I’m now 23 days living in Seattle. But let me tell you about my move…
Packing up the house and the truck took 3 more days than I’d anticipated. I’d planned to leave on Christmas, but the truth is I knew all along that I had an awful lot to do before I could pull out of Boulder, Colorado. But I figured that I could power through it, be exhausted on my first hotel night in Boise, Idaho, and then make up for the lost sleep the next night when I could soak in a hot tub in Yakima, Washington – the land of milk and honey (and apples, peaches and grape vineyards). I’d even imagined swinging into a local winery or three to buy wine for my new home.
I fell way off my plan by Day 3 of packing up my Boulder house. The U-Haul truck was too small to fit my furniture, which had already been pared down to 1/3 of what I’d owned just four years prior, before my divorce.
I was forced to make choices about what I would cram into the moving van, and what I would give away or donate to charity. Charity received the lion’s share of fans, rugs, dressers, beds, desks, lamps, clothes, and small appliances.
On the last day, I had to give away my sofa because it would not fit into the truck, no matter how we puzzled it. I wasn’t willing to part with my antique Venetian desk, or the 250-something year old, handmade, mesquite rocking chair that’s been passed through my family for 7 generations. My great-great grandfather sat in that chair as a child on the deck of his father’s houseboat on the Mississippi River in Louisiana. The sofa was not that important, I decided, even though I really liked it. It could go.
As I evaluated my belongings, I opted to take my favorite art, photos and wool area rugs. I meticulously bubble wrapped all of the “trinkets” of my life that still mattered to me. The wooden heart that my father carved by hand for me and stained a deep red, which I keep in a Kashmir box that I purchased from a famous tea shop in Victoria, BC when I was sixteen made the journey. The fireplace tools did not. I still have my old Canon EOS film SLR camera, but I gave away a few digital point and shoots. I guess, in the end – I kept my favorites of everything material that I have left. I was forced to be clear with myself on what mattered and what could be replaced.
The saddest casualties of the move were my houseplants. How I wish now that I’d given them away, instead of taking them 1300 miles in sub-zero temperatures. I loved my plants like pets. It was heartbreaking to lose them all. When I’d previously committed myself to taking them, the weather had been unseasonably warm and sunny. But by the time I left, it was snowy and freezing all the way to Washington. The dog wisely stayed very close to the van’s heater on the floor, it was so cold.
Three days later than planned, we left in the dark on December 28th after the snowstorm passed. On the way through Wyoming that night, we hit 55 mph winds that blew enormous clouds of snow across the highway. The sky was totally clear and filled with stars, but the blowing snow alongside the road created blizzard-like driving conditions. Every time a combo-hauler whizzed by, the snow it blew up would engulf the U-haul and the driver would just have to let off the gas until it passed. It’s what I imagine being in a riotous sandstorm in the Gobi desert might be like.
After 7 hours of exhausted driving, we decided to stop for the night in Rock Springs, Wyoming rather than push ourselves to get to Boise, Idaho.
The next day, thanks to Google Maps and my tired eyes – I ventured back onto the highway heading in the wrong direction. Fifty miles down the highway I finally saw a sign that indicated I was going the wrong way. It took 10 more miles to be able to turn around. This was not a day I needed to add 120 miles to a 900-mile trip – but I did. We were going to push it to get to Yakima – and now we were really pushing it.
We were relieved that, as we drove through the Rocky Mountains bordering Wyoming and Idaho, we didn’t get any new snow and the roads were pretty clear. A few hours into Idaho, however, that all changed. The snow began to fall heavily as we neared Boise, and it was already dark. As is true in fog, headlights are pretty ineffective in a severe snowstorm for lighting your way. I implored my travel mate to stop in Boise for the night. As we neared the first Boise exit we passed a three-car accident. One car was rocking in the snow on its roof and emergency teams were rolling people on gurneys into ambulances. I spent several hours swimming in the hotel’s salt-water pool and soaking in the hot tub that night – trying to relieve the stress of the harsh two-day ride.
On the third day we were planning to go all of the way to Seattle. As we approached Pendleton, Oregon it was still early in the day and I was very excited to stop into the Pendleton Woolens factory to buy one of their wonderful blankets (I already have two). Just as we approached La Grande, Oregon, where Highway 84 cuts west over the Rockies, we found the highway closed and about a hundred idle semi trucks lining the access road. A gas station attendant told us that a tour bus (later determined to be from Vancouver, Canada) with forty people on board went off the mountain a few hours prior to our arrival. Nine of its passengers were confirmed dead. All I could feel at that point was gratitude for not having attempted that mountain pass the night before and extremely sad for the people who were on that bus.
Looking around at the faces of the people we spoke to in La Grande reminded me of the expressions on the people I saw at the Grand Canyon a few days after 9/11. Everyone was ashen with shock and disbelief and walking around as if they were on an emotional autopilot. As it turned out, another fatality had taken place earlier that morning on the same icy curve – aptly named, “Deadman’s Corner.” But the tour bus tragedy had really shaken up the people of La Grande and its passers-by. It sure shook us up.
We looked for an alternate route out of La Grande before the sun went down. It appeared that our only other option was via Highway 82 to 204, which ran through a snowmobiler’s mountain paradise. Highway 204 was evidently sanded by the DOT, but by no means was the road clear of snow. After all, this road was made for snowmobiles. I negotiated 45 miles of steep, snow-covered terrain over a mountain pass in a U-hail while towing my SUV behind us. My knuckles were bloodless owing to the intense grip I had on the steering wheel, as we made our way back down the mountain. It took two hours to drive 45 miles. That was quite an experience!
Finally, at dusk, we were heading through Walla Walla, Washington – the town forever immortalized in my mind by a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The sun was still up and the acres and acres of green fields soothed my tired soul. I’d forgotten how green Washington remains through winter. When I left Colorado, everything was dead and brown. Here it was like spring!
We sailed past the Yakima city lights in the darkness as we headed to Seattle. I was imagining how nice it would feel for this journey to finally be over. But as we entered the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, I was a little sad that it was too dark to observe their beauty. Washington’s mountain ranges are my favorites. I love the Colorado Rockies, but in Washington thick forests of trees and shrubs, ferns and mosses blanket the mountains. There is no comparison to the beauty of the Cascades and Olympics, in my mind.
As we approached Ellensburg it was becoming increasingly difficult to see through the fog. I grew up driving in fog, and I have to say – I like it only slightly more than I like driving on ice. Washington’s winter fog is thick. There is no “in between” fog in the wintertime. It’s either so foggy you can barely see your hand in front of you, or the fog has already burned off. I could tell that this was a situation where the fog was settling in for the night and was going to become thicker and thicker until it blinded you.
I began to see the signs of a serious fog developing back in Yakima, and suggested then that we just stop for the night. But my co-pilot, who’d only moved to Seattle three months before, wasn’t convinced the fog was going to present a problem… until we got to Ellensburg. The fog became so dense that the front of the van was no longer visible and the headlights were like lighthouse beacons slicing a swath of bright light through foggy sea air. In other words, we couldn’t see shit in front of us.
I tried to explain that I grew up with this weather and I could name ten friends who have gone off the road on a curve or hit an elk or deer before they even knew what they’d hit because they couldn’t see it. I mentioned the presence of “black ice” and why it was a serious concern. I think the black ice comment did the trick, because I was then instructed to get on my cell and find us a place to stay in Ellensburg. Thank goodness, because crying was next on my agenda to save us from the fog.
We landed safely in Seattle the next day, New Year’s Eve day, December 31st. I cracked open the finest Colorado (Stranahan’s) whiskey and toasted the New Year and then collapsed into bed at midnight Mountain Time, after texting all of my friends a New Year’s toast.
2013 is going to be a great year, no matter what – come fog or sunshine!