Canada’s Best-Kept Secret? The Sunshine Coast

Ready for a quick morph into travel-blog mode? How about a debate over what IS Canada’s best-kept secret? (I imagine it has many. Unlike the U.S., Canada does not trumpet its specialness.) The Mate and I just returned from a short excursion up British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, and we are still scratching our heads.

How have we lived so long, and so close by, without knowing about this place?

Quick geography overview: the Sunshine Coast is–duh–on the west coast, or rather it IS the west coast, north and east of Vancouver. It is NOT an island, though it includes many. But considering you have to take TWO ferries to experience its extent, it sure is hard to convince your brain that it’s still on the mainland.

Look, here’s what I’m talking about:

(Courtesy sunshinecoastcanada.com)

(Courtesy sunshinecoastcanada.com)

Wanna drive to Whistler? Sure. Wanna drive to Gibsons? Get on a boat.

On Day One, a single ferry ride plus a generous hour’s drive from Vancouver, we were discovering the Skookumchuck Rapids. These rapids are NOT in a river–they’re formed by the tide rushing through an inlet too skinny to hold all that water without throwing it around in standing waves and trenches so deep and gnarly that kayakers come from all over to train and play in them.

Not a river? Are you SURE?!

Not a river? Are you SURE?!

Wheeee!

Wheeee!

On Day Two, after our second ferry ride, I was walking through the largest town, Powell River, on my way to the info center. “Um, you might not want to go that way,” a young woman called to me from a yard. “There’s a bear in a tree down that street, and he’s been growling.” Of course I had to go see that bear. It was a big one, very black, snoozing in a crook of a cedar. In the middle of a neighborhood. Welcome to Powell River, eh?

{Did not have my camera on me at that moment, so I’ll give you a second to imagine the bear.}

Day Three, we drove to the furthest northern town, Lund, and took a 10-minute water taxi ride out to Savary Island–referred to by some Coasters as “our Hawaii.” Not sure about that comparison, but in terms of SUN and wide expanses of sand…sure, I get it. Also never heard of it. Also thrilled to be there at the end of the summer with NO ONE ELSE around.

sunny Savary, with Vancouver Island in the background

sunny Savary, with Vancouver Island in the background

Day Two and Four, we rode our bikes 13k around Inland Lake, near Powell River. (We liked the bike path so much, we did it in both directions.)

The lake has its own wee island you can ride onto!

The lake has its own wee island you can ride onto!

Not a soul around, unless loons have souls.

Not a soul around, unless loons have souls.

OK, I'll stop. I just REALLY loved this bike path.

{OK, I’ll stop. I just REALLY liked that bike path.}

On our last day, back on the lower portion of the Sunshine Coast, we hiked a short ways to Smugglers Cove, where we found…

...this.

…THIS.

Madrona in the morning sun

Madrona in the morning sun

Madrona with berries

Madrona with berries

I don’t usually post so many pictures, so you can tell what kind of a visual impact this place made on me. (If my computer weren’t so slow to upload them, I’d post more.) The Mate and I feel like we only got a little taste of the Sunshine Coast, and we already want to go back.

Which, lucky for us, isn’t that big of a deal. Which brings me back to that first question: why did it take us 26 years of living in the Northwest to figure this out?

So, what do you think: Canada’s best-kept secret? Or are there others I don’t yet know of?

Road Trip VI, Days 16-19, Scottsdale to Dallas: A Texas-Sized Apology

This is NOT the post I was planning on, until last night. The Mate and I have spent the bulk of these past few days hiking and biking in our favorite Texan discovery: Caprock Canyons State Park. Last year we only had time for a day hike, so this time we were thrilled to have nearly three days here. I was planning to talk about the park’s bison herd, and to post lost of pictures like this:

"Do not approach wild bison," the brochure says. Ummm...

“Do not approach wild bison,” the brochure says. Ummm…

And this:

Hey, big guy. Or gal. Ma'am. Please, after you...

Hey, big guy. Or gal. Ma’am. Please, after you…

Or some of the park’s beautiful red scenery:

No, "Texas scenery" is not an oxymoron.

No, “Texas scenery” is not an oxymoron.

In between photos, I was planning on inserting as many snarky comments about Texas as possible, like: “Someone must’ve picked up Texas and shook it, ’cause all the scenery ran down into these canyons.” If you’ve read any of my Road Trip posts from the past five years, you know I love to hate on Texas–its in-your-face attitude, its giant vehicles and lack of carpool lanes, not to mention recycling bins…and don’t get me started on its senators.

But guess what, Texas: something happened, and I owe you an apology.

On our second night of camping, we were to be joined by our friends from Dallas. These dear folks were willing to drive five hours through Friday traffic to meet us at our campsite in the evening and go hiking next day.

When they didn’t show up on time, we thought, “Oh well, traffic,” and got dinner started. (We were out of cell phone range.) But when they arrived in one of those Texas-sized pickups, followed by a state trooper, we turned off the stove. What happened?

Turns out they’d hit a deer, out in the middle of Texas nowhere. The deer died instantly (and mercifully). This is what happened to their little VW:

I still can't believe neither of them was hurt.

I still can’t believe neither of them was hurt.

As they were standing on the roadside, in shock, assessing the damage, a truck drove by, did a U-turn, and stopped to help. The driver was an EMT, and even though our friends were (blessedly) unhurt, I found this very reassuring. This guy insisted on escorting them to the nearest town, Turkey, Texas, 10 miles away. That’s about as far as the now-radiatorless VW could limp.

That guy got our friends as far as a garage, closed for the night. But as they were standing there, discussing their options–motel? None in sight; Rental car? Seriously? This is Turkey, Texas–an old guy stepped out of the convenience store across the street and overheard them. He invited them in to recover, and had them leave their poor mashed car on his driveway. Then he insisted on driving them the remaining ten miles to the park, then escorting them to our campsite. He left them with his phone number in case they needed help the next day.

Thanks, guy from Turkey, Texas!

Thanks, guy from Turkey, Texas!

I know, I know. Good Samaritans come in all shapes and sizes. But the fact that this one came in the guise of someone with whom our friends likely shared NOTHING in common politically was especially poignant to us. A bunch of sweet, helpful Texans. Thanks, universe. I needed that.

 

 

Road Trip VI, Days 1-3: Tacoma to Oakland: Pitcher Plants and Sticky-fingered Hugs

Two year-olds have their own gravitational pull. Two year-old TWINS have a pull exponentially stronger. That explains why, for the second year in a row, our road trip brings us first to Oakland. That’s where these cuties live–our pseudo-grandkids. (They’re actually some sort of cousin, but who looks at anthropological charts when they can look at these guys?)

These guys.

These guys.

But much as we’ve looked forward to being hugged with little sticky fingers, The Mate and I have not rushed headlong to Oakland. There are too many pretty places in between. After a short visit with vibrant old friends in Eugene, we zipped off the interstate and headed for the California redwoods, which exert a pull of their own. And that meant…

Oh boy! Highway 199! We love this road. From the bowl of Grants Pass (“Grass Pants,” to our family), it winds up through mixed-forest hills to the high valley of the Illinois River, near Cave Junction. Acting on a tip from a friend who grew up here, we turned off on Eight Dollar Mountain Road and went for a bike ride and then a hike-picnic in a very unusual ecosystem.

This place.

This place.

Pine trees + manzanita = Dry. Moss + pitcher plants (tall, insectivorous swamp-denizens) = Wet. This little mountain features both of them together. How weird is that?

These guys.

These guys.

Another cool feature of our outing: serpentinite. Yes, I did read the info kiosk that told me exactly what makes this glossy green stone so green and glossy–and no, I don’t remember what it said. All I know is, I picnicked sitting on something we dubbed “the emerald throne.”

This stuff.

This stuff.

And then, yes…off we drove to our happy place among the redwood giants, about whom I’ve written before. And from there along the crashing coast, back up and over the hills, moving through fog from redwoods to oaks to vineyards to the Bay. And the babies. Feeling gratitude for all creatures great and small.

My New Year’s Resolution: Keep Writing New Year’s Resolutions, Damnit

Who cares if I still have an unworking Stairmaster in my barn?

[Last year’s resolution: By the end of 2015, I will have either fixed my Stairmaster machine or gotten rid of i])

Who cares if I’m still in the middle of Chapter 16 in a 21-chapter book? 

[Last year’s resolution: By the end of 2015, I will have finished the first draft of Altitude (Book Three of the Flying Burgowski trilogy) and be actively re-revising the first half]

Who cares if I never got beyond the “we should get together for a walk or a cup of tea sometime, huh?” stage of inviting someone I don’t know well for a walk or a cup of tea?

[Last year’s resolution: By the end of 2015, I will have invited someone I would like to know better for a walk or a cup of tea]

As I wrote last year, “The secret to success is having really low standards.” It’s also, I believe, the maintenance of the feeling of forward progress–the alternative to which is stepping into that swamp of grumpiness and self-pity where the only escape is too much chocolate…you see where this leads, right?

So let me take a minute to celebrate the two resolutions that I DID keep last year:

  1. riding my bike in to work at least as often, if not more often, than driving: check!
  2. developing a fitness regimen that includes daily strength and stretching exercises: check!**

** ahem ** Honesty compels me to admit that I officially adopted said fitness regimen all of **cough** four days ago…but HEY. I’ve kept it up for four days, in 2015, so that still COUNTS.

023 (2)

And all of those so-far-unkept resolutions are just that, I’ve decided: not failed, just late bloomers. Who’s in charge here? That’s right. So here are my new low-resolution resolutions:

By the end of 2016 I will have…

  • Finished, revised, and published Altitude
  • Kept up my biking vs. riding to work ratio
  • Kept up my daily fitness regimen (the secret to success here was  Son Two’s idea: “Why don’t you do it while you watch The Daily Show, Mom?”)
  • Made reservations for a 2017 trip to New Zealand to research my next novel (New Zealand?! Good on ya!)

…oh, and that Stairmaster? Maybe the unknown person I invite for a walk or a cup of tea will help me figure out what to do with it.

Got a resolution to share? Don’t believe in ’em? Tell me about it either way. And…Happy New Year!

The Best Mothers Day Present: When Your Kid Becomes Your Colleague–and You Still Like Each Other

My Mothers Day started with a three a.m. bike ride, and it was Son Two’s idea.

He’s just been hired to work part-time this summer at Holly B’s Bakery (“Holly’s Buns Are Best”)  where I’ve been working for the past five years. He’ll mostly be working the counter and, later on during high season, baking at night. But this Mothers Day, a slot came open for assistant morning-baking. Son Two filled it.

“Can we ride in?” he asked. Now, I know your average almost 23 year-old is not his/her best self at 3 a.m., even when pulling some kind of all-nighter. Asking one to wake up then, bundle up and bike 11 miles in the dark, well…I wouldn’t have asked. But since he offered? Hell yeah! Let’s ride!

Son Two’s reward: getting to spend the next nine hours having his Head Baker mom tell him what to do. He did fantastic.

Making croissant dough: roll, butter, fold, chill, repeat.

Making croissant dough: roll, butter, fold, chill, repeat.

He messed up not once (which is more than I can say for my first disastrous pan of brownies assistant baking shift). He made beautiful food. And on our ride home, he told me he appreciated my showing him how to do things right.

Young Man With Macaroons

Young Man With Macaroons

Breakfast in bed is great. So is going out for brunch. But my best Mothers Day present EVER is the realization that my younger son is someone I would hire or sign up to work with, even if I’d never met the kid. I mean man.

Like mother, like son? I should be so lucky.

Like mother, like son? I should be so lucky.

Mothers Day stories, anyone? I love hearing from you!

Road Trip V, Days 38-41, June Lake, CA to Tacoma (aka Almost Home!): Top Four Reasons to Road-Trip

1. Discover America. More specifically, discover hidden treasures no one ever thought of telling you about. Here are some of our faves from this trip.

Caprock Canyon State Park, south of Amarillo, TX. (In a previous post I mis-labeled it as Capstone.) can’t wait to come back with more time!

I'm coming back!

I’m coming back!

Secret Canyon near Page, AZ. Nothing like as crowded as its famous cousin, Antelope Canyon, but just as breathtaking.

More, more!

More, more!

June Lake, CA. It’s the cute, low-rent version of Mammoth Lakes, which caters to skiers and hikers. We loved its understated beauty and lack of Starbucks.

Like a mini Lake Tahoe!

Like a mini Lake Tahoe!

Mono Lake. This one’s a bit more famous, having been saved by activists in the 1990s after thirsty LA had drained it down to a dustbowl. But The Mate and I had never taken the time to get off the highway and explore its incredible “forest” of tufa formations.

The shell of an ancient freshwater spring into the saline lake. Really.

The shell of an ancient freshwater spring into the saline lake. Really.

Bizz Johnson Bike Trail, Susanville, CA. Susanville?! What the heck is there to do in Susanville? Ride this amazing rail-trail, that’s what: 16 miles through a wild canyon, complete with multiple river crossings, huge Ponderosa pines, flowers, and even some tunnels!

Best bike path yet!

Best bike path yet!

LaPine State Park, just south of Bend, OR. Here the Deschutes River is serene, and you can wind along its banks without having someone blow past you on a $2,000 mountain bike like they do in Bend.

Would've loved to have camped here, but it got down to 19. We're not that tough.

Would’ve loved to have camped here, but it got down to 19. We’re not that tough.

2. Renew ties with family members and old friends you might not otherwise see. Last year we visited with a newly-met cousin in Indiana. This year we checked in with some other cousins whose twins are 18 months old–such a precious, fleeting age! We potlucked with friends we made back in 1981 when I took time out from college to be an intern at a little mountain school. And, of course, we got together with our Tarheel Tribe to act like idiots, watching basketball and eating BBQ.

3. Get closer with your traveling partner. My Mate and I joke that any couple contemplating marriage ought to be sent on a 6-week road trip to find out if they’re truly compatible. I call our annual road trip “marriage glue.”

The Mate and I in the NC mountains

The Mate and I in the NC mountains

4. Fall back in love with where you live. I have enjoyed every single day of Road Trip V. But on our penultimate day, as I visited a waterfall in the Columbia Gorge, within sight of my home state, just the smell of wet fir trees was enough to choke me up.

Ahhhh...welcome back to Ecotopia!

Ahhhh…welcome back to Ecotopia!

Those are my reasons. If you have others, I’d love to hear them. But for now, travel-blogger Gretchen turns back into regular ol’ blog-about-whatever Gretchen…until next year!

OK, I’m Home–Now How Do I Hang Onto All Those Memories?

10,000 miles. 20 states (OK, 19 plus Puerto Rico). 60 close friends and family members. 23 local, state and national parks. 

We’re home. Time to caption & share the photos. That should do it for capturing memories, right?

For any normal person, maybe. But for capturing the full vibrancy of a past moment, I like to play “Best of.” It’s a game we started with our kids when they were small, and I think it rubbed off more on me than on them. Here’s how it works:

Best Hike of Trip: Nevada Falls in Yosemite (3/28). (I mean, really, how could anything in Yosemite NOT win Best Hike?) Eating an orange way too close to the edge with my son who’s about to disappear into Central America for 2 months…

Casey

Runner-up: El Yunque Peak, Puerto Rico (3/7) Getting drenched with The Mate on the way down…after all, it IS a rain forest…

Honorable Mention: Nevada Falls again (3/27). Yup, I went up twice in a row. Didn’t have enough time the first day.

Best Bike Path: Turtle Bay, Redding, California (3/29). An old favorite, not a new discovery, but nothing beats this wonderfully curvy path with its little roller-coaster section, wild bunnies, blooming redbuds…

Runner-up: Provo River, Utah (3/23). Exercising nervous tension before Carolina’s final NCAA game…

Honorable Mention: Bettendorf, Iowa (3/20). Who knew the Quad Cities were so into fitness?

Best Dinner: That little hamlet near Ceiba, Puerto Rico that served fish with sauteed onions and lime (3/6). Giant as-yet-uncaught fish patrolled the waters beneath the restaurant deck, probably scarfing the entrails of our dinner.

PR

Runner-up: a tie between Mama Dip’s Fried Chicken in Chapel Hill (3/14) (Mama Dip catered our wedding back in 1986!) and our friend Ben’s braised lamb shanks in Asheville, NC (3/1). Ben OWNS lamb.

Honorable Mention: fried pork and plantains, El Yunque (3/3 and 3/4). Good thing we got out of there; that diet would have killed us. But we would’ve died happy…

Best Lunch: Allen & Son’s BBQ with fixins (3/13). OOOF. No possible runner-up.
image

Best Breakfast: El Yunque Inn’s creamy oatmeal with fresh mango (3/4). Since all our other breakfasts were cereal, that one kinda stands out…

And, lest you think with me and The Mate it’s all about exercise and food…well, it is. On road trips, we are rarely in Museum Mode. But we do branch out occasionally.

Best Cultural Experience: Bluegrass & Beer at Asheville’s French Broad Brewery (3/1). It’s the name of the river, silly, not some Parisian chick…

Runner-up: My own (first!) author reading at The Regulator Bookshop in my hometown, Durham, NC (3/11). 🙂
20140317-135105.jpg
Best Unexpected Find: Great Basin National Park, Nevada (3/25-6). Aspens. Quiet. Wild turkeys.

Runner-up: Rock Canyon, Provo, Utah (3/22). Whoa, those rock climbers are all so happy!

Honorable Mention: Tie between the Ceiba Country Inn, Puerto Rico (3/5-6)--all those dogs!--and the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 100-acre sculpture woods (3/19). Is that a spaceship sinking in that lake?

Notice a pattern here? The bolded words are the real memories. The whole “contest” is just an excuse to push my brain to run through all those thousands of possibilities, reinforcing the synaptic connections of every single one of those 49 days. 

Oh, and the dates? That’s just my nerdiness. See, my grandma lived to be 103 and kept a razor-sharp memory till the end. Just in case I’ve inherited her longevity genes, I’m keeping my own brain in SHAPE.

So that’s how I remember good times. Do you have other tricks? Memorabilia? Rock collections? Or are you so glad to be home you just let it all go and move on to doing laundry?