3.1 miles, 3.1 l – o – n – g miles. Honestly this is the thought that was going through my mind when I first saw the sign for our next destination.

Actually it was more fear and uncertainty than anything else. Uncertain that I could carry 40+ pounds that far. Fear that I would have to trudge through the rainforest in the dark (after all it is winter and the sun sets by 4:30PM). But wait!! Why psyche myself out before we even get started?

Backing up just a bit……………

Mr. Schoonie has finished with work and has just arrived to our apartment in Kennewick, WA at 7:30 AM. All the pre-trip preparations are complete and now it is a matter of him getting his shower, loading the car and hitting the road. Of course there is also the matter of securing some morning java on the way out of town as well. Not to worry, our google maps now know the phrase “Starbucks near me” very well.

Starbucks in hand and we are off!

Now it is a race to reach the Olympic National Park Wildlife Information Center in Port Angeles, WA by 4:00PM so we can get our camping permit and our bear can. As we round the bottom of the Puget Sound and head north on Highway 101 Mr. Schoonie asks me to call the park office and confirm that someone is there and how long will they be there? Yes, they are there and yes we can pick up our permit and bear can. I swear to you Mr. Schoonie broke every land speed record there is to get there and we made it with 15 minutes to spare. In the words of my adventurous husband, “some things are worth getting a speeding ticket over – and a bear can is one of those things”.

What is a bear can you ask? Most of the National Parks in this part of the country require campers to use bear cans for their food/perishable items while camping.

Long gone are the days of hanging everything from a tree branch. Animals figured out long ago how to get that magic bag down from that tree. Heck, the coastal raccoons are so smart they will roll the canister away and open it somewhere else – or so we are told (personally I really want to see that). The good thing is that once you lug this canister with you to your campsite it doubles as a place to sit.

Now the race is truly on. It is 4:00 PM and sunset is in a few minutes and we still have a 1.5 hour drive to get to our campsite for the night. We arrive at Lake Ozette and the first thing we see is a lot of water where campsites are supposed to be. A massive storm dumped several inches of rain in this area the previous week and the water is still very high in the streams, lakes, creeks and rivers. We finally found a campsite that was mostly dry and at least on higher ground but was a bit rocky. As we tried to drive our tent stakes into the ground we realized we needed a hammer (or at least a big rock). We didn’t have a hammer and it was so dark we couldn’t see any rocks so Mr. Schoonie improvised.

OH NO HE DIDN’T! Yes, yes he did. He used his Starbucks travel mug as a hammer and now as he says “it has character”. Luckily that whole process was relatively painless and we got the tent up lickety split. Thank goodness we had practiced this at home or otherwise we might have fumbled around for a long time with only the headlights from our car to illuminate the darkness. Don’t laugh – we literally practiced setting up the tent and slept in it at our apartment in Spokane so we would know how to set it up and just how much room we would have in the tent.

I have to give a shout out to our favorite REI store in Spokane, WA. When we were trying to decide on which tent to purchase and they let us take the two we were considering in the conference room and set them up and get inside them and really get a “feel” for which one would work for us. Thanks again REI Spokane and we hope to see you soon!

Finally the tent is up, the air mattresses blown up, and the sleeping bags are in place. The time has come to crawl into our temporary home and get some much needed rest to prepare for tomorrow’s hike to the campgrounds at Cape Alava. WAIT! IT IS ONLY 6:30 PM! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Yes you guessed it. We are going to bed at 6:30 PM. Now there is no telling how early we will wake up in the morning and we can’t head out on the trail until sunrise which doesn’t occur until 8:00 AM this time of year. Oh lordy it is going to be a very long night.

What was that? I know I heard something. There it is again. I whisper (if that is what you want to call it – I think of it as more of a soft scream) at Mr. Schoonie “did you hear that?” Then silence. I literally can hear my heartbeat in my head and then I hear it again.

Now my heart is racing and I am terrified! All these crazy thoughts are flying through my head as I envision something similar to the flying monkeys on the Wizard of Oz. All the while Mr. Schoonie is about to pee himself he is laughing so hard. This is not funny! There is something out there that is about to eat my face off and you are laughing. I realize this is a losing battle and bury myself inside my mummy sleeping bag and hope and pray that “it” can’t get to me.

As I am sure you can guess I didn’t go back to sleep and we decided to go ahead and head back to Port Angeles, WA for our final supplies before we make the 3.1 mile journey to the campsite (a hammer/hatchet is one thing you shouldn’t be without when camping out here). We decided to go to a Safeway store and this is when I learned what the awful terrifying sound was that I had heard.

It was the mating call of a barred owl. Two local gentlemen explained to me that it was early mating season for the Eagles and the Barred Owls and that due to the weird weather it was much earlier than normal. They also said that even the hummingbirds didn’t leave this year and continued to discuss how strange the winter weather (or lack of) had been and how that might affect the different native bird populations.

Thank goodness that is settled and now I know that it was only an owl that jolted me awake at 4:30 AM and not a giant flying monkey (I think Mr. Schoonie is still laughing). While in town we went to a great outdoor store that we highly recommend if you need something for your outdoor adventure. They even have some rentals if you need them: Brown’s in Port Angeles, WA.

We made our way back to Lake Ozette and started to break down camp and pack up so that we could start our hike to Cape Alava.

For me, this will be my first true backpacking adventure where I am carrying a 40+ pound pack and hiking my way into an area where I will camp for the next few days. I really am scared that I won’t be strong enough to make the journey and that I will disappoint Mr. Schoonie (who has been looking forward to this for months).

We start on the trail at 1:00PM and the trail is well groomed and doesn’t seem to have much of an elevation gain so I am confident that I will do ok. After an hour and a half into our journey the ankles are starting to ache and my dawgs are starting to whimper slightly. Nothing that isn’t bearable but I also don’t want to talk myself right out of a great hike because I am contemplating all the “what ifs”. As we hike along it is getting closer to 3:00 PM and we still can’t hear the ocean (I figure we should be able to hear it by now since we have been walking for 2 hours). All of a sudden a hiker comes walking up the trail behind us and says hello. We said hello back and he asked if we were going to Camp Alava and we said yes to camp for a few days. He was also going to Camp Alava and said he would see us there and we let him pass since we were obviously older AND slower than he was. He would turn out to be our neighbor for the weekend and the only other person camping at the campgrounds. Before we knew it he was out of sight and we were coming into some dense rain forest and it was downright dark in there. The sun still won’t be setting for another hour but I am telling you it was dark. We stopped for just a moment for me to put my head lamp on and I quickened my pace and just kept saying “we are going to make it, we are going to make it”. I absolutely DID NOT want to get caught in the unfamiliar woods with only a headlamp and a 40+ pound pack hiking off the side of a mountain into who knows what.

Finally we round a corner and the trail heads straight down and then **poof** out of the darkness appears two sets of what look like washed out stairs.

Great! It is dark, my dawgs are barking by this time, and I have a 40+ pound pack on my back and you want me to crawl down what? Mr. Schoonie pointed out that there was a rope with knots tied in it that I could hold for balance as I made my way down the ladder of death. This is where it gets scary. All of a sudden my legs start shaking. You know that feeling? That adrenaline “fight or flight” feeling when you can’t control the shaking? That is happening to me right now. Right when I have to remain calm and get down these dark stairs while hanging on to a rope.

By the grace of God I made it down those stairs and now there is a large log I have to walk across to get to the campground.

Geeezzzzz, just kill me please! Shaky legs plus a log just wide enough to walk across and a side rail ONLY ON ONE SIDE does not make for a joyous journey across the creek. All the way across the log I just kept muttering “you can do this, Jen” “you can do this, Jen”. We made it to the other side. Wait a second. Did you hear me? We made it. We actually just hiked 3.1 miles with a 40+ pound pack (Mr. Schoonies is closer to 70 pounds) in the dark with only a headlamp to light our way. Inside I am elated and want to jump for joy but outside my feet, legs and back are killing me and we still have to get camp set up before we can truly rest and relax.

Since we didn’t arrive until after dark we could only hear the roar of the waves we couldn’t actually see the ocean even though it was only about 100 feet from us. We didn’t dally and camp was set up in what seemed like record time and Mr. Schoonie began preparing what we now consider our campsite delicacy of tuna noodle mac-n-cheese. It is amazing what my husband can do with a camp cook stove, a box of mac-n-cheese, some tuna and some boiling water. I am considering contacting Tom Colicchio to film Top Chef Campsites with Mr. Schoonie as the judge! My hubby = Pure genius!!

7:30 AM the next morning and my alarm clock today is the Bald Eagles.  If you have never heard this sound it is beautiful but eerie at the same time.

Then all of a sudden in the far off distance I hear a sea lion barking. It is not yet light enough outside for me to see but I later learn the sea lions we can hear are on the islands and sea stacks that are at least ½ mile away. Now is when I pause, take a deep breath and say to myself – this is going to be a wonderful adventure.

As soon as it is light enough, I try to spring out of the tent but my tired body parts have other plans and I hobble/crawl out of the tent. Mr. Schoonie and I make our way onto the beach to survey our magnificent surroundings.

After enjoying a few peaceful minutes it is time for the breakfast edition of Top Chef Campsites. Do I have a treat for you. Did you ever get to enjoy Peanut Butter Captain Crunch? Mr. Schoonie surpassed the yumminess factor of peanut butter crunch cereal with peanut butter granola and powdered milk topped off with just enough boiling water to make warm milk. This will definitely be on the campsite menu in the future.

With breakfast and dishes done we head out for a stroll north along the beach. It is low tide and the tide pools are brimming with sea life and color. Up ahead we see that the tide is low enough that we can walk all the way across to one of the islands off the coast. As we make our way across the rocks to the island it quickly becomes apparent that we cannot walk completely around the island on foot so we decide to turn around and head back to the mainland before the tide gets any higher and our walkway becomes covered with water once again.

Back on the mainland we begin to make our way back to our camp which by this time is a little over a mile walk. There is so much debris that has been washed up on the beaches by the huge storm that passed through last week. There are entire trees, lots of driftwood, plastic, fishing nets, ropes, and assorted other fishing items and buoys. Most of the items are from Japan and were carried here by the storm surge. We are after all on the farthest point West on the continental United States. Some of the items are very interesting but the majority is just trash.

We soon notice in the distance that there are a lot of gulls and ravens eating something that is in the seaweed that has washed up during high tide. When we get close enough to see what it is, we are not happy when we find half a sea lion. It doesn’t appear to have been there very long because the body is still well colored and the internal organs are still well colored as well. Definitely not the most pleasant sight on this trip but it does remind us that we are in the great outdoors and this is nature!

Moving right along. Walking along the beach is very relaxing and before we know it we are back at the campsite and Mr. Schoonie is contemplating what great delicacy he will prepare on the next round of Top Chef Campsite.

Before preparing lunch we need to get water. This is something new for me. There is no water available and you must filter your own water. Luckily there is a wonderful creek that is just perfect for that. The water in this area is the color of tea from the tannins in the leaves. You would think it is dirty but it is not and the tannins don’t give the water an “off” taste either. The water is just stained but tastes great and is perfectly safe as long as you filter it. I learned from Mr. Schoonie that you should always filter your water because the normal/popular methods for making your water drinkable (iodine and boiling) don’t kill the cryptosporidium bacteria which is found in this part of the country. Not to worry though. Mr. Schoonie is definitely the expert on this subject and we already have a filter and everything. It is amazingly easy to use and all you do is place one end in the water source and use the pump to draw water through the filter and into your container. In just a few minutes our water supply is replenished and it is time for lunch.

On the lunch menu today is a Teriyaki Rice dish (pre-packaged). It pains me to report that this item will not make it back on our menu. It just wasn’t very good.

After lunch I was just meandering along the beach taking pictures and stuff when all of a sudden Mr. Schoonie comes down the bank and says “come here” in that voice that lets me know he has found something. I start to hobble over and he says “this way” and heads up the beach. By this time I am questioning him “what is it?” “where are we going?” Just as I ask that he says “right over here” and stops me. He says “do you want to see some deer”? Well, duh! Of course I want to see some deer. So I am thinking we are going to have to head up the trail and into the woods. Holy wow, they are right here. Right here not 10 feet away from us. It turns out that Mr. Schoonie was walking down the beach and decided to take the access path up the bank and then walk back down the woodland path to the campsite. When he got to the top of the bank he came almost nose to nose with a deer. His words were “I got to the top of the bank and then – Hello – How are you today?” as he is talking to the doe that he is almost nose to nose with. It is unbelievable just how close these wild animals are. It is like we walked into a petting zoo with no fences. After a few minutes we notice there aren’t just two deer but actually 6 of them. Now we are outnumbered by wild animals and it is starting to become uncomfortable. The deer didn’t care that we were there at all. They just kept on eating and essentially ignored us completely. I took lots of pictures and we decided to leave them alone and head back down the path to our campsite.

As our day begins to draw to a close we talk about hiking to the Wedding Rocks tomorrow to see the petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are prehistoric rock drawings and there are several of them about 1.5 miles south of where we are staying.

All of a sudden I look up and notice a different shape in the water just off the shore. Is it a sea weed bed? Is it a couple of pelicans? What is that? Oh my goodness……….it is a pair of sea otters playing and eating clams. Amazing. It is like watching a National Geographic sea animal special. We have gotten to enjoy Bald Eagles, Barred Owls, Sea Lions, Cormorants, Harlequin Ducks, Mergansers and now a pair of Sea Otters.

I wasn’t able to get the same great pictures we normally get (I am blaming it on the clouds and low light conditions) but our campsite neighbor got some video that is great.

After that glorious sight we stroll back up the bank to the campsite and enjoy some hot apple cider before calling it a night.

Wow we slept for 10 hours. That is incredible. We can hear the Eagles calling as well as the Sea Lions barking but the tone of this morning seems to be very mellow. Mr. Schoonie has already started breakfast and I am in the tent changing clothes and getting ready for another glorious day. After a few minutes I hear Mr. Schoonie say “good morning ladies” and then “don’t squat right there”. “Hey I didn’t squat and pee in your front yard, don’t do it in mine”. The black tail doe are back and are just barely an arm’s length away. They are so close to us I can hear them chewing and all I can do is smile with contentment at the thought that we are experiencing moments that most people will never get to have.

I am not hobbling so badly today and I tell Mr. Schoonie I think I am up for the 1.5 mile hike to see the petroglyphs and we have our warm raspberry/blueberry granola and coffee and head south down the beach. I don’t mean to brush by another glorious meal but I am realizing that we still have lots to share with you and this particular posting is becoming a small book in length.

For those of you that have hung in there, thank you. We truly do love to share our adventures with you and wished we could have every one of you here with us.

On to the petroglyphs. We started our hike not knowing what to expect but we knew that today’s low tide would be the lowest of the low and would be the best day to explore the tide pools and to see the petroglyphs.

The beaches in this part of Washington are unlike any I have ever seen. They are not sandy; in fact they have very little sand and are made up of mostly rocks and driftwood.

The entire 1.5 mile hike to the petroglyphs surprisingly doesn’t take as long as we thought it would. We met several hikers along our way and were lucky to find hikers that had been to the petroglyphs before and gave us a few pointers. They told us the approximate area to start looking and reminded us not to hurry or we would miss the rock carvings. We zig zagged our way to the area to start looking and we were both thankful we had brought our trekking poles that provided much needed balance as we boulder hopped our way to the destination.

I have to admit I was skeptical that we would actually see the rock carvings that everyone talks about because of the rough terrain and having to climb over, around, behind and beside huge boulders and sea stacks to find the pictures. We decided it was best if we split up and Mr. Schoonie would look at the front side and I would check the backside of the rocks. “Here is one”! Mr. Schoonie found the first one and after that it was fairly easy to find them. We actually saw all the ones we had seen posted on the internet and then found another which neither of us could identify.

We had timed this hike so that we were there right at (or technically just after) low tide and we could see why hikers are warned repeatedly about watching the tides so they don’t get trapped when the tide comes in. If you are on the wrong side of the point there is no return path until the tide goes back out 12 hours later. We were mindful of this warning and Mr. Schoonie hinted it was time to start back and to at least get back north of Wedding Rocks so that we don’t get trapped by the tide.

We had no worries and continued to explore the beaches and tide pools all the way back to our campsite. Oddly enough on this beach hike we didn’t see much wildlife. We did see Eagles and Herons and several Sea Birds and then all of a sudden I glanced up and saw a beautiful black tail buck. He is spectacular but definantly pre-occupied. He didn’t even bat an eye at us and continually stared up the hillside. Eventually we learned what he was staring at – a doe resting on the side of a hill. We walked within feet of the buck and he never moved.

Soon we were back at our campsite and have some beef jerky and a protein bar for lunch. There are lots of deer strolling around the campgrounds and we finish our lunch and watch the deer.

I think I forgot to tell you about the Princess Chair. On our first day at camp we were exploring farther down the campground and at one of the campsites we found a chair.  Someone was very creative and had created this chair out of a piece of driftwood. It had “The Princess Chair” carved into the back.

How appropriate – well at least I thought so. For those of you that don’t know, Mr. Schoonie often refers to me as “Princess Jennifer” so of course we had to bring this chair back to our campsite.

As we continue to enjoy our surroundings the clouds break and a beautiful sunset happens right before our eyes. I snapped a picture just as a bird was flying past some rocks as the waves are crashing behind them. I know I keep saying this but it is true. We are so blessed to be able to experience all these wonderful things!

We certainly thought the sunset was brilliant but it would be topped by the brilliant sunrise we get to see the day we are headed back to civilization.

By this time, my camera battery has died and the “USB charging port” on the back of our hand crank emergency radio does not work to charge the battery in the least little bit. So much for trying to be prepared. We will be purchasing a solar charger for our phones and cameras ASAP.

Although our “pack out” was uneventful with the exception of the beautiful sunrise, we certainly weren’t in any hurry to leave this place. I am feeling good today and am positive we will have a great hike out. Surprisingly we completed the 3.1 miles a little faster than when we hiked in and that is encouraging to me for future adventures.

We saw many wonderful things these last four days and would not trade it for the world. As we get ready to cross the final bridge off our trail and step out of the woods we look to our right and there (almost within arm’s reach) is a doe. She came to bid us farewell and to remind us that…………OUR paradise was just a 5k away! We hope that you find your paradise and go to it every chance you get. Be bold, Be Adventurous! Until next time, ENJOY!

Jen and Dwight have a delightful website with all their travels – The Traveling Schoonies!