Category Archives: Personal

Olympic Road Trips

I have been lacking inspiration to write this year. On quite a few occasions, I will read someone else’s words and feel compelled to produce something as beautifully written as theirs, but when I rack my brain for a topic, I come back empty. This search makes me wonder if I am getting too comfortable and lazy staying where I am without taking on challenging things, or maybe I am lacking motivation to do them. Today’s post is my small step to continue writing and I hope that resuming writing will get myself out of the rut and snowball to something bigger beyond these words.

I have made it a goal to go backpacking in Olympic National Park every summer. The first year I hiked through Hoh rainforest along Hoh River to marvel at Blue Glacier on Mt Olympus. I was new to long-mileage multiple-day backpacking trip. I was too tired to take out my phone to capture all the moments and to truly take it all in the significance of the glacier and the surrounding nature – river, alpine meadows, and rainforest.

Blue Glacier of Mt Olympus

The second year I completed the high divide and seven lakes basin loop. It was one of the most coveted backpacking trips in the park with fewer backcountry permits available. Thus, I started my research in early spring to plan the itinerary for campsites and scored the permits on the first day they became available. Unfortunately we had rainy and cold weather on the second day in, when we were supposed to get all the views of lakes and mountains. With the rain not forecasted to let up the following day, I ended the trip one day early, planning to return to this trail on a nicer day.

Perfect weather on first day at Deer Lake camp
All socked in and misty on the second day at Heart Lake camp

This year, for my third trip, I went to the coast and camped at Third Beach. I have always wanted to explore the area but felt intimidated learning how to read a tide chart (certain sections of the beach are not safe to pass during high tides). It turned out to be a lot easier to learn. Southern coast has a bit more challenging terrains, which requires going up and down steep slopes using rope to navigate the impassable areas, making the trail more adventurous. Despite experiencing typical PNW weather – rain, cloud, and occasional sun, I loved the chill vibes by the beach – going to sleep listening to the sound of waves and waking up to check out sea creatures during low tides.

Sea stacks by the beach
The sky cleared up a bit during sunset
Low tide in the morning

Having made four trips to the Olympic peninsula (three backpacking trips and one day trip), I started asking myself what is it of this area that draws me to drive at least three hours one way to pay pilgrimage every summer, compared to other national parks and areas of equal fame. What’s more, some other areas I backpacked to did not require paid backpacking permits nor the amount of work I had put in get the permits. Especially for me who is all about being efficient (minimizing effort and maximizing return, aka ‘views’), all three backpacking trips are mediocre for efficiency, compared to other trails that do not require paid permits nor long drive to trailhead.

I have this romanticized feeling towards going on a trip to Olympic National Park, which can be broken down into three reasons:

One, the expansive biodiversity of the park means there are a variety of things to explore, which is a big draw to someone like me who likes to try out different things. The park has snowcapped mountains, glacier, alpine lakes and meadows, miles of beaches and coastlines, river, valley, rainforest, etc. This also means I will get to see different animals, seagulls, black bears, deer, marmots, elks, etc. This is something you cannot get from neither Mt Rainier National Park nor North Cascades National Park, the other two national parks in Washington. Looking back at my three trips, each one has a different theme of nature to explore. Maybe next year I will check out Enchanted Valley to keep up! 😛

Second, the feeling of wilderness and the beautiful long drive gives you a preview of what the area has to offer. I am always excited about the drive to the peninsula, because I will have plenty of opportunities to admire the beauty of this area closer, which I always stare at from afar in Seattle. Sure, drive to any mountains gives you the feel of leaving the hustle and bustle behind and having more solitude. However, rarely do you get to see both mountains and oceans on the same trip, without going to the islands up north. Going on this drive always reminds me how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful state.

Third, due to the long drive and my pickiness of who goes with me on these trips (see my above comment on being efficient), I always love the time we spend on the road together. Both the journey and the destination matter, right? 🙂 Usually along the long drive, there were quaint towns, such as Sequim, Forks, and Port Angeles, that we stopped at for a bite or coffee. We took turns managing the playlist, sharing favorite songs or podcasts. We sampled the box of Trader Joe’s snacks I brought along. We dreamt up backpacking plans for next summer. Most importantly, we caught each other up on life and always had intellectually stimulating conversations. I always learned something new about myself after each road trip and felt reinvigorated towards what’s to come.

This is my attempted love poem to Mt Olympic National Park and the peninsula it sits on. If you have not considered exploring Olympic National Park before, I hope you would feel more inclined to give it a try and experience the same magic that I do.

P.S. Though it is not a super descriptive trip report, I got inspired to write this thanks to Climber Kyle’s blog. He writes about trail running, skiing, and mountaineering trips in PNW. Though I am far less skilled to complete any of these trips, I am always touched by his words and gorgeous pictures and get to live vicariously through his trips. Thus, if my words failed you, check out his, which covers quite a bit of Olympic peninsula. See this and this as examples.

When Life Gives You Lemon…

My 2021 did not end on a high note.

The evening before Xmas Eve, I went bouldering with friends in a gym. I was working on my first yellow boulder problem half way through, when a thought crossed my mind ‘I have not been on the wall for almost a month, do I remember how to fall properly?’. I pushed that thought aside and continued with a couple of moves when I suddenly lost my footing. Rather than lay back to fall on the pad, I vertically slipped off the wall from 6 feet high and landed on my right foot first. I immediately felt some pain and saw my ankle bone dislocated. Sitting up on the pad, I gently touched my ankle bone out of curiosity and it slid back to its place. My friends came to my side and took me to urgent care right away. At urgent care, my ankle swelled up much more and I felt more pain. I got an Xray and the doctor said no fracture and sent me home with an aircast to wear for two weeks.

night of the fall, at urgent care

The following two weeks were the hardest during recovery as it was challenging to go up stairs and moved around the house in general. Fortunately, I had friends who dropped off groceries, picked up prescription, and visited me to have meals with me over the holidays. It happened to be on the snowiest days in the Seattle area. As I looked out the windows, I could see kids playing in the park and how I wished I could go outside for snowshoeing.

Once I was in good enough shape to walk around using my injured foot as well (rather than skipping in my left leg) and the swelling greatly reduced, I started going to PT. I could not do a proper squat because it was really tight around my ankle. It was not easy to accept the new reality that I will not be able to run or hike for a while until I get my full range of motion back in my right ankle. Since I was so active pre-injury, I felt a big part of my identity was lost. I was at a loss about how to fill up my spare time, now that I am not running, hiking, or bouldering. My PT recommended getting a bike to stay fit and use the pedaling motion to increase the blood flow around the ankle to help reduce swelling. Seeing one success story of a local trail runner who had ankle surgery and picked up biking to actively recover, I immediately invested in a road bike.

Boy, I was hooked! The high school commuter Sijie was back! I was once given the compliment that I was unfazed by busy traffic on highway 202 and I credited that to all the years of whizzing through bikes rushing to classes in high school in China. I felt nostalgic just thinking about those days and how the skills developed then became helpful now. I was steadily building on mileage each week, exploring Lake Sammamish loop, Sammamish River Trail to Burke Gilman Trail, and eventually linking them together to do Lake Washington Northern Loop. I not only loved exploring the neighborhood on a bike, which is more efficient than running and still provides me great views of the mountains, but also cherished the company I had. I caught up with friends from running club while biking, visited friends in Seattle, and biked to restaurants and ice cream shops. With my cycling friends, we dreamt up plans to bike on sunrise road in Mt Rainier National Park, to see Washington Pass from Highway 20 before the road opens for cars, and to take a ferry to all the islands and Olympic peninsula. I was feeling hopeful and excited for the summer – biking brought me so much already – I stayed fit, hang out with friends in a different setting, reconnected with a college classmate who was also into biking, and met a coworker who I would never connect with if not for biking! I would be just as happy if I will not be able to run or hike much this summer, because I found a new love!

my favorite mountains!
biking with a friend by Lake Washington

Even though my range of motion is improving, I found it odd that my ankle is still a bit swollen after almost three months. I decided to see a podiatrist and get another X-ray. It was then that I was told that I had a fracture which was not detected in the first one and that I needed to cut back my physical activities significantly – cannot swim or bike much until the checkup in two weeks. At first I panicked again – just wondering what I should do to fill up my time again… Good thing is that my recovery from being at a loss at what I should do with my spare time is much faster this time – I can spend more time reading (since my physical activities were eating into my reading time), I can bake and cook more, I can decorate my new place with paintings and photos, I have time to update my blog, I can learn to be more financially smart, I can host dinner parties with friends and catch up, I can help my friends with their garden projects, etc… Since the initial doctor visit, I did more meal prep than before, baked a matcha cheesecake, got a group together for escape room, and repotted my some of my houseplants before they go through the growth spurts in summer. Fingers crossed that I can heal quickly!

time to repot this moonshine snakeplant
first time baking a cake – matcha basque cheesecake

the Journey of Self – Know the Why

I am dedicating year of 2021 to a year of self-journey, a year of looking inward to understand myself better and to grow. This is part 6 of the series.

After living in Washington for a year, I started hiking more frequently in 2020 summer to appreciate the beautiful state that I live in. To get inspired and find trails, I joined a couple of hiking and mountaineering groups on Facebook. Members of these communities usually posted pictures of their trips and wrote trip reports. For a long time, the postings made me feel so unaccomplished and anxious about what I have done. Others are doing much more impressive things – scrambling on exposed terrain, summiting all the volcanoes in Washington, backcountry skiing, roped climbing, running on trails with high vertical gains, etc., while I am yet to learn the skills to do any of them. My competitiveness got the best of me and I felt frustrated that I couldn’t win. There is an app in the community to register which peaks you have bagged and I developed an unhealthy obsession that I will only go on hikes where there were peaks to conquer. I will not choose lake hikes as a result, no matter how pretty the trails are, because lakes are not considered peaks in the app. I wanted to catch up so badly that being outside is no longer fun. It was all about registering my name under the peaks.

Luckily, going on a backpacking trip with a couple of friends this summer at the alpine lakes reminded me to enjoy the process and take it all in along the journey. In the past, I was usually in a rush – starting from trailhead as early as 7 a.m., taking shorter breaks, having a quick snack at summit, and hurrying back to the car. This time, my friends and I deliberately wanted to do a chill trip and even shortened the stay to 1 night only so that we were not that far from civilization. We took a leisure pace of starting after lunch on the first day, shot plenty of pictures at all the lakes on this trail, watched sunset and looked for shooting stars at night. We even brought swim suits along, but ran out of time. At first I was not used to this leisure pace, always trudging ahead then stopping to wait for my friend to catch up. Then I realized I missed out on the opportunity to catch up with my friends about their work-from-home life, creative endeavors, and recent adventures, so I slowed down and ‘ooh and aah’ together with them whenever we had a beautiful view. ShuMui, who were on this trip with me, wrote a remarkable trip report with pictures taken from the DSLR that she hauled up the trail. After this trip, my heart was so full that I cared a lot less about bagging peaks now and was reminded again why I enjoyed the outdoors.

In addition, I remembered that I have only been in Washington for a little more than two years. I did not learn climb and ski before. I am an average runner and need to put in the work to run faster and get used to the verticals. Despite the two years, my outdoor skills and capabilities have grown significantly, which is worth celebrating! I also realized that everyone has different goals in life. I should not have mistaken others’ goals as mine and gone after them, because we all are making a deliberate choice of what to focus on. Just because others’ goals are visible on social media, it does not mean that I should go after the same ones. The likes and validation received from social media do not mean anything, if I am not content from within. I should develop clarity on what my own plans are and stay focused on them, so that I am not easily distracted by what others have been pursuing.

As a result, I started thinking a lot about the whys behind all the things I do. Why do I hike and backpack? Why do I run? Why do I want to try trail running? Why do I pick up bouldering? Why do I write? Why do I mentor? Why am I working as a product manager? Once I rehash out the whys, I am happier and more satisfied with where I am. It is like having an internal compass, showing me the way, rather than mistaking other directions as my way just because they are big and shiny. I love having this sense of direction. I am no longer comparing myself to others, because I know we all have different goals to work towards. It is a good life as long as I am doing what fulfills me.

Have you thought about your whys?

Bonus: speaking of being on trails, I love this article from guidebook author Craig Romano on sharing what we love about the wilderness with our loved ones. Give it a read! Love this quote!

“The only thing that can be better than sitting on a wild deserted beach, atop a commanding hilltop, or by a sparkling alpine lake is to be there in the company of the people I care for most. All of those beautiful natural landscapes are too life enhancing to be loved alone.”

Craig Romano, ‘LOVE IS IN THE PLEIN AIR’

the Journey of Self – Finding My People

I am dedicating year of 2021 to a year of self-journey, a year of looking inward to understand myself better and to grow. This is part 5 of the series.

Washington is the fourth state I lived in in the US, not counting my short summer stint in California. For someone who has moved around with no close family in the US, my least favorite part about moving is having to give up all the friends in that city and to go through the process of finding a community again. On a positive note, I am lucky to have some close friends living all over the country who I stay in touch with and have paid me quite a few visits already. As I reflect on my experience of moving, I realize that I can be good at making new friends, maybe due to the fact that all my family lives abroad, so my friends become my tribe.

After living in Washington for two years, 60% of the time was during the time of a global pandemic, I am happy to report that I have slowly found a group of likeminded people, the connection with whom I am grateful for. Coming to Seattle with a large number of business school classmates definitely made my first year easier, especially when a few of my good friends from business school moved here too. In my second year, I put more effort in meeting new people outside my usual circle and joined a running club! I am not sure why the running club idea did not occur to me earlier, since this was the same thing I did when I moved to Houston! I really enjoy going to weekly runs with my club and being able to explore some new trails on the Eastside and some old gems on which I can now run at a faster pace. Thanks to motivation from the club, I’ve pulled off the longest distance I’ve ever run in a month and today I ran close to 12 miles and still had a bit left in my tank. Running more combined with hiking has definitely made me feel my body is at its prime right now.

1.5X to my previous monthly max!

Speaking of hiking, I have also found more friends to explore trails with. We are able to push each other, me being pushed more often than they are (:P) to take on the trail less traveled. Some great fun were had on the winter trail of chain lakes loop, Kachess Beacon, and wright mountain traverse. Last year, I saw hiking more as a way to stay fit, but ended up not enjoying the process as much because I was too focused on going at a speed that my physical fitness could not sustain and on the goal of bagging peaks. This year, my fitness level improved significantly and the hikes become more a way to catch up with friends while sharing the gorgeous views of nature. As I lower my monthly hiking frequency, I am more and more looking forward to each hike. I am really excited to go on two backpacking trips the end of the month with Washington friends and out-of-town visitors!

Chain lakes adventure featuring walking on the frozen lake in the background and snowshoeing up a hill!

Lastly, I am also lucky to have friends who can show me the ropes of bouldering (but no literal ropes involved)! Because I have fear of heights that might stop me from taking on more scrambling challenges in the mountains, I’ve started indoor bouldering and it is a fun physical and mental challenge. Since then, I have taken the skill and experience to outdoor trails and I can say that I am becoming more comfortable with navigating large boulders!

All in all, I am just grateful for all the old and new connections I am able to make while living in Washington. These are the people who have inspired me to take on more and taught me new skills and experiences that I will always treasure. Cheers to Year 3 in Washington and finding more of my people!