As a bonus, here’s a beauty shot of Crusader and Yela from the BennyHenge asteroid.
Recently I lost the RV I have been living in due to flooding. This put me under a lot of stress and left me feeling pretty depressed, so I decided that I needed a vacation. A real, honest to goodness vacation with no other ulterior motive, which has been a rarity in my life. I’ve only ever done it twice before, actually. Since I had a good amount of money in savings, I decided to treat myself, and I flew to Washington state to spend a week camping in Olympic National Park and visiting with some friends in Vancouver. In keeping with tradition, here is the story of my trip.
There are some photos embedded below, but the full photo gallery of my trip can be found here: Olympic National Park
The flight was rough because the seats were so cramped. I was in a middle seat and the dividers between the seats could not be lifted up, so they pressed against my thighs the whole time I was sitting. In fact, a couple of times during the trip I had to get up and just stand up for a while in order to ease the pain in my back (another seat related issue) and the cramping in my thighs caused by the constant pressure.
The weather once I arrived was beautiful. Cool and dry and sunny. I loved it!
At the airport I had to wait in a long line at the Avis counter to get my car. I didn’t leave the airport until about two hours after arriving.
I drove south through heavy traffic to Tacoma and stopped at an REI to pick up some last minute camping gear, mostly a stove and some energy bars. Then I ate dinner at a Red Robin restaurant. I had their “Red Robin Cheeseburger”. It was OK.
During the drive to Tacoma I caught sight of Mount Ranier. My first words on seeing it were “oh my god” and I was very sincere. It was absolutely stunning. I must come back here someday just so I can go there.
Then came the drive to Port Angeles. This took about an hour and half. I arrived with still a bit of sunlight and started looking for a hotel. Most of them were full, but the clerk at a Days Inn recommended a place to try called the Riviera and they had a vaccancy, so I checked in there. It was $189 for a room with two queen size beds – the only kind of room they had open – so that’s what I got. It was at least very clean and comfortable, and I appreciated that they had a moveable circulating fan that I was able to point at the bed. Just like home!
Before going to bed, though, I got online and hung out with friends for one last fling with the Internet before being offline for a week.
I checked out of the hotel about 10:00 am and drove around Port Angeles just to see what it was like. Very nice small port town with lots of neat shops. Very clearly tourist oriented. It seems like it would be a nice place to live, actually.
I stoped at Walmart to get an ice chest and groceries and then ate breakfast at a place called the Cornerhouse Restaurant. I had the eggs benedict. The wait staff were very friedly without it being creepy as sometimes happens in restaurants.
The Olympic National Park Visitor Center is just on the edge of Port Angeles, and I checked in there and spoke with a volunteer who gave me some good advice about where to go and how to time things to miss the traffic that comes on the weekends. From there I drove about 20 minutes up to the Heart O’The Hills campground. As I expected it would be on a Sunday afternoon, the campground was pretty empty and I got to pick pretty much any spot I wanted.
And it’s gorgeous! Even the campsite is picture worthy and as I type I am sitting next to a large conifer of some sort that has to be more than 200 feet tall. The trunk is about 5 feet in diameter, maybe a bit more. There are mossy, fallen logs, fir trees, ferns and other plants all around me, and apart from the opccasional car on the nearby road all I can hear is the sound of the wind in the trees.
After setting up my tent I made a day pack with water and energy bars, grabbed my camera and set off down the Heart O’The Forest Trail, a 2 mile trail that starts at the back of the campground. It’s not a loop, so you walk out and come back the same way.
This was the first time I’ve ever been in a rain forest. A couple of technical notes: it’s dim under the trees, so a flash or a tripod is needed for most photography. I didn’t have my tripod with me so there were a few times when I couldn’t take a picture because my built in flash would not reach far enough (and in one instance even an external flash would not have helped – long distance shot through the trees). But nonetheless I got a lot of nice snapshots that show off the diversity of the trail, some wide angle framing shots to give a broad overview, some closeups of different trees and plants, and a few tight zooms on small things like fungi and mosses.
The trails climbs for a ways, and then descends again on it’s back side. On the lower portions on both sides there are frequent little rivulets of water flowing through the forest, and these are almost entirely overgrown by mosses, ferns, and roots. They almost form tiny underground rivers! There are foot bridges built over these when they cross the trail.
The trail itself if narrow and primitive. At some point it’s barely more than a foot wide – a small little trench cut through the thick mosses and plants of the forest floor. The forest is extremely dense. Trying to go off trail here would be a very triesome chore as you would constantly be pushing aside plants, missing your footing on the hidden rivulets, and clambering over huge fallen trees. The fallen trees are everywhere! It almost seemed that there were as many dead trees as living ones. Giant logs covered in mosses and tiny ferns, with fungi growing on them too.
And it was very quiet. Hardly any sound at all if you stood still. I never reached the end of the trail because I was just getting too tired, but at the point I stopped I lay down on a wooden walkway to rest and just stare up at the trees. I lay there for about 20 minutes before I started hearing birds. A small pipping bird started first at a bit of a distance. After a moment it was answered by a distant screech. Then a tee-wit sound started up and the pipping bird moved closer, to a tree about 30 feet from me. I lay there and listend to the birds for a while. It was the most relaxing time I’ve had in ages.
After a snack and a bottle of water, I picked up and turned back towards camp. This meant I was headed uphill again, and I started breathing very heavily and my legs started threatening to cramp up. However, with frequent stops to catch my breath I was able to make it. Since I was going back the way I came, and since I wasn’t really stopping to take pictures anymore, the trip back seemed much shorter than the trip out, though because I was tired it was more annoying. I’m really out of shape!
Once back to the campsite, I set up my new stove and cooked a can of chili, put some cheese in it and ate it with a couple of slices of bread and a Mountain Dew. Also a whole bottle of Gatorade.
Now I’m sitting at the picnic table outside my tent, typing this up, and taking pictures of rabbits and squirrels and trees. Soon I will go to bed. I’m afraid the rabbit photos aren’t very good. Too little light.
I woke up fairly early – about 7:30am – though I think the sun had been up for more than an hour at that point. The first order of business was breakfast – bacon and eggs and toast, with milk and orange juice. Yes I ate bacon. I spent many years a vegetarian, but over the past few years I have found that I care less and less about it, just as I care less and less about most things generally. I think this has been a result of depression. These days I eat meat most days af the week in the form of sausage kolaches for breakfast from a donut shop. There really isn’t any better alternative unless I force myself awake an hour earlier each day to cook for myself, and I have so much trouble waking up as it is that I refuse to do that. So bacon and eggs it was, and it was delicious.
After cleaning up, I washed my hair and headed into town to get ice, dish soap, Gatorade, and gasoline. Then it was time to drive up to Hurricane Ridge. That is one of the main tourist areas in Olympic National Park. It is a windswept ridge and hill (Hurricane Hill) at and just above the tree line, so named because the wind up there has been recorded at near hurricane speeds.
The drive up was slow. It’s only 17 miles, but you can’t drive fast because the road is very twisty and has lots of tight curves as it hugs the mountain sides. At one point there is even a series of three small tunnels. Much to my amazement, I saw people riding up the hill on bicycles. I have no idea how they do that.
The local black tailed deer are numerous in the area and they have no fear of people or cars, so on my way up I stopped at one point to take photos of a doe that was calmly brosing the foliage on the outside of the road. As I sat there with my camera she slowly came nearer to me until she was level with me, but at that point I had all the photos I wanted and I was just sitting watching her, so I packed up, got back in my car, and drove on.
There are a few scenic overlooks on the way up and they are indeed quite scenic. I highly recommend you stop at them if you go this way, and be sure to look around – one of them has a small trail leading off through the trees to a platform overlooking the valley and with a great view of the mountains ahead.
Once you get to the top, there’s a big visitor center on Hurricane Ridge that has a gift shop, snack bar, theatre, and information desk. I stopped there for lunch and a few souvenirs.
From there I grabbed my camera and headed out on the short trails around the visitor center. I was really feeling quite tired at this point, so I didn’t even bother trading my camp shoes for boots, but I did take my full camera gear, long lens and tripod and all – I had learned the previous day that anything I didn’t have I would want.
There are some great views from Hurricane Ridge. On the south side of the ridge you have a full panorama of the Olympic Mountains, with Mount Olympus itself gracefully sitting in the distance covered in it’s (shrinking) glaciers. Snow sits on top of most of the mountains throughout the year, so it makes for a very pretty photo opportunity.
On the north side of the ridge there are views through the valleys out towards Port Angeles, which is easy to make out on the coast. On a clear day you are supposed to be able to see across the Juan de Fuca strait into Canada, but there were clouds on the coast this day.
I should note that on the ridge there were not that many trees. What trees there are grow short and in small clumps called “tree islands”, and mostly they are barely clinging to existence because of the wind and the snow that covers the area in winter. The ridge is dominated by Apline meadows of scrub grasses and mosses and other small plants.
I did not climb up to the highest point on the ridge – it is not a long walk, but I was simply feeling too tired to climb that high. It’s about a 200 foot climb up. So I stuck to the flat trails along the top of the ridge and took what photos I could. I saw Hurricane Hill in the distance, a patch of lingering snow just below the ridge line, many small birds who seemed fairly fearless of humans, and one doe who was definitely fearless. She stood not 10 feet below the trail browsing the low, srubby plants while numerous tourists walked by and took photos and talked about her. This was not to be the closest approach to a deer for me that day.
After my leisurely walk around the top of the ridge I decided to drive the short distance further to the end of the road, where the Hurricane Hill Trail starts. This trail is about 1.6 miles long and climbs 752 feet to the summit of Hurricane Hill. As I drove up I had no intention of climbing it – I was simply feeling too tired, but at the end of the road I parked anyway and got out to look around.
There wasn’t much to see. Just a few trees on the side of the road and the trail leading off towards the Hill. I decided to walk a little way down it for a better view, but I told myself that I would not go all the way so I didn’t bother bringing water, my camera, or my hiking boots. Big mistake, since every likely place to stop I told myself “just a little further”. After a while I decided to see how far I could go before getting tired.
People were passing me left and right because I was walking so slowly, but I kept moving on. At one point I found myself walking along the side of a steep hill and I had to make myself avoid looking down – I’m a bit afraid of heights. An odd thing for someone who used to do rock climbing, but even then I was always terrified when at a ledge – once safely suspended in air by a rope I was always quite calm.
At the end of this unnerving stretch, the trail became serious. I could now see that I wasn’t even on Hurricane Hill itself, yet – the trail first passed around the side of this current hill, then passed around the side of another intermediate hill, where it also started climbing rapidly, and only then did it reach Hurricane Hill itself, where it climbed even more! I was facing a very daunting task.
I almost turned back at that point – I argued with myself, pointing out that I am on this trip to relax and have fun, not to try and push my limits. I had no obligation to keep going and no reason to feel ashamed if I turned back. But by then I really didn’t want to turn back. I wanted to keep going and see just how far I could go. So I started climbing in brief intervals. Walk for 5 minutes until I was breathing very heavily and then stop and sit for 5 or 10 minutes until I felt better. Then walk some more.
In this way I slowly made it up and around the second hill and came to the foot of Hurricane Hill itself. That sight made me really regret my choices, but I felt committed – it was farther back to the car than it was to the end of the trail, so I kept going.
I made it about halfway up the hillside before I was really exhausted. Even though I didn’t want to turn back I had to stop for a long rest break, and a couple who were there resting at the same spot kindly gave me a bottle of water to drink. Muchas gracias strangers!
After about 15 minutes I got up and started climbing the hill again. I was now deeply into the Apline meadow ecosystem and there was nothing around except grass and scrub – and another one of those fearless does. As I and a pair of other hikers walked up a stretch of the trail, she just walked right between us as she went about her business going from one place to another. She didn’t even give us any notice – we may as well not have been there.
Finally, though, the summit came in sight and I realized that I had done it. I climbed the reamining 30 feet or so and quietly congratulated myself for beating out gravity and it’s stupid “body weight” that was trying to keep me down. Another hiker who was already there must have recognized me from one of my numerous rest stops, because he congratulated me on making it to the top.
So the view. Yeah, it’s pretty big. Snow capped mountains to the south and east, high hills and the distant ocean to the north and west. And a small stand of very hardy trees right at the very tip top, where more than a few birds and Olympic chipmunks scurried about curiously watching the humans sitting on the rocks. The chipmunks are really cute, by the way. Their bodies are about 3 inches long and a tail about the same length and they will come up very close and watch you. I don’t know if they want food, though, because when not watching you they dig around and find things in the ground to eat.
I stayed up there for a while just enjoying the views and the sunlight keeping me from being too cool in the chill air, but eventually after I was fully rested I started back down, and wouldn’t you know it I started down at the exact right time. Just below the summit was an Olympic marmot working it’s way through the meadow eating small, purple flowers. It kept an eye on the 15 or so of us who gathered to watch it, but it never ran off. At one point it even climbed up on a small rock and seemed to pose for a moment as if it knew it’s photo was being taken.
But eventually it wandered away and we all started back down the mountain. Yeah, I said mountain this time and not hill. It may be called “Hurricane Hill” but at 5700 feet above sea level, I think it deserves to be acknowledged as a mountain in it’s own right.
On the way down I encountered yet another doe grazing right on a very narrow part of the trail. I must have passed no more than 5 feet from her. And I spotted yet another doe on a slope farther down. This place is littered with deer. I also saw a woodpecker in a stand of trees where I stopped to rest at one point. It was in heavey shade, but I could see that it had red only on the very top of it’s head, which makes me wonder if it was a pileated woodpecker. Wildlife is incredibly easy to see in this area.
Back at the car I was very grateful to be in a place where I could finally stop walking, though I was also feeling quite satisfied that I had actually conquered Hurricane Hill, even if I did miss out on some photo opportunites by not bringing my camera. I drove back down the mountain road to my campsite, had a nice warm dinner and promptly went to bed around 7pm. It had been a nice, but tiring day.
I awoke earlier still this morning, at 6:40am. The sunlight woke me. It was colder at this time of morning, so I started out by bundling up in layers for the first time. Today I had to move camp, though, so after breakfast and cleaning up, I packed up my gear, let the air out of my mattress, and broke down the tent. With everything safely stowed away I said goodbye to Heart O’the Hills and headed out down the road towards Lake Crescent.
The drive there from Port Angeles is not long, and it’s all on state highway 101, but it takes longer than you might expect because the road becomes very curvy as it gets near the lakes, and eventually it hugs the lake shore. Speeds are generally 35 mph in these slow sections. And there are deer, of course. They are everywhere, so keep an eye out for them.
About halfway there is the Elwha River, and a road leads along it a ways towards the interior and some campsites. Sadly, the road is closed after a few miles – I think the campsites may be open to hikers, but I didn’t check, because thankfully there is one very short trail right at the end of the road that leads to Madison Falls.
Madison Falls is well worth the side trip. It is quite peaceful at the falls, which cascades down a small cliff about 30 feet. There were not many people there, either, which made it even better for me. I took some nice photos and then just sat there for a while enjoying the sounds and sights of the water flowing over the rock.
But I still needed to secure a new campsite, so eventually I got back in the car and drove on down to the Fairholme camp ground, which is gorgeous! It takes the old growth forest of Heart O’the Hills and adds in steep slopes and a lake. It is a thankfully larger campground thatn I had thought, too, so there was no lack of available sites.
Once my tent was pitched and I was settled in I got back in the car and drove a bit back the way I’d come until I got to the Storm King Ranger Station, where the Marymere Falls Trail starts. It’s a short hike, and although it does climb up a hillside, it’s not nearly as bad as it seems. Basically the trail is on flat ground at the bottom of a valley, through which flows Barnes Creek. When the trail reached the point where a small stream joins the creek, the trail suddenly becomes veritcal and begins ascending the hillside in switchbacks. You don’t have to climb far, though before you come to Marymere Falls itself.
These falls are much bigger than Madison Falls, and it actually descends in two cascades, though the lower one is not that impressive. The upper one is quite pretty, though, and the water falls into a pool of water filled with smooth stones and bordered by fallen logs. There is a nice platform overlooking the falls to give you an excellent view.
Alas, some people are not content with the view, as I saw many people climb over the fence and clamber down the slope to get to the pool itself. One person even had the audacity to grab one of the cantelope sized rocks from the pool to keep as a souvenir. If even a hundred other people did that, the pool would soon be empty of all the rocks that give it such a charming character. Please don’t be like that jerk – respect the park and obey the rules so that other people can enjoy these beautiful places, too.
At that point I decided to call it an early day, so I went back to camp and ate and started writing this. It’s quite cold in camp, tonight, and I’ve put on yet another layer of clothes to try and stay warm. I guess I’m getting into the whole Northwest spirit of clothing styles.
I aade fire!
OK, I got a campfire going this evening. It might not seem like a big deal to many people, but it is the first campfire I ever made in my whole life, so I feel a bit of special pride in it. Getting it going was hard, though!
I know the general principle of building a fire: start with dry leaves and twigs, and when that is going add small sticks, and gradually add larger pieces of wood as the fire gets going. Seems simple enough. Ha! First I went through an entire box of matches trying to get the tinder to ignite. Most of the matches were blown out by the wind, and the rest managed to ignite part of the tinder only to have it blown out by the wind. So I decided to cheat and I used my camp stove to get a couple of larger peices of kindling lit up so that I could use those to ignite the tinder. The wind blew out the kindling on the way to the fire.
I was starting to despair, but I noticed that my efforts so far seemed to have gotten some of the tinder smoldering, so I took a different aproach and tried using logs to shield it from the wind a bit, and I also put more leaves and twigs on top of it. I burned some more kindling on the stove, too, and added those smoldering brands to the pile. But still, no luck. I gave up and resigned myself to toasting marshmallows on the oh so picturesque Coleman stove.
Then, a small miracle ocurred: the tinder caught aflame! So I carefully added a bit more leaves, and I positioned the charred kindling over the flames to encourage them to catch fire again. They did! I added more kindling, and positioned a couple of small logs where they would be on the edge of the fire as well, and soon I had a small, but cheerful campfire going.
I did a little dance for joy.
With the fire finally going, I could settle in to the real goal: toasting marshmallows! I had not done that since I was a kid, so this was a bit of a treat for me. I set up my camp chair, got my drinks, marshmallows, and toasting skewer, and settled down to a bit of childhood indulgence. It was great!
So what led up to this glorious end of the day?
As usual, I woke early, but I intentionally stayed in bed until about 7:30am, then I got up and had my usual breakfast. After cleaning up it was time to get the day going. First order of business: firewood. The local Park store had run out of firewood the previous day, so even though Tuesday evening was very chilly, I had to do without a fire that evening. That made me just all that much more determined to get firewood for Wednesday night. I remembered seeing I sign at someone’s driveway on the Elwha river that said “far wood: 100% preservative free”, so I started heading in that direction. It turns out that I didn’t have to go so far, though, because just the other side of Lake Southerland is the Shadow Mountain General Store and RV Campground. I stopped in there and found the firewood I needed.
Having loaded up on wood, I turned my attention to the real purpose of the day: visiting the Sol Duc valley. (Sometimes spelled “Soleduck”.) Turning up the road leading there I found myself driving along side the Sol Duc river, and let me tell you it is incredible! The Elwha has nothing on this river, because the Sol Duc is the very picture of a salmon run. Pools of clear, almost transparent, water sit between rushing rapids that pass over boulders and stones of all sizes, and there are the occasional small falls for the salmon to jump up. The salmon weren’t running this day, but I imagine this must be quite a spectacular sight when they are. I must return here someday to see that.
I stopped a couple of times along the riverside to take pictures and just enjoy the sound of the rushing water. The first time I stopped I actually sat down on the stone in the river bed and just sat there for a while enjoying the river. Much peaceful. Very zen. Such Doge … ahem, pardon me.
After soaking in as much tranquility as I could hold, I drove on until I came to the Sol Duc Hot Springs and Resort. The resort has private cabins and RV spots (available by reservation only) and has the hot springs baths. The baths are a disappointment to me, because they have been completely built up into a swimming pool like affair, and there is no trace left of the original natural spring. I had been hoping for a rocky, natural pool with hot water bubbling up from unknown depths and what I got instead was a glorified hot tub (with hot water bubbling up from the depths, via fancy plumbing). So after spending the obligatory money to buy souvenirs in the gift shop, I drove on the short distance to the trailhead of the path leading to Sol Duc Falls.
This was my real goal for the day, and the main reason I wanted to visit the Sol Duc area. The trail leads through old growth forest on one side of the steep Sol Duc Valley and is about 1 mile long. The trail does climb a bit as it progresses, so like most trails I’ve seen here so far, it is not wheelchair accessible, and it can be annoying to someone like me who loses her breath easily, but nonetheless it was not a difficult trail. After passing though the gorgeous forest, and crossing over several small streams running down towards the river from the heights of the Aurora Ridge aboce us, I finally heard the distinctive sound of rushing water and I knew I had arrived.
The path comes in at the top of the falls, which is really the only place to be, since the falls and the river have carved a small slot canyon below the falls which is completely inaccessible to people (unless you like swimming against a cold, speeding current, which I don’t recommend). At the falls, the path crosses over the river via a bridge which afford an incredible view.
Sol Duc Falls consists of 3 cascades all flowing within a few feet of each other and falling down about 50 feet into the canyon below them. There is a slot in the rocks at the top that looks like it provides a fourth cascade when the water is up during spring snow melts. There were a lot of people here; I think this is the most popular of the waterfalls in Olympic National Park, and given it’s beauty and fairly easy accessibility I certainly find that easy to believe. I took lots of photos, some from the bridge, some from an overlook on the other side of the river, and some from the rocks on the side of the river just above the falls. That dry fourth slot provdes an excellent view of the falls from above.
As before lower on the river, I took a lot of time to just sit and listen to the water and watch the river and falls. Sometimes I sat on the benches along the trail, sometimes I sat on the rocks on the riverside. Always I heard the rushing whitewater and the crashing of the water at the bottom of the falls. It was so relaxing that I actually found myself starting to yawn and feel drowsy. I could have fallen asleep there if anyone would have let me. Instead I just kept pushing myself to stay and sit there to kill time – there was nothing else planned for the day, so I wanted to spend as much time there as I could.
In the end, I packed up and left the falls. Back in my car I drove down the road a ways to a place I had passed by earlier: the Ancient Groves Trail. This is a very short trail – just a bit more than half a mile – but it is incredibly beautiful old growth forest that is very open between the trees, affording you deep views into the trees. Giant trunks fallen and covered with moss provide places to sit and rest along the path, and this not being one of the premier trails, it is not very busy. I saw few other people while I was there.
In fact, it was so peaceful that I finally pulled out the flute I brought with me and I played music for the forest. I’d been wanting to do this for some time, but all the other places I have been were so filled with people that I didn’t feel comfortable playing flute there. Ancient Groves gave me the solitude I needed for this. It was a wonderful endcap to my explorations for the day.
Leaving Ancient Groves behind, I went back to the Shadow Mountain store for marshmallows and hot dogs, and then headed back to camp for dinner, a campfire and a tranquil evening.
Woke early. Ate breakfast. Packed. Left. Not much to say there.
The drive west to the Mora campsite on the coast is easy and short, but almost as soon as you pass Sol Duc Valley you come to the end of the national park, and you know it when you do. Right on the edge of the park is a large area that has been clear cut by loggers. Say goodbye to the old growth for a while, because now you are passing through national forest land and private land, and logging is the major industry up here.
Of course, there are still plenty of forests – logging companies usually replant so they will have another crop in the future, and between harvests, the forest can grow back to some extent, but it never reaches the full maturity you see in uncut areas. These “tree farm” forests are the kind of forest I am accustomed to seeing in Texas and other places I have been. They have a beauty in their own right by virtue of being forests, but after the wild and untamed ancient growth of the national park the harvested forests look quite pathetic in comparison.
But as you get near the coast you once again enter Olympic National Park and the health of the forest improves greatly. It lacks the full majesty of the old growth rain forest in the other areas of the park, but these are clearly old and wild forests, filled with very tall trees with moss covered branches. You are once again surrounded by beauty.
At the campground there were still several sites available when I arrived, and I picked number 13 because it had a raven sitting on the picnic table when I drove up. That seemed an amusingly auspicious omen. I registered my campsite and set up my tent and then immediately drove down to the shore at Rialto Beach. This was the first time I’ve ever seen the Pacific Ocean, and it did not disappoint me. Wait, the opposite of that. I’m afraid the view of the ocean was severly limited by a fog that lay just off shore and occasionally touched the coastline. It was still beautiful, of course, but the vast open view to the horizon that I had wanted simply was not there.
The beach itself is quite a sight, though. The sand here is coarse and black – like ground black pepper. And the farthest reaches of the beach right at the treeline of the forest is covered with huge piles of driftwood and bleached fallen trees. Giant trunks of trees that succumbed to the encroaching ocean or that were thrown up on shore by some powerful storm. In places the wood is so thick that you can’t get through it unless you clamber over 3 foot thick trunks and 10 foot across root balls. Between the sand and the wood is a thin strip of smoothly weathered stones and pebbles – the raw material from which future sand is being made. Needless to say, between the sand and the pebbles the footing is quite treacherous, so walk with care. (Or more likely just walk with annoyance. I find it very difficult to walk at a good pace across ground like this, since with every step my heel sinks and slides into the ground in some random direction, causing me to be constantly unbalanced.)
At the beach entrance you can see a group of several small, but tall, islands just out of the mouth of the Quilayute River. I had hoped to get a photo of them, but right as I got my camera set up the fog rolled in and completely covered them. Ah well.
I walked north up the beach for a couple of miles to the end of Rialto Beach where a cliff marches out to meet the ocean and the beach disappears at high tide, which it was. There are a few more rocky outcroppings there, and even a sea arch where the water has eroded the land underneath a small jutting point, leaving a graceful tunnel through the rock for the sea to flow through. I sat and took photos there for quite some time, and spent about 4 hours total on the beach.
But after that I was tired – this week has pushed my physical limits, small though they are – and so I went back to camp, stopping at a store on the way to get a couple of drinks for tonight and the drive back to the city tomorrow. My dinner was a bit too big and was topped off with chocolate milk, which I think is a fine way to cap off a week of camping in such a gorgeous locale.
The next I would head north to Vancouver to visit with friends as the final part of my vacation. Then back to Houston and the daily grind of life in a big city, until the next time arrives that I find myself needing to relax and recharge my mental batteries.
A recent screen shot from Star Citizen. Looking down on the north pole of the gas giant Crusader.
Well, it’s that time of life again, when depression rears it’s misshapen little head and smiles in my direction. Things had been going very well for me this past spring, but then came a month of heavy rains and a flood that trapped me and ruined my RV. Since then I’ve been living with my mother while most of my possessions sit in a storage unit. While I’ve survived I’ve also fallen into a deep, deep funk.
I really enjoyed living in an RV. I lived in a nice, quiet, almost rural setting where the noise and stink of city life didn’t reach. I was living on a river bank, surrounded by woods, and my neighbors included rabbits, possums, cardinals, deer, and other wildlife. It was very tranquil for the most part. (Sometimes my neighbors in the RV park would get a little rowdy, but not too often.) Being in an RV also gave me a sense of independence and security that was really very nice. It meant that if any natural disaster threatened then I could easily pack up and drive away to safety. Of course, that didn’t happen in the end.
The day the flooding started I was a little worried, and I thought about driving out to a hotel as I had done the previous month during a different flood, but instead of following my instinct I got online to check out the Harris County Flood Control District’s website, as well as the National Weather Service’s flood monitor and prediction site. Both of them indicated that the flooding would not be as bad as it had been the previous month, so I made the decision to stay put. That was a bad decision. By the end of the day, the predictions had been updated to show that things were going to be much, much, worse than they had ever been, and by then the road out of the RV park was too flooded for me to be able to get through it. I was stuck.
The water kept rising throughout the night, and by the next day it was lapping at my tires. I moved my RV to the highest ground I could get to in the RV park, but the water kept rising. Late that Saturday afternoon I found myself getting into a fire department boat with my cats, my medicine, and a change of clothes. Everything else had to be left behind to fare as best it could.
So I went to stay with my mother, and to let my hands heal – one of my cats panicked so badly during the evacuation that he bit and clawed my hands up very badly and they become swollen and infected to the point that I could hardly use them. It wasn’t until the next Tuesday that I was able to really do anything again, so I went and rented a car.
And promptly got into a wreck that totaled the vehicle I had just rented. In fact, it flipped over 360 degrees. This did not help to improve my mood. But I did survive the wreck with no injuries other than a soreness in my ribs that lasted a couple of weeks, and thank goodness I had made sure to get extra insurance coverage on the rental car, so I was able to get another one quickly.
The water didn’t go down until Thursday, and at that point it became clear that the road to the RV park was washed away. It ran along the side of a large pond formed in an abandoned sand pit, and the walls of the pit collapsed during the flood. The rush of water into the pit eroded away the ground under the road and a section of road about 50 feet across disappeared into the waters.
Thankfully, there was a back road – a very poorly maintained dirt road – into the area, so I was able to walk on that to get back to the RV and inspect the damage. My car was a complete loss, and the RV sustained enough damage to the floors and electrical systems that I decided not to bother with trying to repair it.
I had lost my home.
So I began a weeks worth of trips in 100 degree heat to get my possessions out. (Thankfully, most things were high enough to avoid getting wet, and I didn’t lose much.) At first I had to carry things out by hand in big duffel bags that I bought for that purpose. On the weekend I bought a new vehicle for myself – a 2007 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck – and started using that to carry things in and out, and making things easier the county came out and roughly paved the dirt road making the drive back to the RV park much smoother. Eventually I donated my car to a charity for auction, and gave my dead RV to a former neighbor who was willing to try and repair it.
And so now here I am. I have a roof over my head, but I still lost my home. Most of my things survived, but I don’t have them with me because almost everything is in storage. I feel like I’ve lost my independence and my security and I feel very vulnerable and miserable. I blame myself for losing everything I did, because I could have gotten out if I’d listened to my instincts the Friday morning when things first started flooding.
My co-workers tried to help me out by doing a fund-raiser for me. They raised almost $9000 for me, and this has greatly helped. It covered the down payment for my new truck, and I still have some left over to get a new RV if I decide to do that, though I don’t think I will, at least not right away. Living with my mother has made me realize how poor her health is and I now feel obligated to stick around and help her out as best I can, although I’m not doing that, really. I am so depressed that when I get home at night I generally just go straight to sleep, and on the weekends I get out of the house to run errands or just spend some time trying to distract myself.
The depression has really worn me down badly, and I can’t concentrate at work. In fact, I am writing this entry while at work, because I just can’t think straight and can’t seem to focus on the code in front of me. I’m getting almost nothing done either at home or at work. This is bad.
So this next week I am taking a vacation. A real, honest to goodness, vacation that is purely oriented around relaxation and getting rid of stress. This Saturday I’ll be flying to Seattle, WA, renting a car, and driving to Olympic National Park for a week of camping and photography. I’ve got a list of waterfalls to see, and trails to hike, and I’ll get to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life. At the end of the trip I’m even going to take a couple of days to drive up to Vancouver and see a couple of online friends in real life for the first time.
I am hoping that taking this trip will help me to reset my brain and get me out of this depression. This has worked for me in the past – 3 years ago when I was coming out of a divorce I did something similar and it really helped me then. In fact, that was the first real vacation I’d ever taken in my life, and this will be the second. I hope someday to take a third vacation under more pleasant circumstances.
I’m a supporter of Star Citizen, an online space game currently in development. Some people have put up websites that let you create custom images related to the game. Here’s a few of them I’ve made.
A Citizen Card for my original pledge.
A Citizen Card for my current pledge level.
Surprise! I’m making a new post! Behold my garden!
Yeah, OK, so it’s not exactly your traditional garden, but hey, I live in a motorhome, so it’s not like I have a real backyard to plant things in. Initially I wasn’t going to grow much of anything this year because I had thought I would be moving at the end of the July, but my work situation has much improved itself recently (as has my income!) so now I’m going to be sticking around for a while. Hence, I decided to not only have a garden but also to expand it.
I already had the six pots in the foreground – 3 of the big pots have serrano pepper seedlings in them that I’m growing from the seeds of the last peppers off of last years plants. The small pot has garlic chives, which I mostly just munch on while I’m outside checking the other plants, and up against the wall are a couple of heirloom tomatoes (Red Beefsteak and Mr Stripey) that I picked up after getting the raise last month.
In the back are four plants that I got just yesterday – four different hybrid tomato plants. I figure with six different varieties of tomato I should get at least a couple of them to produce well even though they are in pots and will have to put up with the nasty Texas summer heat.
That heat is a real killer for potted plants. In the worst of it in late July and early August I have to drench every pot in the morning when I go to work and still the plants are drooping when I come home in the evening, so I have to water them again then. As long as stormy weather isn’t threatening I try to keep my RV awning pulled down to keep the plants shaded in the middle of the day when the heat is the worst.
The past month I’ve been learning about the Unity game engine, reading the manual, going through tutorials, and setting up some test projects to tinker on my own. This week I finally felt comfortable enough to do a real game of my own from scratch, so I decided to start with a good old classic by building a single player Pong-like game. I call it Pingish. It has two modes: Raquetball, and Brick Breaker.
It’s not fancy, but it does make use of the most important systems in Unity.
- It uses 3D graphics for the game objects, although the view is a top down isometric view.
- It uses the UI system in worldspace to create the on-screen display of the score, ball count, and other informational messages.
- I found some free to use sound files to give it a little music and some appropriate sound effects, all in a nicely retro 8-bit game style.
- The physics engine is used in combination with some hand-rolled calculations to control the movement of the ball.
I am glad that I started with such a small project, because even as simple as it is I had a few moments of head scratching from actually trying to put Unity to use for real and finding out by experience that it doesn’t always behave the way I assumed it would. For example, the ball bounces produced by the built in physics engine seem to result in a new trajectory that is biased towards the surface normal, and after a few bounces the ball actually started bouncing back directly along the normal! I don’t know why this is, though I suspect it has something to do with the spin on the ball. It was definitely not the behavior I wanted, though, so I ended up calculating the bounce trajectory by hand.
I didn’t bother putting too much polish on it since it was mostly a learning project, but if you would like to play it you can find a WebGL version of it on this site, or you can download a zip file with the Windows build. The WebGL version has poor performance, at least in my browser.
The game uses the left and right arrow keys to control the movement of your paddle, Q quits, spacebar restarts after your game is over.
WebGL Pingish (Note: Seems to work best in Chrome. It works in Windows Firefox, but not OSX Firefox. Does not work in Safari either.)
A recent post on a forum got me wondering how much I really need Windows for gaming, so I decided to see what games I have installed on Linux versus Windows. To my surprise I have far more games installed on Linux! However, the games I play most often tend to be only available for Windows.
- The Beginner’s Guide
- Beyond Eyes
- The Cat Lady
- Depression Quest
- Gone Home
- Grim Fandango
- Hate Plus
- Kerbal Space Program
- Last Word
- Portal 2
- Penumbra Overture
- Dreamfall Chapters
- Game Dev Tycoon
- Word Of Goo
- Cortex Command
- Revenge of the Titans
- Beyond Zork
- Zork 0
- Zork 2
- Zork 3
- Leather Goddess of Phobos
- Neverwinter Nights
- Silent Hill
- Second Life
- Shroud of the Avatar
- Ultima 4
- Ultima 5
- Ultima 6
- Ultima 7
- Ultima 8
- Ultima Underworld
- Ultima Underworld 2
- Legend of Grimrock
- Neverwinter Nights
- Neverwinter Nights 2
- Planescape Torment
- Beneath a Steel Sky
- Lure of the Temptress
- Second Life
- Shelter 2
- Star Citizen
- Fallout 3
- Fallout New Vegas
- Fallout 4
- Call of Cthulhu
- Wing Commander
- Wing Commander 2
- Remnants of Isolation
- Goats on a bridge
- Last Word
- Whisper of a Rose
- Labyrinthine Dreams
- Crimson Clover
- Dragon Age Inquisition
- Elite Dangerous
- The Path
- The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
- Mass Effect
- Mass Effect 2
- Mass Effect 3