August 21-September 21, 2016
After climbing to new heights at Mt. Whitney Jeff and I had about a week before needing to be in steamy Phoenix for business travel. We wanted to camp where we could get a break from the heat just a little longer, so we headed straight for Flagstaff, Arizona.
We’ve been camping in Flag off and on for the past year, one of our favorite locations. There is an abundance of free forestry land to camp in with endless trails to run, hike or mountain bike just outside your door. This and being close to town makes us feel like we live in the community. Flag is definitely familiar to us now and there is no need for GPS to get around town any more.
Not only was the 70 degree temps sublime, but Jeff has been training for the Stagecoach 100. Stagecoach is a 100 mile ultra trail run that starts in Flag and ends at the IMAX theater at the Grand Canyon. Jeff is running a relay with a buddy. 55 miles for Jeff and his friend Jason running 45. Since the race was just 4 weeks away some high altitude trail training was in order.
We camped at a new boondocking site on FR6051 near Snow Bowl on the North side of town. The road was a bit rough, but we were able to wedge our modest 32’ into a nice spot for maximum solar gain. There are endless forestry roads here with several short spurs that connect directly to the Arizona Trail. So getting in our trail runs was a piece of single track cake!
Oh Arizona Trail, how I love thee!
One of the first things we usually do when getting to a new location is to see if there are any running events happening during our stay. We have done this in Moab, Chico and Whistler among others, and it keeps us motivated to get out and exercise on a consistent basis. Without the motivation I would struggle with the RV-15 (think freshman-15) and bedsores!
One of the things we learned about is the Flagstaff Fearsome Four Challenge. Four peaks, 34 miles, 10,307 of elevation over 2 days. Sure…why not! As part of Jeff’s ultra training this challenge was right up his ally.
Here is how the challenge works. Hike or run Humphreys Peak, Kendrick Peak, Mount Elden and O’Leary Peak in any order. If you accomplish this challenge under 15 hours (not including driving time) in a 24hr period you are honored with the status of “Ultra” runner. Well then. Lets get to it!
Jeff started at 1am at Kendrick Peak. Besides being scared by some sort of large animal in the woods, this was pretty uneventful. Humphreys Peak, the highest peak in Arizona and most challenging of the four, was next. Jeff ran into a couple of trail runners that run Humphrey’s 9 miles in under 3hrs, twice as fast as I hiked this beast! It had snowed on this peak the day before, so some of the trail was still covered.
After a brief refueling of bacon and a nap at the RV it was on to Elden and O’Leary’s peak. Sam and I joined Jeff for the final two hikes. Though Elden is a short 4-5 miles round-trip, it is very rocky, technical and steep. We were glad to be hiking this one in the daylight!
Heading further north we finished with O’Leary’s. This trail was a well-groomed forestry road all the way to O’Leary’s lookout, where we took in sunset views before racing back down the mountain to finished after dark.
Jeff did an amazing job coming in under 15 hours for the Fearsome Four and we celebrated with some late night BBQ!
The next day we packed up and headed for Phoenix where we jumped on a plane and flew to Dallas. The Dometic show vehicle needed to be transported to Elkhart, Indiana for the RV industries open house.
A stop over in Bentonville, Arkansas was in order and we stayed for two weeks. This gave us a chance to check on family and our beloved Beaver Lake cabin.
I tell ya, when I sit on that porch swing overlooking the Lake, it’s hard to think of ever leaving! I love the smell of fresh lake water, hearing fish flopping in the early morning hours, swimming in water so clear you can scuba dive. I love that I can lace up my shoes and go for a run on lake roads that only a few locals travel. I ended up with 5 of the neighborhood dogs on one of my runs, which helped with missing Sam on our trip.
Arkansas is a beautiful place to call home for sure and I always shed a tear when we leave. But the road calls, and we must go and off to Elkhart we went.
We arrived over the weekend so that we could visit with some wonderful friends. The open house went well and we headed south with the RV to Louisville before flying back to Phoenix. It was a hard pressed 3 week trip and we were glad to get back to our dog and our RV.
With only 3 days before the Stagecoach 100, we were rushing again to get back to Flag for the race. So after landing at 6:45am, we picked up our dog and were on the road with the RV by 9am, and parked in the woods by that afternoon.
Holly moly…that was a tiring trip!
After leaving Seattle we had three weeks to make our way to Phoenix. Our working travel schedule gave us a deadline and unfortunately we were headed into the belly of the hot molten volcano in the middle of summer. 106 degrees here we come!
We made quick stops in Eugene and Ashland, Oregon, Redding, CA and Reno, Nevada on our way to Mono Lake, CA.
I had read about some great boondocking at Mono Lake on the eastern side of Yosemite. This really would be our last stop at any elevation (6,378’) in order to avoid the southwest heat. Also, when we were in Yosemite in May, we never made it to Tioga Pass. So stopping at Mono Lake would give us that opportunity.
Well, that was the plan anyway…
Last year about this time, Jeff asked me a question about doing something epic, challenging or scary and I blurted out that I would like to hike the highest peaks in each state. A week later I had bagged my first…Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff, AZ. at 12,633ft.
Ever since then I have been researching the highest peak of each state that we traveled in 2016. Unfortunately, we have been traveling the states with the highest peaks overall that have been snow covered and required ice axes, crampons, repelling equipment, permits, guides, tents, backpacks, etc. MUCH more equipment than what we have.
So when I read about hiking California’s massive Mt. Whitney at 14,505ft, the highest peak in the contiguous US and it’s accessibility in late summer, I knew California was an attainable peak.
And look. It just happens to be down the road from Mono Lake! Change of plans…we are hiking Mt. Whitney!
The Mt. Whitney Trail Head starts at Whitney Portal at 8,360ft via the small town of Lone Pine, CA. A permit is required for this hike and the online permit system said that there were no permits available. Learning from our experience at Yosemite we stopped in at the Forest Service center just south of Lone Pine and easily picked up a permit and mandatory “WAG Bag” (Waste Alleviation and Gelling-Bag) for the next day.
Everything I read about this hike said that this VERY STRENUOUS hike could be bagged in one very long day (12-18 hours), although most people take two. Its 22 miles round trip with 6,100ft of elevation gain, topping out at 14,505ft.
Since Jeff and I had spent the better part of the past month at Sea Level, we knew that this was going to be quite a challenge in elevation and distance. One I was not completely confident in completing. But I knew that what goes up must come down and I could turn around at any point in the hike if it got to be too much for this land lubber.
The morning of our hike we got off to a late start, leaving the Whitney Portal TH at 6:30AM instead of our planned 5AM. Apparently we didn’t do enough research because most hikers leave around 1-3AM for this hike. For me, this was mistake #1!
Jeff tends to futz with his equipment, shoes, GPS and phone A LOT longer than I have patience for (sigh) and I headed off on the trail to get a jump. Jeff hikes much faster than I and I knew it wouldn’t take long before he would catch up with me.
What is really hilarious now is that Jeff had read that some folks were getting Verizon Cell coverage on the top of Mt Whitney, so his plan was to get to the top by 10AM for a conference call.
GEEZ! WHAT ON EARTH WERE WE THINKING?!?
I started at the TH and quickly passed the 6-10 informational boards that described the tenacity needed for such a hike. No need to read those of course…we have a conference call to make!
Immediately the trail started with a moderate incline. The sun was up just enough that no headlamp was needed and I made mistake #2 by leaving it in the truck. After an hour on the trail there was a beautiful sunrise that was enhanced by the smoke from the San Bernardino fires that were burning out of control at the time.
After about 3 miles I reached Lone Pine Lake. At this point Jeff still had not caught up with me and I grew a bit concerned. Come to find out he took a wrong turn at the beginning of the trail and got on the rugged Mountaineer’s route to Mt. Whitney. He noticed his mistake after about a ½ mile and turned around. That does tend to happen when you hike and post selfies on facebook at the same time!
Jeff finally caught up with me and it was clear that it was going to be a challenge to get to the top before the 10AM conference call. So I sent him ahead to try and make it without me holding him back…with our water filter. Mistake #3 (at least for me).
After Lone Pine Lake the nice smooth trail quickly changed over to a rockier surface. Footing became a bit more of a challenge as trees thinned out. I passed Outpost Camp with its gorgeous waterfall at a little over 10,000ft. There were a lot of backpackers here stopping to acclimatize on their 2-3 day summit push.
“Gee…Maybe I aught to look into some overnight equipment, scratching my head!
I hit a long patch of switchbacks after Outpost Camp.
In my quick glance lengthy research of this hike I remembered reading about a section of the trail called “the 99 switchbacks” that came after a campground.
I got pretty excited because I new that the 99 were around mile 7. “Wow, I’m making great time”! I asked a fellow hiker coming down if I was on the infamous 99. Imagine my surprise when she told me, “ Oh no. You have quite a way to go before you get to the 99”.
About this time I saw a trail marker that said Mile 4! I. WAS. CRUSHED!
By now my heart had been pounding in my ears for almost 3 hours. The elevation had reduced my hiking to 45min miles. THIS WAS GOING TO BE A LOOOONG DAY.
The trail switched from dirt and rocks to granite stair steps. I rose high above pretty Mirror Lake and Meadow. After another 1 ½-2 hours I finally reached Trail Camp at 12,039’.
Trail Camp is located on the shore of Consultation Lake. It could have been on the moon as far as I was concerned due to its barren landscape and granite spires. The camp was full of backpackers as well and by now I’m thinking these people are geniuses for breaking this hike up into several days!
I stopped here for a snack and contemplated the 99 switchbacks that were now staring me in the face. That’s 2.2 miles of switchbacks climbing 1,738’ to Trail Crest. I’m not going to lie…I thought long and hard about stopping here and just calling it a day. But after eating some food and catching my breath I decided to give the 99 a shot.
Surprisingly, the switchbacks were set at a low grade, which was much appreciated at this altitude. After what seemed like 999 switchbacks I finally rounded a corner and was hit with an amazing view to the west. Granite rising up, alpine forests and lakes below. My eyes had trouble taking it all in. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it now.
I made it to Trail Crest at 13, 800’!
The Mt. Whitney summit is 2.5 miles from here and a mere 845’ of elevation. But these are the most difficult and most draining 2.5 miles of your life…so I’ve heard.
Once I reached Trail Crest I was for sure going to turn around. But after I sat for about 20 minutes and ate some food and got inspired by the beautiful views I started wondering what was just around the corner.
The trail from here took a dip and I really thought hard about having to make up the elevation I had already climbed. But the trail drew me in and I pressed on, “just a little further”.
The trail from Trail Crest is brutal. BRU.TAL!!!
I scrambled for the next mile over unstable rocks, angular slabs, shear drops and technical boulders. After an hour I sat down for a break and saw the Smithsonian hut on the summit off in the distance. By now I was exhausted. The narrow single track trail was closing in. I was having moments of panic as my mind flashed back to my broken wrist less than a year ago.
I asked another hiker how much longer until the summit. When they responded, “about 2 hours” I was finished!
By now it was 12:30pm. I had been hiking 6 hours with 2 more hours to go. I did the math and figured it would take me 4 hours just to get back to this point on the trail. My heart sank realizing I was going to run out of water and day-light, without a filter that was with Jeff and headlamp that was securely back in the truck.
It killed me to be this close and have to call the hike. Just 1.5 miles left to the summit. For me, it had to be over!
About this time I met Esther. She was making her way back down the mountain after summiting. Wisely, she had left with her husband at 3am.
They had started this hike a few days before, but her husband Joe wasn’t feeling well and they turned around. This morning they started off at 3am again and again Joe didn’t feel well. He encouraged his wife to carry on so that one of them would make it. And that she did!
We started hiking together from here, retracing the technical trail back to Trail Crest. We both moaned at the section where we had to climb in elevation to get there, commenting about our pounding heads.
Down the 99 we went, past camps, meadow, lakes and waterfalls. All the while talking about our lives of adventure and travel. I learned about her amazing two daughters and could hear the affection she had for her husband of many years.
Our knees and quads were wearing down, but our time together made the trip so much better. I learned she and Joe take off their real estate business months at a time to travel. Check out their very well written blog here.
We arrived at the TH not a step too soon at 5:30pm, as the sun was going down. I got to meet Joe and instantly noticed they have a relationship like Jeff and I. Those rare relationships when a husband and wife actually like each other, have the same life pursuits and miss each other when we are not together. I can appreciate a happy couple!
I had gotten a text from Jeff that said that he had summited around 2pm, four hours after his missed conference call.
Joe and Esther were kind enough to give me a ride back to my RV Park in Lone Pine, knowing that Jeff would not be down for another 3 hours. I left the keys hidden in the truck so he could drive himself home.
Even though I missed reaching the summit I couldn’t be more proud for reaching 13,000+ feet and hiking 20 miles.
Thanks Esther for getting me down that mountain!
Mt. Whitney, I will be back! But next time I will leave earlier and not plan on making any calls!
After a delightful time in Canada we crossed the boarder back into Washington. This boarder crossing was just as uneventful as the first, except the line was a bit longer and took about 20-30 minutes.
We had a deadline to get back to Seattle so that Jeff could fly to Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retail Show.
While Jeff was in Salt Lake I had my Mom fly from St. Louis to Seattle for a little Mother-Daughter time while we stayed at the Lake Pleasant RV Park in Bothell, WA.
Mom had never been to Seattle before. Though I have been here years ago, I didn’t stay long enough to really sightsee. So I booked some fun events to get a good perspective of what the city had to offer.
Day 1: Whale Watching Edmond, WA
Our first day of exploring I had scheduled a Whale Watching tour ($135/person) through Viator. The boat Ports out of Edmonds on the North side of Seattle, just 8 miles from our RV Park.
My niece Jennifer had moved from Arkansas to Seattle earlier this year, so she joined Mom and I for the 4-hour trip. The boat ride through the Puget Sound took about an hour…just enough time to get caught up with Jen on her life as a new military wife (Air Force).
We motored around for a bit looking for whale tails and water spouts. It took some time but we finally landed in a location that had a small pod of humpbacks. The rules for observation are that the boat has to stay 300yds away from the whales, so our views were not that great.
The boat lingered for about an hour until the captain asked if we wanted to stay or move on to another location to see some sea lions. The consensus was to move on so we headed over to an island where there was more marine life.We saw a speck of a bald eagle here and two sea lions duking it out for the affections of a very portly sea gal.
I wish I could say this tour was worth it, but it was a bit of a letdown. The distance to the wildlife was so far away it was hard to have that interactive experience.
What whale watching lacked in wildlife was more than offset by spending time with Mom and Jen out on the open sea on a beautiful sunny day. And the on-board $3 blueberry buckle (cake) wasn’t bad either!
Day 2: Downtown Seattle
The next day Mom and I were on our own. The plan was to avoid traffic and take public transportation to downtown Seattle.
With bus schedule and a map in hand we drove to the Kenmore Park & Ride about 4 miles away. We got there about 9:30am and could not find a single opening in the parking lot. I drove around the block and found a space in a Daycare center, hoping they didn’t tow!
We took a 40-minute bus ride (exact change required) into Seattle getting off at Union & 6th and then walked a few blocks to the Monorail ($2.25/adult, $1/senior)to take us to the Space Needle Center. The Monorail was super quick and we enjoyed the Space Needle coming into focus right out our window.
We had planned to just LOOK at the Space Needle, and then tour the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum ($27/Adult, $22/Senior).
I had not made any reservations to go up into the Space Needle at $25/person. I didn’t think it would be worth the $50 spend just to look around the observation deck. But I did read that if you went up to the Sky City Restaurant at the top and had lunch, the trip up was free. I had little hope of getting a last minute restaurant reservation but inquired at the desk at the base of the needle anyway, just for grins.
To my surprise, the friendly hostess said that she could get us in as a “walk-in” and to be at the special restaurant elevator at 11am. SCORE!
We waited behind 10 other people (rather than HUNDREDS waiting for the observation deck elevator) and zipped up 500ft in 41 seconds to the rotating restaurant.
The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World Fair and once was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River at 605ft tall. It was the space-age imagination of Edward E. Carlson who originally sketched out the design on a coffee house napkin in 1959, to fit the 21st Century futuristic theme of the Worlds Fair.
Its center of gravity is just 5ft above ground and the rotating top house was so balanced in 1962 that it was easily driven by a 1 horsepower motor. Impressive for sure!
The restaurant seating is for 90 minutes with a $25/person minimum, so you can’t just go for a cup of coffee to avoid the $25 elevator fee. At least this way you get a meal out of it.
It was such a special treat to have a nice lunch while making a 45-minute full rotation overlooking the city. Mount Rainier was visible that day and the Blue Angels were having practice nearby. We saw the Puget Sound, the Queen Anne district and Lake Union as we twirled around. It was THE HIGHLIGHT of the trip for Mom and I and I’m so glad we didn’t miss it!
Since I had a standing reservation for the Seattle Underground tour on the opposite end of town at 2pm we had to abandon our plans of seeing the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, to our disappointment.
Mom and I jumped back on the Monorail heading into Downtown. We walked a couple of blocks to the light rail that took us to Pioneer Square for our Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour ($20/Adult, $17/Senior).
This was a humorous look at the start of Seattle which was built on the back of Lumber and the Klondike gold rush.
Seattle was built on low mudflats. So the local lumberyard thought it would be a good idea to use saw dust from the mill to “pave” the streets. As rains came in the streets of sawdust began to float and Newspapers back east humorously reported that Seattle was built on what appeared to be oatmeal.
On June 6, 1889 a spilled glue pot started The Great Seattle Fire that burned down the entire city. City officials had taken note of how San Francisco was burning down every 6 months, since they continued to rebuild out of wood. So new construction laws required Seattle merchants to rebuild with stone and brick. But not until AFTER the city was going to push two stories of dirt into the mudflats to build up the streets.
As you can imagine, business owners were anxious to rebuild their places of business and couldn’t wait until the city spend months or even years to push dirt around. So they were allowed to build with the understanding that eventually the city streets would be located 3 stories above.
The underground tour took us through the catacombs of those first floor storefronts, now located underground and abandoned. We saw pieces of the original plumbing pipes made out of hollowed out logs, learned about the “seamstress” industry (code for prostitution) and secret underground bars during prohibition.
Overall this was a fascinating 90-minute tour and Mom and I really enjoyed it, though we felt rushed by later tours.
We jumped back on planes, trains and automobiles and made it back to our Park & Ride before rush hour…without being towed. Yea us!
Day 3: Bothell, WA
I had read about Country Village less than a mile from the RV Park. Country Village is made up of quaint old cottages in this small village filled with arts and crafts, restaurants, antique shops and home décor. The village also included the cutest resident roosters roaming the property making themselves known now and then.
Mom and I walked around the very affordably priced shops and the farmers market and picked up some produce, coffee, vinegars & oils and some gifts. We spent most of the day here! We had such a nice time that it was our second most favorite thing we did that week!
Day 4: Port Gamble Historic District
I thought it would be fun to take Mom on a ferry ride. Since Jeff was flying back this day and needed a ride, we had to be conscious of time. So I set our sights on Port Gamble.
We took a quick ferry from Edmonds to Kingston and a 20-30 minute drive to Port Gamble Historic District, a National Historic Landmark.
Port Gamble was the site of the longest operating sawmill in the country, shutting down in 1995 after 142 years. What remains are restored homes converted to antique shops, restaurants, museums and the original general store.
Mom and I leisurely walked the streets and shops and had a wonderful lunch at the General Store Café.
The General Store is a throw back to its origins, creaky floors in all. They now sell souvenirs, ice cream and coffee.The top floor houses an interesting shell museum touted as the largest in the world.
We walked around back of the General Store to the lower level to the Port Gamble Museum ($4/person). What a wonderful piece of history! The museum is small but very well displayed with rich local history.
The museum was the original location of the Puget Mill Company offices founded in 1853 by William Talbot, Andrew Pope, Josiah Keller and Charles Foster, all originally from East Machias, Maine.
When the mill was first started, workers were scarce. With the help of partners in Maine, experienced mill works were recruited to move west. The easterners quickly grew homesick, so homes were built in Port Gamble to resemble New England style architecture to give them a sense of home.
We spent a good 3 hours in this delightful little town and would highly recommend a look for those on their way to the more popular Port Townsend.
Our time exploring Seattle came to an end after only scratching the surface of this amazing town.
We bid farewell to Mom and the cool breezy Pacific Northwest and started a rather hot migration south.
Until next time…
After leaving Bend, Oregon Jeff and I headed west to Eugene so that we could stop into AM Solar.
About a year ago we got most of our RV projects/repairs completed in Elkhart, Indiana and made a dash back to Arkansas to regroup. We had planned on having a month to catch our breath and install our final project, solar, before we headed to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.
Unfortunately our repairs lingered on in Indiana and we were left with a measly week to complete our final project.
As I mentioned in my last post, Jeff is extremely handy. His single Mom of five kids became a General Contractor in California and raised her kids to know how to “raise a barn” from the ground up. Jeff was certified in solar installation and has installed hundreds of solar water heaters all over California and Arkansas.
Installing 4-6 little solar panels on an RV roof would be a breeze!
Oh our plans!
We had a Solar panel that was damaged during shipping and our NorthStar batteries needed to be picked up 2 hours from home. The week flew by and we only got as far as installing 3 panels on the roof, batteries placed and inverter mounted. No connections were made and we left for ABQ without a functioning system.
Over time Jeff has tweaked our system and it has been running beautifully. We got all of our supplies from the highly recommended AM Solar in Eugene/Springfield, OR. Since we were in the neighborhood Jeff wanted a consult just to have them give us the once over.
AM Solar made a few modifications and after $800 our completely functioning system… wasn’t working properly! Darn it!!!
We couldn’t have planned a delayed stay in Eugene any better since the Track & Field Olympic trials happened to be going on. We headed over to Track Town, USA to Hayward Stadium. Interesting history…The University of Oregon outgrew their football stadium. Instead of demolishing the old stadium it was retained as a track-specific venue that is held in reverence to those who have competed here.
The day we attended, the women’s Hammer Throw was happening. We learned that this was the first time ever that the hammer throw was being held INSIDE the actual stadium. Normally the event was held off-sight with very little attendance. But this year was different and the Hammer Throw was given its just due. The crowd was still small but we heard that the ladies were feeling honored to finally be having their beloved event inside the stadium.
Neither Jeff nor I knew anything about Hammer Throw, despite me growing up in Track and Cross Country. We learned that HT is about pure technique of heel-toe foot action with maximum spin in order to hurl the 8.82lb hammer down field.
The top 2 ladies at Olympic Trials competed in Rio where Amber Campbell finished 6th and DeAnna Price finished 8th.
Toutle (too-tle) is a very small town that was located in the devastation zone of Mount St. Helens that erupted in 1980. There are times in your life that you remember certain world events. The eruption of Mount St. Helens was one of those events for me and I remember hearing about the mushroom cloud of ash that re-routed airplanes states away and covered towns as far as Alberta, Canada.
Jeff had heard about a training bike ride from Toutle to Mount St. Helens, so we stayed at the Harry Gardner City Park in Toutle. This park was destroyed in the 1980 eruption and was never re-opened until 2015. There is a very nice 14-site campground in the park with water and electric hook-ups for $20/night. We were there on a weekend and were one of only four RV’s parked here. We loved this CG on the Toutle River. Unfortunately there was no connectivity what so ever and we had to shorten our stay.
Jeff’s bike ride was cold, rainy and 80 miles of long hard hills and 6,000’ of elevation. Since I wanted to see Mount St. Helens from the Johnson Observatory, I took a drive and met Jeff there.
What a sight! The drive was stunning and the regrowth of trees were so symmetrical that I was almost dizzy until I reached the blast zone. The devastation is still palatable even after 36 years. I listened to the Ranger talk about that fateful day and learned that 57 people lost their lives, how rivers were rerouted, new lakes formed and the mountain lost about 1,300’ of elevation. Ms. Helen has remained active off and on since then, with her last recorded activity as late as 2008.
Auburn, Washington (Seattle)
We were getting to Seattle a little earlier than planned so I made last minute reservations at the Game Farm Wilderness Park in Auburn WA. This was another gem of a find especially since most RV parks that I spoke with in Seattle were booked up.
There was a wonderful paved trail system that ran through the park and it was also home to the busiest 18-hole frisbee golf course in the state! Over 300 people come here daily to play!
Since we had a lot on our plate for work we didn’t really explore too much of Seattle except to have Sunday brunch with a co-worker of Jeff’s at a marina in Des Moines. It was a beautiful sunny day and we finished our meal with a relaxing walk out on a peer.
Abbotsford & Vancouver, Canada
Jeff had an intern years ago that was getting his master degree from John Brown University. They hit it off and have stayed in touch since then. He and his wife have been asking us to come for a Canadian visit for a long time, so we purposed to make it happen this summer. The added “bonus” was that the Ironman Whistler was taking place during our stay. Not one to miss a race, Jeff signed up for the half.
This was our first boarder crossing in the RV and we were a bit nervous and had braced ourselves for a long wait. We used up most of our produce and got rid of the rest. I had Sam’s medical certificate and our passports ready. We nervously pulled up to an empty boarder crossing where we were asked where we were heading, how long we were staying and if we had any fruit on board. Then we were waved through. Easy peasy!
We spent our first couple nights in our friend’s backyard getting caught up before heading to Whistler for the Half Ironman. The drive from Vancouver to Whistler was spectacular! I’ve never been to Switzerland, but this drive made me think of the Swiss Alps.
Incredible blue water, dramatic mountain views and lush forests. We were on sensory overload for sure! We stayed at the Wonderland RV Park in Squamish, B.C. and made the 30-minute drive to Whistler for the race. It was a great race on a beautiful sunny day in a picturesque setting!
After Whistler we returned to our friends backyard in Abbotsford, BC. We spent time exploring their community, visited mutual friends, tasting some farm-to-table food and just hanging out with their family.
We planned a day trip to Vancouver via a train, water taxi and city buses with 4 kiddos in tow. Our first stop was Grouse Mountain known for the infamous Grouse Grind. This is a 1.8-mile hike, 2800’ elevation gain, and 2,830 stairs at a 30-degree slope to the top. There is a tracking device at the bottom and top of the mountain and you can see how fast people are hiking here.
After shredding our gluts and hams on “Natures Stairmaster” we took in the Lumberjack show, saw two grizzly bears in captivity and our favorite…the Birds of Flight show at the top of the mountain.
The Birds of Flight featured an Eagle, Falcon and Owl that were released high above the outdoor amphitheater and swooped down over the crowd to gracefully land on designated perches. What a treat to feel and hear the power of their wings as they flew just above our heads. It was interesting and highly entertaining and we would highly recommend this show!
Funny…the falcon flew off into the surrounding valley and was enjoying its freedom until a wild falcon aggressively went after him. The two tangled and the captive Falcon made a b-line back to the safety of his handler. Poor guy. Out for a leisure stroll around the airways when the big bully showed up!
After we were all sufficiently sunburned we took the sky tram down the mountain where we picked up the city bus. The bus was air-conditioned and super comfy and all eight of us took power naps while we were transported back to downtown Vancouver. We stopped for a late lunch then walked the city a bit before catching a train back to Abbotsford.
It was a great day full of new adventures with our host family of 6! Our week’s stay flew by and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the states!
I am here again playing catch-up with my blog posts so hold on to your wigs while I do a quick recap of our stays since our skydiving adventure in Lodi CA.
Jeff and I had signed up for the Rim2Rim Ultra 50K (Jeff) and Half Marathon (Deb) at Upper Tidwell Park.
I made reservations at the Almond Tree RV Park just 6 miles from the event. This was a small but very nice RV park with a beautiful pool and shower facilities. Long term residence are not allowed (except camp hosts) and the pride of ownership really showed here. It was just off of Hwy 99 and couldn’t have been more perfect for our needs.
Jeff and I hadn’t run a race since mudageddon in Zion. We were looking forward to dry conditions and for Jeff, a chance at redemption after his Zion DNF!
The Chico Rim2Rim is held at Bidwell Park, a municipal park on the western edge of Chico. Annie Bidwell donated 2,500 acres to the city of Chico in 1905. The city purchased additional land in 1922 and 1995 making Bidwell the third largest municipal park in California and one of the 25 largest parks in the US. At 3,670 acres, Bidwell Park is a lot of hiking, biking and trail running goodness.
Our race started out as nice powdery double track trail but quickly turned into lava rocks, boulders and roots that were a challenge for the strongest of ankles. After the first half mile I was hoping that the trail would smooth over, but it never did. This was a 13.1-mile exercise in concentration for sure and I ended up walking a lot more than I had planned. Overall it was a great race in a beautiful park.
Oh ya! Jeff did redeemed himself and finished his 50K. By the time he was done it was very hot and he completed his race by soaking in the river.
Though Jeff grew up in Sacramento he spent his summers in Red Bluff on his grandparents walnut orchard. He has so many fond memories of this area. My hubby is very mechanically inclined due in part to his time spent with his Granddad in the orchard. Fixing tractors, moving irrigation pipes and learning how to graft trees was the norm for the day, teaching Jeff to be a well-rounded guy. I LOVE how handy he is!
We driveway surfed at Jeff’s sisters house right next to her perfectly ripe blueberry field. The first day we were there we ate so many blueberries that I had a bellyache!
We were having such a nice time with the family that we extended our stay to two weeks. We saw nieces and nephews and their children, cousins and Auntie Bon.
While in Redding we made a day trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park. We learned a new summer travel strategy…go to the lesser known National Parks during the summer to avoid the crowds!
Lassen was beautiful; snow covered and practically void of people and our intent was to hike to the summit of Mt. Lassen. But the trails were closed due to snow pack. Jeff and I decided to hike Lower Twin Lake instead which passed Summit Lake, Echo Lake and Upper Twin Lake as well. This was a wonderful 9-10 mile hike with water views and creek crossings.
While we were in Redding the Western States 100 Trail Run was going on. This is a brutal 100 mile trail run from Lake Tahoe to Auburn CA. Jeff had a couple of friends from Arkansas that were either running it or crewing for it. So he took an overnight trip to join the crews.
Interestingly, the runner who was in first for majority of the race and on course to kill the record got swept away by strong currents on a river crossing. He rescued himself and burned up a lot of energy doing it, but still maintained his lead. But with 5 miles left in the race he took a wrong turn and ended up 2 miles off course. By then he was spent and couldn’t recover and lost the race to another runner.
Jeff is planning his first 100-mile race at the Javelina Jundred later this year, so the experience was great training for what’s to come.
Crater Lake National Park
We had planned to stay at Crater Lake about a week, but since we extended our time in Redding we only stayed 3 nights at the Mazama Campground. In the end it ended up being a sufficient amount of time.
Though it was June it is still early season for Crater Lake. Snow covered parts of the campground and the road around the lake had not been completely open.
Connectivity was non-existent and the mosquitos were relentless. We did manage one hike on the Pacific Crest Trail that runs through this National Park. After a super snowy stretch of trail and swarms of mosquitos I turned back while Jeff continued on. The snow coverage on the trail continued and gave Jeff’s Navigation skills a run for their money!
Crater Lake really is a beautiful place. The blue of the water is mind-boggling! Early morning brought smooth as glass reflections of the surrounding mountains. There are boat tours offered and we certainly would have taken one if we had been there longer.
Oh Bend! How I love thee!
If someone forced me to say where I would like to live if we ever came off the road and couldn’t go back to Bentonville Arkansas, I would choose Bend.
Bend is a super hip happening place with something going on all the time. The locals are fit and active, restaurants are pet friendly with outdoor seating. Cycling, mountain biking, trail running, floating, breweries, shopping…. I love this place!
We met up with our RVing buddies, John and Becky in the Willamette National Forest just west of town. Free camping in the woods with good friends is always preferred over an RV park, especially when there is good connectivity!
We had running & mountain bike trails just outside our door under the cool coverage of native trees and it was easy to get our fitness in before we started our workday.
It was the 4th of July weekend so we headed to town for the annual pet parade and downtown festivities. Dogs, cats, snakes, horses and a chicken drew large crowds to the parade.
We also rented tubes for $15 to float the Deschutes River through the middle of town with a lot of other people. The water was cool and refreshing and the views of quaint cottages and homes along the river was entertaining.
While Jeff was working, Becky, John and I went out for a hike. Good grief…it’s been so long ago I can’t remember the name of the place we went. We did manage to hike 12 miles and saw a bald eagle, snow, babbling streams and alpine lakes. The scenery was outstanding!
After a very quick weeks stay we bid farewell (until we meet again!) to our dear friends and moved on to Eugene, OR.
Jeff and I left the magnificent beauty of Yosemite behind to become city dwellers again. After a week of cell & wifi isolation we were ready to get back to some connectivity for work. The temps were rising over 100* so we decided to head to Lodi early to be plugged in before the heat of the day.
We planned a week in Lodi to visit with family and to get caught up on business, so I made reservations at Flag City RV Resort. This is a very nice RV park with nicely spaced, level, concrete sites with a pool and hot tub. We used our Passport America membership for discounts that made our site quite reasonable for the week.
While we were innocently sitting in the back yard of Jeff’s aunt and uncle we couldn’t help but hear the overhead buzz of a prop plane climbing in elevation. Uncle Don made mention that we were hearing a parachuting plane making its assent. He also mentioned that Lodi has one of the countries most popular sky diving centers and if we ever thought of skydiving, this was the place to do it!
Of course this was all the words Jeff needed to hear to get the Spencer, “gee, that sounds like fun; wouldn’t that be awesome; I am going to drag my wife along to scare the living crap out of her but she will love it” wheels turning.
To be fair, last year when I turned 50 I decided that I needed to do something monumental to celebrate such a big milestone! I’m really not a big risk taker and I consider myself very conservative when it comes to… well, anything!
So when the words, “I want to skydive” came out of my mouth I looked around to see who said it! But it was too late. I said it out loud and sort of committed myself to doing something completely out of character. But if George Bush could skydive when he turned 80, then I had some serious motivation to not be outdone by an elderly former president who has no real bearing on my life!
When Jeff checked into sky diving in Arkansas last year fortunately unfortunately the jump appointments didn’t fit into our schedule and I felt a bit relieved that it just wasn’t going to work out.
But here we are over a year later, standing in line at The Parachute Center in Lodi California handing them hard earned money for the most terrifying experience thrill of a lifetime!
So this is how this whole experience went down.
The day before we were supposed to move on from Lodi, I woke up from a nap to see Jeff chewing on his fingernails. Fingernail chewing is my husbands tell that he is conjuring up something in that pretty head of his.
Asking what was up he said he wanted to surprise me with something but didn’t know how to spring it on his “give me at least 2 days to process something” wife. Poor fella! So he let me know that if we ever wanted to skydive, now was the time to do it.
The Parachuting Center draws skydivers from all over the world, most of whom spend their vacations or entire summers living in a tent city right on airport property. They jump from 9AM to 3PM every day of the week, no appointment necessary, just show up, pay your money and jump!
So while I was experiencing a post-nap euphoria I agreed to go skydiving.
We arrived at the Parachuting Center in a big hanger that smelled of parachuting junkies who hadn’t taken a bath in a good week. There were old couches that filled the center of the building with lockers that surrounded the perimeter. Old parachutes, Tibetan and country flags hung from the ceiling and dogs roamed freely.
We were handed a clip board of wavers to sign while watching an old VHS video that had been used so many times that the only thing visible was a faint outline of a long hair/bearded man from 1970-something sharing very important safety tips that I couldn’t hear.
After the informative video we were escorted to the fitting room where they sized us up and put on our harnesses, then introduced us to our jumping buddy. Our brief instruction of assuming the position of a banana was given and we were quickly loaded up into a stripped down airplane.
The plane climbed to 3,000 feet and a small group of hippies with helmets rolled up the side of the plane and jumped out. My jump buddy informed me that if you jump out at 3,000 feet with your own equipment it only costs $5 a jump. Good to know!
Once we reached 13,500 feet the side door of the plane opened up again, more hippies jumped out and all that was left was Jeff and I. We received our last bit of instruction to embrace the banana and remember to breath. And before we could contemplate what we were about to do or if we wanted to change our minds, we were being hurled out the airplane door.
The initial tumble was disorientating and dizzying and all I could do was close my eyes and wait for the spinning to stop. My ears were instantly feeling pressure and I felt myself unable to breath. But then we finally got into the belly down position and I remembered to assume the tomato… or was it bacon?
The photographer was zooming in and out trying to get me to smile. I’m pretty sure at this point I drooled all over my jump buddy as I forced myself to flash my pearly whites at the camera. The photographer was waved off and we pulled the cord to deploy the chute.
After adjusting the biggest wedgie of my life, we floated around making a series of turns to take in some of the vineyard views that consume Lodi. My jump buddy decided it was time to give me instruction on how to land and before I knew it I was lifting my legs and coming in for an amazingly soft butt landing. The jump was over!
THAT. WAS. TERRIFYING! WHAT. A. RUSH!
Jeff was walking towards me and I noticed that he was sweating profusely and white as a sheet. He said his jump buddy took him on a series of turns that gave him so much motion sickness that he just about lost his cookies!
On our drive home we just kept looking at one another wondering out loud, “what just happened”? From the time we left the RV, drove to the parachuting center, received instruction, flew to elevation, jumped out of the plane, landed, waited for our disc of pictures/videos and got back in the truck it was a total of 1 hour.
The only thing I remember from the rest of the day was that I had grass in my underwear and I was still panting and my heart was still racing 2 hours later.
So the lingering questions are…
Q: Are you glad you skydived?
Q: Do you think you will ever do it again?
Q: Are you sure? You didn’t say never!
A: I’ll answer that definitively when I turn 80!
Jeff and I were so excited to snag Half Dome permits. We packed our lightweight running backpacks in preparation for a very long day of hiking. Water reservoirs full, extra water bottles, salty snacks, turkey burgers, string cheese, almonds. We arranged for Sam to be checked on and walked by a neighboring camper back at the RV park.
We are hiking Half Dome Baby!
Jeff and I purposed to leave the Happy Isles trailhead at 6AM and found a place to park near the backpacker’s campground. We took the Mist Trail up past Vernal and Nevada Falls. This trail was like an adult water park and we were drenched by the time we made it through the falls. The Mist Trail is a stair step climb with minimal handrails. The granite stairs are a bit slick from being wet and we were thankful to have our hiking poles.
The top of the Nevada falls is a popular turn around for a lot of hikers. You can either head back down the mist trail or join the John Muir trail and loop back down another route. There are pit toilets here as well and there was quite a congregation of folks hanging out here before turning back.
We kept hiking past the Little Yosemite Valley campground (backpackers only) and another 3 miles further up the trail to Sub-Dome.
Sub-Dome is where things start to get interesting! Permits are required beyond this point. But at 9:30am there were no rangers there, making us wonder why we stood in line the previous day for 5 hours to get a permit. (They were actually there on our way down)
Narrow stairs chiseled out of solid granite, switchbacks and a steep slope was an exercise in vertigo control. I wish I could say what the view was like at this point but I was too focused on where to put me feet without looking down!
We reached to bottom of the cables about 10:30AM and unpacked our rubberized gloves for the final push. The gloves are amazingly helpful for gripping the cables. This section was EXTREMELY STEEP…almost repelling-like, and the gloves helped give extra grip to be more secure.
There was a pile of used gloves at the bottom of the cables that hikers leave for others to use. The wind tends to carry some off so there were a lot of unmatched gloves laying around.
Previously, we heard one of the rangers talking about the permit system for Half Dome. That if you couldn’t get a permit, you hate the system. But if you were lucky enough to get a permit, you LOVE the system. Jeff and I couldn’t have agreed more!
The climb up the cables was intense and I can understand why they put permits in place. After the permit system was instituted, half dome deaths dramatically decreased.
Each turnbuckle had a 2X4 attached to it to provide stable footing to rest or wait for passing hikers. Even with the limited people allowed on this hike we still got caught in traffic on the cables. But what was really cool was that everyone worked together encouraging one another, communicating, holding on giving each other the right of way. It was neat to see and experience, especially since it was so dangerous.
Just when I thought I couldn’t go any further we reached the top with a loud cheer from a few of the hikers on top. The last 500’ took us about 30 minutes and we celebrated by having a snack overlooking Yosemite Valley.
It’s moments like these that I become especially thankful for the ability to hike and climb. To have a body that is healthy and strong. To have a wrist that just 6 months ago was shattered and now I was pulling myself up the cables of Half Dome! We scored a permit to the top and now we are seeing a view not too many people can or will see.
The view on top was so big and grand. Lush green meadows, sparking water of the Merced River, waterfalls spilling over granite cliffs, crisp air, the shear drop off of El Capitan. It was all visible, even palatable from this one spot. What an experience!
Our climb back down the cables was looming so after an hour at the top we started back down. It’s comical to see the different strategies people use to go down. Face first, side-ways and backwards. I chose the backwards method which worked well. I felt very secure and it kept the vertigo in check. It was much easier getting down and we celebrated with our fellow hikers.
Overall this was an 18-mile hike for us that took 11 hours to accomplish. Talk about pooped!
The next day we needed to recover, so we pre-planned taking the Valley Floor tour ($25 each). This is a two-hour open-air tram tour driven by Sam and narrated by ranger Carol. They were affectionately dubbed Yosemite Sam and Christmas Carol!
Jeff and I normally don’t take tours, preferring to avoid tourist attractions. But we REALLY enjoyed this and would highly recommend it. We learned so much more about how the valley was formed, how Muir and Roosevelt worked together to start the National Parks, how bears are controlled in the park, and climbers on El Capitan.
My favorite story was when Christmas Carol shared about the flood of 1997. The rapidly rising water took out over 1,000 lodging sites in the form of campgrounds and lodges. Everyone was safely evacuated and not a single life was lost. Carol shared that the most special part of the flood was that the park was closed for 3 months for cleanup and only workers were allowed in. She said that without the crowds the wildlife came out of the woodwork with such peace and quiet. It gave me goose bumps to think about experiencing Yosemite in such a special way. I was envious of her job!
After our tour we took a stroll over to Yosemite Falls and then called it a day.
Thursday was our last day at Yosemite and we had two things left that we wanted to do. One was to drive to Glacier Point and the second was to hike the Four Mile hike. So much to still see and so little time!
The Four Mile hike (3200’ elevation gain) once was a toll trail developed in 1872 to connect the Valley Floor to The Mountain House lodge at Glacier Point. It is a strenuous hike that was eventually lengthened to 4.8 miles in order to flatten out some areas of steep grade. Even though mileage was added the historic Four Mile trail name was retained. The lodge burned down and the state of California eventually purchased the “private” trail for $2,500. It then became public property and toll free.
My legs were too shot for the 3200’ climb so we decided to drive to Glacier Point where Jeff would drop me off at the McGurk Meadow Trailhead on the way. This is an 8-mile one-way hike from TH to the Glacier Point. Jeff then parked at Glacier Point and hiked the 4-mile trail down, then back up.
Both hikes were beautiful. Mine was secluded with minimal traffic while Jeff’s was exposed on the side of the cliff with A LOT of people. We both ended our hikes about the same time and we had a great view of Half Dome!
We left Yosemite for the final time that day. We were both really sad. We could have easily spent a second week and still not have gotten in all the additional hikes we wanted to do.
I guess that just means we will have to make another trip back!
TEN TIPS FOR A YOSEMITE VISIT
- Come in the off-season if at all possible-shoulder months are less crowded.
- Avoid the Valley Floor during the weekends-there are great hikes around the perimeter of the park that are much less crowded.
- Arrive at the Park entrance gates before 8:30AM-Cars start backing up at the entrance by then and parking is limited. We heard of others waiting 4 hours in traffic just to get in the park entrance and other who circled parking lots for 2 hours trying to find an open spot.
- Take lawn chairs with you-we set up our chairs under a shade tree in the parking lot to get some work done and make business/family calls. Also, its just nice to sit, regroup and rest then get back out there for the rest of the day.
- Expect no connectivity-We had very poor cell coverage and no WiFi at our RV Park, even with our own hotspot and booster. We did find decent coverage in the parking lot in the Valley so we purposed to get some work done there each day after our hikes.
- Make arrangements for pets-Pets are not allowed on hiking trails but can be taken on any paved paths. There are lots of paved routes, but none that will give you any backcountry experience.
- Bring bikes-If you just want to explore the Valley Floor be sure to take bikes. Waterfall spots and lakes are spaced out making it a very long walk. Bikes will keep you from having to give up your coveted parking spot.
- Take the Valley Floor tour-Well worth the $25/person (reservations required).
- Be mentally prepared for irresponsible people who lack manners, don’t pick up after themselves and who ignore park rules-Its very disappointing to see the amount of trash left on the floors in restrooms and around crowded waterfalls.
- Take plenty of sunscreen and water-Even if it is a short distance, the air is dry and the sun is intense.