The 4th July celebrations are recognized as being perhaps one of the biggest holidays and causes to party in the USA- and it was with much anticipation and excitement that we awaited the chance to join in the frivolity at perhaps one of the most beautiful and exclusive locations I’ve come across: Lake Tahoe.
With Matt’s sister-in-law, Jamie, being from the area and having her parents still living close by, we were given the unique opportunity to experience an ‘insiders’ view of the area and join the local residents for the occasion- an incredible privilege that I can’t even begin to compare to anything I have experienced previously. But let me start from the beginning.
The journey being of reasonable length and the weather rather hot (especially for Jamie’s two beautiful but big Saint Bernards!) it was decided that the initial journey out would be divided in two, with us spending a night in Grass Valley with Jamie’s dad on the first night and then continuing towards the lake the following day. Thankfully, with the modern blessing that is air-conditioning, we made it along to the Grass Valley with little trouble- but were completely knocked for six upon exiting the car when we found the temperatures to be soaring well into the high 30s to low 40s. The air was dry and heavy with the heat: stifling, almost suffocating and close to unbearable. The ‘Brit’ in me-who snatches at any opportunity to roast to a cinder in the sun, lapping up the sun like my life depends upon it- actually, for once, was silenced in favour of the beautifully cool air-conditioned house, in which our lovely host Dom had kindly agreed to accommodate us for the evening. Outside on the back decking, the only safe sanctuary was the shade against the wall of the house: the poor dogs, suffering in the heat, had to be repeatedly hose-d down and seek comfort on the cool of the kitchen tiles.
The view from the decking, however, was absolutely incredible. The hills in the distance were layered upon one another, giving such a depth and dimension to the landscape as caused it to appear to stretch on forever: and as the light begun to fade with the sunset, each set of hills took on it’s own shade of shadow against the fiery orange sky, layer upon layer commanding the flat plains below. The grass was dry and brittle, yellowing in places as though crying in desperation for water- but this didn’t detract from the natural beauty of it at all, simply offering an alternative spectrum of colours and a different appearance from all that the Pacific Coast had offered to us previously.
We tried to venture to the South Yuba River for a swim as a means of escape from the heat; we were unsuccessful as we found it to be extraordinarily high, icy cold and dangerously fast upon on arrival. We clambered down on the rocks regardless in order to seek a temporary relief from the heat- but literally 2 minutes of dipping me feet and they actually begun to hurt from the cold. The snow and ice from the mountains had dropped the river temperature to below zero- definitely not swimming conditions! Such a shame as it looked so deliciously tempting and the heat was unbearable- but Mother Nature, as always, has the last word…
The next day saw us heading towards the famous lake we had heard so much about: we weren’t disappointed. We passed through some amazing forests and windy, twisting road around the mountains as we climbed the 7000ft to reach our destination (how grateful I was, at that point, to be in an air-conditioned car as opposed to huffing and puffing in the heat on my bike…gulp!) with snow-topped mountains in the distance. The entire area has a distinctly ‘Canadian’ feel and brought back floods of memories of the Rockies for me with true nostalgia.
We stopped off at the Olympic village of Squaw Valley briefly, wandering around the wooden chalet-style buildings and browsing the art collections on show for the month in the centre- but found the burning heat of the concrete walkways was proving too much for the poor dogs, and spent our time hopping from one patch of shade to the next; it was simply scorching hot, to the point of ridiculous. The air-conditioned cars beckoned us once more.
Out next destination was to be Incline Village, where we would be spending our 4th July celebrations by the beach: for the evening, cheeky drinks at the Speedboat Bar, or ‘Woodys’ as it’s more commonly known- where I experienced my first ever ‘Woody’- I can not even begin to describe what was in this unique drink, only that it was deliciously lush, delectable, fruity and devastatingly addictive. **off to google recipe…**
The following day we had the extraordinary privilege of experiencing a taste of a lifestyle so far-removed from our daily drudge on our bikes, that when I took a moment to stand back and reflect upon it, I almost wanted to laugh at the sheer absurdity and madness of it all. From counting every penny and squashing together in a tiny tent, enjoying cold showers in moth-ridden shared camping toilet blocks and crouching over vile pit toilets in state parks…to this. Through Jamie’s family, we were invited to spend the day upon a private jetty stretching out onto the lake itself- owned by multi-millionaires and surrounded on every side by the most enormous, fantastical homes I had ever seen: of such size and beauty as made me feel as though I stepped into some alternate, parallel world, where my every lottery-inspired dream had been realized and excelled. Walls of sheer glass to embrace the spectacular views of the lake formed the vast majority of the rear of these homes; there were commanding turrets, huge balconies with hottubs and swimming pools, scarily-expensive looking speedboats and jet-skis docked on private jetties. There were private tennis courts and long sweeping driveways with their own gate houses; as many as 10 or 15 cars lining the driveways of a few and certainly some very beautiful and expensive ones outside most. To give you a rough idea, a brief google search tells me that America’s 4th most expensive home is along this stretch- valued at an estimated $65million. Gulp. Only a Euro lottery multiple rollover could bring you even close to that…!!
Matt and I took out the kayaks and rowed up the lake a way to peer with curiosity into the back gardens of a few of the houses- marveling at the immaculately groomed landscaped gardens and the multitude of rooms, wings, garages, floors! of each home. What wouldn’t I have given to sneak a look inside one of these outstanding houses- all uniquely built to satisfy the needs of its individual owners, holding, no doubt, a wealth of beautiful furniture and treasures inside. Some truly were ‘out of this world’- the ‘castle’ being the most memorable in contrasting against its modern-style neighbours and built using inspiration from old European castles, with towers and graying brick galore. Utterly bizarre- but if you have the money to realize your own dreams and tastes, why not?! Matt and I could only row past with our jaws dropped in awe and astonishment- words couldn’t do these homes justice.
Our lazy day was spent tentatively dipping into the lake (it was completely freezing, owing its temperature to the melting snow and ice from the mountains around) and sunbathing with beers on the jetty. I managed a 4mile run around the lake as the heat begun to lift slightly in the afternoon: but found the 7000ft altitude truly did affect my performance, as my breathing was noticeably harder and my need to stop far more frequent! Regardless, it was sheer bliss to pull my running shoes on once more: how much I’ve missed my running since we begun this trip. I hope I can begin to realize the two -cycling and running- harmoniously once we return to the road once more- I don’t ever want to go that long without running again! It was a true treat, though, to return to the jetty hot and sweaty from my run…and dive straight into the icy coolness of the lake. The cold is so sharp, it literally takes your breath away, rendering you breathless and tight-chested, but is so deliciously refreshing that you can’t help but go back for more in spite of it. And so clear, so deep- a truly beautiful lake.
It was with a degree of reluctance that we left the lake at the end of the day- such a surreal but incredible experience, so far removed from ‘normal’ life, I didn’t want it to end. However, at this point I will extend my most heartfelt thanks to Jamie’s parents- to Dom, who hosted us for our first night in Grass Valley, and to Tommy and Shelley who took us all in for the remaining time just 30mins away from the lake, and to whom we returned that evening. We were so well looked-after- and so incredibly well-fed!!- for the duration of our stay in their beautiful home: thank you so, so much.
Matt, Rich, Jamie and I decided to end our perfect day by seeing in the 4th of July at the local bar, preying further on the kindness of Jamie’s friends by crashing in their house in preparation for our early start the next morning to get to the Incline Village beach. The night’s events themselves, I‘m sure I couldn’t even begin to go into…we’ll blame alcohol for that one… but what better way to begin the celebrations??