Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cycling Squaw Valley and North Lake Tahoe

My friend and I just took a bike-oriented weekend mini-break in Squaw Valley. She doesn't cycle very often so this was more cycle tour than Tour de Tahoe high speed race. We're avid skiers and go often in winter but Lake Tahoe, and even Squaw Valley, have a lot to offer in summer.

Weather: Be Prepared For Anything
Things were made a little interesting when the weather report predicted thunder storms for the weekend we booked. That's nothing to scare me off but it could make cycling more challenging if the wind kicks up above 20 MPH, which it can easily in the High Sierra. I've also had it snow in June while running Squaw Valley's Mountain Run.

Weather Equals Even Better Scenery
Despite all the Donner Party paranoia about weather, we knew we made the right choice to head up to Squaw when we saw this double rainbow while out for a stroll along the Squaw Valley floor when we first got there.

Rainbow Close Encounter
This was a full rainbow: a complete 180 degrees. With another echoing in the background. So beautiful. It is one thing to see pictures or see these in the distance. It is another to have this vaulting over your head.

Cornice Cantina Had Front Row Seat
We saw the Cornice Cantina under this rainbow so we decided it was a sign that we should stop for a drink. After grabbing my Don Julio and my friend's Pabst Blue Ribbon (she's a cheap date, bless her heart), we sat outside on the deck to watch the rainbow and more.

Close Encounters-Style Clouds
Unbelievably, there was even more stuff happening: cloud formations like I have never seen. We thought we were watching the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This got everyone in the bar outside photographing, even the really drunk ones. Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was the amazing scenery but everyone was talking like they had known each other for years. Everyone seemed to liken the cloud formations to different human body parts. I'll let you decide.

Finding this magical sky action and super warm people that first night out got us really amped about the next day. The weekend was off to a great start.

Blue Bird Skies
Like a dream, all the clouds and wind and rain were gone the next morning. We found blue sky and dry path. Here's the bike path on the north edge of the Squaw Valley.

The bike path in Squaw Valley is really a C shape around the meadow that just follows the road. It doesn't complete a circle but, as I'll explain later, there are ways to get around this. The path basically takes you out to another bike path that parallels the highway.

Gorgeous, Fragrant, Dedicated Bike Path 
Once you leave Squaw Valley, a bike path continues south through the canyon that leads to Tahoe City. It is completely separate from the highway. The path does not separate pedestrian and bicycle traffic but it is still far better than a simple bike lane on the road. Regardless, this one is unbelievably gorgeous.

On this path, on a blue bird sky day, at least 2 out of 5 senses will be blown away by a parade of technicolor scenery and fabulous fragrances from the warm pine trees, flowers, and eventually the lake. It is hard to be in anything but a great mood.

Cars Not Seen But Still Heard
One detractor to all the sights and smells is the sound of the highway. The bike path is completely separate from the highway but it still runs just feet away from it so the sound of cars is omnipresent as you pass through the scenery.

Once we got to Tahoe City, we proceeded south down the west side of the Lake Tahoe.

Nice Bathroom Facilities
One thing about these lanes that was a great relief, literally, was the bathroom facilities. Unlike Monterey's 17 mile drive, there is a wealth of both public and private spots. Here's my friend pictured outside one of the public ones right on the bike path.

Bike Paths End Before Homewood
We took it pretty easy on this first ride: just 30 miles from Squaw to Homewood and back. Part of the reason for this was that the bike path suddenly stopped about a half mile north of Homewood. My friend wasn't too psyched to ride beside the cars but I was curious to see Homewood in the summer time so we split for a bit and I darted down right quick. Here's a pic of the main lift. If I know Homewood, they would still call these ski conditions good to excellent.

Totally Different Views On The Way Back
At first, doubling back on the same path didn't seem too fun but the scenery really varies by direction so we saw plenty we had missed on the way down. Shots like this one with the boats is classic Lake Tahoe. It also shows how perfectly situated the bike path is to the Lake. Scenery like this makes up for a lot of car noise.

River Ranch Patio On Truckee River
On the way home, we stopped off at the River Ranch: a Tahoe icon right on the Truckee river and the highway. It has a beautiful patio that is right where all the rafters disembark. The "5 degree" rum punch is not bad either. It starts great and gets better with every sip.

Comfortingly, the River Ranch is a short distance from Squaw in case we got too sluggish or tipsy while wining and dining. We sat out on the patio enjoying the smell of the trees, the grill, the rum punch, and the rafter mayhem, then got back on the path for the last mile.

Squaw Valley's South Bike Path
Once we turned off the highway from Tahoe City back into Squaw Valley, my friend wanted to take a different path back across the Squaw Valley meadow. On our way out, we had seen this path and it looked more interesting than the path that shadows the road. The only problem was I knew from previous experience that no public path crosses the south side of the meadow. Nevertheless, I was in a mood for exploring and in no mood for arguing so I agreed to follow my friend up the path. Besides, I had a plan.

Poaching Pavement
Crossing the south side of the meadow on a paved path is actually pretty easy provided you don't have any scruples about trespassing for a couple of hundred yards. The golf course has paths for golf carts that start up exactly where the public path leaves off. Consequently, it is very tempting to just continue on across the meadow by using this path for a bit. We did and none of the golfers seemed to mind.

Just A Bit Of Touring...For Now
Safely off the golf course and back to our lodge, we felt very satified with our first Squaw Valley and North Lake Tahoe experience. It was clear we barely scratched the surface. For instance, Squaw Valley Ski Resort has lift service for mountain bikes in the summer so that you can ride down their ski trails. And my friends speak highly of a full tour around the lake. I didn't get around to any of that this time but I'll be back. However, I might fire up the iPod to drown out the car noise.