Dealing with the crush of vacationing hordes that invaded the Olympic Peninsula this summer has stressed the tourist infrastructure to the breaking point. The problem is, many of our tourists have unrealistic expectations about their vacations. As a general rule, we like to advise tourists that the sooner they realize that their expectations are unrealistic, the better.
For example, every tourist wants to see a bear. And who doesn’t?
Unless you saw a bear like I did this summer. It was as big as a cow and cut right in front of me out on U.S. Highway 101 without even signaling. It could have been a disaster! Bears have no insurance. Bears, like most of our other wild animals, are irresponsible and unreliable. I can’t tell you how many times we have floated by Elk Creek without seeing an elk. That’s just wrong.
We have petitioned the Geographic Board of Names to rename it No-Elk Creek, but we haven’t heard anything back from them yet.
There could be many reasons for this record number of tourists. People were tired of being cooped up due to COVID. The Canadians wouldn’t let us in their country. And who could blame them? We wouldn’t let them into our country. Americans were trapped here so they decided to hit the road in everything from rental cars to the largest recreational vehicles on Earth.
There are only so many campsites and parking spots, and once these were taken, the tourists fanned out through the hinterland, blocking logging roads and boat launches with their fire rings and questionable bathroom habits.
Floating tourists down a river in a raft gives one a bird’s-eye lowdown on the tourist problem. I hear the horror stories. Like waiting for an hour for a hamburger only to wait for another hour to complain that you ordered it with no cheese. Or waiting hours to get into Olympic National Park only to have the park shut down because of a “law enforcement situation.” All the while trying to find the dump station for their RV before there’s an accident. That’s what it’s all about — creating family vacation memories that will last a lifetime.
Then there is the supply chain fiasco that has interrupted the flow of vital supplies needed for the production of apple fritters in Forks.
The only thing we can count on is the Hoh River, which will flow until the glaciers melt. While it lasts, the Hoh remains the last best river in America. Floating people down it is a rare privilege.
The most notable rafters this summer have been health care workers. They come to the Olympic Peninsula from all of our nation’s COVID hot spots to unwind and try to forget the horror of their working lives.
Getting on the river
On the river, they often relax and tell stories of working 24-hour shifts while dealing with dying people they cannot help. They talk of arguing with people who insist they don’t have COVID while they are being intubated. They tell about the patients’ isolation from their families with no chance to say goodbye. They talk of being isolated from their own families and loved ones in an effort to keep them from getting sick. They feel victimized by people blaming them for the pandemic and guilty for feeling like they could do more to stop it. They spill their guts until they cry and so do I.
I can think of no better time than Labor Day to appreciate the selfless actions of these brave people. All of which makes me wish they could see a bear. It’s the least we could do.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected].