The Range Rover loaded up with our mountain bikes, roadies, and kayak for a weekend of fun.
--View of Squaw Valley from our hotel. Not too shabby, eh?
The weather was very chilly in the mornings (upper 30s) with temps rising to a delicate mid-70s in the afternoon. The skies were a brilliant blue and the mountains were carpeted in a velvety green. I was reminded of Canada's B.C. in the summertime. Pristine lakes and hillsides. We were most struck by the delicious, cool, fresh tap water pouring freely from the sinks! I regretted not bringing huge jugs to take some back with us. None of the restaurants served bottled water. Instead, we reveled in the tap. It came from deep within the lake. Seriously, if I had needed to, I probably could have lapped water from the lake's edge like a deer.
Day 1: Mountain Biking the Emigrant Trail
The Emigrant Trail in Tahoe is fantastic for beginners and extremely scenic. What's not to like? I was certainly challenged by rocks and some gentle climbs. On the way out, tense and cold in the early morning chill, I rode rigidly, staring at my front wheel as Blake "oohed" and "aahed" at the sights. I was too freaked to enjoy myself much. I was sure I was going to fall off and die. Every uphill I rode, I mentally made a note of another terrifying downhill with sharp jagged rocks that threatened to break my neck on our return. "Is this an out-and-back?" Blake said that it was, confirming my worst fears. Needless to say, by the time we reached the turn-around at Stampede Reservoir, I was a bit grumpy. I was certain I was going to be walking most of the way back. Plus, I was a little humiliated that the "beginner" rating of the trail was kicking my ass.
I stopped to rest, dipping my feet in the cool, gentle water before we turned back. Somehow, Blake convinced me to let him ride behind me to help coach me on the downhills. I was more than a little reluctant; who wants to let their new beau watch them make a spectacle of themselves as they splatter themselves in bright colors of crimson and splintered bone on the rocks? Letting him ride behind me (read: have front seats to the "Rachel is a Dumbass" show) was like pulling teeth. He mentioned that it would be safer. Afterall, who would take me to the hospital if I fell and he was way off the front? (But if Rachel falls in the woods and no one is around to see, did it really happen?)
So, I let him ride behind me. And the most amazing thing happened. I began to relax. I got up out of the saddle, pushed my weight behind the seat, and allowed my legs and feet to absorb the shock. Rocky, my trusty mountain bike, rolled faithfully over the rocks, and I, little by little, began to build confidence. I began to go faster, and it got easier. The rocks that had seemed like boulders just moments ago now seemed like pebbles. Despite myself, a smile began to spread across my face. I didn't walk once. I didn't even fall. For the first time, I stopped staring at the ground in front of me, and looked around. Pine trees densely lined the trail, spotted with occasional emerald meadows. A giant doe ran right by us, spooked by some other bikers. The trail was padded with a thick layer of pine needles, perfuming the air heavily with the pleasantly intoxicating scent. I was so overcome with elation, a few tears rolled down my dust-stained cheeks. It was definitely a break-through ride.
--Rocky and I successfully rolling down the Emigrant Trail.
--Look, Ma! No falling this time!
Day 2--Run/Bike and Paddle
As we were returning to our hotel on the first night, one of the valets mentioned that we were about 1/4 mile from the entrance of the Western States Trail. I looked at him stupidly. "Western States?"
"Yeah. In fact, there's a famous 100-mile race that begins here and ends in Auburn every year. Lots of runners stay here. I volunteer for it."
He looked at me as if I was mentally challenged. It is my dream and destiny to do this race at some point in my life. I don't know why but this trail just calls to me. For some reason, I hadn't put two-and-two together. Even though I've read books on the trail, studied maps, and read the website studiously, it hadn't hit me until just now. Of course! Squaw Valley! Blake had booked our vacation from the steps of the starting point of my life's dream race!
Day 2, of course, began with my dream run on the Great Western States Trail. He negotiated the steep, slippery single-track on his mountain bike as I trotted alongside excitedly. The miles slipped away unnoticed as I breathed in the scent of pine and danced over rocks. The views over the valley and lake were stunning, as if we were in some remote place in Nepal, instead of just a few hours away from home.
Blake gently asked when I planned on turning around. I didn't want to turn around. I wanted to keep going and going and going. However, my foot was newly healed, and I've only recently returned to running. It wasn't wise to run more than 6. Begrudgingly, we turned around at the top of a very steep ski lift at mile 3 (but not before snapping some awesome pics).
--Exuberant on the Great Western States Trail
--Blake and his new studly mountain bike (Ghostrider) on the GWS trail.
Determined to see as much of our new playground as possible, Blake and I grabbed a quick bite and drove to Baldwin Beach for a kayaking excursion. I was a bit nervous. I had kayaked once in my life and have been known to be prone to seasicknesses. I had nothing to fear. After some brief instruction, we set off in Blake's light-as-a-feather, two-person kayak. The water was deep blue, crystal clear and glassy smooth. After settling into a rhythm, the kayak sliced swiftly through the water. We kayaked about 3 miles to Emerald Bay so clear, we could see the bottom. Reflecting the dark green of the pines on the mountains, the bay is aptly named for its deep jewelled green color. Not only was it a great upper body workout, but it was incredibly romantic. I felt like we were on a gondola in Venice.
--Kayaking on Emerald Bay
--View of Emerald Bay from above.
Day 3--Leisurely Road Ride and Horsebackriding
We rose early and rode down the paved bike trail towards Tahoe City. Blake wore nothing but a sleeveless jersey and shorts. I wore a thermal cap, arm warmers, and used his arm warmers as leg warmers and still had to try to prevent the fits of shivering from shaking me off the bike. Deep patches of fog hung like thick cotton in the valleys. To occupy our frozen brains, we searched the sunny meadow pockets for bears, hoping to catch a sighting. We stopped for breakfast at FireSign, famous for their Huevos Rancheros. We didn't even mind waiting for 45 minutes for a table; it gave us an opportunity to warm up. After a hearty, fattening breakfast, we plopped back into the saddle and rode into town for some sightseeing. I removed my cold-weather clothes and stuffed them laboriously into the back pockets of my jersey. We stumbled upon an art festival and wandered through, taking in the sights. Before returning to our hotel for our obligatory afternoon nap, we stopped for lemonade. There is nothing better than a lesiurely, sightseeing tour of a new town. It's a wondeful way to get an intimate view of a new place, covering many more miles than you could do on foot, but much more organic and sensory than by car. Plus, free parking!
After our nap, we hitched up our britches and trekked on down to Alpine Meadows Stables for a trail ride by horseback. The horses were nimble and spirited, unlike many sour, burnt-out rental horses I've experienced before. Blake was paired with a speedy bay Thouroughbred mare, Erma, and I picked a laid-back chestnut gelding, named Kevin (we had just watched Up so we derived much pleasure from this coincidence).
Much to our surprise and delight, the trail guide took us back onto the Great Western States Trail! I couldn't believe how sure-footed our steeds were as they negotiated the steep, rocky terrain. Definitely not a beginner's ride! We saw several large claw marks etched into the trunks of trees left like trail blazes by native black bears. We also spotted a fallen tree, gnawed through by a passing beaver. Blake did amazing on his sassy mare, Erma, despite his inexperience, even when she tried to insist on going down the shorter trail to return home. We both had a lot of fun, although it made me ache for the good old days when I had a horse of my own to ride (miss you, George).