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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Okay, where were we when we were so rudely interrupted?

Or, more to the point, why were we so rudely interrupted?

Well, let me tell you!

First, my apologies. I promised a lot and haven’t delivered, and I hate it when that happens. But I have been taking lots of notes, and have several interesting stories to tell, so perhaps that will make up for the lack of news recently.

Now, as to the why …

While we were in Banff, because of the complicated logistics of traveling with two people with special diets, plus a large dog and 2 cats, I had to start planning the next stages of the journey right away. My daughter Julia and I were looking forward particularly to seeing the part of Canada surrounding the Great Lakes, places like Thunder Bay. But it was like beating my head against a wall.

There was a three day stretch of look-at-the-scenery driving where I simply could not find any pet friendly hotels or places to get the food we needed … and at that point I had literally run out of protein I could eat without uncomfortable backlash. And I wasn’t having any luck figuring out where to get it before Ottawa or Montreal.

Then, to cap it all off, we realized that my prescriptions (and our elderly dog’s) would run out in a little over a week.

And, finally, three mornings in a row, I was awakened with a phrase running through my head which seemed relevant … especially since most of the really important personal input I receive from my guidance comes that way.

What was the phrase?

Well, if you’ve read Tolkein’s The Hobbit, or seen a cartoon version, you probably remember that the wizard Gandalf showed up at Bilbo Baggins’ house one evening out of the blue with a bunch of rowdy dwarves intent on dragging Bilbo off on an adventure. When asked if he’d like to join them, Bilbo said something like:

“Oh, dear me, no! Adventures make one late for dinner.”

That’s the phrase that was waking me up at 3 am. To me it meant, essentially, that timing was getting important, and that it was time to quit fooling around and get where we were going, or we’d miss our “dinner.” It seemed to me that it meant that housing opportunities, and job opportunities, would be missed if we didn’t get our respective rear ends in gear. We’ll see if my interpretation is correct … I certainly am not up for anything like Bilbo’s adventure at this point in my life!

Yeah, yeah, I know Bilbo’s adventure rocked all of Middle Earth … but, when you think about it, things would have been easier -at least in the short term – if he had stayed home, though of course we would have missed out on one of the great stories of our time. Tough choice.

Anyway, I shifted planning gears … and, amazingly, as soon as I started looking at a route through the US to Maine, it was simple to find housing and the food we needed. Plus the journey would be a week shorter. So, okay, that door opened when the other stubbornly remained closed, so we headed for the US border with all speed.

(And crossing the border will be featured in a future post … “Being Different – the Good, the Bad & the Ugly.” A tale full of sound & fury, I promise!)

We raced at an angle from Banff through Alberta and western Saskatchewan, crossed into the US in North Dakota, and sped through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire in 9 days … and we finally arrived in Maine yesterday. A blur of cheesy hotels and occasional gorgeous scenery highlighted by periodic philosophical spinoffs, some worth telling (at least I think so!)

During that whole drive I kept wondering why I wasn’t excited. I mean, I was about to achieve a 40-year dream, so why was I feeling so grim? The grimness must have been the result of grinding through 8-hour driving days and marginal accommodations with reluctant pets … and because of lingering feelings about our border-crossing experience …

… because it lasted until about 5 minutes after we crossed the border into Maine, at which point I felt such a lift that I thought I might end up with permanent goosebumps, I was so flooded with energy and emotion. And the first couple of stops we made for prescriptions and other necessaries, when people found out I was from California, they said things like, “Huh! Well, you look like you belong here.” Music to my ears!!!

Julia isn’t quite as excited, because getting her settled is going to be far more complicated and time-consuming, and frankly she isn’t looking forward to the amount of hard work she has facing her to prepare for the GRE and start pitching herself to the research programs where she wants to study … but she’s rolling her sleeves up and getting to work tomorrow, right after we scope out currently available housing.

That brings you up to date. Next blog posts will be about some highlight experiences, and a couple of fun and silly philosophical rants about things like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. And a bit more about some things we really liked about Canada.

Thanks for bearing with me! I hope you’re well, and that your life is giving you clear signals.

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On Wednesday my daughter Julia and I left the cats snoozing in the condo, loaded the dog Sheba in the car and took a day-long trek through the Canadian Rockies, specifically the Banff and Jasper National Parks.

Once Sheba figured out that not only were we NOT going to the vet, but that she was also actually able to stick her nose out the window (didn’t have to worry about cats escaping) and revel in the aromas of the Rockies, she had a blast. We all three did, actually.

Since I expended my vocabulary describing my first encounter with these incredible mountains (see “Squandered Superlatives”), I’m going to let pictures do most of the telling … but first some geologic commentary.

Julia was able to add a lot of interest to this journey because of her degree in Environmental Science, and because she’s always loved geology. Since she doesn’t read the blog, she didn’t know about what I’d said about mountains shoving fists or elbows up from the earth, so when she quoted her favorite geology professor, saying that the mountains looked like the result of a “continental fender-bender,” and (after I stopped laughing), I felt more confident of my impressions.

The Great Divide scenic stop was a further hint, as was a déjà vu moment as we were headed up into glacier country. Looking back over our route from a pullout close to the top of the pass, I could see the river winding through steep mountains, everything telescoping down to tiny cars in the distance, and I remembered vaguely seeing something almost identical at Estes Park in Colorado. When we got home that evening I hauled out my map and confirmed that, indeed, as most of the world probably already knows, the Rockies extend at an angle along the continental divide from New Mexico through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta and British Columbia.

To me the Canadian Rockies look bolder, harder edged, more muscular, but it’s easy to see that they’re part of the same family as the Colorado Rockies.

And now, without further adieu, here is our quickie tour of a park that would undoubtedly richly reward years of exploration. Don’t forget to click on any photo you want to see clearly …

It isn’t hard to guess that this first amazing sight is called … Castle Mountain!

My friend Daina was really excited about my first glimpse of Lake Louise, and it was as incredible as she intimated.

And, a little further down the side of the lake, here’s Julia.

And here’s a hotel near the lake which has the riot of English cottage garden-style flowers which you find everywhere in Banff, Harvie Heights (where we’re staying) and Canmore (a great little town full of hotels and lovely shops also near Banff).

We were amazed at our first glacier – Crowfoot Glacier – spilling over the edge of the mountain at the speed of geologic time, but we soon found out we hadn’t seen nuttin’ yet!

Athabasca Glacier, at the southern end of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper Park, is so huge that the tour busses buzzing around the crevasses look like insects and you’d really have to squint at the enlarged version of this photo to see the people trekking up a winding dirt road to the glacier.

But, as awe-inspiring as the glacier was, for me the most unforgettable part of the day were the blue, blue lakes we saw on the way back. Somehow the brilliantly clear blue sky, the mountains and the lakes themselves combined with the angle of the sun to produce truly extraordinary colors.

Today we hiked around a fen (wetland) which coexists beautifully with downtown Banff, which I’ll report on next … and, I am aghast to realize that tomorrow is not only my birthday, it’s our last day here (sniff!). But there’s plenty more excitement to come, including a major change in plans for the journey, so stay tuned.

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After a day of trying to put what I saw and felt in the Hoh Rain Forest into words, I remembered that my friend Cammy had asked for pictures and decided to lean on that old saw of a picture being worth 1,000 words. If you’re a subscriber, I think you may actually have to go to the blog to see these photos … but if you’re as ga-ga about forests and streams as I am, you might enjoy them!

If you click on each photo you’ll get a better resolution, by the way.

This first photo was taken from the parking lot, believe it or not, and if you look closely you’ll see that the mosses are pretty dry from summer heat and reduced rain, but the wetland is still going strong.

Here’s my daughter Julia showing us what the rain forest can do to man’s puny efforts at civilizing this vast, mysterious realm …

Below is one of the loveliest, clearest and most prolific little streams I’ve ever seen, with layers and layers of water plants. Julia, who studied watershed management, said it was the best habitat for young salmon that she’d ever seen.

Here’s a better look at the mosses which are so abundant in a temperate rain forest.

This one is a lovely study of nurse logs, with older trees whose roots once drew nourishment from a nurse log in the foreground, their roots framing where the nurse log once lay, and busy nurseries in the background.

And last here’s a look at a rain forest microcosm.

Also, while we were on our way into the rain forest area, we discovered something about Washington timber/forest management programs. Washington has what are called State Trust Lands which are managed very differently from those owned by Weyerhauser and others, and the difference is stunning. These Trust Lands are thinned rather than clear cut, the undergrowth appears to still be intact (which takes a lot of work!), and, rather than looking like boneyards, they appear abundantly healthy.

Coming up in the next couple of days: musings on being different, and a quick peek at highlights of the Twilight zone …

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I suppose it’s not that unusual to realize in later years that your most mortifying moment with a parent has become your fondest memory. Perhaps you’ve even discovered in retrospect, as I did, that the mortifying moment actually contained the seeds of all you were to become.

My mother’s parents (who always made sure that Dad knew Mom married beneath her) decided to treat me to a very ritzy tour of Europe for my 16th birthday. It was to last a full six weeks, a leisurely exploration of England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Spain’s poshest hotels and grandest artistic traditions.

My parents agreed very reluctantly to let me go, and this surprised and hurt me because I’d devoted my life to being Miss Goody Two-Shoes, the perfect daughter and big sister. It turned out that perhaps they knew more about me than I did, but that’s another story.

The tour leader, a professor of art history at a major university, claimed halfway through the tour that he’d aged 20 years in three weeks, all because of me.

I wasn’t intentionally a problem (still firmly committed to my Goody Two Shoes persona), but even though I was only 16, I somehow functioned as a European man magnet of epic proportions. The professor’s last straw moment came when I walked with the tour group through a Swiss hotel lobby and had three men offering me dinner before we reached the reception desk.

The tour was incredible, and even 50 years later it remains so vivid that, although I’ve never been able to return to any of the countries but England and Scotland, I still recognize art and architecture, cities and landscapes, and vividly remember the fragrances and flavors and visual feast of the gourmet meals which were part and parcel of an experience which had been tailor made for the exclusive sorority/debutante daughters of the very rich. Which is the other reason I was a “problem” on the trip. I was not only at least 2 years the junior of the next youngest girl, even worse, though my father was an aviator, a Colonel in the Marine Corps, and although my Mom had been brought up in the upper echelons of Naval military elite, my upbringing was inescapably middle class.

The other girls/young women were at worst tolerant and at best very kind and helpful, so I didn’t suffer for my plebeian background. I even got a foretaste of what was brewing in the early 60’s because one of them was deeply involved with the nascent radical movement in Berkeley. My conservative, military world view took a severe beating in Paris during a 2 am conversation over French onion soup with her and two of the other girls. She was gorgeous and militant and ferocious and, for all I know, grew up to be Gloria Steinham.

So, cut to the trip home. I’m returning smugly full of artistic erudition and sophistication, as well as being possessed of a highly trained gourmet palate and discerning knowledge of wines.

Before I tell you about what greeted me on arrival, I have to say one thing. I have always adored my father. He was boisterously and unstintingly affectionate, he always somehow loved and respected me in all my quirkiness without wishing I were better or different, he gifted me with a thirst for knowledge and a respect for the subtleties of language, and whatever storytelling gifts I have were seeded and nurtured by him.

Now, on to the Mortifying Moment.

My Dad hadn’t arrived to pick me up when we landed, so when he made his entrance I was being introduced to one of the impeccably groomed and mannered girls’ impeccably groomed and mannered, dark-suited and handsome fathers.

I heard a shout behind me and recognized my Dad’s deep, resonant and somewhat growly Marine colonel voice. I executed a calm, sophisticated turn and was greeted by an unforgettable image of my Dad in all his screw-your-social-rules-and-norms glory. He hadn’t wanted me to go to Europe, and must have gotten a good idea from my few letters of the condition I’d be in when I returned home. And obviously he was determined to get me retrained and back into the family fold beginning immediately.

So, there was my inimitable Dad, vigorously striding toward me, arms open, and dressed to kill (my pretensions). Besides his typical bald head and red handlebar moustache, complete with curled, waxed tips, he’d dressed in his outrageous best, which this time included a voluminous Hawaiian shirt, baggy brown pants, a Panama hat and his favorite down-at-the-heel cowboy boots. I wanted to die. And at the same time I was so glad to see him that I wanted to cry.

It was the first time I remember my Dad taking steps to make sure I didn’t get “too full of myself,” but it was far from the last. Another favorite memory (it really is a favorite) was when I treated him and my youngest sister Anne to New Year’s dinner at a client’s restaurant. A few seconds after I told him in awed tones that the owner was on her way to our table, he grabbed up our (excellent) champagne and took a big swig directly from the bottle, twinkling at me over the top with his rascally eyes. My 10-year-old sister completed the farce, just as my glamorous  client arrived at our table, by dropping her napkin over her head and declaiming dramatically, “Oh, the shame of it! The shame of it!” (You probably won’t be surprised to learn that, even though she’s more than 50 now, I still call her my Bratty Little Sister, or BLS for short.)

However, as much effort as Dad put into reining me in that day at the airport, I have to say I probably won that particular round. They decided to honor my homecoming by allowing me a glass of wine with dinner. After taking my first sip, and savoring the flavors for a moment, I said:

“This is quite pleasant … for a minor domestic wine.” I can still hear the thundering silence.

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To avoid getting completely tangled up in layers of complexities, here’s a sort of outline presentation of what we’d hoped for versus what has happened so far.

I won’t blame you for skipping this chapter … it may only interest people who know us already, who can’t look away from train wrecks, or who might be looking for weird plot ideas. Sorry it’s so loooong … but, well, you’ll see why.

The Opportunities

Me – To discover whether New England is as congenial, supportive, beautiful and soul satisfying as I’ve always believed it could be.

Julia (my daughter) – To get close enough to easily explore the most promising masters and Ph.D. neuroscience programs for migraines in the U.S.

Sheba (80 lb wolf dog), Basserina & Sneakers (cats who are NOT best friends!) – to leave behind warm sunshine, a yard, familiar surroundings and a comfortable routine to travel in cramped conditions for a month or more while being uprooted (just after getting comfortable!) almost daily.

The Original Plan

To pack up the household and put most of our possessions in storage in California, to be brought to us after we found a place to live in New England. And then, to make the trip across the continent a vacation, taking up to 2 months to explore places like Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the Canadian Rockies and so on. And to check out various universities on the way.

The Known (prior to July 1) Challenges:

Home Environment – In addition to my general difficulties with Bay Area air quality, pollen count, and so on, there were several really serious problems with where we lived. First, although we didn’t realize it at first, there was something terribly toxic in the back yard. Whether it was from the auto body shops just on the other side of the back fence, or asbestos in older construction, or old and new toxins released during the massive renovation which was announced and commenced about 4 months after we moved in … the cumulative effect was bad enough that it affected not only hyper-sensitive me, but also got to my daughter on the days when she didn’t spend 8-10 hours in an air conditioned lab. Bottom line, as long as we lived in the apartment, I would have to function in spite of both physical and mental challenges, and so would she.

Food – Julia and I are both on highly restricted diets, so, no eating in restaurants. Also, most of what we can eat can only be found in health food stores, requiring extra effort for successful travel arrangements.

Environment – For me, intense urban environments seem to generate too many toxins to be tolerated for even a day without extra meds, and after 16 years on the Northern California Redwood Coast, I had been spoiled by endless clean air, water and low population density. Even an hour or two of freeway driving requires extra medication to prevent backlash, affecting travel plans as well. My doctor thinks this will largely clear up in a different environment (!!)

Multiple Disguises and Varied Accommodations – We need clothes for travel, hotel stays, camping, job interviews and making a good impression on potential landlords. We also need cooking utensils, food storage and health support items.

Space – We’re traveling in a Ford Escape and towing a nifty little PulMor trailer so the fuzzy family members would have at least a little space.

Fuzzy Family Members – See above in Opportunities.

The Unanticipated Challenges

Earlier Moveout Deadline – On July 1 it was announced that the interior renovations on individual apartments in our part of the complex would begin on August 1 rather than the anticipated September 16th. Since I was basically bedridden for 6 months the last time I had prolonged contact with construction/renovation materials, and was already in some trouble due to allergies or intolerances, that meant we had to be completely moved out before they started tearing up the interior and exterior of our apartment. We finally negotiated an 8/12 moveout – thank goodness!

Mercury Retrograde – In case you’re not familiar with astrology, Mercury retrograde periods occur 3 times a year for 3 weeks each time, with an additional week’s residue on either side. These periods are famous for screwing up travel, scheduling, communications, computers, contracts and so on. There’s a deeper intent, of course, but we’ll save that discussion for another time. In this case, if one were cynical, one would say naturally Mercury retrograde would be heaped on top of the rest of the complications! How else to give me an opportunity to fully explore the challenge of meeting chaos and uncertainty by staying centered and present in the moment?!?

Personnel – Julia was working full time in the Stanford lab until August 1, which meant that any work requiring physical strength and stamina had to be accomplished (by her) in the two weeks between then and our moveout deadline, since I literally could not do it.

Last Minute Complications

Trailer – Rather than being able to work with the nifty little trailer we’d found to plan our travel supplies, we didn’t receive it until 5 days before the moveout, at which point we were working so hard on packing that there was no time for thoughtful preparation.

Health – As anyone with allergies can tell you, moving can create problems, starting with exposure to accumulated dust and so on. One of the big surprises was that anything which had been kept in the back yard (lawn chairs, bike, etc), as well as the expensive Uhaul boxes we’d saved from the move last year, had somehow soaked up whatever toxins were back there, making both Julia and me sick. Everything in the back yard, and everything in the storage unit (which had carelessly been filled with 30 to 40 year old roofing debris during the earliest part of the renovation) had to be trashed.

Day-Of Surprises

Things went really well with the movers. In fact, the lead guy suggested that we could work for Bekins any time, our packing was so professional.

You probably know that the last part of any move, when you have to decide what to do with the dregs and the stuff you need to keep available to use till the last minute on moveout, and first thing when you move in. We had a lot of it, and I – the Virgo in charge of lists and space planning – had not spent much time considering what went where. Nor, as mentioned, had I been able to work with the trailer.

Picture this:

It’s 2 pm and Julia and I are standing in our apartment parking area surrounded by a clutter of bags and boxes containing clothes, cooking utensils, and miscellany left behind by the movers. Within 6 to 15 feet of us, above and parallel, are at least a dozen construction workers, ripping off 30 year old shingles, revving skill saws as they cut pressboard to replace the shingles, rat-tat-tatting with nail guns to put the pressboard in place, and generally filling the area with sawdust, construction chemicals and bellowing  male exuberance.

I’m standing there in my allergy mask (which makes me look like Miss Piggy) and Julia is drooping under the combined pressure of hard manual labor and chemical exposure. And the critters have been waiting impatiently in the car since 8 am.

We have just discovered that we have approximately twice too much stuff and must make some instant, difficult decisions, because staying another night in the apartment will only make us both less able to make coherent decisions (the HEPA air purifiers have been packed, so all allergy protection is gone), or to act on them.

We ended up dumping all our new camping equipment, tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses and cooking equipment, and at the same time completely eliminating what had been an important part of our plans to manage the food part of our travels. (We did leave behind some pretty happy campers among the apartment complex staff, though.)

By the time we finally pulled away from the apartment complex at 3 pm, Sheba was cramped in a postage stamp place in the back of the car …

the cats were howling in their carriers, and Julia and I were poleaxed and exhausted.

Fortunately, I had made reservations two days earlier at a hotel about half an hour away!!! All that remained was for Julia and I to carry everything in the car and trailer into the hotel room – the equivalent of about a block in each direction from car to room – settle the critters, and sleep for as long as possible.

But Wait! There’s More!

Poor Julia woke up in the middle of that first night with a ferocious, full-body case of hives which is better now, 5 days later, but still giving her fits.

We spent 3 days at the first hotel, inventorying everything, rethinking our plans, and giving away things like my favorite cast iron pan to hotel staff. By the time we left we still weren’t rested or recovered, but at least the critters had enough room to travel in relative comfort.

Oh, and the wonderful ironies!

Remember that we raced to get out of our apartment to avoid the renovation? Our first day in the hotel someone knocked on the door midafternoon. There on the doorstep was the desk clerk with two huge construction guys who needed to come into our hotel room right then to measure and tap and examine in detail for – you guessed it! – renovation!!!

The next day we went to a nearby Whole Foods Market to pick up stuff for our fussy food needs. You of course, have guessed what we found … the market was completely torn up and chaotic, hung with visquine (sp?) throughout, and right in the middle of … renovation.

More than one friend has speculated that the Universe was just making sure we didn’t dawdle on our way out of the Bay Area.

And, once we left the Bay Area things did begin to clear up, almost miraculously.

There was time and space to feast my eyes on the rounded, feminine shapes of the land in the Napa Valley area, to soak up the sight and smell of Redwood groves, to smile over memories of my many years traveling up and down California Highway 101.

When we got back to the Eureka-Arcata area, aside from having to troop in and out of the Red Lion lobby with tons of stuff in tacky old boxes and grocery bags, including a litter box, things got easier and easier. Our favorite old Co-Op had all the food we needed. The scenery got more and more beautiful. Driving became the pleasure it usually is for me, and we all (including the critters, I  think) began to get into the spirit of our adventure.

So, here we are in Coos Bay, Oregon, finally getting rested and caught up with organized and presentable packing, blogging, accounting and travel planning, fulfilling fantasies and dreams of staying in the Olympic rainforest and riding ferries around Puget Sound.

Next, I’ll post a couple of “Fond Memories.” We’ll start traveling again Saturday …

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