Sunday, October 4, 2015

Coffeeneuring Challenge, Day 1

a beautiful day at the cafe
Years ago, on a bike tour in France's Provence region, I had the opportunity to ride up to the summit of Mt Ventoux; I didn't take it. Between my tight gearing that meant grinding gears (and my knees) and the thought of the screaming descent with only an inch of rubber and petite brakes to stop me, I made the decision that it wasn't worth the risk. Today, I got a second chance.
my US bike in the company of an Italian

Today is the first day of the Coffeeneuring Challenge, 2015 and I started with a 25-mile loop up to Shoreline titled, Decent Descents of North Seattle. On the return leg of the loop, I extended the route to include a climb up 55th Street to 35th Avenue for a stop at Ventoux Roasters. No need to hop a plane for this climb; the mountain has come to Seattle in the form of a sweet neighborhood coffee shop. I was out on a bike ride for some good coffee, plus a little treat for having made such a vigorous climb.

Oddly, there was no bike parking outside so I took my steed inside and leaned her against the wall, below some classic frames and jerseys. Since I had just made the climb up Ventoux, I was still perspiring and high on endorphins, in stark contrast to the barista and patrons who were mellowed out with coffee (yes, that happens when you drink it regularly) in the quiet, open environment of the little cafe.

Soon, with a Mighty-O Donut and a soy latte in hand, I was able to join those ranks. Appropriately, the espresso art was a heart (Hart Roasters) and was very smooth. The decor was bike-centered, but not entirely so in that a non rider would enjoy the space just as well.

attention to detail: chainrings and coffee bags

Saturday, August 15, 2015

July Flower Extravaganza, Mt Rainier Nat'l Park

Flowers at Paradise, or should I say IN Paradise! I took a day off from work to explore the panoramas at Rainier that were bursting with color, starting at the Reflection Lake trail and connecting to the Skyline Trail.

This is an area I snowshoe, especially on New Year's Day. At that time of year, it is covered with white and lacks contrast. But on this trip, it is an area where the dry of the moraines collide with the wet of the creek and the flowers.

The above was taken while crossing the shallow creek, just above Sluiskin Falls. I found a nice rock from which to perch and I filtered water, soaked my feet and took photos. It is so lush with moss and flowers, with a great view of the Mountain, I didn't want to leave.

There was lingering snow on the trail to Panorama Point, so I opted for the higher trail. I never expected to find tiny, colorful flowers growing so high (7,000') in a rocky field. This is where I talked to the first of two volunteer rangers and I made a note to self: volunteer at the Park after nursing.

While the Tatoosh Range was hazy, the foreground flowers made up for it. Color, color everywhere!

I call this the "Mountain at Work" photo because this is really the heart of Mt Rainier. The glacier advances and builds up moraines, moving rocks and boulders as it goes.

This is Myrtle Creek Falls and I was the billionth and one person to photograph it. I have a refrigerator magnet with this image painted, only with mountain goats added to the cliff on the left and in the meadow. I was just lucky that the other billion people were not standing on the bridge above the falls at the time.

Mountain Lupine is everywhere on the mountain, but these are my favorite colors. I also love the leaf pattern. This was one of the last photos I took and had to return to the trailhead to leave this beautiful area and get back to my real life.

What a fantastic day!

Chain & Doelle Lakes Backpack, July 24 – 26

PCT trailhead at Stevens Pass

The very next weekend after suffering in summer's intense sun, I was back on the trail with a full pack on my back, heading south on the PCT from Stevens Pass. The weekend's forecast had made a drastic change: cool with temps in the 50s and rain. Rain?! I had mixed feelings; I was grateful for the cool temps to hike in, but I didn't want to get cold, especially when swimming in the alpine lakes we were headed to.
the last of the sunshine for the weekend

Angling up on the PCT that traverses the Stevens Pass Ski Area, we said goodbye to the last traces of sunshine and headed into cloud cover. At Lake Susan Jane, a lake I hadn't noticed on previous trips, I decided to go for a swim as we stopped for a lunch break. The water was relatively warm and I didn't feel cool as I exited and dried off with my minimalist towel. My fellow backpackers thought I was nuts, but that is the life of an Alpine Lakes Wilderness swimmer.

We passed Lake Josephine (swam in it in the past) and took the Icicle Creek Trail. So now I know that the headwaters of Icicle Creek are Josephine Lake – I love making this kind of connection in the geography. After some climbing and descending, we came to a small camp area beside the trail, the only one we had seen, and wondered how the seven of us, in our seven tents, were going to squeeze in. I offered to share my tent with a friend on the trip, but true to Mountaineers form, she chose to go single and we all managed to find suitable, if not creative, spaces for tents (including one hammock which definitely had the advantage in this scenario).
stopped for a swim

During the night it rained and not a "light shower" that had been predicted, but long and hard and soaking. I stayed dry but was a bit leery about the day's trip up to Chain & Doelle Lakes. We started up the trail and it was a bit grueling: switchbacks followed by straight up sections, a couple of level spots and repeat. It reminded me of the trail to Spade Lake which climbs up from Lake Waptus. Even knowing I would never hike that trail again, I couldn't bring myself to get into the water. My quest to swim in every lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness that a trail goes to was going to have at least one blank spot.
Lower Chain Lake after cloud lifted

We made it to the lower of the Chain Lakes and I wasted no time to get into the water as my fellow hikers practiced patience, standing by in their rain jackets and gloves, keeping warm. When I emerged from the water, I got the post-swim rush that I used to get when swimming in Lake Washington in October; it must have something to do with the cold. My head was pleasantly dizzy and light and I had a feeling of euphoria. Or maybe that is my body's way of blocking out the pain. I was standing on a wet surface and realized I wouldn't be able to get my feet clean or dry before putting my boots back on. After everyone got their photos of the lake and fog and the maiden who dared swim in it, we headed for the upper lakes and to the trail to Doelle.
Icicle Creek Trail

I had most of my layers on at this point, including my hat and gloves and so when I felt the wind blowing through me and thought about the danger of hypothermia, especially after submerging into a lake at 6500', I bowed out of the final climb. Instead, I stayed at the lake and ate my lunch (which was woefully small), changed to dry socks (though my boots were already soaked) and hiked all the side trails I could find to stay warm. One member of the group, another swimmer, came back early to tell me that all I missed was more wind and cold and a peek-a-boo view of a lake a couple of hundred feet below. We started descending toward camp together until the clouds lifted a bit and he went in for a swim. That evening found a couple of us doing hill repeats on a beautiful, moss-covered section of the Icicle Creek Trail in order to warm up before getting into our sleeping bags. What a contrast from last weekend!
on the Crest Trail ski run

The next day on the hike out, we were doing the rain jacket on/rain jacket off song-and-dance as we ascended, then descended a couple of times to the trailhead. The drive home was through a deluge and we all felt better knowing we had not missed much in the way of sunshine. And one of us had crossed off another lake or two on our list.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Not Very Wild, July 18 & 19

north on the Katwalk
 Ever since the book, and subsequent movie, Wild came out, a lot of attention has been paid to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that runs from Mexico to Canada. Attention from trail runners, dayhikers and long distance backpackers, aka thru-hikers, who want to hike part or all of the trail made famous by the book about a woman getting her life back together.

From this past weekend's backpack trip to Ridge and Gravel Lakes about 7 miles north of Snoqualmie Pass on the PCT, it appears that the trail may knock Snow Lake's trail off of its number one perch as most-hiked trail in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (hmm, that word looks like "Wild Mess"). Our group of nine hikers arrived at the trailhead parking lot at 8:15AM to find a packed lot of cars with all manner of hikers preparing for the trail. As we made our way up the trail, there were people already coming down from the area known as the Katwalk, a section blasted out of the cliffs to provide a trail on a ledge.
Ridge Lake, home for the night

It was a hot day and we would have liked to linger in the shade a little more, but the leader pushed us to get to the lakes so that there would still be a place for us to camp. Since it was an overnight trip and we were all near-strangers to one another, everyone preferred to be in their own tent, making camp availability a little trickier (we needed to find 9 spots). We pushed on through the lunch hour and arrived at Ridge and Gravel Lakes and found a meadow area at Ridge to spread out and camp. My first desire was to get under water, but the lake was so full of kids, people and a few dogs that it resembled a city park. Instead, I filtered water, set up camp and set out with the group a little later to hike further along the trail.
Alaska Lake below – no need to dive, swam it already

Chikamin Peak and Joe Lake
Gold Creek Valley, the spot for solitude

The views from this area of the trail just got better and better, from Mt Rainier and Mt Adams, to Alaska Lake below and the Gold Creek Valley stretching out before us, reaching to Kachess Lake. Alternatively, Gold Creek is a nearly desolate stretch of trail, where bears and other wildlife are almost guaranteed to be sighted. I made the hike via Gold Creek to Alaska Lake last summer and we saw only one other party. At our turn-around point on the PCT, about 2 miles further from camp, we rounded Alaska Mountain and could see Joe Lake down below and peaks to the east. In the heat, it was tempting to think about going down to Joe, but the thought of the rough trail and climb out kept me sitting on my hot, smooth rock in the shade. 

When we arrived back at our camp, the lake was quiet and I went for an early evening swim before dinner. Perfect! It was a relatively warm evening and we had a meadow to ourselves which led to some stretching and yoga. Soon, pigeons (a great glute stretch), dogs (hamstring, calves, shoulders) and even a few crows (ab strengthener, balancing and just plain fun) started to show up. The soft ground was very forgiving, a welcome contrast to the typical hard, dusty ground found in most camp areas. In retrospect, we probably should not have been camping in a meadow area, as it is more fragile.
south on the Katwalk

After a relatively quiet night (we heard nearby thru-hikers packing up at dawn), we woke and had breakfast. I started to pack up for our beat-the-heat early departure of 9am, then took a break to get into the lake one more time. The water was still, the area was quiet and the experience was perfect, sublime even. Pushing the water with my hands and feet, it was like being the very first animal to ever ply the water. The sun was up, but not yet searing and the morning was mine to savor.  This was my Wild. Soon enough, we would be on the trail, seeing many hikers coming up the trail, trading places with them from the day before.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Catching up on Adventures

The Flock at a Gorge overlook
It's been quite a while since I've written about my adventures. It's not that I haven't had adventures, in fact really excellent adventures, but I have been a writing slacker ever since graduating nursing school (which was a whole different kind of adventure).

One of the best bike trips from recent memory (even though it's the only bike trip from recent memory) was with my good ol' buddies in the Goosebumps group, with whom I had been a regular rider for a number of years. I was already planning a trip to the Columbia River Gorge area when Dottie, one half of a tandem with Orin, told me about a weekend of cycling in the Hood River area. After making arrangements with work (read: after working a double shift to make up the time), the wheels were in motion for an excellent extended weekend.

KickStand Kitchen & Coffee, with bike shop next door
We stayed at the Vagabond Inn which overlooks the Columbia River. Well, if you pony up the money for a fancy room. I opted for a "courtyard" room which was spacious and had space for doing yoga post-ride... priorities. There were two restaurants next door, one a greasy spoon, the other fine dining and town was a quick ride or drive away. The first morning, I rode my bike downtown to KickStand Coffee & Kitchen which is owned by a guy who is obviously a bike racer, judging from the long, lanky looks of him. He is also an excellent business owner and chef, as my tastebuds and tummy can attest. Over the course of the weekend, I would go there a couple more times, each time introducing more people from the group to their food, coffee and ambience.

shady and cool in the forest
But first, the rides. I got a ride in Phu's car, along with Bill, to the start of the first day's route, from an area just west of Hood River. It was a mixture of quiet roads and even quieter trails; there was some serious Oregon-envy from early on when we weren't honked at and didn't even ride over any potholes. The only thing I found lacking in the route was toilets – it was warm, I was hydrated and there was nowhere to go. And then there was the stairs. They were kind of steep and led from the trail above the freeway up to the trail in the woods. We managed, but clearly, this was not the perfect solution. However, soon we arrived at Multnomah Falls where it was time for photos, eating a giant cookie and lounging around doing some people-watching. On the return trip, we waited 45 minutes in a line for ice cream at Cascade Locks, a town most famous for the Bridge of the Gods which the Pacific Crest Trail passes over (brings back memories from years ago, in fact).
Stairs. On the bike trail. Yep.

long wait for cold cream

The next day, Sunday, which was also Mothers' Day we started out by four of us going to KickStand for breakfast. My table-mates were relieved to not have to repeat the experience at the greasy spoon. Then, we got on our bikes and headed east this time, through town and up some crazy-looking switchbacks to another section of the scenic trail. Again, no bumps, potholes or cars and the improvement for today was the availability of toilets. Yay! After the trail, which had many scenic pullouts and meadows full of wildflowers, we climbed in the hills toward Rowena. There were some cars, but they were well-behaved. The scenery was full of old oak trees, grassy hills and views of Mt Hood, directly to the south. When we reached the Rowena Crest, there was a decision to be made: to go down the Rowena Curves to the Dalles and have to climb back up, or turn around at the Crest. Phu and I had just been talking about the ideal climbing grade, which we agreed was from 4 – 6% and there on the history placard was information that the curves were from 4 – 6% grade. Dave joined us and away the three of us went, with Bill as our photographer from above. It was not important to reveal who was the first to reach the crest on the climb back up as it was to recognize that this ride was going to be one of the best, if not the best, rides of the season.


Of course, on our way back through town, we stopped at KickStand once more and enjoyed their espresso and a fantastic strawberry shortcake that the owner whipped up.
jersey pockets are the right size for coffee and a map

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Snow(dirt)shoe at Snoqualmie Pass

my arty shot for the day

When I signed up for the Mountaineers photography snowshoe trip at Snoqualmie Pass, it was with the understanding that the snow pack might be low. The ski area at the Pass was currently closed, if that was any indication. But the conditions the group found were a profound departure for normal snowpack or even what "low snowpack" implies.

We started from the Alpental ski area and set off across the ski area bridge over the creek, or more correctly identified as the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River. Though it has meager beginnings at Source Lake which is more like a pond, it becomes mighty lower down, eventually joining the Snoqualmie River downstream. Since this was a photo trip, our progress was not swift, especially at the start, where opportunities for capturing images of flowing water and snow were great. Further up the trail, we came to our first of many creek crossings and it appeared that these were new creeks, formed in the past week, by a storm that came through. A bunch of snow was dumped first, then the temperature warmed up and rain fell, totaling 8 inches (it is assumed the 8 inches include snow that melted). In any case, a lot of water was dumped on the area.
mass destruction where water convened

Making our way up the valley, it became clear as to what had happened: snow had melted and washed down the sides of the mountains and cliff faces, coursing beneath the snow, displacing snow and often the soil beneath. In one area, soil had been excavated from beside trees as the water had swirled in powerful form. It was fascinating to see the resulting destruction, but the travel was difficult, as we had to cross over creeks constantly, often using branches of a bush or rocks to cross on. In one area, the leader created a crossing by throwing in large rocks to decrease the depth of water. One participant was on backcountry skis and, although I identified with him in terms of standing out in the crowd, I also cringed at the thought of taking skis off to descend and ascend the bank on either side.

The photo opportunities were many – frost on trees and hoarfrost at the surface, creating images full of texture. While down on knees photographing the hoarfrost, I became engrossed in the miniature world, much like the sensation when snorkeling among colorful fish and other sea life; it took a minute to adjust to the world-at-large when I stood up. When we tired of the constant crossings, we made our way to the other side of the valley and up to the well-trodden Snow Lake Trail. Although the photo opportunities were fewer, it was a much needed break on the trip; the outing had been rated as Easy and so far there was very little about the trip that fit that description. Being on the trail was like a vacation, until that also came to an end.
doing his own thing... on skis

The leader decided to get off the trail and head down through the woods, a great idea, until we realized that meant we would have to cross the river as it was gaining steam. A couple of us "made like girls and did the sensible thing", backtracking up to the trail, finding more of photographic interest lower on the trail, including multiple waterfalls and fog in the valley.

Friday, November 14, 2014

So what is Coffeeneuring anyway?

I was recently made aware by a friend that I had neglected to explain the term, "coffeeneuring" fully. He assumed I had made it up and it was similar to canyoneering. While somebody did coin the term, I can't take the credit. It has origins in both Seattle and Washington, DC and ties into the sport of Randonneuring.

Randonneuring, a little-known sport in cycling. It comes from the French and is basically long-distance cycling (100 to 1,000K) with lots and lots of rules. The main rule is that there is a time limit, within which all of your activities must be contained: cycling, eating, sleeping, peeing, etc. The "Randos", as they are referred to, love pedaling their bicycles and ride during the day and through the night, sometimes sleeping in phone booths or in the back of 7-Elevens (true stories from a rando friend). I once participated in a rando event called the Wine Country Populaire. It could be described as Rando Lite, as the distance was very manageable (100K – 60 miles) and we slept in beds at the end of the day. I think the organizers were just hoping to gain a few more recruits to head down the slippery road of randonneuring; something about riding these long distances makes them very, very nice people. Almost too nice.

Back to the subject at hand... these rando people sometimes like to take it easy, if you can imagine that. They ride over hill and dale through the day and night, but then tootle down the street (still on their bikes, of course) to a coffee shop to perk themselves up. That is where Coffeeneuring was born – what randonneurs do when they're not out completing their bajillion-mile rides. Joe Platzner, a Seattle Randonneur, was quoted as saying, "A bunch of us have trained pretty hard for PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris). After PBP, I'm probably going to lobby RUSA for an official "Coffee Shop Run" medal. To earn it, you need to ride your bike slowly to a nearby coffee shop and enjoy a fine beverage." Shortly thereafter, a randonneur in DC coined the term "Coffeeneur".

Of course, Coffeeneuring has rules, too, though not nearly as stringent as the Rando version. Plus, there's a commemorative patch for all my hard work at the end, which is produced the the author of Chasing Mailboxes.