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Paradise rediscovered

James Beach at Dawn

'Instead of explaining, he put his finger on something that emanates from the visible only to return to the invisibility of language.' (Siegfried Gohr, Magritte: Attempting the Impossible)

I had originally intended to spend these past two weeks in the UK and Belgium, but I canceled that trip when I learned that I needed to get my blood glucose under control by the end of November. So instead I only took one week off and made my third trip to the Quileute Oceanside Resort in less than a year. The second trip was a huge bust because I immediately caught a cold and returned home after two miserable nights. This time I had another marvelous time, just like the first time.

It's safe to say that I love it out there. It takes me far outside my routine, and that turns me inside out. What's funny is I've already established a kind of routine for the time I spend out there. Wake up and sit on the deck drinking coffee and listening to the sea. Post a picture to Facebook. Spend most of the day hiking in the rainforest or on the beach. Back at the resort, post another picture to Facebook and read a novel for three or four hours. Take exactly three tokes, pour some whiskey, and open up the Big Book of Rene Magritte (quoted above). Ready yourself for Dreamland.

In case of munchies ...

My hiking plans for this trip were identical to my hiking plans for the second trip, since I didn't get to go through with them then. Tuesday I would hike the 9.5 mile triangular trail from Ozette Lake to Cape Alava, down the beach to Sand Point, then back to Ozette. Wednesday I would recuperate with just a short hike down to Third Beach near the resort. (The resort is on First Beach, and I'd hiked to Second Beach on my first visit.) Thursday would be hiking in the rainforest by Lake Quinault, exploring some of the trails described in Robert L. Wood's Olympic Mountains Trail Guide.

However, as the Who says, 'Here by the sea and sand/Nothing ever goes as planned.' Tuesday was a day of steady rain, so I took the short hike to Third Beach instead of going to Ozette. I didn't want to be stuck out in the rain for the minimum three hours it would take to hike 9.5 miles. Of course I'm a dumb city boy and didn't even think about the tide. When I got down to Third Beach in the pouring rain, it was high tide. There wasn't much beach to explore, although there was still plenty of driftwood to look at. Third Beach isn't as expansive as Second Beach, but the hike through the rainforest is nice. I got pretty soaked, and I began to think about getting better rain gear for the future. The couple I met on the way out had parkas, which looked like a good idea.

Driftwood on Third Beach
Driftwood on Third Beach

Wednesday dawned clear and sunny. I drove up to Ozette Lake, which took a little over an hour, even though it's only a bit over 20 miles north from La Push as the crow flies. One of the things that makes this area seem so remote is the lack of roads. Trackless wilderness, as they say. In fact, the earliest white homesteaders around Ozette Lake gave up because an expected road wasn't built until fifty years later.

Anyway, the trail information at the ranger station mentioned that one should have a tide schedule and detailed topographical map for the hike. I had neither. The reason the tide schedule mattered is that at high tide the beach part of the hike is impossible. I wasn't sure why a topographical map was important, and while I ended up regretting that I didn't have a map with me, I think this advice was intended more for people going for extended backpacking hikes into the wilderness. There was also a $15 fee for using the trail.

The hike to Cape Alava through the forest was gorgeous. They've built a boardwalk, so the hiking is easy. The forest was eerily silent. There were no other humans around, and hardly even any birds. I started to get a very mystical feel from the silence and the solitary journey through the wild. Why does the Olympic Peninsula have such a strong effect on me? The giant trees of the rainforest and the scents and sounds of the mighty ocean are like the pulp Venus of my adolescent imagination. They're like my memories of Yap. They are elements of my primal self.

Forest at Ozette
The forest at Ozette

When I reached the cape, I sat on an impromptu driftwood bench and ate a sandwich and an apple. I had brought food and water and an extra sweatshirt in case I got wet, but I was already making a list in my head of things I should have with me when I go on this kind of hike in the future. Such as a tide schedule. The tide was once again very high, but I thought there was enough beach exposed that I could travel along it. Wrong. Thirty yards along, I found myself cut off by the waves. Shit. Because I didn't have a tide schedule, I wasn't sure whether the tide was coming in or going out. I decided to wait a half hour to see.

The weather was so balmy in the little pocket of beach where I'd stopped that I actually took off my shirt and soaked in the Vitamin D. My mind started to whirl with the exhilaration of it. Ecstatic visions alone in the wilderness. After a half hour of this dazzlement, I determined that the tide was going out. I gave it another twenty minutes, and then I set off again.

Beach near Ozette

This part of the hike was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. Because the tide was still high, I was forced to work my way through an area that was strewn with huge logs of driftwood. I had to climb over or under them (usually snagging my backpack in the process), and this was quite a workout for me. I'm in the best shape I've been in for a decade, but that kind of clambering requires upper body strength that I don't have much of. Plus walking in sand is just more tiring than walking on a boardwalk.

I was also cursing myself for not having a map with me. I'd brought a trail guide to the resort, but of course I didn't have it with me when I actually needed it. The problem was that I wasn't sure I'd recognize where the trail back to Ozette was. There were trail markers wherever people might need to hike across a headland because the tide was too high to hike along the beach. How would I know when I had reached the trail that led back inland? The trailhead at Cape Alava hadn't had any signs other than the usual trail marker. There were no people to ask for directions.

I started to get so anxious about this that I barely even noticed the beauty of the beach. Still, I stumbled upon two dead seals along the way, which were strange signs of mortality and dread. A beautiful jellyfish lay stranded too. But would I recognize the trailhead? I knew it was three miles from trailhead to trailhead. I knew my normal walking pace covers a mile in twenty minutes, and I knew I was making slower time than that because of the clambering and slogging. After an hour and a half, I started thinking about my options. If I missed the trailhead, I could return to Cape Alava. It was about 3pm. The brilliant, blinding sun was lowering. I didn't have a flashlight with me. If I got back to the cape at 4:30, how much time would I have before it got dark? How would I handle a 12.5 mile hike?

Prettier than a dead seal

Up ahead, I spotted something furry. Was that a black dog? There was more than one. Holy fuck, are those wolves?! I started to feel panic, forgetting that wolves haven't been reintroduced to the Olympic Peninsula yet. Would they follow me into the water? Wait, those are bears! It was a mama bear and two half-grown cubs. Mama checked me out anxiously, and I kept my distance, trying to fumble my phone camera into position. Would mama bear follow me into the water to protect her babies? The three of them turned and fled into the forest before I could get a shot, although they would have been too far away for me to get a good picture anyway. Holy shit. I'd never seen bears in the wild before. Jesus Christ. Was I going to run into them in the forest again later?

My most pressing problem returned to the forefront. I knew I had to be close to the trailhead, unless I had already passed it. There was a trail marker ahead. Was it the one I was looking for? I couldn't be sure, and the sun seemed to be racing toward the horizon. (Next time, bring a goddamn flashlight! And a first aid kit, and a multi-tool of some kind, not to mention a goddamn map.) I wolfed down a pear to give myself a little energy. If I'd been thinking more clearly, I'd have first explored the trail a bit, because once I went in about ten yards there was a sign indicating that this trail indeed connected to the trail back to Ozette. I could have rested a little longer if I'd known that.

For all that I'd been feeling exhausted and out of shape from the beach hike, once I got back on the boardwalk, I felt fine. I was tired, for sure, but I had plenty of spring still left in my step. I knew 9.5 miles was pushing my envelope, but the last three miles were no problem. I sang songs from Quadrophenia to warn the bears that I was coming. The forest was otherwise eerily silent as before. I got back to the car in almost exactly one hour (twenty minute miles!), with plenty of time to spare before it got dark.

What an adventure! Babes in the fucking woods, no doubt. I felt incredibly stupid for not being better prepared and acting like this was just another urban hike where if I get lost or tired I can grab a bus or call a cab. What a maroon! Well, live and learn, right? And there were bears! And dead seals! And incredible nodes of secluded forest stillness. The smell of rotting trees and rotting seaweed. And bears! Holy shit! Absolutely amazing. I was still ecstatic as I drove back to the resort via the Mexican restaurant in Forks. Exhaustion knocked me out by nine o'clock.

Quinault Rainforest
In the Quinault Rainforest

That was definitely the highpoint of this trip. Thursday I was still tired enough that I didn't feel like another big hike, so I drove down to Lake Quinault and took only a short walk into the rainforest. It was gorgeous and full of inexhaustible mystery, even that little bit, but it was an awful lot of driving for such a short hike. However, I also stopped to eat a sandwich at Beach 4 in Kalaloch, which had some beautiful rock formations that a sign told me were older than the rock underneath, because of the way the peninsula has been formed by subduction. Back near the resort, across the river from La Push, I briefly visited Rialto Beach, which is massive and clearly deserves a more extensive exploration. It was also more full of people than anywhere I'd been all day. There must have been six whole people there! With their dogs! A sign talked about hiking from there to Ozette Lake, which would take at least a couple of days.

On Friday I checked out of the resort and drove north to Port Angeles to eat breakfast and to poke around the old town area. From there I drove along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Townsend, which I had somehow never visited before. Poked around there for an hour or so. Both towns seemed pretty cool, with bookstores and interesting places to eat, but too busy and too familiar. The resort at La Push is so remote and quiet. First Beach is so beautiful. It does something to my head -- to my spirit. Away from it all. Alone with myself. Alone with the trees and the waves. It's magical, liberating.

Maybe next time I'll spend six nights out there rather than four. It would be fun to spend more time just lying around reading a book and sleeping, dreaming to the lullaby that the ocean murmurs to the silent forest.

With Driftwood on First Beach
Self-portrait with giant driftwood


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 17th, 2012 10:19 pm (UTC)
I prefer visiting places in the off-season exactly for the aloneness you describe, alone with myself, alone with the place. Walking along the rapids to the American Falls at Niagara at 11pm on my recent trip to Toronto, being the only person taking in the majesty and roar of all that water. And, yes, sometimes that "what have I gotten myself into and why aren't I better prepared" awareness accompanies the experience. There were some logging roads in Oregon that had me wondering, especially with no cell signal to be found. Mama Bear and her cubs...eep. I'm glad they left you alone.

Sounds like a great trip. Thanks for the photos and descriptions.
Nov. 18th, 2012 12:05 am (UTC)
My understanding is that bears won't attack unless they feel threatened. Or feel their babies are threatened.

At one trailhead I saw a sign with advice about what to do if you spot a mountain lion, which is something I do think about out there. First bullet point: Don't hike alone. Ha! Second bullet point: Make yourself look bigger (wave your coat over your head), don't run away, slowly back away. Bullet point three: If the cat still attacks, throw things at it, yell, and then fight as hard as you can.

It was that last bit that really got to me: Be prepared to fight for your life.

One of the other items on my list of things to do to prepare myself better for future hikes is to acquire a stout walking stick that could be used as a weapon if needed.
Nov. 18th, 2012 05:25 am (UTC)
Walking sticks make a big difference.
Nov. 18th, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC)
I read that predators are dangerous anyway, whether hungry or not. So if you come across a bear, there can be two remedies: to produce sounds so eerie that it'd be lterally frightened to death, or run away as fast as possible. I think singing songs to prevent it from approaching you is the best possible idea, because it is human voices that the wild animals are mostly afraid of:-)
Nov. 18th, 2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
All the advice I've ever seen about encounters with predators is that you should never turn and run. For one thing, they are faster than you are, so they can easily catch you. The advice is always to back away slowly, looking the animal in the eyes. This page about bear encounters does suggest that you should speak calmly, to help the bear identify you as human. I wonder what happens if your voice shakes? Ha!
Nov. 18th, 2012 05:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this material; it must be useful. However, as far as I've understood, you should avoid eye-to-eye-contact. There's a story in popular Russian literature about a village teenager girl who'd asked a neighbour to take her to the forest, as she was going to pick wild raspberries, and the neighbour intended to gather some honey. The man agreed to, however, he warned the girl against talking in the forest. While he was gathering honey on a tree, the girl went away so that she was out of sight, and then suddenly he heard a terrible scream. When he ran to the sound, he found the unconscious girl and a big bear lying a few feet away - it had been literally frightened to death . It's only part of a story entitled "The Power of Human Voice", and I tend to think it wasn't invented, as the author was what we call a naturalist writer.

Some years ago our press started scaring publications about bear encounters. Some foreign documentaries about tragic ones in the US were shown on the Russian TV. I'll try to find similar materials in the Russian press to see if the advice differs.
Nov. 18th, 2012 06:18 pm (UTC)
Here's another page of advice. This one says don't make eye contact with a mountain lion, but do make eye contact with a coyote. It has no advice about eye contact concerning bears. With all animals, the advice is not to turn and run. Back away slowly.

Ah, here's a much more extensive wiki article about bears. Definitely says not to make eye contact.

A lot of these articles say it's dangerous to hike alone in the wilderness, which is probably something I need to think about seriously.
Nov. 17th, 2012 11:42 pm (UTC)
What a beautiful post. Now one of my favorite pieces of your writing.
Nov. 18th, 2012 12:01 am (UTC)
Aw, shucks! Thanks, Luke.
Nov. 18th, 2012 09:57 am (UTC)
Thanks for the words and photos. Sounds glorious.
Nov. 18th, 2012 04:04 pm (UTC)
It was that, but then again I'm an excitable boy.
Nov. 18th, 2012 06:22 pm (UTC)
Oh gosh, so wonderful! Your account and photos fill me with incredible longing to lose myself in such a way, and I'm not at all sure I will ever again have the opportunity. What a self-blessing you have given, what a self-anointing, to take you beyond yourself. Can you close your eyes and take yourself back there again, the places within that correspond to those places without? You have won, a prize that removes all frameworks of win and lose. May all your blessings given and received be magnified.
Nov. 18th, 2012 06:56 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I don't know. I'm already consumed by mundane cares and concerns again, but at least I have something I can dream about doing again in the future. The fact that I was able to hit that liberated feeling a second time makes me think it's there to revisit when I have the opportunity.
Nov. 19th, 2012 03:09 am (UTC)
I do love that area. Once I am out of school I am heading back that way for a long solo vacation!
Nov. 19th, 2012 03:25 am (UTC)
Where are you going to school, if you don't mind my asking?
Nov. 30th, 2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
Wow, that sounds all rather wonderful (if occasionally just a bit worrying). Long solitary walks in bizarre landscapes seems like a fine and dandy idea to me. All very good for unwinding, except the drowning and being eaten by bears bit, which thankfully didn't happen.
A very nice bit of writing too.
Nov. 30th, 2012 06:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jim. I think I'll be better prepared if I try something like that again, although I'm still mulling over what I learned. It's definitely a brave new world for me that has no such people in it. And who knows, maybe a little fear of mortality *is* good for unwinding. You've got to wind up to wind down, right? Yeah, right.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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