Tag Archives: Olympic_Discovery_Trail

More than the numbers at the finish line

Sometimes a race report becomes a litany of facts and figures, pacing strategies and splits. When I write a race report, I’m usually still caught up in my race day mental state. I actually do math problems in my head as I run, especially in the later miles when I’m trying to figure out when I’ll finish and wondering whether I can push a little harder and achieve a goal… or if I can’t do that, then how little can I miss it by?

The numbers are important to me, I won’t deny that. But a few days after a race, when I’ve had some time to reflect on it and form lasting memories of it, other things come to the fore. Richer, less quantifiable, more embodied impressions of the event and its meaning.

About two weeks before the race, the mile markers went down on the pavement. On one of my daily walks I stopped to photograph several of them. Of course it was this one that I most looked forward to seeing on race day.

That’s mile marker 13 of the half marathon (and incidentally mile 3 of the 5K that would finish at the same location). Only one-tenth of a mile to go from here! Those markers will linger on the pavement for months ahead, and I’ll smile each time I see one.

At walking speed I’ve seen some wonderful things on the trail over the past two months. Sometimes I just have to stop at Morse Creek to look for eagles in the trees. I’ve seen as many as four at a time in this one location, one of several places along the trail where eagles are a frequent sight. Do you see him/her?

This has been a wonderful year for our local wild rose species, the Nootka rose. On race day some parts of the trail were lined on both sides with 10-foot tall rose bushes. Their fragrance was intoxicating. I was happy to back off the race pace just a bit here to enjoy them!

Of course, at the end there is a finish line. This year the finish line looked a little different to me, however. This time there was no special someone waiting for me there. I have no finish line photos of myself. Instead, I ran with a good friend, received my medal from her mom, and accepted cool drinks, food, and congratulations from other familiar faces.

Then it was time for me to hurry back to the finish line and wait for CFL to arrive! This time I got to be the one cheering and shooting photos of his arrival. He was a very happy guy.

 

I was thrilled to pose with him for the iconic medal shot!

Afterwards, of course, there was beer. There was putting our feet up and enjoying the sunshine. We spoke with runners from faraway places. One young couple had come from Munich! There were others from Indiana, Colorado, and Alaska, and other places. We relished their compliments about our beautiful corner of the world, and we shared a few tips about special places they should see before leaving.

In the end, it’s about much more than the numbers at the finish line. It’s about loving the journey, every step of the way.

Cheers!

The joy of walking

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absoutely free from all worldly engagements.

– Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

In recent days I have been doing quite a bit of sauntering, and as I saunter I often think of Thoreau. I had the privilege of visiting Walden Pond as a teenager. I was underwhelmed by its small size and its decidedly non-wild contemporary setting. It’s difficult to imagine the area back in Thoreau’s day, when he wrote:

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do. First along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the wood-side. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant.

In my corner of the world, there are still places where it is possible to walk for some distance without seeing a house. I can even walk to some of those places from my own house, although I have to pass by many houses on the way to the trailhead. I wouldn’t want to live in total wilderness or total solitude, so that’s all right by me. Yet, like Thoreau, I do find peace and inspiration in those places that have not yet lost their wildness.

At walking speed I see things that I would have missed while running or cycling. Recently I spent a few moments watching two river otters in full courtship dance. No photos, sorry… while I’m watching something like that, reaching in my pocket for my phone to take a photo is the last thing on my mind.

In an effort to make peace with the place where I fell and broke my arm, I have hiked several miles of the Olympic Adventure Trail. It’s an easy, pleasant, relatively level trail. In several places the trail meanders through recent clear cuts — so it’s not exactly pristine — but those clear cuts open up views southward to the Olympics or northward to the strait and Vancouver Island.

At walking pace I was delighted to find calypso orchids on the OAT! There are at least 100 of them in the first mile from the trailhead. I have never noticed them on this trail before.

I’ve often put orchid photos in this blog, but to refresh your memory here is what they look like. They are tiny flowers, not much more than an inch across.

Calypso Orchids

The other day on the OAT, in the midst of all of these “normal” calypsos, I came across a pair of unicorns.

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Those, my friends, are “albino” calypso orchids! It’s not the greatest photo, but I hope you can see that the outer petals are pure white while the inner petals are muted compared to the “normal” flower. Over the past three years I have inspected hundreds of calypso orchids but I’ve never seen any like these before.

Yesterday we went out to the mouth of the Elwha River. I haven’t been to the mouth since before the dam removal project began. The mouth is now at least a quarter of a mile north of where it used to be! The silt that has flowed downriver from the dams has created a broad, easy-walking silty beach.

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At the water’s edge the river and the tide are joining forces to create small canyons, cutting vertical mini-cliffs through the silt. I took this photo looking straight down. The water here is about a foot below the edge of the silt.

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The configuration of this river delta changes from day to day, but the clear trend is growth of the land northward into the strait. A few hours after I took these photos, I was standing on a high ridge line looking down toward the strait, where I could clearly see the river’s current fanning out and outlined against the saltier water of the strait.

While I deeply miss running (and eagerly look forward to the day when I’m cleared to run again), I’m finding deep happiness in hours of leisurely walking. These are all steps in my journey, and each of them is to be savored. There is no going back, no other way but forward.

By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that will never be trod again.

– Antonio Machado

Slow and happy — here’s to the joy of walking!

Slowed but not stopped

A habit, once formed, can be a tough thing to break. I like to think that CFL’s and my activity streak is a good habit! I’ll confess that when I first broke my arm I had a tough time motivating myself to get outside and do something. But once I got used to my new temporary “normal,” I stopped feeling sorry for myself over my inability to run or cycle. I discovered that I enjoyed the challenge of finding interesting new ways to move for several miles each day.

During the first several days after my injury I was happy just to walk on a flat paved surface. Together we walked several sections of the Olympic Discovery Trail. I know that trail very well from many hundreds of running miles, but it’s been nice to slow down and share it while engaging in long, slow conversations.

Although I wasn’t able to capture them on camera (I struggle getting off quick one-handed shots), at the Morse Creek bridge we saw three adult bald eagles and a river otter. As a consolation prize I’ll offer you a long, slow look at the shadows on the bridge.

Morse Creek bridge

After five days and 28 miles of this leisurely walking, I was ready to try a bit more.

First up was a short hike to the always-spectacular Sol Duc Falls. It’s only 1.8 miles round-trip on a mostly level trail. Thanks to all the recent rains, we passed several raging streams on our way to the falls. The scale is difficult to capture in a photograph because the trees are so huge, but this stream is about 20 feet across.

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Sol Duc Falls itself was as high as I’ve ever seen it, with four cascades instead of the usual three.

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I must thank CFL for the spiky hairdo he gave me when he put on my headband for me.

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Sol Duc Falls served as a warm-up. That same day we also hiked several miles on a new (to us) and mostly level trail not far from this one.

The next day we chose a trail that soon turned into an impassible marshy puddle. We were disappointed with our low-mileage day, so the next day we covered 12.5 miles on the ODT before rewarding ourselves with local craft beer downtown.

Over the weekend we hit the hiking trails again. On our 11.5 mile meander along the Spruce Railroad Trail, we enjoyed the impossible-to-photograph deep ultramarine blues of Lake Crescent. We also spotted our first calypso orchids of 2014!

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Yesterday we drove way out to the Pacific coast to hike the Ozette Triangle. This trail starts at Lake Ozette and runs west 3 miles through the forest to the beach, then 3 miles south along the beach, and finally 3 miles back through the forest.

I did fine on the first leg. When we got to the beach, I felt like I had just stepped into a calendar photo.

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We stopped to snack and enjoy the view. There were many kinds of waterfowl, including dozens of black oystercatchers with their distinctive whistles. We heard sea lions barking at a near-shore island. We saw several gray whale spouts just beyond the surf line.

We then set out to walk along the beach. At first it was mostly sand and cobbles, but we didn’t get far before we found ourselves stepping from boulder to boulder and scrambling over driftwood logs. I quickly realized that this was going to be too tough to navigate with my arm in a sling. We reluctantly turned back. By the time we got back to the car, we’d covered 7.5 miles, but I was very tired. Still, it occurred to us that we were the oldest people out on that trail that day — by far. I was also the only person out there with a broken arm! So we congratulated ourselves on our attempt.

All told, I’ve walked (on pavement) and hiked (off-pavement) nearly 72 miles in the first ten days since breaking my arm. I may have been slowed by this injury, but I shall not be stopped.

One slow happy step at a time!

 

Fit and feral

As I was riding my bicycle today, it occurred to me that I do almost all of my running, and a fair percentage of my cycling and hiking, as a solo activity. CFL doesn’t run at all. We do try to bike and hike together, but often he’s working on a project with a deadline just as I’m itching to get out the door. This week, CFL is far away attending the funeral of a family member, so I’ve been busily entertaining myself with some big and audacious activities.

I make a practice of texting him after I’ve completed whatever it is I’m out there doing. He usually replies with something like, “Good job — you’re an animal!”

At first I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be described as an animal, but at some point I decided to embrace the concept. I am an animal. A big part of the endorphin rush is that feeling of becoming attuned to my body and reveling in the things that my body can do.

Yesterday I ran 7+ miles of steep roads and muddy, even steeper trails. There is something magical about trail running that really brings out the animal in me. I bound along, sailing over rocks and roots. I giggle when I get my feet wet sloshing through mud puddles. My eyes and ears tune into the sights and sounds of the forest — this varied thrush, that raven, that mysterious swish of an unknown and unseen creature, those big tree limbs overhead creaking in the breeze. As I ran, I thought to myself: this is a feral activity — and I am feral.

When I run trails, I generally don’t set ambitious pace goals for myself. I’m out there to have fun and enjoy the beauties around me. Therefore I had no qualms about stopping to take a few photos. Tell me — would you want to hurry through places like these?

The little guy in the next photo is a rough-skinned newt. He’s cute, but don’t mess with him. He’s highly poisonous. The only creatures that can eat a rough-skinned newt and survive are some populations of garter snake, and only because they have evolved resistance to newt toxin. In response, the newts have become more and more toxic. It’s a classic case of co-evolution.

So that was yesterday. Today, however, putting aside the charms of stopping to view rough-skinned newts and other trail delights, I set out with an ambitious and very specific goal. I was going to ride my bike 17.5 miles east on the Olympic Discovery Trail, and then I was going to turn around and ride back. My longest bike ride to date had been the Portland Bridge Pedal last summer at 33 miles. I was going to beat that distance, and I was going to do it as quickly as possible.

Now, let’s think about this for a minute. I’m a female in my late 50s. My boyfriend is 1,200 miles away, literally graveside at the moment I’m starting my ride. My jumping-off point is a trailhead on a dead-end road about seven miles east of downtown. I’m going to ride on a “rails-to-trails” biking/running/walking trail that, for the most part, stays well away from well-traveled roads.

In the dozen years I’ve lived here, there has been only one attack on a lone female on the trail — she escaped successfully and the guy was caught. Still, I’ve seen all kinds of things on that trail. I’ve witnessed a moving domestic dispute: the girl bleeding, running after the guy and shouting, “Why did you hit me? Why are you leaving me?” I’ve watched the local police trying to lasso a runaway ram in a chase scene reminiscent of the Keystone Kops. Just a couple of weeks ago, I rescued a black Lab that some idiot had left chained in the back of a truck. The dog had jumped over the side and was hanging itself. I saved the dog’s life. So I’m not kidding when I say, you don’t know what you might encounter on the trail. It takes a certain amount of guts just to go out there alone.

I do it because I’m fit, I’m quick, I stay alert, and I will not let fear rule my life. I do it because I know I can do it.

So I got on my bike and off I went! On my eastbound leg I rode almost non-stop, pausing only at street crossings in Sequim. I flew along, barreling up and down the hills (aided a bit by what felt like a slight tail wind), all the way to my turnaround point at Sequim Bay State Park. Here I stopped to eat a small snack, text CFL, and take a couple of photos.

CFL replied to my text: “You go girl!” I texted  back: “I am so feral!”

Awash in endorphins, I started back. And immediately hit the headwind! For 17.5 miles I battled a 15 MPH headwind. I even dropped my hands down and fully utilized my drop handlebars in an effort to be more aerodynamic. It didn’t help all that much, but I felt ever so athletic.

I thought I’d get a break from the wind in the last couple of miles, which are hilly but heavily wooded. But it was windy there too. Windy and hilly. It took me about ten minutes longer to come all the way back than it had taken to go out, and I was really tired when I finished.

But I never, not even for one moment, doubted my ability to do it.

I rode my bike 35.23 miles solo, and I completed the ride in just a tick over 3 hours — my longest and fastest bike ride ever.

One of my favorite theories (don’t we all have a favorite theory?) is Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy. Bandura defined self-efficacy as “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations.” It’s that sense of “I can” that empowers us when we dare to set big hairy audacious goals and then dare to achieve them. There’s a lot more to the theory, but that’s the gist. Because I have self-efficacy, I can decide to train for a marathon, and then go out and train for it, and then run it.

I occurred to me, as I was riding into the headwind today, that there is a connection between self-efficacy and experiencing myself as feral. Please bear with me for a couple hundred more words while I try to tease out this connection.

Last month I celebrated my second anniversary of becoming “post-corporate” — okay, I’ll say the word “retirement.” I truly feel that it’s taken all of two years to fully detox from corporate life.

When I finished my undergrad at UCLA lo these many years ago, I jumped into corporate life with the feeling that I would do great things and be amply rewarded for them. For the first few years, that was true. Then I married, had a child, took on a mortgage and a couple of car payments. Suddenly the stakes were higher — I needed my job and I couldn’t afford to screw up. I became cautious. I did whatever I had to do to get by and not much more than that. I lost the fire. I lost my sense of self-efficacy.

In the two years since I left the corporate world, I have had to re-learn how to relax. How to take deep abdominal breaths. How to sleep for as long as I need to sleep. How to fully live each day, wring it to exhaustion and deep satisfaction, and then let it go in anticipation of the next day. How to be feral.

I have let go of all that toxicity. I am no longer a garter snake facing down a rough-skinned newt and hoping I’m resistant enough to survive. I have come back to that more-innocent animal that I once must have been.

I have regained self-efficacy.

I am fit, I am feral, and I know that I can do the things I set out to do.

Oh, and I’m still a bit bashful about taking “selfies” — but here I am anyway.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

A moment’s pause

I was driving home this afternoon after going for a run. It hadn’t been a particularly enjoyable run.

It was chilly — about 45 degrees with a breeze as I started my run. As usually happens when it’s cold, my hands and feet promptly went numb. I was wearing gloves and waving my hands around, so that part wasn’t so bad; my hands warmed up within a few minutes. But it’s tough trying to run on numb feet. It took two and a half miles for my feet to thaw out, and when they finally did, I realized that (as often happens) they’d been slapping the ground rather hard while numb and were now sore.

I’d almost given up and turned around in the first cold mile, but I’d decided that today it was my job to be out there and keep running in spite of feeling less than stellar. I went on and completed my run (from a county park to an Audubon center/park and back, 7.6 miles round trip), patting myself on the back at the end for toughing it out.

On the way home I stopped off to pick up some vegetables for tonight’s dinner. I also grabbed a bottle of fruit/vegetable juice to drink on the way home.

As I left the farm store, I noticed that the sky was quite dramatic. Heading west toward home, I was driving out from under dark gray clouds and into blue sky and broken clouds that were spectacularly lit by the late afternoon sun. I drove by two or three possible locations where I could have stopped to take photos. By this time, I was actually in a hurry to get home because my darned fingers were going numb again from holding the cold juice bottle (if you’re wondering, I have Raynaud’s phenomenon). So for a few miles my inner dialogue went: “Do I stop or do I hurry home to get warm?”

Finally the sky became so beautiful that I had to stop — fingers be damned! I pulled into a downtown parking lot and quickly snapped these shots with my iPhone.

It was a moment worth pausing for, don’t you think?

Some moments are just too good to let pass unnoticed. This is a lesson too easily overlooked, a lesson that demands we practice it, every day.

What did you notice that gave you a moment’s pause today?

October and half of November

Well, that was quick! I knew October was going to be a busy month, but I had no idea I’d be so swept up by events that I wouldn’t have another chance to post here until mid-November. While the living has not been so “slow” lately, it has certainly been happy.

October began with the Yakima Fresh Hop Festival, as documented in my last post. The following weekend was the Victoria marathon. As I’ve written here, I can now and forever call myself a marathoner!

The weekend of October 19-20 we went to Seattle to see the Moody Blues for what I believe to be my 40th time (CFL’s second). They never disappoint, and this was yet another great show by my all-time favorite band. The following evening we attended the 10th anniversary celebration for the local region of the sports car club that I belong to. As a charter member of the region, I was among those who stood up to share memories of our early days. Good times!

Our big travel event for late October was a trip down to Eugene, Oregon for a philosophy conference at which I presented a paper. My paper was a very preliminary attempt to make sense of what I have learned (and continue to learn) about running and personal transformation. I’m playing with the idea of the literal steps and place-to-place movement of my running “career” as a metaphoric movement through the course of caregiving, grieving, and re-creating one’s life anew. My paper was well-received at the conference, but I didn’t get enough feedback to determine which direction I want to go further with this.

Here’s the dilemma I’m mulling over in my mind. I think these life experiences that I’ve had make for a good story, but I want to frame them conceptually as something more than a simple memoir. As a scholar/philosopher, I want to put them in a philosophical context — which would seriously limit the potential audience. At the same time, as a person who has actually had these very real and human experiences, I do want to make them accessible to others — not as a slick “self-help” book, but as some sort of a guidebook for the journey. I’m sure there is a happy medium there between conceptual “navel gazing” and pop psychology, but I can’t quite grasp yet what that middle ground might look like.

So I think I will do some noodling around with alternate takes on writing projects and see whether the work finds the right direction, or at least the direction that it wants to go. Many times in the past, I have begun to write without having a clue where I might end up, and I have learned what I needed to learn in the process of writing. I sense that this will be another one of those times.

That was October. Now, what the heck has happened with November so far? I think I must have exhaled and collapsed!

We’ve brewed two batches of beer — a black IPA for Thanksgiving and an Old Ale for mid-December — and I’m tweaking my recipe for the imperial stout that we’ll brew next week to have ready for New Years.

We keep talking about a hike up the Elwha River valley before winter really sets in, but we seem to be so busy from day to day that we haven’t blocked out a full day for a good, long hike. We haven’t let up on the daily activity streak, however — yesterday was day 317, and I’ve logged just under 1,900 miles of running, biking, hiking, and walking since the beginning of this year.

This time of year, when everything changes suddenly and dramatically from green to gold and then to brown/gray, it can be difficult to escape a sense of the urgency and inevitability of passing time.

The “slow happy” mantra is a reminder to ourselves to appreciate and make the most of NOW. But it can be difficult to resist packing too much into each NOW.

Sometimes NOW needs to be a silent soaking-it-in time/place — even if we only get to be there in our memories or thoughts.

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I’ll try to remember to slow down and pay attention as I go about my busy day.

How about you?

Mile Marker 13

We bottled our third batch of India Pale Ale (IPA) the other day. We’ve found it very challenging to produce a good American IPA — we couldn’t seem to get it hoppy enough, or pale enough, or carbonated enough. Based on our tasting of this batch on bottling day, we think we’ve got the “hoppy” and “pale” parts right… so now begins the two-week wait to see whether this batch will have a rich, foamy head when opened and poured.

True to our tradition, the beer required both a name and a code. We write a code on the bottle cap so that when we open it later we’ll know which beer it is. We have grand ambitions of creating labels one of these days, but for now the code works pretty well.

We had a working name of “Take 3 IPA,” and a code of “T3.” But on bottling day, CFL wanted a more descriptive code so he’d remember that this batch is an IPA and not some obscure beer style that starts with “T.” We settled on “I3″ for the code, but when he wrote it, it looked more like “13.” When I got out my batch log to change the code for my records, I made an amazing discovery! This is our 13th batch!

Well, the 13th batch of beer demanded a name celebrating that fact. I offered up a few ideas like “13th Floor” but nothing was really clicking for us. Then we thought about the trails that we know and love… the places where I run and CFL rides his bike. Those trails have mile marker signs. Our 13th batch of beer is a milestone of sorts.

Voila! Mile Marker 13 American IPA is born!

Well, actually it’s in the midst of bottle conditioning right now, but it will be born in mid-March.

Meanwhile I got to thinking about mile markers, and for the life of me I could not picture the mile marker 13 sign on the Olympic Discovery Trail. Surely the trail construction crew wouldn’t have simply skipped over that sign out of some “unlucky 13″ silliness, would they?

So yesterday I had to go out and run that section of trail to try and find mile marker 13.

I found it!

It was a good five feet off the trail and during much of the year it is probably hidden by brush, but in the dead of February it’s definitely visible. I’ll have to remember to look for it again later in the year…

The hunt for mile marker 13 was a highlight of a rather awesome long not-so-slow 11.3 mile run. This section of trail is flat and fast. Without a great deal of effort I was running at a half marathon PR pace (not counting my camera stop). I wouldn’t have had any problem continuing at that pace for another 1.8 miles and completing the half marathon distance. But unlike my past half marathons, I don’t think I’d need two weeks or more to recover afterwards. I’ll be ready to run again tomorrow.

It’s been a year now since I quit my job and declared myself post-corporate. The time I’ve been able to put into running, hiking, and walking since then has rewarded me with increased stamina and resilience, reduced stress, and a whole lot more smiling! I’m grateful that I can choose to live my life in this way… recognizing that it’s not an option for most people. Still, anyone can choose to do something — anything! — to be a bit more active every day.

Today is day 56 of CFL’s and my activity streak. I’ve logged 155 running miles and 260 total miles. I’ve seen a lot of trail mile markers along the way.

CFL has me beat on mileage, but only because he can go a bit further on his bike in a given time period than I can on foot. We’re totally non-competitive and mutually supportive — we simply make movement a priority in our day. Every day.

We go when it’s raining. We go when it’s cold and windy like today. We walk to most places we go within our small city. And when we’re finished, we relax and have a home brew!

What about you? What are you doing for exercise today? Tomorrow? What mile markers are out there waiting for you to discover?

Amazing sights along the trail

Today I ran the last 7.5 miles I needed to comfortably meet my running goal of 600 miles for 2012. For the last run of the year, I chose to revisit my most-traveled section of the Olympic Discovery Trail — the part that runs along the waterfront toward downtown. This section has been fully or partially closed since mid-November for a cleanup and wastewater treatment project at a closed mill site. The part of the trail that directly skirts the mill has never been particularly attractive (they keep telling us it will be better once the cleanup project is finally done). But I was amazed at what it looked like today!

In case you’ve gotten the impression that I run in pristine wilderness all the time, let me assure you — not here, not now! The trail, which used to run in a broad horseshoe around the perimeter of the mill site, now cuts directly through the middle of the parking lot — it’s 4/10s of a mile shorter! Weaving through the heavy equipment inside a narrow chute, I couldn’t help but recall the times I’ve been paced by deer through this area. I don’t think the deer would find it to their liking right now! I can only hope that when the project is completed next spring sometime, it will again be a beautiful place where I’ll run again with deer.

Back out along the waterfront, however, it looked and felt more like the waterfront trail that I love. I heard eagles but couldn’t spot them today. Various species of grebes and other water birds were there in abundance — as were “flocks” of birders with their spotting scopes. I think the local Audubon Society may have been on a field trip to enjoy this section of the trail, which has been newly recognized as one of the prime birding areas in the state.

Yet even with all of this excitement, there was something even more amazing along the waterfront trail today: seaweed! The high tides of the past several days brought a colorful array of pink seaweed to both sides of the trail. Bear in mind that the trail is normally 6-10 feet above the water line. I saw scattered seaweed halfway up the bank on the inland side of the trail — a good 20 feet up and in from the normal waterfront. It must have been a crazy sight when those waves were crashing so high up over the trail.

In other areas the power of the tides to shape the land was even more evident. Here there must have been a tidal river heaving gravel across the trail (I suspect some of this debris has been swept to and piled at this spot by our intrepid trail maintenance crew).

In this photo you can see the grass all lying over on its side, flattened by the force of the waves.

Sights like these make it very clear that this piece of land is on loan to us from nature, and that the sea will take it back eventually. I greatly respect the power of water and I know I’m only a visitor here. Still, I’m very glad that I get to enjoy this place while I can!

I hope you had a chance to get outside and enjoy some of your favorite places on this last weekend of 2012. Happy New Year!

Running to the Elwha

In prior posts I’ve written about hiking up the Elwha (here and here) and riding to the Elwha. Well, yesterday I ran to the Elwha! With just a few days left in 2012, I’m only a few miles short of my goal of running 600 miles in 2012. From our prior experience of riding our bikes 6.6 miles on a nearly-level trail to the Elwha River bridge and back, I knew it would be an easy, beautiful out-and-back run.

The skies were gray but there was nothing more than drizzle in the forecast. CFL loaded up his bike and we drove out to the trailhead just west of town. He completed two out-and-backs during the time it took me to do the run, so we had several chances to say “hello” to each other along the way.

It was a perfect day to be outside and active. As usual for this time of year, my feet went numb in the first half mile but I was toasty by the time I’d completed my second full mile. The piles of big-leaf maple leaves that I’d enjoyed running over on my bike were long gone and the paved trail was wide open and non-slippery. With all the leaves off the maples, I could see middle-distance views toward the river.

I stopped to take a photo of the two-level bridge as I approached it. Runners/bikers/walkers use the lower level; the upper level is for cars.

Then I stopped in the middle of the bridge to take photos of the river. It’s still extremely muddy. I read the other day that only about 10% of the century’s worth of silt has reached the mouth of the river since the dam removal process started, so there is a lot more mud yet to come!

Elwha River

After a slow, refreshing several minutes of gazing down at the river, I turned around to head back. The ever-so-lightly uphill trail led me back through the trees, past the airport, and toward town.

Olympic Discovery Trail near the Elwha River Bridge

I picked up the pace for the last two and a half miles, as it was beginning to drizzle. CFL’s post-ride grin was as big as mine! We both enjoyed our exercise highs for the rest of the day.

I’m learning that at this time of year we have to go out and grab whatever exercise we can get, whenever the weather offers a halfway decent chance. This time of year it’s all about seizing the best moment to run, or bike, through the raindrops!

Wherever you are, whatever your weather, I hope you find your ways to enjoy your mid-winter moments… slowly and happily!

Riding to the Elwha

I keep coming back to the Elwha River, it seems.

And why not? It’s a beautiful place in the midst of an astonishing transformation, as the two century-old dams are being taken down and removed.

I’ve written here several times about our hikes up the Elwha, upstream from the dams where the river has always run free. I’ve written elsewhere about the changes already taking place at the former Lake Aldwell after the lower dam was removed earlier this year. The removal of the upper dam has been slower and more painstaking due to the immense amount of silt that has accumulated behind the dam in Lake Mills. I have not been able to show you photos of the process of draining this lake because the construction company has kept the site well shielded from the public. I have managed to catch glimpses through trees and construction barriers, however, so I have had a general sense of the declining water level.

A week or so ago they announced that the river was finally falling free over the last few remaining feet of the dam, and that the silt would soon be flowing downstream and muddying the lower reaches of the Elwha.

This sounded like an interesting thing to go and see. Yesterday we decided to ride our bikes to the Elwha. We started a mile or so west of downtown, at an access point to a newly-paved section of the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT). We guessed it would be about five miles each way, but were surprised to see a sign indicating it was only 3.3 miles! Given that we had the afternoon free, we decided to ride at a leisurely pace and enjoy the sights.

This new section of the trail was absolutely beautiful, nearly flat and mostly straight through fields and groves of big leaf maples. Once I got over my initial caution, it was great fun to aim my bicycle wheel toward the biggest piles of leaves I could find!

This being the rainy, wet Pacific Northwest, we got to cross another stream on our way to the Elwha. I couldn’t get a decent shot of the oddly-named Dry Creek — it was running freely but was almost hidden by the thick trees. Maybe that’s the joke? In any case, the bridge was terrific! This style of bridge is typical of most of the small stream crossings on the ODT.

After Dry Creek the trail headed gently downhill toward the Elwha, but it never got steep because it follows an old railway grade and crosses the Elwha at the top of the ravine. I was able to relax and not worry about having to ride up steep hills on the way back!

The bridge is very impressive. It’s a new double-deck bridge with a road on top and the ODT below. CFL laments the loss of a beautiful old bridge that was taken out when this one was built. I remember that bridge – I even drove over it once or twice. It was a bit scary! I’m glad the new bridge is there and I appreciate its human-friendly design that encourages leisurely river watching. Doesn’t this beautiful bridge make you want to ride your bike across it — stopping along the way for a long slow look?

As for the Elwha, yes it is muddy!

Looking upstream straight into the sun the view was difficult to photograph, but the river looked like a roiling cauldron of mud. We spent a long time watching the patterns that emerged in and moved through the cross-currents. The flows, ebbs, and whirlpools are somehow easier to see than they would be in clear water.

In contrast, the view downstream seemed serene. Even here, however, the water was obviously thick and murky. I like the shadow of the bridge in this photo. If you look closely you can see us standing there!

The silt flow is expected to continue for weeks to months. The dam removals were planned as a slow and careful process to prevent too much silt rushing out all at once — but no matter how slowly you take down a 100-year-old dam, everything behind it does get up and move downstream eventually.

We plan to keep coming back to check on the river’s ongoing transformation. We’ve heard that the stark lakebed of the former Lake Aldwell, which we last visited in May, is now lush with new growth as the forest comes to reclaim it. It’s definitely time for a return visit!

Further upstream, perhaps once the leaves are fully off the trees, I hope to be able to sneak a peek-a-boo photo of the former Lake Mills.

You can expect to read more here about the Elwha River… It is a place/time event that does, indeed, keep me coming back.