Monday, August 29, 2016

a Pacific Northwest road trip, part II: Rialto Beach

Rialto Beach is one of the most beautiful and eerie places I have ever been. 

The beauty speaks for itself, I am sure. 

But the eeriness? 

How often does your walk on the beach include a full forest, literally growing out of the sand? I have tried to find literature about this beach online, but mostly all I come across is the same term: coastal forest. 

Well, duh. 

However, I'll say it again: how often do trees grow out of sand? I just don't know. 

Rialto Beach doesn't look like any other beach I've been on in Washington State or Oregon, not even the ones just a few miles south of it. The trees are so barren and wind battered. This is literally the perfect setting for a mystery or horror film. 

It's weird, then, to say that it is also the perfect setting for watching the sunset with your husband, bonfire crackling and the tide crashing ashore. 

But it is. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

a Pacific Northwest road trip, part 1: Mora Campgrounds

Welcome to part I of a new series all about camping in the Pacific Northwest. Technically, the Pacific Northwest covers a large area spanning multiple states and regions of Canada. In this series, I am only focusing on Washington State, in particular the Olympic Peninsula. Why? Simple: it's my stomping ground and seriously beautiful. The only place that comes close to rivaling it is New Zealand. 

This particular road trip would be great for anyone who lives in or is visiting Western Washington, which is any place west of the Cascade Mountains. That includes all the major cities like Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia. 

This road trip took us along Highway 101, and our final destination for this road trip & camping experience was Mora Campgrounds, which is situated along the Pacific Ocean close to the northern tip of Washington State. 

View the map below to see exactly where it is positioned:
We chose this campgrounds for a few reasons. First, we wanted to go to the coast and Mora is only a 3 hour drive from Poulsbo, Washington, which is where we spent our summer. On the map above, the closest town to Poulsbo is Bainbridge Island. Second, we had camped at Mora before and loved it due to its close proximity to many interesting trails and beaches. Lastly, for us, this place has huge sentimental value. After all, we got married on a beach just about 10 minutes down the road from this campgrounds, and our road trip happened to coincide with our 7-year wedding anniversary. 
First, let's clarify: Mora Campgrounds is a car campgrounds. The idea is that you drive into the campgrounds, select a site and then set up your tent. This is not a campgrounds for hike-in users. I will feature camping locations in this series that are for overnight hikers, but this is not one of them. While car camping is not exactly my idea of classic Pacific Northwest camping, we car camped for one reason: we gave away all of our hike-in camping gear before we moved to Taiwan. Luckily, a friend lent us the basics for car camping. 

That said, this is still a great location even for people who scoff at the idea of car camping in the Pacific Northwest. Right outside the entrance to Mora is a trail network. Also, this campgrounds is very quiet, even in the height of summer, and usually quite empty because reservations are not possible in advance. Every night that we stayed at Mora, we had no neighbors around us (except for some slugs and squirrels). 

As far as its great location, all of these places are within 5 minutes to 1 hour driving distance from Mora Campgrounds:
I will feature all of these places in this series. I cannot recommend enough taking a late spring, summer or early fall road trip out to Mora Campgrounds to experience this beauty firsthand for yourself. 

Important Info:
  • A site at Mora Campgrounds costs $20/night.
  • Firewood can be purchased at the campgrounds for $5/bundle.
  • While there are restrooms, there are no showers.
  • The town of Forks is about a 15 minute drive from the campgrounds; you can get groceries at the local Albertsons. 
  • There are at least 2 other campgrounds in the nearby area if this one happens to be full. 
Stay tuned for more of the gorgeous Pacific Northwest! 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

a scooter tour of Taiwan

I have a lot of Taiwan to blog about. My friend's visit in early July was so much fun, and my favorite thing that we did was scoot to Sheipa National Park. This was my third visit to the park, but a first for my husband and obviously for my friend. This made our scoot adventure unlike any other, at least for me. 

You see, normally I am the follower. I have a terrible sense of direction and do not trust myself to navigate my way from point A to B (especially in a foreign country, even Taiwan). However, I also forgo modern conveniences that make navigation much easier like a smartphone, which makes everything a little more complicated. On this scoot adventure, I had to navigate because I was the only one who knew where we were going and we had no smartphone to help guide us. I shocked myself when we made it to the top of Sheipa because we didn't take a single wrong turn. 

I was pretty proud of myself considering that we drove 3 hours straight just to get to the literal end of the road in Sheipa. 

If I'm being honest, the drive itself is actually pretty simple. From Hsinchu, we drove along a highway to the next town over, Jhudong. Jhudong can be tricky for me. There is a 3-way fork in the road and a maze that follows no matter which fork you choose. Luckily, anyone with eyes can see the towering mountains from the fork so it's actually pretty easy to choose the right direction. The road continues for hours. It's essentially a single lane, poorly maintained mountain road. As it winds higher and higher, the villages become further spaced apart and more rudimentary. In some areas, the roads are newly paved due to land slides. In other areas, the road is nothing more than dirt and planks. Typhoons and earthquakes make road maintenance rather futile. 

As there were literally three turns to get there, I am not sure why I was so worried that we would get l-o-s-t. I think I just really wanted to show my friend (and Sean for that matter) this beautiful gem tucked way up in the mountains. 

Before entering the park, we had to register with the park ranger. Every time I've gone to Sheipa, the park ranger has been so concerned about us waiguorens (foreigners) taking our scooters up into the wilds of the national park. They remind us that there is no gas station, that the roads are very dangerous, that the weather can change suddenly and that we should not- under any circumstances- try to scoot back down in the dark. 

Even other random Taiwanese drivers on the road stop to check in with us to make sure we're okay as we make our way up the mountain. I will admit that most of the people on scooters appear to be locals dropping people off or doing business. Most Taiwanese visitors from the city drive their cars to Sheipa, so I guess seeing us scooting to the top is a bit surprising. 

But I cannot think of a better way to see Taiwan than from the back of a scooter. There is something so wonderfully fun about zipping through the mountains on a scooter. You can stop to dip your toes in a waterfall or to take a picture without even having to get off your scooter. You can pull up along side a stand selling peaches and buy a whole box, once again without even having to get off your scooter. You can stop on the side of the road and literally watch and feel a cloud envelop you and you scooter and scooting friends. 

Before I moved to Taiwan, I had this vision of myself riding around Taiwan on a scooter. I was so adventurous and carefree and happy. In my vision, I was also wearing a stunning green dress. Besides that last part, I am happy to say that reality is even better than my fantasy. 

I know it may sound silly, but my scooter is a part of me, and I could not be the person I am now without it. And I was so glad to show my friend a little piece of myself and Taiwan that she had never seen before. 
Stay tuned for more Taiwan!