Serendipitous Olympia



I rolled into town right about dinnertime last night and met Atom for the first time face-to-face. We’d known each other in the Bay Area in somewhat distant circles but never connected face-to-face in the big metropolis. We’d exchange hellos online every few months to years, but we never met up for whatever reason.

Simply put, Atom was good people. We shared some unique personal journeys on a couple of different fronts, providing great conversation. After a couple of days on my own, I appreciated spending some time with another human – even if we didn’t share much past. I always enjoy these kinds of trips’ somewhat unstructured and serendipitous nature. You never really know what’s around the next corner, and that’s the fun!

I remember meeting Nikki while hiking in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia. I was at least 100 miles from my hotel, and the last bus left moments before I arrived at the bus stop. Nikki, in her champagne Lexus, saw the whole scene unfold: the bus departing the station, me running up the hill frantically trying to win a losing battle and the inevitable frustration that would show up. She threw open the door of that champagne Lexus and yelled, “Get in!” I didn’t have any other options, being on the other side of the world, without a phone or contact to call to rescue me. Getting in with a stranger was my best option.

Nikki taught me the value of being open. We had a wonderful experience talking about all things San Francisco and Sydney. It was just a 10 minute ride from the bus stop to the train station, but I am forever grateful for the lessons learned in that ride. Meeting Atom was much like meeting Nikki. Atom had years of experience living in Olympia and knew all sorts of things about the area I couldn’t even begin to understand.

Both of us were trying to figure out the answer to the existential question, “What do we do?” I offered that Rivian had free charging in Aberdeen, Washington, out on the coast. I didn’t care where we went – I enjoyed the conversation and the company. Westport, WA, was just west of Aberdeen and sat on the coast with a lighthouse. I’d been to Westport, CA, many times in the past by the Westport Whale (yes, you can be like Jonah and sleep in the belly of a whale there). I was 1 for 1 with enjoying towns named Westport, so I figured I’d go for a second one. Plus, lighthouses are always fun to explore. So, we headed into town.

The Gray’s Harbor Lighthouse sat just outside of the town of Westport. Fortunately, the White House was open and staffed with two knowledgeable docents. I’d been to many lighthouses up and down the California coast but none in Oregon or Washington. This lighthouse also had a Fresnel lens, which radically magnifies and focuses light, creating deep, long beams into the dark, foggy sky across the ocean. Each lighthouse has a unique pattern so nearby boats can match the pattern against their map, confirming a particular location.

The town of Westport was a small, modest beach town out on the Pacific Ocean. The last time I traveled through Aberdeen was 2005 and 2009. Aberdeen always struck me as a weird little town, much like Eureka, impacted by the shrinking lumber industry and needed to learn how to reinvent itself as a tourist destination. With the work from home movement, I was hoping this area could capture some of the escaping Seattleites looking for a slower paced, small-town life.

Westport looked to be doing better than Aberdeen, but I’m surprised that the state of Washington hasn’t been more aggressive in this area, creating tax incentives for investment and growth in these communities. Westport appeared to be a lovely town located right on the ocean. We definitely hit a great weather day, which isn’t necessarily common in this area, so I’m looking at it through rose-colored glasses.

We stopped at Aloha Alabama barbecue, an exciting fusion of bicoastal food: Alabama barbecue with Hawaiian undertones. Being on the coast, the fish tacos were calling my name. I definitely loved the sweet, savory coastal flavors wrapped up in that tortilla. If you find yourself in the area, I recommend going back.

After wandering around Westport, looking at the trees, and climbing up one of the overlooks, we both figured we had seen the town’s main sitestown. We had plenty of time and more than enough electricity, so Atom suggested we go explore Wynoochee Lake. I knew nothing about Wynoochee other than that it rhymed with Chattahoochee.

As most adventures start from a big freeway, to a little road, to an even littler steet with the option of a dirt path – this one was no exception. Wynoochee Lake was a typical West Coast reservoir. Because of the slope of the mountains, these lakes are often hundreds of feet deep, sharply contrasted with East Coast lakes, which are often 10 times as shallow. As we got closer to the lake, the smoke quickly started filling the sky. The late-day sun and the smoke cast an orange hue over everything. Even on a Thursday early afternoon, all the campsites around the lake checked in full.

After wandering around the lake, checking out the dam, and seeing some locals, we both decided it was time to get some dinner. Olympia rolls up its sidewalks earlier than Seattle, so we decided on Chipolte – the great equalizer for not Mexican, Mexican food. I’m thankful for the time, adventures, and conversation today. It’s just what I needed. Tomorrow is a very different adventure – driving for miles to see how far I can reasonably drive the electric truck to make distance. Olympia to Boise is a leisurely two-day drive, but I’d rather do it in one day to focus my remaining time in Idaho.

Thank you, Atom.



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