After we arose and had breakfast, we secured all of our supplies in the bear boxes or in our car and headed for the trail head. We had been to a local bike shop the day before (Howling Dogs) and were told our trail was about ten miles with about 3000 feet of climbing (or at least that’s the figure I remember).
I have owned a mountain bike for years, but I cannot really say I’ve done much mountain biking before this summer. As such, I knew this would probably be a tough ride for me, so I brought my Camelbak full of water and a lot of snacks.
After we turned onto the road and followed it for 1/2-mile, we were surprised that we didn’t see the trail head. As these types of distances are sometimes wrong, we kept going for a further mile or so before deciding that we had missed it. We backtracked and, lo and behold, there was the trail, a half mile from the road. We parked, got our gear situated, and were off.
The trail had a lot of up. And although I was fresh, the multitude of small rocks in the trail quickly became tiring. Biking among the trees was certainly pretty, but I handle short bursts of up better than long sustained climbs (when participating in organized sports, I always used my fast-twitch muscles and rarely worked to develop my long-distance abilities). After a while, we emerged onto a dirt/gravel road.
We’d been notified by the woman at the bike shop that the trail wasn’t complete yet and it made use of a road to follow an exposed ridgeline. I’m glad we were there in early morning, as climbing in the heat of the day would have been pretty tough. One of my problems when climbing is that I can’t keep as much speed and consequently I have more trouble adjusting to rocks in my way and other hazards. I never fell while on our climb, but I lost my momentum more time than I can count and kept having to restart on the hill. These problems aside, we finally made it to
the top of the road. I knew where our destination was, but my distance estimates were woefully inaccurate. As I was already getting low on water at this point, I started conserving. An hour or two of climbing later (and a good deal of walking on my part), we finally reached the Mills Peak fire tower lookout. I had never been so tired on a bike.
My sister’s girlfriend’s dog was also rather worked, but after he had some water and we had a look around and some food, we started our descent.
I would like to tell you I enjoyed the ride. I would like to tell you that. But I won’t. Because for the most part it wouldn’t be true. Don’t get me wrong: I can see the ride’s appeal and both Dondra and her sister enjoyed it. It was simply a bit too much for me, especially after having ascended the mountain in the first place. My legs were just too tired to handle the downhill very well, the ride was a bit too technical for me (at least for such a sustained distance), and I was and had been out of water for some time now. Perhaps the fact that a shuttle takes folks to the top and picks them up at the bottom should have tipped me off that I wouldn’t enjoy the round trip.
Would you enjoy it? Well, if you only do the downhill (Howling Dogs can get you details on the shuttle, but I believe they ran twice on Saturdays in the summer) and you can ride over small rocks for a number of miles, you very well might. And if you’ve got the stamina to do the round trip (or climb up another trail which is shorter), you might also like it. And if you’re a better mountain biker than me, you might well think it’s amazing. But if you’re less advanced, you might consider whether there are other options. Plus, I don’t know that the trail was actually ten miles. I didn’t wear a GPS to track my ride, but in looking at maps, forums, and other’s tracked rides, I think it was at least 14 miles, and possibly up to 18. If you’re planning to go, I would recommend confirming these distances yourself.
Having finally completed the most challenging mountain bike of my life, I promptly dropped my bike next to the car, grabbed a water bottle, and wandered off to rest beneath a tree. We had made it, and although I think that the dog, Cody, and I were in the worst shape, we quickly got ourselves together so we could hit up the Brewing Lair once more.
This time, we ordered pints of our favorite brews from yesterday, played cornhole, and attempted to slackline (it would have been easier if the line were more taught). Cody was far less rambunctious than the previous day and he mostly wandered around the brewery, smelling the smells, getting pets from other patrons, and peeing on things. We played some cornhole and had a nice young man named August (age five, I believe) join us.
Finally, it was time to return to camp, do dinner, and bunk down for the night. We’d had a good trip, but we had to get underway early the next morning so Dondra’s sister could get to work. It was a fun, quick trip that was an easy drive from the Tahoe/Reno area and that wouldn’t even be a bad drive from Sacramento or the Bay Area.
Would I return to Goose Lake (aka. Leech/Duck Lake)? Certainly. Would I return to the Brewing Lair? Without a doubt. Would I mountain bike the Mills Peak Trail again? No way. At least not until I’m better on a bike. But you might like it. And there are loads of other hiking and biking trails around. And if that’s not for you, you can always pop over to Blairsden and visit the Brewing Lair, which in my opinion was the real gem of the weekend.
Author of Don’t Step on the Dirt and Grow Your Family Tree Online
IF YOU GO: Goose Lake is located on the Gold Lake Highway in Sierra County, CA. It is easily located by punching it up on Mapquest, Google Maps, Bing, or the like. It costs $10/night, though the second night there were no envelopes remaining, so I’m not sure how many folks ended up staying for free. There are pit toilets, but they were similarly ill-maintained, so I would make sure to bring my own toilet paper. There are lots of other small campgrounds in the area too. For biking and skiing info, I would personally recommend Howling Dogs and for some tasty beers, I would recommend the Brewing Lair. There are a number of restaurants in Graeagle, a few shops, and a number of people were hanging out and paddleboarding (SUP) in town. It all seemed very pleasant. And the gas was actually cheaper than when I had driven through Truckee, CA–go figure. Just be conscious of the fact that your take on the ease or difficulty of mountain biking trails may be different than others.