Thursday, January 18, 2018

San Luis Obispo '18

We are settled in San Luis Obispo, a reasonable place to be in January, and the only place I'd ever move to.  (Well, except for the Dordogne in southern France as long as I'm dreaming.)  We have taken one hike, seen one movie (Darkest Hour, a bit of a disappointment), checked out books from the library, done Tai Chi at the YMCA twice, dined out three times and spent a lot of time in our sunny back yard with book in hand.  (And walked Rowdie a whole lot, but that's nothing new.)  We have in six days adapted to the SLO life.

Dining out three times in six days doesn't sound like a slow life, but there were unusual circumstances.  Our friends, Sue and Dick Molnar, were in town, taking a break from winter in Santa Fe.  Our get-togethers always involve good food.

(A click or two on any photo will enlarge it to screen size.)

The Trail Head at Johnson Ranch Open Space
A bit of shade for hikers on a sunny day.
We've washed the grime of eight states off the bikes, and they're ready to go.  I've been on my bike once, to zip (six minutes) downtown for fresh-ground coffee beans and a cuppa Joe on the patio at Peet's.  There's frequently entertainment here, and this one-armed guitarist/singer was pretty good.

Street Musician, Downtown SLO
Today we visited the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, a tiny gem of an art showcase.  Every year we visit, the most interesting contemporary art finds its way into SLOMA's modest (in size only) galleries.

One day we cycled across town to a talk at the California Polytechnic Institute (Cal Poly) campus to hear a talk by Sky Bergman on her documentary film, "Lives Well Lived."  She is a film maker, photographer, Cal Poly professor of photography and owner of a bed and breakfast in town where we stayed on our first spring break visit years ago.  I spoke with her before the talk, and she told me the film was funded with her profits from her B and B.  Carol and I, she pointed out, have helped fund the film.  

Saturday night jazz in SLO.  We walked to the Unity Concert Hall on Orcutt Road to listen to the Ernie Watts Quartet.  I can't remember ever seeing four musicians having so much fun together - eye contact, laughter, coaxing more from each other.  Exquisite jazz was the product of their good time.

After two cool weeks (good hiking weather), hot weather arrived today.  So it was Sunday coffee and the NY Times on the patio at the Black Horse, a tradition.  After lunch, we got on our bikes.

A quarter mile from our house on a main road with lots of cars, all in a hurry, we waited for a break in the traffic and swung across the road to the left turn lane at the light.  Left on Orcutt Road and in ten minutes we were in wine country.  Rolling hills, barns, vineyards, goats, light car traffic, on a country road with an ample bike lane.  Not a cloud in the sky.  Wind whispering in our ears.

On a Saturday night, we saw a play at the SLO Repertory Theater.  The play, "New Jerusalem - The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation:  Amsterdam, July 27, 1656" -  was a pretty interesting take on what might have happened on that day in history three centuries ago.   Carol and I wondered after the play how bewildering it might be to audience members who hadn't taken a philosophy course or two in college.

Local Theater
This was the first production we've seen at SLO Repertory, which staged its first performance in 1947.  How have we missed this small, quality theater in all our visits here?

The weather turned hot during the second half of our stay here in SLO.  Our hikes began earlier, we moved slower and covered less ground.

Bishop Peak
Climbing Bishop Peak - one of the more challenging hikes in San Luis Obispo County - has become a tradition for us, the culminating activity of our stay in San Luis Obispo.  We chose a sunny, hot day to continue the tradition.  Our progress was slower than previous years.   Carol struggled to make it to the top; I struggled to make it back down.  But we did it!

As we trudged up the trail in the hot sun, a young woman coming downhill said as we passed and greeted each other, "You're lookin' good."  A similar thing happened to me the week before on another tough climb.  A young woman said almost the same thing.  "Looking good!'  It occurred to Carol and me that hot afternoon on Bishop Peak that what they really wanted to say was, "Lookin' old!  Can't believe you're doing this, but way to go!"  We smiled and kept putting one foot in front of the other.
Bishop Peak - End of the Trail #1
End of the Trail #2
We didn't get in the car much this year, didn't visit a lot of interesting places outside SLO.  We were content to stay close to home.  There is plenty to do here, and we liked the slower pace.  The one exception was a drive to Paso Robles, where we visited a couple vineyards and Kiler Ridge Olive Farm outside the city.  Driving through the rolling hills reminiscent of Tuscany was a delight.

Wine and Olive Country Outside Paso Robles
Marsha educated us in the art of fine olive oil at Kiler Ridge
When the weather turned hot, we headed east to Avila Beach.  We drove part way to a bike trail, then cycled to the Pacific Ocean.

A bit of shade at Avila Beach
Hitching Post, Avila Beach
 And then, our time in SLO was at an end.  A lot of time in the sun.  A lot of good hiking.  A lot of good movies.  A lot of good dining.  Mission accomplished.  Below, in photos, is the rest of the story.   First, the view when we were out and about on foot or on bikes.

Call her Intrepid.

Bowden Ranch Trail
On the hiking trail - small beauty

Beauty Under Foot

Goat Pen
And, I wrap up with sights in the neighborhood, or close by.

Clinging to existence
Home Sweet Home
Stynberg Gallery - A Place to Hang Out
Dancin' in the Street!
Some SLO History
Salt Water Taffy - Every Flavor Imaginable and Some You Couldn't Imagine

The Neighborhood
The Photographer at Rest
Next, it's on to Tucson.   Stay tuned.

Monday, January 15, 2018

WinterRoad Trip '18

 Day One:  Minneapolis to North Platte (634 miles, our longest day)

On the road right on time, 5:01 a.m.  This is what I've looked forward to for weeks.  Zooming south on I-35 in the dark, a cup of dark roast in the cup holder by my right hand.  Peewee the Kiwi, acquired with the last of our Kiwi dollars at the Auckland airport, rides the dashboard.  (He prefers the spelling, Piwi.)
Piwi the Kiwi leads the way to California

 (A click on any photo enlarges it to screen size.)

I've got Hubert Laws loaded on the CD player, but I prefer quiet to complement the darkness that surrounds us.

5:55 a.m. - We pass the Spam Museum, too early to visit.  The time will never be right for me to visit the Spam Museum.

Soon, we approach the Primary Iowa Rest Stop.  That's what it used to be called.   Now it's Diamond Jo's Casino, all flashing lights and glitter.  We are at an age where we're aware of so much that used to be.

Somewhere in Iowa, as we continue south on I-35, the sky lightens.  Iowa takes shape all around us.  Fields as far as you can see.  Solitary lights mark farm houses in the distance.  Here and there, a lone, bare tree.

7:30 a.m.  Rest stop.  Switch drivers.  Feed and walk Rowdie.  Fill the gas tank.  158 miles in the bank.  Clouds and blue sky vie for dominance.  The roads are dry.  That's all that's important today.  We left everything else that is important behind us when we pulled out of the driveway.

Here's something important that we're taking with us.  Carol's CT scan last week showed no change.  Carol's oncologist is pleased; she is stable, in the clear for now.  We have three more months to not think about cancer.  California here we come.

9:00 a.m. - We take a right at Des Moines on I-80.  Heading west.

Welcome to Nebraska.  The sign holds a hint of the American West.  We're not there yet.  We can't see it from here.  But we can feel it.  All morning we travel under gray skies, muted colors surrounding us.  Shallow snow and deep brown earth swirl together in equal parts across the landscape.

Around lunch time the skies clear and the sun shines.  The temperatures, after teasing us by rising and falling all morning, zoom into the fifties.  The miles pass underneath us as we listen to "The Dog Who Knew Too Much" by Spencer Quinn.

We exit the highway at North Platte at 3:30.  It is sixty degrees.  We check in at the dog-friendly La Quinta and head out for our traditional walk along the Platte River.  Dinner tonight at Sip, a big city wine bar in a small town.

Out of the car after ten hours...
...and enjoying springlike temperatures along the Platte River
The end of our first day on the road

Day Two:  Crossing Colorado

Now we are in the west.  Nebraska and its farms are behind us.  The terrain is hillier, rougher, emptier.  We pass the town of Lliff.  Although we are not aware that we are climbing, when we pass through Denver we are 7,500 feet higher than we were at the start of the day.  The foothills of the Rockies are brown and green; we don't see snow until the higher elevations, where the ski resorts are bustling with activity. 
A rough patch, but not as bad as it looks.
The weather turns ugly on the far side of the Continental Divide.  The sun returns in due course.  In Georgetown, we visit the Sergeant Greenleaf store, where we acquire some munchies to take the edge off later in the day.

Day Three:  Wonderful, Wild Utah

We wake up to a clear night sky filled with bright stars, a thin pink line in the eastern sky.  A good day in the offing.  In minutes we're away from Grand Junction.

Soon, we enter Glenwood Canyon, a lovely stretch of road following a river through the canyon.  We pass the town of No Name and emerge from the canyon.  Minutes later, we enter Utah and the best part of the entire trip.

This stretch of I-70 through central Utah is wild and empty, over a hundred and fifty miles of flat, barren land bordered by distant mountains. The only signs of human presence are the highway itself and a wire fence that parallels the highway.  I start the CD player, and Hubert Laws' incomparable flute carries us all the way past Green River and into the San Rafael Swell, a thirty mile swath of wilderness, where the land seems to have erupted from beneath the surface, creating jagged peaks and a helter skelter terrain.  An informational sign at the Black Dragon view area informs us that the land drew indigenous people, prospectors, outlaws, cowboys, miners and Mormon pioneers.  It held something for all of them.
San Rafael Swell
Utah High Country
From I-70 we turn onto I-15 south, and the temperature begins to climb.  Winter is behind us now. Past St. George, Utah, with its palm trees and across a corner of Arizona, where we drive through Virgin River Canyon.  The road curves and the canyon walls fall away.  In front of us lies more open space - Nevada.  Soon, the temperature reaches sixty degrees.  Joshua trees dot the landscape.

Hoover Dam Lodge is a casino with hotel rooms barely adequate for catching a few hours sleep before getting back to the slots.  We've gone out of our way to stay here because a big electronics convention in Las Vegas has caused a spike in motel rates.  Can't wait to get back on the road in the morning.  The best thing about this place is that, in the midst of all the flashing lights and cigarette smoke, the main floor holds dozens of old photographs documenting the building of Hoover Dam.

Lake Mead
Day Four - California!

To get back to I-15, we must drive through Henderson, a busy, crowded suburb of Las Vegas.  There seems to be no way to avoid Las Vegas and its sprawl on this route.  We waste an hour winding our way through the congestion.   Finally we're through it and on our way.  A little before nine a.m. we enter California.  We are still surrounded by vast, desolate, flat open space, but soon the rocky terrain gives way to lush grasses.  Vineyards appear, along with orchards.  We drive through the wine country surrounding Paso Robles and turn south on the 101.  San Luis Obispo, 2,065 miles from home, awaits. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

New Zealand '17, Part 2

(A click on any photo will enlarge it to screen size.)
Sculpture marking the geographical center of New Zealand in Nelson.

We came down from the mountains on Friday and headed for the Tasman Sea.  Our home for the next two nights was the Awaroa Lodge, accessible by a ninety-minute boat ride or by a long trek along the  Abel Tasman Track. 

Our boat made several stops along the way, mostly to pick up or drop off hikers.
A few hearty souls in our group chose to disembark for a four-hour trek to the lodge.  Some of us stayed with the boat to Tonga Quarry Bay, from where the hike was only two hours.  I wanted a hike, but I also wanted to get to the lodge in time to check out the surroundings and perhaps have a frosty Kiwi beer before dinner. 

We hiked through the beach campground and up into the hills where we made our way through the forest along the Abel TasmanTrack.  It was very warm.  At one point, the trail descended to a lovely beach, where we took off our boots and allowed the surf and sand to massage our feet.
On the trail toward Awaroa Lodge - one damned beach...
...after another!
Carol and a couple others had taken the boat all the way to Awaroa.  When we arrived and dropped into cushioned lobby chairs, I said to the others that all I needed right then was to have my wife appear with a cold draft beer.  And then, Carol appeared and asked if I wanted a beer!

Awaroa Lodge is a bit of isolated luxury, offering gourmet dining, full bar and grudging internet.  From the balcony of our room we looked out over a marshland ringed by thickly forested hills and listened to bird songs, the only sounds to be heard.

Morning Coffee on our Balcony at Awaroa Lodge
Things began to get interesting after dinner.  Carol and I passed by the bar as we left the dining room, where we encountered Matt, from Redding California, and a few of the others.   Six shot glasses were lined up on the bar and Matt was directing the bartender in making duck farts.  Matt was buying the round, so I said why not?  A duck fart might be one thing in the marsh outside our room.  In a bar, it is equal parts Kahlua, Baileys, and whisky.  No sipping.  Throw your head back and down it like a hearty Kiwi.  The concoction was silky and sneaky smooth.  At that moment it would have been easy to have another.  And another.  But we had other things to do that evening. 

At ten p.m. we gathered  for a walk in the forest.  First we stopped at a platform over the marsh where some rather healthy-sized eels made their home.  Jan said we could return in the morning with some bacon saved from breakfast and lie on the deck to dangle the bacon above the water until an eager eel rose to take the treat.  I chose to skip that particular highlight, although a few of the group  participated.

Then it was into the darkness of the forest, where we gathered at a stream and turned off our flashlights.  On the hillside across the stream there appeared hundreds of pinpoints of lights, the first glow worms I’ve ever seen.  (I don't think that the United States has any of these mysterious sparkling creatures, but we once did have the Mills Brothers, who entertained Americans in the ’50’s with their version of “Glow Little Glow Worm.")

Finally we walked to a clearing where the sky opened up and we looked for the Southern Cross.  Jan explained where to look and what to look for.  It was a bit too early, the sky still a little too light a week before the summer solstice and the constellation still partially hidden behind the hills.  In the northern sky, however, Orion the Hunter dominated the sky, looking a little silly standing on his head.  I was quite surprised to be able see Orion on this island south of the equator.

Much later, I awoke in the darkness of early morning, dressed and slipped out of our room to search for the Southern Cross.  Down on the pier, with eels swirling in the black water (or sleeping or doing whatever eels do at four a.m.),  I looked up and saw the Southern Cross directly overhead.  Below it and to the right were two bright stars that pointed to the Southern Cross, just as Jan had described.

Totaranui Beach
The next day we boarded the shuttle boat to head up the coast to Totaranui Beach.  We disembarked at a beach campground to begin a lovely hike through the coastal forest.  There were a handful of sunbathers on the beach.  Jan and Elysia informed us that in a week, right after Christmas, the campground and beach would be packed with Kiwis on holiday.  (This beach was unique in that it is the only one accessible by car in Abel Tasman National Park (or camper van, a preferred Kiwi form of vacation travel).

Rest stop on the Totaranui Hike
 We descended from the forest to another lovely beach where we settled in the shade of a massive pine at the edge of the forest for our lunch.  But first, a plunge into the Tasman Sea, pretty chilly early in the season, but a good break from hiking.  After lunch, it was time for beach cricket!
The view from our lunch spot
Beach Cricket - more fun than building a snowman
After a quick introduction to the rules, we started the game.  Jan produced a tennis ball and a bat.  The bat was a piece of bark from a palm tree that Jan and Elysia had discovered on a previous hike.  It seemed to be perfect for the job, although I've never actually seen a cricket bat up close.  Jan and Elysia hide it in the woods for use on succeeding hikes.  Clever women.

Timing is everything on this particular hike.  To get back to the comfort of our lodge, we had to cross a channel at low tide.  Good thing we didn't get too caught up in the game.

Low Tide at Awaroa Inlet
After Abel Tasman NP, we were off to the Marlborough Sounds.  Our destination was Raetihi Lodge on Kenepuru Sound.  The last leg of a long day's journey was on the mail boat to the lodge.  Along the way, we stopped at a mussel bed, where Pete, the owner/farmer of the bed, treated us to a taste of green-lipped mussels right from the sound.

Pete, mussel farmer, boat taxi operator
I was expecting a delicate black-shelled inch-and-a-half mussel like the kind we get served in curry sauce at Mill Valley Kitchen back home, but these guys were huge, almost as big as my open hand.  They were tasty enough that I ordered them a couple times in the next few days.
My first New Zealand green-lipped mussel, fresh from the water
Raetihi Lodge is another place that would be easy to settle in for a long stay.  Highlights of our time here were more mussels, a great ten-mile hike along the Queen Charlotte Track and...
...bocce ball!  When Carol and I heard that the lodge had a boules set (so not exactly bocce, but close enough), we recruited Grant, Sarah, Bob and Barb for a game.  I found a stretch of lawn (okay, not a bocce court, but close enough) large enough to accommodate a game.  We taught our friends the rules and proceeded to have a good old time.

For a good while, Gwennie the Border Collie watched our game with rapt attention, sitting obediently each time we threw out the pallina, although she quivered with the itch to chase it.  The owner of Raetihi Lodge told me that Gwennie has a quirky relationship with a kingfisher.  Gwennie will spend her afternoons near the beach, where the bird will dive bomb the dog and the dog in turn will run wildly in pursuit of the bird. 

Bocce Players Down Under
Gwennie took a break from chasing her kingfisher to watch us toss the pallina.
Room with a View, Raetihi Lodge
A quiet spot at Raetihi Lodge
A deck with a chaise longue outside your room with a view provides strong motivation to laze away an entire day, but I turned my back on temptation and joined the group for a ride on Pete's water taxi across the sound to the starting point of our hike.  I was rewarded with many sights like the one below. 
Kenepuru Sound as seen from the Queen Charlotte Track
Our last stop was in Hanmer Springs, a charming little town in the mountains that boasted thermal springs smack in the middle of the town.  To get to Hanmer Springs required the second of two long days in the van.  Even traveling the highways between destinations in New Zealand, the scenery is stunning.  There were some other distractions to make our two travel days a little less tiresome.

We stopped at a couple vineyards on our travel days, just enough to pique my interest in the wines of New Zealand.  There are numerous small vineyards that produce excellent sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs.  A wine tour of the south island, I thought, would make a very nice vacation.
We had lunch and a wine tasting at this vineyard, with buildings bedecked
with bougainvillea, reminiscent of Tuscany.

Elysia told us early in the trip that a popular ice cream in New Zealand is hokey-pokey.  She promised that we'd be able to taste it at some point.  We finally got our chance on the road to Hanmer Springs.  Hokey-pokey is speckled with dots of crunchy candy bits and, I decided, worth the wait.  Is it better than dulce de leche?  Better than raspberry chocolate chip?  Hmmm.  Reasonable people could argue about this.
Everybody loves hokey-pokey ice cream.  The hokey-pokey is what it's all about!
Also on the road to Hanmer Springs, we stopped for a lovely walk through the open fields of the Alpine Nature Walk, high above the sea.
Intrepid Trekkers on the Alpine Nature Walk
Lone Pine Along the Alpine Nature Walk


Carol was chatting with Jan at some point and happened to mention that we take Tai Chi classes back home and that we do Tai Chi regularly.  Jan asked if we would lead a morning session, and Carol agreed.  So on our first morning at Braemar Lodge, six of us gathered in the lounge outside the hotel dining room before breakfast.  With the mountains before us framed by floor-to-ceiling windows, I led the group in Tai Chi Chih and then Carol took over and led them through some movements in Tai Chi Yan.  Stepping out of the role of student to become the teacher was a great experience.

A Perfect Setting for Tai Chi
Our last hike was on gentle paths through Hanmer Forest to a final climb up Conical Hill.  Carol and I were feeling a bit under the weather, so after the stroll through the forest we slipped away from the group at the base of Conical Hill and headed for a grueling afternoon trying out the thermal pools under sunny skies.
On the trail in New Zealand

A place for contemplation, Hanmer Forest
Near the End of the Trail
Tree Pose - Our Sterling Guides, Elysia and Jan

We boarded our plane in Christchurch for the return home on the summer solstice in New Zealand.  Many hours later, we landed in Minneapolis on the winter solstice.  A week ago I swam in the Tasman Sea.  As I type these final words, the temperature outside is -12 degrees F.  Hot chocolate, anyone?

Until next time, safe travels, everyone.  May your New Year be filled with love, good health and peace.