Washington


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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“What do you mean you didn’t bring hiking boots?” My brother asks, exasperated. I shrug and he starts wondering aloud if his friends can supply me crampons along with hiking poles and snow gear.

“Um, you know your sister is pregnant, right?” My dad asks dubiously, not for the first time.

My brother gives me a quick glance, decides that I will be fine, and continues muttering about the snow pack levels and the need to pick up some M&M’s.

I can’t wimp out now. There are M&M’s involved. I tie plastic grocery bags over my socks, put on my running shoes, and figure I’d be good to go.

And I was! We took the West Fork Foss River Trail eight gorgeous miles (four up and four down) past two lakes, over two bridges, and past some of the biggest trees I’d seen since my trip to the Redwoods. The trail held the prefect hiking combinations: It was long and  challenging, there was unexpected scenery, it was just a little scary, and we all felt the need to high five each other upon reaching our destination.  

The first 1.5 miles to Trout Lake was pretty easy. The trail was great and included a new bridge, so river crossing wasn’t a problem. (Yet) We pulled into the picnicking spot along the lake and all the guys in the group immediately began throwing rocks into the water. What is it about guys and throwing rocks? I don’t think I’ve ever been near water without some male trying to skip a rock across it. This phenomena holds true from my friend’s 1 year old son to my 65 year old father. After all the good skipping stones had been hurled into Trout Lake we continued on.  

The trail got a little steeper after Trout Lake, but still easy to follow and the views of waterfalls, valleys, etc. were great. There were a couple snowy patches, but nothing I couldn’t stomp through in my running shoes. Trickles of water started running down the trail, but my water-proof socks/grocery bags held up quite nicely.  

At mile 3 (or possibly 3.5) things get tough. The river creates a waterfall across the trail and there was nothing but snow from here on out. My brother’s friend fished some yaktrax out of her bag and helped me pull them over my shoes for the upcoming snow. I don’t think I would have continued if not for the extra traction.

The river was a little sketchy, but not exactly a death trap. My primary goal was to not fall in the water (goal attained), with a secondary goal to keep my shoes dry (goal NOT attained). The dog hiking with us picked up on the tension as we all crossed the river and let out an uncharacteristic bark. The scariest part wasn’t the river though, it was looking up at the bridge we had to cross. From down below it looked like nothing but a log stretched across a waterfall with banks of snow on each side. When we got closer it turned out to be a legitimate bridge, so all was well.  

The rest of the trail to Coppe rLake and the two lakes beyond was completely covered in snow. Not having skills in the finding-the-trail-in-the-snow arena, I wouldn’t have continued on by myself, but another one of my brother’s friends took the lead and we all confidently trekked after him. He did not disappoint. After a little bit of wandering around (including trekking across some not-so-safe snow banks where sliding and post hole possibilities were numerous) we found a frozen pond, and Copper Lake beyond.

To celebrate a propane stove was whipped out and we all had grilled cheese sandwiches and hot cocoa. I am totally bringing such a stove with me on my next big hike. Words can’t even describe how much better the melted cheese was compared to the peanut butter-Dorito sandwich that I had packed. After lunch everyone (except my pregnant self) took advance of the great sledding opportunities above the lake. This kinda freaked out the dog, who kept trying to save people from flying down the hill.

We got back to the empty trail parking lot right before nightfall (a little after 9:00pm, up here in the Pacific Northwest), and exchanged those high-fives for a day well spent.   

To get to the trail head, Drive US 2 east towards Skykomish. Continue east for 1.9 miles, passing the Forest Service ranger station. Pick up a $5 trail pass here. Turn right ontoFoss River Road(Forest Road 68). Continue for 4.7 miles (the pavement ends at 1.1 miles), turning left onto FR 6835. Follow this road for 1.9 miles to its end and the trailhead. There is a very clean and not-bad-smelling pit toilet at the trailhead.

The Mad Greek Cafe is a popular stop along the well traveled stretch of highway between Southern California and Las Vegas. It’s THE pit stop for families, truckers, and those heading home from Vegas seeking hangover cures in the form of tzatziki sauce. Although it’s the not tallest building in the 600 person town of Baker, California (that would be the world’s tallest thermometer, across the street), it’s definitely the most popular. Wall Drug type billboards advise travelers of how many miles are between them and the Mad Greek.

The exterior of Parthenon pillars and white Greek God statues standing between trash cans and handicapped parking spaces cue you in to the fact that the décor is slightly on the tacky side. Inside are huge, ugly pictures of Athens and the Greek Isles. I didn’t even KNOW it was possible to take an ugly picture of Santorini. Just typing the name of the island brings me back to the most gorgeous place I’ve ever visited. I think I spent most of the Grecian part of my honeymoon exclaiming that Greece “looks just like the pictures!” Luckily I was referring to the gorgeous shots in my Greece Isles calendar that my future (and now ex) in-laws had bought me. The Mad Greek’s gray dingy shots bear no resemblance to that calendar. Or the Aegean islands. Thank God.

Anyways, the food is great. Lamb kabobs, gyros, pita bread, rice, and baklava are the things to get, but regular breakfast and diner fare (eggs, hamburgers, etc) are also on the menu. Their milkshakes are good too. They are open 24 hours. Give them a ring at (760) 733-4354 or stop by. They are in the middle of town at 7211 Baker Blvd, not like you need the address. You can’t miss it.

Where the Mad Greek tends to attract gluttons, vacationers, partiers, and ON-the-beaten-path-road-trippers, my other favorite drive in is quite the opposite.

Zeke’s Drive-In (44006 State Route 2, Gold Bar, WA 98251. 360-793-2287) is in Gold Bar. All the greenery and gray sky is a good clue that the town of Gold Bar is somewhere near Seattle. And indeed, it is – about and hour and a half northeast of the Emerald City. There are no long lines, no statues, and no parking lots at Zeke’s. This place attracts hikers, skiers, snowshoers, and fishers.

Although a drive-in, Zeke’s does have a little indoor place to eat, with picnic tables, trail maps on the walls, and no heat. If you are freezing cold because you just hiked six miles in the pouring down rain (and you probably did), it’s best to stay in your car with the heat cranked up.

I don’t know if Zeke’s food is particularly good or if it’s just that ANY hamburger is good after a long day hiking or skiing. Whatever the case, Zeke’s burgers, shakes and fries always bring happy thoughts and memories.

“Hammer-man-hammer-man-hammer-man!” My friend’s almost-three-year-old shouted, running towards the Seattle Art Museum’s  outdoor fixture. He was going full speed, while also pounding one fist exuberantly into his other open hand, mimicking the moving statue. Luckily he’s a coordinated kid so the effort didn’t land him in a face plant.

“It’s his favorite exhibit,” Shawn explained to me.

“And the toys,” Berend (that would be the exuberant two-year-old) helpfully added. At this point Berend’s mom Rachel had caught up with her son. I ran cross country with Rachel in high school, so I’m assuming that Berend’s tendency to always be running comes from her. 

Unlike me, Shawn and Rachel are total art museum-type-people (this is why we parted ways in Italy when we all happened to be in Europe that one winter). When they visit art museums as a family, Shawn and Rach switch places so each of them can spend time individually staring at paintings and keeping their son entertained. However, these two activities mesh pretty well at Seattle Art Museum (SAM). There are several things to do here that keep an active toddler busy.

Listening stations: I’m not saying this will keep kids occupied for hours, but a few exhibit rooms have computer stations. These stations offer patrons the opportunity to scrutinize art on-screen by zooming in on certain parts of the piece and listening to information about it. Touch screen computers + headphones = a quiet and occupied child…for a few minutes.

Toy/Reading Rooms: These were my and Berend’s main hangout areas. SAM has GREAT toy rooms. In addition to the usual blocks, plastic tools, chalk easels, and child-sized cars to “drive,” the art rooms has spaces on the wall that kids can Velcro shapes to create their own modern art masterpieces. In my opinion, some of these children’s creations are more worthy of museum space than million dollar paintings featuring a red square with a blue line through it. There are also some great books in the reading room, which Shawn and I poured through while Berend organized a one-man drum line and then proceeded to gather up all the tools in the toy room and show off his carpentry skills.    

Open Spaces Downstairs: Berend would have been totally cool with running through every exhibit in the museum and shouting for us all to keep up. However, his parents nixed such activity. Luckily for Berend, the bottom floor of the museum is a great place to run around. There aren’t really any exhibits and it is not crowded at all. Huge windows look out to the Hammer Man statue outside, cars hang suspended from the ceiling, and this really creepy painting can provoke conversation in even the youngest art aficionados. 

Family Programs: Family workshops this winter include portrait and puppet workshops. The Seattle Asian Art Museum has workshops on their Free First Saturdays. They also show Kid Flicks in their auditorium on a monthly basis. Both the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park have summer art camps available. To register for or learn more about these events, check out their calendar here.

After a couple museum hours, food (and beer) may be necessary. Seattle Art Museum is about one block from Pike Place Market, so dining options are plentiful. Rachel, Shawn, Berend and I decided on The Pike Brewery because it is loud and provided space nearby for Berend to walk around. Berend and I did a couple of laps through part of the market. Then we returned to our booth so Berend could steal everyone’s French fries and I could enjoy my bleu cheese burger (not on the menu, but they’ll add the cheese for you). The Pike is open from 11am to midnight daily.

If you go, Seattle Art Museum is open Wednesday – Sunday from 10am – 5pm. Thursdays and Fridays it is open until 9pm, and is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Free days include First Thursdays (free to all), First Fridays (free to seniors 62+) and Second Fridays (free to teens 13-19 with ID from 5-9pm).

SAM is located in downtown Seattle at 1300 First Avenue. There is expensive street parking available (usually with a two hour limit) and even more expensive parking under the museum in the Russell Investment Center Garage on Union Street between 1st and 2nd. Suggested admission for the museum is $15 for adults. You can get a SAM membership for $65 ($80 for two people). Luckily Shawn and Rachel have a membership and I was able to utilize one of their guest passes.

“This is the best trail! This is the best hike I’ve been on all year!” I kept exclaiming to my mom and brother yesterday. We were tromping through snow at Stevens Pass, about an hour and a half northeast of Seattle. Once we returned, peeled off wet clothes, and I started writing this post, I remembered my hike up the Wild Great Wall this past summer, aka my favorite hike of the year. So I guess the Stevens Pass hike was my second favorite of 2011.

For anyone looking to go snowshoeing or cross country skiing in Western Washington, Stevens Pass Nordic Center is the place to be. From Seattle, take I-5 north to Highway 2. Head east. Five miles past the downhill skiing area you will find Stevens Pass Nordic Center. It will be on your right. Check the snow level first by calling 206-634-1645. If you don’t have snowshoes you can rent them here. Restrooms and a small snack shop are also on site. This is also the place to pick up your pass, $12 for adults.

Before hitting the trails we loaded up our backpack with oranges, cookies, and a thermos of hot water. Due to our lack of hiking boots, my brother and I donned a nice layer of plastic bags between our socks and shoes. They worked perfectly. My shoes were soaked at the end of the hike, but my feet stayed warm and dry.

Upon recommendation of the guys at the Nordic Center, we took the easy two kilometer “Clickity Clack” trail up the mountain. Then we headed back down on the intermediate “Steppin’ Stoker” trail, for a total of four kilometers. The hikes were very well marked, which I always appreciate. The first half of the trail was fun, but things really got going after we crossed the main cross country sky trail and made the hairpin turn down to the creek. Make sure that you look down towards the creek to find the orange tape marking the “Steppin’ Stoker” trail. If you just follow the signs you’ll go back the boring way. Down by the creek there are snow covered logs to climb over and branches to duck underneath. We were the only ones on the trail that day, and the three inches of new snow was fun to crunch through. On a clear day, there are views of surrounding mountains and Mill Valley. However, this is Western Washington. Good luck chancing upon a clear day. Luckily, the trees, creek, and blanket of snow are gorgeous themselves. You can appreciate the beauty of this trail even if it’s cloudy and rainy. Just make sure that you have some waterproof sock-bags.

Some snowshoeing tips:

  • It’s not hard! If you can hike, you can snowshoe. No skiing experience is needed. My snowshoeing mates included my mom, who is sixty (or “fifty-something,” in her words). She’s pretty in-shape, and had no trouble with the hike. My brother was also with us. If things had been up to him, he would have chosen a more out-of-the-way trail (he doesn’t like groomed snow paths, or pre-designed hiking trails. Then again he also goes backpacking for days on end without a tent or food, so mom and I generally ignore his outdoor wishes), but he really enjoyed this hike as well.
  • When going uphill, make sure to get up on the balls of your feet and really plant your toe. This makes the hike easier and keeps you from sliding backwards.
  • Check the weight limit on your snowshoes. If you will be carrying a pack, be mindful of what your weight will be including that backpack. If you weight too much for the shoes you may be prone to punching through the snow.
  • Poles are unnecessary.
  • If you can swing it, head up to the mountains the day after a good snowfall. New snow is much more fun to walk through.

Most depressing moment of the week: Watching the Seattle 1/2 Marathon participants take off without me.

Not that I should really be complaining, because if that was my most depressing moment, then I’ve had a pretty good week 🙂

It was a stupid depressing moment, because there wasn’t any real reason that I didn’t run the Seattle half. I am not injured, I’m in reasonably good shape, and the race wasn’t sold out. My aunt/favorite family running buddy was participating. I just didn’t want to shell out the $100 bucks. If I could do it all over again, I would be $100 poorer. Running a race is priceless. (Well, not really. I don’t know if it would be worth a million dollars to run down soggy Seattle streets, but you get the idea.)

I told myself that I would go to the race and take good pictures. I never get good race photos because I’m always running. That plan failed as it was raining (of course) and I didn’t want to get my camera wet.

I told myself that I would go to the race and sell hand warmers to raise money for Team in Training. That plan failed as nobody wanted to buy hand warmers. And I hate selling things. I did give a bunch of the warmers to some homeless guys, so that made me happy.

I told myself that I would go and cheer on my aunt. That plan did actually work, but I think my aunt would have felt cheered anyways. Less than two and a half hours after the starting gun went off, she danced out of the finish line chute with her medal and a smile that can only be brought on by post-race endorphins.

“I feel so good! I could run another three miles!” She exclaimed as we headed to the recovery area.

“I feel so good! I could run another five miles!” She exclaimed as we headed to the car.  

I didn’t doubt her – she’s one tough aunt. Case in point: She ran the Spokane ½ last month and tripped, going down head-first at mile twelve. She stopped for some emergency first aid, but couldn’t get that finisher’s medal out of her bruising head. With a race aid worker by her side, she finished the race and headed directly to Urgent Care for eight stitches. She ran her first ½ marathon trail run a few weeks later.

In conclusion:

Be like my aunt. Run first, stop the bleeding* later.

Don’t be like me. Lay down that credit card,* pin on your race number and go.

*Note: I am not to be held responsible for any episodes of fainting due to blood loss or decreases in credit card ratings due to unreasonable race charges.

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