Every once in a while, a faded photo on the mantel in my parents’ home catches my eye. Staring into the camera is a lanky, full-head-of-hair version of me, wearing blue OPs and a Dodgers tank top. I was 16 and my blue Schwinn 10-speed was brand new. It was a Fourth of July in the ’70s. I remember my ambitious plan to bike from our rented house in the Tahoe Keys to our friends’ lakefront estate in Homewood. My glory was short-lived. I got as far as the pay phone in the Emerald Bay campground. The tortuous incline up to Emerald Bay proved beyond my abilities, so I called my parents and asked them to pick me up. Through the decades I’ve plotted a second attempt, but it wasn’t until hearing about America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride that I reconsidered getting back in the saddle.
Dan Giesin, an avid cyclist from San Anselmo and an outdoor sports journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, rode in the first event back in 1992 when there were just a few hundred riders, and then again 10 years later when the popularity and participant numbers ballooned. “I was amazed by the number of riders; it was great to see such enthusiasm,” he says. His favorite part of the ride, ironically, is the climb from Richardson Camp up the steep pitch to the ridge between Emerald Bay and Castle Lake. I remember it well.
Another avid cyclist and frequent lake looper is John Wagnon, a marketing executive at Heavenly Mountain Resort and a true high-country sports enthusiast. He rides around the lake almost every Sunday all summer long. Is it as dangerous as it looks? Not to his mind. “As with any ride where you are close to vehicles and the road has a lot of curves, extra caution is needed,” he says. “Using common sense, getting an early start, taking your time, carrying sufficient water and energy bars, wearing bright clothing, and riding single file make the ride around the lake pretty safe.”
Both Giesin and Wagnon ride the entire 72 miles in just over three hours and estimate an average rider would take just under four and a half. Giesin recommends taking the route clockwise to avoid a painstaking ascent from Incline Village up to Crystal Bay toward Kings Beach, as well as sticky traffic crossovers.
When it came to my renewed effort to orbit the largest alpine lake in the country, I chose an organized event. The beauty of AMBBR is that traffic is cordoned off, and a support staff is there in case anything (in man or machine) gives out. I also considered the half-ride-distance option, which starts off with a continental breakfast on the Tahoe Queen and still offers an impressive ride, including over 1,000 vertical feet of climbing along Lake Tahoe’s east shore. “Above all, this is not a race,” says event organizer Curtis Fong. “There’s no timers; it’s purely a tour to enjoy the beauty of the lake on your own power.” The ride also attracts riders from Team in Training (TNT) Cycle 100, a national fundraising program benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Over the past 11 years, TNT has brought more than 13,000 participants to AMBBR and raised over $48 million for research to fight these deadly diseases.
Getting one of the 3,000 allotted spots for the June event isn’t easy. Fong opens up the application process in January, and they are all taken by the end of February. In response to the ride’s popularity, he created the Tour de Tahoe, held in September. Same course, same views, fewer people. For more information on either event, check out bikethewest.com.
South Side…Have you been lately?
When my brother chose South Lake Tahoe as the destination for our parents’ anniversary get-together, I was stunned. I felt it in my gut: this would not end well. Sure, there’s the nostalgia of skiing together at Heavenly…but then what? South Shore has been known to attract good-time college kids partial to late-night gambling and boozing benders. Our family does not fit that demographic.
“Have you been there lately?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “Have you?”
Truth was, I hadn’t. And I was in for a pleasant surprise. South Lake Tahoe is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar redevelopment. The centerpiece is a project that runs along Highway 50 (Lake Tahoe Boulevard) just west of Ski Run Boulevard to the California-Nevada border and encompasses 174 acres. Here ’60s-era motels and curio shops have been replaced by three resorts, shopping, pedestrian walkways and amenities like movie theaters and an ice rink, all within a new area called Heavenly Village.
My brother reserved his rooms at Marriott’s Timber Lodge, a 340-suite “vacation club” at the base of Heavenly’s gondola. Along with riding the gondola and browsing stores like North Face and Patagonia, the ambling paths fit my 80-year-old parents’ exercise requirements to a tee.
I booked a condo for myself and my longtime lady friend Jane a few miles down the road at Sierra Shores, a new development right on the lake. With sweeping views, flat-screen TVs in every room and a fitness center, we were happy to stay on property the entire time. Like a magnet, the lake, steely gray as it reflected the stormy sky, drew us to our front window. I pondered the issues facing this famously clear landmark. Erosion from unbridled development of the past decades, air pollution and destruction of wetlands have increased sediment as well as nitrogen and phosphorus—primary nutrients for algae growth. Lake Tahoe is losing over one foot of clarity (the average depth to which water remains clear) each year. On the advice of my shrink, I resisted any doom-related conversations. “Sure is pretty.”
“Yep,” she said, “and it looks wild.”
Dinner that night was at 7:30. In the spirit of “nothing but the best,” my brother booked us a table at the new Ciera, one of four destination dining spots in the MontBleu Casino—formerly Caesars Tahoe. The proximity to the Nevada border has been a draw for Californians ever since Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Saloon and Gambling Hall opened its doors in 1944. Harrah’s opened in the late ’50s, followed by Caesars Tahoe in 1980. My parents were familiar with all three, Mom being the family card shark.
“Money, baby—this is so money.” My brother felt the need to be Vince Vaughn as we walked into the spacious, contemporary lobby. The high ceilings, swanky orange glass chandeliers and soft lighting did feel a bit like an upscale Vegas casino. As expected, our meal did not disappoint. We left my parents in the lobby that night, with their own buckets of tokens.
The next day, Jane and I toured the town, including the Chateau at Heavenly Village sales office. “Look!” said Jane, “there’s the New Tahoe!” (Driving up from Marin, we’d started counting the billboards announcing this property as the “New Tahoe!” I think it was five.)
The lakefront Chateau is an 11-acre project managed by Rock Resorts, directly across from the shops at Heavenly Village. Touted as the first major full-ownership, full-service hotel-condominium offering, it has units starting at $500,000 and going up to $3.4 million. Curiosity led us through the front door of the micro-chalet in the parking lot right next to the construction site.
Despite their having only just laid the foundation, the business office was in full gear. The mini-model erected in the center of the room replicates the four-story compound, designed with classic Tahoe-style architecture, a large outdoor pool, and pedestrian bridge over Lake Tahoe Boulevard. The 268-unit resort will also house a 16,000-square-foot spa and attached convention center.
“We are excited about not only the location, but the high-end offerings on site or within walking distance,” says Jeff Cleeland, director of sales for the project. “Guests will have quick access to the Heavenly gondola, Lakeside Beach and Marina, Edgewood Golf Course, the new South Lake Tahoe Conference and Events Center as well as the nightlife and gaming in the nearby casinos.”
All in all, I had to agree, “change” is not just an overused political term; it’s happening in South Lake Tahoe—and it’s about time.
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There’s more than one way to enjoy the lake. Here’s a sampling of events and races going on throughout the summer.
June 14 Lake Tahoe Relay Teams of seven people each run 8- to 12-mile legs of this 72-mile relay. laketahoerelay.com
June 17–June 22 16th Annual Tour De Nez Bike Races One of the country’s top professional bicycling stage races, will be headquartered at Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort in Truckee, California, an all-new venue, for the 16th annual cycling event. tourdenez.com
June 28 Xterra Tahoe City Off-road triathlon that will celebrate the natural splendor of the North Shore’s excellent terrain, trails and blue water. bigblueadventure.com
July 19 and 20 Tahoe Rim Trail 50K/50M/100M A predominantly single-track trail with incredible views. tahoemtnmilers.org
September 7 Tour de Tahoe There’s still room in this round-the-lake bike-riding event. bikethewest.com
September 20 Tahoe Big Blue Sprint Adventure Race Ideal for beginning adventure-running, kayak and bike racers. bigblueadventure.com
September 24–28 Lake Tahoe Marathon Week Events include Speed Golf Thursday, Kayak-Canoe-Outrigger-Scull, the 72-Mile Ultra, 20-Mile Run/Power-Walk or Jog, Half Marathon, 10K, and 5K. laketahoemarathon.com
Summer fun in Squaw Valley
In the warm-weather months Squaw Valley offers a full menu of calorie-burning, oxygen churning activities. Want high-altitude adventure? Hike up any of the ski runs from the valley floor to High Camp, elevation 8,200 feet, which includes Squaw Valley’s Swimming Lagoon and Spa (photo at right), Olympic ice-skating pavilion and tennis courts as well as a restaurant and bar. Or skip the hike and take the Cable Car for around $20 depending on season (children under 12, $5). Options on the valley floor include championship golf at the Resort at Squaw Creek, tennis, hiking and miles of bike trails leading into Tahoe City.
Here are some planned activities at High Camp for summer 2008.
Guided Sunset Hikes A moderate walk along a well-marked trail begins at 6 p.m.; sign up at 5:30. Hikers are free to walk at their own pace. Fri and Sat, 7/11–8/30.
Stargazing Seasoned stargazers Paul and Gigi Giles bring a variety of high-powered telescopes to High Camp. Free with Cable Car ride starting at dusk. Fri and Sat 7/4 and 7/5, 7/11 and 7/12, 7/25 and 7/26, 8/8 and 8/9, 8/22 and 8/23, 8/29 and 8/30.
Guided Full Moon Hikes An easy walk along a well-marked trail begins at 6 p.m.; sign up at 5:30. Hikers are free to walk at their own pace. Sturdy shoes, warm clothes and flashlights recommended. $5 adults, free for ages 12 and under. Thur 7/17, Fri 7/18, Fri 8/15, Sat 8/16.
Soaring Kites & Music Festival Featuring pro and amateur kite-flyers and a kids’ kite-making seminar. Live music on mountaintop stage. Free with Cable Car. Sat 7/12.
Art, Wine & Music Festival Squaw Valley’s base village comes alive with color, tastes and sounds as fine artists from around the West participate in this weekend event. Art exhibits, a benefit wine tasting (2–6 p.m.), a kids’ activity area and live music. Sat 7/19–Sun 7/20.
Perseid Meteor Shower Campout Spend the night at High Camp and learn about the meteor showers of the Perseids. Telescopes and information from stargazing professionals provided. For information and registration, call 530.581.7110. Mon 8/11–Tues 8/12.