Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Chico & Point Reyes - A Good Friends and Lots of Rain


Chico - A Reunion with Friends

Having cleared the Sierras and the snow, we arrived safely at the home of our friends, Mark and Shirley, in Chico.  In two days there, we cooked for one another, visited the Sacramento Valley National Wildlife Preserve and the Trappist monastery and vineyard of New Clairveaux and took in the Chico farmers' market on a rainy Saturday morning.  Yes!  A farmers' market in January! A lovely experience, even in a steady rain.  One of many reasons to love California.  We scored a delicious pummelo as well as some locally-made pomegranate jam.

Speaking of rain, it began raining on our second full day in Chico and hardly let up until our last day in Point Reyes, a week later.  The drought in northern California is, I believe, officially over.

(A click on any photo enlarges the photo.  Your Back arrow brings you back to the journal, I think.)

Shirley and Mark were excellent hosts to weary travelers.


Another treat was the local taco truck which offered delicious tacos for a dollar each, a deal to beat all deals.  I was disappointed when it rained the next day and the taco truck didn't show up.

Mark took a break from being a good host and cleaned our clocks in a game of Catan Saturday evening.  I'm going to have to practice for a rematch with my grandson, Aidan, when we return home.

I'll tell the rest of the story of our stay in Chico in photos.

Sacramento Valley Wildlife Preserve
Not such a good bird photographer, but I do well with landscapes.
On the road outside Chico
On the road, evidence of the drought's end
My one keeper bird photo


On To Point Reyes and Another Good Friend

We drove four hours to Point Reyes in a steady rain.  My friend, John, emailed to tell me that we were in the midst of a major storm hitting the west coast.  It had never occurred to either Carol or me because what was falling wasn't white stuff.  We arrived in the middle of a five-day span when the area received ten inches of rain.
Carol and Elisabeth, friends since high school
No sooner had we arrived at Elisabeth's lovely home overlooking Tomales Bay in Inverness than she told us we could drive into Point Reyes after dinner to hear live music, a local blues musician named Lowell Levinger, nicknamed Banana.  Any music trivia folks reading this?  Do you remember him?  He was part of the 60's group, the Youngbloods.  (Remember them?  Take a listen.)

We were psyched to hear live music, but it wasn't to happen.  We thought we had left hazardous road conditions behind at the Donner Pass, but on the dark roads into town I drove the RAV4 right into eighteen inches of water.  I carefully got us out of the mess, thinking all the time of cars swept off roads in such situations.  We drove back to Elisabeth's, the evening's entertainment complete.

We spent a good week with Elisabeth, rain notwithstanding.  Carol and Elisabeth spent hours reminiscing over their Visitation Academy year books.  Elisabeth invited four friends to dinner one evening, a very good time.  We managed a few hikes and investigated the shops of Point Reyes Station.  On our last full day, the sun broke through brilliantly. 

Here it all is in photos.  First, In and around Pt. Reyes Station:

A Treasure of a Book Store

Lots of Good Stuff To Be Had
On the edge of town
Inside the barn
Cow's-eye View of the world
Our Lady of the Harbor
Tomales Bay
Turkey Vulture
Friends
The home of Philip K. Dick's widow.  He wrote "The Man in the High Castle" here.
 A few scenes from Point Reyes National Seashore:

Welcome!  Beware!
After the rain, a trail detour
The Pacific Ocean
An optimistic coyote?  He didn't seem to cause much concern for the herd.
At Tomales Point, we hiked among herds of Tule elk.
The elk were not too concerned about us.
You lookin' at me?
From Elisabeth's deck, the end of the storm:
Tomales Bay

The morning after the rainbow, we said good-bye to Elisabeth and headed for San Luis Obispo.


Sunday, January 08, 2017

Back on the Road Again - Western Road Trip '17

 Sunday, New Year's Day 2017:  Clear Skies and Dry Roads

At midnight, I was in my tuxedo, champagne flute in hand, and Carol in her black party dress as we sang Auld Lang Syne at Peter and Peggy's annual party.  Five hours later we were on the road under a starry sky.  We passed Clinton Falls, MN.  My friends, Eric and Donna, on their own road trip the day after the fateful November election, took a photo of the exit sign for the town of Clinton Falls.  I wondered if somewhere in this fractured country there might be a Trump Falls.

A good start.  We passed the Primary Iowa Welcome Center, then turned west on I-80 as the sun rose behind us.  Flat terrain, sliced into segments by fences and streams, evolved into rolling hills.  The countryside was winter brown, no snow in sight.  A towering obelisk, a wind turbine blade, marked a rest stop.  The size of it was jaw-dropping.

Monday:  Fog and Ice

In this, our fourth year of road trips west, weather would for the first time be a factor.

On the road early, in dense fog on icy slick roads.  In the first mile, we encountered the glaring red and blue lights of several emergency vehicles.  In the right lane, a minivan lay upside down, the roof over driver's seat flattened.  On the back of the van a bike rack with a child's bike was undisturbed.

We drove in fog for 170 miles into Colorado.  Then, 90 miles from Denver, the fog lifted as if someone flipped a switch.

(A double click on any photo will enlarge it to screen size.)
In Colorado, one minute we had near zero visibility and...
Five minutes later!
In Boulder, we visited Carol's nephew, Justin, and his fiancée, Susie.

 Tuesday:  Snow and Traffic Snarls

We departed Boulder in a snowstorm.  I-25 north to Cheyenne was a bumper-to-bumper slog all the way to Fort Collins, a nearly sixty-mile traffic jam.  By the time we passed Fort Collins and the traffic thinned, we had given up all thoughts of keeping to a schedule.

At 9:30, excitement!  We made it to westbound I-80 at Cheyenne, Wyoming, and at the same time got a phone call from Ellen, who wanted to borrow our squirrel traps!  We talked about the fine points of trapping squirrels and taking them for a ride in the country as I turned left toward California.  I-80 was slow going on hard-packed snow as we headed into the harsh, rugged, dangerous beauty of Wyoming and Utah.  We passed semi-trailers at 40 mph, just happy that it wasn't snowing.  Around lunch time, we reached Rawlins, WY, the junction for the road north to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

For a good time in Rawlins, Wyoming
We made it to Salt Lake City without incident.

On the road in Utah
Wild Utah
 Wednesday:  Snow, Rain and Trucks with Chains

Weather reports warned of "winter road conditions" as we ate our breakfast at La Quinta, the car packed and ready to go.  Would we make it all the way to Reno?  Elko and Winnemucca were possible havens if the weather worsened.  The first two and a half hours offered dry conditions, and we made time at 80 mph.  At least we wouldn't have to turn back to Salt Lake City.  At 9:30, Elko, forty miles away, was a reasonable goal.

An hour out of Salt Lake City, we had descended onto vast salt flats, which offered us a stunning, unalterable, treeless landscape in shades of gray in every direction.  The road in front of us stretched arrow-straight to the horizon. 

We were the lone passenger vehicle amidst the semi-trailer trucks for the longest time.  This time of year, I suppose, there is not much reason to drive west from Salt Lake City.  Then we saw our first passenger car, headed east - a Yellow Cab!  It was not the only strange sight of the morning.  At one point, fifty yards out on the flats, a car tire sat, perfectly upright.  Another time I spotted a tiny island of dry land not large enough to park a car.  In the center of the island stood a small, solitary Christmas tree.

On and on the salt flats spread out before us, the road and its denizens the only human intrusion.  The feeling of isolation was overpowering.  I thought of listening to our recorded book but couldn't bring myself to break the spell.  Small mountains signaled  the end of the salt flats and the town of West Wendover, Nevada, gateway to the famed Bonneville Raceway.

Past the salt flats, the road climbed into a small range of mountains.  Truckers pulled over to put on their chains.  We plowed on without too much trouble.

As we approached Elko, Nevada, a roadside sign advised us that Starbucks awaited at the next exit.  Yes!  We arrived at the Red Lion Casino, which housed the coffee mecca, only to be told by a staff person that the power was out.  No power!  No coffee!  No luck!  I went in, just in case the young man didn't know what he was talking about.

Inside the main entrance I was greeted with near complete darkness.  As my eyes adjusted to the dark, strange shapes began to form in the shadows before me.  The shapes slowly became people sitting on stools next to their slot machines, waiting still and silent, for the power and the good times to return.

Thursday:  Almost Stuck in Reno

We awoke Thursday morning to find that a storm had passed through in the night.  Donner Pass, according to reports, was nearly impassable.  Four-wheel drive and snow tires or chains were essential.  I had visions of snow piled ten feet high by the side of the road, a long, slow-moving of cars with their wheels churning through the snow pack, plows frantically clearing the way.  We sat in our motel room, pondering the imponderable.  Another day in Reno.

Reno, our last morning on the road
Then I thought, if they want tire chains then, by god, I'll get chains.  In my lifetime, my only experience with chains was watching  my father put them on his 1954 Ford Fairlane when I was a boy.  An hour later I had laid out my shiny new chains on the bed and mimed the motions of attaching them to our tires as Carol read the instructions.  Easy peasy.  Shortly afterwards, we were on the road, ready for adventure but not sure what we were getting into.

As we drove into the foothills we decided it was time to pull over and attempt to put on the chains.  So we eased into the RAV4 into the extra wide "chain up" shoulder along with a line of semis. The air was damp and cold; the shoulder, soggy.  We quickly learned that putting actual chains on actual tires in bad weather conditions is not as easy as practicing in a warm motel room.  Just as we were coming to grips with the reality that we were in for a bit of a chore, a car horn honked nearby on a frontage road.  An angel driving a white truck stopped and was speaking to us.  The truck was not from heaven, but from CalTrans, the California Department of Transportation.  The bearded driver told us that I-80 was now open for "twenty or twenty-five miles."  Just like that, we rolled up those chains, stowed them and drove on.

Donner Pass was beautiful, forests of pines weighted with fresh snow under a brilliant sun.  The roads were surprisingly clear.  We made it over over the pass, not having to eat anyone.  Past Truckee, it was all downhill.  Shortly afterwards, we exited from the interstate onto CA Route 20, a scenic highway through snow-covered forest.  Soon enough we had descended to lower elevations devoid of snow.  The temperature rose.  We had arrived in California!













Monday, October 17, 2016

Discovering Croatia by Bike, 2016



(A reminder that you can click on any photo to enlarge it to full screen.  Enjoy the scenery.)
 
Church of St. Lawrence, Trogir
The Devout Man

On an early morning walk to the post office in Trogir, our first stop after our long flight, we walked through the nearly empty St. Lawrence Square before breakfast and meeting our cycling group.  The church was open and empty, morning mass still a half hour in the future.  We wandered in.  We are no longer religious people, but prayer and reflection are strong instincts.  We knelt and allowed the silence to surround us and our thoughts to roam free.

From our left, an old man appeared, carrying a thin glass vase with one flower.  He was thin, with close-cut gray hair.  Although he shuffled with some effort to the statue of the Virgin and Child just a few feet in front of us, I sensed physical strength.  Military, I thought.  Perhaps an officer.  A veteran of the war of the nineties?  Old before his time?  He placed the flower by the statue, knelt before the statue and lowered his head.  I turned away and surveyed the apse of the sixteenth century church, the columns, the altar, the art.

A loud smacking sound drew my attention back to the old man, who was now standing and kissing the statue.  He kissed Mary's robes, her feet, the Infant Jesus repeatedly.  Loud smooches.  His placed his hands with great tenderness on the Infant and on the Virgin's breast.  Over and over he kissed them and touched them, as if he were saying goodbye and would never see them again.

Finally, he shuffled off to the right and out of the church to face his day.

Church of St. Lawrence in Trogir, our first stop off the plane
We had arrived the day before, checked into our hotel and walked off the effects of the long flight.  We wandered the streets of the old city in a chilly rain.  We found a bocce court, empty, and washed down pizza with local draught pivo - beer.

Bathroom with a view, Trogir
A back alley in Split

Hmmm.  Choose carefully.




Promoting the local soccer team.  I thought he was an evangelist.

Ups and Downs

wild descent endless
wind symphony filling ears
shouting unheard YES

The VBT brochure rates the Croatia trip "easy-moderate."  Carol commented at one point that we must have slept through the easy day.  We worked hard on this trip.  As legs churned on uphill grinds, there were muttered epithets and promises to ourselves (unkept for the most part) that tomorrow we'd ride in the van.  The rewards, however, were great.  The uphill grinds eventually became accomplishments to savor.  And the downhills!  The downhill glides, wind whistling in our ears, pure joy!  

Uphill or down, the countryside of the Dalmatian Islands is stunning.  We had the roads to ourselves for the most part.  We could count the cars that passed us on one hand.  This beautiful part of Croatia had the air of a place not yet discovered by tourists.
Residence, Pucisca
Roadside Rest
The Harbor Town of Pucisca, one of many rewards

Hanging out in Pucisca
Another reward:  The mainland, seen from a bike on the island of Brac
A Good Day for Biking!  That's Vanja, one of our guides, catching up to me.
The sleepy hamlet of Skrip
Shed, Skrip
 The Island of Brac

Brac (pronounced Brach), as you can see, is lovely.  Olive trees dot the hilly countryside, along with grapevines.  Everywhere we saw neatly stacked piles of rock, so neat that they might have been art installations.  What I learned is that every olive tree and every vine was planted at the expense of great labor.  The artistic rock piles are the rocks that had to be moved to allow for the plantings.

Piles of rock moved to make room for olive trees
Olives, almost ready for picking
 Our hotel in the town of Postira was modern and comfortable.  Our group was large (twenty cyclists, the most ever of all our cycling trips).  We met for our orientation and warm-up ride Monday before dinner.  Marko and Vanja, our guides, got us fitted to our bikes, gave us our first map and sent us out for our warm-up ride before dinner.  They noted that our written directions often stated that at stops we should lock our bikes, but that we needn't bother.  Everyone on the island, they said, knows the VBT bikes, and everyone on the island knows the combination, 1-2-3-4.  Nobody wants our stinkin' bikes.  With all the challenging hills, the locals will stick to their cars, thank you very much.

On the grounds of our hotel in Postira, on the island of Brac

A lot of the rock on Brac is limestone, so it's not so surprising that the town of Pucisca is home to a stone cutters' school, one of many Croatian trades high schools.  We got to tour the school.  Fine white dust hung in the air, and I kept my camera in its case except for when I took it out for a quick photo.  I wondered what working here day in and day out must do the the lungs of the young men learning a trade here.  (We didn't see any young women at the school.)

Stone Cutters' School, Pucisca
Carol mugs for the camera with our guides, Marko and Vanja
The Best Day of Cycling Ever

On Wednesday, we all piled into a shuttle van for a ride up Vidova Gora, the highest point on the island.  We needed all our layers of clothing at the top.  After checking out the view and taking photos, we were eager to get to the bikes and descend to warmer temperatures.

Vidova Gura, 2,200 feet above the sea
Our morning ride to Milna covered eighteen miles.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that approximately seventeen of those miles were downhill!  When we arrived in the village for a delicious lunch at an outdoor café, I said, "We've just gone eighteen miles without pedaling!"  What a rush!  (The lunch, two salads with fresh, local ingredients, featured the most delicious tuna I've ever had.)

Lozisce, with its lovely bell tower, a stop on our long downhill.
We paid the fiddler after lunch, with twelve more miles of cycling, most of it uphill.  At the port town of Supetar, we rewarded ourselves with pretty good gelato. (You've got to go to Italy, in my opinion, for great gelato.)  There was still more ground to cover, which Carol and I alone chose to do in the van.  Kudos to all the sturdy cyclists who kept pedaling.

Gelato at the end of a hard day!
The next day we cycled in a gentle rain to the port town of Bol, where we would be ferried to the island of Hvar.  The rain robbed us of a chance to swim at Zlatni Rat Beach, one of Croatia's most popular beaches.  Most of the group headed for cafés for a bite to eat and a hot beverage before the ferry ride.  I wandered in the rain and discovered a tiny but delightful art gallery, Gallerja Branislav Deskovic.   The main floor featured the whimsical works of Vasko Lipovac, which brightened the rainy day for me.

The whimsy of Vasko Lipovac
Gallerija Branislav Deskovic in coastal town of Bol, a rainy day treat
(The island of Hvar, our next destination is seen through the window.)

On to the Island of Hvar

Hvar is a tad more upscale that Brac.  The port of Hvar is a major vacation destination, not only for Croatians but for the very wealthy of the world.  The glamorous yachts of the rich and famous lay at anchor in the port for all to admire.

Our hotel was just steps from St. Steven's Square, a gathering place for locals and tourists.

The Medieval Fortress Looming over Hvar
Sunday Stroll on the Riva, Hvar
St. Steven's Square, Hvar
View from our hotel window in the city of Hvar
The next morning, the rain was still with us and the first leg of our ride for the day was a 4.5 mile uphill climb.  A handful of our group opted for taking a break from cycling for some reason.  Carol was among them, choosing a long morning nap.  I wanted to ride because on the route was a vendor who sells bicycling jerseys.  Marko wore one of her jerseys that I really admired, and I wanted to purchase one.  Not thrilled with the prospect of a long, hard, wet climb, I chose to catch a lift in the van with several others.

The uphill seemed unending, even from the comfort of a dry seat in the van.  At the top, I got out and pedaled the rest of the way.  The jersey vendor had nothing I wanted in my size (end-of-the-tourist-season blues), so I settled on a leisurely cycle to Stari Grad, where we had lunch.

A place to rest, Stari Grad
Country cemetery near Selca
The sun returned in all its glory for our last day of cycling, which turned out to be the easiest day of the trip, lots of flat terrain which we did not think existed in the Dalmatian Islands. 

At one point I was cycling alone and I noted one of our cyclists (I thought), a woman in a bright red jersey, gaining on me.  It was on a gentle uphill stretch, a kind of cycling I really enjoy.  As she drew beside me, I said something about how much I enjoyed the easy grade.  She responded in a soft Croatian accent, "I don't think you meant to be talking to me, but I agree with you."  She was a local woman, who leads bike tours for a local tour company.  This was her day off, and I commented that she was on a bus man's holiday.  I explained the term to her, and she smiled and agreed.  We fell into easy conversation as we cycled together for a few kilometers.  At a split in the road in a small village, we said good-bye, she going right and I, left.

Later, I was telling this story to some of our group.  One of the guys, more serious than I about biking and biking gear, asked me what kind of bike she had.  I laughed and said, "She had a red jersey and a nice smile.  That's all I saw."

The goal this day was a picnic in a park on the rocky shore of the Adriatic near the town of Jelsa.  Most of the group stopped at a café for refreshment in the town of Vrboska on the way.  With limited time, Carol and I had other priorities.  I was determined to swim in the Adriatic Sea.  We cycled on to find a private swimming spot along the road, where we got in a good swim and a bit of sunbathing before heading on to the picnic.  (There were several of these hideaways along the coast.  Vanja informed us later that when locals seeking a place to swim come upon a private site that is occupied, they will move on, leaving its occupants to their privacy.)

Canal in Vrboska


A welcoming spot for a swim in our own private cove
A lovely spot for a picnic
Picnic fare - anchovies!
After the picnic, we cycled for our last time, some of us back to a shuttle to the hotel and some all the way to the hotel.  Guess what Carol and I did.

At last!  A level stretch of road!


Split

Remnants of Diocletian's Palace, Split
When the ferry from Hvar deposited us in Split on Sunday afternoon, Carol, Amy and I made a bee line for the taxi stand.  We wanted to get to the Mestrovic Gallery before it closed at two p.m.  We didn't need to worry; the gallery was open until seven.  The beautiful gallery was once the home of Ivan Mestrovic,  the most famous Croatian sculptor.

Prometheus, by Ivan Mestrovic
Gardens of Gallerja Mestrovic
Woman, by Ivan Mestrovic
Milkshake Break at Gallerja Mestrovic on the outskirts of Split
One Final Adventure

Teraca Vidilica (their slogan:  Veni.  Vidi.  Vidilica) is an outdoor café that sits high on a hill in the Marjan Park, overlooking all of the city of Split and its harbor.  It's the place to go for the best view in town.  Since it lies between the Mestrovic Gallery and our hotel, we decided to walk to it for a drink.  We knew there were well-marked signs at the base of the hill, but we would have to walk quite a way to that point.  We decided on a short cut.  We were at the bottom of the hill.  There was a road going up.  Follow the road.  How could we not find it?


After a bit of climbing, however, we hit a dead end in a residential area.  The hill still rose before us, but the street ended.  Out came the city map.  As the three of us pored over it, a woman entering her apartment asked if she could help.  We explained where we were going.  She looked down and studied our shoes for a moment and asked, "Are you sportif?"

"Yes," we replied.  She pointed across the street to an alley with a trash dumpster set at the base of a steep and rather scraggly section of the hill.  She directed us to the dumpster, telling us there was a path behind it that would lead us up to Teraca Vidilica.  A little skeptical, we headed for the dumpster.  What did we have to lose?

There was indeed a rugged path, and for the next ten minutes we climbed steeply, scaling small boulders as we clung to tree roots.  We finally came to another street where there were several people strolling through the park.  "You're almost right there," a man with a family told us as he pointed the way.  Five minutes later, we were ordering our farewell drinks and soaking up a stunning view of Split.

The most beautiful spot for a refreshing drink in Split, Croatia

A Note on Bicycling Vacations

If you have a specific interest in our other tours with Vermont Bike Tours (vbt.com), you can check out my past Travel Journals:

La Belle Provence, October 2014
Cycling in Tuscany, October 2013
Tuscany, 2005  (This was my first Travel Journal.  No text, only five photos.)

And finally...

Carol and I have taken several bicycle vacations together, but this one was special.  One year ago, we did not know if we'd have another such adventure.  In the fall of 2015, as many of you know, Carol underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy to shrink a tumor on her pancreas.  In January, she had Whipple surgery to remove the tumor.  Her recovery from that major surgery was long and difficult.  On June 30, one year to the day after receiving her cancer diagnosis, a CT scan showed that Carol was free of cancer.  Although she still was on the road to regaining her strength, she decided that she wanted to get back on the bike, so to speak, to get back to living her life the way she wanted to.


We rode our bikes all summer  to build Carol's endurance, culminating with a twenty-five mile fund-raising ride for pancreatic cancer research in September.  Carol continued to get stronger, but we had no idea how she'd do day in and day out on the hills of Croatia.  Carol did great.  She was on the bike from beginning to end (except for nap day).  She took every hill.  She was a star.

Pancreatic cancer is a stubborn and vicious foe.  From the day she received her cancer diagnosis, Carol has faced cancer her way, head-on, with intelligence, courage, determination, strength and grace.  Cycling the hills of Croatia was Carol telling everyone (including herself) that she will continue fighting and living her life her way.  It was her way of telling us all that she's back!

After the ride, with Ellen, Wesley (8) and Julien (5)
Me and My Hero in the Hill Towns of Tuscany