Leaving Portland was an interesting experience. I’d never driven an automatic car before. Never driven a left-hand-drive. Never driven on the right side of the road. Never navigated a four-way stop. Yet, here I was, doing all of those things. And did I mention the torrential rain?
As nervous as I was, renting a car for the first time five thousand miles from home, it was actually relatively painless getting out of Portland. The car rental office was just two blocks south of my hostel, and despite the downtown Portland location, only a further two blocks from the I-405 highway. I picked up the car, a silver Kia Forte, somewhat apprehensively; but driving an automatic car ended up being as straightforward as I’d hoped, and I got onto the highway without issue. Almost immediately, I took the exit for Route 26 heading west, where traffic was considerably lighter than on the Interstate, fairly quickly reducing down to a two-lane road as I left the city sprawl.
After about 75 miles and about an hour and a half of driving, I reached Route 101 at the Pacific coast, and turned north through the town of Seaside for another 25 miles or so until I reached the port city of Astoria.
The city itself is of important historical significance; in 1811, it became the first permanent settlement on the Pacific Coast, five years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition reached their final Pacific stop nearby. This is reflected across the many monuments and commemorations scattered across town, proudly displaying the history of the area.
I only spent one night in Astoria; as this was my first ever time driving in the USA, I didn’t want to over-stretch on the first day, hence the relatively short hundred-mile journey. After arriving into town around 4pm, I checked into my hotel, cleaned myself up, and walked a block south to the Fort George Brewery, built on the original site of the fur-trading outpost established in 1811. The brewery was one of the best I’ve ever been to for both food and beer - a welcome surprise from such a small town. Having sampled the majority of their beers, I took a walk up Coxcomb Hill for some beautiful views of the city, from the base of Astoria Tower.
The next morning, I woke early to go for a run along the Astoria Riverwalk, parallel to the Columbia River. There was a colony of sea lions out on the docks, barking at the sunrise, almost cheering me on. I finished my run, showered back at the hotel, and was out on the road before 9am.
The drive from Astoria to Port Angeles was a fair distance, about 250 miles up the Washington coast, almost entirely along Route 101. I stopped for coffee in the small city of Aberdeen (birthplace of Kurt Cobain), and then to refuel the car at a tiny two-pump garage at Lake Quinault. While in the area, I figured I’d take the opportunity to see the lake itself. I’m not usually one for hyperbole, but I did stand in awe just staring out at the perfectly still lake for a good ten minutes, before remembering I had parked in a loading zone and hastily made it back to the car and back out to Route 101.
After Quinault, my next stop was a short stop at Ruby Beach, just before Route 101 curves inwards away from the coast. From there on, there was only a brief stop for a Twilight-themed photograph in Forks before continuing on all the way to a motel in Port Angeles. Tired from the drive, I checked in, then walked a couple of blocks to Jack in the Box for fast food, then came back to the motel for an early night.
Olympic National Park
The next morning, I drove up Hurricane Ridge Road, a 17-mile route starting in Port Angeles, winding up the Klahhane Ridge to the peak of the ridge at 5,200ft. Snow started at around 4,000ft, but the drive up was by no means difficult. I stopped in the visitor centre for my first National Park pin, and wandered around the short trail. I should have brought sunglasses; the reflections from the bright white snow were painful, although the views were still truly spectacular.
After the drive back down to town and a quick lunch, I left town again in the opposite direction. On the way in along Route 101, I had spent a long stretch of it driving along the shores of Lake Crescent. I was too tired to stop and appreciate it fully at the time, so I knew I had to go back. I chose the small East Beach to park up and take it in; unbelievably, the entire area was deserted. The short, steep gravel drive to the car park was well-signed but hidden in the trees, which may have helped the quietness of the area. I walked back and forth along the shores, watching the deer and chipmunks dart between the trees as I approached.
My original plan had been to drive the car into Seattle the following day, before getting the Amtrak back up to Vancouver for the final stop of my trip. However, after spending a little time in Port Angeles I learned that there was a twice-daily bus to Seattle available for $39 one-way, and conveniently also an Enterprise office in the town. The clerk thankfully had no problem accepting the car back early and at a different location, and it actually ended up being cheaper for me as I didn’t pay for the extra day of car hire and insurance. After purchasing a Greyhound ticket and returning the car, I walked the three blocks back for my final night in the Port Angeles motel.
The Greyhound to Seattle left Port Angeles at 1pm, and took a little under 4 hours to get to the city centre - about the same time as it would have taken me to drive, except this way I didn’t have to navigate I-5 myself. My Amtrak was booked to depart at 18:50, although true to form it was severely delayed. We eventually departed Seattle around 8pm, heading north across the border for my final stop on this trip; Vancouver, British Columbia.