Saturday, December 31, 2005

Photo du Jour: Collette in the Snow

Collette in the snow.

The snow melted overnight, but we have this memory. Happy New Year to all.

Update: I forgot to mention... January 1 is this old dog's birthday! She's 14 years old now - that's 98 in dog years. Talk about an old bitch...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Photo du Jour : The Holiday Tree

Click on the picture for a larger view.

I thought I'd put this up before it gets too late. I've been messing around with photoshop trying to learn new tricks (no "old dog" comments, please). The ornament on the top left is a hand-painted glass ball with a scene of the beach at Mendocino, CA. It was a gift many years ago. The ornament on the bottom left is the Tour Eiffel, which I bought at the museum shop at the Palace of the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco about 5 years ago.

Season's greetings to all!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Chapter 9: Going Home

The drive back to Sunnyvale from Yosemite was without incident, although it was terribly boring and just a little stressful. The development out in the San Joaquin Valley is really out of hand. Too many cars, trucks, houses, malls. And after you make it through, you still have to deal with navigating through the Bay Area (Livermore Valley, Santa Clara Valley). In years past, I was always happy to get back home to the city (San Francisco) and out of all that suburban freeway traffic mess.

Once at Cheryl’s, I took a badly needed shower and started up some laundry. I e-mailed Cheryl at her office to let her know I was back, and asked if she had anything specific in mind for dinner. She replied with, “You obviously haven’t looked in the refrigerator.”

I dutifully went to the kitchen and opened the fridge door. On the door shelf was a bottle of white wine with a post-it note stuck to it that said, “Drink me!” I chuckled, then noticed that inside the fridge was another bottle with a post-it note: “No, drink me!” As they say on the internet, I was LMAO. Cheryl had also made up a tray of what she calls “thing-urritos.” I’m not sure how to spell that. Cheryl’s traditional thing-urritos are tortillas filled with whatever can be found in the fridge, rolled, topped with sauce & cheese then baked. They’re like burritos, but with stuff like chicken, broccoli, you get the idea.

Next, I got started packing for the trip home.

I was on my second glass of wine when Cheryl pulled into the garage and announced that she was working (ha!) at home that afternoon. We finished the second bottle of wine as the thing-urritos came out of the oven. We had a great time, cleaned up, and too soon it was time to hit the hay. I left the next morning about 9:00 after an emotional good-bye and headed to the airport for my 12:30 pm flight to London. I snuck this photo of the first class lounge at SFO while sipping champagne:

The flight was long (11 hours) but comfortable, even though I developed a sore throat about halfway through. At Heathrow, I found the arrivals lounge and had a nice hot shower, changed clothes, then headed to the subway into central London to catch the train for France. Here’s the crowd at Eurostar waiting for an earlier train:

I had a long wait at the station since I had built in a good time cushion just in case the flight was late. A cup of tea and a lot of people-watching later, I was on my way through security and boarding the train. Waterloo station is pretty big and is a bustling place on a Friday morning:

The train rides went well – I changed trains to the French TGV in Lille for the ride directly to Tours, thus bypassing Paris, and it went without a hitch. Ken met me in Tours and soon I was back home. My sore throat became a full-blown cold and I was glad to eat something and go to bed.

The trip was over. Nearly a year of planning and anticipation had come to an end. I had a great time, and wish that I had had more time to spend seeing more people. But you can’t do it all, eh? Writing this account of the trip has been fun as it’s given me a great opportunity to re-live the entire adventure. I had fun working on the photos, too.

So then, I am suddenly faced with what to do next on this blog. Stay tuned...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Chapter 8: Yosemite Valley

Sue and I left the cabin and headed, via shuttle bus, to Yosemite Village to do some light souvenir shopping. I found some postcards and a couple of tee-shirts. One for me. One for Ken. Then we went to a pizza restaurant that was perhaps less than a quarter full. Wine and pizza hit the spot and we headed back to the cabin for bed. The night was dark and it was still raining. It rained all through the night, and although I thought I slept well, I do remember hearing the rain on the canvas of the tent cabin most of the night. It was very nice.

Sue got up during the night to go to the bathroom, and so did I. But, while she got dressed and went all the way to the bathrooms in the center of camp with a flashlight, I must admit that I just stepped outside the tent and peed against a tree. Oh the wonders of nature!

In the morning, Sue went out to take pictures and we met over by the restaurant for coffee and apple pie (that we had brought). It was foggy, but the fog lifted soon enough and we were on our way to the trailhead for the hike up to Vernal Fall. At one point I wanted to get the camera out to take a picture and... the camera wasn’t in the camera bag. We panicked. Did I leave it on the arm of the chair outside the restaurant? Shit. Then I looked in my backpack and there it was, inside. Not where it was supposed to be, but at least it was there. Whew.

The hike was great; easy at first, but soon steep and more difficult. We stopped on a rock in the river after a couple of hours for the snack we had packed. Sue had been to this rock before, and we spent a few minutes looking for it. We considered it a special, private place, but of course there have probably been thousands of people on the same spot before us. We had a great view of Vernal Fall from the rock. However, on this day, there was no one there but us. It was magical.

The lower part of the Vernal Trail - the big rock you see in the middle of the riverbed is where we had our snack.

Sue sitting on the rock.

After recharging, we headed up the Mist Trail that, in spring, lives up to its name. At this time of the year, however, there isn’t enough water in the fall to make enough mist to get climbers wet. This section of the trail is very steep and it’s slow going.

Vernal Fall and rainbow.

We got to the top, huffing and puffing, and I posed at the very top of the waterfall to commemorate the occasion. We found a quiet spot near the stream and broke out our packed lunches. The simplest food tastes so good after a couple of hours of uphill hiking! Needless to say, the trip back down was quick – although going downhill requires using a whole different set of muscles from those used to go up, so I was still working and stretching and knew that I would be quite sore the next day.

Walt at the top of Vernal Fall.

Sue and I finished off the day by visiting the Ansel Adams gallery, sending a few postcards, and stopping at the Ahwahnee Hotel for a drink (or two). We sat outside the hotel bar under some beautiful oak trees. Suddenly, we heard a loud clunk on the sidewalk next to us. Acorns were dropping out of the trees and, as we found out, they were dropping pretty regularly. A woman next to us got bonked pretty good on the head. Squirrels dashed about at our feet picking them up and stuffing them into their cheeks. After a few sips of wine we sat back and enjoyed the show. At one point, Sue ran into the hotel gift shop and came back with a little present (pictured here) to commemorate our experience: a tiny silver acorn!

Our waiter offered to take our picture together:

Walt and Sue at the Ahwahnee.

With light heads we jumped back on the shuttle and headed to Yosemite Falls to see what little water was tumbling down. Sue wanted to show me the new access paths that the Park Service had installed since I had been there last. They had eliminated a parking lot and added bathrooms, benches, and some interesting interpretive stuff (which includes a touchable bronze relief map of the Yosemite Falls area of the park – pretty cool). It was all much nicer than it used to be and without the parking area it felt more like wilderness than one of the most visited tourist attractions in California. It didn’t hurt that it was an early evening in late September and there were at most 10 people there with us.

We went over to Yosemite Lodge to have dinner (burgers and fries) and then walked back to our tent cabin. Along the way, as the light in the valley was just about gone, the view of Half Dome, still partially glowing in the late evening sky, was spectacular. I took this picture, but of course I needed to use the computer to lighten it up; that’s why it’s a bit grainy. The light faded pretty fast and we walked the rest of the way in the dark.

Half Dome.

On Wednesday, we took a short walk along the river after breakfast, then I packed up and said good-bye to Sue (who was staying for a third night) and hit the road back to the Bay Area for my last night in California. The next day I would be on the plane headed back to Europe, and home.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Chapter 7: Auburn to Yosemite

On Sunday, I arrived at Sue’s in Auburn around one o’clock in the afternoon after the two hour drive from the Bay Area. It was a great feeling to get off the freeway and drive the back roads to her place, up the little road to the house, over the bridge over the irrigation ditch, and into the car spot next to the building she calls the “bunkhouse.” Why it’s called that I’m not really certain, but it’s a 2-storey metal-clad building that shelters her heating wood and stores a bunch of stuff she doesn’t want to keep in the house. Over the years we’ve made trip after trip to the bunkhouse to get something out or to put something in. Her kids keep stuff there in between their moves. And we stored the car-top carrier that we used to move to California in there for the past 19 years – I think it’s still there. It’s Sue’s now.

Sue's place and the bunkhouse.

It was great to see Sue again, the last time being in France when she visited last year. We quickly got caught up. I checked out the new art on her walls and the state of the yard. She told me that the irrigation ditch was going to be decommissioned in the next few years, which is kind of sad. The sound of water running right past the kitchen window is as much a part of Sue’s place as are the windows, walls, trees, and owls.

It wasn’t long before I opened a bottle of wine. I set to work trying to get Sue’s busted computer up and running, but I had no luck. After 2 hours of trying unsuccessfully, I gave up, and we went shopping for food to take on our two night excursion to Yosemite. Dinner was great, but somehow I’ve forgotten what we ate... I think it might have been spaghetti and garlic bread.

The next morning we were up and out by around 10:30. We took two cars since I had to get directly back to Cheryl’s from Yosemite the day before my flight back to Europe (Sue lives four hours north of the park, Cheryl lives four hours west of the park). We decided to take the freeway through Sacramento rather than the small roads through the foothills for time’s sake. We agreed that Sue would lead and I would follow. We agreed that we would exit the freeway at Highway 4 East in Stockton. Just before we reached Stockton, Sue let me pass her. We waved and smiled. A few miles later I watched in the rear view mirror as Sue exited the freeway an exit early. This was not part of the program. It was too late for me – I was already past the ramp. Holy shit, I thought, what’s up with this? Is she out of gas? Did a tire blow? Neither of us had a cell phone, so there was no way for one to contact the other.

I took the agreed-upon exit and pulled off to the side of the road and waited. About 15 long minutes later, here came Sue. I flashed my lights and waved and she pulled over in front of me. She said that she thought she saw me exiting and followed, but realized too late it wasn’t me. She nearly panicked, but managed to find her way back on the freeway and got to the correct exit. “I’m not a very good follower,” she told me. “Then why did you let me get in front,” I asked? “I hate being the leader,” she said. Uh, okay.

We agreed on two rendezvous points in the foothills in case we were to get separated again, but we didn’t need them. We stopped near Copperopolis for lunch – Mexican. Tacos, enchiladas, beans, rice, and beer. It really hit the spot. Next, we headed for the gas station at Yosemite Junction which is the turnoff to Don Pedro reservoir just before the climb up to Yosemite. I was pretty low on fuel and Sue was getting low, too. When we got to the turnoff, the gas station was not there. Sue said she thought it was there the last time she came through. Uh, okay. We debated turning back to Copperopolis or trying to make it up to Groveland at the top of Priest Grade. We both knew there was gas up there. We decided not to turn back. On the way I tried hard to remember a gas station or two in Groveland...

Indeed, there were several. We made it up the grade with no problem and the tanks were once again full. It was raining on and off, but the Sierra landscapes were beautiful as the storm clouds moved around and over the peaks. As we finally pulled up to the park entrance the rain was really coming down. There were about five cars ahead of us, and directly ahead of me was a pair of motorcycles, one with a trailer. I did a double take and realized that in the trailer, with its head poking up, was a big black lab-type dog wearing a pair of motorcycle goggles happily looking around at all that was going on. What a sight! I wish I had had the camera handy, but with the rain and low light, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a good picture of him. We stopped for water and a bathroom break and drove over to Crane Flat and down into the valley. There was construction on the road, but we weren’t delayed too long.

Once on the valley floor, we stopped for some pictures before heading over to Curry Village to check into our tent cabin. I was excited to be back in Yosemite. Seeing El Capitan and Half Dome again, not to mention the trees, the boulders in the Merced River, and the meadows, gave me chills. It sounds dorky, but it’s true. I’ve done that drive through the valley many times, and each time is like the first: wondrous. Above is a picture of Cathedral Rocks near Bridalveil Fall, and below is a shot of Glacier Point rising above the Merced River.

We dodged the rain drops between the parking lot and the check-in office at Curry, and were second or third in line. Check-in was smooth; we got our bear instruction and signed our “bear aware” release forms. The Park Service is not responsible if we mess up and become a snack for the local fauna. We ran in the increasing downpour to our cabin, which was not too far from the village office, to check it out before getting our bags out of the car. Good thing, too, since the cabin had not been cleaned after the previous occupants left. We ran back to the office. There were now about 15 people in line. I could tell Sue was not a happy camper, and we weren’t even camping yet. I took the key and butted into the front of the line. I got looks, but I didn’t care. I told the guy behind the counter that our cabin wasn’t ready. He dutifully apologized and assigned us another one very close to the first. We thanked him profusely and headed out. The rain was really coming down now. It would be nice to get into the cabin and dry out a bit. We opened the door to the new cabin. It, too, was not ready for new occupants. Uh, okay.

Sue agreed to stay put in the cabin while I went back to the office. She said she was not good at being indignant. But I wanted to be dry. We traded jackets (hers had a hood), and I took the keys back to the office. Along the way I passed about 150 middle school-aged kids heading off to their cabins. Inside, there had to be at least 25 people in line. All wet, all crammed in. I marched right up to the desk. The staff ignored me for about five minutes, but I finally got somebody to notice me. The clerk wanted to give me a cabin on the other side of the village, near all those school kids, but when we looked for it on the map it didn’t seem to exist. At least we noticed this before he gave me the keys. I told him we really had gotten attached to the side of village we were on and would rather have a cabin over there, and he bought it. He talked to the manager, and then gave me keys for a cabin very close to the two we had already seen. I was beyond running, so I trudged through the rain back to where Sue was waiting. She had found a couple of hangers in the cabin and was claiming them for us. We climbed up the stairs to our third cabin and... it was clean. I realized why the clerk talked to the manager back in the office: this was a cabin for 5 people. There were 3 single beds and one double; plenty of space to spread out. There were many blankets and pillows, which was good, because it was cold and raining outside.

Tent cabins in Curry Village.

We unloaded the car, packed food and toiletries into our locked bear box near the bathrooms, and unpacked the rest of our stuff in the cabin. Since the tent cabins are made of canvas, bears can get in easily if they think there is food inside. For that reason, it’s strictly forbidden to keep food or anything with a fragrance (like toothpaste or shampoo) in the cabin. The park provides metal storage lockers at several central locations for things that bears might like. Bears have learned they can’t get into the lockers. People have learned that bears CAN get into locked cars, so leaving food and toiletries in your car is also not allowed. You are also strongly discouraged from eating inside your tent cabin, lest the scent of your snack entice a bear to investigate during the night. Since it was raining, a dinner picnic outdoors was not in the cards for us. Happily, there are several restaurants around the park.

Everything was stowed and finally we were happy campers. Time for dinner.