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.

The bunny whisperer

soleil stick small

When we moved into our place 2+ years ago, we inherited a brown lawn.  Attempts were made to reseed it and resuscitate it, but it became apparent that it needed replacing.  I joked about keeping it indefinitely and hosting a Dead Sod Bocce Tournament, but that never came to fruition, and our backyard just ended up looking janky.

We finally got around to replacing the lawn a few weeks ago, and it’s a much needed improvement.  That said, we’ve discovered a problem, albeit not one that was expected.  Our main concerns were that our white dog would end up green after discovering the joys of rolling in it, or that she would create lots of dead spots where she peed on it.

Neither of those two things has become an issue.  Our problem?  Bunnies.

We’ve had rabbits passing through our yard since we moved in.  Mostly small, and mostly harmless, they never stayed long.  This was not thanks to our dog’s eagle eyes or interest in keeping the homestead safe.  It was because we had nothing for them to eat.

The arrival of a lush green lawn has made our backyard ground zero for the neighborhood’s rabbit population.  The eating of the grass isn’t so bad – it’s what they leave behind.   There are no real predators either, since our dog is useless at noticing them (even two feet away).  And attempts to encourage our dog to act as a predator have not worked.  So it’s now N’s responsibility to scare the bunnies away, while the dog wanders around the other side of the yard, sniffing and doing godknowswhat.

I’ve told this story to numerous friends, all of whom have dogs that would love to chase rabbits.  Many have offered to let us borrow their pets, and a few have suggested that said pet might be able to teach Soleil.  They are optimistic, my friends.

We, however, are not.  So we’re building a fence in the front yard, in the hopes it keeps those critters off our damn lawn.

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.