After a two year hiatus, we have hit the road in Peregrine once again, this time travelling across the great Northwest, with Glacier National Park as our prime destination. I’ll put up a few posts about our trip, but it’s unlikely Greta will follow suit – we probably won’t run into any food worth writing about, and at 16-years-old, she’s getting a little too cool for blogging (preferring Snapchatting with her friends).
We came home from our big trip with the best of intentions to keep the travel momentum going, similar to those intentions we formulate at the end of every summer – we need to get out of town more, we should not let work take over all of our attention, we should do more family adventures while Greta is still at home, etc.
But normal life intervened, with all of its preoccupations and distractions. We returned from the trip, I turned 60, and every aspect of life beyond our immediate family took a nose dive into a level of chaos and disarray that has constantly yanked our attention away from our personal concerns. The national and international issues are obvious to all, but at the same time, our jobs have involved a high level of chaos, conflict and turmoil for the past two years, as a new regime at the UO has done away with many of the givens of the past 25 years, leading me to question why we have dedicated our lives to this place, and whether the path forward is viable. One of the drivers of our trip three years ago was my discontent with how the university was going, but in retrospect, that period looks like the golden age.
So rather than spending our free time travelling the Northwest, each weekend we have more or less collapsed, regrouped, and prepared for the coming week. Other circumstances have also kept our roadtripping in check: I had knee surgery last summer, which knocked me out for months, a spring break trip to eastern Oregon was kaboshed by the weather, and much of Greta’s life has been taken over by her robotics team, which occupies all of her spare time for at least 3 or 4 months per year. So Peregrine has sat in our carport for two years, an incongruous reminder that we once managed to leave it all behind. Every once in a while I stick my head in the door, trying to get a whiff of that experience, but it always seems unreal, like a disconnected remnant from a forgotten civilization. A memory will come up, and Greta and I will look at each other and say, Did we really do that trip?
But last winter I realized that we had to make a commitment to get away – if we just made decisions day by day, we’d never get out of the reactive mode. This might also allow us to correct one of the problems with our trip – on such a long trip, it was impossible to make commitments far in advance, as we wanted to respond to the vagaries of weather and unanticipated opportunities; mapping out nine months of travel in detail just isn’t feasible, nor desirable. But that meant that certain destinations, such as popular National Parks, couldn’t be visited. We had both wanted to go to Yosemite, but all campgrounds within striking distance had been booked six months in advance. So making a plan in the depths of winter would give us access to a place which you can’t visit on the spur of the moment, as well providing a light at the end of the tunnel.
One of the themes of our trip had been Climate Change Farewell Tour, as I had realized that much of the world was going to change drastically in Greta’s lifetime, and I thought she should see the state of the current world as a baseline before that happened. The coming change was most evident along the southern coastline (as we visited many places that will probably be under water in 50 years), and in the Southwest, much of which might become uninhabitable for most of the year. The biggest missing piece was Glacier National Park. I had briefly driven through 22 years ago, and thought it was the most extraordinary mountain landscape I’d ever seen. Then recently I read that it was down to 28 glaciers remaining from the probable 150 in the 19th century. It seemed that it was time to go.
So I made campground reservations in January (15 minutes after they were available online), we dusted off the trailer (literally), and tried to remember all the gear, protocols and approaches we’d taken two years ago. We made one big change this year: Linda was coming along. She’s never been a big fan of camping (thinking that it is sort of like normal life, but less convenient or pleasant), but Peregrine was a nice enough little substitute home that maybe she could take a flyer. Our big worry was that while 85 square feet might be adequate living space for two, it might be too tight for three. So we hedged our bets by packing up a big tent we’d bought at Walmart five years ago for $40 (to use as a spray tent in our shop when we painted cabinetwork and trim), so anyone who felt the need for more personal space could bail out into the annex.
We left from our summer place on Whidbey Island, turning the corner onto Route 20, which took us all the way across Washington. After crossing the Skagit Valley, we entered North Cascades National Park – a place we’d never visited, even though it’s only about an hour and a half away. We stopped at the park headquarters, where I formalized a milestone in my life – for $80 I purchased my lifetime Senior Pass to the National Parks, which gives me and my companions free admission, and half-price campsites, forever! I had previously tallied up our total costs for our big trip, and realized that my Social Security alone at this point would be enough to support me driving around the country and camping in National Parks; if this trip goes well, I might not come back in the fall.
Our visit to North Cascades was brief – just a scoping trip, to see if we’d like to return in the future. The west side of the park is what we are used to in Oregon – fir and hemlock forests, everything muddy and mossy.
Washington Pass was a change – giant craggy peaks rising up into the clouds.
And North Cascades was also where I was able to achieve a milestone I had not been able to in nine months on the road – documentation of a Triple Selfie!
We left the Cascades into the Methow Valley, a beautiful region about which we had only heard.
We drove down the valley to Winthrop, and stayed with our friends Lisa Spitzmiller and Hanz Scholz, whom we had met 16 years ago, when we were in the same Birth to Three group. Our daughter Greta and their daughter Gretta (whom we called Gretta-Two-Ts just to be clear) were friends for years, until they moved (along with their second daughter Stella) about nine years ago. Lisa has continued her work as a counselor in Winthrop, while Hanz has had a major career change. Along with his brother, Hanz was the founder of Bike Friday, the maker of superb folding bikes (Greta and I used one of their tandems for years, and Linda still rides a Tikit.) But Hanz tired of big-city life, so they moved to Winthrop, where Hanz worked at various jobs, and recently bought a yurt manufacturing company in the Valley, which he is moving to Winthrop now.
They live on this beautiful farm (seen above), where Lisa can keep her horses. We arrived in the middle of a ground floor gut remodel and addition to their house, and so we undertook our first driveway camping experience in years, as they were mostly living in a neighbor’s house.
Greta and Gretta were both the tiniest kids we knew a decade ago, so it was a surprise to see how Gretta had grown into a serious athlete, excelling at state and even international competition in cross country running and telemark skiing. Stella has followed suit, winning the state mountain biking championship in her age group. The girls seem much changed, but Hanz and Lisa haven’t, and it was good to see such good friends again after too long.
The next day was a pleasant drive down the rest of the Methow Valley, and a bit up the Okanogan (where we stocked up on cherries for the week). Afterwards Route 20 was rather boring, through mid-sized, tree-covered mountains. But then we came to a surprising place:
In the Black Panther movie, much had been made of how Wauconda was hidden away, out of the sight of western society. We hadn’t realized that their strategy was to situate an African country in the Northwest, surrounded by hundreds of miles of the whitest people we’ve ever seen.
The end of the day was at Sandpoint, on Lake Pend Oreille (which seems to be just the dammed part of the Pend Oreille River). Sandpoint is a surprisingly nice town (to those of used to the usual northwestern towns, with their sad, decrepit cores surrounded by dismal sprawl). The historic downtown is in great shape, surrounded by beautiful residential neighborhoods, all of it quite compact, as it is hemmed in by the river and topography.
The next day we continued through northern Idaho, and stopped for a hike at Kootenai Falls, in a narrow valley where the Great Northern Railroad tracks ran right along the river.
By the end of the day, we reached our destination – Lake McDonald, on the west side of Glacier. The 700 mile drive immediately seemed worth it.