Spring Mountain Biking in the Sierra

It’s definitely the shoulder season here in Truckee. The sky is gray, the snow piles are dirty, and I am ready for summer! Unfortunately, we have a ways to go, and I need to find ways to enjoy the spring. Luckily, spring means the start of mountain biking season here in the Sierra. Spring riding is a little different than biking in the summer or the fall, but it can be a bunch of sloppy fun.

Spring Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com

Trails
Depending on how much snow we get in the winter, the lower trails in Truckee and Tahoe start melting out in March and April. The earliest rideable trails in Truckee are usually Emigrant, Jackass, and Elizabethtown Meadows. In South Lake Tahoe, Powerlines, Railroad and Lower Corral in the Corral Trail Network are among the first to be rideable.

In a winter like this, the Tahoe and Truckee trails might not be rideable until summer. In that case, I drop down into the foothills to ride. My favorite spring foothills trails are Hoot Trail in Nevada City and Foresthill Divide and the Culvert/Confluence Loop in Auburn.

Trail Conditions
The biggest question about spring mountain biking is – can you ride your mountain bike when it’s been wet and raining? The answer – it depends! There are regions where the very idea of riding in the wet makes responsible mountain bikers recoil in horror and others where, if you didn’t ride in the wet, you would never ride at all.

If a trail is well designed and is mainly composed of sandy and rocky soil and drains well, it is probably safe to ride when it’s been raining. If a trail has clay type soil and the water tends to puddle in the flat spots and/or create erosion ruts, it’s not safe to ride. If you’re riding a trail and leaving tire tracks for long stretches, you shouldn’t be riding. It sucks, but if the spring conditions are such that you are damaging the trail, you should bail on the ride.

Riding on wet trails increases erosion ruts, damages jumps, berms and other features, and contributes to trail widening and reroutes. When you’re unsure if a trail is rideable due to conditions, do some research ahead of driving out to the trail. Local trail groups, like TAMBA in Tahoe or BONC in Nevada City often have up to date trail conditions reports on their websites. Regional facebook groups, like Tahoe Mountain Biking Meetup, are another great source for finding trails that are rideable. Finally, the location specific forums on websites like MTBR often have the most up to date trail data, though be sure to take personal recommendations with a grain of salt, and be ready to turn around if the trail is unrideable.

Spring Riding Gear // tahoefabulous.com

Gear
For wetter spring riding, it’s nice to have some specific gear. Layers are always good, and I decide what I want based on what the weather is actually doing. If it’s going to be actively raining, I’ll wear an actual rain coat. I have a Patagonia Torrentshell, which is a very waterproof coat. It’s not very stretchy or packable, though, and I’m interested in trying out something like the Patagonia Stretch Rainshadow which looks to be smaller, lighter, and more comfortable than a typical raincoat. When there’s no rain in the forecast, I just got a new softshell, the Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody, which I think will be perfect. If there’s a slight chance of rain, I’ll often throw my Patagonia Houdini Jacket into my hydration pack. It’s tiny enough that I don’t even notice, and while not fully waterproof, it will help if I get caught in the rain. On the bottom, I like to wear full length chamois tights if it’s cold or particularly muddy. I have the Pearl iZUMi Escape Sugar Thermal, which I like, though I wish they were a little longer. If anyone knows any good full length tight chamois that fit someone 5’11” – let me know! Greyson likes to wear water resistant baggy shorts over his chamois, but I haven’t found any water resistant women’s baggies, unfortunately. When it’s grey, cloudy, and wet, I’ll switch to clear lenses in my Smith Squad MTB Goggles. I also carry sunglasses with me in case the sun comes out, because I cannot function when it’s too bright.

A couple of other things that are nice to have during the spring is a foldable saw, like the SILKY F-180, which is useful if you encounter trees downed across the trail and something like the Nemo Helio Portable Pressure Shower, which is great for rinsing mud off your bike.

Trail Work // tahoefabulous.com

Trail Work
Trail work is a great way to give back, and spring is a time where a lot of trail work gets done. After the snow melts out, there’s often debris and garbage all over the trails. Trails are rutted out and features have been damaged. Additionally, trail builders might be cutting new trails. Some trail groups and governmental agencies might have a trail builder on staff, but all rely heavily on volunteers to get trails built, repaired, and maintained.

While anybody can just go out and pick up litter from a trailhead, trail building requires some knowledge and training, and the best way to get that is to volunteer with groups that organize trail days. Beyond the warm glow of giving back, volunteering on trails often has other benefits – you’ll almost always get at least a beer. It’s also a great way to meet other riders in your area, and once, Greyson and I even got a free shuttle to the top of Mills Peak! Here are some great trails groups in the Sierra that host trail days:

I’m hoping to get out this weekend and do some riding, but the weather that’s coming doesn’t make that likely. I guess I’ll deal with a couple more weeks of winter.

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!

Spring Mountain Biking in Reno

While another snowstorm is barreling towards Truckee (urgghhh, I’m ready for Spring!), I’m dreaming about mountain biking. While we’re still buried in snow in the higher elevations, the Sierra foothills will be ready for riding soon. Last year, when we had a pretty mild winter, Greyson and I found a couple of fun loops to do less than an hour away at Peavine Mountain in Reno, Nevada.

Mountain Biking Peavine Mountain // tahoefabulous.com

The first route we did was a lollipop that involved a chunky climb up and a smooth ride down. It was fun, but for my style of riding I think I’d ride it the other way next time. We covered about 7.2 miles and ~880 feet of elevation in a moving time of 1:17.

Peavine Mountain // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava
Peavine Mountain // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

For this loop, we parked off of Kings Row (which is a residential neighborhood, so be polite if you park here!) and hopped on to Halo Trail and started climbing. We didn’t take the full Halo Trail, but took the left fork on to Curt’s Cut Off at about 3.8 miles. At about 4 miles, Curt’s dead ends into another branch of Halo Trail, turn left, and the climbing is over at that point! At about 4.2 miles, we took the left fork on to Bacon Strip for another short, flat section. Coming from Truckee, I love riding at Peavine because of the wide open views!

Peavine Mountain // tahoefabulous.com

At about 4.4 miles, we started on the real downhill section by taking the left fork on to Crispy Bacon. We descended just over 200 feet in almost 1.5 miles – the descent was pretty mellow. Honestly, it was a little on the boring side. I’d climb up it, if I did this route again. The next section of the descent, starting at mile ~5.8 back on Halo Trail, does get a little spicy! This part of the trail is rocky and little exposed, which to me seems a lot more noticeable on the downhill, versus when we were climbing up. This segment is about 1.4 miles and drops ~380 feet. With that, we got back to the car.

Peavine Mountain // tahoefabulous.com

On the next loop we did, we took a group with a wide variety of mountain bike experience, from total beginners to experts. Everyone seemed to have a great time! It was easy enough that the beginners could handle everything, but had enough features of interest that the experts weren’t bored. This loop was about 5 miles with just under 1,000 feet of climbing, with a moving time of 48 minutes. This route was much smoother than the previous loop, with very little rocky or technical riding.

Peavine Mountain // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava
Peavine Mountain // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

This loop started from the East Keystone Trailhead, a paved parking area with lots of parking. We headed up Keystone Trail, a fairly mellow climb. We were looking for a left turn on to Total Recall at about mile 1.7, but we turned too early on to a fire road – don’t make that mistake. We figured it out pretty quickly, hopped back on Keystone, and found the correct left on to Total Recall pretty quickly. At about 2 miles, there’s a fork in the trail, and we went left on to Poedunk Trail. The first mile of Poedunk is the last bit of climbing on this route, rising up about 260 feet.

Peavine Mountain // tahoefabulous.com

At about mile 4, Poedunk forks, and we needed to make sure that we got back to the correct parking area. We stayed right and stayed on Poedunk (though you can also take the left fork on to P Drop Trail). When Poedunk ended about 0.1 miles later, we went left on Rancho Connector until it re-crossed P Drop at about 4.4 miles. We turned right on P Drop, which dead ends back on Keystone Canyon, at about mile 4.8. From there, it’s just a short bit back to the car. This was a fun loop, but next time I do it, I’ll just take the left fork onto P Drop, as it’s a simpler route back to the car.

Peavine Mountain // tahoefabulous.com

Peavine Mountain is an awesome trail network where you can build routes for all ability and fitness levels. I found it was pretty easy to navigate – many trails have signage, but not all. Having an app like Trailforks to help navigate was nice for that reason. Since Reno is such a quick drive from Truckee-Tahoe, the Peavine trails are a great option when the weather isn’t cooperating up higher. Some of the Peavine trails don’t drain especially well and get think, tire clogging, peanut butter type mud when it’s wet, so be sure to pay attention to the trail conditions. Greyson and I learned the hard way once, and had to turn back after less than a mile!

I’m excited to explore more of what Peavine Mountain has to offer this spring, and I plan to write up some more, longer routes.

These trails are on the Ancestral lands of the Washoe Peoples.

Garmin Forerunner 35 Review

Garmin Forerunner 35 Review // tahoefabulous.com

At the end of 2018, my formerly trusty, now almost 4 year old Garmin Forerunner 910xt started to be not-so-reliable. It only seemed to track my rides on about one out of three outings. So I started shopping for a new GPS watch.

I wanted something that could track steps and heart rate without a chest strap, and I wanted something that I could wear as a day to day watch. I didn’t need something to track open water or pool swims, because my 910xt is still functional enough for that. I also knew that I wanted to pay under $300. I knew I wanted to stick with Garmin (bad experience with a Fitbit), and pretty soon narrowed it down to a Garmin Forerunner 35 ($169.99) and the Garmin Forerunner 235 ($249.99). The main benefits of the 235 over the 35 is that the Forerunner 235 has a color LCD display and the ability to control the music on your smartphone. While those features would be nice, it was not worth the almost $100 price difference to me. Additionally, the Forerunner 35 has a slightly longer battery life. I bought my Garmin Forerunner 35 in mid-January, and I’ve worn it nearly every day since then. The Forerunner 35 is a smart watch, GPS tracker and activity tracker, and I think it does a good job at all of these.

Garmin Forerunner 35 Review // tahoefabulous.com
Photo from Garmin.com

GPS Tracker
The ability to GPS track my mountain bike rides was the number one reason I wanted a new GPS watch, so this is the most important function to me. So far, I’ve worn it on two mountain bike rides and ten or so days snowboarding. (The downside of buying it in winter).

It’s worked great on mountain bike rides! It’s so much lower profile than my 910xt, so I don’t worry about bashing it in a crash nearly as much. I’ve bumped it into a few things just in daily wear, and there hasn’t been a scratch on the glass screen. I haven’t crashed my bike while wearing it yet, though. It also finds the satellites very quickly, usually within a minute, which means I’m not waiting around at the trailhead waiting to connect. After a ride is complete, the ride connects with the Garmin Connect app over bluetooth and uploads as soon as I get somewhere with service. I have my Garmin Connect account connected to Strava, and my ride appears there within a few minutes. This is a huge improvement over my old 910xt, which needed to connect over the ANT stick on my computer.

The automatic activity choices on the Forerunner 35 are Run Outdoor, Run Indoor, Bike, Cardio, and Walk. Unfortunately, the Cardio activity doesn’t connect with GPS, so if I want to track a non-bike or run outdoor activity, like snowboarding, I have to select run and manually change the activity to snowboard on Garmin Connect and Strava after uploading. It’s not the biggest deal in the world, just a little annoying. I wish there was an “Other” cardio option that launched GPS tracker.

Activity Tracker
The Forerunner 35 is an awesome daily activity tracker. It tracks heart rate, calories burned, activity minutes, steps and tells me to move when I’ve been sitting too long. I was curious about the heart rate tracker, because I know the wrist sensors aren’t as good as the heart rate straps (though it’s way less annoying to me!). After I’d had the watch for a few weeks, I went to my annual physical, and my resting heart rate measured there was within one of what my Forerunner 35 said! Where it does seem to be a little off is when I’m working hard – I think it tends to measure my heart rate as lower than it is. The calorie burn is based on your heart rate and activity throughout the day as well as the height and weight you set up in the Garmin Connect profile.

Garmin Forerunner 35 Review // tahoefabulous.com

I think the step counter on the Forerunner 35 is much more accurate than the basic Fitbit I used to have, which seemed to overestimate the amount of steps. I also really like that the step goal adjusts based on how many steps you take, creating an achievable goal to strive for. The Forerunner 35 will tell you to “Move!” if I have been sitting too long, which is great for someone with a mostly office job, like me. The Forerunner 35 tracks sleep and active minutes per week, though I don’t pay a ton of attention to those features. If that’s something you’re interested in, you can keep track with this watch.

Smart Watch
When you are in range of your smart phone, you’ll get notifications on the screen of the watch over Bluetooth. I get text, call, and email notifications – basically anything I set up as push notifications on my phone. Since the screen isn’t huge (0.93″ x 0.93″), I don’t see a large portion of the message, but usually there’s enough to get the gist. It’s not the most advanced smart watch out there, but it functions well enough, and I like that the smallish screen size makes it more wearable.

Additionally, I LOVE that the main face is just a basic watch. I haven’t worn a watch since college, but it’s so nice to check the time by just glancing at my wrist instead of digging out my phone. I do wish that it was easier to control which notifications came through on the watch. There are some push notifications that I want to come through on my phone, but not on the watch, like social media alerts for work accounts and new podcast downloads. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet though.

The battery life for the watch has been great for me. It supposedly lasts for 13 hours on GPS mode and up to 9 days in smart watch mode. I’ve never run it all the way to dead, I usually charge it overnight every 5 or 6 days. It also charges pretty quickly, within a few hours.

Pros
– Accurate GPS tracking that locks on to satellite quickly
– Tracked activities transmit over bluetooth to smart phone
– Wrist heart rate monitor tracks activity and resting heart rate
– Low profile is great for mountain biking or other outdoor activities
– Works well as daily activity tracker
– Good battery life
– GREAT value for its price, especially compared to other GPS trackers

Cons
– Silicon band gets stinky with daily wear
– Push notifications not easily customizable
– No GPS “Other Cardio” option

All in all, the Garmin Forerunner 35 is a great value GPS watch, especially for mountain biking. The activity tracker and smart watch features work well and are beneficial additions. If you’re looking for a lower cost GPS watch, I highly recommend this model.

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!

Mountain Biking Culvert & Confluence in Auburn, CA

This weekend, Greyson and I checked out a couple of awesome, new to us mountain bike trails in the Auburn, California area. We’ve spent a fair amount of time on the Foresthill Divide Loop trail, which is a fairly easy cross country oriented trail, but had yet to ride any other trails in the area. Internet research led us to a loop featuring Culvert and Confluence trails, which looked awesome from the videos we’d seen (like this one by BKXC).

There are a few different ways you can ride these trails, including shuttling or starting at the top, but we decided to get the climb out of the way first. To access this trailhead, which is in the Auburn State Recreation Area, a little north east of the city of Auburn, you can put “Lake Clementine Trail Auburn” into Google Maps and follow the directions – here’s a link. We were there on a beautiful, sunny Sunday and we ended up having to park fairly far up on Old Foresthill Rd. Parking is $10 in the Auburn SRA, but if you have a California State Parks Pass, that covers your parking.

Clementine Trail // tahoefabulous.com
Foresthill Bridge from the trail.

We started by heading up Clementine Trail which is south east of the bathrooms/payment kiosk just across the little bridge. Clementine starts as a wide double track that parallels the American River that narrows down into single track. At about 0.2 miles in, there’s a Y in the trail, with the fork to the right heading up steeply. Don’t take it, stay left! (Greyson and I did – oops.) During the singletrack section, Clementine is pretty mellow, thought there are a few small rocky sections and optional drops and there’s some exposure on the narrow parts. The trail turns back into double track, and you’ll get to ride under the famous Foresthill Bridge, the highest bridge in California. After the bridge, the trail starts climbing steadily upward, gaining ~340 feet in about 1.1 miles.

Mountain Biking Auburn // tahoefabulous.com
Clementine Reservoir from the Clementine Rd. road climb.

Clementine Trail peters out on Clementine Road, which we continued climbing for another 540 feet of climbing. After about 1.4 miles on Clementine Road, there’s a gated trailhead to the right. Fuel Break Trail heads uphill on the right. Fuel Break is between a fire road and double track, and it’s the last bit of climbing on this route. The trail is about 0.7 miles and ~140 feet of climbing. It tops out at a gorgeous meadow, which is a perfect spot to stop for a snack, then heads downhill for about 0.1 mile.

Culvert Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Here we broke off from Fuel Break onto Culvert Trail on the left. Culvert is a fun flow trail, that drops through open oak woodlands. The trail is on the easier side of intermediate, with small berms and optional drops and jumps and a few small rock gardens. You’ll ride through a large culvert under Foresthill Road (hence the name), where you should probably take your sunglasses off, if you want to be able to see! Culvert Trail ends at Old Foresthill Rd. after about 1.2 miles at the sign for Mammoth Bar.

Confluence Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Head straight down the paved road, looking right for the Confluence Trail sign, which is at about 0.2 miles after the intersection. The Confluence Trail is definitely the most technical part of this loop but is completely rideable by a confident intermediate rider. There are some rocky sections and narrow parts with significant exposure – but everything is walkable if necessary. Early on, there was a short, slid out section that we needed to get off and walk across. The steep drop off into the American River Canyon is a little nerve wracking, but the incredible river views are the highlight of the route. Confluence is about 1.8 miles and ends back at the trailhead where we started. Including riding from where we were parked and a short, steep detour, this route was about 8.25 miles and 1,300 feet of climbing, which we did in two hours including breaks.

Culvert and Confluence Trails // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

I had a great time on the trails in this area, and I can’t wait to head back for more exploring. This area is pretty popular, not only with mountain bikers, but also with hikers and dog walkers, so be aware of your surroundings and practice good trail etiquette. One of the best things about riding in the Auburn area are the opportunities for awesome post ride beers. This time, we hit up Knee Deep Brewing Co., but Moonraker Brewing is another favorite.

Trail Stats
Location: American River Confluence, Auburn, CA
Mileage: ~7.25 miles
Elevation: ~1,100 feet
Difficulty: Intermediate
Nisenan Land

Mountain Biking Hoot Trail: Nevada City, CA

Hoot Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Check out my video of the Hoot Trail here!

If you’re looking for winter mountain biking, Hoot Trail is a fun little flow trail just outside of Nevada City, about an hour drive from Truckee or Sacramento. Nevada City is low enough that it stays snow free (most of the time), and it’s a great trail to ride in the winter when it’s too wet or snowy to ride elsewhere. It can get pretty hot and dusty in the summer, and I think November through April is the best time to ride for trail conditions and temperature. The best place to park for the Hoot Trail is at the parking lot by Harmony Ridge Market, 5 miles east of Nevada City on the north side of Highway 20. Don’t park in the market’s lot, but there is parking available on either side.

From the parking, head east on Pioneer Trail, a wide double track. At about 0.7 miles, you’ll make a left onto a fire road and then an almost immediate right onto Hoot Trail. After <0.1 miles of pedaling, you’ll come to a trail marker showing that Hoot trail goes down to the left. Drop in here, and get ready to have fun. Hoot is a true flow trail, there’s not any rocky or rooty sections, but there are jumps, berms, and whoops. None of the jumps are mandatory – the tables are rollable and the doubles have ride arounds. This is a great trail to practice jumping, as a lot of the jumps have clear, visible landings. Plus, if there’s been rain recently, the dirt is as close to hero dirt as we get in the Sierra, so I love getting a little faster and rowdier than normal. The trail is definitely doable by beginners, and intermediate and advanced riders can challenge themselves by riding the optional features. It’s a good trail to take a mixed ability level group on, for sure.
Hoot Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Hoot Trail // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

The Hoot Trail itself is only about 1 mile, so you’ll get dumped out on Rock Creek Road at about mile 2. Turn left on the road and start heading uphill. The road climb is never too steep, and is nicely shaded for warm days. At mile ~3.7 take a sharp and steep left onto a trail. This short and steep section is the worst part of the climb, but it flattens out a lot after less than 0.1 miles. You’ll ride this single track for ~0.3 miles, with one more short punchy climb that ends back in the parking area. One lap is ~4 miles and ~450 feet of climbing. Hoot Trail really feels like a lot of down for the amount of climbing, which is one of the things I love about it, and you can lap it pretty easily. See an example Strava route here.

Hoot Trail // tahoefabulous.com

There are several other trails you can access from this parking lot, like Scotts Flat across the street and Dascomb and Zipper further east on Pioneer. I rode Scotts Flat a couple of years ago, and there’s been improvements since then. I’ve never ridden Dascomb or Zipper, but they’re on my list! Another awesome thing about Hoot is that there’s an awesome restaurant/brewery, Ol’ Republic Brewery literally across the street (Check out my Ol’ Republic Taphouse review). I recommend the vegetarian biscuits & gravy, challah bread french toast, Cosmic Fly By IPA, and Dead Canary Lager.

Gift Guide for Women Mountain Bikers

Mountain Bike Gift Guide // tahoefabulous.com

If you’re looking for something to give the lady mountain biker in your life, I have a few recommendations (Though most of these gifts are unisex, to be fair). These are all things I own and use or would be excited to get as a gift, and I’ve the prices range from cheap stocking stuffers to pricey dream gifts, so there’s something for every budget.

Stocking Stuffers for Lady Mountain Bikers // tahoefabulous.com

Stocking Stuffers
Back up tubes: even if she’s got a tubeless set up, back up tubes are always important, and be sure to get the right size – 29er or 27.5.
Tubeless Repair Kit: speaking of flat tires, a tubeless repair kit will eventually come in handy. I have the Genuine Innovations Tubeless Tackle Kit ($20).
Portable Tire Pump: Yet another in the flat tire series, a portable pump is critical. There are frame mounted pumps like the Master Blaster by Topeak ($22) or a mini pump like this Planet Bike one ($10) to go in a pack.
Good Socks: Socks can be a great gift, especially with the rate most bikers wear theirs out. SmartWool is my favorite brand of cycling socks, and they come in a variety of thicknesses (Ultra Light to heavy) and height (micro to tall) and patterns ($10 – $20).
Gloves: I like to have at least three pairs of gloves, both so I can be sure to find at least one matching pair and so they get disgusting more slowly. I’m still a big fan of the Giro LA DND ($25) and Giro Xena ($20 – $35).
Anti Chafing Stuff: All bikers know the benefit of chamois cream, but did you know that they make Chamois Butt’r Her’ ($14)? I honestly don’t know how it’s different, and I’ve used regular chamois cream without my lady parts falling off. What’s important is some kind of chafing protection. I also like to have a stick of Body Glide to use to prevent sports bra chafing, as the stick is less slimy than chamois cream.
Grips: It’s always nice to have an extra set of grips on hand, since they wear out fairly often. I’m a recent convert to foam grips, specifically Odi F-1 Float grips , but if foam isn’t her thing, I’m a long time user of Ergon GA2 grips ($20)

Mid Range Gifts for Lady Mountain Bikers // tahoefabulous.com
Mid-Range
Phone Case: I take my phone with me for safety (and selfies) and I like having a heavy duty phone case to protect my phone during crashes or precipitation. I’ve had the Lifeproof Nuud case on my last couple of phones and have been super happy with it. I like that the screen is bare, and my phone has survived several large drops and heavy precipitation situations. ($99)
Sunglasses: I generally like my sunglasses super dark, but I’m coming around to rose lenses for riding in filtered forest light. I have the Suncloud Cookie , but lots of the Suncloud glasses come with a rose lens ($50).
Goggles: For dusty or wet days, I break out my Smith Squad MTB goggles ($48). I actually have two pairs, one with clear lenses and a pair with darker lenses so I don’t even have to bother switching lenses (#lazy). These are the most comfortable goggles I’ve ever had – I’ve climbed in them on warm days and they haven’t been too uncomfortable. They do fog up a little on really wet days, but I think some fogging is unavoidable in any goggles.
Tires: Another product we go through quickly is tires, and nice mountain mtb tires are pricey! Classic tire choices include Maxxis Minion DHR and DHF ($80+). For a cheaper but still good option, I am switching to the Specialized Butcher ($70) and Purgatory ($60).
Hydration Pack: I have written several times about my love for the CamelBak Solstice ($100), and I still highly recommend it for a do-it-all hydration pack. This year, though, I’m asking for a smaller pack to wear on shorter rides, specifically the Dakine Hot Laps 2L Hip Pack ($40). This pack comes highly recommended for its ability to stay put and to hold a surprising amount of gear.

Splurge Gifts for Lady Mountain Bikers // tahoefabulous.com
Splurges
Helmet: The most important piece of mountain bike gear is your helmet, and having a well fitting, comfortable one can literally mean the difference between life and death. I’m a huge fan of the Bell Super R series series, which have a detachable chin bar and are light, well ventilated, and comfortable to wear ($160-$230). While you should always replace your helmet after a serious crash, the protection wears down on its own after years of use. My awesome Giro Feather is 5+ years old at this point, and I’m looking to replace it. While Giro doesn’t make the Feather anymore, the Giro Cartelle ($100) and the Giro Montara ($150) are equivalent designs.
Dropper Post: One of the best value improvements you can make to your bike is adding a dropper post, so it would be an amazing gift to receive! I already have a 150 mm dropper, but I’m looking to get a longer one the 175 mm version of the KS LEV that I have and am very happy with performance wise. Be sure that whatever dropper post you’re gifting will fit her bike!
Wind Shell: Most of the rides in the Tahoe area seem to be a long, sweaty climb to the top, then a rowdy and cold ride to the bottom. Because of this, a packable windproof shell is essential. I love my Patagonia Houdini jacket, which packs into its own chest pocket and easily fits in a hydration pack. It’s also great for hiking and trail running.
Floor Pump: Once you’ve got a tubeless tire set up, you need something with more power than your typical floor pump. I have and use the Bontrager Flash, and it’s worth the steep price tag ($120).
Wrist GPS: Since I love data and tracking, some kind of GPS tracker is essential to me. I have a big, bulky multi-sport capable Garmin Forerunner 910 (which has been great), but if I was buying a new one today, I’d get the Garmin Forerunner 235 ($235), which has a built in heart rate monitor and smart watch features in addition to its workout tracking capabilities.
Bike Skills Clinic: The number one thing that I want this year is to attend a women’s mountain bike skills clinic. I’ve heard amazing things about Liv’s Ladies Allride Clinic in Bend, which is what I’m leaning towards, but there are others all over the country, from major mountain bike destinations to small clinics on your local trails. Some other women-only clinics and camps that come highly recommended are VIDA MTB, Trek Dirt Series, and Roam Retreats.

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!

Five Beginner Mountain Bike Trails in Tahoe-Truckee

Fall is definitely my favorite time to mountain bike in the Tahoe-Truckee area, and it’s great time to check out the sport and/or expand your skills if you’re new to it. The weather is cooler, wildfire smoke is out of the sky, the trails have been refreshed by fall precipitation, and the popular routes aren’t crowded with summer traffic. Mountain biking can be an intimidating sport to start, and it can especially be hard to find fun routes that are beginner-friendly and aren’t just a gravel road. If you’re new to riding or visiting the Tahoe-Truckee area, I’d recommend downloading the Trailforks or MTB Project app on your phone. Most of these trails are located in networks with multiple options, so some navigation help can be useful.

Beginner Mountain Bike Rides Tahoe // tahoefabulous.com

Here are some of my favorite trails that are suitable for newer riders.

1. Powerline Trail, South Lake Tahoe, California
Powerline Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Powerline was the first trail that I rode when I moved to Tahoe eight years ago! It’s a great introduction to the trails of South Lake Tahoe. The trail is pretty smooth, with some small rocks and roots but very rideable. There is enough climbing that you’ll get a workout, and there are great views. This trail can get a little sandy from decomposed granite in the late summer or dry fall weather. Click here to read my detailed trail report about Powerline Trail.

2. Elizabethtown Meadow Trail, Truckee, California
Elizabethtown Meadows Trail // tahoefabulous.com

The Elizabethtown Meadow Trail is a fairly new and new-to-me trail that I rode for the first time last weekend. This is a great trail to ride in the fall – the aspens were turning yellow and it was beautiful! Trailforks calls this trail intermediate, but I think it’s very doable by a beginner. It’s rocky, but the rocks are small so it feels more bumpy than technical. The actual trail is is about 2.25 miles one direction, but it does connect with other trails and fire roads in the Martis Creek area. I haven’t ridden any of those yet, so I can’t vouch for their difficulty though. Click here to see my Strava route.

3. Railroad Grade Trail, South Lake Tahoe, California
Railroad Grade Trail is a short, fun trail that can be used as a connector to other trails, or ridden as an out and back for a short and sweet ride. Click here to read my description of Railroad Grade, including how to get there and other, more challenging trails you can connect to.

4. Emigrant Trail, Truckee, California


The Emigrant Trail goes 9 ish miles from Highway 89 to Stampede Reservoir. It’s one of the flatter trails in the Truckee area, but there are plenty of small climbs and descents to get a workout. The trail surface is fairly smooth, with some small rocky or rooty sections, but no drops or jumps. Since this is an out and back trail, you can just ride for as long as you want and turn around at any time. To get to this trail, I’d recommend parking at the parking area for Donner Camp Historic Trail on the east side of Highway 89, here. From the parking lot, get on what Trailforks calls Emigrant Alternate and head north. At about mile 2.4, you’ll hit a sharp fork, you’ll want to follow the uphill one (the downhill will take you down to Prosser Creek, which is sometimes crossable, but frequently not). At mile 2.5, you’ll hit Highway 89. Turn right on 89 to go north. Cars go by pretty fast, but you’re only going to be on the road for 0.1 miles to cross Prosser Creek. Right after the bridge, you’ll see Emigrant Trail on the right. Jump back on the road and ride for as long as you want. Click here for my Strava route.

5. The Flume Trail, Incline Village, Nevada
Flume Trail // tahoefabulous.com

The Flume Trail (sometimes called the Marlette Flume) is hands-down the most iconic trail in the Tahoe area that is accessible to beginner riders. You’ll want to be in decent cardiovascular shape and not scared of heights, but all of the riding is doable by a new rider – any unrideable feature is clearly signed ahead with a warning to get off your bike. Since this trail tops out above 7,800 feet, it is one of the first to get snowed out, so check conditions before you go. I highly recommend this trail to visitors; the views can’t be beat. Click here to read my detailed trail report of the Flume Trail, including how to arrange a self shuttle.

Corral Trail Network, South Lake Tahoe, California

Corral Trail Network // tahoefabulous.com

Maybe I’m biased, but I think the Corral Trail Network in South Lake Tahoe, California is one of the best backyard trail networks in the world. When I lived in South Lake, I rode these trails at least once a week during mountain bike season. Now that I’m up in Truckee, I try to make it down at least once or twice a year to ride my old favorites. TAMBA keeps expanding the trail opportunities, and I haven’t ridden everything there is to ride, but here are a few of my favorite routes.

Connector/Sidewinder/Lower Corral
Connector Sidewinder Corral Map // tahoefabulous.com

Connector Sidewinder Corral Map // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

You can access this route from the main Corral Trail Network parking lot, on Fountain Place Rd., which is just off Oneidas St. outside of Meyers. Click here for a Google Map link to the first gate and parking area. During the spring and late fall, this gate might be closed but you can usually drive another mile up the road to a large gravel parking area. (Note: as of summer/fall 2018, the road is closed and you must ride up. Fountain Place Rd. should hopefully be open again by summer 2019).

This can be ridden as a shuttled ride, but if not, get ready to climb! Depending where along Fountain Place Road you park, you’ll climb about 1,500 feet of pavement in 3.4 miles. This is a killer climb (which is why I usually shuttle!), but I feel so accomplished when I actually do it. A little before the end of the pavement, look for the Armstrong Connector sign on the left.
Armstrong Connector Trail // tahoefabulous.com
Here, you’ll get on Armstrong Connector, a techy trail with gorgeous views. Trailforks rates this trail as intermediate, and I think it’s definitely on the hard side of intermediate, with a few slabby technical sections that I still end up walking. Connector is about two miles, with 750 feet of descent and just a little bit of climbing.
Armstrong Connector // tahoefabulous.com
Connector pops out at the parking area you passed on the pavement climb. From here, get on the trail and go about a tenth of a mile and turn right to get on Sidewinder. Sidewinder is full of tight switchbacks, but they’re all very rideable. There are a few natural features – rocky and rooty sections. Everything is rollable and the harder sections tend to have easier and harder lines – it’s a great trail to progress on. There is one rocky, steep section that it took me years to be able to ride. You really have to pick your correct line on it (ask me about my huge bruise from a recent crash that came from a bad line choice there!), but it’s a good challenge. Sidewinder is ~1 mile and drops about 290 feet.

Sidewinder merges with Lower Corral, and the entry in to this trail can get really beat up and choppy – it was when we rode it earlier this month. Lower Corral starts out with a bit of a false flat, but pretty quickly drops into a really fun jump and berm line that was entirely rebuilt by TAMBA a few years ago. The jumps are all tabletops, so they’re rollable and there are go arounds on the bigger ones. It can get pretty sandy though, so watch your speed and be ready for deep sandy spots. The trail is about 1.2 miles with 400 feet of descent, and pops out on Power Line Road, and old fire road/double track. Turn left on Power Line to get back to the parking area. Click here to see my route on StravaTotal Route: ~11 miles, 1,680 feet of climbing and descending.

Railroad/Incense Cedar Uphill/Lower Corral
Railroad Cedar Corral // tahoefabulous.com

Railroad Cedar Corral // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

For this route, park at the end of Columbine Trail Road in South Lake Tahoe (click here for Google Maps link). This trail is in a neighborhood, so be sure to pay attention to no parking signs and be courteous! Railroad Grade Trail begins in where Columbine Trail road dead ends, and is well marked with a sign. This route starts with a nice warm up, rolling climb, Railroad Grade is a pretty easy trail – just be on the look out for a few bridges that seem to come out of nowhere. This trail is about 1.5 and 170 feet of climbing and takes you along Trout Creek.

Beautiful day for a morning ride! #railroadgrade

A post shared by Lynn (Tahoe Fabulous) (@tahoefabulous) on

Railroad Grade ends on Power Line Road, where you’ll turn left and start climbing. This climb can suck, especially when it gets sandy in the late summer. It’s over in less than a mile though! Just after a short, steep downhill around mile 2.3, look right for a trail – Incense Cedar. You’ll keep climbing, but it’s a much more pleasant, shaded single track climb. The trail is pretty beginner friendly – there are just a few natural rock features, but it’s mostly smooth singletrack. Incense Cedar is 1.8 miles and a little over 500 feet of climbing. It ends with a short downhill on to Lower Corral (see more detailed description above), where you’ll turn right and head downhill.
Lower Corral Trail // tahoefabulous.com
At the end of Corral, turn left onto Power Line, and make almost an immediate right back onto Railroad Grade. It’s pretty shortly after Corral, so don’t ride by, like I did in the map above, and then you’ ll follow Railroad Grade back to your car. Click here to see my route on Strava. Total Route ~7 miles and ~600 feet of climbing and descending.

Upper Corral/Cedar
Upper Corral Cedar Map // tahoefabulous.com

Upper Corral Cedar Map // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

This is the most challenging route of the three – there are some serious rock gardens and drops on this route and I definitely don’t ride everything! If you start from the Fountain Place parking area (details in the first route) you’ll climb up Fountain Place Road for two miles and 750 feet of elevation gain. (If you want to tack on a few miles and start with a more gentle climb, you can park at Columbine Trail Rd. and ride up Railroad Grade Trail). Stop at the paved parking area just past the cattle grate.
Corral Trailhead // tahoefabulous.com

From the parking lot, go about 0.1 miles and take the left fork, following the signs for Corral. Upper Corral is definitely advanced riding – there are long, technical rock gardens, stone steps, tricky corners, and large drops. It can also get reallly beat up, adding to the difficulty. There are features that I have to walk, but the technical stuff is all very visible and as long as you pay attention you’ll be able to stop in time to walk. I wouldn’t recommend this trail to anyone who isn’t a fairly strong intermediate rider, though, just because you’ll end up walking a ton of stuff. You’ll drop about 380 feet in just under a mile on Upper Corral, and I always feel like I’m dropping elevation really quickly on this section.

You’ll merge on to Lower Corral for just under a mile, then look to the right just after the bridge for the Incense Cedar turn off. Incense Cedar starts with a steep but smooth climb, but starts going downhill pretty quickly. Cedar is a fun trail to ride in this direction, mainly smooth and flowy, but with a few rocky and rooty sections. There are some fun whoops at the beginning, and it’s a good place to practice popping off small features. Like all South Lake trails, it can get sandy thought. While the trail is mostly downhill, there’s one punchy climb a little more than a mile in. The trail ends at Power Line Road, descending about 500 feet in ~1.8 miles. Turn left on Power Line to head back to your car. Be sure to save some energy for this one mile section – there are some steep climbs that can really sap your legs when it’s sandy in late summer. Click here for my route on StravaRoute Total ~6 miles, ~940 feet of climbing and descending.

Those are just a few of my favorite routes at the Corral Trail Network. There are lots more trails to ride here and in the South Lake Tahoe area, thanks to TAMBA. If you enjoy riding these trails, consider throwing a donation their way or help out on a trail building day.

These trails are on the Ancestral lands of the Washoe Peoples.

Mountain Biking Bend, Oregon: Funner & Tiddlywinks

If you’re following my Instagram, you might have seen that Greyson and I were in Oregon last week. We drove up from Truckee and my parents drove down from eastern Washington, and we met in the middle! Our first destination was Bend, Oregon, one of my favorite towns. It’s got climbing, hiking, river floating, amazing beer, and awesome restaurants. It’s also known as a popular mountain biking location, and Greyson and I have ridden there a couple times before, checking out a section of the Deschutes River Trail and riding a bit in the Phil’s Trail network. While I had fun riding on those trails, they didn’t seem “mountain bike destination” quality, and I wanted to check out the best of what Bend has to offer.

Mountain Biking Bend Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

From our research (internet based and talking to the super friendly staff at Crow’s Feet Commons), riding up Funner and down Tiddlywinks was the most highly recommended. The trailhead was pretty easy to find – we followed directions from MTB Project to the parking area at the green gate, located here, about 9 miles from downtown Bend.

Mountain Biking Bend // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

From the parking lot, we headed up on Storm King, which we only rode a small section of. After about 0.7 miles, the trail forked and we took a sharp right on to Funner. Funner has sections that are two way, and parts that are split into uphill and downhill only. Those are clearly marked, and it’s important to stay on the correct side, as people come bombing down the downhill sections, not expecting to see someone climbing up. The climb from the gate to the top of Funner (including the Storm King Section) is about 5 miles and 1,000 feet of climbing. It’s never super steep on the climb, but it can be sandy and leg sapping and there are very few breaks from the uphill grind. The trail is rated as intermediate, but it followed a trend I noticed in lots of the trails I’ve ridden in Bend – long, long stretches of easy riding, punctuated by very occasional volcanic rock gardens that are difficult-to-impossible for me to ride.

At mile 5, we hit the top of Funner and a parking lot. From here, the start of Upper Tiddlywinks isn’t super obvious but isn’t too hard to find. The first part of Tiddlywinks is a fun mix of bermed downhill stretches, short punchy climbs, and flat-ish rock gardens. That goes for about 1.1 miles, and then we started to climb again. We climbed about 200 feet in 0.8 miles, but at that point the climb felt pretty rough after so much time in the saddle climbing. Even though none of the climbing was very steep, 8 miles of riding that was mostly climbing or flat really wore me out!

With that, we were finally at the top and ready to descend Lower Tiddlywinks. The trail immediately launches into big, bermed corners, table top jumps and other man made features, with a few natural rock drops built in. I had a blast on the trail – it reminded me a lot of Freund Canyon in Leavenworth with the style of trail building. As for difficulty, all of the tabletops and rock features are rollable, though it’s a great trail for practicing getting some air. There are a few doubles and more complicated features, but everything has a very obvious ride around. We descended ~1,100 feet in just over four miles, and I had a smile on my face the whole time. At mile 12.3, we hit the intersection with Storm King and headed back to the car. Total, we rode just over 13 miles with almost 1,400 feet of climbing and a moving time of 2:12.

Mountain Biking Bend // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

I had a great time on Tiddlywinks and it was absolutely worth the climb up – this is the kind of riding I was hoping for in Bend. Additionally, the trails are very well maintained and very well marked. The only thing that was a little confusing to me at first were “Y” marker signs when the trail split. We figured out that this meant the fork was going to come back together soon, and often the “Y” sign delineated an easier and harder route for that short section. If you’re an intermediate or higher rider, I’d highly recommend this route. I think it would be doable for a more advanced beginner, but you’d have to walk quite a few sections and the downhill part might not be worth the climb to the top. If you’re more on the beginner side, I’d recommend Ben’s Trail in the Phil’s Network or the Deschutes River Trail for scenery.

Trail Stats
Location: Wanoga Trails, Bend, Oregon
Mileage: 13 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,390 feet
Difficulty: Intermediate
See my Strava route here.

Mountain Biking the Donner Lake Rim Trail from Castle Valley

If you’re looking for a challenging and scenic ride you can shuttle in the Truckee area that is still mostly doable by intermediate riders, I highly recommend the the  Donner Lake Rim Trail (DLRT) from Castle Valley.

Donner Lake Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com

To do this ride as a shuttle, leave one car parked at the Wendin Canyon Trailhead, located at the top of Donner Lake Road, in the dirt parking lot on the left. From there, get on the freeway westbound and take the exit for Boreal (Exit 176). Turn right off the freeway and you’ll be at the trailhead parking. This trailhead is access for the PCT and Hole in the Ground, so it can get busy on the weekends, but we’ve always found parking there, you just might have to park further down on the paved road.

Donner Lake Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com
via Strava
Donner Lake Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

Start up Castle Valley Road, a chunky fire road climb that’s a pretty nice warm up. A little more than 0.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll make a right turn on to what TrailForks calls Castle Valley East OHV trail. There should be a noticeable sign, pointing right directing you for DLRT access. There’s also a great view of Castle Peak to the right here.

Donner Lake Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com

After a short downhill, this trail climbs ~190 feet in just over 0.5 miles. There, the double track forks left for the PCT and right for the Castle Valley section of the DLRT. This trail feels very old school to me – it’s not in any way flowy, and there are lots of short steep sections, both up and down with tight, blind turns and rocky drops. It’s definitely the section that I still have to walk a fair amount of any trails I ride regularly. That said, it’s really fun, great for sessioning and skill building, and the views are expansive. It’s one of the best places to ride sustained granite in the Tahoe-Truckee area and while features may be difficult to clear successfully, they’re not exposed.

Donner Lake Rim Trail // tahoefabulous.com

After the rocky granite section, the DLRT goes back into the trees for the Summit Lake segment. This section I find slightly easier than the Castle Valley section, and tends more towards roots and narrow trees, though there are still rocky features. Summit Lake is really pretty, and a nice place to stop for a breather or a snack.

Summit Lake // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

Just past the lake, stay left at the fork and get on Summit Lake Road. To me, this section seems something between fire road and double track, but I have seen jeeps on it, so keep an eye out for vehicles. After about 0.7 miles, you’ll take a sudden (and steep) left back onto the DLRT for the Negro Canyon segment. This section is a fun, smooth downhill, though it can get rather overgrown in the spring. The single track ends and spits you out for a left turn onto a short fire road climb. After about 0.1 miles, you’ll be back on single track, a short descent on the Wendin/Drifter Connector. When the connector ends, you’ll be on the Wendin Way trail, one of my favorite downhill trails in Truckee. By late summer, it can get fairly dusty, but the trail is well built enough that it never gets unrideable. There are a few rock gardens and rollable drops, but pretty much everything can be tackled by a confident intermediate rider. There’s one combo of features that’s a blind corner into a rocky drop that’s closely followed by a pinch between two boulders and then another tight rocky switchback that took me a long time to get confident on, though! After a little more than a mile of downhill and almost 500 feet of descending, you’ll be back at the trailhead where your car is parked.

 

Wendin Canyon Trail Truckee // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

These trails, along with many others in the Truckee area are built and maintained by the Truckee Donner Land Trust. The TDLT is an awesome organization whose mission is “To preserve and protect scenic, historic and recreational lands with high natural resource values in the greater Truckee Donner region and manage recreational activities on these lands in a sustainable manner.” This means, they’re not just protecting the land, they’re actively creating recreation opportunities on their properties, including for mountain bikers. If you enjoy recreating on these trails, I encourage you to help out with a volunteer trail day or donate to the organization if you can. Without organizations dedicated to preserving lands, our favorite trails are at risk to be sold off or shut down, so I encourage everyone to help out, however they can!

Trail Stats 
Location: Truckee, California
Mileage: ~7.25 miles
Elevation: ~490 feet
Difficulty: Advanced Intermediate
Washoe Land