Tally ho Tahoe!

My plan as I headed out of San Francisco on Sunday was to stay to the north for a while, and as such, I needed to pick some route or other to take me over the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  Now that's a little more challenging than it sounds, because there aren't really that many roads that cross over the range, and a good number of them are routinely closed from October to June every year due to winter weather.  In the end I decided to take reliable old Interstate 80, a stretch I've travelled a good number of times since a portion of it connects the Bay Area with Burning Man.  I became inordinately fond of the route one winter when Dave the seasoned ice driving veteran from Vermont drove (or should I say tobogganed) Mark and I over the summit, steering the PT Cruiser along a 30 mile long ribbon of black ice.  I rode along in white-knuckled amazement at Dave's skill.  We'd had to stop and have chains installed on the tires before we were even allowed to access the road and it was a grueling journey.  The three of us climbed out of the car near the top of Donner Pass (of cannibalistic pioneer fame) to stretch our legs and naturally it wasn't any time at all before the interlude had devolved into a spirited snowball fight.

2002 snowball fight at Donner Pass (L to R: Shiree, Dave)

Those wintry crossings of the Sierras (both the Donner-Reed party and my own) had taken place in the cruel snowy season of January, but now here it was June and the still glistening drifts of roadside snow were just about as high as they'd been on my January visit!  I stopped in a state park near the top of the pass to try and take my daily walk, but soon turned around and headed back to the car because the snow on the "trail" was so deep I'd have needed cross country skis to traverse it.  It was consistent with the evidence I'd been seeing all around the Northwest area of a long, late and persistent winter exacerbated by an abundance of snowfall.  Dang - I'd been looking forward to a nice long walk in the silence of the snow, but I simply wasn't prepared to take on snow drifts.  No matter, in short order I'd be to the other side of the Sierras and heading down the western shore (California) of the incredibly beautiful Lake Tahoe and would have more than ample opportunity for scenic walks.

As I drove along, I was amazed by the huge number of compelling bike trails that ran along the lake, snaking through tall trees and connecting the tiny hamlets that dot the perimeter of the lake.  I made a mental note to some day haul my bike out to the area and spend a generous amount of time just riding around and exploring.

I marvelled at the scenery as I drove along, keeping my eyes peeled for a good spot to take a late afternoon walk.  I pulled over at Emerald Bay State Park after seeing a sign mentioning Viking blah blah 1920s mansion blah blah.  I parked and scrambled up to the well groomed overlook, a perfect perch for gazing over the tree tops of the forest marching down a slope to the sparkling blue waters of the lake beyond.  As my eyes took in the scene, I spotted an official looking sign nearby the size of a small refrigerator. It patiently explained in great detail that if you followed the trail, there was a cool old Viking style mansion from the 1920s at the bottom, but pay attention because the path descended 500 feet over the course of a mile and wasn't for no sissies.  Well, that's my paraphrasing of it, anyway.  Madame New Knees didn't hesitate a moment before crisply buttoning her coat and setting off down the steep slope, soon rounding a bend and disappearing into a thicket of evergreens arching gracefully over the trail.  The walk down was absolutely lovely.  Every so often I'd pass over a tiny waterfall crossing underneath the path and would pause to search for the inevitable lacework of ice that had formed on the foliage nearest the water's cone of spatter.  I enjoyed frequent encounters with precocious gorgeous blue Steller's jays and could hear the occasional distant cry of a bird of prey echoing through a region known for its eagles. 

At the bottom of the steep steep hill, in a clearing along the shore of Emerald Bay sits a 38 room mansion called Vikingsholm that was built in 1929 by a rich heiress with interests in preserving Scandinavian culture.  Seeing as how it was the winter season (!) there was no sign of life inside, so I merely wandered the grounds peering in dusty windows and gazing out over the lake when the view allowed. 

Charming though it was, I had soon had my fill of Vikingsholm and walked out to the boardwalk that curved along the shore of the bay to follow it a bit where I could enjoy the brightness of the blue sky, the soft green of the looming pines and feel the bite of the cold wind coming in off the water.  I passed another somber decree printed in king-sized font that warned of the temptations of overestimating one's swimming ability.  In fancy state park words, it basically advised that while the nearby island did indeed look nearby, it in fact wasn't - and more importantly the water in that wide wide gulf was WAY colder than you one would surmise and doubted the wisdom of the assessment not one little bit.  That there was killin' water.

As I began my ascent back up the hill, I felt grateful that I'd had the good sense to pick up a nifty walking stick that someone had thoughtfully left at the trail head before walking down.  It was of great service and I had the added pleasure of leaving it for someone else to use after I had departed.  I approached the climb as though it were a training exercise and was well pleased with the stamina I mustered as I powered up the incline.  I was especially tickled when I passed a family group being shepherded uphill by two 30 something parents, both panting like dogs.  Bwahaha! Eat my glitter, kids!

When I finally reached the parking lot, I wandered about in a shallow daze for several minutes, recovering from the long push uphill. It was there that I witnessed the wretchedly poignant scene shown below.  Bless their little hearts!

I had just returned to my car and was standing at the opened passenger door shedding layers of warmth into the back seat when the family I had passed on the hill grimly straggled up to their minivan just a few spaces over.  "Man!  Was that as hard for you as it was for us?" the girl inquired breathlessly.  "It was pretty damn challenging alright," I conceded, "and I'm in the habit of hiking at least an hour every day!"  That seemed to make her feel better, so I didn't bother to brag about the new knees.

I pulled back onto the absolutely beautiful stretch of road that passes along the southern tip of the lake leading toward the city of Tahoe.  I paused quite a few times to admire the postcard view and track the progress of a feisty little squall that was making its way along the eastern shore of the lake.     

I pulled into the intriguing city of Lake Tahoe with just enough afternoon left to make several long passes through the linear enclave - observing it from its intensely 50s flavored south side all the way north to its more distinctly highbrow hotels and casinos.  The variety of old motor court motels and roadhouse restaurants that lined the highway was fascinating.  I was finally seduced by an Italian restaurant that proclaimed on a large banner outside the building that their salad bar was enormous.  And while I wouldn't call it enormous, there were indeed a couple of vegetables in the assortment of round plastic bins wedged into the ubiquitous sea of crushed ice.  I managed to make a palatable dinner with only a modicum of effort and then it was off to the Motel 6 with me.  It was cold and I was worn out in a good way from my vigorous walk and more than ready to crawl in bed. 

1 comment:

Trent said...

Wow. I was in south lake Tahoe this weekend for a wedding. :)