Ever since I moved to California from Washington State 9 years ago, I’ve been backpacking the Grouse Ridge and Five Lakes Basin area of Tahoe National Forest. Having a childhood in the rainy state where I could climb the pine trees in my back yard and make endless amounts of mud pies, and then being moved to a place of everlasting sunshine, I went through quite the shock.. But after a couple years I began to adapt to the rolling hills and having a National Forest as my backyard. Going through my teenage years when life seemed so ridiculously hard with my dyed dark brown emo hair, skinny jeans and worn out converse, I was able to flee into the mountains with my dad and be at peace with the serenity of the mossy pines and frigid lakes; Tahoe started to become my second home.
How could I know of such a lovely place to rest your mind and not share it with the ones I love? So I did! Me, and 4 other people set off from my new resting place, San Jose, CA, to Tahoe National Forest, a drive well worth the time. We stayed 3 nights and enjoyed every single one of them.
The first day we got there right before sunset.. I immediately jumped into the small lake, and floated on my back with eyes closed, enjoying my proximity to the soul of mother nature. We made an early dinner consisting of lots of bacon and a variety of freeze dried meals. Of course we brought a ukulele and harmonica so music was played, and whiskey was drank. The fire burned, the full moon emerged and my face was smiling.. I faintly recall a light drizzle that night while we slept, but I could be mistaken. Either way, it was a peaceful sleep. Just like every other one spent in the wilderness with no comforting roof above your head besides the mesh of your tent.
The next day we woke up and immediately made coffee and began the day’s adventure. The cool thing about the lake that we stayed at, is that it’s small enough to swim across without getting overly exhausted, and on the other side there are humongous rocks to jump from into the water. After an hour or less, the sun’s strength had begun the battle. We found ourselves thoroughly enjoying the fight.. we basked in the sun’s effort and cooled off by throwing our bodies off of the giant boulders surrounding us into the cool, still lake beneath us.
The wonderful thing (or one of the many) about this particular spot is that it’s an easy climb up these huge boulders, above the lake, and onto a ridge that overlooks it all.
We found ourselves lost in our own minds when the views and realizations that are just a part of the package of wilderness, of how absolutely small we are in the scheme of things, caught our full attention. This was why I wanted to bring these beautiful people, my bandmates, to this particular place. So close to home and everything you know, yet so completely different. So unforgiving.. such a humbling experience to lay under the sun, on a giant slab of granite, being fried in the heat where anything could happen, and no one would know until a week later when search and rescue finally found you.. Unadulterated beauty in every direction.
So, I let my friends take my camera while I wandered off alone across this ridge. I walked barefoot, in a bathing suit and cowboy hat, getting completely sunburnt without realizing for approximately 0.3 miles when I was stopped in my tracks. Down below me about.. 100 feet, there was a large beautiful meadow surrounded by channels of water that went back farther then you would imagine. I immediately began my way down, down, down until I was at the base of a shallow channel. There were lily pads, and the water was brown, but cold as lemonade. I stepped across on the soft grass of the meadow and felt a surge of euphoria being surrounded by lovely wildflowers and small white moths. The experience was indescribably magical.. and at any moment I expected to see a unicorn or fairy of some sort, I swear.
“Guys! Come HERE!” I yelled at the top of my lungs a mulitude of times, but no one responded.
After ten minutes or so of enjoying my aloneness, I saw my friend Jacob on the ridge where I was standing when I came upon the mystical fortress..
We admired the raw beauty of it all and decided to climb on the rocks, and follow the channels farther back. We came across another set of channels and decided, “Fuck it. Let’s swim.”
So, we got into the water that we thought would be upsettlingly warm, but was actually very cold in certain spots. We swam and swam farther and farther back, passed a second meadow, and found ourselves even more amazed at the dragonflies flying away as we parted the lily pads we swam through.
“We’re swimming in black tea!”, we yelled as we swam deeper through the dark brown water.
I was baffled by how far back these meadows and water channels went.. We seriously thought they were never going to end, and we never did reach it. After an hour or so we found our way back to the first meadow, and saw our other friends enjoying themselves.
I pushed ahead, made my way back to camp and took a nap while using my beautiful dog Titan as a pillow. When I woke up, My friends were sitting by me laughing and enjoying themselves which I was happy to see. I opened up the lukewarm beer I brought with me and we all had a wonderful comedown from the day’s excursion. The sun had us beat this time.
The next day we all were so exhausted. I went skinny dipping early in the morning, then went back to bed. We slept in until the sun was far passed risen. All of our bodies hurt from our gnarly sunburns, and we felt pretty drained of our energy. We tried fishing a bit, unsuccessfully then napped until probably 5 or so.. After the nap we all felt pretty much cured and found the energy to swim a tiny bit to cool our skin, and to sip on some cinnamon whiskey. Jacob, my black tea swimming partner in crime, had the coolest idea. He used all the leftover bacon grease, and soaked a cut up pair of boxers in it. He then wrapped the greasy shorts around a thick, live branch he cut off a tree, and that night at sundown, we lit it…