Washington—Olympic Peninsula: Water Rules

Washington—Olympic Peninsula: Water Rules
The Olympic Peninsula is not only surrounded by water on three sides—it is ruled by the wet elements, which forms a unique place in the Pacific Northwest.

Whack! This could go so wrong, I think to myself. Just before the salmon hits the faces of the surprised customers, the salesman catches the big fish. The crowd is cheering. Whack! With a slick swing, the fish is flying back to the colleague behind the counter. As safe as a quarterback, he also catches the sailing seafood and immediately sends it back. Six pounds of fish aim toward the crowd but no harm is done—these guys have been doing this for many years. You can read about their flying fish performance in any Seattle guidebook.

Highway 112 touches the coast at the Strait of Juan de Fuca where the water plays peek-a-boo among stones and shrubbery.

The story started in 1986. Pike Place, Seattle’s fish market, was almost bankrupt. They had to do something to attract visitors hence “flying fish” was born. The salesman in front of the counter threw a fish chosen by a customer to the guy behind the counter. It was then packed and thrown back. They did it with a lot of cheering and noise so more and more people became curious. Finally TV stations came and Pike Place became famous. Now the market sees about 10 million visitors from around the world per year. No wonder, it seems all of Seattle rocks. Some of America’s most famous bands (Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam) got their start here. For me, the town is only the hub to the complete opposite of a bustling city: the Olympic Peninsula, known for its outstanding nature.

Motorcycle & Gear

2012 KTM 990 Adventure

Helmet: SHOEI Hornet-DS
Jacket & Pants: REV’IT! Sand 2
Gloves: REV’IT! Sand Pro
Boots: Daytona Traveller GTX
Tent: Hilleberg Soulo
Luggage: Touratech Tankbag, Ortlieb Rack

Come As You Are

Due to the infamous traffic of the Seattle area there is no smarter—or more beautiful—way to leave the city than by ferry. The ship not only provides a relaxed escape from the city, but I also get a postcard view of the Seattle skyline with snow-covered Mount Rainier in the background. The cruise across the Puget Sound to the peninsula takes one hour. When I arrive, it’s like I’m in a different world. This piece of land in the far northwestern corner of the United States is a land of extremes, as I shall find out during my journey. But first, I ride through a rather unspectacular mixture of flora and farmland before approaching Aberdeen, where things start to get busier.

Olympic's West coast is very much alive – dive into something delicious at the annual Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival held in October.

Aberdeen welcomes visitors with a lyric from its most famous inhabitant, Kurt Cobain: “Come as you are.” Cobain was the lead singer of the band Nirvana and was born here as the son of a nurse and a mechanic. The name of the town is derived from the working-class port city of Aberdeen in Scotland, which fits perfectly. Industrial plants, wooden houses, and a couple of rusted fishing boats—there is nothing fancy here. Even the climate seems fitting of its Scottish derivative—the area receives me windy and wet. Of course, I’m right at the edge of the Pacific, which sends an extremely cold current up the west coast.

A Fairytale Time Warp

From here on I’m northbound, heading directly toward Mount Olympus. Former immigrants from all over Europe made it possible. Right beside a Scottish harbor town sits a Greek mountain. Similar to the Greek original, the 7,980-foot high mountain towers like a fortress above the surrounding countryside. The exposed location is responsible for unique vegetation, which proves to be quite fascinating. After 50 miles, I arrive at Lake Quinault. This dark green pearl of water is located on the western side of Mount Olympus—and it’s exactly there where all the clouds from the Pacific are caught to drop their rain. The result is a splendid variety of foliage that is hard to top by anything else in the country. I enter a fairytale scene of huge fir trees with thick moss hanging from the branches. Ferns sprout everywhere and the rhododendron is blossoming. The village of Quinault consists of a few houses that spread near the lakeshore, a small grocery store, and a lodge. The lobby of the Lake Quinault Lodge is adorned with a historic brick fireplace, and there is a garden with a gorgeous view of the lake. Both the lobby and the garden are open to the public and worth a visit. Outside the lodge is a large chart showing the annual precipitation. Last year it was about seven times higher than London.

Several murals bring some additional life into the town of Port Angeles.

Today it’s dry, which makes the upcoming course even more enjoyable. It leads me around the lake. Soon asphalt changes to gravel. When I let the KTM run freely there is even dust spreading—I guess a rather rare occurrence in this wet environment. I have to slow down. As soon as I cross the bridge over the Quinault River, the corners become tighter and the slopes steeper. The landscape needs more attention as well. The forest hung with moss and lichens is a dream in green. Behind every corner you would expect to see some gnome, a fairy, or at least a big bear.

Only moments ago I was in the jungle, but now I’m at the coast. It is as wild as the mountains. As far as the weather goes, it is a quiet day. Judging from the masses of driftwood, it’s easy to imagine the force of the wind when the Pacific storms hit the coast. All the driftwood reaches the shore via the rivers coming from the center of the peninsula. It transforms the coast into a perfect adventure playground. Here I would like to be a child again.

Collections Boutique and the Windjammer Gallery take center stage on Front Street in Coupeville on Whidbey Island.

The route turns away from the Pacific to a different spectacle. Of course, I have to ride to the place that attracts the most visitors in the Olympic National Park, the Hoh Rain Forest. Beside the Hoh River, a dead-end trail leads into the heart of the mountains. The area is so remote that even in times of rigorous lumber harvesting they forgot some of the largest trees—fortunately. Today the 250-foot high wooden giants stand like monuments in the lush greenery. Along the short hikes, I hear languages from all over the world. Understandably, everybody wants to see one of the last moderate-climate rain forests.