US Pacific Coast

(7th – 22nd December 2015)

From Vancouver Island we took the ferry on a particularly rainy day to Port Angeles in Washington State. The weather wasn’t any better than on the Canadian side and apparently it was supposed to stay that way for the foreseeable future. At least the border crossing was easy and I got another 90 days in the USA without any problems (Gary is allowed to stay 6 Months). Although we sort of expected it to be rainy this time of the year we chose the Pacific coast instead of the inland route as it is supposed to be lot warmer than in the mountains. With rather excellent rain gear we didn’t really fear a little rain after all we didn’t bring them along just for the fun of it! Besides it couldn’t possibly rain the whole time – at least that’s what we thought…

Washington State

The 1st Night in the USA

Actually the original goal for our first night was supposed to be the national park on the Olympic peninsula; though as we drove up the road leading to the park it looked pretty bad. Apparently a storm had passed through the night before and the road was littered with leaves, twigs and even some rather large branches. We were also warned that there was a high probability of another storm coming in. And after looking at the chaos around us there was no way we wanted to spend the night! Thankfully there was a state campground not too far from Port Angeles near the coast, though as when we arrived we were a bit surprised by the apparent “normal” price of winter camping. In the last few months before going to Vancouver Island we paid little to nothing for camping and now all of a sudden they wanted 23 USD for a simple spot! Furthermore the tent camping area was in the nearby forest where we certainly didn’t want to camp – or we would have stayed in the National Park. There were also spots on a field though all of them had hookups and were naturally more expensive. We were the only guests there and since we couldn’t use the hookups we set up camp on one of the more expensive spots, though at the self-registration we only paid the cheaper price – after all we didn’t want to risk a tree falling on our heads! We also noticed as we drove onto the campground that there was a covered picnic area and so paid for two nights with the idea to use the roof over our heads to work on our blog and get a little shelter from the rain. However, we were pretty disappointed when we noticed that the covered picnic area was padlocked and a sign informed us that we could rent it for a half day at $75! What’s the point of having a picnic shelter on a campground and then making it inaccessible? We stood in front of the locked door in the rain a little dumb founded; we certainly hadn’t reckoned with that. And that wasn’t all either; later in the evening evening the ranger lady (one of those especially “strict” types) came by to check everything over. Of course she noticed that we hadn’t paid the appropriate amount for the spot. We tried to explain the situation to her; that we can’t use the hookups since we don’t have an RV, that we are a bit scared to camp in the forest with all the branches on the ground and the pending storm, and finally that we were about the only people there anyway… but there was no impressing the ranger; exceptions were not to be made. We either had to move to the other section of the campground or pay the difference, period. Actually we would have preferred to leave then and there, but it was pitch black outside, we had everything set up and no idea where else we could go. So we reluctantly handed over the extra money but asked for a refund for our second night. We had no intention of staying another night – regardless of the weather…

Welcome to the Rainy Season

The weather came as promised: The next morning it came down in buckets; the water poured over our rain gear as though we were standing under the shower as we packed the Foxwing away. All was not a loss however; we did get to see some impressive waves right in front of our campsite. And since it was supposed to pour the rest of the week, and we were told of washed out roads and flooded hiking paths in the National Park, we cancelled our plans of spending a few days and instead decided to make our way slowly south along the coastal road. Around mid day there was a pause in the rain and we took advantage of the time to walk along Rialto Beach. In the heavy fog with the waves crashing onto the shore the beach had an almost mystical feeling.

We spent the night in the Bogachiel State Park though this time a very friendly ranger was there to greet us. It had started raining again and we watched the puddles around our camp slowly join together to become a small lake. We had to run an obstacle course hopping and skipping to avoid ending up with wet feet when heading to the bathrooms.

flooded outWe hugged the coastal road towards Ocean Shores and with all the rain we were not overly surprised to see flooded roads and campgrounds along the way. We did managed to find a campground in the evening that was still open; thanks to the paved camping spots, though it was a bit on the ugly side. We also had to get up in the middle of the night to pack the Foxwing away as another storm blew in; there was no need to risk our “roof” getting damaged by the winds. The next morning didn’t look any better either – it was still really stormy and without our Foxwing to protect us we would be soaked as soon as we stuck our nose out the door. So putting on our rain gear we packed as fast as we could. A warm breakfast was not on the agenda with it pouring so we fled to Ocean Shores and had breakfast at a nice little Café.

December gets dark early so we tried really hard to arrive with enough light to not have to set up in the dark. Thanks to the walls we had bought for our Foxwing we could make it relatively comfortable, more importantly dry, and so we spent the long winter evenings playing board games trying to ignore the rain and make the best of it. Even though the temperatures weren’t all that low, 12-Celsius, we slept inside the Landy instead of in our roof top tent. With all the rain the mattress would have likely gotten soaked once we packed it up and it wouldn’t have had an opportunity to dry. Since we were mostly the only guests in the campgrounds we turned up the music and danced under the Foxwing to the pattering rain. Actually we had quite a bit of fun and found it to be an interesting experience despite the rain. Though, when it also stormed there wasn’t much we could do to make it comfortable and had to either accept having a cold meal or head to a restaurant or diner for something warm to eat.

The last evening we spent in Washington state was at Cape Disappointment, which at first we laughed about. Though as it turned out the cape ended up earning its namesake. The campground wasn’t very good and was also incredibly expensive; there was no way we could go hiking and no spectacular views to see. The next morning we had to pack again as fast as possible due to the howling wind and rain and headed toward Oregon without breakfast. At some point it had to stop raining, and the farther south we drove the better chances we would have – at least that’s what we believed.

Oregon – along the 101

The Columbia River acts as the border between Washington and Oregon State. We crossed the bridge to the same gray rain and arrived at the town of Astoria (made famous by the movie The Goonies). First on our agenda was to look for an appropriate restaurant to have breakfast. Thankfully there were a number of places to choose from so we were able to quickly escape the permanent cold shower that seemed to be following us. Astoria is a nice little town with quite a few attractions, most of which have something to do with the movie, though we were mostly interested in the Sea lions at the harbor. Apparently an entire colony of Sea lions had taken over a part of the wharf so that the town had to close a portion of it to the public for safety reasons. They have been in Astoria so long now that they even have a spot on the tourist map of the town! We had to pull the hoods of our rain jackets tight in order to protect us from the howling winds as we hiked out onto the wharf to visit the colony. Watching them lounge around in such miserable weather without a care in the world made us a little jealous of the animals. They seemed to be really enjoying life on their captured portion of the Wharf.

A look at the weather forecast showed no break in sight for us – rain, rain and more rain was on the way. And we aren’t talking about a light rain here; we are talking more like a downpour that accompanies a summer thunderstorm though without pause. We were granted a break in the rain for maximum a few hours each day, which we used to at least get an idea of what the pacific coast looked like. After our bicycle tour through Ireland and Scotland in 2013 we thought we knew what rain was; this experience proved otherwise! Under these conditions it was getting harder and harder for anything to dry in the car. The humidity is simply everywhere. We hung our dripping rain gear over the steering wheel and seats, but the next day they were still uncomfortably damp. The windows were totally wet with condensation so much so that it ran in runnels down the panes, we felt almost like we were living in a humidor.

Camping along the coast

The coastal landscape along the 101 may well be fantastic, though the camping however isn’t. After a number of tries we gave up on the idea that we would be able to boon dock anywhere. It’s simply impossible to find a place without a sign forbidding you to park overnight or that isn’t private property. We camped mostly in the State parks, which are thankfully open year round, though they do seem to charge quite a bit for simply camping. We didn’t find a single camping spot for under $20 and that was in the middle of winter! They were also pretty uptight with the rules there too just like we found out in Washington. We arrived at one of the State parks and were shocked to find out that they wanted $29! All the spots were paved and had power, water and sewer – which is actually a pretty decent price when you think about it, but we don’t need or want to pay for something we can’t even use. The friendly campground host did tell us to head over to the horse camp where it was cheaper, besides at this time of year there wasn’t anyone there anyway. We thanked him for the tip and headed over to the horse camp. At the cowboy camp you can camp on grass instead of pavement and every spot has a corral for at least 3 horses. It was pretty rustic with only an outhouse though if you wanted a shower you had to walk 300 meters to get to the facilities but we liked it and so set up our Foxwing with all the walls and had a really nice evening. The next morning however, we awoke to an official warning pinned under our wiper blade. The horse camp is only to be occupied by people camping with horses all others must camp in the other camping area and if we were to spend another night we must vacate the horse camp! The campground has over 300 paved spots with full hookups and an additional 15 horse camping spots, there was exactly one other person camping here besides us, without a horse of course. It wasn’t like we were taking anything away from anyone, never the less the rules are the rules regardless of whether it makes sense or not. Naturally after that we didn’t really want to spend another night…

Enough is enough…

So far it was quite the adventure to be underway in such weather though we were slowly getting a bit wary of the continued rain. We were confronted a number of times with closed roads due to flooding and land slides and a planned 2 hour drive turned into a whole day of detours. We were even surprised by a fresh landslide that blocked the road that we were on, giving us even more to worry about. We turned around but as we arrived at the campground we found it closed due to danger of flooding and falling trees. Being so late in the day we were forced to find a hotel to spend the night.

The next morning the sun came out for a few hours and so we were able to see the wonderful coastal landscape in a completely new perspective with blue skies and sunshine!

At Sunset Bay State Park (by this time it was raining again) we set up our camp and decided to, despite the rain, spend a couple of days to hike along the coast. There is a nice hiking trail that leads directly along the coast to Cape Arago where we watched huge waves crash into the many little islands and boulders. We even could hear Sea lions in the distance; though couldn’t figure out exactly where they were. When we finally arrived at the cape the barking of the Sea lions got a lot louder where we soon discovered the source of the noise. A huge colony of Sea lions directly at the base of the cliffs! We watched them lounge about and took a number of photos and, for at least a while, the rain was forgotten as we enjoyed the show.

Our return trip led us to another attraction; during Advent the botanical gardens at the Shore Acres State Park are decorated with thousands upon thousands of lights. We wandered through the gardens enjoying the various lights and stopped at a hut on the property where we were treated to warm punch and cookies courtesy of one of the various sponsors. We were happy to be able to take in the local attraction and get a little bit of pre-Christmas cheer. Back at the campground we discovered a small lake had formed around our camp, which we had to cross in order to get to our small island of relative dryness. We laughed about the situation and although we were soaked through we were quite satisfied with the days events and experiences and that night we slept like babies.

The next day however the fun and games were finally over! We had just woken up as we heard a loud cracking noise followed by a crash. Was that a falling tree? We ran out onto the road to see what it was; a tree had actually come down in the middle of the campground blocking our way out! The ground was so soaked full of water that it could no longer support the tree (which was leaning to begin with). Thankfully no one was hurt, though the tree did strafe the campground hosts’ camper ripping the awning down. The thought that another tree could come down and that it could be us sent us packing! Enough is enough! We fled the campground as soon as the rangers had the road cleared of debris to a suites motel in Brookings and spent a few days to re-evaluate our plans. There didn’t seem to be any end in sight to the rain either, with the exception of a short single day pause, and so our only other option was to drive inland despite the expected colder temperatures.

Northern California

Magical Redwoods

Before we turned inland and said goodbye to the pacific coast we wanted to at least visit the Redwoods. A forecasted rain free day in the next 10 days was coming up so we decided to use that day to visit the Redwoods. We headed out from Brookings to Jededhia Smith Redwoods State Park. Alone the road, which wound through a world filled with the gigantic trees, was wonderful. We parked the Landy at the Boy Scout trailhead and hiked among the giants to a small waterfall. It was truly magical to hike among these ancient trees that have stood sentinel here for centuries. You can almost feel them radiating a sense of calm and tranquility; the sunlight streaming through the branches and the constant presence of mist made it even more magical. It wouldn’t have surprised us in the least if an elf, pixie or other magical creature suddenly came around the corner.

The next day was once again grey and it rained without pause. Since our route inland took us through the redwoods anyway we stopped at the Redwood National Park for a little hike (apparently George Lucas used the park in filming parts of Star Wars). Once again we are astounded at the sheer size and age of these massive trees, what amazing stories they could tell! It was difficult for us to leave but the weather was driving us inland and so at the town of Eureka we finally left the coast heading east towards the mountains.

Just before Christmas

We spent the night at a rest stop somewhere along a mountain road on the way to Redding. It was a heck of a lot colder here and we were not overly surprised as the rain turned to sleet the next morning. We put quite a few miles behind us and visited Garys friend Jerrell in Grizzly Flats before heading onward to Lake Tahoe.

Since we didn’t really want to spend Christmas outside we had been searching for some time for a reasonably priced place. We searched in Oregon, California and Nevada without any luck, even with AirBnB the prices around Christmas had risen into the stratosphere. There wasn’t much else we could do other than check along the way. Though as we arrived in Lake Tahoe – where we figured that there would be a broad range of prices – we lost all hope of finding anything. Lake Tahoe as you may well know is a ski resort, which apparently hadn’t had any real snow for the last few years. This year however they had already plenty of snow, which caused the prices to explode, especially just before Christmas. On average a room was going for about $200 a night, though the cheapest we could find was a bargain at $125 – way over our budget. There was also a somewhat snobby feeling here and we were almost laughed at when we asked if there were any cheaper accommodations. All the campgrounds were closed this far inland too and so we really had no idea what we were going to do. It was the 22nd of December, we were up to our ankles in slush in a rather snobby town and we didn’t even know where we were going to spend the night let along the holidays. We hit an all time low, the last few weeks were really tough and had cost quite a bit in energy to keep our spirits up and now it looked as though we wouldn’t have a warm and dry place to spend Christmas. We sat a while in our car totally depressed without a clue as to what we should do. Then it suddenly came to us. The heck with it! Lets just keep driving! We are bound to find something somewhere.

More Photos on Flickr: US Pacific Coast