May 28, SAMMAMISH
By the time I got to Kalaloch they’d stopped serving breakfast and were turning things over for lunch, but not in a rush for anyone. We were backing up in the lobby and I was second, a party of one. The lodge has a reliable bathroom on the way to the coast and the food is top-notch. It’s not just the fact there’s nothing around, they seem to really care. But the service is slow, no one wants to go as fast there. That’s why they moved to the peninsula and that’s why I go there, to slow down.
Hardly noon but because they were serving lunch that legitimized me ordering a beer. I followed my server to the bar, picked a handle and committed to that, a pint. I ordered a smoky elk burger with jalapeño aioli, sliced red onion, tomato, lettuce, fries. Were it breakfast I would have gone for the coffee as I’d had none earlier breaking camp, I wanted to get out of there before the Belgian girl woke up.
I washed up in the bathroom, got the blood off my hands, had a good look at myself for the first time in days, a click down from tawny port, ruddy-orange, brown. My lips were sun burned and my eyes puffy/layered. And my hair was a twist cone, the way it wrapped around, the way some guys take a lot time to make it look like that.
I got my journal out and continued on my beer. There was a seat by the window with starlings doing fly-bys, dipping into Fuchsias on the deck. It was all socked in with fog and cool. Just a few miles north there was sun but when I pulled down to the coast it got consumed by fog, often the case. And the lodge guests were still hopeful in their sandals and light summer sweaters but wore a general malaise on this holiday weekend when it was supposed to be sunny everywhere else. And that’s the cruel joke of this place, the deck chairs sit there most days empty.
Two couples in their 50s or 60s got seated by me and we nodded hello. I tried to insulate myself from their dialogue. It wasn’t hard to pinpoint exactly what they were all about by what they ordered and how they specified things. I wanted to preserve the great ideas I had before they were lost. It was a hardbound journal Charlotte picked out for my birthday that said TRUST YOUR CRAZY IDEAS on the cover. That was good, I had lots of crazy ideas. More that than trust.
But I’d written many pages longhand for the first time in months. I’d switched to digital, trying to learn the art of taking notes on my phone, which isn’t much of an art.
The two couples were close enough I could hear them debating the elk burger, which I’d just set upon with force. They were nervous about the aioli though, and I realized one of the women was British by the way she said jalapeño (she made it a hard “J” like JALO-peño), and the guy opposite, who reminded me of Hemingway with his thick, white beard and mischievous look: he was trying to talk her husband into a beer but the husband kept balking.
I asked if they were Scottish, I could tell by the lilt in the woman’s voice. They were all in different stages of accepting their age. The woman looked like she’d waited all her life to be that way, she wore it well. She was like a cartoon grandmother with her sweater and glasses and possibly a wig. Her husband had a tattoo on his forearm that was all military, an anchor gone blue-green. He turned to me a full 90 degrees and described where they were from, Yorkshire.
I went back to my burger and beer and they, their order-making. The British woman had her phone out and was trying to understand it, trying to establish a connection. They were concerned about roaming charges. I was trying not to get involved. And then they got to wondering exactly where they were, the name of the town, so they could label themselves on a selfie. It was sad watching the elderly adopt the conventions of youth.
The Hemingway guy asked if I was a writer when they came in, I don’t know why, but I said without hesitation yes, matter-of-fact, then felt good for committing.
They were trying to figure out the spelling of the place and Hemingway gestured to me, said ask the writer, he probably knows.
And I got most of the name but second-guessed myself at the end (was it Loch or Lock), and laughed, the Scots were confusing me…then Hemingway’s wife, who seemed to be fighting her age or possibly taming or delaying it: she asked what is it I write (books?), and there was a sense of hope in her how she asked, maybe they’d met someone famous they could tell their friends about…they were on the edge of a good time but not quite there, how they’d resigned themselves to the fog, the tone in their voice, debating a drink before noon, what that would mean for the rest of their day, a resignation to plans not going as planned.
I said memoir and field notes; I’d been out a few days, didn’t want to waste my battery so I was going old-school with paper and pen. I wondered if the Brits knew what that meant, they probably coined the term.
After I paid I gave the British woman a copy of my receipt with the spelling of Kalaloch at the top then went back into the fog, estimating the time to Aberdeen and Olympia, and home.
But a bit up the road I started nodding off, wished I’d gone for caffeine over beer: the sameness of the scenery and the heat from the sun made me drowsy, along the shoulders with nothing but Scotch Broom and sword ferns…the same tape turning over, no-name towns, forest road turn-offs, nowhere to nap. A few times I felt myself slip, but it jarred me awake with adrenaline and that would last me a few miles before it happened again.
I pulled off at a gas station in Aberdeen and filled up: a beautiful afternoon right in the middle of town with no one around. The only shops that looked new or busy sold cigarettes, energy drinks, cannabis.
I got the idea for a Red Bull and reached for the first size but it was small, and each row descending got bigger until the fourth, a 20 ouncer, $4. I told the clerk it was my first one and he said, you mean ever and I nodded, and he advised I go back for a 12 or 16 but I said I was having trouble staying awake and he said that makes sense, just take it slow.
By the time I got to Olympia I was playing cat and mouse games in the passing lane, or the the inside lane that gets co-opted for passing on the left: there was an Acura and a few Jeeps I went up against all the way to Tacoma, outside Puyallup—before I pulled off for the country road toward Auburn/Hobart, the 18.
I got into Issaquah ahead of schedule with time to stop at the liquor store for a six-pack, a couple bottles of Rosé—and when I pulled into our driveway Charlotte was crying, stepped in dog shit, didn’t say hello—and the cottonwood blooms were gathering like snow in the garden beds and though it was a Saturday all was quiet, and there was no one else around.
This is the first in a series of posts I’m preparing from three days out on my favorite stretch of the Pacific Coast: 48 miles of uninterrupted coastal hiking up rope ladders and overland trails through old-growth forest, some beach hiking and rock scrambles. The posts don’t need to be read in order, and I’ve started with the end of the trip coming home, yesterday. Thanks for reading! — Bill