Seeing Seattle

I arrived in Seattle around midday after an early flight out of TO. My friend Zoe from exchange was coming down from Victoria to meet me at my hostel around 7:30 so I had the afternoon to kill before she arrived. I decided I would head to Fremont–a quirky neighborhood of Seattle located just outside the city limits. I opted for the hour long walk to get there since it was not raining, for once! The route took me along the scenic west shore of Union Lake, where tons of sailboats were out taking advantage of the nice weather. Finally, I crossed the colourful Fremont Bridge which is preceded by a sign that welcomes visitors and residents to “The Centre of the Universe.” I have yet to reach any concrete conclusion as to how this nickname arose.

I headed straight for the Fremont Sunday Flea Market which I had read about. The market was full of unique vendors selling everything from jewelry to vintage furniture. The people-watching was also a highlight of the market.


After I was done browsing, I wandered around Fremont and visited many of it’s many peculiar landmarks: the troll under the bridge, a massive Lenin statue a past resident had brought back from Poland, and a Soviet Era Rocket to name a few. The neighborhood is a also a hub for cute shopping, great restaurants, and microbreweries!  

I planned my walk back to the hostel through Kerry Park–one of the more famous views of the city, and it did not disappoint. The clear skies allowed for a perfect view of the sunset over the Seattle skyline and mountainous backdrop that is hard to appreciate from the city centre.


Zoe arrived by ferry right on time and, in typical West Coast style, we enjoyed a nice dinner at Local 360–a farm-to-table joint near our hostel. We proceeded to plan out a very full next day in the city with the help of our bartender before calling it a night.
The first stop on our itinerary was a tour of the iconic Pike Place Market—conveniently located steps away from our Hostel. I am so glad we got a tour because what could seem like a tourist attraction, is actually a historical landmark that has stayed very true to its roots for all these years. Started in 1907, it is the oldest continuously operating public farmers market in the U.S. The number one rule of the market is that you must be the producer of what you sell; the concept originated in the early 1900s to cut out the middle man and pass the savings along to farmers and consumers. There are a few exceptions to the rule, in order to create year-long diversity that does not limit the market and its consumers to seasonal produce. We were there early enough to see the market coming to life; vendors are allowed into the market to setup in order of seniority–with the oldest vendor at 50 years of market tenure.


We visited the famous fish-throwing stall, whose unconventional practices have inspired a management philosophy adopted around the world–even my mom’s old company Teva. The four tenets of the philosophy are:

  1. choosing one’s attitude,
  2. playing at work,
  3. making someone’s day, and
  4. being present.


One of the last stops on the tour was the famous Gum Wall. Although the City recently scraped all of the gum off to assess if the nation’s grossest tourist attraction had been causing damage to the underlying walls, it was back in almost full force.


The only chains you will ever see are ones that originated in the market–like Starbucks, where I enjoyed an exclusive Pike Place Roast after the tour. We also hit up Beecher’s, an amazing cheese shop which has become recently famous after being dubbed Oprah’s favourite Mac & Cheese. After agreeing with Oprah, we headed to the Beneath the Streets tour. The tour took us below street level in Pioneer Square to what was ground level in the early 1900s, before the City of Seattle decided to systematically raise the streets. This decision was made to combat a number of problems associated with being located at sea level. We also explored many of the underground establishments that turned into speakeasies in prohibition, and some that remain as fully-functioning businesses today.


We spent the afternoon exploring Capitol Hill, a trendy area where many of the Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing Yuppies reside. We wandered around before settling on Capitol Cider Co.–a board game bar–for dinner and drinks.

Zoe had to head back to Victoria early the next morning; after she left, I headed to the new Starbucks Roastery & Reserve. It is a truly beautiful space where they actually manufacture all of the Reserve Roasts on-site, in gorgeous brass equipment. I headed to the “Experience Bar” to get my coffee fix. I opted for the Siphon flight; my barista performed what looked like a science experiment in front of me, before pouring my two tasting pots of coffee.

  

In the afternoon I met up with friends from work for lunch and then we headed to the famous Chihuly Garden and Glass. The museum had an extensive and stunning collection of Chihuly’s best work.


The next two days were spent on the “primary purpose” of my trip–work. It was super cool to see our HQ, which spans a number of city blocks. Corporate employees are allowed to bring their dogs to work, a perk that wouldn’t work as well in a massive warehouse. Despite the lure of working in a cushy office with more regular hours and my dog at work, operations still seems more exciting at the moment! I also did 2 drop-in classes at a well-known Seattle Crossfit gym–Belltown Crossfit, owned by one of the orginal Crossfit girls Nadia Shatila. It was by far the most beautiful Crossfit gym I’ve ever stepped foot in, with exposed brick walls, brown leather med balls, dark wood, and an in-gym whiskey bar!


Next stop, Portland. Sea(ttle) you later!

A Visit to the Valley

The last neighbourhood I needed to get to before I felt like I had really seen San Francisco thoroughly was the Mission—unofficially known as Little Mexico. The area is known for its culture, burritos, and up-and-coming shopping/restaurant scene. It lived up to all of these expectations and more. Valencia Street is packed with great spots that each scream San Francisco in their own way. From sustainable chocolate cafes, to a backpack store specifically for biker commuters, my favourite concept was Beta Brand—the physical store-front for their online platform. The website allows any designer to submit a design online, have users vote on what should be created, and winning designs will be crowdfunded and then carried online and in-store.

  
Another famous area of the Mission is an alley between Valencia and Mission St. that is lined with street art. I was really impressed by all of the murals; most works contained very political messages surrounding local issues such as displacement, drugs, and black rights. I couldn’t leave the neighbourhood without trying an authentic Mexican burrito from one of the many tacquerias in the area.

  

Stanford has really risen to the top of my radar over the last couple of years for prospective grad schools, if I ever chose to pursue an MBA, so I figured I may as well stop by to check out the campus while in the area. I was blown away by the size of the campus; it is so big that most students bike around because walking would take too long. The buildings are really historic and beautiful and my visit only confirmed my attraction to the school. With a 5% acceptance rate, I’m not holding my breath but a girl can dream.

  
My last “why not” stop of the day was the Google campus. I wasn’t sure how far I would make it before getting kicked out, but it was actually quite acceptable to stroll around outside of the offices. When I inquired about a tour, the security guard said they did not exist but the Google store and the android statue garden was now open to the public. I briefly contemplated sneaking into the office but quickly decided it was in my best interest to not get blacklisted from the number 1 company to work for in the world. I did, however, check out the statue garden and the store and it was just cool to walk around the campus. Cool things I passed by: employees using google-coloured bikes to get around campus, Google-sponsored workout classes, and of course more free 24/7 cafeteria access.

  

   After a great three days of exploring, it was time to go to “work.” Our FC is located in Tracy—about 60 miles East of SF (in the middle of nowhere). But the building was really awesome, as it was my first time in a Kiva site; Kiva is the name of the robots that transport all of our shelving to and from associates in newer FCs. All in all, another successful trip of business mixed with pleasure!

 

Biking the Bay

After another early breakfast I began to make my way towards the waterfront with plans to rent a bike for the rest of the day. I took a longer scenic route to check out a few of the areas I hadn’t seen yet like China Town and North Beach. SF is known for its many distinct neighbourhoods; simply crossing the street can throw you from one of the nicest parts of town to one of the worst. Another thing that sticks out in San Fran is the prominence of homelessness. Homelessness is a complex issue but some of the major contributing factors in SF seem to be drugs and gentrification resulting from the tech boom.

From the waterfront, I set out towards the Golden Gate Bridge along the National Bike path that follows the water. I was lucky enough to have a beautiful clear day with views unobstructed by the fog SF is famous for.

  
Shortly after the end of the bridge, I came into Sausalito—a posh little bay village frequented by tourists from the city. I parked my bike for an awesome burger at a local restaurant and a quick look in the village shops.

The man at the bike rental office recommended that I continue past Sausalito to Tiburon—the next town over—for a more authentic Bay Area experience. This advice proved true, as I was the only person on the bike path for my hour and a half ride from Sausalito to Tiburon. The ride takes you through some very affluent residential areas along the water and right into historic downtown Tiburon. The quaint town has a lovely main street lined with upscale boutiques and restaurants. After checking them out and treating myself to a post-bike ice cream, I headed back into the city on the ferry which provides you with an up-close view of Alcatraz.

When I got back to the pier, I spent some time watching my new friends flop around on top of each other and retaliate loudly.

Afterwards, I headed back to my hostel for a quick power nap. I continued to be exhausted and amazed by the steepness of the city; from what I know, the hills are as steep as the cost of living. By the end of Tuesday, my fitbit said I had climbed 200 flights of stairs!

 

I finished my day off having dinner at the Dropbox HQ with a friend that recently started working there. Unsurprisingly, the office is beautiful and there wasn’t a single employee that looked over 30. 3 catered meals a day is pretty much standard at all the tech companies in SF; I was able to choose from 5 different hot meal options and a full beer fridge. I decided on steak that was prepared by a chef right in front of me. It was really cool to hear what it is like working in the tech capital of the world and San Francisco in general.

Strolling San Fran

I was up early with the time change and without my partner in crime Elai, I knew I had to get started on research for the best part of travel–food. I selected Brenda’s French Soul Food for its rave reviews; its popularity was confirmed by the 20 person lineup before it even opened the doors at 8. The fun atmosphere, friendly staff, pulled pork eggs benedict, and ghiradelli chocolate beignet did not disappoint. 

 
Afterwards, I went for a walk through the civic all the way to Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies–made famous by Full House. Though they are lovely, they are definitely not the only ornate colourful townhouses worth admiring 

 
I walked back through a really cute up and coming area called Hayes Valley–filled with shops, cafes, and cool installations. I headed towards Fishermans Wharf to tour the waterfront and meet up with my friend from work. Of course it would have been wrong not to make a stop in the original Ghiradelli shop when passing through Ghiradelli Square.
 We headed towards Lombard Street–famous for its garden-lined switchbacks. Most cars driving the street were clearly tourists from their gopro filming; however the street is lined with real homes and  getting out of the driveway in a hurry would be impossible. I had heard prior to my visit that SF was hilly, and let me say that this is an understatement.

We hopped in Lisa’s car and made our way to Golden Gate park. The park is massive and the highlight for us was, without a doubt, people watching at the park’s outdoor roller rink. Next we strolled around the adjacent neighbourhood–Haight Ashbury–as per Lisa’s plane mate’s suggestion. The nieghbourhood is colourful to say the least and home to an eclectic mix of shops.  

We finished the night with amazing Greek food and were joined by Lisa’s friend from exchange. All in all, a great action-packed first day in SF with beautiful weather. 

Moab: 3 Parks, 1 Town

We had our hottest and scariest nights sleep yet at our new favourite campground. Around 4:30AM we woke up to some pretty bright lightning overhead; although it was a pretty awesome light show, we eventually decided it would be best to observe from the safety of the car. Once Kayley–our on-site meteorologist–had deduced (based on the trusty counting method) that the storm had travelled a safe distance from us, we returned to our tent. For the first time on our trip, we decided to stay at the same site for two consecutive nights. This was very exciting, as it meant no tent takedown or setup for one whole day! I had originally scheduled us for three days in Moab–one for each park–but our decision to stay in Zion an extra day meant we had to condense. This turned out to not be a bad call based on the close proximity of all the parks to each other in Moab.

Our first park was Canyonlands National Park just North of Moab. After our routine visit to the Visitor’s Centre, we settled on Neck Spring Trail since it was “desert scenery” vs canyon views (which we felt we had seen a lot of at that point). As promised, the trail covered 5.8 miles of dry, rocky, desert terrain, but had less spring action than the name suggests. Over the course of the hike, we drew many parallels between the trail and the landscape of the Lion King. Unlike other hikes we had done, the trail was less obvious–marked only by “cairns,” small inukshuk rock formations. Additionally, we did not cross any other hikers on the entire trail which was really nice.
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After 3.5 hours in what became blazing heat by the end of the hike, we were pretty beat by the time we made our way over to the park “next door.” We arrived at Dead Horse Point State Park with the best of intentions to complete another short hike, but fatigue had set in and the 37 degree weather had us longing for the AC of our car. We opted for a drive around the park to get out at the primary lookout points. Dead Horse was similar in landscape to Canyonlands; both parks are very well suited to not just hiking but also mountain biking and 4WDing. I later found out Moab is actually widely regarded as the mountain biking capital of the world.

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That evening we returned to the campground to start preparing the meal we had all been waiting for–breakfast for dinner. Caiti and ELai had taken on the Head Chef roles in the group with Kayley and I behind the wheel. After the first bit of pancake mix had been poured on the grill Caiti soon realized we had run out of propane. As it turned out, the first fire of our trip was created not by choice but out of necessity. 15 minutes of firewood collecting later, we were back in business with Caiti carefully cooking our pancakes over the fire; the adversity made them taste all the better.

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The next morning we headed for our final stop, Arches National Park. The park’s claim to fame is the fact that, as it’s name suggests, it is home to more than 2,000 sandstone arches. The most famous arch in the park–Delicate Arch–is featured on the Utah license plates. We selected a 4 hour hiking route that passed by 9 of the most famous arches. The trailhead is located 20 miles deep in the park and the drive through the park is very scenic in itself. A large portion of the trail was labeled “primitive” and involved scaling rocks and navigating the cairns again. The climbing around like monkeys part was definitely mine and Caiti’s favourite part, while it was a source of stress for ELai and Kayley.

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With that we set off for our final destination, Salt Lake City! We camped outside Salt Lake in the National Forest at a really nice campground. The only problem was that there was no showers so we decided to drop-in to a local Crossfit gym the next day to workout and, mostly, use the facilities. We enjoyed a great brunch at Park Cafe, walked around Temple Square and the rest of the downtown core, and spent the rest of the afternoon at the only place we could handle the heat, a waterpark of course. Salt Lake was much smaller than I had expected with a population of only 200,000 but it was a relaxing place to spend the last day of our trip. The Last Supper was spent at none other than Chipotle–somewhere I look forward to frequenting in TO!

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip before I get thrown into the real world! I was also reminded of how much fun and how cheap camping is–travel dollars go a lot further when you’re paying $4/night for accommodations!

“Of all the paths you take, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

Bryce Canyon National Park: Hiking the Hoodoos

From Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon was only a two hour drive–one of our shorter commutes. We arrived early enough to secure a campground in the park which was awesome, as we had had to stay at private campgrounds the two nights prior. Although private campgrounds usually have more amenities, they are far more expensive–$30+ vs. $15 at national park sites. Not to mention, they are a lot less “campgroundy” in general–closer to town, less spread out, and in one case a part of the Marriott (they’ve really started to diversify)? We were planning to make a fire and finally make some smores but ominous skies prevented us from following through with this plan. Instead we indulged in the uncooked version of smores, or what we coined, “Smores Tartar.”
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The hike selection process usually went something like this: myself and Kayley would look over the hiking section of the park guide, select the one with the most intriguing description, and present it to Caiti and Elai. The first question was always: “What is the rating?” The answer always seemed to be: “Strenuous” and was met my sighs, followed by a self-assuring comment that nothing could be more strenuous than the North Kaibab Trail. In our defence, we generally felt “strenuous” ratings were rather dramatic–based more on distance than actual difficulty.

For Bryce Canyon, we ended up selecting the “Figure 8 Loop” that combined three smaller loops–the Queens Garden, Navajo, and Peek-a-Boo. From the beginning of the hike we were in awe of the amazing orange rock formations called Hoodoos that fill Bryce Canyon. Our hike took us from the rim down into the heart of the canyon next to the base of the Hoodoos. We actually crossed more groups of horseback riding tours on the trail than humans.

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The entire park was much quieter than the Grand Canyon and Zion but was ranked number 1 park that we visited by two of my friends! There were different and gorgeous views around every corner of the trail that took us around 4 hours to complete.

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After a quick lunch we set off for a long 4.5 hr drive to Moab! The scenery along the way is extremely beautiful and the civilization is sparse. We stopped half-way at our shopping location of choice for the trip–Wal-Mart–to re-stock on groceries. After a very long campground search, we finally happened upon our best site yet!

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Zion National Park

The combination of jetlag and our early rise Grand Canyon schedule allowed us to get up bright and early to set off to our next destination–Zion National Park. We couldn’t resist stopping one (or three) more times for final views of the ginormous canyon we had just conquered. The views are different around every corner and definitely don’t get old.

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The drive through Northern Arizona and Southern Utah was 4.5 hours of stunning views. The entrance into the heart of Zion National Park is no exception; it takes about 20 minutes to navigate through postcard-worthy landscapes into the heart of the park. We arrived in Zion National Park around 3PM and headed to the Visitor Centre to scope out our best hiking option. All four of us were having some trouble walking post-GC as you can imagine, so we opted for a light route suggested by the ranger. Zion was definitely the busiest/most popular park we visited other than the GC; however, the majority of GC visitors don’t hike the Canyon so Zion actually felt the busiest. This is due, in part, to its proximity to Vegas, spectacular beauty, and also accessibility. The entire park is easy for people of all ages and fitness levels to explore with a wide range of walks and activities, as well as a free shuttle that transports visitors from end-to-end of the park.

The first stop in the park we made was Riverside Walk–a short trail that leads to what is known as “The Narrows.” We had heard from the rim-to-rim GC hikers that The Narrows was a very famous “bucket list hike” that took 8 hours to complete fully–and wasn’t the best place to be in a flash flood. Essentially hiking through The Narrows entails wading through 2-3 ft. of water in the narrowest section of the 1000ft walls of Zion Canyon. We definitely did not have 8 hours to spare and the moderate risk of flash flood (combined with our lack of watershoes) meant we couldn’t tread too far but we spent about an hour getting our feet wet *pun intended*. Pictures don’t do this place justice and I will definitely be returning to complete this hike!

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By the end of our short afternoon exploring Zion we were completely in awe of the park and made the executive decision to extend our visit one day longer to complete a famous hike we couldn’t stop hearing about–Angels Landing. All we knew about Angel’s Landing was that a section of the hike involved chains; in hiking this means that the chained portion is either very steep or a very tall drop off. The informational sign about Angel’s Landing advises that children and those scared of heights should steer clear of the trail; it also mentions that 6 people have died on it since 2004. Needless to say we were a bit nervous about it, but were on the trail by 8AM the next morning nonetheless. The sheer volume of other people on the trail is comforting, as its hard not to think “if they can do it so can I.” It took about 1.5 hours of very steep switchbacks to reach the beginning of the dreaded chain.

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Now I’m not going to sugarcoat this part–the entire 45 minutes of chain-lined cliff face to the peak of the hike was extremely beautiful and extremely TERRIFYING. 50% of the route consisted of hiking on a trail where one wrong step would send you flying off an 1000ft cliff. One section I remember all too vividly involved making your way across a section 10m long and 1m wide with 1000ft drops on either side–and some crazy person decided no chain was necessary. Despite this, I was floored by the amount of people completing the hike; I really thought a greater percentage of the population had a fear of heights. Additionally, Caiti and I added the trail to our own “List of Hikes to Not Take Your Children Under 10 On,” despite the number of kids we crossed (I think my mom would faint watching video of me doing this at 21).

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After an adrenaline-filled hike to the summit, the 360 degree views at the top were absolutely incredible. We decided to spend an hour at the top enjoying our lunch to a) return to baseline, and b)muster the courage to go back down. Despite expecting that going down would be far worse than coming up, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the opposite was true. We still aren’t sure what gave us a sudden boost of confidence, but the return leg of the chain felt like a breeze comparatively.

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All in all, will definitely be returning to Zion National Park and would highly recommend it to anyone! If you’re wanting to camp in the park, book in advance–this place is popular!

Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Hike

After convocation came and went, and real life is almost upon me, I decided I needed one last adventure. Over brunch I pitched the idea of a road trip from the Grand Canyon to Salt Lake City and two weeks later here we are. Caiti, Kayley, ELai, and I flew through JFK and into Phoenix. Of course the trip wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t run into someone I know–my Canada U20 teammate’s dad happened to be behind me in line at the rental car office. We headed North through Sedona based on recommendations we received, and we weren’t disappointed by the gorgeous rock formations surrounding the small town.
It was  6PM by the time we arrived at our campground on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We actively avoided catching a peek of the canyon to save the big reveal for the next morning. Thanks to the only one of us that could have passed as a Girl Guide–Caiti, no time was wasted setting up camp, making dinner, and hitting the sheets to prepare for a big 48 hours ahead.

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We were up at 5AM to catch a shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead. Before getting started we took a couple minutes to soak in the incredible views from the top of the canyon. It was around 7AM when we finally hit the trail and began our journey to phantom ranch. The entire trail was extremely picturesque–it felt as though the view kept getting better around every corner. It was hard not to turn every water break into a full-blown photo shoot. 7 miles and 4.5 hours later, we reached the Colorado River around 11:30AM. In the last hour and half of the hike, the heat made it easy to see why hiking between 10AM-4PM in the canyon  is not recommended.

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When we arrived at Phantom Ranch we were all quite happy to remain indoors and out of the sun until at least 4PM. Party animals that we are, we were fast asleep by 8 in order to wake up for our 4:30AM departure.We set off for the North Rim via the North Kaibab trail. We hiked in darkness with our headlamps on for the first 40 minutes through what is known as “the box”–a narrow passage that traps the heat so well that we were hot in tank tops at 5 in the morning.The North side of the canyon is far less popular and we did not see any other people for the first 3.5 hours. The first half of the 14 mile trail is mostly flat and we made it to the halfway marker around 7AM. At that point we took a little detour to visit Ribbon Falls–the canyon’s most well-known waterfall. From Cottonwood Campground (halfway) to the rim it was quite literally only uphill. It wasn’t until we were in the canyon that we realized how ambitious our hiking route was compared to most. Apparently not every weekend warrior is up to hiking 21 miles in 36 hours. Not to mention our schedule didn’t allow for much dilly-dallying, as we were catching shuttle back to the South Rim.

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We experienced a range of emotions throughout the second half of the trail as we encountered other hikers–some were encouraging, but most were quite skeptical of our ambitious timetable. This only fuelled the fire and resulted in Kayley leading the way with a pace that felt more like a sprint.It was hard to imagine how different the North Kaibab Trail could be from the South; however, we could not have been more wrong. The greater latitudinal distance covered on the North trail provides amazing scenic variety. This was perhaps the only thing that got us to the top, on time and without collapsing. The second half of the trail was comparable to the Summit Day hike of Kilimanjaro in physical difficulty.

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The feeling of sitting down in the bus and crushing a bag of chips and a beer was pure bliss after 9 hours of hiking. Just as we finished commending ourselves for our impressive efforts, we began chatting to two guys on our bus who had left at 3AM from the South Rim and beat us to the top. One man was turning 50 this year and they will return in October to complete a “rim-to-rim-to-rim” hike in one day. That means they will hike what we did over two days TWICE in approximately 21 hours. Apparently the record is 7 hours and change–a humbling reminder that we are mere mortals.

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“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”