The Washington Coast

As we enter Washington I feel in a state of discombobulation, but I can’t quite put my finger on the reason. I can’t decide if it’s just me in an emotional flux after a disagreement or two with Loops recently, that I’m feeling the pull of home but also feel the added stress of the responsibility with AJ’s upcoming wedding and housesitting, or just that I’ve enjoyed being in Oregon so much that I am not really sure what it is that Washington will have to offer.

Whatever it is, I feel out of sorts.

It’s when I’m like this that it’s hard to focus on the now, so I find it hard to ‘bond’ with Washington as we cross the Columbia River and make our first proper foray in to the state.

Our plan here is a simple one. We are heading for the coast, to drive Highway 101 as north as we can making our way to Cape Flattery, the most north-west point in the USA (not counting Alaska of course). From there we shall turn our faces east, and begin the long trek back across the country, heading in particular for Michigan, where I shall depart for England and Loops will spend his summer working on the bus with the company of Ron, Dorinda and some other Bluebirders.

Today’s drive is through a mix of city and country, though most of it is a bit of a blur as I wrestle with whatever I’m fighting in my mind. We don’t have a long trip though, because our very first destination is the town of Woodland, where we are pausing briefly to meet up with Don, the gentleman we bought Belle from.

Don is doing a bit of workamping in the area; he is staying at a very nice RV park for free in exchange for some gardening and maintenance work at the site. We have specifically come to see him to collect a couple of folding chairs, chairs that were specifically made by Bluebird for our bus, but that Don had held on to while he had none, with the promise that when we crossed paths out West, we could collect and reunite them with the bus.

Don takes us on a tour of his campground, which has a lovely lake view and is well maintained and tidy, before we head off to have a bite to eat at a local Mexican restaurant and a chat. I’ve only met Don once before, and really couldn’t have said much about him, but having now spent the evening with him, he really is a funny and personable chap. He’s what I would describe as a bit of an elderly rogue with a twinkle in his eye. And I like that.

We depart with our chairs and best wishes, for an evening boondocking at Walmart before heading out to the 101 the following day to kick start our adventures.

So, the 101, what can I say? Well, bumpy, springs to mind. That and tunnels. Actually, not so much tunnels, as a tunnel effect.

The 101 is like riding a constant mini rollercoaster of sorts. The front of the bus is constantly rising and dipping with the undulating tarmac and we drive through forest areas with trees so high, they blot out the skyline and any view to either side, so you have a green tree tunnel-effect view for miles and miles.

As a result, by the time we reach South Bend, a little town on the Willipa River, I am feeling rather queasy and Loops is rather fed up with the road. I’m glad we decide to pull over for a bit after spotting a tourist information building (for road maps) and Loops also spies a barbers, so heads in for a haircut. I mooch in the bus while my stomach recovers and then together we head into the tourist information, which also turns out to be a delightful little museum covering the history of the area, especially focusing on its main industries of oyster fishing and forestry.

We take the time to look at the artifacts inside; I learn what an oyster dish looks like (it has little curved imprints to hold the shells), what trees are used in the area for forestry and Loops takes a bit of a liking to the dentist’s chair in the corner (which I think is about 100 years old).

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Museum display about forestry in the local area
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Learning about types of trees used in forestry
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These are oyster plates!

We ask the gentleman inside for a recommendation for lunch, in particular something seafood-like given that we are on the coast, and he points us in the direction of Linda’s Fish and Chips.

Wait a minute! Did he say fish and chips?

I have been hankering for some real fish and chips ever since we hit the Pacific Ocean down in Oregon, but had yet to find some. So we head off and I have my fingers crossed that it won’t be a let-down.

I can tell you now, do not pass through South Bend without stopping at a little roadside trailer called Linda’s Fish and Chips. I have no idea who Linda is, but the two blokes inside make mouth-watering, lip-smackingly delicious fresh fish and chips. The fish is so fresh and well-cooked, with such a light crumb batter, that it just flakes apart when you try to pick it up. And the chips? Proper cooked chips, not crispy French fries.

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Yes. Amazing fish and chips! 🙂

I was so overwhelmed and thankful; I went back to the window of the trailer and told the chaps how amazing it was. I almost thought I was going to cry.

We head back out on the road and I am grateful that our scenery changes slightly, with less dense forest and an increasing number of open fields and waterways. The countryside here is no less pretty than Oregon and I am starting to feel more enjoyment with every mile that passes (though still riding the wave of fish and chips joy could have something to do with that too).

We pull in for a 2 night casino stay at Quinalt Beach Casino on Ocean Shores. Here we are able to boondock in their (slightly unlevel) overflow car park, with a front window view of the grassy beach dunes and a thin sliver view of the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

We have very friendly neighbours here – Kris and Julie – who we spend time talking with. They are living a partial full time life on the road, and Kris has really fallen for the idea of swapping his rig for a Bluebird, after taking a tour in ours and speaking with Loops. By the time we come to leave, I can see he’s developed the glint in his eye that tells me it will now be all that he can think about. Bluebird fever has hit.

The casino has walking access down to the beach which Loops and I use to go and stroll along the sand. The beach is full of activity; people walking, cars driving and horses plodding. That’s right, on this beach you can horseback ride and drive your car along it – though I’m not sure the sand and salt are would be too good for your chassis. As always there is a stiff breeze and waves rolling on to the sand, both are loud noises in themselves. It’s strange to think that beaches can be such peaceful places, even with all of the noise that surrounds them.

Loops, ever eagle-eyed, spots dolphins out in the water, but they elude me. I’m disappointed but not for long, especially when we take our drive the next day.

One of the downsides to having a bus and tow as large as ours is the fact that you can be limited about where you can go; and today is the perfect example of this. Our drive up the 101 today allows us to pass briefly through patches of the Olympic National Park. Loops had already pre-warned me that we wouldn’t be able to access or stop in the park. With Olympic being created in 1938, I believe it has had very little done to enlarge or upgrade it to keep it in line with all of the vehicle growth that has happened in the RV industry over the intervening years. As a result, this is one of those places where the campgrounds are limited to 25 or 35 feet maximum, and the roads leading to them follow suit.

Therefore I count us lucky when we find that there is a Ranger Station right on the side of 101, where we can pull alongside the pavement so I can hop out and grab a stamp. While we might not be able to venture into the heart of the park, the road and beach running alongside it counts as part of it, and we intend to have walk on the sand to justify my stamp. I am browsing the leaflets and come across one for whale and otter sightings which gives me a flicker of excitement (not that I expect to see any) and the ranger on duty is helpful at pointing out on a map to Loops and I the pull-offs that will be large enough to accommodate us.

We are fortunate enough to find the parking spot where we can squeeze in to empty, sitting directly next to the drop off down to the beach; it’s a wonderful wide open view of the ocean from our windows. While I grab my shoes, coat and hat, Loops gets out the binoculars to scan the water. He lets out a bit of a whoop, which brings me running to the front of the bus. Don’t you know it; he’s spotted sea otters out in the water! I grab my bins to look, certain that I’ll be once again missing out on spotting something, but no! Low and behold there isn’t just a single otter to spy, there’s a massive group of them! With just a quick glance through the eyepiece, I can pick out at least ten otters lazily floating on their backs out in the waves. Oh my God! This is awesome!

On closer inspection I can see a couple are in fact feeding; laying on their backs, holding and manipulating in their front feet what I can only assume are some type of mollusc. I am quite simply overwhelmed at not only seeing wild otters, but so many of them in one place. And just to be correct, apparently a group of otters in the water is termed a raft. So now you know.

As if that simply wasn’t enough to make the whole trip to Washington worthwhile, I hear yet another holler and Loops has now spotted something larger in the water – whales! Now this isn’t the same as my “I’m pretty darn sure I saw a whale” experience back in Oregon, this is a 100% “There be whales out in that there water!” (Obviously said in a very pirate tone).

We can clearly see through our binoculars from the bus, and with the naked eye down on the beach, spray being shot up in to the air by about 3 different whales and…this really is the best bit ever…we can see their fins suddenly fly out of the water and point skywards as they look to be rolling on to their sides out in the waves. As far as we can tell, it seems that they are heaving their pectoral fins out of the surf, they don’t look like their dorsal fins at all; so from the shape and size, we take an educated guess that these are actually grey whales, not orcas that we are seeing.

Even out here in the biting wind and chill, I could easily stand for hours just scanning the water and watching the wildlife. This is an incredibly precious moment and I feel a deep down sense of gratitude that I am here being able to experience this and create this particular memory.

Once the whales move on and the nippy temperature becomes too much to bear, we continue onwards to our evening destination – Forks, Washington.

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Welcome to Forks!

Now if you are like me, and the other 100 million people who bought the series of books, the name Forks will immediately transport you into a world of teenage vampire fiction angst. For those of you who might have been living under a rock in 2005 when the books were published and somehow missed the crazy flurry that was Twilight mania, including people siding with Team Edward or Jacob, declaring themselves Twihards and other such things – Forks, WA happens to be the location where the Twilight series of books were set. So for me as a reader it was a neat opportunity to visit the town, just to say I have really.

Now if your heart is desperately set on visiting Forks, before you pack your bags and book your ticket, just be aware that this is where the books were based, no part of the movies were filmed in this town. Which personally I feel is a bit of a kick in the teeth for them really. That, to me, is basically stealing a town layout, visual images and using it for you own means to make hundreds of millions of dollars, and them not having the highly beneficial opportunity of having the film set in their real life town.

The real Forks is a quiet, sleepy town; pretty much comprised of a couple of roads, a high school, houses and a handful of shops and restaurants. At the height of the craze around Twilight, the town managed to cash in on tourists coming to visit, however it’s now 12 years later and that first influx seemingly has worn off (except for the two shops that seem to hawk Twilight wares and the tourist information place that has goods to buy).

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Yup, doing the geeky Twilight fan thing

You can get a map and do a self-guided tour of the book locations, of which I visited the house that the Cullen’s home was based on and even had a picture taken on their front porch (which they invite people to do, having left a note of the front door from ‘The Cullen’s’ to say they are out of town but you can look into their front window and see a mock set-up of the living room with a piano and stuff).

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FYI – this is the house that the Cullen’s is based on in the book. And yes, I am sat on their porch.

La Push beach, also a location in the books, is about 12 miles down the road (we didn’t visit), but again this is a book location, not where the films were recorded.

Luckily for us though, what the town does have is an Elks lodge, where we base ourselves for a couple of days so that we can use The Beast to travel over to Cape Flattery – the most north-west point in the contiguous USA.

We are not alone on our excursion to the Cape though, for I received a message from my friend Desperado (another Appalachian Trail hiker, you can tell from the name, right?), whom I haven’t seen since the northern part of the AT in 2012, but I have kept in touch with via letter and email.

It just so happens that Desperado is on her own road trip in this part of the country, so with a little bit of organisation, there she is standing on Belle’s door step one evening. We easily pass three hours just chatting about memories of our time on the trail, our individual adventures since then and our plans for the near future. I do so enjoy seeing and hearing what my AT companions are now up to in their ‘normal’ lives, how people have transitioned from the trail and if their hike has propelled them into something different from how they were ‘pre-trail’. I particularly enjoy Desperado’s company as she too is a writer, though far more of a professional one than I. She has spent the past year developing her writing skills, producing articles for the webpages and writing her own book of short stories. I admire her dedication to her craft; the fact that she has made the decision to pursue her writing and, unlike me who sits and procrastinates and writes in fits and starts, she makes herself write everyday whether she feels like it or not because that’s what you do to become better and actually produce something for people to read.

As the evening progresses we agree to meet up again tomorrow for a walk at Cape Flattery, and I wave her off into the night.

Cape Flattery lies at the tip of the Makah Indian Reservation. There is a $10 fee required for making use of the recreational facilities there, which is a little pricey if like us you are just visiting the point, but I suppose is not bad at all if you use the facilities regularly or more fully.

We locate Desperado on the Cape Flattery trail, a moderate walk through pristine old forest that leads you to the overlook. I’m grateful for my waterproof jacket, not for rain but rather for the wind chill factor as we reach the water. The views from the trail overlooks (for there are several smaller ones before the actual point) are superb. You find yourself looking out over forested rocky cliff inlets where you can watch the tide rush in and out, creating a noise like thunder crashing and shooting spray into the air, and where the water is a deep satisfying blue.

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From the main wooden platform (via a little ladder climb) you have a 180o view with cliffs to both sides, Tatoosh Island in front with its grand looking little lighthouse and Californian sealions basking on the rocks off to its left, and out in the distance to the right, across the Strait of Jaun de Fuca, are mountains on the Canadian shore.

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Loops checking out the lighthouse
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Desperado and I posing at Cape Flattery – I don’t know why I’m cold and she isn’t?

So enjoyable is the view and weather (now the sun has come out to warm things up a bit) that we remain here for about an hour or so, watching the sealions through our binoculars, hoping to catch sight of a puffin (sadly not) and talking to the visitors who continually arrive. One couple in particular approach me after Loops and I film some footage for our YouTube videos. Their names are Kristof and Lili, originally from Hungary but now living in Seattle and working for Amazon. They enquire if we are filming a documentary and I explain about our traveling lifestyle and videoing. They seem rather interested in it all and I am secretly really thrilled when they ask for the details of our channel.

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Meeting Kristof and Lili 🙂

And so it is here in the sun, talking with friends new and old, and with our final glimpse of the Pacific Ocean that we call an end to our westward travel, for there is no further we can go.

We bid Desperado farewell with best wishes for her journey and from here we are now eastward bound to see the remainder of Washington and then destined for Chicago and a plane home to England for me!

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