Tag: Travel

10 Must-See Bay Area Outdoor Spots from SF Gate

Photo: Photo: Michael Furniss, Courtesy SF Gate

Photo: Michael Furniss, Courtesy SF Gate

  1. Tahoe, Heavenly’s Skyline Trail
  2. Santa Cruz Mountains, Silver Falls/Golden Cascade
  3. North Sierra foothills, Feather Falls
  4. Marin, Sky Trail
  5. Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods
  6. Wildcat hilltop via Tilden in the East Bay Hills
  7. San Pedro Ridge
  8. Pardee Lake

The article includes photos, descriptions, phone numbers and web links for all locations.

You could also add to the list some closer-to-home Bay-Area locations like Stinson Beach,  Ohlone Wilderness trail, and Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

The Best Places to See Nature in Every State

connecticut

If yesterday’s post was too California-centric for you, Business Insider has a run-down of all 50 states with The Most Breathtaking Natural Wonders in Every State.

Some of the suggestions are obvious – in Colorado you go to Pike’s Peak of course. But some of the recommendations are a bit provocative. When in Delaware go see the cypress swamps.

50 states, 50 natural wonders is quite a bucket list. If you want to narrow it down consider North America’s Top 10 Natural Wonders.

[Photo: Connecticut Office of Tourism via Business Insider]

Back Home to Patch My Bones – Three Lessons from Our Last Trip

Our recent trip to Colorado was…well it got off to a bumpy start. Hertz rent-a-car was short 200 cars, there was a 3 hour wait – during which time NO HERTZ EMPLOYEE ACKNOWLEDGED THE SITUATION OR SPOKE TO CUSTOMERS IN LINE, when we finally talked to an agent we discovered we had booked our reservation downtown, the manager told us our choices were to pay triple our agreed-upon rate or go downtown before the office closed at 6pm. We got downtown at 5pm only to find that the office had closed at 4pm. Stranded in downtown Denver with no car and no rooms available. Thanks Hertz for the worst customer service we’ve ever had.

Anyhow, here are some things I learned:

1. Pin every destination to a map before the trip. For past trips I’ve made a custom Google map with planned and possible stops. If I’d done that this time we’d have seen our car rental booking error and fixed it before we had to deal with the Denver Hertz’ terrible customer service.

2. Bring the Mophie reserve battery. Traveling is hard on your cell phone battery for some reason. We were running low all the time, even when we finally got a rental car (from Enterprise – excellent customer service). If I’d packed my Mophie we’d have had far fewer conversations that began “my phone might die in the middle of our conversation.”

3. Cotton underwear. I like the Champion performance gear they sell at Target. It wicks away moisture and is fast drying. The synthetic fabric has a nice silky feel, it’s lightweight and packs well. I thought it would be great when we traveled to France. It wasn’t. I felt like I was inside of a giant clam the whole time. Sweaty, sweaty, sweaty even when others were bundling up against the Fall chill. It’s cotton from here on out for me.

On the Road with Jucy Lucy – Our Experiment with Low Cost RV Rental

I’ve always wanted to rent an RV but every time I looked into the deets I found them crazy expensive to rent. Well, the ones I looked into a required a huge ($2500) deposit. Granted there are better deals if you take some time to look into the best rates for rv rentals, but I stopped looking.

Enter Jucy Campers. You don’t go looking for Jucy, Jucy comes looking for you. By that I mean the lime-green-and-purple paint job is so loud you can hear it two blocks away. The good news is that Jucy RV rates are about what you’d pay for any mini-van, and quite a bit less than most hotels.

Because I’m lazy (hey, my vacation starts NOW) I’ll let Travel Fashion Girl provide the full review. Let’s just say that aside from the relative hassle of picking up an RV from Lawndale, my initial experience with Jucy has been great. The Jucy website recommends taking the Hostel Hopper from LAX, which I sorta did. NOTE: Jucy has a bad link to Hostel Hopper so you’ll need to follow the link above (or google Hostel Hopper). The nice people at the Hopper had know idea that Jucy was referring them, but my lift was prompt, pleasant and cheaper than a taxi.

Getting the Jucy van home and packed was a snap and we’re getting ready to roll out of here. So far the only downside is terrible racket made by the Jucy-provided kitchen gear. I stuffed towels around all the pots and pans and crockery and hopeful it will be a little better than a 5.0 earthquake in a china shop.

Looking for Some Outdoor Adventure? Check Pinterest for Best Places to Hike

Hiking on Pinterest

When I think of Pinterest I think about knitting. It wouldn’t be my go-to-destination for planning my next big adventure.

And I’d be wrong – check out these pinboards listing the best hiking trails in the world.

While you’re at it, check out the boards for outdoor gear, camping trailers, canyoneering and bushcraft.

If these pins don’t make you want to hit the ol’ dusty I don’t know what will.

German Hotel for People Who Want to Pretend They Are Camping

Huttenpalast Camper

Do you love camping but hate mosquitos and…well, everything that has to do with the outdoors? Welcome to Hüttenpalast, an affordable (30 euros per person, roughly $43), hotel near Berlin that brings the outdoors inside. Here you can sleep in a tiny hut or canned-ham style trailer, sing campfire songs with total strangers, and stumble through the trees to the bathroom in darkness…all the things you love about camping without the fear of getting eaten by bears.

If the idea of sleeping in a tiny hut thrills you but you aren’t planning a trip outside the US any time soon you might try renting a yurt in Big Sur, staying in an Airstream in the Catskill Mountains, New York at Kate’s Lazy Meadow (owned by Kate Pierson of the B-52s), or sleeping where the bough doesn’t break at the Treesort treehouse bed & breakfast in Cave Junction, Oregon.

Via Treehugger

Five Days to Perfect Orderliness

Everything has its place in a rucksack

I used to go backpacking with a friend who was kind of a schlump in daily life but on the trail he was in prefect control. His backpack was amazingly organized – everything had its place. When he needed anything it was instantly at his fingertips.

I made a vow, “someday, somehow, I’m going to get organized like that.” Now, twenty five years later, prompted by a LifeHacker article “The 5S Method Keeps Clean, Lean Order at Your Workspace,” I’m ready to give it a shot.

Last year I tried to implement the Japanese methodology of 5S into my daily life and I failed. I confused 5S with a method for getting things done, which it isn’t. There’s no do stage in 5S. It is primarily a way for organizing your physical space, not your task list. But it can easily be applied to computer files as well.

So here’s my plan, stolen entirely from the Wikipedia definition of 5S, for getting my life in perfect order:

Monday – Seiri, Sorting: Go through all tools, materials, etc., in the plant and work area. Keep only essential items. Everything else is stored or discarded.

Tuesday – Seiton, Straighten or Set in Order: There should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. The place for each item should be clearly labeled or demarcated. Items should be arranged in a manner that promotes efficient work flow. Workers should not have to repetitively bend to access materials. Each tool, part, supply, piece of equipment, etc. should be kept close to where it will be used (i.e. straighten the flow path). Seiton is one of the features that distinguishes 5S from “standardized cleanup”.

Wednesday – Seiso, Sweeping or Shining or Cleanliness (Systematic Cleaning): Keep the workplace clean as well as neat. At the end of each shift, clean the work area and be sure everything is restored to its place. This makes it easy to know what goes where and ensures that everything is where it belongs. A key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work – not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.

Thursday – Seiketsu, Standardizing: Work practices should be consistent and standardized. Everyone should know exactly what his or her responsibilities are for adhering to the first 3 S’s.

Friday – Shitsuke, Sustaining the discipline: Maintain and review standards. Once the previous 4 S’s have been established, they become the new way to operate. Maintain focus on this new way and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways. While thinking about the new way, also be thinking about yet better ways. When an issue arises such as a suggested improvement, a new way of working, a new tool or a new output requirement, review the first 4 S’s and make changes as appropriate.

Resources: Rowdy Kittens social change through simpler living.

5S Related Resources on Amazon

Crazy Thought Question: Why are all the visual resources linked to 5S so unforgivingly horrible?

Photo credit: Joadl

2010: The Year of Weird Expeditions

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. That’s how Hunter Thompson put it. My plan for 2010 is to see how many destinations I can reach that are listed in Weird California: Your Travel Guide to California’s Local Legends and Best Kept SecretsThe Top Ten Hikes in the Nepalese Himalaya – are completely off the table. Smaller, lighter, weirder, stranger and closer to home is the order of the day.

My first expedition will be in search of the Lost Continent of Mu. (p. 31, Weird California). Details to unfold in the days and weeks to come.

The Importance of Being Sheen

Back to the Raddison for dinner. Someone in our party spotted Martin Sheen at our hotel, rumor is that he lives in Galway part of the year and goes to university.

The lobby was full of Australian football players, in town for the anual Irish/Aussie grudge match of International Rules football. The Aussies stayed up all night drinking and singing, making it understandable why a gentleman sharing our elevator said, “Damned Australians. The only thing I hate more than Australians is Californians.”

Then out again to another pub, An Pucan–known for some of the best traditional Irish music in all Galway. A scruffy trio in plaid flannel and t-shirts sat at a table inside, picking out traditional reels on four string banjo, guitar and concertina. I wish they would have stayed longer–the next duo set up their microphones, guitar and Yamaha keyboard on the stage made from a Galway hooker (traditional fishing boat) and proceeded to play Roy Orbison and Elvis accompanied by a drum kit on floppy disc.

Williamstown: Barking Up the Family Tree

Williamstown Circa 1930By all appearances Williamstown is a typical Irish farming community. The population is about 300. The town consists mainly of three pubs, each next door to the other, and a church across the street. What’s different about Williamstown is that two of the three pubs are up for sale while the church is undergoing a major rennovation. I wish we had a chance to meet that priest. He must have tongues of fire dancing above his head.

Campbell's MeatballsWe stopped in the local market to see if anyone might know something about the Dillons (Maureen’s grandmother’s family) or the Nees (her great-grandmother’s family.) The woman running the cash register gave us the name of another woman who keeps all the parish birth and death records. Unfortunately I was so taken by the Campbell’s Meatballs “in AWESOME onion gravy” that I didn’t catch the name, while Kathleen and Maureen were too busy trying to de-broguify what the woman was telling us that they didn’t catch it either.

Everything happened so fast that I’m not sure I have the details straight. Next thing I knew I was in Mick Kennedy’s bar with a pint of Guiness in my hand and we were talking to a man named Finnegan who seemed to remember his father talking about the Dillons. I think he said that his father was a shoemaker and Finnegan used to run errands. The Dillons lived in a red house. But maybe his name was Ferguson and Dillon was the shoemaker. And I really think that Finnegan is the name of the woman who keeps the parish records.

Possible Site of Dillon Home

Next thing we knew Finnegan-Ferguson, whom we later gave the unfortunate name Meat-in-the-Trunk because he had a raw pot roast in a loosely knotted plastic bag pleasantly stewing on the rear shelf of his Ford Focus, was leading us out to the possible site of the Dillon home. Each of us took a turn poking his or her head through the hedgerow to catch a glimpse of “where it all began.”

Finnegan-Ferguson Meat-in-the-Trunk was very enthusiastic, taking us next to the villiage cemetery. We stampeded the place but most of the limestone grave markers were too weathered to read. A caretaker who was working at rennovating a nearby grist mill took me to one side. “There are no Dillons buried there. Some Nees, though. In the Northwest corner.” He took off his baseball cap and scratched his head. “Oh, and say hello to George for me. Tell him I don’t like him very well.”

At that point a green Eurovan pulled up. The woman in the passenger seat told Maureen that she remembered Rita (Dan, Maureen and Kathleen’s mother) from school. That was convincing proof that we’d hit the mother lode, so to speak.

I think some addresses were exchanged, meaning that I should end this post with a TO BE CONTINUED and a handful of ellipses.

Williamstown Cemetery

Connemara, for Peat’s Sake

Bog in ConnemaraPeople tell you how green Ireland is, but they’re only telling you half the story. You never hear how brown the countryside is, grass turned to rust by the high iron content of the soil. Even the fresh mountain streams run a kind of gunmetal color with yellow foam breaking around the rocks. Some places the water is red as rust– Ruamheirg is the Irish word for it.

The peat bogs are a strange habitat. They are so saturated with water and tannic acid that there is no room for oxygen. In fact, the only place on earth where oxygen is scarcer is on the Senate floor when Ted Kennedy is making a speech.

The preservative quality of bogwater is so excellent that turfcutters will sometimes turn up a bog person dating back 2,500 years or more. You would think that bog baths would be in higher demand at health spas.

Time was when every man would grab his flachter and skroghoge and cut long strips from the turf to use as fuel. These days there are machines to do most of the dirty work. The Irish still burn turf in small zinc-plated barrel stoves. The peat is processed into compact briquettes and burns with more heat than light, much like coal.

From the boglands we swung by the Twelve Bens, sometimes called the Twelve Pins.

The region is beautiful beyond words. But it’s a pitiful excuse for a mountain range. Is this the best that Ireland can cough up? The tallest mountain in the country is just 3,400 feet, and the tallest Ben is about 2,400 feet. Seeing that mountaineering poses no challenge in this fair country, athletic types have taken to running the Bens. The goal is to climb all twelve mountains–combined elevation of some 28,000 feet–in a single day. If that isn’t enough of a challenge for you there’s always bog snorkeling. With or without a mountain bike. The championships are held in Wales.

There are no peat bogs in the US, that I know of. But if you want to rekindle memories of your time in Ireland you can always have real Irish peat delivered to your door.

Geocaching Galway: A Feckin’ Wild Goose Chase

Otter Gargoyle in Galway Feck (pronounced “fake” or “fehk” in Irish) is an acceptable word in mixed company, whereas fuck (pronounced “fook”) is vulgar. Feck is an obscure word, meaning something in the neighborhood of “forceful.” The word feckless means the opposite–weak and impotent. Just don’t overuse feck or feckin’…especially not around a crowd of native Esperanto speakers or you’ll earn a reputation as a potty-mouth.

Yesterday afternoon I snuck away from Maureen and the girls so that I could have some personal time with my GPS and treasure maps to do a little geocaching. Geesh, what a nerd.

I found a longitude line in John F. Kennedy Park and stayed long enough to listen to a trio of high-energy rockers that call themselves Woof! Woof! Woof!

Woof Woof Woof

After that I wandered every way but the right way, taking pictures of chimney pots and starlings, cracks in walls and mailboxes. Something like a mixture of a Japanese tourist and Rainman. I finally found myself down by the Forthill graveyard with no place else to go.

Forthill ChurchBest I could tell, my GPS was pointing me south in the direction of Donelly’s Coal Importers. On one side of the road was a gated yard with a high link fence, some seafaring barges and a mountain of coal dust. On the other side of the road…dead people. And plenty of them.

It was getting close to supper so I decided to leave the geocaching for another day, meaning this morning.

Reviewing my charts it seems that I not only confused left with right, but I’d gotten “up” and “down” reversed–perhaps the influence of the Australians staying in our hotel, in particular the bridesmaid covered in Emu feathers.

But it was soon clear what I needed to do–hoof it and fast over the bridge at Father Griffin Road and walk out Claddagh’s Quay to the end of Nimmo’s pier. It turned out to be a longer walk than I thought. I broke out in a heavy sweat as I passed the wild swans at the dock in front of building designated by a sign reading “Galway Rovers.” Maybe this is the headquarters of Galway United, I don’t know. It looked more like a smoking and drinking club to me, Eire’s version of the VFW.

My GPS took me straight to a smallish bronze plaque with the clue to the puzzle. I followed this to a section of ancient stone wall…and broke off a few of the stones trying to find the secret Tupperware. This I found, took out stuffed Doubletree cookie man and left a keychain from a San Jose Ford dealer in its place.

I was late getting back to the hotel. Maureen was ready to tell Tom McCoy, our tour guide, to go head and leave without me. Everyone had been on the bus waiting a good fifteen minutes and they were pretty steamed…the whole feckin’ lot of them.

The Quays, Galway

The Quays

It didn’t take long for this group to find itself in a pub in Galway. The pub was The Quays (pronounced like “keys” and rhymes in Irish poetry with “today’s” and “always.”)

The decor of this pub is one part Gothic cathedral and one part shipwreck. Colored glass blocks are set in the floor and lit from below to give a stained glass effect, as if there wasn’t enough stained glass in the place already. The bar fittings and lights are polished copper and the bar rails solid brass. The floors are roughhewn timbers with gaps between them–a fact that I noticed after Emma dropped her engagement ring. It’s a good thing that the ring didn’t drop through one of those cracks, it would have gone straight to Hell, I’m sure.

There is no end to the alcoves, nooks and snugs in The Quays. Stairways lead in all directions like the Winchester Mystery House. Part of our group stayed at the bar where the Smithwick’s flowed freely. The rest of us went up one of the crazy flights of stairs and found table where we could talk.

I’ve lived most of my life not far from Disneyland and Hollywood, where things are never what they appear. So it was hard to know whether we were living an authentic Galway experience, or simply having a tourist trip designed by a pub consultant from Palm Bay, Florida. But apparently The Quays is the real deal. Originally a cottage pub with thatched roof, it became so popular that it grew into a cellar-type pub, importing the interior from a medieval French church. I have no idea when the remodel happened, but if I was wagering I’d say in the 1950s at the latest.

Irish Rovers

We reached Ireland in the dark before the dawn, flying over the towns of Doonaha, Kittish, Knock and Kilmurry McMahon. The little villages looked like light-up models of neurons–a central nucleus with branches in five or seven directions, connected to other village neurons by a ganglia of early morning motor cars. I imagined a parade of tweedy farmers each driving a small smokey car something like a Morris Minor.

Touchdown at Shannon was rather lively, the pilot seemed to have a tough time keeping the plane level. This, at a speed of 300-400 mph, gave me an opportunity to consider my own mortality.

At the airport we met up with the rest our our party. Martin and Beth were on our same flight. Kathleen; Jimmy and Mary Duffy; David, Jeanne and Daniel; Jennifer, Laura and Lee; Christy and her friend Megan–we were only waiting on Tony and Amy whose plane was delayed in Boston.

With an hour to kill we went to the airport commisary and introduced ourselves to the Irish breakfast–scrambled eggs, small uncircumcised sausages made of finely ground pork, sauted mushrooms and what appeared to be light and dark sausage patties. I asked the server what these are and what I heard her say was “vit and vek.” Later I learned that these were puddings, white and black.

Emma and I took a short walking tour of the estuary, looking at the wild swans and reed grasses. Large black crows with light grey beaks foraged for worms in the lawns around the airport.

Irish Land Rover Defender

I was surprised by the variety of automobiles in the airport car park. Weird little freeway flyers like the Ford Ka, utilitarian vehicles like the Ford Transit, and a boatload of Mercedes Benz. Land Rovers are considered luxury vehicles in the US. Here in Ireland every fifth farmer and his uncle is driving a Land Rover Discovery and towing a livestock trailer. The Land Rover Defender, considered the “Rolls Royce” of the off-road set in the US, is the Irish equivalent of the Ford Econoline, driven by window washers and utility repairmen, frequently with a couple of ladders strapped to the top.

Another thing that surprised me was the fact that many Irish have magnetic “ribbon” stickers on the back of their cars. This is a truly strange semantic leap. The yellow ribbon comes from a 1970s song by Tony Orland and Dawn, in which a paroled prisoner (or possibly a soldier returning from war, the song isn’t clear) asks his sweetheart to tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree if she still wants him back. The yellow ribbon was used as a socio-political statement after a number of Iranian students stormed the US embassy and held embassy workers hostage. US citizens started wearing yellow ribbons as a way to signal that they wanted the hostages back. Now I guess a ribbon simply means “I support something.”