Winter Monday Shop Rides

The Line Up

I work with a great bunch of bike riders at the Reno Bike Project. As a community bike shop we serve the bike riding public in the greater Truckee Meadows with access to tools, DIY bicycle repair, economical used and new bicycle parts, refurbished bicycles, and a hub for bicycle culture. While during our peak season we are open 7 days a week, during our winter we are closed Sundays and Mondays. So this winter I planned on hosting Monday bike rides for my co-workers to share with them some favorite local routes.

Not everyone could make every ride nor could I plan a ride for every Monday but this is how it shook out.

The Cast:

Raymond Eliot – Public Workstation Guru

Ray Eliot coming into view

Crossing just below a boundary dune system

Ray and I have done some serious riding! Our 3 part tour from Pyramid Lake, around the Smoke Creek Desert, and to the Black Rock Desert was a true test of our ability to be bike riding partners. At work Ray is the one I lean on the most to make sure the shop runs well. He has mastered taking the naive bike mechanic and making sure they are successful with their bike repairs. Ray has accomplished a couple successful solo tours on the Pacific coast  as well.

His ride, KHS SixFifty 6500+

Allen “Ray” Hill – Meticulous Mechanic

Ray Hill above Gold Hill

I have known Allen the longest, coming up on 20 years. Now he goes by Ray and is known professionally as Bicycle Ray through his mobile repair bussiness. Ray believes in and embodies the spirit of the community bike shop. As a racer of 30’ish years Ray can tell you about every mile he has raced through California and Nevada.

His ride, KHS 4 Season 3000

Dean Magnuson – Bicycling Romantic to Fat Biking Proselyte

Dean and Moses rounding Winnemucca Lake

Riding together at the end of a long day

Dean came to the Reno Bike Project with the community spirit! Before he started volunteering hes was helping people find what they were looking for in our collection of used parts. After picking up on his valuable customer service I encouraged him to volunteer regularly, then in order to secure his free time we hired him. Dean’s vast collection of bikes, DIY on a budget experience and interest in “Community” makes him a great asset to the Bike Project. Dean has chronicled many of our rides on video.

His ride, Gravity Quigley

Mike Pickering – Punk Rock Bike Mechanic/ Shop Manager/ Bicycling Dad

Suiting up

Kid prep for a day on the road

Mike is the most talented bike mechanic I know. Coupled with his sense of fraternity, compulsive organization, and bike shop experience he is a key leader at the Bike Project. Mike is an avid adventure bike tourist involving his whole family, wife Erin, son Moses, and daughter Enola, in commuting, family picnicking, outings and camping. Mike is also an accomplished bag maker for bicycles and motorcycles. Check out his Instagram for more. His ride, Surly Krampus 29+

Elijah D. Lyons

Elijah has worn many hats so far at the Reno Bike Project. As a regular volunteer he has given his time to support all aspects of RBP’s daily functions. He is a regular participant of Dan’s Night and our annual functions. Most recently he was a participant in our FutureCycle internship program resulting in him becoming our most recent hire. He is instructing two Bicycle Repair Classes; Monday afternoons to the Girl Scouts and Thursday evenings to our members. Elijah is involved. Elijah also has professional interests in branding, design, and marketing.

His ride, Giant Trance, custom Bike Project build!

Jake Francis – Super Volunteer, Bike/Bee Guy

Regrouping

Moses checks out a rabbit mandible

Jake is a PhD candidate at the University of Nevada at Reno studying the ecology, ethology, and evolution of native bees. He came to us from the Recyclery in Asheville, NC. Jake is always willing to lend a hand with the public and most frequently takes charge at our weekly open bicycle repair clinic and is a regular instructor for our comprehensive bicycle repair class. Jake’s many interests and always positive attitude makes him very popular on bike outings.

His ride Lynskey Sportive

Hunter Lake Rd – Snow covered

Ray and Dean top of Hunter Lake Rd

The Ray Hill grin

“Allen” Ray Hill had just got a new KHS 4-Seasons Fatbike. With the goal of being able to ride all winter and the reality that we received 200% normal snow fall this year Ray went ahead with getting his fatbike.  Once he got his bike it was our duty to get him out. With an early snowstorm we took to the hills above “old southwest Reno” to climb into the Carson Range on a forest service road that bisects the Mt. Rose Wilderness. The route is easily accessible and challenging under any conditions. The increasing snow coverage kept it interesting and gave Ray Hill a true test for his new bike. With time allowing we rode to the high point between the Truckee Meadows and Hunter Lake. We earned a long descent back to the start slipping between partly snow covered rocks. Ray’s ear-to-ear grin was proof positive to how much he is enjoying his new bike.

Jumbo Grade – Ophir Grade – Virginia City

Jumbo to Ophir Grades, Virginia City

Moderate Ophir Grade

Getting your friends out to show them awesome places is a great feeling. Climbing the historic mule train route from Washoe Lake to Virginia City offers just that. I rode a version of this route about two year ago and became enamored with the history and natural beauty with of the area. Raymond just got his KHS full suspension 65ob (27.5) Plus bike (hows that for a marketer’s dream description).As the maiden voyage, this rugged route would be a good test.

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Climbing Jumbo Grade

Early in the route some of the wear and tear of erosion on the roads put us to the test and later the grade tested Mike’s power-endurance carrying his daughter, Enola, on the homemade kid seat on the back of his Surly Krampus. It baffles my imagination how the early mule trains transported ore and building materials up and down these roads.

Virginia City Jerky Co.

Lunch stop

Transitioning from Jumbo Grade to Ophir Grade we were above Gold Hill and Virginia City was just coming into view. The mellow ride into Virginia City was a welcomed rest. We had lunch at the Virginia City Jerky Co. then did a little sightseeing loop on the main C St and B St. Our return trip was a roller coaster ride through the junipers with views of Washoe Valley and the snow capped Carson Range.

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Ray H bottom of Jumbo

Winnemucca Lake – abandoned tungsten mine

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Dean, Ray, Mike and Enola heading out

Arcing around the south end of a relatively new playa this ride shined for a couple of reasons. First off our group included Jake Francis who is always a pleasure on a ride. Our group also included Moses Pickering, our shop manager Mike Pickering’s 7 year old son. Moses rode his mini-Plus bike with the adults the entire day. We all can say we have seen the future of bikepacking in Moses’ courage.

Bikepacking mentoring

Moses assisted by Dean’s firm arm and kind words

After a bit of route finding we were cruising along the east side of the playa past the opening to Coyote Canyon. Dean and I had ridden here so we could point out some of our favorite spots. But our goal today was a tungsten mine ruin beyond where Dean and I looped across the playa.

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Gravel along east side of Winnemucca Lake

Everyone was in awe of the remaining multi tiered concrete foundation. I think everyone has a favorite post-apocalyptic scene from a movie and this spot makes you feel like you walked onto the set. The site offers plenty to explore including a canyon wash behind the mine begging to be ridden.

Canyon wash to explore

Road above the mine, into Nightingale Range

The out and back return brought our day’s mileage just shy of 30 on hard pack, gravel, and sandy roads. While this was a test of everyone’s fitness our two junior adventurers truly rose to the occasion. Best of all, our group worked together and stayed together so that everyone had a great day. Also worth mentioning the day’s temperatures were hovering around freezing so props to our hearty band of bike adventurers.

Terraced canyon, Winnemucca Lake

I would love to see this in a flash flood

Bedell Flats – Willow Springs

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Across Bedell Flats from Fred’s Mountain to Dogskin Mountain

Bedell Flats is the depression south of the Dogskin Mountains maintained by the BLM between wild horse Herd Management Areas. The area’s proximity to Reno makes for an easy getaway to a silent sea of chaparral. While I have shared this area with many this was a first time outing for Mike and Enola, and Ray Hill hadn’t ridden out here since it was a training ride for him from northwest Reno.

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Enola, where are we going?

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Then where?

There were a few roads into the Dogskin Mountains with labeled springs I wanted to check out. With recent storm events I was hoping the riding conditions were passable. The area is known for its sandy conditions, which can be difficult for conventional mountain bikes when dry, and there are always slick clay bogs which can be impassible when wet. I knew there is always a gamble on conditions but it is worth taking by getting out there.

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Muddy low points Photo: Mike Pickering

The conditions were good. While there is an enormous amount of water in the desert right now the damp sand made for ridable conditions and the mud bogs were skirt-able (except the one I fell into). Much like soft snow, the climbing we did into the Dogskins in soft sand, compounded by the steepness of the grade, was much harder than we anticipated. We made a few spur of the moment route decisions that led us to quite scenic terrain.

Truckee Range – Fireball Ridge, Tolbert Canyon, North Valley

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Hot Springs Flat

Ray Eliot was so excited for our last ride when I announced we were taking off from I 80 exit 65, Nightingale Hot Springs. The name is a bit misleading, Nightingale refers to the old mining site to the north, while Hot Springs refers to the Bradys Hot Springs, which are privately harnessed for geothermal food processing. The water reaches the surface at about 300 degrees so there is no need to pack your bathing suit. Sorry, Ray.

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Ray getting ready to climb into the Truckee Range

But the area offers a series of dirt roads in all directions perfect to be explored by bike in near solitude. Ray, Elijah and I headed out after a break in the weather with the intent of riding through the Truckee Range and to the north creating a loop around Fireball Ridge. The roads were mostly dry but got muddy then snowy as we climbed into the mountains. As travel slowed we decided to not pres our luck and turned back.

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Mines on the south end of Fireball Ridge

Ray and I returned a few days later to continue our adventure. We brought our dogs with us who inadvertently pushed a group of cows to Tolbert Canyon before we could pass them on our way to North Valley.

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Tolbert Canyon, Truckee Range

We followed the most obvious dirt roads through the region. Power lines, pipe lines, and active mines seem to be the main motivation for roads through this area. Other than seeing two trucks shuttling back and forth to a mine and one personal vehicle on the eastern base of the Truckee Range we were alone. Easy access and a rich network of roads makes this area a great starting point for adventures lasting hours to days.

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Looking to North Valley and north end of Truckee Range

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The illusion of infinitely long dirt roads, Hot Springs Flat

We covered some ground this winter. I am already looking forward to what next winter will bring.

Ride Report; Brunswick Cyn, Pine Nut Mtn Range

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Rocky outcrop at the entrance of Brunswick Canyon

This was my fifth trip into the Pine Nut Range so I feel like I am becoming familiar with these roads. But that really is a false sense of familiarity as the OHV users in this area really have a vast network of roads and jeep trails at their disposal. When Dean and I did a loop in this area that included Sullivan Cyn Rd we crossed Brunswick Cyn Rd, and so the planning began.

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Off the main road there were several feet of fresh snow

I got some local information on how to approach the ride from Bike Carson as the recent snow and rain had caused flooding limiting some access points. Dean and I drove in from Highway 50, along North Deer Run Rd to Sedge Rd. From here our ride started, first on snowy muddy slush, then on packed snow.

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Spectacular winter scenery descending Brunswick Canyon

This route was fantastic! The canyon is beautiful in its geology and flora. We did see animal tracks in the snow and mountain bluebirds flitting about so I imagine wildlife viewing is outstanding at times as well.

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Dean’s quick gear check

We were focused on maneuvering through the snow more so than the grade of the climb. At one point Dean commented on how slow we were going. The combination of pitch and fresh snow on packed snowy roads definitely slowed us down. But there was a good level of distraction that kept us from thinking about how much we were climbing or how much snow we were pushing through.

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Always high spirits on new routes

At one point we were passed by a couple of ATV riders, one dragging a tire the other dragging a weighted section of chain link fence. We don’t know why but they were grooming about a 6 mile stretch of the road we figured as we saw them pass us four times before we saw where they ditched their grooming attachments.

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Snack time

We turned around at a given point about a mile from where the road T’s into Sunrise Pass Rd. Dean and I had ridden a section of Sunrise Pass as a part of our Eldorado Cyn – Como Rd loop. This ride was to be an out and back and the downhill return was much quicker. I would recommend this route as a passage through the Pine Nuts that once tied into Sunrise Pass and Como Rd going south would be a great route to Smith Valley and beyond.

After our ride we stopped at a local taqueria, Playa Azul, for a great lunch.

Thank you to Dean Magnuson for the great company and short video of our ride.

Familiar Rides on Snowy Terrain

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Ray Eliot negotiating a snowy winding descent on Winnemucca Ranch Rd

Here in northern Nevada, although we really have outstanding weather and riding conditions, we are experiencing record rain and snowfall this winter. We have seen flooding and extraordinary erosion in our rivers and small streams alike. And although this has impacted some ride plans we are still able to get out and explore our backroads and public lands.

Washout

Forest service road damage

Packed snow climb

Slick conditions require studded tires for efficient travel

Snowy coverage on familiar routes lends new experiences, challenges and appreciation to getting out under your own power. In the past few weeks I have returned to Dog Valley, Winnemucca Ranch Road, and Hungry Valley. All three rides are close to home which became an important consideration when travel was impacted by weather. At times I feel as if I have saturated the ride opportunities leaving from the house so alternative conditions and alternative ride companions can mix things up.

Dog Valley – Fat Bike and Snowshoe

When Interstate 80 closes between Verdi, Nevada and Truckee, California drivers who rely on GPS navigation receive alternate route information to take Henness Pass Rd. This phenomena has resulted in such rescues on this unplowed forest service road that there are signs posted approaching the end of pavement  that specifically tell drivers to disregard and GPS alternate route information. Once the news gets out that cars are stuck in the snow locals drive up the road to gawk and get stuck too. At one point there were 8 cars stuck in just a few miles of snowy road.

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All-Wheel drive equals all wheels stuck for this buried Subaru (photo: Dean Magnuson)

Dean and I headed up equipped with snowshoes in anticipation that the snow and grade would eventually become impassible by bike. We chatted with some hikers who were headed up the road to scout out the stuck cars. Dean and I only made it less than a mile before we switched to our snowshoes. This short section combined soft snow and 12% grade. It is hard to say if we could have pushed our bikes through to a more realistic grade and found some packed snow. We both enjoyed the snowshoe hike over the first pass, descending into Dog Valley proper then returning to the bikes. The multisport adventure is a great way to take advantage of our snowy conditions.

Winnemucca Ranch Road – Plus sized tires on packed snow

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Above 5,000′ snow covered the road

Raymond Eliot and I were headed north of Pyramid Lake to ride into the Fox Range on the east side of Smoke Creek Desert to explore the Pole Creek Wilderness Study Area. Unfortunately the as the road turned from pavement to gravel it was closed for repairs caused by the flooding of small streams and otherwise dry washes. As an alternated ride we back tracked to ride Winnemucca Ranch Rd.

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Dogskin Mtns in snow

We started where many great adventures begin – where the pavement ends. I have probably ridden in this area more than any other in northern Nevada. I am always in awe of the prominence of the Dogskin Mountains and the diversity of the Virginia Mountains from the Painted Hills to the massive Tule Peak. The first half of the ride was on frozen mud until we reached 5,000′ then the road was consistently covered in snow.

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Grooves from local ranchers made for tight “singletrack”

The damage to the road was severe in spots. The creek’s erosion had narrowed the road in a short section. Otherwise the conditions were very good. Our target path was to follow in the packed snow trenches formed by the rancher’s truck tires. As challenging as this was at time I was really impressed with the performance of our 27.5 X 3 tires. Ray was riding his new KHS SixFifty 6500+ and I was riding my Salsa Fargo.

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My Fargo with 27.5+ tires. New 7 L dry bag on fork carries a full change of winter clothes.

We turned around at Dry Valley Creek. It was running so high I did not think it was worth riding across risking falling in nor stripping down to cross on foot, drying off and dressing to pedal on only to have to repeat on the return. The return trip ended on the defrosted muddy road but with spectacular views of the Dogskin Mountains covered in snow.

Hungry Valley – Exiting on Argonaught Road

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With current land management policies affecting western States I hope we continue to see these signs

Hungry Valley might be the second or third most ridden area by me and it was the first area I featured in Bikepacking Northern Nevada. Riding north from my house I was able to get onto dirt and snow at Rancho San Rafael Park, climb Evans Canyon, then ride through Golden Valley to enter public lands managed by the BLM. Following packed snow on dirt roads I worked my way through Hungry Valley with the Lemon Valley neighborhood to the west and Hungry Valley Indian Colony to the east. I knew I could exit the valley in either direction, but I had not ridden the Argonaught Road trailhead before so I made that my goal. The final road was not recently tracked so I was very pleased the Fargo handled so well through the snow.

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A sweeping shot of Hungry Valley

 

The snowy conditions brought new life to three rides I have repeated I don’t know how many times. I shared those rides with friends who had not ridden them before let alone in these conditions. I find it challenging to get out this time of year. I really have to talk myself into dressing and preparing to ride. Once I’m out I am completely happy. But then at some point in the ride I get uncomfortable and doubt creeps in. Then I have to convince myself to continue on to the next goal. So, “Get out and stay out”!

 

Ride Report; First Ride in Adrian Valley and Churchill Narrows

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Craggy bluffs above the Churchill Site

This was my third trip out to  Fort Churchill State Park and I am liking it more with each visit. On this trip I wanted to explore Adrian Valley and a feature on the map called the Churchill Narrows. I am looking for various routes into the Pine Nut Mountains and I have traced this route to Churchill Canyon and Como Rd.

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I seek out these emigrant trail markers

When exploring this route by satellite view I was not impressed with what I saw. Everything was the same shade of Nevada brown and I was not expecting much for scenery. But Nevada did not let me down. The scenery was fantastic with craggy bluffs, eroded canyons, large cottonwoods, and plenty of birds for wildlife viewing.

 

In the first field we crossed we saw a group of male blue birds. I’m not sure I have seen a more brilliant blue outside the tropics. I am thankful for the natural history knowledge Dean brings on our rides. He also identified a marsh hawk. Bird identification is not a skill of mine.

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Churchill Spring creates a small aquatic oasis in the desert

We came to the Churchill Site and Churchill Spring. It is always amazing to find water in the desert and see the oasis it creates.

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Against the cliffs we saw a hawk flying about. Unfortunately I do not have a camera or the experience to photograph wildlife. But if you do, Nevada’s  public lands deliver plenty of opportunity to those who seek it.

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Fat and plus size tires make exploring Nevada much easier  

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Before entering the wash

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Our “trail” for the next few miles

We took a side road to the west along a buried pipeline. Our hope was to find a loop back to the park but we chose to loop back to the Churchill Spring via a boulder strewn wash. The size of the wash really inspired my imagination as to the enormity of the flash floods required to create it.

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Once back at the park we rode the nature trail to Buckland Station at the intersection of State Highway 95 and the Carson River. It is fantastic that bikes are permitted on the park’s trails. We chatted with a ranger who recommended continuing along the trail following the Carson River downstream along the Carson River Ranches to Lahontan State Recreation Area. Definitely a goal for my next visit to Churchill State Park.

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Park maintained buildings near Buckland Station

Fort Churchill Historic State Park

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Just outside the museum, overlooking the the ruins in “arrested decay”

This ride was originally inspired by Bike Your Park Day promoted by the Adventure Cycling Association. As a result this was my third trip into the area completing the 15 miles of gravel road on Fort Churchill Rd along the Carson River. For this ride I invited Raymond Eliot, of our Smoke Creek Desert adventures among others, and drove to the start of the dirt road in Dayton.

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Spectacular buttes

We made our first stop at buttes that loom over the road. The photos do not do them justice but even more captivating was the blue sky backdrop. At first I thought It was an effect of my sunglasses but these photos were shot without any enhancement from my cell phone. Unfortunately the fall colors have finally passed but my last ride in this area boasts the colors of the Carson River corridor.

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Pony Express route along the Carson River

There are many reasons to ride a route, from no reason just curiosity, to arriving at particular destination, to overcoming challenging terrain, and for this ride I chose it to explore the pioneer history of Nevada. This route follows a section of both the Pony Express Route and the Emigrant Trail Route. Unfortunately I did not photograph the Emigrant Trail marker. The State Historic Park is a fantastic bikeable destination.

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Great signage throughout the park

I was surprised by the number of ruins still standing at this site. The popular pictures of the fort do not do the park justice. Ray and I biked the Ruins Loop had a quick bite at the museum. I will definitely return to check out the Buckland Loop, Railroad, Joseph Stewart, and Nature Trails.

I always enjoy the efforts the parks go to to create interpretive trails. Fort Churchill was no exception.

The fort’s adobe walls do a great job at blending into the sagebrush background. It would be fun to visit the ruins at sunrise and sunset to capture them unique light. My next planned visit will be to explore the Churchill Narrows, a canyon used by the railroad to the south of the Park. Our bike route is here.

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Too close, too large to capture in one photo

Sullivan Canyon Rd, The Pine Nut Mountains

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Looking down Sullivan Cyn Rd, cut trees across trail

Sullivan Canyon Road is CLOSED. What a great way to start a ride description. After riding Old Como Rd and Eldorado Canyon I have been scanning the maps of the Pine Nut Mountains to pick out other routes. Sullivan Canyon seemed like a logical pick, it branches off Eldorado Canyon to the west and has a named road leading up it to boot. I was able to plot a moderate loop covering new ground on designated roads back to our familiar start at the BLM Public Lands Access in Dayton. But I had no idea to the status of Sullivan Canyon Rd.

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Dean fixing a flat about halfway up Sullivan Cyn

I invited Dean Magnuson on this ride as he really enjoyed our ride up Eldorado Canyon. This route shared the same beginning as our previous ride into the Pine Nuts. We entered the canyon and were surprised by the deep water in our path. October had been the area’s wettest on record. But the current temperatures were mild and the sun was warming so wet feet were not a concern on this trip.

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Entering Eldorado Cyn, fall colors and pools of water

Riding through Eldorado Canyon we easily passed the entrance to Sullivan Canyon. After backtracking our GPS told us we were standing at the opening but there was no obvious trail. There had been extensive tree cutting  so we scouted out the trail from the debris and started our stubborn hike a bike up Sullivan Cyn.

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My first experience seeing pinyon pine nuts in the wild. Quite a cornucopia!

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I tried a few off the ground, not bad

We topped out of the canyon after a mile and a half struggle of humping our bikes over downed trees, in and out of the eroded canyon, all the while encouraged by the occasional motorcycle track that went nowhere. At this point we were chasing the waning sunlight of our ever shorter days so I looked for ways to shorten our loop back to our vehicle. We still had a steep two miles until we topped out with the sun low on the horizon.

 

Navigating the roads through the Pine Nuts requires local, on the ground knowledge. I felt lucky that our return loop got us back to our start without us needing to hike up extraordinarily steep and loose trails. As it turned out we got to descend them. The twisting ATV/jeep roads were fun and challenging to follow. But if our loop had been in the reverse orientation the ride would have been much slower and less fun. Our distraction in Sullivan Cyn led Dean to skip lunch. His energy levels were falling off on the climbs, while I just thought he was enjoying the views.

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Looking east to the shoulders of Lyon Peak where our last trip through the Pine Nuts took us

 

The area above Sullivan Canyon is rich in mining prospects and would be fun for any rock hound. As it stands Eldorado Cyn gets our vote for the best passage into the Pine Nut Mountains. The moderately technical climb through great floral and geological diversity is very entertaining. The next two routes to explore will be Brunswick Canyon Rd and the Churchill Narrows.

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 Near Fiddlers Green

A link to the ride is here.

Staff Retreat 2016; Austin, NV

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Noah on the ridge over Sand Mountain

Who knew that Sand Mountain had a raging Halloween weekend party? Our staff retreat plan for this year was to drive out US 50 to Sand Mountain, camp, bike, then continue on to Middlegate, Big Creek Campground, Kingston, and Spencer Hot Springs for more camping and biking. But as we approached Sand Mountain we couldn’t figure out what was the well lit town in the distance. But it was clear the OHV crowd had descended on this popular site for the Halloween weekend. Trucks were in overflow parking all the way back to the highway. I am sure their party was fantastic but we were looking for a slightly different Nevada experience.

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Our barely legal campsite near the Naval Training Reserve

Looking at the map I decided we would  cross over Sand Springs Pass and follow a dirt road to the north to find a suitable campsite. Nevada was getting more than its normal share of rain from a storm on the west coast so we were hoping for a window of fair weather between the storms. We enjoyed a warm fire, a star filled sky, and fun conversation before retiring to our tents on unusually wet ground.

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Campfire conversations with friends, Dean and Ray Hill

The next morning we woke to foggy cloudy skies (and the occasional Apache helicopter) and slowly rallied for a ride up a wash in the Stillwater Range. As the Reno Bike Project’s Fearless Seven we were Noah Silverman, Genevieve Parker, Ray Eliot, Ray Hill, Dean Magnuson, Crystal Wang, and Kurstin Graham. We rode up to a eroded box canyon with curious geology. Then we came across a killing field with horse skeletons. At this point our ride split in two with four of us finding a path to a Sand Mountain overlook and the rest returned to camp. A map of the ride is here.

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A dance off, Crystal and Ray E.

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Goofy co-workers are the best

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Ray entering the box canyon

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Checking out the skeletons

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Back at camp we packed up and drove on to Middlegate for lunch. The drive had my neck on a swivel looking for dirt roads crossing the valleys and disappearing into the mountains. One that has earned my pledge to return is Dixie Valley Rd to Elevenmile Canyon into the Stillwater Range. The Middlegate Station served up a satisfying lunch with a healthy side of  Nevada’s loneliest highway and pioneering memorabilia. Then it was off to Big Creek Campground just south of Austin.

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The Big Creek drainage was occupied by hunting camps until we arrived. I am sure the hunters were thinking, there goes the neighborhood! We occupied the group campsite along the creek and settled in next to a fire and BBQ dinner. The skies cleared to show off the stars but shortly after retiring to our tents the wind came up making it a rough night’s sleep for most. The next morning we woke to wind and heavy skies. This was not the weather we were hoping for our ride to explore the canyons off Big Creek.

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Is that coffee ready?

We drove through to Kingston in hope the weather would clear up. The forest service road through the Toiyabe Range is worth exploring by bike offering rugged side canyons and numerous quality campsites. The trees had already lost there leaves so to capture the fall colors I think returning in late September or early October would be exquisite. We passed Groves Lake, a reservoir fed by Kingston Creek. I had camped there earlier this summer and was surprised to see it drained.

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In Kingston we stopped at Zach’s Lucky Spur Saloon, unfortunately too early to be served. But  Zach invited us in to check it out and he shared the local insight for outdoor excursions in the area. We were heading to Spencer Hot Springs to soak, ride and camp. But the “Big Loop” includes Toquima Cave, Potts Hot Springs, and Dianas Punch Bowl Hot Springs. All the more reason to return to the area.

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A great soak, Dean found solitude, Ray gets a hand-off from Genevieve, and Crystal protects the cooler

We were warned that the Halloween crowd had also invaded Spencer Hot Springs. But when we got there there were two campers that became one. The weather seems to be taking its toll. We occupied the main tub in the rain for a wonderful soak. But the storm was showing no signs of letting up. Rather than risking a cold wet night in our tents we decided to call the trip on account of weather and make the 200+ mile trip back to Reno.

This was a great trip that added to our past retreats to the Black Rock Desert and Soldier Meadows.  These remind us of what is available “Only in Nevada.”

Ride Report; Fort Churchill Road

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This ride was originally inspired by Adventure Cycling’s Bike Your Park Day, which was September 24, 2016. As a celebration of the National Park Service Centennial, Adventure Cycling’s 40th, and National Public Lands Day, riders were encouraged to take advantage of reduced park fees and get out and ride your park. Unfortunately I had a commitment on the 24th but wanted to share this ride anyway.

I did small road ride from Dayton State Park, along the Carson River, to the end of the pavement on Fort Churchill Road. This was part of the historic Pony Express route. This first ride opened my eyes to the dirt roads into the Flowery Range. So a plan was hatched, I would ride from Reno to Virginia City and descend Six Mile Canyon Rd to Dayton. Then I would continue on gravel to Fort Churchill State Historic Park.

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I had a day to do this but I did not pick one with the best forecast. It was windy and northern Nevada windy is gusting over 45 miles an hour. The climbs on Old Toll Road and Geiger Grade are some of my favorites in Reno. At the entrance to Virginia City I turned on Mill St. to Six Mile Canyon Rd. As I descended I was dazzled by the changing cottonwoods which was a foreshadow of what was to come.

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The adventure began when Fort Churchill Rd turned to dirt. Much of the Carson River is lined with cottonwoods. Unfortunately most of the land of the road was private blocking access to the river. There was a middle section that was public and the access looked like a great place to picnic or camp. Unfortunately I chose to turn back when my cyclometer indicated I had be out for 4 1/2 hours and 47.5 miles. I still had five miles or so to go to get to the State Park. I was afraid I was going to run out of light or legs or both on my return (I did pack lights on this ride).

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While I had options to not make this such the out-and-back ride I figured my best bet for hiding from the wind was to return much of the way I came. I will be back to this area soon. A friend of mine, Billy Vicks, has photos from Churchill Butte so I must get his route information. To the south, into the Pine Nut Mountains, lies the Churchill Narrows which intrigues me as well.

I have mentioned Davis Creek Regional Park and Washoe Lake State Park as great resources for bike tourist traveling through our area. Now I must include Dayton State Park and promise to report on Nevada State Parks as I visit them. My ride map is here.

Ragged Top Rd. and Emigrant Trail Loop

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Heading north from Nightingale Hot Springs exit from I-80 

Dean and I had ridden a few miles of Ragged Top Road when we visited the mining ghost town of Jessup. My memory was of a gravel road in pretty good shape that extended long and straight from the Truckee Range across the Granite Springs Valley to the Trinity Range. Its namesake, Ragged Top, comes from the unmistakable peak on the range, Ragged Top Mountain. The route started off Interstate 80, at Nightingale Hot Springs, about 50 miles east of Reno. I plotted the route to Toulon on the other side of the Trinity Range then had Garmin suggest the return route to create a loop.

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Ragged Top Mountain in the distance

The first 10 miles of gravel road ranged from packed dirt road to rocky Nevada cobble to freshly graded road that headed for a prominent mine. The road climbed increasing until I left Hot Springs Flat and descended into Sage Hen Wash. From here I picked up Ragged Top Rd. and could see Ragged Top Mtn. in the distance.

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The length of the Trinity Range

One of the great appeals of exploring backroads by bike is the lack of traffic. I saw one pickup near the mine at the beginning of my ride and that was it. I was on a paved road for a short section much later in the ride that had some gravel hauling traffic but other than that much of the road I traveled barely showed tracks from the last passersby. Nevada contains wonderful solitude for those who seek it.

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Living off the grid

There were two homes along the road. One hidden by a hill but vividly marked with no trespassing signs. The next homestead was strikingly different. I thought I was approaching a hunter’s camp. It looked like several RV’s and maybe a cabin tent rounded off with a portable water tank and outhouse. But it turned out to be a homestead of “acquired dwellings” to put it kindly. At this point I was leaving Copper Valley and entering Granite Springs Valley. To the eye though it looks like one big valley.

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Granite Springs Valley

At some point I was half way along Ragged Top Rd. but with such perspective the distances are deceiving. I was afraid at any moment the road would turn to sand and I could be hiking indefinitely. It did get soft but only for a few hundred yards. Eventually I started climbing out of Granite Springs Valley and into the Trinity Range. On the ground exploration pointed out several quality roads crossing the valley to the north. As the wheels were turning my plans to return were in the making.

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These two photos capture Granite Springs Valley

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Another high quality gravel road off Ragged Top Rd. baiting my return

Cresting the pass, my view of Granite Springs Valley was obscured by the mountains but the valley ahead of me was stunning. Ahead of me were the Humbolt and Stillwater Ranges. The steep descent took me through a ragged canyon with side roads that would be worthy of fat bike exploration.

 

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From the summit on Ragged Top Rd. looking to the southeast.

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A change in the road side geology as I descended into Toulon

Approaching I-80, at Toulon, the road turned paved for a few yards but soon I was back on a gravel frontage road between the freeway and the railroad tracks. This return route was expected to be boring yet proved to be an adventure as well.

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The pavement did not last long at the mill site in Toulon

The highlight was coming across the emigrant trail marker and Nevada historical marker. One plan I have for 2017 is to get the route maps of the emigrant trails to explore by bike.

This was the maiden voyage of my KHS Grit 440 gravel bike. It is a carbon disc brake road bike equipped with Shimano 105 11 speed drive train and 700 x 35 WTB Cross Boss tires. I was impressed by the comfortable ride and smooth shifting. I added the Revelate Designs Tangle, Pika, Gas Tank and Mountain Feed bags to carry my kit. I ride clipped in to Look S-Track pedals.

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Nevada, Don’t Fence Me In

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Roads connecting mining sites welcome my next explorations in this area

My route from Garmin Connect is here.

Passage through Lake Range; Three Mile and San Emidio Canyons

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I was unsure of this route from the very beginning. The Lake Range is a prominent mountain range along the east shore of Pyramid Lake and creates the backdrop that most visitors appreciate when they visit this gem of northern Nevada. To the east of the Lake Range is Winnemucca Lake, the Selenite and Nightingale Ranges.  To the west of the Lake Range is Pyramid Lake, San Emidio Desert, and the Fox Range. On my previous visits I scanned the eastern slope of the range along State Route 447 looking for roads into the range. Following up with cross referencing maps it seemed Three Mile Canyon offered a mix of broken double track and a dry wash to a saddle with a similar prospect to descend into the San Emidio Desert.

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So there was the loose plan I presented to Dean Magnuson, who is a great riding partner for many reasons including going along with my uncertain plans. We found the road and started out off the pavement of SR 447 with a view of Winnemucca Lake playa and the Selenite and Nightingale Ranges behind us. We quickly entered the dry wash of Three Mile Canyon and realized the necessity of our fat bikes to ride the sandy, rocky wash. I had considered riding plus sized tires which would have been ok, but probably required a bit of hike-a-bike in the softest sections. There are always trade-offs with tire selection.

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After passing snakes, lizards, and a tarantula we made our way to the top of the canyon and found an overgrown and rutted double track descent to the San Emidio Desert. To the north was a power line which is likely to have a service road through the range as well. Across the desert lies the Fox Range separating the San Emidio and Smoke Creek Deserts. The route we were following seemed to show very little traffic adding to its aesthetic.

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The San Emidio Desert has a small playa to the north but otherwise has sparse vegetation where we rode. There were several choices in all directions which will definitely bring me back to San Emidio.

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We rode south into San Emidio Canyon. It was a gentle climb on dirt road that eventually followed a significant wash fed by San Emidio Spring. We came to a corral and stone walls in the canyon. But as time would allow we picked this as a turn around point.

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Beyond this point it looks as though the double track will climb to a vista point overlooking the north end of Pyramid Lake. This area is on Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation land so camping does require a permit.

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Our return trip followed our original route in part because of time restraints. As an alternate return we debated riding north to the power line road which offered less climbing but greater mileage. In the end the descent through the winding, sandy, rocky wash of Three Mile Canyon (3.7 miles in length) was a blast! “Dean, this is your kind of ride!”

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Three Mile Canyon is a great connector for off road touring routes going east and west in this part of northern Nevada. This route would connect rides in the Selenite  and Nightingale Ranges with the rides in the Virginia Mountains and Smoke Creek Desert. The San Emidio Desert is an unsung destination for northern Nevada as well. It is home to the San Emidio Geothermal Plant and Empire Farms but its remoteness is its greatest attraction.

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