Olympic National Park and Rialto Beach

I wasn’t sure if I should take this trip or not. I often feel that way before embarking on solo jaunts, but in hindsight I am always glad when I make the jump. I knew going into it that I was very likely going to be impeded by winter weather.  I didn’t exactly have the right gear with me, thus all of the hesitation. I decided to hell with it, booked my return ticket 3 days after the end of tour, and told myself to get in the rental car and figure it out.

Leaving out of Seattle I drove up to Port Angeles and had a weird little Valentines in a port city I had never been in. I hadn’t even thought of the influx of dinner reservations for Valentines Day. They tried their best to be accommodating, but the hodgepodge table-for-one set up on the foot path railing didn’t strike me as the right move.

I abandoned my quest for seafood and meandered over to a quaint Italian restaurant. Equally bogged down by lovers and their reservations, I found a seat at the bar and listened in to any conversation within earshot, in hopes of stumbling across any lead or gem for my wandering itinerary. I ended up having a nice chat with a couple from Alaska who were exploring the area themselves. They were coming from the opposite direction that I was attempting to head, so they were rich with suggestions.

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I hunkered down at the Port Angeles Inn for the evening; an older hotel with the charm one would expect from local, independent digs. In a saturated city, dry and warm works for me. I was able to get a room with a partial view of the harbor, but it didn’t end up panning out to be much due to cloud cover. A reason to return and revisit already, I’ll take it.

I never took the time to create an actual itinerary for this trip. This is in stark contrast to my professional life, where I often know what a day is going to look like weeks, or sometimes even months in advance. Not adhering to any schedule felt immensely freeing. Let come what may come.

I made a few stops the first day: the Elwha River, Lake Crescent, Marymere Falls. As I had anticipated, the weather was quite on point for this region and time of year. Lacking in proper rain gear, I invested in an umbrella. I have been told that this is frowned upon in some PNW circles, but it felt pretty functional to me, and helped to keep me dry.

It’s overwhelming how green everything is. Flora and fauna draped in an ever present fuzz de verde. Towering trunks mossed out in entirety. It felt reminiscent of the deciduous forests of the Southeast, enveloped by kudzu; similar, but vastly different. Anywhere a view may have been present, fog hung heavily, limiting visibility. It’s easy to wish for a dry day, but the seemingly never ending precipitation is what creates such a unique ecosystem.

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Towards the tail end of day one, I had run out of road to travel down, and I found myself staring into a churning and turbulent white abyss. If I was looking for powerful on this trip, I had found it. The ranger stopped me as I drove down to the beach, telling me that visitors needed to be out by sundown due to the river possibly breaching its banks. No argument there. I didn’t last too long because of the conditions, so I opted to return to town to dry out and find lodging for the night.

The Forks Motel warmly greeted me after a solid soaking at Rialto Beach. I asked for a dinner suggestion, and headed down to a local burger bar. It’s one of those spots that I probably wouldn’t have stumbled into without local intel. There was a older, bearded gentleman seated at the bar two down from me. It was one of those moments where you aren’t really seeking interaction, and you kind of just want to enjoy your meal. Naturally, he turns to me and starts to tell me his story.

What at first felt like a begrudging conversation quickly turned into a pleasant sharing of stories. He told me about his time in California, his affinity for riding motorcycles, the campsite he now runs, and how he and his best friend both have three ex-wives a piece. He asked me if I had seen a motorcycle sculpture on my way out to the coast, which I had. He told me that this is the property where he runs his motorcycle camp. He was quite the character. As the conversation was wrapping up, I asked for his name. He turned his long white whiskers towards me and declared, “My name is Billy.” Was I talking to a future version of myself? I paid my bill and headed back to the motel to get some rest.

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Upon waking up the following morning, the first thing I noticed was the bluebird sky. What a stark contrast to the previous day! I had planned to head South on the 101, but with the newfound break in weather, I decided to revisit Rialto Beach. I fueled up on pancakes at a local diner, and off I went.

I had spent some time on the Oregon coast last year, but this was a different experience entirely. The stacks jutting out of the shoreline felt like ancient, disabled spacecraft unable to make their return voyage. Smooth stones underfoot lent themselves as a footpath to wander down the beach. The sheer abundance of driftwood was unlike anything I had ever experienced. True giants, tossed around in the surf with the greatest of ease. Paltry sticks, to a rugged and unforgiving tide. Erosion and time are familiar friends in this environment.

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With no prior planning, I happened upon one of the lowest tides this beach had seen in a while. It allowed me to walk out onto exposed rocks and cross through the Hole in the Wall. This was one of those moments where a lack of attention could easily lead to a very dangerous situation. The prospect of becoming stuck by an incoming high tide certainly has ruined many a pleasant beach day.

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Returning from my hike, I stopped at a local Forks diner to acquire some provisions (coffee, ice cream, warm cherry pie). I continued south on the 101, knowing that I had to make it back to Seattle to catch my flight early the next morning. I was contending with sundown, but I was able to make a quick detour and travel down the road that leads to the Hoh Rainforest. WOW! I really want to come back during the summer months and make a back country trip across the park. There are so many areas that I didn’t even come close to touching. For a three day trip, I felt very fulfilled by the end of it. An excellent area of the country, and I highly recommend a visit.

 

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