Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Day 73: The Pain of Permits

August 21: Now that I was on the Olympic Peninsula, I needed to get serious about acquiring a permit for Olympic National Park. I couldn't even be certain I'd be successful. There was a very real possibility that when Amanda left to go back home, I'd be traveling with her.

But only if I couldn't work out a permit through Olympic National Park. In years past, they would save something like 40% of backcountry permits for walk-ups, and I would definitely be the definition of a walk-up if there ever was one! But since the pandemic started, they made all of their campsites available to early registrations with none held back for walk-ups. I feared that through popular areas, I might not find any campsites available and not be able to get the permit I needed. That maybe there would be a 30 or 40-mile stretch of trail with no available site and I just can't do that in a day. Even if I could do it, I wouldn't want to do it.

Or maybe there wasn't availability for the next two weeks? I could end up with a permit, but I'd have to go home for two weeks to wait before it became active. I knew I might have trouble getting a permit through the Olympics even before I got back on the trail, but I couldn't actually try getting a permit until I was closer and knew when I'd arrive! At the very least, I figured, even if I couldn't finish the trail, at least I'd have that much less to do later.

Highway 101 is busy, but at least it had a wide shoulder to walk on!

So my finishing the trail was still an issue very much in doubt, and I sat down and tried to work out a schedule. I spent a few hours pouring over maps and checking campsite availability online. There were two main routes through the park: the primary PNT and an alternate. It appeared that parts of the alternate were closed to hikers for the time being, so I focused on the primary route and noticed a couple of "choke points" along the route with little or no availability. I started with the worst choke point, picking a site in the Sol Duc region. The Sol Duc region was completely sold out except for a single campsite on a single night. I picked the Deer Lake camp as my starting point, then worked forward and backwards from that date and location.

I finally cobbled together an itinerary. Most days would be between 10-15 miles, which I felt confident I could do even over rugged terrain. The longest day would be about 17 miles. And, according to the online availability, the itinerary was available. 

I tried called the ranger station to book the permit, but I got their voicemail. Rather than leave a message, I decided to send an email instead with the itinerary that I had in mind and hoped they'd call me back and book the itinerary before someone grabbed one of the sites that I needed. Then I waited....

Another hour or so later, I was still waiting, and not sure when they'd call me back about the permit, I decided to continue on with today's hiking. It was a fairly late start in the morning, but it wasn't much of an issue since I only planned to cover about 5 miles for the day.

Amanda dropped me off at the intersection of Highway 20 and 101 where she picked me up, and I continued the hike south on Highway 101. The road was busy--horribly busy!--but at least it had a wide shoulder to walk on that made the road walk much improved over yesterday's road walk.

The road walk was uneventful. The primary path went up at a dirt road, but a warning on the PNTA website suggested a minor detour around it because the main route was severely overgrown and practically a bushwhack. 

The detour followed logging roads, during which my phone rang. I was still expecting a call from the park service and hoped I'd continue getting cell phone service by the time they called back, and they did call back, and I still got cell phone service at here. Perfect! 

I got the call at about 1:00 in the afternoon, and wound up sending a half hour talking with the ranger. I stopped on the logging road and pulled out my maps to refer to as we chatted.

He mentioned a few issues that I should be aware of including a particular beach that I wanted to cross near Oil City that, at some days during the month, might not be passable for days at a time. Fortunately, it was supposed to be passable on the day I arrived--but very early in the morning. I had been hoping to cross the beach later in the afternoon, so that could be problematic for me. I might wind up having to do a 20+ mile day followed by 4-mile day which would kind of suck, but it is what is.

He also warned me about one section of trail that hadn't been maintained in years and was in pretty bad shape. It would definitely slow me down on that day. Even worse, it was one of the longer days I had planned, and I didn't really see anyway around it. I just had to live with it. 

My permits needed to be split up into two separate permits since I had planned to stay outside of the park for two nights when I went into Forks to resupply, so first we booked the permit up to Forks. I pulled out my credit card and read him the number, then we set up my second permit and I needed to read him the number again... but I couldn't find my credit card. It was here just a second ago! And I knew a squirrel hadn't run off with it or anything. Where the heck was it?!

I ended up spending maybe 5 minutes looking for the darned thing, emptying my wallet and backpack on the ground. Where the heck did it go?! I finally gave up and ended up reading him a second credit card number that I rarely used. My main card was bound to turn up at some point. 

It's like my backpack exploded on the trail! =)

And it was official--I had permits to get me through to the end of the trail! I was scheduled to finish on September 7th, 17 days away. If all went well, I'd be off the trail in just 17 days. And I knew pretty much where I would be camping along that entire route because my permit required that I stay at these specific sites.

I didn't much like having to follow a strict schedule, but it was unheard of for me to schedule precisely where I would camp (almost) every night for the next 17 days! There were two nights in the middle when my schedule could be a little flexible, and the next two nights were flexible since I hadn't crossed into the national park yet, but that was it. The other 13 nights I had specific campsites I was supposed to camp at with no flexibility for rain, injuries or time to get lost.

After hanging up with the ranger, I repacked my day pack and continued along the logging roads. I still hadn't found my missing credit card, but I knew it had to be in my pack somewhere since it clearly wasn't on the road when I left.

I had kept my eyes open for where the primary route intersected the detour I was following--I knew exactly where the two were supposed to cross, but I found absolutely no evidence of a foot trail. It looked like a very bushwhack through that area, and I was happy to be following the logging road instead.

But I was also supposed to veer off the logging road onto a pipeline, but I missed the pipeline. It didn't take me long to realize that I had somehow missed it, but I didn't really want to backtrack toward it either and suspected the logging road I was following would intersect the pipeline again and give me another shot at it.

And it did. I walked another couple of miles and the road seemed to curve back toward where the pipeline was located and eventually I found it. It looked like an abandoned road cut through the forest and I wouldn't have even known there was a pipeline under the deforested area if it wasn't for the sign on the gate that said as much.

There's a pipeline under this grass!

I followed the pipeline, but only a short way before reaching Snow Creek Road where Amanda and I had agreed to meet when she dropped me off. Amanda wasn't there when I arrived, though, so I pulled out my phone and gave her a call. It went to voicemail and I left a message.

Not sure what happened to Amanda--I had arrived quite a bit later than originally planned between talking to the ranger for a half hour and missing the turnoff for the pipeline so I was surprised she wasn't there already--I decided to walk back down Snow Creek Road in the direction that I knew Amanda was supposed to drive up from so there would be that much less for her to drive to pick me up.

A short while later, Amanda returned my call. She had been waiting for me, but didn't get a cell phone signal and drove back toward Highway 101 to see if there was any update on me since I had been running late. (I had called earlier to tell her that I was running late, but she had missed that message before driving up to find me and lost her cell phone signal.)

But when she described where she was waiting for me, it didn't match with where I was located. Eventually we hung up and she started driving to look for me again, but I knew once she got up here, she didn't get cell phone service like I did. There wouldn't be any coordinating between us if we had trouble finding each other. She'd have to drive back to civilization to call me again.

But it all worked out. This time she found me without any trouble. She had been waiting for me at the wrong location--she hadn't driven far enough up the road. Later, when we tried looking up the roads on maps online, we noticed dependencies with the names of the roads. We would end up having trouble with road names out here in other places (and even my guidebook at one point warns that a road name on my map was incorrect). 

In any case, we finally met up and headed back to civilization. We booked a motel room in Sequim for a change of scenery--not to mention that it was a little cheaper than our lodging in Port Townsend.

And that was that--the end of another day on the trail. And! I was permitted through to the end of the trail. I might finish this trail yet!

Walking downhill on Snow Creek Road in search of Amanda.

That's Highway 104 crossing over the 101.

You better believe it! =)

This is where I veered off Highway 101.


Anonymous said...

Did you find your credit card?

Ryan said...

Yes, I found my credit card later that evening. I knew I had it! I just couldn't find it! =)

Anonymous said...

I see 7 ads in the middle of the text. Makes this blog post very hard to read!

Michael Merino said...

I was about to say, "Why didn't Ryan ever tell us he found the credit card? How can he leave us hanging?"