Inspired by my interview with “Transit Trekker” author Kimberly Huntress Inskeep and my own experience taking transit out to Port Angeles, I decided to try my hand at one of her far-flung outdoor adventures. April’s consistent rain kept tamping down my ambitions, from a truly outlandish trip to Shi Shi Beach to an overnight camping trip outside of Forks to, eventually, a simple day hike across the north shore of Lake Crescent.
In the end, a missed bus curtailed even that to a long, lazy afternoon at East Beach. We’ll get to that, but in the case of transit trekking, the journey really is the destination. What was that journey like?
Chill doesn’t even begin to describe it. While balancing my burning desire to ditch my laptop with the necessity of making both a 2 p.m. ferry to Bainbridge Island and our non-negotiable 3 p.m. Friday deadline was a bit of a challenge, it all came off without a hitch.
After deboarding on Bainbridge, I waited about 20 minutes in the sunlight dappling the adjacent transit center before boarding Clallam Transit’s Strait Shot bus, which runs express service to Port Angeles. Safely ensconced in the Strait Shot’s comfortable, Greyhound-style seats, I quickly set about finishing the paper’s events calendar on my phone. My last task of the workweek accomplished, I nodded off. Should you ride the Strait Shot, the first leg is definitely the one to nap on, as the really scenic stuff comes closer to the northern coast of the peninsula.
Upon waking up an hour or so later, which is just about halfway through the trip, I continued reading an easily digestible fantasy novel and soaking in the sights. One of my favorite things about bus travel, in rural areas or anywhere else, is how it frees you up to really see every detail of every street, sidewalk and storefront you pass by. You can people-watch with precision. You’re not exactly a flâneur, but in areas that are typically only traversable by car, you can really get a feel for local life.
This is why, in my opinion, being a passenger is always better than driving, and on the bus you’re always a passenger. I’m sure there’s some “hustle-or-die” life coach out there who has a riff about whether you want to spend your life as a passenger or whether you want to get behind the wheel and take control, but I’m equally sure they’ve never experienced the pure bliss of getting knocked out by a good book and some refracted sunlight on a gently rocking bus.
Anyway, after reading, napping and thinking random thoughts like that, I found myself smack dab in the middle of downtown Port Angeles. The way the buses lined up, I needed to stay the night there to make the earliest departure of Clallam Transit’s Route #14, which takes Highway 101 out to Forks. Because the Strait Shot is pretty quick, it was about 5:30 p.m. when I got in, leaving me plenty of time to check out Port Angeles’ nightlife.
About that nightlife … it’s good, actually. So good that I did not make Route #14’s 7 a.m. departure, leaving me without time to hike Lake Crescent’s north shore all the way from the bus stop at East Beach, on the lake’s easternmost tip, to Fairholm campground, the lake’s westernmost point and the next nearest bus stop. I still went to East Beach, just with no further ambitions than to hang out until the next bus back with a couple beers, a couple books and a couple snacks.
The bus dropped me off at the junction of East Beach Road and Highway 101, and it’s a short walk down East Beach Road to the actual beach. The feeling of getting off a bus on a remote highway is, to be honest, more than a little eerie. It’s just you in the middle of nowhere, with the occasional line of indifferent cars whizzing by. It’s also exhilarating, though, in that it produces a denser, more durable feeling of solitude. If you’ve got a car waiting in the parking lot or on the side of the road, it doesn’t matter how deep into the wilderness you’ve gone: That car is still a relatively direct tether attaching you to society. A bus that comes in five or six hours is a much more tenuous one.
Anyway, after spending five hours snapping photos of the gobsmackingly beautiful lake, reading George Jackson on a log and sipping pale ale, I scurried back to Highway 101 promptly at 3:15 p.m., more than a bit early for the 3:37 p.m. return trip. No need, it turns out, as one thing rural transit agencies do better than their urban cousins is be on time. Not only that, but Clallam Transit has a real-time bus tracker that is really real-time. I watched the bus wend its way around the lake’s south shore on my phone, which made it work with just one bar, until eventually the icon rounded the last bend before my stop and — voila! — the bus appeared.
After a short ride back, I was in Port Angeles with only 10 minutes to wait for the 4:15 p.m. Strait Shot to Bainbridge. The bus and ferry lined up almost exactly, and I found myself back in Seattle by 6:30 p.m. The simple fact of having traveled a very long distance had me a bit bleary for such an early hour, but mostly I felt content and refreshed. In equal parts, I think, by the time I spent on the lakeshore and on the bus.
Tobias Coughlin-Bogue is the associate editor at Real Change.
Read more of the Apr. 19-25, 2023 issue.