The Lake is Calling, and I Must Go
Something wakes you in the dark. It may be pitch black outside, but a warmth is already on its way through the light material of the tent. The soft, distant chirping of birds works its way into a song that’s being carried on the breeze. Facing the flashlight toward the path ahead, you almost ignore the ground while scanning the nature around you. The tall pine trees, the dark night sky filled with stars, the rock that you just bumped your foot against causing you to stumble and “gracefully” regain your balance (arms circling every which way). Composure recovered you continue to walk forward, still looking up and ahead, but down once every few seconds to make sure that you don’t trip on anything else.
Dirt turns to boulders and sand as you near the water’s edge, but before reaching it you turn and walk down a thin trail up the hill through scattered trees. You can feel it, the sun’s rising. The air is warming, the sky is brightening causing the stars to disappear, and the birds grow louder and more constant. Through the trees you begin to see the sun peak over the mountains. It’s blinding. While letting your eyes focus for a moment behind your hand, the sun continues to rise, chasing the night away, turning the dark into simple shadows. After a long, deep breath you have the peace of mind to continue the day. Walking back down along the trail you find yourself walking backwards in time, where daylight has not reached. Approaching the main path you take another moment to think and choose to continue to the water, to watch the sunrise again, from a different perspective.
The water lapping on the rocks creates its own rhythm. Sitting on the stones gets you close enough to the water to run your fingers through. The clear blue water is cold to the touch, but there is a sense of welcoming felt as the small wave crests shimmer in the morning light. Time seems to stand still until the entire sun has broken over the mountains. Now there is less of a feeling of calm around even though you are still sitting alone. The world is now awake, so you cherish the memory you had just experienced, turn away from the wide-open water, and walk slowly back to camp with the flashlight hanging inactive by your side.
As morning continues adventure calls; the hardest part is choosing between all of the options. That’s why you’re glad that you made a weekend plan.
Option one, Saturday, is rafting and already you can tell it’s the perfect day for it. The breeze has died down and the bright summer sun is drying the air, adding to your desire to get into the water.
It’s a decently short drive to the American River raft loading area and as you wait for the rest of the party to get situated you scoop up some water splashing it in your face and over your head before dipping in your feet. This river run is not a difficult undertaking, only reaching level III class rapids. Most of the 2-5 hours (depending on how many times you want to stop and play in the water) is spent leaning over the side of the raft, soaking your feet, splashing your friends or family, or light paddling to keep moving forward. As you pass by dozens of people and dogs enjoying each others’ company celebrating summer in their favorite ways.
Sometimes though you’ll hit a rock and your sister (or whomever) will drop their paddle in the water. It’ll float far enough away where she can’t reach it, which causes her to say f*@# it and jump in the water. You just laugh during the whole thing as she wades through 3-4 feet of cold water over to the paddle that got caught up in the branches of a bush, which she in turn gets slightly tangled in. As she attempts to climb back in the raft she shoots you a playful glare for laughing and splashes a large amount of water at you. Although it’s slightly bothersome that your clothes are wet, since the wind is picking up again, the water still feels good in the heat so you laugh it off and respond with a bow and a thank you. She’ll get cold soon enough because of her actions (karma haha).
While she shivers we all complete the run and jump back in the car to travel to our campsite. With several hours still left of daylight a decision is made to take a couple hours long hike to Vikingsholm. The large, almost palace-like building was modeled after 11th-century Scandinavian buildings complete with sod roofs, paintings on the ceilings, beams carved to look like dragons, and both antiques and reproductions; altogether creating the feeling of stepping back in time upon entering.
Hiking back you are less concerned about where you are going and instead thinking about arriving, it’s dinnertime and the mere idea of food is calling your name. A bit over half way back you realize that you are not taking these moments to heart. Slowing your pace, you take a look around, at the trees, the flowers, the ferns, the birds, and down the steep hill towards the bay, Emerald Bay. Though you can only see parts of it through the trees the relaxation hits you and, just like in the early morning, you take a long breath through your nose, causing your eyes to close for a moment before releasing the breath and all previous thoughts, if even for a moment.
Although tall pines surround camp, a slight breeze works its way through. The day is slowly coming to a close when you make it back at a perfect time for dinner. In classic camping style, thick sausages are roasted over (and in your case, in) the flames of the campfire. Warm on the inside, partially charred and all-over crispy on the inside, with the smokey smell and flavor, along with all the best fixings, it’s just perfect.
As day turns to night, the campfire keeps burning. Sweaters and jackets are donned in preparation for the final part of the day. With a nice hot drink by your side, a skewer holding a marshmallow in your hand, and the graham cracker/chocolate combo prepped on your leg you are ready to make s’mores. Just like the hot dog you like the marshmallow like you like your volcanoes, outside black and crisp with the inside molten. Dipping the marshmallow in the flame sets the sugar ablaze. Twirling the skewer between your fingers lets the flames crawl upward engulfing the parts that were not yet burning. Raising the candy torch toward your face you can feel and smell the heat. For what seems like another eternity you are watching the flames dance over the blackening marshmallow skin (this might set you up as a pyro-, might want to get yourself tested) before taking a deep breath, blowing it out, and squishing it between the crackers and chocolate. While munching on your treat you listen to your party trading ghost stories, jokes, dirty limericks, and more.
As it gets later and later the campfire is allowed to burn itself out. But before turning in, you hike up to the crest of a nearby hill to get a clear view of the night sky. Without the interference of light the entire sky is clear, all the stars glisten and the Milky Way carries you away along its winding trail. Looking up makes you feel so small and insignificant, but on the other hand, it makes you so happy, so at ease, though you don’t understand why. The shooting stars of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower burn through the night sky. And while you don’t admit to it you close your eyes and make a wish, with all your heart, hoping it will come true.
Option two, Sunday, takes you away from the woods for a while. While Reno-Tahoe is not the most ‘hopping’ place it’s still a bit of culture shock. Buildings and streets? What’s up with that? Too much time won’t be spent wandering through shops, but it’s nice to lose yourself in the art hanging on all the walls. Including the stupidly popular 90’s-retro wolf T-shirts and knick-knacks on all the shelves. Saving on parking fees your party walks across the California-Nevada state line, passing the Pony Express statue, across a street into a world of tall, stone buildings and concrete. Entering a casino and seeing people around you constantly losing at the slots always made you wonder why anyone would throw money away like that, ‘but I guess we all have our vices’. Lunch at the Hard Rock Café is the annual tradition, but it ends and there is time to enjoy the outdoors again. If you all thought ahead and brought warm clothes then time can be spent at the lake itself, if not *sigh* you have to go back to the camp site to retrieve them.
On the Sand Harbor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest you wait eagerly for the Shakespeare play to open. The sun is not close to setting, it was still hot, and you wished that you could be swimming, jet skiing, kayaking, or paddle boarding on the crystal blue lake in front of you. Anything to keep busy. But, as you don’t have another change of clothes, you practice your rock jumping skills and maybe take a decent picture of the downward inching sun. Once the “doors” open your “dinner” can be picked up, since you’re still full from lunch the meat and cheese plate that your party preordered is plenty for all. In the stage area chairs are set up on the sandy hill from which you can get a beautiful view of the lake and watch the sun FINALLY go down. Now the play can begin. Comedy or tragedy, it doesn’t matter, Shakespeare always wrote the most human stories and the theatre is the best way to experience it.
Even though the visuals of the play are entrancing, the sky is more so. Even with the lights of the stage the stars are still easily visible and you watch the shooting stars just as you did the night before. With wonder for the universe and having Shakespeare’s words in the background the incredible notion of how much there is under that sky enters your mind. How much have these stars seen? Billions of years in existence and you are only here for an inconsequential amount of that time. It spurs you on, if you have only this, then get as much out of it as possible.
I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with what I want to write about, what I can share. So I am diving back into my childhood, to my family’s eventual annual tradition of summer camping in Lake Tahoe. Every camping vacation is different but if you are going to stay in Lake Tahoe there are things that have to be a part of the trip.
I just want to put out that there are many, many camping areas around the lake but my favorite is Emerald Bay. It’s secluded and perfectly woodsy, but easy to get to with any kind of car. And the camp areas are set up, and have communal flushing toilets with sinks. Now a’ days I would much rather backpack to keep away too many people, but then there are better trails for that elsewhere. Keeping to the theme though, Emerald Bay has the perfect views of the lake, the night sky, and great hiking trails. Plus, since it’s easy to get to you can easy have day trips to rivers nearby for rafting, Reno for a different kind of party, to Nevada’s Sand Harbor Theatre for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, or anything else you could imagine!
- Lake Trips
- Reno (for wandering and lunch)
- Shakespeare Festival