Cabin Fever

Feb 8, 2012
by Dan Milner  
 
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I’m choking on the dust flicked up by Mike’s rear wheel spinning ahead of me, a cloud of fine silt that’s renewed with each of his pedal rotations. I can’t escape it, no matter if I drop back or stick right on his wheel I’m destined to be picking grit from between my teeth all evening. Eating the dust of the rider in front of me isn’t a new experience, but I’ve never endured it during a climb before. It hasn’t rained here for at least a couple of months – something that’s typical of Northern California apparently – and the trail we’re on, like others we’ve ridden in the last couple of days, sits inches deep in fine, teeth-coating summer dust. I’m not complaining of course; I need the minerals in my diet.

Tahoe in September is all about big trees and temperatures that are cool enough to ride again. Photo by Dan Milner.
  Tahoe in September is all about big trees and temperatures that are cool enough to ride again.

It’s September and I’m seeing North Tahoe for the first time without it being buried in snow. Eight months earlier I’d been here shooting a snowboard story with a pro-snowboarder friend, Mikey Basich, while staying in a small, remote mountainside cabin he’d spent the previous summer constructing. Holed up in the little solar powered cabin I’d warmed to the back-to-nature feel of having to cook on a wood stove and crap in the forest, and was already looking for an excuse to revisit him again in the summer. And then he let slip that one of Tahoe’s best mountain bike trails passed right by his little hobbit-house door. He should have kept schtum: at this rate the guy was at risk of never getting rid of me. Before January was up, I was already planning my trip back to Tahoe.

Cresting the climb up from Boreal means a lot of descent ahead. Photo by Dan Milner.
  Cresting the climb up from Boreal means a lot of descent ahead.

Western states trail in all its wooded glory. Photo by Dan Milner.
  Western states trail in all its wooded glory.

Mikey collects me and two riding mates, ‘Mike Two’ and Jez from Reno airport rocking up in a beaten up Nissan pick-up truck that appears to be more holes than actual bodywork. We reach the cabin, or as near to it as the Nissan will get, and Mikey points out the basics of cabin life, essentially indicating the toilet: an old toilet seat wedged between two nearby boulders. Right from his door there is a hundred metre section of squiggly trail that rolls over bedrock and between twisted trees, dropping perhaps fifty metres to the 4x4 track. Even this little stretch of dirt looks perfect: steep, spiraling and littered with tech challenges. And that’s merely the access to the cabin.

Mikey s cabin probably the best little trail-side cabin in the world. Photo by Dan Milner.
  Mikey's cabin: probably the best little trail-side cabin in the world.

The cabin even has helmet hooks. Photo by Dan Milner.
  The cabin even has helmet hooks.

The actual trail that was the excuse to come back is called the Hole-in-the-Ground-trail, ‘officially’ starting and finishing at Highway 80 near Boreal ski resort, the trail's climb teases us a stone’s throw from where we’re now sitting supping tea. Like horny teenagers at a disco we waste no time in getting acquainted with the new potential heart-throb and pull our bikes, two yeti 575’s and a Specialized Stumpy, from their flight boxes, and then stand gob-smacked as Mikey wheels his own steed out of storage. ‘Don’t mind if I come along too, do ya?’ he asks almost apologetically, not wanting to slow down the dance. In is hands is a mid-nineties Schwinn whose damping-less suspension technology has all the finesse of a pogo stick. Mountain bike technology seems to have passed Mikey by.

The Hole in the Ground trail is one of the best flowy tech trails in Tahoe. I dont care what anyone else says about it. Photo by Dan Milner.
  The Hole in the Ground trail is one of the best flowy tech trails in Tahoe. I dont care what anyone else says about it.

I can easily see why the Hole in the Ground is right up there with the best of Tahoe’s trails. Within minutes we’re whooping and hollering down a twisting helter-skelter of a descent that weaves rhythmically between huge old pine trees strewn with fluorescent green moss. While not a purpose-built bike trail, the Hole in the ground couldn’t flow better if had been designed for bikes, and we barrel through switchbacks dodge trees and pick up speed while quickly learning the limits of grip as our tyres bite through the thick dust to the trail below. At one point we come across a huge slanted boulder, the first of a few natural wall rides that lie along the loop, and stop to play on it for a few minutes. We’re no Ritchey Schleys, though, and the ninety degree right hander buried in deep, loose silt just before the wall’s transition kills all our speed along with any chance of reaching the top.

The lads throw up rooster tails off the back of Sugar Bowl resort something usually reserved for wintertime. Photo by Dan Milner.
  The lads throw up rooster tails off the back of Sugar Bowl resort, something usually reserved for wintertime.

Two hours later we pull up at the edge of a small lake and I’m out of breath more from pumping the front end of my Yeti back and forth than actually pedaling the thing. Mikey is already stripped off to his birthday suit and diving headfirst into the cool water. Dusty, sweaty and buzzing from the ride, we all join him. Four grown men enjoying a refreshing dip in a chilly mountain lake, as naked as the day we were born. What could be more back-to-nature than that? ‘Make the most of it’ says Mikey, ‘there’s no shower at the cabin’. The dip thus sets a precedent, using lakes and rivers as daily post ride baths, something we repeat in the Truckee river and in Lake Tahoe too, braving the effects of the water’s chill on our manhood.

As the sun sets behind the cabin we watch chipmunks scurrying for cover and our minds wander to the thought of the bears that roam these forests. “Don’t worry about the bears, I mostly see coyotes’ Mike says as if that will put our minds at rest. He forgets we herald from the England, a place in which the idea of being eaten is pretty alien. I wait until morning for my next bladder break.

Cabin life means taking whatever chance you get to wash the grime away. Now who s first Photo by Dan Milner.
  Cabin life means taking whatever chance you get to wash the grime away. Now, who's first?

The Schwinn has beaten Mikey and next day he leaves us to the mercy of Andy and Amber Finch to guide us on another loop. Andy is one of the USA’s strongest snowboard halfpipe riders, but he rocks up gloveless, in shorts and cotton T-shirt with his bike leaving me to wonder if he’ll be guiding from the back. He immediately pulls a 30 metre manual, putting my mind at rest, before setting a pace up the climb that none of us can match. In fact it’s Amber that sets the pace, being a weekend XC racer, and despite our “altitude training” in Colorado the week before, we struggle to keep her in sight. We’re riding Western States and Missing Link trails, and riding them at a hell-for-leather pace through some of Tahoe National Forest’s prime real estate. We grind up a super steep section unambiguously called The Wall (just like their ski trails, Americans love to name every defining part of a bike trail) before hitting the Whoopy-Doos, a set of fourteen rollers that see even my Mavics leave the ground, then finish down Missing Link’s loose and tech offerings. By the time we load the truck again with our uniformly dusty bikes to head back to take care of hygiene duties in the Truckee River, I’m toast.

Beer or a bath first Beer wins again. Photo by Dan Milner.
  Beer or a bath first? Beer wins again.

Like with visiting relatives, responsibility for keeping us entertained is passed between Mikey’s various riding buddies, with each showing us a new trail. We ride the historic Flume Trail (that follows the route of an old water channel used to power silver mining operations) a couple of hundred metres above lake Tahoe with Alicia and Ali. The Flume steadily traverses a forty-five degree mountainside for 12 miles without ever widening more than a metre and despite the lack of obstacles we need to stay focused or risk falling to our doom, or at least a premature dip, to the lake below. The dip will come later.

At 1645 ft deep Lake Tahoe is the USA s second deepest lake. The Flume trail finishes at its edge just right for a post ride cool down. Photo by Dan Milner.
  At 1645 ft deep, Lake Tahoe is the USA's second deepest lake. The Flume trail finishes at its edge, just right for a post ride cool down.

On our final day at the cabin we are drawn between hitting the Hole-in-the-ground again and cleaning the wall ride once and for all, or riding something new to complete our Tahoe experience. Poaching the Pacific Crest hikers-only Trail to Squaw Valley has been suggested to us (the trail actually runs all the way to Mexico), but we decide to try to find the trail down to Truckee instead. We climb out of Sugar Bowl ski resort, and pass clumps of fresh bear-crap on the trail. I’m in two minds whether I really want to encounter a black bear during a ride, but as we drop in to the fast, swooping descent the thought of crashing headlong into a wall of fur rapidly dissipates from my dust-addled brain as I concentrate on keeping my front wheel tracking where I want it to go.

The Flume trail is nothing to write home about if you re after a tech injection. But if its easy pedalling and great views for a wind-down you re after it is up there. Photo by Dan Milner.
  The Flume trail is nothing to write home about if you're after a tech injection. But if its easy pedalling and great views for a wind-down you're after, it is up there.

The trail eventually spits us out at the spot where the Donner Party pioneers made history in 1846, when as a group of 87 settlers heading west got cut off by snow, losing 39 people to starvation, some of the survivors having to resort to cannibalism to stay alive. It’s hard to believe that that this piece of morbid history happened in late October when we’re standing ankle deep in September dust. The commemorative plaque reminds me of how hungry we are and we roll the last mile or so into Truckee to finally eat something that’s not cooked on a wood burning stove for a change as me munch down heavy burrito at he Mexican joint, we ponder our four days of fun, a mix of wilderness-inspired tranquil living punctuated by full-speed, singletrack blasting. Away from TV’s and Facebook and even flush toilets, with only bikes and some damn good trails, life becomes simple and uncomplicated. Maybe it’s time I built a cabin.



About Tahoe:
North Tahoe’s trails can be accessed from Truckee or Tahoe City, but you’ll need a vehicle to get to the trailheads. Both towns are about an hour’s drive from Reno international airport and about four hours from San Francisco Airport. Accommodation in Truckee starts at $49 per room/night 2 people (truckeehotel.com) or $77 at Tahoe City (tamarackattahoe.com). Snow can block trails and melt water can make creeks tricky to cross as late as June. Mid summer heat (30 degrees plus) means early rides. Late August or early September is probably the ideal time to ride Tahoe with daytime temperatures about 22 degrees and the lakes still warm enough for a dip. Just.


The trails:
Tahoe’s trails are suitable for strong intermediate riders with a decent full suspension set up. While 100mm travel is enough to cope, a lightweight 120 or 140mm travel rig will let you play more, and there’s plenty to play on in Tahoe! Generally climbs are smaller than 1200 ft and most trails rollercoaster along rather than going straight up and back down again, but expect up to 2000 ft of climbing in all per trail. Trails are fast but prepare to meet other riders coming up them too; they are not designated one way! Try riding Northstar resort (northstarattahoe.com) for some purpose-built bike trails, along with DH tracks and north shore sections. Lift tickets are $39/day. For techie rewards head for the Hole-in-the-ground trail starting from the North side of Highway 80 about 10 miles west of Truckee. The trail starts 600 ft east of Boreal ski resort. For a bit of everything try the fluid Western States trail (13 miles long) and the very tech Missing Link trail (1.5 miles, 600 ft drop) starting from Highway 89 about ten miles south of Truckee. The Flume trail (14 miles long) is easiest of the lot and best ridden in a northerly direction, starting at Spooner Lake and ending near Incline Village on Lake Tahoe. There is a bike shuttle hourly between the two. Good trail directions can be found on www.greatbasinbicycles.com


The wildlife:
Riding in Tahoe Forest means you need to be aware of some of the wildlife you might meet. Mostly you’ll see elk and perhaps big horn sheep, but certainly a lot of chipmunks and perhaps the occasional coyote as we did. You may well see bears, but the chances of seeing a black bear itself are small, as the noise of you coming will usually scare them off. If you do stumble across one, then stop, and if the bear hasn’t seen you, back away quietly. If the bear has seen you then move slowly, waving and speaking calmly to let it identify you as human and back away or move around it slowly in a wide berth.


All photography by Dan Milner. You can see more of Dan's incredible work on his website.

Did you enjoy reading about Dan's Tahoe adventure? Want to try a similar trip yourself? Let's hear what you have to say in the comments section below.

Editor's note: We'll be bringing you adventures from Dan Milner each month, so stay tuned!
Must Read This Week

58 Comments

  • + 22
 WOW !! and i thought i found paradise !!! wonderful scenery ! and amazing cabin ! i could live there for ever!
  • + 6
 agreed! I would just go live up there every summer for a few months, would be epic Smile
  • + 19
 a few months sounds awesome and no facebook would be wonderful get a true meaning back to life!
  • + 3
 I think we found a sasquatch! Oh, wait, it's just Dan..
  • + 4
 nice comment james.. i was LMFAO that they mentioned facebook before tv.... the real life is outside.. not behind your pc.. Whip
  • + 1
 I'm totally going to use facebook to show this to my friend who lives in Tahoe.
  • + 0
 this article is gonna cause some traffic...
[Reply]
  • + 5
 No facebook ? Already heaven haha and tv is pretty useless. So put bikes on top and yes it's perfect !!!
Nice pictures the place looks so nice to ride ! Except maybe the cannibalism story might put me off just a little bit haha
And i love when i take off my socks and the contrast isnt caused by sun tan, but dirt Razz
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  • + 4
 Dear PB, Please STOP with all of the dreamy posts from California. It's making me really homesick! JK. Awesome article. The Sierras are the jam!
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  • + 2
 Beautiful stuff I'm jealous.
I love your fear of the coyotes. I've only been to California once (and made sure I did at least one ride) and came across a 'Beware of Mountain Cats' sign ! I'd only come across grouse in all my biking years (in the UK), so this did freak me out a bit !
  • + 1
 Coyotes aren't too bad. They are pretty cowardly but it is frightening to hear the pack yipping and howling after a kill if you aren't at home, it feels like you're next! The mountain lions are serious though, several bikers have gone missing to be found later in the brush torn up. You don't tend to think "I may get pounced on and eaten when I ride today" but there are big predators out in the mountains.

I think everybody has added solitary singletrack cabin trip to their life's to do list if it wasn't already.
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  • + 2
 Lake Tahoe has some of the best and most variety of trail riding out of BC I think I have ever seen. Beautiful place, want to go back there one day! To all the trail builders there, I say thankyou!
  • + 1
 The Flume trail is awesome!!!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I'm suprized that Tahoe rarely ever gets a photo or video of the day, being that it is such an awsome place to ride. The fact that I live half an hour away from Tahoe and I ride northstar and near by trails every-other weekend, my goal is to post one by this summer
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  • + 1
 I constantly see all of these videos and write ups about whistler, and British Colombia that make me jealous on a regular basis that I am not closer to there. I'm very happy to see one that reminds me how fortunate I am to live within a 2 hour drive of all of this, and to have a family cabin to be able to stay there whenever I please. Get out and ride Tahoe ladies and gents whenever you get the chance. Best way to keep a smile on your face
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  • + 1
 Lake Tahoe has some excellent trails in the area and is worth a visit. Hole-In-The-Ground, the rideable parts of the PCT, Mr Toad's Wild Ride/Saxon Creek Trail (include both to do The Punisher), Corral Trail, and Northstar (if you want a chairlift) are great and there are planty more trails in the area. As the author notes, Flume Trail is only good for views, though it is excellent to take non-riding partners and friends on - my riding buddy and I took our wives on it and the scariest thing for one of them were the waterbars on the fireroad back to the lake.

And then you can head to Downieville for a couple of the best trails on earth.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Called in at Tahoe a couple of years ago on our way to Burning Man, unfortunately not there to ride but it is an amazing place! Only saw one chipmunk though Frown

Quality write up and some ace pictures!
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  • + 1
 Being only 3 hours away from Tahoe, I am very lucky. It's an amazing place I would recommend anybody to go there at least once in a lifetime. Sure it's dusty as shit and isn't Whistler, but it does just fine for me! Razz
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  • + 1
 Andy Finch is a great rider, im glad to see his lifestyle is so broad now. I saw him ride a lot at Sierra Summit which has now gone back to its riginal name China Peak. Fresno kids aren't all bad :>Wink
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  • + 4
 No facebook no tv simple life it's for me.ps brill photos guys
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  • + 4
 Pinkbike.com- where I can be reminded daily that my life is lacking.
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  • + 1
 Been to Tahoe before, amazing place to ride! Loved every minute of it! Northstar is a great place to ride with some epic trails! Some (well all of it actually) of the scenery around there is stunning as well!
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  • + 2
 When I saw "Cabin Fever" thought you were speaking about Wiz Khalifa... Obviously not !
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  • + 2
 Any ride in Tahoe rules- winter or summer! Definitely gotta hit Mr Toads Wild Ride!
[Reply]
  • + 3
 Really amazing story and pictures. Well done tup
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Great article Dan. Have enjoyed a few winters in the Truckee area with epic skiing and now a summer visit is definitely on the list!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 This is the first article i have read in a while that just got me stoked to get out and ride this summer! Bring on Morzine in June!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 After riding extensively in both places, I'd rather go on a biking holiday in NorCal than Whistler.
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  • + 1
 sweet gets me stoked to check out these trails in the summer! also im surprised you guys didnt ride Mr. Toads..
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  • + 1
 thanks for the write up guys. i love tahoe, and now i have a new trail to look forward to.
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  • + 2
 One of the many perks of living in the bay area....
[Reply]
  • + 1
 awesome. this place is only like 2 hours away from me. Might have to head that way once the snow melts.
  • + 1
 what snow haha
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I love how this is all 30 minutes at most from where I spend a lot of my summer.
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Solid article. Would've liked to see a shot of Mike Basich on the schwinn!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 man!, i can hear the dirt under the tires on the second to last pic! i wanna ride sooooo bad! fuck snow
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  • + 1
 I didnt think God existed until I read this article.. but he has to because this place is heaven.
  • + 3
 Haha nah still no god, "isnt it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too" (queue controversy). But were here for bikes and not much can beat what is told and shown above, beautiful playground for some sweet sweet riding.
  • + 2
 ..this should be a fun one
  • - 1
 All religion is bullshit.
  • + 1
 wow, surprisingly not a fun as i thought. i was excited to sit back and watch a religious argument, as those are usually the best.. COME ON WHERE'S TEBOW?!
  • + 2
 They are pretty good, I do enjoy having a polite conversation about religion but it gets pretty heated when your dealing with narrow minded brain washed fools who think its the only way when there is so much more going on in this universe that it is just a damn shame people are hiding behind a religion. Ignorance is bliss but in the end its all about survival (a crucial part of darwinian natural selection!) and people survive in numbers and religion has numbers. Only slightly of topic haha, sorry to all Americans who are not do or die religious extremists.
  • + 1
 couldn't have said it better myself. Yeah, off topic for sure.
  • + 1
 Ive never really thought of myself as a "narrow minded brainwashed fool" before and I know my comment's were blunt but at the end of the day its all just opinion.. there is no right or wrong. I was just voicing my opinion.
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  • + 1
 Hole in the Ground Rips. Such a fun loop. Granite slab wallrides in high alpine.
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  • + 1
 coolest cabin i've seen in awhile
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Great article, fascinating read
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Great write up of an epic adventure. More of this please! Wink
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  • + 1
 wow.. epic adventure.. love the cabin too!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Wow, that's life how it's meant to be. Great write up.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Honestly pinkbike, why post everything I miss about about my home state?
[Reply]
  • + 1
 i love it ,cant wait to make my own truckee hide out Smile
[Reply]
  • + 1
 seems more like paradise to me.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Definitely hitting up Tahoe this summer!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Rad place rad post
[Reply]
  • + 1
 mike and tina rule
[Reply]

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