PAT NEAL: The Highway 101 blues

Thank you for reading this. Somebody must. Because when I mentioned in last week’s column that the Highway 101 bridge over the Hoh River was “the scariest bridge on the Olympic Peninsula,” the pushback was immediate.

Competition for the scariest bridge on the Peninsula is intense, but the bridge over the Hamma Hamma River is a definite contender.

Maybe you don’t have to fold in your mirrors and grease the sides of your truck to cross that bridge in oncoming traffic, but it couldn’t hurt now that the tourist invasion is heating up.

While it is common to see massive RVs the size of battleships lumbering through our antique bridges, other vacationers take a minimalist approach.

They ride bicycles.

These brave souls travel the thin strip of asphalt between the white line on the edge of the road and bottomless brush-choked canyons unencumbered by any guardrails.

In Washington state, it’s interesting to note that bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as cars — except for one major difference. It is currently legal to ride a bicycle while drunk. Although it should be noted that the police can take your bike if you are too drunk. Whatever that means.

I think it means you are riding your bike around Lake Crescent on U.S. Highway 101. Especially after the Spruce Railroad Trail on the north side of Lake Crescent was built to keep cyclists off this dangerous section of road.

Perhaps the strangest mode of tourist transportation was spotted last weekend on the high ground between the Bogachiel and Hoh rivers, where a pair of adventurers was seen headed south on the edge of the oncoming lane of U.S. Highway 101, pushing some heavily loaded shopping carts.

The intrepid pair was later spotted south of Kalaloch. Causing questions to be asked, such as, how did they make it across the Hoh River bridge?

It’s scary enough just driving a vehicle across that pioneer edifice.

Walking across that bridge is a death wish, but pushing a shopping cart? Pushing a shopping cart while drunk must be legal in Washington, too.

Just last February, a California man carved a whole new chapter in the history of that bridge while performing a daredevil feat that we can only hope will not be soon repeated.

The man was traveling north on U.S. Highway 101 sometime during the night.

He missed the Hoh River bridge entirely, blew through the guard rail and went airborne for 260 feet, almost across the Hoh River, landing on all four wheels, upright in a foot of water, 60 feet under the bridge.

Fortunately, the individual was wearing a seat belt. Even so, the stunt put him in the Harborview trauma center.

The State Patrol said the cause of the wreck was, “speed too fast for conditions.” Duh.

Rumors that this stunt was part of a fishing video I was filming when the chute failed to deploy were nothing more than hurtful gossip spread by other guides who didn’t think of it first.

South of the Hoh River bridge, U.S. Highway 101 snakes its way through mud flows and swamps until it reaches the Pacific Ocean.

To build that road back in 1927, equipment was landed at the mouth of the Hoh River. Crews had to dynamite their way south through the rocks to begin work at Ruby Beach.

In August 1931, what was then called the Olympic Loop Highway was completed.

The fact that we could build this engineering marvel with hand labor and antique machinery during the Great Depression begs the question: Why can’t we maintain that road with our modern technology now?

_________

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].

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