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.

Advertisements

Tahoe

After a few great weeks in Hawaii, it was time to head back to our car and trailer in San Francisco. So, for the third time this year we found ourselves spending the night in an airport parking lot. And, since we’re pretty sure spending the night in an airport parking lot is frowned upon, we found ourselves again trying to inconspicuously disembark the shuttle and sneak into the trailer. 100% success so far (knock on wood).

Hawaiian Airlines has the best in-flight meal (free wine!)

The next day we headed northeast to Lake Tahoe – starting our long journey back toward Ohio for the holidays. While we were too late for swimming in the lake, and too early for skiing, we were still able to find plenty to do. Wednesday, we went on a short hike, passing the hordes of salmon that had made their way up the stream to lay eggs. Then, tried out a new disk golf set at Bijou Park. Thursday, we went on another hike, climbing Maggies Peak and finally spotting a bear at a reasonable distance for the first time this trip.

Question, which kind of bear is best?

After rounding out the work week, it was back on the road, driving East into Nevada. On our way to Great Basin National Park, we stopped in Ely, a small town along “Americas Loneliest Road” to watch Ohio State come back to beat Penn State while playing video poker and drinking a beer or two.

Liz won $20 playing Keno!

While we didn’t spend long in Great Basin, we made time to hike through a bristlecone pine grove, seeing some of the oldest living organisms on the planet. The trees can live thousands of years and stand strong hundreds of years after dying due to the fact that their wood grows slowly and tightly enough to prevent rot. Beyond the bristlecone pine grove, we hiked to a glacier before turning around and hitting the road again, destination Salt Lake City.

This tree is older than the city of Rome

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.

Maui

Growing up, I was always taught that the United States lies within the continent of North America. While this may be true most of the time, it isn’t true of Hawaii – technically located in Oceania. The Aloha State is also the most recent state to be admitted into the union and the only state to be composed entirely of islands. Although less obvious to a reader of the Wikipedia article on Hawaii, and most shocking to me when driving around Maui, is the state’s climate diversity. In a single day, we passed through both dessert and tropical rainforest, swam in the ocean and stood on top of a mountain, basked in sweltering heat and shivered in the cold high-altitude wind.

Happy to be in Hawaii!

We arrived in Maui late Wednesday night, leaving both our car and trailer behind in a pricy San Francisco parking lot ($17 a day adds up quick when you leave it for 19 days – I just hope they don’t charge us for two spots!) Since the airline skipped on a meal or even a snack, we swung through McDonalds for a taste of the island before heading to our Kihei AirBnB.

The first of many great rainbows

The next day, we made great use of one of the seven vacation days we took to drive The Road to Hana – a world-famous trek around the island’s east coast. Taking advantage of the time zone shift and our already early morning habits, we started before the sun rose, beating the crowds to the first few stops. While I don’t want to bore recalling all the incredible individual locations, I think a few deserve mention.

No idea what kind of tree this is

In one of our first stops, at the Garden of Eden, we were greeted by a flock of crazy ducks and peacocks before strolling through a botanical garden that showcased some of the wildest plants I’ve seen, like the rainbow eucalyptus.

Liz wants to attempt to grow these in Ohio

After a few more stops at waterfalls and swimming holes, we made it to Liz’s favorite pull-out, Wai’anapanapa State Park. Here, the Pacific meets ancient lava rocks with tremendous force, creating captivating collisions shooting water high into the air.

Initially stood too close and got soaked

While our last stop was in Halealaka National Park, where we hiked the Pipiwai trail up to a 400+ foot waterfall, it certainly wasn’t the end of the road.  Against rental car recommendation (or mandate?) we opted to complete the full loop rather than retrace our steps. It was perhaps our best decision of the day. The drive back was incredible! A sunset from the ocean-side, cliff-side, narrow, one lane road. A wind-torn lava field with cows roaming the gravel road. A breathtaking mountain-side bay, complete with an overturned SUV a hundred feet below that served as a not-so-subtle reminder to look at the road ahead every now and then.

Waimoku Falls

Friday, we headed up toward Halealaka National Park. First, though, we stopped half way up the mountain to zipline. It was both Liz and my first time ziplining and I figured there’s not too many places better to do it than down a mountain in a tropical rainforest. While I think we both enjoyed the experience, there isn’t a need to do it again. We spent a lot of the remaining day in the National Park, picking up some great litter and hiking a way down into the eroded volcano top.

Halealaka Crater

Saturday was our last full day on Maui and we had yet to snorkel, despite flying out with the snorkel straws (that what they’re called right?) we’ve been driving around the country with since we went in Florida. So, we headed to a store, purchased some masks, and drove to Black Rock – a popular public beach in the resort part of the island. There we encountered a few sea turtles and countless tropical fish while floating around. And, since swimming quickly works up an appetite, we headed to the Paia Fishmarket where I was able to chow down on one of those tasty fish.

Snorkel Time!

Sunday was our last day in Maui, although not our last in Hawaii. From there we were off to the Big Island to meet up with Liz’s family and watch her brother compete in the Ironman World Championship. I don’t know if I’ll make it back to Hawaii, but I know that if I do I’ll put Maui back on the agenda.

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

Ohio / Rainier

It’s interesting how our perception of time is always changing. Sometimes the last half mile of a difficult hike can seem to last forever. Yet, the whole weekend seems over as soon as it starts. I have been very fortunate (or maybe unfortunate) in the past nine months. Nearly everything has flown by. To help keep things in perspective and not lose sight of the amazing adventures we’ve had while experiencing new ones, Liz and I often ask each other “What were we doing a month ago today?” and “Where will we be in a month from now?”. Perhaps the most interesting part of the time change phenomenon is that while the days seem to speed by, I’m always shocked at how long ago the things we did just a few weeks before seem.

It’s already been 3 weeks since Rainer!

Perhaps the fastest time yet this trip was the whirlwind week we spent in Ohio. We had planned on spending two weeks in the Seattle area, but CoverMyMeds offered to fly us in for the work week, so we jumped on the opportunity to catch up with friends and family (and work).

Cymanski Family Reunion 

On Sunday night, Liz and I took a red-eye from Seattle to Columbus and headed straight into work. After work, Liz picked up her sister, Megan, and drove up to Ashland to get dinner with her parents and grandparents. Meanwhile, I took a series of Ubers from work to our AirBnB and back to work again to find a charger for my dying phone before seeing Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats at the LC. Tuesday, we caught up with a group of friends from work for volleyball and trivia. Then, on Wednesday, I managed to stay upright on my first Segway tour. And in the evening Liz and I headed our separate way to grab a few drinks with coworkers. Thursday, we drove up to Canton to see my family and hiked the beautiful new Fry Family park with baby Zion in tow. Then, Friday morning we drove back to C-bus, put in a day’s work, and flew back to Seattle. By the end of the week Liz and I were exhausted. Although, we still had a full weekend ahead of us.

Uncle Zach and Baby Zion

Due to our late arrival in Seattle, we opted to sleep in the airport parking lot (which I’m sure is against some sort of rule). Then, the next morning, we met up with Mark and Ben, my friends from college,  and headed to Mount Rainier. While Ben has twice summited the 14er, it was the first time in the park for the rest of us. Even though we didn’t attempt the technical summit, we did make it up to the Muir basecamp – one of my new favorite hikes. To get to the basecamp, we hiked up about 5,000 feet and across the Muir snowfield. Although going up rewarded us with some spectacular views, it was going down that made the hike.

Camp Muir

The heavily packed snowfield not only allowed us to hike to Muir basecamp without sinking in knee-deep every-other step (like we would the next weekend hiking the South Sister near Bend) it also allowed us to glacade down. For those who don’t know, glacading is just a fancy word for sledding without a sled. Enough hikers had gone before us that nice slick chutes ran down the snowfield, adding a new dynamic to hiking I had never considered. Pro tip: bring a heavy-duty trash bag to act as your sled.

Glasading!

The next morning, before driving Ben and Mark back to Seattle, we hiked up to the nearby Eagle Point to get a panoramic view of Mt Rainier. I hope that someday I can head back to make it all the way up to the summit, although going it to the basecamp is a worthwhile hike in of itself.

Drinking our summit beers!

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

Canada Part 2 (Banff)

We spent nearly a year planning our trip prior to hitting the road – marking points of interest on a map, researching car and lodging options, and reading about the national parks. In all that time, I don’t remember ever discussing taking our trip beyond the US. Yet, for the second week this summer, we found ourselves in Canada. This time, instead of a remote island on the French River, we stayed in a campground within the city limits of Calgary.

Oh Canada!

While visiting a brewery in Calgary, Liz and I met a few locals who made a point to remind us that Canadians tend to know a lot more about the US than we know about their affairs. So, for those unaware, Calgary is Canada’s third largest city with about 1.3 million residents. The city lies about an hour east of Banff, Canada’s first national park. And it played host to the 1986 Olympics, a fact the city continues to heavily lean on more than 30 years later.

Looking back, nothing in particular stands out about our time in Calgary. We drove past several old ski facilities used during the Olympic games, spent a limited amount of time downtown, and got the cars oil changed. In short – I don’t feel a strong desire to head back any time soon.

The one picture we took in Calgary

On Friday, after work, we made the short drive west to Banff National Park. After setting up the camper at Tunnel Mountain campground (an enormous campground with over 500 sites!) we headed into the town of Banff. The town sits within the national park and has the vibe of a large ski community, even in the heat summer. While in town, we decided to swing into the park visitor center to plan our weekend. There, we were ‘greeted’ by a warden (what they call their park rangers in Canada) who informed us that “you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do” in the park and that there’s “nothing that you need to see”. Thanks for the guidance Sophia.

Beautiful Banff!

Like most weekends, our time was primarily spent hiking. Saturday, we climbed the Cory Pass Loop – a strenuous hike that follows a seemingly endless set of switchbacks before leading up a picturesque mountain ridgeline. The trail then crosses through a mile of rocks and boulders before entering a densely-forested ravine that follows a creek down the mountain. The trek was tiring but a great way to start our weekend!

One of many breaks on the way up

On Sunday, we got up early and drove to Lake Louise. Perhaps the most popular destination in the park, the lake was already crawling with tourists early in the morning. We were able to escape most of the crowd by hiking around the lake and up to a remote tea house. The tea house is staffed by seasonal workers who hike in on several day rotations and cook all the food on site with supplies air dropped in by helicopter. After munching down a heavy piece of chocolate cake, we continued up the trail to check out the glaciers.

Great cake and great views!

While I don’t know if Banff is a good representation of all of Canada’s national parks, I felt like their park system is managed very differently. While the US national parks often contain guest lodges, a small handful of gift shops, and restaurants to service visitors, Banff plays host to a far larger commercial enterprise. From the town of Banff, located in the park, to the railroad track, the ski slopes, and the trans-Canadian highway, Banff seems to specialize in accessibility, not conservation. That’s not a slight to the park though – I think both Liz and I really enjoyed our weekend and I’d love to make it back again someday to see the park from its ski slopes.

Better glaciers than Glacier