Archive for September, 2011

Ride of the Purple Sage! Friday, September 30th, 2011


By now I am a veteran at packing and planning for these mini vacations. A list is generated gradually the prior week. It’s on my computer table where I work. Items are added as they enter my consciousness. At departure my list is complete without effort and the packing is dispatched in short order. The back deck of my VW Beetle is layered with related items: the golf stuff, the bicycling stuff, the personal items and the clothes bag. When I arrive at my hotel I check my bags and stuff with the bellman, change into my bicycling clothes, valet my car and I’m off into the desert for a day ride. A day of adventure with the excitement of a school-child free on the first day of summer vacation. I scan the purple hues and silvery muted shades of the desert floor. The sparsely vegetated and rugged mountains to the east and the snow caps separating the Carson Valley from the verdant jewel beyond-The Tahoe Basin.

My day began at 4am from the heart of Silicon Valley. I am content and peaceful and filled with excitement of the adventure ahead. Living in Silicon Valley and having the luxury of flexible schedules is the best of all worlds. The roads are deserted. Soon I see the windmill silhouettes of Altamont beyond Livermore. It’s still pretty dark. I bolster myself with a hot cup of coffee from Mickey D’s in the Central Valley just outside of Sacramento. My mind goes back in time. To the Gold Rush era of the 49’ers. It was the rough and tumble adventurers and seekers of wealth who traveled these roads. Some died. Few became fabulously wealthy. Most disappeared into the landscape as the lust for fortune waned.
I stop at Auburn for a short visit. It always delights me. Auburn is an icon of the region and the gold mining and railroad era. The light is perfect to both appreciate the architecture and take some fotos.

Perhapts this foto captures all. The trestle birdge  crosses Highway 80 framing the goldminer to the entrance of town. These days Auburn is a road stop for vacationers on the way to Tahoe and back to the Bay Area. But…way back when it was men, visionaries…like Theodore Dehone Judah. I love that name. Perhaps it’s my first home in America, in the Sunset Distrct of San Francisco. We lived on 44th Avenue and Judah Street. For a long time I thought that to be a strange name for a street of San Francisco. But… a time ago I began to read of the railroad history of California. The Big Four…Stanford, Huntington, Crocker and Hopkins. But wait, there was also the catalyst figure who set all in motion, Theodore Dehone Judah. He was the one who traveled the streets of Sacramento talking to all who would listen about his idea of the trans-Sierra railroad. He traveled the rocky ledges of the snow capped Sierras on his dime to scout and do rough engineering surveys. Up the road in Dutch Flat he met Dr. Strong, a pharmacist, who joined forces with Ted do the groundwork. This is what I see this fine morning as I walk the rickety sidewalks of the fragile buildings of Auburn. It is a rich history and I’m delighted to be able to appreciate it.

Spectacular view of Donner Lake from Donner Summit

Granite! This is what the Donner Party and Teddy Judah faced to achieve their objectives. One cannot realize the magnitude of these challenges. Up close and personal. I bicycled this road some in the late 80’s from the California side….but the true majesty and challenge is from the Nevada side. It’s on my agenda and soon!

The breathtaking beauty of the Sierra Mountain passes enjoyed on a beautiful morning on the way to the Reno Desert. The straight line in the background is the railroad engineered by Judah and built by the ‘Big Four’: Leland Stanford, Colis B. Huntinton, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker of the Cental Pacific Railroad.

These trips to the Sierras had their origin in the 1970’s. I would organize outings for my customers in the then nascent Silicon Valley. We would rent a house in South Shore or North or stay in one of the Reno Hotels frolicking in the evenings around the casinos and golfing in the daytime. The outings were popular and continued through the 90’s when  I found myself with a dinner house in Sonoma County at the gateway to the ‘Wine Country’. My good friend, Roy, continued the tradition at the beginning and end of the summer season when I returned to Silicon Valley.  Over the years we added Truckee, and Graeagle in Plumas County on the Feather River and Carson City. My memory is filled with a wonderful kaleidescope of cities, golf courses, friends…many now dead, restaurants, hilarious antics….but most of all, the wonderul bond of friendship with dear amigos sharing and enjoying life.

Bicycling just added to my enjoyment. I enrichened my experince with vistas of Lake Tahoe while climbing up Mt. Rose, the majestic mauntains on either side of Carson Valley, all the new communities hidden in micro vales to the north of Reno, the spectacular and lush Feather River environs. The train museum, best in the west, at Portola. World renouned hang-gliding site to the south of Washoe Lake just north of Carson City. The ride up the old Comstock Road to Virginia City. The Bucket of Blood Saloon. The ghost mining towns of Silver City and Gold Hill. The vastness and solitude of desert.

And…one last stop…Truckee

 Truckee is about the railroad, about the lumber trade, about gold and silver and about tourism to Tahoe and points north, Plumas County and east to Reno. It’s a wonderfully preserved town having resisted over the years the temptation of development and big money tourism. By just walking along the rails and main street and along the river and closely looking at the vinatge buildings one is easily transported back to the era of its roots.

The Truckee Hotel…an icon since the mid nineteenth century. A stagecoach stop servicing the Tahoe area and Plumas County to the north before the arrival of train service. A stagecoach ride to Tahoe City would take two and a half hours. Now a colorful resting spot for mountain travelers.

 Main Street

River Inn on the Truckee River

Truckee River on it’s way to the Reno desert.

Rough ‘n tumble back streets.

And….I arrive at my oasis in the desert…The Peppermill, Reno.

I’m now on the city streets of Reno riding south. It’s a bright summer day but the air is crisp. The roads are familiar as this ride is the latest in my annual series. It’s comforting to ride familiar roads and Double R Ranch Road takes me by new housing developments and shopping centers with many stores not yet opened. The road is wide with generous bike lanes and broad sidewalks adorned with desert vegetation. The southeast provides views of my ride up Geiger Pass; beyond the Carson Valley to the southwest are the majestic Sierras looming over the desert valley with snow caps.The air is wonderfully clear, the colors are sharp and the vistas are big. It’s  surreal with such broad expanses seen vividly.

 This perhaps expresses all best! One tiny speck of a bicycle rider surveying this grand and expansive vista with definiton and color. Mt. Rose in the distance just a hop from the yet more spectacular Lake Tahoe.

Desertscape to the south of Reno. The grasses, brambles and purple hues of the desert sage.


Well! Here we go, up the Geiger Summit. The old Comstock Road to Virginia City. This, if you are an old television buff of the sixties may remember, is the same road that the Cartrights, ‘Lil” Joe, Hoss, Adam and father Ben would travel to Virginia City and back to the Ponderosa on North Shore Lake Tahoe to do the shopping for their chinese cook, Hop Sing. This is what I see as I ride up these slopes with vistas of the Reno cityscape behind and the dry, dusty slopes with sparse vegetation.

A marker commemorating this historic highway. The traffic to and from Virginia City was done by freight wagons up and down these slopes with cargo of gold and silver and timber and fancy stuff from San Francisco.

It’s always a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. The conquest of another summit.

The touristy bustle of Virginia City! I love the buildings, a legacy of the etherial wealth created during the silver rush.

  And…more tourists!

The Bucket of Blood Saloon. Just for the tang of it….I stopped at the bar and ordered a sasparilla. Sat right next to some bikers doing shots and beer. Variety is the spice!!

On the way out on the south end of town is the Fourth Ward School. Built during the height of the silver era wealth to service the fastly growing local population. Now a museum. From here I continue south towards Highway 50 and Carson City. I travel beautifully desolate desert roads with broad vistas nuanced by the pruplish hue of desert sage and other thistly bushes.

 The ghost towns south of Virginia City. Gold hill sported as many as 8,000 inhabitants in its heyday. Now but a few hundred remain. Now the hotel is a popular tourist stop which I’ve yet to enjoy. Next trip!!

 Silver City as seen from Devil’s Gate. This was a handy setting for highwaymen to relieve travelers of their valuables.

 To the south of the ghost towns and before highway 50 and Carson City for lunch. Am I suffering from hunger and thirst? Am I halucinating??

 The lush Carson Valley as seen from the foot of the Sierras. The foothils in the distance provide lift for the desert winds and the location has become a world renouned haven for hang gliders.. On any given day one can see those fragile contraptions spiraling upwards becoming a speck of color in the azure sky.

The bicycling loop was 82 miles. Absolutely marvellous! Capped with three days of golf. Somerset Country Club, Lakeridge and Red Hawk Golf Courses. And…as always the best time to leave is when you are still having a great time. Looking forward to the next trip already.


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