Nick & Sara’s Tour de West – 03

Mon, 7 Sep 2009

“The best laid plans..” and all that. So, the ORIGINAL plan was to drive the Columbia River Gorge to Portland, and from their boogie on up I-5 to Seattle. But wiser folks with more experience nixed that idea – they said driving I-5 between Portland and Seattle on a Labor Day weekend was insanity. So, Sara and I took the wiser course and instead decided to head due NW from Richland to Yakima, then from Yakima due west on a smaller state road, northward around the eastern side of Mt Rainer National Park, then from there northwest again into Seattle.

Because it was Labor Day and we were concerned about traffic, Sara and I got up early Monday morning – early enough to catch a beautiful sunrise over the Columbia River from

the hotel room. It was a bright, cool morning as we headed out on I-82 towards Yakima – which I always thought of as a brand of roof racks and not a real place. Western Washington is wine country, and I-82 cuts through vineyard after vineyard as you head northwest. It’s interesting to watch the land change – you don’t really notice it as its happening – but suddenly you look around and notice it’s a lot greener and the land is different than it was half an hour ago.

We rolled into Yakima about 2 hours later. By that time, my initial caffeine buzz from the free coffee at the hotel had worn off, and I was desperately in need of bathroom and a cup of coffee. Now, this is Washington State – home of Starbucks – land of flannel and coffee. You’d figure there’d be a Starbucks on every corner – heck, there is in most of the rest of the US. If not a Starbucks, at least (actually, preferably) some local, idiosyncratic coffee shop where I could get a jolt of java and a restroom.

No such luck. We wandered around downtown Yakima on a Sunday morning – not a coffee shop to be found. Target ? – Yep. Holiday Inn ? – check. Blockbuster ? – that too. In the end I settled for a 7-11. The coffee looked pretty bad, but at least there were tea bags and hot water, so I could make a cup of black tea – good enough. Since it was a couple of hours since I’d had breakfast, I wandered around the aisles looking for something to eat.. but I just couldn’t find anything remotely palatable at 8:30 in the morning. Doritos, beef jerky, hot dogs that looked like they’d been on those rollers since last night – nothing appealed. With a sigh I paid for my tea, climbed back into Sara, and we headed west on state road 12 towards Mt. Rainer.

West of Yakima, the land changes yet again – from wine country to fruit – Apples, Peaches, and Cherries in abundance. Some of the farms have fruit stands and shops by the side of the road.. often
*many* of them. One particular farm had a series of signs arranged in a row along the side of the road as you approached – “Burma Shave” style. One particular sign in the row stood out as somewhat anachronistic – picture an old fashioned, by-the-side of the road Burma Shave kind of sign, which says: “Ur wife snt a txt. Brng home peaches.”

About an hour west of Yakima – hard to say exactly where, really – you suddenly look around, and you’re not in farm country anymore.. now you’re in the mountains proper… Sara was *born* for roads like these – a tight, twisty 2 lane ribbon of blacktop with not another sole in sight. Before you know it we’re doing 70-75, dancing through the curves, pretending we’re in Germany’s Black Forest. Somewhere along the way we turn north and skirt the eastern side of Mt. Rainer – of course, you can’t really tell because the weather has closed in – it’s now classic “Seattle” weather – about 50 degrees,
alternately misting and raining with fog hanging in the valleys and blocking out any trace of the mountain, that, according to the “Mt Rainer view” signs – is right over there – just past that curtain of fog and drizzle. Doesn’t matter, the view (what I could see) was still spectacular, and we were having fun.

Heading over the crest of White Pass, I’m shocked to see a sign announcing the top of the pass at 4,500 ft.. somehow, we seem *much* higher than that. 4,500 ft is a thousand feet *lower* than where I live in Boulder! No wonder Sara doesn’t seem to be having much trouble with the altitude. Of course, you trade latitude for elevation, so it’s no wonder we feel a lot higher at 4,000 ft than we do in Co – we’re a considerable distance further north.

Further up the road, we get into serious lumber country – big trees crowd in on either side of the road, overhanging the road – it’s almost claustrophobically green. Time for another coffee break, but there doesn’t seem to be another sole, or business, or anything other than trees really, in sight. Just trees… lots and lots of trees. Finally, we come upon the little town of “Greenwater” – not much more than a cluster of coffee shops and outfitting stores selling expresso and hiking gear – must be get getting close to Seattle now. While they’re pulling my latte I browse the clothing racks and find a t-shirt I can’t resist – with the saying “The journey is the destination” imprinted on the front. Seems fitting for this trip, so I walk out with a latte *and* a new long sleeve t.

About the time I’m finishing my latte, the quiet tranquility of the mountain road ends abruptly as we emerge from the woods into Enumclaw, WA. The transition is jarring – you literally go from 2 lanes with forest on either side and little-to-no traffic to 4 lanes and stop lights and businesses and signs advertising said businesses lining the road.. It enough to make me want to turn around and go back to Greenwater.

The “journey is the destination,” not withstanding, most journeys eventually end at a destination, and ours, for now, is Seattle. As we approach the outskirts of the Seattle metro area the traffic gets busier and busier, and the area more and more urban. Finally, Seattle itself comes into view, and the next thing you know we’re pulling into the Marriott down on the water front, which will be home for the next few days as I have a few days worth of work and meetings to attend to. The Marriott has valet parking – I have to admit it’s a little discomforting to hand Sara’s keys off to some guy I don’t know – even more so when he tells me I’ll be charged $35 a night for the privilege. OUCH! Welcome to the big city, I guess.

The rest of the week will be work in the Seattle area, then Sara I will hit the road again with our only destination being a pleasant journey. We’ll be sure to write more as we head down the west coast next weekend.

Today’s playlist via the iPhone: It was an Elton John kinda day – the good stuff – pre “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across the Water, Don’t Shoot Me I’m only the Piano Player..