Olympic Adventures

Has it really been nearly three weeks since my last blog post?

That’s what the calendar tells me, so I guess it must be right.

On one hand it feels like it should still be July, on the other, it feels like the first of the month was ages ago. It’s a strange feeling. Somewhat incongruous, and foreign.

I’m not used to being away from home for long periods of time, and I think that’s what’s causing this feeling. This particular trip I went on earlier in the month began August 6th when I left for Everett, Washington for a transportation conference, and ended when I finally returned home with Amber on August 14th. And we certainly covered a lot of ground along the way.

The first few days I was on my own more or less, joining my boss at the transportation conference in Everett through Wednesday. Amber joined up with me in Seatac on Wednesday evening.

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Thursday I got the opportunity to go to Seattle and check out the university campus of my alma mater and current employer’s (Washington State University) arch nemesis, the University of Washington. My boss showed Amber and I around the campus, which was truly beautiful. Not to mention the active transportation systems on campus were quite impressive, something I plan to look at as something of a model to strive towards on WSU’s campus in Pullman in my own efforts to improve our systems.

After Thursday, the vacation was on. Amber and I attended a Seattle Mariners game with my old college roommate, which was a blast as well. The Mariners lost, blowing a four point lead in the 7th, but we had a great time nonetheless, and even went home with awesome Edgar Martinez bobbleheads.

We stayed the night with my friend and his family in Puyallup that night, then headed further west toward the coast, eventually meeting up with scenic Highway 101 on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

Now, this blows most people’s minds, but I’m a 25 year old man, and up until this trip, I’d never stepped onto an ocean beach. Before last Christmas when I saw the Strait of Juan de Fuca (which I don’t know if that even technically qualifies as the “ocean”) for the first time, the closest I’d ever been to an ocean was on Long Island New York when I was a teenager, and that was only for a span of a few seconds where we could see a glimpse of the Atlantic from the highway.

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So naturally, as we drove along the coastline on Highway 101, we pulled over and went out onto the beach, and I got my first taste of a real ocean beach, and a firsthand feel of the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

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After stopping for a bit we continued our journey up the peninsula, headed for the Hoh National Rainforest, nestled in the heart of the Olympic Mountains.

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When we arrived at the entrance to the national park, we found out it would be a $25 fee for us to enter. We briefly considered going in, but since we only had an hour or two to spare, we couldn’t justify the cost based on the fact that we live on a very tight budget, so instead we did a little exploring in an area that didn’t cost anything to check out, and still got a nice little walk in along the Hoh River.

We continued northeast toward the Port Angeles area, stopping in the infamous Forks, WA for lunch (the setting of the Twilight series), and eventually made it to the small town of Joyce where Amber’s grandparents live, where we stayed the next two nights.

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The next day we headed out to Lake Crescent, nearby where her grandparents live and a matter of a few miles from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In fact, from the top of Mount Storm King (an iconic mountain on the south side of the lake) on a clear day, you can see the Strait of Juan de Fuca as you look down on Lake Crescent, as well as British Columbia, Canada on the other side of the Strait.

Lake Crescent

Lake Crescent, near Joyce, WA, December 26th, 2016.

However, we didn’t hike Storm King this time like we did last Christmas. We instead hiked along the edge of the lake on the Spruce Railroad Trail, which links in with the nearly 130 mile Olympic Discovery Trail. We had originally planned to just go on a short hike out to a bridge on the lake that overlooks the Devil’s Punchbowl, a popular swimming hole for folks in the area.

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That is, when it’s actually “warm” enough to swim. In this area it rarely reaches the mid 80’s even in the dead of summer, which isn’t to mention the glacial waters that make up the incredibly deep mountain lake are frigid year around.

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The lake’s official depth reading is 624 feet, however that number was taken by college students in the 1960’s, and is said to be very inaccurate. The deepest unofficial reading by a power company had the lake depth at more than 1,000 feet deep; however, the deepest depths of the lake have never been reached or recorded, so no one really knows how deep the lake really is.

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There is a quite fascinating history behind Lake Crescent, one that involves a story of the Klallam and Quileute Native American tribes fighting a bloody battle below Mount Storm King, and the legend that the lake “never gives up its dead”.  That is until the story of the “Lady of the Lake” in the 1940’s, when a woman’s body surfaced after resting deep in the frigid lake for a very long time, her body preserved by the lake in a way that caused her flesh to assume a soap-like consistency.

Creepy stuff. I love it.

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Nonetheless, our quest to reach the Devil’s Punchbowl never came to fruition. About two miles in, instead of taking a side trail where the Punchbowl lay, we took a path through an old railroad tunnel that had been turned into a nice wide gravel path, and completely bypassed our target. Without knowing we’d missed it at the time, we kept on trekking another 6 miles or so and our 2 mile hike turned into about an 8 mile hike.

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Although we missed what we were looking for, the hike was spectacular nonetheless, offering gorgeous views of the lake and the forest, not to mention the two baby deer and a momma deer we saw on the way.

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After our much longer hike than we had originally planned, we spent some time with Amber’s family, celebrating her cousin’s birthday party, and throwing back a few beers. That evening, Amber took me into Port Angeles for dinner, as well as showing me the Port Angeles Pier, where we even spotted a sea lion surface in the water near the dock.

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Then Monday rolled around, and it was time to head home. We said our goodbyes and set off for Moscow for a somewhat grueling eight and a half hour drive home. Nonetheless, the trip was amazing, and I certainly can’t wait to do more exploring on the Olympic Peninsula. The area is incredibly unique, offering wilderness and beauty that can’t really be found in exactly the same way anywhere else. From the rainforests to the glacial lakes, to the ocean, wildflowers and wildlife, the Washington Olympic Peninsula is truly one of a kind.

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There was one big takeaway I had as it concerned where I feel comfortable and at home geographically.

When we were on the Pacific Ocean coast, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Port Angeles Pier, I had a strange uneasiness. The vastness and seemingly endlessness of these bodies of water created a knot in my stomach. I felt somewhat trapped by it, and a little claustrophobic. As we stood on the pier looking down at the water, a slight sense of panic even washed over my nerves that I couldn’t quite explain, and certainly didn’t express at the time.

But ultimately, I’ve truly determined that I’m meant to be landlocked. I’m quite happy in my north Idaho landscape, with wheat fields, mountains, forests, and much less threatening rivers and lakes making up the geography around me.

With that being said, I can’t wait for our next trip to western Washington, as there is an endless amount of exploring we’ve yet to do. Until then, I’ll stick to the massive Rockies over the monstrous Pacific.

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