Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tahoe Arrival! (Grumpy Pants)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Nineteen, Thursday June 21

I catch my first glimpse of blue from CA 267 and I pump my fist in victory.  I don’t know if it’s from hearing my friend’s close held childhood memories about the area, or the fact that it is a landmark of the west still unknown to me, but I’ve been wanting to ride to Lake Tahoe for years.  At long last, I have arrived! 

Lake Tahoe from NV 431
This really wasn't my first view, but it felt just as grand!

The fly in the ointment is that I’m rolling in at the start of the weekend and, having been away from reliable internet for too many days, have no camping reservation.  Between my earlier experiences with “Campground Full” signs in CA, and the fact that more than one person raised an eyebrow upon hearing I planned to camp at Tahoe tonight without a reservation, I should feel lucky I’ve nabbed a spot only a few steps from the lake’s edge.  While Tahoe State Recreation Area is not the loveliest of campgrounds, there are countless diversions for me to pass the time between the moment my bike is safely parked before sunset and the time my head hits the stuff sack.    I can have an actual shower for the low, low price of 50 cents, watch the setting sun cast its colors on the mountains across the lake, dabble my feet in the cool waters of the Truckee River, watch ducklings catch a ride on momma’s back, find myself surrounded, at close range, by well over 50 Canada geese, access the 150 mile Tahoe Rim trail, and (how often does this happen?), later tonight, have just about anything I can imagine to eat (and drink!) all a few steps from my tent.  Tonight is a night of urban camping, and although it’s not my usual choice, it can occasionally be a welcome change from a cold granola dinner in the middle of the forest.  And while I enjoy the rhythm of rolling until mid-afternoon and hiking until sundown, tonight, my frustration with my inability to ride at night, usually a background grumble, chooses to surface to the forefront with a ferocity that takes me by surprise.

Tahoe City Walk (3)
Mom gives her ducklings a ride in the Truckee River.

To those of you who would say “Oh, just this once” or “It’s only a few miles,” I invite you to squint such that your eyelids are open no more than a atom’s width.  Really.  Got it?   Now, ride your motorcycle (or bicycle, or whatever) just this once, or just for a few miles. What'?  You can only see 10 feet in front of you?  Kind of-sort of-ish?  Now  you get it. Because that’s pretty much what I’m working with. Even deep shade disorients me. After dropping my bike in a familiar but dimly lit parking garage, unable to judge the turn into my space, I now know to stop, plant feet (I have to guess when to actually take my feet off the pegs, because I can’t really judge my speed when I’m coming to a stop), and paddle my way to safety.  Tunnels are no better, and as soon as I enter one, I am floating ten feet above my ride, no longer in contact with the road, or having any understanding of where my body (or motorcycle) is in space.  My eyes cling to the light at the end if I am, indeed lucky enough to be able to see it, or, perhaps, to the brake lights in front of me if there are some.  I am suddenly proverbially and literally religious. If you can now grasp the terror I have at being stranded after nightfall, perhaps now you understand why I opted to grab the first available campsite today, no matter what.  Whenever the topic arises in casual conversation with other riders, they always nod in agreement.  “I never ride at night.”  And then,  “Unless I can’t find a hotel, or I’m out for a late dinner.”   How nice to be able to make exceptions!  For me there are none.  Period.   A few days ago, I met a fellow rider who did, in fact, get it.  “I never ride without a tent.  It’s just too damn terrifying.”  I can’t tell you how validating it was to hear that.  To date, ophthalmologists offer a shrug, but no real assistance. Perhaps my eyes are dry. That is about as ludicrous as offering a starving child in Africa an oyster cracker for lunch.  Or a slight adjustment in my prescription?  Laughable.   “Huh,” the last one said.  “You lose depth perception, too? Interesting.” 

Tahoe City Tahoe Gal
The "Tahoe Gal."

While I generally make peace with this handicap, tonight I can not seem to manage it.  I’m all too aware that while I can enjoy the benefits of my current accommodations, I am practically without free will in choosing them.  My riding plans have me staying in the Tahoe area for three nights, and although I typically dislike the process of campsite “shopping,” today, for a change, I would like to scope out the various campgrounds before selecting one.  Quite simply, I am more than annoyed it’s not an option. In fact, I am so worried about not finding a site I not only pull into the first campground with vacancy, I feel I must grab the first available site without a preliminary survey loop, lest I be punished for my selectiveness. Tomorrow the hunt will begin again, because I am only allowed one night as a walk-in camper at my current location.

I am mad that my inability to ride at night seems to dictate my every move and that, despite the diversions I enjoy, they simply cover up the fact that I am, quite plainly, marooned until sunrise.  I might be in the Garden of Eden, but even so, I'm stuck there.  And if it's a creep-out campground, well I'm stuck there, too.  It’s not unusual for me to ride 400 miles with nothing more than one glove gas stops, (no time to take off the second glove!), to ensure I arrive at my destination in a timely fashion.

Tahoe City Geese
I am surrounded on all sides.

Tahoe City Geese (1)
 If you've ever seen a goose on the attack, neck poised at a threatening angle, you know to be wary.

Tahoe City Geese (2)
 Between my experiences at animal rescues, and the old video of my childhood dog being chased on a slippy slidey frozen pond - well, I know!

Long after nightfall, I look down at my meal at  Rosie’s Cafe and chuckle to myself at the absurdity of my complaint.  I should be here drinking this wine and eating this pizza not because I have to, but because I want to!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Bits and Scraps (Christmas 2012)

It’s a rare joy for me to do something whimsical without even the tiniest bit of effort expended to make it come out “just so.”    Here’s the product of the scraps from the Gingerbread Bass Project. It was never intended for public viewing, but what the heck.  It amused me greatly as I avoided my "to do" list for a few hours last weekend. I hope it brings you a smile, too.

Gingerbread Houses

The last time I made a gingerbread house I was in high school. I remember it distinctly, because as I stood at the kitchen counter, measuring cup* poised in the air, my father walked in the back door and grimly announced that our dog was dead.  She was not just a prize winning bird dog in the prime of her athletic and perfectly healthy life,  but the absolute apple of my eye.  I have no recollection of the finished gingerbread house (or even if I actually completed it), but I do recall crying as I opened my Christmas gifts a few days later.  Anyway, I say this only to have the happy occasion to report that "Miss Molly," who you met here, is alive and well, and, now that I think of it, quite a bit svelte-er than she was two months ago.

As much as I love to cook, I am not spending today up to my elbows in gingerbread, whipped egg whites and lobster, or soapy dishwater, but instead, am out riding at this very moment (isn't scheduled blog posting clever?) and am looking forward to having a lovely trout dinner appear before me upon my return.  My only task is to assemble the already made components of the pumpkin pastry requested by my host tonight.

Oh Joyous Christmas!

* I think there was Crisco in the cup, which makes no sense, since I (thankfully!) grew up in an All Butter Family.  They say trauma can affect the formation of memories.  This is my only explanation.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Last Supper

So, the world is ending tomorrow, eh?  If there ever was a time for a “ de luxe” dinner, it is now.

Le Menu (you supply the fun French accent) is specially designed to be knocked out after tonight’s 7pm symphony rehearsal.  I sincerely hope we can consume the vast majority of it before the stroke of midnight, because I'm not entirely sure how the Mayans accounted for that whole time zone thing.

Seared Foie Gras* with spicy apricot thyme compote on crouton, Jean Albrecht 2010 Alsatian Gew├╝rztraminer
Steamed Lobsters,* fresh green salad, artisan bread, Lous Bouillot Grande Reserve Perle de Vigne Sparkling Wine  (need I mention the vast quantities of melted butter?)
Cheese Course - it took some discipline to skip it, but I figured with the late hour, my guests might be flagging. In the end, my European culinary sensibilities revolted, and I pulled some gorgonzola out of the fridge for at least a bite before dessert.
Eight-layer Thunderbolt Dobos Torte (the extra layer for luck?), coffee

Tres snooty, n'est-ce pas?

Thunderbolt Dobos Torte
Four more layers hiding in the background, but the proportions would have been just silly! I left it at eight, plus the caramel end-of-the-world decor.

Okay, so it's the end of the world for someone.

Surely there will be thunderbolts (and scary Mexican masks) when the moment arrives, no?

The deconstruction begins.  Now I know I can safely stab the lightening INTO the cake.  I'll do it that way next time the world threatens to end.

What would you eat for your final meal?  And, more importantly, with which special people would you spend your final hours?  It’s an enlightening question.  My own answer surprised me.

If the world does end, I'll be happy not to pay the terrifying charges on my Mastercard incurred by this dinner.  If the world doesn’t end, I’ve got an excellent plan for the weekend. Leftovers.

*  Yes.  I said it. Live lobsters and foie gras.  Concerned about animal cruelty?  There’s a heck of a lot more in your average grocery store egg, even before you consider the sheer numbers of commercial laying hens. (News flash - “free range" ain’t what you think.  Read about it.)  And yes, every single one of the thirteen eggs in the torte was from a happy pastured hen and “certified humane.”
EDIT 12/22/12  - So, yeah, the world didn't end. I updated a few things on this post, including actually giving you a photo of the finished cake.  It also means I still might see my Ducati again, which is in the shop at the moment.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Daily Special: Gingerbread Double Basses

You say you’ve got two rehearsals and five performances over the next few days?  It's only sensible to say to yourself at such a time, "I think I'll bake and decorate some gingerbread double basses." It’s the least you can do for your bass playing, motorcycle riding, knowledgeable mechanic pen pal who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in helping you get your Ducati running. (You, dear readers, still don’t know the story on that, but I am getting to it very soon.  Really.)

Decidedly amateur piping, and not exactly anatomically correct, but definitely good for some laughs between Nutcracker performances and church gigs.  Note the classy yard sale bakeware.

Recipe: Make your standard gingerbread recipe, but double what you think the normal amount of spices should be. Then add a bracing dose of finely ground black pepper.  (Decide next time it needs more spices, more pepper, and wonder why you didn't add cardamom to the mix, since you add it to everything else.)  Decorate with standard issue royal icing (sturdy enough for the USPS, even if its taste is less than ethereal), the preparation of which is not recommended on humid days.  Fly in the face of danger, because today of all days, it's raining in Tucson, AZ.  Naturally.

In a flurry worthy of a chick-flick, run down the street to the post office, half packed box of cookies in hand, icing in hair, trailing packing materials, because (obviously) you ran out of tape and it is 4:15pm.

I really, really want to make a gingerbread house this month.  Except instead of walls and roof, it will have two wheels and say "Ducati" on the red candy gas tank.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lassen Volcanic National Park

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Eighteen, Wednesday June 20

It may have taken having narrowly escaped both a run in with an axe murderer and/or Bigfoot yesterday and near assault by dinosaurs this morning,  but I am actually glad to be headed away from the ever-mesmerizing Pacific Ocean.

Since I’ve been so cold while riding the last few days, I pass over a recommended bakery and begin my morning with what probably amounts to more calories than I usually eat in an entire day.   The hippy happy Blue Cafe in Arcata provides me a delicious veggie omelet, buttery biscuits, sausage, coffee, juice and… a power outlet.   Stomach and gizmos fully charged!  Go!

The Trinity Scenic Byway doesn’t start off promising, but - twists and turns and hills, oh my! - by the time I get further east, I find what very well  may be the sportiest section of asphalt since my day ride in Marin County.  The hairpins on the downhill slope are laid out before me with nothing to obstruct my view. And despite yesterday’s fun, I am more than ready to lean over the tank and explore the edges of my tires in earnest.  Except I’m moving so slowly I’m forced to carve out serpentines within my lane just to keep off the clutch.  I and at least 50 other cars are following a construction pilot car, creeping along at a painful pace for miles. It’s hot and getting hotter, and I am still wearing my wool riding clothes and electric vest.  By the time I reach Redding, the dash tells me it’s 102 degrees.  Even so, I am handling this weather challenge with much more grace than the cold conditions of two days ago, and I resist removing any layers because I look ahead and see snow.  Lots of it.  I know that within a half hour I will be Up There.

And here is Up There.  “There” being Lassen Volcanic National Park.  I had never even heard of it until I started planning my trip, but after seeing it on the map, I declared it a necessary destination.

Lassen Volcanic National Park (2)

I snap a photo of the bike. Why have I taken so few of it, when it's the very point of my trip?  Probably because I can see the real live thing any time I want to.  I already know what it looks like.

Ducati at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Alas, much like at Crater Lake National Park, all the trails at Lassen are still under many feet of snow. I will not be hiking “Bumpass Hell” (so named by Kendall Bumpass who, in 1864, fell into a boiling pool, losing his leg) and viewing interesting hydrothermal features today.   Nor will I be summiting Lassen Peak, viewing Kings Creek Falls, or even learning a bit about the park at any of the Visitor’s Centers, because they are closed.

Instead, I take great joy in my consolation prize – riding back and forth along the twisty scenic bit of CA 89, more of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, that runs through the park.  One pass for the scenery, another for the corners...

Lassen Volcanic National Park

I pull in near my campsite to catch my breath and fill the tank.  This road is good fun and deserves yet another pass.  But something is wrong with the fueling station credit card reader, and the attendant, who is just closing up shop, will not take a cash sale. Looks like I’m marooned until morning.

No matter. I amuse myself by stalking geese…

Lassen Volcanic National Park Manzanita Lake Campground Area

… and watching the light turn golden on the trees across Manzanita Lake.

Lassen Volcanic National Park Manzanita Lake Campground Area (1)

Lucky me.  It’s been another good day.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Daily Special: Roasted Pumpkin Mascarpone Pastry Strip

Pumpkin (or butternut squash) is a frustrating ingredient for me, because as much as I love sweet things, I want them after dinner, not for dinner.  So while most people love things like pumpkin (or butternut squash) soup, I really don’t*. Today I thought I’d highlight my CSA sugar pumpkin’s sweetness rather than try to disguise it.

This is what I came up with.

Roasted Pumpkin Mascarpone Pastry Strip
 I'm calling it my Roasted Pumpkin Mascarpone Pastry Strip.

Want one of your very own?  Then read on.

Make (or buy) some puff pastry dough, roll it out to a size and shape that fits your cookware and intended serving platter, trim it and bake it blind.  The number of recipes for this on the internet may very well rival the number of “Look at Me! I’m So Awesome!” motorcycle wheelie youtube videos, so you really don’t need another one from me**.  “Rough Puff” is fine for this purpose, but if you are so inclined, go right ahead and make the classic version.  As the dough is resting peacefully in the fridge between “turns,” practice your flute.  Unless, of course, you are planning to ride to Baja later this month, in which case, leave the flute in its case and spend some time working out various details, gazing at maps, and consulting Captain Google.  (Can over-excitement induce a seizure?  Because if it can, I'm a high risk case right now.)

Prepare your pumpkin or squash slices.  Brush them with butter, sprinkle with sugar and roast them, but don’t let them get too brown.  Think about the timing of this step, because you really don’t want to heat up your kitchen right before you plan on working with your pastry.   I’d wait until the formed but unbaked pastry was safely in the fridge, if I were you.   But then again, I'm the one who attempts croissants when my kitchen is 95 degrees, so go ahead and do what you want.

Mix some mascarpone cheese (or cream cheese***) with a little bit of sugar and a leetle pinch of wintery spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger or… gasp! black pepper?) and gently spread it on your cooked and cooled pastry.  Top with the pumpkin slices, glaze with some barely warmed honey (or apricot preserves, or… caramel?) and sprinkle on some walnuts or pecans or hazelnuts.

Because you spend your money on motorcycles, rather than a wide selection of serving platters, take the cardboard box your most recent motorcycle accessory arrived in, cut it into the perfect shape, cover it with parchment paper, and serve your elegant pastry on this elegant platter.

I would absolutely make this again.  It was, quite simply, a knockout.

*Unless it’s full of roasted, smoky chiles, but, hey, that’s a different story. And pumpkin ravioli. They’re a different story, too, but I omit the traditional crushed amaretti cookie.  Because that would make them – yes – too sweet.
** I did offer a few tips in my croissant post, however.  Croissants slightly more complicated (they contain yeast) but the basics of working with butter pastry remain the same.
***Mascarpone is about five times more expensive.  And at least ten times more delicious.  Choose wisely, because once you try mascarpone, you will never go back.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Final View of the Pacific: Bigfoot, Whales, Baby Dinosaurs, and Breaking the Comfort Zone.

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Seventeen, Tuesday June 19

When I first starting cooking up a “some-day” tour of California, a few little grey lines at the tippy top of the state map caught my eye.  There’s nothing overtly special looking about the loop comprised of CA 92, CA 299 and CA 3, no can’t-miss (relatively speaking) destinations along the way, and although grey squiggly lines on any map call out “For a Good Time, Ride Here”, when you’re sitting at your kitchen table in Tucson, AZ, those particular routes just seem so… far away. Exotic, even.

It must have been a good instinct, because an 89 mile stretch of CA 92 is also known as the Bigfoot Scenic Byway. How could you not ride the road that “takes you through the region boasting the most sightings of Bigfoot of anywhere in the country?”

So, after coffee, scones, conversation with yet more generous camp neighbors, and a little canine playtime with their German Shorthair Pointer, I leave Joseph Stewart State Recreation Area in Oregon, and head that direction.  If I told you CA 92 was a fearsome test of cornering skills, I’d be lying.  But even the humble corner is made to be enjoyed, and I’m having a party on the asphalt, with a pirouette here and high kick there, ho ho**... I’m on my way!  No wind or fog, no rain nor bitter cold, no black-as-night redwood shade,  distracting world class views (although the Klamath River is simply lovely) or must stop destinations keep me from my appointed rounds.  I’m riding in that perfect place, brushing the very outer edge of my comfort zone and life is simply grand.

The day brings me another gift!  The Salmon River Outpost in Somes Bar stocks not just the usual ice cream sandwiches, but fresh organic fruit and espresso as well.

Salmon River Outpost Somes Bar, CA

I haven’t really decided where I’ll be staying tonight, which is unusual for me.  Evidently there are whales to be seen at the mouth of the Klamath River, but I missed that opportunity a few days ago. Plus, in a desperate search for fuel, I skipped the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway through the Redwoods on that same day.  Although I’ll be taking a chance at finding a camping spot if I head back in that direction now, It Makes Sense At The Time to do so anyway.  Besides, after my last few short days of riding, I’m in the mood to put some miles behind me today.

So after my snack I take a 140 mile detour to the Klamath River Overlook, back at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. The viewpoint turn off doesn’t feel like an official park road, and I’m starting to wonder exactly where I’m going. The road is becoming alarmingly narrower and steeper the further I go, and I’m having very clear visions of having to stop to turn around, finding myself in a situation where I can’t reach the ground, and consequently having to pick up my loaded bike on a blind hill.  Yep. I do indeed miss the parking area.  Instead of continuing on, hoping to find a place to safely if not comfortably turn around, I chicken out  and gingerly balance and tippy toe my heavy-to-me bike backwards down the steep hill. I am, admittedly, rather terrified if not in a life-threatening sort of way, then definitely in a don’t-want-to-drop-much-less-have-to-pick-up-my-pretty-motorcycle sort of way. But I manage my awkward, wimpy maneuver, and, even better, no one sees me do it. Hah!

Although you can’t see them, there are, indeed, whales down there.  In fact, I could hardly see them.  "They look like ants!"  - errr, minnows, maybe, I'm so high over the sea.   I stare at a rock for a long time before deciding it’s not a whale.  But I do see a few and they delight me to no end.

Klamath River Overlook Whales Feeding

I’m having another bone chilling moment in a very windy place, so I eventually need to move on. Plus, there is the pesky matter of still not having a place to stake my tent.  It’s getting late, and for the third time today, I’m stretching my comfort zone, although this time it’s not in the fun way.

I head south, towards CA 299, my starting line for tomorrow, and begin the hunt for a campsite.  They are full, full, and fuller.  It’s getting late, late, and later.  Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time, eh?  By the time I pull into Big Lagoon County Park, I know I’ll be camping there whether there’s a space for me or not, and I’m already working out a pathetic “but I can’t ride at night” plea, should I need to deliver it to a stony faced camp host. I’ve simply run out of daylight, and I really can’t safely ride even another mile.

It’s not comforting to spend the night in a place that has the distinct menacing vibe of a suspense psychothriller.  But if you’ve got night vision problems like mine,  and Door Number One offers possibly getting slashed and murdered, while Door Number Two offers definitely crashing, definitely wrecking your pretty Ducati, and possibly sustaining serious injury and/or dying, you will stride steadfastly and confidently through the former portal, without so much as even knocking. The campground is threatening in the creepiest of can’t-quite-figure-out-why ways.  The usual signage is absent, and I’m having trouble determining if the space I’ve claimed is actually an official site or not. The host seems to have abandoned his post, and other campers are walking around looking a bit dazed and confused. The washrooms are locked and campers are expected to make use of a couple of soiled and overflowing porto-lets instead.  There’s not much to do, and it’s getting dark fast.  If I build my tent quickly enough and hide within, perhaps the axe-murderer (or - eep! - Sasquatch!) will pick on someone else.  I turn on my little emergency GPS transponder thingy.  You know.  Just in case.  A few moments later another motorcyclist rolls by and stops to chat.  I don’t bother to hide my relief, and, honestly, neither does he.  We are Motorcyclists, and We Are In This Together.  He can’t quite figure out the sketchy scene either, and invites me to share his spot.  Since I’m already set up, I decline (gasp!  maybe he’s the axe-murderer?), but I do take him up on his offer to share his campfire for a stretch.  (Campfire?  Axe-murderer or not, I’m IN!)  Turns out he’s not an escaped criminal (as far as I can tell, but who can really know these things?), but “NolaNomad,” a Super Duke riding chef, on his very last day of a five week motorcycle tour of Colorado.  We have an enjoyable evening discussing the finer points of the culinary uses for fennel pollen (Gah!  Why did I not collect some on the Channel Islands earlier??), camping hammocks (he has one hanging up – very cool, but I would freeze), and, of course, motorcycles.

It’s early morning and I’m awake, happy to discover that I have not been slashed by an axe murderer or carried away by BigFoot overnight.   But I realize the sound that brought me to premature consciousness is a loud chorus of what can only be baby dinosaurs.***  With this level of noise, there must be an awful lot of them and they’re right next to my tent.  And although I went to bed thinking anything could happen in this creepy place, assault by baby dinosaurs is not one of the potential hazards that came to mind.

I blow a hasty kiss goodbye to the Pacific, as it shall be the last time I see her on this trip, and flee to the mountains.

*I can’t help myself. Thanks again, Sausage Creature.
** Turns out, I'd see the same grey whales, at a different point in their migration a few years later in Baja.
*** Not really.  Turns out I was sleeping right next to a cormorant rookery.  I poked around a bit out of curiosity, but wasn’t going to disturb the demarcated area.  I couldn’t see them, but for a few early risers flying overhead, but – wow! - what a sound!  Fascinating.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Turning Inland (Crater Lake National Park)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Sixteen, Monday June 18

I wake up to a vaguely familiar sound I can’t immediately identify… Rain! Make lemonade, They say, and since it’s a rare treat for me to luxuriate in the cozy soundscape of a rain shower, I make no hurry to climb out of my pillowy-billowy goose down cocoon.  I’m not concerned about the delay, since, as is so often the case in this land so dense with must-see-ums, today’s planned destination is only a 200 mile hop away.  My little rain shower is an especially friendly one, because it graciously moves off after a short while, allowing me to stay dry when breaking camp.

What Mother Nature hast giveth, She now taketh away.  My happy rain shower is back, and it’s indubitably icy cold as I head east.  But a sunny window opens briefly over the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway, revealing a startling variety of shades of green.  This is no camera trick!

North Umqua River from OR Rte 138

By the time I reach Diamond Lake, the weather is simply Siberian.  The only options around for food and fuel are at the Diamond Lake Resort* so I stop at the Cafe to stoke the metabolic fires.  The place is packed with hungry and cold fishermen, seeking shelter and clutching cups of steaming coffee while contemplating the icy looking waves on the lake.  It’s a good strategy for the moment, and I’m happy to join them, even if my burger isn’t a memorable one, and the restaurant itself is drafty and cold. I fill up and have so much coffee that I start asking for decaf, but no amount of food and hot drink will nudge my core temperature into the normal operating range.  I’m thoroughly chilled and I simply can’t shake it. But I have things to see and trails to hike, so I move on.

It’s not any warmer at Crater Lake National Park.  In fact, much of it is under 15 feet of snow, some of which fell yesterday. I’ve yet to pack snowshoes on my motorcycle**, so it appears I won’t be spending the rest of my day exploring the area on foot.  Even riding around the lake is out, since the East Rim Drive hasn’t even been plowed yet.  But this doesn’t mean it isn’t spectacular, and though I must briefly detach from my electric vest life line in order to do so, I can’t pass by the Watchman Overlook without dismounting and gawking with chattering teeth.
 Crater Lake National Park

It takes some grit to convince my frozen arms to push the bars left and right hard enough to have a good sporting run, but the show must go on, ho, ho,*** and the road down to the campground, my final stretch of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway for the day, is a short but serpentine delight.  The campground is at a lower elevation than the lake viewpoints, but a little math reveals that waking up to freezing rain is a very real possibility.  I have no desire to test my two tires on ice in the morning, no, no, so I head down 40 more miles to even lower and blessedly warmer territory.  The ride takes me through a fairyland of tall evergreens, almost certainly the stateside home of Hansel and Gretel, and on to Joseph Stewart State Recreation Area, for an amble by the Rogue River and its Lost Creek Reservoir and pleasant conversation with the friendly campground hosts.

Rain, cold, and an unsatisfying lunch, but all on two wheels.  And though I don’t consider my day a bad one at all, motorcyclists aren’t lying when they say a bad day on two wheels is better than a good day anywhere else.  I return to my plush cocoon and look forward to the morning, no matter what weather the day may bring.

*The word resort is a generous one, at least by my definition.  Think grill, old school gas station, and and simple cabins.  Not a complaint, just an observation and disclosure.
** Although I plan to this winter.  And I like to think I’ll write about it, too.
*** In tribute to Hunter S. Thompson’s Sausage Creature.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hello, Oregon!

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Fifteen, Sunday June 17

I’m surprised that this morning is the first time I have to navigate in fog.  This isn’t a hazard I deal with much in the desert, and I’m relieved to learn that the vision deficiency that keeps me from riding at night does not apply to fog. The mist sticks around just long enough to be an amusing novelty, while I make my way to the state line.

Hello, Oregon!

The road may be a bit straighter, the views a little more hidden, it may be misty with the threat of rain, but there’s no shortage of eye-popping sights.  In fact, there are just too many, and I know I’ll get nowhere if I stop every quarter mile taking photos, so I’m riding hesitatingly, paralyzed with indecision. I can’t seem to commit on the fly to any one best spot and instead, ride right on by each spectacular glimpse through the trees, missing one opportunity only to find a better one a few hundred yards down the road.  And then another.  And another.   By the time I get near Pistol River State Park, I finally grind to a stop.  I must take a photo!

Pistol River Area OR

It’s not long before I discover my first Oregon factoid. All gasoline stations are, by law, full service. At my first fueling stop, the young attendant proudly announces that he knows how to fill a motorcycle and is clearly having a difficult time not salivating all over the shiny red Italian gas tank. But more often than not, it’s an awkward affair.  I hand my credit card over, the attendant swipes, picks up the gas pump and hands it to me.  I shrug and fill my own tank.   Clearly the system was not designed with motorcyclists in mind.

I’ve got a short travel day ahead of me, primarily because I’m not sure where I’m going.  I camped out at grocery store in the early morning fog for a bit, stocking up on groceries, and availing myself of a power outlet while I researched weather, camping and routes using my agonizingly slow phone.  I’ve had it in the back of my mind to explore the Columbia River Gorge, the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula, and eventually tag the Canadian border, but now I wonder if it's worth riding several days in the rain just to achieve the proverbial stamp on my passport. It seems I’ve reached the end of the sparkling weather on the coast and I need to decide what to do.  So I decide to decide tomorrow, and plan a short day of riding and wandering around the southern Oregon coast in the meantime.

The area is sprinkled with viewpoints, parks and interesting sounding places on the map, like “Seven Devils” and “Face Rock,” and I hop from one to the other, trying to capture the scenery, but somehow I can’t manage it. I zoom in, I zoom out, try this angle and that, but I can’t simultaneously capture the interesting shapes of the mammoth rock formations strewn about in the shallow surf, and the grand scope of the wide vistas. The day is flat grey, which, although part of the charm of my immediate experience,  doesn’t offer any interest to the shots.  It’s beautiful and special, but on the camera it’s just not working, and I’m frustrated.

Bandon, OR Scenic Viewpoints (1)

When I roll into Bullard’s Beach State Park, I learn my second factoid about Oregon.  Camping is remarkably cheaper than the $43/night * I’d been spending in California. And there are showers.  And the showers are free.  Plus, I didn’t have to reserve my site days in advance.  As I set up my tent,  I’m nodding with approval until an opportunistic raven catches me off guard.  It’s ransacking my luggage, only a few steps from where I’m standing, and is has my cheese sandwich nearly unwrapped. I have to make an embarrassingly loud commotion before it decides to lazily flap barely a foot further away.   I can almost hear its eyes rolling at me,  and I tuck into the sandwich before finishing the task of unpacking.

The park includes the Coquille River Lighthouse, and I get a little tour up the narrow spiral staircase to the top.  Remember the signs warning of rogue waves at McKerricher State Park two days earlier?  Seems that the lighthouse parking area was hit with just such a wave in 2001.  Right outta the blue.  Weird.   And just a few weeks earlier, the first debris from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan began to arrive in the area.   Also weird.

Coquille River Lighthouse Bandon, OR

Since today I’ve decided to set up camp first and explore second, there’s still enough daylight for me to head further up the coast.  A logging truck reminds me that I'm not in Arizona anymore (as if I hadn't noticed already). It’s alarming, staring down those enormous tree corpses that look like they might strike back on the human race by sliding out from their restraints at any moment**.  I keep a wary distance until I can pass.

I’m wandering aimlessly now,  a port with fishing boats here, an unusual bridge there, and I completely miss my planned turn off that would loop me back to my campsite via more curious sounding venues and unexplored roads.  But I’m feeling lazy and, honestly, too strangely indifferent to seek it out or even photograph those sights I do find mildly interesting.  I sigh as I turn the bike around.  I’m annoyed at the caution I must exercise regarding my inability to ride at night. And my tent, which I usually keep with me until the end of the day, just in case, is on the other side of a drawbridge at the moment.  I’m forced to plan for the possibility of a significant delay.  As I head back the way I came, my spirits are perplexingly low.  Perhaps I was right a few days ago when thinking the rest of my trip is bound to be disappointing. Or maybe I’m reluctant to admit that the outbound portion of my trip is coming to an end.  The entire state of Washington, along with most of Oregon, is blanketed in rain which is projected to stubbornly stay put for days.  My time is not unlimited, and it just doesn’t make sense to continue in the rain when there is plenty of sunshine along with countless wonderful destinations inland and south of me.  So while I still have much to see, and probably 2,000 unexplored miles to traverse (not counting Sort of Sabbatical Phase Two!), there’s no denying that tomorrow my trajectory, however circuitous, will turn on itself and reverse course.

My funk is abruptly cut short when dinner at Tony’s Crab Shack brings much needed focus to my day. As I stroll in, peering at other diners’ plates in what I hope is an unobtrusive manner, one of them*** guiltily admits it’s her third night here in a row. I’m sold, and order the half plate of crab.  After only a few bites,  I scold myself for my modesty and frugality.  Why did I order the half plate, when the whole crab plate was clearly the wiser choice?  Afterwards, I stroll about the place, which is part crab shack and part bait shop (the two are safely and securely divided, as far as I can tell) and enjoy happy memories of Zeek's Creek Bait and Tackle, first stop on so many father-daughter childhood fishing trips long ago.  I snap a photo to send to my brother, who will instantly understand the reference.  Certain things are universal – colorful lures, buckets of worms, minnows and eels, and a decor of proudly displayed photos featuring the ones that didn’t get away.
 Tony's Crab Shack Bait Shop Bandon, OR

Tony's Crab Shack Bandon, OR
I'm pretty sure this is Tony.

I take one more walk to the ocean before dark, to revel in the mist and surf. On the rare occasion of such weather in Tucson, people step outside their front door in wonder, and call over to a neighbor who invariably has done the same thing, “It’s gorgeous out today, isn’t it?”  Ahh, perspective.

Bullards Beach State Park

Bullards Beach State Park (1)

*Includes reservation fee.
**I’m told it happens.
***Small world moment!  Turns out the couple lives in Sedona, AZ and she is good friends with a former employee of the Tucson Symphony!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Oysters and Redwoods

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Fourteen, Saturday June 16

My morning  begins in the company of friendly camp neighbors.  Pancakes and coffee (in a cup with an automated push button stir feature!) appear before me and I, traveling sans camp stove of any sort,  am not too shy to enjoy their kind generosity. Although they’re not riding now, they’re motorcyclists, too, so we have much to discuss.

As pleasant as the company and hot breakfast may be, I do eventually break camp and leave the lovely McKerricher State Park.  In a happy Eating on Two Wheels coincidence,  I’ll be passing through Arcata, CA on the very day of their annual Oyster Festival.

The festival is One Seriously Big Win, and I’m not the only one that thinks so.

Arcata Oyster Festival (1)

The lines for oysters and beer are long, and it’s disappointing to have to abstain from the beer, but while waiting, I have plenty of time to ponder my choices and discuss their merits with others. I’m surprised when the couple in line behind me offer to purchase my motorcycle jacket.  I guess I’m not the only rider that has difficulty finding small sizes.  I decline.  I’m sort of using it, yanno?

Oysters are lightly barbecued around these parts.  There must be a hundred grills in action.

Arcata Oyster Festival (2)

Arcata Oyster Festival (3)

The “Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor” oysters are sold out, so I give the candied bacon ones a try. Smokey and delicious, with a sweet salty kick, but in the end, the spicy garlicky* ones are my favorites.

Arcata Oyster Festival

I’ve spent a few hours sampling before I head, once again, north.  I want to arrive at Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park** in time to hike amongst the trees.  And when I do arrive, it’s with a brief moment of confusion. It seems my motorcycle has arrived ahead of me!  Right next to my assigned spot, I see a red Ducati 696, nearly identical to my own. I’ve seen plenty of bikes at campgrounds, but this is the first Ducati street bike I’ve seen, other than my own.  Turns out, it belongs to Alec, another friendly camp neighbor, who has not just a motorcycle with him, but a small camper loaded down with countless toys - canoes, bicycles, and a space for his Ducati. He’s just acquired the bike, and before I’m even unloaded, he’s visiting, eager to investigate my luggage system, taking photos of every detail.  I am so proud!

Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP (6)

The desert dweller in me can’t believe my campsite looks like this:

Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP

I carry my gear up a few darling wooden steps to my perch within the lush growth and set up camp. As I had hoped, I have time for some hiking.   Oh, the lively greenness of it all!

Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP (5)


Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP (2)

… and slugs…

Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP (3)

…and ferns…

Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP (4)

…not to mention the preposterously tall trees. I’m a long way from the  Mojave Desert!

Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP (1)

Like most days on this trip, I’ve not ridden nearly as far in one day as I typically do when touring.  In California, it turns out, the points of interest are just too close together for me to cover even 300 miles most days.  It’s not a bad problem to have, but it’s certainly different.  Despite the leisurely pace, I’m tired, and find myself at a fireside campground talk to keep myself awake until nightfall.  It’s enjoyable, so why not?

Tomorrow – Oregon!

* Not surprising, because I put raw garlic and chile flakes on nearly everything I eat.
** Redwood National Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods, Jedediah Smith Redwoods, and Prairie Creek Redwoods are contiguous and all fall under the joint jurisdiction of the National Park Service and California State Parks. So much to see in just one small area.  *sigh*  I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Back in the Saddle*: More glory on the Pacific Coast Highway (Mendocino and McKerricher State Park)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Thirteen, Friday June 15

Funny, I think of San Francisco as northern California, but if you look at the map, it isn’t at all.  It’s hardly past the half way point up the coast, really, so – what luck! - there’s plenty more of the state left to see.

After a two day sabbatical from my sort-of-sabbatical, it feels good to be riding again.  Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, I don’t have the glorious open roads I had earlier, when I retrace my path north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  But as I continue away from the city, the traffic eventually thins out, while the pavement remains smooth and ever-twisty.   Even so, I find myself thinking something I’ve never thought before or since:  I almost don’t mind being stuck behind this RV, it’s that beautiful (the view, not the RV).   And then I have another thought, a terrible and terrifying thought:  The rest of my trip - no way, no how can it possibly measure up.    With more than a little sadness,  I brace myself for disappointment, and make a special point to savor what remains of the painfully beautiful California coast I've come to adore.

Are you tired of the Pacific Coast Highway yet?  Clearly, I am not.  As I wind my way ever northward, the ocean view slowly shifts into something more cozy, rustic, and rugged with a misty feeling even though the sky is clear, recalling a Folger’s coffee advertisement backdrop, perhaps, with less of the sparkly almost gaudy Hollywood blingy-blue green of my more southerly exploration.  But it’s getting cold, too, and, in a bizarre break with my character, I’ve yet to reach for my electric vest.   I quickly realize that by the time I reach Mendocino, there’s a very good chance I will simply fall over when I try to put my feet down as I come to a stop.  I am that unsure I’ll be able to move at all.  When I do arrive, I don’t fall over, but I can barely make the left hand turn into town towards the gas station, because I can’t move my arms.  A BMW rider passes me impatiently as I try to do so, and I wonder what he must think I’m doing.  A moment later we find ourselves at the same pump, paying  nearly $6/gallon for gas.  He makes a funny comment,  but I don’t even care about the price.  I’m freezing, and hungry and need to stop.  Besides, Mendocino is beautiful and I have a special point of interest here to visit.

Here’s the Kelley House Museum.  Remember my host in San Francisco?  Her name is Kelley.  No, not Kelly, but Kelley.  It’s also her mom’s maiden name.  And no, it’s not a coincidence.  The museum is closed by the time I arrive, but I have fun peering in the windows.

Mendocino Kelley House Museum

After a bowl of blessedly warm and caloric but not particularly delicious angel hair with tomato basil cream sauce at “A Cultured Affair,” I head to the water.  It makes for a nice backdrop for the flowers everywhere and I lazily dabble around a bit, enjoying the peaceful landscape while waiting for the pasta to raise my core body temp and blood glucose levels before continuing on my way.

Mendocino Coastliine (1)

Mendocino Coastliine

Even though the population density is thinning out, campgrounds are still full and I had only one option when I made a reservation a few days ago.  But the West Pine Campground at MacKerricher State Park is everything the Lake Casitas Campground was not.  Such a diversity of beauty!  Tall pines create a feeling of quiet and privacy at each site, but a few steps away lie rolling dunes covered in interesting plant life. Beyond, the frothy sea.
 MacKerricher State Park Beach

I continue down the beach, looking here and there, and I nearly trip over a sea lion.  Pardon me!
 MacKerricher State Park Beach Sea Lions

There’s tidal lagoon Cleone Lake to explore, and the trail and boardwalk around it takes me deep into those trees you see at the far side.  It’s a Central American jungle back there, dense with enormous and unrecognizable brilliantly green plants having leaves so preposterously big they might double as a kayak and float me across the lake, up to the distant floating mats of pink flowers that are too far away to photograph.  Such a bizarre contrast to the simple blustery coastline only a few steps away!

MacKerricher State Park Cleone Lake

The surf is up at Laguna Point, and I’m captivated by the crashing waves, but I have no real luck in preserving the excitement on camera.  Too late, I notice my SD card is full, and the other is by now a mile or two behind me, in the Ducati top box.    I’m mesmerized by the surf, and it’s not hard to believe the signs describing the potential for dangerous rogue waves. “Never turn your back on the ocean!”  “Stay back and stay alive!”

MacKerricher State Park Laguna Point

MacKerricher State Park Laguna Point (1)

Back in my tent, consciousness ebbs into slumber as I listen to the roiling sea.

* I started this post months ago.  Funny that my “Back in the Saddle” post should appear after my unexpected blog hiatus.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

No Excuses. Well, yeah, some excuses. (A Number of Occasional Other Matters)

If you’ve been following my Sort Of Sabbatical Phase One By The Day Posts, you probably decided long ago that I finally succumbed to the spectacularly distracting Pacific Coast Highway views and crashed the Ducati into sparkling azure sea.

I didn’t.

So that's good.

Today I thought, as a writing exercise, I’d relate the long list of excuses that brought my posting to a halt.   Do enjoy!

My computer has been acting suspiciously since my return from Sort of Sabbatical Phase One.  Specifically, it has been giving me error messages when I back up my data.  I have, mostly, been successfully ignoring this problem (Me - 1, Computer - 0!), except for the minor side effect that I am not particularly motivated to work on my photographs if there’s a decent possibility I might lose all my work.  Surely you understand.

Then I went on Sort of Sabbatical Phase Two.  Of course I took photos. You’ll see them later.

Then I came back.*  My computer did not fix itself in my absence.  Harrumph. (Computer - 1, Me - 0) After some time-consuming yet unsuccessful attempts to rectify the problem, I went back to my original plan, namely, ignoring the problem.  Not surprisingly, this tactic brought on those same pesky minor side effects.

Then I went on Sort of Sabbatical: Epilogue.  Of course I took photos.  You’ll see them later.

Then I was sequestered, pretty much without internet or phone, for a week in a tiny town in northern New Mexico.  I lived in a retrofitted Airstream trailer, complete with kitchen and farm animals.  I didn’t eat any of the farm animals, but I did  have some two-thumbs-up tapas at La Boca in Santa Fe.  Overall, the week was fantastically hilarious.

Airstream at Dusk

Horsey Begs for Snack
It's not often I open an Airstream trailer door.  Even less often do I find a horse begging for a snack on the other side of said door.

Jasmine the Pot Bellied Pig

Do I have to say that by the time I finally made my way back to Tucson, my computer still wouldn’t back up correctly?**  Heal thyself! (Please?)

Then there was the matter of my last post.  I was, for a time, rather distracted by it all.   Recently, I saw a dead dove in the middle of the street.  Its body was crushed, with one delicate wing miraculously still reaching skyward.  I wish I had taken a photo of it.  Because that’s exactly what it feels like to be run over by a bus.  I know, because just as surely as Julia was betrayed by Winston,*** I was thrown under the bus in a manner so clever I almost admire it, by someone who was (supposedly) my greatest ally.  Pfft.  Not exactly the stuff of superheroes.

Then it was September.  It’s generally a lovely month. I ease myself gently back into work, while enjoying all the local day rides I haven’t seen since May. Except this September I was leisurely repairing the Ducati in time for a track day at the end of the month.  (You’ll find out why the Ducati needed repairs round about, oh, Sort of Sabbatical Phase One Day 25, give or take.)  Leisurely making repairs?  More along the lines of “leisurely inflicting further damage.”  No, I didn’t have it fixed in time for the track day.  I still don’t have it fixed.

Then I decided perhaps it would be more efficient to drive 26 hours to retrieve my Kawasaki, which had been residing in TX, than to fix the Ducati.

Then there was the short but all consuming project of my very first paid food photography gig.  I was actually paid (still waiting on the check, to be honest) to cook and photograph the process of making a certain risotto recipe****. I borrowed a decent camera, turned my little house into a photo studio, cleaned my stove, and took the requested five specific photographs.  If I’m lucky, it’ll boil down to minimum wage.  But it was amusing, and I got to eat a great deal of risotto over the next few days.

Risotto Ingredients
The ingredients. And a cookbook.  Although I didn't actually use a recipe from this book.  Do you suppose the Risotto page would lie nicely in the middle of the book like this?  Of course not.  Hurrah for color copiers and tape.

Risotto Add Broth and Stir
It's quite a trick to pour broth AND stir AND release the camera shutter with your toes or teeth. (I know about self-timers.  Couldn't use it. Long Story.)  The lighting on shiny pans can be rather problematic.  After spending hours getting it right, the sun had moved into the kitchen window. Argh.

Then October hit me like a 12" All-Clad Saute Pan.  I’m still standing here blinking stupidly from the how-did-I-not-see-this-coming avalanche of work.  Speaking of side effects, however, it is nice to finally have some paychecks rolling in.

And my last excuse?  I have a new friend in my life!  Remember this sad day?  Well, I’ve been dog-less and dog-longing ever since.  (No sense in getting a dog before the Sort of Sabbatical).

“Miss Molly” arrives and my heart sings!

Beagle Arrival (1)
My nine year old darling came from Southern Arizona Beagle Rescue.

Beagle Arrival (2)
There she is! All 42 pounds of her!  She's already discovered that I'm immune to the sad brown eyes trick. (Boo!)  But I like to walk. (Yay!)

Beagle Arrival
Hard to say who is happier.  What a lovely, lovely conundrum.

There.   No more excuses. Except neither the computer nor the Ducati work yet. And now I have to borrow a proper camera to get a proper beagle portrait.

*By that I mean I continued on to UT.  To work.  A tiny bit.  And ride more.
** Yes, I should just buy a new one.  Or at least reinstall the OS to rule that out as the problem. (I really don't think it is.)  But the amount of work (and frustration) required by either of those things makes Ducati repair seem like fun.
*** "Do it to Julia!" he cries, when faced with his greatest fear, in George Orwell's 1984.  To be fair, Julia also betrayed Winston in Room 101, we just have fewer details. I still hold some respect for both Julia and Winston, though, based on their circumstances and the final scene where they actually own up to it.
****Shrimp, chile, pine nuts, carrots, and black olives?  Really?  I suppose I wasn't paid to approve of the recipe, just to make and photograph it.  What a silly use of some expensive ingredients.