Saturday, July 30, 2016

Butchart Gardens photos and a tip

Do you have plans to see Butchart Gardens, or hope to someday? Vancouver Island's gem had been on my to-see list for decades. Finally, on a July 2016 Roadtrek trip that included time on the island, I got my wish. It was fantastic, and I'd love to go again to see the spring or fall extravaganzas. 

After strolling along lush flower-lined paths the view opens to this, a grand floral display, just one part of the gardens that were started more than 100 years ago in an abandoned quarry. A sparse late-day crowd makes enjoying the details easy.
This should be a video to show the ever-changing fountain patterns. 
It's not all about showy flowers but also the subtle colors, textures, and design of greenery. 

Meticulous attention to creating living art is evident throughout the gardens.
The route provided to the Gardens by our GPS surprised us. It wasn't a freeway or a wide two-lane road with turning lanes and a bike path to accommodate the Garden's nearly one million annual visitors.  Instead, it's a narrow twisty turney country road. PK kept repeating, "This can't be right!" as we wound through the countryside. Butchart Gardens is about 14 miles from the city of Victoria.

Then suddenly the welcome sign appears and we drive in and the road opens to a vast parking area. A young parking attendant appears on a bicycle to lead us to where Class B RVs (Class B means small) are parked. Since it's around 4:30 p.m., there's only one, another Roadtrek, remaining in the parking lot and we pull in beside it. Rain threatens, so we grab our umbrellas and head for the entry gate. (No need to bring your own umbrellas as there are baskets of loaners for visitors' use.)

Cost of adult admission to one of the most lavish gardens on earth? Around $32 CA dollars. At the exchange rate available then, about $24 US dollars. Ticket prices vary by season. Soon after entering, we learned that the admission included an outdoor concert starting at 8 p.m. Bonus!

Another surprise bonus was arriving late in the day. We didn't do so on purpose; we'd driven from Tofino (post coming soon) and didn't reach our reserved-in-advance RV park until mid-afternoon.
Tour busses were departing as we arrived, and although we didn't have the gardens to ourselves, at no time did we feel crowded or frustrated. A couple days later, on the ferry back to Port Angeles, WA. I talked with a woman who had been at the gardens a few days before we were.

Her experience was not that good.

"We got there at 9:30 a.m. and it was OK, but a half hour later we were overrun," she reports.
"We couldn't even take photos for all the people crowding around us."

For us, touring all the gardens, stopping for a gelato, and even a light cafeteria-style supper, required about 2.5 hours. I'm sure if we'd been battling crowds and waiting in lines we would have needed another hour or so.  As it was, we had an hour to kill before the concert. Lucky for us, we had our Roadtrek retreat. We rested there a bit and enjoyed a glass of wine before reentering the gardens to find the concert lawn. Again, no waiting, no hassle.
PK makes his way to the concert lawn. Many people brought chairs, but we were OK with sitting on wooden benches.
The Tip
If you visit, consider the late-in-the-day option, especially during summer and early fall while days are still long and concerts are offered. (Daily until September 3 this year, with fireworks Saturday nights) . You'll miss the crush of tourists and perhaps hear some wonderful music. We loved The Oyster Band, comprising Brits and Scotts, who provided 90 minutes of lively entertainment. 

The profusion look of a country garden in the Rose Garden area.

A young visitor primps for a selfie in the Italian Garden, where we enjoyed gelato along with the lushness.
Here's my idea of a selfie. 
More Roadtrek travel posts

The Hoh, the hikes, and the bike scum - Experiencing the Olympic National Park, Hoh Rainforest, July 2016

Us and Them, Then and Now - traveling in our respective vans with our son and his girlfriend made clear some generational differences. But it was all good. June 2016

Chasing the Death Valley Super Bloom, 2016 - This was our first trip with the Roadtrek, and I was just getting used to traveling in such a luxury unit after all our years of car and tent camping, and then a pop-up camper. I didn't take photos of the van because it seemed like showing off!  March  2016

Loving Death Valley Part 2 -  
March 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Hoh, the hikes, and the bike scum

A big leaf maple along the ethereal Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park.
We spent a couple weeks on Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula earlier this month, traveling in our Roadtrek Agile, a compact home on wheels. Everyday was dense with subject matter. 

A close encounter with a bald eagle, and later, a humpback whale; a reunion, after 40+ years, with a woman who validated my memories of the thin slice of our shared past; a music festival that challenged what I thought I knew about music-and about festivals; Victoria, a city that made me rethink my bias against cities, and a hike so beautiful it made my chest ache.

And I can't neglect the random human factor, connections and moments shared with people we meet along the way. Those rank right up there with the natural beauty we find in parks and reserves everywhere. Usually brief, the connections may be intense, moving, hilarious, or, in the case of the young man self-described as "bike scum" on this trip, just plain interesting. All share one thing - under ordinary circumstances in our ordinary lives, we would not be talking with these strangers.

If you're open to it, travel presents opportunities to stick out your hand, and maybe your neck, and interact with people you'll not see again. The encounters provide food for thought. As if I needed more "thoughts."

As a writer/blogger, a problem with frequent travel is that my brain gets buzzed with so many ideas during and after a trip, that I have big troubles producing a post or two before we leave for the next getaway. The trouble comes with sorting, sifting, and shaping details and deciding, deciding, deciding. Should I use this word or that? This photo or another? Check email or Instagram? Make a cup of tea or a gin and tonic?  

I don't expect I'll require therapy to solve my writing difficulties, but maybe I should take a course in self discipline? Or develop a method to light up, in my beleaguered brain, the best stuff.

For now, this post's title narrows the choices.
On the Hall of Mosses Trail. Or maybe it was the Giant Spruce Trail, or the few miles we hiked on the 18-mile Hoh Trail, which leads to the 7,980 foot summit of Mount Olympus. Chest is aching here with the beauty of this mossy, moist and fragrant cathedral filled with soft sounds and filtered light. It is otherworldly.
The Hoh is a remote glacial-melt river in the Olympic National Park. It lends its name to the Hoh Rainforest where three trails out of the visitors'  center pass giant Sitka spruce, western hemlocks, big leaf maples, Douglas firs, western red cedars and more, all festooned with colorful mosses and lichens. Two trails are loops around a mile long. Easy.
This moss is fluffy, soft, spongy and several inches thick.
We live a couple hours from coastal redwood forests, which are magnificent, but the Hoh Rainforest rivals the beauty, if not the size, of the redwoods. The rainforest earns its name by getting as much as 300 inches of rain a year annually. We were blessed with two sunny days. 

The Hoh Rainforest is not exactly on the way to any place else, so I guess we shouldn't have been shocked when we arrived at the Hoh Visitor Center's campground around 5 p.m. on a Saturday in mid July, the pinnacle of tourist season, and scored a campsite. Wahoo! We were fully prepared to turn back to one of the pull-offs that looked decent for boondocking - legal free camping. 

With our senior pass, camping cost just $10. Like most national park campgrounds, camp sites don't have hook-ups, but do have water and restrooms with flush toilets. (In Canada, those are called washrooms. Inquiries about "restrooms" draw blank stares and perhaps pity for weary travelers looking for a place to take a nap.)

Our home on the road, a Roadtrek SS Agile, compact comfort at its best.
Looks like a science fiction movie set.
Even with our late arrival, we had plenty of daylight to set up camp and hike the Hall of Mosses Trail, an .8 mile wonder departing from the park's visitor center, a quick walk from our campsite. 

A nurse log engendered these trees, and their tangled roots, before becoming part of the forest floor.
After hiking we returned to our camp for dinner, which was hamburgers cooked on a serving-platter-sized charcoal grill. I managed to squeeze four burgers on the thing, thinking we'd have two leftover for the next night. We had all the condiments, of course including a sweet onion from our home garden. Life is good!

Random moment arrives.....every travel day should have at least one!

It was dusk when PK noticed a man pushing a bicycle charging along a trail behind our campsite.

PK called out,  then jumped up to catch him.

"Do you mind if I invite him to dinner?" he asked, hollering over his shoulder.

Of course not!! 

A minute later a lanky young man was standing in our campsite warming up to the idea that he suddenly had a hot meal and a place to hang his hammock.

I think PK and were remembering, at that moment, the frigid December night in Death Valley when we invited a bicycling stranger we met in a convenience store to share our campsite and supper. We rescued him from a stealth camp he'd set up in the bushes along the road. He was still drying out from a violent storm the previous night.

He was gracious and grateful for a hot meal and warm conversation. We were inspired by his courage and grit as he rode solo the park's rough unpaved roads, slogging through sand and over steep grades. Plus he told a helluva story about how he'd escaped from flash flooding after water filled his tent during the storm.

We shared more stories and breakfast the next morning, then met up with him again about 15 miles down the road as we did our own cycling. He invited us to stay with him if ever we were in Denver. We never were.

Things weren't quite as cozy with the random person at the Hoh Rainforest, but just as engaging.
Setting up his hammock in the dusk. (flash photo).

Phillip from Portland, OR, is not your typical bicyclist. No Spandex, flashy bike jersey or high-tech trappings. No tent for him, but a hammock and sleeping bag covered with a tarp. No sleek, light  and costly biking shoes, but work boots.
Phillip's bike shoes. No kidding. No need for clip-in pedals.
He carried flip-flops for camp use.
After hearing him speak, I said, "If I couldn't see you, I'd guess you were a 250-pound Harley rider with a heavy cigarette habit."

He smiled and replied in his gravely voice,  "I'm a bike rider with a heavy cigarette habit."

It wasn't long before he rolled one, being super careful to blow smoke away from me.

PK was inside the van cleaning dishes. I cook. He cleans up. This gave me a chance to ask nosy questions without PK giving me "the look." Phillip didn't mind at all. One thing I know from my years as a journalist, people like to be asked questions about themselves.

I learned he rides his bike to jobs on Portland's bike-designated streets. Some good friends of ours happen to live on one of the streets he uses.

"That's the best street in the city for commuting," he said. "I can roll a cigarette and smoke it on the way to work."

He got a BS degree in electrical engineering, he said, but doesn't have a regular job. He's a disabled vet with a head injury.

"I'm not a careerist," he told me. "After the accident, I realized I didn't buy into the nine to five routine." Instead he does contract work and also teaches programming to elementary kids.

"Most of them get it by the time they reach second grade, " he said. "But trying to teach programming to most kindergarteners and first graders doesn't work."

New to biking, his first overnight trip was 50 miles one way. At the end, he and a bunch of other renegade cyclists set up in a campground and raised hell.

"We made a lot of noise and were the worst people there," he said. "We're bike scum. We don't look like most bikers or act like them.  We partied all night, and I got three hours of sleep."

Riding 50 miles back the next day wasn't all that much fun.

We saw Phillip along the road the next day, stopped at the top of a steep hill chugging from his water bottle. I didn't see any smoke so he must not have had time to roll one yet.

Us? We were headed to the northern Oregon coast with home a couple leisurely days south.   Generous and benevolent Mother Nature in summer dress loomed large in our immediate future, and perhaps more randomness. We could only hope. 

PK entering the mosses trail through a nature-built portal.Maybe we'll get
back there sometime and hike to the meadow below Mount Olympus.

More Roadtrek travel posts

Us and Them, Then and Now - traveling with our son and his girlfriend made clear some generational differences. But it was all good.

Chasing the Death Valley Super Bloom, 2016 - no mention of the Roadtrek here, or photos, because this was our first trip with it and I was still getting used to traveling in such a luxury unit after all our years of car camping, and then a pop-up camper.

Loving Death Valley Part 2 - Again, no mention of Roadtrek. I couldn't quite get over all the attention our new-to-us van attracted. We met a couple in Death Valley who had paid someone to find a used Roadtrek for them. They couldn't believe our luck in scoring a decent deal on our own.  I'm over it now!