Monday, October 5, 2015

The Punisher

A week ago, in the allergist office, the doctor took the stethoscope out of her ears and said: "You are wheezing. Double up on your inhalers for the next three weeks." For some reason, the fall season transition is always the time I feel my allergies worsen. But after many years of living with it, my threshold for self diagnosis has lowered and it took a medical exam to reveal some sub-clinical inflammation and pulmonary obstruction. The long story short: got too busy at work, called for refills on Friday and got an automated message that my meds will be ready for pickup on Tuesday. So I left for South Lake Tahoe on Friday afternoon hypomedicated, but very much looking forward to ride trails that should be in prime shape after Thursday rains. The forecast called for another front bringing rain into the area on Sunday.

On a cool Saturday morning, I started my ride from the beach in SLT and climbed on Van Sickle trail, over the Nevada state line towards Heavenly ski resort. My plan was to complete the 30 plus mile ride, sometimes called the Punisher (there is also the Uber-Punisher, double the distance), which follows the Tahoe Rim Trail over some high passes and descends from Armstrong Pass back to the lake. Van Sickle is vane sick climb, littered with countless rock step ups, that require lots of oomph to lift the front wheel over. Here I had just enough oomph to do one or two of these steps, then walked the next three, thinking that my heart was about to escape my chest cavity through the esophagus. As I gained altitude, my sickness was getting worse, so as I crossed multiple ski runs, I took the smooth but steep service road to the top. Back on the TRT, the trail cut into several canyons while being perched on a steep slope with quite an exposure.

Skirting the eastern slopes of Monument Peak, views towards Nevada opened up, but as I approached the split with Monument Pass trail at about 8,600 ft, the technical nature of the trail and the lack of oxygen in my blood forced me off the bike. I got to the trail junction, just mere 10 miles into the ride exhausted and dizzy. It took me almost two hours to get here and I knew I should get going but needed some rest and sugar.
I could see the high point of my ride from here - Freel Peak (the bald mountain on the horizon in the photo above) and this perspective just added to my feeling of biting just too much to chew. The trail continued to climb gently but it took lots of effort to keep going, partly also due to loose decomposed granite trail surface.

But it was so beautiful up here! Cool breeze with occasional strong wind gusts, signalling weather change, excellent visibility and total solitude. My plan was to reach Star Lake and decide if to take a shortcut back down on Cold Creek trail. I rode this trail back in May and knew how technical that downhill was. I secretly hoped to have enough energy left for the Armstrong trail down.

Compared to how many people I saw until here, Star Lake was a crowded beach resort. I saw about five bikers here and spoke to couple of women who assured me that the next five miles to Freel Pass was a great trail not to be missed. So after another bar, a short hike a bike that (again) spiked my heart rate to some triple digit number, I continued south and up towards a saddle below Freel Peak.

I crossed the saddle at 9,800 ft and did not linger around here. The wind was howling. I just saw a rider ahead of me to put his body armor on and then I dropped the seat and picked up speed. In my oxygen depleted brain, it took a while to register that I was actually on quite a technical downhill. I somehow expected the trail to continue climbing towards Armstrong Pass, which is actually at 8,700 ft. The top part of this downhill followed the barren landscape in large switchbacks, often over boulders and with shifting coarse sand under the tires, requiring lots of attention. I rode this section in half dazed state, which was probably good, since I was loose and not afraid. Funny, when I think back, I completely assumed it was safe to ride all drops at speed, letting the bike to handle the rough stuff. Or perhaps it was all my imagination and I actually rode slow while being dumbed down?

One way or another, I "woke up" when my wheels hit the loamy dirt and rock of the perfect Armstrong trail. To ride here without enjoying every millisecond of it would be a waste of time. This trail flows, jumps, has few scary spots requiring commitment but mostly it is enormous fun. The next section was Armstrong Connector trail, here the riding got really technical, with more than a few spots where a trail "feature" suddenly appeared forcing me to stop and convince myself to walk back and ride it, or scramble and slide down rock faces covered in that coarse grained granite sand on foot. I finished the 10 mile descent on Corral and Sidewinder trails, getting dizzy again on Sidewinder, not from altitude but from the fact that this trail literally folds upon itself and looking ahead means seeing three switchbacks down the hill, unless they happen to be hiding behind tall berms. Sorry, no pictures from this part of the ride: go on YouTube and understand why stopping for pictures was not an option.

I reached the valley still high on adrenaline, called Marketa to be about an hour late and rode back to where I started on the last, eight mile long trail connectors. At this point, I was out of water, out of glycogen and out of any residual strength in my legs. There was still climbing to be done and I stood up and pushed the pedals, thinking that this was it, I was never ever going to finish this ride on these park like trails. A mile from the hotel room, food, water and warm shower, I hit 42 mph coming down Ski Run Blvd, just before stopping at an intersection with Lake Tahoe Boulevard, with continuous stream of traffic. A mile of street between the trail head and the main road divided the two worlds. This ride was a nicely punishing way to close the riding season at Tahoe.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Jan does Downieville

Almost exactly three years ago, I posted about our hiking trip to the Lakes Basin region of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It took us three years to return here, this time with a mountain bike. What I remembered from our last trip was the sheer beauty of many lakes scattered among granite formations, the craggy peaks of the Sierra Buttes and how remote and underpopulated the area was. In 2012, we camped at Wild Plum, a nice campground in the valley of North Yuba river. On one of our hiking trips, we discovered the Lakes Basin campground and thought it was the nicest spot in the whole area.
Fast forward to 2015. A month ago or so, I stumbled upon one and last available spot at Lakes Basin and reserved it immediately, hoping to organize a trip for seasoned mountain bikers for a weekend of fun riding. On Friday, it was just the two of us battling the afternoon traffic in the Central Valley and arriving at our camp way after dark, setting up camp with the aid of our headlamps and cooking late supper.
Saturday morning sunrise revealed the landscape around our campsite, as I remembered it. This campground had the advantage of a pretty swimming hole right behind our site. Grass Lake and views of the granite megaboulders were a five minute walk away.

My plan for the first day was to drive to Packer Saddle and ride down the famous trails of the Downieville trail system. I was hoping to complete a loop described on MTBR by A.S.S., which included about 2000 ft climbing up Big Boulder trail.

After leaving the ride start spot, which offered a great view of the Sierra Buttes, I enjoyed the swoopy and fast singletrack of Sunrise trail, with great views of the valley 5000 ft below. As the trail changed its name to Butcher Ranch trail, it became lot more rocky and technical. Here I met a group of five riders from the Bay Area, led by Tim, who used his helmet camera to document our more (or less) successful attempts to ride through numerous rock gardens.

We stopped often to session some of the trail features and to take photos. Up (or rather down) to here, nothing was unrideable, just few tricky spots like the dry creek crossing which was easy to ride down but quite difficult to use the momentum to make it up the other side.

The first real hike a bike section was the infamous "waterfall", which I walked and watched others to try multiple times only to scatter their bikes and bodies among the rocks. The rock was dry now, perhaps it is easier to ride through when it is lubricated by flowing water?

At the transition of Butcher Ranch to Pauley Creek, I split off the group and started climbing up Upper Pauley Creek. This trail turned out to be very technical, especially after crossing the second bridge over a creek cascade. It became clear this was a moto trail, badly churned up, very steep and for me not really rideable. I hiked up about 50% of it for about a mile and half to a wreckage of an old (30-ies?) truck. At a clearing I could see the Big Boulder ridge still ways far and many hundreds of vertical feet above. I did not have time to continue here and make the last shuttle out of Downieville. So I had a snack, dropped the seat post and descended. Surprisingly, I could ride the whole stretch of trail, including some extremely steep sections made of pavers. I knew these from trails in WA and knew that tire traction on these pavers was perfect, after all they allow motocross bikes to ride up.

I continued down to the Third Divide trail, which was fast, rutted, dusty and basically nothing more than a glorified moto trail. The fact that many mountain bikers raced down this trail a week ago had perhaps something to do with the state of this trail. Riding this trail required staying loose, looking way ahead and hoping that the bike's suspension would take care of the crap beneath the tires. I reached the bottom of this trail without an incident, just with blisters forming on my palms. After a fire road section, I entered the last leg of the downhill: The First Divide trail. This trail was relatively smooth, but perched high on cliffs above the Lavezolla and Pauley creeks. Exposure was quite extreme at few places and it was hard to know what was behind a bend. I guess if you overshot one of the corners, you would at least die happy.

I made it to Yuba Expeditions bike shop after four hours, with an hour to spare and spent it by filling my belly with Gatorade and ice cream.

I guess this ride was probably my most "reckless" downhill run ever and I was frankly glad to be done. I climbed 1230 ft and descended 5,125 ft!

Another gorgeous morning on Sunday saw us packing camp for a transition down the Golden Lakes highway to Mills Peak trailhead. This time, I was ready for some climbing and Marketa for some technical trail running.

Mills Peak is a trail built recently and sponsored by Ibis. I estimated its length at around 5.5 miles each way (out and back). The trail reaches a fire lookout tower at 7,342 ft. It was obvious that this trail was built well using modern methods. It is narrow, bermed, there is barely a straight section of it as it sneaks uphill. It was still very rocky and technical. Ascending over lose and sharp rocks at this altitude and hot weather was difficult even on 29" wheels and required lots of strength. It helped me a lot that we regrouped every half mile or so, just to make sure we stayed together. At mile 4, we could see the lookout tower at a distance and still very high above us. Marketa decided to turn around and start a slow descend with guaranteed treacherous footing. I continued up the trail, sweating buckets and almost constantly sucking on my Camelbak hose.

It took me another hour of climbing through big trees and even bigger rocks to reach the tower where my odometer showed 8.2 miles. The views from the Top of the World were well worth the effort.

And now I was at the point where the real fun started! The top section of the mountain was a pure singletrack heaven. The trail was very technical, requiring a constant attention and maneuvering but even at speed, it allowed enough time to react to obstacles. I enjoyed my descent tremendously, all the way to the flatter but rockier bottom part, which was as demanding as the top portion, if not more. After another eight miles of nirvana, my hands burned and my lower back screamed but the cramp I got was in my facial muscles from grinning. Cooling ourselves at Golden Lake, refueling with the best electrolyte there is (beer, as everyone knows), I kept thinking how lucky I was to experience such an expertly built trail (thanks Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship and Ibis!!!), on a super capable bike, at my age. I really hope that there will be more days like this one to come.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Bicycle Touring in Southern Bohemia - Part III: exploring Šumava

The forests of Šumava mountain range reminded me of British Columbia, but a scaled down, gentler version of those rain forests. Šumava is known for harsh weather and it rained on the first day of our explorations. Majority of this region used to be inaccessible to tourism, due to a broad band of well protected no man's land along the border with Germany. Today, mountain towns are centers of tourist activity, hiking trails cris-cross the hills and numerous bike paths exist to provide safe bicycle travel for families and bike tourists. All with excellent trail signage. Special category are trails following the "shipping canals", as the Šumava web site calls them. I would translate it as "flume" since these canals were built to transport logs, not ships. An intricate system of water flumes was built by Joseph Rosenauer in 1791 and some of the flumes were used as recently as 1961.

The flumes are built impeccably - walled off by stones, with numerous merges and even a 2-level water crossing. The system was used to transport timber from the mountains to both Danube and Vltava rivers, supplying construction wood for both Prague, Vienna and many towns along the way.

A part of the system is also a 420m long tunnel under Jeleni Hora, with nicely restored portals. The bike trails that follow these flumes are wide double tracks with fine crushed gravel surface, and since the grade of the canals was just a few % to allow for smooth water flow, these bike ways are easy to pedal on.
During our first day, we chose to detour to Plešivé jezero (lake), a man made reservoir supplying the flume system with water. This lake was built on a slope of a high mountain, so it took a good amount of climbing to reach it. It poured heavily on the way up, making us worry about the steep descent on the slippery and sometimes sandy path. But by the time we finished our lunch of sausage and bread at a rain shelter, the weather improved and we could let off the brakes for a long descent back to our cars.

This was a relatively easy, 23 mile ride with only 1500 ft vertical, but nevertheless deserved a reward in the form of Kofola and blueberry cobbler.

The weather improved considerably overnight and while some of my family went for sightseeing around some cultural and architectural places of interest, I decided for a quick solo ride from the rental house, before driving back to Bělčice in the afternoon.

 I rode through the former Iron Curtain area, following old military service roads that were built for rapid deployment of troops to catch those desperate souls trying to escape our socialist paradise across this physical barrier.

It is hard to believe today that these roads used to divide the world into West and East. On "our" side, there were watch towers, strips of smooth sand to see footprints, electric and barbed wires, and also land mines. The mines were eventually removed by the communists after many border patrol soldiers blew themselves up.
One good thing resulted from this nonsense: very well preserved nature and miles of excellent bike paths.

I rode over Knížecí Pláně, a high plateau with huge mountain meadows and tall solitary spruces, before starting a long and steep climb over an unnamed mountain below which the Vltava river source is. Vltava (Moldau) is called the mother of Czech rivers and it becomes Labe (Elbe) at the confluence in northern Bohemia, before traversing Germany on its way to North Sea.

Forests around the Vltava source have been badly damaged by bark beetles, but it is a popular bike route from Kvilda, a small town with many good restaurants. Here I managed to get lunch of goulash and dumplings, washed down by some good beer, before turning around and finishing my Sunday 50km loop.
This trip left many places still unexplored, as well as enough room for planning a longer bike tour across the whole Šumava mountain range. It is amazing that in the center of densely populated Europe, there are still places largely untouched by civilization, but with enough infrastructure to provide for safe and comfortable bike travel.  Renting good quality bikes is also easy and cheap ($100 for an 8-day Specialized 29er bike rental). I can easily see myself bike touring here after I won't be able to ride at Tahoe anymore.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bicycle Touring in Southern Bohemia - Part II: From Bělčice to Sumava

 On Friday morning I got up early, strapped my universal Thule rack on the rental Specialized Hardrock 29 bike and packed bare necessities for a three day trip into the panniers. The first 10km between Bělčice and Blatná were a slight downhill and I shortly reached bike route 312. The stretch between villages of Mačkov and Měčichov were some of the prettiest places I ever biked through. I wanted to stop, sit in the grass on the woods edge and listen to birds chirping. But there was a long day ahead of me.
 South of Horažďovice, the bike route left pavement for a double track winding through the fields. Soon, I could see the ruins of Rabí castle on the horizon. Rabí is the largest castle ruin in the country and a place where the famous Hussit leader Jan Žižka lost his second eye besieging the castle in 1421. After a steep climb, I pushed the loaded bike for the final 100m on incredibly steep entry way to the castle and after walking around the main courtyard, slid back down on slippery rocks. Just outside the castle walls, multiple refreshment options called for a break. I ate a potato pancake, washed it down with my favorite Kofola and continued southward.

 The bike route between Rabí and Sušice followed a dirt road alongside a railroad, weaving into and out of the woods, with some grassy and muddy stretches. For couple of hours, I did not see anybody, except two bike tourists with heavily loaded bikes. Approaching Sušice, I rode on the banks of Otava river where red rubber rafts loaded with tourists bounced down some rapids and weir drains. Past Sušice, the natural scenery changed, too. Open fields and rolling hills gave way to deep spruce forests, valleys deepened and the shaded road following Otava river got very twisty. The grade was still very mild, as expected when riding along a river, but I knew there were some hills ahead. I encountered the first brutal climb just past Anín, a narrow road climbed at 15% for 3.5km to an intersection of bike routes.

The sign pointed to the right, but the arrow pointing left said "Cemetary 300m". I was curious enough to take a 0.6km detour although my legs burned and I was dizzy with fatigue after the climb in a humid weather. Black clouds were towering over the horizon, signalling some afternoon storms. At the end of the detour trail, I found a small church and a cemetary. There was nobody around, the place was absolutely quiet, bird songs that I heard since the morning stopped abruptly. This was an old German cemetery, a place called Mouřenec, likely a Czech modification of St. Moritz. A nearby kiosk described this hill and church as a "place rich in legends". I bet, it felt downright spooky.

After some more climbing through small villages, I reached another interesting place: St. Vintíř's spring and church. The spring was inside a small lovely chapel but I did not use the water source. I still had plenty of water on me, although I had been working hard for several hours by now and I was soaked.
I crested another steep ridge on a rooty forest singletrack and was rewarded with a nice fire road through beautiful forest.
 I enjoyed mountain biking in this very remote part of Sumava foothills - this area used to be a military target range and off the beaten track for tourists.
Signs along the bike route warned of unexploded ordnance, but I had no intention to veer of the trail. The bike path went down steep valley in a straight line, but just before I dipped into the valley, I saw the ridges I would have to cross. As I was flying down the trail, my phone rang a text message alert. My sister was in the area, and she decided to bike towards a glacier lake Prášilské Jezero. Up to here, I was doing a great time and it was only about 2PM and I thought I was at about 80% of my planned distance.  Back home, I thought about this possibility and drew an alternate route which used more dirt roads and added about 20-30km, passing by Prášilské Jezero. I ate what food I had left and decided to head that way. Few more kilometers through the woods on logging roads and then I hit the road towards Prášily, a village on German border and on the main Sumava massif. The hills around me were about 1000m, those mountains ahead were more like 1300m, so I knew I had some more climbing ahead. I looked to the right, where the road was dropping down the hill, then left towards the climb and pushed ahead. Soon afterwards, the road pitched down steeply and after few minutes of flying downhill at high speed, I realized my navigational error. I was going east, away from Prášily and towards Modrava. In Srní, I looked back the steep grade I just came down and decided to follow the Vchynicko-Tetovsky flume trail towards Modrava. More on these "flume trails" later.

 After I crossed the wild river Vydra on a wooden suspended bridge, it was a short distance to Modrava. Here, among restaurants, hotels and B&Bs bustling with tourists, I found my sister's car parked and after a few attempts to reach her by phone, I placed a piece of paper with the message that I will push towards Kvilda and Nové Hutě, our weekend destination.

 The climb between Modrava and Filipova Hut was a real bitch. As I reached the plateau with fantastic views over the whole mountain range, I ran out of water and strength. I bought a 1.5 liter bottle of fizzy lemonade, drank half of it and poured the rest of sweet liquid into my Camelbak. The sugary drink gave me enough energy to reach town of Kvilda, where I admired a unique church building covered with wood siding on the front wall. I knew I was close to the rental house so I did not linger here and after some ups and downs, reached a trail towards Nové Hutě. Riding through the village, I noticed it had one hotel with a restaurant, a small grocery store and one more restaurant. Nicely restored mountain homes lined the road and in one of them, I met my uncle, my cousin and his wife and two of their kids. My sister arrived later, having biked steep hills to the lakes. All my relatives were well supplied with food and I was fed, offered many beers and after that, we chatted and planned routes for the next two days until late night. I went to bed exhausted, but I looked forward to more bike rides in the deep forests of Sumava.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Bicycle Touring in Southern Bohemia Part I

When we first discussed the idea of spending couple of weeks vacationing in Bělčice, a small town in the center of Southern Bohemia, which is a place of significant ties for my wife and her family, I quickly decided that staying at one place with my wife's relatives was not going to satisfy my own selfish needs for an active vacation. Since January, I have spent numerous hours charting routes on and importing them into Gaia GPS to create a five day trip across the Czech Republic, totaling about 500km. As time went on, I realized that this plan was stupid. Coming for vacation to my home country and riding for a week alone through regions I knew, without having enough time for my family and off the bike cultural experiences, would be a waste of time. I have a long list of other countries I would like to bike tour one day. The plans thus changed for a week of rides around the Blatna region and a three-day bike tour through Sumava mountains. This part will describe my experiences about cycling backroads around Bělčice and Blatna.

Blatna castle
Main square in Blatna

 South Bohemia is a region of the Czech Republic that is rich with history, famous for its numerous fish ponds, medieval castles and beer. The northern part is farm lands with rolling hills, small villages with the typical baroque architecture and hundreds of ponds of all sizes. A hundred kilometers to the south lie the Sumava mountains which create a historical border with Germany. This part of the country is known for rainy weather, deep forests logged for timber, a strong German influence (and history of clashes of the Czech and German cultures). This is also the former Iron Curtain border region, which used to be fenced off with barbed and electric wire, riddled with land mines and people evacuated inland with their small village homes left empty to slowly disappear in weeds.

 We were lucky to be hosted by Marketa's cousin and his family of bicycle enthusiasts, who have ridden all small roads, paths and forest trails in the area. Navigating the maze of roads and trails was not an issue in their company. I came prepared with Open Street maps preloaded in Gaia app and my phone on the handlebars in a waterproof case. These cycling specific maps are really good - not only they contain the complete and up to date information on the vast network of marked bicycle routes, but I could see pretty much every old fire road and paths through fields and forests. Bicycling infrastructure in Czech republic is amazing: there are numerous routes all marked with route numbers, distances and points of interest. I think that bicycle routes are marked better than car roads!

The first couple of days of riding were marked by chilly weather with some rain showers but no heavy rains. This being mid week, car traffic was almost non existent, although one had to be careful - you could encounter a tractor or an old Skoda car at places where you would not expect motorized vehicles. Another great thing about Czech cycling is that all passable routes are accessible to bikes, including all superbly marked hiking routes. There seems to be no user conflicts, at least outside national parks, where the No bikes signs exist. Major roads are not very bicycle friendly, though. Most roads we rode on were newly repaved using euro funds, but since these roads have been in place for centuries and are typically lined by rows of old trees, they are narrow and have no shoulders. Czech drivers practice the sport of speeding and passing each other for no apparent reason at blind corners, with little regard for bicyclists.

You can't really get lost here, I joked that you see from pub to pub easily. Every village has a restaurant or a small grocery store, with regional centers such as Blatna, having beautifuly restored old town centers with many coffee and pastry shops, restaurants and hotels. That means you don't have to worry about carrying food or water. Actually, carrying water bottles on bikes is not common, Czech cyclists firmly believe that beer is the best electrolyte drink. Similarly, power bars, gels and other forms of gas station style junk food were replaced with fruit cakes, pastries, fresh breads and sandwiches during our numerous stops.

 Every day, we set out after a good breakfast, with just a vague idea of where we would be riding that day. Our bike tour guides knew roughly how far and in which direction we would cycle, otherwise I could concentrate on soaking in the beautiful landscape, picturesque villages, and many details of the surroundings that reminded me so strongly about all my years growing up in this country. We would race up climbs, take some descents fast, then just ride alongside and chat. Each day brought us to some interesting places: an old and abandoned military runway (built during the communist regime as a secret emergency landing strip after our air force bases would be destroyed in a nuclear attack), today used for model plane flying, testing maximum speeds of motorcycles and such...

 ...or a cluster of menhirs on a field's edge, these could be real remnants of a megalithic culture or someone's joke, who knows? Our bike trips were not too long and the long daylight hours (at 50th parallel, Czechs enjoy about 18 hours of daylight in June) left us enough time to rest and socialize after coming back to our base.

We rode about 100 miles in three day trips which made me feel like I knew this part of my country for a long time. There really was no better way to get to know this place than criss-crossing it on a bike in this worry-free mode. At the same time, I was getting familiar with the region and spending enough hours in the saddle to be ready for my next trip: transporting myself and some basic gear for a three day exploration of Sumava.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

(With apologies to both Florence and The Machine)

When the Tahoe weather forecast calls for "pretty much steady rain" over the holiday weekend, what do most coastal Californians do? They don't go there to mountain bike, I hoped. Living for awhile in Seattle got that attitude out of my system, perhaps just temporarily, I admit.
Motivated by a glowing review in the May issue of Bike magazine and the fact that a new OTE bike shop was about to open on Saturday, I really wanted to see what the trail system south of Nevada border had to offer.
The bike shop was buzzing with activity on Saturday morning, with people buzzed on free coffee, brand new bikes on display, grills getting fired up for an afternoon barbecue and shuttle vans ready. All that under overcast grey skies and drizzle that threatened to turn into steady rain.

I biked up the street to explore the trailhead and by the time I made it back to the shop, it was pouring rain and I was soaked. I spoke with the shop owner, Sam, who gave me detailed directions, described trails I was planning on riding and invited me to their opening party. I returned to Powerline trail and rode south towards connectors to some challenging trails at high elevation. I immediately noticed two things: trail signage and the build quality of the trail. I won't repeat here the praise Bike article gave to the area and it's trail builders, needless to say that if these trails impressed Scott Nicol, I was delighted.
 As I started the "unpleasant" climb on High Meadow fire road, the signs of altitude suffering came up instantly: difficulty to keep the heart rate at reasonable levels, sweating, dry mouth and not sucking enough air into lungs. When I reached the intersection with Star Lake trail at 7,800 ft, it looked like this: poor visibility and drizzle:

But the meadow was beautiful, even in this weather. Cold Creek trail started as a narrow ribbon of smooth, curvy singletrack, but soon I came upon an area that looked like someone has just unloaded a truck full of appliance-sized boulders. There was a rideable line somewhere, about 10 cm wide and the only line one could attempt if accompanied by a team of paramedics. Me being here alone, not seeing a soul during the last hour and ten miles from the nearest emergency room, I walked this section, but now I think it was probably safer to ride than to scramble down rock faces wearing clipless shoes.
The rain stopped and the top part of the descent was still very rocky and technical, but gradually the trail turned into smooth berms and followed the raging creek downhill. I returned back to the hotel after 15 miles of superb riding for lunch, as soon as the skies opened up and rivers of muddy water flowed down the street.
By the time I finished the last night's leftover pizza, it was sunny and warming up rapidly. My afternoon ride was across the state line and up Van Sickle trail.

This is a 5.8 mile trail that connects Van Sickle state park with the Tahoe Rim trail. It starts smooth and up over large round boulders, climbing through a burn area. Five minute ride and I was above the casinos and saw only a few bikers and hikers. The trail got progressively more technical, requiring a constant lifting of the front wheel over step-ups. Very tiresome at this altitude.

I continued the climb for about 4 miles to roughly 7,300 ft and then decided to return. There were black storm clouds rolling south over the Lake and I was getting ready tired. The descent required dropping the seat and going slow, in control, over the rocks. I practiced dropping the front wheel over consecutive steps, trying not to get distracted with the fantastic views all around me.

On Saturday, Marketa and I took advantage of North Tahoe mountain biking infrastructure. We shuttled with Flume Trail Bikes from Tunnel Creek Cafe at Incline village to Spooner Lake, this time sans bikes but ready for some trail running.

 We followed an uphill fire road for the first 4.5 miles, first being passed by many mountain bikers on this very popular trail segment, and by the time we reached Marlette lake, the crowds had spread out and we had all this beauty for ourselves. Even on a second day at altitude, we still did not feel acclimatized enough. The steep climb up Marlette was painful, but then we got rewarded by a great singletrack through the next section, where bikers must descend on a rutted fire road.

The Flume trail - what should I say? I rode it several times over the years, but running here was a new experience. There simply was more time to enjoy the scenery and the views of Lake Tahoe thousand feet below.
Towards the northern end of Flume Trail, views of Mt Rose opened up. The summit was covered with fresh snow and biking on the TRT from there will resume in June, unless there are more snow storms.

 The final three miles back down to the cafe were marked with more awesome views and the afternoon thunderstorms stayed far to the west.

On Monday, Marketa had to return to her client duties thus freeing me for more trail explorations. I drove to Oneidas Street and to a forest park, where multiple newly built trails converge in a hub of outdoors activity. You can read detailed ride descriptions on the TAMBA web site, I knew I did not have enough time and leg power to ride them all. The trails are accessed off Fountain Place Road, which was steep enough to keep me warm on this 4-mile climb on a foggy early morning.

As the pavement ended, I looked for Armstrong trail, but almost ran into a bear instead. I back tracked onto a trail while the animal observed me for a while and then went on eating grasses for breakfast. This encounter gave me such an adrenaline rush that I rode straight through a big No Trespassing sign and followed an abandoned fire road until I realized I was on the wrong side of a creek. After returning back, I found the narrow trail entrance at the exact spot previously occupied by the bear.
The Armstrong trail was pure bliss. Climbing was not too difficult, giving me enough time to study many technical sections and thinking about lines on the return.

The trail work was impeccable, smooth bermed singletrack alternating with rock outcroppings with just doable lines through them. The trail leads to Armstrong Pass at 8,750 ft, and all I really wanted to do was to ride and ride. My legs felt fresh and there was no more altitude sickness. But I knew I had very technical riding on the way down and needed some gas in the tank.
On the way down, I surprised myself by making it over some nasty piles of rocks and down steep chutes, but mostly just enjoying the trail flow. I then connected with Armstrong Connector trail, sandy, much more rocky trail with lots of exposure, boulder ramps and log rides. Here, I had couple of close calls, and tore my right glove by squeezing between boulders at speed (the 760mm handlebars are really great for counter-steering!).

The absolute climax of the ride was the Sidewinder Trail, a series of high-bermed switchbacks where the trail apparently folds on itself, making you dizzy if not looking far ahead. My Garmin track shows I "flew" through this biking Nirvana at 10-15 mph, all I remember is a blur of turns. The trail ended at the bottom with many more berms and table tops, giving those who did not have enough fun on upper sections another chance to fly.
After riding these 16 miles of trails built with love for those who love true mountain biking, I realized how lucky I was to experience it all. Equipped with some skills, modern bike technology and time to travel to these destinations, I feel like I have never before had such a great time riding. Now I just have to find another excuse to ride at SLT.