Canyonlands National Park

As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, I occasionally struggle with anxiety. I don’t like new situations with a lot of unknowns and I tend to stress over all possible worst-case scenarios, no matter how improbable they are. So, when Zach wanted to go on an overnight off-roading trip in Canyonlands National Park, I was hesitant. What if the 4Runner can’t handle the terrain? What if we do lasting damage to the 4Runner? What if we crash the 4Runner and need to get towed out of the canyon, which would cost thousands of dollars? What if we run out of gas? What if there is a flash flood? What if we get a flat tire and fix it, but then get another flat? What if we drive off a cliff?

Plenty of cliffs we could drive off

While I was trying to think of a strategy for convincing Zach this wasn’t a good idea, I got a text from Megan.  A few times a week, she’ll send a Quote of the Day.  It read: “Do not resist chances.  Take them like vitamins.  See what happens if you go five more miles.  Find you own way across.  Don’t worry about the bumps and bruises, you can handle them.  Don’t steer around the bits that scare you.  Go over them, through them.  Then there will be one less thing you cannot do.”  With those words of motivation resonating, I did my best to stop dreading the upcoming weekend in Canyonlands and, on my good days, even look forward to it.

Quite the view

In the end, as always, I had nothing to be worried about.  We traveled along White Rim Road, a 100-mile loop that takes you 2,000 feet down into the canyons below Island in the Sky.  The road was rough, I wouldn’t have wanted to be in a car lower to the ground or less powerful than ours, but manageable.  Our pace was slow, averaging less than 10 mph, and our campground was at mile 77, so we spent a lot of time in the car on Saturday.   Zach typically drives 95% of the time, but this weekend I did nearly half of it.  The bumpiness of the road made the passenger car sick, so we switched off every hour.

Zach and the Green River

We reached our campsite in late afternoon.  It was the only site in Taylor Canyon, five miles off the main road.  We hiked to the base of a nearby rock formation named Zeus and Moses.  High above us were rock climbers at the top of what I assumed to be Zeus.

So windy I had to hold my hat on

Initially, we attempted to set up the tent but it was incredibly windy and after it blew away for the second time, we decided to sleep inside the car.   We moved all of belongings into the front seat and set up our sleeping mats in the back, which were barely short enough to fit.  Being in a canyon, it got dark especially early.  We had misplaced our petzels and the full moon made it too bright to stargaze, so we got to bed early.  Around midnight, I was awoken by a flustered Zach claiming a mouse had scampered across his back.  A bit skeptical at first, I soon believed him after I heard it scurrying around.  We tried to ignore it and fall back asleep but after Zach felt run by his head, we decided it was time to set up the tent.  By 1 am the wind had died down, we successfully set up the tent and slept peacefully, not worrying about a mouse darting around.

Best moonrise I’ve ever seen

The remainder of the trail was much easier than the previous day.  We finished the loop with plenty of gas and no damage other than a few small scratches from driving too close to a thorn bush.  After stopping by the visitor’s center to pick up Lucy, we headed north to I-70.  The goal was to make it back to Ohio by Friday night. 1,700 miles, 25 hours and 6 evenings of driving.

Taylor Canyon

Other than Sunday, which we spent in Golden, Colorado with Zach’s college roommate, Mark, we stayed each night in Walmart parking lots.  They’re free, conveniently located just off the highway, and often have a Starbucks nearby, meaning we don’t have to drive anywhere in the morning.  We spent one night in each state along the way – Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana – driving 4 or 5 hours each night.  Thanks to the nonsensical end of daylight savings, it got dark soon after we finished working.  Combining that with the three time zones we drove through, my circadian rhythms were all out of whack.

Driving through the snowy Rockies

Our first night after Canyonlands, I set out sunflower seeds to determine if the mouse was still in the car.  The next morning, only the shells remained.  We bought a mouse trap at Walmart that night, but in the meantime, I was constantly worried it would run up my leg while in the car.  The first night, with just a sunflower seed in the trap, we were unsuccessful, but, after adding peanut butter, we caught the little guy.

One last picture of Canyonlands

We arrived at Zach’s parents’ house late Friday night.  After five days of working all day, driving all evening and sleeping all night, I was looking forward to adding some variety back into my life.   And of course, I was excited to see family, friends, work colleagues and spend time in the greatest state in the nation – Ohio.

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Salt Lake City: A Day in the Life

Bring! Bring! Bring! I roll over and unlock my phone, turning the alarm off.  Groaning, I pull the covers over my head, not ready to get out of the toasty bed.  After nearly falling back asleep, I start scrolling through Twitter, hoping the brightness of my screen will get my brain synapses firing.  In the meantime, Zach is up and nearly ready to leave.  He puts on his shoes which is my cue to stop grumbling and start getting ready to face the day ahead. I throw on my jeans, the first shirt I grab and then a few more layers – these late October mornings are getting chilly.  After brushing my teeth, Zach, who’s been patiently waiting for the last ten minutes, and I say goodbye to Lucy and head out to work.

Salt Lake City morning

Since we’re staying near downtown, in the factory district, the drive to Starbucks is short.  We place our usual order, two everything bagels, toasted with cream cheese, a grande black coffee for me, and a venti coffee for Zach.  We head to separate tables and get to work.  I spend the morning chugging along on my assigned issue.  I’m working on switching over some queries to a read-only database.  In laymen’s terms, I’m trying to make our system able to handle more people using it.  As usual, Zach’s morning contains more meetings than mine;  I only have my team’s daily scrum (our everyday check-in to ask for and offer help).

Hard at work (or hardly working?)

This rarely happens, but our Salt Lake City campground has a good enough internet connection to work from their lobby for the afternoon.  We head back during a break in Zach’s meetings for soup and salad in the camper.  It’s a nice change of pace from our typical lunch of sandwiches in the car.  I spend the rest of the workday in the lobby, which is conveniently located next to the laundry room.  I knock out a load while struggling to test my code changes.  I’m unable to accomplish much workwise but at least I now have clean clothes!

We took very few pictures in SLC

After work, I lay in bed for a short time, allowing my brain to recover from the day, and then change into running clothes.  I fell behind on my goal of 1,000 miles when I sprained my ankle in August, but I am working hard on catching up.  The past few days I’ve run from the campground, but today we drive up to Antelope Island, a state park 30 miles north of downtown.  The island, occasionally a peninsula (the lake is so shallow that its area fluctuates from less than 1,000 to over 3,000 square miles), is located on the Great Salt Lake.  A buffalo on the side of the road greets us– the park is home to one of the two herds in the state.  The mid-fifty temperature combined with great views of the lake and a 538 politics podcast make for a great workout.  I still feel good when I get back to the car; if it wasn’t for the grumbling in my stomach, I would have added on another mile or two.

The Great Salt Lake

On the way home, we pick up a pizza – black olives and pineapple, my favorite.  We eat and listen to the latest Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! laughing at all of Paula Poundstone’s jokes.  In addition to running 1,000 miles, I have quite a few other goals for the year – read 50 books, finish a third of my giant cross-stich project, keep this blog semi-up-to-date.  Tonight, I read 25 pages of my current book, The Happy Traveler, while Zach plays Roller Coaster Tycoon on the tablet.  Once he beats the level he’s working on, I work on my cross stich while we watch Band of Brothers.  Not quite ready to go to bed, we watch an Office episode and then another because they’re too darn funny to just watch one.  I remember that I haven’t brushed my teeth so I begrudgingly walk the six feet to the bathroom and do so.  I crawl under the covers, cuddle with Delilah – my zebra pillow pet, and try not to think about work as I drift into a deep sleep.

Hawaii Part III: Oahu

In high school, I was part of a group called the Shady Ladies.  What may sound like a shifty organization, was just a self-given nickname to my group of running friends.  Sammi, Jessica, Caitlin and I all ran cross country and track and were recognizable by our matching red sunglasses.  We liked to use words like druthers and behoove and frequented Buffalo Wild Wings.  Sammi and Caitlin were significantly faster than me, both went on to run in college, but Jessica and I spent hours each week, fall and spring, running together and chatting about life.

The least awkward picture I could find of us

The four of us stayed in touch throughout college, reuniting at BDubs a few times a year.  Last year, Jessica moved to Hawaii when her then fiancé, now husband, got a job in Oahu as a contractor for the Marines.  I hadn’t seen her since she left Ohio so it only made sense to swing by for a visit while we were in the area.

Jess and I in Hawaii!

Unfortunately, we were out of vacation days which meant back to work.  Zach has a daily meeting at 10 am eastern time so he was up by 4 am Hawaiian time.  I usually slept in until 5 am.  I’ve never used ‘slept in’ and ‘5 am’ in the same sentence before.  On one hand, starting work so early allowed us to have the whole afternoon for activities, but it also meant being very sleepy and going to bed by 8 pm.

The view during my daily run

With our free afternoons, we took in some of the best Oahu has to offer.  A somber visit to Pearl Harbor, a windy afternoon watching kitesurfers at Lanikai Beach, a rainy hike, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, and dinner at a fabulous farmers’ market with Jess, Ben, and their adorable dog Koa.

Rainy + windy hike

On Saturday, Zach, Jessica, and I took a day trip to the north shore.  We started the day at the Dole Plantation.  It is incredibly touristy but the Dole Whip alone makes its worth the stop.   For those of you, like myself before visiting, who have never heard of Dole Whip, it’s pineapple ice cream that’s only sold at Disneyland, Disney World and the Dole Plantation.  It has a huge cult following, and after eating some I can understand why.  In addition to delicious Dole Whip, the plantation also had the largest gift shop I’ve ever seen.  Who knew there could be so many pineapple related objects?

The best looking pineapple around

Our next stop was Waimea Bay, birthplace of big wave surfing.  They hold surfing competitions here in the winter and in October, the waves were starting to grow but were still a manageable size. Zach and Jessica jumped off the famous Waimea Rock while I bobbed in the waves.  I went cliff-jumping once and that was enough to last a lifetime for me.

Zach mid-jump

After working up an appetite from swimming, we got lunch at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.  Their world famous shrimp scampi was worth the long line.  We also stopped at a fruit stand where I tried, for the first time, fresh coconut, rambutan, and dragon fruit.

Giovanni’s Shrimp Scampi

Before we knew it, our twenty days in Hawaii had come to an end. On our last night, Jessica, Ben, Zach and I went to Buffalo Wild Wings, just like old times.  Although sad to leave the Aloha State, I was ready to get back to Lucy and our regular day-to-day life.  Thank you so much to Jessica and Ben for having us and hopefully it’s less than a year and a half until we see each other again!

Kona

Growing up in a family of triathletes, the Ironman World Championship at Kona, often shortened to Kona, was a common topic of conversation.  I often fantasized about winning the race, a goal less likely than my dream of becoming an astronaut, given my, at best, slightly above average athletic abilities. Our dog Mercury was nearly named Kona.  I have a signed poster of Chrissie Wellington, a four-time Kona champion, hanging above my bed.

The Cymanski family post-triathlon circa 2008

To start, some background on the Ironman.  The race consists of a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike and concludes with a marathon (26.2 miles of running).  The fastest recorded time is 7:40:23 whereas the cutoff is 17 hours. To race at Kona, you must qualify by finishing in the top of your age-group at an Ironman race the previous year.  Both of my parents have completed Ironman races and I’ve done a few half-Ironmen.  My brother Matt competed in his first full Ironman last September in Chattanooga, had a great race, and qualified for Kona.  Time for a family road-trip to Hawaii!

The Cymanski Family post-(Matt’s)triathlon circa 2016

Zach and I, on our quest to visit all the states and National Parks, needed to make our way to Hawaii at some point.  Matt racing Kona gave us the motivation to pull the trigger and travel the thousands of miles to the Aloha State.  As Zach wrote about in our last post, we started the trip of in Maui.  We had originally planned to only take the two vacation days in Maui, but after doing some calculations, we realized we still had a week of unused PTO for the year and what better place to use it than Hawaii!

Yay Vacation!

Matt had quite a crew travel across the Pacific to support him (and enjoy the sun and sand in Hawaii).  Matt and my dad were there to welcome Zach and I when we arrived on Sunday.  My grandma, Uncle Chip and Aunt Liz landed later the same day and my mom and sister, restricted by their school schedules, flew in on Wednesday.  I love spending time with my family and it was extra special to be with them in a such an exotic, beautiful, adventurous place.

“Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”

With Matt and my dad working out, Chip, Liz, Nana, Zach and I went for a trip around the island.  If I had an Ironman later in the week, I would be relaxing 24/7 but I guess that’s why Matt qualified for Kona and my legs get tired walking to the airport gate. We headed south to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Zach and I hiked through Kīlauea Iki Crater while the rest of the group explored a lava tube.  The crater formed hundreds of years ago but filled with lava in 1959 after a vent in the ground started spewing molten rock.  It was incredibly interesting to hike across the ‘lava lake’ which took years to solidify after the eruption.

Looks like an asphalt road post-earthquake

Together, we all drove down to the shore.   This is one of the only locations in the world were lava and ocean meet.  The two battling forces created a beautiful cliff-side, complete with a 90-ft sea arch.  I bought an over-priced popsicle (everything in Hawaii is expensive but $6 for some flavored ice?!)  and proceeded to become covered in sticky juices thanks to the hot sun and incredibly strong sea ‘breeze’.  

Holei Sea Arch

We took a break from bettering our tans to better our brains with two educational tours.   First was a visit to Kanaloa Octopus Farm, the only of its kind in the world.  Here they are attempting to breed day octopuses in captivity.  Yet to be successful, not knowing what to feed to babies once they’re 10 days old, they hope to be able to figure things out before the species becomes endangered.  The tour was essentially an opportunity to play with the cephalopods.  We were free to stick our arms into their tubs and they would climb, grab, pull and spit water at you.   We also visited Greenwell Coffee Farms where we learned about the history of coffee on the island and process of how it’s grown.  I hadn’t realized how little I knew about coffee and am shocked at how cheap it is given all the manual labor that goes into it.

Zach and his favorite animal

My mom and Megan arrived Wednesday night.  Given they only had four days on the island, we had a full itinerary planned for Thursday.  Starting early, we headed to Waipio Valley, one of the most exquisite vistas I’ve seen.  We used the four-wheel drive to make it down the incredibly steep (25% grade!) road into the valley which was just as magnificent as the view from above.

Down in the Valley 

We continued along the island stopping to look at waterfalls, swim in waterfalls, eat malasada (essentially a donut), eat loco moco (a Hawaiian specialty featuring rice, a hamburger patty, egg and gravy), and drink local beer while Megan and dad napped in the car.

Jeep Life

We ended the day back at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Lava is actively flowing into the ocean five miles past the sea arch we previously visited.  The only way to get there is by foot.  Luckily the first four miles are on a gravel road but the last mile is over rough and tough lava terrain.  On the hike out, we saw the most vibrant rainbow imaginable.  Pictures captured only a fraction of its vivacity.

If you look closely, there’s 3 rainbows!

I don’t know if it was because of the conditions or we were looking from the wrong place, but we didn’t end up seeing any lava flowing into the ocean.  We arrived as night was setting in for maximum lava visibility.  This meant walking back across the harden lava in the dark.  For some of us, it was a fun adventure, for others it was a bit terrifying.  But the night wasn’t a total bust. We saw some lava flowing further up the mountain; from our very distant vantage point it looked like a small campfire.  On the way out of the park, we stopped at Kīlauea caldera.  By day one can only see steam rising, but at night lava luminously glows.

Bonus of being out at night – the stars were out of this world

We had gone snorkeling earlier in the trip, but on Friday, we went on a boat tour out to Kealakekua Bay.  The location of Capitan Cook’s murder, the bay is also one of the best snorkeling locations in the state.  The diversity of sea life, water clarity, vibrancy of color and the delicious lunch made for a great day.  The only downside was Zach’s phone got ruined due to a faulty waterproof bag.  Luckily Megan’s worked fine so we still had some underwater pictures and videos.

Aren’t my parents the cutest?

Saturday came around and it was finally time for the race.  Most people would find spectating an Ironman triathlon boring but I think it’s a blast.  This may be because I’m so happy to be watching rather than racing.  You spend most of the day waiting and trying to find your racer in the crowd.   The average spectator will only see their athlete a handful of times; knowing where to go and willing to travel, we saw Matt 12 times.  It was a tiring day, at one point we had to run a mile back to our car to make it to the finish in time.  But running one mile isn’t much compared to 26.

Matt’s support crew in our matching Dimond shirts

Being that this is a race for the best of the best, Matt was hoping to be in the top ten in his age group.  With over 100 racers in the 25-29 category, finishing in the top 10% would be very impressive.  Matt had an amazing race and did even better than expected – finishing 2nd in his age group, 21st overall and the 4th American.  He came in with a time of 9:11:48, exactly 40 minutes faster than his qualifying race.

Not too shabby

That night some of us went back to the finish line to cheer on the athletes struggling to make it in before the 17-hour cutoff.  Since it was technically my birthday on the mainland, Zach, Laura, a Dimond employee, and I visited a nearby bar and I did shots for the first time since college. It was nice to celebrate my birthday like the 24-year-old I now am rather than do my normal thing of going to bed before 10pm.

24 is going to be a great year!

Hawaii is a great place to have a birthday.  After breakfast at Denny’s with the whole gang, we went to a very crowded beach with very large waves.  The largest waves I’ve even seen.  We had a great time swimming around past the break line but it was quite the adventure trying to get in and out of the water.  I got tumbled around a bit and was left picking sand out of my hair for the next few days.  My mom and Megan flew back; goodbyes are always hard but it’s nice knowing Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

Our C’s by the sea

I could go on and on but this is already a monster of a post so I’ll contain myself. I am so glad we ended up taking the week off from work and I hope Zach didn’t mind his second Cymanski vacation of the year.  This was quite possibly my favorite week of our entire trip so far and one that I’ll never forget.

Medford and More!

Leaving Crater Lake, we headed south to meet up with the rest of Tyler’s family.  While in Medford we repeated some of our favorite activities from our last visit.  Watching Zach’s nieces at their swim lessons, walking down to Roxyann Winery and staying up late every night playing board games and Super Smash Brothers.

Uncle Zach and June

Unfortunately, we also experienced some unwanted activities.  I came down with a bad cold in the beginning and by the end of the week, all of the Oregon Serafinis had caught a stomach bug.  There were a lot of sick people in the house but still managed to enjoy our time together.

Common Block Brewing Company

The six of us headed down to Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. The titular Lassen Peak is the largest plug dome volcano in the world and the park is home to all four types of volcano (plug dome, shield, cinder cone, and strato).  I had not heard of Lassen before we started out on our National Park quest so I was surprised to learn it was created in 1916, making it the 11th oldest park.

Selfie with Lassen’s Seismograph Station

We started with the best named trail in the entire park system –  Bumpass Hell.  The hike takes you down into a geothermal area nicknamed ‘Little Yellowstone’.  Having not previously seen anything like it, I was fascinated by the way the ground bubbled, steamed, gurgled, and churned.  The sulfuric acid created fascinating color patterns surrounding the scalding mud pots.

Bumpass Hell from above

Planning on eating out for dinner, we had not gone grocery shopping in preparation for the weekend.  It turned out, our only options less than a ninety-minute drive closed before 5pm. Between a can of clam chowder, some pasta, and a pouch of tuna, we managed to scrounge together a meal for six from our trailer’s limited pantry.  Tyler, Whitney and family slept in the trailer.  After first getting used last week by Tyler, our convertible table bed had its second customer in Sage.  This gave Zach and I an excuse to break out our neglected tent and cuddle under the chilly stars.

Artsy filler picture 

The following morning, after a delicious breakfast at JJ’s Café which would have made Leslie Knope envious, we headed to the north side of the park for another hike.  Cinder Cone Volcano was created by an eruption around 1650 which is recent enough essentially no plants have started growing on it.  The hike to the crater is two miles each way, meandering gently up to the base and ending with a challenging climb (about 700ft in a third of a mile).

Cinder Cone Volcano – they must have used all of their creativity naming Bumpass Hell

The hike out took longer than expected due to a slow moving four-year-old.  Zach and I had more than a five-hour drive ahead of us so we said our goodbyes at the bottom of the volcano and high-tailed it back to our car.  As always, it was great to see Tyler, Whitney, Sage and June.  I’m looking forward to seeing them at Christmas and hoping our next reunion will be healthier and equally as adventurous.

Beautiful sunset driving though California

I forgot that I was planning on including our time in San Fransisco in this blog which is why the previous paragraph sounds like a conclusion.  We were flying out to Hawaii on Wednesday, so in the meantime, we spent three nights at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, about an hour north of the city.  All in all, it wasn’t a great experience – we were worried about catching the stomach bug going around, I always get anxious before big trips and none of the Starbucks in the Bay Area have outlets which makes working from them nearly impossible.  The highlight of the stay was our visit to Point Reyes National Seashore.   One concluding paragraph is difficult enough to write, let alone two, so I’ll just end things here.

We’ll be seeing a lot more of the Pacific in the coming weeks

Bend and Beyond

After dropping Ben and Mark off in Seattle, we headed South to Oregon.  There was a bit of a mishap in our accommodations (we thought our campground reservations started on Monday night, but they actually were for Tuesday) which resulted in an extra night spent in a Walmart parking lot.  We’re becoming experts at sleeping in Walmart lots and they’re really not that bad.  There’s usually bright lights shining throughout the night, occasionally loud cars and not all allow overnight parking but it saves money, time and the effort of finding a campground.

Lucy in a Walmart Parking lot

On Tuesday, we made it to LaPine State Park, our home for the week.  The park, just South of Bend, is home to ‘Big Red’ the world girthiest ponderosa pine.  It was also the most voluminous but it recently lost a good chunk of its height to a lightning strike.  There were some great trails for running – not too rooty or rocky and, most importantly, flat.  The Deschutes River runs through the park making for some great scenery.

A bend in the Deschutes River

We visited Smith Rock State Park, home to some of the best rock climbing in the country.  Although we didn’t go climbing, the scenery itself was magnificent.  We had a delicious dinner at Sunriver Brewing company.  I ordered a Rueben Pretzel Calzone, which sounds like a strange combination but was really great.

Smith Rock State Park

On Saturday morning, Zach’s brother Tyler drove up from Medford to spend the weekend with us.  We planned to hike the South Sister, the youngest and tallest of the volcanoes which make up the Three Sisters.  Unbeknownst to us, the higher elevations had received a large amount of snow the previous week.  The trail was completely covered, in some places with well over five feet of snow.

Two brothers and someone else’s sister

We progressed very slowly up the mountain.  As the day warmed up, the snow became softer, and soon, every third step led to being knee deep, or sometimes even hip deep, in snow.  We didn’t make it to the top, instead drinking our summit beers at a pass about a mile before the end.  The guys were disappointed about turning around but there were some very menacing clouds heading our way and Zach had frozen feet.

Our summit

The way down was much faster (thanks gravity!) and Zach snapped this awesome picture of Tyler jumping down the hill.  Once again very happy with our camera purchase.  I greatly struggled deciding which pictures to use for this post.

Flying down the mountain

Sunday morning we left La Pine and headed to Crater Lake National Park.  We visited the park in May, the last time we were in Oregon, but there had been a ton of snow which was really fun but I wanted to visit the park without the snow to see what it was like.  It was too late in the year to wish for no snow but there was significantly less than last time.

Crater Lake National Park

The rim is an average of 1,000 feet above the lake but there is one place you can hike to the water, traveling 800ft down in less than a mile of trail.  I stuck my feet in the water but Zach was the only one brave enough to fully get in.  And by that, I mean he jumped off a cliff into the lake.  On the hike up, we tried to calculate the volume of water in the lake.   We knew that at widest points, it is about 4 miles wide  and 6 miles long and the deepest point is 1,932 ft.  Given those three data points, we estimated the volume to be 12.5 cubic km, only 6 cu km off from the actual volume of 18 cubic km.  That may seem like a decent ways off but I was happy to be in the right order of magnitude.  Our main source of error was underestimating the average depth by 100 meters (we guessed 250m, it’s actually 350m).

The equivalent of 5 million Olympic swimming pools

 

North Cascades National Park

From the Olympic Peninsula, we traveled by ferry to Whidbey Island – the fourth largest island in the contiguous United States nestled in northern Puget Sound.  We spent the week relaxing at Deception Pass State Park.  The past few weekends had been busy and were traveling back to Columbus the following week which we knew would be hectic.  Other than going on some runs in the park, we spent most of our time decompressing and catching up on Netflix.

Deception Pass Bridge

North Cascades National Park is just as close to Seattle as Olympic National park but received less than 1/100th as many visitors in 2016.  Most of the park is inaccessible to the average visitor.  Highway 20 bisects the region but there are very few roads to take you into the park.  The Lake Chelan area is only reachable by ferry, private plane, or very long hike.  Almost all the land is designated wilderness which limits the development of roads and buildings.

Doubtful Lake

This didn’t stop us though.  A break from the crowds which had filled the parks of the past few weekends was appreciated.  We met up with Zach’s college friend Ben and his wife Jennifer on Saturday morning and hiked up to Cascade Pass.  What started off as a foggy hike became a cold, rainy, very foggy hike on the way down.  Some of us (i.e. me) forgot our raincoats and were ready to get back to a warm, dry car.

Very, very foggy

We managed to find a restaurant in the tiny town of Marblemount (population 203) that had the Ohio State v. Oklahoma game on.  It was painful to watch but we enjoyed good food and company in the meantime.

Zach in his OSU shirt

The following day we did a short hike up to Thunder Knob which had great views of Diablo Lake from the top.  Before we knew it, time had come to pack up and leave the park.  While North Cascades doesn’t have the amenities, diversity or attention-grabbing features of other parks, the craggy peaks, bright blue lakes and solitude made for a great weekend.

Diablo Lake from Thunder Knob

Olympic National Park

We left Banff early Monday morning and headed southwest, back into the US.  Canada had been nice but it was good to get back to a place where I have cell phone service, speed limits are in miles per hour and gas is not super expensive. We drove most of the 700-mile trip on Monday, putting in nearly nine hours, in addition to eight hours of working. We arrived at our final destination, Shelton, Washington, by Wednesday afternoon.  Zach’s great-uncle Bill and his family were visiting the area and allowed us to crash their family vacation.  We collected oysters, caught crabs, watched the Ohio State opener, relaxed in the hot tub, and debated politics.  It was great to see some familiar faces after months on the road but before long we had to continue on our National Park quest.

Zach catching crabs with a fishing pole, lunch meat and a trash can

The original plan for Olympic National Park was to backpack on Shi-Shi beach.  When getting our permit, the ranger informed us the parking was full at Shi-Shi.  Considering we needed a parking space that fit our trailer, we headed to Rialto Beach instead.  The ranger also informed us that Olympic is the most backpacked National Park which surprised me.  I would have guessed a highly-visited park like Smoky Mountain or a park such as Glacier which is famous for its great backpacking.

Just a few of the many fellow backpackers we saw

Parking at Rialto Beach turned out to be a bit of a hassle but we managed to find a good spot about a mile from the beach. I want to give a shout-out to Zach for backing us and the trailer out of some tricky situations the past few weeks.  I have a rough enough time driving the trailer let alone figuring out how to turn around in a tightly packed parking lot.

Not only is he a good driver, he’s also very handsome!

We packed up, walked the mile to get to the beach and continued on for another two miles down the beach.  It was crowded, with many day visitors and plenty of other backpackers.  We found a pleasant location for our tent nestled within the driftwood near the Hole-in-the-Wall rock formation.

Home for the weekend

By the time we set up, we were ready for dinner and soon after watched a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean.  I had a peaceful night’s sleep listening to the waves crashing just a few yards from our tent.

One of the best sunsets of the year

The next day we hiked further north along the beach.  We encountered many obstacles along the way – slippery rocks, fallen trees, the rising tide – but we managed to make it to a secluded section of the beach to hang out while the high tide made sections of the trail impassable.  It was a great time exploring the tide pools, climbing on rocks and playing cribbage.

Lots of cool rocks to climb on

Returning to our base, we took a nap, people watched (as stated earlier, there were plenty of people around), I read a whole book and Zach explored the tide pools more.  We watched another beautiful sunset and tried to remember/deduce the science behind the phases of the moon.  As the sky darkened, we partook in one of my favorite camping activities – counting the stars.  When the sky first darkens, you can only see one or two.  Each time you count, more stars have appeared and before long, there are too many to keep track off.

Night on the beach

The Pacific Northwest is a wonderful place and this was just the start of our time in the region.  Although I got frustrated with sand being everywhere, our weekend on the beach was nothing short of delightful.   As much as I’ve loved our past few mountainous National Parks, it was great to change things up.  The inland part of the park has worthwhile features to visit (we hit up Hurricane Ridge and the Hoh Rainforest when we where in the park two summers ago) but don’t forget to stop by the coast when you visit.

Starfish Best Friends

Glacier National Park

According to our trusted Guide to the National Parks book, Glacier is the number one park overall and has the best scenic drive and the best trail.  In addition, it nears the top of the list for hiking, backpacking, whitewater rafting, biking, horseback riding, mountain climbing, waterfalls, and ‘best for couples’ (not sure what makes a park good for couples).  Not that we were planning on doing all those things during our weekend in Glacier but it gives you a good idea of how great the park is.  Definitely one of most anticipated locations of the summer – so much so that we took Friday off of work to spend more time in the park.

Ready for a grizzly encounter!

Located in northwest Montana, Glacier National Park is populated by the Rocky Mountains, hundreds of lakes and waterfalls, and a few quickly disappearing glaciers.  These titular glaciers formed over 7,000 years ago but thanks to climate change, they could be completely gone within 15 years.   During the past hundred years, the park went from having 150 glaciers of over 25 acres to only 26 glaciers of that size. Given the backwards steps our current administration has taken in terms of climate change, I don’t think there’s anything that can save the glaciers.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! And go see the glaciers while you still can! (Read more on the disappearing glaciers)

Everyone should see a glacier at some point in their life!

Although Glacier has 13 campgrounds, most of them don’t take reservations and they all fill up very early on summer weekends.  We were past the peak tourist season but still in the heat of things.  As a planner and a worrier, I was concerned about getting a site and had an ordered list of campgrounds and some backup options outside the park in case things didn’t work out.  Thankfully we easily got a site in our first choice, Apgar Campground, and once again, I had wasted my time worrying.

Testing out our new chess board

Glacier is an enormous park (over 1 million acres) with so much to do! Even after making it a long weekend, we were still overwhelmed with the multitude of options.  With both of us battling injuries, we decided to postpone the epic 19-mile Dawson Pass loop until our next visit; instead settling for more manageable 10-14 mile hikes.

We still needed breaks on the shorter hikes

We started the weekend with the Highline trail – our book’s top rated trail out of all the national parks!  The hike starts at Logan Pass and travels 12 miles along the continental divide, conveniently losing 2,000 feet of elevation on the way.  A park shuttle will take you back up to your car at Logan Pass.  I alway appreciate a hike that is very much downhill!

Highline Trail!

The views were out-of-this-world amazing! I recently bought hiking boots at an REI garage sale and was experiencing some breaking in pains (AKA blisters) but I had no complaints.  In addition to beautiful panoramas, we also saw three mountain goats! We watched a mom and a baby eat for a while and later got stuck behind another goat who was slowly making his way down the trail.

I had a difficult time deciding which of the 29 goat pictures to use

Halfway through, we saw a side trail going straight up the mountain.  There were some people sitting at the intersection that said it was too difficult for them to do but they heard the views were worth it.  Not wanting to back down from a challenge, we headed up.  It was the most challenging mile I’ve ever hiked.  According to my Garmin, we gained over 1,000 feet in less than a mile.  From the top, we were overlooking Grinnell Glacier and Lake.  Not to be repetitive, but the views here were amazing too! The bluest water imaginable!

Glaciers are so cool!

On Saturday, we drove the length of Going-to-the-Sun Road to get to the Many Glacier area.  Completed in 1932, the road is an engineering marvel.  Traveling fifty miles east to west, Going-to-the-Sun is a great way to see the park without having to get out of the car.  It goes up and down mountains, past lakes and waterfalls, and through alpine forests.

Great views along Going-to-the-Sun Road

Once in the Many Glacier region, we headed out to Iceberg Lake.  Famous for its icebergs that stick around until late summer, the lake itself is amazing even without them (they were mostly melted by this time of year).   The hike was less crowded than Highline and, in my opinion, more beautiful.

Mountains + Glaciers + Trees + Waterfalls

On our way out, we were informed there was a bear across the valley.  With the help of our very long camera lens, we could barely make it out.  I have no idea how anyone spotted the bear; it must have been close to a half mile away.  We were very much hoping for a (safe) bear encounter and I guess this technically counts but I’m still waiting on a close-up.

This is the long lens all the way zoomed in

Along the trail, we also saw a pair of big horn sheep.  My favorite thing about them was the inquisitive look they always had on their faces.

What are these humans doing in our habitat?

While on the east side of the park, we had dinner at the Many Glacier lodge.  Back in the early 1900’s, the railroad companies helped develop Glacier into a tourist destination.  They built Swiss style hotels and chalets and enticed wealthy Americans to ‘See America First’ rather than vacation abroad. To get to the park, they would take a train.  Many Glacier lodge was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1915.  The beautiful building with beautiful views made the overpriced food worth it.

Hard to beat this view

On our last day in the park, we headed up to Apgar Lookout.  We had spent a lot of time driving the past days so we were happy to do a hike closer to our campground.  Although it had a thumbs-up in our book, it seemed like a forest fire had semi-recently burnt most of the area leaving it not very attractive.  Maybe if we hadn’t done amazing hikes the past two days it would have been more impressive.  It was very hazy at the top due to current forest fire smoke which probably affected our experience.  The one nice thing was that there were very few people hiking it.

Very poor air quality

We finished off the weekend by exploring Avalanche Creek and hiking to Avalanche Lake.  We attended a ranger talk on trees and how to identify conifer species.  Zach recently bought a tree guide and we’ve been working on increasing our arbor knowledge.

Avalanche Creek

I need some time to reflect on the weekend, but I think Glacier will be nearing the top of my favorite National Parks list.  It is big, beautiful, full of amazing hikes, and home to diverse wildlife.  I know that I’ve been saying this about pretty much every place we go but, visit Glacier! It’s definitely worth the trek across the country!

Montana

We began our time in Montana by visiting Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  Minutes off Interstate 90, the park is famous for being Custer’s Last Stand, where Colonel Custer and over 250 soldiers died attacking a group of Lakota and other Plains Indians.  The battle was a huge victory for the Indians but their good fortune was short lived as the US government continued to break treaties in the following years and force the natives into reservations.  We watched a very informative video and listened to a graphic telling of the battle by a ranger.

Photo courtesy of the NPS

After spending a night in Billings, we continued to Bozeman, the fourth largest city in Montana.  We stayed at an amazing campground in Gallatin National Forest, about 30 minutes from downtown.  Nestled in the mountains with a beautiful creek rushing right by our campsite, it’s my new favorite campground.  Although it had no electricity, showers, or cell service, it made up for it in beauty and tranquility.

Reading creekside

We spent one afternoon exploring Hyalite Canyon.  On the drive home, after hiking around the reservoir and exploring Palisade Waterfall, we saw a moose! It was standing right next to the road!  After overcoming my surprise, I snapped a picture before it ambled back into the forest.

Palisade Waterfall

A MOOSE!

From Bozeman, we headed west to Missoula.  We planned a majority of our summer/fall travels around attending Traveler’s Rest – a musical festival put on by the Decembrists.  In addition to the Decembrists headlining both nights, some of our other favorite bands were performing – Sylvan Esso, Belle & Sebastian, the Head and the Heart and Shakey Graves.   Everyone put on a great show and 2017 continues to be a great year of concerts for us.

Hanging out in the VIP section!

Due to Zach’s plantar fasciitis, my sprained ankle, and our lack of showers at both our Bozeman and Missoula campgrounds, we headed to the pool! This past year has been the first time since middle school that I haven’t regularly swam.  It was great to get back in the water and avoid not showering for two straight weeks.  Apparently, I’ve never swam laps with Zach – he was much better than I was expecting!

Zach considering going for a swim in the creek?

Now that we’re further north and at higher elevations, the nights get much colder.  I already struggle to get moving in the morning and near freezing temperatures don’t make it any easier.  Our camper does have a heater but in my mind, it wastes too much propane and I think that sleeping in the cold is helping me lose weight.  But Montana sure had some great sunrises, which made getting out of bed a little better.

This is actually a sunset