Inukshuk (Cascade Range and Pacific Northwest - July 27, 2017 to August 4, 2017)

The Inukshuk symbol at Sandcut Beach in Vancouver IslandThe Inukshuk symbol at Sandcut Beach in Vancouver Island

27-July 2017 to 4-August 2017: By 9am, we would arrive at the long queue for the US border which seemed to be a lot more crowded than when we were headed north into Canada. The queue was frustratingly slow as we weren't even moving for the first 15 minutes or so. Then, it seemed like we once again picked a line that wasn't moving compared to other lines. I must have some really bad luck with these things.

It wouldn't be until around 9:35am when we finally got to the customs person, but when she asked what was in our cooler, we revealed that we had eggs, some bread, some kefir, as well as a bag of fruits. Well, it was the fruits that got the customs person to write up a slip and had us go to the secondary inspection area.

At this point, I was fuming that Julie didn't respect the likelihood that we'd have our fruits discarded, which was wasted money. And now we had to waste even more unforeseen time going through this next process. I was now very worried that we wouldn't get to Spokane until very late, as a result, especially since Julie wanted to make some stops in the greater Seattle area for lunch as well as a pharmacy run.

Indeed, the return to the US part of this trip was already not going as planned, and this incident was totally self-inflicted...

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Day 1 (July 27, 2017 - Redding, California): "Garlic and Tomato Season"

It was about 5am when both Julie and I awoke. I actually got up at about 4:30am, which was more like my typical workday routine, but the thing that made it harder to get up was that it wasn't until around midnight last night when I went to bed. I knew Julie went to bed later than I did last night, which conspired to make it harder for her to get up.

The big push from this morning was to get up and out of home no later than 6am to avoid the worst of rush hour traffic, but with all the stuff we had to prepare to pack up and load the car, it wouldn't be until about 6:40am when we'd finally start driving to make our way all the way to Redding with a detour to Burney Falls, which was something that Julie and Tahia didn't get a chance to do last Summer when I went there with Mom.

The bad news was that Tahia was starting to have a small grade fever, which was the absolute worst time to start getting under the weather as this was the start of what was supposed to be a 25-day road trip to end off her Summer vacation.

As feared, the drive out of LA was hellish as we were caught in traffic for much of the I-5 through downtown Los Angeles, especially when the 5 started getting through its interchange with the 101 and 10 freeways. It would persist throughout Burbank and Glendale, and it even continue well into Valencia before the traffic would mercifully start clearing up. It wouldn't be until about nearly 8:30am when we'd finally make it to the Grapevine and into Central Valley.

Even though we were about 40 minutes late out the gate so to speak, the way these random processes work is that when you go from one tail of the Gaussian curve to closer to the hump of its statistical mean, the probabilities are more exponential and thus you can't say that we'd have a linear progression of delay. Instead, the effect was more exponential so it very easily could go from 40 minutes late start to at least an hour worth of net delay, and this didn't even factor in other subsequent delays like having lunch at peak hours, increased traffic volume throughout the drive, and frequent stops at inopportune times.

Who knew if it would result in suboptimal visitation to Burney Falls (like closer to 6pm instead of 5pm as I was hoping) and ending the day closer to 10pm instead of 9pm, which might impact sleep for tomorrow's round of another long drive to get from Redding to Seattle.

Nonetheless, the drive so far went fairly smoothly though my fears of added unexpected stops due to Tahia and Julie needing to use the restroom.

It wouldn't be until about 11:45am when we made a brief rest stop for one such bathroom break. Along the way, we noticed numerous trucks hauling tomatos and garlic. Julie snarkly commented that it must be tomato and garlic season given that we had to have seen at least 3 or so big trucks of garlic (and the subsequent jettisoning of light scraps onto the road) as well as at least 6 or more big rigs of tomatos.

We also passed through the familiar cow field alongside the I-5, which some people have sarcastically referred to it as "Cowswitz" instead of Auschwitz since it was basically a massive commercial farming operation with cows all crowded with each other standing in piles of their own manure that you could totally smell on the drive up between LA and the turnoffs to the Bay Area.

Knowing what we know now about how the only way such a commercial farming operation could happen under such limited real estate was to feed these "happy cows" grains instead of grass, while also shoot them up with hormones to ensure they grow and provide yields to meet numbers. We were betting that our once favored fast food chain (In-N-Out) must procure their fresh meats from this place in order to feed the long lines of hungry patrons looking for a cheap bite that was better than Mickie D's or BK. These days Julie looks for grass-fed beef, which was becoming even more trendier as more people are becoming aware of where their food comes from.

At 12:25pm, we'd finally arrive in Stockton, where we made a stop at a Chipotle for lunch. There was a long line there due to a huge student group practically inundating the small eatery. At least the teacher or camp leader there let Tahia and Julie go in front of them. Meanwhile, I was filling up gas while all that was going on though even the gas station there was also very crowded. It was also very hot at 93F though it would turn out to be nothing compared to the heat we were about to face later in the day.

By 1pm, we left Chipotle and continued the long drive up to Redding with the detour to Burney Falls. During this stretch of the long drive as we got closer to Sacramento, we had a scary incident where a white pick up truck suddenly swerved right through the center divider and onto the opposite side of oncoming traffic in a massive cloud of dust from rapidly driving through that unpaved divider.

In the wake of the dust, there were three cars with dents and we must have witnessed the onset of a traffic accident at high speeds though there was no stoppage on the fast lane of the two-lane highway (two in each direction) so we were still scratching our heads as to what exactly happened here. Nonetheless, I fortunately left enough space between myself and the car in front of me to not rear-end that person when the sudden stop in traffic happened.

The drive wasn't as stress free as I would have hoped because people were consistently clogging the left lane which meant passing had to occur on the right lane. The road rule of keeping right except to pass was definitely not being observed, and I guess this was just a function of a combination of ignorant drivers (probably a Californian thing) as well as just the high volume of traffic.

It wouldn't be until about 3:45pm when we finally showed up to the Towneplace Suites in Redding where it was a whopping 108F! We quickly checked in and dropped off our luggages into the room, which was pretty similar (albeit slightly smaller) than the Residence Inns we had been accustomed to on prior road trips this year.

And by 4:15pm, we were back out the door so Julie could drop something off at the post office on the way out to Burney Falls.

The drive out the 299 east was for the most part uneventful though we were following a pretty long caravan of fast moving cars all the way out to Burney. We didn't see much in the way of CHP until we got right into the logging town of Burney where we happened to see at least two or three waiting to nab speeding motorists.

By about 5:35pm, we finally arrived at Burney Falls car park after paying the anticipated $8 day use fee. There were longer shadows at the parking lot which provided some shade from the 94F heat, but I also knew that there would be long shadows at the falls so it probably wasn't the most optimal time to view the falls as the colors in the plunge pool of the falls would be muted.

Still, this long detour was meant for Julie to finally see this waterfall after all these years. However, Tahia wasn't really feeling like being here given her feeling under the weather (which was getting worse). But her sentiment changed once we made it down to the edge of the plunge pool where she got to at least feel the refreshingly cool spray of Burney Falls.

As anticipated, the falls were indeed under shadow though the late afternoon sun was kind of against us. That made me realize that the best time to experience this falls was indeed at the height of the day even though the falls was facing north so the sun would never be in an optimal spot in terms of backlighting.

Given the long shadows, I took the opportunity to take long exposure photographs without a tripod, which we had left in my luggage back at the room. Doh! Well, at least we took some photos with the iPhone as well as letting a stranger help us take a family shot.

We were one of the first to enjoy the edge of the plunge pool before suddenly dozens of people saw what we did and pretty much prevented us from enjoying the experience in peace. We barely had a few minutes before that took place so that kind of shortened our little chillaxing moment. That said, we still had to get back to Redding where Julie needed to make a grocery run as well as needing to have a late dinner before calling it a night.

By 6:40pm, we were back at the car, but not before making a much needed bathroom stop where Julie discovered that Tahia had pooped in her pants. Given our limited supply of clothing, this wasn't good. We had also realized that we had forgotten to bring our trekking poles, bear bells, sun shade, blender, etc. amongst other things in our haste to get out of here.

I guess we'll have to be making some shopping stops along the way between now and when we get into Grizzly country.

By 7:55pm, we arrived at some place called the Orchard Nutrition Center, which was as close to a Whole Foods as we were gonna get in Redding. And by 8:30pm, we ate at the familiar Champa Garden just in time before their kitchen closed at 9pm. This was the third time I was here since last year but I had a feeling that Julie's gut wouldn't appreciate this place given the prospect of MSG in the food as well as lots of carbs from the rice products.

Sure enough, she was having joint pain and bloating at the end of the meal, and when we got back to the room at 9:35pm, she struggled to finish off with a shower and dental hygiene care as she also had the need to sleep it off. Tahia also had another poop accident, which made us concerned about whether we'd make it through the trip without discarding her all of her underwear if it the accidents weren't so bad so as to be unwashable.

We still were wavering on whether to book a Qantas deal for Australia for our wedding anniversary and Julie's birthday in the November time frame. Tomorrow was the deadline to book that deal where round trip air was less than $1100 per person, but it would be a trip without Tahia. We decided to punt that decision to at least tomorrow morning given how tired we were.

And so ended off this long day. Tomorrow was going to be yet another long day. But at least, Julie would get to be reunited with her cousin Linda and her family in Seattle, where they lived. But not before enduring another 11 hours or so of driving...

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Day 2 (July 28, 2017 - Issaquah, Washington): "Compounding Complications"

It was about 4:30am when I awoke. I was trying to get started with the packing in the hopes of getting out of Redding by 6am, which was the plan. That way, we could use the early start to arrive at cousin Linda's place near Seattle (where we were staying the weekend) at a reasonable hour so we could have dinner together perhaps or hang out a bit. That said, if things went to plan, it wouldn't be until about 7pm that we'd make it over there.

Well, it turned out that Julie wouldn't be getting up until after 5am and Tahia wasn't anywhere close to getting up at that time either, especially as she was now under the weather. Further complicating my desires to get out of Redding on time was that today was the last day to book international air via Qantas at a sale price (of around $1000 per person) for a November trip that would allow us to celebrate our wedding anniversary as well as Julie's birthday.

Even though we were in the midst of a 3.5-week road trip, this follow-up 3.5-week trip to Southeastern Australia was an attempt to right the wrongs of having gone there 11 years ago at the height of a multi-year drought. It would be a trip without Tahia since she had public school that we couldn't take her out of for this long, but it would also be Julie's first trip internationally in almost two years given her gut condition.

Unfortunately, the Qantas online booking system was apparently down when we made this attempt at around 6:10am, and it wouldn't be until 7:30am when we were finally done having the included breakfast (which wasn't as good as the Residence Inn) and were finally in a position to leave. This was about 90 minutes later than planned, and I was sure that this would have consequences further down the road.

It was already starting to get hot in Redding as it was about 80F at this time though the forecast called for around 105F highs. Good thing we were headed to cooler temps as we were continuing to head all the way north to the Seattle area.

The drive north through the Shasta Lake area and then up to the Mt Shasta area was pretty uneventful. Tahia was digging the views of Mt Shasta as we were making our way up this curvy stretch of the I-5. However, both Julie and Tahia needed to make a potty break so we stopped over at Mt Shasta City (which wasn't really a city at all) that prompted Julie to say that it was a cute little town.

That kind of broke the initial momentum that we had, but when Nature calls, you answer.

The drive then persisted for the next 5 hours or so. We were making pretty good progress though a pet peeve of mine was that there were plenty of people not heeding the road rules of keeping right except to pass as they'd consistently clog the left lane. I had wondered whether this was a California thing, but apparently up in Oregon, this was also the case as well.

It wasn't until around 9:30am when we had passed the Medford area. At this point, I had now driven from LA further north than I had ever gone (as I had driven up to Medford for Crater Lake and Diamond Lake last year with my parents last Summer). And so far with the momentum, I had hopes that perhaps we were making up good time.

That said, we had to make a lunch stop somewhere near the Eugene area. We at first thought about going to some organic or whole food court somewhere west of the I-5, but we nixed that idea for Chipotle in Springfield, which was closer to the I-5. We'd eventually get there at 12:25pm.

The lunch pretty much went without a hitch. By about 1:05pm, we were back out the door and back on the road continuing north along the I-5. According to the GPS, we would eventually make it to Willamette Falls by about 2:30pm given the momentum.

But just as I was starting to have a good feeling about getting to cousin Linda's at a reasonable hour, we started to hit bad traffic (at 1:40pm) somewhere near Albany, which wasn't too far north from Eugene. In fact, the traffic was so bad that it started to become standstill traffic! The standstill traffic didn't start moving until 2pm.

Fifteen minutes later, we hit more heavy traffic. At that point, as we were struggling our way north on the I-5 with still a long ways to go, we finally took a detour as Julie whipped out her iPhone to see where the traffic congestion areas were. That detour took us east and then north before rejoining the I-5 somewhere north of the town of Albany.

At least that probably bought us a few minutes as the I-5 was moving once again though it was still heavy traffic. This was totally not expected though perhaps I was a bit naive to think that Friday rush hour couldn't affect parts of Oregon that we wouldn't have thought about going into this trip.

The traffic was touch and go for the next hour as it was once again pretty intense as we approached Salem. Around that area, we then got off the I-5 and took a detour to the I-205 east where there was more heavy traffic as we were trying to get to Oregon City to visit the Willamette Falls.

Somewhere during the traffic jam, Julie managed to use the iPhone to book plane tickets for that Qantas flight on sale to Melbourne before it would expire. That happened at around 3:45pm. About ten minutes later, we then noticed where Willamette Falls was as we were right across the river from where most of its face was facing us, but there were power stations and lots of forbidding infrastructure to prevent us from having a good view of it in peace.

It wouldn't be until about 3:55pm when we navigated through the traffic to get to a gas station right on a street corner. Julie and Tahia badly needed another restroom break there, and so I topped off gas and asked the attendant where was the best way to see Willamette Falls.

She said that there were pullouts just up the road where we can then walk to try to get better views. And once we were done with our business here at 4pm, we then promptly parked the car near some parking meters five minutes later. Finally, we could get out of the car for once and salvage at least one waterfalling experience before continuing the drive up to Seattle.

But as we were walking along the sidewalk between the 99E traffic to our left and the tall fences flanking the Willamette River to our right, we were disappointed to see that there wasn't a clean view of the falls, which was still pretty distant. And there was also a sign saying that some renovation work was going on to restore this area just as the West Linn Mill operation had shut down. But in its current state, the falls was still off limits.

I'm sure once the work would be complete that this would give new life to the otherwise run down area that we were experiencing right now (yet another example of how messed up an area could be if you don't let the waterfall be itself and try to "control it"), and so we decided that after getting our fill of this area, we should backtrack and walk up the bridge to at least get a cleaner (albeit even more distant) look at Willamette Falls.

Once we did that amongst the heavy traffic just a couple of feet or so from the sidewalk while walking the bridge, we then looked at the falls while also checking out some people paddle boarding as well s boating the river in the vicinity of the falls. It looked like fun, but we were also wondering where the public access was since fences and locked gates were all that we saw when we were closer to the river.

It didn't take long when we had our fill of this somewhat unimpressive waterfalling detour and we were back at the car at 4:30pm. We still had another 3 hours or so of driving up to Seattle but given all the heavy traffic we had been facing to get up here, I knew there'd be even more Friday rush hour traffic trying to pass through the Portland area.

Indeed, the traffic was frustratingly slow though it at least wasn't as bad as it was down at Albany (which must've been an accident or something but we were never sure exactly what was the incident that made it so bad). Things didn't start improving until we crossed the Columbia River, left Oregon, and entered Washington State.

And even though the movement was at least more improved than before, it was still high volume traffic and cruise control was never really re-established until we made a rest stop at 5:50pm in some county where an electronic marquee mentioned that the B-52s were performing there!

Indeed, the band was kind of the soundtrack to this trip (and a couple of prior road trips) as Tahia was really getting into them, and we were still buzzing from their Summer of Love concert stop in Costa Mesa, which we had attended.

Anyways, the drive continued onwards as we pressed north towards Seattle. We saw Mt St Helens along the way (albeit in a passing manner) and then we finally started seeing a carpool lane that we took advantage of. Eventually by 8:10pm, we mercifully stopped at the Trader Joe's in Issaquah, where Julie cleaned them out on broccoli chips, which was one of the few dry snacks that she could have without messing up her gut. It was also good for Tahia since she was now really fighting the sniffles and cough.

After that grocery run, we then had dinner at the Wildfin of Issaquah which was in the same plaza. We pretty much had salmon and a disappointing ribeye (should've gotten the trout in hindsight), and it wouldn't be until 9:50pm when we finally arrived at Linda's place.

We wound up spending the next couple of hours chatting away while Tahia was busy playing with Aiden and Chloe (their kids). It wouldn't be until well after midnight when we finally slept. But at least in all the talking about gut issues and stuff, I learned that Sunday would be the day to do stuff in downtown Seattle. So that meant that for my solo morning hiking, it'd be best for me to do Wallace Falls tomorrow morning and do Twin Falls (the much shorter excursion) on Sunday morning.

And so that was the plan as I really looked forward to spending more time hiking than driving for a change...

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Day 3 (July 29, 2017 - Issaquah, Washington): "Different Recollections"

It was 4:30am when I awoke. Trying not to wake anyone up at this hour, I took some time to discreetly have some fruits mixed in with whatever leftover kefir was in one of the jars that we had brought from home. That left one full kefir jar one for Julie and Tahia before we'd have to rely on store-bought kefirs.

At 5:50am, I was in the car ready to head out though it was already bright outside at this time!

As planned, I headed out towards Wallace Falls. Even though I was running on four hours of sleep, I knew that today was the day to do the longer hike. And so on the way out there, the traffic was delightfully light though there were already a pair of cops encountered. Since I wasn't in much of a hurry, I made sure I stayed behind each of the cops so as to not unnecessarily get a ticket.

On the drive along the 90 west then the 405 north and then the 522 northeast before heading east on the 2, I noticed that the skies were partially foggy but it wouldn't be much longer before the fog would burn off as I could already seen the sun starting to break through.

The drive wasn't very familiar to me compared to the last time I went out this way some 11 years ago until I headed east on the 2, where I was on the familiar two-lane (one in each direction) road passing through small towns before finally reaching Gold Bar. I then turned left onto First Street where there was a brown sign pointing the way to Wallace Falls State Park.

Next, I followed the GPS towards May Creek Road and followed that towards a bridge washout. It turned out that the GPS was incorrect and I backtracked towards the Y fork where I should have kept left instead of going right to continue on May Creek Road. And after doing that, I eventually got to the familiar parking lot for Wallace Falls State Park, where I remembered the power lines.

Now, it seemed like this place had a much bigger car park (or maybe it was always this big). I was one of about the first dozen cars or less to have shown up as there were already people getting an early start. I had arrived here at about 7am, but it wouldn't be until 7:20am when I got started as I had to pay $10 for the Discovery Day Pass as well as gear up for the 5.5-mile round trip hike. I had to pay up because it didn't seem like the Interagency Pass (formerly National Parks Pass was recognized here).

The hike started off along a pretty flat and obvious trail going beneath some imposing power pylons and lines. Since there was still some fog around, I didn't bother sticking around looking for panoramas. And as the temperatures were delightfully cool in the 50s or so, I was making pretty good progress.

About 10 minutes into the hike, I encountered a trail junction where I could have kept left to go onto the Railroad Trail or keep right to go onto the Woody Trail. Since I was only after doing this hike as quickly and as thoroughly as I could so as to not return too late, I stayed on the Woody Trail, which promptly descended into a typical single-track trail amongst a lush rainforest pretty typical of the Pacific Northwest.

Not too far along the Woody Trail, I saw a sign saying something about the Small Falls Interpretive Trail. So I went ahead a did that detour which quickly took me to a rest bench and what appeared to be a dry creek. I didn't linger here given that it wasn't flowing, but this was probably one spot where I should have checked it out 11 years ago in 2006 in May when it was raining.

I then continued further along the Woody Trail as I somewhat moderately climbed until I got to some area where there was a shelter as well as some signage indicating that I had arrived at the Lower Falls at 8:15am. Unlike the last time I was here, I was able to look towards some small cascades as well as a frontal view of the impressive Middle Wallace Falls in the distance.

I didn't recall seeing that view of the Middle Falls before as the mist and rain probably made it too obscure. I also descended a bit further towards a dead-end where I could see a couple more drops comprising the Lower Falls. This had to have been the main drop of the Lower Falls, which had a bit of a Toketee Falls-like feel to it as I was peering down at it at an angle. The lowermost drop was hard to see further downstream due to being above it as well as being somewhat blocked by foliage.

Next, I continued along the trail as I started encountering more hikers just showing up the Lower Falls. I also started passing a few more early birds along the way up to the Middle Falls while there were already a handful of people heading down.

At about 8:35am, I made it up to the familiar Middle Wallace Falls as there was one female hiker who was already enjoying the view. I made my way up to the overlook where I could see that I only had a few moments of decent photographing the falls before the morning sun would be right against me.

So I did what I had to do in terms of documenting the very impressive falls before that morning sun really started to wreak havoc on the photos. I remembered how last time I was here, the falls was gushing, but now that I was here in more typical Summer flow, I could see how it was composed of a huge 260ft drop before cascading downstream in a few more cascades.

It was very scenic though I sensed that early afternoon would be the optimal time to see this place from a lighting standpoint.

Next, I continued hiking further up the Woody Trail as the trail now was a bit rougher and steeper than before. I went up some more switchback and steps. It was a good thing that it was still somewhat cool this morning but even then I was already starting to sweat bullets.

At 8:45am, I arrived at a signed lookout looking down at the Middle Wallace Falls. There was no view of the panorama of the valley from here as there were too many trees in the way, but it was nice to look down at the main drop of the Middle Wallace Falls. Funny I didn't recall experiencing this lookout the last time I was here.

Another ten minutes later, I then arrived at the well-signed detour going down to the Valley Overlook. While this spot didn't have a great of a view of the Middle Wallace Falls from its top, I was able to peer down to the valley itself where there was a mostly denuded mountain due to logging.

After having my fill of this lookout spot, I then continued further up the trail as it went up a few more switchbacks and steps. There were parts of the trail where it seemed like I had to follow faint sections of roots but it was still somewhat obvious which way to go. Eventually at 9:05am, I finally made it to the end of the Woody Trail where I was able to look down at the familiar Upper Wallace Falls.

Despite needing to look down at the two-tiered falls, the morning sun was still annoying right against me so I had to practice trying to balance holding onto the railing while trying to get as high as I could to avoid the obstructions below while also trying to shield the camera from the sun.

While there were three people that were here when I first showed up, I was pretty much alone to check out this falls. But after having my fill and filling up my water from my larger backup bottle, I then headed back down where I was making good progress since it was now all downhill. But as I was doing this, my left ankle was giving me trouble again as my hiking boot kept pushing against what felt like a bone protrusion or something like a bone spur. I don't know what it was but it was annoying and I knew it was something I'd have to get looked at time permitting.

At 9:30am, I made it back down the familiar Middle Wallace Falls view, but now the morning sun was in an even worse position to enjoy it. So I didn't linger and kept making my quick-paced descent.

As I was quickly making my way back to the trailhead, I must have encountered well over dozen or two dozen parties of hikers (some where pretty big like at least 6 people or more). I knew right then and there that this must have been a very popular trail.

It wouldn't be until about 10:20am when I finally returned to the trailhead. And to my surprise, the entire huge parking lot was packed! It was a good thing that I had gotten my early start as now it looked like it wouldn't be easy to find parking.

It was also pretty warm as I had realized that I had chosen the wrong parking spot when I could have capitalized on the trees providing shade. Instead, the rental car was quite hot inside as it had been exposed to the sun the whole time given its low angle from the east.

Anyways, I then drove back to Linda's place as I had encountered a fair bit of heavy traffic while making the transition east from 405 south to the I-90 east. And it wouldn't be until about 11:40am when I had finally returned to Linda's place, where the whole crew was still there.

Well, that at least gave me some time to recover from the hike while also snacking on some leftover stuff they had for breakfast like some gluten free breads. During this time, we were trying to figure out what to do for the rest of the day, but we'd first have lunch at the house.

As we were waiting for the takeout lunch to arrive, Julie and I drove back to the Gillman Village area where we went to Target, Trader Joes, and REI to pick up some items that we had forgotten to bring from home. I wound up getting my trekking poles and bear bells while forsaking the bear spray due to concerns about the Canadian border crossing. So I punted getting the spray for later when I'd be hiking in Grizzly country for real.

Meanwhile, Julie picked up a blender and some sun shades. And at 1:25pm, we were back at Linda's where everyone was having the takeout Chinese/Korean lunch.

It wouldn't be until 2:30pm when Julie, Tahia, and I finally headed out again. The plan was to go to Snoqualmie Falls and back before dinner, but we had to drive towards Bellevue to go back to the gluen free bakery since we knew that it would close at 5pm today as well as not be open tomorrow.

So this was our last chance. After getting through the fairly heavy traffic, we finally found the place called Wildflour at 3pm. Julie went nuts picking up some gluten free baguettes, gluten free muffins, focacia bread, and even a GF chocolate chip cookie.

It wouldn't be until about 3:15pm when we then headed back to the east towards Snoqualmie Falls. Once again there was some traffic on the interchange between the 405 south and the 90 east, but once we got past that, we then took it east to the familiar Snoqualmie Parkway exit, which then led us on some surface streets before turning left onto the familiar road leading to a roundabout that ultimately got us right to the parking area opposite the Salish Lodge.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of cars marauding about in the large free parking lot looking for parking space. Tensions were palpably high as some folks were must have been looking for a spot for several minutes or even longer. In fact, one person was so fed up with his futile search that he snagged a parking spot that someone else had been signalling and waiting for once the previous person pulled out.

It was a pretty lowball move and it happened right in front of us. Anyways, after spending about five minutes with our futile search, I was about ready to head back to the main road. But just as we were waiting behind some cars to get out, someone was about to leave right behind us. And with no one immediately behind me, I took the opportunity to back up quickly while throwing some caution to the wind before someone would show up.

Eventually at 3:55pm, we finally scored a parking spot. I don't think Julie and I had ever recalled this place being so busy in all the years that times that we've come to Snoqualmie Falls. It made me wonder whether Yellowstone would be like this but worse given how many more visitors they get while having even more limited parking spaces than this.

By the time we got out of the car, the temperatures had now reached 90F, but given the temperate humidity of the Pacific Northwest, temperatures this high actually felt hotter than it would be on a 90F day back home in LA.

Once we got out of the car, tensions were still high as we noticed one person round a corner going into the parking lot and almost hit some pedestrians trying to cross the road to get to the pedestrian bridge. We made sure to make our crossing quickly when we had an opportunity to cross.

After spending some time doing a potty break inside the Salish Lodge, we noticed that there was some kind of wedding that was about to happen here. That was on top of all that was going on concerning the crowds of people that were here to enjoy the falls.

Speaking of the falls, the last time we were here some 6 years ago, there was a lot of construction work going on. So that meant that the base of the falls was inaccessible. But now that the work was done, we weren't going to be denied despite how hot it was and how crowded it was.

At first, we checked out the familiar overlooks, where it seemed like even this late in the afternoon, much of the falls was in shadow. I guess if you're looking for the falls to be all lit up, you'd have to come here at around midday to early afternoon in the height of Summer. So we'd have to make do with the late afternoon conditions, which were still fine by us.

However, these overlooks were very crowded and it was hard to get good looks at the falls in peace or without other people inadvertently photobombing the shots.

So after getting our shots (forget about getting the family shots via tripod), we then walked down a trail that went down to the base of the falls. I didn't remember this path well from last time, but I swore that it was mostly paved and developed. But now, it seemed like there was some nature trail that was unpaved and crossed beneath power lines twice.

Once we got down to the bottom of the descent, we saw that there was a separate parking area. Just out of curiosity, Julie went up to see if there'd be more parking spaces here given how fewer people made it down here. And it turned out that there were at least a few open parking spaces that weren't being snatched up right away.

So the moral of the story of this observation was that if the main parking lot was too full, one could always drive a little further and reach this lower car park for only the price of having to walk up the half-mile trail to get up to the main overlooks by the Salish Lodge.

We then had a choice of walking left to get to the boardwalk or walking to the right for river access. We kept left so we could check out the bottom of Snoqualmie Falls. We didn't need the river access to swim or play in the water.

After a few minutes of descending some more steps near a power station, we'd eventually get to the crowded lookout where we managed to squeeze in a few shots of the base of Snoqualmie Falls before it would not be reasonably possible to do it without waiting a long time.

Once we had our fill of the bottom of Snoqualmie Falls, we then walked back to the lower car park where I offered to let Julie and Tahia wait it out here while I would leave my pack and tripod (which never got used) with them so I could quickly sweat my way back up and get to the parked car, then drive back down to pick them up.

It wouldn't be until about 5:15pm when I returned to the car after passing numerous people slowly making their way back up the half-mile trail. The car was scorching hot inside dspite the sun shades that we had just bought from Target earlier in the day.

Anyways, I then proceeded to drive to the northwest along the Snoqualmie Falls Road away from the Salish Lodge and towards the not-so-obvious turnoff leading to the lower car park. I then picked up Julie and Tahia at 5:25pm, where the car was kept cool for them. And then we proceeded to return to Linda's place, eventually getting there at 5:50pm.

It turned out Linda and Aidan were still at some birthday party so it wouldn't be until about 7pm when we headed out the door and went to some Green place called Tantalus or something like that. The restaurant wasn't that busy, but we reserved a table for eight people just in case.

It turned out that the best dish they had was recommended by the owner who said we should get the Lamb Shank. The Filet Mignon kebab wasn't that good. But the lemon rice soup and mousaka were quite good. Plus, the pita they served up was the real deal.

After the dinner, we then headed to Kirkland where we were spending the twilight hours at the eastern shores of Lake Washington. We picked up some gelato at this busy place called Sirena Gelato just before they closed at 9pm. Too bad they ran out of most of the flavors like Cookies N Cream. So we all pretty much got vanilla gelato while Tahia got her strawberry sorbet.

Even though things were winding down as it was getting darker along the shores of Lake Washington, there was still a bit of energy to the place. Tahia and Aidan were busy letting the lapping wakes on the shore wet their ankles and feet while the adults were shooting the breeze while also swatting away some of the insects that were out at the time.

It wouldn't be until about 9:40pm when we decided to call it a day and we'd be back at Linda's at 10:15pm. Given such a full day that had taken place, it was time for us to get cleaned up and call it a night...

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Day 4 (July 30, 2017 - Issaquah, Washington): "Fallible Memories"

It was 4:45am when I awoke begrudgingly. Having not had much sleep for the past few days, I could have used some more Zzs, but the plan was to do the Twin Falls hike early in the morning and then head over to downtown Seattle where our family and Linda's family would hang out together all day. Julie also wanted to visit the Space Needle for the first time in 11 years as well.

I felt like I had to get this hike going because it had been too long since I last did this hike, and the writeup and data that I had for the hike was not very good. I had already accomplished that for Wallace Falls yesterday, but this particular hike wouldn't take nearly as long so I expected to be out the door by 6am and back by 9am.

Julie happened to get up close to 6 and had me eat some of the Wildflour stuff we bought yesterday. So I had some focacia bread as well as some fruits that we needed to finish before they rotted or before we'd have to leave here since we couldn't take them with us to cross the Canadian border due to customs.

After doing that and getting in the car at 6am, I then drove east on the I-90 towards exit 34 to get to Olallie State Park and the Twin Falls Trailhead. I had seen on my phone that they recently finished rebuilding the trail so I wouldn't have to do the Homestead Valley Trail which was a little longer than the Twin Falls Trail.

By 6:25am, I made it to the Twin Falls trailhead, which didn't seem all that familiar to me from last time. Then again, nothing seemed that familiar to me anymore. I recalled last time that there was a lot of I-90 noise on the trail, but this time around, it was pretty quiet. Was this even the same trailhead as before?

Anyways, I promptly got started on the hike, which descended towards the river and pretty much followed it for about the 3/4 mile or so before it started to climb. I never recalled this trail being so up-and-down. In any case, I passed by a trio of women who were making their way back so clearly they must have been the first folks at the trail before me.

Once I got up to the apex of this climb, there were benches and an opening with a distant view towards Twin Falls as well as some upper tiers. I could see that the morning sun was soon going to breach the mountains that would otherwise make this viewing area not so great until afternoon. Regardless, I was enjoying the spot for a minute before continuing on.

Next the trail, hugged some ledges as well as traversing a couple of downed trees before descending then ascending some more ledges. Eventually, the trail climbed up some more as the noise from the I-90 got louder, and then reached some stairs going down to the right, which I knew was the familiar lookout right near the top of Twin Falls.

Naturally, I went down there and managed to check out the falls at around 7:20am. The sound of falling water drowned out the droning sounds of the I-90 which must not be very far away. Unlike the last time when I was here on a misty day, I was now taking advantage of the railings to steady the camera and take long exposure shots. I was also taking videos which I hadn't done before either.

After having my fill of the falls, I then decided to keep going along the trail since none of what I had seen so far reminded me of anything I had experienced the last time. I'd eventually climb up to a bridge that was a short distance upstream of the main Twin Falls, but it also had a nice view of some smaller waterfalls further upstream. While checking out this falls, there was one other hiker who showed up.

After checking out these apparent "Upper Twin Falls", I then decided to walk up past the bridge and towards yet another lookout of the topmost of the falls I had seen so far. Too bad it was now against the morning sun so I didn't linger here for long.

To satisfy my curiosity, I decided to explore a little more of the trail just to see what else there was, but with more switchbacks climbing beyond the immediate area, I decided that was enough. It was time to head back. It was now about 7:50am when I started the hike back.

On the way back, I started to pass by several hiking parties, and when I'd eventually get back to the trailhead at 8:20am (my quick pace was due to a combination of trail running and quick walking), I was surprised to see that the Twin Falls Trailhead was pretty much packed!

It was still in the high 50s when I got back in the car, but I was sweating. The climate controlled car was actually putting out heat so I just naturally let the outside air cool me off while driving.

At 8:50am, I had returned to Linda's place where the families were pretty much either done having breakfast or were just wrapping up (like Julie). I gladly ate some more home cooked stuff and leftover Wildflour breads before we next idled for a good chunk of the rest of the morning before finally heading out to downtown Seattle.

During the idle time, I managed to take an unexpected nap while also getting caught up on the blogging and photo processing among other things. It wasn't until about 11:25am when we were heading out once again. Now, our tour of downtown Seattle could finally begin.

We were following Chris and Linda's car as they knew exactly where to go. They eventually headed first to Kerry Park for some pictures. I thought it was strange to be going there so early in the day since there was still some cloud cover, and I knew that it was best seen in the late afternoon and especially at sunset when Mt Rainier would jump out against the backdrop of orange-tinted blue skies.

We eventually got to Kerry Park at 12:10pm, which was surprisingly busy given that it was such a suboptimal time to be coming here. Sure enough, as expected, Mt Rainier was still covered in clouds and even if it hadn't been covered, it would have been hard to see it against the haze.

The kids were having fun with some kind of artistic apparatus in the park, but the photos to be taken of the Seattle skyline wasn't very impressive. So we didn't linger here for long, and ten minutes later, we headed down right into the heart of Seattle's downtown area at Pikes Public Market.

At 12:55pm, Chris and Linda parked at a Target parking lot within the main downtown area where the first two hours were free, but longer term parking ended up being more expensive than the $11 flat rate at most of the parking garages. We weren't really thinking of staying in the downtown area for that long though so we thought we were saving some money doing this.

It still took quite some time to get started as we had to find parking within the structure and then meet up within the store. But once that was finally done, we then promptly walked into the Pikes Market where we soaked in the ambience of the bustling public market. Within the chaos and commotion, we lined up and picked up some seafood takeout at Jack's Fish and Chips or something like that. But instead of the battered stuff, we got a cioppino, crab cocktail, and grilled salmon.

We then took our food and walked all the way to a park at the far northern end of Pikes, where we found a grassy and shady hill to sit on and enjoy our somewhat belated lunch at 2pm. From this vantage point, we were able to get partial views of the Seattle Waterfront as well as Mt Rainier starting to show itself amidst the midday haze and clouds.

Twenty minutes later, we were done eating and we then proceeded to stroll around the waterfront area while taking pictures along the way. The route that we took to descend to the waterfront was something I hadn't recalled that we had done during the times that we had visited Seattle. Chris and Linda said that a lot of the stuff we were seeing were new.

Anyways, we eventually made it down to the waterfront where we walked closer to the ferris wheel that reminded us of the London Eye except this one moved faster and was quite a bit smaller. It was called the Great Wheel or something like that. There was also a Wings over Washington ride that I was betting was a flight simulator type attraction, except there was quite a long line to check that out.

We eventually went inside where there was a merry go round that the kids got to ride in. Once that was done, we then proceeded to walk to an elevator and then make our way back towards the main part of the Pikes Marketplace, where we next checked out some yogurt spots like this place called Ellenos, which had some delicious non-frozen yogurts. We got the passion fruit but Julie also got the raspberries. And we must say that for a place that got five stars rating with over 1200 reviews, it was definitely not just all hype.

Meanwhile, the kids were having frozen yogurt. I'm sure their sugar high was at an all-time high this weekend. We then walked over to a quieter street to take the Pikes Market sign though it was against the sun.

Once we did that, we then headed back to the Target where we tried to buy $20 worth of stuff to reduce the parking fee. The problem was that since we were here for over 4 hours, we wound up paying $22, and it didn't matter whether we made $20 worth of purchases or not. So in the end, we didn't save money by not parking in one of those $11 weekend flat rate lots.

Next, we tried to figure out where to go next. The original plan was to visit the Space Needle, but now that it was after 5pm, it seemed like we were pushing it to go there. Plus, it would be expensive. So we nixed the idea to do the Space Needle and instead drove over to Lake Union where we could have one last dinner before heading back to Linda's place.

We wound up eating at this place called Dukes Chowderhouse, arriving there at 6pm. It was right on the shores of Lake Union at this place called Chandler Cove where periodically, seaplanes would land and take off right on the lake itself. There were also quite a few boats though the famous houseboats from Sleepless in Seattle were not within sight from where we were at.

Our dinner consisted of some grilled Wild Alaskan Salmon, cioppino, and fish tacos. It was a pretty filling meal and for feeding 8 people, it was also pretty reasonably priced considering how much more it could have been overall. The whole time we were eating and keeping each other entertained, the sun was setting.

When I came to the realization that the hill I was looking at just over the southern part of Lake Union belonged to the same hill we were at this morning for Kerry Park, I had this idea to visit that spot one last time for some sunset viewing before returning to Linda's.

So we did just that as we left the restaurant at 7:55pm and ten minutes later, we arrived at the familiar Kerry Park. It actually wasn't as busy as I had feared but it was still pretty busy nonetheless. And sure enough, when we got out of the car, we could see straight away that Mt Raininer was showing up against the Seattle Skyline.

We took some people shots though the long shadows kind of made this tough with the high contrast. We also didn't stick around for the magic hour right after sunset as it was getting late and we still had to pack and get ready to drive up to Vancouver tomorrow.

So at 8:20pm, we got back in the car and proceeded to drive out of the downtown area and right to the I-90 east. We'd eventually return to Linda's place at 8:50pm, where we could finally call it a day. During the drive, we stole a few more glimpses of Mt Rainier catching the last rays of the Summer Sun.

It was the end to yet another long day though we still had a few more errands to run in terms of packing up and not forgetting stuff. Yet as we were doing this, we were fighting sleep so I suspected that we'll have to hope we don't forget anything tomorrow morning when it comes time to leave...

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Day 5 (July 31, 2017 - Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada): "Too Much To Fit In"

It was 5am when we awoke, but now that we had to leave for Vancouver, we knew that we all had to get up early so we could do more in Vancouver itself. Since we only had two nights there with the second day being a Whistler day, today would figure to be the only opportunity we'd have to experience the city itself. I had a sinking feeling that it might not have been enough time to really experience the city as we probably should have spent a third night here if the time and budget allowed. Of course, it almost never happens that way in reality...

Anyways, Julie and I were busy trying to get our belongings together without waking up the hosts of our stay here, which saved us from having to spend perhaps over $200 a night on accommodation in Seattle on the weekend in Summer. Now the flip side of saving money was that we probably wound up accomplishing less than we would normally be able to do on our Seattle touring day, but that was the price paid for hanging out with relatives with two kids let alone having different ideas on pace and activities.

Still, Tahia had a great time hanging out with their kids while Julie did a lot of catching up with Linda and her Mom while also commiserating with Chris about gut health issues. So in the end, it really wasn't that big a deal regarding how much we could pack into an itinerary and execute for our Seattle leg of the trip, especially considering that we had done most of what was on Julie's target list some 11 years ago, which included the Space Needle which we didn't do on this trip.

Eventually at 6:55am, we had loaded up the car and even managed to get Tahia up and into the car without too much disturbance. The trick with that was that Linda's Mom convinced Chloe (who also happened to be awake while we were packing up and getting ready to go) to wake Tahia up. She managed to listen to her while my attempts at waking her up were futile.

Nonetheless, we bid a fond farewell and proceeded to head north out of Seattle through some of the moderately heavy rush hour as we passed through more suburban areas like Bellevue and Kirkland and beyond along the 405 due north instead of going all the way west to the I-5 then heading north. We'd eventually join up with the I-5 somewhere not too far from Everett.

Once we left the greater Seattle area as well as Everett, driving north on the I-5 at this time of the morning was relatively smooth. In fact, we'd eventually make it all the way to Bellingham and Whatcom Falls by 8:50am where we made a brief stop to check out the calm and serene settings that the city park was located in. In fact, if we came here without any concept of the local geography, we wouldn't have known that this was a city park given how green it was here.

The stone bridge providing a frontal view of the falls was just a few paces from the parking lot. And while Tahia was busy getting caught up on sleep, Julie and I took turns to visit the falls. It looked like the falls had seen higher flows that what we had seen on this day, but it was still tranquil and calming nonetheless.

At 9:35am, we left and continued our drive up to Vancouver. I was a little nervous about the border crossing delays, and by the time we'd get there at 10:05am, I was correct in that there was a bit of a queue to get across the border. In fact, there were 3 out of 6 lines open with an additional Nexus line on the far right though I wasn't sure what was meant by "Nexus". Regardless, we didn't apply.

It turned out that of the three lines we picked, we happened to pick one of the slowest ones as the border agent probably took more time than the other two. So we eventually got through at 10:25am though we probably could have saved five minutes or so being in the lane next to us on the left. I definitely wasn't looking forward to the border crossing to get back into the US come Friday morning...

We'd eventually make our way up the highway towards Vancouver, but then we got to a point where we had to leave the freeway and drive a bunch of local streets to get all the way to the Holiday Inn. It turned out that we would have to navigate through a lot of traffic lights and traffic before finally parking at the Holiday Inn Public Parking lot at 11:25am.

But we learned that we were too early to check in so we had to do some baggage drop of our most valuable things while leaving the rest of the stuff in the car hoping that the rental wouldn't be broken into while we were out.

So it wouldn't be until 12:05pm when we finally got going to walk about the Vancouver area. I was looking forward to not needing to drive on this beautiful day. And the first order of business was Julie's desire to checkout Granville Island. So we took one of the Aquabus taxis after walking to Stamps Landing. And we'd eventually get to the island at around 12:30pm.

This spot had a strange feel to it as it was a bunch of restaurants and shops pretty much underneath some road bridge. But there were definitely lots of people here enjoying a picnic lunch or something. Since both Tahia and Julie were hungry, we looked for a place to eat, but after seeing the prices at the Sandbar Restaurant and not really seeing what Julie wanted at Edible Canada, we eventually decided to just grab something from the indoor public market.

Speaking of the public market, it was an experience in itself as there were numerous food stalls as well as produce and arts and crafts as well. After picking up some rotisserie chicken from L'Epicurie, we then had to compete for one of the hard-to-snag tables that had shade. At first, we were going to risk a sun burn and just eat at one of the benches, but Julie managed to stand near one family that was about to leave and we managed to snag that one right away after being turned away at least a half-dozen times or so.

It wasn't exactly stress-free lunching, but once we got the seat, we then soaked in the ambience while chowing down on the nice hormone-free and antibiotic-free rotisserie chicken as well as some grilled veggies.

When we were done eating, we then went back into the public market where we tried out and bought some raw pickles as well as some big yet dark cherries local to British Columbia. Then, we went to this stall called Bon Macarons, and we ended up going crazy spending nearly $50 worth of macarons. The real nice one that we kept buying over and over again were these white truffle-flavored macarons.

That was definitely something that Julie was willing to cheat for (hoping it wouldn't completely reset her healing process) while both Tahia and I were also throwing our diet to hell in having these very good macarons. We also tried chocolate explosion, pure vanilla, jasmine, bacon, and nutella macarons.

By 2:35pm, we were just about done touring the Granville Market and took the Aquabus taxi back to Stamps Landing where we then walked back to the Holiday Inn. We managed to get back there at around 3:25pm, but it turned out that our room still wasn't ready. So it resulted in a bit of wasted time as we then decided to continue touring Vancouver with what limited daylight we had left.

We wound up deciding to go to Stanley Park, but that meant that we had to walk to the nearest Sky Train station and then catch one of the Hop On Hop Off buses that would pass right through Stanley Park seeing that it would take too long for us to go it alone.

When we got to the Sky Train, we caused a line as we were figuring out which tap card to get. It turned out that we ripped ourselves off by spending $10 on a day pass for one of them while adding value on a different tap card. It was a waste because each direction's fare was around $2.20 or so. So $10 alone on one tap card could have covered it for us. Pretty lame.

Anyways, we'd eventually make it from the Broadway-City Hall stop all the way to the Waterfront stop. Then, we walked a couple of blocks north towards the Canada Centre area where we caught one of the Hop On Hop Off buses though it came at a steep price of $47 per adult. At least they let Tahia ride for free, but $94 for bus service that would end in a little over an hour seemed a bit pricey to me, and it made me wonder if I should have driven to Stanley Park myself instead seeing that there were some parking at each of the main stops along the way.

Well, after deciding not to stop for the Rose Garden Pavilion, we'd eventually get off at the Aquarium stop at 4:45pm, where we then did a short Sea Wall walk towards the Totem Poles while enjoying the nice skyline views back towards downtown Vancouver. We managed to snack on some of the raw pickles that we bought as well as some of those cherries as well.

Then, we finally saw the famous totem poles at Stanley Park, where we managed to spend some more time getting an upclose look at these haunting artifacts from the First Nations people of Canada, especially from the Haida tribe, which were local to these parts of British Columbia, Canada.

Once we had our fill of the Totem Poles, we then hopped back on the HOHO bus at around 5:45pm, which was one of the last buses back to downtown Vancouver. So we opted not to make any more stops and just let the HOHO bus narration give us the overview of the key spots around the city.

It was actually quite the informative tour, especially on a beautiful day like today, and I came to the realization during this ride that perhaps we should have spent a third night here just so we'd have at least one full day to check out the city sights. Definitely a half-day of city touring made it where there was too much to fit in.

Indeed, the big takeaway from our tour was that we should definitely check out the Chiantown and the Sun Yatzen Garden as well as the beaches of the west side of Stanley Park and even the Science Centre that Tahia would definitely love. That'll have to be for next time though...

Eventually at 7:15pm, we got off at the last stop at Gas Town, which was where we went looking for a place to eat for dinner. After having no success finding this place called Judas Goat, we'd eventually figure out that it was gone and replaced by this place called Gringo.

Anyways at 7:35pm, we'd ultimately settle in on this place called Six Acres, which was right behind the Gassy Jack statue of which this little neighborhood of Gas Town was named after. It was basically a pub with some fair gourmet foods, but Julie had to supplement her dinner with cherries as most of what we tried to order here wasn't as clean as she would have liked given her gut condition.

By 8:35pm, we were done eating at Six Acres, and then we decided to slowly walk towards the Canada Centre once again while soaking in the twilight ambience along the way. We'd eventually check out an intriguing steam clock that was surrounded by people trying to get their "I was here" shot.

At first, I thought there wasn't anything that special about this clock until I realized that there was steam billowing out from the top of the mechanical-looking apparatus. There was also a partial view of the Vancouver Lookout Building from here with some building in front of it.

But just as we were about to leave the clock at around 8:30pm, the clock started to chime in flute-sounding steam tones. That kind of got the people standing around here to clap their hands in appreciation once the steam tune chime was done.

Anyways, we then continued to the Canada Centre, which itself was also pretty happening as the twilight scene exhibited city lights, high rises, and views towards the silhouette of mountains towering over coastal suburbs of Vancouver across the channel.

We were definitely seizing the moment as Tahia was posing for Julie at the "Canada 150" sign while also taking some more shots of the immediate area including some earth globe inside a glass building that was closed.

By 9:35pm, we finally had our fill for this packed day and returned to the Waterfront Station to catch a Sky Train back to the Broadway-City Hall area. At first, we almost caught the wrong line that was headed to Stadium but had track maintenance issues. But some friendly lady overheard where we were going and told us that we were supposed to go to the Canada Line, which was at a different platform.

Good thing she told us that as we managed to catch the correct train some 10 minutes later. And with that, we finally got off the correct station at Broadway, then we walked the last two blocks to the Holiday Inn, where we'd finally get to check into our room at 10:05pm at last...

And so ended this day though we'd still have another action packed day of waterfalling tomorrow. Hopefully, we might have some leftover time to tour the city in the evening after doing our waterfalling since we really felt like we didn't do Vancouver justice on this day...

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Day 6 (August 1, 2017 - Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada): "Smokescreens"

It was about 4:30am when I awoke. I managed to make use of this time getting freshened up and caught up on writing this trip journal when Julie finally woke up at about 6am. The plan for today was to get a 7am start to tour the Sea to Sky Highway up to Whistler so we could be back in time to do some last-minute touring of Vancouver that we didn't get around to yesterday.

But it wouldn't be until 8am when we would finally be in the car. That said, our paid breakfast (included in our room rate) was actually pretty good as it contained the standard buffet breakfast except there was also pork shumai (a dim sum dish) as one of the employees here was Chinese. In fact, she was really nice and sweet to Tahia as we engaged in a little Mandarin dialog as she was very smitten by Tahia.

This brekkie wouldn't be included for tomorrow morning since it would be on points, but that was fine by us since we would need all the time we could get from waking up early and catching the ferry ride to Victoria on Vancouver Island.

Once we finally were out of the Holiday Inn, we promptly drove north on the Sea to Sky Highway as we passed through the busy suburbs of North Vancouver before making it onto the more mountainous road. But even for a mountain road, it was going at a pretty high rate as we were pretty much consistently in the 80km/h to 100km/h range though it was very easy to get up to 120km/h at times. There were also plenty of passing lanes along this stretch, which made it for a less stressful drive than what we were more used to on the mountain roads back at home from people not using pullouts.

Eventually, we'd make it up to the Brandywine Falls car park at 9:30am. There were already some cars here this early in the morning, and it made me wonder if Shannon Falls (which we'd be doing later) would be harder to find parking.

Nonetheless, the first time we noticed when we got out of the car was that it smelled like smoke. In fact, when I looked up at the sky, there was no blue skies as the air was filled with smoke. The last time we experienced this kind of air quality was when we were touring China or India where the thick smoky haze was more of the norm rather than the exception.

We wondered what was the difference between yesterday and today since yesterday was such clear blue skies. But today, it was all hazy, and it made me wonder if the wind happened to be blowing from a different direction or if there was a new fire that sprouted up.

The thought did cross my mind whether the fire was close to our area or not. But given that things seemed to be more like business as usual, I had assumed that whatever caused the smoke was hundreds of miles away from us. Nonetheless, being amidst smoke and haze in a thick forest was definitely not an assuring thought.

Since Tahia was napping and trying to get caught up on sleep, I started the hike solo. It was actually not much of a hike as it was a mere 300m or so from the car park to the first (and closest) overlook for the Brandywine Falls.

As I walked the trail, I had crossed a bridge then followed the trail alongside a stream sandwiched between volcanic rocks and the stream. The trail then crossed a railroad before getting to that overlook peering right at the plunging waterfall with a nearby alcove where some basalt cliff probably flaked off at some point.

When I had my fill of the lookout, I then continued walking another 150m along the trail passing by a more distant look at the Brandywine Falls before arriving at the Canyon View. At the Canyon View lookout, there was a view of some valley towards what appeared to be a manmade lake. However, it was so smoky that the adjacent mountains could hardly be seen through the haze.

It was a shame since this could have been a pretty scenic lookout. So I didn't linger here for too long as I got my shots and read the signs before returning back in the direction of the main lookout. And by the time I had gotten there, I saw Julie and Tahia had made it.

As I rejoined them, we took a few more minutes taking more photos and videos while also taking some people shots. But we couldn't linger here as long as we would have liked given the bad air quality, which also made the sun's light provide a bit of an orangish tint to the cliffs.

By about 10:30am, we were back at the car. Next up, we continued driving towards Alexander Falls, which I had planned on visiting after having lunch at Whistler. But since we were doing pretty well on time despite our late start, we mind as well check out that other waterfall since I had done my research and knew that it would be a quick stop considering it was pretty much roadside.

By 10:40am, we had arrived at the Alexander Falls Recreational Site, which was off one of the side roads leading to an Olympic Ski Area or something like that. We didn't have to go all the way that far, but if not for my pre-trip GPS waypoint, we could have easily missed out on this road as there was no signage from the Sea to Sky Highway indicating anything about Alexander Falls.

It wasn't until we got about 9km along this detour that we finally saw the small signed turnoff for the falls. The short spur road was unpaved, but it lead to a large clearing where there were a couple of other cars there. We then proceeded to get out of the car and walk right to the lookout where we could see a semi-distant view of the Alexander Falls itself.

It was actually quite an impressive waterfall that was on par with what we had just seen at Brandywine Falls. The signage here said that it was 43m tall, and I certainly could believe that estimate after seeing this multi-tiered cascade. Given low little fanfare this falls appeared to get during my pre-trip research, I had low expectations for it. But I must say that I was pleasantly surprised.

We could have also picnicked here as there were a few fairly sturdy picnic tables. But given the thick smoke in the air, it wasn't a good idea to prolong our exposure to the bad air quality.

After taking a few minutes to take people shots as well as documenting our experience, we then returned to the car at 10:55am. Next, we drove all the way to Whistler Village and parked the car there at 11:20am. Again, the Whistler area looked scenic but the haze ensured that the surrounding mountains was hard to see.

As we meandered about the village looking for the visitor center and then a lunch spot, we settled on this place called Mongolie. The thought of putting your own ingredients onto the wok was intriguing to Julie so she could control what was going into her food for her restricted diet.

They charged by the pound, but even though there was a 20% discount (making it like $16 per pound), I still wound up spending over $70 for this meal. I guess I had underestimated how much I had gotten, and I wound up eating up my nearly 2 pounds of food.

Next, we meandered about a walkway leading to a playground, some markets, and some Olympic sign. This village seemed to be pretty functional for a former Olympic venue, especially when you hear about how infrastructure for such games in Brazil, China, and Greece were pretty much cost albatrosses as they were unused and had cost taxpayers loads of money that they may never pay back.

Finally at 1:25pm, we were back at the car. Totally full on Cow's Ice Cream (where I had picked the wrong shop as the one we went to buy didn't have cookies n' cream flavor but the other one did), we then started to head back on the Sea to Sky Highway towards Vancouver again.

Along the way, we made a stop at the Shannon Falls Provincial Park, where parking nearest to the trailhead was hard to find. But Julie had a sharp eye and we managed to snag a spot at 2:30pm. I guess if we were unsuccessful finding such a convenient parking spot, we also could have parked across the Hwy 99 near the Kawahne Campground.

The short walk to the Shannon Falls itself was pretty once we got past the picnic area and big restroom facility. It was pretty good infrastructure for a place that didn't cost us anything to visit.

The walk was slightly uphill and mostly paved, but right from the get go, we could already see the impressively call cascade of Shannon Falls, which was said to be 335m. It was hard to see its entirety from down here like this, especially with all the thick foliage around us. I'm sure it would have been one of those waterfalls best seen from either a taller hillside across the valley or from the air.

There were also places where the stream was accessible so we knew that after experiencing the falls, Tahia could play in the stream a little bit on the way back.

Once we got to the main lookout, we could see Shannon Falls making its dramatic tumble between some openings in the trees. It looked like the lowermost cascades and tiers were not visible due to the foliage. So we took some time to get our people shots while also trying to document this experience. And even though the skies were still smoky and hazy, we could still see the falls fine.

When Julie and Tahia had their fill of the falls, then headed back down towards the stream where Tahia could feel the water. Meanwhile, I went up a steep forested path just to see where it went. After a few minutes of picking up a sweat, the trail ended at another lookout with a slightly more angled view of the Shannon Falls.

From up here, I could see that a few folks actually scrambled their way up closer to the base of the main cascade of the Shannon Falls. So they provided me with a subject indicating the sense of scale of the falls.

By about 3:30pm, we had returned to the car. I think given the visual impact and experience, this falls seemed worthy of a 3.5 or 4.

Next, we continued our drive back into downtown Vancouver. We thought we were making pretty good time as we were near the city limits of North Vancouver just before 4pm, but then we hit some pretty mean traffic on the way to the Lion's Gate Bridge at the north end of Stanley Park. And before we knew it, it wouldn't be until about 4:35pm when we finally got to Prospect Point just to take a photo of what Stanley Park was like on its north end.

But given that the views were obstructed so only part of the bridge could be seen and that the smoke still obscured the otherwise lovely mountains backing North Vancouver, there really wasn't much to keep us here longer at Prospect Point. So at 4:55pm, we were back in the car and took some time to adjust Tahia's car seat as she shoulder strap was now on the highest level.

I guess any more growth on her part would mean we'd finally have to switch to a booster seat instead of her five-point harness, which had been keeping her safe since she was around 3 years old.

We then continued driving along the west coast of Stanley Park past the Third and Second Beaches before following the GPS right to this spot that Julie wanted to eat at called the Caveman Cafe. Instead of driving back to the Holiday Inn and taking the mass transit to get there, we just drove straight over to the Caveman Cafe where we eventually found underground parking that had two free hours at 5:30pm.

It turned out that the Caveman Cafe was near the gate for Chinatown on Pender Street. It was a pretty rough area as there were graffiti and lots of homeless people around. I guess there was a reason why the receptionist marked on our map to not go too far east of the downtown area.

The Caveman Cafe was an informal dining spot as part of the International Shopping Center or something like that. It was a humble cafe that specialized in paleo foods, which was perfect for Julie. We wound up getting a paleo-style pizza as well as a veggie-infused gluten free pizza, and it was enough to fill us up for dinner without breaking the bank.

When we were done eating, we then walked around looking for the Sun Yatzen Garden, but by the time we got there, the place had just closed. So we then did a quick walk back towards the Chinatown gate while trying to not to mind the homeless people and shizophrenics that were passing by as we were taking pictures.

By 7:15pm, we were back at the car, where we then made the final bit of driving to the Holiday Inn. By the time we got there at 7:30pm and back to our room 15 minutes later, we were finally able to call it a day. During our time spent winding down and fighting the urge to nap, we took the time to wrap up the packing of what was left in preparation for our early start tomorrow.

At 8:30pm, we saw a very impressive sunset where the smoke made the sun look like a big red globe. It was too bad that there was a tall building in our line of sight. Otherwise, this would have been quite the regal sunset shot. So we had to improve by zooming in on the coastal harbor buildings and tankers sitting seemingly beneath the red globe sun.

Once that was done, we'd spent the remaining couple of hours that we were awake to clean up and finally go to bed. This was probably the first time all trip long that I was able to get at least six hours sleep or so as we had slept at around 10:30am with a 4:30am wake-up. I'm sure I could also try to catch some Zzs on the ferry since it was a 90-minute boat ride.

There was still some uncertainty regarding what we'll be doing at Vancouver Island, especially since I wanted to see Della Falls, but that would involve a long 3- to 4-hour drive (each way) to Port Alberni or Tofino. Plus, it would require at least two paying customers, and it wasn't cheap ($250 per person on a sea plane or $450 per person on a helicopter). And on top of all that, there was smoke from the bushfires in BC that would impact visibility.

So we'll just play it by ear and see what happens tomorrow...

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Day 7 (August 2, 2017 - Victoria, British Columbia, Canada): "Turbo Chill"

It was about 4:40am when I awoke. As much as I wanted to sleep in, I had to persist in getting up and trying to get everyone else to do the same because we had to catch a 7am ferry to Victoria on this day. And we had to check in at least 30-60 minutes before the sailing time, which meant that we had to be there no later than 6:30am or else risk losing our spot on the ferry with no refund.

In our haste to get packed and out the door as soon as possible, we managed to start loading up the car at 5:20am and we were out the door by 5:40am. The traffic was pretty light at this time of morning though there were quite a few cars out and about, especially since our progress was stop and go at the numerous traffic lights along the way (there was no freeway within the central part of Vancouver or its surrounding districts).

Eventually, we'd make it to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal by 6:10am where we paid for both directions (costing me about $230 though just about half that price was for taking the vehicle with us) and waited in our assigned lane. By about 6:45am, we were parked on the ferry itself.

Then, most of the passengers got out of their cars and walked up to the upper decks where they could sit more comfortably or have a cooked breakfast or be out in the outdoors, etc. We remained in the car for a few minutes more as Tahia was getting caught up on sleep.

But once Tahia was awake, we all went upstairs to the cafeteria which was pretty good. While Tahia and Julie were eating, I did some more work blogging before we realized that there were workstations with power plugs as well. So once we were done eating, we took advantage of them.

Eventually by 8:25am, we were back in the car per the announcement that we were about to dock. Then, once we were able to disembark, we drove south along the Hwy 17 then west to Hwy 1 towards Goldstream Provincial Park.

It seemed like quite a bit of a drive to get there, but we figured that was our obligatory waterfalling stop while on Vancouver Island. So it wouldn't be until about 9:25am when we finally arrived at the Goldstream Provincial Park where we parked at the far end of the picnic area.

There seemed to be a lot of infrastructure in the way of some visitor facilities, picnic tables, and well-manicured trails amidst a lush scene of tall trees and rainforest-like greens like moss and ferns (attesting to the higher moisture of this area). But after keeping left at a fork, we then got to a bridge by a tunnel beneath Hwy 1.

It was dark and pretty spooky-looking, and there was no signage or anything to indicate that there this was the correct way to the falls. But I knew from my pre-trip research that we were supposed to go through here.

So after some hesitation by Julie and Tahia (especially Julie who was increduluous that such an informal-looking trail given all the other infrastructure that was here was the correct one), we emerged from the other side of the tunnel where we then had to figure out where to go next.

We managed to find a trail a little higher than the rocky stream bed, which was dry. And so we followed that trail, which followed that dry stream bed. But when we got to its end, we had to scramble back down to the stream bed itself so we knew at that point that we were probably better off just scrambling within the stream bed itself.

Nonetheless, we made it to the so-called Niagara Falls, which was impressively tall but its flow was thin. It was nothing like the giant waterfalls that we had seen along the Sea to Sky Highway yesterday. In fact, we wondered how much longer would it be before this waterfall would go dry completely.

That said, this serene waterfall was the first time on this trip that we were able to enjoy it as a family all to ourselves on this trip. That was saying something because there was a fairly large group of Chinese tourists who were on the trail with us but we left them behind pretty early on. I was betting that the tunnel was what threw most of them off.

Regardless, we weren't complaining. We could see that the tall falls also had a bit of a dark alcove and a pool that appeared to be a nice spot for a dip on a hot day (aside from the rockfall danger due to the verticality of the surrounding cliffs).

After having our fill of the falls, we started scrambling back to the tunnel where we saw one trio of folks stream scrambling to the Goldstream Niagara Falls while we saw another Chinese trio start to enter the tunnel just as we were emerging from it.

By 10:15am, we were back at the car and ready to head to the Butchart Gardens next. But in order to even go in the right direction, we had to drive some 5km north before a signed U-turn allowed us to head back south then head north again. During the drive, we noticed more that the skies remained hazy with smoke from the bushfires further east in British Columbia, which convinced me even more to abandon the idea of doing Della Falls via helicopter or seaplane on this trip. At least that would free up some more time to enjoy Victoria without feeling too rushed.

Regardless, when we finally figured out where Butchart Gardens was, we realized that we should have gone there first before the Goldstream Niagara Falls because the gardens was closer to the Schwartz Bay Terminal!

So we made two big U's before finally getting to the Butchart Gardens which was now quite busy at 11:20am. That was probably a costly couple of hours of driving right there, and it probably costed us the ability to check out the Fisherman's Wharf of Victoria Harbour area on this day.

Anyways, the Butchart Gardens was kind of our obligatory stop as it was said to be the top attraction on Vancouver Island. It was also pretty costly financial-wise as it had costed us three a total of about $72. Like the Hop On Hop Off City Tour of Vancouver, I was left wondering if we were really getting a good bang for the buck on this excursion, especially since we weren't even that into gardens in the first place.

Nonetheless, after having a quick lunch before the rush, we then proceeded to walk through the complex starting with the Garden of Roses then the Japanese Garden before checking out an attractive Italian Garden.

The more time we spent strolling along the gardens the more we realized how hot and humid it was in these grounds. So that kind of sapped the energy from us, but we managed to get a little bit of a second wind when we saw the Sunken Garden which was probably the most impressive garden of the lot that we had seen so far.

The busy overlook of the Sunken Garden was probably the highlight of the visit though we also spent some more time strolling amongst the gardens then watching some dancing fountain at the end of this section.

Then, we walked towards some totem poles with a distant view of another fountain, but we also noticed a carousel (merry-go-round) along the way. That got Tahia to get her mind off of the boredom of strolling through a garden complex, and we figured that it was a good idea for the keepers of the garden to have this to keep the kids busy.

After Tahia got a chance to ride the merry-go-round, we eventually got back to the car at 1:40pm. The couple of hours that we spent here were probably adequate for us as we weren't really garden enthusiasts. That said, we could totally see someone who was into gardening to be able to spend the entire day here.

From seeing the explosion of color from the fields of flowers, it made Tahia and I wonder if Kate Pierson of the B-52s came here before since we were aware that she was into gardening.

At 2pm, we stumbled upon a Whole Foods Market along the way to Victoria. That got Julie to make me stop over there so we could do a grocery run though we had to be careful not to be too overzealous with shopping since any unconsumed fruits and other produce could not be brought back across the border.

At 2:25pm, we were done with the grocery run, and then by 2:40pm, we finally made it to the Best Western Carlton Plaza, which was where we were spending the next two nights. The parking situation was basically complimentary valet service though it costed us over $20 per night to park. So it wasn't free like Julie had thought.

With that inconvenience, we had to drop off our luggages and produce (or anything that would rot in the car). The rest of the stuff had to be left in the car. So it wouldn't be until about 3:05pm when we were finally in our room, which was surprisingly spacious and nice.

It made us wish that we had spent another night here though that third night would have been dedicated to the Della Falls experience that we knew wouldn't be happening on this trip. I guess for that to happen, I'd have to make a day trip out of Vancouver and catch the Nanaimo Ferry then drive to either Port Alberni or Tofino, then take the ferry back to Vancouver for a very long day. It was something to keep in the mind for the future.

It wouldn't be until about 3:30pm when we finally started to walk towards the harbor front of Victoria. The last time we were here, it was magical twilight hour, but it was also a rushed visit since the cruise ship didn't dock until evening on a night when we had to be back at the boat to depart a couple of hours later so it felt like such a rushed part of the trip. So now here we were walking the familiar Government Rd to the harbor, where we then experienced the main part of town once again.

While we were meandering about, we headed to the Parliament Building in the hopes that we could go inside to check it out. But it turned out that the building was closed for self-touring, and we would have to do a guided tour that was 40 minutes and wouldn't start until 5pm. We figured that was too much of a time commitment since it was barely 4:25pm and there were other thing we'd rather be doing than wait around.

So we continued walking towards the Fisherman's Wharf area, which we realized was quite a long walk. Along the way, we saw this place called Nourish, where Julie had her sights on eating at this joint. And since we showed up pretty much just when the kitchen was about to re-open at 5pm, we decided to have an early dinner here.

This turned out to be one of the best eating experiences we've had as we loaded up on this Unity Jus (which was really kombucha with honey and different tea instead of sugar and some more typical tea) as well as some dishes that were all paleo friendly. Julie got some kind of rockfish dish while I got a duck leg dish. Tahia had a rudabaga pasta.

We topped it all off with a nice desert of chocolate beetroot cake while Julie had some kind of gluten free almond blueberry cheesecake or something like that.

When all was said and done, we had spent about $134 here, but it was worth the indulgence, we figured. We also enjoyed the homey ambience of the restaurant, which was pretty much in an old Victorian home.

We were back out and about at 6:25pm, where we then slowly walked back in the direction of The Empress Hotel. We were hoping to check out the grand ambience of the interior of the place, which was what Julie was expecting, but once we got in there, it wasn't really much more than another typical hotel.

Perhaps the highlight of that visit was checking out some old menus where we saw that things like filet mignon barely costed over $1 and most things costed less than a dollar. Those were prices of the 1900s and 1910s, and I guess that was how much the dollars were worth back then.

When we were done touring the hotel at 7:10pm, we took a few more photos around the Parliament House lawn while watching some unicyclist do some performance near the waterfront. We were pretty much just killing time and waiting for the "Christmas Lights" to come on in the harborfront like we remembered some 6 years ago when we were here as part of the Alaskan Cruise.

Afterwards, we headed back to the front of The Empress Hotel. Whilst there I used that time to veg out on a bench and watching the red globe sunset as the sun veiled by the smoke from the bushfires. Meanwhile, Julie and Tahia checked out some souvenir shops.

This was one of the few times that I got to just chill and let the moment sink into me instead of always needing to be this place or that. So it was a good opportunity to recharge and really soak in the ambience of Victoria's centre.

Eventually at 8:50pm, that was when the lights of the Parliament Building came on. And as twilight continued, I took the opportunity to take some more photos of the harborfront as more people descended upon the now happening scene as buskers and tourists were all doing their thing.

It wouldn't be until about 9:30pm that Julie and I reunited before the Empress Hotel's front. Then, we started walking back along Government Street while picking up some souvenirs along the way. Eventually by 9:55pm, we were finally done shopping, and by 10:10pm, we were back in the room to finally call it a day.

And boy what a long (yet turbo chill) day it was at that!

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Day 8 (August 3, 2017 - Victoria, British Columbia, Canada): "Getting The Full Flavor"

It was 5am when I awoke. I managed to succumb to the inertia of not wanting to get up for the previous alarms since 4:30am. I guess that's what happens when you go to bed at about midnight, especially considering the long day of touring yesterday.

I managed to spend the better part of 90 minutes having a kefir and fruit breakfast while also getting some a posteriori blogging done. So I managed to get downstairs at 6:30am but I had to wait another 10 minutes for the valet to arrive. I guess I know now that if we want to retrieve the car, I'd have to call in advance. Good to know, especially since tomorrow we have to catch the 7am ferry back to Vancouver.

At 6:40am, I got back the car and then started driving out in pretty light traffic as I was leaving Victoria for the Hwy 1. Going in the other direction, it looked like there were lots of cars caught in sluggish traffic but that appeared to be mostly due to the traffic lights as there were once again no freeways here.

When I got towards the Goldstream vicinity, I wasn't sure exactly where I was supposed to make a left turn to get to the campsites. So I wound up overshooting the traffic light and then overshooting the picnic area and visitor center parking from yesterday. There was a dicey left turn out of that parking lot but given how fast people were going and how much traffic there was in both directions, I chose to just get up to the U-turn 5km further to the north.

Then, I managed to squeeze in an opening on the southbound traffic on the Hwy 1 at the U-turn not long after a cop was positioned at the start of orange cones with a radar gun trying to catch motorists speeding through the 60km/h zone in what would typically be 90km/h.

Eventually, I made it back to the traffic light, where I then proceeded to follow the signs for the Goldstream Campground. I eventually got there, where the park headquarters kiosk was still not open, and I noted from the map sign nearby that the trailhead for Goldstream Falls (which I was targeting this morning after seeing this at a map sign for the trailhead at the Goldstream Niagara Falls) was at the end of the campground.

As I slowly drove by what appeared to be a pretty extensive campground, I eventually made it to a pit toilet and some trash bins flanking what looked like an unsigned trailhead for the Goldstream Falls itself. There didn't appear to be any day use parking (at least not officially) in the immediate area; only campsites. However, I managed to squeeze in to a spot near a tree that might have had pullout room for 2 or 3 cars.

I parked the car at 7:20am and quickly put on my hiking boots (just in case) before going on the short trail. Armed with GPS and camera, I eventually got to a series of steps leading down to the audible Goldstream Falls. After another couple of minutes, I managed to get down to the bottom where I saw the slanted cascade dropping into what looked like an inviting swimming hole.

There were even some sand toys (though no beach) left around the plunge pool as apparently some kids were playing here that were also using the campgrounds.

I took some time trying to compose all sorts of photos of the falls trying to leave no stone unturned in terms of all the different ways to document the falls. However, I managed to forget after the fact that I had an iPhone in my possession but didn't bother to document with it.

There was a trail runner that managed to join me as I was about to leave the falls. He was the first person that I saw on the trail. And all he was doing was using the clear stream to cool off his head before he ran back up the steps.

I did the same as I went up the steps and back to the parked car at 7:55am. As I followed the traffic back to Victoria, I eventually got back to the Best Western Carlton Plaza Hotel at 8:25am, where the curbside parking was so limited that there was only a lone tight space to leave the car with the valet.

Good thing there was a backup camera on the rental car so I was able to use it to my advantage to use all the space available to me to inch forwards and backwards until I was back against the curb and out of traffic.

Once I was upstairs, I was just in time for breakfast as Julie was just about done preparing it. Good timing!

It took some time to finish the brekkie and get ready so I used some of the idle time to wash fruits, wash the dishes, and plan for a day of walking to and touring Parliament House then Fisherman's Wharf before returning to the accommodation to get the rental car so we could drive to Sandcut Beach, and then have dinner and call it a day.

It was a far cry from using this day to do the long 3- to 4-hour drive in each direction from Victoria to Port Alberni or Tofino to catch a seaplane flight or helicopter flight, respectively, to catch a glimpse of Della Falls.

Anyways, it wasn't until about 10am when we finally left the apartment-like room and resumed our plans for the day...

The first order of business of the day was to walk all the way to the Parliament Building since we weren't able to go inside yesterday afternoon. The morning was pleasant as there were long shadows from tall buildings and trees helping to keep us cool. When we got back to Victoria Harbor, we noticed that the lighting was pretty nice for most of the buildings including the Parliament House.

Before starting our self tour of the Parliament Building, we had to go through airport-like security, which took some time. During the wait, I somehow tweaked my left shoulder blade, which made my neck a bit stiff whenever I turned to my left. It made the wait a bit more excruciating, but I tried to use some of the building columns to self massage the sore spot.

Once we were beyond the conveyor belts and metal detectors, we promptly walked about the rotunda, the legislative assembly, and some room with some stained-glass windows where we saw some very progressive portraits showing women in the legislature in high positions. Some of them were even First Nations women.

There was a young well-dressed lady in a white gown and a crown walking around having random conversations with guests. Tahia noticed her and we encouraged her to strike up a conversation. But she was shy. When the well-dressed lady (who we knew was supposed to be a young Queen Victoria) acknowledged Tahia, they got into a pleasantly awkward conversation (mostly due to Tahia's shyness).

Queen Victoria asked her the usual questions like her name (which Victoria struggled with because I doubted that she had heard the name Tahia before), her age, and where she was from. When Tahia was asked to guess Victoria's name and age, Tahia had trouble answering confidently due to her shyness. It must be the gown that made her somewhat star struck the way she was shy to Elsa and Anna when we went to Disneyland and California Adventure one day.

It didn't take long before we were pretty much done with our internal tour of the Parliament House. When we walked out of the building, the sun through the lingering smoke from the BC fires was a little more intense making it more humid, but the lighting was still pretty nice as we looked out over the lawn of the Parliament House and proceeded to walk towards the Fisherman's Wharf.

Instead of walking the surface streets to get all the way to the Fisherman's Wharf, we walked the David Foster Walkway which was closer to the water and it turned out to be much cooler and quite the pleasant walk, despite it being a bit longer than the more straightforward surface street route.

Along the way at 11:20am, a bunch of people had spotted an otter swimming in the water within view of the Fisherman's Wharf and floating homes. We had our moment taking pictures of it while watching it eat fish pretty loudly.

Eventually by 11:45am, we were seated at a shaded picnic table on the Fisherman's Wharf itself and eating a seafood lunch from this place called the Fish Store. There was a nice ambience to the Fisherman's Wharf given the colorful homes and shops all floating on the dock, which kind of reminded us of something we might have seen in Scandinavian Europe.

Our lunch consisted of a fish taco of sockeye salmon, another fish taco of BC halibut, smoked salmon and smoked tuna salad, and a grilled sockeye salmon salad. The food was pretty fresh, and it reminded Julie and I that this was the last day we were going to enjoy fresh northwest seafood before we'd be heading inland tomorrow, where such foods would be practically non-existent and probably less clean from a gut health perspective.

When we were done eating at 12:25pm and Julie and Tahia were done waiting in line to use the restrooms, we then spent some time walking some of the aisles flanked by attractive colorful floating homes. While most of the homes have signage asking to respect privacy, it seemed awfully naive to think that no one would be peering inside given how close the public was allowed to these floating vessels.

Another thought that crossed my mind was that if I was ever given the opportunity to live in one of these things (probably not in my lifetime), I would probably get seasick.

Anyways, when we were done touring a couple of the attractive aisles at the Fisherman's Wharf at 12:50pm, we managed to catch one of the water taxis back across to the Inner Harbour, hwich was pretty much right in front of the Empress Hotel. That saved us quite a bit of walking back in the height of the heat of the day.

By 1:15pm, we were having a toilet break at the Empress Hotel before we finally made it back to our room at the Best Western Carlton Plaza at 1:55pm. But that wasn't before we managed to get some cookies and cream gelato at some chocolatier as well as more tasty macarons from Bon Macaron in Victoria (couldn't get enough of those white truffle macarons).

It wouldn't be until about 2:15pm when we retrieved our car from the BW valet and then we proceeded to drive to Sandcut Beach. Either I had read GoogleMaps wrong or GM itself was inaccurate, but I had expected that the drive would take about 30+ minutes in each direction. I didn't expect that it would take nearly 90 minutes each way!

So given that we had 6pm dinner reservations, that kind of torpedoed any hopes of us doing any last-minute grocery shopping at Whole Foods or a last macarons run before they closed at 6pm.

The drive out to Sooke and then beyond French Beach and Point No Point to the humble car park at Sandcut Beach was pretty much always behind some slower moving car. There were very limited passing lanes or opportunities to pass.

But eventually at 3:30pm, we would arrive at Sandcut Beach trailhead, where the main lot was already full and we had to park along the road not too far from the actual trailhead. We then proceeded to pack some snacks and water and then walked down the forested trail before getting down to Sandcut Beach. All the downhill walking meant that going back up would be a bit of a hot and sweaty affair.

Whilst at Sandcut Beach, we saw that it was a broad and quiet beach full of pebbles and stones. It didn't get sandy until we were right on the water. The waves were actually calmer than I thought, but that was when I realized that we were still facing the Strait of Juan de Fuca so it was kind of analogous to our experiences at the English Channel when we were touring places like Etretat and Mont-Saint-Michel in France or the St Michael's Mount in Cornwall, England as well as the Jurassic Coast in England.

While Julie and Tahia were left to their own devices playing or relaxing at the beach, I walked to my left and continued perhaps another 200m or so before I finally saw the waterfalls on Sandcut Creek. They were small waterfalls, but they were attractive. The stream of Sandcut Creek actually disappeared into the pebbles before re-emerging in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

I also noticed that there was some house upstream above the short 10-15ft falls. It looked private so there wouldn't be any tourist infrastrucure for visiting.

There was even a rope swing near the easternmost of the two side-by-side drops that were still remaining. I've seen photos showing at least three side-by-side drops so clearly I happened to be here under mid-Summer flow. But I wasn't complaining as being at a waterfall by a major body of water was already special in and of itself.

After having my fill of the falls at around 4:30pm (regretting that I didn't bring my iPhone for this), I then quickly walked back to rejoin Julie and Tahia. While Tahia was busy trying to stack rocks, I was snacking on cheries and one of the macarons.

Meanwhile, we were basking in the red globe sun (didn't seem as hazy as yesterday) and observing that there were some rock cairns shaped like the inukshuk symbol that the First Peoples used to symbolize fruitful adventures and safe journeys.

By about 4:40pm, we then walked up the path to get up to the car. We'd eventually get back to the car at 4:50pm, where as expected, we were hot and sweaty. Anyways, the GPS predicted that we'd be back at our accommodation at 6:10pm, which was later than our 6pm reservation. So we tried to make haste to at least not be too late for our dinner reservation.

We'd ultimately make it back to the accommodation at 5:55pm, where we dropped the car back to the valet, went upstairs to get changed, and then walk to the Bard and Banker, which was where our dinner venue was. We'd ultimately make it there by 6:15pm and were seated no problem.

Our dinner consisted of rotisserie chicken, sockeye salmon, and some chicken soup for Tahia as she was still having a runny nose from her cold. The ambience in side the Bard and Banker was quite nice as it used to be a bank and was full of atmospheric old school lighting and stairs with balconies.

We topped off our dinner with a sticky toffee pudding, which we suspected had to be available given the English (actually Scottish) roots of this restaurant. Our dinner ended at 7:50pm, which allowed us to slowly meader our way back to the BW while soaking in the last of the Victorian ambience along Government Street.

This included a stroll down Bastion Square while checking out some talented jazz musicians busking on opposite corners of an intersection both attracting a crowd and really making for that party atmosphere that tourists love.

We also checked out the waterfront by Bastion Square one last time. While there, we watched the red globe sunset (at least the sun sinking behind some buildings bordering the Outer Harbor) before walking back to our accommodation. We made it there at 8:40pm, where we then got cleaned up and started to pack for an early departure for the ferry back to Tsawwassen tomorrow.

And so ended our time touring Victoria, where we really felt like we had experienced this place about as much as possible. It was a far cry from the rushed cruise ship visit, and like we knew all along, you really can't say you've experienced places properly unless you self tour at your own leisure and your own pace with your own itineraries.

I guess the only things really left to do on Vancouver Island would be to visit Mystic Beach and especially Della Falls. Perhaps that might occur on a different trip where there's less haze and smoke from forest fires and more flexibility from spending more time in Vancouver, where Della Falls could be a day trip from there involving ferries and seaplane or helicopter rides. For sure it would be an expensive affair just for seeing that waterfall, but it just wasn't meant to be on this visit...

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Day 9 (August 4, 2017 - Spokane, Washington): "Border Patrol"

It was about 4:30am when my alarm went off. There was even a wake-up call from the hotel receptionist a few minutes later. But after getting dressed, I went back to bed to try to get caught up with sleep. In the mean time, Julie managed to get up and start the process of wrapping up getting packed at 4:45am.

It wouldn't be until about 5:10am when Julie woke me up. But since we didn't bring that much up to the room (most of the rest of the stuff was left in the car), we were able to get downstairs right around the time we expected to pick up our car (where we requested to have the car ready by 5:30am).

By 5:45am, we headed out. The drive out to the Schwartz Bay ferry terminal was pretty uneventful. Eventually at 6:15am, we made it to the Schwartz Bay terminal where there were quite a few cars already parked here waiting to embark the ferry back to Tsawwassen.

I wasn't sure if I had been double charged or something but I recalled the lady at the Tsawwassen Terminal said that I owed $230 or something like that. Now, I was told that I owed $97. I guess I'll have to look at the statements when the trip would be over to see what's going on.

By 6:50am, we were finally allowed to drive onto the ferry. While we were waiting to get onto the ferry, we managed to see a red globe sun rising up against the smoke from the BC fires that were turning out to be quite the event that was having the most adverse impact on our trip so far. I guess you can't plan for these things since it started to become an issue the day we were driving up to Whistler on Tuesday (some 3 days ago).

After we parked the car, we would head upstairs to deck 5 where we promptly grabbed a table and Julie went to wait in line to pick up some hot breakfast. It was quite the wait as the brekkie didn't come until 7:30am. Still, we managed to fill ourselves while leaving some fruits unconsumed. I was worried that we wouldn't be able bring the fruits across the border, but Julie seemed unconcerned about that.

Once brekkie was done, we went upstairs to deck 6 to do some last minute stuff at the workstation area, but we would only have about 15 minutes up there before the announcement came to return to our vehicles at around 8:15am.

At 8:30am, we were back in the car and a few minutes later, the ferry docked and we were eventually let out of the ferry. So far so good as we were making pretty good time to make it back across the US border, which I knew would be the next source of delay that would be out of our control.

By 9am, we would arrive at the long queue for the US border which seemed to be a lot more crowded than when we were headed north into Canada. The queue was frustratingly slow as we weren't even moving for the first 15 minutes or so. Then, it seemed like we once again picked a line that wasn't moving compared to other lines. I must have some really bad luck with these things.

It wouldn't be until around 9:35am when we finally got to the customs person, but when she asked what was in our cooler, we revealed that we had eggs, some bread, some kefir, as well as a bag of fruits. Well, it was the fruits that got the customs person to write up a slip and had us go to the secondary inspection area.

At this point, I was fuming that Julie didn't respect the likelihood that we'd have our fruits discarded, which was wasted money. And now we had to waste even more unforeseen time going through this next process. I was now very worried that we wouldn't get to Spokane until very late, as a result, especially since Julie wanted to make some stops in the greater Seattle area for lunch as well as a pharmacy run.

Indeed, the return to the US part of this trip was already not going as planned, and this incident was totally self-inflicted...

When we rolled up to a parking spot, we weren't sure what to do next. I asked one of the female patrol officers what we were supposed to do, and she said we were supposed to take the slip inside the building for further processing. I thought to myself, great, even more delays to wait for our turn. Who knows how long the queues are in there!

So as we were trying to get Tahia out of the car, both Julie and I were busy trying to eat the big bag of cherries that we had bought in Victoria a few days ago. It was getting to the point where I couldn't eat any more cherries as we still had at least a half-bag full of them, when suddenly the lady patrol officer went to us and asked what we were doing as we were taking too long.

When she saw that we were eating the cherries, she got pissed and commanded us to leave the cherries alone and get away from the car and get to the building immediately. We complied, and I kept thinking to myself what a waste of time and money this whole thing was, and I was even more mad at Julie for continuing to buy food and not finishing what we bought while we were in Victoria. Even worse, she refused to eat the cherries while we were on the ferry back to Vancouver while she bought more food from the cantina in there!

Well, eventually we got to some agriculture line that was very short compared to a much longer queue that people were waiting in. I wasn't sure if we were in the right place or not, but eventually a customs agent talked to us. He was actually pretty friendly when disclosing to us the reasons why some fruits were not allowed into the states (to protect the agriculture in the US), and it was especially the case with citrus fruits and cherries.

He then asked us some questions about what fruits he could expect to find in the car. After telling him what we had, he took our car key and proceeded to do his inspection without us. We looked through the entranceway as we saw he and some other guy were looking at our rental car. And when we saw he took a couple of fruit bags out, I knew the cherries and some other fruits were about to be discarded. That broke my heart, but by now, I had accepted that we had wasted money on those things.

By 10am, we were finally given a slip to give to the exit agent, and we were finally on our way again. I was in no mood to talk to Julie at this point, but she kept reminding me that we had to make a CVS stop somewhere in Lynwood, WA, even though I wasn't acknowledging her as I wanted no part to do with her negligence that was now impacting us in adverse ways that I knew would occur in the form of traffic (now that I turned my attention away from the wasted money).

Eventually, it wouldn't be until 11:45am when we showed up to a Target/CVS in Lynwood that she claimed was the only one in the area. I couldn't believe there wasn't such a place in Issaquah or some other place where there was less likely to be traffic. But after making that obligatory stop, we sure enough started to hit some bad traffic the moment we started driving south on the I-405 towards the I-90.

The traffic was pretty bad along this stretch that I contemplated doing the express lanes since time was money. But there didn't seem to be a convenient way to pay for it other than by mail within a week, but we'd still be on our trip so it wouldn't be easy to mail in the fare whilst we were in say Yellowstone.

So we swallowed the pill so to speak and continued to endure the traffic until we'd eventually head east on the I-90 and back to Issaquah where I knew that we'd be back in Linda's neighborhood. We contemplated whether to let her know that we could have lunch together, but we also know that it would be an event and we would be even more delayed on our way to Spokane so we nixed that idea.

At 12:45am, we finally made it to Issaquah's main shopping area where there was an REI as well as a Chipotle. It was pretty hot and smoky down here as it was in the low 90s but the air quality was already pretty bad. I at least managed to pick up some bear spray with a $20 discount card which helped to alleviate the $50 sticker price of the cannister, which was really an insurance policy in case I do have a bear encounter on any of the long hikes I would have in grizzly country.

Of course the big concern was now whether the smoke from the BC fires might impact my ability to do these hikes due to the bad air quality. It would all pretty much depend on the direction of the wind.

After having our lunch at Chipotle, we were finally back in the car at 1:15pm. We then headed east on the I-90 to get out of the greater Seattle area but not before we faced another delay where the two left lanes were closed due to some re-surfacing or something.

Traffic would remain pretty heavy on our way further east on the I-90 as we approached Snoqualmie Pass, but we'd eventually be moving fairly freely as we continued towards Eastern Washington. However, it was during this drive that I really started to become concerned about the smoke situation as it was very thick the further east we went.

In fact, I was looking forward to going to making a stop at Dry Falls near Coulee City to see perhaps the most interesting dry waterfall, but with such thick smoke, there'd be no way we could make the detour to go there. So instead, we headed straight for Spokane hoping that the smoke situation might improve the further east we went.

The drive was eerie and reminiscent of my time spent with Mom going through heavy smoke east of the Lake Isabella wildfires. The smoke was so thick that it was like driving through a fog of smoke. Now I was really concerned about our ability to tour Glacier National Park and Yellowstone under these conditions.

It wouldn't be until about 5:25pm when we finally made it into downtown Spokane where there were signs pointing the way to the Riverfront Park and Spokane Falls Views. But when we struggled through more heavy traffic due to road construction, and then to the park itself, which was heavily fenced off with lots of construction going on, I started to fear a similar situation like with the Willamette Falls where it was a disappointing experience.

Not sure where to park the car, we ended up going into a parking structure at the Riverfront Square shopping mall, where the rates were $1.25 per half hour. We all weren't looking forward to spending too much time outdoors under such thick smoke like today, but we at least had to document the Spokane Falls.

Well, after getting out of the mall and walking across the street in the direction of the Spokane River, we went down into Huntington Park where there was overlook showing what appeared to be park of Spokane Falls underneat a road bridge as well as some diversion waterfall beneath some building as well.

There was a bit of hydroelectric infrastructure here, but at least we were able to get close and experience the falls unlike the Willamette Falls situation. So it was nice that at least in Spokane, they let this falls be accessible, except for one of the overlooks that appeared to be shown in the signs.

We continued walking down towards the park area where we were able to walk alongside and document what appeared to be the man-modified Lower Spokane Falls. This was a bit more scenic as we could see the twisting waterfall cascading beneath both a dam spillway as well as another tall road bridge opposite the drop of the river.

There were also some Native American signs and statue-like artwork as there seemed to be a bit of a heavy Native American influence in the place names as well as the heritage of their presence here (and I'm sure subsequent injustices in terms of developing the area at their expense).

Once we had our fill of the Lower Spokane Falls, we then had to walk back up the hill towards Monroe Street, Julie and Tahia went back into the mall to get away from the bad air. Meanwhile, I headed towards Post Street to get a better look at what appeared to be more waterfalls further upstream from the Huntington Park area.

Once at the Post Street Bridge, I went into a gazeebo where I could see that the Upper Spokane Falls was very wide and consisted of a pair of wide drops each with footbridges over them. I was able to capture the whole thing with the slight wide angle aspect of my zoom lens though it made the falls look short when zoomed out that much.

I then walked onto the Post Street Bridge for more open views of the Upper Spokane Falls as well as checking out the red globe sun once again trying to pierce its way through the thick smoke-filled sky. This part of downtown Spokane had a bit of an industrial feel to it, but it also felt quiet as only a handful of people were doing their strolls around the Spokane River.

When I had my fill of the Upper Spokane Falls, I was finally able to start heading back towards the mall. In so doing, I saw that there were blue signs beneath parking meters saying not to feed the meter as parking was free for two hours! Damn, we should have parked outside on the street instead of the in the mall, where we were getting charged $1.25 for every 30 minutes!

I'd eventually rejoin Julie and Tahia who were shopping for a shirt that they found. Perhaps that might alleviate some of the parking costs, I thought, but it turned out that the validation was only good for $1 off. So in the end, we paid $2.75 for parking within in the structure as well as another $17 for Tahia's shirt. So in the end, it was a $20 visit to check out the Spokane Falls.

At 6:35pm, we were finally back in the car, where we then made a grocery run at this place called the Huckleberry Natural Market, which was up the hill from downtown Spokane. We got there 10 minutes later, then proceeded to replenish on some fruits now that we were without them after they were discarded back at the US-Canada border.

At 7:15pm, we were done with the grocery run. We wanted to have a quick dinner at the bistro in this market, but they didn't have any grilled veggies so we had to pass on that. They also ran out of their roasted chicken. So we had to eat out.

At 7:20pm, we managed to find street marking as Julie was hoping we'd eat at this health food joint nearby the Riverfront Park. But when we learned that they only had patio dining unless we were willing to wait until 8:30pm to get seated indoors, we changed plans and went back in the mall where there was another sit-down place to chill for a bit before driving to our accommodation in Spokane Valley.

It turned out that the mall joint we ate at had fairly clean food that was pretty good. We had light sockeye salmon, Julie had some steak gluten free, and Tahia's kid's meal of roasted chicken was also good. All of our meals were accompanied with asparagus and corn. The dessert was a bit of an indulgence though as Julie got some gluten-free chocolate cake while I had some pizookie-like dessert of chocolate chip cookie covered with whipped cream and ice cream.

By 9pm, we were back in the car as we made our way out to Spokane Valley. I had contemplated checking out Spokane Falls being floodlit, but from driving over the bridge on Monroe Street, it didn't seem like it had any of the attractive colorful lights we saw on the signs here. Besides, we didn't want to prolong our time as we really had to get to our accommodation to call it a night as it was getting late.

It wouldn't be until about 9:15am that we finally made it to the Residence Inn Spokane Valley, but we'd learn ten minutes later that this accommodation had been overbooked so we were booked for a La Quinta further up the road. I guess it would suck that we wouldn't be having a full-sized fridge and kitchen, but at the same time, they said something to the effect that this stay was on them (so we got a free night out of this?).

Since we were here only for the night, it wasn't a big deal to us to have to relocate. And so eventually at 9:30pm, we checked into the La Quinta, got some free chocolate chip cookies (already adding to our sugar overload from the dessert at dinner), and then finally settled in the room at 9:50pm.

Tahia and Julie spent some time in the swimming pool, which was surprisingly still open here. I guess Tahia needed to have this time to finally do something she wanted to do for once on this trip. But that all meant that we were going to sleep late. It wouldn't be until well after 11pm that both Julie and Tahia slept, but it wouldn't be until about 1pm when I was finally in bed myself.

With such delays and late endings to the day, I knew that tomorrow might be even more impacted since we had another long drive just to get to Glacier National Park. Who knows what the smoke-filled skies would decide to do to adversely impact our trip in addition to our self-imposed delays.

Definitely lots of uncertainty on this trip going forward as we concluded the Cascades part of this trip and headed inland for the next part concerning the Rocky Mountains...

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