Week Nine

Thanks for reading! For photos, please check out the Instagram feed or my Facebook page. There are also some photos on the blog page. Below is a summary of week nine.

Day 57: Missoula, Montana to Spokane, Washington

In Missoula, a young barista asked if I was doing anything fun and I told him I was making a four-hour drive to Spokane. His eyes bulged as if I had said I was going to the moon. As I climbed out of Missoula, clouds hung low in the valley. A layer of thick fog clung to the mountainside in an orderly band, about halfway up. I stopped in a rest area which was broadcasting a radio weather report in the bathroom.

 

Upon arriving in Spokane, I went first to a off-leash dog area in the city outskirts. As I drove through the park to get there, I was eyeballed by droves of homeless people living in or near the park. The older single ones don’t worry me, it was the twenty-somethings that hang out in groups of three or four and give me long looks with lidded eyes that raise my hackles.

 

I was disheartened and tired when I arrived at the campsite, but after a Chesky-forced walk across the Spokane River on a pleasant afternoon, I felt better. When I got back to the campsite, I lay on my back on the picnic table in the sunshine and looked up at the blue sky between the towering pines, and thought: OK. I can finish this.

 

We don’t get many visitors in the trailer, so when the ranger came and knocked on the door just before dark, Chesky was startled. He had been deeply asleep and tried to jump to his feet, falling instead onto the floor and staggering around like a drunkard who had just heard about free tacos. Then he began to bark halfheartedly, still confused as to what was going on until I opened the door.

 

 

Day 58: Spokane, Washington

 

Homelessness is rampant in the area. There were signs everywhere of it: makeshift beds under the trees in the park, groups of people with unkempt hair and many layers of stained clothing congregating on benches at the side of the road. A man slept in his pickup truck in the parking lot at the end of the campground while his dog (a husky mix) slept on the ground outside. A Mercedes van was pulled into the day use area of the campground with the blinds drawn.

 

I am grateful for a warm, dry place to sleep.

 

Day 59: Spokane, Washington to Tacoma, Washington

 

Eastern Washington is flat, high, dry, and treeless. The Cascades are far in the distance, white-capped and narrow.

 

The build-up to Snoqualmie Pass was unnecessarily dramatic.Thirty miles before the pass, electric billboards warned that commercial vehicles and RVs over 10000 pounds needed to carry chains between Nov 1 and 1 Apr. That’s five full months of potentially serious winter. My rig was lighter than that, but the signs made me nervous.

 

A few minutes later, my heart sank as I saw flashing lights with a weather advisory. Apprehensive of an early storm, I tuned in to the AM station, but the reports were all positive: temperature well above freezing, clear skies, and dry roads. The advisory seemed to be that there should be no advisory.

 

I reached my campsite and settled in under massive Douglas Firs for the night, nestled back in a corner off the main campground road. The stomach-thumping roar of jet engines was in the distance. The campground was full, and all the services were working. I am relieved to be out of freeze danger for the first time in weeks.

Day 60: Tacoma

Chesky has settled into a worrying depression. I took him to the dog park, and he raced around and had fun, but if he’s not walking he just curls up and goes to sleep. He doesn’t want to get up and walk with me. I am worried about him. He is not his usual playful puppy self. I am not feeling well either; stomach troubles have had me running for the bathroom most of the day. 

 

The Tacoma area is run down. Cars are older and in poor condition. Houses are small and close together. The roads are bumpy and crowded. I saw at least one drug deal going down at the dog park. Unkempt people shuffle through the streets, wearing beat-up old backpacks. 

Day 61: Seattle

 

Every since reading about Amazon’s brick and mortar store in Seattle, I have wanted to visit. It was one of the few “must-see” items on my list for the trip, and I drove ninety minutes one way from the campground to see it in miserable, wretched weather. 

 

I’m not sure what I expected, but I thought it would be much bigger. Amazonian, even. I was hoping for something innovative and new, but it was a small, well-lit and pleasant bookstore. Amazon has completely disrupted the book business but they built a bookstore just like all the others they have put out of business. On a Saturday morning, at least twenty people were browsing in the shop and it felt crowded.

 

Driving through Seattle, I was again struck by the sheer numbers of homeless. They were living in parking lots and tents on the median of the interstate in wretched conditions. I can’t imagine how loud it must be, how wet and uncomfortable and unpleasant living in a tent in the rain in the small grassy spot between eight lanes of traffic would be. I wondered how the occupants got back and forth to their homes; did they dart across the interstate in the wee hours of the morning?

 

Day 62: Seattle-Tacoma area 

The morning dawned with pouring rain. Chesky leapt out of the trailer and into the mud, then turned around and jumped right back in, tail between his legs. He glared at me in angry petulance, as if I had played a mean trick on him. I stood outside at the other end of the leash under an umbrella, laughing and trying to pull him out of the trailer. He hunkered down and resisted my efforts, and only relented when I went back into the trailer and threatened to carry him. Once outside, he stood unhappily in the downpour and shook himself off every fifty steps or so. 

 

Hampered by the weather, I went into a coffee shop and and everyone except myself and the baristas was Asian. I interacted with several of them, and each spoke non-accented American English to me and an Asian language to their companion with equal ease. I like international areas.

Day 63: Mount St Helens, Washington

 

I was very young when Mount Saint Helens erupted, but it made quite an impression on me and the visitor center was on my list of things to see. It’s also a significant natural event that has occurred since Steinbeck’s trip in 1960. The visitor center was outdated and none of the 1990s technical exhibits worked, but it was still interesting. The before and after pictures of the mountain and the footage of flattened trees highlighted the devastating effects of the blast. There was an easy mile walk around a lake with scenic views of the mountain.

 

I went to a campground in a state park across the street to drop off the trailer, then realized that I couldn’t bring Chesky into the volcanic monument with me. Unwilling to leave him alone and certain that I would return to this area one day, I decided to walk around the state park instead and was pleasantly surprised: Spanish moss grew on the trees, and everything was green. The air was refreshing. The noise in the forest was muffled by foliage, reminding me of the the woods after a snowfall.

 

Chesky was feeling much better today and was back to his old self. I guessed he had picked up a puppy bug somewhere along the way that his immune system had vanquished. I was happy he felt better but missed the sleepy, biddable puppy; he was back to being a fully energetic Vizsla.

The states this week, in two words:

Idaho: Untouched mountains

Washington: Giant trees

Week one

Week two

Week three

Week four

Week five

Week six

Week seven

Week eight

Week nine

Week ten

Week eleven