The first time I ever went hiking in Washington I knew I was hooked. Even though there were a few moments where I thought I was going to throw up, pass out, or worse…fall off the side of the mountain.
For the record, I ended up doing none of these things, but what I did end up doing was falling in love with the experience.
This first hike occurred during a weekend when a few friends and I went camping near Brinnon, WA—a small town that sits east of the Olympic Mountain range and West of the Puget Sound.
Brinnon tops out at a population of around 900, and it’s referred to as ‘one of the gateways to the Olympic National Forest’. It’s also referred to as ‘one of the emerald towns of the hood canal’, so as you can probably imagine, it’s quite a beautiful little spot.
The area is popular for being ‘a beautiful little spot’, and year after year hiker’s and camper’s alike head there to indulge in its woodsy beauty, bountiful hiking and the real highlight of the season, it’s Annual Hood Canal Shrimp Festival.
Now being that I’m a Michigander who transplanted to Washington, I’ll say that during my first year there I found there were quite a few local things I was inexperienced in. First and foremost – Shrimp Festival’s. I’ve been to bean festival’s, potato festival’s and heck, even pumpkin festivals! But to my surprise, I had never had the opportunity to attend a Shrimp festival. I’ll touch more on that experience in a bit here…
Another thing I was rather inexperienced in was actual hiking. You know, the kind where guard rails are non-existent, hikes consist of going miles into the woods at elevations that practically touch the cloud’s, and how apparently finding snow in the middle of summer really isn’t all that weird.
These were all things I found out quickly during my first hike…along with the fact that regular Washington hikers are in ‘hella good shape.
The hike was around 4 miles round trip at an elevation of just over 2000 ft. That meant 2 miles up and 2 miles down. Seemed simple enough …or so I thought.
Then, not yet a mile into the hike I was crudely corrected as I stopped to catch my breath (and try and not die). Hunched over, debating if I was going to puke, I lifted my eyes to see that I was gleefully getting passed by a group of smiling locals’ that looked to be three times my age. How’s that story about the tortoise and the hair go again?…
It took my friends and me about an hour to reach the top and once we did my leg’s were shot, my body sweat-drenched, and my mind…actually, kind of… clear?
The feeling was intoxicating. I’d put in the work (slowly but surely) and now I was standing over 2000 feet in the air by the strength of my own body and my own damned willpower. As I drank that in I made my way closer to the edge, ready to take in the view I’d worked so hard for.
There was no view. My friend who was standing near the edge said aloud what we were all thinking…
“…Well, that was totally worth it”.
We could see nothing. Not even a glimpse of scenery. Notta. Zip. Zilch. A giant, grey, puffy cloud was covering EVERYTHING.
But the weirdest part was, I still thought it was worth it. The way I felt right then had made it worth it.
I’d go on to find that wouldn’t be the last time I’d hike miles up a mountain to see that a few clouds had rolled in. That’s the funny thing about the great outdoors, you can try and predict it all you want, but it has a mind all it’s own.
After my friends and I waited around awhile to see if the clouds would clear out, to no avail, we decided it was time to head back. We reached the bottom, finding we were famished and decided a shrimp festival sounded like just the thing to hit the spot.
The festival itself takes place just north of Brinnon in a large field between a General Store and an RV park. There’s numerous food vendors, exhibits and local crafts, while live music play’s through the whole thing.
AND there’s seriously any kind of shrimp imaginable. Shrimp taco’s, deep fried shrimp, shelled shrimp, coconut shrimp, shrimp scampi, shrimp po’boys. You name it, they got it! (By the way, I totally feel like ‘Bubba’ from Forrest Gump after that).
Once we arrived we all grabbed our shrimp entrée’s of choice—shrimp taco’s for me—and took a seat at one of the picnic benches to stuff our faces, drink a cold one & take in the ambiance.
So this was what Washington was like, huh? This was how people on the other side of the country lived?
Not bad, not bad at all, I thought.
After a while, we headed back to our campsite, started a fire & soaked in the warmth. One of our friends napped on his hammock while the other one dove into a book he’d brought while the other went off to check out the nearby river.
Myself? I observed. I observed the tree’s around me and found that they were enormous compared to the tree’s I knew in Michigan. I observed how each campsite was like its own little world, with the other campers seemingly far away. I observed the different types of greenery that surrounded me, from the grass below my feet to the moss above my head to the pine trees that morphed us in size.
As I sat there alongside my friends I noticed that we were so small in comparison to the grandiose landscape that Washington is, and I’d only seen such a small part of it.
I felt calm next to the warmth of the fire, my body, completely at ease.
My belly felt full from its well-deserved meal, my leg muscles relaxed after their hard day’s work.
My mind felt at peace. Clear, happy.
As I looked around at my friends lost in their own worlds I wondered if they felt this way often. If this was why they were the ‘outdoorsy people’ that they were.
I realized then that I wouldn’t mind becoming an outdoorsy person myself. If this was what it was like, it seemed like a pretty good kind of person to be.