During Covid-19 times, I felt I needed to be a bit more creative to come up with some fun, but also safe adventures. I usually spend at least one weekend a month out in the woods or wilderness to do wildlife tracking, harvest wild plants or hike with my friends. Last June, I lived in the woods with no tent and no sleeping bag and very limited food for a week and even liked it, but I am also okay to just enjoy a nice walk in a city park. Anything to not feel I am missing out on this adventures of my previous life.
Last week S's school suggested a 24 hour screen free Outdoor Education day, but doing remote learning the students were in charge of getting outside themselves. After the 'Heading East for 4 days' adventure our exchange student went on with me the week before, we decided to continue, just 'Heading South' instead this time. It would be our second day.
Insert for the logistically minded: we would walk from one point and walk in one direction, trying to find as many trails and parks on the way using Google Maps (and a little previous internet research) and after about 4 hours of walking we would call Marco to pick us up about 7-10 miles further each day and we would continue walking from that location the next day then.
We explaining to S this will not be an ordinary walk in a park but more an adventure where we won't always know where we will go next and sometimes ending up in dead ends and interesting places (we once had to parkour over someone sleeping in the middle of the Freeway Park stairs). We just wanted to make sure she would know what she would get herself into.
We left around 1:30 pm, heading to the North parking lot of Seahurst Park (the road we left the previous day turned out to be the private road of a gated community, so no Park access for us). One of the school’s suggestions was that S should bring a coin and whenever the path would split, she would let the coin decide. We didn’t bring a coin, but suggested to her we could use a rock instead, but S decided she rather wanted to walk on the service road, a nice wide comfortable trail winding down to the hill for 1.5 miles and 400 feet elevation, just to be safe.
Down at the beach we checked for low tide as one idea was that we could walk to Marine View Park along the beach, but the water was already too high, and we sure didn't want to trespass. S is a big rule follower and just seeing a trespassing sign in the distance already makes her uncomfortable. Walking back along the beach and up the road to the parking lot in the middle of the Park seemed like a waste of energy and not much of an adventure, but I remembered a well maintained social trail going up from the parking lot and I was pretty certain it would connect to the little trail I spotted going up in the woods from the South tip of the beach. I would be just a little short cut.
The little trail was pretty steep going up for about 40 feet at first and we had to climb along a big log. I really enjoyed the climb while S got very upset with me with each foot. She didn’t consider this fun at all and wanted to turn around as this was obviously not an official trail, and for sure not a service road. She sure was right about that, but I just wanted to get up the slope so I could see where the other trail would connect. Also, going back down didn’t seem like my preferred option either. So, I tried to ignore S's concern and kept pushed on so we could just make it up. But after getting up there was still no trail in sight.
I tried to ignore her whining and felt confident dragging this physical challenge out for another 2 little hills until we would get to the trail. I have been to the park plenty of time before and also had our location on my phone showing the park boundaries as we really didn’t want to end up on private property freaking S out about trespassing - my child’s biggest concern.
So, after the first tree log we came across another lower climb and then another steeper one, which seemed to get us up on a little plateau with some young trees, some older ones, some Oregon grapes, big ferns and overall an easier terrain to conquer. This seemed doable. After coming up to this plateau there was another little peak surrounded by 3 steep sides. We climbed over some old stumps to get to the other peak without slipping. It was a very pretty spot and a little thrilling and just a great adventure for an Outdoor day to feel fully alive and a good break from being stick at home all the time.
After the little double peak we came across a beautiful nettle patch. I love nettles and always enjoy seeing them. I also tried to cultivate them in the Park I steward, but need to do more research and experimenting. Just in this moment I didn't appreciate them as much as we had to walk through that patch as turning back wasn’t really a viable option. It was just too steep and too slippery. I felt very sorry to step on each and any of the nettles and tried do gently bend them out of my way - and also do that for S who was right behind me and even more upset with me and repeating ‘What a stupid idea! What a stupid trip! I want to go back.’ over and over. Yeah, right. Just that going back wasn't really a safe option.
K, our exchange student, was still his adventurous, mindful self and just climbed along, over and under logs, through the stinging nettle patch, just a happy potato, all calm and collected. He knew by now that this is what might happen one of our adventures. After the first big nettle patch came a little opening, followed by another even bigger nettle patch. They were so pretty from afar. After the nettles followed a prickly salmonberry patch but with enough room for us to squeeze through them. By now we climbed and crawled for about an hour, were warm and had some stings and scraps. I suggested S could wear her gloves so she would be able to push the nettles out of her way herself, which seemed to help her quite a bit dealing with this challenge. Her anger slowly turned into excitement and she just cruised along. I guess I broke her in, while we climbed up this big old ravine. Or maybe the strenuous climb didn’t leave much energy for more whining. I was just pleasantly surprised she wouldn't curse at me any more and seemed to get the hang of it.
We bushwhacked away and our plan was to get to the east edge of the steep ravine hoping we could access the street I saw on the map close by, somewhere between the houses. Just the day before we found a secret little pathway connecting one trail to a road up a steep hill, where someone carved out a nice little trail, with steps and stepping stones, ropes at the steepest parts, a little pipe for rainwater runoff and lots of beautiful painted rocks and cute little details. Magical. But this time, after another 30 minutes of strenuous climbing up ivy, not knowing where the ground was beneath us, we were in the South-East corner of the park in front of a super steep slope right beneath the houses with no way to climb any further. Where is the magical trail when you need it?
We took a water break in midst all the ivy, contemplating our next steps just to get out of this urban wilderness, when a tiny little moth flew up. S hates all flying insects, especially butterflies and moths, even after years of Outdoor camps and backpacking trips. We tried to calm her but all her triggers were activated and she screamed as loud as she could. I didn't want anyone to call the police looking for us in this remote spot. We were really tired after climbing this difficult terrain for so long, slowly reached our breaking point, and I could not believe how big the Park actually was. I also felt a bit defeated and angry with myself about letting S down not finding the path, I had promised her. She already announced she would never ever come on any stupid walks with me again. Ever.
In her defense, our first backpacking trip was also a bit of an unexpected challenge, where we went for a 'short cut' through the woods to get to a campground faster, but ended up on top of a steep cliff overlooking the campground, separated by a river. After a couple attempts to make it down the cliff, defeated we gave up and set up our tent in a flat spot, after following a network of deer runs for way too long connected in a star formation with no way out. So some parallels to this, darn short cuts, but at least we know when to take a water break, right? Could have done without the moth thou...
The area we ended up on top of the ravine didn’t feel safe at all. We could no see the ground under the dense growth and I really didn’t want any of us to get hurt as it was already really difficult to get out. By then we were stung by nettles plenty and plenty of cuts and scraps on our hands. Not many park visitors seemed to make it back here. We just found an empty bottle and one old, half decomposed sweater that made S imagine, we might come across a dead body next and I also felt this might be a real possibility knowing how hard it was to maneuver around in here.
We shifted from heading East to heading North, but North was just as steep so we had to climb a bit downwards, going West in order to get North and so we zigzagged a bit just to get out of the steepest part safely. I could not believe how big the Park actually was. We climbed up and down for another 30 minutes and still couldn't see or hear anyone on this beautiful busy day. And could not even grasp where the path would be that I wanted to 'short cut' to.
We had to climb downhill quite a bit and hit some more, denser Salmonberry patches. Not the most enjoyable to walk through and way worse than nettles. I tried to get down another ravine, but didn’t like how the pebbles gave away underneath me, making me slide down without any control. For a big part of this 'walk' we had to rely on fern roots of as the only safe foothold to navigate the landscape, but there weren’t any here in this area of the ravine. We still made it through, climb up on the other side, just to discover another steep ravine on the other side of the ridge. The next one had a little water running down and the mud held onto my shoe, sinking in deeper and deeper, so I had to climb out barefoot. I took a deep breath and went back to get my shoe out, as walking this terrain without shoes would not be enjoyable at all.
We decided to pass on the muddy descent and climb up and over a tree log instead. I asked K to take over the lead as I got very exhausted and frustrated. He tried to keep us happy by sharing optimistic assumptions how we might come across the path soon. Nice try. We came across a big log on top of a 12 foot climb that wasn’t easy to get over. When it was S's turn she made it over with one foot and then started screaming. I assumed her other foot was stuck, or trapped and tried to figure out what was wrong. I pulled her over the log and thankfully she was fine. She just lost grip for a second, being too tired she saw herself falling down.
We climbed a bit more up and down, just way slower with each step, and ended up in a spot where K tried to climb down a drop on the other side and could not see or feel the bottom of the ravine. The Southwest side was blocked off by the log overhanging the slope and also no sight off a surface underneath, so we ran out of safe options. There was another dense, high Salmonberry patch. K’s lower legs were already scratched with blood running down where his pants didn't cover his skin and our hands felt numb from all the nettle stings. We were really tired, but made some progress as we could see the beach in the far distance and light of the sun reflecting on the water coming through the big trees. It was still nice and warm at almost 5 pm. We had climbed and crawled, rarely walked, through the forest for over 2.5 hours.
We joked that K might not make his flight leaving back home the next morning as we might never find our way out of this 'little' City Park. I called Marco to let him know we won't be back in time for dinner and that we are still at Seahurst, looking for a path to get out of woods, but still haven’t found it, but I texted my friend Porcupine who knows Seahurst like the back of his hand to come to our rescue. Still on the phone, Porcupine called trying to figure out if we knew where we are.
We were starting to relax, hoping he would find us soon, so we could get out. We didn’t have to wait long at all, maybe 5 minutes, when we heard him calling for us. It took him another 10 minutes to get through to us. We were very happy to see him come through the deep brush. He cut his way through to us, through some of the dense Salmonberries, about a 8 foot drop from where we were hunkered down under some blackberries. After a brief 'Hello' we followed him out, down, up and over and after a few more challenges we came to an open area where we could walk upright, a great feeling, and after a few more steps we made it down a little path to a spot I was familiar with. We chatted a bit and told Porcupine how this all happened, very happy about being rescued, laughing. He worked in Search & Rescue and said the terrain he found us was a 8 out of 10 in difficulty. We just had another little climb down to the Beach trail and we would be back in civilization.
But on the last few steps I tumbled, I think my shoe caught in a root, like it did a few times before, which didn't really surprise me as exhausted as I was, and tumbled down about 6 feet right into a very stinky mud pit. It was a funny as I was very relieved our intense little city adventure finally ended, but it added some more insult to my already bruised ego. I tried to get as much mud off me while the kids couldn't stop laughing.
We went to the beach, cleaning of mud, dirt and blood, enjoying the sunshine. S was a bit grossed out by a couple making out on a log close by. It all felt a bit surreal to be out of the wilderness back in society. I could feel how this adventure made them instantly grow, dealing with an intense physical challenge and emotions, not giving up, but pushing through and asking for help and receiving it. It almost felt like a rite of passage that I led them through, even we didn't plan it that way.
The kids were in a really good mood and giggled away when we made our way back up the hill for another 1.5 mile to get to the car. We chatted and laughed a lot and looked forward to a long shower and a big dinner that evening.
And S even went on another walk with me the next day. :-)
After a long rollercoaster ride through many many potholes up the steep hill to Mt. Tuam in our 36 year old VW Bus Willie, Sarah needed a little bit to orient herself to the new environment at Camp. It didn't take her too long to figure out how to make new friends. She was in the 'Leafwalking Bandits' group with the 10 to 12 year olds with more girls than boys and the 3 instructors, Barnaby, Stephanie and Teresa. They practiced a lot of skits, played Quiddich (from HP) but some nearby wasps made it not fun for everyone. It seemed to be a common theme, as whenever the group tried to play games something else came up instead, so Sarah can't remember playing much games.
The nonstop request for snacks from one very hungry starving fellow helped the rest of the group get snacks earlier and earlier every day.
They found a very pretty hangout spot with a bunch of trees and a nice ocean view. The initially spot wasn't as nice, but after some search parties for a better home they all agreed on the new spo being awesome. So pretty.
Sarah (Ladybird Beetle, short: Bird) made 2 new best friends, Spiderwasp and Rosegall. They discovered making leather pouches at the skill tent and were quite crafty. They also liked to chat a lot and Sarah was a little surprised how quickly she become best friends with the friendly boy with crutches (he had a rock fell on it 2 weeks before Camp).
The Bandits also played Foxtails (stealing Bandanas out of each others pockets in a circle) with the Fawn families. Sarah's favorite part was when she (Bird) and Spiderwasp volunteered to help out a Fawn family, one with little ones, and got to watch a 3 year old girl during mealtimes.
She didn't like to be quiet for a long time during campfire to listen to very long stories, but really liked the yummy dessert for lunch.
My questions I contemplated on my spirit plant walk.
What is in store for me?
What do I have to offer?
I got lots of answers from my nature friends: Huckleberry, Moss, Vine Maple, Oregon Grape, Funghi, Cedar, Devils Club,
Prickly and vulnerable, fresh start, odd ball
Obstacles request flexibility
So much beauty everywhere. Sometimes easy to oversee. Stop and smell the roses!
My parents: sturdy support, different-but-alike, sunny, watching over me, once joint but now grown apart
Sunlight projects myself on an old stump. Reflection reminds me of a Jester. I like to entertain, build community, making encounters feel light but memorable.
Had to do a photo scavenger hunt at Camp Long. Six groups of 5 competed for the most points by finding the biggest tree, spider web, sign of birds, 2016/17 flagging, GSP signs, Neighborhood Bullies, madrone seed, a heart in Nature, climb the rock, make a Haiku, dance and all kinds of shenanigans. It was quite fun, but our team didn't win.
Got my new waders today to help with the Salmon Survey at Longfellow Creek. So excited I get to do this with my friend.
South Sound Nature School offers a Nature Club for Genesee Hill Elementary now. It was formerly the Wilderness Awareness School running it. Porcupine (Kevin) has taken over and I am his assistant now. We are super excited and today was the first day we picked up the kids after school and had some fun getting to know them and exploring Schmitz Park together.
Curious Bee. Forest Steward. Nature Nerd. Climate Activist Mom.