Outdoor photographer Nathanael Billings got a preview of of the upcoming Amgen Tour of California (May 12–18) on his recent trip to South Lake Tahoe, Stockton, and San Jose. The Seattle-based photographer got to experience a lot of his trip by bike, which he says helped him "travel slow" and truly enjoy the destinations. "Sure, cycling can be quick sometimes, but it allows you to see all the twists in the road, every single vantage point on a mountain road, and you’re hyper-aware of just how large and beautiful a place is," Billing says. "A couple hours on a bike allows the scenery to really sink into your mind." Read more about his trip below.
1. What were the top highlights of your trip?
Riding Quimby Road [in San Jose] and hiking around Uvas Canyon County Park. I’ve cycled on and off for the past 10 years and haven’t picked it up in a few years, so to get back in the saddle in such a beautiful area was amazing. Uvas Canyon was like walking through paradise. I hadn’t seen anything quite like it, except for a few places in New Zealand and Tasmania. It felt like I was transported back in time to a bygone era and it was so lovely all around.
2. Where would you go for the best views in South Lake Tahoe?
Emerald Bay would have to be the most photo-worthy spot I went to. You get a really nice vantage over the lake and the scenery is stunning. It really puts into perspective just how big and beautiful Lake Tahoe is. Runner-ups would be Sand Harbor and Memorial Point. They’re really close to each other, but offer very different views of the lake. Sand Harbor was especially gorgeous because there’s a ton of boulders out in the water and they give you contrast to the bright blue water of the lake.
3. What outdoor activities did you do in South Lake Tahoe?
I mostly hiked when I could because the weather was still a bit “wintery” with some heavy rain and light snow up high. It really is a hiker’s paradise there, with just about every hike having a beautiful vista of the lake.
4. What was the riding like in Stockton?
Due to weather, we had to change up plans a bit and opted to ride around the city for a couple hours. It was so nice being able to cycle through the riverfront there and through all of the neighborhoods. It’s a very cute and quaint city and everyone seemed to be courteous of the fact that we were on bikes.
5. How was the climb up Quimby Road in San Jose? How did you celebrate finishing it?
Quimby Road is a leg- and lung-burner for sure, especially near the top when the grade steepens to an average of 11 percent! The view get better and better on the way up, and while you’re catching your breath, there’s always an amazing view over the San Jose Valley to keep your mind visually stiumulated. After our bike ride, we had a lovely dinner at the Grandview Restaurant: five courses of amazing good, great cocktails, and a stunning view of San Jose at sunset. I can’t think of a better place to have a post-ride meal.
6. Do you have any hiking recommendations for Uvas Canyon County Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains?
The Waterfall Loop has it all. You walk alongside the river for the majority of the hike and get to see the park’s most stunning waterfalls. I was limited on time so I didn’t have a chance to really dive deep and hike all of the trails, but you really could spend a couple days exploring there.
7. Do you have any advice for those traveling to these destinations during the Amgen Tour of California?
Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a camera (your phone would work too!), and prepare to see some of the finest areas that California has to offer. The people are so welcoming and if you want to escape the busyness, there’s a trail or mountain vista never too far away along the whole route!
8. What’s the one photo that best sums up your trip?
The photo I took of my new friend, Laura Visconti, cycling down Quimby Road. Right now, California is greener than I’ve ever seen and the five minutes of pure happiness coming down the road, after two hours of cycling up, is the epitome of this trip…and a lot of life if I’m being honest. We work hard for hours, days, weeks, and months for those precious moments of bliss; whether it’s a weekend getaway with loved ones or a 40 mph downhill blitz. We prepare for times like that and looking back, it’s often the most memorable parts of our journey, however difficult it may have been.