A few weeks ago, Rich and I attended the 35th Annual Oyster Run, a rally of roughly 20,000 motorcycles, and 30,000 or so riders and spectators in Anacortes, WA (Fidalgo Island). Some came from hundreds of miles away, others a short ride from neighboring towns: North from Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett, south from Bellingham, and parts of Canada.
A few weeks ago, Rich and I attended the 35th Annual Oyster Run, a rally of roughly 20,000 motorcycles, and 30,000 or so riders and spectators in Anacortes, WA (Fidalgo Island). Some came from hundreds of miles away, others a short ride from neighboring towns: North from Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett, south from Bellingham, and parts of Canada.
Knowing there would be large crowds, and streets filled with bikes, we arrived early, parked on a side street, and then scurried to Calico Cupboard for breakfast. While waiting, we engaged in a conversation with a couple from British Columbia who expressed concerns over a Donald Trump presidency. We concurred, explaining the race will probably be tight, but in the end, we’re hopeful Hillary Clinton wins. Nevertheless, should Trump succeed, we deliberated whether Canada will close its border to migrating Americans.
After waiting half an hour, we were seated in full view of Calico Cupboard’s glass cases of scrumptious breads, pies, and pastries. Exercising control, I ordered somewhat healthy breakfast food, a scrumptious Greek scramble (feta cheese, tomatoes, spinach, Kalamata olives, and red onions), and Rich opted for the Santa Fe omelet (green chilies, jalapeno jack cheese, tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream). Our meals also came with two slices of their amazing hearty grain bread, and petite cups of homemade jam. I had raspberry and Rich received strawberry.
The food at Calico Cupboard is equivalent to what you’d find at an upscale health resort. Even a simple cup of fruit, which was included with my scramble, is memorable with a stylish slice of pineapple, wedge of kiwi, slice of ruby grapefruit, and section of banana, cut on an angle. Everything is made from scratch with the best ingredients.
Our tummies happy, we ventured outside to wander among the motorcycles. Most of the downtown streets were closed for the Oyster Run. By mid-morning, they were completely filled with cycles, two rows down the middle, and a row on each side of the street, with bikes parked within inches of each other, every brand, color, and type imaginable from vintage motorcycles (some built from scratch) to roadsters, muscle, crotch rockets, and spiffed-out touring bikes and trikes (in my opinion, three-wheeled monstrosities).
We were most interested in Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic motorcycls, which we felt would meet our needs for comfort, and yet have a “bad boy” motorcycle feel with room for two, leather saddle bags, and lots of chrome. However, after chatted with several people, including two men who’d each owned several Harley’s, Rich is now leaning towards a Harley Road King, a slightly taller bike (since Rich is 6’ 3”) with locking saddle bags.
Whatever bike Rich choose, it won’t be until 2017 after we’ve moved to Whidbey Island. In the meanwhile, we had a great time, chatting with motorcyclists, taking pictures, and wandering through the streets of bikes, which extended past the designated downtown area.
One man, who we spoke with for 20 or so minutes, was on a red Vespa, my dream bike! He said it’s a “babe magnet” like babies and puppies. He’s often ridden with other motorcyclist who in his words don’t create the best impression. However, when he zips by on his Vespa, people wave, and women come running.
Another man was suited up in leather, a heavy helmet, and bright orange vest. He lives on the southern part of Whidbey Island, and used to work at Boeing. He lectured Rich and me about safety, and the need to have ABS brakes and cruise control on a motorcycle. He also felt we should get a trike and not a motorcycle. Not gonna’ happen!
One of the most memorably motorcycles at the run, we heard before we saw it. After eating breakfast, we were waiting to cross the street when we heard the sound of approaching motorcycles, along with mowing. A man was riding a motorcycle, which sounded like a cow and was tricked-out with a large leather horse saddle, longhorns, cowhide backrest, wooden replica of a rifle, long cow tail, and black testicles, dangling below the license plate.
After parking the bike, the owner put out a basket of hay, and a cow paddy by the back tire. Check out my photos to see it.
We’re looking forward to attending next year, this time as riders, and not spectators.
Every year, Rich surprises me with a get-away for my birthday. This year, he upped the game, keeping a tight lip until the last possible millisecond.
The weekend started on Friday evening with Rich telling me to pack a light bag for the weekend. We then visited Qdoba, where I had a burrito bowl with flavorful brown rice, tequila chicken, roasted vegetables, and corn salsa. Yum!
Coldstone was our next stop for my favorite: Coffee ice cream, crushed Health bars, almonds, and caramel syrup. It doesn’t get any better!
After arriving in our house in Mount Vernon, our weekend get-away, I took a quick look around the yard, delighting in my emerging peonies, blooming spring bulbs, and other plants, starting to awaken in the warmer weather. I then scurried into the house, plopped on the futon, and l waited for Rich to select that evening “important” TV viewing. We’ve been watching the British series, Happy Valley. Following tradition, Rich and I both snoozed through the program. The older we get, the more Friday nights are for napping with the blaring TV as a lullaby.
Meanwhile, Lolitta (Lynx-point Siamese) and Lila (Angora), who are seasoned car travelers, race down the hallways, excited to be the only cats in the household. Our other four cats, left behind in Kirkland, probably break out the catnip and tuna juice as soon as Lolitta and Lila are loaded in the car. Cats can be catty, and ours are extra bitchy.
Saturday morning, we went to McDonalds’ for our ubiquitous Egg McMuffins and iced coffees. Rich then aimlessly drove around downtown Mount Vernon, while I kidded him that my surprise trip was to camp in our motorhome, parked in the driveway of our Mount Vernon house. Not a word escape from his lips.
He then turned into the Amtrak station, and I screamed, “We’re taking a train. We’re taking a train!!! Are we going north to Canada or south?”
Not a word came from his inscrutable lips.
After a short wait outside the station — because the guard hadn’t shown up that morning to open the stations — we went inside where we struck up a conversation with a man from Canada. The day before he had driven down to attend a Bernie Sanders event. However, his car conked out, and he was trying to get back to Canada since the repairs couldn’t be made on his car until Monday morning.
It should be noted. The Washington caucus coincided with my birthday week. I’d registered to attend, and had looked forward to casting a vote. I made it very clear to Rich that my celebration better be fabulous to miss out on an opportunity to vote for Bernie!
Riding a train evokes simpler times when people weren’t tethered to electronic devices, and entertainment was watching the passing scenery, reading a book, playing a game of checkers with the person opposite, or busying your hands with knitting or crocheting. Travel took days and not hours. It was a cherished opportunity to get dressed up, sit back, and relax.
Even though most people today start the journey with a smart phone or tablet tucked in their pocket, purse or bag, within a few minutes, stretched out in a wide seat, with plenty of leg room, and no one fussing over the size of their carry-on luggage and where to stash it overhead, they loosen up, talk to the people around them, peek out the window, walk around, or get something to eat from the dining car.
The porters in their perky Pullman caps greet each passenger, collecting tickets, assigning seats, and moving people to make their journey more pleasant. On our way back to Mount Vernon, the porter assigned us two sets of seats. Going to Seattle, we were on the east side of the train, and then switched to the west to watch the sunset as slender-legged herons swooped over the Puget Sound, sea birds bobbed in the water, and an occasional seal popped its head up, perhaps observing the people on the shore, parents with their kids, pet owners with happy dogs frolicking in the water.
Unlike plane travel, people on trains become more amiable as the hours pass. Going to Centralia, we were seated behind a young couple with a young son, and bouncy 2-year girl who kept peered around the seat, stretching out her hand so we could shake or playfully grabbing the sweater off my lap. The family was heading to Kelso, Washington for Easter.
Across from us were two young boys, traveling with their grandmother. Unlike the parents in front of us who pointed out interesting landmarks to their kids, the boys missed the sites, along with the rumbling and swaying of the train. Both were wearing headphones and watching a cartoon on a laptop. When they weren’t tuned-out, they were eating copious amount of store-bought food, dropping the wrappers on the floor.
With numerous stops at cities and towns along the way, it took nearly four hours to reach Centralia, 84 miles south of Seattle.
With a population of less than 17,000, Centralia was founded by George Washington, an African-American free man who was the adopted son of Missourian J. G. Cochran who in 1850 filed a donation land claim on what is now Centralia. Two years later, he sold the town site to Washington who filed a plat for the town of Centerville, offering lots for $10 each.
The town as officially incorporated as Centralia on February 3, 1886. The largest employer in the area was TransAlta Corporation, which operated the Centralia Coal Mine. In November 2006, they eliminated 600 coal mining jobs. Fortunately, the cuts didn’t impact the town longer-term, and today, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Washington, bolstered by the opening of a Millard Refrigeration Service facility (temperature-controlled storage, warehousing, and distribution) and Lowe’s Distribution Center, along with the rejuvenation of the downtown area.
Smack dab in the middle of downtown Centralia is the Union Depot, which has undergone extensive restoration and has vintage wooden benches, oak trim, bright white subway tiles, ornate plasterwork, and framed vintage photos. You need a token to use the restrooms, and in my excitement of having arrived, I used my token to enter the men’s room. I quickly realized my mistake, but decided to continue with the matter at hand…
Then I heard a token being deposited into the door. I was relieved when Rich walked in, and not someone else! He guarded the door until I could safely exit, pretending nothing unusual had happened.
Cattycorner to the train station is McMenamin’s Olympic Club. Once considered a “gentleman’s resort” where loggers, miners, gamblers, and miscreants could get a shave, haircut, shoe shine, good meal, Cuban cigar, liquor, game of pool or seat at a poker table. Adding to the allure was opulent mahogany bar and paneling, ceramic-tiled floor, tiffany-style lights, and Belgian crystal glassware. At the adjacent Oxford Hotel, men could partake in the company of working women.
The Club survived prohibition with bootlegger shipping liquor from Canada, and smuggling it in through a tunnel running from the train station to the basement of the club. When the club was renovated by the McMenamin’s, they found a pickle barrel with a hidden compartment.
Today, the Olympic Club consists of a hotel, restaurant, two bars, brewery, movie theater, billiards room, and event venue. For many years, I longed to spend a weekend at the club, and my birthday was the perfect excuse.
Upon arriving, we found a cozy booth in the restaurant for a late lunch. Rich had a McMenamin’s Hammerhead beer with an el diablo sandwich, consisting of grilled chicken, avocado, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, and tomato, on a squish bun with chunky fries. I opted for fresh-pressed apple cider and a scrumptious West African bowl with veggies (squash, onions, peppers), brown rice, and tasty spicy peanut-tomato sauce.
We couldn’t check in until 3 p.m. so we wandered the downtown area, darting into the many antique shops, selling everything from fine furniture to 1970’s schlock. I purchased an ornate doily with pink roses for $4 from an Ace Hardware store, which devoted part of its space to selling collectibles!
We also visited the historic library, built in 1912 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie. Between 1883 and 1929, 2,509 libraries were built in the United States with money from Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
As the afternoon progressed, we returned to the Olympic Club to check into our room. The hotel consists of 27-guestrooms, each with a small sink, bed, night stand, a chair or two, and hooks for hanging clothing. We were in the Lester Weber room, which was conveniently across from one of the communal bathrooms. It was cozy with an extra surprise on the bed, a bottle of sparkling wine, two keepsake champagne flutes, massage oil, and small box of chocolates.
Also on the bed was plush white robes for trips to the bathroom. Although, it didn’t really matter because it was Easter weekend, and few people were at the hotel.
After dropping off our bags, we trotted back outside for more sightseeing, including watching numerous freight and Amtrak trains zip by, visiting a blown glass studio, and surveying where we wanted to eat dinner.
If you stay at the Olympic Club, admission to the theater is free. We opted to see a 9:40 p.m. showing of Star Wars: Episode VII. To whittle away the time, we returned to the hotel, and popped the cork of the sparkling wine, drinking most of the bottle before we waddled down the street to the O’Blarneys Pub for dinner.
I enjoyed a warm Ruben sandwich, while Rich has pot roast with carrots, garlic mashed potatoes, and dense soda bread. We skipped dessert, and dodged under awnings to avoid the light rain, before dashing across the street to the theater. After settling into two comfortable chairs, Rich ordered cups of coffee to keep us awake during the movie.
McMenamin’s theaters are outfitted with sofas, easy chairs, and small tables so you can enjoy food and libations while watching a flick. Rich’s and my second date was at the McMenamin’s Bagdad Theater and Pub in Portland, OR, after initially meeting at the McMenamin’s Sherwood Pub… following several weeks of corresponding on Matchmaker.com. Our wedding rehearsal dinner was at John Barleycorns, a MeMenamin’s restaurant in Tigard, OR. You can see why McMenamin’s pubs, theaters, and venues hold a special place in our hearts!
We thoroughly enjoyed the Star Wars flicks, and closed our eyes 30 minutes later, with the smells from the restaurant wafting into our room, gently patter of rain, and occasional whistle of a train. Even though ear plugs are provided in the rooms, neither Rich nor I are bothered by the sound of trains. In fact, I told Rich that several trains passed throughout the night, and he didn’t recall hearing any of them!
The next morning was overcast with no rain in sight. We walked two miles to the McDonald’s off Interstate 5. It was an enjoyable jaunt through neighborhoods of older, nicely kept homes, and light industrial. On the way back, after our routine Egg McMuffins and latte’s, we walked through an urban area, which seemed to be shorter.
With it being Easter Sunday, most places were closed; however, after retrieving our bags from the hotel, and checking-out, we meandered to the Station Coffee Bar, one of the coolest coffee houses I’ve ever been in! We’d seen it the day before, and walked in, thinking it was a furniture store.
Located in a large storefront with two sizable display windows, an expansive area on the lower level, and two second-story spaces, Station Coffee was furnished with gorgeous, black leather sofas, black tables with black-leather upholstered chairs, shorter, stylish coffee tables, and shelves filled with books.
In the display window where we sat – me with a chai, and Rich with a frozen caramel coffee – was a cushy, black sofa with decorative pillows, coffee table, and off to the side was a smallish round table and four high-back stools. Some of the walls were painted deep red, adding to the ambiance.
It was so much fun to sit in one of the display windows and watch the world pass by on the sidewalk outside!
Our tummies made happy with our drinks, we headed back to the Olympic Club Theater to watch an 11:40 showing of Kung Fu Panda III. It was better than expected, but probably more thoroughly enjoyed by the handful of kids in the theater with their parents.
Following the movie, with plenty of time on our hands, and few places open, we wandered through a residential area, watched a coupled of trains pass, and then headed to the grocery store to purchase food for a late lunch, and dinner on the train.
I think our expected appetite was larger than reality because we walked out with two large burritos (we thought they were healthy wraps), cheese sticks, day-old pastries, container of macaroni salad, six hard-boiled eggs, box of Triscuits, oranges, and mango/orange flavored fizzy water.
We definitely had enough food to last us until we arrived at close to 9 p.m. back in Mount Vernon. On the way home, we once again enjoyed the ambiance of the train, ever-changing scenery, and chance to just kick-back and relax.
It was a fabulous, fabulous birthday weekend to remember for a very long time. Thanks Rich and the McMenamin’s Olympic Club!
The Saturday before Christmas, Rich and I watched Hector and the Search for Happiness, a movie starring Simon Pegg who plays a psychiatrist stuck in his daily routine for which he experiences little happiness. He sets out on odyssey to unearth what makes people happy.
By the end of the film, he’s experienced fear, elation, wonderment, and many unexpected adventures, which lead him to the path of happiness and contentment. The film is worth watching in that my saccharine description glosses over his journey across several continents, people he meets, and lessons he learns.
For our recent trip to Bullhead City, Arizona, I decided to take notice of the genial people we encounter, and harvest their zeal, optimism, and outward happiness.
Early Sunday morning, we boarded a shuttle at the Bellingham International Airport. The driver was jovial, sharing that he had five daughters (two were twins), nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He laughed, recalling the many pranks he’d played on them, including insisting a large, gaudy-painted sphere was an alien egg. He commented that one of his daughters still displays the “egg” on her mantel, and eagerly tells visitors how her father tricked her as a kid.
His favorite prank, which he’s been reenacting for his grandchildren, is using wire ties to secure bananas to his cherry tree. He then invites his grandchildren to harvest the bananas, confirming his tall tale that cherry trees can indeed grow bananas!
We wished him a merry Christmas, and the joy of dreaming of new antics to entertain his daughters’ children.
As we went through the security line at the airport, we commented to the TSA agent it’s a pleasure flying out of Bellingham with short lines and easy parking. The agent added the security personnel are also nicer. While they’re certainly nicer, Rich had to go through additional security screening because he left his wallet in his pants pocket when he went through the body scanner.
Our flight to Las Vegas was pleasant. Halfway through, we struck up a conversation with one of the flight attendants, a 26-year old woman who said her job is super fun, and that I should consider becoming a flight attendant. I was sold after she told me the oldest person in her class was 68, training is just 5 weeks in length, the benefits are great, and after a year, you can choose how much you want to fly. The drawback is that I’d need to commute to Seattle, which is one of Alaska Airline’s bases.
Julie the flight attendant? Maybe.
After landing in Las Vegas, we drove to Laughlin and Bullhead City, which are on opposite sides of the Colorado River, straddling the Nevada and Arizona borders. After seeing Rich’s step-father, enjoying Mexican food, and settling into our room at the Tropicana in Laughlin, we walked to a quickie mart for soda and nibbles. Two women were behind the counter. One was an older woman. The other, a younger, heavy-set woman with a man’s haircut.
No doubt, working at a quickie mart isn’t the most enjoyable job, especially if you work the graveyard shift. However, both were affable, and eager to help me overcome my indecisiveness about the best “snack” to purchase. After deliberating, and enjoying the lighthearted banter, I settled on Tic Tac mints.
The exchange was so amusing, the next evening we returned, hoping to find the same clerks. This time, there were two men who were equally pleasant, but lacked the joie de vivre of the women.
One of the reasons for our visiting Bullhead City was to check on several rentals overseen by Rich’s step-father, who’d been hospitalized since September. There’d been several issues with one of the renters – a woman and her two young daughter – so we prepared for a confrontation. Instead, we arrived to find them in the midst of moving out.
The woman overseeing the move was a relative, dressed in a tank top with crude tattoos on her arms and chest, cigarette dangling from her yellowed fingers, and hair in a scraggly ponytail, emphasizing the blemishes and wrinkles on her face. Her looks, however, were deceptive.
She was courteous, conscientious, and cooperative, working with Rich to identify issues with the rental (a double-wide mobile homes that’d seen better days), and discuss what needed to be done to lockup the property to prevent vandalism.
In the property next door – also a rental owned by my father-in-law – lived a woman and her mother. They had six small dogs, four cats, and several cages of birds in their single-wide mobile home. While they obviously had way too many pets, it was hard to overlook their soft heartedness. They no doubt had to stretch their meager welfare and social security payments to provide for their furred and feathered companions.
Difference between Happiness and Meaning
Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, who wrote the bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which details his experience in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, champions the difference between those who lived and those who died while imprisoned hinged on whether they had “meaning.”
Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. Whereas simply pursuing happiness doesn’t result in consistency of happiness.
Many of the people we met during our trip had challenging lives, but they had meaning. We learned the woman who was helping moved the family from my father-in-law’s rental was an aunt who’d previously been instrumental in raising the mother. For the past eight months, she’d cared for the woman’s children who worked 45 minutes away. She explained how she’d walked the girls to the school bus stop every morning, and ensuring they had what they needed at night. The meaning of her life was to care for others.
Perhaps the meaning for the next-door neighbor with the multitude of pets is to take in unwanted and abused animals. The shuttle bus driver at the Bellingham Airport found meaning in delighting his grandchildren with playful antics.
A study in the upcoming issue of Journal of Positive Psychology associates leading a happy life with being a “taker,” while leading a meaningful life correlates with being a “giver.” Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of the study explains, “Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others.”
Because a “giver” may have to sacrifice happiness in order to achieve meaning, they tend to experience more stress and anxiety than happy people. On the other hand, happiness without meaning can result in a person being shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish, continuously seeing ways to satisfy their needs and desires, while avoiding unnecessary entanglements.
The Declaration of Independence states the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Happiness isn’t guaranteed, just the freedom to pursue it. But like Hector in the Simon Pegg movie, a more satisfying goal might be to find ones meaning, and thereby, lead a more caring life.
Several weeks ago, Rich and I went to the NHRA Northwest Nations drag race at the Pacific Raceways in Kent, southeast of Seattle. It was the first time I’ve attended a National Hot Rod Association event; although, I’d heard Rich talked about it since we’d met.
When Rich was at Sequent, prior to it being acquired by IBM, he worked on dragsters and funny cars driven by Cristen Powell, Jim Epler, and Bob Vandergriff, Clay Milican.
His being a part of the race car team started off innocent enough when he introduced himself during a company picnic to Casey Powell, the CEO of Sequent and father of Cristen Powell. They started talking, and Rich was subsequently invited to fly on the Sequent corporate jet to Cristen’s next race.
He continued working on cars for the next few years, being an engineer at Sequent during the week, and flying to races on weekends to change tires, service motor heads, change oil, and do other miscellaneous mechanical tasks.
Until I went to the NHRA race, I found racing somewhat yawn-worthy. Occasionally, Rich would flip to a sports channel, and watch half an hour of a race. I’d immediately find something else to do.
However, when Rich said he really wanted to see the NHRA races, I said “okay,” even though the idea of sitting on bleachers, baking in the sun, while watching cars do burn-outs then rocket down the track seemed mind-numbing and unpleasant.
Happily, the day we went, the week’s heat had subsidized, and was replaced with overcast skies and cool breezes. We arrived within an hour of the track opening, and immediately zipped over to the pits, where the cars were being unloaded, and the crews were setting up.
I was intrigued by the trailers that transport the cars. They’re split into two horizontal levels, with tool chests, parts, tires, and “delivery” vehicles on the bottom, and the race cars, and less used parts and tools on the top. The back gate of the trailers can be folded down, and then raised up like an elevator to the top level. A race car can then be eased onto the gate, and lowered so they can be pushed into the pit area.
The delivery vehicles, ranging from motorcycles to golf carts and very small cars like Fiats and Mini Coopers, are used for moving the racecars onto the track, getting parts, removing and bringing drums of fuel and oil, and carting drivers and crew and from the track.
Once the race cars enter the pits, a team of technicians work on optimizing and testing their performance. Hydraulic stands are used for elevating and keeping the cars in place when they revved up. Because the nitro methane, the fuel used in the cars, is an irritant the pit crew wear gas masks when revving up the cars.
Next, we headed over to the Harley Davis tent, where Rich and I hoped onto several motorcycles to check ‘em out. After talking to the representative about our desire to do day trips — with me sitting behind Rich — he recommended we consider the Fat Boy Lo since it is stable, can accommodate two people, and has lots of horsepower, but doesn’t have all the extras of a touring bike – which we don’t need.
I was titillated with a small sportster, but know I’d never have the concentrate or coordination to ride a motorcycle by myself.
For Rich’s birthday, he wants to get his motorcycle license, and edge a bit closer to getting a Harley, and zooming around the Puget Sound!
Exhilarated from sitting on Harley’s, we breezed through the vendor area, then found great seats in the bleachers, half-way down the track. The lightly overcast sky kept the sun at bay, and my large hippy hat shaded my eyes.
The first set of cars were pro stock, which were fun to watch because each one is different, and it was entertaining to wonder whether the clunky, ‘70’s station wagon – tricked out with decals – could beat the zippy souped-up Toyota sedan. It was the amazing the breadth of stock cars from El Caminos and small trucks to muscle cars, sedans, traditional sports cars, and itty-bitty Fiats.
After I thought all the stock cars were done racing, a crazy fast Corvette with a custom silver body, owned by Martin Motorsports zoomed by. I screamed with delight, and turned to Rich, “Holy shit, that was f*cking awesome!”
Rich just smiled and said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Next up were the funny cars. Fast, but not particularly interesting. They look the same! Although, Rich was intrigued by them since he’d worked on a couple in the past.
While top fuel dragsters all basically look the same, they’re totally awesome. Totally! Cartoonish in design with two giant tires in the back, a moderate-sized, exposed engine, and a ridiculously long front that stretches 15 or so feet in length, balanced on two small, go-cart tires, they go over 300 miles in less than four seconds. To win, they need to accelerate to 100 miles per hour in less than 0.8 seconds.
Dragster drivers experience an average force of about 39 m/s2 (meter per second squared), nearly five times that of gravity, the same force a space shuttle leaves the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. They accelerate faster than a jumbo jet, fighter jet or Formula One race car.
In addition, a dragster consumes 1½ gallons of nitromethane per second, the same rate as a full loaded 747 plane, although with 4 times the energy volume. However, because they travel a very short distance, they use between 10 and 12 gallons of fuel per race – at a cost of $30 per gallon — including the burnout and return to the starting line. Their fuel pump can deliver 65 gallons of fuel per minute, which is equivalent to eight bathroom showers running at the same time.
According to Rich, the fuel is injected into the engine with 16 or more injectors, one for each cylinder, plus 8 for the blower.
The end result is a screaming fast car, which we found nearly impossible to photograph (or videotape) using our smart phones. The next time we go, we’ll bring our digital camera, which has a faster lenses, and can take multiple photos within seconds. Nevertheless, we did capture some great photos by anticipating where the cars would be, and then being prepared to quickly tap the shutter release.
Around 2 o’clock, having brought no food, and a small water bottle of water, we decided to buy a very expensive hotdog, which we shared, along with a coconut ice cream bar. Not only is the food at sports events very unhealthy, but ridiculously expensive.
Our bellies a little fuller, we found seats on the other side of the track. However, it was farther away and more difficult to take photos. As the afternoon progressed, the overcast sky turned to light showers, and hence the races were temporarily stopped until the weather conditions could be properly assessed. They started up half an hour later, but we decided to leave, avoiding the mad rush of traffic when the races concluded for the day.
In spite of my apprehensions, I truly loved going to NHRA… and can’t wait until next year!
Nearly every week, when we go to our Mount Vernon house, Rich points out Mount Baker, noting the amount of snow, ability to see the summit through the clouds, craggily slopes, or desire to see if from inside our house if we punched a hole in the dining room wall.
A week ago Monday, on the afternoon of my mother’s death, he commented, “We should go there.”
So on Sunday, to the mountain we went.
A 140,000 year old active glaciated andesitic stratovolcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc, Mount Baker is a ruggedly mountain, covered primarily with scree and snow, with evergreens and lakes at the base. It’s one of the snowiest places in the world, and in 1999, set the world record for most recorded snowfall in a single season.
Because, I’m fonder of beaches, our trip up to the mountain was met with hesitancy and dread by me. In my opinion, “You’ve seen one mountain, you’ve seen them all!”
Nevertheless, I welcomed the break in our routine, especially after an emotional week. As we approached the mountain, it had a different vibe than other mountain ranges. There were large open spaces between the mountains with huge valleys and summits. You don’t feel as if you’re in a forest, and emerging periodically to see the sunlight. Instead, there’s spaciousness about the area. It feels more European than Pacific Northwest rainforest.
Our first stop was by the Galena Chain Lakes, which is set in a meadow with walking paths around the lakes. It would be a delightful place to cross-country ski in the winter. Plus, it afforded panoramic views in all directions of snow-capped mountains and peaks.
Across from the lakes was a retreat center with a turquoise snowcat parked in the back. I snapped a photo of Rich through the cat, and was fascinated by the clouds reflected in the windows of building.
Our next stop was Heather Meadows. We didn’t know what to expect, but saw many cars in the parking lot so surely there was something picturesque to see. Five minutes on the trail, and I was mesmerized. The easy-to-walk trail, through an alpine meadow, ambles around the Bagley Lakes, which are more like ever-changing rivers. In some places, the water is calm, lapping on the shores. In others, it rushes over boulders, under a bridge, and through a small dam, which you can walk over.
As you walk, you pass by small waterfalls as snow continues to melt, and drain down into the lakes. What was green foliage and wild flowers in summer was awash in golds, oranges, and browns. We passed by people with bags of huckleberries, and kids with blue lips and teeth, their hands also stained from the picking and eating the huckleberries along the trails. After identifying which bushes were huckleberries, our fingers were soon equally blue, grabbing at the tasty berries, lingers on the tips of delicate branches, free of leaves, which had already turned and fallen.
It couldn’t have been more idyllic.
Hesitant to leave, but hungry, we returned to the car, and drove up to Artist Point, where we enjoyed our lunch while overlooking the valley below, and the glacier-covered Mount Baker.
With the snows coming, hiking trails and meadows obscured, and cars of skiers arriving soon, we’ll have to wait until the summer to return to Mount Baker.
On Friday, Rich and I drove to Marblemount, Washington, an hour east of Mount Vernon in the North Cascades. Barely 2.5 square miles in size with a population of around 250 people, the town is one of the many small towns that dot the highway, including Concrete, which derived its name from the merging of two towns where the Washington Portland Cement Company and Superior Portland Cement Company plants were located.
Our trip to Marblemount was to take a canoe trip down the Skagit River, which is the second longest river in Washington, starting in southwestern British Columbia, Canada, and snaking its way to the Puget Sound. Every few years, heavy rains create flood conditions for town along the river, including parts of Mount Vernon.
The upper Skagit River is controlled by the Ross, Diablo, and Gorge Dams, which are part of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. The river is not only an important spawning habit for five types of salmon, but is desirable for white water rafting, kayaking, and canoeing.
Remember the five types of salmon by holding up one of your hands. The thumb represents chum. The index finger can be used to poke yourself in the eye so it represents sockeye. The middle finger is king because it’s the longest or what you’d use to flip someone off to show you’re “king of the road.” The ring finger is silver, like a wedding band. And the pinkie finger represents pink salmon.
We started our trip, through Pacific NW Float Trips, by meeting our river guide, Joe, at a gas station in Marblemount. Several other groups were going out that day, including a flock of rowdy kids, wearing disposable rain ponchos, who were getting ready to white water raft. I was happy our group consisted of Joe, Rich, and myself. Less is more when it comes to water sports.
Glacier Gravel from Concrete to Picturesque Pond
With two aluminum canoes on top of Joe’s car, and hope that the rain, which followed us from Mount Vernon was done for the day, we headed to a series of ponds for the start of our day-long adventure. The ponds had originally been gravel pits, excavated to make concrete. So much gravel had been removed that when beavers created dams, water filled the pits and they became serene ponds, excellent habitats for spawning salmon and other wildlife.
We paddled around a pond, with Rich and I in one canoe, and Joe in the other. It was very pleasant, but a bit sedate for my taste. I prefer a bit more adventure. Having circled the pond, Joe recommended we park our canoes, and walk around to learn more about edible plants in the area.
Joe was a walking encyclopedia of what was edible, along with alternative uses for some of the plants. We nibbled on plantain, shepherd’s purse stinging nettle (after Joe showed Rich what to pick, and what to avoid), and thimbleberries (which I’ve always mistaken for salmon berries). We were also told the leaves of thimbleberries make excellent toilet paper!
After learning a bit about foraging, we headed back to Joe’s truck to pick up two more canoes for the next leg of our adventure. A river guide in Florida during the winter, and also a guide in Alaska, Joe’s housing is portable and temporary. When guiding on the Skagit River, he lives in a large teepee, with a fire brazier for warmth.
Beaver Dam Lead to Tippy Canoe
Our next stop was Illabot Creek, which feeds into the Skagit River. Happily, this time, portage of the canoes was a few hundred feet. Earlier, to reach the ponds, we had to carry the canoes about a quarter mile. While not overly heavy, they’re long and awkward to hold.
Illabot Creek is haven to salmon and eagles, and has been recognized by American Rivers and The Nature Conservancy for its importance in providing a crucial habitat for wild Chinook salmon, steelhead, bull trout, pink, Coho, and chum salmon. The large number of salmon in the creek also make it a popular hangout for bald eagles.
What I immediately appreciated was the abundance of ripe blackberries on the trail along the creek. I wasn’t as elated with the foot-long garter snake Joe plucked from the grass. While pretty, the snake was a little too big for me to comfortably touch. One day I will get over my fear of snakes. One day!
In the meanwhile, later that afternoon, I had no hesitancies about petting the Northern Alligator lizard, sunning himself (or herself) on a concrete barriers. Lizards are cool. Snakes are scary.
No sooner had Rich and I plunked our butts into our canoe, we had to get out to carry it over a small beaver dam. The water came up to the bottom of our calves and was quite cold. As the afternoon progressed, we steadily got wetter…
Several times, we had to get out of the canoe to pull it over a beaver dam. Because the water was low, it wasn’t an issue and it was super easy – at least for me – to get back into the front of the canoe. After navigating over the dam, we came to a picturesque area with many reeds, and ducks hiding out along the shores. You could see small fish in the water, along with a multitude of plant life.
Joe shared the difference between reeds, willows and grasses, and pointed out various wild life and plants. Later, while nibbling on snacks, we spotted a beaver swimming across the water.
It was enjoyable navigating in areas, which would be impossible by foot or a larger boat. The canoes glided over the shallow areas, and were easy to paddle in deeper water.
On the way back, we seemed to have more difficulty getting over the beaver dams with my having to wade further out into deeper water to pull the canoe over the dam, while Rich struggled to get a foothold. At one point, the water was to the top of my thighs!
On the second to last dam, I’d already gotten into the canoe. I looked back to see Rich getting into the back when suddenly the entire canoe tipped to the side, instantly filling with water. I turned around again to see Rich sitting on the floor of the canoe. He was evidentially standing in the canoe and rocking it slightly from side-to-side to try to scoot it forward. When he went to sit down, he didn’t realize he wasn’t near the seat.
Joe instructed us to get out of the canoe, walk it to shore, and then tip it over. By the time we got the canoe up righted, I was soak from mid-chest down. Fortunately, it was warm outside, and I had a change of clothes in the car.
After getting the canoes loaded back onto Joe’s truck, returning to our car, and then changing into dry clothes, we joined Joe at Que Car BBQ for a tasty late lunch. I thoroughly enjoyed my pulled pork sandwich, and Rich had their chopped brisket.
It was a fabulous unexpected day with Joe, who proved to be an informative, confident, good-humored river guide. We would recommend Pacific NW Float Trips for canoeing or white water rafting down the Skagit River or other eco-tours and trips they lead on the Nooksack and Wenatchee Rivers. In addition, they offer a trip through the Swinomish Channel through Deception Pass.
The last Saturday in June, we went to the Annual Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games and Clan Gathering in Enumclaw, Washington, east of Tacoma. Rich is half Scotch, which is where he probably got his height and good-looks!
We’d bought our tickets months in advance because I love Scottish heritage, especially the clothing. The performers, and many people in the crowd look dapper and disciplined in their kilts, starched shirts, vests, neckties, stylish tam-o’-shanters, ghillie brogues (shoes with laces and tassels), hoses (socks), and sporrans (bag worn in front… codpiece for Scotsmen).
We arrived earlier and my first thought was “It’s so small. We’ll be bored after a few hours.”
My initial perceptions were wrong.
The first hour or so, we wandered around the many booths in the Celtic marketplace, and stopped to ask questions at a couple of the clan tents. Each tent represents a clan, such as Bruce, Campbell, Craig, Ferguson, Fraser, Gordon, Gregor, Macalister, Macbeth, etc. The tents display memorabilia about the clan, such as I noticed the Morrison tent featured a picture of Jim Morrison from The Doors, who is of English, Scottish, and Irish decent.
There wasn’t a Robertson (Donnachaidh) tent, which is Rich’s heritage. We did locate the tartan designs for Robertson, which Rich didn’t like because they don’t contain enough green. Although, you can probably choose any kilt nowadays without fear of being attacked by an opposing clan. The days of Scottish aggression are over!
Hurling Stones, Sheaves, Weights, and Logs
Our next stop was the athletic competition. These events were originally used by chieftains and kings to choose the best men for their retinue by testing their strength, endurance, and agility. Many of the events were based on based on commonplace activities. For instance, farmers or crofters used pitchforks to toss bundles of straw (sheaves) onto the roofs of cottages that needed to be re-thatched. Today, the sheaf toss consists of using a pitchfork to chuck a 20-pound, burlap bag of straw up, and over a cross bar.
The Scottish hammer event may have derived from farmers’ mauls used to drive in fence posts or blacksmiths’ hammer. The hammer used today is 16 pounds, swung around the head, and then released. Putting the stone, from which the Olympic shot put derived, continues to use a rounded stone, weighing 17 to 23 pounds. The latter is called a braemar stone. The stone we saw used was somewhat oblong, and definitely not perfected rounded like a shot put.
The most anticipated event is the caber toss, the rules for which have changed little since the fifteenth century. The event starts by standing upright a 16 to 20 foot tall log, weighing between 80 and 130 pounds. The competitor then grasps the bottom of the log, and walks forward or backwards a couple of steps before flipping it end-over-end, with the hope it lands in the twelve o’clock position. If it lands to the right, the score would be one o’clock or three o’clock it’s 45-degrees from where the bottom of the log was originally positioned. Falling to the left of twelve o’clock could get a score of 11:30 or less.
First, the ability to balance a log vertically is crazy. And then rapidly walking, and for some competitors, running, with the caber is unbelievable. And for many of the men we watched, flipping the caber over is extremely difficult. When the caber is correctly tossed, the crowd bursts out in cheers.
We spent a considerable amount of time watching men and women compete in the various events. We were most fascinated, however, by Kristy Scott, an elite woman competitor who is super buff, and easily flung weights, stones, and sheaves as if they were as light as feathers. She may have set a world record that day for weight for height, which consists of tossing a 28-pound weight over a cross bar.
Googling her, we discovered she’s a weight lifter. In July, she lifted over 500 pounds. Her tossing a 26-pound weight is probably like me lobbing a cherry at Rich.
Actually, all of the women competitors were tall, muscular, and incredibly strong. And the men made Rich look like a dwarf. They were huge. Tall, stout, and muscular. All of the competitors wore kilts with tee-shirts and athletic shoes. One couple, Todd and Lyman Asay, work dramatic kilts with flames insets. Both had flaming red hair with Lyman’s hair in a thick braid, which extended past her waist.
Bagpipes, Drums, Dogs, and Dancing
We didn’t want to miss the opening ceremonies so we headed over to the main field, where we watched several pipers perform for judges. The judging is quite stringent with the tuning of pipes and playing ability being judged. Four pipes need to be tuned, the chanter, which is the small pipe the player blows, and the three drone reeds, the wood shafts on the shoulder.
Playing ability focuses on fingering, along with ability to regulate blowing in the bag. The latter creates a steady tone, which complements the melody pattern of the chanter. The bag piper is considered one of the most difficult instruments to master.
The competitions included individual piping and drumming, drum competition with entire drum corps, and pipe bands, which consists of drummers and pipers. For the opening ceremonies, all of the bands line up and parade together onto the field. The beauty of the uniforms coupled with the steady drone of the bagpipes and rhythm of the three types of drums (snare, tenor, and bass) is very powerful.
Check out this video from the 2012 Scottish Drumming Championship. View as full screen, and watch the drummers twirl their sticks, and their exaggerated arm movements.
After the opening ceremony, we wandered over to the barns to check out the Scottish Highland Cattle and other farm animals native to Scotland. In another areas, dogs that originated in Scotland were competing and showcasing their skills in herding, agility, barrel racing, and more. Represented were cairn terriers, Welsh corgis, golden retrievers, Shetland sheepdogs, Irish water spaniels, collies, Gordon setters, Irish setters, Scottish terriers, white terriers, and hounds.
My favorites are the terriers, collies, and shelties; all three I’ve previously owned. Rich liked the corgis.
Our next stop was to briefly watch the highland dance competition with children and adults dancing the Highland fling, Sean Truibhas, Flora MacDonald, Scottish Lilt, Full Tulloch, Pas de Basque, Sailor’s Hornpipe, Earl of Errol, and other traditional dances. The dance steps are very intricate and performed in groups so if someone is off a step, it’s very noticeable.
Of special interest to Rich was the displays of Scottish artisans and crafts from long ago, including carding and weaving wool, blacksmithing, and woodworking.
We also watched the group 1916, which melded punk rock music with traditional Celtic music, including bagpipes and whistles. They have a cool, infectious sound that makes you want to dance (or at least rock to the beat).
On another stage was the Bog Hoppers, a Seattle-based Celtic folk punk group. They were super fun to watch because of their hill-billy clothes, wacky lyrics, and fabulous strings, including banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and bass.
When we walked out the gates, nearly nine hours after we’d walked in, our spirits were refreshed. It had been a great day in a beautiful location, seeing weights and cabers tossed, hearing and watching performers, petting dogs, learning about Scottish heritage, and much more.
Several months ago, Rich and I attended a fundraiser, where we won two silent auction packages. One was a white water rafting trip on the Wenatchee River in eastern Washington through River Recreation
With the weather expected to be in the 90’s over the weekend, I wasn’t looking forward to baking on a raft, with the sun reflecting off the water, further radiating my skin. Friday evening, we sifting through the bathroom cupboards, searching for the scarcely used tube of sun block. Finding none, we moseyed down to the local Safeway. While there, we stocked up on bottled water for the trip, and bought breakfast fixings.
After a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, and hash browns, which Rich cooked, we hit the road.
Our first stop was a roadside stand where we bought $2 worth of local Bing cherries. We hastily wiped them on our shirts and popped them into our mouths. They were sweet and juicy, no doubt, picked from the tree hour earlier.
The drive out to Monitor, Washington, where River Recreation is located, is punctuated with fruit stands, and acres of fruit trees, laden with apples, cherries, and pears. They’re in neat rows, spaced to accommodate pickers and large wooden crates.
Wenatchee, which is a little over 2 hours east of Everett, and near where we were going to raft is considered the “apple capital of the world,” with 170,000 acres of apple orchards, comprising the majority of the apples produced in Washington, Crops include deep red to light green apples, Braeburn to Cameo, Cripps Pink, Fuji, Gala, Gingergold, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Pink Lady, Rome, Red Delicious, and Winesap.
Each year, 10-12 billion apples are handpicked in Washington State. It’s the largest agricultural product grown in the state, and 60% of the apples eaten in the nation come from Washington. It’s not surprise that Treetop has a plant in Wenatchee, with around 150 employees, producing low moisture, chilled and frozen apple ingredients for the food industry. In addition, the Aplet and Cotlets factory is in the area, along with smaller enterprising producing fresh and alcoholic apple cider, and other apple products.
Further down the road, we came to Leavenworth, which is an over-the-top tourist town with nearly every building architected and painted—including the auto repair shop – to resemble a Bavarian village. Even the Best Western is called the Icicle Village and Starbucks has a German theme. It’s quite a few blocks of shops, restaurants, hotels, outdoor stages, and landscaped areas idyllically, sandwiched between dramatic mountain ranges, which like Leavenworth, is blanketed in snow during the winter. It has year-round festivals and events, and is a popular place all times of the year because it’s family-friendly, closing to skiing, rafting, and other outdoor activities.
I’m not delighted by anything German so the town is more obnoxious than delightful to me. Nevertheless, with time to spare before our rafting trip, we put $1.50 in the meter, and decided to walk around the outdoor art festival. Before we could start walking, however, I was recognized by someone I worked with when I was a contractor at Microsoft Kinect for Windows.
Small world because I’d only worked with her a short time! It was fun to catch up and learn what was happening in the group.
With our fill of Leavenworth for the year, we hit the road and headed to Monitor.
One of the tour guides, described Monitor as two houses, a pallet factory, and River Recreation, the rafting company. According to the 2000 census, 342 people live in the Monitor zip code. It definitely had a has-been feel with dusty streets, and run-down buildings and houses. River Recreation was super cool, and a had a fabulous vibe with numerous picnic tables under umbrellas, large painted school buses, a warehouse full of wet suits, half a dozen tents for the guides under a grove of trees, and several large BBQs, fired up, cooking lunch for the guests.
River Recreation oversees guided tours twice a day. A group of rafters go out in the morning, and return around 1 p.m. for lunch. A second group is asked to arrive before 1 p.m. Following lunch, they hits the rapids. We were in the second group, which provided time to work up a healthy appetite. Fortunately, they served barbequed chicken legs, pepper beef, green solid, three-bean salad, tortilla chips, watermelon, and white bread with soft-spread margarine. No doubt, it was Costco-to-table, but sufficiently tasty and filling.
After lunch, there was a bad rush to get wetsuits and booties. It’s the first time I’ve worn a wetsuit, which is comfortable once you pull it on, but quite the chore to pull up… especially when rushed. We were each given a paddle and PFD (Personal Floatation Device), and then herded onto two large school buses. Fortunately, the 90+ degree weather hadn’t manifested. It was overcast and delightfully cool.
During lunch, we were joined by another couple, Kevin and Christine, who live on Whidbey Island. The probability of sitting next to someone who lives on Whidbey Island, during a rafting trip in remote Monitor, Washington, is close to zero. They are a delightful couple who shared interesting information about island life, computing on the ferry, and the challenges of getting a job, which is akin to one’s field. In Kevin’s case, he used to create and archive media for Disney in Los Angeles. He’s an expert is converting media to various formats for print, video, and other digital formats. Currently, he works at Nintendo.
We were hoping to be in a raft with them, but because I needed to take a pit stop when rafts were being assigned, we ended up on other raft with a Russian couple who live in Richmond, Washington, a hedge fund manager who works in Bellevue, and his associate, an Asian woman, who was visiting from Chicago. Our river guide, Brian, was from Bellingham, just north of the Canadian border.
As we drove to the drop-off site, the overcast skies, and distant lightning and thunder, turned into a hefty rain shower, which let up once we arrived… and then started up again a few minutes later. It was a torrential downpour. Fortunately, we were wearing wetsuits so it didn’t matter if we got wet.
There was a large group of rafters, from another company, in the water when we arrived so we not only had to wait for them to paddle down the river, but wait until River Recreation put all 17 of their rafts (we were towards the back of the pack) in the water… each with a minimum of 6 rafters and one guide per boat. Do the math. There were lots of rafts and rafters taming the rapids that afternoon!
Prior to our departure, we listen to a safety lecture with instructions for what to do if you fall in the water, how to get back in the raft (or float down the river with your knees bent and toes out of the water), how to help someone into the raft, and also how to correctly use your paddle. I was surprised at the extent of the safety lecture… as if people regularly fall into the water…
The first few minutes of the trip was spent learning how to paddle as a team, and understand the instructions barked out by our guide. It didn’t seem overly strenuous. It would certainly be easier than paddling a canoe with Rich when I’m in the front doing most of the work, and he’s just steering!
Our first set of rapids was exciting, pitching the boat from side-to-side. My first reaction was “Let’s do it again!” And “do it again,” we did numerous times for the 3 hour trip, which included taking out the raft by a small dam, and walking around the dam before putting it back in. At one point, the guide asked if anyone wanted to ride the next rapid – Snow Blind — on the bow of the raft. Rich volunteered me.
I was able to get on the bow with my slippery wet suit, but fell back into the boat, which was the instruction from the guide should I fall. The two men in the front of the raft were able to prop me back up on the bow, just in time for me to see the raft dip down into a crater of water. I held on tight for another few rapids, and then we came to a doozy of a rapid. I was immediately flipped into the boat with a tsunami of a wave that landed on top of me, knocking off my hat, pasting my glasses to my face, and cleaning out my nasal and brain cavity. It felt like I was underwater for 20 seconds or more.
Drenched, I slithered back to my seat at the back of the raft, happy to keep a low profile for the rest of the trip. At least, I hadn’t fallen out of the raft! The first time I rafted on the Guadalupe River in Texas, I was sitting on top of a back rests, and flipped out of the raft when we hit the first (and only) rapid on the water.
Throughout the trip, we could hear thunder and saw lightening in the distance. And several times, we paddled through a downpour. Crazy weather considering it was supposed to be in the 90’s.
Towards the end of the trip, we came to calm water, and the guide described several “games” we could play. One was rodeo where someone stands on the bow of the boat, holds onto a rope, and leans back while the rest of the rafters paddled in a circle. The hedge fund manager was game. He stayed upright for a minute or so and then found himself in the river. Rich pulled him out.
Another game is between two people who lock oars, lean back and walk themselves towards each other using their hands on the handles of the oars. Rich’s and my height difference would have guaranteed that I fall into the water. No thanks!
Most of the rafts had willing participants in the game… falling it the water, and then being retrieved. It became obvious why they’d given detailed instructions at the start of our trip about what to do when one falls into the water, and how to get back into the raft.
By the time we got back, the rain had subsided. It was nice to change into dry clothes, say our good-byes to our raft-mates, and Kevin and Christine. Maybe we’ll bump into them when we move to Whidbey Island in a few years.