Our mad dash up the west coast has brought us to the Pacific edge of Washington State, on the tip of a peninsula in a town called Ocean Shores. I wake up, manage to get through another couple of doughnuts, try to pass on another to the receptionist and then hit the road. I rejoin the 101 heading north, bringing me closer to Olympic National Park, but more importantly, bringing me through this town:
Almost as good as Gaylordsville.
I know, I know, how immature of me. To be honest, the humble town of Humptulips barely elicited a smirk. It’s probably got some perfectly innocent etymology that has nothing to do with aberrant botanical behaviour. There’s nothing to titter at—
No wonder this is apparently Terry Pratchett’s favourite place.
Okay, enough. Back to the road. A little ways further north, the 101 starts hugging the coast again and, by one of the pull offs, we gain a little more insight into the philosophical conundrum: if a tree falls in the wood… Down by the shore, we discover that it might not make a sound, but it does make a splash. Driftwood takes on a different scale out here: it’s big, like, Travis in the late-90s big.
And if you’re wondering, the scale of the things that get brought to the shore can be… pretty huge. Standing on the shore gazing out at the Pacific, I spot a little island with a little lighthouse on it. Don’t feel too bad for the lonely little island, because if I’ve plotted my route correctly, that place is called Destruction Island. That guy must have been the coolest kid in island school.
Olympic National Park covers a huge portion of north-west Washington (more or less everything west of Seattle) and Route 101 skirts the edges, dipping into it every so often:
Some of this landscape might be looking familiar to any of you poor souls who were tricked into seeing a recent slew of blockbusters, which had been adapted from a certain series of books. I had never read this particular series of books, so was entirely unprepared for the road to take me to this place:
I didn’t know that Stephanie Meyer had attacked a real town with her creation, but the town seems to have been drastically changed as a result. Everything is Twilight themed. There are Twilight shops, Twilight tours, Twilight-induced-suicides (one imagines). Driving through it is like driving through a town that has been torn down and replaced by a tourist version of itself. I mean, good luck to the locals trying to make a bit of tourist money, but it’s a very strange place. I wonder how far their dedication goes. Has the town been hit by gang warfare as the Edward supporters battle the Jacob supporters for control of the streets? I decide not to stop to find out and keep going. The road soon twists east as we’re approaching the top of the world. A few miles north is a stretch of water and then Canada. But, as I’ve just learned, that stretch of water is called the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Named after Juan, who was some de Fuca. I love all the place names here.
After lunch in Port Angeles, it’s back down south as Route 101 comes down the eastern side of Olympic National Park and, on the other side, hugs one of the inlets. I stay near Olympia overnight visiting a family friend then it’s onto Tacoma: the city of splendours (which were closed).
It’s also time for a guest photographer as I team up with an old university friend and tour all the highlights of the area, like Hooters.
In hindsight I feel like I wasted an opportunity. I never went to Hooters. Never really appealed to me, but I feel I should’ve given it a shot as a social exercise. But a guy going to Hooters by himself just seems creepy. Coincidentally, that picture does show a guy going to Hooters by himself in the late-morning. No judgement, creepy dude.
Washingtonians also take their coffee pretty seriously and there are little coffee shacks all over the place. These, as the name implies, are small shacks that serve as drive-thru coffee shops. (Ironically, considering they are all over the place, I don’t actually have a picture of one). There is, however, at least one chain that tries to match Hooters for business strategy. It features young, attractive women wearing bikinis. (Frankly I fear for their health what with all the steaming that goes on). Anyway, fortunately this isn’t made crass with any cheap wordplay.
We’re off on an adventure to Mount Rainer. Unfortunately, the weather’s still a bit iffy and the car doesn’t like the odds of surviving, for which I blame the only obvious suspect: Florida. You see, when I arrived in Tacoma I had to sort out a thing with the car I have. As happened when I was in Florida, my car was taken away by the rental company whose eyes popped out of their heads when they checked the mileage. They gave me another one (same make, model, even the same colour), with two key differences: the in-car Iron Lady GPS system was gone and, worst of all, I now had Florida plates. And no I don’t really understand why I got a car with Florida plates in Washington, except to guess that someone decided to get the hell out of Florida and went as far as they could away from it – that I do understand.
Now, call me paranoid, but I’m pretty sure drivers are ruder to cars with Florida plates. God knows I would be. But where my old car, with its charming Tennessee plates, seemed an oddity in the places it went, a Florida plated-car means one thing: there’s a lunatic behind the wheel.
Back to the adventure though: we turn back from Mount Rainer and instead have lunch in a railroad car-turned-restaurant.
Although I’ve been glad to be on my own across the US, delivering powerful sax solos as I go, I realise how much fun it is to travel with someone else. Not only is there good banter, but I actually don’t take many pictures while driving, because it actually is a bit reckless. Having a partner in crime means we can document some of the things I never got a chance to. For instance, there are lots of pawn shops and thrift stores in the US. They sell the basic, cheap necessities: cheap clothing and the like, but also the most American necessity of all:
(I’d make some reference to Macklemore here, but that would imply a dangerous level of pop culture knowledge)
Maybe “thrift shop” has a wildly different meaning over here, but I’m not sure I follow the logic. “We need to scrimp and save every penny, but we still need the ability to kill each other”?
Still though, our adventure continues with our next stop:
The museum’s creation was largely inspired by the works of Dale Chihuly, but I hope they still have time to play some Philip Glass. Unfortunately we don’t get to find out, as a man greets us at the door to let us know the museum is closed for a private event. I haven’t seen Bertie about for the past couple of days, so I assume he’s to blame. We’re sadly turned away and forced to cross over the mocking Bridge of Glass that offers but a sampling of Chihuly’s work:
The Bridge has two larger sculptures that seem strangely familiar:
Fortunately there is one highlight of Tacoma that isn’t closed, but that’s mainly because it sits on someone’s lawn. It is, of course, a tribute to The Hobbit carved into a tree:
And that, unfortunately, is that. We can’t hang around Tacoma waiting for Tacoma to open, we still have the length of Washington State to go. So we bid farewell to our companion photographer and we head out east, while wondering why we’re still talking in the first person plural.
The landscape of the state is wonderful. As you go across it you enter different worlds. There’s one portion whose rocky, grassy patches remind me of Scotland and, nestled in amongst the mountains, is a little part of Bavaria.
It’s a little town called Leavenworth which has tried to capture the Bavarian aesthetic from the architecture to the bratwurst vendors. You might be thinking: well America is a rich nation of immigrants, and there’s a lot of Nordic and Germanic influence along the north of it, perhaps this plucky town was founded by some Bavarian settlers who really wanted to hold onto the traditions of home? That would be a logical thought, so no, that’s wrong. As with most things in America, it was about money. The town was Bavarianised in the ‘60s in an attempt to revitalise a flagging economy.
And, Mein Gott, it seems to have worked. Even weirder is that Leavenworth wasn’t the first town to do this to itself: they were inspired by Solvang, CA. And this idea was apparently such an astonishingly good one, that it spawned a nearby imitator in White Salmon, WA, which didn’t have nearly the dedication and floundered.
It is strangely affecting, too. While queuing for my bratwurst, I found myself composing the request in German. I reached the counter, opened my mouth to wreck the German language when a perky American accent said, “Well hi! What can I get for you?”
There is a slightly more obscure reason for coming to an obscure town and that is the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum. What can I say? After the hobos and the spam, I just like strange museums. And this one sounds a beauty, with over 6,000 nutcrackers to marvel over. It is, of course, also closed.
Well never mind. I stop in for a coffee at the authentic Bavarian “Starbucks” Kaffee-Haus and then it’s a final push to get to Spokane by the evening to see the excellent Josh Ritter. But more on that later.