It was still pitch dark when the sound of pots and pans woke me up on Day two. Mark and the Western Spirit Crew were getting breakfast started. Their headlamps arced back and forth over the roof of my tent as I pulled on my trousers and shoes, grabbed a towel and headed to the shower building using my iPhone as a flashlight. By the time I returned there was just enough light to see the camp was slowly stirring. One by one the riders emerged from their cocoons, bundled up in extra layers of fleece, hats and compression gear.
Thanks to two-time Solo World Mountain Bike Champion Rebecca Rusch, enjoying her longest stint on a road bike... well ever, anyone who hadn't experienced compression gear got a pair of SKINS to try. It's fair to say they trusted Rebecca's experience and donned the Lycra and Meryl Microfibre recovery aids as soon as they got off the bike each day.
It was good to see Specialized's Erick Marcheschi feeling better. The day before he'd sat in the middle of the parking lot for a good thirty minutes trying to drink and eat his way back from the edge. He joked to us later that if he'd had signal on his cell he'd have called his wife to come pick him up right there and then. It was his worst moment and from that point on Erick got stronger each day.
Mechanic Andy Schiffer was already hard at work tuning bikes while the gang tucked into a breakfast of cereal, french toast and crispy bacon. Many of the riders on Dura Ace wheels were unaware that Shimano had recalled and replaced version ones that had been assembled without any locking compound on the spoke nipples. Without the compound, nipples would unthread and compromise the wheels. Andy would spend many hours dealing with this problem throughout the journey.
Breakfast was soon dispatched, plates scraped off, tents packed up and a parade lap to the restrooms completed before riders kitted up in the warming sunshine. Mike Sinyard got some hard man points for forgoing a tent and settling for a sleeping bag and ground pad; a calculated veteran move to save the energy of putting up and breaking down a shelter I'd say. Around 7:30 am bikes and riders were ready and without fanfare they left the campground and headed East for Yosemite.
The miles between Lake McSwain and Mariposa were perhaps the most beautiful of the whole trip. The peloton peddled easily through the golden rolling hills. The road twisted and turned, pitched and spun like an asphalt version of Hot Wheels track. Chris D'Aluisio and his wife Carmen headed the double paceline much of the time. Everyone was in good spirits as they shed arm warmers, gilets and light jackets. The road tipped up a little and so did the pace. We positioned ourselves in front of the group so I could shoot video out the back of the van. With the Zacuto resting on my knee I managed a couple of shallow depth of field clips on smooth pavement. When the road got rough, I gave up and got back in so we could fly ahead to get gas and water in Mariposa.
We fueled up, resupplied and regrouped with the peloton at a Mariposa gas station. When Bob, one of our riders pulled up to find six or seven of his riding mates chatting on their cell phones, he humorously took them to task and told them they'd have to restart the stage to make it official after their cellular indiscretions.
From Mariposa they followed Highway 140 all the way into Yosemite Valley. The road climbed for a while before spiraling down to the Merced River where the shoulder disappeared. That was a little sketchy with Friday traffic building, but everyone made it through safely without incident.
Once in the park, the excitement was palpable. Though I'm sure the riders were tired there's something about the air in Yosemite that cures all ills. They picked up the pace and sped into the hospitality camp with a curious ranger in pursuit. As a couple of cyclists explained the ride to the officer the rest of us unpacked our gear and set up camp. With plenty of daylight left in the day Kathryn and I were anxious to do a little riding of our own. Andy came up with an SL2 for me to ride and Kathryn got set up on her cross bike (which we'd modified with front and rear racks to use as a camera platform).
The peloton was safely back in their compression socks and unwinding with snacks and recovery drinks in a camp chair circle when Kathryn and I rolled out for a loop around the Valley. We rode up to Mirror Lake (which unfortunately was bone dry), over to Yosemite Village and then around the perimeter at a good clip. This was Kathryn's first trip to the park so we stopped in at the Ahwahnee Hotel for a peek at the foyer and dining room. It's an impressive room.
Back in camp, I made use of the available power outlets in my "cabin" to charge batteries and then went off to grab a shower. Dinner was soon ready and we all enjoyed a tasty meal of chicken/vegetable curry and rice. Ingeniously the Western Spirit team made a delicious carrot cake in one of their big pots. Like everything else they made, this disappeared quickly.
As light faded in the Valley, the camp rapidly filled with guests and we took the annoying but necessary precaution of removing all foodstuffs, and anything that had a smell of any kind from the photo van. Yosemite bears would be about, and they've become expert at peeling back the doors of cars to get at anything remotely edible inside. If Andy, who was rooming with me, and I wondered how a flimsy canvas door was going to keep a motivated bear from eating us, we were too tired to worry about it long.