The Long Road Home

This weekend, I wandered down to Portland for a barbecue my friend Dan and his lovely fiance Moonrise were holding down there. This was a remarkably good idea on several levels, not the least of which that I’d completely forgotten that my friend Jen was in Portland for the week, and that I’d promised to head down and hang out, so a quick IM later, she swung by and we chatted for many hours. The actual trip down was notable primarily for the fact that I was pulled over. It’s complete bullshit, and I will be fighting it tooth and nail if I have to.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, getting pulled over happens, and I don’t begrudge a ticket if they catch me dead to rights. I’ve literally had a check in the mail within the hour before. But this… this is worthy of my rage. First of all, I was going 65 in a 60 — whups, yep, I was speeding, a whole 5 miles over. He claims I was going 75 in a 60, which I am completely positive in saying I was NOT doing (mostly because I was frustrated at the traffic not going faster, so I was abundantly aware of my speed). I’ve had cops try to over-charge me before, and generally I’ll even begrudge that, though I’ll certainly bitch about it. BUT, he decided to also slap a $1000 fine on top of it, for “failing to pull to the right for an emergency vehicle.” It was markedly unsafe to pull over to the right, and since there was a 15 foot wide breakdown lane on my immediate left (and I’ve been pulled over on the left side in Washington before without issue), I pulled over immediately, but to the left. I feel fairly confident that the only reason he gave me this extra fine was because I a) was with out-of-state plates, and b) disagreed with him regarding my speed. I WILL be contesting this.

But, that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing about the trip home. Given that it was Memorial Day, I sort of assumed that it was going to take me many hours to get home, regardless of the route I took, so I opted to take a scenic route (long duration due to going out of my way, not because of traffic). I split off eastward at exit 21, and took 503 out towards Cougar, heading through the national forest on the east side of Mt St Helens (I’d post pics, but I’m at Zoka, and left my card reader at the apartment). 503 at some point became 25, and passed through Packwood, and still I kept on going. The roads out there are long and winding, with unbelievable views and no traffic, but you need to be careful that you don’t slip off the road: there are often no guardrails and no shoulder, just a steep drop down a thousand plus foot embankment to water or trees below. There were some lovely lots for sale out near Yale Lake, in 5 acre and 20 acre allotments that would probably do well as a spot for a hermit’s cabin or camp.

Continuing onward and up through one of the passes, I saw a man walking up the road, with no backpack or anything, just a machete strapped to his leg. I hadn’t passed a camp or even a pullout for a few miles, so I found this odd… a quarter mile later, I saw another solitary man, without equipment other than a machete. It was another 5 miles before I saw a logging trail leading off into the hills, with a crudely drawn chalk arrow pointing that direction… I don’t know what was going on, probably nothing, but it sorta weirded me out. It was interesting to see snow in the pass, as well, and kind of reassuring, as well: I was glad to see snowbanks available rather than a straight shot down the precipice, considering I had already been passing several spots where the embankment under the road had eroded away, the pavement sinking into oblivion and an orange cone warning off drivers.

By then it was rolling up on 9pm, and finally starting to be truly dark. The moon was a welcome addition. Unfortunately, 9pm means a lot of the gas stations out in that area are already closed for the night, and I noted that it was highly unlikely I’d have enough gas to finish the trip. I started putting the car in neutral and riding the brake down the passes, just to save gas (I was seeing a car perhaps once every 30 minutes). Eeked it out until I found a gas station that was actually open around 11. I tried cutting through Mt Rainier National Park, but the passes there are still closed due to snow, so I had to cut back a bit and take 410 instead. Heading up over Chinook Pass was impressive, with WALLS of snow, 8 feet high, on either side of the road, though the road itself was clear and in good shape. Coasting down that switchback was completely crazy, but immensely fun and refreshing (considering the night was stretching on, having something to refresh and excite you in your drive to keep you alert is a godsend… you will NOT fall asleep on these roads, there’s too much to pay attention to, all the time). Finally made it back into town a little before 2am, and then trundled off to bed.

Hell of a trip, great roads. It’d be nice to do it again with more of it in the daylight. Maybe once the passes in Rainier are actually open. (That reminds me, I need to renew my National Parks pass… hmm, it can wait a few paychecks, methinks.)