Monday, July 24, 2017

Days 3 & 4: Coney Island, Magic and Ghosts

Day 3
So, our second full day in NY was Otto's 6th Birthday. So, thought we'd had a little birthday party before departing, we decided that it would be his day to choose what to do. His immediate answer was "the beach!" (AKA: Coney Island)

Now, honestly, making the hour-long subway ride out to Coney Island wouldn't have been Sarah or mine's first choice for how to spend the day but, again, it was Otto's day. So, onward to Coney Island! And, while the hour long trip on the subway seemed daunting, it actually went smoother than I would have imagined. The kids only squabbled a little bit, and it was actually neat to see how the underground tunnels of Manhattan gave way to above ground suburbs of Brooklyn and eventually the beach town vibe of Coney Island.

Departing for Coney Island, via Grand Central Station. 
Approaching the final stop: Coney Island!

This was my first experience with a East Coast, boardwalk-style beach and -honestly- it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. It feels like, in the movies, you only see beaches like this during the blustery and abandoned winter months, but in comparison, the spectacle that confronted us, as we exited the train station, was much more crowded, chaotic and fun. Kitschy, yes, with it's hotdog stands souvenir shops and midway games, but it quickly became apparent that it would be the perfect place for a 6-year-old to ring in his Birthday.

But, first, the beach!

Making out way through the crowd, down to the waters edge, Sarah stacked out a space on the beach with our stuff, while the kids and I wade out way into the crowded water. If New York is the worlds melting pot, Coney Island might be the stew, and I'm fairly positive I've never heard as many languages at the same time while standing hip deep in the ocean.

A Birthday Boy getting buried in the beach!

The kids still, unfortunately, don't really know how to swim (both a byproduct of their blustery Northwest upbringing, and Sarah and I failing to get them into regular lessons), so they limited themselves to jumping waves and building sandcastles. But, that was more than enough to keep them happy for several hours.

Board Walk fun for everyone!

After that, it was time for a quick lunch at Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs on the boardwalk, and then on to some rides! The amusement park we chose features mainly mild ride for younger kids, but still enough to keep the kids happy, and a couple -like the Tilt-A-Whirl and a small rollercoaster- challenged their bravery. In fact, while Otto deemed the rollercoaster "epic," Stella bowed out.

 Tilt-A-Whirl action! The kids laughed for the first three of four go arounds... then fell silent.
Otto on a rocketship... a little more representative of the rides. 

After each "winning" a small stuffed animal at a fishing game, and then enjoying a snow cone, it was back on the subway to Manhattan. Our initial plan was to head back to our room, clean-up, and head out to dinner; but it quickly became apparently that we were all tired enough that any trip to the room would stall us out completely, so we decided to head straight to dinner, covered in sand and smelling of the ocean. And where did Otto want to go to dinner?

"Otto Pizza!"

The previous night, while considering dinner options, I'd noticed that Mario Betali had a pizza place in the Greenwich Village area, and had jokingly mentioned it to Otto. So, to Otto, of course that was the place to go for his Birthday dinner. Honestly, after the chaos of Coney Island, and Midtown before that, Greenwich Village seemed downright sleepy. And, the pizza place was good. Obvious not "New York-style" but a tasty, more traditional fare.

"Otto Pizza!"

After dinner, as we left the restaurant, we were approached by a pan-handler, who approached us with hand extended and asked "can you help me?" Sarah and I, jaded to urban living, brushed past him, but Otto turned to us and asked "can we help that man?" So, since it was his Birthday, Sarah handed him a dollar and he ran back to gave it to the panhandler. Otto's compassion is always one of his sweetest qualities.

Day 4
The next morning, Sarah would have to work for the afternoon, but the plan was to head to Central Park for a bit, before she had to get to work and send us out on our own. After circling a block in the sweltering heat, looking for a crepes restaurant that never materialized, we settled on some croissants and similar pastries and enter the southern end of the park to have our breakfast.

Sitting on a boulder, overlooking a playground, it quickly became apparent that we'd be spending most of our time there. There was an elaborate spray-park, as part of the playground, and while the kids were initially hesitant, they were soon running around soggy and happy. I was eager to explore more, but Sarah remaindered me that it was the kids vacation too, and I resigned myself to watching them continue to find new ways to get wet, then dry off, then get wet again.

Soggy kids at Central Park. Inside those structures, there's running water. There's also a more traditional spray structure to the left. 

Wandering back through the park , we passed another amusement park, that Otto was bummed not to get to participating in, and then grabbed popsicles for the ride back to the hotel.

After regrouping, and dropping Sarah off, it was time for the kids and I to venture out alone. Stella and I formulated a plan to visit an ornate network of sites and shops scattered across Downtown. That plan quickly fell apart when -walking to the first location- we fully realized how oppressively hot it was.

The first location, Tannen's Magic Store, was roughly ten blocks south of our hotel, but finding it proved to be tricky. We had an address, but when we reached that location, there was no store front. Did you need to be a magician to gain entrance? As we stared blinking at where it should be, Stella announced "I think someone with a 'Tannen's' short just walked out of that door."

So, we peaked inside the anonymous door. At the end of the long hallway that greeted us stood three men, chatting. After we all stood staring at each other for an awkward minute, one of the men asked: "Magic shop?" We nodded. He gestured over his shoulder at an elevator. "Third floor."

Climbing into the cramped elevator, and riding it to the third floor, we emerged into a network of equally anonymous hallways, and made out way to the magic store, directed only by a single hand-painted sign. Entering into the magic shop, I worried that I'd made a mistake bringing the kids there. It was a single, cramped room, filled with a half dozen teenagers, making loud in-jokes with each other, and -instead of wondrous, magic paraphernalia, the room was largely filled with guide books and instructional DVDs. But, just when I was worried the magic store would be a bust, one of the shop employees emerged and engaged the kids with a string of simple, yet effective magic tricks. The kids were in awe, and he seemed to enjoy the audience, but also punctuated each trick with a glance to me and a "that one is $12" or "you can learn that for $15."

With each of the kids clutching a newly purchased magic trick, we made out way back out to the oven-hot street. My second destination was a board game shop several stops south on the subway, but that seemed daunting. Fortunately, while we made our way to the station, we passed another game shop, and popped inside there instead. Claustrophobic and obviously geared toward a regular clientele of hardcore gamers, we still were able to purchase a couple of decks of Magic: the Gathering cards ("first we buy some magic, then some Magic" we joked) to play for the rest of our trip, and the store provided another quick A/C break.

The third destination (of, like, 6 planned) was the Ghostbusters' firehouse. The kids are big fans of the original Ghostbusters (we still haven't had a chance to see the new one), so it was something they had initially seemed interested in seeing (and frankly I wanted to check out too), but in the heat, they soon equated finding it with a forced death march; and my encouragement quickly changed from "c'mon, it'll be fun" to "if you just make it to this one, last place, we'll be done sight-seeing and get some food and drink."

Unfortunately, we initially walked past it, because it was hidden in scaffolding and being restored. Still, I managed to get some photos of some very beleaguered kids posing in front of a Ghostbuster's mural on the sidewalk. Then, it was backtracking to a nearby brewpub, where the kids got some cold drinks (and I a cold beer) and we all got a little food.

 Some exhausted kids, posing in front of the Ghostbuster's mural on the sidewalk. Because...
...this is what the Firehouse currently looks like. You can see it buried in there, somewhere.

At this point it was apparent we were done for the day, so we made our way back to the subway entrance, and then (after a quick stop for a hand fan and fidget spinner, and then by Midtown Comics) the hotel. A challenging, but still satisfying day.

A final side note...
After a few days in the city, it was fun to see the kids start to become comfortable with both New York and with travelling. Initially, with Otto, Sarah and I were worried that his lack of understanding about what was going on, and his stubbornness when he didn't want to do something was going to lead to some problems and difficult traveling. But, once we realized that he was going to spend his time sitting on dirty sidewalks and subway station floors, and that he would be touching every dirty surface he came close to, things became more manageable. Keep him fed with petzels, hot dogs and ice cream cones, and he was good to go.

Otto Style: Leaning against a dirty pipe, gnawing on a pretzel. 

Meanwhile, Stella seemed a natural in the city. As Sarah noted, she quickly developed an easy-going, almost languid stride that would be the envy of any of the characters of Sex in the City; and her DIY, devil-may-care fashion sense would be at home on any episode of Girls. In short, we seemed to be a natural for the city.

Stella, a natural, easy-going city girl at heart. 

Anyhow, this was still "early days" on this trip, but we were all slowly shifting speeds. Switching from being a "school and work"family to a "travelling" family. More to come!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Days 1 & 2: New York and the Statue of Liberty

I'd really hoped to keep a day-by-day account of our travels with the kids to New York and beyond, but a combination of the heat and the small living quarters didn't lend itself to leisurely blogging in New York, so it never really came together. But, now that we've made it to our second destination, Lisbon, we are hoping things decompress a little bit, so -with Sarah and the kids sleeping off their jet-lag- I thought I'd get caught up on our adventures in the Big Apple.

But, first, a little context. It was 10 years ago that Sarah and I did our big Round the World Trip (and started this blog!), so we thought it was time for another, more ambitious trip. Now, obviously, between the kids school and our work, it wasn't going to be possible to wrangle another 7 months, but after making some arrangements, we were able to secure a month free from work, during the kids Summer break, to do at least a slightly longer than normal adventure.

Initially, our plan was to take the kids to Southeast Asia, a part of the world both Sarah and I really enjoy and have been wanting to return to, but since Summer in Southeast Asia is hot and monsoon-y, that didn't seem like a good option for this trip. Next we considered Portugal and Morocco, but -again- July and August in North African deserts seemed oppressive. So, we replaced that leg with the Azores, a Portuguese island chain in the Atlantic. New York was then added when Sarah had a work meeting she wasn't able to shift. She's been to New York dozens of times (mainly for work), but I've only been once before and it would be the kids first trip.

So, the plan was set: 1 week in New York. 2 weeks in Lisbon. 1 week in the Azores. And, we were off!

Day 1
Getting up at 4 in the morning is always awesome. As is getting two small kids up by 5 am. But, my memories of that morning, while blurry were more ones of muted excitement. Likewise, while it has gotten better with each year, flying with kids is never a relaxing affair, and ends up being more about micromanaging them then anything else. Still we arrived in New York in one piece, and made it to our hotel, despite the  best attempts of a cab drive who seemed to be trying to recreate one of our cab experiences from Egypt years ago.

Still it was fun to both see the New York streets again, and watch the kids responses to them (or, rather, Stella's, since Otto fell asleep as soon as we climbed into the cab).

After checking in to our room, we grabbed dinner at what turned out to likely be the fanciest restaurant the kids had ever eaten at, a tiny Italian place with good food and a homemade grappa bar(!). Otto, still disoriented from the flight, initially was Fighting the Power™, but a little food later, he was running around the restaurant like a crazy man.

Homemade grappa!

After dinner, we took a quick walk over to the library, where we spent most of our time looking for a public restroom, because Otto had drank about six cups of water during dinner ("I am winning the Most Water Drank Race!"), and also buying him a pretzel. Before leaving on our trip, the kids and I had watched a "50 Things to Do in New York" video on YouTube, and there were only two things that Otto seems to have taken away from it: 1) "the beach" (read: Coney Island, more on that later) and 2) "big pretzels."

A happy boy, with his giant pretzel. Otto would average a pretzel a day for the duration of our NY stay.

Anyhow, with a giant pretzel happily in hand, Otto and the rest of us made our way back to the room, calling it a night.

Day 2
Aside from Sarah's work responsibilities, the only thing we had scheduled for the week was a trip to see the Statue of Liberty. With the kids in tow, it seemed like a good excuse to do some of the more touristy things that we'd probably otherwise avoid in our attempts to seem like more sophisticated travelers. So, we woke up early the next morning, bought week-long metro passes (Stella was chagrined to discover she didn't get a pass, and would have to -literally- stoop to slipping under the turnstiles like other kids), and headed down to Battery Park to catch our boat out to Liberty Island.

First subway ride! The kids had ridden the metro, back in Paris, year ago, but neither remembers it. The subway would go from "super cool" to "super boring" in both their opinions, in about 2 days time.

Before climbing onto the boat, we go we had to queue up to get on the boat. And, before queuing up to get on the boat, we had to queue up to get through security. And, before queueing up to get through security, we had to queue up to, well, get into the queue for security. The National Queue Museum.

The boat ride across was quick, and surprisingly uncrowded given the lines we'd just navigated, and soon enough we were standing at the feet (or, rather pedestal) of the statue. The Statue of Liberty is one of those monuments, like the Eiffel Tower or Pyramids, that is so universally known, and so well documented that -when there- you both have trouble getting your head around the fact that you are actually there, but -at the same time- you sort of feel like you've been there before. A sort of socialized deja vu. Her scale is truly monumental, and if you can mentally push past the crowds and their cameras and selfie sticks, it's inspiring to stand in its presence.

 Stella, in front of the Manhattan skyline. 

Kids of Liberty! ...with some random statue in the background.

After circling around her base, it was time to go inside. The tickets we had didn't allow us to make the long hike up to her crown (which certainly would have been amazing), but it did allow us to climb high up into her pedestal, for a view of the island around, the city skyline and a view up into the statues interior. The break from the crowds (and the air conditioning) were also both appreciated.

Probably the most representative photo of our day: The kids play fighting... or maybe just fighting... while on the viewing platform of the pedestal.

After a snack break, and a couple of large lemonades, it was time to get back in the boat to the mainland. We were sorely tempted to also check out Ellis Island, but the kids were running thin, and we were afraid that while Stella might be able to grock the historical importance, that Otto would find it boring. So, it was back to Manhattan, and back on the subway to our hotel.

Ice cream cone of liberty!

Back at base camp, we regrouped and took the rest of the evening off, venturing out only for large bowls of udon noodles (and large beers), then a leisurely evening stroll down passed the UN Headquarters and home.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Snoqualmie Pass to White Pass: Day by Day

Two of my friends and I have an annual ritual;  sometime between Thanksgiving and early in the new year, we head north to the Korean spa in Lynwood, soak, get warm to the bone, and get scrubbed until our skin is almost as soft as a newborns.  Sitting around in hot water, especially at this time of year, often seems to lead to some introspection and reflection on what the past year has been like and what lies ahead.  The last time we did it, I was looking ahead to my 40th birthday when Ambika started talking about her plan to hike a 100 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail.  I asked questions, listened intently, and an idea started to bloom in my head.  That's what I wanted to do to celebrate turning 40.  Something bold.  Something big.  Something physical.  Something momentous.

At some point, I decided to go for it, and asked Ambika, "If I can get Tyler to agree, could I come, or do you really want to go it alone?"  I don't know how she really felt in the moment, but she said, "Sure!" and this tiny spark of an idea (built upon Ambika's) became something that was really going to happen.

It's taken a little while to really let the experience settle in.  And as I've found myself missing the experience and seeking out other people's blogs I've been at times underwhelmed.  While talk of miles and pack weight and starting and ending points are of great interest on the trail, they can hold less allure in the day-to-day world.  So I decided to tackle this in two ways:  one going over some of the day-to day experience, another with some more reflective thoughts on the experience overall.  It still won't be the full blow-by-blow.  For that, you'll need to sit for a narrated slideshow with a glass of wine.

So here goes....

Day 1:  Getting Started, Snoqualmie Pass to Meadow Creek (~12 miles)

I'd found myself feeling anxious the few days before heading out.  I'd prepared, not as much as I'd liked.  It felt weird to be disconnecting so entirely.  I felt guilty about leaving Tyler with the kids and doing something that felt so completely selfish.

At the trailhead--finally beginning
 We started on a hot day, and I knew from a previous hike that we started in exposed ski lift areas and with a pretty decent climb up.  With our packs at their heaviest.  But once we got moving, it felt good.  We agreed to go ~6 miles before taking a proper break for lunch.   And while it felt good, I sure was glad to throw down my full pack and take off my shoes for a breather.  We went as far as we intended that first day, about 12 miles, but we mis-read the map for the last two miles or so, falsely expecting flat or downhill when, instead, we had exposed climbs up.  I won't lie, I was breathing hard, taking breaks and a tiny bit worried about how it was all going to go, but we made it to camp and settled in well.

Olallie Meadow 

A rare shot of me from behind--I thought I had always let Ambika take the lead and set the pace, but this proves one exception 

Day 2:  Long and Slow, Meadow Creek to Reliable Creek, (14 miles)

We knew from our planning that access to water was going to be an issue for a few days and near the beginning.  So while we only needed to average ~11 miles a day, we had some potentially long days at the front end.  When our packs were heaviest and we were least conditioned.  While we kind of jointly made noise about seeing how far we got, I knew Ambika really wanted to make it the whole way, so it was the one day that I was a little slower than her as we went up and down and up and down.  We did meet a great couple about two-thirds of the way along who were thru hiking (going from Mexico to Canada) and were likely in their 60s.  they were so happy and mellow and enjoying the experience that it helped me really appreciate what we were doing and just keep walking.  Those last few miles were a slog, and man did my shoulders ache when I threw down my pack for the last time that day, but then I knew we *could* do 14 miles, pack and all.

Morning sun from our campsite 

 First glimpse of Mt. Rainier, something that always made Ambika smile
Day 3:  A Great Day for Up, Reliable Creek to our "High and Dry Camp" (~12 miles)
Our camp on the second night was low in the forest, cold and dark at the start of the day.  After breakfast and while we were breaking camp, pine cones started falling down from some of the trees in our little clearing.  You'd hear some little sounds in the branches and them, "WHAP!" as they hit the forest floor,  It would not have been pleasant to be on the receiving end, so we hustled and got moving.
Even Ambika was a little tired after the 14-miler, so we set off knowing we'd likely have to carry water so we wouldn't have to go maybe 16 miles to hit the water source that was far enough to be worth a day's hike.  So we agreed at the best water source on the map that we'd each load up and carry five liters of water, figuring we'd need ~3 for the day, 1 for breakast, 1 for dinner and some to get us to the next water source another 4-6 miles from where we figured we'd stop.
Oh, and I haven't mentioned my feet.  When I started training in the spring, I started getting a blister on my instep.  After hemming and hawing, I decided to get new, sturdier boots.  I tried my best to break them in (including wearing them to the office and to run errands), but there's nothing to quite prepare you for this scope of walking.  After a few days of experimentation, I got the right sock/blister first aid combo down, but on this day my feet either hurt or were numb, and every time we'd stop, it would hurt to start again.
A good day for up:  we were really getting up in elevation at this point, from 3000 feet at the summit to 5300 this day

We also learned the advantage of going southbound this day--all the thru hikers were northbound.  We met one other couple going south over the 9 days--but it was great to occasionally get into on water, when the climb would end, and, on this day, whether there were any campsites in the foreseeable future.  There were a few, thankfully, though they were far less trafficked and definitely felt wilder--there was a lot of scat, and we heard an owl hooting at us during the night.

One of our favorite meals that was--fortuitously--dish free, since we were camping without any access to water.  The dehydrated slaw with some homemade dressing was worth the weight.
We also were able at this point to more reliably set our plans for the remainder of the hike.  While we'd mapped things out several times, it also was hard to know how the mileage would feel, how fast or slow we'd want to go, and how we'd deal with the water access.  On the third day we agreed to be done at noon on Sunday, which meant we could backward map and figure out how to pace ourselves for the remainder of the trip and know we could enjoy the days and not feel like we needed to be covering more ground.
Day 4:  Settling In, High and Dry Camp to Government Meadow (~9 miles)
After putting in several good mileage days, we decided we could take it easy (ha, 9 miles--easy!).  We had one of our only two misteps with navigation and doubled back at one point maybe adding a mile (it felt so much longer going back, uphill in the sun, then it had when we were chatting nonchalantly, walking downhill).  But early in the afternoon we hit the one shelter in all of Washington.  It was great to end a day not completely spent, have time to read and write and chat with the many thru hikers passing by.   We also unloaded a little bit of food we had overpacked that got happily taken before we left.
It was a gorgeous day, my second favorite of the trip, with gorgeous views of the southern Cascades and Mount Rainier, and it felt like I was starting to really hit my stride.
Morning blister routine--it took a good 20 minutes to add moleskin, bandages and tape for the day, but it did the trick.  By the fifth day I was pain free and had passed the worst of it. 

As we were getting ready, I heard Ambika say, "Oh my God" and came hustling over--to find we had a gorgous view of Mount Rainier when we could glimpse past the tree cover. 

We entered a clearing on the trail and got gorgeous views of the Cascades, too, where we ran into two nice Quebecois gentlemen who didn't speak English, really

 It was gorgeous hiking on our way to a spring for water, beautiful alpine scenery, blue skies, and the moon

The day before I'd heard noises that sounded like a fighter jet--we saw proof of them today. Earlier, two jets came zooming past us, passing Mount Rainier as they did barrel rolls.  I didn't think to grab my camera, but we did have another fly by later.  You'd think it woudl feel anachronistic--and it did--but it was also somehow incredible and exciting 

Taking a break at a gorgeous spring where we chatted with a young couple from Ontario and two solo women hikers.  The man in the couple noted that it was strange to be "outnumbered" by women 

The Shelter--interestingly, no one who stayed the night slept inside.  I think we all feared mice.  And we were bummed there was no toilet paper in the outhouses.  But it was nice to have something besides a log to sit on.
Day 5:  Don't Get Cocky, Government Meadow to Big Crow Basin (~14.5 miles)
After a lighter mileage day, we headed out thinking we were going ~10 miles.  Ambika and I were hiking at a pretty respectable speed, chatting as we went uphill (something that didn't happen the first few days) and generally feeling great.  But somehow the Half Mile maps Ambika had and the Green Maps I had disagreed about mileage.  So we didn't take our usual afternoon break and decided to just go on so we could set up camp and relax.  That was a mistake.  We ended up having about four more miles than we expected and felt our age as we shambled into camp.  We saw a small campsite and kept going, but when we saw the tiniest of moving creeks, Ambika declared, "That was a campsite.  This is water.  I'm calling it." 
Government Meadow in the morning--it was cold enough there was frost on the ground before the sun rose 

A day of hiking rocky ledges, something I learned Ambika does not love 

Airing out our feet a lunch, fully taped 

The point at which it is hard to appreciate the natural grandeur because you keep hoping you'll see the campsite after each turn you see ahead.  It was still a few miles away here. 

 Oh, but Big Crow Basin was gorgeous and worth it
Day 6:  My Favorite, Big Crow Basin to Sheep Lake (~12 miles)
We didn't get a great sleep at Big Crow Basin.  At some point in the middle of the night there was a "coyote party", when we heard animals yipping and howling and screeching from a distance, then closer, then closer, then fading off into the distance without coming to investigate our camp.  We enjoyed a relatively leisurely breakfast then headed off for our destination, Sheep Lake.  We also knew we were going to be close to the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort and have a brief stint with cell coverage so we could check in and arrange our Sunday meet up with Tyler and Russ.
I can't describe how beautiful everything was this day--we were high up (5400-6500 feet elevation).  The weather was perfect.  I was hitting my stride physically.  And it was just perfect.

Enjoying my morning coffee and taking in the view 

 Hiking out we walked above Basin Lake
You probably have to click to see, but we saw a group of ~30 mountain goats in the distance, one of our few wildlife sightings that wasn't a chipmunk 

We went from the gorgous views of the Basin to this incredible opening toward Mount Rainier.  It took my breath away.
Ridiculous, no? 

Panorama from a ridgeline 

Lunch break (socks drying in the sun) 

Another panorama--still doesn't do it justice 

Walking up to Sourdough Gap, that little notch in the rocks (6400') 

Looking down at Sheep Lake, our destination for the night 

Looking back up at the gap--see the notch again in the rocks? 

Home for the night--it was interesting to be among casual hikers/campers.  Sheep Lake is just 1.2 miles from Chinook Pass, so there were kids and day hikers (which seemed to keep other thru hikers away) but it was a gorgous spot 

Soaking in the feeling of satisfaction and bliss on the lake
Day 7:  Lower and Wetter, Sheep Lake to Two Lakes (~11 miles)
From the highs of Day 6, we touched civilization as we crossed the highway at Chinook Pass and skirted the edge of Mount Rainier National Park.  So after lots of up, plenty of down and more lakes.
I have the fondest memories of this morning, having breakfast with Ambika as we look at the lake.  I think we really just enjoyed every second.  We weren't done, but the end was nearing.

Touching civilization, looking at Chinook Pass from the trail 

Happy at the Pass (especially happy to snag some toilet paper at the pit toilets since we had both run out!) 

Crossing the walkway over the highway, demarcating the national park 

A new day, a new landscape 

Still some beautiful views of Rainier 

You can't really see it here, but it was amazing to see Mount Adams and Mount Rainier in the same vantage point, something that  normally only happens from an airplane.... 

Another night, another campsite, this time Two Lakes, on a trail adjacent the PCT

Day 8:  Last Full Day, Two Lakes to Buesch Lake (11 miles)
We hiked up and out of Two Lakes to rejoin the PCT for our last full day of hiking.  It felt good--I was glad that we didn't end sooner, but I was starting to miss Tyler, Stella and Otto, and I felt strong and accomplished and restored.  And we feasted on huckleberries and just enjoyed ourselves.
Looking down at last night's campsite 

Crazy cloud over Mount Rainier, like a reflection 

Backpack at rest--socks drying, pee rag (yes, what it sounds like) airing out, but lighter than ever! 

A rare boardwalk 

Break time selfie--we are laughing realizing we hadn't seen our own reflections in over a week! 

Final campsite 
Day 9:  Final Half Day, Buesch Lake to White Pass (~6 miles)
We packed up camp and hit the trail in record time.  We'd typically let ourselves wake up naturally, take our time over breakfast and get moving when we were ready, but we didn't want to miss our rendezvous and were excited to reconnect with our people.  We made good time (for us), doing two miles and hour and having an hour to kill at the rest stop while we waited.

Final time packing up camp 

White Pass--we made it! 

Reunited!  Otto unbuckled himself and got out of the car as soon as they stopped and threw himself in my arms.  I was pretty escited to see them, too.
The End:  (Brief) Closing Thoughts
There's so much more to the hike than even what I could cover in what has become a long entry.  I'm so grateful to Tyler for supporting me.  I had so much fun spending time with Ambika.  I still, almost a month later, feel so much restored from the experience.  I realized I haven't had that much time to just be myself in so long.  Not someone in my profession.  Not a wife.  Not a mother.  And while I love those things and they are integral parts of who I am, I think taking this trip helped me reconnect with who *I* am at my core.
As I mentioned at the start, I have plans for one more entry, sharing more reflections about the hike.  But this is at least a decent start.