PNW: Coastal

By abbieredmon

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I left San Francisco somewhat reluctantly, but it didn't take me long, driving north along Route 1 in California, to rediscover my excitement for wanderlust and new places.

My first stop was the lighthouse at Point Reyes, partly because I'd seen a lot of photos of it, and partly because I love lighthouses.

There is a book I read when I was younger called "Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie" that tells the story of a girl who must keep the light on in her family's lighthouse while her father is kept away because of a storm. It's based on a true story, and because the title character spelled her name the same way I spell mine, unusual among the Abbies of the world, I have always felt a simple but happy connection to lighthouses.

And let's face it -- it doesn't hurt that they're usually in pretty picturesque locations! The lighthouse at Point Reyes didn't disappoint.

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After a mildly rushed trip up the 101 to make it to my first campsite by sunset, I slept well. (Except for the little dog who started barking around 3 a.m. and ran up under my rain fly!)

The next morning, I woke up, had breakfast, and broke camp all before 6:45 a.m., and I was in the Redwood National Park north of Eureka by 7:30 a.m.

This, as it turns out, was a very good call.

The roads were mostly empty, and the short hikes I went on also left me with the trails essentially to myself. It was quiet, and lush, and beautiful. I think I kind of love northern California.

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I knew the coast in this area was prone to (famous for?) fog, but I didn't know quite how it would be or feel or look or move.

And I was totally mesmerized.

Depending on elevation and distance from the coast, the fog fell and rose and blew, appeared and disappeared so abruptly I almost couldn't believe it.

Among it at its thickest, I knew exactly how I would spend my mornings if I lived here. An early morning walk on the cold sand by the ocean, or a run through trees like this, unable to see very far ahead, breath visible, listening to the birds wake up and the sound of my own feet on the dirt road. Then at home, something warm to drink in the kitchen, the newspaper, a warm sweater. Maybe some jazz piano coming through the speakers in the next room.

The more I describe this fictional morning, the more I want it to be real.

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I stopped at lighthouse No. 2 when I was almost to my campsite for the night. This one was awesome.

A short hike up the hill took me by this amazing white house with a red roof, and I immediately wanted to live in it. The lighthouse shared the same color scheme, and its vantage point was immense indeed. The fog made for a dramatic overlook, though -- scrub and brush vanishing into... nothingness... as the fog obscured the ocean several hundred feet below.

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A friend from New York, Heidi, happens to be in Portland this week, too, so we took a drive out to Astoria to catch golden hour at the Peter Iredale shipwreck on the beach near Fort Stevens State Park.

We were lucky -- not only did we have some amazing clouds and colors in the sky, but the misty fog also started to roll in as the sun sank toward the ocean.

The shipwreck is awesome. It's been lodged in the sand here since 1906, when a storm pushed it ashore when it was trying to sail into the entrance to the Columbia River.

There is some awesome grass up on the dunes that looked really dreamy as the sun was setting.

I also made the pretty dumb decision to try some free-lensing on a windy beach, but I got one snap that's kind of close to what I'm looking for, so that was fun. Definitely want to try more of that soon!

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I was only in Vancouver for a weekend, but I took Sunday to drive out of the city and see some of British Columbia's fantastic landscape.

It was a beautiful day, but it was a tease! -- only serving to further ignite my desire to take my tent and spend a month or two in Canada's backcountry!

I first stopped at Capilano, a park in a sort of river gorge / canyon, which is a short drive (20 minutes without traffic?) from downtown Vancouver. I suggest getting there early, especially if you go on a weekend. I arrived 30 minutes before they opened, and I was the first one in line. People started swarming the park pretty quickly, though.

Once we got inside, everyone made a bee-line for the suspension bridge, but I went to see the Cliff Walk first. This was a good idea, because I had it to myself for about 20 minutes, before anyone else made it that far into the park.

So, I don't think I'm especially afraid of heights, but the Cliff Walk had me a little nervous. In parts, it's pretty narrow, and it IS, actually, a cliff. Straight down. Pretty far down. But it was thrilling and quiet and impressive and lovely.

Then I walked back over to the Suspension Bridge, which had maybe 15-20 people on it at this point, and I walked across.

And when I say "walked," I really mean "stumbled." I wasn't afraid, though -- even though the bridge swings, and the Cliff Walk is solid, I felt more comfortable on the bridge. No idea why. I did read all the little signs they have up about how strong it is (it can hold thousands of elephants, etc., etc.), so maybe that gave me some subconscious confidence, haha.

It's a long bridge. On the other side, there are a few smaller, raised suspension bridges through the trees, and a bunch of other paths along the cliff edge and through the forest. It's beautiful, even when it's swarming with tourists and children.

Then I walked by "Raptor Ridge" right as they were about to start a birds of prey demonstration, so I had a seat and waited for that, which ended up being really informative and interesting. It's so cool to see birds -- especially huge birds like that -- up close since they are so elusive in the wild. I learned a bunch of awesome facts about hawks and how they hunt. This really made the entry price (which is really steep) a bit more worth it.

When I was ready to leave, I walked over to the suspension bridge to cross it back over to the side with the park gates.

The bridge was COVERED with people by this point. And I mean that. Single file in each direction, a solid stream of people. There was an adorable older Japanese couple crossing in front of me, slowly, sideways, hand-over-hand on the railing of the bridge. I was patient, trying to smile reassuringly at the folks going across the other way who looked a bit panic-stricken.

Back on the other side, it was still a massive surprise to see how MANY people had come into the park. The place was absolutely SWARMING! But it was definitely worth it -- a great park, extra great if you are first in line!

There's free Wifi in the park, too, which is a nice bonus, especially for a non-Canadian like me who had to rely on Wifi my entire time in the country.

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After Capilano, I drove further up the 99 to Squamish. I wish I had more time to explore Canada's landscape, but this was the best I could do with only one day to spare.

I decided to try the Sea to Sky Gondola, which just opened a few months back. It's an expensive gondola ride with a few pretty touristy hiking trails to choose from once you get to the top (plus another suspension bridge). There's also a lodge area with a cafe, a restaurant, restrooms, and -- hooray! -- free Wifi.

The gondola ride was pretty awesome -- you basically go right up a cliff face -- and some of the views from the top are fantastic. You can look down on the three peaks of the Chief -- a popular hike on the mountain right next to the gondola -- and see the little people at the top of each one. From the top of the gondola ride, you are much higher than these people.

Some of the hikes might be nice, but I didn't take the time to do any of the longer ones.