2023 Running Trip – Day 1 – Olympic National Park

Three and half year later, the Iron Phi charity running trip is back. Let’s get this out of the way – COVID sucked. Having said that, the pandemic has given my annual running adventure a whole new purpose. I need this moment each year (for many reasons), and kicking it off in 2023 was both exhilarating and nerve wracking. $6,000+ raised so far from many wonderful people, both repeat donors and new, who have supported my effort to leave ALS better than I found it and help young men become the greatest versions of themselves.

I haven’t blogged in years. A bit rusty, yes. Over the past few months, I’ve had to re-teach myself the flow of the trip planning, training my aging muscles and joints, fund raising, mapping out a good route, etc. Hilariously, I’ve frantically woken up from many a dream over the past few years of being on this trip again, but forgetting how to type up the day’s review.

So here I am, 10:13 p.m. at night, sitting in my good friend Moe Stephen’s kitchen after a 12-hour, 425-mile-in-the-car day, gritting my way through the writing exercise of the trip. I’m exhausted, but in my zone. I hope this still works.

Today was all about exploring a National Park that has been high on my bucket list for years – Olympic National Park in Washington. I knew today was going to be long, but there’s no better way to fire up the old engine than to rev it up strong. After arriving at SeaTac at 9 p.m. on Sunday evening, Tillie and I made our way to Moe Stephens’ house to get some sleep. We ventured out at 8:30 a.m. to begin a giant loop around this majestic National Park.

Our first stop was the Washington State Capitol in Olympia, Washington. The cherry blossoms in full bloom, we explored the grounds, and I reintroduced myself to the donor thank you picture, thanking Taylor & Haley Abel. I grew up across the street from Haley in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and she has been a wonderful donor over the years. Ironically enough, I just saw picture of Haley and her family in a few spots that my running trip will take me later this year – Paris/London – which made me even more excited for what is to come.

On the State Capitol grounds, we got a kick out of the local port-o-John company. It was worth a picture but went unused.

From Olympia, we continued west, through Aberdeen, Washington. Driving into town, the welcome sign with the motto, “Come as You Are,” made it very clear who their famous son is – Kurt Cobain of the band Nirvana. Even the local McDonald’s (our preferred bathroom stop over the Honey Bucket) has pictures of the band hung on the wall.

I enjoy towns of types, especially when they have a link to something I enjoy. To be frank, Aberdeen has seen better days, but it was fascinating driving around this logging town. We had the Nirvana playlist rolling as we drove to childhood home of Kurt Cobain, a sleepy neighborhood that smells like teen spirit, makes it pretty clear that it had a famous resident, but enjoys its space. At Cobain’s childhood home, I thanked my former colleague Tyler Wear, a fellow avid traveler with a more undesirable Big 12 team (Sooners).

Driving further west towards the Pacific Ocean, Moe recommended we stop to see The Tree of Life. Walking to it, we were immediately welcomed with a log-filled beach that had an amazing cedar aroma. Pure beauty!

The tree itself gave me pause – a perfect landmark to capture the past few years – showcasing life that has continued to grow after being presented a crappy situation. I thanked my good friends Brad & Mindy Carlson (and their kiddos Miles and Ruth). Friendships have been key to moving forward over the past few years, and the pandemic era brought to life the true value of great text stream with friends. Brad has been a part of that for me, and while mostly filled with jokes and laughs, our casual yet personal interactions have been of serious value.

We were already starting to get hungry from our travels, and as we drove to our next stop – the Hoh Rainforest – we stumbled across the Hard Rain Cafe, a great little spot to refuel and find Hoh-made sandwiches and goods. For me, the local salmon burger was a no-brainer.

Seattle gets around 36 inches of rain a year. By comparison, the Hoh Rain Forest gets as much as 14 feet of rain a year, or as I joked, 7 times the amount of rain I experience in Fort Lauderdale, Florida a few weeks back. The prevalent fog and mist contributes the equivalent of another 30 inches of rain, resulting in one of the world’s lushest rain forests, hence its designation as one of the wonders of Washington State. The Hoh Rain Forest is one of four rain forests on the Olympic Peninsula. However, it is the only one that has been awarded the distinction of being a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Its unique ecosystem has remained unchanged for thousands of years and it is now the most carefully preserved rain forest in the northern hemisphere.

We drove through tree-lined roads, and I had to get out and loiter in the middle of the road to thank the Pates family. The Pates live around the corner from us and have truly become family. Tillie and I love our time with Bryan, Kristin, (Homeboy) Connor, and Mara, and I take great pride in giving my buddy Connor a continuous fresh fade to navigate life in style. Tillie and I traveled to the Oregon Coast with the Pates in October for a memorable trip. This spot reminded me of that trip.

We also stopped at one of the many Olympic National Park signs that we encountered during the day, and I thanked Roger Heineken. A long-time Phi Delta Theta volunteer at Emporia State, Roger has always been a strong supporter of the Iron Phi program which I have always truly appreciated. Moe, Phi Delta Theta’s current General Council (board) president, joined in on the fun to say thanks to Roger.

A little bit about Moe – Moe has been a mentor to me over the years, and we’ve been able to experience many places together through our work with Phi Delta Theta. Tacoma has been his home for years now, so I knew that I wanted him to join me along the way this year. He got the full experience of a crazy running trip day yesterday and was an absolute trooper. Heck of a tour guide too. My kids love Moe, so it’s been fun to have them in tow with me during a few trips with Moe.

The Hoh Rainforest is really tough to do justice through pictures. The moss-covered trees are stunning and provide a look into an ecosystem that is truly unique. From the visitor center, we ventured on a short hike through the Hall of Cedars, and I thanked my Iowa State fraternity brother Josh Ehlen. I’ve always been inspired by Josh’s work ethic and athletic prowess. He has the Iowa wrestler grit, and it’s been fun to see him turn that into success in life. I need to get Josh on the short list of future running trip partners, but I might need to actually train for a trip with him.

Rialto Beach was our next stop. Wow! I have absolutely fallen in love with the rugged beaches of the Pacific NW. I’ll take a rough (and cold) coastline and an IPA any day over a warm beach with a cocktail. There’s something about them that says, “look at my awesomeness, and don’t forget to bundle up.”

Along the beach were once again many downed trees that provide great decor and picture opportunities. I thanked Linda Carlson, the mother of my friend Brad who I thanked above. I love Linda’s passion for travel, and I always enjoy chatting trips with her and exchanging recommendations.

Moe encouraged us to hike along the beach to its most famous spot. What he didn’t tell us was that 3.5 miles on a rocky beach is a hell of a workout. But it was well worth it for the views.

We made it to the most famous viewpoint of Rialto Beach, the hole in the wall view. Pretty incredible. We found a fellow traveler to take our picture, and he clearly knew what he was doing. Always appreciated in my book.

I also took this moment to thank my pal Andy Tu. Andy was my first donor for this trip, so I knew that I wanted to make it a special one. Andy’s creativity and zest for life has always left a great impact on me, and he’s always doing cool stuff. Our chats during the pandemic about parenting (and schooling to be exact) were so appreciated.

Back in the car, our next stop was the amazing Lake Cresent. Some lakes are just special. This is one of them. Moe had a killer viewpoint recommendation, and we navigated the turbulent dock to get an awesome picture. I thanked my old friend Tiff Conrad for her donation. She (we’re) not old, we just go way back. We grew up around the corner from each other and ran in the same group throughout high school. When I think of Tiff, I think of constant fun, energy, and laughter. It’s always a good time when we cross paths.

It’s amazing to have Tillie with me on this trip. She is my rock, loving partner, travel buddy, and yin to my yang. Also, hell of a mom this one. We’re pretty terrible at taking pictures together, but I love this one.

Tillie being awesome.

A successful day, and a long drive back to Tacoma deserved some refreshment. I’ve become a brewery guy over the years. They are my happy place, and a good IPA can’t be beat. We arrived at Yolked Farmhouse Brewery with 15 minutes to spare until closing time. I knew it was the right place when the owner came out upon our arrival, pointed at his watch, and then shooed us inside. Arm twisted. I thanked Lawrence and Brandy Cunningham in a Runner’s Choice picture. The Cunninghams are friends in Ames who have the best house in town – the closest property to Jack Trice Stadium. Lawrence nominated me for Leadership Iowa years back, an experience that had an amazing impact on my life.

But something very interesting happened as were enjoying our beer. A phone started ringing, seemingly coming from our car. About 30 minutes before, we passed a car that had stuff flying out from it everywhere. Included in that stuff was something hard that hit our front grill. We didn’t think much of and kept going. We soon learned, from the ringtone coming out of the front of our car, that the object was someone’s phone, and it had perfectly lodged itself into the front grill of our car. We answered the phone and were introduced to it owner Jose who was searching for it.

As we headed back to Moe’s, we made plans to get the phone back to its owner, leaving it at the Frisko Freeze in Tacoma. While the wait for food was a bit too long for our hungry stomachs, the folks at Frisko were so very kind to be our facilitator of lost goods. The phone venture had gotten in the way of a plan of my final donor thank you stop, so I decided to thank Bret Zimmerman here. Zim and I were together for my last running trip in 2019, an amazing jaunt through the Utah National Parks. Zim has witnessed the craziness and unexpected nature of the running trip, so I knew he’d appreciate!

Morning update – Jose picked up his phone. Mission accomplished.

Get yourself to Olympia National Park! It’s huge. It’s majestic. It’s amazingly diverse and full of surprises around every corner.

I’m tired. Goodnight!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Mom says:

    Love your travel writings. Can’t wait each day to see them. Kids and Leena are fine!

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