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.
Discerning eyes can spot a big difference in Dora’s front wheel:
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.
- 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!
- Bad: Dora has gained a lot of weight. Hefting her onto my bike rack is suddenly not a trifling thing.
- 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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:
O for such civic civility! O my! O Canada…take me with you!
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
…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.)
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):
Visiting friends in a retirement condo in San Franscisco, who have the most efficient filing cabinet I’ve ever seen:
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:
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.
But me? I just walked…and took advantage of the sights only slowness can offer.
Next up: the big left turn—a.k.a., desert’s calling!
“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.
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.
Then, instead of taking a classic picture of Mt. Rainier in all her fresh-snow glory, I focused on this cloud flexing its muscle.
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.
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):
In the redwoods—oh, I have so many pictures of redwoods!—I forced myself away from the big trees…
…ahem, I say, I forced myself to look down instead of up sometimes, and found…
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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…
despite the not-subtle blockages of routes…
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.)
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?
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Can we not find a better word than “desert” to describe such arid Edens?
But 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.
With poor little Red Rover getting sandblasted along I-25, we decided we wouldn’t fare too well. Boo. Sadness.
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.
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.
Then in the morning we went for a hike.
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.
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.