After our earlier trip up to Montana and Canada, we returned to home base in Colorado to take a break from the van travels in order to visit some friends and family and attend some far flung weddings.
In early August we took to the road again from Colorado, heading toward the north western corner of Washington state, the Olympic Peninsula. We zipped across Colorado, Utah, spent a quick night in an interstate rest stop in southern Idaho, and arrived at the Oregon-Washington border in the middle of the second day, rolling west along the Columbia River.
Annual forest fires in the western US have been getting worse in recent years, and this summer has been no different. Colorado was mostly clear, but the entire drive across Utah was covered by thickening smoke from various fires, some near, some far. Near Price, UT, the brush fires were no more than 100 feet from the road. We drove right past the fire crews working along the road side. Southern Utah is a desert, so while there are no dense forests to create a major blaze, there is also little water and little infrastructure to stop a brush fire once it takes hold. The best the crews can do is burn and cut control lines and wait for the flames to run out of fuel.
We were encountering with smoke and poor air quality on and off from Utah all the way to Olympic, at the far corner of the continent.
We stopped in the town of Hood River, OR, apparently the kite and wind surfing capital of the country, the result of cool mountain air in the Cascades being drawn east toward the low desert, funneling through the Columbia River Gorge, leading to a near constant westerly wind over this stretch of river.
After crunching miles for three days, we arrived in at night on the Olympic Peninsula, just north of the state capital of Olympia. After a long day at the wheel, what a delight to find the little amount of vehicle traffic on the only road in the area come to a complete halt. Apparently, a downed power line a mile up the road was causing the delay, with an estimated cleanup time of 30 minutes to 5 hours. It was already nearly midnight. At times like this, I am so grateful for our self contained sleeping arrangements in the van. We don’t need any hookups or accomodation, just a reasonably flat spot to park. Rachel managed to squeeze the van ahead in the line of cars to a dirt pull off on the side of the road. Once stopped, and the window covers go up, the outside world can disappear and we can cook food and rest in comfort. If it wasn’t for the sound of an idling motorcycle a few feet away outside the vehicle, one would never have known that we were sleeping next to a traffic jam.
Morning came, and we were on our way on an unobstructed road. Our first point of vistation was the town of Port Townsend. Port Townsend is a charming seaside town, on the north-east corner of the peninsula, across the Pueget Sound from the Seattle metro area. It was once a bustling shipping port in the mid nineteenth century, and the main street is lined with colorful, well-preserved Victorian buildings. We had a fun afternoon generally being tourists and playing dress-up in the pirate/steampunk apparel store, World’s End, the stock of which could be used to re-dress the entire cast of Pirates of the Caribbean.
We are told that in its heyday, a number of the seedier establishments in town (brothels, salloons and the like) had underground tunnels that ran from their cellars straight to the docks a few blocks away. Unsuspecting drunks, passed out in a bar, would wake the next day to find that they had been carried through these tunnels and onto waiting merchant ships bound for Asia, effectively indentured into labor until their eventual return to the United States months later. Such is the origination of the term getting “Shanghaied”.
A #vanlife meetup
I had been corresponding with a pen pal and fellow DIY van builder, Steve, for a while discussing the pros and cons and various minutia of such a construction project as we had choson to undertake. Steve had purchased the same model, year and size van as I had (2005 T1N Sprinter 2500) and we had started sharing notes last year when we were both starting our camper conversion designs.
As luck (and a small amount of advance planning) would have it, Steve, his partner Laurae and his dog Johnny were going to be traveling in Washington at the same time as Rachel and I. We all met up for a little van camping and hangout near Port Ludlow, where Steve’s friend Rodney has 10 acres of mostly unimproved wooded property, save for one cleared acre and a dirt road looping the property.
Our first evening at Rodney’s, the five of us shared a big communal meal around the campfire. Rodney, having previously worked at the fish markets in Tacoma, had graciously brought with him from the city a big bucket of fresh-caught dungeness crab and a few dozen oysters, all harvested that day. Steve supplied the garlic butter and we baked everything over the campfire and ate like kings under the stars.
For the next two days, we did little to nothing while lolling about on Rodney’s property. It was amazing. After more or less non-stop driving for three days to get to the Olympic Peninsula, it was just tremendous to be welcomed somewhere where we didn’t have to worry about checking out in the morning or locking the doors at night.
Blackberries grow like a weed out here. The locals hate it, as they grow in huge thick thorny brambles that are nigh impossible to clear. Rachel, on the other hand, took her collecting basket in the morning and had a field day. We had more berries than we knew what to do with in minutes. Steve and Laurae baked up some fresh biscuits in their van, and we provided the fried eggs. Copious blackberries were added to a slathering of Laurae’s home-made mixed berry jam, and the breakfast spread was complete.
Throughout, Steve and I were geeking out about all things Sprinter, to no surprise of our respective traveling companions. We tried to track down a small exhaust leak behind his turbo, and I walked him through the details of my custom plumbing system. Rachel was learning from Laurae, who runs her own small farm in West Virginia, about the various uses, benefits and poisons to be had from the local flora.
On our third day at Rodney’s place, we all packed up and headed out for the north coast of the peninsula. Steve and Lorae had plans to go salmon fishing a couple days later and wanted to drive a bit closer to where they were going. We caravanned to the town of Sequim (read squim) and went for a beach walk on the Dungeness Spit, a narrow hook of sand and driftwood jutting several miles out from shore.
After returning from the nature reserve, we all shared some celebratory beers and Mexican food in town and parted ways. Rachel and I headed to the nearby town of Port Angeles to spend the night and begin our next leg of the trip exploring Olympic National Park.
Until next time!