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Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Spencer Butte

Have you read “A Yurt By Any Other Name?” You might want to do that first.

After a really terrible night’s sleep, I wake up vowing not to let it affect my mood this first full day in Oregon. I couldn’t get comfortable last night, but think it was more my own back issues than the Roundhouse bed. To quote Indiana Jones, “It’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage.”

I trek on over to the shower and drive over to a coffee kiosk a mile down the road that I noticed last night. I order a latte and a bagel and my mood vastly improves. I’m ready! But ready for what? So far, when I ask locals what their favorite thing to do here is, besides mushroom hunting, the consensus seems to be, hike Spencer Butte. So, now that I’m caffeinated, I throw on my yoga pants (I didn’t bring shorts as the temperature was supposed to be in the low 70’s and to this current Phoenician, that’s sweater weather) and lace up my hiking boots and I’m ready.

Water bottle in hand, I drive on over to Spencer Butte park, about 10 minutes away and begin the hike. There are a few choices of trails. I decide on the “Main Trail” as it’s about a 700 foot elevation gain in about a mile, as opposed to a 700 foot gain in about 1/2 mile. Slow and steady, thank you

I’ve been told by Nate at the Roundhouse that it’s an hour up so it should take a few hours. The online guide says it’s a 2 to 6 hour hike. As is true with most hiking guides they overestimated the time. It takes me about 45 minutes to reach the summit. The last part is true scrambling. I’m sure there’s a trail somewhere but I’ll be darned if I can find it. I’ve met a couple of women on the trail and they can’t seem to find it either. As we can see the summit, we decide it’s every woman for herself and make our own path. While the views along the way have been impressive, the views from the top are outstanding.

A view from the top

As I reach the top, not only do I see views of green rolling hills with tall pines and farmhouses to rival Switzerland, I also meet four twenty-somethings and their two dogs (no idea how old the dogs are). By “meet” I mean I catch my breath for a minute and say hello. They nod.

I decide I’ll win them over with my sparkling personality and ask, “Oh, are these the famous Guard Dogs of the Mountaintop?”

They say nothing.

As I like dogs and they generally like me, I hold out my fist to them to let them smell me (because apparently, to smell me is to love me). One seems nice enough but the other starts growling and showing his teeth.

I back off and say, “Um, are they friendly?”

The only response I get from the twenty-somethings is a sideways look and a smirk. For a minute I wonder if they speak English, but a few minutes later I hear them having a perfectly good conversation in my native tongue. I’m later told by one of the women I’ve met on the hike that this is typical of Eugene twenty-somethings. They tend not to speak unless it’s required of them. Apparently the possibility of me being attacked by Cujo didn’t rate high enough.

I sit and stare in awe at the most amazing view while chatting with Sonnet and Liz, college friends who have gotten together for a mini-reunion. Sonnet lives in Eugene and will be taking the Bar Exam this summer. Liz is a vet (the animal kind not the army kind) and the squirrels seem to know it as they’ve followed her to the top of the mountain. After about 30 minutes she announces that they must get going as she has to get a run in as she’s training for a marathon (I hate her).

Sonnet and Liz

After a few minutes more of enjoying the views, I make my way down, hop into my car and head downtown to hit up one of the famous Portland food trucks (I’ll carb-load for the marathon). I find a truck called Slurp which serves, Slurpwhat I’m told is the best Kahlua pork from a recipe handed down by the owner’s grandmother. I forego the rice, cutting the carbs (okay, no marathon for me) and get it only with the pineapple and cabbage. I take it over to Townshend Teahouse which has introduced me to Bubble Tea (fun to say and even more fun to drink) and Kombucha which is a fermented tea that’s supposed to be really good for you and is also quite tasty.

After eating my pork and drinking my Kombucha, I hop in my car and head over to The Hideaway Bakery to meet an old coworker for their Tuesday Pizza and Live Music evening from 5:00-8:00pm. They have beer, they have wine, they have pizza, they have music and they even have a sandbox. What more could you want? We get to catch up over another great Oregon brew while her three year-old plays in the sandbox and I get to hold her six month-old which I miss terribly since leaving my last job working with kids. Everybody’s happy.

Tomorrow – serving lunch, busing tables and The Joys of Indoor Plumbing!


A Yurt By Any Other Name


Have you read “I’ve Got Baggage?” You might want to read that first.

I arrive in Portland after an on time and uneventful flight. I take the extremely long walk to baggage claim to pick-up my tightly packed luggage and do some more walking to get to the car rental airport shuttle pick-up. Portland International Airport (PDX) has some on site car rental but I was a bit “Thrifty”, or perhaps I should say “Budget” conscious. Actually a little of both.

About a week before the trip I reserved a rental car with Thrifty Car Rental at a not-so-bad price of $254.08 including all of the crazy taxes and fees. On Saturday, I played Priceline’s version of Russian Roulette, Name Your Price. As the Thrifty rate of $171.68 per week, not including taxes worked out to $24.52 per day, I bid $14.00 per day on Priceline. I don’t really care who I rent my car from as long as it’s an airport location. Budget Car Rental accepted my bid and I’ll be paying a grand total of $196.57 for the week. including taxes and fees, a savings of $57.51. I’ve kept the Thrifty reservation just in case there’s a problem with the Priceline reservation and I need backup. If you reserve directly with a car rental company, there’s normally no need to provide a credit card number ahead of time and no cancellation fee. Between that and the airport parking in Phoenix I’ve saved nearly $100 this first day. And I’ve declined the rental car insurance as I checked my MasterCard prior to traveling and, between that and my own car insurance, I’m good. As Jake and Elwood said, “We got a full tank of gas, a half a pack of cigarettes (um, not really, I don’t smoke) and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!”

I head on out of Portland (driving over the Willamette, of course) and, after a quick stop for a sandwich, I’m in Eugene two-and-a-half hours later. The only reservations I truly have for this trip are the first two nights (except for a guest house owned by my step-sister at which I’ll stay at the end of the trip). I’ve made those reservations through AirBnB . This is my first time using this well-known service which has become quite popular in the last year. People rent out rooms in their homes, or even entire houses or apartments on a nightly basis through AirBnB. As they are international, you can find places all over the world. I have found The Roundhouse which is a twelve-sided wooden structure in the backyard of Don’s home (he’s careful not to call it a yurt as, apparently, those are made of fabric). community libraryWhen I arrive I enter through the gate which Don’s pre-trip E-mails has described as being right next to the community library, a copper arched enclosed shelf. I purposely make some noise to let anyone know I’ve arrived. It’s strange walking into a stranger’s backyard while dragging your luggage behind you. As no one comes out, I proceed to make my way over the river rocks, which are beautifully landscaped though not at all practical when carrying two tightly packed suitcases and a tightly packed backpack.

Floor of Pennies
Floor of Pennies

I open the door of The Roundhouse and am pleasantly surprise; it’s well designed with hooks all around the inside to substitute for a closet and there are windows on each side as well as a skylight. There are collapsible tables attached to walls in order to make good use of the space. FYI – there is no television. Oh and the floor is made up of pennies! 59,206 to be exact. There’s even an old road bike should I choose to use it. Oh, and a dog, it comes with a dog! Okay, not exactly. His name is Boston and he’s a big, black, friendly dog who doesn’t seem to mind that strangers come and go from his backyard at all hours. Besides Boston, I meet Don’s son Nate. As Don is out of town for a couple of days, Nate is taking care of things.

Roundhouse backyard
Views from the Roundhouse

The one real drawback is that the bathroom is just inside the back door of the main house. It’s only about twenty steps away but it feels a bit like camping when you have to slip on your shoes and grab your flashlight (provided by Done, of course) when nature calls (and it always calls in the middle of the night just because you’re thinking of that walk). This is a good time to point out what you should bring if you stay here – a pair of flip-flops or other sensible, easy-on shoes for those late-night trips to the bathroom. Also, pajamas.

Your morning wake-up call should you forget your eye shades
Your morning wake-up call should you forget your eye shades

Yes, for those of you who sleep sans clothing, while Don and Nate are lovely people, I’m sure they, and their neighbors, wouldn’t appreciate you skulking around in their backyard wearing nothing but a smile (and sensible shoes, of course). Finally, eye shades. Even if you close all of the curtains on each of the five windows, there’s still that skylight. Trust me, bring the eye shades.

After getting settled, I head into downtown Eugene (about 2 miles away). I find parallel parking on Broadway, one of the main downtown streets. As I gather my purse, I notice the car in front of me has a sign in the rear window which says, “Homeless family of four living in car. Anything you can give is appreciated.” This is a great opportunity to mention the homeless factor here in both Eugene and Portland. There are a lot of homeless people here. One should be prepared that, if you choose to travel here, you will see this.

When I exit my car I hear bluegrass music coming from inside a storefront. Although there’s a closed sign out front, I enter and ask if I might listen. The five men with various stringed instruments agree. After their first song, I ask about this place. They tell me it’s the Jazz Station, a Performance Space and Gallery and every other Monday night local jazz musicians drop in for a jam session.

Jazz Jam Session

After listening to a couple of songs, I make my way down Broadway, one of the main streets in downtown Eugene, and stop in Jameson’s Bar. Oregon is known for their great craft beer and I aim to try a few on this trip. It turns out, this trip is starting out much like the storytellers I met on the St. John’s Newfoundland trip (read here) in regards to the strange men I seem to meet in bars on the first night. I strike up a conversation with a younger guy next to me who seems to know a bit about the local beers on tap. At his recommendation I choose a 10 Black which ends up being a fine choice. My challenge comes when I ask him what his favorite thing to do here is.

He answers, “I like to go pick wild mushrooms.”

Attempting to relate this to an activity which you might recommend to a complete stranger I ask, “Oh, so do you hike to go do this?”

“Yeh, there’s some hiking and some driving. Actually a lot of driving and a lot of getting lost.”

I get distracted for a moment by the ongoing bar trivia game and when I look to my left, he’s gone. Probably heading out on a mushroom hunt.

There’s now an older man who has taken his place. After some small talk I mention that I’m a bit shocked at how light it is still at 9:00pm. I then realize that it stays lighter later here as in Arizona we don’t do daylight savings time.

He shakes his head knowingly and says, “That’s because it’s a bunch of socialists there.”

Um, what? I’m not even sure what that means. I respond, “No, really, it’s just because it’s really hot and we want the sun to go down.”

Apparently, he disagrees and goes off on a tangent about naval ships with munitions racing cruise ships coming out of Puget Sound. Before long he’s mumbling to himself. I ask the bartender for my tab “before I kill him” and head off to my lovely Roundhouse in the Backyard.

Tomorrow – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

I’ve Got Baggage

Today’s the day! I’m off to Portland. I say Portland as that’s the airport I’m flying into, but let’s keep in mind that you voted to “drop me” in the Willamette River which, in its 187 miles (301 km) travels through many places in Oregon, beginning with Eugene to the south and ending in Portland in the north where it then empties into the Columbia River and heads out to the Pacific Ocean.

My flight leaves at 10:25am, which is a decent enough hour to get a good night’s rest. The only challenge is the Monday morning rush-hour traffic. Thus my 7:45am departure from my house. I’m traveling with one very tightly packed suitcase, one very tightly packed carry-on bag and one very tightly packed backpack. Why are they all so tightly packed? Packing for this trip was a challenge. Much more challenging than packing for Newfoundland in February. In Newfoundland, I knew it would be cold. Yes, snow boots, a winter coat, ski pants and sweaters all take up quite a lot of valuable luggage space, but you can wear two pairs of jeans and three sweaters all week. Portland in May is a hodgepodge of weather. It might better be described as “whether.” Whether it will rain the whole time or be sunny, whether it will be 80 degrees or 49 degrees, whether the fact that it’s already hit 104 back home will make 70 feel like I need to break out that winter coat. And then there’s the other uncertainty which is what Drop Me Anywhere is all about; what will I be doing? There’s hiking boots, water shoes, flip flops, sneakers and the more respectable black heels. If I find packing this stressful, it’s a good thing that’s one of the few planned activities.

I arrive at the Quality Inn in Tempe, Arizona at 8:25am. Why am I at a hotel a half-hour from my house? I’m trying something new. In an effort to save money I’ve found a website called Global Airport Parking. They have deals with local hotels to rent out their extra parking spaces. While long-term parking at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport would have cost me $9.00 per day, I’m parked at the Quality Inn for $4.99 per day plus a few fees. In the end this will save me about $38.00. Either way I would be taking a shuttle bus or rail from the parking lot to the terminal.

After being dropped at the airport I head over to the US Airways ticket counter to check my bag. As I’ve checked in online I hope that this will expedite the process. Alas, this is not to be. There are about 150 in line ahead of me. I resign myself to a long wait and take advantage of some fine people-watching time. I notice the man two lines in front of me in the long, snaking queue that seems to have had more trouble packing than me. He has three bags, all matching, of course, dragging behind him with each one attached to the next. He looks like the Pied Piper of luggage. I’m wondering if each one is packed or if he just couldn’t bear to break up the set.

Pied Piper of luggage

Before long I reach the front of the line. I must complement the US Airways staff here as those ladies organizing the line up front and directing people to the next available kiosk were efficient, yet polite. They even helped the people that, I swear, had never flown before or, for that matter, used a computer before.

Bag checked, I head on up to security. In order to prepare to go through the x-ray machine I remove my belt while on the escalator (I’m really good at undressing while riding transportation). When I reach the security agent I’m directed to a line to the left. Uh oh, I think. Great, I’m going to get the enhanced security check again. What is it? Profiling? Is it a redhead thing? There are 4 people ahead of me and each of us is instructed to leave our shoes and our belts on, leave our computers in our bags and just place our bags on the conveyor belt. Um, what? I feel as if I’ve won the lottery. Apparently this is the opposite of enhanced security.

I make my way to the gate and meet Isabella. She is three years old (although she insists she is five) and has a monkey on her back. We start up a conversation about said monkey which she insists is a backpack. She then offers me a cookie. While I’ve planned not to eat a bunch of sugar on this trip, when a child offers you a cookie it’s a bit like a Frenchman offering to give you directions in English – it almost never happens and you should feel honored when it does. As I don’t want to risk insulting Isabella, I graciously accept the cookie.

Before long, I’ve gate checked my carry-on bag as I’m in boarding group five on a full flight so the chances of there actually being an overhead space for it when I board is pretty much the same as Isabella offering me another cookie. As I wait for my boarding group to be called, I notice a group of men who have made themselves quite comfortable during their wait. They’re lying on the floor in front of the boarding line. Believe me, I understand the fatigue that traveling can cause, I even follow the website Sleeping In Airports. Laying in AirportsBut really, in what other place would grown men feel comfortable lying in the middle of the floor in a public place? Do you just pick a store in the mall, lay back and relax? How about the bowling alley? For the love of God, find yourself a seat and lean on a stranger’s shoulder like the rest of us. And please, try not to drool, we’ll be boarding soon.

Tomorrow – We’ll learn of about my first experience at an AirBnB in A Yurt By Any Other Name”

Where There’s a Willamette, There’s a Way

Willamette River photo courtesy of http://lizardheadcyclingguides.com/
Willamette River
photo courtesy of Lizard Head Cycling Guides

Hello Virtual Travel Buddies. Just thought I’d update you on the Kickstarter and the upcoming Oregon trip.

As far as the Kickstarter project goes – it was, for the most part, unsuccessful. I say “for the most part” because, while the final financial goal was not reached and I will therefore, not get any money, there were other successes. Those came in lessons learned.

First, I learned how to mount a Kickstarter campaign. It’s no small task. I did a lot of research before (very different than my travel style), conversed with others who had run successful Kickstarter campaigns, watched tutorials (paid more attention than I did in college) and read all kinds of blogs, articles and general information on crowdfunding campaigns. The most important input I received from others who had run campaigns was as follows: fulfilling the rewards is the hardest part and, you’ll be surprised by who gives and who does not. They were definitely on the mark there. Strangers, former clients, friends of friends, they all gave. Yet, when some friends said they couldn’t wait to buy the book I told them they didn’t have to. They could give $30 to the campaign and consider it their pre-order. I never heard from them again. I chalk it up to an instant gratification society. We want it and we want it now!

I learned that the support wasn’t about the amount of money pledged, but just the thought that people believed either in the project or in me – or, dare I say, both? From those who pledged $10 to those who gave $500, each gave me the warm fuzzies and felt like a big cyber-hug. And even those who didn’t pledge, but shared my campaign via social media and in person put a huge smile on my face. Everyone’s financial situation is different (if you read some of my previous work on My Own Adventure, you know that I understand this) yet there are ways to support people even if you’re short on cash (by the way, this was the original premise of Rebel-With-A-Cause – using your talent to help others). So to all those who supported my Kickstarter campaign, I say Thank You!

Let’s talk about what’s coming next. I will be continuing with this project and resulting book. I may re-launch the Kickstarter in the future is certain situations change. Of course I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’ll be financing it myself.

I’ve made my plane reservations to fly to Portland as you voted to “drop me” in the Willamette River. I leave on May 19, which is just over two weeks from the end of the vote. While I try to depart within two weeks of the voting results, airfares were significantly less beginning on this date. I’ve also made reservations in Eugene through AirBnB for the first two nights of the trip. This will be my first experience with AirBnB and I’m anxious to tell you all about it. From there, I’ll play it by ear. I’ll stay until May 28 as the last few days of the tip will be spent in Portland visiting with friends and family. Some have already begun telling me, “You have to go to this place!” or “You must eat at this restaurant.” My response, “Um, thanks, but what part of unplanned don’t you understand?”

I will admit to being slightly disappointed that the Thames didn’t win. I love a nice cream tea and also a beer with an actual alcohol content. And my good friend from New York will be performing his show in a chocolate factory in London this month (no, he’s not an Oompa Loompa. He’s actually quite tall and not at all purple). So, instead of going to England and attending a concert in a chocolate factory, I’ll go to Oregon and drink wine while perhaps singing Karaoke. It’s really the same (if you drink enough wine).

Looking forward to traveling with you in eleven days!


Winner, Winner, Wine for Dinner

Think outside the boxVoting is now closed and once again, you’ve chosen to think outside the box by choosing the “other” category and going with a write-in candidate. I knew I liked you! So, where will we be traveling? We’re heading to (insert proverbial drum-roll) the Willamette River in Oregon!

It’s a bit strange that, with all of the unique and exotic options I’ll be staying in my own country for this trip. Then again, with readers from all over the world, Oregon may seem exotic to some (FYI – it won with 38% of the vote). Perhaps this is a great way to show that you don’t have to go far to have adventure. Doing a trip without planning can make for some amazing adventures. Oh, and they make wine there so there will definitely be some adventure in that.

Just to explain to the new virtual travel buddies how this works; in most cases I leave for the trip within two weeks of the voting cut-off. I’ll find fun and interesting things to do, places to stay, people to talk to and more. I’ll tell you stories from the places that you decided to send me, give you links to the activities, accommodations, restaurants and, in the last article of the series, provide you with an expense report. No, I don’t expect that you’ll reimburse me (although I wouldn’t turn it down), but this will help you have some idea of a budget should you decide to do a similar trip.

Another important aspect is the volunteer part. Once I arrive at the location, I’ll find a deserving organization or project with which to spend a day, or part of a day, volunteering. I’ll tell you the stories from my experience and, on my philanthropic site www.Rebel-With-A-Cause.org, I’ll tell you more about the organization or project, who they help, and how you can get involved.

Lastly, due to the overwhelming interest and support of the Drop Me Anywhere project, I’ve decided to write a book. Watch for, “Drop Me Anywhere – A Travel Memoir with a Twist” in 2015. It will be a memoir of the year of doing this project and will include many of the stories from the blog written in memoir format and the joys and hardships of making this project happen. It will also include the stories from Rebel-With-A-Cause, as well as the untold stories from the road. “What?” you ask. “I thought we had an honest relationship and shared everything!” Well, you thought wrong. I’ve saved some of the stories which I hope will entice you to buy the book (see how I did that?). Remember, in a previous entry I mentioned that men always ask if I’m going to write about them? Well, the book will be the place. If you’re a publisher or agent, yup, we should talk. If you’re a man I’ve been romantically involved with during this project, you’ll be famous!

So, now all I have to do is figure out how I’m going to get to the Willamette River. From there, we’ll play it by ear. Don’t forget to subscribe by clicking that little box on the left which allows you to be a Virtual Travel Buddy. You can also follow on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+ (dear God that’s a lot of communicating). You’ll also get to see the Daily Travel Quote in order to inspire you to get outside your comfort zone and travel. Please feel free to contact me through the website or social media to ask questions, make comments or book me for speaking engagements.