At the end of August, I set out on a bike expedition with two of my best friends from Durango, CO, Sarah and Sabina. We chose the Toiyabe Crest Trail in the middle of Nevada. It’s been done before on bike, even as recently as last summer, but it is not an official biking trail (yet). The Toiyabe Crest Trail is an old packing trail used by miners, traversing the slopes of the Toiyabe Range south of Austin, NV. It’s not well maintained and has great potential for some unpredictable excitement.
We researched the trail, poured over maps, gathered information about springs to access for water and met with other riders who had experienced the trail first-hand. The best part about a plan is that it will change. There’s nothing like an adventure to remind you that control is an illusion.
We had a plan. We were going to bike pack for the first night, and be self-sustained for a full day and a half, and then meet my boyfriend, Ben, the second night, re-supply and dump bike packs for the final day of riding to complete the trail, a total of about 40 miles. We accessed the trail from the top of Ophir pass, up a long 4-wheel road that sits above the Yomba Indian Reservation. After getting loaded up and strapping our packs on, we road away from the car, up the hill to a scenic perch that looked down on the picturesque valley below. We left late in the day so we didn’t make it far before the breathtaking sunset and night fall and we set up camp for the night.
The next morning, we had a casual awakening and enjoyed breakfast and coffee, and meaningful conversations with the backdrop of the endless basin and range stretched out before us. Nevada is primarily uninhabited and is filled with mountain ranges and open valleys. It is the most mountainous state in the U.S. and most of the ranges are untouched because people drive through Nevada on I-80 or Highway 50 and bitch about how empty it is and rarely stop to take a closer look.
We set out on the trail, which started with a long hike-a-bike up to the ridge line above 10,000ft. We took photos and snacked and found some decent riding sections, where the trail traversed the hillside and had an agreeable pitch. At one point, we realized we had not found the springs we were anticipating sooner in the ride, and started getting a little nervous about finding water. Though we were in the high alpine, the weekend of our trip was setting record breaking temperatures across Nevada and, even at our elevation, it was hot and slow going with our weighed-down packs.
Luckily, within an hour we rounded a corner and found a fresh running spring. Fresh is a bit of a hyperbole, since it was, actually, a cow-poo-infested area and we had to ditch our bikes and hike up to the source of the spring to get out of the poo, where we filtered water into all our packs and it was clean and cold and some of the most delicious water I’ve ever had.
We then drank a beer by the spring and carried on our way. There was a lot more traversing, loose, overgrown trail, significant elevation gain and rocky descents. As we made our way through low drainages and up saddles, we lost the trail a few times. My dear friend, Sabina, was the master of the GPS, with her background in Geology and GIS mapping she was a trusted, patient guide, even when Sarah and I were irrationally frustrated and questioned the route and the mileage remaining and the time it would take us to get to our destination by the end of the day.
Our destination was a drainage called San Juan Creek, where we would be meeting Ben, who was 4-wheeling in to an exact GPS point to meet us at the end of the day. We knew it was going to be a challenge to get there for various reasons. First, we weren’t even sure if Ben would be able to make it all the way up the drainage, if for some reason there was unforeseen erosion or trees across the road. Secondly, we anticipated having no cell service to be able to communicate with him. Thirdly, we had originally planned to meet him one drainage closer and changed our plans at the last minute because we were concerned the original drainage would be less passable for him. Overall, I grossly underestimated the time and distance to the next drainage over. My companions and Ben, were much more realistic about the challenge.
The funny thing about a good challenge is, it really doesn’t matter how prepared you are, at some point the bottom is going to fall out and eat you alive before you work through it.
This is the part of the trip that I am most excited to share. Going through our final drainage before having to climb the last saddle, we lost the trail in a maze of cow trails. We were hot and tired and cracked and behind schedule. We re-found the trail eventually and began the slow, steady climb but we were frayed at the edges and it wasn’t pretty. Actually, looking back, and even in the moment, it was hilarious and awesome and life-bonding for the three of us.
Sarah, Sabina and I were roommates in college and we’ve spent a lot of time together, we know what it looks like when we each crack. Sarah gets cranky and snappy, Sabina gets overly optimistic to compensate for our dark cloud but with a stern undertone of urgency, and I get silent and moody and extremely irritated. These moments that we share are what life is all about. It’s easy to bask in the majesty of a beautiful place, watch a sunset, feel the glory of riding bikes or laugh hysterically with each other, but when things get rugged that’s when you have to get creative on the spot about what you’re going to do about it. We came together and slowly moved forward.
It was getting close to sun-down and we were still plodding along up the never-ending saddle. Though we didn’t have cell service, I brought a radio for communicating with Ben, for inside a 2 mile radius. I kept checking for a signal, hoping for contact. On the last rise, before the top of the saddle, we connected. It was magical! I said, “Ben do you copy?” and he said, “hey! Are you alright, do you know where you are?” The three of us leapt for joy, we were instantly, but temporarily, reinvigorated! I said, “We’re fine, ascending the last saddle to drop into your drainage but we are cracked and cranky and need food and cold beer badly”. Ben said, “I gotchu, I have a burrito and beer when you roll in and I’ll fire up the portable grill with some chicken legs”.
The remainder of the ride was still arduous, and longer than expected, but finally we dropped into the drainage and found Ben, who had romped his truck over downed trees and through a narrow creek bed to get to the exact GPS point we had agreed on. He was just as excited to see us as we were to see him. He admitted he was getting worried but wasn’t planning to do anything drastic, unless we still had not arrived or made contact at dark.
The evening was spent eating, setting up camp, eating, laughing, eating, and re-organizing. After a short discussion, we made the executive team decision it wasn’t going to be possible to finish the trail the next day. Based on the time it took us for the first full day, we knew the second day would be longer, it involved more elevation gain and loss, more mileage, and it would then be followed by a shuttle from Ben back to the top of Ophir Pass to get my car and a 4hr drive back to Reno. Impossible! Both Sarah and Sabina had a flight to catch out of Reno the following day.
We didn’t finish the trail, which in some respects was a shame but, overall, who cares! We did what we came to do, which was to spend time together and share an adventure, not to accomplish a trail. Coming from the racing world, this is a theme I ponder frequently. What does it really mean to be successful and accomplish something? Racing always has an end goal and an end result that defines the experience, but life doesn’t. The cliche, “it’s about the journey not the destination” is so profound and true but rarely are we very good at living it. I love the unpredictability of our trip, having to cut it short because it got epic, loosing the trail, cracking into a thousand emotional pieces with my friends, re-finding our strength as a crew and laughing at ourselves.
Even on our way to pick up my car the adventure wasn’t over. Ben’s truck got a flat tire and we hitched a ride with a tribal policeman up the pass to pick up my vehicle, while Ben fixed the flat, adding another 2hr delay to our trip back to Reno. But to cap off the whirlwind, we finished with delicious all-you-can-eat sushi in Reno, packed up bikes at my house, waded through total trip-disassembly chaos, and gave each other huge hugs as Sabina and Sarah walked away at the airport the next day. I wound’t have changed a thing.