Two and a half years ago, when the first of our American-crew left Ireland we made a promise to meet up once a year, no matter where in the world we happened to be. Last year, everyone traveled for our wedding, which is a pretty solid reason for a reunion. This year, three of us, Ashley, Lindsey and I managed to find a weekend that worked for us to all visit Seattle, where Lindsey is attending medical school. I’m so thankful to have these women in my life, they feel more akin to sisters, and no matter the time or distance, we always fall immediately back into the ease of great friendship. It is hard to see them, because then I’m reminded what I’m missing most of my year.
I left Atlanta’s heat and humidity and flew to Seattle for Labor Day weekend. The views arriving into the city were some of the best I’ve ever witnessed, a clear blue sky, Mt. Rainer looming in the distance, the Space Needle jetting up from that familiar skyline. Within minutes of landing I met Ashley and we were on our way, ready to explore one of my favorite cities with some of my favorite people.
We spent the evening wandering UW and catching up over happy hour. The weather in Seattle was suspiciously perfect, low 70’s and sunny. The next morning I explored in the early hours on my own, with an 8-mile run along Lake Union, struck by the ease of running when it’s not stifling hot and sticky humid. I hadn’t intended on running 8-miles, the furthest I’d run up until then, but I felt full of energy, and just kept going, it was the most exhilarating run I’d experienced in my short running career. We spent the rest of the day prepping for our Olympic NP camping trip, and helping Lindsey put together her new apartment. Which may sound rather dull, but ultimately I came to Seattle to see friends, what we did didn’t matter so much, so long as we were together.
The next morning we head out early to try and secure a campsite near ONP, which on Labor Day sounds like an absurd idea, but I’d found a region where no permits were necessary, and the grounds were considered low to moderate use. Though Lindsey’s friends seemed skeptical we’d snag a spot, when we arrived to hamma hamma there were two empty spots. A little further down, it was even less populated, there were even more open options. We set up camp as far from other people as we could, delighted with our good fortune, and set off to hike Lake of the Angels.
I’m the planner in our group, I’m actually, usually the planner in most of my social/family groups, and while I love that my friends trust me implicitly to plan adventures, it sometimes results in a slightly blasé attitude. So despite the fact that I warned them we’d be hiking a tough trail, apparently, that warning fell on complacent ears. There’s a reason this hike is low usage. It’s hard, even for experienced hikers, which I consider myself a member of these days. The last two miles gain 2600 feet with hand over hand climbing, stream crossing, mud, and wind. But luckily, my friends are adventurous and always game for a challenge, even if the last hike they went on was several months ago and a lingering hangover was still rearing it’s head. I love that about them. They’re tough, supportive women who will ultimately, get your ass up the mountain. And so we went up, and up, and up forever. For reference, the first two miles to the backcountry trailhead which climbed slightly (600 feet total) took 45 minutes. The next two miles would take us around 2.5 hours. Though it was hard, it was a lot of fun. Especially the actual hand over hand climbing. Plus, ONP is just stunning, the forest is dense, and vibrant, with old trees rioting towards the skies. As you round bends, the forest will open up to reveal stunning vistas as far as your eyes will allow. It makes huffing up a steep grade a bit more tolerable, to be sure.
There were enough hikers to feel a sense of camaraderie, especially for those backpacking in with full packs, something we’d considered doing but were thankful to have decided against. But it was solitary enough to not feel like the trail was overrun, which on Labor Day weekend seemed like great luck. After a few hours of climbing, trudging through mud, and hopping streams, we came to a meadow, and the final push up and over the ridge. Our destination, Lake of the Angels, was well worth the effort. Aside from being stunningly beautiful, it was also strange. There were almost no other people there, just this pristine lake up at tree-line in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know that I’ve ever hiked up so far to a lake, but it was a well earned sight. We relished in the fact that the only way to visit this place is to hike, you had to work for the destination, and we certainly had. But we didn’t stay long, the cold wind and threatening clouds reminded us of our long journey down, which, for me is always harder. By the time we returned to camp, the first drops of what would end up being 8 hours of torrential downpour began to fall. We thought of the hikers camping at the lake, and what their descent might look like tomorrow, thankful again that our laziness won out and we’d snagged a campground.
We returned the next day back to Seattle through Tacoma. I made everyone do a quick loop around the UPS campus, as I hadn’t been back since graduation in 2009, it looked mostly, the same. I felt a surge of nostalgia and vowed to return for a visit, this time with Alex, to wander the streets and old haunts of the early years in our relationship. I don’t have a particular fondness for UPS, I wasn’t super involved, and ended up moving away from most of my friends, but Alex and I met there, and shared the extreme highs and lows of a young relationship, and so for that, it will always hold great meaning.
Back in Seattle we spent the rest of our time eating (standout: Walrus and the Carpenter), having drinks at local breweries and showing Ashley the highlights of the city (Pike’s Place, Freemont, Ballard, Downtown, Capitol Hill, Discovery Park). It was incredibly hard to leave Tuesday, the nature of all our lives dictate we don’t ever know when we’ll see each other again. It is the one great downside to a life that involves moving so much, the constant goodbyes and distances between friends, though of course, I would never had met them if our lives were more stationary. I’m thankful to have them in my life in any capacity, and especially thankful for the chance to see them when the opportunity arises.
Our long weekend in Seattle proved to be one of the best weekends of the summer, and a great last “trip” before heading back to Ireland in a few weeks. It’s been nearly three months since we arrived in San Francisco to begin this summer, and soon, we’ll be back in Ireland. But we’re not done yet, two more weeks to explore Atlanta!