Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Onward Through The Fog

We had no internet service in our condo in Port Townsend. One consequence of this is a certain amount of disorientation: How can I know where anything is if I can't look it up on the internet? Another is a certain amount of irritation: How can I ignore what's going on around me if I can't occupy myself with email, porn, and idle browsing? I actually read half a book, a murder mystery, and not a very good one, even though it was English.

Mostly, though, it means that I haven't had much chance to post anything here about the wunnerful time we've passed in Washington (my 48th state: look out, Alaska! Stand back, Hawaii!)

Anyway, picking up from where I left off:  We crossed over the Columbia at Longview, having decided not to drive up through the Columbia River Gorge this trip. It was a matter of time: we could see the Gorge, or we could see Mt St Helens, and the wife really really really wanted to see Mt St Helens.  As it turned out, we saw neither: Mt St Helens was completely covered in thick fog. We spent half an hour or so at the Visitors' Center 20 miles away, watching the live monitor feed from the Johnston Observatory, and decided not to bother driving an hour out there and an hour back, just to see the fog live and up close.

I blame the internet, and globalization.

So we drove instead over to Mt Rainier National Park. As we did, the fog seemed to be lifting, but we never did get a glimpse of Mt St Helens ... or Mt Rainier, which was socked in as well. We made the (terrifying) drive up to the Jackson Visitors' Center, about 5400 feet up, where it was not only so foggy that we couldn't see the building from the parking lot, it was nearly freezing. We spent about an hour warming up inside before making the (equally terrifying) drive back down, stopping to see a couple of waterfalls along the way.

I blame the internet, and globalization. 

Heading into Seattle, I finally dealt with the problem of the left front tire losing air. I found a tire shop that applied a sealant around the inside of the wheel, then slapped on a used tire that actually had better tread than the one I'd been riding on -- I'd planned to get new front tires when I got new wheels all around anyway -- for about $30. I might just buy used tires all the time from now on. It's been on the car for more than a week now, and hasn't lost any pressure.

We parked the car in the space I'd reserved for the week and took the shuttle up to Sea-Tac, where Nancy and Jeff arrived from Colorado almost on time. We decided to go with an SUV instead of the "full-sized" Impala they had reserved for us, and though it caused about an hour's delay, it was a good thing we waited. We would never have gotten all our stuff in an Impala. We had a Tahoe, stuffed to bursting.

It was dark by the time we got to our condo, way up on the northeastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The first thing we discovered about it was that there was no internet access in the unit; we had to go either up to the office, about 150 yards away, or to the Clubhouse, two blocks away. The office was only open during the day, when we were usually away, and the Clubhouse closed at 9 and they turned off the router. That, and the faint aroma of a paper mill up the beach, were the only down-sides to our stay.

The town's big annual celebration is the Wooden Boat Festival, which happened to start the day we arrived. Other than making it difficult to park in the middle of this little town, and filling all the restaurants and sidewalks with boat people, the festival didn't much impinge on our stay. We might have been interested in whatever the festival offered -- the others all have some sailing experience; and I managed to find a day's worth of interest at the Farm Technology fair, so I reckon boats would keep my interest for a few hours -- but the $20 entrance fee was too much for any of us to think it'd be worth that for a visit. So we passed on it. We did, though, prowl through the obligatory crafts booths set up outside, finding nothing much of interest. I used to really enjoy browsing in the street markets set up near every event, however esoteric, but these days it seems like there is little novelty in them. Every vendor has the same handmade (and generally overpriced) stuff for sale, or nearly so; mostly well-done, solid, professional. But the sightings of exquisite craftsmanship are so rare these days that the time spent in the hunt is wasted. It must have been like this for the Plains Indians, when buffalo became so rare, though on a much more fundamental level, of course.

I blame the internet and globalization.

Other than the wooden boat festival, "Port T" offers few attractions of its own, and we saw them in a day. The Art Deco Lighting Museum was interesting, if monothematic, but far more interesting were the posters, signs and displays ranting about the traffic engineering recently done by the city out front of the building. Seems they put in a traffic circle, which makes the shop containing the museum difficult to get to, and which took part of the shop's land, formerly used for landscaping, leading the city to require that more land be devoted to landscaping. It's hard to disagree with the shop-owner's point of view, given that the cross-street at this intersection is half a block long on one side, and a whole block long on the other. And both are dead ends. Makes a traffic circle seem more aesthetic than functional, and this is not what we want from our cities. Municipal aesthetic sensibilities are fine where public funds must be spent, but insufficient of themselves to warrant the expenditure of public funds.

The other main attractions of the town are a staircase that ends at a fountain left over from the Mexican Pavilion at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and a handful of nothing-really-special Victorian houses. (Were it not for our present national fixation with preserving everything older than our little sister, these might be worth looking at; but since everything that survives a few decades in this country gets a brass plaque mounted on it, these houses are just like the ones you can see in every town founded before World War I. Nice, but hardly unusual. I blame the internet, and globalization.) Just outside the town is Fort Worden, one of the forts that once guarded the entrance to Puget Sound, back when Canada represented an existential threat. It is now, of course, restored and preserved like every spot where two sticks remain of a former outpost of civilization from  The Olden Days. This one, fortunately, is finding a new raison d'ĂȘtre, hosting various local institutions like the Madrona MindBody Institute (if the name itself, with its too-cute punctuation, weren't enough to start the eyes rolling, there's the sign in the front door warning that it is "a fragrance and scent-free facility") and a woodworking school. A few public offices fill the restored buildings, and the post theater is now in use again.  At the farthest end of the post is a disused lighthouse.

The only innately interesting thing about Fort Worden is the odd building known as Alexander's Castle, which was intended as a home for the rector of a local church. He built it (years before Fort Worden was established) to share with his bride, but when he went back to Scotland to marry, he found she had tired of waiting, or of him, and hooked up with some other dude. The Army bought the building from him and used it as a cistern, a lookout post, a residence, and a tailor shop. This was back when government spent money for non-aesthetic reasons.

Oh, and one other interesting thing about Fort Worden was this sign, which means nothing to me.

Having done Port T, we went on a Cider Quest, hitting three of the local cider houses: Wildfire, Eaglemount, and Finnriver. The first is a venture by a smokejumper and his wife, and it's new enough that there's a sort of casual cheeriness about the whole thing. They had good stuff, too, and we had a hard time narrowing our choices down to just two bottles.

The lady who runs Eaglemount was the first to get into the cider business in the area, and they have some fine products too, but she was so flustered by the comings and goings in her tasting room that the overall experience was, sadly, less than completely enjoyable.

Finnriver is a brand-new operation run by a husband whose family has been farming the area for generations, and his English-teacher wife, who is so enthralled by the whole sustainable-farming thing that she makes a charming and enchanting tour guide, even if the cider isn't really to my liking. (Actually, I wasn't really all that thrilled with any of the ciders; just as I'd prefer a glass of water to a glass of wine, I'd rather have apple juice than cider.)

Desperation Pass
On Monday we rode the ferry over to Orcas Island, in the San Juans. This involved two ferry trips: first from Port Townsend to Keystone Harbor, then, after a drive up Whidby Island and across Desperation Pass, a second, longer ferry ride from Anacortas to the town of Orcas (with one intermediate stop).

The high point (literally) of Orcas Island is Mount Constitution, which boasts broad views of the islands and Canada and Mount Rainier and everything in between. This, though, wasn't the day for that. Here, for example, is the view of Mount Rainier:
(On the trip back to Anacortas, we did actually get to see Mount Rainier in the distance. That turned out to be the only time we saw it the entire week we were there.) Well, despite the fog up on the mountain, it was clear enough at lower elevations to enable us to appreciate the beauty of the islands.

The ferry going back to Anacortas was running late, about 30 minutes, and because of that we missed the reservation we'd made for the 7:15 ferry from Keystone to Port Townsend. I blame the internet, and globalization. We also learned, to our sadness, that there were no restaurants within 20 miles of the ferry dock that we could get a meal at, and still make the 9:00 ferry, the last of the night. Fortunately, we had brought a few apples with us (it was Washington, after all), so we didn't get grouchy while we waited for an hour and a half.

The rental truck we were driving had Satellite Radio in it. I was under the impression that you could get reception for that just about anywhere a satellite is within range, i.e., anywhere. I have one friend in San Antonio who has satellite radio in his home, and it is always fading in and out in a very irritating way; I don't know how he stands it. He says the antenna needs adjusting. But the same thing happens with the car radio: you're driving along, listening to some stand-up comic or 60s music or whatever, and all of a sudden there's silence, maybe for a split second, maybe for a minute. I can't believe people actually pay for that. But then, I can't believe people actually pay for a lot of things.

Next post: Olympic National Park.