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Here’s a news flash: Thunder as well as lightning get my undivided attention
garrison lake
Garrison MacQueen in July 2015 at an Eastern Sierra at 8,700 feet 10 minutes before two bolts of lightning sped across the water 20 feet off the surface before zapping a nearby mountainside.

“One thousand, one thousand two,  one thousand three, one thousand four  . . .”

It was the third time in less than 10 minutes that my bicycling companion had rattled off those numbers.

She was a 28-year-old lawyer from Illinois.

I was a 32-year-old sports editor from Roseville near Sacramento.

We were in New Mexico cycling from Taos to the Red River Ski Resort.

It was a 47-mile trip over the 9,855-foot Red River Pass.

We were on a 10-day Backroads Bicycling Tour trip.

Since she flew to Santa Fe when the tour started, she opted to rent one of the tour company’s touring bicycles that had lower gears and much wider tires than the 700cc on the racing bicycle I opted to bring with me since I drove.

It was Memorial Day in 1988.
I started the ride in nothing but thin summer cycling shorts and a short sleeve jersey.

Karin, on the other hand, opted to wear cycling tights and a cycling jacket.

The rest of the group — 14 other riders — when the winds picked up opted to wait  for the vans.

By the time Karin started her counting, both vans had passed us by and were likely descending into Red River.

As we cycled along Highway 38, I pulled up alongside her and asked why she was counting.

She looked at me like I had a hole in my head.

“Lightning,” is all she said.

I gave her a “duh” look given I had seen the lightning.

When I pressed her to elaborate, she explained she was counting the seconds between flashes of lightning and the sound of thunder.

She informed me that when she couldn’t get the count past three, she was getting off her bicycle and taking cover in a drainage ditch along the highway. Karin suggested I do the same.

I wasn’t about to ignore the advice of a lawyer, especially one from the Midwest — ground zero  for thunderstorms.

I never got the chance to put her advice to work as it started snowing about 15 seconds after she filled me in on the facts of being out in the middle of nowhere on relatively barren terrain with a thunderstorm closing in.

And we’re not talking snow flurries.

I was coming down hard.

With a few minutes, the snow started piling up ever so slightly on the pavement.

I took the lead — which is rather comical given the size of my tires — while she followed the “path” I blazed”.

Meanwhile, cars coming down from the summit were swerving ever so slightly even though they had clearly reduced their speed on the snow covered pavement.

The combination of cycling uphill in snow combined with the fact my handlebar bag had accumulated what looked like a good four inches of snow was making my control of the bicycle super wobbly.

So, without thinking, I took my right hand and swept most of the snow off the handlebar bag and then got the rest of it with my right had making sure I had one hand on the handlebar drops at all times.

Did I mention I was wearing open fingered cycling gloves with a breathable mesh across the back of the hand?

In a matter of seconds my fingers — and much of my hands — lost all feeling.

It was a bit of a bad development. I use the thinnest handlebar wrap I can find so I can feel the nuances of the road as I cycle.

After my two-handed swipe to rid my handlebar bag of snow, I could feel nothing.

It had started snowing about three miles from the summit.

Of course, once we crossed the pass and started dropping into Red River the snow turned into rain.

When we reached the Red River Ski Resort, a Backroads employee took us straight to an indoor hot tub.

It is the only time I’ve even gotten into a hot tub wearing cycling gear — minus the cleats, socks, and helmet. We stayed in there for the better part of two hours.

Monday’s thunder over Manteca bought back that rather interesting memory. You haven’t lived until you are on a 16-pound bicycle pedaling up a snow covered narrow mountain highway in a manner that best can be described as squirrely swerving back and forth while 4,000-pound vehicles are coming at you doing the same thing.

It wasn’t the only time I’ve been caught on a bicycle in a snowstorm.

The one that arguably was the craziest was on the first day of summer in 1989.

I was headed up Highway 120 from Lee Vining at 6,781 feet to the entrance to Yosemite National Park at Tioga Pass at 9,943 feet along with Brian, a 16-year-old.

We were on a seven-day bicycling trip from crisscrossing Sierra pass starting at Donner Summit and heading as far south as Yosemite.

It was cold that day when we left Lee Vining so I was wearing tights as well as a sweatshirt and a jacket over my summer cycling jersey. Brian was dressed likewise.

About a quarter of a mile up the canyon it started snowing.

Within a minute or so Brian was shaking really bad.

There was only one option since we had no support and I was responsible for Brian.

I stripped off everything but my jersey and shorts. They easily went on Brian given he was 6-foot-3 and 140-pounds. I pulled out rain gear for added measure and rain-proof cleat booties for him to use as well.

Brian, by the way, was on a racing bicycle while I carried roughly 60 pounds of gear on a fully loaded touring bike that weighed 28 pounds.

That meant I was going uphill in freezing snow moving a combined 280 pounds between my weight at the time, the bicycle, and what I was carrying.

At least two passengers in cars that passed us up leaned out their windows when they were ahead of us to snap photos. We must have looked like idiots.

When we made  it to Tuolumne Meadows where the snow turned to rain and then stopped, Brian was still shivering. I had actually worked up a sweat.

Not that I would recommend it, but you can stay quite warm when you’re pedaling 280 pounds up a sustained grade for four miles.

Believe it or not, it was another incident that cemented my reputation with relatives for being slightly crazy when it came to traversing through interesting weather either hiking or cycling.

That didn’t happen until 8 years ago when  I took my then 14-year-old nephew Garrison on one of my Eastern Sierra hiking trips.

On the drive up, I had picked a short 3-mile round-trip hike to as small lake at 8,700 feet to help get him  acclimated for the next six days.

When  we got to the lake that was just below a mountain peak that went up perhaps another 700 feet, I stretched out on a big lakeside boulder for a quick nap while Garrison went to explore on the otherwise of the lake.

About 10 minutes later I heard a blood curdling scream and saw what I was later to find out from Garrison was the second of two bolts of lightning zipping across the lake at warp speed about 20 feet off the surface before zapping the mountain side.

I believe Garrison set some sort of downhill running record a trail narrowed with heavy vegetation while first being pelted with rather robust hail and then rain.

That, by the way, is when I found out thunder that triggers lighting sometimes can be too far away to hear it.

Regardless, it got my attention given the lightning passed by within 50 feet of me.

The bottom line isn’t crazy weather. It’s crazy people.

Garrison can vouch for that.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at