“Plan” is a Four-Letter Word. “Hope” is a Monkey.

It‘s become such a standard answer for The Mate and me, we’ve created our own cliche.

Friend: So, got any travel plans for 2022?

Us: We don’t use that word anymore. We hope to travel to Costa Rica soon…

i.e., this place

Or:

Friend: You guys planning on doing your famous Road Trip again this year?

Us: We don’t use that word. We hope we get to do our road trip, starting in February…

I think you get the point. Since 2020, those of us who still lived under the illusion that we had some control over our destiny discovered just how illusory that idea was. Now it’s hard to believe I ever believed it.

Take Costa Rica. Since Son One kicked off his ecotour company, Liana Travels, The Mate & I, plus a friend, have been signed up to **ahem** help our son “beta test” his touring guide chops.

I mean…somebody’s gotta do it. Those Scarlet Macaws can’t watch themselves, right?

But here we are, two weeks before departure, and it still feels about 50/50 that the trip will be postponed. COVID’s messing with the world in so many ways: threatening illness, threatening flights, threatening quarantine, threatening threatening threatening. For the next 2 weeks, The Mate and I will pack, yes–but we’re going about it like little leaf-cutter ants, nose to the ground, not with our usual pre-trip excitement.

Zoom in on the trail. You’ll see ’em.

I like to think I’m doing a pretty good job of staying even-keel right now. I tell myself, Hey, even if you do get to go to Costa Rica, there’s no guarantee you’ll see a tapir, right? So think of the trip itself as that tapir. Maybe it’s there, maybe it’s not.

Weird example, I know–but I wanted to use my tapir picture.

Plans are tapirs–rare & elusive, bound to break your heart if you expect them. But hope? Hope’s a monkey. As in: if you go to Costa Rica, you will see one…or two…or three…possibly more. So go ahead and hope for monkeys!

Just, no matter what, don’t PLAN for monkeys. If you do, given the way the world’s been working, they’re likely to show up like this:

You called?

So, will the Wings go to Costa Rica? Hope so; still not planning on it. Yes, I’ll pack. But it’s good to know the place will be there, somewhere in this crazy world, even if I’m not there to see it…this time.

Hope so.

From Mystery Trip to Flexericity Trip: The Best-Laid Plans…

[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:

Totally, totally worth it. Huge shoutout to Washington State Ferries!

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.

Oh shit

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.”

Google was right. Highway 101 was closed just outside of Pt. Angeles. (Photo by WSDOT)

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.

Oh shit again (photo by WSDOT)

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…

OMG, look at that flow!

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 snow…

…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.

Vancouver Island, from Port Angeles: the closest we got!

A visit to Dungeness Spit reminded us just how hard that wind was still blowing, even after the sun came out.

Returning from this walk, we had to take an alternate route–a tree had fallen over the road.

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:

Our house wasn’t QUITE this grand–but close!

…amazing views…

Mt. Baker, looking back toward Whidbey Is. (photo by Son Two)

…bike trails…

Happy Birthday, Mate!

…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.

“Can we eat now?”

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:

Oh shit again, again.

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.

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no…

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.

“Mystery Managed.”

DIY Travel: Why I Love Lonely Planet

Road Trip IV, Days 26-28: Puerto Rico to Durham, NC

Sometimes you just have to get away. And sometimes you just have to get away from other people who are getting away.

That’s why I am a loyal Lonely Planet-head. For those of you who don’t know, Lonely Planet is a series of travel books (originally) published in the U.K. I haven’t yet been to the country they don’t cover, but I’m sure there is one…at least for now.

Besides offering essential amenities like detailed maps and lengthy snippets (snips?) of history and culture, LP guides feel like they were written for me…that is, for people who prefer

–restaurants where locals eat
–knowing how to get around as cheaply and independently as possible
–accommodations with a certain amount of quirk
–knowing when to eschew, and when to spring for, the services of guides
–staying away from crowds
–finding undiscovered gems to brag about later
–exercise
–understanding how local people feel about us tourists

Being thorough, LP books do describe the 500-pound gorillas of travel, the big resorts and postcard tours. But they do so with a certain amount of tongue in cheek. Here’s what they have to say about the biggest resort in Puerto Rico: “If your idea of a good vacation revolves around golf, tennis, spa pampering, water sports, fine dining and gambling–with lots of company–this could be your bag.”

(In other words, “If you want to go there, bless you…but we really doubt you want to go there if you’re the kind of person who buys our books.”)

LP’s stock in trade are the personal touches within each section that The Mate and I have learned to rely on. The Ceiba Country Inn is described as having “friendly owners and even friendlier pets.” Bingo! Our kinda place. Our room was cheaper than the one we stayed in off the interstate in Van Horn, Texas last month, and believe me, that one did not feature fresh papaya for breakfast.

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When LP tells us something is a must-do, we believe them. MUST eat at the food kiosks (friquitines) by the beach? Sure. MUST try the local special, fried pork with rice and beans? Well, if you insist… (It cheers my cheap soul when LP’s directives are also inexpensive.) The only MUST for the northeast region that we were unable to follow through on was taking a nighttime kayak tour of a bioluminescent bay, but this was not for lack of trying; we made this trip on the fly, remember, and all the tours were booked. Sorry, LP.

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When LP sent us to El Yunque, the rainforest mountain that rises 3,500 feet an astounding 40 minutes from San Juan, the writer actually apologized for the limited number of hiking trails, as if knowing, “Oh yeah, it’s the Wings. They’re gonna want to get dirty.”

 

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For those of you who hate looking at maps and making reservations and dealing with people on the phone, by all means, go with a tour group. It’s way easier for sure. But for those of you who prefer to make your own plans but want a solicitous, well-traveled friend looking over your shoulder, make Lonely Planet your friend. That’s what it feels like.

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Anyone want to second the motion, or weigh in with a bad experience? The lines are open.