I last visited Lake Ozette, in the northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula, as a young teenager when my family hiked from Cape Alava to Rialto Beach—a several day back pack over headlands at high tide and across the sand and rocks and drift logs at low tide. Earlier, when I was a young child (young enough to say I was carsick on the twisting bumpy gravel road so I could move to the front seat between my parents; maybe I really was, or not), we stayed in cabins at the lake. The road is no longer gravel—and not as twisty as it seemed in the back seat—and if the cabins are still there, I didn’t see them.
I arrived at 11:30 Monday, a five-hour drive from home, and scored the best campsite in the first-come, first-served 15-site NP campground; full at day’s end. (Half price, thanks to my Senior Access Pass—pure gold.)
I set up my new tent, with a view of the lake out the back window. Put down a rug, added the heretofore-unused table that was standard equipment in my ’98 Honda CRV (it got new brakes today), and stood back and admired my little home. I wanted to stay forever. I love solo camping.
I retired my 20-year-old tent after last summer when it rained for three days and three nights and it leaked and I had to sleep in the car. I figured I deserved a new one. After much stalling, I decided to up-size. Maybe I needed a place of my own, now that my oversize house is so not mine, except on paper. Maybe I hope a grandchild might camp with me someday. Maybe I’m camping now where it’s more likely to rain and I could need cover during the day as well as at night. Maybe I’m getting older and I need more comforts, like being able to stand up. I hope to wear this one out, too.
On Tuesday, I headed off on the 3.1 mile walk to Cape Alava, followed by another 3.1 down the beach to Sand Point, then back 3 miles on another trail. The trail meanders through the coastal rainforest, where trees don’t grow the way they are supposed to, but the way they have to to survive. The primordial forest is eerie and beautiful.
Much of the walk to and from the beach is boardwalk. The old planks (probably the very ones my family trod years ago) are gradually being replaced. The rotting boards are rough, some are missing. They give way to newer, more smoothly hewn planks; and then to newer still. One section is of human-made materials. Four generations of boardwalk.
I had the woods to myself at 8am, as the sun began to tease through the clouds. The old growth forest gave way to fern and skunk cabbage swamp then coastal scrub before plunging back into forest as the cloud cover regained temporary control. The distant roar of the waves grew louder, incongruous with the deep forest.
I had timed my hike to arrive a bit before low tide, so I wouldn’t risk hitting the places where one has to go over the headlands because the high tide comes right to the cliffs and requires rappelling skills I was not going to learn now. Or ever. (There are ropes, secured by whom?) As I went around the headland, another dragon guarded a cove that would be filled with water in a few hours. Use the rope, or risk the dragon? Had there not been a burn ban, I’m sure it would have been breathing fire. As it happened, I had plenty of time; the ocean was so far out beyond the rocks I could barely see it.
I found the unmarked Makah petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks. Inland, where a five-mile hike wasn’t required to get to them, they would have been in a roped off exhibit with a museum built around them and signs pointing the way down the highway. Here they were just there, to be found and touched, or completely missed. The young couple who followed me the whole way (I kept them behind me, it comforted me to know they were there in case I twisted my ankle, which Mama warned me against) was looking for them with me. To contemplate the ancient peoples who chiseled them into the rock with bones, rocks, and antlers, well, it took my breath away. Why did they do it, if not to document the present and leave a story of the past for the future?
I was fascinated by the less ancient artifacts, that could only have washed up from a distant place. A small refrigerator door (I imagined a shipwreck), tangled nets, ugly floats in contrast to the blue glass balls in my home that were found on long-past family beach excursions.
The beauty of these wild beaches at low tide is tide pools. I could have watched the crabs going about their business for hours, the anemone opening and closing, the vivid kelp and seaweed dancing; wondering how it changes when the sea closes over it at high tide.
The trail back to camp was difficult, most of it on the old uneven boards or built-up, hard-packed gravel—like concrete. My right hip—after three hours of walking on sand and pea gravel beaches—was killing me with every step, even leaning on my trekking poles. It took longer than it should have. After Advil and a nap, I was back at my little writing table in my mansion of a tent, before wine and a campfire.
The next day I headed home across the top of the peninsula, my little road trip hitting all four corners of this geographic phenomenon in the far corner of the contiguous states. Surely it is the most amazing place on the continent.
I wish now I had stayed at the petroglyphs longer. I allowed fear of the young couple getting ahead of me dictate. Why do I give way to fear? And really it was Mama’s fear I took on. But they had my back, like I have Mama’s back—though she doesn’t accept that interdependency. Maybe it’s okay that I did what felt right at the moment, to let go of my fierce self-reliance, if but for a day. And I can go back.
My sketchy childhood memories give way to adult ones; the trees give way to what they need to do to flourish, growing horizontally to find light and space; the old boardwalk gives way to the new; the 300-year-old unprotected petroglyphs give way to forces of nature; clouds give way to sun and back again. I give way what I thought my life would be—what I want my life to be—to what I have been given.