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I’m back from the trek to California.  I think some of you know I have been out of touch for the past eight days or so while traveling with my guy out west.  It was a great trip, and super to get away.

We left Houston at 8:00 AM on Saturday for a brief layover and plane change in Phoenix before heading out to Reno, arriving there just after noon.  Forty five minutes and a rental car later and we were off.  The route took us over the Sierras north of Lake Tahoe on Interstate 80 and on down through Sacramento before taking Hwy 12 West through the gorgeous Napa/Sonoma wine country.  Our destination was a retirement community located between Sonoma and Santa Rosa.

The trip was two fold for the both of us: business and pleasure.

The first half was almost all business.  My guy needed a few days to handle some personal family business for his aging mother.  It was a lot of work for him, three solid days of spreadsheets and folder after folder of a years worth of finances; he started on Sunday, finishing up on Tuesday evening.  For me, it involved driving down to the Bay Area for a meeting with Shell Oil officials with regards to a project I’m considering.

The drive down to Concord, California on Monday morning was much closer and quicker than I suspected.  It was back East on Hwy 12 before taking Hwy 121 just outside of Sonoma and heading South before intersecting with Hwy 37…to I-80…to I-780…to I-680.  Initially I was going to take I-101 out of Santa Rosa, but a nice “over the fence” conversation with my host’s neighbor on Sunday convinced me of the alternate route.  After a sanity check on MapQuest, I decided to take the neighbor’s advice.  My appointment was at 8:00 in the morning.  Anticipating the Bay Area traffic, I awoke at 4:00 AM, showered and did my makeup…getting on the road at around 5:30.  Guided by a portable GPS, I zoomed through the back roads of the North Bay area…and arrived at the Concord Hilton at 6:35 AM…almost an hour and a half early.  Ugh…  The trip back was much more relaxing; it was mid morning and I took my time driving through the miles and miles of vineyards that saturate the Sonoma valley.  It’s beautiful country, no doubt about it.

On Wednesday, my guy, his mother, and I had a day to kill.  The business was done and we just needed a relaxing day.  The three of us drove out to the coast to  Bodega Bay.  The weather was fabulous and most cooperative.  At Bodega Head, the tide was low and we climbed down and explored the shore.  Afterwards, we drove up the coast on Hwy 1; the view is breathtaking.  We stopped where the  Russian River enters the Pacific  and from the cliffs above watched the sea lions basking in the sun and wallow in the surf.  The day was topped off by dinner at a small but fabulous restaurant in Santa Rosa…Café Europe.  The meal was exquisite.

Aside from my trip to Concord, most of my time was spent hanging out with my guy’s mother.  We got along splendidly.  Starved for conversation as many of the elderly are, she and I talked and talked, carrying on long extended conversations about every possible subject imaginable.  I enjoyed every second of it.  A few years ago I lost my mother and it was very nice to pry at the wisdom older folks have.

Up again at 4:00 AM, on Thursday we awoke, said our goodbyes to my guy’s mom, and hit the road again.  Our destination:  South Lake Tahoe and the  Heavenly Valley ski area.  We passed through the Napa region just at dawn…indescribably beautiful.  Hopping on I-80 we stopped just South of Sacramento for breakfast before continuing on through the city.  Taking Hwy 50 through Placerville, we followed the American River up through the mountains to Lake Tahoe, arriving around 10:30. 

Our accommodations were paid for so rather than check-in and unpack, we headed straight for the ski area.  By 11:30, we had our skis and lift tickets.  Just two ski lifts and a few minutes later and we were poised for out first run down the slopes. 

Snow skiing is, simply put, an absolutely exhilarating sport.  When I was in college I went every year.  Somewhat athletic, I got fairly good at it.  I was not above taking an expert slope now again but stayed almost exclusively to the intermediates, only taking a beginner slope if it was necessary to get off of the mountain at the end of the day.  But, with that said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the last time I went skiing was thirty seven years ago!  Though not in the least intimidated at the prospect of flying down the mountain after all that time, I must admit that I was a bit anxious and nervous.  And, predictably, as I got ready to jump off of the first lift…I fell.  Not a good sign…at all.  The attendant stopped the lift and helped me up in the interest of time.  My guy gave me this look as if to say, “You said  you could ski.”…and slightly rolled his eyes (my guy is an excellent skier and makes at least one trip every year…and has for years).  Up and embarrassed, there was a very short ski to the second lift…I used it gather my determination.  There was no problem getting off of the lifts from then on, and after the long ride to the top on the Canyon Express lift we were ready to make our first run…a long challenging intermediate slope called  Ridge Run.

As we exited the second lift I could tell my guy was questioning my claims of being a “skier”…after my fall exiting the first lift and all, I couldn’t blame him.  We stopped briefly after getting off the lift to get our bearings before I said to my guy, “which way?”  He pointed toward the trail…and without saying a word, I pointed my skies downhill and was off.  Any trepidation I had with my skiing skills returning vanished within the first few yards…it was like riding a bicycle.  Later, my guy said he took one look at me as I headed down the hill and said, “Yep…she can ski alright.” 

The rest of the afternoon was just one run after the other, only interrupted by a brief hot chocolate break.  Heavenly had not gotten snow in almost three weeks and for the most part, the conditions were icy.  I fell four or five times, though all but one of them was due to my skies slipping out from under me on the ice causing me to fall against the up side of the slope and generally under control…not bad at all.  Only one fall was uncontrolled and I was going quite slow…no real biggie…also caused by the ice.  We skied until the lifts were about to close…and then took the gondola down and off of the mountain.  It was great…just great. 

And I was sore…very sore…majorly  sore.

My thighs hurt, my arms hurt, my shoulders hurt…even my fingernails hurt I think.  I felt as though someone had taken a baseball bat and beat me with it.  I had forgotten just how strenuous it is to ski…and the altitude doesn’t help matters.  I was completely spent.  I doubt anything has felt as good as the hot shower felt when I got back to our place later.  After dinner, we both crashed.  Tomorrow would be another day. 

Up early, we were at Heavenly at 9:00 and one of the first on the lifts.  The long snow dry spell ended overnight with a steady snow fall.  The icy slopes of the day before were replaced with six inches or so of powder.  And, the Sky Express lift that was closed the day before due to wind was open, allowing us to go all the way to the top of the mountain…10,040 ft up.  A whole other group of slopes opened up for us that allowed us to ski both the California and Nevada sides of Heavenly Valley.  The ride up the Sky Express to the summit was cold and a bit windy with a heavy snow fall directly in our face, but was worth it.  The excellent slope conditions were offset at time with almost whiteout visibility.  Still, like everyone, we tore down the runs.  My guy is a much better skier than me, yet my competitiveness would not allow me to hold back.  With the visibility not what it could be, depth perception was not good and the both of us had a couple of spectacular falls.  I fell twice on Friday, both were completely uncontrolled.  The first one was not too bad, but did result in a good size bruise on my left hip.  But the second one was a world class wipeout.  For those of you who have skied before, I’m sure you can appreciate the feeling of hurling down the mountain in complete control and the next moment finding yourself flying through the air completely at the mercy of inertia…skies flying everywhere…completely out of control, all the time wondering if you will ever stop bouncing and sliding down the mountain.  If so, that was me.  When I finally did stop things were fine.  I’d lost one ski but it was near me.  I had bumped my head on an icy patch, but I was OK.  Still, it was a very bad fall.  You don’t feel falls like that so much when they happen; it’s when you’re back at the lodge at the end of the day that your body tells you it happened…and believe me, my body screamed acknowledgement.

Around 1:00 in the afternoon, I physically couldn’t go anymore.  Though the slopes were in great condition from the continuing snowfall, visibility continued to deteriorate.  I was dead bone tired and my thighs and shoulders were exhausted.  We were way on the Nevada side of the mountain.  I told my guy to point me toward the way back to the base of the mountain for I was calling it a day.  He did.  At the gondola that takes you off of the mountain, we split up.  He had lunch at one of the restaurants on the mountain and I hopped the gondola down.  He skied for another couple hours before meeting me at the base.  We turned in our rental gear and headed to the hot showers.  It was a great couple of days of skiing.  Just great. 

It snowed all night.  The next morning we awoke early and had breakfast before making the drive down from Tahoe to the airport in Reno.  The roads were very icy and we just made it under the requirement to buy chains for the rental car.  We drove slowly…it took us just over two hours to make the 40 miles trip from Tahoe to the airport.  Two uneventful flights from Reno and we were back in Houston.  Another hour or so down to Clearlake and we were home. 

It was a great trip…travels are fun.

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