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Visiting Seattle, Washington

For a special race, I flew to Seattle, WA.

Getting to My Motel 6

Not planning in advance and spending very little time looking, I got the motel I deserved. At first I thought myself clever. After landing in SeaTac I need only to take the light rail south one stop to it's terminus. From there it should have been an easy one mile walk with a single right turn. As it would turn out, Military "Road" was treated locally as a highway. It had no sidewalk, forcing me to pull my roller bag directly behind me lest it get run over by high speed traffic.

Crossing a railing-less overpass, rearview mirrors from large trucks wizzed by inches from my head. Amongst the detritus, I stepped over broken glass and gobs of VHS tape that had been eviscerated from a cassette which, when I saw it, was labeled with the movie Lethal Force.

The motel room itself was, minimal. No coffee machine and it was a walk over to the next building to get ice.

Shake Out Run

I was in town for a race in 2 days so after my harrowing walk to the room, I changed and headed back out the same direction to a public path which lead to Puget Sound.

Just 1 block west of where the train dropped me off earlier, the path started and lead down a ravine, following a creek towards the Sound for about 4 miles.

a fern lined paved path
The path to Puget Sound

Besides frequent low flying air traffic and a section that passed an odoriferous sewage treatment plant, it was a pleasant and well occupied trail. I saw a few other joggers, dog walkers and biker riders along the way.

At the end of the trail I followed a long fishing peer into the Sound to make my turnaround. There might have been otters splashing just below the waves in the clear saltwater. A sign on the pier informed visitors on which crabs were legal to catch.

a wide view of Puget Sound
A bay with Puget Sound beyond

Time to Be a Tourist

I woke up Friday morning relieved that nothing terrible happened overnight at this motel. I slept well and didn't notice any bed bugs.

My plan was to put on a backpack and take the light rail north to downtown Seattle. I would not worry about looking like a dorky tourist with a camera. I would see all the big things.

The "1 Line" as it's called was fast but it would take over 30 minutes before I'd exit the car into one of the 4 downtown stations. Sitting with my full backpack beside me and facing the opposite side of the train car, I craned my neck around to see the city go by between each stop.

After descending into a final tunnel I stepped out onto the platform for the University Street station and walked to my first stop, a coffee shop to caffeinate, eat a sausage egg sandwich and catch up on my journal. It was early and Pike Place Market wouldn't be open for a couple of hours yet.

Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market

It was a hotel lobby and not very interesting to sit at, so I left and started to walk my way to the Pike Place Market area. When I made it there it was barely 7 AM and very empty. I could see where everything would be, but I did not see boats being unloaded by fishermen in boots and raincoats like I envisioned. It was more like a closed shopping mall.

I walked past the big famous sign and found the glistening, grotesque gum walls. It was too dark for good photos, but that was probably for the best.

walls in an alley covered in thousands of pieces of chewing gum
The Gum Walls

I followed a maze of alleys and closed shops to find the water front. Unfortunately, I'd timed my visit during a massive construction project that rendered most of the Seattle waterfront behind Pike Place Market a wasteland of closed sidewalks, traffic barrels and machinery. Through chain linked fences I saw the big ferris wheel sitting idly, still under a shadow as 8 AM passed. A fog gloomed off the bay and draped over the sky scrappers.

dark and deserted waterfront with a idle ferris wheel
fog surrounding sky scrapers

It occurred to me that I needed to get to the Space Needle. Then I could come back here when everything was open. I pre-purchased my tickets sitting at another coffee shop and walked several blocks over to the Seattle Center. The line was already long but moved quickly. The Space Needle was full of thousands of other space needles, in that there were models of it everywhere. The Space Needle in varying states of construction, the Space Needle made out of Legos and of course the many Space Needles for sale in the gift shop. I was set on getting a Space Needle snow globe.

The line of visitors was broken into chunks and feed into an elevator which sped ear-poppingly fast up the tower with windows facing the city. I arrived at the top and started wandering around with my camera, dodging selfie sticks and ducking past photos in progress.

a view of the Seattle skyline from the Space Needle

The fog had mostly lifted and staff did a good job of keeping the observation deck from becoming too crowded. After a couple of laps I took a staircase down to a lower deck with a rotating, glass floor.

Having absorbed the experience to my satisfaction I queued up for the ride back down to find my snow globe. A recorded narration informed us about the buildings visible from the elevator. At the bottom the door opened into the round expanse of the Space Needle gift shop. With the assistance of a cheery gender fluid employee at the counter I chose a globe that made the most sense to me. Not too big, but not too slight looking either.

With the Space Needle experience completed, I walked back to Pike Place Market. At this point I was getting concerned about my increasingly sore legs and the race tomorrow. Seattle is built on some very steep hills, to my surprise.

the steep grade of a downtown street in Seattle

The market was now in full swing. Vendors at the farmer's market sold blemish-less produce from curated displays. I saw the guys shouting orders at the famous fish throwing area; though I did not see any fish being thrown.

produce at a famers market
a fish market display of fresh fish on ice
the famous fish mongers of pike place market in seattle standing around and talking to people

Fish did land on my plate for a late lunch of grilled salmon and prawn cocktail. I did some shopping after finding a few interesting small independent shops selling unique art shirts and ironic pop culture designs on refrigerator magnets. Ron (Swanson) Solo? Yes!

a view down an urban alley with hanging glass orb lights
A well known view in downtown Seattle

I couldn't stay downtown for much longer, my rental car would be ready soon. After a short break in my motel room I called my second ever Uber ride to take me to the rental place. My driver nearly drove into oncoming traffic on the way out and apologized profusely. Before I exited his car I told him to be careful. "You are too young to die."

With the freedom of my own vehicle I pointed it towards Mt. Rainier. This was a new idea. I saw its snow covered peak from the train on the way back to my motel and was blown away. I don't know how I missed it from the Space Needle. It must had been covered by clouds.

It struck me as utterly improbable that something on our planet could look so huge. The Cascade mountain range is visible to the east from Seattle. These looked reasonably sized considering their distance. But as you follow them with your eyes to the south, this ridiculous white and blue triangle reaches so far into the sky that it looks like a geometrically peculiar group of clouds. How close could I get to it before the sun went down?

Apparently close enough that I couldn't see it anymore. I drove up to a trailhead north of the mountain and could now only see the towering "foothills" at the perimeter of the national park. The best view during this impromptu side quest was from a small park on Tapper lake. I made a promise to myself to return to Mt. Rainier at some point in the future.

blog author at the foothills of mt. rainier
Selfie of me just within the borders of Mt. Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier in the distance
Mt. Rainier

Race Day

Saturday was race day. I quickly got ready and drove towards Carnation. The race went better than expected. I share that experience in this post.

The driving directions home brought me though the heart of rush hour. I wondered if these people around me did this every day. Were the Audis and Teslas worth it?

I dropped off my car and got back on the light rail to spend a final afternoon in the City. This time I set off from the Chinatown International District station to explore and find some interesting things to eat.

Sushi and wagyu sliders from Fuji Sushi were my first treats. Wagyu is fancy beef. These were fancy sliders. Later I would dive into something new to me, a shaved ice treat with taro balls and grass jelly. This was a traditional Taiwanese dessert from a place called Meet Fresh. Taro balls are created by mashing together dasheen (or taro, a root vegetable), sweet potato and tapioca starch - it reminded me of mochi. The grass jelly was like a black tasteless jello. Kind of weird but good with a bite of ice cream.

a photo of sushi and slider burgers
Sushi and Wagyu Sliders
a Taiwanese shaved ice dessert
Double Taro Signature 雙芋招牌 (Taro Paste, Vanilla Ice Cream, Taro Balls, Grass Jelly and Grass jelly shaved ice.)

In between those treats was a hike around the Chinatown area. Lots of interesting places to eat but I only have one stomach. After walking under an overpass, I saw police and EMT surrounding a person who lay unconscious on the sidewalk. Rounding that block and heading back the direction I'd come, I passed many more unhoused and behaviorally unpredictable people.

Walking later to the Pike Place Market area though Pioneer Park I would see many more homeless people. I'd smell urine often before finally seeing someone pissing on a wall. Public urination and homelessness persists in all cities, but it seemed especially prevalent in Seattle. So much so I looked up some info on it and indeed, Seattle and other West Coast cities have homelessness rates 5 times that of Chicago, for example. Studies have found a large reason for this being housing costs.

I crossed some invisible line near the waterfront by the big ferris wheel. Here I didn't notice the homelessness anymore. I saw a man playing heavy metal guitar along with a some pre-recorded material. He wasn't playing any solos, just jamming along with riffs much like I would have been doing in my bedroom as a teenager. Neither I or this man have been teenagers in a long time. We exchanged devil horns.

He was doing what I see many buskers here and at home are now doing, playing along to a recording. I don't like it. It seems like karaoke.

Following the waterfront amongst the tourists, I was grateful to have my spirits lifted by a Latin American festival with live music (no karaoke).

a sunny afternoon festival on a pier

Pike's Market was all but completely closed on a Saturday afternoon so I headed back to the train station and motel for the night.

The Long Voyage Home

The trip home did not go well. I got on my flight ok, but the flight was diverted to an emergency landing in Bozeman, MT due to an ill passenger.

a view of the mountains from the Bozeman airport
At least I could look at mountains while I waited

Respect to United for accommodating this individual but this would begin a series of delays. We remained in Bozeman for a few hours. My connection in Chicago would be switched to a later flight because of this and that plane itself would be delayed for its own reasons.

I got home very late, but my cat was happy to see me.