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All Things Go: Prelude to an Adventure

Your author, the Spokesman's Photo Archivist.

I am a Spokanite by birth. As I grow into adulthood, in all the mess that such a practice is, I am able to sate my wanderlust more frequently as I untangle myself from who I am and what I want my life to be. Last month, it was a week traveling up and down the coast of Washington and Oregon. This month, it’s a whole new ball of wax in my practice of leaving home to experience myself and the world beyond. With my tax refund and some magic, I purchased a 45-day Amtrak rail pass that allows me 18 segments of travel in that period. Eighteen segments is plenty of travel, if you play your cards right and allow room for flexibility with the system.

Here, my morning ritual consists of: hazy-eyed dips in and out of consciousness in the hours between five and seven, the heinous sounds of my phone alarm around 7:25 a.m., a long groan, a roll out of bed, the donning of a sweater, and a walk out onto my downtown apartment's roof to stare at the sky and breathe in whatever the day may be. It's the method to my madness - I am a young woman who works two jobs in a city where I hold a certain amount of notoriety, and this time that I give to myself helps me with reckoning the world outside with the world within.

I assume my perch above an oft traffic-heavy street, before the rest of Spokane is awake enough to stroll its sidewalks and roll over its potholes. Being above it all allows an overview of my worldly day-to-day life, comforted by pigeons and the creeping morning light before I have to go meet the world halfway. The practice is born out of a longing to be unapologetically wild, with the understanding that I have to be a grown-up. That my responsibility as a young woman is to be the best version of myself I can muster (with mixed results, depending on my mood), but to not take any of it too seriously.

It wasn't until the cusp of slumber Monday night that I realized this was going to be my last night in my own bed for a solid while. I hugged my stuffed animal Maxine - the best companion I've had for the last fifteen years - and woke up with one of the most obnoxious songs in recent popular music history blaring through my head. In my green lawn chair, I told myself how much I believed in myself, even though at this point that should be the last thing I ever worry about.

At 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, I boarded my first train that began the six-week adventure across the country. Adventure is a huge thing for me, as I believe it should be for everyone, and this summer I'm taking off until August. A lot of people asked me why I was going. I don't know how to explain that, without being deconstructed, adventure should be reason enough. The question should be, why wouldn't I go? But instead I said, "to get out," or "to see other things" or "just because."

The truth runs a little deeper than that, though the nature of truth is something I tend to question frequently. I suppose a more whole explanation would be that the world puts a lot of noise in my head, and when I'm on an Amtrak (your girl has 1,500 guest rewards points at this point, from April on alone) it tends to shut up. The effect of riding a train is slow, comfortable stillness, punctuated by baby cries and the chatter of baby boomers about whatever cruise they're going on or family they're visiting. There is occasionally the loud drone of intercom narration about the scenic or historical importance of what is passing outside. And then there is me, tucked into my chair, head on my knees, melting into it all because it feels like home.

My pack and required materials

My first stop is Chicago, via the Empire Builder, which passes through Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin before Illinois. The Airbnb rental I requested - a privately run hostel for "open-minded music loving travelers" - was rejected, but I'm not too heartbroken over being denied the opportunity to sleep on a couch because I don't seem hip or underground enough on my freaking Airbnb profile. The fact that every hostel or room I've tried to book so far has backfired seems like a either a sign I'm already blowing this, or maybe the Universe has other ideas for me. Before I left, I was honestly more focused on tidying up my work as a photo archivist at the Spokesman, so the sweet colleague covering my post won't be overwhelmed by searching through the messy debris of folders with names like "FIRES" and "greek" that would only make sense in the jumble that is my head.

Nor did I raise a big stink about leaving. I hadn't even spoken to some of my closest friends in the weeks leading up to my departure about the trip at all. Tuesday morning I experimented with telling people that it was the last time they'd see me until August. It just made things awkward as I suspected it would.

It feels odd to even be writing this and telling you - whoever you are, whether you know me or not. I don't like saying goodbye, ever. It implies having to miss someone, which is my least favorite activity in the human experience. And to think that I’ll even be missed, given the relatively short time I’ll be gone and that I never really leave the people I care about behind (for better or worse), isn’t something I have the energy to wrap my head around right now.

Instead, I’m thinking of trees passing by me out the window. Of beaches, of big city skylines, of new smells and new streets to walk. Of waking up on a train. Of waking up on a stranger’s couch somewhere to the sounds of their own morning routine. Of waking up in my family’s house in the South. Of all of the things I can’t even begin to expect or imagine because it will be life, somewhere totally different.

I have a few stops specifically plotted out, per the guidelines of the my rail pass. After Chicago, New Orleans. Then New York, then Savannah, Georgia, and then Florida, where I spent my summers as a tween with my dad’s brother and family. I have been given the honor of being able to share my experiences here on the Spokesman site - to take Spokane with me in a way that is endearing and feeds my writerly hunger.

So, though I am not fond of goodbyes, I believe that it is not applicable in this context, because this post marks the beginning of showing those who choose to follow me all of the places my feet will stand on and traverse, the beautiful and curious things I’m beyond excited to see, and the observations that bubble up as a result.

In essence, an opportunity to explain the ever-evolving concept of adventure, so you can understand its importance to me, and maybe ponder about it for your own.

Two Spokane adventurers reported safe in Nepal

ADVENTURE — Two well-known Spokane adventurers in Nepal have reported they are unharmed and doing OK as earthquakes continue to rumble and cause widespread havoc and death in the Himalayan country.

Jess Roskelley, who's on a filming expedition to climb Annapurna, the 10th highest peak in the world, has contacted friends and family and said he's OK. 

Allison Spencer, Roskelley's fiance in Spokane, said the group is in good shape at basecamp and waiting until conditions stabilize.

"They're unsure on next steps; their hearts are with everyone affected by the damage on Everest and in Nepal," she said.

  Climbers on Mount Everest have not been so fortunate. Some have died in avalanches caused by the earthquakes, including a Seattle-based Google executive, while other climbers are stranded.

Hazen Audel, former Ferris High School biology teacher, is in Nepal during travels for filming his starring role in the series "Surviving the Tribe" for the National Geographic Channel.  He just arrived in Kathmandu as the earthquakes were taking their toll.  Here's an update he posted today on Facebook to friends concerned about his safety:

Everyone in the city is pretty on edge and disturbed. But everyone is helping everyone in every way they can. Some places have been really hit harder than others. I am safe with my Nepali family. We are camping outside in the yard for most safety. There have been over 42 significant earthquakes happening over the last two days. We think most aftershocks are over.

If all goes right, I get to get on a plane home can't wait to see long awaited Spokane spring. I want to see my family, friends, my cat, lilacs, arrowleaf balsam root and the Spokane river. Thank you all for your prayers and concerns and support.

Meantime, Nepal officials are calling for international help to aid earthquake victims.

‘Wolf Among Us’ another testament to Telltale’s adventure dominance

Title: The Wolf Among Us
Genre: Action/adventure
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Also available for: PC, Mac, Android, iOS, Playstation Vita, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One ($29.99)
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: Oct. 11, 2013

This game is rated "M" for mature audiences (age 17 and up) by the Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB).

Imagine a world where fairy tales are real, living their lives in New York with the same foibles as humans.

It's an easier thing to imagine nowadays with the proliferation of family-friendly primetime entertainment like Once Upon a Time and Grimm. But in the early 2000s, Bill Willingham's comic book "Fables" burst onto the scene as a breath of fresh air, eventually distributed by DC Comics and earning rave reviews that have continued through the series' 13-year run, scheduled to end this June.

Telltale Games, makers of the brilliant Walking Dead adventure games, have taken the brilliant source material provided by Willingham and created a murder mystery that surpasses their previous efforts - if not in heart, than certainly in the mind.

An in-game screenshot of The Wolf Among Us for PS4
You play as Bigby Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown and hunter of homeless piggies.

You play as Bigby, AKA The Big Bad Wolf, who serves as sheriff of Fabletown. Fans of the comic book will squeal with delight at being placed in the shoes of the chain-smoking, virtually indestructible face of the law, but novices to the fictional world will also quickly pick up on his anti-hero characteristics. As the sheriff, you must investigate a puzzling series of murders that shakes the regime of Ichabod Crane (acting mayor in King Cole's absence from Fabletown) and strains your relationship with Crane's right-hand woman, Snow White.

Just as in the Walking Dead series, the story plays out over a series of five episodes, with each serving to further unravel the mystery at the center of the plot. While as Lee and Clem you fight to stay alive, as Bigby you're trying to answer questions with characters who aren't always so forthcoming. The conceit fits perfectly in Telltale Games' signature gameplay, tasking you with deciding what you're going to say and who you're going to ally with. The Wolf Among Us is a perfect combination of a solid gameplay foundation, a story that keeps you coming back for more and a fictional world that's just fun to be part of.

An in-game screenshot of The Wolf Among Us for PS4
For those who haven't read the series, the in-game "Book of Fables" will explain
the background of key characters, places and events.

The Wolf Among Us isn't without its flaws. Many of the challenges to get characters to speak are overly simplistic, basically requiring you to survey your surroundings through easily identifiable on-screen clues. Adventure games used to be fiendishly difficult, but with the Internet to fall back on developers have opted instead to hand-hold through puzzles. This can make The Wolf Among Us seem too easy at times, though it's not enough to detract from the experience.

Telltale Games also hasn't quite figured out how to sync its characters' facial expressions with their moods seamlessly yet, leading to some jarring changes of emotion that will take you out of the experience. Again, this isn't a criticism that will mar your appreciate for this brilliantly told - and paced - story.

The Wolf Among Us ends with a Usual Suspects-inspired cliffhanger that will leave you wanting more, which is the most a great noir thriller can ask for. Hopefully, with the conclusion of the Fables series imminent, Telltale Games can prioritize a second season in their huge backlog of adventure games to give Wolf Among Us the follow-up it so rightfully deserves.

Verdict: 5/5 stars

This week’s free game: Adventure classic ‘Beneath a Steel Sky’

Are you a gamer? Do you like free things? Of course you do!

We here at the Tech Deck are just like you: poor gamers looking for cheap entertainment. And nothing's cheaper than cost-free gaming. Each week, we'll bring you a title (or two or three) you can legally play at home without plopping down a single dollar. If you see games you think we should be featuring on the blog, email us at dang@spokesman.com or kiph@spokesman.com.

This week, the Tech Deck heads back to the heady days of the point-and-click adventure with 1994's "Beneath a Steel Sky," featuring the artwork of comic book legend Dave Gibbons.

Beneath a Steel Sky screenshot
Click here to download 'Beneath a Steel Sky' free from Great Old Games.

Go inside the blog to learn more about the development of the game and leave your favorite point-and-click memories in the comment thread.

UPDATE: Some folks have been mentioning in the comments they're having difficulty downloading the title. I feel for you, I had some trouble figuring out gog.com's wonky download system. Here's some step-by-step instructions:

1. Visit the website above by clicking on the image or the link below the image.

2. Click the green "Add to Cart" button. You will not be charged anything, nor will you need to provide a credit card.

3. Click the green "Checkout Now" button that appears in the upper right corner of the screen. Again, you will not be charged anything and you will not have to enter a credit card.

4. If you already have a Great Old Games account, you can skip this step. Otherwise, you'll be prompted to create an account. All the site will ask for is a username, password and email account. If you don't want to get email updates from the website (though they do have some GREAT deals on classic titles), you can opt out of email newsletters.

5. Log in using your username and password.

6. The game will be added to your library, which can be accessed under the "Account" heading at the top of the page.

7. Select 'Beneath A Steel Sky' and which installer you want, either Windows or Mac. The game will then download automatically and can be opened as any other application on your computer.

If you have any additional questions the Great Old Games' FAQ can't answer, feel free to email me at kiph@spokesman.com and I'll give you a hand.

 

Banff Mountain Films lineup listed for Spokane

ADVENTURE — The lineup of films for the three-day run of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour in Spokane has been decided — just hours before the first films will be shown tonight starting at 7 p.m. at The Bing Crosby Theater.

Shows are sold out for all three nights.

World Tour host — better known as the World Tour road warrior — Holly Elliott met with Phil Bridgers of Mountain Gear met this afternoon at No-Li Brewery to work through the options. They take a lot of care in getting a good mix of 7-9 films of varying lengths and subject matter each night. No repeats through the three-night run.

Elliott already has been on road with screenings in Montana, but Spokane is among the first of hundreds of shows across the globe through September. She says The Bing is one of her favorite venues for sound, intimacy and the atmosphere of the facility and the crowd.

Read on for the lineup in Spokane:

FRIDAY

Vasu Sojitra - Out on a Limb

Tumwater Solitude

Cerro Torre (Best Film: Climbing)

Intermission

Delta Dawn (Best Short Film)

Forgotten Dirt

The Little Things - Meghann O' Brien

Sufferfest 2 - Desert Alpine (People's Choice Award: Radical Reels)

SATURDAY

Danny MacAskill - The Ridge

Caleb

Love in the Tetons

Sculpted in Time - The Wiseman

And Then We Swam (Best Film: Exploration and Adventure)

Intermission

Mending the Line (People's Choice Award at Banff)

Just Keep Running

Valley Uprising - The Golden Age (Grand Prize winner)

Afterglow

SUNDAY

Touch

Happy Winter

Arctic Swell

Tashi and the Monk (Best Film: Mountain Culture)

Intermission

Africa Fusion

14C

Into the Empty Quarter

Wild Women - Faith Dickey

Sun Dog

Cruise: Fedoras and Flying Fish

 

    We’d spent the day on an island off the coast of Cozumel, lying in the sun, walking the beach, sipping drinks— all the kinds of things you do on that kind of vacation— until the water taxi arrived in the late afternoon to take us back to our ship, the Carnival Sunshine. 

    Sitting on the top deck of the boat, I stretched my arm along the rail, rested my chin on my arm and gazed out at the ocean.

    The wind cooled my face as we sped across the surface of the water, rising and falling with the waves, and I was content to sit there looking out on the water, sweeping the horizon, hoping to see something. Just…something. 

    This is a habit I’ve had since I was a child, scanning the trees or the forest or the riverbanks for some quick glimpse of what I might otherwise miss, always with the feeling that there is something interesting there and, if I can be still and quiet, I might be rewarded.

    The charm worked this time because at that moment, right beside me, a flying fish broke the surface of the water and sailed over the waves. The late afternoon sun gilded the fish’s wings with gold and I could hear the Hummingbird sound of its flight.

    Immediately, everything dropped away. I no longer heard the music or the laughter of the people on the boat.  I kept my eyes on the beautiful golden thing moving so swiftly and improbably beside me. I didn’t move or make a sound as the fish sailed over the surface for 30 seconds or so before dipping back down into the sea and disappearing. 

    It was a splendid, shining, moment and it was all mine.

    Oh, I know flying fish aren’t rare, but the thing is, I’d never seen one before. I’ve read about flying fish and seen them on nature shows, but before that moment I’d never actually seen one fly. So, in that way, it was a gift. And a reminder.

    I sometimes wonder how often, when we’re engaged in the silliest of human activities—like, say, singing “Red, Red, Wine” on a boat speeding back to a cruise ship, or jogging down a wooded trail with our eyes trained only on the trail ahead and our ears filled with canned music; when we are engaged being disengaged, some beautiful wild creature appears, yet remains invisible to all but the lucky few. I suspect it is frequent thing. The fox trotting swift and low along the railroad track, the owl blinking down from a tree in the park just before sunset, the deer grazing in the meadow before silently disappearing into the woods, are all there if we see them, invisible if we do not. 

    These birds and animals share our world, our streets and neighborhoods, but most of the time they are like shooting stars, only spotted when we happen to turn our eyes to the right place at the right time.

     I turned backed to the crowd, back to the girls in fedoras dancing on the deck, back to the laughter and the music, with a secret: that singular moments don’t have to be big. Sometimes, if we’re open, if we are watching, they come to us on unlikely wings and a brief flash of gold. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Muir Project film refreshing look at adventure

BACKPACKING — Most of us have marveled at the Radical Reels-type films of hard-bodied and sometimes weak-thinking adventurers challenging themselves to the limits of life and death to climb mountains or plunge off waterfalls in kayaks or cliffs on skis… whatever.

That's why I find this flick, "Mile…Mile & a Half" produced by The Muir Project so refreshing. It's about people with average outdoor skills taking on the 25-day, 219-mile John Muir Trail through the Sierra-Nevada Range of California.

It's truly refreshing, and I hope it inspires others to do the same.

Adventurer kills, eats faithful dog in 2-month survival epic

ADVENTURE — Here's a Canadian survival story with an unusual twist that has some animal lovers saying a desperate man made a heartless decision.  

But doctors treating Marco Lavoie after his rescue in the wilderness of northern Quebec say he may not have survived his four-month ordeal had he not killed and eaten his dog.

Some fascinating points to the story:

  • Lavoie, 44, was close to death when a rescue crew found him last week.
  • His canoe and vital supplies were destroyed by a bear at the start of a planned two-month trip in August.
  • Lavoie's German Shepherd may have saved Lavoei's life by chasing away the bear in the initial attack.
  • But three days later, facing the possibility of starvation Lavoie, killed his doting companion with a rock.
  • The first words Lavoie reported spoke to medical staff: 'I want to get a new dog.'

Lavoie had lost 90 pounds and was suffering from hypothermia when rescuers found him Wednesday. News reports from Monday indicated he was still in critical condition.

Could you kill your faithful canine companion if you thought it would be the difference between your life and death?

An Independent Life on Bainbridge Island

When he isn’t traveling for work, my son, the boy who was always busy with some kind of project, lives with a beautiful, intelligent girl in small cottage on a beautiful island just a short ferry ride from Seattle. He is not my boy anymore. He is a man who has made a unique and interesting life for himself.

He’s about to leave for another assignment in India, so we drove over to Seattle and took the ferry to Bainbridge Island to spend a few days with him. The island is especially beautiful this time of year, more like a village in New England than a small town on Puget Sound. I’d never been there before and October is the perfect time to see Bainbridge Island for the first time. The hardwood trees were showing their fall colors and the air was cool and crisp. There were pumpkins everywhere.

As it happens, one of my son’s closest childhood friends is also on the island now, on his own adventure with his own beautiful and intelligent girl, and he joined us for dinner one night at the local pub. We spent the evening together, laughing and recalling things that had happened in the neighborhood when they were growing up.  Listening to them talk about their old friends and where they’ve all ended up. I thought about the group of boys who were in and out of my house and backyard and how fortunate they are that their lives are still threaded together by this shared history and their common interests. I thought about how fortunate we are to be here to see them now.

As a parent, it’s always interesting to get a peek into the lives of our adult children. The children we cared for, worried about and whose futures we daydreamed about and fretted over, usually, one way or another, seem to find their footing on their own.  Just as we did.  I could not have imagined the life my son lives now, his path has been the one he has made for himself. The parents of his friends feel the same way, I know. And somewhere at the beginning of that path are the choices we all made as parents—the wise decisions and clumsy mistakes.  We did the best we could but we were amateurs, just feeling our way.

I left my son and his girl with a hug at the ferry, grateful for the time we’d had with them. And, as always, I filled his pockets with a mother’s silent and invisible blessings. Charms to keep him safe on the road, his road, as he makes his way to the future.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

Alaska family adventures trekking into Aunties Bookstore

ADVENTURE — Alaskan author Erin McKittrick and her family, who are all traveling by camper van from from Alaska through California on a book tour will present a program Sunday, Nov. 3, at 1 p.m., at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane. 

Published this month, the book, Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home, and Family on the Edge of Alaska (Mountaineers Books).  

That should help explain why the book, family and the program may be worth your attention.

Erin and her husband have two little kids who feature strongly in their stories and presentation, so their events are free and family-friendly (i.e., lots of cool gear for little kids to climb into and around).

Also of note, Erin and her family are also the featured subject of a Banff Mountain Film Festival film this year, a short piece called “Life on Ice” which follows them around as they lived for a few months on the Malaspina Glacier in Alaska. 

Erin and her family have been profiled by the New York Times.  Now you can see for yourself.

Travel: Feasting on King Crab in Kirkenes, Norway

   When I choose a port excursion while on a cruise, what they’re going to feed us on the excursion is usually not my first priority since food is more than plentiful on most ships. I almost always opt for some kind of unique experience I couldn’t have anywhere else, but the King Crab Safari in Kirkenes, Norway, a small waterfront town only 30 kilometers from the Russian border, offered as a Hurtigruten excursion, was intriguing. And not just  because it promised a feast of fresh crab.


    I was there in August, but the water can still be dangerously cold. First we had to put on heavy insulated suits, designed to protect us from the cold waters of the fjord if we were to fall in. On top of that went a life jacket and we were given gloves to wear.  After we were all suited up we boarded the boat. Instead of seats we straddled benches, holding onto the safety rails in front of us as our guide pulled the boat out onto the fjord and picked up speed.


    While touring the coastline and listening to the history of the area, after skimming swiftly over the surface of the water and moving slowly along the  cliffs where we could see the remains of a Nazi bunker from the German occupation of Norway during World War II, we stopped to check one of the numerous crab baskets that sit on the bottom of the deep fjord. Our guide attached a hook to the basket and used a motor to pull it up from the bottom. As it broke the surface we could immediately see the basket was filled with some of the biggest crabs I’ve ever seen. (Those that weren’t absolutely massive were thrown back to grow in the cold, dark water.)


    We pulled up to what looked like a small fishing shack on the shore. The small house, just big enough for the long table that ran from one end to another, was the place where we would have our meal. Our guide unloaded the dozen or more giant crabs from the trap and began to prepare our dinner while we settled around the table on benches covered with skins and pelts.


    When they were done, steamed to perfection, the giant crab legs were piled onto platters and placed on the table. The meal was simple: fresh King crab legs and slices of good bread. There was butter for the bread and lemon slices to squeeze over the crab if we wanted it. That was all and it was all we could want. 

   
    We turned on the platters of crab legs like we were starving. For a few minutes all conversation stopped and everyone around the table concentrated on getting to the delicious crabmeat in the shells. We ate until we could not hold another bite.  

   Fresh, simply prepared and served, the meal was good enough to be added to my list of favorites. There was no fancy dining room. No music. No upscale atmosphere. And the view of the fjord through the small windows reminded us with every bite that we weren’t just having a meal, we were feasting on a real Norwegian adventure.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
 

  

Spokane ranks among top outdoors towns in magazine’s list

OUTDOORS — Spokane is featured in Outside magazine's 2013 list of 18 Best Towns for outdoors enthusiasts.

Park City, Utah, was ranked No. 1 by a feature in the September issue.

I'm proud Spokane is in the spotlight. I know that even a lot of folks who live in this area don't realize what we have in terms of four-season recreation for a wide, wide range of interests.

Other great outdoor towns on Outside's list range from Honolulu to Boston, with niches like Bozeman, Mont., and Minneapolis, sprinkled in between.

While I agree with the distinction, Outside's writeup on Spokane is vague, lacking and slim on details regarding why this region is such a great place for people who love the outdoors.  I'm OK with that. Discovery is part of the adventure.

Best Town stories often are low-budget deals for the magazines. This is an example of that, including a outdated photo of the Riverside State Park footbridge from a Seattle-based stock photography outfit. Geez.

We're still underrated in so many ways…. shhhhh. 

I'll continue to help you count the ways as I've been doing since leaving Montana to make Spokane my home in 1977.

Travel: Truffle Hunting in Croatia


    Our small group, an assortment of travelers from the US, Canada and Germany,  gathered as Ivan Karlic, our guide, leashed up Blackie, the sweet, specially trained dog who would sniff out truffles buried at the base of oak trees growing in a small grove on a hillside near the village of Buzet. Most of us were visiting the Istrian peninsula of Croatia for the first time and none of us had ever been on a truffle hunt.


    Blackie knew what to do. Nose to the ground, she set out snuffling at the thick layer of leaves on the forest floor. Tail wagging, she moved quickly from one spot to another while Ivan whispered soft words of encouragement. We followed them both, stepping over roots and stones.


    Pigs were once the traditional truffle hunting animals, but as Ivan pointed out, it’s much easier to stop a dog from destroying or eating the truffle than a determined pig. So, these days, most truffle hunters have made the switch.


    Truffles are true buried treasure. Black truffles, the ones we were watching Blackie search for, average 30 to 50 Euros. When they’re in season, white truffles can go for many times that amount. That’s no small thing when you consider most are the size of a walnut or a small apple.


    As we walked behind Blackie, Ivan chatted with us about his family’s business harvesting the truffles from the small wood.  But suddenly he called out to the dog and rushed over to pull her away from where she was pawing at the ground. Using the tool he carried, a flat blade attached to a stick, he sliced into the dirt until the truffle was exposed. Gently, he scraped the dark soil away with his finger until he could gingerly pry the truffle free of the root to which it had been attached. He held up the prize and we cheered. Blackie got a treat for a job well done.


    While we were still admiring the find, Blackie went back to work. Once again we followed her zigzag path, talking quietly as we watched her stop, sniff, sniff again and then move on. When she started pawing at the ground, Ivan ran over to her and again, pulled a hard black truffle from the ground. Blackie moved deeper into the small forest and a few minutes later she hit paydirt again. While Ivan worked to free that truffle the dog started scratching at the base of another tree nearby. He called out for someone to help so I took his place and slipped my fingers into the hole he’d created with his spade. The dirt was cool and moist as I worked it away from the truffle. Like an archaeologist, I worked slowly, gently, scraping away the soil that concealed the truffle until Ivan came back and helped me pull it away from the root. I handed my phone to the woman beside me and asked her to take a photo. In the image, I am a blur. The only thing in focus are my hands, muddy, with dirt-caked fingernails cradling the truffle. It was exactly right.


    We carried the four truffles we’d gathered back to the farmhouse and Ivan’s mother, Radmila, met us at the covered patio. She exclaimed when she saw what we’d found. Apparently, it was a very good truffle hunt. Blackie, after being petted again by everyone in the group, was taken back to the kennel with the family’s other truffle-hunting dogs.


    Radmila broke eggs into a bowl, added thin slices of one of the truffles we’d found and made an omelet of our work.


    She sliced a baguette and topped the slices with butter and another sliver of truffle on top. With savory sausages and bottles of house-made wine, we had a meal so fragrant and delicious I will remember it forever.


    I’d expected the tourist treatment: a field “salted” with truffles that had been planted so we could have the (artificial) pleasure of watching a dog sniff them out. But my experience was just the opposite. I kept the photo and I’m going to frame it for my kitchen. The next time I make an omelet, I’ll think of that day; the feel of the dirt on my fingers and the unmistakable earthy fragrance of delicious buried treasure.
    



Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Kicking the Bucket List


    So often when the subject of travel comes up, someone will invariably mention their 'bucket list.' They will talk about a city or continent, a monument or some kind of natural wonder or even an event they want to see before they die. Before, as the cliché goes, they kick the bucket.

    I heard the phrase whispered several times last year as I stood on the deck of a small ship in Alaska, watching humpback whales swim so close I could hear them breathing. I heard it just a few weeks ago watching the Northern Lights undulate across the spring sky over Manitoba, standing in a night so dark and cold it was as if I’d floated out into space.

    I never actually put my list down on paper, I’m not that organized, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Instead, I have carried a kind of mental itinerary in my head, images of places I want to see and things I want to experience. But that mental list, like the Northern Lights, is not constant. It shifts and changes, shining on one landscape and then another as I add and subtract. Every time I see a great photograph or read an exceptional travel story, I pencil in new locations. Sometimes the world changes and war, weather or political upheaval get in the way and a destination drops off.

    Of course, the truth is there will never be enough time to see it all, and not just because I got a late start at the second half of my traveling life, staying home to raise a family and then working around that family to build a career. Even if I’d started on a round-the-world trip the day I was born, there still wouldn’t be time enough to experience it all because the more I learn about the world around me, the more I want to see and do. But life is short so I try to treat every trip—large or small— like it will be my last. I remind myself stop and savor the moments instead of pushing to do more and see more. I have learned it’s important to appreciate where you are and where you’ve been, before hurrying on to the next adventure.

     Several years ago, as my daughter and I walked along the Great Wall in China, navigating the ancient, uneven steps, I suddenly remembered a photo of the wall in one of my school Geography books. At that time, China was still a closed and shuttered place. I’d studied the photo with interest but it never once occurred to me that I might one day stand at the place pictured in it, especially with a child of my own. But I did. And in that moment, watching my daughter focus her camera on one of the marvels of the world, I felt a swell of gratitude for the rambling path my life had taken to put us both there.

    So, no real list for me. When my time is up I want more than a column of checkmarks to define my wanderlust. Instead, I want to be the woman who didn’t always know where she was going but always took the time to appreciate where she was.
  

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel journalist  whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Celebrating Springtime On Kauai

When I arrived in the Northwest in the late 1990s, one of the first pieces of advice someone gave me was to find a way to enjoy the long winters, like taking up skiing—downhill or cross-country—or snowshoeing. The point was to embrace it, not simply try to wait it out. Since I'd moved from a part of the country where snow was rare and usually lasted only long enough to hurry outside and take a few photos before it all melted and life went back to normal, he knew there would have to be an adjustment on my part to the length and severity of the season here.

The second bit of wisdom was to run away at least once before summer returned, preferably to a warm, sunny, spot.

I took his advice on both counts. That’s how I discovered Kauai.

Leaving Spokane behind, escaping the brown lawns, the grimy snow berms and monochromatic landscape, fleeing my overbooked schedule, down-filled wardrobe, and the claustrophobic feeling of spending each day under heavy skies, I landed on an island so green and warm I could feel myself bloom.

After months of slogging through freezing fog and navigating slushy streets and icy hills, the sand and sun and sea were heavenly. I checked into my room at the Grand Hyatt, slathered my winter-white skin with sunscreen and headed to the beach. At that moment, I didn’t want to do anything more than just lie on a chair on the beach and relax.

Eyes closed, the heat of the sun warming my body down to my bones, I could hear the distant sound of children playing at the pool, the cries of sea birds calling as they circled overhead, and the constant, soothing sound of waves hitting the shore.

I felt the weight of winter lift away.

Kauai is a small island, one of the most natural and undeveloped of the Hawaiian Island chain. I spent the next few days exploring as much of it as I possibly could. I hiked to the Waimea canyon and watched whales and sea turtles as I cruised the Napali Coast by catamaran. The big splurge was a helicopter ride to the volcanic crater that is both geologically significant and culturally sacred to the island.

I ate seafood and barbecue and pie and I got to know more about the island’s history and culture at the museum.

But now, deep in the middle of another Spokane winter, what calls me back to Kauai is the peace and the quiet, the sun, the sea and the sound of one wave after another crashing on the rocks and sandy beaches. After more than a decade in the Northwest, I’ve learned to love the beauty and challenges of winter. But, and this is just as important, I’ve come to appreciate the benefit of escaping it, if only for a day or two, to do nothing more than soak up the sun.

 

You can read more about about my visit to Kauai, here and here.
.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington, whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of 'Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons' can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: An American Grandmother in Paris

    Walking down a street in Paris, I had to step aside to let the woman pushing an infant in a pram pass on the narrow sidewalk.
    My first glance was for the baby, small, bundled in blankets against the cold, damp, winter weather. Then I looked up at the woman. She was about my age, dressed for a stroll, yet still effortlessly elegant in that Parisian way. As we waited at the corner for the light to change, our eyes met and we returned one another’s smile. Our eyes met again.
    I smiled down at the baby, tapped my chest and said “Grand-maman.”
    “Oui,” she replied, nodding back at me and smiling. “Grand-maman.”
    I don’t speak French and I have no idea if she speaks English. But some things are universal.

    In the year since my first grandchild was born, as I’ve traveled I’ve become aware of a new kind of landscape. Grandmothers. I see them in parks, on busy sidewalks, on busses and trains. Sometimes they are with sons or daughters, an extra pair of hands or simply along for the ride. Often, like the woman in Paris, they are alone. Taking care of children while mother and father work. Exactly what I do when I am not away from home.

    My phone is loaded with images of beautiful destinations. On it is a visual record of the places I’ve been for work and for the pure pleasure of traveling. I also have photos of my children and the whole family together. But the images I go to so often, when I’m on a plane or in a quiet hotel room in some beautiful city thousands of miles from home, are those of a little girl smiling up at the camera or sleeping in my arms. My grandchild.
    My favorite is a copy of the first photo made of us together. She is only hours old and I have just walked into the hospital room my son-in-law has just gently given her to me. I am wrapped around her, cradling her, focused only on the tiny person in my arms.
    Now, each time I look at that photograph, I see myself, in the instant the photo was taken, falling hopelessly in love.

    The light changed and the woman, leaving me with one more smile, crossed the street and walked briskly away, turning down another street.

    There was a time, when my children were still small, in my arms, on my hip or walking beside me, that I exchanged glances and smiles and unspoken empathy with other mothers. Women who, like me, were navigating sleepless nights, nursing, tantrums and all the countless little milestones of mothering. Now, I am in a new club. I look into the eyes of women all over the world and acknowledge the deep happiness of being the Grand-maman.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington whose essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: Ballooning Means Rising Above One’s Fear

   There are people who seem to be born with a thirst for a thrill. They take every chance to leap off bridges, tethered only by elastic Bungee cords. They jump out of planes, trusting one yank of the cord will release the parachute that will lower them gently to the ground. They paddle kayaks over waterfalls and drop out of helicopters wearing skis.


    I am not one of these people.


    I don’t have that kind of confident trust. Cords snap, parachutes fail, waterfalls tumble and break the things that ride them. Why would I tempt fate?


    But edging out of middle age, I seem to be shedding some of the extreme caution that has kept my feet on the ground most of my life. I’m still not a thrill-seeker, but I just don’t seem to be bound by so many “What Ifs.”
    A recent trip to Elko, Nevada coincided with the annual Balloon Fest and I was offered a chance to take a hot air balloon ride. I didn’t stop to think once, much less twice. I hopped up into the basket and listened to the instructions about where I could and should not put my hands. (“Never touch the rope. If you touch the rope we will fall and die.” Check.)


    It was only as the blasts of flaming gas right over my head lifted the balloon away from the ground that I began to ask myself what on earth I’d been thinking. The list of hazards—power lines, rogue winds, murderous sharp-shooters (Hey, what if?) and even fabric fatigue (I imagined seams fraying and opening and, well…)—played through my head like a bad movie.


    But I was in. And we rose swiftly and silently, immediately catching the current of air and moving toward the horizon.


    We moved steadily across the city. Dogs, startled by the sights and sounds of the balloons, there were 30 more behind us, barked and danced as we flew over. School children waved from the yellow bus that looked like a child’s toy. Birds flew beneath us, darting in and out of the trees lining neighborhood streets.


    I’d wrapped my fingers tightly around one of the bars at the side of the wicker balloon the moment we’d lifted off and I didn’t seem to be able to let go. But, a few minutes in, still holding on, I felt myself relax enough to really think about what I was seeing and experiencing.


    I looked out toward the Ruby Mountains, somewhat obscured by smoke from wildfires further north, across the high Nevada desert and the rough, dry landscape so many crossed on foot and by wagon train 150 years ago as they made their way over the California Trail to conquer the wide-open West and start new lives in California.


    It really is a beautiful way to travel. In a balloon you do not fight the wind, you ride it. You surrender to the currents and ribbons of air that stream over the planet and let them take you where they are going. There are tools: hot air, vents, ballast, and so on, but ultimately, you are a guest of the wind.


    At the end of the ride we began our descent. The landing was not smooth. A breeze came from out of nowhere and fought us, but we stuck it. Then, when the pilot realized we'd come down on railroad property—not cool—we lifted up just high enough to find a more accessible spot. The chase crew found us and we were done.


    When I finally climbed out of the basket, back on the ground at last, a surge of adrenaline made me tremble.
 “Anxious Annie” as a friend once dubbed me, had taken a chance. And I had one more thing I could check off my list.


    We helped roll and fold the balloon, storing it and the basket in the trailer behind the chase van, and I was baptized with cheap champagne to mark my first flight. Later, I messaged a photo taken mid-flight to my children and their confused responses made me laugh. This was not what they expected to see.


    That’s the beauty of aging. Not only do we surprise others when we take a chance, occasionally we even surprise ourselves.
    
    


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Coeur d’Alene angler presents program on fishiing in Russia

FISHING — Coeur d’Alene attorney Denny Davis will share photos and stories from his trip to Russia starting at 7 p.m. May 16 at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library, 702 E. Front Ave.

Davis’ free program, “Moscow and Fishing in the Russian Far East,” is one in a series of Novel Destinations programs sponsored by the Library Foundation as an opportunity for area residents to share photos from unique places around the world.

Wintery adventures and disasters featured in Spokane Library display

WINTER SPORTS — The Spokane Downtown Library's Northwest Room is featuring a timely display celebrating winter in the Northwest, including a lot of snowy outdoor recreation.

Winter weather conditions have long created both challenges and opportunities for Northwest residents. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw greater hazards than the present, with less than ideal equipment and poor roads.

Winter recreation then and now included skiing, sledding, ice skating, hockey, snowshoeing, hunting, and outdoor work.

This exhibit combines photos of fun in the snow with disasters such as avalanches on railroad tracks. Come and see these images from winters past—you might be surprised at how familiar they look.

The Northwest Room is on the second floor of the Downtown Library.

WHEN: January 11-March 31

TIME: Northwest Room Hours

LOCATION: Downtown

Call 444-5338.

Winter is Waiting

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

I had a few October days to myself so I spent them in the little town of Banff, in Alberta, Canada. While there, it was impossible not to catch the energy of autumn, flagged by the flashing gold of the aspen leaves as they trembled in the breeze and the way the grasses and shrubs closer to the ground spread out in a fan of color, a wave of crimson and soft gold climbing up toward the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies. The sky was a dome of brilliant blue and the sun warmed me. It was the kind of perfect fall weather we cling to because we know, especially those of us who live in the Northwest, winter is only waiting for a chance to slip in.

I strolled through the town. I rode the gondola up and walked along the top of one of those mountains, looking down on the fairytale town below; a picturesque valley complete with a winding river and a castle—the historic Banff Springs Hotel—whose towers and steep sloping roof dominate the landscape. I walked along the Bow River and watched the water tumble over the falls. I bought a cup of hot chocolate and wrapped my fingers around it, letting the steam rise onto my face as I took each sip. I marked the end of summer and the short, sweet, season that brings us the prettiest weeks of the year.

But the day I was to fly back home, I awoke to a world that was painted in shades of gray, wrapped in thick white clouds that hung low and heavy obscuring the mountains and settling down onto the valley. A soft-focus, black-and-white view of the places I’d been a few just a few hours before.

Riding down the highway toward the airport in Calgary, I sat with my chin in my hand, gazing out the window. As the world slipped by something in the air shifted and, as if in salute, the layer of clouds parted, the way a curtain is pulled back on a stage and the change of scenery is introduced. I could see the first snowfall of the season had dusted the tops of the mountains.

After a few moments, the sky closed around the mountains again and the wreath of clouds settled again. But, having seen the sign, I pulled my sweater tighter around me and sat back in my seat.

It won't be long now. Autumn is fading fast and winter is already waiting impatiently for its turn.

  

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing the editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Ticket for One: Riding the Rocky Mountaineer

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 


    I had a single ticket for the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxurious train that crosses some of the most scenic routes in Canada. So did the woman in the seat beside me.

    We boarded in Vancouver, British Columbia and for two days on the First Passage to the West route, as the train climbed across British Columbia and into Alberta, we swapped stories and shared a table in the dining compartment. We saw the gold-leafed Aspens and the bald eagles perched in the tops of trees by the river as the train swept across the countryside. We passed through small towns and through tunnels cut into stone mountains. Wrapped in the intimacy of train travel, we talked about who we are and how we each came to be on the train. She’s a nurse and I’m a writer. She is single. I’m married with grown children. I was just up from Washington State but she’d come from the other side of the world, from a small town a 7-hour train ride from Sidney Australia.


    We are different people in so many ways but we soon realized we share one quality: we want to see the world while we can. I spent 20 years at home with my children and only started traveling again when they were launched. Sometimes I leave for a trip headachey and groggy from lack of sleep because I’ve stayed up all night meeting work deadlines so I could get away. But I get away. For now. When the grandchildren come along, they’ll again be the ballast that keeps me from flying away and I look forward to that. But for now, I get away as often as I can.


    The woman on the train has serious heath concerns that could hold her back if she let them, but, as she pointed out, we only have so much time. So she works and saves and gets away when she can.
    We discovered that we are both women who, if that’s what it takes to get to a place we want to see and we can find a way to get there, aren’t afraid to go it alone.

    When the train pulled into Banff, Alberta we took a photo, exchanged email addresses and said our goodbyes. She was off to visit her brother before boarding another train that would take her all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was staying in Banff for another day before flying home.

    The next morning, after a night in the beautiful historic Canadian Pacific hotel, the Fairmont Banff Springs “castle”, a place I’ve always wanted to stay, I dressed and walked into the small town of Banff. I caught the bus to the base and then stepped into one of the small cars of the gondola that climbs Sulfur Mountain in a matter of minutes. I’m not particularly afraid of heights but I do have a secret anxiety about riding things that dangle on wires or rails stretched to the tops of mountains. But this shames me so I usually opt to ride the  gondolas or inclines or funiculars - whatever they’re called wherever they are - to push past my uneasiness. I don’t want fear to get the better of me.

    As usual, once the ride was underway, I relaxed. The view from the summit, overlooking the valley and the town of Banff below, was spectacular. Mountaintops stretched as far as I could see. The wind was crisp and light and the air was thin and clean. I followed the trail to an even higher overlook and looked out at the breathtaking scene wishing I could share it with my family; wishing their lives and schedules were as flexible as mine. But, since the moment was mine alone, I embraced it.


    A man was climbing the same trail and we took one another’s photos so each could bring home a souvenir, proof that we’d been there. Something else you learn to do when you travel alone.

    Later, back in my room, I looked at the photo the man had taken.  I thought about my seat mate on the train. I hope her day in Banff was as good as mine. I hope someone snapped her photo and captured for her the image of a woman who was - at the instant the shutter clicked - just happy to be standing where she was. I hope she has that recorded forever so she can look at it again and again and remember one perfect day. 

    Because, as a wise woman once told me, we only have so much time.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 


  

Leipzig: Back to Bach

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

 

The day before I left Spokane and caught an early flight to Germany, the weather was wet and cold. More like late winter than late spring. Everywhere I went people were grumbling about the rain.

“Sorry you have to be out in this,” the usually-cheerful student at the coffee-shop told me. I just shrugged. I’ve given up trying to convince people I don’t mind the rain. There are times, in fact, like when I travel, that I prefer it.

Rain changes the landscape. Especially in a beautiful old city. Colors fade and stone buildings settle into shades of gray like an old black and white photograph. Cobblestones are more pronounced, glossed by the moisture.

When the sun shines we lose our focus. We squint and turn our faces up to the sky. We are tourists, even in our own cities; driven to get out and play. We wilt in the heat and fret about the crowd and the irritations of too many people in tight quarters.

Rainy days set a mood. In the right light, the scene could be set in any time. Old and new blend and blur. It’s easy to imagine things that would, in the bright light of sunshine, be implausible.


I arrived in Leipzig, Germany,  the city of Bach and Schumann and Wagner and Mendelssohn, just as an unseasonable rainy spell set in. Skies would pour, then clear, then pour again. Rain fell off and on as I wandered around the city.  As they went about their day, people huddled under umbrellas, heads down, until the sun came out again.

Leipzig is the place where Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last 25 years of his life. Where he raised a family and lived his life as both busy academic and musician.
The sun was out when I toured the Bach museum and in a darkened “treasure room” looked down on a cantata written in his own hand. I saw the house where his family’s closest friends lived, the place where the only remaining organ played by Bach is housed. Where a chest decorated with his family crest is on display.
I looked down on his grave - or, what scholars are reasonably certain is his grave - in St. Thomas Church. I studied the statue and all the artifacts, but it wasn’t until the skies clouded again that I felt like had found the man.

In the spell cast by the rain, I could imagine him, worried, distracted, his mind on everyday irritations and ordinary concerns, barreling down the same narrow streets or striding across the square. It wasn’t hard to picture him dodging puddles as he walked, turning over in his mind all the worry and aggravation of work and home, lost in thought, focusing on numbers, budgets, a choir of rowdy  boys; juggling the burden of a large family or the purchase of instruments for the orchestra or consumed by the composition of a cantata.

I ducked into one of the small shops looking for chocolates to bring home.  The clerk, realizing I was an American, apologized for the weather.
“Yesterday was so much more beautiful,” she told me. “Perhaps tomorrow will be better.”

 “Oh, no, today was perfect” I said, taking the shopping bag full of sweet souvenirs for my family back home. “I saw exactly what I was hoping to see.”



Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Big-Fun-Scary-Adventure…

Is it the title of a new challenge, or a just a ton of adjectives thrown together…? 

This will be pretty familiar to those of you who participated in NaNoWriMo, the equivalent of the Olympics for novel-writers. Challenging nearly 113,000 authors of all ages to pool their blood, sweat, and tears to crank out a novel in one month, the National Novel Writing Month people are celebrating it’s success and now diving into a new challenge (and inviting us along):…

(the 3rd official year of) The Big-Fun-Scary-Adventure of 2009…

Chris Baty, spokesman for NaNoWriMo, sees the New Year not just as a time for some resolutions, but as a time for change. “The quick overview:,” Baty says in his email going out to past NaNoWriMo participants, “We each pick an adventure, declare it to the world, check in with our progress throughout the year, ultimately pull it off, the get a winner’s certificate.” 

That’s right - just pick something new, fresh, and different to do through 2009 then get the shiny certificate (along with bragging rights) upon completion!

“Your curiosity is a dependable guide; follow it. Put yourself in unfamiliar places. Kindle passions. Savor the raw joy of making things, then remake the best of those things until they take someone’s breath away. Wrestle bears.”   -Chris Baty

Just be careful with that whole ‘bear’ thing…

What are your resolutions for 2009? Got an ‘Adventure’ to tackle throughout the year?