Man, I’ve been lagging. Between SEMBA and getting my little business going, not much time to journal – but still riding a bunch :). A buddy of mine, Matt Reynolds (who recently finished the Caldera 250) showed me a sweet route he just did that loops around Lake Tahoe on dirt – utilizing just about every section of the TRT that’s legal to bikes. You can check his Strava file for the route, here. It also hits up the Incline Flume and the Marlette Flume, which are both stunning in their own right. Turns out a couple peeps from Santa Barbara (Erin and Wes) were planning on doing the same route – so we made a plan. Let’s do this shizzle. Wes had a spot in Tahoe City for us to crash on a late friday night after they did the 8.5 hr drive up from SB and I did the 3.5 hour drive from Mammoth. Then, poof, we were off.
The riding on the TRT is sublime, albeit super tough in sections. But every hardship is rewarded with mind-blowing singletrack sections, spectacular views, and a remote sense of peace. In order to make this route work, there are a few sketchy connector sections, and a little bit of bushwhacking and route finding. In one of these sections, we came across an old dude with no shirt on, gun holstered on his waist, and pruning sheers. I didn’t want to sneak up on him, as his back was turned. So I made a lot of noise and greeted him from far off. Turns out, he was a mountain biker doing some trail work – trying to make the stuff we just bushwhacked into a more distinct trail. Kudos!! He said he’s never seen anyone else riding out there. That’s how we like it!!
Anyhoo, we stopped for a bite at the sports bar in Incline Village. A chicken sandwich for now and stashed some pizza for later. Our waitress was from Romania… and it took a bit, but we finally got some tin foil to wrap slices in after the language barrier was crossed. I filled up a RoguePak bladder 1/2 way with some coke and we were ready to roll. I really dig the RP system for bikepacking with sticky icky beverages – it’s a re-usable hose that connects to disposable (recyclable) cartridges – so if I wanna fill it with gatorade, coke, etc – no worries about cleaning later – and I can keep spare bladders with me, in case I really need to camel up before a long, dry section… cool little system… Anyhoo, we mounted our steeds and attacked the steep pavement climb up to the Incline Flume turnoff. What a reward! The Incline Flume singletrack crosses Diamond Peak Ski Area, where a group of bucks just sat and stared as we flowed across the historic route. I desperately struggled to keep eyes on the trail, but all they wanted to do was wander out to the huge mass of water to our right.
Next, we merged on the Marlette Flume Trail where I witnessed one of the most memorable sunsets and mountain biking moments of my life. These pitiful photos can’t begin to capture that sunset or how it felt to be on that magnificent trail at the perfect time. But at least they can trigger those memories and evoke the way it made me feel – which is even better! All the endorphins got the best of me, and I kept shouting up at the parasailer – “GET SOME!!! FUCKING AWESOME MAN!!”
Eventually, as ambient light bid us farewell, we past Marlette Lake and descended towards Spooner Lake. We found a great camping spot near a creek. We chilled out and chatted about the rad day.
But after a tangerine and a couple pizza slices, I was ready for bed. I got cocooned up in my bivy, and the soothing creek sounds lulled me to sleep. I got a few z’s in before the inevitable rain and heavy winds. We knew it was coming. Both Erin and Wes packed tents for this reason. I like my bivy, and looked forward to seeing how it would hold up to a night-long deluge. It held up heroically. I stayed dry and toasty, but the noise and feel of water slapping so close like Chinese water torture kept me up much of the night. Around 5am, I’d had enough and decided to get an early start to the day. As much as I was bummed to leave my cohorts behind, I had to get moving. I knew there were a couple big climbs ahead, and got going. The first big climb heads up the TRT to Kingsbury. I did this partly in the dark, and summited just after sunrise in the rain and ominous fog with almost zero visibility. Bummer, because everyone says the views at the top of this climb are magical. Oh well, I’ll be back!
My breakfast stop was at Tramway Market, just before entering Heavenly Ski Resort. A handful of macademia nuts and a microwave burrito were responsible for caloric replenishment. I also downed some water, a Sobe Grapefruit, and some peanut butter cups before starting the 2nd big climb of the day – the TRT up to Freel. I knew the storm wasn’t done, but didn’t mind riding in the rain. It was actually quite peaceful, and I have good gear – so I was warm. For a while. By the time I had zig-zagged on the TRT up to Star Lake, the rain turned to sleet turned to snow. As I inched my way up to 9,700′ at Freel Mountain, I was basically in a blizzard. No visibility and howling winds. I had soaked my way through 4 layers, but was still mostly warm and comfy – save for the toes and fingers that were starting to numb as I pushed my bike through what felt like a couple miles of slushy wet snow – completely unrideable while climbing. I was plenty prepared, with dry socks and spare gloves in my seatpack for an emergency. But if I put those on, they’d be soaked in a minute anyway – so I opted to keep pushing foward, regularly taking inventory of my condition. This section was fairly remote, and doubtful I’d see anyone else out in this weather. I had my Spot Tracker with me, just in case. The couple times I pulled off a glove to take a photo, my hand froze even more – so no more photos after Star Lake 😦
I went into conservative/stay focused mode. Having a crash or a mechanical at this point could’ve turned things sideways pretty quickly. As long as I was moving I was good. But to stop for even 30 seconds, my core started to chill as the wind cut through my sweaty layers. Eventually, I hit the highpoint, pushing my bike through a fresh foot of snow and almost getting blown off the ridge. Then the descent began. Again, had to focus hard and stay conservative – a mechanical or a crash on the wet, sloppy descent was not an option. Randomly, after a mile or so, I passed a group of college kids in their Nikes and fleeces – hiking down. They looked very cold and under-dressed, but were in good spirits. They made me feel better – just to see some humans. Before I knew it, I’d dropped down a couple thousand feet, and the snow was gone, and tacky hero dirt took over. I dropped below the fog line, and now could see beautiful mountains and more importantly, the trail in front of me. My numb fingers eased off the brakes and the stoke was back!! The ensuing descent from Freel down to Armstrong to Armstrong Connector to Corral has to be one of THE BEST continuous descents I’ve ever done. Fall colors turning everywhere, and some of the best singletrack in the world. My oh my – rediculous flow, on velcro dirt. Bermed turns, and jump lines. As I got lower, the temps got higher. I was cold no longer, and before I knew it, I was boosting past people on my loaded bike. So. Frickin. Good. It was all worth it.
When I hit the parking lot at the crowded Corral Trail, everyone looked at me as if I was an alien. They were all on their clean and shiny 6″ trail bikes – while I must have looked like shit. And smelled like shit too. Once they realized I started in Tahoe City and was now exactly on the opposite side of the lake, everyone started offering beer and high fives. Next thing I knew, a few guys in a gooched out Sprinter were heading back to Reno. They offered to drop me off at Tunnel Creek – Max Jones’ shop in Incline Village. I quickly did the math. I could hitch a ride with them, grab some grub, then ride my bike another hour to my truck in Tahoe City – and be home in Mammoth in time to put my kids to bed. Or, I could continue on with the ride and finish the last 80 miles, which I knew would never live up to what I just did. So I decided to cut the ride short, and ended on a super duper high note. After a chicken sandwich, half quesadilla and mango smoothie at Tunnel Creek, I grinned ear to ear as a rode around the lake, back to my truck… and back to real life.
Just as I was nearing my truck, I got a phone call from Wes. They were at Star Lake, making their way to the top of Freel. Part of me wishes I stayed with them, but the other part of me was happy to be getting home early and back to the fam bam. They went on to complete the loop a couple days later – Salute to them!!!
Anyhoo… moral of the story… The TRT is all that and then some – Once Matt makes this a bikepacking race, I will be back to do the full loop with better weather for sure!!!
Here’s the strava link to my ride — https://www.strava.com/activities/406861562