An Airhead friend of mine invited me and a bunch of others to share a group camp called Campo Alto, located in the mountains about 40 miles west of Lebec. I got an early start, leaving Thursday morning and taking Sierra foothill two lane roads along the CA49 corridor, overnighting in Oakhurst. Had dinner at a local brewpub, sharing insights and observations with a could of Millennials over from London for a two week vacation. They drank IPAs, I stuck with stouts and porters, everybody was happy.
Next day got an early brisk start with a romp around Bass Lake, then down through Auberry on Powerhouse Road, missing CA 41 and the mess that is Fresno entirely. Then up CA180 to the start of CA245, my new favorite road in California. It starts high and winds its way down to the valley, all the while following the contours of the hills, ups and downs, lots of 180s, all very well maintained as state routes seem to be, and all to myself but for an occasional tractor. I'm pretty sure I saw my own tail light a half dozen times on that one!
That got me down to 198 where I turned east to Yokohl Road, up through the valley and over the hill to Springville. More twisty turney roads, but this time much of it barely qualified as asphalt, with stones sticking out where the tar had worn off, holes big enough to eat a truck tire, and lots of sand and dirt in the corners. In other words, a perfect G/S road.;)
All that exercise had me flagging a bit, but by that time I was down to the valley and just headed south on CA 65, a mostly straight as an arrow two laner through California's diverse farm country. A short stint on 99 got me to Bakersfield and CA58 east through town to the aptly named Weedpatch Highway, CA184. Dusty, dirty, through what looked like bombed out villages and blue tarped shacks. Dismal though it was, it kept me off 99 until almost Grapevine, but there I headed up on I5 to Lebec, where I caught the Frazier Mountain Park Road west toward camp. That forked at Cuddy Valley road, then on to Pine Mountain Club. Shortly after that I found the well marked turn off to Cerro Noroeste mountain and Campo Alto.
I was a little nervous passing through a large chain link lockable gate, but I figured anybody that wanted to lock us all in is as crazy as the rest of us for wanting to camp there to begin with. If ever there was a place where I was glad my tent had loops for stakes, Campo Alto was it. It sits right on top of the mountain, at some 8200 feet, and the wind blows often and hard. As soon as I had my helmet off, I learned that most of the early birds that showed up for Thursday night had gotten cold noses and broken tents, and decided to pack up for warmer pastures that morning. Fortunately there were a dozen or so new arrivals such as myself that held hope for better times and decided to stay.
Marten, our host, had lugged coolers of food and gallons of water up the hill in his ailing pickup truck for us, and the least we could is hang in long enough to enjoy his hospitality. But as the sun set, the temperature dropped and the winds picked up to the point that we quit feeding wood to the fire for fear of setting the mountain top ablaze with an errant spark. As the fire ebbed the cold crept in and everyone was snugged deep into their sleeping bags by 8PM.
I'd double bagged my bed, but in my hurry to get the tent up before dinner, didn't pick a very flat or level spot. That, in combination with Marten's chilli's amazing gas generating capabilities and the flapping of the tent in the wind, had me tossing and turning most of the night. At least I wasn't cold, and held out emerging from the tent until the sun had had a chance to take the edge off some of the previous night's low temperature. It turned out to be well below freezing, as evidenced by the foot long icicle hanging from the picnic cooler.
Outside Tina's in Maricopa, Dave's happy with a great meal under his belt.
As I looked over the campground, I saw that most of the folks were busy munching on one of Marten's Costco muffins, while the other hand took down a tent or stuffed something in a saddlebag. They were all leaving, including Marten! Uh oh, Saturday and no reservations at a motel or campground, and no cell service, didn't bode well for a happy ending. My buddy Dave from Nevada and I decided to head north, looking for breakfast and an internet connection. By noon we were well fed, but I found no good prospects and decided to just head for home. We stuck to CA33 for a good ways north, with Dave peeling off east to Nevada shortly before it hit I5. I got on the freeway, thinking I'd take CA33 when it crossed again farther north, but with the skies darkening and the wind picking up, it didn't seem like the extra time needed for a back road would be worth arriving home in the dark.
The slog north on I5 wasn't without it's moments, as an inattentive woman decided to try lane sharing without first checking to see if someone wasn't already in her spot. Thank goodness for loud horns and good brakes. She mouthed "I'm sorry!" through her window as I went by, so maybe next time she'll pay more attention. A hundred miles up the road both lanes ground to a halt, and there was no end in sight to the backup. High beams and driving lights blazing, I jumped into the gap and lane split for what seemed like miles, about half the cars and trucks making room, the rest remaining oblivious. At the head of the jam, It seems someone didn't see the back end of a big rig in time to stop, leaving glass and plastic scattered across both lanes, and the semi-truck marooned in the middle of the fast lane. So much for freeways being safer. One last gas stop and I made it home just in time to chill out on the back porch with a couple fingers of Bourbon, happy with the great roads on the way down, but not so much with the ending. Maybe next time, Campo Alto will be visited in the warmer months, and be a cool respite to the sizzling valleys that it surmounts.