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Solo Circumnavigation around Lake Tahoe

Holy crap, I did it!!! The full Tahoe circumnavigation on kayak, solo, in 2.5 days!

Recently I was invited by the good folks over at Sparkling Ice Spiked to participate in a challenge to #ShatterYourExpectations. When they asked me if I had any goals in mind, I immediately remembered a goal I came up with several months ago, but was unable to facilitate due to timing and lack of resources. Thanks to the help of the Sparkling Ice team, I was finally able to bring my dream into fruition. Thanks for everything, you guys. I am so grateful!

Simply put, Lake Tahoe is captivating. If you've been there before you'll know what I mean. The lakes mere size takes your breath away. Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and certainly one of the most awe-inspiring. It is so big, covering parts of two states and 5 counties, that the lake is visible from space!

Over the winter I got the idea that I wanted to paddle across the middle of the lake, one way, from South Lake to Kings Beach in the north (21 miles), but logistically it wasn’t making much sense. A girls gotta pee! After some research I learned about the Lake Tahoe Water Trail and figured why the heck not just paddle completely around it? I hadn’t even considered it.

The Lake Tahoe Water Trail is a 72-mile scenic route that circumnavigates the lake, includes paddle-in campgrounds, restrooms and rest stops, etc. I was in! I assumed that with no training and very little kayaking experience it would take me roughly 4 or 5 days to complete the trip, then a friend (hey Amber Henshaw) suggested doing it in 3. That meant a few huge days, but if my shoulders held up, doable!

Most people complete this route in September, in groups, with warmth and safety in mind. Literally every account I read of peoples trips around the lake were from groups of 2 or more setting out in September. I had my heart set on completing the route in winter or spring while winds are typically calmer and the boats were still off the lake, so I set out in early Spring, the morning of April 29th, solo.

I like to challenge myself. I really like doing things alone that most people would rather do with others. For whatever reason, as a woman, these solo challenges makes me feel more capable, more strong, and more willing to try other hard things alone, and that brings me a lot of joy. I enjoy feeling capable, I enjoy breaking the norm, and I really enjoy showing both my kids, especially my daughter, that we can do anything we set our minds to; even if they're abnormal and not typically done by others.

When I set out, I figured I would be paddling hard for the next 3 days. That was my goal. I left Wednesday morning at 8:40 am (34 degrees F), paddled counterclockwise up the east shore from south lake, past all the iconic beaches that are typically flooded with people; now, completely empty. I stopped a couple of times to use the restroom and eat some snacks, do jumping jacks and try to warm up. It was COLD! Looking at the next few days "highs" thinking it would be warm, I didn't bring enough layers, so I ran around on the beach and did jumping jacks to help stop me from shivering. It worked. I also ended up placing a small closed-cell piece of thermarest foam beneath my feat inside the kayak to create a barrier between me and the cold floor. That helped immensley. The weather was perfect. Cool in the mornings and warm in the afternoons. Beside one particular incident at Glenbrook Bay, there was very little wind. I was able to make it 24 miles from South Lake to Incline, Nevada that first day.

Thursday I set off from Incline, started my way around the big northern bays, then began my paddle down the west shore. The wildlife along the west shore was off the hook! It was a birding frenzy and I saw several different types of ducks, migrating geese, osprey, eagles, and even a cute little fox. The wind from the west picked up in the evening which was trying to push me away from the shore, so I tucked into the nearest bay and called it a day in Meeks Bay.

I got an earlier start Friday morning around 6:30. I left Meeks Bay and headed south. Eventually I paddled into the beautiful Emerald Bay, and as per usual, had it all to myself. I pulled up to Fannette island, got off, and paid a visit to the lovely tea house before I began my final push back into south lake. The island was covered in the geese that are making their great northern migration. I didn't want to disturb them, so I did not stay long, but this was a very special moment for me. I left Emerald Bay and made it back to my start point in South Lake at 11:15am.

To say this journey has been a treat would be an understatement! I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. As a lover of endurance sports, it was surprising to me that I had only ever tried sports that required strength of the legs. This was the first time I had ever tried a sport that relied solely on upper body strength, so though intimidating, I'm glad I was able to pull it off! And particularly stoked that I completed so quickly. The weather changed the next day and there were winds that would have made things dangerous, so it was clear that the whole thing seemed "meant to be".

This route turned out to be such a classic! Something that I would absolutely LOVE to do again and again. Perhaps take a few more days and have some company and with some training, maybe try to do solo again, but faster. I would definitely choose again to do it in Spring. The solitude in a place like this is remarkable!

Day 1: South Lake to Incline

Day 2: Incline to Meeks Bay

Morning of Day 3: Meeks Bay to South Lake

Completed at 11:15 Friday morning.

Tips, Hacks and Gear Used:

  • Athletic Tape- Having little upper body strength and tiny little wrists, my wrists began to hurt very early on in my voyage. I remembered taping my wrists before with athletic tape for climbing and decided to tape my wrists on the water for added stability. It helped a lot! That was the single most important hack in me completing this injury free.

  • Gloves- This was also hugely important. I ordered some 2mm neoprene gloves on Amazon that were great for keeping me warm, but also blister free. The gloves I ordered don't have seams on the hands, so that was helpful with not rubbing causing additional problems.

  • Thermarest Foam- Great for sitting on the beach with and putting on your seat for added comfort, but for me, this was hugely helpful in creating a barrier between my feet and the cold water beneath the boat. The first day I was so cold, shivering for hours, then I added the foam beneath my feet and it instantly made my feet warmer. I didn't have issues again after that.

  • Garmin InReach Explorer Mini- After not returning from a trip on time a few years back, my worried mother bought me a satellite SOS device so that people could reach me, or vice versa, if absolutely necessary. Its tiny, it weighs practically nothing, and if you're in some serious trouble without cell phone service, you can get help. I clipped it to my life vest that I wore almost constantly. The cool thing about it that I enjoyed on this trip was turning my tracking on, sending a link to my mom and boyfriend, and allowing them to track my location, speed and overall progress while I was out. It's a good thing for everyone to have no matter what the journey.

  • Dry bag- Keep all your layers, food, and gear dry with a waterproof dry bag. You'll need it! I got a hand-me-down Reka dry bag backpack from a friend last year and have used it for so many things. From motorcycle trips to canyoneering, its been with me everywhere. Most dry bags are handleless sacks, but I love this one because it serves the same exact purpose, but I can carry it on my back. Its meant for fishing, but I don't fish and I use it for everything else.

  • Deck bag and chart bag- Having things at an arms reach makes the whole trip so much more efficient. Inside my deck bag I kept snacks, a GoPro, my phone, and a few other items. On top of my deck bag I had a waterproof chart bag that held and sealed my map of Lake Tahoe. Just by looking ahead I was able to see exactly where I was at all times.

  • Bilge Pump and Spare Paddle- Before this trip I never knew what a bilge pump was. Basically, its a hand pump that you attach to your boat and keep inside of your boat in the case that you should start to take on water. If that were to happen, you would immediately use your pump to start pumping out the water from your boat. I kept mine just behind my seat. Now for the paddle, if you were to lose your paddle at any time, you'd be totally screwed with no way to get to shore. It doesn't seem like something that would likely happen, but when you are on a long journey like this or even bigger, anything can happen and you better be safe than sorry. I kept my spare paddle beneath my deck bag on the bow of my boat at all times. I never needed it but I was glad that it was there.

  • PFD or Life vest- Yes, on Lake Tahoe it is legally required for all people to carry a life vest at all times on every boat, even a paddle board. But in addition to that, I wore mine almost constantly for a few reasons. 1) It was an additional layer that was keeping me warm 2) On Tahoe, wind can pick up in an instant. If I were to take on water, sink, or capsize, and I was in that 40 degree water, you better believe that Id need everything possible to keep me warm enough to get to shore. Submerged in water that cold, it doesn't take long to go into shock, or worse, perish, so I kept that vest on nice and tight. 3) It helped keep my back from getting rub burns. There were a couple moments when I did take the vest off when the weather was hot and the water was calm. Paddling is basically like doing crunches all day long in your seat, so pretty quickly I got rub burns on my back from my seat. That problem was alleviated when I wore my vest.

  • Glacier glasses- I own them and didn't think to bring them. I wish I had! When the sun is shining bright, the reflection of the sun off the water travels up your sunglasses and burns your eyes. Ive experienced sun blindness before from climbing a snowy couloir, but I didn't even think about water. Duh. Wear wrap-around glacier glasses that totally protect your eyes. Then, put sunscreen in all the places, up your nostrils, under your chin, and everywhere else that sun will hit off the water.

  • Sun hat- Thin, collapsable, water friendly sunhat. Being on the water and in the sun all day long can be draining and will quickly leave you sun-fried! I wore the dorkiest looking sun hat that extends down your shoulders. Though you may look ridiculous, your skin will thank you! Thanks for buying this for me, Mom. I never thought I would use it as much as I have.

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