Right when the sign read, “Welcome to Idaho” the sun broke through the grey that perpetually shrouds Washington. Destination: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Coeur d’Alene has a golf course if you didn’t know. It’s ranked No. 75 on Golf Digest's ranking of America's 100 Greatest Public Courses. The course is known for it’s floating green on the 14th hole and the plan all along was to paddle around this feature. Success! I wonder if I am the first person to ever circle the floating green on a SUP?
Coeur d’Alene is a mix between the ostentatious wealthy travelers and the local hippies who call the town CDA. The local cool kids were cruising around on long boards and smoking clove cigarettes and discussing music I am not cool enough to have recognized. Or they were found along the lakebed just hanging out enjoying a perfect summer sunset. I paddled up to two who are both originally from Southern California who now call CDA home. So I asked, in order to say you’re from CDA, how long do you have to live in CDA before the claim is valid. One chimed, “That’s easy man. You are not a true Idahoan unless you survive a winter here. See that big building over there? Oprah owns the top floor. She will never survive a winter here. Love her. But she’s not an Idahoan even if she owns this place. See, we are now backwoods’ girls. We survived the winters of 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013."
Here are the reflections I had in Washington regarding Alaska when I stopped at a hill that overlooked a river. When Nina, Jamie, Chris, and me shared where we are from, the question came up: where do all the used Mercedes in Orange County go? Chris, the guide, is originally from the South Bay area of Los Angeles and revealed why he left. He doesn’t like plastic. Plastic personalities, plastic in boobs, and using plastic to pay for things. He also took shots at the weather girls of Southern California. There is the normal weather girl, and then there is the extreme weather girl who reports during “storm watch 8,000.” Jamie quickly quipped, “Then the extreme weather girl must be the one with the natural boobs.”
There is nothing plastic about Alaska. It’s natural—including the people. The national dress code is a Carhartt quilt lined bib overall. On a hot day like we had, that’s it. No t-shirt. But the obligatory ball cap tops the outfit. Alaska is home to the misfits, Chris said. But I would like to think Alaska is home to the naturals. The ones who refuse to adapt a false persona for the sake of conformity. If they have to be called misfits, let’s at least call them the cool misfits. They reject the plastic nature of places like Orange County and feel life is better spent being one with nature.
Jamie, one of the two others who joined this trip, is an outdoorsman. His day job you ask? (because that is the question we all shamefully ask to quickly try and pigeonhole someone) a soldier in the Canadian military. When I shared why I am on the trip, raising funds and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project, he educated me on the fact that the Wounded Warrior Project helps Canadian families as well. I didn’t know this. One of his better friends who was recently discharged from the Canadian military is receiving assistance from the Wounded Warrior Project. Learning that the WWP helps any soldier involved in the Persian Gulf conflict and meeting someone who knows someone directly impacted by WWP made the Alaska leg even more special.
Also providing serendipity to Alaska was Nina. Just read her comments to my initial blog regarding Alaska. The girl is smart. The girl loves learning. The girl is courageous. After all, she’s in Alaska because she is taking an intensive 6-day sailing course so she can sail from her native New York to Hawaii. I can only hope that a future invite is included, but I will ensure that I keep the plan to meet Nina in New York. She said everyone competes in New York to see who can be the busiest, so knowing that I am “on the calendar” makes it obligatory that I keep the appointment. But it wont feel a an obligation at all! I don’t know too many people that I can talk about Nora Ephron, David Foster Wallace, Truman Capote, Lauren Hillenbrand, and others I forget we discussed. And Nina’s passion for learning and sharing these learning experiences has rekindled my own passion for learning and teaching. See you in New York, Nina, so we can continue the conversation.
Slow down. That's the message. Literally. I was pulled over in Alaska. The state trooper causticly informed me I was going 28 in a 25 zone. He questioned with intensity, "Why are you in such a hurry?" Great question. Never realized going three miles over the speed limit was an aggressive display of being in a hurry. I was honest: to find a bed and get some sleep. You see, I arrived at the hostel in Seward at 2 a.m. and just couldn't get myself to enter knowing I would awaken other sleepy travelers. I was in a hurry to find a hotel. With a warning to slowdown and directions to a hotel, the trooper bid me well and welcomed me to Seward, Alaska.
Later in the morning, Alaska welcomed me with what I can only term sensory overload. Alaska is big and has a way of immediately letting you know that you are small. To think that we affect the environment to degrees reported might be a creation of human hubris. Alaska looks like it could slap us off the earth if she wanted. But this day--this day--she welcomed us to a show so grand I should really just post the pictures and shut-up. So that's what I am going to do. I will reflect on Alaska as I drive to Idaho. I will reflect on the conversations I had with Jamie, Nina, and Chris and will post these reflections later. But like I said, I should just shut-up and post the pictures.
After just spending less than 7 hours in the Seattle area, it's easy to see why the apathetic and angst-filled lyrics of grudge emerged from Seattle in the 1980's. The city is grey, earth brown, and green. It lacks color. Think of all things Seattle. Coffee: earth brown. The Space Needle: white, but looks grey from a distant due to grime. Last year the Seahawks played some home games in grey uniforms--so did the Mariners. The fish flying through Pike Place: silver, which we all know is just shinny grey. The weather: famous for grey skies. Come on! Even the steamy scenes in 50 Shades of Grey are set in the Escala Tower of Seattle. Yes, I admit; I read it. Seattle may scream coffee, flying salmon, bondage, and rainy weather, but what it lacks in color it makes up for in sound. Whistling trains. Fog horns. Bustling of open markets. Humming rolling from the crawling freeways. Slapping of water on fiberglass boats. Grinding metal from construction. The rustling and swishing of wind through trees. And the fog horns and the train whistles--again! Because most of the sounds in Seattle are natural and loud, they blend into a calming mix of distorted romanticism. But the lack of color in the city can get to a man. Ask Jimmy Hendrix or Kurt Cobain. Their lyrics are dark--grey if you will-- but the simple distorted sounds they make with guitars is grudgey and romantic at the same time. A simplicity that is complex. A sound that seems so natural but understood to be distorted.
The distorted waterfront of downtown Seattle needs some work. At least make the waterfront more accessible to pedestrians. After an hour of trying to find a place to launch, I reverted to the original plan to paddle around Mercer Island. I cut the paddle short and completed 6 miles before leaving to meet with my cousin Connie and her husband Tom and my Aunt Pat. Driving up to Bothell reaffirmed my early observations of the colorless city. But arriving at relatives returned color into the day. Pat was working in her garden where she has flowers bursting in yellows, purples, and reds. Her t-shirt, colorful. Her garden, colorful. But her house, grey! Connie and Tom were dressed in rich colored t-shirts. But it is the smiles from Pat, Connie, and Tom that had the most color of the day. A reminder that family can always restore color into colorless days.
Tom's generosity needs to be acknowledged. He is going to ensure the Wine Wagon, aka the Scion XB, gets serviced the day I am in Alaska. And to think he is doing this after returning from an 11 day trip of his own. Thank you Tom!
Water. Wood. Wind. This is Oregon. They have some things right in this state: service attendants that pump gas, rest stops that are clean and have free Wi-Fi, and with city centers and downtowns aside, Oregon cities magically disappear in the landscape. Instead of hiding in a black hat, the cities hide behind trees, rivers, and lakes.
Two other observations: it seems every car in Oregon has a roof rack or a bike rack. And get this, they actually have kayaks and canoes and bikes on the racks. The people here are active. --At least the ones living or visiting between Bend and Portland. Second observation: bridges.
Bridges are everywhere. Paddling under bridges today reminded me of the need to connect—this was especially true when paddling under the bridges in Portland. This must be why the homeless prefer to set up camp under or near bridges. It is like they are screaming to connect with the rest of the world. Or they are reminding us that home is where there is water. Oregon and its bridges will forever remind me that we are all water. When we can, we should travel bridges. Then, we can connect with others that are lost and removed from the sea.
Thank you to Chip at Standup Paddle Bend for putting on a great race. I finished third on the 2-mile course with a time of 26:31. Thank you to Chuck and Karen and Chris and Whitney. I was able to take a bridge back today and reconnect with family. And it is humbling seeing that the Army Corp of Engineers built many of the bridges. The USACE is responsible for investigating, developing and maintaining the nation's water and related environmental resources. Even the Army is smart enough to know that we are all water. Again, reminders that our Wounded Warriors deserve the same opportunity to travel the bridges that they helped build and protect.