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.
Jeff was a Californian for the first 23 years of his life and one of his most shocking statements was that he has never been to Yosemite. Being a mid-west girl myself, I have a much better excuse why my eyes have never gazed upon El Capitan, Yosemite Falls or Half Dome. But to live within 90 miles of this National treasure and never to have seen it. Well, that’s just plane hard to believe!
Yet here we are, California surfer dude and Illinoisan tomboy, taking in this place together for the very first time. It was spectacular! That first view of Half Dome and El Capitan will forever be engrained in my mind. It’s emotional and spiritual and amazingly beautiful!
Being in Yosemite this year is especially spectacular since El Nino’ dumped abundant snow. Its spring and the snowmelt has added volumes of water to all of the falls in the park making for waterfall-palooza everywhere you look. Even the parking lots have incredible views!
It being Memorial Day weekend, I had made a weeks reservation at Yosemite Ridge RV Resort a couple of months in advance. Though the National Park entrance is just 13 miles from the RV Resort, it was still another 30-some miles to Yosemite Valley floor making our commute 45-60 minutes one-way.
We spent our first day (Friday) taking a drive to the Valley floor to get the lay of the land and get information for hiking Half Dome. Then we purposed to avoid the valley floor Memorial Weekend. What a good decision that was! By the time we were driving back to the RV Park each day the lines into the park were backed up for 3 miles.
We stuck to perimeter hikes out Hetch Hetchy to Tueeulala and Wapama Falls (5 miles round trip). The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir provides water to the Bay area and is so pure, no filtration is required. A ranger told us that they cannot tell you its ok to drink out of it without filtration, however, it exceeds EPA standards. The spray from the waterfalls over boardwalk trails were a real treat since it was getting really warm that day.
The next day we hiked to the Toulumne Grove from Hodgdon Meadows (10 miles). This is where a grove of Sequoia Redwoods stand. We were virtually alone until we reached the grove on this trail, which was on an old paved logging road and part of the original road into the valley.
The really cool part of this hike was seeing the Tunnel Tree that was carved out of a fallen sequoia around 1881 as a tourist attraction. The park entrance road drove right through this tree and a toll was collected! Things like this triggered the National Parks ranger program to prevent future destruction of the majestic redwoods and park resources. Because of the discovered Sequoia grove, the park entrance road was later re-routed to where it is today.
One of our bucket list hikes, second to The Grand Canyon, has been Half Dome. It’s a long day hike (16-18 miles RT depending on where you park) with the last 500 feet of climb up “the cables” to reach the summit.
A permit is required from Sub-Dome and above. There are only 300 permits issued per day with 60% of them available via online lottery up to 6 months in advance. The other 40% are issued via lottery a day in advance.
Since the 60% permits were already issued during our time there, we took a chance and tried the other 40% permits by diligently applying online DAILY at a $4.50 fee with each try…only to receive our Dear John letter every night at midnight.
Since that wasn’t working we found out that there are additional Half Dome permits available, but only if you apply for a backcountry camping permit. These are very limited also and are given out at 11AM on a first come first serve basis for hiking the following day.
In order to have a chance with this strategy we arrived at the backcountry office at 6AM to claim our spot in line and hope they had permits left by the time we reached the desk. Even at 6AM we had 12 others ahead of us and it wasn’t looking good.
But fortunately we had two groups ahead of us that were offered to start their hike THAT DAY which freed up 6 spots for the following day…and we got the last two permits!
WE GET TO HIKE HALF DOME BABY!!!!
So Jeff and I finished up a hard pressed 5 weeks of work responsibilities that took us from Las Vegas, NV to the northern coast of California. It was A LOT of miles with little sleep and sore rumps. Our schedule was rough (compared to FT RVing standards) but we did manage to experience some amazing places!
We attended the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. This is where retailers “shop” for new innovative ideas displayed by suppliers from all over the world. Other than this show, Jeff and I really don’t have an appreciation for Las Vegas.
It’s big and loud. For peeps who like to take in scenic runs and prefer dirt of dusty trails it’s just not our kind of place. But sometimes you just do what you gotta do!
We stayed at the Circus Circus RV Resort, which was 1.4 miles from the Hardware Show on the north end of the strip. We picked this park for convenience over amenities so our “camping” was a parking lot with full hookups.
Despite being in the city we found our stay to be quiet, especially since we ran the fan on the air conditioner all night. I’m not quite sure what the neighbors were up to but I did notice a shoe on the roof of their RV one morning.
Our RVing buddies Donna and Mike Kuper from Flying the Koop were in Las Vegas for the show as well and we had a quick dinner together before we all went our separate ways.
After the Hardware Show we had to zip over to the West coast for a company photo shoot. The shoot took us to Pacifica, Carmel, Santa Cruz, South Lake Tahoe, Auburn and San Francisco.
Jeff jumped on a plane in Vegas for a quick transition to San Fran while I made my maiden solo voyage in the RV. Though I do 80% of the driving, this was the first time I was alone for the trip. It really felt like the very first drive I took after I got my drivers license.
The training wheels were off and I had to make decisions on gas station approaches and clearances and conflicting GPS routing all by myself. I survived the drive and was reunited with Jeff a day later in Santa Cruz.
We stayed at the Santa Cruz Ranch RV Resort for it’s central location. It also happened to be within a mile of Jeff’s high school swim coach.
Jeff grew up in Sacramento and started swimming in high school. His coach would take a group of swimmers to his parent’s trout farm in Santa Cruz every summer. This was the start of Jeff’s career in the Junior Lifeguard program that he still talks about today.
Coach is retired now and lives on that same trout farm, even though the fish are now long gone. But what he lacks in fish he has made up in feathery friends. He has geese, exotic chickens, parakeets and turkeys, all squawking to be fed twice a day.
Coach is a part of Jeff’s family and even though our time was tight we did have an opportunity to have breakfast together and feed his plethora of animals.
We had a day of shooting in Pacifica and another day in Carmel. We roped some RVing buddies John and Becky into using their RV at some stunning locations. One spot was on private property on the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. WOW…what a location!
I had some heartburn watching our friends take their very nice Class A motorhome 4-wheeling on this rough farm property. The photographer wanted the RV as close to the edge of the cliffs as possible so I held my breath just hoping the RV would not roll right off the cliff into the water!
We spotted a pod of whales and a shark chasing a sea otter. The water was turquoise blue, the sun warm and the sunset unobstructed. IT. WAS. MAGICAL!
Since the photo shoot would last into the dark we approached the property owner to let us camp on his property until morning. He graciously agreed and we spent the night in our friends RV being lulled to sleep by the crashing waves. Best boondocking spot EVER!!!
Funny story though. While one of the models was changing in the RV the sliding bedroom door got stuck and we couldn’t get the model out! John had to climb in through the emergency window and work on it for 20 minutes before they both could be freed.
We wrapped up our Carmel stop with giant strawberries from a roadside fruit stand and big breakfast at Lou Lou’s on Monterey Fishermans Warf. Jeff and I found this little place years ago while Jeff was working for The Scotts Miracle Grow Company. They supported a Walmart junior golfing event a Pebble Beach for 3 years and heard about this place from a local.
The servings are huge and they have a special pancake called The Hubcap. And yes, it is the size of a hubcap! Get there early to get a seat before the line starts to back up around 9:15AM.
South Lake Tahoe
Our next stop was at various locations around South Lake Tahoe. We stayed at the Zephyr Cove RV Resort on the Nevada side of the lake. This was a wonderful campground with a delicious restaurant and beach just across the street on the edge of the Lake.
In 1980-something Jeff swam across Lake Tahoe in a relay. Freezing water made for an unforgettable experience!
We had asked one of Jeff’s high school friends, Sabrina and her significant other Roger to be models for the photo shoot at this location. This gave us time to get reacquainted since high school. They both recently retired and are adventurous people, so playing hikers in the woods of Tahoe was not a stretch for them!
Tahoe is one of my all-time favorite summer places to be. Cold nights and warm days, the smell of pine needles and the sound of wind pushing through the trees…all rejuvenating to my tired soul. But alas, our time was short and we had to get to the next location.
Loomis & San Francisco
Jeff headed to San Francisco with the team while I had pulled the RV to the Roseville just NorthEast of Sacramento so that we could visit with family while we were in the area.
Jeff heard about an epic race called, “Bay to Breakers” that was being run the day he would be in SF. It’s a 12k race that started in 1912. And in typical SF fashion it’s known for its nude runners, costumes and salmon runners who run the race in the opposite direction.
Jeff also got to squeeze in a visit with our nephew and his fiancé’ who just moved to SF.
In the mean time I was having some challenges finding a place to park. After calling 5 RV parks I found a spot at the Roseville Fairground RV Park. It was a bit rough there and after spending one night Jeff’s cousin insisted that I relocate to their driveway in Loomis.
Free. Nice views. Safe neighborhood. Wine. What’s not to love about driveway surfing!
Steve and Vicki were over-the-top lovely hosts and I parked here over a week while Jeff wrapped up the photo shoot and flew off to another event in Flagstaff. I loved my time here with wonderful family. I got a personal tour of the town of Loomis, had some delicious meals, drank more wine than I have in a long time ever. It was a joy to visit and we look forward to getting together again in the future.
It was 5 weeks in a pressure cooker and we were ready for a break. I had made reservations at the Yosemite Ridge RV Resort over Memorial Day week so I can’t wait to show you what we did there!
See you in Yosemite!