Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 22 to Day 31. Christmas in West Kelowna and back to Abbotsford and Vancouver.

Day 22 starts shockingly early, out of the AirBnB and into the icy air and over to the dark and depressing Greyhound bus station via Michael’s Mom’s place. There is a scrum of anxious travellers waiting to get home for Christmas, but no busses in sight. Eventually one arrives and lucky for us it is ours and we are the first on at this stop, but it is already half full so we all end up with aisle seats for the four hour journey. It is another half hour before we go, and then after only a few dozen miles of travelling we are stopped again in Chilliwack to pick up more passengers. Only a connecting bus hasn’t arrived yet, so we are stuck stationery for the best part of another hour. We would have preferred to drive ourselves to Michael’s brother’s house, but had numerous warnings from various people about trying to cross the snowy Coquihalla Pass in our little bumper car.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 21. Abbotsford, BC

Today was a day of visiting, Michael had set up a whole schedule of seeing friends and family. Luckily our first appointment wasn’t till ten, so we had a lazy start to the day, Then it was into the car to see cousins, first cousins once removed, friends, more cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, cousins in law, puppies and cats. I was a bit daunted by all the visiting but it was actually a really lovely day and I even managed to have a nearly nap back at the AirBnB in the middle of it all. A drive out to Langley in the evening and another trip to the Old Spaghetti Factory, delayed by half an hour by an accident on the freeway. We arrive back way after 10, a time Michael hasn’t seen for months, so we set the alarms and leave the packing till morning. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 20. West Vancouver, BC to Abbotsford, BC

Thankfully there is no new snow overnight, so Michael is dispatched to the car to bring in the rest of the things that we brought from Los Angeles; there is only a couple of bags and some odds and ends, but it has become somewhat disorganised, and as we will be returning to this house on the 28th we have decided to leave the stuff we don’t need over Christmas here. Instructions are received on how we feed the cats on our return, keys are issued, then it is back down the steep drive to depart.

Monday, 19 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 19. West Vancouver, BC

It didn’t stop snowing all night, so Michael starts his day by removing this fresh dumping from the long drive; but no sooner than he gets to the bottom does the city drive past, clearing the road, to push a load of ice back up the drive. Michael has earned his breakfast of toast and peanut butter and jelly (jam). Luna has energy to burn, so Andy prepares to take her out into the snow and Ann drives us to MEC, an outdoors-type store so we can finally look for some warmer clothes, although it seems considerably milder today. I leave with a fleece and some chocolate.

The Road Trip North - Day 18. Parksville, BC to West Vancouver, BC

After two nights in the same bed for the first time in three weeks, it is time to move on again, so we pack up and say farewell to our kind hosts. It’s a half hour drive to Nanaimo and the aptly named Departure Bay to await our third ferry in four days. This ferry is much busier, so after we leave the car and make our way up to the passenger deck we find that there are not many seats left, and we end up facing backwards as we make our way out of port. Michael queues for our strange breakfast of poutine without the beef gravy — there are not many vegetarian options on this boat — and I fix my eyes on the water in the hopes of seeing a whale or two. Yet again no whales spotted, and I just end up feeling sea sick. Up and outside to the ‘sun’ deck, only there is no sun, just lots of wind and freezing temperatures, although it does help to blow away the sick feeling.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 17. Parksville, BC CANADA

Today Michael slept in to 9am, this is the longest he has slept since I have known him, and I am in shock. In fact, I think if I hadn’t gotten up and started moving about he would have slept a lot longer.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 16. Anacortes WA to Parksville, BC CANADA via a galaxy far far away.

It is yet another freezing morning and another very early start. We have to be at the ferry terminal an hour before the sailing, and so are driving out of the motel carpark before dawn. Our passports are checked and our boarding pass issued, and then we sit in the car — which is rapidly losing heat — for the best part of an hour before we are directed onto the ferry. We are funnelled down the left hand side of the boat and up against the side wall, and we end up so closely packed in that the driver door won’t open enough to let Michael out, so I wait in the howling wind as Michael manoeuvres himself over the central console and falls out of the passenger side, and then we hurriedly rush upstairs to the warmth of the saloon. The boat is fairly empty, so we find a seat by the windows ready to try and spot some whales on the crossing. We are soon edging our way out of the harbour, the rough seas that we are warned about don’t really materialise, but nevertheless I am soon feeling a little queasy — possibly due to my empty stomach — so Michael is dispatched to the galley for supplies.  We share an unusual breakfast of cheese and crisp bagels with tater tots followed by skittles. The whales never show themselves and we pass the rest of the time loading our photos onto the laptop.

Friday, 16 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 15. Seattle WA to Anacortes WA via a ferry, two forts and a lighthouse.

As I sit in our hotel room in Anacortes, this morning in Seattle seems a very long time ago. Probably to do with the fact that Michael had me awake at 6 and out of the house at 7. It was freezing and still dark. We enjoyed seeing the Seattle skyline illuminated as we drove into the city, that is before the sat nav got really confused and changed its directions every time we turned a corner, even though we were doing exactly what it said to do. Finally parked at Pike Place Market, still so early that it is only just getting light, and we have arrived before most of the stall holders. There is a kind of bustle about the place, as everyone is moving with purpose, and that purpose could be just to keep moving to get out of the cold on this chilly December morning.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 14. Lincoln City OR to Seattle WA via a lighthouse and a bypass of Portland

I had agreed to let Michael wake me at 5am so we could get an early start. He woke me at 5, but I was only really conscious at 6. We were ready for breakfast at 7, but the door to the breakfast room was shut and there was no one on the reception in the hotel. Instead we loaded up the car and went back to the reception to find a woman already stressed as she rushed through the door explaining that she couldn’t remember if breakfast was at 7 or 7:30. We waited for the waffle pan to heat up and then cooked our breakfast and had some juice while we pondered how far we may get today.

Finally on our way north and to our first purchase of gas in Oregon, a state where you aren’t allowed to fill your car your self. Michael was grateful to stay in the warming car while the freezing attendant used the pump. We set the the directions on Michael’s phone to take us to Cape Meares; the costal road we had wanted to take was closed, so we took the 101 which had by now veered inland a little. Lots of lovely holiday towns, and then out of the car at Cape Meares to view the lighthouse and Three Arch Rock. It was so cold, with temperatures down to freezing but the wind made it feel much colder, almost as bad as Wyoming. We didn’t manage to walk around for too long before we were back in the car with the heat turned way up. We drove back through Tillamook and stopped for stamps and groceries. Up through the the Douglas Firs of the TiIlamook forest and then down to Portland before joining the I-5 and crossing into Washington to continue up towards Seattle. Its a day of mainly driving and I fail at my co-piloting duties by falling asleep despite Michael’s best efforts to keep me awake by pointing out various wildlife. That 5am wake up call really must have been too early.

Having missed Portland I realise that I really do want to see a little of Seattle, so we find an AirBnB just south of the city so we can to a bit of touring in the morning before crossing to Whidbey Island. We have a kitchen for a change, so we walk what we were told was the two blocks — which turns out to be four blocks — to Safeway to get some pasta and sauce to cook for dinner. Much confusion, when we get back, on how to get back in, as the combination key pad on the door will not let us back in, so we stand shivering on the doorstep and then panic that we may have dropped the room key back at Safeway. Just as we realise we’ve got the room key after all, the owner comes to our rescue and lets us back into the warmth. More planning, this time there is ferries to book and accommodation to arrange. Later to Michael’s delight we discover a little doggie also lives here, so Michael gets lots of attention from his new four-legged friend.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 13. Gold Beach OR to Lincoln City OR via lots of dramatic coastline.

Up and out just after dawn, though it’s not actually as early as it sounds, as the winter month means very short days. Sunrise was at 7:39am and we were outside a Subway half a block from the hotel for it to open 8:00am. Our route somewhat dictated again by the weather, we had been hoping to head inland to see Crater Lake; it is open all year round, unlike Yellowstone, which we missed last week, however we found out that the roads around it are snow covered, with more snow forecast, so we adapt our plans and head straight up the coast instead.

The 101 follows the Oregon coast, so we are treated to views of the rugged rocks and beaches to the left and misty lakes to the right, as well as large sections that go through Douglas Fir forest. We cross many a river estuary over blue and green iron bridges, and pass through fishing towns and a never ending supply of holiday parks, deserted in the winter, but no doubt a throng of activity in the summer.

We turn off the 101 at South Jetty Road and into the Jessie M Honeyman Memorial State Park, and then its out of the car into the bracing sea air to climb up and over a huge sand dune to the beach and the formidable Pacific Ocean. Too cold to stay for long, so it’s back into the car and over the Siuslaw River to Florence for lunch. Further north to Cape Perpetua, where there is lots to see. We pull off the road to see Thor’s Well, but instead we find Spouting Horn, a blow hole that puffs out a huge flume of water with each of the largest waves that crashes towards the shore. We stand and watch it explode as the waves come in, and then we find Thor’s Well too, a hole in the rock that appears to drain water from the ocean.

Up to the visitors centre a few miles on and we sit in the glass fronted whale watching room, binoculars in hand searching for the flukes that would indicate a migrating whale. The ranger tells us they are due to pass through any time now, and that there are about 200 resident whales in the area. Michael spots a dark area about 10 miles out followed by the tell-tale sight of water and air being blown up into the air. He sees it again and then it is gone. We sit for a few more moments but see nothing more. The ranger mentions a better view point a few miles down the road, it is much higher up and so if you actually spot a whale you can see the shape of its body in the water, and not just the fluke or the spray. We drive up there, and while we don’t spot any whales the views were well worth the detour. Next it’s down to Devil’s Churn, a narrow inlet that seems to concentrate each waves energy, causing it to crash high into the air.

At this point the 101 clings faithfully to the coast line, and it is pretty much sea views all the way to the Devil’s Punchbowl, a huge hole, naturally carved into the rock, though the tide must have been low at this point, as it was pretty devoid of water. It was impressive to see, but must be more so at high tide or after a during a storm.

We have about an hour of daylight left, and realise that that we aren’t going to make it as far as Portland tonight, or even Cape Meares. We have been slowed down by too many stops to admire the scenery. We make it as far as Lincoln City and find a good value room and a chance to do some laundry. An evening of pizza and Cast Away on HBO.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 12. Eureka CA to Gold Beach OR, via Redwoods National and State Parks

Up and out of the AirBnB before anyone else in the house was awake, then a short drive north to the visitor centre at Redwoods National Park. Nice to be back at the ocean again, with hopes of seeing migrating whales off the coast.We decided on a 2 mile walk through the forest and back along the river, and on the way to the trail head we spotted some Roosevelt Elk grazing just through some trees. Off the 101 and through the scenic parkway, and a few more elk out in the meadow near the trailhead.

Our walk took us past ‘Big Tree’ and that is were we should have taken the left fork to loop back to our car. Instead we followed the wrong signs, only realising our error after another mile or so. When we eventually circled round to head back in the right direction we weren’t actually too disappointed, as it was the most beautiful walk. It wasn’t raining, but the air was moist and water was trickling down off the giant trees; the bark and fallen leaves were damp and rotting underfoot, and the air was cold and crisp. The sun was bright and low in the sky, streaming through the trees once it eventually burnt through the low cloud. And, best of all, we didn’t meet one other person on the whole trail; touristing in winter does have some advantages. The Ranger at the visitor centre had told us that we may see some salmon swimming up river, and when we crossed a bridge on the home stretch we spotted a lone fish battling hard to swim upstream. He was soon swept backwards under the bridge, and we feared that we were witnessing a dying fish that wasn’t going to make it. After watching him for a while, Michael surmised that he may in fact have been spawning, as we watched him roll onto his side and we also caught a brief glimpse of a smaller, possibly egg-laying female fish swimming just behind him. I never thought I would get to see a wild salmon swimming up stream to spawn, and it was pretty amazing to see the large, powerful fish do its thing.

Finally back at the car, ready for snacks and water, and we then enjoyed the rest of the drive through the park. A small diversion at Klamath to a high lookout and a stunning view of the northern most California coastline. A man who had been there for a while informed us that he hadn’t spotted any whales, just seals and sea lions. Further north to the fishing town of Crescent City and stops for fries, gas and a new belt for Michael at Walmart, then we decided that we could drive for another hour or so to Gold Beach for the night. It turned out that the road we wanted to take through the northern most part of the park was closed, so we took a slightly shorter route to enjoy our last views of these magnificent trees.

We now had sea views as we crossed the state line into Oregon, with its rugged coastline, littered with huge rocks off the shore being pounded by powerful Pacific waves. I was exhausted from our 6 mile walk this morning and took a nap in the car, but Michael somehow found the energy to visit another lookout where he enjoyed the view over Arch Rock.

On arrival in Gold Beach we quickly found a motel and I prioritised warmth and comfort while Michael walked out to find us food. Warming enchilada and chilli relleno, and we were almost ready for sleep. Only interrupted by the sound of what we thought was the tsunami warning siren. It turns out that if it rings once it is just a council meeting. If it rings constantly we need to worry.

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 11. San Rafael CA to Eureka CA via Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Sad to leave our homely AirBnB and a quick stop at Safeway to stock up for the road. Its a long push north on the 101, and thankfully there is no rain and no chance of snow. Michael keeps me awake with talk of code as I am so sleepy from too much rest in our wonderful yellow room. The scenery changes from vineyards to forest and we pass through many a quaint tourist town that we assume must be bustling in the summer.

As we approach Leggett thoughts turn to lunch and we notice a sign for the famous Chandelier drive-through tree. We follow its directions and find ourselves paying the $5 fee, then driving through a tunnel through a tree. Such fun that I made Michael do it twice, and then we visited the gift shop and made use of the facilities. Finally it was cheese bagel time parked up at the side of the road.

On to Humboldt Redwood State Park, where we picked up the leaflet for the auto tour and followed its route through the Avenue of the Giants; and giants they were. We stopped off at a number of points along the 32 mile scenic drive and followed a few of the trails. Marvelling at these trees stretching far above us and peering inside the ones that had become caves, all the while keeping a watchful eye for banana slugs though, alas, we saw none.

We needed to find somewhere to sleep for the night, and as the AirBnB had worked out so well we looked for another, the one we found in Eureka was half the price of the cheapest motel, and so it worked out well once again. We had a quick explore in the town before dusk and Michael bought a spicy Mexican hot chocolate in a cafe so that I could use their restroom; once the purchase was made I was handed a tiny key attached to a giant spoon to allow me passage into the room.

Once settled into our accommodation we realised that we had better start looking for flights to get us to England at the end of the month. Initially shocked at the prices, but we eventually bought a more reasonably priced option from Vancouver, albeit with a four hour stop in Calgary. So now I will be arriving back in London exactly one year and one day since I last left. 

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 10. Sparks, NV to San Rafael CA via San Francisco

How can it be day 10 already? It is strange, Venice seems like forever ago, yet at the same time the days are flying by. We are nearing the midpoint of the road trip and we have now looped back into California; we have visited 5 other states so far, and now we are back in the state that we started in, and only slightly further north despite how far we have travelled.

The whole time we were living in Venice I missed the rain. I didn’t see a drop of rain between February and October. Today I saw enough rain to last a life time. Visibility on the I-80 was at an all time low as we left Reno and crawled towards San Francisco. There were several occasions when passing trucks sent tidal waves over our little bumper car. It was relentless and didn’t start easing off until we entered the outskirts of San Francisco. We stopped at McDonald’s for the second day in a row so we could add fries to our cheese bagels, and then joined to queue to cross the bay bridge, paying our $5 toll on our way.

A while spent hunting for a parking space on Divisadero Street so we could visit Topo Designs was just enough time for the heavens to open again and so we got thoroughly wet walking the two blocks from the car to the store. A successful shopping trip nonetheless. With the rain still falling, Michael suggested a visit to Fort Point, as we didn’t get to see it when we were here two years ago. Fog had descended low into the bay, and the famous Golden Gate Bridge was barely visible through the cloud. We enjoyed exploring the Fort and watching the surfers rotate through the waves in the bay, and then drove back round to cross the bridge itself. The supports barely visible, let alone the water below. Michael kept expecting a kaiju to appear through the mist and tear the bridge down as we crossed. At the viewing point on the north side we couldn’t make out the bridge at all, but we got out of the car and took a picture in the general direction of the bridge anyway.

Twenty minutes further North and we were welcomed into our AirBnB for the night, a grand old weatherboard home with high ceilings and beautiful detailing. Then out for Thai with an old friend of Michael’s, exhausted from too much driving and the four poster bed is calling us. 

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 9. Salt Lake City UT to Sparks NV via the Bonneville Salt Flats, 7 hours in the car and some snow and sleet.

Toast and Danish at the hotel, then outside to the car where it was noticeably milder than yesterday. The forecast snow never arrived so we had wasted an afternoon waiting it out. Keen to make up for lost time, we were soon on our way to Nevada, towards lower ground and a milder climate. Heading out of the carpark, Michael noticed that he had a light on his dash indicating a door was open; he pulled over and I shut the rear door, which was not quite shut, but the light was still on so he had me run round the car opening and shutting all doors including the boot before we realised that I had left my door open leading to the light staying on even when I had found the open door.

We had spectacular scenery all the way, first past the Great Salt Lake where, in places, the water was smooth and the distant mountains reflected back in the glassy surface. Beautiful views at the Bonneville Salt Flats, where apparently you can drive out in the summer. We didn’t last long as it was icy cold with snow on the ground, an indication of what was to come when we drove on through Wells and Elko; first rain, then snow, then sleet in a seemingly continuous rotation with visibility changing accordingly. In Elko we stopped to purchase more cheese for our bagels — the previous supply still in the hotel fridge is Salt Lake City. Bored of bagels, I asked Michael to drive through the McDonalds to get some fries, which lead to the cheese and fry bagel.

Further stops for bathrooms, and then to clean the salt covered windscreen once it had stopped raining. The clouds lifted slightly and some light shone through, illuminating the desert landscape and snow covered mountains. I found a deal on a room in Reno, which is how we ended up on the 19th floor of the Nugget Resort Casino, then out to the suburbs for a curry dinner to avoid the slots and buffets and drunk

Friday, 9 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 8. Evanston WY, to Salt Lake City via the snow storm that never was

A later start today; we were still eating bagels in the motel at 9AM, taking a long time deciding what to do today. It was really, really cold and we were pretty ill equipped for the the things we really wanted to do, and in the end we didn’t end up doing any of it. A heavy snow storm was forecast and we didn’t want to get stuck driving in it. Hotel options were very poor in Salt Lake City, — anything in our price range had really poor ratings — so we ended up paying a little more than we would have liked and took a room at a hotel out by the airport to wait out the storm. Only the storm never really came, and so after stocking up at the grocery store we had a chill afternoon and evening in a cosy room. Michael worked on a project to help import the videos and pictures we have been taking, and I took advantage of the fact that this was the first room we had had with a bath. Fully rested and refreshed we are more than ready to venture back out tomorrow.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Road Trip North Day 7 - Casper, WY to Evanston WY Via Rock Springs

It snowed overnight and our car was covered with an inch or so of the soft fluffy white stuff. It looked pretty but I was not pleased. As I started the car and Michael attempted to remove all the snow with an empty Trader Joe’s bag, I watched a group of children climbing aboard there school bus. A little bit of bad weather wasn’t going to stop their education today. We made our way across Casper to visit Michael’s Uncle again, his wife Caroline had offered to make biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and they had a welcoming fire going, making their homely house even more cosy. I was offered pink slippers to keep my feet warm and more stories were exchanged over the food. Some photos before we left, and then it was time to inch our way through snow covered Casper once more.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Road Trip North Day 6. Craig, CO to Casper WY. Via Black Ice and a shunt from behind

Another early start out from our warm motel room to the iced up car. A check on the weather forecast and the traffic conditions and the drive yet further north to Wyoming is on. We treat ourselves to a hot egg sandwich from a drive through Subway to try to warm our bellies. The road conditions start off pretty good despite the freezing conditions, down to -6℉ (-21℃), the sun is shining and the cattle country landscape looks picturesque covered in snow. The roads must have been plowed as they are pretty clear, although we do encounter some black ice driving through Muddy Gap Junction. Then, after about two and a half hours, and just twenty miles from our destination, the roads turn white from compact snow. We maintain a steady speed and keep traction and are able to drive on with out any problems, only really skidding when we have to stop for lights once in Casper. At one such junction we stop successfully only to be hit from behind by a big trick with a cattle bar on the front minutes later. We are shunted forwards a food or two and are grateful that our $650 bumper car, purchased specifically for this trip, already has so many dents in it that one more isn’t really a problem. We take the drivers details but have no real intention of following up.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 5. Grand Junction to Craig via The Colorado National Monument and a nearly show storm.

A slightly slower start to the day today, we left the motel at about 8:30AM after finishing last night’s Pad Thai, the tofu having frozen in the night. An unhealthy start to the day, not helped by the truck outside our window running his engine for what seemed like an eternity at 6:30AM outside our window, sending his toxic diesel fumes right into our room.

Monday, 5 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 4. Monticello to Grand Junction via Arches National Park

If I thought yesterday morning was cold, I was wrong; this morning was really cold. Luckily we were slightly more prepared this morning and didn’t need to make any supply stops so we transferred quickly from the warm motel room to the warm car. Just over an hour’s drive to get to Arches National Park, we were the first in the carpark at 8:30 waiting for the visitor centre to open. Luckily there are lots of information boards about the park outside, so we were able to do a bit of planning before speaking to the ranger and getting a map. I didn’t have any expectations about this park, and was honestly blown away by it. Huge sculpted rock created by ice, water and extreme temperatures over millions of years. It is hard not to feel insignificant when driving through this place, and hard to understand why man thinks that the earth belongs to him. Surely water is actually in charge.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 3. Page to Monticello via Antelope Canyon

Today it was cold. Icy cold.  For a change the price of the room came with breakfast so we both had waffles of questionable quality, they didn't exactly set us up for the day. We were awake early as usual but didn't make it out of the motel until after 8am, once we had de-iced the iced up car locks, that is. The first stop of the day was Horseshoe Bend, just a few miles out from the motel. It's early and freezing but was already a number of cars parked when we turned off the highway. It was a short walk up and over a hill and then a long path down to the edge of the canyon. As we get closer, an older man advises us that the view we are about to see is spectacular, and he wasn’t wrong. The sun is still low enough in the sky that most of the canyon is in shade but that doesn't lessen the impact of the scene. The river below meanders around a huge sandstone stack, it really is a magnificent view. There are no barriers at the edge of the canyon as we peer over the side down to the green water flowing so far below.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 2. Mesquite to Page via Zion National Park

First on the agenda today was a trip to Target to winterise, for us and the car. After 11 months in California Michael didn’t really own any warm clothes and it was getting colder by the mile. A sweater, hat and new socks for Michael and some new wiper blades and oil for the car. We then went onto the auto shop to get tyre chains in case we encounter snow and ice as we head towards the mountains.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Road Trip North - Day 1. LA to Mesquite, via The Hoover Dam.

Today we were up early, we can't seem to break the habit of the 5:30am alarm. We didn't set an alarm, but didn't need one today as we were licked and sniffed awake by two huge sight hounds.

The Road Trip North - Day 0. Leaving Venice and the Story of the Magic Bin

We have been living in Venice for 11 months. I have mixed feelings about leaving, there is so much to love about living here, and so much I strongly dislike. We are ready to go.