Another early start today, from Aberdeen — which calls itself “The Gateway to the Olympic Penninsula.” Rather than being Chamber of Commerce stuff, this is actually very true. The body of water known as both North and South Bay combines with Puget Sound in the east, to make the Olympic Penninsula a penninsula. And Aberdeen sits right at the eastern head of the bay. So, I opened the gate and headed out.
Rather than go on and on about the rain, I’ll just say; 1) the weather people are calling it a major storm, and 2) the local guy at the gas station shook his head at me and said “man, this is a nasty one.” Of course the latter was standing in the 42 degree downpour with a steady 25 knot wind, wearing flip-flops and a t-shirt. So, judgement is an issue in his case. Regardless, it was a brutal weather day to head up the western edge basically into the teeth of the storm.
The ride goes from a steady dose of striking, fir-lined beaches, to the rain forests of the Olympic. And finally, to Cape Flattery — as glorious a little piece of rock and forest as I will ever see. I really like the beaches here more than any to date. They have the right mix of action and calm, rock feature and sand, and, most of all, they have wonderful groves of fir right to the edge that make them feel like evergreen Tahiti. In a freezer. With rain. They appear to be catching on a bit as well. In between Copalis Beach and Pacific Beach, a planned community called Seabrooke has sprung up. Georgeous, million+ homes with varied but familial designs, are neatly arranged in a couple of neighborhoods all clustered above beautiful beach with a mountain stream crashing through the rocks into the ocean. I don’t know what I could have expected less.
I run out of beach road at Moclips because of the Quinault indian Reservation. I’m certain there a beach roads, or close to it, in the reservation, but I don’t have any maps, or any cell signal. So I follow the Moclips road inland to the base of the mountains, hug that base north, and return to the beach on the other side of the reservation at the town of Queets. Between Queets and Oil City, the National Park actually owns the beach and I will camp here with my son next Monday. Today, I cruise the campground and make a few mental notes and save the details for my time with him.
The mountains reach the sea at Oil City and the road builders decided not to risk it. There is no way to the northwest corner from here. The only choice is to “cut off” the end of the Penninsula and come to the northwest corner from the east. This requires some fumbling around with multiple roads all of which can go back to the place from which you came somehow, but I eventually wander into the right solution through the towns of Sappho and Clallum Bay. From there it is a tight squeeze along the northern edge to Neah Bay, Classet, and finally, via the Makkah Indian Reservation, to the point called Cape Flattery.
Cape Flattery was “discovered” by Captain James Cook in 1778, who also named it. It is the northwesternmost point of the lower 48 states. To its west is the North Pacific, to its north is the Strait of Juan de Fuca (more on which in a minute). It is part of the Makkah Indian Reservation and for many years, long before we started worrying about edges, the Makkah were here; using the point as a look out, and hunting seals on the rock island just a few hundred yards off the point. Today, the Tatoosh Island Lighthouse is on that rock island and the seals appear to be safe. The 1,600 or so members of the Makkah Tribe that live in the US, all live here. They earn a living from this small area by managing the forest lands. To their immense credit (in my book) there is no casino — at least that I saw. You have to park and take a hike out to the point — a mile and half or so round trip downhill out and uphill back. The hike is fantastic because the Makkah people don’t go out of their way to make it easy. You clamber over roots in the deeply forested approach, and when trees fall, they are left for you to climb over. Where possible, narrow boardwalks span low areas, or provide a semblance of stairs. All of it is enwreathed in vegetation, moss, fog, and lichen covered branches from multiple species of trees. If this isn’t on your bucket list, consider this: the only other people out there with me were two French folks. And they were there. Now, they could have been French-Canadians just there to figure out what happened in all the fur trade business that cost them this, but whatever. They were great and I helped them get their picture together and we all just marveled at the place.
Near the end, you get views both to the south and the north where great cliffs fall away to the sea. Cook said the presence of caves on one side looked like an opening that “flattered them with the hopes of finding a harbor” — hence the name. Those same caves were the recent site (2 days ago) of tragedy when a second year student at Dartmouth ventured down to the “Hole in the Wall” to explore and was swept away by the sea.
From the overlook at the end of the Cape, you can look north across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Vancouver Island. As the first section of my northern edge journey, the Strait of Juan de Fuca is of some interest. He was a Greek born in the 1500s who worked for the Spanish King as an explorer. Apparently the Spanish couldn’t figure out his Greek name, so he took something close to it in Spanish. He sailed all over the world, including China, and ended up getting his ship seized off the coast of Cabo and himself dumped ashore on the Baja. Once he got himself together, he undertook two voyages for the Viceroy of Spain hoping to get rich from his discoveries — both of these were to the northwest in search of a “strait” that would shorten future routes. Thing is, he never got paid, and there is no actual record of what he found. Broke and irritated with the Spanish, he went back to Greece where he died. He supposedly identified a Strait at 47 degrees latitude — the actual Strait is 48 degrees — but the only evidence of his discovery is writing from another explorer from England named Locke, who never really discovered anything. Locke named the Strait for de Fuca. Such are the vagaries of life on the edge.
I follow the so-called Strait of Juan de Fuca back along the northern edge to Port Aberdeen for the night. Tomorrow I head close to Seattle to a real city — probably Olympia — to clean out the rig, re-supply, and get ready for my son. Sunday morning, we go into the rain forests of Olympic National Park for a few days of camping before returning to Seattle to meet the rest of the family for a few days on Vashon Island, and Easter. I will get back to the northern edge on the mainland after that for a couple of days, but today, I checked a big box. I’ve now travelled the edge at the Gulf of Mexico, the entire shared southern edge, and the entire western edge. I am making my way around. Every mile from here on will feel like heading home — but it will also be against the tide of development that built the nation. Today I marked a journey end that was essentially the only thing that stopped us — The Pacific Ocean. We have ventured further, successfully if painfully, but only when provoked and only in defense of the ground on which we stood. This edge, this western edge, was the point from which we reached back inland, from which we recognized the power of a diverse and prolific landmass when knitted firmly together as a nation. The leadership was from the east, but the glory was in the west, and in the getting there. Today, I feel like I got there.