Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Longest Days of the Year: Happy Solstice Week

Golden Gardens sunset
Did you know that while the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere was just one moment on June 20, for the next couple days we'll still have 15 hours and 59 minutes of daylight here in Seattle?

The Solstice length days will hang around until the weekend, with just a few seconds added each consecutive day.  Then the slide back to the "dark days" begins in earnest. But of course we get the pleasure of what we hope will be a few months of summer warmth to ease the unstoppable cycle back to short days.

While I've been mostly chained to my desk working between playing with family from out of town the last week, I did escape with a friend down to the beach at Golden Gardens for the Solstice sunset.

As you can see, there were pesky clouds on the western horizon to blunt the sunset.  But it was still fairly warm (meaning, not too chilly) and a lovely evening for a stroll.  

There weren't as many people out as last year's Solstice, and there wasn't a collective cheer from the crowd when the sun slid below the Olympic Mountains on the western horizon (because clouds obscured the actual sunset).  But there were still lots of families with kids, dogs with their humans, and various clusters of parties on the beach having a nice time.

People hung around beach fires laughing and talking. Musicians jammed on driftwood logs accompanied by the breaking waves from a passing barge.  Kids and dogs played in the surf.

Overall it was a lovely evening of happy people in a beautiful place.

And did you celebrate the solstice in style?  Jump in the conversation with a comment below!

Happy summer!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Seattle vs. Portland: It's Not a Competition!

So which city do you  think is cooler, hipper, more evolved, more "it"? Seattle or Portland?

Local media peeps in Seattle and Portland throw out comparisons like this often and then trot out examples (Portland has better food carts! Seattle has better clubs! and so it goes...).

This sort of thing always, I admit, catches my eye.  But it also drives me a little crazy.

I like to think I have a  balanced perspective on these two great cities.  I was born in Seattle, moved to greater Portland as a toddler and lived there through high school, then returned to Seattle for college and have lived here most of my adult life.  I travel to Portland regularly to visit family and friends. 

So Portland still feels like home to me. Just like Seattle.

I've observed, with amusement and sometimes annoyance, these two progressive cities nitpick at each other over the years.  The relationship is sort of like siblings, with Seattle the big sister/brother not so interested in its little sib, Portland. Portland has seemed to carry a chip on its shoulder for not getting enough attention.

While in recent years Portland has shot ahead of Seattle in cachet in the national media (think Portlandia for starters), it still seems to feel the need to best Seattle. On the other hand, now Seattle finally pays more attention and tries to align itself with Portland's cool (like lumping itself into the Portlandia ethos.)

Portland's lovely riverfront along the Willamette River

In a recent edition of the Oregonian, snippets from two articles cracked me up (and inspired this blog post):

Portland is No. 7, down three spots from last year on the latest American Fitness Index. But it's still one spot ahead of Seattle, at No. 8.....


A new ranking of public parks puts Portland in sixth place...but ahead of 34 cities, including Seattle...

 And in the Seattle Times:

Though lovable IFC sketch comedy show "Portlandia" is all about the quirky inhabitants of our neighbor to the south, co-creators Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen's live performance Wednesday at the Showbox at the Market put Seattle in the spotlight. Our own quirky residents got plenty of time to shine, too.

Like I said, sibling rivalry.

Which brings me to what this is all about:  Each city has it's own wonderful, quirky fabulousness. I'll list a few, but I'd love to hear your input as well.

Sailing on Seattle's Elliott Bay

The multitude of off-the-wall activities
“People seriously invest in non-serious activities here,” says my friend Matt, lifelong Portland resident. Portland has the under-the-radar Zoobomb bicycle race, and an insane adult soapbox derby, among others. Seattle's Fremont Solstice Parade brings out artsy free spirits (and nudists) from all corners of the city.

Preview party for the 2011 Ice Queen's Solstice Parade attire

Vibrant neighborhoods
Tourists might flock to downtown Portland and Seattle, but locals know it's in the neighborhoods where the heart and soul of these cities lie, such as Georgetown, Ballard, Fremont, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill/First Hill, Alki/Admiral/Alaska Junction, Phinney Ridge/Greenwood, the International District in Seattle, and Hawthorne, Hollywood, Sellwood, the Pearl, Goose Hollow, Mississippi, and  Northwest Portland in Portland.

Greenwood Arts Walk

Amazing public transportation
Portland's MAX light rail and street cars make the city accessible and are one of the best ways to tour the city. In Seattle, nothing beats riding a Washington State Ferry across Puget Sound. And then there are the bicycle trails....

Portland streetcar

The food culture
Portland and Seattle have been drawing young chefs from around the U.S. who are inspired by our superb bounty of local ingredients and affordability for starting restaurants (compared to L.A., Chicago, or New York).  Portland's food carts started a national trend. In Seattle, beyond the famous Pike Place Market (NOT Pike's Market), the neighborhood farmer's markets are thriving. The Ballard Farmer's Market is the best party in the city every Sunday.

Seattle's Ballard Farmer's Market every Sunday, year-round

So how about you? What uniquely Portland or Seattle events/attitudes/places stand out for you? What draws or keep you here? Or what has driven you away?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Bicycling the Centennial Trail: Rails to Leisurely Trail

With miles of flat, paved trail alongside bucolic farms, wetlands, and lowland woods, the Centennial Trail in Snohomish County, Washington, is a perfect route to ease in your bicycling legs.  We headed up to Snohomish last weekend for a leisurely ride and to avoid the weekend crowds on the more popular Burke-Gilman Trail from Seattle to Redmond.

While the Centennial Trail currently extends 23 miles north from the city of Snohomish just past Arlington, and is planned to reach all the way to Skagit County, we cycled about 10 miles up and then turned around and came back. Twenty miles was just fine for my first day on a bicycle this year.

For the first few miles up to the historic Machias train station (a replica) and trailhead park on this former Seattle, Lake Shore, and Eastern Railroad  route, we passed homes and farmland and skirted alongside the Pilchuck River. Even though this was Memorial Day weekend, traffic on the trail was pretty sparse, unlike the Burke-Gilman "bicycle freeway."

And so it continues northward through quasi-rural and then increasingly rural country.  This being the Puget Sound region, I was expecting at least an espresso stand on the trail.  The closest was a little stand about 50 yards or so off the trail across the street from the Lake Connor corner gas station/market, where we stocked up on cold water. This little store is a treasure trove of old commercial signs.

Beyond that, there is nowhere to grab a snack or drinks along or near the trail, at least for the first 10 or so miles.  In Lake Stevens, you can hop off the trail and pedal 3 blocks into town. Otherwise, pack your own grub and, of course, water.

North of Lake Stevens for several miles, the trail passes through completely rural landscape.  We sped past horseback riders and finally pulled off where we saw a sign for a park.

As far as parks go, it was pretty unimpressive.  Methinks it is just a place for people to park their horse trailers and saddle up. We turned around and headed back south.

At occasional spots on the trail, snow-covered White Horse Mountain, Mount Pilchuck, and other lesser Cascade peaks pop out on the eastern horizon.

After returning to the trail terminus in Snohomish, we went to historic downtown Snohomish for dinner at Fred's Rivertown Alehouse and then a stroll along the Snohomish River Trail. Fred's is a lively spot that offers decent pub fare and lots of beer and spirits.

All in all a relaxing way to start the summer bicycling season.

Have you bicycled the Centennial Trail?  Have you gone all the way up to Arlington?  We'd love to hear about your experience on the trail in a comment below, especially if you've bicycled the whole trail.

When You Go
Here are links to a map of the trail that shows several access points and directions to the trailheads. I'd like to go back and start farther north to see the northern end of the trail.