Austin, NV is the mountain bike town that could be. It boasts a variety of trails right out of town and is nestled in the Toiyabe Range off US Highway 50, the loneliest road in America. There are a variety of campgrounds, historic points of interest, hot springs, and other attractions to bring you to the middle of Nevada. Are you loading up the car yet?The biggest attraction for me is the Toiyabe Crest Trail.
For through hikers the TCT is a 70+ mile trek along the ridge of one of the state’s most impressive mountain ranges. Luckily for mountain bikers it is unrestricted outside of the Arc Dome Wilderness. From Groves Lake to Ophir Canyon one gets to enjoy about 40 miles on high alpine single track. To loop back to Groves Lake is 30+ miles through the Big Smokey Valley. This is estimated by creating the route on STRAVA which might have some accuracy issues in mapping such an obscure trail. I will confirm this route at my first opportunity.
Just as I was making a plan to ride a portion of the TCT I got a message from Patrick Smith,
Any rides on the radar in the next three weeks?
And from there a plan was born. We drove out to Big Creek Rd on a Friday night. We got a good night’s rest in the back of Patrick’s 4Runner then an early start climbing Big Creek Rd. The plan was to reach the TCT from the north at Groves Lake, then head to Washington Canyon to loop back to the car via Reese River Rd. If we felt particularly good we could continue to San Juan Canyon to extend the loop. Our plan seemed like an ambitious 55-65 mile day trip without being overly ambitious.
This was my third trip to the area. The first was “a camping trip with the guys.” We camped at Groves Lake, jumped off rocks, hiked and biked by day, visited Spencer Hot Springs and shot guns, and drank at the Lucky Spur by night. My second trip was on a staff retreat, I had such a great time visiting Austin I wanted to share the area with my coworkers. We camped at Big Creek campground, visited Groves Lake, Kignston, and Spencer hot springs.
I was super excited to share this ride with Patrick. I studied the route, tried to plan the trip mile by mile, hour by hour, and shared these plans with Patrick as they formed.
The first loop I sent you is about 52 miles with 5,500′ of climbing. I have since expanded the route to 61 miles with no additional climbing. The route is as follows:Mile 0 Park at Big Creek Rd turn-off from Reese River Rd elev. 5900′ elapsed time 0:00Mile 9.6 Top of BCR-begin descent on Kingston Cyn Rd elev. 8700′ elapsed time 1:15Mile 14.5 Start TCT elev. 7550′ elapsed time 1:35Mile 21.7 High point TCT, first opportunity to descend elev. 10100′ elapsed time 3:45Mile 24.8 Next opportunity to descend elev. 9500′ elapsed time 4:05Mile 30.5 Final opportunity to descend elev. 8500′ elapsed time 5:00Mile 43.2 Turn onto Reese River Rd. elev. 6150′ elapsed time 6:00Mile 61.2 Back at car elev. 5900′ elapsed time 7:30
Patrick is a cycling coach and behavioral science graduate student at University of Nevada at Reno. He is also a well rounded cyclist though he had not done anything quite like this before. But he also has extensive experience as an Nevadan sportsman/outdoorsman. I was looking forward to getting his perspective on the whole process. First thing he told me,
So I went to the top of Peavine and back today at what I think I could sustain for ~50ish miles and the upper road climb took me 70min for 3 miles and ~1500ft of gain. Over the whole ride I averaged about 1000ft per hour of climbing at a speed of only 3.47 mph.
So my first estimates for what we could ride were ambitious (also the route builder underestimated the elevation by 2,000′, HA!). I really appreciated the perspective! Very scientific! And yet there is some magic that happens on a big day or multi-day tour as well as riding with a motivated partner. I decided we would plan on the 50+ mile route. So much of it is completely unknown, the only preparation for that is a good attitude.
We car-camped at a gravel pit at the junction of an unnamed road and Big Creek Rd, the final crossroads before Big Creek campground. This was the best place to start our loop. Our first climb past the campground had several stream crossings, took us through beautiful aspen groves and past fantastic wildflowers. At the summit we had great views into the heart of the Toiyabes and Kingston Canyon.
It was a fast fun descent to the Toiyabe Crest Trailhead. Finding the overgrown start to the trail was a challenge. After topping off our water from Groves Lake we began the climb. Up to 9000′ the grade would wander between 15-20+%. Much of this hike-a-bike. “Looking at flowers” is my preferred euphemism. But above this elevation the riding was breath taking. In some places the brush was thick and the trail thin. This is truly a crest trail in that you often had views of the the Big Smokey Valley and Reese River Valley in the same panorama.
There were times during the ride the views were so spectacular and I was having so much fun that it sparked an internal debate do I stop to take a photo or continue in the moment? No photo I can take will do it justice. Would video do it justice or would it look like every other helmet cam? All I can do is invite you out here to experience it first hand.
We took a break using a pinyon pine as a windbreak. I took the opportunity to dry my feet. They had been steaming in a sauna since our creek crossings. Dry feet are happy feet. The wind had come up on the ridge. It was cool, almost cool enough to warrant a light shell but the sun was still intense. We were having a great day!
The crest rolled along between 9,000′ and 10,000′ before we came to Washington Creek Rd. There was a twinge of “summit fever” in deciding to descend here or do we continue on to San Juan Creek. It is hard to descend after so much work to get where we were. We were 20+ miles in, 6,500+’ of climbing in, we had 15 miles of descending, and 15 miles of hot flat Reese River Valley to ride. Time to make it happen!
The descent was fast. We were chewing up elevation on a descent road. Patrick pointed out a heard of elk. Every drainage we passed Patrick had his nose trained to the the wind and eyes discerning rocks vs. animals. This was amazing country like nothing I had ever experienced. The Reese River Valley is peppered with large ranches, the first one we came to was at the bottom of Washington Creek Rd. The descent is over, let the heat begin.
Crossing the Reese River I thought to myself, “The mighty Reese River, no one ever said”. Like many Great Basin streams it was a trickle. Nevada, where water goes to die. Reese River Rd was in great shape. It had a few cars on it but those were the only folks we saw all day. Our final turn-off was a bit tricky to find. I had it plotted on my Garmin but passed it three times before at just the right angle I could make out a faint two-track through the sagebrush. Any alternate route was either paved or significantly longer. This should take us straight to the car.
It did. But we had a few laughs about how Garmin included this as a navigable road. It was a long day by time we completed our round trip. In an 11 and a half hour day we covered 54 miles, climbed 7000′, hiked, biked, photographed, rested, told stories, and planned future trips. The ride was never a crusher. I carried about 6L of water and consumed most of it. I never eat enough.
Patrick rode a demo Botteccia hardtail outfitted with Ortleib bags. He carried his provisions in a large hydration pack. Huge thanks to Reno’s Orange Pedal bike shop for the demo and support.
Several people are working hard to develop the Toiyabe Crest Trail as a riding destination. The goals are to maintain an open trail that is navigable by bicycle, map and maintain all intermediate trails that feed into and out of the TCT. These efforts are worthy of this Nevadan gem of a bike route. So will be your efforts to visit.
From Groves Lake, Washington Creek is the first exit point from the TCT. A goal has been made to establish the TCT and its feeder trails as a maintained bike route. I look forward to confirming this here.