Day One – Home, Ferry Delays & Canada at last

Before I start on Day One, I want to tell you that this Lap Around Alaska will follow the same rules as our Lap Around America:

Avoid freeways wherever possible. Avoid corporate businesses wherever possible. That means staying at Mom and Pop motels, eating at little cafes, and sucking up as much of the local color and culture of each location I pass through.

Avoiding freeways on Day One meant that I didn’t make it nearly as far as I could have otherwise, but that’s part of the game, right? If I was in a hurry, I could have driven to Olympia, got on I-5, and headed due north to Canada. That would have meant that I spent most of the day on the I-5 corridor, and big cities like Tacoma and Seattle

Instead, I turned north at Shelton and took Highway 101, and spent the day on my favorite kind of roads – two lane country roads that wound through towns like Hoodsport and Port Townsend Much better.

As you may know already, Dawn Adele is not going with me on this trip. That meant I had to say good-bye to her for three or four weeks first thing in the morning. We haven’t been apart from each other for more than two days since we got married in 2010, so that was hard. There were a lot of tears and recriminations, and that was just from me.

I’ve driven the road from Seaview to Shelton dozens of times in my life, but I did my best to see the drive with new eyes. It’s easy to take the beauty of our own area for granted, but as I drove with Willapa Bay on my left and endless fir trees and forest on my right, I realized once again why the area I live in is a tourist destination of its own.

I’ve lived in Washington state for most of my life, but once I turned north at McCleary and drove along the Hood Canal, I was in mostly in unfamiliar territory. It’s been close to forty years since I’ve been in this part of the state.

How was the weather on this first day, you  might ask? I would answer with this picture:

Heavy rain and fog were my constant companion as I drove along the Hood Canal, which was perfect. We had gorgeous weather – sunny and warm – on Sunday, and I knew if it was that way on Monday again, I wouldn’t want to leave. I didn’t mind so much putting this kind of precipitation in my rear view mirror.

Still, it was a lovely drive through an unfamiliar part of my state, and I made good enough time that I arrived in Port Townsend a little before 1:00. If you’ve never been to Port Townsend, it’s certainly worth a stop. It is a postcard perfect place, bordering the Strait of Juan de Fuca on one side and with lush, rolling hills on the other. It’s the kind of place that you think would make the perfect set for a film, and in fact it is. The horror movie The Ring was filmed there, as well as An Officer and a Gentleman. In fact, you might recognize this location:

That’s Fort Worden State Park, which served as the primary shooting site for Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman.  Many of the training sequences were shot on the field I stood on to take this shot.

Fort Worden also has a personal meaning to me, as it is where I started the journey that would eventually lead me to becoming an author. In 1975, a contest was launched to find Washington’s Most Promising Young Writers. My English teacher, Dennis Merz, encouraged me to enter a short story. The winners got to spend three days and nights with real, published authors, learning how to write at Fort Worden.

At the time he told me about the contest, I had months to write the story to enter. Which, being the serial-delayer that I am, I didn’t. Finally, Mr. Merz said, “If you want to enter a story in that contest, I’ll need it on my desk by tomorrow,” and I hadn’t written a single word. In fact, I didn’t even have an idea for a story.

I went home, got our old manual Royal typewriter out, and sat staring at a blank page for an hour or so, waiting for inspiration. Just then, my friend Mark knocked on the door and asked if I wanted to come outside and hang out. Since the alternative was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I stared at that damn blank page, of course I did!

Mark was holding a weird sort of ball. It was about six inches across, made of soft, pliant rubber, and had small round handles that protruded in half a dozen spots. We played catch with the ball for a while, but then, being teenage boys, we began throwing it harder and harder, trying to smack each other with it. That evolved into a war game of sorts, where whoever had the ball used it as a weapon to track down and “kill” the other. Boys are so naturally violent.

Eventually, Mom called me inside for the night and I saw the typewriter sitting forlornly at our kitchen table. In an instant, I saw a story in my mind. I sat down at the table, and two hours later, I had my story written. I set it in the fire-bombed city of Dresden, where there were only two remaining soldiers alive – one German and one American. They hunted each other through the city until they came face to face in the city square. For reasons I’m not quite clear on, they abandoned their rifles and engaged in hand to hand combat for a few moments, until the glanced to their left and saw a small, ragged girl, holding a torn dolly in her hand. They looked at each other, realized the inhumanity of trying to kill the only other person left alive in the town and turned and walked away from each other, toward their own destinies.

I turned the story into Mr. Merz and forgot about it, until a month later when he told me I had been chosen to go to Fort Worden. Forty years later, I still carry many of the lessons I learned at that conference with me when I sit down to find another blank page, waiting to be filled.

I didn’t dawdle too long today at Fort Worden, because I wanted to catch a ferry across the strait so I could make it to Canada and start my trek north. However, I had failed to account for the intricate and complex rules of riding the Washington State Ferry System. I got to the ferry Terminal about 1:20, hoping to get a ride on the 2:00 ferry to Coupeville. The lady that sold me the ticket told me I probably wouldn’t get on the 2:00 ferry, but I would make the 3:30. I believed her.

She lied.

Both the 2:00 and the 3:30 ferry came and went, and I sat, unmoving.I took a nap. I did some reading. I called and talked to Dawn several times. I took another nap. Four hours is a long time to sit in your car. I could have watched Gone With the Wind and still had time left over for a walk around town.

Eventually, I did get on the 5:00 ferry and made the quick 30 minute crossing to Coupeville.

I spotted some cool wildlife, both on the ferry and on the drive to Canada, but the internet in this little motel is so slow, the pictures refuse to upload. I’ll try to post more pictures in the Day Two blog.

Because of the interminable delay on getting on the ferry, I was much later getting to Canada than I had hoped. It was already getting dark when I hit the border crossing. To exacerbate things, as soon as I crossed the border, my internet on my phone went out. The combination of darkness, lack of modern technology and my readiness to get off the road meant that I didn’t make it very many miles into Canada, and stopped in Langley for the night. Happily, after much futzing with my phone, I did get the internet to function.

On Day Two, with any luck, I hope to make it to Prince George. I’ll report on my progress, or lack thereof, tomorrow!

Cheers, and safe travels!



  1. Awesomeness, so far just love what you wrote here, and your adventure into your first published story, how exciting that must have been. I’ve lived in Washington 63 years, and have yet to see what you saw. I hope Dawn has some company. I can identify with that, Jim and I haven’t been apart more than two nights in 34 years! When we were apart, I couldn’t sleep at all. Can’t wait to see the wild life, thanks for sharing.


  2. If I enjoy the rest of your trip as I did this first post, I am in for a real treat. I certainly enjoyed the revelations of your very first story. Actually, I would like to read that myself. You pretty well summarized it, but I bet it is an interesting read. After all, you won a contest with it and wrote in a couple of hours. Best of luck as you make this journey. It sounds fascinating, and, if I were to ever get to Alaska, I would like to drive it. I am little far from your starting point, so I would need more time. Have a great trip.


  3. I’m enjoying reading about your daily adventures once again. It’s so much fun looking forward to them each day. My daughter lives in Bellingham, so I understand about the ferry system. I learned quickly that the sooner you submit to their schedules and realize there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it, the happier you’ll be. I enjoyed your childhood writing story. Thanks for sharing. Safe travels!


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