Coach Ben sez today is my day to ride around the lake. Sure, why not. . . . after all, the mileage is about right for a training ride for the upcoming Alta Alpina (72 miles+), and since the last time I wanted to do it, I ended up canceling (on the occasion of my 40th birthday, my best friend’s husband planned a surprise birthday party for her. . . . scheduled for my actual birthday. In any event, not an occasion I was about to miss, and the bicycle ride would just have to wait. Previously, I had ridden from Incline Village to Spooner Lake and back, and from South Lake Tahoe to Fallen Leaf Lake, and from Eagles Crest camping area to South Shore and back, but I’d never made the time to do the “world’s most beautiful metric century.” So here I am, a full 20 years (minus a month and 1/2) from my 40th birthday, and not only am I going to ride around the lake, i am going to ride around the lake by myself. . . . Coach Ben is going to meet me in Tahoe City for lunch.
The plan is for me to be on the road by 8:00 a.m., and that’s a good plan, because it promises to reach about 89 degrees Fahrenheit today. Thankfully, the winds of yesterday have also died, with predictions of 5-15 mph rather than the 35-45 mph gusts we experienced on the high bluffs and at the beaches during our hike. We have our customary oatmeal cooked together with banana slices, dried berries and almonds, and Ben takes a stab a brewing me a coffee with the grounds I’d brought from home and the one-cup drip filter we always bring for the camping portion of our trip to come next week. I gather up all the things i think i’ll need, as usual, pockets overfull: spare tube, patch kit, Nuun fizzy electrolyte tablets, Clif bars, Gu gels. Two water bottles (one w/ a fizzy), neck gaiter, fuzzy GPC arm warmers over my new Pippi Longstocking Smartwool long sleeve base layer, 2010 Grizzly Peak Century jersey, nylon Sheila Moon tropical print “arm coolers” in the pack pocket just in case, Tour de France skullcap, long-finger liner-gloves and regular bike gloves. All set. Out to the lobby for a quick chat, a glass of orange drink (turns into 2) and a hard-boiled egg for the pocket for on-the-road fuel.
8:13 and I am off!! As I am on Hwy 50, it’s just cool enough to stay warm in my jacket in the early summer morning chill, but soon I feel it will be time to shed that for the remainder of the ride. Before that, however, I am immediately aware that the “ride around the lake” has in fact very little to do with seeing the lake, and even as early as Zephyr Cove I begin to be convinced that somehow I am perhaps supposed to be on a different road… but I soldier on, because Coach basically said I’d follow the hwy until the turnoff to Incline Village, and that was also why I was getting that Hwy 50 stretch out of the way in the morning, in the earlier part of the ride…. the other reason being that if you go the opposite direction (clockwise around the lake), you are almost always likely to be battling strong headwinds the entire western side approaching North Shore. Still, it sure feels like I am on Hwy 50 for a long time and it’s very far from the lake, although the lake is visible through the forest now and again.
Also, today there is active construction going on over several sections of Hwy 50, so i’m weaving in between the safety cones until the squeeze point forces me back out into the single lane, and there are several traffic delays with flagmen and stop signs, long lines of motor vehicles . . . . and me on my bike, waiting our turn for the sign to be switched from STOP to SLOW. At some point, I have pulled over to ask one of the construction workers whether I am indeed on the right path, and he verifies that yes, i just stay on Hwy 50 until the left turn to Incline (Route 268), and gives me a big smile saying enjoy the ride… from the way he says it, and this was also true when I told the guy at the Stardust where I was heading this morning (and he was so glad I was going the counter-clockwise direction, in spite of what everyone thinks you’re supposed to do), it’s so comforting to be getting these validations from people who have done the ride themselves, possible many times over. . . . i’ve lucked out in running into the folks who share my passion for the healthy life (as opposed to the majority of folks who think i must have a screw loose in my skull to go out on 50 or 70 or 100 mile rides for the fun of it!!)
I reach the turn-off toward Incline Village, and am greeted by Ben, who has passed me a few minutes before in the car and is stopped on the other side of the road taking pictures with one hand and waving broad directional arrows with his other arm to make sure I don’t miss the turn. I also feel fortunate that there are no cars in my rear view mirror at all, nor when I turn my head to cross the two lanes of Hwy 50 into the left-turn lane for Hwy 238. A few cars/trucks approaching fast on the downhill in the opposite direction, so a full stop is necessary, then i’m off onto less speedy, lower-volume rods. The one thing I think, one I pass closer to town, is “way too much money!!” admiring the opulence of the lakefront and road-front custom homes. The other thing I’m thinking, now in about mile 25 of the ride, is hey, i’m more than 1/3 done! and the other thing i’m thinking is “i need to pee.”
Just past one of the parks (with visible public restrooms), I keep going, and then suddenly on the right-hand side of the road, in a little pocket parking lot, is Ben waving me down. Jeesh! It’s not quite a 1/3 into the ride and i’m not really ready to stop (except I still have to pee…). Well, it turns out that he has gotten in contact with our friends from Berkeley who are up in Tahoe staying at another friend’s 2nd home in Incline, and they have their house guests from Holland in tow. They are going to come out and meet us for lunch…. but it’s too early for that, yet Ben sez wait a few minutes, they’ll be here soon…. and soon turns into just about 5 minutes. There’s another fellow there at the parking lot, whom I’ve asked for directions to the nearest public restroom, and he’s suggested a Chevron station up on the hwy (89) or back along the way I’ve just come (238) in the parks… “or you could use the trees…” Well, our friends and our Dutch pals now arrive, and we decide on a tentative plan for lunch (to meet in Tahoe City in about 1 hour) and they investigate all the interesting non-Dutch bicycle parts on my road-bike (clip less pedals, for one thing, not so common with Dutch street bikes), and my GPC century jersey, especially the Grizzly Bear paw prints on the sleeves, are much admired! then i’m off… or almost, because, as we decide, the “trees” are my best and most immediate option for taking care of my personal needs, and besides, these are Dutch folks, so nobody cares! I can also tell I won’t have any more need for my jacket for the rest of the day, so I hand that off to Ben from it’s little storage place in my curly-shoe-string insta-satchel under my saddle. It’s still cool enough to keep the long sleeved SmartWool and the fuzzy arm warmers and be quite comfortable between the rolling ascents and descents along Hwy 89.
Around the corner is the intersection of 238 and Hwy 89. I soon pass all the familiar stretches, and as I approach the incline before Spooner Lake, am stalled at another construction zone, maybe 20 vehicles in front of me, another 20 behind by the time the signal man switches the sign. I wait for the majority of cars to pass, so I don’t have to be passed while i’m riding, then set out…. Ben and our friends and the Dutch party all pass in their respective vehicles, Ben gleefully shouting out “hey, get that bike off the road!” in mock road rage style… I wave to all three carloads as they pass, then continue on the climb up Spooner grade. This is the section that is more familiar to me from my past trips to Tahoe. I am feeling strong, and I am pleased with experiencing far less traffic on this road than I have ever remembered on a bicycle. Soon I am in Incline Village, passing the old casinos of North Shore (California and Nevada both represented, and soon after that I am coming up on mile 48 and arrive at Tahoe City. Midtown, I spot Ben’s car parked on the opposite side of the street, right next to the scenic overlook and the steps leading down to the beach and bike path. I take out my phone to call, and I can see that he has sent me a text…. unfortunately, I cannot read it in the glare, at least not with my sweaty eyeballs. But I decide to go over to where the car is parked and find a spot to relax in the shade and perhaps have better luck reading Ben’s message. I have just deciphered it “we are at Rosie’s Cafe” (across the street, back about 5 storefronts), so send him a message that I have just read his text and am heading ., and then I spot Ben waving at me from that general area, but on the same side of the street as I now am. He sez he has my lunch, and the Dutch folks are inside having a coffee in a dark little room which has made him depressed because he just wants to be out in the lovely sunshine.
But he has brought me my lunch, so we sit on the bench and dine on the leftover pizza from last night (delicious, even cold), the last of the fresh cherries from my trip to Berkeley Bowl, cranberries/almonds/raisins, and water. Ben checks my water bottles and is glad to find that although my electrolyte mixture is still full to the top, my plain water bottle is almost empty. He fills my water bottle with water he has brought from the condo and offers to carry my bike down to the “bike path” we can see at the bottom of the steps. By this time our friends and the Dutch have finished their coffees, so we all head down to the shoreline together. They are going to go to Emerald Bay or Sunnyside for lunch and we decide that since the pizza was early but filling, I might not need another lunch, so we make tentative plans to meet for dinner.
another pit stop in the porta-potties along the bike trail….which turns out to deadened in a small townhouse development before re-emerging back onto Hwy 89. In a few blocks, I see the intersection for 89 North (to Truckee) and 89 South (to Emerald Bay). My mind tells me one thing, but my legs go straight instead. Fortunately, I have the sense after a mile northbound to call Ben who (although only hearing about every 4th word) sets me straight, that yes, I want to go Southbound toward Emerald Bay. So, only about 2 miles of “bonus road” (could be worse.. the problem being I have also made so many trips between Truckee and Tahoe over the years it was somehow logical to just head in the direction of Truckee. I think the tipoff was the extreme denseness and “north” appearance of the forest lining the road and stretching out in front of me, just prior to making my phone call to Ben (oh, right, the other thing i forgot to mention is that i’m not only doing this ride for the first time, and solo, but Ben had forgotten his packet of maps and route sheets he’d printed out for me at home, and I had also failed to look any cue sheets up on the computer while in our Condo, so I’m basically flying blind and working off faulty memory of too many trips and too long ago.
As I make my right turn from Hwy 89 northbound to Hwy 89 west/southbound, I see our party of friends gathered on a bridge… it turns out they were watching the trout. I continue on, at first resisting the bike paths adjacent the highway, and then succumbing. On the one hand, it’s sort of nice to be away from the cars; on the other hand, the bike path is more winding, with unexpected ups and downs and curves where you don’t want them, and also occasional endings so to stay on the bike path it is necessary to cross the Hwy. And stop signs every block. Sheesh!!! After a few miles of this, I decide I’m happier on the highway.
I am soon on the Emerald Bay side of the lake and it is so very lovely. Soon it is time to climb from the lake up past Meek’s beach and camp; it’s a long haul up to Bliss, but nothing unbearable, nothing steep. My legs are definitely feeling the tightness in the hamstrings from yesterday’s hike, and my muscles feel noticeably weaker than in the flatlands at sea level of our home, and my standing pedaling times are shorter than normal, but overall it is very pleasant. In a plateau just before Bliss I pull over to the shade of a tree to remove my fleece arm warmers, then continue the climb.
Suddenly, I see Ben flagging me down. He just wants to check to see how i’m doing, and throughout the ride it has been great to have my own personal SAG wagon and cheerleading section. Even though he hasn’t been able to ride with me, I appreciate his participation in my ride as Coach, SAG, husband, friend. What a keeper!!! I think he’s also surprised at each juncture how fast i’ve reached each point, and that i’m feeling good and not so tired. He makes sure I have enough liquids, snacks, as I am now approaching the biggest climb of the day; I give him my fleece arm warmers and neck gaiter. Then we are on our way.
The next section is long but beautiful and rewarding. It just keeps going up and up, gradually, before reaching the top of the park and then the incredibly striking moraine over the top of the hill just past Inspiration Point (hey, they have one of those out here, too!!). Riding across the moraine, you are on a narrow, almost one-lane stretch with not quite sheer drops off each side and wrap-around views of the impossibly blue waters of Lake Tahoe below. Then there are a few sets of switchback turns before the final flat stretches on Hwy 89 to the circus atmosphere at Camp Richardson. Ben has stopped on the side of the road just before Camp Richardson to signal where i can return to South Shore mostly via bike path, so off we go our separate routes back to the condo. I divert from the path onto Eloise Street and zig zag through the quiet residential neighborhoods to where the path rejoins near the intersection of Hwy 89 and Hwy 50. I stay on the bike path for as long as I can tolerate, then cross Hwy 50 to ride the roadway again for the last 3 miles. It’s a long wait at the crosswalk light just past the Stardust (yeah, i should have acted like a real “cyclist” and just gotten into the left turn lane!!), and then the one short block to our unit in the back of the property.
Ben is impressed that i’ve made my anticipated return time (3:00 p.m.) even with all the extra stops and relatively long waits with our friends. I am pleased and wonder why I haven’t done this ride before? I am also aware that at no time did my bottom speed dip below about 4-4.5 mph. I check my bike computer for the final readout:
13.1 avg speed
34.8 mph max
5:35:47 saddle time
Great Ride! Fantastic, actually, and not very hard. Traffic-wise, almost like a dream. Road quality, excellent. Ride Around the Lake? (there’s a LAKE???). Oh yes, Virginia, yes indeed, just very well hidden for most of the ride. Word to the wise… just DO IT anyway, you won’t be sorry!! I’m only 20 years late for my “maiden voyage” and now plan to do it again.
Maybe even on my birthday!