A Tale of Two Trails – Both in the California Alps

Charity Valley Trail

This trail, maintained by the Alpine Trails Association (ATA), of which I’m a proud, and rookie, member, traverses approximately 7-8 miles between Blue Lakes Rd. (off Hwy. 88 in Hope Valley) and Hot Springs Road, in Markleeville. On this particular day (Sunday, July 28th), the ATA hosted the hike in order to show members, residents and guests what they did and how and where they did it. Like I said, I’m a new member so it was my first chance to see first hand what I’d gotten myself into! With that said, I must disclose that workdays (i.e. trail-building, tool-sharpening, etc.) are currently on Tuesdays and since I’m gainfully employed, I’m not available. After this hike, I must admit, I’m a bit grateful.

And so the day began…

…at the trailhead on Blue Lakes Rd. Well, we actually met at the opposite end of the trail, on Hot Springs Rd. where we left some vehicles, as we needed to shuttle up to Blue Lakes. This was NOT the day to do the entire out and back! Anyway…some 411: While this is a public trail, it begins in private land and so the only marker is a rock cairn 6.2 miles from the turnoff at Blue Lakes and 88. There is a small parking area across from the trailhead. We did some orientation and sign-up stuff at the HSR trailhead and then we got a lesson in tools and such at the BLR trailhead.

Off we went…

at a gentle, posey sniffing, pace. The plan was to take our time, stop and smell, or at least photograph, the wildflowers, as well as learn about trail-building techniques. We were also regaled with stories about the local history of the trail and surrounds.

The trail was amazing! Wildflowers and such for the first couple of miles, waterfalls, pools, an old beaver pond, shaded forest; cool, big-ass trees (a lot of the area was not logged and so we were privileged to see some old-growth firs and pines), granite and some amazing views throughout.

That lily-pond, though, was the highlight of the day. A lili-pond in the heart of the California Alps?! I had never seen such a thing. Yet another hidden gem on this fantastic trail.

Admittedly, it wasn’t all fun & games; there were some fairly technical sections of the trail with rocky switchbacks, granite “steps” and other such obstacles. I ride 5000-6000 miles a year so I figured 7.5 miles (advertised distance) would be no problem whatsoever. Wrong! All that downhill, and the distance itself, took a toll on those gams. I was pretty sore for a couple days and realized that I’ve got to put a bit more core, including Bosu and Swiss-ball work, into my routines. Too much cycling makes Mark a dull boy. Well, at least that’s how my legs felt. Still, an awe-inspiring day filled with sights, sounds, conversation and laughter. And a shared sense of experience that one gets when doing such an adventure with a dozen others. What a day! Thank you ATA!

Frog Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail

I had snowshoeed the PCT to Winnemucca Lake last winter but this was the first time I had actually seen the trail itself. As I told Mom, who joined me for this short and relatively easy hike, it all looked so different without the snow. In some ways it was harder as the snow had flattened out many of the obstacles we hiked over on this day, which by the way, was a week ago Sunday, August 4th.

All Trails shows this section that we hiked as part of its Lake Winnemucca from Carson Pass via Pacific Crest Trail so take a look and if you’re so inclined, definitely head up to Winnemucca Lake – so worth it. Mom and I didn’t have the time so we went with the shorter out and back to Frog Lake.

Frog Lake is that first lake you pass on the trail towards Winnemucca Lake.

Parking can be a challenge…

but there is overflow parking about 300 yards east of the main trailhead and we were able to find parking there. Keep in mind there is a $5.00 charge to park in the overflow lot. You can also park at the trailhead on other side of Hwy. 88, about 100 yards west, if that. There are restrooms at both parking lots and at the southern lot, where the trailhead we took starts, there’s a visitor center with helpful rangers and docents. Be sure to stop by there if you do the hike; the folks in the center are eager to answer your questions and point you to some great resources.

Wildflowers Abound!

We had heard that the wildflowers were popping just a couple weeks prior so were hopeful that we’d get to see our share. We were not disappointed!

There was one point on the trail where, as we turned to head east, we were greeted by this amazing field of color (that’s me in the middle of it and Mom is on the trail). Most of the pix you see above were taken there but there was lots of flora on other parts of the trail too. And, the butterflies were very happy. So many flying about – between the flowers and the ‘flies it was crazy pretty.

The lake itself…

was like an infinity pool. There was a field of wild iris nearby although there were starting to wilt so we were just a tad late for that show. Next year we’ll have to go a bit earlier. Fields of purple iris’ are wondrous. Saw some on Monitor Pass, along with Wyethia (Mule Ears) and White Lupine, earlier in the summer and it was quite the contrast.

A lone Wild Iris on the trail. Imagine a field of these!

Speaking of the lake…The entire hike, including a trip around Frog Lake itself, was about 3.3 miles. We did it a pretty slow pace so we could take in all the scenery; we were out on the trail for 2.5 hours. Here’s a few shots of the lake – see what I mean about the infinity pool?

Great views to be had!

At the other (northern) side of the lake there was a nice outcrop and we could look down to see Red Lake, which thanks to a massive algae bloom was (still is) actually green, and Hope Valley. All of this just 30 minutes from Markleeville, or just down the road from Kirkwood!

Well, there you have it! Two cool hikes in two weeks – one somewhat epic for you hardcore hikers and the other much more user-friendly. Be sure to come on up to the Sierra and experience some of the amazing trails before the summer ends or wait until the fall, when you won’t see the wildflowers but you will see the aspens in “full-bloom.”

Have some hikes or other adventures you’d like to share with fellow readers? Give us the data that matta by commenting on this post!

The Deathride Cometh to the California Alps

I still can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last post and that the Deathride is less than a week away! Certainly my day job has been taking a lot of my time, but that’s understandable, especially lately (typical mid-year craziness combined with regular craziness- I won’t bore you, you likely have similar woes) but as I cast my mind back (RIP Paul Sherwen) to the past few weeks (months?) I realize the time-warp is mostly due to training for the ride itself. Well, okay, here at California Alps Cycling we’ve also been doing a bit of prepping for the exposition (can you say “cool schwag?“), and we’ve been getting our ducks in a row for the bag drop, too. Check out our Deathride page for more information on that and THANK YOU to those that have signed up!

Okay, Before I Continue – The Roads are Ready!

I’ve spotted the Caltrans crews out and about our local highways recently doing a bit of sweeping and other clean-up. The place is looking good!

I rode up to Ebbett’s Pass on Sunday, June 30th, and other than a few errant rocks (it’s a constant here) the road looks great. The snow was mostly gone, and no doubt will be completely gone come next Saturday. Oh, and Kinney Resevoir is no longer an ice rink!

Just this past Saturday, I rode both sides of Monitor Pass; it was a glorious day! I’m not saying it wasn’t painful, it was, especially that eastern side. BUT…the weather was perfect (it’s probably going to be a bit hotter next Saturday) and the wildflowers were popping! There should still be plenty left for the ride next week. I’ve lived here almost three years now and I’ve never seen Monitor looking so pretty so if you’re riding next Saturday be sure to look around.

As for Carson Pass, well I have to admit I haven’t had a chance to ride that one lately. Member and co-founder (and wifey) Pat, drove over to the Bay Area today (poor thing) though, and she reported that the road was good. It will be even better Saturday the 13th since it will be “staffed” with volunteers and riddled with riders. I did ride a portion of Blue Lakes Rd. last month, however, and thoroughly enjoyed the descent therefrom!

Training in the Sierra

Alright, I feel better now. You’ve got the latest intel and I’ve whined about how busy I’ve been. So, onward we go. Preparing for a ride of this magnitude takes months. My wife has been so supportive, as spouses and partners of cyclists have to be, and I’m grateful that the ride is under a week away.

As you may recall from one of my previous posts, I’ve done a bit of research and in applying said nuggets I’ve become stronger and faster, and I have more endurance too. So in the last several weeks, I’ve done an organized ride and a bunch of other “tests” to keep those legs lean and mean and keep my confidence high.

Tollhouse Century (part of the Climb to Kaiser)

The “organized test” took place on June 22nd. I was joined by my brother from another mother, and CA Alps Cycling Legacy Member, Scott (aka Scotty) Keno. It was a really fun day on the bike, made more so because we were joined by three other riders: Dan, Robert and Scott. It was great having the company; it made the day go faster, and so did the pulls! Click here for a Relive video of our day, including a couple “interesting” moments/photos. Short answer = We passed the test. I was really stoked that I was able to do the ride so quickly, and with fewer and shorter rests. All that training definitely paid off! Check out this post; it’s a little reminder of how I got here. You can follow the same plan and perhaps get the same (or better!) results.

The other tests

This ride was the first test, if you will. The other two tests were Ebbett’s and Monitor. So, I’ve done three out of the five and I’m feeling good. Now, it’s on to those other trials: recovery, rest and patience. The latter is not one of my strong suits but I’m learning. Learning how to pace myself. Learning how to take better care of the bod’ and most of all, learning how to enjoy my time on the bike more. Did an active recovery ride today and tomorrow it’s a rest day. I’ll do a couple walks this week and maybe an easy spin on Thursday so I’ll be rested for Saturday. Then I can let these horses outta the gate!

What about you?

You coming to Markleeville next weekend? Perhaps you’re already here? If you answered in the affirmative to either then we look forward to seeing you Friday at the Expo and Saturday on the road. If not, then we wish you well in your next adventure, crucible, challenge, or whatever it is you want to call it.

Now…Let’s Kick Some Passes’ Asses!

Update on Two Passes in the California Alps

Just this a.m. I spoke with CalTrans about the current conditions on Monitor Pass (Hwy. 89) and Ebbett’s Pass (Hwy 4). Here’s the latest:

Monitor Pass

CalTrans is hoping to open it by this Thursday. There’s about 6″ of snow up there now and with this a.m.’s snow (yup, more of the white stuff fell just this morning) it’s not likely it will be open before then.

Ebbett’s Pass

With the water on the road from the recent rains and snow melt, sheets of ice have formed making it a bit more time consuming to get the equipment up to where it needs to be. In some cases, the crews need to wait until later in the a.m. to begin their work.

There is also a lot of sand, rock and mud on the road, and between Hermit Valley and Lake Alpine, there’s still about 6′ to 8′ of snow, including a bit of Sierra cement, and ice, in places. The CalTrans crew based in Woodfords has made it through to Hermit Valley and the crew on the other side is making its way there now with the hope that the two crews will meet in the very-near future.

The initial plan was to have Ebbett’s open by Memorial Day but that’s now up in the air. You can get up to the 7000′ mark (Raymond Meadow Creek) currently, though. There’s a couple nice pitches just north of the RMC bridge so don’t worry, you can push some watts and get that heart rate up.

Stay off the passes when the roads are closed

A reminder from CalTrans that those road closures are there for everyone’s safety. There are crews and heavy equipment up there and they’re not looking for cyclists or hikers, so it’s a bit dicey to go behind those gates. It also may get you a ticket if the CHP catches you – and it would be a moving violation too, meaning traffic school or points.

Be cautious – they’ll open eventually

There will be time for us all to get up there and enjoy these, and other passes in the California Alps, so please be patient. For me that means a bit more trainer time. I’m taking advantage and doing some HIIT and steady-state intervals to build my strength and stamina for what’s to come. I wish you well on your training and remind you to ride safely.

We’ll be able to kick some passes’ asses soon enough.

Spring has Sprung Here in the Heart of the Sierra

Finally…The Brewer’s Blackbirds have arrived here at California Alps Cycling HQ! A sign of spring for certain!

A Brewer’s Blackbird showing off the iridescent blue that is so cool.

We’ve also seen robins, yet another sign, and just this week, our first hummingbird visitors – an Anna’s and a Rufous.

The Aspens are starting to bud and the rivers and streams are flowing (almost raging). There are waterfalls a plenty and the lakes are starting to thaw. And, that shiny, bright orb in the sky can be seen most days.

Most importantly, at least from my perspective, I can get some serious riding in – outside. Just last Sunday, fellow CA Alps Cycling member Chris Schull and I, did just that! We started in Genoa (best bar around), went up to Spooner Summit, around part of Lake Tahoe, up Luther Pass and into Hope Valley, back down Woodford’s Canyon (Hwy. 88) and then, after fighting serious headwinds most of the day, we were blessed with a screaming tailwind all the way back to Genoa. We both PR’d 40k in about 57 minutes! My previous was about 1:07. We froze our hineys off for most of the day but that last leg was wondrous – you probably could have scraped bugs from our teeth due to our ultra-wide smiles.

‘Twas a great day indeed!

Click here to check out my Relive video of the ride.

So, if you haven’t made plans to come up to the Sierra soon, I strongly recommend it. Fishing season on rivers and streams opens on April 27th and there are myriad Earth Day celebrations, clean-ups and festivals happening everywhere.

In fact, as part of our mission to “help the communities in which we live, work and ride” we are taking part in a clean-up day on May 5th. We’ll be doing some garbage pick up on the 3-mile stretch of Hwy. 89 that we’ve adopted, as well as some other work around Markleeville along with other members of the community and the Markleeville Enhancement Club (founded by my friend, and former Co. Supervisor, Mary Rawson and me). We’d love to have you join us. Let me know if you’re interested by commenting on this post, or send me an email (mschwartz@californiaalpscycling.bike) if you prefer.

In other news…

The Alpine Trails Association is making plans to work on the Thornburg trail, once the snow clears, and I’ll be out there doing what my crew chief tells me to (with my new Pulaski). Al’s Got Gas has recently opened (used to be Markleeville Gas) thanks to our friends, and local philanthropists John and Karrie Baker. They are getting ready for their grand opening on the 27th and not only will they have fuel, but also fishing supplies, fun things to do for the kids, and FatBike rentals (with tours led by yours truly).

I’m also VERY EXCITED to announce that we’ll be opening our first retail outlet at Al’s. We’ll have tees, jerseys, bibs and vests, cinch packs, and decals for sale. Stop on by and get some fuel, munchies and cycling schwag!

Another plug for the Bakers…They also own the Alps Haus Cafe (awesome sammies and soups, and cold beer) so you can get some good grub, too.

Hope to see you soon…

We hope you too are partaking in the wonders of Spring and hope to see you soon here in Markleeville. Let me know when you’re coming up. I’d be happy to show you around.

Clearing Those Passes in the California Alps

Last Tuesday, April 2nd, I attended the Alpine Co. Board of Supervisors meeting here in Markleeville and one of the presenters was Dan McElhinney, CalTrans’ Acting Director for District 10.

Among other things, Dan brought us up to speed on CalTrans’ plans to clear snow from three (3) major Sierra passes: Monitor, Ebbett’s and Sonora.

They are planning on starting on Monitor next week and expect that it will take about 10-14 days to clear the many feet of snow that have accumulated. They’ll begin work on Ebbett’s and Sonora soon thereafter, or perhaps simultaneously, depending on resources. Apparently there is about 20′ of snow, with the associated ice that comes with months of freezing temperatures, on Ebbett’s and so, of the three (3), it will likely take the longest.

CalTrans assured the Board, and the public in attendance, that it will work VERY HARD to have all three (3) passes cleared by Memorial Day. Mr. McElhinney, and Clinton Neeley, the Maintenance Supervisor for District 10 (he’s based in Woodfords and was also at the meeting), both understand the importance of the work that needs to be done. With fishing season fast approaching, and the Deathride coming in July, clearing these passes, and clearing them ASAP, is vital. Monitor Pass, as the Board Chairman, David Griffith reminded us, is especially important since it is a vital connection between Hwy. 395 and Hwy. 89 – when it’s open, travelers can take the shorter route into Markleeville and then into Tahoe. When it’s closed our little town becomes a cul-de-sac and since much of our income is derived from tourism, that impacts our local businesses.

Here at California Alps Cycling, we’ve developed a nice relationship with Clinton and his crew; we work closely with them on our Adopt-a-Highway program. We’re so appreciative of the tough, sometimes dangerous work that they do. I personally make sure to tell them that whenever I see the crews working on roads I’m riding and I always salute them when I see their trucks or plows passing by.

So, when you see the crews out there, please let them know how much you appreciate the work they do. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to kick those passes’ asses!

Climb! the California Alps

For years, like many of my friends, I have been riding bikes. Mostly road bikes but I do some mountain biking as well and have been known to ride my wife’s hybrid as well – especially when I don’t want to gear up.

I’ve gotten to be a better rider over those years, mostly because I’ve lost some poundage but also due to the shear volume of riding, with the associated climbing that comes with living and riding in the California Alps.

I’ve found, though, like many of you I suspect, that I pretty much “just ride.” Yeah, I’ve used a heart rate monitor for years and I’ve been active my entire life, even when I weighed over 300 pounds, but I never really paid attention to the data and until about two (2) years ago I never had a power meter.

So, as I added my big events to the calendar this year, the first one being the Wildcat 125 in Chico next month, I decided I needed to do more to improve my climbing. An ad or an email, I can’t remember which, that I received earlier in the year touted a new book: “Climb!” by Selene Yeager and the editors of Bicycling. The sub-title reads: “conquer hills, get lean, and elevate every ride.” So I went ahead and bought the book and read it from cover to cover.

What an awesome book! It has several plans in Chapter 12 and I decided to do “The 8-Week My-Base-is-Built-So-Let’s-Roll! Hill-Climb Plan.” It’s a combination of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), steady-state intervals, endurance rides, easy rides, and rest days. In other words, exactly what I wasn’t doing! By the way, as it happens, just yesterday Selene posted a blog article on HIIT workouts. Click here to check it out.

Well, I’m in the middle of week 5 and it’s making a huge difference. My power is up, my endurance is up and I’ve learned some new skills as well. Because of the weather here in the Sierra over the last several weeks I’ve had to do many of the workouts inside but thanks to Zwift and FulGaz, and my smart-trainer, that hasn’t been a problem. Last Sunday I got outside for my first ride in awhile and I killed it! Extra poop on the climbs, lower heart-rate while generating more watts, and I PR’d my Max Avg. Power (20 min.)!

So, if you haven’t checked out the book, and if you want to be a better climber, I recommend that you do. It’s a good read with lots of nuggets, and no, I’m not getting paid a cent by Bicycling for this “review.”

And if you have any climbing tips for your fellow riders, comment on this post and share them.

Last but not least, I wanted to let you all know that you can FOLLOW US now on Twitter! @bikedalps is our handle and we’d love to have you join the conversation!

Snowbound California Alps Cyclist Found in Australia

Well, okay, you got me. I’m not really in Australia, at least physically. I don’t know, is it still real if you’re there virtually? Don’t get me started on that philosophical discussion.

I did, though, ride the entire month of February, INDOORS! Crazy! The winter of ’16-17 (our first winter here) wasn’t this frozen or at least it didn’t seem that way. Reminds me of Game of Thrones. And as it turns out, I have yet to get outside for a ride this month. Yet…

Can’t even get this far up Hwy. 4 right now. This is the gate at Hwy. 4 and Wolf Creek Rd. in January. As of today the closure is 4 miles North of Markleeville, at Monitor Junction! So much snow…

The title of this post is somewhat of an ode to my latest recommended app, Fulgaz. Different from Zwift, it allows you to do solo rides all over the world, including Australia. It’s not as competitive (I’ve yet to try the challenge feature as I just recently subscribed – after my 2 week trial) but it’s a nice compliment to Zwift, and vice-versa.

After riding a bit over 400 miles in February I was grateful to have both apps. And with an Apple TV combined with a bigscreen in my paincave, apps running on the Mac or the iPad (fewer, if any connectivity issues I’ve learned) – I set up a tripod with a laptop tray and so I’ve got a bit of mission control – and good tunes on the earbuds it’s not too bad at all. I go with Apple Music but there are myriad music options out there.

Here’s a little glimpse of my pain-cave, which doubles as a guestroom. Notice the high-tech fan and the custom towel rack? Hey, whatever works, right?

Here are some stats from my February:

Miles ridden: 425
Feet climbed: 24,703
Hours in the saddle: 21.73
Calories burned: 16190
Locales visited: Watopia (Zwift virtual “country”); Queensland and Victoria, Australia; New York City; Belgium; Marin Headlands (Marin Co., CA); Richmond, VA; Innsbruck, Austria; Buckinghamshire, UK; Colorado

What about you? What do you do to stay in shape when it’s too chippy to go outside? We’d love to hear from you. Comment on this post and share your advice!

In the meantime…Ride safe and Let’s Kick Some Passes’ Asses! Even if they’re virtual. That’s what I’ll be doing today because guess what? It’s snowing. Again…