On Saturday, June 27th, 8:00am a group of hikers joined me in a historic hike around Camano Island’s 52 miles of beaches in four days.
Recently, I’ve learned of other feats. My uncle Bob Dodgson tells me that his and mom’s cousin Ted Cooney in about 1962 “hiked 50 miles around the perimeter of Camano in one day to fulfill President John Kennedy’s 50 mile hike day recommendation. Ted was a good Democrat.” His mom, artist Fanny Y. Cory and sister, my grandmother Sayre, met him at various locations with drinks and sandwiches. He started and finished at “Montana Beach” (which comes up later in this narrative). Thor Olsen once almost circumnavigated the entire island via beach on a motorcycle. And when our group was walking along Tillicum Beach and I was proudly boasting to every neighbor outside their home that they were “watching history” and why, one of them, Mike Wartelle, whose brother Ed I interviewed for my Beaches of Camano book, told me that he and some friends had walked all the beaches of Camano too. The only difference was that they went back to their homes for sleep and they did not do it in consecutive days.
The hikers met at Sunnyshore Studio on Friday, June 26, for dinner and briefing on the epic journey ahead. I told them that while I had a plan that this was a make-it-up-as-you-go adventure. We would face challenges and perils. We would have to work together as a team. It was going to take grit and courage.
We had a hearty breakfast of eggs, pancakes and bacon. My brother Jed, who was one of the original gang who hiked around the south end, and his daughter, Willow, showed up. So did my cousin Ethan, who was also one of the hikers from the good ole days. We set out a little after 8:00am on Saturday, June 27. Hikers on this first day were: myself, my daughter Jackie, my brother Jed and his daughter Willow, my cousin Ethan, my nephew Joey, some youth and youth leaders from my church in Redmond – Ashley, Aubrey, Emily and Jordon – and my friend Dismas and his son Xavier, twelve of us in all.
Neighbors had given us permission to hike down the private Talagwa Lane to Sunnyshore Acres Beach where I had grown up exploring, building rafts, fishing, swimming and playing as a kid.
We headed south. The next beach we came to was Tillicum. High tide was at 9:45am. I knew we might have to wade in the water due to the bulkheads at Tillicum and then Tyee Beaches. We did.
Tyee Beach used to be one of Camano’s sixteen fishing resorts. Here’s a photo of the crew in front of an old fishing boat shed. It looks like back in the day Port Susan Harbor Tours left from here.
After Tyee you get to the most rugged and isolated part of Camano, what I call the “coves of the south end.”
There was a light drizzle most of the morning. But it felt refreshing. The views were beautiful.
We had some fun throwing a tomahawk. Dismas made up a little collage mocking the fact that I didn’t stick the tomahawk in the stump the first, second or third time, and Jed did. There may be some truth, but I noticed Dismas left out his own throws, which makes this almost amount to a “deep fake” :).
We found what we think was a whale vertebrae bone. I had told the kids that imagination was an important part of life, and that it would be an important part of this trip. To work on the imagination, I shared with the kids that I’m a Fairy Master Apprentice and that on this trip I was going to be on the lookout for beach fairies. We filmed the third season of Fairy Sightings on this first day of the hike. I’ll share those episodes later. Anyway, here’s what we think is the whale vertebrae. Anyone know for sure?
By the time we got to Point Allen, the southern tip of Camano, the sun was peaking out through the grey clouds. We enjoyed lunch and did a little filming the beach fairy story.
This was the first of a number of boats we found washed up and abandoned on the island.
I want to take a moment to shout out to my eight year old niece Willow who was the youngest hiker on the journey. She hiked all four days, and did almost all of the 52 miles of beaches without complaining, whining or griping. She was a very big and courageous girl, and she made the trip fun for us all!
After lunch we headed north up the west side of Camano with Saratoga Passage and Whidbey Island to the west. It was definitely more windy on this side. First we hit Wilkes-Gary Beach with its old beach shacks next to beautiful new and huge modern homes, then Pebble Beach, and then Mabana.
Jed, Ethan and I are pretty sure we found the “Montana Beach” bluff. My great grandmother, the famous illustrator Fanny Y. Cory lived in a small home on the bluff there from 1952 to around 1970. She painted a watercolor of the view from her window almost every day. She’s the one who taught my mother all about fairies. She knew. She wrote and illustrated the Fairy Alphabet, and my mother was a rapt student of hers. That’s how my mom, Ann, became a Fairy Master. I’m studying fairy lore under Mom now as her apprentice. Anyway, low and behold, my cousin Ethan saw and snagged in his hands, a beach fairy. But it buzzed and fought so quickly that it escaped. But I got that on film and we all witnessed it and I’ll share that with you later.
After “Montana Beach” came the beach my cousin Ethan and his siblings played at just across the street from their farm. Along these high bluffs we noticed how many staircases had been made, and fallen apart by the wear and tear of Mother Nature. As one old-timer put it, I think it was Nich Uhrich actually, “Nature always bats last.” We talked about how if people didn’t upkeep their homes and properties how quickly nature would take over and break them down. Elger Bay is a l o n g s w o o p that takes a long time to get around. Thankfully much of it was sandy beach. But towards the end of it and coming to Point Lowell and the State Park we hit large rocks, by far the hardest type of beach to walk on. By this time I was pretty worn out and had at least three blisters that hurt bad. Finally we made it to the State Park.
Stephanie our “Studio Mom”, who I had just recruited to help a couple of weeks before, was there to meet us with dinner for me, and to take the kids back to the studio for the night. My dad and mom were there too. They provided invaluable help throughout the trip. This was the longest hike of all four days. The kids had made it sixteen miles!
I had a couple of more miles to trudge to make it to Indian Beach. I called my wife Jenny and she had some encouraging words, as did friends when I went live on Facebook. Here I am at Cama Beach. By this time I was dragging.
Finally I made it to Indian Beach. There actually WAS a party of beach neighbors going on and I ran into my old high school friend Blake Hezel and his wife there. I was to tired to stay long or invite myself over, but we had a nice chat.
My end goal at Indian Beach was the home of Elizabeth, mother of my brother in law, Roger. Roger, my sister April, and their kids Joshua, Rachelle, Heidi and Joya were there. They all welcomed me, helped me set up my tent (don’t ask me about the first five minutes when I was trying to make the rain cover into the tent), and Elizabeth even loaned me a cute blue hat to keep my head warmed. I got into bed as quickly at I could and lay there, my legs aching and my blisters hurting. I honestly didn’t know if I could go on the next day. But it helped to have a pretty sunset, and a good night sleep.
Jokingly I had requested scones and clotted cream for breakfast. Elizabeth, who is a real English lady, who speaks with an English accent, loves all things English, was up for the task.My dear mom came over to assist with breakfast. Between the two of them I had eggs and ham, yogurt, scones and clotted cream, and black tea. It was delicious. I felt revived, apart from achy legs and blistered feet. We had a wonderful discussion of English things like St. George’s Day, and our top ten English people. My list was #10 Queen Elizabeth, #9 Florence Nightingale, #8 John Donne, #7 George Herbert, #6 JRR Tolkien, #5 Process Diana, #4 C.S. Lewis, #3 Shakespeare, #2 Winston Churchill and #1 Elizabeth, my host. I might have been a little biased by the breakfast she served. But I think you will understand.
The hiking team came down at 9:00am for a short worship service. My sister April, Roger, Joshua, Rachelle, Heidi and Joya came too, ready to join us for the days hike! That was fun. I spoke about how the psalmists often talk about sharing God’s mighty deeds with the next generation. I talked about God’s mighty act of creation that we were witnessing on the hike, his mighty work of salvation through Christ Jesus, and his mighty and specific work of pursuing us in individual ways. I shared how my mentor, Pastor Otto Sather, prioritized working with the youth of his church and community, calling them the “Young People” or Y.P. and that I shared that commitment since they are the future of the church and the culture. Then I asked Roger to give an inspiring word as we started back up our hike. He shared Churchill’s famous speech he gave at a college commencement. It was three words long. Churchill repeated three words three times then he sat down: “Never give up.” After Roger shared that story and those three words we set out.
We hiked by Sandy Beach. I shared how this was the beach where Jenny and I walked our first year of marriage when I served as an intern at Camano Chapel and we lived in the basement apartment of Rich and Virginia Wayland’s home. Jenny collected shells there that we still have today.
Then we hit Onama Point which is a private beach and has a wonderful park like area.
After Onama comes Henney Beach, which is a beautiful beach owned that has been owned by the same family for three generations. Sometime after that we found an old hut that we named HUT.
As we walked I was surprised by how many beaches are high bluff. Even though many people live on the bluffs above, the beaches still feel pretty deserted. Here we are coming up to Rockaway Beach.
The tide was coming in. I think this walk through the water was at Rockaway.
By this time we were almost to Madrona. The sun was shining. We got some good pictures. This one is of my nephew Joshua.
Stephanie met at Madrona Beach. We’re past the mid-point of the west side of the island now.
It was really fun to have my sister April’s family with us. Here’s an interview with my niece Rachelle.
We saw so many beautiful, striking homes along the way. Here’s just one of them at Madrona Beach.
Here’s how the hike around Camano Island came about. My daughter Jackie and I had planned to take a 3 week painting trip from San Diego to Seattle along Highway 101 as part of my sabbatical. Then Covid-19 hit and I cancelled my sabbatical and the trip wasn’t feasible. We had to “recover gracefully” a term that Jackie shares about in this video as we are coming up on Camp Grande.
We finally got to Camp Grande, which was another of the fishing resorts. My friend Cindy Sundberg spent hours in the summer playing at this beach. Their family has owned for many generations one of the small cabins still there today.
My sons Jacob and Judah met up with us. So at this point we have eighteen people with us on the hike.
We were hot and sweaty by the time we got to Rocky Point. A friend from Stanwood High School, Kerrie and her friend Emily were waiting there for us with water, granola bars and apples. They truly were ministering angels!
I really was joking about Emily not being an “insider.” It turns out that she works for Ted Vail, an old friend from SHS, who was a great football player and a couple of years older than me. Ted is some kind of head honcho for the Foursquare Church network. So I joked with Emily and him that I was persuading her to come on over to the Presbyterian church family…all in good fun of course!
From Rocky Point it wasn’t to far to Utsalady. At one time, Utsalady was a thriving logging town with large ships hauling logs from there all over the place. Some people say that it was even bigger than Seattle back then. I find that hard to believe. Well anyway, Mary Margaret Haugen, a past Washington State Senator, and some of the women of the Ladies Aid Building volunteered to make our team dinner. With my dad and mom, and Stephanie, we were over twenty people! It was very, very gracious of them.
It turns out our families go way back. My grandfather, Doc Dodgson, was one of three doctors in the area. One day Mary Margaret’s dad came in from working in the field with heart pain. He called all three doctors, but only Doc Dodgson was willing to come over. He diagnosed that he was having a heart attack and sent him to the hospital. He ended up living. Anyway, here’s Mary Margaret and her team!
After the dinner of lasagna, salad, bread, cookies and iced tea we rested before the kids headed back to the studio. Jed took advantage of the break to mock my quest to spot a fairy.
The kids headed back to the studio and I headed to Browns Point and Sue and Nick Uhrich’s home. Their son, Bob, was a classmate of mine at SHS, class of 1987. Bob and his son Thor met me at the bottom of their staircase. They said they didn’t know it was me at first. They expected two people. But when they saw me stumbling back and forth like a weary man, they knew. Here we are at the top of their staircase.
This is Bob’s story of Thor’s motorcycle trip. Bob’s brother Joe showed up later that night. It was fun to see him too.
Mom and Dad brought Jacob back to the Uhrichs. Jacob brought a tent to join me in camping. Alas, his tent was super small and he would have had to curl up in it, so I nobly gave him my tent and slept on an air mattress in the “garage” which felt much more like a deluxe mancave with a living room, bathroom, etc.
Nick and Sue made an amazing breakfast the next morning. Scrambled eggs, big brats or sausage, fruit and pancakes. I learned a special topping for pancakes from Nick: spread a thick helping of sour cream on top of them and then douse them with brown sugar. I tried it and I have to admit it was good.
After breakfast Bob gave Jacob (who is better at directions than I am) and I the view of the many challenges that lay ahead on this days hike using Google Earth. He walked us through it a couple of times, sharing the perils and challenges. But nothing could really prepare us. Bob did give us all a good heads up on what we would be navigating. Again, I’m so thankful for the help of people who came alongside and assisted us along the way, like the Uhrich family.
We (all of the hikers from the day before apart from Jed, April, Roger, Joshua, Rachelle, Heidi and Joya) headed north for just a hundred yards or so, around Browns Point, the northwest tip of Camano, then turned east. The first beach we came to was Arrowhead Beach. That was my first time walking that beach.
It was a really pretty walk between Arrowhead and English Boom. It was great to see Stanwood and the distinctive white of Twin City Foods.
By the time we got to English Boom, Jed and his wife Renae, and April, Heidi and Joya, who been dropped off at the Uhrichs after us caught up to us. Then at English Boom beach Jim and Malynda Shipley and their son Teddy joined us. I had gone to high school and been in youth group at Camano Chapel with Malynda. She and Jim are the owners of the Crab Cracker which is popular magazine for the Stanwood-Camano area. Teddy joined our group and Jim took some pictures of us. It was fun to see them and great to have Teddy join us as you’ll see later.
Here are a few of Jim’s pictures:
At first the path at English Boom was well worn and quite pleasant. Dismas kept us entertained by music. But we began to encounter some challenges.
Like this “drama at the fording.” This is when I began to laugh, a lot…pretty much went on the whole day.
Pretty soon there was no path. Then we had to go “off road” and find the way through the grass and the marsh and the mud.
Here is one of the crossings where my son Jacob was quit heroic!
The biggest challenge was crossing the channel that makes Camano Island and island. It was actually scary. We all put our cameras away because we had to toss our shoes and our backpacks across. Again Jacob was pretty heroic going in first when we couldn’t see how deep it was. The water was to muddy to see the bottom. Everyone got wet and muddy. When I realized that we all were going to live I couldn’t stop laughing. After that crossing we hit a dike with a trail on top and it was easy going.
By lunch time we were pretty close to 532. We were moving along pretty well on the top of the dike.
By this time I was feeling pretty good. I told the kids that if they finished this epic hike they were all going down in the history of Camano and would automatically be “Camano Kids”!
We didn’t really have a plan to cross 532. Jed, April, Heidi and Joya headed for the underpass under the bridge. I was too tired to try that. But there was no break between the cars flying by on both sides. I decided to take care of business and stepped out into the road and held up both of my hands. Thankfully cars on both sides slowed down and stops and the whole team of us were able to rush across. It was a pretty cool moment.
We ate lunch in the farm field on the east side of 532. Here’s where Teddy came through as a hero. He happens to have a friend whose family owns the fields that we hoped to walk through. He gave them a call. Even though he didn’t reach them, the fact that he was with us gave us the confidence to head through down the road that led through the fields. Once again, an unplanned providence. I felt God was watching over us.
We headed out. Juniper beach was in sight.
It felt really good to get to Juniper Beach. Juniper was one of the first “destination” beaches on Camano. When people began using their vehicles for pleasure trips they would come and camp at Juniper. Before that it was a place where Native Americans picked berries and hunted. Every Fourth of July, the Juniper Beach community puts on a BIG FIREWORKS SHOW.
After Juniper Beach comes the big swoop of Livingston Bay. We enjoyed rests and visits with Islanders along the way.
We were all dragging at this point. Scott Johnston had let me know he would be waiting for us at Livingston Bay with some treats. Just thinking of him there for us made me tear up.
Scott is another SHS friend a few years younger than me. He works as a fireman. His passion is running long races, marathons and triathlons. His mother battled cancer for about twenty years before she died. So every race Scott runs is for a cause to battle some kind of cancer and for a person who is battling cancer. I asked him to share a few inspiring words. They were very powerful. But because my camera was too far away you can’t hear them to well. The gist of it was Scott said that when he runs and especially when he has to suck it up when he is tired he makes it personal. He remember the person he is running the race for, he remembers the battle they are fighting, and he runs for them. He told us to dig deep and to make our hike personal too.
After Scott’s words, we headed out onto the mud flats of Livingston Bay. Thankfully the tide was out so we didn’t have to scramble over logs. At first the mud was solid and very nice to walk on.
We took a break in front of the Nelson Farm. Jackie found a bottle with a note in it. The kids hadn’t been able to take the cork out and so they were going to break the bottle. I ended up breaking it and it was, believe it or not, a note sent from a 17 year old girl in Everett who my daughter Jackie immediately “followed” on Instagram. Here is what the note said:
After this inspiring moment we headed out. The mud got soft and we began to sink. We had to find a way forward, which we did by “island hoping”, jumping from one high point with grass to another.
My friend Dismas has the best video narration. This gives a good picture of the challenge we faced.
The kids cut across the mud flats to the bar of Iverson Beach. However, the mud was very soft and they sank into their knees and even thighs. It was hilarious to watch them, I only got a little worried that they weren’t going to make it and the tide would come in and wash them away. But they did. Dismas and I stayed along the bank, climbing over logs and wading through the high grass and trying to avoid water when we could. We ended up getting to the burm and made it to the picnic tables at Iverson before the kids did. We had a little time to wash up before Stephanie arrived. That was nice to get cleaned up of the mud.
That’s when another ministering angel met us with provisions. This time it was Lori Nichols Greathouse with ice cream bars. She grew up in this area and shared a story of one time her horse got stuck in the mud.
The kids peeled off at Iverson Beach and went back to the Studio. April, Roger, Heidi and Joya went on with Jacob and I to Barnum Point. I had asked Jacob to join me on the swim across the channel to Driftwood Shores. It turned out to be low tide, and again, providentially, our trip had fallen on some of the best tides of the year. Here’s that story.
This is one of the boats washed up on the beaches of Camano. I named this one “Heidi’s Boat”. It is at Barnum Point. Barnum has big rocks and my feet were really hurting at this point.
Here’s our swim across the Channel that separates Barnum for Driftwood Shores.
Jenny met Jacob and I at Cavalero Beach. That was a touch walk from Driftwood to Cavalero. She surprised us. It was nice to see her. And yes, I could hardly walk.
I didn’t have a place to stay for the night. But I knew Don Simonson, who lives on Cavalero and who I had interviewed about his love of “his beach.” I figured I could at least ask Don. And, of course, he said yes.
That morning when I woke up, and after I laid as still as I could for as long as I could, I pulled my aching body out of my sleeping bag and sat and watched the sunrise over the water. I thought about how much this place and its people mattered to me, and how each of us are representatives of the places where we are from no matter how far we go from them.
The next morning mom – my biggest ministering angel besides Jenny – brought me a delicious breakfast. Then the hikers met me at Cavalero. Don gave us a little history lesson.
My brother Jed shared a short devotional from Scripture and we were off on the home stretch!
The first beach, really three beaches, named Beach 1, Beach 2 and Beach 3, were the beaches of the Country Club. With lots of discoveries along the way.
I reached out to Mike Navarre in the hope that I could bum a salmon fishing trip. Scotty Landis is my friend that takes my friend Harry Baird, Wolfy, and sometimes Steve Sieverson, fishing. I’m not ashamed to bum a fishing trip, beg for it, that’s how much I love fishing.
Wow, the Country Club goes on and on. But there were beauties along the way. Like this flock of geese.
And this shell of soemthing along the way.
And this stump that I’m planning to paint.
By this time we were coming up on Port Susan Beach. I knew that one last ministering agent, this time agents, my artist friend Melanie Serroels and her husband Randy, we waiting with chocolate chip cookies.
The homemade chocolate chip cookies were delicious. Jordon, who has opinions on many matters, believes that chocolate chip cookies are the only cookies that should be made.
We were almost done. Sunnyshore Acres, the beach where we had begun, was just around the corner. And then a new stress. I saw that my mom had joined the crew on this last leg. My sister April had suggested she join us from Cavalero to Port Susan. But here mom was at Port Susan to join us to the end of the trek, and I was pretty sure there would be some challenges. So I was stressed.
I eventually came to terms resigning myself to Mom’s bulldog determination and I was comforted that Jordon was giving her a hand on this last lap.
The last bit of the trip was pretty cool. We decided to run together across the bridge. And we did. We did it!
For finishing the epic trip I gave them all signed copies of my Beaches of Camano book. That seemed to be a good fit! I’m so proud of each one for digging down, for the grit and determination that helped them finish. Thanks be to God who kept us safe!
Inspired by our hike, a friend of mine and quite a hiker himself, Art Cosgrove wrote a song to be sung to the Tune of John Denver’s “Country Roads.” I’ll share the lyrics first, then the song. Try singing it to the music. It works!
Camino Island (Sung to tune of Country Roads)
Almost heaven, Camano Island
Cascade Mountains, Pacific Ocean
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, growing like a breeze
Sunnyshore, take me home
to the place I belong
Camano Island, My sweet Mama
Take me home, ‘round this isle!
All my memories gather ’round her
Artist’s lady, stranger to blue water
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky
Misty taste of sea spray, teardrop in my eye
Sunnyshore, take me home
to the place I belong
Camano Island, My sweet Mama
Take me home, ‘round this isle!