The Travel Chronicles- Part OnePosted: July 11, 2013
This week the high in Seattle is 81 degrees. In Portland it’s 84 and in Austin it’s 102. Is it any wonder we chose the Pacific Northwest as the optimal location in which to celebrate three years of matrimony? That and a love of IFC’s Portlandia is what got us to Washington and Oregon for our annual anniversary vacay (see San Francisco and Mexico City), but it’s not what made the trip a memorable one. Maybe I’ve been reading too much David Foster Wallace lately, but the account of our trip will have to come to you in multiple lengthy segments. Beginning with the following…
We arrived in Seattle around 9 p.m. on a Wednesday, but the sun hadn’t completely set yet, which meant we could observe the dimly lit cityscape as we rode the light rail to the hotel. We watched the sunset over Ranier Beach and Century Link Field. We were captivated by this city.
The first night in Seattle was a short one. It was 10 p.m. by the time we dropped our backpacks off at the hotel, and though we craved exploration of the city, we also craved a meal, which we hadn’t had since breakfast. A sushi place next door, which in an attempt to rid itself of a fish surplus, was offering half-priced sushi on most of the menu. At $3- and $4-a-roll we ate till our heart’s content before returning to the hotel. One night on the king size bed was all we got before packing our bags for two days in the northwest wilderness.
We walked the three blocks from the hotel to the rental car office—a serendipitous location—and loaded our bags into the aqua-colored Ford Focus (whose headlights we would never master). It was a new day and the city looked different in the morning light: more fog, more people, more Starbucks locales than initially anticipated. Before hitting the highway to Olympic National Park, we had first to rent the sleeping bags and mattress pads to make our stint in the peninsula more comfortable. REI’s flagship store was just up the road, and having rented equipment from the chain before, seemed the easiest and cheapest bet for acquiring the necessary goods. But Heath’s face dropped from its normal aim-to-please state when the rental man told him there were no more mattress pads available.
“What do you want to do?” Heath asked me at hearing the news. I was stewing in my frustration, with REI and with Heath. What do I want to do? What does he want to do? Wasn’t he the one who just went on a 32-mile backpacking excursion in the primitive Weminuche Wilderness? Wasn’t he the camping expert? Shouldn’t he know what to do?! “I don’t know, this was your rodeo.” I said, grinding my teeth that the one part of the trip I had designated to Heath had suddenly taken an unexpected turn. We were advised to go across the street to a smaller local camping outfitter who would be more likely to have mattress pads to rent. When we got there and it wasn’t open, and we had 15 minutes to kill until it would be. It was nearly 10 o’clock and I had wanted to be in Kalaloch, which was still 4 hours away, by noon. We were both quiet as we waited; Heath afraid to say anything that would stir my anger, and me afraid to let my frustration kill the mood of the experience. When the shop keep arrived, she regretfully offered up the same mattress pad status proposed by the REI rental man and referred us back across the street. By now I was childishly negative. Hell, why go camping at all? I thought, ready to let the first hiccup of the trip spoil my good time. Our backpacks were already stuffed, but Heath suggested we buy some affordable mattress pads at REI and mail them home if we couldn’t fit them in our bags by the end of the trip. Two new mattress pads would cost us in the neighborhood of $200, so I wasn’t jumping for joy at the idea. But this was our anniversary, and I was acting like a Betty Draper brat. It wasn’t Heath’s fault that I had scheduled us to go camping during July 4 weekend, which was probably one of the busiest in the country. I knew I should relent and go with the flow. We picked out a couple of mid-grade pads and got the hell out of there so we could leave the negativity behind us and start the fun. Or so we thought.
We drove up Highway 5 to Edmonds to take the ferry to Kingston. From there the plan was to drive around the North side of the park and down to the west coast where we had a site reserved at Kalaloch beach. By using the term “the plan was” you may have correctly surmised that that is not what happened. We got to Edmonds at 10:40 and zipped into a McDonald’s drive-thru to gobble up a quick breakfast before the long drive to the beach. I ordered some kind of McNuffin and Heath some kind of McBiscuit. The total was surprisingly high when we pulled up to The First Window to seal the deal, but we were too hungry and too on-edge to care. When we entered the ferry traffic line it all became clear. Heath turned and asked, “Doesn’t McDonald’s stop serving breakfast at 10:30?” (I smugly admit that I was ignorant to this fact because practically the only time I eat McDonalds is at airports and the breakfast-or-lunch conundrum has never presented itself.) He was right. In our aqua colored Ford Forcus (whose headlights we would never master) were three cheeseburgers that paired quite awkwardly with our two scalding hot coffees. I was disappointed, yes, but not too much so to not eat. I had glumly swallowed the last of my breakfast cheeseburger as I noticed the sign overhead that read “Ferry Traffic Two Hours.”
WHAT?! By now it was near 11 and we weren’t even out of the Seattle metro area and likely wouldn’t be till 1. I had wanted to get to Kalaloch by noon, which clearly wasn’t happening, as it would be another 4 ½ hours to get there once we did board the ferry.
I had started to let this get the best of me when I remembered what Mark told me when I started to let my Type A personality go overboard in India (Drink every time she references going to India.) “That’s the lesson of traveling in India. No matter how much planning you do ahead of time, you have to be able to roll with the punches.” Mark’s right. I’ve got to chill. We aren’t even in India. We are in an air-conditioned aqua Ford Focus (whose headlights we would never master) with a reserved campsite on the beach and three years of sublimely happy marriage to celebrate. It is a little first-world-problemy of me to get so defeated and agitated by what is, at it’s core, a non problem. I’ll put on my big girl pants, lose the ‘tude and celebrate where we are and why we are. The magic that is 3G internet found us an alternate sans ferry route through Olympia that would get us to Kaloloch in 3 1/2 hours, plenty of time to enjoy a beach picnic and the perfectly breezy July 4 weather.
We rolled into Kalaloch at 4:30 and stopped at the information center where a comically unenthused park ranger (or maybe just a counter worker, I’m not sure of the national park hierarchy) not-so-politely told us how to check in, which was essentially not to. We browsed the marked numbers along Camping Loop D for our campsite and in record speed set up the tent. We could hear the ocean roaring but still had yet to catch a glimpse of the sea. (Our campsite was on a hill and surrounded by lush trees and ferns, but the ocean was just out of view.) We followed the sounds of the rolling tide down to the beach where we were met by sprawling sands, cold ocean water and beach logs that were larger than telephone poles. Heath said the view was like a scene from The Land Before Time rolled out before us—ocean in the foreground with misty mountains in the periphery.
For a good 2 hours we relaxed by the water, which really wasn’t that “by the water” at all since this was low tide and the sandy beach spanned some 100 yards before your toes could touch the cold Pacific Ocean waves. We cartwheeled in the tide, ran through the shallow water, photographed the expansive coast, lay in the sand, read in the sun, watched kite flyers fly and dog walkers walk and devoured with every sense the surroundings where we found ourselves.
Despite our breakfast hamburgers, hunger crept in and we returned to the campsite for requisite Independence Day hot dogs and to swap stories about the camping experiences we each had growing up, and agreeing without qualification that this trumped all those past childhood memories. Now, we had the glorious beach, and the unbelievably comfortable weather, and, most importantly, each other.
After stuffing ourselves with hot dogs and jalapeno-flavored kettle chips we wandered back to the water a final time to take in the sunset. There’s nothing about beach sunsets that I can describe more adequately than what’s already been said or experienced, so I won’t attempt to here; though, I will add the scenery was made more memorable by Bota Box (I have a deep, deep love for the bargain enjoyed by consuming boxed wine) and a pair of Pro-America, Franzia-drinking (fellow boxed-wine enthusiasts) military men who took it upon themselves to impressively carry a 250-pound log up to their campsite for the purpose of who-the-hell cares.