Ever since I started following Ryan Wilson on Instagram, I knew he had an incredible eye for roadscapes. Landscapes are one thing, but roads speak to us as cyclists. We look at the bend, the bank and the angle differently than other travelers. Being able to capture those traits isn’t easy, especially while being completely overwhelmed in a place like the Sierras. I’ve never ridden there, yet suddenly I really want to, in the Summer of course…
The Eastern Sierras in Winter by Road Bike
Words and photos by Ryan Wilson
A typical day before an open weekend for me usually means scouring maps, Google earth, and anything else I can find for a new back road or an old favorite that I can experience in a new way. The Sierra Nevada mountains in California are generally my go-to option because of the sheer number of huge climbs in a relatively small area. To me, there is nothing quite like climbing from barren desert to alpine country. With massive granite peaks covered in snow, and wilderness completely surrounding you. Feeling the temperature drop 30+ degrees, and the air getting thin at 10,000ft feet.
The Eastern Sierras, with most of the mountain roads topping out between 8,000ft and 10,300ft, are typically only passable from about May to October. The other months of the year, these roads are abandoned, unmaintained, and generally buried in feet of snow. With the draught California has gone through this year, in January I started thinking, why not give a few of these a shot? When I called a park ranger in the area, I got the usual “You want to ride this on a bike? now? No, they’re not open”. I also got the idea that they hadn’t actually been on most of these roads themselves in a few months. So, I said screw it, what’s the worst that could happen? I’m not afraid of a little hike-a-bike.
Over two trips in January and March, I decided to hit a couple old favorites in Onion Valley and Tioga Pass. I also checked out a few new roads including White Mountain, Glacier Lodge, and Pine Creek.
These Sierra roads never disappoint, but climbing a closed Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park (typically a place filled with tourists in rental RV’s), weaving through rockslides that would crush a car, and hiking miles in knee deep snow with the bike on my shoulder pretty much encompassed why I ride, and why I seek out these kinds of rides specifically.