Tag: featured

Graveling in Great Basin – How a Short Loop Turned Into a Long OaB

MRS. California Alps Cycling and I finally got out the door last Sunday, and started our oh so overdue vacation. A two (2) week roadtrip to Great Basin National Park, Zion National Park and Capitol Reef National Park, with other Mighty Five parks hit up as time allows.

OF course some bike riding would be involved. Initially we had planned on bringing a road bike, a gravel bike and an e-MTB but after a consultation with Momma California Alps, and a bit of good natured ribbing from same about the sheer quantity of gear we were bringing, we went with the latter two (2) only.

GETTING in fairly late to Baker, NV, and checking in to the Stargazer Inn and Bristlecone General Store with Liz and Rachel, left us no time to do anything that night, except watch our beloved Niners open a can of whoop ass on those Cowboys. A great way to start the vacay, for sure!

ON Monday the trip started in earnest (after a leisurely morning due to our late night of celebrating both the whooping, and the start of the trip) as we “excurzed” into the park and hit up one of the Lehman Cave tours – the Grand Palace.

DAY two (2) was reserved for a bit of a.m. gravel riding for me (and reading for Mrs. C.A.) and then a trip up to the bristlecone pines in the afternoon.

STRAVA had a nice route suggestion of about 13.5 miles. Head east and just outside of town I’ll turn onto National Forest Development Service Road 589 (“development“should have been my first clue), and then head up a bit towards either Rowland Ranch Road or Baker Creek Road, either of which connects to Lehman Caves Road (the main road into the park). From there a super straight Champs Elysses kind of decent, but longer, back to the main highway and the hotel.

I headed out about 8 a.m. with plans to be back by 10 a.m. so we could get up the the Wheeler Peak/Bristlecone trailhead by lunch time for a picnic before the hike.

‘TOPHER would have, and still will, have my ass. You didn’t upload the ride to your bike computer? Nope. I’m good. I’ll just follow the road(s) and signage. They’ll be marked like they are in our neck of the woods. WRONG.

MISSED the turn to NFDS 589. Not really my fault, though, there are a lot of dirt roads out in these parts.

I turned back and found the road and up I went for a blissful couple of miles, and then a bit of steep stuff, and then a fork in the road. I whipped out my phone and checked where I was – yup, that right fork is the one. Off I went.

STEEPER and rockier IT went. Definitely some hike-a-bike sections…at least for me. Some nice roads still, though, as you can see.

ROWLAND Ranch Rd. must be coming soon, I tell myself. I’ve already gained about 1000 feet after all. Hmmm, maybe I passed it? Yeah, that makes more sense. I’ll just keep going to Baker Creek Road. Off I went.

BUSHIER and more overgrown IT went. None of my maps apps had the sufficient detail, either because this was not a trail/road, or the signal wasn’t strong enough to handle all of those damn packets, or both. Then inspiration struck. I’ve got a signal and can make a call! I’ll call M.C.A., she’s got internet at the hotel, and she can tell me exactly where I am.

AFTER some frustration on both sides, either due to her lack of understanding of technology, or my lack of patience, or both, we hung up. I have an Apple Watch and a Wahoo ELEMNT Roam. If nothing else I’ll just hit “back to start”, I told her. I hate doing that though so the bushwhacking continued. Oh, and I neglected to mention to you loyal reader, that I had been pushing my bike for the last 1/2 mile or so.

HUBRIS is the word that comes to mind. Panic was another. I was rocking the first and holding back the second. I’ve got to be just below NFDS Rd. 590. I just went past both of those other roads and now I just have to bushwhack a bit farther and I’ll hit it. Again I call the Mrs. We can’t tell how close I am to 590. “Have you crossed Baker Creek yet?”, she asks. Well, I did go over a creek a bit ago. That must have been it. “Then you’re just below the road.” Off I went.

NON-EXISTENT IT went. Brush piles told me I was in an area where they were cutting up those ladder fuels for winter burning, which meant I had to be close. Now I’m carrying the bike over logs and brush, and gathering some decent scratches (battle scars, arrgghh) on the lower legs, too.

NOW I did learn a trick some time ago from a hunting-sensei, Fred Weitlauf. He taught me that most people get lost because they never look behind them as they walk. I had been doing that at least, and I had my computers, so I’m not really lost.

UNLIKE Scott or Chris, I am severely DIRECTIONALLY challenged. As such, learning to use the technology would be of utmost importance. See mistake #2.

APPLE WATCH – Yes, you can retrace your steps but you have to start it so it knows where to return you. Idiot! Me, not the watch.

WAHOO ELEMNT ROAM – Correct me if I’m wrong (please!) you technoheads out there, but one problem is this: you have to be on a route (see mistake #1) to navigate back to the start of the route.

THE other problem I’ve discerned – again, all help appreciated – is that you have to know how to use the shit. Those three (3) dots on that map screen give you options, including as I’ve just learned while writing this post, one that is “retrace to start.”

WHAT a knucklehead.

HONEY, I say as I call her to tell her I’ve made the smartest decision I’ve made all day. “I’m heading back to where I started.” I’m running out of road, er trail, and I’m no where near anything, other than those amazing views.

BACK I went, and just like my wonderful wife said, it was really fun because I could enjoy the vistas, and the ride. Some more hike-a-bike back to the road, then off I went.

AFTER those few sectors of babyheads (which for me meant walking again), down and sweet IT went.

1828 feet of stress-free (kinda) descent it was, and at last I saw that water tower and knew I was going to survive. My sould began to rise. Yeah, a bit dramatic but that Bob Seger song (Roll Me Away) came to mind so I went with it.

  • 13.6 miles
  • 2255 feet of ascent
  • 1:55 ride time
  • 3 hours elapsed time
  • 3 phone calls
  • Many WTFs
  • Several “dumbshits!”
  • Oodles of fun, nonetheless
  • Countless giggles (raging laughter, really) from M.C.A.

WE did make it to the top of Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive about 1:30 p.m., give or take. This after a lovely picnic on the patio of the Stargazer.

PARTAKING of lunch in town made sense at that point because it gets cold up there (the trailhead is just under 10000’ of elevation) and due to my extra-lengthy sojourn we would likely get there too late to enjoy the mild part of the day

TURNS out I was right, on this occassion at least – it was cold and windy. 🤣

IN my defense, had there been better signage and such we would have been there sooner!

Thinking of Riding Monitor? Here Are Three Things You Should Know

NOW that Monitor Pass has opened for the season (thank you Caltrans!) it seemed like a good time to post up a few hints on riding one of the most iconic passes in the California Alps.

ESPECIALLY because while we await the opening of Highway 4 between Lake Alpine and Centerville Flats (Ebbett’s Pass), it’s a great training ground for any ride at altitude, including Americas Most Beautiful Bike Ride (just under a week out!), Tahoe Truckee Gravel (forest fun five weeks out), the Deathride (seven weeks from Saturday!) and the Mammoth Gran Fondo (a September cap off to the summer).

MONITOR is monolithic compared to say, Ebbetts, which is longer, yet more gradual. Similarly, Carson has some flat spots and so allows for some breathing room. Monitor. Not so much. The views are breathtaking, though, especially in the early morning hours when heading east and dropping down from the pass.

BOTH sides, west and east, of Highway 89, are short, steep and declivitous.

EACH is approximately nine (9) miles long – ALL UP, or down, depending…

Supplies Are Scarce

AT least on the climbs, that is. Markleeville is five (5) miles away so certainly you can load up (at the General Store), fuel up (at Al’s – for your vehicle; or Cutthroat, Outwest or Stonefly – for you), and take a nature break. Heads up – the port-a-potties were removed recently from County properties so look to the local establishments for facilities. The Chamber will likely have its portable pissatorium back soon; not sure about the other locations, though.

CARSON River Resort, between town and Monitor Junction (the confluence of Monitor and Ebbett’s Passes) is another place to get basic supplies and also a great place to stay, especially if you have a trailer or camper.

BIKE shop? you ask. Unfortunately not. We’ve talked to the owners of the General Store (Andy and Avery are totally supportive of cyclists) about stocking some basic provisions (tubes, tires, etc.) at the store and they’re amenable. With the summer cycling and riding season kicking into gear I guess we should get our ca-ca together and get that done. Ok, it’s on my calendar.

ONCE you are on the road from the west side, there is NO WATER until you get to 89 and 395 (Topaz). There is a hidden spigot there – not really hidden, just hard to see – at the BLM “pullout” just east of the Topaz Center Fire District (a Deathride rest stop). It’s right by the vault toilet on the northeast corner. Look for the red handle.

Weather Is Always A Factor

FOREST-LIKE on the west side; moonscape on the east. The terrain is “very Sierra-front” style. Steeper and rockier on the east side of the Sierra Crest, more sloping and green on the west side. As such, the weather can be vexing, especially the wind. Not always is it really windy but most days there is some wind.

HOTTER on the east slope than the west, unless you’re coming up the east side later in the day, it can be a grueling sweat-fest midday, even mid-morning. That’s one reason the Deathride climbs Monitor first: starting at 5:30 a.m. means you can be back over and heading up Ebbett’s before it gets too hot on Monitor. Depending on your fitness, I’d suggest allowing for an hour, to an hour and a half of climbing per side. Baking in descending time and nature breaks and such, I’ve found 3.5 to 4 hours is my sweet spot to do both east and west.

IN late fall or early spring I’ll often wear a sack back. In it goes a vest, extra gloves, neck-thingy and a spare cap. If I’m planning on hammering up hill I’ll even throw in a spare jersey. You can work up a pretty good lather on the ascent and so those dry pieces of wardrobe come in handy for the descent, and the vest oh so valuable when you’re hitting 30, 40 or more MPH on those downhills.

HERE’S an example of the temperature variations you’ll encounter on a “normal day” (if there is ever a normal day in the Sierra):

AT 9:00 a.m. ’twas 72 degrees Fahrenheit at the western base (Monitor Junction) and just a bit later, as our recon was by vehicle, the temp. was 58 at the Pass. About an hour later, the mercury was hitting 80 on the east side (Topaz).

It’s Exposed

THERE’S not much cover on either face of Monitor. On the east side, you can get some shade at Boy Scout Corner, about four (4) miles from the start. On the west there are some dappled patches near the start of the climb, around Heenan Lake (3.5 miles from start) and again closer to the 8000 foot mark. And at the pass itself you can get some respite from El Sol courtesy of the aspens, who often quake with excitement when visitors are about.

THERE’S no cell service either. BOLD Once you get to Whorehouse Flats (yeah, it was, and still is, a real place) there’s no service until you get to Topaz. And in case you were not aware, it’s pretty much Verizon only in Markleeville. Not sure about that ol’ east side, however.

DO a lot of stuff in the Sierra and want to step it up a notch? I carry an InReach Mini on my travels. I can text my contacts when there is no cell service and help is just an SOS away.

BECAUSE it’s so exposed, the wind, as I alluded to earlier, can howl some days. Usually down either face, but sometimes you’ll get some crosswinds so pay attention on those descents if that’s the case. I’ve found that Monitor is not as temperamental as Carson (thunderstorms, with hail, happen often in the summer) but it’s not to be taken lightly either.

UV arm “warmers” come in particularly handy, as they can be used for both the hot hill climbs and those daredevil descents.

A Few More Resources

CHECK out our virtual climbs of both sides of Monitor Pass on FulGaz.

STAY tuned for more on that by way. Our California Alps Cycling Club Room on Fulgaz will be launching shortly. You’ll be able to access all of our rides from one place and we’ll be hosting some group rides and workouts in June, with some cool prizes to boot.

ALTA Alpina Cycling Club’s Training Series still has a couple more weekends available – June 3rd and June 17th. You can Kick Some Passes Asses! ® with some local cycling experts.

CURRENT Markleeville weather and air quality is always available on our website.

SOME previous posts that you may find helpful:

REMEMBER and honor the fallen on this Memorial Day and please, ride safely.

Going Tubeless In The California Alps – Lessons Learned

IN my bike riding lifetime I, like you I suspect, have done a few tubeless set ups. For me those have been on my mountain bike and later on, my gravel bike.

I just upgraded my eMTB to tubeless – this after a flat on my way home from a ride.

GOING tubeless on a road bike, though, is much less common (at least in my “mere mortal” circles). Sew-ups or glue-ons? I’ve never been at that level. My nephew Ryan went tubeless on his road steed several years ago, but that lad has always been an early- adopter/over-achiever. I’ve known few others that have done so, yet I’ve heard for years that the ride can be life-changing. Okay, maybe not life-changing but certainly ride-changing.

I’LL let you know once I get out and ride it. Sadly, right after I set things up I went under the knife (under the water perhaps would be more apropos – my procedure was by robotic aquablation after all) for a prostate upgrade and now that I can ride, the roads have been too slick with ice and snow. 🙁

THERE is a tremendous amount of information out there on how to upgrade to tubeless so I’m not going to go into a step-by-step in this post.

Instead, I’ll focus on a few things I’ve learned as a tubeless-runner. Our friends over at Tempo Cyclist, by the way, posted something up on the subject last month. It’s certainly worth a gander, and you’ll enjoy the Tasmanian vibe. I know I did.

AS for my tips, read on!

Get the Right Tape and Stems (And Tires)

I bought the necessary rim tape (went with Mavic’s 25mm UST Tape) for my Aeolus wheel set, as well as the tubeless stems (Trek’s VLV BNT TLR in 67mm). As for tires…I’m running Continental 5000s TRs (it’s a fairly new tire) in 28mm.

You’ll likely need to do a bit of measuring (with a metric ruler or tape) to get the correct wheel depth, which for me was a bit challenging because of that deep-dish wheelset.

TIP: If you’re still not sure, get a small selection of sizes and return what you don’t need. That’s what I did. With Competitive Cyclist, where I get 99% of my stuff, returns are simple and usually free. And if you, like me, go through materiel like mad, you can even get your own gearhead!

FOR the eMTB, by the way, I ended up going with Reserve’s RSV AM Rim Tape in a 34mm width. Tires? I’m a Conti devotee, and based on the mixed, but mostly loose, terrain here in the Sierra I chose the Argotal 29″ (x 2.40), and for stems Stan’s 35mm Universal Valve. Standard wheels on that bike…

For Sealant It’s Got To Be Stan’s

Stan's Race Sealant is our sealant of choice here in the California Alps

AND I go with Stan’s Race Sealant.

IT’S better, I’ve found, than the standard Stan’s (lasts longer and is designed for “extreme conditions”) BUT it does not allow for injection of the sealant via the valve stem.

IT will clog so you’ll need to add it by “un-beading” the tire. Trust me on this as I’ve tried forcing it in with that injector I used in the past for the standard sealant, and it didn’t go well.

No Compressor? Use C02 Cartridges

THIS was a tip from my “brudda from anudda mudda” Toph. Getting that bead to seat the first time can be challenging so if you don’t have a compressor, rather than pump like a madman (done that and had some success) use a C02 cartridge to seat the tire (the pop is unmistakable) and then inflate with your usual unit.

Can’t Ride It Right Away?

IT’S important that you coat the tires well so the sealant can work into all those nooks and crannies. Mmmm, Thomas’. 😋

BEST practice = go for a ride. If you can’t do that, though, do what I did.

SET the bike on the ground or floor upside down. Crank the pedals to get that rear wheel going and hit that front real with your hand (roulette anyone?) to get it moving. I set my bikes up while I was doing some chores around the chalet and then, every time I walked by, I gave those tires a spin.

THIS approach worked very well for the road bike (less volume so easier to coat) but it didn’t go so well on the front eMTB tire so I ended up taking Bessie out for a short spin (just a couple miles). That did the trick.

Have a Backup Plan

HERE’S the rub…Going tubeless typically means no, or extraordinarily fewer, flats. BUT not always. So carry a tube (or two for those epic rides) just in case and also get yourself one of those 2 oz. bottles of Stan’s to tote in your jersey, pack or saddle bag.

SO there you have what I hope will be some helpful suggestions to help you take your ride to the next level.

Looking through a bike wheel at some golden aspens in Markleeville.

TAKE your time, put your patience hat on (as a mechanic once told me), and you’ll be a professional tubeless-tire-installer in no time.

IF you have any issues though, feel free to reach out. I’ll be happy to help.

OTHERWISE, enjoy the ride!

Thinking of Riding Around Lake Tahoe? Here’s What You Should Know

IT’S been just over a year since I originally “penned” this post about riding around Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful lakes, and landscapes, in the world. If it’s not on your bucket list, it should be.

ESPECIALLY now, perhaps. Tourism-based communities, like So. Lake Tahoe, and Markleeville, and Kirkwood and many, many others affected by wildfires, would certainly appreciate your patronage, and you’ve got a bit more time before the snow flies. So take advantage, get some Tahoe time in, after you check out our tips, of course. Be sure to stop by Markleeville too. The aspens are popping and the riding on, or to Monitor Pass, or Ebbett’s Pass, is amazing right now.

BE sure, though, to check our AQI before you come up since the smoke has somewhat unpredictable.

SO read on, and yes, I’ll still send you (except you, ‘Toph, as you won it last year) a t-shirt!

Lake Tahoe is the largest Alpine Lake in North America, and is the second deepest lake in the United States. The lake is 22 miles long, 12 miles wide and about 72 miles around, with an average depth of 1000 feet! It’s one big ‘ol lake and last Friday one of my riding buddies and I tackled it by bike in the counter-clockwise direction.

The first person, by the way, to name the deepest lake in the U.S. by commenting on our Facebook page, will receive a CA Alps Cycling t-shirt.

Never having ridden around the lake before I wasn’t sure what to expect. Yes I had driven it by car but I never really thought about what it would be like by bike, other than amazingly beautiful and scenic.

Well, as Gomer Pyle would have said: “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”

Image courtesy of imgflip.com

While it was a beautiful day and the lake seemed a deeper blue than normal, as did the sky (perhaps due to the lack of smoke we had become used to over the last several weeks) it was quite the eye-opener to actually ride it.

Here’s What I Learned

  • There ain’t a whole lot of room on the shoulder(s). In fact in some sections of road there ain’t any!
  • Many sections of road are in a state of disrepair with some nasty bits of asphalt (or lack thereof) ready to surprise you. Yeah, our roads in CA could use some work, I know that. Still…
  • There’s more traffic than I expected. I was thinking it wouldn’t be too bad on a Friday, during the late morning into the afternoon, but I was wrong.
  • Can you say tourists? This was somewhat of a “doh!” moment certainly and I mention it in order to point out that tourists are doing their job – gawking. They are not looking out for cyclists and in some instances I noticed they weren’t even looking out for themselves.
  • Okay, you’re right…it’s not just tourists that don’t pay attention.
  • There are a huge amount of hiking trails to be found in and around and that generates more traffic and more pedestrians.
  • Many people park on the side of the road either for convenience or due to necessity and that means cyclists need to BOLO for doors!

Take a look at this ~8 minute video to get a sense of what I’m “talking” about. This clip starts just after D.L. Bliss State Park and ends just past Emerald Bay. You can catch a glimpse of Fannette Island and I should also mention that there is some “blue language” (hey, that’s appropriate!) about 2/3 of the way through the clip. Color commentary…

A little glimpse into what you’ll experience when you do the Lake.

Some Other Tidbits

  • We road it counter-clockwise as I mentioned early on in this post. Why? We thought it safer; you’re on the mountain side not on the lake side (there are some steep drop-offs) so if something goes amiss you won’t have to try and rappel (or get help rappelling) back up.
  • Plan on somewhere around four (4) hours to complete the loop. Sure, some will be faster and some will be slower. We took the slow-boat approach and so it took us about 4.5 hours.
  • There is about 4000′ of climbing over the course of the approximately 72 miles of riding. Mostly rollers but there are a couple decent climbs – one from D.L. Bliss State Park towards Emerald Bay (some of this section can be seen on the above video clip) and another from Cave Rock up to the Highway 50/28 intersection.
  • There are hosted event options (next year) such as America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride and Tour de Tahoe. Check out Bike the West for those.
  • There are a lot of good grinds around the lake. We stopped at Sonney’s BBQ Shack near Emerald Bay and had the most AMAZING turkey clubs we’ve EVER HAD. I kid you not.

So as I told my family and some friends post-ride, you have to be on your game to do this ride. Unless you stop for the sights I suggest you keep your eye on the ball as there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for boo-boos.

My lawyer would want me to tell you that California Alps Cycling IS NOT responsible for anything that might occur if you decide to ride it yourself. You assume all risk and should realize that cycling, especially in high-traffic areas, is inherently dangerous.

So, with that said, if you do decide to partake in one of the most scenic, and high-on-most-cyclist’s-bucket-lists, rides in the world, be wary, have fun, stop for some grub and take some time to look around (off the bike).

I’ll BOLO for your report!