Mountain biking the Tahoe Rim Trail (in the snow)

Snowy singletrack

We humans are an inherently optimistic bunch.  How else to explain lottery tickets, multi-level marketing schemes, and blind dates? Or in my case, signing up for our local mountain biking organization’s annual 60+ mile (self-supported) ride along the Tahoe Rim Trail?

The Rose to Toad’s ride is usually held over Labor Day weekend.  This year, due to the smoke from the Yosemite Rim Fire, it was postponed until later in September.  I knew this would mean cooler temps (a plus), but didn’t count on snow.  Or a sub-freezing start.

When the forecasters proved correct on Saturday, the rain and sleet had me rethinking my gear (and my sanity).  In went the hand warmers, beanie and extra layer, out went the shorts and fingerless gloves.  I appeared to be dressed more for skiing, but I knew that because the ride started at 8750 feet, at 7 in the morning, I’d be a lot less miserable, even if I ended up carrying it in my pack for much of the ride.  Which, for the record, I didn’t.

A group of 45 hardy (or foolish, depending on your perspective) mountain bikers showed up at the meeting point just shy of 6 am yesterday.  The day dawned clear and very cold, and though we started a bit later than anticipated, it was still below freezing.  The first section of the Tahoe Rim Trail is scenic and beautiful, though much of it covered in snow, making for interesting riding conditions.  By the time we got to the Flume trail, the snow had melted, which proved to be tacky goodness.  It wasn’t much warmer, but that just encouraged me to keep moving.  TAMBA, which organized the ride, had a much welcomed rest stop at the top of Spooner Summit by the start of the next section of trail.  Who knew packet hot cocoa could taste so good?

Our plan all along had been to make it to the Van Sickle Trail and descend it to the Himmel Haus for a much needed beer.  By the time I got halfway up the next climb to the Bench, I was wondering if that was too ambitious.  The snow had begun to melt, leaving the trails a slushy, muddy mess.   I was getting a bit tired by this time too.  And grumpy.  Let’s just say this section of the ride is one I’m happy to forget.

hoe Rim Trail to the Bench

big views, long trails

The Bench was the next section, and is a great ride unto itself.  The descent back to Kingsbury Grade, while muddy, was one of the ride’s highlights.  I think it was because it was mostly downhill, and I was tired enough to roll over some of the technical sections I have a tendency to overthink.  Mud in the teeth was a sign that I was grinning during this part.

There was another rest stop before our final climb to the Van Sickle trail.  The trail angels had thoughtfully provided chain lube and brushes, allowing riders to clean the decomposed granite and other grit off their derailleurs. This isn’t something we typically need on a Tahoe mountain bike ride, so it was a nice touch.

From here we climbed up.  The hard-core folks continued up along the Tahoe Rim Trail to Star Lake and then over Freel Pass up to the start of Toad’s (see map).  We did not.  We dropped the Van Sickle trail, one of my favorite trails, and it was a terrific end to the ride.  Trail conditions were the best I’ve seen, making for one smooth and fast descent.  From there it was a short climb up to Heavenly’s California Lodge area and the Himmel Haus.

A beer has never tasted so good.

Total stats: 43 miles, a LOT of up and down, and lots of calories expended.

If you go:

Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association – These guys organize this event, so if you’re keen to try it, you’ll want to join the organization first.  Then you’ll want to help out with a trail day or two (so you feel really good when you ride that section of trail).  Also, get some miles in on your mountain bike.  This is a self-supported ride, and while there are a number of bail-out points, they are not as frequent as you might think.  (Trust me, I speak from experience here.)

Tahoe Rim Trail Association – If the entire Rose to Toad’s ride is daunting, why not take it in sections? The Tahoe Rim Trail offers maps and information on its website.  You can feel extra good about yourself by becoming a TRTA member too.

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