Thursday, May 31, 2007

The West Coast Trail

I didn't actually catch her name. The conversation began pondering the possibility of volunteering at next year's Fun Run, and then we were talking about the West Coast Trail. She wasn't at the Fun Run last year because she was spending her 50th birthday walking the West Coast Trail. And she wants to do it again, because she didn't finish. Next year.

This isn't my first conversation about the West Coast Trail. And it certainly isn't the first time that I perked up my ears at the thought.

The West Coast Trail sounds like a good idea, sort of like living in the Arctic on December 21st. An adventure. Something new and completely different. A novelty. That has the potential of just wanting to get the hell out of there.

In a fanciful way, I can see myself walking along a path, the ocean on one side and old growth forest on the other. I imagined myself coming home and impressing my friends with, "I hiked the West Coast Trail." (I can see there is a t-shirt business in there somewhere.)

My imagination came to a screaming halt when I saw some facts. For one thing, it is 75 kilometers. The "trail" has cables, and suspension bridges and ladders. Ladders? On a trail?

How long does it take to hike 75 kms? Prepare for 7 days is what the prep guide says. What I have learned since I moved to BC is that I cannot really trust what official guides told me. I do not believe anymore when it says "easy." And when it says "strenuous," I go to the beach.

The first time I hiked up to Pulpit Rock, the book said it would take 25 minutes. It took me one hour. Looking at the math, that would be more than twice as long as what I was told.

And using the equivalent algebraic equation, my time on the West Coast Trail would equal 15.8 days. What the heck, I figure, might as well stay another night. That would be 16 days without a latte, shower, internet or the new yogurt I just discovered. It means shitting in the woods about 16 times and bathing in either the salty ocean or a cold creek (or maybe just not at all which has a certain appeal given the choices).

It also means carrying your sleeping gear, food, water and garbage on your back. (How much toilet paper do you need for 16 days?) From my conversation at the Fun Run, I was told that you only have to carry enough water to get to the next water pump. Where is the next pump? The placement of the pumps was not determined by Starbucks planners - as in being strategic or plentiful - the distance between one set is 18 kms. Given the water situation, setting up a campsite near the water is clever. Except. 18 kms means that is what you walk in one day. ONE DAY! This is 30% more than the annual Bloomsday Run. 30% more than people do ONCE a YEAR!

And what about food?? What to bring? Yesterday, I had Pad Thai - that would be out! How much broccoli do you bring for 16 days? I can see that this is no picnic. No fridges. Potato salad - nope.

Now, as I am pondering this adventure, I am wondering what would motivate someone to get out of their rocking chairs, to spend their already limited vacation days strenuously hiking through a forest; actually that would be rain forest (emphasis on rain)?? Taking down and setting up a new home every night? Getting mosquito bites on places that don't usually see daylight? And hauling around as much toilet paper as you started with?

Me? I want the t-shirt.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Seattle to Bellingham

On Sunday, I spent most of the day with Julie and Ryan in Seattle. We went to the Supermall in Auburn, Washington. Google Maps said 40 minutes but they did not figure in missing the exit.

Once off the exit, signs direct you towards Supermall Road, and then there is no getting lost.

Auburn is not a slight distance from Seattle, and I needed to get on the road so we had dinner "out."

Clouds, clouds, clouds all day in Seattle. Most of it with rain, rain, rain. BJ gave me hope - sun in Bellingham. Alas, though, it was fleeting. My evening journey to Bellingham was wet in a sopping kind of way.

The next day, we woke up to plenty of blue!
Lake Padden, where we went for a walk.

Outside Pier 1, where I spent my Christmas gift certificate from BJ (just wait until you see my beautiful purchases!), we found a tree which I named the "Dreadlock Tree."

It was equally stunning from near and afar...

Our second walk of the day took us here:

Thanks, BJ, for a most incredible day!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Incident in Seattle

When Julie, Ryan and I were getting ready to go out for dinner last evening, we went to his car, parked on the street where it has been for the past 400+ days.

The first thing that Ryan noticed was his passenger door open. Then he saw this:

Inside, the would-be thieves had tried very hard to make this car operable.

From our deductions, we figured out they did their work from the passenger side of the car, and spent time underneath the dash.

Here is Ryan on the "voice mail jail" of his insurance company, while we were waiting for Seattle Police to arrive:

Now it is Sunday afternoon; the car is still on the street as all the service shops are closed and there is no where for the car to go. Indeed, it can go nowhere. Ryan has some wonder tape so we sealed the window.

We hear the sun is shining to the north, so we will go out and have adventures until it arrives.

Travelling West

Julia, the travelling cat, and I headed out of the mountains yesterday to flatland, and then back into the mountains. This journey usually takes about 8 hours.

Life is quite different on the road these days, in increased traffic. The road from the border to the major highway into Spokane is resort country so many of the vehicles on the road are pulling boats. On this day, Julia, the wonder cat, was enjoying her journey and was very quiet. Sometimes she doesn't and then wants to hear Tina Turner and usually quite loud. So the journey was without any auditory accompaniment.

How do I spend the time on long car trips? Observing, mostly, I suppose. I have taken the journey west many times now, both in the US and Canada. The journey on Highway 3 to the coast has some of the most spectacular geography on the planet (not that I have seen everywhere on the planet), 5 mountain passes, and many more valleys. A lot of ascending and descending.

Travelling via the US starts with about 3 hours getting to Spokane; about an hour and a half from home, the valleys open up and the massive sky boasts itself. At Spokane, I-90 takes me to the coast. This is a 4-lane highway. Yesterday what I noticed after about 100 miles (that's a difference too), was that I was getting into my own rhythm of driving. Because of having the choice of 2 lanes, I can go at my own speed, and then of course, use the cruise control which is hard to do when driving up and down a mountain.

Being in my own rhythm is like a waking meditation. Observing in a mindful manner.

Most of the driving I enjoy is in the "shoulder" seasons. By the summer time, the roads are full of vehicles, all travelling at their own unique speed, some sight seeing and some wanting to get somewhere fast. I don't find it particularly enjoyable. Winter, except for its dangers lurking around every curve, has a driving appeal. I don't often travel to the coast during the winter because it can extend the travel time by sometimes 50%. That makes for one very full day - and a bit of white knuckling as well.

My first journey to the coast in the spring is usually for Easter. This is always a most enjoyable journey because the world is awakening, and few people have discovered that it is an ideal time to be on the road. There is always a fairly big risk that there will be snow happening at the top of the mountains, so I don't change the snow tires. As you saw last month, the snow tires were a GOOD idea!

On the road yesterday, I amused myself with the licence plate game. This game, has many variations; when in Montana or watching Montana plates, someone who knows (that would be Al!) will be able to identify the county where the car normally resides. Since Montana is sooo big, I often hear Al say, "They are far from home."

My children and I began the licence plate game in Florida, where there is a lot of people from many different states. BJ, who we were visiting at the time, gave us a briefing so we could spot the plates easily. Yesterday, I saw cars from 13 states; Pennsylvania was the farthest. And I saw none from North or South Dakota - I guess they were travelling a different direction.

In a way there are plenty of ways to keep busy on the road... Not just for me....

Yesterday... Julia, the curious cat:

More pictures to come... there is a problem with uploading images with my Browser...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Anne Lamott in Spokane

Last week, when I was in Spokane for Bloomsday, I saw an announcement in the Spokesman Review saying that Anne Lamott was coming to Spokane to read the following Saturday. Anne Lamott is one of the authors of books that accompanied me across the Prairies, who gave me so much food for thought about writing - in her book, Bird by Bird. She was a regular columnist for Salon, an on-line publication. And she wrote about mothering in a way that captured the joys and struggles - in her book, Operating Instructions.

So, when I woke up Friday morning with a diminished ability to talk (at that point not uttering it out loud that I may have a cold), I figured it was perfect - I may not be able to talk but I sure could listen!

So Saturday morning, I dug out my passport, again, and set off to Spokane. "Didn't I see you recently?" said the border guard. I shrugged my shoulders. With limited capacity to talk, I needed to be selective about when to talk. Border guards, though, are not into mysterious people. No matter how cute they are. Or coy. "Please open your trunk, ma'am." All in all, I would say, I went through the questioning fairly quickly.

When I arrived at Al's house, he wasn't home. This could mean two things: he wasn't expecting me and was out doing his Saturday stuff in Spokane, or he wasn't expecting me and he left town for the weekend. I guess that is actually only one thing - he wasn't expecting me. It made sense to me. I hadn't telephoned to tell him I was coming because as I mentioned before, I was conserving my talking.

I laid down for a nap.

A couple hours later Al came home, a little surprised because a red Honda was parked in his parking spot.

Here's what I learned this weekend: If you get laryngitis and you decide to go away for the weekend, (Understand this is all hypothetical - just friendly advice), and you have limited capacity to talk - perhaps it is best not to hang out with someone who may be (just MAY be) starting to lose their hearing. The result is that one may end up speaking more because everything has to be said at LEAST twice. Thankfully, Anne Lamott filled in the talking on Saturday evening.

I woke up this morning with less ability to talk. And a headache. I had 2 naps before I headed out on the road. And several pain killers.

Now this may be quite the picture of a weekend... Let me give you the real highlights - Anne Lamott was incredible - funny, witty, poignant - the best thing for a cold (that is, if you had one!).

Where are the photos? None. Zero. We sat in the 17th row. I can't prove that I stood in line for 40 minutes to get Anne to sign the book. I have no proof of my conversation with her. I actually have no proof that I went to Spokane. Except may be a border guard may vouch for me. Maybe.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Lilac Bloomsday

Spectator Numero Uno. This is the new title I have given to myself for my participation in Bloomsday. Sunday was the second year running that I hauled myself down to Spokane, got up at some crazy hour for a Sunday morning, and arrived at downtown Spokane to see many people very eager to run together.

This year marks the 31st running of Bloomsday. The caption on the website says, "It's fun for every body." And indeed, the participants range from elite runners (who vie for a $7,000 top prize - one each for men and women), wheelchair athletes, children, walkers, and baby strollers. This year I saw a dog at the start line, sitting in a pouch tied around the owner's waist. One of the year's I did the route, there was Elvis.

For the 31st Bloomsday, I decided to capture some of the grand traditions of Bloomsday. This picture is the start of the Elite Men:

People are organized in groups with the names of colours; each of the groups has a specific start time so it does not get too crazy. The Elite Men start at 9:00 and the last group to start is an hour and 10 minutes later. This year, 40,323 people participated.

As everyone lines up early in the day when the weather is cool, it is necessary to wear warm outer clothing. Once the race begins, people fling off this layer and throw it into the sidelines, usually aiming for a tree. Later, crews from local used clothing stores come to the streets and pick up the items to sell. Participants, I understand, often go to the used clothing stores ahead of time, buy an article of clothing for Bloomsday, and then donate it back.

The streets of Spokane, as the race commences:

In addition to this donation, each year, funds from the race are donated to a specific charity.

After I watched the Elite Men start, I hung around the start line and then walked to the finish line. By that time, there were already people finishing. The fastest man completed the course this year in 34 minutes and 18 seconds; the fastest woman finished in 38 minutes and 52 seconds.

Each person who finishes Bloomsday gets a t-shirt. It is a best-kept secret what will be the colour of the t-shirt; each year there is a new logo that, too, is kept hushed.

This year's surprise:

And the image:

Another Bloomsday tradition is the handling of the crowds. Smooth. One of the problems with over 40,000 people coming downtown is parking, so Spokane City Transit has their fleet at 4 outlying locations and the buses express their way to downtown. The cost is $1.00 (return).

By the time, I reached the finish line, there were many people already finishing the course. I decided to walk up the sidewalk for a better view to where there were less onlookers. As I walked, I faced the crowds coming towards the finish line - the runners were excited, exhausted and some were pained. After walking for a while, I came upon this:

The Mile 7 marker. The race is actually in kilometers; the equivalent in miles is 7.46. For some reason, the miles are marked - kilometers are not.

Along the way, there is plenty of entertainment for the racers. This year, over 30 bands, vocalists and performing troupes participated. I saw two - one band had 5 members, all dressed up in animal costumes.

Then, there is Doomsday Hill. Very scarey.

After a while, I decided to go back to the finish line and found these two cheerleaders:

The Bloomsday route winds through neighbourhood streets where people have taken out their lawn chairs, planted themselves along the sidewalk edge. Some bring out hoses to cool off the perspiring runners. Some turn up their stereos inside the house for the street party. Indeed, as one of the onlookers told me, "the greatest thing about Bloomsday is the community involvement." Many people donate their time, not only at the event, but also beforehand to train people how to run 12 kilometers.

Bloomsday was named after the lilacs that bloom so spectacularly for such a brief season. Bloomsday is always on the first Sunday in May - but the weather doesn't always cooperate so the lilacs may not be in their glory.

This year, they were: