• Day18

    Home

    June 23 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Well, we've been home for a few days and have settled back into some sort of routine during these strange times. We're back doing Quaker Zoom facilitating and futzing around the house. We washed the vehicles today and took the camper off of the truck as the Tundra needs servicing.

    Our truck camper is made by a company called Fourwheel Campers in Woodland, California. It was just a 14 minute detour on our way to Bolinas to drop in for a visit. We dropped in. We were able to get a first hand view of how our camper was made. Our version is now about ten years old. They've made a few improvements over the years. One was to improve the latch that holds the door open in a fixed position. We bought the replacement part and I installed it yesterday. Much better. Keeps the door from swinging around in high winds.

    Tomorrow Nancy is off to visit with her soon to be 99 year old mom through a plate glass window.

    I plan to futz around...
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  • Day15

    Cathedral Valley, Bolinas, and Home

    June 20 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    We woke in Cathedral Valley on a timeline for the first time in awhile. Sophie's 30th birthday was only two days away and we had some 1400 kilometers to cover. First we had to make it though some pretty deep sandy roads to get back on pavement. (Way to go Don). We floated through one long desolate valley after another on our way west. We went to the drive thru at the McDonald's in Ely Nevada for dinner. We camped somewhere off of highway 50 (the loneliest road in America). We crossed the Sierra Nevada around midday. By late afternoon we made it to Bolinas.

    Sophie lives with her partner Jacob at the Commonweal Conference grounds gardens. It is located within the south boundary of Point Reyes National Seashore. Since Covid started access to the Seashore and the garden is through a locked gate. We felt pretty special camping on a lower meadow in such a place.

    We spent Sophie's 30th birthday in a clearing at the gardens with a few of her friends and colleagues. It was special. We all wished Augie could have been with us, but he was at his work in South Lake Tahoe. Next morning we had coffee for Father's Day and headed home to Santa Cruz.

    I made a video composed of images from Sophie's birthdays over the years.
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/ixTnLqBi6uB7KK918
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  • Day12

    Boulder Mountain

    June 17 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 15 °C

    Next day we headed north to revisit the Burr trail and possibly scope out on the western edge of Capitol Reef. Unfortunately the smoke from the fires had blown north in that direction. We did get in a short hike up the north Muley 4 wheel drive road. Lovely wash.

    With temperatures in the high 80s, smoke, wind, and blowing sand against us we decided to head back up to altitude. We found a nice site near the Deer Lake trailhead. Next morning we made the six mile round trip hike up to the lake. We were rewarded on our descent with endless views of Redrock stretching to the distant Henry mountains.

    That afternoon we lit out for Cathedral Valley. Earlier in the trip we ran across a dentist and 4wd enthusiast who told us that the route through Cathedral was not to be missed. 'Rates a 10 out of 10 for beauty in (I didn't quite catch the name of the offroad journal he referred to).

    On our way off of Boulder mountain we passed lots of dirt roads heading to some seemingly amazing campsites. Next time.

    Cathedral Valley road runs north/south along the Capitol Reef north of Rt. 22. It tucks in and out of the national monument. Mary informed us that anywhere outside of the park boundary was fair game for camping. Along the way we passed some remarkable features.

    We camped for the night next to a 100 foot red rock striated wall. As it was a new moon Nancy and I woke in the middle of the night to see the stars. We lay in our reclining camp chairs and just took it all in.
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  • Day10

    Cottonwood Canyon and Willis Creek Slot

    June 15 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    We next headed to the Cottonwood Canyon road. A 40 mile dirt trail between highway 89 in the south and Kodachrome Basin in the north. Nancy and I once rode this rough, dusty trail on motorcycles. We'd always wanted to return to camp and explore. We found it to be less than compelling for overnighting. We did get in a nice loop hike up a narrow wash before heading up to a ridge overlooking Bryce Canyon Head to the west and Kodachrome Basin to the east.

    We spent a couple of nights camping at this beautiful albeit buggy site. I've included a video. We also were able to take the 8 mile down and back Willis Creek slot canyon hike. The canyon goes through five distinct slots widening to areas of sunshine and tall cliffs in between.
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  • Day7

    Changing Plans With Don, Mary, and Luna

    June 12 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 34 °C

    We met up with our friends in Kanab on the morning of the 12th. Our plans to visit the North Rim were looking less and less feasible due to the growing forest fire on the Kaibab Plateau. We decided to attempt to skirt the fire to the east and perhaps salvage a visit to the Grand Canyon after all.

    Our route took us on another 40 mile deeply rutted dirt road between routes 89 and 89a. We made it just past the trail head to Buckskin Gulch and The famous Wave when the rig got a flat tire. Lots of fiddling and a bit of frustration followed. Turns out the spare tire is accessed with the use of a special key to prevent theft. Fortunately Don's rig uses the same spare so we were able to get moving all the way to the Big O Tire company in Page Arizona. They sold us a Ling Long brand tire to replace the damaged Michelin and explained the special key to us. Soon we were on our way. We passed over the Glen Canyon dam and picnicked at the shore of Reservoir Powell. The Chinese brand tire runs as smooth as the French brand tire. For someone who could smell the tire factories in Akron each morning that's saying something.

    The evening found us back in Cottonwood Canyon on a pleasant hike to some great geological features. Once again the bugs were ferocious. Three of us ended up with rings of bug bites around our socklines.

    By late afternoon we'd gassed up in Escalante and headed to higher altitudes up toward Hell's Backbone. We camped at the State run Blue Spruce campground. Six sites along a lovely creek.

    Next day we hiked about three miles down the creek into a box canyon. Lots of bouldering and ten to twelve creek crossings. Luna was a trooper. Not what you'd call a water dog though, as she was carried across the creek each time.
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  • Day4

    Mojave to Kanab

    June 9 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    We packed up the rig and headed out into the Central Valley of California. It was smooth sailing to our first night near the summit and Sherman Pass. The pass is little traveled and had never been traveled by either of us. It is the highest navigable pass over the Sierra at 9,500 feet. The road was two or single lane all of the way.

    Next morning we descended to a T intersection at highway 395. 395 snakes up the beautiful and stark eastern side of the range. At this point we took a few minutes to decide our route, left turn to Death Valley or right turn to the Granite Mountains in the Mojave Desert. We turned right and were fortunate to find our favorite primitive campsite unoccupied. We spent two nights there. Took a few long hikes and witnessed two lovely sunsets.

    We then drove on through Las Vegas twice due to a 40 mile turn around to retrieve an errant gas cap. Starbucks was involved and Nancy bought me a frozen coffee drink to make up for all the backtracking.

    As we approached Kanab we saw smoke rising from the distant Kaibab Plateau. A forest fire was just starting. Unfortunately it was right in the notch that we needed to drive for our approach to our planned camping site on the North Rim.

    Bummer. We instead headed toward the Paria River and camped on its banks in a remote site. The area had been an old settlement but now was just an old ghost town. Most of the ruins had been washed away in some flash flooding in the late 80s. A movie set where they filmed quite a few westerns was washed away as well. The Sinatra Brat Pack and Clint Eastwood were the biggest names to have filmed there.
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  • Day1

    Springtime During a Pandemic

    June 6 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Nancy and I have weathered this Covid induced quarantine quite well. We spent the first month unraveling our planned trip for April and May to visit friends and cycle in the Netherlands and Flanders. We were refunded for all save an overnight in Paris at a swank hotel just up the street from one of the finest patisseries in Paris. C'est la vie! If anyone needs a voucher for a night's stay in Paris sometime in the next 6 months please let us know.

    Nancy spent her days finishing the third book of her mystery series. It is due to be published in October. She also managed to volunteer for a new effort to combat climate change through targeted bio engineering. Hans successfully completed his recovery from knee surgery last autumn and baked sourdough loaves every few days. Augie was furloughed and spent his time shopping for us and rescuing his friend Klugerman in Colorado from an aborted trip East. Nancy and I also served our Friend's meeting as Zoom facilitators and Nominating committee members.

    By the middle of May we did start to go a little stir crazy. We knew it was time to hit the road and do some social (and Zoom meeting) separation in Southern Utah. We made plans to rendezvous with friends Don and Mary in Kanab, the center of red rock universe, and head to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
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  • Day39

    Hanoi to Home

    November 1, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Over a week ago now, we headed south from Cao Bang -- Don on his sturdy Honda 110 and Hans and I by taxi. We passed him on the road!

    Hans and I arrived in Hanoi on Thursday evening (24th), and spent most of the day Friday at one of Hanoi’s international hospitals. Turns out that Hans completely tore his quadriceps tendon, an injury that requires surgery -- the sooner the better. We spent Friday night figuring how to get Hans back home ASAP, talking to insurance, our doctor, the airlines, the credit card company...basically, anyone who could help figure our way through this. Hans ended up flying home on Saturday (26th) in business class. He had a Fit-to-Fly letter from the doctor, authorizing business class and wheelchair assistance. In Taipei, he received special treatment: transport between terminals in a cargo truck.

    Don arrived in Hanoi just a few hours before Hans left for the airport. He had motorbiked south from Cao Bang to Ba Be National Park. His homestay, right on the 8km long Ba Be Lake, was down a muddy potholed jungly 5 km dirt road. He reported it as very peaceful. The next night he ended up at a homestay a few hours north of Hanoi, where he used Google translate to communicate with the owner’s parents.

    Once Hans left, Don and I hit the sightseeing hard. (I felt a bit guilty, but knew that Hans would be in good hands with our son back at home.) We visited the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, a must-see if you ever go to Hanoi. It’s four floors of exhibits, all devoted to women in Vietnamese society: family, military, history, traditions, fashion, culture. The short video at the entrance is worth the price of admission. It focused on street vendors, the thousands of women selling everything from vegetables to flowers to household goods to feather dusters and toys. You see them on bicycles or scooters, or walking with heavy baskets dangling from a pole across their shoulders. We learned that the majority of these women are in Hanoi not by choice but by circumstance. There is not enough work in their home village to support their families, so they head to the city, visiting home as time allows. Life is hard: arriving at the market at 2 in the morning to buy vegetables, selling all day, returning to their boarding house at 7 or 8, only to do it again the next day.

    We also visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex, the Hoa Lo Prison Museum (aka Hanoi Hilton), the night market, the day market, the train street, the Temple of Literature, and the Imperial City. We ended up on a free walking tour, where we saw monuments, fountains, the cathedral, the Opera House, and were taken to a small upstairs cafe for the best egg coffee in Hanoi. (Hint: an eggnog like custard on top of a very strong espresso.) On our last morning, I got up early to walk the perimeter of Hoàn Kiếm Lake near the hotel to see the incredible variety of people exercising: stretching, dancing, jogging, bicycling, playing badminton, or lifting weights. Impressive. On his early morning walk, Don also took some videos.

    Exercisers 1: https://photos.app.goo.gl/qWuczBLiikvKD4zi9
    Exercisers 2: https://photos.app.goo.gl/GdjiLym9GGRERb2W8
    Exercisers 3: https://photos.app.goo.gl/QnfLFzpbSRfRQk967

    A few highlights from our sightseeing blast:

    Train Street: Wow, it is really cool. The iconic part of Train Street, where the train curves around a bend, is closed to tourists. Too many Instagrammers -- I guess the street was overrun. Guards now sit at street crossings, preventing tourists from wandering across the tracks. We walked up, took a look, and Don offered a sticker to a little girl in a red sweater. Her grandma then walked over to us, showed us a piece of paper with 17:30 written on it. The train was due in an hour. We decided to walk around and come back. But closer to the railway station, we found a few blocks along the tracks still open to tourists, with several cafes for the weary wanderers. We parked ourselves at the Rail Way Cafe to wait. The train roared through pretty much on time, and it was a surprise. It really is dangerous! The train whizzes by at a fast clip, not two feet from where all the tourists were standing. Definitely a highlight. Don took a video:
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/F6iq28tAWmDmrNp4A

    The market: We wandered through the four story market, filled with fabric; souvenirs (where we loaded up on trinkets); shoes, shoes, and more shoes; tailors; food stores; and veggie stalls. Very colorful, and somewhat organized. We discovered the next market, with stalls and stalls of dried fish and shrimp; nuts; food stuffs; noodles. Outside, in a small alley, we happened upon the ‘live animal’ section. Cages and cages of song birds, soft-shelled turtles, snails, and carp swimming in tubs. A bit much for our western sensibilities. We didn’t take any pictures.

    The Ho Chi Minh Complex: We decided to brave the lines and see Ho Chi Minh lying in state. We arrived early, and were delighted to see the line moving along at a fast clip. We had to surrender our bags at the security gate, but were allowed to bring our phones and small camera. We followed the line until we reached the large plaza, Ba Dihn Square, in front of the crypt itself. It’s a massive building, guarded by a military honor guard. Each soldier stands stiffly, and is completely dressed in white: pants, shirt, gloves, shoes, hat. ‘President Ho Chi Minh’ is inscribed on the outside of the building, and the slogan written inside the portico reads: ‘Nothing is more valuable than independence and freedom.’ Ho Chi Minh’s signature is in gold plate. You file in, two by two, up the stairs, into the cool, dim interior. The body lies in a glass coffin. No pictures or talking allowed. No hats or hands in pockets. You walk through at a slow but steady pace. It’s long enough to get a good look at Uncle Ho. Once outside, the route takes you through the rest of the complex: past the simple building where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked; past the Presidential Palace, where Ho Chi Minh decided not to live because it was too ornate; past the garage storing cars that ferried him to and from events; past the famous Stilt House, which reminded Uncle Ho the simple rural life; past the One Pillar Pagoda. It’s quite a huge complex for a man who didn’t want to be honored in this way. In his will, he specified that his ashes were to be scattered in the North and the South.

    Ho Lao Prison: The infamous Hanoi Hilton we heard so much about during the Vietnam War. The prison where John McCain was held. Most of the exhibits focused on the French history; how the French tore down a village of potters to build the prison, and them brutally imprisoned male and female members of the resistance. A smaller section was devoted to the American War of Imperialism, with displays on the anti-war movement across the world. One part of the exhibit was a tribute to ‘Living Torches’: Men and women who immolated themselves to protest the war in Vietnam. A few panels were devoted to Norman Morrison, a Quaker who immolated himself in front of the Pentagon in 1965.

    We ate a few wonderful meals, walked upwards of five miles each day, and talked about getting back home.

    And here we are! I'm getting back in the swing of things while helping Hans recover from surgery. We’ll be home for a while, so let us know if you get to this part of the country. We’d love to see you.

    Nancy
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  • Day30

    Ban Gioc Waterfall

    October 23, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌧 24 °C

    After two days riding, Don and I met up with Hans in the eastern city of Cao Bang. It's a fairly large city and is the provincal capital. It's located in the middle of the province, on the banks of the Bang Giang River. The ride from Meo Vac to Cao Bang was fairly easy, after Don and I sorted out our route. We left Meo Vac and drove in completely the wrong direction, on a twisty mountain pot-holed road, in a heavy drizzle, for a good 15 km before figuring out our mistake! Hans could see us on the map (thanks to Google location sharing), and texted and called, trying in vain to reach us. Oops. Well, an hour later we were finally heading in the right direction.

    Our ride took us on a lovely, wide, well-banked and well-maintained road. We headed up and over a high pass, shrouded in mist, dropped to a river valley, and then went up and over several more passes until the air became tropical, where we stopped to take off a layer. We drove through villages and construction sites, slowed for kids getting out of school, and water buffalo crossing the road. At a coffee stop on our second day, we happened upon a praying mantis that was at least 8 or 10 inches long. It was just sitting on the concrete floor of the open air cafe. I desperately didn't want anyone to step on it, but just as desperately didn't want to touch it. So I kept my eye on it and shooed away the dogs that were very curious about it. Just as we were leaving, as I clapped my hands at the dogs and shooed them off, a local woman walked by and I pointed to it. She was wearing a traditional dress we hadn't seen before -- a white headscarf, slacks, white blouse. She reached down and plucked it off the ground, holding it fairly gently right behind its head. The praying mantis was fluttering its huge wings and waving its 8 legs. It was almost clacking. She held it up to me; I shook my head and started laughing. She started laughing and tried to put it on my shoulder, but I shrieked. The woman's friend and everyone else in the cafe started laughing as well. Howling! I could only imagine what they were thinking: how could this person be afraid of bugs? She then tossed the praying mantis in the air, it fluttered off, and we both continued to laugh.

    Anyway, the waterfall. The Ban Gioc waterfall is one of the world's wonders. It's river marks the border with China and is about 80 km north of Cao Bang. It consists of two waterfalls on the Quay Son River. The water drops 98 feet and is separated into multiple falls by the topography: rocks and trees. The ground all around is wet, and it feels like it's raining (in addition to the actual rain)! And it's thunderously loud.

    Standing on the Vietnamese side we saw tour boats circling one another as they made their way up to the base of the falls. Upon reaching shore Hans immediately said, 'Let's go!' and hobbled down the gang plank to the next boat out. It was great fun. We sat right up front and were often within arm's reach of the people on the Chinese sister boats. Our boat made it right to the base of the falls and we all got damp in the mist. As our boat swung back around it came within three meters of the Chinese shoreline. Don and I wanted to jump ship to see what might happen, but Hans' voice of reason called us back.

    Once back on land, we helped Hans get settled at a cafe, then wandered through the stalls looking for gift-y things. No go, but we had a good time shopping and playing with the cutest puppies ever. Once the rain lifted, we walked back out to the waterfalls to admire the cascades.

    And little did I know, my days as a regular run-of-the-mill tourist were just about to end. I was approached by a woman in a bright red Vietnam t-shirt, with a yellow star on the front, and 'Love Vietnam' on the back in yellow script. She was waving her phone, and beckoned me up to a monument marking the border. At first, I thought she wanted me to take her picture. But, no. She wanted me to be in her selfie. Within minutes, a dozen of her friends, all wearing identical t-shirts, were posing with me. Then group shots! I am going to be all over Instagram and social media, I just know it.

    After a stop at a Bhuddist temple overlook, and a stop at the border (where we almostblost Don!) we lingered over a looong lunch. On our way back to Cao Bang, we stopped at a small village, famous for its knife making and other forging skills.

    Definitely a highlight day. I didn't even know it was on my bucket list, but it was definitely one of those places. I loved waving to the Chinese tourists, and also seeing the joy of the Vietnamese tourists. People love their country here, and are so proud of its beauty. And they seem to embrace tourists.

    It's a wonderful place to travel.

    Nancy
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  • Day27

    Exploring Meo Vac

    October 20, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    This is our fourth day in Meo Vac, the northern city that is not far from the Chinese border. It is surrounded by steep mountains, and is at the bottom of the Mai Pi Leng Pass. The pass is a 22 km stretch of winding road known as the Happiness Road. It took 11 months to build and was completed in 1950 by ethnic minority and Vietnamese youth. The Youth Monument, a colossal statue built on the side of the road commemorates the effort. The pass is almost 5000 feet high and looks down into the turquoise water of the Nho Que river.

    Hans took a spill a few days ago and rested up while Don and I explored. Don has been eager to get as close to the Chinese border as possible, so we were delighted to discover the road to China. It split off from the Happiness Road and switched back down to the river in tight curves. We crossed the river and followed the road as it rose steeply and steadily up and up, over another pass and another. As soon as we crossed the river, however, the macadam dissolved, replaced by stones and mud. I followed Don as he carefully and impressively picked his way through the dirt. Up and up and up. 

    But China was not to be. About 6 km from the border, we hit a small guard house and 2 representatives of the Vietnamese military. Just one look at us, a shake of the head, a hand gesture indicating 'turn around now' was all it took. I did pause and ask if I could take a photo, but another firm shake of the head told me that we should get out of there fast, before they asked for papers.

    We were able to enjoy our ride down a bit more, stopping to admire the river, at least 1000 feet below us, waving to the kids walking home from school, gawking at the villages, and gasping at the spectacular scenery.

    Before heading back to Meo Vac, we decided to ride up to the Mai Pi Leng Pass. The road hugs the limestone cliffs, with sudden and severe several thousand foot drops off to the right, so as a driver, you really have to be on your toes. The view is absolutely stunning, into Vietnam's narrowest river canyon, so we made sure to stop plenty of times.

    There is a path called the Sky Path that leads into the many small villages above the road, so we found the start of it, and promised to return the following day. It lead up from the road, into the green mountains. Definitely worth the effort.

    It was legendary. The path runs somewhat parallel to the road, but in some places is at least 1000 feet above the road. I think we did see all the way into China. Part of the road is scooter-able, part is a pedestrian path only (though I'm sure that at least one hapless tourist thought it might be a good idea to try it). The trail took us up and over several passes to small villages where laughing children ran away from us, hiding. We saw rural life in sharp relief. Parents working in the fields, teens doing reluctant chores, phone in hand, and the smaller kids minding the goats and cattle. Amazingly, we did not run across any other tourists walking on the path. The entire hike took about three hours, truly magical.

    I'd like to pause for a minute here just to comment on the riding skills I saw first hand on this extremely narrow path with steep drop-offs and sharp turns and a descent angle of at least 10 percent. First off there's usually more than one person in the scooter. A family with a bunch of kids, teens, a couple. Second off, there's usually some load as well. A bag of cement, an enormous bundle of firewood, building materials, bags of this and that, propane cannisters. You get the picture -- overloaded. And finally, the drivers are coasting, gliding down the mountain as if they're on skis. When they reach the up slope, they coast along until the bike slows, then pop it into gear, and take off.  It's truly impressive to see.

    The pedestrian part of the path led us along the base of the white cliffs. We happened upon four goats, bells around their necks tinkling. A girl passed us, in traditional Hmong dress of a brightly colored heavy swishy skirt, leggings, plastic sandals, and a blouse. She carried a small bouquet of daisies she'd picked and looked as surprised to see us as we were to see her. The trail took us down hundreds of steps, through another small village and past kitchen gardens of lettuce and corn, back to the road, where we picked up our scooter.

    Epic.

    Now, we're on our way east, heading to Cao Bang, to see the waterfall on the Chinese border and Ho Chi Mihn's cave. Hans will come by car. My last day of riding is tomorrow, as I'll ship my bike back to Hanoi and head back to Hanoi by car with Hans. He's off to get his knee checked out by a doctor.

    Until next time!
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