Odyssey in the Pacific North West

Words and photos by Molly Steele

Molly Steele was heading up the Pacific Coast with her friend Gabi, so we asked her to take a few snaps and write about the experience for Neck of the Woods. Here’s what happened.

We might have been looking to go anywhere and see no-one… Or maybe we wanted to feel like anyone, in the middle of nowhere. Running from months of quarantining in the urban concrete-scape of Los Angeles, we took a train up the west coast to the Pacific Northwest, where it can be easier to distance yourself from others.

Sundrenched morning in the Hoh Rainforest, Washington.
Riding around Vashon Island in the back of the Westfalia.

We made up names, Gia and Peach, and fit what we could into a single bag along with our camping gear. Our itinerary looked like something spilt on a map, as we dreamt about alpine glaciers and summer berries, rainforests and bathing in rivers. What was going to be a week turned to ten days, then fourteen… I’m not sure how long we spent, slipping from Oregon into Washington, back down to Oregon and then onto the Lost Coast of Northern California.

Digging for crustaceans on Vashon Island.

We slept mostly outside, sometimes in a driftwood fort on the beach or in our tents, even a few nights in a yurt on a coastal island. Fresh summer produce had us fed on a colourful palate cooked over the camp stove, and we always had a cup of fresh-picked cherries or wild berries to snack from.

Evening bonfire ritual on Vashon Island.

Leaning into the disorientation of mobility that followed so much stagnant isolation, we opened and finished bottles of wine throughout the trip. I tend to dress my travels in a sort of budget hedonism intending to maximize my combined pleasures, and I’m at peace with that.

Gabi in the foxgloves.

The goal was to feel so much of what was lacking in the city over the last few months, like joy, space, and movement. More often than not, our friends were replaced with barn owls, elk, marmots and deer, building alliances with the trees and mountains that held us. With all of our time spent in the forest or on the wild coast, we got to absorb a lot of imagery not offered down south just aways in Southern California, and in this way we too indulged.

Oregon summer.
Gabi in the moss on Mount Rainier.

What feels most tangible in my memory is the fresh wind against my skin, the plumpness of salmonberries in my palm, and the feeling that we could stretch out fully, seeing no-one. More dangerous than the threat of a visiting bear or patch of poison oak is the overwhelming untying I felt from life back home.

Escape to the Olympic Peninsula.
Tree of Life.

Could we be Gia and Peach forever, sell fruit on the roadside and slip into a pastoral complacency? How long could we pull this off before our affinity to community and collectivity needed nurturing, just as our need for immersion in nature did?

Secluded sleepover on the Lost Coast.
Lost Coast

What we owe to others pulled us in further each day as we neared the end of our trip, as we dipped back into other traces of reality running alongside ours. Travelling can be a cycle of becoming untethered and tethered again. It’s almost like a distant sound on the wind tells you when it’s time to come back home, flowers pressed in a book you’ll set aside for a while.

Wild elk on the Lost Coast.

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