August was stretching lazily toward the end of summer and I was eager to get one more trip in. I was in the middle of negotiating a couple job offers and I could see employment in the hazily outline of the fall so a trip meant more than an adventure, it was a diversion.
After 15 months of happily being on a life & travel sabbatical, the real world was calling. I decided to let it leave a message and get off the grid one last time. Having trekked to nearly 40 cities over many months, I’d had my fill of airports. Plus, it was summer in the Northwest – the glorious season that is the reward for the Seattle rain.
My kids were days away from heading back to school, which meant their noses were inches apart from their technology devices. Unplugged and outdoors was my goal so we packed up dog, boys, and minivan and headed to the Olympic National Park (ONP) in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.
Officially designated by President Roosevelt in 1909 and then christened a national park by the other President Roosevelt in 1938, the ONP boasts three distinct ecosystems across 922,000 acres and 73 miles of coastline. So you can see rainforests, wildlife and the Pacific Ocean – plus drive through the town Forks from the Twilight book series, so, you know, something for everyone.
I had heard about the Kalaloch Lodge from a friend and I called several times to see if they had any last-minute cancellations on their cabins. At last they did and I booked a one-bedroom cabin. (Note: this technique has proved fruitful many times when traveling. Motto: keep trying.)
We set out the week before Labor Day and it proved to be a quiet week. Several schools had already started and we beat the three-day weekend rush so we enjoyed less traffic on the roads and inside the park. Our cabin wasn’t ready when we arrived but the staff was friendly.
“Go explore Beach 4 while you wait,” we were told. “It’s dog-friendly and just down the road.”
Soft sand and large driftwood spanned in both directions and we joined other nature trekkers and several happy dogs trotting through the surf. Our rescue dog, Lucy, gets a bit skittish around water but she loved climbing up on the rocks and chasing after my guys as they tossed sticks back into the waves.
Fresh from frolicking, we headed back to the Lodge and checked in to our cabin, which was upgraded to a two-bedroom – a happy surprise. Kalaloch has no wi-fi, cell service, TVs in the room, or any other technology access. I mentioned that to the rest of the family only on the drive there.
Our cabin had a rustic vibe but was well-appointed with a kitchenette, walking sticks to use at the beach, and a wood-burning fireplace. My very happy place was in the grassy back area that overlooked the ocean. I sat in the white Adirondack chair and listened to the soundtrack all around me. Every so often on a trip, a moment comes to you that catches you in the here-and-now. This was one of those moments and I knew this little place on Earth was imprinting itself on me.
We wandered past the outdoor firepit on our way to dinner and the crackling wood winked at us as we walked by. The smell of an outdoor fire is a sensory memory for me and I deliberately walked through the smoke cloud to wear it a bit longer as perfume. We arrived just before sunset and were taken to the seat right next to the window.
“Look at the sky, guys,” I said, pointing out the window as we sat. I reached for my phone to capture the moment and realized I didn’t have it. Does anything really happen anymore if we can’t capture it instantly? I settled into my chair, looked across at the kids chattering away and made a mental picture, no hashtag required.
Over the next two days, we explored the Hoh Rainforest, tipping our heads toward the sky to see the tips of trees. We greeted a Sitka spruce that is nearly 200 feet tall and 1,000 years old. We roamed beaches and climbed over clusters of driftwood, eventually picking out a piece to put in our front yard. Our dog allowed her paws to touch the water, the kids dug holes in the sand and threw endless rocks into the waves. We stopped to watch where the fresh water meets salt water and walked along the wet pathway of the hide tide started.
We drove into the towns and ate the daily specials. In our emerging travel tradition, my always-hungry 13-year-old adds a new food to his palate. This time it was clam chowder. “How do they get soup to be white?” he asks, while adding stacks of oyster crackers to the top.
Our last stop was the Dungeness Spit, a 5.5-mile sandspit in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We all learned a bit more about geography as we hiked our way down to the Spit through a forest canopy of moss-laded trees. Just north across the water was Victoria, British Columbia where we had been a few months before so our nature nerdfest had come full circle.
We settled into dinner on our last night and our phones pinged with news for our kids. Our 5th grader found out his teacher and quickly determined few friends in his class. And both boys made the basketball teams they wanted for the season so there were smiles and root beer toasts all around. The season was ready to tip forward and we lingered that night in the precipice of change a little longer.
Being on nearly empty beaches near the end of summer was the best capstone to a Seattle summer and to this year-plus of life. I had been on, over, and in water throughout my journey – from the Mediterranean Sea to Alaskan glacier water – yet there was something about being close to home that helped signal the transition for a new journey.
Less than a week after we were back, I accepted a job. After a long stretch of being unencumbered, I was ready to ease back into corporate life.
A few weeks before I started my new job, we had friends over for dinner. As we lingered at the table between food and laughs, my friend leaned over and asked, “So what’s next after you start this job?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“What’s your next step? What’s your dream job?” she said.
I looked up at the ceiling, pondering. It hadn’t thought about this. I brought my wine glass up to my nose then took a long drink. “I don’t have a dream job anymore,” I said. “I only have a dream life.”
And, in that moment, I realized the clarity of it. I had relinquished all my Gen X ambitions slowly, but quite surely, over the last year in a half. The boxes I looked forward to checking now were of a more nomadic nature.
Sitting there that night, I already had four trips booked over the next seven months and am currently researching international designations for next summer. These family-centered experiences are a large part of what my new job is now funding.
Breathing in wide open spaces, in many different elevations and time zones, had changed me. No doubt, I’ll need to re-set boundaries and exercise against old work habits. But now that I’ve hopscotched between work and life, I find the choices more readily visible and the priority more natural.
There are trade-offs, to be sure. Yet, the greatest understanding I’m taking away from this last year of life is that this life is now more than a year. How it unfolds remains to be seen and I did chose to join one of the largest companies in the world, so there’s a built-in juxtaposition. And yet, as always, that is the beginning of a good story…