I was recently sent to the Northwest for a week-long work trip. I’ve always wanted to see Oregon and Washington (i.e. Portland and Seattle, with some trees and mountains thrown in for good measure).
I landed in Portland, fetched my rental car, and took off. I was in a new area, in a brand new car, and, to top it all off, I had never gone on a solo road trip before. (Omaha, NE is only about 40 minutes away from Lincoln, so I don’t count it.) My goal was to drive from Portland (after briefly stopping in Vancouver) out to Rathdrum, ID, and then back to Seattle, before returning to Portland for my flight.
I have friends that have driven halfway across the U.S. in a single day, so they’ll probably scoff at this. But I’ve spent the past two years in New York — the land of non-drivers — and I’m not a big driver to begin with, so I was both hesitant and excited to take this challenge on.
In hindsight, being alone in the car for that long was an introverted paradise. I had a milkshake in the cup holder, my I-pod plugged into the dash, and a cool pair of sunglasses on my face. I got to sing and talk aloud and do my Emme thing, unsupervised, for several days.
It was exhausting, though. No one tells you that 13 hours in a car means a sore right ankle, thanks to the gas pedal. My shoulders ached, too, because I tend to lean forward slightly when I’m driving. Each night I essentially collapsed into my hotel bed.
And on a similar note, if anyone’s planning on a long road trip soon, my advice is to BRING WATER. Bring so much water, and keep it near you so you can reach it without having to stop the vehicle.
Anyway. Portland. I was told by my clients that I needed to drive over the Bridge of the Gods. You know me; I’m always a sucker for landmarks that have been vouched by not one, but multiple deities. “Five out of six gods agree, this one’s a winner.”
Cheryl Strayed also encountered this bridge during her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, but I didn’t discover that until after the fact.
I actually ended up going over this bridge twice, thanks to my GPS, Barbara. Luckily for Barbara, I didn’t mind the detour that much.
There were multiple detours throughout the trip, actually. I got the opportunity to visit clients along the way, stopping for a few hours at each location. That gave me a certain amount of time to look around and appreciate that I was really in “God’s country,” as one particular client put it.
Washington is an interesting state in terms of topography. (I’m sure Oregon is just as varied, but I drove through Washington, so we’re gonna discuss Washington.) In Spokane, I was surrounded by desert; hot, dry, and relatively flat. Then I took a detour to Rathdrum, ID (only a 15 minute drive away) and was suddenly thrust back into forests and mountains. Cedars and firs towered over the road, gradually becoming even taller as the mountains coaxed them to new heights.
Leaving Rathdrum, I headed west to Ellensburg, where I was going to spend the night. I encountered Spokane’s desert again, but then watched in awe as the flatlands were replaced by rolling, tan hills. There wasn’t a single tree to be seen, but windmills were everywhere. And these tiny, scraggly bushes, which dotted the landscape everywhere you looked.
There was also a point where I kept seeing plateaus off in the distance. They looked randomly placed, but if my (aggravating) geology college course taught me anything, it’s that natural events are seldom random.
Pretty soon the plateaus moved much closer to me, until I spent a period of time coasting back and forth on I-90, maneuvering between the towering cliffs. I kept seeing sparkling flashes of water at the corners of my vision, so I wasn’t too surprised to encounter another large bridge that took me right over a beautiful lake. I looked it up later — I was where the Columbia River feeds into Wanapum Lake before continuing on its merry way.
After spending the night in Ellensburg, I got back on I-90 and drove straight between Mount Rainier National Park and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest on my way to Seattle. Regrettably, I was fighting the clock at this point, and so I wasn’t able to stop very often to take in the scenery (or take pictures). The view from my car was splendid, though.
Seattle was water, and tunnels, and sudden changes in elevation. It was a chaotic mess of cars and activity and I thought it was great. At one point I got a Starbucks — as one should do in Seattle — and just sat outside, taking it all in. I hope to go back one day so that I can fully appreciate what that city has to offer.
The same thing happened once I was back in Portland (after a nauseating FOUR HOUR DRIVE to get there from Seattle…which was, horribly enough, entirely my fault, because I decided to leave during rush hour). I went and got a Voodoo Doughnut and just sat there, taking in the fact that I was sitting in Portland, OR.
After that brief break, it was time to get back on the road again and head to the airport. Barbara got me there successfully. Then I said goodbye to her and my car.
I drove almost 900 miles in the span of five days. What a wild ride it’s been.
Thanks for reading,