Exploring the Cold Coast: The Beauty of Bellingham – Dispatch #4
As humans we busy ourselves with a broad spectrum of pursuits, although the end goal is the same. Everyone is searching for a sense of belonging, purpose, and fulfillment. Whether this is finishing a novel, playing the piano, or skiing the next big line, people want to feel a sense of completeness. This feeling is given to us often in the form of the beauty of nature, as it is simple and honest. As a mountain guide’s daughter I was lucky enough to experience this beauty often before living on my own. A seed was planted in me early on to seek out the exciting and new.
At age 16, standing at sunrise in the high alpine of the Swiss Alps, I knew that I needed to feel this way as often as possible. At age 17 and 18, using modeling as a vehicle to fulfill these desires of freedom, I suddenly found myself standing in the throes of the Milanese fashion industry, living in the middle of Miami South Beach, and flying around the world surrounded with money, drugs, clubs. This was exhilarating, and was an experience that I do not mean to devalue, as I am grateful for what it has offered me. However, these pursuits often involved superficiality, draining me of a sense of wonder, and I found myself questioning how I could feel so empty while seeing so much of the world.
Bellingham, Washington, presented itself as the answer to my feeling of emptiness. The gratitude and belonging I feel standing before the North Cascades was the antidote.
Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest offer a place of solemn contemplation, coupled with accessible natural outlets. You don’t have to be a hardcore athlete to experience the savage beauty of the area. You are able to walk out of a class at Western Washington University, drive ten minutes, and be among mossy giants of the Chukanuts. Turning your head one way and look to the water lapping the rocky shore and beyond to the San Juan Islands, turn the other way to jutting peaks stretching all the way to the unknown and inaccessible North and Canadian Cascade Range. The old port town of Bellingham, nestled between Vancouver and Seattle, is not forgotten among the young people here. Its history is evident in the winding railroad and the melodic dings of sail lines running up masts in the marina.
This landscape does not follow trends. It does not care how much money you have or what you look like. It greets everyone the same way, and offers all the same lessons—if you choose to listen.
The other day I was running around the base of Mount Shuksan, shadowed by Mount Baker, surrounded by peaks on the edge of the rugged Northern Cascades and the gateways into Canada. As I drove back into Bellingham, I saw my best friend, who had just been backcountry skiing in a similar zone. Not too long thereafter, I saw another friend of mine, still seething with similar excitement from a day of surfing alone on the coast north of home towards Vancouver Island.
That evening, I walked down to Boulevard Park, a greenspace hugged by the Pacific, and watched young families, little kids, couples, runners, and bikers, as I looked out to where I had been earlier that day. On the bench with me sat an old man, with the same mystified look on his face as the college kids loading a kayak onto their car and as the four-year-old playing on the beach. At this moment, the magic of this place was wholly apparent to me, the energy palpable. Of course these places exist all over the world, as do these moments of fulfillment and gratitude.
Where there is genuineness and honesty, we can find what we are looking for. I have experienced the same feelings of awe roaming across a glacier in crampons and running along the train track on the Washington coastline, as I have running through traffic in the alleyways of Milan, Italy. Undoubtedly, Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest’s surrounding wilderness offer exactly this.
Up Next: More Adventures in Bellingham, Washington
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Read all the “Exploring the Cold Coast” dispatches.
The Adventurists blog series “Exploring the Cold Coast” is sponsored by Sperry, which provided footwear and apparel for this adventure.
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