SOUTH OF HERE: The long road to Tahoe
When I graduated from college a few months ago, I was faced with the inevitable question: now what?
Like most aspiring young writers I needed adventure, the chance to finally get out and look at the “real world.” Having been in college for four and a half years, I’d only heard about this “real world.” Sure, Mom had mentioned it, and certainly Dad had wanted to know what I was going to do when I got into it. I honestly had no clue.
What could be better to do in a situation like this? Move. Where? West. Why? Big mountains and lots of snow.
And so the adventure began. Armed with a shiny new college degree, I loaded up my car and a small U-Haul trailer, bought a dog, picked up an old friend and headed for an unknown place: Lake Tahoe, California.
After all, it sounded perfect. A land where breathtaking views are commonplace, an area where the men outnumber the women 3 to 1, and where skiing is not done during vacation, but during lunch. It sounded like the perfect extension of college, without all the classes and the papers.
The trek west started out simple enough. I rented and packed my tiny U-Haul and climbed into my 1990 Toyota Camry with 150,000 miles staring at me from the dashboard as I drove out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Surprisingly enough the next few legs of the trip went quite smoothly. After stopping in Dallas to add my friend Caressa and her cat, Mr. Kitty, space was rather limited in my little Camry, but the more the merrier.
Life was good – we felt like true adventurers. Then things got a little hairy. Although Caressa had never read a map before, she was doing a fine job navigating us to our appropriate destinations until somewhere just past Beatty, Nev., we ended up taking a wrong turn.
I don’t know if it was our growing confidence from our previous days’ navigation or the amazement that we had just passed several brothels that threw us for a loop, but there was no question – we were lost.
After careful examination of the map, Caressa found an alternate route. We would be back on track in no time. The scenery as we drove through Hoover Dam got us pumped up again and with only a few hours left to drive we couldn’t have been more excited about making the decision to move west. All of the sudden day became night. Snow started falling.
We were just outside of South Lake Tahoe when once again we realized we were completely lost. This time the experience was not so easy to shake. We were driving up steep mountain inclines with a U-Haul and the snow was falling like crazy. I pulled over to the shoulder of the road. We carefully inspected the map but we didn’t have a clue as to where we were. Should we turn around?
Right on cue, a truck pulled up behind us. Two mountain men popped out, inspected our license plates and laughed.
“You’re pretty far from home, ladies,” said one of the men. They explained that we had passed the road to South Lake and told us we could follow them, they would lead us back. A catastrophe averted! After the two men pointed us in the right direction, we were so close to Tahoe we could smell it.
Five minutes later (with no mountain men in site), the front tire on my little car blew out. We were only 15 minutes away from Lake Tahoe but it was pitch black and freezing cold. I couldn’t get my father’s voice out of my head: “You’re nuts, why would you want to move out there, that’s where the Donner Party froze to death!”
I tried not to look at Caressa as my breakfast and instead got out to inspect the damage. I knew how to change a flat tire in theory, but I had never actually put my knowledge to use. But I could do this.
Once again, some higher power must have stepped in. Caressa called out, “Hey look, I think it’s a highway patrol man.”
I can honestly tell you I had never been so happy to see a policeman before in my life. His name was Bob and he was a godsend. Although he said legally he couldn’t change a tire, he had a huge flashlight and talked me through the entire process and when it got kind of tough, he stepped in and finished the job.
Exhausted we finally made it to my grandparents’ condo in South Lake. We felt like we were on top of the world.
What we didn’t know was that the true test was about to begin: we needed to find a house and place to live in less than a week.
Amanda Butler is the Sierra Sun’s education and features reporter.
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