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15 September 2019 : to Bend            jump to this page > > >
 

Long drive pictures by Rochelle, who was ably navigating, managing big maps, and shooting out the window while I managed somehow to keep my cool amidst the onslaught of Seattle-bound weekenders hell-bent on getting there before the rain stops, damn anything that impedes them in their rush. 

 

 

In these images, we're rolling through north central Washington, from the valley of the Methow River to Pateros, where US 97 runs beside the north-to-south stretch of the upper Columbia River.

 

One thing I noticed, spending a whole working day behind the wheel, is that we are, individually and collectively, in a terrible big hurry, and once we’re in a car, we deeply resent anything that gets in our way. I feel it myself: my idea of ideal driving conditions is a long stretch of gently curving highway in front of me with no cars on it! As soon as a car appears, I can feel my sphincter tighten, and that especially true if it’s going my way. 

In the olden days, when I was more foolish, I’d speed up and start looking for a place to overtake the slowpoke – obviously a slowpoke, because I caught up, right? (I could also feel Rochelle beside me tighten up and grab hold of something.) These days, I feel that tightening, and at least consider slowing down to the other’s pace ...especially if, as today, the scenery’s good and we have no plane to catch. Works some of the time.

I think – I hope – that when I no longer feel competent about passing safely, Rochelle’s anxiety notwithstanding, I’ll simply stop driving on long trips. I am aware that won’t be too much longer, but not yet.

 

A good bit of this morning’s drive, the first hour, was ideal: gentle rain, smooth empty road ahead, beauty on all sides.


 

About that car in front of me: today, it wasn’t just one, but what my old Dad used to see ahead and start singing “I … love a parade.” And with depressing regularity, the vehicle leading the parade was one of those cursed snails called an RV. What’s wrong with those people? Haven’t they heard about AirBnB? Are they so dependent on sleeping in their own tight little beds that they’re willing to incinerate their childrens’ patrimony? 

I suppose I wouldn’t be so offended if they could keep up, but they are, to generalize, older amateur drivers wrangling an underpowered, overweight behemoth, often towing a full sized car! Much too much vehicle without proper training or experience, and so, to a certain extent, Goddess bless ‘em for going slow. 

Just not when I need the road. 

They’re also always quite sure they’re going the proper speed (and, quite often, they are going the speed limit when everyone else wants to go at least ten miles per hours faster. Our bad? I don’t think so. And geriatric snail wranglers are consistently allergic to using pull outs, because Betty in the co-pilot’s chair is nagging, “Don’t you dare pull over, Ralph, it’ll rattle the crockery.”

 

 

Here we turn uphill from the Columbia past Lake Chelan complete with Coots, thence through some pretty mountainous timberland.


 

The good news about today’s drive was that US 97 is fairly well provided with passing lanes, and so just about the time the line of cars was reaching critical mass, we could put the pedal to the medal and blow by the slowpoke. If it hadn’t been raining, I’d’ve rolled down my window and given them the one-finger salute. 

 

 

Out of the woods and into the gorgeous Ellensburg Valley, an intensely cultivate, rich inland valley in the middle of High Desert.

This is apple and peach country as well as wheat and cattle.


 

Just over a ridge, and there must not be abundant water, because we're back in High Desert, complete with Tumbleweeds, Sage, and Power Towers.

 

The rain, incessant and the first of the year, was obviously making the road slippery, but did anyone slow down? Shirley, you jest! We’re all, as mentioned above, in much too big a hurry. There’s a death wish inherent in this, I think (as I acknowledge that I have it too.) Is this urge for speed at least partly because we’re in a car that’s certified by the National Transportation Safety Board to be safe, and we’re suddenly back into our teenage years of invulnerability? While it is true that on this trip – knock on wood – we have not seen any kind of accident in going on 2,000 miles of driving, there were times today when I could feel that my tires, and presumably everyone else’s, were right on the scary edge of letting go and hydroplaning as we whizzed around tight mountain corners barely inches away from other speeding vehicles, some of them passing us going the other direction at a closing speed of well over 100 miles per hour. 

But then consider the alternative: the driver traveling at, say, 10 miles below the speed limit due to road conditions. There’s your parade leader! And you know that every driver, and at least half the passengers in that parade are muttering (and, eventually, screaming) imprecations and curses at him ...and eventually some brazen Bozo will take everyone’s life in his – it’s always a he – hands, and pass in the wrong place. And, like drunks and the mentally handicapped, most of the time he’s in God’s pocket and  gets by with it, and we all wait for the next Bozo to screw up his courage …

...Or the alternative to that is the second car in line is a wimp, and doesn’t pass even when the passing’s good … or the parade is led by a cavalcade of RVs who couldn’t pass each other if they wanted to.

 

But today, just when I could feel the whole line-up behind the parade leader getting ready to go postal, a passing lane would appear, and ...away we’d go!


 

About passing. There appear to be two philosophies; you can see this when you have two lanes going the same direction. One is – I’m going to call this the pragmatist risk taker’s – that I’m out here in a kinda chancy place, so I better get my business taken care of expeditiously. The other one is – I’ll call this the SoCal driver’s – this  is kinda scary and maybe I shouldn’t be doing it, so I’m going to take it way cautiously, maybe hanging here in the passee’s blind spot for a few minutes while I screw up my courage. Today, this latter approach was particularly present as the risks were real ...but the passing lane was finite, and there were a whole string of cars that wanted out of the parade, and so: Get a move on already!

These conflicting philosophies can also be seen in parade behavior when on a straight road with no opposing traffic, or when such a passing opportunity is likely in the offing. In my view, the distance between car #2 in a parade and the leader must be used as a signal. If it’s traveling the NTSB approved car-length-per-ten-mph behind, then that means it’s a happy parade, with its members content to poke along and smell the flowers. In the other case, when the followers are not Ferdinands and want to get on with it, the #2 car is obliged to put a bit of pressure. I’m not advocating the #2 driver combing his hair in the leader’s rear view mirror, French driver style. (Those Frenchies just love to ride on each others’ bumpers; I think they take comfort in the closeness. Oregonians tend to do it, too. Do you suppose it’s a mile form of homophilia?) But at 50mph, maybe a 2-car gap is in order?

More often than not, yesterday, particularly on the curvy up-mountain passing lanes, the passing driver would wimp out right at the worst moment and ride along beside the passee, with the rest of us hopeful passers stack up behind, cursing.

 

 

And now we're back to the Mighty Columbia in its east-to-west navigable manifestation – that's some kind of bulk barge below the bridge. We crossed the river at Maryhill and were in Oregon, where most of the rest of the heavy traffic left us to go home to Portland.


 

And then we were in the rolling wheat and High Desert (depending on whether there's water) on our way through Madras – Alas, poor Madras, how you've grown! Ugly, is how – and then on along to Bend, another one of those out-of-place wonders (like Port Townsend and Mazama / Winthrop, where urban culture has caused a flourishing where stodgy farmers never would) that we love so much.

 

As you might imagine, knowing me, I was composing most of this in the back room of my mind while conveying us from Northern Washington all the way a state and a half to Central Oregon, 431 miles.

Mostly what I was thinking about – observing – was that we are a race (pun intended) curiously comprised in our Situational Awareness. Where we should be gradually adapting to innovations like automobiles, highways, and other newly adopted amenities, we seem to be losing ground. Maybe it’s the severity of the onslaught: too much new stuff at once. Maybe big discoveries, like printed book, fire, the land line telephone, take more than a century to integrate. Millennials crossing busy streets with their unattached children while thumbing their iPhones are a common sight; don’t give a thought to the kids, they’re such fun to make! Likewise, the mindless dithering driver who doesn’t have the slightest thought for the car beside, behind. It’s all a solitary quest for the proximate goal: home to Seattle by dinnertime. It doesn’t help, I think, that for two and a half years now our “leader” – although we must be thankful that he really hasn’t been able to lead us anywhere yet – is a narcissistic buffoon who cares only for himself. THAT is something I think he has led us to, and how we claw ourselves back to caring in this high-speed, anxious, money-grubbing, time-is-money world, I’m sorry, but I cannot see the way. 

On the road today we were listening to Howards End, E. M. Forster’s magnificent 1910 novel – “Only connect.” – and that’s been the theme of several of the places we’ve stayed in: Mazama, where a community comes together to make trails so they can take walks with their neighbors;  Salt Spring, where the whole damn community squeezes into Ganges on Saturday to rub elbows at market; Ucluelet, where the tradition of tribal continuity and mutual caretaking are literally in the air and the water. And our beloved backwater of Caspar where, by reinventing neighborhood and relearning how to get to consensus. These are, I think, hints. Goddess, help us heed them!


18 September 2019 : Going Home            jump to this page > > >
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Threatening sky and fog among the Redwoods as we climbed over the promontory that constitutes the south edge of Crescent City's half-moon bay. 

As usual, I opted for the Newton B Drury Parkway alternative to the fancy new freeway that circumvents the best of the Redwoods. Even with the treetops vanishing into clouds and sporadic rain, it's staggeringly tall and beautiful.

 

 

One of the things I love most about this bit of "tree theater" is how it imposes an awed awareness on all who take the time to drive through. Gone suddenly is the urge to speed. Instead, drivers dawdle, stop in their traffic lanes to wonder, then awaken to the fact that they've stopped right on the highway and pull over.

 

 


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Leaving Eureka a couple of hours (and a 20k mile car service) we saw a poster on a building: "There is no Planet B".

Just south of Benbow, at the top of the hill before the freeway ends, we saw a pair of bikers with camping gear stopped beside the road and obviously discussing what they saw ahead. Rochelle took a picture, and I said "Looks like we're headed into a squall."

Was I right! Turn the wipers up to high. At peak downpour we were running behind a couple on a motorcycle. "Doesn't look like they're having fun," opined Rochelle. 


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Today was what we sometimes call a "strobe light day" with bursts of sunshine, intense rain squalls (sometimes at the same time; look for rainbows!) and, finally, just south of Cape Vizcaino, Highway 1 breaks out onto the coast, and there's our blessed home ocean through the (invasive) buffalo grass.

 

On this day, there were several two-lane sections where we once again had time to wonder about the selfish souls who drive RVs. Is this the grown-up equivalent of a blankie, without which they are uncomfortable venturing out into the cruel, unfriendly world, poor things? 

The importance of the driver in car #2 of a parade was also brought into focus. Of course a driver from Illinois is going to be intimidated by our twisty, steep mountain roads, and the stretch from Leggett to Westport is the poster child for this kind of road. Luckily, most visiting drivers get that locals may actually need to get somewhere on time, and use the pullouts.

And then there are selfish locals. For twenty slow miles we drove behind a fisherman in a pickup with a big trailer stacked high with brand new crab traps, probably doing the best he could, but completely unwilling to pull over despite multiple opportunities. "I may be slow, but I'm ahead of YOU!" Finally, at the first legal passing straight-away I sped past him, and being passed apparently made his penis shrivel so badly that he called the highway patrol to report a "crazy driver." Just north of Cleone, a Highway Patrol car pulled out of hiding and tailed me to Ward Avenue, where he flashed his lights and I pulled over. A complete professional, and aware that this was a nonsense stop, we discussed tourists, pullouts, hairpin turns, and selfish locals. "I have his phone number; I'll talk to him," was where we left it.

Again, interestingly (and fortunately; I no longer have to knock on wood) we saw no accidents and had no unpleasant direct encounters. Everyone we met was friendly, welcoming if local, curious if visiting; respectful of the wonders we had all come to see. All in all, a very satisfactory adventure.  

 

Ten miles after our visit with The Law (and a quick stop at our wonderful farmers market for supplies) we rolled into Caspar. As you can see below (and I don't mean to boast), we made 70.1 miles per gallon on this trip of 2,500+ miles.

Now, safely at home and with Pi-cat sleeping nearby, I am glad to have no more long-distance driving in the rain in my future. Maybe a divergence is taking place for me: the highways and byways are becoming more crowded and less enticing while I'm getting older and slower. I am very thankful to be home safe and in one piece, with the richness of this trip firmly in my mind.

 


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We’re HOME!


Also worth noting: in 23 days on the road we walked 83 miles, an average of 3.6 miles every day – I guess that would be “total vehicle mileage” of 166, 7.2 miles per day considering it was the two of us walking. Indeed, there were some days we didn't walk much, but on others we made up for it! Assuming our fuel to be hard cider, something we enjoyed responsibly but assiduously throughout the trip, I would say that individually we got about 84 miles per gallon.


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