We've been trying to put together a Tahoe trip all summer and its just never quite worked out until this weekend. Chris is off work and heading up, I have a bunch of vacation days I need to use or lose and Jerrry...well Jerry's retired and he can and does ride at every chance.
By 5:30 I'm ready and standing at the window looking for Jerry's van. Ok, maybe I 'm a little excited. My wife, my kids and most of my friends are working today and I'm going to be in Tahoe riding my mountain bike....what could be better than that?
The drive up goes smoothly, except for the part where Jerry forgets to put his FastPass on the dash going over the bridge. Yep, there's a ticket in his future, but I guess its better him than me...yeah, I'm selfish like that.
Soon enough we're pulling in to the Tahoe Donner community and from there into Chris' driveway. I love how my friends tell me they have cabins in the mountains only to find when I arrive that this is no cabin. It's a house in a really pretty setting. His place is really nice. 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, hot running water, indoor toilets, and a high speed internet connection....evidently I need to adjust my definition of the word "cabin".
Chris had an amazing breakfast waiting for us with bacon and blackberry pancakes and fresh ground coffee....I'm guessing he didn't want us running out of gas on our ride today.
One of the coolest parts of today's ride was the fact that it was going to start and end at his house. There would be no loading up and driving to the trailhead, we would go from his front porch to pedaling. Not a bad deal at all.
First we rode over to the equestrian center/bike shop but, as expected, they were already closed for the season. From there we headed up the road to the trailhead and began to climb. The downside to living at sea-level and heading to Tahoe for a quick couple of days is that there's no time to acclimate. We went from 0 to 7000 ft and my lungs were definitely feeling the effects.
The first climb is a loose, rocky, dusty fireroad that at some points actually forced me off the bike. It's not that it was just steep, and it was, it was also this loose, rocky decomposed granite that provided no traction whatsoever. (yes, that's the story I'm going with although you'll note I already mentioned how much my lungs were suffering)
Once we got to the top, the fun really begins. The next half hour was an amazing single track journey down through the trees winding our way through and along the canyon to the bottom where things leveled out. The next section was mostly level with some up and down, a couple bridge crossings and a few sections of fire road.
It was a perfect day. Weather was cool, but not cold and my choice of a lightweight, long sleeve jersey proved to be perfect.
Eventually, the road turned up again and once again became a loose, rocky, lung-busting climb. At several points along this climb, staying in the saddle and red-lining, with my lungs crying for mercy, I was wondering if I was burning matches I was going to need later. Thinking that I'd just have to pay that bill when it came due, I put my head down and concentrated on making the pedals go round and round.
As we reached the top and pulled up to Summit lake I was overwhelmed by just how perfect today was turning out. What could be better than spending a day with two good friends, riding great trails and stopping for lunch at one of the most scenic places I've ever seen?
It was here that a decision needed to be made. We had started the day without a real plan other than riding up to Summit Lake. From there, we had talked about either continuing on or finding a different way back but hadn't really thought too far beyond that.
After eating our PB&J sandwiches, trail mix and cookies, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a nap sounded better than getting back on the bike. The dark clouds coming our way discouraged that idea and also helped confirm our decision to head back the way we had come and towards the ice chest full of beers sitting on Chris' porch.
The loose, rocky climb that hurt so much on the way in, was now a loose rocky descent which, although less painful, was still a bit of a challenge. Traction was sketchy and the descent required our full attention. Once that was over though, the ride back along the fire roads and singletrack to the bottom of the canyon went by way too quickly and soon enough we were faced with climbing the long downhill we had enjoyed so much just a couple of hours before.
Its interesting in that we were actually talking about this climb at lunch and saying at least its a long moderate climb and not very steep. Funny how your perspective changes when you're going up a hill instead of down, this was turning in to a serious climb. The narrow singletrack, the switchbacks and the elevation were all combining to push me well into the red zone and it wasn't too long before I was soaked. Mostly from sweat and but also from the sprinkles that had started falling from dark clouds looming above us.
As all things do, the climb eventually came to an end as did the showers and we were able to enjoy a nice long downhill to the bottom. At some point I realized I was having a blast but was completely alone. Pulling to the side, I waited.....and waited....and finally, not wanting to, but without any other choice, I began again climbing the hill I had just come down and had climbed earlier in the day.
The next hour was spent playing phone tag, trying to talk Jerry back on to our route and finally deciding to head back up the trail to meet him. Once regrouped, we continued down a different route which turned out to be a really good twist since it took us through a stand of Aspens that were in all their Fall glory....
Soon enough we were back in the neighborhood, then back on the porch and enjoying an ice cold beverage.
Total for the day was about 20 miles and 3500ft of climbing - we definitely weren't breaking any speed records, but that wasn't our goal and the fun and beauty points more than made up for it.
- video from the day https://vimeo.com/51420790