Monday, June 24, 2013

Summer Solstice Weekend

Happy Solstice y'all! That long-awaited longest day of the year was on Friday and the whole weekend shaped up to be awesomely summery.

Off work at noon on Friday, I had some time to work in the garden at home. It was a sunny day and I weeded, battling the mutant-fast growing morning glory and dandelions. Here's the garden, with kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, (bolted) spinach, favas, potatoes, tomatoes, nasturtium, garlic, beets, carrots, snap peas, arugula, and mixed salad greens. I harvested what I could- some peas, strawberries, greens, and nasturtium flowers.

I also added more soil to my barrel potatoes. If you haven't heard of this method, it's a good way to container garden with potatoes when you have limited space. You can use any kind of bin, barrel, or sack as long as there are drainage holes in the bottom. Earlier in the spring, I filled it with about 8 inches of soil and compost and planted potatoes. Here they are just starting to grow in the bottom.
As the leaves grow, you keep adding soil to the base of the plants, and they keep growing up and creating more tubers below the surface. Here were the potatoes on Friday!
Later in the afternoon I headed to my neighborhood farmer's market on Phinney Ridge. I couldn't pass up getting some Rainier cherries in the glory of their season, and some heirloom tomatoes from Yakima.
That evening I went to a backyard BBQ and let myself have my first summer ale. I'm very particular about not drinking seasonal beers out of their intended season, though in the stores there will be a lot of overlap. I also tried a cocktail with cynar for my first time, sipping it by a fire while a huge moon rose over Woodland Park. The actual Supermoon was a couple days later, but it was the biggest moon I saw over the weekend. 

On Saturday my sweetie made coffee and cooked me some eggs with veggie sausage and I had a much-needed relaxing morning. It's funny how much 7:30 feels like sleeping in when you are used to getting up at 5. Then I hopped on my bike and rode to a family lunch/belated baby shower in Magnolia. The plan was to go straight from there to the Fremont Solstice Parade. I didn't want to worry about trying to catch a crowded bus, or park 30 blocks away, so biking seemed like the easiest option. I crossed the Fremont bridge and apparently had forgotten just how incredibly many people go to the fair. I could hardly find a place to park my bike! 

Then I realized I needed to cross the street to get to where my friends were... but it was completely impossible to cross the street. There was a wall of parade spectators about 5 people deep for dozens of blocks. I ended up having to walk to the very beginning of the parade to get around the crowds and then back down. I finally found my friends and still caught a good chunk of the colorful parade.
The whole event is pretty crazy with the sheer number of people in the streets. I couldn't handle something like that very often, but for special occasions I absolutely love soaking in the vibrant urban feel. There was so much to see and do, with people-watching, costumes, local vendors, food trucks, people eating at tables and patches of grass on the canal, buskers, official music stages, laughter from the beer garden. It was another sunny day, even hotter than the day before. We ate Thai food and grabbed a cold beer with some friends before.

In the evening we rode down to Honkfest at Gasworks Park. Tons of music and people dancing and hanging out outside in the warm evening air.

We sat on top of the hill and watched the sun reflecting off the buildings and the sky change colors. I fell in love with Seattle even a little bit more.

After an unusually warm last few days, Sunday was grey and wet. It was a good day to be inside and get odds and ends done. We weren't going to let a little drizzle dampen our summer spirits though. We had a BBQ with some friends in the evening, cooking homemade pizzas on the outdoor grill. We originally were going to make pizzas outside, but decided to move the operation into the basement, which worked out well.

The pizzas were delicious, with toppings from olives to burrata to chopped garlic scapes to pesto to fresh arugula. There were homemade desserts like cake with chocolate ganache and fresh raspberry sauce, peach pie, and lemon bundt cake. Other homemade drinks showed up like hibiscus-pennyroyal soda and homebrewed Belgian-style beer. It dried up for awhile, and we were able to hang out in the yard.
When it stared raining again, we just stood by the fire and made sure to cover the important items.
The rain stopped long enough for people to roast some marshmallows, and then it waited to start pouring until everyone had left. 
If the weekend is any indication of how the whole summer will be, I think some good months are ahead!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Oregon Coast Bike Tour

I had never been to the Oregon coast, and never done any bicycle touring. I knew I wanted to do both, and liked the idea of not driving a car at all. My sweetie Max and I sat down a few weeks ago to devise a trip that we could do in five days of riding. We wanted to cover some ground but also not over-do our mileage since we were first-timers. Here's what we came up with!

DAY 1:
We put our bikes on the Metro bus to get downtown, then caught an early train from Seattle to Kelso/Longview in southern Washington. It was an unusually hot and sunny day for early June. We headed west on Highway 4 which runs along the north bank of the Columbia River. Behind us much of the time was a stunning view of Mount Saint Helens.
At the town of Cathlamet we turned south and crossed a bridge onto Puget Island. From there we took a little ferry (carrying 3 cars) across the big river onto the Oregon side.
At that point it was nearly 5pm, and we had been up since 5am and already ridden about 30 miles. We still had 30 miles to go, and they were going to be hilly with a headwind. But we really wanted to make it to Astoria the first night, so we pushed on, and rolled into town by 8pm. I was so exhausted I was ready to just go to bed without even eating dinner. It literally sounded like too much work to move a fork between a plate and my mouth. Luckily the Fort George brewpub was just a couple doors down, so we got some food and a delicious Spruce Bud ale.

DAY 2:

I slept in a little, focused on hydrating, slathered on some aloe, and the morning started looking up. We had not been diligent about sunscreen and got pretty burned the day before, so we were actually happy about the overcast weather. We walked around town, saw some historic sites, and drank some Stumptown coffee.

(Our bikes with Astoria bridge behind)

We headed south and west from Astoria on Highway 101. I have to say that even though signs started marking the "Oregon Coast Scenic Route", the ride was not that impressive between Astoria and Seaside. After a late lunch we rolled into a misty Cannon Beach and my bike met the ocean for the first time.

After Cannon Beach, the road got pretty spectacular. More sea stack rocks, and the highway curving right along the water. There was a narrow cave tunnel with a button to push to warn cars of cyclists. We rode on a bit farther that evening before setting up camp here.
 DAY 3:

We got an early start and decided we would stop and make coffee and breakfast at the next good view point. It wasn't long before we climbed up to this in Oswald West State Park.
The scenery was getting even more striking, and the weather had gone back to sunny.
We passed through some cute small towns and crossed beautiful rivers,
and really cool river estuaries.
We stopped at a Manhattan beach for a picnic lunch, quiet in terms of people but roaring loud waves.

As the highway went inland and we got into cow country, we had to make the requisite stop at the Tillamook cheese factory. I've wanted to go there ever since high school when I heard you could visit. We read a bike blog where the rider was not impressed with his visit, and my sister and niece also said they were disappointed when they went over spring break. But I thought it was an interesting, worthwhile stop. Then again, after riding in the hot sun since 7am, I probably would have loved anywhere where I could fill my water bottles, charge my cell phone, use the bathroom, eat local ice cream and get cheese samples.

There is a Three Capes Scenic Route which is a detour off the 101, but the road was closed. We ended up doing a small detour through Netarts and riding this lovely coastal road in the early evening.
We got to Cape Lookout which has a State Park with car camping, but they also do hiker/biker-only designated sites. We picked up some firewood and a six-pack and rode to our site with the essentials.

Our site was in the woods, but right off the ocean. It was a beautiful place, plus a neat way to meet other bike tourists. It sort of felt like an outdoor hostel for cyclists. People wandered by each other's camps to ask about the trip they were doing. We met two young women who had just flown in from the east coast to do a two-week trip to San Francisco. We met a retired man who was just beginning the TransAmerica route.

DAY 4:

We awoke to another sunny day. We made breakfast and coffee and fared the San Fran riders well before heading out. Within a mile, we started the biggest hill climb of the trip, about 830 feet in a mile and a half. We stopped part way up to catch our brea--, er, take a picture.
We rolled into Pacific City in early afternoon, and when we saw the Pelican Pub we knew had found our lunch spot with patio right on the beach.

We were feeling okay in terms of energy, but both with sore muscles, so we decided to take it a little easier today. We got into camp early and had plenty of time to stretch, write in journals, and make dinner.

DAY 5:

It was time to head away from the coast and back east. We had a really nice ride down through the Siuslaw National Forest over the coastal range. We were still lucking out with the warm and sunny weather.

The hills turned into the flat pastoral landscape of the Willamette Valley, with puffy clouds and a clear view of Mount Jefferson.
We got to Salem that evening after about 60 miles of riding. We were pretty happy to take showers, eat dinner, and have one last celebratory local Oregon microbrew before calling it a day.

DAY 6:

The next morning we caught the train home, changing once in Portland. It was a really fabulous trip with a nice mix of activity and downtime to soak in the scenery. While on the train, I was already thinking about what bike tour I might want to do next. But for now I'm going to enjoy being back in Seattle, and let my quadriceps take a little break.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Astoria Pre-Nostalgia

I'm about to leave for a 5-day bicycle trip in Oregon. My sweetie and I will catch an early train to Longview in southern Washington. Our first day of riding will take us along the Columbia River and end in Astoria, Oregon, which is almost on the coast. I've never been to Astoria, but I've heard mention of it a lot over the year from family members who would stop there on commercial fishing trips.

In the summers, relatives would tuna fish off the Pacific Coast from Washington all the way down to California. Astoria was one spot to stop and sell fish, unloading their big hauls that were waiting frozen in the hull. On my mom's first summer fishing when she was 16, she got arrested there and taken to jail when a local cop thought she was a runaway. They called her home number and no one answered. That is because, of course, her parents were in Astoria, and had splurged on a hotel after weeks on the water. My mom says she remembers the dubious jail toilet with its shoddy partition wall, and that the guards kindly lent her a book on Australia to pass the time. The police finally got ahold of her parents and released my poor mom before she had to spend the night.

My aunt said on her first summer fishing as a teenager, she was just getting her sea legs and then they'd go to Astoria to wait out big storms. They were fishing 100-200 miles off the coast, so getting caught in bad weather was no joke. Both my mom and her sister said they liked the town but they'd rather be out on the boat, on the water.

The older adults however, welcomed the chance to get off the boat, have a good meal and some drinks, often coordinating with other relatives from Seattle so that their boats were all in port at the same time.

There used to be a lot of canneries along the Columbia, but those were even declining by the time my mom started going to Astoria in the 1970's. The town probably would have become an even bigger economic port if it weren't for the Columbia Bar at the entrance of the river. This natural sandbar/shoal is miles long and apparently a treacherous place to try to get a boat into and a veritable ship graveyard. My great-uncle said he knows guys whose boats have gotten stuck on the bar. "These young guys come in thinking it's no big deal. But you have to have experience, and learn from some one who knows the bar. I learned from my dad."

His dad was my great-grandfather, a first-generation Norwegian-American who spent his whole life on or around the water. He lived on an island in the San Juans, but spent a good chunk of his life fishing salmon, halibut, and tuna in the waters between Alaska and California. He bought his own boat in 60's and then fished for several more decades. He named the boat "Vivian" after one of his daughters, my great-aunt. That boat was the life-blood of the family- bringing in money to support his 7 kids, and the place where the next couple generations would learn to fish. When my great-grandpa retired, the boat was maintained for many years and moored in the San Juans. Then in 1997, the diesel Atlas boat engine died unexpectedly, and shortly after my grandpa passed away after being in relatively good health.

The boat was fixed up and sold to a man who liked that style of fishing boat and wanted to live aboard. And you know where the boat is now? Astoria! So the plan is to try to spot it as we pedal into town tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Found A Trusty Two-Wheeled Steed

I looked for a bicycle for over a year. I didn't think it would be too hard to fit the bill: a steel-frame road bike that I could use for commuting around town, that also had braise-ons and a triple-crank in case I ever wanted to do any touring. Oh, and if I ever did a casual triathlon I could use it for that too. I told my search criteria to a bike shop owner in Fremont last year, and she rolled her eyes and scoffed at me, "You're talking about 3 different bikes!"

Well, the reality was, I was not going to buy 3 bikes. The other reality was that it's hard to find ANY road bike as a 5-foot tall woman. I looked at about 6 different bike shops in Seattle and talked extensively with salespeople and it soon became clear that my options were pretty limited. There were a couple bikes I really liked the vintage aesthetic of, but even the smallest women's frames they manufactured were too big. There were a couple other options that were less stylish but totally decent, but because I need such a small frame, I need smaller wheels. I just couldn't stomach spending the money to buy a new bike that looked like I had stolen it from a 10-year-old. I wanted to adore my bike, not grit my teeth and bear it.

This past winter I was talking to a bike enthusiast and explaining my bike-shopping dilemma. "Do you ever check Craigslist?" he asked. Hah! Of course I did. And there is almost never anything for a small woman. If you are between 5'3" and 5'10" you will find a ton, but when you search "small" you will only find the occasional pair of shoes for sale. I have literally never seen a small road bike advertised in over a year of regularly checking. "Well," he said, "there are a lot of good used bikes out there. Don't give up hope."

That night I checked Craigslist for the first time in awhile. And there I saw, in a shiny golden halo of light, an ad for a small women's used Rodriguez bike, for sale at a bike shop in Everett. I made my roommate double-check my inseam so I could be sure of my stand-over height, and the next day drove straight up there after work. I rode the bike around the block and immediately loved it.

Rodriguez bikes are hand-built in Seattle. I had admired them ever since seeing the bike my 4'11" friend had custom-built for her. Even though the bike is used, I love that it is locally-made. The one I got is a Stellar, which was their women's specific model from 1996 to 2006 and came in 4 different sizes. Now they have a lot more sizing for women's frame geometry, but even so I feel like I lucked out in finding a good fit.
My roommate helped me do a little check-up (brakes, wheel truing, seat height, chain, etc.) and everything was great except we could hear a scrapey noise when the back wheel was coasting. My roommate thought it was a worn rear ball-bearing, but I took it to my local bike shop and it turned out to be a worn free wheel. I had to have that replaced, but otherwise everything is in good shape.

So far I've had a lot of fun riding around Seattle, out to Mercer Island, and on Camano island. I thought of touring as a hypothetical, sometime-in-the-future idea, but between a couple bike classes, the right riding buddy, and summer looming promisingly, I've decided to just go now! I've been working on getting some gear such as fenders, panniers, handlebar bag, lights, water bottles, spare tubes, and a pump. I've backpacked and been a bike commuter, so I'm hoping to roll those two experiences together. If all goes according to plan, I'll be leaving in a couple days for my first bike touring trip on the Oregon coast!