Olympic Peninsula – Hoh Rain Forest, Ruby Beach, and Back Again (Oct 3rd and 4th)

The next morning, I played with a caterpillar as I made breakfast.

My tea water boiled in less than 5 minutes, and I still had fuel left to heat up my soup. Excellent!

I packed up and headed for the Hoh Rain Forest. This was another fun, twisty road, darting between light and shadow. As the road approached the National Park, the trees were clumped so thickly, gobbling up every ray of sunshine, that some stretches were almost like driving at dusk.

Along the way, I stopped in front of a big sitka spruce tree, and wound up chatting with some other visitors. We commiserated about how awesome the forest is and how unfortunate it is that old growth forests like this only exist in small patches these days. They recommended I take a trail called the Hall of Mosses.

When they said it was a big spruce, they were not joking. The sign informed me that this tree was over 12.5 feet in diameter, and over 500 years old.

I walked around a bit to stretch my legs. Everywhere I looked there was something new to see.

I found my way to the visitor’s center. Deciding that I wanted to do some real hiking today, I stripped off my riding gear. I cable locked my jacket and pants to the bike, and managed to stuff my boots into one of the cans (I told you they were huge!), and changed into my toe shoes. I packed my backpack with some water and snacks and headed out.

The visitor’s center was closed, which was a bit disappointing. I wanted to learn more about the forest! There were a lot of interpretive signs along the paths though, which definitely helped.

I crossed a small footbridge and was entranced by these verdant aquatic plants, swaying with the stream’s current. There were so many different kinds! Tiny fish darted here and there.

I climbed a hill, and began my journey on the Hall of Mosses.

This forest was AWESOME! A+ would wander again!

I came for the mosses, and I was not disappointed.

Ferns grew on moss grew on trees, in layer after layer of rich greenery. Every available space was a niche, and in a forest this old, every available niche was filled.

I ran into the couple from earlier and we got to talking more. It’s rare that I meet people who are on the same wavelength as I am, and we seemed to be going the same direction, so I decided to tag along. They introduced themselves as John and Linda, and we had a lot of fun pointing out the various parts of the forest around us that we found the most striking.

We walked through a maple grove, absolutely covered in moss, and they remarked how dry the forest was. When they’d last come here, the moss was dripping with moisture after a rain, giving it an even more alien appearance.

Hidey holes were common in the old trees, a result of how the forest was formed. I kept thinking how many fantastic spaces for animals to hide there were, so different from the younger forests I am used to.

We came across the twisted stump of a tree and I asked them to take my picture with it, for scale.

I learned a lot about the old growth forest. For example, when one of these gigantic, 300-foot trees dies and falls over, it creates an environment for other trees to grow in. We saw a number of these “nurse logs”, still decomposing after a hundred years, with many massive adult trees rocketing skyward from its trunk. It was extremely humbling to be around trees that were this huge, this ancient. As tall as a 30-story skyscraper, as old as the Renaissance. This forest had never been logged, and it was amazing – and a bit depressing – to realize that most of the northwest looked like this at some point before we put a pricetag on it.

We took the Hoh River Trail next.

… and encountered an elk! We only noticed at first because the folks ahead of us on the trail had stopped in the middle of the path, and everyone was staring ahead, speaking in hushed whispers.

There had been signs warning everybody to stay away from elk, as this was their season for rut and they can be particularly aggressive, so we kept our distance.

I crept forward another ten feet or so, still a good 20-30 feet from the elk, to try to get a better photo. Apparently the elk didn’t get the memo to keep his distance, and decided that he wanted to come down the path towards us. I stayed very still. After weighing my options, I figured that this was probably the best course of action, as moving to get off the path might spook him. He had working senses, he obviously knew I was there, and he seemed to be familiar with people. I kept quietly snapping photos. I heard concerned murmurs from John and Linda.

He ambled toward me, grazing here and there.

Eventually he passed, maybe two or three feet away from me. The group I was with had taken refuge a good ten feet off the path, giving the elk a lot of space.

I wasn’t afraid. As much as people say that wild animals are unpredictable, I think that they do operate under their own logic, just one that we can’t always comprehend. We don’t think like they do. I knew that it was a dangerous situation, and the elk could have easily killed me, I just didn’t think he had a reason to. This close encounter was magical, and it really made my day. A stranger approached me after the elk had left and told me that I must have nerves of steel.

We continued along the path and eventually found a downed tree, the rootball of which must have easily been 20 feet across. The dead trunk spanned the river. We saw a king salmon that had died, caught up in the branches and easily over two feet long. John mentioned that they die after they go upstream to spawn.

We headed back to the parking lot and went our separate ways.

Thanks John and Linda! I won’t soon forget that experience!

I had considered staying at a nearby campground, but decided to venture further in search of gas. In racing to beat the sunset I blew past the sign for Ruby Beach, only to think “This seems something I will regret later. Surely it won’t matter if I spend a little bit checking out the beach…” I turned around. I’ve come to listen to that little voice.

It was worth it.

I poked around the rocks, as it was getting to be low tide, and saw an anemone or two, but I think I have been spoiled by better tide pools. I really enjoyed watching the sunset over the ocean though.

By the time I found gas, I was far away from where I’d planned on camping. I hate backtracking. After considering the idea to keep riding through the night, and rejecting it due to the frigid temperature, I went nine miles down a gravel road in the dark only to find out that the bridge was out. I had a great time though! I had to actually restrain myself from going too fast – there were downed branches, sharp corners and animals to contend with. I saw some kind of small fluffy creature, rabbit-sized but not a rabbit, and I am glad I went more slowly. I considered setting up camp behind a port-a-john or at the boat loading dock, but I figured I would probably get some kind of ticket for it.

After consulting the map, I found another primitive campsite named Coppermine Bottom, which was down 20 miles of paved road and about another mile of gravel. There was only one other camper there, and I am sorry to say I probably woke them up by arriving so late, but I was freezing and didn’t really care at the time. I set some sort of personal record for pitching my tent, layered up, and hunkered down. This night was fairly restless as I kept waking up, shivering. Definitely time to head south.

I woke up slowly and set up my solar panel on the rocks near the river to charge my electronics. My droid was dead, so no pictures of breakfast, which consisted of some miso soup, tea, and pringles. Breakfast of champions. I slowly packed up my gear and soaked up the sun with my electronics for a while, enjoying the stream’s company.

With both of us charged up, I set out south. Had to stop and take a look at Lake Quinalt.

There were lots of clearcuts along the way south, and many, many log trucks, which soured my mood. It was a bitter, sharp contrast against the old growth forest I’d fallen in love with the previous day. I am not unsympathetic to the plight of those in small towns without many ways to get by, I’ve lived in towns where a mill has closed down and unemployment has skyrocketed, but we need to have balance.

The marshes near the ocean were interesting. Sloughs?

Near ‘Cosmopolis’ there was this abandoned cafe. It’s a bit hard to see, but there is a large bush growing in the patio area.

The Cosmo pulp mill was massive and was chugging along when I rolled past, the final destination for a number of the clearcut trees I’d seen rolling by on those log trucks.

I stopped near the oregon border across from Astoria.

Astoria had been recommended to me due to its funky vibe, but I didn’t see much of it. I would have stopped to investigate along more than the main drag, but the sun wasn’t getting any higher and I didn’t want to be riding a lot in the dark, due to only having a tinted visor.

I took a break in Clatskanie and just as I was thinking “Man, it always seems like somebody comes up to chat as soon as I get my headphones and helmet on”, I turned around and somebody was doing just that. We introduced ourselves, and he mentioned that he was the owner of a restaurant a few miles down the road. He asked about my trip. I told him where I’d been and my plans to head south for the winter. He seemed amazed that I’d do something like this alone, and said that “I don’t think I’d ever do a trip like that myself but I really respect you for doing it!” It made me smile.

It was dark by the time I rolled into western Portland. I hate the freeway interchanges. A lot. Having to merge across 3 lanes, dodging traffic, when it’s dark, and you’re also on a bridge curving through the air going 60mph is… stressful. I will not miss Portland traffic.

I found my way back “home”. It was time to move on. I decided to leave in a few days, after giving away stuff for free.

And now, finally, I am up to date with this report.

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