Vacation is a state of mind. Vacation isn't a place as much as a way of thinking about where you are. Even though we live in a place that is a vacation destination for others, I'm like most people when they're at home - it's hard to give myself permission to let the phone ring without answering it, the bills sit unopened, the sand stay scattered inside the back door. It's a reverse self-discipline, all mental, to let go of tasks instead of pursuing them.
We had a micro lesson about this when we took our new-to-us little trailer to Cape Disappointment State Park on a shakedown cruise. We needed to identify all the routines and little items we'd need for a longer trip. After ten minutes of backing and forthing the van-trailer combo to get the 13-foot trailer into its proper spot, my husband emerged from the vehicle announcing, "Now we're on vacation" - even though we'd only be gone for 24 hours. It would be a single day and night of doing whatever we felt like. Time slowed and it seemed we were gone far longer.
This little outing occurred immediately after those 10 days of almost continuous rain in September. On a Monday, we finally had the September weather I'd expected - calm and warm. After eating lunch in the sunshine, we took a six-mile bike ride around the park from the Benson Beach campground back to the lake, and then toured around the campsites looking at other people's rigs - a time-honored routine for almost everyone who travels in an RV. Only the most hardy and "hardened" campers remained in the park, meaning few tents and mostly motorhomes and trailers, none as small as ours.
I tried to put on a different pair of figurative "glasses" and see the state park through a visitor's eyes. I realized that in any state, Cape Disappointment would be a standout. The two lighthouses alone are enough to draw people, plus beaches, a lake, and hiking trails on the headlands keep them busy once they're there. Like provincial parks in Canada, it has features and spectacular beauty you might expect in a U.S. National Park. And now, just last week, it actually received that designation.
There have been obvious efforts to spruce up the place, getting ready for the expected onslaught of visitors next year for the Lewis and Clark Commemoration - a new park store (with expanded merchandise), picnic tables nearby instead of a burn pile, more and better signage, a recycling program, a park map with local advertisers, a shuttle to get people out of their cars, reduce congestion and ferry people to other points in the park and into Ilwaco, and finally, a new name. Far better to use explorer John Meares' more evocative designation, Cape Disappointment, than to honor General Edward Canby, a Union Army veteran and the only general killed in the Indian Wars. Canby probably never even got this far north.
With the acquisition of the Christensen property on the park's northern boundary, it's going to expand. University studies published by the Urban Ecologist magazine have shown that property values grow in direct proportion to access to open space. In the short run there will be adjustments in the local community, but in the long run, now that it's part of a National Park, Cape Disappointment will bring more visitors, and more wealth, to Ilwaco.
An irony is that some years back, a group of Peninsula people worked on an economic development vision for Ilwaco. The upshot was to create some kind of tourism draw; one idea was to create from whole cloth an aquarium or similar institution. It turns out, the "draw" was right under our noses, but so familiar people took it for granted, not realizing its potential.
When it comes to mini-vacations, however, there are more options. Maybe you're not a camper and want to stay in a little cabin or yurt at the park, or even in the North Head lighthouse keeper's house. For a sense of remoteness, yet only a 20-minute drive away, the Knappton Cove Heritage Center also rents its facilities for the night. There are lots of lodging places on the Peninsula to choose from; your 24-hour break from routine doesn't have to be expensive. And, if even one night is more than your budget can bear, discipline yourself to do this: if the weather's fair, get outside, go for a walk, and enjoy the vacation destination we happen to live in.
Victoria Stoppiello is a freelance writer from Ilwaco and has the luxury (and perils) of self-employment, so she can declare a vacation day whenever she wants.