Some places on this blue planet of ours I have only dreamed of seeing. I have read about them in fantasy novels and history books, seen them in movies and art exhibits, and noticed them in other people’s bucket lists in magazines. But I never thought about them on my own bucket list. In just 11 days, I saw the major natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest.
I probably should start this post with an apology for missing two Saturdays in a row, but, as long-time readers will remember, travelling in the boonies does take me off the grid for a while. That I managed to take notes while surrounded by some of the most stunning natural beauty on the planet was in itself an achievement. I hope you enjoy it with me.
On Friday, 1 July 2016, I landed in Vancouver International Airport. Cheryl met me with a Ford Escape SUV, which she had rented for two weeks. With all the skill and planning of Eisenhower’s staff before Normandy, she had laid out a drive along the first part of her bicycle ride across the United States in 2013. There was no way that we could cover all those sights on bicycles in the time available, hence the car rental.
But first, there was a party, because it was Canada Day, the 149th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. We went downtown for the fireworks in the harbour, then walked through the partying crowd. Back at the house, we talked all night. The next morning, we feasted on pancakes, then rode downtown for the Vancouver Jazz Festival. It featured mostly “moldy oldies” from the R&B and crossover rock genres, except for two Latin bands. Willy Campa y su Orquestra brought down the house with their Cuban music and showmanship. I smiled to see the Canadians dancing to rhumba and merengue rhythms. A shout-out to Alistair for lending me his Cannondale bicycle.
Sunday, Cheryl drove us out to Whistler, to see the exhibits at the new Audain Art Museum. The Museum has two sections, one for the Audain collection, and one that rotates every two months. The regular collection was high quality, but the Beaverbrook Collection on loan from Fredericton, NB, contained art that I could never have seen otherwise. Lord Beaverbrook was a self-made lumber millionaire from New Brunswick, who became a key political figure in Great Britain in the first half of the 20th Century. His taste in art proved to be ahead of the curve, because his collection included the usual famous painters of the era (Monet, Manet, Degas, Sisley, Cezanne, Picasso, Pisarro, etc.), but he collected them as young artists, before anyone else was noticing them.
Monday was another party: the 240th Independence Day of the United States. We drove south to the American border, where Cheryl promised that she had never been arrested for anything, and I was welcomed home. As soon as possible, we left Interstate 5 for the Chukanut Drive though the northwest corner of Washington. Larabee State Park invited us to take a walk and admire the islands and pines of the coast, and to walk under a rolling oil train heading north in ballast as we took a pedestrian tunnel to the rocks on the shore. For the occasion, Cheryl had booked a room in the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle, an old-fashioned five-star hotel in the traditional style. We quickly showered and changed, and made our way to the Gas Works Park at the north end of Lake Union for the fireworks show. We walked for miles after parking the car, and for a while worried about being able to see anything over the crowd. Just before the start of the show, however, we made our way to the chain-link fence secluding the ticket-paying VIP’s, and found that we could enjoy their show for free. Accompanied by music, it had to be the most stupendous fireworks show that I have seen since 1973 in Toulon, France (that’s another sea story). After the show, the crowd flowed smoothly and slowly among the smells of cordite in the cold air. It took a long time to walk back to the car, then find a parking place near the hotel. We fell contentedly asleep in our luxurious digs at the Fairmont.
Tuesday, we started the tour of the Northwest with brunch at the Pike Place Market. We also picked up a large salmon at the Fish Market, and lots of fruit and produce to fill the cooler in the SUV. State Route 20 took us up a long, gentle climb alongside the Skagit River, through a fertile valley that led to Diablo Lake in the North Cascades National Park. The National Parks proved to be the best bargain on the tour, thanks to the Senior Pass, which gets me a 50% discount at all Federal facilities, including campgrounds run by the Park Service, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. It was dark by the time we set up camp at Colonial Creek (elev. 1200 ft, 366 m), and we were lucky that the three young men in the next site let us use the remains of their campfire to cook our fish and corn. They were a pleasant trio, country lads of the 21st century, who met because their parents had been friends, and who grew up in three different cities in Washington State, always staying in touch and meeting often to camp, to hike, or to work on the junker cars that they loved to fix up.
Wednesday the 6th provided the first of many extreme climactic shocks as we left the cool, damp forests of the Northern Cascades, crossed over Washington Pass, and descended to the dry central plains of the Columbia River Basin. We were following the Sierra Cascades Bicycle Route mapped out by the Adventure Cycling Association (http://www.adventurecycling.org/). This itinerary roughly follows the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Canada to Mexico, to allow bicyclists to enjoy the sights and challenges of the more famous hiking trail. Obviously, it is not intended for fast modes of travel. Each day we would climb several passes, as our ears popped, and Cheryl recounted her 2013 adventures. The days that had been rainy then were pleasant this time, so she was able to take the photographs that she had not been able to take the first time through.
Sitting at 365 feet (111 m), Lake Chelan is the largest natural lake in the United States by any measure. It is 81 km long, lushly forested on the west side, with drier slopes on the east side. Predictably, the roads run on the east side among orchards and vineyards, but the single road up the west side from the town of Chelan ends at the half-way point. We camped at 25-mile Creek State Park, where I bought a bundle of firewood for our trout and corn dinner. We had also picked up a big mess of kale, which supplied the base for interesting salads at every supper. We pitched our camp by a rushing brook, which, while idyllic during the pitching and the supper, proved to be so loud in the hush of the night that it kept us both up all night. Had we ridden bicycles into camp instead of driving, we probably would have slept through anything.
The next morning, we continued down the Columbia Basin to Seulah and Yakima. This area is high and dry: even the valleys are at 1100 to 2000 feet (610 m). We turned west to climb Mount Ranier, and the weather began to sock in. The mercury fell as we climbed the active volcano that dominates central Washington. By the time we reached Paradise (an aptly named valley at the feet of Mount Ranier), the rain was steady and cold. We booked a room in the Paradise Inn and enjoyed the hospitality and service of one of the great lodges of the National Park Service system. The rain continued as we fell asleep in the rustic Annex of the Lodge.
[To be continued on Saturday with the next regular posting.]
Smooth roads and tailwinds,