The wind had died down by the time I woke up very early at around 6am. Not only that, but a couple of mozzies were now buzzing around the van. I tried to go back to sleep since the sun wasn’t properly up yet, but I couldn’t hack the high pitched hum of the mozzies so gave it away pretty soon. When I got out to use the bathroom, I found that a small van village had formed, with most of the rest area’s cul-de-sac occupied. The only evidence that remained of last night’s storm was a dark grey sky, probably a mix of storm clouds and smoke haze.
Back at the van, I was horrified to find it wasn’t just a couple of mozzies that had invaded, it was more like hundreds. I wouldn’t be staying for breakfast then! I rearranged the bike inside the car and had a quick wash out the back of the van, swatting away at the annoying creatures as I did so. I didn’t waste any time getting into the driver’s seat and rolling away with the windows open to try and flush the biting things out. The early morning wind was cold but I endured it for the sake of seeing the mozzies fly out of the car one by one. It was painstakingly slow, but eventually I was mozzie free again.
I drove for a couple of hours, passing huge shallow lakes that seemed to just be rain fed and were obviously the source for the nasty bugs. The sun was hiding behind the storm clouds so it was dim as I wound my way through farmland and very small towns. After an hour or so, I stopped for petrol and breakfast just north of the California border. It was cold enough to warrant hot oats but I was confident it would be warming up as I head south.
Back in California again, this was to be the Astro’s last border crossing with me. After all the states we’ve been to, I was bringing her home. The storm clouds were soon replaced with sunny skies, typical of my American home state and the heat soon came with it. After a couple of hours of solid driving, I stopped for a break in Susanville finding a riverside park with a picnic table in the shade where I could relax. I caught up with my friend Alex as I ate a snack and we mostly talked about Scottie and speculated travel plans for the future.
Back on the road, it was only a couple of hours to Tahoe where me and Scottie were going to go for our first proper ride. I considered stopping in Reno to see some old Tesla friends at the Gigafactory, but when I saw how far outside the city the factory was, I decided against it, not wanting to go that far off track. Sorry guys, we’ll have to catch up another time!
Soon enough, after climbing the mountain pass between Reno and Tahoe, I saw the clear blue waters of the huge lake come into view. It almost felt like coming home it looked so familiar. When I reached the water, I pulled over to pick a ride. I scrolled through my previous Strava rides to find that I’d done the Flume trail plenty of times and each time with a shuttle so I ruled that out. I thought instead that I’d try something new. Going off Mountain Bike Project’s featured rides, I found a loop that would take me up to Painted Rock and a decent section of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Without a shuttle, I knew it would mean some climbing, but I needed to earn some fitness anyway and it would be a good test with Scottie.
I drove around to the west side of the lake and through Tahoe City. I almost stopped to go for a swim at one of the beaches but after two u-turns and failure to find parking, I pissed that idea off, not really interested in being amongst crowds anyway and thinking I’d find myself a secluded spot for a swim after my ride.
I parked in a lot just back from the main road and kitted up. I took plenty of water and a couple of Clif bars to sustain me over what would be my longest ride in a while. Ready to roll, I head off on the back streets of Tahoe City. Instead of taking the main road and another tarmac road up to the top of the trail, I made my own way, taking fireroad first, then getting onto some singletrack called “Ocelot” and “Gold”. The climbing felt good and I was happy with the size of Scottie’s granny gear, which I didn’t have to use too much. She rolled really well both on the fireroad and the singletrack and I was having fun experimenting with Scott’s twin-lock system that changes the characteristics of the suspension at the flick of a lever.
After “Gold”, I came to a meadow and a section of singletrack that lead me around the grassy clearing. I met another rider here but he would be one of only three I’d see the entire time. After lapping the meadow which was an easy, flat trail, I got onto “The Great Ski Race” which was another climbing piece of singletrack but it was a steady incline so it was a nice easy burn. Having ridden in the sand of Bend, this was nice riding. The ground was nearly as dry as Oregon had been, but there were more rocks on the trail to make things interesting and dust wasn’t a problem.
At the end of the ski trail, I came out to a tarmac road and followed that up even higher. I was getting to test all forms of climbing on Scottie and she was doing well with everything so I was happy. Finally, I came across the rim trail when it crossed the tarmac road. This was the highlight of the ride and I felt like I had the energy to enjoy it. I started by climbing up the switchbacky, rocky singletrack, slowly and steadily. As I peaked the first climb, I wondered if I’d ridden this trail before because it seemed familiar, especially when the trail became covered in thousands of shards of rock. Riding over them was like rolling over broken pieces of tile, they clinked and clattered gently with contact from the wheels making a sort of weird music.
A quick downhill run, then I was on to another climb. My fitness was starting to fail me now so there were a couple of breaks including one to get a Clif bar into my system. Unlike me, Scottie was doing everything I expected of her with great rolling ability and plenty of oomph when it came to getting up over small boulders.
When I got my first views of Lake Tahoe, I was also at the top of the trail. Sweet! Now I just had a few miles of downhill to navigate before the end of my ride. Seat down, suspension all the way open, I let Scottie take me down. I really felt like I was mountain biking now, staying low to my frame and getting used to the feel of Scottie underneath me. I felt like I was going fast but I found out later that I had done this trail before, probably with Derek, and Strava told me that I was doing my second best time.
There were no mishaps, but a couple of points where my balance was off. It will take me a while to adjust to Scottie I think, but I consider our run successful. I’ve never had so much confidence in my brakes and the big wheels tackled everything without problem. I enjoyed the “shht”, “shht” sound my front forks made as they compressed and opened and the ease with which I could adjust my seat height. My only complaint when I came to the bottom of the trail was sore pinkie’s thanks to my time sitting on the brakes, but again that is something I’ll have to get used to.
I was happy to be finished when I reached the backroads of Tahoe City and cruised along the tarmac back to my car. I was already thinking about food. There was no time limit on me now so when I got back to the Astro, I took my time cleaning Scottie up. With a wet rag, I wiped her down so there wasn’t any more dust on her. After that, I took care with the chain, brushing away the debris, then relubing it ready for the next tide. I was happy to see I’d drawn first blood with a decent scratch on the pedal. I wouldn’t say it was a proper scratch, but at least it was something. This was such a contrast after riding with G for so long, with whom I didn’t take so much care because she had been through so much already.
I stashed Scottie into the Astro and drove around the corner to the Safeway for some groceries. Seeing they had a deli, I got my usual wedges and treated myself to a salad too thinking it would make for a quick and easy dinner. With that and some fruit, I stood in line for way too long and found out Dan had made it home. It was 6pm so he’d made good time, but he was ready to pass out after driving 10 hours solid, most of which was in the heat.
I drove a little ways down the road looking for a beach where I could dip my feet into the water of Tahoe, but where I parked, I came to the water on a boardwalk so I sat, ate and watched the world go by. It was too late and cold for a swim now anyway so I’d just have to wait. I enjoyed eating my $5 dinner in front of all the fancy restaurants that lined the boardwalk to the soundtrack of clinking glasses and cutlery, thinking that this is my world, not the one up there.
Full of potatoes and salad, it was time to find camp. The times I’ve been to Tahoe before in the van, I’ve always camped in the same place. It’s not an official camp, but the carpark at the Emerald Bay lookout has no signage about overnight parking so I planned to take advantage one more time.
As I drove around the east side of the lake, I realised that it was in Emerald Bay that I’d spent my first night in the Astro over two years ago. I’d just build the bed frame over the bench seat and took it on a test trip to Lake Tahoe. I can’t remember how I found Emerald Bay as a sneaky camp spot, but I remember pulling up in the dark and being super nervous about the whole situation. Scared of bears, I’d put my food on the roof of the toilet building and called Mum & Dad for some reassurance about being in the forest alone in a van. Oh how far we’ve both come since then. This would be my last night camping in the Astro so I was happy with this twist of fate. It was all coming to an end exactly where my love affair with her had begun.
There was still a bit of light when I parked up and the temperature was dropping. After talking with Mum and Dad on the phone for an hour, the sun had gone and it was too cold to be outside. I moved Scottie to the front seat and happily spent the rest of the evening lying in bed enjoying my last night. It was also nice to enjoy my favourite past time of turning my light off and looking out the window every time a pair of headlights paused in the carpark to make sure I wasn’t going to be kicked out.