I’m not sure about you, but for me it just doesn’t feel like summer until a series of highly specific things go down. I don't mean a shot of vitamin D here or there, I’m talking full sensory overload…catapulting off the high dive and head first into this delightful equinox. I mean whole boatloads of unfiltered Americana…corndogs-slathered-in-mustard and American-ale-in-cans kind of an afternoon. Serious, Unadulterated. Summer. For me, that sweet spot hit home this year at Cave Lake State Park. And the reason, you ask? The sixth annual Great Bathtub Boat Races.
With just about every weekend of my summer booked up I was already knee deep in June and didn't know where a third of this magical season had wandered off to. And what else do I love more than dropping off the grid? Dropping off the grid combined with a wacky Nevada outing. So, with a sneaky suspicion this was exactly what my summer had been missing, we loaded down the truck with practically the entire outdoors section of Cabela’s, threw the paddleboard up top and blasted down the Loneliest Road toward Ely, and summer.
Ridiculously amazing views swallowed me up as a continued south of Ely to Cave Lake. With stupefyingly beautiful scenes of the Egan Range in front of me, we slowly creeped up and away into the hills, one step closer to dropping out of cell range. I was already about half way to my Zen zone, but this sequence of broad sweeps bends lulled me into a trance…a totally invigorating way of whisking me away from society. Or at least the parts of society I didn't want to deal with for the next three days. Relaxation mode? Check.
Lord love a duck. One millisecond in technical state park boundaries and this place was more than on the right track. Almost like a mini Great Basin National Park, the jagged rock formations towering above perfectly framed the flawless turquoise hues of the lake. I mean I wouldn’t have surprised me if Bambi or Thumper popped out and broke into song at any second, that’s how pristine it all was.
Considering I’d already built this thing up a bazillion percent, I wasn't just going to camp in a regular campsite either. Ooooooooh no. I kicked this thing into high gear and reserved the yurt…the only one available at a Nevada State Park as a matter of fact and it was mine, all mine. Booyah.
Although it was the morning of the Great Bathtub Boat Races and a few people were showing up here and there, the campground was quiet as we unloaded our goodies and set up shop in our mansion of the mountains. Getting everything prepped and ready to go for later, we brewed a fresh pot, sat down to enjoy the serenity of the place and decided to take the paddleboard down to the lake for a spin.
Although the grounds were oddly hush-hush, I popped into the bathroom on the way to the lake to come across a bulleted sign reading, “Quiet hours will not be enforced on the date of the Bathtub Races. There will be random cannon blasts throughout the day. Fireworks will be set off at 9pm.” And ooooooh buddy. Had I known then what I know now? If that wasn't a telltale sign of how the weekend was going to go, then dang. I don't know what is.
Taking a few epic spins on absolutely glassy water, we rounded the shockingly large lake several times before coming back to survey the scene on shore. By now, several vendors and lots more people had shown up, and a DJ was blasting old favorites like Sweet Home Alabama and Shook Me All Night Long. Perfect vibe: checkity check.
Touching base with the official peeps at the Great Bathtub Boat Races tent for more info, we too selected a rubber ducky out of the most distinctive set I’d ever laid eyes on. I was excited to see that aside from the bathtub boat races, there would be kayak/canoe racing, and even a rubber duck race! A pirate duck with my lucky number 13 had my name all over it, and with an event as legendary as the Great Bathtub Boat Races, how could I turn my back on a t-shirt to commemorate the day?! Sold.
“What’s the agenda for the day…when do the races start??” I asked one of the friendly tourism ladies. “Well, usually right around three o’clock, but it might not be right on schedule.” You get an A+ with a gold star, lady. I was all over this nonchalant, willy nilly sort of a situation that was unfolding and headed back for the beach.
So, with a few hours of nowhere to be and zero schedule to abide by, we had nothing left to do than live it up with the locals. Am I right? Dragging our camp chair into the water just like the best of them, we enjoyed dipping our toes in the balmy waters of Cave Lake, slung back a few icy refreshments and got down on some entertaining conversation with the locals.
Several competitors began floating in, and with people as spirited as the names of the tubs themselves, all of my attention had shifted to the start line. Names like Untamed Mess, Hillbilly Deluxe, Red Solo Cup and the Bare Minimum consumed every ounce of my attention until KABAM! The first cannon fire was officially in the books. You’re keeping me on my toes Cave Lake, and I like it. You win this round.
So naturally, I wanted to get in on this explosive action quick fast and in a hurry. Stalking down and cornering a park ranger, I fired off 20 questions as to when the cannons were going to be going off next so I could get an up-close whiff of gunpowder of my very own. “We basically light the thing off whenever we feel like it. Why, you wanna light it now?” Jordan said. Ummmm, heck YES I want to light it off now. Twenty seconds later he was ramming a pouch of explosive goodness into this historical replica and torching the fuse. Lets just get one thing clear: if you don't like firing off a cannon, then you might as well just steer clear of me because this thing was the business…I mean, I might have pyromaniac tendencies.
Just like a five year old with an espresso and a puppy, my attention was yet again diverted to the shoreline, where more and more competitors were launching their jalopies, hoping they would actually be buoyant. To tell you the truth, although the whole thing was so relaxed, there were some serious rules to abide by! With a motorized and non-motorized class, racers had to have an actual 40-gallon, commercially manufactured bathtub in their rig with one crewmember in the tub the entire stint of the race. Human muscle, wind or combo could propel the thing, so basically anything goes besides an actual motor, but these rattletraps had to be submerged at least two inches in the water and solid enough to carry the entire crew. Oh and lifejackets…completely crucial.
With folks coming from places as far away as Texas to participate in the event, the boats ranged from super fancy to literally the Bare Minimum, but were all equally awesome in their own way. Despite a wide variance of inventiveness…there was one common denominator: just about every craft had Old Glory proudly displayed in one way or another. Dontcha just love it?
And just as random as a canon echoing through this off grid pocket of paradise, the sixth annual Great Bathtub Boat Races was off and running. The general tone of the afternoon seemed to be an uncalculated free-for-all up until now, but the mood instantly shifted and hardcore competitive prowess took over. Lots of boisterous coaching from the shoreline kicked off, as did going to extreme measures to lock in first place…like abandoning all engineered power and turning to some good old-fashioned solid muscle.
After a series of classes launching one right after another, the Great Bathtub Boat Races ended as casually as it began and the kayak and canoe racing was getting started. People had been cutting loose all day, so by the time this race had the green light things were getting wild…and in the best way imaginable. Although just about anything was down like China Town during the Bathtub Boat Races, things were even more loosey goosey with the canoeing, boats capsizing and all!
We didn't even come close to winning the rubber ducky race [dang it!] and the recreational excitement began to dwindle, as people needed some downtime to relax. Myself included. Taking a few minutes to ourselves, we posted up on shore to find a little girl just having the time of her flipping life on her own epic lake day. Sucking up water with a toy and spraying it all above and around her through the 98-degree summer air just made me feel so full and content. The entire day had been a bout of unfiltered happiness, but seeing how this contraption made the girl just the happiest babe in the world confirmed the carefree, laid-back vibe of the day. The girl, and several couples perusing the shoreline for the perfect rock to skip across the glassy water were small reminders that emphasized the importance of pumping the breaks a bit and take notice of the pleasure in the small things, that’s for sure.
The sun was out of sight for the day, so we retreated back to our abode for impeccably charred shish kabobs and some much needed campfire time. Something about a rip-roaring campfire on a summer night, I’m telling you what. Sure the other elements of this already flawless day were teeing up for a great summer adventure, but that smoky, fiery goodness effortlessly pushed it over the edge. The only thing left to do other than stargaze was to head down for some Cocktails and Cannons…the capper of this stellar Nevada getaway.
Hate to break it to you Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, but Cave Lake has got you beat with the fireworks situation. Wowza, their fireworks game is tight. The way they catapulted into some of the darkest skies in the nation and mushroomed over the sleek, calm water to create an impeccable, mirrored reflection was heavenly. And then there was the echoed boom that shattered through the canyon above that really put the cherry on top…just amazing.
To say that my weekend at Cave Lake was exactly what I’d been missing would a crime. An understatement to say the least. The smell of sunscreen, a shot of water up your nose now and then, bubbling refreshments in the sun and muddy toes in the water was exactly what the doctor ordered, and all off grid to say the least. As I blasted home to another face-melting sunset on the Loneliest Road, it struck me that the contentment of the people and entire boatload of Americana was hitting a happy note I hadn’t seen in a while. We weren’t a rubber ducky winner. We didn't come close in the kayak or bathtub races, but we were some serious winners of a damned good opener to summer. I’ll be back for you next year Cave Lake, and this time I’m going to have my own rig dialed in. That my friends, is a challenge I’ll accept any day of the week.