Lake Tahoe Adventures
A diary of a “failed” Tahoe Rim Trail thru hike turned into a dirtbag style road trip around Lake Tahoe and the American West.
A short film titled, “Mini Documentary: Lake Tahoe Adventures”
Lake Tahoe, here I come!
There is something magical about traveling across the American West, over the open highways and under the big sky. I have this unmistakable feeling of freedom and possibility. The windows are down and Fleet Foxes is blasting loudly on the old truck speakers; everyday life can be forgotten, if only for a moment.
At 11pm, I arrive at the Tahoe Meadows trailhead. It is unbelievably cold and windy. The truck shudders back and forth with each gust. Standing outside for more than a few seconds makes all exposed skin start to instantly go numb. With the powerful wind chill, the temperatures have to be close to 0 degree F. I angle myself on the single bench seat of the truck’s interior and bed down for the night. The cold darkness is both suffocating and exhilarating at the same time.
In the morning, the bright sun flashes through the frosted windows. I feel cramped and tired, but excited knowing how far away from normalcy I am. The wind is still blowing just as hard as last night. It makes me not want to leave the protective metal box of my truck.
After picking up my bear canister at the Incline Village ranger station, I drive to the Mt. Rose Summit parking lot for a more secure place to park the truck.
I look out at the trail and gear myself up for my journey. My North Face Summit Series Cobra 60 pack feels heavy but secure on my back. I start hiking clockwise on the Tahoe Rim Trail. The sun is very misleading; I am starting to doubt it will get much above freezing with the constant wind. 5 mile in, I feel exhausted and drained. Each step I go, my thoughts turn more and more negative. “I’m not prepared for this wind. How cold will it get at night? Can I really turn around and just quit what I’ve been excited to do for so long??” Once the doubt started flowing, there was no stopping it.
At the top of a ridge overlooking Lake Tahoe, I turn myself and look back from where I came. I’m done. I am sapped of energy and will.
As I slowly amble back, I search for solace in my failure. I start to photograph and film everything, talking things out loud to the camera and to myself. The creative outlet helps, as it always tends to do.
Sitting in the truck, I feel better. The grey evening light sets in as snow flurries begin to whip around the truck. I step outside and take it all in; there is still possibility in the air and grand adventures to be had!
After thinking last night, I decide to drive around the lake while hiking and climbing as much as possible. I circle some destinations on my Blackwoods Press pocket atlas and forget about the failures of yesterday. I plan a schedule I could easily shrug my shoulders to if it doesn’t completely fall into place. A loose itinerary is necessary, but a strict one of structured control is harmful to personal growth if a beginning, middle and end is always known.
I start my new adventure with a climb of Mt. Rose. It seems appropriate as it looms right in front of my truck base camp. After a wrong turn on the trail, I find myself between Relay Peak and Mt. Houghton. I point myself north and traverse over the 10,000 ft. plateau then descend a scree slop to rejoin the Mt. Rose Summit trail. I reach the barren peak of 10,776 ft. Mt. Rose and take in the 360 degree views – Reno to the north, Lake Tahoe to the south and everything in between.
A solid 14 miles later, I return to the truck. I feel strong and free.
The Taco Bell in King’s Beach will be the site of my post hike dinner tonight. I ravenously eat 5 tacos and gulp down cup after cup of cold water. There is something about fast food that cannot be rivaled after a long hike. On the east side of the lake, I find a shore front visitor center bathroom to fill my water bottles. One of the amazing things that happens on a dirtbag style road trip is that life becomes a search for the necessaries – food, water, bathroom, sleeping area etc. This instant simplicity overpowers all the pointless complexities and worries of “normal” life.
I came for the water refill; I stay for the perfect lake sunset. The yellows and oranges turn to dark reds and purples as night nears. These moments remind me it’s good to be alive and well.
I pull into the Spooner Summit trailhead after dark. I fumble with making my truck “bed” and angle myself in for the night.
I wake up this morning cold and cramped, with truck windows nearly completely frosted over. I have become very familiar with the interior of the truck, probably too much for my own good actually…I know all the quirks and small spaces. The right side cushion is softer and fuller than the more aged left side cushion. The bane of my night time existence is not the short length of the seat bench but the 2 rigid seat belt buckles angled upwards like stakes. Many times I’ve woken in the middle of the night, blind and delirious, trying to rip them out or push them into the seat. They are unmoving.
Sleeping the truck really is the limiting factor of my trip. I’m already starting to dread going to sleep. I slept in my 2 door Honda Accord for 56 days last summer; that was the Ritz compared to this truck bench! (See the full diary for that trip here: http://wp.me/p5euGO-7)
I head south to the famous Desolation wilderness to pick up the mail drop my mom so kindly had sent to me for my half way point of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Echo Lake is gorgeous. I must return here someday soon and hike among the alpine lakes and granite peaks.
Last night, I slept at the Tahoe City trailhead. It reminded me of a well-lit mini Walmart parking lot from my days traveling the West last summer!
The air was warmer and I only woke up once from being cold during the night. I was much more comfortable, which admittedly had to do with the half a fifth of cinnamon whiskey I enjoyed before bed. That really took the edge off and made those pesky seat belt stakes not so bad.
I decide today is the day I start heading north, back to good old Oregon. Before leaving, I hike to the top of the bluff above the parking lot to take in the views and do some thinking. While I’m sitting, a small rodent rushes under a rock near me. I look up and see a coyote staring at me 20 feet away. He tilts his head, turns and slowly trots off in search of other small, furry creatures to consume.
A couple hours later, I find myself at the east side visitor center again. The “necessity” today is a bath. I spend the next 20 minutes naked in the bathroom with my bandana and biodegradable Campsuds soap. It is liberatingly weird in the best possible way!
The drive back into Oregon is full of adventure, open roads and good tunes. After dark, I return to Portlandia. For the time being, I am satisfied with life.