I guess you could say it all started with a deadly plane crash. In August 2004, a Cessna 182 carrying Sara Gagnon and Tammi Hinkle, both in their 30s, clipped a ridge and went down in the darkness near Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. Sustaining serious injuries and barely surviving as they lay for hours in the remote wilderness, it would be easy to say the experience created an inner strength that changed the course of their lives. But those who know these two dynamo adventurers, winemakers and professional kayakers from Port Angeles would likely say it’s not that simple: the strength was obviously already there.

At the time, Sara was already head winemaker at Olympic Cellars, having cultivated by age 20 a passion for creating magic-in-a-cup. Her first wine creation came from freshly picked blackberries on Gagnon family land originally homesteaded by her great grandparents. A deep connection with the land, the peninsula and its wild nature was already evident in everything Sara did, even when it came to surviving the toughest that life could throw her way.

Though she already possessed the innate strength to survive and recover, that deadly night in Olympic National Park certainly shaped what came next. Exactly one year after the plane crash, Sarah opened Harbinger Winery, aptly named for her newly focused determination to be “the harbinger of her own dreams.” The award-winning winery is the northwestern-most winery in the continental United States, tucked into a former logging truck stop now overflowing with life, love and a whole lot of awesome wine. As Sara puts it herself:

“Learning at a relatively young age that life is precious and precarious, with no guarantees of longevity or happiness really put things into  perspective for me. You’d better enjoy each day for what it is and follow your heart, as tomorrow may never happen. Sounds cliché I know, but it’s the truth. So drink that fabulous bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a “special” day…as today is special!”

But it doesn’t stop there. Fellow survivor Tammi Hinkle had already opened Adventures in Kayaking before the crash, and she subsequently joined forces with Sara at Harbinger to create one of the most dynamic-duo destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Sharing a location with the winery, Tammi’s adventure kayaking service cracks a nature-fueled version of the proverbial glass ceiling. Outdoor enthusiasts of all ages, abilities and genders place themselves in her expert hands, gliding into the peninsula’s hidden cavities and crevices, brimming with wildlife, sea creatures, towering cliffs and glacier-carved lakes.

Here are some ideas of how to spend your time on the Olympic Peninsula with these two freewheeling yet ferociously competent local ladies. Your first option is to paddle along the ancient Spruce Railroad Trail on Lake Crescent inside Olympic National Park, surrounded by the majestic Storm King, Pyramid and Sourdough Mountains on your way to the deeply gorged Devil’s Punchbowl. If you prefer sea kayaking, a hands-down favorite excursion is following the Whale Trail along the shoreline of Freshwater Bay on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. While paddling amongst sea caves and sea stacks, keep an eye peeled for harbor seals, otters, sea lions, porpoises, whales, and bald eagles cruising the cliff lines or swooping for salmon in the bay.

For an all-day deep-dive into nature’s glory, you can join Tammi and gang for an all-day Adventure Route, which includes kayaking, lunch and mountain biking through pristine forestlands. If you’re traveling with kids or just wanting to take it easy, you can stroll the beach along Dungeness Spit or go tide-pooling in Tongue Point Recreation Area. There are also endless opportunities to go hiking, oyster harvesting, fly fishing, and crabbing at the spit or at Port Angeles Harbor.

What to do for relaxation between all of nature’s fury? Wine tasting at Harbinger, of course! They’re open every day, and often participate in events such as the Olympic Peninsula Wineries’ Wine, Cider & Cheese Tour at the end of April.

Last words from Tammi Hinkle: “Harbinger Winery and Adventures Through Kayaking share a location as well as harbor a lifestyle of doing what we love, being healthy and active, creating elevated and interactive experiences, and spreading the love with as many others as possible … We just want you to live it up with us even if just for a day … being out in nature, soaking it up. What could be better than a sampling of world class WA wine following your exhilarating day of Pacific NW kayaking and mountain biking?”

Well said – we’re on our way, ladies!

Photos courtesy of Adventures Through Kayaking


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