I dreamt fitfully about Yosemite a century ago, a quieter place before the tour buses and visitors in the millions descended on nature's great cathedral. Our night was full of sound: clanging bear-proof garbage cans; vehicles on the perimeter road; the mysterious rustling of little feet (racoons) and the muffled chatter of insomniacs. If there were bears about they were surely irritated by all the commotion. Even the stars, preferring silence, stayed away.
It was a relief when Western Spirit's preparations signaled dawn was near. It had cooled noticeably from the previous evening and I was glad to be moving around. Our breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes and English muffins soon disappeared, coffee cups were drained and we broke camp with purpose. Mark from River City Bicycles won the daily double sporting Rapha's orange Stowaway and Panache houndstooth socks. Nice choices. Kathryn put Glenn from Santa Rosa's Norcal Bike Sport in a red Specialized kit. He was one of our featured riders for the day.
Reasoning we had several miles of smooth pavement to start the day's stage, Kathryn and I decided to christen our camera bike. We'd outfitted Kathryn's cross bike with front and rear racks, then bolted arca-style clamps to the them. I fitted the 5D MK II to the rear rack, reefed the clamp closed then for insurance wrapped a couple of strips of inner tube around the camera body and lens barrel. The lens was set to focus manually at 12 feet in aperture mode. I rigged a cable release and taped the trigger to the top tube.
When the peloton assembled I told them to get close and to rotate off the front behind me, then I led them out onto the road and began shooting. It would have been nice to have a cable release long enough to reach my bars but I managed. Since I couldn't see what I was shooting I fired the camera when I felt the following riders were close. Then I asked them to slide past me on either side. We crossed a short stretch of bumpy stuff and I heard something metallic hit the ground. I learned later I'd lost a $200 filter. Note to self: tape filters and hoods to lenses in future.
Somehow I managed to get two frames with Half Dome behind the riders. Lucky shots.
We rode on at an easy pace, the road angling slightly downwards towards the turnoff and the climb to Tioga pass. Apart from the awkwardness of riding with one hand and firing the shutter on the top tube with the other, the 30lb bike still handled well. We started the climb and I hung on to the front for a couple of miles before peeling off out of gas. I immediately checked the camera to make sure I hadn't been pressing the shutter release for the last ten miles to no result. Thankfully I hadn't and it looked like we'd captured several good images from this first attempt. The riders were already spreading out as they streamed past us and they all looked strong.
We pulled Photo 1 back onto the road and left the riders behind us in peace for a while. When we figured we had fifteen minutes on them we pulled over so I could change out of the new pair of Rapha Cross bibs I was wearing. Love the red flashes and the lighter Lycra.
Chris, Rich and Glenn soon arrived climbing like the road was flat. It was getting busy and to make matters worse the dreaded rental RVs started to appear trailing a line of impatient cars behind them like pilot fish. We shot video from a rocky ledge above the two lane, and cheered our band on. We didn't know our celebrations would be short lived.
Two miles later, where the climb flattened out we came upon all our service vehicles. Park rangers had asked them to stop and pull our riders off the road. There were no rangers with them yet so we decided to remove the potential media complication from any negotiations. We sped on up the road a couple of miles, stayed off the radio and waited.
Thirty minutes... forty five minutes passed and then the vans appeared. With the exception of one or two riders who'd slipped past the checkpoint, all our riders were aboard and their bikes racked and stacked. We got back on the radio with Nikane, our amazing Ride Director, and she confirmed we'd been denied permission to ride any further in Yosemite. We were stunned. For reasons that still don't make a great deal of sense we had to drive to the Eastern Gate, exit the park and then we could resume the ride. There was some debate on the radio about ignoring the order, after all we passed one or two unattached riders traveling the same road without issue. Ultimately we decided not to jeopardize future rides and followed our instructions; we picked up our strays. Carmen was the last rider we pulled off the road.
The ride reassembled just beyond the Eastern Gate, above a landscape that might be Mordor. From across the valley we got a long shot of them descending like bullets. Several of them hit 60mph on the exhilarating descent... complete with enough crosswind gusts to scare the living daylights out of lighter riders.
When the last of the riders were off the bobsled run we followed and rejoined the caravan at Lee Vining. They had 25 miles of rolling Highway 395 and a strong headwind to contend with before their day would end in Mammoth Lakes. It hadn't played out the way anyone expected in Yosemite, but there were hundreds of miles yet to travel on the way to Vegas. All would be forgotten after a dinner of Turkey Lasagna and the massage therapists got to work. Lone Pine was tomorrow's objective.