Speed Is My (Bicycle’s) Middle Name: Embracing the Electric Wheel

I owe an apology to every middle-aged person with an electric-assist bike. When they’d proudly show off their vehicle, I’d make all the polite noises, but here’s what I’d be thinking : “What are you, eighty? Why would you trade in perfectly good exercise for a free ride?”

That was a year of knee pain ago.

Since I haven’t been able to shake the pain (neither a torn meniscus nor arthritis–my doctor delivered the complicated diagnosis of, “Your knees are tired”) in 13 months, I have taken to walking my heavy bike, Dora the Explora*, up the steepest hills in order not to exacerbate the hurt. I hope to keep biking into my eighties, like my parents.

*Yes, I am a grownup who names vehicles, and large appliances too. No, it’s not in the least infantile. It’s not. It’s not. It’s not.

Then my friend Stephanie let me try her electric-assist bike around town, and I made a startling discovery: you can still ride hard in E-mode! In fact, you can gear UP going UPhill!

Whoa. I wants me some of that. So I went to my friendly neighborhood shop, Village Cycles, and they hooked me up–or Dora up. Literally.

Looks pretty much like a bike, right?

Look closer:

That’s the battery pack. Needs recharging about every 20 miles. But since I only use juice a minute at a time, usually…20 miles is forever!

Discerning eyes can spot a big difference in Dora’s front wheel:

Where the electricity meets the road!

Because I only want the E-assist on big hills, I opted for the most basic option: a tiny button which you have to hold down for the juice to flow. Let go–you’re back in regular mode. It’s a great way to keep the electric-zoom sessions short: my thumb gets tired!

Truly, though, I’ve found only three big changes to going semi-electric.

  1. Good: Pressing that magic button has taken all fear out of any potential route. I sometimes seek out hills now, just for the joy of riding hard up them without fear of too much knee stress. I think I’m getting a better workout than before!
  2. Bad: Dora has gained a lot of weight. Hefting her onto my bike rack is suddenly not a trifling thing.
  3. Ugly: I have to come to grips with my own pride. When fellow bikers, recognizing the battery pack & wheel, give me that knowing, condescending look, I cringe inside. That used to be me. And when someone now says to me, “Well, if Gretchen can use an e-wheel, then I guess it’s ok!” I have to fight the urge to blurt, “But it’s not because I’m trying to make it easier on myself!”

Except, of course, that’s exactly what I’m doing. For all the right reasons. I just have to get over my own macha-ness (kind of like when I had to get an epidural during my first childbirth and felt like a failure for not going drug-free). And that’s a pretty good workout too.

To celebrate my new acceptance of the E-life, I’ve given Dora a new middle name: Izumi. It’s a girl’s name, also associated with bikewear. And it fits: she IS zoomy now!

So if you see us zooming up a big hill and you know I’m mashing that button, you can say to yourself: “There goes a woman who’s learned a valuable lesson in humility. I wants me some of that.”

My Big Backyard, Part IV, Travels in British Columbia: And Now, For Something Completely The Same…AND Different!

I know, I just finished one trip to Vancouver Island, and satellite islands, in September. But when some dear old friends visiting from the east coast wanted to discover Canada, the Mate and I jumped at the chance to do some more discovery of the lovely land so ridiculously close to where we live.

We didn’t have time to go all the way to our happy place, Jasper, Alberta…that’ll be, we hope, next year. So we rented a house in Harrison Hot Springs, adjacent to a generous handful of Provincial Parks, and made daily forays.

Foray #1: Sasquatch Provincial Park. Just outside of Harrison Hot Springs. Probably a zoo in the high season. But in October, we had the place to ourselves.

VERY tempted to take a dip…if the air had been just a teensy bit warmer!

 

The backdrop: Manning Provincial Park. That’s tomorrow’s trip. Meanwhile, we had fun getting lost while trying to hike around Hick’s Lake. Dumb Americans.

I canNOT resist a good fungus shot. And why should I?

Foray #2: Salmon Spawning Channel. It’s October! The Pinks and Chum are coming home! This channel wasn’t as photogenic as a natural stream, but apparently it boasts a 12x survival rate of baby salmon, so…we were OK with it.

It’ll all be over soon, guys. Thanks for all your hard work.

Foray #3: E.C. Manning Provincial Park. I was especially interested in this one, as I’ve had several friends through-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and Manning is its northern terminus. We didn’t get to that part of the park (the weather was hovering right above freezing and we weren’t thrilled about tackling ice in our friends’ little rental car), but we did take a nice hike past some waterfalls, punctuated by fall color.

Did I mention it was a rather foggy day up there?

Not aspen, but a relative: black cottonwood. Or so we were told. Doing its October job.

Foray #4: Golden Ears Provincial Park. This jaw-droppingly beautiful place (of which we only saw a fraction–it’s huge!) is less than 30 minutes outside Vancouver!

I don’t think these are the actual “Golden Ears,” but I’ll take ’em.

Think this waterfall is pretty? Just wait for…

…the pool above it! Words like “entrancing,” “emerald,” and “crystalline” come to mind. Sometimes cliches are apropos.

That was it for forays. Well, no, we did also explore the environs of Harrison Hot Springs itself, including a pretty wild, fern-dripping hike around the edge of Harrison Lake, but I didn’t have my camera with me. But I did go for a bike ride around the Fraser Valley one day, capturing some local sights, like…

…this cranberry bog! Didn’t know they grew in the Fraser Valley; our Washington cranberries are all out near the coast. Not pictured: field after field of blueberries, all in festive autumnal red.

It was easy for the Mate and me to feel right at home, amidst the red cedars, moss, salmon–“We have all that,” we told ourselves smugly. But then I saw this campaign sign:

“Please”???? When’s the last time you saw a US campaign sign say “Please”?

O for such civic civility! O my! O Canada…take me with you!

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 5-9, Oakland to LA: Slowwwwwing Down

This is the part of the road trip where mileage doesn’t govern our days, and the Mate and I relish it. The Great Plains will happen soon enough—for now, we’re taking it easy. Some examples:

Strolling around the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland (LITERALLY strolling, with the wee twin cousins in their stroller), stopping to investigate the many tiny corner libraries (and leaving some of my books for Oaklanders to find):

The Flyong Burgowski takes Oakland!

Visiting friends in a retirement condo in San Franscisco, who have the most efficient filing cabinet I’ve ever seen:

Brilliant, right?

Going out of our way to hike in Montaña de Oro State Park, a place we’ve always passed up because we were too much in a hurry to get to Santa Barbara:

I mean, we ARE in SoCal…there must be beaches!

But I still took the time to notice how beautiful young poison oak looks when illuminated by the sun…

And today, visiting another friend in the greater LA area, I took myself for a power walk up a winding mountain highway that is, apparently, dearly beloved by motorcyclists and people with sports cars. Also regular cyclists, whom I prefer—dang, those motorcycles are loud!—although I had to admit that the folks on motors looked like they were having fun both up AND down the mountain.

VERY winding mountain highway.

But me? I just walked…and took advantage of the sights only slowness can offer.

Pretty invasives. (Actually, that’s a good name for Los Angeles itself, isn’t it?)

Next up: the big left turn—a.k.a., desert’s calling!

Road Trip VIII, Days 1-4, Tacoma to Oakland: Making The Familiar Strange

“Poetry is making the familiar strange.” That’s an unattributed quote I used to give my students, and it came to my mind as the Mate and I began the first leg of this, our eighth cross-country sojourn to North Carolina. It’s true that even though February travel argues for a quick race to the south, we have multiple routes available to us for that purpose. We don’t have to go Tacoma-Eugene-Redwood Coast-Oakland-Los Angeles. Yet we’ve taken that route six out of eight years.

That raises two questions. The first, Why? is easy: people. Specifically, dear very young people who are changing so rapidly that missing a year is like missing three, and dear older people whose health we never want to take for granted. We WILL go where they are, while we can.

…like these guys😍

The second question is tougher: how do we keep fresh our enthusiasm for this well-traveled route? And that’s where that quote comes in. In this first, familiar leg of our journey, I am giving my Noticing Muscles a workout, determined to keep the familiar strange.

So, walking in Tacoma’s beautiful Point Defiance Park, I ignored the shining trunks of the madrona trees to capture this bright red Oregon Grape.

Nothing like Christmas in February!

Then, instead of taking a classic picture of Mt. Rainier in all her fresh-snow glory, I focused on this cloud flexing its muscle.

We can do it!

In Eugene, walking with friends along the Coast Fork of the Willamette, I substituted a shot of moss-draped oaks for this intriguingly blank sign.

For when you’re feeling especially self-directed…

Not pictured: flock of wild turkeys.

Just before the California border, heading toward Cave Junction on beautiful US 199, we passed this sign (admittedly not our first glimpse, but I finally got the Mate to slow down so I could take its picture):

Apparently fully intentional—hey, let’s celebrate veggies AND dyslexia!

In the redwoods—oh, I have so many pictures of redwoods!—I forced myself away from the big trees…

OK, just ONE MORE big tree picture…!

ahem, I say, I forced myself to look down instead of up sometimes, and found…

British Soldier lichen!

And…

Tiny tree doing yoga!

Finally arriving in the Bay Area, the Mate and I went for a bike ride along the top of Tilden Park in Berkeley. And there…well, it’s not so much that my noticing muscles gave out, as that bikes aren’t the best mode of transport for photography.

So I had to settle for this fairly obvious shot:

Good ol’ Golden Gate in the distance

Not pictured: a pair of the glossiest ravens I’ve ever seen.

But no worries—most of the “view” I’m seeing in these well-travelled parts of the West are memories…and I haven’t found a way to capture those with my smartphone yet.

Private Views of Public Lands: Who Do These People Think They Are? Oh. Heh. Us.

How do government workers stand it? All the democracy, I mean. All the dealing with people on whose behalf they are planning the roads or designing the curriculum…or, in this case, protecting the land.

This land. And this chocolate lily and this death camas.

The cover shot of this blog is part of the San Juan National Monument–which happens to be practically in my backyard. So I spend a lot of time out there–enough to feel a strong degree of ownership. “Yeah, yeah, public land…but they don’t know it and love it like I do.”

It’s not like the path is hard to find or anything.

Which is why it’s so hard, every year as Memorial Day approaches, watching the hordes of visitors begin to tromp my beloved paths. Or, often as not, tromp OFF them, into the meadows and over the fragile lichens, despite the signs asking them oh-so-politely not to…

Have you ever seen a sweeter, more polite sign from the feds? It even says Thank you!

despite the not-subtle blockages of routes…

C’mon, people…sticks mean no walkies!

and, oh yeah, this brand-new sign with the trails perfectly marked and the endangered wildflowers listed (the ones you’re tromping on now, you!!! Get back on the trail! (Easy, girl.)

Thanks, taxpayers! (You’re welcome.)

How do they DO it, those Bureau of Land Management folks who, charged with protecting this fragile landscape, hosted public meeting after public meeting with every possible stakeholder, striking the perfect compromise between use and misuse, the perfect language for every sign–including when NOT to place a sign at all? And then to see how many people deliberately breeze past your handiwork because they NEED to go climb that rock?

THIS rock…which has a perfectly good access if you’d just walk a little further up the trail!

I know, believe me. I’ve scoffed my share of laws–dog off leash for years (though I always leashed up if I saw another person), lichens crushed, flowers picked because I wanted to. But that was BEFORE someone asked me (politely) not to, and took the time to explain why.

Do we need to ask more politely? Explain more thoroughly? Or just resign ourselves to the fact that a certain percentage of people will always do exactly what they want no matter that–or even because–someone’s asking them not to?

I’m really bad at resignation. Guess there’s a reason I don’t work for the Bureau of Land Management. I have too much personal, private passion wrapped up in these lands…which aren’t private in the least.

Which is good. I happen to have neighbors who are equal parts wealthy, environmentally concerned, and generous. I walk and run on their paths as much as on the National Monument; they are contiguous, the same stunning stretch of coastline. And grateful as I am for their permission to drink in the private beauty, it feels weird to me that it IS private. That so few people have access…to wander off its trails, tromp its delicate meadows and lichens and…

Delicate lichens and red-leafed stonecrop that suddenly shows itself golden in the spring…

Oh dear. Here we go again. Guess I’ll just wrap it up this way: I love our democracy. I love the idea of public lands. And I appreciate the hell out of the folks who have to deal with the public ON the land, because…they sure are better at it than I am.

Sometimes All You Need is To Be Smacked Upside the Head by a Golden Eagle

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m a “mentor” of a little girl. Just after that post, I attended a meeting for mentors, where we were asked to share something we appreciated about our “mentee.” One fellow mentor said he loved that his kid “gets me out of my head.”

Anyone relate to that?

For those of us without small children or even pets around the house, getting out of our heads can become a strangely invisible challenge: we aren’t aware of how badly we needed to do it until something flies by and–aaahh…That’s better. Perspective restored.

Today I was running along my usual gorgeous route, which just happens to pass through the scenery depicted on this blog’s cover photo. No slouch, as scenery goes. But was I digging those craggy rocks, that deep blue ocean? Ha. Not a whit. I was stuck deeply in my own head.

Rehearsal schedule. Grocery planning. When am I going to get my garden going? Three pieces to edit–not including my own. Article to write. Need to catch up on sleep from three 3 a.m. bakery get-ups in a row. Time with Mate–when’s THAT supposed to happen? And am I going to have time to practice my subjunctive before the next Spanish class?

Then a golden eagle flew over my head. Followed by another golden eagle.

Imagine two. (orig. image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

I’ll admit–several dozen bald eagles might’ve flown over, unnoticed, as I ran along–and good job, baldies, getting so common after nearly going extinct and all. But goldies? They stopped me in my tracks.

I’m sorry that’s what it took, but it did the job. Aaahh…That’s better. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. Perspective restored.

Care to share a similar getting-out-of-your-head experience? Child, animal, plant–or something not of nature? I would love to hear.

Road Trip VII, Days 1-4: Los Angeles to Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Wait–Day 1 is Los Angeles? Gretchen, did you move?

No, I cheated. Starting from my home in Washington State, I flew down to San Diego for a first-ever reunion with my sisters, while the Mate followed, at the wheel of our faithful Red Rover. We met in LA and started Road Trip VII from there.

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

The theme of the trip so far? It’s the raison d’etre of our road trips: the joy of moving through beauty.

Our favorite way is to feel the air on our skin. So Day 1, we hiked in the steep canyons of Hollywood, startlingly green from all that recent rain, ignoring the Oscars-related bustle going on just below.

Ah, air. Even LA air. If it’s sunny in February, my skin’s not picky about pollution.

Day 2, we rode our bikes through the cactus gardens of Saguaro National Park in Tucson, marveling at the variety of the plant forms.

Make your own caption for this one

Make your own caption for this one

Can we not find a better word than “desert” to describe such arid Edens? 

dsc02176img_2210But sometimes the air-on-skin model is too rough for our tender epidermes. Day 3, approaching Albuquerque from the south, we were looking forward to biking through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, glorying in the thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese and other migratory fowl who vacation there. But the wind had other ideas–or rather, the wind-blown dust did.

Scenery? What scenery?

Scenery? What scenery?

With poor little Red Rover getting sandblasted along I-25, we decided we wouldn’t fare too well. Boo. Sadness.

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

So we pushed on to Albuquerque, where, thanks to our buddy Beth, I was able to take two long power-walks through the wonderful neighborhoods of Northwest (backyard chickens, horses, goats–even an emu!) as the wind gradually relaxed to less-than-lethal levels.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Mmm…and chiles rellenos with fresh, deeply-green New Mexican chiles….whoops, sorry. Not today’s theme.

On Day 4, we finally got to experience air-on-skin, moving-through-beauty in the blessed slo-mo that is camping. In Palo Duro Canyon State Park, this red, rocky wonderland astonishing close to Amarillo–really!–we rode our bikes around in the last of the afternoon sun.

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Then in the morning we went for a hike.

Dawn's early light from our campsite

Dawn’s early light from our campsite

This was very welcome as a warmer-upper, as the blessedly still air pushed the temp down to 20 overnight. And we weren’t allowed to use our stove because of extreme fire danger. Brrr.

C'mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

C’mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Lest you think The Mate and I are too precipitous in our appreciation of nature’s gifts, just let me add: I could easily have written a post about the joys of being outdoors while holding still. But with a whole continent to cross, basketball games to watch and a bakery waiting for me to come back and work at…my skin and I choose to celebrate our happy reality: moving air.

Almost...warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality...)

Almost…warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality…)