2014 Summer Cruise: Tucson to Tahoe in an Air Cooled VW – Part 2
I think the thing that is most striking about Lake Tahoe is the color. It almost looks like it’s not real. Like it’s a Frazetta painting or something that you could imagine being in the magical land of Xanthbut it is in fact frekkin real!! To be sitting on a beach with about 60 other hardcore VW enthusiastswatching paddle boarders glide by and listening to the gentle waves rolling ashore is pretty amazing. (Pause so that scene can soak in. Ahhhhhhhhh). Now…let’s talk about how I got here.
First of all the Dubs Around The Lake Cruise has been around for 4 years. The State Route 49 VW group of NorCal organizes and hosts this event. My great friends Jill, Mateo, Sarah, Jefe, Tart, Sandy and more spend countless hours working on this thing. You should stand up and clap…I’ll wait……………………cool thanks.
This is no “baby” cruise. It’s a solid 175-200 mile trip through some of the most beautiful land this country has to offer. You gotta make sure your car is sound if you want to do this. You know….get your brakes checked, valves adjusted, heads torqued, cables inspected, belt tightened, plugs and wires, you know…all that. Doesn’t hurt to have good tires, working indicators, gas (more on that later), and some good quality super funky music. Essentials.
Fortunately I had all of those things (‘cept indicators) so my car was ready to get after it. The drive up to Grass Valley, CA from Tucson, AZ was pretty good. No oil leaks, no real issues of note so my comfort level was high. The morning of the cruise started out with a little coffee and some bagels. I sat with Jill’s son Brock and I watched as the 6’7″ base stealing machine put a bagel out of it’s misery in one bite. He didn’t even get the uncomfortable corner of the mouth cheese deposit. Impressive. We laughed a lot. It was a good start.
Next we all caravaned to the KMart meeting place. Now, I have been on this cruise a couple times before but I knew this was going to be next level big when I got to the KMart. There were already 20 cars there! That’s more than last years total and we knew more were on the way. The gathering is always fun but this year especially for me. I know many people there now. It was so cool to greet people as friends you haven’t seen in a year and get that hug. You see the excitement on faces and feel the energy that you feel when you know you’re around something good. The other side of that is meeting the people that are new to you that will be added to the “friends you’ve missed” list the next year, and there was a bunch of them too!
There was a brief “drivers meeting” where Orchestrator Jill explained the route and gave everyone the low down, and then we mounted up. Now, I was clearly the most lucky as my passenger was my friend and target of my bromance, Mateo. His actual name is Matthew Collins and to explain our relationship…know that I spoke to him every Tuesday for a year because of “Agents of Shield” and old “Bugs Bunny” references. At one point on the cruise Mateo turned to me and said “I wish we had met earlier in life. We coulda had more friend time.” That’s a feel good moment right there.
The line of cars stretched out pretty quickly as we made our way to the first stop. The Grass Valley, Nevada City area is so pretty. The trees reach high into the sky and the groves hug the curves as you snake your way over the countryside. Mateo and I spent the first few miles man-hugging because I gave him an original drawing of his car I did a while back. It was cool. He lit up like a lit up Mateo, or glow worm. After about 25 miles we got to the Highway 20 Overlook.
The Highway 20 Overlook is the first stop on the cruise. There’s plenty of parking, there’s restrooms, there’s a chance to check your car’s vitals and oh yeah….there’s the Overlook! It’s a pretty big platform that we seem to be testing the “foundational” integrity of every year. From the platform you can see out over this huge valley. It’s nothing but trees and trees and trees! For someone from the Arizona desert, this is spectacular….I think it is for people who aren’t from the desert too. Insane. We all packed on to the platform for a group shot. There were jokes about needing mustard sauce and saltines but actually there was still a some room, so you should consider joining us next year. It’s an awesome stop.
The next leg of the cruise was outstanding. I always laugh because if I’m not in Tucson, I’m lost. I have no sense of direction unless I can see the Catalina mountains. On this leg of the Tahoe trip we took 2 turns and I was blissfully lost. Mateo and I had good tunes and we just twisted and turned our way towards a spot called Soda Springs. On the way you go through these areas that feature old structures that look like you could still go in with a bag of gold dust or painted yellow rocks (Bugs Bunny) and buy yourself some carrot juice or a belt of whiskey and then fight with some guy named Bart over cheating at poker. There’s a small river (listen to the desert guy talking about small rivers) that runs alongside the road at times. The whole thing looks untouched by time or technology. I can imagine panhandlers seeing the exact scene….of course they’d be wondering what the he_l 25 weird sounding horseless carriages were doing there, but still…it’s cool. This year they did not schedule a stop at Soda Springs. The cruise did pick up a couple more vehicles there though so our train grew.
So…here’s what comes next. The historically significant, amazingly awesome, spectacularly spectaculousness of The Donner Pass. For those that don’t know,
I saw it on the History channel and I think Richard Roundtree (Grass Valley resident) was in it. Naturally everybody makes cannibal jokes cause it’s easy.
Me: Hey Mateo…I think I’m gonna feed you mayo all the way to Donner Pass.
Mateo: Why Le-momo?
Me: So when we get there I can just eat your leg and cut out the middle man.
As you can see…none of the jokes are funny, but they still get made. This part I can tell you in all seriousness. The Donner Pass Overlook is one of the most outrageously beautiful sights I have ever seen. The bridge you cross to approach the overlook curves viciously around a formation and BAM!! There it is. You can see Donner Lake and down towards the Truckee area from up there and it is breath taking. Almost more breath taking was seeing 11 more VWs there!!! That’s right. The super cool VWs from the Reno area made the drive up to join the cruise. Not only did they have sic rides, they turned a decent sized cruise into a “BIG A_S!” cruise. The overlook and the area across from it were filled with VWs, it was a spectacle. The mandatory group shot got taken and then we mounted up for the next leg.
Leaving the Donner overlook you make your way down a couple steep grades and roll beside Donner Lake into the town of Truckee, CA. Here you really get your first hint of the tourism and recreation level of this entire area. People are renting boating stuff, getting food, lined up beside all kinds of shops and whatnot and waving like mad at all the VWs cruising past. So many thumbs up and peace signs. Lots of pointing and arms being punched. It’s a fun moment on the cruise. Next my sense of direction got obliterated again because there was a couple stop signs and I didn’t know what I was doin, then I saw the Olympic sign for Squaw Valley and I knew where I was. Host site of the Winter Olympics in 1960. Its just another example of the unique things you see on this cruise. My level of excitement increased because I knew what was next…Lake Tahoe!
Now, it’s important that you understand another reason I’m so found of this area. My Dad was a big fan of Westerns and Western TV shows. He would have me sit with him and we’d watch stuff like Bonanza, The Rifleman, Big Valley, Spaghetti Westerns, whatever, for hours and just laugh. Little Joe getting shot in the butt was a national holiday in our home. I really really wanted a Hop Sing sleeping bag….We bought Alpo and didn’t even have a dog!! Coming into Tahoe reminds me of my Dad (R.I.P)…
There’s a little river to the left as you come into the Lake Tahoe area that folks tube down. I always look over there because it’s before you see the lake, but it’s your first look at the color of the water. It looks like their tubing down a Bob Ross painting, and yeah they actually are surrounded by “happy trees!”. As you continue into the area you see cabins and people and little shops but it’s not really crowded, then you see it on the left. It reminds me of the first glimpse of the Grand Canyon on the South side. You see somethin magnificent just for a second and its gone and you’re like “WTF was that?!?!” Then you turn a corner and the Lake opens up to you. It’s a big Lake…not Lake Superior big, but remember I come from a place where the biggest Lake in town is so small you can’t even skip a rock on it. I mean after the first kiss on the surface of the water your rock lands on the other side. Kinda sad actually, so to me Lake Tahoe is pretty frekkin massive. You can see the other side but you can tell it’s pretty far away. The temperature was about 77 so yeah….perfect. For the next 45 minutes or so we just cruised around one side of the Lake. Music was good, laughing, pointing, remembering…fun.
Now…last year on the cruise around the lake there was 18 VWs. That’s a pretty decent number for a 200 mile cruise. We felt pretty good about the vastness of our group until we saw the Shelby Mustang club pass us goin the opposite way. After 10 minutes we knew we needed to step it up to match those guys this year. Turns out they are pretty cool and so this year we had our 38 cars ready to go…then we saw the Shelbys….I think there was 80 of them this year! LOLOL…they are so awesome! Old, New, stock, modified…just gorgeous. It was killer because they were all waving at us waving at them, like they were as happy to see us as we were to see them! Gotta love a group that loves their cars. Gotta love common ground.
On the way to the next stop you climb this hill and you see what is maybe the signature spot at Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay. It was too crowded for us all to pull over but I have seen it before and if you go on this cruise, this is a must see! This is the spot that best illustrates the rich colors I mentioned earlier. This is a spot that makes you feel insignificant. It’s that awe inspiring.
The next stop for the VWs is Pope Beach. I looked up the history of the beach so I could tell you why it’s named that but it was kinda boring so I’m not gonna mention it. Oops. Just know that this is THE STOP! We all parked and grabbed our picinick baskets and found a great spot to just sit and eat and talk. There’s plenty of room and folks set up their respective camps so to speak. The aforementioned sound of the gentle waves rolling onto shore fill the air. The sweet sweet sound of Mateo eating potato salad like a cow wafted like a dump truck on the breeze. Looking around you know it’s a special scene. It’s probably why the cruise waits here for like 2 hours. My buddy Bob napping right by the shorline was a favorite for me this year. You’ll see it at the end of the video below. At this point the cruise actually picked up one more car. We passed a Ghia goin the opposite way and he whipped around and came to join us. Turns out he may play a role in making the event even greater in the future. I’m gonna leave that as a teaser. At this point the official total number of cars went to 39! So…big ups to the SR49 guys. Great job!
After a great meal at Pope Beach we rolled ourselves back to our cars and continued on. Leaving the beach you go through the area know as South Lake Tahoe. There’s more businesses and a few more people and there’s traffic. For bits you are going light to light so the line of VWs got broken up but for the most part, not bad. Once again you see people waving, pointing and punching, and it is a lot of fun. Mateo talked a lot about Caldwell Banker which I didn’t understand, but I nodded like I did cause he has long eye lashes. (Don’t ask).
The cruise continued around the lake and really I’m running out of adjectives to describe it. Once we got to the area named Incline, I got a little more happy. The trees on this side of the lake change in color as well as shape, and there’s a different layout to the landscape. The first time approaching this area I knew exactly what it was. Near Incline is the actual Ponderosa Ranch from the TV show Bonanza. Now if you know me, you know I stopped there 2 years ago and I got to do a tribute pony ride/dance thing for my Dad at the Ponderosa Ranch road sign. The ranch itself is closed these days, but still I got to give a knowing nod and tip of the hat to my Dad. Another very very cool thing that you see on this cruise.
The next leg is unreal. The views of the lake are CRAZY. The color…I mean man….THE COLOR. Wow!! We headed through the more crowded side and left Lake Tahoe behind. The final cruise stop is the Dairy Queen in Truckee. They have Dilly Bars, so life was good. The Reno guys had peeled off and went back their way, but still there were plenty of folks at DQ. It was fun to talk and chill for a minute. Gotta send some more Reno VW love. You guys repped. Very cool.
Last but not least there was a massive bbq and party at Jill’s place back in Grass Valley. On the way there I did run out of gas about 10 miles outside Nevada City. Mateo couldn’t believe it, but I have 11 gas cans for a reason. I know I know….it’s a thing. Anyway the rescue effort was phenomenal. Jimmy K stopped in his Ghia first. He sprung into action like Chuck Norris. George Loveday pulled over in his chase truck, he hopped out like Jean Claude, but the man of all mans was Dann. Dann drives a Herbie replica so he pulled over and took charge. It was like a vanilla Mr. T with less hair and feathers. He had some gas in a can, Jimmy K had some fuel hose. George has a cute wife so that was nice, but Dann was incredible. He siphoned the gas through the fuel hose in one suck!!! He didn’t even spit out any gas! He was like the siphon whisperer! His wife did make a joke about him swallowing which made us all laugh heartily. In any case I was back up and running in 6 minutes and got to witness an amazing feat at the same time. Thanks to all you guys for the rescue. Other than that operator error issue, my Chirco built 1904 was flawless. Another shout out to the mechs in the Chirco shop. You boys rock.
Anyway…I made it to the party and had a beer and recounted the days fun all night long. Best cruise in the country. Period. Now if you want information on this cruise you can visit the cruise event page on Facebook, or you can find them on places like The Samba too. Look them up, get info and bucket list this event.
In the “book” that is my World, this event is a page I read over and over again.
Here’s the little vid I made of the event. Watch that kid recover in the beginning…he’s awesome.
OK…that’s part 2 Augustine. Next part will be the trip home with a couple special guests ta boot. Stay tuned