Caples Creek Wilderness Area

On our 5th day of riding, we had anticipated making it as far as a small town named Volcano in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. We began a steady climb out of Eldorado Hills and ended up BONKING (a term Katie has coined on this trip which translates to ‘running out of steam’ in the common tongue) in a small town called Plymouth. What began as a simple stop for water at a delightful little cafe called the Pantry run by a wonderful woman named Carol, who donated bagels and cream cheese to the cause, ended with an early camp at the town’s fairgrounds. 

We decided to add the mileage we would have done to Volcano onto the next day so that we could have some time to catch up on our blogging and trip itinerary. The next day, we rose before the sun and were on our bikes pedaling first thing, mentally preparing ourselves to climb 7000 feet of elevation. 

    The climb was not as physically grueling as it was mentally challenging. The legal limit for how steep mountain roads can be for trucks is 8%, so rather than steep roads, there were long gradual uphills that seemed never ending. Pedaling at 4 mph didn’t burn our thighs too badly, rather it was a mental game in order to keep pedaling without stopping. As you can imagine, 7 hours of climbing gives you a lot of time to think. It was up to each of us to keep our thoughts positive and to remember that the pain would end eventually. Early in the day, through the lower elevation forests, flies swarmed our sweaty heads annoyingly as we teetered up the hill barely faster than a crawl, unable to swat them away. Trucks and semis plagued the narrow hwy 88 and sped past, some giving us barely more than a foot of space and others yelling remarks like “get off the road!” Despite some discouragement, slowly but steadily, we climbed up many gradual hills, taking breaks about every 8 miles. 

Halfway up the mountain at 5000 ft, we reached Cook’s Station where we had lunch (including some fritos and fries) in order to fuel up for the remaining miles. 

Sometime after lunch we entered into the Eldorado National Forest.

As we were climbing the last stretch up to 8000 ft before our destination for the night, a storm moved in with menacing grey clouds above our heads. 

We only got caught in a little bit of rain before we sped down to reach the Silver Lake campground located at 7300 ft. 

There, we were greeted by Jamie Ervin, who works for the Sierra Forest Legacy in California. 

He gave us some time to set up our tent and change into warm clothes and then he drove us up to a gorgeous overlook to chat. From our vantage point, Jamie showed us the Caples Creek recommended wilderness area within the Eldorado National Forest. 

Currently, this area is only recommended wilderness, however Jamie and his colleagues are currently working on a management plan to expand the area and designate it as wilderness once and for all. 

Wilderness areas receive the highest level of government land protection. There are no roads in wilderness areas, and anything with wheels are not allowed, including mountain bikes. They are areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain,” as defined in the 1974 American Wilderness Act. The Caples Creek recommended wilderness area still receives the same protections as a true wilderness area, but it sits in sort of a limbo-state.

The Caples Creek recommended wilderness area, however, is under threat from the timber industry and off road vehicle usage. Jamie and his group are championing for a wilderness designation because in Jamie’s words, “It’s the best designation we have for places that don’t have roads and are still wild”. Looking down on the vast expanse of pristine wilderness, we were filled with awe. How could these bustling forests and layers of cascades and creek beds not be protected? The idea of any development in such a place frankly infuriated us, but we we were also hopeful knowing that people are actively working to preserve this unique landscape. 

There is still much work to be done on this wilderness designation. But rather than dragging folks through the nitty-gritty of government land management policy and forest plans, Jamie is simply gathering local support by leading hikes through the area to showcase the incredible beauty at stake. In sharing this land with others, he hopes to foster a love and stewardship of the land from all who visit it. Those who love the Caples Creek area can express that in comment periods put on by the National Forest Service to encourage the designation; when it comes time for these comment period we are excited to add our voice on behalf of Caples Creek. 

As we climbed the Sierra, we had the privilege of biking through the Eldorado National Forest. Located near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada, Eldorado National Forest encompasses 596,724 acres and includes Desolation and Mokelumne Wilderness areas. The forest service is planning a project for the ecological restoration of Caples Creek, including conducting a prescribed burn of the understory to reintroduce fire as an important part of the ecosystem. Historically, fires have been suppressed by western settlers, believing it was destroying the landscape, therefore allowing for the accumulation of vegetation on the forest floor. Forests have become “overstocked” with too many downed trees and undergrowth that should have cleared in naturally occurring burns. Because these forests are so overstocked with downed fuel, fires rage through and scorch everything. Trees with a diameter at breast height of more than 20 cm are naturally resistant to fire, allowing small controlled fires to burn through the small brush and leave larger trees untouched. The combination of the mentality towards fires and the five year long drought in California has left 66 million dead and dying trees all over the state. In Eldorado alone, there are 200,000 trees that have died, leaving fuel for fires to run rampant and leading to the creation of the Tree Mortality Task Force. Parched and weak trees are left vulnerable to infestations of the pine bark beetle, which normally helps keep forest’s healthy by killing off old and damaged trees. However, with temperatures growing hotter due to global warming, the winters are not cold enough anymore to kill the larvae and control the population. The combination of huge populations of beetles, drought and more susceptible trees and increased fire threat has California trapped in a vicious cycle. 

The next day, we had 1500 ft left to climb in order to reach Carson Pass. Compared to the day before, reaching the pass was the easy part. We stopped along the way to jump in the icy waters of Caples Lake, located in the subalpine ecosystem of Eldorado. 

We reached the pass at 8574 ft in just a couple short hours, feeling relieved and elated at our accomplishment. A few of us cried tears of joy, knowing that climbing our first mountain in the Sierra was the hardest part of our trip and that we could do anything after this. 

Biking down the eastern side of the mountain required almost no effort as we sped down, yelling out loud in awe as we passed stunning vertical cliffs and rock ledges. We had sandwiches in Woodsworth for lunch and soon passed into the 2nd state of our trip: Nevada! Nevada is a hotbed of public lands debate. Here, 85% of the land is owned by the federal government, mostly under the care of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Local Nevadans can get frustrated with this arrangement as they are forced to lease land from the government to graze their cattle or extract minerals. However, time and time again, the Federal Government has proven a better landlord than the state or private entities, taking better care of these lands & more greatly benefitting local communities and their economies. We continued our route along the foothills of the Sierra for another 30 miles. We passed through Genoa, the first settlement in Nevada, a cute little town. Soon after, we arrived in the capital city, Carson City, and got caught in a tornado warning. Some women at a local dance studio offered for us to come inside just as it was starting to pour. We waited the storm out, talking with the owners and watching the young group of dancers learn a hip hop routine (their teacher, a young man, was awesome & so fun to watch!). Thankfully, the funnel cloud spotted above Lake Tahoe hadn’t migrated and the rain had died down, so we hit the road again. We camped in the Dayton State Park and made a deliciously large dinner after a long day of 70 miles. 

The next day, we had a short ride from Dayton to Fallon (only 51 miles!) and thankfully the wind was at our backs. We cruised at 18 mph and arrived there in just a few hours. We had a lovely lunch at a reservoir in the Lahontan State Recreation Area where we met a few locals fishing and taking their boat out for a spin. We had arranged to stay with a host in Fallon, through an app for touring cyclists called Warm Showers. Brad and Stacy graciously opened their home to us for the next two days, as we took a rest day and caught up on some route planning and emailing. 

Feeling well rested after the layover in Fallon, we departed on the loneliest road in America, highway 50. 

Hwy 50 originated as a pony express road in the 1860s and allowed for the fastest exchange of news and mail between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California the world had ever seen. The Pony Express only lasted 18 months, unfortunately, as the invention of the long-distance telegram made it obsolete. Since that time, other roads have begun to crisscross Nevada, and this old hwy remains mostly untraveled. The road, however, did not feel all that lonely, as we shared it with a number of cyclists participating in the Silver State 508, a 508 mile race across Nevada with a 48 hour time cap. We cheered everyone on & they happily returned the encouragement as we sped past one another. We finished our day in the city of Middlegate, an awesome little town (if you can call it that, with a population of 17), that serves up a mean burger, if you should ever find yourself here. Hannah & Alex conquered the Middlegate Monster, which was enough to satisfy even Hannah’s hunger. 

A little known fact is that Nevada is the most mountainous state in the country, with many parallel ridges running north to south. 

Spending a week biking through the state, we will have to climb a number of summits and cross many valleys. As we push further into this slightly desolate landscape, there are spans of 80+ miles with no services for which we’ll have to carry extra food and water. Overall, we are excited to lose ourselves in these wide open spaces as we roller coaster our way across Nevada. 

6 thoughts on “Caples Creek Wilderness Area

  1. Thanks for bicycling for wild lands! I first volunteered for wilderness in 1956, and I’m still at it. I’m glad to see younger generations taking up the cause with such creative spirit.


  2. Dang!! What a great read!! Am I wrong to assume that this is (mostly) Hannah Scout’s writing? which leads me to believe that yes, there IS a genetic component to being so expressive with the written word!! Like father, like daughter? Looking forward to these updates!


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