Day Fifty Nine: Big Sky Country: Montana (Bannack, Hardin)

Events of Wednesday May 13th, exceedingly belatedly blogged Thursday May 28th

Sincerest apologies for the unforgivable delay in getting these final posts up. The final days of the trip were lacking in either decent cell coverage, time, or both. And then I returned home and there was a too brief recovery period followed by an immediate dive into wedding related activities for a dear friend. The latter I am still enmeshed in, but I really want to finish the tales of my grand adventure despite the awkwardness of being so removed in time and distance. So onward we forge!

When last I left off, Annie and I (and Marigold) were camping at the Bannack State Park which is also home to an actual, authentic, real life ghost town. Did I mention there was a tipi we could have stayed in? Day Five or even Day Twenty Eden probably would have jumped at the chance, and Day Hadn’t Actually Left Yet Eden was all over it during the planning stages, but Day Fifty Nine Eden is tired and can only think “but I’d have to drag all my stuff in there . . . how warm would it be . . . would Annie be nervous and BARKBARK. . . where do I even find the person I would have to ask about availability . . .” and just stuck with her campervannie.

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(Side Note: while I was making my oatmeal, Annie was exploring our campsite on her tether. At one point she discovered a rodent corpse (mole, vole, shrew-something of that ilk) and gobbled it down, fur and all, bones crunching loudly, in about forty five seconds. I had an inkling this would not be good.)

After our morning stroll, we headed back to explore the ghost town some more with better light and less tired eyes.

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The building on the left was originally the courthouse (later a hotel) and the building on the right was Skinner’s Saloon where all the meanest, nastiest, most badass (in a bad way) dudes hung out. The courthouse was where sheriff Henry Plummer spent his days, and the saloon was where he spent his nights, as leader of a murderous band of outlaws known as The Innocents (Password: I am innocent). Fun fact, his Wikipedia entry lists his occupation as “Criminal, Sheriff.”

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Even today one can find the odd miscreant or two sniffing about the place.

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Plummer and most of his cohorts were eventually found out and hung from the town gallows which still stands today. Not gonna lie, there was an extremely creepy, somber, prickles on your skin feeling to the place, so much so I couldn’t even manage a wacky selfie. Later, a park ranger I encountered told me that in the early part of the 1900s local kids would dig up the bones of the executed and sell them. It is possible someone somewhere today still has the sheriff’s skull.

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Just past the gallows was Cemetery Hill where the more upstanding citizens were laid to rest. The picture painted here wasn’t much cheerier (and I do prefer my graveyards to be cheerful and upbeat). Most died from gunshot wounds or disease, and very few lived past their twenties. Even Sheriff Plummer, who had a long history of occupations both legit and otherwise, was a mere 27 when he met his demise. (No cemetery photos, but this is a view from the hill to show just how cut off and remote it really was).

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This was a harsh and brutal world and it’s amazing that they were able to carve out some semblance of “normal” life at all. But carve they did – there was even a school (just across from the Saloon of Death).

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Maybe fifty yards from the school are the jails-the original on the right, and the big fancy modern upgrade on the left. The original one has a view of the gallows from its tiny window. The roof of the bigger one is covered with sod and grass and was being visited by a robin as we walked by. I thought that was pretty cool.

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But once again the time had come to saddle up and get back on the road. Everyone assumed their positions.

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Montana is a big state, so there was a lot of driving. And a lot of teeny little Western towns.

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In Montana you can buy your dog a cuddly little bullet toy to snuggle and play with.

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Midway through the day I noticed that Annie seemed to be acting strangely. At one point she crawled in to the passenger footwell where I kept a full duffle bag and some other things stored, and draped herself across them in an awkward and rather uncomfortable looking position.

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Throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening she was extremely sluggish: eye droopy, restlessly moving about the car in what appeared to be failed attempts to get comfortable, showing little to no interest when I would leave Marigold to fill up the tank or take a pee break, and just generally giving off an unhappy vibe. It was worrisome to say the least.

This was another day when I didn’t really have a set agenda as to where I wanted to end up for the night, I just wanted to make solid progress across the country so that Wyoming would be easily reachable the following day. As the day wore on and I started searching for campgrounds, I became aware that we were not that far from the Little Bighorn Battlefield. It hadn’t made my original itinerary, but knowing it was nearby intrigued me, and I decided to make camp at the nearest possible spot so that we could pay it an early morning visit.  The choice came down to another branch of the KOA chain or the “family owned” and majestically titled Grandview Campground. Based almost solely on the indications that the Grandview had a laundry facility whereas the KOA did not, I chose the Grandview. I chose wrong.

Stepping in to the “Office/Gift Shoppe” I was immediately struck by the overwhelming aroma of cat pee. As I looked around I noticed that the whole room appeared to be an ADD hoarder’s paradise. The entire place was crammed with clothing, ugly tchotchkes, random papers, cleaning supplies, sunglasses, half empty boxes, and other assorted bric-a-brac scattered helter skelter across every available surface with no apparent rhyme or reason. The counter where one would presumably make a purchase or check in for a stay did not have a single glimmer of available space. And the proprietress appeared to be engaged in a bitch session with a random policeman in the backroom.

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Fighting back the urge to run, I secured a campsite. Once again, upon enquiring about the heavily promoted WiFi connection offered, I was met with surprise and frustration and directed to one of two spots that “maybe” had a signal. That taken care of, I loaded up a bag of dirty clothes, leashed up a still lethargic Annie, and moseyed on over to the laundry room. Whereupon I realized that I had used my last batch of detergent in Washington. Of course. So Annie and I wandered over to the Gift Shoppe to see if any of the various and sundry items available for purchase there included anything actually useful like detergent. Nope, just “replica” bear claws and the like. (Also, the place was wide open but the owner had vanished like the wind.) So we went back to the laundry room in the hope that maybe there was an overlooked vending machine hiding in a corner somewhere. And the door was locked. With most of my clothes inside. Because some little children, who appeared to make the campground a permanent residence, were playing some game that involved locking themselves in. Because THAT’S NOT ANNOYING AT ALL!

I pounded on the door, scowled at the kids, grabbed my belongings, drove across the highway to a truck stop which was what actually comprised the “Grand View” (along with a tract home development) I had from my campsite, procured some Tide pouches, gave more than a little thought to switching up to the KOA, and resignedly returned to camp.

My mood was not improved by the behavior of my traveling companion who spent the evening sacked out under the picnic table, showing no interest in either my dinner or the various free range cats on the property, or even just doing a bit of BARKBARK for the hell of it. In fact, she didn’t utter a single peep that entire night and I was giving serious consideration to foregoing Little Bighorn in favor of another trip to the vet.

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I could leave you with that cliffhanger but that just seems cruel, so I’ll spoiler the next entry to say she makes a full recovery from what in the final analysis appeared to be a severe case of “Corpse Belly.”

Day Fifty Eight: Meet Me Underneath that Big Montana Sky: Montana (Hot Springs, Dillon, Bannack)

Events of Tuesday, May 12th, blogged Monday May 18th


Even though the day was overcast and gray and I couldn’t wear shorts like I could the day before, I felt better and brighter. I took a shower in the mineral water, which I may have neglected to mention smells like rotten eggs, but as I learn again and again on this trip, a nice hot shower cures a lot of ills.  It was time to pile back into Marigold and be on our way.

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Bye bye Crazy Tightrope Dude!

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Bye bye random tipi on a random side street!

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And Hello to a loong drive across Montana!

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Hello cows!

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Hello copilot dog!

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Hello quaint little Western town of Dillon where I stopped for lunch during a rain shower!

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Hello quirky little second-hand shop with a fantastic garden filled with bric-a-brac and treasure, that sadly had closed for the day while I was eating lunch, and that also appears to be for sale, so someone please stop me before I decide to make my next career running a second hand shop in Dillon, Montana!

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Tell me this place doesn’t have Eden written all over it!

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Hello “Try Restin at the Creston Motel!”

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Hello yet more Montana highway scenery!

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Why does every town in Montana feel the need to make its presence known via a giant letter on the nearest hill?

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Hello Testicle Festival! (The giant billboard advertising it flew past too quickly for me to snap a shot, so please accept this copy of their poster as a substitute.) For the uninformed, the Testicle Festival is a multi-day event, centered on the consumption of fried cow testicles. There may also be turkey testicles available for those with smaller appetites.

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And Hello Bannack State Park – our final destination for the day!

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Bannack State Park was a must visit because it contains and protects an actual Ghost Town, preserved as it was when it was left, and not all tricked out for tourists. AND they even allow dogs to wander through the town, including inside the buildings!

Bannack (poorly named after the local Bannock Indian tribe) made it onto the maps in 1862 when gold was discovered there. In 1864 it was named the first capital of the then Territory of Montana. The population ebbed and flowed as some gold sources played out and then new mining techniques allowed different sources to be tapped. At its peak there was a population of 10,000 people living in this very remote section of the state, accessible only by the Montana Trail. Though the last residents didn’t leave until the 1970s, the town’s heydey was basically over by the turn of the century.

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We rolled in to Bannack later in the day, as the sky was darkening and the winds becoming blustery, adding to the spooky and abandoned vibe of the place, so we only poked around a short while (long enough to determine that while Bannack may be devoid of people, there is clearly a MASSIVE population of bunny rabbits and chipmunks, because Annie’s nose was in overdrive sniffing under every slat on the boardwalk and every house foundation). We made plans to explore further in the morning and headed off to make camp beside the very creek that miners once panned for gold in. It smelled like juniper.

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Day Fifty Seven: Bluer than Blue: Montana (Hot Springs)

Events of Monday, May 11th, blogged Monday, May 18th

WARNING: This blog contains a Grey’s Anatomy spoiler, but that episode aired over three weeks ago, and FaceBook had spoiled me before I got to see it too, so get over it.

Side Note from the Future: I am writing this entry in the Badlands of South Dakota where we are currently experiencing BOTH a Wind Advisory (my favorite) AND a Freeze Advisory. On the 18th of May! This place is hardcore!

So this blog is going to be short and not really all that sweet. I hesitate to even write it, because in hindsight it seems pathetic, and there are no wacky anecdotes or cool photos, but I have committed myself by now to a daily post, and I also want to paint a realistic portrait of the trip. So pardon the glum tone, it was a blah day, but those happen. I woke up lethargic, unmotivated, and in more of a funk than before. I had already been thinking I might borrow the last possible “borrow” day I had from later in the trip and stay a little longer to enjoy the hot springs (and WiFi) and maybe even indulge in the onsite masseuse this tiny little motel had. There was also a larger hotel/spa within walking distance that offered outdoor hot springs pools along with indoor bathing for just five dollars.

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But I had no energy or interest for blog catch-up, spa soaks, or even having my troubles massaged away. It’s a pretty deep funk when even pampering doesn’t interest me.

Not long after breakfast I went back to bed for a nap. This is pretty much the bottom of the barrel as far as “check out my vacation photos” goes.

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The highlight of the day may have been the fact that the cute old refrigerator made REAL ice cubes for my Diet Coke.

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Annie and I snuggled on the couch a lot binge watching Grey’s Anatomy online. #RIPMcDreamy (Smiley photo actually taken “tomorrow” but I had to post something to break up the grimness of this post.)

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I only mustered up the energy for the briefest of dog walks, despite the warm temperatures and sunny skies. And the town which yesterday had seemed quaint and relaxing, today seemed old and run down and bleak. Even the rock garden and geodesic dome in the back garden were shabby and worn on closer inspection.

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I think I just had cereal for dinner despite having a real kitchen to cook in.

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Sit on the porch and read? Nope. Too afraid of running into weirdo tightrope dude and don’t have the wherewithal to deal with him

I didn’t even use my personal mineral bath (I had yesterday though). By the end of the day, my lethargy and blahs was compounded by frustration and annoyance with myself for wasting the day: not writing three blogs, not going to the spa, spending money to stay here for those things and then not utilizing them. On that note, we went to bed, with hopes of a better day tomorrow. (Spoiler alert: just so you don’t worry about me TOO much, it will be.)

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Day Fifty Six: A Mother of a Day: Idaho, Montana

Events of Sunday, May 10th, blogged Sunday, May 17th

The old dude was right, it did get very cold that night. And was still chilly in the morning. But the campsite was beautiful and not a bad place to sit and write a few postcards over oatmeal.

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And there was a nice trail running along the river that we could hike along after breakfast.

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Today/that Sunday (I am terrible with my tenses when I’m writing from the future) was Mother’s Day here in the U.S. For those that don’t know, I lost my Mom, who was my best friend and an amazing woman, very suddenly five and a half years ago. And while I have thought of her often on this trip, and missed her, and longed to share it with her, and imagined her reactions to certain things, today hit me like a ton of bricks.

Mother’s Day is always a tough one for me, not just for the ever present mentions of moms, but more so because we had developed a tradition over the last years of spending the day together browsing various nurseries and garden centers so that I could buy her plants with which to fill her garden. And those were always some of the best times. Anyhow, I had foolishly thought that I could “hide” from the occasion this year – off in the middle of nowhere with few reminders. But, once again, I was wrong. And floods of memories came back on that riverside walk.

I pulled myself together and loaded us back into Marigold, as it was time we were off on our way to Montana. Driving out of the campground, these happy little fellows ran up to escort us down the road.

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We were driving along and I knew the Montana border was not too far down the road, so I was trying to be vigilant, but suddenly I saw signs for Kellogg, and I was CONVINCED that Kellogg was in Montana (I was assuming it was the Kellogg of cereal fame, which is actually based in Michigan, which is not at all Montana, but does start with the letter M). (Side Note: This Kellogg was founded by a gold prospector whose donkey wandered off one morning and he found it near a large lead outcropping and built the town up around it. The city motto is LITERALLY “Founded by a jackass and inhabited by its descendants.”)

Anyhow, as I was SURE I had missed my chance to take a photo of the Welcome to Montana sign (which I have tried to do for every state I pass through), I decided to pull over at the nearest opportunity to check where indeed I actually was. Luckily there was a McDonald’s just off the freeway, and I knew that was somewhere I could park for a bit without arousing suspicion. And for whatever reason, all the sad feelings came back and suddenly I found myself crying in a McDonald’s parking lot. Which is a rather pathetic position to find oneself in. But my dear friend Allyson happened to call about then and managed to cheer me up a bit, and I looked around and decided that if one had to be crying in a McDonald’s parking lot, at least it was one with an excellent view.

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I have no idea why the flag was at half mast, but I decided it was for my mom.

Onward to Montana!

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Montana has a colorful, yet near illegible Welcome sign, that they have curiously posted above the highway, rather than off on the side as almost every other state does. Nevertheless, I got my photo.

Montana lived up to the hype I had been given as yet another in a long line of scenically stunning states.

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Alas, Annie has become a bit jaded to it all by now.

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I faced another directional dilemma. Originally, I had blocked out two days of time at this point of the journey to potentially visit Glacier National Park, weather depending. Glacier is supposed to be magnificently beautiful, but it would be two hours out of my way in each direction to get there, and, as it is located in the mountains of the far north, the main road through it would only be partially plowed. My other option was to visit the closer, but less iconic, town of Hot Springs, where there was rumored to be a cool old motel from the 30s that had mineral water baths in the rooms.

I kept wavering back and forth, even using an app on my phone to flip a coin. Finally I realized that I would basically have to drive through Hot Springs on the way to Glacier, so I decided to stop there first and see what sort of vibe I got. As soon as I pulled up outside Alameda’s, the motel, I knew this was where I needed to be.

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The place had the feel of one of those endless summer days spent in the country with nowhere to be and nothing to do. It seemed like a place where time slowed or maybe even stopped. And I could definitely feel the healing energy. When I went in to register, and saw a photo of the late Alameda, I knew I had chosen right.

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While that was the image I had in my head of what the proprietor of this establishment should look like, the current, self-described “live in gardener and manager of the month” was another matter entirely. He was of an indeterminate age somewhere between 29 and 47. He was tall and lanky with filthy looking white guy dreads, dime-sized dots tattooed beneath his eyes, those horrid spacer earring things, and was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts that were an identical dirt tan color and/or had never been cleaned. He was an interesting dude who apparently grew up in Maryland, then moved to Hollywood, then came to Montana and found himself employed in a position for which he had zero previous experience, but was ready to move on, and thought his next stop might be moving to Ecuador to help deliver babies. Of course he’d never actually been to Ecuador before, and I’m guessing baby birthing requires some sort of minimum cleanliness standard, but shine on crazy diamond!

I wish I had his photo, but there was no way to get one without arousing curiosity. Later in the day, as I was sitting on the porch reading my book, he came over and offered me the “single woman traveling alone free glass of wine special” along with the opportunity to come watch him walk a low-level tightrope he had strung across the property, but I demurred.

Instead I took a tour of the town, which seemed to be both stuck in the 1930s and not to have turned a profit since then.

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The bakery that all the reviews of the motel on TripAdvisor said I HAD to try was vacant and for sale.

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I even stumbled across a sad and depressing version of a Campervannie.

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The vibe in the town was doing nothing to improve my mood, so I retired to my quarters which were brimming with old timey charm and included a cute kitchenette with tiny old refrigerator, lounging area, breakfast nook, and huge soaking tub.

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But my favorite spot by far was the wide front porch surrounded by trees and shrubs, with comfy chairs to sink into and let the chirping birds and shining sun work their soothing magic.

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Day Fifty Five:You Say Potayto, I Say Potahto : Washington, Idaho

(Events of Saturday, May 9th, blogged Sunday, May 17th)

In hindsight, taking a room over a restaurant (especially one that serves breakfast) MAY not have been the wisest decision. The music and pan rattling started around 7AM. And then the diners (did I mention there was outdoor seating) arrived and showed little to no concern to my attempts at slumber above their heads.

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And then people started walking noisily by my door. I assumed it was other guests going to and fro, but it certainly seemed a lot more commotion than four other rooms should create. And then there was all KINDS of hullabaloo and clatter, and I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter…

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When I finally collected myself enough to move past annoyance and into my sheer love of parades, I went down for a closer look. Apparently this is the annual 49ers Parade, celebrating the gold rush that actually happened here in the 1860s, NOT 1849, but why quibble over details? There was plenty of Western flourish, from the coonskin caps, to the real Wells Fargo stagecoach.

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It was all very small town Americana, good clean fun. And there was quite a turnout!

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After the parade wound down I spent a little more time strolling the streets and soaking in the ambiance. I have to say, even if the town is playing up the Old West angle for the benefit of me and my ilk, I had never really thought of Washington as being Western Western, you know? So it was somewhat eye opening to realize that it had been.

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And then. Oh, and then. So, I was in the Emporium pictured above, and I saw a sign indicating that they had local(ish) ice cream made in the Oregon Cascades. I’m all about eating local, AND I’m all about ice cream, so this seemed like a perfect fit. And then I saw on the Flavor List that they had Licorice Ice Cream! Now I am a big fan of black licorice from way back (my Dad taught me that the black jelly beans were the best), but I had never even dared to imagine such a thing as licorice ice cream! It had to be mine! So I asked the nice gentleman at the counter, who informed me that he only had a limited flavor selection as the season hadn’t really started, and could he interest me in a nice butter pecan? I went rambling on about how cool the very idea of licorice ice cream was and he mentioned that he did have it, but it was back in the deep freeze and hard as a rock. I just kept yammering away asking what color it was and other nonsense, in no way fishing for anything, just caught up in the excitement of it all (yes, you read that right) and I must have finally worn him down, because he goes off to the back and after some grunts and sighs returns with my very own dish of creepy black licorice ice cream!!!

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After all that, it only barely tasted of licorice, but it was still darn tasty!

With ice cream in my belly (I didn’t share this time), we set off for a long, long day of driving east across Washington, with the only firm plan to try and make it to Idaho before nightfall.

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Washington was gorgeous: rolling green mountains, steely gray rivers bubbling alongside the highway, more cows grazing in long stretches of farmland, tall pines…

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And onward we drove, not even stopping for lunch, I just ate my Gere-A-Deli bowtie pasta from behind the wheel…

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At last! Idaho (save the jokes Walsh)! And new and improved potato loving bugs for the windshield!

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If possible, Idaho bumped the scenery volume up to eleven. And the air just reeks of freshness.

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Once in Idaho it was the small matter of finding a place to camp. There didn’t seem to be a lot of options nearby, and the section of Idaho we were passing through was rather narrow, and I really wanted to notch another state on my “slept there” belt, so it was important not to drive too far east.

I found one RV resort which shall remain nameless, but its Yelp reviews urged travelers to drive just 8 miles further up the road for much more pleasant accommodations. So we drove onward down a twisty dirt road which led us to…

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Maybe this guy could explain where the moose disappeared to…

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It was a little haven of peace and serenity, and even if the showers hadn’t been turned on yet for the season, and there was no hope of a cell signal, and the cute old dude who puttered around on his ATV informed me it would dip below freezing, it was nestled by a crystal clear babbling brook, and it would be home.

(Side Note: In attempting to come up with a title for this blog, I Googles “Songs about Idaho,” and found a page informing me that, should I want to WRITE a song about Idaho, possible topics could include: trout, lentils, timber, and mining. Someone get on that.)

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Day Fifty Four: EastBound and Down: Washington (Orcas Island, Anacortes, Winthrop)

(Events of Friday May 8th, blogged Saturday May 16th)

Side Note: I’m going to just come right out and say it. I’ve been slacking. For most of the trip I’ve only not blogged when lack of proper online connections forced me to do so. But -in this installment (Spoiler Alert) I end the day in a hotel with WiFi and don’t blog. And the last 24 hours in real time I have had internet and not blogged. Maybe it’s knowing that there’s no way I’ll catch up before the journey ends, maybe it’s weariness, maybe my inherent laziness is finally rearing its head. Who knows. But I am failing you and I am sorry. I hope you will be able to accept the oddness of the final entries being written once I return home.

But enough blogging about the blog-let’s get to the good stuff. Which is DEFINITELY NorthWest Washington.

As much as I hadted to say goodbye to Orcas, unfortunately we had a ferry to catch. And by some miraculous coincidence, with zero planning on my part, I pulled in to the ferry lot JUST as they were boarding-ZERO wait time! AND I was able to score a prime window “seat”. So I could hang in Marigold with Annie and still have great views.

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The ferry docked in Anacortes, and, depending on how well you know me, you may or may not be shocked to learn that I IMMEDIATELY went BACK to Gere-A-Deli and ordered the EXACT same things I had ordered previously. (Expect the Thai Peanut Chicken Wrap, which had been the special of the day, and for which I substituted a “Low Cal” Turkey Sandwich, which sounds mundane, but was, again, scrumdiddlyumptious!) And no trip to Annacortes would be complete without a Bigfoot sighting.

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Properly fortified, we set off for the final leg of our journey-and pointed Marigold eastward towards home. Passing through yet more standard issue lovely scenery along the way…

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Along with kooky roadside motels…

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And random tiny churches across from RV parks?? (It seats nine.)

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And then, just when we least expected it, Washington decided to bring out the big guns, North Cascades National Park, which hadn’t even been on my radar!

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Ummm…. mindblowingly gorgeous natural scenery anyone?!

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Seriously, it was like all of a sudden I’m in some Alpine wonderland!

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Even Annie was impressed.

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OK random national park I was only tangentially aware of, I am duly and most thoroughly wowed. They even had SNOW!

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Coming down from the altitude and still reeling from the loveliness, we could only wonder what could possibly be around the next corner?

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WNTHROP! Winthrop was around the next corner! I may have neglected to mention it at the start of this entry, but, as I had originally planned to travel to Vancouver after the San Juans, and then time constraints through a wrench in that itinerary, I was now heading east from a different starting point, and one that also allowed a little more time flexibility. So I decided to throw caution to the winds and just head in an easterly direction with no intended destination or planned route. As you can see so far, this experiment did not disappoint, and Winthrop was just another delightful surprise!

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Winthrop is like the Old West town of your imagination-all false fronts and cool fonts and old timeyness pouring out of every nook and cranny. Of course I should have realized it was all a little TOO perfect. Upon doing some digging, I uncovered the fact that the “Western-ness” is actually played up to attract gullible tourists (ahem) and was in part modeled on the Dutch village, Solvang, that I visited in California.

In truth, it WAS originally an area that Native Americans called home-digging for roots and picking berries along the creek. Then, in the late 1800s some traces of gold were found in that creek, and ALLL then white people started pouring in. The town was officially “founded” by one of them, a Guy Waring, who, for reasons I have yet to discover, named the town after Theodore Winthrop who was a Yale graduate, published author, and one of the first Union soldiers killed in the Civil War, so actually already dead before he could receive this honor, and never actually set foot in the area. Details.

Another friend of Warings, Owen Wister, was also an author, and wrote The Virginian, which is considered to be the firsdt Western novel, after he spent some time in Winthrop.

Anyhow, once the mines played out around 1915, the town went basically dormant until the 1970s, when the road from the Cascades was being built, and the locals decided they needed to do something to get folks to stop. And it worked by gum!

(Side Bar: I’ve just remembered a cute story I had wanted to mention about Anacortes. So, I was in the bookstore (naturally), and a gentleman came in to return a book. It seems he had special ordered the volume, and then when he took it home, he realized he already owned it. Now he wasn’t trying to get a refund, as he put it, it was “his mistake.” He was trying to donate the book back to the store gratis. He refused to take no for an answer! “I insist you keep it as a donation, dadgummit,” he exclaimed! That’s just how folks roll in Anacortes.)

But back to Winthrop. While the Western ambiance may be a bit faux, it was still full of all kinds of cute artsy shops and friendly locals.

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The town’s fiorst watering hole, the Duck Brand Saloon, was originally built by Guy Waring in 1891, but it was damaged in a fire and afterwards turned into the Town Hall. There’s a new Duck Brand Saloon now, and it may be inauthentic, but they make a mean strawberry lemonade.

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The Saloon also operated a small five room hotel over the restaurant. One with a view of Main Street and all its goings on. It was late in the day, and I was tired and hungry, so I ordered the grilled salmon (I couldn’t leave Washington without having at least one piece of salmon) and debated searching out a campsite, or just heading upstairs to the comfy bed, WiFi, and hot shower. I’ll make it today’s cliffhanger as to which one I chose…

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Day Fifty Three: Island Paradise: Washington (Orcas Island)

Events of Thursday, May 7th, blogged Thursday, May 14th

Let me just start by saying that I LOVED Orcas Island. Probably as much as I loved Anacortes, but not in the sense that I could ever actually live there. For whatever reason my “livability analysis” often hinges on the proximity of a movie theater. It’s not even like I go to movies all that often, but somehow movie theaters have become proxies for “entertainment and leisure activities.” If there’s no movie theatre anywhere remotely close, then there is likely a dearth of other things to do as well. You can take the girl out of the suburbs, but. . .

Anyhow- it was a fairly sunny day and Moran State Park, where we were camped, also encompasses Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juans. Now one could hike or bike a VERY steep two mile incline, but Annie and I decided Marigold should get a peek at the top as well. OK fine, I still can’t walk up hills! Nevertheless, the view was AH.MAY.ZING! Islands floating adrift in the blue blue Salish Sea. Pictures can’t do it justice! I literally gasped at some of the views.

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We even met a nice (older, married) local gent who HAD biked up and offered to take our photo. AND he gave us an excellent tip on a sunset spot for later. And that photo on the left? Those white mountains peeking up in the distance? That’s CANADA! (Cue “I can see Canada from my house” jokes. Not all that funny actually.) Hi Canada – sorry we couldn’t make it up there this time. Maybe I need to plan for Campervannie Two: Canadian Boogaloo!

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I may have mentioned yesterday that the island is chock a block full of artists and artisans, with probably the most iconic being the Crow Valley Pottery – a studio opened in 1959 in an old log cabin that has been producing locally-made pottery ever since. I was lucky enough to find a shop selling some vintage pieces from the seventies and bought myself a cute cereal bowl. After wasting close to two hours to get a mediocre sandwich from an understaffed cafe who also seemed to find me and the other woman dining alone invisible, I spent a fair amount of time browsing the shops and admiring the art. For anyone who has ever been to Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, this place reminded me a little bit of it. Mandatory ferry ride and all.

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OK. So. Remember that picture I showed you yesterday of Indian Island off the coast of Eastsound? Well check it out today! There is a muddy gravel bar stretching out allowing entry!! We happened to stumble upon one of the magical 40 days when the island is accessible by foot! Huzzah!

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So access it by foot (and paw) we did! Really cool! As we made it to the other side, there was a young blonde woman sitting on a rock eating something out of a paper bag. Annie was all up in her face, and strongly resisting my attempts to pull her away. I was a bit surprised at her enthusiasm until the woman said: “Oh this is just chocolate, you wouldn’t like this.” Err… Annie begs to differ. Butler women LOVE chocolate. It may even surpass a dead mouse.

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The island was a small mound with a path leading through hundreds of tiny wildflowers and nice views to the town we had just left. It was a beautiful day and the sun made the sea positively glitter.

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Alas, when we were almost to the top of the mound, there was an “Island Guardian” there who said dogs weren’t allowed up at the peak as there were several Oystercatcher (a type of shore bird) nests that needed protecting. Now THIS was a restriction that I could understand! (Also I love oystercatchers, they have these awesome vivid orange beaks that contrast with their black and white plumage.) So we went down and wandered the rocks at the base of the island and I even found a wee little crab!

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Feeling some heretofore unknown burst of energy (and not yet realizing it would be fleeting), I decided to take Annie on a four-mile hike around one of the lakes near our campground – Mountain Lake. It was beautiful, we had the trail to ourselves, the surrounding pines made the air impossibly fresh . . . and 2/3 of the way through I was DONE! Stick a fork in me and slap on a toe tag. That last mile was a slog, and as we were walking in a circle, there was no way to guage how far we had come or how far we had left to go, so for all I knew we could have had three miles left. When I came around a curve to what I thought would be the parking lot and it wasn’t, I nearly wept. But hindsight is a marvelous thing, and from the distance of a week the memory is entirely fond.

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Can you tell my enthusiasm is mostly feigned at this point?

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After the march . . . errr . . . walk, we took a much needed nap in Marigold, and then headed out to what I was told was the beach all the locals visited to see the sunset. Turns out there were only two other people there. And they were from Oregon! It was heaven – I brought the last of my food from Gere-A-Deli and we had a picnic on the sand while watching small boats sail by, loons dive for fish, and the sun gently sink into the sea.

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You can’t see it, but there’s a snow capped mountain peak looming through the pink haze behind me. It is going to be REALLY hard to leave this place.

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Day Fifty Two: We Will (Drive) a Thousand Miles, to Reach the Shores of Emerald Isles: Washington (Anacortes, Orcas Island)

Events of Wednesday, May 7th, blogged Wednesday, May 14th

It got a little chilly overnight, so someone decided to join me in the sleeping bag for some warming cuddles . . .

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Once we finally warmed up enough to properly greet the day, Annie and I wandered back down to the beach in hopes of spotting our flippered friend again. I think I saw his head bobbing off in the distance, but I couldn’t be sure. Annie really enjoyed sniffing around the beach and was having so much fun, she even voluntarily paddled out into the water… perhaps looking for any leftover fish??

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Another fun feature of this campground is a two-mile loop drive that encircles it, offering lovely ocean and forest views. We were planning to ride through in Marigold, and the loop is supposed to open to vehicles by 10am, but when the loopkeeper seemed to be running late I realized – DUH – why don’t we walk it instead? MUCH better idea. We were able to get a far more spectacular look at the views, Annie encountered another dog that inspired her to do playful zoomies, AND we found more random woodland poetry!

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The morning was already off to a great start, and we hadn’t even been to downtown Anacortes proper. Time to rectify that. Side Note: my friend Jason informs me that Anacortes is named after the wife of the founding father . . . ANNIE Curtis-how cool is that?!

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Downtown Anacortes is pretty darn near perfect. Lots of yummy restaurants, TWO bookstores, quaint shops, a RECORD store, a movie theatre, a grocery store, random Bigfoot sightings, and the ocean, ALL within walking distance. And you GOTTA love a town that goes the extra mile to make even the trash cans fit the motif!

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Since I was planning on hopping another ferry and heading to Orcas Island, I thought it might be nice to grab a bite to eat first, and maybe some nosh to take with. Jason had recommended a place with the (perfect for a pun loving art history major) name of Gere-A-Deli, and OHMYGOD everything I ate there was BEYOND amazing. Nothing fancy-just super fresh, and super tasty.

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So this is finally the food post that Grace has been waiting for. I had the Thai Peanut Chicken Wrap with a side of to-die-for coleslaw (and I’m not even a big fan of coleslaw)! It sounds like a simple little sandwich, and I don’t know how to describe it properly, but it practically sang in my mouth. Then I got some sort of lemony quinoa mixed with corn to take with, and it was so good I’m seriously going to write for the recipe when I get home. And don’t get me started on what they cryptically call a ‘Panda Bear’, but which is essentially a Hostess Cupcake as reimagined on Mount Olympus. Heaven!!

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As Jason was batting 1000 with his suggestions, after lunch and a stroll through town . . . (Side Note: could there BE a cooler way to set up a cookbook section in a bookstore?)

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. . . I decided to take another one of his tips and drive to the top of Cap Sante for a sweeping view of the whole town. Gorgeous!

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While we were up there, this just happened to randomly drive by, and I only wish I could have gotten a side-by-side shot with Marigold.

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Anyhoodle, as much as I really hated to say goodbye to this little hamlet I was rapidly falling in love with, it was time to check out the San Juan Islands, and in particular Orcas Island. And that meant it was time for another ferry boat ride. But at least this time I was prepared. But first! There was an hour wait to board. Doh!

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Annie seemed a bit calmer loading onto the boat this time, so I decided to risk it and go for a little stroll on the deck (I also really needed to pee and it wasn’t a SheWee apropos sort of place) and do a reverse “King of the World” pose . . .

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But someone started barking so long and loud I could literally hear her one deck up and on the other side of the boat even OVER all the other clatter and commotion. So I went back to Marigold and enjoyed the views from there as best I could.

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Orcas Island is the “Just Right” intermediary between (relatively) crowded and touristy San Juan Island, and basically primitive backcountry Lopez Island, the two other main islands in the chain. This one is mainly rolling farmland and forest punctuated by cute little towns filled with artwork by local artisans. And there are a LOT of talented artisans on Orcas. Unfortunately, lingering in Anacortes and improperly managing the ferry schedule meant I arrived just as most things were closing up. So Annie and I took a leisurely stroll through the seaside town of Eastsound to kill some time. The town itself is super quaint, but see this? That mound in the water is Indian Island and it is only accessible by foot, and only on 40 days per year, and only at low tide. Clearly, right now is not one of those times. Remember this.

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A good chunk of the island is incorporated into Moran State Park, which was created by the CCC fellas back in the 1930s, and has lakes, trails, mountains . . . and wonderful campsites. . .

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Plans to take the ferry over to San Juan tomorrow evaporated as I was growing increasingly enamored with Orcas, so we had a leisurely evening, a Gere-A-Deli quinoa dinner with a touch of Panda Bear cake for dessert, and fell asleep two happy campers.

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Day Fifty One: If I Had A Boat I’d Go Out on the Ocean, and If I Had a Campervan I’d Ride Her on My Boat: Washington (Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, Anacortes)

Events of Tuesday, May 5th, blogged Monday, May 11th

Things were still pretty wet and drizzly in the morning, so we may have had some extended cuddle time before rousting ourselves up and about for the day.

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It also didn’t seem like the most opportune time to make yet another attempt on the verboten trails, so we packed up camp rather quickly and started heading north for the final stop in our Olympic Park journey – Hurricane Ridge. The drive was the standard issue scenic loveliness I’d come to expect, passing rivers and lakes and stunning vistas.

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We made it to the bustling metropolis of Port Angeles, which is sort of half in and half out of the National Park, and which had a proper Visitor Center as well as information on the road up to Hurricane Ridge (which is said to boast spectacular mountain views.) The center also had a webcam which showed conditions on the road up. Which were basically an impenetrable blanket of fog. And 32 degree temperatures. So it would be a 90-minute round trip if we made no stops, for what the ranger called “possible brief windows” of visibility. I think we’ll take a pass.

On to Plan B. Plan B just sort of materialized in front of us when I happened to notice a sign for a short trail leading off the parking lot, and thought Annie might enjoy some exercise even if we weren’t going to be seeing anything spectacular. Or were we . . .

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About ten minutes into what I thought was just another walk through some lovely forest, I stumbled upon a sign that I initially bypassed as thinking it some generic informational text about the type of growth here or some project that was being funded (I was a lot more interested in these signs on Days 1-30).

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But a second one, a bit further along, caught my eye more closely. It was POETRY! Scattered randomly along the woodland trail! Nature themed poems – at least ten of them – to be contemplated whilst strolling in nature! Awesome Sauce!

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I was super tickled by the signs, so much so that we actually DID get lost for a bit (I was clued in when I noticed we hadn’t seen any poems for awhile), but a few detours and wrong turns just brought us to narrow slippery bridges and cool tree formations so it was all good.

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So we finish our walk, and we’re sitting in Marigold in the back corner of a large parking lot, under some trees, no one around, and as my guard has relaxed considerably over the last weeks of living out of a vehicle, I decided to do a quick change from my fleecy top into a short-sleeved T as the day had warmed considerably. It’s at this moment that a man appears from nowhere to ask if I’m “with a company?” (??) I guess meaning’ is this a corporate van of some sort,’ and carries on chatting, seemingly oblivious to the fact that I’m frantically pressing a crumpled shirt over my (sports bra covered) torso. Jog on random dude!

With that it was time for lunch, no worries food police, I got the grilled fish burger. I did, like a moron, go through the drive-thru lane that is really designed for vehicles containing a passenger with thumbs and the ability to handle monetary transactions, so had to actually get out of the vehicle and walk up.

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And I thought it was mega cool that the “Thank you for Coming” sign appears to be translated into some of the local Native languages as well. Can anyone confirm (or deny)? (Update: Rob confirms that at least one of the languages is Salish.)

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This was in someone’s front yard. It fascinates and terrifies me, and I want one. They also had two ceramic deer bedecked in shiny tinsel wreaths. In May.

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Most of the afternoon was spent driving up the coast en-route to the little town of Anacortes, and, ideally, onward to Orcas Island. We passed through several cute little hamlets along the way.

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But, although I was in high spirits, it was another day when I was going on close to 80 hours without a shower, running on fumes, and not firing on all cylinders . . .

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Which may be why I had no idea we were going to be boarding a ferryboat until we were basically at the pay window. Like, I was literally looking at the GPS thinking “Why is it taking us this random route down to the waterfront?” DUH!

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Annie did NOT like the ferry with all of its  loud noises, and motion even though the car was stopped, and fumes, and other cars packed in like sardines. I tried to walk around a bit (she was not permitted to leave the car, although had we walked onto the ferry instead of driven, she could have. Bureaucracy!), but when I did, she went went into major panic mode, so I spent most of the trip lying in the back with her.

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By the time we got to Anacortes I was once again running out of steam as seems to happen earlier and earlier the longer our journey continues. I needed to find a place to stay, but I was torn. An old friend from high school who had once lived in these parts, Jason, had recommended a campground near the water. But part of me craved a proper shower and bed and my beloved WiFi. But the other part of me is getting increasingly stressed about the finances of this whole operation. And I was tired and brain fried and in no position to properly weigh the pros and cons. And in those instances I usually go with the easier option which would have been a hotel. But for whatever reason, and after driving through the campsite and rejecting it initially, I chose the campground. BEST. DECISION. EVER. Not only did it have a lovely little beachfront area where one could sit and watch the waves . . .

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Not only were there deer frolicking mere feet from where I parked . . .

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BUT I GOT TO HAND FEED FISH TO A ONE-EYED SEAL!! Add that to the Bucket List so it can be crossed off!

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Later I learned that this SAME visually impaired sea mammal had been visiting the dock even when my friend Jason was here, twelve years prior. Kinda wild that two teenagers from a high school on the East Coast could end up hanging with the same seal 3,000 miles away and over a decade apart. The world is strange and magical. Now keeping Annie away from the seal and the fish was no small feat, and the seal wore an uncannily identical expression to her FEED ME face, but it was SO worth it!

Afterwards I took a shower which always makes me feel loads better than I remember it will, and Annie and I wandered back to the beach for another glorious sunset. I could get used to this.

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Day Fifty: Forks in the Road: Washington (Olympic National Park)

Events of Monday, May 4th, blogged Sunday, May 10th

It rained all night. Which was good, in that it washed all the dead bugs off the windshield, and not totally unexpected as, well …. DUH… RAIN FOREST!

My initial plan for the morning was to launch another sneak attack on the dog unfriendly rainforest trails, but I did not anticipate the rangers arriving at 8am, which was just as I was heading over. Scratch that. The next idea was to drive out to Rialto Beach to see the wild and rugged coast that Olympic is also known for. And on the way, it just so happened I would pass through a little town called Forks.

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You may, or, like me, may not, know that Forks is the setting for a “moderately” popular book and movie series known as Twilight. Not only were the novels set here, but the movies were filmed here as well, as you will find within seconds of setting foot in the Visitors Center. We were more than happy to set foot in there though, as soon as we saw this sign on the door.

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Prior to the Twilight phenomenon, Forks’ major industry had been logging and timber. But once the conservation movement, and the protection it afforded to much of the nearby forest areas, brought about serious declines in that area, the town fell on hard times.

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So it’s no surprise that most of the residents have embraced the Twilight phenomena whole hog, as it has literally doubled tourism numbers and even brought international visitors to this tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Many of the local businesses are grabbing on with both hands.

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Once you’ve stocked up on all the Twilight themed tchotchkes your wallet will allow, you can tour locations from the movie including: Bella and Edward’s houses, the high school, the police station, and you can even pose by a replica of Bella’s truck . . .

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All of this excitement can really work up an appetite, so, as the Twilight Lounge had recently shut its doors, I stopped for a burger at Sully’s (which offers a special Bella burger, but it had pineapple on it of all the godawful things, so I took a pass). Sully’s does serve exceedingly cheerful beverages though.

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I will say that the foggy, misty, murky atmosphere of a town surrounded by dense towering pine forests and two Native American reservations really does seem to fit the feel of the Twilight series remarkably well. Supposedly the author, Stephanie Meyer, had never even visited the town prior to writing the novels. She chose Forks for its distinction in being the least sunny place in the entirety of the United States, enabling her to have vampires walking around freely in the daylight.

Speaking of vampires, they were NOT ALLOWED as we traveled further down the road to the tinier town of La Push where the werewolf dudes hold sway.

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The clouds, which had been pouring rain off and on most of the afternoon, lifted as we pulled into First Beach in La Push, but it was so freaking windy I couldn’t bear to do more than snap a few quick photos of the rocky “islands” (more properly known as seastacks), interrupting a seagull confab in the process, and hop back in Marigold.

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FINALLY we made it to Rialto Beach. And it was just as wild and wooly as promised! The waves CRASHED on the shore. The wind WHOOSHED around our heads, and storm clouds hung low and threatening. The whole place felt alive with energy. It was GREAT! (Note: all of these photos are in color, it just doesn’t look that way. My hat and Annie’s collar were about the only things not shown in shades of gray. Quite a change from yesterday’s explosion of green.)

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The beach was LITTERED with huge bleached drift logs – once towering spruce trees that had fallen from the cliffs and been tossed ashore by the pounding waves. I had to scramble quite a bit to make any headway, but Annie made short work of it.

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It was very cold and very damp and VERY windy, but I was in love with the raw elemental nature of the place and the sharp tangy smell of the ocean and would have stayed all day.

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Given the weather conditions, I decided beach camping was a less than ideal option, so we headed back to our rain forest haven, passing our friendly neighborhood elk out again for their “twilight” foraging . . .

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The good news is, I had managed to score a PRIMO campsite, directly on the Hoh River, which is hard to distinguish from the gravel bar that runs down the middle, as it too is a slate gray. This murky color of the water is caused by “glacial flour,” basically the tiny residual particles remaining from centuries of rocks being scraped and worn down by the glaciers that formed this waterway.

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The bad news is, the rain had become ever more persistent, and attempts to wait it out in the cozy confines of Marigold were to no avail. It was to be a damp dinner.

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Some of us got creative, and, wanting to be able to enjoy the rush of the river, rigged up a towel over the two open side doors of the van to serve as a de facto awning (since the Camper Van rental place had failed to provide a van with a preinstalled one as I had requested), and were able to enjoy the fire well into the evening.

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Others of us . . . preferred to stay as dry as possible.

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Oh, and a question . . . an open door, a flag that says Open, an Open sign on the open door, and . . . a Closed sign in the window?? What gives Forks?

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