Clown Time

On the weekend we were invited to join Portland’s clowns Olive and Dingo in the Division Street Parade. We arrived on time, were all set, then one of the bands started up right beside us in the staging area, setting Trista into a scared crying fit. There was nothing to do but back out and comfort her while the parade took off. Trista eventually did calm down and fell asleep, so we were able to rejoin the fun further down the street.

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A few days later, we hung out at a coffee shop just down the street from our house for Story Time where the clowns do their act every week. Don’t worry, they have a NEW act each time. This particular day they had a camera crew filming them. If the footage gets posted online, I will add the link!

At the end of Story Time, they always make balloons for the kids. Marin usually asks for a bow and arrow, while Elita is happy with anything, sometimes a flower, or snail, or dog… yup, content girl! Today they got something completely different. Observe….

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The Trip

Danaka + Burke Family at Snoqualmie Pass
Danaka + Burke Family at Snoqualmie Pass

Where do I start? The awesomeness of the scenery? Difficulty of hauling a couple hundred pounds up a mountain pass on loose gravel? The thrill of seeing our little girls play happy and content with anything they find on the forest floor? Or the difficulty of the logistics of getting us and our gear to where we needed to be?

I guess the story of our trip should start at the beginning. How do you get 2 children, 3 adults, 2 cargo bikes, 1 mountain bike and 1 trailer moved 167 miles to the start of a trail? Well, momma and kids take the bus to the train station and catch the big train to Tacoma, WA, while daddy and aunty get a rental truck to move the bikes and gear. They drive it to the station that mom and kiddos get off at, unload gear, drop off truck, start cycling.

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We followed the Cedar River trail south, camping between a river and the highway the first night. I was surprised at the number of late night/early morning bike commuters that used the trail we were camped beside. Nobody seemed to pay us any mind though, which was quite nice after a long stressful first day.

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Day 2 found us riding to the end of the paved section of trail and slogging along with big smiles on our faces over well packed gravel, stopping only when we got to locked gates in a park. What the heck? Where did the trail go? We spotted a fellow working at one of the park buildings and went over to ask him about the trail, and he very nicely gave us the low down on the situation we had unwittingly gotten ourselves into.

The Rail to Trail that we were following (Cedar River), was the continuation of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail that was our ultimate goal for our vacation. Our problem, was that the trail went straight through 90,638 acres of watershed, used by the City of Seattle, and the whole space was closed to the public after September, 2001, and very few trail maps of the area have been updated since that time. We would have to go around the watershed.

Danaka’s bike was lightest when unloaded, so I rode it to the closest town (Maple Valley) and rented a moving truck to get us around this big glitch in our trip. The only other option was to cycle with the little girls along 20 miles of highway with virtually no shoulder, and it was halfway through the afternoon already, so with our slow pace, we would have to find a place to camp right beside the highway. Didn’t like that idea.

With the truck we were able to get all of us around the watershed and up to North Bend, where we checked out the town a little bit and ended up crashing for the night in the back of the truck in a corner of a grocery store parking lot. It was a ten foot box truck, and remember it had all our big bicycle gear already in it! So Seth’s and my bikes got tied in place along each side, over the wheel wells, Danaka’s got suspended in mid air at the back of the box, and all the panniers were stuffed into any crevasse we could find. It left just enough room for Seth, the little girls and I to sleep shoulder to shoulder across the back wall with our feet funnelled toward the front where Danaka slept at an angle in front of the door, which we pulled down part way but tied so it could neither be opened from the outside, nor closed and us get locked in!

The nice part about camping beside a grocery store, was that we were able to get nice hot food for dinner, and fresh fruit for breakfast!

Okay, so we finally found the trail we wanted, just outside town, where we unloaded everything, and then I had to drive back into town with Danaka’s bike to do the whole “dropping off the truck” business, and find a bike shop to tighten one of the cranks on the bike. I was directed to SingleTrack Cycles and received wonderful friendly service, advice and local knowledge of the trails. They were a breath of fresh air after a rather stressful night of moving truck shenanigans.

We got rolling finally around noon and went pretty much without stop all on an up hill grade until we reached Rattlesnake Lake, where Marin and I went down and played in the mud and tree stumps for quite some time. It was just too much fun to stop!

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But we had to keep rolling, so we did, and found a camp spot with an amazing view! Oh yes, and we got to watch some rock climbers too. And a person gliding past in a motorized para-glider!

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With awesome views and only intermittent rumbles from the highway further down in the valley, we finally worked our way up to the top of the mountain pass, topping out half way through the Snoqualmie tunnel, which is 2.3 miles of hard packed gravel and dirt, with long, shallow, narrow ruts from bicycles grinding through the sporadic puddle caused by water dripping (or full fledged trickling) down from the ceiling. Of course in over 2 miles of tunnel, you need lights, even though the path is straight and you can see slivers of light from each end. But once you’re in the middle and turn OFF the lights, you can’t see diddily-squat. It’s been a long time since any of us were in darkness of that kind. We did try the “hand in front of our faces”, but to no avail. Only when looking at the light from one of the entrances could you then see, not your hand, but rather the absence of that light when you passed your hand between yourself and the entrance. There was no outline of things or anything! After a while of riding, I would think I was halfway through, only to look back and see the entrance was still large and I was far from halfway. Around mid point the tunnel became almost disconcerting. I couldn’t imagine going through by foot and taking 100 times longer!

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Once we passed through and filled up our water at the parking lot, the trail turned sloppy real fast. Our tires sunk down in the loose gravel and I think all of us fish tailed a couple times before we made it to the camping sites on the south end of Keechelus Lake. Marin really liked the lake, as the shores were steep and a mix of rocks and sand. We spent a long time sitting on a tall outcrop, throwing rocks over the edge, listening for the splash.

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That night we seriously discussed goals, miles, energy and expectations. It felt like we had been going for over a week, instead of having just finished our fourth day on the trail. We decided to cut the trip short, keep the camp set up the next morning and just do a quick day trip, then head home.

 

With only bare necessities and enough gear to get us un-comfortably but safely through the night if we got stranded somewhere, we headed out the next morning down the loose trail, with hardly any weight and a downhill grade. Eventually things levelled out and we passed through fields and farmland, swamps and over clear creeks. Our turnaround point was the “BBQ place” in South Cle Elum we had heard rants and raves about from multiple people. I guess there must be two places, because the one we went to had me wishing for Clay’s Smokehouse back in Portland after only three bites. Seth too. Not saying it was bad, it just didn’t come close to anything we were expecting.

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Our ride back to camp was long. We were getting tired, and Danaka was having that mental struggle that anybody who has set out on a multi day physical challenge has experienced. Thinking you can’t make it, you’re too tired, your knee hurts like hell, but knowing that you have to make it cause you have no choice, and you still don’t have the energy to keep pushing through. “I can’t do it”. It’s a hard spot to be in. Fortunately Seth and I have both been there multiple times before. Once I figured out what was sort of happening, we were able to make some changes, pull together and get us all safely back to camp in time for a late dinner.

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Next morning, we all felt a little sad that the trip was coming to an end and we were heading home, but there certainly was a lot of excitement and giddiness as well!

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Heading back toward North Bend, we made great time. I mean, heading downhill with heavy bikes is a heck of a lot easier than trying to fight gravity with those same bikes going uphill. What took us two days for us to go from North Bend to Lake Keechelus, we accomplished in reverse in less than one full day. We had time when we got into North Bend, to find the library and use their computers to figure out what bus routes the girls and I would need to take to get us back to Seattle so we could catch the train home to Portland the next day. Once that was figured out, our next task was to find a place to pitch our tents for the night. We headed north out of town and found a pretty good stealth site completely out of view from the trail. It was a little stressful, trying to keep the little girls quiet as we made dinner and set up the tents with the light fading and them just wanting to play, but we did it! There were no surprises in the morning. No cows wandering through, or rangers knocking on our poles. Yippy!!!

Breaking stealth camps can be kind of awkward, as my family usually wakes up hungry right away, but you gotta get everything broken down as fast as you can and out of there so there is no evidence of what you just did. That’s where I found easy to grab snack foods come in handy. Namely, dehydrated banana muffins. The girls loved them and it gave all of us something to settle our bellies as least temporarily.

Back in town, we eventually found our bus stop. Scrounged up a few baked goods from a local café, and said our goodbyes as the bus arrived. It was back to the girls and I taking public transportation home and Seth getting yet another rental truck. Here’s where we made our last big blunder. Instead of calling the rental places first thing to make sure they had something available before we got on the bus, it wasn’t until after the girls and I were already on our way before Seth found out that he would have to catch the same bus to a neighbouring town to get the only available truck. Two hours later he was on the same route that we had just taken (bus only ran every 2 hours). At this point we were just rolling our eyes and shaking our heads, dreaming of simply being home.

There’s not a whole lot to tell about the rest of the trip. The girls and I received an escort from a very nice person through the confusion of Seattle’s transit centre and construction. The girls had a grand time chasing each other through the wide open spaces of the train station, making people simultaneously smile at them and jump out of their way. On the train home I finally had a chance to look in a mirror and figure out what had been making my head itch like crazy for the last three days. Lice. Oh boy! When I found those little critters, all I could think of was the nit comb stashed in our cupboard. That, and try really really hard NOT to scratch! Literally, as soon as we got home, I kicked my shoes off and went straight to the bathroom to comb my hair without saying hi to anyone. Seth, by the way, got the truck and they (Seth and Danaka) had a safe drive home, beating us by half an hour. Just enough time to unload everything from the back and come meet us a couple blocks away for the final drag of the trip.

Next day, Seth dropped off the truck and came home with “our” beloved dog Lorax to keep the girls entertained for the day while we unpacked and cleaned our gear. Danaka helped out a ton too, with reading a kazillion books to Marin and keeping an eye on Elita.

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Whew! It’s been almost as epic trying to get this all typed out, as it was to do the trip!

If I left out any important stuff or simply left you wondering about something (besides the reason I hadn’t gotten this posted sooner),  please leave a comment and I will rectify things.

THANK YOU FOR READING!!!!!

 

Monsters Under Bridges

There’s this amazing book called “Monsters Under Bridges” by Rachel Roellke Coddington, about some of the resident monsters here in the Pacific Northwest. Our favourite monster from the book is Louis, who lives on the St. Johns Bridge in northern Portland and likes to travel a lot, just like one of our awesome neighbours.

Portland is an amazing place to live, because we also have the Fremont Flixies on…. you guessed it! the Fremont Bridge!

Just a little while ago, on one of the amazingly nice days that we get sporadically here between douses of rain, we as a family went on a trip to see if we could find Louis and the Flixies. Of course, we went by bike. All the way from here in the inner SE, up to and across the St. John’s Bridge, then down the west side to cross back over on the Hawthorne, making stops along the way to play, eat, read the map, smell the roses, look at the view and discuss what our odds were to actually be able to spot the monsters. Marin was pretty sure that we would find the monsters’ homes (the bridges) and that we would find the monsters themselves.

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The fountain at a rose garden.

 

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A family photo!

 

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A view of our rigs. That’s Elita in her carseat in the front of Seth’s front loading roll-caged cargo bike. Marin sits in the kid seat on the back of my Big Bunny. (for Surly snobs, that’s a Big Dummy)

 

The St. John’s Bridge felt very BIG, going across on bicycles. I think it is the second largest I’ve ridden across. Surprised we forgot to take any pictures.

We didn’t see Louis, so he must have been visiting friends. Probably Ronoh, who lives in the water under the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in Vancouver, BC. Louis does love to travel!

Having had no luck finding Louis, we continued to Portland’s down town area for dinner, then passed a ton of bridges and underpasses, looking for the Fremont Flixies and any other monsters that might have come visiting the bridges of Portland that day. Alas, we had no luck.

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Us! On a bridge in front of a Ferris wheel.

 

After a long day of cycling, we headed home, crossing on the Hawthorne Bridge, with eyes pealed for any sign of monsters. On our ride up SE Stark St, Marin kept telling me that we didn’t find the monsters, so we needed to go back to the bridge, to see the monster’s home and find the monster. With sweat dripping down my neck, and fire burning in my thighs, I had to tell her that finding the monsters would have to wait for another trip, at which time we might be more fortunate in finding them.

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Life Or Death In Portland

Everybody says that cycling in Portland is easy and safe for the most part.

I agree.

But sometimes you get reminded that you are still just riding two wheels with no bodily protection while the other road users are rushing around surrounded by a metal roll-cage and sometimes they don’t give a damn about you.

Seth and I were out for a ride with our new baby seat attached to the back of my bike, and it was Marin’s first time riding in it. We had a nice enjoyable trip out, but on our way back we, no kidding, nearly died. With our road going straight through and the side road having a stop sign, fortunately we naturally slowed down a little bit, because a fellow in a black pickup truck flying high as a kite gunned his machine of terror through the stop sign and straight into our lane, missing us by mere inches. He swerved away into his proper lane without slowing, careening down the street to the next intersection where he ran another stop sign, narrowly missing getting broadsided by a thankfully more attentive driver who had the right of way but braked just in time to save himself. Even after the crazy dude was out of sight, while we were standing in shock trying to catch our breaths and calm down, we could still hear his tires squeal around corners as he drove like hell was on his tail, around an elementary school and it’s quiet neighbourhoods.

Is Portland good for cycling in? Yes. Just keep your eyes out for the crazies and use common sense, ’cause you’re the only one protecting yourself from the cold metal terrors of the road.

Final Step For Immigration

I have such exciting news to share!

Seth and I had our immigration interview and all went well.

Morning came all too early, after a night that was way too late! We made sure everything was set and ready to go before we colapsed into bed, making the morning flow smooth despite the early hour. Marin woke up with us, and we took her over to our neighbours’ house to be looked after while we headed downtown on our bicycles. As most of you know, we do not own a car ourselves, so almost everything is done by bike. We took it steady and easy across the river, keeping a good pace without breaking a sweat. The excercise was wonderful for calming our nerves.

Security went well, with lighthearted guards helping to put us at ease. Then upstairs after checking in, we waited along with close to 30 other people, all there to be interviewed. All sitting stiff and slightly nervous. Rarely breaking a smile. Seth and I carried the jokes of the security guards up with us and continued to stay in good moods, which was met by a cheerful lady equally in a good mood ushering us through a maze of small office rooms to question us.

All in all the interview went very well, with clear comunication, questions and answers. Only when she was explaining the steps for us to take in order to remove the conditions on my card did some confusion enter with numbers and math going a little askew. But we all three were able to laugh at that!

Oh boy! Once we got out of the building, it was all I could do from whooping and hollering with joy in the middle of the city! Three hours later I still couldn’t wipe the smile off my face even though the muscles in my cheeks were sore.

We made it!

We are together as a family, the three of us, without any worry of being split apart. Such a heavy load off our minds now! It is a relief to have this all done with and now we can take joy together as a family without any clouds hovering over us!

Watching carefully as Marin climbs down the front steps all by herself.
Watching carefully as Marin climbs down the front steps all by herself.

Crazy And We Love It

Last night I had another one of those “my family is awesome” moments. 

Marin and I had cycled across the river to meet Seth as he got out of work and then we were going to check out the concert by the Weezers that Microsoft was putting on. 

The trip started with a delay by the princess, so Marin and I were a little tight pressed for time to stick to our prearranged schedule with Seth. That meant that I couldn’t take my time riding downtown, I had to push it. Do you know what it’s like to ride a slow, loaded three wheel cargo bike from 39th to Pioneer Square in 30 minutes? Your legs get a wicked burn just going up little inclines like the ramp from the esplanade up to Hawthorn bridge, and did you ever notice that most of the bridge itself is an uphill ride? 

I forget which road we turned up from the river side (maybe Taylor?), but the first light you hit is always a red. Once you get the green on that though, if you can keep your speed up it is a straight shot with constant green all the way up the hill to the square. I love that shot. It is a small adrenaline rush for me, surrounded by traffic, pushing the muscles hard to stay with the flow and not miss a light.

Breathing gets fast and heavy, calves yell with the effort and that’s when Seth called on my cell! Fortunately I keep my phone in a little pocket on the bike just below te handlebars, so I could access it without breaking rhythm. 

“Hey, I’m out of work.” Seth told me.

“Great! Sorry I’m late, but I’m almost there. On 5th and coming your way.” 

I think it was easy for him to figure out from my heavy breathing that the conversation had to end right about there, as I was too busy to focus on chatting about anything else, so he said bye and went out to the street corner to wait for me.

Huffing, puffing, smiling big and giggling, I found my man and we took some time to let me catch my breath before grabbing a bite to eat at Freshii and exploring around the concert area for a while then we both at the same time called it quits and said we were uninterested in the music they were playing. 

Somehow we almost always seem to be on the same page with stuff. We like similar styles of food, with each of us coming down to the same two dishes we want to try at restaurants, so we just get both and share them! Or like last night, we were both curious about the concert, but both lost interest at the same time. Then on the ride home we stopped to admire some live-aboard sailboats and we both liked the same one. Sometimes I think we must be a crazy couple, but then, it’s probably better to be crazy and love it, then sane and hate it!

Cargo Bike Rally

My husband Seth has done a little bit of work with Tom LaBonty building cargo bicycles, so when we heard that there was a Pedalpalooza event based on Tom’s bikes, we HAD to go!

Everybody met at Hawthorne’s Lucky Lab pub for, as they say, “you can’t have LaBonty without the Lab”. 

Games ensued…. I think? I actually didn’t get there until well over an hour after their start time, but there was a “slow race” with a bunch of the bikes, to see who could ride the slowest without falling off. I wasn’t allowed in because I showed up on a three-wheeler and that just wouldn’t be fair!

After the games and getting to know people, we all headed out for a group ride up to Lucky Lab’s northeast location way up on Who-Knows-What Street. That was the first time I’ve ever ridden with a group that all came together because of one type of gear. As you can see from a previous post I have ridden in a larger group, but it came together because of one LACK of gear!

At the north end of the Eastbank Esplanade there is a bicycle switch back that I never really thought much about before, but riding with a bunch of people who had 8 foot long bikes, it makes you wonder how they all got up there without crashing into the walls on the corners first! Embarrassingly enough, I hit the wall on the first bend. Oops!

Then there was the corkscrew. One bike at a time. All the way up the bicycle version of a spiral staircase, across a bridge over a busy road, then down the other side on another corkscrew. Riders were doing everything from cussin’ to laughin’ and everything in between.

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At the NE Lab location the bikes all piled up together and looked pretty cool sticking out from the bike racks and half hanging out into the street. Jammed and crammed.

Seth was able to meet us all at the north location just as we got there, so drinks all-round and Tom and him didn’t take too long before they started talking business again. They love it though!

After all that hoopla and fun group riding up, it was a pretty quiet ride going home with just Marin and I on the trike, Seth on his speedy city bike, and a new friend Kathleen on her bakfiet who knew the roads to get us home safely. We even had time to check out some free cycle piles!