And we called her ‘Kylie’…

Our GPS on this trip through California and Nevada had an Australian accent. In a land of chewy ‘R’s and rounded ‘O’s, a flat-tack Aussie accent was incongruous, yet welcome, “Make a roit tuhrn in three quahrtehs of a moile.”

We got used to it, as I am a native Aussie speaker, and Ben is learning the language, even adopting key phrases such as ‘on the mend’, and ‘have a think’.

We called her ‘Kylie’, a quintessential Aussie name. When she got us out of a pickle, or she insisted when we disagreed with her, only to discover that she was right all along, we affectionately called her ‘Kylz’. “Good on ya, Kylz. You did good.”

And even though she was an Aussie in a strange land, she pronounced all the names of towns correctly, and knew that ‘Yosemite’ does not rhyme with ‘Vegemite’, even though it looks like it should. “Yoi-se-mitt-ee,” she declared boldly – and correctly. It was because she had done so well for 4 of the 5 days we were travelling, that her first and only slip up stuck out like dogs balls.

Lake Tahoe, is pronounced with a long soft ‘Tahhhh’, followed by a rounded ‘ho’. Imagine our amusement then, when Kylie announced that we were turn left onto ‘Lake Ta-ho Drive.’ Her version of the lake rhymed with ‘Cat-hoe’. I suppressed a giggle, because I didn’t want to embarrass her. But every time she said it – and she said it a lot, considering we were there for two days – the giggles started to escape. Poor misguided Kylie; someone should have told her. I just didn’t want it to be me.

But you say Ta-ho, I say tomah-to. Regardless, it is a stunning place to visit.

It IS touristy, there is no denying that. The shorelines are lined with places to stay, from 5 star resorts to cheap and cheerful motels. And every fast food restaurant chain on the planet is represented at least once.

The southern end is a hub of activity and the invisible line between Nevada and California is clearly visible in South Tahoe. The casinos blink and dance along the main drag, and then noticeably stop. I am sure if we’d been walking we could identify the line in the sidewalk, and stand with one foot in each state.

The northern end of the lake is a little more subdued, with more wildlife visible from the main highway, and more residences than the south. The western road between the two winds up into a mountain range, and curls past small lakes. At one point in the drive on the second day, we drove along a mountain ridge, with a drop on either side of the road. South of us was Cascade Lake, and north of the road, was Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe. “Every mountain road should be like this,” declared an impressed Ben. “You should always be able to drive on the ridges.” Magic.
From Emerald Bay
Emerald Bay

Our visit fell in the shoulder season between summer sailing and on-the-lake fun, and winter skiing and snowboarding. The locals were storing their quad bikes and jet-skis, and dusting off the snowmobiles. As I mentioned in a previous blog, road-works were in abundance. It was as though the precious few weeks between the summer and winter seasons was the only time that the work could be done. “Quick! The skiers will be here any second now!” Tahoe had more people in hard hats than in sun hats. Worse still,the signs said to expect delays of up to 30 minutes. Fortuitously, we never waited that long, but I felt for locals. They can sigh with relief as the tourists disappear, only to then get stuck in traffic.

We had other things on our mind, however. We had come to eat, see, do and enjoy.

So,we did!

Our first night was at a Marriott resort, where we happily handed our car over to valets, and availed ourselves of the pool. The weather was unseasonably warm, so to throw on my bikini when I was expecting to be wearing jeans and a sweater, was a welcome surprise. Ben got into the pool, and taunted me until I joined him. I am an ‘inch by inch’ girl when it comes to getting in a pool. On a very hot day I will dive in, BUT that day was just ‘warm’. I went with the inching, and then we frolicked a bit, as we do when in the pool together. G-rated, of course. There were children present.

We had armed ourselves with brochures, which we looked through as we dried off on our loungers. We were keen on some sort of sailing excursion, and thought of riding the Zipline at the top of the mountain, but the gondolas to get up the mountain weren’t running the next day. Quad biking! We could go on a quad bike ride, an activity I loved so much in New Zealand last year, I described it as the most fun I had ever had outside.

It was getting on the afternoon, and I really wanted a cocktail. That meant it was time to get dressed in proper clothes and seek out some fun. We got recommendations for two restaurants, both ‘beachside’, and decided to head to the furthest one. The temperature had dropped quite a bit by the time we got there, so I was a little dubious about the offer to sit outside until I saw the outdoor heaters. Sitting practically underneath one, I was toasty warm.
Dinner at sunset
It was 10 minutes before the end of ‘happy hour’ so we asked to see the cocktail menu. They didn’t have one, and if we wanted happy hour cocktails, we had to go inside to the bar. No problem. Only when we got to the bar, happy hour cocktails were beer and an alcoholic slushy. Hmmm. We went back outside, sat at our warm table, and asked for the wine list. Things improved vastly. The wine recommended (an Aussie red) was delicious, and so was the food. Best of all, though, was the sunset over the water, for which we had a ‘ring-side’ seat. Spectacular.
Lakeside Dinner
Without the warmth of the heater, the cold bit into us as we raced back to the car. We decided to stop for more wine, and this was when we became a trio. Next door to the liquor store was a place that sold alpacas (not the actual animals, but stuff made out of their hides). And there amongst the strings of white alpaca bears suspended from the ceiling, was a little dark grey bear. His face was quite extraordinary, and I knew at once that he had to come with us. His name is Tahoe – original, I know.

That night, while I conducted my ablutions, Tahoe got up to all sorts of mischief. He is a very naughty bear, with a wild and crazy Afro.
Tahoe Bear in the kitchen
Ben’s pic of Tahoe
The next day was the day for quad-biking and a sunset cruise on the lake. Only I took one look at my outdoorsy clothes and hiking boots, and had another idea. I broached it before breakfast. “Um, I had a thought.” Ben looked at me, curiously. “Yes?” “How about you go quad-biking, and I stay here and go to the spa?” I tried to sell it with my best smile. He looked crest-fallen. “But you love quad-biking. It was your idea.” I knew that. And I knew that if I went it would be fun, but I sooooo wanted to just relax and be a girl that day. We went for breakfast, and came back to our plans on a full stomach. Ben would wait by the pool with a book while I had my girlie spa fun, and then we would drive to the quad biking. I would then go check in at our cabin, and come back for him. Then we would go on the yacht for the sunset cruise.

The day went to plan, and the drive to the quad bike trail was beautiful. It was there that we rode the crest of that peak, and saw Emerald Bay and Crystal Lake. I dropped him off and headed north. I had Kylie to guide me, even though it was only one turn at a major intersection and impossible to get lost.

I pulled up outside “Rustic Cottages”, and it was my turn to be crest fallen. I thought back to our beautiful little rustic cottage in Hokitika, New Zealand. This place fell short – very short – think Danny DeVito. I checked in, and went to our cottage. It was so small inside that there was literally 18 inches between the bed and the walls. I could hear traffic from the highway, which wasn’t surprising considering it was 12 feet away.

I showered, and grabbed a change of clothes for Ben, in case he was covered head to toe in mud when I collected him. When I walked out to the car I noticed a semi-circle of Adirondack chairs facing the highway. I looked at what would be the view from the chairs: a hotel across the road, and glimpses (I mean specks) of Lake Tahoe water. Sigh.

I stopped for water and snacks, for the ride between the quad bike trail and where we were going was an hour, and my man had been doing manly things. He would need sustenance. I pulled up at the trail, and there he was, cleaner than I thought, but with the smile I knew would be on his face. “Hi, Babe,” he said leaning over to kiss me hello. “Have fun?” “Yeah,” but then he added, “It would have been more fun if you’d been there.” Point taken. I felt a twinge of disappointment in myself, and for him, but I also felt relaxed – and clean – which I liked. I shook the conflicted feelings while Ben told me about his adventure.

We decided on a late lunch/early dinner at the second restaurant recommended the previous day. It was a good call. The view was not as nice as the night before, but the food was even better. Fish tacos take on a whole new meaning when they are served on a soft tortilla, and the fish is spiced just so. Delicious!

We wanted to be sure to get to the pier on time, so made our way with Kylie in charge. 15 minutes later we were there with an hour to kill. Ben ordered a Corona from the bar – in a can, but still served with lime – and we alternated between watching beach volleyballers and their dogs, and two ‘tweenies’ swimming in their jeans while their grandmother tried to call them out of the water.
Corona in cans!
More enticing, however, was the view. The sun was low in the sky, and waves lapped gently at the grey beach.

“Want to go for a walk?” We walked away from the pier, and Ben tossed sticks to two volleyballer’s dogs. I leaped up onto a big rock plonked in the middle of the beach, and tipped my head to the sun. Nice.

With an eye on the time, we wandered back towards the pier, where a crew member introduced himself, the captain and importantly the bartender. He made a few lame jokes about life jackets and then we could get on board. There were bean bags on the deck, and a few people opted for these prime spots. I headed to the back of the boat, and as we pulled away from shore, the wind started to whip through my hair. Ahhh. It felt so good to get out on the water again. It always did. And because Ben and I met on a yacht, any chance we have to sail, we love. It reminds us of a Grecian summer two years ago when our lives changed.
On the dock
We eventually moved forward to the front of the boat, where it was colder, but the view was more magnificent. Large splashes of water came on board soaking a few railing-huggers and their cameras. But we stayed close to the cabin, and snuggled into a beanbag and under a blanket. We sipped our cheap champagne from plastic cups, and munched on pretzels. The sun sank behind the mountains we had driven through – twice – earlier that day, forming a ragged silhouette against a dark blue sky. Planets popped out first, and then the stars. We could hear wind in the sails, and the crash of the hull against the water as it pitched and fell. Tipsy from the champagne, we spent time just listening and looking, and then one would quietly say something to make the other laugh. It was heaven.

As we headed back to shore a couple of hours later, I noticed that my hands were numb. Ben went below for hot chocolate, which is my favourite drink when I am cold. We stayed on deck a while longer and then waited out the rest of the trip below deck. People still queued at the bar for drinks as well pulled up at the dock – they were included in the price, and I guess they wanted to make the most of it – but we were sated. It was a chilly walk back to the car, where Tahoe waited patiently.

What a wonderful day it had been.

I did, however, forewarn Ben about the ‘cottage’. We had a bit of a laugh as we tried to maneuver around each other, eventually deciding that the traffic in the room was better if we both just stayed in bed. 7 hours, a ticking heater, traffic noises, and an intrusive street lamp later, I awoke feeling less than rested, and completely over our rustic experience.

I finished packing as Ben went to settle up. “Uh, he’s got a whole breakfast happening over there.” I looked up from the bags. “He’s making waffles and everything. It’s included.” Homemade waffles! Suddenly, I loved “Rustic Cottages”. We made our way over to the dining room, where we got to make our waffles fresh. I ate two whole waffles, knowing that the sweet sticky goodness would backfire on me later in the day, and not caring. YUM!

Tahoe rode up front with me as we made our way back to lovely Reno (ah-hem). The tiny prop plane that had brought us was there at the gate, waiting to take us home.
Baby Plane
I had more faith in it than the first time I had seen it five days before. “I have been on buses bigger than this plane,” I said before we got on. The engines whined loudly as it took off, as though it was trying with all its might to get off the ground. I ignored it, and played my favourite video game on Ben’s I-pod.

Snow was expected in Tahoe the next day, but that didn’t concern us. We were heading home.

Flying the Coop

Today I say good bye to my little mate, Jessie. We have a brief history in the scheme of things. I adopted her from my sister’s brood 2 and a half years ago, and she has been my little sidekick ever since.

In my preparation for moving to the states, I am moving out of my apartment in a few weeks, and Jessie needs a new home. I have spent months asking everyone I know if they would like to adopt her (and a few I don’t know – can’t go back to that petrol station on the corner, because the woman thought I was weird when I asked her if she wanted to adopt an adult cat). No luck.

In a desperate measure I put her in the online classifieds. And today a little girl called Amelia, and her mum Kylie, are coming to meet her, fall in love with her, and take her to her new home. The arrangements were only made yesterday, so last night when I got home, I busily set about packing up all her stuff. Like Barbie, she comes with all her own accessories: toys, bed, scratching post, food stuff, grooming stuff, medical history, cat door, litter tray.

She is an astute little thing. She knew something was up and kept asking me why I was assembling all her things in the living room. “Hey, this is mine,” she meowed as she scratched on her post. She looked from her sheepskin bed to me and back again. “What’s this doing out here? What’s going on?”

Truth is, I am a little heartbroken, and I only realised why this morning, when she was extra cuddly as we lounged in bed a few minutes after the alarm. Jessie is the one being in my life who I see every day. Weekday or weekend, morning or night. She has been someone to talk to, for if you live alone and have a cat, you converse a lot. It is generally a one-sided conversation, but on occasion, she utters a meow in response.

And I don’t know if I am just ultra-sensitive to her at the moment, but I am pretty sure she has been going out of her way to be extra cute today. She has done the whole, ‘How cute am I when I roll on my back like a puppy?’ thing waaayyy more than she usually does.

Putting things in perspective I have thought of two important things. Firstly, in a short time, I will have someone else to tell my day to, to cuddle with and to greet in the morning. It is also likely that this new someone won’t demand dinner the moment I walk in the door at the end of the day. (I hope.)

And secondly, I am only reaping the karma sown many years ago, when I announced to my parents at the wise age of 18, “I am moving back to America.” I meant ‘by myself’, and I also meant at the time, ‘for good’. And no matter how much I know that broke their hearts a little, they supported me through a year and a half of working, saving, preparing and packing. They took me to the airport, and my grandmother told me later that my dad almost fell back against her after I went through the gate. He hadn’t let me see that; he had only waved me off with a smile, allowing me to pretend to be brave, and to have to the support and freedom to do what I wanted.

‘For good’ was actually a year and 9 months. I returned. My family and friends were happy. I lived my life, and then at 26 announced, “I am moving to London.” I meant ‘for good’, and I would be joining my sister who had been there three years already. Again the support came thick and fast, although I am fairly certain there was sadness too.

‘For good’ that time was a year and 6 months. I returned. My family and friends were happy. I lived my life, and then at 31 announced, “I am moving to Sydney.” I meant, ‘for a while, to try it out, to see if I like it’, and I have lived here ever since. My next birthday is 40, and I am leaving again – this time to Seattle – maybe ‘for a while’, maybe ‘for good’. Time will tell. But the pattern is clear. Decade by decade, I need to make a major move (that is a whole other discussion, though).

Getting back to Jessie and the highly convoluted analogy I am drawing. Even though it is my decision (she is a cat, she can hardly make these decisions for herself), I know that she must go today. She needs a home here in Australia with people who will love her. And they will. They will love how she is not a morning cat, but gets up anyway to see them off for the day, her eyes half closed and sleepy. They will love how she takes someone lying down as an invitation to lay on top of them. They will love how she rolls around on her back and says, “Come tickle my tummy.” And they will love how she loves them.

She has been a great little mate, and I am grateful to have had the past two and a half years with her.

And importantly, I also want to say I am grateful to the three amazing parents I have, who always let me go and always welcome me home. And I am grateful for the person who waits across the world in the home he is making for us.

Grateful, but sad today.


Some days you feel like a little kid. You get to play. You laugh a lot. You wonder at the world.

Our second day in Yosemite was like this.

We awakened refreshed and peeked out the curtain to see just what we’d hoped for: blue sky. We feasted at breakfast – isn’t that why you stay at a Bed and Breakfast? – and were out the door before nine. We had so much more to see!

We had decided to drive through the nearby town of Mariposa (Spanish for ‘butterfly’), and up into the park via a different entrance. The drive was even more spectacular than the day before, and we coupled it with a Bill Bryson audio book to keep us company. His take on the world is hilarious. Between laughs I looked out at the ever deepening blue of the sky, and I just knew this was going to be a good day.

There was a little bit of excitement on the drive, when we had to detour around a giant rockslide that had buried about 300 meters of the road. The detour meant crossing the river on a single lane bridge, and then repeating this process when we were passed the rockslide. I made a mental note to pay more attention to those signs. “Rock Slide Area,” they say. Until that detour, I would get a mental image of rounding a bend and seeing little rocks sliding down a playground slide. “Weeeee,” they would cry as they launched off the end. No, this was serious business, and we both wondered aloud if anyone had been caught under it.

A few miles out of the park we pulled over for our first photo opportunity. We had a great view back down the valley we’d just driven, and the river was doing battle with the giant boulders stemming its flow. Impressive. We climbed a big, round, wet rock and looked up and down the valley. We didn’t know then to save our exclamations for the really cool stuff we had yet to see, but we both took in the fresh air and rocky view.
Just inside the park
Then we had to get back down the big, round, wet rock. “You just have to trust your shoes,” said Ben, helpfully. “See?” He demonstrated a little flat-footed shuffle down the VERY STEEP, ROUND, WET rock. I looked down at my trainers, wanting to trust them, but not. When Ben turned around to see how I was doing, and saw I was in the same spot with a look of apprehension plastered on my face, he came back for me (good boyfriend!), taking my hand and encouraging my own little shuffle. It worked. I made it. I am still alive!

“How good are my shoes?!” I asked as though I had done it myself. I made a mental note that I had used my ‘Damsel in Distress’ card for the day, and I would have to get myself out of any further pickles.

We drove a few miles on and into the southeast entrance. This was when the ‘very cool’ stuff started to appear. We actually had to drive through a rock! I should say that the rock had a giant hole blasted out of it, but it was still a rock and we drove through it.

This part of the park was even more beautiful than what I had seen the day before. Because we were entering the valley floor, the road only climbed a few hundred feet, rather than the few thousand we had accomplished the day before. This pleased us both, because Ben had a head cold and the change in altitude had played havoc the day before, causing him great pain on descent. The other advantage of this route was that things got really pretty, pretty quickly, except for the roadworks.

We ignored the roadworks. We would come to consider them ubiquitous in days to come, as after we had spotted the first lot, we realised they were EVERYWHERE. This was the only disadvantage (and in the scheme of things, it is a small hiccup) of travelling during the shoulder season. “It’s October 1st! Quick! We gotta get these roads perfect before the ski season! Hustle!!” Lake Tahoe, we would discover, was far worse (and there is only one road all the way around – when they close a section and say ‘Go Back’, they mean drive 3/4 around the lake instead of 1/4 – nice!).

Disregarding the smell of asphalt, we climbed from the car to begin our playdate with nature. The river bed was down a small slope, and when we stood on the sandy bank, we could see promises of views to come: cliff faces played peekaboo with us behind the tree line. We could only smell good things down there, away from the road, like river water, and damp earth, and things that lived. The air was a little chilly, but we were the only ones there so we took a few minutes to enjoy it and take some photos.
Creek Bed

At the most awe-inspiring photo opportunity yet we learned that the valley floor is essentially flat. Apparently this has to do with the glacier and ancient lakes and sediment, and other scientific stuff. At the risk of sounding a bit dim, I am only slightly interested in that – too many reminders of ninth grade science, which was taught by the dreadfully dull, Mr Lullfitz (He lulled us into fits of boredom – get it?) Back in the valley, I was more interested in the enormous and imposing El Capitan.
El Capitan
Wow. I could not stop looking. It is grand and handsome and I reacted in a similar way when I saw The Coliseum. Just ‘Wow’. It is about 1900feet from the peak to the valley floor and it is a sheer cliff face. People climb it, but it requires sleeping in a sling attached to the cliff face. Um, no thanks! We stopped a few times to see it from different angles, and it became even more imposing. El Capitan dominated the natural skyline, and like Giant Grizzly was in Mariposa Grove, was clearly the patriarch of the Yosemite Valley.
El Capitan
BIKES! We wanted to hire bikes, so we drove to the heart of Yosemite Village, and parked up. The bike hire place was well equipped with many to choose from – all red – and all upright, single gear, back-pedal to brake bikes. Splendid! We suited up in always fetching bike helmets and with slight wobbles, rode through the car park to the nearest bike path. Fortunately, riding a bike is like, well, riding a bike, and within minutes we had the hang of the primitive beasts.

The park has 9 miles of paths for bikes, and they meander along the valley floor through forests, alongside river beds, and over bridges. We stopped intermittently to view the vistas, hike a trail, and even to visit the Ansel Adams gallery. ‘Gallery’ is probably a generous description of what is essentially a gift shop, but the work of Adams and other landscape photographers was incredible, capturing Yosemite in every season, and at all times of the day.

It would be great to go back and see it under snow, or in the bloom of Spring. As it was, the marks of Autumn were everywhere, green giving way to gold and burnt orange. The autumnal changing of the trees is something I haven’t experienced much living in Sydney. But even Ben, who grew up with four distinct seasons each year, commented frequently about how beautiful the leaves and fields were. The colours!
Cathedral Spires
Once passed the gallery, and out of the hub of Yosemite Village, the bike paths opened up, and so did we. We rode with abandon, giddy like kids, in the awkward positions required by the primitive bikes. To get any purchase on the pedals we either had to bend like a ‘C’ over the handle bars, or sit bolt upright, and lean back a little. We laughed at ourselves, but mostly, it just felt good to feel the sun on our skin, the wind rushing passed us, and the muscles working to move us forward.

We took a detour to see Mirror Lake. We had to park the bikes at the bottom of a (mild) hill, because the hire bikes were not allowed any further, and walked the rest of the way. “We’re biking and hiking.” I offered. Ben countered with, “We’re bikers who hike, and hikers who bike.” Oh yeah, we were hard core adventurers. We strutted ahead of a family, young children tugging reluctantly on their parents’ hands as they were pulled up the hill.

Three guys walked towards us, carrying backpacks and camping equipment. They had obviously not showered for a few days, and were a little battered and bruised, but had huge grins on their faces as they talked loudly amongst themselves in a Germanic language. I looked down at my nice, neat ‘sporty’ ensemble. I didn’t even have any dirty smudges yet. So hardcore!

We got to where Mirror Lake should have been, and looked around at other disappointed faces – some of which were red from the exertion of cycling up the hill. We took a little trail, hoping that just on the other side of that huge boulder there would be SOME water. Nope. But there was a fallen log in the sun, and while Ben went for a wander into the dry lake, I sat and snacked on nuts and berries (well, Craisins). Ben returned, camera at the ready, just in time to capture my bonding moments with a little squirrel.

“Hey, Lady, you got any food?” the squirrel boldly asked as he sniffed the air, and me. He jumped up on the log, one paw holding the pine nut he was nibbling, and one paw scratching his rump. If he’s broken out a little can of beer, I would not have been surprised. Now, I have read those signs. I know that you NEVER feed the wildlife. I looked at my bag of raw almonds. Surely, a raw almond would not kill a squirrel. I thought of the monkey in the Perth zoo, who on a field trip in 10th grade, stole my pencil and ate it right in front of me. I had nightmares for weeks about that poor monkey dying from lead poisoning. No news articles appeared in the subsequent weeks, so I had to believe that he had lived.

An almond was definitely closer to the natural diet of a squirrel than a pencil was to that of a monkey. I put the almond about a foot from my body, and the sassy squirrel collected it, stuffed it in his mouth and looked at me expectantly.

What had I expected? Of course he would ask for more. I had to accept that he was smarter than me about these things. I held out another almond. This time he plucked it from my hand, and shoved it into his mouth. I watched as his little cheeks filled up. As someone who lived with the junior high moniker ‘Chipmunk Cheeks’, I started to feel a kinship with this little guy. When it was clear to him that no more almonds would be forthcoming, he popped an almond out of his cheek, and proceeded to peel it with his teeth. Who knew that the skin of an almond was so offensive?

He peeled it as a human bites the kernels from a corn cob. Then he spat out the skin, and took big bites until it was gone. He repeated this with the second almond. I was mesmerised. I had never seen this before, and I have to say that it is far more satisfying to watch than a monkey eating a pencil.
Little Mate
We moved on.

We were pretty much just following signs and playing our day by ear, so we headed towards the lookout for Vernal Falls. We could park and hike as we’d done before, and were keen to see a waterfall, even if it would only be a trickle. The hike along the riverbed sounded promising; we could hear water rushing. We stopped to take a shot of us amongst it all – my favourite shot of the trip – but we didn’t know then that maps are deceptive, and we still had a long way to go – up!
On the hike to view Verbnal Falls
We started on the path to the lookout to Vernal Falls – not even to Vernal Falls itself. It got steep quickly, and it stayed steep – for nearly a mile. We approached it like hardcore adventurers would – with gusto. Neither of us wanted to admit that it was tough, until I slowed a bit. “My calves are on fire,” I confessed. “Really? This isn’t tough for me at all!” replied my boyfriend. He was kidding. It was a strenuous 35% climb, but it was unspoken that we would finish it.

Finally we rounded a bend, and there it was, a decline! Not only did the path dip down towards the bridge from which we would see Vernal Falls, the tree canopy thickened, and we emerged into an oasis. There were dozens of people milling about. This was where (actual) hardcore hikers started their trek to Vernal Falls, which we could see in the distance, trickling down a cliff face.

“Don’t read this,” said Ben covering a giant sign warning against the perils of feeding the wildlife. I thought back to the monkey again, and imagined the fresh headline, “Stupid Australian kills rare Californian squirrel”. I laughed it off.

We took photos, had a snack, and headed back along the track to our bikes. A mile feels a lot shorter when you’re going downhill. On the way down we passed an endless stream of pink-faced people, some of whom were twice my age. We encouraged the few who were close to their destination, and pitied those further down the trail.

When we hit flat ground the couple ahead of us stopped dead in their tracks. Something had run across the path in front of them, and they were watching it. We moved up closer, observing the immediate silence. At first I thought it was a raccoon, but no, it was a bobcat. About one and a half times the size of a house cat, it was stalking something further into the forest. It was aware of us though, as it threw a look back over its shoulder and stared at the four of us. We didn’t move. It’s face was marked like a Tabby cat, but its eyes were far more intense, and its fur fanned out around his face like a mane. He went back to his prey, and skulked away into the forest. We walked on.

Back on our bikes, we rode the long stretch back towards where we’d started. Photo ops abounded, as we flew through dark forest paths and into the bright sunlight of the valley floor. There was one section of the ride where we were the only ones on the path in either direction and we were flying up and down the gently undulating path. We were playing, grinning like kids, and a little breathless when we stopped for a stop sign.
Cool Bike
Royal Arches
“We can do another loop if you like, add a few miles to the ride?” Ben agreed and I led us on paths that criss-crossed the valley floor, through dry fields of grass, and across bridges made of railway sleepers. Eventually, when we’d covered all the paths there were – and some of them twice – we pulled up at the hire place and dropped off our bikes. “That was fun!” Ben agreed – and he is a cyclist with two high tech bikes sitting at home in Seattle. Despite our wobbly start, we made friends with our big, clunky bikes, and they took us on an unexpected adventure.

I drove us out of the park, enjoying the winding roads, and little traffic. We stopped in Mariposa for a late lunch / early dinner at an odd cafe just off the main drag. “What did you guys want?” was our reception. “Uh, food? We came to eat,” was my reply, toned to impart that I thought her question was both stupid and rude. We ordered but they were out of half the menu, so we ordered again. Finally plates of food arrived and we ate ravenously. After ‘dunch’, we stopped at a grocery store and stocked up on delicious treats for later, when we planned to drink a bottle of wine on the deck of the B+B while the sun went down.

Some hours later, when the sun had dipped below the mountains in the distance, and I was starting to feel the cold, we drained our glasses, abandoned the Adirondack chairs, and went inside. We would leave in the morning, driving from there through the park and up to Tahoe. More adventures to come for the hardcore biker/hikers.


When you stand at the edge of a cliff and peer over, looking down nearly a kilometre to the valley floor, you feel a flood of emotion – perhaps exhilaration, maybe awe, even terror. You needn’t choose, because all of these emotions can exist simultaneously. You may even feel powerful, omniscient, as though you oversee all you survey.

When you sidle up to the roots of a fallen Redwood, however, you feel tiny, because at its feet you ARE tiny. But if you’re very still and you listen closely, you can hear the whisperings of an ancient giant who lived through epochs.

I have said before that for me, travelling is about gaining and changing perspectives. Why go anywhere if vicariously living through the window of my television is as fulfilling as actually being there? Because it is not. Imagination and longing, seeing through someone else’s eyes, well, they’re just not the same as actually going myself. In Australia, we watch Getaway and The Great Outdoors mentally adding places and experiences to our ‘to go’ and ‘to do’ lists. Yet, it is when we venture from home – on a day trip, a road trip, or a world trip – when we go somewhere else, that we invite a shift in perspective.

I just spent the better part of a week ‘somewhere else’ – two places where I had never been before: Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe. I went with Ben, and I have to thank him for taking me, and for being my ever intrepid travelling companion. It is such a joy to travel with him, not only because he is my best friend and I kinda like having him around. But also because I take as much pleasure in seeing his reaction to places as I do in experiencing my own.

And Yosemite in particular is a place where reactions are just as epic as the place.

I won’t bore you with details of how we got there or where we stayed, just know this: The journey to the park took most of a day, but was a drive through vast and beautiful scenery and small, inconspicuous towns. The place we stayed was a Bed and Breakfast with a giant feather bed, and waffles in the mornings (yum). It offered a stunning view of the nearby mountains, and thoughtfully provided Adirondack (a word I love, but struggle to say) chairs on the deck, from which we watched the sunset while sipping wine and nibbling cheese. The driving and the staying were a big part of our trip, but the real star of the show was Yosemite itself.

We took great advice and on the first of our two full days, we started at the top. A road deep in the heart of the park, Glacier Point Road, leads to two spectacular lookouts, and the start of many hiking trails. Entering the park from the southern most entry, we wound up and up to the start of GP Road. Not far from the turn off we found ourselves on a rare straightway, and rarer still we were the only car in sight for a mile or two. Just ahead of us were three young bucks standing on the road. As we approached, they skittered away, but were curious enough about us to stay close by and watch us as we slowed up and watched them from the car. I looked in the rear view mirror to see a line of cars approaching and our moment was over, but for the minute or so we regarded them and they regarded us, the forest was still, and so were we. We were in the presence of great beauty. Oh, their eyes!
Young bucks
Further along the road we came to Washburn Point Lookout, and this was where I ran out of superlatives. I had been exclaiming “Oh my God”, and “Stunning”, and “Look at that!” for the better part of a day, but nothing had prepared me for the views from this lookout. We looked out at peaks named Half Dome, Grizzly Peak and Washington Column.
Girl with a View
These mountains, these valleys, they were formed and shaped by a glacier. Like driftwood they are convoluted and erratic, yet smoothed and polished by the touches of wind, ice and water, over centuries. They have grey bald heads and thick carpets of gowns that stretch to the valley floor. That day the sky was so blue it almost hurt to look at it.  Oh yes, Yosemite was putting on a grand show.
Half Dome

We drove further to the end of GP Road, and came to a hub of activity. The dozens of people at Washburn Point exploded into hundreds at Glacier Point itself. There was a gift shop(!) and we dodged inappropriately attired tourists wearing thongs (flipflops) and tight jeans.  We jockeyed into positions at the lookout walls, and peered over – Ben with confidence and awe, and me with terror and awe.  A tiny heart-shaped car park sat nestled amongst trees.
From Glacier Point
And the river was a grey-blue snake rolling along the valley floor.
From Glacier Point

We maneuvered through throngs of grumpy children and cajoling parents, and decided against the 4 mile hike to the valley floor, because the estimated time to get back up was four hours.

Back in the car, we drove instead to the head of the Taft Point Trail. This lead us through a ferny gully
Fern Gully
and musty woodlands, where we saw more deer, and we emerged at a rocky vantage point (Taft Point to be precise).  In the distance was a spindly guard rail, but Ben does not consider a sheer drop to a valley floor as imminently dangerous; in his mind he does not need the safety of a guard rail.  As I watched in horror, he crept closer and closer to the edge, and then perched on it as one might perch on a park bench if one was going to feed bread to some pigeons.
Right on the edge
Too close (to the edge) for comfort
I walked away before I had a heart attack, and went to find cool things to photograph.
Sometime later with some coaxing and a vigorous internal dialogue, I got within a couple of feet of the grossly inadequate guard rail and peered into the abyss. It made me hyperventilate, but I did it. And yes, it was an amazing view – for the three seconds I saw it.  Did I feel all powerful?  No.  I could not stop the floodgate of thoughts about falling and suicide and why B.A.S.E. jumpers are so stupid. But I loved the brilliance of the blue sky, and from up there my view of it was uninterrupted. I loved my brief encounter with the crow, whose wings I heard flap before he settled in the bare branches above my head. “Whump,” his wings whispered, then the cawing of that distinctive “AAArkkkk” echoed out across the valley.
A few more people came – not many – and we looked like colourful beetles dotting the giant bald head of the peak (and Taft Point is just a ‘blip’ when you see it on the map – a pimple when compared to El Capitan).

That afternoon, after a lunch of nuts, dried fruit and apples (a lunch we would not repeat again, as we are not chipmunks and it did not fill the void), we waited in line to catch the shuttle to Mariposa Grove, one of three groves of giant sequoias in Yosemite. The shuttle was necessitated by the copious amount of cars already up at the grove; the road was shut to more cars, and this wasn’t even peak season. We squished onto the bus, fitting more people on than I would have believed beforehand. I even asked the driver if I could sit on his lap.  A flirtatious septuagenarian replied that of course I could! I thought this might be even more dangerous, so instead I was crushed into the dashboard by the four Polish people who insisted there was enough room on the bus for them too.

The ride was short, however, and before long, we were standing amongst giants.

Ahhh. The air was so rich with intoxicating smells, we could almost pluck them like berries from a bush. Redwoods smell a bit like pine trees, only deeper, and more ‘heady’. Under that was the earthy mustiness from the wet forest floor, and the top note was smoky. There had been a prescribed burn not long before, and fallen sequoias were still smoldering.

We followed the small crowd, seeking out the path that would take us to Grizzly Giant, a 2700-year-old tree, who is 31 feet across at his base.
Giant Grizzly
I say ‘he’ because when we finally saw him, he was like a gruff, but loving grandpa. Tall, obviously, but unlike many of the trees around him, his branches reached out. The usual tufts of green that seem to cling directly to the trunks of most redwoods, were extended on thick muscly arms. He was definitely the patriarch of the forest. We took photographs and got as close as we could – his base is protected by the wide girth of a fence.

The walk back to the shuttle bus was quieter, as most people had pressed on further into the forest to see more redwoods. We walked back past the Bachelor and his three lady friends, and on to the part of the forest where the burning had blackened the ground.
Bachelor and Maids
Fallen trunks cut into sections, lay like giant pieces of licorice. Smoke drifted up from thicker trunks, and in the late afternoon sun, the smoke became another character in the forest. The air here was as thick as the trunks, and I was torn between enjoying the smell of wood burning and wanting to breathe.
Prescribed Burn
Just before we emerged from wooded paths into the car park, we stopped at the roots of a fallen tree, and took a couple of photos. How little I was in relation to a being that was old even when Jesus was born.
Feeling Little
But I didn’t feel small. I felt happy. I loved my first day in the park, and we drove back to our B+B, tired but filled with all we had seen, we looked forward to the next day when we would explore the valley floor by bicycle and by foot. The park ranger in the Yogi Bear hat waved us out of the park.
Later that evening, we would dine on (delicious) sushi in a nearby town, and watch Juno on dvd, but although we had a lovely evening, these are details are inconsequential when we’d had such an epic day…

Next time ‘The Valley Floor’, featuring bikes and hikes, squirrels, a bobcat, waterfalls and dry lakes, El Capitan, and a blue, blue sky.

Block head

My brain is starting to work in a whole new way; I think I am actually accessing brain cells that have been hibernating for the past 39 years. I am now calculating distances by blocks.

Formerly, I used minutes, as in “It’s about 10 to 12 minutes away,” or kilometres, “Oh, about 5 k’s from here.” But in Seattle it is all about the blocks, because Seattle is on a grid pattern. Ben’s apartment, soon to be my home too, is on West Republican (even though I am not one).

From here, it is 3 blocks to the supermarket, 4 blocks to the post office and a cinema, 4 blocks to the gym (other direction), and 6 blocks to our favourite Asian restaurant and the expensive supermarket with the great wine selection.

Blocks do convert to time and distance though, because 12 blocks is approximately one mile, but of course I work in kilometres, so as I walk these blocks I start doing the conversions in my head. “6 blocks is half a mile and a mile is 1.6 k’s, so 6 blocks is .8 k’s and subsequently, 8 to 10 minutes away – at a steady walking pace.” Ben’s work is about 14 blocks away, so 2 k’s and a good 20 minute walk. Got that?

Last night after work, Ben walked further into the city to buy something, and because he is not well, I offered to pick him up (granted, in his car). This is where the whole block thing gets really useful. Driving in Seattle is easy. Downtown is rampant with one-way streets, but unlike Sydney and Perth and even Vancouver, every other street goes the opposite way. In Sydney, if you need to get to somewhere, you may need to drive 8 or 10 blocks out of your way and then cut back. I call that ‘being stuck in one-way hell’. Here, the most you have to overshoot is one block. Max. Now, that’s thinking.

I use blocks for running too. 6 blocks from here, on Queen Anne Avenue, is the steepest hill I have seen since San Francisco. And it is 14 blocks from the flat to the top. 2 kilometres! Oh, yes, that is a punishing hill. I walked it the other day – then ran it – in chunks – a few blocks at a time. Doubtful if I will ever run the whole thing all at once. I am not THAT much of a blockhead.


I never do this – post twice in one day – but the first of today’s posts I started last night, and I have just read something that compels me to write again.

Charlotte Otter is a South African woman living in Germany, and she write Charlotte’s Web, which is on my blogroll (check it out – she is lovely and clever). Charlotte, too, is a writer, and in a recent entry she posted a few paragraphs from her novel. Her heroine, Sanet, is a South African woman living in London. She feels displaced, as is understandable when not living in your home country, but there is more to her feeling than that.

Charlotte writes this about her heroine:

What is becoming clear to me is that if you are alienated from yourself, you are alienated from everything, and that will become the core of Sanet’s crisis: she will be offered the opportunity to be true to herself. The question is, will she take it up?

That is the statement that resonated so deeply with me.

Two years ago I was so completely unhappy in my own life. I had moments I enjoyed, I laughed enough that many people would not have really known this about me, but I felt like I was living someone else’s life. When you live that inauthentically, you cannot access any kind of inner peace. As a result, I discovered that I didn’t really like this person that I was. I isolated myself frequently, and not out of the need for ‘alone time’ that I have now, but to prevent others from having to put up with me. I became increasingly disagreeable, sullen, and felt a deep sense of loneliness – even when amongst friends.

I got to a point where I knew things had to change.

Then I went on a trip. A long trip. Across the world to two other continents. Greece-London-Peru and back home. The trip provided so many catalysts for change that my head was spinning by the time I got back home.

It literally changed my life.

I met people who loved life. I met Sheila and Deb and Geraldine.

Sheila is sixty-something, and gorgeous. I met her and her equally lovely twin Sharon, in Peru. Sheila has an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a love of adventure and am unwillingness to succumb to nay-saying. Sheila broke open my heart. She saw through the cracks and just stuck her hands in and pulled apart that hard casing. Then she encouraged me to pursue the impossible.

Deb, who I met with her husband Marty onboard the yacht in Greece, is smart, and career-minded. She knows what she wants and because of this, she has the life that she wants to live. She does all this with a broad smile and a hearty sense of fun. She and Marty have a sexy, joyful marriage. When I met them, I knew that it was entirely possible to have what I truly wanted.

Geraldine, our guide in Peru, is the most pure-hearted and kind person I have ever met. Her gentleness and kindness humbled me. When I was sicker than I have ever been before, she looked after me rather than visiting her own family, whom she hadn’t seen in months. Her selflessness made me want to stop being such a selfish, moody cow.

And then there was the cute American guy who stood on the dock of Tinos and said, “I want my life to be bigger.” I thought, ‘Me too’, and I wondered at that early moment in my big trip if I would have the courage to do anything about it.

I had no idea then that we would embark on parallel – and more frequently, converging – journeys that would bring those wants to fruition. And at that early moment in my big, life-changing trip, I had certainly had no idea that I could actually meet someone, a man, whose wants and dreams and goals would compliment mine, and challenge me to live that ‘bigger life’. I was, however, starting to see glimpses of my authentic self.

I met many others on my trips and visits and they all added something unique to my shift in perspective. Jaime and Paul, from Halifax, never want to miss an opportunity. Lara from Vancouver lives with such beautiful hope in her heart. Patrick from New Zealand and Liliane the Brazilian, crossed oceans and cultures to create a life together. And on that trip, I got to see my Little Sis in her natural habitat, London. (It is ‘home’ for her, even more so now that she is loved up.)

I had left home in want of something. Then I had gone around the world (literally), succumbed to illness twice, laughed until I couldn’t breathe, and cried as I said goodbye to new friends and my oldest friend, Vic. I saw lots, I did stuff, and I collected souvenirs from my travels, but the most important thing I brought home from that trip was my authentic self.

I made big changes after that, and some of those changes were painful because they involved breakups with people close to me. Mostly the changes were about shedding heavy burdens, such as obligation, fastidiousness, isolation, and a couple of unwanted kilos. I reconnected with those I had neglected, I moved house, I booked more trips and I took on more responsibility at work, all in the space of months. I took care with the new friendships I had forged, and apologised to those people who had endured my ‘funk’. I learned (again) to appreciate all that I had, especially the incredible people I call family and friends.

The tattoo of a butterfly adorning my lower stomach took on more meaning, as I emerged from my chrysalis and felt truly happy.

I still try to honour my authentic self. Big decisions, and even some small ones, are about the inner peace that comes along with serving that goal. Sure, I have had moments of doubt and sadness, and even fear. But never again will I let myself shelve what I truly want. I want to live a big life, and that’s what I am doing.

Third Date

I have been very candid about my month-long love affair with Seattle dating back to January of this year. We had a rocky start, though. It was a Seattle rain storm that took from me a favourite hat and an umbrella, but we soon made up and I embarked on a whirlwind romance with the city. I loved its restaurants and vistas, its culture and its people. I was smitten.

We had a brief fling in April – 6 days of five-star luxury while Ben attended a conference. We flirted, Seattle and I. I dressed pretty, I let the sunny days kiss my nose, and we drank each other in. Brief, yet passionate.

Now I am back, and this visit is a little like a third date. Now I know I am moving here, Seattle is starting to let its guard down, and I am seeing sides of it I haven’t seen before. Some are delicious, like the nooks and crannies of the Pike Place markets, where Ben and I bought aromatic oils and spices the other day, and some a little too revealing this early into our relationship.

I went for a run yesterday, and waited patiently for the pedestrian signal to change from red to green. The roads are wide thoroughfares – 6 lanes – so this took a while. I didn’t mind. It was a sunny day and I was in Seattle, working out new running routes for when I move here. I eventually crossed and started running at a warm-up pace. I got about two blocks before signs indicated that the ‘sidewalk’ (I read American) was closed and I would have to cross to the other side. SIGH. I hit the signal button, then waited, and waited, and waited. The light did inevitably turn green, and a couple dozen cars waited impatiently – or patiently – I couldn’t really tell as I jogged across the street. Of course, now I was back on the wrong side. And I was in ‘Butt-crack America’.

This is my affectionate term for those parts of the states – here in Seattle, or anywhere – that do not exactly show the country off at its best. That stretch of road, just three blocks from home, with its cracked pavements and warehouses, its homeless wanderers and youthful loiterers, is almost certainly the butt-crack of Seattle. I kept looking ahead to see where the pedestrian bridge Ben had promised was.

Like a beacon in the distance it stood proud and beautifully constructed, unaware that it was in the midst of decay and mess. I hit my third little round button of the day, and waited, and waited, and waited. “Oh, come the F@*k on!” I was losing patience. So far my run had consisted of two sprints and a lot of waiting. FINALLY the light turned. I headed up and over the bridge which traverses the railroad tracks, and started my ‘run proper’.

It is hard to marry the waterfront parkland with the street parallel, because they couldn’t be more different. On the other side of the bridge are tracks for pedestrians and cyclists, lush green grass, and park benches. On clear days you can see across Puget Sound to the Olympic mountain range in the west. The frightfully large seagulls of the northwest, duck and weave along the shoreline, and fishermen lazily dangle their lines in the water.

Once I actually started running along the waterfront, my tetchiness eased and I hit my rhythm. The air was salty and clean, and the sun hot on my shoulders. I glanced at the scattered few who were lying on the grass and soaking up the late-season sun. They had the distinctive look of ‘locals’ – comfortable enough in their environs to casually lounge around in public. I wondered when I will start to feel like that, but this being only my third date with Seattle, that is a little way off yet.

I hit a natural ‘turn-around’ point, and started running back towards the footbridge. I had already decided to overshoot it and find another way home. I knew that if I kept running and passed the apartment, I would get to another crossover closer to downtown.

Running back towards the city lends a spectacular view. The skyline has its distinctive icons, but there is so much I have yet to explore I wandered with my eyes, taking in as much as possible. I am starting to place myself within this city. I am learning street names, shortcuts and landmarks.

Just before the crossover to the other side of the tracks, there is an outdoor sculpture gallery. It is a favourite spot in Seattle, because it is a junction of sorts. The waterfront, downtown and our neighbourhood converge there. It is 5 minutes from the apartment, 5 minutes from Ben’s work, and right on the waterfront, where cafes and storefronts jut out over the water. Oh, and the sculptures are kind of cool too.

Not long afterwards, I made it back to the apartment with the sense of satisfaction I have after a long run, but also with something else. I am getting to know this city, much in the same way I got to know Sydney when I first moved there and discovered its many delights and frustrations.

At the moment I straddle two cities. I curse the Sydney traffic as I crawl along each afternoon, and think about living in a city where traffic is much lighter, and ostensibly we will likely live without a car. However, I know I will miss the coastal walk between Coogee and Bondi beaches, because there are few views in the world more beautiful. I will enjoy living in a city where there are literally 100 restaurants serving the cuisines of the world, but am mindful that the minor frustrations will reveal themselves soon enough.

No place is perfect to live in, but there is always more to learn about, more to appreciate and more to love. I think I am ready to ‘go all the way’ with Seattle.

P.S. Check out Ben’s FLICKR page for some more recent shots, including views from our roof.