Saturday, 24 October 2009


We made great time on Friday night, pulling into South Lake only 3 hours after we left Berkeley - a nice change from the usual 5-hour wintertime slog up I-80.

The Paradice Motel had been rated the #1 hotel in South Lake Tahoe by Trip Advisor, and it earned the rep with the most friendly staff ever. Jason and Perrine, a young couple, have decked out each room of an otherwise unimpressive motel with enough Ikea to merit the "boutique motel" status. They also plied us with piles of complementary crap, including bottled Perrier, fruit, candy, chocolates on the bed, and - this is the highlight - a Nature Valley Outdoor Adventure gift pack containing two granola bars, Advil, and....a package of tampons. Because nothing says "outdoor adventure" like being unprepared for your period.

We got back on Saturday evening to find an elephant on our bed, sculpted from hand towels. It's the little touches, really. In case you're wondering, "paradice" refers to the South Lake gambling theme. It took me a while to catch on, too.

On Saturday, we took JK's suggestion, and opted for a hike in the El Dorado Forest off Highway 88. TONS of flaming red and yellow aspen along the way. Leaf peepers, ourselves included, swerved wildly off the road with no warning to stop and take photos. I enjoyed the drive up Carson Pass, in particular, since it reminded me of the Death Ride a few years ago. What had seemed like an interminable climb was over in all of 10 minutes in the hermetic warmth of the Honda Avocado. I was surprised that it looked at all familiar, considering my hypoxic haze the last time I was up there.

The hike - a gradual climb to Round Top Lake - exceeded all expectations. It had stormed two weeks ago, and enough snow remained above 8,000 feet to make for spectacular views and a little route finding hijinks. We had lunch at the lake, then kicked steps up a drainage to summit Round Top itself. Well, not really summit, which would have required some death-defying scrambling, but we poked our heads above 10,000 feet. At the top, I was reminded how much I love the mountains. They make me feel peaceful and exhilarated all at once, in a way, admittedly, that cycling never does. Man, I need to get out there more. Backcountry snowboarding this winter?

In terms of food, South Lake isn't exactly a hotbed of good eats, but we managed to track down three nice spots, and one dud:

Freshies. I have no idea how this place survives, tucked deep in a dumpy strip mall on an anonymous stretch of Lake Tahoe Drive. Across the hall are a pirate-themed store and an insurance agent. I guess incredibly friendly service, a great selection of beer, fresh (but f-ing weird) food, and over-the-top Hawaiian kitsch goes a long way. The menu can only be described as Cali-fusion vegan stoner. Our dinner:
- Potato-quinoa cakes with maple-coconut dipping sauce
- BBQ tempeh taco
- Grilled chicken salad with Italian herb dressing
- Indian spinach salad with curried tofu cubes
- Basil tomato soup
Really, all those things on the same menu is an affront to God, but somehow it works. The place has over 100 reviewers on Yelp and and a 4-star average.

Sprouts. Take Coyote Ugly, turn it into a vegan-friendly sandwich and juice bar, and you have Sprouts. Great organic sandwiches, soups, and salads, served up by cute 20-something girls (and one guy). For lunch I had an excellent egg salad sandwich with yogurt, instead of mayo. Sounds gross, tastes good. Especially with the carrots and red cabbage in there. Also fresh-squeezed carrot and ginger juice. Delicious and virtuous.

Ernie's Coffee Shop. The local's spot. Solid brunch food, with pretty good coffee. My walnut waffle was super light and crisp.

Red Hut Soda Fountain. La Roleurette had a sundae craving, so we stopped here for dessert on Saturday night. We were disappointed to find cheap ice cream served in gut-busting quantities, with SYSCO-brand "chocolate" syrup pumped on top. Nasty stuff. But, hey, the waiters wear those 1950's -style paper hats, so there's that.

Anyway, I highly recommend Tahoe as a fall getaway spot. No crowds, nice weather, easy drive, and actual red and yellow leaves.

P.S. I owe a shout out to Beth over at beth bikes! for her feature of my saddle sore post. Also, she called me "polite" which I'm a sucker for. Beth is Bay Area track racer with a passion for cultivating her bazookas. By "bazookas" I mean enormous powerful thighs. More importantly, she's the first hit when you Google "Michael Ball stalker," a claim to fame we can all aspire to. Thanks, again, Beth!

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