Friday, June 30, 2017

50 for 50: 13 -- Zip-lining with Derek!

I'm wiped.

I am so wiped.  It'll be super-impressive if I get to the end of this post without falling asleep on my Chromebook, but I feel like I need to 'blog this weekend before I forget how I feel.

Which is exhausted.  And satisfied.

When I started the 50 for 50 trips, my sister called, reviewed some items on the list, and said she wanted "Zip-lining."  But at dinner tonight, she claimed something else from the list, so we decided that Zip-lining would officially be Derek's.

We wanted the "Sunset" zip-lining tour in Boulder Canyon, outside of Vegas.  Unfortunately, it wasn't as sunsetty as we'd hoped.  Also, this was a "special" tour they needed four people for -- so we ended up putting this one together for this weekend in particular, since Cousin Roni and I were planning to meet in Vegas anyway.  With Joyce and Derek coming in, this was starting to look Super Fun!

We met last night for dinner once we'd all gotten in.  I'd also picked up a Groupon (yay) for the Ice Bar here, which seemed like a fun idea, but a somewhat LESS fun one when I realized we were all wearing flip-flops.  Joyce didn't last that long in there -- but she was a good sport in the freezing weather -- and we got some good pictures and had a drink and a laugh or two.

(I actually consumed TWO drinks that night.  For what might have been the second time in my life.  Derek was impressed.  I was pretty amused that I've gotten this far without being actually DRUNK, but now didn't seem like the time to push that particular envelope.)

And I slept well.  Really well.  Roni and I just hung in the room in the morning for a couple hours -- didn't do much except a little gambling.  (The "Simpsons" machine was pretty good to her.)  Then we met up with Joyce for lunch, and Derek afterward (he'd had work to do) for the Uber out to the Zip-line place.

Fun fact:  the Zip-line people were super nice, providing water pretty much EVERYWHERE (coolers at each platform), joking with us all the way, but generally being right on top of safety.

Slightly less fun fact:  To actually zip-line, you take a bus up to the top of the mountain.  Except it isn't to the top.  And you're supposed to walk that last 15 minutes.  While wearing your harness.  And carrying the heavy metal trolley that hangs over the zip line.  I could barely hold the trolley, much less hike in 110 heat, uphill, carrying one.  The zip line guys took my trollery.  And, at one point on the way up the hill, offered to stop and carry me.  Clearly, I am not in the best shape ever.  (Another couple was on the tour with us, and they speculated that it was because of the elevation and heat -- and not beause I'm wildly out of shape.  They're my new best friends.)

The zip-lining was super fun!  Four lines, one as long as a half mile.  Two dipped down enough that you didn't even need to brake -- gravity gave you enough speed to just make it across.  (Well, that worked for MOST of us.  SOMEONE stopped just before the end of the line and had to be pulled in with the Stick of Shame.)  But it really was spectacularly fun!  I was feeling SPENT from the hike up to the lines, and possibly a little nauseous from drinking too much water while trying to stay hydrated -- but as soon as I actually went down the first line, I felt GREAT!

(We skip here the Uber back to the hotel, which was my second Uber ever, and first possibly insane Uber driver.  She got us here, but she had issues.  Many issues.  Makes you think you've got a to be a special kind of crazy to want to drive tourists around Vegas without actually going to the trouble of getting a taxi license.)

I adore zip-lining.  If you ignore the Unfortunate Hike, it's a great deal of fun for very little physical outlay of energy.  I'm totally into that.  And I was so touched that my sister and brother flew out for this ... AND that I got a weekend with cousin Roni.


Monday, June 5, 2017

50 for 50: 12 -- Tea at Snooty Hotel with Margret

I like tea.

I like afternoon tea.

I like afternoon tea at snooty hotels.

I partake of all of these things at a somewhat greater frequency than what we'll call "normal people," so it's no surprise that "tea at snooty hotel" was on my 50 for 50 list.  And (much like Escape Rooms), tea is probably going to show up in my 50 for 50 adventures more than once.  But it officially got checked off the list today, at the lovely Fairmount Olympia here in Seattle, with my friend Margret.

Margret was a former coworker.  We became friends pretty much instantly when she was hired, and even travelled together once.  (We went up to Whitehorse Canada and saw the Northern Lights.  There are many pictures of us dogsledding together.)  But she left the court after a few years to go back to Seattle, be with family, and rejoin law firm life.  If you need legal advice on ERISA, she's your woman.

It is the nature of the work experience that co-workers come and go -- retirements, career changes, moving away -- there are any number of reasons that people you are used to seeing five days a week pass in and out of your life.  But I did MISS Margret, because she was a genuinely fun person and a good friend, and I really only kept up with her afterwards with a brief email exchange every six months or so.

When I realized the train trip would bring me up to Seattle, I immediately contacted her in the hopes we could sneak in a 50 for 50 thing.  (This was back when we were going to come up in May.)  She was going to be away for the weekend, but would be back in time for a quick tea on Monday.  Great!  Let's do it!  When the derailment forced us to move the trip, we ended up rescheduling for ... another weekend that Margret was going to be out of town.  But she offered to come back a day early so we could still have tea!

Met her in the Fairmount lobby and ended up spending 2 1/2 hours lingering over tea.  (Blueberry scones with apricot preserves -- nummy.  The tea sandwiches looked very small, but were filling, particularly on top of two scones and followed by, like, four bite-sized desserts.  Nothing was extraordinary, but it was all solidly good.  On the Tastiness scale, I'd give it about a 7.  None of which, of course, was the point.)  The point was the catching up with Margret -- lots of news there.  Big things like making partner and buying a house and adopting a dog.  Little things (but just as important) like baking challah and trying to figure out exactly WHICH type of classical musical she likes (something I've never quite figured out for my own self).  We talked and laughed and hugged (and I forgot to take a picture) and it was so delightful finding out where our lives had followed similar paths (and where we completely diverged).  I know it's probably going to be another few years before I see her again, but I'm pretty sure the next time I do, we'll just pick up where we left off.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

50 for 50: 11.5 -- Finishing Up the Sleeper Car

I'm now in my hotel in Seattle.  The bathroom alone is bigger than my roomette on the train.  (The tub very nearly is.)  And I've got a little bit of that "is the room rocking" feeling you get when you've been on something moving for too long.  I've felt it from boats before; this is the first time I've been on a train long enough that being Not On A Train feels odd.

It was a really nifty trip, but it was just about as long as I'd want to be on a train -- they've got routes that are three nights long; I think that would get old pretty quick. (Some of it actually DID get old.  Like the, uh, cleanliness of the community shower.  And possibly some of food items.)

But two days was just right.  And we had quite a lot of lovely nature to see outside the windows.  

[And that's as far as I got writing this last night.  Complete sentences were deserting me at a pretty good clip, so I put down the computer and slept the sleep of the exhausted.]

In my last post, I noted the woman who got irritatingly political (anti-Crunchy-Lefty-Radicals) at dinner.  And now, for the other side:  As we're riding through Oregon (many billboards re: marijuana tourism), we are joined in the Parlour Car by a guy provided by the Trails & Rails program (Amtrak partnered with the National Park Service for this), who gets all facty about Upper Klamath Lake and that blue heron I failed to take a picture of.  Nature Guy is vaguely interesting; he could be a lot better.  I mean, there's crazy beautiful nature going on outside my window, and he's talking about WATER RIGHTS -- how all the people with different interests in the water came together and negotiated a deal that made everyone ... well, it made NOBODY happy, but apparently that's the best you can hope for when negotiating who gets to use the water.

There are about 7 of us listening to him, and one guy immediately pipes up, "I guess we need to keep the EPA after all."

I respond with something between a snort and a chuckle.

Trails & Rails guy (who, I am certain, has been very carefully instructed on this point) says that he's not here to take a position on any political issue; he's just talking about the national park.

Guy who had asked about the EPA immediately apologizes, says he wasn't asking seriously, but just wanted to see what kind of reaction he'd get.  He seemed satisfied with the reaction; all of us were stifling giggles.  I immediately liked this dude; spent the rest of the trip exchanging amused expressions with him.

Including later in the trip, when we happened upon Trails & Rails guy speaking to another group, and giving them the same fascinating water rights talk.


Another fun thing I've learned this trip is that Marty & Linda do crosswords.  Not together, exactly.  One of them will work it for a while, then hand it off to the other.  It'll go back and forth a bit, and eventually get finished.  They included me in the Circle O' Crossword Solving, and it was fun.  Fun learning which things they know and which things they don't.  Fun learning where my knowledge neatly fits in with that of my friends.  Fun finishing a challenging little project together.

Fun putting this 50 for 50 in the books!

Friday, June 2, 2017

50 for 50: 11 -- Sleeper Car up the Coast with Marty and Linda

OK, I'll admit it -- this one IS sort of a bucket list thing.  Train travel.  Sleeper car.  Lounge in the vintage Pacific Parlour Car.  (Dress vaguely period-appropriate.)  I've wanted to give this one a try ever since I heard about it -- and the fact that our Amtrak Coast Starlight is supposed to be one of the prettiest train trips in the country sealed it a spot on the list.

Marty and Linda were not that hard to convince.  We made plans and were pretty much on the same page from the start -- sleeper car, separate rooms (but in the same car).  I got a "roomette"; they got the larger "bedroom."  We were originally supposed to go in early May -- but a freight train derailment damaged the tracks and postponed our trip.

(My standard position on travel insurance is that I don't buy it unless there's a reason to do so.  This derailment/rescheduling showed me exactly how many moving parts were in this trip:  the train ride itself; my schedule; Marty & Linda's schedule; the schedule of my friend in Seattle; the Seattle hotel I'd booked on Hotwire (no refunds!); and the flight home.  I was able to get most of it moved to this weekend.  (The hotel, I have to say, was a particularly good sport about this -- giving me a list of weekends on which they'd honor my previous Hotwire booking.  If they actually give me the room as promised, I will post very nice things about them all over the web.)  The only thing I couldn't move was the flight home -- the change fee cost twice as much as a whole new flight.  So, I ate about $88 on this one.  All things considered, not bad.)

So, we packed up our stuff--

Yes, I bought a hat box for this.  You don't go all 1940s with your wardrobe to take a sleeper car and NOT have a damn hat box.  (At least, I don't.)

-- so, we packed up our stuff, drove to Union Station, and piled onto the Coast Starlight.

Here's what you'll want to know about a roomette:  Ever since I first heard about those Japanese pod hotels, I've wondered what it would be like to sleep in one.  Well, wonder no longer.  A roomette is two oversized seats facing each other -- with a picture window between on one side, and a door to the hallway on the other.  At night, the two seats come together to form a bed, and another bunk flips down from the ceiling.  And... that's about it.  There's a fold-out table someplace, controls for the lights and climate, a single outlet, and a ledge that's just about the width of the hat box.  (The ledge does double duty -- providing both a place to keep an overnight bag AND a step to use if you're trying to leap into the upper bunk.  Actually, there are directions here for the upper bunk -- you don't leap into it, you "roll into bunk" and then "secure safety net."  I get that this room CAN sleep two people, but I'd only advise it if the second person is still young enough that rolling into an upper bunk you need a net to not roll out of is An Adventure.)  Marty and Linda wisely took the bedroom -- it has a double bed AND indoor plumbing (one of those shower rooms with the toilet in it).

But the rooms don't entirely matter because we spend all our time in the Parlour Car (and Dining Car).  The Parlour Car is vintage (although it has been renovated) and the Coast Starlight is the only route that still runs it.  The upper level has a bar at one end and easy chairs at the other, with big windows (including bendy ones that curve onto the ceiling around the top of the car).  It's perfect for sight-seeing or meeting people or just hanging out.  (It also has the best Wi-Fi on the train.  Meaning it has Wi-Fi.  Sometimes.)

The dining car takes reservations.  We sleeping car passengers get our meals included, and the single dining car -- which is all about 4-person booths -- just packs us in and cycles us through.  Since there are three of us, and the tables seat four, Amtrak parks a solo traveller with us at each meal.  (If we found a new best friend, we could just make our reservation for 4.  As it is, though, there are a lot of solo travellers, so we keep spinnin' the wheel o' dinner companions to see who we'll get.)

What kind of person (besides us, of course) decides to take a train up the coast?  I imagine there are some people who just can't afford the $88 plane ticket.  They're going to be in coach.  (We don't see them -- there's an observation car in the middle of the train where passengers in all classes can mingle; but since we've got the private Parlour Car, I have yet to see a need to go down there.)  The ones who will PAY MORE for a sleeper car than a flight are quite a mixed bag of individuals.  Some are afraid to fly.  Some hate flying.  Some are train enthusiasts.  We've met a lot of repeat customers here, although the ones who seem to be having the most fun are the ones who, like me, came here imagining all the romance of train travel -- while the repeat customers carry "fix-it kits" with duct tape, velcro, and tools, to fix whatever they anticipate will go wrong in their room THIS time.

In the first, say, nine hours on the train, we had lovely conversations with everyone we've met, with everyone staying the hell away from politics.  And then tonight's dinner companion, in what had started out as a conversation telling us what we can do in our 30-minute station stop in Portland -- somehow went off on how Portland is being taken over by radicals.  Lefty radicals.  Crunchy lefty radicals.  Whose threats to protest have shut down the Portland Rose Parade this year and she doesn't know why the city government would kowtow to the crunchy lefty radicals and let them control whether the parade is going to happen.  (Why?  WHY do people assume you agree with them politically and just rant on in the middle of an otherwise decent dinner?)  Marty initially cautiously followed up, asking her what the people were protesting that would cause them to want to cancel the parade?  (He also threw in something about, um, HELLO!  It's PORTLAND!  Where some dude just killed two people because of RACISM.  I swear -- Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche looks pretty crunchy and lefty to me, and that man died a fucking hero JUST THIS WEEK.  If that's what a crunchy lefty radical acts like, let's fill the damn country with them.  That'll fucking make America great again.)  But, no, I didn't say any of that.  I just stared at my food while Marty appeared to be testing if Dinner Companion over there was capable of an actual political discussion (wherein, perhaps, she could be convinced, with things like facts and reason).  Conclusion:  probably not.  When asked what the lefties were protesting about the rose parade, she didn't know, couldn't say, just "something political."  When he mentioned the racist murders of earlier this week, she seemed nonplussed.  Okay, we're dealing with someone who just hates crunchy lefty radicals on general principle (or lack thereof).  Marty just changed the damn topic.  Just changed it.  Didn't say, "Let's not talk politics or anything."  It was just a flat out, "So, when did you move to Arizona?" type of thing.  I adored it.  I have to remember that; it was very deftly done.

Well... to bed now.  I'm snuggled in my pod, various curtains not quite closing and broken parts clicking (should have brought a fix-it kit), but hopeful the train will rock me to sleep as it zooms north.