One Last Day In Seattle: A Happy Ending

We had come to the end of our time in Washington. It had been an epic two weeks. We’d kayaked, hiked, camped, and road tripped our way through some of the most beautiful wilderness we’d ever seen, but there were still a few things we wanted to do before our Ladycation was over.

Our flight out of Seattle departed at 10:30pm so we had the entire day to explore. We had some things we still wanted to see, but after hiking over 85 miles, what we really wanted was breakfast and a massage.IMG_3935

We checked out of our hotel and headed to Portage Bay Cafe. If you’re ever in Seattle this should be your number one destination for breakfast. Holy deliciousness. Everything is made with locally sourced, natural ingredients, and it’s all incredible. I have never seen such enormous pancakes in all my life, but the best part was the bar. I don’t mean booze, I mean the bar with all the toppings you could ever dream of putting on your pancakes: fruits, nuts, berries, fresh, homemade whipped cream; it was breakfast paradise (did I mention the bacon was also amazing?). We loaded our plates and savored every last bite until we felt like we were going to burst. It was like Thanksgiving; you know you’re full, but the food is so plentiful, and it tastes so good, that you can’t stop shoveling it in your face. It definitely ranks among the best meals I’ve ever had. It was that good. We had to wait over an hour to get a table, and it was absolutely worth the wait.IMG_3948

We hadn’t found a spa in the area with availability (and we really needed some time to digest our meal) so we decided to head to our next destination: Chateau Ste Michelle, maker of one of my favorite wines (their late harvest Riesling is the bomb). The grounds were beautifully manicured, with a large estate and separate building for tastings and purchasing merchandise. There were families dotting the lawn having picnics, or just enjoying the sunshine and scenery. The women were what I imagine when someone says, “ladies who lunch,” so I felt a little out of place in my jeans, Red Hot Chili Peppers tee shirt, and flip flops. I also wasn’t nearly stoned enough, so the noisy throngs of people, and the extravagance of the estate were a little overwhelming. After going through the tasting rooms and deciding we didn’t want to wait in line for one, we went outside, away from the crowds, and walked among the grapevines; even tasting a few grapes before moving on.

Once we got back in the car Lindsey started calling spas again and finally found one with openings. It was tucked into the corner of a nondescript building occupied by random shops and offices. There was a tiny waiting area inside the door, with a tinier desk, and a couple of plastic chairs (normal sized). Everything was a weird pink color, like being inside a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and it smelled funky. I couldn’t quite identify what the smell was, but it seemed to be a combination of ass and pungent incense (an attempt, I presume, to cover the ass). We kind of looked at each other uneasily, both wondering what the hell we’d just gotten ourselves into.IMG_3965

A very friendly, petite, Asian woman came down the hallway to greet us, and quickly ushered us into our rooms. Minimalist would be a generous way to describe the decor of the room. It was sparse, random, and bordered on bizarre. There were silk roses glued to one wall, on the adjacent wall were bird decals like you’d expect to see in an old lady’s window; a table covered in various lotions and oils sat in one corner, a shabby chair in the other, with the massage table in the middle of the room. It was all a bit confusing and I stood there for a hot minute just trying to make sense of it all. I remember thinking, I’m not even remotely high enough for this.

After I’d undressed and was laying Naked and Afraid on the table in this strange, smelly, little pink room, my masseur came in. Like the woman who’d greeted us, she was petite, cheerful, and, I learned, Chinese. She asked what kind of massage I wanted, how much pressure I wanted, and then she got to work.IMG_3962

I’m not going to say it was a bad massage because it wasn’t . . . for the most part. At first it felt amazing. It was just . . . odd. She kept massaging my bones like she thought they were knots in the muscle–which wasn’t particularly enjoyable–but when she did find the muscles it was fantastic.

Outside the room, this place was hoppin’. I heard at least a half dozen customers come in while I was there and, interestingly, they were all men. Their interactions seemed sort of off to me. Everyone was just a little too flirty and familiar. Sometime around Man #4, I had a disturbing feeling that I knew why this place seemed so strange. It wasn’t the funky smell or the weird decorations. We’d apparently stumbled upon the kind of massage parlor that caters to those wanting . . . uhh . . . release at the completion of the massage; a “happy ending,” if you will. It was all beginning to make sense.

At the end of my massage the masseur did the karate chop move–which I didn’t know was really a thing. I thought that only happened in the movies, so I was very confused. But there I was, getting chopped by this tiny woman, in this strange, little pink room in Seattle.

Just when I thought it was over (and, frankly, that it couldn’t get any weirder), she picked up my feet and let them fall to the table. Uh, okay, that was weird. Then she picked them up and let them fall again. What the actual f*ck is happening right now? When she did it a third time I couldn’t hold in my laughter any longer. What was she doing?! It was too much. When I laughed she sort of giggled, and said something I didn’t understand, before telling me to go ahead and get dressed on her way out the door.IMG_3972

I was still befuddled and cracking up when I walked into the lobby and saw Lindsey, who looked like she’d also had quite an interesting experience, waiting for me in one of the chairs. We were given little Chinese mints and sent on our way to ponder what had just happened. We both concluded we had come across an establishment better suited to men with a fetish, but we did feel relaxed, and we couldn’t stop laughing, so all in all it was a positive (albeit bizarre) experience.

It was late afternoon by then, but we still had some time to kill before finding a place for dinner and heading to the airport. We wanted to be outside. It was a beautiful day; our last few hours in the Pacific Northwest. Being inside wasn’t an option. We looked at our map to see what was nearby and found a park at a place called Cougar Mountain. It sort of seemed like destiny.IMG_3985

Cougar Mountain turned out to be mostly residential: beautiful, newer neighborhoods of modestly sized, charming houses on quiet, hilly streets. We parked the car and went for a walk on a short trail, then sat down to kill some time in the pavilion at the trailhead.

As we sat at the picnic table we were so full of gratitude and joy. We’d spent two weeks hiking on volcanoes and mountains, through ancient forests and along the ocean. We’d fallen in love with Washington, with backpacking, and rediscovered why we’d been best friends for a decade. It had been one of the most incredible experiences either one of us had ever had.

This trip transformed me. It’s much easier to get clarity and perspective when you completely disconnect from all the distractions of everyday life: work, family, social media, current events; it all makes the world seem so loud. Leaving it all behind, getting out into the peacefulness of nature for that long, is a truly therapeutic experience. My mind was clear and focused, and I felt an inner peace I’d forgotten was even attainable. It was like all the mental clutter had been washed away.

You know when you clean your house really well, light some candles, pour a glass of wine and put your feet up to admire your work (moms are less familiar with this phenomenon, but I promise you’ll get there)? The laundry is caught up, the bills are paid, the kitchen is full of groceries, and you get to just relax for a minute. That’s how my mind felt: simplified, organized, focused.

As sad as I was to leave, I felt centered. I went home knowing that travel would become a bigger part of my life. I started looking up new hiking trails, places I wanted to explore. Forest bathing is everything it’s cracked up to be, like spring cleaning for the soul. We knew this was only the beginning of our travels, and we couldn’t wait for our next Ladycation!

Huge thank you going out to everyone who’s stuck with me though this whole adventure. I value and appreciate each and every one of you. Though Lindsey and I’s Bestieversarycation has come to an end, I hope you’ll keep coming back for future Ladycation adventures. Next week begins the tale of my 40th birthday adventure trip: Arizona and the Grand Canyon! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

Seattle, The Last Hurrah: The Night Kevin Thought He Was Getting Lucky

Leaving Mount Rainier National Park was bittersweet. Though our bodies were fatigued from all our wilderness adventures, we’d loved every minute of it, and knowing our Ladycation was coming to an end was a little depressing.

Despite Lindsey’s blisters, the hike down the mountain went pretty quickly. All downhill this time, it took half as long as going up. And, as an added bonus, the view was improved by two incredibly sexy man-hikers we came upon, who were on their way up the mountain. We chatted with them for a couple minutes, and after what ended up being some very odd flirting that started to feel a little weird, we decided to move on. Sexiness only gets you so far, gentlemen. We continued on our way, made it to the car, and drove back to civilization.IMG_3856

We stopped at a little burger joint in Ashford, just outside the park for lunch, where we devoured our food before driving back to Seattle where we had a hotel room for our last night in Washington. Once we got checked in, our first order of business was to shower. Nothing beats that first shower after days in the wilderness. After we’d gotten clean and fresh it was time to get fancy and go out on the town. Lindsey and I’s ladycations are such a good representation of who we are: strong, beautiful, and active; dirty, natural, real, and sassy; occasionally fancy.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot more social when I’m on vacation than I am when I’m at home. I just like people more when I’m on vacay. A perfect example of this would be a trip I recently made to the gas station to get a pack of smokes. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t want to leave my house at all, but addiction’s a bitch, so I put my big girl pants on and got in the car. Once I got there an old, toothless, drunk woman in front of me in line wouldn’t stop talking. I assume it was a misguided attempt to seem sober (something she most definitely was not), but I really just wanted to get my smokes without having any actual human interaction.

This dirty, old, hot mess of a woman was talking the cashier’s ear off about her mother who’d died of brain cancer (9 years ago). “They gave her 2 months, she lived 2 years—and I mean she was up and walkin’ around, ya know? She was good. Those doctors don’t know anything.” I felt so bad for the cashier, who looked like she was in her own personal hell, but all I wanted to do was pay for my smokes and go home. Instead, this lady kept looking back at me while she talked, like she wanted to let me in on their conversation. No thanks, hard pass. I did everything I could to ignore her, including staring at the candy bars (I don’t even like candy bars) like I was trying to eat them with my eyes. I would’ve bought the whole damn rack of ’em to keep from talking to that broad.IMG_3861

Had I been on vacation, however, I would’ve had a much different reaction. Generally, I’m in a better mood when I’m traveling. If a stranger tries to talk to me while I’m in a new city, I jump at the chance. It’s a part of the experience. I should probably try to live everyday that way, but Cleveland. . .

We had dinner reservations at The Pink Door, and figured we’d just play it by ear after that. We arrived at the restaurant in an Uber whose driver dropped us off right by the door, despite there not being an actual street there, but an alley that was strictly for, and crawling with pedestrians. We certainly know how to make an entrance. After ordering a cocktail at the bar, we were seated on their outdoor patio. Although we were disappointed that we didn’t get to see the burlesque show, the food, atmosphere and service were perfecto.IMG_3869

Lindsey had heard from some friends about a bar at Pike Place Market, nearby the restaurant, so we walked over to check it out. Il Bistro is an easy-to-miss spot right outside the entrance to the market, sort of underneath it. It has a hip, almost speakeasy feel to it. Though they serve food, which we were told is fantastic, we arrived too late to order, and were still full from dinner anyway. We just wanted to get our drink on.

Once we sat at the bar the cute, young bartender came over for our drink orders. He was tall, sexy, and gave off a hip vibe that befit the establishment he was slinging drinks for. He just seemed to somehow go with the place. He was charming and gracious, no doubt because he knows that flirting is the best way to elicit tips from drunk women. I told him to make me something sweet, that I liked strawberry, and I have no idea what he made me, or what was in it, but it was freaking delicious, and very strong. He’s like the Walter White of bartenders: an artist.IMG_3877

There were all sorts of people in the bar. Because we were on vacation, and also because we were drunk by this point, we started chatting up the people around us. Lindsey was talking music with a guy in a baseball cap with a flat rim, and I got to know the couple next to me, Dirk and Andrew. We chatted and laughed and drank for hours with our new friends; Dapper Dan, smooth as hell, moving behind the bar like some sort of bartending ballerina (minus the tights). Lindsey wanted her drink carbonated and voila, Dan made it so. It felt like we were at the center of the activity, like our vibes were drawing people to us. We were having a fabulous time.IMG_3892

I noticed an attractive man sitting alone at a table near the bar. He was well dressed, in his late 30’s, with dark, salt and pepper hair, and a beard. We made eye contact a few times before I went over and sat down at his table. I’m not sure if he wanted that or not, but I’d had enough of Dan’s cocktails to not particularly care. I had become the drunk old woman in the gas station. Those in glass houses. . .

I introduced myself. He said his name was Kevin, that he’d just gotten off work, and wanted to have a nightcap before heading home. When I asked him what he did for a living and he told me he was a wine sommelier I decided meeting him was fate. I love wine, he knows wine. Destiny.IMG_3874

I chatted with Kevin for a while while Lindsey chatted with some of the other bar patrons until the bar was closing, and it looked like our night had to end. But we were still enjoying ourselves so we decided to simply move the party elsewhere.

We’d heard from one of the people in the bar about the Great Gum Wall of Seattle that was literally right around the corner. How I’d not read about it during my research is a mystery. Obviously we had to see it, so Kevin walked us there and Lindsey and I each added a piece of gum to the collection. At the time, we found it hysterically entertaining (in Cleveland I would’ve simply found it disgusting).IMG_3915

We’d planned on taking an Uber back to the hotel, but Kevin offered to give us a ride, and we were more than happy to take him up on it. I’m not 100% sure what Kevin’s expectations were, but going back to a hotel with two drunk women. . . I can guess. And although this guy was totally sexy, and my occasional irrational optimism causes me never to travel without condoms, once we got to the hotel, it just seemed weird.

Neither Lindsey or myself had any interest in getting nekkid, we were only interested in going to sleep. We hung out for maybe half an hour. We talked a little bit and smoked some weed, but without the noise and energy of the bar (and with our buzz fading), we were sort of ready to just go to bed. Being in that hotel room, staring at the empty beds, may potentially have put Kevin in the mood to get freaky, but we were looking at the beds like, I want to be so up in you. . . Alone.

Poor Kevin. He probably thought he was about to have a threesome, but ended up going home without so much as a peek at our boobs to put in his spank bank. Sorry not sorry, Kev, but thanks for the ride home and for being a gentleman. Despite his probable disappointment, it was a great memory to take home from our last night in Washington.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll come back again next week for LadycationSunday when Lindsey and I’s adventure concludes. Hint: It has a happy ending.

Follow Ladycations to stay up to date on my latest trips, tips, and tales. Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

A Hiker’s Guide to Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob (yes, Gobbler’s Knob)

Mount Rainier National Park is a must-see for any hiker. With over 370 square miles of pristine wilderness, breathtaking mountain views, alpine lakes, glaciers, and valleys to explore, it’s hard to decide where to begin. The good news is, you really can’t make a bad choice; it’s all spectacular.

If you’re looking for a long day hike, or weekend trip, Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob should be on your short list. As if being able to say you went to a place called Gobbler’s Knob isn’t enough, the views and the quiet solitude make this hike truly spectacular. Here’s what you need to know.

Mount Rainier National Park
The view from Gobbler’s Knob fire lookout tower

Reservations and Permits: While day hiking in Mount Rainier National Park does not require a permit, you will need to get a wilderness permit to do any overnight camping. Demand can be high, so it is recommended that you make a permit reservation in advance. The permits cost $20 per party and are good for up to 14 consecutive days. If your request is granted, you (the person requesting the permit) will need to pick it up at any Ranger Station or Wilderness Information Center before 10:00am on the day of your hike.

trail to lake george

Distance: The hike to Lake George is about 9 miles round trip. If you plan to continue on to Gobbler’s Knob (which you absolutely must because the view is out of this world) you can add an extra 3 miles, mostly switchbacks, to that. This hike can be done in a day, but I highly recommend taking the time to spend the night at Lake George to fully enjoy the this incredible piece of the Mount Rainier National Park.

Terrain: The first 3.5 miles of the trail is an old, gravel road that winds up the mountain. It is all uphill, so prepare your body in advance, as this is a rather strenuous hike for those who aren’t in shape. The last stretch is just under a mile, and begins at a poorly marked (at least while we were there) trailhead that leads through the forest to Lake George. It’s a steeper, but exponentially more beautiful climb, with views of Rainier through the trees.IMG_3624

Campsites: There are multiple campsites at Lake George, and a shelter, most of which overlook the peak of Mt. Rainier! They’re spread out fairly well, so unless the campground is full, you’ll have some privacy.

Campfires: Campfires are NOT allowed at such high elevations in Mt. Rainier National Park. Please don’t be the dick who ignores the rule and burns down the forest. Let’s keep our parks beautiful for everyone to enjoy.

Toilets: There are pit toilets in the campground. They’re exactly what you’d expect a National Park backcountry outhouse would be. Unpleasant, but not Sleepaway Camp unpleasant. If you’re planning on camping, I assume you’ve already accepted outhouses as a part of the experience.

Lake George

Water: Since the campground is located on the shore of a pristine alpine lake, water is easily accessible. Just make sure you have a water filter and/or purification tablets to make it safe to drink. Unless you want to spend a lot of time in the a-fore mentioned outhouse.

Food Storage: Bear canisters are required for overnight campers, and there are bear poles to hang food and scented items out of reach. Canisters can be borrowed at the Wilderness Information Center in Ashford for an optional, but much appreciated, and well deserved donation. Support our parks!

gobbler's knob fire lookout tower

Weather: Due to the elevation at Lake George the temperature is going to drop as you ascend the trail. When we left the parking area it was in the low-mid 80’s, but by the time we’d reached the campground, and were surrounded by trees providing abundant shade from the setting sun, the temperature was about 20 degrees cooler. At night, even in summer, it can dip into the low 30’s. Make sure you pack accordingly!

Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob are spectacular. I hope you add it to your list the next time you’re thinking of an outdoor adventure in the Pacific Northwest!

 

 

Hiking to Lake George at Mount Rainier NP: Boring to Beautiful, A Trail’s Tale

We almost wished we had another day to relax at the Time and Again Cabin. Alternating between bed and hot tub all day sounded pretty damn nice. But, Rainier was calling, and we couldn’t wait to get all up in her. (That’s what he said.) We had reservations to camp at Lake George for two nights. Although we reserved our site well in advance for fear of it filling up, we were one of only two parties in the entire campground.

trail to lake george

We checked in at the Wilderness Center in Ashford to pick up our wilderness pass and, with it in hand, drove to the trailhead. I use the term “trail” loosely because it’s actually an old, gravel access road snaking up the mountain. It’s not very scenic for the first four miles. Every once in a while you catch a glimpse of Rainier’s peak, but compared to the hiking in we’d done in Olympic National Park, it felt more tedious than anything. Our fatigue may have been a contributing factor to our overall opinion of the trail. Had this been our first hike of the trip, I think I’d be considerably more forgiving in my assessment.

After a seemingly endless, and all uphill hike, we reached the final stretch of trail, which is just shy of a mile from the campground at Lake George. Although much more scenic, it was also a steeper, more strenuous climb. When we finally reached the lake we were ready to drop. We quickly found a site with a gorgeous view and immediately set up camp. Lindsey’s blisters had gotten exponentially worse throughout the course of our adventures, our bodies were crying out for rest; we just wanted to be off our feet.IMG_3619

I’d begun the hike in a tech skort and tee, but the higher we climbed, the colder it got. Once in the shade of the forest at Lake George, my heart rate slowing down (and soaking wet with sweat), I was freezing. All I wanted to do was take off my skort, my big, clunky boots, and sweaty socks; put on warm, dry clothes, and smoke a damn cigarette. I’d taken off my boots and socks, put my sandals on, had lit a cigarette and was just about to finish pulling up my pants (a challenge with my sweat-sticky legs), when I realized I never took off my skort. I had to start all over. Total fail. I wanted to cry. Any illusions I had about my prowess and badassery from hiking up the mountain vanished in that moment. Call me Kendrick, cause I felt real damn humble.

Our campsite was perfect. As we ate our dinner we watched the sunset on Mount Rainier; the color of her mammoth, glacier-capped peak changing from gray to orange to red to purple, until the sun was gone and the sky filled with stars. So many stars. Between the enormity of Rainier, the pristine, turquoise water of Lake George, and the infinite stars in the sky, the trek to get there is totally worth it.

I have literally never been anywhere so quiet. It was surreal. The only sounds we could hear at night were the occasional chipmunk scurrying around, and the breeze as it passed through the trees. During the day it was just the breeze and the soft hum of insect wings. It was so peaceful that hearing the occasional hiker passing through was almost jarring. I guess we’d become more confident and comfortable with being alone in the wilderness, despite our nervousness when we began.IMG_3689

Fires aren’t allowed that high in elevation in Mt. Rainier National Park. It was cold–and I mean cold–once the sun went down. I had on fleece-lined long underwear and two pairs of yoga pants, three pairs of socks (one of which was wool), a tee shirt, long underwear shirt, long sleeve tee, and a hoodie. I was still freezing. Lindsey, however, is a genius, and she brought a bunch of those self-heating hand warmers. It kept my hands warm while we star gazed, and when I went to bed I threw it in the bottom of my sleeping bag, which kept my feet nice and toasty all night long. I definitely regretted not buying the cold weather sleeping bag and tent, though.IMG_3687

In the morning we woke to a frigid, see-your-breath kind of day, but the sun was shining and I was excited for our hike to Gobbler’s Knob (yes, Gobbler’s Knob. Insert dirty joke here). Lindsey’s feet, however, weren’t hiking anywhere. Her blisters were now deep, open sores that were weeping and raw. They were a little alarming, to be honest. She needed to let them rest. We were both afraid she wouldn’t make it off that mountain if she didn’t.IMG_3853

I hated leaving her there, and had a little trepidation at going it alone, but she insisted. She knew how excited I was to finally see the place I’d been reading about for months, and I couldn’t fathom not going. So, with Lindsey squared away at the campsite, I stopped at the lake to refill my water and headed up the trail to the summit, solo.IMG_3628

The first thing I remember on the trail was the field of wildflowers in a small valley before the ascent to the lookout tower. The ground was covered in white and yellow wildflowers, and the air was alive with the buzzing of hundreds of bees. I was a little freaked out at first. I walked cautiously, but I soon realized they didn’t even notice me. They were too busy to care about who was passing through. It was an unexpectedly delightful experience.

The climb up to Gobbler’s Knob is no joke (despite it’s name). It’s steep and can be a little disorienting if you’ve got an issue with heights (which I do). Looking out over the edge at the massive peak of Rainier is mind blowing. I got dizzy on the trail when she came into view, and had to focus on my footing so as not to fall. I was relieved to look up and finally see the fire lookout within sight.IMG_3767

When I emerged from the trail on top of the mountain and saw the view, it literally took my breath away. I don’t even know how to describe it. I was completely oblivious to anything around me except the majestic beauty of Mt. Rainier. “Holy shit.” It just escaped my mouth before I even knew I was speaking, startling even me. That’s when I heard the couple on the lookout tower, whose romantic moment I’d just interrupted, laughing. I jumped, realizing I wasn’t alone, and apologized while I tried to get my bearings. I felt unsteady, I was shaking, and my knees felt weak. The view was unlike anything I’d ever seen, but my body was in total preservation mode, “Danger! Flee!” I’ve got a really bizarre Bucket List for someone who’s afraid of heights.IMG_3771

I carefully walked up the steps to the lookout tower, my knees shaking so badly it made walking something of a challenge. I had this irrational fear that the railing would collapse, and I’d fall over the edge, plummeting to my death down the mountainside. Once I was up there I gripped the windowsill for dear life. I wanted a selfie with Rainier in the background to commemorate the moment, but I couldn’t let go of the windowsill, even to take the picture. If you look close enough you can see the fear in my eyes behind the elation.

Volcano Selfie

I wanted to take a million pictures, but my whole body was shaking, so I couldn’t hold my phone steady and only got a few decent shots. I sat down to have a smoke to calm my nerves. Back securely against the wall, and after some concentrated breathing exercises, I was able to relax and just revel in Rainier’s magnificence. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The only sound I could hear was the wind, which seemed to be her peak itself, whispering. I was transfixed, entranced, in absolute awe. Take me to church!

I was busting out my snack when I noticed the water filter in the side pocket of my pack. Oh shit. I had left Lindsey at Lake George with torn up feet and absolutely no water. Commencing panic in 3, 2, 1. . .

Mount Rainier

I frantically gathered my things, bolted down the tower steps, and hit the trail. Unlike my cautious hike up, the fear was gone, adrenaline coursing through me, and I was running. I had this image in my mind of Lindsey down at camp, crying, cursing my name, and dying of thirst. I felt like the worst friend ever. I ran the entire way down the switchbacks (receiving a “Damn, you go girl,” from a fellow hiker along the way), through the field of wildflowers, and up to our campsite. When I arrived, sweaty and breathless, Lindsey was doing yoga; calm and collected, zen AF, and, upon seeing me arrive, said, “Oh, heyyyy, you’re back!” Once I caught my breath and was able to speak, I apologized. She laughed at my panic, and we headed down to the lake to sit in the sun, and get her some water. She was fine. Thirsty, but fine.IMG_3806

The lake was calm, and apart from when a breeze went through, was like a smooth pane of emerald glass. It was hypnotizing. There was no one in sight so we smoked a crazy, kief covered joint, and watched from the shore as the sun danced on the water. The sparkling drew us in, and we lost a good hour just watching the sun’s reflection twinkle and dance. The high from the joint we’d smoked was incredible. Cerebral, uplifting, and completely relaxing. The perfect sativa-indica hybrid to facilitate a full submersion in our surroundings.IMG_3834

When the sun dipped below the mountain it was time to head back to camp. It was another cold night on the mountain, but the solitude had taken us over, and we were consumed by its tranquility. It was our last night in the wilderness and we wanted to savor every single second, so we loaded up on hand warmers, and enjoyed the night, staying up well past dark to admire the stars. Living in the city, it’s easy to forget just how spectacular the night sky is when you get away from all the lights and smog. We even saw a couple of meteors!

This trip had brought Lindsey and I together on a level that, even as best friends, we hadn’t previously experienced. We’d gone through the trenches together, like comrades in arms, we’d had to rely on each other, to work together to achieve our goals. And we loved it. We knew, by the end of this adventure, that it was only the beginning of our Ladycations. And as we fell asleep on our last night in the backcountry, we dreamed of all the nights, in all the places, we’d venture to next. . .IMG_3632

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll check out my other posts, and don’t forget to come back next week for LadycationSunday when the Washington Bestieversarycation continues in Seattle!

Don’t forget to follow Ladycations to stay up to date on upcoming trips, tips, and tales! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

O’Neil Creek Camp and AirBnb: Hot Tub, Cheese and the Good Samaritans

We wanted to shorten our hike out of the park on our last day, so we packed up camp and headed back down the East Fork Quinault River Trail to O’Neil Creek Camp the day before. Only a few miles from Pyrites Creek, it seemed like the shortest hike ever after so many days of mileage in the double digits. It also allowed us to get there nice and early, so the place was empty. We chose a large site along the river, surrounded by large, moss covered trees that provided both privacy and shade. It was like the Ritz Carlton of campsites: location, location, location.IMG_3539

After setting up camp we put on our bathing suits, grabbed our sleeping mats, and headed to the rocky island in the middle of the river to spend the afternoon. We rinsed off in the icy cold water and stretched out to dry in the hot sun. It was the most amazing feeling. There was no urgency, we were able to just be still; no responsibilities, really enjoying being in the present, appreciating everything that got us to that place, at that moment. It was like combining a badass adventure with a relaxing beach vacation, and a mountain retreat with gurus to guide you on the path to your best life. Only instead of gurus, we had weed.

Lit

We headed back to camp when the shadows moved in as the sun sank below the mountains, and made dinner. Being our last night, we were down to only the food we’d chosen not to eat thus far. So it was a somewhat depressing meal, and I was dreaming of hamburgers and mozzarella sticks, as I begrudgingly ate my vegetable beef soup.

A family from a campsite nearby asked if they could walk through our site to get to the river and, of course, we happily obliged. They were really sweet people, very natural, “granola,” if you will. They’re like the smart kids I went to high school with, who got graduate degrees and are now professors, or running science labs, and are always going on hiking and camping trips with their beautiful spouses and adorable kids. Talking with our new Nature Neighbors was like talking to my high school friends, but ten years in the future.

The Granola Dad laughed at Lindsey’s can of soup as he passed through, saying, “You guys must be going ultralight.” We kinda looked around at all our stuff everywhere and thought, “Huh?” It made us wonder what all he and his family had carried in with them.

O'Neil Creek Camp

Talking to our new friend about soup got us talking about other foods. Real food. We were craving some good, hot meals, but what we really wanted was cheese. Cheese and crackers and wine. We decided to pick some up on the way to our AirBnb after we hiked out of the park. The thought of sitting in the hot tub with a glass of wine and snacks, as we sat on the ground with our stiff backs against a tree, sounded positively orgasmic.

We were in bed early that night, and up early the next morning. When we were packing up camp, Granola Mom came over to greet us. To our absolute astonishment, she had cheese, crackers, and granola bars with her. She said her husband overheard us talking about being hungry and wanting cheese, and that they had leftover rations from the night before that they wanted us to have. I’m not kidding when I say we had tears in our eyes as we looked at her. These people were our heroes. It might have been the best damn cheese we’d ever had in our entire lives. It was some kind of smooth gouda that, in the backcountry on day 4, tasted absolutely decadent. That kind, beautiful family restored a little bit of my faith in humanity that day.IMG_3555

The hike out was about 9 miles, and our packs were lighter as we’d eaten all our food. We talked as we hiked about our favorite parts of the trip. One thing we both loved was the quiet, being so far removed from other human beings. While unsettling at first, we’d learned to cherish the solitude, and the connection it allowed us to feel with our surroundings. The few people we did encounter had as much reverence and respect for the forest as we did. We wanted more of it in our lives. We’d fallen head over heels in love with backpacking. But first we wanted showers. And wine. And more cheese.IMG_3564

By the time we emerged from the forest, we were definitely ready for a break, and we felt like we’d earned it; we were unbelievably proud of ourselves. We’d hiked over 43 miles in the backcountry, in 4 days, with everything we needed on our backs. The word, “badass,” was said more than once, but we were next level exhausted. We were so excited to do things like sit in a real chair, sleep in a real bed, flush a toilet, get water from a faucet. . . I love to escape the world, but there are some things I also love to come back to. Nature helps me appreciate all the advances in modern technology. . . Like indoor plumbing.

When we got to the car I noticed something was amiss. In all the excitement of embarking on our big adventure, I’d left the driver’s window all the way down. . . For the last 4 days. . . In the woods. . . Unattended. . . With hundreds of dollars worth of weed, and all the rest of our stuff inside. We just stood there for a second and exchanged an “uh oh” look before surveying the damage. To our relief, and absolute amazement, everything was still there. Someone could’ve robbed us blind, but our stuff was untouched. It was the second time that day that I’d been given hope for the future of mankind.

The few food items we’d left in a Target bag on the floor of the backseat, however, were another story. They’d been feasted on by some small, forest critter. There were tiny teeth marks in all the packaging, and the contents (mostly Lindsey’s dehydrated fruit, and granola bars she was saving for Mt. Rainier) were just gone. We inspected the rest of our stuff to make sure there were no more surprises, and were satisfied that whatever had been in there had moved on, so we did too. We would find out later, of course, that he wasn’t gone. In fact, whatever it was also drove to our AirBnb and then Mount Rainier with us. After two nights of hiking Rainier, and even though all the windows were securely closed, our food was once again gone, with more chewed up wrappers left behind. We never found it. Whatever it was, he was like some sort of tiny, forest ninja. We weren’t sad when we returned that rental car. At. All.

I wish I could remember the name of the pizza place we went to in Olympia. We were exhausted and in a post-nature daze, I barely even remember the drive to get there. What I do remember is that it was the most delicious Coke to ever pass my lips, and the cheesy garlic bread almost made me cry. Honestly, though, it probably wasn’t really that good. We were just overjoyed to not be eating granola or canned soup, so we were pretty easy to please.IMG_3596

After lunch we made a brief stop at Target for our wine and cheese, then made our way to our “home” for the night. The Time and Again Cabin is a little slice of paradise located in the middle of a Christmas tree farm in Cinebar, Washington. Dripping with charm in every nook and cranny, the cottage has a bedroom, a futon in the living room, a mini kitchen, private laundry and bath, and a giant hot tub. It’s the perfect stop between backpacking trips.IMG_3579

The hosts were a delightful couple who gave us a tour of the cabin and introduced us to their sweet, old dog, who would wind up keeping us company most of the night. They left us snacks, plush bathrobes, flip flops, and special mugs for the hot tub, then they left us to bask in the luxury of their guesthouse.

We showered immediately and oh, how glorious it felt! I honestly felt physically lighter when I stepped out, like I’d just washed away 30 pounds of dirt, sweat, and grime. After we were clean, we threw in a load laundry before pouring our wine and hopping in the hot tub.

Cheers!

There we were, stretched out in this 6 person hot tub, staring up at the billions of stars against the jet black sky. We sipped our wine while the hot water and powerful jets soothed away 4 days of hiking up and down the foothills of the Olympic Mountains. We were totally blissed out.IMG_3587

Clouds began to roll in just as we started getting a little hot, feeling like we may need to get out and breathe some cooler air. Then it started to rain. Just a light, drizzly mist that cooled off our faces enough to allow us to stay in the hot tub a while longer, relaxing as the water massaged us from head to toe. Absolute amazeballs. Even removed from the forest, Mother Nature still had our backs. Thanks, Mom!

After we got out, we switched our laundry and sat on the patio; eating our cheese, finishing our wine, and looking at the pictures we’d taken so far. The dog was by our side, sleeping contently as we smoked a joint, reminisced, and talked about the adventure awaiting us on Mt. Rainier.

We slept so good that night. I’m pretty sure I didn’t move a single muscle from the moment my head hit the pillow until I woke up to the sun shining through the windows, beckoning us to the mountains, in the morning. We were ready.

One thing is for sure, my next visit to Washington will include another trip to Olympic National Park, followed by a stay at the Time and Again Cabin. It was the most perfect mix of wilderness and luxury.

Thank you for stopping by! Be sure to check out my other posts, and come back next week to continue the adventure, when Lindsey and I embark on an all up hill hike in Mount Rainier National Park!

~Steph

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park: Mountains and Glaciers and Trees (but no bears), Oh My!

The morning air was crisp, cool, and moist with humidity. The birds were singing a cheerful song, as a woodpecker kept the beat, announcing it was time to start our day. We were a little achy when we climbed out of the tent (and I kinda wanted to strangle the woodpecker with my bare hands), but so ready to get exploring, and finally see the Enchanted Valley.

After a quick breakfast we hit the trail. The first obstacle came before we even left the campground: the bridge over Pyrites Creek had been washed out in a storm. We had to find our own way across. There were several places to get over the creek, but I managed to find the most complicated one, only to get across and see that they’d erected a temporary footbridge about 50 feet from where I’d crossed. Oops.

Behold!

We hadn’t gone much farther when Lindsey stopped me in my tracks with a, “Holy shit! Oh my god, are you seeing this?!” I was so focused on the path ahead that I was forgetting to look around. When I went back to Lindsey my jaw dropped. I don’t know how I’d missed it. It was one of the reasons I’d chosen the Enchanted Valley hike in the first place, and I’d almost walked right past it. It was what used to be the largest mountain hemlock in the entire world until it collapsed several years ago, and it was even more incredible than the pictures I’d seen. Its massive roots lie overturned next to the trail, its once towering trunk stretching out across the forest floor and disappearing down the riverbank. It was magnificent. I tried to imagine what it had looked like before its demise and wondered what finally took it down, but the size of the tree seemed to make the size of the thought too much to comprehend.

It Keeps Going and Going and Going

When we arrived at the narrow, one railing bridge over the ravine, I knew we had arrived. We entered the Enchanted Valley to find the clouds dipping below the peak of snow-capped Mt. Olympus. Everything looked a little gray, the sun only peeking out from behind the clouds sporadically and for brief periods, but it somehow didn’t seem dreary.

The Enchanted Valley

The Enchanted Valley Chalet was perched on the bank of the river, its simple facade humbled by its exquisite surroundings. The Olympic Mountains were lush and green, and waterfalls, fed by glaciers atop the peaks, tumbled down the mountainsides. It definitely isn’t called the Enchanted Valley for nothing.IMG_3488

We ate some lunch outside the Chalet and went looking for the outhouses (Priorities, people). They were rustic, to say the least, but I’ve never been so grateful for an outhouse, nor have I ever been in one with such a spectacular view. I hadn’t relished the thought of digging a hole, squatting, and burying my poo. It’s the one backpacking experience I’ve yet to have (and I’m in no hurry to change that, though I know it’s only a matter of time). I’d been holding it since we left civilization the previous morning, so this little shack, with a toilet seat over a hole, was a welcome sight. That it overlooked the valley, with its mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls, made it feel like the lap of luxury. I give it a 5 star and two thumbs up outhouse rating.

We’d met a couple of other hikers on our way into the valley. They gave us two bits of helpful information: 1. They’d just seen a bear, so watch out. That got us excited. 2. There’s a glacier with ice caves they explored down the trail and across the river. That made us positively giddy. So we went in search of a way to get across, while being watchful for bears (and trying not to step in their poop–which was everywhere).

Enchanted Valley Waterfall

I don’t know where these people were talking about, but we never figured out how to get across the river without going for a frigid swim. We were disappointed. We could see the caves, we were so close, we just couldn’t get there. We hiked a little over a mile farther down the trail, admiring the trees and the mountains as we went, before heading back towards the Valley.IMG_3510

Before going back to camp we stopped to refill our water. There was an island in the river that we had to reach in order to get to the faster flowing water, so we hopped over the little branch of river separating the island from the mainland and, as I was landing, I wanted to scream. I didn’t see it until it was too late: a perfect, pristine bear print in the sand on the river’s island. It was incredible. . . for the split second I saw it before my foot came crashing down on top of it like an inconsiderate giant. It felt like it happened in slow motion, and in my head, it did: me screaming, “Noooooooo,” in a slow-mo voice all the way down. This is my other regret of the trip (the first being when I neglected to get a picture with Ranger Blondie Buns). It was immaculate, even the holes from the claws were there, and it would’ve been such a cool picture. Alas, it now only exists in my memory.IMG_3521

In the end, the paw print and a whole lotta scat is as close as we came to any wild animals (okay, we also saw a tiny lizard, but that totally doesn’t count). Considering the extraordinary amount of bear poop we saw, I’m not sure how we didn’t see any actual bears. I’m also not sure if I’m happy or disappointed about that. Maybe a little of both.

We got back to camp, made dinner, and got our fire going as the sun began to set behind the mountains. Once it began to get dark Lindsey went to bed. We were exhausted. Our bodies were screaming, but the night was so peaceful and perfect that I couldn’t bring myself to go to sleep. There was only one other person in the entire campground and he’d gone to bed before the sun, so when Lindsey went to sleep, I was all alone in the wilderness.

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Naked in the woods selfie!

Since Lindsey was in the tent, I started changing into my pajamas fireside. I was rushing to get changed, fearful of someone seeing my nakedness, and then realized how stupid that was. The forest was so dark I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. There was no one around to see me anyway, so I slowed down and decided to sit in the woods for a while–naked. The cool breeze combined with the warmth of the fire on my skin felt incredible. To sit in the wilderness in such a natural state, listening to the crackling fire and the wind through the trees, staring up at a sky with endless stars, was unbelievably liberating. Part of me wanted to go running naked through the woods just for the hell of it. Maybe I have an unconscious desire to be a nudist hiding somewhere behind all my insecurities and programmed obedience to societal norms (and, you know, the law). Or, maybe it was just fun to sit in the woods, smoking a joint, all by myself and naked, knowing no one would see me. Either way it was an experience I’m glad I had. I was as bare and vulnerable as the trees around me, all of us submitting to Mother Nature together.

I was really glad Ranger Blondie Buns didn’t reappear at that particular moment. On the one hand, it could’ve made for an entirely different and sordid blog post (at least in my fantasy it would). On the other, it could’ve ended up with me getting a citation for public indecency (a far more likely scenario), and getting myself banned from all national parks for life. I’m grateful the night instead ended with me putting some clothes on and going to bed without incident. I was also glad for our upcoming Rest Day with only three miles of hiking. I was looking forward to a having a day to slow down, relax, and fully appreciate Olympic National Park before our hike back to civilization.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed the read! Be sure to check out my other posts, and come back next week to hear how our Ladycation backpacking in Olympic National Park ends! Stay chill and keep exploring, friends!

~Steph

Hiking to the Enchanted Valley: A Complete Guide

Reservations: Advanced reservations are not required!

Permits: A Wilderness Permit is required for all overnight trips, and can be purchased at the South Shore Quinault River Ranger Station in Quinault. $8/person/night

Distance: The maps all say it’s about 13 miles from the Graves Creek Trailhead to Enchanted Valley. But we clocked it closer to 14 miles. This is a minimum 28 mile round trip hike.

Campsites: There are several options for camping on the trail: Pony Bridge, O’Neil Creek, Pyrites Creek and Enchanted Valley. Though reservations are not required, you will need to designate which site you’ll be camping at each night when you obtain your permit.

Food Storage: Hiking to Enchanted Valley means hiking in bear country. Bear activity is extremely high in this area, so using bear canisters is required. All your scented items should be stored in the bear canister—including your trash. Don’t be the jerk that leaves their stuff out. If bears are reported to have gotten into human food or trash, the entire area has to be shut down. They do this for our safety, because if the bears get used to their dinner coming from humans, they’ll become less cautious, and more aggressive in trying to get it. Bear wire is provided at most of the campsites, so bring a bag large enough hold the canister that you can hang from the wire. Bear canisters are available for loan at the same Ranger Station, and there is no charge, however donations are appreciated.

The Night Before You Hike: Lake Quinault Lodge and Rain Forest Village Lodge are both good options for lodging the night before your hike. Depending on when you hike, the passes could sell out. Staying in Quinault allows you to be at the Ranger Station bright and early to ensure you get your permit.

Toilets: Enchanted Valley is the only campground on this trail with an outhouse. If you have to poo while you’re anywhere else, you’ll need to dig a hole, and bury it, so bring a trowel and prepare to lose a little bit of your dignity.

Water: Everywhere! This trail follows the path of the river, so there are plenty of places to stop and refill your hydration pack and water bottle. Just make sure you have a way to filter the water before you drink it.

Weather: The trail is open year-round, and winter weather conditions can occur during all but the summer season, so make sure you pack the appropriate gear when hiking during the colder months. In the summer the temperatures can get as high as the 80’s, but it can also dip pretty low at night, so make sure you pack several layers of clothing, and a rain jacket.

Terrain: The trail goes up and down hills as it follows the path of the river. It is well marked and maintained (during the summer months), there’s virtually zero chance of getting lost unless you’re a complete idiot, or something unexpected takes you off the trail. The bridge at Pyrites Creek was washed out when we were there, and from what I’ve read, that’s a common occurrence, so be sure to pack your water shoes in case you need to do some river forging.

Be sure to check out the NPS website for more information, and always check weather and trail conditions before your hike!