Vancouver, BC and Redmond, WA: living with nature

DSCN1472From Saturday, 6 August until the middle of the month, I concentrated on completing the book translation. The client’s offices were closed until 22 August for the traditional Italian Ferragosto holiday, so this job did not have deadline pressure. However, I needed time to prepare for our coming bicycle tour.

IMG_20160814_181419Most days, Cheryl would lead me on a ride through roads and neighbourhoods that I had not seen, usually ending on the beach at Spanish Banks, where we would watch the shadows lengthen, the geese chase the gulls off the shoreline, and the tide ebb or flow across the 200 metres of exposed flats below the high water mark. We counted the ships anchored in the road stead waiting for their turn at the grain elevators or the cargo piers. Usually there were at least ten. We would count the cruise ships sailing to Alaska each evening, usually in a column of three.

IMG_20160817_185243It never rained. In the evening, Cheryl would spend a couple of hours watering her garden and yard, whilst I returned to the book. The manuscript with my comments and a cover message were ready on 15 August as I hoped. It was time to shift into full travel mode.

On Friday the 19th, I picked up a rental car again. By now the gang at the rental agency knew me by name (and vice versa), so my “economy” compact suddenly became a 2016 Ford Mustang with a 5.0-litre engine! IMG_20160819_095150Perfect for the highway driving that lay ahead. Indeed, the traffic would prove to be very heavy, so the extra performance came in handy.

We headed south to Blaine, Washington, where I left my suitcase with Security Mailing Services. They will store it until late October, then ship it to the hotel in San Francisco in time for the ATA Conference. I won’t need its contents until then, and I can take it back to Italy with me on the return flight. I also picked up a box at the post office for all the stuff that I would not need in Spain or Portugal on our bike tour.

Welcome to Skagit Food Co-op, Mount Vernon WA

The Skagit Food Coop in Mount Vernon, Washington, is fast becoming a destination in its own right. It was tough to find a parking place in its ample lot, and the store was packed with locals getting lunch, shoppers buying groceries, and tourists gawking. The Coop boasts the kinds of fresh, local, organic and natural groceries that attract foodies and the curious. We opted for some ready-made sandwiches to go, and had lunch in a rest area on the Interstate No. 5 South. The sun was beating hard on the treeless expanse around the comfort station, but we found a picnic table with a roof for shade.

2016-REIIn spite of the cloudless sky, we did not feel the need for air conditioning as we rolled to Seattle. We spent three hours in the flagship store of REI, and found things that we needed for camping and bicycle touring. Then we made our way to Redmond, Washington. Wrong turns and rush hour traffic made the trip last into the evening, so it was after 2030 when we finally arrived.

DSCN1483We spent a relaxing, wonderful weekend with our friends in Redmond. I also packed the box to mail to Formia. Saturday, Caitlin loaded us into her like-new, five-year-old Nissan Leaf, my first ride in an all-electric vehicle. After stopping at the post office, they took us for a tour of the Microsoft campus, which is a fair-sized city in its own right. We had lunch in North Bend, and visited Snoqualmie Falls nearby, where the first underground power station came online in 1899. DSCN1485It still supplies power to Seattle and Tacoma today. There were only two flumes falling 82 meters when we were there, creating noticeable mist below. In spring and autumn, water falls across the whole edge, and it can obliterate the valley with blinding spray.

Back in Redmond, we dined on grilled salmon and fresh things. They eat like we do, so it was pleasant all around, relaxing in their forest-like back yard.

Sunday, we drove to Portland, Oregon to visit another landmark not usually in tourist brochures: Universal Cycles. Famous for its vast mail-order catalog, we had both been curious to see their retail store, the only one until a second store opened this year in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We both came away with small parts and clothing (what I buy, I have to carry). Then we drove back to Vancouver.

IMG_20160812_202650Since turning in the Mustang on Monday morning, we have been riding every day, but now to Jericho Beach, which is a little closer than Spanish Banks, and better protected from the prevailing westerlies. The fauna show up on schedule. The geese practice formation flying and landing at 1700. About 1730, a pair of seals poke their heads out of the water to check out the bathers.

IMG_20160816_155435Looking at the extensive green space in and around the Vancouver skyline, I was struck by the similarities between two localities, so different in so many ways, but alike in their approach to nature. Vancouver has 603,502 people living on 115 sq. km; Redmond’s 60,000 live on 44 sq. km. Vancouver has multiple industries, and a bustling downtown of skyscrapers; Redmond has one major employer, and seems mostly residential. However, both localities are culturally diverse, and both have shown a commitment to preserving and protecting the natural resources in the area. Vancouver features trees on almost every street and in most yards, as well as parks every few blocks. In Redmond, clear cutting is not allowed for development, so there are 70-year-old cedars and tall Douglas firs in many yards; wildlife run through the backyards. I read that a healthy city needs at least 30% green space to maintain good health. Vancouver and Redmond both exceed that easily, while many cities in Europe and North America do not.

DSCN1442This attitude about sharing the forests and woodlands seems to be a common and distinctive theme on the West Coast. I am glad that I have been able to spend two months observing it first hand.

Next week, the travelogues resume, as Cheryl and I complete the last two months of the Intercontinental 2016 tour. Please join us, and share your comments.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


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