Here's what it's like to drive from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- What was supposed to be a nice drive up to Lake Tahoe took an urgent tone for me very quickly. We were supposed to leave from the ABC7 building at 6 a.m. but I had trouble gathering all my equipment for the journey. A smartphone I needed to live tweet the trip from the @abc7newsbayarea account was locked in a drawer and I could not find the key. I called Melanie to ask if we could delay our timed start but she was worried about missing her flight. I felt stress sweat form on my forehead and we hadn't even started the commute challenge yet.

COMMUTE CHALLENGE: By plane or by car - here's the fastest way from Bay Area to Lake Tahoe

Fortunately, a colleague jumped in to locate the elusive key. Incredibly, it was jammed inside a pack of gum. He opened the drawer, I grabbed the phone and ran to the station garage to get into a news vehicle. I could see Melanie through the front windows of the lobby standing near the cab that would take her to the airport. I was relieved to find out she waited for me. I yelled I was ready as I ran by. She got in the taxi and I jumped into the news car. It was 6:03 a.m.

I was able to take a deep breath as my companion for the trip, Production Assistant Melissa Pixcar, drove off. Our forward progress didn't last long. Just one block. Our headlights were off. Melissa had not driven this vehicle before, so we stopped so she could familiarize herself with the car. Lights found and off we went again.

I must admit. The beginning part of the trip was just a blur for me. While Melissa drove across the Bay Bridge and got on Interstate 80, I buried my face on the phone to take pictures, send tweets and update our progress on Facebook.

I didn't know the ABC7 Mornings team was placing bets on our challenge. Thank you Alexis for having faith in us.

By 6:36 a.m. we were across the Carquinez Bridge. This was a new experience for me. I am usually behind the wheel on family trips or on work assignments. I am not used to be chauffeured around, but Melissa seemed very confident behind the wheel.

Since we left the station on a quarter tank of gas, we decided to stop off in Cordelia to fill the tank. I let Melissa deal with the pump while I took pictures and tweeted. She took advantage of the break to grab a coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I didn't order anything. I had food plans for later in the trip.

While she went into the store, I got out of the car to stretch my legs and noticed there were several people packing ski gear on the parking spot next to us. Alvaro Batista and his friends were leaving early on a Friday for a one-day adventure in Northstar.

"We usually go for the day. We drive up. Snowboard the whole day and then drive back. It's a long day for us," Batista told me before driving off.

We continued our journey and soon traveled past some fog. Melissa was quiet. I could see her out of the corner of my eye chopping on her sandwich as she drove. I wish I had taken a picture, but I did not want to distract her.

By 7:10 a.m. we reached Travis Air Force Base and it started to sprinkle, and sprinkle and sprinkle. Melissa had not turned on the wipers yet, and then I heard, "Oh, theeeere's the windshield wipers." We both laughed and kept on driving.

Around this same time Melanie was getting through airport security in Oakland. Sunrise came as we passed by Davis it was dry but cloudy by the time we hit the Highway 50 junction in Sacramento. Just 107 miles to Tahoe, but my thoughts for on something a little closer - Placerville.

But first we need to clear some traffic in Sacramento. It didn't last long. Nothing like the Bay Area at least on this stretch of road.

We finally cleared Sacramento, but then we heard something rather ominous on the radio at 8:07 a.m. "Freezing fog in the Tahoe area" said the news anchor. I had never heard of freezing fog so I tweeted for help. A viewer googled it informed us it was tiny water droplets that can freeze instantly. I still didn't know what that meant for our trip ahead. Hopefully the sun would warm us up enough so we don't have any problems.

We finally got to Placerville near 9 a.m. I wanted to eat something but didn't want to eat and run, so we looked for a place that would attract locals. Bingo. We went into Cuppa Coffee and More and saw several people chatting and relaxing. Everything on the display case looked good. I ordered a vegetarian quiche and a sweet potato muffin. Melissa tried a bit but she was still full from her sandwich so I ate most of it.

Sitting nearby were Tim Smith and Stan Anderson. They get together once a week to catch up over coffee. They chatted with us about Placerville history and tourists. They don't seem to mind getting invaded by Bay Area families heading up to Tahoe.


While we were chatting, Melanie had already landed in Reno and would soon catch a shuttle to South Lake Tahoe. Melissa noticed viewers urging us on Twitter to get back on the road, so we did.

This last part of the trip was amazing. Highway 50 follows the American River for a good while. I had not gone to South Lake Tahoe in more than 20 years. I usually go on Interstate 80 to Truckee and North Lake Tahoe in summer and winter, so this route was something new to me. The views were amazing even if we still hadn't seen any snow yet.

Since cellphone cover was spotty at times, I was able to enjoy a bit more of the sights. Around 10 a.m. we made a quick stop to take a selfie at the Silver Fork totem. Victory was in sight and we started to relish the moment.

It wasn't long before we saw snow. We reached 5,000 feet in just a few more minutes of driving and we started to see snow on the sides. The road itself was clear. We passed several chain installation sites but there were no road restrictions.

We couldn't help making one more pit stop at Twin Bridges. We took a little panoramic video of the snow covered hills. Melissa started to reminisce about her childhood. She came to South Lake Tahoe often with her family on camping and snow trips.

We could have stayed and absorbed the sights a little more but we started to get worried this could turn out to be a repeat of the tortoise and the hare story. Us being the hare since we were expected to win. Melanie was already on the bus and we weren't sure how long her trip from Reno to South Lake Tahoe would take, so we decided to get going again.

At 10:28 we reached the summit. Now came the drive down to South Lake Tahoe.

It didn't take long for us to reach our destination. It took nearly five hours, but that included a long stopover in Placerville. But hey, what are road trips for if not to enjoy the ride.

We had to wait nearly an hour for Melanie to catch up to us. Luckily there was a nice fireplace going at the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel.

While we expected to win from the start, things might have been different if there had been a snow storm and we had to stop and put on tire chains. The drive back did not have the urgency of the trip to Tahoe but it was fun to compare notes with Melanie in the car about our odyssey. It still took us four hours to drive back. It was a long day, but I can say at least it was a fun long day.

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