May 28, 2001

D-Day 2001: Beaches, Germans, and War

Day Five: Olympic National Park
I love me my National Parks. I grew up in a household where vacation invariably meant walking around a National Park... or four. Oftentimes we'd have to skip over a lot of stuff within a particular park to get to the next park. I am determined not to fall into that trap - but it's hard. As you undoubtedly read (of course) back when I sent out Day One of this trip, we blasted through Mount Rainier National Park in about 6 hours. But remember, this was the first vacation I took with Hoang, so I was playing it safe - no need to have freaked her out so early. Trying to see all that Olympic has to offer in one day is just stupid. From glaciated peaks to incredible coastlines to a vast rainforest, Olympic NP has it all. But if anyone can do it, we can, as you'll read (or just lazily look at the pictures).

Our day started off more annoyingly than anticipated. We had to go all the way up to SEATAC airport to pick up our rental car because the local Tacoma location had mysteriously shut down. Quynh was gracious enough to shuttle us up there before work (even though it was Memorial Day) and once we got our car, we were on our merry way... Right back down south to Tacoma again. That pesky little Puget Sound being in our way and all. Once we got through the city we headed towards the famous Highway 101 on the Olympic peninsula. We were immediately struck with the beauty of western Washington. Fir trees upon fir trees upon clear cut tract upon clear cut tract... Sigh.

The drive to the park headquarters was about two hours long under depressingly gray skies. We had to pass up the opportunity to check out Dungeness, WA - a place that may very well be an empty Boringtown, but the name alone attracted me. While Maryland blue crabs are certainly preferable, I enjoy any form of crab. Well, except that kind. By skipping Dungeness, we also didn't have the chance to drive along the oddly named Kitchen-Dick Road. Lest you think I'm the only person who would find that an interesting road name, Google will set you straight. The next time you are driving west on Highway 101 in extreme western Washington, let Kitchen-Dick serve as your guidepost to Olympic NP. For the next town is Port Angeles in which the park headquarters is located.
We checked out the visitor's center as the sun began to poke through the clouds. I was anxious to get moving as we were headed up into the mountains and you know that gets me excited. Back into the car and off we went. We paid our park fee and the road immediately turned skyward. I gingerly made my way around an endless series of switchbacks and remember noting how alone we were. It was a national holiday after all - where was everyone? As we climbed, the views of the coast far below started popping in and out of the trees. Concurrently, the sky was getting darker and darker the further inland we trekked. Hmmm.

Just as I was beginning to get used to the rental car, we rounded another hairpin and - d'oh! Now I knew why we were the lone fools heading up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and its environs. Apparently everyone else spent a few more minutes in the main visitor center 5000 feet below and read the Hurricane Ridge weather report: Cold, windy, blizzardy - y'know, the little details. I was determined to reach our goal just a few more miles up the road. Determined, that is, until a couple curves later the Ford Tempo or whatever it was performed like a toboggan. "Wheeeee!"

I immediately pulled over, peered over the 1000 foot sheer cliff drop-off, turned to Hoang and asked, "So, how do you feel about living?" She assured me that she enjoyed it so I turned the car around and began to creep back down to dry roads. Just at the cusp of the snowing/not-snowing line, I pulled over again determined to take in what views we could. I'm very glad I did, as to this day nearly five full years later, Hoang snapped one of my favorite pictures of me ever. Sure I'm not smiling and you can't really see my face - but I think that's the point. That and the "layered look" gives me a certain faux-buffness I've been trying to achieve all my life. (What's funny is when "researching" this trip, it came to light that I wore this little get-up pretty much every day. I apparently brought two pairs of pants and 3 shirts for the entire vacation. Hey man, "grunge" took a little longer to die in my world.)

Since you can't tell in that totally hot picture of me, here's one with a little bit of snow. Now I know you're saying, "Wait a minute, it's barely flurrying you wimp!" Trust me, just up the road and maybe 500 feet of elevation gain from this picture was not something anyone would want to be driving a crappy rental car in on unfamiliar dangerous mountain roads.

We headed back down to Port Angeles and then drove west to a completely different part of the park. (The above experience would be the snow capped glaciated peaks part, such as it was.) On the way there we passed Lake Crescent where Hoang took a stab at her first floating head picture. See how boring this picture would be if she wasn't in it? (That's Pyramid Mountain across the lake, by the way.)

We pressed on, passing up numerous hiking trails and little side trips like the one that may have told us how to pronounce the Pysht River. Highway 101 turned southwest and passed through the successive towns of Sappho and Beaver. If you don't know why I've bothered writing that, don't worry about it. If you do "get it," you probably don't believe me. Believe it. (Actually, quickly scanning the western half of my park map, I notice the following: Queets, Undie Road, Yahoo Lake, Cape Johnson right above Hole-in-the-Wall, La Push, Hoh Head, and Forks, among others. Heck, the whole peninsula itself is south of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.)

Actually, our next stop was the town called Forks - the only "real" town on the western side of the park. Forks' lone industry appears to be logging and something funny/interesting happened there, but I can't remember what it was for the life of me. Maybe it was that I was the only non-lumberjack in town. Maybe I wanted to take a picture of a fork in the road. Maybe, since we grabbed lunch in town, the restaurant had giant forks. It's killing me that I can't remember.

Oh well... After Forks we drove west until we could drive west no more - to La Push. We hit the beautiful coastline of Washington and were immediately struck by the unique rock formations out in the Pacific Ocean. On the east coast, we don't have any of these rock stack formations so seeing them for the first time was pretty darn cool. It should also be noted that this picture, from Rialto Beach, was the first picture of us that my parents stuck in a frame at their house. I think that meant they approved of Hoang. Either that or they liked the seagull perched on the rock in the background, like I do.

At the beach we noticed another traveling duo for the first time. They were obviously Europeans in that they were dressed in typical Euro-Tourist duds; the cheap running shoes with black socks, the fanny packs outside their Anoraks tucked into their jeans shorts, you know the type. One had beach blond hair and they both wore very industrial looking glasses. As a result, we took note of them and dubbed them "The Germans."

In the face of the rather interesting place names of the area, we walked down the beaches along a trail and enjoyed each of them. First Beach, Second Beach, and, of course, Third Beach. At each Beach, there they were - The Germans! They seemed to appear out of the ether, from behind rocks, out from the eddies in the ocean. Eh, no matter... We were moving on and we'd forget about them in short order.

Once back to the car, we sped back inland to the western slopes of Mt. Olympus. We'd seen some snow and alpine ecosystem in the morning, we'd seen the unique coastline of the park, and now we were headed to the Hoh Rainforest - the only rainforest in the continental US. The Seattle area is infamous for its endless rainstorms and here, on the windward side of a massive mountain, let's just say it rains A LOT.

We arrived at the Visitor Center and learned all about the rainforest and its flora and fauna. But if there were no bears, Hoang didn't care. But there were some wicked big Douglas fir trees and other unique features of a rainforest - including the world's largest Alaska cedar. That's worth the trip across the country alone! (If you are into interesting trees, keep up with the blog. Trust me.)

Despite a flash rainstorm, Hoang and I were eager to take a hike. We threw on our raincoats and off we went. The northern rainforest is a rather foreboding place (unless you're following a well-marked National Park Trail.) As you can see from some of the pictures above, I tried my hand at being "Artistic." I'm sure this totally impressed Hoang - she was putty in my hands. That is, of course, until I stepped from behind a massive tree further up the trail looking like this...

... Putty running away as quickly as possible from my hands. The trail was a lot of fun despite the rain. Who wants to explore a rainforest and not get rained on? (Two years later, on our honeymoon in Hawaii, the only time it rained on us was while exploring the rainforest outside of Hilo on the Big Island. But you don't care.) What you do care about is who was exploring the forest with us. Yup... The Germans! There they were in all their Sprockets glory. "Oooh, look at da beeg tree, ya!" After an hour or two of exploring the area - and I'm not doing it justice here - it was really cool... After exploring the area, we decided to call it a day and make our way to our hotel. Plus, now that it was about 7PM or so, we were pretty hungry.

So we wound our way back out of the rainforest and southwest down the coast to Kalaloch. If I didn't mention it above, just driving around out there is fun. It's just awesomely beautiful - so much so that you almost get numb to that fact. By this point, I found myself checking my rearview mirror for a German car following us. Seeing none, Hoang and I breathed a sigh of relief and forgot about our accidental companions again.

We arrived at the Kalaloch Lodge - a sort of modernized set of log cabins on the coast - mere feet from the National Park. We checked in and unpacked the car. I thought the room was great - nice fireplace, comfy bed, beautiful view of the now low-slung sun over the ocean... I can't imagine anyone would disagree. I highly recommend this place if you ever head out there - not that you have any other choices for miles around! On our way to dinner (also at the lodge), Hoang called her sister to coordinate something or other. I sat passively nearby half listening in on the conversation.

"Yeah, today was fun. But now we're staying at some crappy motel. The rooms don't even have TV's or phones!" The hair on my neck stood up. I couldn't believe what I just heard - the setting was unmatched and the rustic rooms were spacious and comfortable. Who needs a TV when you're in such a place? I was actually hurt by Hoang's words and even though she immediately qualified them and backed off of them, I continue to use them against her to this very day. In fact, I think these last two paragraphs have done exactly that. Good.

After we sorted out that mess, we made a dinner reservation for a half hour later and walked down to the beach. Even though it was pretty late (probably pushing 9PM - the sun didn't set out there until around 10.) So we had a romantic stroll and - What the?! The dang Germans were approaching! Where the heck did they come from this time? The following picture of me was taken after we saw them again - I believe I was contemplating just how the heck we'd get away from those guys... Perhaps steal away in the middle of the night?

The Germans passed us and all four of us eyed each other warily. "Guten Tag," I offered. Nothing. These Krauts were totally out to get us. So I snapped the best picture I could of them as they retreated to their room to plot their next move:

Hoang and I went to dinner at the beautiful but overpriced restaurant with the HUGE picture window overlooking the ocean. As we held hands and gazed at the sunset awaiting our wine and appetizers, we marveled at the view of - OF THE GERMANS!! Aaargh! They were sitting a few tables over, directly in line of our view of the sunset. I glared at them, tipped my head and noted, "Well played, Das Boots, well played." We had been beaten and we knew it. Sigh. Scheitzer!

We ate our dinner as the sun set and were even allowed to purchase a 2nd bottle of wine "to go." Hey, without a television, we needed something, right? Before retiring for the evening, we made our way down to the beach again to savor the moment. (Hoang will tell you - I like nice sunsets.) As we turned to make our way back to the room, I don't even have to tell you we passed the stupid Germans again. It wasn't funny anymore.

What was funny - hilariously so - was what happened to us that night. And I'll have to leave it at that as this is a family blog. If you really want to know - or if you want to prove to me you just read this massive essay - feel free to shoot me an email and I'll tell you. Hoang and I still laugh about it today. And no, the Germans were not involved, thank goodness.

What a chock full vacation day! What would tomorrow bring? Lots more good stuff - just you wait...

Continue on to Day 6!

Back to Day 4
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