Quantative data is like someone else's GoPro footage; informative up to a point. It provides some basic parameters and allows the imagination to rehearse possible responses to a future experience but that's about as far as it goes for me. It's like vicarious living and all things being equal ('ceteris paribus' - as my old Economics teacher would phrase it) I would prefer to have the experience, and just deal with it, rather than imagine it.
The extremely detailed and informative Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Explorer Maps are a beautiful thing to behold if you like maps, and I do. That being said I have learnt that careful study of said map is absolutely no guarantee of the reality matching your diligent route research. Slogging your guts out only to see your route peter out into an impassable boulder field, ('clitter' - down this way) or 'road generally less than 4 metres wide' actually becoming a rutted, pot-holed, shite-filled centreline thing that eats delicate road bike wheels is not the fault of the OS people. It's just that data without nuance is just data.
That being said, here's my novice trip laid bare via data and website copy:
Tahoe Rim Trail - Day 1 Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Summit - Distance 33.6 km, Ascent 742 M, Descent 1250 M, Max Elevation 2699 M.
Tahoe Rim Trail - Day 2 Spooner Summit to Kingsbury Grade - Distance 27.6 km, Ascent 779 M, Descent 914 M, Max Elevation 2680 M.
Tahoe Rim Trail - Day 3 Kingsbury Grade South to Big Meadow - Distance 36.9 km, Ascent 1326 M, Descent 1400 M, Max Elevation 2955 M.
Tahoe Rim Trail - Day 4 Ward Creek via Stanford Rock to Tahoe City - Distance 30.7 km, Ascent 1027 M, Descent 1090 M, Max Elevation 2567 M.
Tahoe Rim Trail - Day 5 Martis Peak to Tahoe City - Distance 38.2 km, Ascent 928 M, Descent 1563 M, Max Elevation 2563 M.
Final Day - Hole in the Ground Trail
I have no idea whether you might think this data makes the trip sound easy or difficult. It depends on many factors from VO2Max, FTP and inherited physiology, to... well, the variables are too numerous to mention. Let's keep things simple - on a basic level it just comes down to the frequency and intensity with which you ride your mountain bike as part of your everyday life. Training... that's the word. Lifestyle and Age are two other words that might have something to do with it as well.
If you are in your 20's and race XC in the Elite category, then you're probably ok with the stats. If you are a novice forty something like I was, it might scare the crap out of you. Factor in the altitude, which for me was an unknown and the lifetime of smoking and you have the recipe for a kind of death or glory trip. Having done it you will take some memories from the challenge to your grave but you would still not be that keen to sign up for the same again next year.
Ignoring the physiological demands of the Trail for a minute, let's concentrate on the psychological aspects. I had my real moment of crisis on the longest day after a crazy hike-a-bike up giant stone steps in 80+ C heat whilst dealing with the effects of exposure. Not exposure as in "I'm cold" but exposure as in " I'm on a small contour ribbon quite a way up this mountain and to my left there is nothing below me for about 800 foot. Either by exhaustion or a fall - I'm in trouble here". I never knew I might be susceptible to this phenomenon but that's part of the deal. Only by putting yourself in situations do you discover what it actually feels like.
The main reason I kept going at the time was because I believed a helicopter could not airlift me out from that position and I should get to the lake and flat, open ground to give the pilot a fair chance. Sounds overly dramatic to you ? Maybe but this was my crisis and the threat was real in my head.
Respect to my riding buddies who looked after me and nursed me through my crisis. My friend later took a proper wilderness survival/first aid course through REI later that year because he a) wanted to know more about what happened to me and b) presumed that if he was going to keep doing this kind of trip, his skills may well be called on in the future.
The pay off from my crisis was Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - 6.2 miles of descent. Jesus. That's a long way down.
I survived the day. More than that I got stronger after my crisis and ended up whooping and generally coming over all American and 'stoked'. I lost my English reserve completely and may even have high-fived my bro's, dude.
I will not describe my trip in detail here, suffice it to say that I have a thousand photo's and memories. The Flume Trail, endless climbing and descending and the camaraderie of my fellow bikers are just some of the sensations I remember. I'm still learning to ride my bikes but this for me was the beginning of my love affair with mountain biking. I could have easily been put off by the raw data but you never know until you try it yourself.