Travel

Birthday retreat – A visit to Orcas

I sure turned a year older this birthday, but it was different from all my previous ones! The first one post my wedding, the first one away from India and my whole family and friends circle, more so, the first one with Nikhil around! 🙂 He’s someone who feels birthdays are overrated and doesn’t get much excited. But knowing that I consider this a special day, and the fact that it was my first one away from home, he made sure this one feels special to me. Right from planning a wonderful three day vacation to a surprise video with wishes from all my close friends and family, from booking a relaxing time at a spa to taking me on a gorgeous hike, he filled my day with intricately thought-out elements that certainly made it perfect!

We visited Orcas and San Juan Islands, to north of Seattle. The Airbnb place was like ‘Love at first sight’! 😀 I instantly became a fan of that home and it deserves special mention. Named ‘Eagle Ridge Guesthouse’, it was located in a quiet private neighborhood on Orcas a few miles away from the town of Eastsound. It was artistic with all the adorable collections that filled every nook and corner. As the hosts Jodi and Daniel rightly called it, it was a “Thin Place”, a place of energy and purity! The whole idea was that the guests spend time together away from their usual technology driven time. They had nice books to read, paints and sketch books, chess, playing cards, ‘know-each-other’ cards (one of them probably custom-made by Jodi) to name a few.

The exterior of the house flaunted a lush green garden. Another highlight was the hot-tub – well placed amidst the tall green trees around, with the vacation home in the background, giving that panoramic view as far as the eyes could see! There was also a huge patio adjacent to it from where we watched the sunset. The experience was mystical and magical – we saw it all : the misty evening, the clear-view morning, the colorful sunset, the glittering night sky, the cloud covered bay with mountains doing a sneak-peek! Nikhil had surprised me with this selection 🙂

The video snippets from friends and family was endearing too. I was so overwhelmed seeing the people whom I love wishing me and sharing their special messages that I felt blessed to have them all in my life!

This birthday was probably my best till date! 🙂 Something I would cherish for a long long time 🙂

Places Visited :

  • Orcas Island – Mt.Constitution, Turtleback Mountain, Eastsound, Crescent Beach
  • San Juan Island – Lime Kiln State Park, South Beach, McMillin Mausoleum
  • Ferry Rides between islands

 

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Tubing at Lake Chelan

We not only sat and got wiped out on the tubes, but we towed it ourselves with a motor boat at Lake Chelan. This was during a recent trip with my wife and her brother Amit who had visited us for a week. After showing him around the usual places such as Mount Rainier, we went for a 2 day trip to Lake Chelan which I hadn’t visited yet. Though I had heard great stuff about the place, I didn’t keep my hopes high since it’s just a lake with surrounding mountains but I was pleasantly surprised by what I experienced. I had watched a video from a geology professor on how the lake was formed during the last ice age and it was interesting to note that this is the third deepest lake in the US.

The approach via Route 97 alongside Columbia river was scenic unlike usual green routes. The barren surrounding mountains, blue waters and the warm atmosphere around the Lake Chelan gave a different vibe. We checked in at the resort, played putt putt and cosmic bowling in the evening, tennis the next morning and got ready for water-sports in the afternoon. I was rooting for a sunny day and fortunately it was, although the days before and after were cloudy. We rented a boat and tube from https://www.chelanparasail.com for 4 hours and set out to explore after a brief introduction. It was my first time driving a boat and it was super easy. We had a mini photoshoot once we were in the water but I was craving to get into the water and try tubing.

The tube was attached to the boat with a 20 feet rope and I chose to experiment with it first. I wore my life jacket and got on the tube with excitement unsure of how it would turn out. Amit took the driving seat and he started slowly until the rope lost its slackness and began towing the tube. It was a different experience on the tube being towed over blue waters whose depth reached around 500 ft maybe. I signaled Amit to increase the speed and he did slowly and all was going well until the tube plunged into the water taking me inside. I was scared initially since I didn’t know if I could come up and float easily but I was fine after few seconds. I got confident after the first dip and did few more rounds figuring out the best position to lie down on the tube to avoid the falls.

Divya took the driving seat once and it was funny when she pushed the lever increasing the speed suddenly – I fell from the tube and Amit who was sitting at the edge almost slid. Divya and Amit chose to give tube a try and I steadily increased the speed but they plunged too after a while. It was amusing to hear the survival instinct narratives when they both were off the tube. Divya lost her vintage sunglasses which she didn’t realize until I pointed. We all spent good amount of time in the water swimming, floating and enjoying the refreshing water.

We couldn’t get to tow the tube in high speeds since we kept falling off, so we chose to just drive around instead. Having snacks and listening to music, we explored up-to Wapato point and turned around to reach the rental place in time. It was a good first self venture in the area of water-sports and might try wake-boarding next time.

Activity Overview

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Oregon Coast : Beauty and the Beast

May 10-12th, 2019
Shoreline Drive and ATV ride

The nature has such diversity to itself that it never ceases to enthrall and empower while also being able to pacify and please every patron or a critic likewise. One can get lost in the heavenly beauties of the serene scenes, or get galvanized upon subscribing to audacious adventures! A sane balance of both these facets is what we experienced on our weekend getaway to the wondrous Oregon coast.

This was the roadtrip we were planning since a couple of months with Nikhil’s friend Rahul and his wife Siddhi accompanying us. All of us were pretty excited. We started from Seattle at 10am on that friday and the day’s agenda was to drive through the ‘scenic US highway 101’. Driving south initially through I5, we soon diverted towards 101 near Astoria, where we had lunch at the pier 11 pizza onlooking the columbia river, surrounding mountains and long famous Astoria-Megler bridge. After this delicious lunch and some yummy ice-creams on the way, we continued driving. The curvy roads at an elevation alongside the shoreline with tall lush green mountains on one side, vast and beautiful pacific ocean beholding rocks, houses/resorts, viewpoints on the other — this is one of the best drives I have ever been on! After driving through a long stretch of this scenic highway, we reached the airbnb vacation home booked at the Oregon coast city Waldport, at around 7pm.

The rhythmic roar of Pacific waters, the sea-bed extending so far and wide that the gaze covered entire horizon, the waves crashing against the shore, the gritty sand showcasing waverly patterns — witnessing these comforting and enthralling scenes beyond the glass walls, we stood, in sheer joy! This was the sight from our airbnb vacation home! We could not have asked for anything more in this setup – the first floor hosted a lovely living room, two sides opening up into several large windows almost covering the whole wall, cozy furniture collection, sharing an open kitchen whose counters also offered this beautiful sneak-peek outside, the ground floor having a bedroom opening up into a beautiful deck having barbecue grill and the classic wooden seating, stairs down to a backyard which directly opened up onto the sands! Yes! We fell in love with this lovely vacation home 🙂  The Walk down the backyard offered a breathtaking sunset view – the orange balloon floating on the vast water bed, gradually descending down, leaving a beautiful orange tint which reached all the way to the shore, finally going down after putting up a colorful show on the horizon! The chilled waters were pleasant to see, but put us into playing kabaddi with them! We also played frisbee, had a long jump competition on the sands and so on. A lot of fog and mist gradually encircled the beach at dusk, which added to its beauty while giving us a feel of being on a private beach! The colder surroundings made us head back home. Our bedroom housed huge window on the beach side. Sleeping to the rhythmic buzz of the waves and waking up the next day to see the beach and the sand directly from our bed felt like a bliss 🙂 Never before had I stayed so close to the sea! Full marks to this vacation home on everything!

The kitchen was well-equipped, it had an amazing collection of cutlery too. We relished fluffy and tasty omelettes alongside the crispy garlic bread toast sandwiches filled with yummy aloo stuffing, variety of veggies marinated and baked to awesomeness, also had nicely heated up methi parathas, chana masala and mutter pulao.  We had a charming double date on the shore, with Rahul-Siddhi accompanying us on this trip. Lovely people they are and we all had a very nice time together!

Not just the shoreline drive, also the vacation home contributed to the beauty of this weekend getaway. But what was the ‘beast’ then? Here comes the powerful 900cc two seater ATV which we drove! Going up and down the dunes, doing lateral curved turns and skids, gearing up through the changing arenas of sand — this was an experience one of its kind! The Oregon Sand dunes at Florence was the abode of all these thrilling ventures. Some of the world’s largest and most beautiful dunes are located on the Central Oregon Coast. Glistening valleys, vast hills of shifting sand, the desert atmosphere make these dunes truly a must see!

Full marks to fun and excitement : we started off with an exciting guided 1 hour Sand Rail Tour from the Torex ATV Rentals, which helped us explore what’s in store on the dunes. It was a 6 seater ATV, and the tour guide took us all around showing different terrains, marked up regions, tree islands and water bodies while giving us thrilling and beastful experience of the highs and lows of the shifting sand. He also made us understand key protocols to be followed while riding these dunes on our own : like locating a fellow rider from a decent distance using the tall orange flags attached to their ATV, identifying deep fall patterns of sand and technique to avoid them, wet sand around water bodies and distance to be kept around them, and so on. It indeed was an adventurous tour where we also saw multiple two-seater, single seater bikes, 6 seater-tour ATVs putting up stuntful show while we experienced one awesome ride. After heading back to the ATV rental booth, we signed up for a one hour 4-seater 900cc ride to further explore the dunes on our own. Nikhil having had an experience of driving a similar one before, started off and took us to the dunes. We were by ourselves and even more excited; he tried mimicking few portions from what our guide had taken us on previously. After few minutes of fun on the wheels, he offered Rahul to check-out the ride. Rahul was pretty comfortable and did wonderful on the dunes. We were in for more adventure! There was also a couple of small hiccups: first one when our ATV got stuck in the sand while attempting to go over a steep uphill dune, where we all got out of the ATV, pulled off sand beneath each tyre to make room for movement. It was also heartening to see so many fellow ATV riders stopped by to offer help! As Rahul accelerated, we could see the sand sprinkling out like a water fountain from behind! 😀 Another time, as we drove close to a tree island, all of a sudden the ATV kind-of halted not moving an inch ahead only for us to realize that the gear chain got cut-off! Getting out of the ATV, we could see the leather pieces fallen on the track we followed! We called up the rental guys and they were to our rescue in less than 10 mins to replace the gear while they swapped out ATV with a new one. Our fun continued!  

Me and Siddhi were excited and nervous at the same time, for as much fun it seemed, riding it was scary and dangerous too! Specially because it was our first time! I recollect reading a bill-board of some advertisement on our drive the previous day which read “When was the last time you did something for the first time?!” That was an inspiration! What a coincidence! It would be my very first time on the sand dunes, and of course my first ride on an ATV! There were butterflies in my stomach because of the sheer excitement! 😀 Siddhi was still not so keen to ride it, but I still wanted to. Nikhil offered me to try it out, and I hesitantly got on the wheels. I started off slowly being over cautious, gradually speeding up. I mostly drove on relatively flat dunes to get the hang of it, and eventually started exploring more uneven dunes. My initial feeling of scare also gradually turned into a thrill! I was shouting out of excitement at times and the joy on my face was evident 🙂 Looking at me doing it, Siddhi got excited and she agreed to ride the beast too; we had more fun except for a small portion where we bumped into a sand pit and felt some sudden jerk! Well that is what it is all about, it is not called the “beast” just like that! Everyone was fine and we continued riding more. Very soon it was time to head back. With a bundle of vivid experiences of this 1-hr ride we headed back to the rental location.

ATV ride was the main agenda of this trip and Nikhil and I kept wanting more! We chose to go back to the dunes for another hour! This time on a 2-seater 900cc beast, and I took control right from the rental location. It was roughly a half mile ride before we reached the dunes and navigated through the woods into the dunes; very soon reaching the wide open sand terrain! This time I was feeling more relieved and free – Of Course, it is only your husband with you and you can be as crazy and kiddo as you want! 😉 I started attempting more uneven dunes very early in the ride and drove up a very high dune, suddenly to realize it was a steep fall down! Nothing on the other side would be visible unless you climb up the top. Luckily I had breaks at that very moment, and retrieved the course of my ride! That moment gave me shivers! After this, there were plenty such goosebump moments where I tried riding across a very steep uphill several times, drove on full speed around small ups and downs of sand, drove up a very high dune and stopped to see fantastic views all-around, and so on. After I had satisfying time behind the wheel, Nikhil took over and then we had some real beastful experience! He tried many skids on the sand, several wavy dune areas, a couple of deep fall courses and much more! It was evident on his face that he was absolutely loving it, so was I 🙂 We had one heck of an experience! We switched seats a couple more times and further explored the arena; very soon our time ran out and we headed back. This first-time experience filled my excitement to the brim, and I was happy to have really tried something for a first-time. It sure motivated me to try out more, and I shall soon.

We drove back and had a late lunch at a beautiful river-side Italian restaurant, got back to our lovely vacation home, relaxed for sometime and then spent some nice time together. We played a lot of fun games on a VR playstation, the Nintendo Switch Wi, that was available at the vacation home! Cool isn’t it? We explored Bowling, Tennis, Golf and many more games on it! It was indeed a relaxing night. Next morning we checked out and visited a Tillamook Cheese Factory on the way back – the tour was informative as we walked past every stage of cheese making process while having a look at the live equipments pushing out huge blocks of packed cheese. Best part of this visit was that we could taste variety of cheese pieces for free! Yummy! We also relished the delicious garlic cheese fries on the way back. Rahul drove the entire stretch back and this was the first time Nikhil and I had time together on a drive (Else, he usually drives and we don’t have relaxing time together). We kept talking, playing and enjoying nice views together all-along. We visited ‘Bollywood Theatre’, an Indian restaurant in Portland where we had some delicious Vada-pav, Pav bhaji and a couple other eateries. Our ride continued, we saw the mighty Mt.Hood (which is like the Mt. Rainier of Oregon) and several other beautiful places on the way back.

This trip was rightly a ‘Beauty and Beast’ experience for me with serene shoreline drive, soulful beach and vacation home time, lovely tour buddies, enthralling ATV ride and much more! Truly a worth remembering ‘first-time’ something for me! So, get out and try something for the first time! Be a neophile! It is always more fun and amazing inspiration!

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The best of Washington via SR 20

I was ecstatic when a notification from WSDOT on Twitter read that the SR-20 highway would be opening on 04/18. The highway is closed every winter due to the snow and opens in Apr/May after the plough. I had taken an excursion to Winthrop with my mom soon after last year’s opening in May and we had loved the drive. It was a month early this year and I was excited to repeat the journey with my wife this time. I was also excited about the booking I had made at an amazing lodge in Winthrop. The forecast was favorable for the weekend, we packed and left Seattle around 9:30 AM on Saturday.

It was cloudy when we started and the skies turned bluer by the time we reached Darrington. We were treated with the views already by the surrounding mountains. We stopped for a Hot Chocolate and continued with our drive to reach Highway 20. Our first major stop was at NewHalem where we spent ample of time exploring the bridge on Cedar’s trail, cherry blossoms, an old locomotive and the nature around. While on the highway, we could see numerous tiny waterfalls due to the snow melt which was a pleasant treat.

We passed through colorful waters, creeks and stopped at Diablo lake overlook which provided a beautiful vista of snow capped mountains and turquoise waters of the North Cascades.

We continued our drive through the heart of the mountains and it was nice to see many others had taken the road including numerous bikers. This is the part where the road is closed for the winters and opens usually in Spring. There is an interesting story about a lady who used to visit the opening day every time with Cinnamon rolls which can be read here. We had lunch near the PCT junction and reached my favorite part of the drive, Washington Pass. We reached the viewpoint after a short walk and the view from there was exquisite as usual.

I surveyed the surrounding mountains and passes for possible trails. The snow, jagged peaks, bright daylight and the road amidst the tall trees was a treat for the eyes. Co incidentally Sai was there too and we drove together to Winthrop.

We stayed at Sun mountain lodge which was an amazing place. Living room, bedroom, 2 balconies, views of Mt Robinson and surrounding Methow valley were few of the perks.

We also had our own hot bath tub. With all these unique features, they didn’t have the basic microwave oven which was a bummer since we had carried food. It was a full moon night and it was interesting to see the hills and our shadows in the moon light. The next morning we filled our stomachs with the Easter breakfast and I fulfilled my cravings of Waffles. We played a bit of TT and left for Seattle by noon. En-route, we also had an opportunity to cross the dam and it was super cool to see the gates up close. Journeying SR 20 in the late winter is one of the best things I think to do in Washington. It exposes the beauty of the state in an amazing way that could be experienced with just a drive.

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Weekend in Whiteout Whistler

A month earlier, I had gone skiing near Seattle for the first time this season to get in shape for the trip to Whistler. On that beautiful clear day, I came down on a blue line few times and it had been the most successful ski day yet for me. As expected, it had prepared me well for the upcoming ski in Whistler where I had to ski beside cliffs in whiteout conditions.

My friend from Minnesota, Chaitanya wanted to ski near Seattle and we had decided to visit Whistler, Canada on a weekend of his convenience. The forecast for the weekend was pretty bad and I hadn’t booked anything other than the stay. We went ahead with the plans and left Seattle on friday afternoon. Chaitanya was getting excited looking at the colorful spring, so I decided to show him the Tulip garden at the Tulip festival in Mt Vernon. It was a huge field and was nice to see the rows of colorful flowers.

We then waited for around 25 mins at the border to enter Canada and made our next stop at Apna chat house in Surrey. I had heard that Surrey had one of the best chats in North America and I had selected the place for batting. My lunch included 12 pani-puris(the best I have had outside India), 2 vada pavs, 1 alu tikki(amazing well) and pieces of Paneer chilli. Chats being my favorite dishes, I thoroughly enjoyed it and decided for a second round while returning. We then drove through greater Vancouver to get on Highway 99 which lined the eastern coast of Howe Sound. It was a beautiful drive on the winding roads overlooking the expanse of waters and mountains rising from it. The forecast for the next two days was rainy, so I had made sure that we reach Whistler that evening to leave us with ample daylight.

We parked the car and decided to explore the town first. I loved the feel of the town. The architecture, huge snow covered mountains, creeks, bridges, lights, the moon and the laid-back attitude came together in a beautiful symphony to make the experience magical. We retired for the night and were excited for the skiing.

Skiing

The next morning, we were ready with rented gear by 10 AM to take the lift to the Blackcomb mountain. Since we were late in the season, half of the mountain was closed and only one lift took us to the upper half of the mountain. The higher we went, the worse the visibility got. We did a warm up run by taking a green line and reached at the base of another lift which took us to Hortsmans’s hut, the highest point of the day. We were above the clouds and the view was quite good. We couldn’t see anything much other than the parts of the mountain. We started to descend and this is where the ordeal started. Soon the visibility got so low that we could only see few feet in distance. Since both were kind of amateurs, we had difficulty in navigating and assessing the slopes. We were scared especially due to the exposed sections the runs had. I might have hiked only once or twice in such conditions and I was a bit uncomfortable since skiing was not my forte. I fell few times but tried my best to stand and figure the way down. I kept looking at the markings on either side of the runs and ensured that I didn’t ski past them. I lead my friend for most of the route and waited for him whenever I got ahead enough that I couldn’t see him. With the help of flag markers and other skiiers path, we managed to come out in clear and then took a blue line down to the same ski lift. I checked the map and I realized that this was in a loop due to the closures. There was no way out from here, so we had to go back to Hortsman’s hut again and come down a different route. The visibility got even worse by now and the route which we had to take had even more exposed section. A fellow skier lead us for two narrow turns and then we were left again by ourselves in whiteout conditions.

Even though it was a blue line, I got quite adept in the conditions and started skiing fearlessly. I used to look at a marker, go way from it and find the marker on the other side and then repeat the exercise while skiing the slopes. I couldn’t even assess the immediate slope and sometimes mind tricked to assume the angle. I realized that the conditions and the urge to get out safely was actually helping me learn to ski efficiently. So I started enjoying the experience since it brought a sense adventure along with the sport. Finally after traversing few narrow sections and skiing for sometime we came into opening and took a blue line called Zig-Zag all the way to download gondola. Chaitanya decided to call it a day but I took the lift up for another run and throughly enjoyed coming down the Zig-Zag line. While coming down the gondola, a lady who frequented the mountain told that this was the worst weather she had skied in on the mountain and the first time that she had to ski with the help of markers. I was ok since I had enjoyed the experience but I couldn’t exactly experience the hugeness of the ski trails and the views. Nonetheless, it was quite an adventure. We didn’t do anything much for the day other than the visit to nearby Alexander falls and a bungee jumping bridge.

It was raining quite heavily the next morning and we left the town without doing much. The drive back was much more beautiful due to the hovering clouds and the richer greenery. We made a stop at Shannon falls and I loved the views of both the falls we visited. We then drove through Vancouver downtown and reached Apna chat house. I had Pani-puri, Chole kulche and tikki chat this time. The wait at the border was quite longer this time and we made it to Seattle by 6:30 PM. I think I will be visiting Whistler often as long as I am in PNW.

Photos and Videos

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Categories: Adventure, Canada, Outdoors, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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