The Long Walk
Tales from the Olympic Discovery Trail (Part 2)
The Olympic Discovery Trail runs along the coastal plain at the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula. With The Strait de San Juan de Fuca to the north, and the Olympic Mountains range to the south, the trail passes through old-growth forests, new-growth recovery areas, and active tree farms. These entries are mostly taken from my journal of my walk across the Olympic Peninsula. For the Most part, I followed the Olympic Discovery Trail and their official on-road detours.
Day 8 – Port Angeles to Rainbow’s End RV Park (Sequim)
Distance: 17 miles (27.35 km)
Wildlife seen: A huge flock of Canadian Geese, two baby raccoons, and a dead field mouse
As I walked down the steps of the Francis Street Park I heard a group of men singing. As I rounded a corner, I saw the group standing in a huddle in the shade of a pagoda. “…Our choices make our path today.” Those words reached me clearly even though everything else they said and sang faded in the breeze off of the Strait de San Juan de Fuca. I reflected that it is true that our choices make our path everyday. Still, I felt a bit more powerful by remembering that truth.
For three miles the trail followed the blue waters of the strait. The sea scented the sweet morning air with the smells of drying kelp and brine water. The call of the sea gulls and the gentle lapping of waves against the shore bathed my mind in a gentle hush.
I walked along the shore for just over an hour and a half before the trail turned inland and submerged me in the green of a dense forest. Moss crept up trees and onto the edges of the shaded trail. After a couple of miles we crossed a brook and then climbed a hill to a route 101 rest area.
Bonnie and I found some shade in the shadow of a pit toilet and sat down. We hadn’t been there a moment, when a petit woman with short, silver hair approached us and said, “It looks like you’ve been walking for a while.”
When I explained where I’d come from and where I was going she exclaimed with surprise, “you go girl!” She looked at me with surprise again and exclaimed “you look great! look at you, hiking in your sandals!”
Of course, I was only nearly sandals because my feet were too swollen to fit my boots. I had broken blisters on at least four toes and both of my feet were practically wrapped in moleskin and bandaids. Even with all of that care, my tevas somehow managed to rub my pinky toe painfully.
That rest area was barely a third of the way through the day’s walk. From that point the trail wound and dropped away from the highway. It snaked between small farms and rural homesteads. Hand drawn ‘caution’ signs sprung up to warn cyclists of sudden turns and, in one case, LGBQT supporters – though I’m not entirely sure why you’d need a warning.
With every painful step, I questioned why.
‘You could be in an RV right now’ I reminded myself every time I saw a camper van.
‘Why was it you didn’t want to ride a bike?’ I asked myself as some cyclists passed. Of course, the tough days, ARE the point. The practice of pushing past pain and frustration with cheerfulness in my heart and grace in my actions.
The trail eventually crossed a noisy little creek. I heard the sound of cascading pebbles. I looked up to see two teenagers sliding down the incline under the highway.
“Hi,” I volunteered.
“Hi,” the taller of the boys replied. They stood there awkwardly for a moment, then the first boy said, “just so you know we saw a cougar down the trail.”
“You saw a cougar?” I asked with some interest. I’ve hiked and walked in cougar country a lot, but have never had the fortune (or misfortune) of actually seeing one.
“Yeah, down there, he’s been stalking us for almost an hour” the boy replied, clearly still shaken up.
There was a T in the trail at that point and I wasn’t sure which way to go, so I pulled out my phone and consulted the map for a moment. The direction he indicated was opposite the direction I was going, but I could tell they needed to talk.
“Stalking you?” I asked, “How do you know he was following you?”
“We saw him jump across the river all the way back there, and we’ve been hearing twigs snap and other sounds behind us as we came up here.”
“Where are you heading?” I asked them.
“Back down the trail that way,” they indicated the way they had come – the opposite direction of where I was going.
“I wouldn’t worry too much,” I said trying to calm them down. You are both pretty tall, and there are two of you so it is pretty unlikely he’ll try to attack you. Just stay together.”
We parted ways and I made sure I could get to my bear spray quickly. I needn’t have worried though. The trail made a turn almost immediate and followed the main highway for several miles before cutting back in among the farms on the outskirts of Sequim.
As I neared RainBow’s End RV park, my gait was more of a hobble than a stride. As I shuffled I tried to focus on other things. Rainbow’s End might as well have held a pot of gold for me and my aching feet.
Day 9 – Rainbow’s End RV Park to the Sundowner Motel
Distance: 4.7 miles (7.5 km)
Wildlife seen: A dead field mouse – disappointing to say the least.
I learned my lesson at Bear Creek about finding a place to camp on a July Weekend in the Olympic Peninsula. When I checked availability in Sequim Bay State Park for Saturday night, there were no sites available. So I booked a room at the Sundowner Motel – less than 5 miles from Rainbow’s End.
Since I didn’t have far to go to get from Rainbow’s End RV Park to the Sundowner Motel, I spent the morning writing by the park’s trout pond. I waved to Evelyn and Eddy as they pulled out of the park in their new coach motorhome. They just upgraded to the bigger rig and were on their way to motorhome school to learn how to safely drive such a large vehicle.
As the morning wore on, we moved over to the little dog park. I chatted with a retired school teacher who had a doubles tennis tournament later that day. Bonnie played chase with her black lab. It wasn’t until noon that we finished packing up and began to move back up the road to the trail.
As I turned onto the trail I came almost immediately to Sequim’s Railroad Bridge Park. There I crossed one of the most iconic trestles along the Olympic Discovery Trail. Constructed in 1915 by the The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, the bridge still represents the longest span over the Dungeness River.
Like the last part of yesterday’s walk, most of today’s trail ran through suburban farmland. Pastures, cows, horses, and some small lavender farms lined the trail. At Sequim I left the trail to check in at the Sundowner Motel.
Day 10 – Sundowner Motel to Sequim Bay State Park
Distance: 5.5 miles (8.8 km)
Wildlife Seen: A live field mouse
From Squim I turned back onto the trail. The chill of the morning burned off as the sun rose higher into the sky. I paused for a moment to admire a field of yellowing grasses that shimmered in the morning light. I could hear the traffic of highway 101 off to the south.
The path made a turn into into some woods. Then it turned again to reveal one of the Olympic Discovery Trail’s most beautiful trestles, the Johnson Creek Trestle. Spanning 410 feet, the trestle curved ever so slightly across the gully. The moss colored supports disappeared into the foliage far below. The music of the creek dancing over river rocks drifted up to me as I paused to admire, and then to photograph.
Another couple of miles of walking through the forest brought me to Sequim Bay State park, where cyclists Duane, Erica,and I shared a campfire, a meal, and conversation.
Day 11 – Sequim Bay State Park to Valley View Motel
Distance: 16 miles (26 km)
Wildlife Seen: one deer. Just one. You’d think there would be more…
Foolishly I decided to follow the advice of google maps and walk over Chicken Coop road rather than following the trail around Discovery Bay. The map showed it connecting with a small country road that would connect back with 101 Near Eaglemount at the bottom of Discovery Bay.
Chicken Coop road climbed away from 101 in a series of steep hill climbs. We walked passed secluded homes, and small ranches nestled among the young forest in the foothills of the Olympic mountains. A UPS truck passed us and turned onto a narrow lane that led through the the trees. As I passed the lane, I heard the truck driver beeping his horn amongst a chorus of barking dogs. The barking and honking continued as I walked up the road, ever upwards.
The Road that Wasn’t There
When I came to the place where Chicken Coop road turned, and the country road continued I saw a “No Outlet” sign. I wondered about the Google Maps directions. Ignoring the sign, I figured this would be an adventure. I continued on and walked half a mile to where the country road turned and to the point where google maps said a road would connect. There was no road. There was a break in the trees to allow a set of power lines through, but there was no road, no trail, and no sign that any road had ever been in that place.
Bonnie and I found a comfortable spot in an overgrown set of tire tracks and sat down. I broke open our snacks and began to ponder. It was a half-mile back to Chicken Coop road, then I could continue to follow it to where it reconnected 101 and continue along the trail. The total distance added to the day would be a little more than two miles. This was the safest option so after a short rest, we got up from our arboreal retreat and set out to follow that plan.
By the time we reached 101 and the bottom of our hilly detour my boots were rubbing every blister on my already sore feet the wrong way. I took a moment to change into my sandals in the hopes of alleviating some of the rubbing before carrying on.
After Sequim Bay State park, the road ran along Old Gardiner Road and 101 around Discovery Bay. The route afforded only the occasional glimpse of the water. Ultimately, most of the remaining walk was a horrible combination of boring and painful.
Valley View Motel is little more than a collection of small guest cabins on a working farm. The proprietor was careful to make sure I understood this before I booked the room.
“I have to tell you, this is more a working farm than anything else.” the voice told me over the phone.
“The cabins are very basic. There ain’t no TV or Wifi or nothin’ like that.”
I did my best to convey my excitement at getting to stay at a rustic working farm to the gentleman on the other end of the line, but he didn’t seem convinced.
When I checked in – leaving Bonnie to contemplate the goats on the lawn, he pointed to a collection of DVDs and VHS tapes on a shelf next to the counter.
“Feel free to choose some movies if you like – other than that it’s gonna be a quiet evening.”
I selected a VHS of The Muppets Movie for the nostalgia of the thing and retired to my cozy little retreat from the pain of the day.
Each cabin had a small kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom. I felt profoundly grateful for a night protected from the chilly wind off of the strait. I didn’t even get the VHS into the player, I was asleep and dead to the world before 8pm.
Day 12 – Just Fixing My Feet
(Valley View Motel to Old Fort Townsend State Park)
Distance: 9 miles (14.5 km)
Wildlife: some dead birds along the road – very disappointing.
I must have looked especially tired as I walked up highway 20 from the Valley View Motel. People kept stopping to offer me a ride. A kind looking woman with greying blond hair cut into a neat bob pulled over in her mini-van.
“Are you OK?” she asked, a note of concern in her voice. “Can I give you a ride somewhere?”
I was in the middle of re-moleskinning my feet sitting on the ground in a slow-vehicle pull-out area. I had one sock off and was carefully applying moleskin and bandages to the part of my foot being rubbed raw by one of my sandal straps.
“Nah, I’m just fixing my feet,” I replied.
“OK,” she said uncertainly. “I don’t usually stop, but something told me…” she trailed off.
I gave her my warmest smile and thanked her for listening to that voice thinking that on another day that voice might save someone’s life. Then I assured her again that I was fine.
I had departed from the official Olympic Discovery Trail detour route and opted instead for the much shorter Route 20 Road. The trail doesn’t use this road because of fast traffic and narrow shoulders. The west-bound side of the road, though, has sufficient space for pedestrians to walk safely. Since my feet really needed a distance shorter than the twenty-something miles required by the other detour route, I chose to brave Route 20 which turned out to be a very good choice.
When I finally arrived at Old Fort Townsend, I felt feverish and chilled. I moved into the sun to get warm, shivering violently anytime a cloud shaded the grass. When I took off my sandals, my left “ring toe” was inflamed, red, and swollen After cleaning it carefully and treating it with antibiotic ointment, I decided it was probably best to wait until it was clearly on the mend before carrying on. I knew I could get medical care in Port Townsend, but Whidbey Island distances were a lot longer and there were fewer services available.
Day 13 – Old Fort Townsend State Park to Port Townsend
Distance: 7 miles (11.26 km)
Wildlife: Seagulls and Herons and tons of other sea birds. I also saw a handsome young Buck watching over the trail and sea with a noble demeanor from atop the clay bluff overlooking the mill.
I ended up staying three nights at Old Fort Townsend State Park. On my third morning, my toe clearly healing, I packed up camp and began the walk into Port Townsend.
The first part of the trail was forested. After a bit more than an hour of walking, we emerged from the woods at a lumber mill and followed the shoreline into town.
At a small shipyard on the edge of town, a number of locals were walking the beach, their off-leash dogs running through the sand and water. I let Bonnie off-leash so she could run while I chatted with the various dog parents.
One woman, thin and aging with streaks of silver in her short, black hair, talked with me for quite some time. We chatted as we watched our dogs chase on the sand. She lives in Ballard but comes out to Port Townsend on the weekends to be with her husband who is working on a boat in the shipyard here. Eventually the conversation came around to the trip.
“You are so brave,” she told me. “Aren’t you afraid?”
This is a sentiment I hear a lot and one I find frustrating. No one thinks men should be afraid if they travel alone, but everyone seems to think I should be.
“What should I be afraid of?” I asked.
Everything from rape to rattlesnakes came up in the answer she gave. I could tell that she worried a lot about the dangers of the world around her. We talked about the precautions I take for personal safety and I re-assured her that, while there are certainly dangerous people in the world, most potentially dangerous situations can be easily diffused without violence.
I also told her she’d find it less scary when she got out there.
“Fear is useful,” I told her “it helps keep us safe. It stops being useful, though, when we allow it to make our choices for us.”
I made a re-supply stop at the Safeway and then walked over to the Port Townsend Ferry. As we pulled away from the dock, I made a note of the milestone: I’d crossed the Olympic Peninsula on foot. I had walked more than 136 miles of road and trail battling fatigue, cold nights, and blistered feet. On the map, those 136 miles look like nothing but for the first time since I started the trip I began to tell the people that I was crossing the country.
Read about the first part of my walk across the Olympic Peninsula here.
A Note About State Parks: Most trail-side state parks have “hiker-biker” sites available for $12.00 per night. In Washington, a state park will not turn a hiker or a biker away even if they are full. The parks understand that hikers and bikers have less control over their itinerary and can’t reserve in advance. They also understand that the distances to the next camping area are usually prohibitive for hikers and bikers. If find yourself on the olympic peninsula on a summer weekend, go to the park even if it is fully booked. They will find a place for you.