Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful for Texas Road Tripping and 20 Years of Friendship

Lindsey's birthday is two days before mine in early April, and we celebrated together all through high school and college, starting when we were 14. We've lived in different cities ever since 2005 so it's been more rare to be together, but this year we realized that we were coming up on 20 years of friendship.
"Did you know there are mountains in West Texas?" Lindsey asked. And just like that, a joint birthday road trip was born. I flew down to her place in Austin in late March, and we signed off from work, loaded up the car with provisions, and took off driving west on open road for hundreds of miles.
Our destination was Big Bend National Park which borders Mexico in West Texas. Never heard of it? I hadn't either. That's probably because (according to Wikipedia) "Big Bend is one of the largest, most remote, and least-visited national parks in the lower 48 United States. In recent years, only 300,000–350,000 visitors have entered the park annually."

It makes sense that it's not heavily visited because it's not really near anything. It's a haul from any direction to get there, but it's easy to spot on a map. See the big bend in the Rio Grande with the green park around it?
On our way to Big Bend, we stopped for a night in the desert art town of Marfa. It's a one-of-a-kind place that's hard to describe, but this fascinating, in-depth Vanity Fair article from 2012 is a good start. The sub-title says: The tiny West Texas border town of Marfa is 200 miles from anywhere, but after the late minimalist artist Donald Judd acquired dozens of its buildings, filling them with everything from Rembrandts to light sculptures, art-world pioneers and pilgrims made it their playground. Sean Wilsey and Daphne Beal channel the mix of tumbleweeds, talent, and iconoclasm that is key to Marfa’s mystique.
We drank cocktails in the courtyard of a fancy bar, happy to stretch our legs in the warm afternoon sun after the 450-mile drive. We walked around town and checked out some art before grabbing dinner. When night hit, we drove nine miles out of town to try to see the Marfa lights, unexplained orbs of light that have been seen in that area since the 1800s. There is an official viewing area and we saw them, balls of yellow and red in the dark desert, rising up from the ground and disappearing. Lindsey found it underwhelming but I thought it was crazy.
Train tracks in Marfa, Texas
It rained that night but cleared up by late the next morning. We veered south, stopping in the mining ghost town of Terlingua just outside the national park.
Ruins in Terlingua
Then we made it to Big Bend! It's the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States and the only national park with a whole mountain range (the Chisos) inside.
We drove to the Chisos Basin, a bowl valley that is a gateway to the heart of the mountain range, and backpacked in a few miles. The next day, we hiked up to Emory Peak, the highest point in the park at 7,825 feet. It's the 13th highest peak in the state and the most prominent peak in Texas.

On the Emory Peak trail

View from the top of Emory Peak

Hiking out of our campsite
The next day we drove to the far southeastern corner of the park to check out a hot spring right on the Rio Grande. Or rather, in the Rio Grande. There are rocks sectioning off the hot pool, and the water surface is probably two feet above the river, but you're essentially sitting in the river with Mexico 20 feet away.
Natural hot spring in the Rio Grande
We had a lot of time together in the car to talk, nap, watch scenery whiz by, and listen to music. We mostly listened to Texan singer/songwriters, but also had to play Car by Built to Spill in homage to a drive Lindsey and I took in 2000 to the Lake Wenatchee area right after graduating high school.

You get the car
I'll get the night off
You'll get the chance
to take the world apart
and figure out
how it works.
Don't let me know
what you find out.

We talked about the last 20 years, especially the last 5where we are now and all the things we couldn't have predicted for ourselves or for friends and family. There had been many hardships, like dealing with heartbreak, career struggles, traumatic brain injury, cancer, miscarriage, divorce. And there had also been so much beauty and joy. Lindsey was getting married in a few months, and had found a home in the unlikely state of Texas. Friends were starting families and businesses and buying homes and going to grad school. I had done a lot of things professionally and personally that I was passionate about and that made me really happy. We both worked at jobs that we enjoyed and where our skills were put to use and appreciated.

It was serendipitous that a good mutual friend called in the first hour of our road trip, just was we were getting into the heart of the hill country outside of Austin. We put him on speaker phone and he told us big news: after years of writing in his spare time, looking for a literary agent, and sending his book to publishers, he had just gotten his first book deal from a major publisher. And not just for the one book, but a sequel that wasn't even written yet. Lindsey and I both got teary immediately, and I had to make an extra effort to focus on the road, grinning and bleary-eyed and feeling overwhelmingly proud of him. We had believed in him, and it was like an affirmation of so many other things: love the heck out of your friends and keep trusting in what you know to be true and don't get discouraged as you plunge into the unknown. It was a reminder that the good will come, even if it takes years and wrenching disappointments and strength you didn't know you had. 
Looking into Mexico at the Chihuahua Mountains 
It was pretty much the best birthday ever. Cheers to another 20 years of friendship, and countless other things to be grateful for.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Quick Trip to Mendocino County, CA

In September I spent a long weekend in California to visit a friend and attend a mutual friend's wedding together. On Friday I flew into Santa Rosa, just north of the Bay area, an airport experience that I highly recommend.

At Sea-Tac you walk onto the tarmac to board, which goes really fast since you can board on the front or back of the aircraft. Your "carry-on" goes onto a cart on the side of the plane to get loaded underneath, since the overhead bins are tiny. Then there is complimentary beer and wine. When I asked the flight attendant if there was Wi-Fi, she smiled sympathetically and said, "Um, no, hon." The time from when the plane touched down in Santa Rosa to me being outside in the pickup area was about six minutes.

Eli picked me up and we drove through the golden hills of Mendocino county to her house in the little city of Ukiah. On Saturday morning we had some time before the wedding, so Eli took me hiking near Lake Mendocino in the pleasant late-summer heat.
Eli and her husband are commercial bee keepers and sell their honey locally. We stopped by the farmer's market and I got to see their vendor's booth.
Then we hit the road to drive to the tiny coastal town of Elk.
On the way to the coast we drove through Anderson Valley, which is know for its pinot noir grapes. I wanted to stop at Anderson Valley Brewing Company because I really love their sour beers that get distributed up north, but unfortunately we didn't have time. We did have time to stop to taste some pinot noirs, which I especially appreciated since Eli was five months pregnant and not drinking.
It's a good friend who takes you wine
tasting when she's not even drinking
After Anderson Valley, we drove through an awe-inspiring forest of Redwoods along the Navarro River. It was clear, hot, and sunny, probably in the 80s. As soon as we crossed the river to pick up Highway 1, we definitively entered a coastal micro-climate; it was thick fog and the temperature dropped about 25 degrees. The ceremony was on a small hill above a barn right on the coast, and it should have had a stunning view of the ocean. It was completely foggy but incredibly beautiful in a mysterious, ambient way.
The bride walked down the aisle to a Talking Heads song, and the ceremony was heartfelt and lovely. The reception was in a big wooden barn, complete with vintage furniture, a big fire pit, yard games, and signature cocktails.
With Eli: awesome friend and fabulous +1

Friends and family giving toasts
The next day we stopped for breakfast at Queenie's Roadhouse, and I ate possibly the best huevos rancheros of my life. Then we ventured up the coast to explore the town of Mendocino.
It was still foggy, so we drank hot chocolate, checked out cute shops with local goods, wandered around the headlands over the beach, and then drove back to Ukiah... where it was as hot and sunny as we had left it. We had a mellow, post-wedding recovery day of hanging out. I read on the deck and ate fresh figs off their tree while Eli's husband harvested grapes from the yard. Then Eli whipped up a delicious dinner and I got ready to fly home on Monday.

Big congrats to Adam and Ashley, and big thanks to Eli for the wonderful visit!

Friday, September 30, 2016

An Olympics Trek: Dodger Point Fire Lookout

Last weekend I headed out to the Olympic Peninsula in search of one of the most remote fire lookouts in Washington and the only one remaining in Olympic National Park. Here's how the pre-planning went:

Me, in June: I want to get out to Dodger Point later this summer!

Ranger: Cool! But there was a road washout on the road in that is impassible to cars. You have to park about six miles before the trailhead and either walk in or bike in.

Me, in August: Cool! I'll plan to take three days total and bike in to the trailhead before starting the 14-mile backpack.

Ranger: Actually, they just started repairing the road, so now it's completely closed to all public access until October.

Me: ...

Ranger, in September: Now the road is only being repaired on weekdays, and is open to foot traffic on Saturdays and Sundays.

Me, to two friends: Hey, you want to cover 40 miles in two days to get to this lookout?

Friends: We're gluttons for punishment. Sure!

So that's how Max, Gretchen, and I ended up loading three mountain bikes onto Max's tiny Scion xA before catching a Friday night ferry to Kingston. We stopped at my friend's house in Port Angeles to borrow a bear canister, and he and his partner graciously invited us in for a late dinner. We feasted on tacos, homebrew, and homemade cider before stopping by the Wilderness Information Center to self-issue backcountry permits. We needed to get an early start and wouldn't be able to get to the WIC during business hours. By the time we set up camp, it was nearly midnight.

Early Saturday morning we drove to the Madison Falls trailhead (where the road closure began) and hopped on our bikes. The first mile and half is flat along the paved Olympic Hot Springs Road, but then we turned onto the Whiskey Bend forest service road and begin climbing up, up, up on the gravel.
Biking in with packs on the Elwha River Road
It was a tiring but pleasant ride to the completely empty Whiskey Bend trailhead. We ate some snacks and locked up our bikes before starting the next leg of the trip. The trail runs high above the Elwha for a few miles before dropping you down to a large suspension bridge to cross the river. Then the gradual but steady climb begins, around 5000 feet over the next 10 miles.
Crossing the Elwha before the
climb up to Long Ridge

Hiking up through the trees and the mist
The forest is lovely, but it's looooong way through the trees. We occasionally caught glimpses to the east of Hurricane Ridge, and could even see the road. The trail was in decent condition, but there was a bit of debris and blowdowns to contend with.
Climbing over a big cedar that
smashed a little bridge
The long trail of switchbacks made it all the more rewarding when we finally broke out into the clearing of subalpine meadows. It was cloudy, but the clouds were high enough that we had great views of surrounding mountains, and it was a very comfortable temperature. We could see Mount Olympus, the Bailey Range, and numerous glaciers.
Enjoying the views from the subalpine slopes

Reaching our destination: Dodger Point lookout!
We made it to the lookout at 5750 feet in the early evening. It is closed to the public and used on an as-needed basis by the park service. We relished the view from top, sipped whiskey, and watched the clouds hint at pink before descending back a half mile to set up camp and make dinner.
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It rained on and off during the night, and we awoke to a thick fog. I was so happy that we had gotten nice views the day before. We fueled up on coffee, refilled water, and layered up to tromp through the wet, dense salal and blueberry.
Starting the hike out

Mist in the Long Creek valley
It got steadily warmer and drier all morning, and by lunch time we were sitting in patches of hot sun, drying out our socks. In the last few miles of trail there is a small loop hike option, so we took the section that we hadn't taken on the way in. It passed by a couple homesteader cabins from the turn of the century. They are a little grimy but sturdy and in good condition. And the highlight? You can barely see it, but in front of this cabin is an apple tree. It had little apples on it and I enjoyed one with delight, as it's not often you get to eat decades old apples from a historic homestead in the middle of a national park. And with not a single other person to be seen. We hadn't passed anyone in two days.
Turn of the century homesteader cabin
We thoroughly enjoyed the downhill of the bike ride out, though on the slightest bit of uphill, my quads were screaming. We made it back to the car in one piece, and stopped on the way to the ferry to wolf down dinner. I wish we had been able to spend more time there, and just soak in that part of the Olympic backcountry without having to hike out immediately. It was a ton of ground to cover in just over 48 hours, and I hobbled up my stairs and into a hot shower in contented exhaustion.

Friday, September 2, 2016

An Outdoor, Offline August

I had the privilege and pleasure of taking the month of August off from my day job to finish a bunch of hiking research for a side project that I'm working on. It was productive, exhausting, and a total blast. I did some day hikes and a handful of two- and three-day backpacking trips. In northern Washington I went west to Orcas Island and east as far as Tonasket, as far south as the Columbia River, and many spots in between.
Three-day trip up the Suiattle River to Miner's Ridge,
with views of Glacier Peak
Spotted many grouse, especially in eastern Washington

Went over the Entiat River Valley for my first time.
So pretty over there!

Sometimes I hiked solo, and sometimes with friends.
Did an overnight and two day hikes with Alice!
View from Monument 83 in the Pasayten Wilderness
On the days in between hiking, I came back to Seattle to do laundry, grocery shop, eat a big salad, repack, and catch up on city life.
I got to hang with a couple of
my sweet little nieces.
Elliot Bay sail boat race with friends.
Work team building event--sailing cruise!
Swam in Lake Washington on a
warm night as the sun set, then
watched the moon rise over the water.
I'm sad that the month of playing outside is over, but I'm slowly getting used to the idea of fall being here. Happy September!

Friday, August 5, 2016

This Digital Content Writer Goes Analog

I love my job as a digital content marketing writer. It's been more than two and a half years, and I'm grateful every day to go to the office, dive into the work, be around brilliant coworkers, and challenge myself.

But all my work happens online: case studies, infographics, e-books. It's rare that anything gets printed. My whole day involves being inside a building and looking at a computer screen. I gaze briefly out the window at the wind rustling the trees, the waves on Puget Sound, the burning sunsetsand then return to my screen. My brain thrives on the research and writing, but my body wants to interact with something more concrete and organic.
Image from here
Friends, I'm taking a break from my regular digital world to work on a side project that involves a lot of hiking. I'm signing off for a few weeks to spent time in the Cascade mountains, be outside, quiet my mind, and thoroughly tire out my body.
Love this little dish. Thanks, Tena!
I'm looking forward to thinking about trails, plants, and wildlife instead of the typical jargon of technology marking. The only gated content I'll consider is when there is a physical gate, blocking a forest service road. My integrated solution will be mixing my packets of Via and hot chocolate. The only bandwidth I'll ponder is the thickness of my backpack straps.

I will continually optimize my strategy for navigating scree fields. My real-time data analysis will including looking around at, you know, everything I can see right there in real time. My powerful tool for improving decision-making will be checking the weather forecast. My legacy solution will be my old tent that I've been meaning to upgrade for years. My centralizing of data will be putting maps and a compass in the same Ziploc bag.
Goodbye message from coworker. Thanks, Mia!
I will be filled with glee over the intuitive and user-friendly interface of my backpack. The only dashboard view will be the one in my car. My workflow steps will involve a boot hitting a dirt trail. My simplified information storage and retrieval procedures will involve keeping things in the lid of my backpack. I will marvel at the seamless intereroperation of my pocket rocket stove and its gas canister. The only cloud storage that matters will be the amount of moisture in the ones overhead. And the only omnichannel solution I'll leverage is to capture a vista with my eyeballs, binoculars, and camera.
I'll take notes on paper, sing instead of listening to digital music player, and wake up with the sunrise instead of an alarm. I hope you have a fabulous and fun August, and do whatever feels summery and relaxing to you. Catch you on the flipside!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Methow Valley: Hiking and Visiting an Earthship

I was 18 the first time I went to the Methow Valley, and it was also my first time hiking in the North Cascades and staying in an Earthship home. I went back a couple times in college, and earlier in July had the chance to go again. I packed a three-day weekend to the brim, starting with hiking by myself near Mazama, Winthrop, and Okanogan.
First Butte fire lookout near Winthrop

Hiking views

Woke up to a double rainbow while camping, around 5:30 a.m.

Morning light driving east on Highway 20
Hiking in the Okanogan National Forest is different from being on the west side of the mountains because there is a lot of grazing cattle. I would see a black mass in the trees and think it was a black bear, only to realize it was a cow. I also saw a ton of deer on the forest service roads.
Part two of the trip was meeting up with my dear friend Lindsey to visit her family friends at their Earthship home near Carlton, in the southeastern part of the Methow, where she took me when I was 18. What's an Earthship, you ask? It's a type of sustainable, green building that is partially built from recycled materials, uses passive solar, uses its own greywater, among many other things. Check out The website talks about Earthship homes addressing these five areas:

Water: From the sky (rain & snow melt). Uses it four times.
Electricity: From the sun and the wind stored in batteries and supplied to your electrical outlets via a prepackaged power system.
Sewage Treatment: Indoor and outdoor treatment cells contain, use and reuse all household sewage (greywater and blackwater). Use any kind of flush toilet.
Comfort in Any Climate: From only the sun and the earth. Maintain comfortable temperatures all year with no fossil fuels.
Food: Healthy and free, grown from interior and exterior botanical cells. All plants are highly functional and play a direct role in taking care of you.
In front of the Earthship entrance
with Lindsey in 2003
Staying at the beautiful, off-grid home with awesome hosts as a high school student was very influential for me. It was a springboard that got me interested in sustainability, permaculture, green buildings, and farming when I got to college.
Lindsey now lives in Austin, so it was doubly great to see her in the Methow. We hung out on the shady patio, drank wine, read, ate veggies from the garden, and slept in the yard near the chickens.
Big thanks to our hosts for having us!