California Alpine & Low Country Boils

This post is retroactive. All events took place on Memorial Day weekend 2021. A half-written post sat in my drafts folder for almost a year, so it’s now time to finish!

I was highly emotional after I got my first shot. After more than a year of relative isolation, I could feel that change was in the air. I didn’t expect such an outpouring of emotion to come at that moment. None of the public health orders really took the circumstances of single people into account. Adding in immunocompromised, it was a brutal year. Doing my part meant staying socially distanced off and came at the expense of severe mental health impacts. It’s tough being alone for so long.

The second vaccination was empowering. There was still so much we didn’t know about the coronavirus but the vaccine was the best medical science could offer. I couldn’t continue the mandated isolation in the same way. The elderly weren’t getting sick after the vaccine so it was time to resume living life again.

For many years, “Tahoe” meant South Lake Tahoe as I had good friends up in the area who were more than generous in allowing me to stay at their place. Recently, I met a new buddy off of Facebook up in Truckee who was interested in helping me explore the area to expand my search more broadly throughout the Sierras. He graciously allowed me to spend Memorial Day weekend in one of his bedrooms that was open. Score!

Now come Memorial day, it seems like the pandemic is all but behind us. I didn’t want to fight massive amounts of traffic on the motorcycle so it was a quick ride of Interstate 80 late on Saturday afternoon after all of the lemmings raced out of the Bay Area. I arrived in Truckee right about dinnertime at one of my host’s dear friend’s house within the Tahoe Donner neighborhood.

I always love it when I’ve quickly transitioned from a stranger into a friend when mingling with new crowds. The host prepared a fantastic “low country boil” that evening! He laughed when I instantly knew of the low country boil. He was from Louisiana and my sister lives in on the south coast of Georgia. I was familiar with the low country boil from time spent with her family and since have cooked a few of my own.

If you’re not familiar, it’s one of the simplest dishes to cook. How do you do it? Ask just about anyone who lives along the southeastern coast in the US.

  • Acquire a massive burner that puts out a lot of BTU’s (fiiiiire as they say it down in the South)
  • Boil lots of water. Add in Old Bay seasoning to taste (I’d start with 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • Toss in 5 pounds of new potatoes. Let the potatoes cook for five minutes after the water returns to a boil.
  • Add in andouille sausage slices and cook for five minutes after the water returns to a boil
  • Add in ears of corn on the cob and cook for 7 to 10 minutes once the water returns to a boil
  • Add in shrimp and watch when they turn pink.
  • Once the shrimp turn pink, you’re done! Dump everything into a colander and serve on a big table!

The evening was a perfect blend of cultures among strangers. People came from all places to experience the juxtaposition of California Alpine and Southern Low Country.

The next day I headed a little bit north and a little bit east of Truckee. That part of California always eludes me as it’s never really on the path to somewhere else. My goal was to reach the absolute end of Highway 49. I’ve traveled all the squiggles out of Oakhurst, through the “Little Dragon”, between all of the different Sierra passes up until the intersection of Highway 89 near Truckee.

Just a few squiggles on Highway 49 remained: from Highway 89 in Sierraville to Highway 70 at Vinton.

This part of California very much feels like the high desert. Most of the area is in the rain shadow of the Sierras. The highway squiggled across the high plains. The weather couldn’t have been better. The altitude kept the temperatures warm but not hot for the new red. To say that this area was desolate was a complete understatement. It really felt like frontier.

As Highway 49 yielded to Highway 70, the ride picked up traffic as Highway 70 is a thoroughfare throughout this part of the state. Upon arriving in the town of Portola, I remembered looking at working at a diabetes camp in the area and had always wanted to see what it was like in person. Portola felt distant from Truckee. All of the Bay Area wealth transforming Truckee hadn’t made it this far up the highway.

Portola is a modest town but just out of reach for the average Bay Area weekender. That extra hour of travel in the summer (and likely much longer in the winter) keeps the city out of town. Just down the road, Graeagle picks up a few more tourists with its quaint bed and breakfasts and great fall color. The California Highway Patrol had a booth at the town’s Chevron highlighting motorcycle safety. It was nice to say hello to the officers, though I wished they had a motorcycle in addition to a squad car on display. I’ve not yet had an official performance award by the California Highway Patrol, I’m thankful for their presence across many empty areas within the state. They’ve got a tough job to do and the mountain districts require all the more effort to cover the vast distances between cities.

It’s tempting to jet down highway 89, but just west of Graeagle lies a true gem, Gold Lakes Road. It’s a beautiful piece of pavement that squiggles along the Sierra Buttes – an often underappreciated part of the Sierras. As I’m often around South Lake Tahoe, I don’t get here is much as I would like. The mountains truly are beautiful with their jagged peaks and just a touch of late spring snow!

As the day was winding down, one pass remained: Yuba Pass. Yuba Pass is a lesser-traveled Sierra pass but clearly technical in its own right. It was a lovely climb up over the mountains even if it’s 2000 to 3000 feet lower than the other Sierra passes to the south. Height does not always equal the technical challenge required to cross over the pass. Ebbets Pass is another great example of this phenomena – as the most technical major pass in the Sierras, it only rises to ~8000 feet.

Today wasn’t a high mileage day and I wanted to use the last remaining bit of sunlight to explore some gentle offloading. Prosser Dam Road snakes along Prosser Creek reservoir and turns to dirt just before you see the water. I’ve got a lot to learn in handling this bike off-road so I try to take gentle opportunities to re-learn the basics off pavement.

Unfortunately, the ride back to the Bay Area wasn’t so eventful. The summer sun was out in full capacity with temperatures rising just above 100°. Traffic was brutal along the 80 freeway so turning south on Interstate 5 seem to be the opportune maneuver. However, traffic again stood still through the Delta foiling my plans.

That being said, it’s always nice to be out on the bike :). Thank you Gus for a lovely weekend! Hope to see you again soon!

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