Monday, August 17, 2009

Washington Whirlwind

A month or so ago, I got the inspired idea that we should visit Washington State's two most famous national parks - that would be Mount Rainier and Olympic - while Leonie, our German "exchange student" (actually a seventeen-year-old friend of a friend from Wiesbaden who stayed with us for ten days during her summer vacation) was visiting. After all, no visit to Washington would be complete without taking in some of the natural beauty and grandeur of our mountains, forests, beaches, and lakes. The catch was that we really only had two days in which to do this.

Now, I am here today to tell you that this can be done. With better planning, in fact, it could be done much more efficiently than our two day road trip bonanza turned out. This is not to say that we didn't enjoy ourselves, but after getting a late start and not leaving the house until 11am on Saturday morning, due partly to the fact that our entire household stayed up until 12:30 the night before locked into a game of Settlers that Michael had gleefully instigated, we were pretty much two hours behind schedule for the next two days.

First up: Mount Rainier. What better time than August, right? The wildflowers are in bloom, and the meadows at Paradise live up to their name. But as we left Seattle the blue sky turned to mostly cloudy, and the fog started in earnest right around the elevation of Paradise. After a four mile round trip hike to view Comet Falls looking mysteriously disembodied in the mist, we made our way up the road, where Leonie commented that it was hard to see even the trees ahead of us, let alone the giant mountain that was supposedly just beyond.

A late trip to Rainier led to a late arrival in Shelton, where I whipped up dinner for six at my friend Rebecca and her husband Chris's place in town rather than meet up with everyone at the Hartstine Island cabin as was the original plan. Heading out late once again, Michael, Leonie, and I made it to the cabin in time for a slightly earlier bedtime than the previous night, but not by much. At 10am the next morning, with just enough time for Leonie to observe the emaciated starfish that crowd the waterline at low tide, we were back on the road.

Just before two, we made it to our first official destination, Ruby Beach. Incredibly, the weather at Ruby made up for the disappointment at Rainier, with warm sun shining down above the trees that clung for dear life on the cliffs edging the shore, and piles of driftwood creating the perfect picnic spot from which to sit and watch the waves. We could have spent all afternoon exploring the nooks and crannies of the windswept rock formations, but after an hour we were on our way again, with so much more to see ahead.

Or so we thought. After making a decision to bypass the rain forest due to time constraints ("On a day like this, we can't miss Hurricane Ridge," I asserted. "It'll be more than worth it."), we drove on to Lake Crescent, stopping to marvel at the clear blue water and forested hills that plunged straight to the shore. It was also at Lake Crescent that we learned the fateful news: the road to Hurricane Ridge was closed, owing to an unforeseen landslide. Oh. Well, there's the rub. I guess we could have stopped by the rain forest after all.

But all was not lost. We decided to do a quick stop in Port Angeles, which gave Michael enough time to sneak away and buy a Butterfinger blizzard ("We don't have Dairy Queen in Seattle!" was his not unreasonable excuse). Driving into Kingston at about 7:15, we were making pretty good time, when I saw the sign; there was a two hour wait for the ferry to Edmonds, and we were stuck in line on the highway. Perfect.

But, as it turns out, it was perfect. After about fifteen minutes, the line moved and we were able to park the car in the ferry lanes at the port, get out, and treat ourselves to ice cream cones. Not only that, but we even made it on the ferry in only an hour, not the dreaded two hours as had been warned, and for the first time in her ten day visit Leonie was able to see not only the elusive Mount Rainier, but the stunning silhouette of the Olympic Range, back lit by a sunset that filled the sky with bands of pink that deepened and grew as the ferry sped across the Puget Sound. No trip across the water could have hoped for a more amazing display.

Not much later we were sitting, exhausted, back in Lake City, poring over the menu at Thai One On. A little Thai food hit the spot before going home to unpack and say our goodbyes to Leonie, who took the Greyhound back to Vancouver today before her flight back to Germany tomorrow. We hope she enjoyed her time in Seattle, and maybe even the whirlwind Washington tour despite the lengthy time in the car. And hey, now she can tell her friends, who've all seen Twilight, that she's seen Forks and it really is as boring as anything. But hopefully Seattle was a little more fun, and the bright spots in our weekend getaway made all the driving worth it.

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