Orlando – January Escape

To cap off the end of the year vacation season, it was time to cash in our trip to Orlando to run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon! We had a 7 day trip planned out with another couple – one of Bae’s friends from high school and her boyfriend. The trip got off to a rocky start – all set to catch our red eye out of Seattle, our flight was delayed an hour and a half due to damage on the wings as a result of a birdstrike. Luckily we had a couple hour layover in Boston, so we did’t miss our connecting flight, and just like that we were in Orlando right on schedule!

Disney World

Magic Kingdom

Our first real day in Orlando was spent at the one and only, Disney World. We got there early – before the park opened and had breakfast at Be Our Guest. Our reservation was at 8am, allowing us to get in the park an hour before everybody else. This is a pro tip to everyone out there, get a reservation before the park opens and you can get in an hour early! It was a decent breakfast, but nothing too special. The dining hall was big and everything was automated, which was good because it made the experience quick and rather seamless. Plus, it allowed us to get in and out quickly to get in the park!

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Mandatory Magic Kingdom Photo

Our first ride was the 7 Dwarves Mine Train. Being a new attraction, we decided to hit it first to avoid being stuck in a long line. It was a fun ride, and something you should definitely try and do first (like maybe even before the park opens to the general public). Next, we decided it was mountain time! We had our fast pass all set up for Thunder Mountain later in the day, but the line was currently at a 10 minute wait, so we couldn’t pass that up! This was my first real time at Disney World (the previous trip, I came as an obnoxious crying 2.5 year old). Bae on the other hand, was a seasoned veteran. So she knew what to expect, while I was like a kid in a candy store. Thunder Mountain was a blast!  Bae then led us over to Splash Mountain. I was familiar with Splash Mountain, because who hasn’t seen Splash Mountain?! I didn’t, however, know exactly when the big drop occurred, so I was still anxious and excited the whole time. We plunged into the water and stayed (mostly) dry and got off and headed to the next adventure!

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Hands up in PC’s vacation shirt!

We then wanted to knock out some of the “must do’s” in Magic Kingdom. This meant we hopped from Pirates of Caribbean, to the Haunted Mansion, to It’s a Small World. I venture to believe that there’s approximately $100,000 worth of money floating around the waters of It’s a Small World. I may be wildly wrong, but that’s my estimate and I’m sticking to it.

UPDATE: according to google, I’m right. Score one for the good guys!

Our final stop for round one of Magic Kingdom was Space Mountain. Bae had all of our fast pass stuff set up ahead of time, so we breezed right to the front of the line. Space mountain was awesome!!! It was my favorite ride by far (up to this point).

Animal Kingdom

Ready to take on the next park, we hopped on the shuttle to Animal Kingdom. Animal Kingdom is a cool place that reminds me of a Rainforest Cafe, but way less cheesy and more authentic (authentic in the sense of a tourist attraction). They also have great adult slushies to help combat the heat (okay it was a sweltering heat in January, but they were still a great treat). We decided to take on the giant roller coaster that towers over the entire park – Everest Exhibition. Now I know earlier Space Mountain was my favorite, but I reserve the right to change that, and I am doing so now. Just being at the top of the peak and having a split second view of everything from so far up was amazing. This ride is a must do for anybody checking out Disney World.

After Everest, we wanted to check out the animals of animal kingdom! We first trekked through the Jungle Trek, which was neat. There were some birds flying and walking around, and it was a nice little attraction to check out. We also got to walk by some of the viewing areas of some of the bigger animals, but they seemed to more or less doing their own thing and none of the viewing areas were too prime when we went. We wanted to check out more animals, so we got in line for the Kilimanjaro Safari. The line was a bit of a weight (maybe 40 minutes?) but worth the wait. The safari was a really cool ride and we got to get a good glimpse of some sweet African animals. Bae loved the baby elephant which was hiding around the feet of a few older elephants, presumably it’s momma and some other protectors. We also saw cheetahs, lions, rhinos, longhorns, antelope, ostrich, wildebeest, and many other animals along the way. We had a pretty good safari guide who was well spoken and fun to listen to. I hear that in August, most of the tour guides are brand new and sometimes have some hiccups along the way, but luckily our tour guide had been there a few months and everything went smoothly.

Epcot

Approaching dinner time, we hopped back on the shuttle and headed to Epcot! Naturally, we wanted to try foods from all around the world, so we started with what else but our favorite… Nachos! The nachos weren’t bad, and now we were revitalized to take on the world! Bae snapped her favorite pic of me in Japan when I had my Japanese sunrise drink. We also had wine Italy, beer from Germany, and pastries from France! All around it was really fun walking around the world being served from native people from those countries. Disney does a good job recruiting students from the different countries represented at Epcot for internships to spend time in the US.

To wrap up Epcot, we decided to check out the giant golf ball (that’s what I like to refer to it as, even though it doesn’t have the dimples like a golf ball). We went on a ride called “Spaceship Earth” which was a gentle ride that took everybody through the history or mankind and it’s technological advances over the centuries. It was a very relaxing ride and cool experience. Bae and I love learning new things and educational experiences, so it was a really cool way to wrap up a day full of excitement, laughing, long lines, good food, and fun experiences.

Magic Kingdom Part 2

We made our way back to Magic Kingdom to wrap up the day, this time we took the ferry in. Looking across the water was quite the site to see – the Magic Kingdom illuminated at night. It was very peaceful floating across the water back to Magic Kingdom on the deck of the ferry. We came back and went on a couple more rides – Buzz Lighyear’s Space Ranger Spin and the Mad Tea Party. Before the final cap to the evening, we decided to hop on the Merry-Go-Round just for old time’s sake. The ride was much shorter than I remember as a kid! We then witnessed the Nighttime Spectacular It was really amazing watching the fireworks show. The castle changed colors, there were shining images from Disney Classics accompanied by music, the whole show was truly incredible to watch. It brought me right back to my childhood! The first show was Frozen themed and of course everybody loves the tune to “Let It Go”. The second show was more of a look at the Disney body of work over the year’s and was my personal favorite. It was a great way to cap off an extremely adventure and Disney filled day.

Overall Disney World was a lot of fun, and surprisingly clean. They do a great job of keeping all the walkways clear of trash and litter. Most people don’t attempt to do more than one park in one day, but then again, we aren’t most people. 30,000 steps later, we were all tuckered out and ready to head back to our hotel after bouncing around from park to park.

Life at the Marriot

Our stay in Orlando was plagued with a bit of bad weather. Luckily, the first couple days we saw weather above 60 degrees. Which means on the day it was in the 70’s we spent a lot of time poolside sun bathing. We had 3 different pools to choose from at our hotel (which we found out about during our morning run around the neighborhood). It was extremely relaxing to lay back and soak in the warm rays with colorful slushy drinks, especially coming from the northwest where we haven’t seen the sun in quite some time now. While we bronzed we also read books that we picked up from Powell’s Books in Portland on our way down to 5 Pines. There were also a couple species of turtles that I was fascinated by that were swimming around where we were laying out. This led to an old man on the nearby chairs telling us about when he was “my age” him and his friends used to catch turtles and write their initials on them and set them free. I hope he underestimated my age, because I hope he wasn’t still playing with wild turtles in his mid 20’s (26 is still mid 20’s).

The next day it was a bit chillier outside, but Bae insisted on going in the pool. She even bought a blow up beach ball at the nearby CVS for us to play with. Who am I to disappoint Bae? We had the entire pool to ourselves and ended up playing a game of our own version of  volleyball where we aimed to just volley back and forth over the net as many times as we could. I think our record was 20, so try and top that!

The last of our main hotel activities was spent playing cards with the other couple we were vacationing with. We didn’t just play cards, we played Rook. Rook is a game similar to Spades or Hearts but slightly different and uses its own deck. I love playing Spades and Bae loves Hearts (and so do I), so this game was right up our alley. After picking it up rather quickly, we were obsessed with it! Games got quite heated, and being competitive as Bae and I each are, there was some intense interactions back and forth. But even though we’re both competitive, we know to leave it on the field and there were no hard feelings. I think the other couple got the best of us in total, but we had our moments and will be back for blood next time! But seriously, Bae had me order a deck from Amazon very shortly after we got back and I know Rook will be in our future for the long run. We’ll be pros in no time, and you better believe we will be taking on any and all challengers who wish to try and take us on!

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The glorious game that is, Rook

Islands of Adventure

Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure was another necessity for us during our time in Orlando. We started off by heading straight to The Incredible Hulk Coaster! The only problem was that it was a bit chilly and they were still doing test runs when it opened… Not to worry, we then headed off to the Jurassic Park ride! The ride got stuck while we were on it, and we were delayed about 25 minutes (but it eventually worked and was awesome!). Next we headed to the newly opened Skull Island: Reign of Kong, King Kong ride… where we proceeded to wait in line for 30 minutes, board the ride, get off the ride, then wait 20 more minutes and get told that we couldn’t ride it. Safe to say that we were off to a HOT start at Islands of Adventure.

But from there it definitely picked up. We were able to do the Doctor Doom Fearfall, which was exhilarating! Short and sweet, a solid ride. We also got to hop on the indoor rides with the 3D glasses (a guy in line ahead of us couldn’t stop telling everybody that “every time they give you 3D glasses, you get wet!” like he cracked Universal’s grand plan). Spiderman was first and I really liked it. It was my first taste of that kind of ride and it was a low impact fun ride.

We then headed back to the Incredible Hulk Coaster, which was a bit of a debacle clearing security and making sure we had everything stored in lockers and NOTHING in our pockets. After a couple tries we figured it out and were pros for the rest of the day. I surprisingly LOVED the Hulk Coaster. I think its because it’s so quick, you don’t really get a chance to get nauseous on any of the loops or hard corners.

Next, Bae also insisted we attend the Poseidon’s Fury show, which was a cool change of pace, and entertaining and worth a few laughs!It was a good time to catch our breath and let everything settle before we took on the next big adventure!

Hogsmeade

Bae and I are both big Harry Potter fans. Me, more of a movie guy (I did read the first 4 though). Bae, everything, but specifically the books! We made sure to come equipped with our HP shirts and everything (we didn’t go full blown all out with robes, that seemed a bit hot and inconvenient). I represented #TeamHufflepuff while Bae naturally represented #TeamGryffindor.

We were stoked to get to experience HP in real life! Starting off in Hogsmeade, we started off with some butter beer slushy treats (looking back, we had a lot of slushy treats, I guess that’s just our thing on vacation). They were like a cream soda flavor, mixed with an icee, but better. We decided to next hop on the Dragon Challenge ride! We decided to go with the blue dragon, while the other couple went red. Blue was supposed to a little slower, and more jerky. Personally, this was a bad decision (that I made). I felt a bit seasick afterward. But I rallied and had a good time on the ride. It was full of hard turns and twists, waaaay more than I was expecting when I first hopped on.

Next we hung out in Hogwarts. Waiting in line for the Forbidden Journey ride, we were snaking through Hogwarts in line. It was really well done and full of a bunch of things to take in while in line so the time goes fast. A ton of detail was put into that place and it shows. Very cool. When it got time to hop on the ride, I strapped in, not expecting much, something similar to the Spiderman ride in my mind. Boy was I wrong. I’m not sure if it was because of the previous battle with the racing dragons, but I was a struggle to make it through that ride! From what I remember though, it was really cool! We were in a bookcase that Hermoine enchanted that took us all around the campus, through a Quidditch match, and all around the Womping Willow and back through the castle. It was again, very well done!

We decided it was time to take the Hogwarts Express over to Diagon Alley (we misplaced our portkeys). The Hogwarts Express was a cool simulation of the actual Hogwarts Express. It was just like the movies, we had our own little cabin and it was a good time to decompress (and catch our breath while letting our stomach’s settle (just me) before diving headfirst into more action).

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley was the newer portion of the HP world at Universal Studios. It was Hogsmeade on Steroids! Absolutely incredible! It had everything! A real-life dragon (sorta) that sat atop Gringotts and spit fire, Gringott’s safe, tons of food, shops, sweets, magic wands, the whole 9! We needed to hop on a ride, so we headed for the Escape from Gringott’s 3D ride. It was a lot of fun, and much better than the Forbidden Journey (for me anyway).

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Hanging out in Diagon Alley, right outside Gringotts, NBD

Universal Studios

After all the HP excitement, we needed to refill our bellies with food! Luckily, there was a whole food court near the Simpson’s. We stopped there, re-fueled, chatted, and just relaxed. Bellies full, we wanted to go take on the big roller coaster in this park. The big coaster being the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit! Now I know that this has been thrown around a lot so far, but this was my favorite ride. It was such a great coaster. You got to pick out a song that was pumping in your ear during the ride, and it was great for the adrenaline! Getting ready to take on loops, corners, turns, twists, and at all blazing fast speed, while Kanye sung “Stronger” in my ear was so awesome! This was my “must-do” recommendation (besides HP of course) to anybody heading to Universal Studios!

After the roller coaster, we went on a couple more 3D rides – Transformers and the Mummy, both of which were well done. Nothing over the top or to die for, but just some solid fun rides. Before we heading home, we decided to try our luck back at Islands of Adventures to see if we could check out the Reign of Kong ride. Low and behold, the line wasn’t too bad and we finished up with another 3D ride, this one being the one that gave us the most grief during the day. It was a fitting end to an amazing day. The parks were both so much fun, and I couldn’t have been happier. The day started out rough, but it was a minor setback for what turned out to be a great, jam packed (which we wouldn’t have any other way) kinda day!

Orlando Highlights

Bae and I are both fans of challenges that make you think, and as I mentioned earlier, we are both quite competitive. That being said, we both enjoy escape rooms. Escape rooms are games that consist of riddles, puzzles, challenges, and finding clues in order to escape a room – where you typically have 60 minutes to complete the challenge. They typically have a fun theme (zombies, mummies, historical incidents, etc.). We completed one in Seattle in December with the couple we were vacationing with as well as some other friends, so we were no stranger to these games. We decided to try our luck while on vacation in Florida. Bae did her research and signed up for the ‘Shanghaied’ game put on by Escapology. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it has a difficulty rating of 9.1/10 (their most difficult game) and we finished in about 35 minutes (no big deal). We didn’t find it to be the most challenging game we’d done, but nonetheless, still fun and a great idea for those looking for a quick challenge.

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Courtesy of the fine people at Escapology

Another activity we decided to do was mini-golfing! Bae and I have been talking about going mini-golfing (along with bowling) for quite some time now, and we finally did it! We drove by Pirate’s Cove a few times and decided we had to stop by at night (it was well lit up) and give it a go! It was a pirate themed golf course (duh) and was well kept. We decided to do couple’s teams and have a friendly little competition (I hope you’re sensing a theme here). When the dust settled after 18 holes, Bae and I came out on top by about 8 or 9 strokes. Bae had the best score by far (she’s basically a ringer at everything) and I was tied with their best golfer (I am the mini-golf equivalent to 3.8 star rating on Yelp, not great, but definitely not bad, a safe bet that you can rely on to get the job done), so it really wasn’t even that close! She may put off being a doctor and hit the mini-golf circuit for a couple years… ya never know, it could happen! Bae is sneaky good at just about everything, she won’t admit it, but she is. Pirate’s Cove was a great course and the staff was quite friendly, highly recommend you check it out if you’re in the area and up for some mini-golf!

While we were in Florida, it happened to also be Wild Card weekend in the NFL. My Seahawks played on Saturday night, and Bae’s Packers played Sunday afternoon. One of our first night’s in town, we stopped in at the Tin Roof for dinner (which was pretty darn good, and would probably be a lot of fun on the weekend; they have a stage and looks like they generally have live music quite often, so if you’re into that, this would be the place for you!) and noticed a Yard House in the same area of I-Drive. This was our destination for the Seahawks game. It was a fun evening of good beers and good food and a decisive Seahawk victory.

The next day we met up with Bae’s aunt, (who lives in Orlando and got us the hookup on quite a bit of stuff ranging from the hotel and local eateries to Universal Studios tickets!) to watch the Packers take on the Giants. We met up at Miller’s Ale House – a cool restaurant and bar that is a chain in Florida, comparable to a Bob’s Burgers in Washington. There were a surprising number of Giants fans around which was a bit odd and annoying. But it ended up being sorta nice there were so many fans there cause it made the Packer victory that much sweeter! Bae was happy, so I was happy.

Whenever we travel, we enjoy taking in what the local area has to offer, and it was nice getting to try out different restaurants, activities, food, beer, and everything else that Orlando had to offer.

Disney Half Marathon

So as I mentioned above, this trip was planned so that we could run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon – something we signed up for back in April the moment tickets went on sale. Well, that didn’t happen. There was a 5k, a 10k, and a full marathon that all occurred, but no 1/2 marathon. I also mentioned earlier that we ran into some troubling weather while we were down there. The night before the race, the race was canceled due to concern around lightning. It was not the greatest of news to hear, but we understood that Disney wanted to keep everybody safe. It was a downer on the trip, but we stayed positive and didn’t let it keep us down for too long. They did offer to allow us to transfer our race to a different race in the next 24 months. With Bae starting residency, it wasn’t ideal to have to decide on another vacation without even knowing where her residency will take us, but we signed up for the Wine and Dine 1/2 Marathon taking place in Orlando in November of 2018. Rest assured, we’ll be back ready to rock and roll (in about 23 months)!

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Race Swag

Overall, it was a great trip and nothing to complain too much about because we got to be together, with good friends, and in a new place, stress free for an entire week. We had a great time, and we’ll be back in 2018 – ready to kick butt at the Wine and Dine 1/2 marathon!

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Crater Lake National Park

After Christmas, Bae and I decided to take a little trip down to Sisters, OR and spend a few days at 5 Pines Lodge as our Christmas gift to each other. It was a perfect little lodge equipped with a movie theater, brewery, legit fitness center, and even had a cocktail happy hour each day from 5-6. Needless to say, we were in heaven. Oh, and did I mention snow? It had a lot of snow, and seeing as Seattle was sort of lacking in that area (as usual) it was quite a treat for us. It was the perfect relaxing getaway right after Christmas, and before things started to get hectic again.

We enjoyed daily walks into the downtown area of Sisters, home of Sisters Coffee Company, which was delicious. There were also many other little shops and businesses to check out. Really a great little town to stop by and check out if you’re in Central Oregon.

Knowing that we were well over halfway to Crater Lake National Park from Seattle, we decided we should go ahead and make the trip! It was only a 2.5 hour drive away, so we figured, why not?! Well, it is technically a 2.5 hour drive in sunny and dry conditions. Unfortunately for us, we made a small detour in Bend trying to get gas (hand up, that’s on me. I may have ignored road signs and taken us on a major detour that alone added 15 minutes, but then also got us stuck behind a snow plow for the next 45 minutes), and the trip was more like 3.5-4 hours due to snow conditions. When we arrived I was running around like a madman (cause fundido) trying to figure out just exactly where we were supposed to meet for our noon snow-shoe tour that I signed us up for. I finally figured it out, it was the first place I started at (naturally). What’s important is that we were there and on time ready to go on a tour!

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Our obligatory photo at the Park Entrance

This was both of our first times snow-shoeing and it was a blast! Very easy and nothing to it. Just a great way to venture into the snow and have some much added grip when walking!

This is a really great feature that the park offers. You can go to their website and call and request your spot on free ranger-led scheduled snowshoe tour! Ranger Rick was a great tour guide for us and took us through the forest, without a structured plan, just based off of his knowledge of the area.

As we took off on our journey, it felt like we were tackling a blizzard! It was extremely cold and windy and snow was flurrying every where. I make it sound miserable, but it was actually a lot of fun. It make the experience that much more worth it.

Along the way, Ranger Rick gave us some cool facts about Crater Lake, like the fact that it was actually formed when Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed about 7,700 years ago. We sneaky learned a lot on tour, while burning some good calories trudging through the snow! For example, Crater Lake gets about 44 FEET of snow every year. One might ask, “when the snow melts, how come the lake doesn’t keep rising and go over the rim’s edge and flood the forest?” To that I would answer “cause there’s obviously a leak some where, duh!” And that happens to be the case! Anyway, we had a great time on our tour (minus being stuck with some slow-pokes and complainers on the adventure), we would highly recommend it.

After venturing through the forest, Ranger Rick took us near the rim’s edge and we were just barely able to see the lake and Wizard Island in the middle(ish) portion of the lake.

After our snow-shoe tour came to a close, we poked around the gift shop and cafe and picked up some very warm soup, coffee, and an ornament for our christmas tree (we got this thing going where we get ornaments from places we’ve been). After that, it was just about closing time for the park so we figured it was best we scoot! The drive home wasn’t so bad, I almost forgot, we had Sarah Koenig keeping us company most of the ride as well, so it all went pretty fast 😉

Overall, it was a great day spent adventuring and taking in some great snowy sights. And you better believe we’ll be back in the summer to check out the lake in all it’s glory in the heat! After all, we still gotta drive around the lake and check out all the viewpoints!

Pacific Coast Highway

As interview season rolls on, Bae found herself with interviews in Sacramento and Santa Barbara that were perfectly split with a weekend between them. We decided it was a no-brainer to turn this into a mini weekend road trip!

I flew into the Sacramento airport Friday after work and Bae picked me up and we hit the road (she drove while I gave her a full on concert straight out of the early 2000’s, consisting of an infinite amount of R&B aka baby making music). We drove through the night (only a couple hours) and decided to stay in Santa Cruz. We grabbed some dinner at Soif where we split a burger and a charcuterie board, all which was very satisfying. You should definitely check out the little “downtown” area of Santa Cruz if you get the chance, there are a lot of little restaurants and shops to poke your head in and grab something tasty to eat.

In typical fashion, we woke up early the next day and went for a run! We ran down to the beach and checked out the wharf, boardwalk, and lighthouse. There were amazing views to get us started on our trip!

 

We also ran into some seals down on the wharf! It was entertaining watching them swim around and attempt to jump up on the boards and also to listen to the bigger ones barking, almost as a wake up call to all the slackers sleeping in! Seals aren’t something you see everyday in the Pacific Northwest, so we were excited to be able to see some new wildlife.

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After getting back to our room, we showered and hit the road for San Luis Obispo (SLO)! This was the bulk of our trip, and we wanted to make sure to take the scenic route along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)!

Our first pit stop came in the form of a major pitstop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We both love animals and it was perfectly on our route, so it was an obvious choice to make a stop in.

 

I would have to say that Bae’s favorite part was probably the Sea Otters. She definitely loves the Sea Otters. I think I enjoyed the jellyfish. Between the colors and slow, silky movements, they were mesmerizing to watch.

After our exploration of the aquarium, we popped into Cannery Row Brewery for some lunch. Food was nothing to write home about, except for the huge pretzel they had. Another one of Bae’s favorites is soft pretzels, so for that alone, it was worth stopping in.

After fueling up, we set forth for more driving! This was my favorite part of the trip. We really go into the bulk of the allure that the PCH has to offer. It was one beautiful view after another for the next couple hours. We decided to stop along Big Sur portion of the highway. There is a nice walkway (some may call it a mini-hike) that we ventured down.  And we coincidentally did so right around sunset. You can’t beat west coast sunsets in general, but these views were really something special. Bae likes to considers herself a lucky person (like usual), she just keeps being right!

Reluctantly, we decided we better continue our journey for SLO. We did however have to make one more noteworthy stop to check out the elephant seals. They were all over the place! The wildlife on this trip really did not disappoint!

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Check out the two on the right, neck to neck, fighting?

About an hour or so later, we finally arrived to our destination for the night in SLO. The next morning we backtracked a bit and headed to Moro Bay. Moro Bay is a cool little beach town, probably swarmed by tourists (like ourselves) in the summer months, but in December, it was quiet and a great town to check out. We parked our car and started running along the boardwalk, and to our surprise… Sea Otters! Bae was extremely excited and couldn’t stop counting them and pointing out the baby ones. It was extremely entertaining to see.

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After the excitement, we continued out to Moro Rock where we got to see some awesome crashing waves and more natural beauty.

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Finally, we decided it was time to reach our final destination, Santa Barbara. We hit the road and arrived into sunny Santa Barbara. We grabbed lunch at the delicious (and inexpensive) La Super-Rica Taqueria. HIGHLY recommend this little taco joint. Very, very good food. After lunch, we went down and walked along the beach to soak in some California sun rays. Coincidentally, Santa Barbara has their arts and crafts show along the beach every Sunday, so we got to check out some local art along the way.

After our walk along the beach (which I carried Bae across the finish line because she forgot her walking shoes), it was time to get me to the airport and for Bae to get to her pre-interview dinner. She dropped me off at the little Santa Barbara airport and just like that, our weekend in California had come to a close. If you have the time and resources, you’ve got to drive along State Route 1. It is full of breathtaking views, and is just overall very relaxing. It really makes you appreciate some of the natural beauty of the west coast!

San Francisco – Sore feet, full bellies

Mid-october we took a quick trip to San Francisco to celebrate being done with externships. PC was able to get two round trip tickets to San Francisco for only $200 since  I got a special coupon for Alaska on a Mariners baseball ticket. It just so happens that October is the best time to go to San Francisco because the weather tends to cooperate that time of year and there are less tourists than in the summer. Its very hard to find a hotel room in our budget in San Francisco so we stayed at an AirBnB in Nob Hill, which was reasonable.img_7163

We departed from Seattle at 6AM so we arrived early to San Francisco and took the BART into downtown to meet up with some good friends of ours who just so happened to be in town for the day. Once we meet up with them we grabbed some bagel sandwiches (very hardy) and walked through Chinatown. The streets were lined with fresh produce, various trinkets for sale and lots of people.

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After walking through Chinatown we made our way over to Land’s End and hiked through the park down to the Sutro Baths. The park has amazing views of the ocean and the Golden Gate bridge and is definitely a must-do when you are in San Francisco!

Even though it looks cloudy out the sun was so powerful it was making our eyes water as we tried to keep them open for this picture!

Behind us you can see the Sutro baths. If you walk down closer to them there is a cave you can go into. That building on the cliffs is appropriately called “The Cliffhouse” and has a restaurant inside.

From the Sutro baths we followed the trail over to Baker Beach, getting closer and closer to the Golden Gate Bridge. Bakers beach is also a must. Try to go on a sunny, non-foggy day if you can because there are great views!

That night we went to a cute little place called Stones Throw for dinner and headed to the Tonga Room. The Tonga Room is a tropical themed bar hidden in the basement of the Fairmont hotel and it happened to be very bumpin’ the night. An old pool has been filled in to make a lake and there was a boat with a live band in the middle of the lake. We indulged in several group tropical drinks.

The next day we had a tour scheduled for Dylan’s Tour that would take up most of the day so we got up and grabbed some treats at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse beforehand. Mr. Holmes is famous for its cruffins and sure enough there was a line out the door waiting for the them. What people don’t talk about is how good all their other baked good are too! PC may have sent me in after we’d agreed to get two pastries and I may have come out with way to many… The cruffins were strawberry Nesquick flavored plus we also got some filled donuts, a decadent monkey bread treat and a piece of savor breakfast bread. We somehow found a way to eat all of them and they were so delicious.

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Then we had to truck it up and down hills with our box of treats to meet up with our tour group down at the fisherman’s wharf. We had heard really good things about Dylan’s tour. We opted for “Dylan’s Famous Tour” but there was also an option that included Alcatraz, it just wasn’t available that day. Their claim to fame is that they are led by locals. Our guide Rolando was fantastic. Great enthusiasm and very knowledge-able about the city and its history. He was also really helpful for asking about dining recommendations.

We started out by driving through the North Beach neighborhood and then went to the Mission were we got out and walked around to see some of the murals. I loved the bright colors.

Next it was a up to Twin Peaks for some 360 views of the city.

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Then we headed over to Haight-Ashbury and got out to grab a mission style burrito for lunch. Next it was drive through the Presidio and down to Crissy Field for some great views of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can see that Carl the fog is partially coming in but not too bad!

Then we all got back in the bus/big van and drove across the bridge through Sausalito to Muir woods.

We had an hour to walk around and explore. This is where they had the first United Nations meeting.

Our last stop on the way back to San Francisco was the Marin Headlands. It sure was windy and chilly up there on the bluffs but there was a great view of the bridge!

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They dropped us off back at the fisherman’s wharf and we walked around to see the sites. This is the most touristy area of San Francisco but it was good to see it. We ended up getting some fish and chips at one of the restaurants down on the water which were good! Then we swung through the famous giant Ghirardelli shop. I wish we had the stomach room for one of those massive sundaes that look so delicious but we didn’t and instead we just ate the little squares they hand out for free. Then it was early to bed because we were worn out for our day of adventures!

The next morning we woke up and went to pick up bikes that we had also rented from Dylan’s Tours for only an additional $15/bike for the entire trip as an add on to our tour. But first we had to hunt down the Bowld Acai food truck to get an acai bowl for breakfast because that just sounded really good.

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We then proceeded to pick up our bikes and bike a nearly 30 mile loop around the city. We started by going up to Coit tower. Unfortunately it was cloudy and the tower wasn’t open yet so we didn’t go to the top.

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We then biked down by the water over to Crissy Field.

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And then it was over the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

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From there we encountered some steep hills as we biked from the Golden Gate bridge through the Presidio and some neighborhoods until we reached Golden Gate Park. Golden Gate Park has a ton of random stuff in it like windmills and bison and various museums. To be honest we were a bit too hungry to stop and further explore anything in the park. Instead we biked over to the mission and had some amazing Burmese food at a restaurant called Burma Love. They were on our radar because they have a tea leaf salad made famous when Sunset magazine named it the best salad in the west. The salad was great but we liked the lunch wraps with some sort of tasty meat, slaw and coconut rice. It was sooooo good. I’d love to be eating another one right now.

Then it was over to Dandelion chocolates. We picked their chef’s taster which has 5-6 tasty bite-sized desserts on it but we were then told they didn’t have everything to go on it  😦 They made up for it though because they refunded us, gave us a free hot chocolate, piece of celebration cake and discounted their s’mores tart. So basically, super tasty treats and good customer service.

Next we headed down the block to Tartine, arguably the most famous bakery in San Francisco and managed to split a ham and gruyere croissant despite being so stuffed!

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I wish we had more stomach room because there were so many delicious looking baked goods. The line is often out the door. Then we cruised back over to the bike shop and dropped off our bikes and went back to our AirBnB to take a nap.

After a bit of a rest we took an Uber to the mission to grab some dinner at the Southern Pacific Brewery. We got an awesome flight of house beers to sample and played cards at the bar. It had good vibes and the food looked good so we decided to stay for dinner. We got burgers which were tasty and then managed to have room to get ice cream at the famous Bi-Rite which was only a few blocks away and called it a night.

The next morning we put on our backpacks and hiked over to the area around Alamo square. On the way we stopped at the San Francisco chain, Philz Coffee to see what they had to offer.

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They have coffees like mint mojito and other funky things. It wasn’t our favorite but it was nice to try. They we continued on our hike and went to The Mill for their famous toast and OMG it was so good.

Possibly the best thing we ate the whole trip which sounds ridiculous because it is just toast, but boy, it was good. We got three different toast to share: their whole wheat raised bread with butter and cinnamon sugar, a grainy bread with cream cheese and pesto and another slice with plum jam. There bread is thick cut and the toppings are perfect.

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After toast we went to see the famous “painted ladies” which were just around the corner. Alamo square, across from the painted ladies, was all tore up but we still got a decent pic.

Next we headed down to the ferry building which contains a good assortment of food stalls and shops. By this point we were pretty tired but we got lunch and then it was time to ride the BART back to the airport. Yet another packed, fun-filled trip for PC and Bae! We are so lucky to be able to travel and see the world 🙂

Overall grade: Bae: B+, PC: A-

South Dakota Adventures: Badlands, Wind Cave, Rushmore and so much more

Since I’m currently living in Omaha but may be moving in May PC and I feel like we need to make as many road trips to surrounding areas while we can. One of the places we felt like we needed to go before I move is Badlands National Park. And while we were in the area we figured we might as well do Wind Caves National Park since it’s not too far away. And then we decided we might as well throw in Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse since PC had never been to those before. Plus we had to do Custer State park in hopes of seeing some wildlife. And we threw in some other stops along the way. Thats do-able in two days right??

So we started on the road on Thursday evening after I picked PC up from Epply airport and we headed to Sioux City to see PC’s friend who’s on the Wichita Wingnuts play the Sioux City Explorers. We shared some cold beers and a hot dog. We really felt like we were in small town USA.

On the way out of town we stopped at Culver’s, my favorite fast food place because it reminds me of my grandparents and got a tasty sourdough melt and deep fried cheese curds and shared a concrete mixer for the drive to Sioux Falls.

We didn’t arrive in Sioux falls until around 10PM. We stayed at a Marriott in town that was actually very nice but we weren’t there for long because we woke up the next morning at 4:30AM since we had a very full day ahead of us.

First stop – coffee and bagels from a combined Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bagels. Got my first pumpkin-y drink of the season! PC went with something more manly.

Next we stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. I had very high expectations because this place is pretty famous. Every year they do new murals made of corn with a different theme on the side of the palace. I expected intricate murals made kernel by kernel to create a beautiful elaborate masterpiece.

To my disappointment the palace just had a giant Willy Nelson mural that was made more out of dead grass than corn cobs. And the corn murals only covered less than two sides of the building! We were there to early to go inside but apparently they have basketball games and concerts in there sometimes. The only redeeming them about the Corn Palace was the statue of the giant cheerful corn cob. Plus it was nice to be able to get out and stretch our legs a little bit. Corn Palace grade: D-

Then we were back on the road. There was a pretty crazy lightening storm but it cleared up eventually and we got to see the sunrise. Next stop was Wall Drug, which is famous for its billboards all along I-90 through the entire state of South Dakota.

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We aren’t the type for touristy junk but we stopped in to check it out and get a second breakfast. The doughnuts were good and the coffee was cheap. Plus it was nice to stretch our legs again because we had been on the road for several hours at this point.

Next, it was onto Mount Rushmore, which was still a few miles away. As you get closer and closer to Mt. Rushmore there is a ton of touristy activities on the side of the road. Most of them look like a dump and we didn’t stop at any but I wish we would have stopped at Bear Country USA to see some bears! By the time we got there skies were still gray and sprinkly. There isn’t a ton to do at Mt. Rushmore aside from a little mile long trail around the base of the hill and a small museum about the making of the sculpture.

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This was my second time at Mt. Rushmore and PC’s first. We agree we don’t feel like we need to go back but its good to see at least once.

Crazy horse is just 30 minutes away so we headed there next. Crazy horse absolutely dwarfs Mt. Rushmore in size but not much progress has been made since I was last there three years ago. There are quite a few things to look at in the museum there.

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There is a bus ride that leaves from the museum and costs on a few dollars which takes you closer to the sculpture but we didn’t have time to do that since we were on a very tight schedule.

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Then on to Needles Highway which is a tortuous two lane (sometimes one lane) road through Custer State Park.

We saw a family of mountain goats along the way 🙂

Then we got on the Wildlife loop. Custer State Park has the largest buffalo herd in America and we were really hoping to see some wildlife. Luckily our dream came true!

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We actually came across a group of 30-40 buffalo meandering across the road. We saw some pronghorn deer (antelope) as well.

We had to high-tail it after we saw the buffalo to make it to Wind Caves National Park in time to get tickets for one of the cave tours. I wasn’t so convinced we needed to do one of the tours but PC insisted and I’m glad he did. We got lucky and happened to get there around 3PM, just in time to get tickets for the Garden of Eden tour. This particular tour is 1hr 15min but there are ones that are even 4hrs long. The remaining tickets for the remaining tours were sold out pretty soon after we go there, around 2:30, and visitors who were not able to get tickets were not pleased! So moral of the story is get there early to get tickets because the tour is amazing and they do sell out.

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The tour started with an introduction by a cheerful park ranger and then we took an elevator several stories down into the cave. This is the manmade entrance, the original entrance is very tiny; I’m not sure how people got in originally.

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The natural entrance to the cave.

Anyhow, our tour group was composed of people from ages 3yo to 80-ish yo so this adventure is good for all ages as there is a paved trail, as well as some stairs, all along the route. Our tour guide was absolutely fantastic! She was so cheerful and knowledgeable about the science behind the cave and the history of the place.

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Some thing unique about wind cave is that it has a ton of a rock pattern called “box work” which comes about when sheets of calcite crystals form around softer limestone and then the limestone gets worn away, leaving behind a spider web-like pattern. There may be no other cave in the world that has so much box work.

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Box work formations

Back in the day, a young boy explored the cave with just a candle and ball of string and discovered up to seven miles. I would be way to scared to do that! The cave actually has over a hundred miles of passages. The ranger ended the tour with a with speech that made me understand why I love national parks so much. In a world that can seem pretty depressing at times, national parks are an example of something good that people did. Generations ago, people had the foresight to set aside some of the most beautiful places in the country and preserve them for future generations and people continue to preserve and care for these amazing places. ❤

After our cave tour we decided to do something above ground. We chose to do the Rankin Ridge Trail because it has 360 degree views of the park. We didn’t see another soul on the trail.

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The hike was only about a mile long and we didn’t seen another soul on the trail. There is an old fire tower at the top of the hill but unfortunately it is gated off so you can’t climb to the top. The view were pretty spectacular regardless.

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View from the top of Rankin Ridge Trail

Once we got to the bottom of the trail we hopped in the car and drove back to Rapid City for dinner. We ran into a few more friends along the way.

Wind Cave National Park rating: A++

We went to Firehouse Brewing for dinner. Its a very popular brewery in town that is in an old firehouse (hence the name).  We had a bit of a wait so we walked around the downtown area. There was a statue on very street corner, literally! Most of them were of presidents but there were some others as well. Dinner was good – good burgers and beer.  Then we had a several hour drive out to Badlands to get to our hotel, The Badlands Inn, which was a bit of a struggle at the late hour after our very full day.

We got a few hours of sleep at the Badlands Inn and then woke up around 5AM because sunrise is a MUST at badlands park. Something to keep in mind is that you should actually be out there around 30-40min before sunrise to catch “the golden hour”. We started out at Big Badlands Overlook to catch the rays of the rise sun. Also, of note, be sure to bring an extra jacket and gloves, I was struggling with just my sweatshirt on.

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Big Badlands Overlook

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After taking the lovely sunrise from Big Badlands Overlook we drove a few miles deeper into the park to explore the Door, Wind and Notch Trails, which all leave from the same parking lot.

 

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Notch Trail – Not good for those who are afraid of heights!

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By this time we were very hungry so we went to the Cedar Pass lodge for breakfast. We got some bacon, hash browns, eggs and some type of deep fried.

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Then it was off to the visitor’s center which was right next door. We actually got a few souvenir’s which is unlike us but we just love these vintage national park posters.

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Then we started back along the Badlands Loop and a did a few more short hikes.

We also stopped saw some bighorn sheep! We stopped at one last look out and then we were back on I-90 East, heading home.

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Badlands National Park rating: A

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It would have been great to have another day to do this trip but we had to work with the time we had and it turned out to be a fantastic adventure.

Mount Rainier National Park

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August 25th marked the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service. The celebration started on Thursday and lasted through the weekend. To celebrate, the NPS was allowing free entrance into all parks for the extended weekend. Coincidentally, Bae finished up her month working at Swedish Hospital in Seattle on Thursday and had the weekend free! We planned  on going to the park regardless this weekend, and just happened to get lucky being that it was Centennial Weekend.

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Bae has an insatiable desire to take photos of me eating. I have an insatiable desire to eat, so it works out well

As usual, we set our alarms for 5:30 and were on the road by 6 o’clock! Our plan was to enter through the southwest corner at the Nisqually Entrance drive through (with a few stops of course) and exit back out through the northeast corner at the White River Entrance. Once we got off the busy freeways we made a pitstop in Puyallup for our white chocolate iced americano (PC) and Abominable white mocha (Bae) at BigFoot Java. Across the street we noticed a little donut shop and we had to stop in. It was called Epic Donut. They had a pretty cool galaxy/space theme and an assortment of donuts. Bae and I went with the maple bacon bar, and it hit the spot. They did bacon crumbs instead of the bacon strip, which I find to be quite the difference maker between an average bacon maple and a good bacon maple (shots fired at VooDoo).

Fueled up (both the Corolla and us), we were ready to make our way into the park!

Near the park entrance, Bae once again saw wildlife, deer this time, and started getting very excited, so I had to pull over. We turned into a small bed and breakfast area, and Bae got some picture of the two baby deer. Luckily, she was quick with the draw, because the people who worked there quickly came up to our car and bluntly told us to leave. Apparently, they weren’t too fond of us “trespassing” on their property to see the deer. They were old and crotchety and could have been a bit more polite, but oh well.

When we arrived we were handed a map and a park newsletter as our souvenirs of the centennial. Our first stop was Kautz Creek. we parked our car and crossed the street and got a great view of the mountain. There were a handful of other people doing the same, but it was still early and the park was still pretty empty. We then briefly checked out the Longmire Museum Visitor Center and made sure we understood our plan before tackling the rest of the park.

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Bae taking a photo of Mount Rainier along with our park map at Kautz Creek

Next was the meat and potatoes of our trip. We settled on a 6 mile hike starting at Narada Falls and taking us east to Reflection Lakes and Louise Lake before looping back around and taking us back to our starting point. Once again, fully equipped with our WTA guide, we were ready to go!

We started out at Narada Falls and were one of two cars in the parking lot. Once again, very smart of us to get an early start, especially on Centennial Weekend. The first mile and a half was slightly uphill and in the shade and really a piece of cake. It was a good way to get the day started. We were covered in shade most of the way, and actually a bit chilly (this quickly subsided). Once out of the shade from the fir trees, we were ready to take on the lakes portion. We crossed the street and hiked through some shrubbery and made it to Reflection Lakes!

 

After getting taking the time for our photo op, it was back to business and finishing the hike!

Our next landmark was Faraway Rock. There was a bit of an elevation gain through the forest and when we came to the opening, it was quite the view. We could see Louise Lake below, Stephens Canyon to the east, and the Tatoosh Mountain Range to the souther horizon.

Once we took in the beauty from above, it was time to get back on our trek and finish strong. We continued on about a half mile or so and then things got interesting. We ran into a mother daughter team who were coming from the direction we were headed. They told us they just saw a mother and baby black bear about 5 blocks (wtf is 5 blocks in the wilderness?) ahead. They decided it would be best to turn around and head back down. Turning around really wasn’t an option for Bae. I was on the fence. I wanted to see bears, but on the other hand I didn’t want any trouble with the bears. We pushed forward. Eyes peeled and heads on swivels, we kept going talking loud so if we came across any bears, we wouldn’t startle them. I kept kicking my feet and Bae was laughing at me cause she thought I was being ridiculous. We reached a fork in the road and our directions told us we should go left. Bae analyzed the situation and figured 50% chance we wouldn’t run into the bears was pretty good, we kept going. Now to be honest, I REALLY wanted to see the bears, but I also REALLY sorta wanted to turn around. But I was with Bae and up for adventure, so I was 100% on board with  continuing.

We kept going until we climbed over some trees and found ourselves in a valley of rocks off the trail. Now to recap, we were well past 5 blocks from where we met those woman (but still weren’t convinced that the term 5 blocks was relevant because we were hiking, not going to the local market to pick up groceries for the week) but also off the trail. After pushing forward hoping to find the trail, we turned around and headed back. About 20 feet prior to the trees we climbed over, we found that the trail veered left when we went straight. Whoops. So we were back on track.

We ran into some nice gentlemen who looked like they made trips out here quite frequently and asked if they saw any black bears. They chuckled and said no, and if we saw any we shouldn’t be worried. The black bears aren’t as “curious” as brown bears, which were all removed from this part of the park years ago (by removed, I mean transported, nothing harmful). So it looks like back at the fork in the road, the bears were to the right. We were both disappointed we didn’t get to see any black bears (although I was partially relieved). After all, experiencing the thrill of the potential of seeing bears is a bit deflating if you don’t actually get to see the bears. Hopefully next time we’ll safely run into some bears.

We made our way back through the forest and found ourselves back at Narada Falls. A couple hours had passed and the parking lot was absolutely packed with people! Most came just for the photos and not to actually hike, so the trails weren’t too packed, just the parking lot and last 0.1 miles of the hike.

Back in our car, we continued our journey and made our final stop for lunch at the Henry Jackson Visitor Center. It was absolutely packed with tourists. There were buses of people being shipped in from all over! We got fruit and a hotdog (Bae loves hotdogs, and they’re growing on me) from the cafeteria. We then checked out the gift shop which had some cool items, but nothing we had to have. There is also a cool interactive portion on the second floor. There is very good information on the park as well as the Henry Jackson for which the center gets its namesake. Henry Jackson was a senator from Washington who was a large advocate for environmentalism and played a big part in expanding the protection of land for the 3 national parks located in Washington.

After letting our meal digest by walking around and reading, we were ready to get back in the car and head home. On our way out, we saw one viewpoint we couldn’t resist and made one final ill-advised swerving stop into the viewing area for one final shot of Mount Rainier.

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Chuckanut Drive

To start off Bae’s month of working in Seattle, we decided we would spend the first Sunday going for a day adventure we’d read quite bit about and needed to go on. Per our M.O., we were up and on the road before sunrise. After a pit stop for coffee, we were on our way North to checkout the locally famous Chuckanut Drive.

Located just off of Interstate 5 around Burlington, Chuckanut Drive is located on Highway 11 and is a 2o mile drive curving through the cliff of Chuckanut Mountain. It is known for it’s breathtaking views of the Puget Sound and leads you on an alternate route to Bellingham. It’s highly recommended if you have some spare time, or are making the drive around sunset.

As I mentioned earlier, Bae and I like to get an early start on our day, 1) because we both wake up pretty early anyway, and 2) we don’t always have the most time together, so there’s no point in spending it sleeping! We got our iced coffees courtesy of Big Foot Java and we were on our way! Our first stop was the Oyster Dome hike. Located around mile marker 10, the hike is about 6.5 miles. It contains more switchbacks and elevation than the alternate entrance off of I5. Bae was a bit skeptical that this was the proper entrance because it wasn’t too well marked, but I did my job to assure her that we were in the right spot (after quickly double checking with our good friends at wta.org).

Since we were already on the trail before 7:30 am, it wasn’t quite sunny out yet and not hot either (which was actually not a totally bad thing). We saw yellow, brown, and black slugs on our way and that was pretty cool if you’re into those slimy guys. Other than that, there wasn’t much to see on the trail. Regardless, it was nice to get out and enjoy some crisp morning air. At the top the fog was rolling quite a bit so we didn’t get to take in the view of Samish Bay and the Olympics Mountains as we had hoped, but getting to the top and taking time to relax and eat our protein bars was still nice. On our way down, Bae took off running and so naturally I followed. We made it down in world record time. They will be etching our names in that stone at the trailhead in the near future!

 

Our next stop was Bellingham! We continued up Chuckanut Drive and found ourselves in Bellingham. We contemplated and ultimately decided to stop for some coffee and doughnuts at Rocket Donuts and Acme Ice Cream. It ended up being a great decision. We ordered their daily special which had berries and icing and a regular maple. We also had Moka Joe’s cold brew coffee which was new to both us of and not too bad. Overall, it was a great decision to stop in and grab some fuel to give us a little boost after our morning hike!

On our way back home, we decided to stop at Larrabee State Park. It wasn’t part of the original plan, but because the fog from our hike subsided and sun was shining, we had to stop at the beach for some rays and whatever else it had to offer.

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Larrabee State Park

We got there, walked down the walkway toward the beach, and we got to the beach and Bae started going bananas! She couldn’t even speak just pointing and ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing.’ I thought there was a whale or something. Turns out it was even better… A little family of sea otters! They were perched on some drift wood and were taking turns diving in, very  majestic and smooth! I’ve never seen her so excited! PC knows the way to Bae’s heart, and it includes a pet sea otter in the future!

After the excitement died down, we combed the beach and found a handful of starfish clinging to rocks, crab shells, and various other marine life (namely hermit crabs) in the tide pools. I highly recommend taking the time to check out tide pools if you’ve got the free time and beach accessibility, you never know what you’re going to find!

Our last big stop on the way home was the village of Bow, WA. We drove down a small little one lane road that looped through the main shops, parked our car and got out ready to explore. We saved room from our stop at Rocket Donuts for an actual meal, so we decided now was the perfect time to eat! We heard quite a bit about Breadfarm. Breadfarm is a local bakery that is known for it’s decadent treats. We went with a handful of shortbread and fig cookies and a loaf of their Sour Cherry Lemon bread (that was delicious!).

Baked goods in hand, we went next door to Slough Food. Slough Food is an extremely cool little spot that you need to check out. The owner is passionate about wine and cheese and a real cool dude. We went out back and sat at a nice picnic table and got to eat in solitude. We ordered a meat and cheese plate that was frickin delicious! We brought our bread and cookies with us and had quite the meal. It was our own charcuterie plate with dessert! Bow was a 10/10 and a must stop for anybody who is in the area, or even not in the area, but looking for some good food and good people!

Our final stop was Samish Bay Cheese. Samish Bay does a lot of organic cheeses and has 100% grass fed beef as well. The folks in there are very kind and are willing to let you try whatever you’d like to make sure you enjoy the cheese. Being a smaller operation, they are also the ones who make the cheese and are very knowledgeable with any questions you may have. Bae and I went with the Aged Ladysmith, a Gouda, and the Mount Blanchard Cheddar. You really can’t go wrong with any of their cheeses (except maybe the Aged Ladysmith), and they have so many options, they have something for everyone. They can also be found at local Farmer’s Markets ranging from Lake Forest Park to West Seattle if you’re not able to make it all the way up north.

Overall, Bae and I had a great Sunday day trip exploring Chuckanut drive. We may have gotten a bit too early of a start and experienced more fog than we would have liked, but all in all a great day.

Overall Grade: Bae: B-, PC: B

The Ultimate Bucket List

This is a list we’ve been working on for quite a while. We are constantly coming up with so many things we want to do that we have to write them down to prevent forgetting some of them! We had iPhone notes, Instagram messages, and spreadsheets, and we figured we should combine them all into on place. We’ve already done quite a few but we have so many more to go and we’re adding more each day.

It started with the book that Bae gave me on my birthday this year. She was so excited about it she actually encouraged me to open it up a day early!  This was where we started and have just kept expanding ever since!

Without further ado… the list!

“Actually, the best gift you could have given her was a lifetime of adventure….” – Lewis Carroll

Experiences

  • Build our dream house
  • Run a full marathon
  • Run a half marathon – did the Lincoln 1/2 in May
  • Visit all 50 states (10/50)
  • Visit all 59 National Parks (5/59)
  • Backpacking
  • Camping
  • Cross country skiing
  • Downhill skiing
  • Complete the Seafair Olympic Triathlon
  • Go to a Mariner’s World Series Game
  • Visit a ghost town
  • Live in a tiny house
  • Ride a camel
  • Take a train ride
  • Book club

State by state breakdown

  • Alabama
  • Alaska – PC’s dream state, so many national parks!
    • Northern Lights!
    • Denali National Park
    • Gates of the Arctic National Park
    • Glacier Bay National Park
    • Kenai Fjords National Park
    • Lake Clark National Park
    • Kobuk Valley National Park
    • Lake Clark National Park
    • Wrangell – St. Elias National Park
    • See the Alaskan Summer League Midnight Baseball Game
  • Arizona
    • Grand Canyon National Park
      • Havasu Creek
      • Horseshoe Bend
    • Petrified Wood National Park

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      Petrified Wood National Park

    • Saguaro National Park
    • Antelope Canyon
    • The Wave
    • Painted Desert
    • Visit Sedona
    • Monument Valley
  •  Arkansas
    • Hot Springs National Park
  •  California
    • Road trip along the California coast – Route 1
    • San Francisco
      • Run across the Golden Gate Bridge
      • Self-guided walking tour through Chinatown
      • De Young Museum – observation tower with good views
      • Urban hikes
        • Historic Trail – smack dab in the middle of a city. Nice wilderness area and ends up near Sutro Tower. The trailhead starts at Stanyan and 17th and is just a set of wooden stairs tucked in between two houses on the street.
        • Bernal Hill. The best thing about Bernal Hill are the views. Easy to get to from the Mission. Park along Bernal Heights Boulevard and Ellsworth Street for easy access.
        • Lands End. It is the most north west point in the city and is really special. You hike along the water with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean stretching out. You can’t go wrong over here.
        • Twin Peaks Hike
      • Explore Chinatown
      • Lombard street
      • Alcatraz
      • Catch sunrise at Coit Tower
      • Food & Drinks
        • 31 Best Cheap Eats in SF – gonna eat them all!
        • Another good guide to food in the city
        • Tonga Room – old, kitsch and tropical
        • Brunch at Mama’s
        • Brunch at Mission Beach cafe – the carmelized bacon and brioche french toast looks bomb
        • Tartine Bakery
          • Try the pain au chocolat
        • Bi-Rite Creamery – most famous ice cream and right down the street from Tartine
          • Try the pot de creme too
        • Miette – cute candy shop
        • Dandelion Chocolate
      • Ferry Building Farmer’s Market
        • Biscuit Bender – Fried angel biscuits
    • Yosemite National Park
      • Half Dome Hike – 17.2mi, you make have to win a raffle to get this
    • Pinnacles National Park
    • King’s Canyon National Park
    • Sequoia National Park
    • Redwood National Park
    • Channel Islands National Park
    • Death Valley National Park
    • Joshua Tree National Park
    • Lassen Volcanic National Park
    • San Diego
      • San Diego Zoo
    • Monterrey Bay Aquarium
    • Wine tasting in Napa Valley or Sonoma
  •  Colorado
    • Denver – our first trip was awesome! We hope to return and combine it with a visit to Rocky Mt National Park
    • Food we have to go back and try!
      • Vesta Dipping Grill – 25+ dipping sauces to choose from – gotta love the sauce!
      • Colt and Gray – fine dining, try the Sticky Toffee Pudding
      • Devil’s Food – brunch and bakery
      • Eat + Drink – wine and cheese bar
      • Glazed & Confused
    • The Source – unique modern market
    • Steamboat Springs in the Winter
    • Manitou Incline
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    Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness, CO

    • Drive along the Million Dollar Highway
    • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
    • Great Sand Dunes National Park
    • Mesa Verde National Park
    • Rocky Mountains National Park
    • Stay at The Stanley Hotel – Estes Park, CO – the inspiration for The Shining
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida – We’ll be spending a week here in January!
    • Orlando
      • DISNEYWORLD – Running the half marathon on January 7th (they canceled it!)
        • Magic Kingdom
          • Eat at “Be Our Guest”
        • Animal Kingdom
        • Epcot
      • Wizarding World of Harry Potter
      • Try an “escape game” with our friends!
    • Swim with the manatees!
    • Soco Restaurant – bourbon banana pudding with vanilla wafer waffle, caramelised banana and toasted meringue
    • Biscayne National Park
    • Everglades National Park
    • Dry Tortugas National Park – An isolated island of bliss sits roughly 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, surrounded by clear waters and an abundance of sea life. The area is only accessible by boat or seaplane, so leave your phone at home and enjoy a day off the grid 🙂
  •  Georgia
    • Savannah
  • Hawaii
    • Haleakala National Park
    • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
    • Kaui
      • Awa’awaphi Trail
    • Haiku stairs of Oahu
    • Na Pali Coast State Park
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
    • Chicago
      • Boat river tour
      • Shedd Aquarium
      • Wrigley Field
      • The Bean
      • Comedy show
      • Run on the shore of Lake Michigan
      • Food and Drinks
        • Breakfast
          • Wildberry Cafe — Come here hungry! Super fun breakfast/brunch spot with TONS of fun pancake and French toast options! Chocolate chip, Cinnamon Roll, Oreo S’more…
          • The Bongo Room — Honestly, what is more fun than a tower of Chocolate French Toast??! Perhaps their White Chocolate Pretzel Salted Caramel Pancakes??! The Bongo Room is fun breakfast/brunch spot with sinfully sweet and savory breakfast options.
          • Donut Vault
          • Do-rite Donuts
          • Fire cakes – donut ice cream sandwich
        • Lunch/Dinner
        • Donuts, donuts, donuts!
        • Eat at all/some of these!
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
    • Mammoth Cave
    • Drive the Bourbon trail
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
    • Acadia National Park
      • Sargent Mountain Loop – 5.5mi
  • Massachusetts
    • Boston
      • Fenway Park
    • Martha’s Vineyard
    • Cape Cod
    • Salem – ideally at Halloween time!
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
    • Isle Royale National Park
    • Mackinac Island
  • Minnesota
    • Voyageurs National Park
    • The Twin Cities
      • Minnesota Wild Game
    • Run the trails around Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet and Lake of the Isles – if we end up living in the Twin Cities we have to live near these!
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri 
  • Montana
    • Glacier National Park
      • Drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road – You’ll feel like you’re in one of those nature-themed IMAX movies during this 50-mile drive
    • Grinnell Glacier Trail – 11mi
  • Nebraska
    • Omaha – Bae’s city, at least until May 2017
      • Food/Drinks:
        • Dario’s
        • Block 16
        • Lucky Bucket Brewery
        • Wilson and Washburn
        • Avoli
        • Salt
        • The Grey Plume
        • Cask Republic
        • Jams
        • Donut Professor
        • Lighthouse Pizza – Pies and fries
      • Omaha Drafthouse cinema
      • Joslyn’s Art Museum
      • Explore through Fontanelle Forest
      • Apple picking
      • Henry Doorly Zoo – best frickin’ zoo ever!
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
    • Carlsbad Caverns National Park – more than 119 known caves, formed from limestone and sulfuric acid. Visitors can take the natural entrance (pictured on the right) or ride down the elevator 750 feet below ground.
  • New York
    • NYC!!
      • Central Park
      • Baseball Hall of Fame – Cooperstown, NY to see The Kid!
  • Nevada
    • Great Basin National Park
    • Lake Tahoe – part in Cali, part in Nevada, pretty in summer or winter
    • Las Vegas – We’re not really Vegas people but gotta go once
      • Neon Boneyard Museum
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
    • Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  • Ohio
    • Cuyahoga Valley National Park
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
    • Portland
      • Food:
        • Pine State Biscuits
        • Pip’s
        • Olympia Provisions
        • Cheese and Crack
        • Food carts/trucks!
        • Salt and Straw – ice cream
        • Breweries – we like to get flights
          • Rogue
          • Deschutes
        • Pok Pok
        • Grilled Sandwiches of all kinds
        • Multnomah Whiskey Library:  A relatively new bar that feels very old.  Perfectly crafted cocktails and great food in a very cool environment.  There are often lines, so try going during off hours.
        • Slappy Cakes – DIY pancakes
        • Screen Door 2337 E Burnside St. | Southern cuisine, farm to fork, chicken and waffles. Worth the wait.
        • Old Town Chinatown, NW 3rd Ave. is the place to be for a wild night. Police block off the streets with barriers so you may walk freely from bar to bar nary a concern. Explore the different venues. Let your curiosity lead the way. Is it the music that guides you? The atmosphere? The long wait to get in? Every bar has its scene.
      • Run in forest park
      • Explore the Japan Gardens – will be pretty in October
      • Portland Saturday Market
      • Visit a McMenamin’s place
        • The Kennedy School
    • Oneonta Gorge
    • Mt. Hood – Timberline Lodge
    •  Bend
      • Deschutes Brewery
    • Oregon Coastenhanced-buzz-wide-7005-1394331176-9
      • Manzanita
      • Tilamook Cheese Factory
      • Thor’s Well
      • Cannon Beach
      • Seaside
    • Crater Lake National Park
      • Drive the Rim – stop at all the viewpoints, about 30 miles and have a picnic at one of them
      • Boat Tour of the lake, maybe even take one to Wizard Island
    • Columbia River Highway – scenic drive
    • Multanomah Falls
    • Five Pines Lodge – trip is booked for late December. Hope there’s lots of snow! -> update, there was!
  • Pennsylvania
    • Visit the Liberty Bell
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
    • Badlands National Park
      • The Notch Trail
      • “The Wall”
      • Badlands Loop Road
      • See a sunset and a sunrise 🙂
      • Fossil Exhibit Trail
      • See a buffalo!!
    • Wall drug store
    • Wind Caves National Park
      • Take a cave tour!
    • Mt. Rushmore
    • Crazy Horse
    • Custer state park
  • South Carolina
    • Congaree National Park
    • Hilton Head
  • Tennessee
    • Great Smokey Mountains National Park
      • Climb Mount LeConte
    • Nashville – Hoping to road trip from Omaha and stop in KC and St. Louis on the way
  • Texas
  • Utah
    • Salt Lake City
    • A 9 day roadtrip to all the National Parks
    • Canyonlands National Park
    • Arches National Park
    • Zion National Park
      • Angel’s Landing – 5ish miles and challenging

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        Angel’s Landing in Zion

    • Bryce Canyon National Park
      • Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Combination Trail – 3mi
    • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Vermont
    • Maple Syrup Tasting
  • Virginia
    • Shenandoah National Park
      • Old Rag Loop – 8.8 mi
  • Washington D.C.
    • The Smithsonian
    • Holocaust Museum
    • Lincoln Memorial
  • Washington state – our home state!
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
    • Milwaukee
    • Apostle Islands
  • Wyoming
    • Grand Tetons National Park
    • Yellowstone National Park
      • Grand Prismatic Spring

Additional US Trips

  • Visit the 4 Corners – doesn’t really fall under one state, obviously
  • Road trip on Route 66

International Travel

  • On to CANADA!
    • Banff National Park
      • Stay at the Banff Springs Hotel
      • See the sunrise while canoeing on Lake Louise
      • Hike to a tea house
    • Whistler
    • Vancouver BC
  • Iceland
  • US Virgin Islands
    • Virgin Islands National Park
  • American Samoa
    • National Park of American Samoa
  • Scottland
    • Visit Castles & drink whiskey
  • New Zealand
  • England
    • London Marathon
  • Austria
  • Explore Scandinavia
    • Sweden

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      Hallstatt, Austria

  • Switzerland
  • Australia
    • Real life Marsupials!
    • Snorkle in the Great Barrier Reef
  • Italy
    • Rome Colosseum
    • Amalfi Coast
    • The Dolomites

“I wish I had done everything on earth with you.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Weekend At Chelan

To celebrate being done with my exam and spend some time with my family PC and I made the drive out to Lake Chelan for the weekend. We ventured through the beautiful and highly underrated North Cascades National Park on our way, which was filled with natural beauty every direction you looked, but I must say Lake Chelan is a natural wonder in itself, as it is over 1,500ft deep and 50 miles long. It is the third deepest lake in the country after Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe. Chelan is a popular vacation destination for Washingtonians and is nestled in mountains and surrounded by land that is used for growing fruits like apples, peaches, cherries and blueberries. Everyone thinks of Washington as being super rain but this part of the state is actually quite dry with about 12in of rainfall a year. Unfortunately the area was hit pretty badly by wildfires last year and you could still see some remnants of that on our way over.

There is a tiny town called Steihekin across the lake from Chelan, with a permanent population of only 100 people that is accessible by boat or hiking in, but not by road (sounds a little creepy/cool right?). There is a ferry that leaves from Chelan daily to go to Steihekin but the ride takes several hours one way. PC and I wanted to take the ferry, called Lady of the Lake, out to Steihekin and hike back to Chelan along a 17 mile trail but we just didn’t have the time, as it would be a two day venture where we would take the ferry out to Stehekin the first day and then leave early on the second day to hike back, so we will have to do that on our next trip to the area.

The house my family rented for the weekend was actually in Manson, a smaller town further down the lake coast than the city of Chelan. Manson is less commercial and crowded so I’m glad we stayed there instead.  The house had a beautiful view of the lake and you could often see boats zooming around. The evening we arrived I went down to the beach and jumped in the lake to swim around a bit with my dad while PC helped my mom and aunt make dinner 🙂 The water in the lake is so clear and refreshingly chilly, but not too cold since the temps run in the 80s and 90s during the summer months, making a dip in the lake feel quite nice. When we got back from the lake we enjoyed a nice family dinner with a lake view.

Every morning PC and I woke up and went for a run around town. We like to run in the morning because it makes us start the day feeling accomplished. Its a good time to talk and enjoy each other’s company before we get into whatever shenanigans we have going on that day. After our morning run we went to a famous local breakfast place for our morning meal with my sister and cousin. The four of us order a giant streusel muffin as an appetizer when we arrived (now you’re wondering if appetizers at breakfast are a thing). We also sampled the blueberry juice. For my main course I got the blueberry blintzes.

They were featured in The Seattle Times as breakfast worth the drive. They were delicious but so rich, so I made PC trade me for some of the tasty hash browns and sausage he got with his more tradition cowboy breakfast.

The restaurant itself is located on a family owned berry farm where you can pick your own blueberries so of course we had to do that afterward. It was so much fun!!

We picked only the biggest juiciest blueberries – I’ve never seen such big ones.They tasted amazing and it was hard to stop picking.

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Plus they were only $2.50/lb! I would say that Blueberry Hills is a must do if you are staying at Lake Chelan!

That afternoon we went to a few of the wineries in the area (there 30+ in Chelan) to do wine tasting, including Tildio and Hard Row 2 Hoe. Then we hit up Mystic Pizza in Chelan for some good pizza. Sun + wine + pizza = sleepiness so next it was time for a nap.

That night PC, my sister, my cousin and I made dinner for the family, including beer-boiled brats, hamburgers, corn on the cob, sweet potato fries and grilled asparagus. It was controlled chaos with all of us working on the meal but it was actually really fun! PC did a great job on the grill and I liked being his assistant. We made chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter s’mores cookies for dessert and we had a family game night. We played Blockus and Bananagrams, two fun ones.

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Baker boy with the peanut butter s’mores cookies.

The next morning we woke up and went for a run. When we got back PC and I shared some tasty sourdough toast with some of big juicy blueberries we had picked. That gave us the energy to go paddle boarding.

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Paddle boarding is actually pretty hard work because you have to constantly use your muscles to stay balanced and not topple off your board into the water. Its especially hard when there are lots of boats on the lake making waves. I must say that PC did not love it – he look pretty terrified the whole time he was on his board! But he was a good sport. We tossed a little football around in the lake too, which he liked better.

After all that paddle boarding we needed some refreshment so we went to a local wine spot to have some chardonnay while playing cribbage, then hit up the brewery in Manson and final stopped at Rootdown Cidery for some delicious cider samplers.

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Overall it was a fun trip to Lake Chelan, that went by too fast and we were sad to leave but we hope to back sometime in the near future!

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North Cascades National Park

On our way to Lake Chelan for the Fourth of July weekend, Bae and I decided to spend a day going through the North Cascades National Park. The North Cascades is home to hundreds of glaciers and actually has more than half of all the glaciers that exist in the US today!

To make the most of our trip, we decided to get an early start before sunrise and head north! I was a bit on the sleepy side for the first hour or so of the drive, until we stopped into a nice small little coffee shop for breakfast near Arlington. Once fueled with caffeine, we were ready to rock!
The North Cascades is actually located all along highway 20. When we were coming around a corner, the sign appeared and Bae shouted, “pull over!” Naturally, I did my best to pull the car over suddenly without accident. One hint for those deciding to make the trek, there is a nice flat iron platform the perfect size of a camera to sit on for those who don’t travel with either a personal photographer or a tripod 😉.

Our first stop in the park was Newhalem. Newhalem is a small company town owned by Seattle City Light. All residents are employees of the Skagit River Hydroelectric project.

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As soon as we stepped out of the car we could hear the crackling of the power lines above us.

In the evenings LED lights illuminate the small waterfalls in the area. Bae and I got out and wandered around the area a bit and it was the perfect intro to the park.

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Bae and the waterfall

Our first stop after Newhalem was the Gorge Overlook. This was a nice little 0.4 mile loop from the parking lot. It was quick and easy and a no-brainer if you are looking to make the most of your time in the park. It offers a great view and is quick and easy. Plus, there’s a restroom with a sturdy door, for a quick bathroom break before hitting some of the longer hikes.

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Gorge Overlook

The next stop on the trip was Diablo Lake Overlook. Located on the side of the highway, this requires no hiking or walking, so it is the next “must see”. It provides an amazing view of Diablo Lake.

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The water was a gorgeous teal color and the surrounding scenery was just as beautiful (including Bae). It was one of the “must see” stops on the trip when we first started planning, and it did not disappoint.

Diablo Lake Overlook

Next came the meat and potatoes of our trip. Our main hike. Since we only were making a day trip out of the North Cascades, camping was out of the equation, so we wanted to pick a nice challenging hike that would be equipped with rewarding views. Bae did her homework (as usual) and picked out a winner. Described as the best “bang for your buck”, we chose Heather Maple Pass Loop hike, a 7.2 mile round trip loop (duh).

We’re not sure if it was because it was a Thursday morning, it’s just a hidden gem, or the North Cascades are just a bit more empty than we expected, but it felt like we had the trail to ourselves. There were others around, but nobody was stepping on each other or passing each other constantly. Everybody had their own space and it was very relaxing.

The hike felt like it was 4 portions: forest, rocks, switchbacks, and snow – yes lots of snow in July.

We started out venturing through the shaded forest. And soon found ourselves under the sun walking through thin dirt trails and walking over rocks. Every so often there would be a tiny creek running down the mountain that we would walk through. We also saw A TON of lavender. Everywhere you looked, lavender! About halfway up the mountain, we stopped to take in Lake Ann from above.

Bae pointing out Lake Ann

We continued on through switchbacks until we made it toHeather Pass, about 2.5 miles from the trailhead, the first of two passes. After a quick water break, we plunged on!

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Now we entered snow territory. Equipped in our running shoes, we were ready to take on the snow! As we walked the snow just kept on coming. We got to a point where the trail was flagged to have us continue off the path to preserve growing wild flowers. Of course we abided (plus the trail was non existent at this point). The flags lasted about 30 seconds and then it was a free for all.

Bae and I trudged through powdery snow, packed snow, fresh snow, and bloody snow (brownish red snow). I thought it was brown, Bae called it red and that made me think it was blood, so we’re going to go with bloody snow. After climbing, falling, and siding through a mountain side of snow, we finally waved the white flag and deemed the trail un-explorable (plus we saw an experienced hiker standing about a quarter miles ahead of us staring at the mountain having no clue where to go next). We cut our losses and headed back down. But not before we managed to take in the beauty, not quite from the top.

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Bae making the trail for us


We made it down in one piece and avoided whatever animal stained the snow with blood. It was nice and easy going down, and we of course gave a heads up to our fellow hikers about what was up ahead.

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Overall, it was an excellent hike. We will have to make a trip back and complete the loop when it’s later in the summer season. The views are still worth the trip, and making your own way in the snow is actually fun. Even without completing the hike as written, we still enjoyed it and made the best of it. There is really nothing to complain about when exploring the North Cascades with somebody like Bae.

Finally, we ended with looking out over Washington Pass. It was the perfect cap to the park. Just a great view from up above with one side facing the lakes and the other facing the curving highway and Cascades. Bae and I took in the sights and felt very at ease and accomplished.

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We ended our trip with a pitstop in Winthrop for some burgers and coffee. To our surprise, we stumbled into an old candy shop after our meal. Bae introduced me to seafoam and I must say, it is quite the treat. Foamy sugary candy covered in chocolate. What’s not to like?! We also ate chocolate covered gummy bears (on my Mount Rushmore of candy) and reminisced about our childhood while we ate Zotz, the foaming hard candies. And no trip in Winthrop would be complete without a little artwork – both wood carved and chalk!

Overall, our trip to the North Cascades National Park was an outstanding one. We would both highly recommend it to anybody looking to get away from Seattle and take in some beautiful sites and enjoy some hiking. The only complaint we both shared – not enough nachos or cheeseburgers! 1 down, 58 to go!