Updated: Feb 10, 2021
The broad horn of the Olympic Peninsula juts into the Pacific Ocean and snags as much water from the sea and sky as it can handle. When the inevitable rain falls, deep forests drink it down and the air itself nearly becomes water. Pulverizing waves beat against the jagged teeth of the Pacific Northwest and chip away at the continent itself. I had the impression that trees were the dominant lifeform. For the last two winters, I have been called to that part of the country.
The rugged coastline, temperate rainforest, swollen rivers, and verdant crags are coated in a strange blue light and thin mist. This left an otherworldly impression on me. After I hitchhiked the peninsula in January of 2020, I resolved to return. Despite torrential rain, washed-out roads, covid-19 induced ghost towns, bone-chilling nights, and having a bad haircut, I made the trip again.
The Olympic wilderness is hemmed in by the major cities of Washington on its eastern border, but heading west means being quickly swallowed by yawning forests and mountains. On my first trip to the peninsula, I spoke with someone who was born and raised in Neah Bay, the farthest North-West town in the lower 48 states. I told him that I felt like I was at the end world, and he replied, "For us, it's the beginning."
My experience was split into two distinct settings: the rainforest and the coast.
The Olympic Wilderness is a rainforest by all definitions. It receives an annual 140in of rain, which is monstrous when compared to the average 30in rainfall of the United States. The mountains trap the abundant mist of the Pacific, and that hoarded moisture pours down on the land that lies between the sea and the stone.
The Hoh Rainforest is the bell of the ball, it was recommended to me by every single person I meet on my way into the woods.
The coast is a constant, beautiful, and battered character on the peninsula. This is where the highway ends or begins depending on who you talk to. The southern coastline is made up of accessible beaches, but the farther north you go, the more rugged it gets. Pacific Beach is a sleepy resort town that looks like it was yanked from New England and dropped off thousands of miles away. Ruby Beach is where the stone starts to take over, and it is easily accessible from Highway 1. Cape Flattery, the very tip of the peninsula is where rock meets water and that is a more violent relationship.