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Ranchers' Rhapsody
Burnout left me wanting.

I had had about as much as I could take of the local scene. It's not like I've ridden every trail in Los Angeles County, but after a while the feeling of each region is so burned into the cells riding your 'fav trail' feels like a morning commute. Time to get out there...


Sunday, January 14th

Any more ice on the ground
and I might not make it out of this gas station!

It was a balmy 27*F and breezy as I gassed up at 7:00 AM. Ice was fricken' everywhere. As I sped down the expressway, the temperature remained stable until the other side of Newhall Pass. Saugus, 22*F. Castaic, 18*F. Pyramid Lake, 15*F!!! The truck brake inspection area just south of Gorman was closed. There was a 50ft wide smear of ice across the entrance. The Big Valley wasn't faring any better. As I headed up CA-184, I passed orchards with masses of ice beneath each tree.

Not much snow on the southern Sierra, though. As I drove up CA-178 I was getting that loopy feeling in my gut. These mountains are dang big! I hadn't been up this road in many years, and it felt like the first time. Those huge 'gates' of granite ridge on either side of the canyon are a helluva way to enter the mountains.

The Kern is one of my old stomping grounds, though I never was much interested in the lower part of the canyon. My interests had always been 'anywhere north of Kernville.' One small, insignificant dirt road had always piqued my curiosity. The Cow Flat Road had seemed to me one of those little roads to big things. Today was the day I was to find out.


Ice puddle on the Cow Flat Road


I left the highway and was immediately plunged into reverie. The road climbed gently through a beautiful oak forest overlooking the river. Views slowly expanded to include a stretch of canyon 6000 feet deep, with the Greenhorn Mountains on the north and Breckenridge on the south.

Four polypro shirts, lycra shorts, polypro long-johns, fleece pants, wool socks, GoreTex jacket...still not warm enough. Keep the pedals spinning. Work up the steam. Unfortunately the climb was gentle enough that I could work up enough speed to produce an unpleasant wind that ripped the energy away from me. After a couple miles, I reached a sunny ridgetop on which to take a quick break.


View southwest from Cow Flat Road



Looking 1600 feet down at the river and the highway



A view up-river


Time to move on. Now began a long (very long) traverse across the mountainside. I ate up the miles quickly, noticing increasing signs of bovine activity. I rode through Cow Flat and passed a big corral. Many pasture pastries there. Then I rounded a ridge and headed into a big canyon, towards Lucas Creek. That's when the scenery got a little more interesting.


Looking back at the long traverse



A 'granite gate' on the run-in to Lucas Creek


Here is where I came across the first walking hamburger. He was munching grass on the road, and when I shoo'd him along, he walked stubbornly along the road for a while, then eventually stepped aside and let me pass. I headed on into the shady depths of Lucas Creek, beneath looming mountainsides.


Lucas Creek crossing



More ice puddles


After cruising out the other side of the canyon, I crossed into cattle country. As soon as I passed over the cattle guard, the road became a carpet of smashed and dried meadow wafers. It was in this next section that I saw a truly disturbing sight. I came across a cow that appeared to be sleeping in the road. As I got closer, I whistled and then yelled, but got no response. Then I saw it. There was a partly formed fetus of a calf hanging out the back end of this big, black mound of dead cowflesh. Apparently the cow had a miscarriage and died in the event. Very gruesome! Helluva thing to see. And the smell...

I moved on and passed from USFS land into a private ranch, following an easement. This ranchland went on, and on, and on. Several bleak miles later I reached the paved Breckenridge Road. Still, the ranch went on, and on. The Milano Land and Cattle Company, that was the name on the signs. "No Trespassing!" "No Hunting!" "No Admittance!" These folks must have spent nearly $50,000 just on "No Trespassing" signs. And on, and on...

Eventually the climbing became steep, and I finally passed out of the ranch and back into Sequoia NF. Then I made a turn onto the shaded north face of Breckenridge, and the ice began. Much of the ice was ridable, but eventually I resorted to walking. Then walking became tricky, right about the time I should be turning around anyway, 3:30 PM, and I'm about 25 miles out! I had planned to try the Cow Flat-Breckenridge-Mill Creek loop ride, but an unknown amount of road and about 1300 feet of climbing lay between me and the trailhead. Time to give up. I sat on an embankment and wolfed down some cookies and juice (lordy, how I wish it was nap time!), then clipped in and headed back down the road.

There was enough packed powder on the sides of the road that I made good progress. I got cocky though, and carried too much speed across a patch of ice. ZIPPPP!! BANG! Landed right on my hip...the bad one...with the titanium pins in it! No damage, just a good bruise.

High clouds had moved in, obscuring the sun and bringing temperatures down again. I was making rather poor progress on the downhill. I could ride very fast, but only for a few minutes at a stretch. My hands and feet protested awfully until they got too numb to care. By this time I was too frozen and too preoccupied with the return journey to use the camera anymore.

I had a mellow ride back through the Milano ranchlands, but was not looking forward to passing that hideous cow carcass again. Little did I know that an even bigger shock awaited me. A bigger shock than seeing a dead cow with a fetus hanging out the backside? Yes, an even bigger shock than that.

As I approached the cow, there appeared to be another cow, brown, licking at the dead one as if to 'bring it back to life' ("Please don't be dead!"). But in the gloom I didn't see until I was dangerously close. The movements were quick, kind of a ripping motion. That's when it hit me! I was watching a bear in the process of butchering the remains!!! I stood dumbfounded as this bear was ripping and shredding the fetus in an attempt to free it and take it home for dinner.

I awoke from my stupor and yelled at the bear. After all, this scene was blocking my only path back to the comfort of my car. The bear looked up, appeared equally shocked, then darted down the mountainside and sat, watching. I passed the cow, yelled out a "Thank you!" to the bear, then jammed outa there!

I rolled on through the deepening darkness. The highway was a welcome sight, the only recognizable landmark. But it seemed to take forever to finish the downhill. I kept scurfing into ruts, hitting sand, narrowly missing huge puddles of ice. At last the locked gate signaled the end of the suffering. My car, and it's precious heater, lay 30 seconds down the highway.

As I drove down the canyon I worked my frozen hands back to life and contemplated one of the strangest days I've had in the mountains.


FIN!
Posted by Dr Wellington Yueh on 01/17/07

Responses: (1) (2) (3) Post Reply Alert moderators of this post

  • Re: Ranchers' Rhapsody
    Excellent! Glad you could get away from the same old. Looks like a beautiful area.
    Posted by CFIT on 01/18/07
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  • Re: Ranchers' Rhapsody
    Great Write up - in true Tom Style!

    nice - made me cold just reading it.
    Posted by Howeler on 01/18/07
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  • Re: Ranchers' Rhapsody
    Now that's a story! You, and the bear, are lucky you were too worn out to be properly scared ;-) And, the smell . . . . . . ;-)

    Nice stuff!


    Posted by Chainsaw a Die-hard Enthusiast riding a Red, White and Blue or Black one from S&M/Bentwood on 01/21/07
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