A couple weeks ago we put together our annual mountain bike ride to Virginia City. This ride has become a must do each year, one where if I don’t plan it immediately, I start getting email reminders from people to get it on the calendar ASAP. We had some familiar faces show up again this year, but picked up a couple riders new to the ride as well. This casually paced social ride has been a great way to have a lot of fun, meet other mountain bikers, and make new friendships.
We couldn’t have asked for a better morning. Even at 09:00, we were able to start the ride without jackets from the Centennial Trailhead on the east side of Carson City. We enjoyed blue, smoke-free skies, a luxury we didn’t enjoy much in the late summer this year. In spite of the beautiful morning, though, high winds and rain were predicted for later in the day. We hoped to be done with the climbing before the changing of the seasons rolled in.
You can pretty much count on seeing wild horses when traversing from from Centennial to Mound House. The herd looked to have high numbers this year. They seem to be just as used to seeing us as we are seeing them.
As we climbed the American Flat Toll Road, we could hear the V&T train whistles at the Carson Depot. We wanted to be in a good position up at American Flat to see the train come by, so we didn’t waste much time getting up the mountain. The train was faster, but we had a shorter distance to ride. We reached American Flat well in advance of the train. Since there was no need to descend to the now demolished Comstock Merger Mill site, we took a different route than usual, and headed north on the high side of the valley. We found what we thought to be a great observation point near a railroad crossing and waited as we watched the train making its way up the grade. Suddenly the train stopped, still a quarter of a mile from us. We continued to wait, but then personnel got out of the train to walk around. It wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Wanting to get riding, we decided to take off. Later I found out that this is a standard stop for the train on it’s way to Virginia City.
Not descending to the old mill sure made crossing American Flat easier. We had a fast downhill half the way, then an easy ascent to climb out and over to Gold Hill. While I miss the ruins of the old mill, I sure don’t miss the steep climb to get out of the bottom of the valley!
This isn’t to say that the ride was without steep climbs. There’s just no getting around the grinder up Gold Hill. It’s so steep that it’s hard to hold a straight line, and some riders even preferred to walk their bikes up. The V&T train chugged away in the hills above as we made our way up, and finally beat us to the track crossing above Gold Hill. We missed it again! Less than a mile later, we were at the cutoff to the truck route, the hardest part of the day behind us.
The wind started to pick up as we rolled into Virginia City, colder now than when we started. One rider suggested that we stop at Mellow Fellow, a new craft beer place on the south end of town. They had a large selection of beers to choose from that tasted great after the big climb. We also enjoyed the outdoor seating that allowed us to stay with our bikes. Having only a banana and breakfast bar in my stomach, though, I was ready to go find a substantial amount of food by the time I finished my beer.
One of the best things about going to Virginia City is that you never have to worry about entertainment. You never know what you’ll see, but you can bet that it’ll be a bit off the wall. We happened to plan this ride the same weekend as the 27th Annual World Championship Outhouse Races! Since main street was closed for this sporting event, we took B Street above to get to the north side of town. Crowds were gathering for the contest, but our stomachs demanded that we find lunch first. We had talked about trying something new this year, but once again found ourselves at the Red Dog Saloon for their delicious pizza. It’s just hard to beat, and it gives you the opportunity to see the whole town to get to it.
We had a great time at the Red Dog, but nobody could eat that last piece of pizza and we had to abandon it. We rode back up the street a ways to get in on the craziness of the Outhouse Races. How does one race an outhouse you may ask? One person rides in the wheeled enclosure, and the remaining team members push, pull, or drag the decorated outhouses down the racetrack. Obviously it’s a fun and silly event to behold.
With full bellies, we pedaled slowly back up B Street and up to the beginning of Ophir Grade. This slow and gentle climb gave us a chance to digest lunch a bit while taking in the best views of the ride so far. When we made the summit, we had a good view of Mount Rose in the Carson Range to the west. We also got a blast of some of the cold weather headed our way.
Nobody stopped to regroup at the top of the climb, one by one shooting off down the steep descent back to American Flat. It was some fun downhill and a good measure of the elevation we had climbed that day.
As we crossed back to the south end of American Flat, the weather quickly changed on us, blue skies turning to gray within minutes. I was really happy to have my windbreaker on, but too tired to worry about digging through my pack to get my warm hat on. With only a mile or two to go, one rider got a flat tire after the descent down the toll road. The cold biting wind really added to the fun of trying to figure out a new tire pump and CO2 inflation system. I was happy to rest a little bit, though.
I was the last one to make it back to the trailhead. All my energy was gone, but I was completely content from such a fun ride. The timing was perfect too, with the first rain drops starting as we loaded our bikes for the trip home. Another successful ride to Virginia City done and in the history books!