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Tahoe post event report

By Craig Gabel

This year’s ride was another inspiring event. Although it was not quite as inspiring as last year’s event when my incredible wife inspired countless folks across the country, it was still amazing to see so many people do something they never thought possible.

They don’t call it America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride for nothing. This year’s ride was a bit out of the ordinary. The weather in California was extremely uncharacteristic. We drove into the Lake Tahoe area just after a 5-6 inch layer of fresh snow had fallen in the upper elevations. Thankfully, we had no issues getting there by car but hours prior apparently chains were required. Over the next few days the weather improved and it looked like ride day was shaping up but rain and cooler temperatures were imminent.

Friday was family day and packet pick up. We had a good time exploring and hanging out with some team members. No convertible Corvette this year since we had the kids with us.  So a convertible Mustang filled the void and provided a place for the kids to sit in the car.  At packet pick-up Leesa was approached by a coach from the Central California TNT Chapter. She had two pictures of Leesa from last year riding her bike with a sign on her back reading “finished chemo 6 days ago.” The coach said she uses the pictures to motivate the Central California TNT team when they need some inspiration. How awesome is that! The coach had Leesa sign the pictures for her. One year later and she is still a Rockstar… like none of us knew that already.

Saturday we rode the annual route to the Pearl Izumi outlet store (Cycling gear) and grabbed some breakfast on the way. The afternoon was free and we did some more exploring as a family. Saturday night was our inspiration dinner where we learned that as a TNT chapter we raised over $140,000 and as a nationwide group we cleared $6,800,000. That is a tremendous amount of funds going to cancer research. We could not have done our small part without all our awesome donors. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You for all your support!

Sunday. The morning of the ride I had four layers of clothes from the waist up including a rain jacket and two layers of clothes from the waist down. Rain was falling as the team prepared to head out on our journey. Jason gave his awesomely motivating “Go Team!” speech (which never gets old by the way) to remind all of us why we were there and as we left the cover of Harvey’s hotel the rain stopped. I think that boosted everyone’s spirits and was a great way to start the day. We rolled over to the start line and off we went. Rolling through South Lake was a nice downhill stretch the lets us get our muscles moving and thinned out the crowd a bit. The rain started to fall off and on but nothing to horrible. Once down in the forest a bit we approached the dreaded switch backs. I like them personally. It’s cool to see folks struggle through them in their own ways mentally and physically to conquer this steep climb while others ride effortlessly. I rode up a bit and stopped to see how others behind me were doing and ended up helping a young woman from the TX/OK chapter who was having a major asthma attack. I got her inhaler for her and got her calmed down after a few minutes. I then led her to the top taking the easiest line possible with a short break at each turn. She conquered the hill and had a smile on her face at the top. She thanked me and I said ‘thank you for being here and conquering that hill….now go enjoy the views’. We rolled into the first rest stop at Emerald Bay where we traditionally take a team photo. It was great to see Alex, Ashlee and Leesa cheering me and the team up the hill to the stop. As folks were rolling into the rest stop and hanging out talking about the journey thus far, Leesa stopped and said “Come on Mid-America. Let’s cheer the last few members in.” She knew the importance of having the team support from her experience last year and wanted to give that to this year’s team. We exuberantly cheered in the remaining members. One person I have to single out because I am so proud of her is Marsha. When Marsha came into the rest stop, the team was roaring for her. When she pulled in she said with no hesitation, “Okay…I deserved that!” Boy did she ever! As a team mentor I want to see everyone succeed and this moment was like seeing one of my kids overcome a big obstacle. I felt like one proud dad in weird way. It was very satisfying and would have been worth the trip if had ended right at that moment. Congrats to Mike and Maury who got engaged at this awesome scenic overlook during our stop. Well done Mike!

From Emerald Bay I took off for Homestead. I made it to the top of the first climb and started to descend down when I heard metal on metal when using my rear wheel brakes. I thought it was just road grime at first but this was much more than just some sand and dirty caught in my brakes. I reached back with my water bottle to squirt some water to help clean off the rim and brake pads but it made the noise and vibration much more intense. Finally I had to pull over before descending any further to see what was up. Sure enough my brake pad had worn down to nothing. It had this nasty black jelly looking build up and the brake pad looked like shredded cheese. I had to ride very cautiously down the remaining hills using only my front brakes for 10 or so miles. That was quite the challenge in this mountainous area. Once in Homestead I swapped the brake pads for some new ones that the bike mechanic dude thankfully had on hand. I was back on the road in no time. From Homestead on out to Truckee was a bit uneventful. I had a good conversation with Jacquie as we swapped positions drafting off each other. Once in Truckee I fueled up on some boiled potatoes and PB&J bagel bites. On the way back I rode with a few people and drafted where I could. Then sun finally came out for a while and Dollar hill got me by surprise….Again! I seriously think that may be the toughest climb on the entire route. It was starting to get warm so I shed off a layer of clothing to help cool me down a bit. I then rolled into King’s Beach with Jennifer as we commented on the beautiful scenery. Lunch was tasty…turkey sandwich, chips and a brownie.

Rolling out to Incline Village with Jennifer and Laurie was nice and relaxing. Chase and Rick blew by us like we were standing still. Those boys were having a good time which was awesome to see. Leaving Incline Village offered even more spectacular views of the light and dark emerald and gorgeous blue contrast of the lake….it was just breathtaking. Then came the Spooner climb. The mountain climb was not too bad this year…maybe because I know the route now?! I took it easy and rode with Jennifer and coach Jen most of the way up. Leesa and the kids cheered us on all day and Spooner was no exception. Spooner was humbling as always and the rain had come back for a bit but did not stick around for long. At the top of the pass I was greeted by Leesa and the kids. The folks manning the rest stop had chicken broth which tasted really good after such a long climb.

Now the fun part…the 8ish mile decent off Spooner Pass through Zepher Cove and back into Southlake. The fast decent topped me out just over a 40 mph consistent speed for several miles. The skies were clear, view of the lake unobstructed and the ride was very fast. The remaining hills at the end sucked but I knew they were coming so I could somewhat prepare mentally. Just before the finish was the team cheering us in with adult beverages in hand. We crossed the finish line and then rejoined the team for a celebration as we cheered the remaining members in. Once everyone finished, we rode together as a group across the finish line. We did it!

Ironically the next day we woke up to quite a bit of snow in the upper elevations and even down into the lower sections where we had ridden less than 24 hours prior. Glad we got the ride in when we did. It was amazing to see the vast weather ecosystem of the lake. There are many forecasts to consider depending on where you are around the lake. Pretty wild stuff!

I can’t wait to do it all over again and will do so until a cure is found for blood cancers.

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