Our second wilderness boundary to cross this year was the Colonel Bob Wilderness east of Lake Quinault.
It was a beautiful Monday morning wander through fresh spring growth, and we ran into just one other hiking party on our way down.
Curious, I tried to do a little digging on the origin of the name Colonel Bob. A peak within its 11,961 acre bounds carried the name (and a fire lookout) long before the wilderness area was designated in 1984. According to Wikipedia, the peak was named for lawyer, writer, and orator Robert J. Ingersoll. I couldn’t find a cited source for that information.
We chose the Fletcher Canyon trail because, well, easy pickings. The wilderness boundary is just a short walk from the parking lot, and in addition we had hiked the trail in 2019 (when Chay still just barely and wonderfully fit his carrier) and remember the trail being good enough that our guy could walk it. We hiked along the trail for about a mile, then turned around to have lunch at the car.
It was a verdant wander through old trees and beautiful native undergrowth, and reminded us of why we value these wild, preserved places. They offer a reminder of what our region looked like before the ancient forests fell to the saw blade.
We started our wilderness project with a unique one – the Juniper Dunes Wilderness near Pasco. Per the Bureau of Land Management, it was part of the 1984 designation and preserves the northernmost stand of western juniper trees. The entire 7,140+ acre area is fenced in, bordered on almost all sides by private land.
The day of our visit in early March was very windy, par for the course here I understand, and we were really proud of ourselves for remembering to throw our ski goggles in the car. They really helped keep blowing sand out of Chay’s eyes, making the walk much more enjoyable.
There are no designated trails within the wilderness. We followed game trails from dune to dune, spending several hours in the wilderness bounds and getting to test our (literal) wilderness navigation skills while taking care to avoid stepping on plants just coming up for the spring.
I feel closest to God when in wild spaces. Years ago people stopped asking or worrying about why we weren’t at church on any given Sunday, and instead began to just ask us where we had been hiking.
I remember fuming when a local (well-known) pastor famously bragged at an out of state conference about how he drives a gas guzzler… because his thinks God is just going to burn the planet anyway. God, help us be better people – better stewards – than this.
I grieve the political lines drawn, where how we treat the planet becomes just another pawn in the game. The false dichotomy does so much damage.
“The earth is what we all have in common,” wrote author Wendell Berry. As popular a man to quote as he is to criticize, I highly recommend wading through some of his essays, especially today of all days.
Our family has been focusing the last few years on curbing our stuff consumption. My husband is a poster boy for this. A lot of his current hiking gear is from REI garage sales in high school, and for perspective, we are now in our thirties. He’s amazing.
Curbing consumption is certainly trendy, and a trend that hopefully sticks around. It is also something people for generations before were very good at. My grandma was (and still is, at 98) so good at buying little and repurposing what she already had. Focusing on consumption addresses not only what we throw away but how everything we buy already has a trail of waste. Fuel burned, pesticides sprayed, water used, shipment packaging produced and discarded, etc. Using less reduces the waste of that entire cycle.
I’m a little hesitant to start just listing green “tips” because we honestly aren’t super great at it. We drive to the mountains almost every week, and that’s at least an hour drive. So I see and admit the hypocrisy. David Gessner’s book My Green Manifesto tackles this. Another one for my unofficial recommended reading list.
There are other areas I feel like we do a little better, so I thought I’d just list some of the things we have been up to in case any of it is relatable or helpful. That seems to be the thing to do today on blogs like this.
We all wear a lot of used clothing, which is not hard for me to do because I grew up wearing almost exclusively thrift store clothes. I will note that this is a tricky subject. It’s becoming less of a cost saving measure and more something people with means do to reduce their environmental footprint, and I think that is driving up prices. I hope a balance can be found here that we can all benefit from.
When we buy new items, like shoes and technical outwear that we had trouble finding used, we buy items designed to last long and well when we can afford them. It isn’t always easy to see quality nor does it always manifest right away. We are still learning how to do this.
Ultimately it means buying less. What we already have is often the most sustainable option.
We have been getting better at is identifying foods we eat regularly, and buying them in larger quantities when possible – if we know we will eat all of it – when it can mean less packaging. And it saves money! Buying organic in larger quantities often works out to being more affordable by unit price than by buying several smaller quantities of conventional food, especially for seasonal produce. If it’s fresh, I’ll often freeze what I don’t think we’ll eat right away.
We keep a small home veggie garden. We are Zone 8b, so in the winter it’s mainly kale, radishes and a few evergreen herbs. But in summer? We grow snow peas, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, and more. Starting plants from paper seed packets and eating the food they bear saves us some packaging waste guilt.
There’s also the “foraging” we do… to make it sound cooler than it is. The Puget Sound region is choked with invasive blackberry, and we only just used up the last jar of freezer jam we made last August. Chay and I carefully picked berries from the thorny bushes on the rim of our neighborhood greenbelt and he helped me turn them into a supply of jam that lasted eight months. Foraging is a nuanced action. Particularly with native berries and plants, we want to always leave enough for the wildlife. But I have no guilt with picking as much fruit as I can from invasive and abundant blackberry vines.
There is nuance with everything really, as we live in a connected world and we rely on waste to keep our economy going. But the power of the consumer to sway at least the way businesses produce and plan for product lifetime has already begun to affect change, most obviously right now in how companies are now marketing the steps they are taking green. Capitalism finds a way.
We can look for opportunities to make changes for the better, we can encourage one another, and now we’re off to mark the day by picking up some trash around the neighborhood.
For years the idea of keeping a family blog of our outdoor excursions has been on my mind.
I just had so many reasons to postpone starting one.
I do love sharing what we are doing. There are times I’m so proud of us for getting out there. I don’t want to ever pretend I don’t enjoy talking about us because that would be lying. And there are of course so many times we’ve really utterly failed at something and I want to be brave enough to share those moments as well.
Being able to get outside is already a privilege. I kept asking myself, am I knowledgeable enough about anything to feel like sharing our travels and experiences could help other families as well, rather than merely serve to gloat? What can I offer?
Also at the top of my list of reasons to not blog was my frustration with some of the blogs and articles on outdoor parenting that I have read. Some seemed to be trying to push products for pay even if the product wasn’t that great or was prohibitively expensive.
Reading others just left me feeling sorry for myself. I am a parent of a kid who from his birth has not ever slept much compared to his peers, and who would cry himself to sleep because he simply didn’t want to be apart from us. When we tried camping, if he wasn’t snuggled up against me, and sometimes even if he was, he would scream for hours before falling asleep. So for the first two years campgounds were out for the sake of any campground neighbors. I also struggle with anxiety and often felt I wasn’t getting the support I needed (that old comparison trap) so reading about the awesome situations other families found themselves in was really difficult for my lizard brain. I have a kid who just doesn’t like to sleep for no apparent reason. This is a common brain state for me. I probably should call it something other than lizard brain, lizards are really cool and don’t deserve that. Maybe “perpetually sleep deprived mom brain” or something like that.
I just needed to get over myself when it came to that one.
I also didn’t feel like opening our life up to more destructive criticism. Parenting choices can be intensely personal and making our lives visible to the outside opens up some potential for getting bullied or accused of being a terrible parent by people who don’t even know me. The more posting, the more opportunities to get cut down. I wasn’t emotionally ready for these what-ifs.
Another real concern was privacy and respect for my son. If I was going to take the time to write and photograph (all photos and content are our own) I wanted what I posted to be accessible to more than just a few people. At the same time, I didn’t want my son to feel later on like I had been posting about him for the world to see without respect for his wishes or even safety. Before I did anything I had to decide what and how much to share, and how often.
And then I worried my focus could become more about getting material for a blog and less about simply enjoying the outdoors with my family.
And so we kept going outside and learning things.
So here I am, finally committing. A few of you over the years have encouraged me to do this. Thank you. I think I’m ready. And I’m excited and motivated!
There are a few ground rules I’m setting for myself.
First, I will try to write descriptively rather than prescriptively wherever I can. Parents are subjected to so much judgment on oh-so-many sides. As the parent of a little boy who is as tall as an average kid several years older than him, I’ve seen the quizzical looks from passers by when he has a meltdown in the trailhead parking lot. “He’s not as old as he looks, people!” is what I’ve wanted to shout. Because I’m super self-conscious like that. Like ultimately, who cares? But in the moment, I do.
There are so many opinions on how to parent, and I do not think there is one perfect approach that works for every kid when it comes down to the details. I don’t want to make anyone reading feel like I’m criticizing them or their way of parenting.
I especially don’t want to shame anyone for not getting their kid(s) outside as much as we do. We’re a little extreme, and that is almost always more for my husband and my sake than for our son. We simply want to be outside, be it hiking, kayaking, skiing, biking, climbing, or just having a picnic at the beach. We did before Chay was born, and getting outside continues to keep us sane. Staying home would be a much more difficult challenge for us.
And it is here that I add a caveat very important to me. I want this to be out there now, from the beginning.
I believe the world that sustains us deserves both love and respect, that wild places are not for mere human consumption (when I talk about our wilderness project I will address this more, stay tuned!) and that every person on this planet should be treated with love.
I will be weaving ways our family has found to practice Leave No Trace outdoor ethics and general hiking and outdoor etiquette into what I post. These are guidelines that can help outdoorspeople love and respect the places they visit, the flora and fauna found therein, and the people who join them in this space. From the past, perhaps by picking up another’s trash. In the present, actions such as on the descent yielding to uphill travelers. And for the future with things like keeping a clean camp, leaving flowers where they are, and traveling only on durable surfaces like trails and bare rock.
I wasn’t taught Leave No Trace ethics all at once. I made embarrassing mistakes in my more naïve younger years I am ashamed to admit, and it stemmed from both a lack of education and my lack of willingness to see that I was not the only person to visit a place, and that my actions combined with the actions of all other visitors affect both the area and the people who come next. As environmentalist and author Wendell Berry said, “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” If I can help just one person avoid making any of those mistakes, I’ll count myself successful.
Sharing about hikes and wild places carries the potential for increasing the number of people who may do that hike, and I do not take that flippantly.
If a place is reachable by car and a short hike, even if it feels like the middle of nowhere, there are thousands of people willing to drive for hours or even days to get there. I’ve seen locations here in Washington go from being quiet on weekends a decade ago to being a trailhead we now only dare to try to park at on weekdays. We are really fortunate to have paid time off so that we can do this without taking a financial hit. I do recognize this.
It’s not just about trash on trails. It’s human feet trampling plants and human hands feeding wildlife, and large quantities of human waste and soap making its way into bodies of water where it shouldn’t be.
So I’m striving for a balance. On one hand, withholding information about a location can be a form of gatekeeping. I want to encourage families to experience the outdoors responsibly, because I really do believe being in nature can change us for the better, and make us more compassionate (Lord, the world sure needs more compassion) if we let it.
On the other hand, some trails narrowly wind through a fragile biome, and a massive influx of people could destroy an area. Photos in particular are powerful motivators. Places that were merely popular a decade ago are now overrun and trampled, and I do think social media has caused some of this. Outdoor adventures are glamorized and glorified, and when we notice a cool place in a picture on social media, we naturally want to go see it and experience it ourselves. The beauty in the wild speaks to us.
So how can I figure out how to square this apparent conflict of interest? I want these places to be cherished and respected and protected by future generations. Learning of their very existence and seeing them with our own eyes is a way we can do this. With the human ability to change our environment to suit our desires, nature needs advocates. In many ways wild spaces are better off when humans never darken the doors of their cathedrals. But parks and public lands, had humans not seen and appreciated them and pushed for them to be set aside, would have been thoroughly plundered by other humans for their resources, be it timber, minerals, or scenery. (We need wood for our homes, and ore for our electric car batteries, and convenient access to nature is a good thing that heals so many. Good land management is nuanced.)
So this is something I will continue to think about every time I post. Please have patience with me.
Friend, if you find yourself inspired to visit a place I do share about, I beg of you, please respect and love these precious spaces as best you can.
Secondly, and more concisely, if I mention a product it is because we have found the item met a need and worked well for us. It’s not like I have the followership for sponsored content anyway. Ha.
Lastly, I intend to keep some things about our lives private. I won’t be posting upcoming itineraries. I will limit the number of pictures I share with my son’s face prominently in them. If Chay (or my husband) ask that I not share something, I won’t. I may even retroactively delete or edit posts if Chay later decides he doesn’t want something online. Even so, there aren’t full takebacks to anything posted online, so I will be careful what I share.
Thanks so much for getting to the end of this blog post, and if you feel so inclined to follow along with what this particular Allen family is up to in the wild, I’d be so thrilled. I’m excited to pour some energy into this space.
Our son was born at the beginning of winter, and when we came home from the hospital there was snow on the ground. In many places this is pretty standard, but for the Puget Sound lowlands, snow on the ground is either a real treat, or a real stressor. For us, it’s pure joy.
Chay’s first snowy mountain outing with us was right at six weeks old, as soon as I was allowed to exercise again after my emergency cesarean. We snowshoed Hurricane Ridge, from the lodge out to the Hurricane Hill trailhead and back. I just love that walk. It was a clear, sunny day and you could see for dozens of miles in all directions. He was all bundled up and cozy up against Daddy, and we took several breaks for feeding. I just fed him standing up, on the side of the trail. When he was little and light it was pretty easy.
Fast forward to the next winter, at one year old, he was able to sit up in our heirloom toboggan, though we preferred to carry him when actually hiking any amount of distance.
At this point we’d transitioned to putting him in the backpack, and with him not snuggled up against us, we made a point of bundling him up under a fleece suit and insulated jacket for warmth. I found slipping my merino socks over his hands and arms worked better than baby gloves in terms of staying on his hands.
By his third winter (at just turned 2 years old) we’d gone full snowsuit and coat. He was mobile, but he didn’t want to wear gloves. He’d reach for pile of snow, feel it, then fuss because his hands were cold. The cycle would repeat with every outing, and it made me a big fan of oversized jackets so he could at least tuck his hands into his sleeve to warm up. When riding in the pack, we could sometimes get him to wear gloves, but most of this luck was reserved for when he fell asleep.
By his fourth winter, he had decided that he actually did like the snow. He understood more or less that mittens keep his fingers warm, and would sometimes wear them for more than five minutes without taking them off to fidget with something.
He no longer fit his pack, so relatively flat snow walking, shoeing and skiing became our best ways to log any amount of distance (and exercise) on snow with him.
Darin had rigged a sled so it can be towed with skis or snowshoes on moderate grades, Chay even took a nap in it once. We bundled him up whenever he’d be in the sled along with a pile of blankets, and when he wanted to get out and walk we always let him. It kept him entertained and his blood moving.
This was the year I started to always pack a thermos of hot water, packets of hot chocolate, and a stasher bag full of mini marshmallows to keep in the car. We all enjoyed the treat at the end.
In the car I also stash a down blanket (packs small and delivers lots of warmth) and a complete change of clothes (shoes and socks too) for him because he somehow always manages to get snow down his shirt. Always. Even waterproof boots are only waterproof to the point where snow inevitably makes its way inside. If we’ll be any amount of distance from the car, we also carry a fleece sleeper with us as a backup.
To keep spirits up, I try make these outings as enjoyable as possible for all of us. Sometimes it’s singing Jingle Bells while we ski, sometimes it’s hot cocoa back at the car, sometimes it’s getting to eat out on the way home.
4/13/21: Throwing in a little update here:
By his fifth winter, Chay insisted on skiing and snowshoeing with us rather than riding in the sled. We still usually pulled the sled so we had the option of logging some distance while he rested, but that happened less and less. By March 2021, he was skiing pretty much the whole thing. It was slow, and this time it was Mommy and Daddy who had to bundle up.
While watching him insist on doing hill laps with his cross-country skis, we started to imagine someday once again going for miles and miles with him, and wondered at what point he’ll be looking back at us saying, “Mom! Dad! Hurry up!”
We had never even heard of this place before moving to Lynnwood seven years ago. Upon moving in to our home and realizing we didn’t really know the area, this was one of the first places we visited. It reminded me of walks I used to do with my grandpa through Ravenna Park in Seattle, particularly with the trees and the creek, but with one very important distinction. This one has a beach at the bottom! And now, with a three year old in tow, the tunnel under the train tracks makes it extra cool.
Before kiddo, my husband would regularly run this trail from our house, even before trail work was done to make that stair section much safer. (Thanks, Washington Trails Association!) Spring weekday evenings we could be found carrying 50lb packs down and up, training for mountaineering season.
Now it has become a walk we can do with our little guy. With a total distance approaching 2.5 miles (if you do the lollipop loop down by the ranger residence) it’s a wonderful walk that feels like you’ve done something (with over 400′ elevation gain… on the way back) but still short enough to do before heading off to that birthday party, or after a morning of housework when you realize you really need to get outside.
The parking lot very frequently fills up on weekends and summer evenings, but there is more parking in the neighborhoods at the top of the hill.
Yesterday’s walk around Gold Creek Pond at Snoqualmie Pass was magical.
At least at the beginning and end.
The fun of trotting along on snow, hopping in the pulk sled, and getting back out to run again eventually wore off, and for the last half of our 2.5+ mile walk on freshly fallen snow my son was not so enthused.
I think packing hot water and cocoa for when we got back to the car was the best move I made all day.
Gold Creek was one of the first snowshoe walks I did, over ten years ago now. It’s a flat walk, making it perfect for pulling the sled. While very busy on weekends, we will definitely be hitting this one again, hopefully on another weekday.
There’s no such thing as sleeping in when you’re a parent of a three year old. At 6 am when our little guy showed up at the side of our bed, arms full of stuffed animals, we cuddled for a bit and then got up to start our day.
We expected rain all day, but when my husband peeked outside and saw brilliant, beautiful stars above, we were instantly in agreement that we should go somewhere. Seeing that the mountains were going to be quite snowy, we settled instead on visiting Camano Island. A short drive from our home, but it feels a world away.
After playing for about a half hour at the Rotary Adventure Playground (you can’t miss it on the way in!) we visited the new Barnum Point County Park for the first time and walked many of its trails. The sun even came out. Upon returning to the car, we had a lazy lunch of whole wheat bagels, cream cheese, apple, and mandarins in the parking lot.
No visit to Camano is complete for us without a stop at a Camano Island Coffee. While Charlie napped in his carseat we got our coffee and then headed to Camano Island State Park for an after nap hike.
When we woke up we expected to be an indoor kind of day, but instead our hearts are full.
For two days in a row we were able to take our little guy skiing. He loved it. From his sled attached to Daddy, he called out, “Daddy go faster! Faster!”
The Hurricane Ridge Road past the visitor center, closed in winter to vehicles but open to human powered transportation, was a challenging step up from the flat Iron Horse Trail near Hyak that we’d done the day before. The pulk my husband had dreamed up and assembled was tricky on the icy sledding hill, but once we made it past the crowds, worked wonderfully. While I don’t think we will try anything steeper than this, it was lovely to get out on our skis without needing childcare
Welcome to our family adventure blog, featuring our travels around the Pacific Northwest with our three year old.
Hiking, kayaking, skiing, and just simply being outside under the falling rain or blinding sun are what keep us sane as parents. We’ve learned so much in three years, and we hope our posts can inspire, encourage, or maybe even provide “aha!” moments for other families who like us are driven to get out and enjoy our incredible world.
Some posts will highlight our adventures, others will go in depth on what our gear kit looks like for a particular activity.
I’ve hesitated to start a blog because every family is so beautifully different. Something moderately foolproof for us may work terribly for another family. There are so many different opinions and extremes out there when it comes to parenting. I’m well aware something I write could very well offend someone coming from a different mindset.
So I write and share from a state of humility, recognizing that I’m in no way an expert, but perhaps something can be gleaned from our life outside that can help other families have an easier time getting out.
I firmly believe that showing our kids the wonder of our world will foster their love for it.