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California to Colorado - Jfoto

California to Colorado

November 18, 2009  |  5 Comments  |  Leave a comment  |  More photos

Distance traveled: 23718 km

After rolling into the Lake Tahoe area from the I80 we headed south along the western shore to Tahoe City where we found Olympic Bike Shop. We went in to the shop to ask about the local trails. Our main focus for the area was biking so we wanted to get the most of our one day here. Peter at Olympic showed us where to ride and also gave us a great pointer on where to camp for free in Tahoe. Just south of Tahoe City is Blackwood Canyon road which leads to a free National Forest Campground.

Lake Tahoe is a very wealthy area and we were a bit worried about finding free camping. Thanks to Peter at Olympic Bike Shop for telling us about this free gem just south of Tahoe City.

Our one day in Lake Tahoe was dedicated to mountain biking. We wanted to ride the famous Tahoe Rim Trail which is a 165 miles long network of trails (half of which are open to mountain biking) that circles Lake Tahoe high along the mountain ridges that encompass the water. We started our morning with a short warm up trail near our campsite. After that we got in the bus and drove south along the lake through some of the small communities that wrap the shore complete with multi-million dollar homes. Lake Tahoe is divided from north to south between California and Nevada. You know when you’ve hit the Nevada state line because of all the casinos. Half way up the east side we took US50 east to Spooner Summit, one of the Tahoe Rim Trail trailheads. From here we got on the bikes and rode south along the rim. The trail was a gradual uphill grade for the most part. We rode for about two hours up to a viewpoint and then decided to head back to the car. The weather was starting to close in and we didn’t feel like getting stuck in a thunderstorm high up on a mountain. The downhill portion of the trail was amazing. It had just rained the day before so the trail was tacky and there wasn’t much dust. That night we headed back to the Blackwood Canyon campground for some much needed rest.

Riding back to the bus was the best part because it was almost all down hill.

The next morning we got up early knowing we had a long drive across the Nevada desert ahead of us. We stopped in at a local coffee shop with free wifi to check our email and do a bit of work before heading out of town. While we were having our coffee we looked outside and to our surprise it was snowing heavily. Just yesterday it was sunny and warm. The weather sure does change fast in the mountains. We got in the bus and headed north out of Tahoe towards Reno. To get to Reno you need to go over a 9000 foot mountain pass and we knew the snow was going to get worse the higher we climbed. At the summit I pulled the bus over to let some tailgaters pass me and, while waiting to pull back onto the highway a jeep passed me sliding sideways. A close call that made me worry about the drive down. Luckily the bus has mud/snow tires on it and although the descent into Reno was slow going we managed to crawl down the mountain okay. White knuckles behind us we were cruising I80 across the Nevada desert towards the mountain biking trails of Utah. That night we made it to the Utah border but decided to stay in a casino/truck stop parking lot on the Nevada side.

The weather turned from warm and sunny to cold and snowing in a matter of hours.

From Wendover he headed in to Utah and stopped at the famous Bonneville Speedway in the salt flats west of Great Salt Lake. Bonneville is where most of the world land speed records have been set and broken. The “track” is a 10 mile long stretch of the salt flats that is graded and smoothed each year by the BLM. After Bonneville we got back onto I80 heading east towards Salt Lake City and eventually the city of Vernal in northeastern Utah.

The Bonneville Salt Flats are 44000 acres in size and the track that the BLM plows each spring measures 10 miles in length.

We arrived in Vernal around 5pm and headed to the bike shop, Altitude Cycle, to get info on the local trails. We had heard about the trails in Vernal from an article in the June 2009 edition of Bike magazine. After talking to Joel in the shop and buying the local trail maps we headed out to McKoy Flats, one of the singletrack areas for an evening ride. That evening we headed back into town and found a KOA campground to stay at for the night.

Arriving in Vernal we headed straight for Altitude Cycle to ask where the trails were.

On our first full day in Vernal we woke up to a gorgeous sunny day. We noticed that some other mountain bikers from BC had rolled into the KOA late last night and were camped a few sites over. After breakfast we headed back to the McKoy Flats trailhead to get riding. The first trail we road was Jackalope which was a three mile climb to a fast three mile descent. Near the top of Jackalope a trail called Serpendipity splits off from it. Both trails meet up again half way down the mountain so Sue decided to take Serpendipity and I was going to take Jackalope and we were going to meet where the two trails crossed. Big mistake. Both of us missed the intersection where the trails meet because it was in a particularly fast section of the trail and we just didn’t see it. I got to the bottom and as soon as I saw the bus I realized I had missed the trail and was now picturing Sue waiting there for me and worried about where I was. Jackalope is a lot of work to pedal up backwards so after sitting by the car for a bit I decided to pedal back up the three mile ascent to find Sue. Meanwhile Sue did the same thing. She missed the intersection and was near the bottom as well. She decided to pedal back up Serpendipity to find me and when she finally got to the intersection decided to pedal down the lower portion of Jackalope instead. I on the other hand was now coming down Serpendipity looking for her. Long story short, we did end up finding each other back at the bus and vowed never to split up again on trails we didn’t know. At least we each got to ride both trails.

"Got Milk… and Cookies" was Troy's first trail at McKoy Flats.

That afternoon we met up with the guys from BC who were also at the McKoy Flats trails. They were just getting ready to do one more ride for the day on a trail called More Hoes (the garden variety). They asked us if we wanted to join them and I decided to take them up on the offer. Sue was worked after our Jackalope fiasco and decided to sit this one out. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was starting to set - probably not the best time to head out on a five mile trail up to the top of a butte and back. Another long story short, we ended up on top of the butte in the dark and had to descend steep rocky terrain using camping headlamps. Not the ideal situation but it made for some interesting riding. We managed to find our way back to the trailhead about an hour after sundown and headed into town for some much needed grub at a local award winning Mexican fast food place called Café Rio. After dinner we said goodbye to our BC friends and headed back to the McKoy Flats trailhead to camp for the night.

After a very windy and not so restful night out at the trailhead we got up, made breakfast and donned our biking gear for a sunny, windless ride. We rode the first half of Retail Sale, then Sue decided to head back to the bus and I continued on to Slippery When Wet before calling it a morning. By this point my brakes had so much air in them they weren’t working at all and riding wasn’t much fun anymore.

Hanging out at the McKoy Flats trailhead in Vernal after a long morning ride.

That afternoon we headed back into Vernal to Altitude Cycle to get my brakes looked at. The shop owner, Troy Lupcho, was there so we finally got to meet him. We chatted for a bit about riding in the area and about our trip. Then after looking at my brakes for about half a second he told me they were crap and that I should buy these ones, pointing to a shiny new set of Avid Elixirs on the shelf. My kid in a candy store side came out and after a brief glance at Sue for approval I said, “Sure, why not”. Troy also mentioned he was heading out to Cabin Boy, one of the trails north of town, for an afternoon ride and invited us along. Although we were planning on packing up and heading out that afternoon the opportunity to ride one of Vernal’s famed trails with the man who created it was irresistible. An hour later we were pulling up to the trailhead and getting ready for the ride.

Altitude Cycle owner Troy (right) and his mechanic Joel who is installing a stellar new set of Avid Elixir brakes on my bike.

A few minutes later our four BC friends showed up along with Kevin and Teena Christopherson who, along with Rich Etchberger, were the creators of Jas/Chrome Molly one of Vernal’s first and most famous trails. After gearing up we hit the trails. Sue decided to ride Jas with Kevin and Teena and I headed off with Troy and the BC folks. The trails were spectacular slices of flowy singletrack and after a few hours of riding we were back at the trailhead with ear to ear smiles (between the gasps for air). That evening we headed back to the KOA for much needed showers and sleep.

Sue with Kevin and Teena Christopherson who built one of Vernal's first trails Jas/Chrome-Molly.

On our last day in Vernal we decided to have a lazy day. We woke up in our KOA campsite, made breakfast and tidied up the bus for the tri p to our next destination, Fruita Colorado. We left the campground early afternoon. The guys we met from BC were out riding when we left so we wrote them a short “happy trails” note and headed out. On our way out of town we stopped by Altitude Cycles to get my new brake cables shortened and to say ciao. We said our goodbyes, thanked Troy, Joel and the rest of the folks for a great couple of days, then got in the bus and headed east out of town towards Fruita for some more mountain biking.

Posing for a photo op with Altitude Cycle owner and local trail builder Troy Lupcho. Troy - thanks for making Vernal a very memorable stop on our trip.

The drive to Fruita down Hwy 139 is scenic. We rolled into town around 5pm and went straight to the local bike shop to get the skinny on where to ride. I already had a good idea of what I wanted to ride from research I did before our trip. North of Fruita about four miles is the Bookcliffs where a small collection of fast flowy trails were built up by the locals. We drove up to the trailhead where there is a small, free BLM campground. To our surprise the campground was full – about 50000 people come to the Fruita trails each year. A sharp contrast from being the only people camped at the trailhead in Vernal. After searching in vain for a campsite we headed up a dirt access road used by BLM and oil rig workers and came across a great campsite away from the crowds and right near the western edge of the bike trails.

The view from our campsite near the Bookcliff trails in Fruita Colorado. The campground was full so we had to drive a ways up a dirt road to this spot instead and we're sure glad we did.

The next morning I got up early eager to hit the trails. Sue decided to have a relaxing morning at our campsite. Plus I was going to scope out the trails to see which ones Sue would like. I rode the three best trails (in my opinion) Zippety Do Da, Joe’s Ridge and Kessell Run before heading back to Zippety for a second round where I blew a tire. After repairing the tire I rode back to the bus where I told Sue about the trails and that she would love Kessell Run. Kessell Run is a fast and smooth trail with tons of bermed corners. That afternoon Sue and I rode Kessell together and then I went back for some more Zippety and Sue went down Kessell. Half way down the trail I ran into the same stupid rock I blew my tire on earlier in the day only this time I blew both tires. I only had one spare tube with me and was planning on walking out when a group of rides came by and offered me a spare. That was great until the valve on the spare tube I had decided to break putting me back down to one spare and walking out. Just then another group of riders came by and after seeing the gong show of flat tubes lying around me offered me another spare tube. Twenty minutes later and I was back on my bike and smiling again. When I finally got back to the bus I found Sue covered in dirt. On her last run down she crashed hard on a sandy berm and was pretty banged up. She’s getting too fast for her own good. We spent the next hour cleaning and bandaging her cuts and scrapes.

Sue shredding Kessell Run.

When Sue was all patched up I headed up the hill for one more run down Zippety. There was a bad storm blowing in but I though it was far enough away to get one more ride in. I was wrong. I ended up on top of a narrow ridge with strong winds and hale pounding me from the side. At one point I was almost blown off the edge. Not fun. Luckily the trail crosses the road half way down and Sue decided to drive the bus there to meet me. Man was I happy to see her. That evening we camped in the same spot out in the desert above Fruita.

Our campsite near the Bookcliff trails in Fruita Colorado.

Leaving Fruita we headed southwest back into Utah to the town of Moab. We took the scenic route to Moab along the Colorado River valley. Moab is well known for its world class mountain biking and is the gateway to some of Utah’s most spectacular national parks. But we’re going to leave all that for the next blog.

Highway 128 to Moab Utah follows the Colorado River valley.

Reader comments

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November 18, 2009
Awesome! What is a BLM?
November 18, 2009
BLM = Bureau of Land Management
Petra Liebmann
November 25, 2009
Hey Jeremy - tell me dont you miss work by now???? It looks like you are having way toooo much fun:) We are all jealous over here!
November 25, 2009
Hey Petra - I'd be lying if I said I missed work. Glad our travels are still entertaining you guys.
December 17, 2009
Hey Jeremy, So glad your having the time of your life...Best to do it while your young! I still miss you here!
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