Stunning Tahoe MTBing

We’ve lived in San Francisco for two years and we’ve never made it to Tahoe which is about 3.5-4.5hrs drive away depending on traffic. We’ve joked that we’ll never make it for skiing though we really do hope to! So we finally tied down a date, booked the last spot available at a lakeside campsite, invited a few friends (though only one could make it) and left at about 7am on Saturday morning!

On the way we needed our weekend fix of espresso and it’s always a mission to find the perfect cup. Lindsay has this down to a fine art, and we stopped in Roseville, close to Sacramento for coffee at Fourscore. He outdid himself by finding perfect coffee in a stunningly restored old part of the town.

MTBing Angora Ridge/Tahoe Mountain Loop

Lindsay had wanted to ride another trail, but with it being the height of summer and schools on vacation, the roads to Tahoe were packed and we made slower than expected progress. Along the way he changed tack deciding to ride the Anogora Ridge/Tahoe Mountain loop. The trail was 12+ Miles,and was close to our campsite looking out over lake Tahoe.

We could drive and park right up to the start of the trail. There was a short rugged ride that took us up to a fire road. We could have carried along the road for a while, or get back on the mountain bike trail which is generally always our preference. This part of the ride was pretty with views out to Fallen Leaf lake. A single track, it was so dry, with the finest brown dust that made its way through my closed toe Giro shoes and socks, leaving my feet filthy. The weather was warm early 30’sC/late 80’sF, there were lots of loose or jutting rocks and a steady climb up to 7200 feet, making for a slow, sweaty, heart palpitating ride.

This ride includes two climbs, but the first (the Angora Ridge) is the most difficult. Both downhills are really good fun with seemingly long, flowy downhill rides. The second half of the ride took us through the Angora Forest which was decimated in 2007 by forest fires. What would have been a forest ride was now jarred with burnt trees. However the trail was really pretty, with new flora developing on the once tree covered hills.

It is a pity there are many forest fires burning in California at the moment, I believe to date these are the worst on record. Not only do they destroy homes, the ash can spread hundreds of miles which is why these photos look so murky and don’t show the stunning views as they should.

Camping Next to Lake Tahoe.

We met up with our buddy Kurt at a local supermarket and completed our shopping for supplies. Having recently purchased his own truck, he took the opportunity to get it out on the open road for a good drive.

Lindsay had managed to nab the last campsite at Bliss State Park, bordering Lake Tahoe. This is bear country, and the park provides sturdy steel storage lockers for all things smelly. This includes food, sunscreen, the lot. They suggest taking these items out of the car and storing them in the lockers or face a fine up to $1000. I felt a little concern about sleeping in a light tent, whilst our food stayed safe in bear proof lockers. After all, wouldn’t I be tasty bear food?

We had a great deal of laughs as we set up camp. Kurt had initiated a trial of a Trucktent. And like the good woman I am, I stood back watching with amusement as two engineers attempted to erect the cumbersome unit. I offered a couple of tips which were well received. Unfortunately, the final unzip is where plans fell apart, with a tear appearing on the ill-fitting tent. Kurt had bought along his Aussie back up. A Swag Tent, which is a complete bed and one man tent which only needs to be unrolled, and 3 small tent poles inserted! Except for the heat, Kurt slept like a baby.

We settled in for the eve with chipmunks scurrying about, expectantly burrowing into the ground. It was our first time seeing these little creatures and we were delighted. The boys proudly built a fire and as night settled in we attempted S’mores, an American delight….though one each was enough for us.

In the morning we headed down to the lake for a refreshing dip. The waters of Lake Tahoe were cool, but beautifully clear.

MTBing Tahoe Rime Flume Trail

The next day we parted ways with Kurt and headed to an iconic U.S. trail, and probably my second favourite scenic ride of all time (My favourite is the Motu Trails in New Zealand). It’s known as the Flume Trail and it follows the old log flume that was used to extract timber from the forests above. We drove to the bottom of the trail where an organisation called Flume Trail Bikes have shuttles (and MTB rentals) that will drop you at the start of the trails.

We just missed the 12.30 shuttle so stopped for lunch at the café next door to the shuttles, We then got a ride on the 2pm shuttle to the beginning of the trail. The climb is slow and steady, not steep but the altitude makes it tough. Even though I’m asthmatic I was okay, maybe as I’d taken a puff on my Ventolin inhaler. But Lindsay struggled with a high heart rate. Both of us were sweating heavily and had to finish the very top of the climb on foot pushing our bikes, when the incline got a little steeper.

Once the inital climb is over, that’s it…no more climbs.  The ride from there is flat with the slightest downhill incline. Pure bliss! As we cycled past the stunning Lake Marlette Lindsay exclaimed that he could absolutely imagine a bear or mountain lion wandering out of the hills. As we came to the end of the Marlette lake, there is a reservoir that shines a stunning emerald/blue colour.

This reservoir is the start of the old log flume that has been removed. Now it’s a stunning single track that works its way through sparse forest, and along the side of sheer cliffs which tumble down to Lake Tahoe below. The ride is exhilarating, keeping the adrenaline pumping as you ride along the track, and the scenery is breathtaking.

Several times we passed a fit looking man in his early 20’s, who was literally throwing himself on the trail, begging his buddy to get search and rescue to pick him up because he was too tired. He was riding with his backpack wildly swinging from the bars, and he was making a amazing ride exhausting and dangerous for all around. Don’t be fool on this ride, wear your gear correctly, and keep a good head. And as on any ride, know your level of fitness, and ride to that. Once you’re in, the only way out is by riding.

The end of the ride takes you down a long, sandy, fun downhill and you can ride right off the hills and straight back to the car. The shuttle dropped us to the bottom of the trail about 2.30pm, and we were packed and back underway by 5pm.

 

Billy Goats Required! So rough I jiggled an old wrist fracture loose.

In the USA many companies close down for the week of July 4th. We decided to use the opportunity for a summer holiday/vacation with a MTBing / camping weekend. As the weather was fast warming up, we decided to go camping close to Clear Lake, a couple of hours drive north of San Francisco, where we could take a dip after our first days riding. It was a fortunate decision as weather warnings were in place for temps in the early 40’s C/100’s F.

MTBing in Santa Rosa

On the way to the camp site, we stopped off at Trione Annadel State Park for a 16+ Mile Ride on the Big Loop. When we arrived the temperature was already starting to heat up. The beginning of the road takes you up Cobblestone Trail, a tenuous description for what is a two-way easy incline, but a very bumpy ride. Not long after starting my heart was beating fast. I was starting to sweat a lot and I had a bit of a funny tummy. Meanwhile, Lindsay was feeling awesome.

About 10 miles into the ride we stopped at a large dammed lake. Another couple had stripped down to their underwear and had waded in for a dip. I contemplated following them in, but once I’d had a snack and a shaded sit down, I felt a little better.

Before we headed off, a local artist wandered into the area and informed me that the innocuous greenery I had rested my bike in was in fact poison ivy, and that I should give my bike a wipe down before carrying on. I’m lucky that either I’m not affected by its oil, or I managed to avoid getting it on my body. Something like 85% of people are allergic to the undetectable sticky oil put off by all parts of the plant which can have horrific consequences!!

We didn’t complete the full loop as I was going a lot slower than my normal pace, and suspect I was experiencing slight heat exhaustion. However there were some great downhills, though not for the fainthearted. They were rocky with dappled light coming through the forest canopy making it difficult to read the trail. It was mentally tiring, but well worth the effort.

We made it to the end of the trail later than expected, happy to climb back into the strategically parked truck, now shaded by the surrounded brush. At the end of the ride I remembered several lessons we had learnt from riding in the heat of Phoenix, AZ. First, take lots of breaks and pre-hydrate. Second, pre-load with a little food if we head out in the late morning. Finally, turn up the temp in the car so as not to get out of a pleasantly cool car, into intense warm heat.

 

Camping at Clear Lake

We arrived at the  Clear Lake State Park campground at about 5.30pm after having gone shopping for food and supplies. It had some fairly decent amenities with pretty water filled inlets stretching well into the grounds. We erected out tent and headed down to the lake on our MTB’s as the site is fairly large.

The lake was surprisingly warm which I suspect contributed to the algae bloom occurring in the water. As we waded in we could feel large flurries of soft algae swish past our bodies.  Apparently Clear Lake is fantastic for fishing off shore and now I believe it. I’m a water baby, I grew up swimming, water skiing, snorkeling. Lindsay and I met Scuba Diving! But I was surprised when I felt a nibble on my heel, letting out a small squeal. Lindsay laughed until he later felt a nibble on his toe, after which he quickly exited the water!

MTBing in the Napa Wine Country

The next day, feeling refreshed we headed back to San Francisco via Napa County. Lindsay had originally picked a cycle trail close to the campsite, though he noticed there hadn’t been a lot of recent updates on the MTB Project link. It turned out as we headed in the direction of the trail that the forest had been burnt out in 2017 California Wine Country Fires with the entrance to the trail gated and shut.

Lindsay did a quick search and he found the Oat Hill Mine Trail, boasting views out over the valleys and vineyards of the upper Napa region. It was getting late in the morning so following the lessons learnt from yesterdays’ ride, we loaded up on peanuts and water. We then found a park for the truck, under the shade of a tree, and headed out.

The ride is an out and back ride – straight up, and then straight down the same path. The incline was steep though rideable, but seemed to throw up every type of rock garden imaginable. At times we had to pick our trajectory carefully through jutting rocks, shale, or over long bumpy rock faces. It takes a fairly experienced rider to stay on the bike over all the terrain, otherwise there would be a fair amount of pushing.

We took a lot of breaks to cool down, stopping at the 3 mile point to refuel, whilst sitting on a jutting rock taking in the spectacular views.

There was good canopy shelter over the lower parts of the trail, which then thinned out as we climbed. At about 4 miles into the 4.3 mile ride we were both pushing our bikes up hill over jutting rocks that were un-rideable and unpleasant. We decided to abort the attempt to get to the top, turn and ride the 4 miles back. A fun down hill proceeded, but after riding over all those jarring rocks, my left wrist started to ache. A week later I had the wrist x-rayed. It turned out that I’d jiggled an old fracture of the scaphoid bone in my wrist, lose. It took three surgeries and 2 yrs to heal last time. Fingers crossed, it’s a little faster this time. However…it won’t and hasn’t yet stop me riding.

Northland Boys 1st Time Camping With His Girl

MTBing Fort Ord

This post is really about the camping, but before we went camping we went riding in Fort Ord. Fort Ord is a former military post which is now a part of the National Conservation Lands in Monterey County, California. We thought the ride started out a bit dull. Lots of hard pressed clay and sand on what appears to be low level sparse scrub. We took a fairly easy ride up to the top of the hills, and stopped to look out over the views.

Atop Ford Ord, looking out over the valley we were about to drop into.

However, once we rode into the valley, the path became surprisingly beautiful. May/June is a wonderful time of year in California. Not long after the winter rains, but before the dry season stretches out. The flowers were blooming; the bush and grasses were green, and the pathway that wound us through this terrain was stunning.

The photo does not speak to the beauty of these green, shadowed pathways.

Camping Arroyo Seco

We were running short on time unfortunately, and didn’t get to explore as much we’d have liked. However, we were keen to get to our camping spot.

Trial run, inside the safety or our lounge.

We’re thinking about getting our bikes on the road again for another tour, so are starting to update some of the gear. Lindsay recently decided to purchase a new light weight tent, the Big Agnes Copper Spur with lights.

So we’ve decided to do some vehicle camping to try out the new gear, and for our first last minute trip we decided to head to Big Sur. But every campground in Big Sur was all booked out unless we wanted to pay $100 + taxes to pitch our little tent.

 

A friend told me about a place to stay on the east/back side of Big Sur called the Arroyo Seco Camping Ground. It was all booked out, but with seven drive up spots, we thought we’d try our luck. Luckily we got the last spot. We were thrilled with the $25 charge, and they also sold ice and firewood. Perfect.

Oh how we laughed. Signage to the ‘Primitive Sites’.

We drove through the park to the ‘primitive sites’ where we pitched our tent for the second time, this time outside! The ‘primitive’ sites at this campground came with long drop (aka ‘pit’) toilets, a camp site with parking for one car, a camp table, bbq/grill and fire pit.

Second run. Big Agnes is up and ready for sleeping in.
Lindsay took a quick leap into the water. He may look like he’s basking, but he’s really quite chilly.

Feeling hot and dusty from our ride earlier in the day, and from mucking in at the camp site, we decided to go for a swim in the river that ran through the bottom of the campsite. We braved the cool waters, and took a refreshing dip.

 

 

Big smile showing off my plastic teeth (Invisalign). I took the slow approach into the river, but stayed longer.
Very proud of his fire…albeit very smoky as the night progressed.

 

Lindsay was the star of this camping show. One would hope so considering how much camping he’s done! He built a large fire, which we then spent the night attempting to escape as the smoke seemed determined to follow us, no matter where we sat. He taught me to use his small portable stove…I burnt the porridge the next morning!

 

 

Hmmm…an acceptable sleep. Much practice needed.

We had to buy suitable bedding for me. I’m a stomach sleeper and I’m in love with my pillow. A lot of campers sleep on their back and use some clothes to rest their head on. Not me…I need a little comfort. We settled on a light weight Therm-a-Rest Neo Air XLite sleeping pad & Compressible Pillow. I slept okay but I think this sleeping/camping thing will take a little while to get used too!

 

Somehow I got suckered into the tyre pumping. I’m amazed at how well a MTBing tyre pump is suited to this work.

 

 

I’d noticed the evening before that truck’s tyre was a little deflated. By morning the rim was almost on the ground. We took turns using the bike pump to inflate it to see what the problem was. It was leaking around the value, so we put the spare on, so now Lindsay is an expert truck tyre changer! Fortunately Rodney (The big red truck) has a lot of clearance for Lindsay to climb under, to sort the spare.

The road out ran aside the Arroyo Seco River, making for a picturesque drive.

Unfortunately this all took some time. We’d hoped to head back into Big Sur national Park to do some exploring but were out of time. So we headed out of the valley, through this amazing part of California with its sprawling agriculture, and went exploring in the coastal towns of Carmel and Capitola on the way back home to San Francisco.

Placidly roaming wild stock that had escaped his pastures. This single fellow had held up traffic and had 2 or 3 police cars helping to wrangle him in again.

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Phoenix, Arizona: MTBing in the desert

Last year I had an airport stopover in Phoenix, and was amazed by the magnificent desert visible from the airport terminal. So when Lindsay was visiting Phoenix for a work conference, we decided to go MTBing for the weekend in the Arizona desert.

South Mountain

As it was April, it was coming to the end of the mountain biking season. Soon it would be too hot to ride over the summer months, especially on the very hot days. Lindsay searched the web and settled on a guided tour with Cactus Adventures for a first day out at at South Mountain, a Phoenix city park. Tim was our guide and he knew the park well.

They asked us if we’re okay with a climb? The degree of the climb was no problem, it was low, but steady, but in the heat it would be easy to dehydrate. Multiple people asked if we had pre-hydrated and if we were carrying lots of water. Tim, our guide, had a house right next to the desert trail, and we heard (not from him) that he’d had to head out on multiple occasions to rescue a dehydrated trekker or rider, or found a parched explorer recovering on the park bench in the front courtyard of his home which sits on the edge of this park. So we rode out with plenty of water, but as important, we took frequent longish breaks. There was no place offering shade, so our guide often stopped and we realised later that it allowed us time to cool down a little.

The view from the desert out to the city of Phoenix.
Thousands of Cacti dot the desert, and if your there early in the morning who’ll be lucky to catch some with the beautiful blooms still in flower.
The ride out at the end of the day. It was a little more technical that I could get in these shots, lots of rock gardens to work your around and through.

Ancient stone carvings made by the indigenous peoples who left the area some 600-700yrs ago!

There are some other bike parks that we didn’t get a chance to check out, but would be keen to get back for a look at some of these.

Cactus Adventures

During the down season (which we caught the first weekend of), Cactus adventures runs their business from this permanent trailer parked within the grounds of the Grand Resort. During the peak season, they have a much larger operation up and running, with guided tours or simple bicycle hire. They were super helpful following our first day tour, they allowed the bikes to stay set up to our requirements, and we just straight hired them the following day to go exploring on our own.

Arizona Grand Resort

Arizona Grand Resort works in conjunction with Cactus Adventures where they share customers.  Therefore, riders with Cactus Adventures have access to some of the Resort’s services including their Spa where we got to have warm showers with towels, hair driers and other services provided. Made our Sunday ride simple so we were clean and fresh to fly home that afternoon.

The Grand Spa wet rooms where a weary cyclist could refresh, shower using fresh towels supplied by the resort, blow dry their hair and be ready to get on a plane within an hour of their ride.

Bohemian as it gets: Roosevelt Row

On the Saturday evening we decided to head out. Phoenix is a youngish city, mostly settled and developed in the early 20th century, and based on the grid like system of many American cities. I like to explore the more Bohemian parts of a city, and this was what I searched for. Every search took me to Roosevelt Row, which turned out really to be the hipster / art / craft brewery end of town. Most of the buildings are new, and lacked the architectural character of the older cities, but the area is attempting to make up for it with fabulous graffiti art and interesting galleries, bars and eateries.

A palm tree lined road through Phoenix, with a light rail running down the centre of the road
Lindsay mapping out Roosevelt Way, plotting our wee food & bar crawl along this strip

We had a fun Saturday eve chatting to a variety of friendly locals, and we even checked out the Pinewood Classic where they were raising miniature vehicles!
Id been told the Mexican food was fantastic as its just over the Mexican Border.  I don’t know if we found the best places in town but we enjoyed what we ordered, and I highly recommend the Blood Orange Margaritas!

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Riding Sideways in Reno – Blown Away

We wanted to head to Tahoe for a long weekend, but left things a little late. So we headed to Reno instead, via Tahoe. The forecast was pretty good, considering the time of year (late Winter), so we loaded the mountain bikes on the truck and headed out.

We stopped in a few places along the way, including Sacramento and Placerville, before going via Lake Tahoe to Reno.The weather was fairly warm and clear on the way over:

Placerville, CA: Where cowboys invite each other into gunfights, and a wary traveller can still grab a ride on the stagecoach.

 

Lindsay wouldn’t let me buy this tricycle for a momento. At $350+US dollars I felt that was fair enough! So so so cool though
South Lake Tahoe, CA: Heading over the pass from Tahoe, CA en route to Reno, NV! The cloud formations were mind blowing and the photo’s i captured could not really catch their magnificence.
Reno, NZ: Death & Taxes – On Cheney St – A lil street of the main Virginia St strip. A warm, welcoming cocktail far when the weather outside was freezing!
The dome of the Silver Legacy Resort. Looks a little tired by day, but at night it shines green.
Hmmm, the Wild Orchid. I was mostly amused by the lighting display, but not a bar we would visit – the hotel attached at the back seemed incredibly tired!!

It was cold but clear in the morning, with snow due by mid-afternoon. So we got going early, and took the bikes up Peavine Mountain. It was cold, very windy, but clear. Normally we’d be a bit nervous about heading out into remote areas with snow in the forecast, but in this case we were just up above the city, and we weren’t going to get lost in an open area like this.

‎⁨Toiyabe National Forest⁩, ⁨Reno⁩, NV: These photos’s can’t show – but the wind was so strong on these exposed hills, that at one time it seemed like it picked me up and moved me a meter/yard sideways! it was MTBing like I’d not experienced.
Come on Anna, that bit was easy, you can do it!
Mostly easy going, but you have to pay attention to the rocky parts
No Photoshop…the ray’s really were shining upon him…
Hiding on a sheltered part of the mountain whilst we grabbed a snack.

We timed our run pretty well, with the snow not starting until we go back to the hotel

The snow started to fall as we returned to Reno….it was coming down horizontally. When we looked out the window after a quick nap the city was blanketed in white.
Lindsay is decidedly less impressed with the snow than me
If you squint a bit, it looks like a European city in winter

Plenty of snow came down overnight, and the following day chains were required in the morning. We waited a while until restrictions were lifted, then headed out. There was still snow on the road, and it was a very slow trip. Hours of crawling along, truck covered in mud and grit.

At one point Google Maps suggested taking a detour off the freeway, avoiding the traffic. Google thinks it knows best. Google saw the country roads as being clear of traffic, unlike the freeway. Google thought that would be faster. Google is very wrong.

The reason there was no traffic on the side roads was because they weren’t plowed. And driving a 5.7L V8 truck that is only RWD, with no weight in the back…that’s pretty dangerous when there’s lots of snow on the road…we got through it with a bit of skidding, and back onto the freeway as soon as we could.

That’s in degrees Celsius, not Freedom Units
Heading back via the Donner Pass

Once we came over the Donner Pass, and down several thousand feet in altitude, the weather got much better, so we went mountain biking at Auburn. All was looking good, until we got a bit of light snow out on the trails. At that point there was no easy exit, so the best thing to do was to keep riding. It was actually a lot of fun – light snow in the forest, cold but still manageable.

Lindsay checking a gash in his tyre sidewall. Not great when the snow is coming
Might be time to get the leg warmers out Lindsay?
Riding the trails at Auburn

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Ah….Eureka!!!! MTBing Northern California.

San Francisco to Eureka

In New Zealand during Christmas, the country closes down. Everyone leaves the cities and head to the beach for at least a week of relaxation and downtime.  Although its winter at that time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, we decided we’d continue the tradition. In mid December we found a cabin in the coastal town of Eureka, 5hrs drive up Northern California.

Our Christmas holiday started well with our first stop being the infamous BurtoNZ Bakery. We purchased two Meat Pies wrapped in Filo Pastry, a New Zealand (and Australian) delicacy, and carried on our way.

We’re explorers and like to get off the main highway. Instead of taking the 101 all the way to Eureka, we turned off onto the old main road 1. At times a narrow winding road, working its way along the coastline, and through almost quaint seaside towns.

We stopped in Mendocino, an old logging town with a large river opening out to the Pacific Ocean. The scenery was spectacular but cold.
We made our way through stunning redwoods, with Pines that towed over our Fiat Pop (aka Poppy). Many tree trunks were wider than our little car!

 

After all the stopping and incredibly long and windy forest roads that we made it back to the 101. We finally made it to our destination in the dark of night, our journey taking a lot longer than initially planned.

We’d booked late, and didn’t get the wood burning fire we’d hoped for, but the heater was amazing, and our little AirBnB cabin, up a country road just outside Eureka was welcoming and cozy, and the hosts welcoming.

Once unpacked we headed into the little town of Eureka for a late evening explore, and to grab a bite.  Although mostly shut, the town looked old, cute and inviting. We found a Seafood restaurant serving another delicacy we miss from home, fish and chips!

A quaint old shopping mall decorated for Christmas. Found down an internal alley in one of the towns older buildings that surround the grassy town square.

MTB Lacks Creek

The next day was Christmas Eve. Using MTB Project Lindsay found us what would turn out to be a beautiful trail, but with frightening accessibility issues.Without another car in sight, we pushed the little Fiat as far as the entrance to the upper level car park, but turned back to the lower car park as the entrance was impassable for Poppy.

At the beginning of the trail from the upper level car park. We chose the intermediate route which turned out to be stunning, and fun.

The riding was stunning, although the climb from the lower car park was super tough as a starting point.  However the final climb was exhausting, so we were glad to do part of the climb first.

Snow covered parts of the ground at his elevation of about 3800ft/1100mtrs. We were lucky to miss the heavy snow that would have made this beautiful road impossible. The ride included easy deep drops that cut along the hills and through the forest. When finished we felt exhilarated, but tired.

Christmas Day

Christmas day started with a cooked breakfast done using traditional New Zealand Christmas cooking methods on the BBQ/Grill. At home it is almost compulsory to BBQ/grill barefoot, or at most in jandals/flip flops.

Our Christmas Entertainment was a trip to watch Star Wars, Rogue One whilst being served beer and snack in our seats at the local Eureka Theater!

 

 

 

 

MTB Arcata Community Forest

The area is blessed with a local community forest that has multiple walking and MTBing routes.  As the area is fairly wet, the forest has a lot more lush undergrowth, making it beautiful to spend time in.  There is a couple of easy fun rides through the forest and well worth a visit.

Exploring Eureka

Whilst in the area we explored some of the surrounding towns. We were absolutely astounded by the colourful intricate Victorian Homes on display.

The Carson mansion…One of the most recognizable and expensive Victorians in the US.

One of the many beautifully painted Victorians in this part of Eureka. It’s well worth exploring if you enjoy old homes such as these.

MTB The King Range

On our Journey back to San Francisco, we headed out to MTB the King Range. The access road was long and windy but has beautiful scenery and stunning views. Driving Poppy up through the King Range itself was precarious. At one point with the little fiat sliding sideways on the gravel. I swore then we’d be getting a larger vehicle that could handle the bikes better, and less likely to slip off roads.

At 4000ft/1250mtrs, we were riding above the clouds.

The ride itself was fun with well thought out uphill’s, making the ride scenic and not as difficult as dull steep roads. The downhill’s were at times sweeping and fun. This was my favourite day riding from our break, and well worth going out of way to get too.

The end of an awesome ride, and a wonderful holiday break doing what we love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seattle….The Centre of the Universe (apparently)!

After one day back in the U.S following our wee trip to the U.K, Lindsay had to man a booth for his company up in Seattle. So with me not working yet, we decided that I’d head up as well and check out this famous city that borders the Canadian coast. Famous for its rain, TV shows incl Greys Anatomy & Frasier, movies like Sleepless in Seattle, but most importantly the home of Grunge.

It feels so different to San Francisco where we are currently living. For starters the population seems older, and far more diverse than the Bay Area which is dominated by much younger tech/IT professionals. Fashion is broader, and it would seem that although the Hipster movement is strong, there are still influences of Grunge and Punk amongst others in this most curious and interesting City.

Being from a very lush green country and having spent much of the last year in California’s dry drought landscape, I fell in love. Such beautiful flora  – I took a LOT of photos…so I’m going to make this post about the photos and let them tell most the story. (This is but a selection of all my pictures – there’s a lot…sorry).

I got on to Trip Advisor to find some of the best places to visit. My first task of the day was to take Lindsay and the other guys a morning coffee…on my way I stumbled across this stunning building.

Museum of Pop Culture – I didn’t go in as I didn’t have time, but if I go back, Im definitely visiting it.
Museum of Pop Culture – view from the back

After dropping off coffee, I decided to walk to the boho/antique headquarters of Seattle which was apparently Fremont – taking a direct route I accidentally walked through the stunning suburb of Queen Anne. I have hundreds of photos, but here are a couple:

North Queen Anne – I wandered through this beautiful hilly suburb that had views over the city and surrounding areas…and found this peculiar and oh so interesting house!
North Queen Anne – This was the biggest Holly tree I have ever seen – it must be like Christmas all year round.

Finally I made it to Fremont. I loved this place and would move here in a heartbeat. I loved the one off shops, antique stores, and curiosities of Fremont which to all in Seattle is known as the centre of the universe. It is quite funny therefore to find a large Google campus here! Hmmmm……….

Fremont – The most gorgeous lil Coffee and Burrito store!
Fremont – the beautiful old Fremont draw bridge. In the background is the George Washington Memorial Bridge. It is an awesome piece of architecture which I was unable to capture in a photo due to its sheer size.
Fremont – Overlooking a portion of the Seattle Google campus.
Fremont – yup, they have their very own statue of Lenin, imported directly from Russia. I think they have because it was just lying around in Russia so someone imported to Fremont!
Fremont – this sign is proof Fremont is in fact the centre of the universe – though Im a little concerned that its a little faded and on a lean!
Fremont – the Fremont troll playing with his full size VW beetle! Swiped from the passing road.
Fremont – And of course, where there’s a troll, there’s the three billy goats! People say these are to find, but I searched and succeeded.
Fremont – Theo chocolate. It was bizarre to smell chocolate three large blocks away – this chocolate is stunning!

I stumbled upon more interesting sites on my walk home along Fremont Canal and the next day whilst exploring the city by foot.

The houseboat community – rather what looks like a street of houseboats. They were so quaint.
Central Seattle – this is one of my favourite shots with this gorgeous old functioning mechanics in the foreground, and the lit up Space Needle in the back ground.
Outside Key Arena – I’m just fascinated by the American school buses, especially when they are all lined up like this.
Seattle Central City – Constructing Amazon’s new Glass Domed Headquarters – these are amazing!

Lindsay and I stayed on in Seattle another 2 days after he finished at the conference. So together we explored further. First we explored by foot some of the waterfront, the city and the Pike Street markets, and then I took him up to Capitol Hill. I’d been around Capitol Hill the day before but thought it worthwhile taking him up there for a look around.

Pike Street Markets – This area has become the Tourist Mecca of Seattle. Its pitched to tourists and is a little to touristy and busy for Lindsay and I, but worth a potter through the markets.
Pine St on the way to Capitol Hill – “Starbucks Reserve”! Seattle is in the home of Starbucks. Therefore there’s a LOT of espresso shops other than Starbucks, which sell fantastic espresso coffee.
Capitol Hill – Where even the streets are paved with rainbows.
Capitol Hill – Making Lindsay smile for the camera can be a mission! He tells me a photo steals a bit of his soul with every shot!
Capitol Hill – A bar that practices acceptance. Awesome.
Capitol Hill – Jimi Hendrix
Volunteer Park – The Asian Art Museum surrounded by Spring tulips and other blooms. It was a lovely day to wander past this stunning old Art Deco building.

Later in the day we hired some bicycles for 24hrs so we could further explore. First we headed out to Gas Works park for a look around, and then took about an hour to cycle up Ballard in the evening. There are so many fantastic bars, restaurants and shops to look around. Well worth a visit and explore.

Gas Works Park – The old Gas Works have been left to explore.
Ballard – Cycling out to Ballard, the more recently gentrified area of Seattle, we passed this most curious business.

On our final day, we took the bikes out to Bainbridge Island. It was chilly and a little hilly, nothing we couldn’t handle. We rode around this fascinating place, only only accessible by Car Ferry, but that seems no hindrance for the daily commute. The main village close to the docks is full and vibrant with really good food on offer. I suspect it would cost a bit to buy property on this island, but it was peaceful and idyllic.

The amazing and prolific car ferries.
Bainbridge Island – Heading over to the island from the mainland!
Bainbridge Island – I love me a desolate ol chimney! This one might still work as there were the seats around it – though the sign does say…No Fires!!
Bainbridge Island – A gorgeous cottage like so many, surrounded by the lush green landscape. It was so refreshing.
Bainbridge Island – Lindsay and I and the hired bicycles.
Bainbridge Island – Looking out over the water towards Canada I think. With a view of the infamous Car Ferries that are everywhere, and fabulous snow capped mountains in the background.
Bainbridge Island – We were riding through a road surrounded only by forest. All of a sudden we popped out into this very expensive suburb, and found the DeLorean!!! with original mags and all. Freaky!
Bainbridge Island – If you look closely in front of the glass blocks on the right you can see a sculpture of a man hanging on to a rod with one hand. Most peculiar garden ornamentation!
Bainbridge Island – A gap in these very expensive waterfront homes that shows their view of Seattle and behind it, more snow covered mountains.
Bainbridge Island – This car has been waiting a while for its service
Bainbridge Island – Eating Paella.
Bainbridge Island – The local vegetarian restaurant was celebrating their birthday by selling Paella at a remarkably cheap price. And it tasted amazing!
Bainbridge Island – A lot of effort went into the shop frontage!

Four Cities and a Wedding.

I have been wanting to get back to the U.K for 15 yrs, so one year ago, before we left New Zealand, Lindsay told me about an invite he had received from a friend/colleague to his wedding! I was overjoyed.

As it turns out, between us we have numerous friends and some family that we both really wanted to catch up with. So this holiday became the adventure of the year as we worked our way to and from different groups in Sweden and throughout the U.K.

Sweden

Our first visit was to Stockholm to visit my brother Grant and his family. This includes my two fabulous nieces Bianca and Olivia, and Grants partner Kristina along with her two son’s Alexander and Carl whom Grant has become a kind of foster father to. My brother and family extended their hospitality to ensure Lindsay and I were very comfortably looked after and fed, and we totally enjoyed our stay.

However, it turns out the proof of Aunty and Uncle love, requested by all our nieces and nephews throughout the world, is the love that only lolly/candy/sweeties can show! And what is the most requested! Jolly Ranchers – requested from NZ to Sweden; they all want the old fashioned hard candy…YEK!

Carl, Bianca, Olivia and Alexander divvying up the kilo’s of American candy and New Zealand lollies that we were directed to deliver! You think they would look happier, but this is serious business…to make sure that no one gets any more or less than the next person!
Exploring the streets of Stockholm.
Exploring the streets of Stockholm.
Out in the centre of Stockholm for a restaurant meal. Getting a little after dinner exercise  From left is Olivia, Grant, Me, Lindsay and Bianca.
The outpouring of grief following the 7 April 2017 attack in central Stockholm when a hijacked truck was deliberately driven into crowds along Drottninggatan (Queen Street) before being crashed through a corner of an Åhléns department store. Five people & one dog were killed, and around 15 others were injured.
Kristina’s stunning home steeped in history.
Easter dinner at Kristina’s with all the family. Prepared from start to finish by the fabulous Carl who at 14yrs is a superb Spaghetti Bolognese chef! Best I’ve had.

The Wedding in Derby, England

After three nights in Stockholm we flew to Manchester where we hired a car and drove to Derby for a three night stay. We had a fabulous time at David & Natalie’s wedding, everything from the venue to the catering, and music was great. As was the company.

Just your average view of a castle on a hill as one drives through England.
Lindsay and I all cleaned up for the wedding.
Throwing confetti to celebrate the Newlyweds David and Natalie Gee.
David and Natalie dancing (kind of) along with other wedding gifts to a song from their youth. We couldn’t join in – didn’t know the moves!
Action Shot of Lindsay crashing into me with his dodgem on an evening out with the newlyweds and new friends.

Scotland

After Derby, Lindsay and I enjoyed a day worth of driving through the English countryside as we headed towards Edinburgh in Scotland where we were to spend 4 nights. Lindsay and I are both fans of getting of the main road and exploring the back roads, villages and out of the way sights.

Lindsay feeling the chill at Hadrian’s Wall close to the border of Scotland, in England.
Hadrian’s Wall close to the border of Scotland, in England.

We stayed with Scott (whose business also happens to host this website/blog). Scott’s an old kiwi friend of Lindsays whom he met watching an All Blacks game in a Scottish pub, back when Lindsay lived in Scotland. Scott’s generosity was incredible; he shared his home making his room available to us whilst he slept in the single bedroom. He fed us fabulous home made food, and gave us the grand tour of Edinburgh.  Although we had lived in Scotland before, we’d never really seen Edinburgh the way he showed us. Thank you Scott, it was awesome.

Lindsay, Scott and Myself exploring Old Edinburgh.

Lindsay and I both love Scotland. I suspect it’s because we both enjoyed great experiences with friend whilst we lived here; that and the Scots aren’t to different in humour and lifestyle to Kiwis.  We spent a bit of time driving around visiting friends in Kilmarnock, Glasgow, Tillicoultry, Dundee and Edinburgh. We both really enjoyed catching up on the changes in our lives and rekindling old friendships.  We’re both pretty keen to get back soon.

The old stone farm house I had the pleasure to live in 15yrs ago, in Tillicoultry, Scotland. The oldest parts of the house date back about 400yrs.
This fabulous school! found in Edinburgh. I suspect there would be some awesome haunting stories to be told.
Greyfriars Kirkyard. A very old and interesting graveyard in the centre of Edinburgh.
Century old homes reflecting on the night waters in Leith, Edinburgh.
The Fabulous Edinburgh Castle.

London

From Scotland we flew down to London for a final three nights where my fabulous little brother Sam and his lovely girlfriend Elle shared their awesome flat with us.  The day after we arrived Sam took the day off and together we explored central London upon my request, visiting Hyde Park first before heading up to Oxford St and then down to Soho. London was nothing like I remember.  Im pretty keen to head back however and do some more exploring at some stage. I still love it, though I don’t think I could live in London. In all honesty I think Im just over living in cities.

Myself, Sam and Lindsay in Hyde Park. Just before we heard the Canon Salute to mark Queen Elizabeth’s actual 91st birthday.
Lindsay favourite map shop in Central London.
Lindsay perusing the same map he purchased for his cycle tour. This one I think a map to guide him over the countries of the Silk Road.
The last of my friends still living in London, now with their own families. From left Bianca, Paula, Victoria, Lindsay, Anna and Anna(me).
Gypsy’s Clydesdale Horses grazing on the local green…much to the delight of the surrounding residents!

The Jetsetters

Turns out I’m not good at this jet setting business. As I don’t sleep well on planes, Lindsay paid to upgrade to Premium Economy (not too expensive as he’s a frequent flier and gets special pricing). Unfortunately we have discovered the only place I ever manage to sleep is in economy (usually from sheer exhaustion)!

DC New Years – Brrrrrrrrrrr

This post is a little late.  It’s now April which meant we were in DC just over 3 months ago.  And although the freshest memories have gone, I wanted to share a little of what we saw of this very different and pretty part of America.

We arrived in DC late in the evening, and after a small mix up we decided to take the Metro from the airport, which by the way was pure delight after travelling on San Francisco’s Muni/part underground whose stations can be quite dirty and unloved.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

We stayed with Blair a Kiwi friend, his American wife Tara, and their children. It was a delight to walk into a quintessential American home complete with a large Christmas Tree aglow, shining through the living room window to the dark street outside. Tara had even installed a little Christmas village complete with tiny lights and a working Thomas the Tank Engine train set – very cool.

We headed out the next day to check out the main tourist sites that DC is famous for including our picture with the Whitehouse in the background.  It reminds me of the time in 2003 when I visited Graceland in Memphis – both are just not as big as you imagine.  The Whitehouse is surrounded by hotels and buildings, and a short way from a busy road that runs in front of it.

The Whitehouse pictured as I expected it, with large sweeping lawns, sitting gloriously on its own.

A Trump owned hotel – a couple of buildings to the right of the Whitehouse! Its a popular destination with visiting dignitaries.

We had plans to do further exploring, but in late December even without snow, the wind whipped through the parks chilling us to the bone. We gave up on exploring  and headed into the Smithsonian National Museum of Modern History which included original Muppet characters, a transplant of Julia Child’s actual kitchen, really old cars, and a massive American Flag…the flag which in fact inspired the National Anthem the Star Spangled Banner. It was here that my understanding of American Culture, so different to many other western nations, really started to come together.  This discussion is long and meant to be had conversationally.

The rest of our exploring was done from the warmth of a car. I would really like to get back to this historic city to explore and view the monuments and buildings so entrenched and familiar in my memory from watching them on a screen, but never seen in real life.

The National Christmas tree – and it’s a large evergreen tree!!

Our final days were spent with Blair & Tara’s family. We had New Years to celebrate which turned out to be a quiet affair. We started with a raucous evening meal with our hosts and their friends before heading into town, only to discover bars set up to party, but patrons missing, probably due to the cold.  That’s okay – we found the free glasses of bubbles, and borrowed a few party hats and whistles and made our own fun!

The last day of our Christmas break saw Lindsay and I wandering around Gunners lake, close to Blair & Tara’s home.  It seems it would often freeze over in winter, but not this year, or at least not while we were visiting.  On our return Tara introduced us to Velveeta dip. I suspect it’s the stuff of American children’s birthday parties, or for consuming when watching a big AFL game.  Its a very yellow thick melted cheese, mixed with a simple tomato salsa, made for dipping nacho chips into. I feel its an acquired taste, that might stick your insides together if it had the opportunity to cool. However, some might find it a little addictive!

Playing with Blairs Christmas Present!! A Virtual Reality Headset…yup and looking over my shoulder as everyone in the room laughs at me 😉

From the Land of Fruuit & Nuuts! (Ruston, Louisiana)

See this picture where I look happy? Well I wasn’t! That’s me pretending to smile when waiting around at the rental car company for 6hrs whilst they found our pre-booked rental car – every customer was grumpy…and some a little shouty on this fairly warm and very muggy winter’s day!

We finally left New Orleans with me wanting to go back for more, and we headed to Ruston, Louisiana some 515kms/320miles away. Our drive out of New Orleans was memorable for the 70kms/43.5 miles we traveled on a suspended 2 lane (in each direction) highway over a Bayou (large marshy wetlands). Travelling for that long distance over water seems a little disconcerting, but I could imagine zooming around on an airboat like I’ve seen on TV shows set in the area…escaping the croc infested waters!

I was somewhat excited when looking at the map, as I thought in the immortal words of  Johnny Cash “I’m going to Jackson”. Unfortunately we turned off just before we got there and I didn’t get to check out this famous town.

We arrived in Ruston late in the eve to a lovely warm welcome from our hosts Matt (Lindsay’s friend and work buddy), Tara & their children Audrey & Sam.  That night Tara and Matt cooked us up a traditional southern meal including shrimp and large American steaks, cooked on an the amazing Green Egg charcoal grill that would make any of our meat adventuring friends, quite jealous!

Matt had a few items for us to do during our visit to Ruston. No. 1. A walk up Driskill Mountain, the highest point in all Louisiana at 163mtrs/535ft (a far cry from the 7000ft we cycled up a couple of months ago in Denver). But it was a lovely walk through a winter forest with Matt and his family, and a great photo opportunity at the very tip top of Louisiana for Lindsay and I.

No 2. on the agenda – a trip to the gun range!!!  When in Louisiana, one must do as the locals do.  Lindsay had previously told Matt that the all important ‘wifey stamp of approval’ would not be issued for such an outing but I like to keep him on his toes, so off we went.  This little trip gave us the opportunity to meet people we would not otherwise get the opportunity to converse with. So much to my delight, and Matt’s slight chagrin, we got chatting to a good ol’ southern conservative.  His two best lines included his excitement at the election of the new great president – “you just wait and see how things improve when he gets in”. And when asking where we were living, he told us in that slow southern drawl that “once I visited San Francisco. That’s the land of Fruuit & Nuts”, referring to the very different, liberal folk on the west coast!  Lindsay and I were in fits of laughter, and continue to tell the story.  I think we’re more the nuuts than the fruuit, but I’ll let you decide 😉


 

No.3.  A tour of Ruston.  Ruston is a small city, who’s main economics is built around the Louisiana Tech University. When semester is in full swing, the city almost doubles in size! Our hosts took us on a tour of the campus and I managed to get this great picture of them all…and Lindsay.

This holiday included a LOT of food.  And whilst in Ruston we got to sample to a wide variety of local fare including Po’Boys which are basically big meat sandwiches; Gumbo; Home made Monkey Bread; Biscuits which in America are savoury scones which include almond milk and sugar in their ingredients; and of course one breakfast with almost bottomless Mimosa’s – well we polished off two bottles of bubbles! Lindsay was also quite taken with the coffee we picked up at from the drive-through Starbucks. I didn’t think to get a photo of this phenomenon, which is merely a fact of life in the U.S.

 

After several days with our wonderful hosts it was unfortunately time to leave.  We have been invited back for some real adventuring, which we hope to take up the offer of one day in the future.

Our relaxed drive back to New Orleans, from where we would fly up to Washington DC, was through lands that seem typical of what I expected to see in America.  Big American flags; Cornfields stretching for miles without fences; extra large 4wd’s. And of course a drive over the impressively large and infamous Mississippi river that makes its way through all of North America.


Oh – and just one little addition for the ardent readers!! Lindsay has a bit a thing with world maps that don’t include NZ including a Reddit feed and the website World Maps Without NZ. Well much to our horror we found that Matt’s daughter Audrey, may also need some educating on this topic…………