Sleepless (and penniless) in Seattle
October 13, 2003
If it seems like we're a little top heavy on photos this month it is because it has been an unusally eventful month for us. Roni wrapped up the Almond Festival the weekend of Sept. 20-21, then a few days later we packed up the car and headed north for a week of vacation in Oregon and Washington. (More on that in a moment.) We returned home right before the gubernatorial recall election, and now we are all practicing saying "Cah-lee-for-neeah" in anticipation of the Arnold Schwarzenegger administration. In between we have been coping with school, working, and trying to keep up with our writing projects in preparation for November's excursion into National Novel Writing Month.
That's the synopsis. Now let's get to the details...
Almond Festival The 14th annual Oakley Almond Festival is in the books, and boy is Roni glad. It takes a lot of effort to put on this show each year, and because Roni co-chaired the event she had to spend the entire weekend at O'Hara Park keeping things running smoothly. We all got to spend most of Saturday at the festival, which was a nice change from last year when Glenn was sick through the whole show. Glenn and Ben attended the parade together, then Ben spent a chunk of time on the playground swings and visiting with friends at some of the game and commercial booths while Glenn took several hundred photos. (About 100 of those photos can be viewed on the Oakley.now Web site.)
Despite temperatures in the mid-90s, Roni managed to avoid most of the sun if not the heat by working in the Chamber of Commerce booths and staying in the shade. We all got to enjoy lunch together both Saturday and Sunday, which is no mean feat considering that Roni is in high demand most of the weekend. Attendance was down a bit from recent years, but that mirrors the trend at other local festivals and has a lot to do with the economy. After putting out the usual post-fest fires and counting up receipts it appears that the show made a modest profit, which is pretty typical.
Vacation Glenn procured a precious two weeks off from work following the Almond Fest, which enabled us to schedule a week on the road somewhere exploring the wilds of America. We didn't want anything quite as elaborate as last year's 10-day trip to Montana, but we were eager to get away from California for a few days. So we stuck with a plan we had formulated several months ago to visit Seattle, Washington.
We figured we could make the trip in seven days, affording us enough time to drive up and back while spending three days exploring the city. Roni was particularly interested in going there having read about it in some of the books by fiction author Debbie Macomber. The day before our departure we toyed with the idea of leaving the car at home and simply flying up, even explored rates on some of the Internet travel sites. But in the end the desire to see Oregon and plot our own course won out over convenience. In hindsight we're glad we drove; air travel can't beat the advantage of being able to pull over and check out a roadside attraction "just because," and there were plenty of them along the way. Following is a synopsis of our travel journal:
Thursday, September 25
We got an amazingly early start today, rising shortly after 6 a.m. so that we could hit the road by 7. In actuality we made it out the door by a quarter after, which is still good for us. The distance to Seattle is 819 miles. To make the drive easier, we decided to slug out most of the drive about 500 miles on the first day.
Interstate 5 was our constant companion for the day. It is a great way to travel if you want to get anywhere fast, but it is Bor-ing with a capital B. Even the parts that should be interesting, such as Redding and the Shasta region. Lots of brown farmland, occasional rock formations and nondescript towns as you get north. Then you hit Mount Shasta and are momentarily awed by its splendor and snowcapped pate before you are drawn into the Siskiyous and surrounded by scrawny trees and that endless ribbon of I-5.
We arrived at Cottage Grove, Ore., around 5:45 and booked a room at the Comfort Inn. We and the other half-dozen guests had the big place pretty much to ourselves. Despite the long drive we were still feeling relatively fresh, perhaps because it was still daylight by the time we got into town. We ate dinner at a nice family style restaurant about a block from the motel and had salads.
Friday, September 26
Sleeping in till 8 seemed like a luxury. We had to scramble a bit in order to make the continental breakfast before it closed for the day at 9. After filling our bellies we spent a few minutes checking out downtown Cottage Grove. We had heard about a bookstore on Main Street and of course had to check it out. We were all impressed by the town, which has a number of covered bridges and older brick storefronts that have been well cared for and painted with various signs and artworks. We not only found the book shop, but it was open. Roni located a couple of Nora Roberts books she had been looking for. We consider that this would be a great place to live if you were self-employed, retired or independently wealthy.
Back on I-5, we made our way north to Salem, Oregon's capital. We drove into town to find the capitol building, arriving at the same time as several busloads of Japanese schoolgirls. We visited the gift shop and hurriedly made our purchases before the tour group descended.
We dilly-dallied longer than planned. Even though we had much less ground to cover today, we had still hoped to clear Portland just past noon. (It was only 120 miles away from us when we started off from Cottage Grove.) But the sidetrip in Salem delayed us, then we ran into a mega traffic jam coming into Portland, so we ditched I-5 in favor of the backroads. This was great for sightseeing as there is some beautiful country south of Portland, but it succeeded in delaying us another hour perhaps.
By 2 p.m. we were all getting hungry and had reached West Linn via Highway 99W. We stopped for our late lunch at a Shari's restaurant, then slogged back onto I-5 for the commute crawl through Portland and across the border into Vancouver, Wash. Traffic thinned for a bit until we came up on Olympia. It was our first taste dealing with the Seattle region traffic.
We decided that we might as well stop in to visit Washington's capitol while we were there. It was by now 6 p.m. and things had closed up for the night, which was great for just stopping and grabbing a few photos as we didn't have to contend with other tourists. Our second state capitol in a day!
I-5 clogged with cars as we hit Tacoma and crawled into Tukwila, where our reservation with Courtyard by Marriott awaited. It was getting dark and that made it tough finding our way around on the unfamiliar streets. We ordered Pizza Hut, too tired to drive anymore tonight. Curious that we traveled just 300 miles today but we are wiped out. This was supposed to be our "easy" drive. Just shows what a toll traffic and time in the car can take on you when you travel.
Saturday, September 27
At last, we are ready to explore Seattle. Our hotel is just 10 miles up the road from downtown, so we take our time getting up and out the door, stopping first for a buffet breakfast downstairs in the cafe. Glenn's car is a sight. It hadn't been washed in a month before we left home, and with the cooler temperatures in the morning up here the dew mixes with the dirt to create mud. For now we clean the windows so we can get good photos through the glass on the way into the city.
We are cruising north on I-5, nearing Safeco Field, when we hit our first traffic. It's Saturday morning and it's bumper-to-bumper like a Friday afternoon commute. Might as well have stayed home, because we could have experienced the same thing driving into Oakland. But Oakland doesn't have a Space Needle, so perhaps it's a decent trade-off. Somehow we get into the right traffic lanes and surrealistically glide past lanes of stopped cars to our exit, the one that guides us to City Center and the Space Needle. We can see the monument from our car and figure we'll just point the car in that general direction until we get near enough to park. Of course, this approach only gets us caught up in some cross-town expressway that deposits us far from the Space Needle and we are backtracking on the side streets.
When at last we reach the Needle we park in an all-day lot right across the street from it. For $10 we can leave the car and do our sight-seeing by foot; most of the main attractions are close to one another. The Space Needle is much shorter in person than we had expected, despite its 605 feet. Still, it's the only place in town outside of the Westin Hotel where a tourist can get that sort of view of the city. It's $30 for the three of us to go up. We peruse the gift shop before ascending the stairs to the elevator platform. They snap our photo against a phony backdrop of the Seattle skyline and then we are wisked skyward with other tourists to the viewing platform at 520 feet up.
Once on the so-called "O Deck" we step outside the glass enclosure onto the terrace where all that separates us from the edge is a bars-and-Plexiglass barrier and some steel cables. There are binoculars placed around the perimeter for close-up viewing. It is truly a breathtaking sight, with the tiny buildings and cars and boats below resembling something out of the SimCity computer game. We are most impressed with the view of Elliott Bay, where you can watch the ferry boats and giant cargo ships arriving and departing, as well as hundreds of pleasure boats of all sizes. We are thankful for the unseasonably warm weather mid 80s even though Ben claims it is too cold. His attention span is predictably short, but we are able to spend perhaps half an hour on the observation deck where Roni shoots at least a card's worth of digital images.
Back at the base we explore the Space Center park where there are numerous carnival rides and games. We are more interested in taking the monorail into the downtown area so we can head out to the shoreline where Pike Place Market is located. We make our way out to Pine Street, past a dude painted all silver and doing robotic routines to get people to part with their cash, and walk the five blocks to the waterfront.
Pike Place is a bustling farmers market and tourist trap. It reminds us a lot of Pier 39 in San Francisco, except that all the action takes place indoors on a two-block long promenade lined with vendor stands. There are flowers, veggies, deli meats, souvenir stands, and 20-somethings hawking every variety of fresh fish. Our big purchase is lunch, which we buy from one of the fish markets a couple bowls of northwest style clam chowder, a seafood ciappino, and smoked salmon on a bed of sliced celery.
Afterward we try to find the shoreline, which a sign on a parking garage leads us to believe is just on the other side of the freeway. It is; however, we can't figure out how to reach it, so we content ourselves with hanging out in a park and looking at the dozens of other people who have spilled over from Pike Place. It's a great place if you like people watching. Before we head back to the car we first hit a souvenir shop and pop close to $54 on post cards, a T-shirt for Roni and other trinkets. We may not have left our hearts in Seattle, but we certainly have left plenty of cash. Disneyland is starting to look like a bargain.
It is still early enough in the afternoon that we decide to sightsee a little by car before returning to the hotel. We hate city driving, but occasionally we'll stomach it. Seattle is a lot like San Francisco, except that the streets are a bit wider in the downtown area. We drive north and circle the metro area before getting our fill and trying to find I-5 again. We get stuck in a horrible line of cars waiting to get up the hill in a residential area, and after about 20 minutes rejoin the freeway.
We are all tired by the time we get back to Tukwila, so we stop at a salad buffet place called Zoopa for dinner. Great food, but we're all stuffed afterward.
Sunday, September 28
It is hard to believe that our trip is more than half over. We all woke up around 8 o'clock this morning, then waited on Glenn to make football picks with his brother Sean, which normally occurs about 10 a.m. on Sundays during football season.
The weather was still gorgeous, so we decided to check out some of the island communities along the west end of the Puget Sound. We drove I-5 south toward Tacoma, stopping first at Big Apple Bagel Company in Kent for breakfast, which was very good.
About 11 a.m. we were back on I-5, heading south. We stopped in Tacoma at a municipal park called Point Defiance where they have boat rentals, fishing excursions and such. We checked out the gift items in the bait shop and inquired about bald eagles in the area. Roni has always wanted to see one, so every time we travel to areas where they can be found we like to look for them. The lady at the counter told us we might be able to see some if we followed the promenade that runs along the Point Defiance waterway. Next thing, we were strolling along the concrete path with other Sunday nature lovers, craning our necks to see the tree tops where bald eagles could be (but weren't) lurking. Vashon Island was on the other side of the walkway, across about a mile of pleasure boat-filled waterway.
We went off the trail into a wooded area called the Sound Garden after Ben wanted to check it out. Even though the trail was below us and a park/picnic area waited at the top end of the woods, the walk through the overgrown grove was anice hiking sampler for our family, which hasn't been up in the woods for many years. Ben enjoyed climbing the trail through the dense trees, perhaps more than he should have given that we was bounding ahead and we weren't all that close behind in case something were to happen.
After retracing our steps back to the concrete walkway, we followed the shoreline until we tired of the fruitless eagle hunt and returned to the car. We found Highway 16 and continued our journey through the wooded peninsular communities until we found Bainbridge Island. What an awesome little place. We had decided to have lunch here, even as it was getting on toward 3 o'clock. We stopped in at an Albertsons and picked up some prefabbed sandwiches, salads and other picnic items, then spent almost another hour cruising the island in search of a state park we kept seeing signs for. The hope was that the park would provide us with a view of Seattle from afar.
Once we found it, the park turned out to be one of the day's highlights. It is right on the shoreline and offers campsites, so folks were out there barbecuing and playing in the water. We ate our lunches at a picnic table while Ben romped off to play on the swings. Then we hung out on the water's edge where Ben tossed rocks and we took pictures of the driftwood.
It was about 5:30 and time to start heading back to the hotel. We had traveled more than 100 miles to reach Bainbridge and weren't looking forward to the long return trip. Fortunately, Bainbridge offers a car ferry to Seattle, and it didn't take a whole lot of convincing to get us on that boat. For $12 the three of us and the car were able to ride aboard for a voyage that took less than 25 minutes. Roni of course shot a card's worth of photos of the Seattle skyline. As our boat (the Wenatchee) came within about a mile of Seattle you literally could feel the temperature rise about 10 degrees in a matter of seconds. This would be our last and best view of Seattle before it was back to our car to drive it off the ferry.
We docked near Safeco Field, where the Seattle Mariners play, at close to 7 p.m. We got stuck at a train crossing for 15 minutes on our way out of town, then had to take a detour for an on-ramp that was closed when we got back to I-5. By the time we completed the detour, we were barely five miles away from the exit for our hotel.
Tonight there was time to read stories with Ben and play cards. It's our last night at the Courtyard, and tomorrow we leave for Oregon as we start the long journey home.
Monday, September 29
Our luck finally ran out where the weather was concerned, as we woke up to our first gloomy day of the trip. The skies were dark and there was an occasional drizzle. In other words, typical Pacific Northwest weather for the fall. Just about every TV and radio station we had listened to during the weekend remarked at how things were unseasonably warm. They almost sounded apologetic about it. Didn't bother us in the least.
We packed our gear and left the hotel, opting to depart Washington via the coastal route. We followed I-5 until we reached Olympia. From there it was onto Highway 8, which became Highway 12, which eventually hooked up with U.S. 101.
This part of the drive reminded us why we wanted to vacation in the Pacific Northwest to begin with: lots of trees, many in the midst of changing colors for fall; cool temperatures; peaceful waterways with lots of wildlife; light traffic; and lots of eclectic communities to brighten our journey. One of those towns was Raymond, Wash. The title of the TV sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" kept popping into our heads, because the town really is very lovable. It is small with a lot of old-timey storefronts and iron sculptures of people and wildlife appearing all around the town. We drove down the deserted main street and stopped at an antique shop called Ugly Ed's.
We ate a picnic lunch in Long Beach, at a public beach just inside town. The spot was very inviting, as it wasn't very crowded and we could watch the waves roll in just down the way while we ate. A curiosity here is that they allow you to drive your vehicle onto the beaches, so long as you stay away from the surf and on the hardpack. We had never done this before, so we thought to give it a try. Now if we had been driving a 4x4 there probably wouldn't have been any trouble, but shortly after hitting the entrance to the beach we realized that the sand was too soft for Glenn's Toyota Corolla to handle, so he tried to back out. Bogging down, he tried to cut across the rutted sand and soon became stuck in it. The more he attempted to shift into forward and then reverse, the more entrenched the wheels became. It quickly became apparent that we weren't going anywhere without help.
It wasn't a minute later that a scruffy guy in a pickup truck who had been sitting off to the edge of the beach watching our predicament motored alongside and offered to give us a push out for a modest price of $25. Would be cheaper than the $50 the resident towing outfit would charge us, he said. We told him we'd pass, figuring we'd attempt to push ourselves out before paying some shark to do the job and probably damage the bumper in the process. So with Roni behind the wheel, Glenn located a large piece of driftwood and shoved it behind the left front tire, then he pushed as she reversed and we were able to get ourselves unstuck. Exhausted but elated, Glenn wanted to give the guy in the pickup a giant elephant salute, but of course we didn't need any more trouble. We high-tailed it out of there.
After that experience we needed something to put ourselves back in a pleasant mood, so we drove into nearby Ilwaco and checked out a used book shop for Roni. Then we drove further south until we found Fort Canby State Park and the lighthouse at Cape Disappointment. The lighthouse was closed for tours, but we were still able to take a pleasant misty walk to it and grab some pictures. We stayed for close to an hour.
We crossed the Columbia River into Astoria, Ore., and booked a room at the Crest Motel where we had stayed years ago on a similar trip down the Oregon coast. Our second story suite overlooked the Columbia where there were four big cargo ships anchored in the river, adding to the view. Lots of photos were taken, of course, but there was too much fog for decent sunset pictures. We ate downtown at a little seafood diner that served up an excellent oyster stew and seafood casserole. We went back to the motel stuffed.
Tuesday, September 30
We awoke shortly before 8:30, which meant we all had to hurry through the shower line in order to make the continental breakfast that ended by 9. This isn't a very swank establishment, so the breakfast consists of a few muffins cut in quarters and bagel bites laid out on two plastic trays on the front counter of the office. There is coffee and orange juice, of course. We gather our plates on a serving tray and take them back to our room where we can watch the morning's activity on the Columbia River from our balcony. One of the cargo ships has scuttled off, but another one that is nearly twice the size of the remaining three is plowing its way underneath the auto bridge that links Oregon and Washington. We watch it until it passes our balcony and disappears behind some trees. Then it is time to hit the road.
The weather is still cool and foggy. The view of the river grows worse as the minutes pass. We visit the Astoria Column, which is a famous landmark overlooking the city and the Columbia. It sort of resembles a large smoke stack with paintings on it. What makes it unusual is that you can climb all 164 steps (125 feet) from bottom to top, which is exactly what Ben and Glenn did. Roni stayed on the bottom and took photos. There wasn't much of a view because of the fog. We visited a couple of bookstores in town for Roni before making our way south on Highway 101.
We had originally thought we might make it to Brookings, Ore., by nightfall, which would have left us just about 350 miles for our final day's trek back to Oakley. But in fact we overestimated the distance considerably, even without accounting for the various stops we made along the way. We took an exceptionally pokey pace down the coast, stopping next at Tillamook to visit the Tillamook Cheese Company for about an hour and a half, and then later at Yaquina Head Lighthouse outside of Newport. In between there were miles of twisty, turning, fog-shrouded two-lane roads that passed through at least a dozen tiny towns that all started to look the same. Hebo, Lincoln City, Waldport, Florence, Reedsport... Every one of them had a kite shop, a myrtlewood carving outlet, a couple of smoked salmon purveyors and a half dozen offbeat eateries and motels.
Our visit to the lighthouse was on a whim, and at 4 p.m. was too late in the day to go inside for the grand tour. We did manage some photos, however, and then we stopped in at the visitors center. Roni was disappointed that she hadn't seen any bald eagles on our trip, and one of the rangers at the visitors center didn't make her feel any better by recalling the time he saw a kestrel and a bald eagle at the same time in the vicinity of the lighthouse. All we've seen are lots of hawks and blackbirds.
We step up the pace a bit after that stop, knowing that it is now 5 p.m. and we have another couple hours of daylight left to get us to Coos Bay, where we have decided to room for the night. We checked into the Red Lion Inn and ate at the motel's restaurant. Tonight's our last night in a motel. Tomorrow we have a major drive awaiting us.
Wednesday, October 1
This is officially the last day of our trip, but in reality the leisurely aspect of the vacation ended somewhere south of Astoria once the realization of how far we had left to go set in. The coast, while beautiful, is a slower drive. We debate about continuing on the coast or heading east to link up with I-5 again, but we've seen enough of that boring freeway for this vacation and decide to stay on 101. We should make it by 9 p.m.
We don't get on the road until after 9 a.m. Coos Bay is a depressing city, given all the quaint towns we have visited along the way. There are a couple of big lumber mills that dominate the landscape, and parts of the main drag are run down.
We stop for breakfast in Bandon, which is 180 degrees from what we just left. The town is built entirely around tourism, with lots of quaint shops lining the downtown business district. We dine at a bakery/coffee shop, then stop at a small book shop before heading out of town. We don't make another significant stop until we reach Crescent City, Calif., where we pick up picnic lunch items from Safeway and eat them in a parking lot overlooking the beach. Ben has more fun on the sand than eating.
Highway 101 south of Eureka turns out to be mostly a hilly, two-lane road as it crawls through the redwoods. There are good sections of it that widen to four lanes, but those are too far and few between. We have deliberately steered clear of sidetrips today because we have more than 500 miles to travel before we reach Oakley, but we make an exception at the Avenue of the Giants because it is right off the freeway and, technically, we are still on vacation and should be enjoying ourselves.
The giant redwood trees that tower over the roadway are impressive. We stop in at one of the park's information centers where we learn that there is a forest fire a few miles up the road from us. As we drive on in search of the way back to Highway 101, we see lots of smoke settling into the river valley and hear the din of CDF helicopters dropping water on the unseen blaze.
We stop in Ukiah for dinner at Carl's Jr., just the second time this trip that we have relied on one of the big fast food chains to provide a meal. It is 7 p.m. and darkness has descended as we hop back on 101. There is little chance we will make it home by 9 after all.
The last hour of the drive from Highway 37 near Petaluma to I-80, to I-780, to Highway 4 seemed to take forever. When you are so close and have been on the road as long as we have today, you just want to get to your destination and stop. We pulled into our driveway at a few minutes past 10 p.m. Our cats Ariel and Eevee look tired and heat stressed, but after a bit they perk up and actually appear glad to see us.
It has been seven days and 2,000 miles of extensive travel and adventure. As glad as we are to have had the opportunity to visit Seattle and tour the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, we are still thankful to at last be back in the comfort of our own home and sleeping in our own beds. Tomorrow it is back to reality when we have to wash the car (it's filthy by now). Another all-too-short vacation.
Recall We cast our votes in the Oct. 7 recall election of Gov. Gray Davis. With the way the campaign went it wasn't clear until the end that Davis was on his way out. Still, it will take some getting used to having the Terminator doing the people's business up in Sacramento. Election night was Glenn's first day back at the newspaper after 18 days off. He didn't plan it that way, and it is always a shock to the system working in the newsroom on a big news night. He says that the announcement of Schwarzenegger's victory didn't go over too well in the newsroom, where folks reacted as if California had just been invaded by space aliens. Guess time will tell on that one.
NaNoWriMo Yes, it's almost that time once again. Nov. 1 is the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month, which as many of you know we have participated in the past two years. We are registered for this year's challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, and are presently in search of plot lines. Whether we actually complete the contest by midnight Nov. 30 remains to be seen; it has become increasingly difficult to make time for regular writing schedules. But if we can compile these massive newsletters once a month then it should be a snap to turn out that much copy in 30 days, right? Hmmm.
If you are interested in participating in NaNoWriMo you can learn more about it by surfing to www.nanowrimo.org. Until next month, hope all your stories have happy endings.
Glenn, Roni and Ben