Coming across sheer mountains rising from Lake Crescent, while driving the good old Highway 101 from Forks to Port Angeles atop the Olympic Peninsula, made me feel like I was experiencing a slice of Canada. This made sense because it was, at this location, only a short ferry ride away. The feeling didn’t last long, though. Port Angeles felt a lot like Cobain’s Aberdeen, minus the claim to fame and plus the suicidal atmosphere. This had been and would continue for some time to be pickup truck country; where the locals were as friendly as they were subtly suspicious. Everywhere there were political signs urging residents to vote for less national and state parks and “more working forests for working families”. Which whether directly or not meant a vote for doomed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Of course as we now know he shot himself in the foot by insinuating half his country’s population were cheats and welfare bludgers in that leaked video. The conservative prick. Desperately needing prolonged warmth, I lingered in the ironically named Port of Angels long enough to take a swim in its public pool and struggle to resist joining greying and extra wrinkled women enjoying aqua-yoga. Not an hour north of Olympia, Washington’s capitol, and several hours south-east of Port Angeles, Potlatch State Park seemed an insignificant smudge on the map next to the enormous Olympic National Park dominating the peninsula’s interior. Until I saw it with my own eyes. Late autumn leaves snowed down upon the deserted campground to form a thick carpet of reds, browns and yellows. Mossy trees hung over the scene like enormous bell boys at an upper class hotel. A small yet full stream trickled past my fire as I drank cheap beer and descended deeper into solitude inspired temporary insanity. My Converses stayed wet for full weeks from the moment I drunkenly stumbled into the stream to fill up a jug of water with which to douse the fire. It was, on its own, a very intoxicating place. Of course copious amounts of Captain Morgan rum only made it more so.
Everyone’s different. But when driving in Australia I’m used to, obviously, sitting in the left lane but sticking to its right-hand-side. I was still newly driving in America by the time I’d reached Yosemite, so this meant I’d regularly and occasionally dangerously move outside of the white line road border. Which I’d discover were called fog lines. Plus, during this particular trip back to my campsite, I unhappily rolled through one of the deserted tourist trap’s stop signs. These factors conspired to have flashing lights flare up in my rear-view mirror when I was almost literally within spitting distance of my campsite. I pulled over.
“You rolled through a stop sign back there,” the officer said.
“And you almost went off the road at one point, too.”
I explained my relative inexperience on US roads.
“Have you been drinking tonight?”
I answered in the affirmative, so he asked me to please step out of the car. The first sobriety test was to stand on one leg and count until this respectful but frustratingly diligent cop told me to stop, at about 17. It was about this time another two patrol cars arrived as ‘backup’ to probably the biggest bust in Yosemite’s recent history.
“Don’t mind them,” Robocop said. “They’re here for my protection.”
“Jesus,” I thought, “just how dangerous do I appear in a leather jacket, ripped jeans and black, fingerless gloves while driving an outrageously painted Chrysler van?”
Then I had to maintain my gaze on his finger moving slowly but erratically in front of my field of vision, without moving my head. Thirdly I had to walk a straight line while keeping my heel against the preceding foot’s toes with each step. Fear and adrenalin kicked in to have me swaying and stumbling well beyond the blame of any amount of actual intoxication. I’d find out later that, according to my test performance, I was as pissed as a parrot. As a coup de grace the dreaded breathalyser was introduced by the officer, who said I could use it presently or back at the station. I took a moment to consider my depressingly limited options.
I stood inexplicably weeping in the presence of Olympia’s Capitol Mall Korean War Memorial. I think it had something to do with the fact I learned the war against the Communist north had involved the largest coalition of nations ever formed before or since in order to safeguard the very freedoms I’d indulged in to be standing there. As the capitol was only a short distance south of the Potlatch campground, which I left early accompanied by a perfect sun rising somewhere over Seattle, I had a couple of hours to explore. The 1800s built Legislative Building was, naturally, as it imposed its Grecian presence over the whole area, a highlight. I wandered its marble splendour with delirious astonishment for an hour. One suited smiling sir asked me if I “needed help finding anything,” as he headed for an elevator.
“No,” I replied, mirroring his smile and looking around, “I’m just. . . .”
“Having a look around?” he interrupted, knowingly.
“Yeah. It’s amazing.”
“It’s certainly a neat place to come to work every day,” he concluded, and entered the elevator. Americans love the word “neat”. From there I wandered to the extreme southern tip of Puget Sound, which separates the Olympic Peninsula from every part of the state east of it, to take a mental and actual photo. Then I headed back to the Dragon, put the not to expire for an hour ticket back in the machine – for karma – and headed in Seattle’s direction, after driving through the capitol’s underwhelming yet bohemian port-side downtown. It was time for what I thought would be my final time camping within those United States, at beautiful but in no way convenient Camano Island. I danced, drunk, around the fire and attempted to commune directly with its departing wood spirits that night. I asked “Where are you going?” to which they replied, predictably: “Wherever the wind takes us.”