Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Four City or State Parks in One Day

We've done a pretty good job this summer in spending less money and spending more time outside. While we want to spend more time in the national parks in our area, we also want to minimize gas costs and daily park fees. So we've tried to find more outdoor activities that are closer to us. We took one warm and beautiful day to pack a picnic and go on a local mini-park tour.

Our first stop of the day was Brown's Point Lighthouse Park. This park is fairly small and is just a on a tiny spit of land. The tide was low while we were there so we spotted a ton of giant purple starfish. The lighthouse, as it stands now, is a functioning concrete tower. But pictures show that it used to be a white clapboard-styled lighthouse that lighted the way so people could cross between the Brown's Point area of Tacoma and downtown. The original lighthouse keeper's house still stands and Robb's research shows that you can apply to spend the weekend in the cute little house to act as an honorary keeper.
Next we headed to Saltwater State Park. This park is exactly half-way between Tacoma and Seattle. In the 1920s citizens from each town joined together here to literally bury a hatchet to end the hostilities between the two cities. But I don't know how many people know about that, as I still here quite a bit of Tacoma-bashing. This park is really one of the more popular ones in the south end of Puget Sound, so it was pretty crowded with people picnicking, hiking, and running around the playground. But we found a nice picnic table and ate our brie, proscuttio, and onion jam sandwiches and enjoyed the breeze and people watching.
We randomly looked up parks in our GPS and found a park in Kent called Old Fishing Hole. I'd driven by this city park several times before, but had never stopped to actually look at the Fishing Hole. The Fishing Hole is a small pond that is actually not very old (I think it was created in the 90s) along the bank of the Green River. It is a Fishing Hole designed for the exclusive use by children, ages 14 and under. The park was well-maintained and really a cute little area. Plus, they had a giant totem pole, which is always cool.
Our last stop of the day was in our own town at West Hylebos State Park. The Hylebos is a designated wetlands area that has a mile-long boardwalk loop through old growth trees and ferns. Since our first visit I've now run there several times during my long runs to make a couple of loops through the quiet forest. I've seen squirrels, rabbits, and even a giant owl. The Hylebos is a definite gem in Federal Way.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Black Diamond Cemetery & Flaming Geyser State Park

I don't know how we managed to resist visiting a park with the name "Flaming Geyser" until now. It just sounded so cool and every time we passed a sign on the road with the name we said we needed to visit. In July we finally found the time to visit this park that is less than a 30 minute drive from us.

Before Flaming Geyser, we drove to the town of Black Diamond first. I had visited this itsy-bitsy town once before with my running group and had eaten at the Black Diamond Bakery for breakfast. As Robb and I were hungry and wanted to eat in an independent restaurant, we decided to try lunch there this time. In general I'm not a huge fan of diners - the food tends to be sub par and disappointing. Most of the time I can handle diners for breakfast; it's hard to screw up eggs and potatoes (although it has happened before). By the time we got to the Bakery, breakfast had already stopped being served so we were forced to eat sandwiches. They were not good. My French dip was bland and Robb's meatloaf sandwich bordered on disgusting. It was an unfortunate eating experience and solidified my views of eating non-breakfast items in diners.

Our next stop was the Black Diamond Cemetery. Black Diamond was originally a coal-mining town and there was a huge Welsh and Italian population. So a lot of the old headstones (some dating from the mid-1800s) were in Italian or Gaelic Welsh, rather than English. It was a lovely cemetery with some incredible headstones.
Finally we made it to Flaming Geyser State Park. Before our visit there, I imagined a park with a giant water spout. "Geyser" equals "water spout" to me. And for it to be flaming meant that it had to be huge. Well, that turns out to be not quite right. The Flaming Geyser is literally flaming. It is a geyser of fire. The geyser is a vent of methane gas from an abandoned coal-mining operation. It was lit on fire and used to shoot nine feet in the air. Now, as the methane slowly burns away, the flame is only a few inches high. And when it's windy the flame blows out and rumor is you have to re-light it. It was fairly underwhelming. We had wanted to hike on some of the trails, but they were wiped out in recent flooding. So we walked along the open grassy fields and the Green River. We realized that the river is actually a hot spot for fly-fisherman and tubers! We definitely plan on returning one day to go tubing down the Green River. Beside the underwhelming Flaming Geyser, the park was actually quite lovely.
Our last stop of the day was Weyerhaeuser. You may have heard of this famous logging company, which is headquartered in Federal Way. The grounds are amazing and have miles of trails for public use. I had visited this area a few times for running trips, but Robb had never been. So we decided to take a mini-stroll around the lake. Besides our poor meal, the day was deemed a success.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Seattle Gay Pride Parade

At the end of June Robb and I hit up the Seattle Gay Pride Parade and Festival. We missed the Fremont Solstice Parade earlier in the month because Robb was recovering from knee surgery. So we decided to try checking out the Seattle Pride Parade this year to get a little Seattle culture and cheer on the LGBT community. The most interesting thing about this parade (besides its 2+ hour length) was the inclusion. There were big companies represented (like Macy's and Verizon), there were on-the-fringe leather/bondage groups, there were churches, there were politicians, and there were families. It felt like everyone in the world was coming together to support the LGBT community and it was absolutely lovely. Now, the pictures really speak for themselves.
(Rainbow cross on the left. Girl in a vagina costume on the right.)
(That shirt says "Jesus Had two Daddies")
(Sign says: Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, I Love My Mommy and My Mama Too!)
(A few naked painted bicyclists showed up!)

Running on the Pacific Crest Trail

Larry, Laura, and I usually meet up to do a long run on Saturday mornings. In July Laura asked if I wanted to join them on a long trail run on the Pacific Crest Trail. Larry and Laura wanted to get some altitude and uphill training. I wanted to get a 12 mile run in. Even though I’m not a huge fan of trail running (yet), and I knew nothing about the trail, I decided it might be fun to do the run with them. It would be a little different and I would get to see someplace new. We got up early and started the long drive to the Snoqualmie area, picking Becky up along the way to join us for this particular run.

We parked at the trailhead, applied bug spray, adjusted our hydration systems, and started running up the trail. Within the first mile I started to regret agreeing to this madness. I don’t know what I expected of this trail, but I just imagined an easy meandering trail with birds chirping, lovely forest shade, and maybe an occasional waterfall crossing. After we got back from the run I looked up the statistics and found out that this trail had a 2700 foot elevation gain in only 5 miles. And let me tell you, as if the elevation gain wasn’t hard enough to overcome, the terrain didn’t do us any favors either. Much of the trail was narrow and rocky. And as we got to the higher elevations, snow patches covered the trail at places and we had to carefully climb over the packed snow. I’d say I did much more hiking than running so that I wouldn’t trip over my feet and I could catch my breath from running uphill. But when we got to the top we were rewarded with incredible views; it was one of the prettiest trails I’d been on in a long time.
If only that was the end of my story. But the day ended up being much more interesting than just a super-hard trail run. Shortly after we had turned around at the top of the trail to make our way back down, we came across one of the snow patches. The snow covered the trail, but the snow had started melting to make an extremely narrow muddy path right next to it. I carefully placed my foot in the mud, so as to not fall and also minimize getting my clean running shoes muddy, but the mud gave away and I started to slip. I lost control and started sliding off the trail and down the hill (some might say cliff). Larry tried to grab me and save me, but the momentum and gravity were too great to be conquered; Larry started sliding down the hill too. I was sliding on my right side and looking at Larry, who still had a hold of me. I couldn’t see much else, but I felt that we weren’t stopping; the hill/cliff was too steep. I was blindly grabbing the earth, hoping that I could grab a tree root or rock, but my hands only found more mud. Somehow Larry was able to turn himself around and could see down the hill. He spotted a rock and aimed for it. He hit the rock and the rock started sliding with us. But after a few seconds the rock lodged itself into the mud and we were able to stop with it. We sat there for a minute silently, processing what had just happened – we had slid off the trail and down a cliff for 20-30 feet. We decided that neither of us had serious injuries and we started the process of scrambling up the hill, with Laura and Becky guiding us and yelling out directions. We got to the trail again, covered in mud (so much for keeping my shoes clean), and assessed our injuries – just some bruising and scraped up arms and legs. We were incredibly lucky that we didn’t sprain or break anything and, come to think of it, we didn’t die either. I feel absolutely awful that I was the cause of Larry sliding down the mountain with me, but at the same time, I’m very glad he was there to help save me!
When it’s all said and done, I actually don’t regret the trail running that day. Sure it was tough, sure the fall was scary, and sure I was nursing my injuries for the next week. But you know what? The accomplishment of that day felt incredible. We ascended 2700 feet, made it above the tree line, survived a fall down a mountain, and ended up with a great story to tell about the 12 mile run that day. (I’m not ashamed to say though that the next weekend I ran a great 12 mile route in the suburban jungle that is Federal Way – paved trails and roads, no mountain cliffs!)

Rainier To Ruston Relay

I’ve discovered a new joy in running – the relay team! Before I joined my running club I didn’t even know about relay races. When I heard “relay” and “running” in the same sentence I thought we were talking about a high school track meet and passing batons. But apparently there are grown-up relays that don’t involve the nerve-wracking baton hand-off.

The first weekend in June, on National Trails Day, I was part of a a 6-person team that ran the Rainier to Ruston Rail-Trail Relay. This race raised money for the Foothills Rails to Trails Coalition, which is attempting to create a contiguous, non-motorized, public trail from Mt. Rainier all the way to Tacoma. The relay is just over 50 miles and luckily is mostly downhill. There are 12 checkpoints/hand-offs and we all carefully calculated our 2 legs we would run weeks ahead of time. No uphills for me? Check! Reasonable mileage for each leg? Check! More solid terrain? Check!
The day of the race we met at 6:45am in Puyallup to carpool in two cars to the top of Mt. Rainier. The trunks of both cars were loaded with gear – extra clothes, extra shoes, lots of food and water, and all of our maps. Our team shirts were distributed (donated by a chiropracter who was friends with Ron; this means I'm a sponsored runner, right?!?) and signs were taped up on the back windshield that said “Runners on the Road.” We felt lucky that this Saturday happened to have gorgeous weather, but with the elevation gain, we were chilly by the time we arrived at the Mt. Rainier starting point. We didn’t have to wait too long for the start and Laura was our first person to run (she also ended up with the most elevation gain as well, but she seriously rocked those hills.) As we drove our cars to the next checkpoint, we stopped a couple of times along the way to cheer Laura on. As Laura arrived at the first checkpoint, Becky was ready to go. Laura ran under the checkpoint, rang a little bell that signaled she was done, and slapped Becky’s hand. Becky took off and ran the most technical part of the race on some serious unpaved, deep forest trails, which involved crossing rivers on fallen logs, running through mud pits, and even falling down a couple of times. I ran the third leg, mostly on unpaved trails and tried to avoid the copious amounts of mud and puddles. Katie ran the 4th leg, Molly the 5th leg, and then Ron ran the 6th leg. We essentially ran the next 6 legs of the race in the same order, with Molly and Katie switching it up. And Ron and Laura ran the very last leg to the finish line together. We ran a combination of unpaved trails, paved trails, neighborhood sidewalks, and even some soft sand along the Puyallup River. It took us approximately eight hours to run the entire trip.
I think the thing that surprised me the most about the relay was that I thought there would be a lot more downtime in between the running. In fact, I never once opened my magazines I had brought with me. As soon as one runner would take off and start their designated leg, the rest of us would pile into the cars, drive to the next checkpoint, and cheer on runners who were coming in. There was so much fun and excitement throughout the day! An eight-hour day of just running and driving never moved so fast! And at the end of the day, when we were waiting along the Tacoma waterfront for Ron and Laura to make it to the finish line, the clear weather allowed for perfect views of Mt. Rainier off in the distance. (In the picture look to the left above the Tacoma city buildings.) And we realized that we had actually run all the way from that beautiful mountain to Puget Sound. How cool is that?
So, relays are my new thing. I couldn't do anymore this summer because I've been trying to stick to a strict running schedule in preparation for my October marathon. But I will for sure try to run more next summer.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

House Repairs - Or Why I Am Glad I Am A Renter

So this year our nice little rental house is starting to show its age. For example, this winter some tiles in our shower started to separate from the wall. When we went on vacation our landlord came in to fix the tiles and found that the water damage in the wall was pretty severe. So instead of fixing a few tiles he ended up taking a few day to dry out the wall and re-tile the entire shower. Also, recently our kitchen sink was leaking pretty bad and then one day the handle just broke off, so he had to replace that too. (And before we moved in he replaced the hot-water-heater. In the first year we lived here he had to replace a window and fix the gutters.) But that's nothing compared to our little problem this May in the backyard.

We were working on our garden on one of the first nice days of the summer and discovered part of the yard/garden was extra squishy and seem water-logged. Our garden is surrounded by cinder blocks, and some of the cinder block holes had sitting water in them. Very odd. We decided to start experimenting. I went into the house and turned on the sink. Robb reported that the water started rising and then sunk back when I turned the sink off. I flushed the toilet, again the water in the cinder blocks rose and receded. I immediately went next door to report the problem to our landlord. He came over and took a look at our yard. We decided that a tree root must have burst a water pipe, which was causing the yard to flood. But it didn't make sense, water pipes would be in the front yard, going down to the street, not in the front yard. Robb and I asked the landlord if it was possible there was a septic tank in our backyard. He was adamant that the house hooked up to the sewer system in the '70s. He lived in the neighborhood as a teenager when the sewer system was put in and everyone was asked to hook up to it. He was pretty sure that the owner of our house had hooked up. Plus, we've been paying a sewer bill for the city. We asked our other neighbor who was outside at the time, and he wasn't sure. He thought that the former owner hadn't hooked up to the sewer system because it would have been too expensive for her. And, he reported, even if you don't use the sewer system, you still have to pay a sewer bill because you have the right/possibility to hook up. So, our landlord left that evening promising to call the city the next day to find out if we were sewer or septic.

The next day the landlord discovered that our house had never been hooked up to the sewer system. Yup, we have a septic tank. Not only that, but we have a septic tank that no one knew about for years and hadn't been pumped in decades. (A silver lining, even though we still have to pay a sewer bill, we actually had been overcharged. The city provided a refund for the months that we had already payed and our bill now is a lot lower.) So the landlord brought in a person who cleans septic tanks and she came and started cleaning the tank. At that time she discovered not only was the tank filled to the brim, but the overflow container and pipes had disintegrated, which caused our soggy yard problem. It had probably been broken for a long time, but our backyard soil is mostly soft sand that does a good job of draining water and waste. So the landlord now needed to bring someone in to fix the septic tank. It turns out if you live in certain areas now that have the ability to hook up to sewer, and your septic tank needs repairs, you can't actually fix the septic tank - you are required to hook up to the sewer system. Well that is quite expensive. Our landlord decided to bring in some professionals who were willing to fix the septic tank on the side (shhh!).

Unfortunately our garden was sitting right in the middle of the yard and on top of the septic tank. We had spent quite a bit of money last year buying nice topsoil, fertilizer, etc. We didn't have too many plants in the ground yet, so Robb used a shovel and wheelbarrow to move our entire garden to a tarp out of the way. (And he did it twice. The first time he put it in one part of the yard, but then was told that pipes would be put there. So he had to move it again.) The contractors came over one sunny afternoon with a small backhoe and new supplies to fix our tank. They dug up our entire backyard. There was hardly a blade of grass left and trenches were four feet deep. I tried to take pictures of the yard, but the contractors were concerned that there would be evidence of them there illegally. (Little do they know that I blog!) But, for some reason, the aforementioned contractors offered to let me drive the backhoe. And they even suggested that Robb take pictures. (Now why we couldn't take pictures of the illegal work in our backyard, but they encouraged pictures of an unlicensed operator on a serious piece of construction equipment, I will never know.) Operating that backhoe requires a fair amount of coordination. I managed to move one small pile of dirt and then let the men get back to work. They did a great job; all of the work was completed in less than 2 hours. The landlord then put out grass seed and our grass came up a few weeks later. And we had the opportunity to move our garden. Last year Robb placed our garden kind of in the middle of the yard, and I wasn't a huge fan of its location. So because our entire yard was dug up, we were able to relocate our garden to an area that made more sense and allowed for greater use of our yard.

Luckily, for Robb and me, this has turned out to be an interesting, light-hearted story. (I mean seriously, how did the landlord not know we had a septic tank!) But if we had owned this house we would be out thousands upon thousands of dollars. We don't have to pay a cent for repairs and we are so lucky for that. I know that a lot of people feel buying a house is an ultimate goal for young couples, but we feel comfortable renting right now. Not only do we not have to deal with outrageous house repairs, but we also have a lot more flexibility. We aren't tied down to this area; if we decide to apply for jobs someplace else we don't have to worry about selling a house first (which would be stressful in this economy). We are spending our money on other things right now that are more important to us than a down-payment for our own home, so I don't see home-buying in our immediate future. And if we ever do buy a home, you better believe we'll be triple-checking to see whether we're hooked up to a sewer system or have a septic tank!

(I took this picture secretly from my kitchen window)

(Yup, that's me using heavy construction equipment. I look like a natural, don't I?)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Discovery Park and Lincoln Park in Seattle

My friend Deb lives in Seattle and we try to together every few weeks to catch up. The last couple of times we've seen each other we have met up a Seattle park so that we can get some exercise, fresh air, and walk her dog. I think it's great because Deb seems to know a lot about the different parks in Seattle (she does live there after all), so it's nice to go with her and have my own tour guide.

Discovery Park is pretty famous in Seattle, as it is the largest park the city has to offer. Once you walk away from the parking lot the trees surround you an you feel like you're in Mt. Rainier National Park, rather than the middle of a city. We hiked through forests, meadows, and along the beach. While we were sitting on the beach we spotted a bald eagle that had caught a fish and was eating it. I was able to get pretty close (and also got a close up of some interesting barnacles and what-have you) to get some pictures, without disturbing the giant bird. We also visited Lincoln Park one day which is in West Seattle. This park, while large, is not quite as big as Discovery Park. But I loved the beach access. People in this state love walking on the beaches when the tides are low. I think they like exploring the rocky shores and the starfish, barnacles, and urchins that live among them.

My Restaurant Raves

I've been to some amazing restaurants in the past few months. Unfortunately I don't have pictures, but these places deserve mentions. I'm sure I've been to additional restaurants lately, but none stand out like these places. I highly recommend a visit (and invite me along too)!

Peso's Kitchen: This restaurant has been the most important find for us and we've already eaten here three times. It's rare for us to eat in a Seattle restaurant more than once because there are so many places we want to try. Peso's is in the lower Queen Anne neighborhood, pretty close to the Space Needle. This restaurant is really popular and has quite the "meat-market" feel to it. It's hopping at night and the bar is packed and loud. The decor also has a really cool urban, Mexican vibe.Their Happy Hour doesn't have cheap drinks, but rather boasts super-cheap food. The crab fundido (a crab/cheese dip for chips) is phenomenal. They do great enchiladas and have a spicy and flavorful salsa.

Southern Kitchen: I had heard about this Tacoma restaurant for a long time. It was supposed to be authentic Southern cooking with huge portions. It also was featured on the tv show "Diner's, Drive-in's, and Dives." So Robb and I finally made it there and were super-impressed. The strawberry lemonades were beautiful (actual strawberries on the bottom of the glass, with lemonade poured over the strawberries and whipped cream on top), the fried chicken perfectly cooked, and the fried green tomatoes were delicious. It was true Southern cooking, and so yummy

Po Dogs: This is a gourmet hot dog joint, locations in both Capitol Hill and the U-District. Robb and I only shared one hot dog when we popped in one day (we had other big eating plans that day), sharing the Seattle Dog. This hot dog is topped with cream cheese and scallions. Other dogs on their menu that we will check out one day include toppings a southwestern style dog with pico de gallo and guacamole, or a hot dog with peanut butter and jelly on top, or even a hot dog wrapped in bacon and deep-fried.

Over the Moon Cafe: A friend and I went out to this little cafe in Tacoma as a special treat when I changed jobs in March. This is one of the top-rated restaurants in Tacoma and was beautiful and romantic inside. The menu changes with the season and I tried an amazing dish - chicken, covered with apples and a sage sauce. One day I'll have to take Robb to this romantic restaurant - if he's lucky.

Sunbreak Cafe: This is eatery is in the city of Auburn and has the most amazing breakfasts. I've been twice now, both with a friend and with Robb, and the waits are at least 30 minutes. And you have to stand in line to wait; no giving your name to a receptionist at the door. You stand in a line that goes out the door. But the wait is so worth it. The service is great and the breakfast is out of this world. They have both full and half orders. But trust me, you will never want the full order. The half order (three egg omelets/scrambles, a mountain of hash browns, and your choice of bread) is more than enough food. And trust me when I say you must eat the banana bread.

Gari of Sushi: A friend and I decided to meet up for dinner one night and were both in the mood for sushi.I did a little research to find the top-rated sushi joint in Tacoma. While the outside of the building looks pretty scary and unappetizing, once you walk in the recently renovated inside makes you feel a bit better about eating raw fish. I'm not a sushi expert, but I know that this Tacoma restaurant has beautiful sushi and delicous rainbow rolls.

La Carta de Oaxaca: This restaurant in Ballard has real Mexican food. Not the Tex-Mex style, but Oaxacan style, with corn tortillas and a killer mole sauce. The wait is long, and the place is loud and crowded. It actually seemed like a tapas restaurant - the plates were small and the food a tad over-priced for the amount you get. But it was nice to try something that wasn't all about the burrito. 

Michelle Visits - Quinault Rain Forest and the Pacific Ocean

One of the big goals during Michelle's visit was to see the Pacific Northwest rain forest in Olympic National Park. My Mom and I had visited the Hoh Rain Forest, but it was a little too long of a drive for a day trip and Michelle and I wanted to cut costs; so we decided to visit the Quinault Rain Forest area instead, which is a little closer. It wasn't very crowded when we got to the Quinault area; I'm guessing because it was a weekday and the weather was miserable. We tried going to the visitor's center, which was closed. So we had to make our own itinerary. We completed two hikes, one to see the world's largest spruce tree and the other to see a waterfall. The Quinault Rain Forest has some of the world's largest tress in the world - a spruce, hemlock, douglas fir, and red cedar. We only saw the Sitka Spruce, which is 191 feet high and a thousand years old. We really wanted to check out some of the other trees, but it started to rain hard and we were cold and ready to move on.

After we left the rain forest we decided we were close enough to the Pacific Ocean to drive to a random beach and take in the views. We listened to my Garmin and took a turn onto a street that would take us to the Ocean. Interestingly enough this road took us directly onto the beach. The road turned into sand and all of a sudden my car was driving on the beach. We looked up and down the beach and saw a few cars and SUVs parked on the sand. I parked close to the road because I didn't want to be driving around on the beach and get my little Honda stuck. We got out of the car and looked at the beach and water. There's nothing to say expect that it was the weirdest beach I have ever been to. The way the waves stirred up the mud in the ocean, and the sand that went on forever was very unnerving. It felt like a post-apocalyptic world and we felt very isolated and disturbing. After taking a few snapshots we quickly got back in the car and left. I've never seen anything in nature that made me feel that uncomfortable before. Unreal.

Well, that's the end of Michelle's visit. I'm pretty pleased with everything we got in during the visit. We got in our Seattle tourism,  Pacific Northwest nature, and a lot of girlfriend talk and relaxing. (We even dyed Easter eggs the last night she was here.) Her visit went by way too quickly. I am so glad she came to visit and I can't wait until another friend from the East Coast makes it out here so we can show off our amazing state.