When I arrived at Lake Tahoe, I returned to what I considered my home territory. Half of the beauty of the area is found in the Lake, the other half is in the surrounding backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
I had planned my six month, solo bike journey around North America as a great circular route, starting and ending in the small, rural town of Diamond Springs, which is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range east of Sacramento. I grew up there, and the connection was important to me.
I had seen my journey as twofold. My primary purpose was to explore much of the US and Canada in a way few other people had. But I also wanted to use the opportunity to undertake an inward voyage, going back in time to explore my childhood and learn more about myself. Thus the Diamond Springs tie in.
The three-month trip Peggy and I made this spring allowed me to retrace my route and relive my 1989 experience. It also allowed me to share the journey with you, which I have done with 54 posts that included approximately 50,000 words and 1,000 photos: in even more words, that’s a lot! In the end, my North America bike trek had turned out to be everything that I hoped for, and much more. I had seen great beauty, met good people, and had numerous adventures— enough even for me.
Someday, I may share the inward journey. Suffice it to say here, I learned a lot about myself along the way. I achieved a balance and inner peace that have lasted up until today. I haven’t found myself teetering on the edge since 1989. I could run off and play in the woods for reasons other than to put Curt back together again.
But for now, let’s finish up the bike journey and discover the surprise at the end.
I left Carson City, Nevada following Highway 50 up and over Spooner Pass and then dropped into Lake Tahoe, arguably one of the world’s most beautiful lakes. Memories came flooding back. I had spent three college summers driving a laundry truck between Placerville and Lake Tahoe six days a week. The work was easy, the scenery beautiful and the money… well, it was enough to pay for my UC Berkeley education. (I only had to cover my living expenses, books and student fees. Those were the days when tuition at UC was still free, back in the days when government still believed that an investment in public education was one of the best investments it could make, back before it decided that making banks wealthy–er was more important.)
In 1974, I came up with the crazy idea that the organization I was Executive Director of in Sacramento could raise funds off of 9-day hundred mile backpack trips. Actually, I just wanted to go backpacking. The first one I led was from Squaw Valley, just northwest of Tahoe, across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Auburn. I took 63 people aged 11-70 and learned a lot. (I’ll tell you the story some time.) Fortunately the Trekkers let me live, and the event made money. Later I would add 9-day, 500 mile Bike Treks. Several included Lake Tahoe. I even organized a 7-day winter cross-country ski and camping trek through the Desolation Wilderness west of the lake. That was an experience!
I feel a deep attachment to the Sierra’s on the west side of Lake Tahoe, having backpacked up and down and across them many, many times over the years. I feel more at home in these mountains than I ever have in any city.
This impressive rock greeted me as I biked down to the Lake from Sooner Pass.
The Casinos started a quarter of a mile beyond this lovely meadow! Nevada has done a much better job of controlling growth than California.
My bike trip took me along the east shore of the lake to Stateline where I biked past more casinos and entered California and El Dorado County, the county of my youth. Highway 50 wound through South Lake Tahoe and then over to Myers where I climbed my second 7000-foot pass of the day. I felt like I could have done it blind-folded. I was on my laundry route. Every curve, every sight was an old friend. Passing over Echo Summit, I had a wonderfully long downhill ride to Riverton and then climbed up once more to Pollock Pines, where I left Highway 50 and detoured through Camino. I found a small barbershop there and got my first haircut since Nova Scotia. I was a bit on the bushy side. There was a chance that they wouldn’t recognize me in Sacramento, especially if you threw in the fact that I had lost 40 pounds and now had big, bulging muscles.
The Sierras are world renown for their granite. This view is from the southern portion of the Tahoe basin just before you begin to climb out of it toward Echo Summit.
Because of my laundry days, I knew every curve (and straight-stretch) between Lake Tahoe and Placerville! Just beyond the small hill on the left is a major drop into a deep canyon.
Horsetail Falls is one of many scenic views I appreciated on my laundry trips and on my bike ride down the mountain. I once crossed the river up near the top on a narrow log when it was roaring like this. It was raining, I was by myself, and I was wearing a 50 pound pack. I got down on my knees and crawled.
This wonderful chunk of granite is known as Sugarloaf and is another favorite view along Highway 50. It’s quite popular among rock climbers, which is another sport (like jumping off bridges), I see no reason to pursue.
A short five miles brought me to Placerville, where I lingered, not wanting my journey to end. I had gone to high school here and spent my teenage years in the town learning about life, love, sex, and books, not necessarily in that order. Eventually, I climbed back on my bike, picked up Highway 49, and biked 3 miles into Diamond. I jumped off my bike, dropped it, and did a jig with great enthusiasm. People must have thought I was extremely odd. And I was. My 10,000-mile North America Bike Trek was over.
The town of Placerville where I went to high school was once known as Hangtown and is quite proud of its heritage. A large oak tree in the center of the town was used for hanging bad guys (and probably a few innocents) during the Gold Rush Era.
The tree was cut down long ago but this rather ghoulish fellow (or his look-alike) has been hanging at the site where the tree was as far back as my memory takes me.
Speaking of evil-doers, you might want to check here to find out why the Placerville Police of Chief was driving me around in his squad car behind the courthouse featured above, wanting to know whether I preferred to spend my night graduating from high school or going to jail.
And finally, after riding my bike for 10,000 miles, I returned to Diamond.
But my trip wasn’t quite over; I still had to bike into Sacramento.
I spent the night in Diamond and then rode along Highway 49 through the town, past the cemetery, past my old house, and on to Eldorado, following the same route I had six-months earlier. It felt like decades. In El Dorado, I left my route and followed back roads into Sacramento. I had a Trek-planning meeting that night at the Lung Association. My friend Jane Hagedorn, the Executive Director, had lured me back into town with the promise of Treks. I wheeled my bike into the office at 909 12th street and was greeted royally by Raquel, Jane’s executive secretary, a woman I had hired in 1974.
“Where’s Jane?” I asked, eager to see my friend. “She’s on an important phone conference call,” Raquel answered. The door to her office was closed. I had turned around, a bit disappointed, when a woman I didn’t know came bursting out of one of the offices. Wow, I thought, she’s gorgeous. She gave me a lovely smile that warmed me from my head to my toes, and everywhere in between.
“Hi,” she greeted me, grabbing my hand. “I am Peggy, Jane’s sister. You have to be Curtis! I’ve been hearing stories about you for years.” I swear— I fell in love— then and there.
A new journey had begun.
Last week, Peggy and I celebrated 24 years of marriage and 26 years of happily wandering the world together.
A 1993 photo of Peggy at 43 one year after we had married. Always up for an adventure, she had just finished a 150 mile backpack trip down the John Muir Trail I had led to celebrate my 50th birthday. More to the point she had just finished hiking a 16 mile day with a 40 pound pack up and over Mt. Whitney that had included 9000 feet of elevation gain and loss. And she was still smiling!
Peggy celebrating the end of re-tracing my bike route at the Diamond Springs Hotel. She had driven our RV the whole way so I could take photos and notes. Still up for an adventure, still smiling and still gorgeous at 65!
NEXT BLOG: Meet Petros, the world’s most famous pelican. A blog quickie!