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Ryan's Great Adventures
Volume 51: Tues August 31, 2004
After resting for a couple of days, I sat there at Amanda's place, looking out the window into the cold, wet rain. It didn't look fun outside, so I stayed in. And anyhow, my knees were still hurting from my failed Wonderland thru-hike. Probably best to take it easy, I thought, and watching the rain through the window was much easier than going out into the rain.
And thus, my Wonderland hike came to an end. Maybe next year!
So I started developing alternatives plans with Amanda. We would go camping at Mount Rainier, and I'd take easy day hikes to help boost my mileage for the Hike-A-Thon, while giving my knees a break from steep trails and heavy packs. I'd travel swift and light. Yeah, that's that I would do.
While chatting with another letterboxer affectionately called Funhog, we invited her to meet up with us for camping. Fun times, indeed!
Amanda found a nice, relatively flat hike on the east side of Mount Rainier—appropriately called the Eastside Trail—and we decided to use that for our base of operations at the Ohanapecosh campground.
We drove out Tuesday morning with dire weather forecasts continuing to plague us. Rain was predicted through Thursday, but Amanda and I were hearty soles and saw this as an advantage—we'd probably get our pick of a campsite.
It rained most of the day, and we selected a nice campsite overlooking a raging river. It was one of the few sites that wasn't awash in puddles and swimming holes, and it had a few trees around the picnic table that Amanda and I thought might work to hold a tarp up.
My first task was the tarp, so we'd have a dry staging area to work with. I pulled out an old length of rope and tied up the tarp. It wasn't a perfect job. The tarp was too small, truth-be-told, and the trees around it weren't well situated to support a tarp, and I didn't have enough rope. But I got something up, which was better than nothing.
Then it was time to set up the tent—that went up with military efficiency.
Then Amanda and I got in to wait out the rain. We'd have a long wait.
Hours later Funhog dropped by and we helped set up her large, dome tent. I immediately kicked Amanda out into the bigger tent for her claustrophobic tendencies. None of this two-person tent for us that night!
At 8:30, the three of us headed down to the campfire program—we were assured it was going to happen rain or shine—and Amanda had never been to one before, so she had to try it.
When we arrived, there was a ranger saying the event had been canceled. But after we arrived, he changed his mind and decided to give it for us anyhow. We were the only ones that ultimately showed up, umbrellas in hand, to watch the presentation.
We skipped the sing-a-long portions and got right to the meat of the program: The tools and techniques used to climb to the top of Mount Rainier. Our ranger guy had summited four times and had lots of interesting pictures to show before the program ended, we thanked the ranger for giving us the show, and headed back to camp.
There's a bridge over a large river on our way back. There's a large puddle on this bridge. And coming back, in the dark, all three of us blindly walked right into it. Whoops! If our feet weren't wet before, they definitely would be after that!
Then it was back to the big, dome tent where the three of us went to sleep for the night.
I didn't sleep especially well with a large puddle of water forming at my feet. In fact, I'd even say this was the least waterproof tent I ever had the pleasure of spending a night in. And in the rain, no less, with barely a break in the pounding, unseasonable-like rain.
The next morning we woke up to the continued presence of rain. Darn, it was persistent! The girls were going to drop me off near Deer Creek along the Eastside Trail, and I'd hike in nearly ten miles back to the campground. Then they'd spend the day letterboxing or doing whatever it is girls do when they're alone.
This would be my first hike since I got off the ill-fated Wonderland hike, and my knees were still a bit sore from the experience. I wrapped them up in the hopes it might help if necessary, grabbed my trekking pole, waved goodbye to Amanda and Funhog and started hiking down the trail.
Little did I know about the adventures about to befall Amanda and Funhog, but I learn about that later....
The trail dropped quickly for the first quarter mile until it intersected with the Eastside Trail and leveled off. Signs had been posted warning about a nearby wildfire racing out of control. Fat chance, I thought, as I stood there admiring the rain.
The rivers were all high from the rain, and the creeks feeding the rivers and crossing the trail overflowed their bank in a couple of areas requiring deft foot moves over slippery rocks to cross to the other side dry. Well, dry, considering the rain, that is.
The trail crossed one large, raging river over a scenic bridge. Should I? I looked around. It was unlikely anyone would be hiking this little traveled trail, on a weekday, in the rain. Yep, I did it. I peed off the bridge directly into the water. It was great!
Now before you guys bombard me with e-mails about peeing away from water sources being standard outdoor etiquette, I'd like to point out that this raging river was a dirty, muddy mess of glacier melt. It wasn't fit for drinking in the first place, and only someone literally dying of thirst (unlikely given all the rain) would even consider taking a taste. So off the bridge I peed, and it was good.
After a few miles, my knees started to hurt again. Not the crippling pain I experienced on the Wonderland Trail, but definitely a pain I would not experience under normal conditions, but it never got much worse than that. Just enough to remind me to take it easy, but that was it.
I walked the first 7 miles without passing a soul while—I would later learn—Amanda and Funhog ate Mexican food for lunch near Yakima and found the only fruit stand on their long, 100+ mile drive that didn't have peaches.
When the trail intersected the one leading to the Grove of the Patriarchs, I had hit civilization. It was a popular trail, about a quarter mile from the trailhead, that hundreds of tourists a day will hike out to—but strangely will not set so much as one step beyond it.
After not passing a single person for seven miles, I proceeded to pass about 50 in the next quarter mile to the trailhead. I paused to rest under the overhang of the restrooms there, hoping to get out of the rain to rest. It was a good effort, but didn't really work very well.
Tired and wet, I crossed the road and followed the trail back into the trees and relative quiet once again. The trail eventually intersected with the Silver Falls loop—another popular day-hike destination. I followed the waterfall side of the loop to a spectacular view of Silver Falls. Wow. Two girls were there watching the falls in admiration as well. I wondered if they had any idea that my urine—yes, my very own urine—had helped to create that waterfall.
I blundered on, nearing camp. Soon, I'd be able to change into nice, dry clothes and rest.
Camp was empty when I arrived. Not knowing where Amanda or Funhog went or when they'd be back, I changed into dry clothes, used a towel to wring out a half-inch puddle of water at the one corner of the tent, then laid down and took a nap. I was exhausted!
Amanda and Funhog drove up an hour or so later with wild tales about fallen trees, Mexican food, and peaches. The story I got out of them—as I understood it—was that they planned to head back to the campsite before going off adventuring. But they never made it back. The road was blocked by several large trees that had fallen across the road—a murder suicide, so it would seem—during the few minutes it took to drop me off at the Deer Creek trailhead. It was a massacre.
Rather than wait an unknown period of time before the road was cleared, Amanda and Funhog pulled out a map and found a long, tortuous route through Yakima to get around the roadblock. They did stop for peaches at one of the many fruit stands they passed—only to learn that the one they stopped at didn't have peaches. They also stopped at a Mexican restaurant for lunch. And, in Yakima, they enjoyed a break from the constant rain and basked in sunlight while I sloshed through the Eastside Trail.
And, as it turns out, I was able to beat them to camp, on foot, from nearly ten miles away, than the same distance they had to cover by car.
The unceasing rain discouraged us from cooking a proper dinner, and we snacked on cold foods, telling wild stories, and waiting until dark. This second night, the campfire program really was canceled, and we deftly avoided the puddle we walked through the night before. (We're fast learners!)
Then it was back to sleep.
Amanda woke up in the middle of the night to panic and spend the rest of the night in the car. Funhog and I listed to rain hitting the tarp the rest of the night alone.
By the next morning, the rain had largely stopped, though the air was thick with tree snot. (That's the drips of water that continue to fall from trees long after the clouds have stopped throwing rain at you directly.)
I cooked a proper meal for breakfast—our first hot meal since we started our camping adventure. Then we broke down camp.
I convinced Amanda and Funhog to hike the Silver Falls loop and out to the Grove of the Patriarchs since I wanted to see the other side of the Silver Falls loop and I had missed the Grove of the Patriarchs completely the day before. And with all the tourists visiting the place—calling them day hikers seems overly generous—I was kind of curious what all the fuss was about.
So off we went, the three of us. The river water had cleared substantially from the day before, and was significantly lower as well, but still put in an impressive waterfall show.
The parking lot at the Grove of the Patriarchs was full of bustling cars and people, and two bus loads of tourists were unloading and adding to the chaos. Boy was it busy!
Just before the actual grove, there's a nice little suspension bridge suggesting that people cross one at a time and not to jump. I jumped and shook the bridge to the best of my abilities, of course.
The Grove of the Patriarchs has wonderfully large, impressive trees—second in size only to the massive giant sequoias, one sign claimed. And they were BIG trees, but it's kind of hard to enjoy them with literally bus loads of people trying to get pictures and getting in our way. Very annoying of them, really.
Having taken our pictures, we started back. Near the trailhead, we spotted a Japanese-looking man running with some gusto back towards the grove. I jokingly told him not to worry, the trees weren't leaving anytime soon.
In gasping English, he told us that his bus wasn't there. Where was his bus?! We assured him it was probably around the corner parked somewhere else since there wasn't actually bus parking in the lot. That, and we had seen the bus drivers themselves admiring the trees behind us, so we knew the buses couldn't have been far away.
We pointed him back in the direction of the parking lot and suggested he should wait there and find other members of his group before running off and really missing his bus. =)
We took the other side of the Silver Falls loop back to the campground, a nice, but otherwise not particularly memorable alternative route back.
Back at the campground, Amanda and I parted ways with Funhog—her heading south towards Portland, and us going north towards Seattle.
Just outside of the national park boundaries, I'm driving down the road at a respectable (and legal) 55 mph. There's not much traffic out—probably because of all the rain—but just around one turn in the road, HOLY COW! There was a fiesta of people. Dozens of cars taking up every roadside pullout possible—half of them cop cars. On the other side of the road, we could see more people in uniform talking and police tape all over the place. I slowed down, but continued driving.
Amanda and I hypothesized all sorts of wild-hair ideas. They found a body! A car veered off the road into the river! We weren't really sure what it was, but wow, they're definitely putting a lot of energy into it, whatever it was.
Later, while watching the news on television, Amanda learned that they had indeed found a dead body at the very spot. How exciting! I complained to Amanda that I knew we should have gotten an earlier start that day—maybe it could have been us that found the dead body!!!! Wouldn't that have made for a fascinating adventure?!
But luck, unfortunately, was not on our side, and someone else had the lucky task of discovering the dead body. (Sorry, we don't know any more details beyond the fact that there was a dead person involved at this point.)
And that was it for the day. The next day, however, I was going to do some urban hiking. I needed to get more miles in for my Hike-A-Thon, and Amanda suggested an urban hiking trail that was virtually flat and extremely well-maintained: The Burke-Gilman Trail. I could hike until my feet fell off while giving my knees a break.
So the next morning, dreary with threatening clouds, Amanda drove me to one end of the trail at 8th Ave NW, just north of downtown Seattle. I carried my trusty umbrella—just in case.
And started walking. The first part of the trail went through a very industrial area of town with little one could call scenic. That's not to say the hike was boring or uninteresting—quite the opposite! I watched large machines spew dirt from a conveyor belt. I watched large bulldozers moving around even more dirt. I waved to people slaving away in office buildings that the trail passed, and a few even waved back in what appeared to be mild surprise. And walking under large bridges towering what seemed like hundreds of feet in the sky is always an awesome sight to behold.
Most people on the trail, I discovered, were bicyclists that I deftly avoided by walking on the shoulder of the trail most of the time. This trail is a main commuter artery for people that bike or walk to work, and it was a work day!
The trail began to pass more scenic areas along greenways and a cute little river that small boats motored along. One was a tour boat, and I tried to listen in on the person talking on the speakerphone in the hopes of learning a bit more about this section of town, but I couldn't catch most of it being too far away.
Then the trail passed by Gas Works Park. This was cleared in 1906 to construct a plant to manufacture gas from coal—later converted to crude oil. Import of natural gas in the 1950's made the plant obsolete. The city acquired the site for a park in 1962. The park was opened to the public in 1975, but with much of the old equipment left behind as a scenic reminder of its previous days.
This was also the first section of trail I was familiar with, since it was at Gas Works Park I had rung the year 2000 and sadly discovered that the Y2K fears were greatly exaggerated. The power didn't even flicker. It was also where I spent the night in my car (quite illegally, I might add, but I didn't have anywhere better to stay the night). And the VERY NEXT DAY I would learn that someone had found a gun in that very park, stashed behind some bushes a few months previously, used in a work-place shooting a few blocks away. They were able to trace the gun to the person who had had it (it was a stolen gun, but they knew who stole it). And that key piece of evidence put the killer behind bars. And I missed it. That could have been me that found the gun that put a killer behind bars.
It was a big disappointment for me. I'd never put anyone behind bars before, and wow! What a great person to put behind bars! Maybe there was even a reward.... So this time, as I passed by, I kept my eyes open for guns that might be lurking behind the bushes. Alas, I did not see any, and continued my hike eastward.
The trail passed by many blackberry bushes that several people had stopped to pick. The weather was starting to look better, so I put my umbrella away. I crossed under I-5, another impressively tall bridge from my lowly vantage point, and into the U District.
That's the University of Washington, for those that don't know it. Foot traffic on the trail picked up dramatically—especially nice given the large number of cute, young women walking around. =)
I took my first rest break here. Ate a bunch of cheese and 3 Musketeer bars, downed some water, then was off once again.
From here, the trail curved around the University Village Shopping Center where Barnes and Nobel tried to lure me off the trail. It was tempting—the most tempting encounter so far on the trail, but I prevailed.
Then the trail headed northward, along the Lake Washington shoreline. It was exceedingly boring for the most part, I'm sad to say.
If the trail followed the actual shore, I might have enjoyed myself more. But the shore was gobbled up with expensive looking houses leaving the houses directly between the trail and the lake. Oh, I looked into a lot of backyards. I gave the evil eye to all those large, SUVs (usually at least two of them) in the driveway of each of those expensive homes. Or the yachts sitting along their private docks. Cursing their good fortune to have enough money to buy quality land and obliterating the wonderful views for the rest of us peons.
Yeah, I was getting real worked up about that, let me tell you....
The last few miles I slowed down quite a bit. My feet were hurting. Normally, you'd think this was bad news, but I was ecstatic about the situation. My feet are supposed to be a bit sore after hiking ten miles. (At least when I'm not conditioned for it.) And even better: It was my feet that were sore, not my knees. My knees didn't have a word to complain about.
My map showed the trail ended at Tracy Owen Station, a good place to stop after 14.1 miles of hiking, I decided.
I called Amanda from a pay phone at the park there, then decided to walk up the road to the park to see what was on the other side. And what did my wandering eyes behold? Jack In the Box! Naturally, I took this as a sign. I walked across the street, called Amanda from the pay phone at Jack's place to let her know I was about to go on a pig-out and she'd be able to find me laid out in a booth there.
I ordered two monster tacos with the new natural-cut fries they'd been advertising. The #1 combo because, well, it IS #1. And the only reason I feel like you must know exactly what I ordered is because I own 50 shares of Jack In the Box stock (JBX), and I want you to know how much I enjoyed their food including their new, larger, natural-cut fries. ;o)
I grabbed a newspaper someone left behind and proceeded to eat with gusto.
Amanda pulled up a half hour later and ordered a milkshake.
Then we piled into her car and headed back to her place for the evening.
The next day, we decided, I'd continue from where I left off on the Burke-Gilman Trail and hike an additional 13 miles—mostly along the Sammamish River Trail—to Marymoor Park in Redmond.
Amanda dropped me off on the trail, and I started hiking.
A few minutes later, I saw a one-legged man biking down the trail. I'd never seen a one-legged man on a bike before. Very interesting. It was one of those lean-back kind of bicycles. Actually, I guess it would have been more like a tricycle since it technically had three wheels. And he was 'peddling' with something in his hands. Very interesting, but that's about all I can tell you about that.
The bikes came on relentlessly for the rest of the day. It was a weekend, and unlike the Burke-Gilman trail that wound through dense commercial and industrial areas, the Sammamish River Trail took along the sparsely built-up Sammamish River. It was prettier, I'll admit, but still rather unsatisfying by my standards.
First, there's the Sammamish River itself. It was brown, murky, and rather scary looking. Nothing that even invites a swim. And it was a slow, languid river with no rapids at all. I like a bit of excitement. I like imaging myself crashing through class V rapids, navigating the turns like a pro. (Not that I am, but I like to imagine it.) This river could have been navigated by a handicapped two-year-old.
Then, most of the trail had no protection from the hot, scorching sun. While the trail wasn't surrounded by urban sprawl, they did cut down all the trees that might have provided natural relief from the sun.
And—just to add insult to injury—there were many runners on the trail training for some big fundraiser that was to occur during Labor Day weekend. Helpers had set up stations to pass out drinks to the runners-in-practice, and it broke my heart to walk by empty handed. I really pulled out all the stops too. I'd walk real fast as I approached to really get the sweat flowing. I'd pretend to breath harder than I really needed to. And none of them even once offered me a cup of water. It was cruel, I tell you.
About halfway through the hike, the trail snaked through a park along a major road. And there I saw it. Beckoning. It was a Jack In the Box. Right there not 100 steps away from the trail. It was meant to be, I decided. I was meant to eat at Jack In the Box for lunch that day.
I walked in and ordered the Zesty Turkey Pannido—one of my favorite sandwiches. And some water. I couldn't indulge too much since I had to hit the trail again soon. I was also careful not to indulge in too much water, since bathrooms were rare along the trail, and privacy was even more rare.
I finished the Pannido with zest (get it? It was a Zesty Turkey Pannido, and I finished it with zest! Ha! I crack myself up sometimes.) I hit the potty. Then was on the trail again. In the sun. Along a pretty ugly creek—as far as creeks go.
Not much happened the rest of the hike. Near the end of the hike, I saw another table set up with drinks and cookies and was thrilled to learn that this stuff was not for runners-in-training, but rather free for the taking! The trail passed by some townhomes, as the woman called them, that they were renting or selling or something. I'm not really sure, truth-be-told, since I wasn't in the market for a new home. But I guess they felt handing out free drinks (cold ones!) and cookies from their backyard to hikers and bikers passing by was a cheap way to advertise. I was very supportive of their efforts, let me tell you, and gobbled down a couple of cookies and an entire bottle of cold water. I didn't want them to think their efforts weren't appreciated! I learned that rule while hiking the Appalachian Trail, and I carry it still.
The woman at the table also handed out a free stress ball—which is good, because I'm a bundle of stress—with the ING logo on it. Bright orange. If I got lost, I could use it as a signaling device.
I thanked the women for the amenities and said goodbye.
I made it to Marymoor Park with sore feet, but my knees still felt great. I called Amanda who actually arrived while I was speaking on the phone with her. And that was that for the rest of the day. I'd rest my feet after my marathon 27 miles in the last two days for yet another hike the next day....
The next day, I'd try for a more traditional trail—this time, in Cougar Mountain Regional Park. Amanda wanted to check on a few of her letterboxes there, and having been there before, I knew the trails were relatively easy and provided plenty of options for hikes of any length.
I followed a convoluted path that would take me over 19 separate trails in about ten miles. Many had exotic sounding names such as Shangri La Trail, Shy Bear Trail, Fred's Railroad Trail, Mine Shaft Trail, Cave Hole Trail, and my personal favorite—the Klondike Swamp Trail.
Cougar Mountain, in all honesty, isn't what I would call spectacular. Views are rare. Waterfalls uncommon—if they're running at all. And banana slugs are abundant. However, it is a fascinating place rich in history. The area was mined for coal extensively around WWI leaving several dark and shifty mine shafts through the area. The military used much of the area during WWII and you'll find old, overturned vehicles to this day in the middle of what seems like, well, nowhere. You can even hike over Anti-Aircraft Peak—certainly a mountain that's full of stories, though I wouldn't be hiking in that part of the park this day.
Amanda followed my route for the first mile or so, complaining the whole way about how steep the hill was and wondering what she was thinking when she planted the letterbox so far up a steep hill she'd be perfectly happy never to hike up again. We parted way at the intersection of Cave Hole Trail and Coal Creek Falls Trails, me following the former and Amanda following the latter.
My map showed an interesting notation called 'cave holes', though I must have walked by it without seeing them, since I never noticed anything that looked like a cave or a hole. But not too much further down the trail, I reached a large, grate-covered mine shaft. It just begged for exploration, although the grate and large sign on it warning not to enter said otherwise. Not being able to see the bottom, I threw in a rock. It hit bottom quickly, but it continued to roll and slide down the mine shaft for the better part of a minute before I couldn't hear it anymore.
My work done, I continued the hike. My map showed another interesting sounding feature up ahead—labeled a 'clay pit'. I imagined it was something like quicksand, and I was anxious to check it out.
I saw plenty of clay—the ground was covered with it—but I never did find a pit anywhere. And I looked around for several minutes hoping to find one. Maybe it was filled with clay. Which, I thought, wasn't terribly exciting.
I stopped briefly at two of Amanda's letterboxes she asked me to check up on—the Cougar Mountain box and the Shy Bear box, both of which were doing well. I added some more Ziplocks, though.
Then I headed back to the trailhead where Amanda was waiting in her car, reading a book, waiting for me. =)
The next day would be my last day on hiking for the Hike-A-Thon. I decided on an ocean-side hike in West Seattle. The Alki Trail, as we learned on the Internet, was about eight miles long and followed the waters of Pudget Bay nearly the whole way.
The maps we found on the Internet for this trail were hopelessly pathetic, so Amanda drove out to the end of the trail then followed the road along to see the path I'd be hiking. And she started counting the miles driven. After four miles, we reached what seemed to be the end of the trail. Which was strange, since the trail was supposed to be eight miles long. Scratching our heads, we continued driving another four miles—just to see where it would take us.
It took us to Lincoln Park. There was a small, green line on our map, and we assumed it must have been a continuation of the trail out to Lincoln Park, and that's where the eight miles was measured from. The green line became red when there was a separate, designated trail for hiking—the last four miles of my hike.
So Amanda dropped me off. I waved goodbye. And started hiking.
Lots of cute girls in bikinis running around. Have to admire that. *nodding*
I followed the beach north, retracing the route Amanda drove to get there. It was a beautiful day for a hike. The sun was shining. The ferry boats sloshing through the waters. But completely uneventful.
I read all the plaques I found along the route—most of which I'd never stopped to read before. I learned about the history of Luna Park—an amusement park built on a pier that was quite a party place back in the early 1900s. I learned about the massive glacier that carved out the Pudget Sound area. Which is interesting stuff, but otherwise it was just a nice, walk on the beach.
At the end of the trail, standing at the base of the West Seattle Bridge, I decided to walk back to Amanda's place instead of calling her asking to be picked up. I'd only done an easy, eight-mile hike, and I had plenty of energy left to push me an addition mile or two back to Amanda's apartment.
And that ended my Hike-A-Thon. It finally put me over the 100-mile mark, which was the minimum goal I originally set for myself. I had still covered about 60 miles of trails at Mount Rainier, though I did fail at thru-hiking the Wonderland. This time. Next year is another story.... I'll be better prepared for the hardships next time around. My knees are feeling back to normal and springy as ever. And in the end, I figure I raised about $500 for the Washington Trails Association. Not bad, really, though it was half my original stated goal of $1,000. I don't feel too bad about that, however, since I just pulled that number out of thin air because it looked so large and round. It never had any basis in fact.
While the Hike-A-Thon is officially over, my adventures will continue. At least for the short term. September 1st Amanda and I will be jetting of to New York City, and I'm sure there will be plenty of adventures to write about once we return. ;o)
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