Up until this past June, I had never visited Lake Tahoe outside of winter and I’ve been going up there every year for the last five years.
So it was kind of a culture shock to visit this summer and realize that driveways weren’t always buried under snow, people actually wore less than three layers out, and “going to the beach” meant sunning ourselves on an 80°F day on the shores of North Lake Tahoe.
Despite the summery weather and the fact that everyone around me was clad in bathing suits, most of the snow had just melted off a couple weeks earlier, and signs of this past winter’s massive snow dump were still apparent on the peaks all around us. It was a little bizarre to be digging my toes into the warm sand while mountains not too far off in the distance were still half frozen.
This sojourn marked the beginning of a long road trip through the Sierra Nevada and the beginning of my summer, just a few days after the solstice.
It started with a paddle around Lake Tahoe, surrounded by snow caps, in water so clear you could see all the granite boulders beneath without even looking…
… It continued with an afternoon float on the Truckee River. The scenic stretch between Alpine and Squaw was deceptively calm in the first few minutes, with shimmering riffles that elicited squeals and giggles as we bobbed contentedly down the river…
… But soon turned into set after set of Class II rapids with Class III hazards (of the decapitating, eye-gouging strainer sort) that knocked us around like pinballs through narrow boulder gardens…
… And who’d a thought that all those creeks surging into the river would be so bone-chillingly cold, even though we knew it was fresh snowmelt running right off the mountains…
… And if there was that much snowmelt gushing in from these creeks, why wasn’t the water more than say, 6 inches above the rocks — which would’ve been much kinder on our paddles (for us in our kayaks) or our behinds (for our friends who braved the innertubes)?
Despite the lazy-river-turned-gripping-whitewater adventure, we survived all the way to the take-out, shivering and slightly bruised.
Our original plan had been to float down the river and finish off the day with some climbing at Donner Summit’s classic granite walls. After rehashing our little adventure in the parking lot — and feeling better after cracking open a few beers, the same ones I’d stashed in my kayak earlier for the booze cruise that never was — we decided to go ahead with the climbing plan.
It made for a nice drive, at least…
… But by the time we picked our wall and organized our racks, we realized we were just too spent to get any real climbing done. So, here’s a nice picture of me rappelling down, with Donner Lake gleaming in the distance.
Over the course of the week, the weather started to turn and the hot sun was edged out by cool, gray clouds. My guy decided it was the perfect time to finally teach me how to mountain bike. I was outfitted with a bike and a helmet and told to stay between the lines — the lines of the single track, that is.
I should preface this part with a confession that I’d only learned to ride a bike a few years ago, at the age of 24. I’m a three-speed beach-cruisin’ type o’ gal. I also have a terrible habit of steering toward whatever I’m looking at, whether it be trees, boulders, or the cliff dropping off 15 feet into a creek. On top of that, I had never seen so many gears and controls on a bike before. Front brake? Rear brake? What do I need 18 gears for? And forget that other lever on my left handle, which my friends told me not to touch. I was afraid that if I’d pressed it, I’d be ejected out of my seat for sure.
On an 8-mile stretch of the Commemorative Emigrant Trail, I pedaled fervently along Alder Creek to Hobart Mills, rolling up and down hills and skidding around sharp bends, through mud puddles and over sage bushes, between trees and across creeks, and proudly took my first digger.
By the time I finished my ride, I was bloody, sweaty, dirty, crusty, and dusty. All the ingredients that made for a perfect first mountain biking experience, and the start of a very adventurous summer.