THE AFTERNOON SUN baked Hollywood Beach on one of the hottest days of the year.
Children played in the water before the watchful eyes of their parents.
Sun bathers stretched out across towels, soaking up rays.
Bikers dripped with sweat zipped along the nearby Waterfront Trail.
The summer heat had arrived, big-time.
One man, a young vagrant who spends his nights at a nearby shelter, didn’t seem to notice it all that much.
He perched atop a wooden bench behind the beach, covered head to toe in jeans, a faded black hoodie and a black coat.
His eyes peered out at nothing in particular from under the bridge of his hoodie.
Only his cheeks, dotted with pockmarks, were exposed to the sun as temperatures climbed into the high 80s.
“It gets cold down here,” he said in between bites of uncooked Ramen Noodles.
The Port Angeles waterfront, it seems, is in constant dichotomy.
• A mural of the Puget Sound Cooperative Colony speaks to a simpler time of communal tranquility.
That seemingly utopian history, however, is marred by a not-so-pretty fact:
Many colonists left Seattle to get away from settling Chinese immigrants.
• The Waterfront Trail, part of the longer Olympic Discovery Trail, was constructed with the help of several local business and clubs.
It takes runners, walkers and bikers past the sort of picturesque scenery one sees on a postcard.
There are Olympic mountain views from Ediz Hook, the rushing waters of Morse and Ennis creeks and long stretches of seemingly pristine tidelands.
But the trail also snakes around an eyesore — the barren wasteland that is the Rayonier mill site.
The pulp mill closed in 1997 after 68 years, leaving the property contaminated with pockets of PCBs, dioxin, arsenic and other toxins.
An old-timer once told me the fish benefitted greatly from the “nutrients” dumped into the harbor when the pulp mill was operational.
“The fishing used to be good inside the harbor,” he said.
“The fish would sit out in front of the mill and eat all those nutrients . . . they’d get big.”
Nowadays, however, one can’t even dig for clams inside the harbor. And eating the crab that scurry around its waters isn’t considered too healthy either.
Quite a ride
People back home ask me all the time when I’m coming back to the Midwest.
They wonder how someone can live miles away from friends and family on the edge of the continental 48 states.
They call it “Vampire country,” as if the North Olympic Peninsula were encapsulated by “Twilight.”
Perhaps whenever someone asks me that question I should tell them about the Port Angeles waterfront.
It’s by far my favorite place on the Peninsula to tour on my bike. I do it at least once a week.
The stretch from downtown to Morse Creek is approximately six miles long.
And in those six miles one encounters a myriad of sights and stories rich with the complications of the human condition.
Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at matt.schubert @peninsuladailynews.com.