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.

Taking a breather in Mammoth Lakes

me minarets

The tragic Rim Fire outside of Yosemite hit close to home last week, when the fire’s smoke traveled up to the Tahoe basin – and decided to stay awhile.  We’ve not seen smoke this bad since the Angora Fire, and it affected our morale as much as our ability to breathe and sleep.  With no respite forecast for the weekend, we decided to head south to Mammoth Lakes, where we had heard air quality was much better, thanks to the wind direction.

dog stick convict lake

Since we had the dog with us, our first stop was for her.  Convict Lake is just south of Mammoth Lakes, and while it’s a popular fishing spot, the 2.5 mile trail that circumvents the lake is the perfect distance for a nearly 13 year old dog.  We love the views of Mt. Morrison and Mini-Morrison, and the clear blue skies were only additional incentive.

Nils Mammoth

The real reason for traveling to Mammoth was to mountain bike.  It’s been a few years since I had been to Mammoth’s mountain bike park, and while I had upgraded my bike, Mammoth had done a lot of work to the trail system, adding trails and working on existing ones.  The net result was a whole lotta fun.  Think plenty of banked turns, bridges, more than a few pavers, and a ton of views.

With great meals at Toomey’s and Campo Mammoth, along with food, wine, live music and fascinating people watching at the Mammoth Rocks event Saturday, it really felt like a mini vacation.

For both me and my lungs.

If you go:

Mammoth Mountain Bike Park: Open 7 days a week through September 15, then weekends through September 29.

Convict Lake: In addition to hiking, there’s also fishing, boating and a terrific restaurant.  Go here in the autumn to see the technicolor brilliance of the aspens along the lake.

Toomey’s: Matt Toomey, former head chef at the Tioga Toomey’s at the Whoa Nellie Deli, has returned to Mammoth.  His new restaurant, located near the Village in the old Ski Surgeon building, boasts many of his classics (think lobster taquitos) and some new favorites, like the ½ pound burger served with caramelized onions and blue cheese.

Campo Mammoth:  This Mammoth outpost of the popular Reno rustic Italian restaurant offers wood-fired pizzas, great cocktails (try the Campo Manhattan), and an awesome kale salad.

Old New York Deli & Bakery:  The best (read: authentic) bagels you can find in the Sierra.  Seriously.  Located in the Village, it’s got great breakfasts and happens to be conveniently located on the way to the ski resort.

Van Sickle views

Van Sickle Clouds

Before the rain hit yesterday, N and I went for a short ride on the Van Sickle trail.  I should have stopped to take some photos of him riding, but instead I went for this photo.   Sunshine and blue skies are common place at Lake Tahoe, so it was nice to see a bit of texture with the approaching storm clouds.

Mountain Biking The Flume

Mountain biker Flume Trail

Single track & lake views.

An early start to spring means that many of the local mountain bike trails are melting out faster than they typically do.  So last weekend was a perfect time to do some recon on the Flume Trail, one of Tahoe’s mountain biking gems that also happens to be one of my favorite rides.

The Flume Trail sits on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.  The trail, ranging between 7000 and 8000 feet in elevation, boast some truly amazing panoramas of the lake and the surrounding mountains.  While not a super technical trail, it should be noted that the Flume does have some exposure and crosses a few steep sections.  But the views are definitely worth it! Not a mountain biker? The Flume is also open to hikers.

There are a couple of ways to access the Flume Trail, and the surrounding trail network, which includes sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail, means that you can include it in a longer ride.  Most people start from Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, taking the trail out to Marlette Lake and along the singletrack that overlooks the lake.  They either ride it one way, descending via Tunnel Creek Road and catching a shuttle back, or do it as an out and back ride, retracing their tracks.   My friend and I opted for something totally different.  We instead climbed up Tunnel Creek Road, and then rode the Flume around Marlette Lake to the Marlette Creek Trail, a super fun 2.7 mile descent back to the car.

I’ve been on this trail countless times, and I continue to be awed by the scenery, and continue to force friends to stop while I take yet another photo.  It’s that spectacular.

So if you’re looking for some advice from a local, trust me on this – if there’s one trail you mountain bike or hike while here, make it the Flume.

If You Go

The Flume Trail is snow-free, though the neighboring sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail do still have snow.  Shuttles, bike rentals, maps and trail information are available from Flume Trail Mountain Bikes.   It is recommended that mountain bikers carry water, snacks, a bike pump and spare tube, bike repair kit, first aid and sunblock, along with a camera to capture the views.  Plus a helmet (duh).

For general Tahoe area mountain bike trail maps and the latest trail conditions, be sure to visit the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association’s website.

Help Tahoe Win a Bell Built Trail Grant!

Corral Trail rider

Me enjoying Corral Trail last fall. Photo: Jeff Glass

Over the years, mountain biking has become as much a passion of mine as skiing. I’m not great at it, but I love climbing local trails in order to enjoy the thrill of the descent. So it should come as no surprise that I am a member of the Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association (TAMBA). What you may not know is that thanks to TAMBA’s continued efforts, a South Lake Tahoe trail is now in the running to win a $30,000 grant – and we need your help (and vote) to win it!

The Bell Built program helps communities build sustainable trails, including pump tracks, flow trails, and downhill trails. Of the more than 100 applications submitted from across the country, TAMBA’s submission of the Corral Trail in South Lake Tahoe has been selected as one of the twelve finalists.

The grant includes the construction of 30 jumps and features on Corral Trail, a hugely popular local that has served as a test project by the US Forest Service on how to build and permit mountain bike specific features on public Forest Land. These efforts go back 8 years now and have had many riders give input.

Once all the planned features are built on Corral Trail TAMBA will be able to take this model and apply it elsewhere in the Tahoe basin. The Bell Built grant is for projects that have approved plans and are shovel-ready, meaning they can start building this spring. Corral is just that.

Want to help? It’s easy. Just vote Corral Trail for Flow Trail Projects by April 12 here:

And be sure to share this with your friends, family, mountain biking partner, drinking buddies, etc.

This is a terrific opportunity for mountain bikers who love to ride Lake Tahoe.  It is the only California project, so this honor, along with the hard work to buff out this classic trail, will make it a role model for future progressive trails that can be built on Forest Service lands.

Don’t delay – vote for Corral Trail for Flow Trail projects today!

Mountain biking inspiration

Corral Trail. 11.24.12. Photo: Jeff Glass

Enjoying the tacky dirt on Corral trail. Photo: Jeff Glass

It may officially be ski season here (7 or so Tahoe resorts are open as of Thanksgiving Day), but mountain biking conditions are currently awesome.   As a result, I’ve spent more time on dirt than snow this holiday weekend.  This is a big deal, because those that know me know that I live for skiing.  So this admission is borderline heretical.

Good trail conditions, just like good snow conditions, encourage me to push myself. I’ve found myself pushing more on the bike this autumn, thanks to intermittent storms that kept the trails tacky.  Yet I don’t actively seek to improve my skills.  I don’t go to workshops, or focus on re-riding a particular ‘problem’ until I master it, as other friends do.  So this video, which I came across today, was inspiring on many levels. It made me think that maybe, just maybe, a clinic (or many) might help me get to the point where jumps and drops are tricks that become part of my repertoire, as opposed to just scaring the crap out of me as they do now.

If she can do it, I can too.  Or so I hope.

Fun Marks

Riding Christmas Valley

Fun times, fun marks…

Between the hilarity of Sierra Recon on Saturday, and some attempts to push myself on my new mountain bike the past few days, I’m sporting a lot of leg wounds.  Last night’s ride only added to the collection, and forced me to get all steezy as I wrapped a bandanna around the bleeding knee.

A friend told me that she tells her 6 year old daughter that cuts and scrapes are ‘fun marks’, a sign of how much fun you’re having.  It’s an awesome perspective.  Clearly I’m having a whole lot of fun.  I just don’t want to have more fun on top of the fun I’ve already had, because truth be told, that’s not so fun.

Destination Mountain Biking

I work in the tourism industry, where there’s a lot of talk about ‘destination travel’, the notion of going somewhere because of what it offers.  Think Tahoe for skiing, or Hawaii for the beaches, or New Orleans for the music.  I wanted to try to apply that to mountain biking, but on a much more micro level.

So, on July 4th we set our eyes upon a different sort of destination – Base Camp Pizza in the Heavenly Village.  To get there we admittedly took the least efficient route, but it was all in the name of food.

Riding the TRT from Star Lake

Riding the TRT from Star Lake. Photo: Jeff Glass

We began by climbing up to Star Lake and then taking the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) towards Heavenly’s Stagecoach Lodge.  This is a stunningly scenic portion of the TRT (really, what section of this trail isn’t?), one that I don’t ride that frequently.  In between technical sections there are dramatic vistas of both the Lake Tahoe basin to the west and Nevada to the east.

Views of Nevada from the trail

Views of Nevada from the trail. Photo: Jeff Glass

From the TRT we then descended the new-ish Van Sickle trail, another ridiculously scenic 3.3 mile section of trail, featuring views, technical sections and swoopy singletrack.

Sick views on the Van Sickle trail.

The Van Sickle trail ends at (wait for it) the Van Sickle Bi-State Park, located near the bottom of the Heavenly gondola…and the village.  Base Camp Pizza, located in said village, makes a Thai Chicken pizza that was enough of an incentive to ride 25 or so miles, which made for a much more decadent lunch than the smushed sandwiches we typically carry.

Destination thai chicken pizza.

After a lunch like that, a meandering ride home through the meadows was much needed, since both of us were not much in the mood to climb hills.

The final miles home.

But that said, it was a destination ride we would do again.  The pizza, and singletrack, were that good.

Star Lake in June

Star Lake in June

the earliest I’ve seen the snow melt up here, but I’m not complaining!

So, it’s nearly summer.  Signs of it are evident here. Temps in the ‘70s, longer days, more pronounced allergies, and the removal (finally!) of the cover at the public pool.  The bike trails are mostly melted out here too, even after a second round of snow that hit early last week, which means it’s time to start riding up in order to ride down.

Last weekend I headed up to Star Lake via the new-last-summer connector trail.  It’s an incredibly efficient way to climb up to 9200 feet, and I give huge kudos to the team that built it, because I love not feeling utterly spent by the time I reach the top.  It’s well worth the effort, whether you ride uphill for the views, for the descent, or for a combination of the two.

I will admit it felt a bit odd to be up there in shorts in early June.  Typically this doesn’t melt out until July, and last year I think it only melted out in August.  But, given this winter, I’m taking advantage of what will no doubt be a long mountain bike season here.

Since it was my first long-ish ride of the season, I descended the way I came, Star Lake to Cold Creek, which is a super fun descent ranging from rocky technical stuff to buffed out turns to switchbacks. But there are so many *other* possibilities from Star Lake, whether you ride the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) over Freel Pass to Armstrong or onto Toad’s (or for the super ambitious, onto Big Meadow and the Christmas Valley Downhill), or head back towards Nevada on the TRT over Monument Pass, and either continue along the Rim to Spooner, or descend Van Sickle to civilization (and a much needed beer).

Suffice to say, with options like these out my front door, I’m finding it hard to rally to travel anywhere with my mountain bike.  At least for the time being.