Then, behold! A stunning view out to the snow capped Sierra Nevadas. The long slog of a climb had been worth it. It was breath taking (and not just because of the effort). I couldn't stop to take a picture though as I was on a freeway.
I had a brief stop in Nyack for a large 40oz soda and brief rests at every junction as I felt it safer to leave the freeway on the exit than possibly have a speeding car hit me as it took the exit not expecting a bicycle to be there.
At Cisco Grove I finally left the freeway and stopped for a toilet break. Here I met a Brazilian man and we communicated via tiny amounts of English and surprising amounts of my broken Italian! He introduced me to his family and explained to them I was going to Boston. His dad was really interested in my Highway 40 guide and looked like he wanted one. I'd have given him mine but I was actually in need of it.
Over the freeway I joined up with the old 40 and parts of the Lincoln Highway. The road was the first trans-continental highway for cars and out in the west followed the railroad that had gone before it. Later, the interstate system came in following a very similar route. There were old tourist shops that had been abandoned since the I-80 cut through the area. The trees were thinning out with altitude so I was less worried abut cougars hiding in them. I did sing though for the bears and my own entertainment. I sang some Ford Econoline, Climb Every Mountain and a medly of mountain related bits of songs I could remember.
In Big Bend I saw a really old section of Lincoln Highway as well as beautiful sections of stream. Still upwards went the road. I started counting off every 500ft of ascent and then every 100ft. Somewhere around 6500ft I was passed by a "Lowe's" van. Having become a little superspicious in the mountains I took this as a good omen.
I reached the "Summit Hotel" but was disappointed to see that I wasn't at the top yet. Along at Soda Springs I saw a little museum so back tracked to have a look. Inside I met Norm Sayler who knew everything about Donner Summit. He showed me old photos of a 1903 bicycle trip over the summit by two unknown gentlemen. They had safety bikes by then so no penny farthings. Norm also gave me a free espresso possibly because he was so happy to actually have a visitor who was showing some interest. He had previously owned the summit ski resort and had, unknowningly at the time, let the inventor of the mountain bike use his ski lift to go up and down all day to test it.
I left Norm's museum with the advice to look for a tunnel - Tunnel 6 - as I headed over the summit as Stevens probably went through it. He also told me to keep an eye out for ancient petroglyphs but I wasn't eagle eyed enough to spot them.