Aaaaand we’re off again.
Though technically our journey has been continuous, there’s a real sense in which we’re now starting over, and we’re feeling that acutely. First of all, it’s a new school year. Keeper is starting 7th grade, and Firebolt and Woodsprite are starting 4th and 1st, respectively. More significantly, though, Anacortes was where we initially intended to end our travels; we really didn’t have a master plan to go further. What came after was and remains a big blank spot on our family calendar. Lastly, we spent much of the past month and a half deeply engaged in closing, at long last, the previous chapter of our lives.
After toying with several potential versions of September’s travel plan (one of which involved going all the way back to New England – and I’m going to be honest, that one gave me an instant headache), we opted to take Highway 20 east over the Cascades and then head south from there. Highway 20 is the most scenic of the roads that cross the Cascades, passing several deep, glacial lakes and serving as the gateway to North Cascades National Park.
North Cascades has to be one of our most remote national parks. As far as I know, no roads, or at least no paved ones, reach into it; it’s all jagged, glaciated peaks and wilderness. Even the Visitors’ Center is outside of the park boundary. I was surprised, when capturing the above map screenshot, that it wasn’t even marked. I had to zoom in to even get Google Maps to acknowledge it.
We only did a short visit & hike there, probably more accurately a stroll, but with the fall colors just starting to kick in, it made for quite the scenic stop.
Further in our drive, I was struck once again by stark difference between the eastern and western sides of the Cascades. More than any mountain range I know of, it truly wrings out the vast majority of the eastbound Pacific storms’ moisture – the transition from lush green to high desert brown happens almost immediately at the line of peaks and passes. The weather changed dramatically for us, too. We had already transitioned mostly to long pants, fleece, and flannel back in Anacortes and La Conner, but as soon as we crossed the mountains the sun came back out and the temperature rose 10-20 degrees.
Our first overnight was on the Methow River just south of the town of Twisp. Our goal was the faux-Bavarian town of Leavenworth, where we’d loll about for a few days, but the drive was a bit longer than we wanted, so Twisp it was. I’m always happy to camp riverfront. It’s a tossup for me whether river or ocean sounds are more relaxing at night, but lately I’ve been leaning river.
Eastern Washington is also apple country, and apple season was just on the verge of kicking in. In general we’ve found that Fall is, straight-up, the best season to do this RV traveling thing. One of our original guidelines was to “chase mild weather,” and what we discovered during the planning phase is that pretty much everywhere in the country, with the possible exception of Florida (still too hot) and the “green” parts of the Pacific Northwest (tending toward cold and wet already), are at their absolute peak in September and October. In any case, deep relaxation was what we were after and that’s precisely what we found.
The next day we followed the Columbia River downstream to the South and made a turn to the West back into the Cascades, where Leavenworth sits at the bottom of a steep valley. It’s extremely picturesque. The Bavarian theme came about in the mid-’60s as a ploy to revitalize the town’s economy after a railroad was moved and logging wasn’t thriving. The idea to “theme” the town actually came from Danish-themed Solvang in California, where we put Woodsprite into a giant clog and managed to avoid eating æbleskivers last Fall. Though arguably cheesy, the plan unarguably worked, as Leavenworth has become quite the year-round tourist destination. Not our normal cup of tea, but frankly, a few days of large German beers, sausages, and oom-pah bands sounded therapeutic. Who doesn’t like Bavaria?
Uncharacteristically, we drove into town without a camping reservation, assuming that its being midweek and slightly off season, we’d find something walking distance from the dolled-up Main Street and would sleep to the sound of distant accordions. What we found instead was a riverfront wonderland just outside of town.
Leavenworth itself turned out to be somewhat of a bust. We ventured in on the first evening to sample the atmosphere and wares, and found ourselves a little put off by the borderline tackiness of it all. We did sit down at a communal bench in a biergarten for some wurst, but… I don’t know, it just wasn’t that good. The sausage wasn’t especially tasty, and the meal as a whole was far heavier than anything we’ve been eating. It didn’t strike me as particularly German either. Even the beer was so-so. And all over-priced. Perhaps we just picked the wrong restaurant, but the Gemütlichkeit never quite caught on, and though Firebolt did make a point to inform us that she was very happy with her meal, we returned to our campsite that night pretty certain that we didn’t need to come back into town.
The campsite though, WOW. Yet another riverfront site, but this time the river in question (Icicle Creek) was a stunner. Crystal clear, shallow, rapid, and strewn with smooth boulders which begged to be hopped upon.
The advertised wi-fi was essentially useless (common occurrence a RV parks, incidentally) and furthermore we had only the grainiest of 4G cell phone signals, and that caused a bit of tension in the kids. This, too, however, turned into a positive. The kids know nothing of a world without a connection to the internet, and I’ve mentioned previously how I’m both disturbed by that fact and perplexed about how to ensure that this lack-of-connection anxiety doesn’t become normalized. So after the initial grumbling about no signal, it was both a relief and a thrill to have the kids not only forget about the lack of phone coverage, but ask, on multiple occasions, if they could stop school for a bit and head out to play in the river. Yes. YES! By all means, get out there. I’ll join you shortly!
There was lots of river play. Rock stacking, dam building, races involving rock-hopping in the middle of the current…
And then in the evening we decided to set up a mini-soccer field using some cones and play a family soccer game. How have we not done this before now? This was exactly the type of scene I envisioned when I imagined our journey at its most ideal – the whole family heading back sweaty and laughing to our RV by the rushing river in the mountains, having been forced to end our soccer game because it got too dark to see.
We really needed this. Or at least I did. Between the stress of finally closing on the Maryland house, the decision to double our on-the-road time, and the corresponding uncertainty about pretty much everything, I’ve been chronically anxious. For quite some time. If our time in La Connor allowed me to step back enough to articulate it, then this stretch of days allowed me to step even further back, or perhaps better said, to zoom out and view the whole thing from altitude. I don’t have a clue whether we’re making the right call, but I’m easing back into the belief that such a thing doesn’t exist, and looking forward to what’s in store for us.
The plan that is gelling is this: Spend the rest of September and most of October on the California coast, then spend November + the Winter bouncing between my parents’ house in the SF Bay area and southern California, from which I can (for once!) drive to work, given my impending transfer back to the Long Beach / Los Angeles pilot base. Take several family ski trips – as many as we can muster. And then come Spring, return to Washington to put our Anacortes house on the market, buy a house in Bend, and settle next summer. Maybe bag a few more National Parks in the meantime. This is far from a bad plan.