Hey everybody, thanks for coming back for a visit. It’s appreciated.
Hunker down and get comfy, this is quite the story, and there are some amazing photos…a lot of ’em. Enjoy.
OK, so I will jump right in. My friends Dave and Daniel and I started planning a camping/mountain biking trip about 5 months ago. In hindsight, looking back at the planning, it seemed to take awhile to decide on where we were going to go. We were playing with some different ideas like Utah, Arizona, Central California and Northern-ish California. Daniel lives in Washington and was already planning on taking a road trip. He was going to head South to Southern California and do some speaking engagements for work along the way. Our goal was to fit this trip in the middle of his travels. It seemed like a solid plan. Dave and I live in Southern California so our only criteria for picking a place to ride was NO DESERT type riding. We were saying this because that’s all we seem to have around our immediate riding vicinity. We really saw this trip as a chance to experience a different kind of terrain. Pretty exciting shit, right?
We settled on the South Lake Tahoe area. Hope Valley to be exact….at least that is where the campsite was located. That seemed good! It looked so beautiful in the pictures. And there were woods to ride in….actual woods….with trees that were lush and green. Oh, and single track! Miles and miles of single track. Exciting!
So we picked a ride that was to be worthy of a seven hour (one way) drive. It was called Armstrong to Strawberry. It was on the International Mountain Bike Association’s list of epic rides. According to them it was the #1 epic ride in California. So yeah, we were in!
It was a 38 mile long ride with about 5000 feet of elevation gain peaking at 9400 feet. After the peak it was a series of ups and downs with about 7000 feet of loss. All of this happening over it’s 38 mile length.We thought…hell yeah! We can do this…it’ll be hard and challenging, but we can do it.
OK, so let me back up a bit and start from the beginning. Cool? Great, here we go.
So the plan was set. We knew where we were going to camp. We knew where we were going to ride on both Saturday and Sunday. The weather looked perfect to ride in on the weekend we chose to be there…things were coming together during the finishing touches of the planning stage. The itinerary looked a little like this:
- Leave super early Friday morning, drive 7 hours to Hope Valley, arrive, set up camp, make dinner, eat, drink beers and sleep.
- Wake up early Saturday morning eat breakfast, do the big ride, come back to camp, eat, drink beers and sleep.
- Wake up Sunday morning, eat breakfast and do a smaller ride, get back to camp, eat, drink beers and sleep
- Wake up early Monday morning, eat breakfast, leave, drive seven hours to get home, shower, drink beers and go to sleep.
The three of us were stoked! All of us were getting prepared for the trip in our own way. Mostly, for me at least, I was obsessing over the ride. 38 miles on a mountain bike, at elevation, in a strange place on an unfamiliar trail system is no joke. I mean these are situations that can go sideways quick. Right? I mean, seriously sideways…like getting medevac’d out type of sideways…or worse…News: “Breaking news…Three mountain bikers get lost in the forest surrounding South Lake Tahoe, die of exposure while doing a ride they had no business doing…story at eleven.” I can hear it now. But, never the less, I was looking forward to the challenge….or was I? Fuck if I know. But an adventure was had, that’s for sure. I will tell you that.
OK, so the time comes, and we are all very excited. So, Friday morning gets here, and Dave shows up to my house all packed and ready to go. As discussed during the dinner/shopping/what food to eat for meals conversation, Dave’s kick-ass smoker is loaded and ready to make the long trip. I am mentioning it, because seeing it that morning was a nice reminder that the chicken and other assorted meat dinners are going to be epic! And that it made me feel that we had everything planned down to the smallest detail. So, I loaded my gear and we hit the road. I was so excited to go that I forgot to kiss my wife…a “bad-luck” foreshadowing of the adventure to come? Maybe.
We start driving around 7:30am and we were prepared and anticipating a long and pretty brutal drive. I have never driven a lick of the 395. I have heard a great deal about it, so I was looking forward to seeing for myself.
We were having a fantastic drive. Dave and I have been friends for about 21 years, and we have a lot of shared experiences together, so we had plenty to discuss and the conversation was awesome! We stopped in Lone Pine for some stuff, laughed at some of the most random shit I have ever seen at a “General/Drug Store.” So funny.
The drive was absolutely beautiful at times. We were, almost the entire way up, driving between the Eastern and Western Sierra Nevada Mountain Ranges. Just incredible. Dave and I were both taking pictures to try to document the beauty. Mine didn’t turn out, not sure about Dave’s. He is putting a Drop Box file together of his photos and videos, so we will see in due time. I may post something a little later, on a future blog. The guy is known to take a great picture or two. Seriously.
So, on our way up, at around 3pm we get a call from the campground seeing if we were still coming up. They had campers that wanted to take our site, and they were going to give it away if we didn’t get up there soon. That was weird. I hadn’t heard of this…if you reserve a campsite, and pay for it, it’s your’s. Right? I mean, no matter what time you roll in, it’s your’s to roll in to. I can’t remember the last time I actually rolled into a camp site early, or on time even. Never got that call. Anywho, Dave smoothed it over and told her we were on our way. He also asked how the weather was up there. She said: “oh, it’s been horrible…raining, hailing, thunder and lightning all day.” Dave hung up. We looked at each other in bewilderment. Wait, what?! That’s not what the forecast said. Look, I know things change when it comes to weather. But when you grow up and spend your entire life in a region such as Southern California’s, weather is NEVER a consideration when doing any outdoor activities planning. Maybe like for a couple of weeks in January it gets a little dicey, but for the most part, plan away!
So, yeah…actually expecting the forecast to change drastically…not what we were used to.
OK, so Danial was already there and we gave him a call asking what he thought of the weather. He said that there was no rain. So, we arrived at around 6pm Friday evening to nothing but a few scattered clouds here and there, no signs of rain at all. There were some signs on the ground that they’d had a lot of rain recently, but the ground wasn’t saturated like it had been “coming down all day.” But, upon closer inspection, there was actually some evidence that there were some serious water run off spots in our camp site, and that they did recently, get a lot of rain.
The site was great though! There was a good sized creek across the way where we could go fishing and have a beer.
Bad ass! Man, we were super excited. Daniel was going to be sleeping in his truck, so finding a place that wouldn’t be subject to water run off should it start raining while we slept, wasn’t of great concern to him. Dave and I were doing tents and searched the site for a relatively flat spot, away from what looked to be evidence of areas with heavy run off. We were successful. Once we were situated and set up, we hooked up Dave’s smoker and started making dinner. Shit, that chicken was crazy good and so was the quinoa salad we had. That’s right, I said quinoa. We were even drinking sparkling water!
We had a great first evening at the campsite. It felt good to be outside, like it always does. We were enjoying each other’s company, laughing, having beers and getting ready for tomorrow’s big ride.
Shit…the big ride. And the forecast on Daniel’s phone, says rain. Shit. Dave, at this point, is still all for it. Daniel, seems to be leaning towards riding it as well. I am getting spooked. I’m not going to lie…remember the news cast in my head from earlier in this post? Yeah, that’s playing non-stop in my head. I am pushing, not real hard, but pushing to pick a different ride. I am seriously spooked about being caught 20 miles into a 38 mile ride in a tercentennial down pour at 9000 feet. Not to mention the fact that I wasn’t dressed for cold weather riding. I mean, it was the middle of fucking August, for Christ’s sake…why would I be?! So I was kinda freaking myself out. Sure, there is a chance it may not rain tomorrow. I know. But there is a chance that it will. And how hard will it, if it does. These are questions that we are bringing up as we are talking about our options and giving our thoughts and opinions. We sadly (but wisely in my opinion) end up opting out of the big ride. We agreed, reluctantly that it was a bit too risky. When it comes to situations like this, it is best to be safe rather than sorry. So we picked a smaller ride; 13-15 miles, 2500 feet of climbing, and a good descent back to the car. It sounded good moods changed, spirits are high, it’s back on. We mentally “high-five” the whole thing and head off to bed.
Saturday morning was beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky and no signs of rain coming. But the forecast was still saying 40% chance of thundershowers…so it’s smart that we don’t change up our plans. Plus, we woke up too late to tackle an all-day-on-the-bike kinda ride. So we didn’t pout about or previous night’s decision, and rallied the troops. Wooohooo!
Dave made a deliciously simple breakfast of scrambled eggs, and avocados. Damn, that tasted great! Seriously, heaven.
After that wonderful breakfast. We made and packed our trail side lunches (for me, three P,B and J sammies wrapped in aluminum foil…mmmm). We then loaded everything into Dave’s truck and headed to the shuttle point. Note: we took a shuttle service to the trail heads of both of our rides that weekend. Don’t get me wrong, you can’t escape climbing for any of the local rides. So climbing was being done, trust me. The shuttles just get you to the trail head. Note 2: The shuttle driver (the guy in the picture below, next to the van with the bikes on it) said we had about “1500′ of climbing, with three miles along the top that’s relatively flat and then a good pay off of a long flowing descent back” to where we parked Dave’s truck. Nope…none of that was true. Just lies. Not one bit of his description was accurate. What the hell?! Did he even know the trail we were riding? Well, I’ll tell you what…that fuckin’ guy was on our shit list by the time we were done with the first ride.
I am tackling the trails on this trip on my trusty Surly ECR. It’s an amazing riding bicycle, not really set up for fast technical descents, but I figure I have plenty of skill behind the bars…I can handle it. Plus, if it’s really gnarly, I can slow down, or walk it. But usually, I can clean anything on just about any bike.
So off we went, we got to the trail head and started immediately climbing. The trail was 100% single track with boulders jutting out of the ground all over the place. Rock gardens, both big and small. This ride, so far is really some of the most awe inspiring scenery I have ever seen on a mountain bike ride. It took a few 100′ of climbing before Dave and I calmed down from this random panicky feeling and we finally felt like we could breath some-what normal. We started this ride at around 6500′. Dave and I don’t ride in much elevation around our local trails. We took our time, Daniel and Dave waited for me a lot. That was nice. We didn’t have anywhere else to be but right there, in the ride, relying on our own bodies to move us through this new place. We were really having a blast!
The ride went up and up with climbing that was peppered with countless short, high energy bursts of charging to pedal over large rock gardens. It was challenging, especially at elevation. But we prevailed…taking our sweet ass time, soaking in the wonders of the sport the three of us are so in love with. I looked at my Garmin and noticed that we are approaching 2000′ of climbing and we are not near the top, which is identified by a bench of some sort, over looking the mighty Lake Tahoe. Goddamn lying shuttle driver. So we kept going and I noticed that now there were patches of snow…it’s August.
The single track was insane. Just mile after mile after mile of pedal-width wonderment! We were ear to ear with smiles!
Making a long sweeping left, passing the snow patches that were still about 2-3 feet thick in some spots, Lake Tahoe was in plain sight on our right.
We seemed to have reached the summit. It seemed that the climb was actually in the neighborhood of 2500′. It was hard, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I worked hard for the view we were now partaking in. It was a prize that far out-weighed the effort. It was absolutely breathtaking. The pictures I took do it zero justice.
For the last mile or so, we kept mumbling to ourselves “where the shit is this bench?!” Well, after a bit of that, we found the bench. Dave and Daniel ran into a fellow cyclist that told them that “the bench was just up a little further.” I new this not because I was close and I heard the guy say it, no. I was still pretty far away, on my way slowly, but on my way to catch up to them. I know this because Dave, in some kind of an altitude induced frenzy, yelled back to me “Ronf! The bench is just up a little further!!” I think it might have echoed. I can’t be certain…I feel like it did. I gave him the thumps up and commenced to trudge forward to the god damn bench.
The plan from the beginning, was to get to the bench and enjoy our packed lunch. So that is exactly what we did. It was so awesome. It was beautiful. The lake is gigantic. Really amazing.
Lunch is finished and we are ready for the “flowing descent” back to Dave’s truck that we were told about. We started riding and there were a few sections that were smooth, and flowing. But really, there was a good amount (more than the three of us cared about) climbing and a shite load of bigger, more challenging rock gardens that slowed the “flow” of the descent. Not super great, I was a little beat down at this point, I wanted to ride the “pay off” of a flowing descent. But no.
Then the rain came. We had the last few miles of the trail left when the sky literally opened up and dumped copious amounts of water on us. A lot of water was on the ground already, visibility was drastically reduced. The granite rock gardens moved from fun and challenging to slippery and treacherous. It was kind of fun, but mostly frustrating. Then I started thinking, “wow…good thing we opted to not do the big ride.” we would’ve been miserable. This 15 mile ride took us a smidgen under 5 hours…and I was beat. It kicked my ass, the amount of climbing we did and the way we had to do it and at elevation, no way could I have done close to a 40 mile ride with the same conditions but more climbing. Bike packing, maybe…split the 38 miles in to a two day ride….sure, no problem.
Anyway, we loaded the truck in a torrential down pour, dreading what the campsite might look like. We are soaked to the bone when we hunker down in Dave’s truck and start driving to the campsite. As we are driving and getting closer to the campsite, the rain lets up. We get all the way to the campsite and there is no sign of rain, and it looks as if nothing came down in this part of the mountain. So we dry off, clean up a little. Start hooking up the smoker for another great dinner and we notice that the temp is dropping and we feel the occasional rain drop. So, we stopped what we were doing, looking at each other…like, now what? I think I was the first to speak and say, “we can stay and hope it doesn’t rain…but it’s going to suck breaking down camp in a down pour like we just witnessed….just saying.” To my relief, both Dave and Daniel agreed. Daniel got on the phone to find cheap hotels close by. It seems the cheapest ones were in Reno….1 hour drive North/East of where we were. So after trying to decipher if it is feasible to stay and smoke some more meats before we took off, we bought so much of it after all. We decided to shut down the smoker, finish breaking down camp, cut our losses and head to Sorensen’s for dinner on the way to Reno. That was a nice little place. We all had the Burgundy Beef Stew, and it was amazing…just what we needed. Thanks for the tip Uncle Mike! We were disappointed about being rained out of our camp site…but we were well on the road to rectifying our current mood. Good company has a way of turning a negative in to a positive.
We arrived at our hotel room, showered and lounged around and talked about Sunday’s ride. From the description on the website, and it’s name: Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, it promised to be a lot of fun…and only 1500′ of climbing. Sounds good. We talked a little, reminisced about our “luck” with the weather so far on this trip, made each other laugh a lot and then hit the hay.
Sunday morning we hit Starbucks for a coffee and headed to the bike shop to grab the shuttle. Dave and I sadly had to come to the conclusion the night before, that we did not want to spend money on another hotel room and that we were going to make the trip home early, after the ride today. It wasn’t really what we wanted, but we lost our campsite, the other’s were full and if we stayed, a hotel was the only option. We were all bummed about it.
We got to the bike shop just in time to catch the 11am shuttle. We loaded the bikes and headed for the trail head. There were a few others on this shuttle this time around. Everyone seemed cool. It was a fun drive to the trail head.
Once we got there we unloaded the bikes, looked up and saw clear skies. This was going to be epic! Off we went! Up a first little climb, the terrain seemed a little different than Saturday’s ride. All beautiful single track and a little more covered. Striking! As we started climbing, we started to notice the clouds rolling in. Apparently there is a storm on the out skirts of where we are riding. Daniel is checking an app on his phone that is tracking it in real time. It looks as if it will actually miss us. We keep rolling, up and up.
We run into a few hikers, a father/daughter team. We talk a little bit get some good insight on what to expect on the rest of the ride. Also, come to find out they are three days in hiking on the mountain. That seems pretty hard core to me as it seems like a very non-forgiving, rugged wilderness we are trudging through. Hats off to those two for roughing it like that. We continue to roll and about 15 minutes after the encounter with the hikers, the clouds converge above us and the sky gets a little darker. We stop and look at the app on Daniels phone and it seems the storm is actually coming closer to us. What the hell! Is it following us from yesterday? Can we just get a ride in with zero precipitation? Cheeerist!
We discuss a little, and decide that we have no idea how hard we will be hit, so we keep climbing. At this point the temperature on my Garmin is 65 degrees. I hear someone, I don’t know who, say that they felt a raindrop…I did too. I stop and look up and the sky is all cloud cover and is now pretty grey and ominous looking. We decide…lets just keep going, once we hit the summit we can handle a fun descent in the rain. If it rains at all, right? Right.
It actually starts to come down a little, but steadily. I am going to be honest, I was not stoked to ride in the god damn rain again. Not at all. It was coming down harder now. The temperature on my Garmin now read 63 degrees. The barometric pressure on my watch dropped pretty quick from 29.9 to 21.7. that seemed drastic to me. Dave still wants to try to keep going to reach the summit. I agree that the rain would not seem so catastrophic if we were on our way down with an end in site. But I honestly don’t know how much longer to the summit…what if the guide was as inaccurate as Saturday’s guide on the trail description? It’s coming down hard now and we take shelter under a tree. The little creek in the picture below wasn’t there 10-15 minutes before I took this picture. The middle of the trail looked like a little river.
We were stuck there, waiting for the rain to stop. After waiting a bit, it didn’t seem to even slow down and instead, got harder. Visibility was being affected. We were at a loss. Dave was getting cold…it showed in the way he was standing and plus he said “I’m cold.” We had been under the tree for about 15 minutes when the water started coming through our tree shelter. I walked over to my Garmin….from 63 degrees to 50 degrees in fifteen minutes…then the hail started to fall. I asked Daniel if he had a signal on his phone, he did. I suggested we call the shuttle and have him come pick us up where he dropped us. It was foolish to venture forth…like life threatening kind of foolish. I mean, I was in my Bedrock sandals and shorts…it was fucking August, remember! The shuttle driver agreed to pick us up. I put on my plastic emergency Coleman rain poncho (a glorified, hooded plastic trash bag) which I miraculously had in my bikes frame bag…thanks to my wife saying “just pack it, you never know…) That kind of shit happens a lot with her. I would be dead somewhere if it weren’t for my awesome wife’s “just in case” suggestions. So, we turned around and went down what we just climbed up.
Little ball bearing size, stark white, frozen little balls of ice started falling from the sky at an alarming rate. So much so, that the hail was creating a carpet of white balls all over the ground. We are riding fast, the hail stones are pelting us so hard in our faces as we are, believe it or not, actually kind of bombing this down hill back to the pick-up/drop-off spot. I can hear Dave and Daniel hootin’ and a hollerin’ all the way down, laughing and yelling “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!” It was actually such a bazaar situation that it was really fun. The dirt was perfect and we had traction for days. It was really awesome!
So we made it to the bottom, and agreed this was the right move. And we also agreed that it was the best descent of the weekend and an unusually perfect way for us to end the trip. That and a nice hamburger!
The bike shop had a hot shower that they let us use. So we got cleaned up, warmed up and had a cup of Ritual Coffee in the shop. We loaded everything up, said good by to the shop guys and headed to a recommended place to buy a “big hamburger.”
We chatted and ate. We talked a lot about the crazy schizo weather of the South Tahoe area, and how quickly it changes. We had a lot of fun. It was an adventure we will talk about for years to come. We finished up, said our good-byes, made plans for future rides and visits and then Dave and I hit the long road home.
Bikes, camping, outdoors, friends…a recipe for some sweet ass memories. So glad we did the trip. It was amazing.
Thanks for reading, I know it was a long one…so, thanks again.
I hope this story inspires you to get on your bike, gather some friends, get outside, throw a little caution to the wind and create some stellar memories of your own. It’s worth the effort every time.
Cheers, see ya next month.