It was hard to leave that little cabin on Flathead Lake. Partly because it’s on a lake – the views are pretty amazing. But I also loved the cabin because it was so tiny. It felt like the right size house for me and Michael.
But it was time to move on. In the general arc of things, we were now headed for Michigan. My parents live in the little town of Elk Rapids up in the northeast part of the state. We knew that getting there would involve a lot of driving – specifically, a lot of not-fun driving. There’s just not much going on in the middle part of North America. Changing the latitude doesn’t matter; it all sucks. We’ve gone across Texas and Kansas, so I know.
I suppose we could have gone the northern route across Canada, but I met a guy from Saskatchewan once and he said that part of the country is so flat, you can watch your dog run away for three days.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that I did not have high hopes for eastern Montana or the Dakotas. Maybe that was the key? Because I was pleasantly surprised.
Our first stop was the VFW Campground at Tiber Reservoir in north-central Montana. Not much to write home about, but it was pretty clean and pretty quiet. (Also, that reservoir was pretty damn big.)
The next day we continued east, across rolling plains of wheat and hay. Pretty boring. We ended up at Fort Peck Lake, a pretty area just outside the little town of Glasgow. When we were in Glasgow we stopped for gas and a sheriff’s SUV pulled in behind us. I noticed it, was all.
We camped at a free area down by the boat dock. The sites were level and there was a dumpster. There was also a stinky pit toilet and several neighbors, one of whom was extra chatty. As we were cleaning up from dinner a Sheriff’s SUV came rolling by, and the deputy stopped to chat with folks at each campsite.
Turns out he was the same deputy who pulled in behind us at the gas station. He was curious about our setup and we talked shop for a while. In another “small world” moment, the guy was originally from Denver.
The next day was Monday, August 21st, the day of the big solar eclipse. We had a good signal so we streamed the eclipse from the phone as I drove. We were too far north to get a total eclipse, but the sky did get a lot darker. It was cool!
Remember how I said I did not have high hopes for this leg of the journey? Yet we kept camping by these pretty bodies of water. That night was no exception. We found our site at Heart Butte Reservoir (also known as Lake Tschida) in North Dakota on FreeCampsites.net.
As we approached the site a golden eagle flew off from a nearby tree. The lake was teeming with ducks, geese, pelicans, and gulls. We were the only people around. I began to wonder if it was really okay to camp here – it just seemed so nice.
I mean, it was crazy beautiful. And I was shocked to see this much water in North Dakota. Wasn’t this place supposed to be a barren wasteland?
Even better, it was new moon and the skies were looking pretty clear. I got my camera ready, set up the tripod outside. When I went to bed I set my alarm for 1:30am. Then I got up to the most amazing clear sky.
I think this is about as good as I can get with the lens that I have, which is the 18-105mm kit lens that came with the camera. It’s actually quite nice, and it’s my go-to lens. Largest aperture setting is f3.5, though, and for starry-night photos you generally want a fast, wide-angle lens with a max aperture of f2.8 (source: Light Stalking’s article, How to Photograph the Milky Way.)
Nikon lenses like that tend to be a bit spendy. (Here’s the proof!) If photography were my only interest, I’d go for it… assuming I had $1900 burning a hole in my pocket. But seriously, for that kind of money I could buy a single lens… or two kayaks. Or a kayak and a stand-up paddleboard. Or even a new road bike.
Also, $1900 for a lens is kinda crazy. Hell, the camera didn’t even cost that much!
But I digress. I’m actually quite happy with my camera and the lenses I have. And I was super happy with that campsite at Tschida Lake.
I wish we could have stayed here another day. Those all-day drives get old after a day or two. But we were super close to our next stop, one that would give us a much-needed day off: Langford, South Dakota.
I’m a little sorry we weren’t able to stay through Sunday, because the Demolition Derby was happening on Sunday night and neither one of us has ever been to a Demolition Derby.
But we were there on Friday night. And that meant we got to go to the rodeo.
Look, I’m not the hugest rodeo fan – I generally think of beer and not bull riding when I see the initials PBR. I don’t know who any of the famous guys are. But I do know that small town rodeos are the best. I got to go to the Loveland, Colorado rodeo back when it was still a small-time affair, and I learned that at a smaller rodeo you can get closer to the action. (Unlike, say, the National Western Stockshow’s rodeo in Denver, where you pretty much needed binoculars to see anything.)
As close as we were, I still had to use my 55-200mm zoom lens, although I was cool with that because I have been dying to put that lens through some paces. What I quickly learned was a few deficiencies of my camera (a Nikon D90). It’s supposed to shoot in multiples at 3 frames per second. And it does… at first. I found that after about 5 seconds that rate slowed down quite a bit. Also, I had to shoot at a pretty high ISO due to the low light, and a lot of the images were grainy (the digital term is “noise”) when I enlarged them.
Minor complaints, really. It’s not like I’m going to run off and become a rodeo photographer. Besides, I did manage to get some pretty good images. Like this one:
And this one, of rider Jesse Kruse:
Not all of the bronco riders fared well, though.
Of course, bronco busting was only the first event. There was also calf roping…
and barrel racing, and steer wrestling…
And my personal favorite, the two-man calf roping. Here’s why it’s my favorite event: A long time ago, in college, I was on a trip with a bunch of other students. It was summertime and we were in a small Colorado town. I honestly don’t remember where. After dinner we walked back to where we were staying; I think it was part of the fairgrounds. It was right next to a rodeo ring. A group of local cowboys were practicing their two-man calf roping, and these guys were more than happy to explain how it works. To me, it sounded like the hardest event in rodeo. It requires some pretty serious skill.
The event begins with two riders, one on either side of the calf.
The first rider ropes the calf by the horns (who wears special protective headgear), and in doing so turns the calf away from the second rider.
Now, throwing a rope at a moving target sounds hard enough, but I think the second rider has the toughest job. Because what he has to do is throw the rope so that it lands right before the calf’s feet do. Kind of like this:
The second rider throws the rope, the calf steps into it, and the rider snaps up the rope, trapping the calf.
This is one of those events that is so much harder than it looks. And it looks pretty hard.
There was an event at this rodeo that I’d never seen before, and that was the Indian Relay Race. I had no idea but this is a sport that goes back 400 years. And these days the Northwest Montana Fair and Rodeo is one of the few places to see one.
The Indian Relay Race is a bareback horse race. There are four teams and the goal is for a single rider (one from each team) to circle the track three times, using a different horse for each lap. The first man to cross the finish line after three laps is the winner.
Sounds simple, right? Let me tell you: It’s chaos.
First of all, it’s a race – these guys are riding at a full gallop. And when they come into the “pit” they barely slow down at all. They launch off the back of one horse, run to the next horse, jump on, and take off. Bareback.
And all those people you see standing there? They’re handlers for the other horses. Somebody has to grab first horse as the rider dismounts (can you imagine that job? Trying to grab the reins of a 1,000 lb animal that coming at you full force?), and someone has to the hold the horse the rider is trying to jump onto – if a horse gets away, the rider can be disqualified.
And believe me, those horses try to get away. In fact, it’s at this exchange of horses that the potential for carnage is greatest. Apparently collisions among riders and horses are quite common, as are downed riders and riderless horses.
The crowd was thrilled when this horse reared up, and even more thrilled when the rider got the animal back under control and rode out to the track.
There actually was a collision on Friday night, between three horses, but everyone stayed on their horse and everyone finished. I have to tell you – the Indian Relay Race was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever watched.
I’m not going to lie: the decision to end the Canada portion of our journey was more than just disappointing. I was crushed. I’d waited years to come see the Canadian Rockies. And what I had seen so far was a strange combination of awe-inspiring and frustrating. I mean, I’ve now been all over the west in the lower 48. I have simply never seen mountains like this. But for the most part I felt like I was only getting glimpse because of all the smoke from nearby wildfires.
We headed south along Highway 93 towards the actual town of Banff. We pulled off a few times to take roadside pictures as well as for bathroom breaks. Every pullout had some kind of trash receptacle, which was awesome. The edges of very pullout were also littered with toilet paper, which was gross.
We did stop at a place called Bow Point, and hiked the ten minutes or so up to the lookout for Bow Lake.
Totally worth it. But can you imagine this place on a clear day?
Going to Banff itself was a little out of our way, but so close by that we couldn’t think of a reason not to check it out. It’s a mountain town, though, and in some ways they all look alike. This one reminded me of Telluride.
Our destination for that night was a free campsite outside the town of Radium Hot Springs. As we drove in to town we saw that Radium Hot Springs does, in fact, have a hot spring. Well, it’s part of Kootenay National Park. We pulled in, Michael made us a quick dinner of chicken tacos (it was Taco Tuesday, after all) and we went for a soak.
Radium Hot Springs was a little on the sparse side, although it’s inexpensive ($15 Canadian for both of us), their showers were clean, and the pool water was good and hot. There is a cool pool with diving boards and everything, but we stuck to the hot side.
The Hot Springs asks for patrons to not wear shoes near the pools – and that sign was posted outside the locker room. I found a nice, orderly row of shoes along the wall opposite the locker room entrance.
I love Canadians.
When we were all done soaking I waited in the lobby for Michael and I ended up watching this little film about wildlife overpasses. I’ve been reading articles about this for years and we got to see several of these overpasses along Highway 93.
The Trans-Canada Highway pioneered the use of wildlife overpasses and tunnels. Over the past 15 years, studies of these overpasses and tunnels have shown that large ungulates (elk, deer, moose) and grizzly bears prefer the overpasses; mountain lions prefer the tunnels. Together, these mitigations have reduced wildlife collisions by a stunning 80% along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Way to go, Canada!
Our campsite that evening was unremarkable. Quiet, at least. And the next day, our last in Canada, we found yet another hot springs. Two for two? Why not?
Fairmont Hot Springs and Resort is a lot more developed than Radium Hot Springs. As in, there was a hotel attached to the springs. It was also a bit more expensive ($12 each) but there also a lot more: A hot pool, a cool pool, and a deep end with two diving boards; a big grassy area with loungers; and a little snack bar where Michael found the one thing he really wanted in Canada: poutine.
For those of you who have no idea what that is, poutine is a dish of french fries smothered in gravy and covered in cheese. Apparently it’s a Canadian thing. I thought it sounded kinda gross, and between the gravy and the cheese I couldn’t eat it anyway. Michael enjoyed every bite.
So now we were clean and refreshed, and ready to go back to the USA. It was my day to drive. But I was also driving when we went through Canadian customs. Michael said he wanted his turn. We stopped at the duty-free shop right on the border and switched seats.
Getting back into the US was a breeze. When our border agent asked us what part of Colorado we were from, Michael said well, you may not have heard of it, but we’re from Longmont.
This guy smiled and said that before he started working for US Customs, he was a cop for 20 years… in Loveland (the two towns are about a 20 minute drive apart). So, yeah, he’d heard of Longmont.
Back in the States, we made contact with some old friends. See, we passed through Montana before. Almost a year ago, in fact. We spent the week leading up to Labor Day at a cabin on Flathead Lake. Michael got in touch and we got the green light.
Kyle was still there, living in his Airstream on the property. (He’s a web developer and has been living and traveling in that beautiful trailer for the last seven years.) We talked shop and compared camping notes. And Kyle did something amazing for me: he helped me fix the blog.
Now, the blog wasn’t exactly broken, but it wasn’t doing quite what I wanted. I wanted the blog page to have multiple entries, each with a thumbnail picture and a little excerpt of the post.
First, Kyle convinced me to update to the latest theme. Actually, he convinced me to update everything. The theme, all of my plugins and widgets. Once I was up to speed he helped me look up the code I’d need to make WordPress do what I wanted.
And it worked.
I never would have figured that out on my own, so I owe Kyle big time. So I’ll thank him the best way I can – by adding a link to his website, whereiskylenow.com. Because Kyle is also an amateur photographer and his blog is just one place where he showcases his awesome images. Enjoy!
I had such high hopes for our trip to Canada. I’ve wanted to see the Canadian Rockies for something close to forever. Kind of since I learned of their existence. And on that front, I can’t say I was entirely disappointed.
We drove from our campsite near Westwold, British Columbia and headed towards Banff, skipping western BC because of all the fires there. Then we headed north on Highway 97A so that we could get back onto the Trans-Canada Highway. Suddenly, there were dragons on the side of the road.
What the what?
Michael pulled into this (fairly full) parking lot while I tried to figure out where the hell we were.
Described as “the most expensive tourist trap in British Columbia” by someone on TripAdvisor, the Log Barn is an…um… eclectic mix of dragons, dinosaurs, goats, and food. Expensive food. Luckily we carry our own supplies so we had a nice tailgate lunch instead.
This is a bad picture of the “goat walk,” which you have to drive under just to get into the Log Barn. (You can buy feed for the goats for a quarter.)
The goats have a regular pen and access the goat walk via this runway.
Moving on (and keeping our money in our wallets), we soon discovered that the Canadian fires were not restricted to western BC. The Canadian Rockies were on fire, too.
We camped that night along the Kicking Horse River, just west of Golden, BC. This was a sweet little spot with a nice sunset view.
It rained overnight. In the morning I was about halfway through making coffee when the skies opened up on me. I finished making coffee in the rain and then stood underneath the tent, drinking my well-earned java. Michael popped his head out of the tent.
You could bring that upstairs, he said, and have coffee in bed.
He was delighted to learn I’d made coffee for him, too.
After the weather cleared we moved on to Banff, and places I’d long wanted to photograph, like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. I’d hoped that the rain would help with the wildfires but the smoke was still pretty thick.
Also, did you know that there is a massive hotel on Lake Lousie? I mean, right on the shore. This area was about as jammed with people as Yellowstone. We checked into renting a canoe, since that looked like fun. It cost $105 (Canadian) per hour to rent a canoe.
Apparently the Log Barn isn’t the only tourist trap in Canada.
I tried to find other interesting images, since the “classic” view of the lake was a no-go.
I also took a short hike along the shoreline. I found what I called the “Instagram Girls,” who were also trying to get pictures of Lake Louise, but with a hipster vibe. The photographer (on her phone, natch) kept directing the model to adjust her blanket, turn in profile, stand up straighter, etc.
We drove north, towards Jasper, along the Icefields Parkway. The haze continued and I could see just the edge of so much awesomeness. It was frustrating.
We spent the night at a unique spot called the Crossing. It’s a combination resort and rest stop, one of the few places to get gasoline along the Icefields Parkway. There is a big gravel area that’s reserved for the giant tour buses, but between the hours of 3pm and 9am it’s okay to camp there. Michael actually called them from Lake Louise to make sure our roof-top tent setup would be okay. (We’ve been turned down from other areas that allow RVs because apparently we’re considered a tent and not an RV.)
The Crossing gave us the green light.
I took the above picture at 7am. Mornings tended to be the least hazy. We decided to get (overpriced) coffee from the general store and have RX Bars for breakfast, but move on to a better location to make a real meal.
We parked at the Sunset Lookout trailhead. It was about 3km to the lookout, but there seemed to be some discrepancy about the actual elevation gain. Check out what Canadian graffiti looks like:
Damn but Canadians are polite. I went for a short trail run, although not all the way to the lookout, and Michael did a crossfit-style workout in the parking lot. Actually my run was more of a power-hike on the way out, but I did run the downhill. It was a lovely trail, nice and technical, and it went by a beautiful waterfall. After our workouts were done we had what might have been the most picturesque tailgate in all of our travels.
It was at this trailhead that we met a nice woman from Vail. (Small world!) She said that to get away from the smoke you needed to get off the Icefields Parkway, which is a valley. That meant north of Jasper, or east/west after reaching Jasper.
This revelation caused a bit of soul searching for us. I mean, we’d come all this way. But the views were awful because of all that smoke. Jasper was a long way from where we were. Hell, everything along the Icefields Parkway is a long way from everything else. Did I mention that gas was the equivalent of $4/gallon?
It sounded like a lot of driving, and maybe for nothing. I won’t lie – this was a hard decision. I was a little crushed as we turned around. But as we headed south we made a pact to come back to the Candian Rockies someday. And next time, not in August. The locals we met said the couple of weeks in September – after the tourists go home but before the snow really starts to fall – is the best. Duly noted!
After my disastrous effort at sailing in Puget Sound, you might think I was crazy to get back out on the water again. Maybe I am.
But when we rolled through Anacortes, Washington, stopping at Penguin Coffee to do some research, I found Anacortes Kayak Tours. We’d talked about doing something like this for our anniversary. And we were right on the edge of the San Juan Islands. But… on a scale of one to going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line, how bad of an idea was this?
Instead of just booking online, we drove over to their office, although we stopped for a tailgate lunch at a place called Cap Sante Park.
Then, on to the office. Because before I agreed to three more hours of potential torture, I had a few questions. What would the waves be like? The swell? Wind? I knew that nobody could tell me if I’d get sick or not, but people who kayak a lot can tell what’s easier from what’s harder. The tour we were looking at was in mostly in a bay – not the open ocean – so there would be minimal swell. Winds were supposed to be light, and it looked like it would be a calm day. Things were looking good.
One of the guides gave me a really great piece of advice: take that dramamine the night before. Then, stay hydrated. No guarantees, but the staff really thought it would be okay.
So we went for it. Signed up for the 10:30 tour the next day. I took my dramamine right before bed that night. And the next morning, I started with a pint of water at 7:30. Then another at 9am.
I had to pee before we even got to the Anacortes Kayak Tours office.
Michael and I rode in a tandem kayak, and there were a total of 12 people on our tour. We got outfitted to stay pretty dry and then went down to the docks to get into our boats.
As we headed out into the bay we picked up a hitchiker.
This harbor seal pup actually tried to get on our boat, too. I think our guide’s boat sat a little lower in the water.
The tour was awesome. I had no motion sickness issues at all, although I did have to ask for a bathroom break about halfway through. Hydration has its consequences.
Leaving Anacortes, we moved up to Bellingham, Washington, and did a little more research on Canada. We weren’t sure how much internet coverage we’d have up there, so I plotted out our course from Sumas, Washington (where we’d cross the border) up to Banff National Park, and back down to Glacier National Park. Then we got ready for our border crossing.
Man, we were so ready. Ready for a fight, I guess. But the border agent we talked to was so… friendly. He asked about our trip, and when we told him the short version, he just said, “that sounds awesome.” He let us know a few of Canada’s rules that we were breaking (like bringing in American produce), although he said that he wasn’t going to go through our cooler for a plum and a bag of lettuce, which was nice. But he let us know that American customs were a little more picky. So before we come back we’ll clean out the cooler.
I’d say it took us about 15 minutes to get into Canada. Whee!
Our first stop was actually the Visitor’s Information Center. Armed with some free maps, we walked across the street to a bank to exchange some American dollars for Canadian dollars. Then we got on the road.
Along the way we passed several drive-thru corn stands. Like a fruit stand, but selling ears of GMO-free corn. I wish I’d taken a picture – it looked about as strange as it sounds.
Leaving from Abbotsford, we took the Trans-Canada Highway to the town of Hope. When we turned north onto Highway 5, I couldn’t believe it: we were on the Coquihalla Highway.
If you have Netflix, you may have seen this little show called Highway Thru Hell. The show focuses on a company called Jamie Davis Towing, and follows the drama and difficulty of what’s called “heavy recovery,” or towing out big rigs, along the Coq (pronounced coke) in the winter.
Luckily the roads were dry when we passed through, although I lost count of the avalanche shelters we drove under. Let’s just say I don’t think I’d want to drive this road during a storm.
Our first campsite in Canada proved to be amazing. Hard to get to (we turned around a few times) but amazing.
We were right on the shores of North Woods Lake. Bailey took full advantage of that water, and the breeze kept most of the bugs away.
I even set up the Revel Gear lights. Feels like it’s been a while!
Actually, it had been a while. We forgot that moths love lights and left these beauties on while we were up in the tent, reading and writing. Michael went our for a bathroom break around 10:30… and let what felt like about 20 moths into the tent.
We were driving through Hoquaim on our way to a coffee shop in Aberdeen when I saw it: a big sign with a giant “Y.”
Is that a YMCA? I asked.
Pull in, Michael said.
And it was! A really nice YMCA too, I might add. $15 got both of us day passes. And the pool was really nice, so after a shower we each swam a few laps.
Cleaned up, our next move was lunch. We were hungry from all that swimming. And we went… to Denny’s in Aberdeen. Yeah, laugh all you want. But our booth at Denny’s had a power outlet. And the restaurant had free WiFi.
Just down the street from Denny’s we found a laundromat. They had free WiFi, too. So now we were clean, our clothes were clean, and all the electronics were charged.
During our stay in town I learned that Aberdeen was Kurt Cobain’s hometown. I think Aberdeen’s probably made some strides since Cobain’s day, but I could totally see why he’d want to get the hell out of Aberdeen.
We ended up camping at (what I’m sure was an illegal) campsite north of Matlock, Washington. There weren’t any signs that said we couldn’t camp there. I’m just pretty sure we weren’t actually on National Forest land. But nobody bothered us. Still, Michael was pretty happy for us to leave the next day, purely because I never got tired of shouting “Maaaaaatlock!” like Grandpa Simpson. Yep, I found a clip on YouTube.
Sunday, August 6th marked our 12th wedding anniversary. Michael drove us to Seattle. As we passed through Olympia and got on Interstate 5, we saw something curious – three police cruisers blocking all three lanes of southbound I-5. Traffic was backed up for miles. I grabbed the phone. Washington State’s Department of Transportation has a website similar to Colorado’s, with traffic cameras and everything.
Here’s where it gets curiouser and curiouser. The camera at the area south of the police barricade was “unavailable at this time.” All the other ones were working just fine and no other information was available online. Weird…
Our first destination in Seattle? REI. How could we pass up the opportunity to visit the granddaddy of them all, the Seattle Flagship store? Let me tell you, this place was HUGE. Two floors of awesomeness. We were there for two hours.
Our next stop: Pike Place Market. Now, I don’t know if the market was always this busy (it was summer, after all) or if it was just because it was Sunday, but Pike Place Market was jam-packed with people. It was hard to walk, harder for a shorty like me to see. It was an interesting mix – florists, fishmongers, tourist crap, and local businesses like Indi Chocolate and DeLaurenti Food & Wine. The single-source chocolate was amazing, and as for DeLaurenti’s – how can you not love a place that stocks over 200 kinds of cheese?
That night we met up with our Seattle connection, Ivy.
Although she actually lived in Kirkland. But anyway. The fact that Ivy let us park in her driveway, and basically gave us full access to her house, is testament to two things. One is the power of CrossFit: Ivy is friends with Walker, who we used to work out with at CrossFit Commence in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The second is the power of Michael. He’s just that charismatic person that people gravitate towards. With me, it would have been all kinds of awkward, even though Ivy is about as cool a person as I’ve met.
And we met way back in Portland, when we had dinner with her and Walker and Michael’s friend Jon. So we already knew she was awesome. I tend to bow in respect to anyone that competes in Ironman Triathlons.
Ivy walked us down the hill from her apartment to the Hanuman Thai Cafe where we got take-out, and then walked over to a dog-friendly bar, the Flatstick Pub. They don’t have a kitchen there, so you can bring in your own food. Bailey was a big hit there. One guy thought his name was Bay Leaf, which we laughed about for a while.
The weather didn’t exactly cooperate, as Seattle was going through an uncharacteristic heat wave. Honestly, the heat and humidity reminded me of Chicago summers. If not for the haze in the air (from the fires up in Canada), it might have been even hotter.
The next day was the result of another crazy coincidence. I’d met Eric back in Fayetteville – we all played disc golf together at Lake Fayetteville – and he and Michael have been friends for a long time. Anyway, Michael saw on Facebook that Eric was in Seattle and reached out. And Eric invited us to go sailing with him and his friend James.
Eric lives in Tulsa but grew up sailing. He was renting a boat, he said. We thought that sounded great, but this was supposed to be an all-day thing. What about Bailey?
Apparently the owner of the boat said no dogs. But the harbormaster loved dogs, insisted it wouldn’t be a problem, and gave Eric a tip. Pick up the boat, motor down to a different dock (the one with a little store where you can buy ice), and pick up me and Michael and Bailey there.
Hey, it wasn’t our boat. We said sure.
I was less worried about Bailey than I was about myself. Bailey’s generally a calm dog and he’s never been sick in a car before. But boats and I are not exactly friends. I have a long history of motion sickness, although boats are not the only cause. I get nauseous on airplanes. I have to drive on most curvy roads. Candied ginger goes a long way, but the last time I was on a boat (a 3-hour snorkeling tour) I spent the better part of it heaving my guts out. That was in 1996 and I hadn’t been on a boat since.
I was armed with sparkling water and candied ginger. The winds were calm. And at first, it was fun. I helped with the rigging. We took pictures.
It was fun… right up until the moment that it wasn’t. I honestly think the Cosco ship had something to do with it.
We passed it pretty close and the waves that ship sent out made my stomach roll.
I took the offered dramamine but it was already too late. The decision was made to get me off the boat. Sails were taken down and we motored in to Kingston Harbor, where we pulled in to an empty slot and went to visit the harbormaster. We paid $10 to park in the harbor and went off for a little lunch.
That might sound odd, but as soon as my feet were on solid ground I felt a lot better. Still, I played it safe for the return journey. I made my way to the Bainbridge Ferry terminal and took the car ferry over to Seattle. It was a much smoother ride. Michael and Bailey sailed back with Eric and James.
Bailey was a great sailor, by the way.
Hell, he spent most of the trip asleep.
Once I landed back in Seattle I walked to Elliott Bay Books. It took me about 30 minutes and was almost completely up a steep hill, but after my time on the boat it felt really good to get my blood pumping. The bookstore seemed to be in a gentrified neighborhood – one block was homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk, the next was hipster restaurants with outdoor seating. Also there were lots of hipsters.
Elliott Bay Books reminded me a lot of the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver – a huge bookstore with lots of space for wandering. I found a new journal from their pretty extensive collection.
After two big days in Seattle, it was time to move on. We thanked Ivy profusely for her hospitality. We loaded up at a store called Fred Meyer, which is part of the same conglomerate as King Soopers, Kroger, and City Market, but Fred Meyer is a horse of a different color. The store was a large complex – in addition to the grocery and pharmacy, there was a department store full of name-brand clothes, as well as a jewelery store. The jewelry store carried Tissot, Tag Hauer, and Rolex.
That’s the part I couldn’t wrap my head around. I was trying to think of the person who’d say Yeah, I’m just popping out to the store to get some milk. And a Rolex.
We started heading north out of Kirkland in I-405 north. Traffic was already backed up and we crept along at about 20 mph for what seemed like a very long time. When we finally got back to speed I realized that there was no accident, no looky-loos. It was 3pm on a Tuesday.
We’d just gone through a bit of Seattle’s legendary traffic.
Sorry, Seattle. You seem like a pretty cool place. But I never want to live here.
One last note: We talked to Ivy about that whole weird traffic camera thing. You know, how the police had the road shut down, and the traffic camera that would have showed us what was going on was mysteriously not working?
She suggested that there might have been a fatality. Which made a hell of a lot more sense than anything my conspiracy-theory mind had come up with, and also made me feel like a bit of an asshole. Although the best I could find was a blurb on Thurston County’s Facebook page for that day: “I-5 closed both directions for possible suicidal subject.”
Still. Better to look at the rational explanation, no?
I had no idea there were so many National Parks in Washington State. We’d already hit Mount Saint Helens and Mount Rainier, and we weren’t done yet: It was time to see the rain forest. Olympic National Park was a bucket list item for me. I’ve always wanted to see the only rain forest in North America.
When we arrived in Port Angeles (gateway to Olympic National Park), it was hot, and hazy. Not cloudy – hazy. And the air smelled like smoke. We wondered what was up as we stocked up in the Port Angeles WalMart and moved on to the Visitor’s Center.
Normally people drive from that Visitor’s Center to the one up on Hurricane Ridge, as it’s a great way to view Mount Olympus. Olympic National Park has several webcams and in the Visitor’s Center we saw the Hurricane Ridge webcam up on a big screen TV.
The “view” was solid haze.
A Park ranger explained that there were fires burning in Canada, north of Vancouver. The smoke was drifting south and that’s what was causing the haze and the campfire smell.
So we passed on Hurricane Ridge. We drove on instead to Rialto Beach, which was also hazy, unfortunately, but still pretty amazing.
It was also crowded, although we lucked into a good parking spot. We left Bailey in the truck and went for a walk along the beach. Rialto Beach is famous for a rock formation called “Hole in the Wall,” which is just what it sounds like. A big rock wall with a hole in the middle of it – big enough to walk through – that has been caused by waves. I didn’t get a decent picture of it, mostly because of all the people, and I also found the other rock formations (also caused by erosion and waves) to be a lot cooler.
We also found… whatever this was. The ocean washes strange things ashore.
We camped for the night in a nondescript spot in Olympic National Forest. Honestly, we had a hard time finding a good site. The areas were pretty trashed, most of them having been used for shooting practice, as well as being covered in, well, trash. We finally settled on a gigantic pullout that at least was not littered with shell casings.
The next day we finally got to the rain forest. Hoh Rain Forest, to be exact. It was nice and humid, like I expected. It was also 90o, which I did not expect. We walked the Hall of Mosses trail, as well as the Spruce Trail. I got to learn!
First cool thing: moss grows on the trees here because everything mosses need come from the air. Seriously. It gets moisture and nutrients from the damp air. No need for soil. Neat!
Second cool thing: I found out why the big trees all have roots that look like this.
See, things break down rather slowly in a temperate rain forest. Fallen trees (which can take centuries to completely decompose) quickly become “nurse trees” for other organisms.
Moss, lichen, grasses, flowers, even new trees.
And as the new trees get bigger, their roots extend down around the nurse tree. By the time the nurse tree rots away completely, the roots of the new tree are big enough to support it.
We both thought the rain forest was pretty damn cool. Even though it was actually really hot that day.
We found a campsite right on the Hoh River that night, and it was fabulous. We had a scary incident along the way, though. I missed the turn to this camping area (it was not marked in any way, as sometimes happens), and so I found a pullout to turn around. There was traffic coming the other way, so when I pulled my U-turn I goosed it a little bit. I heard this weird thump. I checked my rear-view mirror to see how close that traffic was behind me.
And what I saw was Bailey, standing in the middle of the road.
I jammed on the brakes, shouted to Michael, and both of us jumped out of the truck. Luckily for us the vehicle behind us had stopped, and the four guys in it jumped out as well, trying to corral Bailey, who was kind of wandering around in confusion. We called to him and I swear I never saw that dog look more relieved. He came running to us. Somehow – miraculously – he seemed okay.
When we turned back to our truck I saw that the topper lid was open. My guess is that he fell into the lid when I hit the gas, and that’s what popped it open.
Needless to say, ever since I’ve been hitting the gas like an old lady.
On to more happy things, like our Hoh River Campsite:
Bailey really didn’t seem any worse for wear, so we threw the tennis ball into the Hoh River for him that afternoon. Our site was breezy and almost completely bug free. Overnight we heard elk calling to each other. In the morning I was treated to a fly fishing session.
I was reluctant to leave this campsite. But it was hot and the site actually had zero shade for most of the day. So move on we did, taking in Ruby Beach, which was was a lot cooler than the rain forest. I mean that literally – we wore jackets. Although we did warm up a bit hiking over this giant log jam just to get to the beach.
Once we got there, though, the views were pretty stunning.
There were driftwood “shelters” like this everywhere.
And there was some kind of film crew at Ruby Beach. The cameraman was wearing a wetsuit, and the actor (an older gentleman) was wearing some kind of military uniform.
At some point they filmed this guy walking into the surf. I’m sure it was supposed to be stoic, this old guy committing suicide. Or it would have been, if the actor hadn’t lost his balance and fallen. Hit hat fell off and he spent five minutes trying to get it back so they could resume the shot.
We spent the night at Campbell Tree Grove campground, a free campground 20 miles from anywhere. It was in the rain forest, though, so it was lush and dark. I had to break out my headnet for a while there as the mosquitoes got a little fierce at sunset.
No, the real problem was the rodents. We heard them outside pretty much all night long. And at one point Michael swore he saw a mouse crawling on the mesh window on his side of the tent. How did it even get up there? Not that it mattered – he knew what it was after: the chocolate bar he’d brought in as a late-night snack. He had to get up and put the chocolate in the cab of the truck.
In the morning I didn’t find any evidence of rodents in the cab. Or in the back. Believe me, I checked. But those little jerks chewed a hole in the sandbag we’d used to tie down the tent.
Oh, the joys of nature. Our next destination was pretty much a 180 from the rain forest, though: Seattle.
I started out our first full day in Washington State with a trail run. We were in Gifford Pinchot National Forest and I ran on the Lewis River Trail. Not very technical, but I enjoyed the rolling hills – as did Bailey. The views of the Lewis River were pretty sweet, too.
After breakfast we acted on some information we’d received the night before: Lower Falls.
A guy driving past our campsite last night stopped to chat, mostly about our rig. When he found out we were new to the area he said we just had to go to Lower Falls. It was a swimming hole, he said, and sometimes people jump off the cliffs into the water. When you leave, he told us, turn left onto FR90 and go about 10 miles. Can’t miss it.
We hadn’t been to a good swimming hole since Newberry National Volcanic Monument, so this was a no-brainer. Hell, I was prepared this time and wore my swimsuit. We arrived at the Lower Falls Recreation Area around 10:30 and the parking lot was pretty empty, so we scored a spot in the shade. We left Bailey in the truck while we scoped things out.
At some point we noticed a few kayakers carrying their boats up the trail. Were they going to run the falls?
It sure looked like it. We watched on guy drag his boat out onto the rocks, then start scoping out the falls. Eventually his buddy came over and the two of them had a bit of a discussion.
I thought things would move right along, but then then the kayaker backed off the edge. And started doing yoga.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Maybe he was just stretching, getting ready for the falls. I thought that too. Right up to the moment the yoga guy ripped off his shirt and had his buddy take pictures of him striking poses.
I was so distracted by yoga guy that I wasn’t ready when the first kayak appeared at the top of the falls. I got the rest of them, though.
Even yoga guy went. Eventually.
After the kayaking excitement I put my camera away. We let Bailey out and hiked down to the water. This is National Forest land, so we didn’t have to keep him leashed up. Once we got to the river, we had to wade up to the swimming hole. The water was only ankle deep.
There were lots of people and lots of dogs. Bailey loved it. Once again, we had to stop throwing the ball once he started shivering. That water was cold.
Michael and I went swimming too. See, while the water was mostly shallow, there was something I’ll call a shelf in the water. You can see it in my earlier picture. The water went from ankle deep… to at least fifteen feet. It was hard to tell, even though the water was so clear, because it was so deep.
Some people were jumping from that shelf, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, so I just kind of fell into the deep water. And you know what? It was refreshing. It was. For about five seconds. Once my head went under, that water was so cold that it gave me a headache. I scrambled out as quickly as I could.
Around 4 pm the shadows had taken over our spot and it was getting a little cool to hang out in cold water. We headed back to the truck and along the way we saw a sign that said “Middle Falls 1.5.”
Middle Falls, huh? We put Bailey in the truck, I grabbed my camera, and we set out walking. There was a bit of a detour so the hike was more like 2 miles, but it was totally worth it.
The next day we got a little closer to our goal of Mount Saint Helens. At least we were inside the National Monument border when we visited a place called Ape Cave.
This is a lava tube, similar to the one we visited in Newberry National Volcanic Monument outside of Bend. But there was no guidance at Ape Cave, no lectures from forest rangers. Just a couple of signs suggesting that you bring adequate lights. You were on your own.
There are two options at Ape Cave: the easier lower cave, and the more difficult upper cave. Armed with headlamps and flashlights, we chose the upper cave. We did the whole thing in about 90 minutes and loved it. (It helped that this time, in addition to a jacket, I wore pants, a hat, and my running gloves.) We crawled over multiple rockfalls. There were rope-assisted ascents. It was awesome.
One thing that was not awesome? All the poop.
I’m not kidding. We passed multiple piles of human waste while walking along the upper cave. Some of it was right out there in the open, so to speak. (It’s a cave and even though you’re only about 30 feet or so below ground it’s 100% dark in there.) I began to wonder if it was some kind of badge of honor, taking a dump in Ape Cave. And in case you’re not grossed out enough, consider this: Not everyone bothered with toilet paper.
One more reason I was really glad we each brought two sets of lights.
We camped that night just north of Mount Saint Helens, just off a super bumpy dirt road. It was a very established campsite. As in, there were nails in all the trees. Hell, some of those nails were actually tent stakes. And way off in the back, somebody left their 5-gallon shitter.
I don’t know what says redneck louder than a pool noodle toilet seat.
I guess I should have titled this one “Poop in Washington” or something…
On July 28th we finally made it to Mount Saint Helens. Of course, that was after morning snuggles for Bailey…
After departing our campsite at 10am, we made a few stops in the towns of Longview and Kelso. Wal-Mart (paper towels and almonds), Winco (to fill the water containers) and Safeway (for gas). Too bad we couldn’t find those three things at the same store, but what can you do?
Along the way to the MSH Visitor’s Center, we stopped at a little roadside fruit stand and picked up Yakima peaches. This might sound a little odd but I hadn’t had a peach since October. That was waaay back in Moab, when we were buying a 5-lb bag of Palisade peaches at the same roadside stand once a week.
After that experience I said that I’d never eat any other kind of peach. Palisade peaches were the best.
Now, I’m not going to change my tune and say that Palisade peaches are not the best… But those Yakima peaches were damn tasty.
My point is that eventually we made it to the Visitor’s Center for Mount Saint Helens. We have a National Parks annual pass, and that gets us in to National Monuments as well. But the Visitor’s Center for MSH was also a learning center and they charged their own fee of $5/person to get in and learn. We paid it so we could watch the 13-minute video about the eruption of Mount Saint Helens on May 18, 1980. There were also lots of cool exhibits about the volcano and the aftermath of the explosion.
I didn’t realize that the area around the mountain had actually been evacuated 7 weeks before the big eruption. There were several scary signs (like bulges) and events (like small earthquakes) that led to the evacuation. However, during that 7 weeks only a few smaller eruptions and earthquakes were recorded. Nothing catastrophic and so people were getting antsy. For me, when I looked around the area and saw how isolated these towns are, their reaction made sense. Seven weeks is a long time to be out of your home, especially when the coast seems clear.
On May 17, a small group (50 carloads) was allowed back in to the area to check on their homes. That went well so another group was scheduled to go in at 10am the next day.
Mount Saint Helens erupted at 8:32am on May 18.
There is no video of the eruption but photographer Gary Rosenquist captured a series of images that were pieced together to show what happened. It was actually quite stunning to watch. (I found a link to his photographs here.)
Harder to think about: the 57 people who died. Only three of those were actually in the evacuated area. In spite of all the knowledge, nobody predicted that the mountain would blow out on its north side.
After watching the video, seeing the exhibits, and trying to imagine destruction on that scale (the eruption alone blew down 230 acres of forest), we finally came face to face with Mount Saint Helens.
I found the crater that is now the top of the mountain to actually be a wee bit sinister. It looked like a gaping mouth, especially when you consider that from that gaping mouth came the largest landslide in US history, one that covered a total of 24 square miles and filled the Toutle River Valley with debris up to 600 feet deep. And even more especially when you consider that MSH is still active. New lava domes began forming inside the crater in 2004, although that activity was considered finished in 2008 and the mountain has been relatively quiet ever since. Sill. The closer we got, the more ominous that crater looked.
On a lighter note, we found some local “wildlife.”
What we did not find was a place camp. Our Gazetter showed a small strip of National Forest land just outside the National Monument boundary. But none of the local maps showed any such thing. And we couldn’t find any roads to turn off that were open. These were logging roads, and they were closed off by gates.
We had to drop back and punt. Michael found us a spot outside the town of Randle, Washington. I think the area was supposed to be a wildlife area? Generally camping isn’t allowed in places like that. But when we arrived there were at least 10 other cars in the parking lot. Tired, we set up shop and crawled up into the tent.
The next day (a Saturday) we drove to Mount Rainier National Park. We waited 30 minutes in line just to get in the Nisqually entrance on the west side, but it was totally worth it. I can’t believe we almost passed on the opportunity to come here – Rainier is astounding. The top of the mountain (an active volcano, it last erupted in 1894) is covered in glaciers.
Traffic was surprisingly not that bad. Everyone flocked to an area called Paradise (with good reason, it looked gorgeous) and by the time we got there the parking lot was full. They still let cars drive through, through, so we joined that little shitshow for a while.
There were plenty of other places to take pictures. Like Narada Falls.
And the wildflowers were in full bloom.
We easily found a campsite outside the Park boundary, and the next day we went back to Rainier for round 2. This time we arrived early (okay, well, early-ish) to snag a parking spot at Sunrise. While this parking lot offers some stunning views of Mt Rainier, there are also several hiking trails that start here.
We hiked a total of 6 miles in a loop, passing Frozen Lake along the way to trails called Burroughs 1 and Burroughs 2.
After a snack, taking in the views of Mt Rainier, we headed back via Shadow Lake. I never saw so much Lupine in my life.
Super glad we decided to go visit Mt. Rainier National Park.
I know, the title makes it seem like a bad thing. Hear me out. It’s not like Portland was a bad place to be imprisoned, mind you, but the clutches of the Portland area seemed to be pretty long indeed.
July 17th we headed out on a little day trip. I’d mentioned to our friend Jon that I’d always wanted to see Cannon Beach, and Haystack Rock. He said he went there all the time – it was only a couple of hours away.
Off we set, taking in the little town of Astoria, and heading up to see the Astoria Column. Built in 1926, the Astoria Column overlooks the mouth of the Columbia river and has a 164-step spiral staircase that leads to an observation deck.
It cost $5 to park there… so we parked down the hill and walked up. Yes, folks, we really are that cheap. The views from the Column were nice though.
From Astoria it was about another hour to Cannon Beach. I was happy to get to see Haystack Rock – it reminded me a lot of Morro Rock, in Morro Bay, California. And it was even more heavily developed. Condos and short-term rentals abounded, and the main drag was full of big box stores. I was a little disappointed, to be honest.
But I took my pictures, and can say I’ve been there, since when the Cascadia Subduction Zone goes the whole area will be destroyed. What, you didn’t read that fabulous article in the New Yorker? If you haven’t, you totally should. It was one of the most fascinating disaster articles I’ve ever read.
After Cannon Beach We headed back towards Portland because Michael had a dentist appointment the next day. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he said it was either a filling that had fallen out, or something had gone off with a crown. This is one of those little-thought-about problems with traveling full time. Picking a doctor (or dentist) is hard enough. But when you live like we do, it’s hard to predict exactly where you’re going to be tomorrow, much less next week. And unless it’s an emergency, new patients rarely get in right away. I think Michael had made his appointment 10 days earlier.
So. Back to Portland. This time we were staying with a friend of mine, from back in my REI days. He sent me a message a week or so ago, letting me know that if we needed a place to stay and a shower, well, he had a yard and a house.
I’ll always remember this moment, when we pulled through the gate at his property to see that Brandon (and his girlfriend, Frances) did, in fact, have a yard. A gigantic one.
The one thing Brandon and Frances didn’t have was a kitchen. They were in the middle of a remodel. No problem! We have a mobile kitchen. So we happily shared coffee and breakfast the next morning, as well as dinner that night (more on that later).
Brandon and Frances also had a little dog named PeeWee, and he and Bailey became fast friends. As in, they were tearing around the property together. PeeWee’s pretty fast for such a little dog.
We made it to the dentist and it turns out that Michael’s crown was indeed cracked. They took a mold for his replacement crown and said it would be there on Friday… three days later.
No problem. We roll with the punches here, right? We decided to go check out Hood River for a couple of days. Then we scheduled me in for a cleaning while Michael was having his crown done. I hadn’t been to a dentist in a year!
Dinner that night was sockeye salmon with farotto and veggies pulled from Brandon and Frances’ garden. So good!
Our hosts encouraged us to pick some blackberries the next morning, even pointing out which bushes had the most berries.
We put some on oatmeal, but these were so sweet that they were great all by themselves.
Upon our arrival at Hood River, the first thing we did was check out the waterfront.
The wind is pretty constant here in the summer, and Hood River is an international destination for paddlers, windsurfers, and kite boarders. Watching made me totally want to try it. Most of the people there made it look easy. A few made me realize that windsurfing and kite boarding are actually really, really difficult.
There was a little beach and we saw other dogs off leash, so we let Bailey run and wear himself out in the water.
We also saw a fly-by by a couple of F-15 Eagles. I never found out where they came from, and they were gone in a flash, but it was so cool to see them.
Next we needed a place to camp. And the best place for information on local camping tends to be from the locals. So we asked at the bike shop on Oak Street, and the guy there told us to check out Post Canyon. It’s a mountain bike area, he said, but there are pullouts for camping. Also, there’s a staging area for ATV’s, which is closed to ATV’s now because of fire restrictions.
We had an excellent view of Mount Hood to the south, and even though we had wide-open skies, the trees to our west worked as an excellent shield from the wind. I also tried my hand at more starry-night pictures.
Not as good as what I see on Instagram, but I think I’m getting better.
Anyway. Post Canyon looked like a super fun place to ride. Bailey and I went running there several times and thoroughly enjoyed each one.
We hung out in Hood River like this until Friday, when we returned to Portland for Michael’s crown and my cleaning. Aaaaahhhhh, clean teeth. A wonderful feeling. That was the good news. The bad news? Michael’s crown did not fit. They took another mold but the soonest they could get the new crown would be Monday.
So. Back to Hood River we went. I mean, at least we knew where to camp. Saturday was hot and we spent most of it hanging out under our cool awning. On Sunday, Michael met a guy named Kani on the trail. They got to talking, and Kani said he was going to play disc golf in the afternoon.
“We love disc golf!” Michael said. “But we don’t have our discs.”
That afternoon Kani met us in town and gave all of us (Bailey too!) a ride out to Stevenson, Washington, to play disc golf at the Cascade Locks course. He even lent us discs. Michael did pretty well, of course, even though we haven’t played disc golf since Fayetteville. I, however, super sucked. 18 holes and I did not par once. A bogey on 13 was the best I could do.
I still had a great time. After the 3rd hole we let Bailey off the leash. He was incredibly obedient. In fact, the only time he wandered off, it was over by the tennis courts. I had to call him three times. When he came back he had a tennis ball in his mouth.
Good dog, Bailey.
Plus, there were blackberries. Now, those bushes are mean and thorny but the berries were delicious. Michael filled his putter.
When Monday came around, we were not exactly in a big hurry to leave, as Michael’s appointment wasn’t until 4pm. I got up early and went for a run with Bailey. After a killer breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon, veggies, and avocado, we packed up and said good-bye to our sweet little site. I should have known better.
We found Hood River’s laundromat and while our clothes were in the washer made a supply run to Wal-Mart, which was essentially next door. After laundry we went back to Portland. Our first stop was a food truck court called Tidbit. I had Hawaiian BBQ and Michael had ramen, and both were delicious. But it was there that the first ominous sign occurred, in the form of a phone call from Gentle Dental, pushing Michael’s appointment back from 4pm to 5pm. Well, there wasn’t much we could say, other than all right. See you at 5.
We headed over to Creston Park next. Partly to give Bailey a chance to run, but mostly because Creston Park has a water spigot. And Portland tap water tasted pretty good. We probably filled up there three times during our time in the city. Thanks, Portland!
After all that we finally headed over to Gentle Dental… although we stocked up at Safeway first. And while were were at Safeway the phone rang again. Oregon number. Uh-oh.
Of course it was Gentle Dental. Was 6pm okay, they asked?
Ah, shit. But what could we do? We both went to the coffee shop to charge all the electronics. At about 5:50 he headed next door. He took the phone so I kept a tab open to Facebook. That way we could communicate via FB messenger. He gave me updates… about how they were all waiting. Gentle Dental closed at 5pm. Turns out that the crowns were manufactured at a plant in nearby Beaverton and the company would just drive them over. The driver was supposed to have been there by 3:30. He was stuck in Portland traffic.
Luckily Michael’s crown fit perfectly. The dentist felt so badly – he knew our story, about how we were traveling – that he reached into his own wallet and gave Michael $60 cash. But by the time we were all said and done, it was 7:30pm. I actually texted my friend Brandon, hoping for one more night out by his house. No such luck.
We went back to Post Canyon Road. Hell, by this time I think the truck knew the way. We arrived at 9, just after sunset, and set up the tent just enough to sleep in it.
The next day we packed up and I did not say good-bye our site. We headed north to the Hood River Bridge and paid our $1 toll.
So we either paid $1 to get into Washington… or to get out of Oregon.
Seriously though, Oregon was awesome. But it was time to move on (isn’t it always time to move on?!?) to Washington.