On Thursday, we turned our backs on Portland with all its quality of life resources to head back into the wild, making our way even further up the pacific coast line. For the next two nights we had two different campgrounds in mind, one on the pacific coast (Kalaloch) and one in the rainforest (Hoh).
Both destinations were in the Olympic National Park. There were several reasons I was very excited about the opportunity to visit this area. One is, that my favorite color is green. A favorite factoid of mine is that the human eye can distinguish shades of green more easily. Another reason is that growing up I read tons of books about plants and wildlife in the different regions of the world. If I recall correctly there was a time when I had thirty three plants in my room. It's not altogether surprising then that I'd be into visiting a rainforest.
First however we were headed for Kalaloch. It was at some point en route that we decided, for a reason that I can no longer recall, to stop at Kalaloch but to ultimately continue all the way to Hoh.
This ended up being a good decision, though stopping over at Kaloloch provided one of the most awesome animal encounters of the trip so far. See, Kaloloch is directly situated on the coastline. It is wedged between the roadway of US-101 and the surf of the ocean. We pulled over and parked the Omimobile intent on taking a short exploratory stroll down the beach in the afternoon sun. As usual I grabbed my trusty camera and we got on the way.
On the beach we found many things: sand dollars that were still fuzzy and yet to be cleaned by the water, hundreds of crab carcasses, huge pieces of driftwood, birds, shells, algae... All those things were cool and interesting no doubt, but the thing that will stick in my mind was when I noticed a bunch of seagulls milling about in the surf. At first glance I didn't notice and a couple of the birds just seemed unusually large. I called out to Whitney, "Hey Whit, look at these big birds!" I slowly made my way closer and just as I realized it, Whitney called, "Oh my, those are two bald eagles!"
Indeed right in front of us on the beach a couple of bald eagles were eating dinner (a culled seagull). Whitney and I had about 5 minutes or so, before they eventually took off.
We walked a little further and Whitney took a few pretty cool pictures of me standing on some driftwood logs, and then I tried to take a nice one of her and it didn't turn out so well.
We got back in the car for the final hour and a half of our drive to Hoh. We got some gas, two bundles of firewood, too. Not after long we exited the 101 and began the slow ascend up to the rainforest. The road wound it's way along the Hoh River. It's a beautiful drive going in and out of the forest as it grows thicker and thicker. Even though it was still hours until sunset it was already suspiciously dark driving between these huge spruces, firs and hemlocks.
Once at the campground we had to do two loops before we were able to settle on a spot. The grounds are on the bank of the Hoh River with the dense forest starting just beyond the parking lot and the visitor center. We put up the tent and got ready to make dinner as dusk was settling around us. Whitney prepared one of the best road dinners yet, with a super fresh salad (snap peas! raddishes! lettuce! pistachioes!) followed by lentils, with mixed mushrooms and a wonderful couple of links of white sausages. I mean we were eating like kings!
We cleaned the dishes, put the kitchen away and then overcame our social anxieties and joined the group of roadtrippers on the next campsite over for some CAH, with wine and beer. Thinking back now, we were pretty loud and I feel a little bit bad for that, but it was a pretty rare occasion so I'll ignore my guilty conscious and remember to forgive it the next time someone is inconsiderate and chalk it up to their rare occasion. That's how this works, right?
We woke up the next morning because it was hot. It was hot in the tent, and the reason for that was the sun. At the time the sun was pretty directly above us, because it was somewhere around 10 or 11am. Uff!
We crawled out and prepared a little bit of yoghurt with granola and fresh raspberries and a cup of coffee for breakfast.
I just want to take a quick second and get into a little issue that's been vexing us: milk. It's pretty obvious that fresh milk is not very travel worthy, because buying small quantities isn't cost effective and large quantities require constant cooling. Instead we had picked up what we thought was milk powder. We didn't read the ingredient's carefully though, so we ended up with a corn syrup product. It did make the coffee more light colored, but also made it taste like sh*t. Eventually we picked up some real milk powder which however comes with it's own set of challenges: it clumps like crazy so you have to mix it really, really, really well before you use it, but then it gets the job done, more or less.
Back to the story: I was really excited to finally get into the rainforest, but first we took a short walk down to the Hoh. It's beautiful down by the water. The sound of the river rushing by, the leaves of the trees at the bank. The rocky river bed and the little islands in the river. Between the rocks were thousands of different miniscule little flowers in all colors and shapes and there were patches of different moss and algae. Over the constant sound of the river we could hear the many bird songs.
We both, one by one balanced our way across a massive log to one of the islands in the river. I think we experienced that careful balancing act quite differently, because Whitney wasn't as enthused when she reached the other side. Whitney told me about how she hadn't liked gingerly crossing water over narrow pieces of wood since she was a little girl. As a cautious boy growing up I know that feeling of not getting out of your own head when you need to trust your body to it's thing. It's a tough thing, to convince yourself much less convince someone else that it's okay without "making them do it". On the other hand you know that doing it will give you that immense feeling of accomplishment and self confidence. That's a tough one.
We didn't walk across the log to get back to dry land. We opted for the (in my mind anyway) much more difficult task of wading through the ice cold river. The water temperature reminded me of that one time when I was in 8th grade and we went on a class trip into the Alps and on a hike came across a lake that was directly fed by a glacier. If you wanted to mimic the temperature I'd suggest you put cold water in your bathtub and then dump four 10 lbs bags of ice cubes into it. That should about do it.
Rather than go on a hike we decided to head down to Forks (yes, that Forks). I'm a fiend for sweets and trying to get better about it, but we'd talked about ice cream the entire driver up to Hoh, so when we drove by JT's Sweet Stuffs and they advertised ice cream AND free Wi-Fi, we stopped for both.
I guess we wanted to be fair & balanced and so we went down to La Push. Really we just thought we wanted to see the Pacific ocean one more time, but it turned out to be much more of a wildlife viewing expedition than we'd expected. We got down to La Push on the Quileute reservation and parked as close as we could get to the water.
As noted in the Best/Worst list post, it was later determined that La Push also would be our western most point on this trip.
At the beach we saw a good number of people who seemingly came here for a similar reason. A couple of motorcyclists, a 15 pass van of Croatian (?) lifeguards and so on. The weather was perfect . . . for Washington. It was cool and moist with a constant breeze from the ocean. The air was filled with that salty smell you get when you're at the ocean, seagulls and a haze that made it hard to see the tops of those iconic cliff islands just a couple of thousand feet of the coast.
We strolled towards the harbor, when we noticed the commotion the fishing boats would cause as they were returning from the sea. We saw sea lions, more bald eagles, golden eagles, seagulls and more vying for the spoils being thrown overboard. I was snapping some pictures of a particularly noisy seagull, when a family stepped out of the small house behind us to wave to their father as his fishing boat returned to the harbor. I'm likely romanticizing the idea of an intact old school fishing village, but there was definitely something nice about seeing that scene.
Fulfilled and with a camera chip fully filled with pictures we returned to Hoh. Whitney wanted to start on dinner, but I had to at least take a short hike in the rainforest and Whitney being the patient partner she is, relented.
There are basically two short hikes right by the campsite and so we decided to do the shorter one. The evening was slowly creeping in as we took the twisty path through the trees. Hoh's trees were similar in scale to the Redwoods we'd seen earlier and thus created a similar impression on me. Mosses, ferns and grasses, small bushes and hulking giants of trees. We saw many birds, spiders, a deer and the tracks of what looked like an elk. It's a wonderland, and one of the few places I've been to as an adult that makes me forget that I'm a grown up. I felt small and insignificant and at the same time a part of it.
Now, I was ready for dinner! Whitney's the chef, there's no doubt about that. I try my best to be a good helper, chopping and washing and cutting and salad saucing. In the end however it's Whitney who puts together one tasty camp meal after another. Thanks love!
After dinner we snuggled together next to a roaring campfire talking about this and that. The bottle of wine probably made it easier to dream up things we were looking forward to and to embellish the audacious adventures we conquered. Regardless it's nice to sit by a fire, even if it's just to look at the flames, there's always a fantastic quality to it. I miss doing big campfires.
Then we went to sleep.
Next morning we woke up earlier. It had rained overnight so our tent was completely soaked on the outside. Even before making breakfast, we broke camp, just in case it was going to start pouring again.
Whitney came up with the best breakfast idea yet: parfait. For about 20 minutes Whitney carefully layered strawberries, yoghurt and granola into a perfect breakfast treat and because they were put together in little cups we took a lovely morning stroll through the other campsite loop.
Once back at the campsite, we cleaned our dishes and readied the car for departure. Then we headed off back into the steaming rainforest. Because it had rained all night it seemed even more vibrant this morning. It was almost as if we could watch the plants expand and grow in front of us. Being the guy with the camera(s) meant I was running buck wild taking pictures of it all trying to capture the infinite detail and spectacular variety surrounding us. I'm honestly a little disappointed with my haul, but it really was a lot more challenging getting a good shot than I had thought.
Once back from our hour long hike (some would have called it a stroll) we bid the forest farewell and turned our eyes towards Seattle. We took the long way around the north of Olympic National Park, just so we could take a ferry!