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Tahoe City Kayak

Started: 2021-08-04 21:55:21

Submitted: 2021-08-05 00:03:26

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator goes kayaking on Lake Tahoe

My plan for our camping trip to Hampshire Rocks in the general vicinity of Lake Tahoe called for us to spend four nights camping and return home to Santa Cruz on Sunday. Kiesa wondered if maybe we could leave Saturday afternoon or evening and be back home Saturday night, rather than (we assumed) suffer through heavier traffic on Sunday afternoon. I had figured out that I could block some of the noise of traffic from the adjacent superhighway by using my earbuds as earplugs, but this was kind of awkward and I was happy to leave early, especially since it wasn't really going to cut into any of my serious plans. (By Saturday morning we'd spent exactly three nights camping after three nights in our new house; had we stayed Saturday night we would have spent more time camping than in our new house, which seemed a bit silly.)

I intended to spend Saturday, forecast to be the warmest day of our trip, on the water on Lake Tahoe, so I reserved two double kayaks for late morning at Tahoe City. We packed up the camp site and drove across Donner Summit, past Truckee and up the Truckee River to Tahoe City. Here I discovered that the parking lot next to Commons Beach was full, so I dropped the rest of the family off and went to park a few blocks away. I walked back to the beach, picked up our kayaks and paddles and life jackets, hastily applied sunscreen to my exposed skin, and pushed off into the clear cold water.

As we were pushing off from the beach I asked the kayak staff-person whether there was anything especially interesting we could see on the water, and he mumbled something about a beach somewhere down the shoreline. Even though Lake Tahoe being carved by glaciers in an earlier epoch, the water in front of Commons Beach was shallow; we were a hundred meters from shore before the water was deep enough that I could paddle easily. (We were in open-top kayaks that will float in a couple of inches of water, but it really takes about two feet of water to get a good paddle stroke.)

Julian in a kayak on Lake Tahoe
Julian in a kayak on Lake Tahoe

I paddled with Julian and Kiesa paddled with Calvin. We decided not to take a paddle for Julian, since he couldn't really use one effectively, and I was strong enough paddling that I had trouble pacing myself so Kiesa and Calvin could keep up. We paddled out into the calm water, past the boats moored to buoys in neat rows in the anchorage just off-shore. The clear water stretched for miles across the massive alpine lake, ending at the mountains on the Nevada side of the lake.

Julian, Kiesa, and Calvin kayak on Lake Tahoe
Julian, Kiesa, and Calvin kayak on Lake Tahoe

I remembered to charge my GoPro before heading out onto the water, but it ended up in HDR mode and decided to take multiple exposures in sequence at different apertures and stitch them together, in software on the camera, without an obvious way to unstitch them after I downloaded the photo. I wasn't expecting this so many of the pictures I took ended up with ghostly after-images because I moved the camera during the shot (reasonably expecting that the fancy action camera could handle being moved after taking the picture).

Kiesa suggested I paddle ahead on my own, with Julian, leaving her and Calvin to lag behind (and not have to keep up with me). I paddled along the shore, generally just inside the boats moored to buoys that stretched in neat rows for about as far as I could see along the shore. Docks stretched out into the water from every property; one had a fancy motorized boat lift inside for the people who don't even want to let their boat rest in the fresh water of the lake.

I paddled out into deeper water, where I could still see the bottom in the famously clear water. I pointed out to Julian the large concrete blocks that had been sunk into the water that anchored larger navigation buoys, and the smaller blocks that anchored individual mooring buoys. Here we were outside of the rows of moored boats and the cold clear water stretched out ahead of us, broken by boats of various sizes heading back and forth across the water, occasionally sending small wakes our way.

Kiesa, Calvin, and Julian in a kayak on Lake Tahoe
Kiesa, Calvin, and Julian in a kayak on Lake Tahoe

I found Kiesa and Calvin and we padded into shallow water. Julian jumped out of my boat into the waist-deep water and started towing Kiesa's boat around; then Calvin jumped out and joined the fun. At various times they hopped back into Kiesa's boat and Julian thrashed around with the paddle, sometimes making some headway in the water.

We eventually found our way back in somewhat-deeper water (around five feet deep, just deep enough that I could still stab my paddle into the bottom if I was careful). I divested my life jacket, paddle, and other gear and dropped into the water for a brisk swim around my boat. The water was cold; I swam one (side-stroke) lap around my boat then scrambled back up onto my open kayak deck and quickly dried off in the bright mid-day sun.

Julian pulls Calvin and Kiesa in a kayak
Julian pulls Calvin and Kiesa in a kayak

Back in shallower water, Julian towed Kiesa's kayak past the mouth of the Truckee River where it drained Lake Tahoe back towards Commons Beach. We had almost reached the beach when Julian decided he wanted to go back out into somewhat-deeper water (for him, roughly chest-deep) where he jumped out of the kayak and tried to get back into the kayak without my help. He lacked the upper body strength to pull himself into the kayak and grew tired quickly; I got him to rest long enough to finally make it back into the kayak on his own.

Julian attempts to reenter a kayak
Julian attempts to reenter a kayak

We returned the kayaks on the beach and made our way back to the car to head back towards home. We walked over the Lake Tahoe Dam releasing water into the Truckee River and I glanced at the interpretive signs on the dam before continuing to the car.

Lake Tahoe Dam releasing water into the Truckee River
Lake Tahoe Dam releasing water into the Truckee River

We stopped for a late lunch at the rest area at Donner Summit, then continued down I-80, past our campsite and past Sacramento, then turned onto I-680 to drive through San Jose on our way to Santa Cruz. Our gambit to leave early to avoid traffic mostly worked; we encountered only a minor accident-related slowdown on I-680 north of Benicia. We stopped for supper at Chipotle somewhere in the East Bay (Concord, I think) and arrived back at home early in the evening, with enough time to get a shower and start unpacking and go to sleep in our own beds, after our kind-of post-pandemic camping trip to Lake Tahoe.

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