A bit ago, I posted a couple pictures of the garden that I’ve gotten going on my balcony. It’s not the biggest garden I’ve cared for, but it’s not the smallest either… and what matters is that it’s mine, and that it’s still growing beautifully.
So far I’d been mostly just keeping things moving, but earlier this week I felt my thumb starting to itch in that “Hey, maybe it’s actually a little bit green!” sort of way. Not that I was 100% confident, but… my confidence interval was enough that I headed to the garden store and picked up some new friends to take home.
Specifically – A new Sunflower plant, and some peas!
See, my pea plants had been doing gloriously. Brian had been enjoying foraging, and he, Laurel, and myself had gorged ourselves on every little pea we could find this last weekend. Which… honestly wasn’t a huge number of peas, but you know what? That’s totally okay! There were enough for a few each, and that’s what matters.
Now, I had more!
Of note, I feel really sneaky and smart about one specific setup that I’ve gotten going – the sunflower that I picked up? I planted peas all around it! Hopefully it’ll grow up quickly enough to be a stalk for them as they grow too… but even if not, it’ll be a super cool setup, won’t it?
It’s been quite a while since I’ve had someone stay over at my place… Not 100% sure, but it’s been at least a year since I’ve never hosted someone at my current apartment.
Regardless of how long it’s been since I’ve had a houseguest, I was super excited to have someone over. The first week he was here was nicely relaxing, with our days spent with him working from home and me heading into the office, and then the evenings with cooking interesting dinners, hitting the gym, catching up, and finally getting up to speed on all the new movies that’ve been coming out recently.
The weekend though, we had some more time to really get into the party time, stretch out, and have some fun!
On Saturday, we aimed for a bit of city energy – Bouldering, and Shooting range. The bouldering isn’t particularly out of character for me (Ed Note: If Ben had a Character Sheet, it would literally be one of the first lines), but the shooting range isn’t something particularly common… So yay for stretching out my activities!
The morning started, obviously, with Bacon Pancakes. Because that’s how all most of the best mornings start!
From there, the bouldering was lovely – we climbed, we crushed, we ate protein bars. It was good, but not really something to write too much about.
The shooting range was… I mean, I don’t really know what to write about here. We rented a pistol, shot a bit, and felt confident that we knew how it worked. Then we rented a rifle and did the same thing. It was fun, and we both shot quite well if I may say so.
If aliens invade, I am supremely confident that we can in fact climb up a cliff, and then hit our targets roughly in their invading center of mass, quite successfully. We are 100% the ideal defense force for Earth now. You’re welcome.
That evening, we cleaned off the… gunpowder? Is that a thing we have to do? I’m not 100% sure if it was truly necessary, but we did anyways. It’s probably important.
Brian cooked Chicken Parmesan, and it was awesome. I freely admit that it was quite possibly nearly the close equivalent of my previously made Bacon Pancakes. Maybe even a teensy tiny bit better.
The post-dinner conversation was also something not to be missed – especially when it started veering into the slightly crazy tin-foil-hat consipracy theory, regarding which political party may in fact be secretly in cahoots with evil forces, trying to pull the strings on every single action ever taken in the world! To give you, dear reader, a quick hint – it’s both parties. They’re in cahoots! All hooting together! Tin Foil Hats!
Then we went to bed.
On Sunday, we met up with my friend Laurel!
She was down in my neck of the woods already, something to do with a previous horse show that she’d been to, so she stopped by for a quick breakfast before we headed out with her and her pup to get some time on the Oregon coast. Brian’s been to the Pacific before, of course, but the previous week had been hot… and I mean HOT… so the chance to get into the salty mist wasn’t something that any of us was going to turn down.
The drive was, as always, a little bit longer than it felt like it should be. It went quickly though – It’d been a while since I’d seen Laurel, and Brian had never met her, so we all enjoyed the chance to chat and hang out, catching up and learning about new people.
I love getting to go on group trips… it’s something that I really miss about living in Boston. Here in Oregon my friend groups never really felt inclined to mix, no matter how hard I tried to set up group activities. Saying that three people counts as a group seems pretty strange, in retrospect, but… I feel like that speaks to how isolated I’d been feeling throughout the course of the pandemic, and the last year or two before I moved to Wilsonville.
Regardless, it was lovely. We drove through the sun and into the mist, parked, realized I’d directed us to the wrong spot, drove to the right spot, realized that it was still the wrong spot, and then repeated that process a few times until we finally decided on a new spot that wasn’t a wrong spot.
Lunch was made (French sandwiches, as per tradition), and a beach walk was commenced.
I love the Oregon Coast… Don’t get me wrong, I have tons of fond memories of the rocky New England seaside – I love jumping from rock to rock, and scrambling around looking for cool tide pools and washed up treasure. But the wide open sand beached of Oregon are… they’re just something else. They’re gorgeous, and I love the sense that they could go on forever… just fading into the mist in the distance.
Someday, I’m absolutely going to figure out somewhere I can go backpacking on the coast… but until I can finally unravel that web of not-information, I’ll content myself with beautiful strolls along the sand.
Ideally with friends, watching a dog frolic alongside us.
Interestingly, that’s exactly what I did.
We walked, we frolicked, Biscuit ran and barked and was happy, and all was well in the world.
No hyperbole, point of fact. All really was well in the world – it was a really great day, and I was really thankful for the chance to just unwind and relax with friends.
We kept the good-times train rolling even after the sky opened up and it started pouring rain – instead of worrying or getting unhappy, we found a small ice cream shop near the beach, and scarfed down some delicious treats – not just ice cream, but blueberry lattes and chocolate treats too!
And then, we kept it going with a winery! I mean, it wasn’t really a full winery tour or anything, but it was really interesting! Laurel had a nice flight of wines, as a way of helping us pick out a bottle for dinner of course, and I got to learn a bit more about barrels – specifically some of the more common places that they’re from, and what effect the vintiers have been noticing from the various regions. In short – French and US casks are kinda overrated, and definitely overpriced, but they do give a nice finish that some others can’t quite match
Minutia aside, it was lovely. While the winery was pretty cool, I personally really enjoyed a really tangential bonus to the visit – they had a really nice tin roof in the barrel room, which combined with the pouring rain made for the absolutely most relaxing sound, surrounded by the excellent smell of aged wood and wine.
It was nice, and I appreciated being able to rest for a little while in the room while Brian and Laurel chatted with one of the vintners. My knee had been kind of painful since my hike down from Colchuck, and the rain hadn’t helped… so just sitting and appreciating the natural music was absolutely just what the doctor was ordering.
As we finished up, we mobilized and moved on. Threw our gear in the truck, and headed back toward the city.
I can confidently tell you, the drive back to Wilsonville was one of the happiest moments that I’ve had in… quite a while.
Laurel had started up a rather mixed playlist of 90s songs, before pretty quickly passing out with Biscuit in the back seat. Brian soon followed, leaving me alone with my thoughts, the rain, and the highway. It was blissful – seeing the happily tired out friends surrounding me, listening to the rain pattering against the truck, and watching the highway grind by underneath our wheels.
I’ve learned, in recent years, that my personal form of meditation is long drives. Driving fugue is absolutely a thing, and for me it’s a beautiful way for my brain to turn inward and re-organize itself. My body has its task which keeps me from getting too distracted and lets my mind start really wandering on its own.
Combining that with knowing that I’m surrounded by people I like, and who enjoy my company as well, and…
Well, I was very thankful that the drive seemed to last forever.
The rest of the night was nearly as excellent as the drive itself. We ate, we drank, and we had relaxed conversations. I made jambylaya, which paired beautifully with the wine Laurel had picked out and the chocolates that we’d all picked for ourselves. Then we settled into the couch and watched a very fun, if a little strange, movie that we tracked down on Disney.
Memorial Day, 2021 Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 29, 30, and 31-May-2021
I went on an adventure to a new part of the mountains!
Running through the Pacific Northwest is a mountain range called the Cascades.
In the middle of the range, though still fairly well North of where I live, is a past of the Central Cascades called the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Within the Alpine Lakes wilderness is a region a little bit North of a small Bavarian-themed tourist town called Leavenworth – an area known as The Enchantments, and that’s noted as one of the most spectacular sections of the entire central cascades.
I’d been to the Central Cascades, of course, and had even been out to the Alpine Lakes wilderness before, but I’d never had a chance to actually venture all the way to the Enchantments. Somehow it always felt a little bit unapproachable to me… Partially due to the distance, partially the mystique of everyone holding it in such high regard. But mostly because permits are required for any overnight trips. Permit that are, as I’ve learned, quite difficult to get.
See, the permits are assigned via lottery… and there’s dozens of applicants for every single permit issued, if not more.
I’ve applied, of course, but never had the luck to actually get drawn for one… and so I’d kind of written the enchantments off as a fairy tale.
Until I was talking to Aliona, and she proposed a rather ambitious trip – To hike one of the most picturesque portions of the trail, the legendary Asgard’s Pass, in a single day.
I’d never considered this. It’s a backpacking trip, man! Not a day hike!
It’s not even a simple backpacking trip… it includes high-angle snow travel! It’s long! It’s sustained elevation gain! It’s… I mean, it’s a major backpacking objective! How could I possibly hike it in a day?
The first step, it turns out, is to find someone who’s not only a morning person… but is also an ultra-runner who isn’t even remotely intimidated by the miles or elevation.
Our adventure started on Saturday morning. Interestingly, we didn’t start early at all – I met Aliona at her apartment right around 11:30, after having a lovely pancake breakfast. Pancakes, Asparagus, coffee… it was relaxed and lovely, and a beautiful way to warm up before a bit weekend adventure.
“But wait, Ben! You said you needed a morning person to do this hike!”
Of course, of course. We weren’t starting the hike on Saturday, silly! We were just doing the approach drive!
The trick, I learned, was to camp out at the nearby national forest the evening before. Most of the area isn’t open for camping without a permit, but there’s a small road in the Enchantments that dips into a nearby National Forest. And National Forests are open for roadside camping – made easier by the many established campsites by the road.
We drove and drove, 5 hours or more, then spent a bit of time searching around for just the right campsite… once found, we made some vegan Hawaiian burgers on gluten-free buns (that looked better than they tasted, I’m sorry to admit), had a nice little fire, and were in bed before 9pm.
You read that right, dear readers. I, the night-owl that I am, was in bed before the sun had even dipped below the horizon.
The next morning started before dark. A counterpoint to going to bed before dark, I guess?
Aliona had coffee going by 4:30am, and graciously slid a steaming mug of it (along with a warmed up mountain-house breakfast pack) under the fly of my tent. With those lovely smells buoying me up, I was out of my sleeping bag and mobile by 4:45am… though I can’t say that I was really conscious or sentient just yet.
That happened later.
For now, I was mobile, and had a way-too-energetic-for-this-early-hour guide helping keep my feet plodding in the generally right direction.
6:15am saw us leaving the car behind as we forged onward into the woods. I felt pretty awake at the time; chatting and enjoying the sunrise peaking over the nearby peaks. In retrospect, I don’t think I was actually quite that alive… but the fact remains that we were able to burn the miles away below our boots, and that soon enough we found ourselves arriving at the destination of a lifetime…
Colchuck Lake, with Dragontail Peak rising above it.
I mean, just… wow. I take good photos, but these don’t do this lake justice.
I’d seen photos of the area beforehand, of course. The elements of the scene weren’t surprising to me at all – I knew that there’d be a lake, and a huge granite scale of rock soaring above it.
But… the photos don’t quite do justice to the sheer scale of Dragontail peak. It’s singularly massive, soaring above the lake… seemingly dozens of times larger than the lake itself. When I saw pictures from other hikers, I was absolutely expecting a large rock face – I mean, the climbing route that I’ve drooled over is up to 13 pitches long, nearly 50% more than the longest route I’ve ever done. But even that didn’t prepare me adequately…
Once I finished scraping my jaw out of the dirt, Aliona and I moseyed onward toward our main objective – Asgards Pass. A quick chat with another hiker, and a break to put on crampons and pull out our ice axes (as well as candidly discuss how comfortable we were with the ascent, and review alternatives / escape routes), and we started up the steep slope toward the pass.
As we made our ascent, I was grinning like a maniac.
When I first moved to Oregon, one of my goals was to learn to mountaineer. I wanted to practice snow travel, to use my ice axe, and to feel my crampons bite into the crust of a glacier.
I’d done that, to an extent, but not nearly as often as I’d hoped that I would. Through the years since I moved here, life had gotten in the way more often than not, and lethargy had pulled me down as I’d been dragged into a less adventurous life.
Feeling the snow and ice surrounding me, and being brushed by the cool breeze off the snow, I was happy. I was energized, and I cruised up the steep snow far more quickly than I ever would have expected. I reveled in feeling my axe plunge into the snow, and I reveled in tracing a boot path in sweeping curves through the steeper sections.
I really do love the snow, if you couldn’t tell.
Soon enough, we reached the pass itself. We looked around, drank in the views and the crisp air, and collapsed onto a waiting rock formation.
I can’t really describe it. The photos are gorgeous, if I may say so myself, but they don’t quite capture the majesty of the views, or the exhilaration of finally reaching flat ground. The sandwich that I made tasted better, and the air felt more earned. Even as I type this out, more than three weeks afterward, I can feel the happiness that I felt.
We rested, ate, and chatted with an exceptionally excited backpacker that we’d talked with on the ascent. We didn’t quite take naps, but it was a pretty close thing… resting in the sun at that elevation, after forging through quite a few feet of elevation gain, can make it pretty challenging to keep your eyes open…
Soon enough after regaining our energy, we started the long trek back to the car.
After regaining the lake, I took a bit of time to enjoy the views and get more pretty pictures for all of my lovely readers… but aside from that, we mostly just trucked onward down the mountain and toward the trailhead.
On the way up, I could have sworn that the trail was nearly flat – I legitimately don’t really remember much of any elevation gain. On the hike down though, I knew that wasn’t quite an accurate memory as I slowly plodded down the trail. My legs were tired, my knees were hurting again, and my arms were actually getting a bit tired from the hiking poles. I knew that I’d be sleeping well once we got back to camp… but as we worked our way down the mountain that beautiful campsite seemed like a lifetime away.
After a while I could tell that Aliona was starting to go crazy from the slow pace that I was keeping. My knee’s been healed for years, but on major hikes like this it does tend to flare up a bit… which makes me slower than normal. Which, interestingly, is quite a bit slower than an ultra-runner who’s used to literally running down the trail after a hike.
“If you want to zip ahead, I’m fine clunking down the trail after you” – After my second time offering, she took me up on the chance and was out of sight within a minute.
I continued my plod.
I wasn’t fast, but I was happy.
Hiking itself is fun for me – even the pain was interesting, since I haven’t had much occasion to push myself this far in recent months. The last time was probably the backpacking trip in the snow, now that I think about it… but that was more brute strength forcing my body through the snow drifts, whereas this was sheer endurance, continuing on far after I’d prefer to have been napping by the side of the trail.
It was getting late though, and a nap was absolutely out of the question. I had to forge onward, and forge onward I did… ’till soon enough I saw the parking lot, and Aliona with the car and a snack all ready to ferry us back to camp.
Dinner was a quick event – I got the fire going while Aliona cooked up an amazing tomato and burger soup, which we then inhaled before sweeping off to a very well earned sleep.
Monday dawned bright, but we let ourselves sleep in for a nice while… we did have a deadline to be back in Portland, but it was late enough that neither of us were particularly worried. It was nice, and a solid day to rest and relax.
Oatmeal and coffee, then a quick drive through the Bavarian tourist town of Leavenworth.
Then the open highway beckoned us, and the five hours of driving meditation as we cruised back to Portland…