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Episode 1: Island hopping at 6000ft

"The cliff face was heavily eroded and loose, and I had a 35 lbs huge pack on me with the paddle board and various gear. Inevitably I got stuck. Like a cat on a tree. Except that I’m the cat and the tree is a loose steep cliff and the firemen attempting to rescue me were the nudists down at the beach"

“Hey, where’s your PFD (personal floatation device)?”. With a semi-blank stare I replied to her “errrm, I don’t have one”. Aghast at my answer Tressa insisted we clamber back up the cliff we just descended to get her extra PDF in her camper. That’s when I truly grasped the dangers that lurks in the seemingly inviting and peaceful waters of Lake Tahoe.

Looks inviting from a distance but the water sure was choppy that first day!

You see, in my rather naive mind, I’ve always viewed paddle boarding as relaxing endeavour - reinforced by my paddle boarding excursions in rivers and lakes around Houston and Austin (admittedly there is a slight chance of being attacked by alligators). So when I turned up at the shores of Lake Tahoe the day before I was in for a rude awakening. Firstly Lake Tahoe is HUGE. It sounds stupid to say that out aloud, and I knew in my mind it is big. But when you are actually in the water, its dimension and perspective seem to explode out of proportion. That day I had planned to paddle from Sugar Pine Point to Emerald Bay and back - a round trip of about 8 miles. On map it looks straightforward. Accustomed to long distance running and mountain biking, 8 miles sounds like a doddle. I barely made it across Meeks Bay before I abandoned the attempt. The blustery and choppy conditions did not make it an ideal first attempt of big open water paddle boarding excursion. In the middle of Meeks Bay I was greeted by winds from three different directions, a condition dreaded by all paddle boarders and commonly known as ‘the washing machine’. I wasn’t making much progress and an hour later I abandoned the journey and headed back to shore.

Undeterred, I headed back out again after lunch. This time I tried my luck on the Nevada side of the lake, hoping that the waters there would be kinder. I was wrong. I clung close to the steep cliffs lining the shoreline and ducking into every single cove to seek shelter from chop. Eventually I grew weary and devised a plan to make for land, deflate the board and hike it back to where I started from. This all went well until I encountered a cove populated by the local nudists. The trail heads down to the beach and climbs back up the other side of the cove and that seemingly was the only way to cross it. I didn’t know what the social norms of the situation and felt uneasy interrupting the sanctuary of the nudists. I scouted an alternative route that would bypass the beach by climbing and traversing the cliff face on the backside of the beach. This proved to be a mistake. The cliff face was heavily eroded and loose, and I had a 35 lbs huge pack on me with the paddle board and various gear. Inevitably I got stuck. Like a cat on a tree. Except that I’m the cat and the tree is a loose steep cliff and the firemen attempting to rescue me were the nudists down at the beach. Like all my endeavours up to that point, it ended in embarrassing failure. The only way out is to ‘surf’ down the cliff and into the nudist beach I wanted to avoid. Having caused an unnecessary commotion, and with plenty of cuts to the knees and hands, I sheepishly made my way through the nudist crowd and out to the other side of the cove.

Now given the eventful nature of the first day you would think I would have a better appreciation of the dangers of Lake Tahoe, and in hindsight should not have been surprised by Tressa questioning my sensibilities. A few word about Tressa. I chanced into her at the campgrounds earlier that morning. She is a 53 year old woman with plenty of paddleboard race wins under her belt, but her glorious career was abruptly stopped due to injuries and illnesses. In fact she hasn’t been on the board for about 3 years. She has nursed herself back into semi decent shape and our encounter was the perfect opportunity for her to get back on the saddle. I agreed for her to be my tour guide for the day. Given my bruised ego from the past day’s failures and Tressa’s still fragile condition we decided to take it easy. Redemption for yesterday’s failed attempt to reach Emerald Bay was still on the cards, so we hatched a plan to launch from DL Bliss, making the round trip to Emerald Bay an easier 4 mile journey. The water that morning was glassy smooth and peaceful, a stark contrast to yesterday’s condition.

Emerald Bay and the Fannette Island

As we made our way to Emerald Bay I was entertained and educated by her race stories. I learned the many ways one could get stranded and die out in the open water and in fact several fatalities have occurred in Lake Tahoe recently, which is why it is mandatory to have a PFD at all times or else you’ll get nabbed by the coast guard. The jewel of Emerald Bay is Fannette Island and perched on its peak lies the ruins of a small stone building called the ‘Tea House’. Constructed by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight, the view from the Tea House is anything but epic. Looking back towards the shore you have the cascading Eagle’s Fall and out towards the bay a keyhole entrance into the expanse of Lake Tahoe.

Back at camp Tressa brought in a stray for the evening, in the form of a 23 year old German lady by the name of Christina. She needed some consoling after being jilted by her lover and unsure of how to deal with it. The conversation that night was certainly interesting...

Despite the vastness of Lake Tahoe camping is heavily controlled and restricted to a number of designated areas. In search of a more wilderness camping experience I headed out to Loon Lake the following day. Sitting at 6,410 ft, it is higher than Lake Tahoe and this is evident by plenty of snow patches, remnants of the pass winter. As I approached the lake I couldn’t help notice the complete absence of human presence. I wanted secluded remote camping but this was perhaps a touch too desolate. I spotted a gravel road that lead down to the lake offering an easy launching site. What was more pleasing was that there were a handful of cars, which I initially figured must belong to kayakers, assuring me that there are humans about. Though perhaps not the right crowd. As I got out of the car a Jeep came rolling down the road and parked next to me. The appearance of the Jeep brought little comfort to me. It was decorated with a big Confederate flag and a Trump Pence bumper sticker. Oh boy. Two young men jumped out and walked towards me. Behind them I could see a campsite in the woods with 20 other college kids . Oh Lordy….this does not look good for me. Have I stumbled upon some sort of white nationalist/supremacist youth camp? My shades and baseball cap gave me an ethnically ambiguous appearance, but from my skin tone it is rather obvious that I am not white. After a short exchange of pleasantries the two young men introduced themselves as Mitchell and Travis.

Mitchell did most of the talking and he inquired my name and reason for being here. Now I can’t explain exactly my thought process or rationale behind my next move, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to give them my real name. Instead I introduced myself as Walden. Yep that’s right - Walden. One of the whitest names possible. For some weird reason it worked, perhaps because of my British accent. I then told them I’m from Houston - surely I would score some ‘white’ points there. And then something amazing happened. Upon learning my intention of exploring the lake they were all too keen to share their secret spots. These kids live down the road and Loon Lake is essentially their playground, regularly coming out there to camp and enjoy the outdoors.

The island I called home on Loon Lake

They told me about half dozen islands dotted about the lake and suggested I should camp out on one them. I was also told that during the recent drought the water level in the lake was so low that you could walk right up to some of these islands. This year though they had a ton of snowfall and the water level are back up. My take away from the encounter is that if you put aside ideological differences there are plenty of common grounds for us to connect on and form harmonious existence. Having said that I’m not too sure things would have turned out the same had they found out my real name and the fact that I am a Muslim.

Armed with the knowledge of these secret spots I then set out to explore the islands and chose one to call home for the night. The only company I had with me were lizards and ants, big angry annoying black ants. Expected nothing less from a remote wild camping experience. The next morning I packed up, headed back to shore and as I turned on the car engine, Mitchell popped out of the wood, waved and wished me safe travels back to Houston. That moment really sums this first installment of Coddiwomple Adventures. A strange serendipitous collision of colorful characters, wilderness and circumstances.

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