Outdoor Center owner has outhouse passion
Joyce Coker is the owner of the Hope Valley Outdoor Center, 300 yards east of Sorensen’s Resort on Highway 88. Originally from Michigan, she has been living and cross country skiing in Tahoe for almost 20 years. She spoke to us about the peace of living in the mountains, and her unusual passion: outhouses.
When and why did you move to Tahoe?
I moved up here in 1985 to take classes at the college. Coming from the Midwest, from Michigan, and then moving here from Yosemite, I couldn’t leave the mountains.
When did you start with the Outdoor Center?
It used to be Hope Valley Cross Country, 15 years ago. I worked for them off and on, and in 1997, one of the owners moved on and I bought in. We moved down to our present location, 300 yards east of Sorensen’s. I bought the whole operation two springs ago, so this is my second year.
You’ve got to tell me about the outhouses. In your backyard, you have a rather nice outhouse.
Outhouses are considered a part of history. Everybody’s getting into them. You can hardly find them anymore. There was one for sale in town and I was a day late. You know why they are red? It’s the cow’s blood that they use for painting them.
What are the stars and moon on an outhouse for?
The stars and moon symbols are from when restaurants had outhouses and the moon was for men and the stars were for women.
What kinds of outhouses are there?
People come up with really unique ideas. There’s crooked ones, there’s one where the seat is an ice cream cone, there’s one with Spongebob. This one guy made his into a liquor store. There’s two-story outhouses. There’s one someone made from a boat. I want to have an outhouse race at some point.
An outhouse race?
I say it every year and I don’t do it. There’s one in Virginia City. You get sponsors and businesses involved in building their own outhouse ideas. You can get refrigerator boxes, or dryer boxes for the kids to have their own outhouse races.
So it’s almost like a parade with different floats?
How exactly do you race an outhouse?
You mount skis on a pallet and build your outhouse on the pallet. You usually have two people pushing it and one person sitting inside it. I don’t know how ours would work exactly.
How long is the distance usually?
About a hundred yards.
Do you use yours? No. The county regulations don’t permit it. It’s just decor. I have two seats in it, but nobody can use it, there’s no hole. I put in windows and shelves in it and I have all these antique bottles and cans inside. I’m getting a mailbox for it. I named it Henrietta.
What’s going on at the Outdoor Center this winter?
One of the things is snowshoe demo day on Jan. 8, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., where all the reps show up and we set up at Pickett’s Junction. It’s free snowshoeing and cross country skiing and you get to try all the new gear. We play softball, set up croquet and have a kids’ scavenger hunt.
We also do a Snowshoe Thompson tour where we go out and talk about Snowshoe Thompson and what he did. It’s always been a fund-raiser. There’s a statue down in Genoa and at first it was to help build the statue; now it’s to help maintain it. That’s March 12.
What’s it like doing business in Alpine County, the least populated county in California?
It’s a good challenge. I serve a lot of homemade pies and soups. It’s more of a store, café in the summer. It’s definitely more peaceful, you don’t have the traffic out there. People coming into the shop are more outdoor types – when they come in, they are looking for backcountry skiing to get away from everybody.
What’s your approach to life?
My whole thing with life is pretty much being outside with nature. It’s really calm. When I’m having an emotional time, I just get out on my cross country skis, ski out, go to a tree and sit. The birds, the chipmunks all come out. The sound of running water can be really soothing. I don’t have a microwave, cable or watch TV. There’s too much to do outside; I barely have time to do my outside activities.
Got any other hobbies?
In the springtime, I go mushroom hunting. I only know edible morel. They like growing where they do the controlled burning. I’ve come into the shop with three or four bus tubs. They sell for $34 a pound fresh, but I end up giving them away.
We had a dinner with the morels and some people were afraid to eat them because they are wild mushrooms, so I called the dinner the “You Only Live Once Dinner.”