Monthly Archives: July 2014

Visiting family in the Pacific Northwest, the Highland games, and Mt. Rainier

As I write this, we are in a small town just south of Mt. Rainier National Park.  We just spent the last few days riding away from the Seattle area and around Mt. Rainier.  Luckily, yesterday was a stunningly clear day and we were able to see the mountain in all its glory.  Pictures included, but after I talk about visiting family! This is kind of a long post, so bear with me!

Electronics central!

Electronics central!

We spent a wonderful rest day in Port Townsend with my (Daisy) cousin, Mimi.  I hadn’t seen her in a decade (gasp!), and it was a blast to visit with her and her two sons.  We had a true rest day here – watching movies, playing with her adorable almost-two-year-old, and eating pizza.  Best of all, we had a blast getting to know her older son Anchor.  He has excellent taste in books so we happily took his recommendations for future reading material.  One thing is for certain, we won’t wait another decade to visit!

Lachlan was so much fun to play with.  He convinced Jason to read him a story.

Lachlan was so much fun to play with. He convinced Jason to read him a story.

Family photo!  We were lucky the sun came out.

Family photo! We were lucky the sun came out.

The plus side of rainy riding here: Blackberries!

The plus side of rainy riding here: Blackberries!

From Port Townsend we spent a day riding south to Seattle.  The weather had been beautiful for the last two weeks in this area, but of course a drenching storm rolled over us.  Oh well, a typical Seattle welcome.  We took the ferry from the Olympic Peninsula straight into downtown Seattle, and it was so beautiful, even in the rain and wind.

We were quite overwhelmed when we rolled into the heart of a giant city.  We had to resort to pushing up the steep hills when traffic was too bad to be on the roads at our glacial pace.  Many folks stared, but only the crazy ones said anything!  It didn’t take too long before we were out of the bustling center and into the neighborhoods where our host lives.  An incoming Penn State Statistics grad was kind enough to host us and tell us about his bicycle trips this summer.  It was great to see him!  We felt guilty about not taking the time to visit with our many many friends in Seattle, but we were so overwhelmed.  Please accept our apologies Seattle folks!

Seattle skyline from the ferry.  What a fantastic experience.

Seattle skyline from the ferry. What a fantastic experience.

In the Smith Tower.

In the Smith Tower.

The next day my mom drove down from Bellingham to spend the day with us.  We had a blast at the flagship REI store (which is insanely large), and taking a tour of the Seattle underground.  Seattle has a really fun, gritty history complete with ‘ladies of the night’ that controlled most of the city’s government for a few decades, a police chief that also was head of the rumrunner’s in the area during prohibition, and an entire downtown that was slowly sinking into the tidelands.  The city rebuilt on top of itself, leaving an entire abandoned first story underneath modern street level.  It was really fun to go on the tour!

Seattle underground. This used to be

Seattle underground. This used to be the sidewalk!

Jason's family - so fun to see them!

Jason’s family – so fun to see them! The life vests were part of their 30th wedding anniversary celebration.

That night we rode a short but difficult 16 miles to visit Jason’s extended family in Redmond.  They were so kind, welcoming us to their 30th anniversary party and getting everyone out on the street to cheer us as we rolled in.  At that point, we were happy to find food waiting for us!  Daisy snuck off to visit with a dear friend from college.  We spent two hours reminiscing about our days as super math nerds, and catching up on the days since.

Daisy with her math friend Christine.  Those college days were some of the best ever!

Daisy with her math friend Christine. Those college days were some of the best ever!

We spent a leisurely morning at Jason’s family’s home, and then finally starting riding South again.  Finally!  Then… we got lost on the bicycle path.  Ha, serves us right for being so excited about getting out of Seattle.  We eventually made it to Enumclaw, where we saw a sign that indicated fairground camping.  Curious, we ventured over.

IMG_1121It was a giant gathering for the highland games!  We slowly rolled through the full camp, hoping to find a friendly face to share with.  We found it alright – a fellow and his adorable dog were camped in an REI tent with a bicycle nearby.  Perfect.  We set up, and ventured through the fairgrounds to listen to bagpipes and see the sights.  Another unexpectedly wonderful night of free camping!

The next morning we tried to roll out early to climb into Mt. Rainier national park, but were a little slow.  Eventually we did get on the road into the forest, only to find that construction had recently laid a large amount of gravel on the road.  As cars passed they transformed the gravel into projectiles.  Luckily, a cyclist in a car stopped and insisted that we get a ride through the construction.  Even as we loaded up the bicycles, we got hit by those damn gravel pieces.

Nasty gravel!

Nasty gravel!

She dropped us off quite a few miles up the road, and just past the end of the nasty gravel.  From there, it was all up up up to Chinook Pass.  The climbing was pretty easy, and the cars were very polite despite it being a sunny Saturday.  Our route took us to the south before the road’s highpoint, but we decided to finish the climb and go to the top before returning back to our turn.  Good thing we did, because the pass was stunning!

It was still early when we got to our chosen destination – Ohanapecosh campground in the national park.  Of course, it was full, but we found a little spot that no one else was using and the rangers seemed to approve.  Somehow, we got another unexpectedly free night camping!  Daisy worked on her dissertation until her laptop ran out of batteries, and we were asleep early.

Almost to the top!

Almost to the top!

Mt. Rainier!

Mt. Rainier!

Next stop, Portland area to pick up Jason’s cousin for our next leg heading south in earnest.  Yippee!


Loops on the Olympic Peninsula

Um, we forgot to take the 3000 mile photo, so we took a 3055 mile photo instead!

Um, we forgot to take the 3000 mile photo, so we took a 3055 mile photo instead!

New flowers in Washington!

New flowers in Washington!

It has been a strange few days for us, since we have been doing a good amount of riding and sightseeing within a relatively small radius. If you remember waaaay back in Bella Coola, we got five days ahead of schedule because of the change in ferry service. We have been spinning our wheels (ha!!)  now getting back on schedule. It has been so different to not ride in a line, but more in loops in and around the town of Port Angeles. It has been fun, and more of an adventure than we thought.  In particular, we have met some wonderful people.

The first night back in the USA we got off the ferry at 9:30 pm. It was getting dark, and we still didn’t know where to stay. Overall, a not-too-good situation. As we rode through a neighborhood searching for a school or a park to stealthily camp in, we asked some folks for directions. After a bit of discussion they decided we should camp in the backyard of the house next door, which was vacant and for sale. The neighbors were all notified, and voila – we had a lovely place to spend the night.

Our 'wild' camp behind a vacant house.

Our ‘wild’ camp behind a vacant house.

Roadside wildflowers were stunning.

Roadside wildflowers were stunning.

The next day we found a real host in the same town through warmshowers. They agreed on short notice to let us leave our stuff there while we took a day ride into Olympic National Park. We dropped off our belongings at their wonderful cyclist cottage, and headed into the park. We rode from sea level to 5,242′ over about 18 miles. It was beautiful!


The visitor center at Hurricane ridge, perched at the peak

The visitor center at Hurricane ridge, perched at the peak

We made it to the top!

We made it to the top!

Summit sign.  We love these things.

Summit sign. We love these things.

Some lovely cyclists we met along the way.

Some lovely cyclists we met along the way.

We learned of a Lavender Festival going on in a nearby town, so we rode over to see it. The best part was visiting a local farm and seeing the different varieties of lavender both in the fields and also drying in the barn. The festival itself was pretty similar to every small-town fair: craft booths, fair food, and a small stage with background music. We camped at a nearby county park that had hiker-biker sites, a rare treat in this area.


Why does Jason have Daisy's hair?!

Why does Jason have Daisy’s hair?!

The next day on the way back in to Port Angeles we spotted a sign that said $9 haircuts. It was a hair cutting school! I (Daisy) immediately had to stop and get one – I have been dreaming of getting my hair cut off since Anchorage! I was hoping they would donate my locks for me, but they wouldn’t. Once they learned my hair was un-dyed and all-natural though, they were practically fighting each other to get a braid of it. Apparently, they need hair like this to use for their school projects! My hair was quickly braided and chopped off. What a relief for me!


Before - soooo much hair.

Before – soooo much hair.

After - so many braids!

After – so many braids!


New short cut completed!  Now I never need to wash it again...  (joke).

New short cut completed! Now I never need to wash it again… (joke).

Where we tried to camp.

Where we tried to camp.

Our other fun side trip was a circumnavigation of Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park. This deep blue lake had a narrow road to the south and a trail to the north. We began our sidetrip on Saturday, which is bad bad news for finding a campsite. The park ranger on the phone said that no sites were available in the park, not even for cyclists. So we decided to try and wildcamp, either stealthily in a day-use area or off the side of the road somewhere. We got caught by the rangers when we tried in the day-use area, but they did tell us of a good spot up the road. Oops!

Winding along a beautiful track next to the lake.

Winding along a beautiful track next to the lake.

 The next morning we rode along the narrow, winding trail to the north of the lake. It was a challenge for us with our bikes because of the bumpy surface and sometimes steep drop-off. However, it was beautiful. We got to ride through the lovely forest next to the lake without the crowd and crash of any motorists. When we finished the north side of the lake on trails, we turned around and rode back on the congested and narrow road to the south. It wasn’t so bad though, and we were soon back to civilization in Port Angeles.

We were really close to the lake!

We were really close to the lake!

We've had some great riding days here.

We’ve had some great riding days here.

We planned to spend another night camping in the hiker-biker site before resuming our ride east and then south, but luckily we found a much better place to spend our last night in the area. A lovely couple with a friendly dog stopped us on the side of a busy highway to offer us a place to stay! We quickly agreed, despite the uphill 5 miles to their house. The ride was made easier since they also took half our bags! We spent a lovely evening chatting about our various travels.

Now we are en route to the town of Port Townsend to visit Daisy’s cousin for a day.  After that, we will head to Seattle and then back into the mountains and finally south again.  Yippee!


Our route near Port Angeles was loopy

Reflections on our first country: Canada

We have been on the road now for more than two months, so a moment for summary and reflection is certainly warranted.  Of course, it is particularly apt since we just left Canada for the final time on this trip, bringing to a close our time visiting with our northern neighbors.

DSC09680It seems like forever ago that we first crossed the border on the Top of the World Highway in the cold and snow,  and camping in fear of bears!  Below I summarize some of our challenges, joys, and highlights.

Challenges, particularly in the far north:

Distance between grocery stores. Carrying four days worth of groceries for two very hungry cyclists is always challenging, but it is extra challenging when they all have to fit into two bear-proof containers.  We did it, but we have decided that we are sick of rice and dehydrated beans.

Camping with bears. Ok, so we never really camped with  bears, but they were never far from our minds.  I knew that the probability of a bear attack was very low, and we took all the precautions to minimize it, but I still asked Jason every night before sleep:  ‘Do you think we’re safe from the bears??’  Eventually, I had to start sleeping with ear plugs so I didn’t spend all night being scared of the breeze and squirrels.  In all, we saw around 20 bears during our time in Canada.

Showers.  Actually, the lack of showers.  Towns and services were far apart, and the weather was cold.  Even in towns, showers were expensive ($10 per person in Tok!), so we found that we were perfectly content going without for up to 5 days.  You readers might say ‘Yikes!’, but realize that during most of these stretches we also never took off our long sleeve shirts and down vests, even in the tent, so it’s not like we could smell each other!

Some things we loved.

DSC01125Friendly folks. We actually noticed a big difference in friendliness as soon as we crossed over from Alaska.  In Canada, we knew we were tourists, but were usually greeted as friends.  Folks we met were quick to offer help (remember the road worker who saved our bag of belongings??), and we never felt like we were intruding.  Best of all, we never worried that some hunter would find us camping in the woods and run us off the land with a shotgun.

Scenery. Both the Yukon and British Columbia are beyond words for scenery.  From sweeping vistas of plains, high mountains with glaciers, river valleys, ranches and cowboys, to quiet creeks, small lakes, fishing towns, and the signpost forest.  Both areas are true to their proclaimed slogans.  The Yukon claims to be ‘Larger than Life’, and it is.  British Columbia claims to be ‘The Best Place on Earth’, which is arguable, but it certainly lives up to its other slogan: Super, Natural, British Columbia.


IMG_0411 DSC09562 DSC09597

Nanaimo Bars.  This distinctly Canadian dessert is divine.  While in the town of its birth, Nanaimo, we took a trip on the ‘Nanaimo Bar Trail’ and sampled six of them in one evening.  Daisy got sick on the sugar and butter, but Jason was in heaven.  He promises to make me Nanaimo bars for my PhD defense in September.


IMG_0970 IMG_0979IMG_0248Yukon Government campgrounds. These campgrounds were invariably cheap ($12), clean, and well-equipped.  They were often in beautiful places next to rivers, lakes, or creeks, and they were free of giant RVs.  What more could we ask?  More often than not, there was firewood provided with the camp fee. Also, the larger-than-life picnic tables were great for spreading out all our stuff.

Canadian Money.  The US should take note!  The bills are beautiful, colorful, and made of plastic to be resilient.  There are no $1 bills, since $1 and $2 coins work better.  Best of all?  No pennies!  They no longer use them, so everyone knows how to round.


Dawson City:  This was our most northerly town for this trip at 64 degrees north.  It was also a clear highlight for both of us.  We loved the historical stories and tours, the friendly folks, and crossing the mighty Yukon river on the tiny ferry.  We stayed two days and three nights here.


DSC09619Whitehorse: The capital of the Yukon has excellent grocery stores and small-town / big-city feel, but it was a highlight for us because of our wonderful host Alice.  Her cooking, stories, and fantastic welcome made our days here very very special to us.



Bella Coola Valley and the ferry to Port Hardy:  The descent into the tiny hamlet of Bella Coola was spectacular, easily rivaling our visit to Yosemite a few years back.  The lack of tourism traffic, the abundance of mountains, glaciers, rivers, and salmon combined to make this stretch outstanding.  Combine these things with the petroglyphs, the bizarre ferry experience, and the cycling friends we made, and we easily place these two days in our list of ‘top days’.

IMG_0793 DSC00940 DSC00956











Time with Daisy’s Parents:  Having family travel with us was quite a treat.  We felt like royalty every night when we were welcomed into camp by the squealing German shepherd, and fed a giant dinner with fresh vegetables.  We loved the evening conversations and the easy laughter.


I could continue, but I suppose this update is long enough already!  USA here we come!


We be fishin’

We caught one!  Ok, really, Jason caught one.  He did great!

Jason's big catch: a 14 lb King Salmon. Cap'n Chris approves!

Jason’s big catch: a 14 lb King Salmon. Cap’n Chris approves!

Luckily, Jason’s big fish bit on the first day.  It was lightly hooked on its upper lip, but Jason was a good fisherman and gently reeled her in.  She weighed about 14 pounds, and we ate her for the next three nights in camp!

Chris cuts the fish

Chris cuts the fish. Note the roe – definitely a girl!

Beautiful trees in our campground site

Beautiful trees in our campground site

Tofino is this little tourist town at the very end of the road on West Vancouver Island.  It is on the edge of the Pacific Rim National Park and a magnet for big waves, surfers, trendy young people, and funky old fishermen.  We spent three full days here with Daisy’s dad, giving us time to reorganize our belongings, rest up, and fish fish fish.

We spent three days on the water, hoping to catch a big salmon.  Unfortunately, the fog was dense over the water all day every day, which made things difficult.  Also, I (Daisy) get sick on the boat, which seems to upset everyone but me.  I just see it as a cost of spending time with my dad on the water:  get sick, feed the fish my already-been-chewed breakfast, then feel good and keep fishing!


Cap’n Chris navigates through the fog

Cat Face Mountain

Cat Face Mountain

Naptime on the boat

Naptime on the boat

Daisy’s big catch was this piece of kelp.

Daisy loves kelp

Daisy loves kelp

Finally, the other notable event during our time in Tofino happened in camp when we weren’t even there!  Some little animal found our not-quite-closed bear canister full of goodies, dragged it across the campsite and into the woods, untwisted the cap, and had itself a buffet.  We suspect a clever raccoon.  It was remarkable to imagine a creature little bigger than a fat housecat, running away with our big jar of food!

Next time we'll lock the top even when there aren't any bears around.

Next time we’ll lock the top even when there aren’t any bears around.

After Tofino, we zipped right through southern Vancouver Island in about a day and a half.  It alternated between horrendous riding on the side of the main highway (speed limit: 75 mph), and incredible side roads through farmland.  We visited the picturesque Victoria, and took a ferry back to the US.  More on all that later though!

Right now, we are in Port Angeles – in Washington State!!  I am home again!  We will write up a nice summary of our time in Canada, and post it later this week.  Now we are hunkering down to get some dissertation written, riding out to the rugged Washington coast, and then visiting family.