Fall Favorites Round Up

It’s no secret that Fall is an amazing time to be in Truckee-Tahoe – it’s definitely my favorite season, and it’s almost here.  The trails are less crowded, the weather ranges from stormy (Yay! It’s finally raining.) to hot & sunny (Yay! A little bit more summer.), and the general feel of the locals is just more relaxed. Over the years, I’ve posted a lot of my recommendations for the fall, so I thought I’d do a round up of previous fall favorites, and add some bonus new suggestions as well.

Sierra Fall Essentials:
Here’s a round up of some of my favorite products to help me get through the variable weather of fall in the Sierra.

Sierra Fall Essentials // tahoefabulous.com

Bonus Favorites:
An ultra-light, packable wind shell, like the Patagonia Houdini is perfect for cooler morning runs or to stick in your bike pack for a chilly downhill after a sweaty climb. It’s water resistant, so it will even keep you dry for a little bit in the event of a surprise rainstorm.

A mid-weight vest is the perfect fall layering piece. You can wear it under a raincoat or over a flannel, and your arms will be free while your core is warm. I think springing for a down version, like the Marmot Aruna is so worth it, for quality, packability, and warmth. The Aruna is a high quality – I own the vest and the jacket version and I love them both.

Fall In Yosemite Valley:
Fall is my favorite time to visit Yosemite – check out these photos of Yosemite Valley to see why!

Yosemite Valley Fall // tahoefabulous.com

Bonus Sierra Destinations if you want to see Fall Colors
June Lake, California: great beer, & fishing
Hope Valley, California:delicious pie & country charm
Nevada City, California: – incredible restaurants & the Yuba river

Whiskey Pumpkin Bread Recipe:
Nothing says fall like pumpkin, and this pumpkin bread recipe with a kick of whiskey is just about perfect, if I do say so myself.

Whiskey Pumpkin Bread Recipe // tahoefabulous.com

Round the Lake Beer Tour:
You’ll need a designated driver for this one, but check out my loop from Truckee, around the lake, and back, hitting up breweries and craft beer spots along the way. I just updated it for fall of 2018, so check out the new version!

Round the Lake Beer Tour // tahoefabulous.com

Favorite Fall Activities:
Sierra Fall Favorites // tahoefabulous.com
And here are some of my favorite things to do in Tahoe and the Sierra in the fall:
Go mountain biking. Often, we’ll get an early snowstorm that melts out and gets the trails in perfect condition. My favorite trails to ride in the fall are the Donner Lake Rim Trail to Wendin Canyon and Sawtooth Trail in Truckee, Mills Peak in Graeagle, and the Corral Trail Network in South Lake Tahoe.
Jump in the lake one last time. Often, the water is still warm enough for a quick swim in September and October. Or you could head to nearby hot springs, like Grover Hot Springs State Park in Markleeville or Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport.
Get in shape for snowboard season with some trail running. I like to get a few more trips up and down Donner Peak before the snow falls in Truckee. In South Lake Tahoe, Powerline Trail is my preferred trail running location.
Go on a road trip to the coast. Alright, that might be cheating for favorite Tahoe fall activities, but the California coast in the fall is amazing too! I especially like Santa Cruz, Point Reyes, Mendocino, and the North Coast during this time of year.

Mountain Biking the Downieville Downhill for Non-Expert Riders

The Downieville Downhill is one of the best known mountain bike trails in the US, and it’s for good reason. The trail is unique, challenging, and a blast to ride. The network of trails around Downieville is growing, thanks to the hard work of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, but the classic route is 15 miles with nearly 6,800 feet of descent.

Downieville Downhill for Non-Expert Riders // tahoefabulous.com

As a mountain biker in California, I’d been hearing about the Downieville Downhill for years, and really wanted to ride it. Before I rode it for the first time in 2014, I wondered if I could handle riding it, since I’d heard about how rough, technical and exposed it could be. If you look around the internet, you’ll find dozens of videos of people riding the trail, which do give a good overview of the trail. However, the vast majority of the people doing the POV videos are guys who are advanced to pro-level riders, which isn’t super helpful for determining difficulty if you’re less skilled.

So, how good of a rider do you have to be to ride the Downieville Downhill? I think that anyone with intermediate mountain bike skills can have fun on the trail, but if you’re a less than advanced rider, be prepared to walk some sections. The Downieville Downhill is mostly downhill, with less than 500 feet of climbing. Despite this, the ride is physically exhausting due to the technical and unrelenting nature of the trail. You’ll want to be in good cardio shape, take breaks as needed, and be sure to drink lots of water and eat plenty of calories. The first time I did the trail, I bonked and had a complete meltdown, so stay on top of your nutrition. The first time I rode the Downieville Downhill, 

As far as gear goes, you’ll need a full suspension bike to ride this trail. I’ve ridden it on both my 26 inch, 150 mm travel GT Sanction and my 115 mm travel Transition Smuggler, and I had a blast on both. Most people would probably prefer more travel than 115 mm, but with 29 inch wheels and modern geometry, my riding ability is the only thing limiting me on the trail. Though I ride with clipless pedals most of the time, I like flat pedals for the long rocky sections of the trail. Knee pads are also a must, and I usually wear my beefier ones for Downieville. I’d recommend a full face helmet and goggles, though plenty of people do the ride in half lids.

Downieville Trail Details // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Details via Strava
Trail Map via Strava
Trail Map via Strava

The Trail
Basically everyone does the Downieville Downhill as a shuttle. You can self shuttle, but I recommend doing the Yuba Expeditions shuttle. It’s much easier to arrange, a reasonable price ($25), and the proceeds from the shop go towards trail building and maintenance in the area. The shuttle will drop you off at Packer Saddle where you’ll jump right on to the first trail of the Downhill, Sunrise Trail. Sunrise Trail is a newer section that’s a mix of flowy dirt berms, rocks and roots. It can get pretty dusty during long dry stretches, but this is one of the easiest sections of the trail, even when blown out. Trailforks rates it as intermediate, which I think is accurate.

You’ll be on Sunrise Trail for about 1.6 miles and drop about 450 feet in elevation before it turns into Butcher Ranch Trail. Butcher Ranch is the trail you’ll be on the longest – about 6 miles with about 3,100 feet of descent and 1,200 feet of climbing. Butcher Ranch is a legitimate advanced trail, though, like I said before, intermediate riders can handle it with careful line choice and walking some sections. There are extended rock gardens with 6 inch – 1 foot drops, and these long technical sections always have me wishing for an uphill “break” by the end. Butcher Ranch bottoms out at a bridge over Pauley Creek at about mile 7.7. Take a break here, because you’re about to tackle the stoutest climb of the trail. (Though this spot can sometimes be really buggy!) You’ll climb almost 200 feet in under half a mile, which feels even worse than it sounds.

Downieville Downhill // tahoefabulous.com
A rollable drop on Butcher Ranch.

After the climb, you’ll get to a trail intersection with Second Divide climbing up and Third Divide heading down. The Downieville Downhill route has you heading down Third Divide at this point. Trailforks rates this trail as intermediate, but I think it’s definitely on the hard side of intermediate, especially as fatigued as you are at this point of the trail. This segment is about two miles with 1,250 feet of descending and is not nearly as rocky as much of Butcher Ranch. Third Divide has some long, flowy sections but isn’t a “flow trail” in the modern sense as there are more rooty sections and small drops, and not very many bermed turns.

Third Divide spits you out on Lavezzola Road, an easy fire road section you’ll be on for about 1.2 miles. The fire road section is a nice break, so relax for a bit. Lavezzola Road intersects First Divide at a pretty obvious trail head on your right. First Divide is the most rolling section of the Downieville Downhill, as you’ll climb about 1,050 feet and descent 1,460 feet over three miles. However, most of this ascent comes in small rollers that don’t even feel like climbing. There are a few stout climbs though! Trailforks has First Divide graded as an intermediate, which I think is pretty accurate. There’s nothing super technical on this segment, though there are some narrow sections with major exposure (like literally fall off a cliff and die exposure) that make the riding feel more challenging. You’ll also be feeling the cumulative effects of the long ride at this point and fatigue from the rollers. It’s also usually significantly hotter at this point in the ride. This is all to say, don’t underestimate this section! Also, watch out for poison oak if you do stop for a break here.

Downieville Downhill // tahoefabulous.com
A section with some exposure on First Divide.

Just before you hit the 15 mile point, First Divide will drop you back into town on to Main Street of Downieville. While you may be tempted to blow through stop signs to get back to your vehicle, don’t! Apparently, there are often officers waiting to ticket riders who ignore the stop signs.

After this long, difficult, but incredibly fun and rewarding ride, there’s nothing better than jumping in the North Yuba River which has its confluence with the Downie River almost directly across from Yuba Expeditions bike shop. The bike shop usually has beer from the Brewing Lair on draft, so grab one of those while your at it. Cheers with your riding buddies and celebrate the fact that you just conquered one of the best mountain bike trails in California!

Trail Stats
Distance: 15 miles
Elevation Gain: 490 feet
Difficulty: Advanced
Click here for my Strava route.

P.S. If you’re looking for recommendations for places to stay or eat in and around Downieville, check back tomorrow!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!

Manta Ray Night Snorkel – Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

In early June, Greyson and I went to the Big Island of Hawaii with his family. It was an amazing trip, and one of the highlights was definitely a night snorkeling trip to see manta rays.

Manta Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

We had hoped to do a SCUBA dive while in Hawaii, but I had a sinus infection that made diving impossible, so I got to work looking for something to do instead. We’d planned on doing a night SCUBA dive with mantas, and I stumbled on this post by Simply Taralynn about a night snorkel with manta rays, and I knew that we had to do it. I did a little research, and I ended up booking the same company, Big Island Divers. They were a reasonable price (only $105), just down the street from our vacation rental, and had great reviews.

We had brought our own snorkel gear that we used, but the cost of the excursion includes mask, snorkel, and fins and you can rent a wetsuit for $10. We checked in at the dive shop ahead of the excursion – we were a little confused by this, but you just need to check in ahead of time to get sized for your wetsuit and get directions to the boat. There is also a ton of cute merchandise and gear and the shop, and if you show up before noon, there’s a discount! I had thought that the snorkel was near the downtown of Kailua-Kona, but it was actually a 20 minute boat ride from the marina – and you end up right by the airport.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

The crew of Big Island Divers were awesome – funny and knowledgeable. While they got the boat ready, one of the SCUBA guides gave us all a lesson on mantas. Mantas are filter feeders that eat plankton, and, years ago a hotel on the water put in underwater lights to entertain hotel restaurant guests at night. These lights attracted plankton, and surprise – mantas showed up! Once this happened, tour operators realized the draw these amazing creatures have and started running night snorkel and dive tours. Now there are two spots with underwater lights – at the original hotel and at another, less busy spot near the airport where we went. I’m always a little weirded out by tourist activities that alter wild animals behavior, but, apparently these tours are really safe and low impact to the population, and humans have already had a hugely negative impact on these animals already, and the lights help provide them a steady food source.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

We hopped on the boat and got the best sunset of our whole vacation. I sadly didn’t get a picture, though. It got dark quickly, and we arrived at the snorkel site. There were a few boats in the water, and it was already starting to become a bit of a zoo. This is definitely a tourist attraction, so you’re not going to have a relaxing, solo experience. One thing that I really appreciated about Big Island Divers is that they obviously really cared about the health and safety of the mantas, and we held off getting in the water until it had cleared out a bit so we didn’t overwhelm the awesome creatures.

While mantas show up most of the time, they are wild animals and their appearance isn’t guaranteed. While we geared up, our guides pointed out that the underwater lights appeared to be flashing. This was actually mantas swimming in front of the lights! I got so excited and couldn’t wait to get in the water. We did have to wait, though, until the SCUBA divers got in the water.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

Finally, it was our turn to jump in! How it works is that Big Island Divers have a surfboard with a light on the bottom and a PVC pipe rack around the outside, which the snorkelers held on to. It’s a lot of just holding on and floating, you only kick when your guide directs you to move somewhere. As soon as we were in the water and situated, the mantas showed up. They corkscrew through the water, feeding on the plankton. It was such an incredible experience. In Indonesia, we saw oceanic mantas while diving. While those oceanic mantas are even bigger than the Hawaiian ones and it was one of the coolest things I have ever done, this snorkel was just as cool. Mantas are incredibly smart – they recognize themselves in mirrors, which not even dogs can do! Some have even learned that humans can help them and will go up to diver to get fishing hooks removed.

We were in the water for almost an hour, just watching their acrobatic dance. I could have stayed in the water forever, but it was time to get back on the boat. I was pretty cold at this point – my wetsuit is only a 2.5 thickness and too big for me, and we weren’t moving around at all. When we got back on, the guides had fresh towels and hot chocolates for us. As soon as everyone was aboard (they did a roll call to be sure), we headed back to the harbor.

All in all, it was such an amazing experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Big Island. Big Island Divers was great, and be sure to bring cash to tip your guides. Also, here’s a video Greyson made of our snorkel – check it out!

BCXC in Campbell River

After a fun couple of days in the Cumberland area, we headed north to Campbell River. Taking the advice of locals, we got off of Hwy 19 and drove up the coast. The drive was gorgeous and worth the slightly longer trip. Considering that it only added about 20 minutes, I would highly recommended the scenic route.

Hazy #mountains from the #beach #vancouverisland #toasterroadtrip

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As I mentioned in my lodging post, we stayed at Elk Falls Provincial Park. This was yet another amazing BC Provincial Park with access to a waterfall. A brand new suspension bridge giving new access to amazing views had just been completed so we made sure to check it out.

We had fun exploring Campbell River, which had a more rustic and ocean-y feel than the other spots we’d visited on the island so far. I especially liked driving out to Dick Murphy Park at the very end of a long spit and getting my feet wet in the ocean. Next time we’ll have to go on a whale watching or kayaking trip out of Campbell River. My parents did a multi day kayaking trip off of Quadra Island, which looked amazing!

#seaweed in the waves. #toasterroadtrip #vancouverisland #britishcolumbia

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Of course, we also went biking while we were in Campbell River. I ride a 2016 Transition Smuggler, a shorter travel 29er that was basically designed for the rooty XC trails of Campbell River. I, on the other hand, am not used to that type of riding, and spent a lot of time getting stuck on short, steep, punchy and rooty climbs. I was also surprised by how narrow lots of the trails are up there! The forests of BC have a lot more biomass that the Sierra and we were frequently fighting our way through overgrown trails. Note: ferns are better than blackberries, but will still scratch you up! There were some frustrating moments along the trail and I didn’t feel like I was riding very well.

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com

I did have fun on the trails we rode in the Pumphouse area of Campbell River, especially on the return trip when I finally loosened up. We rode Water Tower , which is a gradually climbing, wide trail (basically a double track) to the Ridge Trail for about a third of a mile before turning onto Dean Martin. Dean Martin had some really steep climbs – I could have used that twelfth gear. We then took Lower Deliverance until we hit the Forest Service road. I decided that with the struggle riding I’d been doing so far that day that I was ready to turn around. We headed back down Lower Deliverance until we came to Connector which took us to Alligator Rock. I enjoyed Alligator Rock much more than Deliverance, so I’m glad we came back that way. Though it was rockier, it was less exposed. After that we were back on Dean Martin and back the way we came.

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

Trail Stats
Location: The Pumphouse, Campbell River, BC
Trails: Water Tower, The Ridge, Dean Martin, Lower Deliverance, Alligator Rock
Mileage: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
See my Strava route here.

Beer, Food, and Lodging on Vancouver Island

I realize I’m jumping around some chronologically, but I wanted to collect my Vancouver Island recommendations in one place.

Beer:
First, and most importantly, the beer.

Vancouver Island Breweries // tahoefabulous.com

White Sails Brewing, Nanaimo, BC
We stopped at White Sail Brewing in Nanaimo on our drive from the ferry to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. The brewery is in an industrial type building, but beachy and full of light on the inside. I enjoyed all of the beers that I tried. Beer descriptions from the breweries, unless obvious. I tried:

Brickyard Beach Red Cream Ale (4.25/5)

Restrained hop bitterness with a balance of light caramel grain and a clean, dry smoothness to finish.

Mount Benson IPA (5/5)
Medium bodied. This beer offers a well balanced clean malty flavour characterized by its distinguished hop bitterness. Delicious aroma of fruit and citrus.

Ridge Ryeder Rye IPA (4/5)
This is a seasonal that’s not always available.

Snake Island Cascadian Dark Ale (3.75/5)
Medium bodied. Full flavoured with hints of chocolate and coffee. A healthy dose of Pacific NW hops to balance the dark malt character. Dark colour profile that drinks like an IPA…. delicious!

Cumberland Brewing Company, Cumberland, BC
Cumberland Brewing Company has a hippie vibe and constantly has lots of high end bikes parked outside. It’s a good fit for the mountain bike focused downtown of Cumberland. We ate there and had a couple of beers. The food was delicious, if a little pricey. I wasn’t super into the the beers they had listed – their beer list leaned towards bitters, wheat beers, sours, etc. The beers we ended up getting were decent, but not on my favorites list. The brewery is definitely worth visiting because the food and atmosphere are great though. I tried Finally IPA (3.75/5) and Tropical Hop ISA (3.75/5.

Beach Fire Brewing, Campbell River, BC
Beach Fire Brewing was my favorite brewery on Vancouver Island. The staff was friendly, the beer was great, and the interior was beautiful. We got there right after it opened on a week day, so it was pretty empty, but it seems like it’s usually a popular place. I am usually an IPA all day person, but at this brewery I noticed the beginning of a trend. I was preferring BC Pale Ales over their IPAs. I tried

Beach Blonde Ale (4.5/5)
Light, refreshing and flavourful. Perfect for a hot day at the beach, or where ever you find yourself soaking up the west coast sun. A clean, light body with a touch of malt sweetness, this balanced brew sports a subtle hop bitterness and flavour. It‘s all yellow polka-dot bikini, without the peroxide.

Ember Red Ale (3.5/5)
A smooth drinking, crimson-coloured Scottish ale. Malt forward with caramel and subtle roasty and chocolate flavours, balanced with mild English hops. It’s perfect for keeping your fire pit glowing.

Hight Tide Pale Ale (5/5)
A hop forward, west coast pale ale with restrained bitterness, but a big hop aroma and flavour. Just as the tides change, hops in this beer may ebb and flow to showcase new and novel varieties. It will always reflect a stoic focus on a new-world hops with rising flavours of citrus, pine and tropical fruits.

Wheelbender Stout (4.25/5)

Gladstone Brewing, Courtenay, BC
We stopped in at Gladstone Brewing to kill time while we waited for our ferry to the Sunshine Coast. We only tried a couple of beers, which were pretty good. The location was really crowded and loud and we were feeling pretty overwhelmed, but would be fun for a rowdy night. I tried

Gladstone IPA (3.5/5)
The Gladstone Straight 6 IPA glints a dark copper, aromas of tropical fruit can be found, but resinous pine is much more prominent. Lightly malted, strong bitterness from West Coast hops is the focus, complimented rather than diffused by bright citrus flavours courtesy of a generous amount of Southern Hemisphere hops. What malt character remains is most apparent after swallowing, where the light sweetness works to hold the bitterness on the tongue.

Gladstone Pilsner (3.5/5)
A bright, clear, golden Lager, the Gladstone Pilsner smells of crisp yeast and lightly spicy hops. Noticeably bitter, the combination of generous hopping and Pilsen malt results in an extremely refreshing brew. A light toasted finish creates a full body that remains dry and does not linger on the tongue.

Lodging
We stayed at three campgrounds and a motel on Vancouver Island. I’d highly recommend the campgrounds we stayed at near Parksville (Hammerfest Trail Network) and Campbell River (trail write up coming soon!). We stayed at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park outside of Parksville and Elk Falls Provincial Park near Campbell River. These parks are quiet, clean, well maintained and CHEAP, especially if you’re used to California State Parks prices.

Camp 8 among the ferns and forest. #toasterroadtrip

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We stayed at a private campground in Cumberland, which was very close to Cumberland Forest, but not the nicest. The campsites were small and close together and it was hard to find a flat place to pitch our tent. There’s not a lot of other camping options around Cumberland, so I’d recommend finding a motel or vacation rental. There’s a mountain bike focused hostel in Cumberland, The Riding Fool, that seems cool, but we didn’t stay there so I can give it a first hand review. Courtenay and Comox are a very reasonable driving distance as well.

Food
We cooked a lot of meals at our camps, but also tried a fair number of restaurants on Vancouver Island. We were more focused on beer and biking than food, but we ate a few places I can recommend. First up, Lefty’s Fresh Food, where I had probably my favorite meal on the island. I had an omelet with smoked salmon, artichokes and gruyere and parmesan cheese. I still think about that omelet. In Cumberland, I loved Rider’s Pizza. I pretty much never say no to pizza, especially after a bike ride. Finally, we hung out at the Broken Spoke in Courtenay for quite awhile. It’s a bike themed coffee shop with delicious and strong coffee, comfy couches, and plenty of magazines to read.

Oh, and Greyson tried his first poutine while we were on Vancouver Island.
 

Gear List for the Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip: Camping

I’m back today to finish sharing my gear list for the Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip, this time focusing on camping gear and the miscellaneous things that enhance a road trip experience. You can check out part one, Mountain Biking Gear Packing List here.

Camping Road Trip Gear List // tahoefabulous.com

I mentioned that Greyson and I got married this summer, and our Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip was how we celebrated our honeymoon. We registered at REI for our wedding, and our generous friends and family helped us really upgrade our camping set up. Our amazing wedding gifts, plus some big upgrades we’ve made over the past few years meant that our car camping set up is pretty luxurious. When you’re on the road for a month, nice gear makes a big difference.

Camping Gear List
Sleeping Set Up: Your sleeping set up is one of the most critical parts of an enjoyable camping road trip. I’ve had my sleeping bag, the Sierra Designs Zissou Plus, which has Dridown, a water repellant down filling. This has all the advantages of down (fluffy, very packable) with the advantages of synthetic (can keep you warm even if it gets a little wet). The biggest wedding present upgrade was the Nemo Cosmo Insulated sleeping pad. This sleeping pad is wide, warm, cushy, quiet and not crinkly, and easy to inflate with the integrated foot pump. For a pillow, I got the NEMO Fillo backpacking pillow. A camping pillow is never going to be as supportive as a regular pillow, but this one is pretty good. I finally got a sleeping bag liner, which was really nice for variable temperatures and keeping my sleeping bag from getting super gross when we went a long time without showering. I have the Sea To Summit Expander Travel Liner.

A little #gameofthroneswine on the #oregoncoast. #camping #oregondunes #toasterroadtrip #latergram

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Kitchen Gear: The kitchen item we used the most on the road trip wasn’t something that we registered for, but it was awesome – Sea To Summit X Mug. We filled a lot of growlers with beer, and then poured the beer into these folding cups. They’re also really stable, which is nice on uneven ground and picnic tables. We also got a lot of use out of the classic Coleman 2-Burner Stove. For our cookset, we used the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Cookset, which has everything two people could need. The Snow Peak Cutting Board Set was another great addition to our camp kitchen. And I’m sure we would have gotten food poisoning several times without the YETI Tundra Cooler which kept our food cold for days at a time with only a couple of bags of ice.

After our #toasterwedding reception in #reardan camp 17 is #kingsleyreservoir above #hoodriver #oregon . #toasterroadtrip

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Tent: During this trip, I joked to Greyson, “This is how people end up buying motorhomes, isn’t it?” I was referring to our huge, luxurious tent. We have the Big Agnes Tensleep Station Tent, a four person tent. We’re both tall people (I’m 5’11”, he’s 6’3″), and a two person tent is not made for two people our size. This tent is big enough for us to stretch out, have our clothing bags inside with us, and have room to spare. The Tensleep also has two doors, which was a must have for me. It has two vestibules, one of which is large enough to take off wet gear, while staying dry, which is really nice for camping in wet places. The tent is huge – which means it has a large footprint and only packs down to the size of a large duffel bag. It’s very tall – I can almost stand up in it, but it has held up in the wind really well. The price is high, but even the small details are well designed, like plenty of very reflective guy lines and multiple ways to set up the “front door”. If you can’t make the full commitment to #vanlife, the Big Agnes Tensleep is the next best thing.
Battery/Solar Panel: Not going to lie, I like to stay connected. Also, since we were gone for so long, there were points when we both needed to check in with work, so we had an array of technology that occasionally needed to be charged. This was easy with our Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station and the Goal Zero Nomad 20 Solar Panel. It was easy to keep the portable power station charged up – we pretty much never dipped below 80% between our occasional motel stops and the solar panel.

Happy #nationalhammockday! #beer #Oregon #hammocklife #toasterroadtrip

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Seating:  I spent a lot of time in our ENO DoubleNest Hammock – occasionally I even let Greyson use it. I tried to convince Greyson that we should register for smaller, packable chairs, but he convinced me that we should stick with his big, bulky REI chairs. He was right. Having big, comfortable chairs to relax in was so nice at the end of a long day.
Roof Box: We needed every inch of storage in the Toaster for this road trip, and the Yakima RocketBox Pro 11 Rooftop Cargo Box helped increase our storage area. It’s not the fanciest roof box on the market, but it worked well. It’s not as loud as some roof boxes – we didn’t even notice a sound. It didn’t reduce gas mileage by that much, but the Toaster isn’t the most aerodynamic vehicle to begin with.
Lighting: We had two sources of light on this trip: our Petzl Tikka headlamps and the extremely awesome MPOWERD Luci color changing inflatable solar lanterns. We registered for one of these, and somehow ended up with three. I’m definitely not complaining – they all got used and have been a hit on every camping trip we’ve gone on since.
Bike Rack: An easy to use bike rack is critical, and nothing is easier than the Kuat Racks NV tray style. This rack comes with a flimsy cable lock, which we bolster with the Kryptonite 999546 lock for extra security.
Miscellaneous: There are a few more odds and ends that helped make this road trip awesome – the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel, whose water resistant nature came in handy during a rainstorm in Whistler, the ridiculously awesome YETI Rambler can cooler, Packtowl RobeTowl, which made changes at the trailhead much easier, and our storage system of bins, two heavy duty ones for camping stuff and biking stuff and a collapsible one for our kitchen.

So there it is – my in depth packing list for the Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip. Don’t forget, you can check out my list of Mountain Bike Gear here. Did I miss anything?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!

Hammerfest Trails in Parksville, BC

After a few days exploring the Olympic Penninsula, it was time to head to Canada and mountain biking paradise!

Hammerfest Trail Network // tahoefabulous.com

We took the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, and we ran into some issues. We were leaving around the 4th of July and just after Canada Day, and we ended up not booking the ferry we wanted early enough. That meant that we had to rely on the first come, first serve spaces. We got to the ferry terminal almost three hours early, and we still had to be on standby. Luckily, we were able to get on the earlier sailing that we’d been planning on. Just something to keep in mind if you’re planning a similar route – buy your ferry tickets in advance or prepare to wait around for quite awhile.

The ferry boat ride (Greyson’s first ever car ferry!) was gorgeous, with views of the Olympics, the Cascades, Mount Baker, and the San Juan Islands. I was hoping we’d see some sea life, but nothing made an appearance. Crossing the border went smoothly, and we were quickly on our way north to the campground I’d booked outside of Parkside. We stopped at a brewery for a sampler and some snacks in Nanaimo. (I’m going to write up all of the Vancouver Island breweries at once, so stay tuned.)

I booked a campsite at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park because it looked pretty close to a trail network when I was doing basic research on TrailForks. I figured we could stay there one night, and if it sucked, we could move on. It turned out to be one of our favorite campsites on the whole trip.

 

You can literally ride from your campsite at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park to the Hammerfest Trail network, which is awesome. It’s super convenient, and the trails themselves are great. We only ended up riding there one day, which we regretted. Now we just have to go back!

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com
Trail map via trailforks.com

I had a great time riding the Hammerfest trails. Obviously, in a single day, we could only ride a fraction of the network, but I found everything rideable. The climb up was a long fire road slog, but not nearly as bad as the climb in Ashland. The trails were fairly well marked, and we followed our chosen route using a combination of trail signs and the TrailForks app.

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com
Trail map via Strava

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com

@tahoefabulous getting after the dark and loamy on the #hammerfesttrails of #vancouverisland . #mountainbiking #toasterroadtrip

A post shared by Greyson Howard (@greyson_goes_outside) on

We got off the fire road on to Jughead. This trail started out heading down a hillside in a clear cut or burned area. The trail was a little rough – narrow and beat up with loose rocks, but still fun. You quickly got into the forest and the trail turned into the fun, flowy trail of my BC dreams.

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com

Once in the cover of the trees, we switched from Jughead to Locomotion. Here is where we first encountered an issue that would cause us problems on pretty much every trail we rode in British Columbia. We’re used to staying on a single trail for miles, not riding spiderweb like networks with potential turns every 100 meters or so. Even the trail network I ride most often only has a few choices. Since we weren’t riding with locals, and we were just navigating for ourselves, that often meant stops at every fork in the trail to make sure we were taking the correct turn. This really threw off our rhythm sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, the trails are super fun. Just be prepared to do some stopping in order to stay on route.

 


The last major trail we hopped on was Dem Bones. I remember this one seeming really rooty, but it turns out it was just the first taste of rooty BC single track, and we’d encounter even more roots on trails to come. We popped out just down the road from the park and rode back to camp, giddy with our first taste of BC mountain biking.

Hammerfest Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Englishman River Falls Provincial Park is an awesome campground – even if you’re not into mountain biking. It’s clean, the employees are super friendly, and they take quiet hours very seriously. These facts were true about every provincial park we visited in Canada, but this was a great introduction. The person driving around collecting fees even told us he was “so sorry” about our current leadership when he saw our California plates, which we appreciated.

After eating lunch and hanging around in the hammock, I decided that I wanted to hike down to the falls and check them out. Greyson wasn’t feeling great at this point, but he agreed to accompany me. The falls were small but pretty, and there was a perfect swimming hole (neither of which I got a picture of, oops). We were there late enough in the afternoon that it wasn’t very crowded and no one was in the water. Dipping my toes in, I could tell the water was freezing, but it was so beautiful and clear that I had to jump in. I stripped down to my underwear and dove in. The cold was shocking, but refreshing and I dove in a couple more times before I had enough.

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com

I loved this park, the trail network, and the general area. I’d go back to visit this area in a heartbeat and I highly recommend it.

Happy New Year + a Winter Bucket List

Happy 2016 everyone! I thought 2015 was pretty great, but I’m looking forward to the new year with my eye on a few goals. I made a Fall Bucket List, but between sickness and business, I didn’t check off too many. Now that the snow has begun to fall (already more than fell ALL of last winter), I have some goals and experiences for my Winter Bucket List.

winter bucket list tahoe fabulous

Join a Gym and Start Swimming: So, I didn’t join a gym, despite it being a goal for the fall. With winter’s early darkness, cold temperatures, and icy trails, it’s definitely time for me to join a gym. I’m going to go along with all of the other January Joiners and start working out after work. Relatedly, I’m going to find a public pool for lap swimming. My trip to Indonesia is coming up (in March!), and I want to be in good swimming shape by then.

Try Out New Winter Activities: I’ve gotten decent at snowboarding over the last five winters, but there are a ton of winter and snow sports I’ve never tried or only done once. Some ideas: cross country skiing, snowshoeing (I actually tried this one last week), fat biking, downhill skiing, ice skating, skijoring, etc.

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Snowboard Twice as Much as Last Year: This should be easy – since I was mountain biking at 7,000 feet in February last year.

Take an Avalanche Safety Course: I want to get into backcountry snowboarding, and step one is learning how to stay safe. There are a bunch of avalanche safety courses in the Tahoe area. I just need to pick one and go.

backcountry skiing mammoth
Photo by Greyson Howard

Try Backcountry Snowboarding: After I get educated, I’ll be ready to try backcountry snowboarding! I’ll hopefully be able to borrow most of the gear I need, before I invest a ton of money. I’ve already got a snowboard and snowshoes, so I’m partway there! There’s a ton of great backcountry riding in Tahoe, and I’m excited to start to experience it.

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Try Out New Resorts: The last few years, I’ve had a Vail pass that let me ride at Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood. This year my pass is at Sugar Bowl, and comes with a few tickets at Squaw/Alpine Meadows. I’ll hopefully be able to ride with friends at a few new resorts this year – Diamond Peak, Mt. Rose and Homewood.

Why I Got SCUBA Certified

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I’ve loved the water since before I could walk. My mom loves to tell stories about how, if there was a body of water, I was in it, despite any signs or instructions to the contrary.

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Photo by Janet Baumgartner

Most of our family vacations growing up involved a lake, river or ocean for swimming, fishing, tide-pooling and exploring. When I was in college my parents got into kayaking, and we all tried snorkeling for the first time on a trip to Costa Rica. It was just after the rainy season, so the water was so silt filled that we had barely any visibility, but I was hooked! Further snorkeling outings off the coast of Oahu, Puerto Rico and Maui cemented my love.

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Photo by Jodi Swobody

On a couple of these snorkel outings there were a few people SCUBA diving off the boat. I never paid that much attention, since I was having so much fun snorkeling. My mom and I occasionally talked about getting SCUBA certified “someday”, but we never did.

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Fast forward a few years, and I started dating my boyfriend Greyson. His family is super into SCUBA diving, and they have been taking dive vacations all over the world since he was a teenager. With my love for the water, he encouraged me to get certified, but with all my other hobbies, SCUBA certification got pushed to “someday” again.

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Photo by Kaya McAlister

This summer, however, “someday” came closer than I was expecting! Greyson’s parents planned a SCUBA diving trip to Raja Ampat, Indonesia, and they invited me along. This combined with the fact that my parents got me the SCUBA certification class and gear for my birthday meant that it was time to get certified. I signed up for the classroom, pool and open water dives needed for SCUBA certification through Sierra Diving Center based in Reno, Nevada. I bought my equipment there too, and Greyson and I spent a few afternoons practicing in the snorkel gear.

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Last week, I finished my open water dives. That means I’m officially open water SCUBA certified! I’ll write more about the process of getting certified, the class and the dives, so check back for more details. I’ll also write about getting ready for my (first!) SCUBA trip and (first!) trip to East Asia. I’m so excited, and I’m already counting down the days until March!

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Photo from Sierra Diving Center

Gnarbuckling on the South Yuba River

Have you ever heard of “gnarbuckling”? Probably not, as it’s a term that one of Greyson’s friends made up.

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To explain gnarbuckling, I have to explain a little bit about the South Yuba River. The Yuba River is a gorgeous and important waterway that drains about 1,400 square miles of the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and is a major tributary of the Feather River. It’s made of three forks, and the longest and southernmost fork is my favorite.

The South Yuba originates on Donner Pass (near where I live) and travels 65 miles before it joins with the others. The South Yuba (one of three forks) winds through Nevada County and is fairly close to Nevada City running along side or under Highway 49 in many spots. Like a lot of the areas along Highway 49, the South Yuba was heavily impacted by mining. During the California gold rush and for years afterwards, the area was mined using hydraulic mining. Though the area hasn’t been mined that way since the 1880s, the blasting left behind a unique river morphology that’s fun to explore.

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Map to 49 Crossing/Double Bridges from Nevada City. Click here for the map.

Now, for gnarbuckling. The best place to access the South Yuba for gnarbuckling is at an access spot known as the 49 Crossing or Double Bridges. This is a popular spot in the summer, so you may have to park a ways away if you get there much after 9 am. The South Yuba is littered with huge granite boulders, smoothed by years of water rushing by, and the way they’re situated in the river means that there are dozens of great swimming holes in the river.

While there is often trail or parking access to some of the more popular swimming holes, meaning that you could fairly easily hike or drive there, getting to the swimming hole isn’t the point of gnarbuckling.

DCIM100GOPRO

When you’re gnarbuckling, you travel upstream, while remaining in the water as much as possible. This means you’ll be wading through rushing water, climbing over rocks, swimming through deeper sections, diving under low hanging boulders, scrambling up rocky slopes, dodging nude hippies, hoisting yourself and your friends over small rapids, and falling – a lot! Basically, the journey is the point of the adventure.

Greyson and I headed up to Nevada City on Saturday and spent the afternoon gnarbuckling. I didn’t bring my garmin, but we estimated we were traveling about 1 mile an hour (or slower!). We had a great time, and we even brought Greyson’s GoPro, taking some not-so-great pictures and a few videos. Greyson made a short instagram video of us jumping off a small cliff into a deep pool of clear water. Click here to watch it, and here is a super awesome-quality still frame:

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We excited to finally make it to the Yuba this year! With the drought, we were worried that the river would be lower, slower and grosser than usual. Despite our worries, the South Yuba was still a lot of fun. It was pretty crowded, even as we made our way upstream away from the parking area, there was definitely more green slime on the rocks, and the river seemed about a foot lower than usual. It was still a great time, and the water was still cool and refreshing in the 90 degree plus heat! One of the best things about the Yuba is its clear water, and, as usual, the water was clear enough to see the schools of fish swimming around. And clear enough to attempt some underwater selfies.

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Someone isn’t very good at #underwaterselfies

When you’re gnarbuckling, you might have a final destination in mind, or you can just turn around whenever. It’s not usually a point-to-point activity, because going downstream is the really fun part! When the water level is higher, the Yuba has a ton of fun “water slides” running over the smooth granite. The water was a little low for that last weekend, but we did float feet first through some fun mini-rapids. We ended up spending 3+ hours in the river, so by the time we made it back down to where the car was parked, our arms were toast!

Gnarbuckling on the South Yuba River // tahoefabulous.com

A celebratory beverage and meal is another key part of gnarbuckling, so we headed to Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. in downtown Nevada City. I’ve been there a few times now, and the generously-poured beers were as good as usual. I love visiting Nevada City – it’s got a bunch of great restaurantsfun cultural activities and amazing outdoor opportunities – including the best place in the world for gnarbuckling!