Bellingham, WA to Astoria, OR

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September 19th 2012
Published: September 19th 2012
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We are dawdling somewhat, partly because we keep tailoring our plans to weather forecasts. In Seattle, we attended a Red Sox game (they won!), spent a day at Mt. Rainier, had a spectacular pizza at the beach in West Seattle. Then we headed off to the Olympic Peninsula, driving up the east side to Sequim and spending several days there. (For once, Wifi worked well, and we saw enough cable TV to be reminded how much of a waste of time it can be.) We happened to visit Port Townsend during the Wooden Boat Festival there, and that was very special. We spent a couple of days (and overnight in a hotel!) in Victoria, BC. We went up Hurricane Ridge outside Port Angeles and then continued down the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula - one night in LaPush (Twilight zone) and two at Kalaloch, then on to Astoria, Oregon, the top of the Oregon coast.


We were in Seattle just a few years ago, and saw a bunch of things then which we highly recommend: Japanese Garden, Locks and Salmon Ladder, Boeing plant in Everett, Sculpture Museum, Pike Place Market of course and crumpets, dinner cruise in the harbor, plus several nice beachside hikes. So we didn't repeat any of these explorations.

Our first treat this time was a Mariners v. Red Sox game. Beforehand, our friend Ron picked us up at a motel near the airport, where a couple of his friends were staying before flying to BWI to bicycle for a couple of months. MD to Baton Rouge to Jacksonville to VA. They are a really vigorous couple! We met other friends of Ron's in town and ate a very early dinner across from the Safeco stadium. The attendants at the stadium were extremely friendly, even when they learned that John and I are Sox fans. The stands weren't very full - may have been as many Sox fans as Mariners fans! The Sox came from behind to win.

The next day proved to be a cautionary tale. On our previous trip to Seattle, we didn't have any crystal clear days so that we could see white-capped Mt. Rainier looming over the city. I have a strong and cherished memory of how gorgeous that can be, and was determined that John would see it. When we arrived in Seattle this time, we could see the mountain better but it was rather hazy and much of the snow has melted. So we drove out to the mountain. And herein lies the tale.... We asked our campground hostess what route we should take. She recommended 410, which goes to the north and then the east of the park. Well... After way over an hour of driving, we finally reached the park and learned that the route from the east side to Paradise, the big hotel and visitor center midway across the park, was closed after Labor Day for extensive refurbishing. This necessitated a four-hour detour way south of the park, then west, north, and finally east to Paradise. There was one viewpoint/visitor center off of 410 and we started on that road, but it was curvy, steep, and replete with cliffsides, so after two miles of driving along the ten mile road, I turned around and went back. We later learned that that visitor center had closed after Labor Day too.

It was lovely at the Paradise visitor center. There were plenty of "regular" tourists as well as multiple guided groups of well-equipped climbers/hikers. But we got there so late in the day that we didn't feel comfortable taking even any of the shorter strolls. We ended up spending about ten hours driving that day. In Paradise, we enjoyed learning things about the mountain in the visitor center, and sat on a sunny deck savoring treats. Even soft-serve ice cream can be fun at times. In my other trip to Mt. Rainier a couple of decades ago, I had run into Ken and Barbara Andersen from Durham in the gift shop, but we didn't see anyone we knew this time. At least the weather was very pleasant, and we could see the mountain clearly when we were near it. We had good practice in remaining cheerful (making lemonade of lemons) but we do need to be sure our information is up-to-date on our next "side" trip.

The highlight of the next day (other than John washing all the windows in the vehicles...) was a fabulous pizza. Ron came to the campground after work and drove us to the Alki section in West Seattle, and we ate at Pegasus (we didn't learn why that name). The pizza had everything on it, layers and layers of delicious items, and it will be a cherished memory. Even the leftovers, the next day, "made our day." After the meal, we did the "required" Seattle thing: walked to a coffee shop. (There are hundreds of drive-through coffee "huts" in the city, often two at the same intersection.) We sat on a huge piece of driftwood at the beach, watched the lowering sun and all the people in the water and sand. Ron dropped us off rather early; because of Seattle's infamous traffic, he gets up at 4:30 AM so his work hours are early at both ends of the day.

It's weird that we always seem to be so glad to get back on the road after we spend three days in one spot. But we are. The drive up the east side of the Olympic peninsula was partly scenic, especially when we crossed the Hood Canal, the "largest fiord in the western hemisphere." We pulled into a nice, small campground in Sequim, which is honored in magazines as a great place to retire. And as we spent more time here, we did discover a bunch of good hiking/biking trails, etc.

We had planned to go to Port Townsend on Saturday, and how lucky we were to arrive when they were hosting the Wooden Boat Festival, touted to be the "premier" such in the country. It was a warm sunny day. The festival was well-run, with shuttle buses from the visitors center parking lot. And so on. There were hundreds of boats at the docks and in the harbor, and under construction in warehouses at the dock. We stopped first to look at the wooden replicas of the first "tourist" boats to go down the Colorado River, back in the 50's. Of course we thought of Brady and Susie and their trip on the Colorado last November-December on well-equipped rafts with highly experienced guides. My next stop was at a very small sailboat, and sure enough when I read the text (all the boats had a sheet about their spec's and history) I found it was a Beetle Cat restoration. My first experiences sailing were at Cape Cod on a Beetle Cat. Still, I am surprised that I recognized one! John's discovery of a familiar boat was at the other extreme, a 75' Trumpy like the one he had enjoyed near Annapolis with family friends.

We wandered around the small town. There were musicians playing pleasant live music on most street corners. The sidewalks were crowded, but there were plenty of benches - John sat on a few when I went into stores to browse and he kept getting involved in conversations with other resting folks. We found a small shop and enjoyed tasty turkey wraps. Before we left town, we drove awhile around the "upper" town, where there were lots of Victorian mansions. One of John's seatmates had told him that the "lower" town, at the docks, was formed by mud from the cliffs above piling up below. And steep, tall steps still connect the higher society (literally and figuratively) with the lower, where quaint shops now occupy the former bars, whorehouses, etc.

We extended our stay in Sequim because of forecasts of rainy weather, which did not materialize. But in Sequim we found an interesting walk at an old railroad trestle, and then one at the beach. (The beach walk required a fee, or our cherished Golden Pass, and I was struck that a woman working there was cranky and brusque about us signing in - it highlighted how gracious and friendly almost all of the other folks with whom we had interacted were.) We walked partway, but not all the way out the six mile one-way along the spit to the lighthouse. For anyone who has not visited the Pacific coast, the size of the driftwood along the beaches is astonishing. 24" diameter trunks are not uncommon.

We traveled on to Port Angeles and camped west of there at a state park overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Gorgeous view of the water, with BC in the distance. We were up early on a Tuesday morning to catch the early ferry to Victoria as walk-ons. That trip had a poignant highlight - the crew distributed yellow and white carnations which at a given moment we tossed overboard in honor of 9/11. As soon as we arrived in Victoria, we jumped on a tour bus to Butchart Gardens, which are about 45 minutes out of town. Our driver/guide was very informative and amusing, although he did dwell on the foibles of politicians a bit much.

There's no way to overstate the beauty of Butchart Gardens. There are several separate gardens with different themes; maybe the most important is the Sunken Garden that Jennie Butchart had filled in and planted after her husband's concrete business had mined it out. The day was warm and sunny, and we felt we were traveling through a wonderland. Back to town and we walked to our hotel (you don't need a car in downtown Victoria). We went out for a supper harborside and then back to sleep. I enjoyed soaking in a bath for the first time in months!

The highlight of the next day was a late breakfast at the Blue Fox. I had a fruit and granola and yogurt plate that was as lovely as I have ever seen. We wandered through a park where we were befriended by a sweet innocent guy named David. We treated him to a coffee at a cafe nearby. I went in the biggest used bookstore I have ever seen - there were literally millions of books. The first display I saw in the fiction section was piles of 20 each of Donna Leon books (I am fond of her Venice-set mysteries). We had a meal of beer and supernachos, and then boarded the late (7:30) ferry for the hour and a half ride back to Port Angeles. We made it back to our campground before the gate closed at 10:00!

Just inland from Port Angeles is the 17 mile windy drive up to Hurricane Ridge, from which you can see miles in every direction throughout the Olympics - unless there is fog and haze, and maybe smoke from the numerous wildfires raging near the Cascades, to the east. The haze cleared off mostly by noon.

We left Friday morning and drove south/east to the "Ocean Resort" campground at LaPush. Despite its name, it is quite primitive. On the property is the "Twilight cabin" which apparently was featured in the film based on the popular young adult book series. Fortunately, neither vampires nor werewolves visited during our stay. When we arrived, the area was totally fogged in so we had no clue what was just offshore. As evening approached, the fog slowly lifted and we saw the huge rock outcroppings not far out in the ocean - that was a strange surprise. We did meet some very nice other campers who raved about the Oregon coast highlights.

Next day, we drove through Forks (now that is really a Twilight zone!) to the Hoh Rainforest. We took a couple of pleasant walks through the forest. It has been so dry out here that the trees were not dripping moisture on us. But they surely were immense. We were interested that when one of the huge trees falls, as it slowly decays small trees start growing on the trunk and by the time it finished decaying, the little trees have grown considerably. So you see lines of trees like soldiers, rather than the usual randomly scattering.

We camped for the next two nights at the Kalaloch campground, about midway down the coast. On Saturday night, it was jammed full, but on Sunday, much less so. Saturday we stopped for a beer at the Kalaloch Lodge, and John asked if they had wifi connection in the lodge. Everyone burst out laughing, and told us that we could get wifi either 35 miles north or 35 miles south. Sunday morning dawned foggy, and although we expected the fog to burn off, it did not. We bought firewood and a Sunday paper, and sat atop the short cliff waiting for it to clear. Finally, midafternoon, we lighted the fire and enjoyed our first campfire of the trip.

On Monday morning, we went for a hike on the beach and then packed up and moved on. We spent the night at a pleasant campground in Hoquiam. (I needed some copies so we found a Staples; we caught up on laundry; we drove through Aberdeen which was affectionately known as "the hellhole of the Pacific" in 1900.)

We drove on through logging territory and finally reached the mouth of the Columbia River. Fortunately, the four-mile bridge over the river was not a terrifying ride, although I did get to drive the Corolla, just to be sure. We went first to the tourist info office where an energetic woman, whose daughter recently moved to Portsmouth, NH!, recommended we stay at the Fort Stevens State Park. We drove out there and were assigned one of the nearly-600 spots; the host said it is the largest park west of the Mississippi. We went out to a nearby restaurant, where John sampled the fried oysters.

Today is foggy - it was explained to us that the very warm temperatures in Portland, east of here, draw in the air from the ocean. It is in the 50's here and 70's inland. We are sitting in a coffee shop and will soon go to explore the sights of Astoria. Best to all, Linda and John


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