Before I left work I stopped at the free table, where there was even more food than normal because of Thanksgiving. I grabbed a bag of grapes and some carrots and a large loaf of rosemary bread for my journey.
I walked toward the shore, adjusting my backpack and trying to figure out what to do with my keys. The beginning of my route followed a coastal industrial area I had walked through before, nonsensically trying to meet someone halfway to the climbing gym. It was already getting dark. I traveled through the neon signs for storage facilities and U-Haul lots.
Eventually, the industrial area morphed into marine-industrial and then just marine. I had chosen the coastal route because it looked more interesting than any other route out of Seattle. I passed some marinas, and at the fanciest one I found a public restroom. By this point, I wasn’t seeing many people, either driving or walking. I had just been stitching together some previous urban walks with relatively uneventful in-between parts.
Then I got to Golden Gardens park. I f￼ollowed the trails along the shore past some boisterous night fishermen, feeling the texture of the sand through my shoes, listening to the waves, and staring at the few trees and the big, surprisingly clear starry sky above me. When the park trails ended, I had vaguely intended to follow the train tracks to Carkeek, another beach park. I was met with fences and darkness. I turned on my flashlight, found a gap in the fence, and started walking north along the tracks.
I ate some bread from my backpack while walking. Oh what delicious solitude! I was on high alert, constantly listening to check if the sound of the waves was actually an oncoming train. Walking on the gravel was rough, but the landscape was soft and subtle. Even in the dark I could make out the black outline of the curving shore in front of me and several layers of soft white foam outlines. The water was only a couple of meters away from the train tracks.
Along the tracks were a lot of very fancy houses, all with huge windows facing the water and very hip-looking sculptural light fixtures. I could see almost everyone was watching TV. One woman stared directly at me. I waved, she stared more.
Past the residential area, the fog thickened and it started to rain, hard. I put on my rain jacket and started to hope for the park. Eventually, I saw the pedestrian bridge that was part of one of the trails. It was fenced off to keep people from getting onto the tracks. It wasn’t ideal in the rain and with a backpack, but I climbed over the fence, and at the top of it somehow bridged the gap to the landing partway up the staircase. I started texting my Airbnb host as I got lost in the complicated parking lot. After going through some very quiet, broad suburban streets that felt like an exaggeration of a childhood memory, I got to the right place.
The host was cordial but not talkative. I found this surprising, as his house was a weird wonderland of Elvis memorabilia, handcrafted furniture, disco balls, bad thrifted paintings, and steampunk collages. I made myself some ginger tea and ate some bread and some apples he left out for me, and went to sleep.
The next morning, I woke up, made coffee, and left through the back door. I hadn’t been to this side of the house, and it turned out to be entirely surrounded with 6-foot mirrors to create what became, in the dark, some kind of Lynchian maze. I took a whispered call from Wade as I found my way out and started making my way back to the coast.
Finally, for the first time, I was walking when the sun was out. I was taking some neighborhood roads to avoid the monotony of the highway, and I accidentally joined a turkey trot. I ran with them until the routes diverged again. It was raining really hard, so I bought a latte to make myself feel better. What helped more was an older man in a wheelchair with two extremely fluffy dogs, sitting in his yard surrounded by pinwheels, who smiled big at me when I said hi. I needed to actually intersect the main road soon to get to the ferry, which I started to look forward to because this route had turned out to be long on miles for the amount of northward progress.
Eventually, I got to the main road and went to wring out my hair and devour a couple of egg sandwiches. From that point, I was following part of my commute to my old job, which was surreal. I noticed the same landmarks, but they felt further apart. I eventually passed my old building and approached the ferry.
I dodged the cars waiting for the ferry starting about a mile back and saw the water come into view. I gasped at the blurry, undifferentiated expanse of water and sky in front of me. As I approached the ferry terminal, I saw some groups of black birds gathering overhead.
I got to the ticket booth and bought a walk-on ticket. I went to take a children’s activity book, and the ticket seller said, “you get two crayons.”
“Yeah, every kid gets two crayons for the book.” She winked at me. Soon, I was on the ferry, drinking hot chocolate and assembling a puzzle. The foam created by the boat’s movement was mesmerizing. Somehow, I had already walked almost 25 miles that day by 2, and I had around 10 left on Whidbey Island.
Immediately on the other side, I found a side road to follow again. The sky cleared up and I saw a rainbow. There were rural homes with quirky names and scarecrows assembled from odd objects. Eventually, after miles of broad curving roads with puddles reflecting the sky, I came to the main road again. There was a broad shoulder even if no sidewalk. I did some dancing under the tall evergreens.
After a bit of dancing, I became worried nothing in Freeland would be open on Thanksgiving, and all I had was some bread and a chocolate bar. It started to get dark and I wasn’t liking dodging the cars on the highway as much. I did like the dramatic, late-sunset marsh scenery. I could imagine some Wuthering Heights melodrama taking place here.
When I finally got to Freeland, nothing was open. I couldn’t even count on soulless corporate entities like drug store chains to be open on Thanksgiving. And I really had to pee. No cars, except a taxi that creepily followed me between parking lots. I gave up, and started walking to my bed for the night. I tripped on a curb and fell, which made the need to pee so urgent I had to accept some passing cars possibly seeing me.
I arrived, slightly beaten-down, at the house, and the host said, “when you’re ready, I can pour you some wine and make you some pasta.” I was relieved to not eat sad chocolate for Thanksgiving. I got in the shower first, plugged the drain, and entered the otherworldly realm of shower-bath leg massage.
On my way downstairs for dinner, I met my fellow guest. Apparently, the taxi that was following me was her trying to convince her driver to help me. We chatted and drank wine as our host Keith made tortellini. She was a journalist from Denmark who was living out of her backpack. We all spent a good few hours talking about traveling and sexism and where we would go next. They both had very interesting stories.
In the morning, the coffee was made but no one was up. I drank my coffee and left a note. As the sun rose, I made my way on a neighborhood road along Honeymoon Bay. The sky was strange subtle colors, and I was feeling great again. I took side roads for a few miles at a time, intersecting with the main road in between. I fell into a marsh trying to find a place to pee, but otherwise, it was a great morning all the way until I finally got to a store that was open.
The cashier wasn’t especially talkative and the selection was limited, but I bought a brownie and a couple of other snacks. I kept going and called my dad. The parks are not that busy in the winter, so he was bored at work and had time to talk about forest fires. When I lost service, I did some dramatic lip-syncing on rural, forested roads and caught intermittent glimpses of the water between the seaside homes. Today there had been no rain (a miracle!) and I could catch the snowy Olympics in the distance. I smelled the nostalgic smell of manure and walked next to some people walking their dogs. A man called out to me “I hope you aren’t going far!”
“That’s kind of the idea, but thanks for the wishes!”
For some reason, before noon my legs were already feeling the effect of the hard pavement, so I took some Advil and ate a snack. Some twenty-somethings in a car stopped and asked me for a lighter. I gave them the one that was left in my backpack from a previous trip. Once I got onto the next quiet side road, I called my mom. We talked about felting and llamas, and right when I hung up I passed a llama farm! For a while, the landscape continued to be rural and smelled like wood chips. The sky was bigger and I could see more mountains. I started looking forward to Coupeville as a place to eat and sit. On the way there, I saw an incredible number of tiny mushrooms clustered in the grass like wildflowers.
The town appeared below, an impossibly cute boardwalk in an impossibly cute cove. I went into a bar and ordered a beer and a halibut burger. The service was slow, but I didn’t care because I was sitting down.
Drinking on a (very) empty stomach made me surprisingly tipsy, which made me want to run along some trails in a local park and over some kind of fence to the beach. My home for the night was right on the beach, so walking the last several miles on the sand made sense. On the beach, progress was slow, picking my way over slippery barnacle-covered rocks and climbing the sides of closed-off private bulkheads (I actually didn’t know you could own the shore all the way to the water like this). I picked up some shells. I swung on someone’s rope swing. I watched as the clouds over the water darkened. Google told me I was there. I crawled up to the road and couldn’t find any of the house numbers. Instead I went into a pottery store, bought a present, and got directions from the owner, who used a phone book to look up the address.
I found the door open, and after a brief talk with my host about her travels in Hawaii, I took a shower. It was a small shower, but I still sat on the floor, and it was still a religious experience. I wrote and ate more and went to bed early to the sound of the waves.
I woke up and rushed through some free oatmeal and coffee before hitting the beach. I followed it for a while as the sun rose in ecstatic colors. There were more black birds, and there was more private property providing me with my own jungle gym. Eventually, I got to Oak Harbor after falling into the water only once and walked on the road for a bit to get to the commercial area. I knew this would be my last opportunity to buy food for a while, so I bought an Americano to warm up and a croissant for later.
Before 10, I was on the grind on a major road. I attempted to butter a croissant while walking on the side of the highway. I successfully ate my croissant, but the shoulder was getting a bit small for my liking. I added a couple of miles by taking an especially roundabout side route.
The mountains were out! There had been even less rain than was forecast. I kept stopping to try to photograph the farm animals. My new route took me past a coastal wildlife sanctuary with views of mountains and marshlands.
Soon, I was on the road to Deception Pass, which I had been looking forward to this whole time. About a half mile from the park I stopped at a convenience store to pee and buy a choco taco. The cashier was weird and stared at me. On my way out a car pulled over, Christmas tree in tow. It was my Airbnb host from the night before! She told me to take some specific trails in the park, and I forced my legs to work again to get there.
Once I had walked on the road for a bit, I found another, closed-for-the-winter road that was already completely blanketed with pine needles. I followed other hikers (a weird feeling at this point) to the bridge and stood in awe of the views. Dramatic bluffs, round islands, and beautiful foggy water. I took photos and had the urge to tell people around me I had walked here, as if to explain my behavior, but realized that didn’t make any sense. After the bridge, I found the trail system again.
I was so overjoyed to be on trails I ran a bit. It was still weird to be with other people doing (ostensibly) the same thing as me. I stared rapturously at the mountain views with a guy waiting for the bathroom. I followed my host’s advice and took some unnecessary but worthwhile side trips. Then, 22 miles in for the day, I got into a groove on a country road toward Anacortes.
The road was scenic and continued all the way there so I could focus on the scenery instead of navigating. I listened to a meditative album and my feet didn’t hurt any more. Finally, I saw a sidewalk! I gasped audibly, then it started to rain as I followed suburban streets past children playing picturesquely to the far coast of Fidalgo. There were already a ton of Christmas lights lighting up as I found my way to the bar where I would be meeting my friends.
I was weird and dazed trying to order a gin and tonic, and I wrote while I waited. I was hungry but wanted to buy my friends dinner, so I ordered a beer to fill myself up and passively enjoyed the chatter around me. An older lady with tiny round glasses and bird tattoos approached me.
“Are you journaling?”
“Oh, I guess so. I was just on a trip, so I’m writing everything down.”
“Where did you go?”
“I walked here from Seattle.”
She then told the bartenders this, who were all very amused, and talked to me about how lovely it was to live in Anacortes. Eventually she vanished to the porch, I got a text, and I ran outside into the brisk dark, straight into a hug and dinner at a wonderful Mexican restaurant.