I hit the road for my first long trip alone in five years. Not that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed the trips I’ve taken in the last five years, with my friend Mary and my friend Loralee (oddly enough, the three of us all have Mary as a first name — Loralee and I go by our middle names), but it was time, and past time, for me to take off on my own.
If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me how brave I am to travel alone, I could probably finance one of these trips, but you’re only brave if you’re scared first. And I’ve never been scared of traveling by myself. Traveling alone is an entirely different experience than traveling with a companion. If you enjoy your companion, it’s fun to share what you see and do, but when you’re traveling alone, you’re more open to what’s around and about you, to meeting new people and absorbing new things. And there is an abundance of time to think.
Even on the first day and last day of this trip, which was basically the only bat-out-of-hell driving I did, to get across Washington and northern Idaho — someday I need to explore northern Idaho instead of flying past it to get somewhere else — into Montana or to get home, I didn’t listen to anything except my thoughts. No radio except the occasional search for a weather report, no CDs, no nothing except peace and quiet and time to think.
I’ve said this before, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing like being behind the wheel of a car. Being between places, neither here nor there. It’s why I fight so hard when other people say we need to get away from private transportation. For one thing, many of the places I long to go will never have public transportation. It simply isn’t cost-effective when you’re connecting towns of less than 2000 people a hundred miles from each other, or getting people out to places where they can get away from people altogether — to the edges of wilderness areas where they can really renew their spirits. What we need is a way to run private vehicles that is renewable, efficient, and environmentally friendly. Not to get rid of private vehicles.
But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes. The bat out of hell first day. I will admit that sometimes it would be nice to be able to transport me and my vehicle (which carries more necessities and is cheaper and, really, faster, to transport via driving than I am by flying and renting a car) across the wide-open spaces of eastern Washington. Getting off the Interstate and exploring there is one thing — I’ve done that before and enjoyed it. But it is not attractive or interesting from the freeway.
Snoqualmie Pass is beautiful, with some snow still on the ground. The wild horse sculptures on a butte above the Columbia River are striking. There’s a terrific fruit stand in the tiny community of Thorp in the eastern foothills. After that? I’m just waiting to see the first pine trees west of Spokane.
Spokane is a lovely city at the foothills of the westernmost stretch of the Rockies in the continental US, and it happens to possess Manito Park, one of the nicest traditional public gardens in the inland Northwest, in my humble opinion as an amateur garden fanatic. I spent about an hour there, admiring their signature lilacs as well as the first iris and peonies and the landscaped beds just beginning to come into their own for the summer. Then it was on to 75 miles of northern Idaho, past Lake Coeur d’Alene (heart of the axe is what I was told that means many years ago — I have no idea if that’s right) and over Lookout Pass and down into Montana. About 500 miles that first day.
I spent my first night on the road in a forest service campground along I-90 just west of Missoula, under the pine trees with the early flowers — balsamroot and serviceberry and bistort. And got snowed on just a bit that night Yes. In late May. Welcome to the Rockies.
Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures