(Not so) fresh off a red-eye flight from Anchorage to Seattle, we were back in the Lower 48 with bags full of luggage, minds full of wonderful memories, and not the faintest inkling of an idea where to go next.
Throwing make-believe darts at a free map from a brochure stand in the SeaTac Airport, we got several hits on Olympic National Park, but felt we needed a day to regroup before heading there. We needed, first, an inexpensive place where there would be nothing to do except research and shower (Alaska had been rough). So, at a charmless hotel in a charming suburb outside Seattle, we spent a day and a half trying to map out a general route for the next six weeks. Despite being more or less sequestered in our hotel room throughout, poring over excesses of information, we were able to get out for dinner one night at a restaurant on the Puget Sound — and for that, a huge thank-you to Meg’s parents who treated us to it!
Olympic National Park
We stocked up in Port Angeles, delayed slightly by a painful conversation with a glib, young sandwich artisan who, upon hearing my accent, proceeded to ask me about zoos in South Africa. (“Do they have all, like, regular animals in your zoos? Like dogs and raccoons and cows and stuff? No, I’m serious. Coz ya’all have real animals in the wild anyways so you don’t need like tigers and lions and stuff in the zoo.”) We were in a hurry so I had to oblige: to this day, she’s putting too much mayo on people’s sandwiches because her mind is at the incredibly popular squirrel enclosure at the Johannesburg Zoo.
Immediately as we entered Olympic, we were surprised: it is so much more vast and varied than we imagined. Nearly a million acres of beaches, rainforest, mountains, glaciers, and alpine terrain are encircled by the Park’s boundaries.
We started off with hikes around the deep glacial Lake Crescent and nearby Marymere Falls, before making camp at Heart o’ Hills where Megan put her latest luxury clothing purchase to good use.
On a cold night up on Hurricane Ridge, we attended an astronomy program led by one of the rangers — far more impressive than I thought it was going to be. If that sounds nerdy to you, then you probably haven’t seen Saturn magnified 147 times.
On our way down to the Hoh Rainforest, via the Quinault River and the oddly-named town of Humptulips, there were two things we simply had to do, and by we I mean Meg, and by things I mean have me take these pictures:
If they mean nothing to you, pat yourself on the back: you have managed to avoid the Twilight saga. From what I can gather, it’s a story that takes four books to tell (and I thought I was long-winded), in which a pedophile wolf-Indian ultimately marries the six-year-old daughter of the doe-eyed new-girl-in-town teen misfit who, three books earlier, had rejected the same wolf-Indian in favour of the skinny pale goth with vampire rabies whom she repeatedly begs to infect her with his rabies, so he does — some time after they play baseball in a thunderstorm (symbolism!).
I’m not saying it’s the worst literature of all time, but it is possible to summarize the entire four-book series in a single set of emoticons on your phone while simultaneously navigating your wife through the troublesome streets of Aberdeen, WA.
The vampire city of Forks (interestingly, unlike its lupine equivalent La Push) has cashed in completely on the Twilight series. Forks itself is a quietly nice, but also kind of crappy town, surrounded on all sides by all manner of natural beauty, where it rains almost all the time, and were it not for Twilight, it would probably remain the kind of town where national parks tourists come to refuel and then leave. Now, it’s a pilgrimage destination. The city’s visitor centre is little more than a shrine to the saga (ask them where Bella supposedly went to school and they’ll direct you there by rote; ask where the public library is or about fishing in the area and they will need to consult some literature they stashed away some time before the first book came out in a filing cabinet in the manager’s office behind the broken coffee machine.) The sign on the door reads: Entering Forks, Population 3175, Vampires 8.5. Inside the building, a visual assault awaits, in the form of Twilight posters and cardboard cutouts of the movies’ actors and directions on where to go to enjoy this or that piece of the Twilight experience. Throughout town everything is Twilight (motels all “welcome Twilight fans” on their signboards; a campground claims to have the vampire/wolf treaty line run through it; and, my favourite, a guy who sells “Twilight firewood” for $5 a bundle. Can any camping experience be complete without $5 Twilight firewood as opposed to standard $5 firewood? I don’t think so.)
Before long, we were back in the heart of Olympic National Park, where we too had entered a glib world of animals both “regular” and weird. Walking through the luxuriant rainforest along the Hoh River, trekking the spine of Hurricane Ridge, hiking through maple groves and verdant fern understory, the entire endeavour had a certain Dr Seuss feel to it.
I don’t wish to sound silly about it — Washington State (Twilight and all) was amazing. It superseded our expectations terrifically. We loved it. It was so amazing and so loved, in fact, that we ended up giving it much more time than we had mapped out in that tiny hotel room outside Seattle. Everything would now need to be refigured — and to do that, we would need another tiny, nondescript hotel with wifi and nothing to do. This time the hotel was a short way outside Portland, in preparation for the Oregon leg of our adventure out west…