Saturday, August 11, 2007

Day 2: Chelan

Our heart-stoppingly fabulous vacation tale continues:

We arrived bright and early the next morning to pick up our tickets for the Lake Chelan river cruise, billed as 'a relaxing and scenic inland voyage along one of Americas deepest natural freshwater lakes'. It lived up to it's advertising 100%.

Now there's a pro and a con side, though...Eastern Washington just doesn't have that varied a natural landscape. Outside of town what you get is sky, hills, rocks, dead grass and sagebrush. Go a little higher, add the occasional Ponderosa pine tree. Now add a really long lake to that and you have a perfect description of the larger part of the Lake Chelan cruise.

This is not a trip you'd ever want to subject a small antsy child to, since the boat only poops along at 15 mph, and the lake is 55 miles long. You spend about ten hours on board, round trip. Neither is this a trip you take expecting to have your shit blown away as you round every bend by dramatic natural beauty. That's Alaska. It's farther north. This is a cruise you take to meditate in the sunshine, to enjoy the restful motion of the rocking vessel, and to swill the booze you've smuggled aboard in pop containers.

Lake Chelan is genuinely beautiful, though. The water is pure and clear as blue glass. We did not see one piece of trash-not one! Anywhere! This is probably because most of the countryside surrounding it is absolutely barren of human presence. Not entirely so- there are a few huge, beautiful private estates, forested lakeside campgrounds, trailheads and two tiny towns around Lake Chelan which are only accessible by boat or air.

Stehekin is the small town at the very end of the lake. We spent 90 minutes there, and it was nice. Worth ten hours on a slow boat to see? Depends on whether you had planned to stay longer than 90 minutes, I think. There's several nice lodges, lots of places to camp out, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, pack mule excursions, all kinds of water sports, float planes and helicopter would be an amazing place to spend a honeymoon, for sure.

We had a drink and a sandwich in the main lodge, wandered around the town, saw the little museum, some pioneer cabins, a gallery and a gift shop...roamed around the lakeside, took pictures. Like I said, nice.

I guess a large part of the Stehekin allure is being cut off from civilization. There are no roads. Not even forest service tracks. All the waste is cargoed out and incinerated uplake. All the groceries and other supplies are cargoed in. Theres no electricity, landlines or cell service. A few cars, no gasoline. No internet. No police, no doctor. There's one satellite phone.

See, the Biker grew up that way (his dad was stationed near the artic circle...they were completely cut off for three solid months every year, in the winter, in the snow, in the PITCH DARK, as a matter of routine) so the novelty value of isolation has kind of worn off, for him. It isn't his idea of a good time. Me, right about the time I'd finished the last page of the newspaper I'd start gnawing the bark off the trees and all crying and chucking hatchets, riding around full tilt boogie on a stolen jet ski wearing a bra on my head like a pirate hat. So no.

Because August is forest fire season, we sailed downlake with a crew of 60 backcountry firefighters who were dropped off halfway up the valley. Most of these guys were barely old enough to shave. I understand there's some decent money to be made chopping firebreaks, but once we got a look at what these poor bastards had to go up way. I'd sooner finish my business major.

The fire had been started by a lightning strike. It began in the bottom of a remote valley completely encircled by steep,dry hills. When we passed it going uplake it was burning pretty well but still limited to the valley floor. What smoke there was, was white, which means moisture, and helicopters were overflying us regularly carrying huge dump buckets filled with water to pour on it.

When we came back it was a different story. A wind had been blowing steadily all day, and when evening came it suddenly became stronger. As we watched, the whole valley went up like an atomic bomb. A column of red flame, roiling with with black, rocketed straight up out of the center of the hills, taller than the peaks of the surrounding mountains. Everyone on the boat went silent. The smoke turned heavy and brown and boiled up all around it like a volcano. The wind carried it across the sun, which faded to a bright circle, and the smoke tinted light turned the whole lake bronze.
It was an awe inspiring, majestic, satanic thing to see, and I never want to see it again.*

As we drove back into Wenatchee we decided to grab some pizza. The first place we entered seemed not to be staffed, so after mooching around hello-ing towards the kitchen we shrugged and went elsewhere.

The place we settled on was some Pioneer-themed western pie barbecue type of place, with barbecue. As we entered the door, the first thing that greeted us was a huge, hand-carved wooden bas-relief depicting a severed pioneer head. It had wild blowing hippie hair, a full beard, and an extremely manic expression in its eyes.

So far, so good.

We had some average, edible food, which arrived frequently and in large portions. Why my Western barbecue sandwich was passed through a panini grill was never explained. An inexplicable baked object arrived mid-meal. I was suspicious. The Biker ate it. He said it was good, and tasted "like a puck-shaped baked bread of some sort."
Wagons, milk cans and old kerosene lanterns gathered dust on the faux shed-roof over our booth. In the waiting area two life-sized Pioneer rag dolls, an elderly man and woman, sat on a bench wearing authentic dead pioneer clothes, staring at the overpriced hot sauce on sale near the cash register. From where I sat I could see them whenever I glanced up and frankly this played with my brain.

We went back to the room and watched some Food Network for awhile. Then we hung around by the pool looking good, wandered up and down the parking lot (also looking good) and fed our leftovers to a feral cat that jumped out of a barbecue as we walked by it.

Thus concludes day two. Only two more days to go!

*the firefighters were fine. they never even saw the fire; the fire manager had declared it uncontrollable earlier that day and sent everyone out. so instead of risking their lives they all got a free camping trip on the lake, plus wages!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Day 1: mysterious native american parcels, anteeek overload and pterodactyls

I is back! All your good wishes carried through; we had a FANTASTIC TIME!

After carefully reviewing our plans it was decided that, instead of taking our new Victory on vacation, we would take the whip: a white Buick Park Avenue. Four doors, air, cruise, tunes, power everTHANG. This was to be a research mission as much as a getaway, and we needed to be prepared for unusual eventualities; which entails packing a lot of extra shit, like shoes and a map. (Next year we'll have the Victory in fighting trim. All we'll need are one saddlebag each, a t-pack and a credit card. Travelling light is an art.)

Our first stop, dictated by my bladder, was the Smoky Point wayside...the very same site of the mass geriatric potty misadventures I've written about before. Fortunately we arrived before the first of the Canadian casino charters and so the floor was dry, the seats were clean, and there were no alarming motorboat noises. Excellent!

When I came back to the whip the Biker was holding a round blue box. "It was on the ground in the middle of the parking lot," he explained. We looked inside and saw loops of woven cedar fibers. We placed it in the trunk, planning to put a notice in the local free paper.*

The weather was overcast and chilly as we climbed through the Western Cascades, through Monroe, where the Big House is, through small roadside towns with names like Gold Bar and and Sultan and Skykomish , where many of the former inmates now live. We've explored these towns in past years, and everything that was antique, historic or charming about them is slowly being lost to Section 8 housing, blackberries and meth-lab fires. Still, the major part of the passing scenery is spectacular. The forests and farms are lush and it's a beautiful ride.

We crossed Stevens Pass and ran full into summer as soon as we passed the ski lodge. I'm always surprised every year at how abruptly the countryside changes...up from valleys overgrown in logged-over maple and pine toward massive Doug firs broken by lightning, through false azalea and silky oatgrass to the final bare alpine summits. This time of the year they're black and bare with a few dirty patches of old snow on the very top... and then all of it gives way in the space of three steep downward miles to tan-barked Ponderosa pines and ryegrass and rusty-black basalt, dry dry heat and blue sky.

And unfortunate Bavarian-themed candy stores.

Even though I'm a little ashamed to admit it, we always stop 'n' shop in Leavenworth, 'A Little Bit of Bavaria in the Pacific Northwest'.
I really don't need to describe the tourist district, do I.
Suffice it to say that we hit town around noon, just in time for the daily 'Music in the Park' programme, featuring a man in lederhosen who played the accordion.
And yodelled.


Thank God, as soon as you hit the city limits sign you enter the real Eastern Washington. The highway follows the river, and the valley floor is covered with orchards and gardens. The hills above this are tan velvet, perfect and soft from a distance. The arroyos which run down their sides are green and filled with clematis and sumac.

Peshastin is home to bizarre sandstone formations, Cappadocian-looking peaks that start up out of the hills suddenly and make a rather extraterrestrial backdrop to the tidy little downtown. This is a hardworking place...everyone is busy in the fruit warehouses or out in the orchards, and even the retirees are out bustling around making strange yard art and picking up trash off the roadside.

The town of Dryden is right next door. This place was pleasant enough that even the first tourists decided to linger, leaving Clovis points the size of the palm of your hand all along the riverfront. Both of these small towns are really nice places. People smile, dogs wag, and the little riverfront parks are pleasant and shady.

Cashmere parallels the river on the opposite side of the highway. Basically it's one meandering Main street, a long stretch of businesses in carefully preserved false-fronted brick buildings, and two residential streets. These run through the most adorable, neat-as-a-pin bungalow neighborhood you've ever seen, just spilling over with flowers and huge shady trees. It is also home to the largest indoor antique market we've ever been in. That's saying something. We maxed out and had to go visit a smaller one; there is actually such a thing as antique overload.

Monitor has a special place in my heart for two reasons: one, is the most gorgeous river-rock bungalow in the state of Washington, and two is the single-lane wooden bridge towards the outskirts of town, built over a wide irrigation channel. The goddamn thing is so ancient and so rattletrap that as you pass over it, even on a motorcycle, the decking flexes and creaks and you can see the spike heads jump up from the planking ahead of you.

Right as you summit the hill leading down into the town of Wenatchee you come upon the motel we've been staying in for years. All it lacks is a boomerang sign out front advertising 'COLOR TV!' ...otherwise it's pure 50's; neon-blue pool, cinderblock construction, flat angled roof, 'Magic Fingers' massage beds and all that jazz. The view from the rooms is an orchard and a horse paddock. The overweight friendly manager has an overweight friendly cat. Rockin!

We unpacked, got situated, then flew downtown and hit the streets ambling. We'd come 183 miles to amble. We were poised. We were ready. Our fu was unbeatable.

Old downtown Wenatchee has some prime ambling. Window shopping, cafe' sniffing, looking at the buildings and reading the old painted advertising, spotting architectural details, musing over oddball street sculpture, alley whomping and people watching. It's just a different world there. Half German, half Mexican, part NA and part Asian, small town and friendly, but scary hardcore after the sun goes down.

Just as evening fell we were crossing a street when we heard a loud, prolonged scream echoing off the buildings.

As far as I could figure, someone was smacking a pterodactyl with a bat.

All this ambling took energy and we soon needed Mexican food. We took our sweet time cruising up and down town, brains tuned to simpatico Mexican food wavelengths. I was beckoned by a little corner place called 'Taco Loco'. The biker was lured by 'Mi Abuelo'. We finally settled on Mi Abuelo. (I think he felt apprehensive about the whole 'Crazy Taco' concept.)
It was grubby.**That was expected.
The food was utterly, utterly fantastic. Fanfuckingtastic, even.
The service was awesome.
We were happy.

That evening I took two showers just because I could. I opened the bathroom window to let out the steam. While I was sitting on the side of the tub shaving my legs I heard another strange call echoing in the night:
'eeeeeaaARRRR ha ha ha!'
I looked outside into the darkness. I saw a horse. It saw me.

I worried about that. Pterodactyls probably eat horses.

*when we returned we opened the box and pulled the contents out. It turned out to be a stack of dancers headdresses and a spool of raffia to repair them.

** this seems to be par for the course in downtown Wenatchee...unless the business in question has just been built, everything from the floor up to about five inches high is pretty much black. grocery stores, antique stores, real estate offices, it doesn't matter.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

on vacation!

I'm going to take a vacation! Yay! See you in a few days, my darlings!

I will leave you with some helpful advice.

How many times have you been sitting at a party, enjoying the summer weather, sipping your daiquiri out of a coconut, when suddenly your entire evening was just shot all to heck by an inadvertant nad shot? This happens to me all the time. Now normally I welcome happy accidents like this, provided the model is reasonably attractive and is nobody I know.
The problem is, that's not what I get. No, what I get are inadvertent nad shots from people whose nads I do NOT want to see. Mainly family.
Mainly from the Biker's side.

I just attended a family reunion and the attire of the day was cargo shorts. These things:

Note the fit. Loose. Airy. Informal. Comfortable. To hell with underpants!
Now that's all well and good. I have nothing against cargo shorts. I own cargo shorts. Hell, I was wearing them on this particular occasion. But there's a big difference between a woman wearing cargo shorts in the summertime, and a man....That difference is that women don't get dangly nethers in hot weather.

note: model is a white european. however the same rule applies for all shorts-wearing races.

Everything is copacetic as long as 1. it's been a breezy day, and 2. the shorts-wearing male in question is standing up, and 3. on the same level as those surrounding him. But in my case the gods have not been so kind. Gentlemen, there is a reason your mother was always nagging you to sit nicely and wear your uns.

...sheep may safely graze. nothing to see here, folks, move along.

This is the reason:

...thunderbolts and lightning very very frightening me.

Let's say you have some dim inkling that when you sit like this things seem a little breezier than you'd generally expect. Fine. Just don't deceive yourself into thinking that crossing your legs takes care of this problem:

Same problem... only now the nads in question hang out even further and are a strange shade of vermilion.

Particularly close family members.*

*does not apply south of the Mason-Dixon line or in the following starred counties in the state of Oregon: