You Can’t Go Home Again

Since we had to be in North Lake Tahoe on Sunday, my husband and I decided to go backpacking in the Tahoe area this last weekend. We lived in Auburn for many years and spent untold hours in the backcountry around Donner Summit. “It’ll be nostalgic,” I insisted. Bob just rolled his eyes at me. Turns out he was right, as he so often is.

Got a late start on Thursday, mostly because I was working on a short story and also because I had to work at my real job that morning. Yeah, I know I’m supposed to be retired and by next backpacking season I will be, but for now I’m still plugging away a couple of days each week. It was past six when we got to Incline Village. Stopped and had a wretchedly mediocre dinner at a Thai restaurant. If we hadn’t been so hungry, the food would have been inedible.

Moving right along, we got to the Castle Pass road around eight. Fortunately the gate was open. Less fortunately, the meadow where we’d planned on car camping that first night still had a snow slope on its northern aspect and a bumper crop of mosquitoes. To add insult to injury, I’m trying to get the tent set up, batting at bugs and a voice out of the wilderness shouts, “Hello, hello, hellooooo…” Immediately after the voice, a man materializes carrying a lead rope. He’s this wizened old dude and he really likes to talk.
Turns out he’s lost his horse. After listening to him for half an hour—and lending him a flashlight so he could find his headlamp—I, cynical soul that I am, figured the horse was nothing but a delusion and the guy was nuts. I didn’t sleep terribly well because I was wondering if he was a zombie—or worse, an ax murderer. (Hey, writers have vivid imaginations. It’s how we come up with our stories…)

Next morning, we were up with the dawn. I’d planned on backpacking from where we’d parked, but given the new development with the stranger, and all the times my car has been hacked into at trailheads, I told my husband we needed to drive up the road a piece. So we did, but we didn’t escape the campsite without our intrepid sidekick catching up to our moving vehicle, telling us his name and the names of friends in Nevada City. He wanted us to call them, tell them Nikko (the horse) was missing, etc.

Roll the clock forward half an hour. We’re headed up towards Castle Pass having skipped breakfast. It’s still respectably early, say around 7:30. Well, we hadn’t walked for ten minutes when a horse materialized. Bob looked at me and I looked at him and we just laughed, backtracked to the car and loaded up the dogs. The plan was for me to stay with the horse—who’d happily adopted the five of us—while Bob drove down to look for Ed.

Turned out we met Ed walking up the road with his lead rope. So, all’s not only well that ends well, but I looked Ed up on the internet and it turns out that all his fantastic yarns were true. He really is a 75 year old endurance rider who’s completed the PCT on horseback. I gave my cynical self a good, swift kick in the backside and we moved on with our day.

The mosquitoes in the area between Castle Pass and Mount Lola must have taken steroids. I’ve never seen them so thick. We camped on high, waterless ridges to avoid them; and still got bitten. They seemed to thrive on Naturpel. After a day-and-a-half where you couldn’t even stop for a snack without setting up the tent and crawling inside, we gave up and backtracked to the car. Saturday afternoon, we climbed from the Sugar Bowl parking lot to the top of Mount Lincoln. Great view out towards Benson Hut. I would have liked to have had a bit more time since my Benson Hut ghost story will be out soon, but it was closing on dark when we got back to the car as it was.

So, our nostalgic return to Lake Tahoe was really a lesson. Things generally look different ten years down the line and the High Sierra has spoiled me. The mountains are higher and the crowds smaller. I’m humbly grateful to live where I do. And, when you get right down to it, a good working definition of happy is being satisfied with what you have.


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