Saturday, August 25, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 11

3,092...miles. That's how many miles I rode, from Jackson, Michigan, before I finally saw the Pacific Ocean...
Pacific Ocean west of the Olympic National Forest, northwest coast of Washington.

...but that didn't happen until 4:30PM and almost 220 miles into today's ride.

Those of you with any mapping skills might note that it's only about 80 miles from Tacoma to Hoquiam, where I'm spending the night tonight. Of course, that's if you drive directly over via The 5, Washington 8, and US-12 (the same one that goes just south of's a small world.) I choose to get to Hoquiam via The 5 and The 101...which makes it nearly 305 miles. A small difference.
80 miles vs 305 miles...pick your poison. :)
3,174 miles so far and I still have to get home. :)
Taking the 101 around the peninsula that houses the Olympic National Park and the Olympic National Forest is a treat. You spend most of the day with the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in your sight. It's a long ride, but a great one for a motorcycle. Lots of sections of winding curves and twists both through the foothills and along the different bodies of water you'll travel near.

The ride north goes through the eastern foothills of the mountains and follows the fjord known as Hood Canal for quite a distance. You eventually turn westward and end up in Port Angeles, which is about the halfway point of the journey I made. It's a big enough town that you can find some decent food and plenty of places to get gas. I was a little disappointed to find that the restaurants I wanted to try didn't open until dinner time...settled for some decent Chinese instead.
Hood Canal, home of Octopus Hole
As you leave Port Angeles, you also leave the more populated section of the ride. There are several small towns on the western half of the peninsula, but far fewer than the eastern half. The most significant town on the western part of the route is Forks, Washington, which turns out is where the Twilight books are set. Plenty of Twilight buy-in as you drive through town. I saw stores selling Twilight themed native art and even a place selling Twilight firewood. If there's a buck to be made...

The western half also has some of the twistier roads. Riding around Crescent Lake was a lot of fun, especially when I could put myself in the gaps between the groups of cars.

Crescent Lake in Olympic National Park

Crystal clear waters

By the time I got down to the coast, I was ready for it. This was one of the prime objectives of the trip, traveling the coastal highways. As road followed the terrain down, the trees and other vegetation started to get more "coastal", and the temperature started to drop. I held my breath at every curve waiting to see if this would be the one where the ocean would come into view. Eventually, you know you're getting near because you can see daylight through the forest. The temperature drops even more. The road takes a turn to the south and there it is...glistening at you through the trees...the Pacific. Admittedly, the northern coastal highways aren't going to offer the most scenic views, but they are nice. You're mostly up on the cliffs, with the beach a hundred feet or more below you. There are often trees between the road and the edge of the cliff, which means you'll only get your best views where the cliffs have eroded back toward the road and the trees are no longer in the way. I'll have three more days of riding the 101 before I get down to the Pacific Coast Highway in California, and I'll have  a few days in the middle of those two while I visit with my aunt and uncle outside of Portland.

As fun as today's ride was, I also came to realize a couple of other things. First, there's just no way I can fit all the things I want to see into the time I have left. I've decided I'm just going to have to skip the trip up to Yellowstone after I'm done along the coast. I'd only have 2 days to see the park and I think it deserves more attention than that. The silver lining is this gives me a reason to come back out this way some other time...but maybe in a car...or on a plane. :)

The other thing I realized is that some parts of this trip really may be part of the "saying goodbye" process. As I sat on the edge of the cliff, warming myself in the afternoon sun, watching the seals play in the surf, I remembered Sara was with me the last time I walked on our nation's western shore. We were together and happy. I'm going to be riding by the beach where that memory lives in about four days. We saw the redwoods together about 13 years ago, I'll be there next week. It occurs to me that many of the places I've ridden in the past year have those memory ties...and there are getting to be fewer and fewer of them. Maybe subconsciously, I'm letting go by visiting, on my own, the locations/trips/places we enjoyed together. The memories being stirred on this trip are happy ones, yet painful to relive. I know that by now I shouldn't be surprised at the power and quickness of grief...but I sometimes am, caught unaware when I least expect it.

Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)

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Chad Cole