I chased a setting sun into Washington state, the hanging smoke from the area forest fires making for an unusual sunset, and seeming to hastening the darkness. I try not to drive too much after dark; I prefer to use the daylight for road scenery and to keep moving, then try to find a place to eat or park and sleep when it gets dark and thus get sufficient sleep such that I can get up at first light and be on my way without drawing any attention to myself. After dark, I had dinner at a downtown saloon in Coleville and found a quiet place to park/sleep at a boat ramp park area overlooking the Columbia River at Kettle Falls.
I had originally thought I would try to visit my Uncle JC in Okanagan, but I tuned into the local AM radio for updates on the forest fires and learned the road I’d planned to take there was closed. I had breakfast at a wonderful German bakery in downtown Kettle Falls; while I studied my maps for a new route, and caught up on some blog writing, local people popped in and out and the friendly German lady welcomed them all by name and with cheer. It made me feel warm inside to be among the locals as I continue on my way – taking minor highways, largely empty, flanking the forest fire road closures. I passed Grand Coulee Dam and the Sun Lakes carved out by ice age melt. Central Washington felt like the great plains and the southwest mixed together. I eventually made it to Yakima and stayed a night with my cousin Nick and his family who live on the outskirts surrounded by huge apple orchards. He’s the oldest cousin on my mom’s side and we really hadn’t spent any time together as “grown-ups” so it was nice again to become more “familiar” with family.
There was an objective that was making me keep a pace as I crossed the country. A number of trail-running friends of mine from NC were running the Wonderland Trail that circumnavigates Mt. Rainier. I wanted to join them for some of it. Since dogs are not allowed on NP trails, I would have to find a place to board El Gaupo if I was to do any distance on the trails. As I entered the park and got orientated, I decided it would be too much hassle to leave the park and drive 1.5 hours to Enumclaw to the only boarding place I could find. So I just kept El Guapo with me and did short/run hikes from numerous parking areas. I did connect with my running friends for a few meals, and enjoyed a nice respite from my abundant “alone” time.
I ended up seeing an impressive amount of Rainier even with my dog and time limitations. I’d been there once before as a youth, but was probably more impressed now. While it’s not the highest mountain in the lower 48, it’s very close, and considering how close it is sea level and big cities, its statue is unmatched for miles and miles. It still boasts many glaciers surrounding its cone, and the valleys, waterfalls, lakes and flowering meadows they created around the perimeter are wonders in their own right. It was also impressive to see how many international visitors come to admire our national parks. At the parking areas, I might have heard other languages more often than English. I agree with Ken Burns, that the National Parks are America’s best idea, and their preservation and protection for public enjoyment is an example of the democratic ideal.
After a few days in Rainier, I headed toward Seattle. I had also been there before decades ago on a Mosteller Family Reunion. We visited the monorail, space needle, Pike’s market and the waterfront piers. Memories of that 1984 vacation kept flashing back to me as I seemed to be retracing Daddy’s route (I recall getting free meals at McDonald’s when the US kept winning medals at the LA Summer Olympics that were boycotted by the Soviets). The most memorable thing hit me when I saw the Old Curiosity Shop on the pier. that’s where I bought two of my prized possessions of my youth: a very realistic looking pile of rubber dog poop, and a plastic knife where the blade springs down into the handle so it looks like you’re really stabbing people. I made a short obligatory stop downtown again to see those same sites, but my tastes and maturity have evolved.
I spent more time checking out more of the creative non-downtown districts, similar to the places I enjoy in Asheville. I walked around the funky old warehouse district of Georgetown, ashamed of myself that I had stopped only an hour earlier to eat breakfast at McDonalds – my excuse was to use the free wi-fi in order to research where the “cool” dog-friendly places were around Seattle that I should visit. I also had dinner in Fremont at an explicitly dog-themed restaurant (Norm’s) and then sampled some local microbrews at some nearby breweries. I could definitely see that Seattle is a very cool city to live in, and I’m sure it has a number of other interesting neighborhoods and streets that I could explore if I took more time.
I headed north of Seattle to visit my Uncle Terry and his family. Like my other family visits, it gave me a chance to re-connect and become more familiar with family that I don’t see very often, but I’ve always been a fan of Uncle Terry, one of my dad’s younger brothers. All of my Mosteller Aunts and Uncles have that quality that I love – simple and perhaps unrefined, but down-to-earth good natured, sincere, friendly, honest, resourceful, and kind hearted. I don’t know if it was growing up in a Kansas family that had 15 kids over the span of the roaring 20’s, Great Depression and WWII, but they all have that quality. I would say that Uncle Terry typifies it best of all. I recall at a family gathering years ago, when my attention focused mostly on goofing off with my cousins, Uncle Terry sat down with me at a meal and spoke to me like a peer, rather than the typical what grade are you in? or what do you want to be when you grow up? I remember thinking, that it was pretty cool to just talk with my Aunts and Uncles, and Terry is the same today – a salt-of-the earth peer in life.
El Guapo also enjoyed getting some canine company with Uncle Terry’s two dogs. And though he never actually chased their cat, they kept a wary eye on one another, and that dang cat left us the most “un-welcome” signal. It snuck into the room where I was staying and peed in the middle of the bed and pooped on my jacket. Terry and his family had their own distractions as Aunt Claudia had some health issues, but the two nights I spent there worked out well for me, as I got a lot of down time to get caught up on some work on the computer and do a load of laundry and clean/air out my car. We also went up to visit Aunt Barbara who is now widowed and living in a rest home in attractive Lynden near the Canadian border. From there I went on my way via ferry across the Puget Sound to Port Townsend and Port Angeles.
I spend a full day visiting Olympic National Park, which is not very much time considering its size and variety, and that its roads are reverse tentacles that dead-end inside the parks interior, requiring you to drive long miles around the exterior to get to different sections. I drove up near Hurricane Ridge before realizing I was out of gas, coasted back down to get gas and dinner at Port Angeles. I slept, ran, and swam at Lake Crescent, drove up to Sol Duc area, Hoh Rain Forrest, and to Ruby Beach where I got my first sight of the Pacific Ocean on this trip. It was El Guapo’s first taste of salt water and he had a great time sniffing unusual smells running in the sand along the shore line; he was very happy.
I continued around the Olympic Peninsula as night fell and more rains came into the area. I parked and slept at the Mt. Saint Helens visitor center. As heavier rains came on throughout the night, it struck me how the domed cavity of my Prius was very much like a tent, but I was grateful to be cozy and dry inside the car rather than in a tent, which might keep the rains out, but would be a mess to fold up and pack in the morning. I found a spot to take a cool river bath on the banks of the Cowlitz River as I wanted to get a clean-up in before heading across the Columbia into Portland’s eclectic social scene. As the cool wind dried me off and rustled the browning leaves in the trees, I got the distinct feeling it was fall. Really? It’s still August.
I spent a whole week in Washington. I think it was economic opportunities that brought some of my family there decades ago, out of Kansas and Arkansas. It seems like a higher cost of living now, so I wouldn’t do it for economic reasons, but I could see doing it for social and recreational reasons. I was very impressed with everything within its borders. There’s more variety of landscapes and human occupation than I had even realized. I see the appeal of living in Washington, but at the same time that I saw the Pacific Ocean, the very real boundary of how far West I could go, I also felt a bit of pleasure knowing that soon I would be heading back the other way, going East toward home, and that I would be there in the land of deciduous forest mountains before October, the most sensible time to do fall.