Tag Archives: Slow_Happy_Hiking

A postcard from the Olympics

Remember post cards? What a quaint custom that now seems to be. It’s been a long time since I have gone on vacation and sent home (via snail mail!) a purchased image of the place I’d visited, with a few scribbled words. You know — something like:

“Having a great time — wish you were here!”

The other day CFL and I went up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. While ONP is a destination for people coming from all around the world, we like to think of it as our back yard. Yes, we are spoiled that way.

The Ridge was particularly crowded on this day, as it was the park’s 75th birthday! We decided that rather than hike one of the popular trails, we’d go out and back on Obstruction Point Road. This all-wheel-drive dirt road is normally open to vehicles by this time of year, but due to budget cuts the road still has uncleared patches of snow and is blocked by fallen trees in several places. However, the wide roadway gave us easy hiking and offered many dramatic vistas across to the mountain peaks. The air was even more crystal clear than usual, and I took dozens of photos.

So here, if you will, is a blogospheric postcard from the Olympics… a photographic sampling of a perfect day in a beautiful place.

By the way, we did have a great time — and don’t you wish you were here?

Chasing rarities

Some things are rare, special and worth pursuing…

I made a beer run the other day.

San Diego-area brewery Stone Brewing’s Enjoy By series of imperial IPA is always rare, special, and worth pursuing! These insanely hopped big beers are brewed and bottled in small batches every month or so, with a drink-by date emblazoned in huge numbers right on the label — each beer is actually named for its unique “enjoy by” date. To further enhance the “buzz” around this beer, Stone ships each batch only to a few selected markets around the US. Which markets? Well, each batch’s destination is decided by fan voting (via Twitter and Facebook). This brilliant marketing idea creates a scarcity mentality that keeps beer nerds clamoring for the next batch. This scarcity mentality, in turn, leads retailers to guard their supplies and limit sales to just a bottle or two per customer.

Of the half dozen or so batches brewed so far, three have come to my corner of the country. I managed to find a single bottle of Enjoy By 2/15/13 at a convenience store right in my small town, just a couple of days before the expiration date. That one bottle was enough to hook me, and now I regularly check Stone’s web site for news of their latest release.

Enjoy By 4/1/13 was here also, but I actually drank plenty of it in San Diego when I was there in March. I never needed to look for it here.

The latest release, Enjoy By 7/4/13, was my target when I set out on my beer run. I knew from Stone’s helpful map that two stores on my side of Puget Sound had probably received some. As it happened, both stores were in the same town about 65 miles away. What a perfect excuse for a road trip on a sunny spring day!

At the first store they were sold out! But I struck gold at the second store, where they surprised me by willingly selling me… umm… a bottle or two more than I expected. I now have a nice supply of Enjoy By 7/4/13, and I expect to enjoy them a few times between now and the 4th of July.

Having a bottle or two of a rare beer like this one in the fridge is a tasty temptation to anticipate while out on a hike. Recently we hiked up the Elwha for the first time since last autumn. The river was running just a tad higher than it was back on that day. The mossy rocks I photographed were nowhere to be seen!

Along our way we encountered a few rarities. Wildflowers, mushrooms, and odd specimens are popping out everywhere! This is a candystick. It’s one of the strangest but aptly-named plants I’ve ever seen.

It’s not always necessary to hike upriver to find rare and special things. The other day we went to a picnic with some friends at a local county park. Here is the view from very near our table.

That’s a Nootka rose, our local wild rose, in the foreground. Nootka roses aren’t particularly rare here, but special? Indeed! Worth chasing? Completely.

Until next time, keeping it slow and happy….

To the end of the earth… or this corner of it anyway

You may have noticed that I’m not blogging much lately. I’ve been outside enjoying our beautiful spring! The first half of May was record-breaking warm and dry, but the past week or so we have had some rain showers. The rain probably came at the perfect time for my gardening friends. For me it just means bringing rain gear when I go out for my daily run, hike, or walk.

The other day we took a trip out to Neah Bay, the last town at the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Just outside of town there is a trailhead that leads to Cape Flattery, which is the absolute northwest corner of the lower 48.

Do you ever look at maps and dream of going to the most remote places you can find? The year I lived in Scotland I wanted to go to John O’Groats at the far northern tip of the mainland, but I never quite had the guts to make the trip.

I first came to Washington state on a family vacation in the 1960s. We went to Rainier National Park. There was this other national park out there called Olympic, but my dad decided not to go there. As I recall, he told us, “it’s too remote — they only paved the road and put in electricity a few years ago.” I think the truth is that the road and electricity out to Neah Bay were 30+ years old at that time — still relatively new, but not brand new. In any case, my dad instilled this part of the world with a certain mystique for me. Funny how I felt so drawn to the Olympic Peninsula as an adult and ended up moving here… partly because it reminds me of Scotland… and partly because it’s at the northwest corner of the map.

But I digress.

The trail to Cape Flattery winds through a mossy, boggy forest. It’s wet enough that large sections of it are boardwalk — otherwise the trail would be ankle-deep mud for most of the year. The boardwalk makes the trail not merely usable but also very scenic.

The trail winds gently downhill for about a mile. It ends abruptly at the edge of a vertical cliff! Several small lookouts give different vantage points on the surf crashing against the rock walls far below.

In the next photo you can see that the sea has created caves that run far underneath the cliffs. When the surf is high, it’s possible to feel the cliffs shuddering as the big waves hit the rock with a BOOM! We didn’t feel that on this occasion, but the sight is still very impressive. Someday the rocks we were standing on will split away from the cliff and stand alone as sea stacks.

This is Tattoosh Island, just offshore (and no doubt formerly attached). There’s a small lighthouse which I believe is operated by the Coast Guard. We could hear steller sea lions barking on the island.

As you might imagine, we saw lots of birds, but they were impossible to photograph from far above. I was most excited to see pelagic cormorants, with their very distinctive white patch behind the wing. These aren’t your typical cormorants you see hanging around in harbors.

After walking back up the trail to the car, we continued southward down the Pacific coast a couple of miles to Hobuck Beach, which I understand is a popular surfing spot for those folks who are nutty enough to surf in 48 degree water. There was only one intrepid surfer out that day in the relatively flat (non-booming, if you’ll recall) surf.

Hobuck Beach is sandy (rare for these parts) and almost completely flat (also rare). On another day when I have more time I think I’ll return to run on this beach!

Cape Flattery and Hobuck Beach are about a two and a half hour drive from my town… far enough away that coming here is a day trip and always a bit of an adventure. Yet I have met several people who have come from across the country and even beyond to stand at the northwestern corner of the map. There is something irresistible about going to the end of the earth and coming back to tell the tale — isn’t there?

Maybe I should go to John O’Groats someday.

Is there a place on the corner or the farthest edge of a map that has always called to you?

Signs of spring… at last!

Winter here in the Pacific Northwest can feel like it will last forever. Although I’ve done well this year in staving off the seasonal blues by staying active whatever the weather, the long gray slog continued throughout March and most of April.

Then all of a sudden — BOOM! — spring started bursting out all over the place!

Trees that were bare suddenly turned day-glow green. The big-leaf maples produced their odd green flowers, followed quickly by miniature-but-rapidly-growing big leaves.

A deer walked right through my back yard!

Wildflowers began to bloom. Here’s a trillium just getting started, rising out of a carpet of moss.

We discovered a new (to us) trail. The trailhead is less than a mile from my house — we can walk to the trailhead! The trail follows a stream, meandering into the National Park and through low-elevation second-growth forest. Scenes like this beckon to us… wouldn’t you love to duck under the fallen log and up those steps that disappear around the corner? We’ll walk this trail frequently this summer, I think. It sure beats doing a lap of the neighborhood streets!

If we needed any more proof that summer is on its way, we got it the other day when a small (100-passenger) cruise ship pulled into City Pier for a two-day stay. This boutique cruise line has committed to doing a total of 13 Puget Sound cruises with port calls in our town in May, September, and October. The tourist season is upon us!

Today is May 1, and the sun will set at 8:27 PM. In another day or two I’ll notice the morning and afternoon sun coming through my north-facing windows. By the time we reach the solstice, sunset will be well after 9:00 PM and the last of the light will fade to the northwest at 10:00 PM.

This weekend the forecast calls — finally — for high temperatures over 70. Woohoo! Break out the shorts and tank tops, summer is actually coming!

A dance with joy: Trail running on the Spruce Railroad Trail

Today was Day 5 of our New Year’s activity streak — a Saturday morning with no rain in the immediate forecast! CFL and I decided we’d do the Spruce Railroad Trail, which winds along the north side of Lake Crescent. We’ve hiked this trail a couple of times; I wrote about my first time on this trail here.

Our plan for today was that I would run and CFL would ride his bike. This is the only trail in Olympic National Park (possibly in any national park) on which bicycles are allowed. Unfortunately CFL discovered that he’d left his bike helmet at his friend’s house after their ride the other day — so he decided to hike the trail while I ran.

We agreed that we’d each go out for about 45 minutes and then turn around, which would theoretically result in our arriving back at the car at the same time.

The trail starts with a moderate downhill down to lake level, and then hugs the lake shore with slight ups, downs, and detours around old landslides. The surface today was varied: muddy, rocky, rooty, leafy, and all combinations thereof. Once I found my rhythm and got comfortable with the terrain, it was an utter dance with joy. I can hardly remember when I’ve had so much fun!

People sometimes ask why anyone would be in a hurry on a trail as beautiful as this. Why not slow down and enjoy the view? Let me tell you, I didn’t miss a thing! My eyes and mind took in every detail, every rock and root, every ridiculously green tree, shrub, and patch of moss in my surroundings. When I startled a duck and it flew just offshore beside me, quacking and whooshing its wings, I was right there flying along with it. I was in a flow state; I was in running nirvana.

I did have to slow down in a few places and pick my way through the really rocky parts. Can YOU find the trail in this photo?

It’s not as scary as it looks in this photo, but it does make me very, very aware of my surroundings! And very appreciative of the balance and strength that I’ve developed, enabling me to navigate this type of terrain “at speed.”

I was 3.21 miles out when I turned around. On my way back I caught this interesting view, which hadn’t been visible from the trail in the other direction:

They don’t call this the Spruce Railroad Trail for nothing! The reason this trail is so flat is that it generally follows an old railroad bed. The “Spruce Railroad” was a logging train and yes, they did take some gigantic old-growth spruce, cedar, and Douglas fir out of this area in the old, pre-National Park days. This is a partially collapsed tunnel. The current trail takes a detour around the tunnel. In this photo you can see the trail, curving around to the right of the tunnel.

I passed CFL on the way back (he confessed to turning around a bit late), which gave me time to stretch and devour a Clif Bar before he arrived. I ended up running 6.43 miles while he clocked 4.11 on his hike. We both had a really awesome time on the trail.

One thing that was especially fun for me was meeting hikers on the trail. I wasn’t sure how well hikers would take to someone running by — creating this high-energy disturbance in the middle of their wilderness experience. To my great relief, every single person I saw today greeted me with friendliness and… a look of respect… which totally blew my mind. That was ME out there dancing on the trail, bounding from step to step, feeling the lightness in every cell of my body. I can’t adequately describe how the experience felt to me — it was simply pure joy in motion.

Many hours later, I’m still high.

I can’t wait to find out what I’m going to do tomorrow. One step at a time!

Daring to do more: Our activity goals for 2013

The other day I wrote on my running blog that I’d barely met my 2012 running goal of 600 miles, and that I planned a modest increase to 650 miles in 2013 (my intention was to increase the running miles while still making room for more hiking this year). Well, the other morning CFL and I got to talking, and wouldn’t you know it, we ended up challenging one another to some rather ambitious activity goals for the year.

I’m not sure which numbers he finally settled on, but here are my goals:

  • Run 730 miles (an average of 14 miles per week, 61 miles per month)
  • Hike, walk, and bike an additional 470 miles (an average of 9.1 miles per week, 39 miles per month)
  • All of which totals up to 1,200 miles (an average of 3.3 miles per day, 23.1 miles per week, 100 miles per month)

The last I heard, he was talking about 1,000 miles total plus 100,000 vertical feet. This time of year he climbs 1,000 vertical feet of stairs (111 flights) every 2-3 days, and in the warmer months he likes to ride his bike up to Hurricane Ridge, a 5,000+ foot climb in 17 miles. So as daunting as it sounds to me, 100K vertical feet is actually realistic for him.

We started out the new year with a nice easy 1.5 mile hike to Marymere Falls and back. As usual we stopped to take photos of a bridge. This one is over Barnes Creek, just below the falls.

Here we are at the falls. Yes, it was COLD.

Yesterday I walked downtown and back, which is about 2.5 miles. I was, therefore, a bit off my planned 3.3 miles-per-day pace when I went out to run today. After an overnight low of 29 and a heavy frost, I wasn’t all that eager to get out there and run. I finally made it to my favorite trailhead around 2:00 PM, when it had warmed up to a positively balmy 37. At least the sun was shining! I was wearing brand new trail running shoes. I don’t normally use trail running shoes on pavement, but it feels like a prudent choice for this time of year.

Sure enough, today I ran through both mud and ice, and I was very glad for the extra traction that those knobby trail shoes gave me!

I ran just over 6 miles, giving me 10 total for the year so far and putting me right on track for my goals.

Meanwhile CFL put his bike on his car rack today, drove to meet a friend, and rode 21 miles with him. Arggghhh! He’s ahead of me! The race is on.

I’ll try not to bore you with too-frequent status updates, but I will try to post periodic updates on how we’re doing with our activity goals.

One mutual goal that we’ve discussed at some length and agreed upon as a “must do” this year is the hike across Olympic National Park — 44 miles of steep trails and stream fords from the Quinault River to the Elwha River. With training we think it’s realistic to do this in three days. As I have never done an overnight backpack trip before, there will be quite a bit of training needed on my part.

Of course we also have this time-consuming but very enjoyable goal of brewing 25 batches of beer in 2013. I think it’s going to be a busy year. But I’m not going to stress out about it.

In fact, right now I think I’ll relax and have a homebrew. Cheers!

Up the Elwha!

Before I dash off into writing about our gentle autumn weather here, let me pause and say that I am thinking good thoughts for friends and former co-workers affected by Sandy.

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The other day we returned to one of our favorite areas to hike: the Elwha River watershed. We caught a brief respite from our two weeks of drizzle and managed to hike for five hours through a rain forest without getting wet! Although we never saw the sun, it was a glorious day.

There are two main trails in this area, both of which eventually cross a bridge and head far up into the mountains. On this trip, we took the trail that we did not take on our most recent hike up the Elwha.

The aptly-named big-leaf maples showered the trail with foot-wide, golden leaves.

Besides the maples, the trees in this forest are mostly conifers… Douglas fir, Western red cedar, hemlocks, and others. The understory is lush with ferns, salal, and in some places an inches-thick layer of moss. The ferns are beginning to fade, mostly turning brown but in a few places ghostly white.

One deciduous tree stood out with its graceful slim leaves that glowed pinkish orange. I’m not sure but I think this may be a Pacific dogwood.

Up close, the forest revealed another set of delights. Here is a patch of lung liverwort (sort of a giant moss) clinging to a boulder.

I had to look closely to spot this interesting specimen. I believe it is a variety of coral fungus.

Despite all of the fabulous photo ops we did manage to actually hike to somewhere. Our turnaround point was Lillian Camp, almost five miles up the trail, on the Lillian River just above its confluence with the Elwha. I want to camp here someday — imagine going to sleep under the trees with the sound of the river close by!

The trail crosses a bridge over the Lillian River here, and you know what that means — bridge inspection! The bridge itself is humble, but I love the diagonals in this view — they pull me in and make me want to hike further… maybe on a long summer day next year?

The view of the river from the bridge is nothing short of idyllic.

I was taken by the leaves on that boulder in the foreground, and the water rushing around the boulder. It’s tough to photograph moving water in low light without a tripod, but I did my best to balance myself against a bridge post. Not so bad for hand-held?

We lingered at Lillian Camp for half an hour, but as the sky began to darken we knew we needed to start back if we hoped to beat the rain and sundown. That didn’t stop me from taking a few more photos of those glorious autumn leaves… they’ll all come down overnight as soon as we get the big windstorm that always seems to come this time of year. But until then, this is a place to be enjoyed and savored. I’m privileged and proud to live here.

After a perfect autumn hike, we celebrated with a homebrew. Our “Angeles Porter” exceeded our expectations and we’ll be brewing this recipe again. Its creamy-sweet maltiness is, I confess, easy to drink and tough to resist. Yum!!!

The next batch of homebrew after the porter is an English style Extra Special Bitter (ESB) — think Bass Ale. “Bass” makes me think of “fish,” and of salmon swimming upstream — up the newly-freed Elwha past the old dams now coming down. I’ve named this beer “Up the Elwha ESB.” We’re bottling this weekend, so in a couple of weeks I hope to report to you that it’s as rich and heady as a hike up the Elwha on a crisp autumn day. Cheers!

Autumn Reflections

Even though CFL and I are dedicated to the slow happy life, sometimes we still need to remind ourselves to slow down and look closely. The other day we walked a trail that I usually run. We stopped on the bridge and spent a long time looking at the coho salmon in Morse Creek. I have lived here ten years and never before seen salmon at this location.

They huddled almost motionless here, about a mile upstream from the mouth of the stream. I’m not sure whether they were still adapting to their return to fresh water and would soon move further upstream, or whether this was at or near their final spawning destination and they were gathering strength for their last hurrah.

The light wasn’t right for photographing them in the water. However, to give you an idea of the scene, here is a similar view that I captured in Sitka, Alaska last summer. As I recall, these were pink salmon. The coho are a little darker than these.

I spent a long time trying without success to find an angle that would reduce the glare off the water and allow me to photograph the fish. But I just couldn’t get it to work.

Then suddenly I was struck by another view. This is what was hiding in plain sight, all the time I was trying to get the right shot of the fish.

As you go about your busy day today, I hope you take the time to slow down, pause, breathe, look closely… and reflect on the autumn beauty surrounding you.

Hiking up the Elwha River

Autumn is definitely coming here in the Pacific Northwest, after a late but glorious summer. There’s still no rain in the forecast, but the temperatures are dropping and the leaves have begun to turn colors. The other day I (LKS) wanted to take a long but easy hike to gently keep my muscles working during the time between the Rogue Run half marathon on 9/23 and the upcoming Victoria half marathon on 10/7. The complex of trails in the Elwha River watershed provided the perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy the natural beauty surrounding us in this place and time.

The trails are mostly level except for sections that lead down to and back up from the river’s edge. For a good part of the way, the trail we chose meanders through flat, open forest and mossy glades.

The maples were still in the early stages of their autumn glory, but everything was highlighted beautifully under the azure sky.

 

CFL had suggested that we hike as far as “the bridge,” which he’d seen once before, but I really had no idea what to expect. I soon learned that the bridge in question is a suspension bridge that crosses the Elwha at a point where the canyon becomes too deep for hikers to continue directly alongside the river. The first glimpse of it through the trees is not all that impressive.

Even the signs acknowledge that it’s quite human-scale as suspension bridges go.

It may not be the tallest or longest suspension bridge, but it fits its location perfectly. It gracefully and efficiently spans the river. We spent some time studying it, and CFL explained the structural engineering details to this non-architect. I’m still bemused at what it must have taken to build it here. All that steel had to be hauled three and a half miles up a narrow trail, from a trailhead that is five miles up a steep, narrow dirt road that branches off a small road that is at least five miles off the highway, many miles out of town. Now here it sits on a lightly-traveled trail that most people will never see. This bridge is now one of my favorite places.

From this angle, it’s clear why hikers are forced to cross the river at this point — there is nowhere else to go!

In a couple of weeks, once my last half marathon of 2012 is behind me, I’d like to go back — get an earlier start and continue up the trail beyond this bridge. The other side beckons.

The big news about the Elwha is the ongoing removal of the two dams downstream, but up here the Elwha has always run free and the bridges are humble. What an extraordinary privilege it is to be in this place!