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As I drive west today, away from the source of the smoke that is blanketing the Pacific Northwest, if not away from smoke itself, I recall my promise to myself early in August to get to my beloved Ruby Beach before I hang up my adventure shoes for the season. I needed to redeem the disappointment of Oregon’s Cannon Beach. (I’ll get back to “not my mountains” tomorrow, the other Oregon disappointment.)

Plan A for today had been Paradise, but it is not paradise there today. I don’t have a Plan B at 5:30am. All dressed up and nowhere to go. There’s no point in going anywhere in the Cascades or the Gifford Pinchot; while Texas floods, we’re on fire in this corner. That leaves the Olympics. Such a wealth of options in these parts.

I check “My Backpack”—saved-for-later hikes—on the Washington Trails Association website (big shout out to that organization). Marmot Pass is a possible, but I decide it needs 1) flowers, and 2) no smoke. Next summer for that one.

The beach! The beach. Have I mentioned I’m not really a beach person? It occurs to me that I could stay home and make applesauce. But I’m committed to my weekly adventures; soon the rains will start—I hope. A friend is staying in a cabin at Lake Quinault, I could stop and see her on the way back. Okay. I repack my knapsack for the new plan and take off for the coffee kiosk. I’m almost to the coast when I remember my earlier promise for beach redemption.

I know it isn’t going to be a blue sky day, in spite of a forecast of 90 degrees (which is ridiculous at a far north beach). The sun glows red through the haze that completely obliterates the sky and the mountain tops, but keeps the temperature pleasant.

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I whiz past Kalaloch, my parents’ favorite beach, and stop at Fourth Beach to see if I can get to the pools in the rocks and their sea life before the incoming tide covers them. I rarely get here at low tide, the problem with day trips. Though I find only one sea star (perhaps they are already submerged), there are many green, yellow, and pink anemone. I love the rocks and patterns at this beach. Each beach along the upper coast of the Peninsula holds a different gift.

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I drive the last few miles to Ruby Beach, my favorite on this wild coast line. I take only ONE photo from the iconic overlook at the edge of the parking lot (and another from half way down the trail). There is no shortage in this house and on my computer of photos of this view taken by multiple photographers and featuring multiple family members and guests over the decades.

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I note the bumper crop of drift logs this year. A bridge across the fresh water creek in which both I and my sisters and my children have floated on logs (looking forward to my grandchildren continuing the fun), is the most elaborate I have ever seen in my decades of visiting this beach. I don’t use it, it looks a little sketchy. There are so many logs in the creek, it’s the easiest ever crossing.

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And the most amazing fort I have ever seen! An architect and pals must have been here earlier in the summer. I want to move in.

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I walk the beach in both directions—sometimes on the logs, remembering our childhood game of seeing how far we could go without stepping off a log—photographing the sea stacks, watching waves break against the rocks, and making cairns (inukshuks) on a log, I wonder why, in all the searches at this beach for perfect round stones in my childhood, we never engaged in this art form! Or do I just not remember?

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I love this beach. Given all there is to do here, I don’t wonder at how I never cared to go to Atlantic beaches (or the one I visited in Oregon). And still, my beach attention span is short here too. After an hour, I’m ready to head inland.

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As I drive back to Lake Quinault, I marvel as I do every time I’m here at this unique place where the forest meets the sea, and 45 minutes inland is the rain forest. A few gravel miles from the end of the lake are the trail heads into the mountains. Is there any other place like this on the planet? And how is it that I get to live here? I am beyond lucky.

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