Foggy Dunes, Giant Trees, Sunny Volcanoes

Monday, August 23, 2010

Olympia to the Redwoods

Two weeks without a computer, without thinking about MDA, without my routines, without my car, without my mobile, without the Internet. For those who know me, this is shocking. I didn’t check my investments, didn’t plan the future, didn’t ponder any problems. Instead, I rented a camper van with my dear friend Xin, and drove 3329 kilometers of misty beaches, august Redwoods, shifting dunes, and enormous volcanoes.

Chronology is old school… instead, here are my top 11 experiences from Vacation 2010; this isn’t quite a travelogue; it’s more of a queer mix of Timothy’s reactions to stuff:

#11: Dozens of waterfalls. From the soul-cleansing of Clearwater Falls on the Umpqua scenic highway, to tall Narada falls off the shoulder of Rainier. The many sounds of water falling through rocks, bouncing off the trees, in parks made for meditation. They washed the stress from my bones. I sat reading a novel underneath one of them, just to feel the last year’s work stresses drain away. I love the sound of water running on rocks. I feel peace.

#10: Our tour of the Umpqua Lighthouse came from Dorsey, who used to sail the West Coast before GPS was affordable; he loved connecting to lighthouse after lighthouse, every 30 miles along the coast. Umpqua was the first one built, around 1850, and rebuilt after it sank in the sand after a huge storm. Its Fresnel lens is a beautiful work of engineering, 160 prisms focusing the light, coloring the nearby trees. Only one other spot in the world has the same white-white-red lens, off Brazil. The coastline nearby was breathtaking; we couldn’t travel more than 150km a day, because we kept having to stop and take pictures, pull into cute towns for window shopping and lattes, wander on yet another beach, do our Tai Chi on the sand, maybe just watch the waves beat up the rocks. So many stories of shipwrecks, Indians fighting off White Invaders, Americans defending against shells from a Japanese submarine, and the weather relentlessly reshaping the coast, from dunes to trees.

#9: We woke early at Kalaloch Campground, and walked past half a dozen other campers to get to the beach path; about 30 seconds later we were on the damp sand, almost alone. In utter peace and beauty, we did our Tai Chi facing the ocean, soaking up Earth energy from the sand, watching the waves touch the long beach to the horizons north and south. Tai Chi feels great anytime, but on vacation, bare feet touching the Earth, no time limit, no lineup of tasks waiting, the meditation feels even better.

#8: If we’d skipped Hurricane Ridge on our first day, we might have made Snow Creek Resort by a decent hour, but that’s not my style. Brochures told me there was an interesting view 10 miles drive up the mountainside. After 30 minutes, the road opened onto a peak a mile higher than we started. We walked the rim, barely disturbing deer with their fawns, taking photos of the alpine meadows. 仁者乐山,智者乐水, she said. But does that mean I’m not wise, if I love mountains? “Oh Timothy, you’re too passionate to be wise.”  I followed the GPS signal on to our campsite, though it took us on a shortcut through a gravel road down hills steep enough to be scared driving the van. Nope, definitely not wise, but all the detours and silly decisions added more beauty to the vacation.

#7: The morning as we left Jessie Honeyman State Park, we stopped by its picnic grounds on Cleawox Lake, to see the 1930s lodge constructed by Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. We stayed on for lunch. And decided to rent a canoe, which became an hour of beautiful peace and exploration, through the odd arms of the lake, bright lily flowers, views of towering dunes, and quiet moments drifting. It hadn’t been the plan for the day, but digging the canoe out of those lilies will be a lasting and touching memory.

#6: At the Northwesternmost tip of the contiguous States is an Indian fishing village called Neah Bay. It’s surrounded by foggy walks through old forests, and rocky beaches overlooking the Juan de Fuca strait. From a collapsing ragged shack on the side of the road, a man sells smoked salmon. The sign says he’s open when he feels like being open, which is most of the time, except when he’s not. A New York Times article on the door says he has the best smoked salmon the reporter found on his whole West Coast trip. It was very good… but we found better! At our cozy little RV site at Snow Creek Resort, we tucked in beside a huge RV to clear our tanks, and got to talking with the huge American lady sitting with her tiny poodle. She asked if we were married, and when we said no, she commented how we’re just starting out, and don’t have kids yet. !!! (You’d have to know us… it was very funny, and made our day.) We smiled. She gave us a tour of her RV, with the living room, king size bed, and full bathroom. Outside, she’d been smoking the salmon her husband’s out catching. She gave us about a pound to take with us. As we drove off, we had no idea what a gift that was… it was as juicy as the best Salmon sashimi, but as flavorful as the best salmon dish in upscale restaurants, and intensely fresh, it was priceless! Thank-you so much, lady at Snow Creek! You made my trip to Olympia!

#5: I hadn’t planned to enter California, but we had an extra day, so down we went. It got late, and we grabbed the third from last campsite at Mill Creek State Campground, deep in the Redwood National Forest, late in the evening. The Redwoods loomed large over the highway on the way in. Then we found out these were the small ones. The brochures suggested a dirt road as a scenic detour for our road back to Oregon, so we tried it. East Howland Hill Road climbs from the coast and suddenly becomes a one-lane dirt track weaving between giants. The biggest trees in the world. A walk through Stout Grove feels like science fiction, some fantasy planet with bigger trees than Earth. 100 to 150 meters high. 1000 years old.

#4: Imagine 13 days * 3 meals/day on 2 propane burners inside the van, with no repeat meals, from Sichuanese tofu to French pepper steak to spicy fresh crab bought live on the Florence docks to a dozen unique stir-fries to organic pancakes with local berry syrups to 8-treasures breakfast soup. We had one meal in a restaurant, to try authentic Mexican food (this is the US after all!) and because it was getting late and we hadn’t reached our campsite yet. Overall, I don’t think I’ve ever had a better two weeks of cuisine! The high quality American wines for $4-7 a bottle, and $1 local amber ales helped too.

#3: Slept in so late it was afternoon by the time we got to Mount Rainier Park entrance, and were surprised to hear it’s a 3 hour drive to the Sunrise lodge, highest point in the park! They suggested we hang out at Paradise lodge, half an hour up the road. Uh uh. We drove by Paradise; it was nice, with stunning views of the glacier-draped volcano rising 7000 feet above the neighboring mountains, to a 14,500 foot peak. We kept going, followed the highways along amazing views in and out of the foothills, around to the North side and up to Sunrise. Then we planned a little one-hour stroll near the lodge to get home by dinner time. Instead, I took off up a further trail, which cut through snow packs, scree, and above the tree line to a small summit overlooking Rainier. Then I jogged further on the trail to the next summit, and still had to crane my head back to watch the shifting clouds cross the massive mountain. Rainier makes other mountains look small, like a Redwood tree beside a little Maple. Jogging back around the south sides of the Burroughs peaks, I met a man going the other way… planning to spend the night on top, watching the Perseid meteor shower’s peak night. I was exhausted when we got back to camp, and watched a meteor from there, around 10pm, before dropping to sleep. Later I read that my 2-hour hike normally takes 4 hours… I was so jazzed! All those views, all that intense absorbing of nature, all that exercise… and like icing on cake, the ego boost of knowing I did the hike at twice the average speed!  (Definitely not wise.)

#2: The van climbed slowly up the winding road through a strange forest… little undergrowth, volcanic soil. Mazama village campground behind us in the trees, our van climbed the three-mile crater wall highway. Then we crested the ridge, and looked down on the deepest blue imaginable. Crater Lake fills a 5-mile diameter crater in a giant volcano that blew so big 7700 years ago, the Mazama layer is thick in BC and Alberta, and the hole left underground by the spewed material collapsed into a crater 900 metres deep. The bottom 600 filled with rain. We hiked Garfield Peak, highest along the rim, and did Tai Chi on the summit, drinking in the beauty of the lake. The blue of that water is poetry to the eyes, something like the south Mediterranean, but with a deep knowledge that it’s cleaner and newer. It fills the soul.

#1: When I was 14 my parents took me down the Oregon coast, and put my brother and me onto a big dune buggy for the ride of my life. I was scared and thrilled. That ride stuck in my head, and motivated me to come back this year, so many years later. I’ve been thinking about Oregon ever since that teenage ride, wanting to re-create it. I thought about it all the way down the Olympic coastline, and more as we approached the dunes. This time, I went on a sand rail, a smaller buggy with tires, engine, bucket seats, a bunch of pipes holding it together, and not much else. “Mike” promised it would feel like we’re flipping over, but assured us it would not. Then he did his best to make us doubt his word! We dove, not drove, down 100m dunes! Soared sideways along 45-degree slopes! Bounced wildly over ridges that shift with the wind! I’m a kid again, shouting with joy!

Ah, these words don’t get across the childlike freedom I felt on this vacation, the irresponsible joy of just having fun, day after day. Have a look at my Facebook photos for a visual snapshot of 60 favorite moments. May all of you, my friends, have experiences like these.