Hitched a ride up from AG with Gordon and as we crested Donner Pass the building clouds opened up and dumped a torrential downpour on us. Might as well head over to Safeway and stock up for our 6 day stay in Jud’s Northstar condo. Aisles & checkouts were busy as we picked out our staples from the shelves including the freshly baked renaissance grain bread which has become a traditional nutrient. Still coming down as Gordon fetches the truck and I pile the bags in and for the short drive down 267 to the condo.
Pick up the keys without any hassle and settle in. Gordon is rattling off all the rides he wants to do out to the north around Graeagle and Packers Summit, I’m thinking I’ve just arrived and don’t want to get killed on our fist day here. Hot tub’s open so we head over and join the party. Some leave and then it’s two local kids and us. We start talking bike trails and the one kid starts yakking away. He is rather self opinionated and each time we ask for suggestions he counters with “well I’d be happy to guide you ($$) down that trail or give you some lessons”. To give him credit he does work as an instructor on the downhill slopes but we christian him “Hot Tub Guy” and on leaving he throws us a bone with “You should try YB, look it up on strava.com” as he takes off with his buddy.
After salmon & broccoli for dinner I scour strava.com and find an area just south of Truckee where there were numerous tracks all unknown to us and totally off the tourist radar. Find one that shows a fire road climb and then what looks like a nice single track back around to the beginning. “Gordon, shall we try this tomorrow as a warmup, should be nice after the rain today?” Sure, why not and a plan was born as I downloaded the track into my trusty GPS.
Jud is due in this afternoon as we head out for our mystery ride. GPS shows us the trailhead along the highway with numerous other vehicles with bike racks – must be in the right place. It smells wonderfully fresh as we peddle up the fireroads, stopping at every intersection to concur with GPS and after 1 hr 45 min and almost 2,000′ vertical feet later we see an obvious trail to our right and we pat ourselves on the back for finding the start so easily.
A powerbar later Gordon takes off like a wild stallion and I follow down the rough, rather gnarly trail. Rough stuff up here I think to myself until Gordon suddenly stops and asks “Are we on the right trail”? Wake up the GPS and WTF we are way off course down this steep gully to the valley below and NOT where wanted to be headed. We must have missed a secondary turnoff to the right but saw nothing as we hung on negotiating the rolling rock gardens. Shit, now what. Went a bit further and came out on a fire road going from left to right. Left will take us further way and right seems like it will intersect with where Mr GPS says we should be. We are totally defused as we grunt along the road grumbling that this is not what we came here for. Multiple checks with the GPS indicate we are at least closing the gap with our original trail and that we should soon see it cross the road.
Suddenly a map check says we’ve gone too far and passed the trail. Turn around and peel the sides for any indication of a trail. Overshoot again and we ditch the bikes while Gordon starts scouring the forest. “It’s over here” he says and I suddenly remember something Hot Tub Guy said about having to pick your bike up and hike it over to the start of the trail. The locals purposely build the trails this way to hide the endpoints from both tourists and the motorcycle crowd, that’s why we also missed the start near the beginning. Now we’re wiser and more dialed in to the local psyche as we rollercoast down the rest of the trail back to the truck.
Along the way Gordon stops because of a flat, I see this but in slowing down I take my eyes off the trail. Next minute my front wheel makes an instant stop against a rock and I am rotating over my handlebars, my elbow whacks a rock with an earsplitting crack. Oh shit, I think as I come to rest in a state of shock. I nurse my arm and there is no additional pain so I got lucky but wore elbow pads on all the other rides. Gordon fixes his flat as I sit & recover, get on my bike and hell man, rear tire is also flat. Maybe we both rode over the same thorn?
Jud arrives and over assembling his bike, dinner & sauna (hot tub was closed because of thunder and potential lightening strikes) we decide we have to go back up JB do it right.
We now know there is an upper JB and something called BB but again no idea where they start. Peddle up to turnoff we found the day before and pause while we decide. A local comes cruising up and we quiz him on the start for upper JB. Follow me he says and takes off. I grab my bike and dutifully follow realizing it was our only chance for success. I pant and gasp to keep him in sight as he slows at a turn off and starts running off directions to the start still further up and then disappears up the road. I’m reciting them to myself as Jud & Gordon roll in and we quickly play them out lest my brain cells defeat us. The gods are with us as we round a corner and catch sight of another lone rider carrying his bike through the trees. He looks startled, as if we caught him in the act but we’re happy to know we’re saved and on the right trail.
From then on it was whoops & hollers as we rode the mountain as as the forest elves envisioned only to pause when we had to hike a bike over a road. Now we had had a fantastic ride but the allure for next time was that there were yet more hidden sections than we knew nothing about.
Slow start to the day and we decide to let Gordon give us a tour down Martis Peak which is right across Hyw 267 from the condo. It is a short shuttle and we leave Jud’s rental at where we hope to exit along 267 and take the bikes up to the start in Gordon’s truck.
This is another unmapped area of dubious legality with the aurora of mystique and inner circle’ness to it. The buzz word is “Dirty Harry” ride but that in no way describes the labyrinth of single tracks and precipitous jumps that lay hidden in the forest. Get down to a meadow that we tour around and then head over to where we want to be. Then it got a bit complicated as fire roads did not appear as they should and granite out crops refused to appear. A friendly group of women clarified our location to us and proceeded to head straight out to their cars because the thunder was getting louder and they wanted beer. We turned around and headed back in looking for our elusive trail.
At each intersection there were three opinions and we simply kept going. Then there was a single track off to the right and by the time we hit the second one we were getting tired and said lets take it. After 50 feet of nice riding we find ourselves climbing our bikes around some mind blowing jumps that only the insane youth would try. The gods smiled and after the second such climb around the track sweetened out into some mind blowing swoops & dips as we grinned our way down to the finish. An hour later the thunder rolled, heavens opened up and the hot tub was closed for the afternoon.
Sunday was a slow day so for Monday’s ride we set our sights on Armstrong’s down in South Lake. Armstrong’s is actually a concatenation of rides that makes it into a loop for us. After much debating on alternative entry points we settled for what we knew best and strived for an early departure. Gordon needs a cable so we made a stop at the Incline Village bike shop and the chatty assistant updated us on some of the new trail work in the area, nice but slid our arrival at the 6,500′ trailhead closer to 11 am. Peddled off at 11:30 am and up the dreaded High Meadow road that climbs 1,400′ in 2.5 miles. Jud wanted to climb the singletrack that paralleled the road but we couldn’t find the start. Away further up the road as I trailed Jud & Gordon I saw a trail off to my left but resisted calling out to them lest we spend more time investigating a trail that might or might not go.
Top of the road comes in at 1hr and we transition to the new’ish Star Lake singletrack. Jud is leading and around a corner I hear him exclaim accompanied by metal on rock sounds. Being forewarned I round the corner and see Jud retrieving his bike as he attempted to hike-a-bike over a section of trail being worked on by a trail crew who saw the whole episode and must have wondered who these guys were, crashing while they weren’t even on their bikes!
Star Lake (9,200′) come and goes as we struggle on to the crest below Lyle Peak at 9,700′ and 8 miles. Finally the fun starts as we descend the slopes into the top of Armstrong’s proper which is a mindblowing rollercoaster through the forest. Intersects with a road and it continues on as Armstrong Connector on the other side and then a junction with a sign reading Sidewinder. The map shows it as a steep set of switchbacks but in reality is a superbly engineered banked turns that make you dizzy from the sheer number of them. The final section is Cedar Trail that spits us out on Powerline that we have to climb back to the truck.
High on adrenaline we are surprised it is 6 pm and eat dinner at The BBQ Pit on the way home. No one had energy for the next day so Tuesday was an off day and we lazed around, went shopping at Ace Hardware and had taco’s for lunch up at the village.
One of our favorites – Hole In The Ground – a nice 22 mile loop ride out of Soda Springs just over the pass. What more can I say, we were off to a reasonably early start, did not miss the turnoff at the old snow labs site and had a great ride around the course in record time. Weather was beautiful & clear with nice views of Castle Peak, a far cry from last years when the smoke from the fires blanketed the whole area. Went back to Jalisco’s for more lunch taco’s.
Each year gets better & better and we look forward to next times surprises.