AMG Driving Academy

I thought it was time to write a different post on a great travel experience I had a few years ago…when I was able to attend my second AMG Driving Academy session.

This one was hosted at the LAGUNA SECA RACEWAY in California.  It is not close to a major airport, but you can fly into San Francisco or San Jose and drive down to the site.  I do recommend that you do not stay in a hotel too far away as you will be EXHAUSTED at the end of the training and you will not want to drive far after you have finished.  The highlight and fun starts right when you arrive early in the morning.  The cars are lined up and being fully prepped for a hard core track day!

You will be supplied with all the gear you need including helmet, etc.  You will get a fire resistant and comfortable helmet hood that you get to keep.  I do recommend cool clothing as the weather and cars can get quite warm at high speeds…and of course driving sunglasses is highly recommended.

After about an hour of briefing, course walkthrough, race car instructors, breakfast and meeting with the AMG executives, you on the course and driving hard!

Everything from slalom agility, to slippery skid course, drag race competition, drifting around a roundabout at high speed and of course high speed track runs!

And you will get to drive every car in the lineup in various scenarios and training throughout the day. CLA45, C63, CLK55, E63, CLS63 and the famous SLS.

The SLS was a major highlight and truly a track race car.  It is amazing on what this car is capable of performing and you truly feel like a Nascar race car driver just like your instructors!

You cannot take pictures or take your phone in a car, but you do get to record a video on one of the track runs which provides a great demonstration on how well the AMG cars perform on the track, the G-forces that are generated on the curves and how much fun it is to actually own one of these cars after seeing their capabilities first person on a professional race track!

There are no more scheduled sessions in 2020, but we are hopeful for 2021.  You can always check back on my regularly posting on when you can travel again due to COVID-19.

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Seattle Symphony Reimagined

The summer has ended and the fall has started.  In the fall, this is usually the kickoff of many events – sports, theater and orchestras.  But unfortunately, across most of the world, we are restricted from travelling and even thinking of attending a large indoor event.  If interested, this page is where I keep posting updates on international travel restrictions due to COVID-19.

So…what are the options, what will we see in the 2020-2021 season of arts and entertainment?  Well, like the Seattle Symphony demonstrated last night, you need to Reimagine!

Last night was the opening ceremony which used to be a historical “Gala”, but because Benaroya Hall could not be occupied safely, they organized a “drive in” event in Marymoor Park for donors and sponsors.

Despite all the challenges this year, we adapt, we overcome and only face forward!

It was really well done and I must admit the camera work on the streaming and the quality of the audio was exceptional.  It was a delight to “escape”, support the symphony and experience a wonderful night of music.  We could not socialize, but we could still connect and it was memorable.

You can actually still stream and watch it for free!  Highly recommended to check out while it is still available.  And consider supporting the community and artists to get us through the year and the COVID-19 challenges.

The Seattle Times had a good review with this quote really summing it up:  “These are the times when we are grateful for the gift of beautiful sounds, even at a distance, and for the reminder that great music will outlast any pandemic.”

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Semiahmoo

It is almost the end of the summer in the great northwest and we wanted to try a new place as one final road trip since we are restricted from travelling internationally.

If interested, this page is where I keep posting updates on international travel restrictions due to COVID-19.

Here are some of the most recent explorations of the Northwest this summer:

Now, on to the latest trip!

Since we could not go to Canada, we went to Semiahmoo! IMHO, this is very similar to visiting Suncadia.  The atmosphere, the environment, the activities are almost the same…the only difference is the water versus mountains.

You cannot cross the border, but you can actually Canada across the water…in some places it is so close, you could literally swim to Canada.

If you look close, you can see the actual border crossing Peace Arch.

The attached port is actually quite old and historic.  A lot of dated structures and older maritime are available to inspect.  Make sure you bring a light jacket as the wind does pick up frequently since you are surrounded by water on both sides.

Unfortunately, it is not well kept, there is not any self guided tours or maps.  It seems that a lot of the previous local tours and water guides have all disappeared/shut down due to the pandemic.

On the positive side, the peninsula is a great (and scenic) place to go walking, running, biking and hiking. I did a little of all three myself.  The resort has some older/used bikes for guests which is convenient even though they are not high quality or well maintained.

One of the hidden gems is the running/walking/hiking trails that are on the south side of the bay and at the end of the maintained paths that are open to the public.  You have to avoid the private property trails, but they are well marked with signs, so no worries there.

The best part is the evening sunsets where you can watch the sun go down and also roast some complimentary smores every evening. The first night, we could not tell if we missed a missile being launched from Canada or if a UFO crashed into the ocean.

But in all reality, how could you compare these sunset views compared to many other places in the world?  Is Hawaii even better than this sunset in the great Northwest?

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Gold Creek Pond – Snoqualmie

Continuing the theme of summer 2020 travel restrictions where international travel is not possible, this is another new area that some may choose to visit in the great Northwest part of the country (United States).

If interested, this page is where I keep posting updates on international travel restrictions due to COVID-19.

Here are some of the most recent explorations of the Northwest this summer:

Now, on to the latest trip!

This weekend was a little camping an exploration in the Gold Creek Pond area.  This is a great hiking area which I visited a few weeks ago when spelunking up to Kendall Lakes.

Due to the lockdown and everyone with cabin fever, I will warn you that the area can get pretty crowded.  Weddings, parties most people not social distancing and also not wearing masks.

This is why we were a little more adventurous and explored the sites and history by using the dry creek bed (which is mostly dry and not with running water in August).

You can get some great views of the mountains, but it all depends on the clouds and fog.

When the sun comes out, it is gorgeous and it does get a little warm.  You can also watch some of the hang gliders that often jump from the top of one of the mountains and float around for what seems like hours in the light winds.

I did mention that the creek is dry and not with running water, but there are some great spots where the water is running under ground and you can find fresh clear pools that little friends seem to like hanging around.  Beware: the water is not warm, it is ice cold.  But for some…it is very refreshing on a hot summer day.

Here was one of the unusual and intriguing spots along the dry creek bed where there was a slight water flow.  Look at how many years have past since the ice age glaciers creating all those rock layers.  How many years of history can be found in all these layers of sediment?  Thousands?

OK – in closing, here is one of the not very well know treats that can be found in the Gold Creek area and best found by walking up the creek to Heli’s Pond.  It is small, hidden, very quiet and quite mysterious.  The water is so blue and so clear, you can see down 20 feet and see every detail.  and if you are brave, you can take a polar bear dip into the water that will be memorable!

 

 

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Cannon Beach Oregon

Since the travel restrictions continue and international travel is not possible, we decided to continue to explore the Northwest part of the country (United States).  If interested, this page is where I keep posting updates on international travel restrictions due to COVID-19.

What was the next spot?  Cannon Beach, Oregon!  It is sunny, but not scorching hot and overall a pleasant mid 60s in the middle of August.

 

We chose to travel on Sunday and visit during the week when it might not be as crowded.  Despite our planning choice, it was not light on travelers or tourists…and the usage of masks was still 60-40 unfortunately.  But many people respected and tried to remain distant.

If you look on AirBnB, you can find some reasonably priced rentals that are only a block or two away from the beach.  It is worth walking for 5-10 minutes versus paying $500 a night for a small room right on the beach.

We found a great place right next to the Pelican Brewery (which is great for takeout dinner) for only $200 a night with two bedrooms and full kitchen!

It is a large and fun beach.  Plenty of room to stay distanced and a great place for dogs to play if you ring your pets.  But…even though it is August, the water is REALLY COLD!

It is pretty popular to go up close to the Haystack Rock to check out all the nesting Seagulls as well as all the sea anemone that thrive in the little sea pools that flows through all the smaller rocks.

If you do not have a rental or hotel near the beach, you have to explore the roads to find an entrance to the beach.  They are public entrances all over the place, but they are not visibly marked and it is almost impossible to park near one.

Some are right between homes and I am sure the locals like how hidden the paths are between their houses.  Now, for the next thing…there are a lot of local animals in this rich coastal growth…

One of the unusual things of Cannon Beach, especially in the morning, is all the rabbits around town.  They all appear to be domestic rabbits that have been let loose and have gone feral, and there are a lot of them.  All colors and many are very overweight and do not run away easily when you approach them.

Overall, the town is a safe place with lots of tourist shops and some nice local restaurants.  But, despite the restrictions and limited spacing, it is still very crowded on the streets and in some of the stores.  If you are at risk or uncomfortable with people who refuse to social distance or wear a mask, this may not be the best place for you.

One recommendation for a visit on the way (or back home from) Cannon Beach is Fort Stevens.

It is actually a huge park.  We actually did not plan enough time to check out all the sites, history, ship wreck and batteries.  You may want to actually plan an afternoon.  We will actually to visit again given the great taste we received in just 1 hour.

Check out of the batteries that were actually used in WWII.  Battery Russell (above) was actually attacked by the Japanese in WWII as the only stateside location that traded fire during the war.

Now, a classic activity that I always enjoy when I visit a new location!

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Of course, I went running early in the morning.  There is no traffic, no crowded sidewalks, no traffic lights.  Nice cool weather, light hills and some great scenery.  If interested in world running routes, check out some of my other pages.  Running around the world is always fun.  Some of my other favorite spots:

 

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Lake Quinault

Continuing the theme and need to restrict travel due to COVID-19, we decided to try and explore a new area in Washington State.  If interested, I try and keep this page updated for the latest news on vacation and business travel.

OK – where did we decided to explore?  Lake Quinault.

Now, it is not a short drive unless you leave early to avoid the traffic jams and the bottleneck in Aberdeen, Washington.  There is only 1 traffic light and it takes about 30 minutes to get through town.  Maybe it is everyone trying to get a picture of Kurt Cobain’s house who was raised in Aberdeen, but I digress…

Despite the lockdown, it is still hard to get a place to stay on a weekend, so book far in advance.  We were lucky to get a Veteran’s Discount and stayed at the famous Lake Quinault Lodge.

It is a gorgeous hotel with a lot of history and charm. The staff works hard to make it a pleasant stay for everyone.  95% of everyone wore masks so that reduced stress a lot.

A wonderful place to enjoy a glass of wine (like the amazing Portteus Petite Sirah I found at a store) on the balcony or by a campfire down by the beach.

Now, what is the area most famous and popular activity?  Hiking of course!  There many trails and routes for all skills and distances.

Some of the trees MASSIVE in size and it feels like it compares to the Redwood Forest in California.

Even on a weekend, there are not many people and some of the scenes are quite eery…and you expect vampires would be appearing if it was not light out…

The hardest part is to not succumb to taking a dip in the creeks or checking out some of the small waterfalls that you find all over the area. Crystal clear, but cold water is very tempting to jump into.

Our second hike to the east allowed us to check out some more falls.

This one is a little misleading as it has a very deep drop on the other side.  This was Gratton Creek which is very accessible.

Check out this tree.  Have you every seen anything like it? It looks like helicopters rising in the year for about 200 feet.

And then about 5 minutes later in the hot sun, underneath a branch was this…THING.  What in the world is it?  Was it left behind by an alien vistor?

The highlight at the end of the second hike was a visit to the largest Spruce Tree in the world.  This picture does not provide the right perspective, but it is massive in size and has a total circumference of 56 feet and was 1,000 years old!  I have never heard of a tree in the United States ever being this old or actually any tree outside of olive trees in Israel being that old.  Worth a visit!

and you can end each day with a campfire on the beach with some amazing sunsets!

The Roosevelt restaurant in the Lodge is quite nice when it comes to preparing tasty meals that you can take out during the COVID-19 restrictions.  Their pizzas are immensely popular and we would also recommend the local Salmon House down the road about 1 mile away which prepares some amazing salmon dishes if you would like something different.

If interested in checking out some other fun hiking places to visit in Washington State, check out some of my other posts.

 

 

 

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Hiking Ein Geidi and Masada Israel

It has been a few years since this trip and this is a retro posting that I have put together to keep us positive of the potential places to visit and explore when the world opens up again when COVID-19 vaccine has been available for enough time to allow us to plan on travel internationally (my tracking page for guidance).

The local guide map

Where is a great place to hike in Israel?  Ein Gedi.  This is one of the more famous day hike locations in southern Israel, but it is not as popular as many others in the summer as it can get very very hot.   But it has a delightful surprise at the end if you are successful in the hike…so read on!

Very little shade

It is about a 2-3 hour hike round trip.  In the summer months when it reaches over 40 degrees Celsius, the general rule of thumb is you need to prepare and carry 1 liter of water per person per hour.  Yep, this means you need backpacks and the water weight will be heavy.

Look closely in the bush.  What do you see inside eating?

Despite it being quite arid, there is a fair amount of flora and fauna to observe.

I have no idea why this dragonfly let me get so close to take a picture.

 

What is the best part and surprise ending?  The water spring and pool at the end to cool down from the hot dry hike!  It is a very popular place to go under the spring waterfalls and refresh.  A victory for the achievement.

After the hike, we stopped and rented a room at the nearby Kibbutz to recover from the long day and rest overnight since we had one more hike planned before heading back.

Guess what was next?

We did not spend any time at the Dead Sea (I will save that for another post), but we did get up very early to climb Masada before the sun rises.

It is a hike that everyone must do if you visit Israel.

There is a cable-car that some people can take to the top that is operating sometimes, but it is not available at 4:00 AM if you want to go up and see the sunrise.

Sun rising above Jordan

If you are in decent shape, it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to climb up the 400 meters to the top.  But it is worth it.  Watching the sun rise above Jordan is an amazing experience.

Roman ramp that was built to conquer the fortress

But I also love all the history.  The Siege of Masada is an amazing story.  You can still see the ramp that was built by the Romans (that took months to build) and some people will even walk up the ramp to see how the siege actually occured.

Remains from the camp 2000 years ago

You can also see on the other side the camps where the Romans assembled for months with their tents, etc.  You can see the remains on the ground, but when you up on top of the fortress you can see the remains from so long ago.

If interested in some of the other sites of Israel, check out some of my other postings:

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Hiking in Snoqualmie – Kendall Lakes

Building on the hiking theme from last week, I went exploring with a local hiking expert (@JohnLaTwC) to check out the less known Kendall Peak Lakes.

It is a long day hike, but a wonderful set of views with the first few miles going up a well worn, but no longer used, logging road.

OK – how do you get there? Very simply, head east on I-90 to Snoqualmie Pass.  Take exit 54 and head towards Gold Creek.  The Gold Creek Pond and area very popular, so recommend you arrive early (before 8 AM).  It will get packed very quickly and you want to enjoy the cooler weather in the morning for the long hike.

It is possible many people may get discouraged or distracted because the original trail and road entrance are blocked off.

Apparently, this winter, the weather was a little rough and the creek wiped out (most) of the road.  But don’t worry, there is just enough of the gravel road left you can cross the creek without having to find a path through the water.

The first few miles are quite easy, not too steep and some people may find this part of the hike boring.  However, some of the views as you climb up to the Kendall Peak are simply amazing.  Check out Mt. Rainier in the background!

The best part of the path up, for those who are very observant, are all the hidden treasures you can encounter and check out along the way.  Who has ever seen little frogs in a small little marsh area at 4,000 feet elevation?

and if you scrutinize some of the subtleties in the overall offshoot paths, you can even discovery some hidden Doomsday Prepper hideouts that are clearly being used and stocked by some unknowns!

Our mail goal was to find the elusive Kendall Lakes.  They are not found on the main trail and you have to use map and/or GPS to find a route to reach the three individual lakes.

Of course we wore masks and remained socially distance, but it turns out when we did find the first lake, it was VERY buggy.

The masks were almost needed to not eat a mouthful of bugs when you breathe.  You also need bug repellent or you will be fall down to a wave of zombie mosquitoes in seconds.

We scrambled a bit north through the marsh to the north even when a trail was not clearly present.  Fortunately, as we starting climbing through the trees, we found some older trail blazes!  Perfect!

I had not seen these before and eventually found a sign indicating their purpose and protection.  Very cool to learn history in this very old hiking trail.

Speaking of cool, at this elevation, we finally starting encountering snow that was not melting even though it was July!

With persistence and commitment, we found the second lake.  It was pristine and so green in color.  The water was still, yet crystal clear. You could even see the occasional Trout fish moving around 50 meters away.

A hidden gem with almost not a single person in sight.

We did not want to give up yet, so we very slowly scrambled around the second lake in very steep terrain to find a way to reach the higher level elevation third lake.  We found the outflow from the 3rd lake, but if you look up, this would be a treacherous climb and we have already been hiking for 4 hours.

Conclusion: backpack and spent the night at one of the rare camping spots available and then spend a day hike climbing up to the 3rd lake.

We chose to head back and finish traversing around the second lake and then we found a very unusual hidden treasure.  Check out the bridge of snow!  It has been covered with as much as 12 inches of dirt and debris an has not melted.  Quite a sight and one of the many gems of this great hiking area that is less than 1 hour away from Seattle.

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Hiking Cougar Mountain Cold War Missile Site

What to do when you cannot travel or are locked down due to COVID-19?  Find a local place to hike!

I decided to write a local travel blog entry today since it has been months since I have been able to travel out of state!

Today we decided to go explore and hike Cougar Mountain.  It is very popular because of its size, easy access and the large number of trails.  Parking can get quite full if you do not arrive early (before 10 AM) on the weekends.

You may ask, what is so special about this site?  Since it is Independence Day in the United States, it was completely appropriate to explore some of the Cold War history of the Seattle area.

You see, Cougar Mountain was one (of several in the Seattle area) of the Nike Missile sites protecting the military bases and critical defense industries during the cold war.

You can actually run and hike over the entire area which contained radar, command and control and underground missile batteries.  This is the remains of the original administrative area.

If you are adventurous, you find some of the original fencing and barb wire that restricted areas of the mountain.

Now, it is important to call out that not all trails and areas are safe to hikers.  Cougar Mountain used to have mines and some still do collapse and cave in.  You have to choose your routes carefully.

Some may say that these cave ins and toxic gases are not from mining, but are are radioactive remains of the ancient missiles that were Broken Arrow incidents and the materials were not cleaned up.  Conspiracy theories are wild on this one, but I digress.

Nevertheless, we were masks to avoid the gases, radiation or risk of COVID-19 viruses being spread from all the people that refuse to wear masks for some reason despite being in large groups.

Without question, this is a great place to hike and enjoy a morning or afternoon getaway.  The Cold Creek Falls path and stop may be one the best despite being quite small. It is a great spot to target, but be ready, the trails up and down are quite steep and not for the faint of heart.

If you like this one, check out the following week post going to Kendall lakes.

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Alaska Cruise

Reflecting on My First Cruise

This trip was quite a few years ago from my home port of Seattle, but since COVID-19 is affecting the world, there may be no cruises to Alaska this summer…so I thought I should write a blog article about my experience.   Who knows when we will be able to travel again or take a cruise?  I am trying to keep a living blog updated to provide people the latest information and good links for various countries.

Alaska Cruise

Yes, I know it was on the Norwegian cruise line and that is for older people, but it was in the early days of cruises that left Seattle, so I had to give it a try.

Going to Alaska was actually my first cruise after being out of the US Navy for a few years.  After two extended war cruises on an aircraft carrier, I thought I would never go on a ship again, but my travel bug hit!

Cruises to Alaska are a staple of the Seattle waterfront.  There are 5 major lines and at the moment, all have been cancelled until at least July.  Will they run into the fall this year…or not.  Still a major unknown.  Check out my planning analysis posting if interested in learning more about the current state of vacation planning.

Regardless, the departure from Seattle is popular with many as there are many things to see and do around Seattle and hence why many people like these cruises.

OK – what is there to see on a Alaska cruise?

It basically an easy way to visit parts of the massive state by going from port to port that could take a month (possibly?) to actually to to drive between the small cities.  Is city the right word or are they just summer ports?  They are very isolated and similar to visiting the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest.

For some people, their favorite port (stop) is Skagway.  That is where many people like to take train excursions.  Other people take helicopter and dog sledding adventures.

The Glaciers and Ice

The best part of an Alaskan cruise is going up in the Inside Passage where you can see the glaciers and frozen ice.  This is quite a few years ago and you could still see a lot of ice even in the summer months.

It is not quite as good as the cruises I did later to Antarctica or to the Arctic Circle on Le Boreal, but it was a much lower cost that almost anyone can experience.

I am worried that there will not be many cruises or years left where you might be able to actually see the ice on an Alaskan cruise.

The ports are great places to go hiking and not really great places to buy souvenirs.  They are pretty much small tourist trap stores that are sponsored by the cruises and they get kickbacks from the sales.

I think one of the major highlights in visiting these small port towns is the food.  Yes, of course, the seafood!  It is amazing walking into a town and having GIANT king crab for $10.  It has been a while, but you could buy a gigantic king crab leg of 3 lbs for only $10.  That was amazing.  One leg.  I am not sure I would want to encounter that guy scuba diving!

Whales

Now, this was the early days of digital cameras and there were no smartphones back then…but one of the fun elements of the cruise is actually seeing pods of whales following or near the ship in their habitat.  They are not too common or frequent compared to Antarctica, but you will get to see them as you cruise north.

Overall, it is a relaxing and fun trip for many families to get away from the cities and have almost a camping feeling.  Let’s hope that we get past COVID-19 and be able to start cruising again!

 

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