4th July Weekend (Sans Fireworks)
Independence Day: a federal holiday celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence from the UK 237 years ago. It’s a huge deal in the US, with firework displays in every town and city, patriotic songs warbled by voices bearing too much vibrato and, rather awkwardly, the odd confederate flag fluttering here and there.
We decided to give all that pomp and circumstance a miss, however, and go camping. So at 8am on Fourth of July, with the car loaded to the brim with rucksacks, tents, sleeping bag and an unnecessary air mattress for the posher camper (not me), we set off for the Olympic Peninsula and my first venture into Washington State.
Our first stop was to be the Hoh Rainforest, situated in the Olympic National Park, a five hour drive from Portland. This is one of the largest rainforests in the US and runs along the Hoh River, which was sculpted by glaciers thousands of years ago. We started hiking at 2pm, and trekked along the Hoh River Trail for around three miles before turning back for the car.
We had completed a sixth of the full 18 mile hike to get to the glacier, where visitors camp overnight before walking back. The river is stunning, running milky blue and forcing its way roughly through and around trees that have long before fallen across the water.
If you are reading this and you are a die-hard Twilight fan, you will of course know that we would have to drive through Forks, the city used in Meyer’s horrible novels and their equally revolting film adaptations, to get to our destination. However much one dislikes this particular franchise, though, there is something satisfying about chuckling at every shop name (“Twilight Haircuts”, “Twilight Supermarket”, “Twilight Lighting” – you get the point) and having a picture under the famous sign to post on Facebook with a sarcy caption…
That afternoon we arrived at the Shi Shi Trail, a two-mile route that would bring us to one of the top ten ranked beaches on our planet. Shi Shi Beach is absolutely stunning; there is simply no other word for it. Driftwood lines the volcanic sand left by the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, rocks jut out of the sea at either end, hosting their own vegetation and smoke from the camp fires drifts up through the trees sitting on the steeply sloping bank.
With our tents up, sleeping bags unrolled and fire lit (with a magnesium strip and flint, I might add), we settled down with s’mores and the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. The sun looked huge as it sunk through the clouds and sat on the ocean’s surface; the whole scene was indistinguishable from an oil painting.
With the aid of ear plugs, I slept well that night. Nearly ten hours in fact. I felt so good in the morning that I did something I haven’t done in many years: went for a five mile run on the beach. The air was so clean and invigorating that it would have been a waste not to.
We hiked back to the car and after scoffing some strawberry cream cheese bagels (that’s right, strawberry cream cheese. ‘Murica) we set off once more for Cape Flattery, the most northwesterly point in America save Alaska.
Everywhere I’ve seen in the US so far has been obscenely picturesque, and if you look past the fact that Joaquin is trying to throw me from the precipice, you’ll see that nothing makes for better scenery than bright blue water, a lovely sky and a lighthouse sitting on a quaint little island.
Another two hour drive and a camp set up at Klahowya later, and we arrived at Sol Duc, the suspiciously Vietnamese-sounding name for a collection of trails, waterfalls and the 78-mile river stemming from the Olympic Mountains. We hiked here for nearly three hours until close to darkness, making time for daring but beautiful photo opportunities and drinking from the mountain springs.
When it reached 9pm, we made the short drive back to our campsite and bedded down for the night.
It would turn out to be the most uncomfortable night’s sleep of my life to date. I hadn’t brought a sleeping mat with me; in hindsight a mistake, considering the number of pine cones scattering the forest floor. By 7.30am we were up and about to make the long car journey back to Portland.
Along the way, we had one more place to visit: Lake Crescent, which has water as clear as the Caribbean Sea and a landscape as luscious and green as anywhere I’ve seen. We swam that day, not only because it looked so appealing, but because we hadn’t showered in three days and wanted the car to smell a little less like humanity
The weekend was amazing fun, and the lack of fireworks didn’t bother me at all. Why would it when you have a sunset like that to look at?