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The routine sublime

20131112_01_James Island and Foam
A foamy taste of things to come

Well, I visited the Olympic Peninsula once again, but this time I approached it in a more roundabout way than usual. I'm going to bomb this report with photos, so let's drop them behind a cut, what?

First stop was Portland. I took my under-capitalized co-editor with me, and we stayed with another old college friend named Carl, who was the other member of the trio of us who went to my first science fiction convention in 1979. The timing of this visit was determined by the Oregon-Stanford football game, which I wanted to watch with old Oregon friends, since it would determine whether Oregon got to play for the national championship. Alas, Stanford once again (just like last year) derailed Oregon's dreams of returning to the Natty. Still, we were joined for the game by Scott, whom I'd last seen (we finally determined) at Robert's 40th birthday party thirteen years ago. It was great to get caught up with him and his stories old and new about his children and his days in Earth First!

Other than that, the Portland visit was mostly a series of visits to fine beer establishments (as well as an obligatory visit to Powell's, where I bought too many books). I finally made it to the Cascade Barrel Room, which means I've now completed the Portland elite brewery trifecta: Hair of the Dog, Upright, and Cascade. cj and I enjoyed introducing Carl to many favorite beers and beer styles. (If you hang out with us, you inevitably taste some sour and/or Belgian-style beer, which is Cascade's specialty.) We also drank at Apex and the Green Dragon, which are multi-tap places. Somewhere in all of this pubcrawling we were joined by another old UO friend, Brian, who took us back to his house and fed us Cointreau-flavored gin martinis and showed off a new analog modular synthesizer, which he is buying with money he inherited from his mother, who recently died. Again and again throughout this visit I was revisited by memories of eld, such as listening to music with Brian in his dorm room. I'll never forget the time he danced to the Boomtown Rats' "Windchill Factor (Minus Zero)" on his knees. Doubt he's limber enough do *that* anymore!

20131109_Brian carl Carl
Brian, cj, and Carl examining the new synth

I encouraged Carl to come up to Seattle for another visit soon, as it's always a blast to hang out with him. He said he would, but he's head-over-heels with an old flame who has returned to his life (where have I heard this story before?) so maybe he'll be too preoccupied in the near future. In any event, on Sunday I abandoned everyone in Portland and headed out to Astoria. Somehow in all my years of living in Oregon and Washington I had never been there before, although I once drove across the Astoria Bridge (which crosses the Columbia River) on my way from the Oregon Coast back to Seattle. Finally my plans had arrived at a confluence that resulted in a visit, since Astoria was as good a way as any for me to get to my ultimate goal, La Push, from Portland. It didn't hurt that I'd recently read a blog post about a couple of breweries out there that sounded well worth a try.

Boy howdy! First of all, Astoria is a beautiful old town in a scenic location on the banks of the mighty Columbia. It's named after John Jacob Astor, who founded a fur-trading post there in 1811, five years after Lewis and Clark camped near the site waiting for a ship that never came. It's still a fairly active port, and there were massive ships anchored in a queue heading up the river, perhaps awaiting berths in Portland. And speaking of Portland, Astoria is also a popular get-away for folks from the city, so there are lots of good restaurants and shops. I was immediately enthralled. I had lunch at the Wet Dog Cafe, which is an outpost of the Astoria Brewing Company. Great view of the river, nice food, good beer, and very friendly bartenders. They gave me a free snakebite, which was cider mixed with porter.

Later I visited Fort George Brewery, which is a bit up the hill. I didn't make it upstairs to the view bar, but the downstairs bar had good atmosphere, and the beer utterly kicked ass. I enthused so much over the Divinity (flavored with marionberries and raspberries) that the beautiful tattooed waitress persuaded me to hit the next door taproom, which had a deeper selection of their specialty beers along with splendid views of their aging barrels. Two mind-bogglingly great beers later (one a Belgian Double IPA aged in a sour bourbon barrel and the other the sixth in the North Series, which was described as "A Strong Coffee-Infused Porter with Cranberries") I was in a drunken swoon, vowing to henceforth begin every trip to the Olympic Peninsula with a stop in Astoria. And so a new routine has probably been formed. I'd also chatted with a local carpenter who talked about restoring century old houses and renting them to "coasties" (Coast Guard) and who recommended that I visit the Astoria Column up on the ridge above town for a great view of the area. I did that the next morning before heading north, and the he view, both riverward and inland, was just as epic as advertised.

20131111_From the Column
The view of Astoria and the bridge from the Column

So I was already in a towering mood as I headed back into Washington across the Astoria Bridge. I stopped at Cape Disappointment just on the other side, which I had heard got its name from the Lewis and Clark expedition while it waited for that ship that never came. Apparently no one is actually quite sure where the name came from. I remembered the gorgeous slough and estuarine coastline heading north along Willapa Bay from my previous drive through the area. What I hadn't known is that Willapa Bay is the second largest estuary (behind San Francisco Bay) on the West Coast. Some beautiful scenery there, and there might be some nature hikes worth trying in the future (must research further), not to mention poking around in small towns like South Bend and Raymond. But I had miles to go to get to La Push, and so I pushed on, stopping in Aberdeen for my routine lunch of crab louie and clam chowder at the Breakwater Seafoods & Chowder House. My one other exploratory digression on this trip was to drive through Moclips, north of Aberdeen. A number of people I know go there on their Olympic Peninsula getaways, and it might be worth a try sometime as well. There's a resort in a very picturesque ravine by the beach that looks promising. Then I used my road atlas to discover a nifty little highway (called the Moclips Highway, of course) that headed through secluded forest back to Highway 101 up near Quinault.

And so I arrived once again at the Quileute Oceanside Resort in La Push. One of the books I'd bought at Powell's was yet another trail guide for the Olympic Peninsula. I'd also finally read a book called Exploring Washington's Wild Olympic Coast while I was in Portland. Between these two books I'd settled on the two longish hikes I'd try this time. (Part of the routine I've been establishing has been to take long hikes on Tuesday and Thursday, and doing something less strenuous on Wednesday.)

20131112_02_Rialto Beach
Rialto Beach

Therefore on Tuesday I headed to Rialto Beach, which is on the other side of the Quillayute River from the resort. 1.5 miles north of there, said the books, was a rock called Hole-in-the-Wall that had a hole in it you could hike through at low tide. When I arrived the tide wasn't low enough yet, so I had to clamber up a steep trail across the headland. On the other side there was another beach, but past the next headland it got very rocky. Apparently another couple of miles up the beach is a memorial to a Chilean ship that sank sometime in the past, but that looked like some very difficult hiking to me. Instead I explored the tidepools by that second headland, and they were the best tidepools I've ever seen out there. Not that I've gone looking for the best tidepools, but I've looked at those I've stumbled upon, and these were more complex and teeming with life than any of those on Second or Third beach, for example. Some of the anemones were utterly enormous, and I saw a couple of other invertebrates that I didn't recognize. There was also a black shorebird with a long orange beak that poked around amongs thet copious mussel beds. I think they must have been oystercatchers. Also, on the hike back to the car I spotted a sea otter in the distance racing down the beach and into the water. Earlier I'd spotted a bald eagle cruising above the beach with totemic grace.


20131112_05_Intertidal Life Swarm
Intertidal life swarm

On Wednesday my only expedition (other than the daily walk on First Beach, which is right by the resort) was to drive down to Kalaloch (which one of the books said is pronounced "clay-lock") to explore the vast, flat beach there and to eat a meal at the lodge. The latter is something I also did last time, so maybe it's becoming another part of the routine. The lodge has a beautiful view of the beach and a creek that winds its way through driftwood down to the ocean. I'd brought along a book -- William Morris' fantasy novel, The Water of the Wondrous Isles -- and I read a few chapters as I ate a smoked salmon caesar salad and crab cakes and drank a glass of wine.

The seed of my Thursday hike was planted last time as well, when I hiked to Third Beach and noticed a couple of guys with serious packs heading up a trail on the headland at the south end of the beach. I wasn't sure where the trail headed, but I figured there might be some interesting rainforest to explore in that direction. Well, the trail guide informed me that the trail crossed Taylor Point (the name of the headland) and came to another beach. (The trail actually extends further down the coast from there, if you want to do an overnight trip.) The trail guide also said that the trail was very steep, requiring use of ropes and something called sand ladders to haul yourself up, which was a bit intimidating to a neophyte hiker like me. But what the hell, I decided that the worst that would happen is that I'd turn back if it looked like too much work.

20131114_03_Third Beach from Taylor Point
Looking down on Third Beach from Taylor Point

Thursday was one of those days that come with surprising frequency on the beaches even in the winter, when the sun breaks through the morning clouds around noon and in the right spots it's warm enough to shed your coat -- and even your shirt if you want to really soak in some Vitamin D. I had to wait a half hour for the tide to recede enough on Third Beach for me to find the trailhead, but after that I made it up to the top of Taylor Point without any problem. (I had finally acquired a walking stick, which also helped a lot.) Up at the top you can visit the source of the waterfall that falls into mist on Third Beach. It was magical up there all by myself beside a quiet forest pool, looking down on the curve of the beach and out at the curve of the ocean horizon. I ate my lunch, then continued through the forest, which the trail guide claimed was old growth. (Most of this part of the Olympic National Park was logged back in the '30s before the federal government acquired the land by trading old growth land they owned, which was then logged as well.) On the far side of Taylor Point was a steep descent down to a secluded beach, except on stairs rather than ropes and sand ladders.

20131114_04_Descending from Taylor Point
Descending to the secluded beach

I knew that I was the only one likely to be coming over from Third Beach that day (I'd seen two other people arrive on the beach from my vantage up above, but they didn't even come down to the south end where the trail started), so unless anybody was going to come from the other direction, I was likely to have this beach all to myself. I had been intending to at least take my shirt off to soak in the rays, but I was possessed with a Germanic urge to bare all to nature, and so I stripped to the skinny. I strolled around the sandy beach feeling utterly liberated and free, drunk on sunshine. I even splashed around in the waves for a few minutes, because there's nothing like dunking your naked junk into ice-cold water to make you feel alive. (See "Travels with the Wild Child" for a previous outburst of this strange behavior.)

An overwhelming feeling of deja vu descended upon me, as if I'd been here before, been naked here before, had always been naked here, world without end. I have vague memories of camping on a beach like this with a couple of friends back in the '80s, but my best guess is that it was Second Beach. It's hard to say. I'm pretty sure hallucinogens were involved. In any case, after an hour of exotic, sun-kissed bliss in the right here and right now, it was a hard, climbing hike (once falling on my ass when I didn't properly use a rope to descend a steep incline) back to the car, where I arrived feeling deliriously exhausted and at peace and at one with the world, even with the bruised buttock to remind me that the world is hard and full of rocks. Driving down the hill to the resort, I got to First Beach just as the sun was setting, and it was the one glorious sunset of this trip -- the perfect punctuation to a perfect day.

Why are these visits to the peninsula so ecstatic for me? I'm not sure there's a rational explanation for it. One of the routines I've developed for these trips is that in the evenings I spend two or three hours reading a novel (I read Diana Wynne Jones' The Lives of Christopher Chant this time, along with the Morris) and then at 9:00 I step outside and take three or four tokes of (now legal) dope, pour myself a large portion of whiskey, and open up a large format art book. This time I was reading a book called Caspar David Friedrich and Romantic Painting by Charles Sala, and one of the things Sala writes about is the notion of the sublime that the Romantic painters (and poets) cultivated. He quotes Kant as defining the sublime as something that inspires a sense of awe (or, an SF fan might say, a sense of wonder). '[Kant] also noted: "Towering oaks and lonely shadows in a sacred wood are sublime," "day is beautiful, the night sublime," "Beauty charms, the Sublime moves."

Monk by the Sea Caspar David Friedrich
The Monk Dunking His Junk by the Sea by Caspar David Friedrich

I distrust the Romanticism, but there's something of the sublime in my experience of the peninsula -- in particular the Olympic National Park, which contains the "wild coast" and what remains of the temperate rainforests. There's a constant sense of awe and wonder that I can't explain. There's fear in it too, sometimes when I'm out alone in the forest and wondering if I'll encounter a mountain lion or bear. The landscapes are so majestic and breath-taking. There's a feeling of the infinite that I've always associated with the ocean, going back as far as I remember. I become a mote in the wild world. It's the closest thing to a religious feeling I know of. Have I mentioned that I don't really understand it? Even as I return again and again and create routines amidst all this wonder, I continue to have ecstatic experiences.

Mind you, I love the routines too, even when I disrupt them for other purposes. The last two visits when I headed home on Friday I stopped in Port Angeles for breakfast at Smugglers Landing and poked around in the northern part of the peninsula on the way to the Bainbridge ferry. This time, however, I reluctantly abandoned the anticipated Port Angeles breakfast because I felt compelled to return to Astoria to fill a growler with Divinity to take to my under-capitalized co-editor. So I ate breakfast (Dungeness Crab Benedict) at the Kalaloch Lodge instead. It was pissing down rain -- putting the rain into rainforest for the first time this trip -- and the tide was rising. The cheerful, chatty waitress, named Jade, told me the tide would eventually completely swamp the beautiful little creek that winds down the beach. I was welcome to go upstairs to watch the storm, maybe light a fire in the fireplace. But I had many miles to go to get home via Astoria (with a brief stop at Dismal Nitch, where Lewis and Clark set up a camp before they finally reached the Pacific), so I pushed on, praying that I could return again soon to this tangled wilderness of my dreams.

20131114_01_First Beach Dawn
Dawn at First Beach

20131114_02_Quateata Headland
Quateata Headland at First Beach

20131113_03_Rainbow Bridge
A Rainbow Bridge to James Island

20131113_05_Kalaloch Driftwood
Still Life with Driftwood


20131114_07_First Beach Sunset
When I see the glory/I ain't got a worry


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 18th, 2013 10:13 am (UTC)
Absolutely gorgeous scenery. Once again, thanks for the write-up and the photos.
Nov. 18th, 2013 04:12 pm (UTC)
Those were all different photos than I posted to Facebook, although some of them are similar shots.
Nov. 18th, 2013 11:00 pm (UTC)
I agree with dalmeny above. Love your posts about the Peninsula!

I'd be happy to lend you a tide pool guidebook should you ever want one. But to tell the truth, it's just as much fun to look at them.
Nov. 18th, 2013 11:38 pm (UTC)
I might take you up on that guide book. There were a couple of things I'd never seen before that I'd like to identify. I have photos.
Nov. 19th, 2013 12:02 am (UTC)
Shur. This offer need not be tied to a visit to the peninsula, next time we see a movie.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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