Down the West Coast

Tuesday, 10 October 2017 15:30
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vanc3 leadVancouver Island and down into America

So…work was great. Two weeks in downtown Vancouver doing fun stuff with talented people. It was movie work and involved tossing people off of tall buildings…I’d tell you more about it, but “first rule of Fight Club” and all that stuff.

On the down side, the car got broken into while it was parked in the hotel garage. Luckily, they were polite Canadian thieves, so they just unsnapped the top to get in rather than slash it or do a lot of other damage. Casualties were limited to my ashtray and the $2.75 or so of change that was in it, a pair of binoculars, and the GPS unit for my Canon camera (good luck fencing that one, it was obsolete when I got it). The thief also tried to get into the trunk and failed, but in the process destroyed the lock beyond repair and functionality, which precluded me getting into my own trunk. Since it was a two week stay, I had all the expensive stuff in the hotel room with me (camera, etc), but I still had quite a bit of road trip remaining afterward, so I had to at least get the lock fixed so I could use the trunk.

Being in Vancouver meant I was very close to Ross Mullen of Sports Imports , so I gave him a call and told him what I needed, and he told me to come by as soon as I was done with work. It was about a half hour drive from downtown Vancouver to Ross’s place, and he jumped right on getting me set up. He had a few different trunk locks to choose from, as well as the magic “get-into-the-trunk-when-you-locked-your-only-key-in-it” tool, and he had the trunk open in a couple minutes. We replaced the lock, then browsed through his giant collection of parts to find a new ashtray and a cigarette lighter (which was in my ashtray when it got nicked), and I was all set there. In a classic “while we’re here” move, he also did a quick valve adjustment to quiet down a noisy rocker arm, and we put it up on his lift for a quick once-over to make sure everything was good underneath. He was also nice enough to take me to a birthday lunch before sending me on my way—now that’s service from your parts vendor.

Ross getting my trunk lock sorted out A quick look on the lift, just in case

With my newly repaired trunk ready to go, I tossed my bags in there and headed north up to Horseshoe Bay. The plan was to grab the ferry over to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, spend some time wandering around the island, and then head sort of southward down the west coast from there. Somehow I had again managed to be traveling to a holiday destination (the Tofino/Ucluelet area of Vancouver Island) on a national holiday (Victoria Day this time, which means a long weekend in Canada), so it was going to take a little more planning to handle stuff like ferry reservations and places to stay, but I was up for it.

The ferry ride, like all the BC Ferry rides I’ve been on, was great and lovely and scenic, and we arrived on time in Nanaimo. I headed north along the coast, stopping in at a couple of the little coastal towns as well as a little hiking among the giant cedars at MacMillan Provincial Park, then thought I should probably find a place to stay for the night. I grabbed the map and my phone, figured Port Alberni looked like a good place, found a couple of hotels with rooms available, and picked the one that was closest to the water as that was probably the most scenic.

Vancouver Island sunset

When I got to Port Alberni, it was about 10:30pm, and…I couldn’t find the hotel. My GPS kept taking me to the address near the pier, and I kept looking around for a hotel-like place, and…nothing. There were a couple of small shops, a fish place, and an old tugboat moored up at the end of the pier, and that was about it. On a hunch, I walked down to the old tugboat, and yup, it turned out that this was actually my lodging for the night, and my hosts Daniel and Bouchra were up and waiting for me to show up, as I was the only guest on the boat that night. Ironically, this is exactly the kind of place I’d be looking for if I knew I was looking for it, so this had worked out much better than originally anticipated.

Daniel and Bouchra were fantastic hosts, and they also ran a small restaurant that does family style prix fixe Moroccan dinners for a small group each night on the boat. The accommodations were small (as you’d expect from a tugboat berth) but very cozy, and I slept great. The next morning, Bouchra prepared an absolutely fantastic breakfast of eggs and a sweet potato/goat cheese/other stuff scramble with Moroccan spices, after which they invited me to take part in a Zumba fitness class that Bouchra teaches in the mornings. I’ve never been great at the whole ‘exercise to music’ thing, but the Zumba class was fun and a good cardio workout. We also stopped in at the local farmers market to pick up ingredients for that night’s dinner. While this whole stay was sort of accidental, it was the best kind of accident, and I will most definitely be returning to Port Alberni and the Swept Away Inn, or wherever the Swept Away Inn gets swept away to in the future.

My lodging in Port Alberni The Swept Away Inn The view from my room

My next stop was the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Pacific Rim Reserve. The area is full of rugged northwest coastline and is also apparently a big surfing destination as well. Being a holiday weekend, there were quite a few people around, but I was able to find a quiet campsite right on the water in Ucluelet, and I set that up as home base for exploring for the next couple of days.

Loonies AND Toonies! I'm going to need some change... Lodging in Ucluelet. Nice view...

Ucluelet and Tofino are the two towns at either end of the Reserve, with Tofino being the more developed and tourist-y of the two. It’s full of surf shops and restaurants and similar items you’d find on your “coastal tourist destination” bingo card, but it’s still kind of quaint. From what I read, it’s apparently also a destination getaway for Canadian celebrities like Ryan Reynolds and Sarah McLachlan. In between the two towns are miles of rugged beaches and forests, and a few really cool boardwalk hikes through the woods to the shore. The shore itself is rocky and teeming with anemone, starfish, gooseneck barnacles, and a huge variety of seabirds. All in all, it’s a pretty cool mix of fairly unspoiled wilderness and tourist amenities. It’s also home to one of the best meals I had on the whole trip—a filet of wild sockeye salmon over a soba noodle salad from a food truck in Ucluelet called “Ravenlady”. Their specialty is oysters, but they also do a great fish ‘n chips and a variety of other seafood-y dishes.

Wild Pacific Tidal pool anemones and starfish Pitstop in Tofino
Tofino scenery More tidal pool action Savory sockeye salmon soba

I spent three days there total, generally just exploring the coast. I hiked the Wild Pacific Trail, the trail down to Schooners Cove (one of those easy and beautiful boardwalk hikes), and a few other cool coastal spots between Ucluelet and Tofino, including Combers Beach, Incinerator Rock, and Long Beach. I will definitely return here, as now there’s two things I’d like to come back for: One is definitely kayaking—all those great coves and inlets and kelp forests and everything looked fantastic. And the other is something I hadn’t considered before talking to the locals. In the winter, the west coast of Vancouver Island gets pummeled by Pacific storms on a regular basis, and that Pacific Rim coastline provides a front row seat.  Definitely something I’d like to see.

Even more tidal pool stuff There were a lot of tidal pools Starfish and friends
Coastal rainforest Part of the boardwalk hike to Schooner's Cove More boardwalk hike

When I poked my head out of my tent the next morning, there was a huge White Tailed eagle sitting on a rock nearby, scanning the water for what I’m guessing would be breakfast. He noticed me, but didn’t fly off immediately, so I got a chance to check him out for a little while. A nearby camper from Germany was also there watching the bird from a little farther back, and once the eagle had enough of us gawking at him and flew off, we chatted a little about travel and what a great area this was. He was also a car guy, and hadn’t ever seen a Roadster in the flesh, so I gave him the grand tour of the car as well.

One of the locals out for a morning constitutional A little geography lesson Ucluelet sunset from the tent
A coastal view on the Wild Pacific Trail More Wild Pacific Trail It's a pretty great trail

I left the area the same way I came in (since there’s only one road in and out, after all), and it was still a bit crowded with tourists, but not too bad. I was heading south to Sidney, BC in preparation for re-entering the US the next day. I had a nice room at a little B&B near the ferry, and cheap too, as it was Sunday night and that’s not typically a big day for B&Bs. Sidney is a cute little port town, smaller than Victoria to its south, but still with its share of nice restaurants and coffee shops and whatnot. I had some dinner at one of those restaurants, and then after a nice nights sleep, got on the ferry over to Friday Harbor, WA in the morning. I was there for dinner with an old friend, but I had some time to kill before that, so I went off and explored San Juan Island a little.

Another Wild Pacific coastal view Like Paris, but Canadian Vancouver Island scenery

Friday Harbor itself is pretty cute. It’s a small port town with most of the downtown area clustered around the ferry landing. The rest of the island is largely wooded or open field, and there’s plenty of wildlife around. I drove down to the lighthouse area where I saw several bald eagles cruising around in the updrafts coming off the bluffs, and there was also a small family of foxes in the same area looking for handouts from passing motorists. There’s also a beautiful view of the mountains of Olympic National Park across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 

Fly like an eagle Entering Friday Harbor on the ferry There were several eagles around
Roadster glam shot The eagles were getting harassed by seagulls One of the friendly/hungry roadside foxes

Later on, dinner and catching up went great, and afterward I was booked on the last ferry over to Anacortes, where I had a hotel room waiting for the evening. It was dark and foggy and therefore pretty uneventful, but the next morning was clear and bright as I started the trip southward back to Las Vegas (eventually). I made an all-too-brief stop in the always lovely Deception Pass area, then continued south to Fort Casey where I got the ferry over to Port Townsend. My eventual goal for the day was to do some hiking around Olympic National Park, but first I stopped in for a quick bite of lunch in Port Townsend. Port Townsend is a cute little port town (as the name implies) with a lot of neat turn of the century architecture, some great restaurants, and a nice small-town feel. It’s also got Bergstrom’s Classic Autos, which is a really cool automotive memorabilia store/museum that has a few classic cars for sale and an endless supply of car and motoring antiques. I picked up a couple of old road maps and chatted with the proprietor about old Nissans and the ins and outs of roadtripping in an old car, then continued west toward Olympic.

On another ferry Historic lighthouse Port Townsend

Timing-wise, I kind of wanted to hit some of the more scenic parts of the drive (like Hurricane Ridge) in the morning, so rather than push all the way through to the park, I stopped for the night in Port Angeles. On past trips, this is where I caught the ferry over to Vancouver Island, but this time it was just serving as a waypoint out onto the peninsula.

The next morning dawned to lovely weather again, and I headed straight up to Hurricane Ridge, which is a really fun piece of scenic roadway with a National Park visitor center and some amazing views at the end. There was a fair amount of snow still up there, but the road itself was clear for the most part. I stopped and took a few photos along the way, and also became part of the vacation photos for one group of Chinese tourists on one stop. The car is always popular for pictures out on the road.

Hurricane Ridge More Hurricane Ridge  Chinese tourists, Japanese car
 Olympic National Park  More Olympic  The road down from Hurricane Ridge

The next stop after Hurricane Ridge was the (former) Glines Canyon Dam. This is one of several dam removal projects in the US where efforts are being made to restore rivers to their original wild states. In this case, the river was the Elwha, and the dam had originally been built in 1925 for power generation. Demolition of the dam started in 2011 and finished in 2014, and the ecosystem (including salmon migration and spawning) has been gradually returning since then. The US Department of the Interior went a little dam building crazy from about the 1920s to the 1960s, building dam projects for everything from hydroelectric power to reservoir establishment to flood control and beyond. But while hydroelectric dams are generally considered “renewable energy”, they’re pretty far from being “green” energy, as they can completely destroy river ecosystems once they’re in place. Many of those dams are now over 100 years old, and in order to get relicensed by the Interior Department, they’ve got to meet new environmental regulations, like providing a means for fish to get upriver to spawn. In many cases, it’s cheaper to just take the dam out than make the modifications, so dams are starting to come down in the US and rivers are starting to revert back to their natural states. That’s generally on pretty small rivers—they’re not going to tear down Hoover Dam anytime soon—but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

The restored Elwha River. The lighter green vegetation is where the reservoir used to be. Looking downriver from the dam site Looking across what's left of the dam. Old spillway in the upper right.
Cruising through the rainforest More rainforest One of many rainforest streams

After checking out the ex-dam and the newly happy river, I continued west to Sol Duc Falls, where there’s a beautiful hike through the rainforest up to the falls themselves. The spring meltoff was providing some spectacular waterfall action as it had during most of the trip, and the afternoon sunlight coming through the trees made for one of the more magical waterfall experiences I’ve had on the road so far. During the hike back to the car, I began contemplating my relatively sparse lodging options for the evening, and eventually settled on finding a place to camp.

Sol Duc Falls, looking upriver Sol Duc Falls, looking downriver Sol Duc Falls, downriver again

I knew I wanted to hike the Hoh Rainforest and Cape Flattery the next day, so I was looking for something relatively central to that, and eventually I stumbled upon the Minnie Peterson Camp area. This was just off the road to the rainforest and consisted of maybe half a dozen campsites, but it was great—quiet, secluded, and completely embedded in some fantastic trees. I parked the car, set up camp, and then just relaxed the rest of the evening.

I headed up to the Hoh through some lovely fog the next morning, and briefly contemplated doing the long loop hike there, but that wasn’t going to work out with the timing for getting up to Cape Flattery, so I went for the short loop instead. That hike is still really lush and beautiful and well worth the trip, albeit not quite as much of a workout. After a couple hours of treehugging, I jumped back in the car and headed up north to Cape Flattery.

I’d decided to visit Cape Flattery for two reasons—one, it’s technically the farthest northwest corner of the United States and I’d already been to the other three corners, and two, I’d seen some really fantastic “wild Pacific northwest” photos of the place and wanted to check it out. It’s actually on Makah tribal land, so you need a pass from them to do the hikes and use the beaches there. The views from the hike were definitely lovely, but it wasn’t quite as wild as I’d hoped. There’s basically one pretty short trail with a couple of observation points, and the trail is a boardwalk, so you’re definitely not going to spend all day there. As far as I could tell, there’s also no access to the actual shoreline. On the one hand, I appreciate limiting public access to the bulk of the area to keep it from getting torn up, but on the other hand there were places I would have liked to have seen a little more closely. Maybe I’ll do it in the kayak next time.

My Minnie Peterson campsite Cape Flattery, looking west A slightly used fishing boat


After all that hiking, I finally started heading south down the Washington coast. I crashed in Ocean Shores for the night, then visited a few of the rugged beaches along the way down to Oregon. At about midday, I crossed the Columbia River into Oregon, then headed south to Sunset Beach where I was able to drive out onto the sand for some photos. This was very close to where Lewis & Clark first saw the Pacific Ocean, and also close to where they wintered prior to turning around and heading back to St. Louis. (I swear I will eventually get back to finishing my “following the Lewis & Clark Trail” from a couple of summers ago…) After playing on the beach for a bit, I headed down to Salem for the night. I had planned on visiting Mike at Spriso Motorsports in Corvallis but unfortunately he wasn’t going to be around that weekend. Instead, I crashed a breakfast gathering of Roadster owners the following morning that Mike had told me about and went for a little ride with them. It’s always fun getting together with other Roadster people, especially when it’s a surprise. Everybody was great and welcoming, and I got some good tips on which roads to look for when heading back to the coast. One of those tips was to hit Route 34 through the Siuslaw National Forest, and it was a good one. Really fun road, very scenic, and plenty of twisties to exercise the car a bit. I hit the coast again in Waldport, and headed south toward Coos Bay. Figuring I’d do a little coastal sightseeing, I headed over to Cape Arago State Park and wandered around a bit. Unfortunately during the course of that wandering, the car got backed into by some lady in Nissan Versa (Datsun-on-Datsun violence is the worst). It was kind of a perfect storm—she was backing up and I figured she saw me stopping to give her room, but it slowly became apparent that she either wasn’t looking or wasn’t seeing. I hit the horn, only to get a feeble vibration…somewhere in the course of the trip, the weather had gotten the better of the 50 year old horn coil. Before I could get it into reverse…crunch. Right in the front passenger side of the car. Right where I’d hit the deer with the other car. Apparently the cost of a good roadster roadtrip for me is a right fender.

Former gas station, current ice cream shop Mini-rally with the Corvallis crew Sunset Beach, sans sunset

We both got out and looked at the damage. She had some dents in the plastic, and my fender was crunched into the tire. I took a bunch of photos, she gave me her insurance info, and then we parted ways and I got to work. It wasn’t as bad as the damage I’d gotten from the deer, and I had the full tool set, so I jacked it up, pulled the wheel off, and began the roadside bodywork repairs. It actually came out fairly decent, and if it wasn’t for some big chunks of paint flaking off it’d be hard to spot unless you were looking for it. I’ll fix it up for real when I get home, and it might be a good excuse for a quickie paint job, or plasti-dip, or even a wrap. It’ll be a while before I get around to a full restoration (especially since I’ve already got one in progress), and while I wouldn’t mind it being more presentable in the mean time, I don’t want to make my life harder come restoration time. So…maybe a dip would be the ticket. We’ll see.

The damage During repairs Temporary repairs complete. Not awful.

I shook off the disappointment of getting hit again, and continued south. The general plan from here was to see a couple things in Oregon I hadn’t seen before, then drop by for a couple visits in Northern California, then head back to Vegas across the Sierras. My remaining Oregon targets were Crater Lake and Oregon Caves which would require a bit of inland traveling, so I drove to Roseburg and stayed there for the evening and then headed to Crater Lake first thing in the morning.

Coin-o-Matic Some Oregon riverside scenery
More Oregon scenery One of the more rural gas stations. One pump, no waiting.

Due to it still being May and the snowfall that winter being of impressive proportions, most of the Crater Lake roads were still closed. About the only thing open for driving was the short road from the visitor center to Discovery Point, which is fortunately a really beautiful overlook of the lake. I put the top down, drove up there, and crunched around in the snow for a while. The skies were deep blue with big puffy clouds, and limited access notwithstanding, you really couldn’t ask for a better day up there.

A semi-snowy Crater Lake Another view of Crater Lake More Crater Lake

My next stop was Oregon Caves, which I had not been to before. Looking at the map, it seemed like there was a good route over the hills south of Grants Pass to the road leading up to the caves, and that there were a couple of places to camp as well, so I shot for that. My super optimistic GPS confirmed that route, and although it looked convoluted, it seemed fine. Reality, however, proved to be different. Things gradually progressed from some rural two lane road to some rural one lane road to some graded dirt Forest Service road to some rutted dirt logging road to…some sort of vaguely marked goat path. I threw in the towel at the goat path, even though I’d done about 30 miles on dirt and my GPS and map continued to tell me I was on the right track. Altering plans, I ditched the idea of camping, turned around and backtracked the way I came, and as soon as I was back in an area with some wireless data I booked a hotel room in Grants Pass instead. Looking at the GPS trace later, it looked like I was actually pretty close to the caves, but I’m not convinced that there was actually a way to get there without, I don’t know, maybe a mountain bike.

The next day I took regular old paved roads and arrived at Oregon Caves without any further drama. The caves are in a really beautiful area and it’s a great drive up there. It’s a National Park, so it’s well administered, and there’s also an old guest chateau there that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s. The chateau is still fully functional as a hotel, and you can still book a stay there. The caves themselves are located at a relatively high elevation (for a cave system), about 4000 feet up, and it’s one of only three caves in the National Park system that are made of marble instead of limestone. It’s also very young for a cave system, only 1 to 3 million years old. The rangers, as usual, are great; the cave tour focuses on the geology for the most part, with some sidebars for exploration history. There are a couple places in the cave where early explorers had penciled their names on to formations, and in the intervening 100 years or so, a thin transparent layer of calcite has formed over that graffiti, preserving it until the covering gets too thick to see through. It’s not as colorful or wildly spectacular as some of the National Park caves (like Carlsbad, for example), but it’s got its own type of impressive features and history.

100 year old pencil graffiti More graffiti

After caving, I headed down the Redwood Highway, south into California and the Jedediah Smith Redwood Park and out to the coast, one of the most beautiful drives in America. I continued south to Rio Dell to visit my friend Jen from the very first Roadster Roadtrip and had a lovely time there as always. I’d received word that the scheduling of a meeting for one of my former clients in Orlando had been finalized, and I needed to get back to Las Vegas in order to get ready to travel relatively quickly. This actually worked out OK, as while the stand-in roadtrip Roadster was running well, the lack of other prep was really beginning to show. Squeaks, rattles, and vibrations were the worst of it; those had been kind of quaint at the beginning of the trip, but now they were driving me a little batty. The vibration aspect was especially strong, as the new motor had the wrong exhaust header on it for that year car, and it was touching the frame during acceleration and idling, which in turn was vibrating the entire car pretty good. After 6000 miles of that, it was time to go home and sort some of that stuff out, or at least get it to stop bugging me.

Welcome to California Small hot spring with orange thermophyllic bacteria Among the redwoods

I had one more stop to make on the California coast though—time to visit the nieces again. I’d spent a lot of time there over the winter building a treehouse for them, and now I had the opportunity to turn that into an impromptu AirBnb (for me, anyway). I headed down to the Occidental area and moved into the treehouse for a couple days, and it was great. I also got to see an epic production of Gilgamesh on a small outdoor stage behind the girls’ school, so all in all it was a pretty good visit.

Gilgamesh, as presented by the middle school kids The treehouse
Part of the treehouse deck Treehouse loft interior (aka my Airbnb spot)

I opted to drive straight through back to Las Vegas from Occidental, which is about a 625-650 mile shot (depending on your selected route). I went through the Sierras because I can’t stand Interstate 5 and because it’s prettier, but that put me closer to the 650 mile mark, which would be the longest continuous drive of the trip. It was familiar ground though, so really no big deal. I did briefly contemplate camping once I got back to the Mono Lake/Lee Vining area, but decided to push through instead.

I reached home at about 3am, only to find my fancy electronic keypad door lock not working. Apparently the batteries had died while I was out roaming around, and unfortunately I had not brought the backup mechanical key with me, which meant I had to break into my own house. Luckily I was traveling with my full tool kit for car maintenance, and that full tool kit includes lock picks, so I didn’t have to actually break anything to get in (although it took a while; those fancy locks are pretty secure and lockpicking is not something I do every day).

Thus concluded my 6134 mile Canadian Rockies adventure, including climbing mountains, making a movie, getting robbed, getting into a car accident, and breaking into my own house, among other adventurous aspects. The new engine in the car performed really well (and I think it’s definitely broken in now), although the car itself could definitely use a little love to tighten up some of the squeaks and rattles (not to mention a little fender repair and paint now as well). If all the stars align and my schedule works out, I’m going to try to get that much-delayed Alaska trip going in the spring…if the original road trip car (the red ’67) isn’t ready by then, I can freshen up this car relatively quickly. And if not…there’s always next spring.

The whole trip, 6134 miles
Next: Vegas to Pennsylvania in the truck, 2017 edition



#1 FairladySPL 2017-12-13 16:46
Scott, you're such a good sport about getting hit by things. Nice to see your latest excursion -- Paul @ Annapolis

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