South Lake Tahoe night mountain biking gaining traction
Somewhere in the first mile-and-a-half of the ride, my lungs made it abundantly clear that I was no longer acclimated to high alpine mountain biking. Two months at lower elevation will do that I guess. Welcome to Tahoe.
Ahead of me, 23-year-old Jordan Rarick of South Lake Tahoe’s Over the Edge Sports pedaled uphill like it was nothing, bunny hopping over rocks with little effort.
“This is what it feels like being a beginner again,” I thought.
Usually I’m the one leading on a climb, stopping and waiting for a friend to catch up. Not today. Today was different.
I haven’t been intimidated on bike ride or a ski slope in a while. But there, on the trail, that unfamiliar feeling started to creep in. It wasn’t lack of conditioning though that made me nervous. It was encroaching darkness and the prospect of doing a lengthy technical downhill in pitch black conditions.
WHY A NIGHT RIDE? Over the Edge bike shuttle service and shop owner Sam Hyslop would more likely say “Why not?”
“Night rides are awesome,” he explained of the inspiration for his Mountain Bike Night Ride Series.
And he’s not alone. The Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association will also host its annual Corral Night Ride, Saturday, Oct. 17 — a Halloween-spirited ride that typically attracts around 100 riders.
“A trail you’ve ridden hundreds of times is a whole new trail in the dark with a high-powered trail light,” Hyslop explained.
BACK ON THE TRAIL … I should have picked up the signals. An hour earlier in the bike shop Jordan pointed to the route on a map, black, an expert run.
Ordinarily that wouldn’t be such a big deal. The prospect of doing it in the dark, however, had me reassessing my decision.
I was intrigued initially. That intrigue turned to a something a little closer to uneasiness as we made our way up the climb on Tahoe Rim Trail from Big Meadow Campground.
In the van on the way to the trailhead, he’d described Christmas Valley Trail as “pretty technical.”
When a bike shop guy says “pretty technical,” you can bet that’s exactly what it’s going to be.
With those words ringing in my ear, my mind wandered as I slugged along further up the climb — “What are the chances this is going to turn into an episode of Man vs. Wild?”
At the top we ran into two other riders, one of which told Jordan he planned on joining. The other was also on his first night ride.
After a short breather, we started the downhill charge with me at the back of the pack.
Then, just like that, they were gone. Their lights disappeared into the darkness.
That cautious beginner-rider feeling returned.
“I wonder if workman’s comp will pay out for nighttime mountain biking?”
A trail I would probably have charged at daylight became a daunting proposition; only being able to see as far as my head lamp could reach proved a challenge.
I cursed myself for not grabbing a brighter light, which Over the Edge would have supplied.
Trudging on, I caught the group.
And then it happened. The nerves transitioned back to muscle memory — I was back to just riding a bike.
We charged on to the bottom, with the occasional hoot and holler, and that was that. Just a normal bike ride with the lights turned out.
Over the Edge will continue to host night rides through September and into October, weather permitting. Their next ride will be a ladies ride Saturday, Sept. 19, followed by a group ride on Luther Pass to Toads, Monday, Sept. 21.
Visit http://www.OTEsports.com/locations/south-lake-tahoe for more information.
Details about TAMBA’s Oct. 17 Corral Night ride are available at http://www.tamba.org.