Entering Washington

I was ready to get out of Portland. It had be a few days and on the one hand, I was starting to feel a lot of the same anxiety and stress that caused me to leave SF in the first place. On the other hand, I felt like I may not get the chance to visit the Pacific Northwest with Sierra again, but I can fly and Uber around Portland whenever I want. Alright, we passed by the maps section at Powell’s Bookstore and I picked up a PNW map.


I remember from my last road trip through the Southwest that highways are to be avoided, and byways are where the fun is. I can’t go past 55mph comfortably anyway, and there’s usually less traffic. Byways usually wind through the country more, and have better views, and stopping to take photos is much more accessible. Plus, in a car as non-aerodynamic as a 1991 VW Vanagon, getting stuck behind a semi-truck makes the van shake like a salt shaker. Google maps is fine for avoiding highways, but tracing the white lines of the byways on a paper map and always having a full overview of the trip has a certain romantic quality to it.


After Powell’s, grabbing a beer flight at Bridgeport near Tom’s apartment, hunched over the map tracing my route north along the 101 to drive around Olympic National Park clockwise, David (Tom’s Personal Trainer. A tangent we don’t need to get into) showed up and shared stories his honeymoon in the Cascades and Rockies of Washington.


Ok then, I guess I’ll cut my trip short around Olympic NP and retrace David’s honeymoon. He pointed out a very thin and long lake east of Seattle called Lake Chelan with a small secluded boat-access-only town called Steheken on the norther shore. Apparently you can take a boat out to the hiking trails, and charter a flight back. Sounds right up my alley. I marked the path on the map. In the process, my eyes adjusted and I noticed that the map also listed all the public campgrounds in the PNW. Hallelujah! It’s been driving me nuts trying to find campgrounds, ones that have any first-come-first-served spots, and ones that are a reasonable distance away. The instant availability of the entire internet means I’m constantly researching the options trying to find the best one, wasting hours and getting frustrated in the process. You can’t comparison shop on a map. Cool.


Later that night, after doing a load of laundry, packing up, setting the alarm for 5:30 AM (I’m a little anxious about those first-come-first-serve spots), I started looking up hikes and things to do around Seattle. That’s when I started looking up photos of the hikes on Instagram (Thanks guys for Places search!) I started losing my mind in excitement. Washington’s mountains look so majestic, so large and numerous, so accessible and well documented, I was left in a bit of a state of shock. Jealous of Seattleites and longing for some deeper connection to the mountains, I decided to try solo backpacking for one night along one of the popular hikes. This is not an entirely straightforward proposition though, seeing as I have a major release coming up in 3 weeks that I’ve been slaving at for months, so having an active internet connection is important, and I’ve never done an individual backpacking trip before, so there’s that anxiety, but on a popular trail, in a popular area, for one night…I should be fine.

It didn’t take long for me to get out of bed, still riding that wave of excitement. Quietly left Tom’s apartment and made my way to the van which was conveniently parked right outside a Safeway. A quick supply run later, I had an audiobook going, the engine running, and my tank half full. We’re on, baby!


Leaving Portland due west on the 30, I passed by a large forest on my left, and a river to my right. This being 6:30 AM, there wasn’t much traffic, so I was making good time. The road turned right, I crossed the bridge and was back on my way north.


It was surprising to me how quickly I was able to get outside Portland and find myself in the open country again. On either side of me, large factories, pillars of steam rising, and piles of timber lay as far as I can see. All along the drive north, timber seems to be the regional industry of note, and every pile makes me a little sad. I’ll have to read that Wikipedia page when I get some internet. Presumably, our sustainability and conservation history plays a role in ensuring we don’t wipe out the Redwoods, and as a city slicker like myself, I don’t know the first thing about the timber industry. It seems to employ most people in the little towns I drive through on the byways, and the subculture of wood carvings and trinkets line the outside of the rest stops and walls of the diners.


An hour or so into the drive, I pull over into a diner on the side of the road for some coffee and breakfast. The first thing you see when you walk in isn’t wood panelling with rustic bar stools. It’s a wall of gum and rolling hot dogs with a bored clerk in front of a wall of cigarettes. You see, this is a combination Gas Station and Diner. First one I’ve seen! Sure enough, the bar stools were attached to the side, I grabbed one, and my exquisitely mulleted waitress got me my menu and coffee and off I was doing my usual let’s-read-everything-twice-and-just-get-two-eggs-and-sausage routine. Next to me, two self-proclaimed regulars sat down and started chatting. It was actually really nice to see it, they were older, but they were heckling the waitress and she was heckling right back as if they were in a redneck Cheers revival. “…Wifi stopped working…called them, got some foreigner. Couldn’t understand a damned word she was sayin!” “Only in America.” Yeah. Only in America. 

At some point, I crossed into Washington. I wasn’t sure when that happened, maybe when I crossed the bridge? It’s not totally clear to me. In any case, the byway was almost empty the entire drive, I got into my campsite, nobody was there, I went to pay, and discovered, much to my joy, that it was free! (Well, the pass I had to buy cost $30), but it was nice! Unfortunately, there’s no service here in the campsite, and I’ve been working for a few hours making filters.


Tomorrow I’m driving early to Olympic National Park, and hopefully going on a nice long hike. Hopefully I can catch some REM cycles despite the ATVs and gunshots nearby. What is it with gun ranges and ATVs and campgrounds here?