Sunday, March 28, 2010

Big Rocks, Little Flowers

This was the weekend to head east for hiking, flower spotting and relaxing. The flower I was so hot on seeing was the Hedgehog Cactus, a brilliant pink and yellow flower bursting forth from a lump of a dark, spiny cactus. But first, we set off for Frenchman Coulee and Echo Basin for some hiking and geological wonderment. I read up on the geology of the area in "Roadside Geology of Washington", learning about the lava that covered the area and then the floodwaters that followed. The drive to the area is transformational (for the terrain, but maybe a little for me, too). After crossing the Columbia River and passing the Horses statue on the hill, we exited at exit #143, the same that you'd take to get to the Gorge Amphitheater. From there, a left onto Vantage Highway and we dropped into the canyon, first with the road following a creek and a waterfall over a cliff, then basalt cliffs and vast basins came into view. We were both drawn by the sandy-looking area in the distance and parked and started hiking.

It was difficult for me to judge the scale of distance but soon the sand we had seen from the trailhead was before us- it was a sand dune in the desert! We both had our cameras out, doing our best Ansel Adams impressions and trying to capture the best images that juxtaposed the sand in the foreground with the mountains in the distance. While wandering, we came upon an easy route up to the top of the plateau where there were trees and tall grasses. Walking to the other side, we could see the climbers on the basalt towers on the other side of the basin.

Once we exhausted all the angles and viewpoints that we could capture with our cameras, we headed back to the car for part two of the day's explorations. We drove back across the Columbia and to Vantage where we took the old highway toward Ellensburg. There were two access points for Whiskey Dick Mountain and we chose the second one by default. While the coulee area was warm and sunny, this area was cool and windy and we endured the cold to get up to a viewpoint. The viewpoint was pointing in the direction of the wind turbines, a major source of power out here where the winds always blow. But just underfoot were some flowers and that's when I remembered that the scale of things here was much different than on the west side. The mountains, while shorter, seem taller and the flowers and small and dainty. We saw lots of violets and yellow and blue bells and buttercups. When we stepped off the road to go back cross-country, we saw the Hedgehog Cactus but it was not blooming yet. It looks like it will be another few weeks.

The following day was cool and cloudy so we were discouraged to drive to 2,600' for the Black Canyon hike and instead chose Umtanum Canyon, a place I had been to many times. We chose well, as the sun came out after a half-hour on the trail and the trail has seen much improvement over the years. Plus, I ran into 3 people I had hiked with in the past so I felt right at home. The creek crossings gave us some early season confidence for the necessary skills of backcountry hiking and we took even more photos of Ponderosa Pine, bassalt rocks and foliage. As a bonus, we hiked out just as the first raindrops of the day began to fall.

For the complete photos, click here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Eat your Vegan Shoes Here!

My 'hood is Phinney Ridge/ Greenwood (Phinney when I feel I need to boost my status, Greenwood when I want to live among the common folk) and I just read on the Phinney blog that a new store is opening. The word, "chocolate" caught my eye, but my brain started having trouble associating the next word with it, "shoe".

The new store is called The Chocolate Shoe Box. Now, there is a store near the Pike Place Market called The Chocolate Box that sells chocolate (expensive but not necessarily good) but this shop, to be located on 74th & Greenwood, sells primarily two items: chocolate and vegan shoes. Please, someone tell those crazy vegans that shoes are made for walking, not for eating!

And chocolate is vegan already, unless you are interested in the milk chocolate variety which is sugar first, milk second and chocolate a distant third. Dark chocolate or, specifically, chocolate with at least 70% chocolate mass has no animal products in it. There's no butter in cocoa butter which I think throws some people off. The "butter" is a vegetable fat from the cacao bean. Vegans and everyone else can enjoy chocolate without giving up their food beliefs.

But the only kind of Chocolate Shoe Box I want anything to do with is a shoebox full of my many favorite chocolates: Claudio Corallo, Michel Cluizel, Pralus...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ride for Pi(e)

For the crowd that showed up at Gasworks, today's ride seemed to be tougher than yesterday's climbing. It was a daunting challenge- ride 33 miles and eat 3 slices of pie. Or, from another perspective, eat 3 slices of pie and get 33 miles of riding worked in between slices. I preferred looking at it that way.

A newbie to the Pie Ride, Bill admitted to eating a large breakfast that morning. Once he realized that the group, made up of his peers, would really be eating pie at all three stops, he tucked away his energy bars into the deep recesses of his saddle bag.
First stop: Seattle Pie Company in Magnolia. They always have a great assortment of flavors, may with crumb toppings. I had the Strapple (strawberry apple). Missing from our group was David, a Magnolia resident and pie aficionado. We went in search of him, but didn't find him at home, either. Where was David?

On to Discovery Park, back through Fremont and on to Montlake where we visited our old friend, Fuel Coffee at Montlake. We had a contest for the first person to recite the most digits of Pi: 3.141592 is where most people ended. Then, Becky took a lucky guess of "6" and she won a free coffee. Maybe she should buy a lottery ticket!
From Montlake, the riding got serious and we went many miles of pure pedalling, not so much pie eating. Down to Lake Washington, up through Mt Baker Park and Boulevard, and up my new favorite road, Cheasty Boulevard. A climbing traverse along a tree-lined road for over a mile, leading to Beacon Ave (or Bacon Ave, as I was getting hungry again). Descend over the Green Bridge, climb up Jackson and head north to Capitol Hill. There, we had 2 pies awaiting us that I had special ordered: Cherry Almond and Apple, two of the best pies that Fuel's High Five Pie makes. We weren't sure we could eat both of them so Emily offered to take home the leftovers. But in no time, we were working on the second pie and then there was only one slice remaining which I tucked into my saddlebag for later.

Descending through Interlaken Boulevard, we all thought about what a beautiful city and part of the country we live in, having a park to ride through, nearly car-free. Similarly, I was thinking about how lucky we were to have such great bakeries all within riding distance.

Want to do your own ride for pie? See the route here
See here for the photos

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lost in Translation

"Oh, no, it's not a flat ride", Martha said while we chatted at the start of her south end jaunt, promoted as "mostly flat with a couple of easy hills". I watched as her hand snaked upward in the air, imitating the grade and length of one of the climbs. "We'll wait for you...", she encouraged. The route description had been translated in a game of telephone where "strenuous" was replaced with "easy", hmmm.

It seemed as though most of the group were surprised by the presence of serious hills: Arnie was on a fixed-gear bike, Ron and Lyly were on their tandem and Tony had brought his 11 year-old daughter along (the last two turned back after Fort Dent and were spared).

The ride started out flat and moderate-paced, a comfortable start to a Saturday morning. We were even treated to a police escort through a very short traffic light. Then we found ourselves climbing up and out of the Kent valley. And up some more, and around a bend. Several of us stopped for "photo-opps" (a nice way to say we were gasping for breath). The steepest and longest climb of the day was out of the way, but there were plenty more hills (but with views, too). I think we all felt stronger and fitter by the time we reached Burien. And we were hungry!

Off to lunch in White Center at the Salvadorean Bakery where we had sandwiches, stewed chicken, yucca root, pupusas, fried plantains and porridge. That hit the spot. On the return, we opted for the "quick and dirty" route on Delridge Way, due to the storm clouds from the west. For the first time in 20 years, I finally got to see the West Seattle bridge open. We were merely christened by a few drops of rain before getting back to Tully's and our cars and to a few beers at Smarty Pants down the road.