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A Sad Story – with a Happy Ending

Months ago, when we were deep into the pandemic restrictions in the Seattle area and dealing with the region’s crappy weather, I was struggling to find ways to keep my dear daughter from completely falling into an emotional pit growing deeper every day from the lack of interaction with other kids and loved ones. Alone in our tiny West Seattle apartment while trying to juggle a full-time job and full-time parenting and homeschooling responsibilities, I was desperate to find activities that could lift her spirits enough to carry her through another week of isolation and boredom.

That’s when I heard that Northwest Trek Wildlife Park was offering a limited number of drive-through wilderness tours for families. I jumped at the opportunity to try to snatch us tickets only to find that almost all times were already sold out. I ended booking us for the last tour, starting at 5 p.m. on a weekday, still a few weeks away.

As luck has it, the car I was driving at the time ended up in the shop days before our scheduled wilderness outing. Not wanting to lose our one chance to get out of home and do something different, I rented a car for the day. My mistake was that being new to the Seattle area, I miscalculated the time it would take us to get to Eatonville, WA in rush hour traffic on a Tuesday. I also wasn’t expecting “rush hour traffic.” Wasn’t everybody supposed to be social distancing and staying home? What I thought would take us an hour ended up taking twice as long. “Stressful ride” doesn’t even describe the experience of getting there. Turns out Eatonville is deeeeeeep into the wilderness indeed. Yet, I kept driving. Somehow in denial. Somehow hoping for a miracle.

By the time we got there, the park was closing. My heart sunk as I realized I had taken us on a wild goose chase for nothing. I’d been talking to June about this trip for weeks. And here I was, failing miserably.

I found someone to talk to and explained everything we’d just been through just trying to get there. It was too late though. There was nothing this young man could do to help us. I couldn’t help myself either. I broke down crying right in front of him.

He must have felt so bad. I could tell by the look on his face I’d become that “poor lady losing her s#*t” right in front of him. He suggested we came back the next day and he’d let us in, no problem. Only that wasn’t really an option for us, another trip like that in the middle of a work week.

“What about the weekend,” he said. “Would that work?”

“But there are no tickets left for weekends,” I lamented.

“Don’t worry about that. I think I can get you in. Would Saturday or Sunday work best for you?”

So there was a miracle at the end of our day after all. And I was so grateful. More tears came rolling down my face.

I got back in the car and explained to my dear one what had happened. I think at that point she didn’t even care anymore. Her face was blank and tired. I felt the worst mom for not planning this better. The best thing I could offer on the way back home was a drive-through stop to pick up a Happy Meal for her.

Take 2: Our Day in the Wilderness

A few days later, rested and with renewed excitement, we got back on the road to Eatonville. Thankfully, the drive was so much easier on a Sunday! We got there with enough time and waited in our vehicle with expectation while we received instructions through a designated radio station:

  • Stay in your vehicle with doors closed at all times. All Northwest Trek animals are free-roaming and may approach the vehicle.

  • Please do not attempt to touch the animals. Remember these are wild animals with horns and antlers.

  • Do not honk your horn.

  • Stay on the paved tour route – the speed limit is 5 MPH. Maintain adequate distance from the vehicle ahead of you to prevent an accident.

Ready as we could be, we slowly moved through the park gates as our Wild Drive tour started. We rolled down the windows to feel the fresh air and forest mist and kept our eyes wide open for signs of wildlife.

Being the driver, it wasn't easy to take pictures while making sure I stayed on the road but I still felt overjoyed spotting Bison, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Caribou, Roosevelt Elk, and Columbian Black-tailed Deer as we drove through Northwest Trek's 435-acre free-roaming area. Something about cruising through the crisp forest and peaceful meadows brought an immediate sense of much-needed relief and happiness.

Time went by fast and soon our drive tour was over. But there was still more fun to be had. Our Wild Drive tour tickets also included admission to visit the park to explore its walking paths on foot – a special treat courtesy of Josh, the kind Northwest Trek staff member who had to endure my emotional breakdown on the day of our failed visit attempt.

With our masks on and sanitizer on hand, we parked the car and enjoyed a beautiful stroll in the park where we saw bears, foxes, beavers, otters, and a majestic snowy owl that quickly became one of our favorite sightings. We developed a bit of an appetite after all the walking, so we got a giant pretzel from a Trek Treat station to complete our Northwest wildlife trekking experience.

I can't recommend enough planning a day out in Eatonville to explore Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. It was easy to keep our distance with few other people visiting that day which made us feel safe doing this activity in the middle of a pandemic. Quite honestly, we very much needed this break from our months-long confinement.

A special Thank You to Josh at Northwest Trek for his kindness and willingness to accommodate us so we could enjoy this awesome experience at a different time after our weekday excursion failed. It meant the world for my daughter and me – more than he'll ever know.

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