Rough Day, Good Ending

It was a quiet, rainy, night at Chateau Walmart. I set up my laptop for my Friday morning department meeting, only for it to get canceled, which meant I could get my work done that much quicker on Walmart’s WiFi. When I was done, I packed up and resumed my course north. Not long after, I exited I-5 in Grand Mound to take US 12 west. This was the beginning of my big lap of the Olympic Peninsula.

As the rain continued, it was clear that I’d made the correct choice to visit Mt. St. Helens the previous day. My van has a roof and windshield wipers, though, so it wasn’t a problem. My first destination was the town of Aberdeen, home of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. I’d considered this as a potential overnight stop, but it was only an hour away from the last place I’d stayed, and I arrived at lunchtime. The roads and parking lots were narrow and difficult to navigate, even if I wasn’t towing the trailer, and the traffic congestion was pretty bad. I went to a riverside park to have lunch and let Lister roam outside a bit, but there was no available parking, so I punted to a nearby Tractor Supply parking lot. There were some pretty sketchy people in the area, including a couple yelling at each other in a nearby minivan. All in all, I was getting a pretty bad vibe from Aberdeen. I finished my lunch and got out of there.

I picked up US 101, and my Olympic Peninsula lap really began. My plan was to follow 101 all the way around, back to Olympia where it would end and put me back on I-5. I’d put a place to spend the night that I found on iOverlander into Google Maps and pulled up a route, but I was open to any possibilities that came up for places to pull off, explore, and camp out.

US 101 did not provide any of those. While the forest scenery was nice — including the first rainforests I’ve ever driven to — I couldn’t stop and enjoy it. US 101 is narrow and twisty with a 60 mph speed limit, which people get impatient and rude about if you don’t move along. There is almost nowhere to pull over on this section of US 101, never mind turn around with a van and a trailer. What few places do exist sneak up around blind corners, and they don’t believe in signs here, so I couldn’t stop in time. The cell signal was extremely spotty. When I could occasionally stop, Google Maps would completely forget my route, and I couldn’t get it back without a data connection. I’d saved the GPS coordinates, but they were in the wrong format for my Garmin, and I couldn’t translate them without a data connection. (Lesson learned for next time.) All in all, despite the scenery, it was a rather stressful and unenjoyable drive.

One of the few places I was able to stop was labeled simply “Beach 2.” I’d missed Beach 1 for all the reasons I mentioned, and only barely managed to stop in time for this one while someone passed me over a double-yellow line. US 101 ran along the Pacific coast for a little while, but I couldn’t see the ocean through the trees. A few short paths like this one let me take a walk down to the beach.

This was some excellent and much-needed stress relief. I’m still not over how much bigger the Pacific is than the Atlantic where I’d always lived until now. The driftwood was also amazing to see. I’m used to seeing twigs and logs back east, but these stumps and entire trees were enormous. The tide was coming in quickly, so I didn’t stick around too long.

Google Maps forgot my route yet again, but fortunately, I had a glimmer of cell signal just long enough for it to figure itself out a few miles before my potential destination. I’d been getting scared that I’d miss it, and have no way to turn around until 20 miles later, at which point it wouldn’t be worth it.

I slowed down as instructed, and pulled into what iOverlander called Allen’s Bar Campground. This is a private road down to a bend in the Hoh River, with self-contained camping allowed for $5/night. There are absolutely no facilities, but the price is right. Even better, for the first time since Aberdeen, I had a full-strength cell signal. I decided to stuff a $20 into the envelope at the entrance, stick around a while, and come up with a new plan.

There were a few campers already there, but I found a nice corner to back into with a great view of the river rushing by. There’s enough space behind me to get the motorcycle out, though with rain forecast throughout the weekend I may not even unload it. I let Lister out to roam freely on his tether for a while, his first chance to do so all day despite my failed attempts to find places to pull over. Although the entire area is wet, I’m not worried about sinking and getting stuck because I’m parked on the old riverbed, which is quite solid. I relaxed the rest of the night and put my stressful drive behind me.

I slept in because I could. It’s been raining all day today, though it lightened up enough for me to let a very insistent Lister out a couple of times. I’ve been catching up on these blog posts, as well as researching options for improving my electrical situation during the weeks of shortest daylight. This is somewhat ironic as we are entering the weeks of longest daylight right now.

On a whim, I did something I should’ve done a couple of months ago: clean my Maxxair roof vent. It had been gathering dust and dirt throughout my winter stay in Arizona, but with regular dust storms, there was little point in making it all nice and shiny. I took advantage of the river to wash parts like the screen and the fan blades that I could remove and take over there. Work smarter, not harder!

Besides waiting out some rainy days and coming up with a more detailed travel plan before leaving cell service again, my main goal while here is to crunch some numbers and do some soul searching about this trip across Canada. Once again, gas prices are scaring me. I’m still spending more than $5/gallon, and prices aren’t coming back down. I just put about $90 of gas in my tank for two days in a row. Given how much money I make, that’s not a sustainable rate, and gas prices are even higher in Canada. On the other hand, I have a good amount in savings, and I do think of this as a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list trip. It may be worth splurging a bit for that experience.

I’m not pulling the plug yet. There are options. But I need to seriously consider them, so I’ll be doing that here. It may be raining, but I’m in a safe place, and the constant sound of the river rushing by is very relaxing.

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