Walker River Ramble; Bike Your Park Overnight

Adventure Cycling Association is so many things, but two events I participate in directly are Bike Travel Weekend and Bike Your Park Day. These member led outings occur annually and as soon as one is over I am already planning the next year’s. For Bike Travel Weekend I led a small party on the Applegate Emigrant Trail from Rye Patch Reservoir to the Black Rock Desert. It was a fine overnight but the rain goopped up the clay roads and trails enough to test our mettle.

Last canyon before dropping down to the Elbow at Walker River

In celebration of Public Public Lands Day, Bike Your Park Day is designed to get bike tourists into our national, sate, county and city parks. I can’t recommend this enough. I am always so impressed when I see people enjoying Reno’s open spaces (Washoe County Parks). They are a great example of a local resource that shouldn’t go to waste. This is only amplified as we move up in scale to State and Nationally managed public lands. Nevada is ripe for the picking of national treasures to explore by bike.

Bike Your Park Day 2018 trip to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

Last year I visited Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park in a loop from Middlegate, the celebrated “middle of nowhere “ Nevada. I had no takers, but it was a challenging ride. While I was prepared to camp I was highly motivated to get back to that Middlegate burger by dinner. But already I was thinking about Nevada’s newest State Park, the Walker River State Recreation Area.

Walker River State Recreation Area’s visitor center

Years ago I was fishing and camping with the dog in the Smith Valley out of Wellington. We drove the length of East Walker River Rd and disappointedly could not find public access to the river. Such is the history of the area. For 100 years plus private ranchers controlled access to the River. But now the land is being converted into a State Park.

North end of East Walker River Road

Leading up to the ride I had confirmed two participants, Will Lumpkin and Marc Pfister. Will has been my longest friend since moving to Nevada. We worked together at Bicycle Bananas, had many adventures in the bike industry, biked, fished, ate and drank together over the years. We share a keen interest in natural history. We are “nerds of a feather.” Marc and I met through the magic of the internet. We connected through Bikepacking Northern Nevada. Always a pleasure to expand the network of people exploring Nevada by bicycle. Jody Dallas had offered to bring her new camper to the planned campsite so we had the extra bonus of meals greeting us and sending us off the next day!

I rode the route that week just to make sure it would go smoothly. The roads were in great shape. I only made a couple of changes to the planned route I created with Ride with GPS. The road had some soft spots so my best recommendation was a mountain bike width tire over a gravel bike width tire. None of the climbs were particularly long nor steep but this was not a route that followed a lazy river.

First visit to Cambridge Site while scouting the route

We met at the Park’s visitor center just south of Yerington. The center felt brand new, I would not have been surprised to see “wet paint” signs on the walls. We were greeted by rangers happy to introduce us to the Park. I told them our plans, they were a bit surprised, but welcomed us to park overnight in the visitor’s parking lot. The visitor’s center had maps and aerial photos of the park, taxidermy examples of the Park’s wildlife, and explanation of the history of ranching along the Walker River. The Park was busy. The campground had large groups of ATV users. We packed up and got on the road.

Chutes river access just upstream of the Pitchfork Ranch portion of the park

As we rolled out on East Walker Rd I pointed out Reese River Rd, the route I took over the Wassuk Range to Walker Lake. Otherwise there are only a few side roads on the northern half of this route. We popped into the Chutes River Access point. There is a nature trail from this point and I wonder if it connects to the main park. Access is still in development. A juicy tidbit I got from a park ranger was there is a grant from Cabellas for a mountain bike trail, fantastic! State Parks are not built in a day.

Cambridge Site stone hut
Nice regrouping spot, Pine Grove Hills in background

We worked our way to the top of the first climb, Cambridge Site. On an earlier ride I had looked down on the Cambridge Hills from the Pine Grove Hills, I knew at the time the Walker River was just on the other side but hadn’t realized I would be riding through them at some point. From here we were approaching the 1/2 way point. More of the land from this point and south is a part of the Park.

Steep chalky climb

We descended to the Flying W Ranch, crossed the river, and started our next climb onto the shoulder of the Wassuk Range. Millennia of erosion shaped chalky gullies and canyons that contained designated roads to explore. I always head out with a goal in mind but I tell myself I need to go out with no other goal than to take the next turn, explore every road, turn around at every dead end. One of these days!

Will cruising across his favorite part of the ride

Our climb to 6300′ was challenging but Will Lumpkin said it was his favorite section. The views above the Walker River basin and the craggy gullies that drain springs and snow melt into the thirsty Walker were fantastic. My favorite section was next, a rapid twisted descent through a narrow canyon that seemed right out of an old western where the stagecoach gets held up for payroll, or bikepackers get eaten by a mountain lion. Neither happened on this trip.

Tight nameless canyon descent

The final section was along the Walker River, shared with cows, but brought us into Nine Mile Ranch and the Elbow. Jody was set up to meet us in the Bighorn Campground. We rolled in, set up camp, and enjoyed a hot taco feast. We chatted into the evening sipping whiskey and tequila, desserting on dark chocolate. Jody had been there a day ahead of us. She told us how the campground lived up to its namesake, a herd of bighorn sheep had crossed the ridge just above camp. She could see returning to this camp next season.

Deluxe camping at Bighorn Campground

Waking up the next morning… hmm was that one too many sips of tequila or whiskey? Ha! No worries! It had been a cold damp night. But after a hot breakfast we packed-up and got on the road. We considered fishing but decided for the sake of time we had better ride. I think returning to bike fish Desert Creek and the Walker River in a single trip would be a fun outing. Out of camp we got to see the snow-dusted Wassuk Range. These vistas get you going!

Heading back with fresh snow on the Wassuk Range

The return route was reverse of out out-bound. The fist climb definitely favored larger tires. My 27.5×2.8’s climbed through the sand better than Marc’s 29×2.1’s and Will’s 26×2.4’s. Sometimes you feel like you never get a break, the wind had reversed direction from the day before, day two of headwind. You have to embrace the wind if you ride in Nevada, or at least fake it.

Climbing with a headwind, snow on the Sweetwater Mountains

I saw a group of deer and a herd of antelope on the return. Combined with a variety of birds, rabbits, lizards, and insects, wildlife viewing was on par with any of Nevada’s public lands. I hope the Walker River State Recreation Area grows into one of Nevada’s most successful state parks.

Marc’s custom rig

What we rode: Marc’s bike kept making me double take. At first glance, a steel 29’r with a smart, no-nonsense build kit. Not obvious what brand, the paint was stripped, it had the patina of rust. But it had that custom look, thin seat stays, elegant drop-outs, not necessarily choices of off-the-rack bike companies. So I asked, yes, he is the frame builder. Then the bags, yep, him too. The frame bag seemlessly bolted into the front triangle. Fork bags clamped to his suspension fork and without external straps looked very clean. His handle bar harness utilized aluminum bits and a plastic support to carry a large dry bag, like the trunk of a VW Bug. All in all, very smart!

Will’s bikepacking Tracer

Will’s bike is his trusty Intense Tracer. Not your everyday bikepacking rig but I am a believer in ride-what-you have. The 26 inch wheel, full suspension trail bike makes for a comfortable ride and something that can handle the most extreme terrain. He used the 14L Terrapin seatbag from Revelate Designs. He fashioned his own handlebar harness from straps and stuff sack. Will was particularly interested in Marc’s handlebar harness. Will carried a large Camelbak to round things out. Will’s bike might make a good project to find the right bags to make it his bikepacking rig.

My Falconer B+

I rode my Falconer B+ with cockpit and frame bags from Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks, seatbag by Revelate Designs, Salsa Anything and Velo Orange cages. The handle bar harness from Nuclear Sunrise carried my fishing gear well. Everything performed as it should. I now have my first 1000 miles on the bike and I couldn’t be more stoked! With uncertainty in the weather I carried a few extra clothes, and to be critical of my packing rather than extra clothes for any trip I need to just bring the right clothes.

Next year’s Bike Your Park destination

Looking ahead, Bike Your Park 2020: I am thinking camping at Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and making rides out of camp, birdwatching, and dune exploring will make a great weekend. It will have a slightly different flavor from a bikepacking trip and possibly a broader appeal.

Taking advantage of a place to rest, photo Marc Pfister

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