Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Daffodil Ride

My old copy of Webster’s New World Dictionary defines adventure as "1. an exciting and dangerous undertaking. 2. an unusual, stirring, often romantic experience. 3. a business venture.”

Our cycling trip in Oregon’s Willamette Valley was definitely an adventure. Exciting and dangerous, unusual and stirring, even romantic? Yup. Business? Nope. Will we do it again? Absolutely.

Day One
Thursday, March 28
When our city bus broke down on the way to the Amtrak station, Tom said it was a bad omen. Fortunately, the omen only affected the first day of the adventure. A replacement bus arrived and we made it to King Street Station with time to spare. But where Seattle Metro buses managed to stick to their schedule, Amtrak failed miserably.
As I mentioned last week, our buy-one-get-one-free ticket applied to only two trains. Our southbound train to Albany, Oregon was scheduled to arrive at 7:38 p.m. I knew it was cutting it close but figured there would still be enough daylight to cycle the few miles to our hotel.

Amtak arrived about 45 minutes late to Albany. It was pitch dark and raining, and I don’t mean a Seattle drizzle. It was dumping. The station was closed and our bikes were leaning against a post in a narrow waiting area on the platform as the train pulled away.

I tried to make sense of my directions and figure out which way to go, but I couldn’t get oriented. There were no street signs in sight, and Tom struggled to read his GPS screen. We both wear glasses so vision was a serious issue. We headed out – in the wrong direction – and got lost. By the time we found our hotel, I’d taken a minor fall, Tom was starving, and we were drenched with frozen fingers and very bad attitudes. When the hotel clerk interrupted our check in to take a phone call and talk another guest through their HBO challenges as we dripped all over the lobby floor, I could feel Tom about to explode. “We need our room, please,” I said. “Now.”

Dinner was fast food across the street. Back in our room, Tom surprised me with a rain-soaked daffodil he’d nabbed on the walk back. Peace offering? After hot showers, we were finally warm, relaxed, and grateful for the flasks we carried.
Total Mileage: 9.4

Day Two
Friday, March 29
When we awoke to sunshine, we danced a happy dance and headed out. The first 10 miles or so were flat, fabulous farmland. A perfect slow cruise with lots of picture taking. 
Then we hit Scravel Hill Road. Not just one hill, but about 7 miles of them. We were definitely ready for lunch when we reached Jefferson. We found a wonderful Mexican restaurant called Guadalajara Grill where they used a traditional tortilladora to press handmade tortillas – something I hadn’t seen since I lived in Mexico City. My only regret was not partaking in the house margaritas, but we had too many miles ahead of us for that. By the time we crossed the narrow bridge over the Willamette River into Independence and found the College Inn of Monmouth, I was glad for our restraint.
Tom’s always told me he’s good for about 20 miles max. Why he agreed to this trip is still beyond me. The last 8 or 9 miles and final climb before reaching the bridge was a chorus of complaints, but we made it without mishap. Unlike the lousy late meal of the prior evening, we celebrated with GF pizza, spinach salad and local cider at the Grain Station Brew Works right across the street from our hotel. A perfect day.
Total Mileage: 38.3

Day Three
Saturday, March 30 (Sunday, March 31)
Dinner had been so tasty at the Grain Station we started our day with a leisurely breakfast there before packing our panniers and poking around Independence. Of course, we had to stop at the local bookstore! We weren’t willing to try to outrace traffic over the bridge, so we again walked our bikes along the narrow sidewalk and headed to Salem.
More hills. Not mountains, mind you, but also not the idyllic flat trail I imagined. A quiet country road winding through vineyards along the banks of the Willamette River it was not. In fact, we rarely saw the river and only passed one winery on the entire trip. We rode the shoulder most of the way and twice speeding motorists or their passengers cursed and honked at us. Once a guy actually opened the passenger door of a fast moving truck to yell at either me or the car behind him. I prefer to think he was spewing his anger at the other driver, but who knows. Let's just say, we were relieved when we left the road at Minto Brown Island Park just outside of Salem.
Our timing was perfect, or so we thought. We cycled around town before locking up our bikes at the Amtrak station and celebrating with cider and a late lunch at the local Ram. With time to spare, we explored the Willamette University campus and shopped for a picnic dinner on the train home. Then we returned to the station to catch our train back to Seattle. And we waited. Again Amtrak was delayed. Our 5:41 p.m. departure became a 7:09 p.m. departure. 

It was a long ride home. The sight of our son-in-law and his bright red truck just outside the doors of King Street Station waiting for us at 12:33 a.m. was a glorious relief.

And that little daffodil Tom picked for me during the dark deluge Thursday night? It made the entire trip with me and is now safely tucked away inside the flower press Tom made for our daughter Erin in elementary school. A memento of all the glorious and not so glorious adventures on our daffodil ride.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Let the Adventure Begin

It all started with a coupon. 1+1=Fun! How could I pass that up? Amtrack Cascades was offering a free companion ticket. I got an email at the office with the offer, and of course, I said yes. 
I’m a frugal person. My mother was not a coupon-clipper nor am I, but I learned young to shop sales and compare prices. When the coupon arrived in my campus mailbox, I read it carefully. Another skill my mother taught was to always read the small print. Dad would have said, “Nothing in life is free. You got to work for it.” And I suppose he was right.

The back of the coupon showed a list of the Amtrak stations included in the offer – all the stops between Vancouver, Canada and Eugene, Oregon. At I read the blurb about each town served and realized we could take our bikes for a small fee. That did it. A cycling trip started formulating in my mind before I even told my husband about the coupon. I imagined a late spring or early summer trip in the sun until I read the small print a second time – the ticket had to be purchased and used by April 23rd.

Tom and I have cycled both Vancouver and Portland. We love both cities, but I was looking for something different. I’ve always been curious about cycling from town to town in the Willamette Valley – the land of hops and vineyards. The Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway seemed the perfect option.

As soon as we settled on an easy two-day ride between Salem and Albany, I downloaded cue sheets and struggled to calculate distances and find a potential halfway point with hotel accommodations that didn’t add too many extra miles each day. We wanted to ride Amtrak from Seattle to either Salem or Albany, cycle between the two, and Amtrak home. But would that be considered one ticket or two? Could I get the coupon offer without purchasing a simple round-trip ticket?

After hours trying to book online, I gave up. The website simply would not accept the coupon code. That’s when I headed to King Street Station downtown. I felt vindicated when the Amtrak representative couldn’t figure it out either. He gave me a direct line to customer service, a number to bypass Julie, the AI representative I'd already experienced.

The following morning, coffee cup in hand, laptop alert, I made the call. Forty five minutes later I learned that the coupon was only eligible on specific trains at limited times – information not included in the small print.

Once I knew which trains were available and how to book a multi-stop ticket online, I started searching for hotels, my dad’s words echoing in my head: “Nothing in life is free. You got to work for it.” Five or six hours later, I had two hotels and Amtrak reservations booked. I’ll admit I’m lousy at trip planning. I think I need more practice.

Still, this short bike adventure feels more challenging than other trips. We’ll be on bikes for three days with no support vehicle. We won’t be camping, so we don’t have to carry gear, but clothing, water, bike tools and tire replacements, first aid kit, and food, at least lunches and high-energy snacks, are all necessary. And how to plan for early spring weather? Cold mornings and evenings, warm afternoons, possible rain?

Tom is a backpacker. He knows the value of counting ounces and packing light. He’s also never been much of a clothes guy. But for the past few days he’s been busy worrying about packing the right combination of biking clothes, while I’ve been busy worrying about our physical fitness, and calculating and recalculating our daily mileage. As Tom adds to his panniers, I subtract in a feeble attempt to keep our loads light and leave space for picnics and wine bottles.

As our Thursday departure approaches and the butterflies in my gut keep me awake at night, I remind myself that if we misread the cue sheet and get lost, it won’t be the end of the world. We have cell phones and credit cards … let the adventure begin!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

What a Blast!

Third Place Books Ravenna rocks! Many thanks to James and Alex, Dana and Haley for supporting and organizing my reading last Thursday. To the brave souls who ventured out between waves of Seattle snow storms last week to attend the reading, I am equally grateful. I hope you all enjoyed the evening as much as I did.


My dad used to tease me for talking with my hands, and I realize I can get rather animated when I'm speaking. Leave it to Jerry Jazz and his camera to catch every silly expression I'm capable of producing. Thanks, Jerry! Here's a sampling just for laughs.