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camping Lists Outdoors Planning Travel Blog Washington

Hiking to the Enchanted Valley: A Complete Guide

Reservations: Advanced reservations are not required!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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camping Outdoors Travel Blog Washington

Hiking to Enchanted Valley: Giant Trees and the Lone Ranger

You know when you get lost and start to panic? You drive extra slow, turn down the radio as if it will help you see better, and start to think you’ve gone miles too far in the wrong direction? That’s kind of how we felt towards the end of our first day hiking the East Fork Quinault River Trail in Olympic National Park.

Ready To Rock

We were so stoked, this was the big one. Three nights in the backcountry with all our gear on our backs. We began at the Graves Creek trailhead near Lake Quinault. The well marked trail, that passes through old growth rain forest, leading to Enchanted Valley, is stunning. It winds through the forest, following the path cut by the rivers and creeks that are fed by glacial melt coming off the Olympic Mountains. The entire forest floor is covered in giant ferns that you’d expect to see in Jurassic Park, and moss grows on everything from the ground to the trees. Everything was so green! It almost looked enchanted (see what I did there?).IMG_3288

The most spectacular sights on this trail, in fact, are the trees. I really can’t say enough about them, you guys; enormous Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, mountain hemlock and western red cedar all around. I learned that Olympic National Park has the largest concentration of “giant” trees in a small area in the world. There are a few things in the natural world that have truly humbled me: the Grand Canyon, the night sky as seen from Madeline Island, the birth of my children. . . Add “the trees of Olympic National Park” to that list. These massive, towering giants stretch so high that I couldn’t even see the tops of them. Imagining how long they’d been there, how much of human history has passed by while they just grew and grew and grew, made me feel very small and insignificant. To witness their beauty and majesty first hand felt like an incredible privilege.IMG_3349

The smell, you guys. . . Oh my god, the smell. . . It was earthy, clean, crisp, woodsy; just divine. At one point we passed an extraordinarily large cedar tree that had fallen across the path. The National Park Service had cut through the middle of it, leaving the trail unencumbered, and the cedar’s shavings dusting the forest floor. The scent of that fresh cut tree was utterly intoxicating. I wanted to roll around in it, cover myself in cedar, be one with the forest. If we breathed it in any deeper we would’ve ended up with a case of cedar shaving asphyxiation.

The Giant Trees of Olympic National Park

I was overwhelmed by the desire to express my love for these trees—in a totally non sexual way, of course—and when I found myself particularly drawn to one specific behemoth of a tree, I had to hug it. I hugged a tree, and I liked it. I don’t even care if that makes me a hippie cliché. That tree and I shared a moment.

Cedar

The ultimate goal on our first day’s hike was to make it to Pyrites Creek. Since neither of us had hiked such long distances before, we didn’t want to try trekking all the way to Enchanted Valley on the first day, but we didn’t want to stop too early either. We decided to shoot for Pyrites which was, according to the maps, 9.5 miles from the trailhead; the third and final campground before entering the Valley. If we couldn’t make it that far we planned to stop at O’Neil Creek Camp, located just under 7 miles from the trailhead.

Zen Break at O'Neil Creek

When we arrived at O’Neil and took a snack/rest break, we were still feeling pretty energized, so we decided to keep going. About an hour later we started to question the wisdom of that decision. My Fitbit said we had already passed the 10 mile mark, and Pyrites Creek Camp was nowhere in sight. Had we gone past it somehow and not noticed? Were the maps wrong? Was my Fitbit wrong? We hadn’t seen another human being for hours. Mile after mile, and not a single soul passed by. We were tired, hangry, and our bodies were getting slower and clumsier with each step we took. As much as I love to escape the crowds of the city, not knowing if there are any other people nearby at all can feel a little disconcerting when you think you may be lost.

Just when I thought I might start to cry, he came walking out of the forest.

I wasn’t sure if he was real at first: He was a Park Ranger; tall, tan, and muscular, with a strong jaw, and beautiful blue eyes. His long, braided, blonde hair reached down his back, and his legs, in his little ranger shorts, appeared like the mighty trees surrounding us: solid.

It was as though the universe had sent this magnificent Viking god to give us the encouragement we needed to press on. I have no doubt that a socially unacceptable amount of time passed between his emergence from the woods and when we finally regained our ability to speak and, although it’s all a blur, I’m sure I sounded like a stuttering buffoon when we did (eventually) greet him. He probably walked away from the encounter assuming he’d have to rescue us at some point.

IMG_3397
Noname. Well played, Olympic NP.

Ranger Blondie Buns (yes, that’s what we named him after realizing we were too distracted by his sexiness to ask his actual name) asked to see our wilderness pass and we chatted for a few minutes. We mostly talked about being a Park Ranger, which he described as equivalent to being a glorified janitor. It made me sad to know that we need people like him going through this beautiful forest picking up the trash other people leave behind. Sometimes I think maybe I like trees more than people, but then I realize how grateful I am for folks who are willing to go around the woods picking up other people’s garbage. I guess I’d like to think it all evens out in the end.

After he walked away, Lindsey and I looked at each other, and I knew we were both thinking the same thing: You saw him too, right? Part of me wondered if I’d hallucinated the entire thing, if my mind had conjured him up just to keep from fracturing due to my high levels of exhaustion and anxiety.

The best tidbit of knowledge our Sexy Ranger Savior gave us was that we were almost there. It was like a physical weight lifted when he said that, like my pack was suddenly ten pounds lighter. We were going to make it, we hadn’t made a mistake.

IMG_3407
The river ran right next to our campsite, with a large downed tree which provided the perfect bench

We reached our campsite not long after we left RBB and, after taking a break to smoke a celebratory “we actually fucking made it” joint and have a snack, we got to work setting up camp and gathering firewood. Thankfully, despite it being so late in the year, the campground had plenty of branches strewn about, so we didn’t have to walk too far to find enough to keep us warm for a couple of nights.

IMG_3411
The moss covered trees surrounded our campsite

The campsite was perfect: a huge site, with towering, moss covered trees all around, right next to the river. After dinner we sat around our fire listening to the river, and taking a moment to really appreciate where we were. We couldn’t believe we did it. My Fitbit had clocked over 14 miles by the time I went to bed. Yet despite how far we’d come, between the fireside yoga we did at our campsite, and the CBD chocolates we ate for dessert, we felt amazing: strong, independent, empowered, and more in tune with nature and ourselves than we’d ever been.

There was one thing that didn’t feel amazing, and that was Lindsey’s feet. The blister’s she’d gotten at Shi Shi Beach had grown on our long-ass hike, and she was now developing new blisters between her toes. I swear, those boots were designed by a sadist. Thankfully, we’d replenished our first aid supplies, and Lindsey had her technique down to a science by this point. Treating Lindsey’s wounds had become part of our routine.

We talked about The Ranger quite a bit that night, wondering what he was doing at that moment. One of my only regrets from the entire trip was not asking to take a selfie with him. How could I, of all people, forget to take a picture?! We weren’t sure anyone would believe us when we told the story without photographic evidence—even we weren’t completely convinced he was real. For all we knew, we really had both come up with the same fantasy to cope with our fear of potentially dying in the woods alone.

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Dinner was Velveeta mac-n-cheese and it was fantastic. I think camping is the only time I actually like the stuff.

We went to bed that night with visions of majestic, towering trees, and sexy Park Rangers swirling through our minds. Knowing the beauty that was surrounding us, and that such a fine specimen of man was out there in the rare event of an emergency, gave us peace of mind. I won’t lie though, a part of me wished one of us would somehow injure ourselves, just enough to need to be rescued by Ranger Blondie Buns, so we could get that damn selfie. Lucky for everyone, that wouldn’t be necessary. We’d live another night and hike to the Enchanted Valley in the morning!

Thanks for stopping by! Come back next Sunday to read the next chapter in Lindsey and I’s Bestieversarycation. Also be sure to check out my other posts, and follow my blog to stay up to date on the latest Ladycations!

~Steph

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Outdoors Travel Blog Washington

Point of the Arches: Coastal Hiking At Its Finest

With our Bestieversarycation in full swing, we couldn’t wait for our next adventure: Point of the Arches. Our love affair with the Pacific Northwest was only beginning, and after our first backpacking trip and beach camping experience, we knew this wouldn’t be the only time us two travel companions would choose Washington State for our Ladycation destination. The beauty of the Pacific Coast cannot be understated.

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The view from the tent when I awoke in the morning

I woke up in the morning to the sun coming out from behind the diminishing clouds, the tide receding, and the fog lifting. The sound of the waves crashing ashore and the seagulls’ squawking mixed together like a maritime symphony, while the salty scent of the ocean and the smell of the forest filled my lungs. It was a feast for the senses.IMG_3050

I stepped out of the tent and, as though the ocean was calling to me, headed towards the shoreline. During low tide the beach spotted with rocks that are crawling with sea anemones, starfish, and mussels. The starfish were so freaking cool–I had no idea they could get so huge! Big, fat orange, red, and purple suckers were clinging to the rocks and each other. It’s an amateur nature photographer’s wet dream. I think I’d taken over 100 pictures before Lindsey even emerged from the tent.

Gather Round

Once she was up, we had some breakfast, and set out for Point of the Arches. It was a gorgeous two mile walk along the coast with plenty of creatures, shells, and sea glass to admire along the way. We probably took three times as long as necessary to get to The Point because I kept stopping to take more pictures, while Lindsey accomplished a goal she’d set: eating fresh picked seaweed. It didn’t seem like an overly thrilling experience, but mission accomplished, nonetheless.IMG_3061

 

The arches were everything they were cracked up to be. Tide pools everywhere with more starfish than we could ever have tried to count (We were seriously obsessed with the starfish, guys). We climbed on the rocks for a while, exploring all around the arches. Our climbing was cut short by the tide rolling in, making it difficult to get from rock to rock without going for a swim. It was about time to head back and pack up camp anyway, so it was sort of like Mother Nature was literally “mothering” us. Alright, girls, time to get going. Don’t make me count to three. Well played, Mom.

selfie on shi shi beach olympic national park

The clouds were all but gone, leaving only a few wisps scattered across the sky, and the sun blazing down on us. It was as perfect a beach day as I’d ever seen. We took our shoes off and hiked back to our campsite along the shore, the waves kissing our feet as we went.

Unfortunately for Lindsey, the ocean stroll had an unexpected, and rather grotesque consequence. As prepared as she was for this Ladycation, there was one important detail she’d put off till the last minute: hiking boots. Let the following story serve as a reminder of the importance of breaking in your footwear before you hike.

Point of the Arches

First aid supplies were not something we skimped on, thankfully (one of the benefits of hiking with people who work in the medical field). We had sterile gauze bandages, waterproof bandages, betadine swabs, alcohol wipes, mole skin, we even had a scalpel. Good thing, too, cause we needed all of it. ALERT! What follows may give you a case of the “icks.”

Sea Stacks

Lindsey’s brand new hiking boots had left blisters on the backs of both her ankles. She’d cleaned and bandaged them before bed, and again in the morning, however, despite the cool, ocean waves feeling amazing in the moment, they had also washed sand into the blisters. We’d never seen anything like it. Where once there had been typical, water filled blisters, were now horrifying looking pockets of sand beneath the skin. It was sick, you guys.IMG_3212

We figured she had two options, neither of which sounded appealing. One: she could wrap them up with a thick layer of mole skin and try to suck it up for the hike out, or, two: she could cut open the thin layer of skin holding the sand, clean it out, and bandage it up right there. Both options would hurt like hell (and be super, super gross).IMG_3203

Option two seemed like the safer bet since leaving the sand in there sounded like a great way to get an infection, so our campsite briefly became a surgical suite. I can’t tell you how awful it was to watch this operation take place. Not so much the actual process (I was a nursing assistant for years, I’m used to gross) but her face while she worked. It was agonizing. She had to remove the top layer of skin and wipe the sand away with alcohol pads. Alcohol pads! On open skin! I just can’t. . . It was horrible. Like an episode of Fear Factor that you don’t want to watch, but can’t look away from. I would’ve given anything for Joe Rogan to pop out of the forest at that moment, just to pry my eyes away from the scene before me. . . and maybe share some ganja. Despite looking like she was on the verge of passing out, Lindsey took it like a woman. I don’t know how she did it, and I don’t know that I could have. I guess this is an example of, “If you had to, could you?” For Lindsey, the answer is, “Hell yes. Pass the scalpel.”IMG_3053

The ocean, the tide pools, the arches, and sea stacks. . . This place will blow your mind. We didn’t want to leave (and not just because Lindsey’s feet were jacked)! I will definitely go back someday, and I want to spend a couple days this time. One night just wasn’t enough time in a place as spectacular as Shi Shi. Beach camping is everything I’d dreamed it would be and then some. But, we had an Enchanted Valley to hike to, so we climbed up to the trail and trekked back to the car, driving to our hotel for a night of sleeping in a bed before our next Olympic National Park adventure.

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camping Lists Outdoors Planning Travel Blog

10 Essentials for the Newbie Backpacker

There are a ton of websites out there with lists of all the backpacking essentials. This is a supplement, not a replacement, for those lists. These are suggestions you may not find on the other lists, and things I feel need reiterating.  Being properly equipped is the first step to a successful and stress-free outdoor adventure.

  1. Baby Wipes: There’s not always a water source near your campsite. The simple act of washing your hands becomes a distant memory, but a baby wipe will go a long way. Also, staying “fresh” while trekking through the wilderness is, shall we say, challenging. Take baby wipes with you for your more sweat prone and intimate areas. Your tent mate will thank you.
  2. Hardcore First Aid Kit: Blisters, cuts, scrapes, splinters, insect bites, poison ivy, sunburn, sprains, broken bones; anything can happen out there. Make sure you’re prepared with a bitchin’ first aid kit that covers all your bases. Bandaids, gauze, tape, an ace wrap, a splint, waterproof bandages, tweezers, antiseptic, pain medication, antihistamine; don’t skimp. You won’t need it until you do, but you’ll be really glad you have it when the unexpected happens.IMG_3564
  3. Trekking Poles: When you’re first starting out as a backpacker, you may not want to invest in too much fancy gear. Trekking poles may seem like an unnecessary accessory, or you might not want something extra to carry. Get the trekking poles. For one thing, they add stability; they can help catch you when you stumble. They also absorb some of the impact that would otherwise be absorbed by your knees and hips. Take it from a medical secretary for a group of orthopedic surgeons, you want to protect your joints. Treat them kindly or they will give up on you sooner than you think. Business is booming, I’m tellin’ ya.
  4. Mole Skin: This kind of goes with your first aid kit, but I feel it needs to be emphasized. Blisters can ruin an otherwise amazing experience. Mole skin has saved both me and my friends on a number of occasions, preventing an uncomfortable situation from becoming an unbearable one. Friction burn is another common backpacking injury, and once again, mole skin for the win.IMG_3369
  5. A Good Water Filter: This is one of those “you get what you pay for” scenarios. Don’t buy the cheapest filter you can find on Amazon and expect it to last. Believe me, having a broken water filter sucks. Invest in a good filter, and always have a Plan B: either a repair kit and/or purifying tablets.
  6. Fire Starters: Regardless of whether you’re a fire starting MacGyver, or a city girl who’s being dragged into the woods by her one outdoorsy friend, you can’t control the elements. If you’re trying to start a fire after a couple days of rain, it’s not going to be easy. Pick up some kind of fire starter to help get your fire going. You can even make you own (save your dryer lint)! sitting on an emergency blanket
  7. Emergency Blanket: You know the ones. You see them draped on the shoulders of marathon runners when they cross the finish line. In addition to their obvious purpose, they come in handy when backpacking for a totally different reason: you’re going to want something dry to sit on. Although an emergency blanket doesn’t offer any comfort, it does provide a barrier between the earth and your butt. It keeps you clean and dry, is inexpensive, small and super lightweight; it’s an easy add-on to throw in your pack.
  8. Hand Warmers: The self heating hand warmers you can buy at any drug store saved me on a cold, windy night on Mt. Rainier; where fires weren’t allowed, and the temperature dipped down into the thirties. A couple of strategically placed hand warmers can be the difference between a good night’s sleep, and a night of uncontrollable shivering and misery. Stick one in your pocket to warm your hands, one in the waistband of your pants, a couple in your socks–I’m tellin’ ya, it’ll change your life, or at least your backpacking experience.
  9. Garbage Bags: This is something that can be easy to overlook (I always forget them at the grocery store, in part because I reject the idea of spending money on literal garbage, so I subconsciously avoid the aisle, I think), but you’ll need a way to pack out your trash. There are no garbage cans in the back country. Take a few small, plastic bags to contain all your garbage, and help eliminate animal-attracting odors. Also, bear in mind that you may not want others to see your garbage (ever gone camping on your period?). Consider lining the outside of the bags with a layer of duct tape.dirty socks after backpacking all day
  10. Extra Socks and Shoes: Your hiking boots will be your primary footwear, but take a pair of water shoes or sandals to wear around the campsite, and in any bodies of water you step into. Taking off your clunky boots, and sweaty, dirty socks, after hiking all day, feels so good. You’re not going to relish the idea of putting your boots back on once your feet are enjoying the fresh air. Bring an extra pair of shoes, and allow your feet to breathe when you’re not hiking. As previously stated, your socks will be filthy. Be sure to pack extra pairs of clean, dry, moisture wicking, socks to keep your feet protected.

Backpacking can be the most incredible experience of your life as long as you’re prepared. It’s become one of the great loves of my life, and I can’t recommend giving it a try enough. Even if you’re a girly-girl, step out of your comfort zone and give it a shot. You just might surprise yourself!

Be sure to check out my other blog posts for more helpful hints, and stories from my travels. Thanks for stopping by!!

~Steph

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camping Lists Outdoors Planning Travel Blog Washington

Shi Shi Beach Hiking and Camping 101: A Complete Guide

  • Reservations: You do not need a reservation to camp on Shi Shi Beach!
  • Wilderness Permit: The National Park Service requires you to purchase a wilderness pass for any overnight trip within the park. This can be obtained at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles, or the South Shore Lake Quinault Ranger Station. Passes are $8/person/night
  • Makah Recreation Permit: Because the trail to Shi Shi is on Native American land you must purchase a pass to hike it. Neah Bay, the closest town to the trail head, has several locations where these can be obtained. Permits are $10/vehicle
  • Getting There: I’d love to give you directions, but I couldn’t retrace our steps if my life depended on it. There were a lot of construction detours when we were there making all my written directions useless and the lack of cell signal meant our GPS wasn’t working either. My best advice would be to go old school and take a map. It’s a very remote area and you can’t count on technology. At one point we’d driven several miles in the wrong direction before realizing our mistake. Pretend it’s the olden days—take a map. Click here for Makah reservation’s directions, but remember construction detours can cause the route to change.
  • Parking: The parking lot is literally someone’s yard. They charge $10 a night to use their property, and there are registration forms and an envelope to put your cash in. You’re supporting entrepreneurial small business owners. It’s a win-win.
  • Climate: While warm, sunny, summer days aren’t out of the question, Shi Shi Beach averages temperatures in the 40’s to low 60’s year round. Make sure you pack accordingly, and always bring your rain jacket or poncho.
  • Terrain: While the first half of the trail is a boardwalk, the second half of the trail is very muddy. Wear your old, dirty hiking boots instead of your new, cute ones. It’s also a good idea to pick up a tide chart, especially if you plan to continue your hike past Point of the Arches. Some areas can only be accessed during low tide.
  • Distance: Shi Shi Beach is 2 miles from the parking area. Point of the Arches is 2.5 miles from the trail, walking along the beach. This hike can easily be done in a day, but staying the night will allow more time to explore this beautiful area.
  • Water: The only source of freshwater at Shi Shi is a creek that empties into the ocean about a mile down the beach. It’s advised that you treat or filter this water before drinking.
  • Campsites: There are no assigned campsites, you can pitch your tent wherever you’d like along the beach. Be sure to take note of the tide line, and camp above it, so you don’t end up going for a swim in your sleep.
  • Campfires: Be aware that while campfires are permitted on Shi Shi, all fires must be above the high tide line and only driftwood can be collected. Removing wood from the forest is strictly prohibited.
  • Toilets: We’d read that there are pit toilets, but we never saw them. We weren’t really looking either, though. Unless you plan on setting up camp near the Point or the trail head where they’re located, they won’t do you much good anyway. Prepare to rough it.
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Camping on Shi Shi Beach: The Place I Found Zen

I don’t have the words to adequately describe the breathtaking beauty of Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park. Nor could I have imagined a more perfect first backpacking experience. I will forever look at this hike as the beginning of my love affair with both backcountry camping and the Pacific Northwest.

Locked and Loaded
Our bags were packed and we were ready to hike!

We arrived at the parking area (which is literally someone’s yard, so you get to hike and support small business. It’s a win-win) around dinnertime. It was drizzling and a fog was descending, blanketing the forest in a fine mist. It looked like a fairyland; some magical, enchanted world in another dimension. It was absolutely haunting.

The first mile or so of the trail is primarily a boardwalk and series of bridges that wind through a mystical Sitka spruce forest, working its way to the coast. When the boardwalk ends, the trail becomes almost entirely mud. There are bypasses around the exceptionally muddy areas, but they’re only slightly less muddy. Mud on mud on mud. We were pretty filthy by the time we reached the beach, so be prepared to get dirty, in the most literal sense, if you choose to do this hike—which you absolutely should.

 

 

It was so quiet on the trail. It felt like the fog was holding in all the sound, providing a barrier with the outside world, almost like being underwater. That eerie silence only added to the feeling of isolation as we trekked farther and farther from civilization; the fog growing thicker and thicker with each step. It was the ideal setting for a horror movie or supernatural thriller, so I half expected a bunch of kids to come running out of the forest, screaming about alternate dimensions and a girl with superpowers.  Stranger Things have happened. . . (If you don’t get that reference, you really need to up your Netflix game.)

As we approached the coast we started to hear the distant sound of waves crashing on the beach. The sound got louder until the trees opened up to reveal giant sea stacks jutting out of the ocean on the shoreline below. The fog seemed to extend infinitely, giving everything it touched a muted tone and soft edges. With no man made structures anywhere in sight, this place seemed timeless. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a pirate ship appear on the horizon.

Sea Stacks
The view when we arrived at the coast was spectacular.

It’s not until you reach the descent to the beach that you officially enter Olympic National Park, leaving the Makah reservation behind (special thanks going out to the Makah people for sharing their beautiful land with us). There are ropes rigged up between the trees to assist with the climb down, though it wasn’t nearly as difficult or harrowing an experience as I’d expected, which was both a relief and a disappointment at the same time.

 

 

Once at the bottom we emerged from the forest through a small, tunnel-like opening in the trees (total Chronicles of Narnia moment), onto the massive expanse of sun-bleached driftwood covered sand that is Shi Shi Beach. We made it! I love the ocean and, as a Midwesterner, seeing it is always exciting. But coming out of the woods with all my gear on my back and walking towards the Pacific was a moment I’ll not soon forget. I felt strong, confident, and in total awe of the scene before me.

Victory
The ocean seemed to be calling to us when we arrived.

Looking out to the horizon, we couldn’t tell where the ocean stopped and the sky began. We stood in wonder, admiring the rock formations framing the beach on either end, before we set out to find a place to make camp. With only about an hour of light left, we didn’t waste any time. There’s no assigned camp sites on Shi Shi; you just park your tent wherever suits you. We found a spot about 100 yards from where we entered the beach in a small, stone cove tucked in along the treeline. It provided excellent protection from the elements, and privacy from anyone who may camp nearby. It was perfect.

There was enough driftwood scattered around the beach to get us through the night, but it was a project gathering and carrying it all back to camp. Our legs got one hell of a workout trudging through the sand while dragging giant logs behind us.

 

 

Once we got our fire going we set up our stove and made dinner. We each brought a can of soup; nothing fancy, but a hot meal nonetheless. It was our first time using the camp stove and we learned a very quick lesson about its stability. Namely, it didn’t have any. Lindsey’s can of soup toppled over, spilling half its contents onto the sand while we stood there helplessly, realizing we also didn’t have anything to grip the hot can with. Total backpacker fail. She managed to use her shirt sleeve as a hot mitt and salvage what was left of her soup. We’d been feeling like we were the most badass women in the world, so that was a good lesson in humility. After spending several hours in the rain and mist, even the half spilled, somewhat burned soup was a luxury, warming us from the inside out.

We sat around the fire for a while listening to the sound of the waves, huddled up in our rain jackets and long johns; not even talking, just absorbing our surroundings. I think it was the first time we felt truly relaxed on the trip. Kayaking and seeing Seattle had been a blast, but this was true tranquility. Listening to the sound of the ocean is hypnotizing. It has this incredible ability to quiet my mind, slow down my thoughts, and focus them. I hadn’t felt such pure contentedness and peace in a long time. We knew there were other people on the beach, but everyone was spread out enough that we barely noticed we weren’t the only people in the world.

Campfire
The view while sitting fireside at our campsite. Not too shabby.

Lindsey went to bed fairly quickly, but I wasn’t ready for the night to end. I love that time of night, when the world is asleep and everything is still. That’s my time. So I kept the fire going, burning all the wood we’d worked so hard to collect, and relived the day through the pictures I’d taken. I listened to the ocean as the tide rolled in, letting the sound of every wave wash over me. Each one washed away another anxiety, another worry; sweeping every negative thought out to sea with it as it receded. It left me feeling centered, like I now truly understood what it meant to be “zen.”

I never bothered getting out my sleeping mat that night, opting instead to sleep on the sand (inside the tent, of course). It took a minute to carve out the appropriate ditches (boobs, hips, feet—it’s like making a snow angel in your tent, then just not getting up), but once I did and was settled into my beach front, ocean view “room,” with my calm mind and exhausted body, the most wonderful sleep took me over. I drifted to sleep with the sound of the ocean putting me in an almost meditative state, restoring my body to prepare for the trek to Point of the Arches in the morning. It was hard to believe how much we’d already done considering how many adventures were still to come on our Washington Ladycation!

Be sure to check out my guide to camping on Shi Shi Beach for everything you need to know before you hike, and read the next installment: our hike to Point of the Arches!

Thank you so much for stopping by!

~Steph

Categories
Lists Travel Blog

5 Reasons You Need A Vacation, And Why It Should Be A Ladycation

We all have excuses not to travel. All the responsibilities and obligations that we need to get a break from somehow become the reasons we don’t take a break. We humans make no sense. Aside from just flat out being a good time, traveling even has health benefits! So do yourself a favor and take a vacation. Better yet, take a Ladycation.

5. Friends Who Travel Together Stay Together

We’ve all had friendships that have come into our lives for a time and then faded away. Childhood friends we lose track of, work friends we don’t keep in touch with when we begin new jobs, friends who move away. As we get older the quality of our friendships becomes more important, preferring a few close, genuine friends, over a gaggle of superficial ones. Since traveling with someone is so intimate; forging a bond through a shared, unique experience, your friendships with your fellow Ladycationers will stand the test of time. They’re the kind of friends you’ll enter assisted living with. They’ll be the ones you play slot machines with when the nursing home bus takes you to the casino, the ones you drive to Canada with for affordable prescriptions, the ones who hold your hand through chemo and who remind you still to use condoms, even when you’re 82. Ladycationers are friends for life.IMG_3915

4. Strong Female Friendships Help You Live Longer

Our female friendships nourish us in ways other relationships don’t. When familial or romantic relationships are causing us stress, it’s our female friendships that we lean on for support. Studies have shown that close, quality friendships are as important to your overall health and longevity as a healthy diet and regular exercise. As we get older these relationships become even more important. Our children grow up, our own parents pass away, we get divorced or widowed, and it’s the relationships with the influential women in our life that give us the sense of belonging and purpose we need to keep going.

3. Travel Makes You Smarter

It’s science, ladies. Our brains need as much exercise as the rest of our bodies, and travel is an excellent way to give them a workout. In study after study, traveling is shown to increase creativity and problem solving skills. Exploring different cultures provides a fresh perspective, opens our minds to new ideas; our brains working overtime to process and understand the new information and relate it to what it already knows.

Havasupai Trail to Supai, Arizona
My fellow Ladycationer, Mary and I, before our ten mile trek to Supai.

2. There’s More To Travel Than Family Vacations

Family vacations are awesome. Taking time to get away and reconnect brings families closer together, and we all want to show our children the world. But it can also be stressful as opposed to restful.

A Ladycation is a vacation that allows you to take a break from being “Mom,” or “Wife,” or whatever other label you’re tethered to. It allows you to break free of the identity that is wrapped up solely in your relationship to others, and rediscover who you are as an individual.

And, as is true with workplace productivity, taking a break from the pressures of everyday life can increase the quality of the time you spend with family, too. What’s that saying, “Happy wife, happy life?” As a single-and-plan-to-stay-that-way kind of woman, I prefer: When women are happy, your life is less crappy. IMG_3874It’s a little more all inclusive.

1. Ladycations Are Heart Healthy

Life is stressful. Work, kids, social obligations, ailing family members, financial responsibilities; it builds and builds. That tension isn’t all in our heads. Stress manifests in our physical health, both directly and indirectly. We’re more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking (chain smokin’ like it’s 1950), overeating (eating all your feelings), and social isolation (Netflix, yoga pants and “winter legs”) when we’re struggling with chronic stress. It even causes our brains to release hormones that elevate our heart rate and blood pressure and, over time, contribute to a buildup of plaque in our arteries and cause our blood to thicken, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Both traveling and friendship are shown to reduce stress and promote overall well-being and longer life span. So, really, it would be irresponsible not to take regular vacations. Travel, wander, explore; pick up your girlfriends and take a Ladycation. Your life may depend on it!img_6799-1

Categories
Outdoors Travel Blog Washington

Kayaking: Exploring the San Juan Islands

We were up early on our second day in Washington in order to get to the ferry in Anacortes by 9:00. The ride on the boat was absolutely beautiful; coasting past islands, passing sailboats and other ferries, as the sun rose higher in the hazy, wildfire smoke sky. What a great way to get us in the mood for our day on the water!

Ferry boat rides weren’t new to me. I grew up splitting my childhood between our home in Duluth, Minnesota and the parsonage of the church where my dad was the pastor, a two hour drive and ferry ride away on Madeline Island, Wisconsin in Lake Superior. This ferry boat, however, was a whole new experience. The boat itself was huge, like 6 of the ferries I was used to all stacked together. I was also used to a 20 minute trip as opposed to the two hour journey from Anacortes to San Juan Island. I thought I knew ferry boats. I didn’t know squat.

I researched several tour operators and decided on Outdoor Odysseys because they provided lunch and had the best price. We couldn’t have been happier with our experience. The guide was fantastic. He was so knowledgeable, and he made sure we got the most of our time on the water. We met him just beyond the ferry landing in Friday Harbor where a van was waiting to take us to the launch point at the Town Park. After a brief tutorial upon arrival we were in our double kayaks and headed out to sea.

Sea Explorations
Learning about the limestone quarry and mine as we passed by.

It was a gorgeous day. The sun was desperately fighting to break through the smoke that lingered in the atmosphere from the wildfires burning in Canada, and the temperature was perfect. It took us a while to find our rhythm, and it took me a while to figure out how to use the rudder, but that tour along the coast of the island was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I’d only kayaked once before and that was on a shallow, murky river in Ohio. It had been a blast, don’t get me wrong, but we ran aground twice, ran into one tree, and were run into by a canoe of Japanese tourists about 86 freaking times, and I swear they were doing it on purpose. So being out on the open water was a whole new world.

 

Michael, our guide, was a geologist who seemed to know everything there was to know about the islands. There were only three other people on our tour so we were all able to ask questions and he answered them easily. I was blown away by how much this guy knew: the types of trees, the different jellyfish, the minerals, he was like the Yoda of San Juan Island. I had a vibe from him throughout the whole trip: he belongs here. His passion and love for The Islands reminded me of how I feel about Madeline Island; like a piece of my heart is always there and I’m only truly whole when I am, too.

We paddled for about 2 hours, passing an old limestone quarry and mine before stopping at “Dead Man’s Beach,” in Lime Kiln State Park, just past the lighthouse, for lunch. The website advertised a “vegetarian” lunch which, although great for Vegan Lindsey, made me nervous. I’m not just a carnivore, but a carnivore who only likes about 10 foods, none of which are vegetables. I truly might be the pickiest eater on the entire planet. I sort of eat like a 5 year old, which is embarrassing, and gets really awkward on dates. “I know a great sushi place.” “That’s cool, but I know a place with awesome mozzarella sticks.” Much to my delight, the meal was delicious. Pita bread, organic peanut butter and jelly, fresh fruit, vegetables, cookies, cheese; it was exactly what we needed to re-energize our bodies for the paddle back.

 

The “paddle” back turned out to be more of a coast because the current basically carried us the entire way. We just kicked back and enjoyed the ride, gliding through the water, snapping pictures, admiring the coast and keeping an eye out for orcas.

Sadly, we didn’t see any whales. There was a cluster of a half dozen or so tour boats (with engines) about five miles off shore. Michael explained that those boats all went out in different directions every morning, and would radio each other when they found one of the resident orca pods so that they could all bring the tours to the animals. I think I was more disappointed about that than I was about not seeing any whales myself. I can’t imagine they like being surrounded by loud-ass boats that follow them everywhere, when they’re just trying to find some freaking lunch. They keep coming back though, so maybe they’ve just come to accept it as a part of life. It beats Sea World, I guess.

 

I suppose the best way to ensure whale sightings is to take a tour on one of the larger boats, but I’m glad we chose to kayak instead. Although we didn’t see any orcas, we saw harbor seals and a bald eagle, and were able to spend hours on the water, really experiencing, as opposed to just observing the islands.

The ferry ride back to the mainland went a lot faster than the ride there. After a glass of wine in Friday Harbor, I vaguely remember boarding the boat and getting two corner, bench seats. The next thing I remember is the announcement over the speaker system that we were arriving in Anacortes. I shot up, entirely confused, and looked out the window to see that we were, indeed, pulling into port. We’d been out cold since shortly after the ferry left San Juan Island, and had missed the entire ride.

Ferry Ride
A quick picture before we both passed out inside the ferry. What an amazing day.

Now that we were back on land all we wanted was to eat and sit in the hot tub. Once we got back to Winston House and had stuffed ourselves with pizza and breadsticks, we ate some CBD chocolates and climbed into the hot tub with a joint. We smoked and talked about our next day’s adventure: Rattlesnake Mountain. An hour later we were the picture of serenity; full, happy, excited and relaxed. An hour after that we were back asleep, but in our bed this time. Besties: out.

Categories
Outdoors Sightseeing Travel Blog Washington

Rattlesnake Mountain Hike: Teenage Wasteland

Narrowing down our choice for a day hike near Seattle was tough. We only had one day set aside so we had to make it count, and there are so many options. Ultimately I decided on Rattlesnake Mountain so we could get used to hiking at higher elevations, because it had a lake, and because it wasn’t far from Snoqualmie Falls, another stop on our itinerary.

It was only a 40 minute drive, but by the time we’d gotten coffee and breakfast, and stopped at Pike Place Market to peruse the vendors, it was well past noon. The sun was beating down and the temperature had crept into the high 80’s. This was going to be a hot hike.

Rattlesnake Lake
A beautiful day at Rattlesnake Lake.

The lake was a brilliant shade of turquoise; crystal clear and shallow, with the mountain reaching skyward behind it. Standing on that beach in the blazing hot sun and looking out at that lake. . . we couldn’t resist. We ditched our shirts, swapped our hiking boots for water shoes, and waded into the cool, heavenly water. After we were sufficiently refreshed we laced our boots back up and hit the trail.

The trees were towering overhead, providing some much needed shade as we hiked. It wasn’t a secluded area, we passed countless hikers on our way up the trail. Many of them were teenagers which, I’m not gonna lie, I found annoying. I go into “Mom Mode” when kids are around, I feel responsible for them. I will most definitely be the old lady yelling at kids to “get off my lawn.” I’m not begrudging America’s children their right to be there. I actually think it’s awesome that they’re outside instead of sitting in front of the TV. I just prefer other people’s children in smaller, quieter doses and not when I’m getting my nature on. More remote trails are preferred, but it was a lovely hike nonetheless.

The Hike
Hiking up Rattlesnake Mountain.

The view once we made it to the top was beautiful. The lake looked so far away; the brilliance of the blue water on full display from such a distance. It was hard to believe we’d come so far!

Just like the trail, there were quite a few people milling around the observation area when we reached the top; the would-be peace interrupted by the chatter of half a dozen conversations and various teenage shenanigans. We found an empty boulder as removed as we could get from the crowds and sat down to enjoy the view. Despite the throngs of teens, it was nice to sit on top of a mountain, eating a snack, and soaking up the sunshine.

A little squirrel was scurrying around looking for handouts while we were chilling there. He was a ballsy little fella, came right up to people with no trepidation, sniffing thoroughly before moving on when he didn’t find what he was looking for. I got the feeling he knew how to use his cuteness to manipulate people, cause he didn’t look like he’d missed a meal in quite some time.

 

After another brief dip in the lake once we’d finished our hike, our next stop was Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge, which were used during the filming of Twin Peaks, a show Lindsey and I were both fans of. We meandered around the viewing area for a while, admiring the falls and making Twin Peaks jokes. We wished we’d had more time to hike around the area, but the sun was setting and we were starving.

We went up to the Lodge for dinner and immediately felt out of place. It was a pretty classy joint, and we were in our dirty, sweaty hiking clothes after trudging up a mountain and frolicking in a lake all day. Awkward, but not so awkward that we chose to go elsewhere.

 

We got a table at The Attic, their more casual restaurant, and Lindsey ordered a “Dale Cooper.” Named in honor of a character from the show, she said it was the best drink she’d ever had. We were still gushing about how good the homemade chips and dip were when our entrees arrived. I have to say, their pizza may be the best pizza I’ve had in my whole life. Lindsey finished off dinner with a “Damn Fine Coffee,” another reference to Twin Peaks, and we headed back to Seattle, deciding that had been one of the best meals we’d ever eaten.

We immediately slid into the hot tub when we arrived back at Winston House. We were relaxing after smoking a joint when the kid who was renting the room next door came outside. He was young, kind of nerdy, and just stood there looking out at the dark backyard, smoking his bong and pretending he didn’t see us.

He was one of those guys who undoubtedly hadn’t spent much time around girls. It was like even though he wanted to, he didn’t know how to start a conversation, so he just inserted himself into the vicinity, smoked his bong so we knew he was “down,” and waited for us to talk to him.

Clearly this was going to be a strained interaction that neither Lindsey or myself had any interest in participating in, but we felt obligated to acknowledge him. We said hello and he came over and stood next to the hot tub, staring down at us. He was only giving minimal responses between creepy stares and bong hits (which he never even offered to share—rude) so we were forced with deciding between peppering him with questions like he was a toddler, just to keep the conversation going, or sitting in awkward silence while Young Buffalo Bill leered at us like he was trying to figure out how many lampshades he could make out of our skin. We opted for door number one and ended up having the world’s most painfully boring conversation, during which we learned he was a “gamer,” and was in town for a gamer convention. Hello, Cliché.

The whole thing was starting to feel like the opening scene of a Law and Order SVU episode.

SVU Seattle: Two best friends go on vacation together, looking for fun and adventure. The young, disturbed man with the troubled past and extensive juvey record happens upon them in the hot tub at their [insert AirBnb knock off name here]. Camera shows the women exchange a concerned look when they start to sense danger. Switch to close up of Creepy Perv’s face right before he pulls out a knife. Screen goes black. Women scream. End scene. Next thing you know Mariska Hargitay and Ice T are pulling our chopped up bodies out of Puget Sound and piecing together our last known whereabouts through our social media posts and the GPS in our rental car.

Things were getting weirder by the minute and Lindsey was the first to call it a night. I wasn’t ready to get out of the hot tub, but about 4 seconds alone with the villain from an after school special and I was heading in as well. I’m sure he was a perfectly nice, harmless kid, but there’s a limit to how long I can tolerate being looked at as though being mentally undressed. . . And possibly dismembered. Besides, we had a big day ahead of us: backpacking to Shi Shi Beach, so a good night’s sleep was required.

I’d later decide that between the crowds at Rattlesnake Mountain and The Creeper on the deck, it was my least favorite day of the trip. Then I’d marvel at how fortunate I am to have “being around a few teenagers,” and “being looked at by a weird dude” be the worst things to happen on our entire vacation. Win!

Categories
Sightseeing Travel Blog Washington

Sleepless In Seattle: Tale of the Two Tired Tourists

By the time we left Winston House for some Seattle tourist stops I’d been up since 3:00pm (Seattle time) the previous day, 27 hours ago. I’m pretty sure the only thing keeping us going was adrenaline and sheer determination. A wise person would’ve called it a night. Call us fools, cause off we went to traipse all over the city.

Nirvana, Kurt Cobain's house in Seattle, Washington
Selfie outside Kurt Cobain’s former home.

Our first stop was the former home of the talented and tormented Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain. It’s located in an upscale neighborhood, on a tree lined street that twists and turns past mansions with iron gates, and overlooks Puget Sound. The house itself is mostly obscured from view by trees and a tall fence that’s crawling with shrubbery. I can’t imagine living in a house you know will be gawked at by throngs of 90’s grunge fans. Maybe they’re Nirvana groupies.

The garage where Kurt ended his life has since been demolished. Near where it once stood is a memorial of sorts. Up on a hill, next to an old, tall tree, sits a single bench. I remember standing there and thinking that the whole place seemed to capture exactly who Kurt had been. It was picturesque, quiet under the embrace of the tree. The bench was covered in graffiti, poems and notes of sorrow and gratitude, half smoked joints and empty cigarette packs, the remains of burned out candles and long dead flowers. It was beautiful and messy; chaotic, anguished, yet filled with a simple kind of sweetness.

Our next destination was strictly for me and was a total nerd-out moment: the home used for the exterior shots of Meredith Grey’s house in the first season of Grey’s Anatomy. I love that show. And yes, I still watch it, so I was pretty stoked. We didn’t stay long, just long enough to take a couple selfies while I geeked out a bit before moving on in our explorations.

Kerry Park is a popular stop for tourists and is only a few blocks from the Grey’s house. The park is small, more of an observation area with a sculpture than a park, but the view was spectacular. High above the city, the park looks out over downtown and the Space Needle as well as Puget Sound. On clear days, which unfortunately, that day was not, you can even see Mount Rainier in the distance. But, with the smoke coming down from the wildfires burning north of the border in Canada, the entire western half of the state was blanketed in a haze.

We sat down and watched the ferry boats coming in and out of the city, taking some pictures and realizing how extraordinarily tired we were. The sleep deprivation was catching up with us hard and fast.

We needed to get moving so we left for dinner. We thought we’d have enough time to explore the downtown area before heading to the restaurant, and were counting on the walk waking us up a bit. Our reservations were at Matt’s in the Market which is downtown in Pike Place Market. I’d read Pike Place was a must-see when visiting Seattle and Matt’s had received stellar reviews. It was one of two dinner reservations I’d made for our trip, the other being for the final night. Somehow I’d convinced myself that our reservations at Matt’s were at 9:00 when, in fact, that was the time for our other reservation. I didn’t realize that until the restaurant was calling and asking if we were planning to show up for our 7:30 dinner slot.

No longer able to do any exploring, we drove downtown and parked at The Market right around the corner from the restaurant. However, despite the GPS telling us we had arrived, we couldn’t find it to save our lives. There are alleys and buildings on several levels all over the place and we couldn’t figure out which one housed Matt’s. We were feeling all kinds of embarrassed when we called the restaurant to tell them we were lost. The hostess looked out the window and saw us standing there, looking confused, and graciously directed us to their door.

The restaurant is in a renovated warehouse. It had high ceilings and large windows overlooking the market. It smelled incredible when we walked in and we probably would’ve been gushing about it had we not been borderline comatose from exhaustion.

We sat at a table by a window and struggled to make conversation throughout the whole dinner. We tried, but our brains were working so slowly that just absorbing the words the other person was saying was hard, and it didn’t leave any energy for translating the words’ meaning. Our bodies were shutting down and we had to fight just to keep our eyes open. I can’t even imagine what we must’ve looked like to onlookers. A lesbian couple who got in a fight on the way to the restaurant? Dawn of the Dead? Two terminally ill women eating their last meal? Not exactly the life of the party, that’s for sure. I was too tired to even drink.

The food was exquisite. We ordered the cheese platter as an appetizer, and my entree was an expertly prepared filet mignon that practically melted in my mouth. Unfortunately I was too tired to fully appreciate it and couldn’t stop thinking about that hot tub waiting for us back at Winston House. I wanted to savor every bite, but instead found myself scarfing it down in order to be finished and “home” quicker. I just wanted someone to come carry me to the car, drive me home and tuck me in. I felt a little guilty wasting such a delicious meal on someone who could barely taste her food because her taste buds had gone night night.

We didn’t stay in the hot tub for long after we got back. We were afraid we’d pass out in there and drown, so we only stayed in long enough to smoke a little indica and let the water soothe our achy, fatigued bodies. It was the most perfect way imaginable to end our first day of Ladycation. When we did finally crawl into bed that night we were out within seconds of our heads hitting the pillow. We had to rest up for our next adventure: kayaking the San Juan Islands.