Walk, don’t wait.

I took my car to the garage today.  It’s not close to home, and is on a semi-industrial stretch of Leary Way in Seattle.  It’s a rare sunny day though, and rather than sit in the waiting room, I challenged myself to explore the area a bit on foot.

Thanks to some Googlin’, I found a little park about 15 minutes away.  It’s tiny indeed – you can probably circle it in under two minutes.  (In a former life, three houses sat on the site before the community reclaimed the land).  But it offers a panoramic view of the Olympics.

Fremont Peak Park

As it’s embedded in a quiet, residential neighborhood, I get the feeling that mainly locals visit.  A woman walking out of the park gave me a friendly “good morning” – not something that people really bother to do in the more crowded parks around town.

Since I’m a pro at getting stuff all over my clothes on a regular basis, I managed to coat my purse in chalk with an added dollop of bird poo.   Much of the park was covered in chalk drawings, and some time later (of course) I realized my jeans still carried smeared remnants of helpful graffiti advice: “DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD.” 
Did you know Google Maps, Mapquest and Ask.com all offer walking maps?  It works just like car directions do, only the routes and travel times are tailored for walkers.   Google’s offering is in Beta right now, meaning it comes with a warning about potential inaccuracies.  Mapquest’s service is new as of this February.  (“Walking directions will guide you down the most efficient paths and through parks, often avoiding vehicle traffic,” says Mapquest’s blogger).
I tried out all three sites for this walk, and was most impressed with Mapquest.  After the map is generated, you can click on pieces of the path to adjust the route more to your liking.  You can also text the finished map to your phone.  This is what it looked like on my iPhone:
Mapquest walking directions on the iPhoneThen you just tap the link to see the map. 
Or you can just walk out the door mapless, and see what you find. 
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Close-to-home hiking

Walking around the block or neighborhood is a good way to get in some low-key exercise.  But have you ever considered upgrading your walk, trading in the sidewalk and buildings for a trail and trees? 

Many cities and towns have parks and greenbelt areas within city limits (Discovery Park in Seattle is my favorite urban oasis).  But maybe you’d like to venture out just a tiny bit further into the wilds, without making much of a time commitment?

If that’s the case, check out your county and state parks online.  You might be surprised – there could be a soothing swath of green just waiting for you close by. 

For instance, King County, WA has a parks website complete with giant “PARKS” and “TRAILS” buttons on the homepage.   Click on “trails” and then “Cougar Mountain,” and you’ll see where I spent part of recent Sunday with my friend Nancy.  We both love hiking, but wanted something a little closer to home that weekend.  Cougar Mountain is about 15 minutes away (when the traffic gods are smiling), so off we went.

There are 36 miles of trails, including waterfalls, scenic viewpoints, and some odd historical artifacts (scant remains of an old mining town and a Cold War-era missile launch site).   It’s a much-beloved park, so expect to say hi to a good number of fellow hikers, dogs and trail runners.   Horses are also allowed on some trails.

We started at the Sky Country trailhead and hiked down to the Coal Creek Falls waterfall.  The rushing water, lush greenery, and little wooden bridge made for a good reward.

Cougar Mountain

Cougar Mountain Park by Nancy Churillo

Coal Creek Falls

Coal Creek Falls by Nancy Churillo

Coal Creek Falls

Coal Creek Falls by Nancy Churillo

Cougar Mountain Park

Cougar Mountain Park by Nancy Churillo

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Adventures in trying to travel write…

My tiny travels for the month of December involved the 2 feet from my chair to the keyboard, for the most part.  With a small side loop trail to the fridge.  I’m knee-deep in a travel writing class hosted by writers.com.  It’s the first writing class I’ve taken in, oh, 12 years.  I knew I would be a bit rusty, but I’ve been surprised at just how rusty.  The “you suck” demons of self-doubt have made a point of visiting… often… but luckily, I know about them, and try to tell them to shut up.  It’s still torturous at times.  But I’m enjoying it.

I’m writing about windstorm watching on the Pacific Northwest coast.  It’s kind of a cousin to the tornado chasing that goes on in Midwest, but definitely is much different (no 50 ft. waves and freaked-out seagulls in Nebraska).   Also, it’s way more predictable, as Cliff Mass explained to me in an interview.  Tornados are wily, but a storm coming in off the Pacific will be sitting out there for a few days, waiting for you to notice it and drive to the coast for your weather lashing.

Ruby Beach

Ruby Beach. © 2010 J. Eby

I visited Kalaloch Lodge on the WA coast last January, but missed a storm.  This caused much of my writing heartburn, but I’m sort of writing around that missing piece until I can catch a storm. 

Wish me luck… I have about 2 months left this season.  I totally missed a Pineapple Express recently (shows what I know about weather – I thought it was just a big sad blob of rain, but the Kalaloch employees I interviewed let me know I missed a storm – d’oh!)

Rabidly checking these links:

National Weather Service (North Coast, WA)

NOAA Wavewatch

People (short attention span)

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Dark ‘n stormy

Growing up in the Midwest, I developed a love for all things stormy.   Thunderclaps so strong the house would shake; lightning that would make us start counting  “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” to see how far away the storm was.  (Each “Mississippi” between lighting and thunder translates to a mile, or so I remember being told).  On rare occasions, the tv would advise us to take shelter.

Now I live in the Pacific Northwest, and thunderstorms are rare.  However…

Last January, I took a winter trip to the Washington coast, spending a night at Kalaloch Lodge.  While booking that trip, I noticed they welcome “storm watchers,” and was intrigued by that.  I thought I was being ingenious for visiting the beach in January, when surely not many others would schedule a beach vacation.

But apparently enough folks are drawn by prospect of ocean storms that the Olympic National Park offers a Storm Watchers Package, complete with rain ponchos for two.

Jamie at Dungeness Spit 2009

Tuck 'n click, with a "backpack hitting the head" twist. Dungeness Spit in 2009 by Nancy Churillo.

I’ve mulled it over a bit in the last few weeks.  Should I go again?  Should I go alone?  One of my goals would be to photograph a storm if possible.  Perhaps a friend would be bored by tagging along and witnessing me burn through a billion rolls of film.  Although there would free demonstrations of photography gymnastics.  🙂

I looked up the rates this morning for late January, and it’s considerably cheaper than what I spent last year (then justified in my mind as a splurge and a much-needed mental vacation).  For 1 or 2 people in an ocean view cabin, it would be $299 for two weekday nights (weekends are more expensive). 

I’ve decided to go.  And I’m going to try going alone again.  I am quite shy, so solo travel is a challenge… more on that topic later. 

I’m excited.  Something to look forward to!  Look for my post and pics in February.

The cabins have their own kitchenettes, so I will be packing in all my own food (though I see breakfast is included in the Storm Watchers Package).  Considering the airfare and hotel costs of a traditional beach getaway vacation, I think my dark ‘n stormy mini-vacation will be much less expensive, and much more unique.

There is also the side bonus of a storm rendering the road tree-strewn and inaccessible, making it difficult to return to my day job in a timely way.  How can I go wrong? Sign me up for all of that.

Kalaloch Beach 1.2010

Kalaloch Beach. One of my favorite pics from last year. Copyright 2010 J. Eby

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“His name is Blaine?! That’s a major appliance, not a”

… travel writer?

Inexplicably, my favorite movie of all time and my love of travel writing have crossed paths.

Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink movie poster, 1986

Andrew McCarthy, who played confused preppy Blaine in Pretty in Pink, was just named the 2010 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year.   One might think, due to his still-active acting career, that perhaps this was due to something like a single fantastic essay.  But as it turns out, he has a number of respectable clips from establishment magazines such as Atlantic, Travel + Leisure and National Geographic.

Andrew McCarthy

Andrew McCarthy today

His National Geographic piece is especially touching.  Some years ago, he attended a month-long National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course in Wyoming, during which time one of his young classmates (just 16) was killed in a river crossing.  He writes about being witness to that, and also about his solo return to the same place 12 years later.

Links to his writing can be found on his website.

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The Blues Sisters, by The Other Sister

My little sister’s take on our trip, via her wonderful new cooking blog:


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The Blues Sisters

In January, I took a solo trip to the Washington coast. It turned out to be the best solo travel experience of my life, and I used that experience to write a full-length travel essay.  I’ve not yet blogged about that experience, but perhaps I will post that essay here this winter.

Anyway, long story short – I did post briefly about the experience on Facebook. My sister wrote back: “I want to go on little weekend trips! You’re so adventurous.”

The thing is, I’m marginally adventurous. Like I mentioned in the very first post of this blog, I have not left North America in 14 years – d’oh! I’m not someone who has devoted most of their time and money to crisscrossing the globe. I tip my hat to those who have made travel their life, but I am more interested in those who tend a life full of other interests and priorities, but who also would like to travel more.

Back to my sister – I was not about to let her off the hook with a comment like that! I wrote back confirming that I am “not that adventurous,” and so she too could undertake little trips if desired. I questioned her a bit further, and found that she’d like to visit some museums. I mentioned the art museum in our home town, but then also mentioned the Art Institute of Chicago, which is within driving distance.

Fast forward 8 months, and we are standing in the Art Institute. I flew in from Seattle, and we drove from northeastern Indiana to Chicago together, with plans to stay one night.

Obviously my flight doesn’t fall into the category of tiny travel, or budget travel. However, for someone living in our home town, this would qualify as a tiny trip. It’s like this: a 3.5 hour drive to Chicago, one night in a dowtown hotel 2 blocks from the Art Institute (easy walking!) and no plans but to spend the next day at the Art Institute. I wanted to keep things as low-key and low stress as possible.

Cloud Gate, aka "the bean," by Anish Kapoor.

Cloud Gate, aka "the bean," by Anish Kapoor.

And it was, excepting the driving. If you’re not used to pea soup traffic, where about half the peas weave in and out without turn signals, driving in Chicago can be stressful. Once we parked and got settled at the hotel, we were free to roam about and relax a bit. We walked over to Millenium Park to see the legendary bean sculpure, and then made a beeline for pizza.

Though it’s a giant cliche, I was really looking forward to some Chicago pizza.  I felt a bit silly asking the hotel conceirge for “good pizza,” but I’m guessing she gets this question often, as she had 2 suggestions on the tip of her tongue.  We chose Pizano’s, where “Ellen had pizza delivered to the audience when she was in town with Oprah.”

Wow.  Just… wow.  Sometimes cliches don’t live up to the hype, but I can assure you that heavenly pizza is alive and well in Chicago.  We got the Mike’s Special thin crust, which is tomato, basil and fresh garlic on a cornmeal (!) crust.  It was beyond tasty.  Stuffed, we took half back to the hotel, only to crack open the doggie bag a few hours later to devour the rest.  While grabbing the link to Pizano’s website, I noticed they may soon be offering coast-to-coast shipping.  Dangerous.

Seurat at the Art Institute of Chicago

"A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," Seurat, Art Institute of Chicago.

Oh, the Art Institute.  There was a line outside, but it moved quickly, and we were soon deposited in the atrium.  It is a giant building divided into countless small rooms, housing art, photography, sculpture, textiles and artifacts from countless eras and countries.  It is a bit overwhelming, and I’d say you almost need 2 days to see everything without rushing.  By a stroke of luck, there was a major exhibit by one of my favorite photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson.  We also saw the Impressionist collection (very crowded), and our favorite, the modern section. 

One thing – when paying for tickets, there is an option to purchase a $6 “pocketguide.”  I did this, not knowing you can get a free map inside the museum.  The guide is more of a keepsake that features selected works, and doesn’t actually include a map.   Save yourself $6 if you just want the map.

One nice thing about Indiana is it indeed earns its motto of “Crossroads of America.”  It’s within driving distance of Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Louisville, and Cincinatti.   Though it can seem like the middle of nowhere sometimes, it can also be seen in a different way – as a launching pad for quite a number of potential tiny trips.

When I finally made it back to Seattle, I opened my apartment door, and saw this:

Jake and Elwood postcard on the floor

My postcard of Jake and Elwood, usually tucked into a mirror. 

Distance (one way): 165 miles
Gas cost (round trip): $50
Toll roads (round trip): $10-ish
Art Institute admission fee (2 adults): $36
Art Institute pocketguide: $6
Millenium Park : free
Parking (26 hours): $37
1 dinner, 1 lunch (2 people): $50
Hotel (Silversmith, 2 adults): $219
Hotel bellhop tip: $2
Total: $205 per person
In one word: sardine

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