It was time for me to leave Canada.
Driving from Tofino to the ferry station in the beautiful city of Victoria was full of mixed emotions, a feeling I’m finding hasn’t left me for the last week. The ferry station in Victoria wasn’t like the one in Vancouver and there was little to do there to kill time before U.S. customs made their appearance (some 90 minutes after my parking my car).
So I enjoyed a currant scone and tea while watching hydro airplanes fly into the terminal, located just across the water. It was fascinating watching the little planes land on the water, one after another like ducks, to be corralled at their final destination. The easy feeling it gave me helped mentally prepare me for my looming encounter with customs. This time I was prepared with specific answers and information about my money (dwindling by the minute), job status (unemployed), how I take my coffee (black) or whatever else they wanted to know about me. I’m an open book!
I finally get my visit by a very handsome Latino U.S. customs guy (why, hola; me gusta mucho). He goes into the song and dance about me being a long way from home and asking me what brought me to Canada. When I reply that I used to be a Marketing Director but that I quit my job to travel to Canada to go hiking he says “that’s cool.” Seriously!? Thanks Mr. Hermoso U.S. Customs Guy. He goes on to ask me maybe two more simple questions before dismissing me for further traditional processing, no waiting room for them to check if my tent is a meth dispensary.
My easy dealings with customs (this time) proved to be a foreshadowing for an amazing remainder of the journey. I encountered my first U.S. National Park upon driving a mere 15 miles from the ferry dock in Port Angeles, Washington. Olympic National Park touched me in a different way from the other National Parks.
The park is unique in that it has coastal, mountainous, and rain forest climates all within one park. I drove in around 3 o’clock in the afternoon not knowing where I’d be sleeping that night. My tent has been soaked since I pitched it last and with continuous rain since I’ve been along the west coast, I haven’t had the required dry air or time to let it out (it’s now a science experiment). So I went into the Olympic National Park Visitor Center, walked up to the kind Park Ranger and said, “Can you please help me find a place to sleep tonight and tomorrow night?”
She was up for the challenge and came up with the perfect plan for me to see the expansive park (it takes 3 hours to drive from north to south). She described the park as a spoke and wheel, and that imagery and subsequent experience driving the roads has stuck with me. There are roads that go around the park but few that make circles once you’re in the middle of it; it makes driving to see sights time-consuming. So her plan for me was to stay on the north side one night (Lake Crescent) and the south side the second night (Quinault Lake).
During my stay on Lake Crescent I experienced the Olympic Mountains and some of the most amazing forests I’ve ever seen. The trees are so tall you have to crane your neck in order to see their tops. The ground cover of the forest is full of bright ferns and the trees are covered in mosses of varying brilliant shades of green. Some of the mosses even have unique orange coloring. It was like a scene out of Avatar (or Fern Gully if old school animation strikes your fancy) as the trees, ground cover, rocks, and rivers would leap out at me.
It was raining while hiking to see some of the waterfalls in the park. When the rain had stopped, I threw my hood back, stood in the middle of the trail, and looked up to stare at the tree tops. I could hear the loud thumps of rain on the ground all around me and stared around puzzled to hear rain without seeing rain falling from the sky.
All that remained were the fat pools of water that were released from the leaves of the trees. As I looked up, I watched as one of those fat pools dove quickly toward me to land square on my forehead. I’m hit with such force it throws my head back ever so slightly. Until that moment I had seen the height of the trees but the force of the rain drop let me feel the height of the trees. It was as if the tree itself had touched me and said, “Booyah, I’m that tall.”