|Sage and his rental bike|
I think I’m going to die. My heart is pounding so hard that I can feel it. My breathing sounds like a steam locomotive chugging uphill. My thighs are burning. This bike may have been the nicest of the rental lot, with its 29 inch tires and five inches full suspension, retailing for a whopping $3500, but it doesn’t make the climb any easier. There’s still a good piece of real estate to cover. “I gotta stop,” I yell to Malcolm as I drop my bike into some bushes on the side of the trail and sit against a tree. “Just let me catch my breath,” I tell Malcolm as he too stops. I eat some dried fruit and nuts, and offer some to Malcolm. I take a swallow of water. It tastes good and washes the dust out of my mouth, but I worry if I’ll have enough to make it to the top.
A group of hikers make their way down the trail. My heart rate has moved out of the heart attack zone and I can finally talk without gasping. “How much further to Marlette?” Malcolm asks. “It’s taken us a good thirty minutes walking,” one of them says. “This is the steepest part,” the other guy says, pointing pack up hill, “but the effort is worth it.” My heart rate begins to race again. These guys are walking downhill which makes me wonder if we can make it. But I am going to try and soon we’re back on the bikes. The trail gets so steep we both start walking our bikes, but after ten minutes or so the trail levels off and we’re back riding. Soon, the trail crests the hill and we begin to coast downhill, toward the cool inviting waters of Marlette Lake. I’ve made it. The hard part is over.
|Malcolm along the edge of the mountain|
I got to know Malcolm and his wife 25 years ago, when I was in Virginia City, Nevada. Before coming to the conference at Tahoe, I’d spent the weekend in Virginia City and ran into him at church. He asked if I had any free time this week, suggesting we go mountain bike riding. Having never ridden a mountain bike (I might be the last biker in the world not to have ridden one, as I ride a touring bike on the highway), I readily agreed. Since the conference was only scheduled for a half day on Wednesday (which made up for the late evening sessions on the other days), we arranged to meet at the Village Ski Loft in Incline Village. The guy at the store was not only helpful but excited about where we would be riding. I too was excited, having skied to Marlette Lake before (but always returning back to Spooner). We left my rental car at the shop, put my bike on Malcolm’s rack, and headed south to Spooner Lake, where we’d begin our ride.
The first 4.5 miles was steep, as we climbed to MarletteLake, a body of water created high in the mountains to supply the needs of Virginia City, Nevada. Water is withdrawn and flows down the east side of the Sierras at such force that it pushed back up into the Virginia Range where it flows into a small lake, before being sent to the taps in town. The water system is an engineering marvel and in the 19th Century, it supplied not only the needs for tens of thousands of people, but also for massive milling operations. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time to linger or take a dip, so after purifying and refilling our water containers, we continue, following an old flume that was used to haul timber down the mountain to Incline Village.
|View of Tahoe|
At first, the trail is very steep downhill and at one bend, filled with boulders, we have to carry the bike as we navigate the rocks. But then the trail levels out and the vistas along Tahoe open up as we ride on a narrow path on the edge of the mountain. A left turn along this section would be suicidal and I’m not sure my helmet would do me any good. But the views are incredible and we stop several times to gaze in awe. There are a couple of rock slide areas where we have to carry the bikes, but mostly this is easy riding—one just has to be alert for rock boulders jutting out of the side of the mountain at head height. After several miles of such pleasant riding, we come to a junction. The trail to the right leads to the Tahoe Rim Trail, but we take the left fork back to Incline Village. Its 7.5 miles; about the distance we’ve already covered in the past three and a half hours. We make it down in roughly 20 minutes, riding our brakes (my fancy bike has disk brakes!).
The ride is fast and exciting. The only time I worry is when we’re going through sand and the braking causes my bike to fishtail. But I hold it up and we make it back to the road fifteen minutes before the bike shop closes. Heading back into Incline Village, the road climbs steeply and I get about half way up the hill and my right thigh begins to cramp up. I drink some water and give my bike to Malcolm, who is more used to the high altitude. He takes off to the bike shop. I walk Malcolm’s bike until the cramp is gone, then ride through town, arriving at the shop a few minutes after 6 PM. They are still there, but Malcolm had already turned in my bike and picked up my copy of the rental agreement. I drop my helmet off and we arrange things to fit Malcolm’s bike into my rental car and drive back to his vehicle. Before departing, we go for a swim in Tahoe and enjoy a beer over dinner. It’s been a good day, but I expect I’ll be walking a bit bowlegged tomorrow.
|View of Sand Harbor|