Ride Report: Sierra Sampler 2016 7

Donner Bridge & Lake

It was less than a month after the Trans Am Van tour with Adventure Cycling Association before I was solicited again at the end of August for another bike tour. I was barely coming down from the emotional high and getting out of my PTD funk, when I was asked by the Event Director to join her team.

This time, it was going to be a different type of tour. It would be a fully supported event tour where we’d take care of cyclists’ luggage, and caterers would be traveling with our group for a week to take care of meals. All they have to do is just come and ride their bikes.

It is similar to the trip I took last year in Colorado but this will be tougher as we are not planning to host younger kids and their parents. Instead, this trip is planned for seasoned cyclists who are up for some challenging rides across the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.

The Team

Our team consisted of 6 staff members plus our event director, Kelly (who also reads this blog – Hi Kelly!). The event director is our boss and was the primary lead and contact for our tour. The mechanic took care of people’s bicycle problems throughout the trip. The luggage guy aka “Captain Luggage,” was in charge of the organization and movement of people’s luggage from one location to the next. And then, the 4 of us staff members were in charge of doing several miscellaneous tasks to keep things running smoothly on a daily basis.

Our tour officially started on September 10th, but our team agreed to meet at 10am the day before at the Enterprise in Reno, Nevada. Unfortunately, travel to and from the meeting point was not covered by the organization, so I opted to drive from Los Angeles to Reno in a span of a day and a half on my own.

Day 0: Getting There

Millpond Campground

The first day was spent driving through Palmdale and then eventually along the edge of the Mojave Desert before I reached the town of Bishop. Bishop is one of the bigger towns that sits central to several key destinations like Yosemite, Death Valley, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Las Vegas.

I decided to camp at the Brown’s Millpond Campground. Not exactly a cheap place to camp at $25 a night for a primitive camping spot, but it was situated in a beautiful meadow away from town so you had the best views of the stars.

The next morning, I awoke at 5AM to break down camp and leave at 6AM to Reno. The 197-mile journey which should have taken about two and half hours, ended up to be a 4-hour journey. Highway 395 was under construction at many segments where we waited out flaggers to let us through the sections every 20 minutes.

Equipment & Vehicle Shuffle

I arrived at the Enterprise a few minutes after 10AM. Kelly was running around trying to get the vehicles rented out: 2 trucks and a minivan for our mechanic. Once the vehicles were checked out, we unloaded our own personal vehicles into each of our respective tour vehicles. My stuff went with Kelly’s truck. The other truck went with a staff member who teamed up with another to mark routes.

We all went to the Uhaul location to rent out a huge truck for luggage. We left both mechanic and “Captain Luggage” to wrap up the luggage truck rental followed by tables and chairs rentals. Kelly and I went to pick up the Adventure Cycling van which was parked at one of the staff leader’s house.

When we got there, one of our newest staff members joined us to help sort out the items that needed to be retrieved from the garage. Things like coolers, vehicle kits, and emergency kits were among the items that needed to come with us. These were pulled out in time for the luggage truck to stop by and load them onto the truck before heading to our final destination for the day.

I was once again reunited with the same van that I drove down the Pacific Coast as well as half way across the country a few months ago. I remember feeling relief when I dropped it off in Oregon and to see it lo and behold in front of my very own eyes again was a bit bittersweet. It was good to be reunited with an old friend – even if it is one that doesn’t talk back.

Before heading into camp at Cisco Grove Campgrounds, our assignment was to buy several items at the nearest Wal-Mart. This included things like staff drinks, yellow jacket traps, and other essential items. After the shopping was done, I drove east out of Reno heading past the town of Truckee and eventually left Nevada to be back into California.

Cisco Grove

At camp, we reorganized supplies and set up our tents for the next 2 nights. I was hoping to be able to pitch up my hammock, but my straps were too short to fit around any trees. Luckily, I brought along my  REI Quarter Dome 1 tent for broader options.

Pizza was delivered by Kelly’s daughter for dinner. Shortly after dinner, a campfire was started, and we all sat around and enjoyed the warmth and each other’s company. The next day was going to be a busy one as we open up our proverbial doors to our participants.

Day 1: September 10, 2016

I woke up early the next morning. Kelly and another staff member went to pick up breakfast while the rest of us started organizing the tables and chairs for our attendees to sit on. We also started setting up the registration table and tidied up in the luggage truck to make things accessible.

Donner PassWhen it came to organization, there were clever things done. One of my favorite things was the use of a hanging door shoe bag to keep things sorted like the keys to our cars as well as other useful things like bottle openers or pens. The same door shoe organizer was used for a charging station in combination with a drying rack to keep our participant’s phones in place while they are being charged. Really brilliant stuff. Stuff you find browsing through Pinterest for ideas.

As 3PM approached, more and more people showed up to camp. When it was time to check them in, we had a steady stream of participants for 45 minutes straight. We checked everybody in, gave them their Adventure Cycling shirts, as well as route sheets for the week, and asked them for their riding preferences on their off days.

4PM was the orientation meeting where Kelly talked about the trip and allowed us to say a few words about things like safety and other points for our riders to know before they start their adventure. One of our staff members decided to loosen the crowd up with an ice-breaker where he had them do the popular dance of the 90s: The Macarena.

Surprisingly, the majority of the folks participated and everybody was laughing at the end of the ice-breaker.

When all the logistics were taken care of, it was time for supper at 6PM. We grabbed our mess kit and picked up our food from the caterer’s tables. We went back to the tables and mingled with the participants. I made it a point to try to sit with people besides our staff so I could find out more about them and where they are coming from.

We finally settled down and went to bed around 9-10PM. The next day was the start of a long ride out of camp for 70 miles into Zephyr Cove RV Campground at Southeast Lake Tahoe. Many people were still settling down, but most people retired in their tents as soon as the sun disappeared.

Day 2: September 11, 2016

Everybody was dressed in their best lycra outfit and straddled their 2-wheel companion after a quick breakfast. I was assigned to ride sweep, so I was the one of the last few to leave camp.

The ride was tough as I was trying to get my conditioning use to the higher altitude. It also didn’t help that I had not ridden a bike for a few weeks due to a neck injury I endured from sleeping the wrong way.

I caught up to the last 2 riders at the top of Donner Pass. They told me that they normally are stronger riders who would hammer out the miles and don’t really slow things down, but they are trying to slow it down on this tour. I encouraged them as they both slipped down the pass while I took some photos and regained composure. This would be the last time I would see any riders for the rest of the day.

The ride down Donner Pass was simply gorgeous. I made 2 stops to enjoy the view and take photos and videos. With a smile on my face, I floated the pass to Donner Lake and then eventually into the visitor center, where I learned about the Donner Party and the history around that area of the Sierra Nevadas, including first Chinese settlers who lived there during the gold rush and building of the railroad systems.

I eventually rode through Truckee and then entered the northwest side of Lake Tahoe for the first time. I couldn’t believe I’d never been here before so I was excited but tired. I was at the 40-mile mark when I arrived at our lunch stop.

Swarmed at Lunch

I was told that our lunch stop was a bit of a disaster between moving around for a wedding reception and avoiding swarms of yellow jacket bees. As soon as the sandwich cooler opened, bees would swarm in and made it almost impossible to enjoy our lunch. I also experienced it first hand and opted to have my lunch down the road after I helped clean up the lunch stop.

The rest of the ride included lots of ups and downs, but primarily more ups. I finally rolled into camp a few minutes past 6PM when the map meeting was done and people were lining up for supper.

Many people asked if I rode that day and I confirmed with a joke saying that they must have done a great job if they didn’t see me. My fatigue from the elevation and conditioning was obvious as my team gave me sympathetic compliments. I turned into bed early that evening as I was exhausted from the day.

Day 3: September 12, 2016

The next morning was a layover day where we stayed at the same location again. There were 4 organized rides that our participants had the option to join. 2 of them were mountain bike rides which took them along the Flume trail overlooking Lake Tahoe. The other 2 were road rides which went out to various locations south of Lake Tahoe. Those rides were led by 2 of our staff leaders.

I volunteered to stay in camp while everyone was gone to guard our site and possessions. When more of the staff returned from their outing, I ducked out for about 2 hours and walked around the area and eventually settled near the camp registration for some work on the laptop.

Zephyr Cove

Photo by Pat McManus

Everybody came back from their respective rides with big smiles on their faces and stories to share with one another at dinner. We had our map meeting which included some warnings about the weather the next day. We were expecting some wet and cold weather while the group had to ride across 2 behemoth passes at Luther and Monitor. We may even see snow at that elevation so that put a quick damper on all the positive outlooks.

We went to bed with this looming above our heads and was woken up on 2 occasions because we had a visitor in our camp: a black bear. He first investigated the trash that was hanging on our luggage truck before Captain Luggage yelled at him and he scurried up the hills. Then at 2AM, I heard crunching sounds and Kelly’s voice exclaiming, “Bear! There’s a bear in the camp!” I quickly jumped out of my tent with a flashlight to help scare the bear away with other staff members.

I didn’t get to see the actual beast but saw the crushed vehicle kit in the back of the bed of one of our truck. We stashed the kit and a Gatorade syrup inside the truck and assessed the damage the bear had caused. Nothing was too bad except that the bear tore through a couple of trash cans and utensil storage from the caterer. The caterers ended up cleaning all that mess and waking up a few hours later to prepare breakfast.

Day 4: September 13, 2016

Water stop at Luther Pass

Water stop at Luther Pass

My task on that Tuesday was going to be a tough one. I had to wake up and break down camp and pick up hotel participants by 6:30AM, have breakfast, load up the van, and then drive out to fuel up the van, pick up coffee, and then set up the first water stop at Luther Pass. I did this with the help of another staff leader who was scheduled to leave with the lunch stop person to help him set up lunch before she was to ride over Monitor Pass.

Everything happened as planned and we got up there with time to spare before the first few riders arrived. Everyone was surprised and grateful to have warm coffee ready for them at the top. I had 2 stoves going with boiling water for some hot chocolate beverages. The weather was on the cold and wet side at first, but the rain clouds stayed away and didn’t worsen throughout the day.

The last rider rode out before noon and I packed up my table and drove into the town of Markleeville. I got into town to grab lunch and a complimentary cup of soup from the local diner. This was all prearranged by Kelly in preparation for a cold day. 3 other riders wanted a bump up to Monitor so they can ride down into camp. I happily obliged and strapped their bikes on top of the van. We then proceeded to drive up the steep ascent to Monitor Pass. We passed all our riders slowly making their way up the mountain.

As soon as I made it to the top and got all out my table and snacks out, the first set of riders arrived. A continuous stream of them kept coming to the water stop to refill their sports bottle with water and Gatorade. Every rider who came in from that moment on received the popular “Rocky” theme music of when he’s running up the stairs in Philadelphia and enthusiastic cheers from those of us watching on.

Coleville/Walker KOA

Photo by Ned Geiser

By the time the last riders rolled through, it was getting colder as I finally got to see what everybody else got to experience ahead of me going down the other side of Monitor Pass towards highway 395. It was simply stunning and would have been a blast to experience on a bicycle.

We made it into our camp for the night at the Coleville/Walker KOA. This was a beautiful spot that I had passed by on my way up to Reno and wondered about staying there. Here I was fulfilling that dream. The sunset was beautiful as it crested off the granite wall backdrop while at the opposite side of the road, the rain shower colored the rainbow in the sky.

Temperatures quickly dropped down to the 30s that night. I was given the opportunity to finally set up my hammock in the luggage truck. I thoroughly enjoyed my rest.

Day 5: September 14, 2016

View of Mono Lake

Photo by Rod March

The next morning, we woke up to frost on top of the cars as we prepped for the day. The ride today consisted of leaving Coleville through Walker and then climbing up to the town of Bridgeport for lunch. My role was to drive around in the pickup as a vehicle sweep.

Right out of Walker was the canyon whose temperature registered at around 26 degrees in the shade. It was freezing with a narrow shoulder, but all of our riders made it out unscathed. The first water break was at the Sonora Junction. I tagged along with the end of the pack of riders until I made my way into Bridgeport for lunch.

From there, 2 riders wanted a bump to the top of the Mono Lake Vista point. I loaded up their bikes and we previewed the route up to the summit. Afterward, I turned back around to Bridgeport to help clean up the lunch spot. I didn’t get out of Bridgeport without getting a strawberry shake. It hit the spot as I retraced the route to Mono Lake Vista point. I stopped at an overlook at the side of the road to take in the beauty of the Eastern Sierras and Mono Lake. I then made my way down some wide 2 lane roads to Mono Lake and the Tufas.

The next water stop had pie so many people were looking forward to that. I took the chance to check out Mono Lake for the first time and see the impact of water consumption by my city, as well as from the drought. I finally made it out there and drove into the visitor center to learn more about the lake before we headed into our camp at Lee Vining.

Day 6: September 15, 2016

Our last layover day was scheduled the following day. My job was to be 1 of 3 shuttles into Yosemite Valley. We woke up to clear out the vehicles and cleaned the windows so people had the best possible view (yet another small, but insightful decision made by our brilliant leader, Kelly).

I drove the same truck from the previous day. I was able to fit 5 passengers in my truck. It took 2.5 hours to get into the valley. It was a brisk morning but warmed up shortly as we descended into the valley and became downright hot by the time we left in the afternoon. While all of our participants went on hikes and explored Yosemite, I stuck around the Yosemite Village area to take a closer look at the visitor center and spent some quality time reflecting on the trip.

View from Minaret Vista

Photo by Jim Defrisco

We all agreed to meet at the car by 3PM to make our way back to camp. The ride back took approximately 2 hours. We made it just in time for our map meeting. We closed out the evening with a visit to the local watering hole with the staff and some participants. After the lackluster service from the bartender, I paid for my 1 drink and walked back to camp ready for bed.

Day 7: September 16, 2016

The next day was the last day of riding and I would get to ride half of the route. The plan was that I set up our lunch stop and then when the designated staff member makes it into lunch, I was allowed to ride the rest of the way into Mammoth Lakes and up to Minaret Vista.

I was totally stoked about riding again as I felt that being off the bike helped me assimilate to the elevation. I was stronger than day 1, but still felt the upward struggle to Minaret Vista. The view was rewarding as I spent a good hour just relaxing at the top.

When it came time to go back down to our camp, I was cold and was happy to not have to pedal a lot more. I pretty much coasted all the way down to Mammoth Lakes.

Here’s the downhill footage from that run.

As soon as I got in, I set up my hammock (yay!) and helped load up everybody’s bikes using a clever usage of heavy duty zip ties to get them stacked alongside the walls of the truck. Kelly gave her last map meeting and announcements, and then we had our last dinner. Everybody was in a celebratory mood. People were reflecting back on the great adventure they had, and I could feel the post tour depression starting to hit a few folks.

Day 8: September 17, 2016

It was all about getting people on the bus and their bikes back to Cisco Grove this day. I got to ride with Kelly in the bus. We played stewards as we handed out sandwiches to folks for lunch. The rest of our crew was in charge of getting to Cisco Grove to unload their respective vehicles.

We made it in around noon and there was the mad scramble of unloading people’s bikes and people asking about their boxes for their bikes. Everyone said their goodbyes, but we stuck around to help rearrange our own personal luggage while the luggage truck and mechanic’s truck made their way out to return equipment and rentals.

The 2 pickup trucks carried the rest of us back to Truckee with rental bikes and bikes requiring shipping to their respective homes. We dropped off the bikes and drove back into Reno. From there, I picked up my own car and parked it in the Reno airport parking structure. Kelly then drove me to our home for the night, the Sands Regency Casino.

Mammoth Lake SignWe all eventually cleaned ourselves up in our hotel rooms and met up for dinner. From there the staff enjoyed a final meal together before we said goodbye and went our separate ways. I was going to get the van back from the staff member who had been keeping the van at his house. The plan was that he was going to meet me at 6:30 at the parking lot the next morning so I can start my drive to El Paso.

Final Thoughts

With this being my first event, it was a lot more work and customer service than what I typically go through with a van tour, but the time on the road was shorter and having team members made things a lot easier. Our tour director, Kelly, was so awesome! She was relaxed most of the time, but when it came time to delegate and address serious topics, she commanded the attention needed to guide our team forward.

The riding seemed tougher than normal as people were riding well over 60 miles a day. The tour average said it was 38 miles per day, but that was with the assumptions that you don’t ride on your days off. The majority of the folks did choose to ride even on their days off.

The people in our group really made it super special. Everybody was nice and courteous to one another. Everyone was positive and willing to do things. Many people came in with an open mind and open attitude to experience both great riding as well as not so great conditions.

Would I do something like this again? That’s a definite yes! It certainly is a high energy job and the pay isn’t so great, but how can you beat being on the road and being outdoors?


Do you have any questions about an Adventure Cycling Event? Here are some events in the coming year that you can check out.


I might be lucky enough to be staffed in one of them, so we’ll get to hang out as well.

Here’s the Vlog video that covers this tour.

About Johnny Lam

Johnny is an avid cyclist who enjoys bicycle touring as well as anything bicycle related. Johnny has traveled the entire Pacific Coast by bike from Vancouver to the border of California and Mexico. He’s also toured through-out locations in Southern California. Johnny is also a League of American Bicyclists League Certified Instructor (LCI) and also completed the Adventure Cycling Association’s Leadership Training Course (LTC). He is an active member in Los Angeles bicycling community being involved in organizations like the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition (LACBC), C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange), and Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV) by taking part in ride marshaling, pedestrian & bike counts, and other volunteering opportunities.

7 thoughts on “Ride Report: Sierra Sampler 2016

  • Jim DeFrisco

    Nice report, Johnny! It was a great experience, and I appreciate all the efforts of the AC staff. Looking forward to my next ride with AC…

  • Francine

    Hi Johnny. Great post! It sounded like an awesome adventure, and one that I’d like to do some day. I guess I have to start slow though as I’ve never done a bicycle tour of any sort. When I get back to LA, I’d like to take part in one of your weekend group tours. What sorts of equipment do you recommend having for these short weekend touring trips?


    • Johnny Lam Post author

      Hi Francine,

      Would love to host you on a local MeetUp ride when you’re back in LA. The beauty for most of our rides is that it is a quick overnight trip so if anything doesn’t work out, you’re only out for 1 night. You just need the basics of a fully-functional bike, tent/tarp, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, change of clothing (optional), spare tires, pump, a bag or two to carry all this gear. Some people carry backpacks while the majority of us use bike racks either attached to the front or rear of the bike. I would recommend not investing in gear before you know you like to bike tour. Just try it out first and borrow. I have extra gears that I can lend you or anybody that needs it. Hopefully, this is useful and answers your question! Thank you again for commenting and following.


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