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Northwest Passage

OK, so sometimes I am inspired to do a "how I spent my summer vacation" rant, and despite this particular vacation being only about 5 and a half days, this reached blog post length. As I get older, my brain retains less and less, and since our kids are still just barely young enough that we're able drag them on the occasional vacation, I felt a memory vehicle was warranted.

Our new Nest Besties

So I will start before the beginning. The night before we left Phillip parked our big old, ugly Honda Odyssey on our street after some errand or outing. It should be noted that Phillip's already got some blemishes on his very young driving record, and parking in particular is not his strong suit. So the next morning, Mary finds that someone has written a Yelp review of Phillip's parking job. Except instead of posting it on Yelp, they wrote it on our windshield and driver's side window in Sharpie.

It said: "You park too close to my car and do damage, asshole!" on the windshield and on the driver's side window just: "Asshole." (more compact writing I think). Mary noticed that a new neighbor we have had nice interactions with has a Nest and thought maybe she would have it on video. She knocks on her door it turns out the other half of this new neighbor couple was the aspiring paperback-writer-on-vans. He was still upset and while his wife and Mary both tried to defuse, Phillip ended up calling the police. By the time the officer came things had calmed down. After surveying the apparently negligible damage to Mr. Sharpie's car, and reading the Sharpie-on-van literature, the officer said "you really can't do that." That was the end of it a

Ero produced this keepsake memento of our pre-vacation interaction.

nd we are hopeful that we will get past this episode with our new neighbors. But for now, as we get ready to venture out on our late summer vacation, it will be in a van that says asshole all over it. This feels right.

Jimmy a happy camper...

Sunday: Road Warriors

The journey begins with a drive to the Effort, PA, where Jimmy is going to summer camp for six days. This is an annual tradition, and I am actually president (!) of the parent organization that runs this trip. So beyond how it goes for Jimmy, there is general stress about whether staff members might get sick, or issues with kids in the line for food at the waterpark, etc. But the morning check-in goes well and Jimmy's counselor is a sweetheart. He is given a slice of counselor pizza and seems very happy.

The rest of us pile back onto the Asshole Van to catch our plane to Vancouver. I was afraid this might be tight. (camp drop offs can be unpredictable) but we had a good chunk of time in Newark airport. There is a Shake Shack not far from our gate. Due to poor communication -- we're already holed up on our various charging devices as far away from one another in the gate area as possible -- there are no less than three separate orders placed at Shake Shack. Everybody finally gets what they need and we board full of shakes and fries and gourmet burgers.

We arrive in Vancouver a little after 9 o’clock local time, get our rental car with a little fuss and make our way to our Airbnb in a little neighborhood called Kitsilano Beach. Mary, Phillip and I venture out for a walk to the beach. We can’t see much at first but after walking across a nice skyline view of Vancouver emerges. We go home and sleep hard.

Monday: The Americans

First day of this 5 day cram-session of a vacation. Let's f*cking, go! For coffee. Like before we do anything. I have been researching the coffee shops in the area for the past two weeks and we get to our cute AF Kitsilano Beach coffee shop 5 minutes after it opens. There is a group of elderly (meaning, just a little older than us) cyclists in front of us and they are in an outrageously good mood. One of them dancing and singing along to the mediocre pop song on the coffee shop speakers.

Mary on the adorable indoor swing as our new friends from the elderly biker gang place their orders.

Their Canadian nice-ness is overwhelming and within two minutes they're giving us sushi recommendations, telling us about a jousting competition at a local fair that night and inviting us to swim in the Kitsilano pool where one of them is a swim coach. We love these people very much. But in the end they are too athletic and awake for us and we have very little time in Vancouver so we get our coffee and tell them to piss off (not really).

We get bagels for the kids then we venture out on biking trip around Stanley Park. I have downloaded the Vancouver biking app all four of us on one account which means we can all use one code to unlock our bikes for the next two days. I am so effing prepared for this trip it's scary. Of course in the end I was the only one of us who couldn't memorized the code so I kept slowing us down.

The New York Times "36 hours in Vancouver" was my bible for this trip. And it had recommended a route to see the major sites of Stanley Park starting from the East side of the park and looping around the perimeter counter clockwise. But we were coming from the southwest and so we started on an interior bike path towards the west side. This was fine for a while, as it was very pretty, but then our path was closed for maintenance and we were directed to the west side of the perimeter loop.

This grainy, found-on-internet photo gives a sense of just how one-way this bike path is...

And when we get there I take a right, figuring we'd take the NY times loop in reverse. But before long a very friendly Canadian woman let us know that we were going the wrong way. I was like "how does she know where we're going?" and charged on. But then a slightly less friendly Canadian let us know it was a f*cking one way loop and we were going to kill someone. We got the hint and made our way back to the interior. We made it to the central Lookout point through another pass on the park. Gorgeous panoramic view of the city and the Lions Gate bridge that we would cross a few times over the next couple days.

US man wanted for bicycle crimes

The ride back the perimeter path was one of the more dramatic bike paths I’ve ever ridden, with some extremely tight curves. And I now have a better sense of the Canadian's perspective on people like me from the US....

We have lunch at the adorable Granville Island, buzzing with activity, overloaded with artsy shops and a massive food hall with outdoor seating. There was a woman with a hawk on patrol which I correctly assumed was to curb aggressive seagulls. They walked away and not five minutes later, I seagull grabbed a slice of pizza right off of a kids hand, and three seagulls wrestled for it right in front of us. I guess the seagulls are from the States.

After lunch this pretty magical thing Mary‘s friend Lina had suggested water bikes on the inlet. Profoundly relaxing activity and a great way to explore with out feeling like an asshole on a jet ski (yes, that's jealousy).

Our water bike rental guy is so sweet we want to take him home with us. We'd love to take him home.

While Mary was exploring deeper into the bay, a seal popped his cute little head out of the water just a few feet away from me. So cute. The rest of the day I went around saying I petted the seal. My kids did not back me up. Still none of you were there, so as far as you’re concerned, I petted a seal.

Quick stop back at the Airbnb then our busy day continued with a visit over that aforementioned Lions Gate Bridge to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Now this is one case where our itinerary departed from my New York Times 36 hours in Vancouver bible. The Times felt the suspension bridge was too touristy and it should be skipped in favor of other sites in the Capilano area. In this case we were glad we ignored the Times. It helped that we got there at 6pm just an hour before they're supposed to close (they helpfully told us up front they wouldn't kick us out until 7:45.

A view from the bridge

Besides the suspension bridge itself, which is on a spectacular spot between over a gorge, they had carved out these insane glass-enclosed paths that literally hang out the edge of the cliff. I don’t consider myself particular scared of heights, but as I walked around, I realized I was a bit nauseous. Mary is a bit more scared of heights and was a trooper.

Mary being v brave

They also had a walking path through a set of high trees, with lots of legitimately fascinating information about the forest, including the fact salmon is such an important part of the ecosystem that salmon DNA appears in the trees. The bears eat the salmon, go to the woods, poop happens, next thing you know you've got trees with salmon in them. Gotta love nature.

As is typical for me, most of my trip planning revolved around making lists of restaurants I knew in my heart we would never go to. I do this while avoiding practical trip planning such as planning reasonable routes, knowing check-in times, etc. So I had probably found about 25 or so recommendations for dinner. We decided to go to a neighborhood called The Drive (the senior bikers had mentioned it) which we were told has high-end pizza. You have to understand, and this is a safe space, that our family isn't exactly aligned about food. And it's not allergies

Blurry picture but gives a sense of the big pizza oven head. It led to a Sopranos discussion.

or even the vegetarian thing. It's just that we have very picky eaters who are not shy about their opinions. Pizza is usually -- if the crust isn't too thick or too thin, if the sauce is red but doesn't have any actual tomatoes, etc. -- a relatively safe choice. But the place that was recommended by the New York Times 36 hours was closed and the backup bar restaurant was fully booked. So we ended up in a kind of showy, Sopranos style, Italian place. But despite it's silly Roman columns and gigantic Italian head that doubled for its pizza oven, the food was outstanding, the Irish (!) waitress was lovely, and everyone was happy.

Tuesday: Paddle forward!! So today is our big ticket item: rafting on the Elaho river off a town called Squamish about an hour north of Vancouver. We have to leave by 7am before any of the high-end coffee places are open. But I've prepared for this by bringing just enough of our own grounds (my current homebrew is called Hologram by Counter Culture) to make an emergency pot of coffee at our Airbnb.

So we're well caffeinated as we make the winding drive up to Squamish. Our guide on the water is Jamie. He's British and Phillip enjoyed talking football with him (the British kind). The scenery is absolutely off the charts, including a currently inactive (but not dead volcano). We saw a golden eagle and did all the raftie things.

We get a text pic from the Poconos that Jimmy is enjoying his own water adventures...

Jamie mentions that the first gentle rapids series is a good time for a swim. We think this is crazy talk since we were all freezing before we set out. And Jamie has informed us the water around us was part of a glacier 12 hours ago. But a young woman from our raft steels herself and jumps in. Then Ero disappears over the side. Phillip and Mary jump in too. My bony ass stays put. Phillip is proud that he is the only one to get himself back in the raft without any help.

A bit later, Phillip takes a challenge to try to stand up on the front of the raft while Jamie turns it around in a 360. He held out for a while but fell in. I then took the challenge but the group consensus was I did it in a "pansie ass" way as I was bending my knees and leaning forward so if I fell (which I did just as the 360 was completed), I would fall into the boat. You could argue that I violated the spirit of the challenge but again, I stayed dry and with my skeletal frame I don't prefer to swim in glacier water.

Check out our custom made rafting video! If you have eagle eyes, you might be able to see Ero in the 2nd raft from the front on the generic drone footage that I just captured from a promotional video on their site. (yes, I was too cheap to buy their $160 camera package--again, no regrets).

So after rafting, we have complicated discussions and negotiations over our lunch. Every meal feels like negotiating a peace treaty with a group of belligerent dictators. In this case we find a lovely Canadian strip mall with a take out Italian place and a coffee shop where I get a surprisingly pungent cheddar cheese roll with Mary's mid-afternoon coffee.

That evening Mary and I swim in the Kitsilano Beach pool, which I'll have you know is the longest outdoor pool in North America, bitch. We clean up and make a plan to meet our friends and former Princeton, neighbors, Sama and Yan at a super stylish underground club in the Gastown neighborhood. Ero is tired and decides to stay in and read Nietzsche and eat boxed mac'n'cheese. You do you, Ubermensch.

By the grace of God, no one let Phillip have a martini. (or me, for that matter)

Ever since we booked this trip Phillip has been talking about how he'll be able to drink legally for the first time of his life. So when it's time to order his first legal cocktail he asks the server for a martini. The server sort of glances at Mary as if confirmation might be needed that this order, while legal, is parent approved. It was not. His second choice is a bourbon drink that's probably the 2nd strongest on the menu and in his defense it's delicious.

With our sweet, brilliant neuroscientist friends...

It’s a lovely night, jazz and food, and most of all great company by our amazing former neighbors, who just happened to be traveling up from Seattle to Vancouver on vacation the same two nights we were here. A lucky coincidence and highlight of the trip. Ero was missed though, as these folks are neuroscientists and this is one of her many passions.

Wednesday: Olympic

Wednesday morning we have to exit Vancouver as we have a date to go to the extremely far away Olympic National Forest. When we decided to fly home from Seattle, Ero found out about this park, and it was added to the itinerary, despite the fact that it added a half day of driving to our 5 and a half day trip. But Ero is possibly the most powerful of the erratic dictators on this trip and I don't want to cross her.

We get up early but not before hitting the 2nd recommended coffee shop in Kitsilano, where we get our caffeine fix and assorted overpriced baked goods. Then we make our way south. I am sweating the border crossing as lord knows whether Phillip is trying to smuggle in the legal shrooms that were available for purchase in Vancouver. (we didn't let him out of our site enough for him to make such a transaction but still theoretically possible). But the crossing is smooth and the drive south is gorgeous. I am not used to driving a car made after 2008.

So we're treading between the scenic route and the fast route as we want to hit Olympic park in one day and it's a solid 6+ hours if all goes well. But this includes a ferry ride. We google the ferry schedule in the car and see there's one at 11:45am from a place called Fort Casey, north of Puget Sound. If we keep pace and minimize stops we should be able to make. We're forced to stop at a breathtaking bridge at the interestingly-named Deception Pass State Park. Below is a series of my failed efforts to get selfies as random very large vehicles pass....

White claw is sponsoring this blog
What is this thing and how close did it come to plowing my family off of this bridge?

Okay that's more like it!

Okay, enough deception, we have a ferry to catch. I drive hella-fast and pull in to the ferry pay stand confidently at 11:30. The grizzled attendant asks if I have a reservation. I shake my head glumly and am put on the stand-by purgatory for poor planning travelers. He says next ferry at 1:15. I ask if he thinks we'll make it and he shakes his head grimly: "I guess there's a chance." I tell everyone in the car they're going to be shocked at how Zen I am going to be if we miss this ferry. I won’t leave you in suspense, dear reader, but we did not make the fucking ferry.

So we take a walk to the featured attraction of Fort Casey, a lighthouse about a mile away. I'm so Zen about this. Who doesn't like a visit to a lighthouse? Maybe they'll let us walk up to the top and we'll get some unexpectedly beautiful view of the Sound? Thank God I'm the type of person that just takes what the world gives him and is always grateful for it.

Phillip is almost as tall as the lighthouse.

As the lighthouse comes into view, I wonder if there is a Guinness book of world records for shortest lighthouses. It's such a sad lighthouse, I can't tell you. There is docent inside who directs us to an exhibit describing how the lighthouse and military base was considered strategically important for about 20 years after the Civil War and since then it has been largely ignored. We did get to go up to the top of the lighthouse, and it was a nice view. I resisted the urge to just jump down to the ground from the top of the lighthouse perch (even with my creaky knees I would have been FINE).

We trudge back to our car and debate about whether we should get food at the restaurant by the ferry stop, or on the ferry itself. Another split decision. The ferry ride is lovely and apparently the ferry canteen tater tot game was on point. We talk to a guy who's walked here from Glacier National Park in Montana. Just hearing this makes me want to take a nap. We get to our place in this kind of sleepy town called Port Angeles.

Our Airbnb is perfectly fine, set right off of the water, with a view only partially obstructed by some kind of industrial waste facility. We learned (in our sad lighthouse bunker educational diagram) this body of water is called the strait of Juan de Fuca. Juan was a Greek explorer who worked for Spain and thus was given a much more interesting name than he deserved. Anyway, we generally like our Airbnb. The host has left out snacks and breakfast lined up for the morning. But she also has left out an alarming amount of passive aggressive notes. I mean really like four or five per room . One of our favorite being a rule that you couldn't actually sit directly on the couch, you were supposed to spread out one of her dozens of throw covers and sit on the covers. (we flouted it openly).

Moody teens on dead trees

We head out to Hurricane Ridge, by far the closest of the many can't miss attractions in Olympic National Forest. But as we get close to the ridge, the national park signage says basically the equivalent of the Wallyworld sign "sorry folks, park's closed. Moose out front should've told you." We charge on and get to the entrance where the outrageously friendly park worker at the ticket booth confirms that this part of the park is now closed (they hit a parking limit for the day), but she gives us very specific instructions on where to have a nice late afternoon hike in a Hurricane-Ridge adjacent trail.

We follow her meticulous directions (three left turns but not all at well marked places) and this hike becomes one of the highlights of the trip. We only saw three or four people on the trail on a two hour hike. Part of the deal with the Olympic Forest is the high precipitation leads to crazy amounts of low lying foliage, with some combination of moss, ferns and lichen. What was notable about this trail was that the moss/fern/assorted green stuff combination was actually underfoot in the trail and cushioned your walk.

We're pleased enough with the lesser Hurricane Ridge views...

The crest was hard to find but we followed a lead of Mary's and found it, getting rewarded with a gorgeous view of this Hurricane Ridge-adjacent area. No complaints. As we got back to be our car we passed a mule factory. Apparently a some spots in the interior of this national park don't allow motorized vehicles. So mules are really the only way to get around. This is a bad ass park. Literally.

We regroup back at the Airbnb and Mary finds more notes. One is about how they don't have a cleaning fee since the owner doesn't hire a cleaner, she just cleans herself. But hey, her note says, that's really not fair. Why shouldn't she get paid for her cleaning too? So please leave her a cleaning tip. We had the idea of maybe leaving notes on her notes. But we didn't have time for that because we were getting hungry and needed to have our gladiatorial debate over dinner plans. I find a nice enough looking bar/restaurant that's supposed to have good food but when we get we got there they told us there's a long waiting list and they close at nine. The backup plan is a dive bar that also serves food we passed when parking.

The dive bar is a little scary. I mean I'm not personally scared but I would say most parents would not bring their kids into this type of environment. But our kids are 16 and 19 years old and at a certain point they need to be exposed to this kind of thing. They've been living in his bubble of Princeton all their lives. Not everything needs to be overpriced and adorable. Some things are reasonably priced and depressing.

"who took us here??!!!"

It was a pretty light crowd when we got there but it started filling up and then the DJ announces it was a karaoke night and the list is open. My kids get it in their heads that their exhibitionist father would take this as an opportunity to embarrass them. I clarified that while if this was a stand-up comedy open mic night, I would certainly do so, but I had no plans to sing in public that evening.

The karaoke singers were as bad as would be expected, but in a slightly entertaining way. At a certain point old gentleman with a walker came in and was drinking at a table behind us. A bit later a younger woman who clearly knew him started dancing with him.

Since he was pretty much immobile, that meant this woman dancing around him as he stood up with his walker. Oh, that's nice we thought, she's making this older, somewhat disoriented-looking gentleman, feel sort of a part of things. Eventually, though, it turned into a kind of dirty dancing, and all of us were laughing and crying and dying inside all at the same time. Ero had mostly the latter reaction and not long after decided it was time to go home. And as I've indicated, what Ero says usually goes.

But I was sort of having a good time. Phillip, no longer able to drink legally in Washington state, was now drinking illegally. Because clearly no one in this bar cared, and after letting him drink in Vancouver it seemed almost hypocritical to restrict him here. So when Mary, who was DD at this point, offered to bring Ero back to the Airbnb, but then come back and hang out with us, we say sure that sounds like a great idea. By this time, Phillip has put his name down for the karaoke.

Phillip holding nothing back....

He was flummoxed, though about what song he should sing. He happened to be wearing in Amy Winehouse T-shirt and while I dearly love the idea of him trying to sing along with Rehab, I doubted many folks in this dive bar in the top left corner of Washington state would know that song. After Mary gets back, she suggests "F@ck you" by CeeLo Green. Like everything with Mary it is the perfect choice. Phillip gets up there and does the song gamely. Clearly many people know it and even those who don't are happy to chime in when the chorus comes on (those two words are easy enough to say for anyone who's had a few drinks in a dive bar--when put to music even more so).

Now of course, the extroverted father can't resist putting his name in the karaoke hat after all and 15 minutes later, (after getting Phillip's permission) I am unironically trying to sing Bittersweet Symphony by the Verve. When I have had a few drinks, I have this misconception that I can sing and dance when I realize the facts do not bear this out. Still, my family was nice and Phillip did not seem overly embarrassed. A fun night and Mary the true rockstar for putting up with us.

Thursday: Hoh Hoh Hoh

You can't get more Hoh than this...

OK so now it's our last full day we have to get really freaking serious about covering ground in this national park we came so far to see. While there are many attractions close to us, Ero is fixated on something called the Hoh Rainforest, which we learn is basically the only legitimate rainforest in the continuous US (there are some rainforest pretenders out there--don't be fooled). So we get up pretty early and make the almost 2 hour drive there. And it really is out of another world. This trinity of ferns, moss and lichen are absolutely everywhere underneath the canopy of living and dead trees. The dead trees themselves are kind of the main character of the rainforest. It seems like most of the trees are growing out of other dead trees.

My little rainforest sprite...

Also, the silences in this place are pretty incredible. It is protected on one side by a cliff (which you usually can't see though all the greenery), so there is absolutely no wind. The sites closest to the parking lot are so full of people it feels like an amusement park. But once we start a proper hike there it gets spread out enough that we had many moments of complete quiet to ourselves.

There is less of a war about lunch because there's only one place to eat near outside of the Hoh Rainforest and it happens to be adorable with food we all like and several Hoh-related and Sasquatch-related gifts. We hit this place hard.

Lunching with Sasquatch outside of the Hoh rainforest...

After some debate we decide on making our way to Seattle via the southern route rather than the northern route, which involves another ferry. In part because I'd heard good things about Ruby Beach, which is on the Pacific and is another pretty spectacular spot. It's dotted with tiny islands just off of the beach, there's all this beautiful driftwood all over the place, so much that you really have to climb over the driftwood to navigate parts the beach.

You can see driftwood just to the right of the angry teen.

When we entered the beach we saw a woman coming out loaded up with chunks of white driftwood. I consider this wood's journey from being like a real tree, then apparently falling into the sea and bouncing around the ocean and bouncing around for a while, then landing on this beach with its fellow driftwood, thinking it's going to live out its days this way. Only to be plucked off the beach by this woman to be decor in her second home. SAD.

We unfortunately don't have time to linger on Ruby Beach as we want to get a little bit a Seattle in tonight, and we are a solid five hours west. It's a gorgeous drive though, and when the family naps I'm kept company by a surprisingly lively Audible version of Brothers Karamazov (I'm well aware how mockable that sounds -- most of my audible choices are spy novels and space books for dummies).

We get to our pretty nice Airbnb just north of Tacoma and have our last fight a bit about dinner plans of the trip (bittersweet). I advocate for going to Pikes Market trying to see if we can get something there even though it will be evening.

Ero unimpressed by Serra at the Seattle sculpture garden

My feeling is it's an iconic place and their web site says a bunch of restaurants are open and we'll figure something out. We didn't. Pike''s market is a great site, but actually pretty dead in the evening. And when we tried to go down to the lower floors of the market, we were literally bathing in disinfectant as clearly this market gets a major bleach-scrub each night. I can sure pick 'em!

Strong mural game with sasquatch as a now-defunct supersonic...

So my backup plan is a local beer hall. It's a bit of a long walk through an uninspiring condo-filled neighborhood, but we all like the beer hall and it's a nice low-key last evening. We take a little bit too long though, as our last tourism destination is the Space Needle which I knew is nearby and open until 10:30, but only while finishing our meal at the beer all at 9:30 do we learn that they only let you up 45 minutes before closing.

So now we are now running, full of bratwurst and puffed up pretzel dipped in cheese, and heavy beer to make the last entry to the freaking Space Needle.

We do make it and the Space Needle at night is kind of disorienting, but in a good way. We had a nice conversation with the stoner-seeming dude who works the elevator. He was bragging about the speed of the elevator he rides on all night and speculating about how it rates in speed vs. other elevators. It's important to like what you do. You go stoner elevator dude.

This level of Seattle funky charm is extra. But worth it.

Friday: Sleepless in Seattle

Last morning! We find a delightfully weird punk-themed diner, that is probably the only meal we do not argue about. We're pretty satisfied with their breakfast and have many coffee refills. We bring Phillip and Ero to the airport. They have separate flights, because the good children are going to get Jimmy from camp the next day while Mary and I fly to Boston for a wedding of my cousin. That wedding is a whole story for another post (actually, I've been asked to put together the wedding video, so if you're lucky maybe you'll get to see that too someday!).

Mary and I have a couple extra hours before our flight and hit the MoPop museum, where there's a cool exhibit about stop-motion animation, a history of 50 years of hip-hop and a Nirvana exhibit.

MoPop (aka, a regular building in Seattle)

When Kurt was just another kid in art class.

Cobain was from Aberdeen which is near the Olympic National Park. I found myself thinking about him at places like Ruby Beach and the Hoh Rainforest whether he would come out to these places as a kid. (and yes, they did play a lot Nirvana on the radio up there). No revelations in the exhibit but you get the sense that while he was authentic and punk and talented as hell he was also hugely ambitious. That they took over the world wasn't a coincidence.

The hip hop exhibit was cool in that it focused on photography and showed the full film roles of iconic shots. This Biggie one was my favorite where on the same role of his famous badass crown shot, he's mugging like a little kid.

That's it. Uneventful plane to Boston and then a lovely wedding you'll hear more about in future social media promotions.

Wow. You made it. That was a lot of words. I admire your stamina for getting through this. Of course I know I'm just talking to you, mom.

Much love to all and enjoy those family vacations!

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