Sunday, November 30, 2008

Too many people, too many cars

Our visit to Corinne and her two dogs, Havoc and Duncan, in Beaumont, California was short but sweet. We had enough time to get in some play time in the park with the dogs, drive up into the hills, go out to dinner, and sweep through Sam's Club for some bargains (wine and a new GPS to replace the old one that was stolen in Victoria).

The weather on Saturday was spectacular--warm and sunny enough that we needed air conditioning in the car. We drove up to Oak Grove where there is an apple orchard theme park, very charming and complete with Early American style building and costumes. Many families from the area were visiting with their kids--obviously a Thanksgiving tradition. Lots of fun for us as well. Corinne and I bought matching red sandals there.

We were lucky to have been able to skirt most of the Los Angeles basin traffic. We left the jammed I-5 shortly after Castaic and breezed into Beaumont on a new highway I-210. Beaumont is 70 miles from LA but still part of the frantic Southern California lifestyle. Some people who live there actually commute daily to Los Angeles for work--a trip of over two hours each way (if the traffic is good). Freeway driving is just part of every day and trips are measured in hours rather than miles. It seems that Southern California is the victim of its lovely climate--there are just too many people and too many cars, and so the sunny, summery lifestyle is marred by constant worries about traffic jams and freeway pile-ups.

This morning, the last day of the four-day Thanksgiving weekend we left Beaumont and headed east towards Phoenix. The east-bound traffic was light but it looked like it was going to be hours of bumper to bumper traffic for people heading back to the coast. Corinne tells us that many people go to a desert dunes area for recreation and it was obvious that that was the activity of choice this weekend. Many RVs, big trucks, and trailers were on the road complete with the ATVs and dune buggies, with over a hundred miles of traffic jam to get through. What a dreary end that would be to a long weekend!

Tonight we're in Buckeye, Arizona. We saw the same kind of freeway backup heading into Phoenix this afternoon so we stopped off here in order to head south to Tucson on a bypass route tomorrow.

The photo of Corinne's dogs shows Havoc on the left and Duncan on the right. Havoc is a great flyball dog, a mix of Border Collie, Jack Russell, Whippet and maybe something else. He is already running under four seconds at the beginning of his career; he's also an absolute love-sponge. Duncan is a Cairn Terrier who did flyball for a while but is now retired. Maggie enjoyed being with both of these guys today, running after tennis balls and playing in the back yard. I think she's missing Geordie as she actually initiated some play with Havoc this morning--and that's unusual for her.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Over the hills and into Southern California

There’s a little road that winds through the most idyllic area of rolling hills to the east of Napa. We started our day yesterday driving through vineyards and small ranches in the mist with the sun breaking through here and there as we climbed or descended past fat, happy horses, little farm buildings, stone fences and grassy hills. Forty miles later we arrived at Winters, California, a little agricultural town where walnuts and citrus fruits are grown. From there we hit the freeway and roared through the Great Central Valley. This is the agricultural heart of California; it’s criss-crossed by irrigation canals, and seems to go on forever, especially since we were under a heavy bank of clouds. After many hours of freeway driving the eight-lane road ascended to the 4,000 foot Tehan pass. Traffic was bumper to bumper and disabled cars cluttered the shoulder through the summit area. As soon as we were over the pass the sun came out. Suddenly we’re in Southern California. We pulled off at a truck-stop town called Castaic where we found a place to stay and ate in a 24-hour diner. This morning the sky is blue, the sun is warm and the flowers are blooming.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Foggy Napa Valley

We've just spent a lovely day touring the Napa Valley. It's such an amazingly beautiful spot, even in the rain and the fog. We arrived yesterday in the pouring rain and walked around downtown Napa, then headed up the valley to Yountville, where we had lunch in a bistro. I had the best tomato soup I've ever tasted and the nastiest exchange with a tourist information representative. We were looking for dog-friendly accommodation and went into the information centre to ask if they had a telephone where we could phone a few places. The expensively dressed, sour-faced woman told me that there were no pay phones in Yountville. Her withering look suggested that nobody without a cell phone should be there.

So on we went to St. Helena, where we found a very nice dog friendly motel called El Bonita, with a very pleasant room, swimming pool, hot tub and sauna, plus a lovely garden. St. Helena is a lovely town. It looks as though every single thing in it were designed by Martha Stewart. Even the high school and the hardware store are beautiful. The vegetation is lush with roses and flowers and grape vines everywhere you look. It didn't matter that the day was misty and foggy--everything looked fantastic even so. Maggie had a great time as there were lots of open green areas where we could play with the ball.

Not many wineries were open today as it was Thanksgiving, but we found a few where we could taste and buy a couple of special bottles. One place we went to is called Castello de Amoroso. It's a replica of an ancient Italian castle and is quite amazing. Tomorrow we head south towards LA and then will turn east towards Beaumont.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

American Thanksgiving

It appears that American Thanksgiving is a much bigger deal than our October celebration in Canada. Harry and I were planning to visit a few people on our way through California this week but it turns out that they are all on the road over the several-day-long Thanksgiving holiday. We're seeing a lot of families at rest stops today and we guess that they're on the way home for the holiday on Thursday. It seems that everyone who can manage it makes a trip to have a big Thanksgiving dinner with family that day. My cousin Dean and his partner are driving from Long Beach California to Portland; our friends Helen and Sam are driving to Anacortes to have dinner with their son-in-law's parents. And Corinne, our friend in Beaumont is driving to Nevada to choose a new puppy. So it looks like we'll be making our own plans for Thanksgiving.

Today we drove through Northern California with a little stop for coffee at Yreka. It's an old mining town with a lovely historic main street (see photos). Tonight we're in Vacaville, at the southern end of the Napa Valley. We've decide to spend our American Thanksgiving here exploring the wine country, and then we'll here head over to Beaumont on Saturday to connect with Corinne. We'll check in with our other friends and relatives on our way back.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Traversing Washington and Oregon

Two short days driving has placed us in Medford, just 25 miles north of the California border. We’re settling into a routine with Maggie. We drive about 300 miles, take a couple of breaks, and stop by 4:00 to find a dog-friendly motel that’s within our budget. That’s not too difficult in November—both days we’ve found good, clean motels at around $50 a night.

One thing we noticed in Washington State—there’s no need to travel too far to find authentic Mexican experiences. Last night we had a delicious Mexican meal at a cute restaurant in (are you ready?) Kelso, Washington. The Hispanic influence in Washington state is notable. The fellow who owns the motel we stayed at is Mexican, from Jalisco. In the Safeway in Longview there’s an entire aisle dedicated to “Hispanic foods” and there are a number of Spanish speaking radio and TV stations as well. And all this is just 200 miles south of the Canada/US border.

We drove the I-5 through the broad Willamette Valley today, mostly in misty fog with occasional sunny breaks. It’s a very different scene than last year when we were snowed in there. Today in the fog we spotted six or seven hawks sitting on fenceposts, highway signs, and one raggedy looking fellow hunched on the shoulder of the road. We thought perhaps they had been grounded by the fog.

And who is on the road at the end of November? Not that many RVs or holidayers, but lots of big trucks and the usual sedans and vans (mostly with just one passenger)—as well as a few high end cars. At the other end there is the shabbily dressed guy walking on the shoulder carrying a big plastic garbage bag with his belongings, and the old Buick at a rest stop with a couple in the front and two babies in car seats in the back, and a sign on the front window “Homeless, Lost our house. Anything will help.” We gave them $2 and hoped that it would help a tiny bit.

This photo is taken from inside the car as we drove through the beautiful countryside around Roseburg in Southern Oregon. Tomorrow, we’ll go over the Siskyou pass into California.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Off at last!

We’re on the road at last. We headed off on Friday night in the driving rain and caught a ferry that banged its way across the strait in 35 knot winds. It seemed a fitting time to go. (This is the terminal in the pouring rain.)

It was hard to leave Geordie with Linette even though we knew he’d have a good time with her two border collies. Probably he’ll even get more walks than he does at home.

We spent the weekend in Vancouver visiting my brother and his family, eating lunch at Havana on Commercial Drive, seeing Jamie at UBC and visiting with our friend Kath. The storm didn’t last long; Saturday in Vancouver was lovely with golden sun and a winter blue sky. We left Vancouver this morning with the idea that it would be easier to get through the border and Seattle—which turned out to be true. We slid through the border with only a 15-minute wait and slipped down the freeway with the low November sun gleaming on the snowy sides of Mount Baker, Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens while listening to Eliza Gilkyson’s velvet voice on the IPOD—just a lovely drive.

It’s so easy having just Maggie to take care of. She never climbs on my lap in the car, or whines, or lunges after cats or other dogs on leash. She’s a bit confused about what’s going on, I think. Maybe she believes we’re on our way to a flyball tournament. Little does she know that it will be at least two months before she sees that kind of action.

Tonight we’re in Longview, just a bit north of Portland, a turn of the century town with cute little houses climbing up the hill with views of the Columbia River. Maggie found a big grassy hill where we could play fetch before dinner so she’s feeling better about the longish drive. We’ll spend the evening getting the car organized and making a list of things we forgot to bring for a little shopping trip tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Life intervenes

It’s 4:15 in the morning, and I’ve been lying awake since 2:00 thinking about what needs to be done before we can leave. Actually some quite large things like deciding what to take along, getting Mexican car insurance and things like that.

Today is November 19th and our plan was to leave on the 20th of November. Why the 20th? Well, we had to wait till after the Citizen Canine AGM the night of the 19th (which I am involved in organizing). In my mind I had an idea that we would have the car all packed and be ready to leave early the following morning. But of course life has intervened in these plans. It has taken longer than I thought to get the paperwork together for the AGM, plus we’re running into things like the wireless modem malfunctioning and now a small lake in the front yard. It seems the new water line that was put in last May has sprung a leak.

Consequently, what with arranging for a plumber and technical support—plus hair appointments that had to be rescheduled and tenants’ locks that needed replacing—neither Harry nor I have even begun to pack. At least the vehicles are ready. The van (named Wanda) has new tires, shocks, transmission, and head gasket, and Mohita (the aging motor home from last year’s trip) is tarped up and in the back yard, so all is in order there. We’ve even broken the news to Mohita that she won’t be coming along this year. (She took it well!) So all that’s left now is getting ourselves ready.

For the past two weeks every time we saw something that we thought we’d like to take along on our trip, we’ve just put it in the spare room. Now the spare room is starting to look like a rummage sale with piles of stuff lying around on tables and chairs. I figure it will take a couple of days to pull it all together and pack up so our plan now is to drop Geordie off at his temporary home on Friday or Saturday morning and then head to Vancouver to start our trip. We’ll see whether life has more interventions planned before then.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The not-so-reluctant traveler

Way back in August when Harry started planning our trip to Mexico I wasn't sure that I even wanted to go. I remember lying in bed and looking out at the sun on the trees and saying something about the long drive and the complications of getting away and wondering if it might not be too much to be driving so far again this year. ....

Well, now that it's November I have to say that I'm not so reluctant about this trip. Just looking out at the sodden back yard I realize that the idea of heading south in the winter is a good one. I know that lots of people who are in steady jobs with family responsibilities and all that don't have the choice. But since we do, we're willing to scrape together the funds to get away and find a second summer.

We've run into a few glitches with the car--this time we're checking it out before we go and we're glad we did. We had to replace the head gasket and now it looks like we'll need to rebuild the transmission. But at least these repairs are being done while we're still at home, although it may delay our leaving by a few days.

Again I'm finding that there are so many strings to untie here at home before we go. All the arrangements and details of our life that have to be pre-arranged. It takes a huge effort to actually get away for a couple of months. But now that the rains have arrived I'm convinced that it will be worth it.