There is a huge system of trails in the Tahoe Basin area, and perhaps the most popular mountain biking destination is the the Flume Trail. The Flume Trail offeres spectacular views of the Lake and the surrounding basin from 1000' above the shoreline. The biggest downfall of the trail is it's popularity. Because of the thousands of visitors every year the trail is well groomed and covered with a base of loose gravel which makes traction questionable at times. On weekends there is also a lot of traffic on the trail which takes away some of it's appeal.
Update: Check out Steve's Impressions of the ride, he has a little less cynical attitude about the place since he didn't have a near death experience :). There are also some cool videos posted on his site of this ride.
I wanted to piece this together while the memory is still fresh and the wounds still raw. Steve and I decided to make a Tahoe trip this weekend and the plan was to shuttle to Mt. Rose and ride The Rim Trail with the possibility of doubling back down the Flume Trail. Unfortunately the fates intervened and we didn't get the ride that I expected.
After a pricey, mediocre breakfast at Mary Calendars we hit the road. We met the shuttle at Spooner Lake at about 9:30 AM, loaded up the bikes along with 13 other folks and headed (slowly) up the hiway. The trailhead at Mount Rose had decent if stinky bathrooms but no drinkable water that I could see.
The weather was beautiful as we set out and I was glad that I had left my arm and leg warmers in the car. Of the 15 people who were on our shuttle there were about 12 men and 3 women of mixed experience levels. Steve and I started a little slowly because he needed to set up the helmetcam, so right off the bat we were slowed down by a group of about 5 riders who were inexperienced and going pretty slow.
As you get started there is a short downhill run through a meadow, then you hit some forested areas and start to climb for a while. As you climb the steps I mentioned earlier become more frequent and irritating. I like a challenging trail but this was reminiscent of hopping curbs in the city. The first creek crossing consisted of a 12" rock curb, about 5' of creek, and another 12" curb up on the far side. I tried to ride it but dropping down into the creek killed my momentum and I couldn't get over the curb on the far side (wet shoe).
Many people rave about how great the Tahoe trails are, but personally I feel they are a bit contrived. Most of the hazzards were man made erosion traps and steps to prevent trail decay. Generally these were navigatable but some in combination were difficult and had to be walked. Waterbars and erosion control are necessary parts of any trail but here they seemed overdone. The overall feel of the trail throughout the ride was very parklike.
After the creek crossing the trail becomes a lot nicer and starts to wind in and out of trees and large boulders. This section was very enjoyable, but had a vaguely citified feel to it. For about a mile or two you climb up to the top of the ridge. At this point if you are not used to the altitude you are probably sucking wind a bit due to the thin air but when you get to the ridge top you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the lake and the basin as a whole. As a bonus there is some sweet singletrack downhills as you curve down between boulders and trees and over semi-natural hazzards down to the Flume Trail.
About 6.5 miles into the ride I encountered a step immediately followed by a boulder with about a 12" drop. I am not certain what happened next, suddenly I was sitting on the side of the trail moaning VERY loudly and continuously. Exactally how long or loud I'm not certain, but people several hundred feet up the trail came back to see what they were certain was a grizzley bear. Someone else said it sounded more like a mule braying.
For me things are really fuzzy at this point because for about 20 minutes I was staring off blankly trying to reconnect with reality. When he first saw me Steve thought our day was done. He told me later that he figured they were going to have to get a helicopter in there to get me out. I vaguely remember someone with a spoke tool attempting to de-tacofy my wheel with some success. Also about 6 different people showed up and looked at the broken husk of a person I had become. Some woman offered her toilet paper roll to help me clean up (that should give you some idea of how bad it really was).
Damage report at this time was a bit vague, as my systems started to come back online I knew I had taken a serious whack in the side of my head, and in my left arm. Beyond that things were pretty vague. At some point in time we started rolling again. On the bike, my front tire was still so lopsided that the front brake was entirely unuseable. The good news was that I could roll.
As I started rolling my brain was shuffling through memories trying to sort out some of the basic things I might need to know, like who I am. I distinctly remember thinking very specifically about my wife and kids and other significant things in my life. Then (while still rolling) I started trying to piece together where I was, what day it was, and other little facts that might be important.
We stopped after about 20 minutes because I was feeling weak and still very disoriented. I ate a Cliffs bar and felt a little better. Some other kind soul offered me some antibiotic wet wipes which I used to clean the majority of the gravel and dirt out of my wounds. We hit the trail again and after a short time we were at the fork in the trail.
Lucky for me there was a ranger and two members of the (IMBA?) Mountain Bike patrol relaxing in the shade trees helping people out with water and first aid. Apparently I was expected, someone had warned them that I would be limping in. They cleaned me up, gave me some ointment and wrapped my arm in gause. I remember the male Patrol member asking me "What day is it ?". "Saturday" I replied. "What day of the month?". "Uuuuhhhhmmm" I replied... I knew it was August, or was it September?
The Ranger strongly urged me to finish my cycling day and ride down to Spooner Lake in her pickup truck. I was very tempted but I had put out too much effort into this trip to give up just because I had nearly killed myself. We did scratch the Rim Trail idea, there was about 1500' of climbing and descending and I was in no condition to climb and had no brakes to descend. So we decided to take the Flume Trail.
My riding at this point was sloppy and slow. I was focused simply on getting the job done. When we started I was riding ahead and waiting for Steve to catch up with me, now Steve was right on my tail and pushing (I think he expected me to fall off of the trail in some spectacular fashion so that he could capture it on video). My entire focus was on staying on the trail and pedaling, I didn't really ride The Flume so much as survive it. I did stop for a few photos, but only when I stopped for other reasons. Looking back at this shot and others of the Flume Trail I've seen I imagine I missed a lot, but for some reason I no longer felt the least bit touristy.
The Flume trail was a zoo. We encountered a bunch of other riders coming at us and passed and were passed several times. One time a group of five riders coming at us stopped to let us by and as we passed them someone came from behind them and shot between us and them, clipping my handlebars. This individual gets the total asshole of the day award. Overall, due to these traffic issues I consider the Flume trail to be the most highly over rated trail I've ridden. The views were great. The trail was Ok, (though a bit sandy, and mostly kid stuff) and would have been fun if it wasn't crawling with traffic.
When we got to Spooner Lake we encountered a group of about 5 riders who had started with us. We stopped very briefly and then rolled past them. The trail became a fireroad at this point and quickly started to descend. The first portion of the descend was too steep for me. Without my front brakes I discovered that I could not stop my bike. I was able to keep my speed below 20 MPH but my rear wheel just kept rolling. I started weaving and pulling on the rear break continuously trying to stop but the slope was relentlessly dragging me downhill.
After about a mile I managed to stop my bike. I decided to try hooking up my front brake and letting it drag for the downhill section of the ride. Unfortunately, I didn't check to see what the brake was dragging on. After about a mile of downhill my tire popped like a gun going off and after a brief inspection I discovered that the brake had rubbed through the sidewalls of my front tire and then ruptured the tube.
As a quick repair I improvised a bridge with a couple of business cards and reinflated the tire. This lasted for about a mile until the card gave out and the second tube blew out. We were pretty close to the bottom so I figured on hiking out until Ed Scherb and a couple of his buddies rolled up with the miracle cureall - Duct Tape. Ed did an emergency repair on my tire and gave me a tube from his bag (thanks Ed). The repair got me rolling again and I was able to finish the ride on my trusty aluminum steed.
One thing I didn't quite get was that somehow even with my disaster we had managed to keep up with a large chunk of the people we had started with. When we got to the bottom they were amazed that I had finished the ride. One of them called me the hero of the day. Personally I think he had it backwards, everyone who helped me out during this ordeal was the hero. I was just too stuborn to give up. Throughout the day I got dozens of offers of help and people didn't hesitate to let me use their gear/ TP/ Wet Wipes/ whatever. Overall Mountain Bikers are some of the most awesome people on earth. Thanks guys.