We guess the fact that we haven’t had much time to update the blog is a pretty good indication that we’re having an amazing time. That, and cell phone towers are sparse in these parts. Either way, we’ve been slackers in the blog department and restart our travel tales with our July adventures in Tahoe. Although it was wonderful to see friends in LA, after three days we felt tired, toxic, and in desperate need to see nature. As iconic as southern California is, that concrete:tree ratio is skewed too far in the wrong direction for us.
On our way out of LA, we took the drizzling rain that surrounded us as a sign to forego stops at Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite along the scenic 395 route, instead opting to make a beeline for Lake Tahoe with the most haste we’ve exhibited up until this point in our travels.
Rounding CA-89 over the mountains that form the ridge around Lake Tahoe is so amazing that you would swear someone changed the radio station to the Vienna Boys Choir singing Handel’s Messiah Hallelujah chorus.
The crystal clear waters juxtaposed against the tall pine tree lined mountains make for a spectacular view.
Lake Tahoe is one of the three clearest lakes in America, and the visibility and clarity are astounding, in part because of a collective local commitment to “Keeping Tahoe Blue.”
We arrived just in time to catch the sunset at Zephyr Beach and then drove up the east coast of the lake to find our campsite for the night.
Without missing a beat in our string of good luck, we found a great spot perched 100 feet atop a secluded overlook near Secret Cove, affording us magnificent views of the lake and the last sliver of sunset.
Waking up for another round of what we have affectionately come to call, “Coffee With A View,” we scrambled down a rocky off-path hill into the treasure of Secret Cove – our own private halcyon morning beach.
After our spectacular morning, we cruised into South Tahoe, where many of our friends had told us to seek out the Brackett family at South Tahoe Stand Up Paddle.
The most prominent SUP business on the lake and host to a fantastic series of races, we found their whole operation, including their beachfront rental & event site at El Dorado Beach, to be truly impressive. In addition to South Tahoe SUP’s events, El Dorado Beach is home to many local waterfront concerts and festivals like the bluegrass concert we attended one evening.
As luck would have it, one of South Tahoe SUP’s weekly races was scheduled the following day: An eight turn, three mile course that was spectator friendly and created some technical and board-bumping conditions for the racers. Though our boards did not leave unscathed, it was a hell of a fun vibe out there, and Bethany was proud to win the women’s 12’6” class and Martin 2nd in the men’s 12’6.”
The racing continued the next day with OC6 races organized by the local outrigger canoe club, as well as the following day when we were thrilled to take part in the Waterman’s Challenge, a short biathlon SUP + OC6 relay race.
Outrigger Canoe (OC) paddling uses a similar stroke technique to standup paddling, but you’re seated in a very narrow boat usually operated by anywhere from one to six paddlers depending on the size of the boat. With an ama stabilizing the craft, OC paddling can be done in nearly any water condition.
Our OC fest didn’t end there. The following day, Daphne Hougard, an accomplished outrigger paddler, coach, and photographer was kind enough to find an OC2 for us to use.
While she and a friend launched from nearby Nevada Beach, we shuttled to north Tahoe and met in the middle of the lake, all the while taking in mile after mile of crystal clear cyan water, rock-lined beaches, and rolling terrain along the rim.
Apart from enjoying the waters of Lake Tahoe, we wanted to explore the mountains by foot and by bike. At 9,738 feet, the tallest mountain in the area is Mount Tallac in the Desolation Wilderness. To its summit is nine miles roundtrip through a trail that starts off gently up the treeline and proceeds steeply toward the rocky ledge along a knifedge ridge to the peak.
Luckily, Martin gets the Boyfriend of the Year award for producing rainjackets, handwarmers, and snacks while we waited for the storm to pass under the protection of some trees. Meanwhile, we watched about a dozen miserable others who weren’t so well-prepared race down the slippery rocks wearing cotton t-shirts and being pelted with hail.
Fortunately, we had much better weather mountain biking than hiking. We learned that Lake Tahoe has received over ten million dollars in grants to enhance its already ample mountain bike trail network with the goal of becoming the mountain bike epicenter of the country. Several of the trails require a shuttle if you wish to avoid a steep and prolonged climb, but many trails are accessible by forest service roads. We found that the most valuable item to purchase in Tahoe is the local trail map, which gives some great routes for hiking, running, and mountain biking.
The ride we chose required a four-mile climb up a paved road before enjoying great views and a technical descent. Seemed easy enough. The road preceding our downhill trail was PAVED for God’s sake. Even though we consider ourselves to be relatively fit, our poor little Florida lungs didn’t know what hit them. That was the toughest four-mile uphill grind either of us had ever experienced. But the reward? The Armstrong Connector trail that took us down was technical and rocky, but the views were amazing. Once we got back to the Corral Trail to Powerline Road, it was smooth, fast, and fun. Totally worth the grind up, and if you’d have asked us then, we’d probably have gone for round two without hesitation.
Spending just over a week in Tahoe, we found stealth camp-parking to be a bit dicey given the summer busy season. “No Overnight Parking” signs dotted the good roadside overlooks, parks, and some of the trailheads.
Fortunately, the Mt. Tallac trailhead was far enough removed from the general traffic so we called that home most nights we spent in Tahoe, with a few nights spent on Donner Pass (at the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead) and on a bluff near the entrance to Donner Lake State Park overlooking the lake.
Before leaving the Tahoe area, we spent some time in Truckee, first visiting the very talented Brad Henry pottery studio where he and his wife Sonia welcomed us, and gave us a lovely tour of the town on cruiser bikes. Brad is an absolute genius in the pottery realm, creating hand-crafted pieces that are fundamentally functional, yet exquisitely beautiful. We purchased a few of his signature “thumbprint” tumblers that have a perfect groove for your thumb when you hold them. They get noticed everywhere we take them when we sip our coffee.
Truckee has a strong organic farming community, so their farmers market was a real treat for us, as was the trail running on the Tahoe Mountain Trail System’s Truckee Wildlife Trail loop. After the steep ascents of the mountain biking and hiking we had done, we welcomed the flat meadows of this loop (as well as the bounty from our trip to the farmer’s market :D).
Also in Truckee, we joined up with the North Tahoe/Truckee crew of outrigger canoe paddlers led by Daphne Hougard for an intensive morning technique practice. It was insightful to learn the nuances of the stroke and how it compared to learning the SUP stroke.
After a great workout, we finally said goodbye to the Tahoe area and headed off to the City by the Bay, San Francisco, in search of the Holy Grail of Pizza: Una Pizza Napoletana.