I saw your request for travel journals. I'm currently at the beginning of
a two-month trip around the US and Canada and am keeping a journal I send
out to friends. Here's Part I.
For those of you for which this e-mail is a surprise let me explain what it's all about. I've decided to turn my life over, to go through The Change. This included stopping working for a few months, moving out of my apartment, putting all my possessions into storage, and driving across Canada and the USA.
This will be a personal chronicle of my travels. You'll hear the good, the bad, and the ugly as I traverse North America. Major stops along the way include the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia, Jasper/Banff and the Canadian Rockies, Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands of South Dakota, Chicago, and finally Washington, DC, where I'll stay for a number of weeks, the exact amount of time yet to be decided.
This is a journey of change and letting go. New adventures lay in front of me and my former life lays behind. Join me in this process of discovery.
Day one (Oakland)
Never attempt what I did-quitting a job, moving from your home of 12 years, and taking a two-month vacation. To say the stress is a bit high would be an understatement. To say the unending list of tasks to be done, the minutiae of it all, is a short list, would be lying. If I could remember 20% of what I've done in the last two weeks my head would explode.
Why is it, for all the years I've been in the computer industry and personally doing software development I've never learned that "things always take longer than you think they will"? Little things like a "quick" lunch taking an hour and a half on Saturday make a difficult task even harder.
Sunday, along with finishing packing and all the other stuff that needed to be done, I found my car wouldn't start. Needless to say this presented me with a problem. I had to take some clothing and other things I want to get to when I get back over to a friends house and this made it a bit difficult. Luckily dear friends of mine, who had come over to earlier in the day to help haul things away for Goodwill and a garage sale, offered to chauffeur me around as needed.
So, on Monday I roll-start the car, while the movers were packing up, and drove it to the dealer only to learn, "It's a dead battery. We don't stock it. It's a special size for this car and we may not be able to get one until tomorrow." This was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, two hours after getting there. At that point I said, with a heated tone, "give me a f**king car now." This got me a loaner car and, more importantly, got me out of the dealer and back home.
I expected the movers to be finished by one or two o'clock. They finally left at six o'clock. It took two men over four hours to pack up the kitchen. Jeez, I have a lot of stuff in that little apartment! Not that it mattered-my car was in the shop waiting for it's battery.
I ended up at a friends house for the night. Being as I had no furniture at all, it was a welcome stop. Oh well, things never go as you planned.
Day two (Fortuna, CA)
The call to the dealer at 10 o'clock brought more bad news. They had sent a driver over first thing in the morning to pick up the battery but it turned out to be the wrong one. Being the new-improved Mellow Fred I took it in stride and asked when they thought it would be ready. After calling the Service Manager of the dealership, I ran some errands and then went there, hoping that my trip could finally begin. Much to my surprise, the car was ready and off I went, eager to begin. I went "home," showered, packed the car, ate lunch, and off I went at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, 24 hours after I'd hoped to.
Driving north from San Francisco took me through the hills of Northern California, clothed in their characteristic summer coat of gold. As I drove further north, past the Sonoma Valley vineyards, this changed to gently rolling forested hills. Instead of driving Interstate 5, the fastest road north, I took Highway 101. For those who know I-5, it's basically a fast road through the Central Valley of California, a flat, endless, eyesore. While it may be the agricultural heartland of the state, it's about as scenic as the ocean (in the fog). In fact fog helps significantly since you can't see any of the land around you.
In Humbolt County there is a road that parallels Highway 101 called the Avenue of the Giants, a road that cuts through some of the last stands of old-growth redwoods left in California. I decided to "stop and smell the redwoods." They are truly a magnificent sight, some of them as tall as 200 feet. Even in the brightest daylight, it's dark and somewhat mystical in a redwood forest. The bouquet of a redwood forest is unmistakable-a sweet, fragrant smell that relaxes the body and soothes the soul. Driving further north I passed many sawmills, surrounded by huge piles of felled trees, stacked like so many Tinkertoy sticks.
When I finally decided to stop and find a hotel a realization stuck me-I'm the classic anal-retentive traveler who knows every night what hotel I'll be staying in and what I'll be doing that day. Tonight I just drove until I wanted to stop, surveyed the available lodging, and chose a hotel. With confidence and anticipation I strode in and asked for a room. What a liberating feeling!
It was very difficult to close my apartment door for the final time today. After 12 years it's become part of my identity. I know I'll never sleep in it again. There's so many memories, both good and bad. I've lived there nearly half of my adult life (although some might question when, and if, my 'adult' life began).
The Adventure has begun!
Day 3 (Portland, OR)
It's amazing how quickly all the trauma of moving and car problems seem a distant memory. Today I woke to a cool morning and the forested hills of Northern California shrouded in fog. My only major decision today was what route to drive-Highway 101 up the Oregon coast or turning inland at the California/Oregon border to make better driving time up Interstate 5. I chose the later. While the coast of Oregon is beautiful, with its wide beaches and long expanses of sand, today I wanted to "get somewhere."
After breakfast I headed north on 101 toward Crescent City, a small town close to the border. It was a lovely drive along the coast where the craggy edge of the continent meets the never-ending waves of the Pacific Ocean. The smell is uniquely Pacific, reminding me of a freshly steamed basket of mussels. I stopped at a number of beaches just to smell the ocean and feel its cool spray on my face.
It's the small, unexpected surprises that make travel so interesting. Next to the gas station in Crescent City was a small stand with a man selling homemade preserves and jams. The plywood table in front of the shack was filled with jars of jams and preserves from every conceivable berry. I asked him if he made them and he said, "no, my Aunt Martha has been making them for 35 years." How could one say no to Aunt Martha's preserves? I certainly couldn't so I walked away with a jar of her precious blueberry preserves. I look forward to an upcoming breakfast.
Highway 199 connects Crescent City, CA, with Grant's Pass, OR, and I highly recommend the drive. The road cuts through grove after grove of redwoods as it follows the gently flowing Smith River through its gorge. The steep, lushly forested hills of the gorge rise sharply from the river banks. The road winds through the valley and is lightly traveled, a blessing to the driver in me. It was a much nicer drive than the Avenue of the Giants I drove yesterday.
I-5 through Oregon is, happily, a much more interesting drive than through California. While the hills are the same, the color is much different than the gold we know in Northern California. Instead, it's a muddy brown color. One can also see the effects of years of clear-cutting the forests. There are few trees left standing and the hills look barren.
Just at the border of Oregon and Washington is Portland, OR. What makes this town special is a friend and co-worker who now lives here. Along with her husband and two children, she has lived here three years now I was lucky enough to catch them home and had the pleasure of spending the evening with them and their children. Seeing familiar faces, friends you have a history with, is the other nice part of traveling.
Everywhere in the Northwest one sees "espresso shacks". They're small-4 x 6 feet-shacks that serve various coffee concoctions to drivers that pull up. In many places there's one on every corner. Some even deliver! Jeez folks, it's only coffee!
When I hit the Oregon border the sky started to turn from blue to gray. The clouds started getting thicker and grayer as I proceeded north. By the time I hit Portland rain was coming down.
So, it was 9 hours on the road today. Tomorrow is the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Saint Helens (the site of the catastrophic volcanic eruption of years ago), and the Olympic Peninsula. Should be an interesting day.
Day 4 (Lake Quinalt, WA)
(Thursday) - The first stop of the day was Mount St. Helens. It's about an hour from I-5 to the visitor center. Given the weather of yesterday it was no surprise that it was clouded in. One can still see signs of the devastation the eruption caused. On some of the hillsides are thousands of barren, limb-less, gray trees lying on the ground.
On the drive to St. Helens there is a view stop that overlooks the valley where the major flow from the eruption occurred. Grazing on it was a herd of about a dozen elk-one large buck and his harem.
I did it!! I'm camping!! Tonight was the night I wanted to camp out. I had picked out a campsite in the bible of camping, Woodalls. As it turned out, that campsite was closed but there was one just down the road, on the shore of Lake Quinalt. The lake, formed thousands of years ago when a glacier pushed a mound of boulders and gravel that later formed the earthen dam that created the lake, is crystal-clear and nearly 200 feet deep. It's surrounded by dense fir forests covering the hills that form the foothills of the Cascade Range of mountains of the Olympic Peninsula.
For those of you who have seen 'What About Bob' that's how I felt tonight camping. 'I'm sailing, I'm sailing," he said, lashed to the mast so he couldn't escape or freak out. That's how I felt tonight as I set up my campsite. This is the first time I've pitched a tent in nearly 30 years. I'm the guy who thinks roughing it is a hotel where room service ends at midnight. It basically went well although there were some surprises like, "oh, there's four sleeves this pole has to go through, not three."
In the campsite next to mine was a couple from Burlingame, CA, a city just south of San Francisco, Mike and Vicki. We started talking and they invited me over for a glass of wine. As it turned out I ended up spending the evening there drinking wine and Tequila and eating dinner, a casserole of elbow macaroni, chili, and vegetarian soup. Everything tastes better when you're camping! We spent the evening talking and getting acquainted.
So far camping is quite fun.
All throughout Washington one sees signs next to the forests showing when it was last clear-cut and replanted. Some signs even show the date the trees will be harvested, usually 35 years after replanting.
Day 5 (Port Angeles, WA)
(Friday) - Today was spent touring the Olympic Peninsula. After taking down the tent the first major stop was the Hoh Rainforest. It certainly has earned its name as it averages a half-inch of rain every day of the year. It was pouring down when I arrived there but I was there and I was gonna do the Hall of Moses Trail. I'm glad I did. I threw on my REI parka and new waterproof hiking boots and off I went. The rain forest is an amazing place. The stands of spruce, hemlock, and fir trees are wrapped in a dense mossy-green fur. The floor of the forest is carpeted with dense ferns, fungi, and rotting logs. To say it's green is an understatement. The lushness is hard to describe.
From there it was off to Crescent Lake. The lake is located on the northern portion of the peninsula and nestled in a glacial valley between two ranges of tree-covered hills. It's a half-hour hike to the 90-foot falls that cascade down from the mountain. Well worth the hike.
To end the day I headed for Hurricane Ridge, offering a panoramic view of the mountains and glaciers that make up Olympic National Park. As has been the story of the last few days, it was cloudy and drizzly. I was able to see, though, the closer mountains and some glaciers that cap them.
One thing you can say about Washington state is that there is lots of fresh seafood. Lunch was a filet of salmon smoked over alderwood in the smokehouse of the restaurant. Dinner was sauteed Dungeness oysters over rice pilaf. The oysters were so fresh you could still taste the sea in them.
I'm staying in Port Angeles, Washington, tonight, a port town on the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula. What once was a thriving, bustling city is now a decaying town of 17,000. It appears there hasn't been a building built here since 1950. As is endemic across the country and world, downtown is decaying and the faces of people wandering the streets look empty. Ships from all over the world dock here to pick up freshly cut trees to take them overseas to convert into wood products to ship back here. Is there something wrong with this picture?
Tomorrow off to Victoria, to civilization.
Day 6 (Victoria, BC)
(Saturday) - Today was glorious. It started with solving a personal mystery for me-where did Dungeness crab come from and why is it named that? One of the icons of San Francisco and the mainstay of Fisherman's Wharf came from little ol' Washington state. Just to the east of Port Angeles is a spit of land that surrounds Dungeness Bay. In it live species of oyster and, yes, crab. The favorite of Fisherman's Wharf was named for a spit of land here in Washington. It must have been a heck of a walk from northern Washington state to the San Francisco Bay on their little legs!
From there it was hopping the car ferry over to Victoria, British Columbia. The ferry, which holds over 120 cars, makes the 22 mile trip in about 90 minutes. Crossing the deep blue, almost black, waters of the Straits of Jan del Fuca left the majestic profile of the snow-capped mountains behind.
Victoria is a magnificent, charming city. It reminds me of the San Francisco of the past Herb Caen writes about-a city where people are friendly and warm. People here are genuinely friendly and helpful. The heart of the city surrounds the Inner Harbor which bustles with ferry boats, small sightseeing trips plying the bay, and seaplanes. The waterfront has been well-developed for tourism and is populated with shops, restaurants, and galleries. It's the best of San Francisco and Sausalito combined with a British flair. As Miami is the southernmost borough of New York, Victoria is the northernmost district of San Francisco. And it's cheap here! The one meal I've had here so far was 2/3 of what it would have cost in San Francisco. Housing is somewhat comparable, with the average price being about CA $250,000, or about US $190,000. Apparently this is a very popular retirement area for the 325K residents given its mild climate and average of 26 inches of rain per year.
It's a storybook city. The city hall, much like a miniature US Capital Building, is lit up like Embarcadero Center at Christmas. Every edge of the building has a strip of light bulbs, giving it a fairytale look. The ivy-covered 100 year-old Empress Hotel, just down the street, is lit likewise.
Instead of staying at a hotel I checked into a bed and breakfast I had found on the 'Net, Henderson House. Cliff, the mildly eccentric English host who owns the establishment, welcomed me and immediately suggested I sit down and have a chat. The house, over a hundred years old, is filled with antiques and stained glass. It's a classic B&B with only four rooms. I met some very nice people, including a couple from Mountain View. Jeez, I can't get away from California people. B&B's really are the only way to go.
I highly recommend anyone to visit.
One thing has become obvious about Oregon, Washington, and Victoria-it's lily white up here. I could count the blacks I've seen on one hand. Few Chinese or other ethnic groups are anywhere to be seen. That's one thing that gives the Bay Area it's unique flavor and something I miss.
Day 7 (Victoria, BC)
(Sunday) - Today was somewhat a day of relaxing. That's somewhat of an oxymoron, though. I never understood the "sit around the beach or pool on vacation" syndrome. Relaxing includes taking a bus tour around the city (something I always do to get the lay of the land), doing my weekly laundry, taking a scenic drive around the city, buying a piece of furniture and a hat I saw in stores yesterday, strolling through Beacon Hill Park (full of small lakes lined with Willow trees whose branches touched the pond, full of ducks and geese), and had dinner.
After dark, when all the tourists have retired to their hotels, the homeless of Victoria come out. Sadly, they're mostly Generation X kids. Dozens of kids, in their teens and twenties, line the streets of downtown begging what tourists and natives are left, for money and food. Even in the charming city of Victoria one can't escape it.
There are some beautiful residential areas here. There's areas much like Pacific Heights in terms of palatial homes deeply set back from tree-lined streets. Most homes are of conservative design, with Tudor being a predominant theme. Few ultra-modern angular homes are to be seen.
Throughout the city one can see the vestiges of its historical past. Just off downtown there is a small Chinatown, a shadow of its former self. All around the city one can see native art and totem poles. The British influence is everywhere. The only thing lacking is the Spanish influence, the original discovers of this land.
Another change of plans. Instead of going to Vancouver tomorrow its up the island a bit to see some of the local flora and fauna.
Day 8 (Nanaimo, BC)
(Monday) - As I sit in my hotel room out the window is the craggy outline of the Canadian Cascades rising from the sea. The straits that separate Vancouver island from the mainland are littered with forest-covered islands.
Another somewhat relaxing day. After checking out of Henderson House I headed for Butchart Gardens, an immaculately manicured garden north of Victoria. It was originally planted by one of the leading citizens of Victoria. Its a gorgeous garden and will make anyone who gardens insanely jealous.
Driving up the eastern coast of Vancouver island offered sweeping vistas of the Vancouver coast and Washington state. From a turnoff on the highway it was possible to see the city of Vancouver off in the distance, the mountains behind it, and majestically jutting into the sky, the snow-covered Mount Baker in Washington. Apparently the later is quite unusual as it is typically clouded over.
On the drive up there is a small town of 3,500 people, Chemainus. It was founded about 100 years ago as a port town to ship logs and finished timber down to Victoria. What makes the town unique is the murals that adorn nearly every building downtown. The murals, all reflecting the history of the town, cover the walls all over town.
Nanaimo itself was founded in 1853 as a port to ship coal mined from local sites. The 60,000 person town sits on the Strait of Georgia. It seems like a nice town, although I wasn't able to explore it. I arrived late and I'll catch the ferry early tomorrow to head for Vancouver.
One could spend a week or two exploring Vancouver Island. It's nearly 250 miles long so there's plenty to explore.
1429 miles so far.