Norcal - Inyo County - Bishop NickNames: #CoyoteFlatRoad
Take West Line St. (CA-168) west from the town of Bishop. Make a left at Mummy Lane and go south, then bend southeast. Make a right turn on the dirt road about 1/2 mile past the bend in Mummy Lane. Drive up this sandy road across the desert towards the mountains. Cross the powerline road and continue up into a canyon. Park where the sandy road ends, just before the road leaves the bottom of the canyon.
Try to follow the goofy route I took, described in my story, below.
I awoke early, but couldn't resist the urge to soak up the sun and have my morning coffee. With a later-than-hoped-for start, I drove to Bishop, where the real thrash began.
The Coyote Flat Road starts just southwest of town on a broad desert plain composed of several alluvial fans below several deep canyons. I had hoped to chop about 800 vertical feet and a few miles of this desert riding by taking a short-cut I 'found' on a topo map. Before I left home, I imprinted the route on my mind, and conveniently left the map behind. The map was inaccurate enough, but what I remembered of it was even worse.
I parked along Highway CA-168 at 4800 feet elevation, at a historical marker on the location of the Battle of Bishop, in which white settlers and army fought the Piute and Shoshone indians. Again, the first obstacle of the ride was crossing a creek. I looped northward along the edge of the creek for some distance, but couldn't find a crossing. I backtracked to an Edison power plant and found a way across just below the dam for the small reservoir.
I found the powerline road on the other side, and, after taking a wrong turn, began my trek across the plain. About 0.75 mile later, I crossed a well-travelled but sandy road headed roughly in the right direction, but from what I remember of the map I shouldn't be there yet...
I continued along the powerline road, riding southeast. Suddenly I saw a paved road ahead, leading up into a large canyon. Surely this must be it! And, miracle of miracles, it's paved!
The ride up this paved road was steep but easy. I reached the mouth of the canyon, and there, posted on fenceposts, were some 'No Trespassing' signs. This was clearly the wrong way. Then I saw the street sign (an incongruous sight in the middle of the desert) which read 'Chipmonk Canyon.' But relief was in sight. A local resident was driving down the road, and I asked him for directions. He confirmed my error...UGH!! I had gone too far.
Returning to the powerline road, I made a quick detour up a sandy gulch and rested in the shade of a large boulder. The short stretch back to the Coyote Flat Road went quickly. I made a left and began climbing up a long alluvial fan, in times riding through deep sand. The surface below the sand was firm enough that I was convinced the road would improve. I climbed up the entire canyon before the surface finally improved.
The road bent back to the north and began a set of switchbacks. The surface had improved, but the grade had increased harshly. Here, I was passed by a group of fishermen descending in a large truck. We exchanged 'howdy's and the driver said 'Boy, it gets pretty steep up there!!' As I climbed the switchbacks, the grade got worse and worse. Toward the end, the road crossed a gulley between the granite sand of the mountainside and a large cinder cone sticking out into the valley. The riding became rough and even steeper. To my surprise, the last 100 feet of this climb was paved!
I had gained the top of the huge cinder cone, at an elevation of 6500 feet. The whole town lay before me, lush and forested, with canals and creeks snaking their way through the loose network of small streets. Around the town was the highest open plain of the Owens Valley. Above that, the Volcanic Table Lands rose abruptly in one long rampart above the Owens River. The river cut a deep gorge right through the Table Lands, dropping from the forested highlands below Rock Creek. To the northeast, a vast, empty valley opened up between the White Mountains and an intermediate range due north of Bishop. And, ever-present to the north and west, was the splendor of the Sierra crest.
The road beckoned, so I cut short my rest and resumed the ride. The grade was not so bad here as the road headed southwest again. Passing into a pinyon pine forest, the road roughly followed the border between volcanic and granitic rock.
The grade once again took a savage turn upward. There were no more switchbacks. The road seemed to leap upward from shoulder to shoulder on the ridges of the mountain. I would climb very steeply for 100 or 200 feet, then make a sharp turn, climb steeply for 50 more feet, then level off for a few seconds, only to repeat the climb-and-turn sequence again and again...
The altitude was taking a toll on my stamina. I could no longer ride continuously. I had to stop and dismount after every steep stretch. I began to tick off the distance in 100-foot 'steps' - climb 100 feet, rest, climb 100 feet, rest. At this point I adopted a mantra, both a derogatory and imperative statement: 'Suck wind, flatlander!!'
At about 7600 feet, I passed a nice little campsite on a prominent shoulder of the mountain. Then I descended steeply, loosing about 200 feet of hard-won elevation. This frustrated me. I doggedly kept at my task, though, and regained that 200 feet. I passed another notch in a ridge, only to descend again. I was tempted at this point to just give up and have lunch. This spot, after all, had a magnificent view and was nice and warm in the afternoon sun. But my subconscious mind had set a goal...keep riding til 5:00 PM!!!
Just past the 7800 foot level, I entered a pretty little valley beneath impressive rock formations. A descending fisherman and his grandson passed and as we talked, he mentioned that he had met a guy in Alaska who was beginning a long bike tour - THE long bike tour - from Alaska to Patagonia. YIKES!! As we said goodbye, he said that 'Oh...by the way, the steepest part is just ahead...'
Well, I was so thrashed that I walked most of that stretch and finally reached a fine viewpoint atop a rocky ridge. It was 4:53 PM. Time to stop.
I ditched my bike in the manzanita and climbed up an outcrop of rock, at an elevation of 8600 feet. The view was even broader and more magnificent than before, with afternoon shadows giving more definition and detail to the desert far, far below. To the southwest, I could see Ford Flat, through which the road passes on its continuing climb toward Coyote Flat. The slopes above this point became heavily forested with lodgepole pines.
I was frustrated at being out of time, but my frustration was tempered by fatigue. Even if I had had the time, I certainly didn't have enough energy left. I just sat there, watching the shadows race across the valley floor, eating my lunch, listening to subtle sounds like wind and birds and critters in an otherwise silent landscape.
All too soon I was compelled to pack up and descend. The shadow of the Sierra crest had reached the Owens River Gorge. It was 5:30 PM, and I had almost 4000 feet of extremely rough descent ahead.
The descent was a matter of survival. My instincts took control, and the things that mattered most were keeping the bike upright and rolling. I have great faith in my bike's ability to handle abuse within a certain envelope. That envelope was being stretched to the tearing point. My biggest fear was that the rims would heat up so much that I would blow a tire. If that happened, the brakes would not work and I would become a BASE jumper without a 'chute.
I stopped frequently on the way down to shake out my arms. They had become so pumped from hanging on to the brakes they were nearly cramping. Each time I stopped I noticed that the shadows on the desert floor were MUCH closer to the White Mountains. I was running out of time. Even when I had finished the descent, I still had to putt around the desert to get back to the highway.
I reached the desert plain below the canyon, and the last rays of daylight were painting the White Mountains red. I hustled across the desert, following the powerline road I had used earlier. By the time I reached the Edison power plant, it was still somewhat light, so I detoured downhill toward town on a road following the creek. This final descent was a nice unwind. I crossed the creek and regained the highway by dark. A few minutes of riding brought me back to my truck, where I collapsed and began to eat and drink like nobody's business...
Ride rating: Advanced
Ride distance: 20+ mi (round trip) Elevation change: 4000+ ft
Dirt Road=99% Paved Path=1%
Tom Kenney a 31 year old Cross-Country Rider riding a Klein Pinnacle from Reseda, CA URL: Tom's Page