Travel


Hey, we can’t all live in Seattle, where Puget Sound is ten minutes off the freeway, islands are quick ferry trip away, mountain rivers are accessible after an easy hike, and camping at the seashore is an easy weekend activity. Sorry Midwesterners (oh, and we don’t have mosquitoes either. Not to rub it in). Anyways, if you don’t live on the coast or are too lazy to leave the city you’ve still got some water-based options. Since swimming pools are passé, most cities are creating splash parks, kiddie pools and fountains. Grab your plastic watering toy and head out.

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Splash Parks

Avoid if:

  • You have small toddlers who don’t like to be splashed or knocked over: Splash parks are a bit rambunctious. My little ones and I tend to find the smallest spout and hang out there, but even that can get over-run pretty quickly.

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  • You prefer to do your splashing in the morning or evening: Most parks keep afternoon hours, and some have an off period during the middle of the day.
  • You have one kid who loves water and another who loves swings: Most splash parks are part of a larger playground. This is part of the appeal for my kiddos – we start at the swings, dig in the sandbox, and then cool off at the splash pad. However one of my kids isn’t old enough to voice her opinion yet so things may be more complicated next summer.

Go if:

  • You’ve just bought your kid an arsenal of water guns.
  • You are in charge of your children and all of the friends. They’ll be somewhat contained at a splash park and you won’t have to worry about anyone drowning.

North acres

Check out:

  • Willis Tucker Park: Technically in Snohomish, but it’s north of the valley behind Silver Firs. There is also a sandbox, covered picnic tables, a playground with a rope jungle gym, trails, off leash dog park, playfields, a community center and a farmer’s market on Friday evenings in the summer.
  • North Acres: This is a good one for keeping watch over a bunch of kids because the splash park is in a little bowl and parents perch on the grassy hills above, stadium style. This park also has trails and two playgrounds – one for toddlers and one for older kids.

Small fountains

Ballard Commons

Avoid if:

  • You have older children, as these are pretty lame according to the kindergarten and above set.
  • You actually want to play in the water as well.

Go if:

  • You are headed somewhere else and you don’t want the kids to get totally soaked.

Check out:

Wading Pools

Avoid if:

  • You have a little one still crawling. The bottom is usually concrete. Plus my little one would have happily crawled in over her head if we let her.

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Go if:

  • You want to get in the water and cool off too, but you don’t want to wear a bathing suit.
  • You like water! I’ve seen toddlers, young kids, and pre-teens all have fun at these little wading pools.

Check out:

  • Wallingford Playfield: The pool has a shallow (think 2 inches) and “deep” (less than a foot) end. Playfields and a playground are part of the park.
  • Green Lake Wading Pool: By far my favorite place! Tons of grassy areas next to the pool are shady, so it’s great for a picnic on a hot day. It’s also great if you have a tiny baby who can snooze in the shade while the other one plays in the sun.

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1. You get to run a 200+ mile race without having to run all 200 miles. You and eleven other people assign yourselves three legs and each runner covers around 9-20 miles. The race consists of 36 exchange points where you pass your 80’s style slap-bracelet onto the next runner.

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2. You’ll have eleven new best friends. I signed up for my first Ragnar after begging my parent’s neighbor to find a spot for me on her team. She came through and pretty soon I was part of a facebook group of strangers, planning out who was bringing diaper wipes and bananas for our Blaine to Langley trek. On Friday morning I met that group of strangers and we headed north. We were all friends by Bellingham.

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Van 1

Ragnar team

3. Running at different times a day. You get to run at…

…sunset…

Sunset

…sunrise…

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…middle of the night…

Night running

…and the blazing heat of mid-day.

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4. Your team is responsible for you, and you them. There are (practically) no water stations so each van is responsible for keeping their runner hydrated and happy. This meant stopping every few miles and waiting for your runner so you can offer…

…laughs…

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…hugs…

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…water…

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…and photography skills to take that picture at the top of the gnarly hill you just conquered.

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5. You need a diverse skill set. It’s not enough to just be a good runner. A successful Ragnar team must have the skills to…

    • Decorate the vans.

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    • Maneuver be-dazzled vans through crowded exchanges.

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    • Be able to fix car glitches while on the run. When our driver was running we somehow turned all the dome lights on. Despite scouring the owner’s manual we couldn’t get them off. When we met up with him in the middle of his run he barely broke his stride as he reached through the window and turned off the lights, yelling “This is the opposite of support!” as he continued on.
    • Read maps (and owner’s manuals) and give directions. U-turns are your friends.
    • Analyze and update data. You are constantly calculating pace and mileage to figure out where your van needs to be when.

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    •  Be a social media pro. Our data plans all felt a little shutter over the weekend. #RagnarPNW

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6. You do get to sleep!

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7. Side games: These include keeping track of kills (runners you pass) and tagging other cars with magnets featuring your team logo.

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8. Running bonding moments

Kira

9. After you finish as a team, all your medals fit together. Awww…

Ragnar medals

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It’s gorgeous here.

The view from cabin 108

The view from cabin 108

But the view comes at a cost. For $3,370 you can stare at this view ALLLL week long. My family (aka my parents) forked over the payment and met us at the lake as our Christmas present. It’s the same resort they took my brother and I as kids. As soon as I started having babies I was anxious to take them there as well.

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And the weather was perfect, the lake was crystal clear, and we had a great time. But when it was time to re-book for next year I just shook my head at mom. The price is just too astronomical. It is the exact same price that my husband and I paid for out all-inclusive condo (food, drinks AND wedding included) in St. Lucia. For $3,370 I expect things to be perfect. There were a few imperfections:

The beach: We had our own little beach in front of our cabin, complete with a fire pit for roasting s’mores. It was about twenty steps away from our cabin, which was great. However, the staff doesn’t rake the beach regularly so our sand castles were full of little twigs and bottle caps. It wasn’t rare it find a broken piece of glass in the sand. But the main problem with the beach was the infestation of yellow jackets.

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The bees. They were EVERYWHERE. After one stung our baby, my husband armed himself with a flip flop and went on a seek-and-destroy mission. He killed about twenty of them, barely making a dent. Hill’s Resort has bee traps every two feet surrounding their lodge and patio, but none on the beaches. They should put some out while raking the sand.

The cabins: On one hand, it was kinda sweet that the cabins were the same ones my family stayed in thirty years ago (GOD, I’M OLD), but maybe replacing the carpets wouldn’t be a terrible thing. Or fixing the drain in the shower, siding on the bathroom walls, replacing window screens…

This place is NOT all-inclusive. It’s simply a cabin rental. Huckleberry daiquiris are not free with the wave of a drink flag. You are lugging all your own food up, and doing all your own cooking and cleaning. There is no maid service. Naturally, I got around this as my parents did most of the cooking and cleaning and my brother mixed the drinks. But still. No maid service?

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So will we be going to Priest Lake next year? Absolutely. But instead of paying $3,370 to fix our own burgers and sleep in sandy sheets, we’ll be staying next door at Luby Bay Campground.

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Typically if you have a 2,000 mile road trip ahead of you, I would recommend making it further than 150 mile on day one. Unless you have a baby with you and there happens to be a cute town 150 miles away and you were still packing up your house until three o’clock even though you’d planned on being done by 9am at the latest.

However short that first day was, it set a good precedent for the rest of our Denver-San Francisco-Seattle trip. This wasn’t my first road trip with the baby, so I headed off already armed with my own traveling-solo-with-a-baby tips:

Don’t book ahead: Normally, it’s good to plan stops ahead of time. This allows you to book the best hotels online, search for fun restaurants and activities, and ensure that don’t inadvertently leave twenty hours of driving for the last day. But if you are traveling with an infant, you need some flexibility. Go ahead and make tentative plans (five hours of driving a day worked best for us) but definitely don’t book anything ahead of time. Suppose that the baby falls asleep right before you reach your planned destination for the night – you’re not going to want to waste that precious quiet time by waking up the kid to check into a hotel. Keep your foot on the accelerator and make it to the next town before nap time is over. On the flip side, be prepared to cut the driving short if that scream from the backseat isn’t going to end anytime soon.

When traveling from Denver to San Jose, I hit my intended destination about the half the time, stopping in Steamboat Springs as planned, just outside of Heber City (instead of Salt Lake City), Battle Mountain (past the intended Elko, Nevada), Reno, and then San Jose. After a week-long stop in the Bay Area, I managed to make it to Seattle in two days instead of the planned three to four, stopping for the night in Weed, CA.

Motels, not hotels: Even if you have a limitless budget (as most single parents do, you know), it is still a way better idea to stay in motels rather that hotels. If you stay at a hotel, than getting to your parked car involves traipsing down a hallway, past an office, and maybe even (heaven forbid) up or down an elevator. The genius motel design involves parking your car RIGHT OUTSIDE the door to your room. Even if you try to pack everything you and the baby will need in one bag (see tip below), you will fail at this task and be very happy that the car is right outside. I once had to wake up Aubrey so I could go get my contact solution from my car. Terrible.

In Steamboat Springs I stayed at the lovely Rabbit Ears Motel. It was much nicer than may hotels that I’ve frequented – pricier too, this being Steamboat Springs. Rabbit Ears is perfectly located, right on the edge of downtown, across from Old Town Hot Springs (the motel has discounted tickets, if you plan on going) and next to the river.

Rabbit Ears Motel
One hotel bag: It’s impossible to pack everything you’ll need for the night in one bag. Good luck.
Swimming and Fitness clubs: Stopping at every 24hour Fitness club on route was my best road-tripping discovery. I was worried about staying in shape while traveling because my jogging stroller didn’t fit in my car and even if it had I didn’t really want to take Aubrey out of her car-seat only to strap her into a stroller. So I mapped out all the 24hour fitness clubs and stopped at all of them. Since I pay for the all-month childcare (which is good nationwide), I could pull into a club and workout for two hours while Aubrey crawled around and checked out all the new toys. This was not only my key to staying in shape, but it was a perfect car break for the baby. She’d be ready for her second nap after all that playtime. Just be sure to double check the kid’s club/daycare hours. I stopped at the Salt Lake City club only to discover the daycare was closed Sundays.

Small towns are not known for having nationwide fitness clubs, but often they still have a YMCA or rec center with babysitting available. At Steamboat Springs I spent two hours swimming at the Old Town Hot Springs. I kept Aubrey with me (she loves swimming!), but there is a daycare option there during the daytime.

Old Town Hot Springs

Picnics, not restaurants: Again, crawling time is important. When you stop to eat at a restaurant your kid is subjected to being strapped into yet another seat. Pack a lunch and bring a big blanket. Most little towns have parks that are a lot nicer than rest areas.

Picnic at Hot Sulpher Springs

 

Think twice before camping: I had thrown my tent and sleeping bag in the trunk of my car more out of habit with any real plans to use them, but in the Wasatch foothills, I thought I had the perfect time to use them. We were twenty miles outside Heber City and there was no hope of reaching town with my eardrums still intact. Aubrey was DONE. I saw a camping sign with an arrow pointing to Strawberry Reservoir and made a quick left turn.

At first I thought that I had made a good decision. There were tons of families camping nearby. There was a general store selling ice cream and snacks that would work for my dinner. Aubrey loved crawling around in the tent, and nighttime temperatures for the nearby Salt Lake City were in the 60’s. However, temperatures dipped much lower in the mountains. At ten I changed Aubrey into her warmest pajamas, and at eleven I just decided to hold her for the night. Since infants aren’t supposed to sleep with blankets, camping even in slightly cold weather is tough. Also I was kind of cold but I didn’t want to go get an extra blanket in the car for fear of waking up Aubrey. To make matters worse, I felt bad when she woke up in the middle of the night crying because I’m sure all the other campers heard us. That’ll be my last camping experience for the year.

Camping

Have AAA roadside assistance: I would never survive without AAA. They’ve given me new batteries, unlocked my car (AAA guy: “What store are you in front of?” Me: “Um…the liquor store.”), and they have come especially in handy the numerous times I’ve needed a new tire. Miraculously, I haven’t needed a new tire in six months (a record!) and the last time one went out I was with two friends, one of whom (Fix-It-Tom) could actually change a tire! However, I usually travel alone, so until the baby learns how to change a tire I’ll keep my AAA membership.

Does this guy look like a hiker or WHAT?

Jay

That’s my brother. He should be the one living in Denver. My hikes so far have been limited to mile-long nature walks that could be done whilst several month pregnant: see Table Mountain and Mt. Falcon. I suspect this is why my brother waited until I was sufficiently back in shape before he came to visit.

So within three hours of his landing at DIA, we were making our way up Lookout Mountain in Golden (tip for those prone to altitude sickness: Going from Seattle to Denver to Golden to Lookout Mountain shouldn’t be attempted all in the same afternoon).
Taking the Chimney Gulch Trail up Lookout Mountain is one of those perfect quick hikes: Tons of great city views on one side and mountain/valley views on the other. A good three mile hike, but easy enough to run or bike up it if you are super in shape. People hang-glide off of it, there’s a big “M” on the side of it that lights up at night (M for the Colorado School of Mines), and I could see it from my driveway when I lived in Golden.

Lookout Mountain in the snow

To get to Lookout Mountain take Highway 58 from Denver to Golden and turn left onto 6th Ave. Then you’ve got some options. You can drive less than a mile and park right off 6th Ave in this makeshift parking lot…

Lookout Parking

…or you could keep driving for another minute and then turn right onto 19th street, which winds through a neighborhood and then becomes Lookout Mountain Rd (follow the signs) and park at the trailhead alongside the road, or you could just drive all the way to the top. It’s a switchback-y road that’s not very much fun to drive (unless you like that kind of thing), but it gets you to the top quicker.

View from Lookout

The next day we headed out to Eldorado Canyon State Park ($8 daily vehicle pass), which is just off Highway 93 between Golden and Boulder. My brother looked longingly at the rock climbers doting the canyon walls as I heaved the baby backpack on my shoulders and we started exploring.

Hiking with baby

There are numerous trail options at the State Park from the rim trail (which is stroller friendly) to technical boulder scrambles that lead to sheer rock faces. The hiking and scenery were great, but the best part of this park was definitely marveling at the rock climbers. I vividly remember my difficulties scaling the one and only (very, very small) cliff that I’ve ever faced, so I could only shake my head in amazement at the guys and gals dangling above me. How cool is must be to conquer something as imposing as a canyon wall.

Eldorado Canyon State Park

We were there Memorial Day weekend, so the trails were packed, as was the area near the visitor center where huge groups of families and friends were picnicking and barbequing alongside the South Boulder Creek (which looked like a full-blown river after all the snow we had last spring).

The next day we re-traced our route and this time made it all the way to Boulder. We parked the car at Chautaugua Park and set out towards the Flatirons. We walked along Bluebell road which was very boring at first. It starts out as a flat gravel trail between a grassy valley and a housing development. But once it hooked in with the Flatirons loop (briefly) and then the Royal Arch trail things got a lot more mountain-y. About half a mile away from the arch viewpoint there is a natural stopping place to sit on some rocks and eat lunch. I stopped here, opting not to go all the way to the arch because the trail got a little steep and I wasn’t comfortable doing it with a baby on my back.

The Royal Arch trail was cool, but my least favorite of the three hikes. It was just your basic hike. Nice, but nothing to blog about. The trail was super crowded and everyone kept giving my brother dirty looks because I the baby on my back and everyone assumed he was Aubrey’s dad, shirking his fatherly-hiking duties. I had to keep explaining that he was only my brother, shirking his uncle-hiking duties, which is a less grievous offense.
Oh, and there was a snake. It was big.

 

The standard milling around before the race startsLuckily yesterday’s Jackalope 5K race in Wyoming had a 10am start since the baby and I ended up leaving Denver Saturday morning instead of Friday night. And when we stopped between Cheyenne and Laramie the wind was so cold and biting that I kinda wanted to turn the car around and go to bed. We soldiered on. In my quest to run a race in all fifty states I intentionally chose a short one for Wyoming because I HATE running in the wind.  Luckily things weren’t so bad in down in Laramie, since the town is down between the Snowy Mountain range and the southern peaks of the Medicine Bow National Forest.

 

The High Plains Harriers (along other local groups) have been putting on the Jackalope 5K for the past twelve years. This year the Brendon Orr, a volunteer with Black Dog Animal Rescue, served as race director and participation shot through the roof with 249 participates (114 being the previous record). More importantly, $4,920 was raised for the Rescue. Dogs were invited to run also, which seemed to bring people out. One couple I spoke to were running the race with two kids in a jogging stroller and two dogs on leashes. They usually avoid races until the weather gets warmer but were enthusiastically participating today because the Black Dog Rescue is close to their heart. They’ve fostered many rescue dogs.

Racing dogs

For me personally, the race was fairly anticlimactic. I started in the back with the other strollers and slow-looking dogs, and worked my way up to the middle of the pack when things started clearing out. I was just getting in my grove when Aubrey started wailing and protesting being in her stroller. So I ended up walking across the finish line with an empty stroller and a pink bundle in my arms at just under forty minutes. It was whatever the opposite of a PR is. Oh well. The race was nice enough – all on paved trails, along a creek, under a highway, and through a park. Since it is still winter (that groundhog apparently lied to us) it wasn’t too picturesque, save for the mountains in the background.

I skipped the post-race festivities to feed Aubrey and then headed to downtown Laramie to find some food for myself. I got distracting wandering around downtown though downtown Laramie -lots of cute little shops, even if you don’t like antiquing. I was especially taken with The Second Story, an old hotel that has been converted into a book store/coffee house. Old hotel rooms have been converted into spaces for different types of books.  The children’s shop next store was pretty cute too. There were a lot of restaurants nearby, but eventually I decided on The Crowbar and Grill. All of these places are around Iverson and 1st and 2nd streets.

Book store

Toy store

The Crowbar and Grill

I really wanted to order the first three items on the appetizer menu: Pad Thai Fries, Poutine, and Fried Avocado. But in the end, I wasn’t quite brave enough for the fries and I’m a cheese curd purist so I went with the avocado. Delicious. I didn’t have one of their burgers (beef: picked up every morning at a local butcher) because I thought I’d have fabulous burger options in Cheyenne where I was staying the night.

Fried Avacado

I was incorrect. Cheyenne kinda sucked. I should have stayed in Laramie.

I’d decided to stay in Cheyenne because I got a good deal ($74 on a Saturday) on a nice hotel. And The Historic Plains Hotel was indeed nice, with a semi-historic looking lobby and large rooms. There is an attached restaurant, spa, and gift shop. A breakfast buffet is included (pancakes, sausage, eggs, fruit, etc.). As with most great hotels, the best thing about The Historic Plains Hotel was its central location.

Historic Plains Hotel

However, centrally located in Cheyenne doesn’t mean a whole lot. There’s nothing to do in this town. And I’m the kind of person that stay entertained in Victorville, Baldwin, Minot and Groom.  (Where, you ask? Exactly.)  My problem, of course, was in expectation. Sure, Cheyenne has a few museums (I visited the Wyoming State Museum – nothing to report), a capitol building, a train station, and lots of painted cowboy boots, but I was unimpressed.

Cheyenne Capitol

Train Depot, Cheyenne

Cheyenne boot...one of many

The historic downtown was the kind of place where you could walk across major cross streets without waiting for a light to change. When I asked a local where to go for dinner she enthusiastically directed me to either Chili’s or Buffalo Wild Wings out by the mall. Not that I mind either of those establishments, but I was hoping for some a bit more local. I ended up a Two Doors Down, a burger joint frequented by high-schoolers and young families. (So I fit in, having a six month old with me). It was fine, but nothing exceptional.

So Aubrey and I had a nice evening watching the Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres from the comfort of our hotel room, which was actually quite fun.

If you have a chance to hang out in southeastern Wyoming, I definitely recommend Laramie over Cheyenne. Or better yet, go in the summer when all the ranches are open and you can stay in the mountains while learning how to rope and ride. Or if that’s not your thing, camping at the Vedauwoo Recreation Area also seems like it would be fun during the summer. This site between Laramie and Cheyenne (exit 329 off I-80) has tons of exposed rocks good for rock climbing and hiking.

Vedauwoo

Also in this area in Ames Monument, a pyramid built by the Union Pacific Railroad Company to honor the Ames brothers (they were railroad guys). I was going to check out until I realized that I’ve have to drive down nearly two miles of dirt road. I go through tires at alarming rates in the smoothest of road conditions, so I just took a picture of the sign and turned around.

Too far

First race with babyI can finally run again!!! My daughter turned six months today, which means I can officially run with her in a jogging stroller without worrying about giving her shaken baby syndrome. Likewise, I can resume going to the gym as childcare is available for those exactly half a year old (and not a day sooner, as I discovered when I tried to sign her up yesterday).

Aubrey and I celebrated her half birthday by participating in the Hippity Hop Easter Trot 5k. As you can probably guess from the name of the race, this was a family friendly event. There were tons of kids running around on a search for Easter eggs prior to the race. The race itself featured a small army of oversized jogging strollers.

It wasn’t the most competitive run I’ve ever participated in. I spend the first mile cautiously jogging along, worrying simultaneously that my kid was too hot and that I’d accidently run into someone’s heel. Luckily Aubrey babbled happily for the 3.1 miles and I was fully enjoying my runners high by the end of the race, despite an embarrassing finish time that I’m not going to admit to on this blog.

The race was well organized. To me this means that there was a loudspeaker with music at the start/finish, ample parking (on the street), mile markers were obvious, results (via timing chip) were posted immediately, and there was good food at the finish. Yay breakfast burritos! It was not the most gorgeous run I’ve done in my life, but Denver’s Central Park was a nice enough venue.

Central Park, Denver

Central Park is in Stapleton, the area of Denver with a lot of new fancy sub-division houses (oh, that area). It is northeast of downtown, off of Martin Luther King Blvd and Central Park Blvd. Take the Quebec exit south off of I-70 and head east on MLK for a couple of miles. The park has a huge play area for kids including a big climbing rock that my brother would have loved when he was five. There are lots of good sledding hills too.

Subdivision heaven

Playground

Upon returning home I went on a shopping spree. My website of choice was my beloved www.runningintheusa.com. I am excited for the next few months!

April 6th: Jackalope 5K race in Laramie, WY. I emailed the race director who quickly responded in the affirmative that I could indeed run with a jogging stroller. Get ready Aubrey!

April 20th: 4-H Fun Run in Holdredge, NE. This is still a maybe, dependent on their stroller rules because I doubt I can convince anyone to travel to Holdredge with me. My affection for small town races is n0t shared by many.

May 27th: BoulderBOULDER 10K in Boulder, CO. I need to find a babysitter for this one because the huge race (50,000 participants, 90+ waves) doesn’t allow strollers. Family members: this would be an excellent weekend to visit.

June 17th: San Francisco Half Marathon. A fabulous coincidence: Aubrey’s Las Vegas dwelling father is originally from Oakland, and he’s anxious for her to meet his family that still lives there. He is a HUGE Oakland A’s fan, whereas I live and die for the Mariners. Naturally we made sure that Aubrey’s first trip to The Bay would be when the M’s are in town. (Bonus: this is also father’s day weekend) Last week I discovered that the SF Marathon would be held that same weekend. YAY!!! My best friend Denise is coming up for the weekend to and we’re doing the first half of the marathon. (She’d be in shape for the full…but I will most definitely NOT be).

June 29th: Ellsworth Wisconsin Cheese Curd run (10K? 8M?) This is another happy coincidence. My family will be celebrating my grandma’s 90th birthday the EXACT SAME weekend as the cheese curd festival. And man, do I love my cheese curds.

Fresh cheese curds

Sometime in August or September: A FULL MARATHON. I’m not sure where I’ll be living/working so I can’t commit to a specific one yet. Stay tuned

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