2023 Desert Pilgrimage

Day 5, Homeward Bound Tuesday, February 21, 2023 

Three Rivers to Merced 

Expanded Meaning or Personal Transformation?  

You be the judge… The final leg of our Pilgrimage was approximately 190 miles over a variety of terrain beginning with the winding Sierra foothill roads, CA-198 and CA-216, to reach the straight and narrow roads, CA-245 and CA-201, of the San Joaquin plain.  We traveled across the valley floor through the small unincorporated towns of Woodlake and Elderwood, Seville and Yettem, Calgro and Oriosi all breaking up the monotony of thousands of acres of orchards all aglow with lemons, oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits hanging heavily on the verdant foliage of late winter citrus trees nearing harvest. 

Citrus orchards near Orange Cove

Dams and reservoirs hold back the waters of the Kern, Kaweah, Tule, St. Johns, Kings, and San Joaquin Rivers of the southern and central Sierra to sustain the powerful and abundant agricultural interests in the region.  Small hard scrabble rural farming communities of Lemon Cove, Orange Cove, and Navelencia identify the namesake agriculture of the area.  

Let’s eat

Orange Cove was our brunch destination on this and a previous desert pilgrimage.  Stopping at the El Monterey because El Bukanas was closed, a local patron recommended the carne asada.  Pete took her advice as I opted for a huevos, tocino, papas, arroz y frijoles burrito.  If ever you happen to find yourself in Orange Cove, CA, we highly recommend El Monterey, a family owned and operated restaurant for authentic Mexican fare.  And across the street, where else but in Orange Cove might you find a Blacksmith posing as a Machine Shop? 

A future brew pub?

I use Google Maps, Rever, and Scenic apps to plan these trips and use them as nav guides while underway.  They work fine as long as you’re within cell service range. Sort of. I have a Garmin Nuvi as a last resort if we’re out of range of the nearest cell tower or in the midst of a Google Maps fail.  Google Maps is fine for planning but I find it unreliable when riding, especially as we prefer back roads to the Google algorithm’s insistence on finding the fastest route from A to B.  By the time three or four options are offered and you “start” your route, the app sets about providing unsolicited “reroutings” that invariably have you traveling in circles.  What to do short of getting out the GPS?  The last resort: Apples or oranges?  Apple Maps to the rescue!

I had dismissed Apple Maps after less than stellar reviews were given upon its launch, but that was back in 2012 and I’m sure Tim Cook has long ordered the kinks straightened out.  So, to make our way through the Public Land Survey System sectioning of eastern Tulare and Fresno counties into large square tracts of land intersected by countless country roads transecting quarter sections, we needed reliable data to not get lost and perish in the ice-age storm that was forecasted to wreak havoc on California travelers in the coming hours and days. Worst case scenario, I’m sure we could have subsisted on oranges and tangelos until CalTrans cleared the drifts of snow impeding our progress.  

Alas, Apple Maps delivered clear and concise turn-by-turn directions to make our way through the labyrinth of groves and orchards in the eastern San Joaquin Valley, and suburban wilderness of eastern Clovis, saving CalTrans the effort to rescue us.  CA-180 took us through Minkler and Centerville to N. Academy Ave skirting the suburban backcountry of eastern Clovis. With a zig on CA-168 to E Shepherd Ave, we zagged on N Willow Ave before making our way back into the foothills heading north on North Friant Rd to, yes, Friant, home of the Friant Dam and Millerton Lake.  

Stopping at the Shell Station for hydration and nalgas relief, we met two cyclists, of the pedal variety, presumably stopping for the same reason.  After the standard conversation starter where I declare my preference for twisting a throttle to pedaling uphill, though in truth I like climbing on the Seven, we were invited to join them on their Saturday group ride that begins in Covis up to Friant and winds through the hills above.  That would require that Pete and I actually ride in the hills, something we haven’t done in several months of riding the flats. I guess the twisting throttle conversation entrée was a Freudian slip of sorts…

As we prepared to depart Friant I insisted that Pete show us the way home.  Riding the flat straightaways yielded to the undulating twisties of the eastern Madera foothills.  CA-145 (Rd-211) took us to O’Neal’s where we intersected with CA-41 to Coarsegold.  From Coarsegold it was Raymond Rd (Rd-415) and Rd-613 to Ben Hur Rd.  

The photo is of a rock wall visible from Ben Hur Rd we’ve seen on many hill rides on our bicycles.  

And now for some history:  

Quick Ranch Stone Wall, near the town of Mariposa and made of uncut stones, was built in 1862 to enclose 640 acres of the Quick Ranch. This wall is one of the most completely documented Chinese-built stone fences in the state, as the result from the ranch being in the same Quick family since in 1859. Because of the completed documentation, we know for certain that the Chinese built the wall and that this wall can be taken as a prime example of Chinese stone masonry technique. Most of the Chinese workers came from Mormon Bar, and this site shows one of the great contributions of Chinese Americans to the development of California with their stone masonry skills.  (exploreapaheritage.com)

After a brief stop to admire the Quick Stone Wall, stretch, and contemplate the brewing storm clouds, we set about on the last 45 mile leg of our 2023 Desert Pilgrimage, the final stretch of Yaqui Gulch Rd to CA-140 and be-it-ever-so-humble, home sweet home.

Bringing it Home

SoBe and Dakota

I began this post by describing it, somewhat in jest, as a pilgrimage with a lofty characterization as:

A [pilgrimage] journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about one’s self, others, nature, or a higher good through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.

Now that I’m back to the “daily life” grind of chores, including documenting the ride, and the delightful company of my family and companion perras SoBe and Dakota, I can say that my already expanded life gained a bit more meaning through the experience of meeting new friends, others; experiencing nature, the foothills and mountains of the Sierra and Death Valley and the Mojave; and the higher good of the friendship in my travel companion Pete’s company.  
My wheels are already spinning as I will give this trip a few days before committing it to the archives as I anticipate and plan for the next, and maybe best tour: to immerse myself in the California spring superbloom between a niece’s wedding in Atlanta in March and the beaches of Maui with my beautiful wife, our youngest son, his lovely wife, and adorable daughter Aubrey in May.  Toodle-oo!

Post Script

It’s now April and the super bloom, nourished by unrelenting winter’s rain, will be full-fledged in the coastal mountains of California. Mountain passes, now buried in snow, will likely be closed until early summer before the migration of the bloom moves upslope. Our “Desert Pilgrimage” followed the January atmospheric rivers as we ended our ride on the cusp of the late February and March weather that has caused great flooding throughout Central California and record snowfall in the Sierra. Vernal pools have begun to form their concentric rings of varied species of CLF’s (colorful little flowers).

I chronicled the 2019 super bloom in the post, Super Bloom on Two Wheels https://wordpress.com/post/sisyphusdw7.com/352 just prior to the explosion of the Covid pandemic. I’m excitedly planning to revisit the tour with the exception of an infamous descending decreasing radius turn on Lake Nacimiento Lake Dr where just about one year ago, a moment’s inattention resulted in a tale I will consider avoiding repeating…

Author: Sisyphus and Associates

As of 6/2022 I will have taken 68 revolutions around the sun or 24,820 rotations on the big blue marble. Time to share a slice of all the physics, biology, and stewardship I’m guilty of...

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