Just after we left the silent crowd I noticed a man-made fish ladder on our right. Steve said the fish had to swim upstream from Marlette Lake. The stream was barely flowing out of the mountain which lay to the southwest. Later I was told the fish actually spawn in that fish ladder. Soon after passing that fish ladder our trail made an abrupt right turn and headed up the mountain from which the stream was flowing. We had to climb almost 400 feet to escape the basin holding Marlette Lake. Once at the top we were ready to let it rip, all the way to Spooner Lake!
We must have passed 50 bikers grunting uphill as we flew down North Canyon Fire Road toward Spooner Lake. Many of the “riders” looked as if they might have coronaries at any moment and at least half were walking. I almost hit a lady who was walking alongside her husband but on the wrong side of the road. As I approached (doing maybe 20 miles per hour) she froze, like a deer when a vehicle is approaching. I started to slow down maybe 50 yards ahead of her. I kept braking but hoped she would notice me and move to the proper side of the road. I finally ended up skidding to a complete stop… right in front of her. At that point she finally figured out she should slide over next to her husband.
We quickly came to a place where a trail branched to the left off the fire road. Steve told me he normally went straight, past the bike shop (filling up on liquids), and then onto Highway 50. He asked me how I was doing on liquids. I had drunk less than half of a 20 oz bottle, due to the cool, overcast weather. I still had another full 20 oz bottle and a camelback filled to the rim. “I’m good,” I responded, not realizing how much I was going to need on the stretch south of Highway 50.
Steve then said he had heard the trail to the left skirted Spooner Lake and was a more direct route to the highway, and suggested we try it. Steve was my trusted guide… so I said, “Let’s go left and find out.” So we started off in that direction.
The map below shows all the parts to this epic, 41.7 mile ride… including the Tahoe Rim Trail, the world famous Flume Trail, Spooner Lake, and the brand new Van Sickle Trail.
Please enjoy this interactive trail map. Click the icons for info on land-marks, both general and personal to this ride.
Shortly after taking the turn we began to get some glimpses of Spooner Lake to our left. Then we came upon a boy sitting on a most peculiar mountain bike.
I figured he must be resting because anyone who rode that bike anywhere was bound to tire quickly. You see, the tires on his bike were as thick as any I’d ever seen on an off-road motorcycle. They must have weighed 5 pounds each! I just had to get a photo of it. The boy told me, “My name is Quin, with one ‘n’ and this bike actually belongs to my dad.” I had no idea why it needed such large tires, so I asked. Quin said he was not quite sure. (I have since seen others riding these Fat Tire bikes, used mostly for riding in soft sand).
Not more than a hundred yards farther the trail came out on Highway 50. We waited a few minutes for the Saturday traffic to break, then streaked across all 4 lanes, entering the bike lane heading east toward the Spooner Lake trailhead. Cars, trucks, and wide-bodied RV’s blew by us, pushing us toward the ditch.
I was messing with the replacement battery on one of my cameras when Steve announced he was going to leave and I could catch up with him. I told him I was fine with that and I would see him in a while. I had been leading most of the trip and I think we both thought I would have no trouble catching him. Wrong! We’ve all heard the story of the tortoise and the hare. This was the stretch of the trail where Steve’s superior endurance took over.
Yup, we were back on the Tahoe Rim Trail, which started up a steep incline, then leveled off a little (but nowhere near flat), and then just continued to climb, and climb,… on… and… on… and on. I had ridden a climb similar to this in Flagstaff Arizona (see Sunset Trail) but that climb was at the start of the ride. This time I’d already ridden 17.9 miles.
I found Steve waiting for me a mile or so up the trail. I was huffing and puffing and he was cool, calm, and collected. I was surprised when he offered me a banana. I was not surprised that he would be so kind… I was surprised that an experienced biker like him would be carrying fresh fruit. From all my backpacking days I’d always read hauling fresh fruit was a no-no … for most of the weight was just water. I was always told to carry freeze-dried fruit and filter pump water out of streams. But I guess, since we were only out for the day, hauling bananas was just another way of carrying water along with other nutrients. It sure tasted good, and at that time I was in need of a lift.
I was shocked when he told me he had a defective heart valve (I am happy to report he has since had more thorough tests and found out it is not defective). It seemed as if his heart was working quite well as he led me up one of the most grueling climbs I have ever encountered. He also informed me that he had phantom pains in parts of his knees that aren’t there anymore. The more I heard about this guy the more I was amazed at what he did. I have heard so many people with so many excuses as to why they can’t exercise. If they knew what this man does despite his many “ailments” I think most of them would be ashamed.
Before we reached the crest Steve offered me a gel pack (which I had never tried). Steve said research had found that the energy stored in foods was more quickly absorbed if in the form of a gel. Mine was chocolate and was delicious.
I am not sure if it was the banana, the gel pack, or that we finally reached the end of the 5-mile climb … but I slowly began to feel alive again.
While at the top, Steve staged some photos of me with Lake Tahoe as the backdrop. Steve has a photo website called Steve Wolf Photography, and his photos are so good he sells them. He uses a Canon G12 camera which he says is intermediate between a good DSLR and a point and shoot camera, giving him lots of control. The photos I’d seen on MTBR are incredible. Some day I am going to upgrade from my little Sony Cybershot.
We had just passed the trail summit adjacent to South Camp Peak when the trail began to swoop up and down, left and right, over rocky ledges and short stretches of smooth singletrack. My kind of trail… so I again took the lead.
We dropped at a steady pace toward Castle Rock and eventually to Kingsbury Grade (Highway 207). Several times I waited for Steve to catch up on this favorite type of trail. I believe it was at one of these times when he disclosed the reason his nickname was “Wherewolf.” He said he had ridden with some guys that rode downhill stretches of trail extremely fast. He said the others would come to a resting spot and finally one of them would say, “Where the hell is Wolf?” This of course got shortened into the nickname he still uses today. Although I did have to wait for him on the more technical stretches of trail, I can still see him waiting for me on most of those grisly climbs… and I am sure he was not calling me “Whereunden.”
I was getting pretty low on liquids by the time we passed Castle Rock. The cloud cover we had enjoyed earlier in the day had disappeared about the time we started our 5 mile climb. Since we had chosen not to refill at Spooner Lake, I had consumed the other half of one of my water bottles, and my entire camelback.
I had exactly one 20 oz bottle of liquid remaining, and about 10 miles to go.
Between Castle Rock and Kingsbury Grade we came across two middle aged backpackers with their dog, heading north (the opposite of us). They looked tired, dirty, and thirsty.
They asked us if we knew where they could get some water and Steve told them they should go back to the Highway 207 and hike to one of the large houses further up toward the summit. I would have offered them a drink except I think they needed a lot more than I had and we had a long way to go… and I was also not quite sure how much more I was going to need since I did not know how tough the remainder of the trail was going to be.
The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) came right to the shoulder of Kingsbury Grade Highway, where we came upon a sign that was sort of an insult to our intelligence. Come on, even two teachers (one with a doctorate and the other with a masters) have enough common sense to let the 20 speeding cars pass before crossing the road.
While waiting for the traffic to clear I noticed the TRT symbol fastened to the wall at the base of the stairs across the highway. Looked like we were going to be doing a little Hike-A-Bike before pursuing the last leg of our ride, the Van Sickle Trail.
Click Tahoe Mountain Biking to see an overview of all the rides in this area.