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.