Fat Tire Festivals Are F#@%!ng Fun
Who doesn't love bikes, brew, food, and fun shenanigans?
I can't exactly remember when I first saw the Facebook notification for the Bear Valley Fat Tire Festival. What I do know is that I immediately added it to the calendar, but didn't plan too much beyond that. As the event got closer, I checked to see who might be interested in heading over Ebbett's Pass for the fun. It's always funny how Flake-Tahoe can affect people. Finally, I got a friend seriously interested. Now, we just had to get ourselves rallied and out of town.
Neither one of us signed up online or early. I know that is a bit irresponsible and can be poor etiquette. Maybe we were both apprehensive that the other might flake? But, we actually planned campsites, food, days off, etc. So, Friday afternoon came and we started to rally. By rally, I mean at 3:00pm head over to Classic Cue for a bite to eat before shopping, the long drive, camping, and riding ahead.
Classic Cue (https://tahoeclassiccue.com) has some tasty burgers, tacos, tots, and beers. So, since we had to go to Raley's for a few things we decided to grab a bite and not shop while we were hungry. We stopped in for beer and tacos...in about that order. It was still early, so we weren't too worried about the long drive ahead. And, we needed to coordinate our shared resources to collaborate into one camp setup.
Well, one beer led to another, and the next thing we knew we were playing pool, eating our tacos, and watching the sun set. There went our idea to get there with enough daylight to find a good campsite. So, I decided to have quite a few more beers while our designated driver let his food settle.
Most of the Bear Valley neighborhood campsites stopped taking reservations after September 30th. So, they would be first come, first served for availability. How big was this even going to be? Could we get skunked on a campsite? Well, might as well get one more beer while we get a list of possible alternative spots to call it a night. Or, maybe we head out early in the morning? There was still plenty of time to decide...after another beer and I still had tots to finish.
Eventually, we ran across the street, completed our grocery shopping, dropped the dogs off to be watched, and headed home to pickup our bikes. Everything was now packed and ready to go...at about 11pm at night. Time to hit the road.
Ebbetts Pass is a beautiful road, in the daytime. At night, it’s a quiet, lonely, twisting, mountain road. But, at least you can see headlights when another vehicle is headed your way down the 1 and a half lane highway. At this point, we weren’t sure about any of the official campsites. But, we had a few ideas for places where we could boondock. I made sure to enter those spots before we lost cell service. As we twisted and turned down the highway, a myriad of spots popped up here and there. But, we didn't want to drive too far in the morning. So, we kept on rolling mile after mile.
The funny thing about Bear Valley is that it's not far, as the crow flies. In fact, it's possible to look off the backside of Kirkwood and spy Bear Valley rising up in the distance. But, this is the Sierra Nevada. So, each twist and turn added to the drive. Eventually, we approached Bear Valley Resort (https://www.bearvalley.com) and found a side road to follow. There were already a few trucks and a Raiders pop-up at the bottom of the road. We passed them and continued up the road a bit more. Eventually, we passed a downed tree, a pit toilet, and found a nice spot to call it a night...smack dab in the middle of the firing range.
Getting into camp at 2:00am didn't exactly prepare us for a rise and shine morning.We worked on getting coffee and breakfast together. We also double checked the schedule of events for the day. Registration was between 9-10:00am, then there would be a morning ride, followed by lunch, then an afternoon ride. We figured that we were right down the road, so we could catch the tail end of registration and get right into riding. Only one small detail.
Camp was packed up. Our gear was ready. So, we headed up the mountain to Bear Valley Resort. It was a ghost town, except for a Father-of-the-bride preparing for his daughter's nuptials later in the day. Did we pick the wrong date? Did the event get cancelled? Well, time to introduce ourselves and see if we can get any local 411.
Turns out that it's a small world. After a little small talk and realizing how connected our small world is, our local insider suggested we follow him down the road into town to the Bear Valley Village. It seems we miscalculated and this event was supposed to meet at the Bear Valley Adventure Company (https://www.bearvalleyxc.com). Whoops. Guess we might be a little late. Time to see how our miscalculation would affect our experience.
Bear Valley Adventure Co. has what you need to get out and explore the local trails.
Pulling into the parking lot, we saw the pop up tents, as well as quite a few vehicles equipped with empty bike racks. I stepped out of the car, looked around, and walked over to see how badly we messed up. We actually weren't that late, so I bet we could catch up to join in the shenanigans.
I walked over towards the two pop up tents and just happened to meet one of the coordinators of the event. This was a true, all hands on deck, event. Aaron Johnson has been involved with Bear Valley for 20+ years. He's been in the ski school, involved in local mountaineering training, and is now with the Bear Valley Adventure Company, our hosts for the event. He was very accommodating and helped get us registered for the afternoon ride. We got some raffle tickets. He also let us know that beers were in the cooler and when lunch would be served. This is my type of event.
Step right up. Pick a ride, any ride?
Ticket prices are very reasonable, especially when you know that the revenue is going towards trail improvement. This particular event was to raise money for some new trail signage. Bear Valley's trails are year-round multi-use trails. The Summertime trails are shared with bikers, hikers, equestrians, and OHV enthusiasts. Basically, there's a little bit of something for everyone. So, why wouldn't you want to help improve this trail system and the Bear Valley Trail Stewardship (http://www.bearvalleytrails.org) does an excellent job at helping establish, maintain, and preserve many of these trails.
Before we could hit the trails, it was time for lunch. Many of the other visitors were coming in from their morning ride and recharging before the afternoon session. We sat down and spoke to many of the guests. They were from all different areas. There were quite a few from around the Bay Area. But, there were also quite a few "mountain folk" from Lake Tahoe, Woodfords, Markleeville, Arnold, Murphys, and Bear Valley. We shared stories about the local terrain, where we all liked to ride on our home turf, and shared a yummy, health conscious, meal, as well as a few Sierra Nevada beers. We also checked out the possible raffle prizes contributed by a few generous donors. But, there was some afternoon riding to tackle before any prizes could be claimed.
Rider organization was pretty well categorized by skill level. We signed up for the Advanced ride and introduced ourselves to a few of those joining us on the ride. But, there were rides for all ability levels - Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. The Advanced group had quite a few riders of all ages. We loaded up in the support vehicles to head back up the hill towards the Bear Valley Resort parking lot.
Even though this was a shuttle, we still had to earn our ride. We started right up one of the fire roads and I definitely felt the beer, sausage, kale salad, and our lack of a warm up ride. But, everybody was keeping a good pace. Nobody got left in the dust. So far, so good.
Keep up the pace, and enjoy the view.
Top of Bear Valley. It's all downhill from here. Or, is it?
The trails crisscross through many of the resort's winter trails. There is a nice mix of doubletrack, singletrack, and a little bit of navigation is needed to maintain your course. Thankfully, the ride included two guides, as well as a few riders that had some local knowledge. Throughout the ride, the group became more and more organized by uphill pace, skills, and downhill speed. There was only one mechanical, and one issue with asthma, possibly due to the dusty trails. Eventually, our advanced group turned into three smaller groups. But, we all made it back and shared our stories and experience over a few more beers. Thank you, Sieera Nevada Brewing Co. (https://sierranevada.com). Those beers definitely helped rinse the dust from my mouth.
Now, time for a few post-ride snacks, beverages, and raffle prizes. The Johnsons handled the prizes and I'm pretty sure that everyone left the event with one prize or another. We learned more about the trail stewardship. And, we exchanged contact info to share some of our own local trail information with others.
When a bunch of like-minded individuals get together, a lot of things can happen. One thing I noticed about this event was the small community camaraderie. Everyone was a part of the action. Nobody was ostracized or excluded. And, there really was a little bit for all abilities and ages. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone, as well as their backstory. We're all a bunch of crazy mountain bikers enjoying the ride. It's pretty awesome seeing more and more events like these popping up, especially around our mountain communities. We can't wait to head back next year. Cheers!!! Keep the shiny side up until then.
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