Before I arrive left for Lake Tahoe a friend warned me, “It’s sandy.” I didn’t know if he meant all the riding, or just the one trail we had discussed, Flume. It didn’t matter. I’ve been riding a plus set of wheels with various tires for the last year and I figured the only smart thing to do was to swap wheels.
On the first fire road the surface was granular enough to remind me of riding unpaved roads in Florida. I chose lines that hewed to the firmer edges and climbed at a pace so slow I was grateful my GPS was in my hydration pack. At this altitude—more than 7000 feet above sea level—I felt like I was trying to breath through a pillow case.
When I finally rolled into the singletrack descent, I did so without my usual gusto. I was in a place new to me, on a trail I’d never seen and wasn’t following a rider who knew the terrain, so while I’d like to have a chance to fly in a helicopter some day, I decided I didn’t want to do it off that mountain.
Lucky thing, because it wasn’t long before I encountered a switchback so tight I had to put a foot down to swing the rear wheel around and continue down trail. And I’d never have come to a stop if I hadn’t been running a big tire like the Ritchey WCS Z-Max Evo ($79.95). It’s a 2.8-inch wide tubeless tire (650 x 73) and at 15 psi front and 18 psi rear, they clung to rock like Reinhold Messner.
The real attraction of the Flume Trail are the views you get of Lake Tahoe from a good thousand feet above the communities at the edge of the lake. The pines were just sparse enough to lend broad views of the lake and the surrounding Sierras. The trail was cut into the mountain in such a way as to serve as training for future window washers. It rarely felt dangerous, but some of that was my confidence, which was running high because the bike tracked so well in turns.
Lower down Flume the trail opens up into fire road again and this time the surface is pillowy, even at the edges. In turns, I’d roll up onto the berms that had been ridden in by thousands of other riders and after popping into the air, the landing was so gentle I could have ridden it on a rigid bike and not missed the suspension. Even as I entered one turn I thought, “This is soft enough I should have scrubbed more speed.” to my amazement, the tires carved over the sand, allowing me to drift slightly as I turned.
Control. It’s a funny thing. Rarely is it absolute, but as long as you have choices, it’s easy to avoid fear.
Final thought: I’ve never used “carved” and “sand” in the same sentence before.