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Northward Ho

Good friends Don and Misty are coming up to Bieber for a few April days before we road trip north together. Don is Portuguese and his wife Misty is a lovely Japanese woman. They’re mad for each other but there’s a huge issue in their relationship: Don hates Japanese food, especially sushi, and sitting cross-legged in a traditional (read: real) Japanese restaurant at a low wooden dining table on a tatami mat floor is to Don something akin to waterboarding. I mention this in front because the issue will come up later in this road trip that begins in Bieber because our immediate farmer neighbors are from the Azores and this time of the year they kill a pig and Don loves chicharones and blood sausage. Also in the way of foreshadowing, my son John whose girlfriend is Japanese might meet us up there somewhere in the big north, maybe in Seattle, where John tells me he knows of an ancestral Japanese restaurant that’s better than his favorite place in Honolulu where he lives. Misty will be ecstatic, Don will be looking at me like I’m a failed bond (he invests in them for clients, including me, for a living). My fondest hope is that the place in Seattle has Kobe beef shabu shabu done with Japanese mastery in order that meat-loving Don may overcome his myopia re Japanese food.

Anyway, we’re in Bieber now, our Portuguese farmer neighbors have added a goat to their usual Easter season two-day pork feast, the goat’s been cooked in the ground in a covered pit in a fashion that surely pre-dates the Roman occupation of Iberia. When I taste a hot juicy tender bone-in chunk of the goat I look over at Don’s plate and see he’s piled it high enough where I know I’m going to get half of it and I’m very glad because the goat is third best thing I’ve ever had in my mouth, and at 73, that’s saying something. Then there are the stewed turkey parts, in a rich broth that represents a succulent execution of turkey that’s about as far afield from the conventionally dry, roasted Thanksgiving deal as is a distant planet. Then there’s the kale potato soup, and the home distilled nitro pear everclear, and then, well, you get it, America’s going to be fine as long as we don’t control our borders too much. Ah Portugal, I remember a motorcycle ride through the Tras os Montes (meaning Between the Mountains) in a swath of northern Portugal which closely borders Spain, a remote region of old Europe where farmers still till their fields with oxen, where red flowers tumble from window boxes of white cottages, where a stunning arched stone bridge over a creek in a verdant green valley bears the Latin inscription of the Roman engineer who built it. You don’t see things like this on conventional Tours Our Us itineraries.

Forgive the tangential excursion, dear reader, I drift sometimes, it seems pleasant to me. After doing Portugal in Bieber, Don and I decide to release our women from our esteemed company for a day, while they go to Susanville for shopping and a great Chinese lunch. A great Chinese lunch in the Lassen County seat of Susanville is hardly surprising given that country’s growing global ubiquity. My woman Gwen (thanks to me) knows of a Chinese place there that has Hong Kong style roast duck, one of the world’s grand delicacies. While the women do their Susanville adventure, Don and I jump in our Polaris side-by-side ORV we use here on the ranch to move wheel lines and such, and take off up a nearby graveled Forest Service road that leads us up into the high timbered country that surrounds Big Valley where Bieber is only one of four diminutive townships. We ride the little beast fifteen miles up to the mile-high fire lookout tower atop Snag Hill, encountering along the way a chunky thirty-pound bobcat that sprints across our front and ascends a pine tree with such speed and agility as to make all human athletic prowess pale. We munch our Big Valley Market take-away sandwiches at the tower and marvel at a vast 360 view of wild California where hardly anyone lives, where three big volcanos punctuate the skyline: two-mile-high Mount Lassen that erupted a mere century ago, Mount Shasta, a fourteen thousand foot conical strato monster that will go off again, and when it does, say goodnight to a whole bunch of NorCal, and the recumbent profile of Medicine Lake, a shield volcano 150 miles around its base geologists call the sleeping giant. It’s time to tell you Don and Misty are from population bombed Orange County, but they’re in recovery from that life. They’ve recently moved to Port Ludlow, Washington into a lovely home in the rainforest on Puget Sound, they’ve been back in Orange County to take care of vexing family issues that dog you no matter how far away you move from them. They’ve stopped in Bieber so we can join them on the final leg of their road trip home. At the lookout Don has the bearing of a man who has returned from war, he has PTNBD (Post Traumatic Newport Beach Disorder) written all over him from too many years of a mad lifestyle there that is in many ways akin to a daily firefight.

Morning comes; we’re out of here, bound for Port Ludlow, WA, to check out Don and Misty’s new home ground. It’s roughly 700 miles northwest of Bieber, lots of Oregon to drive the initial 300 miles or so, all of it on Highway 97, straight as an arrow, stunted trees and logging slash on both sides of the road, decaying depressed towns like Beaver Marsh and Chemult and Gilchrist, and an absurd 55 mph speed limit that’s rigidly enforced. By the time we reach Bend, a municipality that’s ground zero in the death of the American dream presided over by wealthy golfers, Don isn’t in a great mood, he’s driving Orange County style, which is to say the speed limit and other drivers are anathema, and his customary redline impatience is freaking Misty and Gwen. After lunch in Redmond at McDonald’s where Gwen’s leftover roast duck saves me from poisoning myself with corporate soylent green, I give Don a break from all the driving thus far and take the wheel. The struggle to keep the vehicle at 55-60 becomes fairly hopeless when we finally soar north of Shanko into the vast high bounding main of wheat country where the road becomes a sweet sinuous joyous thing whether behind the wheel of an automobile or as I have known many times, in free flight behind the handlebars of a high performance motorcycle. Then Don says the fateful words: “Wick it up Denis, I’ve been here on the moon many times, never saw a cop.” Dumb me wicks it up to 70-75 and the next thing I know is I’m being pulled over by a couple of crisply uniformed young men in an Oregon State Police cruiser, one of whom asks me “Do you know how fast you were going, sir?” to which I reply, “Honestly, no officer, but you know how it is, fetching road, wonderful car, perhaps I was a little overzealous.” “We clocked you at 74; drivers’ license, registration and proof of insurance please.” When Officer Krupke sees I’m not an authorized driver on Don’s rental car agreement I utter weakly that I thought it prudent to relieve a road-weary driver, to which he replies that the vehicle can be impounded in cases like this, then he says “Stay in the car for me please.” After the four of us sweat bullets for five minutes, Officer Krupke, kind Officer Krupke, returns and hands me back my driver’s license and says we’re getting off with a warning and avoiding a hefty fine, “Keep it under 60, sir, and drive carefully.” Dear Officer Krupke, in the unlikely event you’re reading this, we love you and will never forget your compassion for an elderly schmo.

Early in the thinking stages of this journey we knew we had to overnight somewhere. Over drinks we decide 700 miles is way too long for a day trip. Credit to Gwen who’s a WA gal (she’s from Spokane), she suggests spending a night or two in Leavenworth, WA, which bills itself as “your Bavarian getaway.” When the Great Northern Railroad blew the town off in the 1920’s and moved to Wenatchee and left the town’s economy in rags, some smart locals came up with the idea of re-creating Leavenworth into a mountain village in Deutschland, and by God, they’ve pulled it off. You’ve ridden the Bavarian Alps; you’ve seen the towering massif of the Zugspitze on the Austrian border, and if the panoramic view of the vertical snowy walls of the Cascades from downtown Leavenworth isn’t very close to that stunning, I’ll eat my lederhosen. I immediately loved the idea of doing the Fatherland in Washington. I’ve fond memories of being blitzed in Munich’s Marienplatz after way too many steins of Paulaner Brau, then there was the Oktoberfest on the itinerary, mit frauleins mit der big boobs bringing tankards of the rich malty brew and roasted chicken halves and whole skewered barbecued walleye and we all ended up playing ring around the rosie at a telephone pole singing Deutschland Uber Ales off key and pissing on each other’s riding boots.

We blow into Leavenworth late in the afternoon somewhat refreshed by finally crossing the mighty Columbia River at Biggs Junction and entering Washington State where the speed limits are a rational 60-65, where the apple orchards in April are bursting out of the ground in blazing white blossom. First stop in town is a liquor store where I need a fifth of vodka, Smirnoff Triple Distilled, and Don needs a six-pack of club soda that adds something he prefers to his preliminary evening double (or two) of Dewar’s. Then we check into two adjoining rooms at the Linderhof Inn where the ice machine is conveniently close, where the beds are the lofty downy luxuriant things customary everywhere in Bavaria. We ask the lady behind the registration desk where she might suggest we go for a major German feast for dinner. One of her suggestions is King Ludwig’s Restaurant just a few easy walking blocks away so we, not being especially dumb people, make our way to King Ludwig’s Restaurant where Gwen and Misty do their own reasonable thing and Don and I share mad King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Platter; schweinshax’n (rotisseried broiled pork hock), chicken Oktoberfest style, two schweine schnitzels (breaded pan fried pork cutlets) and two fat bratwursts, with frosty bottles of smooth, dark, malty dunkel biers to start. Then there’s the Bavarian potato salad, winekraut, rotkraut (red cabbage) and spätzle, the latter being a rich traditional preparation of Bavarian egg noodles that alone raises the bar of the concept of comfort food. And apple strudel for dessert? Of course. I was reminded of a discussion I once had with Hartmut Heiner, my Swabian riding bud. The subject was German culture; he summed it up with “Denis, ve do things to extremes.”

We end up spending two days in Leavenworth, we eat like these are the last days, and we stroll through the local shops for hours fascinated by the staggering array of goods that range from whimsical kitsch to high art from the Fatherland. Don, who collects antique pocket watches and fine clocks of every description, picks out a cuckoo clock for his office wall at home. I couldn’t help but recall some lines from an Orson Welles masterpiece film “The Third Man” in which Welles portrays a black marketer who diluted penicillin he stole from military hospitals and sold it on the black market thus killing many in devastated post WW ll Vienna. When his old friend portrayed by Joseph Cotton confronts him with the enormity of his crime, Welles’ character says, “You know what the fellow said – in Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” Truth here is Don has way too many clocks in his house as it is, the bongs, bells, chimes and bird calls are distracting on the phone with him when discussing his favorite subject gentlemen prefer bonds, but I think he’s waking up with regards client relations because he told me recently he’s gagged several of the offending clocks. Anyway, we’re on a tangent again so please forgive me if it’s a distraction from the flow of this magnificent piece of literature. We’re done with Leavenworth except to admit a side trip to nearby Cashmere to the historic Aplets and Cotlets factory where fresh healthy apples and apricots are boiled into sugary candy. Ignore me at the moment, dear reader, I’m lapsing into a mood wherein I begin to question the efficacy of evolution, and there’s even moodier descent from here so we’re not going there. Last stop in Leavenworth before we leave town in the morning is a great bakery in the local market to grab a quick breakfast where the gulf between Don’s and Misty’s dietary considerations is again apparent. Misty orders a sensible bran muffin (however softball size), and Don makes do with a huge puffed stuffed fruit/pastry concoction that looks like a scale model of the Jungfrau with whipped cream replicating the snow. Gwen goes quasi sensible with a maple bar and I pull out the stops again with a hefty pie-size chunk of apple strudel. My rigid workout regimen has come to a stand-still the last few days and I’m eating, according to the Mayo Clinic, like a suicidal fool.

So fortified, our quartet begins the final leg of our journey to Port Ludlow on Interstate 90 that ascends the Cascades, up and over Snoqualmie Pass, where the vertical grandeur of the great range is in full frame. The forces that created this seismic convulsion, trust me, you don’t want to look too deeply into them without phoning your insurance man. The problem is we’re about to descend into the southern ‘burbs of Seattle where, if you blink and pretend just a little, you’re back on the freeway in Orange County. Traffic is immediately video game absurd, there are erratic drivers around you, right next to you in fact in an adjacent lane, who you know certainly need to be detained and force fed re-hab. You know who they are. They’re demented Seahawks fans who need pro football to distract them from the big con that rules their lives beyond game day. Forgive me, there I go again. The good news is we reach the Edmonds-Kingston terminal just in time to board the ferry and cross the sound and escape greater Seattle to the much calmer easterly environs of the Olympic Peninsula where Don and Misty’s sweet new pad is a hop/skip away in Port Ludlow. The bad news is we’ve still got Don’s rented Chevrolet Expedition SUV, we couldn’t conveniently drop it off on the way at Sea-Tac, because Misty’s Jaguar stashed in the five-story parking structure there couldn’t possibly handle the luggage and shopping loot of four putatively normal American consumers. So, bam, we quickly unload the rental rig at Don and Misty’s new charmer, and get back on the road south all the way down to The Narrows to cross to Tacoma and backtrack our way up the dreaded I-5 to the nightmare that is the airport. We return the rental wheels and finally find the Jag in the enormous parking structure thanks to the color coded location receipt Misty had the prescience to retain. Don sticks his credit card into the slot of the automated pay-me machine at the exit (parking fee for 10 days $300 thank you) and we motor our way back to Port Ludlow the same long circuitous 75-mile route, just barely initially escaping Seattle’s rush hour stop-and-go which is fast replicating L.A.’s 24-7 Carmageddon.

Finally we return to Don and Misty’s new digs in Port Ludlow. It’s a great house, spacious yet comfortably compact, set upon a deep flag lot at the end of a quiet cul de sac, the back yard is a big lovely garden that sweeps down broadly to underscore a fine view of Admiralty Inlet and the ten thousand foot snow cone of Mount Baker beyond. One step through the front door and it’s obvious the house is furnished with what they love; antique furniture and paintings and sculpture and artfully framed family photos, not just things from a swishy professional decorator but meaningful personal remembrances of what they’ve done and where they’ve been in their life together. As Herr Nietzsche said “We have art in order not to die of the truth.” No worries about dinner because we’ve paused on the way home water side at Jack’s in Poulsbo and inhaled a huge order of steamers and fish and chips, the fish fresh locally caught cod Don had been raving about earlier and he was, forgive the pun, right on the money. Nothing to do but, thank God, relax at last. Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle goes the ice machine in the fridge, the drinking lamp is lit, Don and I descend into our scotch and vodka respectively, and Misty and Gwen do the same, respectively, with cold chardonnay and Bailey’s Irish Cream on ice.

Our couple of days guesting at the house will remain clear in memory. Not the least of the reasons being there’s eye candy everywhere, especially in Don’s office where his vintage firearm collection is displayed behind the cut glass doors of two old gorgeous deftly restored antiquarian wooden cabinets. Included is a trio of German Merkel shotguns, the absolute gleaming apogee of the gunsmith’s art. Joyous at not having to drive to work anymore, there he sits at his computer every morning by four am armed with the latest cutting edge Bloomberg software to ply at cyber speed impressive skills honed by lifelong experience in the complex matrix that is the world of bond trading. His phone conversations with brokers are in a language that is technical and staccato and sometimes, especially with his long time bud Rick at Paine Webber in LA, go from deadly serious seven figure negotiating to good natured salacious hilarity in a millisecond.

Well aware that Gwen and I are avid fly fishers (he and Misty have joined us on the stream on a couple of occasions) we take a short drive to a lake in Port Ludlow that’s managed by the local fly fishing club. It’s a Walden-like natural beauty, well stocked, with some hogs we heard that love to strip fly lines down to the backing. On the way there Gwen and I are horrified by the sight of a butt-ugly 22-acre clear cut of 200-year-old pine trees within the confines of a residential development granted to remain in perpetuity in its natural state by, guess who, the developer. Well, enter greed and avarice and breathtaking malfeasance. Now Don and his neighbors are in pitched battle to halt any further destruction and to “remediate” the 22 acres that have already fallen to the axe. The land in question looks like the aftermath of a drone strike; the non-marketable thin wispy “pecker pole” trees were left standing among the stumps, a few lonely sentinels that seem to be swaying disconsolately in the wind like revenants, like the mourning survivors of an apocalypse. Ex-Orange County sufferer Don needs this excrement like he needs a hole in his head but like all good men, he can’t lie down against bullshit like this without at least trying to retaliate.

The mood lightens considerably when we motor to nearby Port Townsend, a 19th Century Victorian Puget Sound port town where several venues pull us in, especially a two story establishment called Restoration Hardware which is a veritable memorial of a time before the digital age gave us Facebook and Twitter and texting and I-Phone email and online marketing and wham-bam-thank-you-mam ethics and values and a sordid shallow languageless mode of communicating with each other that is cipher meaningless. Upstairs at Restoration Hardware is indeed a museum of priceless art deco lighting fixtures that seem to illuminate what we have sacrificed in an age of high tech convenience.

It’s time to tell you my son and his Japanese girlfriend have blown us off like chaff so Don has escaped the possibility of going back to Seattle to endure Kamakura sushi, and to tell you the truth, not a one of us was ecstatic about returning to that teeming megalopolis across the sound. Instead, both Misty and I have noticed the existence of what purports to be a Japanese noodle shop in downtown Port Townsend. I know Don isn’t going to love it, but I’m sure he’s going to be a good sport, and I’m not disappointed. Ok, I’ve bitched enough in this piece, so the restaurant in Port Townsend isn’t a traditional authentic place in Kochi where family members have been hand making the noodles for five hundred years. Instead of course its menu is contemporary fusion, the big steaming bowls of udon, ramen and saimin look pretty good anyway, and the list of designed-for-gaigin sushi rolls, naturally including Dynamite Roll, is long and fetching. While Don picks somewhat disconsolately between chunks of fish cake in his udon, Misty and Gwen and I slurp ours up with noisy reckless abandon as are customary good manners everywhere in the Land of the Rising Sun. What does shock me somewhat, however, both Gwen and Misty, whose bowls of noodles come with a side of delicate shrimp tempura, inexplicably dump their tempura into the hot broth thus turning the high culinary art of Japanese style fried shrimp into soggy lumps of mush. Had Misty’s pop, Mr. Tsutomu Okuda been there to witness such desecration, there would have been Jigoku to pay, that’s Hell the way they say it in Tokyo.

There’s an old saying that comes from somewhere, I have no doubt it may come from Japan where honesty is a revered character trait. It’s something to the effect that house guests are like fish; they begin to stink after three days. So it is with great affection and consideration and respect for Don and Misty, that we pack up and head for the airport for the flight back to Bieber. As with great friends and with lovers too, as the bard wrote, parting is such sweet sorrow. But the sorrow is palliated by the surety that it’s all going to begin again this fall when Don and Misty return to Bieber, he to shoot birds, she to ride Kolt, her favorite nutso quarter horse. From here then it’s going to be another road trip, this time we’ll head east from here to Lakeview, Oregon and then plunge north through the wild open country that is Oregon east of the Cascades where Portland is a long way away and there are many mountains in between. We’ll take our time, maybe spend the night in French Glen at the base of the eight thousand foot fault block mountain that is known as The Steens where one can drive a sixty mile loop around the rim and see a cobalt blue lake that is the orphan of a glacier. As newscasters from the old days used to say when journalists wouldn’t succumb to dishonesty, that’s the way it is, good night and good luck.

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