Lake Tahoe Fly n’ Ride

Most of the friends I’ve made since moving to Washington in 2002, I’ve met through mountain biking. Unlike running, which I do alone, or my various indoor hobbies, mountain biking isn’t just something I do because it’s fun, or because it provides an endorphin-fueled workout in the wild. It’s also the bulk of my social life — and now it’s given me some Lake Tahoe mountain biking experience.

Whether it’s been races, camping trips, backcountry epics, or post-ride meals and beers, mountain biking has been a lot more fun thanks to the guys I ride with.

Sadly, I’ve had to watch from afar on too many occasions as life and a seasonal work schedule kept me pinned to my desk, continuing my writer’s life of self-imposed solitary refinement.

But not this time.

Despite having agents waiting on my manuscript, I said yes. Despite needing to spend the month of August (and beyond) working on-site at Nintendo, I said yes.

After all, it’s not everyday a friend invites you to join him at his family cabin in Lake Tahoe… and another friend offers to fly you there in his private plane.

Taking Flight

It was tight fitting getting two mountain bikes, duffel bags (and my laptop bag) into the plane, but the wheels come off easily. Larry keeps his plane, a Cessna 182, at a private airport just a few miles from my house.
There wasn’t much room left for the two of us, but Larry had the plane packed even tighter when he brought it to WA from Costa Rica.
Massive wildfires in Canada had choked our skies with impenetrable smoke for days in early August. The mighty Mt. Rainier was barely visible until we were right next to it.
We stopped for the night in a small town in eastern Oregon. The airstrip had a pilot’s lounge with bunk beds and a courtesy car that we could use to hit up a restaurant in town. It was clean, free, and convenient, and let us split our 6-hour flight time in half.
Thanks to the smoke and the general emptiness of eastern Oregon, there wasn’t much to look at outside the window. A perfect opportunity to commemorate the trip with a photo. I first met Larry years ago, when he was just visiting the region from Costa Rica. He asked online if anyone could show him the local trails and I was free that day. Who knew he’d be living here just a few years later!
The high desert of eastern Oregon… or perhaps Nevada. It all looked the same from the sky. I do remember this being the first road we had flown over in at least an hour.
Approaching South Lake Tahoe where we’d be spending the next four nights mountain biking. Lake Tahoe is bisected by the California/Nevada border. We were staying in California, at the south end of the lake, but would ride in both states, as the surrounding mountains are laced with hundreds of miles of trails.

Riding in the Sierra

After a short warm-up ride the day we arrived, we went out on what would be the toughest ride of the week, starting high atop the Tahoe Rim Trail near Tahoe Meadows and finishing at Chimney Beach. From left to right: Jim, me, Dave, Pete, and Larry. Jim flew down separately with his dog in his plane. The others drove separately.
Snow wasn’t frequent, but we did hit some on Day #2, on a north-facing slope above 8600 feet. Fortunately, it was short-lived and didn’t interfere with the fun of descending. Day #2 route data.
Marlette Lake in the foreground with the massive sea-like Lake Tahoe in the distance. This came right before a massive drop of elevation. Frankly, the Chimney Beach descent was a bit of a waste of elevation. Especially compared to the wonders of our Day #3 ride.
Back at the cabin, Kaia and Molly were well-rested and ready to come riding with us the next day. Springer Spaniels make excellent trail dogs, but it’s still a good idea to rest them on the longer days.
The only photo I took from Day #3’s ride along the Tahoe Rim Trail to Scott and Round Lakes. The final four miles of this ride were down a granite-strewn trail into Christmas Valley. A 3.7 mile, 1200 foot descent that was beyond a doubt the highlight of the week. The riding was too fast, too technical, and too much fun to stop and take any photos. Day #3 route data.
Back outside the cabin before we headed out for Day #4’s ride to Freel Saddle. Thanks to Dave’s truck and Pete’s Suby, we were able to make every ride a point-to-point. I wouldn’t call them a shuttle per se, as we still racked up several thousand feet of elevation gain each day, but it was certainly nice always finishing on a descent.
We regrouped atop Armstrong Pass after a really tough, technical climb. Here’s me having a little fun playing on the ramp-like slabs of granite that dotted the trail. From here, we climbed to 9,600 feet above sea level, the highest point we’d reach during the week. Not bad for five guys from sea level.
Pete on his way to Freel Saddle up above Armstrong Pass. It pays to have someone with local knowledge and Pete was an excellent guide, having been visiting the Tahoe region since he was a kid.
Further up the climb to Freel Saddle, Dave enjoys a small dip in the trail during the two-thousand-foot climb.
The view from Freel Saddle toward Lake Tahoe. To the right was the backside of Heavenly Ski Resort. Here, we rested and had a beer, and then embarked on a non-stop 11-mile freight-train of a descent back to Armstrong Pass and all the way through the Corral Trails to the jumpline, a trail we had ridden three times this week. Day #4 route data.

Heading Home

We left South Lake Tahoe at sunrise, with a flight plan that would take us further west, over the more scenic areas of western Oregon. We’d make a pit-stop for gas and breakfast in Bend, before continuing home. For those curious, flying a Cessna 182 from the Seattle area to Lake Tahoe isn’t cheap — fueling the plane cost $900 round-trip. But it was a lot faster — nearly 8 hours faster each way.
The skies had cleared a little while we were in Tahoe. Here’s us coming up on Oregon’s Mt. Hood, just south of the Columbia River.
Home sweet home! My house is just out of the frame, up the hill to the right. The waterfall is the ever-popular Snoqualmie Falls, featured in the cult-classic television series, Twin Peaks.

All in all, it was a fantastic week spent riding excellent trails with great people. Though the novelty of flying in a small aircraft certainly wears off long before the 5.5 hour journey was complete, it was certainly an experience to remember. I’m already looking forward to going back next year.

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Doug Walsh

Writer, Traveler

Doug Walsh is a writer, traveler, cyclist, and gamer who spent two years traveling from Seattle to Singapore, the long way around, by bicycle and sea. He's the author of the upcoming novel "Tailwinds Past Florence."

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About Us

We're Doug & Kristin Walsh, a couple of Washingtonians who love to travel, both abroad and in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. We set off to travel the world in 2014, primarily by bicycle. We're back home now, but the travel bug continues to be fed every chance we get.

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