// Riding the Flume Trail at Lake Tahoe
Posted on Monday, August 13th, 2012
My day began with a morning drive, crossing the border from the California side to the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. I parked my car at the Tunnel Creek Station, a small, rugged mountain building that used to be used as the bunk house for the Ponderosa Ranch from the quintessential Wild West show Bonanza. I then pulled my bike from the trunk and awaited the shuttle for which I had arranged a pick-up. The driver loaded my bike and a fellow rider’s onto the van’s trailer, we filed in and took off. A family of four from London rode with us as well. I asked them if they were planning on riding the whole trail and they confirmed this to be the case. I looked incredulously at the kids with them, who were about 12 and 8, and unconsciously said “wow.” The father meekly replied “I know.” I never found out whether or not they completed the journey, but if so, all the kudos I have to give may be theirs.
The beginning of the trail from Spooner Lake consists of a steady four mile incline from 7000 to 8000 feet above sea level. This would not have been so bad were it not compacted with several inches of sand. My tires kept slipping and my heart started pounding. I took several necessary stops on this ascent. I was just below the summit taking a breather, listening to the sound of the nearby creek, when the rider I had met on the shuttle reached me. He rode on while I waited for my pulse to slow down. I finally hopped back on my bike as an older cyclist came down the trail the opposite direction. He encouraged me with an “almost there” as he passed.
Thank goodness he wasn’t lying! I had finally reached some downhill track and it felt amazing. My entire body shuddered with relief as adrenaline replaced the lactic acid pumping through my veins. Through the trees I saw the shining blue water of Marlette Lake. Earlier on the shuttle ride I had overheard that this lake is numbingly cold, but if you felt so daring there is a rope swing to jump in. This, I decided, could wait for another time. However, I did stop to take a few pictures and enjoy the beauty around me, especially admiring this alpine lake’s clarity. My friend who had passed me earlier approached while I was taking a short video, and we decided to ride the rest together.
Once you pass this lake, the real Flume Trail begins. A sign warns of steep cliffs and possible landslides. The trail starts on a fairly steep descent, traversing over and between boulders and even fording a small creek. You soon find yourself facing the west, with the vastness of Lake Tahoe opening up below. Here I recalled another piece advice from our driver: “always lean towards the mountain side.” We laughed about this earlier, but as I rode along and occasionally stole a glance down the sheer cliffs along my left side, I repeated this mantra under my breath: “lean to the mountain, lean to the mountain…”
There were points where my handlebars had merely a few inches of clearance on either side. There was even a section where we were forced to pick our bikes up and walk over a landslide. As you approach the cliffs above Sand Harbor, the tremendous clarity of Tahoe becomes apparent. Even from such dizzying heights, the shadows of various watercraft were visible on the sand below the surface. By this point my mind’s perception of reality was hazy, resulting from exerting myself so much coupled with the lack of proper oxygen acclimation. My senses were on an elevated echelon of ecstasy. I stared fixedly at the aquamarine fluid shimmering in the sunlight. Time had slowed. I felt my heart, my breath. Salty sweat stung my eyes. The air tasted amazing. Every inhale reached the bottom of my lungs, my chest cavity expanding as much as possible.
After a short while of attempting to accept that this incredible sight before us was in fact real life, we continued on our descent. The trail turns away from the lake and into a forested canyon. It becomes somewhat sandy again on the way, making control fairly difficult. But you soon find yourself on a short stretch of asphalt road that leads right back to the Tunnel Creek Station parking lot.
Check out the pictures I took here.