Manta Ray Night Snorkel – Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

In early June, Greyson and I went to the Big Island of Hawaii with his family. It was an amazing trip, and one of the highlights was definitely a night snorkeling trip to see manta rays.

Manta Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

We had hoped to do a SCUBA dive while in Hawaii, but I had a sinus infection that made diving impossible, so I got to work looking for something to do instead. We’d planned on doing a night SCUBA dive with mantas, and I stumbled on this post by Simply Taralynn about a night snorkel with manta rays, and I knew that we had to do it. I did a little research, and I ended up booking the same company, Big Island Divers. They were a reasonable price (only $105), just down the street from our vacation rental, and had great reviews.

We had brought our own snorkel gear that we used, but the cost of the excursion includes mask, snorkel, and fins and you can rent a wetsuit for $10. We checked in at the dive shop ahead of the excursion – we were a little confused by this, but you just need to check in ahead of time to get sized for your wetsuit and get directions to the boat. There is also a ton of cute merchandise and gear and the shop, and if you show up before noon, there’s a discount! I had thought that the snorkel was near the downtown of Kailua-Kona, but it was actually a 20 minute boat ride from the marina – and you end up right by the airport.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

The crew of Big Island Divers were awesome – funny and knowledgeable. While they got the boat ready, one of the SCUBA guides gave us all a lesson on mantas. Mantas are filter feeders that eat plankton, and, years ago a hotel on the water put in underwater lights to entertain hotel restaurant guests at night. These lights attracted plankton, and surprise – mantas showed up! Once this happened, tour operators realized the draw these amazing creatures have and started running night snorkel and dive tours. Now there are two spots with underwater lights – at the original hotel and at another, less busy spot near the airport where we went. I’m always a little weirded out by tourist activities that alter wild animals behavior, but, apparently these tours are really safe and low impact to the population, and humans have already had a hugely negative impact on these animals already, and the lights help provide them a steady food source.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

We hopped on the boat and got the best sunset of our whole vacation. I sadly didn’t get a picture, though. It got dark quickly, and we arrived at the snorkel site. There were a few boats in the water, and it was already starting to become a bit of a zoo. This is definitely a tourist attraction, so you’re not going to have a relaxing, solo experience. One thing that I really appreciated about Big Island Divers is that they obviously really cared about the health and safety of the mantas, and we held off getting in the water until it had cleared out a bit so we didn’t overwhelm the awesome creatures.

While mantas show up most of the time, they are wild animals and their appearance isn’t guaranteed. While we geared up, our guides pointed out that the underwater lights appeared to be flashing. This was actually mantas swimming in front of the lights! I got so excited and couldn’t wait to get in the water. We did have to wait, though, until the SCUBA divers got in the water.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

Finally, it was our turn to jump in! How it works is that Big Island Divers have a surfboard with a light on the bottom and a PVC pipe rack around the outside, which the snorkelers held on to. It’s a lot of just holding on and floating, you only kick when your guide directs you to move somewhere. As soon as we were in the water and situated, the mantas showed up. They corkscrew through the water, feeding on the plankton. It was such an incredible experience. In Indonesia, we saw oceanic mantas while diving. While those oceanic mantas are even bigger than the Hawaiian ones and it was one of the coolest things I have ever done, this snorkel was just as cool. Mantas are incredibly smart – they recognize themselves in mirrors, which not even dogs can do! Some have even learned that humans can help them and will go up to diver to get fishing hooks removed.

We were in the water for almost an hour, just watching their acrobatic dance. I could have stayed in the water forever, but it was time to get back on the boat. I was pretty cold at this point – my wetsuit is only a 2.5 thickness and too big for me, and we weren’t moving around at all. When we got back on, the guides had fresh towels and hot chocolates for us. As soon as everyone was aboard (they did a roll call to be sure), we headed back to the harbor.

All in all, it was such an amazing experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Big Island. Big Island Divers was great, and be sure to bring cash to tip your guides. Also, here’s a video Greyson made of our snorkel – check it out!

BCXC in Campbell River

After a fun couple of days in the Cumberland area, we headed north to Campbell River. Taking the advice of locals, we got off of Hwy 19 and drove up the coast. The drive was gorgeous and worth the slightly longer trip. Considering that it only added about 20 minutes, I would highly recommended the scenic route.

Hazy #mountains from the #beach #vancouverisland #toasterroadtrip

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As I mentioned in my lodging post, we stayed at Elk Falls Provincial Park. This was yet another amazing BC Provincial Park with access to a waterfall. A brand new suspension bridge giving new access to amazing views had just been completed so we made sure to check it out.

We had fun exploring Campbell River, which had a more rustic and ocean-y feel than the other spots we’d visited on the island so far. I especially liked driving out to Dick Murphy Park at the very end of a long spit and getting my feet wet in the ocean. Next time we’ll have to go on a whale watching or kayaking trip out of Campbell River. My parents did a multi day kayaking trip off of Quadra Island, which looked amazing!

#seaweed in the waves. #toasterroadtrip #vancouverisland #britishcolumbia

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Of course, we also went biking while we were in Campbell River. I ride a 2016 Transition Smuggler, a shorter travel 29er that was basically designed for the rooty XC trails of Campbell River. I, on the other hand, am not used to that type of riding, and spent a lot of time getting stuck on short, steep, punchy and rooty climbs. I was also surprised by how narrow lots of the trails are up there! The forests of BC have a lot more biomass that the Sierra and we were frequently fighting our way through overgrown trails. Note: ferns are better than blackberries, but will still scratch you up! There were some frustrating moments along the trail and I didn’t feel like I was riding very well.

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com

I did have fun on the trails we rode in the Pumphouse area of Campbell River, especially on the return trip when I finally loosened up. We rode Water Tower , which is a gradually climbing, wide trail (basically a double track) to the Ridge Trail for about a third of a mile before turning onto Dean Martin. Dean Martin had some really steep climbs – I could have used that twelfth gear. We then took Lower Deliverance until we hit the Forest Service road. I decided that with the struggle riding I’d been doing so far that day that I was ready to turn around. We headed back down Lower Deliverance until we came to Connector which took us to Alligator Rock. I enjoyed Alligator Rock much more than Deliverance, so I’m glad we came back that way. Though it was rockier, it was less exposed. After that we were back on Dean Martin and back the way we came.

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

Beer, Food, and Lodging on Vancouver Island

I realize I’m jumping around some chronologically, but I wanted to collect my Vancouver Island recommendations in one place.

Beer:
First, and most importantly, the beer.

Vancouver Island Breweries // tahoefabulous.com

White Sails Brewing, Nanaimo, BC
We stopped at White Sail Brewing in Nanaimo on our drive from the ferry to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. The brewery is in an industrial type building, but beachy and full of light on the inside. I enjoyed all of the beers that I tried. Beer descriptions from the breweries, unless obvious. I tried:

Brickyard Beach Red Cream Ale (4.25/5)

Restrained hop bitterness with a balance of light caramel grain and a clean, dry smoothness to finish.

Mount Benson IPA (5/5)
Medium bodied. This beer offers a well balanced clean malty flavour characterized by its distinguished hop bitterness. Delicious aroma of fruit and citrus.

Ridge Ryeder Rye IPA (4/5)
This is a seasonal that’s not always available.

Snake Island Cascadian Dark Ale (3.75/5)
Medium bodied. Full flavoured with hints of chocolate and coffee. A healthy dose of Pacific NW hops to balance the dark malt character. Dark colour profile that drinks like an IPA…. delicious!

Cumberland Brewing Company, Cumberland, BC
Cumberland Brewing Company has a hippie vibe and constantly has lots of high end bikes parked outside. It’s a good fit for the mountain bike focused downtown of Cumberland. We ate there and had a couple of beers. The food was delicious, if a little pricey. I wasn’t super into the the beers they had listed – their beer list leaned towards bitters, wheat beers, sours, etc. The beers we ended up getting were decent, but not on my favorites list. The brewery is definitely worth visiting because the food and atmosphere are great though. I tried Finally IPA (3.75/5) and Tropical Hop ISA (3.75/5.

Beach Fire Brewing, Campbell River, BC
Beach Fire Brewing was my favorite brewery on Vancouver Island. The staff was friendly, the beer was great, and the interior was beautiful. We got there right after it opened on a week day, so it was pretty empty, but it seems like it’s usually a popular place. I am usually an IPA all day person, but at this brewery I noticed the beginning of a trend. I was preferring BC Pale Ales over their IPAs. I tried

Beach Blonde Ale (4.5/5)
Light, refreshing and flavourful. Perfect for a hot day at the beach, or where ever you find yourself soaking up the west coast sun. A clean, light body with a touch of malt sweetness, this balanced brew sports a subtle hop bitterness and flavour. It‘s all yellow polka-dot bikini, without the peroxide.

Ember Red Ale (3.5/5)
A smooth drinking, crimson-coloured Scottish ale. Malt forward with caramel and subtle roasty and chocolate flavours, balanced with mild English hops. It’s perfect for keeping your fire pit glowing.

Hight Tide Pale Ale (5/5)
A hop forward, west coast pale ale with restrained bitterness, but a big hop aroma and flavour. Just as the tides change, hops in this beer may ebb and flow to showcase new and novel varieties. It will always reflect a stoic focus on a new-world hops with rising flavours of citrus, pine and tropical fruits.

Wheelbender Stout (4.25/5)

Gladstone Brewing, Courtenay, BC
We stopped in at Gladstone Brewing to kill time while we waited for our ferry to the Sunshine Coast. We only tried a couple of beers, which were pretty good. The location was really crowded and loud and we were feeling pretty overwhelmed, but would be fun for a rowdy night. I tried

Gladstone IPA (3.5/5)
The Gladstone Straight 6 IPA glints a dark copper, aromas of tropical fruit can be found, but resinous pine is much more prominent. Lightly malted, strong bitterness from West Coast hops is the focus, complimented rather than diffused by bright citrus flavours courtesy of a generous amount of Southern Hemisphere hops. What malt character remains is most apparent after swallowing, where the light sweetness works to hold the bitterness on the tongue.

Gladstone Pilsner (3.5/5)
A bright, clear, golden Lager, the Gladstone Pilsner smells of crisp yeast and lightly spicy hops. Noticeably bitter, the combination of generous hopping and Pilsen malt results in an extremely refreshing brew. A light toasted finish creates a full body that remains dry and does not linger on the tongue.

Lodging
We stayed at three campgrounds and a motel on Vancouver Island. I’d highly recommend the campgrounds we stayed at near Parksville (Hammerfest Trail Network) and Campbell River (trail write up coming soon!). We stayed at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park outside of Parksville and Elk Falls Provincial Park near Campbell River. These parks are quiet, clean, well maintained and CHEAP, especially if you’re used to California State Parks prices.

Camp 8 among the ferns and forest. #toasterroadtrip

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We stayed at a private campground in Cumberland, which was very close to Cumberland Forest, but not the nicest. The campsites were small and close together and it was hard to find a flat place to pitch our tent. There’s not a lot of other camping options around Cumberland, so I’d recommend finding a motel or vacation rental. There’s a mountain bike focused hostel in Cumberland, The Riding Fool, that seems cool, but we didn’t stay there so I can give it a first hand review. Courtenay and Comox are a very reasonable driving distance as well.

Food
We cooked a lot of meals at our camps, but also tried a fair number of restaurants on Vancouver Island. We were more focused on beer and biking than food, but we ate a few places I can recommend. First up, Lefty’s Fresh Food, where I had probably my favorite meal on the island. I had an omelet with smoked salmon, artichokes and gruyere and parmesan cheese. I still think about that omelet. In Cumberland, I loved Rider’s Pizza. I pretty much never say no to pizza, especially after a bike ride. Finally, we hung out at the Broken Spoke in Courtenay for quite awhile. It’s a bike themed coffee shop with delicious and strong coffee, comfy couches, and plenty of magazines to read.

Oh, and Greyson tried his first poutine while we were on Vancouver Island.
 

Gear List for the Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip: Camping

I’m back today to finish sharing my gear list for the Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip, this time focusing on camping gear and the miscellaneous things that enhance a road trip experience. You can check out part one, Mountain Biking Gear Packing List here.

Camping Road Trip Gear List // tahoefabulous.com

I mentioned that Greyson and I got married this summer, and our Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip was how we celebrated our honeymoon. We registered at REI for our wedding, and our generous friends and family helped us really upgrade our camping set up. Our amazing wedding gifts, plus some big upgrades we’ve made over the past few years meant that our car camping set up is pretty luxurious. When you’re on the road for a month, nice gear makes a big difference.

Camping Gear List
Sleeping Set Up: Your sleeping set up is one of the most critical parts of an enjoyable camping road trip. I’ve had my sleeping bag, the Sierra Designs Zissou Plus, which has Dridown, a water repellant down filling. This has all the advantages of down (fluffy, very packable) with the advantages of synthetic (can keep you warm even if it gets a little wet). The biggest wedding present upgrade was the Nemo Cosmo Insulated sleeping pad. This sleeping pad is wide, warm, cushy, quiet and not crinkly, and easy to inflate with the integrated foot pump. For a pillow, I got the NEMO Fillo backpacking pillow. A camping pillow is never going to be as supportive as a regular pillow, but this one is pretty good. I finally got a sleeping bag liner, which was really nice for variable temperatures and keeping my sleeping bag from getting super gross when we went a long time without showering. I have the Sea To Summit Expander Travel Liner.

A little #gameofthroneswine on the #oregoncoast. #camping #oregondunes #toasterroadtrip #latergram

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Kitchen Gear: The kitchen item we used the most on the road trip wasn’t something that we registered for, but it was awesome – Sea To Summit X Mug. We filled a lot of growlers with beer, and then poured the beer into these folding cups. They’re also really stable, which is nice on uneven ground and picnic tables. We also got a lot of use out of the classic Coleman 2-Burner Stove. For our cookset, we used the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Cookset, which has everything two people could need. The Snow Peak Cutting Board Set was another great addition to our camp kitchen. And I’m sure we would have gotten food poisoning several times without the YETI Tundra Cooler which kept our food cold for days at a time with only a couple of bags of ice.

After our #toasterwedding reception in #reardan camp 17 is #kingsleyreservoir above #hoodriver #oregon . #toasterroadtrip

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Tent: During this trip, I joked to Greyson, “This is how people end up buying motorhomes, isn’t it?” I was referring to our huge, luxurious tent. We have the Big Agnes Tensleep Station Tent, a four person tent. We’re both tall people (I’m 5’11”, he’s 6’3″), and a two person tent is not made for two people our size. This tent is big enough for us to stretch out, have our clothing bags inside with us, and have room to spare. The Tensleep also has two doors, which was a must have for me. It has two vestibules, one of which is large enough to take off wet gear, while staying dry, which is really nice for camping in wet places. The tent is huge – which means it has a large footprint and only packs down to the size of a large duffel bag. It’s very tall – I can almost stand up in it, but it has held up in the wind really well. The price is high, but even the small details are well designed, like plenty of very reflective guy lines and multiple ways to set up the “front door”. If you can’t make the full commitment to #vanlife, the Big Agnes Tensleep is the next best thing.
Battery/Solar Panel: Not going to lie, I like to stay connected. Also, since we were gone for so long, there were points when we both needed to check in with work, so we had an array of technology that occasionally needed to be charged. This was easy with our Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station and the Goal Zero Nomad 20 Solar Panel. It was easy to keep the portable power station charged up – we pretty much never dipped below 80% between our occasional motel stops and the solar panel.

Happy #nationalhammockday! #beer #Oregon #hammocklife #toasterroadtrip

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Seating:  I spent a lot of time in our ENO DoubleNest Hammock – occasionally I even let Greyson use it. I tried to convince Greyson that we should register for smaller, packable chairs, but he convinced me that we should stick with his big, bulky REI chairs. He was right. Having big, comfortable chairs to relax in was so nice at the end of a long day.
Roof Box: We needed every inch of storage in the Toaster for this road trip, and the Yakima RocketBox Pro 11 Rooftop Cargo Box helped increase our storage area. It’s not the fanciest roof box on the market, but it worked well. It’s not as loud as some roof boxes – we didn’t even notice a sound. It didn’t reduce gas mileage by that much, but the Toaster isn’t the most aerodynamic vehicle to begin with.
Lighting: We had two sources of light on this trip: our Petzl Tikka headlamps and the extremely awesome MPOWERD Luci color changing inflatable solar lanterns. We registered for one of these, and somehow ended up with three. I’m definitely not complaining – they all got used and have been a hit on every camping trip we’ve gone on since.
Bike Rack: An easy to use bike rack is critical, and nothing is easier than the Kuat Racks NV tray style. This rack comes with a flimsy cable lock, which we bolster with the Kryptonite 999546 lock for extra security.
Miscellaneous: There are a few more odds and ends that helped make this road trip awesome – the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel, whose water resistant nature came in handy during a rainstorm in Whistler, the ridiculously awesome YETI Rambler can cooler, Packtowl RobeTowl, which made changes at the trailhead much easier, and our storage system of bins, two heavy duty ones for camping stuff and biking stuff and a collapsible one for our kitchen.

So there it is – my in depth packing list for the Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip. Don’t forget, you can check out my list of Mountain Bike Gear here. Did I miss anything?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!

Hammerfest Trails in Parksville, BC

After a few days exploring the Olympic Penninsula, it was time to head to Canada and mountain biking paradise!

Hammerfest Trail Network // tahoefabulous.com

We took the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, and we ran into some issues. We were leaving around the 4th of July and just after Canada Day, and we ended up not booking the ferry we wanted early enough. That meant that we had to rely on the first come, first serve spaces. We got to the ferry terminal almost three hours early, and we still had to be on standby. Luckily, we were able to get on the earlier sailing that we’d been planning on. Just something to keep in mind if you’re planning a similar route – buy your ferry tickets in advance or prepare to wait around for quite awhile.

The ferry boat ride (Greyson’s first ever car ferry!) was gorgeous, with views of the Olympics, the Cascades, Mount Baker, and the San Juan Islands. I was hoping we’d see some sea life, but nothing made an appearance. Crossing the border went smoothly, and we were quickly on our way north to the campground I’d booked outside of Parkside. We stopped at a brewery for a sampler and some snacks in Nanaimo. (I’m going to write up all of the Vancouver Island breweries at once, so stay tuned.)

I booked a campsite at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park because it looked pretty close to a trail network when I was doing basic research on TrailForks. I figured we could stay there one night, and if it sucked, we could move on. It turned out to be one of our favorite campsites on the whole trip.

 

You can literally ride from your campsite at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park to the Hammerfest Trail network, which is awesome. It’s super convenient, and the trails themselves are great. We only ended up riding there one day, which we regretted. Now we just have to go back!

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com
Trail map via trailforks.com

I had a great time riding the Hammerfest trails. Obviously, in a single day, we could only ride a fraction of the network, but I found everything rideable. The climb up was a long fire road slog, but not nearly as bad as the climb in Ashland. The trails were fairly well marked, and we followed our chosen route using a combination of trail signs and the TrailForks app.

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com
Trail map via Strava

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com

@tahoefabulous getting after the dark and loamy on the #hammerfesttrails of #vancouverisland . #mountainbiking #toasterroadtrip

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We got off the fire road on to Jughead. This trail started out heading down a hillside in a clear cut or burned area. The trail was a little rough – narrow and beat up with loose rocks, but still fun. You quickly got into the forest and the trail turned into the fun, flowy trail of my BC dreams.

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com

Once in the cover of the trees, we switched from Jughead to Locomotion. Here is where we first encountered an issue that would cause us problems on pretty much every trail we rode in British Columbia. We’re used to staying on a single trail for miles, not riding spiderweb like networks with potential turns every 100 meters or so. Even the trail network I ride most often only has a few choices. Since we weren’t riding with locals, and we were just navigating for ourselves, that often meant stops at every fork in the trail to make sure we were taking the correct turn. This really threw off our rhythm sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, the trails are super fun. Just be prepared to do some stopping in order to stay on route.

 


The last major trail we hopped on was Dem Bones. I remember this one seeming really rooty, but it turns out it was just the first taste of rooty BC single track, and we’d encounter even more roots on trails to come. We popped out just down the road from the park and rode back to camp, giddy with our first taste of BC mountain biking.

Hammerfest Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Englishman River Falls Provincial Park is an awesome campground – even if you’re not into mountain biking. It’s clean, the employees are super friendly, and they take quiet hours very seriously. These facts were true about every provincial park we visited in Canada, but this was a great introduction. The person driving around collecting fees even told us he was “so sorry” about our current leadership when he saw our California plates, which we appreciated.

After eating lunch and hanging around in the hammock, I decided that I wanted to hike down to the falls and check them out. Greyson wasn’t feeling great at this point, but he agreed to accompany me. The falls were small but pretty, and there was a perfect swimming hole (neither of which I got a picture of, oops). We were there late enough in the afternoon that it wasn’t very crowded and no one was in the water. Dipping my toes in, I could tell the water was freezing, but it was so beautiful and clear that I had to jump in. I stripped down to my underwear and dove in. The cold was shocking, but refreshing and I dove in a couple more times before I had enough.

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com

I loved this park, the trail network, and the general area. I’d go back to visit this area in a heartbeat and I highly recommend it.

Happy New Year + a Winter Bucket List

Happy 2016 everyone! I thought 2015 was pretty great, but I’m looking forward to the new year with my eye on a few goals. I made a Fall Bucket List, but between sickness and business, I didn’t check off too many. Now that the snow has begun to fall (already more than fell ALL of last winter), I have some goals and experiences for my Winter Bucket List.

winter bucket list tahoe fabulous

Join a Gym and Start Swimming: So, I didn’t join a gym, despite it being a goal for the fall. With winter’s early darkness, cold temperatures, and icy trails, it’s definitely time for me to join a gym. I’m going to go along with all of the other January Joiners and start working out after work. Relatedly, I’m going to find a public pool for lap swimming. My trip to Indonesia is coming up (in March!), and I want to be in good swimming shape by then.

Try Out New Winter Activities: I’ve gotten decent at snowboarding over the last five winters, but there are a ton of winter and snow sports I’ve never tried or only done once. Some ideas: cross country skiing, snowshoeing (I actually tried this one last week), fat biking, downhill skiing, ice skating, skijoring, etc.

riding at northstar

Snowboard Twice as Much as Last Year: This should be easy – since I was mountain biking at 7,000 feet in February last year.

Take an Avalanche Safety Course: I want to get into backcountry snowboarding, and step one is learning how to stay safe. There are a bunch of avalanche safety courses in the Tahoe area. I just need to pick one and go.

backcountry skiing mammoth
Photo by Greyson Howard

Try Backcountry Snowboarding: After I get educated, I’ll be ready to try backcountry snowboarding! I’ll hopefully be able to borrow most of the gear I need, before I invest a ton of money. I’ve already got a snowboard and snowshoes, so I’m partway there! There’s a ton of great backcountry riding in Tahoe, and I’m excited to start to experience it.

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Try Out New Resorts: The last few years, I’ve had a Vail pass that let me ride at Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood. This year my pass is at Sugar Bowl, and comes with a few tickets at Squaw/Alpine Meadows. I’ll hopefully be able to ride with friends at a few new resorts this year – Diamond Peak, Mt. Rose and Homewood.

Why I Got SCUBA Certified

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I’ve loved the water since before I could walk. My mom loves to tell stories about how, if there was a body of water, I was in it, despite any signs or instructions to the contrary.

scuba 1

Photo by Janet Baumgartner

Most of our family vacations growing up involved a lake, river or ocean for swimming, fishing, tide-pooling and exploring. When I was in college my parents got into kayaking, and we all tried snorkeling for the first time on a trip to Costa Rica. It was just after the rainy season, so the water was so silt filled that we had barely any visibility, but I was hooked! Further snorkeling outings off the coast of Oahu, Puerto Rico and Maui cemented my love.

scuba 2

Photo by Jodi Swobody

On a couple of these snorkel outings there were a few people SCUBA diving off the boat. I never paid that much attention, since I was having so much fun snorkeling. My mom and I occasionally talked about getting SCUBA certified “someday”, but we never did.

scuba 3

Fast forward a few years, and I started dating my boyfriend Greyson. His family is super into SCUBA diving, and they have been taking dive vacations all over the world since he was a teenager. With my love for the water, he encouraged me to get certified, but with all my other hobbies, SCUBA certification got pushed to “someday” again.

scuba 4

Photo by Kaya McAlister

This summer, however, “someday” came closer than I was expecting! Greyson’s parents planned a SCUBA diving trip to Raja Ampat, Indonesia, and they invited me along. This combined with the fact that my parents got me the SCUBA certification class and gear for my birthday meant that it was time to get certified. I signed up for the classroom, pool and open water dives needed for SCUBA certification through Sierra Diving Center based in Reno, Nevada. I bought my equipment there too, and Greyson and I spent a few afternoons practicing in the snorkel gear.

DCIM100GOPRO

Last week, I finished my open water dives. That means I’m officially open water SCUBA certified! I’ll write more about the process of getting certified, the class and the dives, so check back for more details. I’ll also write about getting ready for my (first!) SCUBA trip and (first!) trip to East Asia. I’m so excited, and I’m already counting down the days until March!

scuba 6

Photo from Sierra Diving Center

Gnarbuckling on the South Yuba River

Have you ever heard of “gnarbuckling”? Probably not, as it’s a term that one of Greyson’s friends made up.

gnar 1

To explain gnarbuckling, I have to explain a little bit about the South Yuba River. The Yuba River is a gorgeous and important waterway that drains about 1,400 square miles of the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and is a major tributary of the Feather River. It’s made of three forks, and the longest and southernmost fork is my favorite.

The South Yuba originates on Donner Pass (near where I live) and travels 65 miles before it joins with the others. The South Yuba (one of three forks) winds through Nevada County and is fairly close to Nevada City running along side or under Highway 49 in many spots. Like a lot of the areas along Highway 49, the South Yuba was heavily impacted by mining. During the California gold rush and for years afterwards, the area was mined using hydraulic mining. Though the area hasn’t been mined that way since the 1880s, the blasting left behind a unique river morphology that’s fun to explore.

gnar 2

Map to 49 Crossing/Double Bridges from Nevada City. Click here for the map.

Now, for gnarbuckling. The best place to access the South Yuba for gnarbuckling is at an access spot known as the 49 Crossing or Double Bridges. This is a popular spot in the summer, so you may have to park a ways away if you get there much after 9 am. The South Yuba is littered with huge granite boulders, smoothed by years of water rushing by, and the way they’re situated in the river means that there are dozens of great swimming holes in the river.

While there is often trail or parking access to some of the more popular swimming holes, meaning that you could fairly easily hike or drive there, getting to the swimming hole isn’t the point of gnarbuckling.

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When you’re gnarbuckling, you travel upstream, while remaining in the water as much as possible. This means you’ll be wading through rushing water, climbing over rocks, swimming through deeper sections, diving under low hanging boulders, scrambling up rocky slopes, dodging nude hippies, hoisting yourself and your friends over small rapids, and falling – a lot! Basically, the journey is the point of the adventure.

Greyson and I headed up to Nevada City on Saturday and spent the afternoon gnarbuckling. I didn’t bring my garmin, but we estimated we were traveling about 1 mile an hour (or slower!). We had a great time, and we even brought Greyson’s GoPro, taking some not-so-great pictures and a few videos. Greyson made a short instagram video of us jumping off a small cliff into a deep pool of clear water. Click here to watch it, and here is a super awesome-quality still frame:

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We excited to finally make it to the Yuba this year! With the drought, we were worried that the river would be lower, slower and grosser than usual. Despite our worries, the South Yuba was still a lot of fun. It was pretty crowded, even as we made our way upstream away from the parking area, there was definitely more green slime on the rocks, and the river seemed about a foot lower than usual. It was still a great time, and the water was still cool and refreshing in the 90 degree plus heat! One of the best things about the Yuba is its clear water, and, as usual, the water was clear enough to see the schools of fish swimming around. And clear enough to attempt some underwater selfies.

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Someone isn’t very good at #underwaterselfies

When you’re gnarbuckling, you might have a final destination in mind, or you can just turn around whenever. It’s not usually a point-to-point activity, because going downstream is the really fun part! When the water level is higher, the Yuba has a ton of fun “water slides” running over the smooth granite. The water was a little low for that last weekend, but we did float feet first through some fun mini-rapids. We ended up spending 3+ hours in the river, so by the time we made it back down to where the car was parked, our arms were toast!

Gnarbuckling on the South Yuba River // tahoefabulous.com

A celebratory beverage and meal is another key part of gnarbuckling, so we headed to Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. in downtown Nevada City. I’ve been there a few times now, and the generously-poured beers were as good as usual. I love visiting Nevada City – it’s got a bunch of great restaurantsfun cultural activities and amazing outdoor opportunities – including the best place in the world for gnarbuckling!

Tahoe Summer Bucket List

Though it has felt like summer in Tahoe since about mid-February, official summer is almost here! Summer is the best time of year to be in Tahoe, but it always feels like summer slips away before I know it. So for this summer, I’ve created my official Tahoe Summer Bucket List! My list consists of new experiences and things I’ve done before, activities close to home and a few that are a short road trip away.

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  1. Backpack in Desolation Wilderness. I’ve lived in Tahoe for almost five years now, and I still haven’t gone backpacking in this gorgeous area in my backyard.
  2. Jump in Webber FallsI went a couple of times last summer, and I’m excited to go back.

Webber Falls // tahoefabulous.com

  1. Ride the Downieville Downhill.This world famous bike trail is famous for a reason. It’s 6,000 feet of epic descent, through smooth berms, loose rocks, slippery shale, and perfect dirt, and you can cap off the day with a jump in the Yuba River. (I actually checked off this item last week, but I hope to go back again this summer!)
  2. Boulder in Tuolumne Meadows.While the Yosemite Valley is popular for good reasons, the less crowded, east side of Yosemite National Park is an underrated gem. We have plans to do some bouldering, and then jump in the Tuolumne River.
  3. Soak in culture with Shakespeare at the Lake.The state park at Sand Harbor near Incline Village, Nevada has one of the best theatre venues in the world. All summer long, you can watch a Shakespeare play while the sun sets over Lake Tahoe at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. This year, the show is Romeo and Juliet.

Tahoe Shakespeare Festival // tahoefabulous.com

  1. Go Gnarbuckling in the Yuba River. The South Yuba River near Nevada City is a pretty magical place. The area’s mining legacy created boulder fields, deep pools and mini waterfalls. One of Greyson’s friends invented the sport of “gnarbuckling”, which is traveling upstream in the Yuba River, via hiking, scrambling, swimming, jumping and falling. It’s quite a workout, and is best chased by a Mammoth 395 at Matteo’safterwards.
  2. Do my first bikepacking trip.Neither Greyson or I have done bikepacking before, but we have big plans do a one or two day bikepacking trip on the Tahoe Rim Trail, or some other local spot.
  3. Visit all the local breweries!Tahoe is finally stepping up its local beer game, and I have yet to sample all of the new options. That’s going to change this summer. I haven’t tried Alibi Ale Works in Incline Village or The Brewing Lair in Blairsden. I need to give Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co. in Tahoe City another shot and return to Cold Water Brewery in South Lake Tahoe. I’ll hopefully go on some road trips, and visit my favorites, Mountain Rambler Brewery in Bishop, June Lake Brewing in June Lake and Mammoth Brewing Company in Mammoth Lakes. New and new-to-me breweries seem to be popping up all over the place, and I plan to visit as many as I can! Also, I hope to hit up one or two beer festivals. Maybe Truckee Brew Fest or Reno’s CANFEST.

tahoefabulous.com

  1. Raft the American River. Just down the hill from Tahoe, the American River runs through Coloma. This spot is a world class white water rafting destination, and I’d love to do a raft trip this summer.
  2. Climb a 14-er. Probably not Mount Whitney, but I’d like to climb one of California’s 14,000+ foot mountains this summer.
  3. Bike at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Last year was the first year in a long time that I didn’t spend at least a day biking at Mammoth Mountain. Even with lift serviced trails, you’re working hard on the fun trails with great views.

Tahoe Summer Bucket List // tahoefabulous.com

  1. Hike from Sugar Bowl to Squaw Valley on the Pacific Crest Trail.Hopefully the wildflowers will be in full bloom when I do this hike.
  2. Swim every week! We may be in the midst of a drought, but Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe still have excellent swimming. Once it warms up, my goal is to swim at leastonce a week, and spend a lot of time on our pristine beaches.

These are just a few of the things I hope to do in Tahoe this summer. Anything epic I’m missing? Or, if you are visiting the Tahoe/Truckee area and want some suggestions, feel free to get in touch!

Mountain Biking the Tahoe Flume Trail

One of the most iconic mountain biking trails in the country is the Flume Trail, and I finally rode it last week with Greyson and my friends Katie and Gavin.

Mountain Biking Tahoe Flume Trail // tahoefabulous.com

The flume trail is known for it’s incredible views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains. For much of the trail, you are more than 1,000 feet over the tropical-colored East Shore of Lake Tahoe, looking down at the aqua waters and sandy beaches, and across to the snowy mountains on the West Shore. The flume trail itself is not very technical and can be done by anyone in moderately good shape with fairly basic mountain bike skills (though it does have a fair amount of exposure for those nervous about that). This is definitely a trail to savor the views, not rushed through for thrills.

Map via Strava
Map via Strava

The Flume Trail is usually done via shuttle (though it can be looped). We shuttled it ourselves, but there is a really convenient shuttle provided by Flume Trail Bikes for $15, a shop located at the end of the Flume Trail, where you can also rent bikes. Self shuttling is super easy with two cars. We parked a car on the side of the road by Flume Trail Bikes and Tunnel Creek Cafe (don’t park in their lot!) at the end of the Flume Trail and took off from the parking near the Highway 50 and Highway 28 boat inspection site at Spooner Summit. Both of these places have free parking, but you could also pay $5 to park at the Nevada State Park entrance to the Spooner Summit area. We just rode the half mile from where we parked to the park entrance along the road. Note: even if you ride into the park, you do have to pay an entrance fee of $2 per person for bikes, so be sure to  have a little bit of cash.

Map via Google Maps
Map via Google Maps

Trail Ends at Flume Trail Bikes and where to leave a shuttle car.

Map via Google Maps.
Map via Google Maps.

Intersection of Hwy 50 & Hwy 28 – where we started and left a shuttle car.

Once you’re in the park, hit up the super nice restrooms and follow the signs to the Flume Trail/Marlette Lake.

Elevation Profile via Strava
Elevation Profile via Strava

Now we get to the only really challenging part of the Flume Trail – the climb to Marlette Lake. This section of the ride is on an old fire road that was in really good riding condition in mid-May, but I imagine will get sandier and sandier as summer progresses. You’ll climb from ~6,850 to ~8,020 in about 4. 5 miles, with the steepest section occurring in the last quarter mile or so of the climb. We took our time on the way up to save our legs for the last climb, and I even got off and pushed on a couple of the steeper sections during that last quarter mile. It took us over an hour to make the 4.5 mile climb, but going slow was the right decision and kept us from being miserable on the fun parts!

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Forced smiles only on this part.

After the climb, there’s a quick downhill via fire road to Marlette Lake. I recommend taking a long-ish snack and water break here. You’ll want to feel good enough to enjoy the scenic portion of the Flume Trail.

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Photo by Katie Riley

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After eating our snacks of PROBAR Meal and workout candy (aka Clif Shot Bloks) and enjoying the view, we rode along the side of Marlette Lake and finally connected with the Flume Trail. Though the whole ride is commonly called the Flume Trail, the actual Flume Trail is a 4.5 mile section built on top of an old logging flume. The Flume Trail is flat, sandy and easy to ride. There are a couple of high-consequence technical sections (ie, don’t fall off the cliff), but those come with large warning signs asking you to dismount well in advance. Though we could have burned through this slightly downhill, non-technical section quickly, we didn’t want to. The views are what makes the climb worth it!

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We quickly got our first view of Lake Tahoe – and it only got better from here. We stopped and took a million pictures along the way. It took us over an hour to ride 4.2 miles of non-technical, net downhill trail! But, like I said, the views are the reason that you ride this trail, so there’s no reason not to linger.

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The trail is fairly narrow, and has a steep drop off in sections, but as long as everyone is cautious and polite, passing is not really an issue as even the narrowest sections eventually widen out for a safe passing area. People generally ride it in the downhill direction (or south to north), but we did encounter a few people taking the opposite way. Here’s a typical picture of the Flume Trail – as you can see it’s flat and non-technical.

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And here’s an example of a more technical section. Katie and Greyson are picking their way though a narrow opening in the rocks.

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photo by Gavin Feiger

We could not get over how awesome the views were! We decided that the view of Lake Tahoe from the Flume Trail is one of the few things that could be accurately described as “hella epic”.

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Since we weren’t in any sort of race to the finish, we took a ton of pictures – not only of the stunning views, but also pictures of us enjoying the trail. One of the cool things about the Flume Trail is that it is cut through huge granite outcroppings in a few areas. So you are surrounded by and ride through these massive boulders!

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photo by Greyson Howard

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photo by Greyson Howard

Sand Harbor is one of the most well-known spots in the Lake Tahoe area, and for good reason! It’s got aqua blue water, large sandy beaches, and spherical boulders dotting the shores. If you’re on the ground, you can hang out on the beach, paddle board or kayak through the clear water and even attend a Shakespeare play on the beach! Now that I’ve done the Flume Trail, I can say you haven’t experienced Sand Harbor at its best until you’ve seen it from 1,000 feet up.

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photo by Gavin Feiger

After the incredible views of Sand Harbor, we started winding our way back into the trees and towards the end of the trail. But not before a final view of Lake Tahoe!

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photo by Gavin Feiger

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The last part of the ride is 3 miles of a fast fire road down to Flume Trail Bikes and Tunnel Creek Cafe. The fire road is in excellent condition, but there are some sections with loose gravel and ruts, as well as plenty of hikers so be sure to keep your speed under control. When we got to the end, we were totally ready for food and beer, and luckily, Tunnel Creek Cafe has both. We all enjoyed Deschutes Fresh Squeezeds in the sun – well deserved after an awesome day on the bike!

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P.S. Did you notice I added a “Beer” page to my site? You can check out my favorite breweries by clicking here!