Introductions to trips like this often times get wrapped up in marketing jargon, or storylines that revolve around re-imagining historical tales, and that’s not a bad thing at all! Finding a story on a trip gives it more meaning, more impact, and overall a better reading experience. Yet, the lack of a story doesn’t inherently doom a tale. Sometimes having fun on new trails is enough motivation to spur a road trip of epic proportions. To be honest, the story here is motivated by one thing: finding solid mountain bike riding along Nevada’s Highway 50, which was dubbed “The Loneliest Road in America” by Life magazine in July 1986.
Highway 50 begins in the west with Lake Tahoe, through the state capital in Carson City, various mining operations, indigenous petroglyphs, high alpine forests filled with aspen trees, desert valleys lined with rabbit brush, ghost towns that serve as a reminder of the boom or bust era, folk art, and Great Basin National Park when it hits the Utah border.
Its history stems from the corridor laid forth by the Pony Express and Central Overland Route, until later becoming the Lincoln Highway. Initially designated State Route 2, before the United States Highway System was formed, the easternmost region of HWY 50 was altered significantly, thanks to a longtime rival with Utah over who could provide Californians with the best transcontinental route, the Lincoln or Victory Highway.
Well, mining took a stronghold throughout Nevada and many of these towns flourished with the prospect of gold, silver, and copper. The Boom or Bust era flooded the state with economic prosperity. Yet with every boom in assets, came a bust of economic proportions, riddling many of these quaint towns with economic hardship, and falling revenue.
Contrarily, where the white man tried to control the land, draining it from its valuable minerals, the indigenous people of Nevada were able to live symbiotically in this harsh environment, living at the lower elevations in the winter months and finding their way atop the mountains in the summer, hunting and scavenging for food, while marking the land with petroglyphs, and littering its soil with the blood from fresh kills, and stone hunting tools such as arrowheads and spears.
The story in Nevada is much the same as it is elsewhere in the American West. Colonization tried to control, to apprehend, to suffocate the land, while the Indigenous people were of the land. Now, along HWY 50, the Northern Paiute, the Walapai, and the Washoe still live, on reservations, only a fraction of the size of their original territory.
We’ve looked before at the concept of “Recreation as a Resource,” namely cycling such as dirt road riding and mountain biking. In this region, in particular, the largest alpine lake in America offers a number of options for the ambitious cyclist, with the Tahoe Rim Trail providing ample challenges no matter your skill level. Many towns in California and throughout the American West have thrived from embracing mountain bike tourism. From Fruita, Colorado, to Moab, Utah, and Bend, Oregon, these towns have seen an increase in revenue and jobs thanks to adventure-seeking adrenaline junkies on two wheels. Could this work for Nevada?
That’s what we intend to discover here as we embark on a mountain bike journey across the state on the Loneliest Highway in America.
Carson Valley: Tahoe Rim Trail to Clear Creek Trail
When a new trail opens, a lot of money has been sunk into studying, surveying, and observing the land, before an ounce of dirt has been moved by the local volunteers. That’s where the tourism board comes into play. They want to get people out there on the trails, in part to bring money into town but also so that all the hard work put in by the locals get some recognition. We were contacted by Travel Nevada to check out the new Clear Creek Trail. A team was assembled including Kyle Horvath from Visit Ely, James Adamson, a cinematographer, Sarah Sturm, professional cyclocross racer and outdoorswoman, Teal Stetson-Lee pro cyclist, pro-people herder for the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, Yuri Hauswald, a pro cyclist and brand ambassador, Kurt Gensheimer, the Sierra Buttes’ trail whisperer and historian, Mark Weir, the bigger than life pro MTB legend, and myself, John Watson from this very website. We all brought something to the table, from local knowledge, handsome mustaches, laughs aplenty, and a visual eye. Our first assignment was the Tahoe Rim Trail to Clear Creek Trail.
The Tahoe Rim Trail wraps around Lake Tahoe, in a rugged, rocky, and breathtaking route that will challenge even the most skilled cyclists. Our plan was to climb to “the bench” before linking back with the newly cut Clear Creek Trail as we descend through various ecotones and stop to take in the pleasant vistas. From the high alpine lake to desert sage, we were in for a journey! After hours of flowy singletrack through pine trees, we could see Carson City in the distance through the dusty singletrack. This was only a sampling of what was to become one of the most memorable trips in recent memory.
We loaded up the vans, got some food at Comma Coffee, snacked on whatever we could find, and embarked for the next stage in our tour: the town of Kingston, Nevada and the fabled Toiyabe Crest Trail.
See our route – although truncated slightly – from the TRT to the Clear Creek Trail at my Strava.
Get a sneak peek of our journey by following the #RideHWY50NV Hashtag on Instagram!