When the pieces come together: Part Two

Our accommodation the first night of our weekend was with a lovely lady called Barbara at her B&B in Port Angeles, Ocean Crest.  We arrived just before dinner and she showed us to our room.  It was very comfortable, had its own bathroom, and just next door was a little sitting room for us.  Barbara was thrilled to hear an Australian accent, as her beau is keen to take her to Australia next year and she was full of questions.

She took us through our dining options for the evening, and made reference to ‘Twilight’ several times.  I then noticed the Twilight paraphernalia featured on a bookcase.  Apparently, there is a book out there called Twilight, and quite a few people have read it, and many of those people come to the Olympic Peninsula to see where Bella (the heroine) and her vampire lover, Edward ‘live’.

The story is set in Forks, Washington, and we were 60 miles away, but that didn’t mean that the Twilight business is not thriving in Port Angeles too.  It was our first taste of how far reaching this phenomena is.

We opted not to go to ‘Bella Italian’ – a favorite amongst Twilight devotees, but instead chose a seafood restaurant on the water.  It was a good pick and I had Dungeness crabcakes (Dungeness is just up the road from Port Angeles) and Ben tried razor clams.  Both were delicious, especially the unusual razor clam, which is large and meaty and quite a bit sweeter than crab.  After dinner we discovered a cozy wine bar, and sat down to taste some California reds.  We would have stayed longer, but one of us would have had to play ‘skipper’ and it is just no fun watching your love drink lovely wine while you sip water.

Barbara, a pro in the B&B business for eleven years, not surprisingly made a fabulous breakfast the next morning.  While we enjoyed pancakes, eggs and bacon, we heard more of her story – recently divorced, but seemingly happy – and about her son who runs a resort out near Forks – yes, the Forks of the novel, Twilight.

We  kept a close eye on the weather through breakfast.  That morning we were supposed to be going kayaking on Freshwater Bay.  However, I awoke to a very stiff and sore shoulder, so Ben was going it alone.  Even though check out time was 11am, Barbara had generously offered for me to stay on and ‘chill out’ until Ben got back around 1pm.

As I ate, I looked out at dark clouds and incessant rain, and a niggling thought popped into my head: ‘It’s still officially summer’.  I pushed aside the disheartening thought about the demise of my favorite season.  I needn’t be selfish, as I wasn’t the one who would get very wet.  Luckily when I called the kayaking place to cancel, they said they only had the two of us booked, and it was probably best to call it off all together.  Ben seemed very happy about that.

Instead, we decided to go wine tasting.  (Hooray!)  We said a fond farewell to Barbara, and as we drove out of the driveway saw this little lady:

Doe a deer...

We then went to Camaraderie Cellars and Harbinger Winery.   Both had some lovely wines, which were presented by lovely people.  We killed a couple of hours, and made some dents in the plastic, but you have to when you taste good wine that you can only get at the cellar door.  Wine tasting at cellar doors is a ‘regret-less endeavor’ only if you buy what you like when you’re there.

We were a chatty pair as we drove again past Lake Crescent, and on towards Forks.  We would stay that night at Manitou Lodge, which sits nestled in the coastal rain forest, just west of Forks.  A couple of hours before check in, we pulled up outside Three Rivers Resort and Cafe, also just west of Forks.  We knew that the cafe (owned by Barbara’s son) had its own ‘vampire menu’, but it was at this time that the whole ‘Twilight’ obsession started to hit home.

Inside the cafe is this sign:

Treaty line
Treaty line

which I am sure people thought I was photographing because I am a fan.  I’m not; all I know is that the books – and now a film – exist.

We later learned that next weekend is a huge celebration in Forks to mark Bella’s fictional birthday.  Her birthday part is being held in a church, because, as you all know, vampires can’t go into churches.

It is an intriguing pursuit, this whole Twilight obsession.  It has me more than a little curious, so I have asked Ben to put the film on our Netflix cue.  I am not too keen to read the book, but I will check out the film.  At least we can say ‘We’ve been there”.  We ate our burgers – which were terrific – and played two games of Yahtzee, both of which Ben won – but only just.

After lunch and a short drive we were at the coast at LaPush, Washington.  It was spectacularly beautiful, but the most inhospitable I have ever seen the Pacific.

A storm was raging, waves crashed and the whole scene was of gray debris.

The town itself was not beautiful, rather a lonely, decrepit town I can imagine is only visited because of the views from it shores.

It was time to go to our accommodation, so we headed away from the coast and deeper into the forest.  Manitou Lodge is the sort of place that actually looks like its name.  It is big and rustic, with stone and timber walls.  On entry we were faced with a giant staircase and a grand room with a long dining table, four leather couches and bookshelves lined with old books and games.

It is a place that could be either the scene of a horror movie, or the backdrop for a mini adventure.  I was hoping for the latter.  We were shown to our room, the Lady of Guadalupe:

Both of us were keen for some indoor R&R, because the rain outside was unrelenting.  After I nested for a few minutes, much to Ben’s amusement, I chose to have a hot bath, and he chose to read about Seattle a hundred years ago.  Both of us enjoyed these solitary pursuits, and then we came back together, and headed downstairs to see what we could see.

We scoured the bookshelves for games or interesting books, all while maintaining our library voices.  There were 4 other people in the grand room, and all were reading, so we whispered.  We then hit the jackpot with a 600 piece Star Trek puzzle.

I looked at Ben as though asking, ‘Are you game?’ and he looked at me as though replying, “Okay.”  We cleared some space on the table top, and began our task.  Five hours, one and a half bottles of wine, two cheese croissants, and a bag of popcorn later we called it a night.

There were many pieces missing – we guessed about 50 – and it was too dark in the grand room to discern between dark blue and black, so we left a few patches unfinished, but overall it was a hugely successful and fun endeavor.  Whenever either of us found the place for a tricky black piece with a sliver of color on the side, we earned a ‘well done’ and a kiss from the other.

We grew new-found respect and appreciation for just how clever the other is (keep in mind that we already had heaps of both, so this is saying a lot).  The hours flew by.  I can highly recommend puzzling as a good bonding experience for couples who are rained in on an adventure holiday.

This is how we left the puzzle for anyone keen to finish it:


The rain was still with us the next morning as we bid farewell to Vampire Country.  We had survived!

We were driving the long way home, south, then east, then north up into Seattle.  It would take about 4 hours if we didn’t stop, but of course, we wanted to stop.  We chose Ruby Beach.  It was a fluke, because there are a dozen places to stop and see the ocean on the drive, but we’re both glad we got to see this:

And these examples of natural graffiti art:

We ‘souvenired’ some of these pebbles, and they now sit proudly in our home.  My favorite is the perfectly round stone Ben found.  It is 6 inches across and now sits next to the television.  I should also mention that we got very wet on this excursion.  We both had waterproof jackets, but the rain and wind were in full force – it was wild and woolly – and we spent the next hour of driving, drying off.  (Well worth it though!)

The rest of our drive went by quickly, although we did realize about 2 hours down the road that I had left my perfect pillow in the Lady of Guadalupe (they’re sending it to me).  Lunch was breakfast at Denny’s.  It is kind of a cheesy place to stop, but is always clean, and the breakfast is great.  Good ol’ Denny’s didn’t disappoint, and gave us the energy we needed to get home.

We packed a lot in, but as I said before, the success of the weekend was as much about what we skipped as what we saw.  Wine tasting is a much better way to spend a rainy day than kayaking.

As always, thank you to my darling Ben.  He is the best travel companion (and life’s companion) this girl could ever hope for.

And the boys want to know where we’re all going next…

Tahoe and Squirt are ready to go

When the pieces come together: Part One

What makes a perfect weekend?  What are the essential elements that must come together to create a weekend of ‘Kismet’?

Well, this past Labor Day long weekend we discovered that the perfect weekend can be as much about what is omitted as what is included.

The night before our departure I suffered a night of insomnia.  They come up from time to time, and usually at inopportune moments like this one.  I awoke to a rainy morning, an achy neck, a recurrence of a niggling sore throat I have been fighting for weeks, and a bad mood.

Ben was a trooper.  I was a trooper. We managed our morning like seasoned travelers and were showered, fed and packed without too many snippy words.  We loaded the car in the rain, and made the early ferry (7:55am) with several minutes to spare.  We would ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, then drive across the island and over a bridge onto the Olympic Peninsula.

The boys were excited.


I wanted either coffee or sleep.  I opted for sleep and soon discovered that the fully reclined passenger seat of Ben’s car combined with my awesome pillow (which I take with me everywhere) is the PERFECT way to travel long distances.  I was out like a light.

When I emerged from my coma, we were in Port Townsend, a pretty town on the north-eastern tip of the peninsula.  My friend, Todd, had tipped us off that it is was a great spot, so we detoured off course to fit it in.

Driving in we saw this:


The weather in Port Townsend was what my dad would call ‘wild and woolly’.  [It is an expression I have grown up with, so I know that it means ‘really windy and a lot wet’, but now that I have written it into this post, I am wondering how the ‘woolly’ part comes into play.]  It had stranded these two boats on the shoreline, and when we got out of the car, it threatened to blow us out straight back of town.

We opted for a safe haven in the form of the nearest coffee shop, where we drank tea, and ate American-style scones.  Ben asked for soy milk, but we were informed that they didn’t use soy milk, because it is VERY bad for you.  Sure. Okay.  Whatever you say.

After tea Ben suggested we walk through the town a bit.  For me the day was only just coming in to focus, so I said yes, despite the weather.  I needed to wake up fully.

In Port Townsend

We discovered some gorgeous architecture that has been lovingly restored, and many galleries.  I bought a few little trinkets – gifts mostly – including a giant sand dollar from the curio shop.  It now sits with our African Goddess and our Indian Elephant – three continents represented in one corner of our living room.  The people we met were lovely and chatty, and I know this is a place I would like to go back to sometime soon.

Moving on from the windy town, we made our way south and then west towards Port Angeles.  We would be staying at a B&B there later in the day, but it wasn’t even lunch time yet, so we pressed on towards the Sol Duc Hot Springs.

Lunch was an impromptu stop at Granny’s Cafe, an old school diner on the main highway.

Catsup and Creamer

I believe it is solely for this reason that people stop there to eat, and has nothing to do with Granny, the food, or the collections of ‘things’ that fill every horizontal surface.



The food was, at best, passable.

Fed, we hopped back in the car, still on course for Sol Duc Springs, and took a detour to Lake Crescent, where we saw our first glimpse of sun that day.

Driving to Lake Crescent

The Lake is in the Olympic National Park, but holiday homes pepper its shore.  From one angle I could have sworn I saw how it must be at the height of summer, even though the true temperature was closer to 58F (15C).

Lake Crescent

As we left, the rain came again.  After winding around the south side of the lake – a beautiful drive – we turned off the highway and into the central part of the national forest.  We overshot the hot springs and drove instead to a trail head for, among other destinations, Sol Duc Falls.  It was only sprinkling lightly, but had clearly rained heavily at some point, because the trails were dense with mud.

Just as I pointed out a beetle for Ben to avoid stepping on, there was a sharp pain in my hand.  I quickly pulled off my glove, thinking that maybe a spider had nestled in there over the summer, but no.  A yellow jacket hornet had stung me through my glove and it hurt like hell.  A quick detour back to the car to dress my wound, and we retraced our steps back towards the falls.  We were rewarded for our efforts – and my pain – with this spectacular sight.

Ben at Sol Duc Falls

And looking further down river:

So lush

We made our way back to the car while I watched carefully for attack hornets.  Back at the car we met a lovely group of middle aged people who had been stranded by a dead car battery.  Fortuitously for them we happened to be parked right next to them, and could give them a jump start.  “Thank goodness,” said one of the women.  “We were so worried that the people on either side of us were off trekking for days on end.”  She had no way of knowing that trekking for days in the rain is my closest idea to hell, but we all agreed that our car’s proximity to theirs was ‘great luck indeed’.  Sometimes you meet the nicest people.

Feeling good about our small act of kindness, we drove a short distance, grabbed our swimsuits and paid admission to the Sol Duc Springs Resort.

I kind of knew when I saw first the ‘hot springs’ – essentially giant hot tubs stuffed with tourists and their splashing children – and then the filthy change rooms, that it would be a short visit.  I was disappointed for many reasons.  Mostly, I had looked forward to the hot springs because my neck, shoulders and upper back had been chronically sore for days.  It was becoming hard to sit, sleep, stand and move – which pretty much didn’t leave much time when it didn’t hurt.

I had also been to the hot springs in Aguas Calientes, Peru, which were beautiful, exceptionally clean, and set into the side of a mountain, so my expectations for the Sol Duc Springs were high.

The stench of sulfur did nothing to ease my aches, and I wished it was a better experience all around – especially for Ben, who was experiencing a hot springs for the first time.  I stayed in as long as I could, but when I saw the 30th strand of hair float by, and then a band-aid, I got out, quickly showered and dressed.  Ben was not too far behind me.  Before leaving I filled in a comment card, and as this post goes to press, I received a lovely email from the management apologizing for the state of the facilities and offering a free pass for us both on our next visit.  Hmm.  Thanks, but we’ll think about it.

It was time to head to our accommodation for the night and I looked forward to getting clean and dry and out of the outdoors.  Sometimes, Adventure Chick.  Sometimes, Princess.  Princess was ready for a bath!

Part Two: Where Vampires Dwell

More photos from the weekend

Geocached up


So, I have landed a new job.

As soon as my work visa is sorted, I will be working for Groundspeak, who run Geocaching.com among many other things.

Geocaching, as a recreation, was new to me when I applied for the job.  I researched it, and decided that not only did I want to work with the people at Groundspeak, but that I wanted to become a geocacher.  And so I have.

Ben and I signed up right away – when I was mid interviews.  He has one of the fancy schmancy phones that does everything – including answer the phone – so we were all geared up with GPS technology.  We created an online profile, and searched for caches based on our zip code.

Voila!  Over 500 caches popped up within a 5 miles radius.  Um, yeah, let’s narrow that down a bit.

We chose one and headed out from our apartment towards the Seattle Center.  Unbeknown to us, we had picked the day of a huge festival to find our first cache.  Our first task was to navigate our way through the throngs of people all desperate to get their hands on freebies, corn on the cob, or beer in plastic cups.

We rounded a corner and headed down a ramp, finally easing away from the crowd.  You see, when you participate in geocaching, you want to keep a low profile.  No one wants their cache raided or stolen by ‘muggles’ (they have appropriated the term from the Harry Potter series), so you have to ensure that you are discreet.

Down the end of the ramp, and around the corner, the GPS assessed that we were ‘there’.  Now it was our job to find the cache within a 15-25 foot radius, not knowing exactly what we were looking for, and all the while trying to appear like we weren’t looking for anything at all.

It didn’t take long.  Ben took a chance on venturing a little way into the garden bed and it paid off.  The cache was a sealed Tupperware container, and enclosed was a log book, which we signed, and a few trinkets.  We took nothing, but left a coupon for free yogurt.


We were quite pleased with ourselves, despite the fact that the ratings for difficulty and terrain were both 1/5.  Still, we were no longer non-geocachers.  We went to a film that afternoon, and when we got home, logged onto our profile and shared our success.

Since then we have sought three other caches, two of which were successful.  The third is located in a small nature reserve in West Seattle.  We chose it because we had yet to get out to West Seattle, and it was deemed a 2.5/5 for both difficulty and terrain.  We wanted to kick it up a notch.

We discovered a few things that day.

Firstly, geocaching gets you out of the house, which is a particularly good thing when you realize that you are still in your pajamas at noon on a Sunday.

Secondly, if you choose caches in places you haven’t been to before, then you get to go somewhere new!  This may seem obvious, but it is delightful, nevertheless, to go somewhere  you haven’t been before.

West Seattle gave us this view of our neighborhood.

Queen Anne from West Seattle
Queen Anne from West Seattle

We also discovered the joy of finding a cache that someone else cannot find.  While we were looking for a Rating 1/1 cache close to where I took this photo, we saw other people looking for the same cache.  They were following the readings on their GPS, trying to be surreptitious, and left after they had looked in all the same places we had.  Only we decided to keep trying after they left.

At that moment I looked down and saw a small piece of paper next to my foot.  I picked it up; it was a fortune from a cookie.  It said “Your short-term goal will be realized soon.”  I showed it to Ben, just as he put his hand on the cache.  Cool!

The last thing we discovered that day was that you can try too hard.

We went in search of the 2.5/2.5 cache (that is 2.5/5 for difficulty and terrain).  We had some notes from the previous finders, and we had the location in our GPS, but under the dense canopy of trees, the GPS was rendered next to useless.

It got us in the general vicinity, but we could never seem to get close to the cache, no matter how deep we went into the woods.

At one point I had climbed down a steep incline, fought my way through giant ferns, knocked down about 5o spider webs, and traversed a fallen log that was 8  feet off the ground on its far side.  Nothing.  And the only way out was to repeat all of that in reverse.

After more than an hour we were both dirty, sweaty and a little baffled.  We went back to the main path, and even tried a couple of other small paths.  None of them could get us any closer to the location marked by the GPS.

Ben emerging from a path

We called it a day.

We walked back to the car, drove back across town and when we got home looked up the cache.  One note said, “The position of the cache is visible from the main path.”  We had tried too hard.  We had been searching for a cache that would have been rated much higher than 2.5/5 for either terrain or difficulty.  We had dug holes, looked in trees, and gone WAAAYYYYY off the path.

But we’ll go back.  I want that cache!

So, as I wait for the visa thing to be sorted, I am learning many wonderful and interesting things about all aspects of the geocaching world.

I have learned that in Western Australia there are  1818 caches.  I have learned that most people I know in North America are geocachers themselves, or know someone who is.

I have also activated the Geocoin given to me by one of the founders of Groundspeak during my final interview.  (Thank you Brian).  I have set its course for the UK, and then Australia in the hopes that it will find its way back to me here.  Isn’t that cool?

And, courtesy of my new boss, Jenn, I have my own geocaching profile now under the profile name, Sandy (for those who have accounts too – they’re FREE!) .  At the moment I share all my caching information with Ben and our joint profile.  Perhaps we will always cache together, as we are loving our mini adventures, but this gives us the chance to broaden our individual horizons too.

So, this is a little insight into my new world.  I hope to see you out in it.


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.

Heart pounding

I led a discussion in class yesterday, about ‘youth’. “Am I old or young?” I bravely asked a room full of 13 year olds. Without missing a beat, 27 voices chorused, “Old.” I laughed. We went on to discuss how ‘youthfulness’ can be a state of mind. In my heart and mind I am young. My body sometimes has other ideas, but like my 70-something great aunt, my hope is to live a long life with as many youthful assets as I can retain: a curious mind, a thirst for knowledge, a child-like sense of wonder and joy, and may I never lose the desire to laugh out loud. Most importantly, I want always to have an adventurous spirit.

So here I return to tales of my adventures, those endeavours that have thrilled me, terrified me, challenged me, and taken me far from my usually comfortable, urban life. I get grubby, wet, sweaty, cold, and hot, all while my heart pounds from exertion, fear or excitement. This is me in ‘Adventure Chick’ mode.
At Haleakala Crater, Maui

White Water Rafting Austria. Bali. New Zealand. Scariest: Austria. I was thrown in the water, and had to swim against the current while rapids rapidly approached. Hilarious, apparently, to those on the raft. Most fun: New Zealand. I can hear the guide’s voice in my head: “HOLD ON! GET DOWN!” We did as we were told, and we survived, all while I shrieked with gleeful laughter. Cold, wet, and worth it.

Sea Kayaking Queensland. Double kayaks, paddling out to sea and into the coves of Magnetic Island. I worked those back and arm muscles, while synching with Ben’s paddle strokes. Swam in a bathwater warm bay, breakfasted on white sands, and paddled past a sea turtle on return.

Snorkling Maui. Green Island and Magnetic Island, Queensland. Was little scared – out of my depth, but the fear was forgotten as soon as I saw the fish. In Queensland, I hand fed the fish while they swam around me. Best: Maui. Swam with giant sea turtles. Swam with a kaleidescope of tropical fish. Swam with Ben and laughed because with prescription goggles, I realised that ‘fish aren’t fuzzy!’
Snorkling off Maui

Sailing Whitsunday Islands. Cyclades Islands, Greece (8 days). Magnetic Island. My first few times on a yacht, I nervously clung to the railings, fearing a fall into the depths of the ocean. Now I seek opportunities to get back out onto the water, because I love it. Boomnetting is sitting in a giant net off the side or the back of the boat. It is mad, and scary, and fun. Ben climbed up the net, onto the boat, jumped off the front of the boat and latched onto the net as the boat sped past. Crazy.

Firing a handgun Las Vegas. My heart was pounding – before, during and after. It was thrilling, but I do not feel the need to do it again. I wanted to know what it felt like and now I do.

Glacier Climbing Franz Josef, NZ. We donned spikes and we climbed, up and up. It was cold, I feared falling into an endless crevice or toppling down the ice steps, but the icy landscape was otherworldly, and well worth the climb.
Franz Josef Glacier

Mountain Biking Bali. New Zealand. Austria. The Bali ride was a road trek from Ubud, through villages and rice fields. Highlight: slapping hands with the kids who lined the roads to say ‘hello’. Wanaka, NZ: My first time off road, a 30 km trek along bush paths. Muddy, scary, fun, and a windy ride back along the lake.

Water-skiing Swan River and Waroona Dam, WA. Corfu, Greece. My first time was terrifying, until the boat took off and I skied across the dam. I was hooked, and skied every spring and summer for years. Someday I will dust off my ski and get back behind the boat.

Quad Biking Te Anau, NZ. The most fun I have ever had outdoors. These bikes have gears, and they go! We were on a working farm, so rode amongst the sheep and cows. We climbed a minor mountain, and sludged through the bogs. Muddy from top to toe. Exhilarated.
Quad Bike
Post quad bike ride

Paragliding Corfu, Greece. Terrified of being so high, but all that was forgotten as soon as we lifted into the sky. Peaceful and gentle with a great view.

Abseiling Utah. Western Australia. New South Wales. This still scares the hell out of me. Every time. But I do it, because the adrenalin lasts for hours.

Horse riding Western Australia. Paradise, NZ. I don’t have luck with horses – one tried to roll on top of me, one threw me, and one ran me through low branches. I got back on the horse last year in NZ. Wasn’t (too) scary, even though Seth had a mind of his own. The ride was spectacular, and included locations from The Lord of the Rings.
Paradise Valley

Hiking New South Wales. Peru. Hawaii. California. Austria. Blue Mountains. Switzerland. Most spectacular: Switzerland: Hiked from the last train stop before the summit of Jungfrau to Lauterbrunnen on the valley floor. Snow to start, grass to finish, blue skies the whole way. Yodellay-hee-hoo. AND Maui: From Seven Pools, south of Hana, to Waimoku Falls. Hot, sweaty and totally worth tripping over tree roots to get to the spectacular 400 foot falls. Ben and I ran through the bamboo forest on the way back, like Jack and Kate from LOST.
Waimoku and the Sky
Waimoku Falls

Waterhole swimming Western Australia. Maui. Hiking, climbing, crawling over boulders to get to hidden waterholes. Best: The Three Bears Waterfall on Maui. Ben and I climbed under a bridge, over giant boulders, and through trees to get to it. It was so cold that it was hard to breathe, but we did it.

Skiing Mt Hotham and Mt Buller, Victoria. Breckenridge, Colorado. Whistler, Canada. First time: 17, hated it. Fell down the mountain. Second time: 37, loved it. I am better at it now, but have been very scared on blue runs. Whistler was icy and terrifying. Mt Buller had no visibility, so I was more brave and skied blue runs – I have more guts than style.
At Whistler
Mt Buller

Riding Shotgun Greece. California. Sydney. Peru. This is when I ride on the back of a scooter or a motorcycle. I love it. I rode a scooter when I lived in LA, but it is more fun when someone else is in charge. I fell for Ben a little while I had my arms wrapped around his waist and we followed winding roads around Greek Islands. In Peru, I was brave, as the motorcycle was big and the roads were deadly.
Barely Upright

Skydiving Christchurch, NZ. Ben went first, and watching him get sucked out of the plane made my heart stop. The first 6 seconds when I plummeted to earth, strapped to a tall stranger, were the worst of my life. Freefall was exhilarating. The shoot opening brought me relief, until we started spiraling towards the ground, and the final 100 metres was like paragliding, and I loved it. “How was that,” Ben asked, smiling. “That was horrible,” I replied. And most of it was. Never again. But I did it. Adventure Chick did it.
"Surfing" at Hokitika
Thank you to Ben, who took some of these with his camera.