Friday, 5 August 2016

Fat tyres head west

After a 5 hour flight the relatively cool dry air of San Francisco was a welcome change from the heavy moisture-laden heat of the south.

Anita’s sister Nicki picked us up from the airport and we headed south on the 280 to the somewhat familiar environs of Los Altos and the Stanford Linear Accelerator.  It was nice not having to spend the next few days huddled in front of the beamline, as has traditionally been my reason for visiting SF.  The following day Anita and I headed into SF proper – to get sore feet birding the Presidio area before catching up over a beer and clam chowder with Romain, a former colleague now at Berkeley.  Really needed another couple of days to check out SF proper.
The following day we loaded up the beast (5 bodies and 5 bikes!) and headed north east, destination Lake Tahoe, on the boarder between California and Nevada, deep in the Sierra Nevada range.  Accommodation was a pretty swanky cabin within a golf resort (Old Greenwood) just outside of the appropriately named town of Truckee, and landscaped with elegant pines and grassy sage with a backdrop of mountains peppered with white patches and ski resorts.  Classic big sky feel.  Truckee is the modern version of the classic one-street western town we’ve all seen in the movies, although fortunately no one is swaggering about with gun belts these days.  Instead, the place was abuzz with ski/bike shops, restaurants and bars. Whilst Nicki spent some time with the boys Anita and I sampled a few of the many mountain bike trails. 

It wasn’t just the dry air that was different to North Carolina – the general rootiness of the Appalachian trails was swapped for rockiness of the Sierra Navada.  The jungle and claustrophobic deciduous canopy of Pisgah was replaced by open forests of pines, firs and spruce, open spaces, sagebush and straw-dry grasslands.  And dust.  Lots of it, as we rattled along the Emigrant trail on a loop north of Truckee which had us pretty roasted come the end, and well deserving of Truckee milk shakes of ice-cream headache proportions.  The American milkshake is something to behold, equivalent to what we call thick shakes in Oz - multiple scoops of ice cream seem to be the main ingredient.

Strangely enough the Emigrant trail triggered nostalgia for the kind of big sky experience which I’ve not actually experienced at all, and has me thinking about what magical experience riding the great divide might behold.

The second day of riding explored some more mountainous trails, this time to the south of Truckee, firstly exploring the heavily shaded Sawtooth trail – rocky as all hell in places – not exactly to Anita’s liking given her dodgy shoulder, but with great views down to the Truckee river.  We then clawed our way up some pretty dusty firetrail to an altitude higher than Oz, before sidling round to the NorthStar Ski resort, which was like Thredbo on steroids – dual suspension bikes everywhere – not a bottle cage in sight.  Refreshment for the gravity hounds took the form of tuckshops, which were doing a brisk trade at the base of the chairlifts.  We jumped on one of the muscular groomed XC trails for a taste, but due to time and heat issues bailed for the fast road descent back to Truckee and more milkshakes.  I think NorthStar is going to warrant a proper investigation next time – with a dropper post and some more travel.

On both of these outings we got good views of some new birds but in most cases struggled to recall sufficient details for identification, although before leaving for the coast did mange to finally nut out the mystery bird we’d been seeing (badly) for days: Northern Flicker.

Back in Palo Alto we still had a morning of riding up our sleeve, and opted for a route Anita had previously done a few years ago on a roadie; the Old La Honda Circuit, supposedly a classic.  It was not to disappoint.  Mostly on quiet back roads, the main feature is a stunning climb, 8% grade for 5 km, through tunnels of absolutely beautiful greenery, the top third comprising magnificent stands of Californian Redwoods.  Hands down one of the prettiest climbs I’ve ever done, anywhere.  Just past the top we took snaps in front of Alice’s Restaurant, named in homage to the Arlo Guthrie song by the same name, before a great descent lead us back to coffee closer to home.

Thus concluded our little foray into riding some different trails in the US of A. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what is an immense playground for those interested in doing stuff outdoors.  Thanks to Kev and Dee in Charlotte, and Nicki in Palo Alto for being such gracious hosts.  No doubt we’ll be back to have another taste of what your (adopted) country offers in years to come.

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