jayellebee's Blog

September 22, 2010

Survivor Northstar

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 9:25 pm

     Warning:  never go hiking with directionally challenged women.  Never, that is, unless you want to have the time of your life!  The names in this posting have been changed to protect the guilty.  If you click on the trail map, it will enlarge to an almost readable size.

                    *    *    *    *

     Ken and I spent the weekend at the Northstar Resort in Truckee.  His dental school class gathered there for its 40th reunion.   Saturday, four of us members of the “First Wives” club connected to enjoy the mountain air and go for a not-too-challenging walk while our menfolk attended their meeting. 

     This may come as a shock, but Northstar wasn’t satisfied just hosting our esteemed group.  Giant Mountain Bike Races were also scheduled for the same weekend.  Telling who belonged to which group as we wandered the village at Northstar was not difficult.  Hint:  not one of the dentists or their spouses sported chest, back, knee, shin, elbow and wrist guards. 

     We  cautious ladies studied our pristine trail map, seeking a route that would keep us far from the thundering bikers, and determined the straight, pink line to Sawmill Lake was just right.  Pink must be for princesses like us, and the change in elevation from start to finish, “Joelle” promised, was only 50 feet.  (Of course, as I look at the map now, wearing my glasses, I see the elevation at the Big Springs Lodge is 6850′, and Sawmill Lake is at 6981′.  But still, what’s 131 feet when you’re in the Sierras?)  Best of all, the map’s hiker logo indicated no bikes were allowed on that perky pink path.

     We faced an unexpected decision immediately upon exiting the gondola mid-mountain.  A sign ahead of us announced guided hikes would begin in fifteen minutes.  Did we want to wait?  I assured my friends I’d spent so much time skiing these hills, I could lead us to Sawmill Lake blindfolded.  I may have neglected to mention how different everything looked without snow, or that I’ve been known to get lost in Macy’s. 

     Bikers streamed past us from the gondola to the Vista Express chair, loading their two-wheeled vehicles of choice onto specially designed carriers for the ride further uphill.  We veered away from them, following a sign meant for winter cross-country skiers to “Sawmill Flat.”  Flat, just the kind of hike we wanted.  Who needed a guide?

     “Pam” extracted her iPhone before we’d gone very far up the dusty trail, remembering one of her kids had given her a new app that would compile data on how long and how far we walked.  She tinkered, falling behind, trying to reconcile the map on her tiny screen with the overwhelming terrain surrounding us.  Joelle mentioned her husband didn’t consider her “tech worthy,” and we spent the next ten minutes laughing about our favorite Seinfeld episodes.  That may have been a mistake as none of us noticed the frequent switchbacks along our path bore no resemblance to that straight, pink line on our map.

     We paused, finally, to catch our collective breath, let Pam catch up, and question whether we were going the right way.  Just then a large group of older women (remember, we ourselves are all sixty-ish) appeared on the trail below us.  “Carolyn” suggested we shift into high gear rather than risk following the slower old gals and eating their dust.  We hi-tailed it up the hill, proud of our youthful energy.

     Breathless, I chided Joelle about her 50 foot elevation change statement.  In return, she asked me why the signs we passed consistently referred to our trail as “Tryumph.”  I explained we were on the Tryumph trail to Sawmill Lake.  The map came out again, fingers traced lines, a leadership coup overthrew me.  Carolyn took charge marching us up, ever up, now two twosomes with an increasing distance between the pairs.

     My phone rang.  It was Pam asking whether Carolyn and I had gone straight or right at the last fork in the road.  We played out a hiker’s version of the old Abbott and Costello skit, “Who’s on First?”   Seems my left looking downhill, was her right looking uphill.  A pair of bikers bent on self-destruction interrupted the confusion.  The crazies raced past us and Carolyn screamed a warning to watch out for our friends. 

     Why were these guys on a hikers-only trail?  As I puzzled this development another source of movement caught my eye.  The Vista chair?  Our trail and the lift were about to cross paths.  Uh oh.

     We regrouped, unfolding the smudged map yet again.  Change of plan.  Time to head downhill before the altitude caused four simultaneous nose bleeds.  Descent discussion touched on bear problems in the Truckee/Lake Tahoe basin, and how to avoid unpleasant encounters.  A strange noise in the brush beside the trail may or may not have been a rattlesnake. 

     Then the bike brigade arrived in earnest.  We hikers clung to the edge of the trail, keeping watch over our shoulders as the endless onslaught of racers passed us.  A siren approached from somewhere below, obscured by trees and dust.  An ambulance materialized out of the haze and wailed on up toward whatever catastrophe had beckoned it.  So much for our quiet walk in the woods.

     Pam and I opted to abandon the trail and its traffic.  Joelle and Carolyn stayed the course.  Minutes later, having lost sight of our friends, Pam and I realized we had the only phones in the group.  Calling each other wasn’t going to help the four of us reunite.  We rounded a bend and saw not only them, but another couple as well.    We asked our new best friends how to get to Sawmill Lake.  The man claimed to have been there and said it wasn’t much as lakes go.  Nonetheless, he helped us find the trail represented by a dotted blue line on Joelle’s crumpled map.  (Wearing my glasses now, I see on the map’s legend a dotted blue line means, “More Difficult – No Hiking.”)  We parted, thanking him as gentlewomen should.

     Instead of the lake, we found a target shooting range.  THERE IS NO TARGET SHOOTING RANGE ON THE MAP!   Defeated, we retraced our steps, coming to a sign that hadn’t been there before.  Carolyn asked if someone could be turning the signs around after we passed them.  Candid Camera came to mind.  I had no idea where we were.

     Another couple came toward us.  Saviors in hiking shorts!  That path right there will take you to the lake, one of the strangers promised.  Trust me. 

     We followed his directions with a sneaking suspicion he might be sending us on yet another snipe hunt.  The probability of whether or not we had already been on this trail — they were all looking pretty much the same by then — dominated our talk.  Then Pam saw it.  Sawmill Lake!  We were above and walking parallel to Sawmill Lake!  The lake was on our right.  We turned the tired map this way and that.  Were we going up this side or down that side?  Were we heading toward or away from the gondola?  A rumble of true concern rocked me.

     Voices reached us through the dense forest.  We hurried toward them.  Our path intersected another, this one rising from the direction of the lake.  The same group of older women we had hastened to avoid hours earlier greeted us with good cheer and asked if we’d enjoyed the lake.   Oh, yes, very much.  They continued along their trail, and we along ours.  For about a minute.  Then, uncommon good sense took hold, and we ran to ask if we might join them. 

     The straight, pink trail they had been following since we last saw them took us princesses straight back to the gondola.  I’ve ridden that lift at least a hundred times, but have never been so happy to see it.  Or the day lodge with its lunch grill beyond.

     Pam’s iPhone app claimed we walked 7.98 miles in 3.7 hours.  Or was it 3.7 miles in 7.98 hours?  Wait.  I know.  We took 798 wrong turns and made 37 bad decisions.  Yeah, that’s what the app was tracking.



  1. This had me in stitches. Sounds like one of my hikes.

    Comment by nina bucchere — September 23, 2010 @ 5:40 pm | Reply

  2. Been there. Done that. Just not there. I hate it when the maps are wrong. Couldn’t have been us. No!

    Hope your are well. When will you be down this way again? Maybe we can have lunch.

    Enjoy the mountains. I’m jealous!


    Comment by Bee Hylinski — September 25, 2010 @ 6:20 pm | Reply

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