“I, too, drive a Subaru.”
That this is not Subaru’s tagline strikes me as egregious.
It’s 1:38 p.m. Saturday, March 7, 2020. Kalaloch Lodge, Washington. The sun has come out and it’s turned the ocean foam bright white. In the last hour I’ve watched three Subarus pull in. And one Tesla. I am in Cabin 1. Suki is snoring on the futon. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her so content. She rests her head on the arm of the futon and can almost press her nose against a window that looks west over the Pacific. I swear she’s watching for whales, but she might tell you otherwise. Maybe she just saw a squirrel or something.
I dropped off Elisabeth at SeaTac at 6:30 this morning. I continued south, I passed Tacoma, I stopped in Olympia for coffee, and then I headed east on Washington 8 and then Washington 12 and then through what I can confidently say are some of the weirdest spots in America, some with names as weird as their appearance, like Humptulips. Saw a field full of elk, and that made me very happy. Saw a strange, mysterious, ominous, awesome barn-type building with a cryptic name (OLYMPIC VIEW GRANGE 774); I stopped and photographed it from many angles with three different cameras. An old guy taking out his trash looked at me like I was completely crazy. Fair enough.
The Olympic Peninsula is full of weird spots to take pictures. It’s full of weird spots, period. It’s full of weird, period. There’s something dark about it. We stopped at a pullout along some random river so Suki could get out and stretch her legs. There was a syringe in the weeds by the river, not far from a wealth of convenience store detritus: crushed energy drink cans, crushed king cans of malt liquor. This was somewhere near Aberdeen. I resisted the urge to play Nirvana.
When I got to Kalaloch, the woman working the desk told me to skip the crowds at Ruby Beach and head for a pullout 1/8 mile north of Kalaloch Campground. She said you can walk north to Ruby from there. You can sneak up on the crowds, see the sea stacks, and get out of there before running into the hordes. She also said this is the wrong time of year for any of that.
So that’s exactly what we’ll do now.
Backpack contents: one large bottle, IPA. One camera, film. One camera, digital.
Ten after eight. I’ve been back in the cabin for maybe an hour, reading and drinking beer from a small cocktail glass. Suki sleeps on the futon, covered in her goofy fleece blanket. She’s an exhausted beast who may or may not have sleep apnea. Can dogs have sleep apnea? She played fetch all day in the ocean, retrieving heavy pieces of driftwood from tide pools. As we were leaving Ruby Beach, some girls were skipping stones over the river that flows into the ocean there; Suki wouldn’t leave the scene. She wanted so badly to retrieve their stones. Her ambition and enthusiasm outstrip her intelligence sometimes. Which is precisely as it should be.
I’ll go over to the main building and order up some dinner to go, have a cocktail at the bar while I wait for it to cook. Martini? Old Fashioned? Manhattan? It will be a game time decision.
I’m sunburned. Bright sun all day long, reflecting off the ocean. A pleasant, clean feeling in early March. There is saltwater in my hair. I’ll never wash it again.
Being alone in a small cabin on the ocean. I feel warm and content. I hate that this will end. The only sound is the blowing of the small heater, which is fighting with all of its might against a cold night. And there’s the sound of the ocean, that rhythmic crush. Thirty-six degrees at last check. The bed has plenty of blankets. They said it’s a queen; it’s no queen. But it’s plenty for me.
It’s not the water that’s moving; it’s the energy.
That’s the thought in my head as I watch the waves this morning. This must be something I learned in a science class as a kid. Or maybe it’s something I just made up. The water doesn’t really move. A wave isn’t a thing made of traveling water. It’s made of traveling energy.
This thought has been with me for years. It lives in a subfolder of the main folder housing the information that our sun is just a star. Or that any star could be a sun. It’s the proximity that matters.
Go ahead, say it: deep thoughts. I don’t care. I’m entitled to it. I’m a midwesterner sitting in a cabin looking at the ocean. It’s my birthday week. I live in a city dubbed the epicenter of the coronavirus. An hour was snatched out of the night because of some bizarre agrarian idea named, quite brilliantly from a marketing standpoint, “daylight savings.” Speaking of time manipulations, last week an extra day appeared on the calendar, as it does every four years, because of a mathematical, planetary, astronomical glitch discovered by…Caesar? Augustus? No internet here so no google fact checking.
The Owl Head Shoe Horn has reintroduced me to the idea that I’m a writer. I think I am lots of things, but writer might be the one that best describes me from a vocational standpoint. (One doesn’t make a living as a fly fisherman.) I always wonder what to say in my Instagram bio. Not because I think anyone cares, but because I care a great deal about accuracy.
Let me tell you about last night. After a day of hiking on the beach and playing Pacific Ocean Fetch with the Suki, I looked forward to coming back to my fine little cabin, taking a shower, and, as reported earlier, heading over the lodge to order up a fine dinner. Fish and Chips? Burger of Elk? Chowder of Clam? The choices were many. I had barely eaten all day, save for a Clif Bar, a lot of coffee, some potato chips, and some beer. (Note: the 10 Barrel Apocalypse IPA is 1) A truly fantastic IPA and B) The actual true reason I might now be spiraling downward into an existential flat spin of Maverick-and-Goose proportions. I mean, come on: even the name of my beer is telling me this is the end. If you squint, you can read the body copy. It says: Drink up, sucker! If the virus doesn’t get you, the Russians and/or the Trump administration and/or the stock market and/or the rapidly disintegrating planet and/or the [insert most dreaded, most applicable disturbingly valid threat here] will!)
So there I was, content while the Suki snored next to me, dreaming her dreams of salty chunks of airborne driftwood. Around 8:15 I decided to wander over and place my dinner order and have that drink at the bar while I waited for dinner. I’d bring it back here and have a celebratory feast.
The kitchen was closed.
And here is one of the sadder scenes a human can encounter: the overly-bright, cold house lights turned on over what was, moments before, a darkly, warmly, romantically lit bar and restaurant. It is the most abrupt, most garishly visible, most punitive way to say the fun is over, it was all a mirage, let’s clean this shit up so we can go to bed and create this fiction all over again tomorrow night.
I pleaded with the woman cleaning up behind the bar. Is there anything back there I can eat? She thought for a second. The chips, she said. They’re pretty good, she said. They’re fried, she said.
She handed me a white container. I reached for my wallet. “Don’t worry about it,” she said.
The chips were pretty good, too.
If you’re wondering what the point of this dispatch is, well, so am I. I saw it initially as a chronicle of a weekend adventure, and I suppose that’s still what it is. I was going to call it Travels With Suki. John Steinbeck wrote Travels With Charley about his American odyssey with a poodle and a tricked out camper. He had the luxuries of time and money and fame and connections. Me, not so much. So I thought I’d put The Suki in The Subaru and see how far I could get in a single weekend. My initial goal was to set foot in California. I thought I’d explore that famous Boardman Corridor stretch of Oregon coast and then drive a few extra miles to cross over into California. I liked how that idea felt, and under different circumstances, I would have followed through. (By different circumstances, I think I mean if I could find more podcasts I care about.) I compromised. I made it to the coast but chose a point three hours away rather than the 20ish hour roundtrip the California idea would have required.
I made it to the coast, though, and that’s what seemed most important. Some internal compass had been pointing me that way for a few weeks now. Go West. Go as far as you can.
Follow all the other Subarus.