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Originally published November 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 8, 2007 at 9:16 AM

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Washington road trip uncovers a coast full of characters

If you love Northwest beaches and quaint beach towns, chances are many of you head for the Oregon coast for vacation. So what's the beef with the Washington coast? Well, nothing. Well, everything. Well, maybe it's time to take a fresh look.

Northwest Weekend Editor

Stops along the way

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If you go

Rob Snyder operates The Lost Resort at Lake Ozette, on the edge of Olympic National Park, ¼-mile from the Ozette Ranger Station. www.lostresort.net or 800-950-2899.

To learn more about James Preisinger's Wacky Warehouse, KXPB Radio and Pacific Beach, see www.pacificbeachwa.com/wackywarehouse.htm.

Len Atkins is innkeeper at Sou'Wester Lodge in Seaview, on the Long Beach Peninsula: www.souwesterlodge.com or 360-642-2542. For more information on that area: www.funbeach.com.

Get ski and boarding conditions all winter long with webcams, snow alerts and more at seattletimes.com/snowsports

If you love Northwest beaches and quaint beach towns, chances are many of you head for the Oregon coast for vacation. So what's the beef with the Washington coast? Well, nothing. Well, everything. Well, maybe it's time to take a fresh look.

That's what I did, Sept. 30-Oct. 9. I packed high boots, foul-weather gear, camera and a laptop, and jumped in a Jeep. The plan was to drive, hike and poke around just about every Pacific beach in the state of Washington reachable by car, and some that weren't, from Neah Bay to Ilwaco.

I hoped to savor wildness where it should be wild. Sample amenities where there are amenities. Talk to people along the way, and see what's new. Ask why our coast is the way it is, wonder when more change will come — and whether it should.

For a full day-by-day report on the trip, see www.seattletimes.com/travelswithbrian. Meanwhile, here's a taste of it — a few tales about favorite people and places along the way:

The hermit of the Hoko

LAKE OZETTE — The Hoh River had its "Iron Man," John Huelsdonk. The Hoko has its hermit.

He doesn't cotton to the label, but Rob Snyder, proprietor of The Lost Resort at Lake Ozette, at the end of the Hoko/Big River Valley, spends about nine months of the year with several resident deer and an Akita dog named Scout for company. He reads a lot, and watches it rain.

As we sipped from icy mugs of beer in his cafe, watching it rain, he told me about it.

"There's an old saying around here: We have two seasons, August and the rest of the year," said Snyder, who came from Santa Barbara as a young man in the late '70s, on his way "to the great adventure" in Alaska, and decided this place, populated by almost as many hippies as deer at the time, was as wild as he needed. He got work in logging, fisheries and whatever would pay a buck.

And lately he's been trying to tame the place a bit. Tame it, if that's what you call building a 10-acre camping resort a quarter-mile from the Ozette Ranger Station and working hard to make a go of it.

Following the example of Washington State Parks and other campground operators catering to aging boomers in search of "softer" camping, his newest addition, three "camping cabins" added to his campground, are the only roof you can rent at wet, wet Ozette, gateway to Capa Alava and the lovely and popular Alava-Sand Point loop trail. The cabins rent for $50 a night.

"The cabins have opened up the shoulder season a bit here, that's what they were meant to do," said Snyder, who claims to stock "99 bottles of beer" brands and cooks up a good goulash if you ask. Summertime is busy enough, he just needs to spread the wealth to other months. This hermit would actually welcome more visitors.

What's wonderful and what's not about running a resort at Ozette?

"Well I guess the just-barely-making-it part, that sorta sucks," he said. "But take a walk down the trail, to the beach, or go on the lake. If we went out on the lake today we'd be the only boat there on a 7,700-square-acre lake, and only four hours from Seattle. Everything's so nice and slow and easy." He paused to ruminate. "It's a nice way of life."

Mr. Wacky's world

PACIFIC BEACH — You've got to love a community where one of the more prominent civic figures is known as Mr. Wacky.

I dropped in on Mr. Wacky, aka James Preisinger, at his Wacky Warehouse, a Pacific Beach emporium of new and used stuff you might or might not need, such as plastic mannequin busts with prominent breasts, for a buck, or old beer cans, at least some of them possibly collectible, 25 cents.

Preisinger, who drove cabs in Seattle for 13 years before bailing out for the beach, was wearing a dinner jacket and bow tie when I met him, apparently not his daily garb. "Oh, you caught me on Formal Friday," he explained, a tradition he started in response to the growing Casual Friday tradition at corporate offices in the city. At the beach, life is different.

Happily, he had a loaner tie (a handsome clip-on) for me.

Pacific Beach is one of a string of little towns on this stretch of coast — Moclips, Copalis Beach, Ocean City — left high and dry by the logging and fishing bust and struggling for years on the knife edge between hard luck and happiness. (One local wag defines "Moclip" as "an ancient Indian word meaning large, rusty tin building.")

Lots of people have more than one job; Preisinger runs his shop, is the local metal recycler, is a musician (piano and harmonica) with a couple of his own CDs ("One of them went aluminum") and occasionally hosts music gigs. He also publishes a little photocopied newspaper: The Wacky World Reporter, "Shining the bright light of speculative rumor on the events of Main Street, Pacific Beach."

"I only give it out to people I know, or people who ask for it, because I know I'm going to say some things some people won't like," he confided.

He's skeptical about the clash of cultures with the arrival of Seabrook, a tony development on the edge of Pacific Beach. Pacific Beach could end up in Seabrook's shadow as the buildout of hundreds of half-million-dollar-plus homes continues. Change is in the salt air: A fudge shop has opened next door to the Wacky Warehouse. The town's other longtime symbol of silliness, the black-and-white striped Zany Zebra drive-in, has become the more tastefully named Falcon's Nest.

"These Seabrook people came in and they want to cutesy up Main Street and have a bunch of boutiques. How many boutiques do you need?" Mr. Wacky wondered.

Stop in and see him. If it's Friday, bring a tie.

Do-it-yourself radio at the beach

PACIFIC BEACH — They have a nonprofit radio station here. We're not talking fancy: KXPB broadcasts from an old singlewide trailer house back in the woods. The transmitter is in a blue van outside, and the antenna is 60 feet up a pine tree.

One of the DJs, Hippie Bruce, came by the Wacky Warehouse, and I asked him for a station tour.

Mr. Wacky started it six years ago as a pirate station that never reached much farther than the state park (until guys with a clipboard, a camera and neckties came and shut it down). Eventually, the station got a license, 100 watts of power and became the baby of another local semilegend, Kelly Cline, aka Max Better, who ran it until he died at the mike on Memorial Day 2006. Now, seven local volunteer DJs run it, including Bruce (DJ Bruce Almighty) Czajkowski, mostly known as Hippie Bruce.

"This is a big area for nicknames," he said. "Nobody has a last name." There's a guy who just wanted to be Bob, but even he is "Ordinary Bob."

The station is still in Cline's house in the woods behind Highway 109. Mostly, the programming is automated; the DJs come in after their day jobs. Bruce has a Monday-night blues program. "Our standards are just to keep the language relatively clean and play whatever music we like."

Inside the "studio," which smells like an old bowling alley with lots of cigarettes smoked in it, is a collection of desktop computers, microphones, a few speakers and headphones. Hippie Bruce fiddled with a PC and then cranked up the volume on the in-house speakers. "Start Me Up" by the Stones boomed through the room. "We could rock out!" he shouted.

But it was time for him to go back to work at the shake mill up the road.

Tune in at 89.1 FM. Other DJs are Surf Diva, Rita, Bus Driver (a school-bus driver), Kite Flyer (the kite-shop owner), Sea Frog and Dr. Smooth Shake. They keep Pacific Beach shaking.

The passionate innkeeper of Seaview

SEAVIEW — The Sou'Wester Lodge is more a cultural phenomenon than a hotel, and 77-year-old Len Atkins, trekking about his property in a colorful robe, his wild mane of gray hair streaming behind, is more of a guru of enlightenment than an innkeeper.

Passion is what he preaches.

Each guest, as they were checking out the day I visited, got his gentle but persistent quizzing about who they were and the passion in their life.

"So you prostitute yourself but you still have the writing you do for you, for your passion," he summarized to a young man who said he writes "advertorials" but hinted that he also is working on something more literary.

Yep, said the guest, who'd just spent a night in a classic 1950s trailer on the Sou'Wester's back lot, just one of the diverse lodging choices here.

Since Len, a former child psychologist, and his wife, Miriam, also 77, came from Chicago in 1980 and took over the Sou'Wester, the one-time coastal estate of U.S. Sen. Henry Winslow Corbett of Oregon, they've built the 115-year-old, slightly down-at-its-heels inn into a vehicle for cultural interaction, artistic expression, performance, recitation, intellectual debate and, often, friendship.

It started years ago with what Len calls Fireside Evenings in the lodge, sparked by a guest from Seattle, then director of the Northwest Chamber Orchestra, who admired the large living room as a wonderful place for chamber music. So she organized a recital.

"From that, some people who attended said, 'We have some recorders and a portable harpsichord' — so they had an evening," Len recalled. "Then someone in that audience said, 'We have flutes!' So it just kept rolling on!"

Adding to the lodge's character over the years, Len and Miriam have decorated every wall with artwork made by guests both famous and not so, much of it donated or bartered for.

From the performance evenings grew another kind of occasional happening at the lodge: the TeaCup T'ink Tank, which Len explains is "not quite a think tank!"

Len, a devoted student of Plato, treads a delightfully slippery slope between waggish sense of humor (he respects "the Alfred E. Neuman in all of us") and poetic turn of phrase, which he articulates in clipped consonants and elegantly rounded vowels reflecting his South African upbringing (he later studied psychology on a kibbutz in Israel).

A homespun pamphlet describes his T'ink Tanks as "cultural" ("devoted to the straightforward dissemination of knowledge in the arts, literature, philosophy, science, etc., led by experts in the field"); "dialogs" ("the respectful exchange of differing opinions sincerely held"); or "diatribalogs" ("the not necessarily respectful exchange of differing opinions passionately held").

T'ink Tanks started with a lodge guest, an expert on Charles Dickens, giving a talk. Another brought local people and architects and engineers together to talk about what Seaview had to offer and how to protect it.

"For many of us, living here is a spiritual experience," Len said. And there is constant pressure on the historic neighborhoods. So far, Seaview has resisted the kind of modern commercial development near the dunes that is happening in nearby Long Beach.

"Every three months, we have developers come by, telling us how much we could get" if he and Miriam sold out, Len lamented.

But as long as Len and Miriam have the Sou'Wester, Seaview has a cultural gem money can't buy.

Brian Cantwell: 206-748-5724 or bcantwell@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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