This marks the halfway point of our time away from home! About six weeks ago we set out on this awesome trip and it feels like the time has just flown by. We decided to pamper ourselves a little bit for a day or two in Sonoma wine country. We found an amazing B&B in Healdsburg, CA, which is a new center for the Russian River Valley wineries. The Camellia Inn
was an huge and yet adorable Victorian house with about nine guest rooms. We arrived just before the daily evening wine tasting provided by our host Lucy and her husband. It was seriously one of the best B&Bs that we've stayed in. The rooms had bottled water, wine glasses, fresh flowers, chocolates, a fireplace, and the most comfortable sheets you've ever slept on. They even sell the sheets in the office because so many people have fallen in love with them. We had a lot of fun meeting some of the other guests and got a great dinner recommendation for a place called Zin
, where the food was great but the staff never smiled.
Photos from the Camellia Inn website
The next morning after our awesome breakfast we headed out to bike Dry Creek Road that winds through the vineyards and wineries. The map showed it to be about six miles to the end of the road, so we figured that it would be a fairly easy ride with some stops for tastings along the way. It ended up being a total of about 20 miles
, when we measured out the distance online! But it was still gorgeous and fun and a beautiful day for biking.
Our first stop was the Michel-Schlumberger
winery which is a little more off the beaten path. It's an organic and sustainable winery and one of the first of it's kind. We had heard that the winery tour was great and we arrived just in time for the morning tour. Our tour guide Francesco was awesome. We were able to walk through the grapevines and taste some of the cabernet grapes and then see how the grapes are processed, fermented, oaked, and blended. We learned a ton and then had a tasting at the end. We loved the Pinot Gris, Le Bon Cochon Zin, and their Maison Rouge (their take on a "house red"). We hopped back on the bikes and headed over to the Truett-Hurst
winery. Truett-Hurst is also organic and biodynamic, but their vineyards and winery are not on the same property. They had a lovely garden outside the tasting room. We bought two bottles there, the Burning Man Petit Sirah and the Rattler Zinfandel.
Our next stop was meant to be for FOOD. It was about 3pm and we hadn't eaten since our 8:30am breakfast back at the inn. We were told that the Family Winery bloc had a food truck and/or restaurant so we headed that way. No such luck on the food! Apparently he is only there on weekends. Boo! But there was more wine, so that was good. We stopped first at Papapietro-Perry
, a small winery that focuses on Pinot Noir almost exclusively. It was neat to taste 5 different pinots from different vineyards and compare the taste. Across the way was the Kokomo
winery, started by two Purdue alums. When we told the woman presenting the tasting that Tom was also an alum, she went back and found one of their seasonal workers who was also an alum and also works for Binny's in Chicago! He was out for the harvest season to learn more about winemaking firsthand, since he oversees all the wine sales in the Binny's stores. He gave us a private tour of the facility and introduced us to the owners. It was a very cool experience.
At this point we were famished, a little drunk, and carrying two bottles of wine in our backpack. And we still had about 5 miles of biking ahead of us before we got back to the inn. We managed to find a little general store with some great deli choices and wolfed down some food in preparation for the trip back. Let me tell you that a suddenly full stomach + a day of drinking red wine + high intensity pedaling = a somewhat nauseous Lisa. But, we made it back in one piece, rested for a little bit and then headed down towards San Francisco, where we stayed with the Tripps in Mill Valley. We had a great meal with them and their awesome kids, drank a lot more wine, and relaxed in the hot tub.
Not bad for 36 hours in wine country!
There is an ancient home video of my younger sister and I at my grandparents lake cabin when we are about 4 and 6 years old. We are hiking up a little slope and she grasps a little tree in her little hand and says "That's a youuuung tree, huh, Lisa?" (in her somehow southern accent - she was born in WV). I couldn't get that out of my head as we explored the redwoods these past few days. These trees are in no way young or small. I had been really excited to see them up close, but nothing can really capture how immense, huge, gigantic, and massive they really are.
We spent the night after driving down from Portland, OR in what was more a trailer park than a campsite in Crescent City, CA. But it was quiet and near the water, so not too bad. The next morning we headed south through Redwood National Forest for some touring and hiking. We found one of the famous drive-thru trees in Klamath, CA and got a few great pics of the Westy. We also found a great hike (Trillium Falls Trail
) through the elk grazing lands where we got up close and personal with some of the giant trees.
We even found a really neat "walk-through" tree off the trail a little ways that could probably fit 10-12 people inside.
That night headed for California's "Lost Coast", which is a side loop off of Route 101. We had heard that is was amazing, if a little rough and winding. It was truly stunning and practically empty of other cars and people. We found a nice pull-out from the road overlooking the ocean as the sun was setting. There was one other camper parked there but not much else going on. It was gorgeous! The next morning we woke up and hiked down to the beach just after high tide. After breakfast we met our camper neighbors who had been staying at the spot off and on for about a week. They live in the area and had just gotten into RVing. Unfortunately our visiting was cut short when a park ranger showed up and informed us that there was no camping at this particular spot. To be fair, the sign was about this big and hidden in the grass. We were able to get off with a warning, but our camper friends got stuck with a fine since a cranky local had complained about their extended stay. We headed out after that and continued the beautiful drive down the coast.
The way to get back to Route 101 was to drive a crazy winding road over the bluffs and then through Humboldt Redwoods State Park from the backside. The road was exhausting (both for the driver, and for the passenger trying to make lunch while flying around the back of the Westy) but the final stretch through the forest really paid off. The road was lined with giant redwoods and it was totally quiet and peaceful (except for the put-put-put of the Westy).
We spent another awesome beach-side night at a more expensive ($0 vs $25) but also more legal campsite right on the ocean. Today we explore Fort Bragg, CA and more of the classic Route 1 coast between here and San Francisco!
This is the third Oregon post of the trip and the first time I've managed to work in an Oregon Trail reference. Quite frankly, I'm disappointed with myself. We certainly saw a LOT of Oregon and had an absolute blast! After the Wet Westies campout
, we headed east to Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the US. The drive around the rim is gorgeous but steep and winding, which would become a theme for the next week. The roads out here are quite narrow and employ the hairpin turns quite liberally. The Westy is doing well, but asks for breaks every now and then to rest her engine.
From Crater Lake, we headed north and east to the small city of Bend, OR. Bend is a cool town consisting of an equal number of street-corner-drum-beating-dreadlocked-hippies
. The town is situated in the middle of some great hiking and rock climbing areas. After spending the afternoon exploring downtown, we stopped by the local McMenamins, Old St. Francis School.
For those of you not familiar with the concept, McMenamins
is a restaurant/hotel chain that takes old or historic buildings and turns them into community spaces. This particular one had a restaurant, cigar bar, movie theatre, hotel, turkish bath, and event spaces. We ate dinner at the restaurant and then checked out the turkish bath. It was lovely, tiled with mosaics and with cool fountains around the edges. We were the only ones in there except for one other guy. Turns out he moved to Bend from New Mexico - but he walked the whole way! With two burros! It took him 12 years off and on to make the trip and now he lives outside of town. He said the burros have gotten pretty fat since they stopped walking several miles every day.
Earlier that day, as we were getting ready to head into the restaurant, we met a couple, Jim and Anise, who were admiring the Westy. They had driven from San Diego to Chicago back in the 70s in their VW bus and had many fond memories of the trip. They now own a Eurovan and continue to enjoy camping in it. They invited us to stay in their driveway for the night, as the nearest campgrounds were a little bit out of town. We eagerly accepted and they even left the door unlocked throughout the night so we could use the bathroom if we needed! The next day they cooked us an amazing breakfast (baked oatmeal) and even gave us a few of their AAA campsite books for the west coast! Check out Jim's books
(he's an LCSW/family therapist and published author) for a great laugh.
That morning we headed farther north to Smith Rock State Park
for some world-class rock climbing. We got there a little late in the afternoon, but were able to get in a few climbs. The scenery was gorgeous and we headed to the climbers campsite for the night. The campsite was awesome and tents only. We met some fun girls from Calgary who were down for the week climbing while their friends were attempting to summit Ama Dablam in Nepal!
The next two days we climbed at Smith Rock. We had a great time and really got motivated to find some more climbing spots as we head down the West Coast. The weather was stunning, blue skies and cool in the morning and blazing hot in the afternoon, only to get cold again at night.
From Smith Rock, we headed further north again to Portland to pick up Katy and Kevin Linde, who were in town for the weekend. We met them at a mutual friend's (Rosalin and David) place and had a really fun night in Portland with everyone. Ros and David were intending to join us for a weekend of camping, but the night before we left, the toilet in their rental house overflowed and flooded into the basement, right on top of all their camping gear! So it was down to the Trimmers and Lindes for the weekend. We headed back south through Mt. Hood National Forest to hike Black Butte (note the very fashionable and responsible orange vests to avoid being shot by hunters). We camped right along a river in a state park called Camp Sherman. As always with the Lindes, we had great food the whole time! The next day we hiked closer to Bend at Tumalo Falls State Park. The trail was awesome and passed by 4 or 5 waterfalls. That night we dined at the Deschutes Brewery in Bend (yum!) and drove back north towards Portland to find some camping. It was a quick weekend packed with fun! We were so glad to host folks in the Westy "guest suite". It was surprisingly comfortable to have 4 adults living in the square footage of a minivan!
Okay, so the original quote is about Iowa, but there WAS a VW bus in that movie! But seriously, Oregon has been really good to us so far! The drive down the coast from Lincoln City to Florence was absolutely amazing. The volcanic rocks jutting out into the surf, huge pine forests, and barking seals make for some epic scenery. Saturday we made the drive down and were looking for a place to camp near the beach. The first few campsites we came across were closed for the season. We pulled off onto a wayside right on the beach and thought we might camp there for the night, but eventually decided we would go just a little further and see what we could find.
The next campsite we pulled into was Washburne State Park. The campsite host gave us a big smile as we drove in and said, “Oh look, another one with the group!” Tom and I sort of stared at each other and then asked her, “What group?” She informed us that there was a big group of Westfalias at the campsite that weekend for a meet-up!! We had found the promised land!
We drove through camp and saw Westy after Westy, many doubled up in campsites, all colors and models - from bay-window buses to Vanagons to Eurovans. Site after site, people came out and welcomed us and laughed at how we had stumbled upon such a group. It turns out this was a weekend campout for the Wet Westies VW group - for VW owners in the greater Pacific Northwest. Everyone let us know that we were more than welcome to join the party and the pot-luck was starting in an hour! We quickly set up camp and threw together a dish to share. Our campsite-mate was Tortuga, a moss-green bay-window bus owned by Allison and her boyfriend, John.
The pot-luck was like nothing I have ever seen. These people are serious about their food - and cooking it in their VWs! This was no beans-and-rice shindig. There was beef bourguigone cooked over the campfire in a dutch oven; fresh, local oysters smoked at the campsite; mushrooms collected from the surrounding forest; polenta with manchengo cheese; and a huckleberry cobbler with berries picked that afternoon. Y. U. M. There was even Jerry, a former wine shop owner, who always carries no fewer than three dozen bottles of red wine in his Vanagon. We met Beverly, the matriarch of the Wet Westies, a woman in her 80s who has been traveling in her bus since 1996 when she retired.
After dinner and socializing, Jon and Brandon broke out the smudge pot. No, this is not drug paraphernalia. A smudge pot is used in vineyards and orchards to warm the trees when there is threat of frost. It’s like a huge kiln/jet engine that runs off of vegetable oil. Jon and Brandon found one on a Westy camping trip and enjoy blowing things up with it. It was really neat and toasty warm to gather around.
We learned a ton from everyone - from where to store our paper towels to the fact that the fridge really does work! It was wonderful to meet such a friendly and supportive group of fellow Westy enthusiasts. We are forever grateful to now have help on the road if we ever need it!
After spending a few great days in Seattle, we headed south towards Oregon. On the way we spent a night near Mount St Helens in an absolutely gorgeous old-growth forest campground. The trees were massively tall and well spaced with a thick carpet of pine needles that made everything quiet and serene. The next morning we headed to the MSH visitors center where we found out the the view of the volcano was clear that day. We made the hour and a half trip up to the crater to check it out. The volcano erupted n 1980, taking out the top and an entire side of the mountain and covering hundreds of miles in debris and ash. If you’ve never seen the eruption, check it out here
The crater was snow-covered, which really highlighted the crater-bowl and the new lava cap which has slowly formed over the past 10 years or so. MSH is the only national park which is intended to change for future generations, rather than preserving what is currently there. The park services are doing absolutely NO replanting or rehabilitation of the area, and the whole system is a giant laboratory for studying how nature rebuilds itself after a massive disruption.
After our volcanic adventure, we headed down to Lincoln City, OR, on the central coast, to continue our tour-de-Feldner. We had stayed with Lindsie and her family in Big Sky
and with Jarid and Carmin in Seattle
, now it was on to check in with them and their parents Jim and Karen, while they stayed on the coast. We had such a great time with them in their awesome vacation rental right on the beach. I went running every morning along the packed sand and in the evenings we went for long tidepool walks at low tide. We even spotted some whales off the shore! Friday during the day we went down to Newport, OR which is a great harbor town. We had an amazing seafood lunch at Mo's
and bought a whole albacore tuna right off the fishing boats at the pier. If there is one thing the Feldners do well, it’s cooking! We ate fantastic food the whole time. We also stopped by the Rogue Brewing Co.
for a sampling of their microbrews and house-made “pink” gin (aged in pinot noir barrels for a pink hue). Jim and Karen were excellent hosts and we were so happy that they welcomed us in for a few days.
On Saturday, we went for a really cool hike up to Drift Creek Falls which features a mini-replica of the Golden Gate Bridge over a waterfall. Sasquatch and Jarid came along for the 3-mile loop. The greenery was so bright and lush and the bridge was pretty awesome.
Yesterday the Westy was blessed with a gorgeous double rainbow in Seattle and we had to share it with everyone!
Well this post is late in coming! We spent two nights in Sun Valley, ID exploring the town and surrounding area. Tom found a great mountain bike trail that headed up towards the gondolas and I found some great running trails and the $5 shower at the local YMCA! Our second evening there, we even stumbled upon a free Zumba class in one of the parks. We checked out the old Sun Valley Lodge, where the lounge features Julliard-trained jazz trios and the worlds first chairlift. It was another really fun ski town to explore and the weather and changing leaves could not have made for a prettier spot!
The next day we headed off towards Boise, where Tom's godparents live. Tom hadn't seen them in at least 30 years, so we gave them a call on our way into town. Boy were they surprised to hear from us! They were excited to see Tom and invited us over for dinner and to stay the night. We had a great time hearing stories about Tom's parents in their college years.
The next morning we were up early and headed out for the 8 hour drive from Boise to Seattle. It was amazing to drive from the eastern part of Washington State, where it's dry and flat, through the mountain passes and down into the lush, wet city of Seattle. The landscape changed as if a switch were flipped! We spent our time in Seattle with my Aunt Peg and Uncle Doug and little cousins John and Olivia and also with our friends Jarid and Carmin. We had a blast exploring West Seattle with the Feldners and getting to check out some awesome meals in their recently redone kitchen. Their dog, Sasquatch, was a lovely hostess :)
We went sailing one night with my Aunt and Uncle on their boat in the Shilshole marina which was amazing. The water and wind were perfect and we got a gorgeous sunset. The kids had a lot of fun exploring the Westy, as did their dog Daisy. One morning we went with Peg, Johnny, and Livvy to a park for some rock climbing! It was the kiddos first time out with harnesses and ropes and we all had a great time. We even did a little slack-lining, which appears to be much easier when you are six and much closer to the ground!
After a really fun stay in Seattle, we headed back to Chicago (via airplane) to attend my cousin Sara's wedding. It was a little strange to leave our nomadic lifestyle and head back to things that were so familiar. We had an absolutely amazing time visiting with my family and getting to see my parents and my sister. Now it's back to Seattle to pick up the Westy and continue the awesome adventure!