Saturday, May 30, 2015

Weekend in Victoria, BC

Ah, Victoria...the capital city of British Columbia, a culture filled with a bright mix of eccentric, friendly people, a foodie's dreams, and a city that quickly escalated to one of my favorite places to visit. Craig and I took the Victoria Clipper from Seattle to Victoria on the long Memorial Day weekend. Taking only our bikes and what would fit in our panniers, we planned for a relaxing three days of checking out the capital and the surrounding area on our faithful, two-wheeled steeds.

The Clipper, although a little pricey at ~$150 round trip each, was a very easy way to get to Vancouver Island. Not only did we not have to drive the +4.5 hours, but we also would have to deal with border patrol and parking. Although we were in the last group to board, we got seats in the second row from the front with a great view out the bow windows. The seats were roomy and comfortable and we were able to walk around the ship at our leisure. It was also large enough that we didn't feel much motion from the water so I didn't get my usual sea sickness!

looking out, heading north

The view on the ferry.

I tried waking Craig to tell him we were crossing the Straight of Juan de Fuca, but he didn't much care. haha

As we arrived in Victoria Harbor, I think I used the word 'adorable' to describe the scene about 10 times before we disembarked the ship. The harbor was surrounded by Victorian buildings and waterfront businesses with lots of vegetation built into the urban landscape. Small sail boats and tour vessels zipped around the bay. You could tell it was a city, but it had a very small, British feel to it. Have I mentioned how adorable it was?   

Once off the boat, we spent the day pretty much eating our way through the delicious city and checking out the amiable downtown atmosphere.

View of downtown from Victoria Harbor

View of downtown Victoria with an artisan market

Having tea at one of our favorite places to eat, Rebar.

Biking through downtown Victoria

Lounging outside the British Columbia Parliament Buildings

Dichotomy of cultures in the PNW

A one bunny-marimba-band playing cover songs. He goes by Thump 'R Bunny! Street performers are the greatest!

Craig gets a Manhattan in a Mason jar....with a lime.

We stayed in a room we found on AirBnB. It was a great find and the homeowners whipped us up a delicious breakfast each morning with eggs from their backyard chickens. They also provided homemade soaps and kombucha! 

Creative landscaping

The next morning, we rode our bikes ~60 miles north of Victoria to the town of Sidney along the Lochside trail and looped back along the west side of the peninsula. It was a mostly flat, but peaceful ride transitioning from urban to forested wetlands, to agricultural farmlands, and finally to seaside towns. The drivers in the area seemed very accepting of bicyclists and I found it to be one of the easiest, stress-free places to get around via bike.

Enjoying breakfast from the girls (peeking out in the background) before our bikeride

A wetland along the bike trail.


Craig walking along the water during a break in our bike ride.

We saw lots of totem poles around Victoria.

A pet sheep a the road side farm house where we had lunch.

Looking out at one of the many bays we passed. We got a few rain drops after this photo was taken.

Biking in Sidney, BC.

Sea planes were a common site. This one just came in for a landing.

Biking through a painted tunnel. I love it when communities add a local flair to an otherwise boring, concrete tunnel.

Making our way back to Victora.

More tunnel paintings.

Good words to live by.

Our last day was brief, but spent mostly in the tiny Chinatown area of Victoria sampling teas and eating. We didn't have time for much else as we had to board the boat after lunch to return to Seattle.

A tiny China town where we had lunch before leaving for the U.S.

Boarding the Clipper to head back to Washington

On the deck of the Clipper with Canada behind us.

Our time in Victoria, though brief, was very relaxing. I'm not usually much of a city explorer when I go on trips, but this friendly, low-key, tea-loving, free-spirited place was an exception. I found an immediate and subconscious sense of happiness here and think it is definitely a place I could see myself living someday. I can't wait to return to the area and explore some of the other gorgeous places on Vancouver Island and throughout British Columbia.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Driving Ms. Millie: A cloudy hike on Johnson Ridge

I got to be a dog person for the weekend! Becoming a dog owner is something I aspire to do one day, but my schedule and plans for the immediate future don't permit it for the time being. Until the day comes, I soak up my pooch time doggy sitting for friends when they're out of town. On Saturday, Millie (the dog) and I loaded up in the car and headed to the North Cascades for a hike at Johnson Ridge, which boasts spectacular mountain views with low crowds.

At over 2 hours, the drive there from Seattle was a long one. Not to mention I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know and managed to get quickly turned around on the logging roads leading to the trail head.

It became quickly apparent as we got further into the mountains that the Cascade mountain views advertised on online message boards was probably not going to happen. In fact, we were so socked in by clouds that I was pretty sure we weren't going to see anything beyond the immediate trail.

road to the trail

Camas coming up for spring

the forest becomes foggy soon after we start the hike

Although the vistas never appeared, it was a fun hike with typical spring weather conditions for the Pacific Northwest. For most of the hike, we walked in a low cloud layer, which had a dramatic effect on the surrounding trees, dripping continuously from mist condensing on the branches. 

My favorite part was Millie's reaction to the snow. Every time we saw a patch of snow on the trail, she would dive face-first into it and roll around over and over again. Her unbridled excitement for snow was infectious and I spent most of the hike laughing at her and imagining what she could be thinking.

We came across several hillside meadows along the way that I imagine are bursting with wildflowers in the summer. We only saw a few patches of early flowers this early in the season and much of the grass was still beat down from the winter snow pack. I'm looking forward to getting back up to this trail this summer to see the trail from another perspective.

Millie loving the snow

What a view!

Millie rolled in every snow patch we encountered.

foggy trees

Walking along the ridgeline

We come across a meadow...too early for flowers.

Moisture dripping from the trees.

Millie on the trail!

After many tries, I finally got her to look at the camera!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Cycling Hurricane Ridge

Cycling Hurricane Ridge may not have been the most well planned out biking trip we've done, but it was an adventure for sure. Because of a crunch for time, Craig, Stephen, and I decided to bike on Sunday. However, we all went a Seattle Mariners baseball game on Friday night and, after a few drinks, convinced ourselves that starting out Saturday morning would be the better option.

Hurricane Ridge is on the Olympic Peninsula, meaning that it's across the Sound from us in Seattle. The fastest way to get there is by taking a ferry across the water. With three of us traveling in two separate cars, this proved to be logistically more difficult than anticipated. 

On the morning of the ride, Craig and I realized we had no food in the house for lunch so we picked up sandwiches at a nearby sandwich shop that opens at 6am. This place has been my lunch savior on multiple hiking trips. We made it to the ferry terminal around 9:15a to find that it was packed with other travelers. Realizing that we might not all make it on the boat, we phoned Stephen and found that he was lined up a row behind us for the ferry. Being this close, I was pretty confident we were all going to make it across.

Fortunately, I am not a betting woman and didn't place money on these odds because he was just short of getting on our boat! Doh! Once crossing, Craig and I waited for an hour on the other side of the Sound. After Stephen finally caught up with us, we high-tailed it to the mountains so wouldn't loose more time from the ride.

As fate would have it, right as we approached the bridge crossing Hood Canal, another large body of water we had to transverse, the road barrier dropped and the bridge opened up to let a ship pass. I looked around for a nearby boat that was holding up our schedule and found a distant crane being pulled by a tug. It was so far away and seemed to be barely moving! We were held up here for at least 30 minutes. Everyone got out of their cars to catch the local entertainment provided by the sea animals. In the short span of time we were there, we saw loads of pigeon guillemots, jellyfish, porpoises, and seals.

Waiting for a ship to be towed through the crossing.

The two ships we're waiting on.

After crossing the bridge, we drove another 1.5 hours and finally arrived at the park's visitor center, our starting point. Without much delay, we suited up and were on our way! Immediately after leaving the parking lot, we started climbing...and it never stopped once until we reached the summit ~5500 feet above us. 

I'll be honest and say that it was one of my least favorite bike climbs I've done. Granted, I was in a lot of pain for almost all of it with a combination of back problems, legs cramping from eating too much before starting out, and being tired from the night before. Aside from the few (gorgeous) lookout areas, it also wasn't a very scenic or dynamic ride. We were mostly in the trees and the climb was brutal at times with little visual reward for motivation.

As we were inching along up the hill, a car passed us going the opposite direction and I suddenly heard what sounded to be my name being violently screamed out a window. I turned back and saw that the vehicle has stopped and the screaming continued. Someone got out of the vehicle and threw their arms in the air saying, "Erica, what are you doing here?!" I then realized it was on of our best friends, Chris, who was just coming back from a hiking trip off of the same road! It was totally random, especially considering we have been trying to coordinate our schedules for a backpacking trip for months now. So random and hilarious!


One of the fantastic view points along the way


A quickly eroding cliff face and my bike.

The crew on the way up.

After hours of huffing, puffing, and my complaining, we finally made it to the top! I've never spent much time in the Olympics mostly because of the difficulty getting to them. Seeing them up close at Hurricane Ridge made me eager to to summit some of the peaks beckoning from a distance. 

We spent a few minutes at the top taking in the views, but were quickly getting chilled by the evening air. Knowing we had a quick ~45 minute, cold descent ahead of us, we didn't dally for long. I'm happy to say that the ride down made up for the misery on the way up. It was fast with steep pitches for most of the ride; I would guess we picked up speeds of 45mph. Although I was still having terrible back pain and was so cold my legs were trembling (not something you want to experiencing bombing down a mountainside on a bike), it was super fun and gave us the downhill adrenaline we've been looking for. 

We did, however, lose poor Stephen on the way down. He got a slow flat along the way, but we were gone too quickly to hear him yelling for us. Fortunately, someone saw him fixing his tire and just took him to the bottom of the hill to save him the trouble.

Stephen near the top of Hurricane Ridge.

Almost to the top!

Deer in a meadow fronting the Olympic mountains.

We made it! Now for the bomb down.

Profile of our ride.

I never would have said it on the way up, but the downhill portion made me think I might try this ride again someday. Of a higher priority now is climbing some of those Olympic mountains we saw from the top of Hurricane Ridge!