Saturday, February 22, 2020

2020 in the Pacific Northwest: A Year of Firsts

Here in the rapidly changing Pacific Northwest, with our influx of new residents, many of my treasured places are now on many (thousands) others' list of places to explore. 

One of my favorite hikes, Snow Lake in the Alpine Lake Wilderness (my first blog post in 2008), is now so crowded I haven't gone there in a few years.

So this year I'm trying to remember that each moment is fresh, no matter where you are or what you're doing. To that end, without really planning, so far this has been a year of several firsts for me. Now that I see that pattern emerging, I'm embracing it.

It started on New Year's Day, where a not-so-great snowpack led to me going for a walk on New Year's Day instead of the annual ski trip. My ski buddies and I enjoyed our only sunny day in what would become a record-breaking rainy January.

So for the first time, I didn't ski and instead walked at Seattle's Discovery Park on New Year's Day, out to the West Point lighthouse. It was a great start to the new year/decade.

My first day of skiing for the season was later than normal, into January. The normally 2ish hour trip took almost 4 hours. For the first time, I paid over $100 for a lift ticket ($139.50!). And after a fast and hard fall on the top of my second run, I ended up with a injured shoulder and had to ride down the mountain for the first time in a ski patrol toboggan.

These were not the sort of firsts I was striving for.

The run where I was carried down in a toboggan.

Fortunately the shoulder was just badly bruised and nothing major torn, broken, or dislocated. So a week or so later I did my first of what I hope will be weekly polar bear open water plunges. Or, as they call it in the United Kingdom, wild swimming.

When I tell people about it, most think I'm insane/crazy/off my rocker, but a few say, cool! I saw a friend's posts on FaceBook about doing it near my home and asked to join her. The next week another friend joined in, and she's hard to get out of the water.

My very first cold water plunge.

My favorite spot so far is the sandy beach at Seattle's Golden Gardens Park, but I did a Lake Washington dip. And my friend and I have plans to go to some Salish Sea islands for more plunges in the months ahead.

We're looking for more recruits if you're interested. The more the merrier. (Seriously, leave a comment below. We're based in Seattle.)

So I'm looking for more firsts. 

Oh, after today's chilly plunge (air temp: 44 degrees F, water temp not much more), I discovered the little snack bar just steps away from the beach at Golden Gardens is a foodie's find. The trained chef pulled some hot huckleberry scones out of the oven just in time to pair with a cup of hot tea after my swim.

How about you? What are your firsts so far in the newish year? Would love to hear in the comments below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

When You Go

If you decide to try "wild swimming," this blog post from the UK offers some good advice.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Northwest Winter Getaway: Port Townsend's Historic Charm and Good Eats

Every time I get on a Washington State Ferry and cross Puget Sound, I feel a little bit of magic as we draw closer to the Olympic Peninsula. From drippy ancient forests, to wild ocean beaches, to picturesque towns, it feels a place apart.

And in the winter, its charms are slightly different but just as wonderful. 

Although my destination for this chilly, gray winter weekend is Port Townsend, my first stop is in charming Port Gamble. This historic former mill town sits at the northern tip of a small finger of much larger Kitsap Peninsula between Hood Canal and Port Gamble Bay. En route to Port Townsend, I usually stop there for a hot drink at the old Port Gamble General Store, and sometimes pick up gifts too.

Mid-morning on Friday I meet a friend for sea kayaking on protected Port Gamble Bay. Yes, even in winter you can rent kayaks at Olympic Outdoor Center, which is situated in the old town firehouse. Although we have our own sea kayaks, it's easier to just rent a double and spend a few hours paddling along the mostly undeveloped shorelines.

Despite the winter chill, it's a lovely few hours exploring the shoreline and narrow inlet at the end of the bay. Our kayak glides over clear shallow water littered with barnacle-encrusted oyster shells and green-brown rockweed algae.

Afterward we grab lunch at the Port Gamble General Store & Cafe, where Matt enjoys a tasty bowl of veggie soup and I go for spicy bean and veggie tacos. By mid-afternoon I leave for Port Townsend.

My aunt had booked me a room at the old Victorian-style Palace Hotel along Water Street in downtown Port Townsend.  What a treat! With high ceilings and beautiful Victorian-era decor, I'm transported back in time and try to imagine what it would have been like here a century ago.

Whenever I go to the Port Townsend area,  I eat very well. Perhaps a little too well. Between cozy cafes, restaurants, pubs, farmstands, and more, the variety and quality of food is excellent.

Friday night dinner is a delicious Italian-style meal at cozy uptown Lanza's Ristorante. Hot-out-of-the-oven rolls arrive at our table first, followed by crisp salads and very generous entrees. Cousin Nia and I split the nightly special, a chicken breast with prosciutto and pasta in a creamy sauce.

Then off to dreamland in my room, named Miss Alice in honor of one of the "working girls" employed here during in one of the Palace's more colorful past incarnations.

A big perk of the Palace Hotel's locations is being able to roll out of bed and stroll right across the street to Better Living Through Coffee, where I meet up with cousin John for early morning coffee.  As we catch up over hot drinks, day breaks across the water outside the widow and more locals wander in to fuel up on caffeine this dark winter morning.

After Friday night's rich dinner, on Saturday morning we all take a long walk from North Beach through upper Fort Worden State Park. We wind along the trail through forest to wind-swept bluffs with sweeping views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca  where it merges into the Salish Sea.

My aunt Sylvia declares that there's a place in Port Townsend that makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the United States. Of course we must check it out.

Pane d'Amore has a breadbox-sized location where they sell artisan breads and pastries, and offer grilled cheese sandwiches to go. For the sandwiches, you choose from breads baked the same day, several cheese varieties, and extras like ham, salami, pickles, pesto, and marinated hot chile peppers. 

And yes, I think those sandwiches are that good. Best in the U.S.? Maybe. Key is the high-quality, fresh bread and ingredients, much of which is produced and sourced locally.

After lunch I head downtown solo to hit a few of my favorite shops, like William James Booksellers. Then of course I must stop for tea at Pippa's Real Tea, one of my happy places.

Dinner Saturday evening at Tommyknocker's Cornish Pasty doesn't quite hit the high note of lunch, but the Washington apple salad with local greens, apples, walnuts, dried cranberries and cheese is refreshing and excellent. This cute little space is bright and clean, and the service is very friendly.

And it wouldn't be a trip to Port Townsend for my family without a stop at Elevated Ice Cream, where we all indulge in a scoop of their made-in-house gelato or ice cream. While Swiss chocolate orange is their signature flavor, I'm partial to the maple walnut.

I awaken early, refreshed after two good nights of sleep at the Palace Hotel and a shower in their clawfoot tub. Then off for another morning coffee/tea at Better Living through Coffee, where my cousin and I bump into a Seattle ex-pat we know.

And sadly I must head home early. But not without a stop at Metro Bagels on my way out of town (because I love a good fresh toasted bagel) and then Chimacum Corner Farmstand south of Port Townsend for some fresh produce and salmon.

While there's lots more going on in Port Townsend, such as live music, literary readings, and much more, my weekend was relatively low key. But knocking around town with family, eating good food, getting some fresh air and exercise, and relaxing was just perfect.

Shout Out
On my way north up State Route 19 a few miles south of Chimacum on Friday, I stopped to check the oil in my car at the old Beaver Valley Store (now Sugar Hill Farms). Friendly owner Michael Hill offered to check it for me and was very helpful. He told me he and his wife Brenda are the new owners and sell their homemade chocolates and fudge at the corner store. I bought a chocolate raspberry truffle, which was delicious. Stop by next time you drive by!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 


Sunday, December 22, 2019

Northwest Holiday Traditions: A Walk in the Woods

On the solstice, the first day of  winter, I was antsy to get outside. After two days of torrential nonstop rain, it was a relief to hit the trails in the woods near my home. Even this Mossback had decided against hiking in the record-breaking deluge.

While the ski season is off to a bumpy start this year with uneven snowpack, we are otherwise always up for a walk in the woods around here. In fact, many celebrate the holidays with a hike or long walk.

With all the those holiday gatherings, cookies, and meals, being active outdoors is especially important. Plus we really need whatever natural daylight we can snatch during the shortest days of the year up here in Upper Left USA (if plants grow better under natural light than artificial light, we must benefit from it too).

So I took to the trail in north Seattle's Carkeek Park, curious to see how things fared under the heavy rains. Surprisingly, I didn't see that much mud or even puddles.

What I did notice is that the ubiquitous sword ferns, western red cedars (thuja plicata), and moss seemed visibly happy for the good, long drink of water after an unseasonably dry November. So maybe I'm anthropomorphizing, but honestly, I felt their vigor.

I've been dismayed at how many cedars have been showing signs of stress the last few months, with more rusty boughs than normal. But when I looked carefully on this walk, I didn't see as much as I thought I had a few weeks ago.

I started walking just an hour after the rains ceased. It felt wonderful to be out in the woods again. A healthy lowland forest in northwest Oregon or Washington is where I feel the most at home. 

As I walked I thought, if my body's not too toxic from pollutants in our environment, I'd like my remains or ashes to nourish a western red cedar in a forest.

In this relatively urban forest, the small streams were coursing full, muddied from stormwater runoff. And small streams flowed where they usually don't most of the year (what biologists call intermittent or ephemeral streams).

Instead of a mucky mess after so much rain, this temperate rainforest I walked through seemed especially alive and refreshed.

After emerging from the woods, I always go down to the beach and dip my fingers in the Salish Sea. I started doing this ritual years ago, and now it seems like my walk isn't complete if I don't. 

My route takes me back into the woods and along Piper's Creek, where just a month ago salmon were swimming upstream to spawn. Surprisingly, I still mostly had the trails to myself except for a few people with dogs anxious to stretch their legs.

I ended up back near my parked car and stopped a moment to revel in the delicate beauty of small streams, cedar boughs, raindrops poised to drop off the bottom of branches, and all the other scents and plant life that create a forest ecosystem.

On Christmas day this year we'll be hiking, farther outside the city in the foothills likely. And if it's like last year, we'll see others out doing the same: families, solo hikers, pairs, hipsters, dogs, and kids. Many will say "Merry Christmas" as they pass by, and Christian or not, I happily respond in kind.

Because it's the spirit of the season.

Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Thanksgiving 2019: Grateful for Framily

While I generally celebrate nature and our environment here at Pacific Northwest Seasons, this year at Thanksgiving I'm feeling especially grateful for my "framily."

Do I need to explain that framily refers to friends who are like family, or, your chosen family? Well there, I just did. :)

Granted, I bonded with many of my good friends because of time we've spent together outdoors skiing, hiking, camping, kayaking, and more. There's nothing quite like outdoors adventures to break down barriers and connect through a shared love of exploring and being active outside. 

From being stranded in a downpour in a tent for several days, to chasing and finding the perfect untracked snow to ski down together, or grinding out the miles on the trail, it all lends itself to a particular lasting camaraderie. 

But then, with some friends I share a pot of tea and just talk. It's a soothing balance to all the running around I do. I have a few regular tea friends (well, sometimes they drink coffee) who I always enjoy sharing a good conversation with across the table.

Or friends with whom I grew up, which in itself creates a deep bond if you cultivate and maintain over the years. As you get on in life, how many of your current friends knew your siblings and parents or shared meals around the table with each other's families?

 And then there are the friends who are no longer alive. I lost a few friends this year, and for their lives and friendship I'm grateful. My friend Denise, in particular, was one of those who relished a long, good, deep conversation. And she really listened, more than pretty much anyone I've ever known.

She was a brilliant, generous, loving, and fun friend. I'm especially grateful to still have a connection with her son and daughter, who have grown into equally smart, funny, and loving young adults. The three of us had dinner together after the memorial, and it was so heartwarming to share stories and know I still have pieces of my dear friend through them.

Denise loved bright, vivid colors

So life is not always fun and in control. But having friends whom you hold close in your heart, just like family, sure can help smooth out the rough spots. Such friends are something to be very grateful for. And for those of you I call friend who aren't pictured here, that doesn't mean I care for you any's mostly about the photos and I didn't have a decent shot of us (or you) to share.

So this Thanksgiving and beyond, I consider my friends (along of course with family) as indispensable to my well-being. Studies show the power of connections throughout life, and especially as we age, to promote well being.

I hope you, too, can count framily among your blessings. Will you have a family or friendsgiving? I'll have a bit of both. Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

Friday, October 18, 2019

On the Trail: What's for Lunch?

What do you usually bring for lunch when you go hiking for the day (or several days)? My hiking buddies find it mildy amusing that I'm seriously interested and enthused about what they bring for noshing. 

I think the current trend is toward more packaged snacks. This seems especially true for long distance hikers, like Pacific Crest Trail thru hikers. But I don't have much of a sample group other than my friends.

I've also wondered if there's a generational shift from middle-aged and older hikers who bring food like sandwiches to Millennial and Gen Y hikers who want the latest and greatest in ultra light food. Or maybe it's more about regional variations?

Back in 2011, I had the fantastic experience of hiking in the Italian Alps.  My gracious and enthusiastic host Mario packed our lunches over two day hikes.

Ciao Mario!

For our first hike up to a mountain hut (Rifugio Barba Ferrero), Mario brought apples, packaged bread sticks, and some tinned meat for lunch. The next day, though, he snagged some local cheese, dried meats, and fresh bread from a deli in the village for an incredible Italian feast al fresco.

I relished tearing off hunks of bread and slathering them with the oozingly ripe cheese and pungent salami or prosciutto.

Wonderful memories.

Meanwhile back here in the Pacific Northwest, my friends Andy and Mark also go for salami and cheese, although not quite as Euro-fresh and rustic.

Dry salami and cheese with mustard on pita.
Often my standby lunch is peanut or almond butter on crackers. Sometimes I buy Justin's squeezable packets of nut butter for the convenience. But to cut down on waste, I usually carry my own in a small container.

Classic peanut butter on pita.
While thru hiking the Washington portion of the PCT this summer, my friend Lisa started with crackers and tubes of peanut butter and jelly. The cheese she brought for the second week didn't work out so well: it melted all over the inside of her pack on a particularly warm day, leaving a greasy, smelly mess.

My friend Julie is an out-of-the-box thinker when it comes to hiking lunches. Usually she grabs whatever is in her fridge (she's a bit of a gourmand), and usually I'm envious of her lunch.

Goat cheese on Italian-style croccantini crackers

Sometimes she has tidy little containers of hummus and crackers, and sometimes it's leftovers, like the argula pizza a few weeks ago.

As for me, I bring healthy salads and fruit or just a bar and fruit (apples are a favorite). Plus lots of dried fruit and nuts.

And a random stranger sitting a few rocks away from me on the shoreline of Mason Lake a few weeks ago was going for a paleo lunch: grass-fed cheeseburger without the bun. She and her hiking mates were good-humored enough to oblige the lady who wanted to take pictures of their lunch. :)

But I gotta love my friend Don, who sticks to his routine meals regardless of whether he's at home or on the trail. Below, his classic ham sandwich and apple.

So grouping lunch preferences by generation or location is surely too simple. I'm sure it's as much about personal preference, taste, and more.

Oh, I haven't mentioned what many consider the most important component of trail food: dessert.  I say there must be good, high-quality chocolate. I'm also becoming partial to the buckwheat fig bars made daily at my local bakeshop, Preserve & Gather, in north Seattle.

And we must not forget the classic American chocolate chip cookie.

 So how about you? Yes, I would seriously love to hear what you favor for trail food in a comment below!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.