It is a good thing to sometimes remind oneself what is only 30-minutes-and-seven-dollars-and-change away from downtown Seattle: today I walked onto a ferry bound for Bainbridge Island. For those not in the know, Bainbridge Island sits off of the Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle where it is home to those lucky few who find themselves able to afford the greatly gentrified farmland of grass fed cattle and beyond-organically raised produce nestled between the pungent sea smell of the Puget Sound and etched into purple hammered skies of sunsets that is the Olympic mountains.
But not all is well in this Pacific NorthWest version of a French becolic scene; danger lurks just below the surface. A danger more Oregon and less French resides here. There is a very real and very likely chance you will die in Bainbridge Island. This death awaits anyone foolish enough to venture onto the typhoid-fever-cholera-measles-snakebite-dysentery ridden trail that is the Bainbridge Island shoreline trail, fully marked off with a sign that includes a rather misleading and jiffy pair of hardy backpackers who are blissfully unawares that their 50-lbs of REI-bought and professionally certified equipment will not protect them from what surely will soon become their and your death, too. Do not tempt this trek but leave it to those who have Himalayan fortified hearts ready to handle the long and arduous 1.5 miles of treacherous trail full of turn-outs onto nausea inducing vistas of gently rocking moored offshore sailboats and blue herons waiting in deafening croning ambush along weather-grey stained docks and greener than the greenest green green algae lain over little bits of life waiting between tides. Yes, I am sure you agree: you should leave Bainbridge Island and its terrors to experts such as myself. And if on my next foray there know that if I do not return that I love you all and that I died doing what I love most.
Today was one of those days. You would think that maybe the gods would have let me pass unfettered, but sadly they seemed to have thought I needed to learn of hubris when they locked me into a porta-potty. Yes. Porta. Potty. Of the kind that is permanently placed at a certain trailhead off exit 45 on I-90 and named, ironically enough, for an Ira Spring, an avid photographer, who single-handedly helped to put trails in Washington quite literally on the map. I do not think it was Ira’s intent that I get locked into a porta-potty but nonetheless I did. There were some folks on the outside kind enough to state the obvious by quipping, “I am glad it is not me” as if me or anyone anywhere in this world is interested and frankly jonesing [sic] to get a few hours or even minutes locked away in a porta-potty with a large tank of human “remains” with only a crappy plastic toilet and hole in the floor to separate them. Thanks, whoever-you-were. But my favorite “helping elf” may have been the thankless bravado of one person who told my friend to “get out of the way and I will show how it is done” and then proceeded to basically shake with delusional veracity the crap out of the door for 30 seconds. I was impressed. Truly and deeply. At some point my friend and I thought to try and use credit cards to get the door latch to open. But credit cards were too big. But not too big, and ironic as it is, was my GameStop membership card that fit perfectly into the latch: so goes my video-gamer cred.
Epilogue. Yes, just as I freed myself and as obvious as it was to everyone that I had just emerged from the porta-potty after being trapped inside, the wife of ever-so-manly-and-shake-it-till-it-opens-stuck-porta-potty-man went inside. Yes; she entered the porta-potty, and as only fate can have it, closed it behind her. And like every good samaritan, after I kindly but firmly got her husband from shaking the door with his still delusional veracity, I slid my GameStop membership under the door and explained to her what to do.
I took a little over a week to go and visit my friends and family back East in western and central New York including a quick trip up to Niagara Falls while there. My parents, having been married for now fifty years warranted a celebration by the family. My sisters and their children all converged on Skaneateles, New York to quietly celebrate and reminisce under the humid warmth that is central New York. The humidity of New York cannot be fully described; it is better left to the uninitiated to experience. While the humidity saps you of your strength the heat and light breeze under the shade of a tree nestled into a hammock soothes and sends one into a bliss that cannot be simulated by spas or any other proxy: sun’licious.
As I meandered down Route 20A from Orchard Park to Skaneateles I was reminded of how much of western and central New York are places of rolling hills, small villages and independent farms. On my morning runs from my parent’s home it took me less than 90 seconds to be running along farms and up over hills with vistas that stretched over miles and miles of tilled earth. My father’s former office is within 2 miles of the house making me envious to think that sans the 190+ inches of snow they got this winter one could easily run to work every day; the only dissatisfaction is that it is too short (a quick 2 miles) to make a worthwhile morning run. Equally surprising to me is I could have circumnavigated all of the town and some of the surrounding farms every morning in one of my middle distance runs of 15km; back in Seattle I barely get out of my neighborhood with one of these runs.
On my return from far afield I found myself yet again under the less than welcome long hand of overcast clouds that have become my personal scourge over Seattle. While I had hoped to camp at Olympic National Park for a few days I opted instead to drive down toward Bend, Oregon to Goldendale, WA for an overnight camping trip. I love a good roadtrip and the vistas once you get over the passes on I-90 are well-worth the first 90 minutes under the pending hazy gloom of rain and clouds. The near eastern side of the Cascades is one of arid color and a valley irrigated with farms both independent and incorporated. I must confess that the campground I hastily found was not one I can recommend to anyone, but even still I did find a quiet meadow a few miles from the campsite that allowed me an unobstructed view of Mount Hood while enjoying many, many hours before and after the sunset at 9pm. I had hoped to get some astrophotography done that night, however I had neglected to note it was near full Moon and thus there was little in the way of crisp dark skies to photograph. Nevertheless, the hours by myself in the dark reminded me I have an over-active imagination: I was quite certain aliens were on their way to abduct me.
I woke early on Friday to drive back to Seattle. Instead of retracing my steps I instead took Highway 410 out of Yakima to drive through both Wenatchee and Mount Rainier National Parks. It might surprise people outside of western Washington that much of the mountain trails are still inaccessible to hikers due to the some 80 or more inches of snowfall resting on trails. And while there is a warm front that has settled itself over all of western Washington melting much of this as I write and you read and which means that Mount Rainier is primarily covered in clouds, the drive is still worth the time and $15 park fees. In some ways seeing Mount Rainier shrouded in clouds is paradoxically a better way to appreciate it. Clouds come and go within minutes and sometimes tens of seconds. The view now obscured will snap into shades of snow blue and sky azure that require you to remain ever vigilant. And it is not just the moments waiting between and amongst clouds that deepen your appreciate, but even on the road itself can surprise and even transcend the ordinary. As one point when Mount Rainer in the near distance, two crows broke off from a tree and flew in front and above my car. For a mile or more we glided in formation down the road while we three enjoyed a quiet moment with Mount Rainier framed by trees appeared in front of us.
On July 8th I drove up to Niagara Falls while out visiting my very good friends in Buffalo, New York. Like so many things that when in your backyard you often do not see it in the same light and joy that visitors do; until that is you return as a visitor. And Niagara Falls is, or was that is till Friday, that way for me. Having completed by undergraduate studies at SUNY Buffalo and being born and raised in central New York I never truly appreciated Niagara Falls as a destination spot; nor could I ever get past the kitsch that is Niagara Falls the tourist trap city, both US and Canada sides. The summer heat (read humidity) is back on in New York and thus it was a bit overcast when I drove up from south Buffalo. I parked on the US side at Goat Island where there is a US reservation to take in the US side. And like everyone will attest the falls is a subdued affair from this side. Where it is at, as it were, is over on the Canada side. So I decided with only Washington state driver’s license in hand I would see about getting past the border patrol. After a gentle reprimand that I needed my passport and a smile from myself I was allowed across into Canada. Oh Canada! Home of half my heart. I was back and ready to take some snaps. There is something lovely about the Canada side besides the grandeur of the falls; it is the simple fact that Canadians, unlike Americans who assuage man-made order for nature, love gardens and managed greenery and thus the path up along the way to the falls has all the appearances of a lovely stroll falls or no falls. On returning to the US I was more firmly informed that I needed some form of identification identifying I was a US citizen. When asked what I looked like on my passport I quipped “goatee: like a member of Russian mafia” to which he immediately laughed and let me (re)enter the other half of my heart’s home.
Lake Serene is situated east of Seattle on Route 2 a bit past Gold Bar, WA which is itself near to Wallace Falls State Park. There is some 2,000 feet in elevation gain from the trailhead to the Lake Serene. There is a small diversion of about 1 mile up to a viewpoint of the falls some 1.6 miles from the trailhead. It is definitely worth the time it takes to hike up to see the falls up close. Once back to the main trail it is another 2 miles to Lake Serene which, as of today, was just at the snow line. I always love walking into a snow-line in the middle of summer after a few hours sweating up the side of a mountain; drenched in sweat there is nothing quite like walking into a natural refrigerator to spend some time relaxing. Given that it was already 4:30pm when I arrived at the lake I did not spend more than enough time to cool down and take a breather before heading back down before the loss of light while in the shadow of the mountain. It was an amazing afternoon all the more given that I did not leave Seattle till nearly 1pm and still got back to Rainin’ Ribs (best bar-b-que in North Seattle) before closing time to pick up some smoked baby-back ribs for dinner while working on these pictures. And to the bit of sunshine in a blue jacket: thanks for the smiles.