Up here at the 54th parallel

People who go to church with me know that I am fond of saying, about any given feast day (and even a few fast days), that this or that feast day is my very favorite day of the year. All Saints’ Day, Ash Wednesday, Advent I…all beloved. And this is how it’s been for me on this walk. With a few exceptions, every bed-and-breakfast, every meal, every village, has been better than the one before.

20130715-183534.jpg There was something especially sweet and enticing about the very last place we stayed before completing The Walk, Intake Farm just above the tiny village of Little Beck. (Beck is Old Norse for stream; we have followed many becks along this trek.) A working farm that raises about 60 head of beef every year, along with a few dozen lambs, the farm sits on a hillside with views of Whitby and Whitby Abbey to the north and the Yorkshire moors to the west. The farmhouse is huge, comfortably cluttered with thousands of books and mismatched overstuffed furniture. The upstairs guest rooms are large, light and airy. Our window looks east (where, somewhere over the hills is the North Sea and the end of the Walk) at a field full of cows and sheep and green hills beyond.

Up here at the 54th parallel it stays light until 10:30 pm, and the sun is fully risen, a bright wake-up call, before 5 am (daylight begins around 3:45). The nights are deliciously quiet, the mornings bright and inviting. This morning we both woke to the sun in our eyes as 5, and were packed and ready to hit the last stretch of trail by 6:30. With an hour to wait for breakfast, I had to be content with reading, drinking tea, and finishing my little coast-to-coast knitting project. Looking out at the sun on the hills, listening to the birds and the first sounds of sheep calling to each other, I didn’t want to leave. (“This is my very favorite B&B,” I said to Mark. “Let’s be sure to come back here.” It’s a running joke between us; we cannot imagine retracing the whole walk, but we have such a growing list of places where it would be great to come back and stay for a weekend, we might as well.)

When I moved to Portland in 1986, I did so in a Ryder Rent-a-Truck, driving from Boston to Portland along Interstate 90, which I like to think follows, roughly, the 45th parallel that bisects Oregon. I’d never seen most of our country, and it was a wonderful odyssey. I loved the vast, flat states–Wisconsin, parts of South Dakota–almost as much as the wild mountainous parts of Wyoming, Montana, and the Idaho panhandle. I was so moved by seeing so much of the country that I was completely unprepared for the most stunning part to be near the end, when the only thing on my mind was getting to Portland and out of that truck. So imagine my surprise when we drove through the Columbia River Gorge.

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That’s how it was today, finishing our Walk Across England. It was a perfect day for walking and we set out thinking only about the final finish line. I had expected that we would trudge through our three thousandth cow pasture and march through the village of Robin Hood’s Bay into the sea. Instead, we hit the sea about 75 minutes’ walking time north of the village, just south of Whitby, and were treated to a perfect path along the sea, worth every step it took to get here.

We made our way through the village down to the beach and did the ritual tossing of pebbles into the sea, pebbles we picked up eighteen days ago from the beach at St Bee’s on the Irish Sea on a misty-rainy day. It is hard to believe this particular journey – all 192 miles! – is behind us. I can’t wait to find out what’s next!

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What is it about Seattle?

Almost twenty years ago I was at the east coast wedding of my dearest college friend. The family of her husband-to-be hosted a casually festive backyard barbecue, full of loads of cousins running around, generations of people I’d never met before. The groom’s brother-in-law had brought all the bread for the dinner across the country from Grand Central Bakery in Seattle. This was a nice touch that got through my jet-lag to warm my heart. And it gave me something to talk about in this extended family setting where I didn’t really know anyone. Our conversation went something like this:

Me:  Yum, I love Grand Central! I go there all the time in Portland.

Brother-in-law:  It’s from Seattle.

Me:  I know, but there’s lots of them in Portland.

Brother-in-law: They started in Seattle.

Me:  The turkey-and-chutney-on-como is my favorite. And the ginger molasses cookies.

Brother-in-law: This bread is from the original store in Seattle. I go there every week.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this was a nice guy. And he’d gone to some trouble to bring a lot of this really great bread. I have the same kind of conversations with my Seattle cousins do the same thing. And I always go visit them, they never come visit me. It’s like the drive from Portland to Seattle is shorter and easier than the drive from Seattle to Portland. But what is it about Seattle and Portland? It’s a thing, a Portland-Seattle thing. Not a rivalry, exactly, but something. What do you think it is?

Day 5: Rituals of the Road

I periodically drive the 45 miles down I-5 from Portland to Salem and back again. Today was one of those days and I found myself cataloging all the things that make the trip better: a coffee to go, a bottle of water, music (Handel’s Messiah, for the 12th Day of Christmas), and a snack to look forward to on the way back. It turned out to be a long, long day, with not much more to say at the end than “and to all a good night,” but I’m curious: What are your rituals of the road?