Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer at Lake Tahoe

Hiking, kayaking, star gazing? Bring it on!

The gang booked a 3-bedroom mountain condo at Northstar resort over the weekend to celebrate Vic and Jo's birthdays (and also of little Z and Mama Wendy's which fall almost in the same week). It was the first time we visited Lake Tahoe in summer. It was also the first time we squeezed everybody under one roof for an overnight trip.

Day 1- Of fainting spells and howling wolves? 

We split into two cars for the journey on Saturday morning. After a smooth 4-hour drive from the Bay Area, we arrived at Northstar at 12.30pm. Our condo was ready for check in. Best of all, the reservation came with complimentary gondola lifts and roller skates for two among other discounts.

After dropping our bags at the Silver Strike mountain condo, we called for a shuttle service to the Village. We purchased four more sets of gondola lift plus lunch combo. At $21 per pax inclusive of a $13 voucher for lunch at Downhill Grille, it was not too bad a deal. Little Z got to ride for free since he's below five.

Then into the gondola we went!

The summer weather was fabulous, and it was interesting to see a snowless ski resort. Up at mid-level, we saw a bunch of mountain bikers making their way down the mountain. It was quieter than we thought, but the shuttle driver told us we were in between two busy weekends. There would be droves of visitors for the Labor Day weekend.

Halfway through our lunch at Downhill Grille, Jo and Wendy observed that Panda looked a little pale. He said he felt breathless after walking up the flight of stairs from the rest room.

For information, Panda often claimed he has mountain sickness, but I always dismissed it as his on-going paranoia. I mean, we went up a 14,000-ft mountain in Colorado and he was fine. Lake Tahoe is not that high, right?

After filling our tummies, we went up the Vista Express. The view was gorgeous under sunny skies. Vic and I were debating where the green runs were; the ski slopes looked less threatening without their white layers.

We headed off to the Tahoe Trail immediately after alighting. It was a tranquil afternoon. Although the Tahoe Trail is a multi-use trail, we didn't see or hear any bikers along this path.

As we hiked further in, the trail started to narrow and rise. 

All this time, Panda was uncharacteristically quiet. I wondered if he was tired or grouchy over our lunch order, since I had wanted to order something else to share. He walked silently behind me while the rest chatted.

Then suddenly...

"Shi, I really cannot walk anymore."

I heard Jo's "Oh no!" the same time I turned and saw Panda toppling backwards. Jo rushed forward to support him while shouting for Vic to help.

Panda must be playing a prank on me for not being serious about his 'mountain sickness', I thought. So I looped his arms around me and slapped his face hard several times.


He was still in a limp position. Through his shades, I saw his eyes rolled back into his head. His lips were white and he was swaying. I hit him harder, realizing the seriousness of the issue and trying to suppress my own mounting panic.

Please wake up! 

Until that moment, I have never thought that Panda might die.

Somewhere through the commotion, Wendy pushed a candy in his mouth. I asked Lawrence whether he could run back to the lift station for help.

As Lawrence sprinted away, Panda slowly regained conscious. The sweet seemed to work. We managed to get him to sit down and gave him some water to drink. The first thing I wanted to say was how sorry I was for not taking him seriously. I had brushed aside his remarks on the shortness of breathe, and I felt ashamed of myself.

Some kind of wife I am.

Afterwards, Panda told us he started feeling unwell at Downhill Grille. He barely had time to recover from the Vista Express ride before we began to hike. The more he walked, the less air he could take in. The last thing he remembered was me commenting on some animal sighting before losing conscious. He only woke up when he felt a sweet in his mouth.

We made him eat more candies when we got back to mid-mountain. I was a little shaken but relieved to see he was well enough to walk. After a short rest, he agreed to go up the Zephyr Express with us. He seemed to have recovered from his fainting episode well, but we didn't want to take the risk and do another hike without knowing what triggered the fainting.

[P/S: At our post-Tahoe visit to the doctor, we were advised not to feed the fainted person anything as it might choke him, but to lay him down and lift his legs instead. That would ensure more blood flow to the brain. Panda has also scheduled a visit to the cardiologist.] 

Atop the Zephry Express, we spotted a wedding in progress. It was such a perfect place to tie the knot - rustic outdoor setting, beautiful weather... and the bride has chosen the perfect color theme of grey and tiffany green. All of us were joking that we should renew our wedding vows here.

We didn't stay long at Zephry because it was nearly 4pm and we still wanted to roller skate at the Village. I had no idea why we had to take the gondola instead of chair lifts down the Zephry Express, but apparently it is a policy. Photo opportunity for us, since it was a bigger gondola that could fit all seven of us!

At the Village, Vic, Jo and I took turns roller skating while the rest lounged around the sofas. I am much better on roller blades than skates; I kept wanting to trip over myself. Vic tried to teach me forward crossover but I totally sucked at it. Fell flat on my butt.

Dinner was prepared by the housewives as well as Vic who was the master chef for boiling spaghetti. The 3-bedroom, 3-storey mountain condo fit all of us in comfortably. I love the open kitchen, the vaulted ceilings, and the loft where the master bedroom is. It was easy shouting up and down the house and across the dining area.

And then dinner was ready! Check out remnants of Panda and Vic's bananagrams game. After dinner, we played that and Guess the Word SG well past midnight. My stomach hurt from laughing too hard. And we made such a din that it was a wonder the neighbors didn't come knocking on our door.

At around 10pm we ventured out to star gaze. It was pitch dark except for a couple of street lamps. We had switched off our torch lights for better viewing, and I was having fun tracing constellations in the night sky with my free version of SkyView.

Then all of a sudden, we heard something. It was enough to stop all our conversations.


That was the first thought.

It was a long and steady howl echoing through the silence of the night. I have never heard a howl like this before, not in real life. It was exciting yet frightening, because it sounded like it came from within the compound.

Too near.

"I think we better head back." 

All agreed. I was still wide-eyed.

But better to be in the safety of the house playing bananagrams than being supper for wildlife.

Day 2- Crystal clear waters and that quaint little town 

The next day, we got up bright and early to kayak at Lake Tahoe. We rented the equipment from Tahoe Paddle & Oar at Kings Beach. I had called a week before to make a reservation. The staff was pretty helpful, and he advised us to come in the morning when the water would be calmer.

I have been to Tahoe countless times before, but have never actually gone inside Lake Tahoe. I was surprised to find how clear the water is. We could still see the bottom of the lake as we paddled out deeper. A big relief for me that I didn't see any yikey, slimy fish.

The water was also still enough for us to wiggle around, sit on one side of the kayak, and dip our feet in. It was hard to imagine that the lake's maximum depth is 1,645 feet. We were kayaking in one of the deepest lakes in the world.

We requested for a late check-out, so we had plenty of time to wash up before heading home. We stopped by Downtown Truckee for a coffee break before the return journey. This charming little town has a bunch of pretty boutiques and small cafes. It reminded me of Carmel-by-the-Sea at Monterey, but less fancy.

We didn't have time to walk the entire area, but I would check it out again if I were to come back to North Lake Tahoe for winter.

End notes- Where do we go from here?

The trip was meant to celebrate Vic and Jo's birthday, but I was having so much fun that I felt a little sad when the trip ended. I was telling Wendy we should have done this a long time ago. Now, I can only hope that they will have more of such trips next year before it is their turn to head home. I will be on standby to drool at all the photo updates.

... Or maybe not yet.

RV rentals, anyone?

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