The Pacific Northwest

Sunday, 18 August 2013 15:30
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When you wish upon a star... Wherein I get almost as many miles by boat as by car.


After my brief re-engagement with the world of showbiz in New Mexico, I flew back to Seattle to get back in the car and get going again. I had a great time down south working with the guys, but I was eager to get back on the road. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to happen as quickly as I’d hoped, as the battery in the car was dead flat when I got in. I had unintentionally left my GPS plugged in and turned on while I was away for a week, but I’m not sure if that alone was enough to kill the battery, or if there’s a different electrical problem that’s causing a slow drain. In any case, I was able to get a jump from the airport parking lot maintenance guys, and I was on my way into Seattle.

Since I was pretty much right there in the city and I didn’t have to be at my next stop until the evening, I opted to run up into town and see if I could find some lunch around the fish market. I forgot it was a weekend though (I tend to lose track of what day it is lately), and the place was completely packed to the gills (hah) with tourists. Not that I’m not a tourist myself, but I’m definitely finding that it’s better to hit the popular spots sometime mid-week, as they tend to be a bit less hectic. Today, however, hectic was the name of the game, so after rustling up some parking and then fighting through crowds for as long as I could stand (which wasn’t long), I found a little sushi bar in an alley a few blocks away from the market and had a nice bit of fresh fish before I got going.

Too crowded to stay here very long.
I jumped on to my second ferry of the trip so far right behind the market, which took me over to Bainbridge Island. The ferry guy was apparently a car guy too; he gave me a big thumbs up and waved me up one of the side ramps well ahead of when I would have gone there normally, which put me right at the front of the boat. I had a great view of everything during the crossing.

The Bob Uecker parking spot
Once I got over to Bainbridge Island, I was to a certain extent re-tracing my steps from when I’d explored the peninsula prior to leaving for New Mexico. I was headed back to Port Angeles, but this time I was catching another ferry there over to Vancouver Island instead of just passing through. It was time for this road trip to go international. I’m also pretty sure this is the first time I’ve gone into another country by ship; I think I’ve only flown across borders before. Pretty neat.

The sun had just finished setting when we shoved off, so crossing the Straight of Juan de Fuca over to Vancouver Island was done largely in the dark. It was about an hour and a half ride there, which I spent mostly wandering around the decks and looking around. When we got to Victoria, the port of entry at the island, there were three big cruise ships in port, all lit up and partying hard. Apparently, Victoria is a port of call for ships moving up the west coast to the tours in Alaska. There’s something about a law where if you’re taking a certain type of cruise you have to make a port of call in another country, and going from, say, San Diego direct to Anchorage means you never actually left the US, so Victoria makes for a convenient international pitstop.

GPS says drive forward, then get on a big boat That's about all the paperwork there is, mostly in case the boat sinks The view leaving the US We weren't the only boat traffic out there

This entry was also one of the more laid back experiences I’ve had going through Customs. No paperwork necessary; you just drove off the boat and up to a booth with a Canadian border agent in it, hand him your passport, answer a couple questions, and off you go. I got an extremely friendly border agent who also seemed to like cars, so my questions were mostly to do with what year the car was and if it had been restored and what it was like to drive. I think the only travel related question was about how long I thought I’d be in Canada. After that bit of Canadian hospitality, I drove into Victoria in search of my Airbnb stay for the night.

Victoria is a decent sized town right at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, with a history having to do mostly with fishing and timber, as is the case with most of the coastal towns in the northwest. There was a small portion of the city right around the docks that seemed set up to cater more to the cruise ships, as it was the same sort of collection of cheap gift shops, duty free shops, and bars you’ll find at any similar cruise ship port of call like Cozumel or Puerto Vallarta, just with a bit more of a Canadian flavor to it. Once I was out of that zone, it was pretty much like any other small town, and I was able to find the house where I was staying tucked into a small residential neighborhood  just outside the city center (or “centre” as they spell it in British Columbia).

My host Shari worked nights so she wasn’t there, but she’d helpfully left the key for me in the mailbox. The place was a 90 year old little split level bungalow, and the guest portion was the entire downstairs, which had been recently refinished to include a kitchen, bath, living room, and bedroom. It was more like a full-on apartment than just a guest bedroom. Since it was the lower part of an older house, the ceilings were only a couple inches over my head, which made for an interesting feel to the place. However, it’s a pretty long day of travel when you wake up in Santa Fe, drive to Albuquerque, get on an airplane, then drive a couple hundred more miles (complete with two ferry rides and a Customs inspection) before you’re at your next bed, so I got my things together, put the top up on the car, and hit the sack for the night.

The next morning, I met my host Shari. She was super friendly, and took me on a tour of the house and the backyard, including her vegetable garden and fruit trees. Since it was a small house and backyard, the tour didn’t take very long, but she told me that I could help myself to any of the vegetables in the garden if I wanted to, and then a few minutes later came out with a liter of cold beer that she’d brewed at home. Legendary Canadian friendliness in action.

Shari's place. Little door on the left is my room. Source of some very tasty veggies Not-quite-ready pears

I had arranged to be in Victoria for one full day, then another day of traveling around Vancouver Island after that. I was pretty hungry, so my first stop of the day was a little restaurant in Victoria called “Jam Café”, which had looked really great online. Apparently, it was as great as it sounded, as when I got there, the line was out the door and a little ways down the block, so instead of waiting in line, I went exploring a bit more.

In Oak Hill, the little town next to Victoria, I stumbled across a classic a car show and meet going on in the downtown area. I parked about a block away (across from a Sunbeam with its top down,  which seemed like a good sign), then went for a walk around the cars. The street was packed with people, and there were some interesting cars there, ranging from true perfectly restored classics to completely unrestored barn finds to cars that were just interesting, like a Lotus Esprit. It was mostly American and British cars; the only Japanese example I saw was an early ‘70s Corolla, and there were no Roadsters, but overall there was some neat stuff to see.

Not a car you see parked on the street every day Somebody else can probably identify the model by the bumper The world's meanest MGB
Elvis impersonators: Not just for Las Vegas Some nice British models on display, too The Roadster with its great-great-great grandson

After killing some time at the show, I went back to Jam, and this time it was only a five minute wait for a table. It was a cozy little place, and the food was really amazing. I’d say it’s in the top three for food so far on this trip (in no particular order, the pastrami in Santa Barbara, the taco truck in LA, and this place). I had the fried chicken sandwich on a giant buttermilk biscuit with cheddar and veggies, and it was great, but the other stuff on the menu looked fantastic. Their pancake varieties were really interesting; they even had pulled pork pancakes, which had to be pretty awesome with some maple syrup.

I don't think they had just plain old pancakes

Continuing my explorations, I figured I’d drive southwest and check out the western coast of the island, since I’d be driving up the eastern side the next day to grab the ferry back to the mainland (a different ferry than I came over on.) I drove down to the coast at Sooke, and sort of generally wandered around the beaches and forests for the day. They were your typical gorgeous northwest coastal areas, with big spruce trees right up to the water and rocky shorelines with giant pieces of driftwood piled up all along the tideline. Other than me, it was pretty deserted out there, and it was a nice, relaxing drive and walk.

Coming back toward Victoria for the night, I stopped at the Sooke Potholes park to have a look at that. By “potholes”, they mean actual potholes—there are places in the rock along the river where over the course of centuries the water has swirled around  and gradually dug out hundreds of deep, round holes of various sizes. Incidentally, that’s how the more common road-going potholes are formed, too—you get a crack in the pavement, it rains, and then the cars going through it splash the water out of it and a little bit of rock and sand along with that. If it stays wet long enough and enough cars go by, more and more material gets splashed around and erodes the hole bigger and bigger until it’s big enough to break the shocks on your car.

One of the series of falls at the Potholes Some of the smaller potholes, higher up on the rocks Top of the falls series

Leaving the Potholes hike, I (unusually) had a bit of a headache…I'm pretty sure I was a bit dehydrated, as I hadn’t been drinking much during the day. I stopped at a local general store, and met the proprietor Trevor, a British ex-pat who’d chosen to make his home there on the island. About half of the store was average general store-type stuff, and the other half was “British specialties”—HP Sauce, McVities biscuits, Little Pickle, Frank Coopers Marmalade, a lot of teas, and that kind of stuff. He said there are enough Brits who’ve retired to Vancouver Island to have a decent demand for food from home, so Trevor was there catering to both the average road warrior like me and the average British ex-pat. When I asked about some sort of aspirin, he came out from behind the counter, walked me over to the drugs section, and showed me the range of painkillers you can get in Canada. I forgot that you can get some extra strength stuff here that’s not available in the US…not super-duper stuff, but items like 400mg Advils and aspirin+ codeine; stuff like that. After chatting with Trevor a bit more (he came outside to check out the car), I paid for my Advil, and he gave me a bottle of water to go with it for free and said he hoped I’d feel better quickly.

About 20 miles and 400mg of Advil later, I was feeling quite a bit better, and I drove back into Victoria to Shari’s place.  Since I had a kitchen and a garden at my disposal, I stopped at the grocery store and picked up some pasta and some salad fixin’s and one of those mini Haagen Dazs things and went back to the house to cook (sort of) for the first time since I’d left home. I went out in the garden and grabbed some string beans, zucchini, and cucumbers, whipped up a salad and some primavera sauce, poured myself some of Shari’s home brewed beer, and had a nice evening at ‘home’.

The next day, I was headed up to explore some of the east side of the island, and then I planned grab the ferry at Nanaimo the next morning and head over to the mainland at Horseshoe Bay, just north of Vancouver (the city, not the island). Steve Carter, the fellow Roadster enthusiast that I’d stayed with just before my trip to New Mexico had contacted me and offered to have me come stay with his family for a bit on their annual vacation on Obstruction Island, which was back down toward Seattle in the San Juan Islands. Since there was a bit more coordination involved with getting over there (a ferry schedule to sort out, a drive around Orcas Island, and then Steve had to pick me up in a boat to get over to Obstruction), we opted for me to do that the following morning rather than for me to try to get from Nanaimo, BC to Obstruction Island in one shot. So that was the plan for the next couple of days—explore the other side of Vancouver Island, drive back to Nanaimo, hop a ferry, cross the border back into the US, then meet Steve.

For my first eastern Vancouver Island exploration, I did a bit of hiking around Englishman River Falls, which was a really neat waterfall where the river makes a 90 degree turn into a deep, narrow slot, and the drop into that slot forms the waterfall. There was also a great hike through the forest around the area. As I visit these rivers and waterfalls, I keep thinking that I’ll need to make the next trip earlier in the year. You can see giant trees and logs tossed high up in the erosion areas on the banks around them, which seems to point to some really torrential rapids in the spring when the melt-off is happening, and seeing some of these at their peak would be quite a thing. Next time, maybe.

Englishman River Falls, right into the slot Top of the falls Farther downstream, the river goes under a big rock
Good advice pretty much anytime Not officially rain forest here, but pretty close  

I continued sort of north-westward to Little Qualicum Falls (there’s a lot of waterfalls in the northwest), which were also really pretty (and also showed signs of being super-fierce at their peak). This one was more of a series of smaller waterfalls, but the hike along the course was really pretty, with lots of nice spots to stop and take a look. So far, the Canadian parks have been more serious about their fencing and ‘stay on the trail’ warnings than their American counterparts, but I’m still in some pretty touristy areas. It’ll be interesting to see if that continues as I get farther into the outback.

Little Qualicum Falls More falls Darn trees blocking my view... Like everywhere up here, the water was crystal clear

That night, I grabbed a nice campsite on the Stamp River, which was another very clear and clean river, but in this case, oddly warm—the other spots I’d visited so far were really frigid, but this was nice and comfortable; I’d guess low 60s or so. I took advantage of that and got a quick all-natural bath after getting sweaty and nasty from hiking all day, then had a quick bite to eat, read a book until it got dark, then turned in for a nice night’s rest on the river. The whole camping thing is pretty convenient, and so far I haven’t had any trouble finding a site or falling asleep once I got there. It’s been pretty nice.

The Stamp River, next to my campsite Starting to get dark at the campsite

Leaving the river the next morning, I stopped in a little town called Alberni for some breakfast at one of the fisherman hangouts near the port. They had a great breakfast sandwich and super-fast service at the counter, so after that I went out to the car to get moving toward Nanaimo to catch the ferry. I ran into an older gentleman in the parking lot who was looking at the car, and we chatted about sports cars in general for a bit, and about the Austin 100/4 he used to have, and about the ins and outs of electric overdrive systems in specific. His wife pulled him away to breakfast after a little while, and I got on my way.

Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay was ferry #3 for me, and it was a beautiful day for a boat ride. We made our way across the Strait of Georgia to the dock at Horseshoe Bay, where I hopped on to the Trans-Canada Highway south toward Vancouver and the US Border.

The view going toward Horseshoe Bay

Looking back toward Nanaimo Underway That's what the ferry itself looks like Pulling into Horseshoe Bay

The border guard getting into the US wasn’t nearly as friendly as the one getting into Canada, and I got a lot of questions about why I’d drive up all the way from Nevada just to drive around, and whether I was sure nobody in Canada gave me anything to bring into the US (although granted, I was carrying some Vancouver Island wine back with me for the Carters), but eventually he determined that I was not a threat to the security of the nation, and let me through. Since I figured I was coming back this way anyway and it was starting to get dark, I did some uncharacteristic freeway driving and cruised down I-5 to Mount Vernon, WA where I grabbed a hotel for the night. 

This way to the border Peace Arch. Nice to know we're at peace with Canada.

The next morning, I got up and drove into Anacortes to grab the 7:20am ferry to Orcas Island. From there, I’d drive around horseshoe-shaped island to its other ‘foot’, where Steve would pick me up for the quick run across the water to Obstruction Island, where he and the family were there in their cabin for the week. I made a quick stop in Deer Harbor on the way, partly because I needed to post a letter, and partly because “Skull Island” and “Massacre Bay” were on the way over there, and I was hoping for some sort of pirate cove or King Kong or even Jonas Venture, Jr., but alas, it pretty much looked like the rest of the island. 
Orcas Island. Obstruction Island is the little one in the lower right.

Leaving Anacortes, bright and early Not the front row this time Massacre Bay. Looks horrible.

I got to the dock across from Obstruction Island around 9:30, and a few minutes later, Steve and his daughter Jenny arrived to pick me up. They tied up the boat, and Steve hopped out as he’d heard that there was a guy with a Roadster just a couple minutes walk from where we were standing. We took a quick ride maybe 150 yards up the road (being chivalrous guys, we made Jenny walk), and lo and behold, we found one Arlis Stubbs and his ’67 1600. Arlis’ car was the same year, model, and color as mine, although it was in need of restoration. It never ceases to amaze me how you hardly ever see these cars on the road, but then when you least expect it, one pops up. 

Steve checking out Arlis' '67 It's in pretty solid shape. My car peeks in from the background.

We chatted with Arlis for a while about his car, my car, the trip, and a variety of other things, and also met his wife as well when she came out to say hi. They let me park the car in their yard where it’d be safe, rather than down at the parking lot for the dock, and Steve, Jenny, and I walked back to the boat and jumped in. I brought along my backpack with camping gear just in case, as the cabin was getting a little full and we were unsure about the sleeping accommodations.

After a quick pitstop at a little rock outcropping along the way to say hello to some harbor seals, we tied up the boat a little ways offshore and grabbed the little rowboat from the buoy to row in to the beach. (If you’re counting modes of transportation so far on this trip, feel free to add “Rowboat” to your bingo card.) The cabin was set up about 40’ above the beach with a great view of the water and surrounding islands. We went inside, and I met everyone there, including Jenny’s husband, Steve’s other daughter Jessie, several grandkids, and three enthusiastic dogs.

Once we were all acquainted, we went for a quick walk around the island. It’s all forested with a handful of other plots and cabins/homes on it, but pretty small, so the walk didn’t take more than about 45 minutes. It’s a great setting; very secluded and private, and I can see why they like to come here for vacation. Once we’d finished our walk, Steve suggested that he and I take a kayak paddle around the perimeter of the island so I could see a little more of the various flora and fauna and scenery. It had been cloudy all day and raining off and on, which is a much more authentic Pacific Northwest experience than I’d been getting with all the sunny days so far, but we weren’t deterred. We grabbed two kayaks from the beach, Steve ran me down on the rudiments of paddling and not falling out, and we went off around the island.

The water was calm and there was plenty of stuff to see. We said hi to the harbor seals again, who were curious but kept their distance, and we saw much of the local sea creature and tide pool population, including giant starfish and jellyfish, a big 21 arm sea star, various sea birds, and all the normal stuff that hangs out at the tide line, like hermit crabs, barnacles, mussels, and snails. There were also some big beds of bull kelp all around.

Learning to paddle. Mt. Baker way off in the background Gradually soaking myself, but having a good time
This guy was about the size of a basketball They grow some pretty big starfish around here

Paddling was great—very relaxing, and a good way to see the shoreline. My main issue was that I couldn’t work out a technique that didn’t drip water on my legs and feet from the paddle end coming out of the water, so eventually I got my shoes and socks soaked. Other than that, it was a great time; first time I’d been kayaking of any kind.

When we got back, Jenny’s husband and son had returned from fishing with a bunch of humpback salmon (also known as “pinks” or “humpies”), which would later make an appearance at dinner. While the fish were being cleaned and dinner was getting ready, Jenny’s husband had arrived over on Anacortes (where I got the ferry), and Steve, Jenny, the two girls, and I headed over in the boat to pick him up. The weather had deteriorated quite a bit, and it was raining and blowing pretty hard, so we snapped and zipped the top into place on the boat and headed out. It was nearly impossible to see anything useful through the windshield, so Steve unzipped part of the top and poked his head through in order to navigate.

Dinner Not to be confused with the SS Minnow

We got to the dock in Anacortes fine, made our passenger pickup, and headed back. The weather hadn’t improved any, and after a while Steve got a little tired of being hit in the face with rain, so he turned the wheel over to me so I could get hit in the face with rain instead for a little while. Other than one quick detour to retrieve my hat (which blew off), we arrived safe and sound back at the cabin, rowed everybody in, and sat down to dinner.

Dinner was great—we had the fresh-caught salmon and a really tasty London broil along with the various fixin’s, salad, potatoes, and the like. After we’d all stuffed ourselves, Jenny suggested that we play cards, and picked Texas Hold’Em as our game. The only downside of that was that about 80% of the people at the table didn’t know how to play that (including me; ironic seeing as I live in the world capital of Texas Hold’Em), but that didn’t stop anybody. They dug up some poker chips, and we all played a bunch of very amusing hands of poker for a couple of hours.

When bedtime came, I did end up out in the tent, as the downstairs couches were full of grandkids. This was not a bad thing; it was a really nice evening (albeit a little damp), and it was great to fall asleep to the sound of the water and occasional rain. I did hear a few critters wandering around during the night (probably deer), but other than that I got a really nice, relaxing night’s sleep.

The plan for the next morning was waffles, then putting down some crab traps for Dungeness crab for dinner, then getting me back to Orcas Island to grab the ferry back to the mainland. I would have liked to stay another day or two, but I’d already made lodging arrangements with hosts for the next couple of nights, and I didn’t want to put them out as they were regular folks homes through Airbnb and not hotels.

Crabbing in the Pacific is very different than crabbing back home in New Jersey for blueclaws. The traps are much bigger (as are the crabs), and you put them down in fifty to one hundred feet of water or so, as opposed to the 5’ of water and mud the crabs live in at home. The leftover salmon carcasses from yesterday made good bait, and we went down to the point to retrieve some traps that they’d stored on the property of another local. After trading fishin’ stories with him for a while, we went out and dropped the traps, then headed back to the cabin to pick up another trap that Steve had remembered.

Chatting with one of the locals Another stoic local Getting the crab pots ready to put in

While he went off in search of the trap, Jenny’s husband and son and I took the opportunity to do a little fishing. We motored out just a little more offshore, and did some bottom fishing for Lingcod, which can get very big and very tasty (albeit pretty ugly). The fish were abundant; I hadn’t been down more than 30 seconds or so before I pulled in a rockfish.  We all got several more fish, all rockfish or young Lingcod, none of which were big enough to keep, but it was a fun time and an unexpected pleasure to get in a little fishing in the Pacific.

When we went back to drop the last crab trap, we pulled up a couple of the ones that had been down for a bit to see if we’d gotten lucky. There were a few in there, but they were all below the legal “keeper” limit, so they got tossed back in to go grow some more. With all the traps down, we headed back to the cabin, I packed up my stuff, and the Carters and I jumped on the boat to head back to Orcas.

Baby lingcod and me Pulling in some crabs

We walked up to the Stubbs house to get the car, and Arlis was outside putting the tarp back on his Roadster. He also had a bag of cookies for me that his wife had made for my trip (which were excellent, and didn’t last long), and after some fond farewells to both the Stubbs and the Carters, I was back on my way. 

Authentic Pacific northwest weather for my last day there A starfish checking out the air at low tide

PS: The ferry count for those of you keeping track on the trip thus far is six:

            1) Bremerton to Seattle (getting to the airport)
            2) Seattle to Bainbridge Island
            3) Port Townsend to Victoria, BC
            4) Nanaimo, BC to Horseshoe Bay, BC
            5) Anacortes to Orcas Island (twice on this one)
            6) Clinton to Mukilteo
Next stop: A quick pitstop back in Seattle to deal with some camera problems, an overnight in Redmond, and then back into Canada. 


#1 lectacave 2013-08-20 05:35
Amazing what a man can do in a day! Incredible post!!!
#2 Ferruccigirl 2013-08-20 09:06
My favorite post so far! Again, great pics. Looking forward to the next.
#3 sk8rchk 2013-08-20 16:11
My aunt lives in Nanaimo. I LOVE that place and the purple starfish.
Sweet parking space on the ferry!!
#4 Mom 2013-08-21 06:46
so cool... the starfish are amazing !!

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