Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Importance of Travel Insurance

My travel buddy and I are about to embark on a two-month trip to South America.  We have been designing this trip all year long, making hotel reservations, booking flights and purchasing tickets to Machu Picchu and other Bucket List destinations.  Then, out of the blue, I had a medical emergency in August that required out-patient surgery.  The clinic did not think they could get me in until late September or early October.  The Peruvian portion of our trip would have to be cancelled.

Thank goodness I had purchased travel insurance.

But all's well that ends wells.  A slot opened up a few weeks ago and I got everything taken care of.  My doctor has given me the Green Light.

We are traveling independently except for a few weeks when we part ways.  I am taking a tour of Colombia with G-Adventures while my travel buddy is climbing Mt. Chimborazo in Ecuador.  These tour operators require travel insurance, so this is the main reason we purchased plans with World Nomads.  It made sense to cover the entire two months . . . just in case.  Oh, brother.  Little did I know I might actually have to file a claim.

As I pack my suitcase for the trip (with Mimi's help, of course), I am experiencing such a high.  I feel like I've been given a new lease on life.  I AM GOING TO SOUTH AMERICA.  For two entire months.  Yippee!!  I don't feel 100% yet but I figure I can heal just as well down there than up here. 

It makes me realize how important it is to buy travel insurance, especially at my age.  From now on it's going to be at the top of my to-do slash packing list.  (Along with Mimi's little black dresses, of course.)  Knowing I am covered if I get sick before or during travel is a huge comfort.  This old gal is gonna keep on truckin' as long as she is able.

Until December,


Friday, September 13, 2019

Idiot's Grace Winery

100 Pacific Northwest Wineries

7.  Idiot's Grace
     Mosier, Oregon

Tucked behind pear and cherry orchards off historic Highway 30, this small enchanting winery is what Mosier, Oregon, is all about.  A tiny community of misfits (myself included) who hike, windsurf on the Columbia, listen to live music at MoCo and yes, drink lots of wine, we believe that life is meant to be enjoyed to the fullest.

Before I continue, I have a confession to make.  Three years ago I had a bad experience tasting wine at Idiot's Grace, but this was over in Lyle, Washington.  I have shunned their wine ever since. "Give them another chance," my friends have been telling me all summer long.  "I think you'll be impressed."

Idiot's Grace recently moved their tasting room to Mosier, across the river from Lyle, and opened up an airy, comfortable space with tables out on the patio, and antique school desks within.  My travel buddy and I drove over there last Sunday.  I was still trepidatious, but after sipping that first cool, crisp Sauvigon Blanc, I was hooked. 

My friends were right.

The flight consisted of six wines, two whites and four reds:  Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Chenin Blanc 2017, Cabernet Franc 2015, Barbera 2015, a red blend called Whimsy, and a Gamay Noir 2016.

I must say they give very generous pours, so we lingered here for more than an hour.  Free appetizers were set out on a table, which is a rare thing these days.  Usually if you want food at these wineries, you have to plunk down a twenty dollar bill (or more) for a charcuterie or cheese board.

We ended up buying a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc and a bottle of the Cabernet Franc. 

The winery does have a wine club, which was very tempting, and I might join in the future for the discounted prices.  The wine was not cheap.  They ranged from $28 to $32 a bottle.   In addition, Idiot's Grace does not waive the $10 wine tasting fee even if you buy wine, unless you're a club member, of course.  This took us by surprise when we paid our bill. On the other hand, the pours were generous and the food was complimentary, so there you go . . . .

We were also able to buy pears from their orchard for only $1.00 per pound.  Now that was a bargain!

 I feel very badly that I have dissed this winery a time or two.  Lesson learned.  Some years are good; some years aren't.  The 2015 Cabernet Franc and Barbera, I thought, were exceptional.  It is why I love wine tasting at the vineyards.  You can be sure that the bottle you select is a good one.  I look forward to opening the Cabernet this winter, knowing that rich smooth wine will warm me up immediately.

So glad I gave Idiot's Grace a second chance!


Friday, September 6, 2019

Lunch at the Imperial River Co.

Favorite Pit Stops
Maupin, Oregon

Two stressed-out exhausted travelers discovered this place in 2015.  We were moving to the Columbia River Gorge after living in Santa Barbara for 27 years, not certain if we had made the right decision.  We rolled into Maupin around five o'clock and decided to stop for a beer and a burger at this little restaurant by the Deschutes River instead of pushing on.  We ended up staying the night.

And have returned many times.

It's hard to beat the peaceful ambiance of this place.  We tend to linger longer than necessary because the cold beers and the gentle flow of the river lull us into a state of absolute contentment.  Need a break from the madness of life?  Get thee to the Imperial.

We now time our road trips south so that we can stop here for lunch.  A few weeks ago after white water rafting, we ended our day here, as well.  Some locals have suggested other restaurants, but we just can't bring ourselves to explore further afield.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Cor Cellars Winery

100 Pacific Northwest Wineries

6.  Cor Cellars
     Lyle, Washington

Welcome to my blog within a blog.  Being that I am only on Number 6 of 100, I have a long ways to go but man, oh, man, am I going to enjoy getting there.

"Hipster" is the first word that came to mind as I walked into the tasting room at Cor Cellars.  Tables and chairs inside and out were filled with beautiful young millennials.  Happily, this old gal and her travel buddy were greeted warmly and included in several lively conversations.

  "This wouldn't have happened in Santa Barbara," I commented.  Down there, once my hair turned silver, I was treated like I had a disease.  It's why I love living in the Columbia River Gorge.  It is a multi-generational hodgepodge where everyone is treated equally.

Our flight of wine consisted of a 2018 Chardonnay, 2018 Alba, 2017 Ago Pinot Noir, 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2017 Malbec.  We sipped slowly, swirling our wine and talking to a couple that were here to celebrate their second wedding anniversary.  We have found that fellow wine lovers (young and old) are an interesting congenial group of people.  We shared life stories.  And favorite wineries.  Time passed all too quickly.

Because the summer has turned hot and dry, we opted to buy two bottles of the white crisp Alba.  Two weeks later as I write this post, I realize both bottles are already gone!

It means I may have to hop into my van and drive across the river for more.  Poor me!  This particular winery is open all year long, Wednesdays through Sunday, 12-6.  It is located on Old Highway 8, near Lyle, Washington.

It's a lovely setting, and okay . . . kind of "hipster".  The architecture is all wood and glass.  Sleek and modern, but softened by flowers and an eclectic interior decor.

The owner, Luke Bradford, founded this winery in 2004.  He became interested in winemaking after a trip to Northern Italy.  He worked at several vineyards there before returning to the state of Washington and settling in the Gorge.  Cor means Heart in Latin.  On their website is a perceptive little maxim:

Vinum Bonum Laetificat Cor Humanum

Good wine pleases the human heart

How true!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Spirit Lake Recovers

Mount St. Helens National Monument

Spirit Lake, once the jewel of Mount St. Helens, is back.  It is now a hidden gem.  Left alone to heal, it has recovered with remarkable speed.  Its waters are once again a royal blue.  Clear.  Clean.  Icy cold.  Beautiful beyond words.

The only way down to its shore is to walk a steep one-mile trail, labeled Harmony Trail 224.  Just getting to the trail head takes several hours because the roads are long and curvy with many pot holes and loose gravel.  Get directions and a map from the ranger at the Pine Creek Information Center (and find out if the road is even open).

"Is it worth it?" an older man asked me as I returned panting and red-faced from the climb back up.

"Only if you have a lot of time," I advised him.  "But, yes, it's worth it."

I hate getting all saccharine in these posts, but I can't help myself at times.  Please don't gag, but . . .  walking along the shore of Spirit Lake is a mystical experience.

The lake is aptly named.

The fact that the first few hundred yards descends through a lush forest of ferns, evergreens and alder trees, is an unexpected surprise.  When the volcano erupted in 1980, landslides caused the water to splash 800 feet up the very hillside I was now climbing.  Thousands of trees were swept down into the lake.  A few of the strongest ones survived.  Today, their bare poles serve as memorials of that fateful day.

The trail soon opens up into a barren plain.  But even here, grass and flowers are growing again, rising from the ashes to cover the evidence of the cataclysm.

Then finally a series of switchbacks took me down to the shoreline.  I was stunned at how many logs were still floating on top of the water.  They have been pushed by wind and waves to this end of the lake.

Logs don't decompose in the water as quickly as they do on land, so these logs may be here for hundreds of years.  They are guardians of the spirits that lay beneath. 

Oh, yes . . . this lake is aptly named.

I find myself choking up as I look up at the mountain.  I have to sit down and calm myself.  It's such a beautiful, serene landscape today in 2019.  St. Helens is quiet.  There's hardly anybody here.  Only myself, my travel buddy and four other hikers.  They are jumping from log to log  (even though there are signs prohibiting it).  But they are happy.  Oblivious of the danger. Too young to remember those horrific images on t.v.  Or the ash falling like rain on the city of Portland. 

"Why did he stay?" I asked my travel buddy.  I was referring to Harry R. Truman, the innkeeper who refused to leave Spirit Lake, knowing he would be killed when St. Helens erupted.

"I'm not sure he really believed it would blow."

But I think he did.  He had lost his wife.  And now he was about to lose his mountain.  He loved them both.  He was old and had lived a long life.  It was time to join them.

May their spirits rest in peace.  In the lake so aptly named.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Windy Ridge Viewpoint

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Although I advise first time visitors to drive Route 504 to the Johnston Ridge Observatory for a better understanding of what happened on that fateful day in 1980, I have changed my tune. . . 

but only if it's a clear, cloudless day. 

 GO EAST, my friends, GO EAST.

Driving up to the viewpoint on the narrow, windy, pot-holed road is an all-day commitment.  Forest Road 99 is not for the faint-hearted.  It is open only during the summer and after driving it, I understand why.  Ice on this road would be extremely dangerous.  One skid and you and your car are flying down the mountain.  Even in July, a driver must remain alert.

But, WOW, the views are extraordinarily beautiful.  And best of all, there are very few people up here to ruin the impact that the view will have on you.  This is where the full force of the explosion happened.  This is where an avalanche of debris and ash buried the lodges around Spirit Lake and transformed an idyllic landscape into an uninhabitable hellish one. Today, however, the land is healing.  Green grass, yellow wildflowers and stately evergreens are miraculously making Mount St. Helens into . . .  yes . . . one of the most beautiful places on earth.

It's official.  Windy Ridge in Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument has made my list.

After parking our car at the viewpoint, we hiked up the 368 step "Sand Ladder" to an even better view.  Because it was a clear blue-sky day, we were rewarded with a vista of the ragged St. Helens crater AND with her sister volcanoes to the north and east--Rainier and Adams.

St. Helens
Mt. Adams
Spirit Lake and Mt. Rainier

Standing here is a poignant experience.  Even my nonsentimental travel buddy felt a twinge of emotion as he scanned the scene before him.  It's not just the extraordinary beauty of the place, but the event that happened here that pulled at our heartstrings.  Fifty-seven people died from the blast.  Thousands of animals perished.  An entire forest was incinerated.

To look at this mountain today with its lavender and azure shadows and its sleepy demeanor, evokes nothing but peace.  St. Helens is a powerful metaphor for life, isn't it?  Things can change very abruptly.  But the mountain also teaches us that time can heal wounds.

  Be patient.  Be thankful.  Enjoy those happy moments in your life.  Take nothing for granted. 


Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Tasting at Domaine Pouillon Winery

100 Pacific Northwest Wineries

5.  Domaine Pouillon
      Lyle, Washington

I don't know why but the excellent wines up here in the Pacific Northwest took me by surprise.  I guess it's because I became a bit of a wine snob living in Santa Barbara with six federally sanctioned American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) at my doorstep.  How could any winery compete with that perfect Mediterranean climate and rich diatomaceous earth?

I have been proven wrong.

The 2014 Merlot I tasted at Domaine Pouillon in Lyle, Washington, was as perfect a wine as I have ever tasted.  Rich with berries.  Smooth as velvet.  An aroma so intoxicating that I swirled and swirled and swirled before tasting.  Sigh.  Of course, I bought a bottle.  It will be lovingly uncorked for a special occasion in the future.  (Note to self:  Don't wait too long.  It's perfect right now!)

We sat outside on a warm Sunday afternoon and sampled six wines:  A 2017 Riesling, 2017 Blanc de Moulin, 2018 Pinot Noir Rose, 2018 Rose (a blend of Grenache and Counoise), the perfect 2014 Merlot and another full-bodied red, a 2014 French Press Syrah.   All of them were wonderful.

Domaine Pouillon is a small family-run vineyard.  The owner studied soil science at Cal Poly and then worked in France where he sharpened his winemaking skills.  When he returned to the states, he settled in the Colombia Gorge and planted two acres of Rhone varietals. 

It is open Thursday through Sunday from 12 to 6 and located at 170 Lyle Snowden Road in Lyle, Washington.

Domaine Pouillon is a little slice of France in the Colombia River Gorge.