Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Pacific

So my nephew, John Michael, is out visiting over the break. He's nineteen, going to school for computer technologies back in PA, rail-thin, and growing his first beard, a sparse collection of hairs on his chin that makes him look like "Shaggy" from Scooby Doo (Aunt Kate teases him regularly about this). So we've been "doing stuff" in addition to all the other work I'm needing to get done over the break. Saturday I took him to the Space Needle and the EMP and shushi, and right now Kate's braving the unseasonably cold weather here to go to the Museum of Flight.

But the last two days we have been on the Olympic Peninsula, a huge chunk of land to the west across the sound. Most people think about Seattle as being on the West Coast, but actually, we're miles and miles in from the ocean itself, protected by this huge chunk of new mountains.

We got there by heading north, to Mount Vernon, then west across Deception Pass - a steep-sided narrow waterway that turns what was thought to be a peninsula into an island (hence the deception). Its a sharp-edged gorge, and we got there at a great time - right at sunset. Nice view, but as a result, I was driving south to the ferry in the dark (I seem to be doing a lot of driving in the dark in these stories). We ferried to the Olympic Peninsula itself, to Port Townsend, where we stayed the night, and had dinner with Steven, an old WotC buddy. Steven would join use the next day to explore the area.

Port Townsend is a nice, small community on the Juan de Fucca passage, which connects the Sound with the ocean and forms most of the northern border of the peninsula. Its an old, mildly eccentric town - their motto is "We're all here because we aren't all there." (They have bumper stickers for that). Indeed, the entire peninsula has a sort of an offbeat, eccentric nature to it - I ended up following a pickup truck with a full gun rack and a "No War for Oil" bumper sticker.

It was surprisingly cold out there. We had been out in this area previously in early spring, and while brisk, its been relatively mild. Now it is nasty-cold, and as we moved inland, we started to hit snow on the ground and wet icy spots on the road where they have sanded. My car (the four-door) now has a tan lower-half from all the road-grit it has taken on and looks like I've been running it down the Baja.

Kate's original plan was to hit Hurricane Ridge, overlooking the town of Port Angeles on the northern coast, but was disuaded by the fact that snow tires were needed to get up there and the ridge itself was wrapped in clouds. So plan "B" was to head to a beach she had been to before, on the Pacific Ocean - Third Beach, just north of the Giant's Graveyard. Got there in plenty of time, and hiked down about a mile through temperate rainforest to reach the beach itself. The beach was great, since it was one of the few sand beaches I have seen on the Washington Coast - most are black igneous rocks smoothed by the waves. The greatest peril is climbing over the huge pieces of driftwood that piled up at the high tide mark. To the south, the Giant's Graveyard was a scattering of spires marching out into the sea, like, well, tombstones.

We were the only ones on the beach at the time, and the tide was coming in, so we did not stay longer than a half-hour. There were small shapes in the water - either diving birds or otters, floating on the heavy waves. The surf was strong, and both Kate and I got wet from being in the wrong spot as the waves surged up the flat beach.

But it was getting late, and the wet roads were turning to ice between us and Port Townsend. We headed back in the dark, with a brief stop when a young woman flipped here truck ahead of us at Sappho Junction, right at the bridge across the Sol Duc river. She hit an slick spot heading down to the bridge, rebounded off the guard rail, and flipped onto her side right at the bridge itself, blocking the road. She was shaken up pretty badly but unharmed, thank goodness. What impressed me was that the amount of walkie-talkies and radios that suddenly appeared from the other drivers, and that one of the other women in the backup had an EMT rig in her trunk and was checking out the victim before the firetrucks got there, while others directed traffic and made sure the truck wasn't leaking anything but radiator fluid. Very prepared they are, out in the peninsula.

But it was another long drive back in the dark, navigating the twists in the road in the failing light. Passage across the Edmunds ferry and home in good time, but it was a long trip, and I'm still a little bleary-eyed about the whole thing. So today I'm spending rewriting a story that I finished right before leaving town, and doing some contract work that is due Monday.

More later,