01. chicago to denver to reno to lake tahoe
Matt is the one who put this whole thing together, and I’m especially thankful for that. He found us a place to stay (with his incredibly gracious friend), had ideas on what to do, and he got me a free flight out there. Thanks, Matt!
We got to the airport super early and, as we’re flying standby, it’s always a hit or miss. We were originally supposed to go out Friday night but things didn’t work out.
He works with an airline part time and because of this he was able to get me on his buddy pass which is insanely cool to me. Free flights? What?
Basically how that goes is Matt listed me on his work website, and then chooses a flight for me. I’m able to print a security document – that isn’t technically a boarding pass – in order to get through security and once you’re there you have to go to the gate and let them know you’re on the list to fly standby. If all works out, they print you out a real boarding pass and nothing goes wrong.
Nothing went wrong so we were off. If the whole flying free thing wasn’t cool enough, we got to pre-board the flight as well. I’ve never done that before.
We had a quick layover in Denver, Colorado, and then landed in Reno, Nevada. From there, we picked up a rental car and drove to his friend Suzanne’s where we would be staying the next few days. And Suzanne’s bed had elephants on the covers!
After getting situated, we got a bite to eat – where we chose to sit outside while a tree dropped chunks of ice on us as we ate and children were playing in the sand. C’mon people, it’s like 40 degrees out! I don’t know why we did that.
Then for a hike at Emerald Bay.
This is where we started and then we went down to the bottom (by the water, DUH!) . At the base there was this really cool mini mansion, idk why I didn’t take pictures. Oh, well.
Along the hike we had to trudge through snow, maneuver around slow walkers, and avoid snakes – which we never saw but Matt freaked me out because I didn’t even think about snakes being there.
End goal was this really cool waterfall:
Once we finished our hike, we drove all the way north on the west side of the lake, stopped for Froyo and walked around.
Finally dark enough, we went for some stargazing. I got some pretty cool shots – the best astrophotography I’ve ever been able to muster.
02. biking hell
This was the day of biking hell.
After we got up, we went to find some bikes to rent so we could bike around the lake. Did you know Lake Tahoe is the deepest lake in North America? Yikes! I wonder what sea monsters live in there.
At the first place we stopped to see about a rental bike, there was this cute dog waiting outside for it’s owner!
This began our day of dogs. So many! And lots of variety, too, which was cool. I feel like a lot of people have the same kinds of dogs in Chicago.
There was a dog named Bella at the place where we ended up renting our bikes, too.
We road along a path near the lake and stopped at various places along the way. There are some historic homes in the area as well as a cute little park looking thing.
I think this was parts of an old ship or something? Idk why I didn’t take pictures of the homes.
And then a really cool little retention pond area. We stayed here for a little while and watched some bluejays flying around gathering twigs for a nest.
The wind was picking up and you could see the treetops swaying ferociously.
We stopped over by the water and had a picnic. What spectacular views! Pictures don’t do it justice.
I was biking just fine, but then we went over to Fallen Leaf trail and I started slowly decomposing. It was such a hard bike ride for me. Matt’s a physical trainer so he’s in MUCH better shape than me. I would literally be riding my bike and puffing on my nicotine vape – that probably didn’t help me any.
A little controlled forest fire simmering down on the way?
And FINALLY… we were there. Worth it.
Thus began our descent.. or I guess ascent, back to the bike rental place. I’m sure I was a total brat with Matt – flushed in the face, dehydrated, dying.
But we got there! And then it started to rain, and it didn’t stop until we left. It was perfect timing. We biked 20 miles.
We drove up to Squaw Valley which is where the 1960 Olympics were held – that was really cool to see. Also cool to see how HUGE the slopes are around there.
On the drive up, we saw the mansion where The Godfather was filmed at (in the beginning), as well as ridiculous amounts of snow pushed up at the edge of the streets. Everywhere. So brutal.
Which reminds me, there are signs on some roads that are warning you about avalanches, and as you see that sign you’re also seeing snow just totally ready to drop off and fall on top of you.
03. bear valley
It hadn’t stopped raining, and it wouldn’t.
So we decided to go for a road trip! I had initially really wanted to go to Yosemite, but it’s a 5 hour drive away and it didn’t seem worth it with such a short stay in Lake Tahoe.
Due to that fact, we took a look on Google Maps and picked a place called Bear Valley – what better place to see bears?
It was about two hours away, and on the way we would see a mountain called Steven’s Peak, and then make a quick detour to Steven’s Lake. Call me vain, call me a narcissist: I DON’T CARE.
The views on this ride were some of my favorite the whole trip.
Steven’s Lake – the ride up here was treacherous. As I mentioned, our cell service was all F’d up so Matt went into a building and asked some people where it was. We were lead from pavement to gravel to dirt roads with huge rocks coming out of the ground. Still very cool.
This is the very end of that road – doesn’t do the rockiness justice. It was big rocks like that ALL OVER the street. I was going 2mph at some points.
Ah, beautiful pavement!
When we took a quick trip out of the car and down to the water at some point, we saw these creepy doll / religious altars at the base of a tree. WEIRD! We got the F out of there.
So here’s the good part.
We’re probably 20min away from Bear Valley after a 2+ hour trip (the + is because when we were trying to go to Steven’s Peak we had driven 30min out of South Lake Tahoe, but realized we hadn’t gotten gas so we had to drive all the way back to get some, THEN went back out) and guess what?
I’m SO glad we didn’t go to Yosemite, because when we looked later that evening we found out the road to Yosemite Valley was closed as well. Can you imagine 10 hours of driving for nothing?
Right by this road closed sign they had some signs that people had been shooting at.
Not really super bummed out (because we’d been seeing so much beauty on the drive), we decided to take a spontaneous detour to a natural hot spring.
This was the sign outside the hot spring town:
Too bad the hot spring was just a pool!
I have this funny thing with hot springs where it feels like I’m never going to go in one. In Iceland, I really wanted to but just didn’t have time. In Israel, apparently Mike and I were steps away from one but never knew it, and now here! I just want an authentic, geothermal bath in a river dammit!
The water was bubbling a little bit, but other than the pool, this is all we were able to see of the hot spring. We should’ve dug a hole and just made our own.
Instead, we went for a little hike since the rain wasn’t too bad. It actually wasn’t terrible rain throughout the day, just a lot of drizzle and then some heavier downpour here and there.
As we were hiking we saw a sign that led to a waterfall in .5 miles so sure! We went for it. Then there was another sign, probably halfway in that said “easy waterfall trail,” which of course we followed. And it took us to this tiny little nothing waterfall. It was cool because it kind of staircased down for quite a while, but we kept thinking it wasn’t the actual waterfall the sign was pointing us too.
We got to a clearing and saw a waterfall down the other side of the mountain but it didn’t look that impressive. I think we were mostly just confused at this point.
Heading back to the car, we didn’t know what else to do. It was still light out and we had time to kill since Bear Valley didn’t come through.
Sooooo we were going to go try and see Steven’s Peak since we couldn’t accurately pinpoint it the first time. We found out where it was then kept driving a little bit and this is where the snow started. It was intense! I mean it would have been fine in Chicago, but everything other than the road was white and I was driving on curvy mountains with hardly any guardrails at all, with avalanche warnings. I was white-knuckling it at some places.
It actually doesn’t look so bad in this picture but whatever.
Then it was back to the house! Our last full day. The next morning we would be leaving for Chicago.
04. day of departure
How was it over so soon?
We got up and left Suzanne’s, heading for the airport.
No problem getting through security, I was able to get a boarding pass, and then we were off! Bye, California.
Layover in Denver, and we were back in Chicago by 8pm.
The Reno airport has a really cool view from the actual terminal which was interesting to me because I’ve never been at an airport that actually has a nice view around it.
When we got to Denver, we grabbed some food and then – lucky me – Matt took me to his airline’s flight attendant lounge.
I didn’t want to be a total creep and take a picture from inside, because people were relaxing and eating. But they have really nice seats in there, and places to eat, bathrooms, ironing boards, coffee station, etc. It’s good to know airlines take care of their employees!
And then we were home, just like that.
What a fun trip! Again, thank you so much, Matt, for hooking it up!
I’d love to go back when it’s warmer just to see how different it is.
Next up…? Maybe Hawaii! Maybe New Mexico! Maybe Arizona!