Five days, 300 miles, 30,000 feet of climbing. On a bicycle. This was how I spent my vacation.
Welcome to the inaugural Cycle the Sierra, a fully supported tour of the Sierra and its foothills.
Although I've been riding both mountain and road bikes for years, the approaching five straight days of climbing had me more than a little apprehensive. I knew I could do it, but would I enjoy it?
Multiple-day rides are becoming increasingly popular among bike riders. It's a great way to stay fit, and the time spent with like-minded, adventurous people often creates great friendships. We were fully supported on this trip, which meant not having to carry any gear. Clothes, tents, sleeping bags - everything needed was loaded each morning onto a truck, then driven to that day's destination. Cycle the Sierra also included meals and snacks, live music, adult beverages, two massage therapists, plus a bike mechanic whose shop was a converted ambulance!
Day one began in Grass Valley by the ball field at Nevada Union High School (NU). It was a chilly, cloudy morning when we arrived at 6 a.m. There were about a dozen wet, colorful tents littering the field with a banner in the foreground welcoming us to "Base Camp." Additional riders arrived over the next several hours with their bikes and gear, signed in, and ate breakfast. We then gathered for our first meeting, which became a daily ritual. Event founder Mark Reiner introduced us to the all-volunteer support crew, described the route, advised us of any hazards or highlights and then sent us on our way. We arrived six hours later to cheering at our first destination, the Chili Bar camp grounds on the American River.
Day One: Grass Valley to Coloma. 61 Miles. 6,100 feet of climbing
Day Two: We all broke camp after breakfast, piled our gear near the truck, then began the long climb towards Placerville. This was our toughest day for climbing. Making our way along the bike trail in Placerville, we rode along the apple and pear orchards of "Apple Hill" towards Pollock Pines. I had been steadily climbing for a couple of hours on the Morman Immigrant trail with no other riders in site. This became common as the 45 riders would spread out over the long ride each day.
Soon I was treated to an amazing vista: the mountains, meadows and lakes of the Granite High Sierra. The ride ended with a long descent, then a short climb to Kirkwood valley. It was cool and windy at this elevation and the only night we spent indoors. The live music that evening was acoustical Flamenco and the meal was Mexican cuisine. In spite of feeling wiped out from the day's climb, many of us found the energy to dance with new friends. Miles biked: 62. Climbed: 10,260 feet. Looking back on the entire trip, this was my favorite day.
And so it continued for three more days - Kirkwood to Camp Richardson on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, then around the lake to Tahoe City, followed by the long climb and decent through Truckee, finishing Day Four in Sierraville. The last day was the longest. More than 80 miles along Highway 49 through Downieville to end our journey where it had began, the ball fields of NU.
Was it difficult? At times. Will I do it again? Absolutely. I cannot wait for next years Cycle the Sierra. It promises to become one of the finest rides in cycling. Join me!
Ed Townsend is an outdoor enthusiast, spinning instructor at Club Sierra and owner of Grass Valley Sign Company.