Saturday, July 31, 2010


I stopped overnight in Seattle on my way back from Santa Clara. On the way in Mt. Rainier was looming over Seattle so big and clear that it looked like it rose from the edge of the city. Awesome!

I stayed at the Best Western at Pioneer Square because it was close to the train station. It was ok but seemed very overpriced for a pretty ho hum hotel in a somewhat seedy area. I stayed at much nicer places for less money on this trip. On the positive side, I had a very good late supper at Cafe Paloma just a few doors away.

I haven't been in Seattle for a long time. Lots of coffee shops :-) I had my morning coffee at Trabant which got good reviews and had free wifi. The funny part was that when I gave him my travel mug he said "you want me to put your latte in that?". Gotta love snobby coffee shops.

I only had the morning so I headed over to Pike Place Market. They were just opening which was nice since there weren't many people. All the flower stalls were gorgeous on the morning light. I walked through the market and down the hill to the aquarium, which turned out to be very good. I loved watching the big octopus moving around. (usually they're just hiding). It was getting busy by the time I left. Zoos and aquariums are always full of kids, which is great (although annoying!) But how come adults outgrow it?

I stopped for an early lunch at Fonte Coffee Roaster and Wine Bar. Coffee places can be a little grungy but this place was more like a trendy wine bar. The coffee was amazing, the best I've had in a long time. My frittata was excellent as well.

I hit one last coffee shop on my way to the station to catch the bus to Vancouver I couldn't resist a place called Cafe Zeitgeist.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

More Names

I left Jack London Square, that wasn't really a square, and came to my hotel in Santa Clara that's at Rivermark Village. As you can probably guess, it's not, by any stretch of the imagination, a village. It's another shopping center. On the positive side, it does have a few coffee places and restaurants.

I arrived at the Great America Amtrak station. (Except it wasn't a station, just a stop.) When I hear "Great America" I think it must be a museum or a monument or something. If you're thinking there's a pattern and it must be another shopping center, sorry, it's not. This time it's a giant amusement park, like Disneyland. What a name. Is that really what makes America great? Probably a lot of people think so.

Also on a positive note, I managed to walk most of the two miles from the train to the hotel on trails in a park along the Guadalupe River. Much nicer than the roads Google suggested, although it was their map that showed the trails.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Timberline Lodge

by Shelley

After our hike around Mount Hood on the Timberline Trail, we stayed at the historic Timberline Lodge at the base of the mountain. Although we don't usually do tours, we decided to take in two of them on our last day.

The first was a tour of the lodge itself. The lodge was constructed in the mid 1930's, during the Great Depression, as a Works Progress Administration project that hired unemployed craftspeople. Built entirely by hand, it's made of local and recycled materials -- large timbers from the forest, local stone, and old railway iron, just to name a few. There are beautiful carvings and other artwork throughout the lodge. Most of the stairwell posts had animals or birds carved in the top of them. A very large and heavy (1800 lbs) door leading outside onto the second floor balcony, still moves smoothly and easily -- a credit to superb craftsmanship!

In the center of the lodge is the "Head House" with a massive 6-sided, 3-storey chimney rising up through the middle. On the top two floors there are windows all around for magnificent views of Mount Hood itself or Mount Jefferson and other volcanoes to the south.

The furniture and other fixtures are also reminiscent of history -- right down to the large old fashioned wind up alarm clock that went "tick, tock, tick, tock, tick tock" all night long until I finally wrapped it in a towel and hid it in the bathroom before it totally drove me round the bend!

The second tour was of the Lodge's Wine Vault! We were the only two who decided to take part in this one so I think the tour "samples" were a little more generous than they might normally be! The Vault features many high quality products from local Oregon wineries as well as those in Washington and a few other parts of the world. One of our favorites was an Oregon blend called "Purple Hands". All were colorfully displayed along one wall of the Vault. We enjoyed several other Oregon wines throughout our trip!

Timberline Lodge

Urban Blend

I arrive at my hotel in Oakland too early to check in. But there's wifi in the lobby and Yelp finds me a few nearby coffee shops. Urban Blend looks interesting - it's in an old gas station.

It's definitely not a tourist place, even though the fancy shops are only a few blocks away. The counters are rough and a coat of paint wouldn't hurt. But the coffee is good and I snag a comfortable old couch.

The guy working behind the counter speaks Spanish to many of the regulars. He seems like a good guy. A young girl orders a drink and then can't pay (they don't take debit). He lets her go. She says she'll come back and pay, but I wonder. Two other guys come in and talk him into giving them free coffee. One of them cleans the tables in return.

I leave a generous tip. Obviously, I can afford it more than the other customers. I'll come back here if I get a chance - I like the feel of the place. It reminds me a little of Mexico.

Moving On

I'm on the train from Portland to San Francisco. I continue to enjoy traveling by train. I'm sitting in the observation car in the slanting evening sun watching the forest covered hillsides go by. A deer looks up as we went by. The moon is almost full, hanging low. The sky colors as the sun sinks. Flying I would have seen nothing but the drive to and from the airport.

As much as I enjoy riding the train, as I look out at the forest I can't help think I'd rather be out there hiking through the trees instead of sitting here watching them through the window.

I'm almost sorry to leave. The more time I spend in Portland, the more I find to like about it. I stayed at Hotel Fifty during the conference - not quite as fancy as Riverplace but still right on the river and closer to the conference center (and cheaper). I spent more time in the Pearl district this trip, initially because the Patagonia and REI stores were there. I ended up returning several times simply because I liked the area.

The train gets in to Oakland in the morning. I decided to stop there for the weekend since Santa Clara (where my conference starts Monday) doesn't look too interesting. Oakland has a market on Sunday and I can always ride the ferry across to downtown San Francisco. The train station is near Jack London Square. Naively, I thought this would be a "square", but it looks like it's a shopping center. Kind of like a "villa" isn't a villa and an "estate" isn't an estate. Sigh.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

View from Fenouil

Had supper at Fenouil in Portland tonight. Great meal, and great to be able to sit outside in the warm evening and watch people walk and play in the park. Hard to beat.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sustainable Ecotourism

These folks asked me to mention their organization and awards. They seem like a legit organization, so I will:

Although, to be really sustainable, I think tourism (like many other things) has to be more local. No matter how you do it, flying half way round the world for a holiday is not exactly sustainable. At least until we can power it with something other than fossil fuels.

I notice their conference is in Portland in September. Shelley and I are thinking about going diving in Baja at the end of August, beginning of September so if I'm in the area, I'll have to check it out. (Travelling by train and bus isn't all good either, but at least you pay a cost in time that makes you think twice about what you're doing, unlike flying.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sinking Baselines

One of the most depressing ideas I've encountered recently (and for someone who follows environmental issues that's saying something) was in Endgame by Derrick Jensen.

When dire predictions about the deterioration of the environment come true, you'd at least like to be able to say "I told you so", in hopes that people might learn a lesson. But it doesn't work that way. Each generation takes the current conditions as their "baseline" to compare things to. In an abstract way we might be vaguely aware that there used to be millions of buffalo or carrier pigeons. But we never saw them and we don't dwell overly on their loss. We might notice that the pristine lake we knew as children is now ringed by huge "cottages" and plagued by jet skis and power boats. But our kids have never known it any different and have no idea what's already been lost.

We go to East Africa (or anywhere else) and marvel at the wildebeest and zebra, elephant and giraffe (or whatever wildlife is left), not thinking about how they're a sad fraction of what they used to be. Each generation sees incremental loss, but few see the total cumulative effect.

And so we destroy our environment, the ecosystem that we forget supports us even in our high tech "civilization", until it's too late and all we have left is old stories of the Eden we once had.

"It was here that I first clearly realized that land is an organism, that all my life I had only seen sick land ...

"In short, twenty years of "progress" have brought the average citizen a vote, a national anthem, a Ford, a bank account, and a high opinion of himself, but not the capacity to live in high density without befouling and denuding his environment, nor a conviction that such capacity ... is the true test of whether he is civilized.

- Aldo Leopoldo, 1933

Friday, July 16, 2010

Walkin' Round da Hood

Mt. Hood that is, near Portland Oregon. We just finished a five day, 40 mile (65 km) hike around the mountain, starting and ending at the historic Timberline Lodge. We lucked out with fantastic weather - glorious sunny blue skies and warm temperatures.

It's a great hike, some of it through shady green forest and some of it on open slopes above tree line. There's a fair bit of up and down, as you'd expect, but mostly quite gentle inclines so not too tough. There are quite a few stream crossings, which can be challenging depending on the flow. We took sandals and used them a couple of times to wade across. Coming straight from glaciers and snow melt, the water is about as cold as water can be! The other crossings we managed by boulder hopping or by balancing across temporary bridges of wobbly tree trunks.

Mid July is early for this trail and they'd had a late spring so there was a lot of snow in some areas. So much that the trail disappeared under it and we had to practice our navigation to hook up with it again. Mostly we did pretty well. Once we followed some faint tracks in the wrong direction and ended up much too high. But we found a nice little spot to camp and found the trail fairly quickly the next morning, a few hundred feet lower. An altimeter was more useful than a compass in this kind of terrain. I had my GPS, but the map we had didn't have much of a grid so you couldn't really relate the two. I had topo maps on my iPhone, but the GPS only works when there's a cell phone signal, which we didn't have most of the time.

With the meadows just emerging from the snow it was a little early for the wildflowers, but there were still quite a few. Lots of crocuses coming out. And beautiful rhododendrons blossoms making splashes of bright pink in the forest. Some of the forest trail was covered with a thick carpet of small pine cones. Other places there were huge 7 or 8 inch pine cones. There are some big trees in the forest, high enough on the mountain to escape the loggers I guess. The only big stumps we saw were in the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area. If you ask me, downhill ski areas don't belong in a "wilderness" area. (any more than they belong in Banff and Jasper National Parks) We didn't see a lot of wildlife but a deer passing by paused to watch us, and a squirrel came down his tree to inspect us up close. There were lots of deer tracks and some that looked like bear and big cat (cougar?).

Officially, the trail is "closed" at Elliot Creek near Cloud Cap. Not because of the creek itself, but because of the steep, unstable rubble slopes forming the sides of the canyon. Landslides destroyed the main trail a few years ago but hikers have made a new route if you're up to it. (Take the faint trail heading up from the "Trail Closed" sign.) There are even fixed ropes on the worst sections on each side. I wouldn't have minded a climbing helmet since there was a high risk of falling rock. I can see why they officially discourage people from crossing. The trail has also been damaged by landslides on the section between Ramona Falls (beautiful falls) and Muddy Fork, but you can bypass that section if you want by following the Pacific Crest Trail.

With less snow we could easily have done the loop in four days but given the conditions, five days was just right. Since it's a wilderness area you can camp wherever you like (except on the meadows) which is nice, but if you want flat ground and water nearby there are limited spots. Early in the season and mid week we didn't have any competition for sites. We only saw a few other backpackers and day hikers only at a couple of places close to road access.

I'd definitely recommend this hike. Even if you're not up to doing the entire loop, you can do sections of it as day hikes. There's even a guide for this - Around Mt. Hood in Easy Stages by LOLITS Press. (Little Old Ladies In Tennis Shoes)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Back in Portland

Took the train from Vancouver to Portland. A pleasant trip - I got a seat on the right (ocean) side of the train and it was a beautiful day. Saw quite a few great blue herons on the shore and a few bald eagles. Funny to see canada geese - on the ocean Good views of Mt. Rainier. It was a hot day outside but the train was freezing. I wish people wouldn't go quite so overboard on the air conditioning.

Usually I'd walk from the train station but I was meeting Shelley so I hopped on the Max train. It's great being able to ride the train for free in the downtown area. Saves having to figure out fares and tickets.

Shelley was waiting in the lounge enjoying a glass of wine and a goat cheese cheesecake. We relaxed and enjoyed the view of the river. The sky was clear blue. We couldn't remember seeing Mt. Hood from Portland before.

We went to Veritable Quandary for supper. It's getting to be a favorite, just a few blocks from the Riverplace Hotel, nice atmosphere and great food. It was a good thing we'd made a reservation before we left Saskatoon - it was full and the staff were hustling.

We had a nice Oregon Pinot Noir - Four Graces. I started with the wild mushroom spinach salad, delicious We let the cook surprise us with a vegetarian entrée and he did an excellent job - a wild rice risotto, morel mushrooms, three kinds of peas, fava beans, and a touch of lemon. Very yummy. We shared a single entrée so we'd have room for chocolate soufflé for desert.

That was Saturday. Today (Sunday) we have a shuttle booked to Timberline lodge on Mt. Hood where we'll stay tonight and start (and finish) our five day hike around the mountain. Probably no Internet on the mountain :-) so no more blog posts till we get back.

Friday, July 09, 2010

A Place to Live

I took the bus to Vancouver this time because the schedule worked out better and just to compare it. It was nice to be able to walk from home to the bus station. (The train station is way out of town.) And Cafe Sola is next door so I could grab a coffee before I left. I'd have to say the train is more comfortable, even if it is slower. On the bus, even with two seats to yourself, it's almost impossible to find a comfortable position to sleep. But I don't mind too much. I love to watch the countryside go by and there was a beautiful sunset.

From the train you tend see the industrial underside of cities and towns. That can be a little ugly. On the bus you pass the miles of strip malls, big box stores, and acres of parking lots filled with gas guzzling vehicles. Even uglier, if you ask me!

The bus stopped in Kamloops for breakfast. It was a beautiful sunny morning. Probably hot later but then it was just right. A touch of cool from the night but balanced by the warmth of the sun. The Starbucks didn't open till 6am so I wandered those acres of parking lots around those big box stores and strip malls. It seemed to go on forever. And not a single bench or seat or picnic table. Not that you'd really want to sit out there. There's also not a single plant or tree, just concrete and asphalt. I spotted some green behind the buildings and I thought it might be a park. No, a cemetery. Only the dead get grass and trees and flowers and places to sit.

So what kind of place would I like to see?

Well, it wouldn't have cars, strip malls, big box stores, acres of parking lots, fast food chains, "convenience" stores full of junk food, suburbs, or McMansions.

Most people would probably think I've just rejected all of civilization. If you ask me, this kind of "civilization" isn't particularly civilized.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to live without these things. And be happier and less of a burden on the planet.

So what would it be like? With no cars it'd be smaller, a few kilometers across maybe. So more of a town than a city. And when I say no cars I don't mean parking your car at the edge of a pedestrian area. I mean you don't own a car. Within town you walk or ride a bike. To go further there'd be public transit like trains.

Think about all the area covered by roads and parking. Imagine that turned into green space with walking and cycling paths. Without the need for streets housing could be scattered among the trees. And the "green" space wouldn't be the unnatural lawns we're currently obsessed with. It would be the local native vegetation - grasslands, forest, desert.

Ok, I'll wake up now. I'm sitting in Vancouver - about as far from this fantasy as you can get.