Thursday, October 4, 2012
We talked to several people who warned us that if you are in Tribune Bay when a southeasterly starts to blow, it's time to pull up anchor and head out because it is hugely exposed to the Strait of Georgia. We wanted to revisit Tribune because we were rushed last time and wanted more time playing on the beach. I'm sure you can see where this is going.....so with nothing but sunny skies and calm winds in the forcast we headed out from Comox to the sandy beach of Tribune Bay. We spent two nights there, where we played on the beach and the rocks, jump-roped with long strands of kelp, and went for a long hike out over the bluffs. We noticed in the middle of the second night that the anchorage had gotten rollier. At 5:30 we heard a halyard banging like crazy on the mast so I climbed out of bed to tighten in hope that the boys would continue to sleep. I noticed at this point that the wind was distinctly southeasterly. We laid in bed just a little while longer as the waves built. At 6am, we were out of bed and I was at the front of the boat pulling up anchor. The forcast had changed and now we were looking at gale force southeast winds for the morning, strengthening and backing to northwest in the afternoon. Doh! The tricky thing about Tribune is that it's a haul to get anywhere protected. Our destination for the day was Nanaimo, forty miles away, down the Strait of Georgia. The the first hour or so was not so bad. We were sailing along with 8-10 knot winds at about 6-7 knots with 1-2 foot waves, comfortable enough that Aaron was still in bed. Then things got crazy. Wave size and wind increased, thus the angle we were heeled increased. Spray from the waves doused us as we have never been doused before. Aaron became very unhappy, as yells emmanated from below that things were flying everywhere, something that normally doesn't happen on our boat. At one point we were so heeled over that the kayak that is attached high up on the lifelines began to float. I was supremely unhappy at this point and we decided to reef. Carefully, I headed forward on the heaving deck and put two reefs in the mainsail. This helped for a while but wave size and wind kept increasing. This is where I crossed the line from squawking to flipping out, so we reefed the jib. Things were still really crazy as we pounded, on our side, through 5-6, closely spaced foot waves....Aaron and I were so very sad. At this point we decided to drop the mainsail and run under jib alone, so again I headed out to the slippery, heaving deck to drop the main. With the wind so high, it was a fight to get it down as we pitched up and down. I then wrestled, as my feet slipped around, with spray from the waves dousing me again and again, to try to tie up the violently flapping sail so we could see properly....did I mention that I was unhappy...and flipping out? For sailors with a lot of experience, I'm sure that this was probably not a huge deal, but for a girl who grew up in Montana who is not used to water sports, it is cause for freak-out. Rationally, I know that the boat can handle just about anything. Me? Not so much. Sailing under jib alone was much more comfortable, but we were only making 4 knots and if we wanted to be out the Strait of Georgia before the winds shifted and got even stronger we needed to make much better time than that, so much to Jason's dismay, we furled the jib and turned on the engine to motor since we could make 7 knots that way. The waves remained around 5-6 feet, but hitting them upright made it less scary than plowing into them on our sides. As we neared Nanaimo, the water was more protected so were actually able to raise sails again for the last bit. With much relief, we safely made it to Nanaimo around 1:30 where we tied up to a dock and headed to a French bakery to drown our jitters away with coffee and pastries followed by bookstore browsing, before heading to an English pub for a couple of pints to chase down our comfort food.
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012
We had a short overnight stay at Grace Harbor, dashing out to find cell phone reception so Jason could make it to his many meetings scheduled for the day. Luckily, on the previous day, we had taken the hike up to a lake where we met a super-crusty, old sailor who spends summers on his boat in desolation sound and winters on his motorcycle in Mexico, Guatamala, and Belize. Jason took a "freshwater" dip but I wimped out when I witnessed the muddy, murky waters and was reminded of the resident leech population, even though I was desperate for a rinse since I was on day 11 without a shower. Early the next morning, we headed to Comox where I took the helm and Isaac worked as navigator through the patchy, morning fog while Jason participated in work meetings below. We retraced our path past Mitlenatch, pausing to watch and listen to the sea lions before heading on. We were on day 12 since our last water tank refill and so I was anxious to get to Comox so we could shower (and refill our tanks). Our spacing between refills was perfect as we drank the last drops along the way. After a whirlwind of watery, cleaning activities (showers, six loads of laundry, boat wash down), we headed to the Victoria Volunteer Search and Rescue to be reunited with our dinghy, Rosebud, after long last. We were met by Charles, a cheeky fellow, who retold the story of Rosebud's rescue and showed us on the chart where she was found. After being introduced to the whole crew, we were then treated to a tour of their rescue vessels, with lots of laughing and joking along the way. We had plans to row her back to our marina (which would have been quite a long row) so they told us not to worry about it, they would put her onto one of their vessels and drop her off. We liked Comox so much, we decided to stick around another day so we could explore a little. During the course of two days we managed to get most of our back-to-civilization errands done, eat at a family-run sushi place three times, visited several different book stores, gathered pears from a pear tree, bought salmon (frozen with a saltwater glaze) from a fisherman off the dock, as well as shrimp from the Big Shrimp Rancher who pulls his fishing boat into the docks every night at 6pm to a line of anxious customers ready to slap down $5 for a pound of hour-old shrimp. Yum.
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Friday, September 28, 2012
We are back on Cortes Island, this time at Squirrel Cove which must be named for the flying squirrels that inhabit the forest. Here we were able to buy a few groceries and eat some yummy food from Flying Squirrel Take-out. Close to the anchorage, we took a great hike, dotted with gargantuan, old growth trees along the way, to Von Donop Inlet with hopes of catching a glimpse of a flying squirrel. No such luck. If you are brave enough you can come up the Von Donop Inlet in your boat, but at one point the passage is so narrow the tree branches on the shore scrape the boat as you pass through with a rock immediately to starboard. We are not that sort of brave so a hike was right up our alley. We were all in serious need of some uninhibited, bipedal, trail excercise at this point.
Back on Cortes Island, we just couldn't help but to call up Steve and Carol, who we had met at the Wildernest, to take them up on their offer to tie up to their dock. They own a peninsula on Windy Bay where they run the Tai Li Lodge, an upscale, rustic resort with secluded cabins, platform tents, and open-air solar showers, all with gorgeous views overlooking the Maine-esque, granite slabs that march down to the ocean. After we had our run of it for two days we headed on to Grace Harbor. It is such a beautiful piece of property, thanks for sharing it with us.
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Thursday, September 27, 2012
After Isaac's birthday we entered Desolation Sound national park and anchored in Prideaux Haven. In June 1792, Captain Vancouver said about Desolation Sound, "This area afforded not a single prospect that was pleasing to the eye, the smallest recreation on shore, no animal nor vegetable food, excepting a very scanty proportion of those eatables already described, and of which the adjacent country was soon exhausted, after our arrival....whence the place obtained the name Desolation Sound; where our time would have passed infinitely more heavily, had it not been relieved by the agreeable society of our Spanish friends." The scenery here is absolutely stunning but I can understand Vancouver's point that the land here is difficult. I had imagined loads of hiking everywhere, but if there isn't a trail, you aren't going anywhere because the shrubbery is so thick and the slopes are extremely steep. It's forbidding country. Prideaux Haven is said to be the home of the Flea Village, which Captain Vancouver's men stumbled upon. They found an abandoned native village up on top of a cliff accessible only by a set of stairs wide enough for one person with a huge maple tree for guards to watch over the entrance to the densely packed houses. There was a terrible stench within the village and they were soon attacked by viscious fleas forcing them to rapidly retreat to the water where they stripped naked and dove into the water, submerging their clothes thoroughly but the fleas still "leaped about frisky as ever." They drug their clothes behind the boat without any luck of evicting the vigorous pests. Only after boiling their clothes were they victorious. We hoped to look around for signs of the village but the vegetation was so dense, we quickly gave up. We did manage to get a few views over the cove, however, and we are excited to come back here when we have two kayaks so we can more easily explore the numerous islands and inlets in this anchorage.
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Isaac decided to spend his thirteenth birthday at Pendrel Sound where the water is fabled to be 80 degrees in August and September. It is standard practice in the Desolation Sound area that when anchored in a small, deep, rocky cove, you also secure your stern to the shore with a rope to prevent swinging, so Isaac and I paddled out in Blackberry and secured our very first stern tie. Back at the boat our thermometer read 68 degrees, much warmer than the other places we had visited, so we all swimsuited up and hopped in for a dip. It was so nice and refreshing. Afterward we sprawled out on our foredeck drying in the warm sun and playing a card game. Isaac awoke the following morning eager to find out if his birthday wish had come true. It was his lucky day, he received, Eclipse, the board game that he has been talking, thinking, and strategizing about for months now. We played it twice through the day and I still managed to slip out and go for another swim. After birthday candles and birthday treats, we went up on deck to check out the bioluminescence in the water which is crazy-bright in this big glacially carved sound. Fish and their paths glow as they swim through the water. Ripples grow in glowing circles outward into the dark. The boys and I paddled the kayak watching our bow wave glow and paddle marks swirl, leaving a glowing path behind us. For the grand finale I climbed into the water and treaded water with wide, sweeping movements. I am told that it was quite the sight and they had never seen anything so glow-y. When I climbed out of the water my skin sparkled and the boys said I looked like a mermaid. My swimsuit continued to sparkle even after I had taken it off and hung it up. Happy thirteenth birthday Isaac!
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012
The mountains just keep getting bigger and bigger, steeper and steeper. Aaron desperately wanted to sail up Bute Inlet to see the biggest mountains that he had pinpointed on the map, but the channel is long, narrow, and dangerous, prone to wild, swirling winds that funnel down the steep slopes of the mountains. So we compromised on going to the mouth of the channel and inching in just a few miles before turning around and spending the night at Frances Bay. This country is very steep, very remote, feels very inaccessible, people are few and far between, and bears and wolves roam the steep slopes of the wilderness. After sailing in light winds the next day, we decided to tie up to a dock at the Wildernest just outside of Toba Inlet. It was here that we got the most spectacular views of mountains so far. We hiked up to a waterfall that serves as the water and power source for the owners of the Wildernest as well as its guests, and then on to a beautiful overlook. There were a few other guests docked here as well and we answered many questions about our boat. One man took so much interest that he gave us his phone number and invited us to tie up to his dock on Cortes Island if we pass through again. Maybe it's because its the off season and the crowds are gone, but people here are surprisingly warm and welcoming.
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Sunday, September 23, 2012
Isaac read through the sailing guide for Desolation Sound and decided that he really wanted to go to Manson's Landing because it had an organic food co-op and a bookstore, so after Jason snorkeled in the freezing cold water (with much gasping from him and giggles from us) to check the hull for log damage, we headed out. Once there, we got our first set of lessons in deep water anchoring. Lesson number one: it is harder to anchor in deep water. Lesson number two: you need a lot of chain to get the anchor to catch. Lesson number three: the chain is really heavy when hanging straight down. Lesson number four: I get really tired when I have to raise 200 feet of chain four times. After an hour of anchoring and re-anchoring, we finally met with success and headed into shore to look for the bookstore, passing signs for a local Harvestfest along the way, only to find the store closed on account of Harvestfest. Luckily, the food co-op was still open so we went in and bought treats to help us make it back to the boat since it was already past dinner time. As we we paid, the cashier asked if we were going to Harvestfest. We weren't sure, so she tried to convince us that we could just hitchhike to get there. Apparently, like in some horror movies, this is the preferred means of transportation for many people in Cortes Island, population 1,000. As we walked back to the boat, we were all thinking that an old fashioned country gathering with food harvested from a local, cooperative organic farm complete with live music sounded just too good to pass up. Too bad it was too far to walk. Just then, someone stopped and asked if we needed a ride. We asked if he was going to Harvestfest. Funny thing, he lives right next door to the farm, hop on in. Cue creepy music? We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and hopped in (don't do this in the U.S. boys). This was our very first time hitchhiking. Our driver's name was Danny. He was incredibly nice as he answered our questions with his cool BC accent (accents this far north sound a wee bit Scottish). When we asked if we should worry about finding a ride back, he said that we wouldn't have a problem at all and if we did, we should just knock on his door and he would drive us back. Wow. At Harvestfest we settled down to a big picnic table with plates of warm piroghies and veggie chili surrounded by locals curious about the strangers who had just showed up. Everyone was very nice and we ended up making friends with a woman named Melanie who is an artist and a sailor from Barbados. After we had our fill of apple pie and pumpkin tarts we headed down the road in the dusk hoping we would find a ride. It didn't take long for a truck to stop. We piled in the truck bed and he dumped us a mile or so down the road. Our next ride was the captain of the ferry who insisted on bringing us down to our harbor even though it was out of his way. Along the way he chuckled about his day at work, his first mate, the party they were going to and how he had the best job in the world. He was a very jovial fellow. The community here was so warm and welcoming, it was fun and extremely interesting to get a view into it.
The following day we kayaked into shore and found the lagoon at the bay empty at low tide. I have never seen so many oysters or sand dollars in my life. Huge pools of water were black from layers of sand dollars inhabiting them. The boys spent hours exploring the tidal area, Aaron on foot and Isaac using a combination of foot and kayak, where he got to run the tidal rapids with Jason. We spent the afternoon moving the boat through a narrow channel with petroglyphs on the cliff walls, to Gorge Harbor where we passed through huge clouds of moon jellies. Coincidentally, we bumped into Melanie on the docks since she keeps her boat in Gorge Harbor. We made plans for her bring her family over to meet us later that evening. When they arrived the boys taught their daughter Amber how to play Hearts and she taught them how to play Spoons while we sat and talked with Melanie and Adam. They have had such amazing experiences. It was really fun to hear about them and get to know them better. Some of Adam's stories were terrifying sea adventures that made everything we've done sound tame in comparison. True adventurers those two are. As they departed, they invited us over to coffee at their partly finished houseboat, partly finished second houseboat, and sailboat that are all rafted together in the harbor. The following morning they showed us around their amazing project while the kids built origami boats in preparation for a boat race. Thank you for such wonderful hospitality and memorable experiences. We look forward to seeing you again next year.
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Saturday, September 22, 2012
Mitlenatch Island is called the Galapagos of BC. When we arrived there, we were greeted by hundreds of sea lions and seals sunning themselves on the rocks. We were mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the wildlife as we entered the tiny harbor. We anchored in a tiny rocky area in the middle of three islands. This was our first experience anchoring in a rock bottom and I was horrified as I felt the anchor drag and bounce and grind against the rock, taking several tries before the anchor caught. The boys asked if we were going to stay overnight as planned and I confidently replied "no" because I was positive that there was no way that the anchor was going to hold. I thought we would hang out for a couple of hours on the boat enjoying the "planet earth" scene we were sitting in the middle of. After a while, it seemed that the boat was staying in one place so we decided to row Rosebud into land where we hiked a few trails. Eventually Jason talked me into staying the night at Mitlenatch, hoping that the forecasted calm would stick (we knew that if it got windy this was NOT a safe place to be and we would have to pull up anchor in the middle of the night and find somewhere else to be). Nevertheless, the sea lions wooed me with their guttural star-wars-bar-scene noises and I was smitten with their big, blubbery ways so I gave in. We spent the evening with our new sea mammal friends seranading us and we settled into bed with calm, clear skies. You know how they say to do one thing that scares you every day....we decided to do something that scared us all through the dark, windy night. About 11:00 the wind picked up. We managed to get an hour of sleep before I was up at midnight checking to see if we were still where we were supposed to be and making declarations that we needed to start anchor watch. Jason can be a little difficult to convince of this in the middle of the night as he, like me, would rather be sleeping. After lying there, not sleeping, listening to the chain drag around on the sea floor for two hours, we became much more active in our checkings and Jason finally agreed that, yes, it was time for anchor watch, so he took the first shift while I laid in bed with Isaac, who is closer to the anchor, not sleeping. At 3:30, Jason frantically called inside for me declaring that Rosebud was getting away. I emerged just in time to watch Rosebud riding glowing waves of bioluminescence, through light fog, slipping away into the darkness. Jason thought we should pull up anchor and go after her, but even though I love Rosebud and didn't want to lose her, I liked the idea of heading out into the wind and chop of the Strait of Georgia in the middle of the night even less. We waffled back and forth for about five minutes. With the engine fired up and me about to pull up the anchor, Jason came forward and agreed that we had to let her go. At this point, I took up my watch, listening to the sea lions in the darkness, watching the stars and glowing waves as we swung to and fro on our slowly-slipping anchor, until just a sliver of the crescent moon came over the horizon followed a short while later by a lightening horizon. In the low light of the morning I was alarmed by how close we had moved to the rocks and how our depth was dropping with the tide. It took all my willpower to not wake up Jason. I waited, watching the arc of our swings and the depth meter, determining that once it dropped past a certain point, I would wake Jason up. I managed to let him sleep until almost 7:00 when my nerves couldn't handle it any more. As soon as he was out of bed we fired up the engine, pulled up anchor, and carefully maneuvered ourselves out into the channel. Once safely out in the strait, we unfurled the jib, cut the engine and quietly sailed, dinghy-less through the early morning light with warm cups of tea in our hands. All in all, it was a very memorable experience, but I hope not to repeat it too often.
We have a new, very experienced, sailing friend in Seattle who warned us that whenever you plan a trip to Desolation Sound you always plan a stop in Campbell River otherwise something will go wrong and you will need to stop there anyway. Not wanting to add unnecessary superstitions to our sailing lives we had not planned on stopping in Campbell River. After losing Rosebud, we had no choice but.....to go to Campbell River and to add a new superstition to our list. Once there, we went dinghy shopping and were very sad about the only, very white, very plastic choice. We couldn't bring ourselves to buy it and left the store in hopes of finding another solution. Over the course of the afternoon and many phone calls later, it hit us that now would be the perfect time to buy a kayak that can hold three people, something that we had already been contemplating. Jason located one at a nearby outdoor store and set out on foot. Later the owner of the shop was nice enough to deposit Jason and our new kayak at the marina. After we had all taken a test paddle in the kayak that Isaac fittingly named Blackberry, we hoisted her onto Marinero's kayak rack. Jason, at this point, called the Coast Guard to let them know that we had lost a dinghy so that they didn't launch a missing person search, to which they replied "Rosebud?" As it turns out they had a visual on her at that moment, twenty miles south of where she broke free and the Comox Volunteer Rescue Station was enroute to pick her up. She is now waiting for us to pick her up in Comox when we head south again. Yay Rosebud! We ended this much-too exciting day safely tied up to a dock at April Point, but not before we hit a big log entering the narrow channel to get there.
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Friday, September 21, 2012
We managed to slip across the border into BC at Poet's Cove without any of the mistaken-identity hassles of the past thanks to the last border patrol officer putting a note into our file. After ten hours of travel, we spent the night in Nanaimo. The next day was spent finding a way to connect Jason to work while in Canada, giving us a very late start. This forced a change in plans for our destination for the evening and altered the course of our trip. We landed in French Creek that night so we decided to take a more direct route the next day, opting to skip Pender Harbor and head to Tribune Bay where we could enjoy some land time instead. The reviews for Tribune Bay were average so we weren't expecting much, but it turned out so much better than we could have imagined. When we anchored, there was a sailboat with an old WWII seaplane, a Widgeon, tied behind it as if it were a dinghy. Later it took off right over our boat and then circled around to buzz low over the bay again, we all worried it was going to hit our mast. After rowing to shore we looked back at Marinero from the big, sandy beach and were surprised at how similar the water looked to the Carribean except there were big craggy mountains in the background. As we played on the beach we stumbled upon a huge, dragon rock which the boys heroically dueled with. Isaac decided that dueling with a dragon wasn't enough excitement for the day so he gave log-surfing a try. Here, sadly, is where his dryness ended as log-surfing is tricky and he went in....with a big splash....and the sound of laughter from his family ringing in his ears.
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Aaron celebrated his 11th birthday on this trip and, as you can imagine, it involved big mountains and a week full of festivities. A couple of days before his birthday we sailed to Port Townsend where we rented a car, drove up to Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountains and hiked to the top of the ridge of Mount Angeles for the big views that Aaron is always after. A few days later we met some good friends on the beach at Spencer Spit where they all played and played and played, building vast sand kingdoms and then leveling them to rubble with a relentless barrage of rocks. He chose to spend his birthday day in Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island so that he could hike and chuck rock after rock at the car of doom.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012
We spent two whole months at home enjoying the summer in Montana hiking, biking, playing with friends, gardening, and hitting the weekly farmer's market. At the end of August, with Montana skies dark with smoke, we left with stinging eyes and burning throats to Marinero and the clean, oxygen-rich air of Seattle. We spent the first week varnishing the toe-rail, getting to know Ballard better, taking friends out on the water, attending an outdoor movie night at the marina where we watched the daring adventure of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third as we tried not to be distracted by UFO's passing over head, and prepping for our big adventure north.
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Wednesday, August 29, 2012
I've saved the best for last. Jason's dad, Sam, came out to join us. Bringing the sunshine and a huge smile, he arrived in style, flying in on a seaplane (being a pilot himself he was graciously invited into the co-pilot's seat) into Rosario, docking just hundreds of feet from Marinero. The boys thought it was incredibly cool watching his plane coming in for a landing on the water and watching him step out onto the dock. After getting him settled into his spot on the boat, we hopped into a rental car and sped up to the top of Mount Constitution to share the views with him before setting out for Spencer Spit. Sporting shorts for the first time in three weeks, we enjoyed a nice leisurely sail under sunny skies with Isaac riding behind in Rosebud while Aaron and I sat on the swim step and drug our feet through the water.
The following morning Isaac rowed us into the spit where we caught tiny crabs, dug for clams, skipped rocks, and got lost on the 80+ miles of trails within the park before heading out to Watmough where, after we anchored, Schooner Martha pulled up, with her all-teenage crew, and anchored alongside of us. The boys were very insistent that Grandpa should see the swing of doom, so up the steep trail we hiked to where Grandpa could see them fly over the tops of the trees. When we reached the top of the bluff we were treated a spectacular show as orcas spouted and breeched in the distance.
With calm winds in the forecast, we headed out from Watmough to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As it turns out the forecast was wrong. Really wrong. Instead of the 10 knot winds we were expecting, we were sailing in a steady 30-35 knots with gusts to 40. With much squawking emanating from me about dropping the jib, we pounded along at 7-9 knots under a double-reefed mainsail and a reefed jib. Grandpa's big smile widened even more as the spray reached over the bow and drained from the cockpit. Arriving in Port Townsend a little jittery, we headed to the marina for the evening. The fairways in this marina are very tight and the numbers marking the slips are very small. With the wind still howling, we inevitably glided past our slip as we squinted to try to tell which one was ours. We had many nightmarish moments as the wind pushed us through the narrow pathways sideways, drifting without the rudder responding, as we tried to turn around in the labyrinth of dead-ends we encountered. I thought I was going to have a heart attack and thanked the sailing gods everywhere that I wasn't the one driving the boat. Eventually, Jason safely manuevered us into our slip. As I shakily stepped off the boat, I joked to Grandpa that I needed a stiff drink so we headed to our favorite coffee shop for caffeinated beverages (and the yummiest salad ever) to chase away our jitters, before showing Grandpa around Port Townsend and meeting an old friend of his for dinner.
The following day, we hit the farmers' market where we ate yummy food before heading for Port Ludlow. Along the way we found ourselves in the middle of a huge pack of porpoises and dolphins in a feeding frenzy. We turned off our engine and watched as they surfaced again and again around us. On shore at Port Ludlow, we slopped around in gloppy seaweed at low tide, dodging goeduck sprays that erupted around us.
Back in our slip in Seattle, Grandpa graciously helped us get Marinero bedded down, helping Jason scrub down the outside of the boat as I cleaned the inside. It was such a pleasure to have him on board with us for the week and we were so happy to share the sailboat experience with him. Thanks for joining us! We can't wait for you to come aboard again.
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Monday, August 13, 2012
More sailing highlights....
Roche Harbor - We can't help but to love the cute cheeziness of Roche with its cannon-fire and musical accompaniment to the sunset where we had some very memorable rounds of bocce ball under the old lime kilns that sustained the island back in its day. Mental note to myself...splurge and pay the $2.50 for a warm, three-minute shower at Roche...maybe it won't smell like sewer at the end....
Prevost Harbor - Prevost was long-awaited as it is the home of the car of doom where little boys can chuck rock after rock at this rusty old car. Just up the hill from the car of doom, poor Jason slipped on wet rocks and went down on his hip, taking him out of action for almost the rest of the trip. While anchored here, I was restless and inspired by Isaac's rowing prowess so I set out to practice rowing in hopes that maybe I could some day row like him....I wasn't anywhere close. It took me about eight tries before I could land the dinghy at Marinero's stern.
Poet's Cove, British Columbia - Here we learned that Canada still does not want Jason Taylor entering their country. It's a bummer that the opening-for-Metallica, also-born-in-Georgia, birthday-sharing, trouble-maker, Jason Taylor has tarnished the name.....I guess a search of our boat will always be mandatory whenever we cross into Canadian waters. While waiting on the customs dock we met two guys from Montana who were heading to Skagway, AK in a very tiny boat....it was a little reminiscent of the camper van trip.
Rosario - We celebrated Jason's birthday here. Due to hip injury, we abandoned our previous plan to hike up Mount Constitution and opted to rent a car to drive to the top for panoramic views over the islands followed by a quick jaunt to the village of Eastsound.
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Saturday, August 11, 2012
After much delay, I finally have some highlights from the second half of our sailing trip.
Spencer Spit to Rosario - We sailed off of our anchor for the first time followed by a great diesel-free day of sailing. We only needed our engine for docking. Woohoo!
Indian Cove - Beach Physics 101. The boys used smaller logs to make levers to lift a much, much bigger log off the ground.
Parks Bay - We discovered this sweet, secluded little bay right across from bustling Friday Harbor. While anchored here we watched a young seal swirl around the cove as fast as he could, occasionally coming up out of breath and gasping for air.
Jones Island - This was our first visit to this quiet, unpopulated island. We loved the gorgeous views as we followed the trails around the perimeter of the island.
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Monday, June 25, 2012
With winds calm in the Strait of Juan de Fuca we headed out at 9am with the tide towards Watmough Bay. Even though the winds had calmed, there were still three foot waves rolling through the strait making our windless passage under motor a little green-inducing until we were able to raise sails later in the day. Once we were safely anchored, for reals this time, our last anchoring experience at Watmough was a little more action-packed than we wanted, we hopped into Rosebud, with dinghy captain Isaac rowing, and headed for shore where it is tradition to hike up to the swing of doom, all taking turns swinging over what feels like the end of the world. Not being pressed for time this trip, we stayed anchored here two nights and were able to hike up to Watmough head the next day for gorgeous views over the water of Mount Baker and the North Cascades to the east and the Olympic Mountains to the south. The following day was fairly downpour-y as we made our soggy way over to Spencer Spit on Lopez Island. Once there, it was hard to muster any enthusiasm from anyone to go to shore in the rain. Isaac, however, had an excess amount of energy and jumped at the chance to take his first solo rowboat expedition rowing around the bay. We watched with pride as he cruised at speeds we never thought possible for Rosebud to reach through the calm, rain-dappled water. First he rowed to shore where he drug Rosebud up and emptied out the accumulation of rain water that had gathered. As he was heading back to Marinero, he stopped for a long time and watched three seals that were only 25 feet away from him. Around and around he paddled, offering to give us a ride as he rowed by. I hopped in and he paddled us through pouring rain over to a nearby island and wildlife sanctuary. He paddled us back and traded his dripping mother for a little less wet father who was armed with a compass, cell phone, and dry chihuahua with a large bladder, and they headed to shore as the fog moved in. After they left, the fog swallowed them and sight of land. Using their sailorly skills they safely made it back with a shivery, empty chihuahua.
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Sunday, June 24, 2012
Docking at a marina has always made us nervous. The tight quarters and potential for expensive damage are nerve wracking. But so far on this trip, it hasn't been that bad. While in Port Townsend, we opted to stay an extra night since the wind and waves in the Strait of Juan de Fuca were high, and dangerous passages are not high on our list of things we want to do. Instead we went out for a little sail in the Port Townsend harbor where the conditions were not quite so bad. Winds were high when we got back to the marina and docking was a little trickier than usual, but after a few tries we were safely back in our slip. During our stay in Port Townsend Jason spent most of his time working with the rest spent feverishly trying to locate and fix a small leak that was making deposits into our bilge so he was anxious to get out and enjoy some time relaxing in this little, sleepy Victorian town. Just as we were about to head out, I looked out back to see a big trawler hurtling towards the stern of our boat. As I muttered, "oh my gosh, are they going to hit us?", I hopped out to try to fend the boat away from us. I was a little shocked at how fast they were hauling towards us, with expletives streaming from the woman behind the wheel as her husband desperately tried to slow the impact. But....they hit us, and our poor little dinghy Rosebud, and....another boat. I watched as they continued, backwards, at an astonishing speed towards, Martha. Ack! Not Martha! Poor Jason. Hanging out Victorian style would have to wait until after he contacted the insurance company to report the new trawler shaped scrapes we were sporting. Oh well.
Monday, June 18, 2012
We've sailed in the San Juans a couple of times but always from Anacortes which lies due east of the islands, so sailing from Seattle and crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which can be a bit temperamental, seemed like a much bigger adventure for us. Generally, people can sail to Port Towsend in a long day and then it is an easy jump from there to the islands, but we opted to break it up into three days instead of two. Our goal was to leave with the tide at 10am Sunday morning, but upon waking, Jason realized that the oars to our dinghy never actually made it into the boat so he emailed Pete, who hopped onto his bike to dig the oars out of storage for us. After retrieving our oars and topping off the water in our tanks we set out roughly on schedule (shocking, I'm sure, to anyone who knows us and our timeliness issues). We enjoyed a VERY leisurely sail up the sound. With very light winds, we decided to put up the spinnaker, with success, while it was fresh in our minds. Progress was very slow so we opted to anchor at Port Ludlow for the night. The following morning, in a zig-zag-a-ful pattern, I rowed the boys, the chihuahua, and myself to shore in our dinghy, Rosebud, where we played on the beach, dug up clams and watched them rebury themselves while poor Jason worked. Unimpressed with my rowing skills, Isaac decided to take matters into his own hands and rowed Rosebud back to Marinero in a very similar, but determined, pattern. After lunch, with the tide changing in our favor, we pulled up anchor and enjoyed an amazing sail up to Port Townsend. This boat can really move, we averaged 8 knots with a top speed of 8.9 knots. After safely tucking her into a slip in the same marina as the schooner Martha, our first wooden sailboat love, we headed out to say hi to Captain Robert and daughter Mary before walking to dinner. As we talked with Captain Robert, Aaron and Mary picked up where they left off three years ago when we sailed with them. The two peas in a pod quickly devised a game where they were trying to throw popply-dopples to the moon. It was so nice to see them again and we hope our paths cross up in the San Juans. As we walked to dinner it was a very strange feeling to know that we had sailed to Port Townsend, something that we had always daydreamed about doing.
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Sunday, June 17, 2012
After a whirlwind two and a half weeks of dandelion-pulling, garden-planting, and general lawn-catch-up stupor, my weed-weary shoulders and I packed up the car with boat related items, my three boys, and the chihuahua, as we headed back out to Seattle to move into Marinero and make her our home for the next four weeks. After spending the first day extensively cleaning her, we moved her from Seattle's Lake Union to Shilshole Marina on Puget Sound. With the help of Pete and his nine-year-old son Alden, who demonstrated the art of penguin-sliding on the hull of our up-side-down dinghy, we successfully maneuvered Marinero under three drawbridges, through the Locks, out into the sound, and safely into her slip, where we have views out over the water to the Olympic Mountains. The following couple of days our frenzy continued as we got to know Marinero, both inside and out, and prepped her to sail up to the San Juans. Pete was super helpful, walking us through different systems and teaching us how to do things like set up the spinnaker. After a couple of test sails in the sound and four exhausting days we were ready to start our adventure into the San Juans.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Our long search is over. As we slowly worked our way around the country, we looked at more sailboats than I can remember or count. Sometimes it was fun. Sometimes, not-so-much. We started our search last July in Seattle where we met Pete the broker, who has been more helpful than we could have ever imagined. He has answered what seems like an infinite number of questions that Jason has emailed him as we looked at what seems like bazillions of boats, exhibiting super-human patience as he replied to us with incredible detail. Two weeks after getting home from our camper van trip, we headed to Seattle for a work project so we also set up an appointment to meet with Pete to look at a few more boats. Long story short, we finally found what we were looking for, and as soon as all of the paperwork is done, she will be ours. Marinero is a 1980 43' sailboat from New Zealand made from ancient swamp-salvaged Kauri wood and she sails like a dream. We had no idea that a boat could be so responsive and sail so well. With her cozy forward bunks for the boys and huge fore-decks to sprawl out on, she is perfect for us and we can't wait to sail her through the Pacific Northwest. In the meantime we are going to enjoy being home among friends and family. If this isn't our mid-life crisis, I feel a little worried to discover what we'll do when the crisis does hit.
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Monday, May 21, 2012
It's been a crazy year. I feel a little tired, but am happy we have had the opportunity to travel and see so much. After resting and playing at home for two weeks, we headed out to Seattle for a work project. Since we used to call Seattle home, we have our favorites that we love to visit, the zoo, the aquarium, the Pacific Science Center, Pike Street with all of its yumminess like the French bakery, the Crumpet Shop, and all of the fresh fruit. In addition on this trip, we spent an evening with Jason's team that will go down in history starting with dinner at a funky little neighborhood restaurant called Skelly and the Bean where the boys bonded electronically with a co-worker's kids. Afterwards we headed to what is called the Shadow House, an old mansion that three of Jason's hacker co-workers live with a few other hackers to roast coffee beans...at 9:00pm (after all, this is Seattle). Upon entering we each stood under a jaggedy knife to measure our height where we wrote our hacker names on the wall. After watching some coffee bean roasting action and taking stock of the impressive number of different coffee-making apparati (we didn't even get to see the French-press cabinet), a non-hacker resident of the house who is a gemologist enthusiastically showed us her gem and jewelry collection, giving the boys all kinds of gems to bring home and allowing us to check things out under her uber-microscope. It was very cool and at 10:30 we reluctantly pulled ourselves away to head back to the room to get some sleep. Other highlights from the trip were meeting with an old college roommate and his family to eat dinner and play in the park, a trip to the Japanese garden in the arboretum, a hike up Little Si mountain for mothers day, and accidentally walking into the middle of a street fight where I got run over by an enormous black guy.
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Saturday, May 5, 2012
We had doubts that this day would actually come, but we successfully almost-circumnavigated the U.S. in a 1985 VW camper van. Clocking just over 13,000 miles, in a surreal moment, we finally drove Sylvia back into our driveway and tucked her back into her space in the garage. It is with relief and regret (it's funny how we can miss home and feel sad about the trip ending at the same time) that we close out this chapter in our insane camper van life. We will miss being smushed into such tight, stinky quarters together. We discovered along the way that we live in a very big country, especially when traveling at camper van speeds. I love that the kids have seen so much of it now. I love the diversity that we were exposed to. I love that our kids are at home in the woods and water of Maine, the streets of Boston or New York, the warm, tropical mugginess of Florida beaches, the swampiness of Louisiana, the cool dampness of Carlsbad caverns, and the dry deserts of the Southwest. I love that they have seen so many different ways that people live, the quiet neighborhoods of Newton MA, deemed the safest city in the U.S., peering across the border into battle-torn Juarez Mexico, the brownstones of Jersey City, the tents and dilapidated campers of the Appalachians, the high-rise apartments of Washington DC, the uber-mansions in Atlanta, the cute-as-a-button cottages in New England, and houseboats in Boston. I love that we saw so many different forms of wildlife, manatees, raccoons, dolphins, alligators, crocodiles, owls, portuguese-man-of-war, sharks, bioluminescent plankton, sea turtles, iguanas, lizards, and more fish and bird varieties than we can name.
Here is a collection of photos shot from the camper van windows as we drove across the country and back.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Aaron slept peacefully, at a fairly normal temperature, through the night, snoozing all the way until 9am. Happily, he reported that he was feeling better and we headed on our way to Albuquerque where we checked into an old-hospital-turned-boutique-
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012
We spent Easter day driving in the hot camper van with our sick Aaron through New Mexico to White Sands. We thought about skipping it and heading straight to a hotel in Albuquerque since Aaron was sick, but the boys had really been looking forward to playing in the white-as-snow sand dunes we had been telling them about. White Sands has changed a lot since last time we were there. It is now a major sand sledding destination! We pulled into the visitor center and got in line to buy our sled. As we drove through the park, we saw families barbecuing under brightly-colored beach umbrellas in between sledding runs. We parked and the boys eagerly jumped out to partake in the action. With Aaron on my back, we headed up a blinding-white sand dune to make up for lost sledding time we missed back in Montana's almost non-existent winter. At the top, with much anticipation, Isaac diligently waxed the bottom of the sled and excitedly hopped on. We watched as he slowly oozed his way down the sandy slope. Jason tried next and looked like he was sledding through thick molasses. Aaron tried next, with his lighter weight yielding a little more success. Apparently there is a technique that we did not quite grasp. The boys had much more success rolling and hurtling themselves into the air. In an attempt to limit Aaron's activity, we spent only about an hour there before heading to a hotel room in Alamogordo for the night just in case we had another night of crucking. After a hot shower and a bowl of miso soup, Aaron snuggled under the covers and fell asleep around 7:00. At 8:30, he woke up and I could tell just by looking at him that his fever was sky-high so I ran to the camper van to grab some ibuprofen and Tylenol. Aaron has a tendency to run high fevers and I suspect he was hovering around 106. When I got back, Jason was asking Aaron how he was feeling and he would respond with nonsense. He was completely delusional, totally floppy, with eyes unfocused. While we tried to cool him with a wet wash cloth, we tried to get ibuprofen in him, but he chewed it and spit it out instead. We had more luck with the Tylenol. After about ten or ofifteen minutes I carried him to the camper van to head to Urgent Care. With the windows rolled down, the cool air brought him to his senses and he began talking normally again. By the time we pulled up to the closed, dark, crappy Urgent Care building in a sketchy neighborhood with big signs advertising that they no longer gave out narcotics, Aaron fully remembered the day and seemed to be back to himself, Thank God. After stopping at Walgreens to buy a thermometer, we headed to the room where I snuggled into bed with him for the night so I could keep an eye on him. Happily, he snoozed through the night while remaining at a fairly normal temperature. No more scaring us like that, Mr. Aaron Pants.
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Monday, April 16, 2012
Seventeen years ago, Jason and I took off in his 1985 brown Subaru wagon for months of climbing adventures. Our first stop was Hueco Tanks, a world-class bouldering mecca where we spent two months running free in this bouldering wonderland, climbing, eating horribly, and getting stronger while living as cheaply as possible in the back of "Old Brown." We loved living the dirtbag life. Understandably, Hueco Tanks holds a very special place in our hearts and memories, so naturally we wanted to share this place with the boys. Unfortunately things have drastically changed. Hueco Tanks is also a sacred place to the Native Americans whose ancestors left behind a huge collection of petroglyphs. For reasons nobody can understand some locals began spray painting over these priceless artifacts and, as a result two-thirds of the park has been closed and only seventy people at a time can enter the remaining portion. In addition you must obtain and carry a permit with you at all times. The atmosphere was oppressive and many of the rules ridiculous. Jason and Aaron got in trouble for playing on the boulders in our campsite, we all got in trouble for staying in the park after six, and we lived in fear of breaking arbitrary, unknown rules. Needless to say, we were disappointed that things had become so strict and authoritarian. When we did get our hands on a permit, we had a great time showing the boys around, visiting old climbs that we loved. In the old days, Ghetto Simulator was a climb that took months for me to complete. We would start and end our day on it, climbing it as many as ten times a day as I gave it my blood, sweat, and tears trying to complete it. During this trip, we spent an afternoon playing on it and then sunned ourselves and stretched in my favorite spot while the boys played a game in the dirt at the base of the climb.
The next morning we got an early start on Easter when Aaron started throwing up just after midnight. I am very thankful that we had a garbage can in our campsite and that I am very quick with our titanium pot. The easter bunny must have been very sneaky to get his job done between crucking sessions. Once the sun came up, my little Aaron's head appeared from the pop-top and let out a little, tired "Happy Easter" before climbing down to snuggle and see what the easter bunny had brought him. Then he and Isaac searched through the camper van to find the hidden eggs. Isaac discovered later that the easter bunny had also hidden eggs outside so the hunt continued after Aaron emptied himself again. With a sick Aaron, we decided that a driving day was in order so we packed up and headed to our next destination.
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Saturday, April 14, 2012
Aaron is quite the hiking task-master. Spending seven slothful weeks at sea level has not been a recipe for great fitness. At Carlsbad we spent a couple of days hiking through the caverns, a nice introduction to exercise at higher elevations. When we reached the Guadalupe Mountains, we went for a four-mile hike into a cool slot canyon, but Aaron really had his heart set on Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, an eight and a half mile hike with 3,000 feet of elevation gain.The following day we had camping reservations starting at Hueco Tanks near El Paso so I was sure we wouldn't have time to hike before we left. But it turns out that Aaron has a way of being persuasive and I have a really hard time saying no. So in the morning, we made a plan where Aaron and I would hike for two hours and then turn around whether we were at the top of the peak or not, while the more sane members of the family stayed behind to catch up on work and reading. I was positive there was no way that we would make it the top under the time limit and I was already trying to figure out how to console him when the time came. Aaron hopped and bounced and skipped and chattered and ran up the trail in his well-worn flip-flops, while I chugged along on my tired legs trying to keep up. Blazing past amazed hiker after hiker, incredibly we made it to the top of the mountain in 1 hour 45 minutes, where Aaron exclaimed that it was the best view he had ever seen. After tearing him away from his picture taking, we headed down at a slightly more sane speed, with my super-hiker eventually admitting his legs were tired towards the end of the hike. We are going to feel this one in the morning, but it was worth it.
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So I tried to write a post about Carlsbad Caverns trying to tell you about our experience there and it was, well.....terrible, so I will tell you what Ansel Adams said about it instead. The caverns are, "something that should not exist in relation to human beings. Something as remote as the galaxy, as incomprehensible as a nightmare and beautiful in spite of everything." So I will leave it to Ansel's words, oddly enough, (though you should check out his amazing photographs too) and my not-as-sharp-as-I-would-like-them, handheld-at-1/15-of-a-second photos to give you a sense of what we witnessed down there. Here are a few things that we noticed. It was very hard for our brains to make sense of the other-worldly, alien surroundings 865 feet underground. Little boys and adults alike love the alien-blob formations that the caverns hold, as well as naming them. Hiking down into what looks like a whale throat for a mile and a half is really thrilling and fun. The guano from 10,000 bats stinks really bad.
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Monday, April 9, 2012
We were on the interstate going through Alabama when we saw a sign for the battleship USS Alabama. We decided to check out, so we exited the interstate and drove to the battleship. When we got there, we parked and checked out a B52 bomber that was on display. Then, we boarded the Alabama and walked aft. There was a catapult that was used for launching seaplanes. Then, when the seaplane landed in the water, a crane would pick it up and put it on deck. There were some anti-aircraft guns on the back as well. As we went forward, we saw some smaller anti-aircraft guns with words on the shields telling the man operating it to lead. There was a large 16 inch turret that we could go into; we didn't, however, as there was a line. We went into the ship and found the main exhibit. We took the yellow tour, which brought us out on deck again. We got to go into the forward two 16 inch turrets and we saw how the guns themselves were loaded. We got out and walked to the very bow of the ship. I turned around and looked back. It was certainly a formidable sight, all 680 feet of it. The tour took us back into the battleship and brought us up the command tower. We came down and got to go into a 5 inch turret. Historical note: the only damage the ship took during WWII was when when a 5 inch gun accidentally fired on another 5 inch gun. We continued down and the tour ended in the main exhibit. We then took the red tour, where we got to go into barbette no. 2. The USS Alabama is the only ship in the world that allows visitors into the barbette! After finishing the red tour, we went through a hangar like building, which had lots of planes from corsairs to blackbirds, some of them having Macy's mannequins dressed as pilots posing beside them. Then, we got on the WWII submarine USS Drum, which is rare. There are few WWII subs left and even fewer (this one included!) have there original layout and equipment. We went down the forward companion way into the forward torpedo room. We started walking aft, and soon we came the navigation room. There was a ladder leading up into the spot that the periscope was in. There was two adults and four kids up there when we got there, so we waited until they came down. We went up and looked through the periscope, where we could see the battleship. We came back down and went into the hallway leading into the galley. An Indian girl, about nine or ten, came running through and said, "Have you seen a yellow tube, that's cool, and has a voice coming out of it?" And, without waiting for an answer, she kept going. A minute later, she came running back the opposite direction. We went into the galley, and then into a bunk room. We got to the aft torpedo room and went up the companion way there. We walked back to the camper and Dad remarked, "I think we've seen enough navy ships for this trip."
The drive, in our A/C- free van, racing the hot weather across the country has begun. After Sanibel, we blazed through the rest of Florida as the temperatures climbed into the mid-80's (keep in mind that blazing in the camper van is really not that fast, we ended up spending two more nights in Florida). We were able to make it through Alabama in one day, including a stop at the USS Alabama, a WWII battleship (more to come on this in the future....), and spent the night in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where we were happy to stumble upon a farmers market in the old part of town the following morning. After much debate, we decided to bypass New Orleans and head to the tiny Cajun town of Breaux Bridges, where we took a gorgeous walk through the swamps before devouring the best French-Cajun food ever. I had no idea that crayfish could taste so good. Watery Louisiana was really fascinating as we drove over bayou after bayou. The interstate is suspended in the air for miles over this state that just can't decide if it is land or water. And now Texas, this is what we have been dreading, huge, hot, empty spaces. We spent the next two days delirious with heat, fighting a never-ending headwind. The eastern edge of Texas is quite lovely, with bayou country hanging on a while before giving way to pastoral hill country, polka-dotted wih leafy trees and blooming with fields of blue bonnets. With temps in the 90's now, our first stop was Austin, TX where we stayed in a fancy hotel that Jason had been wanting to show us from a previous visit. I am not sure that they have ever seen clientele quite like us, as valet walked up to witness me sweating profusely in just a sports bra in the drivers seat and Jason shirt-free in the passenger seat....he didn't argue with me when I told him we wanted park the van ourselves. After showering, we ate delicious Tex-Mex food before walking down a street which was alive with music. The following morning we made a grocery run to the cavernous Whole Foods mothership next to their corporate headquarters before leaving hill country behind. We headed into the scrubby desert and pushed on to dusty, saddest-downtown-ever, Fort Stockton, home of the largest roadrunner statue in the world.
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Tuesday, April 3, 2012
We were camping in the Florida Keys in Gieger Key RV Park & Marina, which happened to have a kayak rental place. We naturally wanted to go kayaking. When we tried to do it, however, the rental guy informed us that the conditions were rough and we'd probably have a better time if we went next morning. We came next morning with Peeka so that she could get some exercise before we left. The rental guy started outfitting us and Dad took Peeka back to the van. She desperately wanted to come, however, and her argument was very convincing. She kept jumping out of the van naked, (Our term for when she doesn't have a collar or harness on) and running towards the kayaks. Finally, Dad put her harness on her and brought her with. So we launched our kayaks, with Peeka in Dad and I's kayak. At first, Peeka was unsure about being on a small plastic shell, but, once she knew the family was together, she was the happiest kayaking dog I know. We kayaked to the lee side of a mangrove island and then crossed a windy straight. We made it to the other side and glided into a dark mangrove channel. We glided slowly, silently down the mangrove passage, and the only time we paddled was to make course corrections. I am unhappy to say we saw no alligators or crocodiles. We emerged from the passage into a bay, were we saw that it continued to the right of were we had come out. We paddled that way, in to the wind, and passed some mangroves that sat at the mouth of a protected bay. We wandered around in the mangroves for a while when we emerged on to a straight, which was even windier than the first. We saw a kayak tour disappear into a mangrove channel, so we went up the straight a little, hugging the island, until we came to a point were we thought would account for wind drift as we crossed the straight. So across the straight we went, and as we were up above the channel we let the wind blow us. Then, we had the brilliant idea of holding our paddles out to sail and we went considerably faster. When we reached the channel, we paddled through, and made our way back to Gieger Key. We observed a seaslug on the seawall, and then went back through the pretty passage and back to the kayak rental place to give our kayaks back.
Monday, April 2, 2012
Sanibel is famous for its seashell-irrific shores. After our original campground plans didn't work out, we decided last minute to stay in a cottage by the water. We arrived just in time to watch the sunset over piles and piles of seashells on the beach. The following day, after taking a walk, gathering a few shells, playing some shuffleboard, and catching up on school and work, we rented ill-fitting, wonky, wobbly bicycles and rode around the island. My body was so happy to be back on a bike again and I felt so spoiled to be able to ride around in just a skirt and bikini top as we peddled through the Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve before parking our bikes for dinner at an outdoor restaurant created by some author based on some manly character in his Florida/International, manly marine/travel adventures, or something along those manly lines.
Saturday, March 31, 2012
10,000 miles to Maine, and then down to the very end of Florida, the furthest point in the continental U.S. from Bozeman that is possible, in a camper van that once left us stranded in Butte, and now we are finally headed home. Slowly. Florida has been fun and we have immensely enjoyed playing in the warm sunshine. On the way out of the Keys we stopped in the southern portion of the Everglades. We were happy to see that the mosquito level sign (reminiscent of our fire danger signs) at the entrance reported that the level was low. In our Montana brains, we had thought that the Everglades were nothing but swampland covered in gators. We were wrong. Though there are swampy sections, we mostly saw grasslands dotted here and there with stands of small trees. Somehow it reminded us of a miniature-scaled version of African savannah, although having never been there this assessment is probably completely wrong. We took a walk on classic national park style boardwalks on the Anhinga Trail through swampland. The amount of wildlife we viewed on this one walk was amazing. We saw loads of birds, anhingas, great blue herons, white egrets, white ibis, a Florida soft shell turtle laying eggs, red-stripe turtles swimming amongst schools of fish, and at least twenty alligators, including two babies. We were delighted by our deserted, long pine tree campground where we had more space than we had seen in about a month. I hadn't really realized how cramped I must have felt until we got there, nor that I must have missed non-ocean scenery. The following day, we drove to Flamingo over Coral Reef Pass with an elevation of 3 feet (no wonder the air seemed so thin), where we rented double kayaks and paddled up a canal where we saw two crocodiles lounging about and swallow-tailed kites and osprey soaring above. Amongst the docks there, we saw manatees hanging out, occasionally poking their heads out for a breath. We ended the day with a lovely walk to the ocean at sunset.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Key West turned out to be, not surprisingly I suppose, somewhat tourist-y, although off the beaten track, amongst the rundown, island-mixed-with-Victorian architecture, we found a delicious French creperie that we had to visit twice. We visited a few of the must-sees like Fort Zachary Taylor, a Civil War-era fort, and then the Southernmost point in the U.S., where we drank coconut water from a fresh coconut before having it chopped open so that we could eat the flesh. We also visited Earnest Hemingway's house where the forty-four descendents of his sixty-five, six-toed cats live and where we learned about his accident-prone, can't-believe-he survived-that-many-concussions, plane-wrecks-and-wives life. He was officially a wild and crazy guy. Our final stop within Key West was the butterfly house where butterflies magically flitted, weightlessly through the air and oh-so-adorable Chinese Quails ran around at our feet.
While there, we stayed at the tiny, quiet, Geiger Key campground about ten miles outside of town where we had a campsite that backed up to water dotted with mangrove islands. We spent hours watching tarpon, sargent fish, hound fish, iguanas, and Portuguese men of war swim by, and brown pelicans, white ibis, and egrets at home in the mangroves. One day we took tandem kayaks out to explore the waters. We paddled through the clear aquamarine channels to the brown tannin soaked stillness of the mangroves forests where we ducked our way under branches crawling with crabs and over roots crawling with fish through the tight paths that wound into the islands that so many fish and birds call home.
After spending five nights at Geiger Key, we spent a day on a sailboat sailing in the beautiful waters outside of Marathon. We enjoyed a nice breeze on a twenty-four foot, GPS-free, J-boat where the boys dangled their feet off the side and lounged about in the sun watching the bottom pass by as Jason and I continually tried to figure out where the heck we were.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
After much anticipation we finally made it to the Keys. On the drive down, as we began to catch glimpses of the water, we couldn't believe how much the color looked like the Virgin Islands, until finally we crossed a bridge that revealed the shallow turquoise water in its full brilliance, proving that it truly rivalled our memories of the Carribean. Based out of Marathon in the Middle Keys for a couple of days, we snorkeled and played in the warm, shallow waters of Bahia State Park. One of our campgrounds was located next to the old seven-mile bridge where we took a walk suspended over the water, spotting sea turtles down below. At our next campground, we had a campsite right on the water where I drank my morning tea wading in the warm, knee deep water, and we got a firsthand look at why retirees spend months in their RV's in Florida. It was so cool to watch white-haired folks riding bikes around just for the fun of it, stopping in the road and chatting. I could imagine them as kids doing the exact same thing, running around free, in packs, throughout their neighborhoods. We spent one afternoon on a boat that took us out to a coral reef where we snorkeled in four foot, choppy seas. Submerged in the waves, we would ride them up to the crest and then drop so fast that we could feel it in our stomachs....some of us more than others. I was sea-sick both in the water and on the boat, and, understandably, Aaron found the conditions entirely too violent for someone his size to be in. In spite of the rough conditions, and the short amount of time that we stayed in the water, we still managed to see a loads of fish, coral reefs, a nurse shark, and a sea turtle.
Monday, March 26, 2012
We made a brief stop in Fort Lauderdale where we stayed in a hotel on Pompano Beach for a couple of nights. While we were there, we met with Jason's uncle for a nice dinner in Boca Raton. It was really funny to see Sylvia parked amongst the fanciness of Boca. I am still kicking myself for not taking her picture there. While staying at Pompano the boys played in the warm waves and later talked me into renting boogie boards for the afternoon, despite the ominous army of Portuguese Man of War that had washed up onto shore that morning. We had so much fun riding little waves onto shore in what may be the closest thing that this breakable body may ever see to surfing.
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Monday, March 19, 2012
It is really quite amazing what humans can accomplish when they put their minds to it. This trip has led us past the birthplace of flight in Kittyhawk where we saw man's first successful attempts at flight in the early 1900's, to Cape Canaveral where just 60 years later man built rockets that took us to the moon. It is astounding to see each firsthand, and to see the evolution that took place over such a short period of time. The boys walked around awestruck, gawking at the huge rockets. Aaron couldn't get enough of Saturn IB and couldn't wait to hop on a bus that would take us over to the even bigger Saturn V, which he sweetly informed me was, "Saturn 5, mom." The bus ride took us past the rocket hangar where the rockets are built, with bay doors that are tall enough for the Statue of Liberty to walk through without having to duck. We saw the giant, tank-like machines that transport the fully-fueled rockets at one mile per hour over perfectly round, Tennessee river rock from the state of Arkansas prized for its ability to rub against each other without sparking. We saw mobile launch towers, control headquarters, and, looming three miles off in the distance, the platform where the Apollo missions were launched from. At the hangar where a Saturn V rocket is kept we saw the control room used during the Apollo missions, including Apollo 13, where we watched a short video of a launch sequence so we could see how mission control managed each stage of ignition before they opened the doors to reveal the real Saturn V. Laying on its side, it was broken into sections so we got a very clear view of the different stages of the launch. In a side room, Jason faced ghosts from his past as he relived childhood trauma of being chased around by an astronaut suit after he had curiously bent its fingers backwards. We saw Jim Lovell's reference manual used during the Apollo 13 mission, Neil Armstrong's astronaut suit, lunar landers.....really cool stuff. A few days later we watched the movie Apollo 13 with the boys while it was fresh in their brains so they could see what had happened during that ill-fated mission. They thought it was really cool to see hangar doors open, the rocket-mover in action, what happens in the control room, and how this group of people worked through an impossible situation to bring these three guys home safe. Needless to say NASA was a huge hit with all of us.
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Friday, March 16, 2012
While we were on Cape Canaveral, we stayed in a rundown, old RV campground beautifully perched on the Intracoastal Waterway. While relaxing next to the water in the evening, we caught a brief glimpse of a manatee so first thing in the morning we went back to check the water. The 50+ year-old, tattoed Harley guy with a relaxed mohawk camping next to the water came out and told us that he usually sees manatees, dolphins, and sting rays in the morning and showed us where to look. Shortly afterwards I found a small stingray swimming around, but no manatees or dolphins were to be seen. Our plan was to get out around 9am and head to the National Seashore. I know it will be a surprise to you all, but as it turns out, we were running late. Jason had a 10am meeting so we stayed in the campground while he sat in the van on the phone leaving the boys and I with time to watch the water for manatees. The evening before, we learned that the manatees leave oval-shaped patterns in the water as they swim by so we kept a sharp eye out for our round-shape making friends. As we sat by the water, long-term RV inhabitants were making their morning rounds chatting with neighbors and some came by to hang out and give us wildlife pointers. It was clear they were excited to have to young folks to hang out with. As we talked, manatees starting swimming by. We saw them in groups of two, three, and four. We saw a momma with, what must have been a new-born, only four feet long, and one of her older kids. They seemed to be swimming laps up and down the banks of the river because we must have seen them twenty times! We would walk side-by-side with them, only ten or fifteen feet away, down the length of the campground and then we would turn around, go back to where we started and walk down with the next family group. One of the long-term residents said they usually see one or two manatees per day, she couldn't believe how many we were seeing. She was convinced that they had come just for us. I had hoped that we may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a manatee on this trip. It was way beyond imagination that we would ever see this many! As I made lunch the boys and Jason continued to watch them swim by.
After lunch we headed out to the Canaveral National Seashore, the largest undeveloped stretch of coastal Florida, thanks to NASA needing a huge buffer zone for launching rockets into space. After driving through Florida forest, spotting all kinds of cool birds, we stopped at the beach where the boys quickly immersed themselves into the ocean with much delight. When some storm clouds threatened in the distance, we decided to head further down the shoreline to the lagoon at the end of the road. After parking, as we walked down the boardwalk, we could see very large leathery forms on the beach at which point Jason exclaimed, "hey look manatee....no wait, just man." We had seen lots of signs warning that it was illegal to be nude on the beach (or anywhere really) and now we understand who it was directed towards. We decided that perhaps we should go check out the lagoon....we had seen enough manatees for one day.
On the way out of the park, we made a quick stop at the visitor station before they closed for the night. On the grounds, there is a boardwalk that takes you through some wetlands. As we reached the end, I spotted our very first alligator! The boys were so excited to see the lazy beast snoozing across the pond from us. As we watched him yawn, we pondered the amazing fact that they had to make a law against taunting these large animals with huge teethy mouths.
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