A thirst for adventure

Think only movie stars in faraway lands get to have adventures? If you talk to the right people, you’ll find there is adventure all around us

Photo By David Robert

Sometimes you feel that life has become a little too humdrum. Admit it. You long for the days when you’d take a risk, even if it was only just a little risk to get the adrenaline flowing and give life some spice.

Maybe it’s just that spring brings out the adventurer in all of us, but for this year’s Adventure Guide, it seemed time to talk to some of the people in Northern Nevada who are adding zest to their lives. Some of these adventures aren’t for everyone, but many are just what the doctor ordered to prevent that hole from being worn into the couch cushion.

Running on empty

“The insinuation’s always that you’re crazy,” says ultrarunner Robert Mathis. “When you tell people that you’re going to run a 50-mile race, they say, ‘That’s a long way even to drive!'”

Most ultrarunners started out as experienced marathon runners looking for a new challenge. Because of this, and the training time and mental discipline required, ultrarunning, as extreme as it is, is one of the few sports where most of the athletes are over 40. The experience is quite different from a marathon—most races are on off-road trails and are an even deeper test of physical and mental endurance.

The Northern Nevada/Northern California region is one of the best places on the planet for ultrarunners.

“It’s a beautiful area to run,” says Mathis. “There are the hills, the lakes, the Sierra. There’s a diversity of courses, terrains and seasons.”

“Lake Tahoe is perfect training ground for any ultrarun,” says Sagebrush Stompers Running Club Vice President Kevin Bigley.

There are many races held near Lake Tahoe, including the Tahoe Rim Trail 50k/50m Endurance Runs July 16. This event is being jointly presented by two intertwined clubs, the Carson-based Sagebrush Stompers and the Tahoe Mountain Milers. David Cotter is the president of both clubs and, with Bigley, co-director of the race.

“It’s an awesome course,” says Cotter, “very scenic and very challenging.”

The race will serve as the 2005 Road Runners Club of America National 50k and 50-mile Trail Championship Races. It features the enticing slogan, “A Glimpse of Heaven, a Taste of Hell,” a reference to the spectacular views and the horrific physical hardships involved.

It’s not the only ultrarunning event in the area. Mathis is the race director for another long trail run along the Tahoe Rim, the Lake of the Sky Trail Run 50k on Oct. 15. Coming up in the very near future, on May 21, is the Silver State 50k/50m. This course runs northwest of Reno and is being presented by the Reno-based running club the Silver State Striders. Also, the granddaddy of all ultra trail runs, The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, is only about 35 miles from Reno. It starts in Squaw Valley on July 25. Heck, 35 miles is jogging distance for most would-be participants.

It’s easy to wonder why these otherwise sensible people would chose to do something so seemingly masochistic.

Sagebrush Stompers Running Club Vice President Kevin Bigley prepares for a season of long-distance races of up to 100 miles.

Photo By David Robert

“It’s one of those things that, until I did it, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to,” says Cotter. “But when I finally became hooked on long trail runs, I found it creates a sense of accomplishment even greater than a marathon. It’s a matter of mind over body. Regardless of how tired or sore you get, you keep going to the finish line. And if you can do that, you can do anything.” How to get the adventure started: You might want to consult a physician. Then, check out the following Web sites: sagebrushstompers.org, tahoemtnmilers.org, silverstatestriders.com, ultrarunner.net.

—Brad Bynum

On the rocks
Rock climbing

Rock climbing holds the distinction of being one of the fastest-growing outdoor sports as well as one of the fastest-growing indoor sports."It’s the No. 1 growing indoor sport and the No. 2 outdoor sport,” claims Jessica Lyon of Rocksport Indoor Climbing Center.

If you’d like to do some climbing without leaving Reno, you’ll probably have to do your climbing indoors. Rocksport on Silverada Boulevard features climbing walls of various skill levels from beginner to expert, and if you are just getting started, it also offers climbing lessons and is willing to refer a guide for an outdoor climb.

This summer, Rocksport is also offering an instructional camp for kids. There will be five five-day sessions that will run consecutively from mid-June through mid-August. Kids will be taught the basics indoors and, on the final day of the session, will be taken for an outdoor climb, weather permitting.

For those who would prefer to do their climbing outdoors, there are several excellent spots nearby. Donner Summit, Lover’s Leap and Big Chief are all reasonably short drives from Reno. All three spots have climbs of varying difficulty levels suitable for beginners and experts.

Since a trip to Yosemite isn’t often a possibility, Lyon suggests there are closer sites: “Donner Summit has spots for beginners.”

Alpine Skills International, based in Truckee, offers classes and guides for climbs at Donner Summit.

Another recommended spot is Lover’s Leap, south of Lake Tahoe, about 80 miles from Reno. Lover’s Leap has the benefit of campsites that are a short walk from the climbing areas, and you can hire a guide or take classes through Lover’s Leap Guides—$200 for a single person for a full day.

Big Chief is east of Truckee in the Truckee River Canyon and features numerous routes on volcanic rock that are appropriate for climbers of all abilities. The Forest Service road to Big Chief will likely be closed until summer, so any climbs there will have to wait—except for those willing to hike more than three miles before (and after) a day of climbing.

And for those who are worried their bodies aren’t sufficiently well conditioned to take on a mountain, Lyon has words of encouragement: “You don’t have to be totally fit to do it,” she says.

So give it a try. What’s stopping you? You’re not afraid of heights, are you?

How to get the adventure started: Rocksport Indoor Climbing Center is at 1901 Silverada Blvd. (the corner of Oddie Boulevard and Silverada). Call 352-7673.

Janet Wurtz, a visitor from Atlanta, Ga., scales the indoor cliffs at Rocksport Indoor Climbing.

Photo By David Robert

—Tim Prentiss

Riding the wind and waves

Imagine flying a kite while surfing or wakeboarding (minus the boat), and you have kiteboarding.

“It’s tremendously exhilarating,” says Steve Swartz of Carson City, who has been kiteboarding since 1998. “It’s like it defies the laws of nature; it’s magical to be able to play with wind and water.”

Swartz is also a paraglider pilot, but, he says, “Kiteboarding is 10 times more exciting and 10 times less dangerous.”

All the kiteboarding equipment you need can fit in the back of your car: a helmet, life vest, wetsuit, set of lines, harness, a specially designed board with fins and foot straps, and two to three different sizes of kites for different wind conditions. A kiteboard kite looks almost like a parachute. It is a single-surface inflatable tube kite that floats and doesn’t need a reel bar, so you can relaunch it from the water without touching it.

Kiteboarding has a steep learning curve compared to wind surfing, which takes years of practice. To learn kiteboarding, mostly you need to feel comfortable in water and eager to learn. Prior experience with kite flying or board sports is helpful but not necessary. You should be in good health before taking up the sport, but you don’t have to be in top shape in order to practice because you hook to the kite by lines attached to a harness, and the kite generates most of the power. Pre-teens can learn to kiteboard, and folks as old as 80 still enjoy the sport.

You can’t learn to kiteboard alone or with other beginners; you need to take lessons from a professional. Within three to 10 days, given the right instructions, you can go out on the water and come back. Once you master the basics, you can start jumping 1-3 yards, while extreme riders jump up to 25 yards.

“You can cruise around sedate the whole time or you can jump every 50 feet,” Swartz says. “In windsurfing, you need a ramp, but kiteboarding, you can fly anytime you want and float down like a feather.”

The downside of kiteboarding is the risk of getting slammed into something on land. If you practice safety procedures diligently, you can reduce your risk.

Local kiteboarders kite on Lake Lahontan and Lake Tahoe, but the favorite spot is Washoe Lake, “otherwise known as Brown Maui,” says Swartz. He says it got the nickname because the wind blows as reliably and consistently as Maui’s.

How to get the adventure started: Take lessons at Washoe Lake from International Kiteboarding Organization certified professionals. Call Gale Force Kiteboarding at (530) 386-2581, or visit www.gforcekiteboarding.com.

—Krista Benjamin

Offroad offspring
Adventuring with a baby

RN&R Arts Editor Kris Vagner and young speed demon Nico Vagner cruise along the Truckee River on 11 wheels.

Photo By David Robert

A few years ago, my busy friend Elaine, an avid hiker, gave birth to a daughter, and I improvised this advice: “You don’t have to stop doing what you do just because you have a child. You’ll have to do it a little more slowly and carry more stuff, but you can still do pretty much what you do now."My assertion was guided by nothing but optimistic thinking. I had no idea if it was true. But I got lucky. It turns out you can lug a kid into the wilderness—or up and down Peavine or across the shores of Washoe Lake—without much hassle. All you need is the right gear—as I found out a few years later.

My new son, who started life at 6,000 feet in the Tuscarora Mountains in January, didn’t mind a bit—didn’t even wake up—being bundled in a snowsuit and nestled in a baby sling while Mom snowshoed atop the drifts. The Third World-working-mom-inspired baby sling, while cumbersome as a fashion statement, is redeemed by its extreme practicality.

The sling distributes weight across the back and shoulders well enough to carry a small fry for a long time over pretty much any terrain. (My friend Anya reports from New York City that it’s the only way to get her 2-year-old from Point A to Point B in the non-stroller-friendly subway.)

By his first September, Nico had been camping at Wild Horse, in the Black Rock Desert and on a Sonoma County, Calif., beach. Getting baby bottles (somewhat) clean at a campsite means packing extra water. Other than that, no special preparations are required to bring a baby tent-camping.

Hiking has been made not only possible, but actually easy, by the liberating baby backpack and the indispensable off-road stroller.

The metal-framed backpack can hold a child from the age of about 4 or 5 months (that’s about when a baby gets heavy enough that the front-carrier is hard on the back) up to 2 or 3 years, depending on how much toddler you want to carry. Nico, not usually one to sit still for long, has, for some reason, routinely enjoyed watching waterfalls on several-mile treks in Mayberry Highland Park. A little removable backpack is designed into the pack, and a removable shade structure fits over the top. It’s crucial to get a baby pack that’s the exact right fit. The main consideration is getting a pack that distributes weight comfortably for your height. Mom and Dad may not be able to use the same pack unless they’re similar in height.

The off-road stroller (or “jogging stroller") is an item I’d wondered about in my pre-parent days. Was it just another excuse for the multi-gazillion-dollar baby-supply industry to capitalize on over-funded parents by selling yet more extraneous stuff?

Resounding, emphatic “no.” If you have a kid, and you want to ever get off pavement and onto Nevada’s endless miles of trails and fire roads, it’s a necessity. The off-roader can handle rocky paths, mud and steep inclines, and it rides smoothly on pavement. It can hold a couple cubic feet of stuff, comes with its own shade and can carry a 5-year-old.

Now almost a year and a half, my mild-mannered, sleepy baby has grown into an animated speed demon for whom no amount of running, bouncing or any other form of moving is enough. Again, the off-road stroller makes our day. Almost nothing is better in Nico’s mind than hanging out one side of the stroller catching wind in his hair like an ecstatic puppy while Mom provides velocity by rollerblading down the Truckee River path.

By next year, I won’t surprised if he’s pleading to go skydiving, but he’ll have to talk to Dad about that. My sense of adventure has some limits.

How to get the adventure started: Baby-hauling gear is easy to find at most outdoor outfitters. A good source of used gear is Once Upon a Child, 4040 Keitzke Lane, 825-4448.

—Kris Vagner

Life in the fast lane
Fixed-gear bicycles

A question: Why would anyone take a bicycle that can’t coast, has no brakes and is specifically designed to be used on a closed racing track and ride it in the traffic and chaos of downtown Reno streets?

Marissa Herold, who commutes to school and work on her fixed-gear bike, says it’s nice never having to worry about replacing gears or cables.

Photo By David Robert

The answer: It’s fun.Track bikes, or fixed-gear bikes, are bicycles taken back to their most basic form.

Unlike normal road bikes, which have a free wheel so riders can coast, “fixies” have a fixed rear cog, meaning that if the bicycle is moving, the pedals continue turning. This is ideal on the velodrome, which is an oval or circular racing track, because the racer can maintain a steady cadence. The sport of fixed-gear bicycling is more popular in Europe and Japan than in the United States, but in recent years bicycle messengers and other city riders in American cities have begun to use fixed-gear bikes for work, commuting and pleasure.

“A friend got me into them by lending me his track bike, and I fell in love; I had to have one of my own,” says Marissa Herold, 20, a University of Nevada, Reno student who works at Deux Gros Nez. “You have a better sense of what you’re doing and what’s around you. You get bored on conventional bikes.”

Though he doesn’t ride one, Chad Kortan, 29, a mechanic at College Cyclery, 622 S. Virginia St., recognizes the allure.

“I think it’s great that people are getting back into the simplicity and purity of bicycles,” he said. “We just sold one, and there’s been a lot of interest. They’re all the rage.”

“Yeah, it’s definitely picked up interest in Reno,” says Eric Carter, 25, shop manager at Sierra Cyclesmith, 7007 S. Virginia St., and fixed-gear rider. “It went from being a guy here or there who worked in a shop who knew about them, and slowly the bike culture has caught up in Reno, and you see them more and more.” Carter had a boss who was a world champion on the track, and he’s been riding “fixed” for a year.

Still, others question the safety—and sanity—of riding these bicycles on busy city streets. Since the rider uses his or her legs to control forward motion and stopping, it’s common for the bicycle to only have a front brake or even no brakes at all (state law requires that every bicycle have two working brakes).

“It’s too dangerous,” worries Bennie Danielson, 22, a baker in Reno. “You have to pay too much attention, and not having two brakes means you can never make emergency stops.”

Carter disagrees.

“People who haven’t tried them usually think they are risky, but there isn’t anything that isn’t safe, it’s just that you have to have the body control and confidence to ride them and handle them in a city setting. You need to be able to throw your body around on the bike to stop it.”

Herold, who rides her bike with no brakes at all, seems very confident.

“I ride without brakes because I can do it, and it seems appropriate to keep my bike as simple as possible,” she says. “You can ride forever; there aren’t any gears, levers or cables to break.”

Herold doesn’t believe she’s particularly fanatical.

“I’m not moving to San Francisco to become a bike messenger, but I’m really glad I got into [fixed-gear bicycles], she says. “Sometimes in class I daydream about going for a ride.”

Mountainboarding may not be the most popular sport, but proponents think it’s so much fun that broken bones are no deterrent.

Courtesy Of mtbz.com

How to get the adventure started: Get on your bike and ride. Fixed-gear bicycles can be purchased at most full-service bike shops in the Truckee Meadows.

—Dan Gingold


With so many summer sport options for snowboarders—wakeboarding, skateboarding, water skiing—mountainboarding often goes unnoticed. Mountainboarding—think skateboarding down slopes—is an extreme sport for the fearless of all ages. The sport can be done anywhere there is dirt or rocks. It’s not for the faint of heart because injuries are often serious. But with proper safety gear and a quality board, mountainboarding can be as safe as any other board sport.

Still, it’s not the most popular sport on the mountain.

“Not many people are willing to get padded up in 80-degree weather and get filthy, dirty, gouged and beat up,” said mountainboarding enthusiast Bob Daly.

Some of the best places to ride are here in Nevada. Kingsbury near Lake Tahoe is listed alongside Boulder City as a top place to mountainboard in Nevada, according to mountainboarder.com. Many local ski resorts also allow mountainboarding during the summer seasons. Boreal, Northstar and Kirkwood all have trails and lift tickets available, but you don’t need to pay for a lift ticket when any dirt road will do.

To get started, you first need a board with tough wheels to stand up to the rocks and obstacles. Any sneakers should fit into the board bindings, and you should wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. Boards come with or without brakes. Inexperienced boarders should use brakes.

More important is a lot of good padding. Padding should be worn on the knees, elbows and wrists, and, of course, a helmet can keep accidents from turning really ugly.

Daly said some sporting-goods stores at Lake Tahoe always have boards and accessories in stock. There are no mountainboarding equipment stores in Reno.

Mountainboarding is a lot of fun, but because of the competition of other summer sports, it doesn’t appear to be exactly surging in popularity.

“Mountainboarding is one sport too many,” Daly said. “There are too many other options for snowboarders in the summer.”

Nancy Ng is the Woman’s National Champion in mountainboarding. She is a Tahoe local and part of the Dirtheads Mountainboarding Team. She has been riding for six years and has been in about a dozen competitions.

Over the years, her worst injuries included breaking her back and wrist, Ng said. Perhaps ironically, she says the worst part about mountainboarding is that it’s hard to find people to ride with.

“The best part is the freedom to ride anywhere,” Ng said.

Ng’s advice for anyone who wants to start mountainboarding is “wear pads and start slow.”

How to get the adventure started: Pick a board on mtbz.com. Less-specialized gear, like pads, can be purchased at any of the local sporting goods stores. Find a dirt path with a gentle downward slope.

—Katie Power