The New Reno: Yes, Virginia, There Is Gentrification

renoI’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that Reno has historically not been one of my favorite places to visit. But I spend a fair amount of time passing through, because my brother and his family live nearby, in the ski town of Truckee. Flying into Reno is convenient for anyone wanting to visit Lake Tahoe.

For years, my brother, Mark, has been telling me that Reno is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, what with the implementation of Wingfield Park – the city’s kayaking park that runs through downtown – and the Truckee River Walk with its galleries, cafes, and brewery. But don’t worry: Reno is still The Biggest Little City in the World, rife with the requisite prostitutes, crack houses, tattoo parlors, pawn shops and all the unsavory characters one would expect to find.

Yet, I discovered a younger, gentler, hipper Reno over Thanksgiving when I was in Truckee. Reno is trying to dial down its hard-core gambling, all-you-can-eat, come-all-ye-societal-fringe-dwellers rep. The most noticeable change is the gentrification underway along the South Virginia Street Corridor, the major north-south business artery. The street is paralleled to the east by a mix of decrepit and charmingly restored Victorian and Craftsman homes. Housing, Mark says, is ridiculously affordable.

I did a book signing over the holiday off South Virginia at a bustling new cheese shop, Wedge. A lovely addition to the area, Wedge has an excellent selection of domestic and imported cheese, as well as house-made sandwiches, specialty foods and primo charcuterie. Want a good, affordable bottle of wine, some soppressata, and a hunk of award-winning, Alpine-style cow’s milk cheese from Wisconsin? Wedge has it.

When Mark and I arrived at the shop, he commented on how much the area was changing, citing the soon-to-be-open wine bar, Picasso and Wine, next door. The employees cheerfully agreed that there were lots of exciting developments underway, but that “there’s a crack house just two doors down.” They weren’t joking, either. We were parked in front of it.renoClose to Wedge is Midtown Eats, an adorable, farmhouse-modern cafe, and Crème, a sweet breakfast spot specializing in crepes. Get lunch at popular soup-and-sandwich spot Süp, imbibe (and eat) at Brasserie St. James brewery, Craft Beer & Wine, and mixology geek faves Reno Public House, and Chapel Tavern (over 100 whiskeys on shelf!). Making dinner in your rental ski cabin or condo? Visit the Tahoe area’s only Whole Foods.

If you’re in need of some sweet street-style, hit Lulu’s Chic Boutique or Junkee Clothing Exchange. If it’s your home that’s in need of an inexpensive upgrade, Recycled Furniture is the place. As for those tats and street drugs? You’re on your own.

Future plans for the South Virginia Corridor include greater emphasis on facilitating more pedestrian-friendly walkways, public spaces featuring art installations, fountains, and benches, and street-scaping. Gentrification may not always be welcome, but for Reno, it’s the start of a whole new Big Little City.

[Photo credits: Reno, Flickr user coolmikeol; bike path, VisitmeinReno.com]

Outdoor Adaptive Sports Programs: Where To Find The Nation’s Best

adaptive skiingLike most of us, I didn’t fully realize the extent of the daily hassles and challenges faced by those who use a wheelchair, prosthetic, or other mobility aid until it became somewhat personal. I’m fortunate to have two people in my life who’ve been an enormous source of both education and inspiration, and I’m writing this piece because of them. A little bit of background is in order:

When I moved to Vail in 1995 to attend culinary school, I became friends with Darol Kubacz, a young Forest Service employee. Darol had broken his back in a motorcycle accident about 18 months prior; at the time of his injury, he was in the Army, working in Special Ops. He was already an experienced outdoorsman who enjoyed scuba diving, climbing, and hiking. Despite the physical challenges and fairly recent onset of his paralysis, he made a huge impression on me with his positive, non-defeatist attitude.

Darol’s job with the Forest Service entailed trail assessment for the handicapped, while in his personal life he’d already undertaken a number of adaptive sports, including the aforementioned activities he’d enjoyed prior to his injury. He’d also started alpine skiing (he broke his neck in a skiing accident in 2000, but fortunately sustained no additional physical or neurological damage).

Darol became my workout buddy, and he was the first friend I’d ever had who was in a chair. Through him, I learned a lot about what it means to live with a limitation. Mainly, he impressed upon me that, to a certain extent, it’s possible for humans to overcome physical limitations. I’m surprised he doesn’t have, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” carved into his chest.arm bikeToday, Darol works as a part-time adaptive hiking guide in Phoenix (he and his clients use off-road arm bikes),and is working on launching an adaptive paragliding program. He’s climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro –twice, summiting once– entirely under his own power, to raise awareness for his foundation, Freedom for Life. Following his ski accident, he has, he says, “Learned to embrace a more intimate experience with nature, that’s less about speed and adrenalin, and more about being in the moment.” Hence his passion for off-road bikes.

I met my friend Tony 12 years, ago, when I was living in Berkeley and working as a farmers market vendor. A loyal customer, Tony is also a documentary filmmaker and graphic designer. He’s quadriplegic, the result of a teenage diving accident. Tony has partial use of his arms, and until his accident, was a competitive surfer. Until a few years ago, however, he’d never been able to get back on a board due to some medical issues he was dealing with.

Today, a freakishly youthful 48, Tony is an avid surfer and skier (that’s him at Alpine Meadows, in the photo at the beginning of this story), thanks to several amazing adaptive sport programs. He says he’s in the best shape of his life, and his jones for salt water and snow matches that of any able-bodied enthusiast.

Living in the outdoor adventure mecca of Boulder as I do, I’m also in an epicenter of outdoor adaptive recreation programs. With my locale and both of these inspiring and incredible guys in mind, I wanted to provide a round-up of top adaptive sport centers across the country.
wake boarding
Adaptive Adventures
Based in Boulder, this is Darol’s preferred ski and summer program; he also co-produces a summer Moab Mania event for them. They offer alpine skiing, snowboarding, waterskiing, wake-boarding, kayaking, rafting, and cycling. Offers civilian, veterans, and kids programs.

Telluride Adaptive Sports Program
Darol and I both recommend this program (me, from living in Telluride and knowing some of the staff). TASP is very well-regarded, and offers summer and winter programs. This time of year there’s alpine, nordic, and backcountry skiing and snowboarding, snow shoeing, ice-climbing, Helitrax skiing, and snowmobiling. In summer, there’s horseback riding, hiking, biking, fishing, climbing, paddling, and camping.

Challenge Aspen
This prestigious adaptive ski and snowboard program based in Snowmass is for civilians with physical or cognitive disabilities. Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities (C.A.M.O.) is for injured military; a new camp this year has been developed to help adaptive skiers learn more about competitive Paralympic training programs and interface with Paralymic coaches.
adaptive kayaking
High Fives Foundation
Tony is a huge fan of this Truckee, California, based non-profit founded by paralyzed former competitive skier Roy Tuscany. It’s dedicated to raising awareness and funding for “injured athletes that have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in the winter action sports community.” High Fives also serves as a resource center for alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, and pilates, gyms, and adaptive sports and equipment.

WORLD T.E.A.M. Sports
Chartered in North Carolina and based in New York, Darol recommends this athletic organization that offers adaptive and able-bodied events in mountain biking, rafting, cycling, and more. They also offer teen challenges.

They Will Surf Again
Tony has hit the waves with this Los Angeles-based program offered by the non-profit, Life Rolls On (LRO). Founded by quadriplegic, former competitive surfer Jesse Billauer, LRO raises awareness and funds for spinal cord injury (SCI) research, and offers bi-coastal adaptive surfing, skate, and snowboarding programs.

AccesSurf Hawaii
Honolulu-based adaptive surfing and other recreational water sport programs.
adaptive climbing
Wheels 2 Water
Tony recommends this adaptive surf and scuba diving non-profit in his hometown of Huntington Beach, California.

Wheels Up Pilots
This research and instructional paragliding program in Santa Barbara is highly recommended by Darol, who is about to become one of the first two U.S.-certified adaptive paragliding pilots. Open to civilians and veterans.

Freedom for Life Off-road Arm Biking
For guided hikes in the Phoenix area, contact Darol Kubacz, darol@fflfoundation.org.

[Photo credits: adaptive skier, Tony Schmiesing; all others, Adaptive Adventures]

Camping America’s most beautiful desert lake

In the middle of a high altitude desert completely devoid of shade, I somehow find myself setting up a tent on the beach.

At least, I think it’s a beach. There’s sand under my toes, the sound of waves lapping against the shore is no further than 10 yards from my tent flap, and between lukewarm sips from my Tecate beer can I’m able to faintly make out the scent of sea salt wafting on the breeze.

Only, I’m not on the coast. I’m in Nevada, 300 miles from the Pacific Ocean, on the shores of one of the few remaining salt lakes in the entire country. Furthermore, this is the desert, a place that only receives 7 inches of rain a year and is synonymous with exceptional dryness and heat.

Yet here I sit, tailgate facing the water and beach chair firmly planted in the sand, wondering if there is a reason why I’m the only one here.

%Gallery-131840%At 3,800 elevation and over an hour from the nearest urban center (Reno), Pyramid Lake is regarded by many to be the nation’s most beautiful desert lake. Covering a swath of 188 sq. miles of desert, the lake is 1/10 the size of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, yet due to its greater depth actually contains 25% more water. And yes, it’s salty, with the water containing about 1/6 the salt of regular ocean water.

As the terminus of the Truckee River which flows from higher, cleaner, and far more popular Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake retains an aura of tranquility and calm that’s lost on its famous neighbor. While other notable Nevada lakes such as Tahoe and Lake Mead swell with weekend partygoers and well-heeled recreationalists, it’s still possible to find a sliver of sand on Pyramid Lake where the only semblance of movement is the sun sinking below the distant horizon.

Set entirely within the boundaries of the Paiute Indian Reservation, Pyramid Lake is also a renowned spot for fish-hungry anglers looking to go home with a filet and a photo. In addition to the various species of trout that populate the lake (many of which are caught by fisherman sitting in the shallows of the lake in strangely concocted fishing chairs that look curiously like glorified lifeguard stands), Pyramid Lake is the only place on the planet known to contain the critically endangered cui-ui fish.

At the general store in the town of Sutcliffe, a local, non-Indian woman sporting a “Charter Member of the Piss and Moan Club” t-shirt is criticizing the recent move by the Paiute to close certain sections of the lake to non-tribal members. Due to various instances of graffiti found on sacred sites along the lake’s eastern shore, the tribe has taken the drastic measure of closing these sections to the general public.

These sites include the pyramid shaped rock structure 19th century explorer John Fremont incorporated into the lake’s name when in 1844 he became the first Westerner to lay eyes upon the lake. For the next 16 years, Pyramid Lake would be at the center of the tensions between native Paiute tribes and the hordes of American prospectors looking to strike it rich in silver, lumber, whiskey, and gold. Finally coming to a head in 1860, over 70 early settlers would be killed in a botched attack on the Paiute Tribe in what would infamously be the Pyramid Lake War. A full account of the reservation and the cultural history is available by visiting the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitor Center in the town of Nixon.

Camping permits for the reservation and Pyramid Lake are available for $9/night at either the Nixon General Store or by advance purchase online, so for less money than the minimum bet at the Vegas craps table, you can have the finest piece of beachfront property Nevada has to offer. The sunsets even come free.