The Aftermath

The first few days after spring break were the hardest. It was terrible being back to reality. I hated using my phone and the internet disgusted me. It took nearly a full week for me to feel like “real life” could be tolerable, but even after I adjusted back to the daily grind, I still miss Orcas Island every day. 

Luckily, we did make some efforts to see each other again. We had a Jurassic Park movie night and celebrated Ryanne’s birthday at Jacks N Joe. It was great to be reunited and I really look forward to seeing everyone again at the ASB recognition and at a tentative Earth Day beach bonfire. It’s great to know that even as we pay attention to our regular lives, we can always reminisce on our good times in Washington and forever cherish the friendships that we made.

I leave you with a quote from the documentary 180˚ South:
“The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn’t even think to ask.”

Foodie Heaven

We started our final day in Washington bright and early with the Savor Seattle Pike Place Market: Classics Food and Cultural Tour. We split into two groups and my group followed our tourguide, Caroline, as she introduced us and our empty stomachs to the sights, sounds and most, importantly tastes of Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market.

Caroline, our lovely food tourguide

We visited 10 different vendors, sampling everything from doughnuts to smoked salmon and clam chowder to chocolate covered cherries! The photos don’t do the tour justice, but it’s easy to see what a treasure Pike Place Market is to the city of Seattle. I long for a similar place in Los Angeles where I could indulge my foodie cravings.

Daily Dozen Doughnuts

Salish Sea Salt at MarketSpice

Sampling smoked salmon at Pike Place Fish

Rachel, the famous Pike Place Market pig, introduced as a fundraising method for the market

Chukar Cherries

Watching the cheese-making process at Beecher's Handmade Cheese

The best penne and cheese I've ever tasted


The Original Starbucks

Crab cakes with avocado aioli at Etta's Seafood Restaurant

After the food tour, we had a little time before we had to meet up with the rest of the group. Andrew, Scott, Perry and I headed to the University of Washington store, where I came across a very bizarre button… how strange to realize that other schools want to beat us just as much as we want to beat them!

I wore the wrong color into the University of Washington store

The Silver Fox


The Black Panther

Finally, the SUVs rolled up in their final prowl and swooped us off to the airport. We were cutting it close for time, but thankfully, we all made the flight! Still in a daze and in love with Washington, we made our way back to Los Angeles.

Goodbye, Seattle!

We woke up one last time to the peaceful sounds of nature and begrudgingly loaded up the SUVs to leave the island. It was probably the saddest moment the entire trip. We got on the ferry and waved a reluctant farewell to Orcas, vowing to come back in the future.

We're smiling, but inside, we were feeling so sad to leave

We drove back to Seattle and checked in to the Green Tortoise Hostel, a really well-managed and comfortable hostel in the heart of downtown Seattle, right across the way from the famous Pike Place Market.

The Green Tortoise Hostel

Pike Place!

We had the rest of the afternoon to roam the city, but the first order of business was lunch! A small group of us enjoyed piping hot chowder at Pike Place Chowder. It really hit the spot on a cold, windy day!

The most delicious clam chowder ever!

Afterward, we visited a few places in Seattle, including the Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co., the Seattle Glassblowing Studio and the Peter Miller architecture and design bookstore. They were all great!

The bathroom inside the Seattle glassblowing studio

Then, we headed over to the Seattle Public Library, an incredibly designed architectural marvel that housed many different sections of books. I wanted around a bit, exploring the map room and the newspapers and magazines section. It is such a cool place to spend an afternoon.

Seattle Public Library

Finally, we all met back up for dinner at Long Provincial Vietnamese Restauarant. The food was really flavorful and delicious and we really enjoyed sharing a warm meal together.

Thai tea team

A full belly to end a fulfilling day

At the end of the night, we settled back in to the Green Tortoise Hostel. We all packed into one of the rooms and talked for a long time before heading to bed. Laying there in the hostel bed, I felt strange to be back in society, but also I also eagerly awaited the much-anticipated food tour the next morning.

Our Last Day on the Trail

So humbled by the greatness of nature

We couldn’t believe it when we awoke on Thursday and found ourselves facing our last day working on the trail. The thought of leaving was so dreadful that I pushed it out of my mind and tried my best to concentrate on savoring every moment we had left. We had constructed about two miles of trail and although it wasn’t perfect, we were very proud of our work.

Our baby

Saving the world, one earthworm at a time

Ranger Kennan brought his beautiful black lab, Mona, who was really the embodiment of fun. She loved grabbing sticks and frolicking along the mountainside, navigating the treacherous grounds with her expert four legs. She followed Ranger Kennan everywhere, but did stop for a pat on the head from us too!

Ranger Kennan's dog, Mona

After putting away our tools for the last time and saying a sad goodbye to our trail, we headed back to camp. I was quite exhausted, but given that it was our last day, I joined some of the others for a hike up to Twin Lakes, the ultimate destination of the trail that we had worked on.

Loving life so much

We hiked around Cascade Lake and then up to Twin Lakes. It was a short and simple hike, but boy, did we have a new appreciation for trailbuilding!

Twin Lakes was so beautiful. The water was a deep emerald green and the surface was so still, it was surreal. I loved it. Below is my favorite photo from the trip.

One of the Twin Lakes

For dinner that night, we went all-American with personalized burgers and french fries! It was quite a task for the cooking team, but so fun to see our names written in ketchup and mustard.

Personalized burgers and fries

After dinner, Dora, Joenique, Connie and Richelle gave the final reflections of the trip. We began coming to terms with the fact that we would be leaving this beautiful island the next day, but found it hard to imagine returning to civilization after such a fulfilling week in the great outdoors.

The Great Outdoors

With a little help from Colin’s Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes, we hit the trail once again for another energized day of trailblazing! Although it was an easier day of work, we had made so much progress that the main challenge was hiking all the way up to the end of the trail to continue working! Someone along the way dubbed it “accidental exercise”, which is so true. I would much rather hike in a forest until my butt and legs are burning than run on a treadmill in a musty indoor gym. It was a rewarding workout in the great outdoors!

Ranger Kennan, a younger version of Ranger Rich, joined us on day four. He was a fun guy to hang around and helped us figure out where to continue the trail, since we were basically cutting through completely new territory.

Ranger Kennan


Peter and me loving life!

After working for a couple hours, we drove up to Mount Constitution, the highest point on Orcas Island. It was quite chilly up there and it even snowed for a few moments! We had a frigid, but fun lunch overlooking the beautiful, foggy San Juan Islands.

Foggy Mt. Constitution

By this time of the trip, we were really one big happy family. As you can see below, we were unabashed huggers and I don’t think there was a moment when we weren’t all laughing and smiling. It was such a gift to be around such happy, positive people and I really think we brought out the best in each other.

On our way back to the cars from Mt. Constitution, Colin was ambushed with snowballs as I hid behind a tree and filmed it all.

We also stopped along the roadside to take group photos with our SUVs and enjoy yet another breathtaking view of the islands.

The Black Panther crew! Rawrrr

After returning to camp, we suited up, grabbed our paddles and headed down to the docks at Cascade Lake for some canoeing adventures! We only had one brief scare when Scott shifted his weight in the canoe and we almost capsized. Thank God we didn’t because that water was ICE COLD! It was so fun and I really felt Pochahontas-like as we paddled across the lake, enjoying the brief moments of sun and drizzle. We even saw a beautiful full rainbow before racing the other canoes back to the dock. It was so exhilerating!

Canoeing on Cascade Lake

After canoeing, I laid down on the dock for a brief outdoor nap. With the lake at my feet and the beautiful blue sky above me, I really didn’t think life could get any better. It was so calm and quiet; I wish I could bottle that serenity and bring it back to Los Angeles.

A nap on the dock

Andrew and Ed joined me on the dock and we just hung out and really enjoyed our little moment of relaxation.

Such happiness!

Then, we headed back to camp, where I joined Colin, Elsa and Ryanne for an outdoor nap in the meadow. It was a bit chilly, but we were wrapped up warm and cozy in our sleeping bags.

Outdoor napping in the meadow

After dinner, we made s’mores around the campfire and heard reflections from Elsa, Ryanne, Ed, Perry and Sharon. Again, this was a great chance to hear from each of them and learn more about each other. It was sad to think that our trip was more than halfway over and I know I wasn’t the only who wished for it to last much longer than it would.

A campfire and s'mores


Moving logs out of the way

Day three of working on the trail was probably the hardest, but we made a lot of progress. We hit the end of the roadbed and started cutting through a steeper portion of the mountainside. It was hard work! First, logs had to be sawed and moved from the trail, rocks had to be rolled out of the way and moss and grass had to be removed. Then some people used axes and shovels to crop out an even trail as others followed up by raking loose dirt down the trail to pack into the ground. Others would follow up with big rocks to line the edge of the trail. It was a very intensive process, but we worked quickly and soon saw a difference already!

Taking a quick photo break!

Ed and Andrew hard at work, leading the dirt-moving efforts!

Kelsey admiring a deer skeleton that was found on the trail

After a long morning of work, we spent the afternoon in the town of Eastsound, the center of life on Orcas Island. There were so many quaint little shops and cafes and we split into smaller groups to walk around town in the light drizzle and wind.

Exploring Eastsound

Darvill's Bookstore

At our stop at Darvill’s bookstore, I chatted with the storekeeper, who said she had lived on Orcas for over 30 years. She was happy to see the USC group back and praised us on the work from last year. It felt great to be a part of an ongoing relationship between the Trojan family and Orcas Island and I invited her to check out the new trail once it was finished.

Orcas Island

It's love.


After stocking up on sour gummy worms and souvenirs, we headed back to Camp Moran. It was my team’s turn to cook dinner! What a challenge! Our menu consisted of brown-sugar glazed salmon, wild rice rissoto and spinach pancakes. We had tomato basil soup and Texas toast for our vegetarians. For dessert, we had cheesecake and muffins. It was a challenge, but the salmon turned out perfectly and I am proud to say that we were able to deliver!

The salmon feast cooking team

Whew! Cooking for 21 people is quite a feat!

That night, we heard reflections from Jodelle, Kelsey, Chris, Robert and Kathryn. Each of them shared a story or a tidbit that I really related to. For example, Jodelle and I both have a deep love for animals, Kelsey and I both have marching band experience, Chris is a romantic like me, Robert turns out to be very much like the big brother I’ve always wanted and Kathryn has a love to languages and Asian culture. I just felt so grateful to share in the lives of these incredible young people and I was reminded that we are all connected by our love for nature. It takes a certain type of person to spend a week in the wilderness and I could tell that the desire to do so stemmed from a deep love for life in each one of us.

From the Sea to the Spa

Every morning on the island, Andrew gave us a pleasant wake up call, ranging from bursting in our cabin and announcing, “It’s time.” to playing Shooting Stars by Bag Raiders:

On the way out to the trail on day 2, I used the brief interlude of cell phone reception to call my parents, because March 14th is my dad’s birthday. It felt weird to use my phone, but chatting with my parents made me realize how much they missed me. It made my dad really happy to be able to chat with me on his birthday, because we originally planned for me to be out of contact for the entire week.

I found a log that resembled an alligator!

We hit the trail, which was a lot muddier from some rain the night before and continued our trailblazing up the mountain. We spread a lot of gravel along the center of the trail, to provide some traction and keep the mud from becoming too slippery.

Hard at work on day two!

The trail turned more grassy than mossy after the first half mile or so, which made it much more difficult to clear the way. Nonetheless, we powered our way through the light drizzle and tough greenery and put yet another dent on our project.

Drizzled on, but still smiling!

After we called it a day on the trail, we hiked to the beach for lunch. It was a peaceful hike filled with great conversation. We found ourselves at a beautiful secluded pebble beach that called for some deep thinking and appreciation of nature.

We spent some time eating lunch and exploring the beach. It was a chilly day, but the sun did come out for a bit as we buried Peter in the sand and played with some miniature crabs that scuttled among the rocks along the shore.

Peter voluntarily buried in the pebbles

Little crabs crawling among the rocks!

After heading back to camp, we all rested a bit before joining back up for dinner. Before each lunch and dinner, we circled up for Chow Circle. It was a time for us to give shoutouts to the people who had worked extra hard that day or to share snapshots of moments that we really enjoyed.

Chow Circle

Deer at Camp Moran

During dinner, we caught some deer wandering into the camp area. They were such peaceful creatures and it made me sad to think that beautiful habitats are destroyed and replaced with cities and suburbs every day. 😦

After dinner, we were treated to a spa night, organized by Elsa, Richelle and Ryanne. In addition to yoga and hot stone massages, we got very in touch with nature with all-natural mud masks made from mud and sand (to exfoliate) from right outdoors! Several of us tried it and to be honest, it was refreshing and my skin felt smooth and clean after rinsing it off!

All-natural mud masks!

Others were not so easily convinced, but even Ed and Andrew took a chance and tried out the mud masks for themselves!

The good sports

Channing, Colin and I gave our reflections that night and it was a good chance for me to think about the good things in life. To be honest, I was just purely grateful to be in the middle of such a unique experience on Orcas and every day made me feel more confident that life can be really great if we just learn to be aware of the good things and enjoy them fully while they last.