Big Cedar Olympic Peninsula, Centralia Bordello Museum, Centralia WA, Chihuli Garden & Glass, Hoh Rain Forest, Kalaloch beach, Olympic Peninsula, Pacific Northwest, Ruby Beach, seattle, Seminary Hill Natural Area, Three of Earth Farm, touring the PNW, Washington State Ferries
#adventurelog, #ilovewhereilive, Adventure Log, Endgame, gratitude, Lake Quinault, Lake Quinault Lodge, legacy letters, letters from World War 2, May Sarton, Olympic National Park, Olympic Peninsula, Pony Bridge, Rialto Beach, solo camping, thanking our parents, Willaby Campground, world's largest trees
Dateline: July 23-16, 2018
Willaby Campground, Lake Quinault, Site 19
It’s an alternate plan after discovering the place I reserved in a timely manner in the Gifford Pinchot NF was not where I wanted to go. I’ve camped at Willaby three times now. The first was the only week it rained that summer, and was also an alternate plan. I had a reservation at Takhlakh Lake, but I didn’t want to camp in that remote place in the rain with no amenities other than a pit toilet. I don’t like camping in the rain, but my sister was coming from Virginia to stay with my mother so I could get away and I wasn’t about to cancel.
Now I think I will make it an annual camping spot; I do love it here. It’s 45 minutes from the ONP beaches, half a mile from the lodge (cold beer/dry and warm if it rains) and merchantile/cafe so I don’t have to prepare all my meals if I don’t want to. Also flush toilets, a light in the bathroom (also, unfortunately, a mirror), and potable water. Takhlakh Lake, where I’m going in September for maximum beauty and solitude with the fishing eagles and osprey, has none of those.
Departure day begins with killing some 50 yellow jackets in my house after I sprayed their nest the night before and drove them inside. I duct tape their access hole into the magic kingdom and leave a key for the exterminator.
I set up camp in a record one-hour, even with the 37 steps down to the secluded site with a view of the lake through the trees. Not bad for a site at the back of the campground, which I usually eschew. As for the 37 steps: I like walk-in sites, usually choosing them because they are closer to the lake or river and farther from the campground road. This one is a little much however, especially when food and toothpaste have to be returned to the car in the evening and retrieved each morning. The tent pad is a balcony, just barely big enough for my tent with a long step out the door, because I insist that the door, which has the only window, face the lake and the hills beyond. Still, I feel lucky to have scored it in the full campground.
I go to the lodge for a beer after I set up camp—late because of the yellow jacket invasion and needing to clean the Airbnb after the wait-until-the-last minute guests leave. I’m in bed early and watch the sun set over the water from my air bed. When the glow fades, I go to sleep with no idea what time it is. “Day is done, gone the sun, from the lake, from the hills, from the sky.”
When I awake with the early light, the lake is shrouded in fog, mist rising from the water. I get up, put my sweatshirt on over my pajamas and make coffee. I take it and my journal down to the lake and sit on a stump. The sun will come soon and burn away the fog as the day slips into another hot one.
My thoughts turn to my mother. She and I stayed at the historic lodge here—where, with great foresight, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Olympic National Park into being in 1938—a couple of times when I came home for a visit after my father died. Sad to say, I saw those visits as duty rather than days to be lived. When she finally lost her vision, those opportunities were lost. I still took her to Mt. Rainier, but she couldn’t really enjoy it. Yes, I do have regrets.
I sit hoping for eagles or osprey to fly over looking for fish, but there are none. A pair of herons come toward me, but I thought they were gulls until they were right overhead. They were flapping, so they weren’t raptors and I didn’t pay attention, so focused on what I wanted to happen that I missed what was happening. Pretty much like living with my mother and missing her essence while wanting her to be a different mother.
I do half sun salutations at the edge of the water then return to my campsite to build a fire and cook eggs with goat cheese and bacon. (Not over the fire; I’m not that ambitious.)
I struggled with what project to bring with me. I’d grown accustomed over the past few years to use my time away from mother care to work on my memoir…about mother care. But now it’s out there looking for an editor and I’m a little lost without it as I struggle to discern the next project. I brought a variety of possibilities.
I pick up the first of two bulky notebooks of letters my father wrote to his folks during his World War 2 service. As soon as I read the first letter, I’m hooked. I was bereft some time back when I finished the 500 letters he wrote to my mother. It was like he died all over. And now here he is again, my funny daddy, long before I knew him.
I sit by my small fire and begin to read. The letters begin after college. He’s working for the WPA in Ohio and doesn’t like it. He’s irked when he files his first income tax returns. After “penny pinching for a whole year,” he owes $19.45. He supposes since he’s “better off than many people, [he] should pay for the privilege. But on the other hand,” he writes, “I owe that to my parents, not Uncle Sam. Taxes would never pay them for what they’ve done though. In fact, I have no idea how they could be adequately repaid.” He thinks he can get a job with the Tennessee Valley Authority (where he will meet my mother). It pays $2000 a year. This is new information, before the letters to my mother begin. I’m elated.
When the fire goes out, I dress, make a sandwich for lunch, and head to the edge of the Pacific: Rialto Beach. I drive through Mora campground, where my family camped, remembering rising early with my father—the breakfast cook, at least the coffee. You can read about and view my beautiful foggy day here.
I sit by the fire again in the evening reading letters. I turn a page and am startled to see my mother’s straight-lined perfect penmanship; the hand that never changed, except, perhaps, for the cocky slant in the cross of her ts, in all the years I knew her. Until the last two years when she lost her vision. She had gone with my father to visit his folks before his induction into the Army. It would also be the last time she sees him for a very long time. She is embarrassed at letting a week go by without writing to thank them for having her.
I go to bed early. For the second night, I’m not staying up for the stars. I love bed. I’ll be up at day break with my father, just like I was when we camped at Mora.
I return to the lake the next morning. I’m later than the day before, it’s cold and the warm cocoon of my bed holds on to me. The fog is already dissipating when I reach my stump.
I’m going to hang around “home” today, on the lawn at the lodge with a book. But I finished the one I was reading last night. I brought three more and reject two of them, settling on May Sarton’s journal “Endgame,” about her 79th year that I found on my mother’s bookshelf. I read most of her journals years ago, then quit when they begin to detail May’s failing health, beginning with a stroke, then—in this one—irritable bowel syndrome. Rebecca gave it to my mother, according to the inscription, for her 79th birthday, 10 days before my father died. I wonder if she read it. Maybe I should have, in preparation for moving in with her.
On page 45, there are underlined passages:
“…doing the daily chores is all I can manage. I am living, I sense, against the tide of life itself. I don’t know how to wake up and get going…” “here I am wading around in oceans of time and wasting it!”
Wasting time was a theme of my mother’s when she wasn’t able to do what she did in stronger years. She never learned to value time at rest in daylight.
I thumb through the rest of the book looking for underlinings. There are a few over the next six pages about Nelson Mandela being released from prison, and Martin Luther King and their beliefs about when non-violent protest can and cannot work. And, finally, this one:
“Eating is hard for me still, and more often than not I settle for dry cereal for dinner.”
Then there are no more underlined passages. I weep for how hard life was for her, how alone she was, how much I didn’t care, and how courageously she kept going.
I have dinner on the deck at the lodge then go for a drive. I’ve never been on the other side of the lake. It’s far longer than I anticipated, but beautiful with the sun slanting across the sword fern through the rain forest that gets 10-15 feet of rain a year. And I just read this: “The largest specimens of Western Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Alaskan Cedar, and Mountain Hemlock are found in these forests, as well as five of the ten largest Douglas firs. It has the largest trees in the world outside of California and New Zealand.” Many of those largest trees have signage directing visitors to them. I remember going by horseback with my family for an official measuring of a Douglas fir around here, young enough to ride behind one of the researchers on his horse.
On the last morning, I build another fire and finish reading the letters. I’m glad there’s another notebook at home; I’m not ready for them to be over. This notebook ends just before he proposes to my mother. Having my father back through these letters is both beautiful and sad. All of the people he talks about, family and friends that I met over the years, are gone. All except my two cousins who were born to his eldest brother during the war years.
It occurs to me that these are my father’s legacy letters: a record of his values and who he was. I’m shocked by the depth of his mysogeny and racism. Was it the times in which he lived and I should just let it go? Did he overcome them? The racism, yes, I think so. Perhaps less so the mysogeny. But I don’t think my mother would have used words like “nigger” and “scrub woman.” I’m also blown away by his outspoken admiration for his mother and his upbringing, which he credits to her and tells her so. My children do not tell me they admire me, or thank me for what I taught them. And I did not tell my mother until the last weeks of her life. Yes, I have regrets. Not the ones she feared I would have, because she did, but my own.
I break camp. I’m ready. Three nights is just right. My reservation at Takhlakh is for four nights. I may leave early. Nice to have the option though. The last time I was there I wanted never to leave. I drive to the end of the road for a hike to Pony Bridge before I go home. You can read about that adventure here.
Back home in my own bed, the almost full moon is slipping down the valley. I bask in the glow that lights my room like day. I love where I live. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
On the first full day of my camping trip at Lake Quinault, I head to the coast. It’s just 45 minutes to my usual stops—Kalaloch, Beach 4, and Ruby—but I’m headed farther north this time. The fog hasn’t lifted yet when I get within half a mile of the Pacific. But when I turn east to skirt the Quileute tribal land, the cloudless sky returns.
Highway 101 passes the Hoh Rainforest and Forks, Washington (claim to fame, the location of the story in the Twilight book series) then turns back toward the coast on the other side of the reservation. When I come to the fork in the road, I take the right side toward Rialto Beach. Last time I was up here, I went left to LaPush, separated from Rialto by the Quillayute River. I stop at the deeply wooded Mora campground where I camped with my family of origin. If you didn’t know the ocean was half a mile away, you would never believe it.
Back on the road, I plunge back into fog. It’s eerily beautiful at the beach, the forest seems primordial, the gulls screaming, the bleached white drift logs that look like dinosaurs and whales, the gray standing snags. There’s art, including a mermaid grotto.
It’s been a long time since I was here. I eat my lunch and make a cairn or two, then walk down the beach. I know there are sea stacks out in the water, but they are hidden. I decide not to wait for the fog to lift, then change my mind as the stacks begin to appear. I sit on a log and wait. It’s warm, in spite of the fog and a breeze. The veil slips up slowly and I wait some more, anticipating the glittering waves under blue sky.
Then the fog changes its mind and the veil drops back down. That’s it. There’s an Adirondack chair and a beer in the sun at the lodge calling my name.
Dateline: July 26, 2017
Elevation gain: 900 feet
I wait until the last day of my camping trip at Lake Quinault to take a hike. (More about camping later.) After a last fire, leisurely breakfast (pancakes with tiny wild blackberries picked at my campsite), and breaking camp, I head to the end of Graves Creek Road beyond the end of the lake. Way beyond. Including 11 miles of gravel road beyond, following the Quinault River through moss-laden trees, sun rays turning them to gold, past glittering waterfalls.
Pony Bridge is on the way to Enchanted Valley, a backpack trip I’ve done three times; the first and last of them on through the Valley, over Anderson Pass, coming out at Dosewallips. It’s been a long time. More than 20 years since the last, with a party that included my teenage son. More than 50 years since the first time with a tribe of Girl Scouts.
It’s a beautiful little hike—five miles round trip, though my pedometer says closer to six—through the forest. I think there is no place else like the forests of the Olympic Peninsula. Really, there’s no place else like the OP; and I think that is a fact, not just my opinion.
It’s impossible to capture the enormity of the trees on a camera, though I try, then delete most of them when I get home. I continue to marvel at the sound these giants must make as they fall in a storm after standing tall for hundreds of years, eventually raising a new forest on the backs of the fallen mothers. When one tree uproots it thunders to the forest floor bringing others crashing down with it. It must be deafening. (I Googled for an audio recording, but didn’t find one.) There are many storms here, close to the ocean, as evidenced by the huge drift logs on the coast. It’s a wild place.
There aren’t many flowers here now, save for foam flower that lines the trail with clouds of delicate white. And berries. I eat plump red huckleberries as I walk.
I inch my way down into the river gorge to the bridge. It’s steep and rocky. I dread going back up. The “little” hike means short, not necessarily easy. As it turns out, the going down was more difficult than the going up, at least with trekking poles.
The river thunders through the narrow gorge walls, not at all the placid river with its wide bed along the road in. The rushing water gets to take a little vacation before it hits the sea. The water is deep blue and green under blue sky and beneath the canopy of hemlock, cedar, and fir, surrounded by the sword fern garden.
While I eat my peanut butter and apple sandwich on a log bench in a backpacker campsite, the pack of mules I noticed getting geared up near the parking area clip clops across the bridge. They are roped together (I didn’t get a good photo) and each carries what look like a pair of triangular metal saddle bags. I venture a guess that they are carrying trail repair tools or maybe something for the historic chalet in the valley. The chalet is hanging over the ever shifting river bed and is closed now, pending a hoped for second move farther from the river. It was moved 100 feet in 2014 and now is in danger again. I remember back to my first trip there when the camp group I hiked with went inside, though we slept in pairs in the meadow under our plastic lean-tos beneath the stars.
I walk up the trail and find a spur to the edge of the canyon for a look back at the bridge. I build a cairn so my mother can find it, then head back down the trail for home.
The leg pain above the back of my ankle started on the hike in. I re-laced my boots several times into different lacing patterns, tighter, looser; nothing helps. I’m really hobbling by the time I get back to the car. My new boots hurt for the first time after last week’s misadventure to Kendall Katwalk. I had to moleskin up for this hike due to a blister from that one. And now this. I Google it, of course. Perhaps the soleus muscle. It had better not interfere with next week’s hike back to Snowgrass Flat. I’m glad to reach the bridge at the parking lot and take off boots and don flip flops for the trip home.
My sister is a mostly solo shopkeeper; she doesn’t get out much. I’m a solo adventurer, so I don’t often ask if she wants to join me. Okay, never. But it was her birthday and she had shop coverage. I asked, she accepted. Being the locally world famous person she is, she had to be back for City Council meeting, so we couldn’t go far. We decided on Kalaloch beach on the OP, followed by lunch at Quinault Lodge, in the rain forest.
We don’t adventure the same. When she goes somewhere with a friend, they leave home at 11ish in cute outfits, have lunch somewhere, dinner later, and there is usually shopping involved. I leave at 6 in hiking pants, with a granola bar for lunch in my back pack, and there is always a latte involved.
But she wanted to go on one of my adventures, not hers. I promised to take her on a favorite hike when the wildflowers are blooming—we’ll see if that happens—but for this day we agreed on the beach. And she offered to be ready by 8:00 at the latest, after I told her it had to be early enough not already to have had coffee. She outdid herself, and I picked her up at 7:30. With lattes in hand, we headed northwest to the iconic Hwy 101.
It’s a familiar beach: we went to Kalaloch and Ruby, the next beach up, often as children. In later years, Kalaloch became our parents’ favorite, perhaps because of the cabins on the bluff. They took visiting grandchildren there, and I took my mother there several times in the years following my father’s death. I wrote about it here in a visit a few weeks ago just after her death.
This time I remembered to ford the creek and go north to see the so-called “Kalaloch Tree of Life” or “Root Tree.”
The Sitka spruce is a wonder, seeming to live on air after the ground eroded from under it. It should be dead; it should have collapsed long ago in the wild winters on the Olympic Peninsula that tosses drift logs around like toothpicks and permanently bends trees. No one understands how it survives, nor can I find anything that says how long it’s been like that. One “he said, she said” story, indicates at least 35 years.
We made cairns, filled our backpacks with round stones, agreed that although we love the OP beaches, it’s really the stones and driftwood we go for, not the surf and sun, and returned to Quinault for smoked salmon BLTs (Rebecca’s without the B) and beers on the deck of the lodge by the serene lake.
On the way out, we stopped at the Willaby Campground where I made a reservation last week for camping in July, not at the favored lake-side sites, but at the only site available for more than one night until mid-September (I suspect I caught a cancellation). I had cancelled the one I made months ago in the Gifford Pinchot, having checked it out in my own birthday adventure last week and found it seriously lacking. The new one is nearly perfect. I’ll be back next month, after Camp Gigi! Stay tuned for that!
Rebecca and I agree if we ever have to live together, which would challenge us, we should just travel. We do that well. But I might have to stop for shopping more often. She did buy a t-shirt in the gift shop. Adventure on.
#wordlesswednesday, amazing planet, amazing trees, cairns, Kalaloch, Kalaloch Root Cave, Kalaloch Tree of Life, miracle trees, Olympic National Park, Olympic Peninsula, Sitka spruce, wordless wednesday
#adventurelog, Adventure Log, Hood Canal, Mt. Zion, Olympic National Forest, Olympic Peninsula, Olympic Peninsula hikes, rhododendron, rhododendron hikes, solo hiking, Washington Trails Association, wildflower hikes
It was a long week. My mother’s memorial service was Saturday and there were guests in the house for a week. When everyone left, I knew I would have to turn my attention to the abandoned house and garden projects. I needed a break, so I took a friend up on her offer of the family vacation spot on Hood Canal, offered when my mother died six weeks ago.
The weather wasn’t great so I just did what my body told me it needed: three naps in one day. But before I left for home, I went to Mount Zion.
The hike in the Olympic National Forest just north of Quilcene has been on My Backpack list on the Washington Trails Association site for a long time. It’s claim to fame is rhododendrons and I’ve been waiting for them to be in bloom. There hasn’t been a WTA trip report since mid-May, when they were not blooming yet.
It was an overcast day, and I’m a fair weather hiker, but I was halfway there from home, so I decided to go for it. It was the rhodies that was the draw after all, not views.
The trail head is 10.5 upward miles of Forest Service road from Hwy 101. The potholes weren’t too bad; Flutterby took them with ease. I saw no other cars as I climbed into the clouds. I did start seeing rhododendrons along the road though, a good sign. But I was feeling increasingly isolated, and I had forgotten to tell my sister where I was going. “Maybe,” I thought, “I’ll just go to the end of the road, eat my lunch, and head back down.”
But when I arrived, there was a car in the lot! It never occurred to me that the sole party on the trail might be an ax murderer, because I don’t think that way. I just knew I wouldn’t be alone. The long-abandoned pickup truck hanging off the edge of the parking area was a little ominous, I admit.
I suited up: boots (I’d forgotten my boot socks, only had shorties and wasn’t sure how that would work), knee straps, poles, driver’s license in case my comatose body needed to be ID’d, and camel pack and headed across the road to the trail head. It was chilly. I have never taken my jacket on a hike, but I left it on. As it turned out, I never took it off.
Of course the trailhead signage included the cougar warning and what to do in a rare sighting. Tell that to the hiker who was killed by one a few weeks ago, a story I chose not to read. I took my newly acquired can of bear spray out of my pack and put it in my pocket.
There were rhodies right away! And, true to the WTA report, the trail headed “up” right away. It’s a short hike, just 2.3 miles to summit—another half mile if you go beyond to a vista overlooking Puget Sound, the Olympic mountains, Mt. Baker—with a 1300 foot elevation gain. People use it for quick workout, the WTA says. People are nuts.
Did I mention it was chilly and damp? Mist hanging about in the dripping-lichen trees. And quiet; very, very quiet. “Maybe,” I thought,” I’ll just go for a little ways, then turn around.” But the rhodies were oh so pretty next to the trail and through the trees, just short of prime with some still-closed buds. My feet kept walking. “I’ll turn around a half hour in,” I thought.
I came upon a view point over the valley, but low hanging clouds obscured the horizon. Maybe it was the damp—I’m used to sunny hikes—that gave it a creepy vibe. I started thinking about cougars, forgetting the part about how rare it is to see one. And where was that other hiking party? I started thinking about ax murderers.
I checked my watch. The half hour had passed. It really wasn’t as steep a trail as I’d anticipated; I’ve been on far more strenuous. The socks were good, my knees were good (they’ve been bothering me a bit lately). And it really was pretty. Lots of rhododendrons. “Okay, I’ll turn around at the one hour mark,” I promised myself. I’m not a quitter when it comes to hiking. And I was feeling a little less uneasy.
Then I heard them. Voices. I rounded a corner, hoping not to startle them. My bear bell was tinkling, but it’s not very loud.
Two young women. Not ax murderers! We chatted. I asked them if it was much farther to the summit, said I had never been anxious hiking alone, but was a bit today, thinking about turning back. They said I was brave, and agreed that the weather cast a bit of a creep factor. “It’s not much farther at all!” they said. “The rhodies are beautiful. There’s not much view, but the shifting clouds are pretty. Maybe it will clear for you.”
Their “not much farther” and my “not much farther” are different. But I arrived. I did not use the outhouse. I walked most of the way out the point, beyond the summit. The rhodies at the top were short of prime, another week maybe, but beautiful in the mist.
There was going to be no view though, so I finally turned back. I’ll have to come again in the sun for the view. But this time, there were rhododendrons.
The parking lot was empty when I got back to Flutterby. And I met no one on the road going down. I was very glad not to have to worry about my car breaking down. When I got to the highway I started breathing again. I think I’ll stick to sunny day hiking.