A three-week journey up the west coast of North America from Eureka, California to Seward, Alaska, the hamlet of 3,000 people we now call home. By boat and by car, my wife, my dog and myself spent eighteen days adventuring northward along the beautiful shore of the Pacific Ocean through the redwoods of Northern California, the rugged beaches of Oregon, the rain forest of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the braided islands of Canada’s British Columbia, and the dramatic escarpments of southern Alaska. By the end we’d spent eight nights in hotels, three in a tent, three on the deck of a 408-foot ferry boat, two at a friend’s house, and one in a dusty cabin. In total 2,367 miles passed underneath the wheels of our car and another 1,215 miles through the turbine of our ferry boat. We visited four American states, two Canadian territories and witnessed some of the most beautiful terrain western North America has to offer.
What follows is a mostly visual account of that journey.
Days 1 & 2 Ashland, Oregon
We were ushered into Northern California by rain back in January so it was fitting that we’d be chased out by the same. The drum roll of raindrops followed us all the way to Ashland, Oregon, a city known for its politically liberal ideals and for its renowned Shakespeare Festival. For nine months of the year, Ashland is host to two plays a day (mostly but not all Shakespeare), five or six days a week. Intrigued we tried to get last minute tickets to the festival, but since there were so few seats left, the price of $87 a person was a little too steep to justify on our travel budget. Instead we enjoyed a soak in a local hot springs and did some hiking in the lush mountains.
|A great way to get to know a|
place is through its microbreweries
and coffee shops
Day 3 The Highway of Waterfalls
In order to get Ashland, we’d had to turn inland away from the coast, so to get back we took Highway 138, known colloquially as “the Highway of Waterfalls.” We stopped to frolic at the base of several thundering waterfalls before settling into a soggy campsite on the bank of the North Fork of the Umpqua River.
|272-foot Watson Falls|
Day 4 Oregon Coast (Episode 1)
A stunning stretch of Oregon coast including gorgeous oceanside towns of Florence and Newport. The day concluded at an excellent campsite near the elongated Beverly Beach with a beer in hand and a lurid sunset unfolding over the water.
Day 5 Oregon Coast (Episode 2)
The heart of the Oregon shores. We visited a slew of stunning attractions including Seal Rock, Depoe Bay, and Cannon Beach (made famous in the 1980’s cinema classic, The Goonies.) This truly is a special part of the country with its rugged sea stacks, miles-long beaches and lush verdant rain forests vibrant with color and life.
|Rugged coasts of Oregon|
Day 6 Into the Evergreen State
The next morning we crossed the Columbia River at Astoria and entered Washington, known as the Evergreen State. Though the first part of the drive was through depressing, economically stressed towns such as Aberdeen (whose only claim to fame is being the birthplace of Kurt Cobain and being home to Billy Gohl, one of the most prolific serial killers in American history), the second part coursed through the magnificent and wild Olympic Peninsula whose rugged, gray coasts are possibly even more dramatic than those of Oregon.
Day 7 Olympic National Park
A day in the incredible wilderness of Olympic National Park. This is one of the most vast and wild national parks in the Lower 48 and includes the Hoh Rainforest, which receives 127 inches of rain a year, making it one of the wettest places in North America. Afterward we decompressed in the Sol Duc Hot Springs as a chill misty rain leaked from the sky.
|One of many waterfalls in Olympic National Park|
Day 8 Fish Out of Water
A small-town boy all my life, the next phase of the journey was one of the most unsettling, and in some ways the most rewarding. We coursed around Puget Sound to the concrete jungle of Seattle, the keystone city of the Pacific Northwest. Frightened at first by the sheer volume of roaring buses, screeching taxis and shadowy vagabonds, I was quickly enamored by the city’s other side: the impressive array of young, intellectual people and its vast cultural diversity. In just a few block radius we encountered restaurants boasting authentic Middle Eastern, Brazilian, Mexican, Argentinian, French, Irish, Italian, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine. The multilayered assault of sumptuous aromas forced me into sensory overdrive. Best of all, Seattle matched and possibly exceeded its reputation as one of the great purveyors of perhaps my favorite commodity: coffee.
Day 9 Museums, Markets, and Needles
No trip to Seattle could be considered complete without venturing to a few of its classic features: the downtown fish markets, the cultural museums, and the Space Needle. We dodged hurled fish at the Pike Place Market, craned our necks up at the 605-foot Space Needle, and spent four hours inside the MoPop pop culture museum, which included excellent extensive displays of two of my favorite topics: rock and roll guitars and fantasy movies/literature.
|The MoPop Museum and the Space Needle in the background|
Day 10 Escaping the City
The city is great in small doses, but we were ready to make our escape back to the wild coast. We hit the pavement once again, blazing northward toward the town of Bellingham, Washington, our exit point from the contiguous United States. After a sweaty, steep hike through the rain forest, we met up with some friends in Bellingham who were gracious enough to host us for two nights as we prepared for the next phase of our long journey.
Day 11 The Sun!
The Pacific Northwest is famous for many things, not the least of which is the rain. So far on our trip we had not been disappointed. We’d yet to get through a full day without the benefit of at least a little rain. We were treated to a stunning blue-sky Bellingham day and took full advantage, going for a three-mile hike around Lake Padden and sun-bathing with the company of our books as temperatures spiked to almost 80 degrees, easily the warmest day we’d seen since the previous fall back in Idaho. Of course, no good thing can last forever and as evening fell the rain returned with a vengeance, hammering down with hail and even a few blinding arcs of lightning.
|Rugged Olympic Peninsula coast in Washington|
Day 12 All Aboard
This was it, the day that marked the end of the road trip and the beginning of the next folio. It was also the day we’d abandon the Lower 48 in favor of lonely expanse of Alaska. To get to the Final Frontier we had to drive aboard the M/S Malaspina, one of the original ferry boats in the fleet of the Alaska Maritime Highway. This was the least expensive, lowest-mileage means to transport our vehicle to Alaska.
|The Malaspina, our home for four days|
Day 13 Boat Life
A full day barging up the narrow sounds and inlets that circumnavigate Vancouver Island taught me several things: in medium seas I have a tendency to get seasick, and when you pack people into a relatively confined space there is a tendency for them to become friends. By the end of the day we had an international cast of fellow travelers bound by a common destination. It is an adventurous sort that takes an interest in a state as wild as Alaska. It draws the hermits, the misfits, the societal outcasts, the independents, the free-spirits, the thrill seekers. Everyone aboard the Malaspina had a story to tell and the telling/listening exchange, paired with the intense natural drama of the setting, forged a uniquely intriguing circumstance that somehow brought everyone together.
|Sunset aboard the Malaspina|
Day 14 Alaska
Finally steering back into U.S. waters we docked at a series of Alaskan ports on our way north. After 36 hours on board we could finally escape the steel confines of the Malaspina in favor of some fresh, northern air. That night, as the sun fell over the jagged coastal mountains of Southeast Alaska, a newly forged friendship between myself and a long-haired pianist named Tommy devolved into a two-hour guitar/piano jam session.
|Somewhere along the Canadian coast aboard the ferry|
Day 15 Port
Though our time on the ocean had been quite fun, we were eager for the boat ride to be over. Under cobalt skies the Malaspina was tied up to the final port in the strikingly dramatic port of Haines, Alaska. We parted cordially with our new friends. Haines was a stark juxtaposition to the busy streets and leaping skyscrapers of Seattle. Here the roads were mostly dirt, occasionally there was a lonely car, and the cloud-cleaving heaps of concrete and steel were replaced by much more massive hunks of granite and ice.
|back on land in Haines, AK|
Day 16 The Al-Can (Episode 1)
We had made it to Alaska but still had over 800 miles of driving to go (yes, at over 663,000 square miles Alaska is bigger than Germany, France, and all portions of the United Kingdom combined). This final stage of our journey, however, was along a portion of the Alaska-Canadian Highway bisecting the Yukon Territory of Canada and skirting the immense Kluane National Park. Hidden inside this gargantuan wilderness are Canada’s two highest mountains: Mt. Logan (19,551 feet/ 5,959 meters) and Mt. St. Elias (18,008 feet/ 5,489 meters).
|My wife, Ella, soaking in the vast Yukon|
Day 17 The Al-Can (Part 2)
With the end drawing rapidly near, I was too anxious to appreciate the stunning vistas unfolding all around us. It was raining again and my spirits were dampened. We had driven almost 2,000 miles by this point. Even though it was still some of the wildest and most beautiful terrain I have ever seen, I was anxious to be done with the car and settle down in a more permanent arrangement. After an eight-hour day we arrived in Anchorage, Alaska, the first time since day one that we were seeing sights we had seen before.
|My dog, Otis, happy to be done with the car|
Day 18 Arrival
From Anchorage it was a short 2.5-hr drive south to the seaside berg of Seward, the town of 3,000 that would serve as our post for the foreseeable future. By the time we descended to final hill and the town opened before us, we were more than ready to unpack the car and stretch our legs for good. We checked in to our temporary housing (a rather rustic one-bedroom cabin) and were greeted downtown by a massive gray whale humping along the bay not thirty feet off the shore. Seward is one of the most beautiful towns I have ever seen. Though the road adventure was over, the true adventure—forging a life in this wild, rugged place—was only just beginning.
|Resurrection Bay in Seward, AK, our final destination|
Unfortunately our rather rustic cabin lacks certain amenities. Internet for one. Thus my internet “brownout” persists. The only time I can connect to the web is via short bursts at coffee shops or the library. Until we find a permanent solution to our housing, the slow atrophy of my social media presence will endure. I haven’t forgotten about any of you! And I pray that you won’t forget about me. In the meantime, I am continuing to work hard on my latest work-in-progress and read as many books as I can. But the end is near and soon I will return as a full-service blogger, reader, contributor to social media platforms across the web. Until then…
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