Saturday, July 12, 2008


That's what summertime in my neighborhood looks like. Purty, huh?

Summer is a busy time of year anyway, but even more so when it's compressed into 5 weeks at home! Since it's been a week and a half now since I've written anything, I'll have to catch you up via installments of my Insider's Guide to the Great Northwest. This will be part 1.

Date: July 6-7
Destination: Mount St. Helens Forest, Washington, USA
Company: Abby, Libby, Esther, Uncle Bill and Aunt Heather. Drew couldn't make it.
Miles logged: +200
If you go: Plan your meeting point. Don't try to buy a good map just off I-5. And remember--in Washington you pump your own gas and pay sales tax.

Aunt Heather and Uncle Bill are free-spirit travellers--they might decide to drive cross country and leave that very day, they won't call ahead to find campsites or hotels, and they might toodle down any windy road that looks interesting if they aren't pressed for time (and it's hard to be pressed for time if you haven't planned to be anywhere specific). I think this is a splendid way to travel, but when it came to camping two weekends ago, details such as exactly where we planned to make camp were all rather nebulous, as in "you drive northeast and we'll drive southwest, and we'll call each other 'round, oh...say 5 pm." We expected to meet up about then at the Swift Resevoir, though we hadn't checked for camp sites and it was the fouth of July weekend. But camping is nothing without adventure, right?

I set off up the I-5 corridor, and stopped at three gas stations looking for a more comprehensive map than the road atlas I have. At the third station in Woodland, upon discovering that they too had no proper maps, I asked the clerk if she could just kindly point me in the general dirction of Mt. St. Helens. "Yep," she said, "you just go on up this road here, and ya just kinda run into it." Great, I said, and I was back in my car and on my way. Not a half mile down the road there was a fork in the road. No signs, except one labeling the route I was on as "503 South."

South!!?! I don't want to go south! I want to go Northeast! After some trial and error, and mumbling through gritted teeth about how hard can it be to stock decent maps and is it a tourist office conspiracy to control the supply of maps or what, I finally determined that in the interest of clarity, the state had wisely decided that "503 East" should, at that very fork it seemed, turn into "503 South" although it continued generally eastward through Cougar and on toward the resevoir.

Unfortunately, the Washington wilderness doesn't exactly have a cell tower on every hilltop, and as 5pm came around I was near the town of Cougar but hadn't seen a cell phone bar in miles. I came upon the resevoir 20 minutes later and stopped at the first campsite I saw. They had no guests by my cousin's name. I drove down the road looking for coverage...nothing. I drove back to camp to wait, and got chatting with the two old couples who run the place. "Now where'd you say your relatives are comin' from? Ellensburg! Way over east! And you talked to them at 1 you say? Awww, well, heck. It could take 'em till 7 to get here, easy. 'specially if they went through Randall and hit the road block." But, just in case, we talked over all the options: there were three tent camp facilities in the area ("This one is the cleanest, so don't worry--if they go to the others first, they'll end up here). If they didn't turn up, and weren't at the other sites either, they assured me I could sleep in my car. "Inside the gate, we'll have to charge ya. But you can park just as well on the other side of the gate." I was standing in front of the little booth where they take money as cars come in, talking about all this with them between customers until one of the men finally said, "They aren't gonna get here any faster with you starin' up the road like that, so you'd better just go on in there and sit down. You want a coke? I'd offer you a beer, but--I don't drink."

At 7:15 I thought I'd best go find some cell coverage and check my phone for messages. "Now, you know where to call from, don't ya?" they asked. No, I didn't. "Well, you head outta here the way you came and just before you get to Cougar there's a row of houses on the right side. There's a yellow house all boarded up, with green trim, and a little turn-off there. You pull over there and you'll get two bars." Ok, I said. Yellow house. Two bars. "If they come while I'm gone, tell them to wait for me!" They said they would, and "you drive careful,now, hon; there's some real bad curves on that road."

Down the road I went again, driving carefully, with the resevoir on my left and the fir trees on my right. Before I hit the row of houses though I saw my cousins coming. They had in fact run into a road closed for snow at Randall and had to drive 100 miles out of their way to Woodland and come in from the West side.

We made camp, made supper, made s'mores, and slept. Esther and I bored the twins to sleep almost immediately by talking about Esther's college plans. :) whoops. Next day we went spelunking in the Ape caves, which is a cool lava tube with lots of boulders inside to climb around and over. The twins blazed the trail and every so often would fall silent up ahead of us, until we'd catch up and find them crouched behind a rock with their flashlights off, waiting to startle us.

On the way home that day we stopped for lunch at McDonalds in Woodland and I ordered three $1 items. The girl rang my total up as $3.23. "Why is it $3.23 if everything I ordered is $1?" I asked her. She gave me a look that said "what rock have you been living under!?" and said "uh,!" Oh. right. sales tax. I always forget that when I go to washington, but it usually doesn't compell me to ask stupid questions. A few minutes later, Uncle Bill was like, "need to gas up on the way home, steph? Here's a tip: Don't sit in your car wondering what's taking the attendant so long." Hey-I can't help it. I'm from Oregon. We do things differently down here.

This has been your friendly northwest entertainment guide. Tune in next time for tales from the Oregon Coast, Henry Hagg Lake, and the stunning Columbia River Gorge.

Abby and Libby

S'mores...Mmmm! :)

Esther and yours truly

Abby and Esther

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