The hike to Colchuck Lake.

As I was ready to leave Levenworth this morning, I got the call that my friend, Nelle, had passed over the weekend. It was devastating news, as she was one of the most illuminating souls I have ever had the chance to meet—and although I have not seen her in many years, it crushed me. I rebooked my hotel room and decided I would dedicate this day to her. Last night, I was gifted a handful of wine tasting coupons from a couple I had met drinking spiced cider by the fire, and I knew that would have to be part of my tribute to my wine-lover girl, Nelle. I looked up hiking trails in the area, and found pristine reviews about a place called Colchuck lake- a 5 mile hike up to a mind-blowing view in the Enchantment mountain range. I promised I would make it to the top and dedicate the view to my friend, then raise a glass to her at the bottom.

I always get a bit nervous wandering deep into forests alone, but I saw seven other cars in the lot, and found comfort in the fact that if there was a bear or cougar, I wouldn’t be the first to know. I was over an hour in before I came across another soul. The scenery was so captivating—with snow capped boulders, rushing rivers, and frozen waterfalls—that I wasn’t too concerned about being solo. Yet, after another hour, and another thousand or two feet, it hit me that I was by myself, in the middle of a tundra, with only a bottle of water and a camera. Any other day, and I may have just called it good and turned back for fear I’d become the example of why they say not to go hiking alone—but I was able to move forward because I had a promise to keep. The last mile of the hike was grueling, and I was half in tears just begging the mountain Gods to make the lake appear. I said to myself, “If this were easy, it wouldn’t mean as much, one foot in front of the other, keep moving.” When a spot of blue finally peeked out from the trees, I wasn’t fully prepared for what I felt—my breath jumped, my body froze, and tears came to my eyes. I was utterly alone, standing on the edge of a cliff, crying as I witnessed truth in beauty. The water was completely still—frozen into layers of crinkled cellophane, not a ripple, not a sound. The cascading rock face was drizzled with lines of white icing as it looked down at its distorted reflection below. I’ve never witnessed such stillness in the air—it’s like time stopped— the Universe pausing in a moment of silence for its newest angel. I stood on the verge of rock and water, closed my eyes and felt my mind’s eye drift—I could sense my feet leave the ground and float above, existing neither in my world or in hers. It was a beautiful space in time, a oneness of existence with all that has been. I opened my eyes and witnessed the majesty of the mountain once more. I offered my deepest gratitude, warmed my hands against my heart, and began the descent back down below, carrying with me the last memory of me and Nelle, and knowing that now she is surrounding us everywhere—in the crisp fall breeze, in the smell of a freshly baked pie, and in all the little nuances that she appreciated in her very special time on Earth.

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The Metolias.

Most times, I don’t plan where I’m going to go until the day or so before, doing a fairly quick search on my favorite site OutdoorProject.com or Hipcamp.com to see what sites are available in certain geographic areas where I am near. This week, my end goal was to end up in Sisters, OR, where I had a blind date with a pilot from my company who lived there, and then jump off 20 miles to Bend after. On the drive down from Portland, I encountered nothing but stormy skies, engulfing my path with a whiteout of clouds and rain. I had picked out a specific campground on the Metolias river, which I planned to spend one night, but I was getting nervous that the rain would deter my perfect riverside picnic. As luck would have it, ten miles out from the turnoff, the sky peeled open with clear blue skies. I followed the directions and drove to the very end of the long dirt road past several other campsite turnouts. I thought for sure that this site would be empty, as it seemed a hidden treasure being so far out. Lo and behold, every site was full—save one—but it was right on top of the neighbor site to the right. I did a loop to see if there was anything else, but there was nothing. I pulled in, got out of the car, and took a stretch and a breath while taking in the majestic flowing river which was roaring with gusto right before me. I noticed a man to my right casually fidgeting with his fishing pole, so I walked up to him and coyly apologized for encroaching on his space. He gave me a warm smile, brushed off the supposed invasion, and welcomed me with kind eyes. Moments later, he motioned to his trailer where a beautiful woman emerged, and introduced me to his wife Cathy. From that moment on, the three of us were kind of inseparable. Chris watched in fascination as I popped out my little red riding hood, and within minutes, I was cozily and discreetly perched aside them. A few hours later, Chris and Cathy commandeered a raging campfire and invited me to join them. We corked several bottles of red wine and shared dozens of stories of our collective wanderlust adventures. I learned they were rounding out a four month cross-Canada/America road trip, and that the very next day would be their 39th wedding anniversary.

I wanted to something special for these new friends of mine, so I searched my Mini for anything that could resemble a present or an artistic gesture for such an event. Luckily, I found a drawing pad and colored in a sketch of Venice, Italy which, to me, embodies romance and adventure—the epitome of these two kindred souls I had just met. I left it on their picnic bench first thing in the morning, had a coffee, and then wandered up the river’s edge on a 10 mile hike along the river which I soon learned would steal my heart. Cathy had described the color of the azure waters as they passed under the foot bride, but I had no idea how true her words would be. The colors of the foliage along the banks were breath taking, and the feeling of the water’s rush I could feel in my veins. About three miles in, I was rudely awakened from my splendor my a sharp burning pinch on my butt! At first, I thought I was bit by a poisonous spider, doomed to loose a cheek, but then saw the yellowjackets spiraling up from the ground and knew I had been a victim of their folly. For the next seven miles, I was grabbing my ass and rubbing it with furvor! As I returned to the campsite, I saw C&C gathering their fly fishing gear together, and they came up to me to give me a hug for the gift I left them. “Do you want to come learn how to fly fish today?” Chris asked. Wish giddy glee glee glee I beamed an astounding “YES!!!”—and thus commenced the first day of the rest of my life as a fly fisher… I. Was. Hooked.

My friends Chris and Cathy captured my first hours as a fly fisher :)

ONP & Mt. Rainier—D20

Once I had my LRRH (Little Red Riding Hood), I knew I could go for more extended periods of time camping. For my next week off from the jets, I chose to explore the Olympic National Park in Washington. I was starting out from Tacoma, so my route took me from the south up to the west coast, rounding the north, and then jetting out back east. I only had one place picked out: Hoh Rainforest. From my brief research, it looked magical and drippy with character. The Hoh did not disappoint—I visualized and found the perfect camping spot on the corner of a lush road with a fallen tree, two dogs across the road, and a white van next door (ask me about my visualizations later… they’ve been extraordinarily profound lately!) Anyways… as you can see below, it was like magical fairies gifted Heaven down to me and smiled. I spent a joy-filled evening just sitting by my campfire and watching the world not rush by, then the next day I hiked five miles through the forest, passing waterfalls, rushing rivers, and serene hikers who had spent the night sleeping next to them.

Continuing up the coast, I didn’t have much of a plan, but looked at my map and saw—Beach #1, #2 and #3. There were short hiking trails attached to them, so I decided that this would fill my day, and I would end at Mora Campground just a crick away from the water. I think my jaw literally dropped open when the hiking path opened up and I saw the view of beach #2. Giant mounds of earth and trees reached out of the shallow waters against fallen remains of their ancestors lying on top of each other on the sandy shores. The tide was low, so people were actually able to walk all the way out to one of the monoliths (I did not because I was not in the mood to go barefoot and have my feet freeze off.) This was my first experience with a beach in the PNW—and I knew right then that I need more. A lot more! I proceeded to hike to beach #3. As I walked, I imagined a man at the end who would chat with me and share some great information… lo and behold, I met him. He told me about a great site he’d just left in Rainier Nat’l Park. “Do you remember the site you were at?” I asked. “Why, yeah I do! It was D20! It’s truly breathtaking, the best site in the whole campground, right on the edge of the cliff overlooking Mt. Rainier.” Right then & there, I knew how I would end this road trip. D20—Here I come!

I read there were hot springs nearby, so that was the plan for the next day. I found the very last spot at Sol Duc campground that night and shared my wine with a woman who pulled up next to me in just a pick up. She was hiking and soaking all day, ate a bite of a sandwich, and set up her camping mat in the back of her truck. I invited her for a glass, and we ended up chatting for over an hour by the campfire. The next morning, I gave her my (now spare) air mattress and wished her a happier sleep for the remainder of her journey. Then off to the soaking pools I went. It was two hours of blissy hot pools mixed with quick dips into the frigid cold waters. After feeling quite noodly, I showered and decided to head to the next mystery spot. On the way out, I got into conversation with a lovely woman named Spring who lived nearby. She told me of Diamond Lake, and a great little secret spot where I could go and take my chair and wine and get away from the masses and twirl my toes in the water. She also invited me to stop by her home and say hello and, heck, stay the night if I wanted with her and her husband. I memorized the directions to her house, and bid her adieu. I did end up driving by the next day, but I got shy and decided to just wave and continue on, appreciating the openness and warmth that she offered me. I also wanted to find this secret spot at the lake as soon as possible! On the way to the lodge, however, there was a big accident, and the only road was backed up for miles, so I took a detour to explore the edges of the north end of the lake, maybe have a picnic. That’s when I came across my own private Idaho—or, in this case, a dock. Nobody else around, just me and the breeze coming off the lake, the water lapping up on the shore, one beer, and a sandwich. Perfect. The traffic cleared and I made my way to the lodge—following Spring’s directions, I actually found the secret beach, twirled my toes in the cool sand, and sipped my glass of chilled pinot gris.

Time for D20. The whole way out to Rainier, I envisioned pulling up to D20 and seeing it free, setting up camp and reveling in the views that my #3 beach guy had described. I saw myself saying hi to my neighbor, him inviting me to share some wine and a campfire, and us having a stellar evening together. (I’m telling you, people, this stuff is pow-er-ful!) That is exactly what ended up happening. Well, not exactly… D20 was occupied, so I took D19. But guess who was in D20? Yup. The guy who invited me for wine. The next day when he left, he passed on his campsite to me, so I spent day 2 in the exact spot the beach #3 guy had told me about, sipping my coffee at the edge of the canyon where the white river flowed through, staring up at the glacial mountain above which adorned a white cloud cap at its peak. The stars were out full force, and I even saw a shooting one… so bright, it made me gasp.

The ONP held up this year’s tradition of each place being my favorite—each one bringing just as much happy happy joy joy as the last, but with different characters, shifting scenery, and wild surprises.

Below, some of the images that can’t even come close to sharing some of the magic with you…

The incredible lush & beautiful Hoh rainforest campground.

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Hike to Beach #3, where I met the man who told me to go find D20.

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Below: My “hike” 5 miles out to sea to the New Dungeness lighthouse & a hidden treasure private Shelly-dock on Diamond Lake!

Mt. Rainier and the stunning Whitewater campground.

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Life changer! Little Red Riding Hood

I don’t know what took me so long, but once I finally made the rash decision (after 10 months of research) to invest in my roof top tent, life- was- changed- forever! Best thing I ever did. My first overnight was at Frog Lake, in the Mt. Hood National Forest. I was thankful to have a privacy so that no one could see me struggle getting the tent down for the first time (later I would discover that the key was using the ladder as leverage.) I slept like a— well, not a baby, cuz I don’t sleep well lately, so hmmm…. I slept like a happy, comfy insomniac! It was heaven! I even did a down dog when I woke up in the morning, filled with giddy smiles as I felt the immense room around me and the padded floor (as opposed to the previous deflated air mattress that left indentations from my hip bones at 3 am.) Yes indeed, this was PURE luxury! (Stop laughing, Sprinter Van people, you elitist snobs!!! …just kidding, I love you) Anyways, day two I drove to Smith Rock State Park, which is one big mind blow surrounded by a river, and then ended up camping lakeside at a quaint little volcanic waterhole called East Lake. The following day, Paulina Peak beckoned me to climb her before heading off to the place I would discover would become my Paradise on Earth. (You’ll have to keep reading to see where that is!)

Little Red Riding Hood! Day one—Frog Lake, OR.

Little Red Riding Hood! Day one—Frog Lake, OR.

Smith Rock State Park, OR.

Smith Rock State Park, OR.

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Sunset at East Lake

Sunset at East Lake

Awesome camp neighbor, Sonny the dog.

Awesome camp neighbor, Sonny the dog.

Waking up in LRRH on the shore of East Lake.

Waking up in LRRH on the shore of East Lake.

Coffee in the sand, with my beer bar mug from a layover in WKW..

Coffee in the sand, with my beer bar mug from a layover in WKW..

Half way to Paulina Peak

Half way to Paulina Peak

Paulina Peak (East lake is on the right)!

Paulina Peak (East lake is on the right)!

Mt. Rose peak & Yosemite

After the High Sierra music festival, I drove through Tahoe and decided to visit Yosemite on my way back to the City. I had a recommendation to climb Mt. Rose, but didn’t expect to go all the way as it seemed crazy long and far. Ultimately, I took the wrong turn and ended up there anyway! But what a view! The last 1/4 mile was brutal, and I felt like I was on the final approach of Everest! (Ok, not really, but it was hard.) I was rewarded later that day with the perfect campsite just outside the park gates. I put my blanket down on the edge of the lake, made myself a G&T, fluttered my toes in the water, and read a book whilst soaking up the mountain sun. (My sunburn later reminded me that in my glee I should have been more prudent) The mozzies came out with fury at dusk, and I had no camp wood, so I climbed in the back of my MIni and watched the light fade away as I drifted off to sleep. At dawn, I was wide awake and jumped out of the car to capture the sun rise over the lake, eager to start my journey through one of my favorite National Parks on the planet. One that I had been absent from for too long.

The view from the peak of Mt. Rose with Lake Tahoe in the distance.

The view from the peak of Mt. Rose with Lake Tahoe in the distance.

My pristine view at Tuolumne Campground, just outside the gates of Yosemite.

My pristine view at Tuolumne Campground, just outside the gates of Yosemite.

Sunrise just before heading into Yosemite.

Sunrise just before heading into Yosemite.

Muir Lake. Yosemite.

Muir Lake. Yosemite.