Mountains and Forests and Beaches, Oh My

There were a lot of events going on in Seattle last Saturday: the presentation of the Locus Awards (congrats, winners!). The Seattle Solstice Parade (which I took part in last year). My bi-weekly writing group. Throw in other interesting-sounding events like the Seattle Iranian-American festival and there was simply going to be no way to do everything I wanted to do.

Sometimes, the only way to win is not to play.

So instead of picking between various events in Seattle, I went on a road trip. I hadn’t been a good road trip since September of last year, and besides, I had a long weekend coming thanks to my night-to-day shift change at work. So on Thursday I packed up clothes, hiking gear, and camera, and caught the ferry, heading to Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Peninsula.

The Olympic Peninsula, for those of you unfamiliar with Washington state geography, is the huge chunk of land between Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. It’s surprisingly remote, despite its size and proximity to Seattle. The Olympic Mountains take up the vast majority of the interior, and pretty much prevent travel through the middle of the peninsula– except for forest service roads, all the roads circle the perimeter.

When I set out, I didn’t have a specific plan in mind. There were a couple famous spots I wanted to see, but other than that, my plan was how my travel plans usually go: get there, explore, and see what there is to see.

My plan paid off almost right away, when I happened upon Dungeness, home to a rather stunning spit of land that juts out five and a half miles from the coast, steep oceanside bluffs, and some spectacular ocean views:

I spent the night at a little motel in the town of Port Angeles, and then on Friday headed into the mountains. Deep in the Olympics, almost twenty miles away from the highway turnoff along a winding, uphill road, lies the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, at 5,242 feet. It’s high enough that my ears popped plenty of times on the way up from sea level, but still well below the tallest mountains, which top out near 8,000 feet and are covered in snow 12 months a year. Even at the Visitor Center, there was still plenty of snow around the parking lot.

Walking along a short path and cresting the ridge, you could look north, all the way across the Salish Sea to Victoria, Canada, and even further, to the San Juan Islands and the British Columbia coast range many miles beyond.

Here’s a panorama of the view south from the Visitors Center (click for much larger):

Afterward, I headed all the back down out of the mountains and continued my loop around the perimeter of the peninsula. The whole area is rainy, especially the west side, which gets 140+ inches of rain a year. But even the dry side of the peninsula is still wet and lush, and all around the base and valleys of the mountains is dense, green rainforest. At the Sol Duc River, I stopped and hiked about a mile in to see Sol Duc Falls.

Afterward, I headed back out of the rainforest and drove all the way out to Cape Flattery, which is the Northwestern tip of the continental United States. Once again, utterly spectacular, albeit in a totally different way.

There’s a lot of Native American history on the peninsula as well, and several reservations, including the Makah Reservation, which consists of about forty square miles around Cape Flattery. The major town on the reservation is Neah Bay, and there’s a really good cultural museum there, although it was too late in the day to pay a visit. But I wish I had. There’s a tremendous amount of history on the peninsula, but unfortunately it’s easily lost in the current day poverty. Neah Bay was one of the most impoverished places I’ve ever seen, and the signs placed every hundred feet along the road saying things like “Meth equals Death” and “Drugs are not the Makah way” suggested that there are a lot of modern-day struggles that threaten to destroy a proud and ancient culture. It did, indeed, make me sad, although it also made me want to come back and learn more.

Here’s a panorama of Cape Flattery, and the view from the far Northwestern corner of the continental U.S:

I spent the night in a little motel along the north shore road, and on Saturday woke to a dreary, misty day. My plan had to do some beach hiking on the Pacific Coast, but the dramatic sea stacks that line the coast were barely visible in the mist, and the wind was fierce. Plus, the water was too high to see any of the area’s famous tidal pools (starfish and other such critters are apparently a common sight, when the tides are right). Alas, because of the weather, I didn’t stay long.

Instead I drove through the town of Forks. The town’s biggest claim to fame these days it that it’s where the Twilight books/movies take place, and it’s exploited that to boost its tourism industry, although it’s really too isolated to take great advantage of it. It’s a five-hour drive from Seattle, and the fact that it’s gained fame through a book series doesn’t change the fact that it’s a rainy, dreary place.

Clearly not all the residents feel the Twilight love, as seen in the window of one particular trailer:

Stopping at Forks just long enough for lunch, I made my way further south to the Hoh Rainforest, which is probably the rainiest place in Washington state (that’s saying a lot) at almost 150 inches of rain a year. It’s in a valley on the western side of the mountains, where all the Pacific weather gets trapped, and the result is a lot of rain, and an incredibly dense forest. There’s not a square inch of ground that doesn’t have something growing on it, and the air is so rich with nutrients and moisture that certain mosses are able to subsist directly off the air. In the second picture below, there are Hemlock trees that have grown so dense that they’ve actually fused together.

After about an hour hiking through the rainforest, I headed back out to the beach to see how things looked at low tide, but still didn’t have much luck. Not surprisingly, the coast was as rainy and windy as ever.

I had been planning to stay on the peninsula one more night and head back, but it was early. Thanks to the poor conditions on the beach, I hadn’t stayed long, so I headed back to Seattle early. I definitely want to come back, though. There’s all sorts of cool day hikes and multi-day hikes out there, and I want to give the beaches another shot later in the summer.

For those interested, here’s the full photo set from the trip.

Now I’m back in Seattle, back at work (on the day shift now, yay!), and shifting gears to focus on the Clarion West Write-a-thon. Life goes on, but pictures remain… and, I hope, hint at more adventures to come.

The Clarion West Write-a-thon, Year 2: Now with Rewards!

That is, Year 2 of me participating in it. Not Year 2 of the Write-a-thon. It’s been going on for a quite a bit longer than that.

Clarion West is a six-week intensive writing workshop for people who want to write science fiction and fantasy professionally. Each week a different established pro comes in and teaches the workshop; the most well-known author this year is George R. R. Martin. It’s also very difficult to get into, and very expensive to attend.

For those of who can’t attend due to personal or financial reasons (both of which apply to me this year), there’s the Clarion West Write-a-thon. The Write-a-thon is a chance to spend six weeks essentially writing along with the workshop, pursuing our own writing goals, as well as raising money to help offset the cost of the workshop and fund a scholarship or two.

Clarion West in Seattle, and its sister workshop, Clarion, in San Diego, count among their graduates some of the top writers in the field. They play a big role in the encouragement and development of new writers, as well as helping foster an awesome community among science fiction fans, writers, and readers in general. So if you want to support good science fiction and fantasy, and look forward to seeing what authors arise over the next ten and twenty, please consider checking out my Writer’s Page and donating.

My goal will be to write at least one chapter from my novel, or one short story, each week for the six weeks of the Write-a-thon, stretching from June 17 to July 27. The novel I’ll be working on is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel– it’s sort of a mix of The Wizard of Oz and The Road. The working title is Ravensong.

Why donate? Well, in addition to helping a good cause, and the general feelings of goodwill you’ll receive, I’ve also decided to offer a couple of more tangible rewards:

-I’m going to need plenty of background characters to populate the world of Ravensong, so for everyone who donates at least $5, I’ll add your name (or a name of your choosing) to a list of names for use with background characters in my novel.

-For everyone who donates at least $20, I will, if you wish, kill off your character on-screen. (Just in case, I’m limiting this one to three. I’m not writing a slasher fic. But if there turns out to be a surprisingly strong response to this, I’ll think of something else to throw in, too.)

Just specify the name of the character (and a brief description if you want– I’ll try to hold to it, but no promises) in the “Special Instructions to Seller” field when you donate via Paypal, or shoot me an e-mail. If you don’t specify a name, I’ll use the name listed with your donation.

I’m hoping this won’t end in me having a book full of characters from an MST3K sketch, but I shall leave that decision in your hands, dear readers.

Here’s my Clarion West Writer’s Page. Also, if any other writers want to sign up and participate, it’s not too late! Sign up here. If 200 writers sign up, they get an automatic $2000 donation. After June 16, it’ll be too late to sign up, but you can donate at any time during the Write-a-thon.

Random Notes on my Birthday

I turned 31 today. I celebrated by working a graveyard shift, sleeping through the day, and then going back to work again. Wheee.

But in better news, June 13 will be my last night working the graveyard shift. After the 13th, I’ll be on a regular 8-5, 5 day a week schedule. I’m hoping this will improve my energy level, my overall mental sanity, and even my writing output, by letting me establish more of a daily routine. As it stands right now, I’m swinging back and forth between a day and a night schedule, which sometimes feels like having chronic jet lag.

It’s been an interesting experience, but I’m ready to get back to normal hours.

In other news, I got to go to Philadelphia on a business trip last week. I had never been to the City of Brotherly Love before, and I have to say, I was impressed. There were a huge number of grand colonial-style buildings (not least of which is City Hall), which gave the city a similar feel to a European capital. I hope I get the chance to go back and explore some more.

Just as we were wrapping up our trip, the Philadelphia Comic Con was shifting into high gear at the Convention Center a block from our hotel. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to stop in and check it out before we left. Instead, we went to see the Liberty Bell, but were thwarted by a Disneyland-esque line (bottom photo, right). But I did get a picture of it through the window.

Various random things that have been going on in the writing world:

-My story Armageddon’s Jester got listed by Jersey Devil Press as one of their favorite stories in 2011.

-My friend Folly Blaine narrated a story for Every Day Fiction that got nominated for a Parsec Award.

-Mark Andrew Edwards, fearless leader of the Cloud City Wordslingers (aka my writing group), had a new story posted at the Mad Scientists’ Journal a couple of weeks ago called Therium 99. It’s one of the funniest stories I’ve read in a while.

And that’s about it for now. 9 more days until I’m off the night shift, woo hoo!