Trail Talk: Kettle Trails

I’ve mentioned how the PNW fall is dark and wet. As we get closer to December we lose daylight fast. Right now the sun sets around 4:20ish but soon we’ll be experiencing darkness at 4 p.m.

For some this is tough: the rain, cold and darkness causes Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For me, I overall I don’t mind this weather. I really love the rain. But I do have my ups and downs this time of year, but the key to beating SAD is getting out in all the mess.

Coming out of the plentiful turkey, thankful and glutinous holiday that is Thanksgiving, taking a good rainy forest bath proved more important than ever. I’ve been eating and drinking my way through the past four days and a walk in the woods was exactly what I needed. Rain or shine.

So we packed ourselves some turkey sandwiches and headed toward Coupeville where The Kettles reside. We were hoping to do the Island County side of the trails, but when we saw the signs that we needed to wear orange, we decided to head a bit further down the road to the Washington State Park side. We had on bright clothing but didn’t want to risk getting in front of a stray bullet.

We started at the Watertower Trail this time which leads you to an old water tower structure….sans water. Even though we started several hours before sundown, the trail which is crowded with firs, already seemed dark.

From Watertower we headed a short way down Princess Run and then Shepherds Crook which takes you seemingly to the bottom of the forest floor. Unless you look at the map, you wouldn’t know that other tails loom overhead.

We witnessed lots of debris and downed trees that we had to climb over. All results of the several severe wind storms here on the island.

After our recent mushroom walk and now armed with our new David Arora mushroom field guide, we searched for Chanterelles, but only found one cluster of mushrooms we weren’t able to identify. We figured perhaps most mushrooms had been hidden by the wind storm debris. I was super antsy so, honestly, I wasn’t interested in doing a deep search or identification unless the looked like something truly edible.

We headed down the Campground Trail which lead us closer to the Bluff Trail where the Ft. Ebey Gun Battery resides. That Bluff Trail, while one of my favorites, wasn’t on the list today. Too much exposure and too cloudy to take in a view of the Olympics.

The rain seemed to hold off most of the afternoon until we hit the edge of the Bluff Trail and then it started to pour. We took our time on the trail checking for mushrooms, taking sips of water here and there and just soaking in the fresh air and the canopy of trees above us. But darkness was coming quickly and under all those trees it seemed like we weren’t getting off the trail before sunset.

We got a little turned around and realized we were headed into Island County deer hunting country and had to reroute. We had a picture of the map in our phones which I highly recommend as the Kettles have all kinds of twists and turns and one trails sound similar (Cedar Hollow v. Cedar Grove).

After missing the return trail we found the park road and just took it back to our truck. I’d much rather had finished our hike in the forest, but it was after 4 p.m. and darkness was setting in.

We arrived bed home soaked but satisfied from our 4 mile hike. We’re already discussing hiking plans for next weekend.

Chickens in the garden

Fall has arrived with its rainy vengeance and I’m beginning to pull a regular harvest of what remains in the garden.

This week I focused on the beets and carrots. Well, with the amount we planted, I’ll be focusing on them every week, but I’m not complaining.

What, you mean I have to eat rainbow carrots and beets from my garden each week? Yes please.

Being new to this backyard farming gig we created for ourselves, we didn’t fully embrace the concept of thinning the carrots. The result has been a lot of baby carrots and small beets, but we’ve still ended up with some nice beauties of both.

As the chicken run has been pretty soggy, I’ve been letting the chickens join me when I’m digging around in the garden. Grass is limited in the large run space which is something we are looking to remedy in time, but as we complete the harvest we’ll start letting the ladies graze, till up the garden, and hunt for worms.

While I miss Jackson, I have to say it’s been nice to only have hens. They are excited to see me each day and as I dig in the garden, they waddle over to investigate what I’ve found. Trying to keep them from eating the kale, chard and bok choy is a challenge, but who can blame them. Those greens are delicious.

Harvesting the grapes

It seems as though I blinked and summer disappeared. Fall has arrived and that means harvesting all the hard work put in over the last few months.

Before digging up our own crop for this week’s dinner, we volunteered with Whidbey Island Winery to assist in harvesting their Siegerrebe and Angevine grapes out at French Road Farm. It was therapeutic work after sitting in front of a computer all week.

We arrived around 8:30 a.m. received a pair of clippers, a bucket and some basic instructions:

  • Keep the bucket close to the vines so you don’t lose grapes
  • Cut close as you can to the cluster of grapes
  • Don’t cut yourself with clippers

In about four hours we all harvested about 10,000 lbs of grapes that would be crushed after lunch.

The work was rewarding for me. Perhaps because I only had to harvest for half the day, but each bucket of grapes made me smile.

I loved the time in the vineyard and knowing that we had some small bit of sweat equity in what we will probably drink down the road.

The lunch and wine the winery provided didn’t hurt either, but just as rewarding was meeting people in our community who joined us in this endeavor.

Community. Wine. Food. Farm.

(and ocean and mountains)

It’s why we moved here all along.

Sound Goals: A mile in Puget Sound

As my bare feet touched the water I was comforted that my 7 mm wetsuit and cap may be enough to keep me warm during my first open water swim in Puget Sound. The water temperature today was 56 degrees, but I didn’t retract from the cold. I look down at Sophia and Kristi’s feet as we enter the water. They have neoprene boots. I chose not to purchase them because I worried it would be more equipment to adjust.

Thankfully Saratoga Passage today was glass. Just seeing the calm conditions alleviated some of my anxiety from earlier.

Lined up with the others for the Whidbey Adventure Swim we all adjusted to the cold. Brief chats revealed swimmers came from all over the country and Canada for this U.S. Master Swim event. I’m completely out of my league here, but my goal this year was to swim a mile comfortably in the Sound by the end of the summer. Today I would try to swim 1.2. 

The horn sounded. The salt water burned my face momentarily as I dove toward the buoys marking the turnaround point. I’m not a fast swimmer. The course would take me about an hour to complete. 

An hour in this cold water. Why am I doing this? I love to swim but the pool is warmer, easier. I don’t need a wetsuit in the pool. 

My wetsuit. It’s so buoyant it feels so unnatural as I work to dig through the water. I feel like lead and it doesn’t feel like I’m necessarily moving forward. Am I kicking? I kick harder.

Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. I have to find a rhythm.

Looking up to breathe and mark my point, the buoy I’m striving for seems so far and the majority of the swimmers are already way ahead of me. I’m now alone in the water. My heart is racing because I remind myself I’m in the ocean and no longer surrounded by my peers my mind wanders to what lies beneath the Sound. 

Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. Don’t think about what is below.

Looking up again I see a paddle boarder and a kayaker. I see a thumbs up as I breathe in between every two strokes. I’m on course, I’m doing this. People are watching me. I have to settle in and get my mind on track. I’m not here to be the first one out of the water. I’m here to finish.

Each time my face enters the water, I try to notice the ocean floor. A huge Dungenous Crab scuttles across the floor. Is it crabbing season yet? The seagrass is flowing toward me. I’m going against the current which explains why I feel like lead. 

Finally I’m turning at the halfway point. I met the time requirement which was to finish half the course in 30 minutes or they would’ve turned me around sooner. I’m going to finish this.

My face is no longer cold, but my feet. My feet are freezing. I begin to covet the boots that Sophia and Kristi are wearing. All I can think about are those boots now. Black, snug neoprene would feel so good right now. I’m still in swimmer survival mode, breathing every two strokes. I need a new rhythm, perhaps I can gain a little ground. I decide to add four strokes in between each breath as much as possible. I count them off. 

One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe….this becomes my rhythm.

But my feet are so cold. Damn. I have to get those black boots. I try to wiggle my toes while kicking at the same time. My toes move. A good sign. If I have hypothermia, will I know?

One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe…

Now as I look forward to breathe the final buoy is in sight. Far but in sight. On my four stroke count I have more time to explore the sea floor again, but we are a little deeper. The water is darker, but I can make out bits of sand, shells in between the clumps of seagrass. I pass over another crab, it’s on its back, motionless. I wonder what happened to it.

One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe.

I can hear voices as I near the final turn. Almost there. I wonder how long I’ve been in the water. 

Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe.

The sea floor is getting closer to me. I’m basically at shore, I look up…just a few more feet..but I’ve overshot the finish. Damn it. The steps are far to my right.

Finally my hands hit sand. I try to stand, but my sea legs reject the land. My husband and Sophia are on shore cheering for me and I smile as I wobble to the steps to the timer which signifies my finish. 

58:55. My 1.2 mile swim completed under an hour. Goal accomplished. 

And now, I wonder when I can do this again.

Sound Goals: Prepping to swim Saratoga Passage

Prior to moving here I had some goals for myself: live healthier, hike, eat local, acquire outdoor hobbies to help that quest to live healthy….you get the idea.

After moving here, I signed up for an open water event in Lake Washington. I joined the Master Swim group here, trained and completed the course. It was amazing, but it fostered a new goal: swim one mile in the Sound comfortably by this summer.

Last summer I attempted to swim with an open water group here, but freaked out a little when I noticed the ocean floor visibility went a little cloudy. I maybe made it a quarter of a mile. But there was a part of that swim that was amazing. Seeing how clear the water is and the fish…

Today I’m participating in the Whidbey Adventure Swim for the 1.2 mile course in Saratoga Passage. I can swim a mile, but swimming in the Sound comes with a lot of other things to think of than swimming in the pool. I’m terribly nervous. Nervous about not seeing bigger sea life that may come toward me surprisingly, about the 55 degree temperature, being comfortable in my 7mm wetsuit…did I mention the cold? Then there’s the time requirement. I have to finish 1/2 the course in 30 minutes. In the pool, I have that covered, but in the ocean, depending on conditions. Not sure really.

So, here I go. Headed down to Langley’s Seawall Park. Wish me luck!

Tall ships along the water 

This week I caught a glimpse of the tall ships in their small parade of sails on their way to Tacoma for the Festival of Sails.

The parade of sail in North Puget Sound and the festival are intended to commemorate the 225th anniversary of Captain George Vancouver’s exploration of Puget Sound.