Revisiting Old Favorites

They say you can never go back. I too have concerns about trying to recreate an original good experience. But on this trip we have successfully enjoyed things a second time around.

The journey is from Duluth to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. While Rich and I drive across country, our three grown children and their spouses are packing their bags to fly out and meet us there on Saturday. A week's family vacation awaits us there.

The prior trip was to begin our Glaciers to the Sea bike tour. We followed much the same route, although in the three intervening years Rich has become passionate about staying off the interstate. Back roads rule. But still, we managed to hit some of the same spots en route.

It was a marathon first day's drive, but we were determined to get to Medora ND. That allowed us to get out first thing the next morning to cycle through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Our rewards for rising early were empty roads, frisky wildlife and a quiet ride. It was a much more up close and personal experience than driving in the car last time – especially passing right by a bison on the side of the road! The next one we saw was moving rapidly with purpose. Mid-stride, he suddenly stopped, dropped and rolled – right on top of a prairie dog hole. There were numerous deer with large ears and active prairie dog towns with yipping dogs gathering breakfast and popping in and out of holes. Despite the cloudy day, the land formations were still impressive and other worldly.

Rich Molly T Roosevelt Park
Rich cycling by a bison
Molly Teddy Roosevelt Park

Cycling along the Clark Fork River remains one of our best memories from our Glaciers trip. So we selected another section of the river for an afternoon ride. Although this road was busier and we sweltered in 96 degree heat, the river was as beautiful as we remembered it. And we enjoyed the journey through lush forest land.

Molly cycling Clark Fork River
Molly cycling Clark Fork River 2
Rich cycling Clark Fork River

There was only one remedy for our overheated bodies at the finish – a huckleberry shake, of course. Clearly we are back in huckleberry country, where you can buy anything flavored with them. But nothing beats huckleberry ice cream.

Huckleberry Shake

I guess I'm a convert. These old favorites have all been worth revisiting.

 

Yellowhead Cycling Tour Planning

Yellowhead Logo w nameThis trip has been planned for months.  But only in our heads.  Suddenly, with just over a month to go, the need to make firm reservations reached a critical level of urgency.  In a frenzy of keystrokes, battling it out on two computers and independent cell phones, we chipped away at the myriad transportation pieces required to make this journey possible.  Stymied time and again over clashing train and ferry schedules, long stretches of road with no services and sold-out lodgings, our itinerary morphed continuously.  Punctuated by wails of despair, sighs of relief and begrudging compromises we persisted.  Three ferry rides, one train trip and essential lodging bookings later, we had it.  The Yellowhead Tour is now viable and official.

The location is British Columbia, chosen to piggyback on a July family vacation on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.  The general plan: cycle the Yellowhead Highway from Prince George to Prince Rupert, then ferry over to Haida Gwaii to ride the highway to its terminus on the northern tip of Graham Island.  A total of 620 miles on the bikes over 17 days.

But it’s a lot more complicated than that.  We start at the tip of Vancouver Island, with an 18 hour ferry ride through the inland passage on the coast of British Columbia.  That takes us within 15 miles of Alaska.  It’s a highly scenic route through the calm waters of the coastal islands on a ferry that approaches the comfort of a modest cruise ship.  A quick overnight in Prince Rupert, then we board Canada’s Via Rail for a full day’s journey to Prince George.  It promises an eyeful of wilderness viewing.  That rail segment is equipped with box car racks for our bicycles with roll-on, roll-off convenience – a cyclist’s delight.  The next morning, we will turn around and repeat that same route via bicycle on the Yellowhead Highway.  This time it will take us 12 days.

Our trip originally ended there.  But while scanning Google Maps, I happened to notice that oddly enough, the Yellowhead Highway continued west into the water.  Huh?  The dotted line took me to Haida Gwaii, a group of islands well off the coast formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.  Its current name literally means “island of the people” and it has a vibrant First Nation culture.  It seemed an intriguing addition.  We will cycle the final stretch of the Yellowhead Highway to the northern coast, then return to Prince Rupert once again.

Traveling in peak tourist season is something we normally avoid.  But given this northerly route, it is the only reasonable timeframe.  So rather than winging it from day to day, we are nailing down each and every night’s accommodation.  Having already learned that services can be scarce, we will surrender our flexibility in favor of peace of mind.

This is actually one of our shorter trips in terms of cycling.  But to make it happen, we will cover 575 miles by ferry, 450 miles on the train and 4,200 miles in the car.

It’s a good thing it all worked out.  Our jerseys are already on order.  At least we planned ahead for those.

When the Sun Shines

The wind whips through the newly sprouted leaves on the trees, their shadows a fluttering dappled pattern on the deck.  Beyond, the sky is that classic deep blue with small cottony puffs floating here and there.  The sun is warm on my face as I type, drinking it all in.  When the sun shines, I have to be out in it.  I’ll endure the dim laptop screen in preference to my superior computer setup inside.  The sunshine is too precious to waste.

One of the greatest benefits of retirement is the loss of distinction between the days.  No longer do we have to confine our activities to weekends.  Nor do we have to take our holidays when the calendar schedules them.  So we took our own Memorial Day Weekend early, based on the weather forecast.  We chose the days when the sun would be shining.

Our first priority was to do some cycling.  Between Rich’s back injury this winter and alternate travels by car and plane this spring, we had yet to cover any significant miles.  Finding that lodging was difficult, even midweek, we chose two 55 mile out-and-back day trips using the cabin as our base.

Mississippi RiverThe first followed the Great River Road from Jacobson to Palisade.  The Mississippi River meandered back and forth in that stretch, greeting us roadside every now and then.  We had the route to ourselves, and reveled in some wildlife sightings.   A deer crossed in front of us, followed by a wolf.  He paused to give Rich at Palisade Cafeus a glance but resumed his original pursuit.  A skunk stopped me abruptly, blocking my path down the shoulder.  I felt it was not worth risking his wrath to pass.  Rich followed a porcupine into the woods, as the critter spread his back quills in a showy display as he fled.

We found lunch at the Palisade Cafe.  Your typical small town cafe with ceramic roosters and memorabilia  adorning the shelves, the waitress knew the locals’ orders before they uttered a word.  Sampling the local offerings, we recharged our batteries for the return trip.

The next day took us far north.  Driving to Littlefork we cycled from there to Lake  Kabetogama on the border.  The sun shone gloriously all day and like the day before we benefited from good pavement and lack of traffic.  We made our way to the Voyageurs National Park Visitor Center.  Although it was not yet open for the season, it did give us access to the lake and a view of its blue expanse.   This time it was breakfast that we ate at the Rocky Ledge. The area was heavily populated with resorts, and the staff was bracing for the onslaught of the holiday weekend.  That morning, however, we were the sole customers.Molly overlooking Lake KabetogamaVisitor Center on Lake KabetogamaIt felt good to be back in the saddle and doing multi-day rides  Naturally I became anxious to get out touring again. It also told us we were not quite ready.  We were grateful for a tailwind to push us home that day as we began to tire, and our sore bottoms were evidence that we needed more time in the saddle.  But it was a start.

Molly feet in boatNestled back in the cabin, we stayed on for two more days, while the sun shone.  The lake was still quiet, with few cabins occupied yet in advance of the weekend.  We had the place to ourselves.  It reminded me why I love being there so much, particularly when the weather is nice.  By the time it began to cloud up on Saturday, we were packing up to go home.

We missed spending Memorial Day at the cabin.  But we also avoided the rainy days.  We made our own holiday weekend, when the sun was shining.

The Cowardly Cyclist

If fear burns calories, then I've just had a great workout. My heart was certainly racing. It was my first time mountain biking. I've logged plenty of road miles, but never turned a pedal on a dirt trail before. But here we are in Costa Rica, with trails right outside our door and amazing views out over the Pacifist Ocean. Despite a sliver of trepidation, I was up for the challenge.

Molly starting the mountain bike trail

At first the rocks and uneven terrain were unnerving. And the rapid shift between sudden ups and downs took getting used to. But I finally got the hang of grinding uphill in my granny gear and rounding sharp turns – carefully. I even managed to hold my fear of heights at bay while traversing narrow trails carved into the hillside. As long as it was gently rolling or uphill, I was able to hang in there. I took a couple of spills and drew blood, but it wasn't even doing anything difficult. I just slipped in soft dirt. I really thought I was conquering this thing.

Then we reached the ridge line and headed downhill. Even when I'm road biking, I dislike gathering speed and tend to ride my brakes on the way down. I should have foreseen the consequences. All the challenges of the dirt trail suddenly intensified as the pitch grew steeper. Braking wasn't such a great idea, and I knew I should just let the bike roll. But I was terrified. Not knowing what was around the next corner only intensified my fear. That bit didn't go so well.

Rich mountain biking
Molly mountain biking

Don't let the smile fool you. I was just glad to stand still for a spell. I also took the opportunity to enjoy the view, as I certainly couldn't take my eyes off the trail for long enough to take in the vista.

Actually, the final piece of the trail leveled out and I could honestly say I enjoyed that bit. I'm just not cut out for risky, speed induced drama. All the elements that attract thrill seeking mountain bikers are the same things that put me off. I like the milder terrain that is more like, well, road biking.

I admit it. I'm a conservative kind of gal. Even a bit cowardly.

 

Santa Fe al fresco

Every tourist has his or her own motives for visiting places. While Santa Fe is rich in art, history and Native American culture, that's not what drew Rich and me to the area. It was the setting. The outdoors. The climate. And we were not disappointed.

Just before reaching Santa Fe, we stopped to see the Upper Rio Grande. We started off driving down the canyon on a small lane next to the river, when it suddenly occurred to us that we had bikes on the back of the car. A quick change in the campground and we were soon cycling instead of driving. Much better!

Rich cycling the Rio Grande
Rio Grande

From the start, we opted to stay on the outskirts of the city. We were attracted to a VRBO home which offered a peaceful and attractive rural setting. The unique aspect was sharing it with owner, Kevin. After years of staying in host homes while cycling, we welcomed the opportunity to meet new people and take advantage of their local expertise.

We immediately felt at home in Kevin's comfortable adobe house. Just being there was vacation enough for me. My favorite morning spot was on the sunny front porch with my coffee and breakfast. For writing, I retreated to the back patio. One of our best evenings was spent watching the ever changing colors of the sunset from the patio over a glass of wine with Kevin and Jen.

Our VRBO home

Saturday morning was Farmers' Market Day, and Santa Fe has one of the best. It prides itself on the requirement that all produce be locally grown and that those who do the growing are the same people selling it there. I indulged in one of my favorite ways to spend a morning, wandering among the tables with fresh coffee and scone in hand. Admiring the colorful produce and listening to local music was great home grown entertainment.

Santa Fe farmers market
Santa Fe farmers market produce
Santa Fe farmers market musicians

Rich's pick was the Randall Dave Audubon Center. We arrived before dawn for prime birding opportunities. I will admit to going for a run while Rich sought out new bird species, but I did join him to hike in the beautiful environs preserved by the Natures Conservancy.

Rich at Audubon Center
Audubon Center

In between cycling the local trails and countryside, we did make sure to get to the historic areas of Santa Fe near the Plaza. We especially enjoyed visiting San Miguel Chapel, the oldest church in the country. We also ate well, sampling New Mexican cuisine and local organic foods thanks to recommendations from Kevin.

San Miguel Chapel

We went for the outdoors, and Santa Fe treated us to a record warm spell. With unrelenting sunshine and temps in the 70s, it was the perfect escape from the cold Northland. Every moment spent al fresco was a delight.

 

Grand Canyon on Our Terms

We did two things right on this visit to Grand Canyon National Park. The combination of the two allowed us to avoid crowds and have easy access to all the best vantage points.

The first is coming in March. This is shoulder season in the park, with many of the amenities just opening up for the season and service just gearing up for the upcoming crowds. There are plenty of people here, and at times the parking lots have been full. Lines for the shuttle buses exist, but it appears most riders get on the first bus that arrives. Restaurants are busy, but it hasn't been hard to get in. All we can think is “What must it be like in the height of the summer?” We are die hard off-season travelers. It has certainly paid off this time.

Molly and Rich at Grand Canyon

The second is bringing our bicycles. There are greenways throughout the park, enabling us to walk or cycle just about anywhere we want. We haven't set foot on a shuttle bus, and don't have to worry about car traffic.

Our bikes and Grand Canyon

A few portions of the Rim Trail are open to bicycles. We made sure to ride those. In addition, the road from Grand Canyon Village to Hermit's Rest at the western end of the Rim Trail just closed to cars on March 1. Shuttle buses own the road, but bikes are allowed. We covered that over the course of a sunny, warm afternoon, with frequent stops for the views.

Cycling at Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon view

This is definitely our type of tourism. We get to see the Grand Canyon on our own terms.

 

Touring Again

We’ve been all over the map – literally.  The idea is to get out of town during “muck season” and do some traveling.  Each time we bring up Google maps, we come up with a new destination.  But we finally landed on the SouthWest – Santa Fe and the south rim of the Grand Canyon it will be.

It feels good to to dig out my cycling gear.  Although Rich has been out on his bike several times in the last month, I have yet to put foot to pedal.  But my bike has been in for a much needed tune-up, and many dollars later I am assured that it is back in top notch condition.  Just wheeling it around I get excited about riding it again.

Between the mountains and the desert, there will be a wide range of temperatures.  To a Northlander, it all looks balmy.  But my practical side dictates that I still bring my warmest cycling jacket, my Gore Tex booties and heavy gloves.  It always feels colder whizzing along on a bike.  No sense in getting chilled.

My extensive packing list details exactly what I need for a bike tour, and I know where everything fits into my panniers.  The only problem is that this time I’m packing a suitcase.  We’re cycling, yes, but only day jaunts.  This is actually a road trip.  By car.

The expansiveness of the space available to me invites excess.  Surely I can fit another outfit in my suitcase.  There should be plenty of room to throw in an extra pair of shoes.  I see no reason why I can’t bring my laptop.  I can’t decide which jacket is better, so I’ll just bring both.  Rich won’t need much room, will he?

I’m a little nervous about the car ride.  The undeniably perfect part of bike touring is getting exercise while traveling.  Not so being a passenger.  Knitting doesn’t burn many calories.  And the scenery races by so quickly.  It’s going to require a mental adjustment.

Once bike touring was foreign to me.  Now I can’t imagine travel any other way.  We’re off touring again but our bikes are only an accessory on the back of the car.  What a novel thought.