Going Just Because: Three Months of the Sierra Nevada – Ryan Wilson

Going Just Because: Three Months of the Sierra Nevada
Photos and words by Ryan Wilson

Every year fall rolls around and the itch hits me. I know the days of many of the high mountain passes throughout California’s Sierra Nevada mountains are numbered. If we’re lucky they’d be buried in feet of snow for almost half of the year. It turned out this year was yet another unlucky one, but still I feel that push to go and explore the roads in my favorite mountain range while I know I can…

Justin through the yellow walls of the June Lake Loop

Whether it’s a day trip or a week long venture. Rolling with a group of fourteen through Yosemite high country, or navigating the Southern Sierra backroads with only myself and my bike, I can say honestly that I have yet to be dissuaded from working these trips into my schedule whenever I possibly can. Sometimes it’s well planned out, with specific routes mapped out precisely for specific days. Coordinating groups of people weeks in advance. Other times it’s so last minute that I just start driving north with no idea of a destination.

Yet every crack-of-dawn (or earlier) alarm clock blast and following 2-5 hour drive up ends in a payoff that is unlike anything I get doing the local routes that I’ve done enough times to memorize every little bend and nuance. Don’t get me wrong, we’re pretty spoiled in LA, tucked between the Santa Monica Mountains, Verdugos, and San Gabriels, but there’s something about being somewhere unfamiliar… A place you don’t go by on your way to work every day.

Sherman Pass

These photos represent seven different trips to various parts of the Sierras over the course of three months during fall of 2014. Finding new routes or expanding on old ones. Turning down that side road that looked so inviting the last time to find out where it leads.

One particularly memorable day was riding down into Kings Canyon just on the edge of winter. With the road having just closed to cars for the season due to high rockfall risk during the cold months, I dropped down the long, steep road into the canyon surrounded by sheer rock walls in every direction before gently climbing alongside the Kings River deeper into canyon. Eventually the canyon opens up into an alpine meadow surrounded by granite cliffs that are only rivaled in Yosemite National Park. Now I was 60 miles deep into the mountains and 30 miles from any other human in my own personal national park, and kicking back in the historic Knapp’s cabin like I own the place.

Yosemite Friend

These are the moments that make riding so unique and interesting to me, and what has kept me constantly seeking out new roads and trails beyond my local favorites.

Here are a few of my favorite routes from these trips:

Portuguese and Sherman passes
Kings Canyon
Sonora Pass
Breckenridge Loop
Tioga / June Lake
Tobias Peak


Follow Ryan on Instagram and at his Tumblr.


  • http://www.neilbridge.co.uk/ Mr_Bridge

    Best set yet. Absolutely sensational edit Ryan, you make it look too easy! Keep on riding, keep on shooting.

    • http://thegradedroad.com/ Ryan Wilson


  • naisemaj

    good god those pictures are all awesome. The kind of photography that gives you the itch to get out

  • caliente

    This looks incredible. How heavily trafficed are the roads? Looks like it would be a rad trip with some friends! Thanks for sharing.

    • http://thegradedroad.com/ Ryan Wilson

      Varies heavily by the season and the road. I’ve done tioga and kings canyon when they’re packed with RV’s in the summer, light/moderate traffic in the fall, and empty in the winter. There are a bunch that are pretty empty year-round though.

  • Kyle Campbell

    That was pretty wonderful.

  • Brecon Thomas Welton

    sonora pass is theeeeee best. also, if the roads are closed to cars in the winter is it usually chill to ride them or if you ever run across a ranger or cop should you ride quickly in the opposite direction?

    • http://thegradedroad.com/ Ryan Wilson

      No one has given me trouble personally (I rarely see anyone when they’re closed), but a friend of mine just did Tioga and a ranger said he could cite him because the road technically becomes a “wilderness area” when it’s closed.

  • Keith Malarick

    Damn that is so freaking beautiful.

  • Luke Droney

    Great story and photos. Can you recommend bases within the Sierras from which to access these rides?

    • http://thegradedroad.com/ Ryan Wilson

      Eastern side I’d say Bishop, Lone Pine, and Bridgeport. Western side would be Three Rivers, but these roads range hundreds of miles north and south on both sides. My favorites just come from those towns.

  • http://www.scottorjala.com/ Scott

    The bucket list just got a little longer.

  • Christian Stewart

    Am I the only one questioning that tunnel?

    • http://thegradedroad.com/ Ryan Wilson

      You are not! Was just back there a couple weeks ago and they seem to have ripped it out and put in a dirt road.

  • Harry

    32 and 41….woah

  • boomforeal

    holy schnikes, that’s a lot of bangers!

    for those of us not from cali, why are “the days of many of the high mountain passes throughout California’s Sierra Nevada mountains” numbered?

    • charlesojones

      Snow typically closes off access to the high passes and roads sometime in the Fall. It’s has been a bit easier the last 4 years due to drought.

      • boomforeal

        aha, thanks. i totally misread that: in the _fall_ their days are numbered; i thought the roads were being decommissioned or something

  • Glenn Weatherson

    Hell of a set.

  • Charlie Marino

    Incredible set, man. I just checked out Ryan’s Tumblr page…and it’s ridiculously rad.

  • Mehdi Farsi

    Ryan Wilson you killed these! NICE WORK!

  • Jesse

    I hate myself for not making the life choices that end up on that ride as opposed to inside this cage of an office. Great pictures and thanks for sharing.

    • skunk ape

      Just go…

      • Jesse

        Mentally, I already have.

  • Tyler Shannon

    Whatever you do for a job, I want to do that too.

  • Bruno Moreno

    Wonderful set!

  • Matthew Meyer

    Wow, great set. My wife’s family has a cabin up above Lake Isabella and I am always looking for new places to ride up there. Been looking at doing Rancheria Road between the 178 and 155.

    #12 is that Hwy 178?
    #13 Old State Road?

    • http://thegradedroad.com/ Ryan Wilson

      Thanks! You’re correct on both photos. I’ve done some of Rancheria, but not from the bottom near Bakersfield. Only the portion north of the 155. I’ve got some plans though!

  • Dylan Nord

    Brilliant set Ryan! wow.

  • beerali

    These are incredible photos, Ryan! I spent 6 days hiking in Yosemite last year and was pining for my bike… Did you descend towards Lee Vinning? I was nervous just driving down!

    • http://thegradedroad.com/ Ryan Wilson

      Thanks! Yes, I’ve done that descent probably 4-5 times now. It’s a blast, but you can definitely push it too far with the steep grades, smooth pavement, and sweeping corners. I hit a nice pocket of cross wind going about 55mph my first time descending it that pushed me way off my line toward the edge of the road, and that was enough to make me ease off on descents for probably the following 2-3 weeks! One of “those” moments.