Re-entering the Lower 48 was definitely a bittersweet moment of our trip. It felt nice to be closer to family and not have to drive through Canada anymore (by the way, look at Google maps and zoom out to see, really, just how big Canada is). However, it was difficult not to feel like the “adventurous” portion of our trip is over. As I write, it has been almost a month since we were last in the remote areas of Canada and we already both yearn for the long stretches of empty road and wilderness. But the adventure continues, for we have explored the Pacific Northwest for the first time. These are the highlights from the ten days we spent in Washington.
Deception Pass Bridge, which connects Whidbey Island to Washington’s mainland, is the central point of Deception Pass State Park. The bridge creates a scenic backdrop to the various activities one can partake in at the park. In the company of Ally and Hally, we did a couple short hikes on either side of the water, seeing the tidal exchange between Skagit Bay and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The trees in this part of Washington are healthy and tall, creating a sense of smallness in their presence. Being among those aging giants makes you ponder the long and complicated history they have silently observed. We walked down a steep path to the coast, where we watched people fishing from land and sea, witnessing a shouting match between that group and a gillnetter who greedily coasted through the area.
Another day trip in Whidbey Island is a visit to Fort Ebey State Park for a hike followed by an afternoon in Coupeville. At the park, we walked along the coast of the Pacific Ocean and returned to our car on a different path through forest. One thing we love about Washington is the contrast between sandy and grassy beaches compared to the dense forest that grows just fifty yards inland. Fort Ebey was originally built for defense during WWII, so we walked through an underground structure which was a hallway with a bunch of small, dark rooms. It felt like we were ghost hunting. We then drove to Coupeville, the second oldest town in Washington. We walked around town, learning the sad history of humans and orca whales that came to a brutal climax in 1970 in Coupeville’s Penn Cove. I fell in love with the area, especially after discovering Thrive Vegan Cafe, which is how we concluded our visit.
Bellingham is the fifth largest city in Washington and just 21 miles from the U.S./Canada border. Nick and I spent the better part of a day exploring Bellingham and didn’t take any pictures apart from some leaves under a bridge. This is not a testament to the beauty of the area. We walked around the downtown area and along the waterfront, noticing that there’s plenty of funky movie theaters and perhaps an overabundance of coffee shops. We spent a good amount of time browsing a used bookstore and dining at the Old Town Cafe (all of the employees share tips and rotate duties). Our favorite part of Bellingham was Whatcom Falls Park. With views of waterfalls, moss-blanketed stone bridges, healthy trees and lush ferns, we felt like we walked onto the Lothlórien set for Lord of the Rings (and for two LOTR nerds, that’s a big deal).
In 1846, the Oregon Treaty established the border between the US and Canada as the 49th parallel but the details became vague when considering the islands between mainland North America and the Pacific Ocean. This resulted in the 12-year “Pig War” between the U.S. and Britain, a bloodless conflict “fought” on San Juan Island. The conflict ended in 1871 when Germany decided, as an unbiased third party, to draw the border in favor of the U.S., which is why the San Juan Islands are part of the state of Washington.
Nick and I spent time on the Island of San Juan. We rented bicycles in Friday Harbor and biked all the way south to San Juan Island Park, the site of the American camp during the Pig War. With hotter-than-expected weather, we biked back to Friday Harbor and sought refuge in the San Juan Vineyard Tasting Room. The price was $1 per taste, so we had three each. My favorite was, of course, the most expensive wine – a very complex Pinot Noir. We read our books along the waterfront for a while and grabbed vegan tapas and local brews from Mike’s Cafe & Wine Bar. In the midst of a conversation about travel with both Mikes at the bar, we realized we had to catch our ferry back to Anacortes, so we ran to the terminal, wishing for more time in Friday Harbor.
This is thus far the most beautiful national park I have ever visited. Located on the Olympic Peninsula, this park has everything – old growth forests, temperate rain forests, 70 miles of pristine Pacific coast, glaciers, alpine forest and all the other ecosystems that occur between sea level and 7,788 feet. Nick and I spent a night at Elwha Campground, which is near the Elwha River, the largest watershed in the Olympic Peninsula. We hiked all day on the Geyser Valley Trail and into the surrounding forest. The tree and fern-lined path took us past the historic Humes Ranch Cabin, over beautiful unnamed creeks, along the enormous Elwha River and to Goblins Gate, where the Elwha River takes a severe right-angle turn through a narrow cliff opening. That evening, we camped under moss-coated trees and listened to the rain tapping on leaves as we drifted off to sleep.
Washington has an amazing and affordable ferry system that Nick and I took advantage of a few times during our trip. First, we did an hour-long ride from Anacortes to Friday Harbor, which cost $12.45 for each passenger but allowed for free ferry rides around the San Juan Islands and back to the mainland. We drove our car onto a ferry from Whidbey Island to the Olympic Peninsula, which cost around $16 and another ride from the Olympic Peninsula into Seattle was the same price. By doing this, we cut out hours of sitting in the car and also got a waterfront view of Seattle as our ferry docked.
No visit to Seattle should be complete without a visit to Gas Works Park. Located on Lake Union, the land for the park was originally set aside in 1906 for the construction of a plant that converts coal to gas. Once Seattle began importing natural gas, the plant became obsolete, so the city bought it and the park opened for the public in 1975. The original machinery still stands and the park looks over Lake Union to a view of the Seattle skyline. Nick and I threw a frisbee at the park with his friend Richard and we decided to drive to the University of Washington to rent canoes and paddle around Union Bay. For $9 an hour (plus a $40 parking ticket), we got an arm work out while canoeing around bridges, lily pads and elegant waterfront homes. We walked back to Gas Works Park after dinner and saw the many lights of the nighttime Seattle skyline.
Pike Place Market, which opened in 1907, is the one of the oldest continuously operating public farmer’s market in the United States. With over 10 million visitors a year, it is among the most popular tourist destinations in Seattle. The market offers fresh produce, baked goods, artisan foods, delis, gorgeous flower arrangements, handmade crafts, etc. We walked there just to look at things but I couldn’t resist splurging on some gifts and a vegan cinnamon bun. The first ever Starbucks is just across the street from the market, so we stopped there to watch an acapella gospel group and I shuffled around inside the Starbucks with all of the other tourists just to say I’ve been there.
We spent the rest of our day walking around downtown Seattle. Taking an elevator to the top of the Space Needle costs $40, so we didn’t pay for that and I don’t have any regrets. We walked around Olympic Sculpture Park and walked on the roof of a hobbit-sized house. Our status quo is to check out bookstores and coffee shops, so we spent time in Left Bank Books and Uptown Espresso. Overall, we ate well and had a great time walking around and exploring Seattle.
Our time in Washington was particularly amazing because after months of spending almost all of our time without any of our family or friends (other than Mike’s visit), we stayed with ones of my closest friends, Ally, and Nick’s friend, Richard. Ally lives in Oak Harbor with her husband Bo, and we spent an entire week with them. We used their house for laundry, cooking and recovery sleep. It was just what we needed. Ally and I are both Integral Yoga instructors and we enjoyed four yoga classes from Ally’s studio. Nick met Richard through Harvard Taekwondo. Richard has to be one of the most intelligent people I have ever met and was a gracious host. He even stayed at his girlfriend’s place and let us use his apartment in downtown Seattle. Richard showed us around town and we wouldn’t have had nearly as good of a visit without him.
One thing I have learned in our time spent on the road is that the best way to see a place is through the guidance of a local. In all the places we’ve been, I feel like we only really get to know an area if we’re with somebody who lives there. Getting to know other people, especially in another city, is an experience that is just as fulfilling as traveling. I am so grateful to the many hosts we have had along the way.
There’s so much to say about the beauty and diversity of Washington, but you’ll have to experience it for yourself!