I had such a beautiful day!
It was tough saying goodbye to Josh and Cole. I really do miss them. It’s weird being in one place for so long, nearly growing roots and then to just suddenly leave. Ok, I guess it wasn’t that long. Only eight days. But still.
I loaded up the bike for the first time in over a week and headed out of town. I took I-80 east to Sacramento. This was the first time I’ve headed east on this trip. East is where home is. 3,000 miles or so east, that is. I-80 boringly winds its way to 10 miles north of Lewisburg. But Sacramento, nearly 80 miles after Berkeley, would be where I left it behind.
US 50 was my road of choice. And it starts in Sacramento. From here and for 30 more miles, US 50 is basically an interstate. It’s six-lanes in some places. For the first 120 miles of my trip today, I was on limited access, interstate-like roads. I took not a single picture and there isn’t much to really tell about it.
The first 120 miles are a boring blur. I climbed from near sea-level to 3,500 feet, rode through flatlands and was now climbing higher into the Sierras.
US 50 is known as “The Loneliest Road in America,” but this stretch was anything but lonely. Again, I found myself caught in the middle of a biker gang. I’m not sure how I do this, but this one was nearly 100 strong. None of them waved. None of them. Not even a head-nod. They passed me on turns, they motioned for other riders to pass me on turns, but they didn’t actually acknowledge me.
Traffic was heavy and headed to Lake Tahoe. It was Friday and folks seemed to be getting a jump on the weekend. Good for them.
All along this route, I could what may have been old alignments. This corridor has had many roads through it, all following the same basic path. In 1848, it was the Carson Route of the California Trail. This was a sort of short cut to avoid crappy winters at Donner Pass. In 1860, it was a Pony Express road. By 1895, it was California’s first state road: Lake Tahoe Wagon Road.
In the early days of automobiles, it was the “Pioneer Branch” of the Lincoln Highway (the main route went through Donner Pass on what would later be known as US 40). In 1926, it became US 50. And that’s what it is today.
Many improvements and reroutings have occurred since the 1840′s and the possible old alignments were here and there along the four-lane. However, since I knew basically nothing about US 50′s old alignments, I generally stuck to the main road.
Along some of the older sections of road, granite hand-carved mile markers keep track of distances. These were carved in the 30′s by prisoners at Folsom Prison in Sacramento. Mostly, they follow the old stage coach line, but I’m not sure how exact it is since they were laid in the 30′s.
The towns here were small and it felt more like the old west than California. But this is where many of the pioneers ended up, I suppose. The town of Kyburz was probably the smallest. While it has a post office, the sign in front of the building reads, on both sides: Welcome to Kyburz – Thank you for visiting Kyburz. I’m glad places like this exist.
And here is where US 50 East climbed and kept climbing relentlessly to 7,377 feet. I started the day at sea level. Not three hours later, I had climbed over 7,000 feet. This wasn’t the highest I’ve been on this trip. That would be Glorietta Pass at 7,525 feet above sea level. This was, however, pretty close.
From here, I could see several old alignments, but knew nothing of them. I didn’t just want to wander off. Well, I did. But I didn’t want to get lost.
As I cleared Echo Summit, I could see the literally breath-taking view of Lake Tahoe. I gasped as it came into sight and wished I could pull over to take a picture. The road was amazingly narrow, and afforded no such luxury.
I was able to eventually get a less-spectacular shot.
At the bottom, in the town of South Lake Tahoe, I had a choice. I could either follow US 50 to Carson City, my stop for the night, or I could circle the lake. Since I made amazingly good time so far, I decided to circle the lake on California Route 89 North.
Route 89 wiggles its way along the shores of the lake, sometimes making several successive hairpin turns. The scenery is constantly beautiful. The elevation hovered around 6,000 feet as I made my way into Tahoe City. And from here, 89 continues north, moving away from the lake towards Truckee, also known as Donner Pass.
And Donner Pass was definitely something I wanted to see again. I saw it in 2004 with Nikki and Ashley. But first, I rode around Truckee. It’s a neat little town and very “wild west.” It’s one of those places that would be fun to stop if you were with other people. But since I wasn’t, I took a few (too few) pictures and rolled on.
Donner Memorial State Park isn’t where the Donners were. Members of their party stayed (and died) there, but the Donners were a mile or so to the east.
In 2004, we found where they were. It’s a lovely little meadow… now. Then, it was 22 feet of snow and not such a great place to be. There were 89 people in the Donner Party when they set out from Missouri in May of 1846. They got caught in a blizzard in October right where I was standing. 39 members died and the survivors resorted to cannibalism to make it through.
The Donner Party is famous for the cannibalism, but the cannibalism at this site didn’t start until late-February, after the first rescue party had reached them and left with 21 of them. The first cannibalism within the party happened when 15 of the pioneers set out on a 100 mile journey to find help in mid-December. They became lost in a blizzard and four of the party died. The rest resorted to cannibalism to keep going. By the middle of January, they had reached help. That’s where the rescue parties rallied from.
This is a wonderful story and one of my favorites. I wish I would have been able to spend more time there. If you’re interested, you could spend hours here, and I suggest you do!
I rode through Truckee, taking a picture of an Amtrak Train heading east – just like me. The engineer sounded a friendly “hello” to me with two short honks of his horn. And while I’m headed east, this hardly feels like I’m headed home. I’ve got so much more to see!
Since Carson City was my stop for the day, I headed south, meeting back up with Lake Tahoe and US 50. From there it was 15 miles to Nevada’s capital. My motel is on the western side of the city, so I haven’t actually had a chance to see any of it.
That’s why there is tomorrow.
Miles today: 285
Miles total: 5,272