PAT NEAL: A New Adventure Sport

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There’s a new outdoor adventure sport making waves in this emerald green recreational paradise we call the Olympic Peninsula.

While this new sport was fairly innocuous last weekend, the potential for pain is still there. This recreational activity has the potential to combine the risk of Russian roulette with the drama of a demolition derby.

No, I’m not talking about driving to Seattle. It’s crazy. This new hobby is even crazier. We call this observing tsunamis.

To participate in this new adventure sport, all you have to do is stay tuned to your news or your weather forecast. When they tell you to stay off the beach and head for higher ground because a tsunami might hit, load up the family, pets, and a picnic, and head to the beach to watch the tsunami coming.

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right.

Watching tsunamis is crazy, but if the crowds of people at the beach ignore last Saturday’s tsunami warning is any indication, this new sport of tsunami-watching is taking the country by storm.

Throughout history and around the world, people have told stories of floods. Here on the Olympic Peninsula, each Native American tribe has a common tradition of devastating floods that have been confirmed by geological and archaeological research.

One evening, the Quileute noticed a wave stretching across the horizon as it came toward shore.

The Quileute gathered their belongings into canoes and tied the canoes together. Some of the canoes came loose when the wave hit. They floated east across the Olympics, where they became the now-defunct Chimacum tribe.

They spoke the same language as the Quileute, giving credence to this tribal legend as historical fact.

The Makah said the water rose until Cape Flattery became an island. Then retreated, leaving the whales stranded on dry land. The water rose again. The Makah got into their canoes and flew away. Many drifted north to Vancouver Island. As the water receded, canoes laden with people crashed into the treetops. Many lives were lost.

Along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the S’Klallam received warning that a flood was coming.

A man told them to build strong canoes that would withstand a storm. People said they would just go up into the mountains if the flood came.

It started raining. The rivers turned into salt water as the sea level rose. The flooding of streams and rivers prevented people from walking to higher ground.

Some fled in their canoes with a supply of food and water. Only those who were able to attach themselves to the tops of the highest mountains were saved.

In fact, archaeologists have determined that the Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen in Port Angeles has been hit by up to five tsunamis in its 2,700-year history.

These tsunamis were most likely caused by the Cascadia subduction event, where the Juan de Fuca plate slides beneath the North American continent approximately every 500 years, causing earthquakes and their associated tsunamis, the last of which was was produced on January 26, 1700.

There were no tsunami warning sirens, Coast Guard or National Guard airlifts at the time. We can only speculate on the massive casualties that must have occurred.

We live in an information age these days where we are better off ignoring the information.

We’re not about to let some foreign global tidal wave ruin a three-day weekend.

So when the nanny tells us not to go to the beach because of the tsunami, we head to the beach to watch it.

It is the newest adventure sport.

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Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected]


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