And suddenly…Summer?

Oh single speed, oh single speed...

Oh single speed, oh single speed...

A week ago I was making powder turns off Mt. Tallac.  Today I went on a 3 hour mountain bike ride in shorts.  Certainly the weather in the Sierra is a bit crazy, but this seemed particularly strange.   Mid-seventies after a few feet of snow last week? Yeah, no global weirding here.

But, seeing that it really is beyond our control, we went with it.  With a lot of sunblock, for there was a lot of exposed pale skin.

Trail conditions at the lower elevations range from dry to wet and muddy to snowy.   Our goal was south facing trails located far from creeks, and surprisingly we found pretty dry trails for the most part.  Even found snow-free climbing to 7000 feet by Cold Creek.

And while I’ll always be more of a powder hound than a dirt jumper, I was pretty happy to see my trusty single-speed again.

Of Spandex and Snow

This week South Lake Tahoe was inundated with pro cyclists, as the Amgen Tour of California was starting on our side of the lake. Getting this was a big deal for Lake Tahoe tourism folks, and even with the added excitement of the temporary closure of Highway 50, the main east-west artery to South Lake Tahoe, we’ve still got lots more people in town than we usually see during our mud season.

Since I have friends who were involved in the organizing, I got asked to help out on Friday night, escorting the teams to the presentations that occurred during the Opening Night Gala. So I and a few girlfriends got gussied up in the nicer dresses we’d never otherwise have a reason to wear here, and ushered the various pro cycling teams through the back corridors of MontBleu. It was actually more fun than it sounds. I’m not a huge cycling fan, as I tend to participate in sports more than I watch them, but even I recognized a few faces as the various teams came off the elevators.

The start and first stage of the actual race were scheduled for Sunday. In typical Tahoe fashion, the forecast was for snow. There was much talk about it going into the weekend, and when Saturday dawned cloudy and breezy, but not snowy, it seemed like we were going to get a free pass. Heck, you could see the moon last night, which seemed like a good omen.

Perfect day for a pro cycling tour.

Alas, we woke up to snow Sunday morning, and not just a dusting. This sucked for the cyclists, but was really good news for skiers. So Nils and I decided to brave the weather and roads and drive to Alpine Meadows. We went up the west side, which happened to be the proposed course for Stage 1, and we came across a number of signs that seemed highly incongruous against the snowy/slushy roads.

Snow sprinting?

To be honest, the drive up was nasty, and after seeing more than a few cars off the road just north of Emerald Bay, it didn’t seem like the race would go. But we figured we’d keep tabs on it while we skied, just in case.

Not hitting bottom

Conditions at Alpine were surprisingly good, considering that visibility sucked and there was a hard surface underneath the 7-10 inches of reported snow. While a bit slabby in the earlier part of the day, the snow actually got lighter and drier as the morning went on. Snowstorms at this time of year are not unusual, but the accumulation and temperatures were decidedly less spring-like than typical. So this was a real sleeper/bonus powder day, one well worth the drive and gas money spent!

We had heard that the race was going to be delayed until 1.15 pm, so we left the mountain a little before 1 to see if we could catch the men in spandex at Emerald Bay. The roads back were snow-free, just wet, so we figured all systems were go. Listening to the local radio station, which had a correspondent at the start line, we learned that they cancelled the race a mere thirty seconds before the start. It seems there was concern about the roads and the risk of hypothermia. Disappointing to be sure, but given that it’s still snowing three hours after the race was called, it seems it was the right call.

But that said, I’m sure that many more people now know that it does actually snow in California.

Growing is forever

If you’ve never been lucky enough to visit any of the state or national Redwood forests in California, then by all means stop what you’re doing and watch this video by Jess Roesten.  It’s a beautiful tribute to the remaining groves of these magical trees.  Over the past few years, I’ve hiked through many of the groves between Big Sur and the Oregon border, and they are truly amazing.  Words don’t do them justice.  This video, however, does.


Basin Brawler for a day

Chico Norcal Skate Tournament 2010This past weekend I headed up with a few of my sister Tahoe Derby Dames to play in a derby tournament in Chico.  Since most of us hadn’t done much skating or practicing in a few months, it was emphasized that this was to be a friendly, no-pressure event.

Our team, the Basin Brawlers, was a mix of players from Tahoe and Reno, and we were up first against Redding in a 30 minute bout. Typically a derby bout lasts twice that long, but as the team that won this bout was to play Chico in a 40 minute bout, the first game was kept deliberately short so as to not totally exhaust the team that played twice.

Despite the ‘no pressure’ element, it was clear that all of us wanted to win, and while the first few scrimmages weren’t our most effective – we were, after all, literally just getting back into it – we quickly regrouped.  At the end of this first scrimmage, we were tied with Redding.  One final scrimmage, one with Redding’s point-scoring jammer in the box, and the Basin Brawlers won, 65-56.

Admittedly, our team was a wee bit tired by this point, so facing off against Chico’s fresh team felt a bit unfair, but with a few additional Redding players joining us, we figured we had a decent shot.   Given that I was thrown in as a jammer for the very first time, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t help us much in the point scoring department.  But I must admit, I really enjoyed it, even if I didn’t fully understand how the hell I was supposed to get through a pack of skaters who were out to clobber me.

In the end, combined with some other factors, the Basin Brawlers lost to Chico by 14 points.  While not ideal, we played a closer game than we have in the past, and also had one new player on the track, so all told, it turned out pretty well.

This was a very quick trip to the home of the ‘Harvard of the Cal State system’ (not my words, but those of a certain alumnus I know), so my sightseeing was limited to the Cal Skate, our hotel, a bar with a really bad DJ playing rave music, a burrito stand, and an awesome bakery (best latte I’ve had off Hwy 99 – fact).  I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, as we were there for a little more than 12 hours total.

I’ll have another chance to both see the town of Chico and skate there, as Tahoe has an away bout there in April.

The JdV Chronicles, Part IV – SF with the family

Note: This is an ongoing series of my travels through California thanks to the Explore California Passport I won from the Joie de Vivre hotels in May 2009.

It’s been countless years since both my brothers & I have traveled together.  Attempts at family ski trips have been stymied by scheduling issues, busted ACLs and back injuries.  So we figured a trip to San Francisco might provide less risk of cancellation, and even convinced my father to make the trip up too.  Outside of a few hangovers, it turned out quite well, thanks in part to the lodging provided by the Joie de Vivre hotels.

My timing being what it is, Fleet Week meant that my first choices of hotels were not available.  So Nils & I ended up at the Phoenix, the rock ‘n roll motor lodge in the Civic Center/Tenderloin area that boasts a terrific pool and free parking, my brothers at the Kabuki & Tomo in Japantown, and my father at the Good Hotel in SOMA.  The latter property is no longer part of the JdV dynasty, but thanks to Dino, a fantastic reservations manager, Good generously agreed to honor the 2 night stay.

The hotels were all within walking distance of each other (though the Good hotel was a bit further away), and we discovered a perfect pre-dinner meeting spot in Olive, a bar/lounge on Larkin that included goat cheese stuffed olives in its martinis.   This place was firmly in the Tenderloin (none of the ‘Civic Center’ euphemisms here), and the groovy menu & interior were definitely at odds with the street outside. That said, once inside it didn’t impact anyone’s ability to enjoy the ambiance.

Besides enjoying drinks with a side of sibling mockery that my brothers and I have spent years perfecting, we explored a few new-to-us establishments.   The first night was spent at an elegant restaurant that had been around awhile, Jardiniere, while the second night was spent quaffing interesting cocktails and not really sharing the small plates that were intended to be shared at Bar Agricole, which had opened very recently.   The completely different feel of the two restaurants really illustrated the spectrum of dining available in San Francisco.  And that’s without even considering our slow-food/Mexican/Cajun breakfast at Just For You, a very popular eatery in Dogpatch, the best named neighborhood in San Francisco.   My boyfriend, father and brother loved the place if only for the Crabby Bennie dish, seemingly named for me.  Yes, I did order it, and it was almost tasty enough to dispel my typically crabby demeanor.  Almost.

Golden Gate from the Presidio

While food tends to be the centerpiece of our trips to the city, we did manage quite a bit of sightseeing, including a forced march along Baker Beach to watch the tall ships and grab photos of the Golden Gate.  This hike allowed us to witness a local denizen on the rocks below the trail saluting the US Armed Forces with an American flag, naval cap & not much else.   No doubt those military he was saluting were most pleased by that show of patriotism.

Given that sighting, we realized that the air show would be a let-down, but continued on to Fisherman’s Wharf to satisfy my need to visit the Musee Mecanique, a recommendation from a friend in Seattle.  This free historical penny arcade features a cacophony of player pianos, pinball machines, dioramas and unsettling shrieking dolls.  There’s also a bit of history on the boardwalk amusement parks that proliferated in the first half of the 1900’s, which included penny arcades, rides and dance halls.

Timing was such that we were in the right place at the right time to see the Blue Angels and other daredevil pilots perform.  My tip for anyone considering watching the air show next year; the top floor of the parking structures at Fisherman’s Wharf are perfect viewing areas, as you get an unobstructed 360 degree view of the aerial mayhem.  And avoid the crush of humanity on the streets below.

Between the food, the fresh air, the history and the catching up, it was quite the full weekend.  And since nobody was reduced to tears at any particular point, I’d go so far as to say that the family reunion part was a success.

My idea of heaven

We’ve made some new friends this week, a very cool couple from Colorado who are on a two month ski safari through the west. They’re tele skiers too – who rip, and who enjoy skiing the same types of terrain that Nils and I love.  We actually met them in Mammoth last weekend, and after two full days of tearing around the mountain, recognized the kindred-ski spirits in them, and invited them to play in Tahoe with us.

It’s been a blast.  While I’ve not been able to take much time off during the week, today we hit a north facing peak near our house, one that is still holding some surprisingly good winter snow despite the recent warming trend.  Skiing steep lines with Lake Tahoe in view is something that will never cease to awe and amaze me.

After 4000+ of vertical today, I’m now being treated to champagne risotto with scallops by our friends, who are talented cooks as well as talented skiers.  And since I managed to remove a chunk of my finger while using my new mandolin slicer sans chopping guard (shut up everyone – I *know* how stupid that was), I’m also relieved from dish washing duty.

Skiing, good food and I’m not cooking or cleaning?   If that’s not a perfect day, I’m not sure what is.

The JdV Chronicles, Part I

Back in May I learned (through a pretty cool video) that I’d won a California Passport from the Joie de Vivre (JdV) boutique hotel chain.  Based entirely in California, JdV has 35 properties throughout the state, and this passport included a 2 night stay at every single one of them.  For the mathematically challenged, that is 70 nights (or nearly TWO months).   And making it even nicer for me, the vast majority of the properties are conveniently located in San Francisco and the Bay Area, both of which are just a few hours from Lake Tahoe.

While I was super excited about this prize, I only visited the first hotel at the end of September.  Life got in the way.  N and I decided to head down to San Francisco to meet up with his parents, who were driving down from Bend for a family reunion.  The reunion was on Treasure Island, so we stayed at the relatively nearby Hotel Vitale, located a stone’s throw from the Embarcadero and Ferry Building.

The Vitale was gorgeous – by far the nicest hotel I’ve stayed in while in San Francisco.   Apparently each JdV hotel has a theme, and this one’s is very obviously healthy living – is there a Wellness Magazine?  Daily yoga classes, access to the nearby YMCA, a spa, and lots of muted natural colors giving the place a calming feel.   We didn’t spend a lot of time in the room (does one ever when in this city?) but the location was perfect for on-foot exploration, given the proximity to the Ferry Building (hellooooo, food mecca!), North Beach, SOMA and Union Square.   And the hotel restaurant had a happy hour menu that, in an unusual twist, ran on weekends.   The weekend we were there it was unusually warm, making sitting outside with a glass of wine and tapas most appealing.  It felt almost European, only without the cigarette smoke.

I was able to get a room for N’s parents at the Hotel Carlton, whose magazine has to be National Geographic  Adventure.  It’s located in a historic building that apparently survived the 1906 earthquake (and later the Loma Prieta quake), both because it’s built on bedrock and because the structure itself is reinforced.  Given that I’m no fan of shaking ground, this in itself is a huge selling point.  But the hotel’s ADA room really sealed the deal.  It was spacious, with a wheelchair accessible bathroom, and plenty of room overall.  While it didn’t have the views the other rooms might have provided (it is on the ground floor), the effort that was put into making sure this room really adhere to ADA requirements was noticed and appreciated.   The staff were terrific here, too, very friendly and fun – they all seemed to truly like working at the Carlton.

While an abbreviated trip, there were a few firsts.  I’d never been to Baker Beach, where the photo was taken, nor to Treasure Island.  The latter is almost a throwback in time, with the old barracks from its Naval Base days sitting vacant and dilapidated.  Some of the buildings have been repurposed, but the part of the island where we were was quiet with no amenities.  Despite this, we had a huge grassy lawn to ourselves, along with a stunning view of the San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge.   It was quiet and there was relatively few people there, which, based upon the traffic we saw on the Bay Bridge, was a rare thing in this part of California.

The next part of the JdV Chronicles will occur in early November, this time with members of my family.  I’m looking forward to it, as there’s a few exhibits I’m eager to see.

Getting Smoked by Ski Instructors

So with the regular mountain biking I’ve been doing, I was feeling pretty good about my ability to keep up with others.  Until this evening.  I was invited to ride up Roundabout, a beginner trail at Heavenly with a neighbor and some of her friends to see the sunset.  It’s a standing Friday night ride, and everyone rides at their own pace up the sandy fireroad to the top of Heavenly’s Groove chair.  It’s a little over 1,700 feet of climbing from the Heavenly parking lot within a few painfully long miles.  The views at the top are stunning.  But the slog to get to it is akin to carrying stones up steep, sandy hills with every step forward resulting in two steps back.  And it didn’t help that every single person in tonight’s ride is a ski instructor (at Heavenly, natch), which gives them magical powers riding up this grunt of a hill – I swear none of the broke a sweat and they were all singing the entire way up.  I was dead last within 15 seconds, and I was definitely one of the youngest riders.

Truth be told the views on the climb up are breathtaking too, with more of Lake Tahoe visible around every switchback.  The problem for me was that I was sweating so hard that I was essentially blinded for most of it.  To top it off, I realized 3/4 of the way up that my hamstrings were screaming because I’d not extended my seat all the way – which for non-cyclists, is a sure way to crippling yourself.

The views at the top were lovely, and the descent was a fast fireroad of sand and hard switchbacks (yes, I was last on the downhill too.  Call it a well-honed sense of self preservation, and a long-standing love affair with my brakes).  But I realized that I am a singletrack aficionado, and while I’d climb that same elevation in a heartbeat on well-cut singletrack, I’m not so sure I’ll ride Roundabout again anytime soon.

But that might just be my sour grapes talking, seeing how I got smoked by a posse of ski instructors tonight.

Roller Derby Overview

Last weekend we attended the local roller derby team’s first home bout.  It was a great opportunity for me to see the rules of play in action, since I had seen and read about the game, but not seen it live.  Before the bout began the announcer and teams ran through a demo ‘jam’ to show spectators what the game is about.  I got it on film, with my shaky camera hand and all.  A better video is the one that was put together by a local website, Tahoeticker.  They had music and interviewed Sister Slayer, the president of the team.   It’s a good group of women who have really welcomed this (tattoo-less) noob, and I’m looking forward to actually playing a bout sometime soon.

Obnoxious Amounts of Snow

This week Lake Tahoe finally received one of the epic storms that results in snow days, road closures and lots of snow shoveling.  With 3-4 feet in a 24 hour period, and a storm total of around 8 feet, it’s been a huge boon for the ski resorts, tourism industry and water supply.  I’m pretty sure lots of locals called in sick yesterday, based upon the enormous crowd at the base of Heavenly’s Gunbarrel chairlift.  While I did pack my camera yesterday, I didn’t take many photos, as I was too busy skiing the 3 feet of new snow.  A few are below.

Heavenly powder day

Happy skier

We’re off to Mammoth tomorrow for a family ski trip.  Heard that mountain got some snow too, so it should be a continuation of this week’s fun.