Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Where in the world is Graeagle?   That's the question many people
ask when I say we go up to Graeagle every summer.   It's a special place that is off the beaten path, so maybe telling you about our trips might not be such a good idea.   Unlike touristy Lake Tahoe, with its noisy casinos and bumper-to-bumper traffic, Graeagle is laid back and peaceful, surrounded by mountains,  alpine lakes, and a pristine wilderness that you access on hiking trails or on back country roads. 

In the summer of 1999,  my biking friends, Bob and Bev,  suggested we do a metric century ride that a local Rotary Club organized as a fundraiser in an area called Graeagle.  I'd never heard of the Plumas County town, but since Bruce and I were a relatively new couple back then,  I thought communing with nature sounded romantic and fun.   I said "Okay, let's go."    Bruce could golf on the day I biked and on the other days we'd hike and explore a new area in the high Sierras.   That was 1999, and we've been going to Graeagle each summer ever since.

Our core group consists of ten to twelve friends, who enjoy getting together over multiple days, since we don't see each other often during the year.   We always rent several houses in Graeagle
A view of  Graeagle from our house
Meadows, a development of mostly vacation homes, situated on the Feather River with views of the majestic mountains, overlooking the challenging golf course, and the scenic Mill Pond that sits right in the middle of town.  
There's not much to the town itself --  a few stores where you can buy overpriced groceries and rent bicycles.   There's a Frostee Freeze, probably one of the last still operating in the State, and a couple of small galleries and shops for checking out the local arts and crafts.   There's also a Mexican restaurant that makes great margaritas to enjoy on a hot day.   

On the property near our rented house, deer wander fearlessly
about, chewing up the plants and driving the dogs crazy.  Because we are on the edge of the wilderness, we know to keep an eye out for bears because lately they have been breaking into the heavy metal dumpsters after dark and making one hell of a mess.   Some times we see their large paw prints on the windows of our dew-covered cars in the morning.  Since we often walk between our rental houses late at night, we are always a little concerned about encountering a hungry bear.  

During the day the temperature can some times climb into the high 80s and low 90s, but the humidity is practically nonexistent, so low, in fact, that your skin feels dry and rough, almost like fine sand paper.  It's very important to drink a lot even though you might not feel thirsty.   Late at night the thermometer can some times drop to 40 degrees, so keeping an extra blanket on the bottom of the bed is a good idea.  Only once in the fourteen years that we've been coming to Graeagle have we had rain.   That year it rained almost every day, which was boring for us, but Smokey the Bear was happy.    Bev and I were tired of being cooped up inside when we had planned to be out biking, so we said screw it and went out to do the ride anyway.   We started climbing Gold Lake Road, but when we were too wet and cold to make it to the top, we called Bruce to come and get us.   We also knew that coming back down the hill would be brutal. 

I guess the local fundraiser was a bust because after a couple of years the Rotary Club ride was cancelled, but by then our group was so in love with Graeagle that we decided to continue the tradition and do our own thing anyway.   The organized metric route was reasonably flat, taking us around a dry lake bed that was once full of water and almost half the size of Lake Tahoe millions of years ago.   The flat route bored us pretty quickly, so when we started to do our own rides, we left the valley floor and added some steeper climbs.

Over time some of our friends' interests changed and suddenly bike shoe cleats were replaced by golf shoe cleats.   


I gave up playing golf a long time ago because, to be honest, I wasn't any good.  Besides it took too much time and was too expensive, so I stayed true to my passion and continued to bike.  Each year I do a few challenging rides, but one of my favorites is climbing Gold Lake Road just outside of Graeagle.  The workout begins when Gold Lake Road leaves Highway #89.   That's where I start a ten mile climb that has a cumulative elevation gain of more than 2300 feet.  When I reach Gold Lake, I'm at 6500 feet above sea level.    I consider bike rides that average 100 feet per mile good exercise,  but 200 feet per mile is tough.  I don't mind because I give myself permission to pile on the food that night and take an extra helping of whatever makes me happy.   


It takes me about two hours to reach the top and 27 minutes to fly down.   On the climb the smooth grade averages around 8%, but there's a short stretch of 6% to provide some relief and patches of 9-10%, just to keep me honest.

  Last week when I climbed Gold Lake Road by myself, I tucked my
 iPod safely in my jersey pocket and timed my pedal strokes to jazzy Pink Martini, rocking Mark Knopfler and eclectic Orchestra Baobab.   I also thought about how happy I am when I ride my bike, and how grateful I am to be healthy again and able to ride strong.   With only six months left until I turn 70, I know what a gift it is to be able to climb mountains like this.    I'm just not ready for golf cleats yet!

If someone were to ask me what we do best as a group at Graeagle, I would have to say eat,  drink, and laugh.   Breakfast and lunches are on our own, but the evening meal is always a party with lots of tasty appetizers and delicious food.  Cocktails, mainly wine,  begin around six, followed by dinner that two or three people are responsible for each night.    Two yummy things we can always count on -- Judy's chewy chocolate chip cookies, and Ikeda's pie.  Judy is one of us, but Ikeda's is a specialty grocery store off Highway #80 in Auburn that is famous for their summer fresh fruit pies.  On the drive up from the Bay Area,  everyone in our group always seems to stop there to buy a pie.  Each year it's always the same pie -- peach, peach, and more peach, but who's complaining.  After all it's peach season.


Our annual blind wine tasting is another Graeagle highlight.   By default, Bruce has become the sommelier, deciding which wines we'll try, and how the tasting will work.  None of us claims to be a wine expert,  but ironically, the ones who aren't big wine drinkers always seem to win the prize.   Bev and I, who have been drinking wine together for many years, are always kidded about the time we gave Two Buck Chuck our highest rating, when the other five wines probably cost eight to ten times the price of the Two Buck Chuck.   In a blind tasting, it was assumed by us to be the best wine.   

One of our most successful tastings was based on wine labels, with the winner being the person who brought the bottle with the most creative or most unique label.  I am happy to say that Bruce and I won that year with a red wine called Brayzin Hussy, blended by Bray Winery in Amador County.    The  coveted prize  is a small stuffed squirrel, which has been passed around every year to a different winner.   

Here's a photo of the squirrel sitting on the computer that belongs to the 2013 winner. 

Another special event is watching the Canada geese fly in V formation in the soft evening light, as these bulky birds gracefully land on the beautiful Mill Pond right in front of our house.    Their cacophonous honking begins about ten to fifteen seconds before they arrive, giving us just enough time to stop whatever we are doing and run to the back deck, so we don't miss this basic ritual night after night.   I sure wish the geese were in this picture.


Every July we arrive at Graeagle on a Wednesday and leave on Sunday, always lamenting to each other that it's never enough.   Before we head back to our busy lives in the Bay Area, we check our calendars and reserve the same houses for the following year.  In the meantime,  I hope to keep my biking legs strong, so I can ride up Gold Lake Road next summer.  It's a tradition I want to keep doing for as long as I can. 


  1. What a fabulous tradition, and a great way to keep close to old friends. I do have to object, however, to the assumption that expensive wines are the best wines. Some of my favorites are quite cheap. Stick with the Two Buck Chuck!

  2. Pam, you've talked about Graeagle for so many years but I never imagined you had this much fun. You are a natural nature writer. Such a good post.