Okay, the headline may not be completely true, but it’s close. During our road trip to Washington, Luke decided we weren’t going to plan out the time here. I looked at the map and saw the Wenatchee National Forest wasn’t too far from the border and knew we could find a spot pretty easily. The thing is, we haven’t been following news or social media, so we had no idea that most of Washington and Oregon were struggling with wildfires. We noticed the smokey skies as we drove, but figured we’d get out of it as we had in every other place. We got to the forest, and it was still pretty smokey, but since we’d had our share of smokey skies in other places we decided to take the gamble. I got out of the car and let the dogs run around, then I felt the ash. There was ash falling from the sky and we were both pretty nervous. There was also no noise at all. No birds, no wind, no squirrels … nothing. Luke said we would set up the bare minimum, go to bed as soon as it was dark and leave really early in the morning. I would have slept with one eye open if that were the case. The whole situation shifted my mood and Luke noticed. I went to lay down in the tent, hoping to nap it off. We both were pretty excited about exploring the Pacific Northwest, and I was probably more excited about that than most other places on our “list.” So, the fire sky was a bummer. I felt really bad for the people who lived in the area too.
Luke came into the tent and laid down next to me. I cried for the first time on the trip, and the reason surprised me. I was upset because I had finally gotten used to this road trip and camping life we were living and saw it coming to an end. Feeling like we had to run for cover from the fire just added to this I guess. I enjoyed the freedom and not having to stress about really anything. Whatever drama or politics were taking place seemed like it didn’t exist here, and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt that. I was scared about the next phase of life and trying to tell myself I wasn’t worried about it, but I was worried. I was worried about sleeping in the middle of a forest and catching on fire in the middle of the night… in that moment I was worried about everything. One of the things I love most about Luke is his empathy. He knows when to love, when to cry, when to laugh and when to sit in silence. He laid in that tent and reassured me and got me excited about our future. He suggested we go on a hike to change our focus. I agreed. When Luke hikes, he doesn’t always find a trail and some of his favorite hikes are the ones he trailblazes. This adventure was the most hilarious and trailblazing hike of the trip. Luke had heard a creek somewhere below our spot and was determined to find it. We set off walking and climbing over fallen tree trunks and branches. Sox walked on branches that cracked beneath him more than once and would fall about a foot, but he always got back up and tried it again. On one occasion, we placed Sox onto a narrow trunk and pointed him in the right direction. He made it successfully across and then turned and saw Shoester struggling so he walked back down the trunk and helped Shoester across. It was really sweet to see their bond on that hike. Luke and I laughed the whole way down about how ridiculous and exciting the terrain was and before too long the creek was before us. Along the creek the trees were alive and thick, so we decided pretty quickly to start heading back. The way out we scaled a few trunks and the dogs maneuvered through brush just like the way down. When we got back to the top Luke started packing up the tent. I asked Luke what he was doing and he said he didn’t want me to feel unsafe so we would keep with our theme of finding a plan B.
A while ago we had talked about going on a night drive, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do it. As with most things, Luke and I thought a night drive were different things. I envisioned climbing up hills and stargazing our way through the drive. He thought it was literally driving through the night and seeing how far we could make it. In this scenario, his vision made a lot more sense. Our spirits were high. We were laughing, dancing, hyped up on coffee and having great conversations. We eventually even saw stars out the windows which meant we were not under a smokey sky anymore.
The plan was to drive to the other side of Washington to the Olympic National Forest and set up camp there. It was 6-8 hours away. About five hours in, we were losing steam. Luke decided we should stop at a Denny’s for a break, so we did. Denny’s never tastes more delicious than at 2 am. It’s also amazing people watching. I was still tired and decided to go lay in the car with the dogs until Luke finished his last cup of coffee, but that was short-lived as I got scared of an encounter between some homeless men in front of her. They were having an animated conversation and one was walking back toward the car. I could tell he was distraught and really just wanted someone to talk to but something about being a woman alone is still a scary feeling. I can’t tell if that’s a society teaching or a reality. I walked into the Denny’s and asked Luke if we could go. He hopped into the driver seat and we were off again. The Denny’s trip didn’t give us the energy we had hoped and the next stretch was a struggle, but there was a Walmart that opened in about an hour. We decided to drive there and sleep until it opened. Nothing like a good ol’ power nap! It definitely helped and we arrived at the forest shortly after. We found a spot off the side of a semi-busy forest road that had some good hiking trails nearby. The dogs needed to stretch their legs, but we were all a bit delirious. We took them on a quick walk down a nearby trail then set up camp and passed out! We had not seen any smoke, we were in a rainforest and we didn’t see signs close-by saying “no campfires”, so we dug out a pit and cooked up some lunch. The fire was a nice treat. Luke decided to read and I decided to explore a water source I had heard near the site. Turns out it wasn’t just a creek like I thought, but also a small waterfall! It was cold but felt very refreshing. It was fun to have some “running water”.
The next morning we made some coffee and chatted about our plans for the day. We had noticed these decently sized bugs around our camp spot and that morning one of them was buzzing around both of us. Luke started swatting at it and also was trying to do some Ju-Jitsu or other martial art to “show them who’s boss”. He thought he was successful when it flew away, but a moment later …he flew back with a friend. Luke repeated his actions. I just sat in the chair and watched this all happen. Needless to say, Luke ended up running at full speed a quarter mile down the road with 5 horse flies chasing after him. He ran all the way back to the car and the flies started dive bombing the car. At this point…I’m just crying from laughing so hard. Poor Luke was terrified of these things now and commended me on my nonreaction to them. I told him I didn’t have to react since he was taking all of their attention. He calmed down and went back to reading his book.
Later in the day we decided to go up the road a little ways to where we saw hiking trail entrances. We started down one of the routes and saw in an opening there was a creek but we couldn’t see a clear way to get there so Luke decided to slide down the cliff. I watched him and the dogs both do it so I followed after them. It was pretty fun actually and we made it to the bottom a lot faster than any path. Once we were down, we walked all around the creek and hopped across the rocks. Off in the distance, we saw a person at a campsite and headed that direction.
Luke started chatting with the man and I stayed with the dogs as they made their way up. At the campsite, we found a path heading back to our tent. We followed it slowly back up the hill and were enamored by the surrounding beauty. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the moss-covered trees and the great lighting coming through the trees.
On our way back to the campsite we picked up a few fallen branches in order to get our fire going again. As we dropped the wood next to camp, the National Forest Fire team pulled up and told us there was a fire ban in the area and that we needed to find a place with a metal fire ring if we wanted to have a fire. They were really nice guys and we chatted with them for a while. (We even learned the tips and tricks on how to land a job in the department.) That conversation helped us make the decision to go back into town for some food supplies and find a new spot with a fire ring. Originally our plan was to wait an extra night before moving to a new space, but it was better not to take that risk. This time we pulled down a hidden road that had a giant rock fire pit at the end. We convinced ourselves the pit would do for a fire ring and stayed there a couple of nights. It was a serene and relaxing spot. Almost too serene for me, as at one point I convinced myself there were murders in the forest. I need to stop listening to True Crime Podcasts.
If you haven’t been to the Olympic National Forest…go. The park is probably amazing as well, but we only went to the forest. It had the coolest terrain and was unlike any place either of us had ever been.
After the forest, we had planned on going to Seattle but decided on Redmond instead. A company that makes one of Luke’s favorite games was in Redmond, so we were curious to see the area. After exploring the town, we headed to a Starbucks for some wifi and googled the fire map. Honestly, we were surprised and a little stumped. There was no clear area on the map that looked safe, and we had just gotten the number to Luke’s brother in-law’s family. Luckily, they were only a few hours away. We changed course and headed off to Oregon!
Washington, we’ll be back when your skies are clear and we can fall in love all over again.