Thursday, August 19, 2021

Hawaii is Up and Running, or is it? July 18 through 30, 2021

Throughout the COVID 19 pandemic, the beloved vacation destination Hawaiian islands caused frustration for would be tourists.  In the first days of the pandemic, Hawaiian governor David Ige subjected all travelers from the mainland as well as from other Hawaiian islands to a mandatory 14 day quarantine (at your expense my friends) once arriving on the islands.  This decree was promised to be lifted by June 30th initially but was cruelly extended over and over, thwarting the summer plans of hopeful visitors.  It wasn't until October 15th that a plan was enacted by which a visitor to Hawaii could present a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of arrival on the islands to avoid the quarantine.  Within a month this was changed to within 72 hours of departure, but the results had to be uploaded to a special site and then an approval was generated by the site and sent to you by email.  Also within a month the mayor of the county of Kauai requested that visitors to this island still be required to quarantine, a request Ige approved.  This nonsense went on another arduous seven months, until at long last, Hawaii announced that as of July 8, 2021, fully vaccinated individuals could travel to Hawaii (all islands, at some point Kauai got on board) with proof of vaccination, also uploaded to the Hawaii Safe Travels sight, in pdf form to be sure, and approval from said site.  Today, nearly 18 months after the onset of the pandemic, you still cannot travel to Hawaii without restrictions, but it is easier.  Frankly, I do not think the Hawaiian tourist industry could survive another summer like 2020.  It has been stated that once a certain percentage of Hawaiian residents are vaccinated, the restrictions could be lifted altogether, but poor Hawaii is not getting closer to this goal with any speed.

We cancelled out trip last summer and sat in wait to see the restrictions in Hawaii finally lift.  We all scheduled our COVID tests we didn't have to take. We uploaded our vaccine cards and were ready to go back to the Hawaii we had known and loved all these years.  Well, not so fast.  It's different now.  Hawaii is still in pandemic mode, so there are a few things you should be aware of before you head out to the islands.

EXTREME CAR RENTAL SHORTAGE AND CRAZY PRICES

Right now the first thing you have to book once you have decided on your dates is your rental car. You have to have a car on the islands, there is just no getting around it! There is a nationwide shortage of rental cars which is particularly bad on the Hawaiian islands.  All the major carriers sold off large portions of their fleets and have yet to be able to rebuild at the rate of customer demand.  This has led to prices at least double that of previous years.  It is not unheard of to hear about people renting Uhaul trucks to get around on the islands, though many just have to settle with more (or less) car than they need.  On Kauai fate delivered this huge Ford Expedition.  Gotta confess, nice to stretch out.  All told we spent about 1200 on the rental car for 12 days, but I think we were lucky.  It is easy to book a car and then cancel it if need be, as most rental companies do not require payment in advance, so just do it and get it over with.

GOOD LUCK WITH THAT DINNER RESERVATION:  

Yea and while we are talking about reserving things, good luck making that dinner reservation.  Many restaurants on the islands we visited were not operating at capacity, had significantly reduced hours, or were just plain closed.  Though this week (August 15) Hawaii tightened its restrictions on restaurants, bars and indoor gatherings, I believe when we were there capacity was at 75%.  However, many restaurants claimed that they could not open more tables because they were just understaffed, creating long waits and an underavailability of seating.  Many businesses claimed that it was difficult to get people to work, either because of the generosity of unemployment benefits and eviction moratoriums, or just simply because young adults who came to Hawaii for an adventure had to return to the mainland when the work opportunities dried up on the islands.

Though I called Mamas Fish House more than two months in advance, I could not get a table.  Bubba's Burgers on Kauai (Kikuiula location) closed at 4 on Tuesday and Wednesdays.  Gaylord's was not serving Sunday Brunch.  Wrangler's Steakhouse had reduced hours (better now I see).  And wow, restaurant after restaurant gone, just gone.  Aloha Mixed Plate, Bubba Gump's, Bubba's Burgers Hanalei, Poipu Tropical Burger, Kalapaki Beach Hut, Ono-Char Burger, JJ's Broiler-all GONE!

That's food. Should mention that retail sales not going much better.  The happening upscale Kikuiula Shopping Village is shut down by 7 pm.  Shops at Kilohana closed earlier.  There was no Hanapepe art night and stores there such as the beloved Talk Story Bookstore and the Banana Patch Studio closed early-like 4 pm--or at least earlier than we could get to them.  Banana Patch was closed Saturday and Sunday.  

And watch websites for activity hours too.  Kauai Mini Golf was only open Friday Saturday and Sunday.  Koloa Rum Company was closed Sunday and Monday and the last tasting was at four. 

Gotta say, for a family that spends all day outdoors and returns to the room by 5 to get ready for a night of strolling and relaxed eating, these early closures were a mess.  It was more like hurry up and shower because such and such place is going to close in 5 minutes.

NEW RESTRICTIONS IN STATE PARKS:

In order to minimize crowds during the pandemic, which I believe is going to turn into permanently in order to minimize crowds, both the islands of Maui and Kauai have limited access to State and National Parks.  In true Hawaiian fashion there is no uniformity, so you better be on top of your game so you are not left out in the cold so to speak.

On Maui you are required to make a reservation to watch the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala (entrance between 3 and 7am), but entrance at other times can be made without a reservation.  This can be done 60 days in advance using the national parks website. The Kipahulu district can be entered without a reservation, but is only open 9-5.  To enter Waianapanapa State Park off the Hana Highway, you also must make a reservation, and this can be done 14 days in advance using this link.

On Kauai you now must pay a day use parking fee and a day use entrance fee per person for Kokee State park, but this does not need to be done in advance.  The price to park is $10 for a non-commercial vehicle and $5 per person in your car, plus tax.  Though I seem to remember getting some kind of ticket to put on the dashboard, the per person fee seems to be pretty much on the honors system.  None the less, we were honorable and paid a bit over $36 to park and hike in Kokee.

On the other side of the island, it cost us over 50$ to park at and enter Haena State Park (why you would want to park and somehow not enter is unbeknownst to me).  Now granted, Haena State Park used to be a zoo, no joke.  People crammed into unmarked potholed parking spaces that generally filled by 8 am.  The latecomers would park illegally on both sides of the road and then walk down the middle of the highway, heavy laden with chairs, coolers, .....and children.  It was a meter maid's paradise..don't even get me started on the tow truck driver!  

Anyway, that's all gone now.  Kauai took advantage of a north shore 2018 landslide and flooding that virtually ended north shore access to make a few changes down there at Haena.   There are now 75 parking spaces available at Haena (25 additional are reserved for locals).  You have to pay an entry fee per person plus a parking fee for a designated time slot, basically morning, afternoon or sunset.  If ya think your activity, say like, walking 8 miles on the Kalalau trail, might take longer than the morning slot allows you, you need to reserve the afternoon slot too.  There is a cheerful lady there bright and early (the first parking slot opens at 6:30 am) to make sure you have a QR code printed out. Reservations can be made 30 days in advance.  The website makes this pretty friendly but you'd better hurry.  Reservations open at midnight on the dot 30 days in advance, which most painfully is 3am in California.  The first morning I didn't have my fastest fingers and missed the boat, as the passes were gone by 3:03am, no kidding.  I was faster the next bleary eyed morning and got the passes.

If you miss out on the parking the North Shore Shuttle began operation on July 11.  The shuttle carts visitors from a point a little beyond Hanalei (the Waipa Park and Ride to be exact) to the Haena parking lot.  $35 round trip for one person which includes entry. Sooooo, basically my way $50 for five people, that way $175, a substantial difference. 

Now regardless if you take the shuttle OR decide to get up in the middle of the night to reserve your parking, you still have to coordinate getting over the Hanalei Bridge which on weekdays is only open (an one lane at a time at that) 5:30 to 7:45 am, 1 to 2:30pm and 5:30 to 11pm because of the road repairs and construction at the site of the aforementioned landslide.  Saturdays are different.  Sundays and holidays it's open all day.  Oh, and Wednesdays during the school year are different.  Oy.

Getting the picture when I say we are not quite wide open??

INDOOR MASK REQUIREMENT:

One thing ya gotta remember is that in Hawaii you still have to wear a mask indoors.  In Hawaii's humid environment and frequently open air retail, this is very uncomfortable.  It deterred me from shopping for sure.

OMG THE AIRPORT:

And OMG the airport.  Remember that thing where businesses can't get people to work? Well, this applies to TSA apparently as well.  We dutifully arrived at the Lihue, Kauai airport for our interisland flight over one hour before our flight left and lined up for security.  There were three security checkpoints and each one progressed an an insufferable snail's pace.  Each person was checked and rechecked by the same two staff members, every single person with their several pieces of carry on luggage, loading and unloading and unpacking and repacking and taking off shoes and jackets and hats and jewelry.  There was no mercy whatsoever for anyone whose flight might be boarding.  By the time we arrived at our gate, my shoes in one hand and my boarding pass in the other, our flight bound for Maui was on the tarmac.

We had learned our lesson when boarding our flight from Maui to the mainland and arrived at the airport over two and a half hours before our flight.  Security took an hour and wrapped around the entire airport to the baggage claim area.  It was a long walk to the gate and we only arrived a few minutes before our flight boarded.   

Was Hawaii fabulous?  Yes.  Can I wait to go again?  No.  So was all the hassle worth it?  Yes it was.  Everything about Hawaii makes it all worth it.

Thank you for reading this post.  And now for some pictures to remind you how beautiful this place is!!

Hanakapiai Beach from the Kalalau Trail

Kauai's East Shore from the bike path

Sunset off Lahaina

Off the Kaanapali Shore

Oh yeah, and we are beautiful too...
Shipwreck Beach in Kauai


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Skiing Sun Valley, ID during the COVID pandemic February 16-22, 2021

Good morning, Mt. Baldy!
 It is strange that in the midst of a pandemic that has seemed to prevent any type of opportunity,  our worst enemy coronavirus made it possible for us to take a trip we could not have taken otherwise.  Last year we had figured would be the last we could destination ski over the February break.  We would have two children away at college who would not have a break in their school schedules and the third would be starting his first varsity baseball season.  Well, with NONE of my kids actually attending live classes and baseball practice nowhere on the immediate horizon, we had an opportunity and we grabbed it.  Not only were the four of us that live at home going back to Sun Valley, our oldest daughter, who had not been able to join us the previous two years, was coming from San Diego to ski with us in Idaho.

Visibility for days!
I really needed this trip.  I was really done with all the COVID crap in California and even worse, Santa Clara County.  There was nothing that was going to stop me.  In the weeks and months preceding, it seemed like we got bad news after more bad news.  There were times however I wondered if this vacation was actually going to happen.  About one month prior, Alaska changed all our flights around, making it virtually impossible for all of us to meet up at the Boise airport.  We were able to fix things, but now the flying was not so easy.  About ten days before the trip, I had my family on lockdown, trying to prevent any unnecessary exposure, but lo and behold, my son managed to get exposed to COVID anyway at baseball conditioning, literally 8 days before we were to leave.  I knew he wasn't going to get it, but a 10 day quarantine was the rule, negative tests or not.  There was no way we were not going but getting on a plane was pretty blatant, so we drove.  We cancelled the flights, packed the car, bought groceries, changed the oil, made a hotel reservation in Reno, left a day early, and drove 12.5 hours to Sun Valley, ID.

SKIING DURING THE COVID PANDEMIC:

The Ski Area itself....

Honestly, I have to say that between the weather, the snow conditions, the location and the company, these were the three best days of skiing we ever had in our lives.  Now for me to say that, we must have been very minimally impacted by COVID restrictions. There were restrictions in place, but they did not seem to have the same oppressive nature experienced in other walks of life.

It was my understanding that they were limiting the number of tickets being sold daily, but you did not have to make a reservation.  I bought my tickets about a week in advance.

Probably the biggest accommodation made for COVID came in the form of lift operations.  Instead of packing the empty seats with singles and awkwardly putting people who don't know each other on a painful ten minute ride up the mountain, it was no longer permitted to ride with some one you did not know.  As the chairs are mostly quads, we were forced into a group of three and a group of two.  Two separate household singles could ride together but at opposite ends of the chair.  Though the gondola seats 8, you could not ride with someone you didn't know.  All this spacing did effectively make the lift lines a bit longer, especially the Saturday the gondola was closed, but it was still nothing like what I used to experience during ski week in California.  Face masks were required while in line and this was enforced.  I think there was some weak effort at keeping people six feet apart in line, but this was not enforced.

You did not have to wear your mask while skiing or while riding the lift, but quite frankly, when ya get up to a good speed you really do want that thing on or risk freezing your face.  You do have to wear it outdoors on the grounds and inside the lodge in the bathrooms and when not seated at your table.  Another nice thing is that everyone is just wearing those tube neck gaiters anyway, not those awful blue medical masks, so it's almost just part of your ski gear.

There are far fewer tables in the lodge.  There are signs encouraging you to limit your time at the table.  You can no longer toss your bag in a corner (now people just toss them outside).  No more free cubbies, but there is a very easily accessible bag check ($7 per day).  No more water glasses and water cooler. No live music. There is a fairly lively bar scene set up outside with some of the coolest space heaters I have ever seen.  You can still eat food brought from home in the lodge and no one bugs you about it.

And otherwise:

A big big thank you to Snowcreek Apartments (where we stayed for the third time) who decided adults could be intelligent enough to follow some simple rules and allowed the hot tub to be open!  The hot tub was limited to 8 adults and this was self enforced.  Two nights we had only one other couple join us,  The third night there were 8 adults already there when we got there, so we turned around and went back to the apartment and enjoyed hot showers instead.  Go figure!

Another item worth mentioning is that our decision to drive required us to spend the night in Reno Nevada where we went once again for a great INDOOR meal.  When we crossed the border into Nevada from California I literally fist pumped.  So sick of all the restrictions here.  Obviously, both Idaho and Nevada have shown that in fact you can be indoors during a pandemic and not get sick.

AND WHAT'S NEW ON MOUNT BALDY??

Warmer weather!!

Though the past two years had left us believing that Sun Valley, ID was the next best thing to Siberia, this year we actually saw double digit temperatures!! Though the first day hovered at about 20, the second and third days hovered around 30!  The first day I didn't make it two hours before shedding a T shirt which I wound up carrying until lunch AND my glove liners, which I never wore again.  The second day I braved shedding yet another layer and by the third afternoon, I, dare I say it, shed my fleece sweater as well.  You still had to wear a lot of clothes, 4 layers at the minimum instead of 7, but it was nice not feeling so much like a stuffed turkey AND not having numb fingers and toes.

Sunrise Expansion of 380 acres and a new lift:

Sunrise expansion from
 the Broadway chair
Since last winter, Sun Valley has completed the Sunrise Expansion, which is the biggest expansion of terrain on Mount Baldy in two decades.  The expansion, which officially opened on February 3, 2021,just two weeks before we arrived, added 380 acres, or an additional 20% of skiable terrain.  It is largely considered to be an advanced/expert area, including open bowls and steep chutes.  We stayed out of that stuff, but most noteworthy for us was the replacement of the dilapidated 2 seater Cold Springs chair (circa 1970) with the slick detachable high speed Broadway Express Quad Chair. The chair drops you at mostly the same place as the Cold Springs chair did, but begins over a 1000 feet farther down the mountain.  The new chair reminds us of Peter Pan in the way it whips you into position and then shoots you off into flight.

AND NOW FOR MY NEW LITTLE APP-STRAVA!!

About a month ago I was turned on to this cool little app while trying to find a GPS type tracking system for my hikes, walks and rides completed during my daily exercise.  The super cool thing about Strava is that can track all sorts of activity, including in line skating, canoeing, swimming, and yes, SKIING.  I actually didn't turn it on until the third day.  I turned it on in the morning and then separately in the afternoon.  Super fun to see that we skied nearly 47 miles and 33,000 vertical feet over the course of the day, though I confess I think that includes the distances covered on the chair lifts.  The app also gives you a little map of the mountain that shows all the terrain you have covered.  My favorite stat, my top speed of 51 MPH.  Yea, some day I am going to live to regret that....

ISN'T THIS SUPER COOL?

STRAVA describes our afternoon ..


Hey how about we look at some more pictures!!

Ready to ride the Gondola!!

A cozy ride up the hill

Ready to brave the Mayday Bowl!

At the top of Seattle Ridge with majestic Mayday 
Bowl in the background

And enjoying our Sun Valley family favorite,
The Ram

Well, it has been a long time since I posted.  I sure would love to to start travelling more regularly soon! 


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Lake Tahoe travel and the COVID epidemic July 31 to Aug 5 2020



 I made my reservations for Lake Tahoe in January of 2020, far before we had even heard of COVID.  The intention was to return from two weeks in Hawaii on July 31 and leave for Tahoe for four nights the next day.  When I learned that we weren't going to Hawaii at all, I booked a week in Sunriver, OR.  (See my blogpost on this!)  However, this still gave us a week before we were scheduled to go to Tahoe so I needed to fill this time or risk feeling like I needed to work at my real job during the break-yuck!  I got to work on extending the Tahoe vacation.  By the time I started working on this, June 20 or so, Tahoe accommodations were quite occupied and there was very little available in our price range.  I managed to book an additional day onto our VRBO rental, and hoped to secure another Lake Village condo for another three nights prior, making our pack up and move in the middle of the week a little less stressful.  This was not to be, however, so I checked into Club Tahoe Resort in Incline Village for the first three nights of our Tahoe vacation.  I chose to book on the Nevada side, hoping for a less heavy handed COVID restrictions.

TAHOE AND COVID-

Well, whether in Nevada or California, COVID does not seem to be impacting the amount of fun people are having this summer in this area. The Tahoe counties (of which we drove through 5) are not Bay Area Counties, that is for sure. You are required to wear a mask indoors.  In outdoor restaurants on the California side, you can remove your mask when seated at your table.  In Nevada you can eat indoors at socially distanced tables with the same mask restrictions.  We did both, dining al fresco at the darling Scusa on Lake Tahoe Blvd, and enjoying breakfast at the Kingsbury grade location of the Red Hut.  Both felt really safe. Mini golf is open, trails are open, marinas and rental activities are open.  Wear your mask while you fill out paperwork and start off, then take it off--simple, right?

Some limitations popped up.  The clubhouse at Lake Village, with access to the pool, BBQ's, tennis, ping pong and pool, was closed. Club Tahoe Resort's bar was closed and there was no housekeeping.  Another big bummer at CTR was the moratorium on beach passes for Incline Village's private beaches, which forced us to the public beaches, yucky Kings Beach, a wasteland of heat and bodies, and much more pleasantly Lake Forest Beach, a quiet and secluded tiny spot against the water.  Public beach parking lots also decreased their capacities, necessitating the back up of cars on the highways early in the morning.  Ever eat your breakfast on the beach?

The beaches are all open and they are packed and no one wears a mask on the beaches.  Despite the crowds, there is plenty of room to social distance.   Days we were at the beaches, Pope, Sand Harbor, and Skunk Harbor, we followed the examples of others and marked out wide boundaries of "stuff" discouraging others from coming too close and giving ourselves a wide berth to gather our group.

We saw a few people wearing masks on the trails.  This is quite a surprise as the decreased oxygen in the air coupled with the heat and exertion would cause any normal person to just give up the ghost.  This is really where I draw the line.  There is no possibility that anyone who climbed 3300 feet to make it to the top of Mount Tallac has COVID-19, or anything else for that matter, except a strong aerobically sound body, and possibly some mental insanity.

Now if I said that everyone in Lake Tahoe was taking COVID seriously by socially distancing from all those outside their households I'd be big time lying.  Yes, I would say people were staying away from other parties, however, some of the parties were HUGE, as much as like 40 people.  Now, I'm not thinking these people were all living under one roof back in the Bay Area. Here in Tahoe with their "extended pods," people were definitely taking risks.  Oh boy.  We saw a group of like fifteen 20 year olds getting drunk as skunks huddled under one easy up on Sand Harbor Beach.  The girls were so lit they couldn't even stand, let alone execute sound COVID judgement. Another time we saw three boats in Skunk Harbor pull up side by side, each with about 8 passengers, tie off and start to co-mingle as if it was a normal day.  My fave was when rafting down the Truckee River we encountered like 5 eight person rafts pulled off to the side.  30-40 men women and children sat stood and swam, close talking and drinking beer.  We are not too crazy strict about this whole thing but my kids sat wide eyed at the spectacle.  My 20 year old daughter summed it up, "and THAT is how you spread COVID!"  Yeah, I get it.  It's families, cousins, college friends, who miss each other and want to have a good time just for a few days in a beautiful place and forget about the damn virus.  I can't say that given the same situation I wouldn't take the same risks.  I don't know.  It's nice to feel normal for a bit.

CROWDS:

Well one thing is for sure.  The coronavirus did not keep anyone away from the lake.  In fact, it seemed that all those Bay Area families who, like us, were denied their Hawaiian, Mexican, and European vacations all went in their desperation to wherever they could go, and, like us, they went to Lake Tahoe.

Oh and the crowds were real, necessitating some real planning.  If you couldn't get your butt out of bed and to your beach destination early in the morning, you were basically up a creek without a lily pad.  Sand Harbor was only allowing about 60% of their usual parking capacity, requiring people to queue up on Highway 28 prior to 8AM opening.  On Saturday morning at 7:40 am we were a significant distance from the entrance, maybe half a mile, and feared having the gates shut on us!  Luckily we were able to slowly make our way up to the front to be admitted at about 8:10 am.  It is nearly certain the gates closed within minutes behind us, not to open to anyone for the day until 5 pm.  

The scary line to get into Sand Harbor

On Saturday we set up our easy up and chairs and left them to make our paddle surfboard reservation at 8:30.  Sand Harbor Rentals started only taking reservations at 8:30 and 9 as those who were getting to the beach later were getting shut out on parking and were getting stuck being charged for their missed later reservations.  After returning to our beach camp and spending a lovely day on the slightly overcrowded beach we drove back to our Lake Village condo.  Here we saw the damage to all the lazy shmucks ,that missed their wake up calls.  Basically every inch of Highway 28 in both directions was lined with cars.  People just parked and headed down the slope looking for water, many already ticketed having ignored the no parking signs.  There are real beaches down there, Chimney Beach and Secret Beach, but the real estate down there is not expansive, and the best part is you get to haul your stuff down there, and then back up at the end of the day.  No thanks.

Tuesday we returned to Sand Harbor at the same ungodly hour.  This time the highway patrol prevented us from queuing so we had to find a turn out and approach from the other side.  The week day seemed to                                                                             present a little less pressure.

On Sunday we arrived at the Mount Tallac trailhead at 7:50am.  It was full so we parked about .1 mile down the road.  No biggee.  On the way we passed by Pope Beach which had a queue on the highway.  After the hike we headed to Nevada Beach at 4pm hoping for a quick dip, but again parking was full and we wound up adding more steps to reach the beach from our roadside parking spot.

We finally DID get onto Sand Harbor Beach

NEW ADVENTURE!  TRUCKEE RIVER RAFTING

With the extension of our vacation, we now had two full days to occupy ourselves in a completely new area of the lake!  One thing we had heard a lot about but had never tried.was rafting down the Truckee River.  Since we were to be in the area, I decided to book us a raft.

From start to finish this whole experience was a hoot and we would do it again in a second.  The put in site is located at 175 W River Road in Tahoe City.  Because of COVID the number of rafts on the river has been decreased by 50%  making reservations mandatory. Two to ten person rafts are available.  Each adult costs 55$ which include the rental of the raft and the shuttle ride back to Tahoe City.  Kids 6-12 are $35. Life vests are provided but I did not notice anywhere that wearing them is required. You can start as early at 8:30 or as late at 3:30, though on Saturday you must be on the river by 12:30 pm (last shuttle at four). 

First you are escorted to 5 minute parking where you can unload before your driver moves your car to an offsite lot and is shuttled back.  Then it's off to the put in site!

The whole venture is 4 miles long and takes anywhere from 2-4 hours depending on the level of the river.  It is a slow and scenic float trip along which is it easy to pull off, jump out, swim, and party if you want.  The current is very gentle and in most spots shallow enough to stand. There are a few portapotties along the way if the hang over the side and pee avenue is not your thing.  Soft coolers are allowed and highly encouraged as the partaking of adult beverages greatly minimizes the frustration of the raft floating into the branches protruding from the sides of the river and cooperating on the steering.  Pair this with a bluetooth speaker and a good play list and you have a lovely midday excursion including water, sun, music, beer, scenery and hopefully some good company.  Really, it's fabulous.  Big thumbs up.

Lots of opportunity to swim

The ride ends at a River Ranch Pond where you pull into a platform, your raft is taken care of, and you head for the waiting shuttle bus for your 10 minute ride back to Tahoe City.

Having lots of fun!


Well, that's about it for the summer travels.  Here's to hoping we will get some opportunities to get out of town in the future!!  Here are some pictures!

Words of warning at the Mount Tallac Trailhead


After I stopped crying.....


Dinner outside at Scusa

Skunk Harbor is a great piece of lakefront property, if you are willing to make the hike...

Monday, July 27, 2020

Travel during the COVID epidemic Sunriver, OR July 18-July 25, 2020

Possibly the hardest consequence of the COVID 19 pandemic is the restriction on summer travel. As the spring months waned and the hot summer months approached, almost daily I heard the sad stories of those who had shut down their precious summer plans, trips to Europe, Hawaii, Yosemite, and even Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Though some tried to make smaller plans, even more just resigned themselves to a summer without spending more than a night or two away from their homes.
Our story followed a similar path.  I had taken two and a half weeks in late July and early August nearly nine months prior for a planned excursion to Hawaii for two weeks followed by a four night stint in Lake Tahoe.  As most know, early in the pandemic the governor of Hawaii mandated a two week quarantine for all mainlanders coming into Hawaii.  When the quarantine was extended to June 30, my parents bowed out of the trip, but we hung on with hope.  On June 12, or thereabouts, the quarantine was extended to August 1, and our dreams of a Hawaiian vacation this year were dashed.
I needed to shift gears fast.  I already had the time off scheduled, so there was no way on God's green earth that we were not going on a family vacation.  We had all put up with a lot during the pandemic, and needed a vacation, so we were going, just where?  It didn't take long to make a decision.  We had been to central Oregon in the winter several times and loved the area.  I remembered an exit off the main road returning from Mt Bachelor to a place called 'Sunriver.' I googled Sunriver, Sunriver Resort popped up, it looked good, and more importantly, it was open.  On June 17, after a few nods of approval from my family, I booked it.  We got a "lodge suite" with a small kitchenette, beds for six, 2 bathrooms, a deck with a couple rocking chairs, a grassy place to play, and all the resort activities nearby. 

Let's not forget the coronavirus!

Now before I rave about how positively beautiful this area is and how completely replete the region is with adrenaline pumping adventure, it's worthwhile to mention how COVID restrictions impacted the trip.  Well, Oregon is different from California, no doubt, but still is doing its part in stopping the spread of the virus.  Only a few days before we departed, Oregon began to require the wearing of masks indoors and outdoors as well when social distancing could not take place.  One huge difference (at least while we were there) was that indoor dining was allowed.  However, the amount of tables and the number of people permitted in the restaurant at one time was greatly reduced, so you really had to be smart about planning.  If you showed up about 6, you could expect to wait about an hour to be seated.  Most restaurants were also wrapping up dining by nine at the latest.  The lack of seating pushed a lot of poor planners to the grocery stores and to the takeout options, leaving the grocery shelves of hot food empty and backing up restaurant kitchens for hours.  Ever waited 75 minutes for a pizza???  Anyway, despite all this, the restaurants felt extremely safe!  All were required to wear masks unless seated at the table.  Tables were widely spaced.  Condiments and utensils were brought out individually.  All the servers wore face coverings.  Listen!  Nothing to fear!  It is frustrating that CA can't seem to follow suit.  This CAN be done!
The pool was open on an appointment basis.  Pool reservations could be made one week in advance for one of four two hour timeslots.  You were then notified of your confirmed reservation or your spot on the waitlist.  We found that the system was rather rudimentary.  With only three of seven reservations confirmed, we were only turned away from the pool once.  Once admitted, parties were separated, provided with towels and brought pitchers of water and plastic cups.  Plenty of spacing.  All servers wearing masks.  Complete safety-GO OREGON.
Another thing you can do in Oregon is workout in a gym, including on the cardio equipment, without wearing a mask.  This also required an advanced appointment.  We did this one day, after not being in a gym since mid March.  The mask rule was changed during the week, requiring the use of a mask while exercising.  Rather than risk another COVID related death from suffocation while using the elliptical trainer, we cancelled our second appointment.
Our outdoor activities (which were what we were there for) were very minimally impacted.  Basically, you wear your face covering in the marina and then take it off on the river.  If someone is hooking you into a zipline harness, you wear it, then you remove it to zip. Simple stuff. We did see some people biking and hiking with masks on, but we did not.

Heart Pumping Activity!

So here are just a few things we did in the Sunriver area to enjoy the outdoors and get some thrills.  We did all these things and more, but there was so much more we could have done.

1)  Ziplining on Mt Bachelor.  So what do you do with a perfectly good ski hill in the summer?  Open it up to ziplining of course!!  This is exactly what Mt Bachelor did on July 4th of this year.  Mt Bachelor's zipline adventure begins at the base of the mountain with a short training followed by a uphill ride on the Pine Marten chairlift.  The zipping itself consists of three lines descending nearly  1400 vertical feet down the mountain slopes.  $99 for the excursion which takes about 2-2.5 hours.  There are some height and weight restrictions so be sure to check those out on the website.  Reservations are required.
Ready to zip!
As a cable breaking or a harness failure would spell certain death, I am always a bit nervous the day before a zip, but I always seem to get over it pretty quickly and am pretty sorry when the whole thing is over. Overall, this experience was a little different from previous zips. 1)  It's a duel line, so you and a buddy can go at once.  2)  You are the braking system, so how fast or how slow you go is entirely up to you.  As such, it is your responsibility to slow yourself down before you hit the landing platform. Actually, you can come to a full stop while in the middle of the line.  Why would you though?  I unlocked that brake as much as I could and flew at max speed, which was like 60 mph, or so they say. 3)  These lines are really long, the last being over 800ft in vertical descent and 3100 feet long, so ya get going really fast! 4)  The scenery is UNMATCHED!

2)  The Paulina Plunge.  The very next day we headed about 20 miles south and east of Sunriver to the Newberry Caldera area to experience the Paulina Plunge.  The Paulina Plunge is a combination of more than 6 miles of downhill mountain bike riding and short hikes to gorgeous waterfalls and natural waterslides.  $75 for a five hour adventure. 
Omigosh!  What a blast!  I literally never wanted this to end.  I think pretty much every one in our family named this adventure as the favorite of the week.  Our young shirtless guide, Brighton (sigh) learned everyone's name, ensured everyone's safety, and pointed out fun and interesting facts about the area.  We stopped at three waterfalls.  The water was pretty cold, but there was no way to not want to jump/slide in over and over again.  Really my only complaint was being a bit rushed at the waterfalls.
The website said ages 4-70, but I might add that you really need to be confident on a bike.  My family was kept near the front, being faster riders.  The slow riders were really slow.  The downhill stretches do get your speed going and if you're scared you're just gonna ride your brakes the whole way--not much fun.




3)  Sun Country Tours-White water rafting.  I have to bravely admit that after over a half century of life, I had never been whitewater rafting.  It was one of those things that inherently scared the crap out of me and then at the same time was kind of expensive, so I just avoided it.  Well, when Sun Country Tours, with its Sunriver location just minutes from the resort, presented an opportunity to get a taste of the rapids without too much financial commitment with the Big Eddy Thriller, I decided it was time to suck up my fear and stop denying my family this adventure.
The Big Eddy Thriller is basically and introduction to whitewater rafting.  Pardon the pun, but it's meant to get your feet (and everything else) wet!  The three hour adventure, which departs about every 90 minutes 5 times a day, begins with a 45 minute bus ride.  Really there is only about one hour on the water and even less in the class three rapids, but the time in the rapids was thrilling and did get you soaking wet.  Really reminded me of the Kali River Rapids ride at Disney World  Anyway, the price varies based on your boat, but for us it turned out to be about 65$ per person with four to a raft. They run longer and more expensive trips which would definitely be an option in the future. Pictures are taken by a professional, $39 for the album.  The pictures are good quality and a nice momento, but since we had family members on two rafts, $78 was not worth it.  I would have loved to show you a picture here, but a cell phone and rafting don't mix well, so I didn't bring it.

Also recommended is renting a bike and riding 8 miles to Benham Falls, renting a raft at the Marina and floating 6 miles down the river with a cooler full of yummy Oregonian beer, and the amazing hikes in the Cascade Lakes area.  Central Oregon is stunning in the summer, and we left so much more to do.  We would definitely recommend this area and hope to come back soon!!

Here are some pictures!

 Hike to Green Lakes on the Cascades Lakes Byway

 Benham Falls

 Floating down the Deschutes River


On the Green Lakes Trail

Thank you for reading this post.  Feel free to leave comments or ask questions!  Travel is limited now!  But if I can find something to post about I will!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Back to Sun Valley, ID February 15-19, 2020


Ya know there is one thing about writing a travel blog, and that is, if you are going to visit the same places, you are going to have to come up with some new material for the same place.  This is basically what has gone on with our return visit to Sun Valley, Idaho during the month of February this year.  There is nothing new particularly to report, but I can do a little comparing between our experiences of this year and last, and maybe reinforce or negate some of my comments from my blog about the same subject last year.

How did we end up in Sun Valley again?  Well, the same issues arose this year as last, and try as we to contact the baseball coaches and get some semblance of blessing to miss some events/practices during a period of time which was a school vacation anyway, we got no response, so as soon as I heard some vague commentary that we could leave Saturday to Tuesday, I booked it, and stretched it a day.  Next year my son will be playing varsity, and the days of leaving during this break will be over, so we decided to splurge one more year.

Expenses:

Well, we stayed one less day and had our skis one day less, so on some small level we minimized some expense this way, however, much to our disappointment, we were unable to get any discounts with early booking through either getlifttickets.com or any ski rental company, so we paid top dollar for everything.  Our lift tickets were a whopping $1862 for four adults to ski for three days, which worked out to over $150 per day even purchasing a multi day ticket.  Wow.

Likewise with the ski rentals.  I did not want to rent from Sturtevants again, because of their weird inability to get our rental price correct last year, but no outfit was any cheaper that allowed us to reserve in advance.  There were a lot of slightly more expensive options which had people actually come out to your condo with the equipment to outfit you, but I didn't really trust being on anyone else's timetable so back to Sturtevants we went.  They did allow us to pick the skis up the night -before, and thanks to some quick driving through the mountains following the Boise arrival at 3:50, we did make it just in time.  Again the guys are nice and the place was empty at that hour so equipment rental was smooth, though pricey--$35 per day per person, three days.

Accommodations:

Well, the early bird catches the worm, and for that reason we did not get the beautiful 1530 Snow Creek Condo we had last year.  We did not have much time to book and there were not too many options in Snow Creek, where we knew we wanted to stay, so we grabbed the only other 2 bed 2 bath condo available at 1538, just a few steps away.  I rented directly through the property manager, Vacasa.
We knew this condo was not going to be as nice, and it wasn't.  The kitchen, bathroom and furnishings in general were in need of an overhaul.  That being said, the condo was clean and had a washer and dryer and the kitchen was well stocked, so really there was nothing to complain about.  We did have some trouble with the cable, and three out of four nights were without television, but we think this was more because of the local cable service than because of the cable equipment in the condo.
One thing I must mention is how pleasant it was to deal with Vacasa. They offered us an early check in and a late check out.  Each time I texted they responded AND acted within minutes.  Many times property managers don't come through when things go wrong, but Vacasa was right on it.  I would rent another Vacasa condo again just based on their customer service.
Now back to Snow Creek in general, since we were there last the entire Clubhouse has been redone.
It is far more modern with a much bigger sitting area and a TV and a gas fireplace.  There is a huge sign outside the door prohibiting food, glass, or ALCOHOL in the hot tub and pool area.  I can guarantee you not one person we encountered in three days of post ski hot tubbing was following that last rule.  One afternoon the board of directors for the HOA was in the clubhouse, trying to conduct some kind of interviews, and even they didn't care.

New on Baldy:

Well, last year there was a ridiculous amount of snow on the mountain and three clear sunny days,
making the absolute best conditions ever.  This year we were treated to a dose of reality--still the three sunny days but some exposed grass and other debris on the runs, and at times some darned icy conditions.  Still fabulous, just a little short of heaven.  After the second day of skiing they blew some snow around, making the third day far less icy and more enjoyable. A local on the lift told me that these conditions were normal for Baldy in February.
There is word on the street the skiable terrain on Baldy will expand by 380 acres next year which will include bowls, chutes, and tree skiing.  Lower Broadway will also be extended by 3400 feet to the base of a brand new detachable lift that will replace the Cold Springs chair, which actually looks like it could crumble any minute--think Badger Pass in the 70's--so this is a good thing!


Eating:

What? No, here me out.  This is really a thing.  Eating in Ketchum can be a real challenge, especially during a busy week.  A huge problem is that many of the Main Street hot spots do not take reservations, so it's first come first served, and I swear there are people that come directly from the slopes and don't leave for hours!  We tried to go to dinner about 7pm on the Sunday before President's Day.  Whoops. We tried three places, Whiskey Jacques, Pioneer Saloon, and Sawtooth Brewery Public House.  All were full.  Pioneer Saloon could at least tell us 1-2 hours but the other places told us we could hang out and wait. Well after this we wound up at the Burger Grill downtown, which was tasty and quite satisfying, if not quite what we set out to do.
Eating fondue at the Ram
The brings me to the lovely Sun Valley Inn restaurant, The Ram.  We wound up here last year when a similar dining fiasco happened.  We were all so taken with the charm of this restaurant that the kids insisted we return.  It has a Bavarian look to it, but I would not say the menu is German, though the nightly heritage dinners seem to lean that way and the draft beers are all German.  The food is fabulous.  We started with fondue and moved onto steaks and lamb shanks followed by bread pudding and ice cream.  I also had no reason to complain about my yummy gin and tonic! The service here is absolutely top notch.  The maitre'd (there seemed to be more than one) is in a suit and attends to each guest who enters the restaurant and shakes each hand as you leave.  A young lady takes your coat and gives you a claim check. The waiter is unhurried and thorough.  The ambiance is perfected by pianist Larry who plays renditions of favorite show tunes and other classics on his baby grand piano at a perfected level that still allows you to enjoy your conversation! He is especially sweet to youngsters and is able to carry on a conversation with guests while playing the piano without skipping a note!
For the record, this year we had a reservation and were here on a Tuesday night, just like last year.

Cold:

Dagnabbit this place is cold, cold, cold!  Actually the first day the temperatures were slightly warmer than last year, but the second and third day were wicked.  I think the average up there was about 10.
If you read my blog last year about the cold, I listed what I wore just to survive.  The cold is truly almost unbearable.  I'm not sure it is really possible to make clothes for skiing that truly prevent frozen fingers and toes in this type of cold.  The fact is, you just have to go in and warm up occasionally.  One time I let this go a bit too long and I nearly puked from the pain of the warm blood reentering my fingers.  Thereafter I was more careful, always tucking my hands into fists on the lifts and NEVER EVER removing my gloves.
This year I made a purchase that was a godsend to all of us, Buff Multifunctional Headwear. In effect
My kids model the Buff Headwear
it's like a big fleece tube you wear around your neck and pull up over your face to meet your goggles.  At $32 from REI, they were a bit pricey, but OMG, worth every penny.  Often when I make such a purchase someone has some issue and refuses to buy into the need for such apparel.  Not one of the four of us skied one minute without our new friend.
Also I don't know who in the world would be stupid enough not to, but wearing a helmet keeps you far warmer than a hat alone.  I can't believe I ever didn't wear one--what a dummy.
The morning we left we headed over a mountain pass on the way to the airport.  The lowest temperature was -16.  Unfortunately, at some point we had to stop at a rest area and get out.  It was -8 then.  That was the coldest air temperature I had even experienced.

Well not such a repetitive post after all.  And now for some pictures!

 Approaching the River Run Lodge in the morning

 The view of beautiful Mount Baldy from our condo parking lot 

 Seattle Ridge

Cold but happy!!

Still happy!!

Don't even think about going out in this temperature!


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