Napa, Sonoma, and Marin Counties Christmas 2016

Downtown Napa

Downtown Napa


Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, Near Napa

Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

Jack London’s House State Park

A visit to the Hess Collection, on an estate near Napa.

Follow the Russian River to the Coast

The Russian River Near the Coast


Near Bodega Bay

Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael

From atop Mount Tamalpais

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Italy, Before the World Ends

In the middle of February, I was thinking about the approaching end of the world. I would never find eternal rest if I let the end pass with vacation time on the books. Surrounded by gloom, and in the depths of one of the wettest and coldest winters I can remember since my childhood in Iowa, I started daydreaming about a trip to Italy. That’s how it always starts. I think about it a little, and imagine the warm sunshine, my camera around my neck, walking through towns that were built when Western Civilization was still young, some of them when human civilization was young, towns built by people who laid the groundwork for what Western Civilization would become. Rome, Firenze (Florence), and the hills of Lazio and Tuscany were important centers for commerce, knowledge and religion. They are the foundations of civilization that have stood for centuries. Now, as I imagine the crumbling ruins of Rome, I can see the parity of my own civilization crumbling around me.
I have been to Rome, Florence, and many other hill towns in the region before. I know they can be a bit touristy, but people flock to them for good reason. There’s more to love about the cradle of Western Civilization than just the art and food. There is the architecture and scenery. Fantastic cathedrals, palaces, castles and forts are everywhere. The Italian agricultural landscape with its pencil cypress trees and Roman-pruned pine trees, and rolling hills of vineyards, grains, and vegetables is serenely beautiful. The hub of the fashion industry in Milan gives Italians a very keen, perhaps inherent sense of fashion. It makes Italy one of the best places to people-watch. Sitting in an ancient piazza at a café, sipping a cappuccino, and watching people is a fine way to spend a morning.
One of my objectives in planning this trip was to make it as carefree as possible, so I was reluctant to get a car. The Italians have a very good public transportation network, and you can get almost anywhere you want to go without one. The drawback for me is always time. If I am going to squeeze in all the little towns I want to visit, I am going to need a car. Many towns are quite interesting, but small, so you can see everything in a couple of hours. Having a car means you can do that two or three times a day, and change hotels less frequently.
My trip began at home in Sedro Woolley Sunday morning at 05:30, so I had to get up to my alarm, something I hate to do on a weekend. I drove my pickup truck 65 miles north to Vancouver. I got a good price on an Air Canada flight to Rome, and the timing of the flights was good. My flight left Vancouver at 10:30 am. The trip east will be two legs. As I write this, I am flying from Vancouver to Toronto.

A couple of hours after I arrive in Toronto, I fly the second leg to Rome.
Toronto’s airport is big and spread out, but not too busy today. I arrived on time, as expected. The weather here is gray. An unbroken nickel overcast is domed over for as far as I can see.
I stopped at a kiosk restaurant on the trek between my gates, and had a slice of terrible pizza bread that looked better than it was. Nevertheless, I ate it, and it took the edge off my hunger. I try not to eat too much when I fly, because it makes sitting in a chair for hours less comfortable than it already is. When you’re on a plane, you’re not burning many calories anyway, so rather than have a meal sitting in my gut like a rock, I find it more comfortable to stay close to hunger, without being in it.

I’ve checked the weather forecast, and it promises to be sunny and 61 degrees in Rome when I arrive Monday morning. It won’t matter, because I always sleep through the first day of a big timeshift anyway. I’ll make a short walk, or spend a little time out, but most of the day will be in bed. The forecast is showing it to be in the low 70’s by Wednesday.
The flight from Toronto to Rome was uneventful. The small portion of food was terrible, but I ate it all.

Upon arriving at Fumicino Airport, I breezed through passport control with my Italian passport, and went straight to the train platform. 10 seconds after getting my ticket, I was sitting on the train to Rome Termini. It was as smooth a trip as I have ever had.
I checked in at the Domus Australia, a hotel ran by the Archdiocese of Sydney, Austrailia. It’s a very good hotel for the money. This is the first time I’ve stayed in this neighborhood near the Ministero del Tesoro (Ministry of Finance.) It’s quiet, considering it’s in the center of a large city. I showered and went to bed. As I was drifting off to sleep, I heard my first Italian siren since arriving, off in the distance, like the sirens of ancient mythology calling to the sailors, it calls me back to my first visit in Rome in 1984. I fell in love with this city then, and love it even more now that I know it better.
I woke up around 7 pm after about five hours of sleep, and went to the hotel’s dining room, where I had a nice plate of spaghetti with black pepper and cheese. I walked back up to the termini and got a SIM card for my phone. My old card had expired, and rather than reactivate the old 2G card, I opted for a new 4G card.
When I arrived at my room and washed the clothes I had worn on the flight, I realized I had packed no t-shirts. My one t-shirt was dry after my nap, and I was able to wear it, but I will need to buy a couple while I am here. I know a department store here called Upim, which is a few blocks south from the Termini. I walked the few blocks past the termini, and around Santa Maria Maggiore. It’s beautiful under the flood lights at night.

The Upim store was closed, so I returned to my hotel room for the night.

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Flow of Electric City

Marv and I had been watchful of the weather, and concluded it would be a good weekend to ride to Eastern Washington. After putting out feelers to our frequent riding friends, Chris, Kurt, and Cary would be joining us, so we’d need three rooms. When we started looking for motel rooms in various towns we normally frequent, we discovered there was some sort of Search and Rescue convention that had filled many of the motels, so finding three suitable rooms at the same motel was problematic.  We finally found rooms in Electric City. It turned out to be a good place, but with a weak internet connection.

Kurt, Marv, and Chris met in Smokey Point, and then rode together to meet Cary and me in Sedro Woolley at the Park & Ride at the west end of the South Skagit Highway.

It was a warm Saturday morning and, after a brief ‘hello’, we headed east on the always-entertaining South Skagit Highway to Concrete and then on to Marblemount, where we stopped for gas.

The North Cascades Highway over Rainy Pass and Washington Pass was clear, with sharply-sculpted snow banks along the shoulders.

Washington Pass offered an opportunity for some photos and a leg stretch.

After descending the east slopes of the Cascades through the Methow Valley to Twisp, we stopped for lunch at La Fonda Lopez, a Mexican Restaurant. The people who run it are friendly, and the food is fresh and of good quality. Kurt discovered La Fonda Lopez a couple of years ago, and it’s now a semi-regular stop for us.

A major landslide on Loup Loup Pass had not yet been cleared, so we had to detour from one of our favorite segments of the planned route.  Landslides are common in areas where mountains are denuded by fires, and there had been a very large forest fire in the region in 2014.  Since we couldn’t take Loup Loup Pass, we followed the Methow River southeast to Pateros, and then turned north to Okanagan.

The Columbia River Road across the Nez Perce reservation follows the Columbia River Valley from Omak to Electric City. The valley is lovely in the spring – green and alive.

After pausing for gasoline and a break in Nespalem, we arrived at the motel in Electric City about 30 minutes later.

There aren’t many options for food around our motel, but we did find a no-frills diner for dinner.

Our group split up the next morning.  Cary lives in Wenatchee, so he was close to home.  Cary led Chris and Kurt south through the Coulee over a couple of his favorite backroads. Chris continued over Blewett Pass and I-90 to his home in West Seattle. Kurt went over Highway 2 to his home in Redmond. Marv and I retraced the path from the day before over Highway 20 back to Sedro Woolley where we split at the same spot where we had met the previous morning.

Each of us chimed in on an email thread later in the afternoon that we had made it home. It was a short ride, and gave us inspiration for our next ride, which will be coming up in July.

Here’s a link to this ride report’s permanent web page.


I was fed up with the weather. Marv and I hadn’t been on a long motorcycle ride since late September, and I was tired of waiting. We’d had a miserable, cold, wet winter and, though the weather had warmed a little, the rain hasn’t lessened one bit. There had been almost no opportunities to get out for a day or two of motorcycle riding. Marv was recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, and that had complicated things. He was feeling confident enough to ride now, so we were ready to go.

We had hoped to get away to Manzanita on the Oregon Coast, but the motels there were filling, and the prices were rising. I got online and secured an inexpensive room in Rockaway Beach, so we made plans to ride south Saturday, and return Sunday.

We left on Saturday morning with the plan to ride south through the Kent valley, and then work our way around some back roads in the Morton vicinity. There was a little rain around the Mount Rainier area, and it was still quite cool in those higher elevations. It was around 11 am that I was regretting not bringing my heated liner. I hadn’t expected so much cloud cover, and it hadn’t warmed as I’d hoped.  I borrowed a fleece from Marv to add a layer, and that did the trick. I was comfortable for the rest of the day.


We cut a path south and west to Castle Rock, and then took a set of well-worn roads through the Longview area to cross the Columbia into Oregon. After continuing southwest on Apiary and Fishhawk Falls roads, we made another cut west on Highway 26 for a few miles to get to Highway 53 that would carry us nearly to Rockaway Beach. Then, after about 10 miles on Highway 101, we made it to our destination.


The motel at Rockaway Beach was okay. It was right at the standard for motorcycle trips, although it did have an impressive view. The motel is right on the beach, and the second-floor room had a nice wide window open to the ocean.


Rockaway Beach didn’t offer much in the way of restaurants, and we ended up at the Old Oregon Smokehouse, a crappy little deep-fryer place with only outdoor seating. The fish & chips was passable, but completely unremarkable, so I can’t recommend it.

I took a very nice, long walk on the beach.


Sunday morning we packed our gear, and retraced our path back up to Highway 26. Then we tacked west to pick up the Lewis and Clark Road, which took us all the way up to Astoria where we crossed the Columbia back into Washington. We noticed that our civil employees were hard at work in all the areas, keeping motorists safe.

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We followed Highways 101 and 107 up to Montesano, and then turned north to work our way up through the Satsop area. We picked up Highway 101 and followed it all the way along the Hood Canal. At the Highway 104 turn-off, Marv turned towards Kingston to catch the ferry over to Edmonds, while I continued north towards Port Townsend to catch the ferry over to Keystone. From Keystone, I headed north on Whidbey Island, arriving home around 5 pm. I got word from Marv a short time later that he had made it home.

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Marv and I had ordered Becca Coolwear last fall.  They’re full-length one-piece garments designed to help keep one cool when worn beneath full riding gear.  We haven’t yet worn them in hot weather, so that feature will remain untested for the time being, but I’ve found the suit works well as a layer to help keep me warm in cool weather. I’ve worn it for short rides, and it works well on my commute to work. It fits snugly, is comfortable, and provides a layer of fabric between me and my Roadcrafter.

We both enjoyed being out on a ride. It was a good trip for getting back in the swing of riding. It had been too long.

Here’s a link to this ride report’s permanent web page.



Round Trip Ride To Republic

When I suggested to Marv that we take advantage of a nice September weekend to make a motorcycle trip, he was all for it. Marv had made a few trips over the summer, but I had been out of vacation time, and hadn’t made any trips with him since late Spring. 

After taking careful stock of possible destinations, we settled on Republic. We cast our net wide to our riding friends, and managed to snag John and Chris to make the trip with us. We set out Saturday morning –  me from my house, and the others coming up from the Seattle area.

We met in Clear Lake where we happened across our friend Kurt with a group of Desmo NW riders on their way to Mount Baker. After a quick chat, we continued on for breakfast at Clark’s Cabins in Marblemount. With our appetites satiated, we went over the North Cascades Highway, and on to Republic.


Gas Stop Chris John


Arriving at our motel in Republic, we met Chris’s co-worker Grant, and Grant’s friend Thatch, who were making a quick weekend ride too.  During dinner at the nearby Esther’s Mexican restaurant, we discussed plans, and asked them if they would like to join us for the ride home, and so it was. road-to-republic-9road-to-republic-10road-to-republic-11road-to-republic-12road-to-republic-14


(“You’ve got to be good looking ’cause they’re so hard to see.”)



We began the trip home by going south on Highway 21 out of Republic, and then turning west on Cache Creek road. It was a grand morning with fantastic weather and scenery. We continued without a real break until we stopped for lunch at the Duck Brand in Winthrop. The kitschy little town was bubbling with activity. 

I anticipated spotty traffic going over the pass to home. There are only a few routes through the Cascades, and we were going to be among the people heading west on Sunday afternoon.  After our lunch, I let the other riders know that I wasn’t going to try to keep the group together while going over the pass. When passing long strings of cars on twisty mountain roads, it’s enough for me to keep track of myself, without worrying whether the whole troupe is staying together.


 As the group approached the Diablo Dam Overlook, Thatch slowed and then pulled into the Overlook to investigate a problem he was experiencing with his bike vibrating.  They could find no obvious cause, so continued their way.  Thatch would later discover the vibration was due to his newly-mounted rear tire being significantly out of balance.  


 I had picked up the South Skagit Highway in Concrete, while the rest of the group had headed south to ride the full length of the South Skagit Highway. 

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Consequently, I ended up quite some ways ahead of the group so, when I neared Clear Lake, I stopped and waited half an hour or so for the rest of the group to catch up. I wanted to make sure everyone got back okay, and then I bolted for home.

Click here for a link to this ride report’s permanent web page.

Chillin’ in Chewelah

Marv and I had some maintenance to do on my motorcycle, so we combined a Friday Garage Day with a Saturday/Sunday round-trip ride to Chewelah. Marv came up to my place Friday morning, and we spent the day getting my bike up to snuff. Replacing the automatic cam chain tensioner took much more time than we anticipated. I made a simple route to get us over to Chewelah and back.


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It was a clear and cool Saturday morning with the heavy weight of promise hanging over it. Saturday mornings always fill me with a sense of anticipatory excitement. I hadn’t made a full day of riding since returning from last month’s California ride. Back roads carried us from my place to Concrete, from which began the gradual climb to Newhalem.
After a pit-stop in Newhalem to clean the bugs from our visors and take a swig or two of water, we started the more abrupt climb to Rainy pass, and then Washington pass. Over the passes now, near Mazama, I pulled us over long enough for me to lose a layer of clothing. The air was hinting that rest of the trip would be at summer temperatures.
We stopped for what, but for my memory, should have been a forgettable lunch at Logan’s Café in Twisp. I recall I had coffee, a vegetable omelet, hash browns, and an over-buttered English muffin. Marv had his preferred on-the-road fare – fish and chips.
Following Highway 20 east from Twisp, we went through the ruins from the 256,108-acre Carlton Complex fire of 2014. Remorsefully winding past the denuded skeletons of a forest that will never grow back, forever lost to the hungry desert eager to eat its death, I forced my mind to ignore the blackened remnants of the trees once teeming with life, reaching out to snag anyone who would hear the tragedy of their tortured ends. Their motionless branches, like arms lifted to point bony fingers of condemnation at mankind, their silent rage frozen in motion, projected at me a suffocating despair, scalloping out my complacency, and replacing it with a desolation so profound I could search in its midst for a thousand years and not find solace.

We climbed Loup Loup Pass and then descended into the Omak area. Our plan had been to take the Columbia River Road through the Colville Reservation to Nespalem but, as we approached our turn-off, we saw a ‘Road Closed’ sign. We quickly made the detour north to Highway 153, and followed it around to Nespalem. It’s a good alternative I was planning to use for our route home the next day; now we’d ride it in both directions. The entertaining slalom of Cache Creek and Bridge Creek roads were covered at a mellow pace.

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Crossing the reservation to its eastern border at the edge of the Columbia River, now Roosevelt Lake, we arrived just in time to catch the Inchillium Ferry before it cast off for its eastward crossing. They had already loaded, and we were nearly the last to board. There were three guys on cruisers in front of us. Marv chatted with them a little, and one offered us suggestions on roads to take after we left the ferry. I was a bit perplexed at what he could possibly have been thinking. Why he would think he knew the roads over there better than we is beyond me, and besides, them being in the front of the ferry just meant we’d have to pass them after we disembarked.

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We took a nice set of county roads over to the junction with U.S. 395 a bit north of Chewelah. After checking in at the Nordlig Motel and getting cleaned up, we went for dinner at Mondo’s, a small Italian café.

Sunday morning we found the continental breakfast at the motel to be virtually non-existent, being only coffee and pre-packaged muffins. We set out on the highway, retracing our route all the way home. We even stopped at Logan’s in Twisp again, and had the same meals we had on the previous day.

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Approaching Diablo Lake, we found ourselves in a parade of cars we had a great deal of difficulty getting around. Finally having done that, we stopped for gas in Marblemount, and then rode on to the Cascadia Farms stand near Rockport. We took a long break there where I treated Marv to two large scoops of ice cream – one blueberry and one raspberry. Shortly after that, at the Highway 530 junction, Marv and I parted ways; he turned south, and I sped along to get home in time to get some things done prior to the beginning of the work week.

Here’s a link to this ride report’s permanent web page.

A Dip in the Puglia

Puglia (ˈpül-yä), Italy, the region known as the ‘heel of the boot,’ is a region of Italy less frequented by tourists. The region, also known as Apulia to the English, doesn’t have the cachѐ of Florence or Venice, or the grandness of mighty Rome.  It’s not the beating heart of finance, design, and fashion that is Milan. It’s a simple place where food and life are paced for the simple joy of living. Its people speak English less frequently, and are more traditional. I find the Italians to be generally and genuinely, warm and friendly people. They’re hard-working, honest, and polite. The children are incredibly well-mannered. They’re smart, and the things that are important in life, like family, friends and celebration, hold their rightful place at the apex of their culture.

I had been to Puglia once before. In 2009 I visited Bari and Lecce, the two most prominent towns in the region. I was enchanted watching the old Italian tradition of Passeggiata every evening. It’s an Italian tradition, still strong in the south, in which the community comes out to walk and socialize around 5 to 6 pm. They dress well, socialize, and enjoy their community. I was very excited for a deeper exploration of Puglia.

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