Denver, Chicago and Home

It’s strange to write a blog post from my own kitchen table. The last one I wrote, I was sitting in a restaurant at the San Jose airport about 4:30 a.m.after Candice graciously dropped me off in the wee hours before sunrise. It was there I discovered I couldn’t post any more photographs as my Ipad memory was full (I added them to that post this morning) and it must be time to head east to reconnect my ipad to my laptop at home and delete my 5000 songs.

I was very engrossed in my writing, apparently, as I finished my last sentence, looked at my watch and gasped when I saw the time. My flight for Denver was boarding! Two hours later and one time zone east, I was thrilled to see my Southern Tier friend, Mary Kay, pulled up outside the airport to greet me. It was another beautiful, sunny day on the road as we drove away past onion fields ready to harvest with a view of the Rockies in the background.

Mary Kay is in a transition from selling her home to moving into her new townhouse. We stopped by her old house briefly before heading to her new digs. I caught the excitement as she showed me her new rooms, all freshly painted in colors from her purple kitchen to her “African room” upstairs. As she has the place updated with new fixtures and furnishings, she is camping out in the basement while the work is completed.

We headed south out of town to a Christmas shop to find a zebra ornament for her African room. It was there that we met up with Dawn, another Coloradan from our cycling trip. It was a festive place for a reunion!

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Having found not only a zebra, but also a giraffe and an elephant ornament, we drove to Littleton for a little time poking around the shops. With 11/11/11 only a day away, and all of us in life transitions, we all bought the same journal to document and explore the next chapters of our lives. We wrote in each other’s books like high school yearbooks – ready to take on our next set of adventures. After a delicious Italian dinner, we headed out under the full moon to say goodbye to Dawn and drive back to Denver.

In the morning, the sky was still a clear blue and the views were just beautiful.

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It was time to head back to the airport for the second flight in two days, this time to Chicago.

There was a sense of symmetry as I landed in O’Hare, back to a stop I had made early on in this trip. One of the things that surprised me on this adventure was that instead of checking places off my list of places to visit, I have found many places that I want to return to. Fortuitously, a friend from home was there on a business trip so I booked myself onto his flight so I could hitch a ride home from the airport in Connecticut.

That evening, he and his colleague took me out to a Chicago steak house for dinner. I wish I had brought my camera as the waiter brought out a huge platter of various steak samples to describe the different cuts and kinds of meat. With Chicago’s meat-packing history, I tried one more local food – a delicious steak. After dinner, we took the elevator up to the 96th floor of the John Hancock building for an incredible view of the city lights under the full moon. Lights stretched out in all directions in their midwestern grid of long straight roads.

In the morning, I was able to check off one more thing on the bucket list for Chicago – an architectural boat tour down the Chicago River. It was another sunny day but cooler so we bundled up with hats and gloves to sit on the upper deck of the tour boat. Chicago has a wide assortment of architectural styles from art deco to more contemporary buildings. The tour guide pointed out details and histories as we glided past Union Station (where I took the train 6 weeks before) and out to lake Michigan for a final view of the city.

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Back at the airport for the last of 3 flights in 3 days, we boarded our little jet back to New England. It was dark as we drove north but we could still see the many branches and trees that had fallen down in the snowstorm a couple of weeks back. I was glad that the snow had melted as it’s challenge enough to be loading up the wood stove again after so many days in the warmth and sunshine of the west.

“Real life” is back for awhile as I sort through over 6 weeks of mail, do the laundry and resume the world of grocery stores, cooking and chores. It’s good to be home, though, to spend time catching up with my daughter at dinner, take a walk in the woods with a friend and enjoy the crisp, Vermont air. It’s all a little easier, making this transition, knowing that I will be back at the airport on January 20 for my next adventure – an around the world journey. If you have subscribed to this blog, you’ll get an email when I start blogging again. If not, check back in January. There are many more miles and stories ahead.

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California Dreamin’

Imagine, if you will, waking up on a crisp, clear morning in San Jose. You look out the window onto a beautifully landscaped yard. Hot tea (or coffee if you prefer) is ready in the kitchen just a few steps away. You enjoy a piece of toast, slathered with a freshly made avocado spread that includes a few drops of lemon juice from a lemon just picked off a nearby tree. It’s a special breakfast that originated in Chile where one of your hostesses is from.

You get into a car for a ride over the Santa Cruz mountains, passing redwoods along the way. Descending into Santa Cruz, you head for a French bakery where you choose from a variety of tempting offerings. You pick a latte and a pain au chocolate with a flaky outside and a deep, rich chocolate inside.

You get back into the car for a short drive to Natural Bridges state park. You get the bicycles off the back and ride to the visitor center where you meet two cyclists who you rode with last week in Palo Alto. Leaving the bikes, you walk down a boardwalk into a eucalyptus forest. Along the way are informational signs about the lives of monarch butterflies. You start to see a few monarchs winging their way above your head. You gasp when you see hundreds of them clustered together in the branches near the sky.

Back on the bikes, you head south along the rugged coast of the Pacific Ocean, sun sparkling the waters, waves crashing along the shore. You gape out to sea, scanning for the whales that are hiding nearby. The bike trail weaves along the shoreline, passing beaches with surfers and paddle boards, a harbor filled now with boats, only recently the victim of a tsunami from Japan. You catch a glimpse ahead of a roller coaster and then see that there is a whole boardwalk with arcade games and amusement rides. You cross an old railroad trestle bridge, congratulating your fellow rider who has conquered her fear of bridges.

You keep smiling as you pass homes facing the waters, smell the eucalyptus trees in the air and eventually spot a harbor town. You notice the buildings colored like Necco wafers on the beach and stop at Zelda’s, an open air restaurant right on the water. Seagulls peck at leftover crumbs as you enjoy your charbroiled mahimahi with mango salsa. You laugh with your friends, telling stories about bicycle trips and life in California.

Riding back up a hill, you wind your way through neighborhoods to reach yet another bakery, Gayles’, where you’ve earned a second treat of the day, this time a tiny orange cake. You get back onto your bike for the return trip, once again enjoining the ocean views, this time with the light of the setting sun. Everything looks new in this light and you resist the urge to photograph it all a second time. Sometimes, you can’t resist and stop for a quick photo, unable to pass the views unrecorded.

You get back to the car, reluctantly say goodbye to your new California friends that you have enjoyed so much. This time you drive while your passenger enjoys the views from her own car, talking about the amazing weather and the gorgeous ride. You can feel the exercise in your body, a tired but alive feeling.

Arriving home, you put away the bikes, take a shower and pack your belongings back into the backpack for the trip east early in the morning. You share one final dinner with your gracious and generous hostesses with one more glass of California wine and head reluctantly to bed, knowing you must get up really early in the morning for a flight to Denver. As sleep settles in, you think back over the last few days- the walking tours of San Jose, the meals in different world cuisines, the friendly neighbors and how well you know your way around the now familiar city. Your only regret is that your ipad is full to the max and you’ll have to wait to post your pictures in your blog when you get back to Vermont next week. You fall asleep filled with gratitude for another day on the road with kind people, a great bike ride, incredible views, and delicious food.

And, best of all, you know that all that imagining really happened – one last perfect day in California.

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Thousands of views

I’m running out of superlatives. My days on the road are coming to an end next weekend but my experiences here keep on coming and coming and they are all great.

The scheduled bike ride for Friday was cancelled due to imperfect weather. The standards for riding are a little different here in the Bay area than where I live in Vermont. There had been rain the night before and there were still clouds and puddles and a chance of rain so the email went out early that there would be no usual Friday Babes ride that day. I didn’t have to be disappointed long, however, because Candice had a back up plan. Candice always has backup plans and plans and plans and they are always good ones.

On that morning, we left in the car with neighbor Boston Jane, for a car ride to Los Gatos. Our first stop was the Testarossa Winery, founded by Jesuit priests. We could see men in slickers from a distance who appeared to be stomping grapes. It is the correct season for processing the grapes but the winery didn’t offer tours. They did offer a tasting however, so Jane and I shared a sampling of their four, very tasty wines. We didn’t always taste all of the described scents and flavors (“swirl your glass to detect the blueberry notes before sipping”) but I do know I wasn’t sipping two buck chuck.

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With the sun now shining, we headed back into town for a walk on a trail that ran along a creek, first in a cement ditch and then back to a babbling brook. There is an incredible trail system in this area, including the Bay Trail that will eventually circumnavigate the whole Bay area with 400 miles of trails. Along the way, we came across a T.V. cameraman and the slickly dressed reporter. They were looking for cyclists to interview about bicycle theft in Los Gatos. Not really believing that we were experienced cyclists, he didn’t really want to talk with us. When I pulled out my camera for a photo of them, the cameraman turned the tables and took a photo of us instead.

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That evening, we were invited next door for real Swiss cheese brought back from Switzerland by another neighbor and Swiss wine. Carmen took us out for dinner at a great Cuban restaurant and then we joined the neighbors again for First Friday entertainment down the street. Some very talented students sang opera arias at one restaurant, and a very professional jazz trio played at another one. Like in Brattleboro, we could walk to downtown, run into people from the neighborhood and walk back. For a city of a million people, this part feels like a small town.

The next day I went back to Michael’s. There we walked on the Coyote Creek trail with his friend, Chris. There are many feral cats that live in the brush along the trail and Chris is one of a small group of people who take care of them. He is also one of the few that is able to hold some of them after years of gaining their confidence. It was fun to see them run out of their hiding places when they heard Chris’ voice, scampering for their food and human attention.

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For lunch, we drove to a mini-mall that was all Vietnamese businesses. I felt like a foreigner, seeing all the signs in a different language. I had a delicious noodle soup and realized I need to practice my chopstick skills before I get to Asia.

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Yesterday, the weather gods cooperated for me to do the infamous (in Southern Tier women circles) Ride with a 1000 Views. Candice has spent many years perfecting her tour of San Francisco by bicycle – 25 miles that takes all day. I was lucky that Katie, who was on the Northern Tier ride with me this summer, was able to join us. We met at the South Beach cafe for coffee (both Candice and Katie sought out coffee shopc on our cross country rides) before we headed out.

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This is where the superlatives fail. We rode around and through the city, seeing it from many perspectives. Some were right on the bay – under the Bay Bridge, along the water near the Presidio, under the Golden Gate Bridge. Others were from up high over the city- at the top of the Lion Steps, near another Andy Goldsworthy sculpture (this one a wooden spire) and near the famous Victorian painted ladies. We rode through Golden Gate park, closed to vehicles on Sunday, through neighborhoods like the Haight and the newly hip,Hayes Valley with its buildings made out of old shipping containers. We enjoyed good food like the salad at the Velo Rouge cafe and the pumpkin ice cream made individually using a liquid nitrogen mixer. Candice told us of the history of some places, facts about the city and other interesting stories. I’m encouraging her to offer her tours as a business when she retires. She’s a natural.

Given that the tour was about the views (and I lost count early on), I’ll make it easy on myself and give my own pictorial tour from the day. Add another wonderful one to my list of great days on the road.

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San Francisco

I had heard that Candice loves giving tours but it wasn’t until yesterday that I could add my name to the long list of people who can verify that she really does and she’s a natural. We took the train into the city (I did my last blog entry on the train feeling like a true California commuter) and headed straight to the flagship Apple store. We sat in on a course in IPad 2 and I made the instructor’s day by my not so subtle enthusiasm when I learned something new. If I even remember two or three things from the hour, I’ll be doing well. I especially enjoyed learning more about the maps feature as it comes in so handy when traveling.

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After the class, we started our walking tour of the city down Market Street. During the course of the day, we saw many neighborhoods including the back alleys of Chinatown where fortune cookies were being made, North Beach for an Italian lunch at outside tables conveniently equipped with heaters, the stairs up to Coit Tower with the beautiful murals, down the steep steps of Telegraph Hill (parrots hiding from the drizzling rain), a quick stop at a chocolate factory and a walk through the Ferry Building with its fancy foods. We passed the Occupy San Francisco site which was just a warren of soggy tents at that time of day.

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Altogether we walked 5-6 miles and saw sights famous and hidden. Candice knows stories to go with all different angles of the city and she kept me entertained and educated all day. We saw things other tourists aren’t likely to find like the Maxfield Parrish painting in the Palace bar and elite skating students learning their double aerial twists on a rink. It was a packed and busy day but I felt like I had a good sense of the city by the end.

We’re hoping to do her famous ride with 1000 views on bikes on Sunday. We’ll keep our fingers crossed in the meantime, hoping the weather will cooperate.

(At the Apple store yesterday, I tried to get help to delete a partially completed blog entry from Sequoia that wouldn’t go away. I hear from Candice that it got online by mistake and that was by a pro! Ignore and delete that one,please. There’s already a better and finished piece on the site. )

The Way to San Jose

Before I booked my flight to San Francisco, I should have asked my two friends in San Jose the best way to get there. (Background music – Do You Know the Way to San Jose?) It turns out there is an airport within a few miles of here. Michael had sent me directions by BART and Caltrain to get to his place from San Francisco, but his housemate, Karen, graciously offered to drive the hour to come pick me up.

Michael used to teach with me in Vermont but moved to the west coast many years ago. He lives with a couple from New Zealand and the four of us got to know each other better over dinner at Sweet Tomatoes that evening. There was a buffet dinner filled with delicious, and mostly healthy, choices and this produce-starved Eastern girl showed little restraint filling her plate with all kinds of fresh, California fruits and vegetables.

In the morning, we headed out for a walk on one of the many trails around this area. Walking in shirt sleeves in November under the California sun is definitely a treat and one that people in this area are able to take more for granted. With all the snow in New England recently, I was especially grateful.

Michael is an educational travel agent so he helped me book my final flights home. I had several options so I wasn’t an easy customer but we put together a great itinerary (and it really is no problem to leave here on a 6 a.m. flight for the right price).

Coincidentally and conveniently, Michael lives just a few minutes away from my Southern Tier cycling friend, Candice and her partner, Carmen. I packed up for the short trip and moved into Candice’s beautiful home. She has a group of women called The Babes who do bike rides on Fridays.

Fortunately for me, she also rides on Wednesdays. I unpacked my bike things for the first time since my ride with Sandra (another ST friend) back in Virginia. Candice led me through the campus of San Jose State University nearby on our way to the train station.She is a great tour guide, pointing out things along the way. She is also very comfortable with urban riding so I tucked myself in behind her on my borrowed bike as we wove through students on bikes and skateboards, in and out of bike lanes and along busy roadways to the original 1930’s art deco train station.

This was the first time I have ridden on a train to start a bike ride, which they do regularly here. There is a car for bikes at both ends of the train with bikes downstairs and seats for the people upstairs. Each bike is labeled with a destination so they can be arranged for quick on and offs at the many stations enroute.

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The bike car filled up as we rode along to our destination of Palo Alto. We were meeting friends on the campus of Stamford University for a 30 mile ride. Among the group was someone I was especially excited to meet – Pam Perkins. She and I have many cycling friends in common and after reading my Northern Tier blogs the last two summers, she felt like she already knew me.

Just off the train, it immediately became clear that we were in a land of bikes. There were bike lines and riders everywhere and I was happy to be one of them. There was a particularly challenging left turn on the campus where there was a steady stream of bikes coming our way and unlike in a car traveling on a road with traffic lights, there was hardly a break in the traffic.
Bravely following Candice and her friend, Sandy, who met us on the train, we made our way through the gorgeous campus to meet our fellow riders.

All of the women I met, including Pam, are WomanTour alumni, a particularly passionate group of cyclists and always fun and interesting people. I was in good company all day as we made our way through the campus to begin our ride, already chatting away like old friends.

We headed up into the lower reaches of the Santa Cruz Mountains aka the hills above Palo Alto. It was another perfect day for riding- sunny and comfortable temperatures. It got a little warmer as we climbed but then we turned off into Woodside. This was a unique experience for me,riding on oak shaded winding roads in an area known for its celebrities, horses and multi-million dollar homes. This is where the CEO’s of the Silicon Valley have their residences and we could only see the gates and little glimpses of the mansions inside the gates. There were people riding horses here and there and more private stables than I’ve ever seen.

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On Alpine Road, appropriately named, we climbed up a narrow road with a deep forested gully on one side and a straight up bank on the other, complete with a mother deer and her fawn.

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The last part of the ride was a sweet downhill. I hadn’t realized how much climbing we had done but enjoyed the ride down to Portola Valley where we had our lunch. We ate outside (in November -ah) and enjoyed more local food – a BLAT sandwich (BLT with avocado) and garlic fries with garlic from Gilroy, just down the road. Here we said goodbye to Pam and Debbie to ride back to the Stamford campus.

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Back on campus, Sue gave us a quick tour. We walked through the Rodin exhibit at the college museum and then explored a huge sculpture, first from a balcony and then got to walk around inside the giant metal construction.

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We also rode through a cactus garden.

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Finally, we saw an Andy Goldworth sculpure made out of rubble from an earthquake several years ago.

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Back at the train station, I tried a blood orange soda before making our way back to Candice’s house in time to meet up with her many neighbors and friends at the Garage, a wonderful neighborhood bistro known for its huge and delicious burgers. By the time we walked back to the house, my head was filled with all the names and stories of the many people I had met, including many Babes, that day. What a great welcome to California and another full day on the road. As I sat under a lemon tree in Candice’s yard, once again, I was bursting with gratitude for all the people and experiences I am having on this trip.

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Localvore in Portland

What a treat it was to spend a whole rainy Sunday afternoon at Powell’s bookstore. With my hotel checkin at 4 p.m., I got to browse to my heart’s content. I made it out with only 3 new/used books, which for me showed great restraint.

The Hotel Lucia is minimalist chic in its decor. The walls are decorated with black and white photographs, including this one of Ansel Adams, in the elevator.

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The tea bags and coffee in the room were provided by local suppliers. The toiletries in the bathroom were made locally. Oregon is much like Vermont in their endorsement of local products. After some research, I decided that I would take myself out for dinner in a restaurant that was one of the early farm to table restaurants – Higgins. It was an easy walk down Broadway from my hotel.

There is a fancy white tablecloth restaurant in the front but a cozy bar in the back where I found a table. An online recommendation raved about the seafood stew, a perfect dinner on a cool, damp night. I ordered a local red wine, a salad of local and delicious organic greens topped with roasted Oregon hazelnuts (we saw the trees driving in) and the stew. It was a great choice. Along with local fingerling potatoes and fresh tomatoes, there were hunks of salmon, halibut, calamari and mussels. I tried to save half for lunch the next day but couldn’t show the same restraint as at the bookstore. I mopped up the broth with the local whole grain bread. At least I passed on the dessert!

In the morning, I choose another local speciality – Voodoo doughnuts. It was a good morning walk away from the hotel and a good excuse to indulge in some extra calories (they don’t count when you’re testing local specialities, right?). There were lines outside the door, short on a Monday morning, but still a line. Who knew maple and bacon doughnuts would attract people? I opted for a Mexican chocolate doughnut, with cinnamon and a little chile pepper but photographed some of the other options.

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The eyeball doughnut might have been special for Halloween but was unique under any conditions. I walked to a coffee shop, they are everywhere in the Northwest, to enjoy my treat with a local latte and free wireless.

Back at the hotel, I managed to pack my things into my original two backpacks which worked as long as I wore my new hiking boots on the plane. I took the MAX, the Portland mass transit, out to the airport. I enjoyed one more local meal there – a crab sandwich- before I boarded my propeller plane south to San Francisco. Once on board my Horizon/Air Alaska flight, I discovered one more local treat. The airline offers locally brewed beer and local wine free to passengers. I sipped a merlot as I flew over the mountains we had driven through just a few days before, eyes glued out the window like a 5 year old. Well, the 5 year old wouldn’t have a wine glass in her hand.