Greetings from Bremerton, Washington, about an hour west by ferry across the Puget Sound from Seattle. I am starting day 4 of the 25-day Northwest road trip.
For this road trip we didn’t plan any specific itinerary or book any hotels. This may seem an odd way of vacationing especially given that I am the kind of person who have always craved structure and predictability. But so far, we have been improvising and I have never felt more liberated.
In order to roam freely, we brought with us or prepared a few useful tools:
- Portable Garmin Nuvi GPS : to take away the stress of finding directions.
- Verizon MiFi: to create a mobile WiFi network to allow us to connect to the Internet anywhere.
- iPad: to be able to easily surf the web (especially in the passenger seat of a car) with the help of the MiFi
- Intermediate sized SUV (we ended up getting a Hyundai Santa Fe): to be able to sleep in the back with the back seats folded forward in case we can’t find a place to stay at the last minute.
- Sleeping bags and portable foam mattresses: to sleep more comfortably in the back of the SUV.
- Cosco membership card: to stock up on water and healthy food on the cheap for the road.
Normally, I am destination oriented and averse to trying something new as I don’t want the risk of getting disappointed. To foster serendipity, we came up with a family road trip rule at the outset: if either of us happen to see something along the way that piques our interest, we won’t hesitate to stop and check it out, taking a detour if necessary, unless the other party strongly objects.
In three days, we’ve travelled over 800 miles, watched dolphins getting their bellies scratched, napped at a scenic viewpoint in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, retrieved our car from the impound, walked among tree tops, hiked a 3-mile loop among the mossy hundreds-years-old trees in a rainforest, visited the town of Forks (where the movie Twilight is set — yes, I’m a “Twihard”), among other things. (See highlights below for more).
After arriving at Vancouver at 2am on the Cathay flight using our miles redemption tickets, we had 3 hours to kill before we could pick up the SUV from Avis, which opened at 5am. Normally we would be tempted to splurge on the $150+ airport hotel, but our sense of nutty adventuresomeness — and the fact that I am no longer making money — staved off the urge. We rested on the benches at the airport for free with the bonus of free water refills from the airport chapel.
(My husband guarding my purse)
(We were the refugees like Tom Hanks in the movie “Terminal“)
The first chance we got to use all of our tools came soon enough on the second evening.
After doing some conventional touristy activities in Vancouver, my husband and I were eager to get away from the crowds and explore the Olympic National Park in Washington State. The wonderful thing about summer in the Northwest is that the sun doesn’t go down until 9 or 10pm. We optimistically thought we would be able to drive to the beach on western coast to see the sunset.
Maybe because of the jetlag, we were both tired by 8:30pm and were only in Port Angeles, about 2 hours away from the west coast beaches. As we were debating whether to march forward or to call it a day we got distracted by a flashing movie theater sign showing Inception and Eat, Pray, Love ads. We decided to check it out in case we could catch a show. To our surprise, the movie theater didn’t have evening showings of either movie due to low demand. Maybe cerebral dramas are not for the Port Angelenos.
Disappointed, we got back into the car and suddenly realized how hungry we were. While eating the beef chili and the green beans ravenously from the cans we bought from Cosco in the movie theater parking lot, we searched on the iPad for nearby lodgings. We figured that since Port Angeles is where Bella and her friends shopped for their prom dresses in the Twilight movie, it must’ve been a relatively happening place. It was hard to determine from the websites whether any of the lodgings had vacancies, so we decided to drive around looking for a place near the city center. The only recognizable chain motel we saw was Super Motel 8, and it was full. All the other decent looking motels were also full.
So, what better time than the present to try out our sleep arrangement in the car? First, we needed to find a place to park the car. My husband found a road on Google Map that seemed to lead to a nearby beach on the northern edge of the state. As we approached the dead end of an otherwise deserted road, we saw a row of houses blocking off any beach access. We could hear the ocean waves. So close, yet so far.
Plan B was to find a campground in the Olympic National Park. Following the GPS, we got to the entrance of the Elwha Campground. Not surprisingly it was also full. Just as we thought all’s lost and I started to regret the decision of not booking lodgings ahead of time, we saw a nice parking lot across from the campground with a few cars parked in it. Since there was no sign prohibiting overnight parking, we figured it was worth a try.
To prevent the bugs from getting into the car, we maneuvered all the suitcases to the front seats and set up our little nest in the back without getting out (thanks for my hyper flexibility). We quickly fell asleep under the lineaments of the sparkling stars.
I always associated spontaneity with the image of a leaf floating aimlessly in the wind. It was never an image that imbued me with inspiration. The lack of a clear trajectory, like a blank piece of paper, has always made me uncomfortable. But what I have learned so far is that as long as you have a sense of the desire and the capacity to follow it, the process can be exhilarating and liberating. I am learning to embrace the possibilities and the uncertainties.
For more on our adventure so far, including photos, see below.
HIGHLIGHTS SO FAR:
Walking across the Capilano Suspension Bridge to its “treetops adventure” — interesting concept, but too many tourists.
Ready for the road with various supplies including 48 bottles of water for $8.50 from Costco.
Getting a satisfying lunch on the scenic Chuckanut Drive north of Seattle.
The morning golden rays on Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park.
Forks, a two-bit timber town that has been vitalized by the Twilight franchise. Menu from a diner featuring an ad for Chinook Pharmacy, “Bella’s First Aid Solution.”
Hiking in in a rainforest on the west side of Olympic National Park.