A failed trip to Olympic

Last year, I very nearly went on a trip to St Helens, and one of the things I was concerned about was the ngiht before. Like many mountains, that one benefits from an early start, so it isn’t uncommon to get to the trailhead the night before and sleep near the trailhead for a few hours. While a tent or hammock are always an option, sometimes they can be tricky, particularly if there aren’t a lot of spaces for sites, the ground is rocky, or there aren’t any trees for a hammock. So some people will sleep in their car.

Except, at more than six feet tall, I’m not a particularly small individual. But my car, a now ten year old Honda Fit, is. From trunk door to the back of the front seats is around 50 inches, meaning that even diagonally it isn’t enough for me. Making matters worse, the back seats don’t fold quite flat. But it’s almost seven feet from the back door to the front dash. And the front seat folds almost all the way down. A plan was born.

Car Platform Frame

First I roughed in the top part of this platform, using some 1x3 white pine. But the trick was figuring out how to level it. My driveway slopes slightly away from my house, to keep rain from running into the garage. My street has a similar pitch. A couple of stacked pieces of scrap wood became a makeshift ramp, and I had a very nearly level car.

From there, it was just a matter of cutting legs at the correct lengths to support the platform at various places, then attaching them to the frame with bolts and wingnuts. One sheet of plywood later, and I had a sleeping platform. There wasn’t even a need to attach the legs to each other to prevent racking, as the seats and side of the car did a good enough job.

Platform with bed

About ten hours later, I left for Olympic National Park. Olympic hadn’t been my first choice for a destination, but the mountain passes to Central Oregon were expecting significant snow. That my whole trip came together last minute would come back to haunt me, as it meant I had no pass to get into Olympic.

But I didn’t know that was a problem yet. My phone kept telling me I was on track to arrive at Olympic at 4:45—just enough time to pick up a pass at the entrance gate and find a spot to camp before it got dark.

I was aiming for the North Fork Campground, as it’s one of the few open year round. I was a little surprised to find that the ranger station at Lake Quinault wasn’t open, but I pressed on, assuming I’d come to that entrance gate eventually. My next surprise came when the road changed to dirt. But, since it seemed like there were still the occasional house on the road, I didn’t worry about it too much.

Until suddenly I was at the campground, having never paid anyone. And there was no option to pay at the campground, just a sign that you can pay online. But I had no cell service, and I had no option to have reserved in advance. And, by now, I definitely should have paid for a vehicle entrance pass.

I made a quick decision to head back toward 101 and find some gas and cell service. That’s when I discovered that during February, the only open Visitor Center is in Port Angeles, more than two hours further away. I debated: head toward Port Angeles, and hunt for a spot to spend the night on the way, or head south, find a spot to camp, then continue to the Oregon Coast the next day. North won out; I’d come this far.

Half an hour later, I found a site at Kaloloch campground, which had just enough cell service to let me pay for a spot. I fired up my stove and boiled water for dinner. But when it was time to eat, I discovered my first issue: without a vestibule on a tent, I had nowhere to get out of the rain except sitting in the driver’s seat. I ate my noodles in a drizzle, then packed up my stove and put it back in the car out of the rain, then took a quick walk.

When I got back, I found my second issue: my car now smelled like gas. One of the perils of a white gas stove, apparently. I’d have to leave that out in the rain somehow. Fortunately, I had a small bit of tarp, which worked to keep it dry enough. Time for sleep.

Then I found my third issue. The only two ways I could be in my car were either in the driver’s seat, or by laying down on the sleeping platform. It wasn’t possible to just sit somewhere, making it hard to read. But I’d thought of that, and downloaded a few HBO show episodes to my tablet. I’d like to meet the person who decided the HBO app can download TV shows, but needs an internet connection to verify you’re allowed to watch them. I just went to sleep.

Actually sleeping on the platform was unremarkable, and I’d had both better and worse nights in the woods. I was fortunate that no one drove by while I was in the car, since I didn’t have a way to block the windows.

At five, I got moving and immediately changed plans. Rather than drive another two hours to have just one day to explore the park, then spend an entire day driving home on Monday, I’d go south, get breakfast in Astoria, then find a hike on the coast. Driving across the bridge to Astoria was an experience, with nothing but crashing waves below me, and fog hiding any sign of land. The food scene in Astoria was lacking on an early Sunday morning, but just a little further down the highway I found the Uptown Cafe in Warrenton.

Afterward, I made an actual plan, and went to Ecola State Park, hiking the Clatsop loop.


Things were too misty to look great at a distance.

Tillamook Lighthouse from Ecola

Especially with my zoom maxed out.


But I was happy with a few of the shots I got:


I wrapped up at Ecola then went south again, planning to visit the Valley of the Giants in Siuslaw National Forest. But after fifteen miles of dirt road travel, I came to a locked gate and had to turn around. There was no shortage of great places to camp, but the rain hadn’t stopped, and with nowhere to sit out of the weather except the driver’s seat, I wasn’t interested. I chose to use the remaining daylight to get back to the valley and head home.

Overall, not a great trip. But many lessons learned.

©2022 Kyle Schmidt some rights reserved