Road Trip IX, Days 27-32, Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C.: Country Roads, Make Me Run

I’ve written before about my father’s passion for distance running, and the way that passion shaped our family. Nothing like being back on the “old home place” for a week to bring back powerful memories of my baptism and rearing in the Church of the Holy Workout.

See, once my dad learned, in the mid-sixties, about the long-term health effects of distance running, I think he must have settled on the logic that, quod erat demonstrandum, NOT running would probably kill you quickly.

My dad, at 88 and a half, on his bike–he finally switched to an electric wheel a few years ago

At least that’s how it seemed to my 8 year-old self back in 1970. My sisters and I were, ahem, encouraged to run one mile a day, and three on Sundays. Most of that running involved the country roads near our house—some recently paved, some dirt.

But quite a lot involved the vehicle-free gravel roads of Duke Forest, maintained by Duke University’s School of Forestry (which I admire and love equally as much as I despise and loathe its men’s basketball team 🙂 ).The scenery was pretty. And the hills were STEEP.

Every year since we moved away in 1990, I go back to those forest roads, thinking, “they can’t really be as steep as I remember them.” And every time I rediscover—oh. Yep. They are.

Hard Climb Hill–putting the “mont” in Piedmont

The jury’s out, in my opinion, on whether making running mandatory for your children is a good idea or not. As it happens, I still run, thought I’ll never know if that’s despite, or because of being thrown into the deep end of the track (to mix sports metaphors). But since I’m lucky enough to have grown up entirely in the same house, it’s pretty cool to imagine how many miles I’ve logged over the years on those humble paved and unpaved roads.

I imagine Atticus Finch musing, “You never really understand a place until you consider things from its country roads…until you pull on your running shoes and run a few thousand miles around its hills.”

I’d show an even steeper hill, but I didn’t feel like wading across New Hope Creek

Or spot its wildflowers. I can’t complete a description of my childhood running routes without celebrating the subtle wildflowers of its woods in early spring.

Like the Trout Lily. Spot one…and suddenly they’re everywhere!

About as showy as they get…hiding in some invasive periwinkle leaves

Bluets, or Quaker Ladies. These always reminded me of my mom.

And while we’re at it…all praises be to good ol’ New Hope Creek itself. Humbly beautiful, and quite shockingly free of garbage considering it’s right smack in the middle of the Hillsborough/Durham/Chapel Hill Triangle.

Thanks for all the miles I’ve run past you while you were running past me!

I find myself wondering…what versions of my country roads do y’all share? What routes, walked or run or skated over a million times, make up the soul of YOUR childhood?

Road Trip IX, Day 6-10, LA to Tucson: Climate Change And Other Extremes

THIS was our gateway to sunny SoCal, on I-5 South just above LA:

Tejon Pass. The northbound highway was closed.

Once there, in the city where my mom was born & raised, where my grandparents & uncle are buried, we holed up for a few days with my dear college housemate & her husband, visiting with them as well as some of my cousins AND a dear almost-sister of the Mate’s, Rhonda.

I’ve been to LA more times than I can count, since childhood. Since I can no longer visit my grandparents, this time I chose to notice contrasts and extremes. For example…LA is this:

Looking south from Will Rogers State Park

and this.

The LA River, with trees full of garbage and the former belongings of homeless people, flooded out

It’s the 100 year-old avocado tree whose fruit my wonderful cousins gifted us with

We got a whole bag full! Thanks, guys!

and it’s the Woolsey Fire, which spared Rhonda’s house (and chickens–a miracle) but destroyed the art studio where she and her late husband Alisha made and kept all their creations (she’s a metal artist; Alisha did glass).

That slab is all that’s left of the 2-storey studio.

Part of one of Alisha’s pieces that survived the fire

If you think about it, that fire from last November–California’s largest ever–is itself a symbol of extremes. Too much drought mixed with too many people = misery. It burned nearly 100,000 acres and over 16,000 structures…including these, Rhonda’s neighbors across the road:

I’d seen it on TV. But it’s so different when it’s all around you.

I can only hope these folks can recover their lives. Their mailbox has a personal note to “George,” their mailman.

Leaving LA for what we call The Big Left Turn to cross the rest of the continent, we made our recreational stop in one of our favorite, accessible national parks, Joshua Tree. The first set of trails is only 8 miles (but a world away) from the interstate.

We are so lucky to be able to walk so safely into the desert like this. Think of all the people for whom the desert means danger.

Since I have so many pictures of rocks, this time I focused on flowers.

These pool little golden poppies are too cold to open!

There were a lot of them! Ah, blessed spring.

Isn’t this gorgeous? Anyone know what it is?

But what’s up with those dark clouds?

Ocotillo cactus blossoming

Hmmm. Getting colder by the minute.

Last little blob of sunshine…

By the time the Mate took this, snowflakes had begun to fall.

Hurry up, my legs are freezing.

Let’s get out of here! Dropping back down to I-10, we left the white stuff behind…

…until next morning, driving into Tucson. Seriously?!

Seriously.

I don’t know if this is just Climate Change, or Nature’s way of reminding me I need to include “Snow Falling On Saguaro” in my photo gallery. I saw that, all right, but unfortunately I didn’t capture it…’cause I was too cold and wet to take off my gloves.

Sun’s supposed to come out tomorrow. It would be nice to have something non-extreme to notice for a change.

 

 

Road Trip IX, Day 1-5: Making the Familiar Strange, from Lopez Island to Coast Redwoods to Oakland to Pinnacles National Monument

We can’t help it–but it isn’t all our fault that all our road trips begin by heading straight south to California. The Mate and I have too many loved ones in the Golden State, but Mother Nature sends us that way too. Only once have we dared heading straight east to Montana in February, and we were as lucky as we were stupid, that year.

Waiting for the ferry: “Get me out of this slush!”

Anyone who’s driven repeatedly over the same route knows it can be a challenge to find new things to focus on. Blogging simply ups the ante.

I have to admit, I completely punted at our first stop, Eugene. We were too glad to be off the road, too happy to see our dear friends, and too warm and dry to want to venture back out into the cold and damp to take any pictures. I got a little exercise walking around and around the ferry boat when we left, and that was it for the day.

But the next day, we were back in one of our favorite environments: the coastal redwoods of Prairie Creek State/National Park. On Valentine’s Day! Because it was too yucky to tent-camp (the only kind we do), we treated ourselves to one of the little, bare-bones cabins there.

I cooked dinner on that porch in the middle of a hailstorm!

That way we got both a hike AND a bike ride in the big trees. Now, I’ve taken a zillion pictures of redwoods. They’re each so unique, so irresistible! So this time, I tried to focus on other things, like the effects of weather. You always see those old, fallen giants…but we met a newfallen one!

TIMBERRRRRR!!!!!

When the sun did finally break through, it drew my lens even more than the trees did.

Aaaaaalelujahhhh….

But I still couldn’t resist this old beauty, just for itself:

Ready for my closeup

Next morning, we had the world’s best bike ride down the closed-off Drury Parkway: 13 miles all to ourselves, riding down the middle of the road, looking up at the gorgeous giants spanning every bit of space around us…

Wheeee!

Later that day, with our cousins in Oakland (when the sun finally came out!), I did my usual walk-through  of the Temescal neighborhood, but this time I focused on character. Literally. You know these signs, right?

Should go without saying, but, since apparently it doesn’t…

In Oakland, there are several of that type on each block. Then there’s the totally cool-looking Oakland International School (public), dedicated to immigrants.

More of this, please, America!

And out front, this enticing “golden box,” which, upon closer inspection, proved to be a tiny studio where they connect kids with people from all over the world to share stories.

And this

Next stop: Pinnacles National Park. Since we’ve been here before, I tried to make myself take pictures of things besides, well, the Pinnacles. Less obvious things.

Like…moss! Vertical moss.

Pretty sure I have a picture of The Mate in this trail-tunnel…so now it’s my turn.

Don’t know why tunnels are so fun, but they are.

What kind of pine tree IS that? I really should look it up. And look at that light on the rocks!

Whoa.

Okay, I probably have this exact same picture from 3 years ago. But he was probably wearing a T-shirt then!

Did I mention this is the High Peaks Trail?

Turns out there was a reason for the brightness of the light: contrast with the approaching black clouds.

Uh-oh.

And when they arrived, all that lovely sun went bye-bye, and we were suddenly being pummeled by hail.

Oh HAIL yes.

Then snow.

I feel ya, flowers! Hang in there!

At this point, I put on gloves and traded photography for swift walking. Time to get DOWN and get WARM. Are we in Southern California or what?

But despite–or perhaps because of?–the weather, I really enjoyed finding alternative foci for this entry…and hopefully you’ve enjoyed it with me. Happy February! See you down the road.

Road Trip IX: Let’s Get This…Brrrr!…Party Started

If you’ve been following Wing’s World for a while, you know that The Mate and I take a 6 to 7-week pilgrimage this time of year, from our little island in Washington’s Salish Sea, all the way across the country, back to our former lives (and my folks, and Tarheel basketball) in North Carolina.

If you’re new to this blog–well, now you know. Welcome! This is the only time Wing’s World morphs into a travel blog; please join me!

The Mate cleared out our bike garage in order to load up Red Rover without getting snowy.

That is, if we ever get going. When driving across the country in February and March, weather is always in charge of your route. Every year we’ve diverted around something. But we’ve never found ourselves stopped in our own driveway! We were planning to leave on February 12, but now it’s snowing like crazy, so that is NOT gonna happen.

I’m pretty much packed. Cleaned out the fridge. Nothing to do but go for a walk!

Snow falling on cedars…and salal…and bracken…

…and moss…

…and reindeer lichen…

…and even kelp!

You know what, though? This extraneous walk gave me exactly what I needed: the reassurance that, no matter where we go, there is no more special place than where we already live.

G’bye, Gorgeous…see you in the spring!

The rest of y’all? See you on the road…whenever we get there!

“Go on, already…we’ll take care of this place while you’re gone.”

Return To Kiwiland, Take 2: Author’s Cut

A quick catch-up: twenty-two years ago, my family spent an academic year in southern New Zealand.

Two years ago, the Mate and I returned, with two objectives: 1) tramp (hike) the Milford Track (Trail); 2) learn about the Coast to Coast cross-country multisport race for a novel I’m writing.

Objective #2 was mine, not the Mate’s. And this time, the purpose of this trip is ENTIRELY due to the demands of my book. But lucky me, the Mate’s coming along anyway, and so is Wing Son Two, who can keep him company when I’m off learning about sheep farming and Maori culture.

There will always be sheep.

Will this trip feature some adventures? Of COURSE–this is NEW ZEALAND we’re talking about.

Rugged rivers? High probability.

Aoraki (Mt. Cook)? Could be!

Tree ferns there WILL be. (I love me some tree ferns.)

But when I return, will my accounts of New Zealand be travelogue, or Author’s Notes? Stay tuned. Ta for now.

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.

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. 🙂