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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Day 2: Boise ID to West Valley City UT

One reason for choosing Boise as a stopover was that Beth had spent June to November 2002 living and working here as a Student Engineering Intern at Hewlett Packard.
 

We visited the apartment complex where Beth rented a one-bedroom apartment, living in minimalist conditions with a camping chair, airbed and folding bookcase as almost her only comforts, as she didn't want to spend money on furniture she couldn't take away with her. During this period Beth spent many evenings practising Irish tunes on her tin whistles, and learnt that she didn't really enjoy being an Engineer, but did enjoy Irish music and wanted to develop her skills and knowledge in that area, which led indirectly to a visit to Miltown Malbay in Ireland in July 2003. The project she worked on for six months was cancelled just before she finished her internship and all her work was effectively scrapped. Had things worked out differently Beth might have ended up living in Boise, but I'm glad she didn't or we would never have met.


Leaving Boise we drove on through scrubby wilderness much like Eastern Oregon. We spotted this sign for the Old Oregon Trail, one of the trails that the early pioneers had followed to reach Oregon and the lush farmland of the Willamette Valley. The trail led through Boise, so we had unwittingly been backtracking on the trail.


At Glenns Ferry we tried to find the Oregon Trail History Center, which was signposted off our main road, the I-84. Unfortunately the signs were so infrequent that we couldn't find it, and gave up in frustration. This picture is the river near Three Islands Crossing, an important point on the trail because the Snake River (which we had been following and crossing all day) was very difficult to ford, but here at Three Islands Crossing the main channel was split and made fording possible, though never easy, as you can read at the following link. http://www.isu.edu/~trinmich/3Island.html    Eventually a Ferry was set up, hence the town's name, and later the railway came through town, making the river crossing unnecessary.


Further East but still in Idaho, the evidence of agriculture was more visible, in the large number of irrigation systems alongside the road. Behind the 197 mile marker you can see the wheel and pipes of one such system, watering a field of potatoes, the famous crop of Idaho. Mile markers count up or down from the point a road crosses the state line, so I know that at this point we were 197 miles across Idaho from the West on I-84. In the distance is a range of mountains which had been paralleling our route all day. Almost anywhere in the western states you will be in sight of mountains, a great way to orient yourself, but an impediment to travel. Our starting point of Eugene is 300-500 feet above sea level, but after leaving the Willamette Valley we were between 3000 and 7000 feet elevation.


Just across the Utah border we paused at a rest stop to freshen up, stretch, and change drivers. This view is looking north towards the mountains, and the great salt lake is opening up to the south. Rest stops in the US are quite unlike motorway services in the UK. There are restrooms and water fountains, shaded benches for picnics, information boards, and usually nothing else. There is no attempt to fleece the traveller by charging $7.50 for a cup of coffee and a danish, or to sell them cheap tat at an ambitious mark-up. This stop was unusual in having a manned tourist information shop because it is next to a state border, but only twice on all our rest stops was a manned tourist shop, both times in Utah and near the state border.


Around 5pm we arrived at our friend Sara's house in Ogden, and after some gardening tips and chat we were treated to a wonderful lasagna supper before we had to move on. Sara has two boys and a girl, but the girl fell asleep over supper (we are very exciting and tiring visitors) and missed the parting group shot.  Sara and Beth became good friends during Beth's time living in Idaho and Utah, and the eldest boy Jordyn remembered Beth from previous visits.


We drove on the few miles to West Valley City to stay with our friends the Hellewells, of whom I will tell more next time.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Roadtrip Day 1: Eugene OR to Boise ID

Beth and I have just returned from a week's roadtrip covering 2,500 miles and six states. The main purpose of the trip, apart from just seeing part of the country, was to meet up with several friends whom we haven't seen for years.


After driving North on the I-5 we headed East across the Cascade Mountain range through the Santiam pass. The higher McKenzie pass to the South is a shorter route, but closed November-July due to snow. This is Mount Washington, which lies between the two passes.


Either pass takes the traveller to the town of Sisters, where we stopped to refuel and have a break. This is Ray's Food Place, a big foodstore made up to look like a Wild West town. When we drove on, we discovered that the whole town follows the same theme. Good for tourism, but one might get a tad tired of living in town that looks like a film set. 


After passing on through Bend, a popular seasonal ski resort, we drove across the Oregon high desert, still on route 20. The desert isn't pure sand but it's bleak enough, with very few signs of man more than a few yards either side of the thin tarmac ribbon stretching ahead of us. There are a few scattered farms and houses, but not much evidence of either crops or domesticated beasts. The town names of Burns and Prairie City give an indication of the remoteness and potential heat.


Later in the day but still in Oregon, we spotted this rock formation and stopped to take a closer look. The fence in the foreground suggests some human cultivation, or is it just there to catch tumbleweeds? During our travels we often saw fences like these running parallel to the road and maybe 20 yards away, but rarely did they appear to be fencing animals in or out, as they would in the UK.


About 6pm, having lost an hour changing from Pacific to Mountain time while still in Oregon, we crossed the Oregon-Idaho state border. Soon afterwards we arrived in Boise and located our pre-booked Motel for the night. We had a small adventure over missing car keys (I had left them in the bathroom in our Motel room), and ate at a diner nearby. Denny's are not the world's greatest diner, with quite a limited menu, but are open 24 hours a day and relatively cheap. They also have a good record on food health and safety, according to Wikipedia. 

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Hummingbird

About 7:30am on 16th June we saw our first Oregonian hummingbird in the garden. Beth spotted it first, and was able to get a few photos at long range through the kitchen window. We watched its antics for about ten minutes. I've seen hummingbirds before in Vermont, but these are our very own West Coast version, and infinitely superior thereby.


It takes a lot of energy to hover like this, but a diet of pure liquid sugar, similar to that of many Americans, provides the necessary fuel. The difference is that these birds burn it off, while the ground-creaking Americanus Obeseius, about 1/3rd of the current population, stores it for use in causing diabetes and heart attacks. 


In repose this tiny bird was not very noticeable, and apart from the long beak was rather dull to look at. The two commonest species in Oregon are Anna's Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird. I think this was the latter, but not in full color plumage, possibly a juvenile or female.


Briefly it hung around the willow in the creek, and here's a photo for size comparison. The other bird is a Song Sparrow, of which there are over 30 recognised subspecies. A hummingbird weighs about the same as three small paperclips. 



Ghost wanted to get more involved, but the bird was sensibly staying at the tops of the trees. The action of the hummingbird closely mimicked his favorite toy, a bundle of feathers tied to a stick with a length of elastic.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

My last three days without Beth went a bit quicker than the first two, since I had the distraction of long work days. I had dreaded turning up for work with my arm in a sling, but by the time my first shift started it had improved enough not to wear the sling at all. My shoulder actually loosened up during my shift, and as I was handling only light boxes of candy throughout it was almost as good as physiotherapy.

My third shift seemed to last forever, as I knew at the end of it that I'd get a text from Beth saying she had landed, and I'd immediately clock out and drive to pick her up from the airport. The text came at 10:28pm, and off I drove.

Compared to Heathrow, JFK, Seattle-Tacoma, or even Dublin Airport, Eugene Airport is like a child's toy, and considerately placed a few miles northwest of the city centre surrounded by fields, so we hardly ever hear an airplane despite being living 3 to 4 miles due east of  the airport. Beth was waiting at the main door, one of two passengers being collected (I'm sure there were others but I didn't see them), and after many hugs we set off home.

Our route took us over two sets of train tracks that pass through Eugene and curve North towards Junction  City, but happily no trains were running so we were not held up at the level crossings. Trains are a mixed blessing and curse for the city of Eugene. They help keep the city prosperous and provisioned (our own shipping arrived by train), but the drivers enjoy blasting their whistles late at night, and there is hardly a quarter of the city where they can't be heard. We heard them when we stayed Downtown at the Broadway Motel last Summer, we heard them at the Heron Meadows Apartments through the Winter, and we hear them here in Santa Clara. With no traffic noise and no aircraft noise to compete with, they are the loudest disturbers of the peace, though one that can be pleasant to hear when the drivers are not signalling to each other in morse code.

And so home. Beth was exhausted after a day travelling, and had never quite caught up on her jetlag in DC before flying back again, so we chatted only briefly before snuggling into bed.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Home Alone

Beth's been away for a couple of days, and they happened to coincide with my "weekend", so I've had plenty of time alone in the house, though I still have the cats. Ghost in particular seems to have made it his business to hang around and keep under my feet.

First job yesterday was to take my Mazda to Oil Can Henry's for a service. I've never had a car long enough to bother servicing before, but it was quick and easy, and relatively cheap, to get a full 20 point service and change of power steering fluid. Just across from OCH is WinCo, one of the discount food stores in Eugene, so I dropped in there and stocked up on various goodies and foods. Beth and I share some foods and buy separately for others, as we often have to eat at different times, and have different tastes.

In the early evening I decided to go to Fred Meyer's gas station to refuel, as it's the cheapest in town with 10 cents a gallon discount if we spend enough in the store each month (and 3c just for having a discount card). I had a small bottle of fuel additive from OCH which is supposed to clean the engine and increase mileage, and I held out the bottle in my left hand for the attendant (in Oregon people pump the gas for you), along with my Fred Meyer card and debit card. Ping! Something gave in my upper arm, and I was gasping in pain. Ouch, Ouchy ouch. Ow. Ow ow OW that smarts.

As soon as I was finished at the pump I parked and got out to examine my arm and assess the damage. Zing, twang, various angles would send shooting pains through my bicep and shoulder - the symptoms felt like (what I consider to be) a trapped nerve, probably from the awkward angle I'd had my arm in when holding the bottle and cards. Odd, I've been lumping huge loads around at Wal*Mart, dragging pallets of water and Fun-Pops around, and I twing my arm holding a 10 ounce bottle.

I took a walk around inside Fred Meyer, trying to work my shoulder and arm to see if the pain would ease, while trying not to bring tears of pain to my eyes and look a complete wuss in public. Eventually I returned to the car and drove home more or less one-handed. By the time I got home the pain was no longer constant with sharp spikes, but would start up with any movement of my left arm, so I tried not to move it much. I watched some recorded shows, made a spagetti bolognese, all one-handed, and sat with the cats until bed time, when I had a hot shower to try to loosen my shoulder muscles and went to bed.

The next morning my arm was still painful, though slightly less so, but I decided to get an arm sling to rest my arm as much as possible during my "Sunday". I checked online for drug stores, and at 8am drove to RiteAid to get a $10 sling. I used it for a couple of hours but was dissatisfied with the fit (it pulled against my neck painfully) so I went back and changed it for the more expensive $30 option. That felt better, at least now the pain was shared between my arm and my wallet.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Oregon Rain

We've had a lot of rain recently, though only enough to bring the Willamette Valley back to the average after a dry start to the year. Some of the garden plants have benefitted greatly, especially the grape vines, but sadly many of Beth transplanted seedlings have been munched by moisture-loving slugs and snails in the dead of night, despite several dozen such invertebrates having had a brief but exciting aerial view of the creek. Most of the rain falls overnight so it doesn't bother us in the least, and with so much space to enjoy and so many things to do within, we actually enjoy the cosy sound of rain pattering without.

Some of our trees demonstrate the benefit of all the rain and fresh air too, with many species of lichen coating their branches as living proof of how clean the air is here. In London if you left a white sheet out in the rain it would come back in with black spots of crud spattered all over, and commuting on the tube every day would cause black gunk to build up inside one's nostrils, to be snortled out in to a hanky or tissue when the resultant tickle grew unbearable.

With all this fresh air available, I cannot understand why some people need to buy air fresheners and electrically-powered room-scenting gadgets, with odours entitiled "Hawaiian Breeze" or "Moroccan Carnival". I've patented a fragance which I have dubbed "Oregon Rain", and which can be acquired at various windows and doors throughout our house at minimal cost. If you would like some, just mail me an empty jar, return postage prepaid, wrapped in a ten dollar bill.



In the wee small hours tomorrow I'll be driving Beth to Eugene Airport; she is flying to Washington DC for five days to attend her paternal Grandmother's funeral. It'll be the first time we've been apart for over a year, when I took a ten day cross-channel jaunt to Normandy to visit the museums and the sites of the Normandy landings, and eat some overpriced French sea snails (which gave me food poisoning).

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