Arriving in the US by air is daunting - no two ways about it - if it's not the long, tiring flight then it's the whole palaver associated with clearing customs and immigration. This time was different though as I was arriving on a short 50-minute flight - rather than the usual 10 or 12 hour version - and I had already cleared Immigration before we left Vancouver. Normal form is to wait in line for over an hour to be finally greeted by a disinterested immigration official who, more often than not, will take out their bad day on me... so it was a positive delight to arrive, get off the plane and head straight to the luggage carousel. I was in such a good mood after the whole experience that I could forgive the airline for sending my bags to the wrong carousel causing me to waste an entire hour of my life as I waited for them to fly out of that little opening like they were jet propelled. I could even forgive the rental car company for giving me the biggest gas-guzzling monster of a car that they had - initially, at least - despite me booking a compact to try and keep my fuel costs low.
Just four hours after dropping the Toyota Camry back to Vancouver Airport, I set off from Seattle Airport in my Pontiac G8. Having weighed up all the options I had begrudgingly settled on crossing the border by air. In the end, with the exception of the environmental issues, it won out in every possible way and proved the perfect hassle and stress-free way for me. Indeed it was so simple that it barely felt that I had crossed an international border at all - especially one which is usually as tough to cross as the US.
As I left the airport I did my usual trick of nearly rolling the car on the first tight bend - I forget that these aren't European cars and they don't tend to handle so well - and headed off in the direction downtown Seattle. I headed first for the Space Needle and went in search of a reasonably priced hotel but ended up so frustrated that I gave up and headed north out of the city where I had been told that the prices would be cheaper. They were - considerably.
The following day I headed back downtown to pick up where I had left off and visited the Pike Place Market - home of the famous flying fish - which, despite being a total tourist draw, was actually quite good fun... even if I had to duck at one point to avoid having a huge slippery wet fish land on my head! After struggling through the hordes of crowds for an hour or so I headed off to the Space Needle which, unfortunately, I found to be a bit of a disappointment. Of course that may have been because I had recently been to the top of the (much higher) CN Tower in Toronto... the faces of those around me as we stepped out of the elevator suggested that I have been spoilt! I headed back out of the city and rounded the day off with a visit to the Future of Flight Center adjoining the Boeing factory in Everett.
The following morning I was up bright and early and headed back to the huge Boeing plant as I had tickets for the factory tour - something that I had been looking forward to for a while. Unfortunately they didn't allow you to take your camera on the tour but, when you consider the value of the commodity that we were looking down on from the walkways, I guess it is fair... I sure wouldn't fancy explaining how I'd dropped a camera and managed to punch a big dent into the fuselage of a 747! The tour itself was fascinating and well worth doing if you are in the area. Though it is advisable to eat breakfast beforehand as it is quite a long tour when you are hungry - just take my word for that!
Once the tour was over, after 48 hours in the US, it was finally time to get this roadtrip underway. The first destination was Olympic National Park on, you've guessed it, the Olympic Peninsula! To get there from Everett the quickest way is to take a short ferry crossing and, for once, I timed my arrival to perfection, driving straight on to the ferry. I barely had time to make it off the car deck and collect the usual pile of brochures, maps and literature before it was time to return to the car and head off. It didn't take too long to reach the park entrance - despite the complete nutjob at the supermarket who couldn't grasp the concept of me not being able to sign his petition as I didn't have a US address and who refused to get out of my way until I'd done so. I had to physically move him from my path. The petition? You'll love this one... was against high gas prices!!
My first destination was to have been the Hurricane Ridge viewpoint but, as I was informed by the ranger at the nearby visitor center when I was buying my National Parks Pass, I'd have been wasting my time as it was totally fogged out. I should have known then that the pattern of events for the next week had been set but I was blissfully unaware at that point and headed onwards around the southern shores of Lake Crescent. I was still a little lost and unprepared for my arrival in the US and, having stopped and hiked a trail recommended to me by the ranger, I pulled out my park map in search of where to head next. Spotting a place marked on the map as ‘North-Westernmost Point in the USA' I knew right away. It was quite a detour, and time was ticking on, but it had to be done and off I set - as they say - ‘On a Mission'! Whilst the intended destination proved to be unreachable sans 4x4, the journey was far from wasted as I was treated to some of the best scenery that I would see in the area as I drove the coastal route towards the Makah Indian Reservation at the very tipoff the peninsula and, by the time I finally reached the Mora Campground, I was tired but happy and I finally felt like I had rediscovered the spirit of a roadtrip.
After an early morning stroll along Rialto Beach to the ‘Hole-in-the-Wall', followed by hiking a couple of trails in the Hoh Rain Forest area, it was back into the car for the long drive south and east to Mount Rainier. The weather en route continued to be foul and I consoled myself with the fact that I wasn't missing anything being stuck inside a car. I stopped overnight at the Alder Lake Campground and slept like a log. When I woke the next morning I was delighted to discover that the weather had cleared and I excitedly set off for the mountain. All was well as I entered the park but, as I climbed the steep access road, things took a turn for the worse and went from the odd bit of snow in the gutter to huge (and I mean huge) snowdrifts at the visitor center. Needless to say all the trails were closed and there was absolutely nothing to do apart from head off to Mount St Helens.
When I had planned the route through the north-west Mount St Helens had been one of the first places on the list so I was hugely disappointed to stop at the visitor center by the Interstate to be told that it was fog-bound and no view was possible. And, no, they didn't expect it to lift for several days. Having driven so far I wasn't gonna take their word for it and set off on the hour-long drive to the viewpoint to see for myself. Guess what? They were right all along - which made it even more frustrating. I was determined to see something before calling it a day so decided to head south and visit Ape Caves. They had been recommended to me previously and, according to the newspaper given to me back at the visitor center, were open for visitors. Having backtracked all the way back to the Interstate, headed south and then east (a total of almost three hours behind the wheel) I finally arrived... to be greeted with an old friend: "Sorry - closed for the season!" Aaaargh! Incensed I headed south towards Portland and took out my worked-up aggression on the steep climb to the top of Multnomah Falls before finally calling it a day at the nearby Ainsworth State Park - 14 hours after I started. Needless to say, I slept well again.
After the farce of the previous day I couldn't quite bring myself to stop and check out Portland. I was dispirited and needed something more than another town... I needed the scenery of Crater Lake! Before that I had to endure a Portland rush hour which was far closer to the start of the Daytona 500 than it had any right to be. Quite frankly I was amazed that I survived without a scratch - trust me, the Arc de Triomphe has nothing on that - and I stopped for breakfast to recover. I had planned to go in the northern entrance of the park, drive round the western Rim Road and leave via the southern entrance but, of course, my plans wouldn't work out. As I sped through the miles of forest land along the route - rather pleasingly ‘speed limit' are two words that no-one understands out there - I was greeted by a sign offering familiar news, "North Entrance Closed - follow diversion to South Entrance"
When I arrived thought all the effort of getting there proved to be well worth it. They say that the first sign of madness is talking to yourself - and they're probably right - but I think I'm passed that anyway so it wasn't that much of a worry when I heard myself utter a ‘wow, will you look at that!' when I first set eyes on the lake. It was simply breathtaking and, even though the snow meant that my access route was closed, it set the lake off an absolute treat. I've heard people describe the lake as magical and, as you most probably are right now, I laughed at them. All I will say on the matter is just go there and see it for yourself... make your own mind up on the subject.
Quite unsure how to top ‘the lake' I set off for McArthur-Burney Falls State Park which I had seen mentioned previously on the internet. Yet again it was a fair drive but the change in scenery along the route (via Klamath Falls, rounding Mount Shasta at Weed and then heading through the forest through McCloud) was quite something - literally taking me from snow to the desert sun. I'll say that again... sun! At long last - quite literally the moment I crossed the state line into California - the cloud had cleared and the sun had come out. Everything was right with the world again!
McArthur-Burney Falls SP was a nice little park - excellent campground, but book ahead, it gets busy - and offered excellent opportunities to hike some nice trails. On my way back to the campground, having completed a couple of them, I stumbled across a fascinating campfire talk by one of the park rangers. I was sad to leave first thing the next morning but I had a plan which meant I had no choice.
The following day was my birthday but, more importantly, it was the first day of the Le Mans 24 Hour race in France. Having become something of an annual pilgrimage since I first visited in 2001 I couldn't miss it and I decided to forego the camping and check myself in to a hotel for a couple of nights so that I could enjoy the live coverage that Speed Channel was providing.
After checking out the nearby Lassen Volcanic National Park in the morning - once again, my visit was weather affected - I set off towards the California coast. Next on my list of places to see were the Redwoods and, based almost entirely on its name, I selected Eureka as the lucky place which would enjoy my patronage for the next two nights. Having broken my journey at the striking Sundial Bridge in Redding on my way, I arrived in Eureka and checked in to the Best Western. It completely blew my budget but it was a very nice hotel in a relatively uninteresting town so I happily parted with my money.
I woke early to see the start of the race and, whilst they interrupted coverage during the day to show all manner of pointless Nascar programming, I headed off to check out the Redwood National Park. Initially I was somewhat taken with the place but, after a couple of miles of trying to find my way along an overgrown trail, I suddenly - and inexorably - lost interest. My interest was elsewhere... more to the point my interest was in France. I headed back to the hotel and kept myself busy with doing my laundry and grocery shopping until Speed cut back to the race coverage.
The last few races have been a little processional so it was just my luck that the year that I miss is a bit of a classic. My luck has a lot to answer for - in fact it is my luck that saw me in the area this early at all - I shouldn't have been here for another four days but pretty much all my plans had been weather-affected. Bad luck? Well, everything happens for a reason, I just haven't yet figured this one out yet.
Originally published on - and Copyright retained by - Boogity, Boogity, Boogity
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