Seattle to Mount Rainier, WA: Two tickets to Paradise
02.09.2016 - 11.09.2016
The trip didn’t start well.
Our flight from Knoxville was delayed for over 3 hours leaving us stuck in Knoxville until after 11:00 p.m. This caused us to miss our connecting flight to Dallas, leaving us stuck in Charlotte for the night. The worst part wasn’t missing our connection. No, the worst part was that the first game of the UT Volunteer football season was on and all of the airport TVs were set to CNN.
I worried for Matt’s sanity.
Arriving after midnight, we grabbed 4 hours of terrible sleep in a cheap hotel next to the Charlotte airport and flew to Dallas the next morning. It was looking like we were finally going to make it to Seattle when they announced that our connecting flight to Seattle was delayed.
I was beginning to feel like this trip would be spent entirely in airports and we would arrive in Seattle just in time to catch our flight back home.
After much grumbling and more delays, we finally made it onto our final flight to Seattle.
At least the plane had seatback digital drink orders. Yes, please.
Twenty-four hours after arriving at the airport in Knoxville, we finally landed in Seattle.
Let the road trip begin!
First up was a 2 hour drive to Mount Rainier National Park.
With only one day to visit Mount Rainier’s 236,381.49 acres, choosing where to stay was a daunting task. I had chosen the area called “Paradise,” because, well, with a name like Paradise, I figured it would have to be at least moderately breathtaking.
I had also chosen to stay at the Paradise Inn, a historic no-frills park lodge. I felt staying at the Paradise Inn would be like taking a step back in time. The rooms are tiny, the beds are hard, there is no air conditioning, no TV, no wi-fi, no Keurig, and no cell phone service, but they do have free cookies and tea in the afternoon.
Basically, we would be staying at my grandmother’s house.
Thanks to the delayed flight fiasco, we arrived at the park too late to do the short, but scenic, hike we had planned. No matter. We were too tired and it was far too cloudy to hike back to a reflective lake anyway. We noticed it growing cloudier and cloudier as we entered the park.
This would be a good evening to do nothing more than relax in our room and catch up on some rest.
This would have been possible if I had paid better attention when I made the reservation and hadn’t put us in a room the size of a shoebox. Mind you, I didn’t realize we would be arriving on 4 hours of sleep when I booked the room. I figured our accommodations didn’t really matter.
I was aware that we were staying in a historic lodge and that, just like the lodges in Glacier National Park, they were less about frills and luxury and more about utilitarian practicality.
What I didn’t expect was that our room would be so small that we could barely squeeze between the tiny twin beds (yes….TWIN BEDS) and the wall. Matt could lie on his bed and touch both walls at once. This didn’t stop him from lying down and instantly falling asleep, feet hanging off the end of the bed.
It was about an hour from dinner, so I let Matt sleep while I decided to clean up. I felt horrific and I needed a shower. Unfortunately, I had also failed to notice the fine print on my room reservation that indicated we did not have a bathroom.
WE DID NOT HAVE A BATHROOM.
While they did not offer private bathrooms, they did provide a complimentary pair of size 14 foam slippers for the shower as a pathetic consolation. I found myself sliding down the hall in a bathrobe doing my best not to lift my feet but instead to simply shuffle them along the carpet like a 97 year old man headed for a game of pinochle, so that my giant foam slippers didn’t fall off.
When I found the shower, I was not surprised to find that, much like my room, it too was absurdly small. I am not a large person, yet even I found it entirely claustrophobic. It is important when sharing a communal shower not to let any part of one’s body touch any surface, but this is practically impossible when the shower stall was designed for a Lilliputian.
Apparently, everything in this lodge was tiny with the exception of the bath slippers.
To add horror to an already uncomfortable experience, my NBA sized foam slippers started to grow in the shower, much like those Magic Animal Growing Capsules we used to get when we were kids. You know, the little things the size of a peanut that we would drop in water to watch them get bigger and turn into something? My slippers were the size of small Volkswagens by the time I finished my shower.
I was forced to abandon my slippers in the shower, because they were too large and heavy and WET to step out of the shower with. Instead, I was forced to stand there, dripping and cold and naked, while I created an intricate maze of towels on the floor, using significantly more than my allotted share, I am quite certain, to ensure I could get to my clean, dry socks without my feet touching the tile.
I managed to get dry and dressed without compromising my cleanliness and fled back to the safety of my tiny bedroom.
Dinner was by the large fireplace in the dining room, looking out the windows at views of the fog enshrouded peaks surrounding the lodge. The food was typical lodge fare, decent, but nothing to write home about. But it was warm and it allowed us to escape the tiny capsule of our room for a couple of hours. We lingered over blackberry pie and spiked coffee, finally realizing that it didn’t matter if it was only 9:00 p.m., we were exhausted and really wanted nothing more than to go to sleep.
What our room lacked in size, it made up for in comfort. The beds were soft, warm, cozy nests of tranquility. At least until I woke up at midnight from drinking all that coffee and suddenly remembered the bathroom was down the hall.
Sweet heavenly Moses.
I made it through the rest of the night without incident and I woke up excited to get this vacation turned around by doing an awesome hike.
We only had one day to hike in Rainier, so I had chosen the Skyline Trail. The descriptions made it sound perfect.
“If your schedule allows you time to hike only one trail at Mount Rainier National Park, we recommend the Skyline Trail, If there’s a single day hike inside of Mt Rainier National Park that offers a little bit of everything to visitors, it’s the Skyline Trail at Paradise. This 5.5 mile loop is an excellent chance to see many of the beautiful treats of Mt. Rainier all at once; from the summer wildflowers to the year-round glaciers. This hike yields close-up views of Rainier, multiple waterfalls, alpine meadows, and the opportunity to catch a glimpse of neighboring peaks Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and, on a clear day, even Mt. Hood.”
I couldn’t wait for those epic and sweeping views.
I looked out the window and saw….fog.
I wasn’t worried. It’s always foggy in the morning in the mountains. By the time we had a good breakfast, I knew the sun would be peeking through.
We hit the plentiful breakfast buffet with gusto. A day of hiking must always begin with a feast of carbohydrates. At least that is what I tell myself as I shovel forkfuls of pancakes into my mouth.
Each time I looked out the window, in between bites of sausage and pastry, I was almost certain it was getting foggier.
No one ever hopes for a rainy hike in the mountains. No one wishes for wet shoes or soggy backpacks or muddy trails. Everyone knows that vacation hikes are supposed to take place under blue skies, with gentle breezes and abundant sunshine. It’s supposed to be this, for goodness sakes:
Apparently, no one told the state of Washington this. We pushed our hiking time back another hour, lingering over the breakfast buffet with an extra trip or two, hoping the skies would clear.
Despite a brief moment when the sky teased us with a glimpse of blue, the fog simply kept rolling in, thicker and heavier with each passing minute.
We waited ten minutes. Fifteen. Maybe the fog would lift? Eventually it became clear this was not just a passing cloud. This was here for the day.
Unfortunately, our extra trips to the buffet had sealed our fate. We couldn’t skip hiking now that we had filled up on two extra plates of bacon and blackberry waffles.
We were going hiking in the fog.
To be honest, hiking in the fog wouldn’t have been so bad. Fog adds and eerie quiet to everything, making the forest deep and mysterious and beautiful in its own way.
It was when the steady, slow drizzle began to fall that it really turned a slightly unpleasant hike into total suckage.
We were too far to turn back, and, if I am honest, we still held that glimmer of hope that everyone faced with crappy weather on vacation holds to - that inane hope that maybe, just maybe, it would still clear up at some point.
We were fools.
I trudged through the endless fog and drizzle, silently cursing every review I had read of the stunning views this trail offered.
“This is one of a very few trails that offers wonderful vista virtually every step of the way.”
“The views go from wonderful to breathtaking.”
“Your trip along the Skyline Trail will be filled with views of cascading waterfalls, mighty glaciers and subalpine meadows brimming with colorful splashes of wildflowers.”
We slogged down wet trails, through waterlogged wildflowers, past giant snowfields, and up slippery slopes. While the hike was supposed to be dominated by stunning views of Mount Rainier, this was the only glimpse of Rainier that we got all day.
It’s like Mount Rainier decided to peek through one tiny hole for one tiny moment just to flip us the bird.
Several hours into the hike, we reached Panoramic Point, a 360 degree view of …………...absolutely nothing.
The view was – not there. It was hidden in thick soupy fog. There was no view. We did see a marmot guarding the summit, however, and that was pretty okay.
The hike out was uneventful, slipping and sliding down the path, stumbling over wet rocks and roots, and passing the occasional marmot. At that point, I didn’t give a rip about seeing Mount Rainier, I just wanted dry socks.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I had been prepared for jaw-dropping views of the mountains, a stunning look at Mount Rainier, and alpine vistas that stretched for miles. What I had gotten were damp feet and a serious wedgie from wet hiking pants.
Despite not getting the magnificent views of Mount Rainier that I’d anticipated, I was reminded of something I continue to learn in the wilderness: I am not in control, nature is, and any effort wielded to make things anything other than exactly what they are is wasted.
Wishing never makes the rain stop. Hoping and praying won’t make the sun shine. Fog is fog, rain is rain, and the views are there or they aren’t. The hike shouldn’t be about the destination. What is it they say? It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey? Wasn’t that what this entire vacation was about?
Cliché? Maybe. But true. My reward was found in the time spent in God’s creation, listening to the sound of my boots crunching on the gravel, hearing my heart beat in the silent wilderness, breathing the fresh air deep into my lungs.
Okay, whatever. My true reward was simply burning off enough calories for pie.
We changed into some dry socks and headed out of Mount Rainier National Park toward the small town of Ashford, WA where juicy burgers and blackberry pie a la mode were waiting.
It was worth every, wet step.
We set off for Olympic National Park with renewed vigor. Okay, maybe it was just pie-belly, but pie-belly can often be mistaken for renewed vigor.
We headed west, equipped with happy hearts, Trader Joe’s snacks and an iPod full of tunes.