The last time I went camping was probably about seven years ago. And when I say “camping,” I mean it in the most liberal sense. This is “car camping,” where you pull into a spot and your entire site is there ready to use. The last time I went actual camping, where I canoed several lakes, portaged between them, and hiked to the camping location, was more like twenty-five years ago.
I chose the KOA campsite over the State one only because I thought it might be nice to have access to showers. Plus, the prices were about the same, so I wasn’t saving anything by going to a State park. I also liked the idea of having internet access, so that I could blog each day of my journey.
KOA Pine Village was more like a hostel where you stay in a tent instead of a room. There was a general store, washrooms, showers, a coffee shop, a pool, a dog run, a hot tub, and internet access. I was placed pretty far from both the dog run and the washroom, though I had emailed ahead to request a site next to them (that also overlooked the river). At the time of check in, I should have mentioned my request again, but I was too tired and didn’t feel like it. In retrospect, I will now always be more vocal.
I’ll rate the site out of five stars on a few key points:
(1) Cleanliness. This I would have given them a solid five star. The campsite, including the washrooms, were always kept very clean and were well maintained. However, when I asked about recycling I was told they hadn’t got around to that yet since they’d only been open for two years. Two years! That downgrades them to a three.
(2) Internet. Not always important to people who are car camping, but since I wanted to blog my travels it was for me. The internet (and I was right by the tower) was shoddy at best. On two devices (my Android phone and my iPad) I couldn’t maintain connectivity for longer than a few minutes. The iPad couldn’t stay connected for more than a few seconds. This I give zero stars. It was so bad it was actually not better than nothing.
(3) Staff. Five stars. For the most part, they were kind and polite.
So, they get a 2.6 star rating out of five. To improve, I’d suggest either boosting their internet signal or just not advertising that it’s a service. Plus, get a recycling bin.
There was a warning at the site office for wild turkeys, deer, bears, and cougars. The last one was what got my interest, as I have no fear of the other animals. I asked how often they’d had sightings, and was told that they’d actually never seen a bear or a cougar in the area, but because of the proximity to the mountains they were required to give the warning. I asked if she knew what to do if they saw a cougar, and she told me that no, in fact, she didn’t. She seemed shocked when I told her that you don’t run, you actually have to stand and fight it. I’m pretty sure I was labelled the “Crazy Canadian” after that.
I did see many turkeys and a few deer. The turkeys enjoyed roaming my campsite, and only mine–they never ventured into anyone else’s. When I was at the site, they stayed off in the bushes and wandered the woods. There was no fear in them of becoming anyone’s dinner.
The first night I had forgotten to pick up a propane canister for my camp stove and the general store was out of them. Instead, I bought some wood and built a fire, figuring I could boil my water for coffee and oats over that until I was back in the town the next day. This was Grinfinn’s first experience with fire, I assume, as it completely freaked him out.
I tried having him in my lap, but every time the fire popped and sparks flew Grinfinn would want to run as far as possible. Can’t blame him, since his fur is basically an accident waiting to happen. The next day, I made sure to get propane so that I wouldn’t have to build another fire. Grinfinn enjoyed the second night much more than he did the first. Lesson learned.
The first night it was so hot that I considered removing the fly from the tent to get more of a breeze. That would also erase my privacy, and when you’re car camping you have neighbours that are right beside you. Also on that first night, I started thinking to myself just how many horror movies take place in camps, campgrounds, or camping. Friday the 13th, Blair Witch Project, Sleepaway Camp, Evil Dead, Cabin in the Woods…
The second night, it was so cold that I was pretty sure my tent was haunted and I needed to perform an exorcision. Unfortunately, without proper internet access, I couldn’t Google how to do that so I just had to suck it up. I tried to get Grinfinn to sleep in my sleeping bag, but he was still hot (fur) so he didn’t want to stay in it with me.
All in all, it was a good experience and first attempt at camping with Grinfinn. I have a few key things I’d make sure to bring next time (like a blanket just in case the night gets cold), but there wasn’t anything that would stop me from doing that again.
With that, instead of a theme song I thought I’d leave you with some video of Grinfinn fast asleep in the tent. His snores are quite relaxing, and can be very soothing to fal asleep to. Enjoy.
I was awake by four a.m. and up by five. Call it excitement, maybe a little nerves, but this was my first camping trip in seven years and my first with Grinfinn. When I attempted to wake up the boy, he just looked at me, grunted, and resumed his slumber. But if I was up, so was he.
I’d planned this trip for months, originally intending to take ten days on the road to travel down to Oregon, up through Leavenworth, and home through the Okanagan. With Grinfinn, me being unsure how he would manage in a tent, I decided on a much shorter trip of five days on the road just to Leavenworth. If anything went wrong, it was a quick ride back up to Canada.
Rather than just chance it, I chose instead to book ahead to make sure I had a spot at the campground. Good thing I did, because the weekend was full and I didn’t get a booking until Monday. That brought my five day trip down to three.
Grinfinn was absolutely chill sitting in his bed (with his seat belt on and the air bag turned off). Driving over the border (NEXUS lane), I had all his papers ready but wasn’t asked for them (there by US or back by Canada). I did get yelled at by the US Customs Guard for not seeing that he’d put up the red light for me to wait (that NEVER happens in the NEXUS lane).
While I considered stopping in Edison on my way there, I chose instead to just I-5 it down to Everett and jump on the Number 2 highway. I did stop for a rest at the Smokey Point Rest Area just north of Everett where I took a nap and walked Grinfinn (and, of course, I had stopped for my traditional Woods Coffee in Birch Bay).
Yes, that looks like a shallow grave in the shape of a human body that Grinfinn is sniffing. There was a manicured, beautiful area with picnic tables that dog owners were not allowed to use. Then there was this wild terrain, with weeds and mounds of dirt such as the one in the photo above. That’s where you are relegated to if you have a pooch.
And yes, those are working phone booths!
My next stop was Gold Bar, WA, a town of just over two thousand people. It’s quite pretty if you take a drive through the streets, and the main strip on the highway (there’s even bus service to Everett) is right by the railway with the mountains as backdrop. I liked it as it made me feel as though I were back in the Wild West.
The weather up to this point was warm but overcast. When I drove into the Cascade Mountains, the clouds disappeared and the temperatures rose to plus 26C.
This would be the first time I’d attempt to get a burger and fries from the roadside stop, Zeke’s Drive In. Unfortunately, I didn’t have cash and the attendant didn’t understand how my chip card worked. (I was told it was declined, but I couldn’t get her to understand that I had to enter in a PIN for it to work. And once declined, she insisted they’d be charge $35 for trying it a second time. Sigh.)
I did stop in on my way home, so expect a proper review in the third instalment.
There were lots of places to stop and take photos, but after a few I had to just push on and accept that sometimes you just have to enjoy the moment as a fleeting one.
It didn’t take long to arrive in Leavenworth, a town modelled after a Bavarian village. (More on the town in the third instalment of this blog series.)
And since it felt a little like time travel, with small towns not understanding chip cards to phone booths, I felt this song was appropriate to the trip.
Did I ever tell you about the time I stayed in a haunted hotel and time travelled to Victorian era America? True story.
March 31st I had decided to take a roadtrip to Port Townsend and found a hotel online that looks like a castle. The Manrea Castle in Port Townsend has quite a history, even claiming to be haunted according to one website. It seemed like the ideal place to stay for a writer.
I took the Chuckanut Drive just south of Bellingham towards Whidby Island, passing through one of my favourite places for lunch: Edison. The Slough had been closed my last few stops (the owner takes a well-deserved vacation) but this time it was open. I always have their soup of the day and grilled cheese sandwich as it never disappoints.
I can’t say that I wasn’t warned to book ahead for the ferry. Not only was it on the hotel’s website, but there are a million signs posted along the highway telling you to book ahead. I didn’t listen, because I figured it couldn’t possibly be that busy on a Friday afternoon. It can, and it was.
I arrived at 2pm and was told if I wanted to wait I might make it onto the 6:30pm ferry. My other option was to book for the 6:30pm ferry, leave for a few hours, then return. My thought process: I had some writing to do, there was a cafe there, and really a few hours was no big deal. Reality: A few hours is a really long time.
Keystone Cafe was good for what it was: a cafe by the ferry. If there were choices, it would not win out. However, they did have ice cream so that was good. I spent the afternoon writing for a few hours, thinking, took a nap, ate some ice cream, drank way too much coffee (like there’s a such thing), watched two ferries arrive and leave without me (the 2:30pm and 4:30pm ferries), and finally the 6:30 ferry arrived. I was the final vehicle to make it onto the ferry. Barely. At that point, I think the ferry staff actually felt sorry for me because I was the only one being polite with them and not shouting curses.
Port Townsend is a very beautiful place. It wasn’t my first time here, but it was my first time to spend time exploring the city. I had passed through before on my way to Forks a few years ago.
As I had arrived late in the evening, there wasn’t much open so I went straight to the castle and checked into my room. At this point, I hadn’t read any of the lore regarding the haunting, but later that night I would swear to hearing footsteps on the ceiling where there should have only been an attic. As well, that night I had one of the worst allergy attacks of my days that could only have been brought on by a ghostly spirit (or the gorgeous flower gardens in bloom around the castle).
As a place to stay, I’d recommend Manrea Castle. It was comfortable and reasonably priced. However, because my room had a window on my door light from the hallway kept my room from getting dark enough to let me sleep. I did mention that to staff, but you may want to make sure they’ve corrected it before you book. And book ahead for the ferry. Just trust me on that.`
And apparently I time travelled. The next day there were people wandering the streets dressed in Victorian-era garb, which I would learn later was because of a Victorian Festival that happens every year. These were the townspeople and not actors just out enjoying the amazing place they call home. (I learned this after asking a few people if I could take photos, and one couple asking me, “You know we all live here, we’re not actors or anything, right?” No. No I did not.)
I ventured over to Point Wilson Lighthouse, which has an interesting history from when it was a working lighthouse. The lighthouse is in Fort Worden Park, which itself was a beautiful, pleasant walk. The day was sunny, and warm — and in one of the photos below, you can see the glimpse of an otter scampering from the lighthouse through the rocks to the ocean.
I found an old bunker that looked to me like the scene from a zombie apocalypse. Blame my fascination on zombies for that, and probably the book I wrote on the zombie apocalypse.
As road trips go, Port Townsend is one I will do again. It has an interesting history, a friendly town, cool architecture, and next time I’ll make sure to plan to attend the festival.
My theme song for this trip is Clannad’s Robin Hood even though Robin Hood was medieval and not Victorian.