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Archive: Outdoors & Recreation / Spokane and North Idaho

Urban hikes combine scenery and history

Above: Photo by John Nelson

When we think of hikes, typically we think of nature. As in something that Rich Landers might suggest, taking you over hill and dale in some rural landscape where bears frolic and antelope play. (And, yes, I know antelope technically are not found in North America, though the term is often used.)

My friend John Nelson, though, thinks of hikes in a more general sense. Oh, Nelson has done his share of back-country hiking, all over the Northwest and elsewhere. But recently, in his role as a blogger and freelance writer for publications such as The Spokesman-Review, he has added another dimension to the definition of hike: the urban hike.

Take his latest blog post, which he writes under the pen name of SkiZer. Nelson and his wife, the former Spokesman-Review food writer Leslie Kelly (referred to in the post as "Mrs. SkiZer"), did a trek through Seattle recently, visiting a number of known spots as well as a few relatively unknown spots as well.

I could add comments about the language that some of the hike's demands evoked in Mrs. SkiZer, as well as the appetite the whole venture whetted in both of them. By why not just let Nelson, a talented writer, explain things for himself.

Nelson’s blog is a Norse God’s daydream

The weather is getting warmer, slowly, which some of us appreciate. Many others of us dream longingly of snow-covered slopes. John Nelson is one of those who loves to strap sticks on his feet and fly down icy hillsides.

And sometimes, the feeling that such activity gives him goes right to his head. And his ego.

That much is clear from his latest blog post, which you can access by clicking here.

Seattle-based John, who once worked with me at The Spokesman-Review (and who is married to food writer Leslie Kelly), writes in a knowing but easy-to-access manner. His stuff is worth checking out even if you're like me …

… someone who thinks snow is the one thing keeping me from hitting golf balls off the underlying grass.

Sunday dreaming of Mars and beyond

It's a bright Sunday morning, and thousands of runners are mingling around downtown Spokane after completing — or, in some cases, witnessing — the 39th Bloomsday Run.

I'm doing neither, thank you, being allergic to crowds — and having, years ago, done my duty by completing a dozen or so Bloomsday pilgrimages. Knees don't work forever.

Instead, I'm thinking of the stars. Or at least our solar system. In particular, I'm thinking about the planet Mars — which, thanks to an app on my smartphone, I can easily pick out when it's visible in our Northwestern skies.

I don't own a telescope (yet), and so I'm limited to stargazing through binoculars. But even through a telescope, I wouldn't be able to see the landscape of Mars as well as is provided in this panoramic view courtesy of NASA, the Jet Propulsion Lab and the Mars Curiosity Rover. Check it out and see just how barren the Martian landscape is.

And then imagine the task facing those astronauts who have volunteered to be the first to colonize the Red Planet. Those in the video embedded below are getting just a taste.

New nickname for air travelers: sardines

As someone who travels a fair amount, I'm sensitive to news involving the airline industry. And so I was intrigued by the title of a Time magazine come-on that announced "Why Air Travel Is About to Get Much Worse."

In short, the story says that aircraft manufacturers — no doubt responding to ongoing airline demands to pack more people in each flight — are doing exactly that. At a recent news conference, Airbus showed off the floor plan of its new A380 superjumbo jet, which features a 3-5-3 seat configuration that rouses all my claustrophobe anxieties just thinking about being forced to sit in the middle of that 5-seat row.

On an Air France flight from Atlanta to Vienna a few years ago, I had to sit in one of the interior seats in a 3-4-3 seat configuration. The guy between me and the aisle must have weighed 250 pounds. And not only did he merge over into my space, but he fell asleep almost immediately and left me feeling trapped in place for some six and a half hours.

According to Time, the A380 will boast 544 seats, up from 525.

That may be good news for the airlines that use the plane — reportedly Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Qantas, so far. But it's not particularly good for those of us who travel long distances at Economy Class rates.

Good thing I've already seen much of the world. I'll keep buying those lottery tickets because that's the only way I'll ever be able to afford the non-claustrophobe's fantasy.

I believe it's referred to as Business Class.

Iceland: one day’s drive to last a lifetime

Above: My wife, Mary Pat, standing amid chunks of ice from the glacier ice lagoon Jökulsárlón.

The main question I've had to field in the weeks leading up to my visit to Iceland has been a simple one-word query: "Why?" Iceland is on very few bucket lists of travel destinations (my former colleague Dan Mitchinson, who is now living in New Zealand, being one notable exception).

In fact, most people don't think of Iceland at all unless they recall the volcano eruption in 2010 that disrupted so many international flights and stranded thousands of travelers. That specific volcano, by the way, bears a name that is one of the only Icelandic words I have learned to pronounce: Eyjafjallajökull.

The simple answer is that I came here eight days ago (I fly home today) with my wife to preview a trip that she will be making in May with a larger delegation of U.S. visitors. But considering that Icelandair is making it easy for people who are already heading to Europe to make an Iceland stopover — "at no additional airfare!" — a visit to Iceland makes a lot more sense to anyone heading east across the Atlantic.

Yesterday, while lounging in the geothermal waters of popular Blue Lagoon, we met a New York couple who were stopping over en route to London before catching a cruise to the Canary Islands.

So that simple one-word answer can now be doubled: "Why not?"

Anyway, as this is my last blog post before I catch my Icelandair flight to Seattle (and then the 50-minute hop home), I thought I'd share the best part of our drive around this island (only nine-tenths the size of Ohio): the stretch of the country's main highway, otherwise known as the Ring Road, that runs across the south-eastern edge.

We'd spent the night in the port town of Höfn, which sits between the ocean and the mountain range which cradles the country's largest glacier, Vatnajökull. From there we drove west, past lava fields, to the turnoff to a gravel road 8 kilometers long where we could get a better view of one of the glacier's arms. Then we returned to the highway and drove to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, where first we took a 40-minute amphibious boat ride through huge glacier icebergs (and even got to munch on some glacier chunks) and then walked along the black-sand beaches that were littered with ice bits of all sizes and shapes.

Driving ever west, we passed geology that ranged from lichen-green-covered fields that resembled sodden cotton balls, to larger upturned cones the size of small houses, to more stark lava fields, to mountain cliffs fronting the ocean that looked as if someone had transplanted them from Monument Valley. We stopped at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull, where a private museum told the story of a family whose dairy farm had been threatened by the 2010 eruption.

And we stopped at the site of Laufskalavarda, where travelers are invited to place a rock to help ensure a safe trip. Which seems to have worked because, finally, we arrived at the village of Vik unscathed. And after a short trip north to see the sun set over a natural rock arch, we settled in for the night.

If you do visit Iceland, and if you do decide to rent a car, making a trip to the southeastern coast is worth the effort (tours can be arranged in Reykjavik, too). It might be one of the most scenic bits of highway I've ever navigated.

Which, if nothing else, makes the question "why" a simple rhetorical query.

Climb a hill in Iceland, feel like you can make ‘Titanic’

Above: A look down the path from the summit of the long-dead Icelandic volcano Hverfjall. This view gives no indication just how steep the slope is.

Quick admission: I'm not in the best of shape. I stopped going to the gym regularly six months ago and since then have spent more time making excuses for why I'm not exercising than even thinking about working up a sweat.

But I'm not ready to give up on all aerobic activities just yet. Yesterday, while driving through east Iceland — part of our week-long tour of that diminutive but scenic European country — we stopped by one of the area's must-see sites. Hverfjall is what's called a tephra cone (or tuff ring) volcano, which was formed about 2,500 years ago. Sitting 420 meters (1,380 feet) high, the kilometer-wide cone can be seen from miles away.

Located northeast of Lake Mývatn, Hverfjall sits about a kilometer and a half off the highway. A parking lot at the base leads to two paths to the summit. One is more direct and is described as "hard." The other, which is more circuitous, is considered easier.

I chose direct. And, yes, I had to stop twice and was breathing hard about halfway up. But I still made the top in about 15 minutes. And then I stood there, feeling like James Cameron, looking down at all the mortals far, far below.

OK, so they were all the other people who were also there to climb what is little more than a hillock. Still, I consider my Iceland hiking obligation paid in full. King of the wooorrrlllddd!

Iceland can surprise even the most jaded traveler

Above: October is maybe Iceland's rainiest month. So rainbows are common, Yet they seem to come out at the most unexpected moments. We saw this one after driving down an unpaved section of Iceland's Ring Road toward the eastern seashore.

If you're reasonably well-traveled — say, for example, you've visited nearly 40 countries in five continents — then it's reasonable to expect that only someplace special is going to impress you. We're now in our fifth day in Iceland, and so far we've liked what we've seen. The modern feel of the capital Reykjavik, the barren sweep of the volcanic plains as you drive north and east, snow-covered peaks that cut into the sky like foam-covered saw blades, dormant volcanoes that resemble massive cones made of black sand, the occasional peek of a rainbow as it surprises you around a bend, thundering waterfalls around virtually every corner, boiling mud springs and steam vents that resemble plumes of wood smoke, flocks of sheep that fleck the hillsides and (periodically and without warning) scuttle across the highway … and so on.

But to be honest, until now Iceland hasn't shown us anything that, say, we haven't seen in Sisters, Ore., or Milford Sound, New Zealand, or the Scottish Highlands or the Big Island of Hawaii or the Columbia Gorge or the national parks at Yellowstone and Glacier or the falls known as Iguazu that rush through the intersection of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Thing is, Iceland has all those … and more.

It was that more that we got a taste of today, during our drive from the east Iceland town of Egilsstadir to the southeastern seaside village of Höfn. First we drove over a mountain pass, which though still part of the island's main Highway I — also known as the Ring Road — is unpaved for the better part of 40 kilometers.

Once past the peak, we saw our first sun of the day (and our second rainbow of the trip). Then we drove past our first black-sand beaches, the waves whipped by winds that almost blew us off our feet. Up the road, we passed stark mountainsides fronting the Atlantic and contrasting the gray ocean with tons of gray, black and green. And, finally, as we rounded a point and came within sight of Höfn — a collection of fragile box-like buildings set next to a small harbor — we could see in the distance not one, not two or even three but four different spurs of the massive glacier Vatnajökull that covers much of south-central Iceland.

Tomorrow we will try to drive even closer. For now, though, I'm just going to sit here and stare.

And feel, yes, impressed.

Iceland’s elves don’t work cheap

Above: Reykjavik, Iceland, is not an inexpensive place to visit.

Iceland is a country of myths. One study claims that some 50 percent of Icelanders believe in elves. And in the city of Egilsstadir, which is set in east Iceland on the banks of the glacial lake Lagarflojt, people claim to have seen the Lagarflojt Wyrm — a kind of Loch Ness monster, sightings of which date back to as early as 1345.

Seriously, though, on our stay so far in Iceland, we've seen two Icelandic myths proven false.

One, Iceland isn't cold. The story here is that most people get Iceland mixed up with Greenland. And, yes, Greenland is mostly snow covered, which isn't exactly green, and Iceland is a geothermic paradise that boasts many colors, including white. But while Greenland is certainly cold, so is Iceland. Especially during the winter. It's only October, and nothing at ground level is yet frozen, but temperatures in the high 30s feel mighty cold when they're accompanied by rain and 20- and 30-mph winds. So if you're planning on visiting Iceland, brings some fleece. And a rain shell. And a wool hat. And gloves.

Two, following the 2008 recession, which bankrupted the country's three largest banks, prices dropped, giving tourists a good deal. And that may be so. If it is, then I have no idea how anyone but a 1-percenter paid for anything here. We spent two days in the capital, Reykjavik, then drove northeast to spend the night in Akureyri and then today to Egilsstadir, and we've basically given up eating more than once a day in restaurants. We ate at a place last night in Akureyri mentioned in guidebooks (Strikid) and at a local eatery tonight (Salt), and both my wife and I ordered sparingly: Fish for her and a burger for me last night, burgers and sodas for both of us tonight. And our bill for tonight? Almost $42. For burgers, fries and sodas.

So come to Iceland, definitely. The outdoor activities, from hiking to fishing and camping, are worth it. But especially during the winter, bring as much clothing with you as you can stuff in a suitcase. And make sure your credit cards are in good shape. Because you're going to need some ready cash.

Those elves don't work cheap.

2014 Spokane Auto Show goes international

It's hard to figure out just exactly where cars fit in our lives. For most of us, they're necessities. But they're also useful for recreation. And for more than a few of us, especially for my one Ferrari-owning friend Dan, they're actual pieces of art.

However you look at cars, though, the opportunity to see a lot of them at once — especially those still carrying their new-car smell — is hard to pass up. I, for one, usually stop and look at the cars that sit on display occasionally in the various shopping malls around the area. It gives me a chance to fantasize, especially when the models are foreign and I can imagine what it's like to speed down Italy's autostrada on warm summer afternoons.

That's why I just might head to the Spokane County Fairgrounds over the weekend to check out the 2014 Spokane International Auto Show, which is being sponsored by the Spokane New Car Dealers Association. If you're going to the show with the intent of buying, then it might help to check out this article.

If you aren't aren't looking for a deal, no biggie. The auto show offers plenty of chances for pure fantasy, whatever your tastes. That includes both those interested only in U.S. models and those with a taste for something exotic. You aren't likely to find any Ferraris on display, but among the 27 or so exhibitors you will see names such as Porsche and Audi, Fiat and BMW, not to mention Mercedes-Benz.

Hmmmm, wonder what my friend Dan would think if I bought a Fiat?

Epic deals

The next REI Garage Sale happens August 3!!! Prices on slightly used or returned gear and clothing are way less than what you'd pay for it new. Everything is sold as-is, and all sales are final. But, seriously, with these ridiculously low prices, who cares?

The sale starts at 9 a.m. and numbered tickets will be handed out starting at 8 a.m. Members only. Get there early. Like, camp out on the sidewalk early.

You'll find REI at 1125 N. Monroe, just north of downtown.

Shop early, save a buttload

Friday is final day to save up to $200 on your 2013/14 Mt. Spokane season pass! You know you're gonna go up there. Shop now or you'll regret it once the snow starts to fly. 

Those su-huh-murrrrr niiiiiiiiiiights

Sometimes outdoor summer movie lineups are kind of hit-and-miss. But the Outdoor Movies at Riverfront Park's summer lineup is filled with nothing but crowd pleasers. Organizers left it up to the public to choose this summer's features and I gotta say, my opinion of public opinion went up a couple of ticks with this list. Seriously, check it out:

  • July 17: Grease (The rules are … there ain't no rules!)
  • July 24: The Lion King (I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts …)
  • July 31: Ghostbusters (Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES!)
  • August 7: The Sandlot (You're killin' me, Smalls!)
  • August 14: Marvel's The Avengers (Thor. No other words are necessary.)
  • August 21: The Princess Bride (As you wish.)

Seating starts at 7 in the Lilac Bowl in Riverfront Park. Movies begin at dusk. $5 gets you the night's flick plus movie trivia and even a live act or two. 

Ain’t no herbs in the washtub

But today I will change that, at the Inland Empire Garden Expo

This event is all things garden, with a little patio and front porch goodness thrown in. Trees, birdhouses, herbs, organics, hammocks … it's all here, sprawled across the grassy SCC campus. 

There's no admission fee and the sun is shining, so get there — it runs from 9-5, today only. 

I'm headed there now. With a little luck this washtub will be brimming with herby goodness by sundown.

You'll find the Garden Expo at 1810 N. Greene Street, on the SCC campus.

Time for some … dodgeball

One of the funniest sports comedies to come along the past few years was "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," the 2004 movie that starred Vince Vaughan, Ben Stiller and a number of others. Turns out, Oz Fitness has its own version of the school-yard sport. On April 27-28, Oz will offer a dodgeball tournament for teams of six to 10 participants, with the grand prize being a trip for seven to the national finals in Las Vegas.

Admission is $15 per person. Teams are six on a side (at a time). For information, contact your local Oz Fitness location (or click here). Tell them Vince sent you.

Below: Scenes from the 2011 Oz Fitness championship game 2.

First day of spring …

It's a beautiful thing!