Truckee Revisited!!

October 12th, 2012

After a long day of bike riding there is great satisfaction to sit back, let the body go limp and reflect…yes, reflect on all the beautiful vistas and wonderful feelings that are now part of the kaleidoscope of your mind. So, I ordered a glass of Malbec from Argentina and slowly sipped and savored the rich, dark liquid as my head swayed to Frankie’s tune:

“What has a man, what has he got

If not himself , then he has not

To say the words, he truly feels

Ans…not the words of one who kneels…..”

Ahhh, I thought, Frankie, what a tremendous saloon singer. I loved and still love his tunes. But…he was such an asshole in many ways.

Moodys-Bistro, Bar & Beats in the Truckee Hote

The waiter came again to check on me. I looked up from my thoughts and ordered the same dinner as I had enjoyed on my last visit some months ago. A pizza Margherita and a Caesar Salad. That’s it…plain and simple, I said as I handed back the menu and he rushed off to a couple who had just sat at the small table next to me. I flashed a moment on my dinner order. Yes….simplicity. What  an expression of beauty. Simplicity is beauty. Simple dishes done with directness and care. No superfluous hubbub and a mixture of stuff all over the plate, no complex sauces or rich and exotic flavors to confuse the palate. No sir. Not for me. Just one plate for each item done to perfection. The pizza crust, thin and caramelized; splotches of tomatoes and mozzarella dotted with fresh basil leaves. It was art on a plate. Simplicity and beauty. The Caesar Salad of equal beauty with a presentation of the house’s own originality.

I looked at both dishes as they were presented. Just to absorb the beauty of the simplicity. And…swirled some Malbec just to savor the moment.

“The record shows, I took the blows

And….did it my way.”

Well, Frankie, I did it my way too. As measured by the standards of society I’m not so successful as you are…but I sure love those words. That’s why I’ve committed them to memory. And… there is no feeling in this entire world like a man who can take it or or leave it according to the whims of the little drummer within. And… one more thing, Frankie….the asshole business…well, I guess everyone is an asshole in their own way. ‘Amico, ti saluto’, as I tip the glass for a libation into cyberspace.

This had been the summer of my sixty-fifth year. A wonderful summer by all measure. It had been highlighted with two trips to the Sierras. Each trip had the same profile-golf with the guys for the first few days and then bicycle riding into areas never before traveled. Each of those sojourns had ended in Truckee with rides to Donner Summit and points beyond. As I began to eat the crisp romaine lettuce and croutons I felt fortunate to be able to have uncovered layers to these areas which I had known all my life but the true character and beauty was reserved till last. It was the bicycle riding and the investigation into history that revealed all the wonders of this area and makes it alive. Wow, what a place. Just think! It’s all here just for the taking. How can one guy be so lucky as to be able to pluck these gems from history and combine them with his bicycle passion, the natural beauty of the Sierras and the vistas…and…it’s all free. It was Thoreau who said something about developing interests which cost nothing. It goes back to independence and self- reliance. The capacity to dine alone and savor the moment….to ride miles on a bike and be fully engaged with your thoughts…to appreciate all those who traveled the same road and most of all to appreciate the moment. You know…the moment is all that we have. Something about being a spectator versus a participant. A spectator watches others being a hero in their lives; a participant is a hero in his own life.

Each visit began with an early check in at the newly remodeled Truckee Hotel. This hotel is steeped with history…if only the timbers could. talk. It was a stagecoach stop during the pre-rail days. A ride to the resorts at Tahoe City would take two and a half hours along the present route of highway 89. Then the transcontinental railroad came displacing stagecoaches and wagon roads. It was a hotel for tourists and travelers across the Sierras. It was the first hotel to have steam heat. And it’s advertising is emblazoned on rock surface somewhere along old US-40 by Donner Summit. I’ve yet to hunt it down.

By the Truckee River on Rustic River Street!

The nice folks at the hotel let me check in early in the morning. With no time wasted I would have my car parked at the free spaces by the rails and be on my way on my new Kestrel carbon fiber bicycle.  The weather was spectacular. I rode along the south edge of town on River Street by the rushing white waters of the Truckee River. Off of main street Truckee still shows its rustic under-belly. And…I just love it. It’s real. The businesses make do with the old architecture and adapt it to the business of the day.

US80 & Donner Pass, a majestic vista!

The road empties onto Highway 89 and I follow it north to Donner Pass Road towards Donner lake. There is an overpass on Highway 80. There I must stop to take photos and just to survey the scene. The spot commands broad views of the entire valley. Well….can’t call it a valley…it’s at 7200 feet in altitude. Perhaps a high plain. There are the snow capped Sierras all around and the vastness with mountain air clarity and soft morning light. An unusual feeling erupts… a feeling that confirms the existence of the spectacular and the aesthetic. It’s extraordinary. To be such an insignificant speck and to survey and appreciate such a scene. There are a couple of others which emote such feeling-Emigrant Pass before Cisco Grove on Highway 80 and the Carson Valley from a rise on Double R Ranch Road just south of Reno. There are the railroads, the Jeffery Pines, Donner Pass to the West, the continuous traffic on 80’s road surface below and sleepy Truckee behind. To not appreciate and admire is not to be alive.


Beyond the pines along the old route of US-40 lies  a gem which is  overlooked by most who travel this region. It’s Donner Lake, a gem of an alpine lake nestled in the recesses at the foot of Donner Pass. While the masses rush off to Tahoe or Reno this alpine siren lies quietly and remotely hidden giving only an occasional glimpse from vantage points of US-80. The road travels the waters’ edge as I enter a world of serenity and placid surface waters. There are boaters, teens diving from piers, paddle boarders and groups fishing from shore. There is no rush here; I enter an oasis of calm. And…as I raise my gaze I note Donner Pass and Rainbow Bridge at the summit looming over all this serenity.

Donner Pass Road

Donner Pass up above!

Mountain flowers adjacent to Donner Lake


 Any damn fool can go down hill! But the climb demands all those elements of achievement. You know…those old fashioned qualities like…discipline, fortitude, perseverance…etc. And…at the summit of each climb there is the exhilaration and feeling of achievement not to mention the grand vista…and a grand vista well deserved. So, that’s what I tell my friends when they ask, ‘why do you do it’? And… of course, they smile and kind of shake their heads as though recognizing a like-able whackadoo! But…my fellow bicycle riders know the thrill of looking over your shoulder and seeing a mountain range blue against the setting sun and a content grin erupts on our faces. Yep! we came that way, on our own power and now we are in command of that scenery. It’s an expression of independence and self reliance. rn

Donner Pass Road, US-40, Lincoln Highway, Freedom Highway and Indian roads before.

If there is pain in this climb it is obfuscated by the sheer beauty of the area and the many layers of history of those whose footsteps marked this road. There are Washoe Indians, the fur trappers and adventurers, the Canistoga Wagon settlers, the railroad guys, the builders of transcontinental roads, the early motorists, and early year round residents who came to settle and stay and call it home.

I peddle gently and look all about. My sight is transfixed to the summit and the art deco bridge spanning the granite ledges. It is reminiscent  of the the Bixby Bridge on Highway-1 just south of Monterey. Well. this is the Donner Summit Memorial Bridge but also known as the Rainbow Bridge. Built in 1927 as part of the US 40 transcontinental route from the east to west coast.

The bridge had challenges of engineering and cost over-runs. Initially budgeted at $27,000 which turned to a $36,000 sum when all was said and done and the contractor made a walloping profit of $1,600. But the bridge turned out to be a piece of art as it negotiated changes in elevation and direction. And…all done in a dramatically aesthetic way.

And…a fine view of Rainbow Bridge from a Donner Summit vantage point…overlooking its successor, US 80. Ah, yes! US 80, more efficient, speedier, easier to negotiate…but less exciting, less interesting and definitely less beautiful. If in the area take an extra half hour and treat yourself to a ride into yesteryear. Old US 40 from Soda Springs to Truckee. Experience the Sierras as they were in the old days. It will enrichen your experience!!!

A moment to pause and just take in the beauty!!!

The Donner Summit

Everyone knows about the infamous Donner Party…but did you know about the Indians. The Paiutes, The Shoshone and the Washoe Indians used this ancient pass for centuries to trade their wares with the populations of the Sacaramento Valley. Just think…way before California and the settlers and America this pass was used by the Indians. At various points at the summit petroglyphs can be seen. Ancient markings of our ancestral travelers chiseled on stone. They probably had the same reaction to this spot as we do today. ‘Wow! How beautiful.’

Tribute to the Indians of the Nevada desert.

 By the shores of the Truckee River west of Reno I happened upon this fine tribute to the local Indian tribes. This is truly the joy of travel….from the seat of a bicycle to discover these gems of interest and to tie them into the general history of the region. So, these Indians would have traveled the same route I rode…along the shores of the Truckee River following the present route of US 80 into Truckee by Donner Lake and up to the pass. How very cool is that???

Signs by the Donner Summit Historical Society marking points of interest.

And the joy and satisfaction of conquering another summit!

The satisfaciton of another summit in my bicycle haversack!

Looking south from the summit the railroad line is visible against the granite backdrop. This perhaps is the finest tribute to the men who suffered, sacrificed and endured incredible hardships to build this great piece of ‘Americana’…conventional wisdom of the time said that it could not be done. But…Theodore Dehone Judah along with Dr. Strong from Dutch Flat lead the way. And…the Chinese…worked incredible hours, in extreme weather conditions and unimaginable danger. They inched their way through the impenetrable granite of the Sierras with picks, hammers and chisels and black powder and  nitroglycerin. It was known as ‘Bam, Bam, Quarter Turn! A team of three with one holding the chisel and the other two wielding an eighteen pound sledge hammer. Tunnel # 6 is a tribute to the Chinese. Progress was two inches a day…till, they began to work from both sides and dug a shaft form the center and worked out. When eventually they met…the tunnels were only a few inches out. A total length through solid granite  of 1659 feet. The tunnel is no longer used and can be viewd by interested visitors. When next I’m there…I’ll be sure to savor every inch.

Tunnels #7 & 8 in view.Tunnel #6 jusf to right of foto.

Tunnel #6 jusf to right of foto.


Back at Moody’s Bistro the music was from a local group filtering in from the bar dining area. They seem to have many such groups playing in locations throughout town. One day I had sat on the second floor balcony looking out onto main street and listened to a duo below by the outdoor seating playing ‘King of the Road’. And…the couple seated next to me…well, now we were in a lively conversation ab0ut, of all things, our mutual high school. The gentleman and I had both attended Marin Catholic in Marin County a few years apart. We shared old memories of our old campus and teachers we had known. These are the pleasant coincidences of travel. And…if I can digress for a moment about such coincidences…Gstaad in the Swiss Alps! My daughter Gina and I were on one of our road trips in the summer of the 80’s from Frankfurt to Tuscany for a visit with our family. We treated ourselves to a fancy hotel in the mountains. While Gina was taking a nap I went for a massage in their spa. The masseuse, during our conversation, tells me that a few weeks before had attended a fiftieth wedding anniversary at the Leaning Tower Restaurant in South San Francisco….the restaurant I owned at the time. I always marvel at the coincidences of life when you ‘put yourself about’.

From Donner Summit my adventure continues in two directions: out along US-40 by Lake Van Norden, Cisco Grove and The Rainbow Lodge and back to the Truckee Hotel; and earlier in June…the other route to the South Shore of Donner Lake along Highway 89 along the Truckee River to Tahoe City along North Shore Lake Tahoe, Brockway and back over the summit to the Truckee Hotel.

Old US-40 Summit to Cisco Grove

Donner Summit

A most historic spot! Donner Summit. Earmarked by the Donner Summit Historical Society.

Donner Summit Historical Society

The museum consists of 34 historical placards from the Nyack exit off of US-80 to the summit. Within the building above are many interesting photos and artifacts of the area. These items of interest are sponsored by local businesses trying to make this piece of California history economically viable and alive.

Snow Ball Express

The ‘snowball express’ 1937!! Ski enthusiasts could begin their adventure at the Ferry Building in San Francisco in the early evening. Ride overnight on  a comfortable train with dining cars and sleeping berths available and awaken in the morning at Norden Station just a few minutes away from Sugarbowl for a day of skiing. Dinner was $.75. The excursion was so popular that the dormitory at Norden Station was inadequate…the railroad company had to park extra cars in Truckee to accomodate the folks.

Lake Van Norden

View of Lake Van Norden on the high meadow by Soda Springs.

Train snaking its way through!

A long freight train lumbers through the Jeffery Pine forest with an occasional blow of the air horn. What a view!!


Soda Springs Station & Hotel

Soda Springs Station and Hotel was built in 1927 for the newly constructed highway US-40. In 1980 it was converted into a condo complex.

Soda Springs General Store & Post Office

Soda Springs General Store & Post Office

The Cycling Tuscan lost in California history! Sitting on the front porch of the Soda Springs Store and Post Office on old US 40. Elevation 6700 ft. and nary a whisper of computers, Silicon Valley or the internet. They advertise chimney sweeping, the coldest beer, snow chains and snowboards. Their Internet is the myriad of postings on the wall by the front door. The proprietress sported old fashioned hospitality and lamented her upcoming trip into the Sacramento Valley because of the heat. I sipped on my coffee and watched folks coming in their trucks and suvs for a quick something or other and disappear just as quickly. The air was clear, cool with a scent of pine. It felt good to take it deep into your lungs. I could hear the rumble of a long train behind. I called Patricia and shared the moment. It was good to be alive!

Tinker's Station

Tinker’s Station Hostel

Joseph Tinker was described as a ‘hard driving, hard drinking’ freight wagon driver from the 1860’s. He delivered supplies to nearby mining areas. With a partner he started a hotel and originally Soda Springs was known as Tinker’s Station. This hostel is a european type accommodation servicing skiers, tourists and sports’ enthusiasts who enjoy this spectacular area.

From here old US-40 follows the newly built US-80 and the rocky shores of the North Fork of the Yuba River.  It’s a joyous ride, downhill, threading through forests, in summer sunshine with sounds of rushing, crashing waters against granite boulders jutting from the river bed. The slope is gentle and I maintain 25 to 30mph. Mountain flowers form splashes of color against grasses on the forest floor. Shafts of sunlight burrow through forest shade to find the brightest whites and most radiant greens. My gaze is captured by these gems of nature. Then I go under the freeway to be enshrouded in cool shade with the sound of grinding traffic disrupting the dreamy interlude. Ah! I think…now we travel in a few hours what would have taken weeks or months. But…with the convenience and speed of modern day something is lost. To notice the less noticed. To smell unusual plants or flowers with unknown names. To lay the bike down and sit on a boulder mid stream with furious spray caressing your face. To see an occasional trout jump and the sunlight catching its magical colors. But most of all to slow down and let all the cares of the world gently disappear and let yourself ‘just be’. I believe that the human animal is like a fine instrument. To function at its peak it must be allowed to resonate. Not forced. Not pressured. Not made to do anything. To express its own will and be allowed to interact with its environment in a natureal way. To go where it will go. To do what it will do. The resulting feelings, thoughts and epiphanies are unique. They are quality. The rest…well, the rest is ‘cannon fodder’.

The Rainbow Lodge

The Rainbow Lodge

The Rainbow Tavern and Lodge! It serviced travelers on the old Emigrant Trail. Then a Stagecoach stop. Finally a lodge with amenities for travelers along the two lane US-40.

Vintage stretch of Old US-40

As it would have looked in the old days. I can just imagine Burma Shave signs by the roadside. Do you remember Burma Shave???

Remannts of the gas station & buildings that serviced travelers along US-40

Remnants of the gas station & buildings that serviced travelers along US-40

A place to repose. Across the way walls of service station and store remain.

And...the refreshing Yuba River providimg an idyllic rest spot!

And…the refreshing Yuba River providimg an idyllic rest spot!

Folks would come and fish and have their catch cooked by chefs at the lodge. And…aficionados of skiing could spend their days on the nearby slopes or trek cross country. Way back when…the journey was as important as the destination.

The ride back from Cisco Grove was a rewarding effort of bicycle riding. With head down over the bars I concentrated on the steady rhythm to climb the 1500 feet in altitude back to the summit. There was no traffic. Then a swoosh down Donner Pass with majestic views and the best treat of all on the outskirts of Truckee….an extra large, cold, chocolate milk shake.

Along 89 to North Shore Lake Tahoe

The South Shore of Donner Lake is a view of a lake resort area as it might have looked yesteryear. Vacation homes in remote settings are set wide apart with nary a peson to be seen. And…all have a bigger than life view of the lake and mountains.

Donner Lake on the quiet side.

Donner Lake on the quiet side.

 It was work till the Squaw Valley entrance. Then the trek turned into sheer delight  and awe. The roar of the ever present and threatening traffic of Highway 89 yielded to the serenity of a hidden bicycle path hewn through the lush alpine forest beside rushing white waters. Yes…this is a bike path that all who come to this area should enjoy.

A peaceful bike path through the forest

A peaceful bike path through the forest

And a few more miles of this sylvan paradise and my journey happened upon a most opportune lunch spot….

Action of the white waters

Action of the white waters

The River Ranch at the entrance of Alpine Meadows. I remember this place…Patricia and I spent our honeymoon here many years ago. It was delightful then. It looked delightful now.

Lunch at the River Ranch by Alpine Meadows

Lunch at the River Ranch by Alpine Meadows

So, here I rest. And…look upon the waters and rafters as they make their final turn at the end of their adventure. I listen to old selections of rock ‘n roll from the sixties as I await my hamburger and fries. Sometimes life is just perfect. Which reminds me of the quote that my daughter, Gina, introduced to me….’Le vie, ne pas besoigne d’eter partait, pour etre marvellouz! (I’ll check the spelling)

And...around the corner...absolute calm

And…around the corner…absolute calm

And quietly and gently I enter route 29 along the north shore of Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City. There are familiar places that I recognize…Bacchi’s being one. An old style family type of restaurant that needs to be appreciated because of its ambiance and longevity. It’s nestled in the pines near the lake and offers bounteous food for vacationing families. We had many good times here over the years.

One of my favorite old time Tahoe restaurants. Bacchi's nestled in the trees at Tahoes City

One of my favorite old time Tahoe restaurants. Bacchi’s nestled in the trees at Tahoes City

Over the rise at Carnelian Bay there is the fist majestic view of the big waters. And…how beautiful it is. Mark Twain in his travel would always compare other beautiful lakes to Tahoe…and, Tahoe would always come out on top.

Thrill of 'First View' of Lake Tahoe

And…all from the seat of my bicycle. I marvel at this beauty and such vistas never fail to impress.



As I descend Carnelian Bay into the flatter shorelines of Brockway and King’s Beach a yearning awakens within. It’s my fuel tank. It’s a bit low and I begin to picture a frosty and rich chocolate milk shake. I try a few places that ought to have such but walk away with my bike disappointed. And yearning for the thick shake even more!

Wow! Wow!!! From the seat of a bicycle!!!

Wow! Wow!!! From the seat of a bicycle!!!

So, I begin the climb to Brockway Summit. It’s another bit of a grind and the afternoon traffic leaving the north Tahoe area is bothersome.

And...back on the climb...Brockway Summit

And…back on the climb…Brockway Summit

However with the summit behind me and the satisfaction of another summit in my cycling accomplishments I enjoy the descent into the Truckee Meadows by the Northstar Golf Course. I’ve always loved these high meadows. Although this afternoon it’s a bit windy. I look forward to that ‘shake in Truckee.

High meadow between Truckee and Northstar Resort

High meadow between Truckee and Northstar Resort




After a good shower and all equipment stowed I relax in this wonderful guest room of the Truckee Hotel. I just love the richness of the woods and the reddish hues form the wallpaper and paint. It is so suggestive of the old western hospitality and ambiance. Here I write notes and themes fresh from the day’s adventure. It’s a wonderful way to relax and capture quality on paper.



A comfortable, affordable room with a view!


And…a stroll before dinner. A few doors down I was able to find that chocolate shake.


 And…greetings to all from downtown Truckee.



Trips taken June and September 2012. 

The Cycling Tuscan

Luciano J. Ercolini


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