Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Grand Gallivant: Fruit, Kayaking, and Old Friends

Playing a piano painted like a raccoon that sits outside the visitors center at Powell Butte Nature Area. Because of course.

The past couple weeks have mostly consisted of downtime. We’ve taken a lot of walks and hikes, finished the Tour de France (congrats Chris Froome!), and spent a lot of our days just hanging out with family and each other. Sometimes I feel guilty for how much time we’re taking off, but I also remind myself that spending time with family is important (I feel like this is the topic of a whole other blog post). 

Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Powell Butte again
It's just so cute...
Welcome to the Rose Garden!
Walking along the Columbia River

In the meantime, the notable highlights include day trips around the Portland area: we’ve made time to visit Sauvie Island and the “Fruit Loop” near Hood River, where u-pick options abound. We picked twelve pints of raspberries and blueberries one day, and a huge mess of regina cherries another. I love fruit!

One day we went on a family excursion (Zach, me, Gary, Ivy, Heather, and long-time family friend Shannon) to the Columbia Gorge, where we ate delicious pizza and ended up renting kayaks. I was a bit nervous going out on such a huge river, but we made it safely to a little island, picked wild blackberries that were juicy and sun-warmed, and floated back without incident, despite a fierce wind.

Last Friday, Zach and I took a day trip to Seaside, Oregon, to visit a couple who I had met on my very first solo trip, eight years ago. Kim and Steve met me at a hostel on San Juan Island when I was 20, and fed me delicious dinners, drove me to different destinations on the island, and generally made me feel at home. It was great to see their house in Seaside, and we picked up right where they left off. They drove us up to Astoria, where we explored the remains of a WWII fort, ate lunch at a brewery that’s inside the old Bumblebee Tuna cannery (lots of cool old equipment), visited the Astoria Column (a tower with a spiral staircase inside that gives you an amazing 360 view of the land and sea around you), walked along the beach in Seaside watching the sand fiddlers (mole crabs), and ate shrimp and potato salad for dinner. I’m so happy we got to reconnect with Kim and Steve, courtesy of the magic of staying in touch with Facebook! Zach and I drove home in high spirits, blasting Jonathan Coulton’s new album Solid State all the way (I don't think it's as good as Artificial Heart, but I love the high-concept story behind it and several of the songs are excellent). 

Inside the old cannery
View from the Astoria Column

Now today we’re in a flurry of packing— tomorrow afternoon we’re heading toward Walupt Lake, Washington for a weekend of volunteering on the Pacific Crest Trail. We’ve been wanting to do this for years, and I’m so excited to lend a hand to help out the trail that has given us so much. I’ll let you know how it goes!


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Grand Gallivant: Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

Last week was apparently the week of rainforests. A few days after our return from Olympic National Park, we (Gary, Zach and I) decided to take a day hike at Silver Falls State Park, which turns out is classified as a rainforest, just like Olympic. Who knew?

Silver Falls is about an hour and a half drive from Portland, at the end of a tangle of winding backroads that led us through countryside that actually reminded me a lot of Missouri, just with more blueberry/marionberry stands. We pulled up at the South Falls trailhead late morning— it’s a $5 day use fee to park anywhere, and this trailhead has a cafe and bathrooms. We planned to piece together a loop called The Trail of Ten Falls, although it ended up being the Trail of Nine Falls because we skipped one of the spur trails. The loop was about seven miles long, which we hiked clockwise.

See the people for scale

If you live in the Portland area, I can’t recommend this trail highly enough as a day trip. The forest is as gorgeous as you expect any Oregon forest to be, the waterfalls are beautiful and the volcanic rock formations— whether the black-rocked stream bottoms or the huge overhanging caverns— took my breath away. The trail is easy and has lots of shortcut loops, and offers both scenic views and behind-the-falls perspectives. Rainforests are cool!


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Grand Gallivant: Enchanted Valley, Olympic NP

Standing at the roots of a fallen tree

After a few days of hanging out in Portland, on July 13th it was time to take to the road again, and this time, Gary, Zach and I were headed to Olympic National Park for a couple days of backpacking! Although we’ve camped a lot on this trip, we haven’t backpacked at all since our Katy Trail trip last year, so getting our gear and food in order took a while. But at last we were off, heading toward the Olympic peninsula and its legendary temperate rain forests that I’ve wanted to visit since I first heard of them years ago.

Three hours later, we checked in to the Quinault Ranger Station to get backcountry permits and rent bear canisters ($32 for Zach and me for three days). It was another hour drive up a dusty road to our destination, with the Quinault River shimmering on our left, and a dense thicket of ferns and conifers on our right. I later learned that the whole valley is classified as rainforest, although in the dry summer weather it just looked like a larger-than-life version of all Pacific Northwest forests. 

The trailhead for Enchanted Valley was stuffed, but once we crossed a high wooden bridge to the actual trail, the people thinned out and we walked mostly alone. The path rose and fell steadily, allowing us plenty of energy to take in the surroundings. As I said, the rainforest wasn’t too different from any of the mossy forests you see around the area— big-leafed maples spattered between stands of spruce, pine, and cedar, with every branch and trunk carpeted in moss with sprouting ferns; banana slugs oozing across the trail; a blanket of ferns and sorrel on the damp earth; huge rotting “nurse logs” that provide the perfect potting soil for new trees— but in this place, everything was on an epic scale. Some of the trees rivaled the redwoods for girth, and towered so far over our heads that with my backpack on, I sometimes couldn’t crane my neck far enough to see the tops. The air was cool and damp, and the chatter of the Quinault River accompanied us as we hiked up and away from its banks, then back down toward it. It thundered through a slot canyon and galloped over wide pebbly bottomlands, glimmering blue with glacial melt.

I had never seen a maple so big!

We had gotten a late start, so it wasn’t a stretch to stop at the O’Neil River backcountry campground that night, 6.6 miles in. It was packed with people, but we found a nice couple of women who let us camp next to them in a little nook away from the river. Mosquitoes swarmed around us, and we huddled in the smoke of our neighbors’ campfire, chatting. 

I felt exhausted that night, and would’ve gone right to sleep, but as I was doing so, I felt a wave of queasiness. Soon it turned into a full-blown stomach flu of some sort, complete with cramps, chills, uncontrollable trembling, nausea, and diarrhea (fortunately the campground had a small and very smelly pit toilet. I spent some quality time there). Lying in the tent during a lull in the nausea, I stared up at the stars and tried to soothe myself. It could be worse, it definitely could be worse... 

After several hours of fitful napping, I finally got to sleep as the stars were starting to fade. Surprisingly, I woke up a few hours later feeling reasonably fine, aside from not wanting to eat anything. I still don’t know what that was all about.

We didn’t start hiking until almost noon our second day, since we only had 6.5 miles to go. I had thought this would be a breeze, but my period had begun the day before, and today it hit me in earnest. The miles were easy, meandering through both rainforest and a kind of savannah spotted with maples, but it was all I could do to walk them. At last we crossed the narrow one-railing bridge that spanned high across the river (I inched my way across, muttering soothing phrases to myself the whole way), and found ourselves at last in Enchanted Valley.

The view from our tent.

This valley definitely lives up to its name: a wall of gray mountains rose up to our left, a jagged snow-dotted ridge probably a thousand feet above, with glacial waterfalls trickling down between the firs. The glassy river rambled down from the fold in the hills ahead, where we glimpsed a snowy peak between the gray wall to our left and the pine-covered hills to our right. Although more than a dozen people were camping here tonight, the valley was wide and open, with lots of campsites scattered among the grass. We set up in a flat spot looking straight toward one of the distant waterfalls. Exhausted and cramping, I collapsed on my sleeping pad and didn’t get up for a while.

That night, after some tuna wraps for dinner, I crawled into the tent at 8:00 and went right to sleep. I woke up later, when the stars were out in full force, and laid awake with cramps for probably an hour. Despite the discomfort, I loved watching the stars— you could see the Milky Way even through the mesh, and I watched Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) wheel slowly behind the ridge of mountains.

The next morning, we woke up early (the sun had barely touched the ridge in front of us), packed up in the dew, and headed back toward the trailhead. I was feeling a bit better today (although still pretty sore), and the miles flew by under our feet as we hiked back through the gorgeous scenery. Six hours later we rolled up to our car, and started back toward the blessings of civilization.

Long story short? The Enchanted Valley hike was an incredible cross-section of the rainforest ecosystem. It’s a great, easy trail with a lot of rewarding views, especially at Enchanted Valley. I sincerely wish that the timing had been better so I could’ve enjoyed it more, but even so, it was well worth the effort.

If you decide to hike Enchanted Valley, I’d suggest not camping at O’Neil Creek, but at one of the many random sites scattered along the river (you won’t get access to a pit toilet, but unless you get stomach flu, you’re better off digging a cathole anyway). But definitely plan to camp at Enchanted Valley— it’s one of the most scenic places I’ve ever pitched a tent.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Grand Gallivant: Humbug Mountain

Birthday portrait: how I look when I've just turned 28, I haven't brushed my hair yet, and Zach makes me laugh

Our drive down to Humbug Mountain State Park on July 7th took a few hours, but when our car popped out of the woods onto a cliffside that overlooked the ocean, all three of us gasped— huge dark rocks jutted from the ocean, covered in seabirds, and the ocean glittered so brightly in the sun, it looked like it was made of molten silver. So we came to Humbug Mountain State Park late afternoon. We set up at a nondescript campsite and walked a couple minutes to the beach. A stream babbled toward the sea, hit a sand dune, and curved off to the far left, creating a little peninsula of sand. The rest of the beach was cradled between two jagged rock outcroppings less than a mile apart, and wind howled over us as we strolled down the golden beach.

We took a couple beach walks that night, first with Gary, then with Ivy and Heather. We tried to watch the sunset from a sandy alcove along the dunes, but the sun sank into the clouds before it touched the horizon, and we walked back to camp under a subtle pink sky. 

It was our last night of camping, and we stayed up late huddled around the fire, eating too many marshmallows, and debating about the ethics of Batman.

Zach and I woke up at seven the next morning to catch the low tide. It was July 8th, my 28th birthday, and I wanted to begin the day with a beach walk. Without even brushing my hair or eating breakfast, we set out.

The wind had died down on the beach, and the rocks that had barely been jutting out yesterday were exposed down to their anemone-clad roots. We poked around a maze of kelp-drenched tidepools, spotting starfish both purple and orange, huge seagreen anemones, little crabs scuttling out of the way, and thousands of barnacles, clams, and limpets. Two wading birds with long red beaks, called black oystercatchers, whistled at us and wheeled off, and we also spotted a murre (which looks like a smaller, sleeker penguin, capable of both swimming and flying) floating in the waves, and some pigeon guillemots (pigeon-sized black and white birds with red feet) flapping overhead. Having visited the Atlantic far much more than the Pacific, I’m used to seeing the sun rise over the ocean, but here it rose over the mountains, pouring golden light onto the waves. 

Another birthday portrait: me being a model

As we walked, I felt perfectly at peace. I was happy it was my birthday; I was happy Zach was walking with me; I was happy to be at the beach. Ten years ago I never could’ve imagined this future for myself, but now that I was living it, I was incredibly grateful.

We packed up around noon, said goodbye to Ivy and Heather, and hit the road. The drive home was long, and I was so tired that I even slept a bit. That night, Gary took us out for Mexican food in honor of my birthday, and after four days of hot dogs, the burrito tasted absolutely amazing. It was a wonderful day.


The Grand Gallivant: Cape Kiwanda and Beverly Beach

Tidepools at Cape Kiwanda

After our hike at Cape Lookout, we headed down the coast toward our next campsite, Beverly Beach State Park. On the way, we stopped at Cape Kiwanda, and I realized that I had been here before with Zach, six years ago when we were dating:

Us then (early 2012)
Us now

We spent a couple hours exploring the tidepools (anemones and starfish!), walking down the sandy beach, and climbing the enormous sand dune (a hundred feet at least). This task is laborious as you wade through sand so soft that you’re basically swimming in it. The view at the top is pretty cool, though— we were able to look back at Cape Lookout in the distance. And running down is pure magic: the sand breaks your fall, so you can bound down like a jackalope, and it feels like you’re flying!

Me at the top of the dune (Cape Lookout in the distance)
Heather and Ivy exploring the rocks

That evening, we arrived at Beverly Beach State Park and found a spacious campsite waiting for us. Ivy and Heather hadn’t arrived yet, so Zach, Gary and I took a walk on the beach to check it out. This beach was much longer and more open than Cape Lookout, and after a mile or two we came to a rock formation unlike any I’d seen before. The soft bank of rocks near the ocean had been carved into surreal shapes, but what was most amazing was a sheet of rocks that appeared to have melted together. I have no idea what might have caused this formation, so if you have any guesses, let me know!

It was another night of marshmallow-toasting and chatting, and Ivy convinced me to play Star Fluxx with them (even though I’d played Fluxx before and hated it, I discovered that if I just didn’t try to win I enjoyed it a lot more). We stayed up late in the glow of our headlamps playing cards and laughing.

Our destination for the next day was Humbug Mountain State Park, but on our way there, Gary, Zach and I decided to stop at the Oregon Coast Aquarium (formerly known as the Newport Aquarium). The entry fee is steep (especially for a St. Louisan like me who’s used to everything being free), but it is an excellent aquarium with several unique exhibits, like the walk-through shark tank and the seabird aviary. We even got to see the sea otters getting fed, which was adorable beyond all reason.

Although it’s not quite as showy as Cape Lookout, Beverly Beach State Park is beautiful, and it’s close enough to Newport to be a great home base for visiting that tourist town. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend it!


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Grand Gallivant: Cape Lookout

After our hike up King’s Mountain and lunch at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, it was time to find our campsite at Cape Lookout State Park. It turned out to be a small site, but it made up for it with the massive trees on its edges that stood on tiptoe with gnarly roots, the fern-washed forests around, and the one-minute walk to a gorgeous beach. All this for just $21 a night!

The weather was cold and damp, and dark clouds hung low, but we grabbed our coats and headed to the beach. We walked up and down the gray sand, watching the silver waves crash in with the tide, a crab ward off some seagulls then bury itself in the sand, and cormorants dive through the silver foam.

Cute grumpy crab!

Ivy and Heather met up with us, and we spent the night grilling food, toasting marshmallows, and chatting around the fire. (Car camping is the best.)

The next morning, Zach, Gary and I took a walk on the beach when the tide was lower, and discovered streams running into the sea, sand fiddlers by the hundreds (including a pool that was full of baby sand fiddlers), and rock faces covered in acorn barnacles, limpets, clams, and even the occasional anemone.

Gary and Zach

Tiny sand fiddlers (I think)

Later that morning, after we’d packed up, we drove to the actual cape (side note: for my entire life I thought “cape” referred to a body of water similar to a bay, rather than a small peninsula into the sea. Mind blown). We took a five-mile out-and-back trail, but this one had very little elevation gain, so it was a leisurely stroll through the thickets of berries and ferns, with glimpses of the ocean down the steep 800-foot tree-clad cliff to our left. The view of the ocean, seen from this far up, was staggering.

In short, if you’re ever in the Portland area, I highly recommend that you check out Cape Lookout State Park. The campground is excellent and the views can’t be beat!