Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I Found Some Heros

Traveling around the country we meet plenty of people who make an impression.  Sure, some of them make a pretty sorry impression.  But most are pretty good folks and I'm favorably impressed by lots of people.

Sometimes, though, we run across really memorable people.  It happened at North Whidbey RV Park at Oak Harbor when we met the couple who manage it -- Tom and Carolyn.  Real nice folks.

Because I'm a talker (as though you didn't know), I immediately struck up a conversation with Tom when he stopped by our campsite to clean out some trash left behind from the people who were here before us.  I learned Tom is a cop. No... more than that... Tom is a cop's cop.  Yes, this is the guy I'd call for help even if I were police officer.  Better still, Tom is married to a cop.  That would be Carolyn.  Not just a female cop, mind you, but an undercover cop.  The absolute nicest people you'd ever hope to meet just minding their own business running a campground.  You'd just never guess the wonderful things these people have done with their lives and I couldn't do justice trying to explain it.

In two days, Tom will be in Pakistan. That's really why Tom is a hero to me. He's with a small group of who go for a few months every year to help train the fledgling police force there.  Tom's not bragging about his efforts, he's just doing something he likes to do and wants to do. 

I teased Carolyn a little bit about letting Tom go into harms way.  She just gave a smile and told me how much she believes in him and what he does.  That's why Carolyn is a hero to me.

This, I just had to share.

May God bless your every footstep, Tom.  Yours too, Carolyn.

There are some other heros on Whidbey Island too.  Our campground is only about 5 miles from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.  Navy jets take off, land and fly really low over the campground nearly every day and night.  It's a very loud but comforting sound.  Thanks to all who care enough to serve America.

I couldn't help but stand outside and watch!

Deception Pass, Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands

It seems as though we've traveled several hundred miles in the past few weeks, but in reality, we've not been far at all... as the crow flies.  We've literally made a circle around the largest part of Puget Sound.  The map below shows what I mean:

A. Point Hudson at Port Townsend, Washington - B. Port Angeles, Washington - C. Victoria, BC - D. Nanaimo, BC - E. Horseshoe Bay, Vancouver, BC - F. Whistler, BC - G. Ferndale, Washington - H. Whidbey Island, Washington
This map shows Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands connected by
 Deception Pass Bridge (A) a vertigo sufferers' nightmare.
Camano Island is accessible  by car from the mainland,
and only by ferry from Whidbey Island.
We are currently visiting Whidbey Island, the largest of a group of nine small islands. Whidbey lies between the Olympic Peninsula and the I-5 metro corridor of Washington and forms the northern boundary of Puget Sound. Whidbey Island is about 35 miles long -- it's width varies from 1.5 miles to 12 miles.

We're winding up a 10 day stay here at Deception Pass on the north end of Whidbey Island. We were here last year too, but only for a day -- no room in the campground.  We have, without a doubt, enjoyed some of the finest weather in the country during our visit this year. There's been sunshine almost everyday with temperatures  cool enough to require a sweatshirt.

Our campground is only about a mile from Deception Pass, a strait of violent water that separates Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands. Deception Pass connects Skagit Bay in Puget Sound, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Deception Pass Bridge from below on the Whidbey Island side.

The Deception Pass area was mapped and named on June 7, 1792 after George Vancouver  had mistakenly thought Whidbey Island was a peninsula. Two-lane Deception Pass Bridge, was completed in 1935. There are actually two bridges here: Deception Pass is the larger section, Canoe Pass is the smaller.  Some other Deception Pass Bridge facts:
  • Height from water to roadway: about 180 feet, depending on the tide
  • Roadway: two 11 foot lanes, one in each direction
  • Sidewalks: a 3 foot sidewalk on each side
  • Width of bridge deck: 28 feet
  • Total length: 1487 feet (more than a quarter mile)
  • Canoe Pass: one 350-ft arch and three concrete T-beam approach spans
  • Deception Pass: two 175-ft cantilever spans, one 200-ft suspended span, and four concrete T-beam approach spans
  • Vehicle crossings: 20,000 per day, average
  • Maximum speed of current in Deception Pass at flood/ebb tide: 9 kts
  • Maximum speed of current in Canoe Pass at flood/ebb tide: 10 kts
  • Completion of the bridge was a factor in the decision to build Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and helped Oak Harbor, Washington flourish.
  • The bridge is among the most photographed landmarks of the Puget Sound region
Deception Pass Bridge

This sailboat was quite large but from where I
took this picture (under the bridge), it appears tiny.
Deception Pass is a dramatic seascape where the tidal flow and whirlpools beneath the twin bridges connecting Fidalgo Island to Whidbey Island move quickly. During low tide, the swift current can lead to standing waves, large whirlpools, and roiling eddies. This swift current phenomenon can be viewed from the twin bridges' pedestrian walkways or from the trail leading below the larger south bridge from the parking lot on the Whidbey Island side. Boats can be seen waiting on either side of the pass for the current to stop or change direction before going through. Thrill-seeking kayakers go there during large tide changes to surf the standing waves and brave the class 2 and 3 rapid conditions.

Deception Pass

Skagit Bay harbor just south of Deception Pass not far from our campground.

Coupeville is about midway down Whidbey Island.  It's a quaint little town that looks much the same way it did way back in the early 1900's.  We took a day trip there to take a look and eat lunch at Knead To Feed, a little cafe that is only open for breakfast and lunch.  Here's what we ate:
Oops, forgot to take the picture 'till it was too late!


The Wayner enjoyed his chowder too, just not as fast as I enjoyed mine.  Because we arrived late and got the last bit of clam chowder, our bowls were not filled to the brim and as a result... we got a discount.  I'd rather have the whole bowl of chowder than the discount! 

Coupeville is located in the heart of Ebey's Landing National Historic Preserve and still reflects the character of a seafaring town of a time long past.
Coupeville is on the shore of Penn Cove. Several eateries and bars overlook the cove.
The day was overcast, damp and a little cool.
The air smelled of fish to me and I would not enjoy eating outside at low tide. UGh.
After lunch we strolled the streets, poking our heads into antique shops, bars and nautical junk stores. It didn't take long to find Kapaws IsKreme store where we enjoyed a double scoop.
His Mission:  ice cream.

Ice cream store found.
What flavor?

Another day we traveled north across Deception Pass to Fidalgo Island and the City of Anacortes, a town adored by many but I found to be only mildly interesting.  The best view on Fidalgo Island was from atop Cap Sante on the northern part of the island.
Fidalgo Island was home to Walla Walla State Penitentiary in the early 1900's where prisoners cut rock into gravel and loaded it onto barges to be taken to Seattle. Remains of the prison can still be found but the area is dangerously located on the edge of a steep cliff where many have met their death venturing out too far.
Typical view from Cap Sante.

That's the city of Anacortes behind me.

Always with those binoculars in hand.
On this afternoon we stopped at a little roadside place on our way back to the campground. It's called Sweet D's Shrimp Shack. It was here we found the best fish and chips yet. 
The blurred image is surely a result of a very hungry photographer.  
Hope you enjoyed the "eats" with us here on Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ferndale and Bellingham, Washington: Recovery Time

We regained our wits from the dreadful border crossing at a cute little campground called Nor' Easter RV Park in Ferndale, Washington.  Ferndale was originally named "Jam" because of it's location near a logjam along the Nooksack River. Fortunately, somebody got wise and renamed it. The city's new name came from a patch of wild ferns growing around an old schoolhouse.  These stories are just too outrageous to have been made up.

Ferndale is due east of the North Cascades National Park and enjoys a great view of Mount Baker.

About 30 miles east of here, Mount Baker is home to many snowboarding champions.  This area  holds the world record for greatest amount of snowfall in one season (winter 1998–1999). During most years snow depths exceed 12 feet and often results in the closure of the ski area before the end of the winter months.

During the few days we stayed at Ferndale we explored nearby Bellingham.  The Bridges of Madison County (the book, but not the movie) actually begins in Bellingham with the photographer being from here.  I guess they didn't need that part in the movie, produced by and staring Clint Eastwood.

The Alaska Ferry Terminal is located in the Fairhaven section of Bellingham. This serves as the southern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway.  The ferry service from here offers vehicle and passenger service north to Ketchikan, Alaska and points north.

The Kennicott was loading for ferry service north into Alaska.
While we were in Squamish, BC last week we talked at length with a neighbor who had taken his rig up the Northwest Passage by one of these ferries. He talked about how much fun he and his wife had getting off the ferry for a few days at various places.  It made us think about the possibility of making the trip. The price would be upwards of $5000 round trip for our rig, depending on the Alaska destination.  We'll just keep thinking 'bout it.

The Fairhaven section of Bellingham is quaint and nostalgic.
Another nice stop at Bellingham was Squalicum Harbor where we stopped for a dog walk and enjoyed some nice marine scenery.

The sailboat part of the marina.

With Mount Baker peeking over the closer mountain range.

At some point along the way, we spotted this rig and thought we should send it to a friend, Tom, who has been looking for a truck camper.  He didn't get back with us about whether or not he wanted us to make an inquiry into its purchase. 

After about three days in and around Fairhaven / Bellingham, we recovered enough to move along. We're headed to nearby Whidbey Island now.  Hope you'll join us there.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

U.S. Homecoming -- The Hard Way

It doesn't take long for us to get homesick for the United States.  Don't get me wrong, I love Canada. It's my father's homeland, I still have relatives here and I'm proud of all that.  But the day after we visited Whistler we decided to come home.

Despite the ferrys, border crossings and island hopping, we've remained within a small area, geographically, ever since Port Townsend.  At Squamish, we're barely a half day from the US Border at Blaine, Washington.  That's where we'll celebrate our "homecoming" today.

The return ride south on the Sea To Sky Highway was almost as awesome going south as it had been going north.  It might have been even better because it was easier for me to hold my camera out the window for photographs.

Metro Vancouver was different though.  Oh! What traffic!  Road construction... signs everywhere. Bridges being built, resurfacing and narrow lanes. But we did it.  Here are some of the traffic photos.

This has to be the worlds skinniest car.  I swear it couldn't have been more than 3' wide.

The city from the bridge

Vancouver's elevated train

Nice suspension bridge being built.
Aside from the harrowing drive, he ride was uneventful.... Until we got within two miles of the border.  Electronic signs warned the wait through this border crossing might be as much as an hour.  Fine -- we'll eat lunch while we wait.

And finally, after the anticipated hour (give or take), we reached the border station.

We're about 25 cars away here.
Wayne and I are law abiders. . Anything we're supposed to do we do and the same goes for things we aren't suppose to do.  We are pretty truthful too -- especially when crossing the border.

Last year when we came through this same Blaine, Washington border crossing into Canada, we were held up for a random search and I thought it was a pretty stupid choice on the Canadian Border Patrol's part to select us.  After all, with all the electronics available it's easy to check us out without a search.  But that was then -- this is now.

As we approached the drive-through US Customs window, signs warned that we should "declare" everything.  Now what does that really mean?  Our turn came to pull 64 foot of rolling residence through the narrow lane.  "Did we buy anything?  Yes. Two T-shirts, less than $30 value combined."
"Are we bringing any produce into the United States?  Yes. Two bunches of leaf lettuce."  "Anything else? Yes, a sweet potato."  I guess that did it. We were sent into a crowded parking lot I was sure we'd never get out of without taking out a few cars.  A US Border Patrol guy opened the RV door and told us to leave all cell phones aboard and vacate the coach.  We were also instructed to "leave the key in the ignition".  When Wayne reached for his cash, the officer asked how much money he had!  Geepers, is nothing sacred? 

The officer pointed to a bank of concrete kennels and told me to "put the dogs in the kennels."  Horrors.  I asked if I could just hold the dogs? No. Can I just walk them?  He replied, "Lady, we have working dogs here who would kill your dogs.  Put them in the kennels."  No smiles.  Ouch, that was rough. I placed Lexie and Ozzie into one of the enormous concrete kennels and went with Wayne into the building to see "the Agricultural officer" who turned out to be a pretty nice guy.  I completed a form that asked a bunch of questions and I signed it. The officer told us to stay inside the building while he went into our coach.  What can one say or do at that point?

Ten minutes later the nicer officer returned with two California navel oranges I had bought in Oregon. They still had the stickers on them.  He also had a single sweet potato.  My vegetables and fruit had been confiscated. I don't know why. The Canadian leaf lettuce remained in the coach. Again, I don't know why.

This whole border crossing episode from Canada into the United States took two to two and a half hours. We were beat exhausted and found a campground within twenty miles to recover for a day or two.  Annoying as it was, this is, apparently, the price we continue to pay for freedom.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Skwikw is the Native word for Whistler. I know because they put it on the highway sign, which shows the distance metric.
Now will somebody just convert all those metric signs for me?
From Squamish today we visited Whistler, British Columbia. It's only about 25 miles.  I gave in and changed the setting on Lady GaGa to the metric system so we would know if we were breaking the speed limit. For the life of me, I can't get into metric and sure hope the United States doesn't change into in during my lifetime.

About Whistler: It's an award-winning destination for some two million people annually,  mostly for the winter sports of alpine skiing and snowboarding.  In summer, tourists hone their mountain biking skills here.  It's one of those places that has ritzy hotels and activity driven shops all jammed together in a small parcel of land that is immaculately landscaped and discourages automobile traffic. Ski magazines vote it a top destination in all of North America regularly. 

We parked in an underground parking lot, loaded the pups into their stroller and made our way to find lunch.  Lunch was not an easy task with a couple of pooches.  In the end it was sandwiches from Subway eaten on a bus stop bench. Afterward we strolled around the shopping areas until I sensed Wayne was fed-up with it.  I did manage to find a Whistler T-shirt on sale.  You'll see it later, I'm sure.

Ozzie will not pay attention in this picture because he's concerned with the dog to our left. That's why he's in my arms instead of in his stroller.   Hey! Real manly dogs ride in pink strollers!

Okay Pop, we're ready for our close-up now.

It's a little like being at Disney World. 
There are very few places to sit.  I think they want you to sit in the restaurants... and order food.
Not into winter sports, I know Whistler only because it hosted several 2010 Winter Olympic events.  The Olympic Park area was more interesting to me than the small cramped shopping, restaurant and hotel laden town, though it was all nice for a day long visit.

Trivia Now...

Whistler hosted, for the first time in Olympic history, four Nordic disciplines at one venue.
Whistler hosted 30% of the Olympic medal events.
The only use of artificial snow (snow making equipment) was used at the ski jump landing hill.
(All this I learned from a sign)

We had to pay $10 Canadian to enter Olympic Park. That's probably about $50 US (ha).
Behave around bears the way you would behave when meeting the Queen.
Bear Viewing Etiquette a.k.a. what to do after you see a bear and poop your pants.
Yes, that real bear do-do.
We walked up to the ski jump landing area. Beside us is a picture of how it looked in winter 2010.
Those little buildings at the top are real far away.  No, ski jumping is not on my bucket list of things to do.
This picture was taken looking across from where we were in the previous picture.

Our gang with Ilanaaq the Inukasuk
About Ilanaaq the Inukasuk:
It's a stack of rocks, assembled to look like a human figure -- a symbol of hope and friendship.  To express appreciation to Canada's aboriginal people, the Olympic committee gave a name to it's Inukasuk that would show gratitude and friendship.  That word is Ilanaaq. 

Introducing..... roller skiing!
This is how Olympic hopefuls practice in summer.
Did I mention there are bear warnings here?
So at the end of the afternoon, hot, tired and sweaty, we returned to our campground at Squamish. Along the way, we stopped for another few good views.  The sun was not right for photography this time of day, but these pictures seemed worth sharing.

So now we can all say we've been to the Olympics. Hope you had a good time. We did.