Tag Archives: travelblog

James in his Jeep Getting Java – The Arlington, WA Edition

I’m not sure where I was going that day, but like any good road trip I was prepared to find joy anywhere I wound up. I crossed the border from British Columbia to Washington without difficulty, thankful for the sunny day and Grinfinn who seems to just love travelling.

Grinfinn and I took the first turn from I-5 towards Fairhaven, as there’s an Arco on that turnoff with the cheapest gas in Washington. (Usually compares to Costco.) From there, I hit up my favourite lunch place–Avenue Bread and Deli. When the weather is nice, it’s a great place to grab a sandwich and sit on a patio with the dog. Grinfinn even made a friend.

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One of the nice things about this place is that it’s slightly off the main road in Fairhaven, so there’s usually parking there even when the town is really busy. From there, it’s a nice walk to Village Books and Rocket Donuts. You can read more about Fairhaven here.

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The turkey club with house-made chips and a latte. My comfort meal for the road. Just look at that pickle. LOOK AT IT!!
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Grinfinn’s happy place — under the chair beneath me.

From there I drove the I-5 south, though I wasn’t totally sure where I was headed. I turned my GPS off and just took a few turns until I realized I was pretty turned around. I saw signs for “Arlington,” and decided I’d check it out and see what it was like. Glad I did.

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Arlington has about 20 thousand people, and is a pretty place with a strong artistic feel. I took Grinfinn for a walk, and found Legion Memorial Park and an art walk. Cool sculptures along a walkway on a nice day was just what I needed.

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There was also an old train station/now visitor information center. I still had a coffee from Avenue Bread, so I parked myself here for an hour and just watched the people as they milled about. Cyclists travelling across the state, families having picnics, and other tourists discovering the park. Grinfinn and I were in bliss.

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I knew I was close to La Connor, and so I decided to pass through there on my way back to Canada. Without turning on my GPS I started to drive in the direction that I was pretty sure La Connor was in, and wound up somewhere that felt like another world.

I found this home with art and sculptures and what looks like junk but is probably treasure and had to take a few photos.

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I got back on the road and headed towards what I thought must be La Connor. The day was getting very hot, and the sun was really starting to beat down. I came upon a roadside farmer’s market in the middle of nothing but farms, and I pulled over to check it out. I’m glad I did, because they had the best house-made ice cream.

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Just in case you’re wondering, I made it to La Connor. I did wind up consulting the GPS and it pointed me in the right direction. I wasn’t too far off, but I never would have found it had I not checked where I was.

In La Connor, I ended my day in a new cafe that had just opened under new management. It had a backyard with lawn chairs and very friendly staff. I can’t recall the name of it now, but when I find it I’ll update the blog.

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Al in all, that was a perfect trip. No destination, all day for travel, a dog by my side, and the discovery of a few great spots for coffee, ice cream, and relaxation.

The song that goes through my head as I write this post is by The Cars – MAGIC. Enjoy!

The Colophon Cafe; Fairhaven, WA

11427759_10155736117565341_1115954290909891726_nToday was one of those days where it started off cloudy and rainy and cold, so I chose to stay home. As it so happened, when noon arrived so did the sun–and it left me wishing I’d gone somewhere and done something.

I’m not opposed to staying home and relaxing for the day. Sometimes, that’s what we need to recharge and I don’t feel as though I’ve wasted a day if all I’ve done is nap/read/binge watch Suits. However, when that sunshine hit me so did a desire to be on the open road with music blasting.

But it was noon. Too late to go anywhere or do anything. Road trips always start at 8am–and then I wondered why I’d ever agreed upon such a stupid rule. New rule: Road trips begin when they begin.

I wound up driving down to Fairhaven,WA, which is a spot I go to often. I have several places I adore for coffee or lunch, and my first thought was Avenue 16. Love the food and I have never been disappointed. When I arrived in Fairhaven, there was a sidewalk sale going on and the little historic part of Bellingham was packed. I was lucky to even find parking (which, coincidentally, was right outside Avenue 16).

I decided to walk the streets before deciding on a place, and wound up behind Village Books at the Colophon Cafe.

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I’d seen this cafe many times over the five years that I’ve been visiting Fairhaven, but I’d never given it a try. The inside is substantial, and there’s a host who will seat you. The decor is casual and comfortable with tables and some spaces with couches. It’s a bit of a hybrid between restaurant and cafe.

I ordered a half sandwich–turkey–with a bowl of clam chowder. I also had a coffee, and the waitress brought be water without my having to ask. The service was fast, friendly, and even though the place was busy and I stayed a little longer to finish my coffee I was never made to feel as though it was time for me to go so they could turn over my table. (I think that’s the correct term.) And the meal? Extremely tasty.

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The setting in historic Fairhaven is bustling and friendly. It’s a family-oriented neighbourhood (lots of children running around) and people walking their dogs. I loved it.

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Of course, eventually I had to return home. Thankfully, there was still ample sunshine and I returned to the pond in my complex alive with bullfrogs, ducks, and turtles. It occurred to me as I walked my own neighbourhood, that this is what is meant by living a life you don’t need a vacation from.

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Birch Bay Rollback Weekend

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On August 13th I took a drive down to Birch Bay for their 2nd annual Rollback Weekend. This was a flash back to the cars of the past, with music and hot dogs and people dressed up with clothes from the 50s and 60s.

This has become one of my favourite spots to visit, and is the location where my next book will take place. I’ve been spending a lot of time there over the past few weekends, and this particular day was one of my favourites. Here are a few photos of my favourite vehicles.

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1975 Jeep CJ 5

 

The Jeep, no surprise, has always been among my favourite vehicles. It’s rugged, tough, and just looks cool. In high school and well into my 20s I drove a *cough*deathtrap*cough* 1977 CJ7 3-speed, and so when I saw this CJ 5 I immediately wandered over to it. I have a lot of fond memories driving around Winnipeg in that CJ 7 with my buddies piled in, the roof off, and the music blaring.

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Zombie Apocalypse Vehicle

This vehicle obviously gets a lot of second looks on the road. And I bet no one tailgates him.

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Truck that I’m pretty sure was inspired by Mad Max

 

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VW Camper Van

A big part of my childhood was spent camping in one of these with my uncle. We took trips from Winnipeg to Florida, Winnipeg to Los Angeles, and many, many others. No doubt a big part of why I love the road trip even now as an adult.

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’71 Dodge Charger 440 CI Magnum

This is my second favourite car after the ’72 Cuda.

There’s much to love about Birch Bay if you’re in the area and looking for a fun spot to spend the day. After the car show (and a very questionable hot dog) I hiked up the highway to the Birch Bay Cafe, where I sat and sipped a latte and wrote. And of course, the theme song for this post should have been obvious. Because black cars do look better in the shade…

Rules of the Road (Trip).

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My magic number is 16. That’s how may road trips I figure I can get in between April and the end of August, over the course of 20 possible weekends, taking into account that some weekends will be overtaken with business or bad weather.

This year, I got in 17 road trips. I visited Lynden, La Connor, Edison, Langley (WA), Birch Bay, Fairhaven, Blaine, Fort Langley, Campbell Valley, Whytecliff Park, George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Squamish, and Shannon Falls. It was a good year for discovering new places, and a few of those I visited more than once (in case you wondered how 13 places adds up to 17 road trips).

There were many times when I woke up early, and didn’t feel like getting in the Jeep and going. But I did, because every year the number of enjoyable weekends is limited. And once that nice weather is gone, it’s gone. And that makes me understand and realize that our whole life is like that–we have a limited number of weekends left and each time I put something off for another weekend, or another year, I take the risk that the remaining weekends may not afford me the same freedom as the one before me.

We’re this strange species that acts as though we’re going to live forever. Sure, we know of our mortality. We know how fragile we are, and how fleeting life can be–when it comes to other people. And maybe the way we cope with that is that we don’t acknowledge our own hour glass of time running out. I’m no different. I waste time as much as the next person and don’t spend it as meaningfully as I should. But I have discovered a way to live forever–or if not forever to at least feel as though time has slowed down considerably. It helps to follow a few rules:

  1. Point the Jeep in a direction, but be prepared for unexpected results.
  2. Don’t give yourself a time limit. Sure, eventually it’s time to return home, but that time should be fluid not set.
  3. Wave to other Jeeps. In Washington, they’ll wave back. In Vancouver (Canada), they’ll sometimes wave back.
  4. Check out the small town museum. Always.

And lastly, a few highlights from my past summer of road trips (in no particular order):

10. Little Red Caboose, Blaine

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I finally got to have coffee in the Little Red Caboose Cafe. I first discovered it in 2011 when I took my first road rip to Bellingham, but it was never open. Now it’s under new management and is a fantastic place to stop in for coffee and lunch while in Blaine.

9. Birch Bay

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The outdoor bookstore I discovered in Birch Bay. Even though it doesn’t have a name, it’s within sight of the C Shop if you’re ever there. And bring cash, as the cash register is a bowl where you can leave money and take your own change.

8. Campbell Valley Regional Park

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Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley (Canada). An easy hike with plenty of historical sites, including an old raceway and a one-room schoolhouse. Watch out for horses as it’s a shared path.

7. Sea to Sky Gondola

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The Sea to Sky Gondola at Squamish. The views here are spectacular. What can I say that this photo doesn’t say on its own.

6. Snoqualmie

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The town of Snoqualmie. This was one of the longest drives I made–just over three hours– and while the falls themselves were a bit underwhelming (I went on a long weekend, and I don’t much like crowded spaces) the city was lovely. The train museum is worth the trip itself, but the cafe across the street from it was some of the best coffee I’ve had in awhile.

5. Edison/La Conner

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This was one of my favourite places to visit this year and I went back often. There’s something therapeutic about the Chuckanut Drive that leads to this place, and everyone I met were so friendly and amazing. The Slough for lunch, the Bread Farm for my sour dough, and then to the Calico in La Connor for coffee. That it lead me to learning about Fish Town was just a bonus.

4. Lynden

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The Dutch Village Inn.

I discovered this place in 2011 completely by accident. I was on a road trip with an ex-girlfriend, and we happened upon it. Since then, I’ve been returning here several times a year–mostly for the Lynden Dutch Bakery.

3. Langley, WA

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I discovered Langley by Googling, “Best small towns in Washington” and it showed up on a list. Seemed like an interesting place to point the Jeep, so I drove down there. Not only did I get to drive the Chuckanut, but I also saw Deception Pass, Oak Harbor, and Coupville. Whidbey Island is an amazing place and I return here as often as possible.

2. Fairhaven, WA

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Village Books

Fairhaven is a historic part of Bellingham, and filled with wonderful lunch spots and cafes. Village Books is lots of fun to peruse, and Rocket Donuts is just down the street.

1. That time I met a knight!

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I ended August with a trip to Langley (Canada) for the annual BC Renaissance Festival. I go every year to watch the jousting.

It seems fitting, if you’ve ever seen Highlander, that Princes of the Universe by Queen should be the theme song for this post. And of course, summer isn’t exactly over and there could be a few more road trips ahead. But as September arrives, the weather is far more unpredictable. Although, Lynden is beautiful to visit in October!

James in his Jeep Getting Java-Birch Bay Edition

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Some time ago, I’d taken a road trip to Lynden Washington when I decided to travel the other direction down the Birch Bay/Lynden road. I’d found a little cottage town that I fell in love with, but had only had a short time to explore. That day I had vowed to return so that I could better check out the area. At the time, it seemed as though I had stepped through a time portal to the 50s and so I wondered if I’d ever find it again.

Today I decided to return to Birch Bay and see more of the little cottage town–as well, I’d discovered that a cousin of mine (who also, it turned out, loved visiting Lynden,) visited Birch Bay often. It’s a short drive over the Canada/US border to Birch Bay–known by me mostly for the little shopping centre by the highway with the Woods Coffee that I always visit. (Yet didn’t this time.) Birch Bay has a population of just under 8,500 people.

I was pretty confident that I knew the area well enough not to need my GPS. After all, I’d been there once before and had found it completely by accident after taking a wrong turn. Surely that meant I’d have no trouble finding it a second time. (That should be read with the utmost of sarcasm plus the sound of one smacking himself in the forehead.)

I drove around for probably 45 minutes and wound up in six dead end streets. I finally had to give up and pull out my GPS, only recalling that the name of the place I wanted started with a C. Or a G. Or maybe it rhymed with C or G. I didn’t want to use my cell phone and pay for US data roaming, so once again I gave up on the GPS and just guessed which street might be the right one. I also guessed on the name of the place; more on that later.

I wound up along a strip of road that I didn’t recognize, and so I stopped to check things out and maybe get some lunch. The cafe below looked interesting, but was closed today until noon which was still an hour and a bit away.

What I noticed mostly as I walked along the road beside the beach, was how low the tide was. There were boats marooned in the sand and rocks with no water for a good mile. I attempted to get a photo, but I’d forgotten my proper camera and while the cell phone has great MPs, it cannot do zoomed in shots at all without pixelating the image. The one below isn’t terrible, but there were sections of the beach covered in boats.

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The Beach at Birch Bay is a place I’ll try next time, but today there wasn’t anyone in it and I’m always leery of places without customers. I will note that on my way back to my car, it was full.

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So,  I went to the place below. CJ’s Beach House had a reasonably full patio, so I figured if the locals liked it I would as well. I had a coffee and crab cakes, since it was still an hour and a bit before noon. The service was very good and the food was enjoyable.

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At this point I knew I was never going to find the place I was originally looking for, but at least I was fed. I figured it wouldn’t take too long to Google the address of the place I was looking for, and then I could plug that into my GPS and find it. So I did. It was called the “C Shop.” (Whatever you do, do NOT accidentally Google “the c spot” which was what I thought it might be called.)

Also, it was just another three blocks down the road that I was on, which meant I was headed in the right direction all along.

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Today’s coffee shop was the Bay Cafe, kitty corner to the C Shop. Walking inside feels like stepping back through time–thus the theme song for this post. (Which you’ll find at the bottom of the post. In fact, go there now, play it, then continue reading from here.)

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I had a latte and one of the cookies below. Both were delicious! The Bay Cafe was once a root beer stand from 1930-1950, and much of the feel of the place has remained the same.

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I spent the next couple hours at a table on this gravel patio enjoying the day and listening to locals.This place was just what I needed to de-stress and refocus my energy.

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By mid-afternoon, I was ready to stretch my legs and see what else was here. Across the street there were tables with local artisans selling their wares. I was drawn to a large sign that read, “BOOKS!” so I wandered down the road towards it. It was basically a self-serve used bookstore! And just in case you think my theory that I’d stepped back in time is ridiculous–there were no DVDs here. Just VHS!

And of course there were plenty of big homes, private beaches, and places I wasn’t supposed to enter. >whistles innocently< There were also waterslides, but since I can’t swim and I’m afraid of heights water parks don’t really interest me.

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On my way back, I stopped in at Blaine to see if the Caboose was open. I’d been spying it for years, but have never once been in town when it wasn’t closed. And in case you were wondering, I didn’t use my GPS to find my way back to Blaine (I figured how hard could it be? It looked like this one road lead straight there.)

Thankfully, most of the road I took was gorgeous and the day was hot. My temp gauge in the Jeep said 26C (78.8F) and the sun was blaring. I had my windows out and the sunrider roof open, with my hat and sunscreen to protect me. In retrospect, I should have had water with me.

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I wasn’t lost for long, although at one point I nearly wound up back in Canada and wasn’t sure how to U-turn or where.

Anyway … Blaine is a cute little border town of approximately 5,000 people. I especially like all the murals on their buildings. Plus, if you have to use the public toilets, they are clean and not scary.

Today, finally, persistence paid off. The Little Red Caboose Cafe was open! And it was worth being so persistent over. As cafes go, this one was terrific. They do serve food, but I was in the mood for something cold to drink and not a meal. I had a mocha frap, and sat for a spell on their patio. When I mentioned to the barista that I was surprised they were open, she said they were bought by a new owner and that’s why they weren’t closed.

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And that was my trip to the Birch Bay/Blaine area. Considering how close I am to it every time I venture south, I’m surprised I’ve never checked it out before. I will certainly be checking it out again–many times. In fact, August 13 and 14 is their Birch Bay Rollback Weekend with the promise of returning to the 50s and 60s. See? They do time travel there!