Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Foggy Maine



The next two days were spent motoring through thick fog. It is our opinion that GPS and radar are good. Though I know we were surrounded by islands, we hardly saw anything along the way. Occasionally we were close enough to an island to catch a murky glimpse through the fog and rain. We motored blind toward Mcglathery island, a protected island that is inhabited by wild sheep. When we arrived, we had the little cove to ourselves. Just us and the fog. Our hike on this island was nothing short of mystically magical as we wound through the deep, dark, misty woods blanketed, alternately, with deep green moss and ferns, and white moss that I kept mistaking for snow at first glance. We are sure fairies live here. Aaron spent some time making a house for one. I am sad to say that there were no sheep sightings, however. They were pretty well camoflaged.

The next day the fog was just as thick, but luckily, it was not raining. The GPS faithfully guided us to Frenchburo just as the fog burned off and we hopped off the boat in search of the famous lobster roll from the head of the cove offshore store. Though it was closed for the season, it seemed to be inhabited by kids when we got there. They ran across the street to fetch their mother who graciously made us a lobster roll and sold us some much needed water. As we sat and talked with the owner, we learned that there are no grocery stores on the island, there are eleven students in the one room school house, and the huge bones that sat by the side of her store were from a minke whale that washed up on shore there a couple of years ago. When we got back to the boat, there was a breeze so we headed out to sail in the glorious sunshine for a couple of hours. Along the way I felt a deep need to take a swim even though I knew I would freeze. As we got closer to harbor I knew it was my last chance and I would regret it if I didn't do it so we heaved to and I jumped into the water. It was cold. And I wasn't expecting a current so I got a little freaked out when it started pulling me away from the boat and swimming back was much more difficult than anticipated. But I made it, and all of my boys helped pull me back on deck shivering, dripping and salty. Next on the agenda for the day was visit to Eastern Beach where the it gets hammered all winter long by huge waves so all of the granite rocks on shore are round, smooth and very egg-y, perfect throwing rocks. The boys set to work as soon as we stepped out of the dinghy throwing as many of these round rocks into the water as they could manage. It gradually morphed into throwing small egg rocks at big egg rocks which had the delightful effect of bouncing like a pinball back and forth very randomly, and sometimes scarily across the beach. For little boys, Ne Plus Ultra.....Latin for "there is no higher," which was also the name of the Bermunda 40 that we were chartering.

I apologize for the overload of photos.

Maine Sailing



After our day of discomfort, we awoke to beautiful sunshine. After morning tea up on deck, we hopped into the dinghy and headed to shore for a hike around the island. Along the way we explored tide pools, looking for crabs and fish, climbed up big granite boulders, hiked through thick forest with trees down everywhere. The boys pulled their pant legs up as high as they would go and crossed a narrow channel to the islands on the other side. As we came back around the other side of the island near our boat, we came to a door standing alone in the middle of the forest across the trail, with the word "REALITY" written in large letters with an arrow. In fine print above it said, "Last one out, please remember to turn out the lights. Thx. Management." Maine rocks. We spent the rest of the gorgeous day sailing in light winds and glorious sunshine to Buck's Harbor. I must say that this type of sailing suits me much better than the hurky kind.

We awoke to rain the next morning with a sick Aaron and set sail for Castine, an old New England village settled in the late 1600's where many battles took place, including the U.S.'s worst naval defeat before Pearl Harbor. We lost 16 ships to a very small British force and our hero Paul Revere was court martialed and dismissed from service for just being present at the battle. As we sailed toward Castine a huge, 100 foot, old schooner glided up from behind and sailed side-by-side with us through the rain for the afternoon. We explored the village the next morning, with fever-y Aaron riding on my back, checking out all the cute New England architecture and reading the signs throughout town about the battles that took place before we set out for Pulpit Harbor where a 150-year-old osprey nest sits perched upon a rocky outcropping that greets you at the mouth of the harbor. Here we got our first taste of fog and it was pretty cool. Since there was a lack of wind, we motored through patches of fog. At one point Jason cut the engine and we just drifted through the fog. It felt like we floating through the open ocean, it was so quiet and we couldn't see anything, but the sun was shining above making us super warm. By afternoon, Aaron was feeling much better and the boys enjoyed much rock-throwing on land. As we were walking up the hill to the grocery store an old Model-T came putting down the road, turned around, and a few moments later pulled up behind us and offered us a ride. We all hopped in to the 1929 Model-T that had belonged to family of the wife of Charles Lindberg and away we went. Along the way he pointed out the house of the late brain surgeon that had instructed the surgery on JFK over the phone. After we stopped in front of the cute little grocery store he turned off the engine and the boys both jumped when it let out a loud back-fire.

Click here for way too many photos.

Happy Birthday Isaac!



We fell in love with Maine last October when we rented a VW camper van here and spent the week camping along the coast up to Acadia National Park and back, watching the leaves turn along the way. We spent a couple of nights in Camden where we were smitten with the idea of sailing as we walked the docks looking at sailboats and daydreaming about sailing through the islands here. Less than a year later we are here actually doing it.

To back up a bit, when we were in Seattle in July we looked at a Hinckley Bermuda 40 that is for sale there, talk about smitten, we fell in love with this boat. She has gorgeous lines, huge deck space and cockpit for lounging about, and the layout below is perfect, with two separate pilot berths for the boys to snuggle into. Maine native, Bill, the eighty-plus-year-old owner, who has been sailing his whole life, was kind enough to invite us to sail with him for the day so we happily joined him, his son, and grandson for a sail from Shilshole Bay across Puget Sound and back, enjoying stories about everything from sailing, to his teaching experience in Austria. The boat sailed like a dream. She was smooth and comfortable, heeling over in her wasn't scary, her engine wasn't uber-loud, stinky, or vibratey, all the controls were easy and accessible, the side decks are huge and comfortable, perfect for snuggling two boys, one arm around each. As far as I can tell, it doesn't get any better than that.

Back to Maine. Jason found that Hinckley charters boats out of Southwest Harbor near Acadia, so we booked a charter on a Bermuda 40 with the same set-up as Bill's boat to get a feel for if this boat really worked well for us or not. After the checkout process we set sail at about 4:00 and sailed a short distance to Valley Cove where we anchored under the cliffs of the only fjord on the eastern seaboard. The following morning, we awoke with Isaac, the birthday boy, and after gifts and birthday crepes, Isaac, our dinghy captain, shuttled us to shore for a  hike up the mountain for views over the water and the  islands below before setting out. We decided to eat lunch as we sailed so I set to work below decks as Jason motored us out to a safe place to set sail. From above Jason excitedly called for Isaac to come see. After running up to see what the excitement was all about, he came back down giggling, his face dripping with sea water, the result of a huge wave splashing up and over the boat. The winds were high and when we entered the channel the waves were really big (for us) and close together resulting in uber-seasickness for all below. The waves were so big that when I would look up at Jason at the helm from below decks as we were climbing a wave, I could see a wall of water behind him. We all evacuated the cabin and headed up above, where Aaron curled up into a ball in the corner, the birthday boy sprawled out in front of the companion-way, feverishly reading the magic book he had received for his birthday, and I sat on my knees at the edge of the deck, shaking and waiting to throw up while waves splashed up and over the boat. Jason kept asking, "Are you ready to raise sail?" I have never felt so seasick before and was shocked by its effect on me. I felt so weak and shaky from it that I was frozen as I waited to cruck (Another side note here, the word cruck originates from when Aaron was a baby sitting in his car seat babbling away as Jason excessively accelerated. He was saying "Hey, Daddy?" when the noise "cruuuuuuuck!" escaped his mouth along with his lunch, and then he continued his sentence like nothing had happened) so raising sail would have to wait. I felt like a big wimp. Eventually I was able to get the sails up and sailing under just the jib and jigger, things improved without the noise and vibration of the engine. We decided to cut the day short and pounded our way through the waves, beating into 20-25 knot winds to the safety of Buckle Harbor, a calm, shallow cove nestled at the center of several tiny islands.

Safely anchored, I cooked a yummy birthday dinner before we sang happy birthday to Isaac just after sunset up on deck and then consumed birthday cupcakes in the darkness. While taking in our surroundings, sparkles under the water caught our eye. We spent the rest of the evening hanging over the decks, watching bioluminescent plankton glowing and sparkling as little shrimp scurried past them. We all believe in fairies. Happy twelfth birthday Isaac. We hope you had a magical day.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Boston


It's official. We successfully drove Sylvia from Montana to Boston. All 3,200 miles. Without incident. Arriving on Saturday, we settled into the houseboat in Charlestown that we would call home for the week. Sunday we drove Sylvia out to the best Vanagon mechanic in Boston and dropped her off for a check-up and to have her clutch replaced. We are so excited because our friends from Portugal, Sandra and Paulo, and Dinis from London joined us in the marina in their own houseboat for the week. After kissing Jason good-bye in the morning as he, Sandra, and Dinis headed to the office, with poor Paolo working in his warm houseboat as it rocked back and forth, the boys and I, feeling somewhat guilty, spent the days going to the aquarium where they now have a shark and ray touch pool (we thought this was beyond cool, feeling these curious creatures cruise under our open palms as they swam around and around), exploring Bunker Hill and the Charlestown neighborhood, playing at the Children's Museum, eating yummy food in Harvard Square, and the nights enjoying the company of our friends as we shared dinner, laughed, and talked. At the office, Sandra would report, Jason was receiving what appeared to her to be a new camper van, piece by piece each day, in the mail, leaving it to the boys and I to ferry the parts out to the mechanic, three hours by train. Most of Friday was dedicated to picking Sylvia up. When we reached the mechanic, I was both starving and caffeine-deprived, not a good combo for me especially when I am about to drive in a city that I vowed I would never drive a normal car, much less a camper van in. When I started up Sylvia, she ran like a dream, no sputtering or coughing. I carefully started backing out, watching the UPS guy so I wouldn't run him over when he shouts in his Boston accent, "Do you know your back hatch is open?" No, I didn't because my brain was barely functioning. So I pulled back into my spot, set the parking break and took my foot off the clutch. The giant lurch let me know that I had not put her into neutral. Oh boy. Not good. I can only imagine what the mechanic was thinking. Luckily, we had planned to stop at Whole Foods along the way to pick up lunch, coffee, and groceries so my brain would start functioning in some kind of a normal fashion. After lunch Isaac, my navigator, was doing a fabulous job directing us to I-90 with Sylvia purring like a kitten and driving so smoothly, when he accidentally erased the directions off of my iPod. Oops. I had anticipated something like this happening because, curiously, similar things happen to me when I am the navigator and so I had memorized the last of the instructions, which were the trickiest. Though my memory served me well, it would not be a proper driving experience in Boston if I had understood all the signs and gotten it right. We inevitably ended up heading in the wrong direction on a one way street, with no opportunity to turn around. It is the Boston way. But luckily we have spent a lot of time walking around the city and know it well so we organically, without the aid of any GPS or smart phone, found our way back to the houseboat. A feat that I am inordinately proud of and must share with all of you. Isaac and I were triumphant as we pulled up to Jason, Sandra and Paulo in the parking lot. I must admit that my legs were shaking when I stepped out of Sylvia, but we made it.

After basking in our glory for a short while, we set out to show Sandra and Paulo the Freedom Trail that winds past major historical points throughout the city and some of our favorite stops along the way. Starting at the U.S.S. Constitution, or Old Iron Sides, we worked our way past Bunker Hill, where a very decisive battle took place, through the North End, the Italian quarter, home to the Old North Church of Paul Revere fame, and where we stopped for coffees, pastries, and, the boys favorite, gelato, at Café Vittoria, past the oldest oyster bar in the nation, through the Holocaust Memorial where all of us wanted to cry and some of us did, to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market where we caught the very end of a break dance show and we witnessed the very extensive fleecing of the crowd. Here Dinis joined us and we headed up to the old State House where the Boston Massacre and many Sons of Liberty meetings took place, to the Granary Burying Ground where Paul Revere and Samuel Adams are buried. Here we cut across Boston Commons, where the British were stationed, to Beacon Hill, an old, utterly cute neighborhood of ivy-covered, brick homes where we found a cozy French restaurant snuggled in the a basement of one of the old homes. Here we enjoyed one final dinner together before everyone travelled their separate ways in the morning. It was so good to spend time again with you Sandra and Paulo, and it was so nice getting to know you better Dinis. Thank you all for joining us in Boston.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Aaron!



At the stroke of seven o'clock, Aaron's head appeared, peering down at us from his pop-top bed anxious for his birthday to begin. With two boys snuggled  into bed with us, we gave Aaron his card and presents. Not only is Aaron a hiking fiend, he is also an owl fanatic so he was super excited to see the new burrowing owl and barn owl that we had gotten him. He has Burrow, his well-loved burrowing owl that he brings everywhere, but he is of the opinion that two is even better than one. After spending the morning playing with Burrow and Bur-bur, we set out for a short hike to Bingham Falls, a warm-up for our hike planned for the afternoon. After driving 2,707 miles to get here in time for Aaron's birthday, the clouds lifted after weeks of rain from the various hurricanes and tropical storms and we spent the afternoon triumphantly hiking to the top of Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont. We hiked along the ridge line taking in the 360 degree views of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Vermont's Green Mountains, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks in New York. On the way back we took the  Subway Trail, one of the craziest trails that we have been on, which took us through tunnels and canyons, exposed sidehills, steep ups and downs, and through stunted alpine forests. The birthday boy was very happy with his birthday hike. After eating dinner we sang a round of happy birthday and dug into the raspberry pie Aaron had picked out at the farm for his birthday cake. Happy birthday Aaron! We can't believe that you are ten already.

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Sweet Vermont



After Montreal, I was full of woe and wondering if I was mad to have wanted to do such a moronic thing as drive a camper van from Montana through southern Canada to New England. In the morning we bid Montreal and Canada farewell and entered the U.S. without incident. Somehow things looked different after we crossed the border and my mood brightened when we caught a tiny car ferry over Lake Champlain from New York to Vermont, where we watched the water go by and happily chatted about our insanity. As it turns out, I was not alone in my despair, Jason was having similar thoughts and feelings and we laughed over our shared mood as the boys stated over and over again, "it wasn't that bad." When we drove off the ferry I was beaming to be back in Vermont. It all made sense to me now. I had started to question if it was really going to be as good as I remembered it. It is. About ten miles down the road, there was a sign for fresh, organic veggies and meats so we pulled off into a picturesque farm and bounded in. Now we're talking. This is what I had imagined when I thought about driving across the continent, taking time to stop in little places like this to soak up some of the culture, buy local things to eat, talk to the people who live there. We bought some local veggies, a whole chicken raised right there on that farm, local milk, local yogurt and real chocolate ice cream made with all real ingredients. I made lunch in the camper van and we ate it under the trees at the farm and basked in the glory that is Vermont as we shared the pint of decadent chocolate ice cream. A half hour later, we stopped at a winery and picked up a bottle of Vermont wine to cook our Vermont chicken in.

We wound up into the mountains towards Smuggler's Notch State Park (which, I might add, has a zen fountain gurgling in the restroom) in preparation for Aaron's birthday. At the top of the road were spectacular cliffs looming overhead shrouded in low-lying clouds. We parked and headed up a steep trail to Sterling Lake. My body and soul were so glad to be out hiking that I felt I could hardly hold my legs back as they hopped from rock to rock. All of our spirits soared as we hiked into the clouds to the misty hidden lake.

Hopping into Sylvia after the hike, we began the descent down the steepest road we have ever seen. Narrow and winding through huge, gneiss boulders, we concluded that Vermont was insane for building such a road. The history behind it was that smugglers used this route to haul goods from Canada to the U.S. when President Jefferson imposed a trade embargo, slaves used it to escape to Canada and, of course, alcohol was smuggled through here during prohibition. Near the bottom of the road was our campground where we settled in for the night and Aaron waited with anxiously for tomorrow to come so we could begin his birthday festivities.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The life of a rock star


I knew I had married well but I had no idea of the catch I had made until crossing into Canada this trip. I always get nervous at border crossings especially since we seem to get pulled over almost every time. There's something about being in no man's land with no rights that is very unsettling for me. Before getting to the border station at Saunt St. Marie, we had talked about taking off sunglasses so we didn't look like we were trying to hide anything. Jason forgot and must have looked too glamorous to be just a normal person. We pulled up to the station and answered all the normal questions. Weapons? No. Alcohol and tobacco? No. Ever been kicked out of Canada? No. Ever forgotten ID going into Canada? Here Jason faltered and said I don't think so. Our doom was sealed. "Hold on for a second" after swiping Jason's passport, as she closed her sliding window. Opening it a few moments later she asks, "WHAT alcohol and tobacco DO you have?" Nothing. "Here take this slip and go inside." Ugh. Jason headed in to get in line as I rounded up the boys. Two border patrol guards sat outside the door as we tried to pass by and they asked for our ID. I broke into a sweat because Jason had our passports inside. I explained and he kindly let us go by. When we reached Jason at the counter his border patrol guy was heading to a back room. After a few moments he came back and with a stern face he asked Jason something that I couldn't hear. To which Jason replied, "What? No!" incredulously. Me, being afraid to say anything to Jason because it might somehow prove me guilty of some wrong that I was unaware of committing, didn't ask. The border guy, again, disappears to the back room. A few moments later he comes back laughing and informs us that we can go. They had gotten Jason mixed up with another Jason Taylor born the exact same day but in Ohio. At this point I was brave enough to ask what was going on as they chuckled together something about Metallica. He had asked if Jason was in a band. Apparently the other Jason Taylor plays in a band that opened for Metallica and is infamous at Canadian border crossings. Hah! I had no idea that I had married a rock star. Be still my beating heart. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Montreal


Here is my tale of woe. After what seemed to be endless miles through Ontario, we finally made it to Montreal. The idea of what we had hoped would be a miniature Paris, had kept my hopes alive over the past few days of driving. After navigating the highways to the center of the city, I was dismayed by the overly-hip, bright, commercialized, crazy busy streets reminiscent of photos that I had seen of Tokyo, that we drove through as we searched for the tourist information center that would hopefully provide us with a map to find the old part of town. After parking, we snagged a map and headed on foot to what we hoped would be old-school French streets with bakeries, cafés, and bistros. When we got there, it turns out that they took this beautiful old French corridor and turned it into a tourist trap, complete with stores where we could buy moccasins, moose trinkets, or maple leaf junk with Canada written on it. Ugh. We had hoped to sit in a bistro and eat delicious food, but the restaurants were all garbage tourist food restaurants with hosts outside brandishing menus theatrically begging you to come in. We were weakened by hunger and knew the boys wouldn't be able to make it to another part of the city. We walked around in despair, desperately hoping to find a decent restaurant open, until we knew we could go no more. Aaron, my flip-flop wearing, peak-bagging boy was dragging his feet and kept slumping down to the sidewalk so we knew we had to suck it up, get it over with, and eat. We did not sink so low as to go into one of the restaurants with the hosts trying to sucker us in, but it was still the most expensive bad dinner we have had. 

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Faces of Ontario


While in Ontario we met some interesting people that will give you a taste of the culture we experienced up there. A cash-crop farmer from Southern Ontario hurried as best he could on crooked legs to catch up with Jason at one of the campgrounds to chat. We learned he was there dropping off his son to work in a nickel mine. He told us how he was just a farmer, never went to school or nothin', high school was hard enough, sometimes too hard. He seemed lonely and anxious to talk. Another guy in North Bay, where we attracted a lot of stares being outsiders, struck up a conversation about the camper van and asked if he could buy her from us. He hadn't seen one since he was a kid. He was a Native American (Cree) who lived 2,000 km north and had come all the way down to North Bay to be in the South. It made us feel funny since we were in Canada and we consider even Montana to be pretty far north. He said that polar bears are moving into the area where had grown up, something that has never happened before. He told us that it is illegal to drink alcohol where he comes from and when he was younger he used to bootleg into the reservation which would net him $3,000 a week. When he realized that teenagers were starting to break into people's homes, stealing so that they could pay for the alcohol, he gave up that profession and now manages a Pizza Hut. As we parted ways, he said he was going to meet his wife and that they weren't going to go out drinking or nothing. On the same street, the burly, tattooed owner of a leather clothing shop spent time staring at Pika in the camper van while smoking a cig (it seemed like everyone smoked). He immediately started a conversation with us about her when we came back. He was smitten with her delicate cuteness. While we ate lunch in the camper van he went back into his store, researched chihuahuas, and came back out with a lot more questions as he was now on a search to locate a "Montana, deer-faced, sand-colored chihuahua" as he put it. 

Driving and driving and driving....


The next couple of days are a blur, Jason working beside me as I drove and drove and drove. South Dakota, rolling grassland giving way to farm fields. Southern Minnesota, corn and soy crops as far as the eye can see. When we hit the Minnesota border we bid the interstate system adieu, until we meet again, in Vermont, and headed north on back roads, spending the night at Split-Rock State Park, a campground on a smallish, pretty lake that apparently has a snapping turtle the size of a VW Bug. In reality its head is only the size of a large grape fruit. As we meandered through the hardwood forest at dusk, we startled flock after flock of birds out of the branches, wings whistling as they rose into the air. 

The next two days the wind howled. Luckily Jason was at the wheel. As we drove by Lake Superior, there were large breaking waves rolling into shore. Originally we had planned to stay on the lake but opted for somewhere inshore and more sheltered.

To be honest here, from Michigan, Wisconsin and the three days across Ontario to Montreal I began to question my sanity. The amount that we drove each day was so much more than anticipated and there really wasn't much time to relax or explore or even take photos. The landscape, though beautiful with all of its trees (I had imagined driving along lake shores but there are so many trees and the land so flat, we were offered just glimpses of lakes from time to time), became monotonous, and the culture seemed unhealthy and depressing. The ray of light for these days was the night in Mansining, MI that I cooked a whole chicken in a cast-iron skillet over the fire. Sweet mother of all that is delicious. I flattened the chicken down in the skillet, rotating and flipping about every five minutes adding red wine about half way through with some potatoes from my garden. I have never had a chicken so good. 

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Badlands






After driving through the Black Hills of South Dakota, day three landed us in Badlands National Park for a whirlwind, much-too-short visit. A short hike gave way to spectacular 360 degree thunderstorms in the evening. Lightning was hitting with such frquency that my magical boys would count to three and wave their arms in the air and lighting would magically flash in the distance. The force is strong with them. The next morning, after diligently working on their junior ranger programs (actually I should say Isaac here, as Aaron diligently worked on an amazing owl drawing at the same time), we headed to the ranger station to get Isaac's badge (Aaron will receive his in the mail). After Ranger Rick (really that was his name) checked through Isaac's workbook it was time to swear the oath, at which point poor Ranger Rick was attacked by an uncontrollable sneezing fit. As Isaac repeated the oath that Ranger Rick struggled to utter between sneezes, we all wondered if he should repeat the sneezes (I Isaac, Achoo! Promise to Achoo!....). Afterwards Ranger Rick held out his drippy hand for a high five which Isaac reluctantly received. Time to hit the bathroom for a thorough hand washing. After one last run/hike on the Notch Trail, we hit the road with the goal of leaving the grasslands of  South Dakota behind and entering Minnesota.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Driving East



Sylvia doesn't have AC so equipped with only our God-given means of cooling we set off in 90+ degree weather across the hot plains of Eastern Montana. On day one Sylvia ran great in the hot weather and faithfully carried us as far as the Sheridan, WY KOA. Along the way we stopped at the Battle of the Little Big Horn battlefield where General Custer's last stand took place against a huge band of united Native American tribes. Day two landed us at Devil's Tower National Monument. Devil's Tower, or Bear Lodge as the Native Americans call it, is an igneous intrusion that cooled slowly forming the hexagonal formation a mile below the earth's surface. The sedimentary rock around it slowly eroded away and left the columned tower behind.  We were all ecstatic to be in desert country again and set out exploring. On our after-dinner hike we followed the trail through prairie dog town to try to get a glimpse of a burrowing owl. Alas, no luck. As we headed up the red beds trail we had an overly-friendly deer with boundary issues follow us. We eyed each other curiously in peaceful co-existence for a while until Jason put Pika down and the deer freaked and became very aggressive as they went head to head. We took our leave at this point and headed to higher ground to watch the sunset. Back at the campground we listened to ranger stories which were cut short by a spectacular lighting show that we watched perched atop our picnic table until we climbed into bed.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Let the insanity begin....



I have been taunting Jason for years whenever an opportunity to travel to Boston appears that we should drive there. In the camper van. He has always thought it was a crazy idea. Until this year. This year he decided it was a great idea and now I am saying, "what, really?" After returning from our Seattle trip we have been working towards this goal nonstop. Mostly that means bringing Sylvia to the mechanic 3-4 times per week to fix whatever wasn't working right. They had her for 7 out of the last 8 weeks. I have to admit, this plan was more than a little nerve-wracking. Everything seemed to be running smoothly for our scheduled departure date of 8/30, the day after the Robin Hood camp, so we reluctantly hugged all of our friends who we will miss so much good-bye and set off into the unknown. We have two set dates in mind, 9/12 we need to be in Boston for a week, and 9/18 we are getting onto a sailboat near Acadia National Park, but beyond that our plan is to hang out in the northeast, watching the leaves turn and following them south.

Robin Hood



A friend of mine, who dreams big and is brave enough to pull it off, put together this amazing Robin Hood camp for a group of fellow homeschoolers. It was a two day camp where the kids learned skills that would come in handy if they were ever a medieval rebel. The first day was dedicated to learning how to shoot a longbow taught by two experienced archers and bow makers. I am not sure the instructors had ever taught a group of kids like this before. When the instructor asked how many kids hunted, nobody raised their hands. When he asked if anyone was offended by hunting, about half of the class raised their hands. As he was giving the class little tidbits of history the kids would raise their hands and elaborate with many details about what he had just told them (...so in the Battle of Crécy the French neglected to bring their protective netting and so they fell quickly to the English longbows... also crossbows were much slower to load...). It was awesome to see this group of kids and instructor share their knowledge with, and learn from each other. The kids had an amazing day shooting arrows at various medieval targets. They are now quite addicted to longbow action. The next day was dedicated to stage combat taught by two instructors from Shakespeare in the Parks. The kids spent the morning learning how to wield blunted, metal, broad swords (Isaac's favorite), rapiers, and daggers. In the afternoon they learned stage hand-to-hand combat skills. It was really funny watching the instructors walk around as pairs of kids appeared to strangle, punch, and kick each other, exclaiming "good!" and offering feedback in various ways to make it more realistic and dramatic. The boys had an awesome experience and we are very happy we postponed our departure to Boston. Thank you Aimee for all of your hard work and effort.



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Monday, September 5, 2011

Hiking and hiking and hiking.....





So we hike-biked blackmore today and I would like to share some things I learned. One. it is hard to mountain bike with a heavy milk crate on the back of your bike. Two. It is even harder to bike when the bungy cord hanging off the back of your milk crate gets wrapped up in your back wheel. Three. Leathermans are good. Four. It is hard to mountain bike with a heavy backpack on. Five. It is hard to mountain bike with five-finger shoes on tiny egg-beater pedals. Six. My kids are crazy fit and active and I shudder to think of what they will be doing when they are teenagers and pray to the recreation gods that I can keep up. And that they will carry the heavy packs.

Since we got home from our sailing trip my flip-flop-wearing-peak-bagging fiend, Aaron has been dragging us up every mountain that he can talk us in to. First we attempted to hike Mount Baldy in the Bridgers, a ten mile, five hour trek for fit adults, up crazy steep terrain. The trail basically heads straight up for about 2 1/2 miles where you hit the ridge line and are treated to spectacular views. From there you follow the ridge line all the way to the top of Baldy. Unfortunately, at about four miles in we had to turn back because thunderstorms loomed in the distance. But we made it to the top of what we officially named Mount Eaglet and the Fins.

Next on the list, Sacajawea Peak, the tallest mountain in the Bridgers at just under 10,000 feet. After bumping our way six miles up the super steep road to the parking lot we easily conquered the two miles to the windy top. Again, we had thunderstorms building, literally, from every direction and we had to high-tail it down. On the way down Aaron looks up and says "what's that mommy?" pointing to the clouds. Much to my dismay, there was a long finger reaching down from the storm front. It was definitely time to pick up the pace as we watched it reaching further and further down in a funnel cloud. There were reports the next day of a tornado in the Shields Valley that never touched down.

On a rest day, Aaron talked me into hiking the Triple Tree trail up to the highest point with him while Isaac rested at home with dad after having a cavity filled. We enjoyed a mom and Aaron afternoon discovering new things about this old favorite trail.

Mount Balckmore, a twelve-mile trudge, was his next objective. We decided it might make it easier if we biked the first part of it to make it seem a little shorter. After enjoying a lunch at the lake we set out hiking, taking breaks to play near the stream from time to time, and slowly making our way up. Everyone was getting tired, Aaron had a stomach cramp that he refused to let slow him down, when we finally reached steep wildflower-filled meadows and our energy soared as our hopes lifted at seeing what we thought was the saddle. After switchbacking through these gorgeous meadows it opened up into alpine tundra where we could at last see the real saddle and Mount Blackmore looming above. We pushed until we hit the saddle where Aaron burst into so many "oh my goodnesses" as he took in the stunning view. It was truly, breath-takingly spectacular up there. We stared down into two alpine basins, utterly gorgeous. Isaac kept exclaiming, "man, oh man, I wish daddy were here to see this, because I never want to hike up here again." At this point we had some clouds building and it was late in the day so we decided that we would go to highest point on the saddle instead of Blackmore which was so tantalizingly close. We must have been within a half mile of the summit, but we decided safety was more important than summiting and that the view probably wouldn't be much better than where we were. After soaking up the views for as long as we dared in the ripping wind, we headed down. When we neared the bottom Isaac declared that "he loved this hike because it was so long." I guess it takes him eleven miles to get warmed up.

So Triple Tree was Tuesday, Blackmore was Thursday, Friday was homeschool soccer, moms versus kids, and Saturday was Aaron's early tenth birthday party in which he invited all of is friends to hike Sacajawea Peak with us. Luckily, we are incredibly blessed and have amazing friends who also love to hike, so we set out with seven boys and six parents up Sacajawea for a birthday celebration complete with a cupcake stop and happy birthday sing-a-long along the way. Sunday was Isaac's early twelfth birthday party in which he invited all of his friends to mountain bike South Cottonwood Trail with us. The same group of boys and parents joined us for a hair-raising, lightning-filled bike adventure to celebrate Isaac's birthday. Monday we all collapsed in a heap of jelly as I began to get us ready for our next adventure, Boston via driving Sylvia across the northern United States. These guys are maniacs.


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Andrew + Michelle = Happy Marriage!



I am happy to announce that my brother, Andrew, got married to Michelle on July 30, 2011 and I was honored enough to be the photographer at the wedding. After a month of working on photos (and not the blog) when Jason wasn't on the computer, I am ecstatic to have finally hand over a beautiful set of photos for their beautiful wedding.

Congratulations to you both. I wish you a lifetime of happiness together.

Mount Baker



We spent the weekend in Bellingham after getting off the boat, visiting old friends and Mount Baker. Our goal was to hike up as far as possible so that Aaron could get a big view fix, but the road was closed lower tha usual due to a high snow year. We hiked along the road hemmed in by towering snowbanks to where they stopped plowing. After pondering our sandal and flipflop footwear we set up through the snow field to get a better view. Needless to say, our feet froze before we made it very far and glissading down was downright painful. Luckily we got some beautiful glimpses before our toes fell off. We all still have ten toes.

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Watmough's day of DOOM!



With another day of high winds in the forcast, from Spencer Spit we sailed through an uber-narrow pass towards Rosario Strait. When we got to the strait it was eerily empty. We were literally the only ones on the water except a cargo ship and a coast guard cutter. With high winds and choppy waves, we were only with our main sail and just a tiny scrap of the genny to balance her out. We smashed through wave after wave exhilarated, listening to calls for assistance from elsewhere in the islands over the radio, towards Watmough Bay where we thought we would be sheltered. Watmough is tricky to anchor in with it's rocky shores and cliffs, and a shallow sand bar lying below. We went in as far as we felt comfortable, although I remember being much closer to shore when we were on the Martha, to about a 16 foot depth and anchored. Unfortunately, it was not as calm here as we had hoped since the westerly wind was ripping over the ridge and pounding us. We hung out for about an hour on our rocky boat to make sure that the anchor was holding before we rowed (and rowed and rowed) to shore for quick hike up to the swing of doom where the boys had a screaming good time. Jason, however, was very antsy and kept trying to get a glimpse of the boat from the ridge top. Looking into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which had gale force winds, from  this vantage point, we could see that the waves were six feet and breaking into large rolling white caps. When we got back to the beach the boat looked extremely far away. We knew that we had anchored far out but she looked distinctly smaller than when we had left her, so we hurriedly hopped into the dinghy to row and row and row back. The boat was definitely not where we had left her. With all of the wind and waves she was heading out to sea. Luckily she was moving slow and we caught her. The bottom rises very quickly from 80 feet up to 16 feet when you enter Watmough. We must have dropped anchor right on that steep slope and it slowly slipped out of place. At this point we had no choice but to anchor here because the wind and water were rough and it was getting late, so we motored in as far as we dared and dropped anchor again. We carefully noted our position and made sure it didn't change as the evening howled on. The winds were forecast to last until 2am. As we laid in bed, I listened to the boat groan and creak with rigging shaking as she rocked back and forth, up and down, swinging and shuddering too and fro on her anchor. Jason somehow kept dozing off in between my "what was that noise?" questions. I kept crawling out of bed and shining the flashlight on the cliff to make sure our position held. Then I would crawl outside and shine the flashlight down onto the anchor line to see if it looked like it was slipping. It seemed an eternity waiting, but the forecast was accurate and I was able to get some sleep when it finally calmed down. I guess I may never be destined to get a good night's rest in Watmough.

WIND!




Still blissfully in the mode of the previous day's light breezes, I brewed tea and brought them up to the cockpit so that we could drink them under sail and bask in diesel free silence. With both of us a little oblivious to the amount of wind that surrounded us, I then raised the mainsail. The mainsail is fairly small and was not alarming. I then unfurled the huge genoa or genny and the boat heeled hard, burying the rail in the water, throwing all of the stowed dishes below flying, and spilling Jason's tea as it flew across the cockpit (luckily Isaac was holding my tea and it remained unscathed). I panicked, as we had never experienced this much wind before. After a few rounds of, "make it stop," we spilled the air out of the genny and I set to work reefing her as she flapped violently in the wind. As it turns out the wind was ripping along at 20 knots, with gusts up to 25. It only took one time for us to learn to pay very careful attention to the wind conditions before letting that much sail area loose. As we cautiously learned how to handle this much wind, we spent the morning pounding through waves towards our destination. We almost came through the day unscathed when, suddenly, Jason's hat blew overboard giving us an opportunity to practice our man (hat) over board drill. Alas, we were too slow as his hat sunk quickly to davy jones' locker. Hat, we will miss you, you served us well. With a small craft advisory forecasted for the afternoon, we found safety in a slip in Deer Harbor.

The next day we experienced similar wind conditions so we were very careful with how much sail area we put out. We decided to try to get a mooring ball at the relatively calm Spencer Spit for the night. This was our first attempt at snagging a mooring ball in the San Juans and as it turns out, it was bafflingly different than the ones we were used to in the Virgin Islands. As Jason brought the port bow up to the mooring ball we acquired a seal pup friend who appeared very lonely. I leaned over the boat and snagged the mooring ball with the boat hook while the baby seal swam all around it. I could not get the cable to come out and the boat hook got stuck as the boat continued to drift forward in the heavy wind. At this point I was completely panicked because I couldn't get the boat hook out and the baby seal was directly below it. I yelled for Jason to back up as the boat hook began to extend and bend around the front of the boat. My grip was beginning to loosen, I was terrified the hook was going to snap or I was going to drop it and hit the baby seal. I came very, very close to clubbing a baby seal. It was awful. Isn't that the worst thing you can do in the green cosmic universe? My karma would be ruined. All of my efforts to live a green life flashed before my eye as I watched the baby seal, who was so excited to see me, swim round and round the mooring ball, begging me to pet him. Luckily, my grip held, the boat hook did not snap, and as Jason backed us, I managed to free the hook. Whew!

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Whales



After three windless days of mostly motoring through the islands, day four finally brought wind, much to our relief. Hearing over the radio that the orca whales were near our destination, we happily tacked our way in that direction. While enjoying an afternoon cup of tea under sail, we spotted the hoard of whaling boats off in the distance so we sailed to a spot where we thought the whales may pass through, heaved to, and came to a stop, where we basked in the sunshine and waited to see what would happen. As we drifted through the water we saw whales in the distance, heading our direction. We were treated to a most spectacular show, as the whales passed within twenty feet of our boat, leaving us all in awe of being so close to such an amazing animal.

After a very satisfying afternoon of sailing and sunshine we pulled into a tiny slip at the impossibly adorable, somewhat corny, white steeple town of Roche Harbor where we bought fresh dungeness crab and shrimp on the dock. Back at our boat we feasted on our crustacean bounty up on deck without utensils, tearing the shells off, dropping them overboard to feed whatever lurked below, tearing off chunks of bread, dipping it in greek olive oil, and washing it down with local white wine. We must have looked like heathens to all of our neighbors. It is one of my most cherished dinner memories. Sigh.

Dinner was followed by a walk through town up to a mausoleum constructed by a Knight Templar. We wandered at dusk through deep dark woods in an old graveyard to a ring of pillars that towered over a stone round table ringed with stone chairs, each chair at the table a tombstone for a member of the family that rested below. One pillar remained unfinished to represent how man's work is never finished. We arrived back in time for the silliest sunset I think we have ever witnessed, complete with cannon fire and a loud-speaker announcement which paved the way for a musical number that accompanied nature's beauty as the boys hurled rock after rock into the water.