Tag Archives: adventures

An Irony

We got up at 6:30 this morning and left Ashland before 7 AM. The drive through Oregon was beautiful, if waterlogged; the drive through Washington was beset by somewhat inexplicable and unexpected traffic in odd places. We listened to an audiobook that turned out to be quite good, and the most annoying thing was that though we’d left plenty of time to make it to Vancouver by dinnertime (we were supposed to eat at their house), the traffic gods and border crossing people had other plans in store for us.

Though belated, we made it into Canada and to our hotel, which we discovered upon exploration of the immediate vicinity is essentially Little Saigon. I think I counted more than 15 Vietnamese restaurants on either side of this street along the few blocks we explored. The smells coming out of them were absolutely delectable. The unfortunate thing is that I’m allergic to Vietnamese food.

We found a Indian-style Chinese place instead. It was pretty good.


Road trip: PNW edition

We’re headed out of town today in Carlena Dietrich (complete with moustache) and I’m pretty excited to be driving further north in a vehicle than I’ve ever been. We’ll be having Thanksgiving in Vancouver, BC with Hillary and Shawn and the G-man, then stopping in Seattle and Portland to visit with people on the way back. I can’t wait. 🙂

The best time I accidentally ate snails.

Getting caught in a rainstorm today when we were walking home from the grocery store, I was reminded of a misadventure I had with a friend while traveling in Europe in the summer of 2000. During the early part of my trip, it was really hot everywhere I’d been, but toward the end when I got to Germany it had started storming. My friend and I had spent much longer than we’d planned trying to get to the Black Forest, and started out in Stuttgart and then found out we couldn’t get there that way, so then we took the train to a small town near Freiborg. We’d planned a hike through the Black Forest that day, a sparsely-traveled footpath that went from one very small town to another with a couple of teeny places in between. Before we started, we went into one of the two tiny shops that was open in town (it was a Sunday and virtually everything was closed tight), and the shopkeeper recommended we try the local specialty version of Kirschwasser (a traditional cherry brandy), so we bought a couple of teeny airplane-sized bottles, figuring what the hell, to go with our trail mix or whatever snacks we’d brought with us. Once we started on the trail, the only way to get back to a main train station was to turn back to where we’d come or to continue on, and neither of us was one for giving up.

The down side to this hike in the Black Forest, the most fairy-tale place I’d ever been (seriously, it was not at all difficult to imagine most classic Grimm tales in this setting), was that just once we’d truly gotten into the forested parts of the trail, it started to rain. We each had a light rain shell but were wearing jeans and sneakers, not exactly ideal for a long hike through the dripping wet forest. And did it ever drip. It dripped and poured and the rain ran down our faces and into our inner layers, and it splashed up our shoes to soak the bottoms of our pants. Every so often we’d come out of a copse of trees and the trail would lead us by someone’s cow pasture or someone’s agricultural field, and sometimes the sun would poke through the clouds, but mostly it was just dark, cold, wet trees whipping themselves at us as we walked and then trudged, socks and shoes sodden, ever onward.

We passed two churches that had to really have been individual prayer stations of some sort, because when poking our heads inside it was clear they weren’t big enough to hold more than one medium size or two smallish people at once. We passed areas that looked as though a bear who had once been a person could burst out of the brush at us at any moment. And we got colder and wetter and more physically miserable. But our spirits remained relatively high, and my friend suggested we pull out the kirschwasser, that it might warm us up.

So it might be pertinent to mention here that I was just 21 years old at this point, and my tastes and appreciation for various alcoholic beverages was immature at best. My friend’s preferences weren’t much more refined than mine (he tended to go in for either beer or really sweet wine). We were expecting, I dunno, cherry-flavored liqueur? Kind of like Apple Pucker or butterscotch schnapps, only cherry flavored. What we got was bracing and not even remotely sweet and it tasted like a cough syrup-scented lighter fluid? It was certainly not something either of us enjoyed, and we chalked it up to one more component to our ongoing misadventure that day.

Finally, we made it to the other end of the trail, which was another really small town with a train station. It was still Sunday, so everything in this town was closed except for one not-cheap (read: pretty fancy) restaurant. But after hours of walking through the forest in pouring rain and cold, wet feet we were really hungry and just wanted to sit someplace warm for a little while. (I’m sure the other patrons of the restaurant thought we resembled drowned rats, which we probably did.) Everyone else in the place was dressed nicely and here we were, bedraggled and disheveled soaking wet American tourists. The server brought us a menu, and we did our best to navigate it with our extremely primitive German. Food words in German aren’t THAT much different than many English food words, so usually it wasn’t too much of an issue, but we saw the prices and realized the only thing we could afford to eat in the place was soup. Which was sort of just fine with me; I was soaked through and chilled to the bone and thought it might help warm me up.

Two soups were on the menu, and we had no idea what kind of soup either of them might be. So my friend ordered one and I ordered the other one, and we decided we’d share both bowls. When our soup arrived, mine had a chowdery sort of broth with what in retrospect might have been some little matzoh ball-like dumplings? I think there was some chicken in it as well, but it was definitely a white broth. My friend’s soup had a clear broth and was quite savory, with chunks of vegetables, and some odd gray rubbery things. We put the bowls in the middle of the table and traded bowls after a while, and decided that my soup was better because those rubbery gray things were just weird. My friend fancied himself a gourmand of meats and had to know what he was eating, so he asked the server when she stopped by to fill up our water glasses what the things were in his soup.

“I think they are, how you say, snakes?” she replied.
“SNAKES?” exclaimed my friend, and made a motion with his hand like a snake going through the grass. She laughed. “No, no. I think instead snails.”

Snails. We’d spent hours on a train in the wrong direction, hours finally hiking through the forest in pouring rain with only trail mix and lighter fluid Kirschwasser to sustain us, we were paying more for that soup than we’d spent on the previous day’s meals, and we were eating snails.

I lost my appetite. I know people talk about how delicious escargot is and I’m sure they’re right, but I’ve never had any interest in trying it since those gray rubbery lumps in that mysterious soup.

When we’d finished our soup, the server asked if we’d like anything else. I decided what the hell, and ordered a slice of Black Forest cake. I was in the Black Forest, after all.

Do you know what traditional Black Forest cake is flavored with? Kirschwasser.

Taking steps to be heard

My friend Heather was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was 18 years old, after she lost ~80 pounds in less than a year. She was so ill that she ended up with an ileostomy (meaning, everything from the middle of her small intestine to her rectum was removed) at 21, was healthy enough to get married at 22, and went through nursing school and had two healthy pregnancies. In the last few years, however, she’s been through several new flareups of her disease, and has tried every therapy and drug available to combat her illness. For the past year she was out of work on disability leave, being fed pink goo through a central port 12 hours a day, but recently had to return to work in order to keep her benefits. Then, her husband was laid off of his job of over 10 years.

A few months ago, Heather had to take a chance on one final experimental medication, one that had a nonzero percent chance of killing her: Tysabri has been known to make patients susceptible to contracting progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. Luckily, so far she seems to be encephalopathy-free but the first couple of Tysabri infusions did make her ill enough to be hospitalized for a few days. Recently, she was given the news that the Tysabri isn’t helping her Crohn’s get any better – but she’s not getting any worse, either. She can only be on the Tysabri for a year and after that there aren’t any more treatments or drugs to try.

A couple of weeks ago, Heather was asked to be the guest speaker at a local walk to raise awareness and funds for Crohn’s and colitis research, honored as a “local hero.” The walk was sponsored by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, and the funds raised by Heather’s team and the other teams walking in the event went directly toward research for new therapies. Heather has hope that something new will be discovered in the next year or so that will allow her to keep having reasonably good quality of life so she can continue to be a good nurse for her patients, a good mom to her a kids, and a good wife to her husband.

Dan and I raised over $200, Heather’s team of 40+ people raised over $2,700, and the whole event raised over $17,000 toward education and research to fight these terrible diseases. We attended the CCFA’s “Wine Country Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis” event a couple of weeks ago and here’s some of the photographic evidence.

Walk start/finish

A band played some stuff. I wasn’t paying all that much attention to them.

It wouldn’t be wine country without a winery sponsor. Korbel is local and pretty good, and I wasn’t about to pass up free champagne.

They even made their table look pretty.

Here’s Heather giving her speech. I wish I had video; it was a great speech, very Heather – as a nurse, she never shies away from being completely frank and honest about health- and medical-related stuff. I learned during her speech that the eye infection she had for months when she was 18 turned out to be the first sign of Crohn’s disease. She’s been actively ill with her disease for 14 years, but the past year has been some of the worst of it.

After Heather’s speech, we walked two miles around downtown Santa Rosa. We were given maracas as noisemakers and several of the teams held banners. Heather’s team was the largest; I think over 40 people were there to support her. Occupy Santa Rosa was also going on at the time, and we got an awful lot of honking as cars drove by, which I think was perhaps because they thought we were part of that group.

Here’s Heather finishing the two-mile walk. Considering there have been many days of hospitalization in the past year and many more days when she could hardly get out of bed, a two-mile walk is a huge undertaking for her – but she did it!

Me with Heather

Official photo taken by event coordinator. Can you spot us in the crowd?

This is what I said yesterday into a microphone at the wedding.

Hi everyone. I’m Emily, Leah’s* best lady today.

Many of you have known Leah or Simon their entire lives. You knew them as children, as teenagers, and as young adults just starting their lives. You’ve known them on their own, before they were a couple. I have ONLY known Leah and Simon as a couple, and I have a hard time imagining them without each other.

I met Leah the same way I met my husband – on the internet. I highly recommend it, by the way, as a good way to meet people. In 2006, when Dan and I were planning a trip to the Bay Area, I sent Leah an email asking if she and Simon might be interested in meeting up during our visit. The four of us had sushi and spent hours chatting and laughing at an English pub. We all hit it off and got along great, which you never know about when meeting people from the internet in real life.

Since then, I’ve watched Leah and Simon grow as a couple, and heard about their grand adventures. I was thrilled when they found a house to buy together. In early 2008, my husband Dan asked Simon to be a groomsman in our wedding, and only a few weeks later they found out they would be having Wombat in December. (It was planned, by the way.) I was so happy to be able to see and hear about Leah and Simon’s adventures in pregnancy and cheered when Simon called to let us know Wombat had been born. We celebrated that night by drinking Leah and Simon’s favorite pink champagne.

Over the years, when Dan and I visited the Bay Area, Leah and Simon have put themselves out to host us, make us feel welcome, and to have adventures with us. Watching them navigate their lives as parents has made it very clear how well they work together as a team, and how happy they are together. I was so honored when Leah asked me to stand up with her today, to be a part of their somewhat unconventional timeline. But knowing Leah and Simon as well as I do, they did things exactly the right way for them. So here’s to the next chapter in this family’s adventure. To Leah and Simon and Wombat!

*When I said this into a microphone at the wedding, I used their real names.


Today’s Wednesday bike ride involved a 33 mile roundtrip from here to the plaza in the middle of Healdsburg. Because Dan tends to want to go quite a bit faster than I’m able to go, he’s often half a mile or more ahead of me on these long bike rides. I actually kind of like that, because, after more than six weeks of Enforced Togetherness, it gives me a chance to feel like I’ve got some space. I think deep thoughts and shallow thoughts and everything in between. Earworms pass in and out. I have memories of areas we’re riding by, and I wish I had an eyeball camera in order to easily and safely capture what I’m seeing.

* * * * * *

We rode by my elementary school, and we rode by my preschool. The route we took was the same way the bus goes, which made me think of some of the times I was on the bus and saw people I knew (and even the time I made a new friend). Each place we passed that reminded me of a moment (wine tasting with my visiting cowboy friend; going to piano lessons in elementary school; high school hijinks) was tied with a physical movement. Pump the pedals, breathe rhythmically, stretch my back, shift gears, blink against the bright sun. Moving back here has given me a chance to relive moments from my life that I never expected to think about again, and I only share it with myself because Dan’s speeding along, far ahead of me.

* * * * *

There’s this amazing, pulsating beauty in a flock of starlings. Each individual bird might be eating or pooping or resting in a vineyard, and suddenly a collective consciousness emerges and every bird flies into the air, in a choreographed dance. Hundreds of birds make up a mass of shape-changing living pointilism, that ebbs and flows and changes direction suddenly, and each individual bird somehow knows exactly what the group is doing next. It’s like watching an aerial ballet. It’s not something you can capture with a photo, but maybe I’ll be lucky and catch some starling ballet on video one of these days.

* * * * *

While the smell of the crush is pretty freaking amazing, the smell of the ferment is far, far less nice.

* * * * *

Today’s ride was by far the longest one I’ve ever done, and the last few miles were punctuated by a series of hills. My legs were already jelly, my neck burning, my hands cramped and my ass bruised and sore, and I still had those challenging hills to tackle before I could stop moving for a while. I was reminded of the marathon training we did all those years ago, having to call on my energy reserves, knowing that I was capable of finishing the ride even if my body complained about the task ahead. I began to focus on muscles in my legs and body that weren’t the dominant ones; the small spaces between the large muscles instead of the exhausted quads and screaming hip flexors. Push-pull-push-pull, downshifting more than I would have liked in order to make that last hill, crunching into the semi-functional third gear on the straightaways to give my legs a chance to rest from the constant up-and-down motion, straining my ears to listen for cars coming up behind me so I could move further to the side of the road.

My rational thought was pushed aside by my need to concentrate entirely on the physical strength and agility required to get me home. I didn’t have a single thought the last two miles of the ride, other than to marvel that I’d managed to keep up with Dan, knowing that probably meant it was because he was completely exhausted. I wasn’t wrong. 33 miles was definitely challenging, and while I’m proud of our accomplishment, we were both totally worn out and useless for the rest of the day. At least it’ll probably mean I’ll finally sleep well tonight.


It sure is pretty here.

Two weeks ago on a Wednesday, Dan and I decided we needed to get out of the house and get some serious exercise, so we strapped on our helmets, got on our bikes, and rode all the way to Geyserville. Dan’s able to go much faster than I am, since his third set of gears functions and because he’s got street slicks on his bike instead of knobby tires like I’ve got. He makes the most of downhills because he’s heavier than I am, and I guess he’s just more used to bike riding for exercise, as he did it quite a bit when we lived in Denver. Anyhow, the ride was the same route as the long marathon training run we did, many  years ago now, when we were training for the LA marathon and in California for Christmas. Things go by much slower on foot than they do in a car or even on a bike, but the bike still gives you a chance to see details that you might miss in a car.

It was a cool, overcast day, but we were both sweaty and gross when we got to the middle of town. Geyserville has changed quite a bit in the last twenty years, and as we sat there, eating our energy bars, I thought about all the things that were different than how I remembered them being. I realized that was an exercise in futility, so I quit doing it. After a half hour or so of rest, we turned the bikes around and headed north again, and on our way out of town some lady yelled, “Go Giants!” at us. I was a bit too taken aback to be able to respond coherently (since when do people in GEYSERVILLE yell about San Francisco sports teams at bicyclists? I guess when they’re playing in the World Series?). The best part about the ride, other than feeling great at using my muscles, breathing the cool, wet air, and coasting on the downhills, was when we passed Geyser Peak winery in both directions. The crush was in full-tilt, and the air was almost chewy it was so laden with the smells of fermenting grapes. I enjoyed my brief contact high, especially on the way back as I needed something to keep me going on that long, straight trip home. Total mileage: just under 20.

These are the cause of drunken starling flocks

These are the cause of drunken starling flocks

Last week on Wednesday, it was bright and sunny. We rode through downtown, past the cemetery, cut across the First Street bridge, and headed north on River Road. It was a beautiful afternoon ride through grapevines and past people’s houses and yards, and we continued north on Geysers Road all the way up to Preston, into Mendocino County, where it meets the highway just north of town. It’s a long, slow, gradual uphill, with a couple of rough spots, but nothing too hairy. We didn’t really need to rest much at all before turning around and heading home, although the long downhill meant that Dan was at least a half mile ahead of me for a good chunk of it. That was OK, though; it felt nice to be by myself even if we were technically out for a ride together. Total mileage: 12.5.

This  Wednesday, we decided to tackle Dutcher Creek Road for a second time. Only a couple of weeks after we moved here, when we were still having car issues, a friend who lives in Chico was in Healdsburg running the marathon there, and I thought hey, we could totally do a 35-mile roundtrip bike ride to Healdsburg in order to cheer him on! So I looked at Google Maps and decided, after much deliberation, that Dutcher Creek to Dry Creek would be the best way to go. We headed out later than expected on that Sunday morning and got totally murdered on the hill, so ended up turning around only about 4 miles into our journey that day and ended up with an 8 mile ride. It had been over a month, and I thought with all the practice we’d had that we’d be up for tackling the Dutcher Creek hill again.

The hill was every bit as murderous as I’d remembered, and I ended up having to get off of my bike and walk it for a while. Then I hyperventilated a little, so at the top of the hill we both rested for five minutes or so while I caught my breath and tried not to vomit.

The ride down the hill and onto Dry Creek, however, was totally exhilarating. Even with the knobby tires, I was able to go pretty fast, and zoomed right past vineyards and a winery and pretty scenery and a smelly dead skunk. We got to the junction at the bottom of the hill, and decided to bike north a ways on Dry Creek knowing it would be pretty flat. When we hit the north end of the valley just before you start getting up to the Lake Sonoma area, I nearly gasped because it looked like the whole Dry Creek valley was on fire.


Maybe it’s just time warping my memory, or maybe my perceptions are accurate. But I don’t remember an autumn ever being quite this pretty here in Northern Sonoma county. The grapevines have been turning for more than a month now, and they’re turning all colors: claret and magenta, brown and gold, orange and scarlet and russet and butter yellow, pretty much every hue in the warm end of the spectrum. Sometimes on the same plant. Often in the same small area, on the same varietal of grape. So riding into that valley, and seeing the sun light up the entire valley was just breathtaking.

We don’t carry cameras with us when we do the bike rides, although perhaps we should. So after our trek home (and it was a trek; coming up the back side of the hill was even harder than the way out, since we were already tired, although I didn’t hyperventilate on the way back), we decided we’d need to come back with cameras when the light was good.

This morning, we did just that. It’s going to take a lot to top this week’s ride (total mileage: 17.2). Next week we may just have to try to make it all the way to Healdsburg.