I wish every long weekend was like this one. Barb had planned a girls trip to Tahoe and booked a week at our timeshare up there. Since she was going to be up there I figured it was also a good time to get in a ride on the Flume Trail. I had been talking about doing the Flume trail with Steve and John for over a year. Barb had already spent Sunday through Wednesday in Tahoe with her girlfriend Lorraine. Barb rode back with Lorraine on Wednesday and then turned right around and road back up with me that afternoon. The smoke from the Yosemite fire made for a strange and erie ride up into the mountains.
We were lucky enough to score our favorite room at the Stardust. Upper corner unit in the back. Spent a nice day with Barb on Thursday, up early and out for a nice walk around Heavenly Village and the neighborhood. Did some shopping, had brunch, and even took a little bike ride down to Lakeside beach. Jens and Kelly arrived right around dinner time. We walked to the casino to have dinner. After dinner it was back to the room for a pre-flume trail conference. John and Steve had made the drive up so all the players were there. John would pick us up at 7am next morning.
The Flume trail ride starts at Spooner Lake and ends at Tunnel Creek cafe in Incline Village. Its about a 14 mile one way ride. Turns out John's Bro-in-law Mark woke up at 3:30 am in Sonora to make the drive to Tahoe and join us for the ride. Jens and Mark were the only two who had done this ride before, so we at least had some experience with us on the ride. We started right around 8am. By 8:05 I was sucking wind!!
The 4.5 mile uphill to Marlette Lake is a killer. The uphill starts as a gradual climb. The last mile is a ball buster. Mark, Jens and Kelly had no problems with the climb or the thin air. I did. The elevation at Spooner Lake is just over 7000. We climbed to 8200 at Marlette lake. Us bay area boys were sucking wind for sure! I admit that I had to get off my bike and push it up a few times on that climb. Fortunately John and I had done the Spooner to Marlette Lake ride last year so we knew what to expect.
Once we got to Marlette lake, we took a nice break, took some pictures and hydrated. Road around the lake to the dam where the flume trail started. The flume was built back in the 1870s to carry timber down to incline village. In the 1980s an avid bike rider worked on clearing the trail for bike riders. It has since become one of the premier mountain bike rides in the world. The trail starts at the dam, winds through some forest then hugs the mountain for 4 miles. "Hugs the mountain" may be an under statement. The single track trail is about 3 feet wide with boulder cliffs to your right and sheer dropoff to your left. During the pre-ride prep I made the mistake of looking at youtube videos of other people that have done this ride. It really made me nervous!! There were three spots where previous landslides had made it to where we (at least me) had to get off and walk my bike over rocks. There were also parts where the trail was only about 18 inches wide with a 500ft drop to the left. Total concentration got me through it. We stopped a few times when Mark or Jens (not sure since they were ahead of me) wanted to show us something. One time was the place where people stop and look down at Sand Harbor below. On a normal day we would be able to see clear across the the lake and at the "Tahoe Blue" water below. Not on this day. We could barely make out Sand Harbor through all the smoke. When we saw a boat cruising the lake, it almost looked like it was flying because the air and water all blended into the smoke. In retrospect it was probably better for me that there wasn't a great view. It allowed me to concentrate on the task of making it through the most technical part of the ride. This part of the trail was very sandy, so you could go "squirrelly" very easily. The few times I did try to take a peak down below, seemed to lose a little control, so for the rest of the ride it was focusing on the trail in front of me.
At some point the cliff hugging excitement ends as the trail makes its way back into the pines. The Flume trail ends and we make our way onto Tunnel Creek trail for our quick decent to lake level and the Tunnel Creek Cafe. This part of the ride is what I like to call the "hold on for dear life" part of the ride. The trail widens into a fire road but it drops quickly. To make things even more exciting is that the trail is very sandy in some parts. You can be flying down then all of a sudden hit a sandy patch and you are fishtailing like a a mad man. The more experienced in the group flew down this part. The more conservative (I promised Barb I wouldn't kill myself) riders took it easy, riding the brake most of the way down. Even with that, Steve took a tumble into a manzanita bush and got a few scrapes.
Before we knew it we were off the trail and on the short road that led to the Tunnel Creek Cafe. The end of the line. We did it in 3 1/2 hours (breaks included). Check this one off the bucket list! Now all we had to do is get back to John's truck 9 mile UP the road. We already knew that we weren't going to ride our bikes back. The plan was for one person to ride the shuttle ($15 per person!) back to the truck and then drive and get the rest of us. Only problem was that the shuttle would not take just one person. If we all went if would have cost $90!! We talked very briefly about someone hitchhiking back up and getting the truck. Before we knew what was happening, John was out on highway 28 with his thumb out!! What a great guy!!! He got a ride to Sand Harbor, then another the rest of the way to Spooner Lake and was back within 45 minutes!! Our hero!! We sat and had a beer while we waited. LIFE IS GOOD! We were back at south shore and taking a shower by 1pm.
Of course we were all STARVING so we headed to Sprouts for lunch. Greatest tuna sandwich ever! After lunch it was over to Casa de Downing for horseshoes and relaxation where we reveled in our Flume trail accomplishment. We headed back to our place for the evening. As the sun was setting we decided to walk down to the beach and watch the sunset. What a great way to end a great day!
Up early and out to breakfast with Jens and Kelly. We said our goodbyes after and they were off to Reno then home. So glad that we got to spend some quality time with old and dear friends. The plan for the rest of the day was to do a hike. With the smoke still an issue, we thought it would be better to do a waterfall hike rather than a vista hike. We left the destination up to John. He picked a winner! We drove a short way up Christmas Valley to the beginning of the Hawley Grade. The upper Truckee River runs through here (as well the pony express back in the day) and there is a waterfall just a short distance up the trail. Winding our way up and along side the river, we saw some HUGE mushrooms growing in the forest floor. Also saw tree damage caused by beavers. Many downed trees where you could see that the beavers had chewed through! Eventually we heard the sound of the waterfall and made our way to the little pool at the bottom of the falls. A great spot!! Water cascading down huge rocks. A large tree had fallen and looked like a slide down the falls. Summer flowers and hanging plants coming out of the rocks near the falls gave the whole place a fantasy island kind of vibe! This being late in the season, there wasn't a lot of water, but the water that was there was still runoff and still ice cold. We spent a good amount of time here. Just chilling. Mark was the only one brave enough to jump in and get up under the waterfall. John and I climbed to the top of the falls, Steve took a nap on the sun baked rocks. Barb took pictures and videos of all of us. It was a real nice time. Mark found an "almost perfect" round rock that he wanted to bring back to John's house. The thing must have weighed at least 45 pounds. He lugged it all the way back to the truck in his backpack!
We drove back to John's house and we said goodbye to Mark as he was heading home. We went back to the Stardust and showered then got ready for dinner. The buffet at Mont Bleu! We ate like kings!
Said goodnight to John and Steve and headed back to the room and packed up for our early morning departure the next day. We were on the road by 9am and home by 1pm.
An action packed few days with my lovely wife, best buds and some old friends.