The Great Trans-Sierra Scooter Trip (1960)


Participants: John & Marlynn Dykstra

Background: This was a time when we needed better access to UC Berkeley. Car parking was limited, there were hundreds of bicycles, mopeds with little motors (the kind of bike that you had to peddle like mad to get enough speed to cut in the motor), and more and more scooters. On campus parking enforcement was relaxed (in fact, for two years we parked with other bikes and scooters on campus but behind bushes).

Equipment: Two scooters were purchased: (1) A Vespa 125 from a guy who was selling out of an abandoned gas station (Signal Gas) on Shattuck Avenue south of Ashby Avenue ($425) and later, (2) A blue Allstate 125 from Sears in Concord (about $325). Both were stock.

Added Equipment: A behind-the-front-shield glove box for the Vespa & a spare tire & mount for the Allstate. Also, a tool set, rags for wiping and a can of engine oil.

Objective: To successfully ascend and descend the two highest passes in the Sierra (Sonora Pass: 9,624ft and Tioga Pass: 9,945ft) all as part of a one week vacation. Note: Our experience with scooters at high elevations consisted of Skyline Blvd. in Oakland, about 1,000ft.

Photography: No, we didn't have a photographer following in a van. Instead we used a small folding tripod, a Leica & a 1 minute  timer. The drill was to set up the tripod, timer & camera, frame the scene, take an exposure reading, trip the timer, and run like hell into the scene.

Strategy: Travel had to be light. One small bag each. No camping. Reservations at end of each trip leg. Each leg was planned to consider elevation changes. High elevation legs were shorter, flatland legs were longer. No freeways. Routes mapped in advance.


Leg One: Oakland to Pinecrest Lake Elevation: 5,616ft).

Via: Livermore, Tracy, Manteca, Oakdale & Sonora.
Side Trip: From Sonora to Columbia Historic State Park
Accommodations: Cabin, Pinecrest Lake Resort.
Brush With the Law: While parked outside our cabin, a Deputy Sheriff started to cite us for trespassing. He checked at the Lodge. No citation, but no apology.

Leg Two: Pinecrest Lake to Bridgeport

Via:Highway 108, Strawberry, Dardanelle, Kennedy Meadows, Sonora Pass (elevation 9,624ft), USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center, junction of Highways 108-395, south to Bridgeport.
Accommodations: Motel, Bridgeport.

Leg Three: Bridgeport (Elevation:6,468) to top of Tioga Pass (Elevation 9,945)

Via: Bodie, Mono Lake, Lee Vining & Tioga Pass.
Side Trips: (1) Paved road to Twin Lakes (beautiful Alpine lakes); (2) Rough dirt road to Bodie Ghost Town, then rough dirt road with sand pits to Mono Lake. Accommodations: Tioga Pass Lodge (at top of pass, built 1914, primitive, last cleaned 1924).

Leg Four: Tioga Pass to Merced.

Via: Lake Tenaya, Yosemite Valley, El Portal & Mariposa.
Accommodations: Motel in Merced.

Leg Five: Merced to Oakland

Via: Gustine, Newman, Crows Landing, Patterson, Tracy, Livermore, Dublin.
Bad Traffic Conditions: Left Merced at 4 AM to beat the valley heat. At this time Highway 33 was the only west side north-south route between Gustine and Tracy. Narrow two lane road, bad shoulders, very heavy truck traffic. First it was freezing cold, then it was hot. Dusty. Lots of bugs. Worst leg.
Breakfast In Tracy: We were starving by the time we reached Tracy. Stopped at small café. Manager took order. We waited and waited. Finally we heard shouting and pots and pans crashing. A kitchen fight. Manager emerged and said cook had left. No breakfast. We left and went elsewhere.

Final Verdict: Best Vacation we ever had. The scooters performed very well. Lots of lower gear, high rpm at high elevations. To our amazement, at high elevations with narrow roads & tight corners (such as Sonora Pass) we were able to keep up with or ahead of traffic.