Saturday, November 24, 2007


Our usual tradition for Thanksgiving is to go to Porterville. But this year I did something new by bringing my bicycle with me. Porterville is near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, so I thought I may be able to find a good biking route. I studied an online map and charted out a 30 mile loop that just enters the hills.

We arrived there on Thursday, so I had time to ride on Friday morning. I left in the morning and experienced the coldest temperature I had to deal with all year, somewhere in the low 40's. But I had my arms and legs covered, so I did not feel cold after the first couple miles.

The first part of the route is just on the outskirts of the town. The roads go through many orange tree orchards which were all loaded with fruit. I even passed a crew of workers that were doing some picking. Unfortunately the road conditions were not that good. The shoulders were narrow or non-existent, and the pavement at the edge was uneven, cracked, or had potholes.

Being close to town also meant that I would have several encounters with dogs. In town, they would be restricted to their yards. But in the farm/orchard areas they are not kept restrained. The first time, it was an old fat dog that was standing by the side of the road. Once he saw me, he started barking and running after me. I simply kept pedaling and went past him before he reached me. He was not interested in chasing me very far.

The second encounter happened when I went past a house with only a partial fence. Two dogs that were lying down saw me as I passed. These were younger and more energetic, so they closed the distance between their yard and the road quickly. One stopped before the road, but the other came alongside me and kept barking. I increased my pace, expecting the dog to quit by the time I reached the edge of its property. It actually followed me about 20 feet past the property line, but abruptly stopped after that. He was close enough to me to bite at my feet if he wanted, but it seemed like he was more interested in simply chasing me.

A couple miles after that, I was out of the orchard land and into ranch land. Here there were fewer houses near the road and I was close to the hills. At one point I saw a coyote walking by the side of the road. It was not facing me so it did not see me until I got within 50 feet of it. As soon as it saw me, it darted as fast as it could away. I was glad to have an animal run away from me rather than at me!

I reached state highway 190, which I had planned to take back to town to complete a short loop. But I still had most of my energy, and the road headed away from town was going further into the hills and looked too tempting.

After a few miles the road passes through the small town of Springville. Here I had another two-dog encounter, but they did not see me until I was mostly passed their property, so they did not have a chance to chase me.

Past Springville, the road started getting steeper. Until this point, there were some uphill sections, but nothing too challenging. After a couple miles, the road entered Giant Sequoia National Monument, which is a large area that borders the southern end of Sequoia National Park. Here there was much less development by the roadside, although there were sporadic houses and ranches. There was a lot of cattle grazing by the road so there was barbed wire along most of the road.

After a couple miles, I encountered a rest area where I could refill my water bottles and take a bathroom break. This was important otherwise I would have needed to return sooner. Since I was stopped, I decided to eat the Clif Bar that I always carry with my bicycle. I had not anticipated eating anything since my initial plan was a short 30 mile loop. But with my extension, I needed to replenish my energy since I only ate toast for breakfast.

The road continued alongside the Tule river, which was more like a small creek. There were many granite boulders in it and the water was not too deep or too wide. This area was beautiful and much like other areas in the Sierra Nevada range.

The road continued on at a steady grade. Porterville is at about 500 feet elevation and Springville is 100 feet. The rest area was at 1500 feet elevation, but I got to 2000 feet fairly quickly after that. I was fully enjoying this part of the ride and was happy I decided to do it.

I was not sure how long to keep going. I knew from studying the map earlier that highway 190 becomes another road that makes a long loop back towards where I started, but there was no way I would have enough time to follow that route.

I kept pedaling until I reached 3600 feet elevation. I pulled off at a nice vista point and enjoyed the spectacular view of the river valley framed by mountains. I had used most of my energy, but I could have pushed myself further. But considering the time and that dusk comes so early this time of year, I felt that it was a good time to head back.

I had several miles of continuous downhill ahead of me, so I put on my jacket and turned around. The ride back to Springville was mostly effortless. Continuing on 190, I took a brief rest stop at Lake Success. At this point I was feeling rather tired so I was happy I turned around when I did instead of trying to push further.

The ride into town was easy, but the ride through town was not due to poor road conditions. I had to keep one eye on the traffic around me and the other on the road surface to avoid debris and holes. But Porterville is a small town so I got back home fairly quickly.

In the end I ended up doing a 65 mile ride. The total time was just short of 6 hours, and the moving time was 5 hours 15 minutes. After having visited Porterville many times, it was so nice to see a part of it that I never had before.

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