Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tour de Lopez

Every April for the past four years we have gone up to the San Juan Islands ( northwest of Seattle) and participated in the 'Tour de Lopez' bike ride with friends from both Portland and Friday Harbor. It's a great ride put on by the Chamber of Commerce of Lopez Island.

Getting there is half the fun! It's about a 5 hour drive up to the ferry at Anacortes where we hoped to get on one of the few scheduled rides to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. This is where our friends live, who retired up to the island over 10 years ago. We always try to get there a few hours early to secure a place on the 2:45 hour long 'express' run. Waiting in line with the other cars gives us a chance to catch up on some reading... or me a chance to do a quick sketch of the ferry dock. The weather is cool and cloudy. I notice lots of dogs and bikes coming along with all the other paraphernalia stuffed in the cars. Once on the ferry we meet up with another couple we know who will be sharing our friend's guest house with us. The ride is beautiful as the ferry meanders around Shaw and Lopez islands on it's way to the quaint village of Friday Harbor. To the East we catch glimpses of the snow capped North Cascades.

Once on the island we have a short 5 mile ride to our friend's house, which sits in a beautiful meadow punctuated with rock outcroppings and a view of the water. Nature at it's best.

We unload our bikes and gear and spend the rest of the day and evening catching up with old friends. The weather is not looking promising, with showers predicted on the day of the ride. There will be seven of us participating and we'll need to catch an early ferry over to Lopez the next morning.

Up early, we are disheartened to see a steady, cold rain falling and dark skies! It's obviously decision time! Some decide to brave the weather and bike the short distance to the ferry. A few of us, who would rather stay dry as long as possible, decide to accept the offer of a ride in the truck, which also serves as a bike transport.

An hour and 20 minutes later we arrive at the small ferry dock on Lopez. The sky at this point is just spitting rain and there are signs of some possible clearing. Once off the ferry we must climb up a long hill and then make our way to the park where we get our maps and wrist bands for the lunch and festivities after the ride. Three options are provided...an easy 10 miles, then 17, or the entire 32 mile ride. All have some hills and gorgeous scenery. 600-700 riders usually participate, but we notice that there seem to be fewer riders this time .... probably due to the weather. Four in our group decide to do the entire 32 miles and three of us go for the shorter 17 mile loop. Since we normally ride longer distances, these should be really enjoyable provided we aren't hit by a downpour!

Fortunately, the air is cool and the ride is invigorating, and luckily, not too wet! We ride past farms, ponds and beaches sprinkled with rocks and driftwood. A few rest stops along the way, one at an old one room school house, provide brownies, fruit and drink to restore energy levels. Riders pass with both small children and family pets sequestered in carts behind their bikes. Reclining bikes and tandem bikes mix with both old and new models of road and hybrid models. The roads are wet so everyone uses a degree of caution.
At the end of the ride in Lopez Village there are tents set up with food and drink, a terrific quartet playing for the crowd, and lots of happy people. The sun finally makes an appearance and helps warm us up. By mid afternoon we get back on our bikes for the 4 mile ride back to the ferry dock so we can catch the 3:45 back to Friday Harbor.

Waiting at the ferry dock a deep discussion takes place assessing how every one's equipment handled the ride.

Once back at Friday Harbor, the last five miles takes us back to our home at the guest cottage, where a celebratory meal awaits. What a great way to spend a weekend with friends!

The following morning we get the 11:05 ferry back to Anacortes and then drive back down to Portland, arriving home exactly 7 hours later.

Friday, April 2, 2010

March meandering....

The month of March is a blur... but luckily I brought my camera and my sketchbook along when we flew out of Portland on March first, headed for Florida and then the Caribbean. I absolutely love experiencing new environments... it's a sensory overload. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could rotate people around the world to experience someone else's life? I'm sure it would help with world peace and understanding. I'm convinced that broadening your horizon is the best education you can get. Nowadays, the 'getting to' and the 'getting back' aren't necessarily enjoyable, but this time flying over 4,000 miles East went relatively smoothly ( aside from spending a long 8 hours in the San Juan airport when a storm delayed outgoing flights) Since our arrival back home late on the 17th, our 'catch up' activities have kept me from posting until now.

First of all.... we froze in Florida! My sister lives in Venice, on the Gulf Coast, where it's supposed to be balmy and warm for all of those Northerners who come down for a Winter break. NOT! Everyone was wearing fleece and had their heat turned on. Temperatures were in the 50's (F) and went down into the 30's some nights. It was too cold for my sister's parrot, Bud, to be outside. Forget the bathing suit or even trying to turn our sickly pale Oregon bodies into even a healthy beige! We did manage a brisk walk on the beach and bought our favorite coffee, 'Jamaican-Me-Crazy' , to take along on our upcoming sail. The good news : it appears that temperatures have warmed up a bit since we got home.

From Florida, our next stop was the Caribbean island of St. Lucia in the West Indies. Friends of ours from college spend half of the year on their 42 ' sailboat, and for the past decade we have been joining them for a week to 10 days of sailing adventures. ( only very good friends should attempt this! ) Getting to the Caribbean from Oregon is always the hard part!

Once on the boat we look foward to spending days without shoes, a watch, or much contact with the outside world. Temperatures this year were warmer than normal, never getting below 85 degrees F. day or night. Steady breezes, wearing as little as possible, and jumping in the water 3-4 times a day kept us cool. After exploring an old fort at the edge of Rodney Bay, we sailed North from St. Lucia to the French island of Martinique, and from there sailed from town to town along the West coast of the island.
Seeing the coastal towns from the water gives you an entirely new perspective... quite different from arriving by car. One of our first stops was the capital of Fort de France so we could check in with customs . I loved the bright colors that dominated the landscape of the area... both the painted buildings and the bright clothes of the beautiful people created a warm and happy atmosphere. Their food and craft markets were also wonderful places to explore and feel the pulse of daily life.

Anchored in the harbor with boats from Canada, Germany, France, and Finland surroundiing us, we could see the local residents bustling about in the intense heat of the mid-day. After a short dinghy ride to the dock, walking a few blocks to the local boat outfitter was like walking through an oven.... it takes awhile to acclimate to the heat of these islands. You also understand how the climate dictates a way of life that is more relaxed and slowed down!

One of my favorite towns was Saint Pierre, located further up the coast and sitting at the base of the volcano, Mt. Pelee. In 1902 the mountain exploded in a violent eruption of ash and gas that killed the entire population of the town of 30,000 people! ( actually only one person is said to have survived...a prisoner who was housed in a well protected cell!) The town was rebuilt using some of the few remaining stone walls that survived. We anchored in the harbor close to the main dock and beaches where we could see the local fisherman tending their nets.

We took a cab a few miles up onto the slopes of Pelee to visit the DePaz Rum Distillery, one of many in the area. Surrounded by acres of sugar cane fields, we could look across the landscape and see our sailboat as a tiny speck in the harbor below. Visiters are invited through a fascinating walking tour of the facility as trucks of sugar cane arrive to be crushed and processed.

Back on our boat, we could see the colorful houses lining the beaches encircling the harbor, some containing remnants of the old stone walls that remained standing in 1902. It appeared that fishing, rum, and tourism were the main economic building blocks in the area.

Mt. Pelee on a clear day overlooks the town and was the premier view from our boat, achored in 20 feet of clear blue water. The top of the mountain shows evidence of the violent ash and lava flows that descended upon the town in 1902. There is a road and then a trail up the mountain, but the hot temperatures kept us from attempting such a climb! Many of the remains of the old stone walls were scattered about the town, making it a magical place where the past and present co-existed with nature.

Upon leaving Saint Pierre we sailed South along the coast down to the town of Saint Anne. The following day we had a great 2-3 hour sail across open seas back to the island of St. Lucia, where we anchored for a day in the tiny harbor of Maribot Bay. Large yachts and an exclusive resort were hidden behind mangroves and palms. We had our only meal at a restaurant .....reached by dinghy, and called , appropriately, The Rainforest. Dining on a dock surrounded by mangroves , with the water lapping at your feet, is an experience not to be missed. Our final sail on our final day was down the coast to the famous 'Petons'...twin peaks that guard the entrance to a small harbor. The landscape is particularly dramatic, especially when seen from the water.

Our home for 10 days was Kewaydin, seen here at anchorage with sunshades keeping us as cool as possible when we're not sailing..