Saturday, August 22, 2020

Lake Tahoe travel and the COVID epidemic July 31 to Aug 5 2020

 I made my reservations for Lake Tahoe in January of 2020, far before we had even heard of COVID.  The intention was to return from two weeks in Hawaii on July 31 and leave for Tahoe for four nights the next day.  When I learned that we weren't going to Hawaii at all, I booked a week in Sunriver, OR.  (See my blogpost on this!)  However, this still gave us a week before we were scheduled to go to Tahoe so I needed to fill this time or risk feeling like I needed to work at my real job during the break-yuck!  I got to work on extending the Tahoe vacation.  By the time I started working on this, June 20 or so, Tahoe accommodations were quite occupied and there was very little available in our price range.  I managed to book an additional day onto our VRBO rental, and hoped to secure another Lake Village condo for another three nights prior, making our pack up and move in the middle of the week a little less stressful.  This was not to be, however, so I checked into Club Tahoe Resort in Incline Village for the first three nights of our Tahoe vacation.  I chose to book on the Nevada side, hoping for a less heavy handed COVID restrictions.


Well, whether in Nevada or California, COVID does not seem to be impacting the amount of fun people are having this summer in this area. The Tahoe counties (of which we drove through 5) are not Bay Area Counties, that is for sure. You are required to wear a mask indoors.  In outdoor restaurants on the California side, you can remove your mask when seated at your table.  In Nevada you can eat indoors at socially distanced tables with the same mask restrictions.  We did both, dining al fresco at the darling Scusa on Lake Tahoe Blvd, and enjoying breakfast at the Kingsbury grade location of the Red Hut.  Both felt really safe. Mini golf is open, trails are open, marinas and rental activities are open.  Wear your mask while you fill out paperwork and start off, then take it off--simple, right?

Some limitations popped up.  The clubhouse at Lake Village, with access to the pool, BBQ's, tennis, ping pong and pool, was closed. Club Tahoe Resort's bar was closed and there was no housekeeping.  Another big bummer at CTR was the moratorium on beach passes for Incline Village's private beaches, which forced us to the public beaches, yucky Kings Beach, a wasteland of heat and bodies, and much more pleasantly Lake Forest Beach, a quiet and secluded tiny spot against the water.  Public beach parking lots also decreased their capacities, necessitating the back up of cars on the highways early in the morning.  Ever eat your breakfast on the beach?

The beaches are all open and they are packed and no one wears a mask on the beaches.  Despite the crowds, there is plenty of room to social distance.   Days we were at the beaches, Pope, Sand Harbor, and Skunk Harbor, we followed the examples of others and marked out wide boundaries of "stuff" discouraging others from coming too close and giving ourselves a wide berth to gather our group.

We saw a few people wearing masks on the trails.  This is quite a surprise as the decreased oxygen in the air coupled with the heat and exertion would cause any normal person to just give up the ghost.  This is really where I draw the line.  There is no possibility that anyone who climbed 3300 feet to make it to the top of Mount Tallac has COVID-19, or anything else for that matter, except a strong aerobically sound body, and possibly some mental insanity.

Now if I said that everyone in Lake Tahoe was taking COVID seriously by socially distancing from all those outside their households I'd be big time lying.  Yes, I would say people were staying away from other parties, however, some of the parties were HUGE, as much as like 40 people.  Now, I'm not thinking these people were all living under one roof back in the Bay Area. Here in Tahoe with their "extended pods," people were definitely taking risks.  Oh boy.  We saw a group of like fifteen 20 year olds getting drunk as skunks huddled under one easy up on Sand Harbor Beach.  The girls were so lit they couldn't even stand, let alone execute sound COVID judgement. Another time we saw three boats in Skunk Harbor pull up side by side, each with about 8 passengers, tie off and start to co-mingle as if it was a normal day.  My fave was when rafting down the Truckee River we encountered like 5 eight person rafts pulled off to the side.  30-40 men women and children sat stood and swam, close talking and drinking beer.  We are not too crazy strict about this whole thing but my kids sat wide eyed at the spectacle.  My 20 year old daughter summed it up, "and THAT is how you spread COVID!"  Yeah, I get it.  It's families, cousins, college friends, who miss each other and want to have a good time just for a few days in a beautiful place and forget about the damn virus.  I can't say that given the same situation I wouldn't take the same risks.  I don't know.  It's nice to feel normal for a bit.


Well one thing is for sure.  The coronavirus did not keep anyone away from the lake.  In fact, it seemed that all those Bay Area families who, like us, were denied their Hawaiian, Mexican, and European vacations all went in their desperation to wherever they could go, and, like us, they went to Lake Tahoe.

Oh and the crowds were real, necessitating some real planning.  If you couldn't get your butt out of bed and to your beach destination early in the morning, you were basically up a creek without a lily pad.  Sand Harbor was only allowing about 60% of their usual parking capacity, requiring people to queue up on Highway 28 prior to 8AM opening.  On Saturday morning at 7:40 am we were a significant distance from the entrance, maybe half a mile, and feared having the gates shut on us!  Luckily we were able to slowly make our way up to the front to be admitted at about 8:10 am.  It is nearly certain the gates closed within minutes behind us, not to open to anyone for the day until 5 pm.  

The scary line to get into Sand Harbor

On Saturday we set up our easy up and chairs and left them to make our paddle surfboard reservation at 8:30.  Sand Harbor Rentals started only taking reservations at 8:30 and 9 as those who were getting to the beach later were getting shut out on parking and were getting stuck being charged for their missed later reservations.  After returning to our beach camp and spending a lovely day on the slightly overcrowded beach we drove back to our Lake Village condo.  Here we saw the damage to all the lazy shmucks ,that missed their wake up calls.  Basically every inch of Highway 28 in both directions was lined with cars.  People just parked and headed down the slope looking for water, many already ticketed having ignored the no parking signs.  There are real beaches down there, Chimney Beach and Secret Beach, but the real estate down there is not expansive, and the best part is you get to haul your stuff down there, and then back up at the end of the day.  No thanks.

Tuesday we returned to Sand Harbor at the same ungodly hour.  This time the highway patrol prevented us from queuing so we had to find a turn out and approach from the other side.  The week day seemed to                                                                             present a little less pressure.

On Sunday we arrived at the Mount Tallac trailhead at 7:50am.  It was full so we parked about .1 mile down the road.  No biggee.  On the way we passed by Pope Beach which had a queue on the highway.  After the hike we headed to Nevada Beach at 4pm hoping for a quick dip, but again parking was full and we wound up adding more steps to reach the beach from our roadside parking spot.

We finally DID get onto Sand Harbor Beach


With the extension of our vacation, we now had two full days to occupy ourselves in a completely new area of the lake!  One thing we had heard a lot about but had never tried.was rafting down the Truckee River.  Since we were to be in the area, I decided to book us a raft.

From start to finish this whole experience was a hoot and we would do it again in a second.  The put in site is located at 175 W River Road in Tahoe City.  Because of COVID the number of rafts on the river has been decreased by 50%  making reservations mandatory. Two to ten person rafts are available.  Each adult costs 55$ which include the rental of the raft and the shuttle ride back to Tahoe City.  Kids 6-12 are $35. Life vests are provided but I did not notice anywhere that wearing them is required. You can start as early at 8:30 or as late at 3:30, though on Saturday you must be on the river by 12:30 pm (last shuttle at four). 

First you are escorted to 5 minute parking where you can unload before your driver moves your car to an offsite lot and is shuttled back.  Then it's off to the put in site!

The whole venture is 4 miles long and takes anywhere from 2-4 hours depending on the level of the river.  It is a slow and scenic float trip along which is it easy to pull off, jump out, swim, and party if you want.  The current is very gentle and in most spots shallow enough to stand. There are a few portapotties along the way if the hang over the side and pee avenue is not your thing.  Soft coolers are allowed and highly encouraged as the partaking of adult beverages greatly minimizes the frustration of the raft floating into the branches protruding from the sides of the river and cooperating on the steering.  Pair this with a bluetooth speaker and a good play list and you have a lovely midday excursion including water, sun, music, beer, scenery and hopefully some good company.  Really, it's fabulous.  Big thumbs up.

Lots of opportunity to swim

The ride ends at a River Ranch Pond where you pull into a platform, your raft is taken care of, and you head for the waiting shuttle bus for your 10 minute ride back to Tahoe City.

Having lots of fun!

Well, that's about it for the summer travels.  Here's to hoping we will get some opportunities to get out of town in the future!!  Here are some pictures!

Words of warning at the Mount Tallac Trailhead

After I stopped crying.....

Dinner outside at Scusa

Skunk Harbor is a great piece of lakefront property, if you are willing to make the hike...

Monday, July 27, 2020

Travel during the COVID epidemic Sunriver, OR July 18-July 25, 2020

Possibly the hardest consequence of the COVID 19 pandemic is the restriction on summer travel. As the spring months waned and the hot summer months approached, almost daily I heard the sad stories of those who had shut down their precious summer plans, trips to Europe, Hawaii, Yosemite, and even Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Though some tried to make smaller plans, even more just resigned themselves to a summer without spending more than a night or two away from their homes.
Our story followed a similar path.  I had taken two and a half weeks in late July and early August nearly nine months prior for a planned excursion to Hawaii for two weeks followed by a four night stint in Lake Tahoe.  As most know, early in the pandemic the governor of Hawaii mandated a two week quarantine for all mainlanders coming into Hawaii.  When the quarantine was extended to June 30, my parents bowed out of the trip, but we hung on with hope.  On June 12, or thereabouts, the quarantine was extended to August 1, and our dreams of a Hawaiian vacation this year were dashed.
I needed to shift gears fast.  I already had the time off scheduled, so there was no way on God's green earth that we were not going on a family vacation.  We had all put up with a lot during the pandemic, and needed a vacation, so we were going, just where?  It didn't take long to make a decision.  We had been to central Oregon in the winter several times and loved the area.  I remembered an exit off the main road returning from Mt Bachelor to a place called 'Sunriver.' I googled Sunriver, Sunriver Resort popped up, it looked good, and more importantly, it was open.  On June 17, after a few nods of approval from my family, I booked it.  We got a "lodge suite" with a small kitchenette, beds for six, 2 bathrooms, a deck with a couple rocking chairs, a grassy place to play, and all the resort activities nearby. 

Let's not forget the coronavirus!

Now before I rave about how positively beautiful this area is and how completely replete the region is with adrenaline pumping adventure, it's worthwhile to mention how COVID restrictions impacted the trip.  Well, Oregon is different from California, no doubt, but still is doing its part in stopping the spread of the virus.  Only a few days before we departed, Oregon began to require the wearing of masks indoors and outdoors as well when social distancing could not take place.  One huge difference (at least while we were there) was that indoor dining was allowed.  However, the amount of tables and the number of people permitted in the restaurant at one time was greatly reduced, so you really had to be smart about planning.  If you showed up about 6, you could expect to wait about an hour to be seated.  Most restaurants were also wrapping up dining by nine at the latest.  The lack of seating pushed a lot of poor planners to the grocery stores and to the takeout options, leaving the grocery shelves of hot food empty and backing up restaurant kitchens for hours.  Ever waited 75 minutes for a pizza???  Anyway, despite all this, the restaurants felt extremely safe!  All were required to wear masks unless seated at the table.  Tables were widely spaced.  Condiments and utensils were brought out individually.  All the servers wore face coverings.  Listen!  Nothing to fear!  It is frustrating that CA can't seem to follow suit.  This CAN be done!
The pool was open on an appointment basis.  Pool reservations could be made one week in advance for one of four two hour timeslots.  You were then notified of your confirmed reservation or your spot on the waitlist.  We found that the system was rather rudimentary.  With only three of seven reservations confirmed, we were only turned away from the pool once.  Once admitted, parties were separated, provided with towels and brought pitchers of water and plastic cups.  Plenty of spacing.  All servers wearing masks.  Complete safety-GO OREGON.
Another thing you can do in Oregon is workout in a gym, including on the cardio equipment, without wearing a mask.  This also required an advanced appointment.  We did this one day, after not being in a gym since mid March.  The mask rule was changed during the week, requiring the use of a mask while exercising.  Rather than risk another COVID related death from suffocation while using the elliptical trainer, we cancelled our second appointment.
Our outdoor activities (which were what we were there for) were very minimally impacted.  Basically, you wear your face covering in the marina and then take it off on the river.  If someone is hooking you into a zipline harness, you wear it, then you remove it to zip. Simple stuff. We did see some people biking and hiking with masks on, but we did not.

Heart Pumping Activity!

So here are just a few things we did in the Sunriver area to enjoy the outdoors and get some thrills.  We did all these things and more, but there was so much more we could have done.

1)  Ziplining on Mt Bachelor.  So what do you do with a perfectly good ski hill in the summer?  Open it up to ziplining of course!!  This is exactly what Mt Bachelor did on July 4th of this year.  Mt Bachelor's zipline adventure begins at the base of the mountain with a short training followed by a uphill ride on the Pine Marten chairlift.  The zipping itself consists of three lines descending nearly  1400 vertical feet down the mountain slopes.  $99 for the excursion which takes about 2-2.5 hours.  There are some height and weight restrictions so be sure to check those out on the website.  Reservations are required.
Ready to zip!
As a cable breaking or a harness failure would spell certain death, I am always a bit nervous the day before a zip, but I always seem to get over it pretty quickly and am pretty sorry when the whole thing is over. Overall, this experience was a little different from previous zips. 1)  It's a duel line, so you and a buddy can go at once.  2)  You are the braking system, so how fast or how slow you go is entirely up to you.  As such, it is your responsibility to slow yourself down before you hit the landing platform. Actually, you can come to a full stop while in the middle of the line.  Why would you though?  I unlocked that brake as much as I could and flew at max speed, which was like 60 mph, or so they say. 3)  These lines are really long, the last being over 800ft in vertical descent and 3100 feet long, so ya get going really fast! 4)  The scenery is UNMATCHED!

2)  The Paulina Plunge.  The very next day we headed about 20 miles south and east of Sunriver to the Newberry Caldera area to experience the Paulina Plunge.  The Paulina Plunge is a combination of more than 6 miles of downhill mountain bike riding and short hikes to gorgeous waterfalls and natural waterslides.  $75 for a five hour adventure. 
Omigosh!  What a blast!  I literally never wanted this to end.  I think pretty much every one in our family named this adventure as the favorite of the week.  Our young shirtless guide, Brighton (sigh) learned everyone's name, ensured everyone's safety, and pointed out fun and interesting facts about the area.  We stopped at three waterfalls.  The water was pretty cold, but there was no way to not want to jump/slide in over and over again.  Really my only complaint was being a bit rushed at the waterfalls.
The website said ages 4-70, but I might add that you really need to be confident on a bike.  My family was kept near the front, being faster riders.  The slow riders were really slow.  The downhill stretches do get your speed going and if you're scared you're just gonna ride your brakes the whole way--not much fun.

3)  Sun Country Tours-White water rafting.  I have to bravely admit that after over a half century of life, I had never been whitewater rafting.  It was one of those things that inherently scared the crap out of me and then at the same time was kind of expensive, so I just avoided it.  Well, when Sun Country Tours, with its Sunriver location just minutes from the resort, presented an opportunity to get a taste of the rapids without too much financial commitment with the Big Eddy Thriller, I decided it was time to suck up my fear and stop denying my family this adventure.
The Big Eddy Thriller is basically and introduction to whitewater rafting.  Pardon the pun, but it's meant to get your feet (and everything else) wet!  The three hour adventure, which departs about every 90 minutes 5 times a day, begins with a 45 minute bus ride.  Really there is only about one hour on the water and even less in the class three rapids, but the time in the rapids was thrilling and did get you soaking wet.  Really reminded me of the Kali River Rapids ride at Disney World  Anyway, the price varies based on your boat, but for us it turned out to be about 65$ per person with four to a raft. They run longer and more expensive trips which would definitely be an option in the future. Pictures are taken by a professional, $39 for the album.  The pictures are good quality and a nice momento, but since we had family members on two rafts, $78 was not worth it.  I would have loved to show you a picture here, but a cell phone and rafting don't mix well, so I didn't bring it.

Also recommended is renting a bike and riding 8 miles to Benham Falls, renting a raft at the Marina and floating 6 miles down the river with a cooler full of yummy Oregonian beer, and the amazing hikes in the Cascade Lakes area.  Central Oregon is stunning in the summer, and we left so much more to do.  We would definitely recommend this area and hope to come back soon!!

Here are some pictures!

 Hike to Green Lakes on the Cascades Lakes Byway

 Benham Falls

 Floating down the Deschutes River

On the Green Lakes Trail

Thank you for reading this post.  Feel free to leave comments or ask questions!  Travel is limited now!  But if I can find something to post about I will!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Back to Sun Valley, ID February 15-19, 2020

Ya know there is one thing about writing a travel blog, and that is, if you are going to visit the same places, you are going to have to come up with some new material for the same place.  This is basically what has gone on with our return visit to Sun Valley, Idaho during the month of February this year.  There is nothing new particularly to report, but I can do a little comparing between our experiences of this year and last, and maybe reinforce or negate some of my comments from my blog about the same subject last year.

How did we end up in Sun Valley again?  Well, the same issues arose this year as last, and try as we to contact the baseball coaches and get some semblance of blessing to miss some events/practices during a period of time which was a school vacation anyway, we got no response, so as soon as I heard some vague commentary that we could leave Saturday to Tuesday, I booked it, and stretched it a day.  Next year my son will be playing varsity, and the days of leaving during this break will be over, so we decided to splurge one more year.


Well, we stayed one less day and had our skis one day less, so on some small level we minimized some expense this way, however, much to our disappointment, we were unable to get any discounts with early booking through either or any ski rental company, so we paid top dollar for everything.  Our lift tickets were a whopping $1862 for four adults to ski for three days, which worked out to over $150 per day even purchasing a multi day ticket.  Wow.

Likewise with the ski rentals.  I did not want to rent from Sturtevants again, because of their weird inability to get our rental price correct last year, but no outfit was any cheaper that allowed us to reserve in advance.  There were a lot of slightly more expensive options which had people actually come out to your condo with the equipment to outfit you, but I didn't really trust being on anyone else's timetable so back to Sturtevants we went.  They did allow us to pick the skis up the night -before, and thanks to some quick driving through the mountains following the Boise arrival at 3:50, we did make it just in time.  Again the guys are nice and the place was empty at that hour so equipment rental was smooth, though pricey--$35 per day per person, three days.


Well, the early bird catches the worm, and for that reason we did not get the beautiful 1530 Snow Creek Condo we had last year.  We did not have much time to book and there were not too many options in Snow Creek, where we knew we wanted to stay, so we grabbed the only other 2 bed 2 bath condo available at 1538, just a few steps away.  I rented directly through the property manager, Vacasa.
We knew this condo was not going to be as nice, and it wasn't.  The kitchen, bathroom and furnishings in general were in need of an overhaul.  That being said, the condo was clean and had a washer and dryer and the kitchen was well stocked, so really there was nothing to complain about.  We did have some trouble with the cable, and three out of four nights were without television, but we think this was more because of the local cable service than because of the cable equipment in the condo.
One thing I must mention is how pleasant it was to deal with Vacasa. They offered us an early check in and a late check out.  Each time I texted they responded AND acted within minutes.  Many times property managers don't come through when things go wrong, but Vacasa was right on it.  I would rent another Vacasa condo again just based on their customer service.
Now back to Snow Creek in general, since we were there last the entire Clubhouse has been redone.
It is far more modern with a much bigger sitting area and a TV and a gas fireplace.  There is a huge sign outside the door prohibiting food, glass, or ALCOHOL in the hot tub and pool area.  I can guarantee you not one person we encountered in three days of post ski hot tubbing was following that last rule.  One afternoon the board of directors for the HOA was in the clubhouse, trying to conduct some kind of interviews, and even they didn't care.

New on Baldy:

Well, last year there was a ridiculous amount of snow on the mountain and three clear sunny days,
making the absolute best conditions ever.  This year we were treated to a dose of reality--still the three sunny days but some exposed grass and other debris on the runs, and at times some darned icy conditions.  Still fabulous, just a little short of heaven.  After the second day of skiing they blew some snow around, making the third day far less icy and more enjoyable. A local on the lift told me that these conditions were normal for Baldy in February.
There is word on the street the skiable terrain on Baldy will expand by 380 acres next year which will include bowls, chutes, and tree skiing.  Lower Broadway will also be extended by 3400 feet to the base of a brand new detachable lift that will replace the Cold Springs chair, which actually looks like it could crumble any minute--think Badger Pass in the 70's--so this is a good thing!


What? No, here me out.  This is really a thing.  Eating in Ketchum can be a real challenge, especially during a busy week.  A huge problem is that many of the Main Street hot spots do not take reservations, so it's first come first served, and I swear there are people that come directly from the slopes and don't leave for hours!  We tried to go to dinner about 7pm on the Sunday before President's Day.  Whoops. We tried three places, Whiskey Jacques, Pioneer Saloon, and Sawtooth Brewery Public House.  All were full.  Pioneer Saloon could at least tell us 1-2 hours but the other places told us we could hang out and wait. Well after this we wound up at the Burger Grill downtown, which was tasty and quite satisfying, if not quite what we set out to do.
Eating fondue at the Ram
The brings me to the lovely Sun Valley Inn restaurant, The Ram.  We wound up here last year when a similar dining fiasco happened.  We were all so taken with the charm of this restaurant that the kids insisted we return.  It has a Bavarian look to it, but I would not say the menu is German, though the nightly heritage dinners seem to lean that way and the draft beers are all German.  The food is fabulous.  We started with fondue and moved onto steaks and lamb shanks followed by bread pudding and ice cream.  I also had no reason to complain about my yummy gin and tonic! The service here is absolutely top notch.  The maitre'd (there seemed to be more than one) is in a suit and attends to each guest who enters the restaurant and shakes each hand as you leave.  A young lady takes your coat and gives you a claim check. The waiter is unhurried and thorough.  The ambiance is perfected by pianist Larry who plays renditions of favorite show tunes and other classics on his baby grand piano at a perfected level that still allows you to enjoy your conversation! He is especially sweet to youngsters and is able to carry on a conversation with guests while playing the piano without skipping a note!
For the record, this year we had a reservation and were here on a Tuesday night, just like last year.


Dagnabbit this place is cold, cold, cold!  Actually the first day the temperatures were slightly warmer than last year, but the second and third day were wicked.  I think the average up there was about 10.
If you read my blog last year about the cold, I listed what I wore just to survive.  The cold is truly almost unbearable.  I'm not sure it is really possible to make clothes for skiing that truly prevent frozen fingers and toes in this type of cold.  The fact is, you just have to go in and warm up occasionally.  One time I let this go a bit too long and I nearly puked from the pain of the warm blood reentering my fingers.  Thereafter I was more careful, always tucking my hands into fists on the lifts and NEVER EVER removing my gloves.
This year I made a purchase that was a godsend to all of us, Buff Multifunctional Headwear. In effect
My kids model the Buff Headwear
it's like a big fleece tube you wear around your neck and pull up over your face to meet your goggles.  At $32 from REI, they were a bit pricey, but OMG, worth every penny.  Often when I make such a purchase someone has some issue and refuses to buy into the need for such apparel.  Not one of the four of us skied one minute without our new friend.
Also I don't know who in the world would be stupid enough not to, but wearing a helmet keeps you far warmer than a hat alone.  I can't believe I ever didn't wear one--what a dummy.
The morning we left we headed over a mountain pass on the way to the airport.  The lowest temperature was -16.  Unfortunately, at some point we had to stop at a rest area and get out.  It was -8 then.  That was the coldest air temperature I had even experienced.

Well not such a repetitive post after all.  And now for some pictures!

 Approaching the River Run Lodge in the morning

 The view of beautiful Mount Baldy from our condo parking lot 

 Seattle Ridge

Cold but happy!!

Still happy!!

Don't even think about going out in this temperature!

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