Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Daze/Haze of Wine and Roads

East entrance to 1.7 mile Taft Tunnel
West entrance of Taft Tunnel
Dan & Wendy on a trestle
Bicycling the Hiawatha Trail should be a bucket list item for anyone who can still ride a bike. It is a converted 15-mile railroad bed from the Montana border through a cold and dark 1.7 mile tunnel into Idaho, then 9 more tunnels and 7 sky-high trestles over a gradual 1.7% grade.  We enjoyed it just as much as we did three years ago, but this time we also had the satisfaction of showing it off to 15 members of our Daze of Wine and Roads Airstream caravan. Unfortunately the hazy air quality made it difficult to see the distant trestles across the valley.
Looking from one trestle to another
Cold and dark 1.7 miles
With 9,000 men working round-the clock for two
years and $234 million later, the Milwaukee Railroad opened in 1909, enabling a rail line from Chicago to Seattle.  In 1910, one of the largest forest fires in US history burned 3 million acres, blackening skies as far away as New York. Courageous train engineers are credited with saving 600 lives racing over burning trestles to the relative safety of the tunnels or distant towns.  As a result, 440 miles of the line were electrified in 1911, a novel concept that other railroad companies soon adopted.  The line was abandoned in 1980 and converted to a rails-to-trails path in 2001.
Some of the happy campers at end of the trail

The Hiawatha was the highlight of our 14-day caravan, as was our stay in nearby Wallace, Idaho. John and Vicki Billdt, who didn't do the ride, had a huge pot of jambalaya waiting for us when we returned.  

Fascinating mine tour by x-miner

If you like history, understated Wallace is the place for you.  Most of it burned to the ground in 1910. Our campground on a creek was just three blocks from historic buildings, museums,  and restaurants. In fact, it even had it's own pub! Some toured the brothel museum and others toured a silver mine and hiked the Paulaski Trail, made famous by Timothy Egan's book, The Big Burn.   Some of us also rode sections of the 72-mile Coeur d' Alene trail, using Wallace as a base. 
Bordello Museum
With Cousin Vicki, one of my best childhood friends
As frosting on the cake, Kathy and I connected with my cousin Vicki and her husband, Bob as they were passing through Wallace.  We had not seem them in many years, and as we age we realize how important it is to strengthen family and friendship ties.
MY center of the Universe

Kathy & me along the Snake on a 15 mile ride.  Not smart!
We were lucky not to have to evacuate any areas because of threatening fires all over the Pacific NW. Our hearts go out to those who have lost their homes and to all the firefighters trying to protect them. The smoke closer to the fires had to be much worse than our inconvenience.  The air quality affected us more than we wanted.  I didn't ride a segment from Coeur d'Alene to Wallace because visibility was barely 150 yards.  

In retrospect, we shouldn't have ridden the day we arrived in Clarkston. We were going to spend three nights in Clarkston, WA (right next to Lewiston ID on the Snake River), but left early after a sleepless cough-filled night.  

View from our campsite on the Snake River
Our first attempt to leave on Thursday didn't succeed.  About 25 miles out of town in hot temperatures climbing a steep pass, our engine overheated and lost almost all of its cooling fluid.  We had no cell phone coverage.  Just as I was getting ready to fix the two flats on my bike and ride back to Clarkston, a helpful state trooper pulled up and drove me into a town 15 miles away to buy more coolant. Then he drove me back, but the trip was too short because I was having too good of a time learning about what it's like to be a state trooper on remote roads.  Of course, he just had to see what the inside of an Airstream looked like!

Master griller & Cook, Davis Cook
Two tows at Alpowa Summit

The new fluids got us two miles to the summit before we realized that we had a serious leak.   Our terrific friends, Davis Cook and Craig Bowcock still in the campground drove up to pull our trailer back to camp and a tow truck hauled our VW back to the dense haze of Clarkston.  In stark contrast to the delightful Trooper K.C. Scott, I got to learn all about the tow truck driver's anger about his online anger-management classes.  

In the end, it was a happy ending because we got to see almost everybody again and enjoy one of our best spontaneous potluck barbecues of the entire two weeks.  The repair shop was able to tighten a lose nut on a coolant hose by the next morning and we got one more chance to hug everyone good bye.

Our leadership mantra
At times we wondered what we were getting ourselves into when we agreed to lead this experimental 'Casual Caravan' with our friends Bonnie and Craig.  But it turned out okay.  We made new friends, solidified existing acquaintances, tasted and drank a lot of fine wines, rode some great bicycle paths, had stimulating conversations, lots of laughs, and (of course) ate a little too much.  For all of the caravaners who are reading this, THANK YOU very much for your flexibility and enthusiasm! You are what made this trip fun and special.

As always, it's always nice to be back home.  This time, the Willamette Valley never looked or smelled so good to us.  We were serenaded with a refreshing rainstorm that reminded us that we live in the best place in the US.  Kathy is catching up on all of her Assistance League board responsibilities for a major conference on September 15 in San Diego.  I'm looking forward to going back to work for a couple of weeks and to resuming my training sessions to be a CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for abused and neglected children.  

Mark your calendars for Thursday, September 10, 7:00 PM.  Kathy and I will be making a presentation to the Salem Travel Club at the public library auditorium about our month in Bali last December.  We'll have many more photos than we posted in our blog back then. If you are a local reader, we hope to see you there.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What in Sam Hill (Did we get ourselves into?)

View from Maryhill Museum
Wine tote bag and decal
During a mountain bike ride late last September from Camp Sherman to Suttle Lake with some fellow Airstream club members, we started talking about rails-to-trails bike paths.  One thing led to another.  The next thing we knew, Kathy and I were co-leaders with friends Craig Bowcock and Bonnie Schaefer of Canby on a two-week Airstream Caravan in eastern WA and northern ID.  We appropriately named it the Daze of Wine and Roads. 

Syncline Winery
Our mission:  to discover discovered (yes, you read that correctly) wineries and ride some outstanding rails-to-trails bicycle paths, culminating with the Hiawatha trail from Montana to Idaho, which we will ride on Monday.  Along the way we have had some good cycling experiences, winery visits, and fun times with our fellow travelers.  

Jacob William Winery
We started off with 10 trailers at Maryhill, near the museum created by Sam Hill, legendary road, railroad, and palace builder, hence the phrase “What in the Sam Hill (are you doing?).”   He built the Columbia Gorge scenic highway and the Maryhill Museum.   Unfortunately, our good friends Charlie and Nancy Wilson had to return to Salem because Charlie severely hurt his back.  He's doing better and won't need surgery--yet.

The Stone Hedge Memorial for WW1 Vets & Sam Hill

Somewhere outside Walla Walla
Long Shadows Winery
Now there are only 18 of us, but we carry on, and the wineries and local economies are prospering as a result.  Our second stop was Walla Walla, WA for three nights. The bike riding included a ride to the Whitman National Historic Monument and in the hot and hazy rolling wheat fields. In many ways, the Whitmans were zealots just like the extremists in the Middle East--so convinced that they are absolutely right and that God is on their side.  The Indians suffered as a result.  The most unique wine tasting and over-the top winery we have ever experienced was Long Shadows. Note the Chihuly sculptures in the photo! 

A motley crew on the Centennial Trail at Higgins Point
From Coeur d' Alene to Higgins Point
Best Bridge (and friends) ever!
We also visited  Coeur d’ Alene for four nights. We rode the Centennial R2T to Higgins Point and a 16 mile segment of the Coeur d' Alene R2T along the lake.  The .75 mile bridge over the lake was the best ever bicycle bridge we have ever ridden.   
Kathy coming down the fun bridge over lake CDA
Nuclear Winter in Idaho

On Sunday, we travel to Wallace, ID, the epicenter of a forest fire in 1910, the largest in US history.  We can highly recommend reading The Big Burn by Timothy Egan.  

Note the bridge in the distance

And speaking of the Big burn, we are caught in some big time smoke and haze, but fortunately no fires have affected our itinerary--yet.  Today was actually clear, cool and beautiful--a most welcome change.  Some of the group rode the route we did yesterday, but under blue skies and calm winds.  Kathy and I drove to Sandpoint, ID--a vacation from our vacation--and time for just us. Nice place,but we wish we had brought our bikes.

View from our dinner cruise on Lake Coeur d' Alene
Did we mention the fun and friendly people in our group yet? Lots of fun happy hours, communal meals, and more.  Suffice it to say that they are delightful to be around, the frosting on the cake, and willing (for the most part) to put up with our 'make-it-up-as-we-go' style of caravaning.   We are all very happy campers! 

(In case you missed it, please check out our earlier post from today entitled Reflections on a Dying Town.  Here's the link

Reflections on a Dying Town

Lacrosse  from the south entrance
Have you ever visited a dying friend or relative you haven’t seen in a while?  The changes are often shocking and unsettling.  We had a similar emotional experience while traveling from Walla Walla, WA to Coeur d’ Alene, ID when we decided to take a detour to visit my mother-in-law’s home town, La Crosse, WA, population 312. 

Image result for la crosse WA
La Crosse from the North
The town had its heyday in the 30’s and 40’s.  It was the center of social and economic life for miles around in the rolling wheat fields.  We hear many stories about it as Doris reminisces about her childhood during the Great Depression.  It was a major railroad and agricultural center.  Unlike some of the timber-dependent towns in Oregon and Washington, this town wasn’t done in suddenly by resource depletion or government regulations.  It just started dying a natural death in the 1950’s when the main highway bypassed and railroads declined. The world changed and left this place behind.
Bud's grave marker

We were last there together in 1996 for the town’s 100 year anniversary and a family reunion.  Kathy also visited in 2005 to bury her father's ashes.  It was obvious then that town had seen much better days, but things were still hopeful.  Revisiting it now, La Crosse, WA is downright sad, but with tenacious pockets of hope. 
View from the cemetery
Long gone are the dance halls, the saloons, the hotels (including a boarding house owned and run by Kathy’s grandmother), a movie theater, bowling alley, and vibrant businesses.   Some buildings that are still standing should be demolished because of collapsed roofs.  More residents reside in the cemetery than in the town.  Broken down vehicles, washing machine carcasses, and ‘For Sale’ signs abound.  The town's only cafe closed and is for sale.

Main Street, circa 2015
On the flip side, the city park, where we had the reunion, is green and well-maintained.  The swimming pool, where Kathy learned to swim during summer visits, had water but no lifeguards or kids.  The K-12 school still exists, with an enrollment of 76 students, probably from farms miles away.  Its Cougars won the 2005 football championship.  A ‘grocery’ store still exists, but it’s more like a convenience store seen in food deserts.  There is an Umpqua Bank branch on Main Street.  Sewers or water lines were being replaced, which added may have added to the dust bowel atmosphere on a hot and windy day.  Wheat is king right now, so the grain elevator was busy.  We counted about five large, older and nicely maintained homes.

Middle of Nowhere, WA
As with any small town, the people were friendly.  We got some bewildered looks as we pulled our Airstream through the town block by block.  Being three miles off the main road from Colfax to I-90, it’s hard to see how this town will ever come back.  We gotta give credit to the people still there.  In the words of the town’s official website La Crosse is a small town but through the ingenuity and diversification of the businesses within, most services are available. If you can't find something, be sure to ask one of our residents!

The visit was surprisingly emotional for us.  Maybe it was getting a connection to Kathy's dad, Bud, at his grave.  Or maybe from all the stories of a happy childhood gone by (not ours, but that of Doris).  Or perhaps it was just a sense of what it is like to be young and vital many years ago, only to have it slip away gradually year by year.  

(On a more cheerful note, check out the post from the Airstream Caravan we are co-leading through Washington and Idaho, entitled “The Daze of Wine and Roads.” Here's the link.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Boston Uncommon

Boston view  from Harbor Island ferry
With two daughters who graduated from Boston University and one of them who still lives in the Boston area, we've seen this place and all of its usual tourist attractions.  This time we did some of the less common tourist activities, including a trip to the Berkshires in NW Massachusetts, and home of the Tanglewood Music Festival. Best of all, we enjoyed time with Skyler, RyRy (her dog), Spencer (her boyfriend) and Lucy (his dog).
Spencer, Skyler, Lucy, and RyRy

View from Spectacle Island
Fort Warren on Georges Island
We spent a day going to the Harbor Islands, which included an historic fort, nice views of Boston, and a little relief from the heat.

Team "Too Big to Fail"

Monday night pub trivia is huge in Boston among Skyler and her homies.  Our contribution was ancient history, circa pre-1987. Our team "Too Big to Fail," came in second.

Hubway  is an amazingly well-organized network of bikes throughout the greater Boston area.  We rented them and rode from Watertown into downtown Boston in the heat and humidity along the Charles River.  Skyler is quite the bicycle Samurai getting us through the convoluted downtown Boston traffic.  Now the child is teaching the parents about bicycling!

Samurai Skyler
Along the St. Charles near MIT, temperature 85, humidity 50%

Edward Kennedy Senate Institute (not my photo)

Life-size Senate Chamber
One of Boston's newest treasures is the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the US Senate, located right next to the JFK library.  We thought it would be like his brother's museum next door--all about him--but it was mostly about the US Senate, complete with a life-size replica of the US Senate Chambers with live historic Senate debates by the docents.  Very minimalist in design, but high on tech, you could learn about every single US senator.  Being provincial Oregonians, we only pulled up about 8 Oregon senators.

Our B&B
The highlight of our trip was five days in the Berkshires.  What's a Berkshire, you ask?  Yes, it's a pig breed and half of the name of a famous investment fund. It's also a region in NW Massachusetts, southern New York, and northern Connecticut with about 26 towns and what East Coast people call "mountains."  Above all, it's a huge cultural center that dates back to the 1930's.
Jacob's Pillow outdoor dance stage
We rented an Air B&B in Hinsdale, New York, about 25 minutes away from the music mecca of Tanglewood and the dance mecca of Jacob's Pillow, yes Jacob's Pillow.  While the home wreaked of mildew, and the sheets were too small for the beds, it was quiet and spacious with a well-equipped kitchen.

Skyler's boyfriend, Spencer, sings in the Boston Symphony Tanglewood Chorus. This time it was Mahler's 8th symphony.  Between the choral members and the musicians, there were 340 performers on stage.  Quite impressive!  The Boston Globe agreed.   Here's a 10 second clip of the choir warming up in the practice pavilion..  
Getting into the Tanglewood spirit
 But just as fun was the festival/picnic atmosphere on the lawn beforehand.  It's the mother of all tailgate parties with 5,000 people, but minus pickup trucks, barbecues, generators, and team colors. We got to enjoy it again on Sunday to hear Joshua Bell.

Self portrait
Nearby was the Norman Rockwell museum.  That was probably the most accessible art museum we've ever seen.  There was no need to guess about obscure abstract meanings--every illustration or painting told a story, often with humor.  Others were very emotional or serious.  Interesting factoid:  Norman Rockwell could not paint from memory or just imagine things.  He always needed live models, real props, and/or photographs.
First Day of School

Peace Corps Commeration
Waiting for Joshua Bell's performance
The nearby grounds on the 200-acre estate are beautiful, as is the surrounding countryside.

On top of Monument "Mountain"

We swam in the Stockbridge Bowl

View from original Tanglewood mansion
Delightful dinner in the Berkshires
The Sous Vied
The finishing touch

We ate well on this trip, but our best meals were the ones we cooked together.  Skyler and Spencer are quite the foodies.  It was our first time to taste wonderful steak and seafood prepared with a sous vied, which slow cooks food in plastic bags at low temperatures in a water bath.  Then seared with a blow torch.  Amazingly tender and flavorful.

The only downer for this trip was when a 60-pound pit bull/black lab mix from next door to our B&B attacked Skyler's 50-pound pit bull mix on the deck of our B&B.  Absolutely terrifying as it dragged her by the neck!  I thought RyRy was going to die and that Kathy, the other dog's owner, or I would get bitten trying to break it up.  It took three of us to separate them.  RyRy is okay today with just a minor bite on the top of her neck, but it took me over three hours to get the adrenaline out of my system.

All in all, a good trip, filled with pleasant surprises.  As always, it will be nice to be back home Monday evening.  Our next blog will be in a week or so from the Daze of Wine and Roads Airstream caravan.  Kathy and I are co-leaders with another couople of this two week trip of 10 trailers exploring wineries and rails-to-trails bicycle paths in Washington and Idaho.  Until then, stay cool!