It’s All Fun and Games Until I Crack My Skull

First confession: I spend an inordinate amount of time in-line skating (rollerblading) and listening to 80’s pop music. I’m stuck in the 90’s, love the 80’s, and taking my skates and my music and hitting the trail is my favorite escape from the now. The trail on which I skate was once a railroad line that has been paved over and is a popular spot for all sorts of recreation. The section I frequent runs through wooded areas, farmlands, and marshes. Though it’s a popular trail, many trailheads and parking areas situated on the borders of nice suburban neighborhoods, it’s not nearly as busy as some of the trails in the parks closer to the city. That’s why I like it. I can feel like I’ve gotten away from it all on a trail that’s just around the corner from my house: just me, my skates, and that 80’s music. For the most part, alone. It’s one of the rare times that when I say I’m living the dream, I’m not being sarcastic.

Confession number two: I hate personal protective gear. Absolutely despise it. I wouldn’t wear it as a kid—it was off the second I was out of my parents’ sight—and up until recently, I refused to wear it as an adult. The shit’s uncomfortable: it inhibits motion; it itches; I just don’t like it. In addition, as a former figure skater, I’ve always been pretty cocky about my need (or lack thereof) of it. However, the “up until recently” coupled with the title should indicate where I’m going with this.

One minute, I’m skating, taking advantage of being alone on the trail to really get into the music and how my body moved to it. The next, I’m waking up, the right side of my face flat on the pavement, both tingling and throbbing. Both numb and in pain.

I’d fallen before, and the figure skater who is still very much alive within me knows that falling is no big deal. Get up; brush off; keep skating. But this time, for the first time ever, I couldn’t.

“Get up,” the voice said. Sometimes when people talk about accidents or traumatic experiences, they talk about how they weren’t really alone, like there was a presence with them. Some people credit a guardian angel; others have mentioned their higher selves. I don’t know what I believe the entity speaking with my voice inside my own head was, but whatever she was, whoever she was, she’s kind of a bitch.

“Get up,” she repeated, voice stern, no time for sympathy. I, however, was still rebooting and taking assessments of the damage.

Rebooting-Terminator vision

Still rebooting, kind of like a terminator.

I could feel my fingers and toes; I could move my head. Good signs, but there was something wrong with my vision. I was blind in my right in my eye. “Close it,” the voice said. I obeyed. “Can you see well enough with your left eye to navigate yourself out of here?” I nodded and responded to myself in the affirmative. “Then get up.”

I tried to push myself up, but my left arm wouldn’t hold my weight. You know those survival stories in the movies in which the hero digs deep into their spirit and proves that it really is mind over matter and all you have to do is want your body to work badly enough and it will? Bullshit. All of it. My left arm was useless.

“How’s your right arm?” the voice asked.

“Seems okay.”

“Then get up.”

I sat up and the world spun. I focused on the ground under me as the blood dripped from my face and splattered in little droplets on the pavement. I wanted to lie back down.

“That would be a horrible idea,” the voice admonished as I tried to remember how many serial killers had come from Washington state.

It was at that moment that I realized the pepper spray, which I always keep tucked in my bra when on the trail, was no longer there. I spotted it about ten feet away and tried to push myself onto my knees and crawl to it, but the dizziness hadn’t subsided, and I swayed and fell. Ten feet or ten miles made no difference. For the moment, I was utterly helpless and alone.

I reached for my phone—which had also fallen from my bra to the pavement, but hadn’t gone nearly as far thanks to the earbuds still attached and in my ears—and tried to call my husband. He was also on the trail, but he’d been jogging, so he was way behind me and wouldn’t be covering as much ground. Given the time (the plan was to go 20  minutes down and then turn around), he was likely already on his way back to the trailhead, expecting me to skate up behind him any minute.

It was then that I lived one of my actual recurring nightmares. Do you ever have the dream where you’re trying to operate your phone and you just can’t? You can’t tap the numbers, or you consistently dial the wrong person, or your keyboard is set to the “moving staircase at Hogwarts” setting, created especially for nightmares and stress dreams? That became my experience in the waking world. I couldn’t make my brain and my fingers work together to make the call. I just sat there and stared at my phone and fought the urge to cry.

“Panicking won’t help,” the voice reminded me. I’m honestly not sure if she was talking about my inability to use my phone or what happened next.

I saw people coming and—glancing longingly with my good eye at the pepper spray I couldn’t reach—I could do nothing but hope that they meant me no harm. I couldn’t have fought if I’d wanted to and panicking about it wasn’t going to help. I reminded myself that I was on a family trail, running parallel to the freaking suburbs. I really didn’t have anything to worry about. These people were probably far more likely to be of help than harm.

Then I reminded myself how often the murder shows on the Investigation Discovery channel take place in the suburbs and how many times the killers seem nice and helpful.

I held my head up, which I was grateful I could do, and smiled, trying to look as well and healthy as possible. Drip…drip…drip, I heard my blood hit the pavement and wondered how grotesque my smile must be.

Exclamations of, “Oh my God!” and “Do you need help?” came the second the man and the woman on bicycles got close enough to see my face. I noticed that the man had blood on him. The woman began explaining, as she gathered my scattered belongings, that she’d just bandaged her companion after his bike accident only moments before, and that she didn’t have any more band-aids but she’d do her best to clean me up with what she had left. I think that ended up being a clean napkin and some of the water I had left in my bottle, but unsurprisingly, I can’t recall.

The woman was quiet as she handed me my pepper spray, a silent acknowledgment between us that it wouldn’t have done me any damned good in this situation. If anything, had someone wanted to hurt me, I’d have supplied the weapon. Still, she smiled approvingly as I tucked it back into my bra. She and her companion helped me up and got me to a nearby picnic table so we could continue to assess the damage.

They kept talking to me and asking me questions. I assumed this was because, though I knew exactly where I was and what had happened, I’d had a hard time communicating it. I can only guess what these truly kind people must have thought when they heard me barely string together slurred words, and they did their best to keep me alert. Bless them! Soon, a third cyclist, a woman who told us she was an EMT, also stopped to help. She asked which trailhead I’d started from and if there was someone waiting for me.

“My husband!” I exclaimed. “I need to try and call him.”  I took a gamble at trying to operate my phone with an audience. My vision had started coming back and I was sure that if I concentrated hard enough, I could make the call. I had to. I’d heard the EMT whisper the word “ambulance” to the others and I assure you, nothing scared me more than that word.

For the handful of international readers my WordPress stats tell me I have, I want to be clear. The United States health “care” system would be a joke if it wasn’t already a nightmare. It’s bad enough if you have to visit the emergency room, but you definitely don’t want an ambulance to get you there. Depending on your economic status and your healthcare coverage, an ambulance ride and the subsequent ER visit can be financially devastating, especially if you end up being admitted to the hospital. Even with “good” health insurance, the debacle that followed the care I sought…well, that’s a whole other story. The short point is, I knew there was no way in Hell I was letting anyone call an ambulance. I’d take my chances with The Reaper first. I prayed my husband answered his phone.

“Hi babe, what’s up?” his chipper voice answered. He’d been enjoying his jog.

“Where are you?”

“I just turned around a few minutes ago.”

“Well, I’m gonna need you to turn back around.” I calmly told him what happened and that I was going to be fine, but his assistance was definitely required. He said he was on his way.

The vision in my right eye was returning in time to watch the swelling in my right cheek rise underneath and impede my vision in a different manner.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard the voice in a while. All of my thoughts were distinguishably my own. I had the sense to thank the source of the voice mentally rather than verbally. I really didn’t want an ambulance ride.

Talk of an ambulance had stopped since reaching my husband, but the EMT kept telling me that I really need to go to the emergency room, that I was pretty badly swollen and continuing to swell quickly. She told me that she was concerned about broken bones in my face, and when I told her about my arm, she was adamant that I get that checked, too. Still, I very clearly stated that I was already feeling better and that I had no intention of going to the ER.

Based on where my husband told me he was when I’d spoken to him, he made it to that little picnic table on the trail in record time. A look of suppressed panic crossed his face when he saw me; a look that said, This is really bad but I don’t dare tell her how bad this is. As if I wasn’t dying to take a selfie to see it for myself.

I told him what happened, and then each of the three wonderful humans who’d stopped to help filled in bits of information. “She needs an emergency room,” the EMT wasted no time telling him. “She says she’s fine but she’s very clearly in shock. Where are you parked?”

There was much discussion about the best way to get me back up the trail. Do we walk the 2.5 miles back to where we were parked? Where was the closest trailhead? Should my husband go back to the car and drive to that one? No real option was better than the last.

“The best way for me to get out of here is to skate out,” I said. I was tired, and nothing good could come of me wasting time sitting there if I did have a serious problem that needed attention.

“No,” literally everyone responded in near perfect unison.

“Any way you slice it, I’m going to have to get out of here, under my own power, on foot,” I said, trying to keep exasperation out of my voice. Everyone there was trying to help me, after all. “The fastest way is to skate.”

Turns out, threatening to skate was the best way to convince everyone that I was fine to walk back to the car. I thanked my trail angels and swore that I’d be okay. My husband thanked them and promised that we’d get some medical care. He took off my skates and carried them, while I strolled down the trail in my socks, holding my arm and smiling sheepishly at every passerby who gasped at my appearance.

The first selfie I published after the accident.

The first selfie I published after the accident. It’s not a trick of the light, I really am bruised from my brow to my collar bone. I got the hat because my mixed-race hair was being done by my very well meaning, but very white, husband and it showed.

By the time we reached the car, some of my shock had worn off and so some of the pain had set in. Though I’d had the opportunity to take a selfie and had seen how mangled my face was (no one but me, my husband, and my doctor have seen the selfie from the trail), I still refused to go to the ER. We went to Urgent Care.

Urgent Care took one look at my face and sent me immediately to the ER, which I thought painfully silly. I said that, though I was concerned about a concussion, my injuries overall looked far worse than they were. I insisted that if Urgent Care wouldn’t treat me, my husband should just take me home; my husband decided we were going to follow recommendations.

Picture of the manicure that survived.

The manicure survived.

At the hospital, I maintained that it all looked far worse than it was. The X-rays and CT scans said that I was basically right, but it still wasn’t good, and yet it still could have been worse. I’d broken my right orbital (eye socket), but I wasn’t going to need any reconstructive surgery.  I’d also fractured my left elbow, but when I saw the orthopedist, he advised against a cast, so I thankfully didn’t need that either. My vision fully returned.

The accident happened at the end of last summer, right before Labor Day (at least it didn’t wreck my whole summer), and so it’s been a year since. My elbow has healed, though sometimes it locks, and my smile is still a little crooked from the last bit of a swollen hematoma that my body has yet to absorb. It makes the right side of my face pull up a little higher and wider when I smile, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, only half. I’ve been assured that my Joker face will heal, but if I hadn’t had a similar hematoma on my hip from a previous accident that ended up taking  a year and a half to re-absorb, I’d be really discouraged by it.

A shot of Jack Nicholson as the Joker and a selfie side by side

Who wore it better?

And yet, I have a love/hate relationship with my crooked smile. In my better moods, I think of it like the sexy scar marring the tragic hero’s face just enough to be unnerving. I like to think of my new facial flaw as being barely noticeable in the right light, but just unsettling enough to suggest that I’m not to be trifled with. After all, I’ve been through some shit (no one besides us needs to know that it was something as silly and avoidable as a rollerblading accident). I’ll likely miss my crooked smile the second it finally heals.

First skate of the year early this spring. I wasn’t thrilled about the gear, but I do look kind of bad-ass.

I do wear protective gear now, but that also means I skate a little less. One of the things that draws me to skating is the feeling of freedom, and I can’t help but think of helmets and padding more as shackles than safety devices. It’s a tiny inconvenience and yet, more often than I’d like to admit, the drudgery of donning my armor (no matter how bad-ass I look in it) has been the deciding factor when choosing not go to the trail for a skate, and going without gear isn’t an option.  As an American, I really can’t afford the thousands of dollars (after insurance!) a mistake like that costs.

But, as I said, that’s a story for a different post.

Oh! And if you’re one of the human angels from that day, thank you for not being a serial killer. Thanks to you all for being kind, and wonderful examples of humanity. I appreciated it more than you know.

 

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Solar Eclipse 2017: Idaho

I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black
-The Rolling Stones

“Do you want to get robbed and murdered?” I argued. “Because that’s how you get robbed and murdered!”

We were discussing potentially abandoning our well-laid plans to view the total solar eclipse in Oregon for our absolutely-zero-plans to do so in Idaho instead. The news leading up to the eclipse kept affirming that Madras, Oregon was going to be everything we wanted to avoid and we’d been dreading the mess all week, though still determined to stick to our plan. The wildfires leading to evacuations in nearby Sisters, Oregon was the proverbial final straw.

“But we have a bed and a roof waiting in Oregon,” I said, one last effort to cling to the plan. Again, I alluded to the potential of disappearing without a trace, “You know, people who will notice if we don’t show up?” I really did have this irrational fear that if there was no one expecting us at a pre-arranged destination, then we’d never arrive, but you can’t say you have an adventurous spirit and then miss a once in a lifetime opportunity fretting about million to one odds. We packed the camping gear and hoped we’d find a safe camping spot as we headed to Idaho.

It was the best decision we could have possibly made.

Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho. I believe they are aptly named.

I was still apprehensive as we left in the middle of the night on Saturday, so I couldn’t have guessed that that we would have a campsite acquired, set up, and ready in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area by early Sunday afternoon. There’d been hardly any traffic and the trip was smooth otherwise. Joe was kind enough not to say I told you so or to be in any way smug about the fact that we’d arrived alive and well.

He chewed hungrily on his ham and cheese sandwich as I talked about visiting Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (since we’d arrived without incident and with plenty of time to spare). Having the serious nature-crush on volcanoes that I do, I really didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see the lava fields at Craters of the Moon. Though we’d just driven over ten hours, we got back in the car and drove another few hours to see some cooled lava.

Craters of the Moon, Idaho

It was already dark by the time we made it back to our campsite, and I hadn’t seen a night so clear with so many brilliant stars in a very long time. Joe took the rainfly off the tent so I could fall asleep staring at the sky. I would love to say it was perfectly tranquil, but I kept envisioning Jason Voorhees’ masked face popping into view, looming above me, machete raised high into the air. Apparently, I wasn’t over the possibility of being murdered yet, but I was tired. I accepted whatever fate was coming and gave in to sleep.

A golden morning!

Fear of machete-wielding mad men might have been the theme of the previous night (and day), but I woke to a glorious morning. Eclipse Day!

It’s probably a jerk move to tell a bunch of people how happy I was that there weren’t a bunch of people, but you know what? I’m a bit of a jerk and I was absolutely thrilled that the viewing area we chose remained uncrowded. Even the porta potties were almost pleasant!

Thank heaven for small crowd sizes!

Then came the main event!

It started with a giggle, but then I broke into full on laughter, the kind of laughter that only comes from pure awe, joy, and delight. I danced under the shadow of the moon (if only for a handful of seconds), in the darkness of the day, like a damned fool. After all, it was just me, Joe, and a few other crazies standing in an Idaho field staring at the sun. No one noticed or cared. I should have danced more…and harder.

And then it was over. I know that’s anticlimactic after everything I’ve written leading up to this, but it was over. Done. There was nothing left to do but head home.

We made it back home at 2am on Tuesday morning—four hours before my alarm, but it was worth it. It was so totally worth it.

 

Sunrise at Sunrise

The alarm went off at 2 a.m. I groaned and considered snoozing, but the memory of the time I accidentally hit dismiss instead—and nearly missed a morning meeting as a result—poked through my half-awake haze. I untangled my legs from the sheets and forced my feet to the floor. The morning ahead was going to be far more enjoyable than attending a meeting.

We’d been saying for quite some time that we were going to make it to Sunrise, Mount Rainier National Park by sunrise to see the mountain in its morning glory and then get some hiking in before the heat of midday. It’s a bit of haul from our apartment to Sunrise, so we grabbed our cold brew coffee, made breakfast smoothies, and headed out the door and into the night.

The trip had been timed well and it’s not as though there’s a lot of traffic in the wee hours to muck things up. However, when we pulled over so I could go behind the little girls’ tree (damned cold brew coffee), I noticed the sapphire blue of pre-dawn begnning to glow on the horizon. We jumped back in the car and raced the sun…up switchbacks.

I wish I’d gotten a better view of the owl that swooped near the car and then changed course, retreating back into the woods. Sadly, it happened too fast to capture a picture. Relying on the split-second view and my memory to guide the research I’ve done since, I believe it was a northern barred owl.

We made it to Sunrise Point in plenty of time to capture this:

Mount Rainier faces the dawn. I love the line between the light and the darkness.

and this:

Mount Rainier on the near right; Mount Adams on the distant left. Lenticular clouds remind me of flying saucers.

and to watch the golden morning sun slowly illuminate the hills around Sunrise Lake:

The view of Sunrise Lake looked like it came straight out of a fairy tale.

I’d love to say that I had some quiet, spiritual sunrise moment, the mountain top glowing almost neon pink in the background, but Sunrise Point is a busy place at that hour and though the people were generally quiet as far as people go, I wasn’t attempting any morning meditation. Really, I didn’t want to. I wanted to get to the visitor center to see the trail options and to get an idea of the potential hike ahead.

I recognized the look on my husband’s face. I’d seen it before and had come to expect it. He’d been looking from the large trail map at the trailhead, to the wooden sign with arrows pointing the way to each trail just slightly beyond, to a rocky peak in the distance, and then back to the map to confirm. He repeated this a couple of times, and when he looked at me, the hopeful expression reaching his eyes, I sighed, “Let’s go to the peak,” and gestured to the trail ahead. He beamed.

I took a closer look at the map to see what I’d gotten my seriously-afraid-of-heights ass into this time. The peak in question was Dege Peak, and oh yes! Named the Sourdough Ridge Trail, the trail to the peak followed the ridge. The trail itself is rated moderate, but ridges often mean steep drop offs. I don’t always do so well with those.

Luckily, for most of the hike, I was far too distracted by the beauty of the subalpine meadows and wildflowers in full bloom (and by swatting the biting bugs that live amongst them) to think too much about falling off the side of the mountain.

I have more shots of meadows and wildflowers than I’d like to admit. It wasn’t just my fear of heights slowing me down.

I’d been assured that the trail was a broad one, and it was. It’s likely even broader than I recall, as I’m well aware that fear influences perception. You know that camera effect in movies where a long hallway is stretched far longer and becomes much narrower? Yeah. That’s what happens to my perception on a trail with a drop off to even one side. The trail could be 5 feet wide, only a few paces bordering a drop, and those few paces would look, to me, like a mile on a tight rope.

And there I was, on the ridge, a steep drop-off on either side. My knees turned a little rubbery and I had to remind myself to breathe. I could turn back, I knew. My sympathetic husband turned around to tell me as much, but I was not turning around.  “Keep going,” I told him. “I got this; it’s just going to take me a minute.” I forced my perception into something closer to reality and pressed on. I’m glad I did.

Mount Rainier (14,441 ft.) and Mount Adams (12,281 ft.) in the distance (far left), from Dege peak (7,008 ft.)

Had those rocks been more comfortable, I might have stayed at 7,008 ft. for a bit longer.

I might have even been a little proud of myself for getting that much further in my fight against fear—or at least, fear of heights.

Descents are always a little tricky. I’m traveling in the direction gravity wants me to go: down. The issue is that I’d really rather not slip, slide, tumble, fall, or otherwise plunge to my death to get there. I was just starting to get comfortable, traveling at a good clip if I do say so myself, when I heard rocks start to fall down the side of the mountain. My first realization was that, thankfully, the falling rocks weren’t coming from me or anything I was doing, nor were they falling near me. Phew! The second realization was that I was in bear country; signs outside the visitor center made that clear. While I was fairly certain that it wasn’t a bear causing stones to roll, I turned to confirm. No bear. Phew, once more! I heard rocks again, this time at a lower altitude. My husband and I stopped and stood scanning the steep grade for the source of the disturbance. We couldn’t see a thing until the mountain goat flicked its ears and tail.

We both tried to get a picture, but the goat was too far off. We each zoomed in as far as we could on our respective phones/cameras, but the pictures were crap. We’d seen clearer images of Sasquatch! So, I decided to stick my phone back in my sports bra and enjoy the moment in mountain goat territory. As a Capricorn, I enjoyed a giggle.

We completed our descent without further incident (if you can call an almost-encounter with a mountain goat an incident), and spent the rest of the day scoping out places for new adventures.

Stay tuned!

The Great American Road Trip

Black Dodge Charger

BeBe has seen quite a bit of the country and has served us well on each trip near and far. I love her.

As some of you may have read or might recall, two years ago my husband and I moved across the country. Not only did we learn that, holy crap! We can survive 11 days in the car together; we also learned that we kind of liked it. We figured that if we could do 3,000 miles in 11 days with the cat and a whole bunch of our crap and honestly say we enjoyed ourselves, then we could enjoy 2,250 miles in 10 days by ourselves driving down the coast from Seattle, WA (hitting the coast at Aberdeen, WA) to Monterey, CA and as much of Big Sur as possible after the landslide (spoiler alert: not very much), then turning back north up the interior to see more of the Cascade Volcanic Arc.

Now, many will argue that setting the kind of pace required to cover that much ground in 10 days doesn’t allow a person to really see any place at all. I would argue that while you certainly don’t get to know a place, you can see so much more when the destination isn’t a location, but the journey itself.

 Southwestern Washington and the Oregon Coast

The trip started out a bit cold and rainy and my mood matched the weather. I missed my cat. I considered the implications of exploring the beauty of my country while simultaneously worrying for its future. Then I stared out the window, comforted by the fact that I didn’t have the first driving shift, and missed my cat some more.

But by the time we reached Cannon Beach, OR, a place I had to see because the movie The Goonies is still a favorite, the sun had come out. I slapped a genuine smile on my face, ready for adventure.

The Oregon coast is home to some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen, so my smile proved easy to maintain.

View the gallery of Southwestern Washington and the Oregon Coast


California Coast: Northern to Central

Growing up in Central Pennsylvania, I had a very clear vision in my head of what California was—as depicted in Beach Boys songs and Hollywood movies. I thought I’d learned how narrow my view had been years ago while visiting southern California. Nope. The diversity of the northern California coastal landscape is difficult to deny. From the Redwoods (covered in the next section), to the rolling hills and blue skies of Sonoma County, to the boardwalk and sandy beaches of Santa Cruz, there was no lack of beautiful and different things to see.

View the gallery of the California Coast: Northern to Central


California Redwoods

It’s hard to stand under the majesty of giant trees, hundreds of years old, and not think about conservation. As some folks might have guessed, I’m a bit of a tree-hugger (evidence in the gallery), but I defy anyone to stand in the presence of those trees and not feel—something. It’s a peculiar feeling to stand next to something so imposing and think, we need to protect you.

Now, I’m not going to pretend it’s all spirit and majesty in the forest. The Avenue of the Giants features a good amount of kitschy roadside tourist attractions traps. My advice: get a guidebook and decide what you want to see before you start down the Avenue. There were a lot of stops we decided not to make because we were already all kitsch-ed out.

View the gallery of the California Redwoods


Bridges

Bridges are testaments to human ingenuity, beautiful marvels of modern engineering, and the best way to connect one side to the other (both literally and metaphorically). They can also be absolutely terrifying if, like me, you are scared of heights and can’t help but notice the hundreds of feet between the bridge and whatever rocky and/or watery hell awaits below. I admit to being intimidated by particularly high bridges, but then I think of the people who had to build them. I think of the people who spent the days of their lives, for however long they were needed, suspended hundreds of feet in the air, staring those rocky and watery versions of hell in the face. They had to build the bridges; we just had to cross them.

View the gallery of Bridges


Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

I’d posted some pictures of Monterey, CA to social media and a buddy of mine suggested that if we were still in the area and had the time, we should go up to the north end of the Monterey Bay and check out the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. This friend knows that I’m a fan of the 80s movie The Lost Boys, which was filmed in Santa Cruz; many of the scenes on the boardwalk.

Due to the Big Sur landslide, we had the time—a whole extra day, in fact—so we headed to Santa Cruz. I’d like to point out that this is the second spot we hit specifically due to fuzzy feelings of nostalgia for a movie featuring Corey Feldman. Say what you want about the guy (we all kind of do) but he’s a treasure straight from my childhood. Mr. Feldman, I got nothin’ but love for ya.

View the gallery of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk


Victorian Homes and the Winchester Mystery House

Northern California is home to some of the most beautiful (and most often photographed) Victorian homes in the country from The Carson Mansion and The Pink Lady in Eureka, CA to the painted ladies of San Francisco, but the crown jewel of the Victorian mansions for us was the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

A little background: My husband and I took this trip to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary. We were married in front of the Haunted House ride at Knoebel’s Amusement Resort in Pennsylvania, so it was only natural to add a real “haunted” house to our travel itinerary.

The short version of the story behind the Winchester Mystery House is that Sarah Winchester, widow of William Wirt Winchester, built the home at the urging of a medium who told her that she was being haunted by the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles, and if she moved out west, bought a house, and kept building on it, the spirits would leave her alone. The house is full of oddities said to be meant to confuse and/or appease the spirits, like stairways to nowhere, windows in the floor, and the number 13 represented throughout. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited inside the mansion.

By the end of the tour I was fascinated by the story of Sarah Winchester, a woman I would not call crazy, though history and folklore often do. Grief-stricken; yes. Desperate; sure. Determined; absolutely. I’m just not so sure about “crazy”.

View the gallery of Victorian Homes and the Winchester Mystery House


Volcanic Ground

Two things become apparent when standing on volcanic ground. One, the Earth is really, really old. Two, it is not yet done forming. High glacial peaks stand witness to the many thousands of years and eruptions it took to form them. Their very existence is cause to consider the power behind eruptions so explosive that they can completely transform millennia-old landscapes in minutes—and that some volcanoes are not dead, only sleeping, and could erupt at any time. (Even as I sit safely writing at my kitchen table, I know I am only doing so under Mount Rainier’s good graces. Thank you, Rainier, for not exploding and killing us all today. I appreciate it.)

Yet, a peaceful feeling came over me as I stood in a field and observed that I was surrounded by volcanoes. Humans and our issues mean nothing to a volcano, and that is a humbling realization. If it had been time for one of those mountains to wake up and scream, then it would have been time and there’d have been nothing I, or anyone else, could have done about it. There is a sense of peace in that knowledge, and maybe that’s why I love volcanoes so much.

I’m blessed to finally check Mount Shasta, Crater Lake, Three Sisters, and Mount Hood off of my volcanic views bucket list.

View the gallery of Volcanic Ground


Wildlife

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for critters. My inner monologue during any wild animal encounter is basically just a reminder on loop that wild animals are, in fact, wild and that trying to make friends with them might not be the best idea. It took a hefty bit of will to swim away from the little sea lion who clearly didn’t know that humans are supposed to stay at least 50 yards away from him. He wanted to play and so did I. However, I was happy that we encountered the bear from the safety of the car, and don’t even get me started on jellyfish swarms.

As you may have suspected, sharing these experiences brings me back to the condition of our environment. I remember looking at that little sea lion and thinking, if humans make this planet uninhabitable for ourselves, well, we had it coming. We knew better and we destroyed it anyway. But what did this little guy do? What does he have coming? I knew enough not to try and hug him, but I really wanted to.

View the gallery of Wildlife


Special Thanks

As mentioned earlier, the thing about doing a trip like this in such a short time is that you don’t really get to know a place—or any of its people, but still, there are some folks I have to thank. First, the staff at Paradise Pet Lodge, Woodinville, WA for understanding that my cat is my little boy, that I’m a little high strung when it comes to him, and that I needed more reassurance than he did. You should know, and it only occurred to me after the fact, that when he lies on his back the way you described, he’s asking for belly rubs—something my Salem only does with those he trusts. Thank you. Without you, this trip truly would not have been possible.

Thank you to that cool family we met in Crescent City, CA, for the preview of Crater Lake. Also, in Crescent City, thank you to the convenience store employee who gave us extra ice. You have no idea how much that helped that day.

To Gene, our tour guide at the Winchester Mystery House, your passion for the property and its history (and I suspect maybe even for Sarah Winchester herself), brought it all to life for me, too, and I cannot thank you enough. Few tour guides have brought me to tears; you are one.

Thanks to Robin at Harbick’s Country Inn, Rainbow, Oregon for treating us like we were the most important people in the world, for being genuinely excited to see us, and for sharing your knowledge of the area. I hope that surprise you were telling us about works out. Thanks, in general, to the people of Rainbow, Oregon for being awesome.

Thanks also, to those along the way not mentioned here, people who—even in the smallest ways—contributed to making this the best trip we’ve taken yet. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Trails from the Crypt

With Labor Day just over a month in our rear view, the autumnal equinox a couple of weeks past, and the weather forecast assuring me that the rain has returned and is staying for a while, I find myself reflecting on summer. I spent quite a bit of time hiking trails at various state and national parks and so I tormented my Facebook friends with photos of mountain views, glorious sunsets, and every damn waterfall I came across all summer long. That is, admittedly, a pretty happy and sunny method of torture, but then, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows on those trails. Sometimes, I come across some seriously creepy shit.

Since summer is officially over, and it’s the most wonderful time of the year (Halloween), I thought I would take this opportunity to share a shiver in the form of some of the more unsettling pictures from this summer’s adventures.

The Silence of the Ram

Okay, so here’s the deal. I have no bloody idea what this is.

I mean, seriously!

I mean, seriously!

I just know that when we turned the corner at Paradise Valley Conservation Area and there it was, I had to get photographic evidence. Now, I’m sure that whatever this actually is, it’s just the result of some perfectly innocent creepy kid shenanigans and not in any way related to any real kind of evil ritual. However, coming upon a scene that features a pink plastic pony head with blackened eye sockets stuck on a human doll body jammed into the throat hole of the pink pony body – the ruined and severed human doll head perched on a nearby rock – would make anyone stop to ponder. Perhaps it might make some run. Either way, can someone please explain the ram?

My WTF meter is still spiking on this one and will likely continue to do so. A couple of weeks after this photo was taken, my husband and I were back on the trail and this little horror scene was still there. It even had some new additions, though nothing worth taking a follow up photo.

That said, the next time I’m there, you better believe I’m going to check for it again.

The Tortured Soul

The cool thing about this picture, aside of its high creep factor, is that it was one of those “and we didn’t even notice until we looked at the pictures later” scenarios. We decided that we wanted to stop at Ape Caves, Mount St. Helens Lava Tube. We didn’t venture very far into the cave because we didn’t have adequate light sources and hadn’t planned to do any deep spelunking that day anyway. Perhaps the poor lighting provided by the flashlight on my cell phone was why I never noticed what looked like the agonized face of a tortured soul trapped in the rock.

image-2-face

I’m in the blue hoodie. The giant tortured face is to my right.

It wasn’t until we returned home and started going through the pictures that my husband exclaimed, “Wow! That’s sort of freaky!” and I saw it. Since we were taking photos in the dark, it’s entirely possible that the face was a trick of the light and that even with proper illumination, I will never see the giant tortured face in person, but again, I’m going to go back to look.

Also, I’m seriously considering using this for my next author photo!

The Third One Because I’m Weird and Need a Third One

I admit that this one is a bit of a stretch but I really like the number three. I like it so much that I’m willing to reach as far as this photo just to include a third example. Also, I like to brag about hiking the Carbon Glacier Trail at Mount Rainier National Park. It’s a long one and we do it in a day.

If you look past the ants, the glacier can be seen in the background.

If you look past the ants, the glacier can be seen in the background.

As we were climbing the final yards of the trail with the glacier well within view, my desire to get close-up shots of high altitude wildflowers battled my desire to keep climbing. At that moment, I was particularly interested in the thistle when I came across this one.

I’m not sure what kind of ants they were. I’m not sure why they were all over that thistle, but I couldn’t help but think of swarming bugs on dead and dying things (or really, just swarms of bugs at all), and get a little shiver. I still say I’m reaching a bit with this entry; at the same time, I’m getting kind of itchy thinking about those ants crawling on me.

How ‘bout you?

I Got Some!

Snow, that is.

In my last post, I talked about how much I missed the snow. Readers are lucky; they only had to deal with my lamentations for the length of the post. My poor husband had to hear it all week, which made our Saturday plans pretty clear. Stop whining about it; get in the car, and make the drive to Mount Baker to go play in the snow.

The squee-ing started right about here.

The squee-ing started right about here.

It’s safe to say that I was in a bit of a funk last week. The writing life was not satisfying. The job hunt even less so (but I can type “motivated self-starter” in my sleep now; so that’s something). And we all know how jealous I was when I saw pictures of the east coast snow littering my social media feeds. Okay, maybe it was more homesickness than jealousy, but you get it.

Anyway, this cheered me considerably:

Snow Day

It also cheered me considerably that my car and its serious snow tires performed just fine. The roads were actually very well maintained and the weather conditions at the time were no worse than anything I’d faced driving in Pennsylvania or Connecticut. I guess I was being a bigger baby about that than I had to be.

20160206_120811

When Joe and I spend a day playing on any one of the seriously majestic mountains around here, it’s standard procedure for us to stop for dinner on the way home. It’s also standard procedure for us to order whatever the heck we want (diets be damned!), because it isn’t as if we spent the day on the couch. This Saturday was no different.

We stopped at a little place called Crave ‘N Burgers & Brew that has fried cheese curds so good that I will never eat a standard mozzarella stick again. Well, no. That’s not true. I will eat mozzarella sticks again because fried cheese of any kind is pretty delicious, but I will cry because nothing will ever stand up to the glory of Crave ‘N Burgers & Brew’s fried cheese curds. I’m not joking here. I enjoyed my burger and my fries and my brew too, but I will dream about that tasty, cheesy decadence.

I was certainly in a funk, but it seems all I needed was a day in the snow and some artery clogging, fried appetizer goodness to set me right again.

Look out world! I’m back to my usual bright, cheery…

Nope. I couldn’t even finish typing that with a straight face. We’ll just say I’ve been renewed and refreshed.

 

Yellowstone and on to Our New Home

Let’s just take a minute to deal with this, shall we?

Let’s just take a minute to deal with this, shall we?

I’m noticing a theme as I write this. The theme, of course, is that even though we gave ourselves 11 days to make the trip, it wasn’t enough time. One day is hardly enough to spend in Yellowstone National Park. We were so rushed that we didn’t have time to wait for Old Faithful to do its thing. Yeah, let that sink in for a minute. Now, we did get to see plenty of geysers erupt, or vent, or whatever you actually call the geothermal activity that causes them to spew steam and water, just not the famous one.

And you know what? I’m not actually that sad about it, given the other awesome stuff we saw.  At this point, I think I’ll mostly let the pictures do the talking.

20_YS

21_YS

Clockwise from top left: buffalo, elk, grizzly bear

Clockwise from top left: buffalo, elk, grizzly bear

Sulfur Cauldron

Sulfur Cauldron

26_Firehole Spring

Firehole Spring

Great Fountain Geyser

Great Fountain Geyser

The road ahead

The road ahead

Of course, the pictures do nothing to capture how breathtaking that place is. I was sad to leave, but we were only two-thirds of the way through our journey. We’d still have to stop to sleep, and we only had one full day left to drive that last third before we were scheduled to move in to our new apartment.

I probably pushed myself past my safe driving limit before letting Joe take over behind the wheel, but he didn’t make it much longer than I did. We stopped in Montana for the night.

There aren’t many photos of the last leg of our journey. After Yellowstone, we’d had close to our fill of the road and just wanted to reach our destination. Not that there weren’t gorgeous things to see. Idaho is ridiculously pretty. Had we not been tired of living out of duffel bags, I might have tried to push our move-in date back one more day to spend some real time there, but I knew we were reaching our limit.

We stopped at one viewpoint shortly after we crossed into Washington to appreciate the semi-desert views of eastern Washington.

And then right back on the road.

And then right back on the road.

Dusk found us in Tacoma, Washington. We decided to treat ourselves to an early night and find a hotel there.

We saved the last hour of our drive for morning and by lunchtime we were picking up keys to our new place and our new life.

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