…and then the fire alarm in the hotel went off in the middle of the night. It was just one of those days. But I’ll take it. I wish things had turned out differently, but there was good mixed in the bad. Like the very nice Washington State LEO who pulled me over for speeding. Yes, he was giving me a ticket–that I deserved. But he was so nice about it. And then after taking care of business, he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the area I had been driving through. But let’s rewind.
I was up bright and early for the moment of truth. Would Canada let me in? It had been bothering me for 14,000 miles. It’s even why I made the trip the way I did, going through the hot south in the middle of the summer and then working my way up north in the hopes that the fluid covid situation would change. It just got worse.
Idealistically, I gave myself a 50/50 chance to qualify for the “essential” travel the Canadians needed to let me in. Realistically, it was 10%. I drove up, was in Canada, asked to wait and then pull my car over. I waited in a nice office for about 15 minutes.
So I went back through US Customs, found a parking lot, and sulked for a bit. I really had no idea what to do. I had bought a full sized spare, a couple extra cases of water for the trip, food, and was just so in the moment and the reality that they would let me pass that I was completely lost. So, I sulked.
At that point, I really just wanted to get out of Washington and off the West Coast. Covid is unlike anything we have seen before and the fires out west are as well. The air quality on the west coast is now the worst in the world with a thick layer of smoke covering everything. I wanted to go east to get away from the smoke. I knew from talking to other travelers that an incredible park was on my route so I made my way to the Cascade Mountains and Diablo Lake. There was a loop that went through the mountains and I took it. There were also some great hikes, but I passed on them. I can feel the air quality.
There were many, many other pictures. I took a lot more with my GoPro. Only to find out later that while I was at the lookout point, I put my GoPro under my jacket in the car so I now have about 20 awful pictures of my seat. And then I got lost. Again. My GPS took me to the lookout point. After that, there was no cell phone coverage. No more GPS. So I just followed the road.
The road eventually poured me into a nice little town where I was able to grab lunch and sit for a while, with GPS, and figure out my next step. The route I chose would take along Northeastern Washington towards Spokane and then Idaho, where a friend has a dental lab. After all these years of people thinking I make teeth, I would finally have the opportunity to see how teeth were made.
It was an eerie drive. Really nice towns kept popping up and then I got further east and started to run into something that was familiar to me but also very different: desolation.I began driving through the area where fires had swept through.
It’s familiar because you see it in Hawai’i. In a 30 minute drive you can cover the evolution of an island, from where the lava flows had burned everything to lush forests. First is just the black rock of the hardened lava. Then, you start seeing this yellow grass, Egyptian, that begins the process of breaking through the rock and creating dirt. Then, scraggly, hardy trees. On my last trip to Hawai’i, we hikes along the path of the lava flow. It was interesting because there were still homes in the oddest places that had been spared.
In Washington, it was the same, but blackened trees dotted the landscape. The earth was black with spots of a light brown that was the dirt underneath pushing it’s way through. Green popped out at you here and there of trees and houses that had been spared. I even spotted a herd of cows running through a blackened pasture. But there was sill the ever present blanket of smoke.
When the sheriff or trooper pulled me over, I asked about it all. He told me the fires had swept back the way that I came but I was heading towards a new one. In a few miles, I passed a fire camp.
My day ended passing through Spokane, crossing into Idaho, and finding a hotel for the night. It’s just your average tourist hotel siting on the river. The smoke I was hoping to escape was as thick as ever with the Spokane weather reports saying it was going to be here for a while. My evening ended with a truly great meal–and good company. The new chef at the Red Lion Hotel is doing amazing things. I would never have expected it. I ordered my favorite because, well, it had been one of those days: Shepherd’s Pie. What I got was not Shepherd’s Pie, but the chef’s take on it. It was incredible. And then a little buddy came up to join me–he got a piece of the flank steak.
But the question still bounced in my head: what do I do? I’m tired of smoke. It looks like the smoke is drifting far to the east and Yellowstone National Park is affected. Not seeing a clear Washington state bothered me. There were a few hikes I missed? Do I head back to Seattle and fly to Alaska? Do I continue east and fly there from another point?
At a loss, I finally went to bed.
And then the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night.
Fly to Alaska!
I am. It just took me a while to stop sulking. 😄
Hey Chris – enjoying your chronicles! I was the trooper who pulled you over…lol. Thanks for the business card you gave me – I am enjoying your work here – safe travels brother!
Sorry, I’m just seeing this now. –I don’t know why. Lol. I’ve been sticking exclusively with cruise control since. True story: with all of the driving, I’ve realized that speeding doesn’t get you there substantially faster. You just end up missing more. It was great running into you. Seriously. Stay safe!
Hi Jeff. I’ll be passing your way again in a couple weeks (doing the speed limit–lol). If you’d like, I’d enjoy stopping by the station to chat. I’ll bring the coffee. firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-517-8474. I’m driving up to Seattle now to fly to Hawai’i, and then I’ll be heading back eastward. And thanks again for your kindness and for your service.