Posts Tagged ‘Truckee’

A TUNNEL, PETROGLYTHS & THE BIRTH OF A RIVER! Monday, 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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Truckee Revisited!! Friday, 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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Just American-Truckee!! Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Last evening was Truckee Thursday. The first in the series of arts and crafts and farmer’s markets for the summer season. Being the first, there was probably more excitement than the remainder would bring. The locals and what tourists happened in the area strolled through the maze of booths on sequestered main street. It was a jolly affair. Even the police rode their bicycles through having as much fun as the rest.

But, this morning it was all over.The locals to their homes and Friday activities and the tourists probably to Tahoe, Reno or points beyond. I gazed down main street. What a lovely sight from my sheltered second floor balcony.

 I had gotten up a number of times in the middle of the night with the blasts of the train’s air horns. It was exciting to stand and look at the passing train just fifty feet beyond. The night air had been cool and pleasant.There were the flashing lights, swinging signs and traffic barriers coming down. I could feel the rumble resonate thought the hotel timbers. There was the grinding of the wheels on steel and another blast of the horn. One train had ninety six cars. Then a rush of air and a surreal suspension of all sounds.  And there I was with jeans half unbuttoned and tee shirt and bare feet mesmerized by the chugging cars lumbering down the tracks. It all fit in the ambiance of the hotel. The trains every hours or so, the rough and tumble buildings along main street, the rugged mountains on all sides and the rushing Truckee river. Yes, it was easy to be transported to the early days of rail and stagecoach and river crossings and snows and wagon roads.

I wanted coffee but I kept leaning on the railing and looking out on main street. It was all over. The excitement of last evening. Just like the last chapters of Hemingway in the Sun Also Rises. Back to the sleepy town. The sign post said Donner Pass Road and Bridge St. Hmmm. That’s where I was yesterday. Up Donner Summit. I lifted my gaze above the tracks to the snow caps beyond. Yep…I had done it. Ridden my bicycle up the summit to Soda Springs. And back down around Donner Lake to Highway 89 and Tahoe City and completed the loop to Brockway and back to the Truckee Hotel. It had been an adventure to remember. I stopped at the River Ranch for lunch and dangled my legs over the wall as I watched rafters and kayakers ending their ride from Tahoe City while waiting for my lunch. Yes…it was much like the fishing trip with all the zest and sportsmanship of Hemingway’s book at Burguete. Just the beautiful parts though. Not the debauchery and ugliness.

I walked down the steps with my Justin cowboy boots resounding throughout. It was a western stairway, a bit rough but perfect for the Truckee Hotel. I imagined Hop-Sing perhaps rushing to the kitchen for the morning meal or even my old tv pal, Paladin from Have Gun Will Travel out on one of his capers from San Francisco. Dressed in jeans, t-shirt and cowboy boots I fit the scene too! I greeted the friendly receptionist and she handed me the corrected invoice with another apology.

I walked across Bridge Street to the broad sidewalks adorned with flowers on the street side. There was a couple up ahead looking over the Squeeze-Inn breakfast menu. I peeked in the windows of the American Bar right on the corner. What a great name for a  pioneer western town. I could see signs for the Sierra Tavern, Wagon Wheel a real estate office, some clothes stores and the rail terminal across the street. There was no Starbucks…Hmmmm. Interesting and refreshing all at the same time. There were no recognizable chain names to be seen. Coffee And….an old time coffee shop. I remember it from the eighties. Chuck and I stopped here for breakfast on our way to play Tahoe Donner Golf Course up the street. Nothing had changed…a vitrine of pastries by the cash register to the left and the small seating area in front of the kitchen. “I’ll have a coffee black and a plain croissant” I said to the smiling, middle aged waitress behind the register. She turned and poured coffee into a Styrofoam cup and handed it to me. No croissants just those in there” as she pointed to the rough hewn vitrine filled with bear claws, cinnamon rings and other sugary things. “Hmmm, the coffee will do. Thank you.” With a smile on my face and coffee in one hand I leaned into the door and mumbled wryly, “None of that frog stuff in here. Just Amerkin. Good old fashion bear claws. And smiled some more and laughed…it all fit.

And here is the original version written from the ambiance of the Truckee Hotel. A reception room with all the look and feel of the pioneer days and the old west!

Waking Up in Truckee

Last night was ‘Truckee Thursday’. It brought tourists and mountain locals to main street. The town was lively, filled with music and dining and drinking establishments busy. But…this morning was a Hemingway description of a town after the fiesta. The sidewalks were deserted albeit a few locals and shop owners. Delivery trucks with beer and restaurant stuffs were parked in front. The tin rattle of their roller doors could be heard opening and closing. There was the occasional bellow of the trains too. But, most notable was the air. Cool, clean, soothing to take deep in your lungs. It felt wholesome.

I walked down the broad sidewalks and I, well….I fit the environment with my jeans and Justin cowboy boots. Stopped to get some coffee and croissant but could only muster the coffee. There was a small vitrine with bear claws and sugary pastries but…No Croissants! Back on the sidewalk I laughed. None of that Frog stuff here. No sir!! Just plain ‘mercan grub’. It made me laugh. It fit. I loved it!

The Cycling Tuscan

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