Friday, July 23, 2010

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

There is no good route to get from Vancouver Canada to Glacier National Park. Well, what I mean is, there is no direct route that will not make me car sick. Okay, in truth, I don't throw up or anything like that. I just get very woozy and really tired of flying back and forth from one arm rest to the other as our ridiculously top-heavy van goes careening out of control (of course Jeremy thinks that we are traveling at perfectly normal speeds) down the mountain.

Our choices were to follow highway 3 along the southern border of Canada or highway 20 across Washington, both zig-zaggy mountain roads the whole way. In the end, we chose to cross the border back into Washington because it seemed as though gas, food, and lodging were a bit less pricey in the US. As it turned out, I was glad we did. The road was actually not too bad and we passed through the Cascade mountain range and Cascade National Park along the way, which were just beautiful. I don't think we technically went into the park because the road passes between the northern part of the park and the southern part. We did stay in a really nice (and cheap) national forest campsite that was right on a river with a nice and easy trail that we could mountain bike on. We also passed through the pan-handle of Idaho, a new state for both of us.

Our plan was that when we got to Glacier, we would try to secure a back-country permit and do some more backpacking in the park. The only stipulation was that it had to be the type of hiking that did not force me to climb a mountain for an entire day at a time. After our back-country experience in Yosemite, I had a new plan for successful backpacking. I would 1) wear water-proof shoes, 2) get hiking poles to protect my almost-thirty-year-old hips and knees 3) request a route that was both scenic and not too strenuous. Jeremy was convinced that if we are in the middle of these huge mountains, we would have to hike up them to go anywhere, but I was holding out hope that we could hike in a valley somewhere. I love the valleys. So, we headed into the back-country permit office and luckily, spoke with a friendly older gentleman who seemed to understand the situation. I told him what I was looking for and he had two suggestions for us that might fit our needs. We picked a hike that would follow a river a majority of the way and then pass by two different lakes. We were warned that the beginning of the trail has a 700 ft elevation change, but the rest should be fairly mild hiking. It seemed like a plan we could both deal with. Our trip was not supposed to start until the next morning, but we had entered the park from the west, and our trail head was at the very north-east corner of the park. That meant we had a ways to travel across the park and still needed to find a place to stay for the night.

There is only one main road that runs through Glacier. It is called "Going to the Sun Road." Just driving through the park, without ever leaving your car or the main road, you can see some of the most beautiful mountain scenery anywhere. You might also see some really interesting people if you're lucky. We had to stop several times for road construction and people would climb out of their cars to stretch, or take pictures, or whatever. There was one older couple (when I say older…I just mean older than maybe late fifties…I don't really know) who were particularly interesting to watch. Every time we stopped, the woman, who was driving (and had actually passed several cars along the steep curvy road, including us) kept getting out of the car to do all sorts of stretches and calisthenics. She even ran around her car about four times. I'm not even joking. Like a Chinese fire drill all by herself. I think that was about the time that her husband, who did not stretch and seemed to have very bad knees, walked about 15ft. down the hill from our van to relieve himself. He may have just needed a moment away from his high strung wife…who knows. Then, there was also this girl who seemed to be somewhere in her early adolescence and working hard to stand out in the world. She was literally hanging out the window of her car for the entire trip yelling at the top of her lungs and waving at every single car that passed by. All in all, a very entertaining road to drive.

By the time we actually made it across the park, all of the park camp grounds were full, so we found a KOA outside the park. Now, KOA is usually outside our budget, but we made an exception and lounged by their pool for a while and actually had real stand-up showers. It was kinda nice.

Our first day of hiking was supposed to be a 10 mile hike so I really wanted to be able to start early and take my time. Ten miles with a pack on is no walk in the park for me. Jeremy, on the other hand, has the longest legs that God ever created and has to walk a consciously slow pace for me to keep up. It's really a perpetual state of me breathing too hard and Jeremy standing around waiting and looking bored…you get the picture.

In the morning we got up early and set out for the north-east corner of the park. We were technically outside the park, and we were very surprised to see that basically as soon as you leave the park's eastern boundary the landscape changes from majestic snow/ice capped mountains to a rolling plain. The mountains literally just jut up out of nowhere if you are coming from the east. Along the way to the trail head we had to be a bit cautious as there were range cattle just grazing wherever they pleased. They were all over the road. It was funny, but a little hazardous.

When we found our trail-head, just a stones throw from the border crossing, we got all our gear ready and the bikes put away in the van. I put on my water-proof boots, got out my new hiking poles, used the bathroom one last time, and we were off. We walked about 100ft down the trail and the mosquitoes just kept getting thicker and thicker with every step. It was very quickly a swatting frenzy, my poles were doing me no good because they were flying everywhere as I tried to keep the bugs from eating me alive. Just when I thought I would go crazy, Jeremy said we were going to have to turn around and look for some bug spray. I was so relieved. I didn't want to be the one to turn back, but it was seriously out of control.

We asked around in the parking lot if anyone had any bug spray and we checked if there was some sort of duty free shop at the border, but no luck. So, we got back in the van and headed the 20 miles back to where we started to look for bug spray. By the time we actually got going on the trail it was already about 10:30, but the mosquito situation was a lot better.

Our first day of hiking was a long day. We were both pretty tired by the end, but it was beautiful the whole way. We were in a valley near a river for most of the trip and the landscape varied between pine forest and meadows that were covered in beautiful wildflowers. Our first night of camping we stayed at Glenn Lake. Glacier back country trails have designated camping areas which is kind of nice. Then you don't have to search out your own site and there are pit toilets available. It was a lake full of clear blue snow melt…gorgeous, but not really warm enough to swim in. We did jump in long enough to rinse off. Well, I did. I dove in and ran out as fast as I could while hyperventilating. After rinsing off a bit we went to the food preparation area (a bear precaution) to fix our dinner. We sat and chatted with the other hikers for a while and then headed to our tent to read for the rest of the evening.

The next day, our hike was much shorter. We hiked back the way we came, about a mile and a half, to Cosley Lake and set up our tent and hung our food bag. Then we took off for Bear Mountain overlook without our packs. We got about half-way up the trail and there was a really great little rock bench for me to sit on and I didn't really need to go any further, so I stayed and Jeremy went on the rest of the way. When he came back down we decided that it was our most significant "alone time" all summer (probably less than and hour) and it was kind of nice. That evening was about the same as the first, we rinsed off in the ridiculously cold lake for our shower (this time Jeremy dove all the way in because someone was watchingJ) and then made our dinner with the other campers. It was interesting to hear where other people were from and their stories about Glacier. That night it rained quite hard fairly soon after dinner and into the night so we were pretty much stuck in our tent. We read for a while then laid down to a restless night of hoping that our cheap little tent would hold out the water. It did alright. Everything was pretty well dry in the morning except our tent, but we had to just pack it up that way and planned to dry it out later.

Our hike back out of the valley was a bit shorter than our hike in because we had already cut off about a mile and a half the day before. Unfortunately, the rain made the entire eight and a half miles a muddy mess. The weather was nice and the scenery just as beautiful as before, it was just a bit harder trudging through the mud the whole way.

We were happy to arrive back at the van after the mile and half or so of slow climbing at the end of the trail. We decided to go back to the KOA to do some laundry and get our things cleaned up before leaving for our next adventure.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vancouver, eh?

After leaving Ken and Beth’s house in Seattle, we planned to meet another seminary friend and his wife and kids from Vancouver. So, we drove a few hours north to the Canadian border crossing. They asked us if we owned our vehicle and whether or not we had guns or drugs. Jeremy told them yes we owned our van and no we did not have guns or drugs. Apparently, we do not look too shady because they took his word for it and sent us on our way.

Jeremy’s friends Tim and Charlotte (and their two kids Myra and Isaiah) had given us directions to their new apartment in Vancouver. They hadn’t actually moved in yet, so they just met us there and we took off to see the city. We all got one day passes for public transportation downtown and took a train then a sea bus to see the sights of Vancouver. The city has a really nice transportations system, partly due to the Olympics being held there. After spending some time in a really nice little market place, we had dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory and checked out the plaza where the Olympic torch was lit.

By that time we decided we better move on so that Jeremy and I could find a place to camp before it got too late. We took the train back to where we parked, thanked Tim and Charlotte for taking time to show us around Vancouver and got back on the road. Eventually, we pulled into a really nice RV park just outside of Vancouver to rest for the night.



On Wednesday morning we got up, said our goodbyes to Amanda and Vincent, packed up the RV and headed towards the Oregon coast. After several hours of winding two lane road, we reached the town called Tillamook, OR. We thought we recognized the name. Sure enough, there was a huge dairy, Tillamook cheese, that we had been seeing their products in the grocery stores. So we stopped to see if they had any free samples. Of course they did! We did the tourist walk through, ate some cheese, and headed on up the road. We eventually picked a county park on the beach near Garibaldi and parked for the night.

On Thursday, we headed up highway 101 towards Washington. Laura got to check off another state! With nowhere to be before July 4th weekend, we decided to work our way up the coast as far as we could, and see Olympic National Park. By the end of the day, we had reached the South part of the beach section of Olympic NP, so we found a campsite, in the rain. I guess there is a reason they call it the rain forest. The whole day had been cloudy.

On Friday we got up and headed to Ruby beach. This was beautiful Pacific coast with black sand, sea-stacks, and a lot of tidal pools to see the sea-life. We spent the morning looking at sea anemones, starfish, clams, and crabs before we pointed the van towards the Hoh rainforest. Luckily, this day was not nearly as rainy as the last several days. We hiked through the rainforest looking for elk, but we didn't get to see any. The scenery was beautiful. Huge ferns and moss covered trees were everywhere. When we finished our walk, we got in the van just in time for it to start raining.

After a bit of driving we came to the town of Forks, WA. All of you Twilight fans will appreciate knowing that we saw all kinds of tour buses with "Dazzled by Twilight" painted on them, and the whole town had twilight crap everywhere. I think there was a big festival even that weekend. I hope those companies enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame because you know that no one will care five years from now.

Leaving Forks we headed to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and headed West towards Cape Flattery, the most NorthWest point of the continental United States. After a half-mile hike, we came to the overlook. We were on top of cliffs with the waves crashing below us, some sort of huge birds soaring above us (I would guess some sort of eagle, but they did not have a white head). We even saw some puffins swimming in the ocean. It was gorgeous.

When we had our fill of the scenery, we hiked back out and headed east. We found a little camping spot that looked right out over the strait towards Vancouver Island, which we could see off in the distance. We made a campfire, and I enjoyed my dinner of wheat-thins, Tillamook cheddar cheese, and a chunk of fresh smoked salmon. It was great.

On Saturday we packed up and headed towards Seattle to some of my friends from seminary, Ken and Beth Miller Kraybill. We arrived at their home on Saturday evening. After catching up a bit, we packed a picnic and headed out to see the town. After seeing the troll under the bridge in Fremont, Ken reminded us that that very evening there was a world-record breaking attempt for the worlds' largest zombie walk. So we followed all of the grey face paint and fake blood to the Red, White, and Dead Zombie walk headquarters. We picked a spot of the sidewalk and watched 4233 zombies stroll past us moaning, groaning, and limping. It was totally weird. When we had had enough of the fake dead we drove down to the locks to spend the evening. Olives, salami, sharp cheese, bread, cherry tomatoes, and fresh Rainier cherries hit the spot. We even got to see the fish ladder where all of the sockeyes and Chinook were making their way up river to spawn.

The next morning, we got up and dressed for church. Seattle Mennonite was a great congregation to visit, but was rather empty due to the holiday weekend. Since I accepted the position of Minister of Outreach at Silverwood, Ken was sure to introduce us to the outreach ministers at Seattle Mennonite. We got an impromptu nickel tour of their work with the homeless that surround the church building, and got a lot to think about for when I get started at Silverwood.

After church, we walked through Seattle's Market Center and then had a wonderful lunch on the bay. A Sunday afternoon nap hit the spot, and we enjoyed a relaxing evening. Around 9:30 we wanted to go see the fireworks. After trying for forever to find a parking spot, we knew we wouldn't make it to the park in time, so we joined a neighborhood block party to watch the show.

We had a great weekend. Thanks Ken and Beth for showing us around and for all the hospitality! We had so much fun!


Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wow…so journaling online is not always the easiest way to go when you are on the road, in and out of national parks for several days at a time, and staying with friends. I am WAY behind, so I will just catch up as I have time.

Oh Baby!

After leaving the Redwood National Park area of California, our next goal was to see our wonderful friends Amanda and Kyle and their sweet, sweet baby Vincent. They were actually on family vacation for the week so we took our time meandering toward Bend, Oregon. Along the way we stopped at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon just because it looked and sounded interesting. Although it was a really beautiful place, things were kind of closing up as we got there and their camp ground was already full, so we took a few pictures, checked out the gift shop and were on our way again.

We decided that rather than looking for another camp site along the way, we would just drive directly to Bend and crash at Kyle and Amanda’s house even though they would not arrive until the next day. They told us where the key was and told us to make ourselves at home in exchange for watering some plants and feeding the cat. We thought that was a pretty sweet deal, so we got to there place on Friday and just relaxed. We watched a little TV for the first time this summer and made friends with Leaky, the drooling cat. On Saturday we hung around Bend for the day and got groceries so that we could make dinner for Kyle and Amanda (Vincent is still a little young for steak) when they arrived home. It was so fun to see them and to meet their first baby. It was plain to see that Vin loved his auntie Laura very much!

After some much needed rest…we got up Sunday at a leisurely time and then spent the day meeting some of Amanda and Kyle’s Bend friends and went to church with them. Monday, Jeremy and Kyle and two other friends from church went out mountain biking near Mt. Bachelor. They spent the day riding up and down 20 miles of mountain trails while Amanda and I and Vin took a walk on the river and had smoothies for our lunch. It was so fun to catch up. Unfortunately, Kyle had to go back to work on Tuesday, so we were planning to leave Tues. morning. Since Kyle was going to be gone for two days for work, we decided to stay until Wed. morning instead so that Amanda and Vincent didn’t have to be home alone for two nights. Tuesday, Amanda showed us all around down-town Bend…a really fun little city and we ate lunch at this amazing little Indian restaurant. On Wednesday morning, we said our goodbyes to Amanda and Vincent and got back in the van.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Two Almost Perfect Days

After taking all of our food and scented items out of the bear-proof lockers at Yosemite, and all of our gear out of our packs, we reorganized the van (or probably I did, since I am the one who feels that everything needs a place in the van) and set out for San Fransisco. We had another beautiful day of driving and arrived in San Fran in the late afternoon. Luckily, we remembered our friends Brian and Lisa had been to the city, so we called Brian and he told us that Fisherman's Wharf is a fun place to visit on the bay. We spent a few hours looking around in shops, watching the street performers, and checking out the sea lions at pier 39, then eventually settled on sourdough bread bowls with clam chowder for dinner (Jeremy's idea believe it or not). It is surprisingly cold in San Fransisco so hot soup sounded perfect to me. The place we ate at…a bakery called Boudin…claims to be the original sourdough bread bowl maker. It was a cool place. They had tons of fresh bread and a really large bakery operation. It was all automated, but still interesting to watch.

After finishing our soup, we decided to keep moving, so we headed back to the van. Jeremy was on the phone, so I took the keys and we were on our way. Now most of the time, Jeremy does the driving in the van, and I definitely haven't driven it in a lot of tight spaces, so getting onto the Golden Gate bridge made us both a little nervous as there were several narrow lanes marked with some kind of plastic yellow tubes sticking out. I definitely smashed one of those tubes and realized I might need to hug the left side of the lane a little more. Unfortunately, it was so foggy that even when we were on the bridge we could barely see it.

After crossing the bridge the plan was to drive to highway 1 and up the coast until we found a campsite for the night. As we came to the fork in the road where highway 1 and the road we were on split off, Jeremy noticed that there was a sign saying the next fuel stop was 26 miles, so we checked out the gas gauge and everything seemed like it would be okay. The next section of road was fairly scenic, but I was a bit uptight about maneuvering the tight curves and Jeremy did not like how close his side of the van was to the guard rail. We did all right, but after about oh…26 miles or so…we started wondering if that sign we had seen was meant for us or the road that we exited.

Still thinking we would be okay, and really having no choice, we pressed on. When the gas gauge read below a quarter tank we started getting a little nervous. After consulting our map, we decided that there were a few small towns soon enough that should have fuel, but every time we would pass through a little town, there didn't seem to be any fuel in sight. We finally pulled into a little inn to ask where the nearest fuel was and they said it was two more miles up the road and closing in ten minutes. By this time I had been trying my best to conserve fuel by coasting as often as possible on the down-hill stretches and maintaining a fairly slow pace, but we decided it was time to hurry. We roared the two miles up the road and pulled into a gas station that had a closed sign in the window and all their pumps were shut off for the night. At this point we really weren't sure what to do, so Jeremy went to ask someone down the street where else we might be able to get fuel. This nice old hippy had a few gas cans sitting around, so he offered to give us some fuel. We pulled over there and…of course…he shook about five little red gas cans and all of them were pretty much completely empty. He told us all about how California has a law that you can't sleep in your car and the loophole to get around that law and told us we could park in his parking lot overnight. He told us the police (in the station right across the street) wouldn't bother us. I told Jeremy that I would rather go back to an RV park we had seen a few miles back and come for gas in the morning. So, we turned around and went back about 2 miles to the RV park thinking our problems were solved. When we pulled into the RV park nobody was in the office, but the self check-in board said that it was going to cost us 45 bucks just for a tent site and an actual RV site was close to 70. We (mainly Jeremy) decided that it was not worth that much and we should just try to make it the 16 or so miles to the next town large enough to have fuel. So we headed out on the road again only this time driving east away from the coast and drove toward San Rafael. Honestly, we don't know how far our van goes once it is on empty, but when we finally pulled into a gas station that was open, the needle was in the red and it was dark outside. Needless to say we were pretty relieved. We ended up going up the road a little further and staying the night at a state park that was still overpriced, but definitely not $70.

The next day our goal was to see the Napa Valley and possibly stop at a winery that someone recommended to us. So we headed north and began seeing signs for wine country. Our first two stops were very lucky. One of the first wineries we happened upon was a fairly large winery with a large sign that said complimentary olive oil and wine tasting. Now, most of the trip, we see places along the way that look nice to stop and Jeremy just drives right on by. He says "Oh we can come back" or "We'll see another place to stop up the road" and then of course I nag him that we missed the best place to stop, so this time we did. They had really lovely olive oils with bread samples for tasting and also a really nice gift shop and wine bar with free tasting…not too bad for our first stop in Napa. As we were leaving, just across the street there was a great little fruit stand with really cheap local fruit.

After eating mostly Pasta Roni and beans and rice, we were feeling like a little fresh fruit would do us good, so we got enough to last us a few days. Next, we decided to go into Napa to find the visitor center to find out more about the area. They had a really nice little welcome center and shopping area so we walked around in town a bit and headed back out to look for Goose Cross, a winery that a friend had recommended we stop to see. Goose Cross is located in Yountville just north of Napa. As we pulled into town and slowed our pace, Jeremy kept complaining about a rock in one of the tires clicking. After a stop or two, the rock was still with us and we started to think it might not be a rock after all. Jeremy checked over the tires and found a large screw in one of our back tires. So, we did some checking around and driving back and forth looking for a tire place and wound up back in Napa. The guy told us he thought that he could fix it and that it should only take about an hour. We decided to go get some coffee and use the internet a bit and wait to see how much it would cost to fix the tire. After probably an hour and a half, we started getting antsy, so we walked back to the tire place and the van was still sitting right where we left it. Jeremy went inside to see what was going on and the guy told us that he had already fixed it no problem. When Jeremy asked how much it was he told us just to come back to see them when we want new tires and didn't even charge us. Jeremy didn't remind him that it is a real long way to come buy our tires. By this time we started thinking that we really like the Napa Valley. Everything seemed to be free!

Luckily, the van was finished quickly enough that we could still make a stop at Goose Cross with plenty of daylight left to drive through the rest of the beautiful valley and back toward the coast again…as luck would have it…we were headed toward another state park that was overpriced and happened upon a beautiful little county park with rather large redwood trees that only cost us $15. We were both pretty excited that even though we had two days with minor hiccups, we came out pretty well unscathed!


Friday, June 25, 2010


We said goodbye to the giant Sequioas and zig-zagged through the fruit-fields of California to Yosemite National Park. What are the chances that you can get a camping spot without a reservation on Father's Day weekend in Yosemite? Actually, pretty good - if you are willing to make it a back country pass where you have to hike out of the valley and at least four miles away from the valley. So that's what we did. We pulled in at the South entrance to the park and went to the wilderness station. The ranger that helped us was some teeny-bopper high school kid. He signed us up to hike out on the Ililouette trail, spend two nights on the trail and return to the valley past glacier point. It looked like a nice hike. We would spend the night in the backpackers camp, then get up early the next day and hit the trail.

We rented our bear canister (where you keep all of your food, and anything with human smell on it, including your dirty toilet paper...crazy, I know) and headed towards the vallley. Good thing it was Father's Day weekend or else the traffic might have been bad. Oh wait...this was like standing in line at Cedar Point to get a parking spot, only you're in a line of cars instead of standing on the pavement. It took forever to find where we were going. There were people everywhere. Literally everywhere. It was nuts. Eventually we found our backpacker parking lot, and our backpacker camp. And just to make it easy (just kidding), they were not in the same spot.

Sunday morning arrived, and we loaded up our enormous tent and the rest of our gear and headed out of the valley. We hiked up, and up, and up, and up, and up, and up, and up some more. Slowly we left the crowds behind, but not before passing some amazing waterfall views. Around mid-afternoon we got out of the valley and headed out on our trail. We fully realized that we were alone in the wild. No one had checked our permit to know that we were heading in the right direction, and no one would check to see that we were back on time. If our parents hadn't heard from us in several days, or a week, they might think to call the park but by that time... anyway, we were out in the wild. Eventually we came to a river and our trail was supposed to cross the river. So we looked and saw the trail on the other side, but this was a wide river. In late summer or the fall it would have been a little creek, but with the spring snow melt, this was a big river. And it was at least waist deep, and moving pretty quick. We looked and looked and could not find a place shallow enough to cross. Then we met two guys coming down a different trail, we chatted, and they took off somewhere not following a trail. And they disappeared. I knew they had to have crossed the river, so we finally went the direction they did. And there it was. A huge log laid all the way across the river just for us to cross. Nevermind that it was probably 100 feet across, 6 or 7 feet above the river, and the best part---right over a waterfall. As one other hiker we met said: "If you fall off of that, it'd be a game ender." neither of us had trekking poles to help us balance ourselves, so we did the responsible thing and set up camp and decided to return the way we came from instead of continuing the loop. No sense in ruining the rest of the summer just to see glacier point.

We spent the night, packed up our things and put our packs back on our tired and bruised hip bones and headed back down to the valley on Monday morning. This time, the hike went fast. We made it the whole way back by early afternoon. We went back to the backpackers camp, set up camp, and still had time to go see the whole valley by bike. And by Monday, the weekend crowd had cleared out. Don't get me wrong, there were still a lot of people, but the masses had left.

Overall, I enjoyed Yosemite. It was a beautiful park with huge rock faces and high waterfalls. But the crowd and the traffic almost made it not worth it. I much more enjoyed Zion National Park in Utah. It was fun to get out into the backcountry, but I was ready to head to San Francisco and wine country.