Saturday, July 30, 2011


We’ve heard it again and again: “You HAVE to visit the San Juans!”, a group of islands between the Olympic peninsula, the northwest Washington mainland, and Canada.  Why? “They are SO BEAUTIFUL!”  Access is by boat, either private or on the Washington State ferry system and, given the great beauty of the Olympic peninsula, we’ve never made the effort to visit the islands.

This time, though, a comment from our friend Joe, a local, piqued my interest further: he suggested taking the ferry to Friday Harbor (on San Juan Island), then renting a “scoot coupe” from Susie’s Mopeds to explore the island.  We decided to take his advice – if the weather would cooperate with sunshine.  After cancelling due to heavy overcast on Monday, Thursday was the day.

Cars onto Ferry Sunny day

Cars boarding the ferry in Anacortes; we walked on.

We had lots of sunshine for our visit to the San Juans.

We were at the ferry dock in Anacortes at 8:30 and aboard the ferry by 9.  Without taking a car, the ride is quite inexpensive, and riders 65+ pay half price.  During the hour long ride to Friday Harbor, the fog lifted, setting the stage for a beautiful, warm, sunny day on the island (I had to apply sunscreen – it’s been a long time since I needed that).   The ride was smooth, the thickly forested islands we passed were mysterious and lovely, and boats of all sizes plied the sparkling water.  We relaxed into the warmth of the sunshine and the views.

Pulling into Friday Harbor, we joined the mass of “walk-ons” leaving the ferry before the motorcycles, cars and trucks.  We headed up the hill, looking for Susie’s.

Disembarking in FH Friday Harbor
Laurie and moped Odel ready to roll

Though we’d never ridden them before, we decided we’d be happiest with mopeds, instead of the darling - but cramped looking – tiny Scoot Coupe.  Within 30 minutes, we were trained in starting, stopping, and maneuvering, suited up in our helmets, equipped with a map and suggested stops, and ready to tear off at a maximum of 25 miles per hour.  :)

Building at American CampOur planned first stop was the grocery store, for picnic supplies.  Still new to our transportation, we FOUND the grocery stop, but didn’t manage to navigate into nearby parking – it was a little too much to 1) locate a parking spot; 2) avoid oncoming traffic; and 3) remember how to stop without going over the handlebars or falling over.  A little flustered, we found the Market CafĂ© around the corner – with parking right in front.  :)

Equipped with our picnic supplies, we ran through the start-up procedures together and successfully left town, heading to American Camp, the site of the American encampment at the time that the Americans and the English were contesting ownership of the San Juans (the English camp was on the north end of the island).  The views were spectacular when we arrived and we enjoyed a short walk through the historic area.

Setting off again, we were happy with our choice of transportation, put-putting along at 20-25 mph.  Cars passed us infrequently, and the road often had a wide shoulder.  Although you couldn’t see it with our full-face helmets, I had a grin on my face as we rolled along, checking out the cottages, gardens, and views.

Our lunch stop At the county park

We found a big rock in the sun for our picnic table.

Took another break at the county park.

By mid-afternoon, we arrived at Roche Harbor (my favorite stop of the day).  Once a company town (Roche Harbor Lime & Cement Works), Roche Harbor has an interesting history; now the old hotel, store, and other community buildings comprise a graceful, old-fashioned resort, bustling with activity, boats and people coming and going.  We visited the sculpture garden, an interesting family mausoleum nearby, and relaxed on a bench watching the action and soaking up the sunshine.

Summer getaway The resort at Roche Harbor

Now pros at handling our mopeds, we were about three quarters of the way around the island.  We zipped back to Susie’s (managed to navigate our way into the Shell station to add about half a gallon to each tank – we were required to return them full) in time for a quick dinner before we boarded the 6:30 ferry back to Anacortes. 

Last viewsThe sky was still cloudless as we pulled away from the terminal at Friday Harbor, and I agreed with those who told we we HAD to visit the San Juan Islands.   It was a long day, filled with fun, beauty and history. Highly recommended – including the mopeds!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


What northwest residents say is true: I feel much more appreciation and gratitude for a sunny day when sunshine is as rare as it has been in the coastal regions of Oregon and Washington this year.  Sunday, the third (and last) day of our string of summer weather, was glorious – sunny, warm, clear, calm.  Our horizons were filled with snowcapped mountains while the water sparkled.

Beginning July 1, 2011, all the state-owned recreation areas in Washington require a Discover Pass for parking.  A one day pass is $10; an annual pass is $30.  There are 4 state parks on Whidbey Island, and at least one of the federal recreation areas has a parking lot owned by Washington state – which requires the Discover Pass.  You can buy a day pass at the parking lot, or buy an annual pass “wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold”.  Say what?

Last Friday, we learned that some state parks sell the annual pass, so finally procured one.  Yesterday, with the freshly purchased pass in our Jeep and the sunshine calling our names, we headed to Ft. Ebey State Park for a hike along the bluff trail.

Gorgeous summer day Perfect Picnic Spot

Looking towards the Olympic Peninsula from our trail.

Doesn’t this look like the perfect picnic spot?

After a good workout of 3+ miles (and even a bit of sunburn for me), we were off to Toby’s Tavern in Coupeville to meet our friend Joe and sample Toby’s mussels.  The verdict?  Toby’s are a better deal, less money for more grub.  The all-important broth at Kim’s was much better, though, and Odel liked Kim’s bread better, too (I liked Toby’s grilled garlic toast as well as Kim’s chewy sourdough.)  We’ll have to go back to Kim’s to make a final decision.  :) 

In the spirit of full disclosure, here is a photo of Toby’s mussels:

Mussels at Toby's Pastries at Calico Cupboard

Mussels and garlic bread at Toby’s on Sunday.

Pastry case at Calico Cupboard in La Conner on Monday.

With visions of blue skies and sunshine dancing in our heads, we fell asleep last night planning to get up early to catch the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island for a day of sightseeing.  One of the most frequently recommended “must does” in this area, it would be a first for us.

We were up at 6:30 and out the door at 8 am, rolling our eyes at the mostly cloudy skies.  At 8:45, sitting in the parking lot of the ferry terminal under a heavy bank of fog in 58 degrees, we decided to wait until Thursday, the next day with a forecast of nothing but sunshine.  So, what now?

Canoe approaching potlatchWe turned east, heading back to Edison, a tiny, charming town we had passed through on our way home from Bellingham on Saturday afternoon.  The village that was bright, vibrant, and lively on Saturday afternoon was cold, wet, and extremely quiet on Monday morning – not one shop or restaurant was open!  By now it was close to 9:30, and our stomachs were rumbling… so off we went to La Conner, another of the interesting small towns that dot the area.

We struck gold.  See that photo of the pastry case at Calico Cupboard?  It hints at the delicious breakfast we had in their dining room.  The entire meal as great, but the toast was the best I have ever had in a restaurant.  Calico Cupboard, La Conner - highly recommended by us!

Then we remembered: today is the opening of the Paddle to Swinomish 2011, the week-long cultural gathering of native tribes described in this story in the New York Times.  This year, the annual event is hosted by the Swinomish Tribe, at their La Conner reservation.  Tribes have been paddling to La Conner from Canada, Oregon and Washington for several weeks (or months); the big, decorated family canoes were anticipated to arrive beginning at 2 pm (with the cooperation of the tides).  We decided to walk off our breakfast by exploring La Conner while we waited.

Canoe 2 Group of canoes

Light sprinkles turned to rain as the canoes began to arrive, but it was a great sight nevertheless.  Wish I had a camera with a big zoom, but this is the best I could do with my little Canon.  What no photo could capture was the sense of excitement.  As the canoes approached the landing spot, the paddlers sang/chanted in booming voices, punctuated with whoops, cheers and laughter.   The group of canoes in the photo above came swooping into view from behind a point, paddling hard and chanting loudly – then turned around and headed back behind the point.  Other canoes came from behind the point singly, singing and laughing, heading up past us to the gathering point. 

We eventually decided to get out of the rain and head home, feeling we’d made the right decision at the ferry landing.  Back here at home, Odel got a pot of his great spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove, and we have a bottle of Joe’s “cranberry juice” (homemade wine) to wash it down at dinner time (thanks, Joe!).  A good end to an interesting day.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Friends.  Sunshine.  Cool breezes.  We have had a GREAT couple of days!

The day after we arrived in Oak Harbor, we had lunch with Bill and Wilda, long-time friends who introduced us to Bellingham, Washington, and to clam digging several years ago.  We’ve visited them in the southwest, too, but my favorite memories are of digging clams near Bellingham – which Wilda then cleaned and steamed… fantastic!  This all happened well before I began blogging, but I DO have photos of that time, and it makes me hungry just to look at those clams and the delicious sourdough bread.

Clam diggers! Clam Pot

All this is on my mind because we took a trip up to Bellingham today, to visit their great farmer’s market and… oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself!

On Friday, the weather took a turn towards sunshine – perfect timing because we had plans to meet friends Gisela and Bill P. and Chris C. in Port Townsend for lunch.  For us, that means a ferry trip, from Whidbey Island to Port Townsend.  Right next door to the ferry terminal is Ft. Casey State Park, and our friends Richard and Marlene D. were camped there to attend a family wedding.  We had a brief visit with them (we had visited their son and DIL earlier in the week), then hopped the ferry for a 30 minute ride to lunch.  A short, three block walk to Fin’s Restaurant, where we settled into an outdoor table and awaited our friends.

Port Townsend from water Waiting for Friends at Fins

Last winter, when I asked Odel what he would like to do during the summer, he said “get a bowl of clam chowder at Fin’s.”  Fin’s used to have the BEST clam chowder, very unusual – a creamy broth, clams steamed in the shell, and with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.  Simple, rich, and delicious. 

Sorry to report that it was a disappointment!  Smaller bowl, thicker broth, more potatoes than clams.  :(   On the other hand, I had a spectacular Salmon BLT – wow!  But the service was terrible, so I don’t think we’ll be going back there for while.  Lively conversation and perfect weather (along with a glass of excellent wine) redeemed the experience. 

After lunch, we all took a stroll around Port Townsend, down to the RV park at the marina to check it out.  Then we parted ways so Odel and I could climb the hill up to the Post Office to pick up our General Delivery mail, then rush back down to catch the ferry.  Excellent day!

On Sunday, we planned a day trip to Bellingham (50 miles north).  It is a scenic drive, and in Bellingham we were able to visit both a Trader Joe’s AND the wonderful Bellingham Farmer’s Market.

Bellingham Farmers Market Vegetables

And who should we see when we arrived at the market?  Bill and Wilda!  Another short visit, then we were off to make our selections: cherries, sugar snap peas, squash, and our first fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes of the year – yes, it has been way too cool up here in the pacific northwest for summer’s tomatoes.  We had lunch from the prepared food stands, sharing a table with a foursome of friends; one of the couples was extremely interested in our fulltiming lifestyle, as they are considering taking the plunge.

After lunch, we drove to one of the parks along Bellingham’s waterfront to pick up the waterfront trail, spending an hour or two wandering among the sun worshippers along the water, admiring the sight of snowcapped mountains in the distance.  No clouds!

68 degrees Deception Pass

Our Jeep’s thermometer on the ride home.

Crossing the Deception Pass bridge.

Instead of returning home via I-5, we took Chuckanut Drive (SR-11), which hugs the water heading south.  Built in the late 1800’s , narrow and winding, it is best driven slowly, while only the passenger enjoys the view.  We made a few stops for look out over the water, but mostly just cruised along, sunroof and windows open, appreciating the cool sunshine.

This morning?  Sunshine all around once again.  We have plans to meet Joe S., a friend from our days at Loma Linda, in Coupeville for mussels – a taste-off between those we enjoyed last week at Kim’s on the Wharf and Toby’s, an old tavern.  It’s how you spend a Sunday on Whidbey Island.  :)

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Rock and Balsam RootI am, completely and utterly, a blogging amateur.  A hobbyist.  A dilettante.  I like to write, I like to share… but to do it on an internal schedule that is never quite clear until inspiration hits.  While my blog began as a way to bring family and friends along on our travels, I appreciate it most as a journal – with photos – to remind ME of all the places we have been and the things we have done during our fulltiming years.

I am definitely NOT a blogger who is committed to blogging daily; to keep it enjoyable, I go out of my way to avoid a sense of obligation to my writing.   My blog has no ads, and increasing my readership is not a concern.

So it was with a feeling of dismay that I read on Nina’s blog, Wheeling It, that she had nominated/invited Semi-True Tales (me) to take part in The 7 Links Challenge sponsored by Tripbase.  I admire Nina’s blog, and read it regularly.  I know that posts/offers like this are a way to link blogs with new readers, and that being one of the nominated blogs is generally considered a positive boost. 

Gorge Chasm TrailSo, in spite of my prior complete rejection of similar invitations, I gave it some thought – really!  I even sat down to try to find posts to illustrate the 7 categories of past blog posts.  And in no time at all, I found myself sidetracked by a diversion… following some other link, playing a game of hearts, moving to the sofa - Kindle in hand - or lacing up my shoes for a walk outside.  Even making a grocery list, or sorting the laundry!

I can’t help it – it is just too much like homework, which need never be endured again in this lifetime, thank god.

Nina, I appreciate your invitation (thank you, really), and I understand that participating would be a very good thing for any blogger interested in increasing their readership.  I really enjoyed reading YOUR responses to the 7 Links Challenge (and hope this post might introduce some new readers to YOUR wonderful blog), but I won’t be participating.  Too many books to read, too many hikes to take, photos to sort, recipes to try… or perhaps I’ve just had too much wine?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


On Monday, we left the dripping evergreen forest behind.  Fewer than 100 miles later, we settled into our new site at Staysail RV Park (click here to read our review), the city RV park in Oak Harbor, on Whidbey Island – in SUNSHINE!  We landed in what is certainly one of the best sites in the park, near the end of a long row.   This is the view out our windshield:


By the time we settled in, noon was long past and we were hungry.  For us, Whidbey Island is all about mussels, and Coupeville, 10 miles south, is the source of the famous Penn Cove mussels (which you occasionally find in 5 pound bags in Costco).  Off we went, for a late lunch/early dinner. 


We chose Kim’s, at the end of the public dock in Coupeville.  Our visit coincided with Race Week; sailboats skimmed the waters of Penn Cove.


Our mussels arrived at 3:48.

Mussels in the classic white wine/garlic/butter sauce for Odel, mussels in Thai red curry/coconut milk sauce for me. Crusty, chewy sourdough bread (the real thing!) on the side. Crisp, off-dry white wine alongside.




4:04 pm. 

Nothin’ more to be said.

For dessert dessert

Walking back to the car, it was obvious that this is THE place for dessert.

A “single cone” holds three scoops!

Yes, it was a very, verrrrrryyyyy GOOD DAY!

Sunday, July 17, 2011


East Bank TrailThe older I get, the more important my shoes have become.  Flip-flops, high heels, flats with no arch support… I can’t believe I ever wore those, but I did.  No longer is style the primary function of my shoes; it’s all about purpose, comfort and support.  Style is pretty far down the priority list, though not completely off the list if there is any choice to be made.

For my lace-up walking shoes (which fit the niche between “around town” walkers and hiking boots), I always pick Keens.  They fit my foot well, provide plenty of arch support and the boxy toe has lots of space for my toes to wiggle.  I replace them once a year or so, whenever I find the right pair on sale. 

Earlier this year, the pair that fit best and was on sale happened to also be waterproof.  I never purchase waterproof shoes because I rarely walk in rain – and they usually cost more.  This time, though, since they were on sale, the price was competitive – so I ended up with waterproof shoes. 

Boy, have they gotten a workout!

Cascadian FarmsYesterday, rain-induced cabin fever set in with a vengeance, so we headed off to find a hike, rain be damned!  After a quick stop at Cascadian Farms for coffee, pastries, a box of cereal and a pint of raspberries (thanks to readers Barbara and Ron for the tip), we returned east, to a trailhead we noticed when we drove our motorhome west a few days ago, the East Bank Trail.  It rained, and rained, and rained.  Rain dripped from the bills of our caps onto our legs and shoes; our raincoats were heavy with moisture.  My feet?  Warm and dry!   WAY more fun that spending another day watching the rain from indoors!

Today, we had tickets for the lunch and boat tour offered by Seattle City Power/Skagit Tours, and we lucked out with the weather.  Not sunny, but dry… which seems to be the best we can hope for around here this summer. 

Once again, we headed east into the Cascades, then down across Diablo Dam.  I was so surprised that we were able to drive across the dam – that seems a thing of the past since 9/11.  We started the tour with a delicious lunch at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center – an all-you-can-eat buffet of salads (locally grown baby lettuce and homemade dressing, potato salad and coleslaw), two soups (Odel and I both had the Thai Tomato Soup), and a turkey Stromboli, with cookies and brownies for dessert. 

Crossing the dam We drove on that

Yes, we could drive across the Diablo Dam – but check for oncoming traffic first!

We crossed this little bridge just before the dam.  I held my breath on the return trip.

North Cascades Environmental Center Hwy 20 bridge and waterfall

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, where we ate our lunch. 

The high bridge over Pierce Falls is on Hwy 20, which we drove when we moved to Rockport. 

From there, you could meet with a National Park Ranger for a ranger-led walk to the boat dock; walk there on your own (our choice); or take a shuttle bus.  At the dock, we all loaded aboard a 70-passenger boat to cruise Diablo Lake, one of several lakes formed by the Seattle City Power-operated dams to capture the hydropower of the rivers of the northern Cascades.  The cruise was narrated by a national park ranger and one of the staff of the Environmental Learning Center, and was a fun, beautiful ride through some otherwise inaccessible country.  We both agreed it was worth the price of admission - $29 for me, $25 for Odel, due to his advanced age.  :)

And guess what?  It didn’t rain!

Tomorrow we are leaving beautiful Howard Miller Steelhead County Park (click here to read our review), moving on to Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island, under 100 miles.  That’s my kind of travel day.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Western Washington.  Rain.  Two things almost inseparable!  It has rained without letup since we awoke, but we are cozy inside, with a pot of beans bubbling on the stove and the British Open on TV.  A good time to blog.  :)

We’ve heard much about Hwy 20 which crosses the Cascade Range through North Cascades National Park.  In the past, we’ve decided on another route for one reason or another: too much smoke from forest fires filling the valleys, or we wanted to visit Mt. Rainier, to the south, so crossed on Hwy 2.  This year, the time was right – and we got unexpected cooperation from the weather.  We awoke to sunshine, slathered on the bug juice, hooked up the Jeep and were away to the west by 9:15 am.

The view out our window when we awoke in Twisp.  Prepare to battle the mosquitos!

Heading west through the Methow Valley with lots of sunshine.

Early Morning in Twisp Towards Mazama

Washington Pass, at 5,477 feet elevation, seems to be the dividing line between drier, eastern Washington and wetter (MUCH wetter!) western Washington.  The climb from the Methow Valley is steep (several miles rated a 7% grade) and beautiful.  The road was smooth, the sunshine welcome, and we cruised along oohing and ahhing at the changing scenery.

Then… as the road started to rise, just around a curve, we glimpsed a gravel truck that had passed us when Odel used a “slow traffic” turnout.  Oh, man!  Just before we hit the steep grade, we lost our forward momentum!

We caught our first glimpse of the truck…

… and soon were up close and personal.

Mountains and the truck Behind the truck 1

With no way to pass, we settled in for a slow climb, which turned out to be a great learning experience.  We’ve known for quite awhile that the way to keep the engine temperature down (not a worry today, with temperatures in the 50’s during the climb) is to climb slowly – which usually means 3rd gear for us on a steep, curvy grade.  With the truck moving so slowly (21 mph), we were geared down into 2nd gear – and the needle on the temperature gauge hardly budged off “flat road” temperature.  Its all about high RPM’s.

So we slowly crawled along, with plenty of time to look around and enjoy the scenery.  Several miles short of the pass, we began to see bright orange “Road Work” signs.  Around a curve, we came upon a flagger, who stopped us at the head of the line as the gravel truck continued to crawl up the grade ahead of us to drop his load.  When the flagger came over to Odel’s window for a chat, he said we’d have a five minute wait, so I hopped out for a few photographs.

The truck pulled away at the flagger; see the road cut on the side of the mountain ahead?

Odel and the flagger chatted while I took photos.  Notice the little waterfall to the left.

Behind the truck and road cut First in line

We fell in behind the pilot car…

…followed her around the curve and on up the grade.

Follow me Lots of snow

It was just a short distance to the summit, and then we were over the pass into western Washington.  Soon lush growth covered every bit of soil, and moss carpeted rocks and tree trunks.  Named waterfalls thundered down mountainsides next to the highway; smaller, unnamed cascades splashed onto the road frequently; misty clouds clung to the mountaintops.

High country Ross Lake

We saw beautiful high country valleys…

… and pulled over at the Ross Lake viewpoint.

Farther west, moss abounds.

Raindrops on our windshield were a given.

Moss and rocks another waterfall

At times, the road brought to mind “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”, with sharp curves on a downhill slope.  Odel occasionally geared down into 2nd so we could negotiate the winding two-lane road without braking (much).  We crested another (lower) summit, passed a few gorgeous lakes, bisected the National Park, knowing we would be camped close enough to revisit the park and do some hiking over the next few days. 

Site 31 HMSPWe pulled off the highway in Rockport: gas station, post office, tavern and, its greatest feature, Howard Miller Steelhead Park (click here to read our review), our home for the next 5 days.  We had a site reserved for the first two nights, with the next three (weekend) night up in the air. Hooray - as I have been writing, the campground manager dropped by to say he had a cancellation for the weekend, so we’re in (though we will need to change sites).

With that settled, on the recommendation of our friend Jim Baker, Odel called Seattle City Light and arranged two tickets for their Diablo Lake Boat Tour.  According to, Sunday has a decent chance for sunshine, so we’ve crossed our fingers.  Until then, looks like umbrella weather.