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Tuesday, July 23, 2002: Stage 3

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Donner Pass, about 1100 feet above Donner Lake, is mountain pass of some historical interest. During the pioneer days of the westward expansion the Donner party started too late in the fall to work their way over the mountain range. The winter snows started and they were stranded in deep snow. They had to stop and wait out the winter. As a result, supplies ran out and some starved to death. The necessity of canibalism allowed the others to make it through the winter.

The morning is cold - about 50 degrees but the sky is the clearest blue ever. We wait until it warms up a bit to start.
The ride out to Donner Lake is flat and fast. It seems really easy to make speed here in the Sierra. It may have something to do with the lower air density and humidity. We speed along and enjoy the view of the lake.

The road starts its upward rise. It doesn't stop for the next 3.4 miles. We can see whats ahead as the road switches back and forth across the sheer rock face of the mountain. A little time to warmup and the grade doesn't seem too bad. Here's a turn, it's not too far to the summit. Oh no! It keeps going. Maybe around this next cliff. It still goes up! And it goes on and on and on. Here comes the burn. Stand for awhile. That's better. I'll wait till the next turn and sit it out to the end. The end never comes. Grind it out.

At the top the view is breathtaking. Donner Lake shines like a mirror embedded in a green carpet. White curved boat wakes carve little patterns in the surface but the boats are too far away to be seen. A cyclist coming up the road below looks like a tiny ant. It was worth the climb to see this.

We start down the other side. The plan is to make the seven mile descent, stop for a break and return via the same route for a total of 2500 feet of climbing. We start down. Snowshoe is on the left and we stop for pics. We continue on down for the next 2 or 3 miles. The road is smooth and fast. Several motorcyclists pass us as we speed down the long grade. The road flattens out slightly. We look around to make sure everyone is together. No Neil!

We pull over and wait. We head back up the road. One of the motorcyclists passes us back up the hill. Around a bend we see Neil and a motorcyclist at the side of the road. Neil looks OK but shaken. The motorcyclist had stopped when he saw Neil go over the handlebars. What happened was at around 35 mph his front end started to wobble. The wobble kept getting worse. Nothing would make it stop. It got so violent that he totally lost control and went over the handlebars. We check him over. He looks OK except for a few strawberries on his left shoulder, elbow and hip and a bloody fingertip. The bike looks OK with only a scuffed seat and brake handle hood. We decide to cut our day short and head back. Neil keeps his downhill speed under 25 and has no further problems. We climb back home.

When we get back, Jim and I take the front end apart. There are no problems apparent in the fork or frame. Later, we take the bike over to Paco's, the local Trek dealer. The guy in the shop assures Neil that it wasn't operator error that caused the wobble but it is characteristic of some older steel frames and forks. Neil's bike dates from mid 80s. All reservations about the LeMond titanium frame that he recently ordered evaporate.

Neil's last words before he went down were "Hey, watch this!"

We get back home in time for leftovers, Le Tour and beer.


Click here for today's pictures.

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