Wednesday, September 24, 2014

cheeseskipping is moving to Wordpress

I'm moving this blog to Wordpress for now. If for no other reason than the editing app is allowing me to center my photos.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

loop de loop

Despite my affinity for driving, especially long-distance, there are two types of junctions that cause me some degree of apprehension - unprotected left turns, and roundabouts. I think the apprehension about roundabouts simply comes from the fact that there don't seem to be too many in the United States, at least not in my patch of ground, therefore I have limited experience navigating them. I did get a roundabout crash-course during my trips to Iceland; unlike an unprotected left, they are impossible to avoid by simply taking the long way around the block, and after the first ten or so, I realized they weren't all that scary.

However, I can say that I was really happy to not be the one behind the wheel going though the magic roundabout in Hemel Hempstead, which is six roundabouts feeding either out and away, or into each other.

This experience prompted me to do a spot of research on roundabouts, and why they are better at controlling the flow of traffic than intersections with lights. One of the arguments seems to be that, because traffic is forced to slow to a crawl, collisions causing serious damage are rare. I do see the sense in this, since high-speed broadside collisions in traditional intersections are not only common, but can have devastating results. But navigating one of this nature, including understanding the right-of-way rules once inside, wasn't terribly intuitive, and it wasn't just me. When I expressed some confusion on how exactly one gets from one side to the other, my British friend who was driving declared that she was just going to follow the car in front of us, hoping it would get us to the correct exit. Which, thankfully, it did, and we weren't doomed to hours of driving in one slow circle after another until we managed to break free of the traffic vortex.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

a tiny touring machine

I'm home now. After crossing back into Washington, I took state highway 20 east over the Cascades to catch Highway 97, where oppressive temperatures approaching Hell's Furnace and hazy air from wildfires made me not want to stop anywhere for long, least of all to blog. After Crater Lake, I worked my way down to Weaverville, then west along 36 until I once again reached Highway 101 on the California coast.

I was going to do a little write-up of the scooter en route, but that obviously didn't happen. Still, it's worth a few words to review its capacity as a touring machine. It's a 2009 Aprilia SportCity 250 that I picked up off craigslist, second-hand but virtually brand new. It had only 228 miles on it when I bought it, and I put on another 500 around town before leaving on this trip. According to my odometer, I covered 5350 miles. That seems a little suspect to me, but I wasn't carrying a GPS, so have no other means of measurement.

The Good
~80 miles a gallon.
No mechanical problems whatsoever. I took it in for a minor service when I reached Victoria, to make sure all was in tiptop shape for the return trip. The last note of the completed checklist read: Test Ride - Good Ride!!
So that's only two items in the Good column, but when it comes to motor vehicles, it doesn't really get much better than that.

The Could Be Better When Used For Touring
A sidestand, more under-seat storage, and possibly a windshield would all have been nice.
The dashboard is poorly designed, and is illegible under certain circumstances. Admittedly, my farsightedness is partially at fault here, but a font and color scheme that is small, light gray numbers on a dark gray background is just crappy design.
The second odometer only goes up to 999.9 before resetting to zero. I don't know if this means that Aprilia didn't anticipate riders taking this for 1000+ mile trips.
And the kicker - the gas cap is located under the seat. This meant that every time I gassed up, I had to unbungee four bungee cords and unload my luggage from the back seat. Motorcycle-specific luggage instead of a backpack would no doubt have helped, but still, would have been nice to not deal with luggage at all until the end of the day.

I dare say this little scooter held up better than I did on some days. Whether I was tired, hungry, kinda lost, a little frustrated, white knuckling through windy and rainy stretches, try to pass or being passed by big rigs on the highway, it always got me somewhere safe at the end of the day.

There are two items I wish I had taken on this trip - a helmet cam, and a gel seat. Lessons for next time.

Friday, July 11, 2014

bearish, Canada version

America's Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and US 101 all rank high in the Stunning Scenery category. Gobs of people visit for good reason, I feel lucky to have seen a good chunk of it with my vision impeded by nothing more than a bug-spattered visor. But as I gazed over the wondrous west coast of Vancouver Island from Tofino's South Beach, the hot pebbles scorching the bottom of my feet, I couldn't help but realize that I've reached my limit on the Appreciation of Nature. It's like eating your favorite meal twice daily for three weeks straight; it ceases being delicious, and simply becomes fuel. I'm pretty close to my planned turnaround point anyways (Campbell River), and I'm looking forward to seeing the Cascades and Crater Lake on the way home, but stopping to take little beach and forest hikes is done. I was actively thinking this thought as I headed back down the 800 meter path to the Visitor Center when someone on the path in front of me told me there was a bear directly ahead. Nature always has an ace up her sleeve.

There was indeed a bear right off the path. Two bears, mama and baby, and a real baby this time. On the way to the beach I had seen some scat on the boardwalk and thought, Wonder if that came from a bear, and kept going. That'll teach me to ignore the signs. I'd probably be toast in no time had I lived in frontier times. Little clogs of tourists were backing up on either side of where the bears were. I hung out with a friendly family from Holland, who had an absolutely petrified red-headed kid. I tried to cheer her up - "It's wild America!" (I forgot we were in Canada) - and let her use my binoculars, but she was so terrified that she was in tears. The bears had scaled a tree right next to the boardwalk, maybe two stories up, and were just sitting there, but the scene on the ground with the humans was becoming a bit of a circus. I wanted to get away, and I'm sure the bears wanted everyone to leave as well. Eventually I joined forced with the Dutch and we walked past. On my way past I flicked a glance up and Mama Bear was looking straight down on the boardwalk. If I had realized she was that close, I probably wouldn't have walked past. In retrospect, it was a dumb thing to do. She was huge. But check out how colossally stupid people are. I passed a guy with a fancy zoom lens. This was the conversation.

Me: I bet you can get a really good picture with that.
Him: But you can't see anything from here.
Me: If you walk fifty feet up, Mama Bear is staring straight down.
Him: Oh, really? (Starts walking forward)
Me: Ummm...

Jesus people. There are signs all over the entire area with advice on what do to when faced with a bear (or wolf, or cougar), and take their picture isn't on the list. It was truly a buffet down there. Lots of little kids, and one dude who claimed to live near bears stood right under the tree to take photos. I went back to the visitor center to make sure a warden was on the way, and continued to the Bog loop hike to search for ferocious carnivores of a different kind, miniature sundews.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Oh Canada! On the 4th of July

On the 4th of July I caught the ferry from Port Angeles, WA to Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC. I arrived at the port extra early for two reasons; firstly to escape the, what I can only describe as a clan with no collective clue on campground etiquette and the concept of quiet time, who overtook two pitches next to me at 10pm the preceding night in Elwah Valley. They are all going to burn in hell. Nothing fills me with dread more than the sight of a gang of small children on a campground. It never adds up to any good. Secondly, I didn't have a ferry reservation. So I had a couple of hours to kick around Port Angeles. My healthy breakfast of instant oatmeal and a grapefruit having long worn off, I went to Safeway for something cheap. Since the something cheap turned out to be two donuts for $1, I'm not really in a position to judge the purchase of the woman in front of me, but here it is anyways. Remember, it's Independence Day.

one dozen donuts
a case of Coors
a bottle of Jaegermeister
a pack of paper plates
a bottle of Tums
a bag of baby carrots

America knows how to celebrate! Although the baby carrots confound me. I can only assume there's a pet bunny at home.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Nutty Narrows

I always appreciate an oddball attraction, and Longview, WA delivers with Nutty Narrows - perhaps the world's only squirrel bridge, rigged high between two trees, and allowing safe passage over Olympia Way for the small and furry. Unfortunately, it was not in use when I was there. I rode back to Longview all the way from Castle Rock to see it, and it was totally worth it. 


was pootling through Washington's Leadbetter State Park in the evening, and a bear loped across the road right in front of me. I couldn't have been more surprised. The excitement at seeing it was tempered by the terror that Mama Bear was possibly not very far away; perhaps just on the other side of the trees and bushes lining the road, and so thick they were impossible to see through. It wasn't a cub, but I don't think it was an adult either. In fact, it looked sort of about the same size as the scooter, maybe a touch bigger. I stopped a few hundred yards down the road, just sitting on the scooter with the engine still running, and saw it wander back across the road and disappear into the woods. I had to return down the same road in order to leave the park, and was both hoping that I would see it again, and not. Oddly - perhaps ominously? - there was one shoe in the middle of the road not far from the sighting, but no sign of the foot it belonged to. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

the small and the mighty

I thought I was sort of a badass. Here I am, riding a relatively small scooter on America's fast and furious freeways. I have a proper topbox, which was conveniently included when I bought the scooter, but other than that, my backpack is simply attached to the back seat with some strategically oriented bungee cords. Another day bag is resting on the floorboard between my feet, sort of secured to the bag hook. So, tiny transport in a big country, with a little bit of down and dirty thrown in. Then I met these guys, and consider myself out-badassed. 

They are riding three rattletrap Honda Trail 90's around the entire United States. I met them on the third day of my trip, also the third day of their trip, in the Safeway parking lot in Florence, Oregon, where we were all in search of budget vittles (also, Safeway has free wifi). We swapped travel stories, and I spent a lot of time admiring their entire get-up, and the number of things bungeed to various points. These bikes seem a perfect method of travel along roads like 101; they are too small to legally be ridden in traffic, so they can simply tootle along off to the side in the bicycle lane, at a leisurely pace, but can also cover more ground than a bicycle. 

Meeting these guys made me really happy. Three adventurous souls who were undertaking something a little crazy, partially prepared, partially winging it, with a dash of haphazard, and a lot of style. During my four months sitting at home I was sinking into complacency; always thinking a little about traveling again, but not doing anything about it. Being wrapped in my apartment was just too comfy. Now that I'm on the road again, and meeting interesting and friendly folk, I'm feeling rejuvenated and excited about travel. I was hoping to see them again, but they continued north while I detoured inland to Eugene for a day, and at this point have outpaced me up the coast.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Friday, June 20, 2014

Scooting North

After almost ten months on the road, I've now been home for just over four months. Much time has been spent binge-watching television, stocking the fridge with groceries, and channeling my inner sloth. But too much unstructured free time is not good for me, so I bought a scooter and am starting a little road trip to see how far I can get. It's all sort of an experiment. I've never done a self-supported two-wheel tour of any kind. I'm minimally prepared. I figure that after learning to navigate the controlled chaos of Tbilisi's Didube Bus Station last year, worrying about directions in my native land and tongue doesn't seem all that necessary. And I like to dabble with a little spontaneity, as it goes against my nature. The only goal right now is to get on 1 North, and see where it takes me. I don't have any schedule to keep, so getting a little lost at times isn't a concern. My limiting wander factor is a 2.4 gallon gas tank. More info on the scooter in another post. I'll be keeping an eye out for free wifi as I go.