Ode to South Lake Tahoe

Oh, Tahoe. This is where I came every summer as a kiddo, where I grew up learning to walk barefoot, get dirty, play outside. It’s where I had what seemed to be total freedom so long as I came back for meals, a land of no watches, where time existed (and still exists) only in broad swaths of morning, afternoon, naptime, evening.

And, I’d forgotten until I got here yesterday, it’s where I first learned that I could ride a bike to get myself around sans parents.

main beach bikes(if you look closely at the distant background, you can see the top of Harrah’s Casino, where I worked one summer in college:)

This pile of bicycles was one of the first things I saw yesterday when I walked down to what we call the Main Beach–the beach where everyone in our little Lake Tahoe community, especially those like me who don’t have beachfront property, congregates. The 4th of July here holds many rituals, and one of them is the bicycle parade, where everyone decorates their bicycles and then pedals them triumphantly around the meadows. Ultimately, the parade leads to the Main Beach, where afternoon festivities, beach contests, and general revelry ensue. Which means that the area near the Main Beach becomes a giant pile of dropped-off, unlocked, entirely-forgotten-about-until-picked-up-again bicycles.

main beach bikes2(so many bikes, and nary a lock)

I’d forgotten, until I saw this, the feeling of being little and having my bike up at Tahoe, of riding around all day wherever I wanted to go. (In retrospect, I probably wasn’t actually riding all day, considering there are about 7 real roads here and you can only bike them so many times.) I’d forgotten how I insisted the first bike that I can remember actually going out and buying be a mountain bike, because those 7 real roads weren’t paved. I’d forgotten how we’d bike around the meadows in little free-range, scruffy-kid biker gangs, figuring out how to be in the world.

main beach no parking(no parking–except for millions of bikes:)

Biking in Tahoe was my first taste of freedom, I think, every summer another few weeks where I could be away from my adults almost all day, where I could make my own decisions about how to spend the large hours looming in front of me. It’s no wonder that I go a little bit crazy when I can’t be here during the summer. It’s no wonder that no matter how objectively ordinary this place is, for me it’s still magical. Tahoe, I think, is where in large part I learned to be me.

Does everyone have a place like this? Do you?

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