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.

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: http://www.facebook.com/BellBikeHelmets/app_228716427271717

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!

Early season powder turns

The second real storm of the season moved in on Thursday, bringing over two feet of snow to the Tahoe area. Both N and I took this as a sign that mountain bike season is over, so we spent Friday night digging out the ski gear.

Cold temps meant today’s expedition yielded surprisingly light snow, ensuring the first turns of the 2012/13 ski season were all the more memorable.

With the first Lake Tahoe ski resorts opening next weekend,  I’m definitely ready for winter.
Even if my legs aren’t.

Photos: N Miller

Snow, cougars and the hope for a big March

Fresh snow and Sierra views

It was worth the climb.

Lake Tahoe hasn’t caught much of a break this winter.  First there was no snow.  Then there was snow, but not enough to make up for a dry December (and November).  Then came more snow, followed by spring, followed by cold, then more snow, followed by hellacious winds.   Backcountry conditions here, which are typically stable, have been anything but of late.  As a result, there have been two rare fatalities within the last week.  And a lot more digging of snow pits.

So, this winter.  It’s not over yet.  And many of us are holding onto the hopes that March comes in like a cougar and leaves like a lion.  Or something like that.  Next week is already looking promising.

Despite my natural tendency towards pessimism, I’ve made a conscious effort to make the most of the snow when it hits, and today was no exception.  Yes, high winds had affected the snow and lift operations at many local ski resorts, but we knew that moderate angle north facing trees would probably deliver.  And they did.  Boot top powder, deeper in places, and super light thanks to overnight temps that hit the low teens and didn’t really feel much warmer by the time we got out there.

N making steezy hippie powder turns

N making steezy hippie powder turns

It was just a quick morning lap, but the snow was good, the rocks were few, and I actually passed a few folks on the uptrack, confirming that maybe I don’t suck as much as I think I do.

Here’s to next week delivering even more snow. With far less wind.

Winter finally arrived.

Snow!

You might have heard.  Lake Tahoe finally got snow.  Apparently as much as six feet as of today!  This is great news, and means that the ski resorts are opening lifts and terrain as fast as they can.

No surprise that I got out to product test this weekend.  Real snow, some off-trail excitement and even a few powder turns made for a fun few days.  But it was also a painful reminder that I’m going to be in a world of hurt on our upcoming backcountry ski trip.  Seven days with no training?  Clearly I’m more optimistic than I think.

A day at Heavenly

I had hoped to get some super awesome snow photos over the weekend.  But I didn’t.  Blame the light, my cold hands, my pent up need to simply ski. But you get it.  Snow at lake level isn’t something we’ve seen much of in awhile, and it’s done a lot for morale, even if some of the side roads were a bit of a circus today, and even if it appeared that everyone forgot how to drive in winter conditions.

But still.  Tomorrow we will ski, and even if I don’t stop to take any super awesome – or super mediocre – photos, it will be a terrific day. Winter’s back baby!

Running a 10K with no training

October is Kokanee time at Lake Tahoe (no, not that kind).  No, it’s all about the (now) local Kokanee Salmon, who spends this time of year swimming upriver to spawn and die.  While not native, the fish have been celebrated in their own festival here in South Lake Tahoe for over 20 years, which isn’t bad given that most non-native species don’t receive the same preferential treatment.

Besides the events occurring at the U.S. Forest Service Center at Taylor Creek, there is an annual trail run held at Fallen Leaf Lake, where Taylor Creek originates.  I’ve run this event a number of times over the past 8 years, primarily because it’s on dirt (my knees hate roads) and it’s a ridiculously scenic course.   Set around the trails of Fallen Leaf Lake, the course boasts views of Mt. Tallac, Desolation Wilderness, said lake, and about a bazillion aspen trees in various forms of autumnal color change.  It’s a fun 10K, one that draws a ton of locals, and generally has a less formal vibe than some other races (Case in point – this year’s 10K/5K start was the event organizer counting down without a microphone, in front of a loud group of runners).  Plus, all net proceeds go to support local educational efforts around the Kokanee, which was estimated to be close to $5,000 this year.

Mountain biking has trumped most other activities this summer, including running.  But when I met up with an old friend in Ashland earlier this month, she told me she was coming down to Tahoe for the 10K, and I thought it would be fun to at least start with a friend.   In the interim, I had found a really good deal on a new type of running shoe, the Hoka One One, which I had read about on Jill Homer’s blog.  The shoe intrigued me, because it was so lightweight and provided a ton of cushion.   The Hokas were originally designed for ultrarunners, but I figured a 10K was my equivalent ultra, seeing how little mileage I’d done this summer.

They’re definitely not pretty shoes, but looks aside, I was surprised how much easier running was when I took them out last week.  They really do feel like the fat skis of the running set, as they provided support, stability and cushion on rockier sections of trail that usually result in me twisting an ankle.

My Ashland friend ended up not being able to make it, but I had found another friend who had already registered for the 5K, and decided to upgrade to the 10K.  She, like me, had not done much running this summer.  So we were in the same boat, though my boat involved much larger and funnier looking shoes.

For today’s race, I deliberately took it slow, thinking I’d be tired from yesterday’s 33 mile mountain bike ride.  The Hokas were terrific on the paved road at the beginning of the route, leaving me without the achy knees and shins I usually get from running on asphalt.  I felt great by the halfway point, so I allowed myself to speed up, and enjoyed the unusual sensation of passing people.   I came across the finish line slower than I have in past years, but still around an hour.  Given that I’ve run 2 times this summer for a grand total of 9 miles, I’m pleased.  And the best thing is that while I’m tired, and feeling my quads a tad, my knees and shins feel fine.   So I’m totally sold on the Hokas, and look forward to taking them out more regularly.  At least until later this week, when the snow arrives.