Return to Kiwiland, Part VI: Middle-Agers + 20Something = A Trip

When we spent a sabbatical year in New Zealand back in the ’90s, we spent it with Sons One and Two. On this most recent return, we invited Son Two to join us, and, being between jobs, he eagerly accepted. But for him, this trip wasn’t really a “return,” because on his first visit, he looked like this:

on the golden sands of Abel Tasman NP, 1997

He was four then. He remembers NOTHING. Clean slate. When we traveled around, we generally went from playground to playground.

Every little town had one–still does!

And when we hiked, we couldn’t go very far.

Back then I had to carry the boys over the swinging bridges–they didn’t like the bouncing.

Now, having grown up in the family Church of the Great Outdoors, Son Two knew he was up for a lot of hiking on this trip. Not the kind of thrill-adventure New Zealand’s become known for. (After all, Kiwis did invent bungee-jumping, or “bungy” as they spell it.) He likes to hike.

Even in the rain (on the Routeburn, one of NZ’s Great Walks)

But I think we were all relieved when he managed to peel off and enjoy some good 20something-style touring on his own. Not rafting, though we were all tempted…

Ooh! We would have done that. But this trip was for research, not adventure.

As it happens, our good friends Nancy and Graeme live near Queenstown, NZ’s crown jewel of adventure touring. Their house is right above the Shotover River, where jetboats filled with screaming tourists roar up and down throughout the day. But Son Two didn’t need to pay for a jetboat ride…because Graeme has his own! A true Kiwi.

They really were just a blur.

Son Two also rode the lift up above Q-town for a glimpse of the whole spectacle…

Lake Wakatipu in the background

and spent a late night on the town with Graeme, capturing a scene I missed by going sensibly to bed.

It’s high summer, so this is around 9 pm.

But his true millennial attributes came to life when he announced he wanted to bungee-jump. Since he was paying for it himself, we had nothing to say on the matter (Graeme did use to work for A.J.Hackett, the bungee-inventor himself, but no more–so no discounts, sorry).

Bungee bathroom

Yes, I have a video of the actual jump. But no–I didn’t want to upload it to YouTube just for the purposes of imbedding it in this blog. I’ll only go so far to violate my sons’ privacy. 🙂 These stills will have to do.

Kawarau Gorge Bridge, site of the World’s First Bungy Enterprise

Just in case you need some…

Ready for the plunge!

Good news: he didn’t break his neck. Nor barf (“chunder”) after his night out with Graeme. Phew.

After that, it was back to hiking.

Copland Track, west coast–another Great Walk

Hokitika Gorge, west coast. “Hm, good spot for bungee…”

Heaphy Track, west coast (up north). Notice he no longer needs to be carried over swinging bridges!

But up north, in Abel Tasman National Park, I think we finally impressed him.

This is the same beach he ran on in 1997!

Blue water and sun, in January? Yes please!

Maybe a little less sun for us oldsters.

Cleopatra’s Pool

Tramping around an inlet along the coastal track

Happy to embrace his Hiking Heritage

Giving our sore feet a rest after all that hiking (tramping), we did some paddling in Marlborough Sound (Totaranui).

The Mate, enjoying the lack of mosquitos.

Yeah, this’ll do.

That won the Official 20something Seal of Approval.

Pun intended

But when we got back to town, the lil’ tyke showed he can still enjoy a good playground.

in Motueka

Do I recommend middle-agers traveling with their 20somethings? If you have one like ours–absolutely. Would Son Two recommend to his cohorts traveling with their middle-aged parents? We can only hope.

Celebrating Family Piety In The Church Of The Great Outdoors

Since our children are grown and flown, we count any holiday we can spend together as extra specially blessed. This year we have been basking in this blessing (as much as one can bask, in a Pacific Northwest winter), and celebrating by going to church.

Our version of church, that is: the Church of the Great Outdoors.

While I was raised as a Quaker and still attend Meeting, we did not find Quakerism attractive as a family unit when Sons One and Two were growing up. The Mate was not interested, and I was loathe to leave the kids behind after being away from them at work all week. Also, the Meeting I attended in Tacoma was so small that if I did bring them, I usually ended up having to do my own childcare, which felt silly. Might as well stay at home together…or go for a hike.

And so evolved our family religion. We weren’t that hard-core; after our kids reached the age of two we ceased riding them atop our backpacks–too heavy! And once they got into team sports, our weekend forays became fewer. But still, on holidays, the mountains called, or the ocean, and we always came. Hell, that’s why we became Northwesterners to begin with! (You’re welcome, boys.)

And the only place we all actually enjoy shopping? REI. Going there is like a down payment on beauty.

So, two days after Christmas, here we are, in deep worship:

Easiest liturgy in the world.

A little snow just adds to the reverence.

Amen.

Peace be unto you.

Glory be…

…and all praise.

My (Even Bigger) Backyard, Part 3: British Columbia’s Big Ol’ Vancouver Island

Having checked out some of its wee satellites (Quadra and Cortes), we turned our attention to Vancouver Island itself, a mothership so vast it’s hard to remember it’s an island. (Although I suppose one could say that about our continent as well, eh?)

With only two days before our ferry home, we didn’t have time to head all the way over to the wild West Coast–that trip will have to wait. Instead, we bumbled into the easiest possible gateway to gorgeous: Strathcona Provincial Park, just west of Campbell River.

Our goddaughter had described her “best bike ride ever” a couple of years ago, along the shores of Buttle Lake in the park. That’s talking our language! In scrutinizing the map, we discovered Strathcona Park Lodge. And since it was now raining more or less continuously and we were no longer interested in campgrounds, we crossed our fingers and gave the lodge a try.

They had one cabin free.

“Tent, shment.”

They also had 180 Canadian teenagers staying on the grounds…because Strathcona Park Lodge, it turns out, is an Outdoor Education Center–I mean, Centre. In their own words, they are “a self contained community of more than 20 buildings, 50 or more staff and hundreds of guests. The entire operation is powered by a micro-hydro system, which means we’re highly sensitive to energy conservation. We also treat our own water and heat some of it with passive solar technology.”

Yup–we’d found our peeps. Those 180 teenagers? Not only did they get whisked away to spend their days hiking in the rain and learning to kayak, they also returned at night to tuck into a dining-hall meal that truly shocked us in its boldness: curried eggplant and lamb, with samosas and yogurt! Can you imagine American teens eating that? Good for you, Strathcona! Good for you, Canada!

[If I were the kind of person who takes pictures of food…but I’m not, so you’ll just have to imagine it.]

The second night we cooked, using our camp stove out on the cabin’s front deck, with this view.

This will do.

Nights were awfully cozy.

“Tent, shment.”

Oh, and that bike ride? As beautiful as described, going on for miles and miles and miles. (I mean kilometers.) AND relatively flat. I did one section with the Mate, and another alone, stopping to take pictures.

Looking into the interior, where the mountains rise to 7,000 feet.

Their version of the dogwood…and, I THINK, BC’s provincial flower (too lazy to fact-check this)

Don’t think I’ve ever noticed maples changing color outside-in like this.

The hiking was no more jaw-dropping than a hike in our own Cascades–like I’ve said before, I’m completely spoiled. But I did encounter some FANTASTIC fungi.

These guys usually have red caps! Is this the Black Panther version?

Who needs maple leaves when you have this?

The rare British Columbian Boobshroom in full fruit

On our way back to the ferry in Sidney, we made a few stops to smaller provincial parks. This one, Elk Falls, was a favorite–right outside Campbell River.

Elk Falls, falling.

Must…cross…suspension bridge over ridiculously deep gorge!!!

There’s a reason for those high side fences.

Returning home to the San Juans, we received a sunset reminder not to feel sorry for our vacation coming to an end.

Home.

O Canada! We’ll be back. As soon as possible, eh?

My (Even Bigger) Backyard, Part 2: British Columbia’s Cortes Island

I’ve been wanting to visit Cortes ever since reading Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being, one of my favorite books of the last few years, and discovering that one of the two stories it winds together is set on Cortes. It seemed, if possible, even more Lopezian than Lopez Island, where I live.

Although we were only there for two days, I think I can safely say I was right. With under 2,000 year-round residents, Cortes is a quiet place in the off-season. Its beaches and forests looked like ours, only more so.

Looking northeast, toward the Sunshine Coast

Manson’s Landing–such a sweet spot!

Granted, I’ve never seen a 5-fingered Madrona, even on Lopez!

Nor do we have cedar trees anywhere near this old. OK, Cortes, you got us badly beat in the tree department, bless you.

But the thing that REALLY blew our minds on Cortes was…

…You know what? I’ll get to that in a moment. It was pretty jaw-dropping. So I need to save it for last.

Before then, I’ll share a few pictures from where we stayed. Like Quadra Island, the local provincial parks didn’t provide campgrounds, so we opted for the well-recommended Hollyhock Retreat Center. I mean Centre. It’s famous for multi-day classes in yoga and writing and history and, gosh, just about everything, but you can also just stay there. I was amazed at how reasonable their rates were: $180 per night for two people, with a shared bathroom (which we actually had to ourselves), all meals included. That’s Canadian dollars, so it was really less than $150 U.S.–and the meals alone were worth that! Hollyhock is entirely off-grid and produces nearly all its own pescatarian food. I’m not a taking-pictures-of-dinner kind of person, but here are a couple of shots from their garden, so you can just guess how amazing the food was.

Must…eat…kale!

I just could not make myself stop taking pictures of that garden. Anyone want to volunteer-garden there? Send in your application!

The view from outside our cozy room

One of many cool buildings on their forested campus…who wouldn’t want to study something in here?

No classes were going on the days we were at Hollyhock, which was fine with us. We just wanted to hike and bike around and get a feel for Cortes, which is what we did. Well–not so much the biking part. It’s VERY hilly there, and the one day we thought we’d try riding on the flatter parts, the wind was blowing 22 mph. But hiking, yes.

And that’s where we discovered…this.

Oh, it looks like bridge over just another creek. But that creek…

…is no creek at all–it’s the ocean! Rushing at very low tide from an inlet out to the bay…

…in a SALTWATER WATERFALL. A saltwaterfall! Have you ever heard of such a thing?

I’m not kidding! Those are barnacles growing there.

We were so gobsmacked by this, we actually tasted the water to convince ourselves it was indeed the ocean. A little jellyfish only confirmed the answer. Then we were overwhelmed by our luck in just happening to be there at low tide. Had we arrived another time, we might never have discovered this phenomenon.

And speaking of which, how amazing is it that we HAD never heard of this special saltwaterfall? Are they that common in BC? Or is that just Cortes Cool?

Because it is. Cool. Even beyond what I had imagined. So please, everyone–stay away in droves and keep it that way. 🙂

“In The Woods We Return to Reason and Faith”

…says Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I’ve never doubted it. This week not only woods, but also craggy peaks, wildflowers, gray jays, marmots and mountain goats worked their magic on me, and I finally feel like blogging again.

It’s been a month since I last posted, not that anyone’s keeping score. A month since I decided, y’know what? I don’t have the heart for this right now.

I can’t promise how long Nature’s “cordial of incredible virtue” will last. But while it does…please, allow me to share some of her bounty, in the form of Goat Rocks Wilderness in southern Washington. All photos are by my Ironwoman goddaughter and adventure buddy, Allison. (Apologies for the haze–parts of the Cascades are on fire.)

Heading in

Above tree line on the Pacific Crest Trail

Paintbrush gardens everywhere

Up above 7,200 feet–still plenty of snow patches

This section’s called The Knife

 

Goat! (Allison’s camera has a great zoom)

A whole goaty family!

Goats + Rocks = Goat Rocks

Larkspur thriving under the harshest conditions

Goat Lake, far off but calling to us…

Smoke from fires further northeast just made us grateful to be there at all.

Y’all come back soon, hear? (Yes, please.)

Road Trip VIII, Days 43-45, Page, AZ to Provo, UT: (Lake) Powell to the People?

I have always hated Lake Powell. But it was my idea to meet our Adventure Buddies in Page, Arizona, because it’s such a great jumping-off spot for nearby red-rock wonders. And one of those wonders is that dammed lake…the one that drowned a canyon every bit as grand as my beloved Grand Canyon.

What the Colorado is supposed to look like, running through a canyon.

I know all the arguments in favor of the dam, which is almost as old as I am (1963—though it took the lake another 7 years to fill completely). It protects cities like LA and Phoenix from the ravages of drought. It provides jobs. And it provides close-up access to the beautiful canyon walls, otherwise accessible only by hiking or rafting.

But should LA and Phoenix ever have been given the illusion of water security enough to grow as they have?

Could Glen Canyon not have provided jobs in its natural state, like Grand Canyon? (They’re really the same super-grand canyon. Only the dam gives them two names.)

And as to that access argument, I keep thinking about that old anti-dam slogan from back when Glen Canyon was still a fight: “Would you flood the Sistine Chapel in order to let people have a closer look at its ceiling?”

Close enough to touch. Except this wall should be hundreds of feet above.

So we went straight into the belly of the beast. We took a boat tour on the lake.

Talk about conflicted feelings!

Look at all these people having fun, I thought. Most don’t look like hikers; this could be their only glance deep into this red-rock world.

Shouldn’t everyone have access to this? Why does this view make me so sad?

Look at the Navajo Nation, running a marina full of million-dollar houseboats. Better than a casino, right?

LOTS of houseboats.

Listen to the tour recording. It’s telling about Navajo (Diné) History, about the Long Walk—their terrible forced removal in the 1860s. Would boatloads of people learn about this on their own?

But throughout the tour, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Colorado River lying drowned, 500 feet below our boat. And wondering…what would have been so terrible, to have left it alone?

Dam.

Road Trip VIII, Days 39-42, Colorado Springs, Durango, Page, AZ: Big Rocks Rock. Don’t Ask Me Why.

WHY are giant rocks so irresistible???? I’ve been pondering this for three days now.

From these breathtaking, knife-edged monoliths casually lounging practically in our friends’ Colorado Springs backyard…

The Garden of the Gods is just a city park!

…to the gloriously tempting caprock ledges of Mesa Verde…

The Mate skirts the edge…

But I gotta go right to it!

…to the hopelessly delicious sandstone of Navajo Country…

Must…climb!

…I am in awe. There are these Rockies…

Pikes’s Peak at sunrise, from our friends’ window

Looking back toward Durango from atop Mesa Verde National Park

and then there are these, and what they do to me I’m still trying to understand.

Is it their smoothness? Their age? Their color? Their…? I give up.

Road Trip VIII, Days 36-38, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Salinas, Kansas: Bike-Pathing Across America—Thank You, Trail Link!

Planning a drive across the country? Planning on staying in shape as you go? Does this look like a nice break from the highway?

Pedestrian/bike bridge on the Louisville Loop

Consider this post a full-on advertisement. Luckily, it’s for a non-profit organization. Also I’m not being paid. I just want anyone out there who travels across the US with a bike, or with a pair of good legs which like to stretch themselves on trails, to know about Trail Link.

Trail Link is a service provided by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.”

For a small subscription you get access to a website with an incredibly well annotated national map of trails, everything from small nature trails to strolls in parks to converted rail trails stretching hundreds of miles. Here’s an example:

One of our favorite trails ever—it goes through tunnels!

Clicking on any of those icons gives you directions to parking, plus more info, although Trail Notes sections are already as thorough as any well-written guidebook, complete with photos and reviews.

The Mate and I are dedicated Trail Linkers. When possible, we plan our routes through areas with inviting trails. Often we find these in out of the way places like Susanville, California—one of our favorites—but also near quite urban places like Atlanta.

Susanville! A destination trail. And the town’s pretty cool too.

The reason? Trains go everywhere, and when they are retired and organizations like … get on the case, then the trails go everywhere too. It’s a beautiful thing.

Our most recent example: the terrific Louisville Loop, a series of wonderfully curvy, hilly, bridge-studded trails that will eventually encircle the entire city by connecting its greenways. Easy access, a fantastic workout, your daily hit of natural beauty—what else does a road-tripper need?

Just look at those whoopy, swoopy, woodsy curves!

Here’s one from last year’s trip—a trail along the Illinois River.

Ahhhh…no pavement.

We’ve even found trails in Canada using Trail Link, like this amazing one around a lake on BC’s Sunshine Coast:

LOVED this trail.

Just because you’re driving purposefully without a lot of time to meander, does not mean you have to sacrifice your needs for exercise, beauty and adventure. Check out the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy for yourself, and happy riding/walking!

 

Road Trip VIII, Days 19-23, Nashville to Asheville: Don’t You Westerners Start With Your “These Ain’t No Mountains”

We’ve made it to North Carolina, my home state. But not, as yet, to my hometown. For once we aren’t fleeing weather on this trip, which means we’ve been able to slow down and enjoy time with friends in the Blue Ridge.

That means lots of walks and hikes on steep, rocky pieces of earth which, to me, are most definitely mountains, thank you very much, but to my Californian Mate…not so much. Please ignore him. These mountains are old, they’re beautiful, and they’re full of old, beautiful music, songs full of references to valleys and hollers, songs I can’t get out of my head when I’m here. I love these mountains.

Sunrise from the front porch, up on Butler Mountain

But I’m not about to set up a head-to-head beauty contest between them and my beloved Cascades or Olympics. I mean, let’s be realistic, okay?

So on our hike yesterday, I went small, ignoring huge oaks and laurel thickets and waterfalls for something subtler…and also very welcome, after all the desert we just crossed: fungus.

The first I came across are what’s commonly known as a British Soldiers. Usually their heads are bright red; I’ve never seen pink ones!

Maybe they’re all wearing their Pussy Hats!

Then there were these beauties on a fallen tree:

Who knew decay could be so lovely?

And this little guy, doing a good impression of a tide pool creature:

Sea slug? Chiton? Nope—fungus.

Finally, on our way back, these fragile white fans:

I know, I know. We have pretty mushrooms in the northwest too. But let the east shine for now, ok?

Since I mentioned Nashville in the heading I should mention that, yes indeed, the Mate and I paid our respects to Music Row, and ate some kick-ass ribs at Acme Feed and Seed (which I did not take a picture of ’cause I already felt conspicuously touristy).  But neon and cowboy boots are not our thing. I’m happy for those who love Nashville and all it stands for, but we were just as glad to get back to our motel and watch the Tarheels play. 😊

And speaking of Tarheels…next up, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the ACC tournament! And…where will Traveling Avocados #5 and 6 find their destiny?

Road Trip VIII, Days 14-18, Albuquerque, Oklahoma and the Ozarks: Green Chiles, Porcupines And Beavers, Oh My!

If you appreciate rodents of usual size, cute cabins, and veggies of Hispanic cuisine, this post is for you.

Fourteen years ago our little family of four spent five months in Santa Fe as part of the Mate’s last sabbatical. We love our wet, green northwest home, but we never got that red desert out of our system. We LOVE coming back to New Mexico.

Albuquerque is actually a better fit for us than artsy Santa Fe, with its twisty old streets too narrow for biking and its running trails all headed straight up mountains. And since we have a dear friend in Albuquerque it’s become a regular stop for us.

Of course we have to get our fix of the best green chiles in the country. These are from The Range in Bernalillo:

Encrusted with blue corn, served with arroz verde!

Then a hike along the flank of the gorgeous Sandia mountains.

Thanks to Desert Buddy Beth for taking this!

Usually we head into the heart of Texas after leaving the Land of Enchantment, but this year we let a ferocious tailwind zoom us across the Panhandle and right into northwestern Oklahoma.

On past trips OK has been a mess of blizzard or tornado, but this year it’s been downright lamblike. We spent a night each at two different state parks, Boiling Springs in the west and Greenleaf in the east, with a bike ride in Tulsa along the Arkansas River in between. We now have a much cosier relationship with the Sooner state.

Boiling Springs is an oasis on the prairie, featuring enormous cottonwoods. The joys of off-season: we had the whole place to ourselves, and the cabin cost less than a nice motel room.

But the highlight was this porcupine, asleep in the high, sunlit branches with only a tubby half-moon for company.

Wait a minute…that’s not a bird’s nest!

By the end of the following day, no more coyotes howling at night, and cottonwoods had switched to oaks as we entered Ozark country in eastern OK: Greenleaf State Park. The hiking was only ok (appropriately), but oh, those CCC cabins!

Doesn’t it look like it’s melting? I guess those CCC boys found a way to build quickly on a slope.

Because the weather gods were being so sweet, we decided to take advantage and visit another state that’s usually “under the weather” in February: Missouri. (Also, we just couldn’t resist staying off I-40 one more day! No offense, I-40…we’re just a tad sick of you.)

And in the Missouri section of the Ozarks is where we met not only this beaver

Hey, what are you doing awake in the middle of the day?

but also a spring which makes Oklahoma’s “Boiling Spring” seem like a joke. Notice I didn’t take a picture of Boiling Spring? Now check out Missouri’s Big Spring:

288 MILLION gallons per day bursts out from the base of this cliff!

The Show Me State is right! Here are a couple more views:

The limestone cliff wall, leading to the spring

Closeup of that incredible upwelling of water:

I have Spring Fever!

Oh, and lest you’re wondering about those Traveling Avocados of ours…#4 topped a delicious plate of pasta containing capers and sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan and greens, but we snarfed it before I remembered to take a picture. And #s 5 and 6 are apparently holding off ripening till we arrive in North Carolina. I feel ya, avocados!