The Evergreen State
No matter what happens. No matter where life takes me. The Pacific Northwest will forever be my home.
I originally sat down to plan my farewell trip, which I did in July 2021. I intended to spend about a month roaming around the PNW. I wanted to go places I had never been to before. Such as the San Juan Islands, Lake Owyhee, or the Sawtooth Mountains. I figured that I much rather spend my last days in the US exploring the area I've dreamt about living in for over a decade.
That makes sense, right?
Throughout the process of building my own camper, I shared my plans with a few folks like Molly Quan (aka Fartstorm), Doug Higley, Sukho, Evan, and more. They all suggested I expand my radius and seek adventures as far as the Rockies.
So I did.
The updated itinerary included Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. States that I've read about during my early teenage years.
This indeed was the trip of a lifetime.
Now as much as I like riding my bike, I planned for days where I explored these states on foot as well.
I had certain spots I needed to visit in every state. However, I left a lot of room for "on-the-go" planning, per Doug's advice.
And Doug was right.
As cliche as it might sound, I felt like I was a free spirit
I'm no stranger to Washington. I visited the state often. Whether driving up to Seattle for the weekend or even biking across the Colombia river with Mike Spitzer to ride around the area and up to Yacolt.
Oh, or that one time I rode across the whole state with some of the best people I met in my life.
Even though it sits across the Columbia River, something is different about that place. Some might say it's the terrible drivers & sales tax. But I would argue that it is close to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Those who live in Portland/Vancouver area they're just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the magical land of the Gifford Pinchot.
Starting with Washington made more sense to me. As I said, I'm familiar with it, and I already knew where my first stop would be.
Before this trip, I'd never made it to Hoh Rainforest, and I heard so much about it from friends. Hoh Rainforest always piqued my interest as the quietest place in the United States. So I wanted to check that out for myself and feel the spirit of the forest.
Packed and ready to hit the road, my actual first stop was to meet up with the talented Pat Daly for a cup of coffee and a morning chat. Pat is hands down one of the most talented photographers I know, and I'm proud to call him a friend.
The journey to Hoh Rainforest from Portland is quite long. It is nestled in the heart of the Olympic Mountains, almost isolated in its own right. The drive, however, was not lacking at all. No matter what way you take up to the Rainforest, you'll have so much to ponder on along the way.
Time flies when I zone out to the Fruit Bats, The Shins, and The Verns playing on Spotify.
By the time I got to the Rainforest, it was already mid-day. Throughout the Pandemic, National Forests saw an unprecedented influx of visitors across the nation. That meant you either h d to have a reservation (which was impossible to get anyway) or wait in line. After an hour-long wait, I finally made it to the visitor center!
I didn't have much time to spend there since Sukho and DKlien were on their way north to Port Angeles. However, that didn't bother me at all. Hiking around the Hall of Moss in the Rainforest was like traversing into a dimension thousands of years ago.
Because it's true.
The Rainforest remained intact, representing eons of untouched and unchanged nature. Truly a must-see destination.
I love the feeling I get when surrounded by giant trees, crystal clear creeks, and moss-covered dilapidated trees. I could easily spend hours upon hours wandering around that short trail loop.
Hoh Rainforest checked off the list!
Hart O' The Hills Campground
After Sukho, Dustin and I road up to Obstruction Point, which was a day filled with action. From wrapping a handlebar tape on Sukho's new-to-him custom steel bike to riding up a giant mountain to a bike crash.
It's safe to say that it was an eventful day.
We lucked out to find a spot at the magical campground of Hart O' The Hills.
That post-ride hang-out at the campsite was one of the best nights I've had. We went over what happened and what we saw that day, talking about food and future ventures.
You'd be lucky to have camp buddies as great as these two.
Even though we had good legs the following day, we opted out of riding up to hurricane ridge again in the AM to avoid any traffic or deer in that matter...
Instead, we hiked around camp, shaking off the sleep aches, and getting lost in the woods.
The Northern Cascades Highway
Packed up and ready to leave the Port Angeles area. I hugged the homies goodbye, and we parted ways from there.
As excited as I was to move to the next destination, I missed these two. Even though I knew that I would see them at the end of July, I could never repay them for how great friends they are!
The drive from Port Angeles to Winthrop is long! So I chose to go through Bainbridge Island and take the ferry across the Sound. Not only was it faster than driving down to Tacoma and up to Seattle; its simply more fun. I'll probably never get bored of riding the ferry between the islands. It's something that's f reigns to me growing up in Kuwait.
I kept my time to a minimum in the Seattle area. As soon as we docked, I got coffee from the one and only Elm Coffee. I restocked groceries from the trusty Trader Joe and got my bag of Dicks! (Drive-in). I kept my time in Seattle at a minimum. Those who've been stuck in traffic on the 5 know what I'm talking about...
The less time I spend in Seattle, the more time I get in the Northern Cascades.
A great stop on the way across the North Cascade Highway is the Gorge Powerhouse along the Skagit River, an engineering marvel from the 1920s. The self-guided tour across the hanging bridge is worthy of stretching your legs after the long drive from Port Angeles.
I'm fascinated by historic buildings, let alone ones still in use to this day. This powerhouse is almost 99 years old! In its heyday, it accounted for 20% of Seattle's electric needs.
The Northern Cascade Highway is jam-packed with countless destinations, trails, and things to do. A lifetime isn't even enough to experience some of its offerings to the world. One of the go-to destinations happens to be an unavoidable one. The highway hugs and borders the magnificent Diablo Lake and its emerald waters. Glacial peaks surround the area adding to its wonderous essence.
To think that a place like that exists is beyond what I can't fathom. I was there. I stood at the edge, looking at it all, yet still couldn't believe whether its all real or just a passing dream.
There's no lack of views over there.
Over the years I lived in the PNW, I would pinch myself every once in a while to make sure I was actually there, and not a dream. No joke. Imagine dreaming of something for over a decade, and then it happens!
That is how I felt every day I lived in the PNW.
The drive across Northern Cascade Highway alone is worth traveling to and seeing it yourself. The views get better by the mile as you head east, and you gain elevation. Finally, the road climaxes at the highest point of Washington Pass, both in height and views.
As I was getting closer to the pass, the sky slowly changed color, from this beautiful blue sky to a mix of red and wildfire smoke.
Look at the photo above to get an idea of how strong the wind was that day. As a matter of fact, it was so strong that it pushed you around if you were not grounding your feet as you walked.
By the time I made it to the bottom of the pass, I saw a bunch of firefighters guiding the rest of the traffic towards Mazama and Winthrop. Apparently, as soon as I entered the highway from the western gate, the rangers shut it down because I wasn't aware of the fire. Thank goodness I wasn't asked to turn around by the rangers earlier. Otherwise, that would've complicated things. I would've had to come up with a plan to get to Mazama as soon as possible.
I've been planning my trip up to Mazama for a few years. I first made it up there to ride with Ron and Dustin at the OMTM x Rapha Tripple Crown. But If you had read my post about that, you know I had to bail on riding the next day.
Wildfires are necessary for nature, but for them to start that early in the season is quite sad and scary at the same time. A record-breaking dry July meant that the rest of the year would be a struggle.
I got through Mazama and found a camp on some BLM land for the night. The wind was still rampant, but I took shelter behind my truck, made a quick meal, and spent the rest of the night reading a book given to me by Chris Distefano.
I'm reminded of the wildfire that could prevent me from riding up to Slate Peak the following day with every wind gust.
Yet another eventful day.
Thankfully, by the morning time, the wind calmed down a bit. I didn't think that it would, but I got woken up by a tree that fell right next to my truck that morning.
Still better than the alarm ringing my ears off...
Eastern Cascades Peaks and Foothills
I fell in love with the Eastern Cascades of Washington in 2019, when I first ventured out there. So passing by here on my trip was a no-brainer. However, there were some problems that I didn't account for, and no one could've anyway. The summer of 2021 was relatively dry and extremely hot. The heatwaves in June were grim enough to keep us on our toes for the rest of the summer.
Regardless of that, I made the best of it.
After leaving Winthrop, I ventured down alongside the Columbia River to Leavenworth through Wenatchee. The thermometer read 104F/40C degrees when I rolled into town. Burnt out by the traffic and heat, I ran for the hills, specifically towards the Enchantments. My original plan was to hike up to Colchuk Lake and Asgard Pass the following day. But judging by how packed the road up to the trailhead was, that wasn't gonna be possible or enjoyable at the very least.
It was naive of me to think that the area wasn't going to be overrun by tourists and hikers, especially after the 4th of July break. So I fell back on plan B, which was to ride up to Chumstic Mountain and back through the Fruit Valley.
By day 5 of the trip, I reached a calm state that I never thought I would, or know of, for that matter. While sitting by the Wenatchee River, reading my book, it dawned on me that I was relaxed as if the world had never been so peaceful before. To reach a state where I was at peace with myself, regardless of the weight on my shoulders, was a moment of growth.
A tangible one.
The needles of the Evergreen offer the acoustic charm of psithurism, the sound of rustling leaves, and a breeze that washes over your soul, body, and mind.
I get goosebumps whenever I relive that memory.
That was very intriguing for many reasons. Without oversharing with y'all, 2021 arguably was the most challenging year for me so far. I was going through it that summer. To summarize my feelings that year, they were a mix of sorrow, fear, gratitude, appreciation, and contentment.
With every day that passed, I lived through all of those feelings. I lived every second of it with every place I visited, and it waved goodbye, as I most likely won't ever see again.
Imagine the feeling of seeing the end of an era approaching fast, and there's nothing you could do about it but let it end. Imagine you being the only person that knew this, the weight of carrying that on my shoulders, and holding a smile when your best friends tell you "see you tomorrow" knowing that the day when they won't be seeing me again is just around the corner?
I was shattered to a million pieces, yet trying to keep it on the inside, just so I don't see any of my friends hurting by the secrets I held back.
However, day by day on that trip, I gathered those pieces together, piece by piece. With every sunrise and sunset, I healed more.
I was excited for what was to come with every day that came, regardless of that deadline looming over me.
This trip indeed was the trip of a lifetime. I saw many places I dreamt of for over a decade since I was a kid. I met a lot of amazing people. I saw many moving sunrises and sunsets. I shared meals with random strangers that became friends. And I learned to sit there by myself, at peace, with no worry in the world.
Over the next few weeks, I'll share the rest of the trip with you. Trust me, you don't want to miss what is yet to come!