John holding up his two spare batteries in front of Sunride, Jr. with Lake Tahoe in the background.
Wearing my cold weather gear and holding up two extra batteries that were charged using my solar system in Portland for the ride around Lake Tahoe.

My goal was to be in South Lake Tahoe at 7 a.m. the next morning. Sure enough I arrived on time. I checked my bicycle tires and filled them within two pounds of the maximum allowable air pressure. I would need firm tires to make it around the Lake. I wore three layers of clothes. It was a chilly 38 degrees but I was ready. I even had my ski mask on to warm my face and cheeks. From my motorcycle riding days I knew any part of one’s body that gets cold is a constant distraction and irritant. As I set out I was comfortable, face, hands, legs, torso, and feet.

I felt excited to begin. It was the same feeling I used to have standing at the end of the pole vault runway in high school and in college. You are about to run as fast as you possibly can and vault twelve or thirteen feet in the air. Can you do it? Will all of the complexities of a successful vault come together for me? With Sunride, will there be enough battery-stored energy to make it around? How will the hills and the cold affect my range?  

Southeast shore, Lake Tahoe
Southeast shoreline of Lake Tahoe
Bike trail Lake Tahoe, CA
Bike trail on the California side of Lake Tahoe

The bike ride around Lake Tahoe is said to be one of the most beautiful in America. As I set out I thought this could be the best day of my life or the last day of my life, and anywhere in between. 

Breathtaking vistas awaited all along the way. Bike trails guided us as we glided through the forest. The scent of pine was in the air. 

Ice on a frozen Marsh at SE Lake Tahoe
Frozen marsh, southeast side of Lake Tahoe

I stopped at Rose’s Café in Tahoe City, about 40 miles into the ride. I was seated at a window table where I could watch my bike outside. My server and the family at the table next to me were interested in the details of the ride. Gladly I told them all about my adventure. They were a little worried for me about the traffic. Only half of the loop was covered in bike trails, and parts of the trails were covered in snow and ice necessitating my going back to the highway. One vulnerable spot was through the tunnels where there was no bike lane and no room for me to be a defensive driver if someone were to drive too close. My flickering taillight served well as all the cars passing me went well to the side. The other vulnerable spot was the hairline curves at Emerald Bay. There was no bike lane here either. Fortunately since it was winter, a weekday, and less than normal traffic, even these potentially dangerous curves turned out to be no problem. 

Bike Trail north side of Lake Tahoe Nevada
Bike trail north side of Lake Tahoe Nevada
Northeast side of Lake Tahoe
Northeast side of Lake Tahoe
Sierra Mountains rising above Eagle Falls near Emerald Bay, Southwest side of Lake Tahoe
Sierra Mountains rising above Eagle Falls near Emerald Bay, southwest side of Lake Tahoe

 Leafy tree branch, a pine cone and a snowball 

Perhaps my greatest challenge came off the highway. 

At Eagle Falls I decided to take a short hike. I chained up Sunride and worked my way in. There were lots of people hiking to the Falls and beyond. There was a restroom right there. Oh boy, I thought, as did my bladder and other elimination organs. In anticipation they prepared to release. But, alas, when I pulled on the door handle I found the building to be locked. Houston, we have a problem.  

I found a secluded tree and did my business much as the wild bear and other creatures of the forest do theirs. However, when it was time to tidy up I found myself lacking. I perused the landscape. I found a short tree branch with greenery which I used to swipe once through. The branch was green no more. I discarded it as far away as I could throw it from the nearby hiking trail. I then turned to a pinecone which I also dragged through once and discarded as well. Knowing a bike seat is most unforgiving of the rider’s personal hygiene, I then made a snowball out of a nearby snow bank. That as well traveled through in like manner and was tossed away. At the end of the day when I checked my white skivvies, there was only the slightest trace of a stain. The impression was like an old faded tie-dye: tan on white. Hum, I thought, that looks like some yahoo wiped his butt with a snowball.

Harvey's Lake Tahoe
Harvey’s Lake Tahoe

The final ten miles from Emerald Bay were pure delight. The anxiety of whether I would make it on my pre-charged batteries was over. I would cruise on flat ground on the bike trail the rest of the way. Joggers and other bikers became more numerous. For most of the preceding 62 miles I was the only biker I saw. The views continued to be magnificent. Emerald Bay is way high up. The whole Lake can be seen. But even in the flats the trees and the boulder-lined shore continue to inspire. I reflected on how the water changed colors throughout the day as the sun moved across. Intermittent clouds painted their brush strokes on the Lake and the landscape. The sun warmed me just right as I shed layers to suit. I was a bit tired but happy. I could tell from hiking at Eagle Falls my legs had been doing their part to secure a successful ride.

It turns out we made the 70+ mile ride around the Lake in 5 ½ hours. They say a strong rider, without electric assist, can do it in six hours. I don’t see how Lance Armstrong on steroids could have done it in six hours. The ride has dozens of hills – long, steep hills. Sunride easily goes 20 mph all day long on flat ground. We averaged 13 mph around Lake Tahoe. One observer, realizing I was on an electric bike, called out to me with a big grin “cheater!” A biking enthusiast wanting to prove his or her prowess might feel that way. But Sunride was never about me. It’s about what the sun can do. So I’m proud of Sunride for making it around the Lake in record time, especially given my many stops for photos, gazing, and hiking to Eagle Falls.  

As I pulled into the parking lot at the Safeway where I’d started out that morning, I had that wonderful, exhilarating feeling like the elation one feels at the end of a 20-run ski day. Few things are better than a perfect day on the slopes, but this ride was. It was one of the best days of my life. 

3/6/20 – The Ride Around Lake Tahoe

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