Saturday, July 31, 2010

Love hiking? Me too.

Photo by James Harnois.

Tomorrow is the first day of the Washington Trails Association's (WTA) 7th annual Hike-a-thon, and I will kick it off by waking up in the middle of the woods in my tent and hiking out the second half of the (very short) backpacking trip I'm taking with a few friends. In an attempt to give back to the trails systems that have made me fall in love with this state, I have set the far-too-ambitious-for-my-own-good goal of hiking 100 miles during the month of August, and trying to raise at least $300 to donate to the wonderful organization that helps maintain the trails and wetlands here.

Asking people for money, even when it's for a good cause, is one my top ten list of least favorite things to do in the world, but...the WTA is spectacular, and I want to do anything I can to help preserve their efforts. If even just half of my Facebook friends and blog readers donate $1-5 each, I will blow my fundraising goal out of the water...just sayin'.

I'm at 3.33% of my goal so far!

Now I'm pointed north, hoping for the shore

I feel like the vast majority of my blog entries lately have been very image-heavy...and they've been more sporadic recently, I think because uploading and linking in so many pictures takes a long time, and given how busy my schedule is already, I intimidate myself out of posting. So in an effort to get better about that, here are just some post-midnight musings, sans photos.

Today at work, my coworker and friend Brant spent the day asking customers, "Hey, what do you get when you spread icing all over a thesaurus?"* Apparently in the mood for quotes, at the end of the evening, he also quoted Dr. Seuss to us all, as general food for thought: "You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams."

That's been my problem this week. And by "in love", I mean in love with life: with this amazing state in which I live, with Alan and Seyeon and Becca and Shari and Elodie, with my amazing parents, with all the wonderful friends I've made in Seattle, with my body for allowing me to do all the things I do, with nourishing food, with bluegrass music, with books and public libraries, with dreaming about the future, with the mountains and the water and the 65-degree sunshiny summer days, and with the best cat in the world that's alseep on my butt right now as I type this.

Despite being off coffee for over three weeks now (okay, minus during Ragnar), I've had so much energy at the end of every day that I can't sleep for the life of me. Tonight's a perfect example; I was so exhausted when I woke up this morning that I could hardly drag myself out of bed, and I just stood in my kitchen in my PJ's, rubbing at my eyes and feeling miserable...but not a drop of caffeine today, and here it is, nearly 1 a.m. and I just feel so darn giddy about things that I don't want to go to sleep; I'd much rather stay awake and keep enjoying this high.

What's keeping me up at night? Big ideas. Upcoming, tentative birthday plans to drive out the Olympic Peninsula and backpack around a bit with Alan and potentially Seyeon and Leo, too. Maybe running the Leavenworth Oktoberfest Half-Marathon this fall. Having signed up for WTA's hike-a-thon in August, for which I'm going to take a break from running for a month and instead hike my butt off and raise money for the Washington Trails Association. Also, considering trying to take some community college classes this fall, an idea that's making my heart want to explode with excitement; I was burnt out on school by my fourth year at Oberlin, and I didn't have the slightest interest in continuing education at that point because I needed more time to grow outside of academia, recenter, establish some more independence, get to Seattle, and ultimately, figure out what kind of career path I really want to be putting myself on...writing? Editing? Publishing? Communications? Business/entrepreneurship? Teaching? Higher education? Psychology? Counseling? But that time has come, and suddenly my path feels crystal a fog has lifted, and now it's just a matter of putting it all into action. More on that soon.

Well, I thought I could do a whole entry without photos, but I was wrong. A few from my Granite Mountain hike earlier this week with Cam and David are begging to be shared.

David scopes out the meadow where we plan to someday return and camp.

Camba checks out the view.

The ladybug that hitched a ride to the top with me.

The Cascadias continue to serve me well.

Thanks for tuning in, folks. The title of my entry is a line of lyrics from James Vincent McMorrow's beautiful song, "If I had a boat":

Enjoy listening to it if you're in the mood to share my mood on this fine evening. Add James Vincent McMorrow to that list of loves at the beginning of this fantastic. Thanks, as always, Grey's Anatomy soundtrack, for introducing me to stunning musicians. Off to sleep now, I hope. Good night, beautiful world.


*"A synonym bun!" And this is why we love Brant.

Monday, July 26, 2010

RAGNAR Race Report

Many, many months ago, a piece of expertly marketed advertising arrived in my mailbox at our apartment: a postcard with two scratch-and-sniff vans, one that smelled great, one that smelled terrible, and a dotted line labeled "187 miles" connecting the two. So it was that I was introduced to the Ragnar Relay Series - a dozen gigantic relay races throughout the country in which 12-person teams pack into two vans and leapfrog their runners to the finish line over a series of 36 legs (3 per runner). The Northwest Passage Ragnar starts in Blaine, up by the Canadian border, and goes all the way down to Langley, a small town on the south end of Whidbey Island.

I think Ragnar got my address from my Seattle Marathon sign-up, but more power to 'em: the scratch-and-sniff postcard hooked my interest. I posted it up at work and asked if anyone might be interested in putting together a team. Within a month, I had 11 hooligans interested in joining me for a two-day fest of sleep-deprived, pavement-pounding madness. After many months of organizing, reorganizing, planning, training, and the occasional team run/BBQ, this past weekend finally plunged us into the craziness of running a huge relay in one of the most stunning parts of our country.

To those who know me well, it may come as no surprise that our official team name, "Alpacas by Day, Ninjas by Night" was my doing. Four years in Ohio cemented my slight obsession with alpacas...and as for the ninja part, I really have no idea. But it worked; our competition included team names like "Runners with an Eating Disorder", "Blood, Sweat, and Beers", "Postpartum Aggression", and the "IT Bandits", and costumes and van decorations ranged from Robin Hood-themed warriors to a van with a three-foot cardboard shark emerging from the top.

Seeing all the other vans was inspiring and awesome.

We met up in Seattle at 7 a.m. on Friday to decorate our vans, don ridiculous noses and starry glasses (which, of course, have nothing to do with either alpacas or ninjas, but who cares?!), caravan up to the starting line, and torment/amuse drivers in other vehicles along the way.

Ron started us off at our staggered start time of 10:30 a.m., taking off for the first of 36 legs total. The two vans, one with runners 1-6 and one with runners 7-12, alternated being "on" and "off" vans - so for the first six hours or so of the relay, my van was "off" and able to just wander around downtown Bellingham, stroll around by the beach and boardwalk, grab some lunch at the Colophon Cafe, and pick up some IPA's and Scotch-style ales from the infamous Boundary Bay Brewery in anticipation of our post-race celebration (still more than 24 hours away at that point! And as for how to make room in our coolers for the beer...who needs cold Gatorade anyway?)

In the meantime, Van 1 was leapfrogging our first six runners all the way from Blaine down to the first major exchange point in Bellingham, where around 4:40 p.m., I laced up my running shoes, lined up in the exchange chute, took the baton (err, slap bracelet) from Jenica and took off running.

Tempted as I am to write a play-by-play of the whole 28-hour ordeal, I understand that might get tedious. Instead, I'll summarize the highlights, and rely heavily on photos to bring the event to life for those who weren't there in person to run under a full moon, watch sunrise over Deception Pass, smell the sweat, feel the aches and pains, and experience the drunken stupor of total sleep deprivation. (1.5 hours of sleep during the entire event, AGHHH!!!!)

Washington state is gorgeous. It's more diverse in its landscape than anywhere I've ever visited, let alone lived, before. We ran by all of it: mountains, volcano views, lakes, bays, beaches, forest, farmlands, everything. Each leg of the race brought new scenery, new places to ooh and ahh over. When our van was "on", we leapfrogged our runners, cheered and hollered as they ran, blasted bluegrass from our van, danced along the side of the road, took photos of our antics, and ate snacks pretty much constantly. When our van was "off", we also ate snacks pretty much constantly, hung out, laughed ourselves silly, and occasionally tried to pile into sleeping bags and catch a few winks of sleep, generally in vain.

First and foremost, our stellar team of volunteers, without whom our run wouldn't have even been possible.

My van mates broke out their best "Yitka pose" by the side of the road.

Don't we look like fun?

At sunset on Friday: 4 of our van's 6.

Elodie got both the sunset and the sunrise run.

75% of the team, pictured at Exchange Point 12.

...where they had free s'mores!

In our blazingly attractive reflective vests.

Getting sleep during the relay meant getting creative about beds.

Homeless? Nah, just runners. Notice the Pringles can and stack of bagels on top of it.

Eating salty chips and guzzling Gatorade at a convenient store in the middle of the night. Just about sums up the whole Ragnar experience.

Sunrise over Deception Pass.

Post 1.5-hours of sleep: Breakfast, sunshine, listening to bluegrass, waiting for Van 1 to arrive.

Jenica arrives!

Greg kicking butt on his last leg.

Exchanges ranged from smooth to messy; this one was speedy, sweaty, and largely a failure of coordination on our part, but Greg's sprint at the end succeeded in giving me the leg up on the team that was even with us at that point.

Peter and I toast at the finish line...

...while Jeff hops on a treadmill and takes 7th place nationwide for Most Elevation Climbed in 5 Minutes. Crazy man!

Overall, it's just impossible the put the experience into words. No worries, though; the Alpaca Ninjas fully plan on returning next year for their second Ragnar, so let me know if you're interested in joining the team for next year! We ran hard, averaging a team pace of 8:51 overall, with our fastest legs paced at a ridiculous 7:17 pace (go Jeff and Elodie!) There were some blisters, some sore knees and shins, some seriously taxed muscles, some general heat exhaustion, some Sunday work shifts that needed calling off...but overall, I think it's safe to say we had a blast with it. Couldn't recommend the Ragnar series more highly to anyone thinking about doing one.

Ragnar 2010: Alpacas by Day, Ninjas by Night

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Trio of Epics

Epic One: Fireworks & Four Wheel Drive in Meth Country

Camba Quote of the Evening: "Yitka, you may love Seattle, but it comes with the whole state, too."

Apparently there are a lot of meth heads out in the woods of Washington state. I guess that's true of just about any secluded area in the country (the highways in Montana are overridden with anti-meth campaign billboards), but it's a fact I hadn't given much consideration to until this Independence Day. And actually, it's generally unrelated to the rest of my story, except that I really loved Cam's quote and wanted to include it in my July 4th report. My creative writing degree is failing here, however, to craft a smooth transition from lamenting the prevalence of meth addiction in WA to the fireworks with that said...

July 4th was great. It did involve five of us packing into my friend Maddie's 4X4 and venturing deep into the forest in Washington state. The evening's thick fog intensified the sense of adventure as we rumbled through giant potholes and undulating gravel road on our way to Camba's Secret (not so secret?) Spot on a mountain, where each year, good company gathers to celebrate our great country.

In the spirit of the rugged Northwest, we spent the evening: pitching tents, making s'mores by the campfire, grilling burgers on Camba's portable grill, drinking cheap wine out of Camelbaks, shooting fireworks off the side of the mountain, dancing with sparklers to djembe drums, belting out Bohemian Rhapsody, and singing a few too many rounds of Row, Row, Row Your Boat as well. We camped overnight and I woke up colder, I think, than I ever have on a July 5th...shivering in my sleeping bag, grumbling to Alan about wanting hot chocolate NOW.

But back up for a moment...back to the 4th itself, at oh, around 9:58 p.m. We were all hanging out by the campfire, unassuming, having given up on the chance of seeing any fireworks other than the ones we'd set off ourselves, since the fog was so thick. Ordinarily, I'm told, there's a spectacular view from the Secret Spot, and fireworks shows from a hundred miles in all directions are visible. But come 10 p.m., someone suddenly exclaimed and pointed through the fog. Sure enough, hundreds, if not thousands, of pinpricks of colored light began flashing all over the horizon, like silent fireflies in the distance. It was truly spectacular.

(And yes, I did get some hot chocolate the following morning, during our caravan back to the city.)

Epic Two: Alan and Yitka Go To In-n-Out Burger

Once upon a time, at an interstate exit in the depths of California, I had my first In-n-Out Burger. Since then, various obstacles have gotten in the way of my pursuit of a second one: namely, (1) vegetarianism and (2) lack of In-n-Out Burgers in pretty much the entire country. Customers and coworkers alike donning In-n-Out Burger t-shirts taunt me weekly at REI, even though the closest one to my apartment door is 593.6 miles away. Lame.

When I discovered that the Burger Chain of the Gods had opened franchises in Arizona, too, I nearly exploded. (Literally!) When the price of renting a car and taking a shuttle to get from Flagstaff to Phoenix for our flight proved equally pricey, renting a car emerged as the obvious choice for two reasons: (1) opportunity to get our ambrosia fix before returning to the In-n-Out dead zone of the Northwest, and (2) a chance to listen to ESPN radio coverage of the World Cup game as we drove through the blisteringly hot Arizona desert.

The radio station may have switched over at half time to a local baseball game instead, and "pelota" may have been the only word I understood as I tried to follow the game instead on the Spanish channel (but my my, how much more exciting they make soccer sound than the American/English announcers!), and I may have learned via text message from Seyeon that Holland lost, and our flight that we pushed so hard to make may have gotten delayed by two hours...we may have had serious problems finding the In-n-Out Burger joint amidst the serious suburban sprawl of Phoenix, and the line, when we got there, may have been nearly hanging out the door with a 20-minute wait, but at the end of the day...

Do I really have anything to complain about? Nope. Nada. 'Til next time, oh Tasty One...

The views on the flight home weren't bad either.

Epic Three: Eating Snickers Naked on a Mountain

Well, not naked. Not entirely, anyway...some shirts may have been removed for temporary airing out and enjoyment of the solitude and breeze at the top of Bandera Mountain, a quaint little peak at 5,200 feet just east of North Bend; hopefully nobody on Rainier across the valley from us had binoculars.

After a hike up Mount Si a couple weeks ago on a cold, foggy "summer" day, Alan and I finally hit the hiking-weather jackpot with our ascent of Bandera a few days ago. The skies were clear, the wildflowers and beargrass in full bloom, and we had the whole darn thing to ourselves.

See how sharply the foreground slopes off? The photo's not playing tricks; it really was a near-vertical scramble to the top.

Flowers, Rainier, blissful 65-degree sunshine all summer long (all 1.5 months of it!); Good God, yes, I'll take the whole state, too. It was one year ago, today, that I arrived in this place, and it still makes my heart swoon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Humility Has Buoyancy: The Grand Canyon Entry

Alan and I in the canyon.

As all vacations go, our trip to Arizona has gone by in an absolute flash. I imagined finding the time to blog along the way, but no such thing. After spending the day a *little* tense about making our flight today, Alan and I got a call from Southwest Airlines as we were on the shuttle from the rental car dropoff to the airport that our flight status has been "updated!" The d-word* was never dropped in the phone message, but here we are with two extra hours to hang out at the Phoenix bloggy blog time it is!


The flight down to Phoenix was lovely...good company (my first time not flying solo in quite some time!), good reading along the way, and fantastic scenery to boot:

We counted volcanoes as we flew over them: Rainier, Adams, Saint Helens, Hood, and Shasta.

We got into Flagstaff on Wednesday evening via, literally, planes, trains, & automobiles (light rail to Sea-Tac, flight to Phoenix, van shuttle from there to Flagstaff), fueled up with some fantastic brats at an Irish pub in town, and slept well that evening. Woke up at the crack of dawn to pile in for the drive to the Grand Canyon. We had reservations to bunk at Phantom Ranch at the very bottom of the canyon - reservations that have to be made at midnight 365 days in advance, and come with tasty steak dinners, temperately cool cabins to sleep in, and a stunning landscape accessible only by foot, raft, or mule.

BEFORE Photo: The crew!

We hiked down from the South Rim on the South Kaibab trail - the steeper, lesser traveled trail than the Bright Angel Trail on which we hiked out the following day. The hike down was nice, albeit a bit rough on the joints, even for the young'uns (ages of hikers ranged from 22 to 62, with some of us in every decade in between!) We mostly stayed together, told stories, laughed often, and generally took our time getting down the 7.5ish-mile trail to Phantom Ranch.

The other youthful hiking companions: Shelly (my...3rd?...cousin) and her husband Jay

We went from 79 degrees at the rim to 104 in the bottom.


The squirrels were really friendly.

Photo credits to Alan on this one.

We got down by early afternoon and spent the rest of the day soaking blissfully in the Colorado River...

Check out my rockin blister.

He might have looked on the verge of death, but my dad was just relishing the moment of total relaxation.

...Here's the proof that he was, in fact, having one of the best moments of his life.

With celebratory beers and steak sitting cozily in our bellies, Alan and I dashed off a couple postcards to be delivered out of the canyon by mule, and with the rest of the crew, made it through a couple rounds of Rook and a ranger program on the geology of the Canyon before all passing out in our bunks. Wake up was 4:45 a.m. the following morning for a hearty breakfast and the 9.5 mile hike back out...doesn't sound too brutal, but throw in 4500 feet of elevation climb (mostly concentrated in the relentlessly steep second half of the hike, and often in soft, deep, red sand...hello calves!) and 105-degree temperatures and miles and miles of exposed desert hiking in the sun...

Well, needless to say, it was a bit of an adjustment from my usual, deeply forested, cool hikes in Washington. Let's just say there was a lot of nuun and trail mix involved. And a hat which Alan diplomatically described as being "well...functional, at least!"

Also, we got milkshakes at the top.

AFTER Photo: The whole crew

The rest of the reunion went by far too quickly, in a flurry of good food, conversations to make up for lost time, storytelling and copious amounts of laughter, exploring Flagstaff, rough-housing with adorable kids, guzzling Grand Canyon pilsner, staying up late to share memories, and trying to figure out what the heck a second cousin twice removed really is.

I'm learning that outside of Seattle, it's near impossible for me to be "home" in any sense of the word without feeling a pretty strong storm of emotions. By "home", I mean either literal places from my past, or figurative ones...that is, in the midst of people who've been with me in my life longer than the year now that I've been in the Northwest. I know I'm incredibly fortunate to have the family - both immediate and extended - that I do, and to be able to come together like this to share good times, mix generations, pass on stories, feel that powerful sense of roots, despite the fact that we are spread out all over the country - and, in some cases, world. Nevertheless, all the shared stories and laughter and snacks on the trail couldn't keep a seemingly inevitable barrage of tears from pouring out at some point. Bah. Just struggling still, I suppose, to process that ever-simmering sense of growing up and letting go of the comforts of childhood and home and all that jazz. But such is life.

In the words of Ani Difranco...

I love my country
By which I mean
I am indebted joyfully
To all the people throughout its history
Who have fought the government to make right
Where so many cunning sons and daughters
Our foremothers and forefathers
Came singing through slaughter
Came through hell and high water
So that we could stand here
And behold breathlessly the sight
How a raging river of tears
Is cutting a grand canyon of light