The camper was a toasty 67 when Mabel woke me up at 6:30, my stomach still full from the awesome brat and beer served at the Munchen Haus. Something peaked her ears and attention on this 52-degree morning and looking out Arabella’s two porthole windows did little to determine what she was excited about. After breakfast we decided to explore more of the campground and made our way down to the river before visiting the fenced dog park for some off-leash exercise. It was a crisp morning, perfect for an exploration frame of mind, and Mabel was enthusiastic after the extra time spent in the camper.
The river strolled along the boulder strewn shore line and Mabel deftly navigated the ups and downs of the beach. She pulled me up a steep, quasi-path that connected to the main trail, my clumsy sense of balance in deep contrast to her steady progression. I am thinking her advantage lay in a lower center of gravity and the ability to provide four points of contact to my natural two. To keep up, I eventually resorted to using my hands and was happy when we found the main trail. Soon we were opening the gate to the dog park and Mabel was off to do her business.
Back at our spot, the family a few sites down, were making their way to the playground I backed up to and stopped to chat. I gave them the trip’s spiel and the young Mom spoke of her favorite places in Washington. I could sense the pride she felt in her state as we looked at the map and she pointed out towns I could/should have seen on my journey. Walla Walla received an enthusiastic endorsement from her Dad who had walked over to see my camper, tiny in comparison to their RV. Like many I have spoken to in the campgrounds, she told stories of family cross country trips and the joy in seeing America through the windows of a RV.
A quick pack-up in camp and we were soon visiting Leavenworth’s Main Street, just as charming and busy in the day as it was last night. Mabel and I strolled the Bavarian style buildings and I once again felt like I was in Epcot Center’s interpretation of Europe. All the buildings were authentic, even the Starbucks forgoes its usual façade in place of Bavarian English signage. Mabel and I run into a couple from the KOA who are from Denmark. They point to a sign advertising fresh Danishes and plan to go in, but I decide that even though the pastries looked really good, to continue down the street. The shops were a mix of tourist and high-end gift and I could see Sheri and me spending a few nights here, just taking an easy vacation in an American Bavaria.
HWY 2 took us East and as we left Leavenworth I saw apple orchards and large farm stands in full Fall marketing campaigns. The crisp weather driving the desire for apples and kid pictures on decorative hay bales. Wineries advertised their tasting rooms on large roadside signs and I was tempted to stop even though wine is not my drink of choice.
Coming out of the Cascades, we run into the Columbia River at Sunnyslope and head North along the river’s eastern bank. The mountains are behind us and we have entered flat land between the Kettle River Basin and the Columbia Basin. My lack of geographical knowledge and the ambiguity of the map prevent me from making a definitive statement as to which basin we were traveling through, maybe neither. The hills, brown and lacking trees, remind me of California and I make a note to consult the map to determine if this location is on a Northern line from my earlier travels. Near Waterville, I stop amongst the hay fields to get gas but voted against getting food from the small kitchen inside the station. Their idea of cleanliness and mine were on opposite sides of the spectrum so I opted for packaged donuts wrapped in sanitary cellophane.
East of Waterville, Mabel and I travel through low lying, rocky canyons and I wonder what is making up the green streaks on its walls. Is it lichen, who knows? The area has a desert like feel and Mabel is acting antsy after our unsuccessful walk around the gas station. It is desolate here and the road which stretches as far as I can see seems small as it passes between the canyon walls. A dirt road presents itself and I pull off, so Mabel can get some exercise. The road looks more suited to ATV’s than cars and we follow it for a while, the sides outlined in small scruffy brush that at times present dull colored flowers. I almost expect a person to pop up and ask what I am doing on private property, but we are the only visible beings for miles and don’t run into any new company. Intermittent rain drops turn us around and I hope for Mabel to relieve herself on the way back but unfortunately all we accomplished on this small jaunt was extra exercise.
More “Flat” as we drive East on HWY 2 and the canyons give way to an elevated area that stretches for what feels like 100+ miles. The horizon is far away and the largeness of this part of the trip makes me feel small. I can’t tell what’s in the distance because there isn’t anything to see, and the brown hay fields are broken only by HWY 2’s blacktop. The occasional harvesting party’s dust clouds break up the cloudless blue sky and offer a glimpse of color; John Deere Green. It is very different here and for some reason I feel anxious to pass through. Idaho looms at the end of today’s journey and I am thinking it will be different, more of what I have seen on the last weeks of the trip.
I stop at Coulee City where I need to decide if a Northern diversion up to Coulee Dam is on today’s agenda or if I am to stay on a straight route to Spokane. The City isn’t much of a city after all and I pass over a small damn where I wonder how people South of it get their water. Why was the dam placed in this spot? Who made the decision made and how do the people below it feel about it? But these are questions I cannot answer today or possibly any day. We stop at the municipal campground on the southern part of Banks Lake where the sign says $30 for the night. Campers are asked to deposit the fee in the Iron Ranger cash box conveniently placed in the center of the gravel parking lot. The spots were out in the open and only a few were occupied with those being the park’s occasional tree lined sights. The small lake was nice, and Mabel enjoyed running and rolling in the grassy field parallel to the road. It was getting late, so I opted to head straight to Spokane and then into Idaho.
Towns are few on this leg of the trip and we see nothing but fields which hold little interest for Mabel. She is content to sleep on the back seat only occasionally rising to look out the window. I open them, so she can stick her head out and feel the cool air on her face, its force pinning her ears back to her head. When she has seen enough its back in her bead to curl up like a ball. I stop in Davenport and call home, Fairchild AFB is close, sitting on the Western outskirts of the City.
We drive into Spokane not sure of what we will find, allowing the traffic to determine our flow. I see a sign for Gonzaga University and decide to see what the campus has to offer. Two of Sheri’s cousins attended, and I know a woman from work who also graduated as a Bulldog or Zag as they like to call themselves. I had problems with Arabella’s license plate a few times on the trip and resorted to zip ties for security after losing both bolts. For some reason the zip ties wouldn’t last for too long, the road miles causing enough distress for them to wear through. I was thinking of this as I parallel parked near the Gonzaga baseball stadium and my suspicions were proven; the license plate was hanging by only one tie. A change was in order and I decided to give 550 paracord a chance at keeping my camper legally registered.
Mabel and I walked around the baseball field, and then onto the campus which seemed typical of facilities promoting higher education. The buildings looked to be designed more for function than form and there wasn’t a lot of student activity. We were stopped by a family who took to Mabel and enjoyed my story about her journey to America as well as our journey around America. Most of those we passed were determined to reach their destination with as little distraction as possible. A bridge spanned the river and Mabel was having no part in crossing it; the metal grate proposed a challenge she wished not to master. So, we turned around, our campus tour coming to a stop.
Back at the car we programmed a course through Spokane’s business district and eventually onto HWY 90 which would bring us into Idaho. The small city had a nice vibe, a mix of old and new that promoted a reason to be downtown. At a stop before merging onto the ramp for HWY 90, I pulled next to a man on a Ural motorcycle, similar the one I saw in Maine. I asked how he liked it and received a positive response before the light changed and we went our separate ways. Maine seemed so long ago because it was. The trip was different then, more of a wandering feel as time stretched almost endlessly before me. Now, as I thought more of home, time is compacted, the loose feel of the road is gone.
I pull into Coeur d’Alene looking for a campsite. It was survival time and the night was quickly pushing the day into memory. The town is small and to me focused on the tourist business surrounding the lake. Luck didn’t seem on my side as no campsites popped into view and a visit to the closed visitor center provided only a business map I didn’t want to read. So, I doubled back the way I came.
The map showed a few, little green camping triangles North on HYW 2 and I set my sights on Hayden Idaho sending a text to my Hayden as I passed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a sign to take a picture of and he probably wouldn’t have gotten excited if I did. It is now dark, and I wasn’t looking forward to another late-night camp set-up but there wasn’t a choice.
A sign for Farragut State Park popped up so I took the rustic, but maintained road it directed me on. The campground was a good distance off the main highway, and I travelled through a few miles of park before seeing the sign for the ranger station. It was closed. But, a map, showing the campgrounds still open, gave me hope and I proceeded into the dark.
I pulled into the first campground I came across and to my surprise was over half filled with other RVs and campers. The obligatory slow pass through the campground showed lively sites, some campers lit by swirling, colored lights and I could hear voices gathered around campfires. It was a liveliness not experienced in quite a while and the exuberance was refreshing. There are times on the trip I crave to be alone and other times I feel the need to be part of society. Tonight, was a night to be part of the tribe.
It took two passes before I found our spot, a concrete pad far enough off the loop to provide a little privacy but no too much distance to provide a backing-up challenge. A field loomed behind us and in the middle, were restrooms; nice and close if the need arose. Mabel seemed to like the spot and the lack of a lead (I left it at the KOA in Leavenworth) posed a small problem with restraint. She took full advantage of the situation, regularly pushing the boundaries before we headed off to bed. I liked the site, even if I could see and hear my fellow campers, but tonight, after a long day of driving, the closeness of people was welcome.
Thankful tonight for the beauty of Eastern Washington.