So many challenges, so little summer.
The Northwest in general and Washington in particular unfolds its great outdoors in the summertime like an expansive menu.
Yes, there are activities such as birding, golfing, mushrooming, deck-sitting and granita-sipping that can fill your hours with simple, boring pleasures.
And then there are the rites of summer for what can be loosely called “the outdoor athlete.”
The challenge of summer awaits these people. The mountains don’t whisper to them softly, they scream: “Get Up Here!”
There are mountains to climb, hours to hike, miles to pedal, rivers to ride, roads to run, trails to roll, lakes to swim … such is the summer of an outdoor athlete.
“The variety is incredible,” said Greg Ball, director of Washington Trails Association. “I don’t know if there is anyplace in the country or even the world where you can do as many outdoor sports as here. Just the different kinds of hiking is really something when you think about it.”
From alpine lakes, to glaciated mountain peaks, to rain forests, to rocky beach solitude, to dry lowland trails, even volcanic ash - there’s everything.
“You can take out your whitewater kayak, go hiking, climbing, sailing, do a little bicycle touring, and if you want to you could do it all in the same weekend. Everything you could want to do is within an hour or two.”
That’s the difference.
Pick a couple of items from Column A, maybe an appetizer, maybe a main course for the summer from Column B, maybe a little afternoon dessert from Column C.
The options are endless. As wide as the great outdoors, so to speak.
And among those options are more than mere activities. There are challenges that take some gumption. Some drive. Maybe even some training.
Bloomsday. The Seattle-to-Portland bike tour.
Or if they hiked the Wonderland Trail … or finished the Whiskey Dick Triathlon … or climbed Mount Rainier … these are things that mean something to people in this state.
Leave Washington and nobody knows about most of these things.
“Rains a lot there, doesn’t it?”
Yep. But these things are ours. And we are theirs.
“I lived in Alaska for a while, and I found that even though there is so much wilderness there, we have so much more access to do many things here,” offered Greg Jacobson of Seattle, an avid hiker, climber and ultra-marathon runner who, three years ago, founded the White River 50-mile trail race.
Bette Filley, who wrote a guide book entitled, “Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail Encircling Mount Rainier,” said she enjoys seeing the reaction of out-of-staters who take on Washington’s 93-mile backpacking benchmark.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who have hiked hundreds of miles on the Appalachian Trail and they always start the Wonderland Trail thinking it will be no big deal, that the elevation gain will be gradual and easy,” she said. “But after a few miles, they’re amazed. It’s almost like they are in a state of shock.”
That’s roughly the state that mountain bike-enthusiast Dan Webber says he sees in some would-be mountain bikers.
“A lot of people could do a 30-mile bike ride on a road bike, or even do 30 miles on a mountain bike if they were riding a paved road,” he said. “But when it’s 30 miles of up and down on a rutted jeep track or deep-graveled logging road, the crowds thin out real fast.”
Crowds - amazingly - are something that there will be plenty of in the annual late-June Seattle-to-Portland bicycle trek.
“There’s really nothing anywhere that I know of that can compare with STP,” said Seattle bicycling protagonist Jerry Baker. “It has come to be considered reasonable, but actually, it’s pretty astounding. You have 10,000 people riding their bikes 200 miles!
That’s the Northwest outdoor athlete.
And that Seattle-to-Portland ride is by no means considered especially difficult or challenging compared to some of the mountain rides, such as around Mount Rainier (RAMROD) or over to Coeur d’Alene from Spokane (Tour des Lacs).
What STP is, however, is a bicycling benchmark.
“I think anybody who has ridden a bike around here has thought about doing it,” Baker said.
“It’s almost hard not to do it at least once, the way everybody talks about it so much,” Baker said.
Then there are the hard-core events. Challenges that take something even more.
Mount Rainier is widely considered the most difficult mountain challenge in the Lower 48, which is one reason it attracts nearly 10,000 attempts per year - a little more than half make it to the summit.
The Canada Ironman Triathlon (about 40 miles north of the border, in Penticton, B.C., may be the single most difficult athletic challenge on the continent - considering that it is the only full Ironman contest in North America.
The ARC-Seafair 18-mile swim in Lake Washington is farther, you may notice, than crossing the English Channel.
The 140-mile Cascadia Marine Trail for kayaks from Olympia to Canada has no peer for kayaking. And the San Juans Islands are considered some of the best kayaking waters anywhere.
The RAMROD bike race around Mount Rainier has everything that a leg of the Tour de France offers, except the cheering fans.
Loren Campbell of Issaquah has been using the Internet in recent weeks to try to fill out rope teams in a dozen-member group to climb Washington’s five major volcanoes this summer.
He’s conqurered several of the peaks in the past (in addition to Mount Kilamanjaro in Tanzania), but within the next four months, he plans to plant his footprints atop Rainier, Adams, Baker, Glacier and St. Helens.
“I grew up in Michigan,” he said, “where you go climb the landfill.
He won’t be alone on any of those mountains and probably is not alone in his relatively organized goals.
That seems to be another trait of the Washington outdoor athlete: setting goals. And reaching them.
All summer long.