A Night Cruise Across Mountains and Memories, Then to the Beach

Posted By Mike Padgett

July 28, 2011

SEATTLE – Out the window of our plane approaching Sea-Tac, the evening sun reflecting off Puget Sound creates a giant pool of brilliant silver surrounded by shadows of blues and blacks.

A ship or ferry cutting across the Sound leaves an arrow-shaped wake in the silver. Soon, I want to explore the west side of Puget Sound. We descend over downtown Seattle with its office buildings, jammed freeways, Pike Place Market and the Space Needle.

Puget Sound shimmering at sunset, next to Seattle, the Emerald City. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

After landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, we collect our luggage, check out a rental car and start our night drive east from Seattle. Behind us, in our mirrors, we see the setting sun with its reds and purples. Ahead of us are hours of driving in the darkness. We pass communities whose names, like Issaquah and Snoqualmie, have Native American roots.

We are on I-90 streaking across the Cascades. East of Issaquah, four motorcyclists wearing hiking boots, coats and backpacks merge next to us from an on-ramp. Their cycles are saddled with camping gear. They’re probably headed for evergreen cathedrals and creeks cold and clear as melting snow.

I reach over and touch my Best Friend’s arm. She laces our fingers. Our adventure continues. Behind us are monster malls and strip malls and gridlocked freeways and coils of concrete overpasses. We are cruising into the shadows of an evergreen forest. Out there, hidden from view beyond the dense walls of firs and pines along the highways, are giant patchwork sections of forest harvested by logging companies.

I think about the brave souls who, in the 1800s, blazed trails across these mountains for pioneers to follow. They had no four-lane highways, or bridges that are engineering marvels hugging rocky mountainsides, or AAA maps. Their adventures were long before rest stops with Wi-Fi and vending machines. I wonder at the pioneers’ courage and their abilities to find water and food on their journeys.

Driving long distance at night in the mountains at 75 mph is a different world. There are only headlights, brake lights and the green glow of dashboards creating ghostly mug shots of oncoming drivers.

Near the end of our night’s journey, a sickening thump breaks the monotonous sound of tires on concrete. It was a tiny brown blur, maybe a rabbit that darted into my headlights.

A yellow half moon rises from the horizon ahead of us as we stop and fluff our hotel pillows.

At dawn, vineyards outside our window greet our bleary eyes. A farmer starts watering the vines. They need weeding.

Across the road, hundreds of cows fresh from milking are enjoying their feed.

In the distance, we see a farmer cutting his field of alfalfa for hay. And farther beyond, in the light between dark and dawn, are the distant hills where I practiced with my rifle.

I remember cruising this region decades ago, waiting for my draft notice and listening to the Doors and the Righteous Brothers.

After breakfast, we buckle in and continue cruising. We pass a few barns with caved-in roofs. Their paint flaked away years ago. In one community, we see a deteriorating downtown scarred further by a recent fire that destroyed a decades-old business. Other stores are closed or in redevelopment.

We see a region’s population that in recent decades has undergone an ethnic shift.

Rural America’s Future

Youngsters graduate from high school and many hit the road, leaving few to shoulder the future of the small towns. Where are the young? If they stay home, or if they return home after working elsewhere, what are their futures?

We hear and read about drive-by shootings and drug deals that a generation ago, and more, were distant and foreign events.

Local police update their files on gang membership. They know the hand signals and tattoos. They keep tabs on who’s new, busted and dead. They have files on graffiti taggers.

On a drive across the countryside, we see fields of corn, alfalfa and mint. Fruit crops are late because spring was late and cold. Asparagus fields have gone to seed.

We pass a large luxury residence built years ago on a hillside in the country. It has a new gate at the driveway and a tall fence.

Signs say the property is under surveillance. We wonder whether illiterate burglars will understand. Dogs, they would understand.

We pass several new schools on the edge of town. The aging high school is undergoing expansion.

There always will be children to educate, but where do they go? What is the future of high school graduates in small-town America, suffering from flaking paint, closed businesses and shrinking per-capita incomes?

Unless small towns can attract new business, what is the future of the communities? A new census report says many U.S. counties are dying because they are recording more deaths than births. Here, as in other states, we’ve seen small towns deteriorate over the years. Businesses close. Population dwindles. Are we witnessing the slow-motion arrival of future ghost towns?

Cruise to the Beach

Our return across the Cascades takes us to Washington’s coastal region, where green is the year-round color. The skies here often are overcast, especially during cooler months.

But to a couple of longtime residents of the American Southwest, the color and the coolness of western Washington are rejuvenating.

We arrive at the coast in early afternoon. Lunch with a couple of our best buds is fish and chips in Westport, a small town we’ve visited many times. Many of the local fishing boats are in their slips. A few haven’t yet returned from their charter trips.

We see two men struggling up the wood ramp with a cooler. The men are bent over, guiding the cooler on wheels. We assume it’s filled with ice, chilling the fish from their trip.

On this day, the sky is clear, a rarity for this region. Hours later, a fogbank rolls in, attracted by the warmer land temperature.

We drive back to our hosts’ home, where we spend a few hours catching up since our last visit a few years ago. They tell us about the deer that hop the fences to munch on apple trees outside their back door. They marveled at the bear that scratched its back on their gazebo. A feral cat hangs around. Crows stay close for kitchen scraps.

On this day, in our hosts’ home surrounded by evergreens and a short walk from the beach, time passes too quickly. We must leave Westport and the ocean and fresh seafood. We linger in our handshakes and hugs. We exchange promises to visit more often. I wish we had connected earlier in our lives.

Sad.

Leaving Westport, I push the accelerator and touch my Best Friend’s arm. She smiles. We lace our fingers. Our adventure continues.

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Jul 28th, 2011

One Comment to 'A Night Cruise Across Mountains and Memories, Then to the Beach'

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  1. Carol Romley said,

    Thank you Mike, another wonderful trip you took me on.
    I love the way you write about your experiences.

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