In a stroke of good luck, at a tourist brochure stand in Montana we picked up “Washington State’s Scenic Byways & Road Trips” magazine, so I’ve had weeks to pore over scenic routes in Washington and plot our course through the state. From everything I’ve seen in this magazine and heard from a lot of people, Washington has an awful lot on offer in terms of natural diversity and beauty. I’d like to see it all, but we have to pick and choose. Here’s the route we ended up taking …
From Birch Bay it was south to Bellingham, where we found Chuckanut Drive to the south of town, following it deep in the trees on cliffs some hundreds of feet above sea level. We’re looking out at the San Juan Islands and Chuckanut Bay and farther south along Samish Bay before the road hits the open expanse of farmland that takes us to Fidalgo Island and over Deception Pass to Whidbey Island. We’re looking to catch the ferry from Coupeville on Whidbey Island over to Port Townsend on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
We arrive in Coupeville shortly before 4 o’clock, just in time for a quick visit with fellow Van fan Gary Baker and his wife, Linda, who meet us on the main street in Coupeville and take us for a short tour of main street and the dock that juts out into Penn Cove.
Gary and Linda are heading to a wine tasting in town at 5 and we must make our way to the ferry terminus on the other side of town at the entrance to the Puget Sound so we can catch the 6 o’clock ferry, which gets us into Port Townsend on Olympic Peninsula while the sun still shines, but not for long.
We have to bypass Port Townsend for now. It’s a Saturday night, and even though this is the off season, you never know what the accommodation situation is going to be like. We’re in search of a campsite that puts us near the entrance to Mount Olympus, which we’re hiking on Sunday – that makes Port Angeles our goal. We don’t quite reach it, stopping for the night in Sequim at the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge. We quickly set up our tent and scurry off to the shoreline to watch the sun set. The refuge is on a spit that juts out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.. And if you look across the strait, you’ll see Victoria over on Vancouver Island. From our vantage point on the spit, we can see the lights of Port Angeles, 16 miles down the road, but the nighttime skies don’t give us a peek at Victoria. Maybe in the morning.
In the morning, we make our way to Port Angeles and up the road to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. We’re going to hike Klahhane Ridge, about 7 1/2 miles round trip. The first couple of miles of the hike take us along a ridge and opens up to a view of Klahhane Ridge in front of us. We’re aiming for the big dip to the right of the “peak” on the left …
When we get there, the view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca fills up the space in front of us …
… and at our backs is Mt Olympus …
On a clear day, the views would be spectacular, but on a cloud-hidden day like today, we must be satisfied with simply gorgeous. But the sun did come out to play on the meadow grass as we approached Hurricane Ridge, where our hike began, and where I was glad to call it a day …
On our ascent, and again on our descent, we met up with Shelley and Rita, locals out for a day in the mountains. As we meander around the country, we are always glad to pick up tips from those who know, and both women insisted that we check out Port Townsend, certain it would be right up our alley.
They were so right. Retracing our way back along Hwy 101, the coastal road around the peninsula, we arrived in Port Townsend as daylight was receding – too late to speak with anyone about camping for the night, so in due course we found ourselves at the Port Townsend Inn on the edge of town – ah, a roof over our heads, a hot shower and a comfy bed: a real treat after a day of Olympian hiking. Shelley and Rita had recommended a great Thai restaurant in town, so we headed that way before their doors closed for the evening and had ourselves a little feast.
In the morning, while Bridget catches up on her sleep, I take advantage of my time with a good long swim at the inn’s indoor pool – all to myself at 10 in the morning, contemplating just how good life can get sometimes. We check out at 11, and of course, as we’re pulling out of the inn’s driveway, the one thing on our minds is coffee. We stumble upon Kinetic Koffee & Kompany, and we’re made wonderful lattes; and wouldn’t you know, the TV’s on and there’s growling Jack giving it to somebody. The daytime soap “The Young & The Restless” – I’ve been watching Jack and the gang so long, it’s creepy. A drama about ruthless murders and amnesia and money and a lot of intermarriage among the main characters. Once a Y&R fan, always a fan, so we sit down to enjoy our lattes and watch Jack scowl some more. Not at Victor, though, who’s got a serious case of amnesia (for I think the third time in his life; this guy’s got legs). As riveting as it all is, we’ve gotta go.
With coffees in hand we head into town for a few hours to wander along the streets, go into the shops and wander down by the waterfront. The town was first settled in 1851 here on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, and by the late 1800s, it was an up-and-coming seaport, folks anticipating that it would become the largest seaport on the US West Coast. That particular vision never materialized, but while it was still the dream of many, a significant amount of building took place, as is evidenced by the numerous (and delightful) Victorian structures around town. I wished I had time to follow the map around town, scrutinizing the architecture. But rather than lament the lack of time, I simply put Port Townsend on my “Then I’ll just have to come back” list and that takes care of that, for now.
Don’t get me wrong – even without the Victorians, Port Townsend is interesting architecturally – eclectic, with lots of room for modern art.
If you ignore government largesse, the vibe in and around town is good – liberal, in the best sense of the word, my liberal friends – people who are open to what life gives them, each of them seeming to be an interesting part of the community, free flow of ideas, lots of creativity. I like all that stuff. It’s also the only town I’ve found so far in my travels that has such a huge lot of writers; I’d be glad to be a part of that. AND, the cherry on top is that they have festivals coming out the wazoo. Every weekend from spring to fall. Amazing. I want to go to every one of them. I for sure will be back. With happy hearts, Bridget and I promising each other that we’d definitely come visit if the other moved here, we drive out of town, getting back on 101 and taking the road south down the eastern side of the peninsula – a gorgeous drive, yet another reason to revisit. And that’s just driving down the eastern side of the peninsula. I hear that the western side, the ocean side of the peninsula, is where it’s really fun.
When we get to the bottom of the peninsula, we’ve made it to Olympia, the state capital, just in time for a late lunch at the Iron Rabbit. One of the wait staff is from New Hampshire and we have a good time sharing stories from the road. Bridget and I never tire of telling stories from the road and we never tire of hearing them.
Lunch hits the spot, but the afternoon’s a wasting. We need to get to Seattle in daylight so we can find where we’re staying – our first airbnb experience. airbnb is a network of people who rent out their back bedrooms, basement apartments, cottages or 15-room villas to visitors who want an alternative to hotels or B&Bs when they come to town. We found a place in West Seattle for five nights through airbnb, and it sounds like it’s going to suit us to a T: a basement apartment with two beds, a full kitchen and a bathroom. Seattle, here we come.