Wednesday, October 11, 2023

From Twin Peaks to the Great White North, Part 1

Back in 2021, after Ms. B. and I went to Europe with our friends and regular travel companions, Terry & Beth, we started plotting a big trip for 2023. None of us had ever gone on an Alaska cruise, so we decided this might be just the ticket. As usual, Ms. B. and Terry took on most of the planning duties, and they settled on an early autumn venture, which included some time in Washington State prior to the cruise and some in Vancouver upon our return.

At the time, none of us had any inkling that Kimberly and I would end up moving from North Carolina to Virginia due to various, unexpected circumstances. This proved to be a fly in the proverbial ointment, but since we had made a number of reservations that would be hard to cancel without penalty, we pressed on. And so, our gang of four gathered for the excursion...
At RDU, preparing to shove off
Friday, September 22, 2023: The Bluest Skies You've Ever Seen Are in Seattle...
Well, no... despite what the song says, these skies really aren't, at least not now. Gray. Very gray. Very gray and very watery.

Our flight to Seattle from Raleigh-Durham was scheduled for 7:30 p.m., so a little past noon, Kimberly and I drove down to our travel companions' place in Kernersville, grabbed some lunch at nearby Don Juan's Mexican Restaurant, and hit the road for RDU. Our Alaska Airlines flight had a very slight departure delay but made up the time in the air — only to have no ground crew at the gate for almost the exact amount of time we'd made up, so... net delay. Anyway, due to a lot of upper atmosphere turbulence, the flight bumped and bounced quite a bit, but it was otherwise uneventful and not at all unpleasant. Escaping from SeaTac was a whole 'nuther story, given the unmanaged chaos of the terminal's arrivals/pick-up area, but eventually, we procured our rental car and made it to our nearby hotel to spend the night.

Saturday, September 23, 2023: Into Twin Peaks
Happily, none of us suffered any noticeable jetlag from our flight across the country, so we four intrepid travelers headed out relatively early for breakfast — a nearby IHOP — and hit the highway bound for Wapato, a fairly small, wine-rich community a couple of hours southeast of Seattle. As it turned out, Snoqualmie, which provided much of the scenery for my favorite series ever — Twin Peaks — lay right on the way, so we made a slight detour and spent an incredible day in this picturesque town.

Our first stop was Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge & Spa, which famously doubled as the Great Northern Hotel in Twin Peaks. The falls and lodge are impressive, and the connection to the series only made the visit more meaningful — and memorable — to me. I grabbed a few geocaches, so yeah... one happy old fart, I was.

From the falls, we rode into Snoqualmie proper, where we checked out a couple of other locations from the series. Then we discovered an appealing winery called Sigillo Cellars. We sampled several wines, which ranged from good to fantastic. You'll no doubt be shocked that several bottles accompanied us out the door (well, yes, we did pay for them). Snagging a couple of more geocaches and a somewhat late lunch at Copperstone Family Spaghetti Restaurant rounded out our day in Snoqualmie. Finally, we hit the road again for another couple of hours until we arrived at our Air BnB at Freehand Cellars in Wapato. This would be our base of operations for a few days before moving on to our next destination. Happily, the hot tub on the premises provided a relaxing finale for the evening.
Sunday, September 24, 2023: Pursued by Bear!
None of us rose with the sun, but we didn't lounge about too long this morning, for we were bound for Walla Walla, Washington. It was about a two-hour drive over from Wapato, broken in half by a stop in Richland for brunch at a restaurant called Lu Lu Craft Bar & Kitchen. Their signature Bloody Mary ("Not Your Mother's Mary") jump-started my day — in a mighty fine way. The food and drink hit the spot for everyone, I think. I had a Thai beef & noodle salad that I'd hardly call the epitome of Thai food but it was palatable enough for a place that doesn't specialize in that cuisine.

Having never visited Washington State before, the character of the terrain somewhat surprised me. Rather than the lush, forested, mountainous landscape of the state west of the Cascades, the land is scrubby, beige rather than green, and largely flat but lined with ridges and mountains, lower and more dome-like than the high, craggy peaks of the Cascades. The trees that grow in scattered clusters include Italian Cypress (again surprising, since we've seen these in profusion only in Europe), apple, and weeping willows. This landscape was shaped by glaciers that swept down from the north many ages ago and scoured the earth in their wake. This left the soil mineral-rich and thus perfect for growing grapes. I must say, I'm glad to have gotten a first-hand geography lesson.

Our first stop in Walla Walla was Patterson Cellars, which had been recommended to Terry & Beth by a friend from North Carolina. This recommendation proved justified, for we found the wine, from whites to ros├ęs to reds, consistently excellent. I'd go so far as to say that Patterson Cellars offers some of the best, if not the best, domestic wines I've ever tasted.

Our primary target, though, was actor Kyle MacLachlan's Walla Walla winery, Pursued By Bear. At Patterson Cellars, our host told us that Kyle was in town for a private event on the following day, but I can't say that we had any realistic hopes of actually meeting him. Well, as soon as walked in... there he was! He very kindly greeted us and proceeded to engage us in stimulating conversation. Somehow, I know not how (thank you, Beth), it became quickly evident that I was a Twin Peaks/David Lynch geek. I'm pretty sure I managed to carry on a reasonably intelligent conversation without babbling or drooling or anything equally ridiculous, and no one has corrected me on this count (and they sure as hell would have). True to what I've heard about Kyle, he struck us as genuine and easy to interact with. The Pursued by Bear wine, though expensive, was delicious. For me, this experience made for one incredible afternoon.

After fleeing from the Bear, we hoofed it over to nearby Mark Ryan Winery, which offered us a final, excellent selection of vino for the day. Then we found dinner at Red Monkey, which was nothing fancy, the food acceptable and the service very good. Finally, we mounted up and hit the road again, back to our place in Wapato.

I sleep now.
Monday, September 25, 2023: We Gonna Make It Mellow
After a couple of days of go-go-go, we stayed pretty close to home today, though we did visit a handful of nearby wineries and checked out some of the countryside. Our B&B is literally next door to the tasting room at Freehand Cellars, so we stopped in about lunchtime for some small plates and a tasting of their wines. Good stuff, though not as remarkable as the best of nearby establishments we've visited. We then mounted up and headed for Bonair Winery, not only because it was only a few miles away, but because Terry & Beth had visited on this date exactly five years ago, so it was something of an anniversary. Here, we really enjoyed the wine, the quirky service, and the location. Fortuitously, there was a cache on the premises, which I snagged, of course. For our final vino stop, we headed to Owen Roe Winery, just outside of Yakima. Again, decent, serviceable wine, with a lovely location and great staff.

After that, dinner in Yakima at Second Street Grill, which offered an extensive menu with reasonably agreeable foodz. The Banh Mi sandwich I had was as tasty as can be, although not quite the authentic Banh Mi we're accustomed to back home. After a supply stop at Wal-Mart, we returned to our home away from home, and Brugger and I hopped into the hot tub for a bit. For us, that was all she wrote for the day.

Done for now, and bye-bye till tomorrow.
The view from the deck at our Air BnB
Wild women at Owen Roe Winery

You just never know with these two.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023: The Yakima River Canyon, Ellensburg, and a Rattlesnek
Another slow, mellow morning for us, which hit the spot; I reckon some delayed jetlag caught up with me, plus I had a little "flash" migraine — a rare sort that hits me with a brief ocular aura and only a slight, brief headache. Definitely less debilitating than one of my more typical full-blown headaches but annoying nonetheless.

After a light lunch, we mounted up and headed a short distance northward toward the little town of Ellensburg by way of the Yakima River Canyon Road. I wouldn't call this the most "beautiful" landscape ever, but it's definitely full of character — the kind with a The Hills Have Eyes or Bone Tomahawk vibe. There are a good many geocaches along the way, but we stopped for only a scant few, since my companions are not cachers. However, at the Umtanum Recreation Site, there's a footbridge to cross the river and a trail that winds far back into canyon country. Ms. B. and I hiked a relatively short distance to hunt a cache, which I found... and promptly came upon a very friendly rattlesnake. I say "friendly" because he went the other way rather than for my ankle. Brugger and I just managed to get a couple of photos of him as he slithered into the brush. He didn't rattle at us, which I reckon indicates he probably wasn't feeling pissed off and/or threatened; my guess is that enough people pass that way regularly enough for the snakes to be reasonably accustomed to visitors. (Note that I call him "he" because he had very masculine shoulders.)

Once in Ellensburg, the womenz went shopping and Terry and I found a little wine & beer boutique, where we sank a couple of pints. Soon enough, Beth and Ms. B. rejoined us. We followed this up with a coffee shop stop, and then a geocache, which turned out to be unexpectedly fun. The cache was inside a little museum, which had just closed. The nice lady within noticed me staring longingly into the window, took pity on me (because she said I looked so sad), and then up and presented me with the geocache. Huzzah! That doesn't happen every day.

Another relaxing Air BnB evening, and I spent a little quiet time decompressing in the hot tub. A bit of packing up for our return to Seattle tomorrow, and... boom. Lights out.
Wednesday, September 27, 2023: And the Hills the Greenest Green Are in Seattle

I'm sure those hills are indeed that green... as the song says... but for almost the entire day, the world was a chiaroscuro of gray upon gray, with rain coming down in sheets.

This morning, we rose early, packed up, and departed our pleasant Wapato lodgings, bound again for Seattle. Our first destination was Pike Place Market, where we sought and found lunch at Lowell's Restaurant. I had a lovely grilled salmon with vegetables and rice pilaf, accompanied by a fiery Bloody Mary. In the market, one can find countless shops with a little bit of everything, but for most — as it was for us — the big draw is the fresh seafood. Terry and I picked up a couple of massive king crab legs, which accompanied us to our new digs and made for a superb, not-at-all inexpensive dinner.

After lunch, Brugger, Beth, and Terry went about shopping and meandering, while I went about geocaching. A fair number of caches lurked in close proximity, though several struck me as not-so-apt for the traveler on a schedule. One spot of particular interest was the "gum wall," which hosts a physical cache (though I was ill-prepared to hunt it, given the uniquely gross character of the terrain) and stages of a couple of Adventure Labs, which are "virtual" — meaning there's no physical container to find; you answer questions specific to the location. I happily opted for the latter. I ended up logging a good many finds and put in over three miles of footwork, which I very much needed after some of the fine dining we've enjoyed on this trip.

After several hours at the market and a drive-by of Seattle's landmark Space Needle, we set sail for Kenmore, just north of the city, our new base of operations for a couple of days until we begin our Alaska cruise. It's a nice place, and so we spent a pleasant evening with some pleasant fall jazz filling the air before retiring for the night. Till tomorrow.
Old dude at Pike Place Market entrance
Big Ass Shrimp at Pike Place Market
Old Dude at the Gum Wall. It's pretty gross, but fascinating as hell.
Careful... I'm armed!
Thursday, September 28, 2023: Woodinville Wining
Woodinville, WA, is known for its prodigious number of wineries, and — shockingly — there are those in our party who are known for occasionally partaking of the wine. Since Woodinville lies fifteen minutes or so from our lodgings, our party felt compelled to pay the place a visit.

First off, we sought and slaughtered lunch at Hollywood Tavern, a damn near perfect lamb burger for the old dude and a grilled chicken & kale salad for the much healthier young lady. We avoided spirits during lunch because a veritable conga line of tasting rooms awaited us nearby. We started at DeLille Cellars, which was expensive (shock!) but quite good. A couple of the reds were superb. A short distance down the road there is a literal strip mall of tasting rooms, so we stopped first at Dusted Valley Cellars, where the wine was also excellent, a tad less expensive (greater shock!), and the service a pure delight, courtesy of a young woman named Michelle. We rounded off the wine experiences at Isenhower Cellars, which offered some good wines, mid-range in price. Leisurely (very) but cordial service. Done, done, and done for the day, wine-wise. Ms. B. had to make a stop at a nearby grocery, which afforded me an opportunity to grab a geocache. Woot.

Pizza for dinner, mellowness, and prep for the Alaska cruise, which leaves tomorrow. Stand by for action!

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