Category: Adventures

The End of Winter

Kirkwood

As the snow melts away from a surprise April storm and the last of the Tahoe resorts close for the season, I can’t help but think about all the amazing days I had on the mountains this year. While locals look at me in disbelief when I say I had a fantastic season, I’m quite serious about what a great season this was for me. In the midst of Sierra’s worst snowpack since the 1970s, I managed to thoroughly enjoy myself.

Fresh air and crisp skies

As a first time season passholder, I honestly had no idea what life would be like having such easy access to the mountains. Would I get tired of the crowds and be a grumpy, picky local who only went for pure, fresh powder days? Would I know anyone to ski with? Would I get tired of skiing by myself? Would I get bored of the same runs? Would I be able to improve over the season?

Snowy trees at Sierra-at-Tahoe

Of those questions, the one I was most worried about was skiing by myself. At the start of the season I knew no one here, and my only reference for skiing solo was from a few years ago when I went to Heavenly during a business trip. I didn’t enjoy it at all. I hated riding the lifts all day by myself and not knowing anyone. But, turns out… I really enjoyed hitting the mountain myself. The beauty of having the pass really shined here. Once I was tired or had enough for the day, I could go home whenever I wanted without worrying about not getting my day’s value in. Ski for a few hours, have a beer, and call it a day.

Fresh powder day at Kirkwood

Not long into the season, I started meeting fellow skiers through a few Meetup groups. Spending the weekends with these friends on the mountain started turning into a weekly ritual, much like bike riding was in Dallas. We started planning our weekends on Monday and looking forward to the snow all week. Having friends of various ability to ride with helped me improve my skills, until by the end of the season I started noticing a significant improvement in my abilities. What a blast it was to share the season with so many new friends.

Throughout most of the season, I’d be getting up to the mountain by 9 or 10am… but the last few weekends at Heavenly, I discovered the bliss of the first chair and fresh groomed runs. Runs that I thought I knew were totally different and absolutely amazing. You should have seen the grin on my face after rushing down a perfectly clean groomed run!

Fresh corduroy, just for me!

The views from the tops of the runs of Lake Tahoe continue to take my breath away. I took hundreds of photos, yet none capture the beauty quite right. Every time I was on the mountain, I was so happy and excited. The rush of taking runs and the beauty all around is simply unbeatable.

The Heavenly Tram

 

For my last day on the mountain, I decided to attempt something I’d been hearing others do… three sports in one day. As I was coming down the Gondola from a fun couple of hours at Heavenly, I put plans into motion and pulled off mountain biking and kayaking all in the same day. What a great way to transition into a Tahoe summer!

 

All in all, this season was everything I’d hoped for when I moved here. It’s fitting that I’m publishing this a year after I announced I was leaving Dallas. The move has been rewarding in many ways, and I’m glad every day that I put in the effort to make it happen.

I’m already looking forward to next season.

First Snow Day

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Finally.

After weeks of anticipation and watching weather reports (and a Thanksgiving holiday blackout on my pass), I got my ski gear together and hit the slopes. While the mountains aren’t fully open yet (not enough snow & high temperatures), there was enough for me to decide it was time to go.

This is my first season to own a pair of skis and to have a pass. In the past I had not been really fond of skiing by myself, but this weekend I loved it. The combined freedom of living right next to the Heavenly gondola, having a pass, and being by myself was beautiful. On Saturday I was able to ski for a few hours before the crowds started showing up, and headed out just as the lift lines started to grow exponentially. The crowds were thinner on Sunday and I took my time to enjoy a few more runs.

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By pure chance, on one of my last lift rides of the day, “L” by Tycho came on my rdio. Suddenly the perfect soundtrack was playing  as I was watching the sun make shadows across the glittering snow.

 

Really looking forward to this season of snow and hanging out on the mountain. What a life change.

Bikecamping to Star Lake

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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.

Climb to Star Lake

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.

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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.

2014-10-26 20_53_23-Star Lake Ride Home _ Ride _ Strava

 

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.

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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.

Riding the dirt

 

Sidewinder

Today I learned three important lessons about mountain biking:

  1. Get off the saddle for most maneuvers such as turns and jumps. The bike goes where it needs to go.
  2. Keep elbows out to help prevent shaky front wheel syndrome. 🙂
  3. Altitude sure sucks the oxygen out of your lungs. Enjoyed many break stops to stop the burning sensation.

 

Fountain Place Road

Had a great time on my first Sierra mountain bike trail. We picked a pretty popular, but relatively easy, trail. I’m glad we did because I needed the adjustment. I loved it and know why people get addicted to this. The adrenaline rush after a successful series of maneuvers is pretty fantastic.

 

Fountain Place Road

Somehow I ended up with a great neighbor who has ridden off road his whole life and is a knowledgable, caring teacher. He noted a few things mid-ride that immediately improved the experience. Plus, he waited very patiently for me up all the hills while I caught my breath.

Can’t wait for the next ride. But I’m pretty exhausted at the moment.

Tips for self-supported, long-distance bike rides

When I first started bike riding as an adult, it was with friends, a few coworkers, and family members on long-distance weekend rallies such as the Collin Classic, and Hotter’n Hell 100. I enjoyed spending the day with friends and family and seeing the countryside of rural Texas. I would studiously watch the Bicycle Stuff calendar and plan the summer of rides. These events were great motivation for me to put in the miles during the week and conquer longer and longer distances.

Wild Ride

After awhile, though, I got tired of paying the fees, putting my bike on a car, driving lots of miles to a start location, and then riding with folks with dubious road handling skills. As I became familiar with CyclingSavvy techniques, my eyes were opened even further to how poor most folks bike handling and traffic skills really are. Since CyclingSavvy gave me the skills to ride comfortably in the city, I started exploring urban Dallas with small groups of friends–rolling straight from my door. Instead of spending money on rally fees and yet another t-shirt, I can buy coffee and snacks wherever I want, and I can make the route as long or as short as I want.

Country Ride

That’s why I’m excited about the Greater Dallas 100 ride. This is a self-supported, self-organized, free ride with only two fixed bits of information: May 18 & Beltline Road. You can pick the direction, length, start time, stop time, break times, etc. The entire loop of Beltline Road is 100 miles, but you can pick any segment you want. But that may be intimidating to some folks who enjoy the mass start and organized break stops of typical summer rallies.

To ease your concerns, here’s some tips for enjoying this ride (and, really, any self-supported ride):

  • Make sure your bike is in good shape.
  • Eat well the night before & have a solid breakfast.
  • Go to the bathroom before you start. 🙂
  • Have a complete emergency kit (CO2 cartridge(s), inflator, spare tube(s), multi-tool). Don’t know how to use a CO2 cartridge? Read this great little guide.
  • Bring some cash, a credit card, your insurance card, and your drivers license.
  • Put a couple quarters in your emergency kit and write down a few phone numbers of friends/family who can help in a pinch.
  • Make sure your cell phone is fully charged. I do not recommend using your phone for GPS tracking because it’s better to have an available charge to look at maps or call for help.
  • Bring your cell phone. I usually pack mine in a little zip lock bag along with my wallet in a back pocket.
  • Pack a few of your favorite energy boosters like gel packs, honey, etc.
    • If you’re feeling adventurous, my buddy Clifford recommended “Feed Zone Portables” to me and I’ve found the recipes to be pretty amazing.
  • Make sure to drink water while riding and know when you need to refill. Don’t let your bottles or Camelbak go dry. I did that once and got stuck too far away from any gas station!
  • Use gas stations and coffee shops as your break stops. There’s LOTS of them and you can buy some water or energy drinks and use the rest room. I’ve put together a map for Greater Dallas 100 with some popular chains along the route.
  • Spend a little time looking at the route on Google Maps. Print out a cue sheet if you need a reference. (I usually print two.. one for taping on to my handle bars, and one to stuff into my saddle bag.)
  • If it’s deep into the heat of summer, get out early and know how long it will take to get home. Might also want some sunblock.
  • Remember that the Dallas light rail system can be a handy way to get back closer to home.

If you’ve never done a self-supported ride like this before, get out and try it with a few friends! Just pick a destination like a coffee shop or brewery and roll. Don’t be hard on yourself if you have to call a friend for support. A few weeks ago I had to call Daniel because I forgot an inflator for my CO2 cartridge. Whoops.

If you don’t have anyone to ride with on the Greater Dallas 100, Mike Keel is organizing a group to leave the Richardson Square Mall at 7am. This is a great way to get to meet folks and enjoy this unique event together. Details for that roll-out are posted here.

Greater Dallas 100

As I mentioned above, I’ve put together a map of the route with all the DART train stations, bike shops, Starbucks, QTs, 7-11s, and Racetracs marked. I’m happy to add any other items to this map if anyone has suggestions. Check the map out here.

Besides logistics questions, you may be concerned about riding on some sections of Beltline Road. This is where skills from CyclingSavvy are especially useful. Since Beltline is a multi-lane road with some higher speed sections, you want to be sure to always ride in a way that makes you most visible to motorists, and to help them make good passing decisions. There’s tons of great information about that in this post on Commute Orlando: Helping Motorists with Lane Positioning. Essentially: ride like you would a motorcycle.

Change Lanes to Pass

 

Do you have any tips for riding self-supported? Will you be riding the Greater Dallas 100?

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