Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cape Flattery, the end of Part I

I was not prepared for the end.

I had passed from San Francisco Bay, thru the eucalyptus of the headlands and the fir of Point Reyes, to the oak woodlands of the Sonoma Valley, along the Eel River to the redwood parks. And then, Oregon, and the crest trail to Crater Lake, forest service roads to the Willamette Valley, Eugene, Corvallis, Portland, and another river, the Columbia. Mt. St Helens, Mt. Rainier, Olympia, Olympics, the straight of Juan de Fuca, and that was it.
At dusk on October 7th, I crested a hill from the south side of Clallam Bay. It was sometime just before 7 PM, and the sky had gone purple. The water of the straight quietly lapped in the most modest of waves, more like a lakeshore than a part of the raging Pacific, and across the water, in a fading band of green, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Was this the end now? Could I say I had done what I set out to do? Yes, I could, and I had. But no, it was not yet done. As I had walked the destination I gave people had been refined from the great to the specific. When I was first stopped and asked where I was going and what I was doing, I had barely even begun the trip. It was on Stage Coach Rd, Duarte’s Tavern still in sight. Two old ladies in too bright clothing and too big sunglasses listened patiently as I told them I was walking to the Olympic Peninsula, and they said “Where’s that?” It was an encouraging response. (I would feel a similar thrill when people would react the same way when I told where I had started)
I modified my answers. At San Francisco I had simply said ‘North,’ by the redwoods I said ‘Washington,’ at Eugene ‘the Olympic Peninsula,’ and now, on the peninsula, I had settled at Cape Flattery, the western-most tip. From Clallam Bay I could make the walk in two days, so I went into town to ask where I might camp out and was pleasantly answered with an invitation to be a guest at the house of a woman in town. The plan was modified, slightly, and I stayed instead at the house of her daughter and her son-in-law, across the road from her.
The weather worsened the next day, and the day after, so that by the time I left I had spent two full days in Clallam Bay before the weather cleared and I could walk again. They all of them invited me to stay with them again on the way back, which I would. It had been a very pleasant time spent, going for walks at the straight during the short spells when the weather cleared, collecting beach glass, throwing sticks for their dog to chase.
This last walk I followed the beach for much of the way. There, at the northern edge of the peninsula, the beaches are flat and brief and littered with stones and kelp. Walking along them means staying close to the trees since tides can be extreme and sections of mud treacherous. But soon, too, I had come to the Makah reservation, camped a night, and then walked to the town of Neah Bay and out, up some small hills, and over, till I heard once more the roar of the Pacific. One, last grove of cedars, and there it was.
There is a parking lot, and then a trail, and at the end of that an observation deck, on the cape, the most Northwest point of the contiguous states. This last knuckle on a fist of land, the cape juts out over water and drops to fluted sea caves and howling waves, barnacles, oyster catchers, limpets, puffins, sea lions, and medusa kelp fronds that roll with the swells. I saw all this from this last measure of land, the cornice of a continent rising.
I leaned on the edge of the railing while a couple of elderly bird watchers mounted the stairs to join me, looking out at Tatoosh island. Even if they were not there, I would not have reacted differently. I was done with shouting. I did not feel the need. All I wanted then, at journey’s end, was to sit quietly for awhile. And so I did. Then, when I was ready, I started back.
In the parking lot, I dropped my pack, put down my walking sticks, and sat myself on the pavement. Now, the first chapter of my journey, had ended. I had fulfilled the guidelines of the experiment, of which there had been two for this portion.

1. To never ride in any motorized vehicle.
2. To accept what I am offered with gratitude.

And I had refined my ending till there was nothing more to whittle off. There was nowhere else to walk to. Now was the uncertainty of a new journey before me. Am I to go east? To the Atlantic? To Maine? To Florida? Or Canada? Or south again home? And how long will that take? What if I reach my thirties and still I walk? Or forties? Would that still be alright? Even if it were alone? Even if my most intense experiences are unshared? Even if I am not sure they ever were?
Around me, more cars had come, and the passengers went about, indifferent to my quiet existential crisis.
I sat there a long time, leaving only when the daylight hastened out and I could not stay crouched on the tar. The last cars left the cape, and I put on my pack and walked.

Three days later I was in Port Angeles, where I bought a ferry ticket for Victoria, British Columbia, and then another from there to Seattle, where I will pass the winter. There is much to think about, and figure, for what will come with the spring.