I may have been alone on this trip through the Pacific Northwest, but I’ve never felt so deeply connected to the planet and those around me
I planned a road trip through California and the Pacific Northwest because I’ve never felt such a calling to the natural world.
I traveled from San Diego, CA to Yosemite, CA; then to Redwood National Park; Portland, Oregon; Forks, Washington in Olympic National Park; Port Angeles, Washington; Neskowin, Oregon; and back down to San Francisco, CA.
I couldn’t imagine my time in the PNW would be like this, a solitary road trip spent primarily in nature while the world is on lockdown.
After reflecting on my adventure, I believe the real purpose was to interact with others out in the world during this incredibly unique time. People were still smiling, living their lives with joy radiating from their hearts.
First Stop: Yosemite, CA
On the first day in Yosemite, I reached Mariposa Grove and its towering Sequoias in the afternoon. A soft light permeated through the trees like glowing streams.
The Sequoias of Yosemite are like red beams of light soaring into the sky. The air was cold and dry and the park was relatively empty. I sat under the trees called Bachelor and Three Graces for a while, simply wondering.
These trees were otherworldly, like skyscrapers of lovely red wood. A few of the massive ones have fallen over and their roots look like intricate alien enigmas. The trees are alive; they’re communicating with each other. They aren’t just towers of wood, they’re living and breathing. As I walked amongst the grove, I couldn’t help but see these trees as living beings that deserve to be honored.
On the second day, I rose while the moon still shone to make it to Artist Point before sunrise. I wanted to watch the valley transition from the silent darkness into daylight. After watching the sunrise from a window in the mountain, I spent the day in Yosemite Valley until dusk.
It was so peaceful. I sat down on a rock or in the middle of an empty lake; I looked up at the sky and the soaring mountains and couldn’t look away. The formations, the life, the earth, it’s been here forever, forming, changing, building, and falling with the seasons. It’s absolutely stunning in the cold when there’s ice on the ground and on the leaves, and there’s snow sprinkling the mountains and the trees.
I wondered what it must have been like for our ancestors to stumble upon a place like Yosemite. It makes the individual feel small, but not inadequate, as if the human being were nothing. The moment I gazed upon Half Dome and El Capitan after driving through the tunnel that leads to the famous Tunnel View, the sight of the valley hit me with the feeling that we’re here for a reason.
I felt a connection to those magnificent mountains, a bond between who I am — the coalescence of my mind, body, and soul — with the earth and the universe at large. Each is a marvelous creation on a scale of its own.
We, the human, earth, and the universe merge as different entities of life. We seek out wonders of the world such as Yosemite to feel this sense of power in our present day. But imagine, without expecting those towering mountains to be there, and suddenly, there they are. It’s an unfathomable, inspiring scene to imagine.
A Light That Connects Us All
The air in the valley was crispy and sweet. It made me happy to watch the season transition as the golden leaves arbitrarily fell from the trees above and the branches became bare. The people I would pass were in awe like me. We would smile, and I could tell how much they appreciated the unique time.
I made it a point to talk to strangers as much as I could. Not in an annoying way, I hope, but just a hello, how’s your day going? This trip became an effort to get out of my comfort zone. This endeavor was the most rewarding aspect of the entire experience.
I may have been alone, but I’d never felt so connected, so alive, at one with the earth and those around me. We never know what a question or a kind word might mean to a stranger. Even just a smile may change somebody’s life.
I felt that’s what brought me out into the world during this unprecedented time in history. I strive to contribute to the light that connects us all as human beings. Out there when I unexpectedly spoke up to strangers, I was. When I instigated a conversation, I found that those that at first glance appeared averse to connecting were the most ebullient of all.
Golden Hour in Portland, Oregon
After spending time in Yosemite and the Redwood National Park in Northern California, I set off for Portland, Oregon, to visit one of my good friends. I hadn’t seen him in several years since our college graduation trip through Greece. I couldn’t wait for this reunion with my pal, even though the city would be tame during the lockdown.
No matter; it was evening when I crossed into Oregon. The sky was a burning pink as the sun set over the vast green landscape. The rain clouds were moody and dramatic. I often rolled the windows down to take a breath of the nourishing, cold, forest air. The highway ran parallel to a flowing river. I felt like a frontiersman heading into the dense Northwest, following the river to the ocean.
I couldn’t get enough of the intoxicating scent of the forest air. It may be the ultimate cure for what ails us in this anxiety-inducing time. The air was cleansing, and the more time I spent taking it in, the better I felt.
I had an entire day to explore after my first night in Portland. When the morning rain stopped, the city transformed. It then truly hit me how wonderful Portland is.
From my short time there, I’d seen Portland is an old school pioneer city with a strong culture and identity. I believe this comes from the way it all blends with the beauty of nature. When the rain stopped, everything became golden.
I hopped on a bike and had way too much fun, meandering from bridge to bridge and weaving my way through Portland’s eclectic neighborhoods and its massive Forest Park.
Olympic National Park, the Pièce de Résistance
From Portland, I made my way to Forks, Washington in Olympic National Park. It was dusk and grey and pouring rain when I stopped at one of Olympic’s well-known destinations, Ruby Beach. The beaches in Washington appeared incredibly raw. These places never stop churning, whether we know it or not.
That’s what makes me want to travel the world. I want to experience the power of the earth doing what it’s done for billions of years — being, persisting, growing, falling, decaying, and re-building.
As I was checking out at the grocery store in town, I asked the grocer if she’s been around Olympic National Park much.
She didn’t quite understand what I was saying, partially because of the difficulty communicating with masks on. Still, I could tell her mind was elsewhere. For a moment, I felt bad, as I was just trying to make conversation.
She was doing her best I imagine to keep a smile on her face and merely stay strong. I had no idea what she was thinking, what she was going through, or even who she is. I didn’t want her to fake like she was happy and willing to talk if she didn’t want to, so I didn’t force it anymore.
The woman behind me heard my question.
“We live here and haven’t seen much of the park,” she remarked.
I don’t blame them. It’s the same as me being from LA and not hitting all of the sites regularly. Although her next comment stuck with me.
“We forget that we’re rich.”
What we see in the media is negativity trying to bring us down. Being out in the world and talking to human beings has ingrained in me the belief that people are genuinely good. I believe this with the entirety of my heart, and I realize it more and more with every new conversation.
Her saying this meant that we have what we need within ourselves and in the world around us. It isn’t things or stress or the need to have more things. What makes us rich is community, nature, being there for each other. This town relies on tourism, and like thousands of towns and cities across the globe, it’s been hit hard during this time.
Still, I’d never seen such holiday cheer. #Forksstrong was posted all over the place, a message that filled my cup every time I saw it. Being there for each other is what matters right now, and I could tell that the community of Forks relied on each other to get through this trying time.
Even though I was out there by myself, I’d never felt so full of light.
Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park. By Vincent Van Patten
An Unforgettable Day at Rialto Beach
I thought Rialto Beach would be a pit stop on the way from where I was staying in Forks, Washington, to Port Angeles, another town in Olympic National Park. When I got there I packed lunch and prepared to hike, not knowing what to expect. I walked along the beach’s first cove and thought it might be the end of the line when I came face to face with the end of the cove.
I didn’t notice the hole-in-the-wall cave, as I think it was partially underwater, but I found a way around it through a decrepit staircase in the trees.
Like a good hat or perhaps a faithful owl, They say an excellent walking stick finds its master. I searched over land, mountains, and rivers during the trip, but no stick called my attention — until then. I found a stick that was dry, nimble, sturdy, and full of life from its time at sea.
A couple of hours later it was like a canyon emerged from the ocean that extended far beyond the cave. I wandered around the tide pools and rock formations for hours, taking in the peaceful sounds of the moving water. In each direction I looked, I couldn’t believe how the scenery continued to change until sunset, from the forest on the beach to the tide pools to the jagged islands on the horizon.
I wondered what it would have been like for Native Americans to paddle out to the islands dotting the coastline.
I was way up the Pacific Coast, where islands, fallen trees, rivers, and the roaring Pacific Ocean all meet at this wild threshold. I watched as Salmon found their way from the river mouth to the ocean. They then come back to the river where they were born to lay eggs and die.
The diversity of Olympic National Park is like nowhere I’ve ever experienced in the world. It contains snowy mountains, lush rainforests, and wild beaches. Around every corner, a view awaited to take my breath away.
Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park. By Vincent Van Patten
Pit Stop on the Oregon Coast Before Returning Home
After eight hours of driving in a storm that seemed to be following me, I arrived in my final location, the town of Neskowin on the Oregon Coast. It was a wonderfully blustery night and morning, a real downpour unlike I’d experienced on the trip. I loved it.
I layered up and meandered around the Neskowin Ghost Forest for the day, a natural phenomenon where the remains of ancient trees buried in the sand protrude from the shore in an eerie formation.
The morning was dark and cold. By the end of the day, the sun worked its way through the clouds. As often happens after a storm, the tumultuous sky led to a magnificent sunset.
Finding Meaning in It All
This road trip was unforgettable. I connected with people out in the world who continue to live from a place of love. I enjoyed the company of friends I feel so lucky to have in my life.
From the bottom of my heart, I believe that people are good. Sometimes we mask our need to connect and we buy into the negativity that divides us. But when we get out there and talk, acknowledge, and support each other, when we foster curiosity and love and remain open, we see that people are truly good.
I sincerely believe this; it only takes stepping outside to feel it. The pandemic has forced us to step back and assess what matters. I know that what I experienced on this trip is it. It’s acting in a way that contributes to the binding light connecting us all.
It’s marveling at the sheer beauty, power, and peace of the natural world, forever and always, no matter where I am. My appreciation for our home runs deep; it’s so incredibly inspiring what’s out there — the sights, the smells, the sounds, the life.
The future is uncertain, and it always will be. Yet, we’re turning a page in history. I couldn’t be more encouraged to continue taking steps forward as a planet. What we can focus on now, the only thing that matters, is our ability to appreciate this life for what it is — a gift. This belief becomes more vital every day I wake up and open my eyes.