Over the next five days, we thoroughly enjoyed some home time. We were not wanting of things to do and sports to watch! We had the Silverstone Grand Prix happening with a never-before-seen racing format, a WRC event in Estonia and of course our home projects. Of course Cleo had a lot of relaxing to do.
Dan had his list to work down with fixing the bike rack being at the top. For two days straight he was practice-welding with his new welder. He tried different styles with every possible setting and blew the garage’s circuit breaker more than once seeing how high he could go with the current.
I spent a lot of time with Berta, which was a real pleasure. She’s growing on me more each day and I’m really enjoying the restoration process. I was talking to Dad very often and as I relayed what I’d done each day, it didn’t sound like I’d achieved much in a material sense, but wow was I learning and understanding a lot!
We still managed some fun-time, heading into the city on a Sunday to sneak into Sterngrove Festival to see St. Paul and the Broken Bones. This was a free concert that you used to be able to simply walk into but now there’s rules about registering ahead of time but we didn’t let that stop us! We took advantage of the free bike valet (we’d caught the train and ridden across the city) then meandered past some tennis courts, hopped a fence or two, skirted some people wearing vests and we were in!
It was short but sweet, it was our first time at a live music event in a while and this was a great band to get down to. It was a typical Summer’s day in San Fransisco which meant it was absolutely freezing and so we danced to keep warm.
On Tuesday around 5pm, Dan declared he was done. The bike rack was re-welded, rock solid and ready to go. We weren’t keen to get packed up and go anywhere at that time of day and so we relaxed some more before venturing out to our playground for a second time.
Pedal Clippers and Hanger Benders
It was only when we were in the car backing out of the driveway that I figured out where we should go. We knew Tahoe was our general direction, but this wasn’t snowboarding season so we weren’t going to just drive straight there. Just the kind of planning we like.
After giving the van a thorough clean, inside and out, setting up the irrigation and cleaning the house, we were on the road just after lunch time. Predictably, that meant I was hungry and so Chipotle was in order! We stopped at Foster City just before going over the bridge and good thing too because it was here Dan realized he’d left his wallet at home. And so we ate driving back home then got on the road again proper an hour later.
That hour made a difference in terms of traffic, but no matter, we weren’t in a rush. We drove through Hayward and diverted off the highway to explore Vallejo and avoid the standstill. When we started skirting by Napa, we turned off and stopped at Rockville for a mountain bike ride. Dan managed to taste a few grapes on the side of the road while I was on the phone – they weren’t to his liking!
By now it was late afternoon so a perfect time for all three of us to go out for a spin. I’d found this place on MTB project and it seemed a fun place despite the $3 entry fee per person (even $1 for a dog!). We suited up and rode off into the dry grass.
Dan had some trouble with his gears skipping on the Giant as we trekked uphill and there were so many squirrel noises Cleo didn’t know what to go for and so she mostly stayed on trail with us. At first impression, the trails were decent – a little wider than single track with rocks and roots dotting them everywhere.
The “lake” was a pretty depressing sight with no hope of a Cleo cool down and so we made to do a small loop. A local rider stopped for a chat, mostly just to tell us how he knew the ranger and how we’d be getting a fine for having our dog off leash but he knew she wasn’t working so we were fine? Thanks mate.
As we rode up the next trail, I heard Dan shout from behind, “This is like Australia! Oh shit, cows!” He’d started the sentence before seeing the huge lumps of black beef grazing amongst the trees so his shock was apparent. Now Cleo really didn’t know what to do. She listened well to our “heel” commands, staying with the bikes on the trail – I think she was happy for an excuse not to chase them because she wouldn’t have known what to do with them!
We rode down a technical rocky section to finish our loop which I loved but Dan avoided – not out to prove anything and rightly so since he’d forgotten to put his helmet on, wearing only a hat instead. Cleo was nearly frothing at the mouth now from the heat and so one more rock garden then we were back at the car.
Cleo and Dan went into chill mode then while I rode off to do some more exploring. I must have done the easiest trails with them because as I tried to hit most of the trails in the park, I discovered a bunch of technical riding which was bloody brilliant. There were so many features on the trail to keep you guessing, each one likely to scrape up pedals or bend the derailleur hanger.
I was cautious in spots, not wanting to damage the bike, but at some points in the trail network, the visibility was great and so I was able to really let rip. One hike got a great spot of entertainment watching me navigate a steep rutted section with my rear wheel nearly overtaking my front as I tried to keep my wheels out of the ruts. He cheered me on as I made it past, thankfully staying on two wheels to the bottom.
What a great local spot, with so many technical sections to practice your skills and the carpark was packed by the time I got back from the after-work crowd. Dan and Cleo were happily relaxing in the van and he’d already found us a few camp options. After I downed some water, we were on the road and hunting.
We drove about an hour on highway 80 before turning off to find Thunder Valley Casino Resort. It was either this or a Walmart and boy was I keen, it had been such a long time since we’d had a casino camp! We sussed out the ginormous “events” carpark which was completely oversized and empty, then parked up near the casino to wander in for a look. Ten minutes and a $1 bet on the pokies and we were done with that. I will never understand the appeal of gambling, I can only wonder.
Back in the event lot, we parked up about half a mile from anyone else but within a minute a security man was pulling up in his golf cart. He gave us a thumbs up as he approached and just asked if we were doing ok. Well yes, thanks! He said if we needed anything, security would be floating around and we should just ask. What treatment!
Turkey burgers for dinner and we sat outside as long as we could enjoying the cool breeze while Cleo passed out in bed.
Back Pain and Trail Friends
Unfortunately, Thursday didn’t get off to a great start. Dan had a small niggle in his back the previous day and this morning he was in limp mode. Though he’d had a great sleep, now he could barely turn over. He managed to sit up and walk around a bit, but he was soon sitting down again for relief. He couldn’t get comfortable there so he was back in bed. He took the pain killers we had then I called his health insurance to see first if he was still covered and second where we could go for care. I must have been on the phone for half an hour before I finally managed to speak to the right person (yes health care really is that simple in this country) and be told that since we were out of our county, our only option was to go to an emergency room. Dan wasn’t keen on that and understandably so but it was nice to understand where he stood health insurance wise.
He stayed in bed while I drove us into Auburn’s state recreation area for a breakfast spot. We’d planned to climb at Auburn Quarry and though that clearly wasn’t happening, I figured it would be a nice place to spend the day anyway. There were parking pull-outs for days but most of them were in full sun and all but one of them required a $10 day-use fee.
Dan still wasn’t well enough to get out of bed, so we contemplated that I go mountain biking while he stayed resting, but there just wasn’t a shaded parking place for him to do that. With the day warming up, I parked up in a semi-shaded spot and took Cleo down to the river – a short scramble down to the beautifully cold water which Cleo much appreciated. Back at the car, we determined it was definitely way too hot for Dan and Cleo to chill here so we carried on hunting.
We drove down to Mammoth Bar where we spoke briefly to a ranger in his hut before driving down a very bumpy road and into a rocky carpark trying to find a shred of shade. Still no. These guys really needed to plant some trees. Dan was sitting up in the passenger seat now and the rough ride seemed to help settle his back some so we parked and ventured down to the river, a short flat-ish walk. Cleo was right in for a swim, same with me and Dan followed, gentle on his feet so as not to jar his back on the uneven rocks.
I advised full submersion to take all the weight of his back and he did so. It seemed any kind of movement was improving his condition. Since Mammoth Bar still wasn’t a nice place to hang out, we drove back to where we’d come from and parked by the Tall Green Bridge to go for an easy walk. More movement, more better!
We started out in the shade, high above the river and when the trail entered the full sun, we dipped down to the river for another cool off. Down by these river banks, there was a little shade so I suggested we head back to the car for lunch, then Dan and Cleo could come and chill down here while I attacked the trails. That’s just what we did. I made us some sandwiches out of the van, then geared up to go riding while Dan geared up to go river-relaxing.
I rode away about 2pm with Dan heading down to the river. It was bloody hot with the sun bearing down but according to MTB project, the trails were mostly shaded. Thankfully, that description was accurate. I started out riding towards Lake Clementine on dirt road that turned into rocky single track then turned up and away from the river to climb up a tarmac road. I grinded away for a good half hour before reaching singletrack again.
As I was stopped here checking my maps, a ranger stopped in his truck on the road looking over at me. I gave him a thumbs up, to let him know I wasn’t as lost as I looked, but he got out of the truck and said he had a favour to ask me. Ok? He wanted to get some video of people “recreating” in the park and so after chatting away with him for ten minutes, I happily obliged, pedaling away as he said “action” holding up his phone. I wonder when I will be asked for my first autograph.
Now that I was on singletrack, I was smiling ear-to-ear. I was in the shade of Manzanita trees and flowing up, down, up, down. It seemed all the hard climbing work was done and now I was just enjoying the twists of the singletrack.
There were a couple of nice view spots, one of which I took great advantage of, enjoying the bench that was put there and having a snack. It seemed I had the whole trail network to myself because I was the only one stupid enough to ride in such heat. At the end of the Connector trail, I came out to the highway to start on the Forest Hill Loop. As I exited the trail there was a solar truck parked and a guy getting his mountain bike out of the tray. I told him that didn’t look much like a work activity but he said, “After work activity!” I asked him where he’d be riding and he advised not to cross the highway for the loop, that it was way too exposed and I’d be in full sun. That was great advice and I took it. I thanked him profusely then went back on my way doing the west side of the loop. My new friend instructed me to turn around when I reached the highway again.
As I rode along the Forest Hill trail, I enjoyed the short climbs and descents, but was thinking mostly about whether I wanted to do the loop. I was such a sucker for a good loop as opposed to an out-and-back. When I reached the highway again there was a big shaded area with a picnic table and so I promptly sat down to rest and rehydrate. I was only there about a minute when my next friend came long. He’d come from across the highway and I asked him what the conditions were like and he described them as being quite pleasant. Sweet, decision made, I was doing the loop. We must have chatted for at least twenty minutes – I found out he worked for a river rafting company locally during the Summer and was ski patrol at Heavenly in the winter. Not a bad way to live! He told me I should shout his name at the ski patrol huts when we got to snowboarding again and we’d skip lines together.
Onwards and over the highway, I was past halfway and heading back the way I’d come – always a nice feeling during a big ride. I came across a couple of after-work riders, smiling same as me and for good reason. This was really nice single track, especially for a long haul spin. What I really didn’t enjoy was riding past a huge snake. Thankfully I didn’t have much time to think about it as I rode past the bugger sitting on the right side of the trail. He was black with white horizontal stripes, had a huge head and slightly uncoiled himself as I rode by, screaming loudly. I first gave a yell when I saw him, then yelled again as I rode past and he hissed at me. Aaarrggghhhh! I fucking hate snakes. I was glad to have both feet off the ground and I rode up the next climb fast without looking back. Nightmares tonight I think!
At the end of the Forest Hill loop I crossed the highway again and saw my solar friend just pulling out of where he was parked. Judging from his sweaty brow, he’d had a good ride and I confessed I did that loop against his advice. He was glad I’d had a good time on his local trails and told me that anytime I was on my way to Tahoe, I should pitstop here. Yes, sir! I said goodbye and rode off again, back to the Connector trail and down towards the river.
I didn’t realize just how uphill the Connector had been on the way out – I was cruising downhill fast and flow-like. When I came back to the point where I’d met the ranger, I crossed the road to look for my singletrack path back down to the river. I should have taken the Shortcut Trail because the Fire Break trail climbed up a ways on wide track before starting down.
The Confluence trail was a great rocky finish to a long (42 km) ride and the promise of a dip in the river made it all the better. My rear brakes had pretty much had it so I was happy to be back at the bottom where the forks of the river meet.
As I rode over the bridges, I looked out for Dan and Cleo, thinking they’d be hanging out by the river somewhere, but I found the van parked just up the hill from where I’d left them with both of them passed out inside. It seemed Dan’s recovery was complete. While Dan was waking up, I settled my bike on the rack and rehydrated and then we moved camp for a dip in the river. Only Cleo and I were in and it was a glorious little splash that cooled me off just fine.
Now for our favourite part of the day – to find camp and WOW am I good at my job! We got back onto highway 80 for a spell then got off at Colfax and followed a side road trying a few different pull-outs. We came across our money spot when we turned off on a road with a broken-down trashed car at its entrance. Up a hill and we were on a plateau in the forest. Yes please!
As I cooked dinner, the sun set to our right and the moon rose on our left. We ate “at the bar” to enjoy the view as the sky turned red and remained that way for a good hour.
Happy Climbing Idiots
I’d found a climbing spot called “The Emeralds” late last night and so when I woke up I suggested we pack up camp and have breakfast at the crag because it was rumoured to be a popular spot with limited parking. Dan was up and about, pretty much back to normal and so we were gone.
Only twenty minutes down the road we drove through PG&E land with aquaducts running through trees to a deserted rocky carpark sitting over the river. Dan made breakfast while I blogged and watched a few people roll in. I chatted to most people as they showed up and the only guy we didn’t like was a vanner who parked up right next to us and let his dogs loose onto Cleo. He soon buggered off having squandered his opportunity to make friends.
We crossed the bridge around 9am and onto the climbing approach trail that ran alongside the river. We saw multiple choppers (or one chopper taking multiple trips) fill water buckets up from the river and fly away, obviously servicing a fire nearby. While the trail didn’t follow the river as closely as we’d hoped, the shade of the trees and the cliffs showing up on our right meant the temperature was quite pleasant.
It was an easy trail to follow and after a bit of scrambling up some rocks we arrived at a section of the Benches called the Dollar Store. Using only Mountain Project as a guide, I managed to identify one of the climbs so I was confident I knew where we were. There was a lovely area at the base of the cliff for us to set up camp and the wall was in full shade. Perfect. EXCEPT for the bloody SNAKE. It looked about the same as the one I’d seen yesterday and I nearly stood on the thing. Thankfully he stayed where he was and didn’t bother us the rest of the day.
I spent a bit of time trying to figure out which route was which at the base of the wall and after a bit of umm’ing and arr’ing Dan just told me to get on a route and so off I went. By my best guess, it was a 5.7+ and it was great climbing. The bolting was generous like all of the routes on the wall and the rock was brilliant. About halfway up I wasn’t so sure I was on the route I thought because there were routes to my left and this was supposed to be the left-most route at the crag. Whatever, didn’t matter, it was good climbing.
Dan enjoyed the route as well, asking me for advice at one point but powering on up – a different man than he’d been yesterday with his broken back. Now ready for our next climb, I’d given up completely trying to figure out what routes we were on and just moved on to the next one. It was a similar route with equal enjoyment and when Dan was just getting started another couple joined us at the crag and boy did we learn a lot from them. We weren’t at Dollar Store, we were at Chalkporium and the climb we’d warmed up on (because, you know, we were taking it easy for Dan’s back’s sake) was a 5.10b. We are a pair of happy climbing idiots.
I chatted away to the new pair of climbers as Dan ascended our current route and we mostly talked about the fires in the area and we struggled to understand how the skies above us were still blue. On to the next route (whatever it was) and it was more great climbing. We were both really happy with our styles. The wall was getting into the sun now and so we broke for lunch and then on the advice of our new friends, we walked on up the trail to Kudo Cliffs.
Here the wall was about the same angle as the last but there were multiple trees shading the four routes on the right side. There was a climbing pair around the corner, but we had this small spot to ourselves. It was a simple wall with 5.9, 5.10a, 5.10a and 5.10a – just perfect for us.
As I was roping up for the 5.9 a couple of guys walked by and said, “Oh, you’re getting on the terrible 9!” His friend told him to shut up and I wasn’t dissuaded, up I went. The bolting wasn’t as generous as the previous crag and the rock a little less grippy but we were happy for the shade and the climbing was still bomber.
By the time we’d done the second 5.10a, Dan was done for the day but he happily belayed me up the last route and I was happy to say we’d completed the Kudos wall. We packed it up, Cleo stood down from being on squirrel watch and we started meandering back down the trail. It was about 4pm, we’d had a full day of climbing and we were happy, despite not knowing what the fuck we’d climbed for most of the day.
Now as we hiked down the small valley, we saw the smoke creeping in from whatever fires were burning in the area. We contemplated a swim in one of the side-rivers we crossed on the way down but once we saw an easy access spot to the main river near the carpark, we were set on what to do next. We threw out stuff in the van, put our swimmers on and went straight down to our secluded spot. I threw a bit of soap on my body and jumped with great style into the deep cold to rinse off.
Cleo got a bunch of swimming practice in, rocking her new vest like a champ and impressing us with her jumping skill.
After a LOT of coaxing, Dan got himself submerged, topping my jumping style.
Camp time again! We were heading slowly towards Tahoe to meet two friends and so I set to my hunting. We stopped off at a gas station for some supplies then took a road off the highway opposite Boreal ski resort and as soon as we hit the dirt road up the hill we knew we’d be finding ourselves a sweet home for the night. We drove past a bunch of camps just off the road filled with vanners and campers and we soon found out why those spots were full – the road got quite rough – but that obviously wasn’t a problem for us! It was a great chance for us to test the newly welded bike rack and it was a raging success. As a bonus, Cleo found herself a great hole to stare into.
We went quite a ways back – at least a mile since the last car and found ourselves a beautiful spot amongst the alpine fauna on a hill. We were at 7,500 feet and after the heat of the day, it was delightfully cool but the smoke was really starting to creep up on us.
We saw a couple of cars go up and down the road but otherwise had the place to ourselves to enjoy dinner and watch an F1 show.
Early Spin then Chill
At 5:00am we heard a warning growl from Cleo. There was a trail runner making his way up the road. 5:00am on a Saturday. About an hour later, a couple of mountain bikers rode up the hill. This was to be a growing trend and one that I wanted to be a part of. I was properly awake around 6:30am and with a quick look at my phone, I discovered we were right on top of a mountain bike trailhead. Yes, we’re happy idiots. I was up and at ‘em then, leaving Dan to snooze a little more with Cleo as I got my bike off the rack to take a look at my brakes.
I bled both front and back brakes to bring proper pressure back into the levers, by which time Dan was out of bed and making us breakfast. I cleaned and greased my chain then thoroughly enjoyed the eggs and avocado toast that was presented to me. As we ate, more and more people came up the hill on/in all different forms of transport – day hikers, runners, overnighters, trucks, riders. I did a quick spin on the bike around camp for Cleo to get her jollies off, then I rode down the road towards the Donner Lake Rim Trail.
I passed a few camps along the road then hit the glorious single track. I came across some runners and remembered just how much I love this area. Everyone is so outdoorsy and getting after it on a Saturday morning. It was only when I came across the third runner coming up the hill that I realized there was a foot race going on. No matter, every single person that came up the hill at me gave me a wave and a smile and I took it slow, getting off trail whenever I saw one of them. I was definitely a minority!
The runners gave the trail a great vibe and there were all ages running all sorts of speeds. One lady who must have been in her 60s told me I was pretty badass for riding over these rocks and I was stunned. I told her that she was the one running uphill!
The first part of the trail was rocky with some nice little technical climbs, most of which I didn’t have the momentum for since I was stopping for runners, but it was great fun anyway. The smoke was really hanging in the area now and so I was robbed of some stunning views, but the smoke brought a dramatic aspect of its own
The last downhill section of the rim trail was super narrow and twisty so I was glad to not see any runners there and as I started the climb up towards Donner Ridge, I was off the runner’s trail. I came across two riders coming down the trail as I climbed, partly through forest, partly through rocky outcrops. It was steady hard climbing and I kept my head down, hoping to do it without stopping, but I fumbled around two corners.
At the top, I saw a ski hut and so turned off the trail to check it out. There, I met Troy, a day hiker who’d sat down at the hut for a rest. We must have talked for at least twenty minutes. He was probably in his 50s, had two daughters finishing college, he missed travelling and he loved spending as much time in Donner as possible.
When I got going again, it was all downhill to Donner. This was brilliant section of trail. The views would normally have been stunning looking down on Donner Lake, but the trail made up for the lack of visibility. This dry dusty singletrack was flowy, fast with just enough rocks thrown in for challenge’s sake. Now that it was later in the morning, there were a few more people on the trails so I took it pretty easy when the corners were blind, but otherwise, I kept my fingers off the brakes.
Dan was ready for me in the carpark at the trailhead and saw a big fat smile on my face. He and Cleo had spent the morning doing 9 holes at the disc golf course and he’d developed a new style with his newest disc so was happy with himself.
Not long after I hit the van, Vanessa and Kyle messaged us saying they were heading to Kings Beach – their timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We meandered down into the chaos capital of Lake Tahoe and found their van parked on the back streets of town and so we parked up and walked over. They were enjoying a cooked breakfast in the van and so we caught up while waiting for Kyle’s siblings to join us from Reno.
An hour later, the seven of us found a shaded spot at the back of the beach where we could observe the goings on in front of us and enjoy the water when we pleased. Cleo got into her life vest again for a swim with Dan and I but she still isn’t keen on waves so it was a quick dunk before we back to “camp” to relax for the rest of the afternoon.
It was fun seeing Jason (Kyle’s brother), his boyfriend John and Jenelle (Kyle’s sister) again since K&V’s wedding and we had an afternoon well spent by the lake which thanks to the smoke looked more like an ocean.
We whiled away the afternoon people watching, contemplating the business operations of a two parasailing boats and playing Dutch Blitz, in which I destroyed everyone. When the sun started to dip, our tummies started grumbling and so we head down the street to a Char Pit BBQ place and thanks to some unlucky timing, Dan and mine’s order took so long to come out that the other guys had long since finished eating and Vanessa was having a nap with her head on the table. It was great food so worth the wait.
We stopped for ice cream, strolling back to our parked cars and then said our goodbyes, topped off with a selfie. The Reno crew headed home while the vanners made off to find camp. V&K had a campsite booked but it was well out of the way so they opted to follow us into the unknown. Half an hour later, we were on the same road we’d made camp last night but thanks to V&K’s long wheelbase and lower clearance, we took the first two spots available to us and called it a night. Goo thing too because the very orange sun was losing its light.
With no dinner to cook, camp was a laidback affair.