(Cathleen Allison / Associated…)
No paddleboarding for me. I was too chicken to risk a dip in Lake Tahoe’s chilly waters, even though that's an ideal antidote to a hot summer day. I met up instead with Corey Mack, a guide with the Tahoe Adventure Co. Mack was going to show me the way to the Thunderbird Lodge, two miles over water but relatively dry, thanks to a kayak.
From picture-postcard Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park we paddled south in a parallel arc to the shoreline, like two ducks bobbing in yellow craft.
We beached in a sheltered cove of crystal clear waters, a picturesque entrance into the private world of George Whittell Jr., a bon vivant with a penchant for self-indulgence. The compound, built in the 1930s, includes a lighthouse, separate quarters for a pet elephant, hidden elevators and a secret tunnel to a covered boathouse for a swank 55-foot mahogany and steel speedboat.
Such unexpected bonuses are part of the allure of Tahoe, which can provide a good summer escape from the Southern California heat.
Without the benefit of the vessel’s twin 550-horsepower engines, wind hampered our return. The winds, Mack said, “usually they come from the southwest and they’d be with us coming back.”
Not this time. By the time we landed back at Sand Harbor’s northern cove, white caps dotted the lake.
Info: The Tahoe Adventure Co., (530) 913-9212, schedules five-hour kayak tours to the Thunderbird Lodge on Tuesdays and other custom dates for $124. The outfitter will deliver kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals to Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park’s Sand Harbor ($12 entrance) for $60 and $80, respectively. Land tours of the Lodge are offered Tuesdays-Saturdays from Incline Village for $39. Book at Thunderbird Lodge or by phone at (800) 468-2463 (GOTAHOE).
It was good preparation for more activities I found at Tahoe that kept me engaged and enjoying the area. Here are some of them:
The state park is also home to the Flume Trail, a scenic mountain biking route accessible from Spooner Lake, several miles down the road. I steered my full-suspension mount on a fire road through North Canyon toward Marlette Lake. The four-mile climb starts gradually then proceeds more steeply as it nears a low pass about 1,150 feet above the starting point.
I huffed and puffed, rested often and was walking my bike when I met Bob Masters, a member of the park’s backcountry cyclist patrol, whose encouragement enabled me to conquer the few hundred feet I had left.
After a quick drop to Marlette Lake the trail hugs the west shore before exiting the Carson Range’s interior basin to views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada. Now a single track, it contours the mountain’s sparsely forested slopes 1,600 feet above Sand Harbor whose turquoise waters look tropical from this perch. The effort of the ascent quickly forgotten, I relished the mostly level ride before the descent into Tunnel Creek to Incline Village where shuttles return riders to Spooner Lake.
Info: Bike rentals (including helmet, pump, spare tube and water bottle) start at $45 per day at Flume Trail Mountain Bikes (775) 749-5349, the concessionaire inside Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park (775) 831-0494 at Spooner Lake ($10 entrance). The shuttle from Tunnel Creek costs $10 with a bike rental or $15 without.
The rope course at the Squaw Valley Adventure Center demands comparatively little in terms of physical prowess. The challenge is to coax the brain to overlook the obvious, such as swinging bridges with missing boards, and take that literal leap of faith.
“It’s fun to push yourself out of the comfort zone,” said owner Jesse Desens, sounding encouraging but also conceding that “the courses are built to be intimidating.”
After wiggling halfway up an unsteady tube net, the less challenging of the obstacles along with the swing rope, I observed more than I participated. I admired the acrobatics of the mostly youthful participants who scaled towers and trees.
“It was kind of freaky,” Michael Britten, 11, of Orinda, said after negotiating the topmost bridge. “It’s so high, the ropes wobble a lot in the wind.”
Info: The Squaw Valley Adventure Center, (530) 386-1375, is near the base of the Squaw Valley USA ski resort. Reservations for the rope course (7 to 15 years old: $48; 16 and older, $52) are required.
To release pent-up frustrations I retreated to Squaw Valley USA’s High Camp for games of paintball on the upper mountain. Properly suited (there’s paint in those paintballs) and helmeted, I hid behind a granite boulder, finger on the trigger, ready to blast the opposing team.
Using trees and bushes to my advantage I let volley after volley of the colorful little pellets fly. The return fire from enemy snipers wrecked my plan. My chances of survival dwindled to minutes, at best.