On the Road: A Trip to Tahoe

By Tori O'Leary

The desire to get out and go do something has kept me antsy for months. A weekend away from the world stuck inside a tent in a place without phone service sounded like the perfect way to reset my mental state, so I took my two friends Zach and Emma along for a weekend trip to Truckee. We brought our bikes, a tent, and nowhere near enough layers for the cold we’d experience during the night. The plan was to have fun and try to relax for a second, while escaping into the trees from the baking heat in Orange County.  

View of lake tahoe with trees

We left late on a Thursday so we would have more of the day on Friday to enjoy Truckee, stopping for the night outside of Yosemite. This part of the plan was absolutely excellent until we got the tent set up and insane winds tried to steal it. Sleeping in the tent became impossible with the noise and the movement, so we tied it down and all hunkered down in the car. As the shortest person in the group, I got the bench in the back because no one else fit as well there, while Emma and Zach reclined the driver and passenger seats as a janky bed replacement. We awoke the next morning to the tent being pressed against the windows of the car, as it had attempted to escape. 

We made the mistake of not eating breakfast, immediately getting on the road instead, which made the final hours of the drive up to Truckee feel a lot longer than the four it took to get to our first campsite. Once we arrived, we were all antsy to do something, and since we were near Donner Lake, infamous for the Donner Party that died there, we decided we had to hike it. This meant playing the dangerous game of locking our bikes and leaving them on the back of the car in the parking lot.

people hiking in lake tahoe

We returned from our hike, which turned into a “let’s just walk a little farther” again and again, almost at dark. The bikes were safe, and everyone’s nerves calmed a little bit. It also really helped that we were in an area that was safe, and that was mostly just other hikers and cyclists. Dinner was awesome — we got sushi, and they even had vegan options for me, and it was some of the best Japanese food I’ve ever had since going vegan. We were all really surprised to find such delicious sushi up in the middle of NorCal. 

All seemed well — we were well fed, we had a great hike — until the cold started to set in. There wasn’t any wind at the campsite so we thought it was a safe bet to try the tent again. Until we realized it was roughly 20 degrees out and we were very unprepared for temperatures that low. I was wearing two pairs of pants, socks, three jackets, and a beanie all while inside a mummy bag and I was still shivering. Turns out, everyone felt this way but none of us said anything to anyone else about it so we all suffered through the night. (Zach argues he was so exhausted he didn’t notice but the next night he sure didn’t sleep in the tent so I’m calling BS).

Our first full day in Truckee was also our last, so we wanted to make sure we rode at least something. We got some recommendations, but looking at the Mountain Bike Project app up there is like staring at a series of veins. The options are endless. We decided to ride up a fireroad to a trail called Big Chief. It looked interesting with some fun features so that we were able to challenge ourselves without having a super difficult climb. Now, you can park a ton of places along the fireroad but we ended up parking at the lot farthest away from the trailhead and climbed up to it. Honestly, it wasn’t too bad, there were a few pitchy sections but absolutely manageable. Emma would disagree, Zach ended up towing her up the last third (Sorry Emma, we know you don’t ride a lot and we really took you on a long ride). 

people mountain biking in tahoe

We had a makeshift tow rope by tying it around Zach’s waist and onto the stem of Emma’s bike (we’ve made smarter life decisions but it was a sight to see). The only real complaint about that climb was my goodness do people drive too fast up fire roads. Then we got to the trail, and within seconds we had spectacular views and the perfect amount of chunk. There were a bunch of optional features like big drops, rock rolls, and gaps. Big Chief had us hooting and hollering from the beginning. There are some amazing views, but trying to enjoy them while attempting to ride down some of these sections is just straight up stupid. But there were so many different opportunities to stop and take pictures, and session different features. It was the perfect combo of chunk to features, all which led us down to another trail called Sawtooth, which had some minor climbing and flowy descents. We were really chasing the sun, which meant taking breaks for pictures was over and we had to book it. By this point, we were hours in, out of water, and just trying to get back to the car before the sun went down.

By that point Emma was bonked, Zach was hungry, and I couldn’t decide where I wanted to eat. We found a burger place downtown and as we waited for our order we walked around and dang, who knew downtown Truckee was so cute. The only downside was as we walked all we could smell was food from the restaurants which always makes you jealous of the people who are able to eat right then and there. 

We ate, we relaxed, we recuperated, and headed back to camp one last time. This night we all decided to sleep in the car again instead of brave the cold. It wasn’t perfect but at least we were warm. The next morning, we packed up and left about an hour off of schedule. We came back down the 5 freeway to save time, but it was way more boring than the drive up. If you do this trip, the 5 saves you an hour but at the cost of staring at absolute nothingness. 

The drive home hurt. Not because we were tired or because it felt insanely long, but because it meant coming back to reality. Being quarantined, working from home, and feeling stuck amidst it all has sometimes made life hard. Days don’t go by the same way and I’m pretty convinced time doesn’t exist anymore. Getting away, even if just for a little bit, meant I was breathing fresher air. During these times it’s so important to take care of yourself, and make sure that you’re able to have moments like this. If you can, go for a walk, camp in the backyard, try to find the little moments and get that second to breathe. 

lake tahoe

I think we all need a little bit of an escape now and then, I’m just glad mine was into the Truckee trees. 

Tori is the marketing manager at The Path Bike Shop. Originally from Prescott, Arizona, Tori has lived in Orange County for the past several years, and recently completed her Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing at Chapman University.