Don’t miss the movie at the end of the story……
April Fools Day! In 2007 the day took on a very special significance to me. That was actually the day of my retirement from Law Enforcement. That is why it is especially fitting to take off on a trip or adventure on April 1st every year, just to celebrate the blessed event. As it turned out my retirement was a bit of an April Fools joke on me because I fell into a pretty sweet little part-time hobby job at the Criminal Justice Training Commission and I have been working a bunch ever since. But that’s another story.
This story is about my Triangle of Death tour and camping trip to Fort Casey and Fort Warden. And right off the bat Fort Casey had a little bit of an April Fools joke to play on me as well. Typically, mid-week in early spring one could expect to go to almost ANY state park in Washington and have the place pretty much to yourself. There would always be the occasional retired couple in a giant RV puttering around, but that is it until summer.
When I pulled into the camp ground at Fort Casey the place was jam packed, and there were tons of people schlepping around up on the hill at the actual fort. Well I did manage to find a camp site and just to prove that I’m not completely anti-social I jumped on my Rockhopper and rode off to explore the fort.
Ok, it’s time for your history lesson:
The whole concept of the “Triangle of Death” (or Triangle of Fire, if you prefer the milk toast version of the name) was to build a series of harbor defense forts in key positions along the entrance to Puget Sound. The three main artillery batteries were at Fort Casey, Fort Warden, and Fort Flagler. The 3 fort’s geographic location, as you can see from the maps, formed a triangle of concentrated fire at a choke point where enemy ships would have to pass in order to get further down into the sound, where they could damage the Bremerton Navel Shipyards, Seattle, and the the state capital in Olympia.
This harbor defense plan was put into place around 1897 and the first battery at Fort Casey came into service in 1902. In the following years leading up to WWI dozens of additional smaller gun batteries were commissioned and staffed, and then in what appears to be an almost unforeseen development, along comes this goofy little flying machine… later, commonly referred to as the airplane, and it sets the whole coastal defense game plan on it’s ear.
The airplane could fly out over the horizon and attack enemy ships long before they entered the protected water of the Straight of Juan De Fuca. Not only that, but the coastal defense forts were not very well protected from enemy air attacks. So by the later years of WWI many of the large 10″ disappearing carriage guns and the 12″ breach loading mortars were disassembled and shipped to the European battle fronts.
The forts were used as training and induction centers during WWII, but by the mid 1950’s most of them were decommissioned and several are now administrated by the Washington State Parks. The result of this military buildup, over 100 years later… A fabulous playground of pathways, bunkers, and tunnels that may take the energetic explorer years to discover.
Now back to the ride…
I knew knew my way around these big guns and their huge concrete bunkers pretty well. In addition to many visits over the years, back in another lifetime I used to teach a police bicycle patrol school here. We hosted up to 70 cops from all over the Pacific Northwest and Canada and spent a week instructing them in all aspects of “Bike Patrol”. The highly technical riding in and around the bunker structures was usually the most challenging for the student officers and it wasn’t unheard of for a wrist to get sprained, a knee to get scraped, or in one case… A collar bone cracked!
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Admiralty Head Lighthouse open for the day. I dropped in for a visit. They had a fourth order Fresnel lens on display and by getting lined up with the focused beam of the lens it was easy to see how a small light the equivalent of a 40 watt bulb could be seen for 17 miles out to sea. I watched a little video of the big carriage guns in action and climbed the spiral stairs up into the light tower.
From the lighthouse I did a little more riding around and then rolled on back to camp for a cuppa. Eventually the sun came out for a bit when it was low enough to peek under the clouds. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading, writing, and playing ukulele. After some dinner I took a little hike along the beach and got geared up for some Rockhopper night ops up at the fort.
Sunset from the top of the gun battery was magnificent. The wind had picked up a little and it had a bit of a bite to it as it blew in across the straights. As darkness fell the Columbia black-tail deer came out of the woods and blanketed the grasslands surrounding the fort. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting one of those guys, and they were really bold. As I rolled down one forested path I found it was blocked by a couple of deer. The first one stepped off into the tree line but the second just stood his ground until I was right on top on him. At which point he bolted away.
I finished the evening listening to the opening night of the Mariners’ season and playing a few uke tunes by a blazing fire. I had a notion that I’d take a nice hot shower right before bed but, sadly, after dropping a few quarters in the coin slot, I couldn’t get the blasted thing to work. Crap! Well as long as the sniveling lamp is lit, let me just toss this out there too. What’s the deal with all the generators running for hours, and why in the world would need to have a 150 watt spotlight above your trailer door on ALL NIGHT LONG? I thought the idea of “camping” was to get away from all that stuff… You know, peace and quiet, see the stars, smell the sea air… (Of course I’m typing this on my iPad, in my van with the heater on, enjoying a cup of coffee.)
Morning arrived with a thick marine layer of fog. The plan was to leave the van at Fort Casey and pedal aboard the ferry, sail over to Port Townsend, and then ride up to Fort Warden. The second point in the Triangle of Death.
For my readers from other places on the planet you may recognize some of the photos and video from Fort Warden if you ever watched the movie “Officer and a Gentleman”. Much of that film was shot on location there. That fort is also a state park and the site of everything from music workshops to a kayak symposium during the course of the year.
The most striking difference I have found from Fort Casey is the gun batteries, tunnels, and bunkers at Fort Warden sit back from the water, on a forested hill. More secluded, giving it more of a feeling of riding through a rabbit’s warren. Once up in the gun batteries you’ll come to an intersection every few yards and wonder, “hum, I wonder where that trail goes”? Very Wizard of Oz like.
But I’m getting ahead of myself:
I made a foggy, uneventful crossing aboard the M/V Kennewick. Job number one in Port Townsend was getting some breakfast. With that done then it was on up to Fort Warden.
Once again this place was like Disneyland for Rockhoppers! Miles and miles of interconnected trails. More concrete bunkers and gun batteries. Columbia black-tailed deer on every corner. I spent several happy hours exploring – and still covered only a fraction of the fort.
One stop of note was the Port Townsend Woodworking School. It occupied a small building at the back of the conference center. I invited myself in and was welcomed by the staff. I learned that this was an actual school, with actual students, and regularly scheduled classes. Those of you familiar with the whole concept of “school” might be saying “duh” right about now, but in this world of virtual everything and digital everywhere… Well, it’s just nice to know that there are still people passing on those old world hands on skills to the younger generations.
I made it down to Point Wilson lighthouse. That old girl was looking much worse for wear. It was automated way back in 1976 and that may have been the last time anyone hit it with a paintbrush.
What happened next was just another unavoidable incident in my long life of such incidents… I looked out across the sound and saw the ferry boat steaming across the straights. I had absolutely no choice and no control in the matter. I instantly started sprinting the several rolling miles back toward town, to see if I could beat the boat to the dock. Forget about the fact that I had initially planned to take a late afternoon boat, the race was ON!
I rolled down the ferry dock with minutes to spare, unfortunately there was no one around to see my victory finish line shenanigans. I think I’m ready for this weekend’s Paris-Roubaix race… That is to watch the Paris-Roubaix.
Ok, since you made it this far, here is the movie:
Well that’s about it for this edition of the Adventure Journal. Thanks for following along on my travels.