Author Archives: scmckee

Fall 2015

With an increase in latitude and the occasional rainy day, I had imagined that my cyclist’s tan might begin to fade. That peculiar tan — the very short sleeves but very long shorts, the edges made starker by elastic; the high collar with the plunging neckline; and for the hairless, the topping of Klingon stripes left by the helmet. But neither time nor high-octane sunscreen shows much effect. Fortunately I am seldom called upon to appear in bathing attire, and then it’s usually with a drysuit as well.
Another surprise: the blackberries bloomed really early, but then we waited and waited for the bumblebees to arrive to pollinate them. I’m not sure I’ve found two dozen of the burly bees the whole summer, and those from only two of the four species that we used to see regularly. By some miracle there was a big crop of blackberries anyway — plus the best thimbleberries ever. I don’t know how to account for this, but I sure would like to see the bees again.

Our Summer

At the beginning of the year we were kept off the streets by an injury and Alex’s jury duty. An early spring and a record-hot summer got us out on our bikes again, though, and recently we’ve tried some new trips and revisited old ones.

Today for example we did our usual ride down to Fort Dent, but this time continued south along the Green River Trail. Much of this trail had been closed for years while storm damage was repaired and new flood control measures installed. Now, more of the route is off-street, and some sort of park appears every few blocks. Many of the little stopping-places offer water; one is a big natural area with hiking trails.

We rode to Kent and to the intersection with the Interurban Trail, a more utilitarian but nonetheless pleasant way to get back north to Southcenter — where we then had our usual lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen, but with an additional 20 miles under our belts.

This new part of the Burke-Gilman trail runs left-right, both under and over the new, larger Rainier Vista, the big lawn leading to UW's Frosh Pond.

This new part of the Burke-Gilman trail runs left-right, both under and over the new, larger Rainier Vista, the big lawn leading to UW’s Frosh Pond.

Other trails have been seeing long-awaited improvements too. For years the Burke-Gilman Trail featured a long detour through a busy part of the University of Washington campus, with “bonus” streets and hills, while a new section was being built to ease traffic near Montlake Boulevard. We happened upon the newly-finished portion during a random trip to Kenmore and were delighted by the change. An old web of crossings and difficult turns has been replaced by an attractive plaza, with a bridge soon to replace the street-level crossing of a big intersection.

We’re usually kept busy with rides we can do from home, but sometimes we put the bike carrier on the car and drive to another regional trail. Our first remote start this year took us to Pierce County and the Foothills Trail, which follows the old Northern Pacific grade from just east of Puyallup up to South Prairie and beyond. Entering Orting along the Foothills Trail
Recent pavement, sound traffic engineering and plentiful facilities make this a convenient ride for just about anybody. The town of Orting lies at the midpoint, and that’s where we had lunch.

Not long after the beginning of the ride, the trail leaves the Puyallup for the Carbon River; the stream bed and the water itself change noticeably, for this river is fed by the glacier of the same name on Mt. Rainier. Later, past the wetlands where Prairie Creek flows in, the trailside stream is clear again.

Snow falling on Cedar

cedarCedar here of course refers to the name of the street. Snow is pretty rare in Seattle this time of year, but Alex spotted it before dawn and we knew that we would have to get up right away in order to enjoy it. We had seen a few flakes on one afternoon the previous week, but it was gone so quickly that I’m not sure anyone else noticed it. In the picture you can just see a little accumulated on the cars, among the landscaping, and a blur around the streetlights.
In keeping with the book-title theme, Bainbridge Island was definitely not visible, busy with its own snowfall; and there, as here, strong winds later toppled trees and stopped traffic. Our own incident was at the intersection of Clay Street and Western Avenue, about three blocks away, not far from the Olympus Apartments, where we lived three summers ago.

The clouds rolled away and the rest of the day was mostly sunny — we walked down to the library and did a couple of errands. As of this moment a lot of street trees still have colorful leaves, but it’s not expected to thaw tomorrow, so that may change soon.

We’re thankful for our snug prospect here. In the top left corner of the picture, a neighbor’s lighted tree wishes all a Merry Christmas.

Our new neighbor

dimensionMajor construction is complete on the apartment building kitty-corner from our home, called Dimension by Alta.  People not wearing hardhats are sometimes seen inside now.  At twenty-seven stories it’s taller than we expected to see hereabouts.

It also doesn’t seem particularly graceful if you ask me, but there may be an explanation for that.  Apparently the City has required that new buildings not be “monolithic,” hoping to avoid the drab facelessness that resulted from some earlier, utilitarian development. Bright yellow ridges affixed to the outside, contrasting with Z-brick around the base, would seem to fill the bill.  The building should mostly fade into the mist like the monoliths behind and to the left, though.  We hope that new neighbors will mean lots of new shops and services too.

In its shape the new building mirrors the one to the right, Seattle Heights.  The last apartment we looked at, just before finding the one where we live now, was on the seventh floor there.  Sometimes we see the people who moved there in our stead, grilling on their terrace for instance.  They have a much “better” view of the new Dimension, which we admit is one reason that we chose to live at the Mosler Lofts.  On the other, left, side of the new building, at the same level, is visible a corner of the Lexington Apartments, a home through most of the 1980s.

Our new rugs

Our vision for our living space here in Seattle was always pretty simple, but from the beginning it came with the notion of a paprika-colored rug.   After a couple of years we finally got around to doing something about it.

rug4aThis rug was made in Nepal to benefit Tibetan refugees there.  We imagined that it would live in our bedroom, but it is free to move around and spends most of its time out by our windows.

That’s actually the second one we bought.  The first, a similar color but larger and with a subtler, darker pattern, is from Pakistan and hangs on our largest wall.

Speaking of Second Avenue

Second Avenue isn’t important just for its new bike lane. To a young grad-school dropout in the mid-70s, it was the street that most of the photo labs were on, and therefore a popular place for pavement-pounding. Through much of the 1980s, though further uptown, it was a place to live cheaply. Here’s a picture from that latter period — note the then-fairly-new articulated buses, which today would be relegated to the 3rd-Avenue Downtown Transit Tunnel:
Second Ave in the 1980s
This old vantage point is now obscured by trees, but here is a modern version taken from across the street to the north. I had not realized that the City’s old three-globe street lights still survive down here, just east of Pioneer Square.
Second Avenue, again

Our bikes in Seattle

Back in Seattle, our French vacation behind us, we didn’t stop riding — our summer was mostly warm and dry.  Many of our rides these days are familiar trips with a reliable restaurant at the end — we’re not exactly tourists, but we seem to carry enough extra stuff with us that we need panniers.

Looking north across Madison StreetFor a couple of years now our preferred route south through Downtown has been Second Avenue, and recently the City has marked much of the length of the street as dedicated two-way cycle track.  This has made a huge difference, and not just to us — since the change, there are three times as many bikes using the route daily.

Operation was a little sketchy at first (we were there on Day 1) but signalization was changed after the first week. The biggest problems remaining have to do with connections:  southbound the route ends by Yesler, which leaves you short of the waterfront trail, itself disrupted by tunnel construction.  Northbound, both before and after the new track, cyclists are tempted to ride wrong-way on the old single bike lane, and the new track ends at Pine Street.  Still, it’s a lot better than nothing; though a week too late for local attorney Sher Kung, whose white “ghost bike” bears flowers at the intersection with University Street.

Our return to Seattle

We’re not even snowbirds any more. When we left Loreto at the end of April we loaded the car with everything we meant to keep from our life in Mexico. We had not received a firm offer on our house there, but soon we did, and by August the deal was closed. We had gone from being true expatriates, in 2009, without a home in the United States, to being semi-nomadic, traveling “al otro lado” annually; and then back to being simply Seattleites, with nothing to distinguish us except our fading suntans and vocabularies. Failing to find a year-round climate, we chose one that was convenient to escape instead.

In fact we wasted little time in escaping. July found us in France, on a cycling trip through Normandy and Brittany — you can see the trip description on the Backroads homepage.

Alex arrives at the Hotel Cheneviere, our billet for the night.

Alex arrives at the Chateau d’Audrieu, our billet for the night.

A change in the rail schedule meant that we didn’t have so much time in Paris at the beginning of our trip as we had planned, but more in Caen for museum-going. Also, the 70th-Anniversary D-Day crowds had thinned out before our arrival, but the weather was still good.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe tour ended at St. Malo and from there we took the train, changing at Rennes to the TGV that goes directly to the airport.  We spent the night at the aviation-themed Sheraton at Charles de Gaulle, meaning no cab ride in the morning and not even much of a schlep.  Here’s a picture of the hotel’s atrium from outside our room.