a new year and a new soul

I think I’m still drunk on vacation. I’m not still Finding my Beach at Joe’s Rum Hut in Cruz Bay or chewing on martini olives at XO Bistro in Red Hook, but the glass of red wine on my nightstand feels just as good on the tongue, and my mood can’t decipher between 80 degrees and 20, strangely enough. I want to hug strangers, tackle life-sized games of JENGA, climb through doggy doors, and dance like an idiot (beach or snow, I don’t givadamn) because 2015 is pouring it on strong.

But before I dive into a New Year, I like to take a little time to reflect on the last. So, last year, rather than shaming myself with a year’s worth of unrealistic resolutions and the inevitable sense of failure that ensues when you skip the gym and start eating pretzel sticks and pot pies after Green Bay loses in the NFC Championship, I created a wish list. The difference between resolutions and a wish list is that wishes are desires of the heart—actions you want to take, rather than all the things you’ve convinced yourself you should. I have a 2015 wish list too, but I’m keeping it close to the vest. Surprises are more fun anyway. Let’s just say if 2014 was new boobs huge, 2015 is going to be Nicki Minaj butt implant huge. My anaconda don’t…

I’m proud to say I crossed most things off the 2014 list, although, I didn’t spend New Year’s Eve in my jim jams eating Chinese pondering what 2015 will bring (in bed). I was rocking a bikini top and pineapple print pants on Jost Van Dyke with some friendly New Yorkers instead—pure travesty if you ask me. And. It’s amazing what else happens between the check boxes, wishes I wouldn’t dare to make and some I didn’t even know I could.  Like some of these:

The Lambrecht Wedding—Some of the first people I met in college were soccer players because all the fall athletes had to report early for training camp. I’m not sure exactly when or how it happened, but they adopted me into their lives, and we formed this unconditional friendship I wouldn’t trade for anything. Utah got married in the spring, and it was a giant family reunion with all the essentials: giggling, dancing, yelling, and knockout punches. I remember waking up the next morning and thinking it had the best day of the year so far.

 Lambrecht-Wedding-2

Lambrecht-Wedding-1

Belize—There are too many things to say about this trip, but swimming into the underworld of Xibalba, or Cave of Fear, to lay eyes on crystallized human skulls and tread barefoot on limestone washed smooth by underground rivers over thousands of years was terrifying, exhilarating, and humbling all at once.

Actun Tunichil Miknal

Birthday Weekend in Seattle—People always say they have the best friends in the world. That’s what makes friendship so beautiful. There are billions of people connecting on a level that makes everyone feel like they are the luckiest. To the few in billions that made me feel like the luckiest for taking time out of your hectic lives to celebrate with me, I love you. You are the best.

birthday-babes sounders-birthdaybirthday-lathey birthday-beebs

Dawson-Pitamakin Pass Hike—My summer anthem was Just One DayTake to the sky. Open up your eyes and see how far you get in just one day. Take to the sea. And open up your heart and see how far you get atop this place. You can get pretty damn far. Me? I hiked all 23 miles of the Dawson-Pitamakin Pass Loop in just one day. When I get restless in my cubicle it’s because I know just how far I can get.

dawson-pitamakin-hike-glacier going-to-the-sun-road-glacier dawson-pitamakin-pass-hike-glacier dawson-pitamakin-hike-view

Moving—In October, I traded in my beautiful apartment with vaulted ceilings, a walk-in closet, gas appliances, heated floors, and free golf for a basement studio, as I like to call it. I am going to miss running through the golf course sprinklers and riding my bike to Idaho after work on hot summer nights, but there is no doubt in my mind that moving was the best life decision I made all year, along with buying that bike.

Solo Travel—This was a bit of an experiment. I started small, cruising through Eastern Washington, hiking to a few places in the middle of nowhere like Towell Falls. Then camping by myself at Diablo Lake, and finally, spending a week on my own in the Virgin Islands. All three experiences showed that traveling alone isn’t really that lonely, and I proved to myself that I can do it—and thrive. I’m just getting my feet wet.

free-moped-ride-st-thomas annaly-bay-tide-pools-st-croixcape-air-st-croix

Green Bay vs. Seattle—I’ve already talked about this. I lucked out and ended up with a ticket to the NFL season opener between my two favorite teams (I like two teams, give it a rest). I almost cried tears of sweet joy because I saw Aaron Rodgers and a ton of Seahawks HOFers in person.

Seahawks Packers 2014 NFL Season Opener

Labor Day Weekend—Three days in the Canadian Rockies and the only thing left to be desired was a bear sighting. Oh, and I’m kinda pissed I lost my headlamp because I’m not a loser of things. Anyway. I would trade in a lot more camping gear if it meant sipping on Masala Chai in an alpine tea house after standing on the edge of Big Beehive again—I’m filing this one away in “Life Highlights.”

lake-louise-big-beehive

Halloween—Because: life is perfect when your favorite holiday ends like this…

starbucks siren costume

Virgin Islands Christmas Vacation—More to come on this, but I can’t wait to go back to the VI. I’m sorry it took me so long to get there. Somehow, my impression of the Caribbean has never been a good one. I blame all the cruise ships. My opinion has certainly changed. Hands down, my absolute favorite memory from this trip was eating Christmas breakfast with Amy on our balcony with a “partial” ocean view and opening stockings, a tradition I miss deeply. That girl is beyond thoughtful, and I guess Santa was pretty good to us, too.

point-pleasant-st-thomas christmas-morning-stockings

Now excuse me a moment as I stroll down the Sentimental Trail. More important than where I went or what I saw in 2014, is who I was with. The contrast between today and this time last year is blinding, but, like, in an awesome staring-at-the-sunset kind of way. I can say in earnest, that I have not been this happy in years. I have people in my life who have the power to shine light in the darkest of rooms with patience and that same kind of unconditional friendship I talked about earlier. I also met a handful of people last year who restored my hope in human kindness and character, and also in myself.

I am anxious to face 2015 with a renewed soul and get busy checking off one helluva wish list. Happy New Year!

The Baths, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.” – G.K. Chesterton

five years

I miss Dugee

October 20th. It’s marked in my calendar as D-day, a sad reminder. How has it been five years? They say time heals all wounds, but I don’t buy it. Anyone who has experienced loss will agree. Even now, as I reflect on this, I miss Dugee, and the hole in my heart is just as big. Sure, the more minutes I put between myself and that day, the more familiar I get with life without him, but still.

I have a lot of memories from that day. I remember caring too much about the clothes I would wear to the hospital – so trivial in retrospect. I remember how he lit up when I walked into the hospital room, “Hi, Coli.” So bittersweet. Those were the last words he would speak to me. I remember being excited to have him home that afternoon, but being so disappointed because the morphine rendered him unconscious. There was no pain. There was no nothing. He just slept (and snored) – all afternoon, all evening, and into the night. I remember getting ready for bed and noticing that his apnea was getting worse. At least he’s still breathing.

But then he wasn’t.

Most days, life goes on as usual. But occasionally, a random wave of emotion will bear down on me and flood my eyes with tears. Because I miss him. It’s funny though…I see him everyday. In me. Even as his step-daughter, there are things about me that are undeniably him. I’ll drive across town to use a $1.00 coupon; I stockpile toiletries (some of which I take from the hotels I visit) under the sink and under my bed just in case I might need a shower cap and shoe polish someday; I love retrievers more than I care for most humans; and I’d rather be golfing at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon than stuck behind a desk. I can still hear his voice when I leave the bathroom light on or take too long of a shower, and I can’t wait until Thanksgiving so I can drink too much wine and eat till I’m miserable. I just wish I were eating turkey and drinking wine with Dugee.

But I can’t.

October 20th. For me, a reminder of our fragility. And a reminder to love hard, every second of every day.

Click here to donate to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

summer nights with the devil and louise

I’m sitting here scrolling through photos, reliving my summer snapshot by snapshot, trying to decide how to best tell the story that has been my life for the last six weeks… A freeze frame misses the euphoric tears that welled in my eyes and the hurt in my smiling cheeks as both teams took the field for the Packers-Seahawks game. A scrapbook of jagged mountainscapes has the power to bore viewers to sleep like only a grandfather’s slide carousel can. A paragraph could never break hard enough to make way for the next chapter of my cousin’s life as a gorgeous newlywed. And words, these silly little things, they seem drab in comparison to Diablo Lake Green and Lake Louise Blue. Therein, lies the dilemma. Maybe I should just keep scrolling.

Or maybe I should do what most normal people would do… practice a little chronology. The beginning is an easy place to start, even though I also like the idea of jumping right on to Aaron Rodgers. I digress. Anyway. I hate the word “escape”—at least in regards to travel: summer’s hottest escapes, 10 best weekend escapes, and the like. It implies there is something from which to flee, like Egypt, or Alcatraz, or an arranged marriage. Is every day life so terrible that we require an escape for every season and every other Saturday? I really hope not, but sometimes a respite from routine is good for the soul. By now, I’ve made it known that when I want headspace, I drive. Backroads and blue highways always take me where I want to be. So a handful of Fridays ago, I escaped westward on Highway 20.

Through Kettle Falls and over Sherman Pass, with a short stop at the White Mountain Fire Lookout, I was in a hurry to set up camp before dark. The idea of camping alone for the first time was ominous enough, but I’m also an adult who is terrified of the dark, and all the monsters my childish imagination fears are lurking in wilderness shadows.

A carnation haze dulled into a grey drizzle and then into a downpour of black as I rolled into the Swan Lake campground, south of Republic. Dark, rainy, and in the middle of nowhere. It was too late to tent, so I resigned to the backseat, just me, my headlamp, a book, and a giant Coors Light. Although, in retrospect, I realize drinking a PBR would have been more authentic for a night of camping in a Lexus sedan.

Camping at Swan Lake

Read. Chug. Snooze. Wake up to knocking on the window above my feet—my worst nightmare now a reality. I’m not sure how I didn’t scream, or cry, or puke, or wet myself, all at once for that matter, as an old man from the forest shined his flashlight into the back of my eyes. With only calm in my bones, I crawled to the front seat to open the driver’s side door. The man, who was not from the forest, but the rusted “CAMP HOST” motorhome near the entrance, slipped me questions through his missing teeth about my stay, “How many nights are you staying?”, “Isn’t it uncomfortable sleeping back there?” as if his presence was nothing to be startled by. He apologized that he was gone when I arrived (he was busy rescuing a fawn that had been hit by a car) and told me it would be ten dollars to resume my night at the campground. Anything you want!! Ten dollars to leave me alone and postpone this episode of Real Stories of the Highway Patrol seemed like a real bargain. Feeling less safe in my backseat cocoon after my encounter, the good kind of sleep was impossible to find.

Up with the sun, fog blanketed the lake, depriving me of a clear view on my way out of camp. Mist swirled up from the evergreens,  like in all movies about the Pacific Northwest. It was eerie, but it felt like home, too. I drove further west with two things in mind: securing food and a campsite. Based on what might be the best recommendation in all of history, I stopped at the Cinnamon Twisp Bakery for a treat of the same name: the Cinnamon Twisp, at which point I took a selfie worth sharing.

Cinnamon Twisp Bakery

Cinnamon Twisp Selfie

A quick word about sharing… my love for donuts was established at a young age, probably at birth if you consider my heritage. Either way, trips to Winchell’s were a weekly tradition with my dad. He would order a coffee and a cinnamon roll and I’d order the cherry cake donut and devour it immediately so I could wait for him to eat his. Now, everyone knows you eat a cinnamon roll layer by layer, from the outside in because the middle is the best bite—even 4 year olds are aware of this. My dad, familiar with my antics, would try to offer me bites from the outer layers, bites I refused, feigning indifference. But when he got to the center, I would make my move, “Daaaaaad, can I have a bite?” Albeit, it was the very last, very best bite—a true test of fatherly love: my sweet daughter or my sweet donut? I know which way I would have gone, but my dad’s a good man. The cinnamon roll core goes to the girl with the roundest cheeks (a contest I still win every time)! My point is, the Cinnamon Twisp, is like a whole pastry of cinnamon roll centers, every bite as gooey and delicious as the next, no brain games or manipulation required, although I’m still not sure I’d recommend sharing. Hi, I’m an only child.

Now properly fueled, I could focus on finding a place to sleep for the night. Into the North Cascades I sped. Naturally, I was distracted by Liberty Bell. Wary of that coveted campsite, I only stopped to wander for a few minutes, in awe of the massive rock structure; Philadelphia ain’t got nothing on us.

Liberty Bell Crack

Liberty Bell over Highway 20

View of Liberty Bell from Washington Pass

Onward toward Diablo Lake. And let me tell you, I must have done something right somewhere along the way because my camping karma is through the roof. Colonial Creek Campground, located on the Thunder Arm of Diablo Lake, has about 160 campsites, and it looked to be at capacity. I circled around at least five times panicking, plotting a lame Plan B: getting rained on in New Halem or making it all the way to the coast and staying in my mom’s spare bedroom. But Zut alors! I had missed one. I sprinted to the pay station to stake my claim like a greedy pioneer. I definitely got thee. last. campsite.  I set up camp in the section north of the highway and 50 yards from the water. I got settled and then hiked, gloating all the way to the top of the Thunder Knob trail where the view of the lake forced an even wider grin.

View of Diablo Lake

Diablo Lake View

With 160 full campsites, there were people everywhere, and the anxiety of going solo was remedied completely. That afternoon, I read on the lakeshore, sharing a few beers with friendly strangers, throwing rocks, and swimming. Yes, swimming. The weather was utopian, and that magical, jade water would have Ponce de Leon rolling over in his grave. The day ended with an after dark  Ranger Talk about glaciers in the Cascade Range… so fascinating. I definitely missed my calling as an earth scientist. It was the perfect bedtime story. Site #2 was calling my name. I curled up in my sleeping bag, not alone, but surrounded by nature and an entire family of her admirers.

Diablo Lake Panorama

I may or may not have stopped for another Cinnamon Twisp on Sunday’s drive home. Anyway, with just one Monday between me and Labor Day Weekend, I didn’t bother to unpack my camping gear. I just rode my desk chair waiting for the next big wave of adventure: Canada. Banff National Park has been on my to-do list since torrential downpours ruined my only other visit to the area over a decade ago. By pure happenstance, I found out one of my childhood friends was going to be up there for the week, so it was my time for redemption.

I was the first one out of the building on Friday. (Sorry, boss, my passport is overeager and demanding.) The drive—we know I love the drive, but seven hours seemed unbearable. I made it without getting felt up at the border or plowing through any wild animals. Time to drop in to the weekend.

We hiked every day… Saturday to Rock Isle Lake, part of Sunshine Village which transforms into a world-class ski area in the winter. The Banff trail guide lists this hike as an easy one but fails to mention that it requires either a $30 dollar round trip bus ride to the trailhead or an hour long glute-burning hike up a summer service road. My friend and I are the epitome of frugal Dutch penny pinchers, so we marched up the mountainside. The weather in Banff is unpredictable, four seasons in one day if not one hour, and when the hail started pelting our hoods, we cursed our heritage and nearly turned around. Luckily, being Dutch also means being stubborn, which always pays off. Well, at least this time it did. Who knew there was an island on the Continental Divide?

Sunday we attempted to get a peek of Lake Louise: gridlock. They actually closed off the entrance because the parking lot was over capacity, and we were told to come back in an hour and try again. We took a nine hour detour to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway instead; lakes bluer and less crowded than Louise, massive glaciers shrinking back into the mountains, man-eating icefields, elusive waterfalls, and the Athabasca River whose waters run north to the Arctic Ocean. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my brain around that one—I dipped my fingers in a frigid current that eventually empties into the Arctic!

Athabasca River Falls

Athabasca River Cliffs

Athabasca River Cliffs

I accidentally said “wow” a thousand times. You couldn’t design a nature theme park better than this. The only thing missing was a pettable baby bear. At one point, we got out to admire Bridal Veil Falls and decided on an impromptu hike to get a closer look because 1.1 kilometers is cake. Panther Falls snuck up on us as we descended on the roadside trail. Completely invisible from the turnout, only those who venture outside their cars are lucky enough to see the water pour through a giant hole in the rock facade. We stood awestruck in the mist. I’m so glad Lake Louise played hard to get.

Bridal Veils Falls Sign Alberta Canada

Bridal Veils Falls

Panther Falls Alberta Canada

Monday morning we tried our luck with Louise again, and this time she let us in. Sometimes I feel like travel has evolved into a contest of constant one-upping—people jetting from spot to spot just to capture the best photo for their insta account, without pausing to actually create a memorable experience. There were hundreds of people crowded around the rocky shores, posing awkwardly and making stupid selfie faces. And for most, that’s as far as they ever get with Lake Louise, like a celebrity sighting. They get their picture, check a box on a travel list, and go home.

Labor Day Trip to Lake Louise

I saw one woman take her shoes off and put her feet in the water, and it made me smile. It was a simple act, but she’s going to remember how cold the water felt between her toes. That’s why we travel isn’t it? For the real stuff. I wiggled my fingers in this freezing water, too. Lake Louise is easy; we were going to earn the next photo. Above her, are several other lakes and two tea houses that serve as fueling stations for hikers.

We dodged raindrops and road apples as we climbed toward the first alpine attraction, Mirror Lake. Big Beehive towers over the shallow, emerald pool and overwhelms those staring skyward. A glacial stream pours into Mirror Lake from above, so we followed the sound of moving water. A gushing waterfall and a wooden staircase welcomed us to the Lake Agnes Tea House—my version of heaven. People bustled about on the cabin deck, hoping for a seat at any table at which to enjoy a hot drink and a homemade sandwich. But the overflow seating was tolerable, too; lakeside benches with a front row view of Lake Agnes as she showed off her version of blue and green, even in the rain.

Mirror Lake Alberta Canada

Lake Agnes Tea House Waterfall

Lake Agnes Hike Alberta Canada

Big Beehive Hike Lake Agnes Tea House

Like Lake Louise, many tourists make it this far, sneak their photos, and begin the descent to their cars. We basked in the beauty of Lake Agnes for a few minutes, but this wasn’t the end of the road for us. We had two options: Big Beehive or Little Beehive. Go big or go home, right? The trail to Big Beehive curls around the lake, and then zigzags up the southern bank. The steep switchbacks dissuade hikers from continuing. Fatigue typically leads to defeat, and retreat. Those inclined to press on reap an enviable reward, a birdseye view of Lake Louise and all her surroundings. I stood on the ledge of the beehive, looking for my reflection in Mirror Lake, heart completely full at the precipice. Have I mentioned that I like to stand on the edge of tall things? That’s the moment I was chasing.

Lake Louise Panorama

I was reluctant to leave my cliffside perch. I could let my feet dangle and peer into every corner of the panorama for an eternity, but the reins of the real world were tugging. Of course, there was no way we were skipping the tea house experience on the way down. This is Teacups and B Cups after all. We scored a table on the railing and watched as greedy birds swooped in to steal entire pieces of bread and fat chipmunks scurried around collecting crumbs. A server took our order, so we waited patiently still reveling in the moment. He soon returned with the warming agents—curried lentil soup, a basket of wheat bread, and a small teapot of the house special: Masala Chai. I swirled in the cream and sugar, hypnotized. And then I sipped my perfect cup of tea in the mountains of Alberta. Now, now I could check the Lake Louise box.

Lake Agnes Tea House Menu

Lake Agnes Tea House Teapot

Lake Agnes Tea House Tea Time

Teacups and B Cups at Lake Agnes Tea House

The very next day, I found myself in Seattle to kickoff a week of wedding festivities for my cousin. But really, she’s more like my sister. We’re on the same weird wavelength. We speak our own language. I feel bad for the outsiders trying to make sense of our gibberish, but the best part is, her now husband is right there with us. It was five straight days of endless laughter, capped off with a gorgeous zoo wedding and, of course, awkward dancing. I am in love with their love.

Lacey in the Rose Garden

Lacey's Wedding

Woodland Park Zoo Wedding Reception

And finally! The part where I get to talk about Aaron Rodgers. In the midst of wedding duties, I was able to sneak away for the NFL season opener between the Seahawks and the Packers, my two favorite teams (I’m a girl, so that’s allowed). The Packers lost, but that game was something special: the Emerald City gleaming, Pharrell Williams performing “Happy” as I entered the north gate of the stadium, the revealing of the Super Bowl banner, and Seahawk hall-of-famers raising the 12th Man Flag. As infuriating as the 12th Man is, the energy in CenturyLink is electric, and it just surges through you. Then, Aaron Rodgers took the field (beat it, Olivia Munn). I could have left then. Anyway, like I said, I almost cried, and when Ariana Grande belted the “Star-Spangled Banner” I couldn’t shake the goosebumps from my arms. A night to remember.

Seahawks Packers 2014 NFL Season Opener

I love Aaron Rodgers

But not just a night, an entire summer… of first times, last times, and only times, with a few snapshots I can’t stop scrolling through.

snorkeling in shark ray alley

I was waiting in the gym lobby yesterday, watching the TV as a shark shredded through a man’s left calf, part of a Shark Week special on shark attacks. The girl behind the counter grimaced at the dangling flesh left as a result of the shark’s razor sharp bite, while I bit my tongue, letting her fall prey to the sensationalism of these rare underwater attacks. I wanted to blurt, “I SWAM WITH SHARKS THIS YEAR AND IT WAS AWESOME!!” Because it was. And really, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning, fatally slip in your own shower, or even have your shoulder chomped by that cannibalistic soccer player from Uruguay than you are to succumb to Jaws. So let it be known, I swam with sharks this year, and it was awesome!

Snorkeling in San Pedro, Belize

Ambergris Caye was the second destination of my 8-day trip to Belize. Accessible by small plane or boat from Belize City, we chopped across the Caribbean toward San Pedro on the upper deck of the Belize Express water taxi—Central America’s first class. Only eight of us privileged enough to bask in the sea spray and watch the sun disappear below the cayes: my travel companions, a local fisherman, the captain, and Joe, resident dive expert of Ambergris Caye. By the time we docked in San Pedro, Joe had arranged a private boat ride to the north end of the island to our treehouse accommodations as well as the next day’s excursion to the Belize Barrier Reef, just off the coast.

Rivaled only by the Great Barrier Reef, the Belize Barrier Reef is the largest reef system in the Northern Hemisphere, attracting divers and snorkelers from around the world. I am just a snorkeler, but on that particular day, with near perfect conditions and 70 feet of visibility, a mask and fins were all I needed. Our snorkel boat dropped its anchor in two spots along the reef. The first was Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the water calm, clear, and aquamarine like a postcard, the reef ecosystem abundant and lively. Two minutes into the snorkel, we were met by an unmistakable glare and distinguished underbite: barracuda. He was motionless, silver scales gleaming in the sunlight. Knowing his ability to accelerate and his affinity toward shiny objects, my elephant charm necklace and I kicked hard in the opposite direction, right into the invisible tentacle of a jellyfish that grazed my left tricep. My skin reddened and my nerves stung, but my throat didn’t swell and my breathing didn’t falter; only a Portuguese man o’ war would stop me from seeing the rest. I snorkeled on, and the ocean crackled in my ears.

Snorkeling in Hol Chan Marine Reserve Park Belize

Below us, two spotted eagle rays soared through a gap in the coral, black wings moving water without effort. Our snorkel guide knocked on the door of a green moray eel with an oversized conch, bared teeth and crossed eyes scared us off his porch and back to the boat, where a man-sized grouper was seeking shade under the aluminum hull. As we settled ourselves back in the boat, a neighboring snorkel guide lifted a three foot shark from below the surface, close enough for us to reach over the edge and touch its rough, taupe skin. It was a nurse shark, the species of shark found at the next snorkeling location: Shark Ray Alley.

Spotted Eagle Rays Snorkeling in Belize

I was relieved to know the sharks we were about to swim with were small and accustomed to human handling. But when the boat floated into Shark Ray Alley, a massive shadowy object crept along the ocean floor, a saltwater villain certainly more than three feet long. My heart dropped thirty stories. Another boat was chumming not far from us—another ten story drop, with only one place left to go: I leapt fin-first into the sea to fulfill a travel dream at the bottom of the ocean. Eyes wide open, we drifted with the current as nurse sharks and sting rays moseyed through the sea grass.

Nurse Sharks Belize Barrier Reef

Swimming with Sharks, San Pedro Belize

Shark Ray Alley Belize

I swam with sharks, and it was awesome. And a Shark Week special on shark attacks couldn’t stop me from doing it a hundred times over.

Photo Credit: Sarah Brogden-Thome

a birthday drive to metaline falls

I turned 29 a few weeks ago. It was a Tuesday, so you’d expect to find me gazing into a constellation of google map dots and agonizing over the cultural shackles binding me to a desk on my birthday—or daydreaming of a faceful of coconut cake. But I did neither. Birthdays are revered in my office, and we get them off, like a sick day, but better. Yes, my employers gave me one of the best birthday gifts: precious minutes wrapped in dollar bills.

A birthday with nothing to do except whatever I want. I’m not sure what other people would do with a free day like this, but I imagine it wouldn’t look much like mine. I slept in just late enough to decide on a destination and still make it through the McDonald’s drive-thru at 10:29am for a sausage biscuit with egg; that’s 2 minutes away from a biscuitless birthday girl and a full blown temper tantrum. I splurged and got an orange juice too because it’s my party and I’ll eat bad if I want to.

After that close call, I turned my steering wheel toward the north. The goal was to go somewhere new and off the beaten path. I’m not sure what inspired my decision besides the potential of waterfalls, but I ended up in Metaline Falls, just south of the Canadian Border on the International Selkirk Loop. I didn’t actually see any waterfalls, but I did stumble upon Boundary Dam, which supplies almost one-third of Seattle City Light’s power. The dam is only open for public tours Thursday through Monday, so I couldn’t get as close as I would have hoped, not that I’d expect it to be open on a Tuesday anyway.

I still visited both sides of the dam. On the west side, there was a small campground littered with tents, trucks, and hooded teenagers, along with a boat launch into the Pend Oreille River where a few aluminum fishing boats tooled around in the rain. Beyond the campground is the dam entrance. A friendly security guard left his post and approached the passenger window, thumbs hooked in his belt loops, and told me to turn around and drive to the other side, where the lookout tower I’d spied from the campground sits atop a treelined ridge. There, the gravel road above Crescent Lake gave way to an empty gravel parking lot and what seemed to be an abandoned lookout tower, although the website promises it’s open the same days as the dam. Can’t a girl get a public restroom in these parts? No? Fine. I peed on the trail, which was fenced, like everything else.

Boundary Dam, Metaline Falls, Washington

The barbed wire and chain links made it hard to get a clear view of the dam until the trail opened up onto a large wooden platform below the lookout tower. I’m not afraid of heights; I actually enjoy standing on the edge of most tall things, but I started to doubt the integrity of its foundation, and my own. Vertigo or dizziness, I’m not sure, but the spinning behind my eyes and wobbling in my knees were quieted by the panorama before me. The dam’s watergates were closed, exposing its concrete under layers and a single lane over which I was surprised to watch a Seattle City Light utility truck pass. Giants on the horizon, six transmission towers, reign over the sheer rock face across the gap, contemplating a long jump into the dark water below as it flows toward Canada through the Selkirk Mountains.

Panoramic Photo of Boundary Dam, Washington

Boundary Dam, Metaline Falls, Washington

Boundary Dam, Metaline Falls, Washington

Boundary Dam, Metaline Falls, Washington

Boundary Dam, Metaline Falls, Washington

I didn’t have my passport with me, luckily. Instead of a date with Lake Louise, I returned to Spokane to close out the day in more typical birthday fashion: dinner (soft pretzel and macaroni & cheese—birthday carbs trump birthday cards every time) and drinks with friends—all more reasons I love birthdays so much. A heartfelt thanks to everyone who took the time and effort to wish me well on the dawn of a new year.

central ferry + towell falls

Sunrise doesn’t get enough credit, which is probably why people refer to it as an ass crack. Catch a glimpse and you cringe, shutting your eyes and pretending it’s not there in an attempt to fall back to sleep. I cherish my sleep, but I also get harebrained ideas when I ride my bike, and the longer I’m on it, the more wascally they get. So, last weekend as I was winding down the Centennial Trail toward Idaho, I set my heart on catching sunrise at Central Ferry on the Snake River. Local grain growers bring their crops to the Port of Central Ferry to be transported down the Snake, and in their free time, fish, camp, and imbibe on secluded sand beaches along the river. I have fond memories of this place, including one hot July night leading up to harvest a few years ago – triple digit temps and the river surface like glass, mirroring the cherry and tangerine swirled sunset. Clearly, the sun saves the most vibrant colors for summer on the Snake, painting a crack worth opening your eyes for.

Sunrise over the railroad tracks at the Port of Central Ferry on the Snake River
Sunrise at the Port of Central Ferry

Port of Central Ferry sunrise

Deer in the Sunrise on the Snake River

I say this all the time, and will keep saying it, but there’s something so invigorating about speeding with the windows down through Eastern Washington’s unfamiliar highways; my mind runs rampant. I am enamored with wind farms and wheat fields and am always so blown away when I stumble across places I didn’t know existed. Like, how is that possible? …to be so unaware of the treasures in my own backyard. It challenges my definition of adventure, because while I yearn for distant exploration, I’m reminded there are things worth discovering right where I am, no plane ticket required.

Starbuck, Washington is just one example. The speed limit drops from 60 to 25, and at 6:00am, there was no coffee, just a diligent greenthumb welcoming me to her tiny town with the wave of a hand shovel, a friendly cheers to the early birds. And a few miles further on 261 is another surprise: Lyons Ferry, where the Palouse and Snake Rivers converge. It’s an entire world in itself, with a KOA and a marina full of riverboats and a handful of painted wooden houseboats; I’m curious about the stories of those dreaming inside. I bet they’re twice as impressive as the bridges that span the river.

Lyons Ferry Bridge over the Snake River, Washington

Lyons Ferry Bridge on the Snake River

Lyons Ferry Washington

Lyons Ferry Marina, Starbuck, Washington

Sunrise at Lyons Ferry

Palouse Falls

I stopped briefly at Palouse Falls, but my timing was poor, and instead of getting a good view of the falls, I was merely staring into the sun. So I continued north in search of Towell Falls, another out-of-the-way hiking destination I read about recently. After more desolate highway driving and almost fifteen miles of gravel road, it dead ends at the abandoned Escure Ranch. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that isolated – no humans, no cell service. Getting off the grid is something I fantasize about, and I am confident in my ability to travel alone almost anywhere, but I can’t deny the anxiety I felt for the entirety of the hike.

What I thought was three miles round trip, ended up being three miles to the falls and three miles back on an overgrown access road. That’s too much time to spend inside my own head hushing my imagination, that is often outrageous and enjoys entertaining nearly impossible situations. Animal droppings with berry seeds. Must be a bear because this is their usual habitat. The whispers of a pleasant breeze combined with a plague of grasshoppers that scatter with every step.  Something is stalking me. If not an African lion, a mountain lion, and if not that, one of those human-humping bucks. And what about rattlesnakes? If I get bit, it will surely be by one of the little guys who’s overeager with his venom delivery. I am a goner. I kept looking over my shoulder and scanning the rock formations for human predators. Nothing. Just deer, grasshoppers, cows (that my imagination nearly convinced me were on my side of the range fence), and me.

Towell Falls Hike Directions

cows at Towell Falls Hike

Towell Falls Hike

Towell Falls Hike

Towell Falls

Towell Falls Hike

Towell Falls Hike Washington

Towell Falls

Towell Falls, although not nearly as spectacular as Palouse Falls, are a small oasis in the Eastern Washington desert. Water spills over 12- and 15-foot ledges into the creek. Unfortunately, by the time I reached them, I was ready to be back in the drivers seat where my imagination is tamer and I am safe from any kind of animal attack. I made it out with just a few fly bites and one snake sighting, all of which were forgotten when I rolled down the windows to let my fingers dance in the wind all the way back to Spokane.

the spin cycle

Today I bought a bike. It’s an early birthday present to: me, from: me to replace the one I received on my birthday twenty years ago. All of that makes me sound old.

New Bike

I didn’t wrap it, so after a few hot laps around the driveway, I pedaled it out onto the Centennial Trail, shattering the Cardinal Rule of cycling right out of the gate: always wear a helmet. I let my pony flail in the wind. In my defense, my Nutcase helmet – appropriately named, might I add – makes my head look monstrous. How the hell are you supposed to go fast with that kind of drag? And! The moment the wheels started spinning, so did the webs of happy thoughts in my head. If I got hit by a car, a huge pile of endorphin-laced brain tissue would spill out onto the pavement. There are worse ways to go! Anyway, it won’t happen again. I promise.

Because let’s get real for a second, there’s an element of fear associated with biking for me. I had my share of traumatic experiences learning how to ride, none of which could have been avoided by wearing a helmet, however. When I was five, our whole family took a vacation to Sandpoint, Idaho. The dads golfed, the moms shopped, and I wheeled around uncontrollably trying to prove my worth did not rely on training wheels. Long story short, I bonked my head on a side mirror and put a ding in a parked car’s door with my chain. Didn’t leave a note. (Sucka!) In my perseverance, I continued to “ride” only to crash into an 18 inch curb and sprawl headlong over the handles into tall grass and, what in my bitter memory I like to claim, were blackberry bushes. Tears welled as my aunts, uncles, mom, and favorite cousin all laughed hysterically at me. And to put a rotten cherry on top, I forgot my favorite Barbie when vacay was over.

A few years later, I decided to give the neighborhood obstacle course a go. A sharp turn and a mud puddle won. And I got laughed at. Again.

Basically, I’m terrified of getting hit by a car and you laughing about it, but I’ve decided to become one of the crazy people who commutes to work on two wheels anyway. I have a backpack full of work clothes all ready to go for the morning, and I am giddy. I’m sure the novelty will wear off along with the tread, but until then if you see me on the streets, please don’t honk. I will probably shit myself, and a passerby will snicker at my misfortune.