The descent near Lovers Leap gave us our first dose of how this day was going to be.
It was abundantly clear that we were now off the TRT and things we were now riding under a different set of circumstances (the entire TRT on the west side of Lake Tahoe is illegal for mountain bikes since that section of the is also part of the Pacific Crest Trail).
The rarely used Pony Express Trail basically parallels I-50 (better than the pavement at least) and you descend all the way down to an elevation of about 5,400 feet. It felt like we were half way to Sacramento! Then there is a pretty steep pavement climb on Wrights Lake Road and you climb back up to an elevation of about 6,800 feet.
By this point, my rear end was raw. I had to stop and reapply cream every 500′ of climbing or so (BTW, I will never use Belgian Butt’r again. It does not work nearly as well as Assos!).
We stopped for lunch at Dark Lake. This area is an off-road enthusiast area, not known for flowy singletrack mountain biking. Jeep Trails and OHV trails are abundant in this area. That is exactly what we got to do next with the Barrett Jeep Trail.
The Barrett Jeep Trail was pretty ridiculous, but we still had energy. We ended up playing a game of cat and mouse with that Jeep in the photo. That is how gnarly this road is. Jeeps travel at about 1-2 MPH on this road, so a moderately fit mountain biker mostly walking his/her bike will travel about as fast as a motorized Jeep.
Wes got ahead of me at one point and sure enough he had missed a turn. In his defense, it was a really easy turn to miss (the singletrack off of Barrett Jeep Road was really hard to find). Wes navigates with his smart phone, which is not mounted to his handlebars, so it is very easy for him to miss a turn like this one. I had to ride about a half mile out of the way to find him. It was a delay that we really did not need on this last day.
The cow trail that we got on next was actually pretty cool. I am sure most bikepackers out there would curse it because it is not maintained much, has lots of walking sections, and some technical sketchy sections, but I personally like stuff like this. It did not hurt that this trail was strikingly beautiful and very remote.
It seemed like we were on the Cow Trail for the better part of the afternoon. Although I say I like trails like this, it was still really mentally demanding, due to the slow speed you are traveling. Closely following your GPS track in this section is absolutely essential.
By sunset, we finally arrived at Loon Lake. This lake is definitely the most beautiful lake along the route, particularly at sunset. There are even a couple small camping sites along the lake, which would have made for a good spot to call it a night. But our time was up. We had to get home.
The trail around Loon Lake is super technical and rocky, but we could still ride most of it. What lied ahead was the infamous Rubicon Jeep Trail.
These are the last two photos I took before I had a mental breakdown.
The Rubicon Jeep Trail is the most hellish thing I have ever done on my mountain bike. There is nothing quite like it. It is a sad reality, but this is the kind of stuff us mountain bikers have to endure to make a legal off-road loop around Lake Tahoe. I guess this section just is what it is. There are no other legal options that anyone has found. Eight foot high boulders in the middle of the road. Freezing puddles of water in the middle of the road since the jeeps create mini craters and water can’t cross drain to the side like a normal fireroad. Sections that are so steep that you slip backwards (or sideways) while walking your bike before you can go forward. Pure hell on a bike.
This stock photo I found of the “trail” pretty much sums it up!
Anywho, we startled some Jeep campers near Buck Island Lake (and got lost near there as well). Then we hit a small section of singletrack bushwacking. Next was a section that was so hard we could barely walk uphill. I think I slid downhill a few times before being able to make my way up the slippery rocks. It was just really brutal.
We eventually hit our high elevation point around 12:30 early that morning, then it was easier descending towards Lake Tahoe. Our feet were wet and freezing, and temps were in the mid 30’s. I think Wes broke his rear derailleur on one of the boulders and he only had one gear at that point. Once we got to highway 89 it was a no brainer to skip the last section of the TRT near Homewood, as it would have been another 2k of climbing and descending in the early morning hours.
We finally made it back to the condo in Tahoe City around 1:30 am on Tuesday morning. We were totally spent. We had 3 beers in the fridge, but no food. I ate my last Backpackers Pantry meal from my saddlepack (pretty pathetic, but there were no restaurants open) and we went to bed. We woke up sore, dehydrated, and cracked out and made the 8.5 hour drive back home to Santa Barbara.
Would I do this route again? Hell yes! Would I do it differently? Hell yes!
I am pretty sure there are A LOT of opinions on the best way to do this route, but this is just my opinion on how I would do it.
Start in Meyers or South Lake Tahoe. This will allow you to end with the most fun section. If you don’t want to pay for a hotel, there are some car camping options in this area.
The brutal paved climb route we did out of Meyers could probably be improved upon, but it is rideable and you would be doing it first, so not so bad.
Since there is no other good option around the west side of Lake Tahoe, I would stick with Matt’s route. Really hard, but it would be day #1, so you would be getting the hard part out of the way. Not so bad.
I would continue to stick with Matt’s route all the way until right before Incline Village.
I am still a bit undecided with the route after Incline Village (as I previously noted above). Because the Rubicon Trail is just so hard and time consuming, I would definitely opt for the Flume Trail. I am just not sure how I would get to the Flume trail (see options above). I would definitely try to stay off of highway 431 as much as possible.
On a normal weather day, I would probably skip the Fox and Hound stop and instead stay more true to the TRT. This would allow more singletrack riding, less pavement, and less people. The Fox and Hound stop is not really necessary. I would just pack another dehydrated meal or two.
The only other deviation I might do would be to stash my bike and bag below the summit of Freel Peak before embarking on the last descent. This would definitely be “optional”. Yes you have to bag the peak on foot, but it would be the last major challenge and quite a rewarding way to cap off the loop before ending with an incredibly fun 10 mile downhill descent.
So please take this with a grain of salt, but here is the route I would recommend.
Here are beta waypoints I created of water sources for the route. Water really is not hard to find and never becomes much of an issue.
All in all, this is a GREAT route and I would definitely recommend it for the serious multi-day mountain biker. Hopefully this will turn into a proper event someday. Go get it!!!