Here’s a Steller story version of our Utah motorcycle adventure through Moab, Arches National Park, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. Matt’s bike broke down and there were some weather issues so we lost a bit of time but still managed to have chock-a-block adventures.
Here are all the photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/albums/72157669072041021
I put together a Steller story Stacie’s and my trip to Tennessee. It’s impossible to capture how
much trouble many adventures we can get into in photographs but needless to say – memories were made, adventures were had, we’ll probably have to go back at some point and we will definitely have to go on another motorcycle trip. That was super fun.
This has been an ongoing problem since I started blogging in 2001 – I generally have more adventures than time to write about them. But last year was spectacular so I don’t want to forget it. I saw the northern lights for the first time – hanging out on top of a mountain all night in the Yukon – and I narrowly missed seeing the Southern Cross while we were hiking the Inca Trail in Peru. I drove on an ice road and did two speedy drift dives through narrows in BC and Washington. I made it (barely) up to Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,700′ and down to about 130′ underwater to see Gorgonian corals, but most of the summer was spent on the road – either on my motorcycle or camped on the ground beside it. Between commuting, camping with the Rainier Ravens and going on a couple of trips with Matt, I put a lot more miles on my bike than I have in a while (plus met some amazing people) and ventured down the Oregon Coast, near to Mt. Adams, around Crater Lake, over to the Olympic Peninsula and through Joshua Tree National Park.
I also got a job I loved, hit publish on my 500th blog post, made a coffee table, and cooked up an incredible amount of delicious food. I had set a goal for myself of eating less meat last year and inadvertently became a vegetarian again – except for a handful of meals I found I just didn’t want meat. In addition, I’ve been trying to cook as much gluten-free food for Matt so our tastes and dining habits have changed pretty significantly but we still had fun reviewing a lot of cookbooks last year. We ate some truly incredible meals in Lima then closed out the year by buying a home in Seattle and moving into our lovely blue house in the last few weeks of December. Phew! I crossed so many things off my life list that I’m tempted to sit back and take it easy for a while but knowing me that won’t last long.
Here are my favourite photos from 2015:
Early in the year (so early I almost forgot), I went on my yearly dive trip to Skookumchuck Narrows – one of my favourite places – with Porpoise Bay Charters and my Vancouver dive crew -some of my favourite people. We revisited all of our favourite sites and had a bit of a more exciting time than we intending surfacing at night in the middle of the channel. Skookumchuck means ‘strong water’ and it’s not a place you want to be too far from shore or the boat. Afterwards we warmed up with port and cheese and the telling of tales.
I am only beginning to understand the nuances of night photography but what I experienced in Dawson City couldn’t have been captured on film anyways – bright colours streaking and dancing across the sky, then dipping below the horizon only to come back around and surprise you. Most Inuit have some folklore around the northern lights being spirits of the dead playing ball with a walrus head or skull and it was not hard to imagine this at all. One of the most profound experiences of my life.
My sister and I are slowly exploring the US on little city breaks – for my birthday it was Austin and we had an absolute blast. Between cocktails, food trucks, cocktails, live music and more cocktails, there was maybe more laughing than remembering but that’s just fine with me. Next year we’ll go to Memphis, Nashville and Chicago.
Ever since my sister and I went to the Oregon Coast last year, I’ve wanted to take Riley down to play on the beach. Oregon is so civilized that dogs are allowed off leash on all the beaches and there are just no sad dogs to be seen anywhere. Riley literally played until she couldn’t stand up anymore – she looks drunk in this photo! – while Matt and I celebrated our anniversary drinking Champagne on the sand.
A few weeks later I was back down on two wheels although I didn’t actually get down to the beach.
It has been a life dream of mine to go to Outstanding in the Field but I have always put it off because of the expense. Matt surprised me with tickets for my birthday and I can’t say it’s a great deal in terms of value but the food was excellent and we had a lot of fun wandering around the farm and meeting new people.
Matt joined a band program with another friend with ours so for the first time I had the opportunity to see him perform on stage instead of on our couch!
Summer really ramped up in August where I felt like I was on a motorcycle trip every weekend. Lucky me! The Ravens (my motorcycle group) put on a spectacular camp out event where we had about 50 women join overnight to Port Townsend on their bikes. I’ve done some camping on a bike before but certainly not on the Ducati so it was a fun project to get it all loaded up with gear. We camped out in the trees, road up to Hurricane Ridge, went to a drive-in movie, had a hot tub and basically the best time ever. These women are incredible. I can’t wait until next year.
Another, larger camp out was happening the following weekend so some friends and I headed down for that and luckily brought our rain gear because that was some of the wettest riding I’ve done in a while. The countryside was beautiful and the roads were amazing but I had to keep reminding myself that it was August and not October. That’s summer in the Pacific Northwest, I suppose!
In September some friends and I had planned to ride to Glacier National Park but sections were closed due to snow so we headed south and went to Crater Lake in Oregon instead. It was still incredibly cold on some of the mountain roads and as the roads got dark and full of deer we pulled over earlier than we had intended. The views didn’t disappoint though – the lake is deeply blue and serene and the ring road needs to be done (despite crappy pavement and an abundance of RV’s).
I thought I might have had enough of women’s motorcycle camp outs but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ride through the desert to Babes Ride Out in Joshua Tree (now in its third year, it is one of the inaugural events that are inspiring all the others). Some friends and I flew to Vegas and rented Harley’s – well, I rented a Bonneville but that’s another story – rode down to the campground, pitched tents and then got up and road almost all the way to L.A. on some very sweet roads. In the morning we got up early to ride through the park and take a look at the strange looking Joshua Trees. Amazing trip. Next year Matt and I will go to a co-ed camp out in Moab, Utah.
There’s not much I can say about Peru yet…I’m still processing it (and Matt’s still processing photos). We went to Lima to eat and we ate exceptionally well at the 4th, 14th and 44th best restaurants in the world – Astrid y Gaston, Central and Maido – then flew to Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude before hiking over the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Despite all the photos you’ve ever seen, being there is absolutely magical with the clouds coming in and out and hiking for four days to get there made it a prize well deserved.
Finally sitting still, on the stoop of our new home. This winter is going to be a quiet one but here’s to 2016!
Not long after the last trip to the Oregon coast with my pack of lovely moto-babes, the Rainier Ravens. It was roughly-themed as a Goonies ride because – though I had neglected to recognize the landmarks or remember this fact on any of my prior trips down – large parts of it are filmed there. The ‘Goon Docks’ home that the kids were trying to save is in Astoria, as well as many of the street scenes, and I don’t know how I didn’t recognize Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach from the end of the film. There aren’t many like it.
But as much as I loved the film as a kid (second only to Gremlins), I wasn’t there for nostalgia but rather for the road and spectacular scenery, to be enjoyed by motorcycle. It’s long been a dream of mine to travel down the coast to California by bike (having done it, and parts of it several times in a car) but with so few vacation days in the America I jumped at the chance to take a trip at least part of the way down the coast.
The first group met at Dick’s Drive-in and after a series of communication debacles, got on the ferry at Fauntleroy and filled up with some of their awful coffee in Styrofoam cups, then headed off towards the sea.
The first sight of the water always take my breath away, even though I haven’t lived or worked more than a few blocks from the sea in quite some time. Coming around the corner before Astoria and seeing the white caps on the water, then the monstrous bridge is just amazing. We stopped for some photos and to rest our butts before continuing on to Oregon! For a few of the new girls it was the longest they had ridden so it was a long day but we pressed on to Manzanita where we were rewarded with gorgeous sweeping vistas of the sea, a dip in the pool, and dinner and drinks at the local watering hole, canvasing the one open shop for more wine and then retiring to our rooms.
The next day we were meant to meet the rest of the Ravens at a roadside restaurant but we had some time to kill so we rode along the beach and then up through Astoria where we could hear the sea lions!), through all the beautiful long curves and seaside vistas until we reached our turnoff and just as I, bringing up the read of our group, made the turn I caught sight of a group of women coming down the hill towards us – more Ravens! It was an amazing experience as we all joined rank together then piled into the restaurant parking lot, giddy and excited at the timing. It could not have been more perfect.
I’ve been riding motorcycles for a long time…15 years or so, and so I’ve gotten quite used to riding with guys, or by myself or at best with a small pack of lesbians but to be a part of such an rad group of women out on a long ride (nevermind all the shorter rides and beers at the Fuse Box and general love and support) was just amazing.
We were all amped up on the ride back, cruising through the forest-flanked twisties, up into the mountains and then as we approached Seattle it was like any of the 80’s cult movies – Breakfast Club, Stand By Me, Karate Kid, Goonies – where an epic summer adventure ends and each individual peels off with a wave towards home.
One of the great things I love about our temporary US home is how diverse it is. Last fall we went on a road trip through pelting rain and evergreens, forests of yellow and green Aspens, geothermic landscapes, the view from 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, red sandstone for days, ancient Pueblos, more than one amazing canyon (and one Grand one), the suburbs of Las Vegas, from 230 feet below sea water to the hot desert heights of Death Valley, the cool granite and forested landscapes of Yosemite and finally back to the rain and evergreens. We saw moose, a Grizzly, a herd of Pronghorn antelope, a whole lot of Elk, deer, chipmunks, Bison, and met a lot of cool people. And that was only in the west. With my birthday coming up I wanted to do a quick city break with my sister and we narrowed it down to Savannah, Denver again, or Austin.
Since Savannah was a bit too far for a weekend and I had just been to Denver, we were soon on our way to Texas (which you already know, based on the title of this post).
Austin is adorable and so fun. I knew it from Slacker and SXSW and from my friend Mel who lives there now, but America has a thing that Canada does not, which is a relatively even spread of people and culture across the country, and inhabitants that move around between cities. So even a college town can seem larger than life when in fact it is about the same size as Ottawa. In a matter of hours we had seen the lake (actually a river), the grassy knoll that rises above the town, the party district and well, I don’t really remember anything after that.
If someone asked me what there was to do in Austin, I would have to be honest and say “drink” with maybe some eating thrown in for good measure. We did walk up to the Capitol building one day and Mel suggested stand up paddle-boarding on the lake but from the time we got in to the time we left, we were basically going from dinner to cocktail bar to another cocktail bar to jazz club to late night food truck to bed to boozy brunch… If Austin had a theme it would be “cocktails and music” which are basically two of my favourite things and it kind of blows my mind that what I consider real jobs seem like an afterthought here. We had an AMAZING time but this was definitely a case of needing home for a rest.
Our weekend started off in East Austin with dinner at Qui. We were late because our taxi driver didn’t speak French and so took us to Key Bar, a raucous divey looking thing on the party street. My sister looked alarmed and the taxi driver asked me if I was sure when I said we weren’t in the right place but soon we were speeding off in the other direction and sitting down to an amazing dinner. I would go back to Austin just to go to Qui but from there we walked back to the hotel through cocktail bars and food trucks, ended up at the East Side Show Lounge where a trio featuring an incredible vocalist was playing. I adore live music and I know that Seattle has a lot of it but there is something about just stumbling upon it happening that makes it even greater.
The next day we went for brunch and I tried to untangle the local vernacular for bodies of water (lake, river, swimming holes, etc.) over a Caesar and then a series of patio bars for the afternoon. Our dinner plans at Wink turned into a whole evening affair when the sky opened up and a thunderstorm took out the power. We were one or two tiny courses into a tasting menu so we finished our wine…and then a second bottle and I don’t remember much about the rest of the evening except that it involved dessert I didn’t like, hanging out with a staggette party at Peche, dancing at the Handlebar and giving my number to someone who was going to invite us to a party at the power plant. This is why it’s important to eat a good dinner, kids.
Sunday we spent on Rainey Street at the recommendation of one of the barmen. It’s a street of converted houses where each house has a different theme – one is a sports bar, one is a cocktail bar, one has a crazy amount of sausages, one has hammocks to chill out in…many have live music. It’s a great place to spend a day and Austin was a great place to spend a weekend – especially as I don’t get to see my sister nearly enough these days and spending days listening to music and drinking cocktails was the perfect way to catch up.
I have wanted to go to the Arctic for practically my entire life. When I was a kid my aunt and uncle went to Tuktoyaktuk (in the Northwest Territories) for a year to work with Inuit artists and they came back with two huskies, a cool nickname for my cousin and a pack of stories – I’ve been hooked on the north ever since. It’s not a travel destination that many share, however. When I suggested that I wanted to spend my 40th birthday ice diving in the arctic, Matt just laughed his ass off. So instead I went to the Yukon.
It’s practically the Arctic…parts of it are. A few good friends had taken serial trips to Dawson City to photograph the Northern Lights and I figured that my penchant for taking photos (mostly with my iPhone), combined with my fondness for adventure plus my obvious expertise as a Nat Geo explorer wannabe made me an obvious candidate for the trip. I packed my DSLR, my tripod, my warmest toque and the Pacific Northwest equivalent of a parka but fast forward a few months and I found myself on top of a mountain at 4 AM, jumping up and down with my fists jammed into my armpits trying to keep warm.
It occurred to me – not for the first time – that I am not cut out to be a landscape or wildlife photographer. Too much sitting around. I am more the type of photographer that takes a selfie out of a train window on a mountain switchback and hope it works out.
But let’s back up to a few weeks previous. I went down to the beach by our house to try and glean as much photographic knowledge from my husband as possible. He made a valiant effort but per usual I was more interested in the nighttime beach happenings than the dials on the camera. I knew that my eye for detail was not going to help one whit with nighttime pics but eventually I decided to wing it anyways and set off for a little-visited part of the YVR airport.
When my friends and I arrived in Whitehorse I was surprised by the desolateness and big-town-in-the-outback feel. Instead of advertising the usual spas and kiddie attractions, the brochure in the hotel room was a mining directory. There was also a Tim Hortons, a CIBC bank, lots of government buildings and monuments and, of course, a bar. It’s called the Dirty Northern Bastard and we spent the majority of our time in the city there – all of us keeping watch on the cloud cover and refreshing the NOAA forecast for the Aurora Borealis in the hopes that we would get lucky.
The first time I went to Las Vegas I drove from Phoenix and the city appeared in the desert like a lit-up oasis. To compare Dawson City to Vegas would be ridiculous but the surprise reveal was similar; after driving for hour through a bleak and desolate landscape, we turned a corner and entered a gold rush town, revived. I roused myself from the nest I’d made in the back seat and started oohing and ahhing at all the old buildings.
The top 10 things to do in Dawson include drinking at Diamond Tooth Gerties’, looking at Robert Service’s log cabin, visiting the Jack London museum, walking by the S.S. Keno (an historic steamboat displayed beside the river), walking by the dilapidated St. Paul’s Anglican Church partially sunk into the ground due to the permafrost, and eating at the Greek restaurant (one of the only places open through the winter. we went there twice). Aside from eating and drinking, this doesn’t take very long so we added in a drive across the ice road to take photos from a bluff and hanging out with some sled dogs that were in town for a race. There’s not much open over the winter in Dawson.
But after a short rest we bundled up and headed out to a mountain top outside of town. Notable for its height, lack of streetlights and relative proximity to the sky show, it was also seriously cold. I set up my camera on the tripod, hopped up and down a few times, and then stared at the sky. I didn’t have to wait long – a green glow appeared on the horizon, stretched out into a curtain and then hung there shimmering. It was utterly magical.
Words like ‘awesome’, ‘mind-blowing’ and ‘extraordinary’ were invented for wonders like the Northern Lights but have become dull and common with overuse. So we have no words for what happens when the sky comes alive and dances with color. Aliens have been mentioned and most Inuit have some folklore around the lights being spirits of the dead kicking a ball / walrus skull around the sky…staring skyward for the better part of the night with my friends, it all seems believable. One of the most profound experiences of my life.
The next day we ate at the only restaurant that was open, explored the dredge and then took a nap so we could do it all again.
Check out the story I wrote for Steller stories:
My mom had airline tickets to Albuquerque and I had points so we set off after Christmas for a few days. Matt and I had been to New Mexico for the first time on our road trip last October, travelling through Taos Pueblo, Farmington and Chaco Cultural Centre to see the ancient pueblos. We were mesmerized by the landscape and the history so I was excited to see what Albuquerque and Santa Fe were like.
The short answer is cold. We looked out the window and saw the sunny courtyard so walked out in sweaters…then promptly headed back to the hotel for jackets, toques and gloves. The sunshine was nice but at -4 degrees it was significantly warmer in Seattle! But Historic Albuquerque is beautiful and was still all decked out for Christmas with wreathes and ribbons and a creche at the church. And the red chiles hanging everywhere are surely not seasonal but if you want a mix of red and green on your enchiladas you ask for “Christmas”.
We took the train to Santa Fe and that was a beautiful ride through the state and up to 7,000 feet elevation. Needless to say it did not get any warmer and the plaza in the Old Town district was still covered in snow – beautiful against the sandstone pueblo architecture. We walked everywhere, ducking into art galleries and boutiques, finding little cafes to warm up in and eventually sitting down to a beautiful lunch at the historic La Fonda hotel. We saw the Georgia O’Keeffe gallery but there’s not much there; we were more impressed with the light and the landscape, the architecture and the Puebloan craft markets. It’s easy to see why so many artists have found themselves here, and how so many beautiful things have come out of this area.
It started with Mount St. Helen’s. After we got a new truck, we went to Dick’s Drive-in and then Riley and I went to Mount St. Helen’s.
Then we went to all of these places:
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
En route through Wyoming
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
CHACO CULTURAL NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK
CANYON DE CHELLY NATIONAL MONUMENT
HUBBLE TRADING POST
PAINTED DESERT / PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
And finally home.
4468 miles, 9 National Parks and monuments, 10 states. My favourites were Yellowstone, Hubble Trading Post (how I wish I could afford some Navajo weaving!) and Canyon de Chelly, Matt’s were Chaco Culture NHP and the Petrified Forest. Riley liked the dog parks, jumping on hotel beds and sampling sticks in all locations. Next time we will definitely camp out, hike and take it slower so we can explore more places along the way but that was an amazing sampling of
And the Xterra held up exceptionally well. In fact, we christened it Wade Davis, after my favourite explorer.
Check out a whole bunch more photos here.