Daaaaa Dash!

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Saturday morning, I ran my second official 5K! Tamara scored free registration for the both of us when her friends couldn’t make it last minute, and invited me along. And so, I found myself amidst hundreds of other mustachioed, aviator-clad runners at the Soldier Field Ditka Dash!

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It was a really fun time! In my limited experience (n=2), you run faster and easier when surrounded by a big crowd, and when there’s so much energy and excitement!

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I still don’t consider myself a runner – it’s definitely not “fun” for me, and I max out at 3.1 miles – but I do think it’s a great workout. I just came across this article, purporting that I’ll enjoy running more if I just follow a few recommended tips. We’ll see! In the meantime, there’s always fun runs with friends!

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Gettin’ high at Grand Teton National Park

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By this point of the trip, Maria and I were feeling pretty good about our hiking and outdoor skills, so we were looking for something a bit more challenging. We drove well into the park, and parked at the Grand Teton Lodge, where we asked a cowboy hat-clad bellman (I kid you not; the Lodge is pretty fancy) for trail suggestions. Probably a result of seeing  two chicks decked out in matching gear and with well-manicured nails, he first pointed us toward the Christian Pond Loop, which was 3.3 miles and basically a flat trail meant for families and elderly people. Um, no. We told him that we were looking for something a little more adventurous so he suggested the trail to Grand View Point, which would be 7 miles round trip. That’s more like it! He advised us that reaching the peak involved a sharp incline, where we would ascend nearly 1000 feet in less than 1 mile. These things never sound so bad at the time, especially when  you’re standing in an air-conditioned lodge, so we went for it.

And then we were off!

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It’s amazing how varied all of the National Parks are! Vastly different landscapes than those we saw at Mt.Rainier. Much sunnier and hotter as well.

Two interesting things to note. This was, hands down, the poopiest trail we encountered. The first half mile or so was covered in horse poop, and as we hiked we encountered the excrement of various other animals. So there’s that. We also encountered some dude sitting under an overpass smoking up. Near the horse poop. Sometimes you just have to wonder.

First things first, safety. We were warned repeatedly by numerous rangers that bear activity was quite high that week, and to be vigilant about our surroundings. Ever the prepared hikers, we had picked up a can of bear spray and bear bells (the bells were more for fun, but they also provide excellent accompaniment to sing-a-longs on the trail!). Still, we only encountered 2 other sets of hikers the entire time, so I admit that I was pretty nervous about encountering some bears! It’s one thing to have the bear spray, but I really couldn’t picture either of us calmly positioning the the can (30 feet) away from a bear and spraying it in the face, nor would I have wanted to see what happened next! Thankfully, or rather uneventfully, we never got to find out!

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And so we trudged along, taking in the sights, until we reached that steep ascent. Oy, that bellman was not kidding. It was HARD. We had to stop numerous times along the switchbacks. On the plus side, I cannot think of a better calf and glute workout!

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When we got to the top, we were rewarded with awesome views. 7,823 feet up high in the sky! We were so proud of ourselves!

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And then we continued on the loop trail towards the Lodge – 3 miles.

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Upon reaching our destination, we treated ourselves to happy hour in the lodge’s lounge area. And by happy hour, I mean that we drank as much water as we could, and feasted on nachos and the watermelon salad (which was so refreshing, that I am still thinking about it!).

We had a blast at Grand Teton National Park! It was also pretty awesome to prove to ourselves just how strong we are. There’s nothing like a tough challenge to give yourself that sense of accomplishment!

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Cruisin’ the Snake River at Grand Teton National Park

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Behold: The Grand Tetons! Back in IL, I had mentioned  the road trip to my friend Andrea, who said that the Grand Tetons were not to be missed. I take recommendations from friends, especially avid-traveler-friends, very seriously, so we added this to the itinerary.

Now, when we last left off, our heroines had just bravely navigated through the dark woods of Washington on gas fumes. Following a very uneventful night in Yakima, Washington, we hit the road for the first stretch of our long road trips days – 10 hours. We ended up having a blast, and the time passed by much quicker than we expected! If you were following along on Instagram, you got a glimpse of our shenanigans in Oregon and Idaho. Before we knew it, it was time for yet another uneventful sleep, this time in Idaho Falls, Idaho. We were up bright and early the next morning for a short drive to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. If you’ve never been to JH before, it is FUN! But more on that another time. We came for the great outdoors!

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If it’s not dangerous, it’s not worth doing!

After that  long day of driving, and a few days of hiking, Maria and I thought we’d change things up with a rafting trip down the Snake River, which winds right through the Grand Tetons. As you can see from the sign above, the Snake River is not to be messed with, so we knew we couldn’t do this on our own (also, you need a permit). We went with Barker-Ewing which was a well-run outfit; our guide, Reed, was knowledgeable, personable, and an all around great person to be on a raft with for a couple hours! From embarkation, we floated down 10 miles of the Snake River, all the while taking in the spectacular views.

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We saw several bison, Bald Eagles, a moose butt (he refused to turn around!), and a lone fisherman. Wildlife of the Grand Tetons, folks! Maria did manage to get a picture of the infamous moose butt, but in her excitement, she accidentally deleted it. So you will have to use your imagination here!

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Sidenote: it is extremely difficult to look super-fresh whilst donning a one-size-fits-all life vest. But we did our best!

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We had originally opted for the 6am ride.  Yes, that would have been early, especially for vacation, but we were hoping to catch the sunrise. However, we were advised the day before to reschedule to 8am. Apparently there were torrential downpours in the preceding days, and the early morning hours brought dense fog and limited visibility. As you can see, we did not have any issues, and lucked out with gorgeous weather for the entirety of our stay in Wyoming!

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Afterwards we were both ravenous; it appears that we had worked up quite an appetite watching someone else row us down a river, ha! We stumbled upon our only food option for miles around, an establishment called Doornan’s. This turned out to be a kitschy “cowboys &  indians”/ “home on the range” themed venue that served subpar food cooked and served by European students working on holiday. It was one of those times where I considered just eating a protein bar for my meal, but hunger and curiosity got the best of me, and so Maria and I indulged in questionable scrambled eggs, biscuits, and gravy, all of which was prepared in the outdoor kitchen by the aforementioned youngsters. On the plus side, neither of us got sick, so yay for that. Guess it’s all part of the adventure of a solid road trip!

A few requisite photos:

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Next up: more hiking!

Finding Paradise at Mt. Rainier

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Get ready for a gazillion photos. Because Mt. Rainier? Might very well be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life! I had no idea something this spectacular existed in our own 50 states or I would have come here sooner!

As I mentioned in the last post, Maria and I got our first glimpse of Mt. Rainer across the way from Crystal Mountain.

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Let’s do this!

In doing our research, we decided upon the Paradise region of the park. And what a fitting name as this place truly is paradise!

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Each and every turn showed us a view more stunning than the last. To be honest, the pictures don’t even do it justice. There’s something special about experiencing the swooping vistas from every angle!

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We embarked upon the Skyline Trail, which was a little over 4 miles and approximately 1700 feet in elevation gain. As it was one of the more strenuous trails, we had most of it to ourselves once we passed the first half mile or so. We encountered just enough people to not feel nervous about being out in the wild with the sun slowly beginning its descent!

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Along the trail, we found a good spot to rest the bones. A rock couch takes glamping to a whole new level!

It’s a good thing we rested up because next we found ourselves having to traverse the raging rapids! It was just like crossing the Snake River on the Oregon Trail! Ok, so it was actually just a very shallow creek of melted snow, but the last thing you want is wet sneakers when you still have a few miles to go! Maria captured this shot of me gingerly stepping across the stones (ha!). Love the light in this photo.

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And then… SNOW! It was completely surreal to have seen the snow at such a far distance, and then realize we had hiked all the way to it. Naturally, some snow-related shenanigans ensued. Maria took the opportunity to complete her ALS ice-bucket challenge (headstand in glacier snow trumps bowl of ice water any day!), and I made a few snowballs!

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Then we continued onwards and upwards (it was about 3 slow miles up, and 1 steep mile down!).

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Once back at the visitor center (which was now closed for the day) we had our next adventure to contend with. You see, earlier in the day, we ealized that we were running low on gas, but at that point it was already too late because we were deep into the National Forest that surrounds the park. At that time, we figured we could drive from the park entrance to the Paradise visitor center and ask a friendly ranger for advice. Well, the distance from the entrance to the visitor center ended up being deceptively far and very much up hill; our poor little rental Corolla could barely make it! So, when we did finally get to the top, the gas tank light may have already lit up. Oops.

Even Homie was concerned. "No gas?  What are we going to do?!"

Even Homie was concerned. “No gas? What are we going to do?!”

When we asked a ranger he very matter-of-factly told us that the nearest gas station was 34 miles away. Needless to say, we were both pretty nervous about this, but figured we should make the most of the day and proceeded with the amazing hike detailed above.

However, once back to the car, and back to reality, we were just trying not to freak out. On top of the gas situation, I should mention that there weren’t many people around, and there was no cell reception whatsoever. Maria very bravely took the wheel, and we literally coasted the 27 miles down to the park entrance, which took us over an hour due to winding roadways and sharp switchbacks.

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By this time it was pitch black outside. I think it’s safe to say that it was the quietest we were on the entire road trip! Once we had reached the entrance, we assumed we could ask someone for specific directions to the town with the fast station. Which is a great idea, except that the entrance booth was also closed for the day. Thankfully, I had brought my 10 year old road atlas book for just such situations (it lived in my old car for many years and for some reason, I decided to keep it!), and we recognized the town to be Packwood, located 14 miles to the west. With baited breath, we made our way to this remote little town in the middle of nowhere. After what seemed like an eternity, we saw the lone gas station! When I say that we made it on gas fumes and the grace of God, I mean it – the Corolla tank holds 11 gallons, and our receipt showed that we pumped 11.02 gallons! We were so happy that we barely noticed the shady individuals loitering in the parking lot, or the man making an important call on the pay phone. A pay phone in 2014, you may ask? Why yes, because Packwood, WA does not have any cell service whatsoever. After treating ourselves to a convenience store dinner of ice cream and off-brand Chex Mix, we were happy to head off into the night to our next destination: Yakima!

 

Crystal Mountain

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Our visit to Crystal Mountain was one of many pleasant surprises on our road trip. In planning for our Mt. Rainier hike, Maria had stumbled upon information for Crystal Mountain, a ski area located in the Cascade mountain range, southeast of Seattle.

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First up, the scenic gondola ride up the mountain. While it was a cool experience to soar above the trees, the occasional motor stops and the swaying of the gondolas in the wind sure made us realize just how high up we were! After ascending the 6,872 feet to the peak, we were greeted with stunning views. The kind of views that look like superimposed green screen photos! The most stunning glimpses of Mt. Rainier.

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We also hiked along the ridge of the peak and back. There is nothing like that crisp and refreshing mountain air!

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While we waited for the gondola ride back to base, I spotted a cool quote that really resonated with me. Lessons learned on the road!

 

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Next, we get up close and personal with Mt. Rainier!