A Travellerspoint blog

Off On A Tangent

Tangent, Crater Lake & an Oregon road trip

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My first port of call after leaving Portland was to a small geographic feature east of the city called Oneonta Gorge. In essence, this is a creek with a waterfall at the end, but navigating to it from the entrance involved a Krypton Factor-style obstacle course. Rocks and stones had to be negotiated, progressively tricky logjams had to be scaled and finally a chest-high pool of icy water had to be traversed, all the while contending with noises emitted by excitable Americans.

All worth it in the end though:
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After this brief interlude I drove over to my old mate Mark's house in Tangent, Oregon. Tangent is a small, seemingly insignificant, town in western Oregon home to about 1000 people. Seemingly insignificant, that is, until you discover that it is actually the Grass Seed Capital of the World! As Mark's wife Mel pointed out, they actually provided the grass for the pitches at the last two football World Cups (Brazil & South Africa).

I was early so popped into the local pub, the Dixie Creek, a place evidently frequented by a mixture of middle-aged locals, workmen and passing truckers. Despite only being October 3rd, it was already decked out (very well, I must say) in Halloween decorations and a man with an eye patch was setting up the equipment for the Friday night karaoke, a very popular event according to the friendly but obese barmaid. Outside in the pub's courtyard there was what appeared to be a stage set up for a wedding ceremony similar to those usually seen in exotic Caribbean locations, and I wondered what venues the happy couple rejected before finally settling on this one.

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After a couple of disappointing beers I went back to Mark & Mel's. Mark is a colleague from my first post-university job at a market research company in Bracknell, and I have therefore known him 19 years, the last 15 of which (if I remember correctly) he has been living in Tangent. I was treated to some excellent hospitality and home cooking and plenty of bottles of IPA during my stay. Their cat could do with learning some manners however. It hissed at me like a snake whenever I got too close.

Mark & Mel:
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On the Saturday they drove me to a place called Florence on the coast (about 1h 45m away). Nearby is a vast area of sand dunes that stretches 40 miles down the coast and is now used for various recreational activities, including dune buggying, which is what we were there for. This entailed sitting in a buggy with Mark, two rather corpulent women and the third Chuckle Brother whilst our driver tore up and down the dunes at speed thinking he was in Mad Max 2, periodically turning sharply in order that we could get covered in sand - great fun. The corpulent women certainly seemed to enjoy it too - one was cackling like a hyena throughout the entire 30 minutes.

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Afterwards we had a cracking fish & chips in the lovely harbour area of Florence.

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The following day it was time to say my goodbyes (to the relief of their miserable cat) and set off for Crater Lake, an area of outstanding natural beauty 160 miles southeast of Tangent, in the Umpqua National Forest. I was enjoying driving myself around by this stage already, but the journey there was something special - miles and miles of beautiful tree-lined roads with very little traffic in either direction.

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The trees were various shades of yellow, green and brown and every so often a sign would point you off to a 'vista point' giving superb views of a lake, forest or mountain. I did get lucky with the weather (glorious sunshine for October is not that common) but I can't overstate how picturesque this area is - and I hadn't even got to Crater Lake yet.

For example, I pulled over at a somewhat unheralded sign to Salt Creek Falls and was rewarded with this - a 286 foot high waterfall:
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Crater Lake itself was formed when a volcano called Mount Mazama collapsed after a series of eruptions, leaving a 6-mile wide caldera that eventually filled with water. So much water, in fact, that it is actually the deepest lake in the USA. The water there is a beautiful deep blue, and even though the journey there was already well worth it, this was a worthy reward for the long drive.

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On my way back up to the rim, after passing a hobbling fat child who had somehow become injured on the walk down, I was able to add to my collection of cute animal videos as a chipmunk took advantage of a (presumably different) child's clumsiness in dropping a half-eaten peach:

A couple of nearby by-products of the Mazama eruption are the Pumice Desert and The Pinnacles. Pumice is a volcanic rock that is ejected during an eruption and, once it settle and cools, is very unlikely to support plant life due to its porosity and the nutrient-free soil that sits upon it.

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The Pinnacles are bizarre formations of volcanic ash and pumice that have eroded over the years to leave tall spikes.

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After leaving this area I drove a further 70 miles down to a place called Klamath Falls, which I thought would be a small outpost but in actuality turned out to be a city of 20,000 people. It is in southern Oregon, near the California border (and 'Falls' is a bit of an exaggeration - 'Rapids' at best). Anyway, after getting lost for a bit I eventually reached my motel and had myself a well-earned sleep. Not, however, before eating the biggest meal I'd yet had in the US at the next-door Black Bear restaurant. I've seen more places called the Black Bear on my travels here than I have black bears, despite my best efforts.

OK, I'm a bit behind I know - this takes me up to the 5th (it's the 13th today). Hard work this! Next up - the road trip continues into California.

Posted by LordGibil 22:20 Archived in USA Comments (5)

Guns 'N' Roses

Portland, Oregon & surrounding area

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Prior to setting off, I knew about Seattle for three reasons - the Space Needle, grunge music and War Games. I knew nothing at all about Portland. Fortunately for me, the taxi driver that drove me from the bus terminal to the hostel was only too keen to explain. Number one place in the country for bikes, dogs, strip bars and microbreweries apparently, and USA's best airport 2 years running. He also told me some story involving guns and someone he suspected of being a serial killer; I couldn't quite make it out, but it sounded like he was a bit of a wrong 'un.

What the taxi driver didn't mention is that Portland is known as the City of Roses. And Beervana. And Bridge City. In fact, it has so many aliases that there is actually a separate page on Wikipedia dedicated to all its nicknames, which may make it the #1 city for nicknames as well.

I saw the roses for myself on my one full day in the city. As part of my lengthy amble around, I visited Washington Park, a lovely park about half an hour's walk from the city centre, and came across a Rose Garden. Now ordinarily, as a manly Northerner, I would have given it a wide berth, however it was also free, so in I went and very pretty it was too. I must admit I actually sniffed a couple of flowers as well.

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Hard to judge again given my short stay, but Portland seemed like a very safe friendly city and there were enough sights to keep me interested during my day in and around the centre. For example, here is a photo of a salmon sticking out of a wall:

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Portland is bisected by the Willamette River and there is a very pleasant park along the waterfront. It contains this fountain:

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Back in the hostel, a 55-year-old called Tex was over on a 3-week trip trying to make it as a musician. He has a degree in US History and we had a good chat, then he gave me one of 200 CDs he'd had cut of his own compositions. A nice chap, if slightly odd in a way I couldn't quite put my finger on, I do hope he doesn't have 199 left in his bag when he goes back to Arkansas.

One of the reasons I wanted to come to the US was to go on a road trip. Flying between major cities is interesting in its own way, but I was keen to explore places off the beaten track and visit places that tourists normally miss. For that reason, I hired a car in Portland with the intention of dropping it off in San Diego 44 days later.

My concerns about the eligibility of my driving licence (as I was missing its paper counterpart) were unfounded as Alamo seemed more interested in trying to con me out of money than verifying my identity. They tried to sell me insurance that I already had, breakdown cover that I already had and, after pointing out a ridiculous yellow car in my class, conveniently situated directly outside the office, that Louie Spence would have been embarrassed to drive, offered me an upgrade for 'just' another $18/day... which went down to $12... then $8. Once he'd given up, I was shown to my actual car (a Hyundai Accent), which was about twice the size of the bananamobile and which I am very pleased with.

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The first place I drove to was Mount St. Helens, a volcano that erupted in 1980 killing 57 people. It is possible to climb to the summit, but this required a permit that I didn't have so I made do with the closest available point, the Johnston Observatory. From this point (and on the drive there), it is clear the devastation that was caused to the surrounding area (see photo gallery). The eruption actually blasted out laterally from the side of the mountain and flattened an area 19 miles long by 23 miles wide (according to Wikipedia). Apart from a few stubborn old goats they had evacuated the vicinity beforehand so it could have been a lot worse.

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That's your lot from Portland. I should pass on the good news that Willow the fugitive hamster has surfaced after 6 days on the lam, and is now back behind bars and in disgrace.

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Posted by LordGibil 18:46 Archived in USA Comments (4)

Let's Nuke Seattle!

Seattle, Washington

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The first time I recall hearing about Seattle was in the tremendous (and totally realistic) 1980s film War Games, from which the blog title is taken. Matthew Broderick, a high school computer geek, manages to infiltrate the United States' nuclear weapons mainframe, track down reclusive scientists, escape a top security government building, guess passwords and still find time to cop off with the best-looking girl in the school in the process. Initially, assuming he had simply hacked into a computer game, he chose his home city of Seattle as the first target in his attempt to engender a nuclear holocaust. I am pleased to confirm that the film in question was clearly not a documentary as I am alive and well having visited the city myself within the last few days.

The trip here from Vancouver involved a very comfortable 5 hour ride on a Greyhound bus with loads of legroom and free wifi, and which was only about a third full - not bad for $25. Plenty of space to spread out and let my boots (still sodden from the Grouse Mountain hike) dry out.

So, after the solitude of Alaska and being spoiled in Vancouver, it was back to hostels. They are typically very much alike, but they usually have their own idiosyncrasies. One here was that any bedding had to be handed in at reception upon arrival, as a flustered Chinese lady was finding out the hard way as she emptied her backpack onto the reception floor. Also, each room had its own artwork drawn by a local artist - actually pretty impressive.

My first night was spent in a mixed dorm. I had assumed that 'mixed' must refer to 'men and women', however it turned out it must instead mean 'men and walruses' based on the cacophonous snoring and farting that was going on in my adjacent bunk. Still, I'd better get used to it as it's hostels most the way from here on.

View from my bunk:
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After checking in, I met up with the lovely Cindy from Berlin, who I'd met on the bus down from Vancouver, and we had a couple of drinks and a wander round. The main attraction in the centre surrounds the Pike Place Market, which consists of an eclectic array of shops, bars and restaurants as well as street performers. The most famous stall is a fish market that has become somewhat of a tourist attraction as employees take orders from customers outside the stall and then hurl their chosen sea creature in the air across the counter whilst they all shout indistinctly. The market is also apparently home to the first ever Starbucks, although I didn't notice it.

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Walking through the area surrounding the market, we came across a small street that was covered both sides with chewing gum of various colours. It stank, but was artistic in its own way and at least allowed me an easy response to the future question "What is there to do in Seattle, assuming it has not been destroyed by nuclear weaponry?"

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I only had two full days here, so for a change I gave the hiking a miss and just explored the city itself, or at least the area within walking distance of my hostel. A short walk from the Pike Place Market is the Waterfront by Elliott Bay. Whilst not as spectacular as other cities, the walk down the promenade is very pleasant and clearly a lot of effort has gone in to sprucing up the area given Seattle's somewhat rugged origins as a logging, fishing, mining and shipbuilding town.

Ferris wheel on the Waterfront:
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Also in the vicinity are several pig statues and unusual sculptures, such as this squid:

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Seattle has more of an edge to it than Vancouver (not difficult), although I didn't see any bother. My hostel was in Belltown, a seemingly quite trendy area with a variety of bars and restaurants. Belltown is about 10 minutes from the Pike Place Market, and 10 minutes in the opposite direction is the Seattle Centre, home to such attractions as the Space Needle, the International Fountain, a sports arena and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, amongst other things.

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My final day here was spent trying to sort out some admin, having a slap-up meal and then retiring to the Belltown pub with my iPad for what turned out to be just over 8 hours, mainly spent writing the Vancouver & Seattle blogs, sorting out my photos and of course sampling a few pints of the cracking local Bale Breaker pale ale.

OK, I'm actually now in Portland, Oregon, and I'll tell you all about that next time.

Posted by LordGibil 21:55 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Fugitive

Vancouver, British Columbia

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Last time we spoke I was wondering what would become of my fortune cookie: "Don't worry about money now. The best things in life are free."

At first, none of my cost-free experiences could definitively be attributed to the cookie gods. Without a timescale to work with it was difficult to know what to make of it. Nothing particularly noteworthy was occurring, and certainly none that didn't require payment. I'd seen a few nice trees and interesting animals, but they in themselves didn't seem worthy of the relevant deities going to the trouble of notifying me by means of an aphoristic Chinese sugar-based snack. I began to question my faith. Then, I realised - it was a test! The gods were putting my faith under scrutiny, and I wasn't about to fall for it. Despite a lack of evidence I reavowed my belief in their existence and my faith is now stronger than ever. At some point in the future, I will come into some money (or maybe get off with a woman), and at that point, the authenticity of the prophetic biscuit will have been demonstrated unequivocally.

Anyway, enough of the searing religious satire. It has been a long time since my last update. We pick things up on the morning of Friday 19 September...

It was time to leave Ketchikan, and it was an early start. After a quick journey via taxi, ferry, flight, flight, train, ferry, bus & bus I arrived at my mate Jimbo Isham's house in North Vancouver. I got an idea straight away why Vancouver is consistently right at the top of 'best city in the world' polls - looking out the window of my many means of transport brought lovely views of forests, mountains and water that I would later explore. So yes, I am going to go on about hiking and animals again. Sorry about that. Not only that but everywhere seemed clean, including the ferry terminal, train stations and bus depots - very little litter or graffiti. There was also a discernibly more relaxed atmosphere than the places to which I had been so far.

Deep Cove, North Vancouver, a few minutes from Jimbo's house:
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I was kept amused at the ferry terminal by a seagull attempting to eat a starfish. It seemed to wonder why it could only manage to get one arm in its mouth at any one time.

Jimbo and his now wife Lucy are old mates of mine from my Cable & Wireless days in the late 90s/early 2000s who moved to Vancouver in 2005, and they now have two girls Freya and Fleur (and a hamster Willow - more of whom later). I was pleased to note that, apart from a new-found propensity to wear hats and play the ukulele, Jimbo has not changed a bit, whilst Lucy has mastered the art of baking lemon drizzle cakes, one of which is sitting in my bag at the moment. Both still speak with English accents, unlike (understandably) their daughters, from whom I heard that the Canadian for see-saw is 'teeter-totter'.

Canadians are a friendly bunch. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Phibbs Exchange bus depot. Passengers formed an orderly queue to get on each bus, all said thank you to the driver as they filed on and off, drivers were happy to help and one even gave me a free ticket. Also, car drivers stop at amber lights and no-one hoots their horn, which is not the case in London on both counts.

As usual, I did a fair bit of hiking and climbing mountains. The Baden-Powell Trail to Quarry Rock, the Rice Lake Trail at Lynn Canyon and the so-called 'Grouse Grind' up Grouse Mountain were all vanquished during my week here.

Lynn Canyon was particularly spectacular. Part of the hike there involves taking a suspension bridge over a canyon - not easy for wussy acrophobes like me. I know I've posted far too many photos of trees, streams and rocks so far but I couldn't resist a few more here as it is truly one of the most naturally beautiful places I've ever been.

Lynn Canyon suspension bridge:
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Jimbo's house is in North Vancouver, which is one of the more salubrious areas, and in fact is a separate city in its own right. It is separated from Vancouver itself by the Burrard Inlet, over which a ferry runs every 15 minutes. On the Vancouver side of the inlet is the Coal Harbour area, which is very picturesque and clean and, at the risk of sounding a bit Alan Partridge, contains some very interesting sculptures (see photo gallery). Here is also the starting point for the Seawall walk, which is a pathway around the Stanley Park area in the north-western tip of Vancouver surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. I walked round it (about 10km) one afternoon, took a load of photographs (including of some incredibly tame raccoons) before ensconcing myself in the Steamworks pub in Coal Harbour.

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Later in the Steamworks, I was joined by Jimbo and Justin Jones, another ex-colleague from C&W days, for a cracking night out on the beers in the Gastown area just up the road from Coal Harbour.

Earlier in the week I had met up with some family friends Jenny & Duncan, who drove me round downtown Vancouver and Stanley Park to give me an idea of the layout and a bit of local expertise. They also took me up Hastings Street, an incongruous section of which is home to the city's vagrants, crystal meth addicts and prostitutes. Most cities have their more deprived areas but I can't recall seeing a higher concentration of society's outcasts in such a confined space before.

For anyone who's seen 28 Days Later, the opening scene where he escapes the hospital and walks round a deserted London (one of my all-time favourite film scenes) is set to a fantastic song called East Hastings by Godspeed You! Black Emperor - which I found out is named after this Skid Row area. That was interesting, wasn't it?

Anyway, after the tour and a tasty lunch, we went our separate ways and I walked around the downtown area. Needless to say, I avoided all the shops and went instead into a few pubs. One of which (the Score on Davie Street) was clearly the place to be for the young, trendy, good-looking and cool. So, for four reasons (actually five, as it was very expensive) I felt a bit out of place and elected to leave. It turns out Davie Street is the gay area, as evidenced by this street crossing:

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Anyway, this is going on a bit so I'll summarise other notable activities:

Deep Cove
Another picturesque area nearby to Jimbo's house in North Vancouver, on the edge of the forest and where I climbed Quarry Rock. Lovely array of cafes and shops and the possibility to rent a kayak (declined in my case). View from Quarry Rock summit here:
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Grouse Mountain
I had heard about the so-called Grouse Grind, a climb up the nearby Grouse Mountain rated as 'difficult' by the Vancouver Trails website. To a finely-tuned athlete like myself it presented few problems, albeit it was very steep and extremely wet. It was raining cats and dogs from the minute I set off from Jimbo's to the minute I got in again 6 hours later.

The wet weather clearly drove away the local wildlife as, apart from cats and dogs, I didn't see any animals at all on the way up (apart from a few similarly masochistic humans), never mind bears... until that is, I got to the top. After hiking an estimated 40 miles around bear country since my travels began, I finally saw a couple (two gentleman bears, so not a 'couple' - even though one was called Grinder). In captivity, in an enclosure, but bears nonetheless. So, I can finally verify the existence of these ursine beasts:
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They had been rescued after being orphaned in 2001 and lived here ever since. I am pleased to say they are kept in excellent conditions - the enclosure is 5.5 acres and consists of their natural habitat, and they are fed irregularly by placing a variety of food around the enclosure to allow them to forage for themselves.

There are normally several other attractions available at the top of the mountain, but due to the appalling weather there was nothing going on. An enormous solitary wind turbine sits at the top, and is easily visible from all around North Vancouver, however I was virtually next to it and couldn't see it at all. It is not allowed to climb down the trail on foot due to its steep gradient, so I took the cable car, which normally affords excellent views of the surrounding area, but on this occasion afforded me a view of fog, rain and fellow sodden climbers within the car.

Maybe I only saw the better areas but I have to say I really liked Vancouver. There isn't a list of my favourite cities in the world, but if there was, it would be right up there along with London, Cape Town & Rio. East Hastings aside, there were no signs of any chavs, 'feral youths' or surly teenagers and, although I did witness a fight at Phibbs Exchange, it rapidly petered out once a middle-aged bus driver arrived and told them to stop it.

I am actually in Seattle at present, in a great pub (The Belltown) with superb IPA, free wifi and Led Zeppelin on the jukebox. Tomorrow I will be leaving for Portland, where I will hopefully pick up my car. There are conflicting opinions from the car hire company and the agent as to whether I will need my driving licence paper counterpart. I am intending to have this car for 6 weeks so this could put a serious dampener on my trip.

Right, it's taken me nearly 4 hours to write this and do the photos (I'm easily distracted) and I've started to notice my diminishing level of sobriety so it's time I signed off.

As for the blog title, it has been a tumultuous few days in the Isham household as their hamster has escaped. I do hope it turns up.

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Posted by LordGibil 10:37 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

Fortune Cookie Update

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Nothing yellow all day... until fate drew to my attention an as-yet unnoticed Chinese restaurant, a meal was consumed and then I was brought, in a yellow wrapper, another fortune cookie!

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"Don't worry about money now. The best things in life are free."

Are the gods toying with me? Am I on some kind of elaborate fortune cookie-related treasure hunt reminiscent of a Dave Gorman comedy show? Do I have to go to another Chinese restaurant to obtain further instructions? Will they feed me free of charge? Or does it just mean I will come into money somehow? Or get off with a woman?

Or, is it all a load of old nonsense and I'm only writing this because I'm bored and slightly drunk?

Posted by LordGibil 23:30 Archived in USA Comments (2)

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