I stumbled quite accidentally, upon Bellingham, WA. I made a friend through a friend, who climbs, and we started chatting and scheming. Then, in doing so I mentioned how portable I am as a professional and so it would be done; that I would go live near my new friend for three months and we would climb and chat and scheme. I drove up the western coast, and along the way it was alarming how large the trees were and how green everything became. The pacific northwest (PNW) has many striking attributes, but the vivid emerald green of the forests was, for me, the biggest surprise.
Bellingham, according to Wikipedia, is the twelfth largest city in the state of Washington, with a population of approximately 81,000 people, who, as far as I am concerned, are all eco-conscious health nuts, and do their grocery shopping at the co-op and/or farmer’s market, before and/or after working out at the local YMCA. It lies about two hours drive north from Seattle, and one hour southeast from Vancouver, making it only two short hours of driving from Squamish, BC, Canada’s absolutely breath-taking rock climbing–I mean it, if you have the time and the means, check the weather and head to Squamish. During my thirteen week contract I planned four separate trips up there and was rained out every single time. The only reason I was even able to climb is because I decided to go see it despite the rain. My climbing partner and I ended up partying in, and exploring Vancouver (which I also totally recommend). My first view of The Chief was through my wet windshield wipers, and for my perseverance I was rewarded with one sunny day. One beautiful sunny day of pulling, and jamming, and friction slabbing in the Smoke Bluffs and on the Chief, itself.
To the West of Bellingham is Bellingham Bay housing the San Juan Islands and to the East is Mt. Baker, a 10,778 ft peak, the fifth tallest in the Cascade range; where I could go hiking on any given day, or camping, or tromping around in the snow (Mt. Baker gets more snow than anywhere else in the world), or simply picture taking. Most of my days off were spent in the woods. The lichen was my favorite, it hangs from tree limbs like tinsel. I had never seen anything like it before, but there it was hanging from red wooden giants and baby firs sprung from nurse logs, which the locals are very excited about and proud of. Its easy to get lost just hiking, to forget about everything else, but do not miss the San Juan Islands when you find yourself in the PNW. Its a beautiful ferry ride through the 172 islands of this small archipelago. We stayed on San Juan in a sweet bed and breakfast which doubled as a farm and tripled as an animal shelter, and we gorged ourselves on local seafood, coma inducing deserts and bad karaoke. We even managed to visit Forks, WA, on the peninsula (Twilight capital of the world, I admit that I’ve never seen any of the movies or read any of the books, but that little town is sure grateful for the claim to fame, now if they could only get some delicious, healthy options on their menus–go anyway, for Olympic National Park).
I also got the great opportunity to go scuba diving while I was living there, actually the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. Seventeen minutes into the dive my buddy turned back to me and showed me an “OK” sign with his neoprene gloved hand, asking me if I was alright, I replied with my own “OK” sign, signifying that I was–but I wasn’t. I was dangerously cold, shivering with some numbness in my toes. So I quickly kick-kicked to catch up to him and wiggled his fin for his attention, and hugged myself to communicate to him that I was cold. Seventeen minutes and we turned around to slowly make our way back to the shore, after seeing enormous ling cod, and kelp, and anemones. Its true, what they say, everything is bigger under the nutrient rich waters of the PNW.