Tag Archives: 2015

Roadtrip

This account of our move from Seattle to Pittsburgh dates from a letter I wrote home in September, 2015. A few minor changes have been made.

Goodbye Seattle:

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A last look.

The cascades were pretty rainy; just about the only rain we encountered on the whole trip. Before we left, K picked a crop of beans from the garden I’d be leaving behind, so we had a big tupperware container full of them, and we were munching on them on our way out of Dodge.

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Through the Cascades.

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Crossing the Columbia River.

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Fields!

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Fields!

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Fields!

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Fields!

Crossing Eastern Washington was beautiful. We left Seattle around 2 PM, so these are all late afternoon photos. Can you tell I loved the fields? So many of them we so breathtakingly beautiful.

Throughout the west we’d see these gigantic stacks of hay bales sitting in the fields. About half the time they’d have patchworks of large tarpaulins stretched across them and tied down; the rest of the time they were simply stacked in long and relatively narrow piles in the fields, without any protection from the weather. It was an odd sight, and made me feel nostalgic.

We spent our first night at a campsite in Montana. The second night we spent at a campsite in Yellowstone, and the third night we spent at a campsite in Montana again. Montana is a big state.

Before we got to our campsite, more or less in the center of Yellowstone, we stopped at a few of the geological attractions along the way. They’re what interested me most about the place; animals are nice, but I came for the geysers and hot springs. Yellowstone rests atop a supervolcano – here, I’ll let wikipedia tell it:

Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano. It has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years.[10] Half of the world’s geothermal features are in Yellowstone, fueled by this ongoing volcanism. Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone. The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining nearly-intact ecosystem in the Earth’s northern temperate zone.

Half the geothermal features! I was excited to see a few. Here’s K pretending to lay down on a bacteria mat, and me in front of a hot spring:

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

And here you can see some hot vents. They emitted kind of a low growl, along with the steam. Some features change throughout the season, depending on how wet it is: shifting from hot pools to mudpots (bubbling mud) to hot vents. Apparently some of the bacteria that thrive on the heat from these geothermal features get their nutrients by emitting an acid that breaks down volcanic rock into mud.

At all of these features, the signs were very very clear that visitors should stay on the boardwalks. We were told that the surface off the boardwalks may appear solid, but in fact it’s often a thin veneer covering boiling water or mud, and that many people have died by stepping off the boardwalks. Clearly, we didn’t step off. But the surface is so close, the temptation is there. I was on a boardwalk near a hot spring, where water from the hotspring flowed beneath the boardwalk. And I personally witnessed a tourist bend down to put his fingers in the water, which he quickly yanked back with a yelp.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

In the foreground above, you can see a small geyser. The ones we saw would errupt intermittently and erratically, shooting water a few feet into the air.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

And here we are posing in front of the Yellowstone River, which is beautiful in its own right. At several places along its length, warm, nutrient-rich water will flow into it from the hot pools and geothermal features we saw. Like here, for example:

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

I assume that the varying colors in some of these features come from different kinds of bacteria that grow at different temperatures. Above, you can see a large bacterial mat that has grown beneath the hot water that bubbles over and makes its way downhill.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

We heard crickets in the grass just a few feet from boiling water. And the grass itself, I assume, grows in every place it possibly can, given the geologic features beneath and around it.

The pool below was called the Sapphire pool, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. Photographs can’t truly capture it, because the real thing is far more detailed, and constantly changing. I felt like I could have looked into that pool, mesmerized, for the rest of my life – or if not, at least many hours. It was so beautiful that after we saw it in the afternoon, I said I wanted to come back the next morning too, so the second two photos you see of the pool are from the next day. The lighting for the photos was better in the morning, and it gives you a sense of how radiant and dream-like the thing is. It ripples and shimmers, and steam rises from it, and you stare into its depths transfixed by all the turmoil, and all those shifting shades of blue.

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The Sapphire Pool.

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The Sapphire Pool.

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The Sapphire Pool.

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The Sapphire Pool.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

The pool below is called the emerald pool. It was pretty, but not as gorgeous as the sapphire pool.

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The Emerald Pool.

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In Yellowstone.

Above and below, you can see some more of the downhill flows of hot water.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

More or less, this is where that guy stuck his fingers in the water:

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

This pool is like a much larger version of the sapphire pool. The colors are just as gorgeous. You don’t get as close to it, but from the overlook, in addition to seeing the shimmer and ripples of the water, you can see the wind shape the steam coming off the water. It’s a bit like watching an artist work: you’re held in thrall by the beauty, and because you wonder what they’re going to do next. Again, I could have watched for hours.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

I wish we could have spent more time in Yellowstone. We arrived late in the afternoon on one day and left less than 24 hours later. But we weren’t going to Yellowstone: we were going to Pittsburgh, and so just passing through. But I’m glad we did.

Here’s a pretty view on the way out of Yellowstone:

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In Yellowstone.

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The Dakotas.

North Dakota, meanwhile, was breathtakingly beautiful. I like the Dakotas a lot.

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The Dakotas.

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The Dakotas.

Throughout the western part of the state we’d pass these oil wells in the middle of nowhere, with tanks that would store the oil they pumped up until the next tanker truck came.

We spent our next night in Minneapolis, which was nice. But we saw far less of it than we did of Yellowstone. We walked a bit along the banks of the Mississippi, and I admired a bridge across the river that was just for the use of pedestrians and bicyclists. And we saw a lot of construction, and a museum about mill flour, and a small farmer’s market. Then it was time to go again.

We spent the next night visiting relatives in the Chicago area, and that was really nice. And on the way to stay with family in Michigan, we stopped at Warren Dunes, which I remembered fondly from a family trip to Chicago in 1988. But again, we didn’t stay long. Just long enough to see the dunes and stick our toes in the water, but it was a nice rest stop on our drive.

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Warren Dunes

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Warren Dunes

And finally, Pittsburgh.

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Pittsburgh!

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Pittsburgh!

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Bicycling Around Vashon Island

This account of the trip dates from a letter I wrote home in July, 2015. A few minor changes have been made.

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Vashon Island

On Friday I did one of the things I was hoping to do before I left the Seattle area – bicycle around Vashon Island. Vashon has ferries that lead to West Seattle; you can see the dotted line that runs from the tip of the island over to the mainland on the right. It’s about 13 miles for me to bicycle from my home to the ferry landing, and then 13 miles home from the ferry landing – 26 non-Vashon bicycling miles in order to bicycle on Vashon. So I ended the day having biked a total of 71.2 miles. Not bad for a spur-of-the-moment trip. Though I did get a few charlie-horses. On Vashon, I bicycled from the northern tip all the way to the southern tip, and also all over that south-eastern extension (called “Maury Island”) you can see on the lower right hand side of the island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

The isthmus between the two was the coolest thing. It was about a block wide, and from either end, you could see the water on the southern side. In the two photos above, you can see the view in either direction from the same spot. The block itself had a couple of residential homes, and on the corner, this:

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On the corner.

A decrepit old, general store. If I was a homeowner, I might want something done about it, but as a passer-by, it’s beautiful.

Here are some more of the photos I took:

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

At one point in my ride, I passed a lemonade stand set up on a forlorn corner. I normally have a soft spot for such things, but on this occasion it was legitimately useful to patronize. So I stopped in, and got what they recommended: a blend of lemonade and tea. They put a ring of sugar around the edge of the cup; it was like getting a luxury drink. And oh, so good.

Vashon, like Bainbridge island, is covered with hills. Up and down; up and down. The distance would have been a lot easier and less exhausting if it was flat. But the thing about hills is that you can get going really quickly on the down-slope. I think my previous bicycle speed record, set on Bainbridge island, was 39.1 miles per hour; I broke that on one glorious hill on Vashon, where I went 39.3 mph. Of course I then, later on, had to bicycle back up the same hill. I wasn’t quite so speedy then.

Often on the trip you could smell the salty tang of the sea. Sometimes – like when the road you were biking on abutted the water – you could hear the waves gently lapping ashore. I got within about 30 feet of a moseying deer, and just a few inches away from a tiny, camouflaged seabird packing at the water line, when I was immobile for a while, looking at the waves.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

This roadside farmstand was off the beaten path a bit, but I followed the signs and it is the cutest and most adorable farmstand I’ve ever seen. I mean, look at it! There were plastic bags and rubber bands you could use to package your produce; a refrigerator; bundles of flowers; bunches of basil kept fresh in water; strawberry transplants. And, you know, it’s gorgeous to look at; just gorgeous. I used up all my small bills on the way into Vashon, and I made sure to break up some of my large bills so that I could revisit it on the way out. And I did. And it was worth it.

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The best farmstand.

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The best farmstand.

There were other farmstands throughout Vashon, but none so gorgeous as this one.

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Bicycling Around Whidbey Island

This account of the trip dates from a letter I wrote home in April, 2015. A few minor changes have been made.

K found an inexpensive cabin rental on Whidbey Island and suggested we bike there. Whidbey is far enough away that I haven’t yet made it there, even though I’ve wanted to. So I thought it was a perfect idea. Later she (wisely) amended her suggestion: let’s just bike to the cabin when we get to Whidbey. There’s a bus that runs directly from Seattle to Everett (home of many Boeing factories) but nothing that took us directly to Mukilteo, where the ferry departs. So in the end we biked 40 miles that first day: from Everett to Mukilteo, and then most of the length of Whidbey Island.

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Our two days of bicycling.

That wasn’t hard for me – I can do 40 miles at the drop of a hat. But that was further than K has ever been on a bicycle, and she was pretty tired when we arrived.

The weather was generally ideal – cool enough to prevent overheating, but not too cold. But when we pulled into Coupeville (about 3 miles from the place we rented) in order to get some food at the grocery store, it started drizzling, which made the last bit of riding cold and unhappy. I still stopped to take some pretty pictures, though.

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On Whidbey Island

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On Whidbey Island

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On Whidbey Island

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Raising mussels

For the last few miles, we rode along a winding, terribly scenic rode that had tremendous views of the water. And in that water, something was going on – I couldn’t tell what, but it looked like some kind of organized fishing operation. It turns out that Penn Cove (where we were) is the site of the largest mussel farm in the US. Oysters and clams are also grown there – and shellfish farming turns out to be ecologically beneficial. Partly because shellfish provide ecological services (they clean the water and provide habitat) and partly because the farming operations don’t feed the shellfish with anything (like fertilizers): they just plant the mussels and then come back, 14 months later, to harvest. In fact they only harvest the mussels as-needed, meaning that first they get an order, and then they go get the mussels (not the other way around). So on our second and third nights there, guess what we ate? Yup: two pounds of mussels each night, steamed simply with butter and spread with lemon juice.

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Delicious

I’ve never eaten so many mussels at one time, and they were delicious.

Needless to say, Penn Cove is also a place where mussels grow well naturally. In fact there was a public beach about a third of a mile from where we were staying where you could go and harvest your own mussels, if you were so inclined. We stumbled upon the beach but decided not to harvest because apparently the timing wasn’t right, but you can see the mussels (in black) clinging to every rock they could lay their barnacled hands on.

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Mussels!

We stayed in a lovely, well-appointed little cabin. It had a lakeside view (a small lake only just barely divided from Puget sound) and a fireplace, which was so nice that first night, when we came in from the cold rain. Over the water we saw an heron (so tall and majestic, as you know), an eagle, and lots and lots of ducks.

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A great view.

Just up the way was an old lodge/in, which had a bar and restaurant (in the middle of what’s otherwise a very rural area). So we stopped in our last day for an afternoon drink (I had a loganberry liqueur made by the Whidbey Island Distillery) and we watched hummingbirds whirr and flit around in the bushes, and an otter that climbed up to sun itself on the dock.

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Watching the otter

I also took some house photos while we were there. This is a multi-story octagonal house with a view of the sea, and below it is the photo of another seaside house, but one which has fallen into disrepair.

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A house

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A house

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On the road.

We rode out on a grey day that threatened rain. But fortunately, the rain held off for a long time. On the way we spotted some buffalo (pictured – probably being raised for meat) and horses, sheep, and cows in various places which I didn’t bother to photograph. For some vistas, though, I couldn’t help stopping and pulling out my camera. You can see the results below.

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On Whidbey Island.

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On Whidbey Island.

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On Whidbey Island.

The place where Whidbey Island ends is famous for its beauty. Deception Pass – a series of two tall bridges that are often shrouded in mist or snow or something else that’s scenic, according to the photos on the internet. But when we were there, it had just started to drizzle; no snow or mist for us. The bridge is narrow, which means the traffic lanes are narrow, which made me reluctant to bicycle across. But the pedestrian walkways on either side are also narrow – wide enough for me to walk through, but only barely wide enough with a bike. One of our handlebars would often snag on one side of the slim passage or the other. But the whole time, we were both mesmerized by the view. The bridge is way up there, and down below, the water roils in eddies and upwellings that are fascinating to watch.

I didn’t photograph it myself – we were too busy getting across – but I did find a photo on the internet that will give you a sense of what it looked like. It was beautiful.

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The roiling waters of Deception Pass.

When we got to the other side, I did snap a photo of the bridge – you can dimly see the second span in the distance. But I agree with the internet – it’s prettier in the mist and the snow.

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Deception Pass

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Deception Pass.

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Deception Pass.

By then the rain was getting pretty miserable. I had packed a decent raincoat for K, but my own was kind of a raincoat/jacket mixture. I figure: what difference does it make? You’re going to get wet anyway. I think that was true for K, too.

In the early afternoon we found a place to stop for a bit – a sodden roadside seafood place that had a large tented area to eat beneath. It was so small that at first we thought there was no indoors area to eat in, but to our good fortune there was. She had a buffalo burger – presumably made with buffalo meat – and I had a fried oyster burger. Which was good, but when you deep fry oysters they taste like everything else that’s deep fried. I don’t think I’d do that again.

The last four miles of bicycling were the rainiest. I took off my glasses because it was easier to see without them. But it was cold, we were tired, and we were soaked.

On the last long descent I had a difficult time slowing down – my bike is naturally faster than K’s and I didn’t want to rear-end her. Both my brakes were fully engaged, but they’re less effective when it’s wet and I was still too close. So I did what I usually do in such situations – I take my foot off the pedal and place it on the ground. The added friction slows me down, but my shoes are not what they once were. They’re now 4.5 years old, and they’ve started to develop holes in the bottom. When we got to the end of the hill I had to pull it off to shake out all the pebbles that had wedged themselves between my sole and shoe pad. K just shook her head.

The end of our ride was a rainy bus stop, where we huddled and changed into drier clothes while we waited for the bus. A succession of three buses took us back to Seattle. Public transportation is grand.

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