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Cross Country Season

Now that there’s a high schooler in the family, I’m learning about parenting during fall sports season. In this version of family adventuring, one of us is working hard and the rest of us are spectating. I’m proud of my son for running cross country and admire all of the athletes out there running 2 or 3 miles through whatever terrain and weather is happening that day. And in the northwest, that might be rain and mud, chilly forests, hills slippery with damp, or hot sunshine.

I love the talk of “PRs,” personal records as people improve their times throughout the season. And I love that athletes finish their race, and then turn to cheering on others still coming in.

Cross country season is adding positively to our family, encouraging all of us to get out more, and may even turn all of us into runners. Because I’m the only one in the family not running, and I’m feeling inspired.

Car-Free Bellingham Traverse

The car-free Ski to Sea relay race was so much fun last May, that I think we’ve moved into car-free eventing any time the race start is in our county. So this weekend, that meant my husband and brother-in-law teamed up for a car-free Bellingham Traverse. The multi-sport adventure race involves a 5.5 mile Run, 6 mile Mountain Bike, 18 mile Road Ride, 3 mile Trail Run, 4 mile Paddle, and finishes with a .5 mile Team Trek (a jog/run to the finish line).

Thus there are a number of start lines, one of which the kayak must be towed to by bicycle, for example. The logistics become an entertaining pre-race planning aspect, and make for more community involvement too. That is, non-racing community members seemed entertained by Tom riding his mountain bike to Lake Padden while one-handedly pushing the road bike that Ben would use when he arrived from running the first leg. Or community members smiled to see me tandem bicycling my brother-in-law to the race start. Fun stuff, and outdoor adventure even for those of us not racing.

Enter the Mothership

Almost to Waldron Island, we met up with my parents and Noah. The motoring mothership dwarfed the kayak we generally call the Big Banana. Dana elected to jump on board with them, so Tom & I powered the crossing without her.

The mothership motored ahead for a bit, then paced us alongside (“you’re making almost 5 knots” dad yelled), and finally settled in behind us.

With the weather a bit grey, we were happy to slide into Mail Bay and land right onto the beach. The mothership, of course, had to fiddle with their anchor and their dinghy to come ashore. Two very different species (the whale and the minnow?), double the options for the kids, an awesome adventure to Waldron Island.

Kayak Artwork

Dana & her dad kayaked 4 hours to pick me up on Orcas Island, and I think at that point she was pretty happy to hang out in the center of our triple while I took over paddling. We headed north to camp on Clark Island, which put us in position for paddling to Waldron the next day.

Since Dana would have plenty of non-paddling ride time, she became chief dolphin counter and eagle spotter. I also gave her a grease pencil, which other kayakers would use to mark compass bearings on their deck for glancing at easily. She had free reign to decorate our kayak, and used her creativity to document our journey. If you look carefully, you’ll see she’s noted “awesome person” with an arrow to herself. Her dad got “primate” with a similar arrow pointing at him.

She mostly wrote while we were paddling, but she did write “paddle mom” and a few other comments in front of me before we launched.

The grease pencil was well worth it, and the illustrated kayak makes me smile. I wonder how long we can leave it on before it becomes permanent. On the other hand, perhaps the artist needs a clean slate for her next thoughts.

Family Hitchhiking

I don’t typically advocate hitchhiking. So we introduced our method of returning to our car at the trailhead now 50K to the south with a disclaimer. Don’t hitchhike, children. Except when you’ve just been backpacking for days and you’re with your parents.

Figuring our family of four would not get picked up together, we split up. Dad & daughter vs. son & mom – let’s see who gets back to the car first. The daughter & dad duo got a ride out of the trail parking lot with some day hikers who had decided to change their starting point and agreed to take them back down the road.

Noah and I started walking from the hike parking lot towards the main road, and in a few minutes I heard a rumble behind us. I turned around and stuck out my thumb. The van pulled over, and we clambered in next to the couple’s dog. They were only going as far as the reservation, but could drop us at the intersection of the main road out of town, and were very sociable all the while.

That ride left us next to the tourist info office (note the whale behind Noah – though it had seen better days, the whale’s tail was not quite connected to the body anymore). We spent a half hour thumbing passing cars with no luck. I turned to Noah and suggested he smile some and look more adoptable. Then an SUV pulled over and it was a father & son duo we’d seen on the trail. Yahoo!

We were grateful they stopped and got to compare notes about our experiences on the trail. After awhile, we looked out to see the other half of our family on the roadside with thumbs out. They looked so darn cute I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t stopped for them. So we piled them into the backseat with Noah & I.  We were dropped at the trailhead turnoff, gave sincere thanks to our driver, and walked to our car.

Despite all of the dire warnings about break-ins at the trailhead, the car was untouched. We happily headed on to a grocery store where we got what looked good (fresh fruit & veggies, sandwiches, chocolate milk), and debriefed our family hitchhiking.

Our 5-day backpacking trip was a challenging mix of water and trail. Like the more famous West Coast Trail, we got to climb ladders, cross boardwalks, navigate tree and suspension bridges, pick our way through bouldered beaches, and camp on sandy beaches (Mystic Beach, Chin Beach, and Sombio Beach). The last night in the woods at Payzant Creek wasn’t as interesting, although watching the waves crash onto the rock seemed very Hawaii-like.

We learned that the 19K day including the most difficult portion of the trail was a few kilometers too much, that we should pack extra extra food for the teen guy in the group, that the kids are strong hikers, and that our tried and true tenting and camping methods still work well.

We also love our new MSR Hyperflow pump, a recent birthday gift from my in-laws (thanks!).

Highlights included this amazing waterfall. The water has carved smoothly into the rock and the light on the green moss was amazing.

Another highlight was beach engineering and artwork. The sandy beaches were favored for these activities, which involved rerouting streamlets, building castles, and carving into the sand.

The surprise on day 5 was an octopus in the tidepool at Botanical Bay. He or she was quite large, at least 4-5 feet with tentacles extended, and swam right out of the kelp bed and around in front of us. We were amazed, having certainly never seen an octopus in the wild before.

Island Bicycling

Previously, we divided our adventures into his, hers, and ours (the whole family). As the kids get older, and now that one set of grandparents has moved to town, we can parent adventure as well. The kids can stay home for swim team or cross country practice if they choose, and we can grab a little window of outdoor time.

We had two nights and 3 days to work with, so headed out on our bicycles early, were in Anacortes 3 hours later, and on the state ferry soon after. We rode on San Juan Island to our favorite hiker-biker site at the San Juan County Park, from which you get amazing sunsets and almost always see whales.

Except we saw no whales that evening. But then we spent the next day at Lime Kiln State Park, and there we were lucky enough to see thirty-some whales slowly passing by for almost four hours. I love hearing people ooh and ahh like they’re watching fireworks each time an orca’s huge dorsal fin breaks the surface.

We bicycled on Lopez Island on our third day and wandered some roads we hadn’t traveled on previous trips. We were lucky to have a simple parent bicycle venture with great weather, spectacular whale watching, and a personalized ferry pick-up from my parents. Pretty decadent to now have that option.

We loaded our bicycles onto the back of their boat, padded them with a couple towels, and bungied them in place. Then we watched little clear jellyfish by the hundreds as we made our way across the water towards home.

Some years ago, we did a family kayaking trip on Ross Lake. When I wrote about it for Adventures Northwest Magazine, I described my daughter’s interest in a particular waterfall area and how she thought of it as a perfect habitat for fairies. That place has been a special memory, and when I asked her what she wanted to do this summer, she said, “go back to Ross Lake!”

So we recruited another mother-daughter pair, and headed out for a 4-day adventure. With a landslide having changed the portage from Lake Diablo to Ross Lake, we thought navigating the new 100 yard carry-your-boat section would be a major challenge. Turned out a kind group of park service folks helped us, we were on time to meet the truck that would move our boats to complete the portage, and we were on to Cougar Island quite smoothly.

There’s nothing like having an entire little island all to yourself. Next time, I think I might pick entirely island sites. Although May Creek was a magical spot, as well.

We knew the weather window was a little questionable, so we were happy with high grey rather than rain. And the one time it did rain, the sun was shining on us. It made the rain sparkle and shine, and was such a visual treat, I didn’t mind getting a little wet.

We mixed up the paddle partners when the lake was calm, so the girls could paddle together sometimes. I think our girls in skirts had great fun in the land of the fairies.

Trip of the Week Club

While I’m an advocate of family adventuring, and the longer the better, I am having to adjust to the fact that my teen would rather do shorter family trips. Our planned 10-day family trip became a week long segment, and then finally a 5-day reality. Apparently two 5-day trips or a 5-day and two 2-3 day trips are preferable.

Wanting to be a flexible parent, I’m willing to try this experiment in shorter adventures.  So it will be kayaking with my daughter and another mother-daughter pair one week, a bike trip without the kids the next week, and then the 5-day backpacking adventure. Feels like I’ve joined a Trip of the Week Club.

Guess that’s honing other important aspects of our adventuring: independence, flexibility, and balance, for example.

Tandem Loan

Our beloved tandem bicycles have carried us on thousands of miles of family adventures. We’ve loaned them out for a few hours to various other families to try (resulting in three of those families getting tandems of their own), but this coming week friends from Colorado will arrive to head out on our tandems for a 5-day tour.

The adults are active, outdoorsy, and up for adventure, but have never bike toured with their first and third grade sons. It looks like they’ll have a good weather window, and we’ll help them with their itinerary and outfit them with our gear. I think they will love bicycle touring together, and I’m excited for them to try it.

But we’ll start them with a short ride to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday. Here’s to the start of summer adventures, ours and others’.