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.”

My (Even Bigger) Backyard, Part 3: British Columbia’s Big Ol’ Vancouver Island

Having checked out some of its wee satellites (Quadra and Cortes), we turned our attention to Vancouver Island itself, a mothership so vast it’s hard to remember it’s an island. (Although I suppose one could say that about our continent as well, eh?)

With only two days before our ferry home, we didn’t have time to head all the way over to the wild West Coast–that trip will have to wait. Instead, we bumbled into the easiest possible gateway to gorgeous: Strathcona Provincial Park, just west of Campbell River.

Our goddaughter had described her “best bike ride ever” a couple of years ago, along the shores of Buttle Lake in the park. That’s talking our language! In scrutinizing the map, we discovered Strathcona Park Lodge. And since it was now raining more or less continuously and we were no longer interested in campgrounds, we crossed our fingers and gave the lodge a try.

They had one cabin free.

“Tent, shment.”

They also had 180 Canadian teenagers staying on the grounds…because Strathcona Park Lodge, it turns out, is an Outdoor Education Center–I mean, Centre. In their own words, they are “a self contained community of more than 20 buildings, 50 or more staff and hundreds of guests. The entire operation is powered by a micro-hydro system, which means we’re highly sensitive to energy conservation. We also treat our own water and heat some of it with passive solar technology.”

Yup–we’d found our peeps. Those 180 teenagers? Not only did they get whisked away to spend their days hiking in the rain and learning to kayak, they also returned at night to tuck into a dining-hall meal that truly shocked us in its boldness: curried eggplant and lamb, with samosas and yogurt! Can you imagine American teens eating that? Good for you, Strathcona! Good for you, Canada!

[If I were the kind of person who takes pictures of food…but I’m not, so you’ll just have to imagine it.]

The second night we cooked, using our camp stove out on the cabin’s front deck, with this view.

This will do.

Nights were awfully cozy.

“Tent, shment.”

Oh, and that bike ride? As beautiful as described, going on for miles and miles and miles. (I mean kilometers.) AND relatively flat. I did one section with the Mate, and another alone, stopping to take pictures.

Looking into the interior, where the mountains rise to 7,000 feet.

Their version of the dogwood…and, I THINK, BC’s provincial flower (too lazy to fact-check this)

Don’t think I’ve ever noticed maples changing color outside-in like this.

The hiking was no more jaw-dropping than a hike in our own Cascades–like I’ve said before, I’m completely spoiled. But I did encounter some FANTASTIC fungi.

These guys usually have red caps! Is this the Black Panther version?

Who needs maple leaves when you have this?

The rare British Columbian Boobshroom in full fruit

On our way back to the ferry in Sidney, we made a few stops to smaller provincial parks. This one, Elk Falls, was a favorite–right outside Campbell River.

Elk Falls, falling.

Must…cross…suspension bridge over ridiculously deep gorge!!!

There’s a reason for those high side fences.

Returning home to the San Juans, we received a sunset reminder not to feel sorry for our vacation coming to an end.

Home.

O Canada! We’ll be back. As soon as possible, eh?

My (Even Bigger) Backyard, Part I: British Columbia’s Quadra Island

Last week we finally made time to visit with our neighbors. They’re nice people–just like us, actually, only nicer. Because they’re Canadians. In fact, our neighbor IS Canada. British Columbia, to be exact.

The Mate and I were embarrassed to say how little we knew Vancouver Island and the smaller islands between it and mainland British Columbia…given that we can literally see the nighttime glow of Victoria from our house, and on clear days, the mountains of the big island’s center. 

In the past eight years since we moved to within viewing distance, we have been to Vancouver Island exactly ONCE. Just to Victoria. Yes, we took our kids hiking on the West Coast Trail, but that was TWENTY YEARS AGO. And yes, we once visited friends on Denman Island, but that was THIRTY-TWO YEARS AGO.

We were overdue for a visit.

As followers of Wing’s World know, my blog only occasionally morphs into Travel Blog mode, and even then, not the kind of travel blog with tips and descriptions of where to find the best artisanal meal. Over the next few posts, I’ll simply share some pictures and brief descriptions, and leave it to you to decide if you feel inspired to visit where we’ve been. Please do let me know if you’d like more specific recommendations about places to go or stay.

Up first: Quadra Island.

To get there, we took the ferry from San Juan Island (next to our Lopez) to Sidney, BC, then drove 3+ hours up the coast to Campbell River. Except for Mount Findlayson Provincial Park (with ENORMOUS old growth cedars and a salmon-spawning stream, right outside Victoria), this was a pretty dull drive, because we were beelining it on the inland highway. I’d recommend taking the slower coastal route…but we were in a hurry to get to the islands.

Campbell River itself? Not as cosy as its neighbor across the sound, Powell River, but it had its charm, including an excellent natural foods store, and this sculpture:

OK, Campbell River…creepy, but cool.

The ferry to Quadra took 10 minutes, but we still saw a humpback on the crossing. (Didn’t grab my camera fast enough for that.)

We had planned to camp, but neither of the two big Provincial Parks there had car-type campgrounds, and we weren’t set up for backpacking this time. The Heriot Bay Inn’s campground was WAY too sardine-packed for our taste (a tent between 2 RVs just doesn’t conjure up that camp-y feeling). But we were able to get a cute little room in the 100 year-old building…

…that came with its own cat.

Hard to take selfies with an ipad, turns out.

Our first two days of hiking were sunny, but also smoky from the many forest fires further north. Quadra’s beaches reminded us of ours…

Interesting note: no anemones in the tidepools, but lots of oysters!

…as did its giant, moss-covered  hummocks rising out of forest.

Not pictured: me taking a skinny-dip in that lake back there!

When the rain came, it was very welcome, as it chased away all that smoke and (we trust) also helped the firefighters win their fight. The wild, wet coast felt familiar and exotic at the same time.

Ahhhhh…

Smaller than our Salish Sea ones. Typical? Unusual? Don’t know.

But this fir tree was in a class by itself.

They call this the Octopus Tree. Wonder why.

One of our favorite spots, on the southern end of the island, was Rebecca Spit, a day-use only park that is probably bustling in summer. But for us, on a sunny September day (which just happened to be our 31st anniversary), it was peaceful, and picnic-perfect.

Lovely place for a stroll, eh.

And then there was this guy on the road-paving crew near the inn, with his buddy, all vested up for safety:

Our kind of island, Quadra.

Next up: Cortes Island! (If you think Quadra’s quirky…)