Cheap Power in a Great Place to Live

Summed up in a video.

Last month, my electric bill was $27.73. The month before, it was $37.24. And my August bill, which covered the brutally hot July we had, was only $40.07.

And yes, I do run my air conditioner. That can be pretty frequently, since I’m home most days in the summer. I also have all electric appliances: stove, dryer, water heater, etc.

The power in Chelan County is supposedly the second cheapest in the country. (The cheapest is supposedly across the river in Douglas County.) Our current electricity rate is 2.7¢ per kilowatt hour. Compare this to the last place I lived, in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which was 13.27¢ per kilowatt hour. The national average is 9.84¢ per kilowatt hour.

Rock Island Dam
The Rock Island dam is just downriver from where I live.

Washington’s power is cheap because it’s renewable energy from numerous hydroelectric and wind turbine sources. The Chelan PUD is especially proud of its hydroelectric plants and the work it’s done along the Columbia River to enhance the lives of residents. I’m referring mostly to the numerous parks and publicly accessible boat ramps, many of which are free.

Back in 2014, I did some flying work for one of my video clients. Here’s the resulting video. (All of the aerial footage was shot from my helicopter.) But what I really like about the video is what is says about life in this area of the country. This is really a great place to live.

Our Public Power: The Next Generation from Voortex Productions on Vimeo.

The Spam Source Experiment

Let’s see who’s selling me out.

I get a lot of email and much of it is spam. That’s why I have a special email account I use for anything that’s not important. It’s a disposable account. Every few years, I simply stop using it and create a new disposable account. Then I slowly but surely update my records where I need to. The spam virtually stops.

For a while.

Eventually, it builds up again and I’m back to the point where I need to delete that account and create a new one.

And don’t talk to me about spam filters. Yes, I have one in my email client. Yes, it does work. But no, it doesn’t catch it all and, unfortunately, it misidentifies too much as spam. So I can’t trust it.

The other day, while drivinge, I came up with a novel idea. Instead of creating one disposable email account, why not create one for each organization that asks for an email address? Then use that account for just that organization. And then, when the spam starts coming, I can easily identify its source — it’ll match the name of the account.

I own multiple domain names, each of which can have as many email addresses as I like. So there’s no limit to the number of addresses I can create. And I don’t even have to set them up in my email client software! I can simply check for mail on the web if I’m expecting something. And let it accumulate on a distant server if I’m not.

Verify Address
Sure, this email address is mine. But don’t expect me to monitor it for your junk.

I started this today. I decided to use Microsoft Excel for iPad to maintain my helicopter Hobbs book (a record of hours flown) and Due List (a record of when various maintenance items were last done and next due). In order to access an Excel file stored in Dropbox from my iPad — and be able to edit it — I had to create a Microsoft account. That account needed a valid email address. So I logged onto my server and created one named microsoft @ one of my many domain names. And I used that email address to create the account for Microsoft Excel. I checked the email on the web, got the code I needed to complete the account setup, and am done.

And I never have to see any junk from that account again.

But I can always look if I need to.

Let’s see how far I can take this. I’ll report back, maybe next year.

Scouting for a Custom Tiny Home in Idaho

I go to Idaho in search of a tiny home solution to winter travel needs.

Tiny houses are big these days. People seem unusually attracted to the idea of living in a very small, very simple space. Tiny home communities are popping up all over the west — such as the one in Portland. There are tiny home books and websites and forums. I’ve been told that there’s even a tiny home television show, although since never bothered to get connected with cable or satellite television, I’ve never seen it. (A quick search on Google for a link shows me at least three of them: Tiny House Builders, Tiny House Nation, and Tiny House Hunters. Seriously?)

While I agree that tiny houses are cute, they’re really not much different from living in an RV — which I did for two years and more summers than I care to remember. It’s nice having less space to heat, cool, clean, and furnish. But it’s not nice to live in cramped quarters with barely enough space to store the things you need to live and work. So while I have no problem with short-term life in a small space, I think people — especially families of two or more people — who turn to tiny homes for their primary living space are, well, nuts.

That said, I’m currently considering a tiny house as a replacement for my mobile mansion, which is now for sale.

The Misunderstandings

When I mentioned this on Facebook, I got a few sarcastic comments from friends of friends who (1) didn’t understand that I was considering this for part-time living and (2) apparently know nothing about tiny houses.

One person said, “I don’t like the idea of my toilet being in the same room as my kitchen sink.” Well, neither do I. And I have to say that I’ve never seen a tiny house design with the toilet in the kitchen. So I don’t know what the hell this clown is talking about.

Another person said, “Why would you want to live in a closet?” I wouldn’t. I don’t know anyone who would. But unless you have a 200+ square foot closet, most tiny houses are considerably bigger that your closets. They even have rooms and windows. Can you imagine?

Seriously: what’s with people on the Internet? Why do they find it necessary to shoot out their opinions in such a nasty, narrow-minded way, especially when they obviously don’t know what the hell they’re talking about?

‘Nuff said.

Tiny House RV

My idea is to have a custom tiny house built as a fully-functional off-the-grid RV. What gave me that idea? The Tiny Portable Cedar Cabins website. Dave, who designs and builds these cabins, constructs them on trailer frames using dimensions that keep them road-worthy without special permits. That means they’re no wider than 8’6″ and no taller than 13’6″.

Just like any RV on the road.

Because they’re built like this, they can be licensed as an RV and they follow all the rules governing how RVs are used and transported. That means I can hook it up to the back of my pickup and take it anywhere I can take an RV.

Of course, Dave doesn’t outfit them as RVs. He outfits them as homes, assuming the owner is going to park the unit and plug it into permanent power, water, and sewer line sources. He does offer off-the grid options like a composting toilet and propane appliances. But he doesn’t normally include the features a true off-the-grid RV needs, such as fresh water storage tanks and holding tanks for gray and black water. To me, that’s what distinguishes his “tiny portable cabins” from a true recreational camping vehicle.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t make one with the things I need in a real RV.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Tiny Home in Marlin, WA

Dave works with Janet, who apparently manages his website and blog and helps him sell the his houses. Janet has one of his tiny house models, a custom “Caretaker” unit. She’s parked it on her property in Marlin, WA where it’s currently sitting, waiting for a tenant to arrive.

I drove out there about two weeks ago. Anyone who says that I live in a remote area really needs to go to Marlin (AKA, Krupp) to put things into perspective. The town has about 300 people and sits at the bottom of valley with the tiny Crab Creek running through it. The closest grocery store is 18 miles away; the closest supermarket is 34 miles away. It took me nearly two hours to drive there and once I was there, there was nothing much there. But there was Janet’s tiny house, sitting inside a fenced in area with a lush green lawn.

Tiny House
How fitting that I drove my tiny car to Janet’s tiny house.

We chatted for a while and then went in to take a look. The house was set up with a generously sized kitchen, tiny — and I do mean tiny — bedroom, and decent sized bathroom that even had a washer and dryer. It had a lot of nice touches, including pocket doors and a stained glass window. It also had two storage lofts that weren’t very tall. The exterior siding was cedar; the interior finish was a natural wood that I really like.

She showed me the composting toilet. Because the house was set in a spot without access to a sewer, she’d chosen this option. As she explained, the “liquids” go through some small holes on the front of the bowl where they collect underneath. If you plan to deposit some “solids,” you prep the bowl by laying in what looks like a giant coffee filter. When you’re finished, you “flush,” which opens the bottom of the bowl and drops the filter and its contents into another container. Somewhere along the line, you sprinkle something on the waste which gets the compost action going. Janet claims that it never stinks, but I find that very hard to believe. And, of course, you eventually have to empty the waste into a compost bin. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live in a closet than have to deal with a toilet like that on a daily basis.

I asked her about RV-related options and she really didn’t have the information I needed. For that, I’d need to talk to Dave. And since I’m better talking in person to someone than on the phone, it meant making a road trip to Idaho.

Idaho Road Trip

Spirit Lake, where Dave builds his tiny homes, is about 40 minutes north of Coeur d’Alene, where a pilot friend of mine, Jim, lives with his wife Teresa. I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone by visiting them and Dave on the same trip.

I set off last Wednesday morning with Penny in my distance car: my 2003 Honda S2000. Bought new in 2003, it had just under 60,000 miles on it — indeed, it would roll over to 60,000 on my way home. I’d prepped it earlier in the week with an oil change and a check of tire pressures and fluids. (I’d also had the leather armrest repaired; the leather had been shrinking for years and made the car’s interior look shabby. Fixed!) I put the top down, secured a scarf over my head to prevent my hair from flying around and getting all tangled up, and took off.

We took Badger Mountain Road up toward Waterville. It was the first time I’d taken that road in that direction at that time of day and it was the highlight of the drive — the Wenatchee Valley looks amazing from a viewpoint along the way in early morning light.

From Badger Mountain
Wenatchee from Badger Mountain.

I eventually hooked up with Route 2 near Douglas. From there, it was mostly straight roads over the Waterville Plateau, past rolling hills of harvested wheat fields and through small farm towns with tall silos. The road dipped down to cross Moses Coulee, then climbed again for more wheat fields and towns on the other side. I crossed the lower end of Banks Lake on the earthen dam in Coulee City and continued east on Route 2, through even more farm towns. I stopped in a small town along the way — Hartline? Almira? Wilbur? Creston? Davenport? Readan? — for bathroom break, buying an egg sandwich to go and then getting right back in the car.

Although I was enjoying the drive — I really do like a good road trip — I wasn’t disappointed when I arrived on the outskirts of Spokane. Route 2 dumped me on I-90 — which I could have taken from George if I wanted a faster route — and that took me through Spokane and info Idaho. Then Google Maps’ navigation feature directed me to exit onto Route 41. I took that north, passing a homemade billboard that said “Pray the Rosary, Vote for Trump,” and after a few miles and a few turns ended up at Dave’s construction lot outside the town of Spirit Lake.

Dave’s Tiny House Construction Yard

Janet had told me that Dave was working on about 20 houses and she wasn’t kidding. There were tiny houses in various stages of construction all over the yard. All different models, from a 22-foot Caretakers Cabin to much larger and longer models. Dave wasn’t doing any of the actual construction work himself — at least not when I drove up. Instead, he had at least a dozen guys working for him, each busy with a specific task on a specific building. Looks like he’s built himself a nice little business that employs quite a few people.

I told him what I was looking for and he led me over to one of the Caretakers cabins. It had exactly the bathroom and kitchen layout I’d envisioned. We discussed weight and tanks and all the other things I needed. I think he was surprised that I was so well-versed in not only construction but the kinds of features I needed and how they might be implemented in his buildings. For example, we discussed the placement of fresh water tanks up in the loft area and how they could be filled using a standard water connection with a value that switched the water flow to the tanks. I asked if having the tanks high would provide enough water pressure for sink and shower usage and he said it would, but not enough pressure for the instant hot water systems he used; a DC pump like the ones found in most RVs would be required.

We also talked about ways to make the building lighter. In the size unit I wanted — 24 feet max including a 4-foot porch — he estimated the total weight to be around 12,000 pounds. While my one-ton diesel pickup could easily pull that — after all, it pulls my 15,000 pound mobile mansion like its nothing — I was really hoping to replace the truck with a smaller, newer, gasoline model. That wouldn’t be advisable if I had to tow around a 12,000 pound RV. I asked if he could do 2×4 construction rather than 2×6 construction. He said that would allow for less insulation, which I was okay with. We also talked about using metal on the exterior, with the idea of it matching my building at home. That could drop the weight by another 500 or so pounds.

Tiny Home Example
I absolutely love the upper floor windows in this little house.

After checking out how the stairs were constructed in one of the other units, we stopped to look at an unusual model that was taller and wider than the others with a “shed style” roof. It was a custom unit for a family of three in Sacramento that would become their primary residents. (Remember what I said about that idea earlier in this blog post?) It had an upstairs bedroom and a very small downstairs bedroom, a decent sized bathroom and a great room with a kitchen. The main features I liked were the huge windows; the home would be very bright indeed. I wondered whether I could design a unit with the same style roof and still get the sleeping loft I needed in a space only 8-1/2 feet wide.

And that’s where we left it. I told Dave I liked that style and would rework my design with that in mind. I said I’d send him my floorplan with a list of required features. He could then work up a price and try to estimate weight.

I was supposed to do that last weekend, but didn’t. I’d better work on it soon, though. If I decide to go forward, I’m looking at an 18-week wait.

As for pricing — well, one of the reasons I was attracted to Dave’s work is that the prices are within reason. I’d seen 400 square foot tiny homes like the one pictured here selling online for over $80,000. That was absurd. Dave’s prices were much more down to earth and easier to swallow.

Still, there was no doubt that this custom tiny home RV would cost about twice as much as a 20-foot RV — which I’d also been considering.

A Visit with Jim & Teresa

From Dave’s lot, I drove down to Coeur d’Alene. I texted back and forth with Jim and discovered that he was working on a project at his new homesite. I stopped for lunch in town, then drove out to meet him.

Jim and Teresa are building a big, beautiful home on a small lot on the Spokane River just east of the Lake Coeur d’Alene. Their property includes a two slip dock that they share with their next door neighbor. The place is walking distance from one of those Main Street style malls — you know, the ones with shops and restaurants and apartments over the businesses. Odd that we abandon our downtown areas, yet build replicas of those towns to live in.

Teresa and their dog Zeus showed up as Jim was giving me the tour. I saw the whole place and complemented them on the innovative design and unusual features — including L-shaped windows and angular walls. Afterwards, we drove over to the shopping center and had margaritas and nachos while catching up. I hadn’t seen them in two years. Jim, who had been a cherry drying pilot in the Wenatchee area for about 15 years, had sold his helicopter and given up flying.

We walked back to the house from there, letting the dogs run and play off-leash along the way. The we walked along the boardwalk between the homes and the river. The sun had set and nighttime came on. We got back to Jim’s truck, which we’d left at the house, and rode in it back to the restaurant parking lot to fetch Teresa’s truck and my car. Then we rode back, convoy style, to the house they were still living in.

I got the guest room in the basement, which had been their son’s bedroom. It was nice and dark and quiet down there. I slept well.

In the morning, we had breakfast at a restaurant not far from town. I think it was the same business they’d taken my wasband and I years ago, when we’d passed through with my old RV on a sort of road trip vacation. Now it was in a new building. Great breakfast, more great conversation. Teresa recommended that I stop at Blue Dog RV in Post Falls to see what they had in the way of RVs. Since I wasn’t in any hurry to get home, I figured I may as well take a look. After all, there aren’t any RV dealers near where I live.

We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. It was about 10 AM.

RV Shopping

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s RV shopping. I’d gone through this too many times to like it.

When I bought the mobile mansion back in 2010, I honestly thought it was the last RV I’d ever need. I bought it to fit a specific need: a seasonal home for two grown people and a mid-sized dog. I figured my now wasband and I would live in it every summer for 4 to 6 months, then go home to Arizona for the rest of the year. That’s why it’s so damn big. I wanted it to be comfortable for two people for months at a time. And I fully expected to use it for many years to come, as semi-retired snowbirds.

Unfortunately, plans change. My wasband is now nothing more to me than a sad, bitter memory. I live in my own home in Washington state where I make most of my living in the summer months as a cherry drying pilot. I keep busy enough in the spring and fall to stay home. But I want to travel in the winter and spend some time in California in the early spring, where my helicopter is parked on frost control duty. I figure that I’ll only be on the road 2 to 4 months out of the year and, during that time, I won’t be parked in one place. Since it’s just me and Penny the Tiny Dog, I don’t need a lot of space. And I definitely don’t want a big rig. I want something easy to tow and easy to park. While towing the mobile mansion isn’t difficult with my big truck, parking it is a pain in the ass. And because of it’s size, I’m automatically closed out of more than a few park campgrounds.

So here I am, looking for a new solution to meet a new need.

One thing I learned the last time around is that it’s all about floor plans and features. I want the length under 20 feet, but I want the bigger refrigerator and I want the stove with the oven. That cuts out about 3/4 of the shorter models. I don’t want slides (or pop-outs) — they add weight and maintenance concerns. I want plenty of windows, a power-controlled awning, stereo sound system with DVD player, and television.

Big Window RV
I am a sucker for big windows in an RV. This Hideout was a bit longer than I wanted but the big window in the back made it nearly irresistible.

So that’s what I proposed to the very patient salesperson, Lydia, at Blue Dog in Post Falls, ID. After reviewing a few models online, she loaded me into her golf cart and drove me out onto the huge lot. We looked at about a half dozen models. We even drove back to their other lot in Coeur d’Alene to look at models there. Just when I started to glaze over, she focused me back on what we’d seen. She priced up a new and a used Keystone Hideout, each in a different style. The prices were workable, but the deal wasn’t good enough for me buy that day. I wanted to sell the mobile mansion — which was worth far more than these smaller rigs, making a trade-in impractical — before I bought a replacement.

And I was still thinking about the tiny house idea.

Spokane’s Falls

It was nearly 2 pm when Penny and I drove away. By this time, I was very hungry. But I also felt that I needed to see more of the area before I went home. I’d heard of Spokane Falls and decided to check that out. Google guided me.

I knew nothing about the area, but when I drove over a bridge and saw an aerial tram, I decided I needed to get on it. I navigated back to a shopping mall called River Park Square and got a parking space across the street in the shade. I cracked the car’s windows, leaving Penny inside, fed the meter with my credit card, and went inside.

Conveyor Belt Sushi
Conveyor belt sushi, Spokane style.

Back in the 1980s, I worked in New York City for New York City. My partner, a Chinese woman from Hong Kong, occasionally took me for lunch at a restaurant near the Empire State Building that served up dim sum and sushi on a conveyor belt that wound past all the seats. Since then, I’d seen conveyor belt sushi only one other time — in San Francisco. Believe it or not, they have it in Spokane at the mall I found myself in that afternoon.

Needless to say, that’s where I ate.

And maybe it won’t surprise you when I tell you it wasn’t that good.

Sky Ride
On the Spokane Falls Sky Ride.

Afterwards, I made my way out to the ticket booth for the Spokane Falls Sky Ride. It was pretty much deserted on that Thursday afternoon, so I didn’t have to wait. I paid $6.50 (with a AAA discount) and was loaded aboard my own car.

I’ve seen reviews of this ride and some of them pretty much bash it. But I thought it was kind of fun. I even did a live broadcast on Periscope which had quite a few viewers. And the view of the falls is great!

The Trip Home

By that time, my two hours of meter time was nearly up. I went back to the car, leashed Penny, and took her for a walk around the block. We got back into the car and headed toward the freeway. I’d already decided to pass on the long ride through the wheat fields. I got on I-90 and headed west.

The drive was long and dull, made only marginally more interesting by the string of podcasts I listened to along the way. I exited at George and followed familiar roads all the way home. It was probably around 8 when I pulled into my driveway.

Was my trip a success? I think so. I got a chance to see Dave’s tiny homes first hand and learn that what I wanted was definitely possible. I also got to see some friends I’d missed — and get an invitation to return in the spring with my boat when their house is done. And although it had taken longer than I wanted to price up a few RVs, it was good to see what was available.

Now I’ve got work to do: sketch out a floor plan for a tiny home and see if Dave can make it happen. I’d love to hit the road with something different next winter.

Hiking the Pipeline Trail

An easy trail through the woods, with breathtaking views of the Wenatchee Valley and Mission Ridge.

Our Track
Here’s our track, as recorded with the GaiaGPS app on my iPhone. The markers show where I took photos; click here to see hike stats with all photos. Elevation is in meters, not feet.

On Monday, I went hiking with my friend Sue. We hike on and off throughout the year, but mostly in the spring and fall, when it’s neither too hot nor too cold. Our hikes are always local — there are dozens of trails within 10 miles of my home — so they seldom take more than a few hours out of my day. Since Sue is retired and I’m “semi-retired,” we usually hike during the week when there are fewer people out and about. I’m especially interested in avoiding mountain bikers, who can come up on us suddenly. I usually allow Penny to walk off-leash on these hikes and I don’t want to worry about her causing a wreck with someone on two wheels.

Monday’s hike was on the so-called Pipeline Trail, which runs from Liberty Beehive Road (NF 9712) into Mission Ridge Ski Resort. It’s named for the pipeline that runs under it, bringing water from reservoirs in the mountains down to other reservoirs used by orchards in the Squilchuck area. (It might actually terminate at Beehive Reservoir, which we passed on the way up to the trailhead.) The trail is not marked, but it’s unmistakable — it looks a lot like a road heading south along the edge of the mountain. There’s a parking lot across the road for another popular trail: Devils Gulch. I can’t find the trail we took on any map. But that might be because it’s so damn easy that a serious hiker wouldn’t even consider it a “hike.”

But there’s nothing wrong with an easy hike on a beautiful post-summer day when the sky is clear, the air is fresh, and just a few of the trees are starting to show autumn colors. So when Sue suggested it, I was all over it.

Getting There

Pipeline Trail Head
Here’s the start of the trail. The trail is road-like in most places; the boulders were obviously placed to keep 4-wheeled vehicles off.

Getting there is pretty easy — if you can find the turn for Beehive Reservoir.

Go up Squilchuck Road from Wenatchee. Continue on it past Squilchuck State Park where it becomes Mission Ridge Road. Take the right hand turn onto Beehive Road (NF 9712), which is improved gravel. This is right before a sharp switchback curve to the left. I don’t think it’s marked at all and it’s easy to miss, so slow down after you pass the park. (One of these days, I’ll have to find a mile marker to help guide people.) Drive up Beehive Road for at least 3-4 miles. You’ll pass the reservoir on your right and may see people camping near there. Keep going. Eventually, you’ll see a right turn into a parking area with trailhead signage and an old horse loading platform. That’s the Devils Gulch trailhead. Park there. You can then cross the road to where the Pipeline Trail cuts off from the road.

I’m pretty sure you need a Discover Pass to park there. I have one but it wasn’t with me (as usual). Without any other option, I decided to take my chances on getting a ticket. (I didn’t get one; weekday off season is pretty safe.)

We drove up in my truck, which I was using for garbage duty that day. (Long story.) When we got out, the chill in the air hit me immediately. Our climb along paved and gravel roads had brought us to an elevation of about 4800 feet and at 8:30 AM, it was downright cold. I’d dressed in layers — a tank top and a long-sleeved cotton shirt — and donned the third layer, a fleece hoodie, before strapping on my fanny pack and grabbing Penny’s leash. Then the three of us headed out across the road.

The Hike

View from Pipeline Trail
Here’s a view between some of the tall pines — including one dead from a long-ago fire — down the Columbia River.

There’s really not much to say about the hike other than what I’ve already said. It climbs gently along the side of the hill, with sweeping views out to the Wenatchee Valley, Squilchuck Canyon, and Mission Ridge Ski Resort areas along the way. In some places, it’s densely wooded. In others, it’s fully exposed.

Recent improvements to the trail — it was under construction last year with lots of heavy equipment — included cement blocks designed to prevent runoff damage. Each time we crossed over one of these, we could hear water trickling beneath it. We crossed several tiny creeks and one large one that required hopping from rock to rock to keep our feet dry.

Creek Creek
We crossed numerous little creeks along the way. It was nice to see water flowing this late in the season.

That large creek was Lake Creek, which comes down from Marion and Clara Lakes (see map above). The trailhead from Mission Ridge’s parking lot to the two lakes crosses right near the creek. I’d taken that trail up — a steep climb for the first part of the hike! — to the lakes several years ago with some friends. More recently, I’d taken the opposite end of the trail from NF 9712 to the two lakes with Kirk. Either way, that’s a great hike, although I admit I prefer the less strenuous hike from NF 9712, which has the added bonus of a Jeep ride at the beginning and end to get to the trailhead.

Flowers along the trail.

There were some, but not many, wildflowers along the trail. Sue knows flowers (and rocks, by the way) and was able to identify most of them. I didn’t take many pictures because the only camera I had with me was the one on my phone. (I’ve become lazy about photography lately.) But I did capture a few images to document what was blooming at 4800 feet in mid September.

Dew on Lupine Leaves
Dew on lupine leaves.

It was also neat to see plants covered with dew along the way. Contrary to popular belief, not all of Washington gets the endless rain showers of Seattle. The east side of the Cascade Mountains is desert-like — indeed, you need to irrigate if you want anything other than native sagebrush and bunch grass to grow. So dew is not a common phenomena. But at this elevation with the low morning temperature, there was plenty of dew on the ground. In many cases, it made the leaves of short plants sparkle in the sunlight.

Sue had come with the idea of looking for chanterelle mushrooms, which apparently grow in densely wooded patches of the forest near here. She had a specific location in mind to look. I’m going on a weekend-long mushroom seminar later this autumn and was hoping that this hike would give me some experience before the trip. But pipeline construction had torn out much of the vegetation Sue remembered being in that area and we didn’t even bother to look.

Eventually, the trail intersected with one of Mission Ridge’s ski trails. Signs facing down the trail we’d just come up warned skiers that the trail was not patrolled. We continued along the trail where it met with one of Mission Ridge’s service roads. We even crossed under one of the ski lifts. From that point, the trail began a steeper climb. I consulted my GPS to see how far we’d walked and was shocked to see that we’d done more than three miles. Sue agreed that was enough so we turned around and headed back.

Mission Ridge
This is as far as we got on our hike. (Coincidentally, it’s the only time I’ve been inside the Mission Ridge ski resort; I do cross-country skiing, not downhill.) The trail climbed more steeply past this point.

The walk back was just as pleasant as the walk out had been. Even though we were covering the same territory, we saw different things. The conversation was interesting; Sue is a great hiking partner who knows how to tell interesting stories and listen without interrupting when her companion tells one.

Penny, of course, had a great time. Although I’d brought along her leash, I didn’t have to put it on her once. There was no risk of bothering other hikers or getting hit by cars on a road. And little wildlife other than birds and some squirrels or chipmunks that I never saw.

Back at the Truck

We got back to the parking area at about 11:20 AM. We’d been on the trail for about 2 hours and 45 minutes and had covered a round-trip distance of 6.2 miles.

This out-and-back hike is suitable for hikers/walkers of all ages. There’s nothing strenuous about it. I think would be especially appealing in the springtime, though, when there’s more water running and plenty of wildflowers. I hope to be back next April or May.

A Trip to Portland

An activity-packed road trip with a foodie bonus.

My helicopter was due for an annual inspection before the end of August. The Robinson mechanic with the local fix-it guys, Alpine Aviation, had moved on to another job elsewhere, so there wasn’t a qualified mechanic on staff to do the job. That meant taking it out of town to my backup “local” Robinson shop in Hillsboro, OR. I’d brought the helicopter there a few years before when I was in the same situation. They treated me fairly, recognizing that I needed the helicopter safe and legal but not necessarily factory-perfect. And because they worked on Robinson helicopters all the time, they had a lot of experience with the various things that needed special attention.

Kllickitat from the Air
After too much time flying in low-visibility, smoke-filled skies, it was a real pleasure to drop down into the Klickitat River Valley.

So on August 24, I left Wenatchee’s smoky skies and headed south with an old Macworld Expo friend of mine, Raines Cohen. Although the trip should have taken us about 90 minutes on a direct route, heavy wildfire smoke and a TFR near Mt. Adams forced us to go past Yakima and down the Klickitat River Valley, then down the Columbia River to Troutdale before cutting southwest to Hillsboro (HIO). Total time in the air was just over two hours. We caught a train to downtown Portland where Raines bought me lunch at a block full of food trucks. I had no time to dawdle; I hopped on another train to Portland International Airport (PDX) to catch a flight back to Wenatchee.

I’d originally planned to catch another flight back to Portland with a cab to Hillsboro to pick up the helicopter. When I asked Kirk if he wanted to join me and spend a few days in Portland, he suggested that we drive. I admit I wasn’t too happy with the idea. It’s more than five hours from Wenatchee to Portland and he’d have to drive back alone. But he said there were things we could see along the way. I’m always up for a road trip, so I cancelled my flight arrangements and made plans for the trip. That included getting a house-sitter — my friend Alix with her dog Remi — to watch the kittens I’m fostering in the garage and Penny the Tiny Dog, who I’d decided to leave behind to keep things simple.

Day 1: Wenatchee to Hood River

We left in the morning on Tuesday, September 1. We would have gotten an earlier start, but I had to drop my motorcycle off for servicing and the shop didn’t open until 9. So it wasn’t until after 10 AM that we rolled out of town.

Route 821
Yes, the freeway would have been quicker, but just look at the twists and turns of Route 821 in the Yakima River Canyon!

We took Route 2 to Route 97 over Blewett Pass. After a quick pit stop at a truck stop in Ellensburg, we continued south on a road I’d been dying to drive: Route 821. This road twists and turns inside the Yakima River Canyon, following the course of the river the whole way. It was a great drive, even in Kirk’s Equinox, but one of these days I’m going to get back down there on my motorcycle.

We got on the freeway near Yakima and took that to Route 97, which goes through Washington and Oregon into California. It’s the fastest route between Central Washington and northern California — the route I take when I drive between Wenatchee and the Sacramento area for frost work each spring. In this part of Washington, it cuts across the Yakama Nation, with wild horses sometimes visible grazing near the road.

One interesting stop along the way: St. John’s Monastery & Bakery. This is a Greek Orthodox monastery with a bakery operated by nuns. The bakery sells all kinds of Greek foods, including pastries, breads, ready-made meals, and honey. We bought and shared a baklava which may have been the best I’ve ever eaten. I highly recommend a stop here if you’re driving through the area. It’s the only thing in the Goldendale area worth visiting (in my opinion).

At my request, Kirk hammed it up on the Stonehenge “altar.”

One of the reasons we took Route 97 south was because Kirk wanted to show me the Maryhill Stonehenge. This is a replica of the famous Stonehenge in England, built the way the original was originally built — in other words, not in ruins. It’s situated on a hillside overlooking the Columbia River. It’s a weird spot, mostly deserted but kept clean. We walked around the rocks and then hiked down to the gravesite of Samuel Hill, the man who’d built it. Hill was also one of the driving forces behind the construction of the amazing Columbia River Highway, which we’d drive over the next day or so.

We drove down the hill from Stonehenge and made a stop at a farm stand surrounded by orchards. Kirk bought a 20-lb box of peaches. I introduced Kirk to paletas (Mexican ice pops), one of my favorite local treats.

By this time, it was nearly 4 PM. We’d taken a lot longer to drive south than we expected. But that didn’t matter. We weren’t in a hurry. I had reservations for a place in Portland, but not until the next day. We could stay anywhere that night. I like that — being able to travel at my own pace, visiting places of interest that I stumble onto.

Kirk had always wanted to visit the Maryhill Museum of Art, so that’s where we went next. The museum is housed in a mansion built by Samuel Hill in the early 1900s. Although it wasn’t quite finished, it was dedicated in 1926 by Queen Marie of Romania; there are many paintings of her and furniture items she designed in the museum’s lobby. The museum also has a huge collection of Rodin sketches and sculptures, as well as a variety of other interesting collections. Although it had turned into a gray day, after walking through the museum, we took a nice walk on the grounds overlooking the river. If you like art and you’re in the area, it’s worth a stop.

Fashion Dolls
Théâtre de la Mode is an exhibit that shows fashions of post World War II France on 1/3 size mannequins.

To Rowena Crest
I had the pleasure of riding east on these switchbacks on my motorcycle back in 2011.

We headed west on Route 14, which winds along the Washington side of the Columbia River. By this time, it was well after 5 PM and time to start thinking about a place to spend the night. We crossed the river at The Dalles, got on Route 30, the Historic Columbia River Highway, and headed west on the Oregon side of the river. That brought us up a steep, switchbacked road to the Rowena Crest Viewpoint. This is a must-stop along the drive, with sweeping views up and down the Columbia River. For folks with time who arrive earlier in the day, there’s also a number of hikes that’ll take you higher onto the plateau to the south.

Rowena Crest View
The view from Rowena Crest on that gray afternoon. This shot is looking up the Columbia River toward Rowena and The Dalles.

We got back on Route 30, which dumped us onto I-84 after a while. We exited at Hood River. We then followed a series of signs for the “Historic Hood River Hotel,” winding up in town in front of a three-story brick building. Since I’ll take a night in a historic hotel over a night in a Quality Inn (etc.) any day — as long as it’s not crazy expensive — I voted to check it out. The room we got on the top floor was clean and comfortable for only $100. Best of all, the place was walking distance from numerous restaurants. The desk clerk suggested Kin Eatery, which was new, and that’s where we wound up. We had a great dinner with even better wine. (I’d link to their website, but it’s so completely useless that I don’t want to waste my time or yours.)

It had been a great, busy day. We both slept well.

Day 2: Hood River to Portland

The hotel had a very nice buffet breakfast that was included in our room rate. Fresh baked scones, yogurt, cereal, fruit, juices, and other healthy choices. And I got a latte. What else could I want?

We continued on our way, following I-84/SR-30 to the Bonneville Dam Fish Hatchery. I wanted to show Kirk the huge sturgeon I’d seen there way back in 2005, the year of my “midlife crisis road trip.” I don’t think he believed that the fish was as big as I claimed. But he is. His name is Herman the Sturgeon and he’s 10 feet long and 500 pounds. He’s still swimming around in the sturgeon pond, accompanied by several large friends, all of which are visible in a fish window or from walkways around the pond.

It poured like hell while we were at the fish hatchery, but we dodged raindrops and eventually made our way back to the car. From there, we went into the Bradford Island Visitor Center at the Bonneville Dam. There are quite a few displays there covering the salmon runs, dam construction, and native people. There’s also a fish ladder with a viewing window — quite a few salmon were running upstream. We left just as a tour was beginning.

Bonneville Dam from the Air
Here’s a view of the Bonneville Dam complex shot with my helicopter’s nosecam on my way home that Friday. The fish hatchery is in the lower right and Bradford Island is about dead center.

It was while we were at the visitor center that I listened to my voicemail messages and got some bad news. During the final part of the inspection the day before, the mechanics had found a screw and washer in the oil pan screen. They didn’t know where it had come from but they obviously had to find out. I called the maintenance boss to talk to him about it. He said he’d gotten some info from Lycoming, the engine manufacturer, and the guys were working on it. But it would definitely delay my pickup. Instead of coming for it on Thursday morning, as planned, it might not even be ready by Friday afternoon. This was very bad news for me since I had a rides gig on Saturday and three charters on Sunday. I told him to do the best he could and hung up. It looked as if at least one of us would be spending an extra day or two in Portland.

When we left the visitor center, we were dumped back on the freeway until we could finally exit back where Route 30 continued on its own. This is probably the most well-known stretch of the Columbia River Highway, where one waterfall after another tumbles off the cliffs alongside the road. There are countless hiking trails with ample parking and no shortage of scenery. I could easily spend a week just exploring this part of Washington on foot.

Multnomah Falls
The iconic Multnomah Falls.

We passed one waterfall after another, but didn’t stop. Our destination, which I hoped to make in time for lunch, was Multnomah Falls. This is the iconic waterfall of the Columbia River Highway — the one with the bridge across it. You know. That one.

We arrived at 11:30 and, by some miracle, got a parking space close to the front door. That was a good thing because it was raining again. I dashed inside the lodge while Kirk went in search of a restroom. I got us one of the last tables in the restaurant. I had a nice sautéed trout with vegetables for lunch.

Multnomah Trail
The Multnomah Falls area includes a trail with 11 switchbacks that climbs to the top of the falls.

After lunch, we headed out for a closer look at the falls. It had stopped raining by then and the sun was poking out. We did the quarter-mile hike up to the bridge, where we stopped and looked at the water falling from far above us. The trail continued and so did we.

Switchback Sign
Yep. 11 switchbacks.

It was a long hike to the top of the falls. Not distance — it’s only about a mile from the bridge — but in time. There are 11 switchbacks, each of which was marked so you could track your progress. The switchbacks were needed because we were basically climbing up the side of a cliff. I don’t do well on uphill climbs and I needed a lot of rest stops. Kirk was very patient. It rained on us, of course — hard at times — and we found shelter up against the large trees alongside the trail. There were plenty of people on the trail, but I wouldn’t call it crowded.

View from the top of Multnomah Falls
I reached far out with my camera and shot this view looking down the falls. If you look closely, you can see the bridge.

Eventually, we reached the highest point of the trail and started a descent to Multnomah Creek. A few steps down to a circular platform and we were there, at the top of the falls. I’ll be the first to admit that if I hadn’t been encouraged all the way by Kirk, I probably wouldn’t have finished the hike. But I was so glad I did! The view looking back down was amazing. We stayed for about 20 minutes. During that time, the rain stopped and the sun came out. It was a beautiful afternoon, with wispy clouds floating up the Columbia River valley.

Columbia River from the top of Multomah Falls
Here’s a view of the Columbia River from the top of Multnomah Falls.

We hiked back down and continued down Route 30. From that point, we made several waterfall stops: Wahkeena, Bridal Veil, and Latourell. We stopped and did short hikes at some of them. I tried Periscoping once or twice but didn’t have a good, strong signal. The weather pretty much held, although it did drizzle a bit while we were at Latourell Falls.

Wahkeena Falls Latourell Falls
Wahkeena (left) and Latourell (right) Falls are stops right along Route 30.

After some more twisting road that led away from the river briefly, we wound up at Vista House, yet another historic overlook along the road. The view was so spectacular — especially with the post-storm clouds and blue sky — that I took several pictures of that and none of the building itself. It’s a small domed building with a second floor, walk-around viewing area. I managed to capture a good image as I flew over it a few days later in my helicopter.

Vista House View
The view from Vista House that Wednesday afternoon.

Vista House from the Air
A view of Vista House from the air shot from my helicopter two days later.

Although the Columbia River Highway continued on toward Springdale and Troutdale, the scenic parts pretty much ended at Vista House. We continued down the road to I-84 and pointed the car toward Portland. I worked my phone’s navigation features to guide us to the AirBnB property I’d reserved for our overnight stay. We arrived at about 5:15 in a quiet Portland neighborhood, let ourselves in with the hide-a-key, and relaxed for a while.

Pok Pok
Pok Pok features indoor/outdoor seating.

Our hosts arrived a while later and after having a nice chat with them and marveling at the huge size of one of their cats, we headed out on foot for dinner. My Twitter friend Terry had recommended a Thai place called Pok Pok, whicih was about five blocks away. (I didn’t realize it when I made the reservation, but the AirBnB property I’d booked was within walking distance of one of Portland’s many foodie areas.) There was a wait to get in, but they had openings at the bar so we took two seats there. We ordered the Fish Sauce Wings that Terry had told me about, as well as Kai Tuun (a chicken dish) and Kaeng hang Leh (a pork dish). Kirk had a Thai beer and I had one of their weird drinks, a Lord Bergamot (Smith Teas bergamot tea infused vodka with Som honey drinking vinegar, orange liqueur, and soda on the rocks), which was so tasty I had two. Although the food was great, I didn’t think it was worth waiting for the amount of time we would have had to wait for a regular table. And when the two people who sat near us admitted to also being out-of-towners, I began to suspect that Pok Pok is a tourist joint. Still, no regrets. It was a great meal.

Afterwards, we walked down the block to Salt & Straw, a “small, hip ice cream parlor featuring unique, housemade flavors like blue cheese & olive oil,” according to Google. It had been recommended by our AirBnB hosts. The line stretched out the door about a half block and didn’t move very fast. I couldn’t imagine any ice cream being good enough to wait an hour for and neither could Kirk. So we had a pastry at the French bakery next door, sitting outside and watching the folks on line as we ate.

A nice evening walk back to our lodging finished the day.

Day 3: Portland

The only thing disappointing about the AirBnB place we stayed was breakfast: they put a French press and hot pot in our room and left cold cereal in the kitchen for us. While weak coffee and cold cereal is apparently enough of a meal for Kirk, I needed some decent coffee. So after getting dressed for the day, we drove about halfway to the K&F Clinton Street Coffeehouse and walked the rest of the way. I got a latte and a breakfast pastry; Kirk passed on a second cup of coffee. Afterwards, we took the long way around back to the car, walking on Division Street. We discussed whether Kirk would stay an extra day with me and he told me he would. Later, I booked the same place for that night.

We headed into Portland. Kirk wanted to visit the Lan Su Chinese Garden. We found the place, parked, and then discovered it wasn’t open yet.

So we walked to the destination I wanted to visit: the famous Powell’s City of Books. All I can say is wow. I’ve never been in a bookstore with so many books. With limited time — the meter was running at our parking spot 10 blocks away — I had to choose one topic to explore. I went to the Writing books area and found hundreds of books about writing. What’s neat about Powell’s is that they have both new and used books and don’t seem too worried about how much shelf space they use. It was an amazing selection. I bought two books, both of which were used and much cheaper than if they’d been new. I could easily spend an entire day in this bookstore, but I worry about how many books I’d carry out with me.

Lan Su Chinese Garden
Lan Su Chinese Garden is a beautiful oasis of nature in downtown Portland.

Back at the garden, Kirk fed the meter and bought tickets for the garden. It was a beautiful place, with a carp-stocked pond, Chinese style buildings, and lush vegetation, all surrounded by a tall wall that blocked out most views (but not sounds, unfortunately) of the city beyond. We spent about an hour wandering around while a tai chi class moved silently on a platform overlooking the pond.

From Chinatown, we went in search of lunch. I wanted to show Kirk the block of food trucks I’d seen with Raines two weeks before. I don’t think he understood that there was an entire block of them. I had a rough idea of where it was so we moved the car and parked near there. After walking around for a while, trying to find something that looked remotely familiar, I finally asked for directions. The place we wanted was the block bordered by SW Alder, SW 10th, SW Washington, and SW 9th. It’s a full block lined with at least 50 food trucks selling all kinds of food. We walked the entire block, looking for something that struck our fancy. (I’d had a gyro two weeks before but wanted something more exotic.) Finally, we split up. I had a Tangine meal from a Moroccan food truck and Kirk had something Asian.

We ate on a bench in nearby O’Bryant Square, a park with a weird collection of people. I’m not sure if Kirk realized that the woman sitting at the far end of our bench, tapping away at her smartphone with long, manicured fingernails, was actually a man. The two of us did spend some time wondering why an extremely clean and well-dressed Hispanic man, who had a smart phone, was eating food from the garbage. And we disagreed entirely about the musical talents of the homeless-looking man who strummed away on a guitar in the middle of the crowd — I said he had no talent but Kirk was more inclined to think he did. Whatever. The highlight of the park — if that isn’t enough — was the bicycle pedal driven blender some guys were using to make and sell iced smoothies. They gave me a sample as we walked by for a closer look and it was awful.

After a walk in Pioneer Courthouse Square, we got back in the car and headed out to Washington Park in search of a hike. We’d been directed to the Hoyt Arboretum visitor center. That’s where we got a nice trail map and picked a combination of several trails that wound through tall pine forests. Kirk knows a lot about trees and shared some of his knowledge of what we saw. There’s a stand of giant redwoods and even a few sequoias in there and our path took us past all of them. Of course, it rained when we started the hike, but I kept dry in a $3 poncho I bought at the visitor center. I was seriously tired of being wet. But it was a pleasant walk all the same and, for most of the walk, the sound of the city and highway faded away.

I should mention here that I’d been to Washington Park’s International Rose Test Garden a few years before and although we didn’t visit it on this trip, I do highly recommend it.

Afterward, we headed back into town. I wanted to visit the Pendleton Home Store with the thought of buying a king-size blanket for my bed. I’d gotten a bedspread months ago, but thought I could do better. We found the store and parked nearby, then spent some time browsing the store. I worked with a salesperson to go through the catalog for options. Unfortunately Pendleton doesn’t carry all of its styles in king size and, if I’m going to spend $400 for a blanket, I have to really love it. So I walked away empty-handed.

It was nearly 5 PM when we headed back to our lodging. We relaxed for a while before heading out to dinner. We walked again — the weather had cleared out and it was very pleasant — this time going to Bollywood Theater, an Indian restaurant recommended by our hosts. I snagged us a seat inside and we waited on line to order. I can’t really remember what we ordered, but we shared it and it was delicious. Afterwards, I checked out the attached Indian market, where I could buy all the grains and spices I needed to make authentic Indian food. Unfortunately, I hadn’t come with any lists of ingredients I’d need in the future. Next time, I’ll be better prepared. I really love Indian food.

We got lucky on the way back to our room. Salt & Straw’s line was much shorter and, not willing to leave the area without a taste, we got on line. Ten minutes later, we were inside, tasting some of the unusual flavors they offered. I tasted Pear and Blue Cheese. It was interesting, but I ended up with a half scoop of Freckled Woodblock Chocolate and a half scoop of Honey Lavender. They were both good, but next time I’ll go for the Stumptown Coffee & Burnside Bourbon. (Don’t know how I missed that.)

Ice Cream Flavors
The flavor board at Salt & Straw.

We took a different route back to our room and settled in for the night, exhausted from a full day.

Day 4: Portland to Hillsboro to Home

Kirk had his weak coffee and cold cereal breakfast again. I tried the coffee again, but really couldn’t drink it. Then we packed up and said goodbye to our host. I navigated us to Hillsboro, which is southwest of Portland. Along the way, I suggested a few return routes to Kirk. The weather looked good and I know he wanted to make a few stops, possibly for some hiking, along the way.

Undressed Helicopter
Despite being partially undressed, my helicopter was almost ready to go.

My helicopter was out on the ramp, running with a few panels still off when we arrived. That was a good sign. It meant it was mostly assembled. Kirk came inside the shop with me were I chatted with the mechanics. They needed a few more hours. That was no problem; I’d rented a car from Avis for the day and would keep busy while Kirk started the long drive home. So Kirk dropped me and my luggage off at the Avis desk nearby and we said our goodbyes. I got the keys to a small car that would cost a whopping $30 for the day, loaded up my stuff, and headed out on my own.

I got coffee and a breakfast sandwich at a local coffee shop. Hell, I have my priorities straight!

Then I went shopping. I found a Trader Joe’s and stocked up on the various things they sell that I really love. I also snagged a 2-lb box of fresh figs, which I love. Then I stopped at a number of other places: Pier 1, Michael’s, Sportsman’s Outfitters, others. I bought a few small things along the way — after all, they needed to fit inside the helicopter. I went into REI and bought Kirk a map and book about the Pacific Crest Trail, which he kept telling me he wanted to hike. Around then is when my phone rang. My helicopter was ready.

I headed back, returned the car, and managed to carry all my luggage and purchases down the ramp to my helicopter. I stowed it on board and went inside to settle my bill and order some fuel. The bill was a lot higher than I expected, mostly because of that damn screw, which required 14 hours of labor to replace in the oil pan baffle. Sheesh.

I was airborne by about 3 PM. It didn’t take much research to realize that a direct route home would not be possible. There were storms with low clouds to the north, heading east. I figured I’d follow the same route I’d taken down two weeks before, but was over Klickitat when I realized even that would be difficult. So instead, I headed east to the Columbia at Mattawa and followed the river up from there. I wrote about part of the flight elsewhere in this blog and have shown some of the photos my helicopter’s nosecam captured in this post.

Multnomah Falls from the Air
Here’s one more photo: Multnomah Falls from the air, shot on my way home.

I was home by 5 PM and put the helicopter away. Penny was very happy to see me. Kirk got home an hour or two later. He’d taken his time on the way home, making a few stops along the way.


That trip to Portland was likely my last trip with Kirk. A few days after our return from Portland, I ended our relationship.

Things had started off very well, but soon settled into the kind of frustrating rut you’d expect when two smart people, set in their ways after 50+ years of life experiences, end the good-behavior courtship phase of the relationship and reveal what they’re really all about. I realized that we were not as compatible as I’d hoped and pulled the plug before either of us could get too emotionally involved.

If there’s one thing my disastrous marriage taught me, it’s this: I’d rather be alone than with the wrong man. Life is too short to let someone else make you unhappy.

So I’m single again, without any new emotional scars, enjoying life on my terms. But I’m still keeping an eye out for a guy who might be the right companion for future adventures.

I’m thinking of the Florida Keys in November. Any takers?