Late Saturday night I got an invite to go on a Sunday morning ride on the Tahoe Rim Trail. My first thoughts were, “Didn’t it just snow up there?” A quick query to the social networking sites confirmed…anywhere from 0-4″ inches of snow along the trail! On Sunday morning I loaded up the 29er single speed in sub freezing temperatures, and headed for the Kingsbury Grade/Daggett Pass trailhead up at at over 7,000 feet above sea level. If nothing else, it would be an adventure! But what would life be if we never stepped out of the norm and went beyond our accustomed comfort levels?
As the gang unloaded bikes and suited up, I took a quick ride up the trail to see how the conditions were. The snow wasn’t deep, but depth isn’t always the best indicator of how the snow is going to be to ride in. Even an inch of snow can be a nightmare if it’s warm and greasy. I was pleased to find that the trail was well packed down from recent traffic, and the snow was cold and crisp. Perfect snow for riding in, with plenty of traction. There was no reason not to give it a try!
This section of the Tahoe Rim Trail, Kingsbury Grade to South Camp Peak, is one of the more difficult stretches for mountain biking. The rolling trail is full of boulders, steps, ledges, and difficult turns. Some obstacles require careful analysis and a few attempts to find the best line. Additionally, there are more than a few challenges that require some courage to attempt. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t, but that’s what makes this trail so fun. There is a strong allure to come back again and again to see if you can improve your performance.
As challenging as this trail already is, it was even more so with a couple inches of snow on it. Many obstacles just weren’t an option, since you couldn’t get the speed and traction you needed. But for this very same reason though, it was a bit safer. We found ourselves walking over many of the biggest challenges. Challenges that have sent me over the bars on previous rides. There was a lot of hike-a-bike for me that day, and I was glad to have my lightweight single speed.
We had a good assortment of bicycles on the ride. There were three full-suspension 26″ wheeled trail bikes, and four 29ers. Two of the 29ers were rigid single speeds, one was a hard tail, and one was a full suspension rig. Having ridden this trail on my big Kona Coiler, and having had my fair share of miles in the snow, I was quite pleased at how my 29er single speed performed on this ride. I always thought of this ride as a full suspension ride, but the big wheels were great for getting up the steps, down the ledges, and over the boulders. The bike’s light weight also helped tremendously with my endurance. I also felt the 29 inch wheels were superior in the snow. I had a decent amount of traction, even with a low profile knobby.
We definitely found solitude on this ride through the winter wonderland. We would regroup periodically, but we quickly spread out after each break. This left each of us alone to ponder our thoughts. For me this was a mix of Christmas Carols and the ever present blog composition. “What will I write about this ride? Which pictures do I need to tell the story?” Outside my head though, it was quiet. About the only sounds of the day were the crunch of the snow under our our tires, and the far-off tintinnabulation of the bell on Toby’s dog.
The bicycle tracks ended at the crossroads, so we had to blaze new trail up the final stretch to the top of South Camp Peak. Surprisingly though, the snow never got deeper. We trudged on, and finally came out on top. South Camp Peak is more of a big long open ridge when compared to the other peaks of the area. It is mostly treeless on the west side, and you feel like you’re riding along the top of the world with views of Lake Tahoe the whole way. We took a short rest at the summit bench, soaked in the extraordinary view, and then prepared for the descent back to Kingsbury Grade.
As we began our descent, the temperatures started to warm up. Cold, crisp snow turned mushy. Firm sand turned to mud. There were some sections of downhill that really tempted you to go faster, but often the front tire would start getting squirrelly, reminding you that you were riding on snow. Even still, I was amazed at how fast we were riding in the conditions.
Everyone finished the ride in great spirits and without injuries (at least nothing major). Not bad for a trail that was 90% snow! One handlebar computer mount bit the dust, but that was the only damage I heard about. It was one of those days that turned out just perfect. I knew the conditions would not be the same the next day. We had that perfect window.
And finally, what would an epic ride be without post ride refreshments? A big thanks to Toby and Amanda for bringing the well earned Dale’s Pale Ale. I should also acknowledge Zuesa. She was by far the most skilled trail user of the day, and cleared every obstacle she attempted!