Monthly Archive for September, 2006

Off the Grid: Day 5

We were out of bed at 5am on Wednesday the 13th to catch the first ferry back to the mainland. I experienced mild cardiac arrest once we were on the boat, when I checked the schedule and thought for a moment we had gotten on the wrong ship. But I was wrong and we were alright and we watched the sun come up over the frosty sea as we headed back to Anacortes.

We made pretty good time most of the way back to Seattle. Then we hit the legendary I-5 traffic. No problem, I thought. I whipped open the laptop, got online and began charting an alternate route. Left here. Right there. No! We’re crawling along through the suburbs. Ok, back to work. I feverishly plotted another course. U-turn! Back on the highway. Further afield from the main metropolis. Quick, take this exit! Then blammo. We’re dead in the water again. Ultimately, we had no choice but to sit and suffer like the rest of them. I’ve never been so defeated by a roadway. No viable alternate routes? What is this nonsense? It must be the confounded evil of Microsoft at work. I know I saw Redmond on one of those off-ramps.

Eventually, we got past Seattle and were trucking south through Washington again. We stopped in Olympia for lunch and I was put to work looking up the address of K Records so we could take a drive-by photo shoot. Then we took I-5 the rest of the way to Toutle (say it, it’s fun! Toutle, Toutle, Toutle!) and then to Eco Park Resort where we bedded down in a real cabin. I’d like to invite Mar Vista Resort to visit Eco Park Resort to see how cabin lodging is really done (and at half the price!).

We stayed in a cute one room log cabin, powered entirely by propane with a little refrigerator, a heater and two gas lamps. There was a log table with card games and checkers and a quilted log bed that required a running hop for me to reach. The back of our cabin opened out onto a clearing with silence and forest in the distance. We walked a little trail then took a drive down the rest of the way to Mt. St. Helens.

All along the road, we saw signs for Weyerhauser paper company. Apparently, most of the land around the volcano and the national park was bought by them for pennies decades ago and they now plant it and clear it in rotation. Each sign was labeled with the type of tree planted in that particular tree farm along with the year planted and the intended year of harvest. Many of the tree farms had a life-cycle of 40 years or more. I had never put much thought into my feelings on logging before other than that I’ve heard it’s bad for the environment so it must be bad. However, while I know clear-cutting is not good, I was heartened to see that they were continuously re-planting the same areas rather than leaving them for waste. It’s also plain to see that logging supports many families in this part of the country and, for many of them, logging has been a way of life and part of the local culture for generations. I was so excited when I realized the tree stumps laid out in front of the Eco Park Resort were for logging contests. I don’t know anything about this stuff except for a bad eighties film having something to do with the high school quarterback who wins logging games. Or maybe it was about the girl who wanted to play football. Or maybe it was one that starred the boy who looks like Sarah Jessica Parker from Real Genius? I can’t remember.

Anyhow, we finally arrived at the Johnston Observatory, which is the closest visitor center to the Mt. St. Helens. The center is named for a scientist who was camped out on the mountain nearby observing the oncoming eruption and died on-site. His body was never found. It was overcast, brisk and windy up on the mountain so we didn’t stay long. Seeing the area brought back memories of the pictures my grandparents showed me of their trip out west in the 80s. I didn’t think much about it at the time. But now I realize not much has changed since they were there and we’re traveling much of the same routes. In fact, we’ve come to realize that most of the people we travel alongside are grandparents. I don’t know what it is, but we apparently have the interests and road-trip habits of people twice our age. Could it be our fondness for early bird specials and WWII memorabilia? Is that an odd characteristic to have when you still have all your own teeth? Then again, we are homeless and unemployed so our teeth should be the next thing to go.

After heading back to Eco Park and having a home-cooked meal of “logger’s stew”, we bedded down in our cozy cabin for the long night’s rest.

Backtracking to Day 4

We spent Sept. 11th on an island at the furthest reaches of the country. We were in a cabin with no phone, no television, and no internet service about as far from Washington, DC as we could be. It wasn’t intentional, but it was ideal. No forced contemplation or reinvigorating our nationalist spirit. No memorializing or campaigning or finger-pointing. Just us and a bucolic little segment of our country. And Canada taunting us from across the water.

On Tuesday, Sept 12th (Day 4), we woke up in high anticipation of our kayaking trip. We squeezed in a quick visit to the alpacas and sped off to the meeting point at San Juan County Park. We booked the trip through Outdoor Odysseys and our guide was a mellow musician/bird-dude named Dave. There were about ten people in our group with varying levels of experience. All in all, I think we paddled about 4 or 5 miles, from the launch at the park to just past Lime Kiln Point State Park and back, with a stop at Dead Man’s Bay for lunch.

This was a little different from our last kayaking experience when we rode one-person kayaks down Potomac River near Harper’s Ferry. This time we were in two-person sea kayaks with a rudder and on fairly open water, which meant sometimes the current was with and sometimes against us. But I think I prefer it. I felt like we were a part of everything around us. There’s something about being right down in the water with the sea stretching out in all directions. The clear arctic waters, the conifers going straight up the hillsides of the island and the incredibly quiet clean air.

The area where we were kayaking is billed as a hot spot for whale-watching, but we missed the local orca pods by a couple weeks. No matter. We were visited by leaping porpoises just 30 feet away. And just as we were squinting to see some harbor seals lounging on rocks in the far distance, we turned to see a little seal head pop up from the water and scan the horizon from the behind the cover of floating bull kelp. Dave also pointed out a couple bald eagles’ nests, but I couldn’t quite make them out.

The other form of wildlife we encountered were tankers, freighters and aircraft carriers. The Haro Strait is a major shipping channel for big boats coming in from the Pacific. These girls are monsters. We could hear the low rumble of their engines even several miles away and, though it took nearly ten minutes for their wake to reach us, it was enough to capsize us… if we hadn’t been paying attention. So kayaking across the shipping channel is perhaps not the smartest way to sneak across to Canada (especially when shorter hops of two miles or less exist between other islands).

After our return, we stopped to say hello to the alpacas one last time, then went back to the cabin for a nap before dinner. We dined at Duck Soup Inn, which we found to be yummy but a little over the top. It was like the chef was trying to compensate for the high prices by adding fifteen devilishly new garnishes and sauces and side dishes to every entree, which had the effect of totally dwarfing the flavor of the item ordered. Oh well. The ambience was good and they played St. Germain and, as we’ve come to expect on this coast, the wine and beer selection was awesome.

Mat drove back as I took one last look at the island through my alcoholic haze. I love this place. So amazing.

Greetings From Mount St. Helens

Mat and Emily - Mount St. Helens