The following story involves neither hiking nor beer. Shocking, we know. What it does involve is travel, a lovely lodge, the great outdoors, and a bottle of wine. Enjoy!
The drive from Bellingham to the Olympic Peninsula is long. Four and a half hours long - without traffic - to Kalaloch. Cruising down I-5, the miles are a blur. Then comes Olympia. Our state’s capitol, Olympia is the gateway to Olympic National Park.
We stop in Olympia for lunch and gasoline. It is raining, as expected. November’s first big storm is blowing in, and Rachel receives several phone calls from a concerned relative - warning that the entire park is closed. “Park Areas Closed Due to Storm” is the official National Park Service alert. Fortunately, the Pacific is always open.
Westbound we head, through Cobain’s Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Humptulips. Lake Quinault would make for a fine stop on a less precipitous day, but we are ocean-bound. Through Queets we pass: last stop for cash and gas. Rachel can barely contain her excitement. I squint into the thickening fog. The ocean looms near.
At Kalaloch Lodge we arrive in a downpour, windshield wipers on high as sheets of water drench my trusty Subaru. No worries. The rains here are as welcome as the sunset, as constant and comforting as the surf. We check in and are greeted by a pleasant woman, who answers our questions before sending us off to our bluff-top ocean view cabin.
Our first surprise is the covered carport. What a difference it makes to step out, amidst stormy weather, to a dry and welcoming walkway. The ocean crashes below. We fish out keys and open the door to our calm, cozy cabin. Not small cozy, but warm cozy. This spacious 2-bedroom beach house is a true home away from home, complete with full kitchen and living room. A note from the staff - our second surprise - awaits. “Please accept this wine and cheese plate as our gift to you.” We accept.
Originally built in 1925, Becker’s Cabin Camp began as a collection of 9 cabins, before an expansion in 1931 following the completion of Highway 101. Today, Kalaloch Lodge welcomes travelers with 10 rooms in the main lodge, 44 cabins, and 10 rooms in the Seacrest House. Many of the rooms, like ours, offer ocean views. Cabins are pet-friendly and non-smoking. Our cabin, #13, sleeps up to 6. We find its efficient layout to be quite roomy for 2.
Indecision plagues me. Do I dive into the wine and cheese? Run around on the beach like a crazed maniac? Finish unloading the car? Why not all three? We’ve been sitting for hours, so hunkering down for the night is out of the question. We came here to experience the roar of the Pacific. Out we go.
Down a stairway to the beach, our boots haven’t even met the sand yet and we are already soaked. We run, hopping driftwood, out to the shoreline to stick our hands in the freezing surf. As winds howl and waves crash, we feel alive. I’ve forgotten the drive, the worries, the weather. None of it matters.
Kalaloch’s beach is empty. We are - it seems - the only wild ones. Yet as we sprint across the sand, chilled to the core, a couple makes their way towards us, dogs in tow. I wave and smile. They return the gesture. Words, inaudible above the storm, have no meaning out here anyway. Torrents of wind-propelled rain sting my face. Hunkering down for the night doesn’t sound so bad after all.
Once inside, it’s clothes off and heater on. Shirts, socks and shoes are saturated. A hot shower and dry clothing have never felt better. We’d been outside for no longer than 10 minutes, and it was enough. Bring on the wine and cheese.
I set out to build a fire. The wood-burning brick fireplace is perhaps our cabin’s most charming feature, and it would be a shame not to use the bundle of firewood provided. Matches, firestarter, and instructions make the process fairly foolproof, even for a clumsy writer. Once the flames are roaring, we utilize our kitchen to prepare a simple dinner of pasta, bread, and salad. Intoxicated by food and the warmth of the fire, we sink into lounge chairs and pick up a book. The hours slip away.
Never once during our stay do we wish for TV, phone, or internet. My cell works, but reception is spotty. When our power goes out sometime during the night, the fireplace and Pendelton blanket keep us warm. I awaken before dawn and look out at coastal waves clashing. Magnificent. Then back to sleep as the storm rages on.
For breakfast we drive to the Creekside Restaurant. We’d walk, but it’s check out time and still soggy out. A jolly man at the front desk asks how our stay was, damn near charming as can be. He seats us at a window overlooking Kalaloch Creek. Muddy and swollen, the creek charges across the beach to meet the saltwater.
Order’s up. Smoked Salmon Hash, Olympic Grilled Toast, and a Pacific Health Blast Smoothie satisfy our hunger. Our experienced server is friendly and knows how to make guests feel comfortable. We swap stories about dogs. Her stories are much better than mine, as she claims to own a dog that chases bears and bobcats from her property. I am quite impressed.
On our way out, we bump into the man who seated us for breakfast. “Lovely weather this morning”, he quips with a sincere smile. We do not want to leave. Despite how weary I grow of such dreary weather, despite my constantly nagging cabin fever during the Pacific Northwest’s long winters - I want nothing more than to return to our cabin and cozy up next to the fire.
Let it rain. This coastline receives 12 feet of rainfall every year. Without it, we wouldn’t know the lush Hoh Rainforest, the greens and blues of Olympic National Park and Washington State. The rains bring life to our rivers and streams, our forests and meadows. What better shelter from these rains than a beach house on the bluff? I can think of none. It’s no wonder the Quinault Indians named Kalaloch K’Ele ok: “a good place to land”.