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Gerry Feehan

The Oregon Coast by Gerry Feehan

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The Oregon Coast – by Gerry Feehan

“It might rain a little,” cautioned a friend familiar with the Oregon coast in November. That prophecy shall rank high in the annals of understatement.

It poured every day—and most days, most of the day.

We arrived in Astoria, Oregon from Washington State via a 7-kilometer-long cantilever bridge spanning the Columbia River. Earlier that day we had braved a light (hah) drizzle and bicycled to Cape Disappointment, WA. A coast guard helicopter training mission was in session. I thought they’d warn us away as we peddled up but the crew was welcoming and chatted with us convivially about the rigours of cliff-side helicopter rescue.

One of the recruits asked if he could check out my Trek 29er. He asked me about its specs—composition, weight, gear ratio, etc. As he cradled the bike with two fingers, a few meters overhead, the whop-whop of rotor blades thundered loudly, dangerously. It was a fun morning and fortunately Cape Disappointment did not live up to its moniker.

 

Before our trip, I asked friends for Oregon recommendations. Many said, “Cannon Beach is a must.” Others suggested exploring the seaside State Parks. Someone else insisted we should not miss the unique lighthouses that dot the clifftops. I’m not a fan of lighthouses; you’ve seen one you’ve seen ‘em all. But if it’s pouring rain, one may as well climb some steep spiral steps to a high dry lookout—if only to stare into a grey wall of drizzly emptiness. There are 11 of these old sentinels situated along Oregon’s 580 kilometers of coastline. They are all still operating and necessary. Pounding waves arrive unabated from Japan 8000 kilometers away. Gigantic stacks of rock, eroded from the mainland, lay in stony wait for the unwary mariner. When facing shipwreck, even with GPS, a guiding light is a welcome friend.

Lighthouse maintenance is a weighty matter.

The Oregon shoreline is so scenic, unique and alluring that we hardly noticed the incessant showers and didn’t let the marginal weather spoil our fun. And on those occasions when the sun did shine, like the glorious afternoon I golfed the famous Links at Bandon Dunes, our appreciation for the rugged winding beauty of Oregon’s coast was enhanced, magnified.

A great pleasure of oceanside touring is the prospect of fresh seafood. Oregon’s salty waters overflow with nature’s briny bounty. At Barnacle Bill’s roadside stand in Lincoln City we couldn’t decide between fresh Dungeness crab, Yaquina oysters, albacore tuna or smoked salmon cream cheese; so we bought ‘em all—and before leaving Barnacle’s parking lot we were gorged to overflowing.

Deep dark arrives early in the November woods of Oregon: around 5 pm, and light doesn’t return until 8 am. Cell phone coverage is spotty. Wi-Fi is non-existent. Forget TV. What to do for six hours before bedtime? Talk to your spouse? Get serious. What did our ancestors do in the dark?

They discovered fire. A roaring blaze removes cold, fear, woe, all sense of time—even worries about the taxman. Amazing how, with a little kindling, a stack of wood, matches—and perhaps the friendly company of a beverage or two—one can be entertained for hours, contentedly watching a fire burn…while spending quality time with one’s loved one, of course. Availability of amenities varies greatly in Oregon campgrounds. The private ones typically have great services but are costlier and usually less appealing. The State Park campsites are beautiful, cheap and spacious but often lack the basics: showers, power and water hook-ups.

My morning cup of Joe is as important to me as life itself. One State campground had no electricity and prohibited use of generators. Thus, I had no way of firing up the coffee-maker. In my early-morning panic I smuggled the appliance into a bathroom with a plug-in, locked the door—and brewed to my heart’s content.  Desperate times call for desperate measures. Man I enjoyed that John Joe.

Perking the ‘John Joe’.

In late November you can fire a cannon through an Oregon campground. The places are empty. Even Cannon Beach, bursting at the seams in August, is nearly vacant. The strand in front of iconic Haystack Rock became our semi-private realm. And we had the coves and tide pools of nearby Ecola State Park completely to ourselves.

Haystack Rock.

An anemone-filled tide pool.

Oregon’s northern shoreline consists mostly of steep cliffs, with an occasional sandy beach. But as one meanders southward the craggy vistas give way to remarkable dunes. These kilometer-wide sandy barriers guard terra firma from the pounding, invading surf. At Bullard’s Beach State Park we scurried up a mountainous dune, dwarfed, like tiny crabs summiting a sandcastle. We would have run freely down the sandy escarpment but ATVs blew by in all directions, spoiling the serenity. (I admit to a touch of FOMO watching the lunatic drivers crest sandy hills, whooping and hollering before disappearing into the next hummock).

Then the weather cleared, the winds calmed—and I teed it up at Bandon Dunes. After negotiating a ‘travel writer’ discount, I treated myself to a caddy. (Bandon Dunes is a traditional links-style golf course so players must walk—no carts are permitted.) On the signature par three, overlooking the Pacific, I invited my caddy, William, to hit a shot.  His ball flew out over the precipice and disappeared into Davey Jones’ locker. William and I have a couple of things in common: we are both ex-lawyers and mediocre golfers.

(photo 710 – no caption)

 

Our Oregon road trip was nearly over. We returned to Bullard’s Beach for one last night. As we set up camp, I spotted a large bird waddling through the brush. A wild turkey. Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. (We Canucks of course carve the turkey the second Monday in October – probably because by November’s end any bird north of the 49th is frozen solid.) I consulted my calendar. Black Friday was a week away. The turkey emerged from the woods, smugly picking through the remains of an old campfire, blissfully unaware that very soon millions of his fellow Toms would suffer a crispy fate in ovens throughout America.

The serene, rugged beauty of the Oregon coast in November is wonderful, unique, exhilarating. But after a few weeks of pounding surf, salt air, wet feet and the claustrophobic darkness of giant ancient trees, I was ready to go home. To Alberta winter and our cold endless horizon of blue sky and dry snow.

In a few short weeks, it would be time to thaw a turkey for Christmas dinner.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.

Revisiting the “All-inclusive” in Cozumel – by Gerry Feehan

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Gerry Feehan

A glorious afternoon among the vineyards by Gerry Feehan

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A glorious afternoon among the vineyards

One of the keys to enjoyable travel — and recovery from a seven-hour jet-lag hangover — is to give oneself time to acclimate. And what better place to do that than in the City of Lights?

On tap was a week-long bike ‘n barge in southwest France. But rather than simply change planes at Charles De Gaulle airport and continue on to Bordeaux, we deplaned, shuttled into the French capital and gayly strolled the streets of Paris for a couple of days.

Fun in the streets of gay Paris

Paris, like many of the world’s great cities, is a pleasure to walk. From our hotel in the Latin Quarter, it was an easy saunter along the left bank of the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. En route, we passed two of the world’s great museums, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. Famished after a half-hour en pied, we stopped at a quiet brasserie for escargot and steak tartare. Fun fact: raw beef is best washed down with a heaping helping of Pernod. After lunch we wandered on and were soon gazing up at the Arc de Triomphe and the crazy traffic on the Champs-Elysees. On the return traipse we followed the river’s course to Notre Dame Cathedral where we climbed the narrow spiral staircase to the church’s wooden bell tower for the magnifique view of Paris. We were amongst the last to do so. A couple of months later, the 800- year-old edifice was gutted by fire.

After our relaxing stay in La Cité, we boarded the train at Gare Montparnasse, well-rested and physically and mentally prepared for the formidable task ahead: seven laid-back days of pedalling through the serene back roads of southwest France, coupled with the burden of sampling fine Bordeaux wines.

The trip from Paris to Bordeaux is over 500km, but when travelling by rail at over 300km/h, the journey is over in a flash. At the station in Bordeaux we transferred for the short run into Libourne, a sleepy little village on the Dordogne River, where we boarded our vessel, the aptly named MS Bordeaux. The ship was originally commissioned in the 1920s as a Rhinetuger, hauling heavy burdens on the Rhine River. The old gal went through a number of iterations over the decades before being converted into a passenger vessel. The boat has 49 cabins, but there were only 23 guests, so we became friends with everyone on board — crew and clientele alike.

It was a cozy, intimate experience.

On the weeklong voyage, we drifted slowly down the Dordogne toward the Bay of Biscay. When we reached the wide Gironde estuary we made a u-turn and rode the incoming tide up the Garonne River to Castets-en-Dorthe where we were to disembark. It was late fall, the ship’s last sailing of the season. The weather was ideal. The autumn hues of southern France were on full display.

Each morning, after a fine petit dejeuner, we stuffed our panniers with a picnic lunch of oven-fresh baguettes, pate, brie, fruit — and a world of pastries. Then we’d roll down the gangplank and hit the bucolic road. Each route was unique and scenic.

A GPS mounted to the handlebars kept us on track, ensuring we didn’t turn a la gauche when we should have gone a la droit.

We pedalled past orchards of ripening grapes, waving at the friendly vendangeurs hand-picking the last sweet remains of the year’s vintage. Often the route led us up what looked like a private lane, a path we’d never have taken had not the GPS assured us we were on course. We’d stop and gawk at some enormous ancient stone Château before continuing down the cobbled way.

Fall is hunting season

Despite the season, many of the Châteaux were open for tastings, invariably hosted by a friendly, effusive, fifth-generation proprietor, happy to share the family cellar with a group of foreign geeks in cycling shorts.

Bordeaux boasts some of the most stunning scenery in all of France — and some of its best vintages. That’s saying a lot in a country renowned for le vin. Personally, I turn up my nose at snooty French reds like Cote du Rhone and Burgundy. They’re a little too subtle for my meat-and-potatoes palette. Give me a big beefy Bordeaux any day. And that is what this appellation is all about: deep purple merlots blended with a splash of cabernet sauvignon.

Some of our fellow passengers chose e-bikes to lighten the load, but our group of eight hearty Canucks toughed out the Bordeaux hills with good old-fashioned foot-pedal power. We logged about 50km per day, a distance one could easily cover in a few hours. But, what with stopping to marvel at the glorious views, photograph the panoramic campagne, sip Sauterne and enjoy a leisurely picnic lunch, we managed to stretch every outing into an eight-hour work-day.

Beware of dogs in the fog!

One morning as we meandered down a medieval lane enjoying the ‘douceur de vivre’ a layer of mist descended upon us. This typical morning fog offers perfect growing conditions for Bordeaux’s famous varietals. Suddenly from out of the haze a huge dog, teeth angrily bared, descended on my wife Florence. I shouted but the mongrel continued its malevolent advance, apparently unfamiliar with English profanity. Then I remembered the tip regarding unfriendly curs contained in our pre-trip information pamphlet:

“Continue cycling past the dog. If it persists, a more aggressive approach may be required, in the form of pretending to throw a stone (or in extreme cases actually throwing a stone).”

The animal’s command of English may have been lacking, but it was a quick learner when it came to comprehending the meaning of rock on chien.

That evening, after another glorious dinner on the boat, we retired to the lounge for a digestif. It was the last night of the last sailing of the year and Sebastian, our maîtres d’, cum waiter, cum bartender, was ready to let his hair down. He brazenly lassoed all the female passengers onto the dance floor for a Bacchanalian romp. Overhead, a faux-disco ball twirled as the ladies gyrated and the boat rocked. The men, fatigued from another trying day amongst the Bordeaux vineyards, were content to sip Pastis and chat.

An ebullient Sebastian

Another fantastique dinner

I quietly slipped into the night air and onto the upper deck. After bidding adieu to my bicyclette and its worn tires, I made my way to our berth and slipped into a dreamless sleep. I needed the rest. In the morning our last arduous adventure would begin: two lazy days of decompressing back in gay Paris.

If you go: www.aquitaine-cruises.com

 ‘Goodbye Bordeaux’

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.

 

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Gerry Feehan

Hawaii Five-O’s by Gerry Feehan

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Standing on an active lava flow is ill-advised. But our guide Steve demonstrated the art carefully, with a brief clamber onto the quickly cooling pahoehoe.

We were on the Big Island of Hawaii. Ten of us, five couples in our fifties (the Five-Os), were sharing a charming three-floor oceanfront home in Kona. Although we spent much of our two-week stay lazily floating in a private solar-heated pool watching humpback whales breach, spinner dolphins spin and surfers hang ten, we also took time to explore the many wonders of Hawaii’s largest, youngest chunk of land.

Posing papaya enjoys the view

It is labelled the Big Island for good reason. All the other islands of the 50th state could fit easily within its landmass. Driving from Kona on the western leeward side to Hilo on the wet eastern side is a three-hour drive one-way. But that’s where the lava is and it doesn’t flow uphill. So we hopped in the rental cars and made the overland foray.

Their motto is “go with the flow” … so we did.

There are few places on earth where one can view lava freshly vented from a magma chamber, oozing inexorably toward the sea, creating new planet. The Big Island is one of those magic spots.

Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of the Volcano, is tempestuous and unpredictable. As placation she insists on an offering of gardenia, plumeria or an equally entrancing native Hawaiian blossom. So said Steve as we embarked at twilight on our trek across twenty-year-old lava toward the fresh, gurgling stuff.

There are two types of lava, each easily recognized by its remnant trail. A’a’ flows are jagged and brittle, settling in an upright, dangerous posture. Our path was over the more subtle, titanium-coloured pahoehoe lava, defined by its often ropy, luxuriant and more accessible texture. Pahoehoe wanders hot and plentiful, vented from deep in mother earth’s mantle. A’a’, pushed methodically downhill, builds like windrows graded from a winter street. I prefer pahoehoe. It’s much more forgiving if you trip and fall.

Steve and his partner Ken purchased 23 acres of oceanfront Hawaiian land a decade ago. Recent transports from Montana, they intended to milk goats on their new abode. Lava had not invaded this parcel for 5000 years. But their nanny-milking ambitions were destroyed within three months of move-in when Pele unleashed her fickle fury on their whole tract of Hawaiian soil.

So they gave up the goat and took up lava tours. Their motto is “go with the flow” … so we did. They are a knowledgeable, informative and respectful team. We dutifully followed our guides across terra incognita. Ken led. Steve took up the rear.

The group begins their twilight traverse across pahoehoe lava

Twilight in the tropics is brief. After an hour slowly meandering across the shiny titanium landscape we halted. Utter blackness had descended, but beneath us the darkness evaporated. We stood mesmerized atop newly borne earth — the fresh molten evidence under foot, like a glowing red spider-web. And to our left and right fresh molten rock slowly flowed by, like incandescent rivers.

I proffered Pele’s floral gift directly into the path of the creeping molten stone. The flower wilted and disappeared beneath the hot rock’s onslaught. Nearby a large Koa tree caught fire, exploding in light, whistling and popping like Canada Day fireworks.

The author a little too close to the lava for comfort

When Steve stepped up onto pahoehoe that, seconds earlier, had been a red-hot sinuous mass of 1100°C flowing stone, we stood back, aghast. Fortunately, Steve is light on his feet. After a moment atop the smoldering lava he hopped back to safety, the bottom of his boots smoking faintly. Goddess Pele loves to see soles burn.

Steve prepares to pose atop the cooling lava.

Headlamps illuminated for the hike out, we carefully retraced our steps through a minefield of sharp lava. In the night sky the island’s persistent vog had evaporated. The Milky Way lay crisp and clear above us. We were one with the universe. Well not actually one. But pretty darn close.

Mahalo

The beachfront house at night.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.

 

 

Vancouver Island by Gerry Feehan

 

 

 

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