October 10, 2006
I climb out of my tent, and instantly I’m shocked to step into a frost covered world. My first instinct is to check the water bottles. Frozen. The sun is still low over the horizon. It’s 8am.
The icy skin refuses to shake from my gear. I congratulate myself for stowing away loose items before turning in last night, even though the skies were clear (A lesson from the sprinkler assault in Sisters).
All I have to deal with this morning is a frosty bike, panniers, and rain-fly. I can’t feel my fingertips while packing, because I’m too stubborn to dig out my gloves. I rig the icy rain-fly on top of the rear rack, hoping that the rising sun will soon burn it all off.
I ride a few blocks to the local restaurant, which is surprisingly crowded. There’s a main east/west drag that runs through here, and it seems as though this is a regular stop for the regional truckers, who are all known by name.
I step inside, feeling like an icicle, and hug the coffee mug with cold fingers. My order is two biscuits with gravy. They come smothered in the gravy, and I eat the meal with a spoon. Then I order two pancakes. Hey, I didn’t have dinner last night.
Listening to conversation around the counter, it sounds as though these will be the very last days of sunshine before the rain comes for good. Great. Maybe I ought to keep going clear to Alaska… and live in an abandoned school bus… yeah… may as well.
The morning is clear and colorful, and I ride eastward through the valley, still wearing all my overnight layers. To the right, I pass a fine smelling lumber mill. To the left – snow capped Rainier. Ah, Washington.
It’s 10am when I note that the beams of sunlight actually have a touch of warmth to them. I gradually strip layers, and reach Packwood in about an hour.
If you try to imagine the quintessential Washington/Cascade Mountain town, it would be Packwood. I duck into a coffee shop, and sip an eight-ounce cup while typing an email. Friendly people dressed in flannel come and go. I smell fresh ground beans, and watch logging trucks ease by. An Eddie Vedder cover of “Hey, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” plays inside.
Down the street I buy three Snickers bars at the market, and finally reduce my wardrobe to shorts and a t-shirt. A large John Bunyan statue watches me as I cycle down the road.
I draw in on Mount Rainier National Park. At 14,411 feet, it’s one of the most impressive mountains I’ve ever seen. It also happens to be an active volcano. Here’s a volatile, veiled power sleeping beneath a monumental white peak, adding to it’s silent grandeur. You’ll often see Rainier featured as an imminent disaster waiting to strike, on shows like “It Could Happen Tomorrow” on The Weather Channel.
I hope it waits at least a few more days to “happen,” and enter the National Park. The woods grow in stature, and I’m soon pedaling the long climb to Cayuse Pass. A man doing construction on a guardrail calls to me. His voice sounds funny, with a Bert & Ernie quality to it. “You oughtta get a motor for that thing!”
“How far is it to the pass?”
“Well, you’re at mile marker ten, and the pass is at seventeen!”
Thanks. Thanks a lot. Seven miles – each one an eternity. At least I have fantastic scenery to look at.
Submerged in vibrant color all around, I wind up to a short tunnel. On the far side, there’s a sheer drop to my left… into a deep, evergreen-wooded valley. The only man-made things in sight are the road before me, and the tunnel entrance now far below. The horizon is sharp, and off to the south I spy Mount Hood – now a tiny, curved spike. I wonder how many miles away it is, as the crow flies. Occasionally I see Rainer’s peak above the near ridges.
At last I crest over the pass, and start the long descent. A few miles down the “hill,” there’s an amazing view of the mountain over my shoulder. I brake to a stop, just as a young couple steps out of a vehicle parked on the turn-out. They take a picture of me on my bike, and I snap one of them together in front of the gorgeous backdrop. It’s a shame the sun is behind Rainier, because it obscures the bright, snowy summit. They kiss and embrace as I pull away on this beautiful afternoon.
The rest of the descent passes quickly, and I reach Greenwater soon enough – the first town since I left Packwood this morning. I pull into a quaint RV park, with a handful of permanent residents. One of them directs me to the owner’s trailer. A man comes to the door, and says his wife has the camping information down at the store. Fifty yards away, she’s the cashier at the only store in town.
I register to camp, and cook up my pound of spaghetti from yesterday and a pouch of tuna. Now I’m in my tent, I’m all set for another chilly night. Life is good.