One of my favorite things in the world is to plunge into a lake, preferably in the mountains, fed by snowmelt. The Pacific Northwest drought and climate change have sadly warmed the temperature of many of these glorious lakes. The upside is that swimming is more pleasant. It used to be, numbness and a deep bone chill was assumed after a mountain lake dip.

This summer, as I embark on a big birthday, I was feeling a bit shy, or let’s say not really embracing the idea of a blowout celebration. I have never reveled in birthday glory, despite being a Leo, a theatrical being, and anything but a shrinking violet. It felt so dismal to ponder, plan and pretend to be festive when I wasn’t feeling it. Instead, I just said yes to a variety of unconnected plans and invitations, and inadvertently (perhaps a little by divine design) got to experience numerous lakes this summer. I’m choosing to call it “The Summer of Lakes“ and not my big birthday summer.

The summer started off with an ankle tendon injury that I thought was a sign of age and doom. I had a number of outdoor adventures planned and worried about being hobbled.  A backpacking trip to Shealor Lake in the Sierras was changed to suit my gimpy self, and a rousing canoe trip with two moms and four boys down the Sacramento River took the trek’s place. OK, not a lake but great water fun and some swimming! We spent two nights and three days on the river, from just below Redding to Los Molinos, CA, or about 40 miles. We were lucky to see egrets, blue herons, a river otter, osprey and even a tiger shark…on the river!

Then I headed to Squaw Valley in Tahoe for Wanderlust, a yoga and music festival my sister had invited me to. I love yoga but was excited to have access to the beautiful outdoors as well. A day trip to Lake Tahoe itself found the beautiful deep blue body of water warmer than ever, and simply splendid for a late afternoon dip. A ride up in the Squaw gondola and hike down to Lake Shirley, a small, pristine alpine lake at about 8000 feet, rounded out a day of yoga before a night of music.

If that weren’t enough, an invitation to the Bear Valley Area of the Sierras brought me to Lake Alpine and Utica, both reservoirs in the Stanislaus National Forest popular with paddlers. I had kayaked on Utica with friends many years ago and had fondly remembered the name because my mom hails from Utica, NY.

There is something about lake swimming that makes me feel everything is all right in the world, a rebalancing of something very deep and important. The repeated diving or jumping off a rock or dock into a beautiful lake and then drying in the sunshine is just nirvana.

Flash forward to August, my  so-called “special” month, and we headed up to the Pacific Northwest as a family to visit my family-in-law. We drove from our home base in San Francisco, and because of the raging forest fires, opted to detour to Crater Lake in Oregon. The improvised detour was an alternative to our regular stopover in Ashland and requisite dip in Emigrant Lake, where one can rent SUP and go on the waterslide. I have wanted to see Crater Lake many times, but it always felt too far off our route. We barreled up the mountain, with our two giant bags on the rental car roof. As we moved farther away from the smoke it started to rain, a flash storm, just enough to dampen our luggage but also cleanse and reset the air. Crater Lake is remarkable. A hurried visit, where we just stopped at as many views spots as possible, didn’t do it justice and just whet my appetite for more.

Once up on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, we visited three lakes; Ozette, Crescent, and Quinault. Lake Crescent has been my favorite for a while and we always make a pilgrimage there to jump off the dock, sit in the Adirondack chairs and drink in the beauty. Lake Ozette is a bit more remote, about 25 miles down a dusty road with very few amenities. We will definitely return and backpack or kayak next time. Lake Quinault was a long journey from Port Angeles but well worth the trip. Lunch on the deck of the lodge and swimming, kayaking, canoeing and a special regional “pop” to cool off, made all the time in the car melt away.

On the way home from Washington, we needed a break from the endless car time. I suggested a stop at Lake Shasta, but it was so depressingly low and the gatekeeper suggested Whiskeytown Lake near Redding instead. One final dunk and swim granted to me by my family.

Not since I was a kid and spent summers at the beach or Lake Chautauqua have I felt that I got enough time in the water, but this summer I did. Maybe it was a birthday present from the universe or just kismet, but it sure felt good.

Filed Under Adventure Travel, California, Canoe/Kayak, Driving Trips, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, Lake Tahoe, National Parks, Northern California, Olympic National Park, Olympic Peninsula, Oregon, Pacific Northwest, Sequim, Swimming, Washington, Yoga, national park, wildlife


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