Friday, March 25, 2016

Pacific Northwest road tripping, part two.

The general post-Orcas Island plan, Part Two, via blurry Google map:

(9 hours 27 minutes, give or take another few days)

(Previous posts about our Orcas Island->Forks stops here, and our stop in Hoh Rain Forest here. There, now you're all caught up.)

Sixth stop: Olympic National Forest and our very first campsite after we left Portland back in April 2013. We didn't camp here this time around, because anything amazing is rarely as good the second time. But talk about surreal!

day one, 2013

day one-zero-four-four, 2016

Seventh stop: Aberdeen and Kurt's memorial park. We are GenX. It had to be done.

taking our time, hurrying up

"I'm telling you for the LAST time: Courtney did it."
- Patrick

The rain started to pour shortly after the above picture was taken, so we took the opportunity for an extended lunch in Aberdeen's Denny's (because there's not much else to choose from in Aberdeen) and endured a Grand Slam planning session.

This is what we came up with... We blame the pancake puppies.

South Bend, WA's claim to fame

Just kidding. We did pass through South Bend and enjoyed this photo op (and we did eat pancake puppies - although I wouldn't say we enjoyed those, exactly). But back at the Aberdeen Denny's we had decided to high-tail it to our eighth stop, Long Beach, and see about camping in Cape Disappointment State Park.

Neither the park's name, nor the weather forecast, boded well. Our camp host pointed us to an amazing site that he thought would be perfect shelter during the rain (and sometimes wind and hail) storms that were predicted for the next few days. We paid our dues, settled in, and crossed our fingers.

camp host and site #113 for the win!

Our first evening featured clear skies and a beautiful sunset overlooking Cape Disappointment lighthouse.


We weren't so lucky the next day, but that was okay - our camp host was right and all our gear stayed perfectly dry. After breakfast and a brief, slightly wet walk through peaceful Willapa National Wildlife Refuge...

( ... beautiful ... )

... the rain started again so we visited Long Beach's World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame, a small but worthwhile warehouse of cultural and historic kites.

definitely worth the $5 admission

Between rain showers, we also hit Long Beach's quirky Marsh's Free Museum and took a few ridiculous photo ops downtown.

 next stop: fire

But that was enough kitsch for one day. The Lewis & Clark Museum in Cape Disappointment was closed on Mondays (disappointing!) but the surrounding trails were open, so we meandered up the cliff to the lighthouse before heading back to the campsite to hunker down for another rainy night.

the west is the best

Annnnd after our second night of rain pounding the tarp, and our sixth night of winter camping, we'd had enough. Hello, cheap motel at our ninth stop: Astoria! (A shower with towels - did I mention we forgot towels? A real bed that doesn't require inflating - did I mention we brought the small camping air mattress but forgot the pump? Wifi, walls, heat. Not having to put your shoes on to use the bathroom. Do not take these things for granted, people.)

Astoria was cold, incredibly windy, overcast, and occasionally hailing that day, plus we'd both been there many times and had already done all the mandatory Astoria things. So this time we just hit a few highlights...

we went over to Mikey's dad's place 
and we found this map 
that said that underneath this place 
there's buried treasure

40mph winds = one blurry picture of the column 
taken from the car

Ft George Brewery flight - we only liked a few,
but Blue Scorcher cafe next door was amazing

After these quick stops we went back to the hotel to enjoy the hot tub (!), watch the debate (@%&*!), and check the next day's weather. All signs pointed to rainy windy cold camping (@#$%&!!!), or another motel along the route we'd both visited dozens of times already, or just sucking it up and making a long coastal drive the next day. We opted for the long drive.

By "long drive," I mean loooooooooooooong drive...

hour one: showdown at the Peter Iredale shipwreck

hour two: mandatory photo op

hour three: mandatory squeaky cheese op

Hour four: I stopped taking pictures because it was raining too hard.

Hours five and six: extended traffic stops while workers cleaned up roadslides along Highway 101, during which we relived our favorite moments from our 2012 ExplOregon vacation.

Hour seven: "I don't care about finding Thor's Well it's raining it's cold it's dark I'm tired let's just GOOOOOOOOO." (Guess who said that?)

Hour eight: "THANK GOD, FLORENCE." (Guess who also said that?)

Hour nine, tenth stop: Eugene.

The end.

Time to clean out the car, help with some family stuff, and then head to southern Oregon for the summer. Because that's what normal people do, right - head to the hottest part of the state for the summer?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pacific Northwest road tripping, part one.

The general post-Orcas Island plan, Part One, via blurry Google map:

(6 hours 4 minutes, give or take a few days)

First stop: Port Townsend, where we picked up minor camping supplies we'd forgotten to pack back in November. You know, like a tarp, propane, a saucepot, a knife... Totally minor things like that.

We camped at Fort Flagler Historical State Park across the bay from Port Townsend that night.

site #74 - first campsite of the year!

"Fort Flagler, along with the heavy batteries of Fort Worden and Fort Casey, once guarded the nautical entrance to Puget Sound. These posts, established in the late 1890s, became the first line of a fortification system designed to prevent a hostile fleet from reaching such targets as the Bremerton Naval Yard and the cities of Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett. Construction began in 1897 and continued in one form or another until the fort was closed in 1953." (Washington State Park web site)

one of the many battalions

It was interesting to wander around the enormous hundred-year old battalions trying to figure out how they operated back in the day. In 1000 years, this will all be ancient history, just like the Asian temples and Roman ruins we visited over the last few years... Crazy.

Fort Flagler's campground offers beachfront sites but it was cold and windy during our stay so we opted for a quiet site tucked back in the trees. We did visit the beach for a few moments...

Fort Flagler sunset

Not bad for a first stop.

Second stop: Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge near Port Angeles, featuring one of the world's longest sand spits. It was huge - five miles huge! You can walk or run the entire strip and tour the lighthouse at the end of the spit. We only had time for a quick walk, but it was a beautiful day and Mount Baker made a nice hazy backdrop for the lighthouse far, far away.

aerial shot here

After our walk we revisited Port Angeles, which was a bit surreal - that's where we caught the ferry to Victoria almost three years ago. (But that definitely wasn't the most surreal part of this little road trip, which is coming up in Part Two.)

Third stop: Neah Bay, the northwesternmost point in the continental United States. Beautiful views, a quirky campground at the beach, and dozens of bald eagles along the winding drive to and from the bay.

hiking in Cape Flattery

 life imitating life in Neah Bay

simple but functional choose-your-own campsite 
right beside the beach

nothing says "coastal Pacific Northwest" 
like a pine cone in the sand

he really does look like a muppet...
or vice versa

The best thing about most of Part One was that we'd both explored the Pacific Northwest quite a bit (individually and together) but these stops were new to us. We enjoyed them all for very different reasons.

Not true for our fourth stop, which we passed briefly through in 2013 and didn't particularly enjoy that time either. We did the ridiculous photo op... and then got the heck out of there.

 Team Buffy

From here we hit Olympic National Park's Hoh Rain Forest for a few days, then continued with Part Two of our road trip... Trying to eek out every second of our last FUNemployed days before spending eight months in one place!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Two days in Olympic National Park's Hoh Rain Forest.

"Let's take a road trip down the Pacific Northwest coastline and camp the whole way, even though it's winter and we have absolute minimum gear!"... said no sane person, ever.

We got pretty lucky with our overall post-Orcas Island road trip at the end of February, all things considered. One bummer was that due to our timing, we couldn't camp - or spend much time at all, really - in the northeastern areas of Olympic National Park.

Luckily, the park also includes stretches of beach and beautiful rain forest on the western side. Our national parks annual pass expires this month and we were determined to get one more use out of it, so we headed to Olympic's Hoh Rain Forest hoping for two rain-free nights. We got pretty lucky with that too, all things considered...

The hikes. There are three short loops near the visitor center that showcase some amazing trees. After setting up camp we meandered around the Hall of Mosses Trail and Mini-Trail-of-Informative-Signs (the Spruce Nature Trail was closed for maintenance while we were there).

 branch of mosses

trees of mosses (and teeny tiny Patrick)

The next day we headed up the Hoh River Trail to Five Mile Island. "Stunning" doesn't even begin to describe this hike. The day was pretty overcast so many of our pictures don't do it an ounce of justice... Just trust us.

I didn't do it

 one of two beautiful waterfalls

the "island" at 5 miles,
with a view of  Bogachiel Peak

fun for kids of all ages

serenity now

The Hoh River Trail goes on for about 18 miles and there are several backcountry campsites along the way... Also known as "our reason to go back to Hoh Rain Forest."

The campsite. After our national parks road trip last summer, we vowed to never camp in a national park again. We looked into other options but Hoh Rain Forest is pretty remote so it wasn't really practical to camp at a nearby state park. And although a younger neighbor at our Neah Bay campground had recommended several free primitive camping areas along the Hoh River, given our uncertainty about the weather and our lack of equipment on this trip (and - let's be honest here - the fact that we're getting soft in our old age), we begrudgingly opted for the Hoh campsite.

a river runs beside site #14

The site itself was perfect and we could walk right to the trails, but our string of luck with inconsiderate neighbors continued for 48 full hours. We will never camp in a national park again!

The food. It rained around dinnertime both nights and I only had a small propane stove and one tiny pot. We did the best we could under those circumstances (which meant lame food that we ate while sitting in the car).

 store-bought soup with half a bag of leftover frozen peas
and fresh tortilla garnish

... and leftover salad with cheese quesadillas

plus a little taste of home
(the rainstorm and the beer)

The summary. I'd visited this area of the park briefly several years ago. It was early summer and the short trail walks were nice, but the forest was pretty dry and the crowds were insane. This visit was completely the opposite - the trails and campsites were a little less maintained, but the lush forest moss and (general) lack of people more than made up for that. Off-season national park visits for the win!

he wanted me to stand on the short pole -
very funny, dear

One year, 19 national parks, $80... I'd say we got our money's worth. Don't forget, 2016 is the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service. Get out there and explore!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday five: amazing Orcas Island.

Orcas Island is one of those places that Pacific Northwest people gush about. I mean, seriously gush. Don't get me wrong, I hear that all of the San Juan Islands are nice, but there's something about Orcas that makes people actually gush.

So naturally, when I saw the housesit ad last summer I immediately pounced. We exchanged a few friendly, funny emails with the host, and a few days later she made us the offer. (I may have squealed when I read her email. I may have also done a brief happy dance.)

From that point, whenever we'd mention to people that we'd be on Orcas for a month in February, their eyes would pop and huge grins would appear on their faces. (See? Gush.) We wouldn't be there for whale migrations, and we wouldn't have expendable budgets for eating out or whatever else people with jobs do when they visit Orcas - dolphin tours? sailing? - but we knew this would still be something special.

It was even more special that this would be our last housesit for the foreseeable future. And because we were watching three pretty self-sufficient cats and our host was very generous in letting us stay a few days before and after her trip, we had plenty of time to explore the island.

Here are our top five recommendations whether you have a weekend or an entire season to explore this beautiful part of the world...

1. Take a hike. Moran State Park offers 38 miles of beautiful trails, several waterfalls, many lakes, and hundreds of ginormous mossy trees. Trails are flat, steep, windy, long, short - there's something for everyone.

Cascade Falls

how could I not?

Cold Springs trail

As the story goes, the land for Moran State Park was donated to Washington State in 1921 by former Seattle mayor and shipbuilder Robert Moran. In the early 1900s, at age 47 Moran was mentally and physically exhausted, and his doctors thought he would die of heart disease. Moran sold his business and chose Orcas Island as the place to live the last few months of his life... where he recovered and lived to the ripe old age of 86. A fine lesson for us all, eh?

Cavern Falls
 Mountain Lake loop

Daily passes are $10 so we invested in the $30 annual Washington State Park pass, and we definitely got our money's worth just from our visits to Moran State Park. I'm pretty sure we hiked almost all 38 miles and there's only a small stretch of steep trail underneath power lines that we wouldn't recommend (only because it's tediously boring compared to the other 37 park miles, but mountain bikers should totally check it out!).

And although Turtleback Mountain Preserve is much smaller, its 8 miles of hikes are truly stunning.

we can see Canada!
(or maybe the Olympics - it's easy to get turned around up there)

the most perfectly placed bench we've seen in three years

Turtleback's small parking areas, more remote location, and limit on group size (15 or more requires an advanced call to the Land Bank) all mean you’re far less likely to run into hordes of people on your hike, like you might in Moran. An added bonus for hikers is that bikes are only allowed on even calendar days, and horses on odd calendar days. These restrictions enhance your hiking experience while helping to preserve the land for future generations. And? It's free!

2. Grab a flight. No, not to another island - which you can easily do (if you're one of those people with jobs who visits Orcas). We're talking about an Island Hoppin' Brewery flight.

best partnered with a rainy day 
and a map to plan our upcoming road trip

Unique brews, lively atmosphere, friendly staff, board games at the tables for entertainment. (And yes, by the end of the flight we'd figured out our road trip plan. Managers, take note - beer gets stuff done.)

3. Eat local. There are lots of organic farms on the island and a Saturday farmer's market May-September, but we also recommend picking up some organic produce and grass-fed/free-range meats from Coffelt Farm. This particular farm was sold to the San Juan County Land Bank in 2011 and the nonprofit that now manages the farm works very hard to "demonstrate sustainable, island-scale agricultural practices, promote environmental stewardship, and provide opportunities for education and research, while honoring Orcas Island’s rural heritage" (direct quote from their mission statement). It's a really interesting model for modern agriculture.

The farm hosts events throughout the year as part of its educational component. During our stay on the island, we joined a free farm tour so that we could see the spring babies up close and personal...

four days old 

thirty minutes old

how now, baby brown cow

Coffelt Farm's market stand is open year-round, Tuesday-Saturday from 1-5pm. Products vary by season and availability, but they always have something good on hand. Tell Charly we said hi when you stop by!

4. Birdwatch. We're not birders by any means - the best identification we are routinely capable of is "LBB!" ("little brown bird!"); we'd rather enjoy coffee in our PJs than hit the trails at the crack of dawn to see a "lifer"; and our binoculars stink. But we do love birds, and over 100 species exist on Orcas Island.  

 pileated (aka "Woody") woodpecker

blue heron #1

blue heron #2
(they look so different with their necks stretched out)

plover (I think)

Supposedly there are puffins. We saw no puffins, but we did see bald and golden eagles, falcons, hawks, cormorants, ducks, and a hundred billion elusive American robins. And a few LBBs.

5. Enjoy the view. There will be days when the skies open up and the wind howls, and you just want to sit somewhere with a beer and watch Mother Nature unfold. There will be other days when the skies are so blue and the cove is so calm, and you just want to sit somewhere with a beer and ponder why all the driftwood on the beach doesn't wash away with the gentle but persistent tide.

Either way, the White Horse Pub offers draft pints at happy hour prices 3-6pm. We went a few times during our stay and were pleased to find that Island Hoppin' and Portland's own HUB were on their tap (as well as your usual mainstream beers).

$3 view

Can't vouch for the food there, but who cares? Do you see that view?

Speaking of food, things are a bit pricey on the island so we didn't eat out but we did enjoy a coffee and pastry from Brown Bear Baking (yum). We also gave tofu waffles a try (needs more experimentation but I love the concept), I discovered Alton Brown's waffle recipe (highly recommend!), and Patrick tried his hand at baking bread (he's a natural, my work here is done).

So yes, our last housesit for the foreseeable future could not have been more perfect.

Well, that's not completely true - the Orcas Island plan didn't really include east coast family emergencies, but as the wise Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." Such is life. Patrick got several weeks of solo time during my mouth punch, which was good for him, and I got a beautiful retreat after an especially crappy start to 2016, which was good for me.

And we got to hang out in a lovely house (and sometimes, also a tiny house!) with three ridiculously sweet cats.

shy Ziggy

not-so-shy Oscar

fat Felix in his favorite pose

More photos of all of this here. We're definitely going out on a high note with this housesit...

Time for one last road trip as we round down this phase of our little three-year-and-counting adventure. Camping along the cold, rainy Pacific Northwest coast in February with the least amount of gear we've ever carried - what could possibly go wrong?