I overslept. Instead of being up by 7AM as I had planned, I am up nearly a quarter after 10AM. In a mad rush to beat the rising tide I skip breakfast and break down camp at speed I never knew I was capable of. I made it to Yellow Banks beach and was forced to wait for the tide to retreat. I missed the tide by just about a half hour and wasn’t able to round the last cove. I am headed to Sand Point and should have just enough time to get there and set up camp before the sky darkens.
Norwegian Memorial where I camped. You can walk up to that island on the left when the tide is low.
I made tea and looked into the far off clouds, coming closer. It was suddenly cold and I did my best to starve off any paranoia with my steaming cup. I will confess – I fear the ocean. Ever since I nearly drowned on a remote island in Costa Rica, the waves bring me to my knees. The tides on this wild coast are so powerful and crash with such force that simply seeing the tide come in filled me fear the first few days. Risks are part of any journey, but when you are at nature’s mercy, all bets are off.
I round the cove which at first seemed like the most treacherous one so far and pick up speed on the sandy banks to Sand Point. I can see the warning sign for headland trails and swell with joy and calm. The tide is low and I can walk out at least 50 feet on the ocean floor. I had the perfect reason to do – a Bald Eagle. I breathed quietly in awe of this bird’s patience with me. I would come a few feet and stop. I was less than 10 feet away when I simply stopped to marvel. The brown of his wings highlighted the white of his chest. His feathers wet and his claws gripping the rough edges of a boulder I wondered how it was all happening. I wondered if it would ever happen again.
I am leaning back on a trunk that is at least five feet wide. What kind of a storm washed up this kind of driftwood? Then again, this is the Pacific coast of Washington. After all, my trail passes several memorials, Norwegian and Chilean, in honor of ships wrecked in the early 1900’s. But really there is no trail. I am backpacking along the coast with enough food for at least six days. The terrain varies. The first few miles were pebbles that sink your feet and make every step feel like three making the brief stretch of unstable sand feel like heaven. Exposed tide pools at low tide are full of life and fun to walk through in boots – you’ll be sure to lose a toe or two on the jagged reef like rocks. When the tide is up, you jump from one knee high boulder to another. I actually really enjoyed the jumping, unless they were wet and slippery.
A rocky beach
It is hard to believe I am a witness to this sunset. The sun slowly disappearing behind the blue sea and islands far away is mystical. And just like that, the sun is gone.
Islands in the sunset
The sky is cold and gray with only the unwieldy fire stinging my eyes and keeping me warm. To tell the truth, I wish I had someone to share this moment with.
A grey, majestic sky - surreal
The tide has been coming in for a few hours and is now just about ten feet from my tent. I decided to move to higher ground but had very few options. My only option really was a sand perch full of rock. I undid all my effort to stake out the tent with rocks and tying it to branches and lifted the tent with all of my equipment inside. I was grateful my sleeping pad could hold up to the rocky bottom. I do my best to promote my cheap, foam Thermarest! The whole scene was like a tent sandwich, think Philly cheesesteak with meat and cheese falling all over the place once you unwrap it. The tide was just a few feet from my fire as I could now calmly gaze at it. I probably would have been spared by the tide by just a few feet, but I wouldn’t take the chance of being swept out into the Pacific Ocean.
My blue tent is to the left amidst driftwood.
The sky is clear and the stars like snowflakes dot the Earth’s canopy. I can smell the wood burning and give my full attention to the constellations.
I’ve never turned around before. Even on those snowy peaks in the Adirondacks, long bare with the wind nudging you with nearly 5,000 feet to fall, I was never afraid. But at the top of Storm King mountain on a calm and sunny afternoon, I turned around. The official trail ended a mile ago, now I was just using ropes to walk myself up the side of the mountain, rocks and dirt tumbling with every step. I couldn’t even write from the top. I had to descend a few hundred feet and still, it took a while to maneuver into a position where I could stop myself from sliding. The view of Lake Crescent, a nine mile long lake was well worth it. A bird approached and chirped, then landed on a branch in front of me. The bird seemed cute enough but what if he was to attack? Any sudden movement and I’d be cartwheeling down a cliff. His friend flew over as well. They just looked at me and chirped. I wonder what they were talking about.
Lake Crescent from the top of Storm King mountain
Tips for climbing Storm King mountain after the trail ends:
1. Ignore the warning sign.
2. Don’t look down.
3. While evolution may prompt you otherwise, I recommend crawling.
4. Trust the mountain. Any mountain.
5. Grasp both ropes.
6. Don’t look down.
7. When it looks like the only way down is to slide – it is.
I escaped the mid-afternoon sloth inducing sunshine by finding my way to a log on the pebbled shore of Lake Crescent. I look to my left and I see mountains in front of mountains, layered on either side of the blue lake, formed by water running from the glaciers of Mount Olympus. To my right the mountains line the lake’s curves and in front of me, you guessed it – there’s another mountain. This is bliss. The sun is strong but the air from the forest is cool and fresh. I stretch out on the hot pebbles. I can see where the idea for hot stone massage came from. The water is clear, I can see to the bottom and the waves gently rock the pebbles making the most soothing sound on earth.
Lake Crescent at sunset, I know, I couldn't believe my eyes either!
In Seattle, there are always too many people wearing black slacks. Todd, who works at REI, a Seattle native has never been to Olympic National Park. This is my second time in Seattle and I seem to like it less by the hour. The downtown is small, the city sprawls and the traffic near the waterfront is nearly a highway. It might just be that people here smile less than in New York.
In any case, I make my way to the ferry landing, take the ferry to Bainbridge, take a shuttle from there to the Hood Canal ferry, take a shuttle to the bus, and the bus to Port Angeles. I am finally on the peninsula after a four hour journey which has plagued commuters alike ever since the Hood Canal bridge was closed for improvement.
At last, the ferry to Port Angeles
Once on the bus I let go of the city stress and gaze at the farmland and small towns sitting at water’s edge, clouds stretching for miles in the sky. I reminisce about Vancouver, like a brief love affair cut short by a duel, I am enamored with the city even though I’ve yet to know it.
Rainy days in Vancouver lead me to coffee shops. One of them, the Amsterdam Café, invites coffee drinkers to bring their joints or purchase them from around the block. Well, disclaimer: the café does not permit any sort of trafficking or sharing. But the confused look on your face will prompt someone to tell you about the bald guy around the corner as you’re walking out.
A view from Vancouver
Vancouver is on the tip of Canada’s westernmost mainland. Just turn around to marvel at the mountains dozing in the fog and remember keep moving if you stopped in an intersection to take a picture! The sea you can smell and hear and sometimes taste if you aren’t too careful with your picnic on the beach.
Vancouver’s neighborhood districts are surprisingly unique. The tourist promenade where you can stop and read about the steel industry or buy 2010 Olympic memorabilia quickly merges into Chinatown once you pass several streets of not so well off residents eager to share their AIDS diagnosis or monetary misfortunes. The Chinatown is sweet! Clean and with a pungent but not overpowering scent which usually lingers near fish markets and fruit stands where the vegetables look dangerous. A few more blocks north and you’ll hit what resembles a business district with record shops and independent bookstores. Walk up the steep hill from the beach and there’s a thrilling area of Japanese restaurants, more record shops, more book stores, bars and specialty bakeries and other shops. South of here is the shopping district, which is still pleasantly arranged and laid back.
A few white rice buns, one Allman Brothers Record and several cups of coffee later I am all charged up and start talking. I usually start off with a sincere compliment such as “Vancouver is such a nice city! It is so beautiful here – the mountains to the right, the bay to the left!” Depending on who I’m talking to I might gush, “All your coffee is fair trade and organic! Your sugar is unprocessed! It’s the standard here and it’s still cheap! I love Vancouver!” After a few minutes of chatting I can’t help but say, “Wow, people here are just so nice and there are so many young people! I am thinking about moving here or studying at the university!”
A view of Whistler
I’m winding down towards the evening and take a moment to reflect on the show last night, The Dead at the Gorge. It’s tough to put it into words, to say the least. The magnificent Columbia River couldn’t have been a more appropriate backdrop for this band. They opened with “Music Never Stopped” which if you haven’t heard, please do! The opening notes captivating our ears were throttled forward by the beauty of the river winding through a canyon like gorge. The chill of the air settled over our bodies hot from the day’s sun and we began to dance.
The Dead at the Gorge Amphitheater, WA