The rest of my summer vacation

Well, a lot of people have said to me that my vacation didn’t sound too relaxing due to the 200 mile ride from Seattle to Portland in two days. The way people repeat to others what I did over my summer vacation, I can just hear the quote marks surrounding the word “relaxing.” Well, really, I could argue this point by saying that nothing is more relaxing to me than riding my bike on the open road, experiencing the world in slow motion through the benefit of an un-motorized vehicle, earning the right to witness the beauty all around me. I could try to explain that there’s nothing more relaxing than total body exertion. Putting all your energy into forward momentum gives you focus and, oddly enough, a lot of time to reflect on those things you never have the time to. When I’m cycling, I get lots of ideas for poems, stories, blog entries and, sometimes, even how to solve problems at work. My mind and body are together in a moment. It’s a cure for endless distraction. I can’t touch my cell phone, I’m nowhere near a computer, and the only people I have to talk to are others participating in the same trek I’m on. I’m at one with myself. And, of course, when you get to the end of the long journey, I find that all the cares, frustrations, worries of the day have left my body somewhere amidst the hard work for forward momentum. There’s no greater peace than that. Total relaxation.

However, I suppose if you’ve never done it, and you’re not inclined towards physical exertion as a means of relaxation, you just don’t get it. I understand. I hate running. When someone describes running as romantically as I’ve just described cycling, I cringe. I used to run, even participated in a few 5Ks. I hate every moment of running. From the moment I start a run until the moment I cross the finish line, I hate it. My whole body and mind is completely focused on the end game. I don’t want to be there and instead of that focused Zen-like voice I hear in my head when cycling, there’s a whiny, sniveling voice screaming, “Are we done yet?” So perhaps you would feel like that when cycling. Totally get it. So you can put your quote marks around “relaxing” as I would if someone told me they spend their vacation doing an Iron Man challenge…

While I found my ride on STP completely relaxing, rest assured that I also did do some of the more socially acceptable sort of relaxation–the kind without the double quote marks–while I was in the Pacific Northwest. And it was just as fun and mentally refreshing as my 200-mile journey on bike. I spent some good time with a long time friend and her family, met up with a fellow Hiram alum, and did some (off-bike) exploration of Oregon wineries and the coast. Needless to say, I returned to Ohio so completely relaxed that I completely forgot everything about my job and spent my first day back trying to find where I left everything I needed to begin working!

In the days before STP, I took in the sites of Seattle and spent some time with Sarah and her family. Most notable was my trip to the Chittenden Locks in Ballard. These are real working locks that allow boats to pass from the Puget Sound into the bay, Lake Union, and eventually Lake Washington. It was pretty cool. I’d only ever seen the broken down remains of the Erie & Ohio Canals along the towpath and the occasional demonstration of these same old canal locks in places along the canal where they’d been restored. I’d never seen a real, functional lock system and, frankly, didn’t know they still existed. So I was utterly fascinated watching boats go through the locks in both directions.

A sailboat in the lock.

A sailboat in the lock as the water rises.

Sailboat in full lock

The water fully risen in the lock.

A big huge “worker” boat of some kind also came through the lock while I was there. The guys on the boat were really nice. I had a conversation with them about the old Erie Canal… I spent so much time watching the boats that Sarah lost track of me and had to call me to let me know they were leaving…

A big boat waits as the water finishes rising.

The rest of my “relax-cation” began the Monday after STP. Shawn–Sarah’s husband–drove me to Portland to pick up the rental car I would use to get to the coast. Their friend Mason, at whose house we spent Sunday night–not only equipped me with directions to the coast from downtown Portland but also gave me the names of some recommended wineries to hit on my way out. Of course, my instructions to leave Portland started from Powell’s book store which was just a few blocks from where I got my rental car.

So before leaving Portland, I spent an hour and a half indulging my inner bibliophile in what is, in my humble opinion, the BEST book store that ever was and ever will be. Did I say Powell’s? Powell’s, Powell’s, Powell’s! They deserve lots of free advertising and endorsement, even if my audience is not vast. If you’ve never been to Portland, but ever plan on going, you absolutely cannot leave that city without visiting Powell’s. This book store takes up one whole city block. One whole city block, people! It has the widest, most eclectic collection of books I’ve ever encountered at a physical book store. They have the biggest science-fiction section I’ve ever seen–even bigger than most libraries I ever been in! They even have a whole section of graphic novel–like several rows of ceiling-to-floor shelves!  Additionally, they sell used books so you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg necessarily to get all the books you want…

Historical sidenote: Mike and I went in Powell’s on our 2000 trip to Portland and we each bought like 10 books–we spent more money in Powell’s than any other place where we bought souvenirs. That’s how nerdy we were!

Anyway, in Powell’s, they were taking free digital photographs of customers where they superimposed your image onto the backdrop of the Powell’s store front with your name on the marquee. So I got one taken. Cute, huh? (I’m even donning my newly acquired Theo Chocolate shirt! What a good consumer of local product I am!)

Perhaps one day I'll really have my name on the marquee for my published book? A girl can dream, right?

Somehow I managed to leave that store with only three books. In case you’re curious, they were:

  • The City & The City by China Mieville, which I’ve been meaning to read since the author’s book was discussed and reviewed on NPR’s Books podcast.
  • Infected by Scott Sigler, a horror/sci-fi author whose podcasts I sometimes listen to and have been meaning to read (and was totally not disappointed–read this on the plane ride home!)
  • Passage by Connie Willis, which, when I read on a road trip to Colorado with my parents after Mike died, caused me to have a life-altering experience that earned the book “passage” to my Top Books of All Time list.

Believe me, I wanted to linger in that store longer, but I had wineries to visit, the coast awaiting, and the parking meter outside expiring… Oh, one needs excuses to remove themselves from Powell’s

It was a beautiful day as I headed out into the rolling hills of the Willimette Valley wine country. The number of wineries in this area alone is mind-numbing. My first stop was Rex Hill which was pretty much along the highway 99W headed towards Dundee. I found it without effort by signage along the road which worked out great since that was one of the wineries Mason had indicated was worth checking out.

All the wineries in the area have what they call “flights” for tasting. The winery may have other wines, but the only ones you’re allowed to taste are the ones available for sampling in the flight. I’m guessing there are certain wines they highlight during certain periods of time. I got the impression that some wineries rotate out what they’re offering in the flight. Flights are $10 each and are usually waived if you spend more than $100 on wine. Yeah, I know, right? Kind of a high fee for waiving!

The area of the Willamette Valley that I was in was mainly a Pinot Noir region. I’m not that versed on Pinots–I’m a big Zin and Shiraz drinker and somewhat more versed on Cabs and Merlots as well. Pinots tend to be a lot lighter in texture. It was hard for me to get them.  My palate is not as refined as other wine drinkers. I can’t always detect those more subtle flavors Pinots offer. But it was fun trying!

I wasn’t that enthused with Rex Hill. They seemed a little snooty and the pourer did not offer me much information. I guess my casual tourist attire and lack of makeup was off-putting or something. Still, the winery had a very beautiful estate that I enjoyed. I ended up buying a bottle of an un-oaked Chardonnay… I found that even though I was paying for flights, I felt a little guilty leaving a winery without taking at least a bottle. I liked the Chardonnay, anyway.

As I traveled further down 99W towards the Dundee Hills region, I spotted a sign pointing to Lange–a winery my friend Sue recommended to me way back in the depths of winter when I was planning this trip. So I turned down a road headed ascending into the hills… and ended up following signs to an interesting dirt road that continued to wind through the hills. I was a little uncomfortable in the rental car without the benefit of gears to shift to help the car take the climb; it took me awhile to figure out that I could actually gear down in an automatic. But soon I was on top of the world at a beautiful winery…

The view from Lange with Mt. Hood in the distance.

Lange Estates Winery

Immediately, I liked this place better. The staff was super-friendly and chatted with me as they poured the flights. The other people gathered around the bar were also very chatty, unlike at Rex Hill, so I had a nice time trying new wines and explaining my mission in Oregon. One of the guys explained that he had once done STP and congratulated me on my ride. I ended up buying a bottle each of Pinot Gris and Tempernillo. (The Pinot Gris was recently drank by me and Sue when I stayed at her place the night before Mad Anthony River Rally… yay for good wine!)

On my way back down the same treacherous hill, I decided to stop at one more winery, the neighboring Erath. Again, as soon as I walked into the door, I was heartily greeted by two very friendly folks behind the tasting area and a group of other visitors also trying flights. It was about 15 minutes to 5–the wineries generally close around 5pm in Oregon–and I asked if it was too late to get in on the flight they were pouring. The pourers said, “If you’re in before 5, you can stay until you’ve tasted everything you wanted to try.”

I finally managed to find a Pinot Noir that I liked quite a bit. It was a bit expensive, but I bought two bottles. I also found a great Gewurstraminier with a very floral nose. I bought two bottles of those as well, hitting the $100 limit and achieving–at last–a free flight. Whee! I guess, eh?

Anyway, I was quite satisfied with my experience as I drove away headed, finally, to the beach house where Sarah and her family awaited. I would have liked to have spent a week exploring wineries in that region. Unfortunately, I’d probably spend half my days in an alcoholic haze and gain 20 lbs from all the carbs. Still, it was delightful. It was so cool to experience west coast wineries.

The view from the beach house... and, yes, that's quite a long step down from the back yard!

I still had my rental bike with me throughout my stay at the beach house in Lincoln City, and I kept thinking I would ride the bike while I was out there, but the mornings were a bit chilly (in the 50s) and I just lacked the general motivation. I spent my second day trying to get to Sea Lion Caves. In my first attempt, Shawn’s father and I tried to take Max but when we were about fifteen minutes away from our destination, Max pitched a fit and, neither of us being very apt with child-sitting, gave into Max’s demands to go home to his mother. So I drove the hour back to the beach house, dropped Max and his grandfather off, and then proceeded to go back to the caves myself. It wasn’t as fun by myself… but it gave me a lot of time for reflection… as the last time I’d been there had been with Mike in June 2000.

The observation deck at Sea Lion Caves.

I love seals and sea lions. They are my favorite of all creatures. Next to cats and dogs, that is. To me, seals and sea lions are like big, smelly, aquatic dogs. I can watch them for hours. Any time I go to the zoo, I immediately make my way to the seals and sea lions, and then, if you are with me, you’ve got quite a task in trying to drag me away… I couldn’t get any good pictures of the sea lions here (no groovy binocular zoom lens). But trust me, they were CUTE. And noisy. And smelly. But, hey, there’s no accounting for taste; I don’t smell all that groovy in my natural habitat–on a bike–either.

There’s a picture of me, Mike, Sarah and her ex-husband from my first visit to Sea Lion Caves taken in front of the statue below… I can almost fill in the empty spaces with the ghosts.

If you look long enough, you can see Mars Girl and Mike standing there.

I spent one mopey morning brooding on the beach outside the beach house. It was inevitable. When left alone in places of beauty such as this, I often spend a great deal of time reflecting about what Mike would think if he were there… I see the world through his eyes now. Sometimes I think I am his eyes…. he gave me the eyes to see the world… and now I see for him… I guess a piece of him lives in symbiotic relationship with me… part of his spirit that he passed on… I don’t know… Something like that… But he’s always the first one with which I want to share my experiences. Because I know he’d love them all.

Waves crashing on the rocks.

Self-portrait

Self-portrait.

Why do I find this sign so hilarious?

Tsunami Warning

Tsunami Warning--that poor stick dude doesn't stand a chance.

I didn’t take many pictures of myself or anyone else. Instead, I took pictures of what is more interesting to me: scenery. My mom, however,  always thinks scenery pictures are boring and suggests that I should stand in front of the scenic views. Apparently, she believes people are more interesting than scenery.  So, here, Mom, this one’s for you.

Me, Sarah, and Alice

Me, Sarah, and Alice at the beach house.

After three days on the beach, I headed back to Seattle, solo, as Sarah and Shawn wanted to remain in Portland to visit with friends. I was going to take the Amtrak train from Portland, but I changed my mind last-minute in favor of dawdling back through wine country. It was a financially painful change in plans, particularly as far as the rental car went, but, oh well. It’s vacation, right? Who wants to hurry and be stressed? I did hit two more wineries. I never found Duck Pond, which is the one I really wanted to go to, but I went up and down 99W several times and never located the danged place. Instead, I ended up going to Bella Vida (very nice) and Ponzi. Does anyone know how to get to Duck Pond?! For some reason, I was convinced I needed to go there.

My last two days in Seattle were pretty laid back. I met up with Alison for a sushi lunch on the Friday before I left. Then, I spent the rest of the afternoon getting my money’s worth out of the rental bike by riding from the U of W campus (where I was staying) to Seward Park, and then all around some side streets in the area, bagging a few more nasty hills along the way.

And I discovered this scenic view of downtown Seattle.

Downtown Seattle.

Downtown Seattle (or part of it).

I even got to experience riding in the bike lane on the bridge to Mercer Island along I-90. No, it wasn’t the most scenic bike path ever. But there was something singularly unique (for a Midwesterner, anyway) to ride on a bike lane next to a busy highway. And being so close to the highway was the least of my worries. No, the fencing along the side facing the water was a bit off-putting as it did not go all the way to the ground, leaving about six inches of free space that I could imagine a dozen scenarios of in which I fall through… if I slid sideways somehow at a really straight angle. Impossible yes. But it still didn’t calm my nerves any when the bridge climbed to about 30 feet from the water at each end. I’m betting this bike path is less fun to transverse on a windy day…

I-90 Bridge to Mercer Island.

I-90 Bridge to Mercer Island.

I was hauling butt back down Washington Blvd around 6:00 when Alison called to say she would meet me at the shop if I wanted to take the bus with her back to campus from the shop, and then we could have dinner. It actually saved my day because my original plan was to ride the bike all the way back to Sarah’s apartment, where I’d left my rental car since there was no free parking around the campus, and then drive back to the bike shop. I’d spent so much time riding around town that I had scarcely an hour to make approximately 10 or so miles back to Sarah’s and then back to the bike shop before they closed at 7. I probably would have made it back to my car by 6:45ish so I would have cut it really close. Fortunately, the bike shop I’d rented the bike from was in the neighborhood where I was riding–Montlake–so I just rode right there with plenty of time to spare. Despite the fact that I had just half a day left in Seattle, I was reluctant to turn in the bike. I had better luck navigating Seattle on two wheels than four…

I finished up my experience in Seattle with a dinner at the College Inn Pub (I was staying at the rustic College Inn) with Alison. Had a great stout microbrew. Even got to see Sarah one last time when I picked up my car from her place. She’d returned from Portland early with the kids, so we got to chit-chat for a bit. I left Seattle at the “crack of doom”–a 7am flight–the next morning, feeling completely fulfilled about my vacation. It felt pretty relaxed and casual. I had thought I’d be a lot more tense about all the logistics of renting the bike, checking in a different hotels, getting to the STP start line, finding my overnight place on STP, etc. But everything fell into place nice and I was able to relax the entire time I was out there. Maybe I’m becoming a less uptight traveler. Also a trait I may have picked up from Mike…

I’ve posted all of my pictures on Shutterfly which you can access below. As always, I think I should have taken more… and probably more with people in them… Oh well!

Click here to view these pictures larger

5 thoughts on “The rest of my summer vacation

  1. I enjoyed reading your write up! It was a lot of fun and I’m glad you chose the Pacific NW for your vacation this year :)! We’ll have to do it again when the kids are a bit older and I can have a little time away to do some stuff like wine tasting ;)

  2. Sarah,

    The Pacific NW is definitely one of my favorite places to vacation and I’ll most certainly be back again!! I enjoyed your children–they’re very sweet and Max is definitely his own person. I cant wait to see what kind of kids they grow into… You have your hands full but I think it will be worth it.

    Next time, we’ll have to hit the wine region together… ;) I’m glad I was able to entertain myself without getting lonely or bored. And I still feel like we got to visit.

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