***Pee-wee's Big Adventure

This is the adventurous tale of our own Michael Becker, on his last trek, and the support of his lovely wife Kimberly. Around Lake Tahoe - July 23-28, 2007
 
Why Lake Tahoe? Last year, 3 days alone and a couple of days with my best buddy from high school, Bill, who lives in Seattle, I hiked the 100 mile Wonderland Trail - a beautiful trek around glaciated Mt. Rainer, which we plan to do again in 4 days next year to celebrate our 50th year on this planet. The symmetry just seems right. 100 miles divided by 2, 50 year old guys. We both liked math in school, but like so many things, Bill was, and probably still is, just a little bit better at it than I was. And even to this day I have never beat him in a race of a quarter mile or less. Ah, but get us out on a trail and there seems to be some justice restored to the universe as I get to watch him suffer for extended periods of time. Makes me almost want to believe in the old testament of God. But I digress.
 
In my research for the WT, I came across the Thru Hikers Guide to America by E. Schlimmer, whose purpose is to present a brief description of a hike between 100 to 1,300 miles that lie close to every state in the contiguous United States. One of those hikes is the Tahoe Rim Trail. I’d never been to Tahoe, so why not? I visited the TRT association web-site and ordered the book and map they recommended, The Tahoe Rim Trail by Tim Hauserman; a definite must when planning a trip around the lake. It breaks the hike up into 8 sections that vary from 13 to 35 miles. I pretty much followed this plan but skipped 13 miles at section 4 and 17 miles at section 6 and combined sections 7 and 8 into a 50 mile last day. Logistically, it worked out almost perfectly completing the 20-20-23-23-50 mile hikes with only a couple of minor problems, which like Villargrosa, I take complete responsibility for and the pain it caused my family. Speaking of which, we stayed 2 days at a great B&B in Incline Village (no point naming names - it’s being sold as a home for 1.7 mil. A bargain by L. A. standards), 2 days in South Lake Tahoe, and a day in Tahoe City. The plan was to start out fairly early, about 7:30 a.m. , and finish about 1 p.m. except for the last day. This way we could spend the afternoons and evenings relaxing together. And for the first few days with Kimberly, her dad and his wife (as of this writing), Kathleen.
 
The weather was perfect, clear and between 80-85 degrees at the lake. However, the only time you’re at the lake on the TRT is at the beginning and end. Otherwise you’re traversing a predominantly single track trail that lies between 7k and 10k feet; a good sight seeing distance above the 6k ft. elevation of Lake Tahoe. At altitude, early and with an almost constant breeze, I doubt it ever was, nor did it feel as hot as 80. I was also told that typically in summer that Tahoe experiences afternoon thunder showers. Never happened. I’ve once experienced being chased off a trail by a passing storm and was happy for whatever reason (perhaps global warming has some advantages) not to have that happen on this trip.
 
On the trail I carried between 35 and 70 ounces of water supplemented with NUUN tablets, 2 energy bars, and a flask of Hammer gel, which worked out fine except for the last day. On that day, Kimberly met me at Barker Pass, the 32 mile mark, with fresh supplies. The trail itself is very well marked and almost impossible to get lost on. Note - I said almost. I did manage to get lost on the last, make it longer, day. The trail, though it has its challenging ups and downs, also has surprisingly long stretches of level miles. Also, surprisingly, despite the great weather and it being the middle of summer, it was lightly traveled - maybe 10 hikers/ mountain bikers/ a few horseback riders a day except for the last day with maybe more than 30 hikers and no bikers/ horses out on the trail. And even during that last day there were long stretches of solitude. Not that I don’t like people, but they’re always the scariest and least predictable creatures out there, so the less of them you run into the more relaxing it is. Shocking as it was to me, I think for a few people I was the scariest thing out there.I keep up a pretty good pace and twice managed to sneak up behind people. Once I managed to give a quick shot of adrenaline to a female cyclist before she stopped to see that it was an aging, lung scarred asthmatic, overtaking her and not some wheezing bear. The following day I inspired the same pee in your pants reaction from the husband of a couple that were hiking in front of me. From then on, I decided the polite thing to do would be to announce my presence with a “hello” when I got within practical range. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a few other creatures on this trip. An adolescent bear I got to observe for quite a while as he dug out the bugs from a dead log. He was making so much noise and was so focused that it took a while before he got a whiff of me, looked up and decided to run away. A reaction I’ve become accustomed to over the years. The following day a much younger bear bolted up the hillside in front of me. That was a little scary as I figured mother bear must be somewhere nearby and might take offense that I spooked her little one. As I have not, as of yet, been chastised by a bear, nor am seeking out that experience, I stopped, clapped my hands a few times, and listened, then figured the kid was hopefully bolting in the direction of his mom who was safely up the hill and not on the trail, so I continued on my way. Otherwise, just your typical ground birds, other birds, squirrels, and similar rodents. I know a lot of people justifiably take pride in being able to distinguish between all the varieties of plants and animals out there. I’m truly envious, but I can’t even remember my own phone number half the time. I never saw an eagle but heard its distinctive scree breaking the solitude of the peaks. That was a definite highlight.
 
Pictures never do any wilderness experience justice. Not even close with my little digital camera. Like Rainer, The Lake and its dominance of the surrounding landscape is mesmerizing. No picture can come close to communicating that experience. I’d stop and wonder whether I should take a picture or not, and probably could’ve taken a lot more of the view of the lake, but I soon began to realize the experience wasn’t going to translate very well through my camera and I would just be wasting the viewers time. Outside of the Lake, though almost all of the trail was worthwhile, the Desolation Wilderness area in the south west side of Tahoe is particularly dazzling as it is spotted with numerous glacier created lakes. I had to stop stopping and looking and taking pictures of this area as it was my longest day, and having gotten lost, I was already pushing a night time finish. No matter where I am Kimberly is always the jewel at the end of any experience. No matter how late I was or how early I wanted to start, she sent me off in the morning with encouraging words and greeted me with a smile at the finish. Even then it’s not so much the words like, “I’m getting sick of this,” or “Don’t expect me to be looking for your sorry ass out there in the dark,” that would pick me up and keep me going after I stumbled out there, but the unspoken love I could feel flowing between the lines. Speaking of those feelings, on the first day we got our signals crossed and instead of parking and hiking west toward me, she proceeded east and hiked the way I would be going the following day. She must of went out that way for at least a half an hour before turning around. I know because I was waiting at the car for at least an hour wondering where she was, contemplating whether or not I should break into the car. There was food and drink in there and I couldn’t get to it. I have a lot more empathy for the bears at Yellowstone now. When we met we both could’ve blown up and ruined the trip at the very start, but we both realized how pointless that would be. We made corrections in our planning - going over in detail the itinerary every night and morning and deciding on a hiding place for the car keys so if she were away from the car I could get in. That was the only time she wasn’t there when I expected her. Every other day I was late. Twice very late. Once I was able to call and leave a message. The last day I got lost for about an hour and instead of meeting her at 2:30 at Barker Pass, I didn’t arrive until after 4 and without phone reception she was getting pretty worried. Also, due to getting lost, I ran out of water. Thank goodness there was a small streamlet running down the side of a hill allowing me to fill my bottles. I figured at 8k ft. taking moving water off a steep hillside minimized the chances of giardia enough to risk that as opposed to the immediate discomfort and possible further impairment caused by dehydration. Still haven’t caught the bug so I must’ve been right. Now meeting Kimberly after 4 and taking a short break for a Sobe and some chocolate put me at 5 p.m. with 18 sometimes difficult miles to go. She didn’t want me to continue but I promised I’d finish before dark. I was close. I finished at 8:40. She didn’t have to come too far in the dark to find me. I was at the Chevron station where I had started 5 days earlier.
 
Partly because of Ernie, and partly due to experience, I ate very little on the trail. I ate like a king when I finished every day, but otherwise had my usual small breakfast and little on the trail. Ernie had loaned me Dean Karnazes’ book about his ultra marathon experiences before we left. I read some of it every night and coincidentally, was reading the section where he talks about becoming violently ill and puking all over his company’s Lexus after running a 50 mile qualifier for the Western States 100. This was the night before I was going to attempt to run 50 miles for my first time. It inspired me. I vowed what happened to Dean wasn’t going to happen to me. It didn’t. It better not. Though I wouldn’t mind having a Lexus. We enjoyed Tahoe so much that we’re going to try to rent a condo there for a few weeks next August - hike, bike, kayak, whatever. In fact I figure I can fly to Seattle, hike Rainer with Bill, hop on my bike and ride down the Oregon coast, cut over to Medford, get on the train to Reno and have Kimberly drive me over to Tahoe. Rachelle, another member of our trail club, and I share Minnesota roots. And in another hike described in the thru-hiking book, he talks about the Superior Hiking Trail - or SHiT for short, which I’d like to tackle early next summer. I figure the first big hike away from my home state should be in my parents’ home state. Ahhh… the life of a teacher. Damned those little bastards nine months of the year, but at least they pay for some awesome summer vacations. Thank God (well, at least Kimberly does) and modern medicine that we don’t have any little ones of our own slowing us down. I know some of you super parents are capable of it all. Be proud and just keep them sedated on the plane is all I ask. Oh, and before I forget, in no hiking book have I found any mention of a theme song. In some running/triathlon books they mention listening to music and while I would never suggest plugging your ears and drowning out the great symphony of nature, but in training and to psyche yourself up for the task ahead, or just to zone out for a while, pick a theme song. Mine is “Ready Steady Go” by Oakenfold. Its been stuck in my head ever since I saw Collateral (the shoot out in the disco scene - those Asian babes dancing tightly together sneaks in there quite a bit too, but that’s another story). I’ll share it with SAAB, but not with you.

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  • ***Pee-wee's Big Adventure
  • ***Pee-wee's Big Adventure
  • ***Pee-wee's Big Adventure
  • ***Pee-wee's Big Adventure
  • ***Pee-wee's Big Adventure
  • ***Pee-wee's Big Adventure
  • ***Pee-wee's Big Adventure
  • ***Pee-wee's Big Adventure