Monday, September 10, 2012

Lost Highway- The Washington Files Part 2


On Day 2 of the Epic Washington Move Road Trip, morning broke the way it usually does for me, no matter where I am...like a plate that someone breaks over your head when you least expect it.  I've never been a morning person, and the prospect of another 12 hours of driving, not to mention the task of tag teaming the felines into their bags, gathering up the hotel room, repacking the truck and generally making your way on down the road just makes it that much harder to roll out of bed.

Roll we did though. There was a really nice hot breakfast for free at our hotel, and we had a bit more time that morning to roll out of bed with less problems and more showers and...a little bit less chaos.

North Dakota isn't without its charms.  In fact, one of my favorite teachers- my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Anderson, is from good ol' ND. It did have some picturesque farm fields, pretty little rolled bales of hay, striped fields that looked like patchwork quilts, and even the fields of sunflowers my mom had been telling me to look for.  And even though Illinois has those things...I started to feel far away in the good ways.  There's something inside me that feels freer as the land opens up the way it did.   When you can drive for miles without seeing a building, except maybe a few lean-tos or old farmhouses, most with the sunbleached, tattered roofs and walls- a skeleton from the past.   As much as I couldn't wait for the mountains-I never can...it felt good.


 I must say though, that North Dakota wasn't particularly kind to us on this trip.  Aside from construction that put us down to one lane in either direction for long stretches, which is bad enough, there were the narrow guide walls and the tall orange cones to avoid-which is harder when your truck is lane-sized....times when we had to actually drive on the shoulder (I kept praying we were balanced enough not to flip) and times when it was one lane period.

Somewhere in mid-ND, we encountered a guy driving an electrical van and pulling a trailer who....should never have been on the road in the first place.  The way he fishtailed was insane.  He'd weave between lanes, go off onto the shoulder, over-correct, and then when he pulled back on, his trailer would start this terrifying tippy little dance.  I honestly thought we were going to see the guy go over.  It was pretty scary.  We kept a good distance between us, but eventually watching the dance was getting to be too much, especially when other drivers would approach him-we cringed every time, hoping they'd get clear of him before the next time he'd cross the white line or drive on the shoulder.  We called the police on him, and at one point, we thought we saw a car pacing him, but nothing came of it.   I had to pass him, and I don't know that my heart has ever pounded that hard while driving.  I knew the guy could veer over any minute, and it seemed like it was taking forever just to get by.  If Tim hadn't been trying to talk me through it, I would NEVER have been able to make it.

After lunch that day, or shortly before (these things all run together) Tim took the wheel.  North Dakota was going to be ending soon, and we'd finally be in Montana.  Since Bozeman was our stop that night...this was going to be cause for celebration.

Something I never knew about North Dakota?  The far western portion of it is AMAZING.   It opens up into badlands.  It reminded me so much of THE Badlands in South Dakota that I loved so much when we went as kids.  I had no idea there was more than one badlands area.   My heart always jumps when the terrain starts changing, and the dirt starts going red- it's all reminders of where I always felt like I belonged.




I was loving it- watching the small canyons turn bigger, the red dirt mix with white rock, and the bands of color and dancing light.


I didn't know what to expect for a lot of this trip.  I haven't really been to North Dakota before, nor Idaho, or much of Montana...this was the first time, at least in my eyes, we were hitting paydirt...the first time that the scenery started to really take your breath away.  It was the first time we climbed, and the first time we were on roads that cut through canyons and wound like the rivers.  Watching Tim experience it for the first time I remembered how I felt....boxed in by something so much bigger than you could really put a finger on without being there....small...sometimes scared by how big it all was.  In the truck, that feeling was magnified.  Ol' Bumpy being what he was is not the most nimble of things, and on the ups, gravity really isn't on your side.  Without a good foot to the gas, there was always the chance you'd be pulled down a hill instead of going up it.

There was something neat about experiencing someone else having their first time in the mountains...I think it's the closest you'll ever get to feeling it again, but without the uncertainty that you had when it was actually you.  I tried to balance my need to take pictures of everything with helping my fellow trucker as much as I could.   I gotta say, it's hard to tear your eyes away from things like this sometimes though.


These are the places I always want to run away to.   Along the river there.  Just forget about the road, the truck...where you're going....and run out into the wild and explore.  Follow the river around the bend, step onto the tops of mesas, peer into the valleys....stay.   My friend Lewis was biking through Idaho/Washington around this time, and I saw a picture he took of his campsite along the river in Idaho...one of these days I'll have to follow that pull and take off under the blue skies, walk out on the horizon, and sleep by the rivers.  This goes on my list of thing I absolutely MUST do in my life.

We finally crossed into Montana, and decided to switch drivers.  Took a much needed break in the little welcome center, where I ran across this:


We didn't get to do those things....we had places to be, y'see.  But...I'd definitely lost my interest in sitting on a couch.   Just as soon as the land opened up like that, so did I, and all I wanted to do was explore. 

The rest of that day passed without much incident.  We headed into Montana.  I knew Montana would be quite desolate from my trip through there with my parents, and I remembered right. 

Montana is unique in that you can travel for hours without ever seeing anyone else.  As an aside? A lot of weird names for towns there.  Home on the Range, Cracker Box, Diamond Ring...

The desolate nature of the place was good for thinking, for sightseeing, and for relaxing...until it got dark. 

One thing that you don't realize when you live in the suburbs is how dark dark can be. I learned this living in New Mexico, but I've been back long enough so that when we were plunged into it...I wasn't ready. I don't think Tim was either.  The pair of us spent most of that night white knuckling our way through mountain passes, with our headlights the only light sometimes.   Tim would call out which way the road would curve ahead, so I could concentrate on the two lonely beams of light in front of me.   It's at this point I realized how great a team we were becoming.   Tim was just as scared as I was some of that night- worrying about elk, how Ol' Bumpy would handle steep grades, since they were the first we'd encountered on the trip, which way the road was going...and how much higher we'd be climbing.  I can't say I enjoyed that trip through the darkness, but I can say it really cemented the partnership, and made it clear that 2 were so, so much better than one for things like this.   

I still remember Tim asking me during a rather tense set of switchbacks if I needed quiet to concentrate or if he should talk to me.  I honestly wasn't sure I knew, but then I realized the silence was making me more tense.  So I said "No, talk to me."

About two minutes later- I'd assume this was the time it takes a stressed out brain to think of something...out of the darkness beside me I hear....

"I like Batman."

Though I didn't have the capacity to chuckle at that point, I remember it switching my brain out of panic mode.   It took me a good minute or two to respond....but soon we were talking about the Nolan trilogy, the comics...and even doing Christian Bale impressions.

It took us HOURS longer than it took Patty and her mom to get to the hotel in Bozeman, and even with the Batman conversation, we'd reached the end of our ropes, stress-wise.  Looking back...I think it was kind of neat that we did that. I know I felt like I accomplished something...I know I felt like we conquered the worst of driving conditions, and could probably  handle anything...and we knew that even if the road was like that the next day, we'd at least have the sun to guide us. 


Still, pulling into that hotel was one of the biggest sighs of relief I've sighed in quite a while.  After a quick shower, a stroll to shake off the nerves, yet another gas station sandwich, due to the late hour....and some pepsi...we turned in, having earned ourselves the title of Road Warriors


Thus ended Day 2.  Join me for the third installment tomorrow. Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel.

1 comment:

Tim Faulkner said...

I'M NOT WEARING HOCKEY PADS!