Today, peering out through the thick air, into the trees and the claustrophobic smokey haze beyond, I keep thinking how lucky I was this time a little over a year ago, when 4 crystal clear, fireless days allowed Ryan and I to breathe free and suck in every last view that the Tahoe Twirl bikepacking route has to offer. I’m still filled with happiness when I think about that ride, not least because of the joy of being able to roll right onto trails from my front door. A few meters of asphalt and we disappeared straight into the Tahoe National Forest, heading away from the lake and gradually downhill towards ‘The Biggest Little City in the World’.
A lot can happen in 4 days it turns out. That first evening saw us in downtown Reno, eating pizza and going from door to door of some delightfully sketchy motels until we found one that would take us. At about the same time the next evening, after over 6000ft of climbing out of Reno and through the desert hills below Mount Rose, we were back in the Tahoe Basin, nestled between granite boulders and ponderosas enjoying bean and avocado burritos, one of Ryan’s favorite, battle-tested bikepacking staples.
Weather-wise, we’d hit a sweet spot; no smoke, no rain, cool enough to enjoy a sleeping bag but warm enough to forgo the fly and watch the milky way wheel slowly through the sky above us. Deserts, forests, downtown pizza, Tahoe’s famous Flume Trail, alpine lakes and dark skies before the halfway mark…that’s batting way above average for a couple of days in the saddle!
Day 3 though… it’s as if day 3 felt like it had something to prove. The trail south makes its way along the ridge that divides the Tahoe basin and the Carson River valley. One minute we were looking down on the boat-speckled azure depths of the lake a couple of thousand feet below, the next we rounded a boulder to arrive at even loftier vistas looking east over a patchwork of agriculture – green circles and squares that hug the banks of the Carson River. That day, trending ever upwards and popping out into the true alpine, ended at Star Lake where we happily jumped in before the thin air sucked the heat from our sweaty corpses.
The riding only got better the following day, dropping into a perfectly built trail of granite steps and drop-offs that led us back down, away from the bare alpine slopes and into the forests above Myers and South Lake, where we rejoined the mountain biking fraternity, launching a monstrous 3-5 inches in the air on our heavily laden bikes every time we ‘whooped’ over the rollers of the Armstrong connector trail. We arrived back on the more mundane roads and bike paths of the west shore in time for a second breakfast and a fast ride home punctuated by thunderous showers.
Every day of this trail was memorable and incredible in its own way. Trail builders the world over don’t get enough props. I owe some serious volunteer time to pay for the kind of joy I gobbled up on this trip. As memorable as the trails, though, were the nights, drifting in and out of a happy star-filled sleep, occasionally conscious enough to realize how Goddam lucky I was to experience such an incredible journey with a good friend, in such good weather, a stone’s throw from my doorstep.
About the Author: Dominic Gill is an award-winning Director and Cinematographer from the UK, currently residing in Truckee California. Ever since his first film, ‘Take A Seat’ (2009) – documenting his journey from Alaska to Argentina inviting random strangers to ride on the empty backseat of his tandem – he’s kept one foot in the world of cycling, while the other explores stories in the realms of environmental stewardship, culture and the outdoors. When not making films he can be found consuming doughnuts and other baked goods.