Parasailing is a heavenly experience; the feeling of becoming airborne, the cool breeze on your skin and the sheer effortlessness of floating above the earth. Little instruction is needed until you are gliding peacefully, like a bird and taking it all in. It was made all the more special for me as I was flying above the cobalt blue of Lake Tahoe.
Straddling the Nevada-California border, Lake Tahoe, is the largest mountain lake in North America (35km long, 20km wide). It’s better known as a ski resort, but I was there in summer when the white powder had melted leaving green mountains surrounding the body of water. It was spectacular.
I stayed in the aptly named Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe. The town has the state line running through it which leads to its split personality. On the California side alcohol is served until 2am, unlike in Nevada where bars can serve liquor 24 hours a day and you can drink on the streets. There are even drive through liquor stores. In California gambling is illegal, except for Indian Casinos. Whereas, in the Nevada side there are big hotel casinos where you can play the slots all day and night. For even more debauchery, Nevada is the only state in America where it is legal to hire a ‘companion’ for sexual experience. So, in this relatively small town you can one moment be enjoying an après ski or hike drink in an alpine resort and the next be a version of Las Vegas on the lake. Take your pick.
Not having much faith in Lady Luck I stuck to the adrenaline kicks that are a safer bet. Tahoe is a natural playground; there are hiking and biking trails that take you up glacier-carved granite slopes, through alpine meadows, rivers and waterfalls. No matter what your level is there something to suit all capabilities. The more committed hikers can do the 266km Tahoe Rim Trail which loops around the lake. Half of the trail is open to bikers and the full trail is open to equestrians. You can also hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (from Echo Summit to Carson Pass) which is 22km and takes a full day. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through the states from Mexico to Canada and was recently featured in the movie Wild starring Reese Witherspoon.
But if you’re time poor or just feeling a little lazy there are shorter and less strenuous trails where you can get the feeling of the backcountry without the effort.
The Van Sickle Bi-State Park is a quick hike, bike or drive from the lodgings at Heavenly. Within a half hour you can walk from your hotel room to the park. A great spot for a picnic is these giant boulders that overlook the lake. These rocks have grind holes where the indigenous people, the Washoe Indians, would grind up pine nuts to make paste. A perfect location for any kitchen.
But if you’re allergic to any amount of uphill exertion the Heavenly Gondola is a 3.8km ride from the town up into the mountains. Stop off at the observation deck (2,780 meters) for rewarding shore-to-shore views of the lake. For a fast, steep descent ride the Heavenly Flyer (1,005 meters), the longest zip line in the United States.
The perfect antidote from a night out in the casinos is a dip in the chilly but refreshing lake. But if you really need to blow the cobwebs off there are a whole host of water sports to choose from; kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, boating, windsurfing, parasailing and jet skiing.
I’ve often moaned about how loud and obtrusive jet skis are, but I ate my words in Tahoe and succumb to their lure. Two friends and I mounted a three person ski and took off from Ski Run Marina at speed, with accompanying whoops and screams. My friend who manned the ski succeeded in his mission to capsize us. It was adrenaline inducing and the complete antithesis to my experience paragliding.
Our jet ski ride took us to Camp Richardson, a laidback resort 13km from Heavenly. The lodgings are mostly quaint wooded cabins which are either lake side or in the pine forest. As there is no light pollution there at night the sky is extra big and bright and if you’re lucky enough (or unlucky) you might encounter wild bears.
Just a short stroll along the beach a Camp Richardson is the Tallac Historic Site. This was the summer retreat for some of San Francisco’s elite families in the late 1900s. Many of the former mansions are open for tours and are an interesting glimpse of how the other half lived at this time.
My last evening in Tahoe was spent doing an impromptu yoga class on the beach. We saluted the sun as it turned a bright orange over the unblemished beauty of the lake. It was by far the prettiest yoga studio I’ve ever been to.