Archive for the 'Traveling' category

I Have to Get Up at What Time…and on my Birthday?


As my birthday is nigh, I have decided to reflect on my celebration last year.

For those of you who know me well, you would all agree it’s not an exaggeration to say that I am really really really not a morning person. As a result, you can understand Tom’s nervousness when he inquired whether it would ruin my birthday if he planned a surprise which involved getting up very early. In the spirit of our trying something new — spending time together instead of spending moolah on a bunch of crap we don’t need — I couldn’t exactly say no.

So I grudgingly agreed to be rousted early on the anniversary of my birth.

The day started with a quick breakfast and advice to dress for a sporting activity. We headed down to the car and I found it was pre-packed with our bikes. Hmmmm. Where are we going, I wondered? (I didn’t bother to ask, as he wouldn’t have told me.)

It was a shockingly gorgeous morning, after days of rain, in late May. And even though it was o;earlysunrise, I truly felt happy to be driving to parts unknown without having had to organize a thing.

Eventually we made it to our destination: The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail in Mosier, Oregon. I have to say that it is absolutely crazy that this used to be Highway 30, high atop the cliffs overlooking the Columbia River, upon which drivers traversed east/west to and from Portland in automobiles. I mean crazy. It barely seems an adequate width as a bike trail, much less being suitable for vehicles.

But the views were amazing, the tunnels fantastic, and the different climate zones pretty cool.

The only part that sucked is that I own a no-gear, sit-straight-up, white-wall-tired, beach bike that weighs about a thousand pounds. So even though the climbing on this ride was not overly steep by most measures, on a super heavy bike with no gears, well, let’s just say that Tom got me up early and treated me to a sweatfest of a workout for my birthday!

But, it came with a homemade lunch, lovely vistas, and lots of love. So it was one of the best birthdays ever! Thanks babe (Official blog thanks, a year late!)



[Click on photos to enlarge.]

My View During Geometry…

This is the beach of my late childhood. The beach I could see from my high school geometry class, the one that would mesmerize me into a catatonic state, causing me to lose my train of thought…

Was that interior alternate angles are equal…?

This is the beach where my best friends and I skipped off to during the wind and rain of winter, dodging out on a practice run to go swimming in the cold ass Pacific Ocean, plowing into the surf in our shorts, t-shirts, and knee-high sports socks.

When my New Jersey-born husband first visited the Oregon Coast with me, he couldn’t believe my high school was located directly across the street from such gorgeousness.

Tom still laughs about his inaugural sojourn to the beach of my childhood. We walked toward the sea from my parents’ place, located roughly a quarter mile from the dunes and grasses, emerging onto some of the most stunning coastline I have ever seen.

I looked left, I looked right, and said…”I can’t believe it…it’s so crowded!

Now, you have to remember that Tom’s childhood coastal experiences were more along the lines of the Jersey Shore, where a body is hard pressed to find visible bits of sand in the crush of humanity that congregates there.

So, as you can imagine, he found my attitude particularly funny.

Uhm, Michele…there are…what…about five people here?!?

I know…I can’t believe it,” I responded, with no small amount of outrage.

It is lovely for the Zs that this is now the beach of their childhood. They freeze themselves in the water, swimming until their lips are blue. They roll around in the sand (still) until their ears are full of its multi-colored grains. They scramble over the huge piles of driftwood left by surging storms.

Luckily though, they don’t have the resulting drop in mathematical thinking that often accompanied my connection to the beach!

Right…Now, I Feel We’re in Yosemite!

I found myself quite happy with the Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite, where we were staying, but I couldn’t help but wonder when we might see the iconic granite slabs of rock and stunning vistas that I had always associated with this national treasure of a park.

It turns out, all we had to do was follow the rest of the fam from the Merced Grove of Sequoias back to the valley floor, to find those very views. The winding road carved into the rugged mountains led us to gorgeous lookouts, such as the long range view of Half Dome, below left. A thunderstorm was gathering and the smell of dust kissed by moisture was thick in the air. The foreground of the lookout was so picture perfect, I almost felt I was on a movie set with lovingly faux finished Styrofoam rocks!

As we continued to follow the switchbacked pavement downward to the river, there were magnificent mountains of black granite across the canyon from our car’s path, which are shown in the center photo below. Without anything to indicate scale, it almost looks like a closeup, instead of the massive stone formation it actually is! Such beautiful lines.

And, as we neared our final destination (dinner with Ian, Deborah and my parents), we were met with evening light, a waterfall, tumultuous clouds, green green grass…a perfect moment. The graceful outlines of these multicolored rock edifices on the valley floor were breathtaking (pix are above left and below right).

Now we’re talking, I thought…this is the Yosemite of my mind’s eye.

Now That’s a Big F#%$ing Tree! (Or, Those are Some Tiny People!)

This is me throwing down the gauntlet at Evergreen Lodge: “I need a trail that is halfway between here and Yosemite Valley, that won’t be packed even though it’s June, and isn’t too hard or too easy.”

Their recommendation, without hesitation, was the Merced Sequoia grove accessed from the Highway 120 entrance to the park. “A smaller grove,” they said, “but it is the least traveled Sequoia trail in the park.”

Bingo! We had a winner. Zelda, the rest of the fam and I set a date to commune with some of the oldest living things on earth on a 3 mile round trip jaunt on what we here in the Pacific Northwest would call a loggin’ road.

These mighty trees did not disappoint. So much so, in fact, that we quickly realized it was impossible to truly capture the scale of this mammoth flora without wee little folks in our photographs for comparison. For instance, in the picture above left, you don’t really process how big the trees are until you notice the positively ant-like Zelda and Deborah at the foot of a mighty Sequoia on the left.

Their bark was a vibrant shade of rusty orange and it felt almost like a padded coconut, fibery and airy at the same time.

All in all, a fantastic outing…well, except for the fact that this hike was 100 percent uphill on the way home. We were sweaty and hot…but still happy to have had such a solitary experience in the Merced Grove.

Thelma & Louise, Butch & Sundance, and now, Mich & Zelda!

What was to be a family vacation to Yosemite, in part to attend a family reunion, ended up becoming a mother-daughter adventure instead.

How? Why?

Well, Zoe’s school put together an 11th hour Chinese exchange program for students…and their departure date? Right smack dab in the middle of our reunion. Which meant that half of the Offermann/Reeves family now needed to stay home, so Tom could put Zoe on a plane for Shanghai with 14 other middle schoolers last weekend.

Meanwhile, Zelda and I took off for Sacramento, where we spent the night before meeting up with my Mum, Dad, Brother and Sister-in-law for a family caravan to Yosemite.

Condensed highlights of the drive to Yosemite:

  • We got separated several times.
  • I lost the new camera Tom had purchased the day I departed on my trip.
  • I had to stop and call every place I had been in Sacramento onward to try and locate camera. I was unsuccessful.
  • I found the camera…in the car…in a place Zelda and I had looked about a thousand times. Oopsy.
  • We ate lunch in a Costco parking lot in Manteca outside my parents’ cute little Casita. (pictured above)
  • We had to navigate without GPS toward the end. (How did I live without my turn-by-turn voice navigation on my telephone?)

Never a dull moment.

Finally though, we made it to the Evergreen Lodge, which is near the Hetch Hetchy entrance to the park. We loved it there. Even though it was high season, Evergreen and surrounding attractions were blissfully remote and quiet without the hullabaloo found in Yosemite Valley. In short, the perfect spot to enjoy a major national park in June.

I think one of my favorite moments was Zelda making herself at home in her room. All she needed were her books on the nightstand and her stuffed animal on the bed, and she was good to go! My little traveler.

Summer Vacay at Lake Pond-uh-ray

Yee Haw! First Offermann/Reeves family rodeo. Bonner County Fair. Hiking. Swimming in Lake Pend Oreille every day. Skate boarding. Bike Riding.

While I do believe there is no greater sign of blog lameness than to post about a summer vacation the following January, I am going to move ahead anyway.

We took a no Internet, no stress, no frenetic traveling approach to our summer vacation plans last year. Our goal was to carve out some time where we had no schedule and no worries. We chose Sandpoint, ID as our destination. Big enough to have grocery stores and some entertainment, but small enough to feel isolated and away from the city! And really, there is no more beautiful setting; Sandpoint is a city sandwiched between mountains and a gigantic deep lake. Bliss! (In the interest of full disclosure, there there was one spot in the house we rented, where for brief moments, I could piggy back on a neighbor’s WiFi signal. But it was so intermittent and unsatisfying, that I gave up trying.)

We were lucky enough to be able to attend the Bonner Country Rodeo. The barrel racing falls were a bit stressful, as was the steer wrestling..and bull riding…heck, who am I kidding, we found it all enthrallingly, entertainingly stressful. Even the wee tots getting run over by their mounts in the bareback sheep races caused us to hold our breath!

Mom, Dad, Ian and Deborah came to visit us for a bit and we dropped by the Bonner County Fair. Now, it would be hard to top the Tillamook County Fair, which is simply the greatest fair in all of the United States. But, this small rideless fair was a delight. We perused livestock, 4H cake decorating, and various crafts, cooking, and canning. Some of which are pictured below.

A favorite, and incomprehensible, activity we engaged in while everyone was visiting was to dredge up large rocks from the lake bottom, swim them out to the ladderless dock, and then place them atop the planks. At one point, we had stacked so many upon one edge, the dock had a decided list. The Zs would do this until they were literally ready to drop with exhaustion. (Rocks on the dock photo below courtesy of Deborah…by courtesy, I mean that I stole it off of Facebook!)

Then a wedding party arrived and our rocks disappeared…we think perhaps it made a poor backdrop for their photos.

A Magical Moment at the Train Station!

I’ve been meaning to post about this for awhile!

A few months ago, I was puttering around the house and glanced out the window to find a ton of people milling about near the train tracks, where they intersect with NW 9th Ave to the north of Union Station. Let me assure you, this is not a normal occurrence. There is absolutely zero reason for Portlanders, some with cameras, to be besprinkled between and betwixt the tracks. (Generally, the only crowds we get are when the Portland Police park next door at the mounted police training facility to get suited up in riot gear for protests. There was not a law enforcement officer to be found in this group though. I checked.)

Intrigued, I decided to observe this group milling around for a bit, but nothing was happening, so I continued on with my day…irritated that I couldn’t figure out why everyone was chilling at a nondescript intersection. As I was mentally setting aside their puzzling behavior, my puttering was interrupted again, this time, by a vibrating exhalation that reverberated through our place, shaking everything.

I ran for my camera while my brain was piecing together that a steam engine must be parked at Union Station. Sprinting for the balcony, I could hear it lumbering by, and I managed to catch the shot below of a lovely Art Deco steam engine starting its journey to a train show in Tacoma.

According to Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, this beauty is called the Southern Pacific #4449

Built in 1941 as a 4-8-4 GS-4 locomotive, she is 110′ long, 10′ wide and 16′ tall. With locomotive and tender weighing 433 tons and a boiler pressure of 300 psi, her eight 80″ diameter drivers and unique firebox truck booster can apply 5,500 horsepower to the rails and exceed 100 mph. The only remaining operable “streamlined” steam locomotive of the Art Deco era, this grand Lady of the High Iron pulled Southern Pacific “Daylight” coaches from Los Angeles to San Francisco over the scenic Coast Route and then on to Portland until 1955.

Retired to Oaks Park in 1958 for display only, many thought 4449 would never run again. In 1974 she was completely restored specifically to pull the 1976 Bicentennial Freedom Train throughout the United States to the delight of over 30 million people. SP 4449 has also operated numerous excursions since. She is arguably one of the most beautiful locomotives ever built and kept that way by the all-volunteer Friends of SP 4449.

The juxtaposition of highrise condos with a steam train was captivating for us all who watched her get underway. (Click on photo to the right to enlarge.)

Unbeknownst to me at the time all of this was happening, Tom was stopped by the train as he was walking home on NW 9th Ave with Zelda. He too could not deduce why people were loitering, nor imagine upon what they could be waiting. Lucky Tom and Zelda were both right there as this piece of machinery demonstrated its ability to achieve some serious pressure in its boiler…the noise and heat was quite visceral for them.

Thanks babe for snapping the great close up shot of all that water vapor using your phone (pictured top left)!

The Best $144 Dollars I Ever Spent

You can tell we haven’t road tripped in awhile due to our wildly naive plan to depart for an Idaho lakeside vacation at 6:00 am on a Monday morning. (Don’t laugh!) Google Maps estimated the drive would take us about 7 1/2 hours, without stops. We figured, with a few breaks, we would take maybe 9 hours. Images of a scenic and relaxed drive with two rested adult drivers ready to take the helm at a moment’s notice danced in our heads. (As if the words “rested” and “6:00 am” have ever belonged in the same sentence for Tom and I.)

Unfortunately, life had other plans. The week before our getaway, Zoe had soccer practice every day, a whole slew of work meetings came up at the last minute filling the calendar I had oh so carefully cleared, an eleventh hour trip to California for work sprang up, and Zoe had a soccer tournament where her team made a run to the finals, coming in second. Of course, we had to attend the barbecue afterward.

All of this to say, we didn’t even return home, much less begin packing/planning for our 6:00 am Monday start, until mid afternoon the day before.

Believing all was not lost, we marshalled our family resources and became whirling dervishes of activity to get organized for our extended absence.

Did it help? No.

By 2:30 am Monday, less than four short hours from when we were supposed to be departing, Tom and I were pooped and nowhere near ready to go. So, we did what any smart American who has lived as an Argentine expat would do — we radically postponed our departure date.

Not surprisingly, instead of leaving at o’dark thirty, we ended up rolling out of the building in the mid afternoon Monday. “Okay,” we told ourselves, “this isn’t so bad…8 hours late, plus or minus.” [Insert shrug]

The good news about the first leg of our journey is that we made it to Gresham in record time! The bad news is that we stopped there, only thirty minutes to the east of Portland! This unscheduled break was prompted by the Z’s car DVD player giving up the ghost. One screen just stopped working. Kaput. And no, it wasn’t the cables.

What are bad parents to do without video screens on a long drive with kids who have not absorbed the notion that children should be seen and not heard and who love to vocalize every little personal discomfort as if the rest of us really want to know?

Stop at Target in Gresham and buy another car DVD player! (I know, horrible, right?)

Of course, it took us forever to select, purchase, assemble, and connect it all so it was functioning. But eventually, we got the job done. (By “we” I mean Tom — I took the kids car snack shopping while he played with the electronics.) The blessed silence on the road that resulted from this lengthy, unscheduled stop induced Tom to say, “That is the best $144.00 I have ever spent.”

“Amen to that,” I replied. A subtle giving and taking of a parental high five ensued.

The rest of our trip was equally ridiculously slow for various reasons related to food, gas, bathrooms, an auxiliary jack for music, etc. All in all, it took us about 9 hours to drive from Portland to Spokane, WA, still 2 hours short of our destination. It’s an embarrassment really, for someone who grew up in a hard core, drive ’til you drop, West Coast family.

But the trip was relaxed, the big orange moon that rose over the horizon as we neared Spokane was breathtaking, and the scenery was beautiful (all of these pictures were taken with my phone as Tom was guiding our car through the Columbia River Gorge).

And yes, we made the Zs turn off their movie and actually interact and look around from time to time. Eventually though, they would start bickering and/or complaining, prompting us to direct them back to their movie for a little crack hit of screen time.

Do you think they were doing it on purpose?

Family Travels, Part 2

Our second winter break excursion was a quick drive up to Hood Canal, Washington, where we were going to spend a few nights as a gift to the Zs for Christmas (trying to go heavy on experience and light on crap). This outing had a bit of frenzy on the outside and and gooey wonderfulness on the inside. (The”outside” would be the beginning and end of our journey.)

Once again, we were traveling via Zipcar, this time in a Scion xB. Tom picked up the car in the morning while I raced with Zoe via light rail to the downtown Portland Swimwear store to buy her an emergency suit. (We figured out at the last minute that we must have tossed her too-small gear after the end of the summer swimming season…oopsy.)

We were renting a wee cabin with a kitchen and access to a gas grill. Hence, we not only loaded our little car with bags and hiking gear, but also with a big old ice chest and heaps and heaps of food. There we were, in our cute little vehicle, stuffed like sardines, parked on the street outside of our building engaged in the inevitable husband/wife natter about the best route for undertaking the journey. All was normal…until we simultaneously noticed a yellow indicator light on the dash. It had an exclamation point. Couldn’t be good.

After maybe ten minutes looking through the HORRIBLE manual, we figured out what it was — tire inflation issues.

Next step: call Zipcar. They promptly assured us “it should probably be fine and if the tires go flat, you can just call us.” Mind you, about this time, I lept out of the car to see if any of the rubber appeared obviously low, only to have a heavy downpour of snow, rain, and hail open up from the heavens. We relayed to customer service, very politely, that if we got a flat tire driving to the middle of nowhere with a rain/snow mix coming down, they weren’t exactly going to be able to assist us in a timely manner. Happily, they agreed, and after considerable machinations involving both of our membership cards, we worked out a way to switch vehicles. (Upgraded to a big roomy minivan — oh yah!)

So, we took our clown car to the minivan’s parking lot and in the less-than-ideal weather, opened up both hatches and frantically transferred everything. I am sure we looked completely ridiculous implementing this fire drill, but we executed it flawlessly…by “we” I mean “Tom,” of course. That done, we returned our first vehicle to its home, and we were finally on our way…maybe an hour or two later than we wanted to be, but hey, this is why we don’t fly — it’s too stressful!

I am pleased to report that Hood Canal was its usual breathtaking self, all snug and warm nestled beneath the the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. We cooked yummy meals. We visited with Ian and Deborah. The girls swam and swam. Tom and I watched total trash cable TV until late into the evening (one of the side benefits of not having cable at home). And, we went for a walk through a beautiful estuary, from whence these pictures came. Kingfishers plunged into the cold waters. Great Blue Herons were hunting and doing that funny head shake as they swallowed their prey. Grebes and loons were afoot.

We journeyed home on December 31st, New Year’s Eve, a trip that we had planned to terminate with a stop at the Humane Society to pick up a kitten, yet another Christmas gift for the Zs. We left in plenty of time. We made good progress on the way home…until we stopped…quite literally. An accident on the I-5 Columbia Bridge had completely halted forward progress on the freeway. So close, and yet so far. After about 30 to 45 minutes stalled, we are able to exit and make our way over to the I-205 bridge, and then we circled back to the shelter on the Portland side of the mighty river.

Upon arrival at the Humane Society, we were told that they were cleaned out of all kittens, all juvenile cats, and that they wouldn’t have any more until Memorial Day. May? Really?

What could we do but hop back in the car and race to the Multnomah County Animal Shelter? Good idea, only it was closed early for the holiday. Our plans to get a kitten and spend the last weekend of the Zs’ vacation helping it get acclimated seemed to be dashed. All of us were pretty dejected as we pointed our borrowed auto in the direction of home.

While Tom made a few wrong turns trying to get back to the city, I worked my thumbs away on my smart phone. (God how did we ever live without these things?) And, at the eleventh hour, found a recently-opened cat-only shelter in Lake Oswego called The Oregon Cat. My poor husband gamely rerouted us again and off to LO we went.

We hit the trifecta: they were still open, they had kittens, and there was enough time to go through the adoption procedure.

The rest…well, that’s really a whole other blog post!

Family Travels, Part 1

Our first trip this winter break was a quick drive to Bend for some skiing, in celebration of Zoe’s birthday. We made the journey via Zipcar and rented a two bedroom place near the slopes. It was snowy and icy on the way, but nothing horrible. The car held its own, the mountain passes weren’t too bad, we made decent time, and prepared a fabulous dinner when we arrived.

By all traditional measures, and believe me, our standards are very low, our adventure started off with a bang (the stupendous meal really put us over the top).

The next morning, it was the usual schlep to get on the slopes. (Thank God for Tom, because the three women in his life hate getting up early, even if it means we get to go ski.) It was dumping snow when we made it to Mount Bachelor, scrambling madly to get the girls to their lessons on time (Zoe took up snowboarding this go around). Of course, lots of whining ensued about the being cold, and the carrying of the gear, and the donning of the boots. But, we made it. (It always feels like an Olympic event just to get to this point.)

Shed progeny…check!

After stowing gear in lockers and prepping ourselves, Tom and I finally took to the slopes. Normally, this is a joyous time, but I was feeling more than a bit nervous since it was my first attempt at skiing post knee surgery. To be honest, I was really hoping for some easy familiar runs on well-groomed intermediate trails.

Unfortunately, my plans were thwarted at the outset since there was a nice windy blizzard brewing. Visibility sucked… really, we couldn’t see anything most places on the mountain…not signs, not the snow, not the trail. Nada. And, of course, there was tons of chewed up powder, making the day even more difficult for me!

It was a rough outing, to say the least. My knee was sore as hell, Zelda was cold and had windburn on her face, and Zoe had contracted some altitude sickness symptoms (such as a mild fever) and was pretty beat up after her first day of snowboarding (She did really well, but had a sore neck 24 hours later after taking a few spectacular spills…always on her front edge with the toe turn.)

We closed out the day wanting to document the family in the torturous winter wonderland, only to discover that our new digital camera was broken. Lovely.

Weary, we headed back to our rented home, and the kids lobbied hard to bag skiing the next day so they could sleep late and go inner tubing instead. Tom reluctantly agreed to the change of plan. (Which I was secretly happy about since my icing/hot tub regimen wasn’t really improving my unhappy joint. Ironically though, the knee protection plan took a heavy hit after my first inner tube run. Some idiot teenage boy — son of very entitled parents — followed immediately behind me instead of waiting, as he was supposed to, and knocked me over like a bowling pin the second I got out of my tube, with Tom frantically yelling, “Watch out behind you!”)

Our inflatable fun had us leaving the mountain at about 2:00 pm. That’s not too late, we figured. All things being equal, we should still get over the pass at Mount Hood by 4:30 pm…just before dark.

Then the snow came…heavy and hard. By 4:30, we found ourselves in Madras, nowhere near the pass. Night fell as we traveled through lonely reservation lands, inching toward Mount Hood, with me trying to tail close behind a semi. Much of the time, I was only 20 or 30 feet from the large truck, and I still couldn’t see it! Both of us were crawling along, feeling our way down the road. The conditions were atrocious and Tom and I were hoping and praying we weren’t going to get stuck or have to double back.

At about 6:30, as we finally arrived at the pass, the snow was easing just a bit… and visibility was improving… and a collective sigh of relief was heaved in the minivan… well, at least by the adults who were paying attention. Of course, right then, all traffic halted in both directions. A downed tree was blocking the road and a vehicle had tried to drive over it and was stuck. The drivers of the trapped cars began a mad search for someone with a chain saw. Thankfully, this being Oregon and all, it didn’t take long! A wonderful guy in his Carhartt‘s had that fir cut into rounds and cleared off to the side of the road in no time.

We rolled down the windows of our van and all thanked him soundly and roundly, in unison, as we inched by, “…Ready, 1…2…3….Thank you for clearing the tree!!!” He laughed and waved back to us.