‘Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.’
Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
‘Can we go now’, Amy and Sydney asked in a hangdog kind of way as they sat in the snow at the top of the toboggan hill. Amy looked like she’d had enough, which is not how a kid is supposed to look at the top of a toboggan hill. A kid at the top of a toboggan hill is supposed to look like… like Emma, Peter, Andrea and I did – ready and raring to go, thinking only of how far you can push your luck whipping down the slope! Continue reading “The Douglas-Grant Finale”→
We scoured the city from the plane as it came in to land, looking for signs of the snow that we hoped would be there, but there wasn’t much to be seen. Not that it wasn’t cold enough. A thin draft of icy air blew between the plane door and the aerobridge as we alighted and reminded us just how far we had travelled from Belize. Continue reading “Scarf enlightenment”→
I hit Emma in the head with a saucepan last time we were in Seattle. It was 1997. We were cooking in the big communal kitchen of a central Seattle youth hostel. I filled up a pot of water before rotating more or less on the spot to put it on the stove. Emma had been hunting around for the lid just below and came up just as I turned and WAMMO! She clutched her head and water sloshed all over her to add insult to injury.
It wasn’t our finest moment and not the sort of thing you should do to your girlfriend of less than a year. It makes me laugh now though and it made Amy and Oliver laugh too as we walked more or less past the scene of the crime in search of a late lunch.
We had arrived in Seattle on the Clipper from Victoria shortly beforehand. Granny had joined us for the next five weeks and there were a few grandchildren who were very glad to see her. It was a glorious day, not too hot, not too cold and Seattle looked pretty as picture as we approached from across the Straits of Juan de Fuca. It was a Sunday afternoon and Seattle seemed sleepy. Until we got to the Pike Place Markets that is, which is clearly the place to hang out in Seattle on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.
We were starving and the markets were huge and bustling. There was plenty of food but most of it seemed to be raw fish or raw something until we stumbled across an establishment with ‘Bakery’ in its name. It didn’t look anything flash but they made sandwiches and if we didn’t eat soon someone was going to go looking for a saucepan with which to whack someone else in the head. So we plonked ourselves down and ordered.
Enormous gourmet sandwiches soon arrived served on toasted sourdough bread. It’s a shame you can’t share taste through words because I’d really like to share my sandwich with you. It was amazingly good and the staff were chatty and funny and the whole thing turned into a bit more than just lunch.
I told our waitress the sandwiches were so good we might stay for dinner. She said ‘we like you, but not that much’ so we ended up having Vietnamese take away on the floor of our Travelodge hotel room at the base of the Space Needle.
The Travelodge was just an overnight stop. The next morning, we departed the city centre for the non-descript southern outskirts. Here, behind a non-descript ‘gas’ station was Road Bear. We were all excited to pick up our Recreational Vehicle aka an RV (you gotta say it with a long rolling ‘rrrr’ and a slow drawn out ‘vvvv’).
‘What’s it got?’ I asked the man from Road Bear as he showed me where to check the oil and instructed me to do so every third stop at the gas station. ‘A V8?’.
‘No’, he replied. ‘It’s a V10’.
A V10! Sheesh. That’s going to chew some fuel.
It’s a 6.8 litre V10 to be precise. The vehicle specifications say it produces 305 horse power with 569 newton metres of engine torque. I don’t really know what that means, but it sounds big and grunty and powerful and thirsty. Which I suppose it needs to be. This is a 28 foot (8.53 metres for all the metric junkies out there) house on wheels weighing in at 6569 kilograms before you put us in it and with all the smooth styling and aerodynamic lines of a brick. Actually a brick may be better…
I climbed up into the driver’s seat while the others packed away our gear into cupboards. No packing up for us for five weeks! ‘Does the seat go any higher?’, I asked searching around for a lever. It didn’t. I could barely see over the steering wheel and that can’t be good when in charge of 7 tonnes of machine! A folded blanket gives me the extra two inches I need.
I pulled nervously out of the driveway, conscious of my 10.5-foot girth, and took the first corner a little too wide but soon started to get the hang of it. First stop, a Thrift store followed by Walmart. Where better to fit out a big RV than a ridiculously massive American superstore. It was a bit warm as we wended our way through the traffic. No worries, I thought. I’ll just pop on the AC. Hmmm it’s just blowing hot air. That’s not what we paid for.
I called Road Bear while the others shopped. Road Bear asked us to bring it back, which we did the next morning. We handed it over and waited and waited at the McDonalds next door until we were told it needed returning to Ford. We would have to take another bigger RV instead. Which we did and were finally on our way. Just a 24-hour delay.
First stop. Boeing. Yep. The first thing you should do after picking up an RV is go ogle at planes. Jill and Anthony suggested we visit the Boeing factory when we were back in Toronto, otherwise I’m not sure we would have even thought of it. The part of the factory you tour is a shed which covers an area of 40 hectares. 40 hectares!
Apparently you could put Disneyland inside and have 12 hectares left over, or so we were told. The doors to the shed, of which there are five or six (I’m not sure because you couldn’t actually see the other end of the building without taking a bus ride), are each the size of an American football field. It’s the largest building in the world by volume at 13,385,378 m3.
Inside the shed Boeing assembles 747s and their new 787 Dreamliner and probably a bunch of others as well. We just saw the 747’s and Dreamliner. They can roll them off the production line at a rate of one plane every 2.5 days, each with approximately 6 million individual parts!
You have to see this operation to believe it or to have any idea of what is involved. Boeing employs 160,000 people. I’m pretty sure that’s more than the Australian Public Service! Unfortunately, cameras are strictly forbidden, for fear of corporate espionage one supposes (this article has some photos). From the vantages points we were taken to we looked out over a building maybe 10 stories tall filled with layers of permanent looking scaffolding, cranes and offices, cafes restaurants and all manner of equipment.
Nestled amongst it all are planes in various stage of completeness from fuselage pieces at one end to complete 747s at the other and giant wings waiting to be attached in the middle. They don’t heat the building, even in winter. The output from the several million lights and body heat from the workforce apparently does the job just fine.
Just outside the building, lined up like any other planes at any other airport are finished painted aircraft, decked out in the regalia of airlines around the world. Boeing doesn’t deliver. You have to come and pick up your own planes! So here they wait until the pilots arrive.
It’ll cost you $380 million for a new 747 and $230 to $280 million for a Dreamliner, depending upon which optional extras you choose – you know a DVD player or not – that sort of thing. You can’t get a Dreamliner until 2020 however, the back order is that long.
On the road again, we headed south and after what seemed like endless hours, the traffic and city chaos finally yielded to trees and views of the massive, snow-capped, volcanic Mount Rainier. We made a camp fire at Alder Lake with only one other camper, sat around eating s’mores and life was good.
Then it rained. Oh good I thought. We have a motorhome. We’ll be snug and warm and dry. I thought of all those nights we had spent in our wet little four-person tent looking enviously at warm, dry travellers in motorhomes. Imagine my annoyance then when our motorhome leaked! And not just a little leak. It streamed in like a waterfall, soaking our towels which was the only thing we had available to soak up the torrent.
I felt like whacking Road Bear with a saucepan, but instead I rang them to express my displeasure. They advised gaffa tape and plastic bag over the general area followed by a mere 400-mile diversion off our intended route to pick up a new one in San Francisco! I advised that wasn’t going to happen and they advised they would get back to me. They didn’t, and in the meantime we fixed the problem with a three-dollar tube of silicon.
Onwards we went, driving through the Oregon countryside which for quite some time left me with the impression that the entire state might well be a forestry operation. We crossed the Columbia River via a massive mechano bridge over a port with big ships being loaded with logs and stopped in at Haystack rocks on Cannon Beach on the West Coast where we ran and played on the wide sandy shore while a most magnificent sunset unfolded before us.
From there it was south all the way down highway 101. Magnificent coastal scenery was interspersed with towns, how shall I put it, lacking architectural grace.
At the Jessie M Honeyman State Park we found massive sand dunes slowly moving across the tall conifer forest and lakes. We love sand dunes and though we had no sand boards we delighted ourselves simply by running down them leaping and hollering like we just didn’t care.
It was a really pretty place to camp, nestled in amongst tall trees which silhouetted themselves against a starlit sky as our campfire eventually dimmed and died. Were it not for the lure of bigger and better things to come we would probably have stayed a little longer. As it was, the Redwoods of California were only a couple of hours drive down the road and they were one of the reasons we chose to go this way in the first place. The next morning, we were up and Redwood bound.