Tag Archives: Slow_Happy_Travel

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!

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! 

The friendly gray whales of Laguna San Ignacio

Don’t we all have those special events and experiences that we dream about, look forward to, plan for, and then count down the days until they arrive? When they finally do happen, they seem to be over too quickly. We might say that an experience was life-changing, and we might go back to everyday life vowing to be somehow different because of it. And then too soon, everyday life reasserts itself and things go back to the way they were. We might remember the experience with fondness, but it’s behind us now.

Three years ago I had a truly life-changing experience. It was a trip I’d wanted to make for years. It was the first and only vacation I ever took without my late husband. We’d had many great vacations together, but his idea of a fun vacation simply didn’t include activities like flying in a small plane and camping on a remote beach. At the time I couldn’t imagine that he’d be diagnosed with cancer four months later, but I was certainly grateful that he encouraged me to take the trip without him.

My solo vacation brought me the great privilege of traveling to Laguna San Ignacio in Baja California Sur, Mexico. This is one of the few calving grounds of the Eastern Pacific Gray Whale and the only one that is still essentially pristine. There I stayed for several days at a primitive camp and enjoyed whale watching up close and personal! Some of the calves and their mothers are “friendly” — they swim right up to small boats and seem to invite touching. This behavior began in the 1970s when, for unknown reasons, some of the mother/calf pairs began approaching local fishermen. Some of those fishermen, including my host, saw an opportunity in ecotourism.

Not all the whales are friendly, but those who are seem genuinely curious and engage with boats and passengers in a playful way. I briefly tapped a couple of calves during my time there. As great as the touching is, however, the truly life-changing moment occurs when a gray whale rolls on its side and LOOKS at you — making direct eye contact from mere feet away.

I came home from that trip deeply moved, profoundly grateful, and vowing to return again someday.

Fast forward almost three years. CFL and I were talking about adventure travel — exotic places we’d like to go and things we’d like to do. He mentioned Laguna San Ignacio.

I hadn’t forgotten my vow to return! I was instantly ready to do it again.

We went with the same company as I used last time. Baja Ecotours is based in San Diego and operates in partnership with a local entrepreneur and his extended family who operate Campo Cortez at the lagoon. We (along with about half of our tour group of eleven people) actually booked our tour through a Puget Sound area whale advocacy group called Orca Network.

We all gathered in San Diego on March 4. Early the next morning we boarded a charter bus to Ensenada. There we all squeezed into a very small plane for the two and a half hour flight to Laguna San Ignacio, about halfway down the Baja California Peninsula on the west side. We landed on a dirt runway and were met by our hosts with a cooler full of ice cold beer. We then boarded an ancient school bus for the nearly ten mile trip to Campo Cortez.

Laguna San Ignacio and the surrounding region are a national park, thanks to the efforts of environmentalists and local citizens to protect it against development. In 2010 these groups successfully stopped the Mitsubishi Corporation’s plan to build the world’s largest salt works at Laguna San Ignacio, thus saving the calving grounds. The Mexican government has authorized about a dozen primitive camps and allows whale watching in small (14-16 foot) boats within a small area near the mouth of the lagoon.

According to a census taken a couple of days before our arrival, there were nearly 400 whales in the lagoon (about twice as many as were present when I was last there three years ago). About 220 were mother/calf pairs and the remainder were adult stragglers who hadn’t yet begun their northbound migration to the Arctic (mothers and calves are always the last to leave).

During our three full days in camp we were treated to twice-daily whale watching trips. The time within the whale watching area is a closely-monitored 90 minutes each trip. 

The whales wasted no time getting acquainted! As soon as we entered the whale watching area and idled the boat engine, there were whales everywhere. Everyone in our group got to touch a baby whale on our first outing. By the end of the three days, I’d touched babies on four out of our six trips. Here’s CFL getting to know a baby whale.

Usually, the moms simply hang close by while “junior” plays. Sometimes a mother will lift a baby onto her back (as if to say “look at my beautiful baby!”) and then nudge it closer to the boat. But for two of the mothers, that wasn’t enough — they wanted to be touched too! I suspect that these particular whales had been friendly when they were babies, and they were just doing what they’d always done… there could be second or even third generation “friendlies” by now.

Patting the snout of an 18-foot baby gray whale is awesome enough — but when a 40-foot mother comes to gaze into your eyes and be petted, the intensity of the experience is simply beyond words. Sadly, I have no eye photos… those moments happen so quickly.

On the morning of our last day (trip 5 of 6) we met up with a baby whale that simply could not play with us enough! Think of an enthusiastic, slightly gangly, but exceedingly playful puppy. This guy (or gal) literally came to each of us on our boat one by one and lingered for extended patting, rubbing, and scratching. He stayed so close to the boat for such a long time that I and others actually KISSED him on the snout. Meanwhile mama repeatedly swam under the boat, bumping it gently and lifting us partly out of the water. It was a wet, slightly wild, and most unforgettable ride.

Among the adults at the lagoon, we saw too many spy hops to count, multiple breaches close by the boat, and a bit of flirtatious behavior. These whales were not interested in interacting with us, but our nearby presence did not prevent them at all from going about the business of being gray whales.

That’s one of the many things I love about this place. At first it almost seems that we are imposing on their lives… maybe crowding them with our boats… maybe getting in their way. Then I watch them gracefully swimming to us, around us, under us. They know we are there. They could avoid us but they come to us. They could knock our boat right out of the water, but they rub and bump it gently. Their eyes shine with curiosity, playfulness, and intelligence. They are as entranced with us as we are with them.

It is a meeting of minds and hearts.

Their trust of us — we members of the species that hunted them almost to extinction — is a great gift.

I have other stories to tell about this trip — the camp itself, the bird life, and (of course) some great beer tourism moments while in the San Diego area. I have lots more photos to share. But this is enough for today.

I hope I have given you a taste and whet your appetite for more. If you ever get the chance… believe me, you will not be disappointed. This is a genuinely life-changing experience.

What on earth have we been up to?

We’ve been home for several days and I’m still processing. I think it’s going to take several more days and several blog posts to sort it all out. For now I’ll just say that it involved international travel and intense wildlife encounters. Oh, and some world class craft beers as well!

And yes, the activity streak is still intact.

I’ll do my best to tell you all about it soon… It’s just that I have a few hundred photos to sort through and decide what to post here… So please stay tuned!

“We’ll brew!”

At some time during the getting-to-know-you-better phase of our relationship, CFL pointed out to me that I have a habit of saying “we’ll see.” I hadn’t really noticed this small verbal tic, but it made perfectly logical sense to me that I would say it. I do have a sense of reality as an emergent phenomenon… and of my life as a process of continual becoming. Given that everything is always up in the air and in process, then so much is unknowable at any given time that “we’ll see” is as close as I’m going to get to predicting the future.

At the time, of course, I replied that he had a knack for filling every potential gap in our conversational space with a long, drawn-out “so, anyway…” that kept me from ever getting a word in edgewise.

That generated a most lively conversation.

Since then we’ve negotiated a few things and learned to love one another’s unique characteristics. We’ve now reached the point where we can affectionately mock one another’s habitual speech patterns and laugh together about them.

Last weekend we took a road trip down to southern Oregon to visit some family members. There were long hours in the car during which we talked about many things. Beer was a major topic. We’d planned several opportunities to visit microbreweries and sample some well-known Oregon beers. We also had upcoming batches of home brew to plan. At some point I inevitably said, “we’ll see.” Suddenly we both laughed and simultaneously exclaimed, “we’ll brew!”

Has a brewery slogan been born? We’ll see… um… we’ll brew!

As for the beer tourism… a night’s stop in Eugene allowed us to take in Ninkasi, Falling Sky, and Rogue’s Tracktown Brewery.

Ninkasi’s fermentation tanks were impressive. This photo includes a studious-looking CFL, carefully positioned in my attempt to provide scale. However, he’s standing in a large doorway so you can’t see the tops of the tanks. Oh well…

Ninkasi is well-known and features big, bold, hoppy beers with names like Total Domination IPA. We shared a flight of several 4-ounce tasters and that was plenty.

In contrast, Falling Sky is only a year old, grew out of the home brew supply store next door, caters to locals, and features relatively low-alcohol “session” beers that nicely accompany its tasty, simple pub food. We might have stayed there all evening, but the Rogue/Tracktown brewery promised good pizza so we carried on. The pizza lived up to the hype and the beer was good too. We ended the evening quite satisfied.

During our time in my family’s small town in southern Oregon I got out for a nice run along the Rogue River. Eventually this trail will connect with the one a few miles further south where I ran the Rogue Run half marathon last September. On this trip I did an easy 6 mile run and then spent the afternoon with my family, while CFL took at bit more time and ended up walking about 8 miles.

It was a good trail.

This part was even better! There was a half mile side trail that ran right along the river bank, for those who like to bound over roots and mud puddles. That would be me!

That afternoon we held a family tasting of eight of our home brews (numbers 2 through 9). The verdict: They’re all good! (Thanks guys.) We ended the day with a visit to the nearby Wild River Brewing and Pizza for — you guessed it — microbrews and pizza!

Through all of our travels and other adventures we have kept our activity streak going. We walked — in a downpour — to all those breweries in Eugene. We stopped to do two laps around a shopping mall in the midst of our 550 mile drive home. We’re now 29 days into 2013 and I’m approaching 120 running/walking miles, while CFL has a larger number of walking/biking miles. At this point our streak will not be broken for anything short of an unimaginably dire emergency. The longer we continue, the stronger is the imperative not to stop.

But you know what? It’s still one step at a time, one day at a time. This streak wasn’t envisioned as such beforehand. It’s an emergent phenomenon.

What will happen next? We’ll see.

We’ll brew!