[Disclaimer: I fully understand that the storm of November 15, 2021 took an enormous toll on the lives, environment and property of thousands of folks in the Pacific Northwest, on either side of the border. Please know that this tale of plans gone sideways is not meant to lighten that truth.]
That said…here’s my response to “So that Birthday Mystery Trip you planned for your Mate–how’d it go?”
Chapter One: NO Canada!
Our top-secret Mystery Destination was the lovely Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, a place I’d been introduced to by a friend’s travel blog. Having studied the regulations, I knew we’d need a COVID test–the PCR type that requires labwork, not the instant antigen test. That test needed to be taken 72 hours in advance, no more. Since we were leaving on a Monday, I did the math: take test Friday morning, immediately send it off via UPS. The nice person at the company whose test kits I ordered assured me our results should be available online by mid-morning Monday, just in time for us to present at the border.
The Mate met me at the bakery Friday morning, just after our local UPS-ing shop opened. I went on break and we gingerly took our tests on the back deck. We sealed them up and walked over to the shop…where we were informed the UPS driver had already left. “With so few ferries, they just zip in first thing and go,” the woman in the shop told us sympathetically.
Horrified, we raced over the post office, ready to pay whatever it took to get that precious, swab-filled package to the lab next day. No luck: living on an island, “next day” has a whole new meaning. But, the clerk helpfully informed us, “The UPS driver’s probably waiting in the ferry line right now. Maybe you could drive down there and catch him?”
The Mate did just that, while I went back to work. Twenty minutes later he returned, reporting success! Hugs all ’round. Canada, here we come!
Or not. Next day, tracking our package, I found its arrival listed as Monday. I called the test-kit company…and once more a nice person informed me that, even with my package expedited, the best we could hope for would be results…”Maybe Monday evening. Maybe.”
Somehow, hanging around the border until evening, waiting on a “maybe” just didn’t appeal. And that was before I started paying attention to the weather.
Chapter Two: Plan B
So I said goodbye to my Canada plans. I called BC ferries and that cute little motel to cancel reservations. Then I got busy making more.
Some place special! Some place further away than the usual 1-or-2-night trip (we had 3 to play with). Some place with some options for not-too-steep hiking and biking. And some place not too high up; I didn’t want us getting snowed in anywhere.
Got it! The Hoh Rainforest.
I found us a cute cabin near the town of Forks (famous for glittery vampires), on the Soleduc River. Beautiful, remote venue near gorgeous hiking? Check. Beds for us plus surprise guest, Son Two? Check. (Son One couldn’t get away from work.) Small kitchen for me to prepare delicious birthday dinners? Check. Weather report? Uh, yeah…I mean, it’s supposed to be rainy. And pretty windy, come to think.
But hey–rainforest! Where else would we want to be?
Chapter Three: Nope.
So early that dark, wet and windy Monday morning, the Mate & I boarded the earliest ferry, the 6:40. It was already running 30 minutes late. How, we wondered, was that possible? Crew problems? Fog?
Turns out, that wind I’d been ignoring? It was now blowing so hard through Rosario Strait that the boat had to slow to what I texted Son Two (waiting on the mainland) as “a wallowing crawl.” But slowly, rolling and juddering, we made it to Anacortes, by now a full hour late.
This next part? It went exactly according to plan. (I had no idea how special that was.) As agreed with Son Two, I pulled into a convenience store and went in to get a growler filled–and he slipped into the driver’s seat. Surprise!
Happiness all ’round. We let the Mate drive, and I directed him toward the Coupeville ferry, the jumping-off point to the Olympic Peninsula. “Don’t worry,” I told Mate & Son, “that ferry’s running. I just checked.”
Well, it was running, when I checked. But 20 minutes later, when we got there, it wasn’t. “Might the winds die down later?” we asked the guy at the booth. His response: “Actually, they’re going to get worse. I’m sorry.”
Chapter Four: My Family’s Smart
Smarter than me. I was at a complete loss. Backtrack north, then head for the Cascades? Into what was probably a blizzard by now?
“Look, Mom,” Son Two said, consulting his phone. “We can keep going south and get on the other ferry, to the mainland. Then drive just a little and get on the one that goes to the Peninsula.”
“Are they actually running? In this weather?”
They were. I guess those crossings were short and sheltered enough. So here’s the route we took:
Chapter Five: Not So Fast
Along our happy way, as I congratulated myself on saving Plan B, my phone rang. The connection was spotty, but I managed to discern that it was the owner of the cabins near Forks. Saying something about “It’s pretty much Armageddon here.” I promised we’d bed down in Sequim that night–just fine, after such a long detour–and we’d see her in the morning. (Got a motel with a kitchen–yes!)
Next morning, she texted me this photo of her property.
With sincere wishes for a quick relief from the flooding and a mutually agreed-upon cancellation, I scrambled to find a motel in Forks NOT too close to a river. With a kitchen. Gotta have that kitchen! And I found one. Hooray. Off we go to hike in the rainforest!
“How far a drive is it?” the Mate asked.
“Lemme check the Google.” …. “Oh. Google says we can’t get there.”
Thanks to WSDOT, whose photos I’m using here, I learned that the flooded Elwha River had strained the bridge so hard they couldn’t re-open until after major structural assessments.
Chapter Six: Happy Endings
OK. No Forks. No Rainforest. Not even any of the beautiful points west of where we are. What’s left?
Why, everything! We found a trail leading up up up into the heart of Olympic National Park…
It was steep enough, the water came pouring directly out of the mountainside…but that steepness kept it from pooling. Safe hiking!
Of course, as we gained elevation, we met up with frost…
…then…y’know what? I’m good with turning around here. You? Alrighty then. Let’s go find a motel, then check out the coastline.
A visit to Dungeness Spit reminded us just how hard that wind was still blowing, even after the sun came out.
Thanks to my fixation with cooking dinner (no kitchen luck in Pt. A), I changed our final night’s reservations to the only affordable place I could find in Port Townsend with a kitchen: Fort Worden State Park.
What a joyous find! It had the coolest housing, converted officers’ quarters:
…and even, up among the batteries–huge structures to house huge guns (which I did not photograph)–poetry!
And yes–it had a wonderful kitchen for a wonderful birthday meal for my wonderful family.
Chapter Seven: Moral of the Story, or, Can We Wrap This Thing Up?
We came home to discover the storm had been much, MUCH worse than we’d imagined.
That road in the video? That’s the road to our house–our only exit. Here’s what the storm did:
But any “oh shits” for my island PALE in comparison with what the storm did to Vancouver Island and others north of here. They got SLAMMED, not only by rain and wind, but by snow, which then melted. As of this writing, much of the island is still under a state of emergency due to flooding. Ferries have been cancelled. Misery abounds.
O Canada, you’re in my thoughts. But I’m so relieved those COVID tests didn’t allow us to visit you in your time of trial.
I didn’t manage to put this post out there in time for official Thanksgiving. But my unofficial thanksgiving is this: thanks for the bravery of those who stride straight into the teeth of a storm. Thanks for the cozy love of my family, who made wherever we were be where I wanted to be. And thanks to who or whatever was responsible for getting us all home safely.