As part of living in America I partook of a number of weekend adventures in the first half of 2015. New places and new people and lots of fun. I've gathered all the experiences up into a single journal here.
Various Weekend Adventures -- H1 2015
Shortly after moving to San Francisco I got word that my good friend Trevis was also making the jump to the west coast for work. He was moving to Seattle to join Amazon. We decided that we should do a "snowboard exchange" where he'd come south for a weekend trip to Tahoe and later I'd go north for a weekend trip boarding in the mountains near Seattle. We quickly locked down some weekends and soon it was time for the trip to Tahoe, my first snowboarding outing of the winter!
To get to Tahoe I decided to rent a car from Getaround. It is a service like airbnb, but for cars. People can post their cars for rent by the hour or day and others can pick them up and use them for a fee. Given the unpredictable driving conditions around Tahoe I really wanted all-wheel drive. With Getaround literally any type of car can be had (since it is just random private vehicles) so I got a Suburu Impreza hatchback. The price was reasonable and I got the exact car I wanted. Pick up and return were easy and it all worked very well.
Driving out of San Francisco on a Friday evening is always bad, and despite my best efforts to leave early I still sat in traffic for two hours trying to get out of the immediate Bay Area. It was nice though because I was able to enjoy amazing views of the sunset over San Francisco from Oakland while sitting still on highway 80. Eventually I was able to pick up some speed, although the volume remained heavy all the way to Truckee.
Trevis and I picked this weekend and Trevis booked flights before either of us realized it was Valentine's Day. Of course that meant accommodations in South Lake Tahoe were way overpriced by the time we started trying to book. So we opted instead to stay in Truckee. We got a great price at a nice little place called "The Inn at Truckee" and the proximity to Reno meant it was easy for me to pick Trevis up on the Friday night. Unfortunately the traffic made me very late. I arrived in Truckee with just 20 minutes to spare before the front desk of the hotel closed for the night. I quickly dumped my stuff and then hopped back in the car to get to Reno to get Trevis. I think he waited for two hours at the airport (with no dinner).
Since we were already in Reno we decided to quickly stop downtown to get Trevis some food and to see the strip. It was fun to see the place all lit up at night as I'd only seen it in the daytime before. Eventually we headed back to the hotel in Truckee and after seven hours behind the wheel I was able to relax and go to bed.
Saturday morning we got up bright and early and headed to Northstar for our first day of snowboarding. We had pre-purchased two-day passes that let us go to any of Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood. Northstar is very close to Truckee so it seemed a good place to start.
As most people know, California is in the midst of a multi-year drought. This winter proved to be no exception. The coverage at all the Tahoe resorts was poor, but Northstar has a lot of snow-making power so we were able to have a great day anyway. It was also hot; it probably got up to 15C that day. I rode all day in just a thin, long-sleeved shirt. California is crazy. By the end of the day the conditions were pretty slushy and we gratefully retreated to the hotel for a shower and to rest a bit before dinner.
For dinner we went to the Fifty/Fifty brewpub. I love their beer and was very excited to check out the source. There was a bit of a wait, but we were able to sample some good stuff at the bar until our table was ready. I had an enormous burger and a sampler of excellent beer. I also picked up a bottle of Eclipse to bring home to my "cellar." It was a great end to the day!
Sunday morning we got up early once again and checked out of the hotel. We decided that our best bet for good snow and maximum fun would be to head all the way down to Kirkwood. It was a long drive from Truckee, but it let us see Lake Tahoe in all its glory and also check out another new resort. It was definitely the right choice. Kirkwood was fantastic (given the poor snow this year) and it was great to see all the scenery.
After a full day of riding I drove Trevis back to South Lake Tahoe where he was able to catch a shuttle to Reno for his flight back to Seattle. Then I slowly made my way back to the city, arriving home late, tired and happy.
I'm really happy I got out to Tahoe, even with the poor conditions. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what it has to offer and although I will probably stay away until the drought passes I know I'd happily go back to Kirkwood or Northstar. It was also fantastic to be able to hang out with Trevis!
Two weeks after Tahoe I flew up to Seattle for part two of the snowboarding exchange. I picked up a rental car at the airport and drove to Trevis's brand new apartment in Seattle. His furniture hadn't made it yet, but we hung out chatting on the floor for a bit before going to bed. Seattle looks pretty awesome, but this trip was all about the snowboarding. I'll have to return another time to check out the city.
For day one we chose to go to Stevens Pass. Conditions were poor in Seattle this year too. They had more precipitation than California, but it was too warm. However it was still a really fun place to ride. We had a great day in the sun and the scenery was fantastic.
After getting cleaned up back at Trevis's apartment we went out to meet up with some of his co-workers for Thai food for dinner. It was pretty good and we followed it up with a visit to a brewpub for beers. They seemed like nice guys and it was fun hearing about Amazon as an employer.
On Sunday we picked up one of Trevis's friends from the night before and then headed out to Crystal Mountain for our second day of snowboarding. Although the entire bottom half of the hill was closed it was still a lot of fun. Also the view of Mount Rainier were spectacular!
Tired and smelly at the end of the day I drove Trevis and his friend back to Seattle and then headed to the airport. Time was tight and the security line was enormous, but thanks to my trusted-traveller status I got to use the fast line and was soon headed back to San Francisco. Another great weekend of snowboarding successfully completed!
For my third and final snowboarding trip of the year I went to Salt Lake City with my good friend Alex. He's been living in the Bay Area for years and as soon as I moved down I knew we'd have some snowboarding adventures. Utah has been on my list to check out ever since I started snowboarding so when Alex and I found really cheap flights it was a no-brainer to go for it. Comparing the prices of transportation, hotels and lift tickets, the trip to Salt Lake City was cheaper than my trip to Tahoe. Crazy! Plus, although they didn't have the usual epic amounts of snow this year, they still had a lot more than California!!
We flew in on Friday night after work and used the excellent Salt Lake City public transit system to get from the airport to our hotel. The hotel was nice with very friendly staff and crazy fancy memory foam mattresses. Once we were settled we headed out across the street to Squatters Brewpub to get some late dinner and drinks. The food and beer were both great!
Salt Lake City is an amazing destination for skiing and snowboarding. There are at least a dozen excellent resorts near the city and eight of them are accessible by cheap public transit ($4.50/ticket...and the buses accept Apple Pay). It was so easy to access the best snowboarding I've ever experienced. We did both days at Snowbird, but I've heard the other places are excellent too.
Both Saturday and Sunday played out the same way. Up early to eat a pretty decent free breakfast at the hotel, then catch the city bus to the resort from the bus stop around the corner. At the resort we went hard all day each day (despite the high elevation and long runs...above 11,000 feet and up to 3200 feet). Then we quickly changed into regular footwear and caught the bus back to the hotel. It really couldn't have been easier or more wonderful.
The snow was great despite the warm weather and the runs were all fantastic. The views were also unbelievable. Snowbird has this really cool tunnel with a track that pulls you from the frontside of the mountain to the backside. This lets less advanced people access more terrain without having to go on the more difficult runs to get there. Speaking of difficulty, I did some of the hardest runs I've ever done in my life. Steep slopes, narrow tracks, trees with moguls. It was crazy but also super fun.
Alex had his GoPro with lots of accessories so he took a mountain of video. I've included one below that is stabilized with a gimbal and features me in frame for the majority of the ride. Although I like to make fun of Alex for his GoPro obsession I do have to admit that the videos are gorgeous and I'm very glad he was there to take them.
Saturday evening we had dinner at a pub called "Whiskey Street" where I enjoyed some excellent Utah beer and was thoroughly convinced that the days of the state and city being "dry" are long gone. The drink list at that place was large and comprehensive to the point of absurdity. After dinner we explored the city a bit on foot and we swung by Epic Brewing so that I could pick up some bottles to bring home. Sunday night after riding we got dinner at Squatters again and then got a taxi to the airport (the public transit system seems to stop very early on Sunday nights).
Even if the drought stops in California and Tahoe returns to its glory days of endless powder I think I will continue going to Utah as long as I'm down here. The price was great and the convenience was amazing. And because you can stay in the city instead of at the resorts you can access a lot more in the way of evening entertainment. It's basically perfect there.
I started dating Sarah right around the same time I went on three weekend snowboarding trips and a one and a half week trip to Central America. My repeated absences were not ideal to say the least so I was excited to be invited to go with Sarah to visit her brother and sister-in-law in Santa Barbara in April.
Santa Barbara is about five hours drive south of San Francisco, but traffic was against us so it took us closer to seven. The Central Valley is an interesting place and then there were some great mountains closer to Santa Barbara (although it was pretty dark by the time we got there). Chris and Ariana had stayed up to welcome us when we arrived and we even chatted a bit before going to bed.
In the morning we were treated to amazing homemade cinnamon rolls to go with eggs, bacon and fresh-squeezed juice. Seriously good food. Then the four of us donned jackets to go for a walk on the beach in the surprising rain (a very light rain, but rain nonetheless). The beach was lovely, as most coast line in California seems to be.
The sea floor off the coast of Santa Barbara is rich in oil which means that in addition to the offshore oil platforms, tar also naturally bubbles up and washes onto the beach. It's not like the beach is black, but you do get little bits of it stuck to your bare feet or shoes. Most people keep some vegetable oil and paper towels handy at their homes to scrub away the black after a walk (an activity we completed after returning to Chris and Ariana's place).
Sarah did her undergraduate studies at UCSB so after our walk she took me to see the campus. It was a beautiful place, exactly what I think of when I think of a California university. It is located right on the ocean with palm trees everywhere and the buildings on campus were very pretty. The marine biology building is on the water, which makes a lot of sense but is still pretty cool to think about. We also went to Chaucer's bookstore which I quite enjoyed.
Back at her brother's house Sarah's parents and grandmother had arrived to join us for dinner. It was great to meet so much of her family and we had a really excellent meal. After dinner Chris, Ariana, Sarah and I all played Pandemic and then went to bed.
Sunday morning we had a light breakfast and then Sarah and I went back to the beach to explore some more. Then we went to Sarah's favourite pizza place from when she was in school and brought lunch back for the four of us to share before Sarah and I headed back to San Francisco.
On the way home I made us stop at Firestone Brewing, a very excellent craft brewery based in Paso Robles. They do some really excellent stuff with barrel ageing and I was quite excited to pick up something unique. I managed to get the 2015 edition of their Parabola Imperial Stout and a bottle of their 17th Anniversary Ale.
This trip was excellent and I'd definitely recommend Santa Barbara as a place to visit. Sarah's family is also super great!
Shortly after my meeting Sarah's brother Ben he invited us to join him and his family on a weekend trip to Klamath Falls, Oregon to see a couple amazing things: the Lava Beds National Monument and Crater Lake. We accepted the invitation immediately!
Sarah and I left work a bit early on the Friday and drove many hours to reach our hotel. The drive was pretty, then the sun set and it was dark, and then the roads got to be way out in rural areas and we spent the last hour of the drive being hyper-vigilant watching for deer (we saw lots, but hit none). Our hotel in Klamath Falls was nice and had free cookies and milk for us on arrival.
In the morning we got up early to meet Ben and his family for breakfast at Nibbley's Cafe, a most excellent breakfast spot. In addition to all ordering breakfast we also split an enormous cinnamon bun that was super good. After eating we drove an hour south to visit the Lava Beds National Monument.
The landscape around the National Monument reminded me a lot of Iceland, with rough igneous rock scattered everywhere. But we weren't there for the views above ground but for the extensive network of caves. So we went straight to the visitor centre to get information about current conditions and then we all got suited up drove out along Cave Loop Road which literally gives access to miles and miles of cave systems.
The caves are actually tubes formed by flowing lava long ago. We started with some shorter ones and eventually worked up to some that are more than a kilometre long. The darkness inside was always absolute but we brought lots of lights (and spare batteries) and it was a really great experience. We even moved through some sections that required squirming forward on our bellies. It was totally amazing. The final cave we visited was very short, but was so cold inside that the water pooled at the bottom was frozen solid. Apparently people used to use it for food preservation and even ice skating!
After many hours of exploration we all headed back to Klamath Falls to get cleaned up and go to an amazing BBQ restaurant for dinner. I ate a lot of meat and it was good. Sarah and I also popped into Klamath Basin Brewing Company to pick up some local beers to enjoy back at the hotel while we played board games at Ben's hotel.
On Sunday morning we got up and had breakfast at our hotel before meeting up with Ben and his family to drive north to the famous Crater Lake. The drive was beautiful; it wound through valleys surrounded by snow-capped mountains, eventually climbing to the ridge of the lake. Crater Lake is a caldera lake, formed by the collapse of an enormous volcano. It is one of the deepest lakes in the world and is famous for its colour and clarity.
We arrived at the visitor centre to find snow still on the ground in many places. So we may have thrown a few snowballs before walking out to the edge to take in the views. The views were epic. No other word will do. The lake was especially still when we first arrived and produced some very nice mirror-like reflections. It was great! We then walked along the ridge trail for a couple hours enjoying the sun and the snow and of course the views.
After finishing up we said our goodbyes to Ben and his family and parted ways to drive back to our respective homes. It was a long drive again, but this time it was in daylight so we didn't need to worry about deer and we got to see all of the mountains and lakes we passed on the way up in the dark. Unfortunately many of the lakes were more than 50% drained due to the drought and those sad lakes were often juxtaposed with ridiculous farming operations (like rice paddies...why does anyone think rice should be grown in California!?).
Eventually we made it back to San Francisco where the fog rolled in as soon as we exited the Waldo Tunnel to approach the Golden Gate bridge. Welcome home!
The Williams family has been close friends of my family since before I was born. We spent many summer days, Thanksgivings, Christmases and other times together. So when I got the invitation to their youngest Kurtis's wedding I knew I'd be going even though I'd have to travel back to Canada to do it.
I hopped on a red-eye flight Friday night and was fortunate to be upgraded to a lie-flat business class seat for the SF-Chicago leg of the trip. This meant I actually got to sleep on the way to Chicago! Also, it meant I could access the lovely United Lounge at O'Hare and have a shower before boarding my flight to Ottawa. Good times!
My mom and brother picked me up at the airport in Ottawa and we went straight to breakfast at the Art Is In Bakery to celebrate my mom's 60th birthday. Breakfast was amazing and my mom was super happy with the tablet we got her (a Nexus 9 to go with her Nexus 5 phone...they work great together!). We enjoyed a nice meal in the sun and then headed over to the hotel so I could get checked in and we could all prepare for the wedding.
Kurtis and Marissa's wedding took place on the top floor of the hotel and featured amazing views of the city. Just before it started a huge thunderstorm rolled through and I was mesmerized for a while as it had been a long time since I had seen serious rain (California's drought is endless). The rain stopped in time for the ceremony which was lovely and then a number of us went to hang out in Kurtis's parent's suite to eat snacks and chat before the reception.
While we were hanging out, the building intercom informed us of an incident that meant everyone had to either evacuate or just avoid the fourth floor. We couldn't tell. So we stayed put and watched out the windows as a dozen firetrucks and a hazmat truck rolled up to the hotel. It was a bit intense but we had food and drink so we just enjoyed ourselves. Eventually an all clear was given and we learned that a member of the cleaning staff had discovered a large amount of white powder in a bed and alarm was raised (it turned out to be cocaine and not anthrax). We found out later that the emergency caused some initial difficulties for the photographer and wedding party, but it turned out well because they got to pose with the firefighters after the all clear!
Eventually the reception started and we all had an excellent time chatting and eating and dancing and listening to speeches. It was really nice for me to be able to see a lot of these people and be able to catch up on things I had missed since leaving for San Francisco.
On Sunday Marissa's family hosted a lovely breakfast after which I said my goodbyes and was driven to the airport by my mom and brother. But as we pulled up to the departures area I got a text telling me my flight was cancelled. Storms in Washington DC (my connection point) had grounded all flights. I was rebooked for the next morning.
So I was returned to my Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Joanne's house to enjoy a little more time with some of my favourite people in the world. It was a great little trip home!
In June my mom took a long solo trip through western Canada and the United States visiting friends and family, culminating in a visit to San Francisco to see her absentee son. I joined her at her second last stop in Portland to experience a city I'd heard a lot about but never visited.
I flew in Friday night after work and made use of Portland's excellent public transit system (I bought my tickets on my phone!) to make my way to the hotel where my mom had already checked in after an all day train ride from Vancouver. We stayed at the Benson Hotel, a historic building opened in 1913. It was pretty nice and in a good spot for seeing a lot of stuff without having a car.
Shortly after I arrived we headed out for dinner and managed to snag two seats at the bar of the super popular Little Bird Bistro, the sister restaurant of the super fancy Le Pigeon (both of which are vaguely French in style). Our meal was amazing and the service was excellent. Satisfied we wandered over to the Multnomah Whisky Library and put our names down on the list for a seat. While waiting we checked out Powell's City of Books for a while. It's enormous and we didn't even really get started before I got the call informing us a spot was ready at the Whisky Library
The Multnomah Whiskey Library is an amazing place with literally thousands of types of alcohol including an enormous whisky selection. It's decorated to look like an old library with lots of wood and leather everywhere. Capacity is limited in order to maintain a nice quiet atmosphere. It was amazing just sitting in there, but of course I also partook of a very fine whisky, the Bruichladdich Cuvee 407 PX (La Noche Bocca Arriba), which I've only ever seen at the Bruichladdich distillery in Scotland. It was awesome to be able to try it again. My mom had a really great dry cider.
After the library we wandered back to the hotel to get some sleep. We got up early the next morning to eat breakfast at a local cafe before hopping in a Zipcar to go visit Multnomah Falls. It was pretty spectacular and we enjoyed the hike to the top. We took the scenic route back to the city stopping at Latourell Falls which might have been even better as it wasn't nearly as busy and featured an overhanging set of basalt columns. Super cool!
Back in Portland we hurried to the farmers market (located on the Portland State University campus) to get some lunch before it closed. We had an excellent cheesy mexican dish with fresh corn tortillas and a mountain of veggies. For dessert we wandered over to Blue Star Donuts where we shared a PB&J donut that was really really good too.
After lunch we went back to Powell's to give it a proper visit. We both got lost for a while and eventually we met up in the rare book room where I discovered a travel guide for Canada (like Lonely Planet) published in 1894. It was really neat to flip through and imagine travellers to Canada using it to help navigate the country.
For pre-dinner drinks we headed to Ecliptic Brewery where I did a sampler of beer while my mom drank wine and we watched the Canadian women play in a world cup soccer match. The bartender was really into the game too and it was lots of fun to hang out there for a while. The beer was good, but not as unique as I was hoping given the pedigree (the founder was the main brewmaster at Deschutes).
We then wandered up and down North Mississippi Avenue looking in shops and attempting to choose a place to eat. We ended up at a nice spot called Radar and then had ice cream at Ruby Jewel for dessert. We finished the evening by walking back to the hotel over one of Portland's many fancy bridges. This one happened to be closed for construction so we were able to walk right down the middle of it in places. The sun set as we crossed making for an excellent end to the day.
On Sunday morning we took it a bit slower, starting with a visit to Stumptown coffee to get going. That is some most excellent coffee. Then we took a bus to East Burnside so that we could put our name down for brunch at Screen Door. With an hour to kill we wandered around the neighbourhoods there looking at the houses and parks and having a nice chat about the world. When we returned to Screen Door our table was ready and we proceeded to gorge ourselves on a delicious meal.
From brunch we walked down to Hair of the Dog Brewing where I did another tasting flight and picked up a glass to take home. The beer was very good and more to my taste than at Ecliptic. Unfortunately the beer I really wanted to try was all gone.
Next we walked across another bridge to get back downtown where we made a brief stop at the Portland Saturday Market on the river-front. I had a kombucha and we did some people watching while resting our tired feet (so much walking!). Soon though we hopped on a bus and headed to the MacLeay Peak entrance of Portland's amazing Forest Park.
Forest Park is one of the country's largest urban forests containing miles and miles of gorgeous trails. We enjoyed a short hike before heading back to the hotel to gather our bags and leave for the airport.
Our trip to Portland was fast, but we saw a lot and had an excellent time. I will definitely return!!