Tracy Barbutes
The Union Democrat

While many Fourth of July vacationers spent a leisurely morning in their camps along Highway 108, on a pleasant July 3 morning, six men pushed out of a Pinecrest Lake campground on bicycles and headed for Sonora Pass, 37 miles up the road.

“I didn’t walk at all. I gutted it out,” Scott Bartlebaugh stated shortly after arriving at the Sonora Pass summit under blue skies and 70-degree temperatures.

Bartlebaugh lives in Crockett and has been visiting Pinecrest Lake for approximately 15 years. He joined his best friend and ride organizer, Bob Liles, for a second year.

Looking around, he smiled and said, “It’s a beautiful day. It doesn’t get much better.”

When asked how long it took him to do the entire ride, he laughed, “I don’t know, I’m in survival mode right now.”

Though the difference in elevation from Pinecrest to Sonora Pass is 3,945 feet, the men gained an overall 5,707 vertical feet on the day’s ride, according to Charles Rusher’s cycling computer.

Rusher, a UC Davis biotechnology graduate and employee for Bay Area-based Genentec, noted, “This year I was able to complete the entire climb without stopping or walking. In 2016 when I tried to do this with Bob, I walked that steep section at the bottom and near the top.” Down 40 pounds from last year’s ride, Rusher was the first to reach the summit. He looks up to the ride’s organizer, and would love to still be cycling when he is Liles’ age, 65.

Liles, who lives in Antioch with his wife of 37 years, started riding along Highway 108 to Sonora Pass in 1976. He rode it again in 1977, off and on again for several years, and has ridden it every year for the past 13. He’s been cycling for more than four decades and didn’t walk any portion of the ride.

A college friend who got him interested in cycling told him on their third ride together that he was no longer allowed to walk up the final hill to his house. He’s never gotten off his bike to walk since.

Liles was on a weeklong bike tour in 1976 that included Highway 108 and Sonora Pass. Unfortunately Liles was involved in a high-speed crash going down Yuba Pass and broke his collarbone just prior to the 108 tour date. Once he healed from the accident, he drove to Dardanelle and rode the pass solo, because his tour partners told him how epic it was.

This year his partners included Liles, Rusher, Bartlebaugh, Scott Schroeder, of Pleasanton and brothers Amruth and Gautham Darapaneni, of Davis, only the third time someone has joined him on his annual ride.

Liles said, “I have raced against people like Tour de France winner Greg Lemond and have ridden with people who can only do five miles. Every rider is interesting and I learn something from all of them.”

Three weeks ago, Liles and Bartlebaugh rode Italy’s famed Stelvio Pass — a ride incorporated into pro cycling’s Giro d’Italia on 11 occasions. Liles has also ridden France’s famous Alp d’Huez. He believes Sonora pass is the more difficult ride.

He rides about 150 days a year, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 miles per year depending on whether he is training for a specific ride. The Sonora Pass ride almost always has ideal weather conditions, and the only thing that’s changed for Liles over the years is that he is using lower gears. He said he would visit a local bike shop and get lower gears before riding it next year.

The timing of the annual ride happens in part due to vacation restraints. He camps at Pinecrest with his sister, Mary Leamy, of Twain Harte, in addition to other family members and friends. July 4 is simply the best time for everyone.

Liles said his wife, who used to join him on cycling tours before they started a family, and his three adult daughters, are proud of him for completing the ride each year.

Bartlebaugh’s family “KNOWS that I’m nuts. It’s but one of my nutty facets.”

Rusher stated, “My girlfriend thinks I am crazy, but supports me.”

Each of the six cyclists expected to ride back to Pinecrest from the pass and enjoy a meal of elk sausages and hamburgers and quite possibly enjoy some of the beer icing in a camp cooler.