Sierra Cascades Day 1: Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe

If anyone ever suggests you start a tandem bike tour by biting off 147 miles with over 12,000 feet of climbing from Sacramento over to South Lake Tahoe, laugh at that person. Tell them to think seriously about what they are doing. Advise no.

Now Felkerino and I pack light since we credit card tour, but we still carry more than we would on a summer day ride. We did not anticipate how the heat and 80 miles of earnest up on the second half of our ride, combined with our added weight, would slow us. Dry heat steadily sucked the energy away from my legs and up out of my head as the afternoon sun bore down. 

100 degrees in the shade

We started riding at 7:30 a.m. and arrived in South Lake Tahoe at 11 p.m. It was one of the tougher days of riding for me in recent memory. We took at least three hours off the bike, but still.

We rode steadily to lunch, but then the day got away from us and we climbed at a crawl for hours and hours. As we climbed higher into the trees of the Sierras the heat abated but our daylight began to fade, too. A night ride in the mountains became inevitable.

The ride through the darkness initially scared me because I was clinging to the idea that one should only ride through the mountains in daylight, especially when bike touring. And I was angry at myself for how much time our ride was taking. This is no brevet; this is vacation!

But it essentially became a brevet style ride- one that we would probably have timed out on- because of the unrelenting ascent. Once I accepted our night ride fate, and once that awkward yet lovely hour between sunset and true night passed, life didn’t seem so bad after all. 

I thank the stars for that. We don’t see much in the way of stars in the city, and they are always faint dots in the sky when we do. But on this ride I kept company with the vivid starlight above the mountains, far away from any streetlights or other ambient light. The stars’ nocturnal brilliance boosted my spirits and the energy in my tired legs.

Carson Pass

I also thank the morale boost we received from a very kind couple in Plymouth. They took interest in our tour and bought our lunch for us. I fed (ha ha) off their act of kindness when our day became such an unexpected challenge.

Our years of randonneuring have taught me that you must ride the ride you’re on, and not the one you planned. We had enough lighting, reflective gear, food, water, and clothing to plod forward, and we both knew if we kept pedaling, we would eventually arrive. 

And we did. The pizza place even stayed open for us, despite having closed at 11. 

It wasn’t the first day of bike tour vacation that I envisioned, but we made it just fine. Fatigued but fine. If you’re going to do an unplanned night ride, why not do it on your bike vacation. 

10 thoughts on “Sierra Cascades Day 1: Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe

  1. I love biking in the dark. I guess it’s because it’s quiet and the stars are so beautiful and I can hear owls! I commute to work in the dark often and am used to it. Where did you spend the night? Jo

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  2. holy smokes ed and mg!!! what a ride! ive ridden parts of that route…and i chose to ride at night because im a night owl, and i like riding at night. duh. anywho, that is hard on a tandem!! best wishes for a fun, safe ride out there on the better coast, mike (ps: here in dc its hot and humid. we sat in the stands sweating watching the nats lose….hahaha)

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    1. Yeah, it was a big first day. We had a great time riding in these lower temperatures and very little humidity the last two weeks, though.

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  3. Glad you survived day (and night) one! That can be a very hot area this time of year. The lack of sun later in the day may have been a blessing in disguise.

    Hope the rest of the trip goes splendidly! 🙂

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    1. You are right. The cooler temps helped our progress (except for my shivering legs on the descent into town)! And like Jo said, the quiet of night was also helpful in its way. It took away the urgency to get there, I think.

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  4. Wow, that’s an epic day. Ceci and I are going on a bike vacation in a few days but we won’t do anything quite that extreme. Good luck and tailwinds on the rest of the trip. Have fun!

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