‘Race’ report: The Tour de Tahoe

Last Sunday, the Husband and I cycled the Tour de Tahoe – a 71 mile  ride around the perimeter of Lake Tahoe. This has been something we have wanted to do ever since we first saw the gorgeousness that is Tahoe so we were really excited to finally do it.

We opted to pay for an organised ride, as opposed to just cycling it ourselves which obviously anyone can do for free on any day. I don’t regret that decision at ALL but I’d also encourage anyone who fancies doing the ride to just get on your bike and cycle. Support is nice but not necessary!

I was always a little nervous about this ride. I knew I could do the distance. I knew I could do the hills. Whether or not I could do the hills and the distance at altitude, I had NO idea. Also, I didn’t train as hard for this ride as I did for last year’s century ride, managing only four 50-milers. Add all this together and I suspected it would be a bit of a sufferfest at the end.

We rented a cabin with friends, Jon and Sarah, who would kindly watch the Dude whilst we cycled. The day before the ride (Sunday), the Husband went down with Man Flu so he stayed in bed all day to mend as much as possible before the ride. The four of us went hiking on the Rubicon Trail. It was absolutely beautiful and an easy hike, but it did involve driving up the first big climb of the bike ride, up to Emerald Bay. I have to be honest, it TOTALLY freaked me out. It really shook my confidence!

tahoe emerald bay
Pausing the hike to splash around in the water

tahoe trails

The alarm was set for 5.15 but I was awake from at least 4am worrying about the ride. This is really unlike me and I haven’t quite yet worked out WHY I was so nervous…but I was. The Husband was not at all perturbed so he was a calming influence. We opted for the 6.45am start (you could start any time between 6.30 and 7.30) because the Husband had a plane to catch from SFO that night and I thought I needed as much time as possible. We’d picked up our numbers the day before so drove through the cold dark morning to the Hard Rock Hotel, where a car-park full of cyclists were unloading bikes, pumping tyres and slapping anti-chafing gel in delicate areas. Once I was there, had used the loos and was ready to ride, the nerves calmed down but I’ll be honest, it was an emotional me who cycled under the archway (to the piping of bagpipes!) and set off through South Lake Tahoe. I cried a bit.

me rich husband tahoe cycling
This is the only way I get the Husband to match outfits with me.
me cycling tahoe
This is my ‘totally daunted’ face.
cycling tahoe
About to go…

The first ten miles were flat. We cycled through South Lake Tahoe – the sun was rising over the lake and the sky was pink. It was spectacularly beautiful but I didn’t stop for photos. We were cycling in a big group of maybe 100 people. People were riding VERY fast but I stuck to the right and stuck to my own pace. I had a long way to go. The Husband would bound ahead and then wait for me with a smile. He did that the whole day, never complaining. He is much more gracious than I would be in that situation. It was pretty cold at 6.45 but we knew the day would heat up so were wearing warm-weather clothes. Most other people had jackets and long tights – they would either send those back at the first aid station or wear them all day. The Husband wore just one layer (his jersey). I wore two (a sleeveless top with arm-warmers and a gilet/vest). I think I got it pretty spot on because I was never TOO cold and never TOO hot.

After about ten miles (and a roadkill porcupine sighting) the first climb began up to Emerald Pass. I was passing people all the time and this was a confidence booster. I’m not a fast climber but I’m steady. However as it got steeper, I changed down into granny gear and my gears began to slip. I’d be pedaling in my lowest gear and suddenly it would jump into a much bigger gear, causing me to have to unclip suddenly or I’d fall. This happened for the rest of the climb, so I had to walk up some sections that I knew damn well I could cycle without too much effort. I was gutted and worried that my ride would be over! I couldn’t keep going with just my big cog. But luckily, as I slid into the Vikingsholm aid station, I was directed over to a mechanic and he fixed it in minutes. This was when paying for the ride totally justified itself for me.

After one more do-able climb, we had a long downhill section and a flat section to Tahoe City. This was when I noticed that people I’d passed easily on the uphill were flying past. I’ve always been a slow descender, but it was ridiculous how fast people were going and how much I was braking. However, during the long stretch to Tahoe City, I got into a nice rhythm and bowled along happily. It was much warmer now and I was feeling better – except that I was also feeling a little odd. Can’t explain why, just not quite sure what was wrong. At the Tahoe City aid station, I had some salted roasted potatoes and some cereal bars and hoped that I’d feel better. We set off along the north shore and things did pick up. and before I knew it, we were at Kings Beach for the lunch stop.

I’m not a fussy eater. Apart from meat, I eat anything…but the sandwiches were horrible. Couldn’t eat them. However there was plenty of other stuff there including crisps. Hmmm….crisps. Salt seemed to be my friend. As we sat in the sunshine and ate lunch, I noted that I was still anxious. I was not relaxed and cheerful, I was tense and wanted to press on. This is unlike me, it felt weird.

The next section went into Nevada and through Incline Village. We’d been warned to STOP AT THE STOP SIGNS IN INCLINE VILLAGE. This is the law, but apparently the people of Incline Village were draconian about cyclists stopping and we would get ticketed if we didn’t stop. Incline Village was VERY nice – a gorgeous wealthy neighborhood of wonderful lakeside houses and manicured sidewalks inhabited by rich, white, old people. VERY fancy.

We emerged from FancyLand onto the road which would take us south down the East shore, including Spooner Summit which climbed 800 ft up to 7,000 ft. I was feeling much calmer now. The roads were notably quieter in terms of car traffic and the line of cyclists had spread out better – I wonder if those two factors influence my confidence more than I’d expected.

The climb up to Spooner Summit, which I’d dreaded, was my favourite bit of the ride. The road is steady, never steep, although it goes on FOREVER! We climbed up above the lake, looking down on spectacular aquamarine water with people paddle-boarding and kayaking in the glinting sunshine. It was beautiful and I was really loving it. The climb went on for a long time and it got hot but we climbed steadily and made it to the aid station at the top before we knew it. We were jubilant.

Basically, our view on the climb. Photo from internet. Source.

The final 15 or so miles plunge downhill on a busy dual-carriageway…and my nerves came back. Descending. Busy roads. Not my bag. However there were signs everywhere about the cyclists and all the cars, without exception, gave us plenty of space as they bombed past us. Literally…the cars took the left lane, the cyclists had the entire right lane. I cannot complain at all. What shook me the most was the speed with which my fellow cyclists were flying down the mountain. I know I need to speed up and grow a pair, but people…you could die that fast!!!! Our final challenge was a tunnel but cars had been slowed down to 25mph (there was roadworks) and we cyclists went through as a bunch and it felt very safe.

The last eight miles went on forever with a couple of nasty little inclines for tired legs but literally before we knew it, the Husband and I were cruising jubilantly back into the Hard Rock Hotel and under the archway. We had done it. I was seriously chuffed…and got a bit weepy again.

The after-ride event was excellent. Food (mexican), pay-for beer/wine/smoothies. We got a medal too, which always rocks my world. We’d done the ride in 5 1/2 hours, at an average of 13.2mph which was much faster than I’d expected, even though it’s clearly nothing to write home about. It was a good day.

me cycling tahoe

Reflections on my ride

  • As I said, I was very nervous going into this ride – I literally had to chant Pinterest clichés about ‘life starting at the end of my comfort zone’. I have NO idea why I was so worried both before and during the ride. I’ve cycled my whole life, I cycled 1200 miles through Europe, I am never anxious during training rides by myself, I LOVE riding my bike. But somehow these organised rides make me tense and anxious. No idea why.
  • I did have legit concerns about the ride – not enough training, hills, altitude. In the end, none of those were problematic. The hills are not bad at all, the altitude didn’t affect me noticeably and my running fitness stood me in good stead for the cycling.
  • What seemed to worry me beyond those things were heavy traffic and lots of cyclists flitting around me. Once both car traffic and my fellow cyclists evened out, I was pretty solid.
  • Descending has never been my strong point but I am now cautious to the point of ridiculousness. If I sped up even a little, I’d knock minutes off my average mph. I really need to work on this but to be honest…finishing safely to get home to my little man is my overwhelming priority.

Reflections on the event

As  I said earlier, anyone can easily do this ride without paying for the privilege. There are little towns all along the west and north shore for eating/drinking etc although the east shore has no such places, so be aware. Having said that, I’m really glad we joined the event.

  • Each rest-stop had a mechanic and one of them saved my day. I’m really grateful.
  • A the first (two?) aid stations, you got the chance to send layers back in a Drop Bag, so I could have worn more clothes and left them there. There was no guarantee that the bags would be there when you got back so we chose not to (as we had a plane to catch). I saw plenty of drop bags when we got home, so I think this is an excellent idea for cyclists not pressed for time.
  • Each rest-stop was very well stocked with fruit, carbs, drinks, hydration options. Even though the lunchtime sandwich was poor, there were so many other excellent options that I was not hungry. I carried 3 cliff bars and 4 gels ‘just in case’ and I brought them all home with me.
  • There was a motorbike on the course for bike support. I felt reassured seeing it.
  • There was a medical tent at most (all?) of the aid stations. As a girl with a heart condition riding a bike up a mountain at altitude, I was really grateful. (No issues at all, by the way).
  • My fellow riders were, on the whole, very friendly and very courteous. Most passed carefully with an ‘on the left’. Some were less polite but generally, they were a nice bunch and we chatted to very nice people at the end.
  • We got a medal. I like medals. The T-shirt was less attractive (not a women-specific fit) but I did like the water bottle and my son instantly commandeered the headband. Everyone likes loot.

Overall, the event was very well organised and I can only speak highly of it. Thanks to all the organisers and volunteers – we had a great time.

And now, I must learn to descend!!

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Sounds like an amazing ride! (and looks like it too)
    I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I haven’t been on my bike in just about two years. I need to get back on it but life just seems to get in the way.
    That aside…I’m totally with you on the descent stuff. I’m fine with hills and climbs, passing everyone, and then on the flip side they all fly by me. It makes me nervous.
    I think we’re in good company 🙂
    Thanks for sharing this ride, might have to attempt it at some point.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thanks so much for your comment and for the descending-sympathy too! I’ve been encouraged by the number of commenters who said they were nervous too!! You should def get back on your bike…and do this ride, it’s wonderful!

  2. Layla says:

    So many things made me laugh: Man Flu, your nervous face photo, roadkill porcupine (!!), I’m so glad the mechanic fixed your bike, and that you had a good ride! Having done a relay around Lake Tahoe three times and vowing to never do it again, I’ve really wanted to ride it instead. Like you, though, the idea really worries me because of the climbing at altitude. And I’m also worse at descending now — I’m terrified of falling! There are tons of articles and even YouTube videos about it (which I have not looked at, for some reason), so at least we aren’t the only timid ones out there!

    Anyway, congratulations! Mission accomplished.

    1. Cathryn says:

      You should def do the ride – you are more than able, I promise. The climbs were very do-able. Emerald Bay had a few switchbacks but nothing horrific, and Spooner was just long and steady, very rideable. I was so surprised at how altitude didn’t seem to affect me cycling either.

      And thanks for the descending-sympathy. At least you have a good reason. I’m just a chicken.

  3. This sounds like a very challenging ride but beautiful. I keep hearing how beautiful Tahoe is but I have never been.

    I am also a cautious descender. I have gotten more brave over the years though. I chant “trust the equipment, trust the equipment” and then when it goes too fast I say oh, nope not trusting the equipment, slowing down. Ha! It’s scary.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Amy, thanks so much for the comment and the descending-sympathy. I think I just need to practise, descend more and get a bit braver. I like the ‘trust the equipment’ thing, I’ll try it.

  4. Jen says:

    You’re awesome! Congrats!
    I would be *SO* nervous on the descents, especially with cyclists and cars zooming past me. Actually the whole ride sounds terrifying, except for the wonderful scenery. You’ve come SO far as a cyclist – you should be proud of yourself!

  5. Angela says:

    Sounds like a fun experience! Glad it got better as it went on & you were able to finish strong & have fun. 🙂 (I have literally never been to Tahoe outside of winter & your pictures inspire me.)

    1. Cathryn says:

      Oh my word, we kept saying how gorgeous Tahoe was in the summer. We’ve been in winter, spring and autumn but never summer and it’s like a fairyland! Do it!!

  6. jess says:

    FancyLand definitely made me laugh. I also brake going down hill. All I can ever think about is, “Gah! What if I fall and then I can’t run!?”

    Great work here! Glad that you and IB did it together. M would not be anywhere near that gracious about having to ride slow.

    1. Cathryn says:

      In all honesty, when I had to wait for IB at another ride, you may remember me complaining madly to you. He is, by far, the nicer person in this marriage.

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