Port Angeles is our next stop, and with it a Walmart boondocking spot with the best view of any I’ve seen.
Not bad scenery for a free Walmart stay, right?
Today is also the day that I go to get my hair cut. I’ve noticed in the mirror I’m starting to that silly 80’s fishtail look at the back of my neck and my hair is curling out in a flick from the side of my head. Yup, definitely time to get it trimmed.
Luckily for me, I spot ‘The Hair School’ on the road that Walmart lies off of, and so with a happy little wave, I set off down the road to see if they can squeeze me in right now to chop off some locks. While I may be perfectly at ease letting a trainee hairdresser hack at my hair in the hope it will come out looking somewhat sensible, I can tell by the slight wide-eyed look on Loops’ face that he maybe isn’t quite as trusting. That and the fact he asks me at least three times if I’m sure I want to get my hair cut there.
I will tell you now; I had a fabulous time at The Hair School! I walked in and within 5 minutes I was introduced to Demi, my trainee hairdresser for the day. Demi is full of life and personality, which her hair aptly reflects; big bouncy long dark curls.
We have a marvellous time chatting, she compliments my accent at least five times and I ask her all about her training at the school, how she learns to cut in different styles and if she gets nervous. We discuss (as always) the differences between America and England and she’s fascinated about all the travelling I’ve done overseas, telling me that she thinks it must be so much easier to travel living in Europe, which now thinking about it, I suppose it is. Europe is blessed with having countries sat relatively close together and usually easily accessed by both train and bus at a decent rate; making it the choice for many backpackers. I find out that Demi is a ‘transplant’, originally hailing from California but much preferring the Washington climate and scenery. Our chatting is obviously infectious because we are joined by another student at the school, this one learning the beauty trade (finger nails, waxing etc.), who asks me to start saying specific words so she can hear the difference in our accents.
As Demi comes to the final part of my hair cut, trimming around my ears, she has to call over her teacher as she just can’t seem to get the cut close enough to my head. The teacher is very encouraging and comes over to show her how to hold her hand and fingers at a specific angle to give a close cut in the right direction. Demi practices her hold with her teacher watching and adjusting her hand a little to ensure she has it, before cutting my hair and achieving the desired effect.
It may sound silly, but right at this point I feel rather giddy and happy. I am starting to notice that where I have so little contact with people other than Loops in my day to day life, that any time I have some type of extended conversation or interaction with others now, it really brightens my day. Spending the hour or so here in the school talking with Demi and her friend has thoroughly cheered my mood; so much so, when I go to pay my $9 bill (yes, only $9!), I have the lady round it up to $20 so Demi gets a fair wage for the cut I just had, but mostly as a thank you for such an pleasurable experience.
The following day, I wake with a sense of excitement and anticipation. The mountains at which we have been staring at from the front window, we will today be seeing much closer up. Leaving Belle at Walmart, Loops and I don our hiking clothes and set off for Hurricane Ridge, part of the Olympic National Forest.
We take a rather extended drive to reach it (17 miles from town to visitor centre), weaving through the forested roads and cliff edges, watching the thermostat in the car drop by a degree every couple of miles as we climb through the cloud cover towards the top of the ridge.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but when we arrive I know that I am stunned and completely taken aback by the scenery and vista.
I step from the car in a state of shock to try and absorb what I am looking at. I’m in the mountains. I am overlooking a mammoth ridge line of sharp, snow-peaked mountains. The sky is a bright Royal blue with pristine white clouds dotted about. In front of me is a meadow of green grass, dotted with wildflowers of many colours; including incredibly vivid cobalt blue lupins, almost verging on shades of indigo in places.
The immediate thought that springs into my mind is to break in to song. This view requires you to sing… “The hills are alive with the sound of music……” I feel I could be stood in the Alps right now.
I can literally feel the sheer joy and delight bubbling up from my toes and in to my brain. The giddiness overcomes me and I break out in to a smile and I giggle to myself like a child. This place is phenomenal. Remarkable. Outstanding. I couldn’t be happier if I tried.
We’ve parked at the main visitor centre and wander inside for a gander. I find a rather ingenious flower ID catalogue just past the front door; a wooden box with sliding panels and on each panel is a dried flower specimen, a clear picture of the flower in bloom along with a written description and interesting facts about it. I flick through a couple and am quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of wild flowers that can be found here, but equally excited to see them on our walk.
Hurricane Hill is our chosen trail, a climb of 650ft and 3.2 miles round trip, taking us up to a 360o view looking out across the main ridge line in one direction and right over into Canada in the other. The climb is a workout, but it feels good to exert myself and exercise my muscles given my very sedentary lifestyle these days. Having said that, this is still a very accessible trail and not at all a hard hike.
Loops quickly gets ahead of me as I keep stopping to take photographs and video footage. Every couple of meters I spot a different plant or flower species and stop to try and make a portrait of it. With every curve of the trail, a new panorama appears and requires me to stop and contemplate how to best try and frame it.
Closer to the top of the ridge we come across small areas of snow pack, left-over areas nestled in a curve of the hillside that haven’t warmed enough to melt. I turn and look back to where we have come from, appreciating how the alpine meadow flows down the mountainside. There is a sign explaining that these meadows are the habitat of the Olympic marmot, a rare species only found here in these mountains. I lament at the word ‘rare’, not expecting at all to be able to see one. However, just two more turns of the switchback, the ground levels out and I glance out over the meadow on my left, only to spot what looks to be a huge beaver-type animal scuffling around and munching on grass. I can’t believe it – it’s an Olympic marmot! While I can quite plainly see the animal with my own naked eyes, try as I might, my camera just refuses to produce a large and clear enough picture of it; all that shows up is a brown furry blob.
After we’ve had our fill of watching the marmot, we continue the final short push to the top of the hill. At the top, I gently collapse to the floor to sit and be still and quiet. I breathe in the clean, cool air. Everything feels fresh and good and hopeful.
Loops and I sit and enjoy a snack and drink and just take in the views. A movement to the right catches our eye and we watch as two deer jump and prance up the hill, across the summit and through yet another snow bank on the other side of the ridge. The overlook on the far side of the hill differs from the ridgeline that has accompanied us on our way up; this side simply dropping away to lower hills, cloud cover, which we stand above, and the water far beyond. Somewhere under that cloud is Port Angeles and Belle, unable to see the sun and clear skies that we are enjoying high up here in the mountains. I am always tickled by that thought when I can see cloud below me, that I get to experience a completely different day from those blanketed underneath it.
It’s worth mentioning that Loops and I are of course not alone up here. There are probably at least thirty or forty people in the immediate area around us, and more arriving every few minutes as they conquer the hill walk, yet somehow it doesn’t feel overcrowded or oppressive. Everyone is relaxed and just hanging out, calm and quietly enjoying the views in their own way.
Even though I could sit here all day, every day; we have to be moving on. Reluctantly, we begin our return journey, but at least we are able to soak in the mountain range view all the way back down the hill again.
Today is moving day. This afternoon we are leaving our urban camping space at Walmart and headed for another boondock, this time at the Blyn casino. We settled here for two days, grateful for the free power hook ups provided in the car park (we manage to bag one of only three spaces with electricity).
The following morning I wake up in a mood. A total grump. For no reason I can discern I just really can’t be arsed to get up and do anything productive. And so I don’t. I literally lay in bed from sun up to sun down, watching TV and feeling thoroughly down. It probably doesn’t help that once again a mouse has invaded the bus for the night and eaten the last of my biscuits. Loops leaves me to it, and I feel thankful I can just revel in my temporary misery. I guess we all have down days, eh?
The following day I’ve pulled myself out of the doldrums and am prepared for a day of sightseeing. We pony up and head for the towns of Sequim (pronounced Squim) and Port Townsend. Sequim is renowned for its lavender growing and associated products, but I can only assume we are a little out of season because apart from the lavender plants in baskets all around the town, I see not a single plant head in sight.
After a round of window shopping up and down the small main street, we quickly proceed towards Port Townsend where we discover a much larger town to stroll, many shops to poke our heads in to and a beautiful waterfront and harbour – boats galore!
We settle on a restaurant for a bite to eat and from the window can watch as people potter into the harbour, sailing on their boats of many sizes and shapes. Loops and I chat about which boats most appeal to each of us, what life aboard a houseboat must be like and how it would differ from our RV lifestyle now.
Loops is water and boat orientated, whereas I have spent little time on the water. I’m sure that if he could find a spare million or so he’d love to buy a Hatteras boat and sail off into the sunset, however, given that isn’t very likely I suppose he’ll just have to be happy with Belle for now.
Speaking of which, it seems that once again Belle is requiring a little TLC. All of the miles we have travelled over the past year have taken a toll on Belle’s tag tyres, which are now to the point of fraying. The rubber has definitely hit its sell by date and as such need replacing. Loops has located a tyre shop in the town of Everett with the tyres we need (at an eye watering $600 each), and so we make a beeline in that direction with just a quick overnight stop in Shelton; staying at the most derelict looking Elks lodge ever and making use of the busiest laundromat I’ve ever seen, where you practically have to elbow and fight your way to the next empty machine.
The following day on route to Everett I have a quick stop I need to make, in Seattle. A few years ago, a friend and work colleague of mine from home, Brooke, moved to the city. Brooke was the first person to give me a taste of what it was like to live far from your home, having emigrated from the US originally to live in the UK. I remember conversations at work with her about what she loved about England but what she missed about being in the US. After 9 years in the UK she has returned, now lives in Seattle and recently has had a little girl, Rowan.
It seems ridiculous to miss out on an opportunity for a cup of tea and a catch up, given we are having to drive right past the city on the I-5 anyway. Loops is good natured in navigating the small local roads to reach a car park large enough for Belle, only about a 10 minute drive from Brooke’s house, leaving me with only a short trip in The Beast to see her.
I’m pretty nervous driving on the outskirts of the city, the roads here seem very complicated to me and there are pedestrians and cyclists EVERYWHERE. Usually that is cause for celebration in my opinion, but not today, not while I’m trying to avoid running people over! However, I manage to reach Brooke’s house without incident and am greeted with a hug and a cuppa.
I want to now try and explain a specific discovery that has arisen after my visit with Brooke. After we had our natter (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and I’d left her house, I was struck with a really strong melancholy sensation. I couldn’t for the life of me work out why I felt such an overwhelming sense of disappointment to be leaving her house, until the following dawned on me. Brooke, to me, is an English friend. All of my associations with her are of the UK, of home, compared with all of the other friends I have been visiting her in America as we’ve travelled, who are American friends, people I only associate with being in this country.
So when I stepped in to Brooke’s house and saw her, it was like being instantly transported back home. It didn’t matter that I was stood in an American house in an American city; I was with a person who I last saw back in England, and therefore that is where my mind put us, back home. And here we were doing the most normal of activities; having tea, chocolate and a gossip. For an hour or so my new life was, in a way, completely forgotten. For just a moment, my mind really believed that I would simply walk out of her front door and the next day I’d see her at work at college.
It’s funny what our brains are capable of doing to us, isn’t it? Familiarity and association are powerful things indeed. They play on our emotions and perceptions easily.
So with thoughts of home firmly lodge in my brain, it seemed a good time to try and locate myself a dress for my best friend’s upcoming wedding; something that up until now had been impossible in the very wild and rural Pacific Northwest. A huge helping of luck was on my side when I located a dress in the right size and colour in the very first store we wandered in to – though I won’t bore you with the details that involved not being able to buy the dress I tried on, having to order the dress online and then by phone to be sent to Florida which then had to be sent to the UK….*dress nightmares*
With my needs now met, we turn to Loops and Belle and the fitting of her tyres. Arriving in the early evening to the car park of Les Schwab Tires, we’d been given permission to boondock here overnight, to ensure we are first in line to have our tag tyres changes out in the morning. I will say, I’m pretty sure the people who turned up during the night at 11.30pm to take drugs in the car park and then poop on the tarmac, probably didn’t gain the same permission from the manager as us.
The following morning the tyres themselves take less than an hour to change out, the chap on the job is very efficient and I’m sure was super happy to have Loops standing over him during every stage of the process, oh and filming him too (feel free to pop over and have a look at the video footage on our YouTube channel if you’d like to see him in action).
In fact, the tyre changing actually took less time than it did to pay for them. Due to some glitch in the computer system, it took over an hour and a half for the company to set up the necessary account to enable them to deprive Loops of about $1200. For that alone they could have just gone, bought and installed new, more efficient computer software instead.
With all of our Seattle business completed, we make our way to the Swinomish Casino. But rather than a boondock in yet another car park, here they have a full hook-up RV park with a slight water overlook for us to enjoy for the evening. Tonight, nature provides us with a stunning sunset, a veritable delight of colours, including a fabulous candyfloss pink sky at the end. What a lovely way to end the day and to help turn out thoughts to our next wildness adventure…in the North Cascades National Park.