Honoring Uncle Frank: Anniversary of World War I

The 101st edition of the Tour de France is passing through many of the towns that I know better as battlefields from World War I. This is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the War to End All Wars. (If only.) As I will be following the Tour de France from Leeds to Paris, I am taking this opportunity to learn more about my great Uncle Frank Estel Denham.

My uncle Frank Denham of Santa Rosa, California

My uncle Frank Denham of Santa Rosa, California

In the last few months I have learned a great deal about him.

Frank was being groomed for working the family farm alongside his dad. Been reading about Germany’s machinations to distract the US from joining the Allies by ginning up conflicts with Mexico and Japan or both together in Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram (non-fiction that reads like a great spy novel). This explains why after Uncle Frank was drafted he was first sent to Mexico and then to Britain and ultimately to the front in France.

Private Frank Denham sent these postcards to his family from England.

Private Frank Denham sent this photo postcards to his family from England.

I learned from staff at the Oddfellows/Santa Rosa Cemetery that Frank was not buried until July 1921, a full three years after his death in France. They surmise that he was buried in a temporary mass grave until they could eventually ship him home. He was the first of the fallen sons of Santa Rosa to be returned. The article in the Press Democrat mentioned city flags would fly at half-mast, businesses would close and full military honors would be presented at his funeral. I hope it brought some comfort to my great grandparents and sisters at the time.

We determined that he was in England on July 12, 1918 and died July 29, 1918 somewhere in France. His gravestone reads “Co K 109, Inf. A.E.F.”  From reading various texts it is most likely that he was part of the Second Battle of the Marne and may have fallen near Chateau-Thierry.

If possible, I will go and pay my respects when I am on my way to Reims. If that proves too difficult, I will light a candle at the Cathedral in Reims.

You can read more about Frank E. Denham and what his loss meant to my family at http://redesigning49.com.


Tour de France Contenders

Jens Voigt (photo: Trek)

Jens Voigt (photo: Trek)

As the Grand Depart draws closer (Saturday July 5) and my own departure is next Tuesday (July 1). While most people are caught up in FIFA World Cup drama, I have been reading memoirs by George Hincapie and Mark Cavendish, histories of Tour de France, and predictions of this year’s race.

Bicycling Magazine recently tweeted their 10 contenders to watch, including:

1 Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank)

2. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida)

3. Chris Froome (Team Sky) Defending Champion

4. Michal Kwiatkpwski (Omega Pharma Quick Step)

5. Bauke Mollena (Belkin)

6. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

7. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)

8. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharpe) USA

9. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Beisal)

10. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) USA

Velo News has a more complicated rating system in their Tour de France 2014 Official Guide. To summarize:

PTS           RIDER (TEAM)

39/40         Chris Froome (Team Sky)

38/40        Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank)

37/40        Vincenzo Nibali

33/40        Tejay van Garderen (BMC)

33/40        Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

32/40        Bauke Mollema (Belkin)

31/40       Jurgen Van der Broeck (Lotto-Belisol)

31/40       Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp)

Reading through the route highlights, there are unique challenges to almost every one of the 21 stages. Yorkshire is hilly though the finish at Harrogate will give Mark Cavendish an opportunity to win Stage 1 and the yellow jersey in his home country. Stage 3 will be an exciting finish in London. Stage 5 has cobbles. There are two uphill finishes, and 2 Alpine mountaintop finishes. This is a tour for climbers and only one time trial. I feel bad that Movistar sent Nairo Quintana to Giro D’Italia instead of giving him a chance to move up the podium from second to first. Other fans are disappointed that Froome was chosen over Bradley Wiggins on Team Sky.

This week the Trek Racing Team announced their team for the 2014 Tour de France. It includes my favorite rider Jens Voigt starting his 17th tour (tying George Hincapie’s record). I hope I get to meet him and the other team members (Fabian Cancellara!) in Yorkshire.


Ag & Art in Yolo County

Needing to learn some basics about photography I called my friend Bill Reid to give me some pointers. He invited me to the Yolo County Art and Ag Project. We left Davis early on Saturday morning and made our way to Chowdown Farm near Esparto.

Bill Reid taking a photo of the classic barn at Chowdown Farm.

Bill Reid taking a photo of the classic barn at Chowdown Farm.

After the frustration of watching the video tutorial for the Canon Rebel T5i (narration so quick it may as well as been in Spanish), getting a private coaching session with Bill empowered me to take lots of photos and try different camera settings.

The farm had handsome Dorper sheep, a hardy breed from South Africa, interesting trees and outbuildings including a classic barn.Dorper ram

It was very kind of the farmer Brian to open up the property to painters and photographers through the Art and Ag Project.

Two artists painting at Chowdown Farm

Two artists painting at Chowdown Farm

My camera is sufficient quality to challenge me for a very long time. Fortunately it also has an automatic setting that takes super pictures without any effort.

When we returned to Davis I downloaded my photos and I was very satisfied. We also watched a video from YouTube (YEAH for YouTube videos!).

I bought this camera to be able to supply better pictures for this blog. Hopefully with the “burst” feature (taking several photos a second) and the lenses I will be able to bring you the color of le Tour de France.

Quick Knits in Washington, DC Area

I look forward to visiting Washington DC at least one time during the year. College chum Carole lives in Alexandria and it is always good to catch up. My work does not take me to the nation’s capitol as often as it once did. The last time I was in DC was with junior highers from Humboldt County to attend the Presidential Inauguration in January 2013. I was overdue.

I took Amtrak from Greensboro to Union Station in business class. Terrific experience! Sure it takes longer than flying (8 hours) and yet I was able to get work done, nap and saved money.

Love the Washington DC hat on the fireplace mantel (available on Ravelry).

Love the Washington DC hat on the fireplace mantel (available on Ravelry).

Looped Yarn Works is one of the places I like to shop when in Washington DC. In DuPont Circle, this upstairs shop is welcoming and offers great yarns, patterns and accessories for the avid knitter.

I bought yarn for a couple of Debbie Bliss projects for babies and wrote down the names of several patterns available on Ravelry to purchase from home. Plus I bought a couple of charming patterns–one named Harriet Dress (from Blue Sky Alpaca).

Oh joy! The service is great and while we were there small children were learning to knit from a very patient and wise knitting instructor.

Great yarn shop in Alexandria, VA old town.

Great yarn shop in Alexandria, VA old town.

Later the same day we were shopping in Old Town Alexandria, VA before going to Serenity Spa for a massage or facial. We bopped into Fibre Space at 1219 King Street. The vibe is different–more hipster. They make an effort to welcome men who knit. Cool. Worth a visit.


Asheville: Jewel of a Town

Tucked in the Blue Ridge Mountains is fun little Asheville. It may be home to “America’s Largest Home” (Biltmore Estate), but the town feels small and is a great mix of fun and funky.

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

Curious about the Biltmore Estate, I researched it on-line and experienced sticker shock: $50 per adult if you buy the ticket in advance. Since I was not certain I would be able to spend enough time to see the house and grounds I decided to forgo any advance purchase savings. It probably is not fair to Biltmore that I am seeing it just after revisiting Yosemite. The National Parks are such a deal by comparison. The National Park fee is $20 per carload and only $10 for motorcycle, pedestrians, equestrians or cyclists.

Still I plonked down my $59 to see the gardens and the house.

I really liked the grounds at the Vanderbilt “country home” Shelburne Farms in Vermont. Frederick Law Olmstead designed the gardens and grounds for both. The gardens are lovely and well maintained; however, they pale next to the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I was a little less excited about the house furnishings, or the multiple gift shops and cafes that offered the same ol’ same ol’ for a lot of money. Biltmore also suffers from excess in the same way its West Coast cousin Hearst Castle does. In today’s second gilded age, it is tough for me to celebrate that a family of three had this as their primary residence.

Purl's Knitting Emporium front window

Purl’s Knitting Emporium front window

Allow a lot of time to drive out of the Estate and back into town. It only took about 10 minutes to get into downtown and find parking. I wanted to check out the knitting store Purl’s Yarn Emporium and the bookstore Malaprops Bookstore and Cafe. I enjoyed both and all of the shops and street musicians in between.

Ribs at Louella's Bar-B-Que

Ribs at Louella’s Bar-B-Que

Buskers outside Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe

Buskers outside Malaprop’s Bookstore and Cafe

I wanted to catch up with my friends Chris, Angie and sons. We made arrangements through Facebook to meet up for dinner. We met at Louella’s Bar-B-Que, a local casual dining spot in North Asheville. Yum! I loved my BBQ chicken with hush puppies, squash casserole and cucumber tomato salad. Plus we ordered delicious deviled eggs!

Deviled Eggs at Louella's

Deviled Eggs at Louella’s

I was staying at Hotel Domestique in Traveller’s Rest, South Carolina and it was an easy 45 minutes down Highway 25/26 to Asheville. The next day my neighbor on Amtrak expressed her enthusiasm for Asheville and suggested I check out The Spa at the Grove Park Inn. I can envision a garden tour with my Auntie J from Charleston to Asheville. With a day at the The Spa!

Hotel Domestique Almost Perfect

Due to my own planning errors I was driving the four hours from Raleigh, North Carolina, and calling Robert at Hotel Domestique to give me directions because my phone was almost out of juice and I could not rely on Google maps. (Forget the pathetic Dollar Car Rental map).  Robert was very gracious. “Drive carefully. Don’t worry about the time. I’ll be here.” AT 1:00 a.m. I pulled in exhausted from driving through torrential rains and navigating on smaller highways with a minimum of signage. (I like more encouragement along the way). He carried my bag to my room and opened the wooden door with a real key. This was my first impression:

Comfort at Hotel Domestique

Ahhh, comfort!

The next morning I woke up to the sound of music wafting up from the dining room where a delicious complimentary breakfast is served. The decaf coffee was really, really good. Very rare occurrence. My poached egg was done just right. I was tired and excited to get out on my bike. The front desk said they would set me up with a GPS programmed with one of the shorter rides. Oh, and the co-owner of the hotel (and inspiration), George Hincapie, was going to be leading a “climb” if I wanted to join them. Umm, thanks but no thank you. (I couldn’t imagine keeping up with George Hincapie or the sleek group of Toronto cyclists (average BMI 18).

I did see George Hincapie arrive and greet some other guests who were friends. I suddenly felt awkward about meeting him with the only agenda “meeting someone famous who I admire.” If you are not familiar with George Hincapie’s resume… he is best known for being an exemplar “domestique”. This involves working your fanny off for the general classification rider (Yellow Jersey). He has worked for several Tour de France overall winners, most controversially Lance Armstrong. He has just published his own memoir, The Loyal Lieutenant. I like him best for his time on Columbia High Road, the team based out of San Luis Obispo most famous for being the most successful lead out train for sprinter Mark Cavendish. The hotel restaurant is called “17” for his 17 Tour de France finishes.  This boutique hotel is styled after a modern (up-to-date) French chateau complete with vineyards. It is already popular with cyclists across North America.

I took off on my own ride and discovered how ill prepared I am for the Yorkshire hills. I have my work cut out for me!

More of my view from room at Hotel Domestique

More of my view from room at Hotel Domestique

view from my room balcony at Hotel Domestique

view from my room balcony at Hotel Domestique

I returned and cooled off on my balcony, showered in the amazing bathroom and went downstairs to rustle up some lunch. I really, really wanted to try the restaurant for dinner. Alas, they do not serve until after 1 a.m. They do not have a lunch menu so much as a collection of paninis. I chose the goat cheese and spinach with tomato spead. It was yummy and hit the spot.

Listening to the car radio for hours educated me about the literal and figurative divide between South and North Carolina. The hotel is located near Traveller’s Rest. I learned from my new friend Pleasure Sawyer that this is in Upstate where Charlestonians go to get a break from summer heat. It is close to Greenville, SC. Hotel Domestique is also close to Asheville, North Carolina. However, it might as well be a world away. People in Asheville are quite happy to be from Asheville and when I stopped at a terrific local bookstore (for later post on Asheville) and they did not carry George’s book and had never heard of him.

Relax and unwind at Hotel Domestique

Relax and unwind at Hotel Domestique

I loved my time in Asheville and got back to the hotel around 9. The parking lot was full and a party was in full swing. I asked the front desk clerk if I could get a cup of decaf from the restaurant and she had me follow her to collect it. She pointed to a large group of festive people and said, “George is having a few friends in tonight.” I was ready to go to my room, pack up my stuff for my early morning launch back to Greensboro at 4 a.m.  I was tucked into bed at 10 and the party was still in full swing. The music was clearly discernable in my room and when people left the party and said their farewells in the lobby it sounded like they were in my room. Suddenly the french doors to my balcony were not such a great thing. At 11:15 I called my pal Robert at the desk and asked if the party was ending by midnight. He offered to ask them to turn down the music and I dithered. I could hear the much quieter breakfast music so I was not sure it was worth it. Then Habitat for Humanity called me to ask for a donation! Argh. Now I was really awake. I used all of my relaxation tricks and the next time I woke up and checked my phone it was completely quiet and 1:15.

One lesson I learned at a Model United Nations conference in college. If the people making the noise in a private party at hotel would just invite their neighbors… the neighbors will likely say no (if they are like me) and will resent the noise so much less.

I was out the door with my farewells to Robert about 4:10 a.m. I had a 3.25 hour drive to the airport to return my car in Greensboro, then a quick trip by cab to the Amtrak station (because they are never co-located, right?!) When I stopped for breakfast at 6 and called Robert and asked him to have the manager to call me to discuss the noise.

Around 10:30 I got a call from Webster. He apologized and asked me more specifics about my experience. It was a great example of above and beyond service. Of course, sleep deprived should never be mentioned in the same sentence as hotel. He even said he would bring it up with his boss George. Wow. And he comped my last night. Wow! Did not expect it. It was a relief because I love this hotel. I want to be able to recommend it unreservedly. Since Webster asked such detailed questions I bet they address the noise situation and they made it right for my situation.

Come on back y'all, you hear.

Come on back y’all, you hear.

I will definitely stay again. However, I will fly into Atlanta or Charlotte and drive a lot les! And I will use their hotel’s excellent road bikes.



Giant Trees in Mariposa Grove

Within Yosemite National Park is the Mariposa Grove–an excellent grove of giant Sequoia trees. It is an easy drive from the Narrow Gauge Inn in Fish Camp and not far from Wawona Hotel. UK Sarah loves trees so we made sure to find time to walk in the grove before we drove back to Sacramento.

UK Sarah hugging a Sequoia

UK Sarah hugging a Sequoia

You can walk about a mile and see several terrific specimens, including the Grizzly Giant and the California Tree. It is a little steep in places, but there are lots of places to stop and admire trees, tree roots, tree rings, chipmunks and robins.

The grandfather tree is the Grizzly Giant, aged 1800 years. He has obviously survived multiple fires, and if he could talk he would have lots of stories to tell. Giant Grizzly

The California Tree has survived a cut out and is clearly a “tourist attraction.”

Cut out in a living tree in Mariposa Grove

Cut out in a living tree in Mariposa Grove

There is a lovely atmosphere in the grove, and a great diversity of admirers. We spoke to people from Holland and Germany. Everyone is in a good mood–taking turns of taking photos of groups, remarking on the majesty of the trees.

Not everyone is as in awe of the trees as we. One woman stepped over the barrier to sit on a stump to smoke a cigarette, in spite of the extreme fire danger. We were so stunned we did not say anything, but wish we had later.

I never understand how someone can see the galaxy of stars, or a Sequoia grove and not see the divine. I am not saying one must enjoy the grove in hushed reverence. At least show respect for the rules the National Park has set for reasons best for the trees.

We strolled back to the car park and drove back to quickly shower off the dust before going to the Tenaya Lodge spa for massages. It made a lovely, lovely day.