Even though I’ve only been in the Tahoe area for a few months now, I really wanted to get a bikecamping trip in before winter set in. After discussing various routes with folks on the Tahoe mountain bike group and chatting with Gary at Sierra Ski and Cycle, the Tahoe Rim Trail to Star Lake looked like the best option for a weekend trip with minimal driving. Star Lake is very close to South Lake Tahoe, so we’d never be far away from the city in case we had issue; but yet we’d still be up in the mountains. Then, coming back down from Star Lake we had a couple of route options, and they all dropped us back to neighborhood roads that would easily take us home.
With a weekend free and overnight temperatures still above freezing, my friend Kyle and I decided to take the rare opportunity and go for it. We drove Kyle’s truck with our gear to Stagecoach, then started our ascent. We were excited and ready to get out there, but after the first 20 minutes…. I’ll be honest, I thought we really got ourselves in over our heads. Instead of pedaling, we were spending a lot of time hiking our bikes. Hikers were starting pass us! This wasn’t what I was hoping for! But the weather was great and there weren’t many people on the trails, so we kept on. I’m glad we did. The Rim Trail weaved us between peaks to give us spectacular views of Carson Valley, Heavenly Valley, and, of course, Lake Tahoe.
Six hours later…. we had climbed 2200 feet in just 9 miles. The views along the climb were simply spectacular. We crossed paths with hikers and mountain bikers along the way, but nobody else was bikecamping. Folks were very encouraging as they saw us loaded up and pushing/pulling/carrying our bikes along the trail. The majority of this trail was definitely not made for mountain biking. But it was worth it. We stopped at an overlook of Carson Valley for some afternoon snacks and just marveled at how far up we were.
As we rounded the last bit of the trail and saw Star Lake, I was thrilled, exhausted, and hungry. There were two groups of hikers already at the lake and had taken a couple spots closest to the trails. Kyle had quite a bit more energy than me, so he scrambled around the lake to find us a fantastic camp spot. We had enough time to gather some firewood (the ban had just been lifted the week before!) and get our hammocks set up before dark started coming on. Kyle’s friend Gunner hiked to meet us up with two of his friends, so we had a good little group ready to camp.
The stars that night were fantastic. For the first time, I had a glimpse at the milky way. Star Lake was so calm and peaceful that we could see stars reflect in the water. The moon didn’t show itself until late that night, well after we were asleep.
As the fire crackled and popped, we passed around salami, cheese, and whiskey, and talked about our hopes for the ski season. Nobody was in a rush to end the night, and I’m pretty sure every drop of that whiskey was properly enjoyed.
After dreaming of bears sniffing us in our sleep, we all roused with the morning breeze crossing the lake. We slowly made some coffee and breakfast and watched the sun light up the forest.
Now it was time for the way back. Since Star Lake sits at 9,100 feet and South Lake Tahoe is at 6,200 feet, we were both pretty excited about letting gravity bring us home instead of our legs. Thankfully, that’s exactly how it worked out…. instead of the 9 miles in 6 hours that it took us to get to Star Lake, we did 10 miles home in just 1.5 hours. The trails down were a blast, and definitely could be ridden faster if we were more familiar with them and didn’t have a lot of extra bulk on our bikes.
All the way home we were treated to gorgeous views of Lake Tahoe. We had a couple of creek crossings as well… one toward the end almost had me all in the water.
We finished the day off with a celebratory beer and greasy burger Big Daddy’s. No flats, no injuries, and no bears. A perfect weekend on the bike.
Even in the hardest parts of the trip… when I thought my lungs and legs were literally just going to stop working, I kept thinking, this is why I want to be here. This is what my move has been about: being able to take a weekend adventure high up in the mountains with some great friends and away from normal life. Breathing in the beautifully clean air and watching the stars migrate across the sky. These are the adventures that refresh my soul; even when I’m hurting and aching and my lungs are burning for oxygen.
P.S. If you’re looking to do some of this route, check out this blog on some of the tricky details and some good pictures of the obstacles along the Rim Trail. I was too busy trying to get over the obstacles to stop for a photo.