Meet Legendary Carson Valley Rider: Leon Malmed
What is it that makes a place special? You might think the scenery, the activities, maybe the food. Carson Valley has all those things on tap, but the secret sauce is a little more intangible. It’s the people who greet you when you walk into a building, the stories of ranches passed down through generations, the clubs, councils and volunteers who have a true passion and simply want to share it with the community they love.
It really is the people that make a place truly special.
Leon, The Cyclist
We got the opportunity to meet one ingredient of the secret sauce of Carson Valley, a proud member and weekend ride coordinator of Carson Valley’s Alta Alpina Cycling Club, Leon Malmed. Alta Alpina is a road and mountain bike club that promotes cycling and creates an environment in which cyclists of all ages and abilities can enjoy the sport.
Cyclists of all ages.
Alta Alpina truly holds up to their mission. Leon Malmed recently turned 84, with the ability and fitness that most thirty somethings only dream about. What was he doing for his 84th birthday? Riding his bike, of course. The day before his birthday, Leon was out not only participating in something called the Mt. Diablo Challenge, he was his class. A timed 11.2 mile, 3, 249-foot elevation gain up Mount Diablo (one of the highest peaks in the Bay Area) was Leon’s for the taking. Not a bad birthday gift! That wasn’t Leon’s first gold medal by any means, it wasn’t even his first this year. He also took home a gold in the 2021 USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in August.
From all his incredible cycling achievements (where does one put so many medals?), it would be easy to assume that Leon has been doing this all his life. You know what they say about assumptions, though. Leon decided to give biking a go – not in his twenties – but at sixty-five years young. After retiring from his job in Silicon Valley, Leon moved to a golf area thinking he had found his future as a retiree. On a whim, he accepted an invitation from a friend to join a bike ride but when he did, he found that his bike was too heavy and he couldn’t keep up with the group.
“So, I borrowed my friend’s bike, which was several sizes too big but I was able to stay with the group. Then I bought my own and left them in the dust!”
After that, he was hooked. “That was the difference between biking and golf. When I would come home and put my golf bag away, I would be mad at myself and asking how I could have missed that drive or putt. When I put my bike away, I am always smiling no matter what the ride was like. I am always looking forward to the next one,” says Leon.
Why Carson Valley
There are many reasons why Leon loves Carson Valley and finds it uniquely perfect for biking. The wide range of terrain, for one. “Carson Valley is a fantastic place for bikers. It offers so much diversity; here you can find flat roads, hills, mountain passes, etc.,” he says. Because of this, Leon also recommends Carson Valley for all levels of ability. Top tier cyclists can train here and push their limits but newcomers to the sport can also find flat, beautiful rides along the valley floor or utilize e-bikes to help fill in the gaps.
Leon’s wife owns an e-bike and she often rides with him. “I love it and I love having her with me. When she passes me going uphill, she likes to ring the bell,” he laughs.
Another reason Leon loves Carson Valley for his cycling passion is the traffic, or lack-thereof. “There is limited traffic, and the people are very nice. They give you plenty of berth and I feel very comfortable riding here,” he says.
His favorite rides include parking at the bottom of Kingsbury Grade and then riding along the base of mountains to what he fondly refers to as the “three F’s” that is, the intersection of Foothill Road, Fredricksburg Road and Fairview Lane. He then enjoys paralleling Highway 88 on Emigrant Trail until it runs into the highway just before Woodfords. At that point, he has a decision to make. He can either go on to Markleeville and up Ebbetts Pass, which is not for the faint of heart, or he also enjoys taking the scenic Diamond Valley loop, before heading back. Another favorite of his is to ride from the bottom of Kingsbury up the eight miles to the top, or on the flatter route of Jacks Valley Road to Clear Creek. Check out more of the Alta Alpina routes on their website.
Carson Valley also offers biking pretty much year-round, giving people like Leon an endless opportunity to do what he loves. Primarily a road biker, Leon averages around 3,000 miles a year on two wheels, about 200 miles further than the length of the United States from coast to coast. If the weather is over 40 degrees, Leon is on his bike. If it drops below 40, you’ll likely find him on the slopes of Heavenly. This whole area is Leon’s playground, and he never misses a moment.
Leon, The Survivor
Aside from being an accomplished cyclist, Leon is a Holocaust survivor. His story is a heart breaking one and to hear him tell it is a humbling experience. Born in 1937 in Compiègne, France, he was just four and a half years old when his parents were ripped from him and his sister to be taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. They never returned. A French Christian couple took the young siblings in, and Leon and his sister, Rachel, spent three years in hiding. Miraculously, they survived. He came to the United States when he was 27 years old, with a pregnant wife and 18-month son, $500 in his pocket and a fortitude that propelled him into a successful career in the high-tech industry. In 2010, Leon published his memoir in French and then later translated it into English and Spanish. His book, entitled “We Survived…At Last I Speak”, can be found here. After having spent some time talking with Leon, it is no surprise that he gives all the profit obtained by his book to charity.
Prior to publishing his memoir, Leon didn’t think that many people would be interested in hearing his story. It wasn’t until he joined his sister when she was invited to speak about the Holocaust that he realized how wrong he had been. He has since spoken to people in the U.S., Europe, and South America, to audiences as many as a thousand. He continues to share his story in hopes to make a difference in this world.
Leon is absolutely part of what makes Carson Valley special. His love for biking, Alta Alpina and Carson Valley are not only evident, but contagious. So, dig out that bike in the back of your garage and come discover for yourself what Leon sees on two wheels in Carson Valley. Maybe you, too, will “leave them in the dust!”
Visit Carson Valley would like to extend sincere thanks to Alta Alpina and Leon Malmed for sharing his incredible story and giving us a glimpse into one legendary rider of the valley. Learn more about Alta Alpina at www.altaalpina.org.