Sunday, April 25, 2010

Returning Home

Sayonara, California
Two weeks ago, we made what I believe to be the final move from California to Bend, Oregon. The proverbial bottom line of an otherwise very long story, is that we moved to Bend in 2005, but subsequently ended up moving back to the Bay Area for jobs and the economic downturn in 2008. Ridiculous tax rates everywhere you turn, a crazy economy on a grand scale, an unfathomable cost of living, layoffs and corporate politics, and simply way too much population has tarnished any luster that the Golden State once held for this San Francisco native. So it’s back to the beautiful house across the street from the Deschutes River, and all the wonders that the beautiful state of Oregon has to offer.

The Move
I decided to do a "pre-move" trip in the little GTI, which is a total blast to drive through the Sacramento Valley, up over the Siskiyou's, and up through Central Oregon. Keep a diligent eye on the speedometer and the rear view mirror, and it can be a very fun trip. I've gotten so used to making the trip, that the whole thing seems to fly by (in 8 hours). I pack a few diet coke's, crank the tunes up, and just go. The only mandatory stop is of course Granzella's Deli in Williams, for a quick sandwich to go.

I spent a busy week at the house, arranging the garage, carrying in and unloading the 30-40 boxes of items that we'd been storing out there for the last two years. I'd originally planned to drive back, but it made more sense to fly, and leave the GTI in the garage (which now looked like a garage again and would actually keep the two cars out of the snow!). So it was back to the Bay Area for another week of packing and getting everything ready to load up and move.

The 2005 move north was done by the nice people at United Van Lines, who for the sum of nearly ten grand were happy to load, move and unload our 18,000 pounds of "stuff." Let me say up front that you never have a true idea of how much you've accumulated, until you have to pack and move it. Crazy! But this time I decided to do it myself, since we were able to move everything to California in a couple medium truckloads. 

I flew back to SFO with the intention of loading up a huge 26’ truck and driving the remainder of our worldly possessions from Belmont to Bend. But it became evident about three quarters of the way through the load up process that this was not to be. It was going to require an additional truckload to get all of our stuff home. So move day #1 began with loading up the monster truck and driving the 525 miles north, which unfortunately began during San Francisco’s famous rush hour, at 4 PM (something else you never give any thought to, in Central Oregon). Ten hours later, I pulled into our little track of homes in Bend. We hired “loaders and unloaders” to help with this portion of the move, so I only had to do 1/3 of the work myself. Still a lot of work, though, considering I did the bulk of the packing, and all the driving. We unloaded the big truck the following morning, turned it into U-Haul, and reserved a 14’ truck for the following Tuesday, since there was snow expected on Monday and there’s no way I was going to drive a moving van through snow in the Siskiyou’s.

Tuesday morning … up at 4, on the plane at 6, Angela picked me up at SFO at 7:45 and drove me to the U-Haul place in Millbrae, back at the house at 8:45 and began loading it up with the remains of our worldly goods in the garage. My friend Danny was kind enough to drive over the hill from Pacifica and help with the heavy stuff, and I was able to get out of Dodge by 10:15. Eight and a half hours later, I was once again in Bend, hopefully for good.

I generally love the drive to Bend. And it’s not just because I’m heading back to the place I now call home, but in fact it’s the ride itself. Several years ago when we first started making this 500+ mile trek, it seemed to be a long arduous ride that couldn’t end quickly enough. But I began looking at it in more of a positive light (what else was I to do?) and began enjoying the many “chunks” of scenery that this ride provided.

The first hurdle is always the same … getting out of the Bay Area. Same thing when you’re traveling north to south … it can be a beautiful ride for 400 miles, and then you hit Vacaville and it’s anybody’s guess how much congestion you’ll run into for the final push. But once you’re through the traffic of the greater Bay Area, and make the turn from Highway 80 to 505, it’s generally smooth sailing.

The “chunks” I’ve referred to in earlier pieces include the 505 connector from Vacaville to where it meets Highway 5 (my sister refers to this stretch as the Nurburgring, since the 70 mph speed limit and long straight expanses of road tend to encourage a lead foot), the long ride through the valley to Redding, the winding road through the Siskiyou’s and around Mt. Shasta, the turnoff onto 97 at Weed which provides some phenomenal views of the north side of Shasta, as well as the high plains and the lower section of the Cascades, and finally the turn from northeast to due north at Klamath Falls and the last 135 miles to Bend. See how easy it is to make a 525 mile trip seem like a piece of cake? But three times in two weeks, and twice in three days was plenty, and I’m staying put for now.

Back on the Deschutes
After several days of unloading and feeling the full impact of packing and moving the entire house full of “stuff,” (not to mention the afore-mentioned three driving trips), I was ready for the first real nice day outside, and the first walk along the Deschutes in quite some time. I often refer to our home as being "across the street" from the river, which technically it is.  But it's down a bit of a gorge, and to get to it requires a walk around the corner, and a small hike down to the path that leads along the Deschutes into town.  It literally takes five minutes to get to the path ... a huge plus! 

You're greeted at the beginning of the path with a rushing of water that is split off of the river and into a massive ten-foot round metal pipe, which then carries a portion of the river runoff through several smaller tributaries around town.  Like any runoff, it's regulated from high in the mountains (in this case the Cascade Lakes), and varies with need and time of year.  But the spring runoff is in full force currently, so the water in both the river itself, and the split off mechanism were pretty impressive. The Deschutes (and several other rivers in Central Oregon) runs south to north, which I've always found fascinating for some reason.  It just seems that "downhill" would mean the opposite direction of flow, but such is not the case.  The Deschutes starts on the south side of Mt. Bachelor high in the Cascade Lakes, and flows north to the Columbia Gorge, which separates Oregon from Washington. 

This day's walk along the river would be about a mile each way.  I didn't have the time (or energy) to do the full walk into town, which is two and a half miles each way.  But I definitely enjoyed the beautiful scenery along the way, and the views that range in elevation from nearly even with the water, to maybe a couple hundred feet up.  Wildlife is ever present, particularly in the spring and summer months, and today was no exception.  Deer are sometimes seen on the other side of the river, but generally only at dusk, not mid-day.  Osprey are common, and there's been a family of them nested at the top of an old hollowed-out tree every year we've been here.  Great blue herons are a rare spectacular site, butterflies and dragonflies are everywhere, and of course the path is heaven on earth for all forms of dogs.  Some of them are content to walk and explore with their "people," but some of the retriever-types can't resist a romp in the river, which is abundantly evident by the wet canines along the way.  The river moves at a fairly good pace, so I'm sure they have to "sneak" a quick swim in the water before they're told not to by their owners.  Go for it, guys!

Central Oregon's weather is famously unpredictable.  The local saying goes something like "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes and it'll totally change."  And there's a lot of truth to this.  In the three weeks since I drove up in the GTI, we've seen four days of pretty good snowfall, several days of rain (which we need - this is after all, high desert), a little bit of wind, and days like my afore-mentioned walk and today that are totally gorgeous, warm, with nary a cloud in the sky.  Days like this beckon you outdoors. Among the many things we love about it here is that there's so much to see and do, so close.  The river's always an easy choice, but brief rides in any direction can provide some spectacular scenery and outdoor activity.  Tumalo Falls, the peak of Mt. Bachelor, the Cascade Lakes, Sisters, Lava Butte, and some amazing views of the Cascade Range are all within a very few minute drive.  The Old Mill District and an outdoor restaurant seat with a river front view is within walking distance.  Our great little two-block Downtown is another mile. 

So we're back for good, and obviously enjoying it.  My years in California and high tech management are history.  The politics and layoffs of the Silicon Valley are a thing of the past.  With any luck the real estate industry will return to some semblance of normal, and I'll be able to make a living here!  And although we've only been back for a couple of weeks, we've already seen a good number of our wonderful friends, and have had a couple of dinner parties, as well as being invited to a great "welcome home" party at our friends Bob and Chris' house.  It's nice to be home.  And it's once again time for a walk along the river!

Friday, April 2, 2010

A ZinFull Weekend

Since we're returning to our home in Bend soon, we had to take advanage of our friend Dave's consistently gracious hospitality, and spend a weekend in beautiful Morro Bay, an exclusive tiny community nestled in California's Central Coast. And as luck would have it, it was also the weekend of the annual Zinfandel Festival in nearby Paso Robles, our favorite wine country. While we enjoy an occasional trip to the Healdsburg area and the wineries of the Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys, we've pretty much stopped going to the Napa Valley wineries, as the area's always too crowded, the wineries are no better than Sonoma or Paso Robles, and they're all getting into the $20 range apiece for tasting.

Paso Robles boasts some of California's best wines, and in particular, Zinfandels. The dry, warm coastal climate is absolutely prime for growing uniquely interesting wines. I've written extensively about this area, but some of our traditional favorites are Zin Alley (my personal favorite), Denner, Jada, Lone Wolf, Jack Creek, Whalebone, and the beautiful Eagle Castle estate, which looks spectacular when you're cruising over lazy Highway 46 between Paso Robles and the coast.

To make this trip even more special, we got to meet our friend Dave's new friend Mindy, who's visiting from Colorado. She splits her time between Avon (near Vail) and a farm in Costa Rica, where she grows, eats, and gives away some wonderful sounding produce. Mindy has an enviable zest for life, and both inner and outer beauty that made a huge impression on us. And from all appearances, it seems that they're getting along quite well!

Mindy and Dave handled cooking duties on Friday night, and it was a total treat. I not only didn't have to cook, but I got to eat someone else's great food! Great local tuna from Morro Bay, served over an amazing bed of peppers and onions, was outstanding. A great salad nd of course some local wines were all that was needed to round out an excellent Friday night feast.

Saturday's tastings would take us to some of the usual haunts mentioned above, as well as a couple new ones. Mindy had never been wine tasting before (among the few negatives of living near Vail, I suppose!), so we opted to start at Zin Alley, a small winery that produces some of the best wines in the region. Frank Nerelli does a consistently superb job on the four wines he produces; Zinfandel, Port, Syrah, and a dessert wine that's spectacular (and difficult to keep around once it's opened). Four Vines Winery sits just below Zin Alley, and for some reason we'd never stopped there in the past. The tasting room sits behind a restaurant and fresh produce establishment, but it proved to be well worth exploring. Great zins (of course), and some amazing blends that generally don't break the bank. They charge a $7 tasting fee, but you leave with a beautiful logo'd Reidel stemless wine glass in addition to some great tasting wines.

Our next stop on this warm, clear day was Denner, which sits a on a bluff a couple of miles north, on scenic Vineyard Drive. Denner is a relatively new winery, but they're doing some great whites and reds. They make an amazing white blend called Theresa, as well as an excellent Viognier. Their blends include "The Dirt Worshipper," which is a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier, a Mourvedre, a Syrah, and another blend called "The Ditchdigger." Bought the wine and a Ditch Digger T-Shirt. All good stuff, and my "stash" of these reside downstairs ... out of sight and temptation, other than for special events. And since Dave belongs to the Comus Club, we were treated to some of their rare, estate wines as well. Great winery, highly recommended. Both Denner and Jada are standouts in the ever-increasing selection of new wineries in the area.

Saturday night was my turn to cook for everyone, and Dave's awesome kitchen made it a pleasure. Mindy asked for Italian food so I opted for a big pot of pasta, using some Italian sausage that I'd picked up the week before at my favorite meat store in the Ferry Building. A simple bruschetta with basil, olive oil, (lots of) garlic, and fresh vine-ripened tomatoes on local artisan sourdough bread, and a tossed green salad completed our little Italian fest. Since this was the best wine growing region in Central California, we had no shortage of reds to compliment the meal. I love cooking for friends, and doing so at their homes is always a treat. Tonight was no exception. I guess the pasta turned out ok, since Mindy also had it for breakfast the next morning!

We ended our weekend in beautiful Morro Bay and Paso Robles, saying goodbye to our friend Dave, and his lovely new friend Mindy. It was truly a memorable one, and this is saying a lot since we make lots of trips to that area. Unfortunately, we probably won't be down there again for quite awhile. Next week will be our return to the beautiful Central Oregon town of Bend, and our incredible house that sits on the bluff across the street from the Deschutes River. Circumstances have both allowed and dictated that it's time to move back home, and although it's going to be a struggle returning to real estate, it's worth it to live in such a beautiful locale.

This will be a week of "lasts" for awhile ... We were treated to lunch at Joe's of Westlake on Wednesday, compliments of our wonderful friends John and Linda. Hopefully, I'll sneak in one or two more trips to my all time favorite restaurant, where looking at the menu became a moot point several decades ago. There will be a final trip to Toto's, where I'll undoubtedly order a "#2 pizza," with salami, italian sausage, and mushrooms. Best pizza anywhere ... always has been, since I was a kid. I'll try for a final trip downtown, and specifically to my favorite meat store in the Ferry Building, and hopefully to Economy Restaurant Supply, where I buy most of my cooking gear. I don't need anything, but I still have to make a final visit.

And tonight will be an early celebration of our first day of massage school. It was 4/4/04 when we entered the big Classroom B of Body Therapy Center in Palo Alto. First day of "Fundamentals of Massage," which was the first 125 hour core class. We followed this with Advanced Massage and Bodywork, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, Acupressure, and elective classes in Deep Tissue, Hot Stones, Hydrotherapy, Chair Massage, and seminars in advanced "point" identification, sidelying technique, and neck and shoulder concentration. I also was fortunate enough to be a teacher's assistant in several of the Advanced classes and the Chair class. Big fun ... I like to think it taught me to rub people the right way!

Next Thursday will be the big move north. I'm hoping for clear weather, which is predicted, but isn't evident, given the foot of snow they got last night. I'm about 90% packed, the 26' truck is reserved, movers are arranged for both ends of the trip, and I'm ready to go. But it's all bittersweet, as we're both returning to friends, and once again leaving friends in the Bay Area. It was a very conscious move back in 2005, which followed extensive investigation around the country. Circumstances and the economy brought us back to the Bay Area in 2008, and the same is true of our return. We love Oregon, and the high desert area in particular. The mountains are spectacular, with the Sisters, Bachelor, Jefferson, and even Hood constantly in view. The river walk along the Deschutes is a short jaunt around the corner, and provides a beautiful 2 1/2 mile trek into town. Osprey nest on the other side of the river, high in an old abandoned tree top, great blue herons can be seen skimming just above the river which flows out of the Cascade Lakes from South to North, emptying in the great Columbia basin, which forms the boundary between Oregon and Washington.

I was born and raised in California, spent my early years surfing at Santa Cruz and Pedro Point, always played drums in local bands, attended local schools and colleges, and never gave much thought to permanently moving away. A brief stint in St. Thomas was amazing, and I spent some time in both San Diego and Chico, but the Bay Area was always home. I feel this has changed ... although I'm not a native, Bend has become home. And I'm ready to be home.