Lake Tahoe with the Crew (Part 2)

364 days have begun and ended in 2014. Today marks the 365th and final day of the year. I roll out of my queen size bed and descend the carpeted steps to the ground floor where Jared sits before the TV, wrapped up in a checkered black and red blanket.

“I’m sick,” Jared says upon seeing me try to make sense of the scene. “Everyone else went skiing.”

“What are you sick with?” I ask.

“Throat’s been hurting a bit. And my body is just weak and sore.”

“I’ve got just the trick,” I tell him before heading to the kitchen. I light the stove and place a pot atop it. 5 minutes later I produce a cup of Golden Milk for my ailing friend. Golden Milk is the modern name for an age-old beverage used to cure, well, everything. It’s an extremely easy concoction, using ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen. Look it up.

Wanting to end the year on a productive note I grab Steven’s drone and camera and head to the lake. I shiver in my orange tennis shoes and flimsy gym pants as the 30mph winds combine with the 17 degree weather to make for a genuinely uncomfortable walk. I step onto brown sand, marking my arrival on the beach. The winds intensify making each step atop this mushy surface more challenging. By the time I reach the frozen portion of the lake the winds are so strong that I quickly dump the idea of flying the delicate piece of technology situated in the black case beside me. Instead, I admire the converging blues of the sky and the ocean, meeting at an indistinguishable point along the horizon. Stoic, snow-covered mountains sit like Zen monks in the distance. The sun has begun its fall and now illuminates the nature around me from the West. I turn my head to the right where tall pine trees with thick brown trunks line the coast of the lake. Among the trees a few prosperous residents reside in well-hidden cabins. Having gotten my fix of nature and no longer able to tolerate the cold I turn on my toe and head back to our cabin.

I enter through the big blue door and plop down beside the fireplace. Jared sits in the same spot I left him.

“I think your drink thing worked, man,” Jared says to me.

“Feeling better?” I ask.

“A lot.”

“Glad to hear it,” I tell Jared, before tuning my attention to the college football game on TV.

Shortly before 4pm Steven, Jesse and Jen arrive home from a day on the slopes. An hour and a half later the Brothers walk in.

The sound of extra virgin olive oil sizzling on the skillet is soon heard as Pierce and Hugh begin cooking a mouthwatering steak, kale and couscous meal. With the smell of the seasoned steak too overwhelming for Steven, Jesse, Jared and Jen, the 2 couples leave for a fancy Italian dinner.

Dinner is prepared and the table is set. In between mouthfuls of meat and veggies, Pierce and Hugh retell their epic tale from earlier in the day when the two decided it would be a good idea to go backcountry skiing. After 30 minutes of blindly skiing in isolation, the Brothers found themselves in fearfully unfamiliar territory. Their plan of skiing down the back of the mountain seemed precarious, at best, so the decision was made to take off the skis and climb back up to civilization. 45 painful minutes later the brothers return to safety.

9pm rolls around marking the official Ball Drop. I receive calls and texts from those on the East Coast, including my parents. This is the first time I can remember not celebrating the New Year with them. In Russian culture, New Year is one of the largest and most important holidays, always celebrated with family and close friends. Historically, our family and their best friends begin the festivities around 10:30pm on the 31st and continue the merriments until 5 or 6 in the morning. A sense of sentiment encompasses me as I speak to my cheerful mom over the phone.

By 10pm the cabin is packed with all 8 of its tenants yet again. We congregate in the living room where we reminisce about the year that was. Before we know it, it’s 11:20pm. With 40 minutes left until us West Coast kids can officially say we’ve lived in 2015, the 8 of us rapidly throw on our jackets and drive towards the casinos. After circling the parking lot for 15 minutes while unsuccessfully looking for a parking spot, we finally fit the Acura between an oversized van and a bush. With our phones reading 11:58, Pierce, Hugh, Riley and I sprint to the stampede of excited individuals bundled up in winter clothing along the road. An unnecessarily large quantity of cops, dressed in riot gear, calmly take photos with animated youth. Unable to spot our 4 friends, the Smiths and I jump a barricade dividing the sidewalk from the street. We now stand amid the madness. Screams erupt and kisses flood my view marking the big hand and little hand meeting at the number 12. I turn to my right and kiss my girlfriend. Not wanting to make the Brothers feel awkward, we quickly pull apart.

It’s the wee hours of the morning and everyone’s ready for bed. That is, until Pierce realizes he can’t find his wallet. The 8 of us search every nook and cranny, flipping over half-packed suitcases and comfy couch cushions in search of this square piece of brown leather. No luck. Despite his afternoon flight the following day, Pierce seems least worried about the disappearance of the only form of identification which can successfully get him onto the plane. Within minutes of giving up on the search, Pierce is snoring loud enough for the neighbors to hear. The next morning, Riley and I are awoken by a frantic Hugh who, ironically, also lost his wallet.

“I’ve been searching for 2 hours,” he tells us.

While Riley, appalled by the fact that both her brothers wallets have gone missing within 24 hours of their flight home, goes down stairs to help the search, I call the casino from last night. They have Hugh’s wallet. ½ of the problem is solved. Pierce’s half of the problem is later resolved when the airline informs Pierce that they could search for his identity through their computer system.

While Riley crankily drives her brothers half way to Sacramento to meet with her uncle, the rest of the crew and I cook some mouthwatering pork brats, deliciously seasoned beef burgers and perfectly prepared spinach dip in anticipation of the first ever College Football Playoff game. Kickoff between the Oregon Ducks and the Florida State Seminoles (where Steven, Jesse, Jared and Jen attended college) is at 2pm PT. As a Florida Gator fan I find it tough to root for the ‘noles. However, I choose to side with the arch-nemesis today as a victory by the team in garnet and gold would make for quite a joyous evening with my friends. Unfortunately, the outcome of the game is not as hoped, with the team out of Eugene, Oregon coming out triumphant.

Despite their semi-depressed state, the 4 Florida State alum agree to spend the night playing board games with Riley and me. We begin with Trivial Pursuit, 20th Anniversary edition. As the 20th anniversary happened to be over 20 years ago, none of us fare well. We give up on this game and transition to Pictionary. An hour or two of below average drawings later, Jen and Jared are declared winners. Prior to going to bed the 6 remaining cabin-mates agree on hiking Emerald Bay the following morning.

And we do exactly that. A mile long hike along a clearly marked out snow-covered trail ends at a castle. This 38 bedroom Scandinavian-style fortress, dubbed Vikingsholm, was built in 1929 for Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight as a summer home. I think back to what life must have been like here 85 years ago. With the home likely not having a telephone at the time, let alone a cell phone or a computer, Mrs. Knight must have experienced an unimaginable type of serenity at this home. About 50 meters from the castle is the bay. Transparent water, laying still as a fallen tree, glistens beneath the powerful sun. Smack in the center of this bay rests a small stone structure, representing the Tea House, which could only be reached by boat. Beyond this minuscule mass of land, known as Fannette Island, the bay continues until it empties into the grand lake herself – Tahoe. Evergreen pine trees and unforgotten mountains trap us in this tranquil space. Unable to contain her excitement, Riley attempts to run on the snow in her not-made-for-running Uggs. She elegantly falls backwards, right onto her ass.

After learning how to use the slow-motion feature on her phone, Jesse videotapes the boys perform a perfectly choreographed cartwheel/jump combination. The girls proceed to attempt an even better performance consisting of hand stands and jumps. Riley, once again, ends up flat on her back in the snow.

Our appetites enlarged and our thirst not nearly quenched, Riley and I coordinate a night at the Brewery with our 4 friends. The Brewery is [as you probably imagined] a brewery. They are also famous for having mediocre pizzas, which the 6 of us gluttonously order 3 of. The rest of the night is spent at the cabin playing the highly anticipated game of One Night Ultimate Warewolf. This is Riley and my first time playing this game of animated quarreling and lying, but we are quick to pick up on it. I’ll be honest – Riley is much better than me. I proceed to lose 6 of the 9 rounds I play.

Everyone goes to bed except Jared and I, who converse about our good friend, Garrett, back home. As I bring my magenta tea cup to my thirsty lips, a loud thud echoes throughout the house. A female squeal is heard from the living room. Jared and I scurry over to the sound of the commotion. Jen lies on the ground, holding her head and laughing in attempt to mask her desire to cry.

“What happened?” Jared and I ask in unison.

“I fell down the stairs,” Jen says.

“What? How?” Jared inquires.

“I dunno. I just slipped.”

“Did you try to jump down or something?”

“No, I was just standing on the top step and then I slipped,” Jen explains. “Damn, that hurt. I fell down the entire flight of stairs.”

Finding the situation scary, yet inappropriately humorous, I rush to the kitchen to grab a bag of ice for Jen’s throbbing skull.

We wake up the following morning to our last full day in Tahoe. With Heavenly finally opening the majority of their lifts and runs, Riley and I pack our ski and snowboard gear and head to this tourist-sucking mountain. The sun shines brightly among the few clouds and the terrain is manageable. Double digit runs and a handful of 3 inch high jumps later, the clock hits 4pm, marking the last run. Riley and I descend the 2 mile-high mountain via the gondola. We sit beside a young Mexican couple coddling a precious, sleeping child the size of my forearm. Out the back window, upon which the family rests their tired heads, we view the entirety of Lake Tahoe, darkening in the sunset.

For dinner, Riley and I cook while the rest of the gang heads to a restaurant. We reconvene for one more night in the hot tub. Superlatives are handed out. I am fortunate enough to win Best Cook, while Riley (averaging 16 hours of sleep per day) wins Best Napper. Jesse wins Best Planner (which is a fitting award for someone who managed to successfully plan out 95% of the steps taken and foods eaten by the group). Steven wins Best Attitude (which he accepts with a hearty smile and a thumbs up); Jen wins most down to party/most afraid of everything (as she sips her bottle of Sutter House wine while whipping her head back and forth in search of man-eating bears) and Jared wins most indulgent (as he salivates over the last pieces of pizza he guzzled down the night before.

Knowing that my old friends are leaving bright and early the next morning and that I won’t see them for an extended period of time, we all share heartfelt hugs before shutting our eyes for the night.

By 5am Steven, Jesse, Jared and Jen are enroute to San Francisco airport. Riley and I wake up 4 hours later and tidy up the house in preparation for check out. By half past 11, we’ve emptied every garbage can, started a load of towels in the washer machine, pressed Start on the dishwasher and locked the cabin. Good bye, Lake Tahoe.

3 hours later Riley and I pull into her Aunt and Uncle’s house in Sacramento. I leave Riley to recover for the next 3 days while I head to San Francisco to meet up with my college roommate, David. We spend the night conversing, reminiscing and discussing the future. The next morning David catches a bus back to Los Angeles while I head to UC Berkeley to explore the campus. Shortly after the onset of rush hour, I drive to Stockton for dinner with a family friend. Irena and her 3 children sit at the dinner table with me, eating grass-fed organic steak, a healthy conglomeration of vegetables and fresh baked brownies. We enjoy good conversation until a quarter past 9. By 10pm, I’m back in Sacramento, resting peacefully in bed. An action-packed 10 days filled with numerous walks down memory lane has ended. Now it’s time to catch up on some sleep.

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