December 15th, 2014

Did you know that if you are bored…you are boring. Wherever you happen to find yourself there are layers to be uncovered if only you have the imagination, the inquisitiveness and the curiosity to find the stories buried in these layers. Riding through San Francisco, for example. The names trumpet its colorful history. Lincoln-Park[1]Maiden Lane…Van Ness…Lombard…Ortega…Noriega and just across the Golden Gate Bridge there is Sausalito with redolence of its onetime colorful mayor…Madam Sally Stanford and the long gone beatnik colony. Golden Gate Bridge finished in 1937 and on that historical day my mother along with the citizenry of San Francisco walked across the golden gate. Some time ago I met friends and played golf at Lincoln Golf Course just south of the bridge. When we came to the seventeenth hole we carefully surveyed the coast line for the heralded view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s reputed to be an iconic view and spot. But, alas, the thick fog shrouded the bridge from view. Sir Francis Drake centuries before while trying to find the golden gate had the same trouble and ended up in Drake’s Bay near Point Reyes. I thought that to be cool! Each time I make that drive my mind is fully engaged with the names and history of the place. But… it’s not just San Francisco…it’s all places. Some with less spectacular stories, true, but all have the  unique story to tell.

One Sunday morning I was riding my bicycle along old US 395 from Reno to Carson City. If you have ever been you must agree that it’s a unique setting with expansive views, air of unbridled clarity, muted desert OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcolors with the contrasting ruggedness of the Sierras to the west and Washoe Lake blending gently and barely visible. The new Martin Luther King Freeway now services the two cities and what a wonderful thoroughfare it is. Reputed to be the most expensive freeway per mile ever built. There are geothermal resources along the way which are entwined below the surface of the road to control the extreme and hazardous conditions of winter. The centerpiece is the Galena Creek Bridge which joins two promontories over the creek with the nation’s largest cathedral arch. LikeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur and the Rainbow Bridge at Donner Summit the art deco structure blends grace and elegance with functionality. It’s a gem viewed from many vantage points in Pleasant Valley. Just below is a chocolate factory..yep in the middle of nowhere with funky props to garner tourist attention. The taxicab driver who hauled me and my broken bike back to Reno told me all details….some accurate and some embellished I would surmise. But…he was a happy camper as the $100 fare began his financially successful shift.

So…my route was unceremoniously halted at the gates of Carson City. A chunk of metal holding one of the spokes broke and rendered my steed a bit lame. Instead of Virginia City and the Bucket of Blood Saloon I had to search for a bicycle shop. How hard could that be?? After all Carson City is the capital of Nevada. It seems that our level of expectation coming from Silicon Valley is a bit beyond limits…even for the capital of Nevada. All bicycle shops are closed on Sundays. No trains or busses either. Hmmmm!  So, there I was riding with a wobbly front wheel and no practical way back to Reno and a fine dinner with my pal, Roy and friends. A time out is in order in these situations. In my zig-zags about town I noticed an establishment that spoke to me.Firkin & Fox, Carson City Firkin & Fox with outside seating. Parked my bike next to my table and had good beer and deep fried calamari. And….a jolly conversation with the waitress and a couple who commiserated with me about my bike problems. And…we all laughed. This was my type of place. One of the signs by the front door said, ‘Try our burgers…they’re Firkin good!’ Now I have a fine picture in my mind about Carson City. Perhaps one should follow the advice of Melina Merkouri’s film, Never On Sunday!

On this jaunt to the Reno, Carson Valley, Truckee area I came with specific things to see. Sure there was the golf and fun times with the guys but the added attraction for me was the days at the end staying at the historic Truckee  Hotel on Donner Pass Road or main street in Truckee. It’s a marvelous adventure for one who appreciates a living anachronism of our country’s history of the lumber trade, building of the railroads, gold and silver mining and the settling of the West. It’s all layered in this little town. It’s a living museum. And…this time  I wanted to visit the famous Tunnel #6 overlooking Donner Lake, the Petroglyphs at the summit and the origin of the Truckee River in Tahoe City. From the seat of my bicycle, of course!

 Truckee has figured out how to maximize its tourist revenues. And…why not?! The town has a lot to offer and no one should complain. The parking…there used to be five spaces available across the street from the Truckee Hotel by the railroad tracks which were clandestinely free to hotel guests. But…alas…the hotel clerk informed me that they were gone. So, it was hourly parking with quarters and credit cards. Hmmmm! That rubbed me the wrong way. I don’tOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA mind paying $10 for a mediocre glass of wine at the Bar America across the street…but paying for parking?! So, a bit of walk down main street as I normally do. Window shopping and people watching and absorbing the ambiance. I spotted a stretch of land across the street from the White House, an antique Victorian structure, that has housed restaurants and real estate offices and B & B’s over the years and an enterprise that I once considered and almost made an offer on. There were a lot of cars parked adjacent to the railroad tracks and there were no meters of parking signs. That was it….my oasis to free parking. Now I felt shrewd and could go on freely and spend the ten dollars at will on mediocre glasses of wine for the duration.

While golfing in Reno on our many trips over the years we have stayed at fine hotels, fancy hotels with all amenities. Hotels like The Peppermill, The Atlantis, The Grand Sierra and even the newly built hotel at Boomtown. They are comfortable, enjoyable and delightful to rest, play and entertain yourself. But…the Truckee Hotel is a refreshing change to these oases of pleasure. My room was European style; that is, sink in room only and the rest of bathroom facilities down the hall. But…let me tell you for one who rides bike all day and uses the room for its basic purpose…this room at $59 was economical and functional. Did I say clean. Yes, clean! Each morning I would see a crew ofOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA maids cleaning the floors and walls of the communal showers and bathrooms while going down to the complimentary continental breakfast served in perhaps what  is the most western, iconic parlor. So, that’s where my day began…in front of the large screen television updating myself on the events of the market about the world and breakfasting on yogurts, bagels, coffee and juice. The weather for the morning was pleasant and sunny but caught a note on TV about a small craft advisory due to gusty winds. I gazed out the window and all looked placid, sunny and muted. A seemingly perfect day to tackle the Donner Summit and those three items of interest.

This is my third trek over old US 40 by way of Donner Lake and up to Donner Pass at 7200 feet plus in altitude. I sported the same OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAenthusiasm that was present on the other rides. It’s a magical journey with nothing but items of interest along the way. Surmounted by the exquisiteness of nature. To sit at the end of a dock a few feet above the ripples of crystal clear alpine waters rendering visible the granite laden bottom. It’s a feeling of being close to and in accord with nature. To stop, look and appreciate. The wind stirringOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the surface and creating lapping sounds against the dock’s timbers. The sheer granite ledges of the sierras rising majestically to the sky and the straight horizontal lines of the railroad tucked midway up. And…I followed my route up to that aesthetic structure, the Rainbow Bridge. Perhaps the little old man that ran the historical society shop beyond the summit would be there to sell me another of his US 40 t shirts.

I began to climb, slowly and rhythmically. I noted immediately that the incline seemed to require more effort than I remembered. Hmmm, I thought, could it be that extra twenty pounds that I’m carrying. Professional bicycle racing industry spend thousands of dollars getting those competitive bikes a few pounds lighter and I…well…I had added twenty or twenty five pounds to my girth. And…now I noted the difference. But the scenery was exquisite and there were refreshing gusts of wind which created a feeling of being one with the elements. I had to stop several times along the way to get my heart rate down but eventually I made it. The last mile was met with gusts of 50mph wind which made forward progress a matter of inches at a time. Now I remembered the small craft advisory of the morning weather report and garnered first hand its meaning. I would use care for the rest of the day, especially going down the grade, not be fall prey to these gusts. I remembered the song from the 60’s, Dust in the Wind!!!

The route winds through solid granite. Blocks of which loom bigger than life formingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA insurmountable faces, crevices and remote ledges. Even the most obtuse must be impressed with the grandeur of the handiwork. Thickets of underbrushOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA cling to sources of water running OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdown the slopes. A Jeffery or Western Pine rises from a shelf and one wonders how can the roots find adequate support or nutrition. Its trunk is gnarly and weathered and battle worn but there it stands with plumes of greenery as though heralding to the world the story of its magnificent struggle and victory of the tenacity of life over the elements.  Musical geniuses such as Mozart or Bach or VerdiOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA might express such drama in thunderous musical terms. At the summit sheltered from the elements between granite outcroppings is a sublime micro-garden of natureOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA with flowers and delicate plants. From another vantage point I see pools of alpine water resting inOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA hollows of granite. Each is adorned with its oasis of greenery. I sit on a ledge and absorb all this natural drama and feel fortunate to be able to slow my consciousness and mark this moment in my existence.


Tunnel #6

For a bicycle rider the conquest of notable summits is always an exhilarating moment. Donner Summit offers all that and much more. This narrow slit in granite was the gateway over the challenging Sierras for many people. The Paiutes, the Shoshone, the Washoe Indians traveling from the Carson and Reno Valleys to California’s Central Valley to trade with local tribes. EarlyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA California settlers seeking a new life out west. The gold seekers rushing to the goldfields to make their fortunes. The railroad folks trying to do the impossible and link this great nation with rail. Early motorists who sported their horseless carriages over the summit to vacation in the Tahoe basin. And…then there are crazy bike riders, like me, who have discovered the thrill of challenging the mountains up close and personal to reveal their secrets of beauty, nature and history.

At one time we skied. Mostly around Incline Village and North Shore but Heavenly and Kirkwood to the south too. But…I sense that we missed the best. At the summit are Donner Ski Ranch and Sugarbowl. D0nner is privately owned and rustic in nature. Sugarbowl was the original. In the thirties it drew the San Francisco crowd from the Ferry building for weekend skiing on a jaunt known as the ‘Snowball Express’. The first chair lifts and ‘magic carpets’ found home here. This program in the thirties was so popular that Central Pacific had to park extra train cars in Truckee to accommodate skiOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAers. And…Charlie Chaplain filmed ‘Gold Rush’ here and stayed at the River Hotel in Truckee by the Truckee River. My mind is rich with these thoughts as I ride slowly beyond the summit toward my first stop on Sugar Bowl Road and the railroad tracks.

  This is the view of the famous Tunnel #6 as seen from the bridge on Sugar Bowl Road. I am stunned at the courage that it must have taken to attempt to penetrate this sheer granite. Just look…we’re talking solid granite.

It was the Chinese. Living by the tunnel and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAworking ungodly hours in all weather conditions. Teams of three were formed with one holding a long chisel and the other two alternately swinging an eighteen pound hammer.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was know as ‘bam, bam, quarter turn’. The goal was to chisel a two inch wide hole, stuff it with black powder, ignite it, run for your life and then come back amidst smoke and dust and remove the debris. And…do it all over again. They began the tunnel at both ends but the progress was painstakingly slow…only a few inches a day.

Eventually the black powder was replaced with nitroglycerin which was more powerful. But….much more unstable. Shipments would find their way around the Horn and through San Francisco. On one occasion a leaking unmarked crate destined for the Sierras was left at the Wells Fargo office near California and Kearny Streets with people wondering what the leaking black substance might be. Well…as bad luck would have it, the unstable substance exploded destroying blocks and killing untold number of folks. Subsequently such shipments were forbidden. And…the resourceful railroad engineers found an English scientist who was knowledgeable and willing to ship the inert ingredients to the site and make the unstable nitroglycerin there. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo speed the pace of construction further a shaft was excavated midway the 1650ft tunnel resulting in four crews working towards each other. When they eventually met they were only off by a few inches. Tunnel Number Six was completed in 1867 and continued to provide service for over a century. The last train chugged through the tunnel in 1993.


All these icons of the past, the earmarks of history, are a connection with our ancestors. A piece of humanity which traversed this space in a prior time. The same footsteps, the same vistas….perhaps the same thoughts! The shivering Chinese huddled over a fire outside their tents making a rice dish before they resumed their endless day of work in howling wind and frigid snow conditions. Have you ever laid your hand on frozen granite?? Just try it to share the humanity. Or…the native Indians making the trek to the central valley to trade. They saw the same peaks, snow covered. Or as they looked back they would see the grand view of Donner Lake. What were their thoughts? Whatever deity they recognized they must have given some recognition and gratitude for its beauty. Maybe those oases with pools of alpine virgin water amidst lush greenery was a resting place after the demanding climb and the Shoshone, or Paiute or Washoe parties would drink from the same pools and have a meal. And…feel lucky to be alive in such beauty and pristine environment. Look down from the summit and get a glimpse of a bicycle rider hunched over his bike struggling to conquer the summit. He realized that he is a traveler of time on a communal journey of his ancestors. It’s a bond in humanity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, a little rest on the gentle granite incline with these wonderful petroglyphs all about me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 Were they leaving a message or just doodling as they rested? Kilroy was here?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And a placard situated on the roadside for the benefit of the tourists. These placards constitute a colorful tutorial along old US 40 from Cisco Grove to Soda Springs into Donner area and Truckee. From here the my bike trek continues down Donner Pass along South Shore of Donner Lake and south along Highway 89 to Tahoe City. This route along the shores of the Truckee River I’ve covered on other accounts listed under ‘Truckee, Tahoe, Reno Area’.


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

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

 Birth of the Truckee RiverOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Causeway into the dam.

Clarity of Tahoe water.


Ducks and Geese looking for breakfast.

The dam controlling the headwaters of the lake and the flow into the Truckee River. The course of the river flows north by ski resorts of Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley by Donner Lake and City of Truckee to Reno and its final destination…Pyramid Lake. Total route is about 120 miles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust across from the dam is a Washoe Indian Museum which I’ve yet to visit. Next time! 

And a surprise!!!

Each trip, it seems, some mishap occurs which yields an unexpected series of twists and turns and present a pleasant and unexpected surprise. On this adventure the last few miles of the bike path into Tahoe City was under repair….so, I had to truncate my journey and return to Truckee at bit early. Just across the river on River Street I proceeded east and came onto the newly built City of Truckee Bike Path OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA . It meanders along the shore of the river for some miles terminating on a rise yielding a majestic view of the Truckee Basin.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Along the path are many placards highlighting the region’s past. The native people, the vegetation, the fish, flowers, ecological formations, watershed information…etc., etc.. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a ride through a natural museum all the while looking on the scenery of the Truckee River. I was delighted. We all complain about governments…but on this occasion the City of Truckee produced a magnificent facility for tourists and citizens alike. City of Truckee…’TI SALUTO!!’




The Cycling Tuscan

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