Pacific Northwest Road Trip Report: National Parks, SeaWheeze, and SHE SAID YES!

It all started with a Tweet.

This past January, I unwittingly signed up for a challenge on Strava called the “lululemon 40/80 Challenge“. The challenge was to run either 40 or 80 kilometers (approx 25 or 50 miles) over the course of two weeks. Well, that shouldn’t be too hard! After all, it’s peak running season in Phoenix.

Later, I found out that completion of the challenge allowed me to visit the lululemon store at Scottsdale Fashion Square and pick up a free pair of shorts and a shirt. Cool! Having never even been inside a lululemon, I had no idea that this meant I’d get over $100 in free gear. Pretty awesome, and those running shorts are my favorite now.

To show my appreciation, I figured I’d at least give them a shout out on Twitter. Well, they weren’t done throwing free stuff my way!

After sending them a direct message, I found out that they wanted to provide Laura and me with free entry into their annual half marathon in Vancouver. Vancouver! I looked into it a bit further and found out that the entries sold out rather quickly – so this was an especially big deal. We had already started talking about doing a big road trip sometime this summer, so why not connect the dots and end it in Canada?

Over the course of the next months, we bounced ideas around and put together a plan that would take us from San Francisco to Portland to Seattle to Vancouver. We’d make stops at various National Parks: Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, Crater Lake, and Mount Rainier. In addition, I found a great camping spot near Mount Hood called Lost Lake. Tons of camping. Lots of trails to explore. Some cool new cities to experience. PERFECT. Let’s go!

Day 1 – Wednesday, August 2

Phoenix, AZ (PHX) ✈️ San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Lyft was our friend on this trip. It started early on Wednesday morning, as we took one to get to Sky Harbor. Beats airport parking, and just makes sense – especially since I live so close to PHX! Southwest Airlines did their part to get us up in the air on time, and we were touching down before we knew it.

SFO πŸš‡ San Remo Hotel

From there, we took BART from the airport to the Embarcadero. Even though we had some heavy luggage, we figured it’d be easy enough to make the trek along the touristy part of San Francisco to get to our hotel. Not going to lie, it was a bit of a struggle!

Quick Hits:
πŸ›οΈ – San Remo Hotel
🐟 – Pier 39 / Fog Harbor Fish House
πŸŒ‰ – Golden Gate Bridge / Lombard Street
🍝 – Tommaso’s North Beach
πŸ₯ƒ – Rickhouse

The place we stayed at, San Remo Hotel, was a bit like a nice-ish hostel. We had our own room, but it was tiny! Not complaining, as we thought it was rather cute, and frankly – it’s all we needed. Shared toilets and showers in the hallway – super easy / never had to wait. For the price and location, it was a killer deal. I’d recommend it, for sure.

Once we dropped our stuff off, we went exploring. Time to be tourists! I’ve been in San Francisco a few times, but this would be Laura’s first. We went right over to Pier 39 to see all the craziness and find a spot for some clam chowder bread bowls. Fog Harbor Fish House served up a fine sourdough bread bowl along with some Anchor Steam beer. We even had a fun conversation with our server about Arizona, as he recognized “Crown King” from my Aravaipa race shirt!

As an avid Pokemon GO player, I had to check out the stops and gyms at Pier 39, as well. It did not disappoint! I caught a ton of water types, which we just don’t get a lot of out in Arizona. And I think I did it all without having my phone out too much!

We then strolled around, saw the sea lions, and eventually made our way to find bicycle rentals. Laura HAD to ride bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge. I was hesitant, but the whole thing won me over pretty quickly. It was a ton of fun, and I wish we had more time to go further! But we had other plans that night, and there was a lot more to see. On a later trip, we’ll definitely make our way north to the Muir Woods and all the various running trails up in that area.

I hadn’t actually heard of Little Italy in San Francisco, which is apparently a crazy thing. We weren’t staying too far from there, so of course, we wandered that way to find a nice pasta dinner and split a bottle of wine. We ended up at a place called Tommaso’s. Lasagna and fettuccine + clams were had, and we left happy! We’d then do a bit of bar hopping, as we found some great cocktails around town. May as well, as our options for food and drink would be much more limited over the next week! Plenty of tuna salad and hot dogs…

San Francisco: come for the fog, stay for the cocktails.

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Day 2 – Thursday, August 3

Enterprise Rent-A-Car 🚘 Yosemite Valley (Upper Pines Campground)

The car rental place was a quick walk from where we were staying, so after an early breakfast – we made our way over to see what they might have for us. Luckily, we ended up with a Hyundai Elantra. I love Volkswagens and I love Hyundais – so this was a big win! Plenty of trunk space for all of our gear, comfy seats, and all the places to plug in our phones and other stuff.

🍳 – Hollywood Cafe
πŸ•οΈ – Upper Pines Campground
🌲 – Vernal Falls Trail

After a supply stop at Walmart (not my favorite place to shop but our best option for a cheap cooler and easy camping food), we eventually made our way into Yosemite National Park. If you’re going to make 2-3 or more visits to a national park in a 12 month period, it’s SO worth getting the annual pass. Single entries can cost anywhere from 20 to 40 dollars, depending on the park – so it makes sense pretty quickly!

Before long, we were following a creek along the road, and it was time for a break.

Once we got to Yosemite Valley, we were greeted by traffic. SO. MANY. CARS. I was expecting this, but it was still a bit jarring. We made our way through to the campsite, got set up, and decided to shake our legs out a bit on a hike up to see Vernal Falls. It was pretty steep. I remember coming down this trail about a decade ago when I went on one of my first backpacking trips. I didn’t remember how gorgeous the waterfall would be, though. It was a great decision and gave ourselves a chance to assess how ready we might be for a big run we had planned for Saturday from Tuolumne.

After that, it was time to relax and enjoy a beer or two before our first night of this trip in a tent…

When camping in Yosemite Valley… #itsmillertime

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Day 3 – Friday, August 4

Yosemite Valley 🚘 Tuolumne Meadows

We had reservations set for all of the campgrounds on this trip, with one notable exception: Tuolumne. They say they reserve half of the spots for first come first serve, so we figured if we got there an hour before the office opened we should be okay. Boy, were we wrong. We ended up being around #30 in line – most ahead of us had gotten there 3+ hours ahead of time because they knew it would be bad. They were smart. When the office opened at 9 am, they gave out something like 10 spots. They said they’d take down names on a wait list, and we could come back at 2 pm to see if anything opened up. Our odds weren’t great, but we figured we’d roll with it. What other choice did we have? If we didn’t get a spot here, we’d (probably end up breaking some rules) and sleep in our car one night to do our long run/hike, then leave a day early and maybe stay near Lake Tahoe. Or we’d have to leave entirely and cancel the long trek outright. Neither option was great, but we figured we’d make our decision upon getting the final notice that we wouldn’t get a spot.

In the meantime, we hiked up to Dog Lake, where I decided it’d be a good idea to jump in. No regrets!

🌲 – Dog Lake Trail

We got back to the office a little before 2 pm. I had the thought that if we (somehow) got a spot, we should open it up to share with others, as each spot allows two cars and up to six people. We sure didn’t need all that space for just the two of us and our small tent. Luckily, we happened to be standing next to another couple with the same mindset, who was awesome enough to bring us in on their camping space! We didn’t end up getting a ton of time to get to know them, but Audra and Jackson helped us out in a much bigger way than they even realized…


Day 4 – Saturday, August 5

If you know me, you know that Laura and I got engaged on this day. It was something I had planned to do but realized it may not come together (due to the camping situation, as well as getting my hands on a ring to do it with). The ring I ordered was a silicone ring – as I know we’ll both want at least one silicone ring, even if she does have a nice “real” ring with a diamond and all that stuff you’d expect. I didn’t have enough time to make the diamond ring happen before this trip, but I knew it wouldn’t be a big deal to her – I’d more than take care of that later!

So, the silicone ring was supposed to arrive the week before we left, but USPS lost the package. They’ve been notoriously bad in my neighborhood this year, and they struck again at the worst possible time. I had enough time to get a next day air UPS delivery scheduled, and it arrived the day before we left! Phew.

Well, then the whole thing with the campsite happened, but our two new friends made it happen for us. At this point in my head, champagne bottles are going off because THIS IS HAPPENING!

🌲 – Rafferty Creek + Vogelsang + Lyell Canyon

We got up at 5 am to hit the trails that morning. Laura wasn’t in the best of moods along the way in the first 1/3 of the trek. There was more uphill than she was expecting, and she was dealing with some hip pains. We turned the run into a hike, and it was at least manageable. Thankfully, the beauty of the Yosemite backcountry helped us in good spirits, as well!

We got up to Vogelsang, and I was surprised to see the campground up there shut down. I guess there was too much snowfall, and all the extra snowmelt must have made it more difficult to set up in a place like that. On the plus side, we had a gorgeous snowmelt waterfall and lake to enjoy. This is it. This would be the spot!

But then there were mosquitos. Dozens of them. Swarming around each of us. We were being eaten alive. Time to move! Okay, this wouldn’t be the spot…

A lovely snowmelt waterfall next to an icy cold lake near Vogelsang Pass. #trailrunning #yosemite

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The amazing views along Vogelsang Pass got us excited, and at this point, we even got a bit of running in! Also, running and faster movement kept the mosquitos from being able to land and bite us, so there was that too.

Channeling our inner antelope! #trailrunning #yosemite

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Eventually, we got away from the moisture of the lakes and snowmelt, and Laura found a spot to sit and rest. We were about to head back down the canyon to make our return trip. We had a great view of the surrounding peaks and the valley below. This would be the moment! I didn’t have a lot prepared to say, nor did I want to. It came from the heart, and it was an amazing moment we shared. Now, though, we still had another 10+ miles to get back to camp! I love her for being happy to do so, and there was some extra pep in our step the rest of the way.

Eventually, we came across a group of people jumping off a ledge into Tuolumne River. “We should do it” – said Laura. I didn’t hesitate to say “Okay!” …she almost backed out but decided to take the plunge along with me. It was pretty much perfect.

So…. by the way, @ewersmann SAID YES! And then we did this.

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We drank beer and ate tuna salad. A proper celebration would come later, but for now – that’s all we needed.


Day 5 – Sunday, August 6

Tuolumne Meadows Valley 🚘 Lassen Volcanic National Park (Manzanita Lake Campground)

The next morning, we got up early to make our drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park. We knew we had to cut around through Reno, Nevada, so we figured we’d make a stop to resupply while there. After a quick visit to Total Wine and Walmart (again), we were on our way to Lassen. We didn’t know what to expect there but had heard about a spot called Bumpass Hell with a ton of geothermal activity that looked amazing.

🌲 – Kings Creek Falls Trail
πŸš— – Auto Touring @ Lassen Volcanic

Upon getting to the visitor center, we learned that Bumpass was closed due to trail conditions related to late snow melt. Further, the road through the park had only even opened for the season the week before we got there! So there was even a bit of luck in that – else we wouldn’t have seen much of anything. We learned about auto touring through the park, allowing us to make various stops along the way to see everything. From spacious views to waterfalls, icy lakes to boiling mud… there was SO much to see.

I'm on top of the world, hey! #trailrunning

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Lassen Volcanic National Park wins the award for most underrated national park, in my book!

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WHAT IS THIS?!

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Lassen caught us by surprise and impressed the heck out of us. I would recommend a late August or September trip to at least drive through it. We’ll be back another day to explore more of the trails in the area. The campground was pretty nice, too – with showers and washer/dryers for us to clean up a bit!


Day 6 – Monday, August 7

Lassen Volcanic National Park 🚘 Crater Lake National Park (Mazama Village Campground)

I don’t think I’ve been too clear on the fact that we’d been setting an alarm and waking up in the dark every day of camping so far. At this point, we were looking forward to this being the final day we’d have to do that. We had tickets on a boat at Crater Lake set for late in the morning, so we had to hit the road early – but after today, we could start sleeping in a bit!

πŸ›₯️ – Volcano Boat Cruise
🌲 – Godfrey Glen Trail

Laura probably wouldn’t hesitate to tell you how I was freaking out a bit on this drive. I wanted to get there on time, with the ability to get in a bathroom break, make some lunch, etc. They said that once we drove all the way around the east rim of Crater Lake that there would be a steep hike down to the dock. I guess in my head, I imagined something along the lines of steep hikes that we’re used to here in Phoenix. Well, it turned out to be a nicely graded and heavily switchbacked trail, which we flew down in a matter of minutes. I may have skipped a few spots that Laura wanted to stop for a photo. We could stop on the way back, right? Right???

Well, it turns out that there was a forest fire in the area that was churning out a ton of smoke. By the time the afternoon rolled around, you couldn’t see across the lake anymore. Photo opportunities were gone. Whoops. Sorry, babe.

We still had some time in the afternoon, so we got a short hike in. After finishing the one-mile loop at Godfrey Glen, I decided to get a hot lap in. I can’t tell you how much I love running on the moist forest dirt that I’ve found the Pacific Northwest (and Colorado, too!) to be plentiful with. It’s an amazing change from the dust and hard rocks I’ve grown used to here in Phoenix.

After that, we had time to goof around a bit at camp, as we looked forward to sleeping in without setting an alarm! Let the weenie roast begin!

Laura's Weenie Roast 2017 has commenced! #camping

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The four stages of Josh hammocking in his natural habitat: 1. Hunger 2. Confusion 3. Acceptance 4. Relaxation

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Day 7 – Tuesday, August 8

Crater Lake National Park 🚘 Lost Lake Resort Campground

The next day, I had planned to stop in Bend, Oregon to visit the Deschutes Brewery. We ended up getting there plenty early, and would have had to kill a solid hour before they even opened, though. Instead, we pressed on and planned to stop up in wine and fruit country near the Columbia River Gorge.

🍷 – The Gorge White House / Mt. Hood Winery
🍻 – Full Sail Brewing Company / Double Mountain Brewery

We found a couple of lovely places to drink cider and wine and have a little picnic for ourselves. We had just missed cherry season, so there wasn’t a ton of fruit to pick – but we still enjoyed it all nonetheless. Before heading to Lost Lake, we figured we’d get an early dinner in town – hitting up a couple of breweries to make up for skipping Deschutes earlier! Wins for everyone on this afternoon!

Beer and cider and fresh picked fruit! #roadtrip

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When we pulled up to our camping spot, it looked like a tiny parking spot and a patch of dirt behind us. BUT THEN WE SAW THE STAIRS! Our camping spot was literally down a set of wooden stairs on the side of the hill, and it was absolutely amazing and perfect.

Lost Lake is pretty much the coolest campground ever. Check out Mt. Hood in the background!

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Day 8 – Wednesday, August 9

Lost Lake Resort 🚘 Mount Rainier National Park (Cougar Rock Campground)

We got up the next morning, got a solid 5K run in around the lake, and had an early breakfast out on a floating log before hitting the road again.

🌲 – Lakeside Trail
🍻 – Thunder Island Brewing
🍦 – Salt and Straw
🌲 – The Wonderland Trail

Next stop? Thunder Island Brewing for lunch, a spot we discovered last year on our Portland trip. I took advantage of wifi to upload various photos and Strava data at this point!

After a stop in Portland for some fantastic ice cream (I got a carrot cake batter cone – words cannot even express…), we made our way to Mount Rainier National Park. After setting up camp for the final time of this trip, we went for a run on a section of the Wonderland Trail – the trail that goes around the whole mountain. We’d seen so much of the Pacific Northwest, but this place still impressed and fascinated us.

At a certain point on this run, however, we started to be attacked by a pair of bees. I don’t know exactly what we did to offend them, but they wouldn’t leave us alone. Laura managed to lose them in a creek crossing, but I still had one on me and ended up running 1.5 miles back down the trail to a river crossing. It followed me all the way and kept bouncing off my head! Crazy, but I was glad to be done with that. Laura took her time a bit more on the way back, and we ultimately ended up having a nice night in the hammock before getting to sleep in the tent once more.


Day 9 – Thursday, August 10

Mount Rainier National Park 🚘 Seattle, WA (Hotel Hotel Hostel)

We wanted to explore some other trails in Mount Rainer NP, but we found that there was a nail in our front right tire, and there was a slow leak plaguing us. We got some air in the tire, and decided to forgo any further forest adventures until our next trip. Onward to Seattle!

Without getting bogged down in the details, we ended up swapping our Hyundai for a Ford F-150. Up to this point, Laura and I had been trading off driving duties a fair bit along the way. I tried driving the truck for a while, but once I got us to where we were going for lunch, I had enough. Laura was the all time driver for the rest of the trip. I felt kinda bad about that, but it was really the best option. I’ve only driven smaller cars and SUVs in my time. She’s had plenty of experience with trucks. We’d make it work.

πŸ• – Stellar Pizza
πŸ›οΈ – Hotel Hotel Hostel
πŸ‹ – Milstead and Co.
🐟 – Pike Place Market
πŸ₯ƒ – Radiator Whiskey
🍱 – Din Tai Fung
🍻 – Elysian Bar
β˜• – Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room
πŸ₯ƒ – The Needle and Thread
πŸ¦„ – Unicorn

That said, pizza was at a place called Stellar. Really good pizza. Even better chicken wings. Solid beer options, too! Seattle was off to a good start.

We got to the hostel and checked in. We had reserved a private room, and it was nicer even than where we stayed in SF! It was hot though, so after a short nap, we decided we needed to get out and about. We found a nice spot for some lemonade and coffee, explored the area we were staying (which turned out to be a tech hub – Google and other companies had offices there), and then called a Lyft to take us over towards Pike Place.

We had plans to go to dinner at Din Tai Fung and then bar hop. Everything was great. After our dinner of steamed dumplings, we made our way to Elysian Brewing for some good local beers. We then looked up a speakeasy Laura had previously found online and decided to walk in that direction. As we drew close, we found a ridiculously gigantic Starbucks, checked out their roasting operations, and had a quick cold brew before moving on.

Being tourists! And then introduced Laura to pork xiao long bao! #seattle

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The speakeasy, called Needle and Thread, was accessible from a bar called Tavern Law. There’s a phone on one wall that rings directly to the bar upstairs. They had space, and up we went. They don’t have a menu at this bar. They just ask you to describe some tastes you like and what you don’t like, and they’ll make something for you. I don’t recall what Laura had, but they made me a killer Negroni. NAILED IT.

After that, we ended up in a few other places, but one spot of note was called Unicorn. Cheap beers and tons of pinball machines downstairs, including a WWE machine!

Okay, this game is legit. #pinball #wrestlemania #wwe

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Day 10 – Friday, August 11

Seattle, WA 🚘 Vancouver, BC, Canada (Airbnb)

Time to hit the road for Canada and both of our first visit to Vancouver. The border was fairly easy. Not much of a wait to get across. Spoke with the border guard for a few minutes, and then he let us on our way!

We wandered a bit around the Gastown area of Vancouver, grabbed a quick lunch, and then headed over to the Vancouver Convention Centre for SeaWheeze packet pick up. Oh yeah, remember, this all started with a half marathon in mind? Ha.

It was a cool area. They had the Olympic cauldron from the 2010 Olympics on display, as well as some other really cool art. lululemon had big yoga classes going on, and people were everywhere excited for the next morning to arrive. We were excited, too. We made our way to our Airbnb apartment, ate a ton of noodles, and called it an early night.

πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ – Vancouver Convention Centre
🍜 – Great Wall Mongolian BBQ


Day 11 – Saturday, August 12

After a few days of respite from the alarm, we woke up early on Saturday to allow ourselves enough time to drop of gear bags for after the race, and then make our way down to the starting line.

Both of us at some point had talked about going for a personal record at this race. But I hadn’t specifically trained to do so. And Laura’s hip was bugging her intermittently. Still, we thought it might happen. We figured we’d just take what the race gave us, and see how it goes.

πŸƒβ€β™‚οΈπŸƒβ€β™€οΈ – Seawheeze Half Marathon

After a beautiful rendition of “O Canada”, we were off! We ran the first couple of miles together, which was a ton of fun. But at a certain point, I said bye to her and I was on my way through the crowd en route to a new PR! There was a turnaround, and we were able to high five each other in passing, which was nice. We wouldn’t see each other again until she finished with her own PR, too!

The race itself was beautiful, with about half of it passing through the downtown area, and the other half along the Vancouver sea wall and through Stanley Park. Along the way, lululemon set up a lot of ridiculousness:

  • a spinning class on the bridge to cheer us on
  • cross dressers
  • mermaids
  • a boxing class (and people sparring as we passed!)
  • police issuing speeding tickets and firefighters hosing us down
  • fish DJs
  • …and more!

It was an amazing feeling as we each crossed the finish line in the time that we did. After the race, we stumbled around for a while, before finding a spot to eat and celebrate over beer.

We both PR'd! Amazingly fun and beautiful race. Thanks for everything @lululemonmen!

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We’d eventually make our way back to the Airbnb for a nap and shower before the post-race party, also at Stanley Park. lululemon spared no expenses, as we got to rock out with The Cold War Kids and Young the Giant while drinking our “Obligatory Victory Beers”!

Post race beers brewed just for the race! Tastes like… victory… #seawheeze

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Day 12 – Sunday, August 13

After busting our butts and spending more time on our feet the night before, we were a bit sore on Sunday! What better way to deal with that, though, than visiting a beautiful park built around an amazing pedestrian suspension bridge? Capilano Park was a pretty cool way to spend our morning.

🏞️ – Capilano Park / Capilano Suspension Bridge
πŸ’ – Granville Island

Sightseeing in North Vancouver eh! πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦

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After that, we made our way to Granville Island, where they have a large indoor farmer’s market, various shops, and places to eat. We kept looking for Ryan Reynolds. No such luck.

Seen in Vancouver. #chimichangas #deadpool

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Day 13 – Monday, August 14

Vancouver, BC, Canada 🚘 Seattle WA

We woke up on our final morning with two things in mind: Korean food and ice cream in Seattle before making our way to the airport. Before we could get there, we had to get back across the border. While crossing into Canada was rather quick, getting back into the states took well over an hour once we got near. The actual questioning was similar in length and detail to the Canada side, but there just seemed to be a lot more cars crossing back over on a Monday.

🍲 – BlueStone
🍦 – Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream

We pretty much had enough time to get some delicious bulgogi and kalbi ribs, followed by yet more awesome ice cream. Final stop was at Goodwill to drop off the cooler we picked up in California and some other camping gear we didn’t need anymore.

Seattle, WA (SEA) ✈️ Phoenix, AZ (PHX)

Deep breaths as we dropped off the car and checked in at SeaTac. We had done and seen so much. It was a bit sad to see it come to an end, but coming out of this trip as a happily engaged couple only meant that this was but one of many big adventures we’d go on with each other in our lifetimes. Until the next one, then!


tl;dr

  • San Francisco is a haven for PokΓ©mon GO. Riding bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge is pretty awesome.
  • I love Yosemite, but it’s becoming (has been for a while, probably) overcrowded. If you can’t reserve a campsite or back country pass ahead of time, you’ll need some major luck on your side.
  • We got engaged!
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park is a place you may not have heard of, but it’s SO worth the drive.
  • Crater Lake is really freaking cool.
  • Lost Lake Resort is a great (hidden?) gem near Portland with amazing campsites and a beautiful lake.
  • Mount Rainier’s trees are amazing and the thick growth forests are something we’ll need to spend more time in.
  • Seattle has some solid Asian food and some solid cocktail bars.
  • We both set new personal records in the half marathon distance!
  • We didn’t see Ryan Reynolds in Vancouver. Therefore, we must go back.

Yosemite: Running with Lightning and Deer

yosemite

Wow. I haven’t written a blog entry in a while. I guess life has got me busy. It’s important to take a few moments to reflect from time to time, so I’m going to try and make a conscious effort to do so, at least around various milestones: trips, races, other fun life activities..

..I thought I was running alone, but the deer were actually running with me now, urging me to go faster!

We planned this trip in the beginning of the year. You have to, if you want to reserve permits. You could always just show up and see what’s available, but it’s hard to do that when you’re driving from nearly half a day away. I’d meet up with my friends, Beck and his wife Christine, on the way to Yosemite’s east entrance, and we’d caravan the rest of the way to the camp site. We figured this was a good idea, as cell phone coverage tends to get spotty around the small towns that dot the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, and it might be tricky to find each other once in the park itself.

On my way to meet up with them, I decided to listen to an audio book called Shattered Air, which was about the lightning strike incident that took place in 1985 on top of Half Dome. People did stupid things, and not everybody made it out alive. I figured it would serve as a good warning about the fickle nature of lightning. As I drove, I passed through an intense electrical storm that had me seated forward in my car like an old lady who can barely see over the steering wheel. Lightning struck all around the roadway as cars passed through unscathed. I’ve never driven through something quite so powerful. Little did I know that wouldn’t be my last experience with lightning that weekend..

May Lake. I like lakes. And clouds. #latergram #yosemite #tuolumne

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Our original plan was to obtain back country permits, so that we could camp out in the wilderness and explore parts of Yosemite that most people don’t get to see. Those passes get snatched up really fast, though. Heck, we barely were able to get car camping permits. Yosemite is a really popular place, and for good reason. There isn’t a bit about it that isn’t absolutely gorgeous. We took it easy after getting our tents set up.. We had hot dogs and beers and s’mores… Pretty typical camp stuff. We figured we’d sleep until we couldn’t sleep anymore, then hike to May Lake and the top of Mount Hoffman. This would allow my cardiovascular system to acclimate a bit to the elevation, as I had planned to do a long trail run the next day.

Mr. Pineapple at Mt Hoffman Pass. Half Dome in the background. #latergram #yosemite #tuolumne

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The three of us took a shuttle to the trailhead and after being dropped off, made our way up to May Lake. They have tent cabins set up there, which are available for reservations. Upon seeing the chairs lined up next to the lake, we decided we’d definitely come back another day to stay there and enjoy some beers while staring out across the water and up at the mountains. Today, though, we had a mountain to hike!

The ascent up Mount Hoffman was tough. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest as my lungs struggled to process the thin air as we kept moving higher in elevation. We eventually made it to the top, though. All along the way, we kept an eye on looming storm clouds. They looked like they were moving away from the peak, so we figured if any others developed we should have enough time to get to safety. And so, we stayed at the top of the rocky mountain for a while. Beck found a marmot who couldn’t care less that we were there, and he got some great photos of the little guy. I guess I shouldn’t say ‘little’, as he was quite fat, having claimed the area that seemed to be popular for hikers to rest and eat and drop bits of food..

We also saw a falcon of some sort attacking a group of ravens. As far as we could determine, the falcon may have been trying to drive the ravens away from a nest or a food source. It was amazing to watch these birds fight in mid-air. The falcon’s speed and ability to dive suddenly gave it the edge, and it managed to keep the 20 pound black feathered birds at bay. Seriously, watching this was perhaps the coolest thing ever.

As we headed back down the mountain, we heard thunder for the first time. Better pick up the pace! We did, but it wasn’t enough. Before long, it started to downpour. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the thunder didn’t let up, and before you know it, we began to see flashes of lightning. As we crossed a large granite rock, the brightest flash of lightning occurred – and just about simultaneously, we could hear the crack of electricity in the air and the clap of thunder. THAT. WAS. CLOSE. I had been thinking about this moment ever since hearing about what the survivors in Shattered Air did. I jumped into the closest patch of dirt I could find and crouched down for a moment. Who was I kidding, though? If that previous lightning bolt wanted to hit me, it would have. Regardless, we all ran for it at that point. Down the hill, the lightning and thunder eased up, and by the time we got to the shuttle stop, it seemed pretty safe. You know, beside the possibility of hypothermia from standing out in the cold rain.. After waiting nearly an hour for the shuttle to show up (we never did get an answer as to why they were so late), we got back to camp, changed into dry clothes (the most glorious moment that day, besides watching the birds, perhaps), and sat in their car with the heat on for a while! Eventually, we could all feel our hands again and we were ready for a beer to close out the day. Plus, I had to start getting my gear ready for the next morning’s 20+ mile trail run, assuming weather would cooperate.

Sunrise #TrailRunning! #Tuolumne to #Vogelsang to #LyellCanyon.. #latergram #yosemite

A photo posted by Joshua Schlag (@schlizzag) on


My alarm went off at 4:30am. Even though I had all of my clothes ready, snacks set aside, and everything.. I still didn’t start my run until nearly 5:30. Sometimes it’s just hard to get moving in the morning, you know? The timing was actually quite perfect, though, as by that time there was just enough light in the sky that I could leave my headlamp behind. One less thing to concern myself with! Just me and the trail this morning: from Tuolunme Meadows along Rafferty Creek to Vogelsang, down into Lyell Canyon, and back to where I started as a big loop. Time to find my happy place.

Love the trail. #TrailRunning #latergram #yosemite #tuolumne

A photo posted by Joshua Schlag (@schlizzag) on


The first half of the trail was mostly uphill. It was mostly a gradual incline, though, so it was pretty easy going, save for just a few steep portions. Along one of the flat parts, with Rafferty Creek to my left, and a canyon wall covered in trees beyond that, I heard a strange noise.. I thought it was some sort of strange bird up in those trees, until I saw them – two deer running back and forth on the hill. I paused for a moment, as they both looked at me. One made that noise again, and it ran ahead. The other followed. As did I, about a 150 yards away on the trail. They stopped after a bit, and called out to me again. Once I caught up, they moved up the hill again and called to me once more. This was seriously happening. One minute, I thought I was running alone, but the deer were actually running with me now, urging me to go faster! I almost couldn’t take it. I laughed. It was amazing. I wondered if I could get a picture of the deer, but it turned out that the lighting was pretty bad, and they were just far enough away that they’d just look like brown dots among the trees. I figured I’d use this opportunity to put some sunblock on and eat a quick snack. In the time it took me to do so, the deer had given up on me and moved on. It was fun while it lasted.

#Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. AKA bathroom break! #latergram #yosemite

A photo posted by Joshua Schlag (@schlizzag) on


Eventually, I made my way up to Vogelsang, another of the High Sierra Camps. Here, the tent cabin guests were just waking up as I met a few of them en route to use their facilities. They seemed to be confused about my presence there so early in the morning. After all, they were the first people I had seen along the trail all day.

Let's do some stairs! #trailrunning #latergram #yosemite #vogelsang

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After Vogelsang, I came down over the pass to Evelyn Lake. At this point, the Jurassic Park theme wouldn’t stop playing in my head, and I imagined Photoshopping dinosaurs into the pictures I’d take with my phone. I ultimately didn’t do any such thing, but feel free to make edits to my pictures yourself! Just tag me in them..

Great #trailrunning path or greatest trail running path? #latergram #yosemite #lyellcanyon

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A little over six hours from the time I started, I got back down to the start. A couple was standing there, waiting for some friends to meet them. They told me they had also come from Vogelsang that morning, but that they had stayed there for two nights before getting up early to make the trip back to Tuolumne. They seemed impressed about the run I made that morning. I felt pretty good about it. And really, I did. I wasn’t sure if my heart would be beating out of my chest or I’d be dying to sit for the rest of the day – but I really felt good! If I had to, I maybe couldn’t gone another 10 miles at a similar pace. Maybe not.

The end of a long but SO rewarding morning! #trailrunning #latergram #yosemite #tuolumne

A photo posted by Joshua Schlag (@schlizzag) on


After the long run, I relaxed with a saison from Mammoth Brewing Company, a bag of ice on my knees (preventative measures), and a bag of baked Cheetos. It was just another one of those moments where I couldn’t be much happier. Beck and Christine eventually came back from exploring the nearby meadows, and I grilled up some burgers as we enjoyed a few more beers before the afternoon storms rolled in.

In just a couple of days, we soaked in quite a lot of what Yosemite had to offer. My phone was in airplane mode the entire time – though we could send the occasional text and make phone calls, there wasn’t any data reception. But really, I didn’t want any. I love my job, and I love keeping up with my friends via social media, but I love taking a break from it all every so often. I’ve been to amazing places all around the world, and I’ve yet to be more impressed with a place than I am of Yosemite. I think we’ll have to make our visits there more frequent. That John Muir guy was onto something…