Living in the Moment on Dungeness Bay

Time is too precious to squander a single moment. With one week to spend with my three adult children, spouses and youngest grandchild, all I want to do is soak up their presence and savor this rare time together. My natural instincts are to write about the experience. To blog, share on Facebook and text friends. But I refrain. For a week I shun social media and focus purely on life as it happens. And it is sweet.

Reviving the concept of a family vacation, we are all gathered on the Olympic peninsula in Washington. Settling into a spacious house on the coast in Dungeness, we are surrounded by mountains, hiking trails, beaches, tide pools, wildlife and birds. It is the perfect setting for this assembly of active people intent on enjoying the outdoors.

Dungeness Bay Manor

The week is deliberately unstructured. Couples or individuals are free to choose their activities each day, and different groups form depending on interests. The only stipulation is that we all reconvene for dinner. There stories of the day's adventures are shared, and plans begin to form for the next day's outings.

Dinner on the deck

Hiking is high on the priority list, and there is one destination on everyone's must-do list – Hurricane Ridge. On a crystal clear day with mountains visible in all directions, we all hike Hurricane Hill. It is an easy, unhurried trek as we take in the colorful array of wildflowers along the trail, the rich green of the pine trees contrasting with the deep blue sky, and the snow covered peaks that surround us. Being flanked by family clinches the moment.

Hurricane Hill wildflowers
Maren atop Hurricane Hill
Family on Hurricane Hill

Our two boys have been harboring plans for a challenge hike, and head out early one morning to tackle a steep and rugged trail. In contrast, some of us girls decide on a day at Rialto Beach where we scramble between enormous rocks known as “stacks” and spend hours peering into tide pools.

Rialto Beach

Rich naturally gravitates to areas for birding opportunities, and spends a couple days exploring the majesty of Cape Flattery – the most northwestern point of the US.

Cape Flattery

A visit to the HOH Rain Forest is another popular choice. Those of us who make the longer trip to get there all agree it was well worth the drive. We revel in the green toned wilderness, where mosses drip from every available branch, pine trees tower overhead and tangled tree trunks form intricate patterns. An encounter with two imposing elk bucks hold up our hike while they graze lazily in the woodlands. We wait as long as it takes them to eat their fill.

HOH Rain Forest hike
Elk in rain forest
Rain forest hikers

Dungeness Spit is in our own back yard, which beckons for another all-family walk on its sandy shore.

Dungeness Spit
Family on Dungeness Spit

It is a week of making memories. A week of carefree vacation time with family. A week of sunshine and beautiful scenery. A week of activity. Best of all, I haven't missed a single moment.

 

Revisiting Old Favorites

They say you can never go back. I too have concerns about trying to recreate an original good experience. But on this trip we have successfully enjoyed things a second time around.

The journey is from Duluth to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. While Rich and I drive across country, our three grown children and their spouses are packing their bags to fly out and meet us there on Saturday. A week's family vacation awaits us there.

The prior trip was to begin our Glaciers to the Sea bike tour. We followed much the same route, although in the three intervening years Rich has become passionate about staying off the interstate. Back roads rule. But still, we managed to hit some of the same spots en route.

It was a marathon first day's drive, but we were determined to get to Medora ND. That allowed us to get out first thing the next morning to cycle through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Our rewards for rising early were empty roads, frisky wildlife and a quiet ride. It was a much more up close and personal experience than driving in the car last time – especially passing right by a bison on the side of the road! The next one we saw was moving rapidly with purpose. Mid-stride, he suddenly stopped, dropped and rolled – right on top of a prairie dog hole. There were numerous deer with large ears and active prairie dog towns with yipping dogs gathering breakfast and popping in and out of holes. Despite the cloudy day, the land formations were still impressive and other worldly.

Rich Molly T Roosevelt Park
Rich cycling by a bison
Molly Teddy Roosevelt Park

Cycling along the Clark Fork River remains one of our best memories from our Glaciers trip. So we selected another section of the river for an afternoon ride. Although this road was busier and we sweltered in 96 degree heat, the river was as beautiful as we remembered it. And we enjoyed the journey through lush forest land.

Molly cycling Clark Fork River
Molly cycling Clark Fork River 2
Rich cycling Clark Fork River

There was only one remedy for our overheated bodies at the finish – a huckleberry shake, of course. Clearly we are back in huckleberry country, where you can buy anything flavored with them. But nothing beats huckleberry ice cream.

Huckleberry Shake

I guess I'm a convert. These old favorites have all been worth revisiting.

 

Looning

I'll be the first to admit, birding is not my thing. I have tremendous admiration and respect for Rich's dedication and boundless patience in pursuing his birds, and the amazing photographs that he captures. But he no longer asks if I would like to come along. He knows better. Loons, however, are a whole different matter.

I spent several hours in the kayak today, cruising the calm water of the lake in the afternoon sun. On my travels I spotted several loons with baby chicks. The fluffy little fledglings paddled behind mama, an entrancing sight.

Rich was thrilled with my reconnaissance efforts, and was eager to photograph the young loons. Immedately following dinner he announced he was heading out in the boat to look for the loons. This time he asked, would I like to come? The answer came without hesitation. Yes!

The sun dipping low in the sky lent a beautiful golden hour light to the scene. Evening's calm stilled the waters, and the waterskiers had been replaced by boats claiming their fishing spots. All was quiet on the lake.

We found mama loon and her twins in the same bay where I'd seen them. At first, they were hidden in the reeds, but they soon obliged by swimming out into the open where they didn't seem to mind us watching. We could hear soft sounds made by mama to her chicks – something entirely new to me. Never before had I been close enough to hear their nurturing murmurs.

Loons 1

Papa soon materialized and proceeded to hunt for dinner. He repeatedly returned with food to feed the chicks. We could tell when he was coming as he would swim under water but near the surface, creating a v-shaped wake above him. By this time the chicks were nestled on mama's back, well situated for papa to bring them tasty treats.

Loons 2
Loons 3

As we watched, a chorus of frogs suddenly broke into song, croaking mightily around the bay. It was magical witnessing nature in the warmth of the setting sun.

Loons 4

There is something deeply compelling about loons. From their haunting cries to their mottled black and white coats, they are are undeniably special. It is an honor to share our lake with them. I never tire of their majestic presence. I may not be a birder, but I'm always game to go looning.

 

The Quiet House

It happens every time.  The house feels waaaay too quiet.  I hear the ticking of the clock.  The hum of the washing machine oozes in from the laundry room.  My heart feels full yet empty.  I have just waved goodbye to the kids and grandkids.

Mya packed for DuluthThis time it was quite a blitz.  For starters, it was 5-year-old Mya’s turn for “Grammy Camp” and she spent four days with us in Duluth.  There is something very special about having grandchildren here on their own.  It invites getting to know them better.  It means they get my complete attention, without competition from siblings or parents.  It encourages doing fun activities together.  Mya’s visit was no exception.

Some things we repeated from big brother Ben’s visit.  A trip around the harbor on the Vista Star was a highlight, and Mya was especially taken with the whole cruise aspect.  “When will we go faster?” was her favorite question.  Mya and Rich on Vista StarMya and friends at the parkMya’s social side came out, and she quickly made friends wherever we went  Arriving in the driveway, she immediately asked to go play with the girls next door.  A trip to the playground quickly morphed into a game of hide and seek.  And a play date with my friend and her grandkids at Playfront Park was a big hit.

My favorite times were snuggling up to read, Mya pressed into my side eager to hear the same books night after night.  Kids all grow out of that stage eventually, but I never do.

Mya was joined by the rest of her family for an overnight stay at the end of the week.  The noise level increased more than three-fold with the addition of her two siblings, and the inevitable rivalries quickly resumed.  We packed in as much time outdoors as we could and even managed to see the steam train before they headed off to the cabin.

Molly and MarenIt was a quick changeover, then we welcomed Carl and Chelsea with baby Maren for the weekend.  In comparison to three active youngsters, Maren’s happy chirping and babbling were mere background sounds.  We easily slipped into the schedule of a 5-month-old which naturally afforded plenty of downtime – welcomed by her parents and this Grammy after my recent camp gig.  Playing with Maren on her quilt was plenty of entertainment.

Still very portable, we took Maren on several hikes and to the Park Point Art Fair.  As we crossed the Aerial Bridge, bells began clanging, the gate went down and we discovered we were the second to last car to get across.  Quickly ditching the car, we scurried to the canal to watch a classic ore boat come through the bridge – a first for not only Maren but Chelsea as well!  There is no Duluth experience better than being up close to a passing ore boat.Carl Chelsea and Maren at the bridge

By now, these are all memories.  The house is our own again.  It’s a grandparent’s prerogative to enjoy the young ones, spoil them, love them to bits then send them home with their parents.  But the echoes of laughter, squabbles, babble and imaginative play still linger in these rooms, leaving this house much too quiet.

Marathon Finish

It doesn’t seem quite fair to leave off with a post leading up to Grandma’s Marathon and then drop it.  While I doubt anyone is losing sleep over how I fared in the race, I somehow feel better at least finishing the tale I started.  So here it is.

Bottom line: My 10th Grandma’s Marathon is in the bag.  I legitimately claimed my Finisher’s t-shirt and the incredibly heavy medal they hung around my tired neck.  I spent the afternoon relishing that “good tired” feeling and the knowledge that I had done it – and I was done.Molly running Grandma's MarathonThe race played out much as I might have predicted.  It was a cloudy 63 degrees at the start, comfortable for running given a slight breeze to stir the air.  The normally welcome sight of the sun was not a good omen.  It quickly sent the temperature into the 70s adding heat to the challenge of the race.  But in comparison to last year’s black-flag conditions, it was very manageable.

I felt good for the first 18 miles.  My pace was in the low to mid 9 minute range, which I knew was well below what I should be doing.  But as long as I was comfortable I kept it up.  I can’t resist the urge to bank a minute or two per mile in the beginning.  I began to slow after that, and by mile 21 (coincidentally the max for my three longest training runs) it became a struggle.  It’s at that point in most marathons where I feel like I am moving in slow motion.  My body is barely moving forward.  My legs are like lead.  But I persist.

Molly and Erik Grandma's MarathonI had a great cheering section to spur me on.  Rich and son Erik were on bikes leapfrogging from point to point along the route.  Erik rode all the way to the end, catching me circling the DECC and riding along shouting encouragement as I turned the corner for the final stretch to the finish.  Rich was there at the end to video me crossing the finish line. Never discount the value of family support!

Molly Erik Rich after Grandma's MarathonI finished in 4:17:15.  I count it as a victory in many ways – I beat last year’s time, I averaged 9:50 minute miles, and it’s a Boston Qualifier (being old is a huge benefit).  But mainly because I felt good about doing it.  This makes 18 marathons overall.  Somehow I just know there are more in me.  I’m not finished yet.

The Marathon Taper

The hardest part of training for a marathon is refraining from running.  At least for me. After all, in my view doing a marathon is the perfect excuse for running copious numbers of miles. It’s all the justification I need to feed my exercise obsession. While I may not enjoy every step of my long training runs, I do love the feeling of building strength week after week and the sense of satisfaction completing those 21-milers.

I no longer use any particular training plan. By now, after 17 marathons I have figured out generally what works for me, and loosely follow that. I’ve made peace with my 60+ years and the inevitable slowdown in pace. Throwing bicycle touring into my repertoire has generated additional irregularity in my training. Since I can’t seem to kick the marathon habit, I’ve learned to adapt and become much more flexible in my approach and my expectations. As long as I’ve done enough preparation to feel I can run 26.2 without issues, I’m game.

So marathon week is a particular challenge. I know it’s time to cut back my miles. Intellectually I understand the need for rest days. My body deserves some downtime to prepare for the upcoming explosion of exertion it will take to get from Two Harbors from Duluth. But my mind resists. I’d so rather be out running.

Coffee time on the dockEnter the cabin. There’s no better place to chill and relax. I spend my final two days prior to Grandma’s Marathon with the lake in view. It’s a place I can allow myself to alternate between reading and snoozing outside on a sunny afternoon. My favorite morning routine is an early run, a brisk swim and a leisurely breakfast on the dock while perusing magazines. Today it’s barely more than a short jog, a brief dip in the lake and extended coffee time pouring over 8 year old issues of Runners’ World.

Tomorrow I can release all this pent up energy. I tell myself I will make up for all the missed miles when I toe the start line and head down the Scenic Highway. I will be grateful for the rest days when I begin to flag. I can feed my passion all I want in the days following the race. For now, I must gracefully concede to my marathon taper.

Yellowhead Cycling Tour Planning

Yellowhead Logo w nameThis trip has been planned for months.  But only in our heads.  Suddenly, with just over a month to go, the need to make firm reservations reached a critical level of urgency.  In a frenzy of keystrokes, battling it out on two computers and independent cell phones, we chipped away at the myriad transportation pieces required to make this journey possible.  Stymied time and again over clashing train and ferry schedules, long stretches of road with no services and sold-out lodgings, our itinerary morphed continuously.  Punctuated by wails of despair, sighs of relief and begrudging compromises we persisted.  Three ferry rides, one train trip and essential lodging bookings later, we had it.  The Yellowhead Tour is now viable and official.

The location is British Columbia, chosen to piggyback on a July family vacation on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.  The general plan: cycle the Yellowhead Highway from Prince George to Prince Rupert, then ferry over to Haida Gwaii to ride the highway to its terminus on the northern tip of Graham Island.  A total of 620 miles on the bikes over 17 days.

But it’s a lot more complicated than that.  We start at the tip of Vancouver Island, with an 18 hour ferry ride through the inland passage on the coast of British Columbia.  That takes us within 15 miles of Alaska.  It’s a highly scenic route through the calm waters of the coastal islands on a ferry that approaches the comfort of a modest cruise ship.  A quick overnight in Prince Rupert, then we board Canada’s Via Rail for a full day’s journey to Prince George.  It promises an eyeful of wilderness viewing.  That rail segment is equipped with box car racks for our bicycles with roll-on, roll-off convenience – a cyclist’s delight.  The next morning, we will turn around and repeat that same route via bicycle on the Yellowhead Highway.  This time it will take us 12 days.

Our trip originally ended there.  But while scanning Google Maps, I happened to notice that oddly enough, the Yellowhead Highway continued west into the water.  Huh?  The dotted line took me to Haida Gwaii, a group of islands well off the coast formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.  Its current name literally means “island of the people” and it has a vibrant First Nation culture.  It seemed an intriguing addition.  We will cycle the final stretch of the Yellowhead Highway to the northern coast, then return to Prince Rupert once again.

Traveling in peak tourist season is something we normally avoid.  But given this northerly route, it is the only reasonable timeframe.  So rather than winging it from day to day, we are nailing down each and every night’s accommodation.  Having already learned that services can be scarce, we will surrender our flexibility in favor of peace of mind.

This is actually one of our shorter trips in terms of cycling.  But to make it happen, we will cover 575 miles by ferry, 450 miles on the train and 4,200 miles in the car.

It’s a good thing it all worked out.  Our jerseys are already on order.  At least we planned ahead for those.