Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Art Assignment (Assembly Line!) and Thoughts on Art


Last year, PBS Digital Studios began a weekly video series called The Art Assignment. It features a little bit of art education, work by a specific artist, and an assignment from that artist. Yes, you as the viewer are assigned to do art. I love this concept!

The truth is though, I am not an artist; I am a writer. But okay, I do consider writing an art form. It's a contradiction, perhaps, but there you have it. My art practice is minimal, and my talent is nonexistent. However, I love art! I love viewing it, learning about it, discussing it, and creating it. (I just set my expectations for quality extremely low for any “art” I try to produce! It’s more about the experience.) I think the potential for art to connect us as human beings is immense. It’s kind of how I feel about writing and reading, come to think of it.

My desire to complete an Art Assignment finally came to fruition last week with Bob Snead’s Assembly Line project. Here’s the assignment:




While visiting my sister in southern California, I wrangled her into helping me come up with a project for this assignment and talked my nephews into joining us on the assembly line. We had a few specific considerations when trying to decide what object to create. We didn’t want to spend a lot of money on materials. I wanted to pick something that would be fun for the boys, but not frustrating. We also had a limited amount of time.

These considerations speak to the challenge that I call Fitting Art into Real Life. For those of us who are not artists, we have to remind ourselves that creating our art is still valuable. There are always dishes to be washed, snow to be shoveled, dogs to be walked, or weeds to be pulled. That’s life. And it can be hard to justify setting aside those obligations for something that may seem silly or trivial. But creative exercises are not trivial. Besides, I’d wanted to do The Art Assignment for a year; it was time to make it happen!

We settled on making beads out of paper. It was simple, but produced beautiful results. I found myself wondering about whether this was really considered “art.” We found instructions for the beads on several youtube videos, making it not exactly an original idea. Also, most of these youtubers considered themselves “crafters.” Was our project more of a craft?

After consulting The Oracle with the question “What is the difference between art and craft?” I learned that it is apparently a long standing debate. Ultimately, it sounds like it is up to you as the artist (or artisan) to decide if your work is art or craft. I found this excellent lesson by Laura Morelli, titled “What is the Difference Between Art and Craft?” 



I was struck by some of the things she discussed that Art Assignment curator Sarah Urist Green had talked about in the Assembly Line video. They both started with Leonardo da Vinci as their example, and Morelli’s discussion of the changing definition of art in history sounded a lot like Urist Green’s discussion of master artists working with apprentices to produce their work. It sounded to me like a “craft type” art project was a perfect choice for the assembly line assignment!

These are the steps we came up with:

1. Cut paper strips from old magazines, narrower on one end and wider on the other end.
2. Roll a strip around a bamboo skewer and glue the last bit so the bead stays together.
3. Paint the outside with Modge Podge to make it shiny and durable, and place it on the drying rack to dry. (I made a drying rack by stabbing toothpicks into a pizza box.)

We had four people and only three jobs, so I figured two people could roll the beads since that was the slowest job. Our first challenge came when both boys wanted to paint the Modge Podge on and neither wanted to roll beads. Once I realized how quick it was to cut the paper, I just did that first. Then my sister and I rolled beads while the boys painted.










Our assembly line was not exactly a machine, which made it all the more satisfying that we were able to do this project. One of the boys went back and forth between our project and the kitchen where he was making chocolate chip cookies – very important! My sister had to depart temporarily in order to create and send out birthday invitations for one of the boys – also important. Hey, this is Fitting Art into Real Life, and we rocked it!

Once our beads were done and fully dried, we discovered that we loved them. I especially loved the texture of the shiny Modge Podge after it dried, and the sturdy yet somehow delicate feel it lent them. My sister loved the way the various colors came through and made each bead distinct. 





What I really love about The Art Assignment is how it gets you not only to become an artist yourself, but how it encourages involvement. Even if you don’t create art, there are so many opportunities online to interact around the art. There is online discussion, sharing, inspiration, and learning. My mom worked for 30 years as a docent in a museum, and her talent was getting the kids involved. She knew that learning and remembering happen best when we are doing something – interacting with the art as much as possible. I know this happens in classrooms all the time, but most of us aren’t art students. I love how The Art Assignment has made the world, both online and offline, their classroom and has invited anyone to participate.

These thoughts were on my mind when my sister, my dad, and I went to The Getty Center the following day. Laura and I arrived early and were greeted by Aristide Maillol’s “Air,” a nearly empty plaza, and an invitation to pose for a photo with the statue. Talk about interaction with the art!





I handed my phone off to my sister, and dived in excitedly to pose for a picture. Clearly I should have spent more time examining the art, because my pose is way off. Ah well. Because of this, I can now recall with perfect precision the position of the left hand in “Air.”




Posing with a statue in a museum is the kind of thing I have never done before. It feels so inappropriate. Disrespectful. But somehow, being invited by the museum itself took all that away. I loved imitating the floating lady and posting my photo to twitter. 

My favorite part about the Getty is the architecture and grounds. I recall it vividly from my one previous visit to the Getty – the year it opened in 1997. This time, I spent a lot of the day taking snapshots of the buildings and views. The two exhibits where we spent most of our time were the Josef Koudelka exhibit, “Nationality Doubtful,” and J.M.W. Turner’s “Painting Set Free”. There is something very powerful about viewing a large body of work from a single artist, and both of these exhibits were captivating.

One thing that stood out to me when I looked around a room full of Turner’s paintings was how every single one had a prominent bright spot of light more or less exactly in the middle. This was the sun, or the light coming from a diffused sun. For me, it overshadowed everything else about the works, but I loved it. It left me with a lot of questions.

When I arrived at my dad’s house later that day, I took this photo, which I thought looked very much like a Turner painting:




While I still wonder why Turner saw light the way that he did (The curator theorized it was related to developing cataracts in his later years!), I realize that seeing his work affected the way that I see light now. In the same way that you bring your own life experiences to your interpretation of a piece of art, good art will in turn influence the way that you see the world.

Both our project from The Art Assignment and our trip to the Getty got me to interact with the art. They were fun and thought provoking, and I can’t wait for my next artistic opportunity. What will the Art Assignment give us next?


Bonus pictures from The Getty, because I just can't help myself! 









Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A Lap Around the Lake: How to Run the Entire Tahoe Rim Trail



The shores of Lake Aloha in the Desolation Wilderness

In late July of 2014, I set off on a 172 mile adventure with four friends. Our goal: run the entire Tahoe Rim Trail.

In contrast to the lately popular notion of FKT’s, we called our attempt “Hotels and IPAs.” We spent four days running, and at the end of each day rewarded ourselves with hot showers, good food, beer, and beds. We didn’t need to do this thing in a single push, and we didn’t need to fastpack it by carrying camping gear for our stops along the way. The Tahoe Rim Trail is fairly well suited to travel in this non-hardcore manner, and I was all about it!

This article serves two purposes. First, it is a narrative of my personal experience on the trail last summer. Second, I hope it can serve as a resource for others wanting to complete the trail themselves. It was an incredible experience, and I encourage anyone motivated to give it a shot.


Trail Basics:

Distance: 172 miles. This is according to the GPS readings of several of my running partners on the trip. (Thank you, Joe and Tyler!) The official distance reported by the TRT Association is 165 miles, but there have been several changes to the route since that number was established.

Terrain: The trail travels through a variety of terrain, including forest, open meadows, granite lake basins, and exposed ridge tops. The trail itself is nearly all single track and varies from smooth, pine needle-strewn paths, to sandy trail, to rocky and technical terrain.

Weather: Due to the snowpack, the entire trail cannot typically be completed before July. Usually snowfall in October becomes prohibitive, making the best season July – September. Weather in July and August is usually ideal – sunny and dry. However, it is the mountains, and you should be prepared for severe weather at any time. As you will see, we encountered some pretty serious thunderstorms on our journey. Weather in September can be colder and less predictable.


Trail Preparation:

Group Communication: This trip was planned by friends of mine who graciously invited me to join them. Our fearless leader, Chris, did a great job of making sure we were all on the same page long before we started down the trail together. We all knew the logistics for each day, exactly what gear we should bring with us, and guidelines for our time on trail which covered topics like pace, not leaving any runner behind, financial commitment of each of us, and safety. Establishing all the ground rules up front and giving everyone a chance to help create them put everyone’s mind at ease and gave the trip a better chance for success.

Fitness and Experience: You should be a fairly confident ultra runner to complete this journey. You do not have to be fast! Preferably you should have solid experience running 50 miles or farther, and some experience with back-to-back long runs. We had a wide variety of experience and speed in our group, but it worked out great because we were clear up front that we would take all day to complete each day’s mileage. In other words, we’d be going slow and stopping for a lot of pictures – absolutely the way I wanted to do it! You should also have some experience with and/or knowledge of wilderness travel – how to stay safe and how to respect the environment. (For some background on this, here are two articles I wrote for iRunFar, the first on wilderness safety, and the second on wilderness ethics.)

Logistics: We took four full days to run the trail, starting from Echo Summit and going in a clockwise direction. There was definitely some thought put into this decision, and if I repeated this trip, I think I would do it exactly this same way. We had the luxury of having family and friends to crew us, but you could certainly do it without that. Here’s the breakdown of our daily mileage and crew points:

Day 1: [51.2 miles] Echo Summit to Tahoe City. Crew at mile 33 – Barker Pass.

Day 2: [39.4 miles] Tahoe City to Mt. Rose Highway/Tahoe Meadows. Crew at mile 20 – Brockway Summit (Hwy 267).

Day 3: [42 miles] Tahoe Meadows to Kingsbury South. Crew at mile 23 – Spooner Summit (Hwy 50).

Day 4: [39.6 miles] Kingsbury South to Echo Summit. Crew at mile 23 – Big Meadows TH (Hwy 89).

This plan worked well for a few reasons. First, it gave us obvious and easily accessed start/finish points and crew points. It had us running a similar amount of mileage each day, with the exception of day one. Running Echo to Tahoe City was a great choice for day one because it gave us the longest day with the freshest legs. The first 25 miles of that day also covered the most technical terrain. Again, it was great to tackle that part with fresh legs.


Overview Map from TahoeRimTrail.org


Gear: The following list is directly from Chris’s gear list, with notes by me.

Hydration pack with minimum 70 oz bladder (I would suggest more water capacity if you are going with no crew.)
Nutrition of choice
Cell Phone
ID, emergency contact (Additionally, we had EC numbers for each member of our group entered into all of our phones.)
Water treatment (Having everyone bring their own turned out to be a great idea when two of our filters failed!)
Waterproof map and compass (Again, each person should have their own in case anyone accidentally gets separated.)
Rain shell (I carried a waterproof shell on the first two days and was mighty glad I had it on day 1. After that, I just carried a windbreaker because the forecast was for clear skies.)
Change of clothes/extra layers (I carried a long sleeved shirt, a hat and gloves, and used them all. I also carried a slightly warmer mid-weight layer which I used on day 1.)
Sunscreen, bug spray
First Aid kit
TP (Don’t forget extra ziplocks to pack out your trash in a sanitary manner!)
Headlamp (On day 1 we’d be fighting daylight, and it was still an important emergency item for the other days. You never know how long you could be out if you get lost or injured.)
Emergency blanket, whistle


Our Team:


Halfway through day 2. Clockwise from left: Curt, Joe, me, Chris, Tyler (Photo: Chris Perillo)



Chris - Our fearless leader in the planning department, and the only member of the group I had spent any real time with prior to the trip. Earlier in the year we had traveled to, shared many miles, and crossed the finishline together at the Lake Sonoma 50.

Joe - A super laid-back guy, which belied his badass ultrarunning resume.

Curt - Super fast at the short road races and fellow teacher with a psychology B.A. We found plenty to talk about.

Tyler - (AKA "Bubble Water")The youngster of the group and my super awesome roommate. She and Curt both came into this adventure with 50 miles as their longest run they'd ever done, and they both finished with no problem!


Our Story:

Our run took place July 29 – August 2, 2014. Heading into it, I was pretty uncertain about my fitness. I had come out of the San Diego 100 in early June injured, and I had just begun to crawl my way back into shape in mid July. I ran the TRT 55K on July 19 as a final test. It went well and I came away feeling uninjured (though terribly sore!). The trip was a go!

All of the “drop bags" were given to me a few days before the start. These bags contained all our clean clothes, toiletries, and extra food for the other three days on trail. Since I lived the closest (25 minutes from Tahoe City), my husband Andrew would make sure these bags got to our hotel in Tahoe City before we did on day one. After that, the bags were transferred each day to the family member or friend who was crewing.


Day 1 [51 miles] Echo Summit to Tahoe City

I met up with Chris, Curt, Tyler, and Joe at Echo Summit, on the south side of Highway 50. Another friend, Antonio, also joined us just for this first day. There are no facilities at this trailhead (no water, no bathrooms, nada) but Chris had verified with the TRTA that we would be allowed to leave our cars parked there for the duration of the trip.

It was still dark, but the sun was just starting to give light to the surrounding mountains as we set off down the trail with excitement, smiles, and 30 miles worth of water. By the time we got to Echo Lakes Resort, a mile or two down the trail, it was full light out, and time to make use of the resort’s bathrooms.

We would be traveling through the Desolation Wilderness for a good portion of the day, and here is where we filled out our wilderness permit. It’s simply a self-service stand, fill out the form, no fee, drop half in the box and keep the other half with you.


Tyler, on the rocky trail through Desolation


Beautiful but technical trail made for slow going. (Photo: Tyler Lopez)


The 20+ miles from Echo Lake to the Velma Lakes are some of the most beautiful miles of the TRT, and a section I have run many times. The granite lake basins hold a stark beauty very different from the long views or dense forest of other trail sections. Still water mirrors surrounding rocky peaks while bright pink penstemon thrusts itself out from cracks in the mottled granite.

We moved along Echo Lake to wide open Aloha Lake – my favorite. Susie and Heather Lakes followed shortly after. We jogged cautiously on the technical trail, and we got to know each other at a similar pace. Chris was the only member of our group I really knew, and I enjoyed the distraction of the easy chit chat that comes with the standard questions about family, work, lifestyle, and childhood.


Joe, Curt, and Chris on the trail along Heather Lake

We regretfully passed by many lakes without stopping before heading up Dick’s Pass. This was simply the one day we wouldn’t have time for the luxury of swimming. We had over 50 miles to cover, and we knew we would need most of our 15 hours of daylight to do it. Ironically, the first part of this day also offered up the best and most numerous lakes.


Making my way towards Dick's Pass (Photo: Chris Perillo)


The TRT and the PCT are one and the same through this section, until several miles past Barker Pass. There are many trail junctions, but they are all signed, so we just made sure to follow the PCT markers.

By 9:30 we were on the switchbacks climbing the pass, which tops out at over 9,000 feet. The steady pace of an extended climb and the accompanying increase in breathing put an end to the conversation. My brain rested comfortably in a whirl of its own thoughts as my legs climbed upward of their own accord.


Trail Break! Tyler, Antonio, Chris, Joe, and Curt

The truth is, I was torn. It had been a tumultuous and emotional time at home, and I felt guilty for the self-indulgence of being out on the trail. Should I be home with my husband? Would that make things easier? Or maybe harder? These thoughts danced around in my head even as I gloried in the surrounding beauty.



Susie Lake

Desolation Wilderness

Climbing Dick's Pass


By the time we got over the pass and descended to Lake Fontanillis, it was 11:00. We watched the clouds move in and discussed the possibility of thunder storms. Our normally dry mountains had been hit by a relentless daily barrage of thunder and lightning for the past two weeks, and the forecast called for the same today. It seemed too early for any developing storms, but by 11:30 we heard our first solid clap of thunder that I could no longer write off as “just a passing airplane.” I gave a hearty laugh and grinned at Chris when I heard it. I was just glad we were off the pass!

I’ve been caught in some pretty nasty lightning storms before where I was not a happy camper. The one benefit of that is that I felt like I had a lot of perspective. A storm would have to get pretty bad before I got really scared. I also knew that the rest of our day, another 25-30 miles, would not take us above treeline on any high, exposed ridges or mountains. I’d packed my rain shell, and extra layers, and I felt prepared.

So, as the thunder claps got louder and closer, and the rain poured down around us, we just kept running. The beautiful thing about a lightning storm is its immediacy. It forces you to be in the present moment. No longer was I worried about personal tragedies back home. I was here and now, and that was all.

Although it had been quite warm all morning, I paid careful attention to the temperature. I remember a vivid experience from many years ago in the wilderness of steamy-sauna heat, letting a thunderstorm soak me because it felt so good, a drop in temperature, an increase in wind, and sudden hypothermia. This time, as soon as I felt that slight breeze and that slight drop in temps, I stopped to put my rain jacket on, and everyone else followed suit.

The trail went from bone dry, to muddy, to a complete river in about 15 minutes. When it started hailing, all we could do was laugh. Although the thunder was loud, I could tell it wasn’t insanely close. I didn’t feel in danger of getting struck by lightning.


Hailstorm!

Tyler in the storm. We kept seeing light spots in the sky like this, thinking the storm was passing, but it basically followed us north on the trail.


It was at about this time that we ran by a group of seven or eight young backpackers desperately huddled under a hastily pitched rain tarp. They were singing, laughing, hooting, and hollering. I think they were cold, but they were okay and still having fun. Not taking a picture of them was a huge mistake!

We had somehow missed our planned water refill at Middle Velma Lake, and a few in our group were in need of water. I felt pleased with my companions for having no compunction about consulting the map in the middle of a downpour. Finding your next water source is important!

We kept thinking the storm was moving past us, but there was thunder nearby for a good hour or more, and rain for long after that. The temperature definitely dropped, and eventually I even slipped my jacket off briefly to put on my warmer, long sleeved layer under it. I was also wearing gloves. Mid-day in late July – who’d have guessed? Score one for preparedness!

This time of year, most streams marked on the map are dry, so we wouldn’t find water until Richardson Lake, about 5 miles before our planned resupply at Barker Pass. The irony of needing drinking water while soaked in a rain storm was not lost on me, but I also had plenty of water in my pack, so I guess I wasn’t too worried about it.  When we did make our stop to refill water, we were also glad that everyone had their own water treatment, as several of our water treatment devices failed.



Richardson Lake after the storm. (Photo: Chris Perillo)


By the time we reached Barker Pass around 3:30, the rain had stopped, and the skies had partially cleared. Our friend Erik met us with a resupply of water, a bag of PBnJ’s, and cans of the best possible aid station food: Pringles and Coke. It was a break that was a life saver, mentally. After the salt and sugar, I felt ready to tackle the remaining miles in to Tahoe City.


Crew stop at Barker Pass: Curt, Joe, Chris, Antonio, Tyler, Me

Evening light on Page Meadows


We debated the mileage we had left to run for the day, as the map and the trail signs said different things. In the end, it didn’t matter, and we knew it. We’d get there when we got there. I only hoped it would be before dark.

The last five miles of downhill, I was back on very familiar trail, and it propelled my reluctant legs forward. The late day light through Page Meadows was the only enticement to stop for pictures. After that, it was "head down and bring it home."


Tyler, Curt, Antonio, Me, Joe (Photo:Chris Perillo)


Tahoe City is the easiest stop logistically, as the trail goes right through town, and the hotel was walking distance. Andrew, who had already dropped our gear at the hotel, met us at the grocery store where we picked up beer and a few other supplies for the next day’s breakfast. Since it was so late, and we knew we needed another early start the next day, we opted to order pizza and eat at the hotel. No place would deliver that late (9:00) on a Thursday night (Seriously, Tahoe City, you are such a sleepy little town!!), but luckily Andrew had a car to pick it up for us.

Seeing Andrew also put my mind at ease regarding being out on the trail. He reassured me that everything was fine at home, and he was genuinely excited for my adventure. After that, I knew I was doing the right thing, and was able to enjoy the rest of my time in the wilderness without question.

A hot shower, 3 slices of pizza, and 1 ½ beers had me relaxed enough for sleep that was made still slightly restless by my aching legs. The alarm would go off at 5:30 the next morning.


Day 2 [39.4 miles] Tahoe City to Tahoe Meadows

Morning came way too early, and my legs felt incredibly stiff. Tyler and I laughed, as we each rolled out of bed with a similar groan. I had never before followed a 50 mile day with a 40 mile one, (not to mention what would come after that), and I wondered what lay ahead. As our group walked down the street together heading toward the trailhead, I think we were all in a similar state.

The first several miles of trail climb up out of Tahoe City, and I can honestly say I felt like crap. A fake Starbucks frappuccino-in-a-bottle just hadn’t cut it for this caffeine addict. My legs felt like lead. The view, however, was incredible. Beauty and pain – such constant, and wonderful, wilderness companions.


A pause to enjoy the view in the morning light on Day 2.



We distracted each other from the discomfort with more shared stories, and the day heated up as the sun rose high. Fortunately, most of this section to Brockway Summit was shady. There is also almost no water between Tahoe City and Tahoe Meadows, barring the fairly icky Watson Lake at about mile 13, so if you don’t have crew, this would be a day to arrange a water stash at Brockway.

There are one or two unmarked turns through this section, but fortunately Chris and Tyler, along with our friend Chaz, had run it as part of their training and scouted the correct route.



Tyler and Curt run through shaded forest on the first half of Day 2. (Photo: Chris Perillo)


Chris’s wife Natalie was crewing for us at Brockway Summit, and having that halfway point as a goal was wonderful. When we got there, I was overheated, dehydrated, and exhausted. Much to the amusement of my companions, I drank an entire Mountain Dew and followed it with a full can of Coke. Heaven.



Chris and Tyler enjoy a crew stop at Brockway Summit. Antonio showed up again to share just a few miles!


As we headed in to the second half of our day with more exposed terrain, we nervously watched thunderheads form in the distance. Our concern was this: The forecast again called for a chance of thunderstorms, and we’d be reaching the 10,000 foot high point of the trail, Relay Peak, near the end of the day – just when the storms could be reaching their full potential.

My energy was low, but I was keenly aware that my injury from earlier in the summer did not seem to be flaring up. The gratitude for my good health sustained me when my poor fitness could not. I was down to simply putting one foot in front of the other, letting the presence of my friends pull me up the mountain.


Chris and Curt on the climb.


The clouds moved in to give us a break from the relentless heat of the Sierra Sun. We heard a few quiet rumbles in the sky and felt a few cool sprinkles, but any serious thunder cells remained distant. We felt triumphant at the summit: The high point of the trail, and approximately halfway on our journey.


Chris, near the summit with the clouds rolling in.

Me, contemplating the view. (Photo: Tyler Lopez)



Only five or six miles of downhill lay in front of us to the day’s end at Mt. Rose highway. My legs were trashed though from the previous 85 miles, so I proceeded gingerly. Eventually, I found myself with Tyler, picking our way down the trail and sharing stories while the boys cruised ahead. The beauty of the waterfall on the Mt. Rose trail, along with the knowledge that we were nearly finished for the day, was enough to keep us both smiling.



Photographing the waterfall. (Photo: Tyler Lopez)


Waterfall!


Mt. Rose Meadows on Highway 431 is quite a ways above the Lake and the closest town of Incline Village. Tyler’s friend Kevin was there to pick us up and bring us all back to a cabin we had rented for the night in Kings Beach for a very reasonable rate. Once there, we lined up for the shower, and Natalie served us all awesome homemade enchiladas. Washed down with a few choice micro brews, of course.

In retrospect, that second day was definitely the hardest for me. Starting the morning with sore and tired legs, knowing I still had over a hundred miles left in the journey, was even more of a mental challenge than a physical one.


Day 3 [42 miles] Tahoe Meadows to Kingsbury South


Morning at Tahoe Meadows







On day 3, I discovered my breakfast of champions: A real cup of coffee and a few Advil. You will not catch me taking Vitamin I during a race, when I am frequently pushing my limits. I am too aware of the potential risks. But at this trip’s modest pace, and with these sore legs, I felt okay about it – especially after I felt so awesome that morning!
The trail leaving Tahoe Meadows is smooth, mellow, and beautiful. We were in high spirits, running, joking, and enjoying the soft morning light. We made great time, and were soon on trails familiar to most of us from running the Tahoe Rim Trail races. All the way to Spooner Summit the miles seemed to fly.



Lupine along the trail.



Tyler and Chris



Joe makes the climb up to Snow Valley Peak.





Kevin met us at Spooner at about mile 23 for a refill of liquids and snacks. There had been water available from a pump at Marlette Campground about 13 miles in, but that had been a bit early to refill. I have to admit, the crew stops were a great way to break up the day.

The second half of day 3’s journey consisted of trail with which I was mostly unfamiliar. I didn’t quite have the pep in my stride that I’d had all day, but I had the motivation of knowing we were getting closer with every step.


Lunch break! (Photo: Chris Perillo)


We’d been treated to jaw-dropping lake views for most of the day, and now we paused to take it all in. I looked across to the Desolation Wilderness, where we’d been just two days before in a roiling thunderstorm. Today, there was nothing but blue sky.

“Wow,” I remarked to Joe, “Did you notice that every single stretch of mountains that we can see around this entire lake is one that we’ve already run?”

He nodded, grinning.

“There are the peaks of Desolation, where we started,” I went on, my arm pointing across the lake. “There’s Tahoe City. There’s Mt. Rose where we finished yesterday, and there’s Marlette Peak and Snow Valley where we ran today.”

“That is awesome,” Chris agreed, joining us.



Seeing how far we'd come.

Tyler



We knew we still had ten miles or so to run that day, and another 40 the next, but it felt like nothing. Seeing it all laid out before us like that, every mile we’d traveled so far, it seemed hard to believe. We were thrilled not only at having come so far, but at simply being in the wilderness with friends and covering ground. There is something almost magical about running a loop trail and being able to see exactly where you’ve been and exactly where you’ll end up.

At the end of the day, Kevin was there to give us another ride from the trailhead to our hotel in South Lake – about a 15 minute drive. We celebrated our last night feeling slightly out of place at the Stateline Brewery, which was teeming with well-dressed tourists. I had never realized high heels and North Face jackets were such a fashionable combination.


Day 4 [39.5 miles]

Getting out of bed on our last morning was just as hard as it had been the previous two. My legs ached and sleep had been restless. The group consensus was that none of us had slept well for most of the trip. No matter, though. The last day was upon us.

Forty miles is a long way, no matter how you slice it. One would think it especially long with the knowledge that we had already run over 130 on this journey. Truthfully, though, we weren’t the least bit intimidated. We arrived at the trailhead full of energy, flush with confidence. It felt like the beginning of our victory lap.

Kevin and our friend Chaz joined us for this last day, and their enthusiasm and fresh legs somehow added energy to our tired ones.







The tentative getting-to-know-you questioning of the first day had long since given way to joking, teasing, and deeper conversations. A story from Curt about a friend’s suicide and one from me about my mother’s struggle with ALS were shortly followed by the insistence that Chris and I still needed nicknames.

The other three had earned their nicknames early on. Tyler was “Bubble Water” for the beverage she preferred to beer. Joe was “It’s Runnable” because that’s how he assessed nearly every mile of trail, no matter the steepness. Curt earned the name “Moving Time” for keeping an obsessive eye on his Garmin and constantly apprising us of our pace. Chris and I remained undistinguished.





The trail headed far south of Lake Tahoe that day, and we were instead granted views of high desert terrain in the Washoe Valley to the east before heading back into forest and exposed alpine climbs. Curt’s wife Leia crewed for us at the Big Meadow trailhead, and after that, the whole thing just seemed like one big party. We marveled at the lack of any serious problems on the trip, and spent our last 15 miles celebrating our success.


Departing the Big Meadows trailhead for our final 15 miles.

“My legs actually feel pretty good today!” I observed, puzzled, as we ran along.

“Oh yeah?” prompted Chris.

“Yeah. I felt the worst on our second day, and wasn’t totally sure I could make it, but now I feel stronger.”

“It just took 3 days for your body to realize this is the new normal.” Chaz explained. “Now, it’s like ‘Okay, I know what’s up. Let’s go!’”

Ridiculous logic, with which I was in total agreement.



Chaz and Carrie at Round Lake

Arriving at Round Lake, we took time for our only swim of the trip. Our friend Carrie showed up to join us after running in from the trailhead at Echo. Chris, having just earned his nickname of “Candy Nuts” dubbed me “Pippi Porn.” Lovely. There was no arguing my way out of that nickname though on such a beautiful, triumphant day among such fun people. Our overheated bodies basked in the cool water of the lake, and our spirits soared.


Me, Chris, Tyler. Joyous at Round Lake. (Photo: Chris Perillo)



Goofing around in the final miles.


(Photo: Chris Perillo)



The last couple of miles to Echo resumed the technical, rocky challenges of Desolation Wilderness. The downhill was difficult on trashed legs, and we each took it easy at our own pace.

Within a few hundred yards of the trailhead, we regrouped so that we could have our final, triumphant run in together. Chaz and Carrie had run ahead so they could photograph the moment. There was only one problem. Where was Bubble Water??

Tyler and Kevin had dropped back together, so we waited for them. And waited. Had we been too hasty in our celebration of no problems? We finally connected with them via text to learn that they had missed a turn but were now back on course and would be there soon. Whew!

After that, it was nothing but ear-to-ear grins. We celebrated at the trailhead with pictures, beers, and Pringles.






The Fab Five at Echo Summit. Back where it all began.



To be honest, for a trip that I put very little planning into and almost had to skip due to injury, it turned out better than I could have imagined. The planning and preparation that the other group members put in was certainly one of the keys to our success. I think another key was the positive and relaxed attitude that everyone brought. When you go on an adventure with people you don’t know well, you never know how it’s going to go. I loved the way our personalities meshed, and it comes as no surprise to me that we are now in the midst of planning next summer’s big adventure run together.

Logistics Wrap-Up:

Tips for crew-less runners:

Day 1: There is water available all along the trail. Don't forget to treat your water!It is plentiful until Middle Velma Lake, then you can refill at Richardson Lake, then Ward Creek. Hotels and a grocery store in Tahoe City are right off the trail.

Day 2: Water is sparse. Watson Lake is at mile 13, but the water isn’t great. I would suggest stashing water ahead of time at Brockway Summit. Make sure it is clearly labeled with your name and date, and make sure you pack out your trash! There are no garbage cans at the trailhead, so just flatten the water bottles and strap them to your hydration pack. No excuses for littering! The trailhead at the end of the day (Tahoe Meadows) will require transportation to Incline Village, and back to the trailhead in the morning. There are a lot of options for lodging in Incline. A less expensive, though farther, option is Kings Beach.

Day 3: Water is available at the Marlette Campground, about 14 miles in. Make sure you leave here with a full supply because it is 28 miles to Kingsbury South, with no guaranteed water sources between. You will again need transportation from Kingsbury South trailhead into the town of South Lake Tahoe. Once there, restaurants and stores are within walking distance of hotels.

Day 4: Water is available at Star Lake, Round Lake, the Upper Truckee River, and Showers Lake. As with all backcountry water sources, make sure you treat your water before drinking!




Five pairs of feet X 172 miles = Super tough!

Food: Please do not stash food for yourself ahead of time along your route! There is no place where it will be safe from critters. You can restock your food daily from stores in town.


All the flavors of Aid Station Goodness

Transportation: You can consider hitchhiking, depending on the size of your group, but it is not always easy to catch a ride, especially from lightly visited Kingsbury South. A better option is to call a taxi, or check out shuttlearoundtahoe.com to arrange a ride.


Resources: 

Maps: A great map is the Tom Harrison Lake Tahoe and Tahoe Rim Trail Recreation Map. The TRTA website also has section maps. These are helpful for trip planning, but not as good for navigation as the Tom Harrison map.

Cost: This was a surprisingly low cost trip, although it helped that we all live within 2 hours of the trail, so transportation cost was minimal. We split costs for three nights of lodging, three nights of dinner, “aid station” food and drinks for 4 days, and gifts for our crew. (Breakfasts and trail food we bought individually.) Our total cost was $1,415, which means that, split 5 ways, we each spent $285.

More info: The Tahoe Rim Trail Association runs a great website rife with information, including segment maps, directions to trailheads, and information on water and other resources. tahoerimtrail.org You can also apply to the “165 Club” for anyone who has completed the entire trail. It’s free with membership to the TRTA ($35). Considering everything they do for the trail, and all the information you will get from them, it’s a great organization to support.






If you have any questions, feel free to pose them in comments. I'll do my best to answer or point you in the right direction!