|Aug. 26th, 2011 @ 11:24 am The Pacific Northwest|
|The first thing that struck me was the verticality. When one's formative years are spent in Miami and then in NYC, mountains are utterly unfamiliar and city streets that dip and dive are shocking (especially to those unused to parking on them). The second shock is the nature nearby - not that there is nature, but how close it is and what it is. The towering pines of the coast and the sheer cliffs, the grey windy beaches, and wildflowers - a far cry from the desolate reedy, but in their own way beautiful, Everglades. And the last shock is the sheer number of bikes. They are stacked in huge racks by places of business, parked casually on the sidewalk, or placed in lots by public transportation. I know I joke that bikes are the tools of the devil, but it's only because I never learned to ride one, and might be slightly envious of people looking breezy and toting fresh bread and vegetables in their handlebar baskets.|
We started in Vancouver. The person who will now represent that city in my mind is the cheerful young woman in black and shocking pink who helped us wrangle the public transportation, kept an eye on us to make sure we got off the bus at the right stop, and even had a small discussion with another local about the animal on the Canadian quarter - elk or moose? We collectively determined that it was an elk. The tour guide on Grouse mountain is my second favorite because of his propensity to make very dry jokes and talk matter-of-factedly about any and everything, like whether polka dots are back in, the authenticity of Native carvings that happen in the 1990's, and salamander eggs floating in a lake, all in nearly the same breath. He also pointed out the fuzzy rock which turned out to be a grizzly lazing about.
I am not a leisure traveler - I try to run around as many things as possible. So in the whirlwind that was this trip, we saw a variety of fairly toursity destinations, and enjoyed them immensely, but few of them really stick out in my mind. What I remember is walking down a Vancouver street only to see part of it blocked off to car traffic and investigating. We found a beautiful woman sporting dredlocks and hula-hooping. She invited passersby to join in, so we did. Hula-hooping can either be impossible or effortless for me, with no between state. This time, after a couple of false starts, I was able to pull it off. Great fun from an artist collective called City Dreams (or something like that).
We took a train to Seattle next and here I have to confess a horrible thing. We smuggled some Canadian foodstuffs across the border and it was delicious! If the next plague starts along our roadtrip route, you'll know who to blame. But the joys of salmon candy! They make it all worthwhile. I've never had the like and I consider myself a smoked fish lover. These little juicy flaky nuggets of pink fish are barely covered in something slightly sweet (brown sugar perhaps)while retaining all the smokiness. Have it if you ever get a chance.
Upon stepping foot in Seattle, we were greeted by an aggressively driving long-haired cab driver. He asked us where we were from and was able to keep up the rest of the conversation with only an occasional "oh" and "um-hm" from us. The topics included the stupidity of our illustrious governor Rick Scott for giving up the federal transportation money (I agree), his band whose CDs he proceeded to give to us, and how legalizing marijuana would solve all the government's problems. A perfect Seattle introduction, I'd say.
The rest of our time in the city was spent enjoying amazing coffee, hearing colorful stories about the city's founders (I thought Terry Pratchett invented the Guild of Seamstresses, but apparently they were alive and well in the early days of Seattle), and enjoying the unexpected beautiful sunny weather. The locals continued to impress with their niceness. Then we rented a car and took the quick hop to Portland, when I fell in love with this city (heavily influenced by the opinion of a good friend).
Portlandia wasn't lying - the dream of the '90's is alive in Portland. There are young people on bikes, little coffee shops staffed by cute bleary-eyed young men, food carts full of any food you'd care to try, birds on things, local and sustainable restaurants, bike racks and bike sculptures, free concerts in the park (Russian music, even!), recycling and composting containers in stores and on street corners, and plaid on every other body. What can I say, I really liked Portland. They boast the world's smallest park (it's in the book of world records), a book store that requires a map to browse (Powell's), and more of those nice natives. The food was good, the water fountains were cute, and fluoridation was deemed a danger to local beer production - who wouldn't like a city like this?
The next day, we woke up at the butt crack of dawn and set off on the very long trek down to San Francisco. Here is where the real roadtripping took place. We drove down a scenic highway next to the Columbia River, then up to Mount Hood for pictures of lavender and snowy peaks, then down to an old volcano that collapsed long ago and formed a lake that isn't fed by a river. Crater Lake is gorgeous, with waters so blue. The old volcano top is peaking out over the water - and could become active again. The caldera is sloping sharply and beautiful rock outcroppings encircle the lake. There are live trees and bone white dead trees and a chilly refreshing wind. We ate at a Lodge overlooking the lake, all a bit too dizzy from the 8,000 feet elevation to really enjoy the food, then drove down windy mountain roads after dark. The deer own the road at that hour and they did not move from their spots, especially one male specimen with a huge rack on this head and eery shiny eyes reflecting our headlights.
The next day we drove into foggy Northern California through the redwoods. We stopped to watch a whale cavorting in a river and a herd of elk peacefully nomming in a field. We took pictures inside a tree. And then we drove another 7 hours or so, stopping on the way in a variety of tiny towns (one numbered 315 people). The one thing I wish I had time to do is to stop at every curiosity along the way - we missed out going to the High Desert museum and the Mysterious Rock (or was it Cave of Mystery?). But the drive through the different landscapes and climates of the NW was just what I wanted for my ongoing quest to experience every part of the US.
San Francisco was lovely, though cold, and we enjoying our wandering, meeting up with friends, and sea lion watching. We even got to go to the Outside Lands, a music festival. On the way there, our cab driver told us his story of his dream to visit all 50 states. He drove a truck for a number of years and got to visit 18 of the states, but the company he worked for didn't really allow the drivers the freedom to stop and see. Finally, his wife gave him "the final notice" and he decided to work as a cab driver. I loved the way he spoke about his dream.
And then it was back to the oppressive weather of Miami, tired but happy.