A little bit of Summer in the Valley

Arriving back in the Comox Valley we had one mission…to sell Martha!  Our transport and home for the last 7 months needed to find a new home.  We had given ourselves nearly a month to perform this task in, before we flew back to the UK.  However with Sam the Wheeler-dealer in charge it actually took only 2 days!

On our return to Courtenay the plan was to do some more HelpXing (remember Squamish and Williams Lake?) to save ourselves accommodation costs.  Unfortunately we weren’t successful, so we have changed our flights and are going home a little earlier.  However we have still managed to sample a taste of the valley in the Summer.

Before I write anymore I have to give a massive shout out to our friends the Stangers.  Without them and their generosity we would have had no where to stay whilst we waited for our flight.  Throughout this year they have been more than generous to us and we hope to find a way to return the favour, however, for now all we can simply say is Thank You.  It doesn’t quite seem enough!

Sam jumping in!

Sam jumping in!

Our first weekend back on Vancouver Island was BC Day long weekend.  We spent the Monday down at Comox Harbour watching the ‘Build, Bail and Sail’ competition; enjoying the boats that sunk more than those that managed to make it out to the buoy and back!  We also went to Stotan Falls and jumped off (what felt like) a huge waterfall.  Then ended the day back at Comox Harbour for the Ceremony of the Flags, a little bit of Elvis and fireworks!

At the weekend we also went back up Mount Washington to see how the mountain changes in the Summer.  Although totally different than during the Winter months, the views were no less spectacular.  We enjoyed a hike at Paradise Meadows, where I had snow shoed and cross country skied during the Winter.

We took advantage of the glorious weather to do some fruit picking and cycled down to a farm in Comox.  I ate about as many as I picked! It was so much fun and Sam even baked a crumble when we got back!

Leaving Canada means that we are also leaving new found friends.  This is probably the hardest part about going home, well that and the thought of returning to the Scottish weather!  On Thursday we had our last day with our friends Gemma and Jr.  We had met Gemma and Jr through our friend Joe and we all bonded over van conversions and blogging!  We managed to have one of the best days I’ve had in Canada right at the end of our stay (no mean feat considering the fun we’ve had this year) when we piled into their big blue van and took off to Denman and Hornby Island, along with their friend Emma who was visiting.

Our first stop was Hornby Island, which was actually our third Island in a day, as you have to get the ferry from Buckley Bay (on Vancouver Island) to Denman Island  and then from Denman Island to Hornby Island.  The ferry trips are super quick though and once you’ve had a quick moment to glance at the stunning scenery you’re already at your destination!

Tribune Bay

Tribune Bay

On Hornby we spent most of our time at Tribune Bay.  This is a provincial park and a gorgeous bay with crystal clear water teaming with sea life.  We spent our time sunbathing, having some lunch, swimming and snorkelling.  It was pretty perfect, we even had some entertainment in the form of a dog which seemed to think it was David Beckham!

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The ferry times meant that we didn’t have a huge amount of time on Hornby but after the beach we did have a quick trip to a winery.  Seems as though California converted Sam, as after a little tasting session he had bottle us a bottle ready to celebrate the end of our Canadian adventure.

The ferries from Denman back to our Island (Vancouver Island) were more frequent than those back from Hornby, so we had time to go for a hike and take in some more breathtaking views before we needed to head back.  Gemma and myself reminisced about the book “The Lighthouse Keepers Lunch” whilst the boys looked confused and then we all headed back to Comox for some food before saying our final goodbye.

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Yosemite!!

Seem to have forgotten to post this blog, just found it saved on the computer whoops!  But better late than never eh?

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Our climbing instructor Josh told us that wherever you go in the world climbers have heard of Yosemite. And he’s right, but it’s not just climbers. Yosemite is known! Even my dad (who doesn’t ever want to leave the Isle of Arran, much less Scotland or the UK) suggested actually getting himself a passport and joining us there! Yosemite is how I convinced Sam to come to the US and I’m pretty sure I didn’t oversell!

We stayed outside the park at Pine Mountain Lake in a house rented by the Murphys, so we did allow ourselves some days off from the National Park. It was after all Yosemite, in Summertime with millions of tourists crowding into the valley, it’s viewpoints and it’s roads!

But we enjoyed every minute our our park experience that our $20 entrance fee (it lasts for 7 days) got us. We hiked to Mirror Lake with the Murphys, taking them out of their urban comfort zone once again. This gave us spectacular views of Half Dome, although the Summer weather had reduce the lake to merely a puddle.

Ah, Half Dome…I have to admit to being somewhat obsessed! I must of taken a picture of this rock from every angle possible and next time I will hike up it. I just need to remember to apply for a permit at the beginning of the season and get fit enough to do it!

Just one of the many Half Dome views

Just one of the many views of Half Dome!

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Sam and myself spent a fantastic day at Tuolumne Meadows. These are nearly 2 hours out of the valley and therefore not quite as crowded as the valley itself. We hiked to Cathedral Lakes (both lower and upper), saw marmots, paddled in the water and appreciated the spectacular scenery. How could you not!

A worthwhile view after our hike.

A worthwhile view after our hike.

We also drove to Glacier Point, over 7000 feet above sea level. This gave us a stomach churning (well for Sam, I quite like heights) view down to the valley, a glimpse of some famous falls and yet another view of Half Dome.

On our last day we went on a Yosemite climbing course. We were lucky to have a small group (only 3 of us plus our instructor) so we got to do lots of climbs and there was never any waiting around. We started the day on some top rope climbs, some vastly harder than others. I’m still not sure how I managed to get my foot to stick to that tiny, nearly non-existent foothold! And ended the day on a 2 hour multi pitch climb with views of Half Dome and El Capitan.

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Yosemite certainly delivered!

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Our Last Two Parks

Our final two US National Parks were Lassen Volcanic National Park and Crater Lake.  We spent only a short amount of time at both however this didn’t lessen their impact upon us.

DSCF4980First was Lassen.  This park is in Northern California and seems to be relatively unknown.  Although we were by no means the only tourists visiting we had left the crowds of Yosemite behind.

This area of California lies within the Pacific Rim of Fire.  Lassen Peak is in fact a volcano which last erupted in 1915, and the main reason to visit is to see (and smell!) the sulphur pools, bubbling mud pits and steaming vents.  Although this certainly isn’t the only reason to visit.  The landscape itself is beautiful and worth a look at whilst you take in the stench of rotten eggs.

Great views!

Great views!

Whilst we were in the park we only scratched it’s surface.  We visited Sulphur Pass, hiked the Bumpass trail, had a picnic next to the picturesque Lake Helen and visited the devastated area to learn more about the two eruptions (which happened within a couple of days of each other) of 1915.

By far my favourite part of the day was the Bumpass trail (and not just for the comedy name!)  This short, but with a steep return, hike takes you down to the sulphur pools and bubbling mud pools.  But don’t think about touching as the pools can be a whopping 191F/92C hot!

DSCF5062Our final park was Crater Lake in Oregon.  This continued the volcanic theme as it is in fact a volcano that had erupted into itself Sure there’s a more technical word for it, but you get the idea!)

We viewed the lake from a few of it’s different viewpoints, but stuck to the west side of the lake as that was the road out and back towards Canada.

Crater Lake is truly beautiful and having visited a fair few lakes this year I feel expert enough to rank it as one of my favourites.

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Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide with a maximum depth of 501 metres. Its a fresh water lake with an elevation of 1897 meters and it seems to be the place to go during summer months. With its 72 miles of beautiful shoreline you can usually find a place to put your beach towel!

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We spent one glorious day on the east side of the lake just over the Nevada border. Our day consisted of relaxing, drinking and swimming whilst looking at the snow capped mountains. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so we decided to let the pictures do the talking this time.

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Enjoy.

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Wine Country

Heading inland from San Francisco we moved out of the costal fog and into the endless sunshine of Sonoma.  We were surrounded by vines and shined on by the sun.  We had entered wine country.

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The next couple of days were taken up with lots of drinking.  Note that I say drinking, not sampling.  Who actually swills their wine around and spits it out? Not us that’s for sure!  We visited lots of wineries with the Murphys, soaked up the sunshine and sampled the local grapes.

wineFirst stop was Chateau St Jean.  Here we sampled a variety of red and white wines and really got into the spirit of this wine tasting.  So much in fact that we bought a bottle!  A very delicious Pinot Blanc that went down a treat once we reached Yosemite (wait for future blogs on that one…)  Here we also had a delicious picnic provided by the very talented Mrs Helen Murphy (and WholeFoods!)

We carried onto the VJB Winery, where (with a little help from the Sonoma Tourist Information) we enjoyed a complimentary tasting.  However good a freebie is, this wine didn’t quite live up our first purchase so we left empty handed.

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Our final stop of the day was Kunde Winery.  Again the wine wasn’t quite good enough to buy (we have high standards you know!) but the setting was beautiful.  

No scenery pictures only a hat one...think the wine was starting to kick in!

No scenery pictures only a hat one…think the wine was starting to kick in!

The next day we started off with some fizz at Artesa Vineyards and Winery.  This winery was in fact a little further out from Sonoma and into Napa Valley, so after knocking down a glass or two (great way to start the day) we headed into the original Californian wine country, aka Napa and sampled a few more wines.

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Having sampled a fair number of wines over the last two days it only fair that I repay the favour and join Sam at the local Brewery.  Napa Smith Brewery bucks the trend in Napa for alcoholic beverages and serves up number of beers to tickle your taste buds.  Well in fact they tickled Sam’s taste buds and just made me gag! However fairs fair and we arrived at the brewery just in time to sample a flight of 10 beers and take a tour (accompanied by our own pint) around the premises.  During the tour they shared some of their secrets, showed us where the magic happens and even provided an extra cold beer straight out of the cellar.  We also got to meet the Master Brewer Don, Americas most experienced craft brewer and got a free pint glass at the end of the tour.  

As you can imagine Sam loved Napa Smith, however I was grateful to receive a phone call from the Murphys and an invite to hurry along to Domaine Carneros Winery and wash the taste of beer out of my mouth with a quick tipple of champagne!  

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To end this awesome couple of days we went to St Francis Winery back in Sonoma for a night time picnic with Patrick Swayze!  Does it get much better than this I ask you?  Gorgeous outdoor setting in beautiful vineyard, gourmet picnic, delicious red wine and a blow up Cinema screen showing Dirty Dancing.  “I carried a watermelon!”

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Bikes and Champagne in San Fran

Travelling down the Californian Coast we drove through a lot of costal fog. Good preparation it turned out for our San Francisco experience! However in spite of not really seeing the sun for 3 days we had a blast and can truly say I Love SF!

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San Fran was our meeting point with the Murphy (my cousin and family). So in true Murphy style we enjoyed a little luxury during our three nights. And in true Lucy/Sam style (well Sam really!) we went for a bike ride. More about that later!

Our initiation into San Fran life came on our first night and a trip to Fort Mason’s ‘Off the Grid’ food truck festival. This happens weekly and was epic! Thirty food trucks serving every type of food available, live music and a portable beer cart that seemed to follow Sam around! The food we ate (chocolate tacos, cupcakes, sweet potato tater tots, grilled corn on the cob and something Japanese which came with Kamikaze fries) was delicious and in spite of the cold wind blowing off the sea, the atmosphere was hot. It was a great start to our stay.

The next day we met the Murphys in their hotel, stiff and achy from the ridiculously hard hostel beds we’d just slept on. However we pulled ourselves together (silently wished that we were staying in their hotel) and set off to explore the city. Although we hadn’t managed to secure Alcatraz tickets we went down to Pier 33 on the off chance of some spare tickets. There was in fact tickets available…for August 8th! However we did manage to hop on a cruise around the infamous prison and enjoy a rare sunny day in San Francisco. We even finished the night off in style, with a taste of the Murphy luxury and some amazing steak!

We met the next day at Pier 39, home of the Sea lions. However there were none! They were away from the tourists prying eyes in another part of the coast having their babies. Whilst down here we explore Fisherman’s Wharf and the Hyde Street Pier. We also had a great ‘lunch’ at Ghirardelli Square; think chocolate and more chocolate! That night we gave Helen and Wayne a much needed night off and looked after the kids, whilst enjoying the comfy beds provided by their hotel.

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It was on our third day in San Francisco that we biked the Golden Gate bridge. Moving out of the costal fogs and to the sunnier shores of Sausalito. The day consisted of bikes, champagne and ice-cream. A perfect combination in my mind!

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Oh and we rode a cable car too!

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Coastal Adventures

Leaving Seattle we found the highway without to much fuss, about 20 minutes down the road we spotted our first ihop so we had to go and try it out. Our pancakes were delicious and we were set for the drive towards the Washing coast.

Double blueberry pancakes for Sam. Buttermilk & bacon for Lucy.

Double blueberry pancakes for Sam.
Buttermilk & bacon for Lucy.

Arriving on the coast we checked into Cape Disappointment State park at a pretty reasonable rate of $23. As soon as we had parked we fell asleep waking up 3 hours later, we were knackered from the past couple of days in the city! Feeling re-energised we took a stroll to Waikiki beach, one of many around this state park. It was pretty cool, as you can see lots of old tree’s washed up.

The morning came around pretty quickly and we decided to explore a bit more of this park before leaving. We hiked the Cape Disappointment train to the lighthouse which offered views looking over Waikiki beach.  I’m glad to say Cape Disappointment certainly didn’t disappoint.

Looking out from Cape Disappointment.

Looking out from Cape Disappointment.

In the Afternoon we went to check out Long Beach, this town hasn’t got its name for no reason as there is in fact the worlds longest beach here. Walking around town we both felt as though we had been somewhere similar back in the UK… Yes you guessed it, Blackpool!

After eating fish & chips at Aloha Charlies we chilled on the beach for a bit before heading off.

Looong beach.

Looong beach.

Cannon Beach was our next stop to see the popular Hay stack rock and check out the rock pools. Hay stack rock was awesome standing tall and proud in the middle of the beach. We explored the rock pools around the foot of Hay stack but unfortunately didn’t find anything worth reporting.

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The next day we visited Tillamook Cheese factory for a self guided tour and some awesome cheese tasting. It was actually pretty interesting learning some fun facts about cheese and watching man and machine work together so efficiently. We came away with some tasty goodies as well as having some ice cream, ice cream is always a good choice in my world.

After indulging in all those goodies we drove the 3 Capes scenic loop stopping to hike the 5 mile return trail to Cape lookout, although a bit foggy the hike was worth it and we both really enjoyed it. Carrying on the 3 Capes scenic loop we made a stop at Cape Kiwanda beach to grab a bite to eat, while sitting on the beach having our lunch I couldn’t get over that some of the beaches around here are used for public parking… Only in America I thought!

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Driving towards Devil’s Lake State park we headed for Depoe Bay to watch the whales and see the spouting horns, unfortunately we saw neither. Carrying on we drove the Otter Crest loop to Cape Foulweather and Devil’s punch bowl but again the sea was too calm and didn’t want to put a show on for us. We were enjoying the weather though.

Deciding to actually do something rather than driving and stopping to take all these awesome view points in we checked out the Oregon Aquarium! With its octopus tank and some rather cool sea otters being fed and putting a bit of a show on for us.

Leaving the aquarium we hit up one more scenic viewpoint and lighthouse before camping at Sunset Bay State park.

A couple of things I haven’t mentioned are the roads along the Washington and Oregon coast have been amazing, no bumps just continuous sweeping bends of perfect tarmac through the beautiful coastal landscape. Oh and one last thing America is so much cheaper than Canada!!

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