In early spring of 2007 I decided to quit my job, sell my house along with nearly everything else that I owned, and to live out of my car while traveling the country. These are my stories (and pictures) of life on the road.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Olympic Wrap-Up

It's finally time to sit down and write my overdue wrap up of my time in the Olympic Peninsula. After leaving Albin's place and spending a few days at Harv's in Vancouver, BC I had a little over a week until I had to be in Tacoma to work for a couple weeks. I figured I'd spend a few days in Olympic National Park but it ended up turning into the whole week and I still would have liked to stay longer. I didn't write many updates of my adventures while I was their because I decided I'd wait until I'd left and then write about it as a whole instead of bits and pieces. For anyone not familiar with the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park it's a nearly 1 million acre National Park which encompasses a temperate rain forest. There are no roads through the park and most don't get more then a few miles into it before you have to get out and hike to see more.

I arrived to the park on a Monday afternoon and started by driving up the western edge of the park, figuring over the course of the week I'd just make the large circle around the peninsula which would get me back in the Tacoma area. It wasn't until early evening that I got to the Hoh rain forest and hit a hiking trail. It was a great start to the trip. A nice, flat, easy trail that followed the Hoh river through the park and led all the way to Mount Olympus. That was about a 20 mile hike though and I didn't figure my knee had quite that much in me. I settled for an easy 6 mile round trip hike.

I didn't really know what to expect from the rain forest; but I was impressed. It's not like there are monkeys swinging around in the trees or anything but it's incredibly lush with moss and large ferns growing everywhere. Some of the trees in the old growth sections are enormous and when I counted the rings on a section of trunk that was cut from a dead tree that fell over the trail I found it was over 300 years old; and this was far from the largest tree I saw in the park.

One of the neat things about the Olympic Peninsula in general is a the variety of things to do. There aren't any really large towns but Forks on the west side offers something to do and Port Angeles on the north side is bigger yet and offers a good variety in restaurants and more to do. Since it's a peninsula that obviously means there's water near by. There are many different beaches scattered all around the peninsula that vary from sand to pebbles to jagged rocks. The second morning that I was there I drove up to Tongue point on the north side of the island and woke up early to catch the low tide so I could go exploring the tide pools. This is something I'd always thought would be really fun to do but I never have before.

It was so cool to see crabs scurrying everywhere over the rocks, to see urchins, anonemes, and starfish hiding in the deeper pools, and to watch the hermit crabs of all sizes crawling around the shallower pools. There was an amazing amount of life in these little pools and it was fun just to sit next to a small one and watch for about 15 minutes as they came to life before your eyes.

Although the water in the PNW is much too cold for swimming the beach is still an excellent place to cool down on hot days. Some really hot weather came through while I was there for the week with temps get into the upper 90's. After an early morning hike in the rain forest before it got too hot I headed to the beach I the middle of the day. It was magical just to stand on the beach letting the occasional wave rush around your ankles while watching and listening to the waves crash on the shore. There were a few other people enjoying the cool breeze coming off the water and I could see a bald eagle fishing just a little ways off shore as well as a few seals floating in the water just beyond the breakers. My favorite part of that beach was the noise. The beach was made up of tiny, round pebbles so when a large wave would come up it would wash these pebbles up on the beach and then they'd all roll back as the wave retreated. You would initially hear the rumbling crash of the wave hitting the beach followed by an even louder raspy noise as the pebbles washed over each other chasing the retreating wave back into the ocean.

My knee had improved a lot over the previous few days and it had got a lot of it's mobility back. It was a hot day so I decided that for the first time in about a month I'd give kayaking a try. Knowing that with my injured knee getting in and out of the kayak would be extremely difficult and unsafe I thought about leaving it behind in Portland where I'd pick it up when I was back there in August, but I'm glad I decided against that because on a very hot day I found Mills lake a perfect place to get back into it.

The lake was created by damming up a glacier fed river and even in middle of July after some very hot weather the water temperature was still under 50 degrees. The lake was peaceful and calm and it felt great to be back in the kayak again. I paddled to the end of the lake and then paddled as far up the river as I could get until it got too shallow for me to pass. I got out on a gravel bar and just enjoyed the scenery for a while before heading back.

One morning I woke up early and hiked up Hurricane Hill. It was pretty steep but it's a short and easy hike. I've been lucky that mosquitoes haven't been bad at all so far on this trip, but that all changed in the Olympics. The mosquitoes seem to thrive in the rain forest (imagine that) and even though I was at fairly high altitudes they were out in force. Thankfully I had bug spray with me but even then there was a constant swarm around me every time I stopped. My camera must have smelled good because if I had it sitting on the tripod it was always crawling with mosquitoes. They were as bad as I've ever seen them in Iowa or Minnesota.

A little farther up the hill I ran into a guy sitting in a meadow with an antenna and swatting mosquitoes like crazy. I offered him my bug spray and he was very relieved. Turns out he's paid by a University in Montana to track Marmots. Turns out the Olympic Marmot that lives in Olympic National Park is a totally different species then all the other Marmots in the area. It's not found anywhere else in the world and its numbers are in sharp decline. He said that about 12 years ago there were about 12-15,000 of them in the Olympics, now they think that number is down to about 2000. He said that just last year in the meadows that we were currently in that they had tags in about 14 marmots, this year only 4 of them are left.

I asked if it was people coming in that were driving him out but he said it wasn't, that most of the decline seemed to be coming from increased predation, mainly from the coyotes. They're really not sure why this is happening all of a sudden and that's what they're trying to figure out. They're afraid if it doesn't turn around that in another 10 years there may not be any left. Who knew!? Now I wish I would have taken a picture of that marmot that had just been sitting about 20 feet in front of me a little while earlier.

By the middle of the week I found myself on the East side of the Peninsula where I took an evening hike. The east side of the park is more mountainess and the vegetation was quite different then the rain forests on the west side. The trees were smaller and my hike was pretty uneventful. I basically followed along the side of a mountain so there was a very steep slope directly above and below me that was thickly covered in trees. There never seemed to be a break in the trees so there wasn't really anyplace to get a good look at the surroundings. It was pretty boring and being on a west facing slope towards the end of a hot day didn't make it any more pleasurable; so I cut the hike short and after having a little camp fire that night decided that I'd drive back to the west side of the park the next day. After all, I'd come to the Olympic Peninsula to see the rain forests so that's what I was going to do.

As I was driving back west I pulled out a business card I'd gotten from Chip Keen when I was at Albin's place. I'd never met Chip before but knew him a little bit from iATN. He turned out to be a great guy and gave me a business card for a resort that he and his wife owned saying that if I was in the area to stop by. He'd told me at the time where it was but being unfamiliar with the area it didn't mean much to me where he said it was. But when I looked at the card now I saw that the resort was in Forks, the very area I was driving too, perfect!

I found their place late in the morning and found it to be a beautiful little resort tucked back just off the road right next to the river. Chip and his wife Linda were both greeted me with open arms and offered my lunch, which I couldn't possibly turn down. They cooked up some steak and salmon and we had a fantastic little meal. Just as we were finishing the meal a friend of theirs pulled up in his truck and gave them a large steelhead trout he'd just caught that morning in the river. I didn't know it at the time but this was to be my dinner that night.

Chip said that if I wanted to go kayaking that the river right in front of the resort was a great one to paddle and that it was about 6 miles downstream to the ocean. It sounded like too much fun to pass up so Chip helped my drop my car off at the coast so I'd have a way to get back and after driving back to the resort in his car I slipped the kayak in the water and headed downstream.

The current was pretty swift and it would have been an easy float but it felt good to be back in the boat again and I was looking for a workout so I paddled pretty hard the whole way. Still, it was a very enjoyable trip and I took plenty of time to rest and enjoy the scenery. There were a lot of Mergansers around with al their babies and I got to see my first river otter too. The neatest things that I got to see though was just before I reached the ocean I saw a bald eagle take down a sea gull. The gull saw the eagle coming and managed to avoid the initial attack. After that I thought for sure the gull would be able to out maneuver the eagle just above the water and that it would get away. Unfortunately for the gull it zigged when it should of zagged and the eagle nailed it; carrying it to a piling where it began to prepare its meal by pulling out all the feathers. It was quite a site and one that I'd never seen before.

After reaching the ocean and loading my kayak up I headed back to the resort to see if I could talk Chip into letting me use his shower before I mosied along. He said I was welcome to take a shower and that they'd also had a last minute cancellation and that I was welcome to stay in the room that night if I wanted and to eat the fresh steelhead with them for dinner. Needless to say I was really happy I'd decided to come back to the west side of the park that day.

A couple more of Chip and Linda's friends showed up that night and we had a wonderful evening talking, eating, and drinking a few bottles of wine. One of the bottles was the ugliest bottle of wine any of us had seen, which was the reason it was purchased. We were all a little disappointed when the wine turned out to be not too bad. Then again, it was the 3rd bottle so anything probably would have tasted good by then.

After a lovely evening I retired to my room and instantly it made me want to build a small little cabin by a river. It was small but seemed to be laid out perfectly and had everything I needed. The living room, kitchen, and dining rooms were all combined with a nice little corner sofa and original miniature stove and refrigerator. Off that was the bedroom and bathroom. I think I could be really happy living in a place that size. In fact, I think I need to live in a place that size to keep myself from acquiring too much junk that I don't need. I honestly don't know where all that junk came from when I cleaned out my house!

I woke up refreshed the next morning and found Chip was already gone but I was able to say goodbye to Linda before heading out for one last hike that Chip had recommended for me. I'd be hitting the Bogachiel trail and it would be my last hike before I had to start heading towards Tacoma. The trail was a great recommendation! It was a pretty easy hike, which my knee needed, but offered some great scenery right through the heart of the rain forest. The day started out hot and sunny but it stayed pretty cool I the woods. One of my favorite things that I've found hiking around the mountains is all the streams that tumble down them from melt water and runoff. The streams area always clear, cold, and lush; making for an even greener belt it what already seemed an impossibly green landscape. I don't know if there's anything much more welcoming on a hot day hiking through the woods then coming upon one of these streams; because not only does the cold water come flowing down the mountain, it also brings with it cold air currents. The wind can be dead calm but if you find one of these streams you'll find a refreshing breeze constantly flowing with it that cools you down in a heartbeat. It makes it tough to leave the area and head back into the woods again!

I was lucky enough to find some ripe berries to eat along my hike which made for a great snack. I'm not sure what kind they were but I'm still alive so I guess they weren't poisonous. The really good berries were out in the sun. I found more berries in the shade of the woods which I thought looked like the same plant by the leaves but the berries were mostly orange with some red and purple ones. All of them seemed ripe but they were all pretty disgusting. They looked so good though that I must have tried half a dozen different plants along the way thinking maybe they'd be good on this one...they never were though.

After I reached mile 6 on my hike I was getting really tired. Not worn out and sore tired, but like “I want to go to sleep” tired. So I found a little side trail that led over to the Bogachiel river and I laid down next to the clear water, used my pack as a pillow, and took a 45 minute nap. It was just what I needed, I woke up refreshed and turned around to start heading back to the car. Just after I started back it started to rain, which I guess I should expect when I'm in the rain forest. I hadn't thought ahead to bring my rain jacket though because all week it had been brutally sunny and hot. The large woods provided good cover though and kept me pretty dry overall. There were quite a few banana slugs out before but now that it started raining they came out in force. I couldn't believe how many there were. At times there would be so many in one spot I really had to choose my steps to keep from squishing some of them. I'm still amazed at how big they are. I'm used to seeing slugs from back home in Iowa that are only about an inch long and pretty unimpressive. I'm sure that a couple of the Banana slugs that I saw fully stretched out though reached close to 10 inches long, 8 inches easily.

By the time I got back to the car it was pretty late in the day and I'd hiked 12 miles. It feels great to be getting some mobility back after injuring my knee and being able to get out on these longer hikes again. I'm really looking forward to it improving to the point where I can do some more strenuous hiking instead of mainly sticking to flat land stuff.

All in all I had a fantastic time on the Olympic Peninsula and I could have easily spent another few days there. From the beach, to the forests, to the mountains there are just tons of different things to do in the area and there's enough civilization to keep you from going crazy should the weather turn bad and keep you from getting out it the woods. Many thanks to Chip and Linda for making my last couple days in the area extra special. If you're going to be in the area and are looking for a place to stay then look no further. Their website cane be found here

Click here if you want to see more pictures of my time in the Olympic Peninsula

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You've reached the end of the page but that's not the end of the stories. If you want to read more (and who wouldn't!?) then click on the archive links to the right hand side of the page. They're listed by month; the adventure starts in May.

The February archives aren't actually from this trip but are previous adventures I've had, which are worth reading as well.