Friday, November 02, 2007

Corner of the Continental US

After various hijinx in the city and the outlying area, we skipped out on urban Halloween celebrations and headed for the Olympic Peninsula. A late night, curvy drive to Port Angeles found us in a town larger than we had expected with nowhere to sleep. After scouting dark side streets and contemplating some campgrounds in the vicinity, we settled for the Wal-Mart parking lot. Joining fifth wheels, trailers and RVs, we bedded down in America’s free campground, living the dream vacation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who apparently travels the United States staying in the smiley-faced lots.
Errands in the city and a great breakfast of toasted bagels with smoked salmon scrambled eggs and a French press of coffee cooked in the Safeway parking lot left us fed and ready to run whitewater. But the dam-controlled Elwah River wasn’t flowing high enough, so we burned grease out to the very tip of America: Neah Bay, Makah Native American lands. We bathed in the Pacific at Shi Shi beach after a hike through large red cedars and towering Sitka Spruce, the ground covered with all manner of fungus, even bright purple mushrooms. A fine meal cooked overlooking the breakers of the Pacific and early to bed for the eagerly anticipated paddle around Cape Flattery and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a trip recommended Nigel and Kristin a couple nights ago. To check out our route, click here.
It is a famed coastline, renown for its remoteness, wild storms, rich waters and huge rain forest trees. It is also home of the Makah, one of the few whale hunting tribes in the Pacific Northwest, traditionally hunting from long canoes. It is also home to my first big open water paddle, we set out at the Waatch River and wove our way through breakers, finding a smooth route past the swell. The forecast called for 11 foot swell at 12 second intervals and I was nervous, but the seas were fairly calm once we got out a bit. We worked our way north, towards the Cape and Tatoosh Island. Boomers exploded on rocks inshore from us and large cliffs and rocky beaches, littered with driftwood logs, lay behind the monoliths of the ocean. The entrance to Juan De Fuca, on the inside of Tatoosh, was a bit tricky with the incoming tide pushing in. We lunched on bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon in a sheltered cove on Tatoosh, dubbed Seal Cove, since we came upon a colony of seals hauled out on the rocks. They all dashed and flopped into the water and studied us with their canine-like eyes as we ate, with one fat , lazy white and grey stippled seal ignoring us from its rock perch.
We paddled back into the sea and safely passed into the Strait, where the water turned smooth, dark black with big, slow rollers turning aqua when washing up on rocks or into caves. A beautiful stretch, with lichen draped alders and huge evergreens hanging over cliff walls that tumbled into the sea, the rock forming arches and caves and little sandy coves. In the water, we paddled with seals and sea lions and were surprised by a whale’s spout as it worked the kelp beds for food. A V-shaped spray came from its blowhole, grey or minke perhaps. We also came upon a group of sea otters hauled out, floating on kelp. And all around us birds: huge clouds of them out at sea or over the trees, auklets and murres floating beside us and ducks, murrelets and more diving and flying. We both agreed it was one of the finer paddles we’ve ever done and got back to Neah Bay just before the rains started. A quick dinner under the shelter of a red cedar plank house made as a tribute to Veterans, opening kick-off of the Neah Bay football game Go Red Devils!) and we are back on the road, running on grease down to Forks where One T will join us for hiking up the Hoh River.

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