Category Archives: Travel

A week of beer tourism (part 2)

I left off my tale of our week of beer tourism with a big sigh, sadly bidding farewell to Russian River Brewery. It seemed that the rest of our trip would be anticlimactic, but there were still more treats in store!

Our next day’s travel took us 62 miles from Santa Rosa to Ukiah. We got a late, lazy start, which allowed us to have lunch just a few miles up the road at Bear Republic in Healdsburg. We ate on the shady patio, from which we could see the river-side trail that we would walk after lunch. Bear Republic is a large craft brewery with wide distribution, so we mostly tasted beers that we couldn’t get easily elsewhere. The standout beers for me were the Hallertau Blanc Rebellion (an IPA) and Cafe Racer 15 (a double IPA). Are you noticing a pattern here? I did actually quite enjoy their Maibock as well — it was delicate and not overly malty with a crisp peppery finish.

After our walk we continued north to Ukiah. We checked into our motel we set off on foot to Mendocino Brewing. The brewery has a great history, having first opened in 1983 as the Hopland Brewery. It was the first brewpub opened in California (second in the US) after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The original brewing equipment (and the brewers themselves) came from the then-recently closed New Albion Brewery. New Albion was a craft beer beacon in the darkness when the rest of the country was drinking nothing but light lagers.

Hopland Brewery’s name was soon changed to Mendocino Brewing. Their flagship Red Tail Ale brought them fame and attention from investors. In 1997 they were 75% bought out by United Breweries Group, a global brewery holding company. While they continue to brew Mendocino’s original recipes in Ukiah, they have essentially become a “crafty” brewery — one that is corporate-owned while masquerading as a genuine craft brewery.

Crafty or not, we wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt so we stopped by their taproom. Well, I wasn’t impressed. We and the lone bartender were the only people in the place. Their beers were all too malty, too bland, or in one case inappropriately sour. I have to say that the lack of passion and personal attention to their products definitely showed.

The bartender was kind enough to tell us about the other local brewery, so we tipped her well and moved on to Ukiah Brewing Company. What a difference! The place was busy and lively, and the beer and food were generally good. My favorite among the beers was the Coops Stout, which tasted appropriately of coffee and dark chocolate. The Pilsner Ukiah was another winner: unfiltered yet very pretty, crisp, and clean. Their IPA had a hint of sourness, but overall our experience at this brewpub was positive.

Our next day was another short driving day, which took us over some beautiful roads. We first went over the hills from Ukiah to Boonville for a stop at Anderson Valley Brewery. This is another well-known brewery with readily-available beers. They pride themselves on being located in a quaint small town (with its own alleged dialect!) in the middle of nowhere.

We were put off immediately by the brewery buildings, which were winery-cute. As an architect, CFL was offended by their unnecessary and too-fussy design details. We walked into the taproom, which wasn’t very busy, and it took us nearly five minutes to get the attention of the three sullen-looking employees behind the bar. Then while we were tasting we were bothered by a couple of ill-behaved dogs. When we complained, we were rather haughtily informed that this was a “dog-friendly” establishment. I guess we were supposed to enjoy our dog encounters there.

We took the brewery tour, but it was very brief and the tour guide was neither well-informed nor enthusiastic. However, we did appreciate the retro good looks of their copper equipment.

As for the Anderson Valley beers, we did enjoy all three of their IPAs (Hop Ottin IPA, Nettied Madge Black IPA, and Heelch o’ Hops), and their Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout is justly famous. But we couldn’t wait to get our of there, as our next stop was the seaside village of Mendocino.

CFL actually lived in Mendocino for a couple of years, almost 30 years ago. There are no breweries in Mendocino, but we spent the afternoon there walking along the headlands. My words can’t do it justice, so I’ll show you some photos.

Wasn’t that a nice break from drinking beer? We thought so.

Still, the road ahead promised more beer, so we carried on!

North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg is famous for Old Rasputin, a Russian Imperial Stout. I knew from my vast internet research that their brewpub menu was almost exclusively steak and seafood, so we chose to eat dinner beforehand at a Mexican restaurant across the street. With our tummies well-primed we then settled down to our evening’s tasting.

We sat in the bar, which was very busy but well-attended by a couple of entertaining bartenders. It was a Friday night and the mostly-local crowd was lively and friendly. The beers started out so-so with a couple of mild and unassertive beers. Things got a whole lot better with Old Stock Ale, which tasted of port, vanilla beans, berries, and saddle leather. Really nice. The star of the show was absolutely the Old Rasputin. I got a bit rhapsodic over the idea of drinking it there at the source, on nitro, most expertly served by the bartender who explained to me exactly how the nitro serving process works. A world-class tasting experience at a small but world-class brewery. Well done you guys — cheers!

Our motel in Fort Bragg was directly across from the beach, with a view that was so fetching I got up early the next morning to go for a run.

Once in the car we continued northward through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We took our time, driving along the Avenue of the Giants and stopping several times for short hikes through the trees. We have big trees where we live, but we still think the coast redwoods are very special.

Now back to the beer! We greatly enjoyed Eel River Brewing in Fortuna. Perhaps we enjoyed their beers so much because by this time we’d pretty much decided to limit our tasting to IPAs, double IPAs, and Imperial Stouts. “Amber? Meh. Blonde? Forget it.” Eel River’s Organic IPA, Citra IPA, and Emerald Triangle were all rather wonderful.

After a post-beer walk we moved on to our night’s destination in Eureka. We’d been to Lost Coast Brewery on a previous trip and eagerly anticipated a return visit. The brewpub is in a funky old downtown building. It was very busy on this Saturday night — we had to wait for a table. We tried their 20th Anniversary Ale, which utterly did not work for us. It tasted of bubblegum and watermelon — yuck! Fortunately their Double Trouble (a double IPA) was wonderful. Great big piny bitterness, resiny mouthfeel, assertive bitter orange finish. Mighty fine!

We did a lot of driving the next day, all the way back to Portland for our final night on the road. We were delayed nearly two hours by miles of road  construction. As a result, we had no time for pub crawling. We took the light rail into downtown and headed straight to the Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House for dinner and beer.

The date was June 29. I was tingly with anticipation because I knew that Black Butte XXVI had been released only two days prior. Deschutes does an annual release of a barrel-aged, augmented version of its famous Black Butte Porter, and it’s always well worth the hype.

We ordered a flight with our meal and I teased myself with Inversion IPA, Fresh Squeezed IPA and Hop in the Dark CDA (a black IPA), all of which were perfectly wonderful,  before moving on to the star of the evening.

I have to tell you that Black Butte XXVI brought tears — literally it brought tears! — to my eyes. It’s barrel-aged with added Theo Chocolate cocoa nibs, pomegranate molasses, and cranberries. I usually turn up my nose at added ingredients in beer, but Deschutes does it with perfect restraint. It’s lovely, both to drink and to look at.

I intended to leave the restaurant with several bottles of it, but alas, they had already sold out of bottles and were awaiting a delivery from the brewery in Bend two days later.

Three weeks later I still haven’t found it around home, but I’m hopeful that I’ll still be able to obtain some when we go to Bend later this summer.

We came home with a few remaining bottles of Pliny the Elder, a couple of  other  lesser beers, and some great memories. We visited 18 breweries and tasted (or in some cases drank a few pints of) something in the neighborhood of 130 to 140 distinct beers. We only had a few really bad ones.

There were three clear standouts, highlights of the whole trip: Pliny the Elder (because it’s Pliny!), Old Rasputin (perfect at the source) and Black Butte XXVI.

We’re already planning our next beer trip (did I say something about… BEND???). But for the time being, it’s good to be home.

Cheers!

 

A week of beer tourism (part 1)

When I last left off the tale, we were leaving Monterey after a week’s worth of car-club activities. We could have taken two days to drive home, but we opted instead for a slow, steady week’s worth of short drives, long walks, and serious beer tourism.

Central and northern California are home to some world-class craft breweries, and we made it our mission to visit as many of them as possible.

When we visit a brewery, we usually share a flight. This gives each of us about a 2-ounce taste of several beers. That way we get to sample lots of beers without actually drinking all that much. Then we always follow a tasting with a walk. In an hour or so we can tour a downtown and see it in a way that most tourists don’t, while adding up our daily mileage as well.

We’d actually incorporated beer tourism throughout our trip, beginning with a tour of the Firestone Walker brewery in Paso Robles. They did a nice tour, almost 40 minutes worth of walking around the brewery before returning to the taproom for tastes. The guide was both knowledgeable and passionate; he enjoyed our nerdy nit-picky home brewer questions about the details of their brewing process. I bought a bottle of Parabola, a barrel-aged imperial stout, to take home.

In Santa Cruz we visited Seabright Brewery. We enjoyed the beachy vibe on their pink and turquoise patio. Their beers were all good but there were no standouts.

During our week in Monterey we made a few visits to Peter B’s brewpub in the Portola Hotel. Their Legend of Laguna IPA was quite nice. We also tasted several good beers from English Ales Brewery in nearby Marina, although we never made it to their taproom. We dashed into Alvarado Street Brewery just before closing time one night for a quick half pint of Duane’s World IPA.

Upon leaving Monterey we stayed a couple of nights with a niece of Chuck’s in the bay area. This allowed us to spend several hours in San Francisco walking to breweries. We couldn’t get into Anchor (their tours are booked six months in advance, and there is no other way to taste at the brewery), but we visited 21st Amendment (home of Brew Free! or Die IPA), Thirsty Bear, and Cellarmaker. The beers at Thirsty Bear were pretty good, but the food was awesome — it was an outstanding choice for our late lunch. Then at tiny Cellarmaker we encountered a beer called Coffee and Cigarettes. I don’t care for smoked beers, but this smoked porter was rather wonderful, and very aptly named.

The next day we began ever-so-slowly making our way northward. On a friend’s recommendation, we stopped in Fairfax to visit Iron Springs Brewery. Their Sless’ Stimulating Stout won a gold medal in the Oatmeal Stout category at the 2104 World Beer Cup. It was very nice, but my favorite was the Casey Jones Imperial IPA. We had to take an extra long walk after that one, but downtown Fairfax was absolutely charming.

From there  we drove just a few miles north to Petaluma, for Lagunitas Brewing. This is one of the big ones, with national distribution of their core beers. We sat in their shady patio enjoying laid-back live music and limited our tasting to small-batch beers that we can’t get at home. Night Time (a black IPA) and Fusion 22 (an IPA) were the standouts for me. It’s pretty clear that hops are an acquired taste, and we’ve turned into major hopheads. We love IPAs! Unfortunately Lagunitas is in the middle of an industrial park so we didn’t much enjoy our walk afterwards, but we soldiered on and got it done.

Then it was on to beer Mecca! We spent a night in Santa Rosa with a college friend of Chuck’s, which allowed us to visit a small local brewpub called Russian River Brewery. Their Pliny the Elder (a double IPA, natch!) has been voted the best beer in America by the members of the American Homebrewing Association for the last six years in a row. Their Pliny the Younger (a triple IPA), released each year in February, provokes 12-hour lines at the brewery and sells out in days. We’ve never tasted the Younger. We’d only had the Elder once before, in San Diego. Russian River’s distribution is extremely limited — it goes to select counties in California, a few places in Oregon and Colorado, and oddly to Philadelphia. For us, drinking Pliny at the source was a huge thrill that we believe every craft drinker must experience!

Russian River served up the largest flight I have ever seen. Despite their fame in the IPA realm, most of their beers are Belgian style (not our favorite) but it was Russian River so we had to sample everything. In this photo, however, you’ll notice that I’m hoisting a pint glass. I was taking microscopic sips of the Belgians but devoting most of my attention to that pint of Pliny.

Russian River was the one stop on our brewery tour where we actually bought beer apparel. We also bought a treasured six-pack of Pliny to go. A few of the bottles actually made it all the way home with us.

Gosh, I’ve only got partway through the week and I’m pushing 900 words already. I have more wonderful breweries to tell you about, but after Russian River I need to exhale!

Why am I still inside on this perfect summer day, anyway? I think I’ll stop writing for today and go for a bike ride.

Cheers!

 

A return to Monterey

Monterey, California was my late husband’s favorite place in the world. We would have moved there years ago if we could have found suitable employment to manage the high cost of housing. Alas, that never happened, so we chose Port Angeles, WA – a decision I never regretted – but his heart always longed for Monterey. Beginning in 1988 (I think?) we went there nearly every August for the Historic Races. We also attended several Porsche Club events in Monterey. The Monterey Porsche Parade in 1990 was always his favorite of the ten Parades we attended together. A few months after he died, I drove solo down to southern California and burst into tears when I saw highway signs pointing toward Monterey. I wrote about that moment here. Three years seems so long ago now, but at the time I didn’t know when I’d ever be able to return to Monterey without feeling that pain.

So I felt a mixture of delight and trepidation when it was announced that the 2014 Porsche Parade would be held in Monterey. I knew that I would go, but I didn’t know how I’d feel about being there.

As it turned out, CFL is now an important part of my life… and Monterey is a special place for him also. He actually lived there for a few years as a very young child while his father was stationed at the Naval Postgraduate School.

The Porsche Club of America is, I believe, the largest single-marque car club in the world, with over 100,000 members in 139 regions across the US and Canada. I’ve been a member since 1986, and yes I have owned a few Porsches over the years. The Parade is an annual national gathering held in a different city each year. During the week-long event, participants can choose from car-related competitive (concours, time/speed/distance rally, gimmick rally, autocross, technical quiz), other competitive (art show, golf tournament, 5K run, radio-controlled car races) and social (driving tours, banquets, receptions, beer tasting, wine tasting) events. It’s a busy week!

This year’s Parade was the largest ever, with more than 1,200 entrants (representing approximately 2,500 people and 1,000+ cars in attendance). As it was my 11th Parade and CFL’s first, I was delighted to “show him the ropes” and introduce him to many old friends from all over the country.

We started the week by working at the Concours. We were assigned to a team of judges who judged a whole bunch of 356s (the Porsche 356 was the original production Porsche, produced through 1965). CFL was a timer (each car is examined for a period of 5 minutes) and I was a runner (I took the score sheets for each car back to the scoring room). Of the dozen or more judging teams, my team had the only runner who actually RAN — I logged over 8 miles that day, one car at a time. :-)

Here is our team in action, as each judge was filling out his/her scoring sheet (as lowly workers, we didn’t get into this photo).

Our debut as competitors was the time/speed/distance (TSD) rally. The object of a TSD rally is to (1) stay on course and (2) arrive at each checkpoint at the right time. My late husband and I had gotten rather good at this over the years; our best finish was a 2nd in class (against 200+ others) in San Diego in 2007.

As rally driver, CFL rose to the challenge and did a great job of sustaining the prescribed average speeds through many speed changes. As navigator, I misinterpreted a few instructions and got us lost twice (argh!). We ended up finishing 19th in our class of 54 — but we passed the most important rally test with flying colors, as we were still speaking to each other at the end!

Here you see our car at a checkpoint where we were getting our timing slip.

A couple of days later we ran the gimmick rally. At this event we were given “you-won’t-get-lost” route instructions and a list of questions about places along the way. The rally route took us through 17 Mile Drive. We spent more time gaping at the scenery than we did looking for answers, so we finished well back in the pack.

A rally highlight for us was stopping to admire a Frank Lloyd Wright house. My late husband had fallen in love with this house years ago, which led to his interest in modern architecture, then led to my interest, then led to my doing to a lot of research on architectural theory that found its way into my dissertation — and finally brought me to meeting an architect (CFL) and answering his question about my architectural preferences with the statement “mid-century modern architecture.” Apparently that was the right answer! Hence this house (which CFL also knows well) was a big deal for us to see together. You just never know where the road of life will take you!

Of course we got the obligatory photo of ourselves at the Lone Cypress.

The rally banquet was held at the beautiful Carmel Mission. I enjoyed photographing the mission in the changing evening light. Check out the shadow that this contrail left on the clouds just before sunset!

At the banquet I won a large, bulky door prize (a car wash bucket with what looks like a lifetime supply of various cleaning supplies and equipment), which meant that we’d have to ship some things home to make room in the car for the beer that we planned to buy on the way home. But I’ll save the beer stories for another post.

On the last morning, we were up very early to run (me) and walk (CFL) the 5K. The route took us out and back along the waterfront. I ran a 29:12 and finished 2nd in my age group.

CFL was much more laid back and finished in something like 46 minutes. We both enjoyed the event.

The last thing before the final banquet was the actual Parade of Porsches. As Monterey is home to the Laguna Seca race track, this year’s parade consisted of two parade laps on the track. I consider my high-speed track days to be far behind me, but CFL had never driven on a racetrack, so I let him drive. With over 500 Porsches on the track (in 4-5 run groups) the speed was restrained, but we still managed to feel some G-forces and the unique thrill of the Corkscrew.

My photos are blurry, but they’ll give you an idea. Staging:

 

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On the track:

CFL was a happy guy afterwards.

The Parade concluded with the final banquet and many fond goodbyes. The next morning we scurried around and shoehorned everything into the car just well enough to make our way to a UPS store.

We’d take another week to make our way home, but I’ve done enough writing for now.

Until next time!

When a blogger doesn’t blog…

When a blogger doesn’t blog, it probably means one of two possible things:

  1. The blogger’s life is so utterly boring or depressing that there’s nothing worth blogging about
  2. The blogger has been too busy and happy to find time to write!

I’m happy to report that in my case, option 2 is the correct answer.

CFL and I hit the road for 20 days in June, driving a (mostly) leisurely 3,000 miles through Washington, Oregon, and California. Our adventures included  attending my granddaughter’s high school graduation, participating in a week of car-related events with nearly 2,500 other Porsche people and their cars in Monterey, California, spending time with several of CFL’s family members and friends (all new introductions for me), and visiting 18 (count ‘em!) craft breweries. Along the way we also fit in two visits with my dad (who is in a nursing home following a stroke in March) and stepmom in southern Oregon.

We were so busy that we didn’t take as many photos as we should have, but I’ll try to share some highlights from our trip over the next few days.

A big highlight for CFL was that we spent some time in two places where I-5 crosses the Pacific Crest Trail. We can now actually say that we’ve hiked the PCT, albeit only for a few yards!

My “Halfmile PCT” app on my phone captured the first moment that we stood on the trail, in southern Oregon.

Then we took the obligatory selfie at a trail marker.

And I shot the first photo of CFL actually setting foot on the trail. At this moment he had stopped to examine a note left by someone for a hiker who will come through this spot in August.

At the second trail crossing in northern California, we admired this directional sign.

For those who don’t know, the Pacific Crest Trail runs nearly 2,700 miles from Mexico to Canada. The California and Oregon sections were described by Cheryl Strayed in her best-selling book Wild (soon to be a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon). CFL has dreamed of through-hiking the PCT for at least 30 years now. I haven’t yet caught the fever for a through-hike, but I am considering hiking one or more sections of it. We plan to give ourselves a small taste of it later this summer when we’ll day-hike three short sections of it near and in Crater Lake National Park.

Our PCT adventure took place on day 2 of 20, so we were just getting underway. I’ll share more from our trip over the next several days… unless life in this moment gets too busy and happy for me to take the time to write.

Until next time…. Slowly and happily!

Staying active through the dead of winter

February can be tough sometimes. While the days are getting noticeably Ionger, winter still packs quite a punch. It can be difficult to motivate myself to get out there and stay active when the temperature is in the high 30s and the sky is gloomy with an intermittent drizzle. I confess, there are days when I just want to say “curse you, Activity Streak!” and snuggle more deeply into my favorite reading chair.

CFL and I recently made a quick trip down to southern Oregon to visit my dad. We contemplated bringing our bikes along, but then decided we’d just take it easy with long walks. We eagerly anticipated walking around downtown Eugene and Portland, stopping to take in a few local breweries and taprooms along the way.

All went as planned in Eugene, on the outbound leg of our trip. We enjoyed sharing flights of beers at Oakshire Brewing and Hop Valley Brewing, and had a great dinner at The Bier Stein, a brewpub boasting 24 taps and over 1,000 types of bottled beer.

Coming back northward toward Portland, however, we got caught up in heavy snow. We never had to put on chains, but trucks and cars pulling trailers did. At one point I-5 was blocked completely, with truckers stopped in the middle of the freeway to put on their chains. It took us two hours to drive five miles beyond the place that I took this photo.

By the time we reached Portland, we were in the midst of an ice storm. We crept into downtown, trying not to slide sideways on some of the same bridges that we’d pedaled over happily on our bikes during the Bridge Pedal last August.

We’d booked a room at the same motel we stayed at last summer. From this location it’s a quarter-mile walk to a light rail station that would take us directly to the middle of downtown. We were hungry; I eagerly anticipated a great dinner and an awesome IPA at Deschutes Brewery’s Portland brewpub.

The slightly frazzled reception desk clerk assured us that no matter how bad the weather, the light rail never shut down, thanks to super-duper new defrosting technology. So we bundled up and set off toward the train station.

It was 21 degrees with a 19 mile per hour wind. Freezing rain lashed our faces as we stumbled intrepidly to the station. We bought our round-trip passes and stood on the platform with a couple dozen other hardy souls. Then we began to hear rumblings: “We’ve been standing here for an hour.” The marquee display still indicated the expected arrival time for the next train, so we figured all those people had just lost track of time!

Then the marquee display changed. All trains in the system were shut down.

By this time we were very cold and very hungry. We trudged back. Earlier we’d heard that only one restaurant in the immediate area of the motel was open. It was a steakhouse, about two blocks past the motel. To get there, we had to walk into the blistering wind and navigate sidewalks and parking lots that were in the process of becoming encased in half an inch of ice.

By the time we arrived, my jacket was frozen stiff.

It turned out to be a steakhouse of the old-fashioned sort, meaning there was nothing for this vegetarian to eat but fries. The fries tasted a bit fishy but at that point I really didn’t care. Fortunately they did have some interesting beers on tap! 

The next morning our phones awoke us with an emergency alert imploring everyone in Portland not to go out if at all possible. We hung out at the motel until almost checkout time enjoying the view of the iced-over pool.

We then decided to make a run for it. Getting out of the parking lot was a bit scary but once we were on the freeway it was fine. By the time we were fifty miles into Washington, we had left most of the snow behind us.

Since then it’s rained every day here at home. I got my new bicycle on February 1 but so far I’ve only managed to ride it 25 miles, mostly right around the immediate neighborhood.

I surprised myself by buying a road bike. I didn’t think I wanted drop handlebars, but when I thought about what I enjoy doing on a bike — riding fast and riding long — a road bike became the obvious choice. I’m gradually getting used to the more aggressive riding posture. Mostly I keep my hands up top, but on a long flat stretch (which is scarce in my neighborhood) I can inch them down into the dropped position. Going downhill is still scary though! 

Fortunately, going uphill is much easier than it was on my old bike: that’s when I really notice that it weighs 19.5 pounds compared to my old bike at 33 pounds. I’m going to need that lightness and quick acceleration this coming Sunday when — whatever the weather — CFL and I will ride the Chilly Hilly. At 33 miles around Bainbridge Island with a total elevation gain of 2,675 feet, it will be my hilliest bike ride ever! I just wish I had more time between now and then to get comfortable on my new bike. 

But it does get tough to get out there  and feed the activity streak when the weather is lousy. This morning during a sunbreak I got out and ran along the waterfront. Thanks to all the rain, Ennis Creek was higher than I’ve ever seen it before.

During the last mile of my run, dark clouds loomed over the strait, the wind picked up, and the rain began. I caught this shot of sun, rain, and oncoming storm clouds during my after-run stretch time.

There was a flock of surf scoters in the water near the pier. I noticed with delight that the birds were forming boy/girl pairs. Spring is coming, and love is in the air!

I’d hoped to get out with my bike this afternoon, but the skies look inky again. My reading chair is calling me…

Tomorrow is another day! It will be activity streak day #414 to be precise. I don’t know yet how many miles I’ll be able to fit in, but one way or another I know I’ll drag myself out there and do something.

What about you? How is the dead of winter treating you? Any signs of spring yet where you are?

Days and miles — flying by!

Wow! Three weeks into the new year and I’m finally finding time to do a little blogging. I always take it as a good sign when I don’t have time to write — it means I’m out there squeezing every bit of life out of the hours and moments of each day.

Today marks 21 days into the new year, and I’ve already logged 168 miles. Wow! I’m averaging 8 miles a day! I don’t think I can maintain this pace indefinitely. On the other hand, once I start doing some long bike rides I’ll possibly move the average mileage even higher.

I did my traditional “January in Santa Barbara” trip recently. Unlike last year, which was very windy, the weather was perfect! I ran all four of the days I was there, including three simply wonderful barefoot runs on the beach. In past years I felt like a hero if I could manage a mile of barefoot running; this year I did beach runs of 2.5, 3.25, and 3.7 miles. I continue to be amazed at the things I can do that once were out of reach.

Views like this kept me inspired and coming back for more:

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Although this photo was taken across the street from the beach, an encounter with a female Acorn Woodpecker provided the other visual highlight of my time in Santa Barbara:

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It was a warm day and she was determined to drink, so she was patient with me while I took several shots.

During my time in Santa Barbara I managed to sneak in a couple of visits to Santa Barbara Brewing Company, where I sampled several of their excellent beers. What is a vacation without a little beer tourism?

Speaking of beer, CFL and I brewed an experimental batch recently. I created a simple SMASH (single malt and single hop) pale ale recipe. We divided the wort and pitched two different yeasts (American and Thames Valley). After several days, we further divided the proto-beer into six one-gallon jugs, which we dry-hopped (or not) in different ways. Don’t our little jugs look cute all bundled up and cozy in their matching towels?

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We bottled them a week ago and we’re anxiously awaiting side-by-side taste tests next week.

Tomorrow I’m going to see if I can ride my bike a little further up the hill than last time… I made it up Hurricane Ridge Road to mile 2 the other day, but I still have 15 more to go!

We’re busy! We’re happy! We’re not always so slow, but that’s okay. There is SO much to do and SO many miles yet to go!

Hopping off to Yakima

The dedicated, hard-working, fun-loving brewers at Slow Happy Brewing (that would be CFL and me) did a little field research over this past weekend. We hopped over the Cascades to Yakima for the Fresh Hop Ale Festival!

Yakima, Washington is situated in the middle of a warm, relatively dry plain that just happens to be one of the world’s great hop growing regions. If it weren’t for the Yakima Valley and a few families of hop growers who had the foresight to plant hops in the early 1930s – before the end of Prohibition — we might not be enjoying all those distinctly American takes on pale ales and India pale ales and imperial IPAs that we so know and love today.

We were too late to see the hop harvest, which happened over the period of a week or two in early September. But the festival allowed us to sample the earliest fruits of the harvest!

The rules for the fresh hop festival are simple. Each of the 30+ participating brewers must bring and pour at least one fresh hop beer (also known as “wet hop” beers because the hops are used without first being dried). During hop harvest time, craft brewers bring trucks to collect their just-picked hops and rush them back to their breweries. The wet hops must be in the brew kettle within 24 hours of harvest.

Most of the breweries were from the greater Seattle area or the area around Spokane, but there were a few big out of state craft brewers (including Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Lagunitas, and Deschutes) and two local Yakima breweries. 

Over the course of the five-hour festival, we managed to get one-ounce tastes of about 30 beers. I tried to take good notes, but the hops do tend to overwhelm the taste buds after a while. The wet-hop brewing process truly showcases the different flavors and aromas of each hop variety. All of the hops come through as more floral/fruity/piny/whatever and a tad less bitter than their dried brethren. It was educational (and fun) for us as home brewers to learn, for example, which hops produce the strongest melon, tropical fruit, citrus, etc. flavors. We learned that we’ll probably avoid using too much Amarillo or Simcoe, as I’m not personally a big fan of melon or papaya flavors in my beer. (Remember that these beers do not actually contain any melons or papayas, or whatever — they just taste and smell that way due to the essential oils present in the hops.)

The day after the festival we hoped to visit one of the local breweries, but the folks at Bale Breaker were taking a no doubt well deserved day off. The brewery is located smack in the middle of the family hop farm’s Field 41. If you look closely you can see the “41″ in their logo.

Although we wished we could have seen the hop bines (not a typo — hops are bines, not vines — you can google it) in their pre-harvest glory, we did enjoy the geometric patterns formed by the supporting poles and cables.

On our way home we stopped in the small town of Roslyn, on the eastern side of the Cascades. There we took a short hike on the Coal Mines Trail, on a former railroad line that had served several very productive coal mines in the late 19th and early 20th century. Like most railroad trails, it provided a gentle and scenic walk, just out of sight of the local roads.

The town of Roslyn is quaint and unbelievably cute. And, as it happened, they have a brewery!

The modern Roslyn Brewing Company opened in 1990, but there was a long history of brewing in Roslyn before Prohibition. The coal miners and the brewers who served them came primarily from Germany and eastern Europe, bringing their lager recipes with them. Today’s brewery specializes in lagers (rare in the craft beer industry), and one of their beers is a replica of the original Roslyn dark lager. It’s quite tasty!

By the way, if the name “Roslyn” rings a bell to you, it’s possible you know it as the location for the 1990s TV series “Northern Exposure.” Neither CFL or I ever watched it, so it was all lost on us. But the local museum’s web site has some information and photos about the show that may be of interest to you.

All in all it was a great weekend, an educational and relaxing one. For the third year in a row, I managed to be somewhere away from home in an interesting place around the time of my birthday. I got a welcome break from all the marathon training I have been doing for the past several months (which you can read about here). And after all the rain over the past three weeks, it was great to spend some time in dry, warm central Washington!

The Providence Bridge Pedal: Portland, Oregon

A week ago CFL and I rode the Providence Bridge Pedal in Portland, Oregon. I first learned about this ride last year when we happened to drive through Portland a couple of hours after the finish, but CFL has had it on his wish list for years.

With an estimated 18,000 riders, it’s billed as the third largest community bike ride in the world, behind first-place Montreal and then New York City.

The Portland ride essentially shuts down traffic through downtown Portland on a Sunday morning and early afternoon. The route encompasses all of the major bridges that cross the Willamette River — including two freeways. Yes, they close parts of freeways for this ride!!

There are several variations of the ride, ranging from a few miles and a couple of bridges, to 30+ miles and 10+ bridges.

I’m still rather new to cycling, having logged fewer than 200 miles in my adult life prior to this event. But CFL encourages me to dream big! In early June we registered for the 33-mile, 10-bridge ride.

I figured that two months to train would be enough. As the big day approached we did several easy rides of varying lengths on generally rolling trails and roads. I was terrified at first of riding on roads with cars whizzing by, but installing a rear view mirror on my handlebar helped. Our longest ride was 26.3 miles ten days before the event. I was confident that I could go the distance and that I could ride up the uphill approaches to each bridge. But I was very anxious about riding in close quarters with others. What if I did something stupid and caused a multi-bike accident?

On Sunday morning we were up very early to drive the ten miles from our motel to downtown Portland, find a place to park, unload the bikes, and ride slowly to join the masses at the starting line.

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From the starting line the route would take us immediately onto a ramp and up and over our first bridge. Although we were released in waves every few minutes, it was crowded and slow going over the bridge. I did my best to keep my balance while wobbling along at a mere 4 MPH while surrounded by other wobbly bikers. After a few minutes it dawned on me that I wasn’t the only nervous, inexperienced biker. We were all in this together and nobody wanted to crash! Gradually I began to build some confidence as I gained experience in not crashing.

Once we were over the top of the bridge, we all picked up speed and spread out. I was able to relax and enjoy the ride, the scenery, and the encouraging shouts from spectators and fellow riders.

This pattern of bottlenecks and spread-outs continued for the remaining nine bridges. In a few cases the crowd approaching a bridge was so dense that everyone got off and walked, but on most of the bridges there was room for both through riders and those who stopped to rest or take photographs. We mostly fell into the latter camp.

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The views were amazing!

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Some of the aid stations were set up in the middle of bridges, which encouraged people to take their time enjoying a snack while taking in the views. There were also bands on a couple of the bridges — it was all quite festive!

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On the freeway sections we were able to spread far apart and whiz down the long, gently curving roadway. I managed to dislodge my twitchy fingers from my brakes and actually got going more than 25 MPH a few times. My GPS watch recorded one sub-4-minute mile. I felt like I was flying! It’s hard to imagine that there are many humans alive who can run that fast.

The ninth bridge was the toughest. After nearly 20 miles of criss-crossing the Willamette in the center of downtown, we tackled a 10+ mile loop to the north, crossing the St. John Bridge before heading back toward downtown. This bridge ramp was very steep;  lots of people around me got off and walked but I managed to ride all the way to the top. And I was still smiling when I got off my bike for the photo opportunity!

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From there it became a freight train as we all seemed to pick up speed for the final push back to the 10th bridge and the finish line. I was finally fully relaxed and beginning to feel rather proud of myself. The ride finished only a block from where it began, but those 33 miles were transformational for me. I felt like a triumphant cyclist!

There was one last crush at the finish line. We all lined up with great anticipation for the ice cream bars and other snacks that awaited.

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The ride was not officially timed, but I timed us at a leisurely four and a half hours. That’s okay! I finished feeling strong and — most important — staying upright. No crashes by me or anyone around me!

CFL had a great time also. We vowed that we’d come back and do it again someday. Actually, we are already talking about coming back in 2014. It was that awesome.

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Of course, while we were in Portland we also visited a few brewpubs. We finished our ride day at the Deschutes Brewery Public House, where I enjoyed vegan mushroom shepherd’s pie paired with a delectable Black Butte XXV. Another Portland standout was the tiny Tugboat Brewing’s amazing Chernobyl Imperial Stout. Our Oregon trip also included beer tasting stops in Astoria and Eugene. I think we hit about a dozen brewpubs and taprooms overall. And we haven’t scratched the surface of all that Portland has to offer!

Yes, I think we’ll be back next year.

How about you?

To the end of the earth… or this corner of it anyway

You may have noticed that I’m not blogging much lately. I’ve been outside enjoying our beautiful spring! The first half of May was record-breaking warm and dry, but the past week or so we have had some rain showers. The rain probably came at the perfect time for my gardening friends. For me it just means bringing rain gear when I go out for my daily run, hike, or walk.

The other day we took a trip out to Neah Bay, the last town at the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Just outside of town there is a trailhead that leads to Cape Flattery, which is the absolute northwest corner of the lower 48.

Do you ever look at maps and dream of going to the most remote places you can find? The year I lived in Scotland I wanted to go to John O’Groats at the far northern tip of the mainland, but I never quite had the guts to make the trip.

I first came to Washington state on a family vacation in the 1960s. We went to Rainier National Park. There was this other national park out there called Olympic, but my dad decided not to go there. As I recall, he told us, “it’s too remote — they only paved the road and put in electricity a few years ago.” I think the truth is that the road and electricity out to Neah Bay were 30+ years old at that time — still relatively new, but not brand new. In any case, my dad instilled this part of the world with a certain mystique for me. Funny how I felt so drawn to the Olympic Peninsula as an adult and ended up moving here… partly because it reminds me of Scotland… and partly because it’s at the northwest corner of the map.

But I digress.

The trail to Cape Flattery winds through a mossy, boggy forest. It’s wet enough that large sections of it are boardwalk — otherwise the trail would be ankle-deep mud for most of the year. The boardwalk makes the trail not merely usable but also very scenic.

The trail winds gently downhill for about a mile. It ends abruptly at the edge of a vertical cliff! Several small lookouts give different vantage points on the surf crashing against the rock walls far below.

In the next photo you can see that the sea has created caves that run far underneath the cliffs. When the surf is high, it’s possible to feel the cliffs shuddering as the big waves hit the rock with a BOOM! We didn’t feel that on this occasion, but the sight is still very impressive. Someday the rocks we were standing on will split away from the cliff and stand alone as sea stacks.

This is Tattoosh Island, just offshore (and no doubt formerly attached). There’s a small lighthouse which I believe is operated by the Coast Guard. We could hear steller sea lions barking on the island.

As you might imagine, we saw lots of birds, but they were impossible to photograph from far above. I was most excited to see pelagic cormorants, with their very distinctive white patch behind the wing. These aren’t your typical cormorants you see hanging around in harbors.

After walking back up the trail to the car, we continued southward down the Pacific coast a couple of miles to Hobuck Beach, which I understand is a popular surfing spot for those folks who are nutty enough to surf in 48 degree water. There was only one intrepid surfer out that day in the relatively flat (non-booming, if you’ll recall) surf.

Hobuck Beach is sandy (rare for these parts) and almost completely flat (also rare). On another day when I have more time I think I’ll return to run on this beach!

Cape Flattery and Hobuck Beach are about a two and a half hour drive from my town… far enough away that coming here is a day trip and always a bit of an adventure. Yet I have met several people who have come from across the country and even beyond to stand at the northwestern corner of the map. There is something irresistible about going to the end of the earth and coming back to tell the tale — isn’t there?

Maybe I should go to John O’Groats someday.

Is there a place on the corner or the farthest edge of a map that has always called to you?

Gray whale photos — Laguna San Ignacio

This morning I downloaded the photos from CFL’s camera and discovered to my delight that he had dozens of photos of me with the gray whales at Laguna San Ignacio. While I was squealing like a teenager (along with all the other women on our boat) he was calmly documenting the entire scene. How thoughtful (and lovable) is that?

So here you go — here are some of the best whale photos from the more than 500 trip photos that we have between us. Tomorrow (or soon, anyway) I’ll write about and post photos of the birds, the camp, the region, and some of the fun things that we did while in San Diego as well.

A mother and calf approach the boat…

Seventeen seconds later per the time stamp on the photos, THIS happens!

Here you can see mom just below the surface, lifting baby out of the water so we all get a better look!

Baby rolls on its side for a better look at us…

And stays on its side for another close approach.

It’s the next day, we’re with another mother/calf pair, and this one seems to be sticking its tongue out at us! (We also saw baleen, but we don’t have any photos of that remarkable “tooth” adaptation.)

Meanwhile the rest of our group, in the other boat, were seeing some nice fluke action…

On the third morning we were out on the water with a group of local children on a school field trip.  What lucky kids! Watching them play with this baby whale was almost as good as being with the whale ourselves.

Eventually the kids moved on and we got to take our turn with this exceptionally outgoing whale. Check out this eye shot!

I was shooting video that morning. The way I was squealing, I’m not sure I want to post those videos, but as you can see I got a shot of my hand touching the whale.

By this time several people had kissed the whale and it was my turn to give it a go. I had no idea I was so far out of the boat when this sequence was taken!

From all the upraised hands in this photo, I seem to have just completed that kiss… but alas, there is no photo of that split second. In any case, I’m glad someone finally got a hand on my life jacket!

By the end of that morning’s trip, we were all totally wrung out!

It was windy out there on the water. I had put gobs of sunblock on my head, which — combined with whale spray and sculpted by wind — produced a truly stunning hair style. But I can assure you, this is a smile of pure and total joy.

I’m so grateful to CFL for his wonderful photos. It brings a new perspective to the whole experience for me… one that I’m pleased and proud to share with you.

Yet these photos, awesome as they are, can only give you an idea of what it’s really like. Life changing? Absolutely!