Monday, July 29, 2013

North up Highway 89 from Lake Tahoe to Graeagle

My mom, an avid hiker and lover of the Sierras, had mentioned that she considers Highway 89 north of Lake Tahoe one of the most beautiful parts of the range, so the prospect of jetting north on I-5 never crossed our minds. From the foothills, we connected with Highway 50 and over Carson Pass to South Lake Tahoe. We spend a fair amount of time in Tahoe, both of my brothers and I got married on or near the lake and we all come up for family gatherings and weekends with friends throughout the year. The day before Ann and I got married, we rented a Harley and rode around the lake with her brother and sister-in-law.


But we hadn’t spent much time on the south end of the lake (except for one bachelor party and many of the details are blurry) and had never brought the trailer. Our target was D.L. Bliss State Park right on the lake, but the web site said something about a 35 ft max vehicle length (we’re 36 ft). While I might have been willing to unbolt the bumper to get us in, I was afraid the campground would be full on a summer Sunday anyway. We opted instead for the private Camp Richardson campground which, while full of vacationing families and Europeans in rented RV’s, had winding dirt roads and sites facing every direction that reminded us a little of the Strawberry Music Festival which we’d be missing this year while gazing at the Canadian Rockies.


When we pulled in, we were given a list of available sites and sent to take a look. We got set up in a nice one with water and electricity, and I walked back to the booth to get registered with the young guy in the kiosk. He took all our information and produced a list of campground rules for me to initial. Mostly standard, but #5 was: No dogs. I pointed it out and commented that we had a dog. In fact, he’d surely seen her craning her neck over the seat back and sniffing his adolescent campground musk intently.

“I didn’t see the dog. Is it a service dog? California law states that if anyone asks you and you tell them it’s a service dog, you don’t need to show proof and they can’t ask you what kind of service it does.”

“Well, she’s not a… “ I paused for a second before continuing, “So, are you saying that if I tell you she’s a service dog, she can stay and you don’t need any proof?”

“Yeah. And also, no one else can ask you for proof or why you have it. It’s California state law.”

“Uh, okay. That’ll be one campsite for the night with two people, a toddler and one highly trained service dog.”

Honestly, I get a little annoyed with people who get online and pay the couple hundred bucks to have their dog registered as a service dog just so they can bring them to the grocery store. There are too many legitimate reasons to have service dogs that perform amazing tasks from detecting seizures to sniffing out cancer to guiding the blind and assisting the disabled. I raised a guide dog puppy in high school and don’t like to see the system abused. That being said, while I know the rules are there to control irresponsible dog owners, not allowing 25lb, sleepy, cuddly little Gorilla in a campground or on a trail or under our table on an outside patio at a restaurant doesn’t make a lotta sense to me. What was that service animal registration URL again? Oh wait, we don’t even need proof…


One bonus of the location was access to a 4 mile paved bike path that wound along the lake and through some of the historic estates. The next morning was a perfect time to test out the new bikes and child seat, the CoPilot Limo. Apparently, Ann rides a bit more slowly over the bumps and is the preferred chauffeur.



At a rest, we checked out the beach…


And did some light boating.


That afternoon, we followed Highway 89 around the west side of the lake, through Tahoe City and past the place we got married, before continuing north on a section we’d never driven. The goal for the night was picked largely for its name, Graeagle. We still don’t know how to pronounce it – Gray Eagle? Greegle? Graygle? - which made routing discussions complicated, but it just kinda seemed like it had to be cool. The town had a nice main street with galleries, antique stores, cafes and a corner icee stand but the real attraction was the access to the Plumas-Eureka State Park.

It seems like each time we pull into a state park or national forest where there’s a ranger posted and ask about a campsite, they pause, ask if we have a reservation, sigh heavily when we say no as if they really wish there was something they could do to help us learn to plan to better, then present us with a list of at least five available sites proving that we didn’t need to plan ahead at all. Of course, we’ve been turned away from some really popular ones and weekends can be tougher, but generally, we’ve found plenty of availability. In the Plumas-Eureka State Park, we settled into a nice spot in the woods where we could hear the gurgling creek. Bad news? $30 a night for no services!


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The sun was fading, so Wynne put Baby Bun to sleep…

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And we watched a caterpillar climb between the moss up a dauntingly tall tree…



… before settling in to watch a couple episodes of Downton Abbey (Season 1, m’lord). It was a pretty intense evening.

In the morning, we got up, I pledged allegiance to our neighbor’s F150…


… and we set out for a hike up to Grass Lake.





Continuing north on Highway 89 that afternoon, we noticed a few vehicles in the oncoming lane flashing their lights. Assuming there was a cop ahead, we slowed down a bit before coming upon two or three cars stopped in our lane and the same amount facing the other direction. The drivers were getting out and walking towards what looked like garbage strewn all across the road. As I did the same, I recognized one large piece as part of a camper shell and only then noticed the crumpled white truck wedged precariously between the trees off the shoulder. I returned to the truck for the small first aid kit we keep in the car stocked essentially for just this instance. The band aids, antihistamine, etc are in a larger kit in the trailer, but this one has latex gloves, large gauze pads to stop bleeding, and rolls of tape to hold pressure or create a quick splint. As I picked my way through the former contents of the camper shell towards the truck – a sleeping bag, plastic containers of clothes, kitchen items – the most unnerving part was the strong smell of ketchup from a large bottle that had cracked and left a five foot red stain on the pavement. It sounds a bit odd to say, but fortunately for the driver, he’d been ejected before the truck smashed into the trees and was lying face down on the shoulder. A few of us assessed that he was amazingly conscious and breathing well. We kept him from moving and waited a few minutes for help to arrive.


Traffic was moving again several minutes later, but we drove away thinking about how quickly things can go from rolling happily down the road to… We’ve got ourselves to worry about – keeping our vehicle and trailer in good condition, driving safely and staying alert and rested – but then there’s everyone else out there too. Not too long ago, a Pan American Highway traveler found himself dodging an oncoming semi in Columbia and ending up upside down in a ravine. Again, thankfully he was okay though it was the end of his trip. Of course, the same thing could happen driving around or crossing the street at home, so it’s just a reminder to keep your head in the game and be glad you’re out living life the way you want to be. Just remember, the rubber side of the car goes down.