Tuesday, June 3, 2014

72 Miles of Awe - Camping and Cycling around Lake Tahoe

Where to begin? I'll do my best to be brief and share what's most inspiring, pictures.

We arrived to our campsite at Meek's Bay Resort & Marina at 10:30pm after a 3.5 hour drive from the north bay. I had my little green North Face tent, which I've had since 1996 and have set up a million times, easy. I was in my sleeping bag and snoozing within a half-hour. But ohhh, it got chilly, down into the 30's (that's COLD for this California native), and I woke up a bunch of times because of that.

I think it was around 6am when I started to get some really good sleep. I was camping with a few other people from the cycling group and we all came out of our caves around 9am. We didn't have to meet the group until 12:30 so a couple of us decided to go kayaking on the lake (after a breakfast sandwich at the grill shack at the campground). I wish I'd had a camera but I was too worried about it getting wet. So no kayaking pictures but here are a couple of the morning lake.

The day was perfection - beautiful sunshine, almost no wind, and a crystal clear, glassy lake. We kayaked around for about 45 minutes and then went back to camp to change for our "acclimation ride".

Getting a prep talk from Franny, our fearless leader
I wasn't sure about my ability to do the 72-miles on the following day (Sunday) so I was using this shorter ride (planned to be around 25) as a test. We took off from Tahoe City around 1:30pm and rode toward Squaw Valley. There's a nice paved bike path that runs for miles in this area and we rode mostly on that until we got to Squaw Valley Road.

I couldn't keep up with the group once we hit Squaw Valley Road so I was now cycling by myself, which was just fine. I like having no pressure to keep up or worry I'm holding anyone back.

selfie while cycling - probably dumb but there you go
The day remained gorgeous and I was a happy girl. That said, the riding was a challenge. On the return the group turned up Alpine Dam Rd but I opted to head back to the car at that point. I was riding next to the river and just enjoying the beauty of the day.

Back at the car was a total of 16 miles ridden. I decided that the 72 miles was out of reach. Later I talked to Franny, the organizer, and she suggested I start with the group and ride to Incline Village and back for a roughly 30 mile ride. I was on the fence because a day sitting by the lake reading and sunbathing also sounded fantastic.

Back to our campsite to change for dinner. We ate at Hacienda del Lago, mexican food overlooking a marina. 

The whole crew, 13 of us!
View from the deck of the restaurant
I ate A LOT of chips followed by chile verde enchiladas, topped off with a Racer 5 beer. Ugh, it was really more food than I needed but oh well. After dinner some of those crazies went out drinking but us campers headed back to the campsite for some much needed sleep. I took a couple Excedrin PM to help me get through the night. That and my earplugs and I slept pretty darned good. Oh, and my Big Agnes Q-Core SL Sleep Pad (it's not cheap but worth every penny).

Our wake up plan was 6am and my fellow campers - Val, Fletcher and Raymond (the latter of whom I drove up/back with) - finally roused me around 6:30am. Packed up our gear and headed toward Tahoe City to meet up with the group. By this time I'd decided to do the Incline Village ride and then spend the rest of the day lounging by the lake - the best of both worlds.

Some of us ready to ride, that's me in the gray
We started off and I told everyone to go ahead. I figured I'd not see them again until the end of the day considering I'd be far behind them and then turn around. I pedaled along, listening to birds and gazing at the blue skies. It wasn't long before I crossed the state line into Nevada. Hey, this is my first inter-state ride!

Welcome to Nevada
Love the Bear Crossing sign!
So I was pedaling along, feeling good, and thoughts of trying to do the whole ride started creeping into my mind. Maybe...maaaayyybeee. When I pulled into the Incline stop I was surprised to find the group still at our first stop.

Tunnel Creek Station, Incline, our first stop
By this time I was heavily leaning toward doing the ride. Raymond said a few things that sealed it, "If you feel good, you should do it! You'll be happy with your decision." He's probably right. That, and when will I have this opportunity again? Oh, and I did feel good. Really good. I bought a Clif Bar and a Gu in the store and stuffed them in my Camelbak for reserves.

I gave Raymond my car keys with Plan B being he would come get me when they were done if I couldn't make it. I mean, this ride included two big climbs that are miles long and is 72 miles, I wasn't confident I could do it but I was confident I could try. Which reminded me of another thing that popped into my head while I was considering the ride, Marek saying, "Mommy, I didn't think I could do it but I could!!" at the track races last Monday. I don't think I can do this, but maybe I can.

I guess a map is now in order.

Tahoe City, CA was our start and we went clockwise from there. After this first stop we pulled out from the cafe headed toward South Lake Tahoe. I was anticipating riding alone all day, the ride was so gorgeous I didn't mind at all. But as we pulled out one of the riders stayed behind me. I kept waiting for him to pass me but he didn't. When I realized he wasn't going to pass me I started chatting.

Turns out he's only been seriously road cycling for 7 weeks and he decided to go the safe route and plug along slow-and-steady with me. Company! I felt mixed because I didn't want to hold him back but he assured me whatever pace I rode was fine. I tell ya, though I was planning to ride alone it sure was nice to have company. Gary is from Britain and just the nicest person, encouraging but no pressure whatsoever.

You can see why I was inspired to go on.
After a while we started the first climb, miles long but not too steep. Here's an elevation profile of the whole ride. Ignore the 7 hours 20 minutes thing. But do note the 3,576 feet of climbing!

All I could do was pedal and breathe. My legs were hurting but I wasn't in agony. And the views were just amazing. Not sure where these picture were taken but you get the idea.

Before we knew it the climb was over and we cruised down to stop #2 at Safeway. I arrived to a hearty round of, "We knew you'd make it!!" and felt super happy, but more than a bit achy, mostly in my shoulders. So I took 800mg of ibuprofen and hoped that would ease up the shoulder pain and other aches. And then we were off to our next stop just 5 miles down the road for lunch. When we got there someone told me, "Well, you're home free now, the hardest part is behind us and we're more than halfway done!" The ibuprofen had kicked in and I felt pretty good.

Our lunch spot, Grass Roots Natural Foods in South Lake Tahoe. Healthy food and yummy too.

Raymond and I, thanks for the encouragement Raymond!

Eating lunch - I was starving!
I had a half-sandwich, some pizza, an apricot and some chocolate. A couple of these crazies were drinking a beer!

Hi Billy!
That's Billy - eating a carrot and drinking beer. He's the one that gave me the ibuprofen, said his knee was killing him, "I'm not strong physically but I am mentally," he'd told me. Uh, I think you're strong physically too Billy. What a positive, fun person. I hadn't met any of these people before this trip and I have to say, I felt so grateful to be with this group. Not a hard-core road-cycling meanie in the bunch.

After a bit of rest we pulled out. It wouldn't be long before we faced the next climb, miles up toward Emerald Bay. As soon as we began the climb I quickly learned that the hardest part was most decidedly NOT behind me. The climb might have been shorter but oh man was it steep, with switchbacks even. We stopped once to take a picture, which I think was this one...

And then we stopped again for a moment to take off my long-sleeved shirt. I think I cursed a time or two during the ascent, especially when I had to stand to pedal up and around one of the switchbacks. Eek! But finally, finally...we reached the top. And the views of Emerald Bay, the waterfall, the air, the smiles - did not disappoint.

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

with my riding buddy, Gary. Thank you Gary!!

We hung around for about 30 minutes checking out the vistas and then riding a few feet up the road to play in the top of a waterfall.

Jonas, myself and Dave (photo courtesy of Gary)
Ah, what majesty.

And then back on our bikes for the 15 or so mile ride to our last stop before the end. The descents always make me nervous and I asked Gary to ride ahead, which he did (the only time he wasn't behind me all day). I just feathered my brakes and kept telling myself, "You're fine, you're on your bike, you can brake, you're fine, you're just fine", which helped ease my anxiety somewhat.

During this last stretch there were also more hills than I was hoping to find. In my mind the climb to Emerald Bay was the last of the hard work, unfortunately the road didn't agree with me. Oh, and it was along this stretch that I had a scare when a black Tesla sped by WAY too close to me and I let out a scream. Jerk. But then we hit Meek's Bay, past our campground, and rolled into Tahoma, and all was right in the world once again.

Tahoma Market, our last pit stop.

A brief rest, both physically and mentally and we were off again. My brain was mush at this point, I left without Gary! I didn't even realize he was finishing a slushie when I pulled out. Fortunately he caught up with me before too long. Another 10 or so miles and then there we were. Relief. And awe. And gratitude galore.

Here we are at the Tahoe Dam in Tahoe City. I'm posting two group finish shots because we are just that awesome! When I have a day like this it's like I won a major award and I want to thank people. So thank you to Franny for organizing and all that entails (seriously, thank you, that's a big job!), Raymond for the company driving up, camping, kayaking, and most important for encouraging me, Gary for being an ideal riding partner and quietly cheering me on, Fletcher and Val for more of the same plus being great camping partners, and David, Zuzana (and Gary) for taking some amazing pictures, and to Jonas, Billy, Ryan, Tom - all of you are SO cool, the best kind of people in the world, I hope to ride again with you one day. Maybe not with you, because most of you are too damn fast for me, but on the same day, on the same route, seeing your encouraging faces at rest stops.

Most of all, I am grateful to my body. This body amazed me. We started at 8am and didn't get back until 4:30pm and at no point did my body seriously threaten to give out on me. If you ever hear me criticizing this body remind of this day. The day my legs, shoulders, neck, all of it rallied to carry me 72 miles around a gorgeous lake on a gorgeous day. I needed that ride, I needed a boost of self confidence and self love, and I got it.

Ok, enough sentimental stuff...on to some food! We ate at Fat Cat Bar & Grill in Tahoe City. I had coffee instead of beer because we still had a 3.5 hour drive home. Split a burger and fries, had some quesadilla, hot wings, etc, etc.

A mere sampling of my early dinner.
I was entirely full, likely would have been happier eating a tad less (for a less stuffed feeling, not because of the calories) but seriously...not going to fret about it.

And then we all said our goodbyes, with lots of hugs and smiles all around. Like I said, I sure hope I get to see these peeps again one day. Raymond and I stopped at Wendy's on the ride home for a frosty and enjoyed some laughs along the way. I got home around 10:30 that night and after a quick shower (boy did I need that shower!) I was sleeping like a baby. Woke up Monday morning and expected to be hurting. Nope, I felt surprisingly good. I even felt well enough to hit the gym after work. I ran for 25 minutes and did back/biceps/core. I'm planning to do the same again today. My new favorite hashtag is #lovethisbody and boy do I love this body. I'm closing with one of the thoughts that inspired me to give it a go...

I didn't think I could do it but I could!

...that's what Marek said at the track race. Thanks for the inspiration little guy. Oh, and one last picture. Gary took this, not sure when or exactly where on the lake but it's beautiful and I wanted to include it because it captures the feeling I was after, a bit of refuge. I found the refuge, plus an unexpected gift of glory and inspiration.