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!

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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!

On the Importance of Strong Female Characters

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From the Women’s March; Seattle, WA; January 21, 2017

I was fortunate enough to attend the Women’s March on Seattle, a sister to the Women’s March on Washington DC. Before I lose you, I have no intention of talking politics in this post. What I am going to talk about is something I can’t believe is still controversial: the importance of strong female characters in fiction.

As I marched with 175,000 other humans (the estimate at the time of this writing), I noticed countless signs referencing some of my favorite female badasses from fiction. I took in multiple nods to space rebels, vampire slayers, and warrior princesses and knew—without a doubt—that every last person who argues that female heroes aren’t interesting or “won’t sell” is absolutely full of shit. I saw little girls in Wonder Woman costumes and Princess/General Leia t-shirts (I was wearing a General Leia shirt myself), and knew—without a doubt—that the strong female characters we see on screen and read about in books really do have an impact on us and how we view ourselves, each other, and our roles in the world around us.

What would General Leia do?

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These three signs caught my attention, but you couldn’t swing a pink pussy hat without hitting a Leia Organa reference. Considering that Carrie Fisher was a badass in real life, this is not surprising. If the dead really do get to hang around and see what the living are up to, I’d like to think that she got a giggle from the “Carrie Fisher sent us” sign.

I’d like to think that she’d be proud to be our rebel leader.

Are you ready to be strong?

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Fans of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer not only know where the words on this sign come from, but many of us can recite the entire speech—if we can get through it without crying, that is. Submitted for your misty-eyed pleasure:

For people like me who rarely view embedded videos in an article, here are the highlights:

They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power should be our power…From now on every girl in the world who might be a slayer, will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

-Buffy Summers

A whole damn lot of us made our choice and are ready to be strong.

And then there’s this:

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The picture says it all.

Xena will always have a special place in my heart. It was a Xena poster I hung on my wall to remind me not to take any shit, particularly from real-life Joxers.

I’ll never forget the time I told a guy that I was a big Xena: Warrior Princess fan and he responded, “You know Xena and Gabrielle are lesbian icons, right?” Well, I hadn’t actually known (naïve me, I guess), but the only troubling thing about finding out was this guy’s tone and his obvious suggestion that there was something shameful about being a lesbian icon. Fuck that noise.

So here’s the thing…

The articles reminding us that one march isn’t enough are already flooding my feeds—as well they should. Marching is great, but there is more work to be done. There are the things we can all do as citizens; then there are the things we can do that are more personal.

I’ve always known that the presence of strong female characters in fiction is important, but this march solidified for me what a great female character can inspire in real life women. As a result, my dedication to writing these characters has been renewed. I intend to contribute as many badass women to the fiction world as I can because…well…I can. And of course, I don’t want to do it in some pandering political way—obvious and boring as hell to read—but in a way that’s honest. A way that inspires.

I suppose I can call it my duty. I prefer to call it my privilege.

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.

Previous Post: Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse Memorial

East Coast to West Coast and Back to the Blog

We moved across the country.

No, it did not take the over-a-year since my last post to do so. I directed my attention to a number of other things within that time that have led to some exciting announcements that I’m…well…excited to make soon. But first…

This is the actual Atlas we used. Who am I kidding? We used GPS. But this was totally our back up.

This is the actual Atlas we used. Who am I kidding? We used GPS. But this was totally our back-up.

We moved 3,000 miles from our old address in Connecticut to our new address in Washington. It’s a long story that happened fast, which doesn’t translate to great blog material, so I’ll give you the short version. My husband and I had been planning to move to the Seattle area for a while, so we were on a month to month lease so we could drop and run as soon as something worked out. This plan worked out perfectly well until the landlord needed the apartment. We found ourselves with 42 days to move and, not being particularly happy in Connecticut, we weren’t going to sign another lease binding us there. Even if we could get another month to month lease, I didn’t want to move in some place just to turn around and move out again.

So instead, I flew to Seattle, found us place to live, and came back to Connecticut to pack. We packed our boxes. The movers packed the boxes in their truck (I still have too much rage over the movers to speak of them in any coherent manner). We packed all of the things we would need for our 11 day journey for us—and for our cat—into my (now our) car and pulled out of our driveway on the hill for the last time.

Now, I love my car. I love to drive my car and was so looking forward to the legendary open highways “Out West” where the speed limits are 85mph and 90mph if posted at all. I’d only ever heard people talk about them before, but now I was going to see them—and more importantly, drive them—for myself.  However, the reality of spending the better part of two weeks in the car with the husband, the cat, and all of our crap had me more than a little frazzled. But it was too late to turn back. We were on our way to the exotic land of Pennsylvania, the first set of stops on our journey.

Next Post: Friends, Family, and Rock and Roll