Day 18: Tuesday 23rd
Got up early, sometime before 7am, and was showered and breakfasted by about 7.15am. The wind, which had been with us since we arrived, was still blowing although not as hard. Pat got up but spent ages in the washroom; Cordi came back saying Pat had been gazumped waiting for a shower by another lady, who was complaining about how bad the facilities were. Personally I thought they were great for a small park, with the only caveat that the shower didn't have much dry space to store clothes.
We got on the road agaon, going west on I-14 following the Columbia. As the river gets closer to the sea, the scrub gives way to coniferous forest on the slopes, and the gorge widens out a lot. We stopped in Stevenson, in the Cascade Range, for supper. I offered to make a spaghetti bolognase, and consequently had a nervous half hour trying to remember and then find all the ingredients. We managed to clear out the food kitty again, after yesterdays contribution. There are only a few more days left though.
The driving continued down through the Columbia gorge past Portland, where the smells of a chemical works reminded us how little contact we had had with industrial America, and on up the freeway to St Helens. Much of this country is naturally thickly wooded, now not only with coniferous forest but with deciduous trees, although it was difficult to identify species. The Blue Mountains soften their crags into rolling hills, albeit fairly high ones, and the area is more densely populated with people. I slept or dozed much of hte time, as did several others in the group. Near St Helens we stopped for Dean to have a rest at a highway rest area. Supplied by the state, the coffee and biscuits were free, but there was no shop at all; just two toilet blocks and a parking area.
We turned off the freeway onto the 504 road and shortly after got to the outer of the St Helens visitor centres. The slide show and film they showed depicted graphically what happened hen the mountain blew its top on May 18 1980. Sadly the rangers said that even if we travelled the hour and a half to get to the mountain viewpoint we still wouldn't see much more than the car park as the cloud base was so low, so we decided to turn round and carry on to Mt Rainier.
The trip there was fairly boring, with valleys of mixed woodland interspersed with the occasional house or business. I slept for quite a large part of it. The valleys approaching the mountain are thickly wooded with fir and larch trees, making it difficult to see anything even if the mist and rain hadn't made visibility atrocious. We drove to the Cougar Creek campground and set to the tents to reserve a spot, which retrospectively was a good thing, as the area filled up very quickly. The site we chose nestled in fir trees, with the new spring growth a very pretty green on the tips of the branches. A small clearing gave us space for the tables and fire while we placed the tents
Day 19: Wednesday 24th
I woke up to the sound of rain today, and stayed in bed as long as I could, but eventually the need to go to the toilet became too strong. I got dressed and went out to the toilet block to wash etc. Some of the others were up when I came back, and after a bit f discussion it was decided to leave the tents as they were and go up to the Paradise Inn lodge for breakfast, so we made the camp tidy and (after waiting for Dean, for once, to tidy the van!) set off in the van for the lodge, 9 miles up the road and a thousand or so feet higher up the mountain. The rain got worse as we rose, starting with a light drizzle and ending with steady rain. The lodge itself is very nicely done, and done on a grand scale. It is the old hotel annex which was moved to the current site from the old hotel nearby. When the old hotel suffered from a mudslide, the annex became the main residence. We all had large breakfasts; I had a "Puget Sound Special", which had salmon pieces, tomatoes, bacon and fried potato, and went down very well. I ordered 2 pancakes with maple syrup too which were nice although more "cakey" than I am used to.
We all left the lodge stuffed, and wandered on down to the visitor centre, which was back down the road. It was interesting, with a good film and presentation on the mountain's volcanic history, but my wandering was aimless; there was nothing much new or interesting here after seeing the St Helens exhibit. Nevertheless, we managed to spend an hour here before returning to camp. Having packed up camp,we carried on down the mountain on the road to Olympia.
The roads we used were small and very infrequently used, other than a short passage through a small town. There is a lot of logging going on here, with tracts of older forest interspersed with large patches of cut forest . The roads are well kept but bumpy here, in contrast to the general pretty good state.
We arrived in Olympia (Washington's State Capital) in the rain. It looks like many other towns and cities across the world, and apart from the state building, which bears a striking resemblance to St Pauls Cathedral in London, was fairly uninteresting. We had a short stop here about 3pm for a coffee and sandwich, then moved on.
The road runs on through more timber forest, and for much of this trip I slept. We did stop at a small outpost where Dean filled up the van with petrol. It was basically just a hotel, with a small general store attached. While we were there they were extending the shop to include some more space for a coffee bar, which was interesting because I could watch them make the timber walls many buildings in those parts use. They had already put up plywood walls using large sheets, and were nailing log (approx 1 ft) lengths of another, coarse-grained reddish wood (perhaps Western Hemlock?) to it overlapping in strips as if it were a roof. Round the back of the hotel, the land dropped in a modest cliff into a bay formed by a small river. Beyond, the bay the ocean pounded against sandbars piled high with many driftwood trees; each tree would on average be 5 or 6 ft in diameter and upwards of 30 ft in length, and there must have been at least a hundred in all. It was an inspiring sight.
We carried on down the road, stopping finally in Ocean City. It is as its name suggests next to the Pacific, so close that Dean drove straight off the main street onto a wide, flat beach. We stopped the van a few yards fro the waves and got out to stretch our legs. Dean fished out a frisbee which we played with for a while. After a bit I got a hankering to feel the sand under my feet, and took off my shoes. The sand was quite moist and sharp, and a great surface for frisbee-ing! Pat got tired after a while, and walked off along the beach. When we stopped playing, I decided it was necessary to paddle in the ocean, and did so quickly; it was cold enough that I was glad I wasn't swimming! We got back in the van, all but Pat that is, and Dean was playful enough to drive in a wide circle round her before stopping.
The camp site proper was at Ocean State Park. The site looked nice enough, with lots of trees and bushes affording some privacy, firepits and half way decent washrooms, but the ground was soggy with a lot of rain, We set up camp,but it was still quite early and we decided to return to Ocean City for a few supplies and some fun. We stopped at the ten pin bowling alley and played two games each in two teams. I as usual managed 7 or 8 on each turn, twice managing a strike and once nothing at all. Dean got lucky and on the second game managed 162, only just below his all time max of 172. Pat was the real surprise. though. She hadn't played before, and at first wasn't making any progress at all, but fairly soon she was doing very well indeed, getting a strike almost every turn. Although she didn't get the highest score - Mayumi won the first game and Dean the second - she was second on the first game and highly placed the second. We all had a lot of fun though, and it was only the light failing and the need to make supper tat prevented a third game.
When we got back to camp having shopped briefly in the store, we soon found out the place was already occupied - with many, many mosquitoes. They were huge and, luckily, fairly slow, but at times it seemed as if they were queueing up to land on you. I took Dean's suggestion, putting long trousers, socks and shoes on instead of shorts, and mossie repellant on the remaining exposed skin. I also retired to the tent fairly soon, but still they got me about 6 times, several through thick socks!
We were I think all relieved this camp was only one night!