When I meet new people on my travels, a common question asked is “where are you from?” My answer is Northern California. For those that have never been to California, a common perception is that California is sun, beach, surf boards, and palm trees. These things do exist in California, but predominantly in Southern California. The Northern part of the state has beaches but the coastline is much colder and more rugged than in the Southern end of the state.
There is a lot more to California than the Pacific Coast. When questioned in detail about my origins, my response is that I am from a small town in the northeastern Sierra Nevada Mountains; a town called Truckee. Truckee’s current population is about 17,000. The town was much smaller 30 years ago, when I was growing up; the population was around 3000.
Since Truckee is located in the high mountains (it sits at an elevation of about 6000 feet), there is quite a lot of snow in the winter. Yes! There is snow in California, a lot of snow. Located on a major interstate highway (80), the town is the gateway to many well-known ski resorts – Northstar at Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Soda Springs….to name a few. Beyond the snow, Truckee is also one of the coldest places in the United States, especially during the summer months. It is not uncommon to have a day time temperature of around 80 F and the night time temperature (on the same day) at or below 32 F!
Truckee holds an important place in California history. It grew as a lumber and railroad town, with the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. At one point, the town was home to a large population of Chinese laborers working to build the railroad connecting the East and West of the United States. Today, the train goes right threw the downtown area of Truckee numerous times a day
There is a beautiful alpine lake, Donner Lake, located on the West side of Truckee. This lake is named after a well known group of people known as The Donner Party. Throughout my childhood, I was enthralled by the story of The Donner Party, as the story took place in what felt like my back yard. During the 1840’s, there was an increase of pioneers from the East that wanted to settle in the new territories of Oregon and California. The Donner Party was one such group of 87 people. The party was given advice to follow a new route to California. As a result, they found themselves in the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains when a particularly harsh winter began. The group ended up at what is now Donner Lake, for almost 4 months. In the end, 48 of the original 87 pioneers survived their ordeal.
Today, Donner Lake is an amazingly beautiful place, surrounded by homes and activity. It is the place that I see first when I visit Truckee. It is the place that reminds me of my childhood and the incredibly beautiful area of California I call home. It is the place that holds special memories of my lifelong friends.
The part of Truckee that I carry with me through life are the friendships that were made and have lasted 35+ years. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, small-town childhood friends are the long-lasting kind of friends. They are the thick and thin friendships that don’t need nurturing anymore; they are infinite. They are the kind where your friends are able to complete memories of events that you can’t remember, but were part of.
Last weekend, my son and I attended a family memorial service in Truckee. Typical of the weather in Truckee, Saturday was a beautiful, clear Fall day. Sunday, the weather changed quickly. By 2 pm, chains were required on 2 wheel drive cars traveling over Donner Summit-the high pass we needed to cross in order to return home.
I do not enjoy putting chains on; I don’t think anyone does! Luckily for me, there is another route I was able to take to get home. The route, highway 70, is through Sierra County and quite rural. Driving through the high Sierra Valley, I found myself reflecting on the diversity of California which prompted this blog post. I drove through areas along the highway where the population of cattle is much higher than the population of people! I feel very fortunate to live in an area of extreme beauty and diversity. In a 4 hour drive, I can go from the dense, urban setting of San Francisco to the sparsely populated High Sierras.
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