So. I drove to Montana last Thursday, or more precisely, to Spokane. That's in my previous entry. I had filled the tank in Reedville.
I left Spokane at the bright and early hour of 10:00 the next day to head to Montana.
In general, this trip wasn't as intensely disturbing and overwhelming as the one to Redding, but it still had its moments.
Going past Couer d'Alene was one of those prolonged moments. I could hear the tapes of Jack Benny programs, and David Soucet reading Hercule Poirot, from the last two trips we took to see Mom.
I hated driving through Fourth of July Pass; it was one of the areas where we would be telling stories to one another, because the radio was crummy and those times we didn't have a tape player in the car. They were doing road repairs, and the poor Prius hates going up hills.
It was bright daylight, with scattered clouds, until I got to Kellog, and heavily overcast when I got into Montana. The road was being repaired here as well, so was generally smooth but with some areas of weirdness. As soon as I got to St. Regis, the rain (which had been threatening since Wallace, just before Lookout Pass) began coming down in buckets of various sizes. It never went below a moderate spitting that required the intermittent wipers. This was especially nasty weather for the four or five groups of motorcyclists, all Harley owners heading back from a show at the InterState Fair outside Spokane. All of them were wearing full-face helmets, for the occasion.
Strangely, even with the overcast, and even having come off of the high plain of eastern Washington, and even with the ring of mountains around ... there's something peculiar about Montana that makes the sky seem to be at least a third again as far across as anywhere else I've been. It's weird that way.
Having a car with a 400-450 mile range makes things weird sometimes. I thought I might refill in Missoula, but I had only gotten a third of the way into the tank, so I thought I'd refill at Garrison Jct. instead. The rain did NOT let up for more than a minute or two, and there were at least four places where I hydroplaned while trying to pass a truck. Speed limit in that area was 75, 65 for trucks, which of course never went below 70 except on hills. @whee.
When I got to Garrison Jct. there was no gasoline, but that's OK, I still had nearly a half tank, and only 85 miles to Helena.
Then, around Elliston, I realized I was going to be crossing McDonald Pass, and a quarter tank of gas, and the mileage going up is not the best, so I stopped and got a $3/gallon tankful (28 bucks, including a snack) and made it over the pass. The rain had mostly slowed to minor drizzle since Garrison so I was OK, only a few wet pellets trying to be snow, but it was 38 degrees at 3pm. I stopped in Helena to call Mom and make sure I had good directions, and to get my uncle George's cell phone, since I had not been able to reach him on his house phone, nor vice versa. I confirmed that I was coming and where I was (George thought I had called from the other side of Helena) and headed out.
Cell coverage vanished, as I thought it might, five miles outside of East Helena. The road was flat, straight, the area beautiful. I wished Penny were able to travel it with me, to see some of the really beautiful scenery. There was a huge, mile-long train (four engines) pulling grain south to Bozeman, in the fields alongside the road. Traffic wasn't that bad, once I got through the 'rush hour' - three cars, turning left to cross the 2 1/2 lane highway at a corner store/bar/pub. (I think this was Winston, from the map.) Then, Townsend, which is where I was born, and which has stayed more-or-less the same size since 1956. Townsend is at the south end of Canyon Ferry Lake, which is a circular-looking bulb with a thick, leek-like shape growing up from it - this is the first lake on the Missouri river, which is, at this point, maybe 50 yards across.
From here, east through Deep River Canyon. This is a very wild area, though not true wilderness, and the road is not particularly wide in places. A half hour trip puts you at the top of this valley, which then swings down through some of the bleakest, flattest, most scrubby-empty looking territory this side of the Mojave.
A half-hour through this, with wind AND rain, and I was following an oil tanker truck from a storage depot.
The directions were not ideal. The motel which was our reference point had changed hands; no longer a Motel 6, it is now a Quality Inn. I turned immediately after, as instructed, which was one street too soon. Went all the way down the street, didn't find anything like a stucco house, tried again one block further into town, and somehow didn't see the place (second street is Folsom, and it's by the ranger station, and I should have found it but didn't. Went to the Town Pump and lost a buck fifty in the worthless MCI phone, got PARTLY through, and George walked in, fortunately, as I was about to call using their phone.
That night, since it was late and I was exhausted, I just called people to let them know I was there, then talked to George for a while, then crashed. Penny would have not loved the talking much - strongly held opinions aggressively stated - and we agreed at the outset that there was likely a bunch that we'd have to not talk about in order to not irritate each other too much.
Saturday morning there were two inches of very light snow over everything and I had to race to get ready to make it to breakfast.
My Dad and Stepmom and my stepbrother Robert's daughter (Nichole, I think) and my stepsister Ruby and her son James were all there, and it was one of those amazingly inexpensive breakfasts with simple, good food. I had french toast and two eggs over easy, and the coffee was really good, no battery acid, didn't even need cream or sugar to make it drinkable.
I talked for six hours with Ruby, catching up on family stuff, and wished that she and Penny might have met, for a lot of reasons. Ruby's Grandma Tucker was a very harsh, sharp, judgemental woman with a tongue that had to be registered as a lethal weapon. I never heard a word out of that woman's mouth which did not include at least the edge of a snarl, and she showed a massive lack of respect for her daughters, at the very least, and of course lacerated any children that came in reach.
Betty ... a lot nicer than her mother, but she learned a lot about being nasty and uses it when she sees fit. (She also reads here sometimes, but I think she's known for years that I don't hold grudges for what happened while I was a kid. I've told her often enough. I also remember just about everything that happened while I was growing up.)
Ruby probably has the same potential for verbal nastiness, if she wanted to use it, but I think she doesn't really like that and so doesn't. I wish I'd learned that level of self-restraint earlier, but I did, through the grace of God and with Penny's gentle correction (WHAP!) learn that it was a good idea to use restraint in the sarcasm area. Anyway... after a long time, we decided to have pizza for dinner rather than trying to go out. By now, the snow had melted off and it was almost 65 outside. I found my dad's place and went in, and we talked for a while, I looked at Nichole's artwork, chatted with Betty about how she seems to be winning (She Who Dies With The Most Fabric, Yarn, and Craft Stuff Wins!) and talked to Dad about heart attacks. He's had a few and I never heard about them - but now there are several people who have my address, email, and phone, so I will for sure hear about any new health problems on ANYONE's part there.
I was wishing I could stay a day longer. Then again, I also knew that I'd be out there again, within a few months, and I'd be staying a day or so longer then. Grandma is no longer talking, and has only held on, Mom says, because she's afraid of dying.
Sunday morning, I managed to pay for breakfast (people kept trying to pay!) for the same crew, though George didn't come along, and Nichole stayed home with a cold.
I sent my thanks for her not sharing that in particular. The road was clear and dry on the way back, with no wind. I was on the road again by 11am, made my way over McDonald Pass (and stopped to take some pictures) and managed to avoid most traffic until Garrison Jct., and once I was on I-90 again, things were fairly normal, except of course for the occasional bad driver, and one pair of (sad to say) malevolent, aggressive drunkards in a truck. These come in four varieties in Montana: redneck, indian, mexican migrant worker, and highschooler. The ones I acquired were either indian or migrant, couldn't tell. They had removed the license plate from the front of the truck and obscured the rear one with some sort of garbage. I passed them at 75 (they were doing 70) and they started out the fun by speeding up dramatically, then cutting in front of me with inches to spare. I decided not to pass them again, whatsoever, and watched them play the same game with three sixteen-wheelers, four passenger cars, and three trucks, by which time we got close enough to Missoula that I could get into a reasonable area. They disappeared off to Hamilton, but not without a smarmy 'swerve' as I was pulling past them. I hope they found their accident somewhere that they couldn't hurt anyone else.
I got to St. Regis, and stopped to refuel. From Missoula to St. Regis, I was having flashbacks instead of wish-backs, and it was especially bad (but intentionally) when I stopped in the fancy flashy thing attached to the gas station. I should've gone into the 'annex' too, but that might've been more than I was able to cope with. Lookout Pass was easier heading there than back, and I wished I could have called to report the excellent driving of one trucker, who swerved to avoid hitting a branch that had fallen in the road, which would have been kicked up into my car.
Going through Wallace and into Spokane, I wanted to call someone, but phone wouldn't connect - I didn't realize I needed to simply power-cycle it. Stupid beta-for-customer phone software in the Sidekick 3. I wanted to stay at the hotel that Penny and I had stayed in, on that first trip, but couldn't find it. I suspect it doesn't exist any more. Stayed in the Day's Inn, which had working wi-fi, and I had to debug why my laptop wouldn't connect. It was due to the evil wi-fi at the worst bestern in Redding; following the guy's instructions, I'd disabled the G band, so wasn't even seeing the signal.
The next morning, I got going, called Michael to find out approximately how far I'd be going.
We almost always went home by way of Tri-Cities, and down the Oregon side of the Columbia. Once, that year when Penny was sick, we went by way of Yakima. We did that because there was a lot of snow, that Thanksgiving, along Highway 21, and we were done with snow. We ended up trying to turn off at Moses Lake, and turned around, and returned to I-90 west until just before Ellensburg.
This time, I didn't. I went down to Othello on 17 and 26, then south to 24... which goes along the northern end of the Hanford range. It's an actual sand desert there, and it likes to drift across the road. It was gorgeous, and after I got to the intersection of 24 and 243, 24 goes south, crossing the Columbia River at a point where it's no wider than the Missouri was, and proceeds THROUGH Hanford. All this was just amazing, with clouds sliding above and around, and in the mood swing of the moment, I was exploring again with Penny, the way we would do when we didn't have to be anywhere by any time in particular. I think we would have stopped when a side-road appeared, an old general-store-looking place with a big sign, "Welcome to The Middle of Nowhere" and a truer word was never written. I want to say it was near Moody Road but I think it was farther back, possibly Cold Creek Road on the border of the Hanford reserve.
I remember driving into Yakima on that highway, from that direction, and I cannot say why. Badger Lane, Desmarais Road, Den Beste Road (which I remember as it's the name of a co-worker at Tek years ago) and all the hop farms, with the AB logo on the wrought iron gates. Things started repeating. There was a lot of roadwork, as the last time I remember going through, and then when 24 crossed I-82 I stopped to refuel. I-82 is the road that we took, once upon a time and I cannot recall clearly the times we got there, whether Penny was driving or I was, and how we went north through Yakima to Montana one year. I just remember, as we were heading back to Oregon, there is a bridge, and we swerved to avoid an otter crossing the road, but the truck following me didn't swerve. Penny was REALLY upset.
And it happened again. A river otter, hesitantly trying to cross, and the truck behind me... This time, I didn't look. I wanted to leave open the possibility that the otter fled the other way. I may never willingly take that route again. I may choose to use the streets instead of the highway, just to avoid that bridge.
The trip through the Yakima reservation was stark. I had rock-and-roll, turned up full loud, and that helped a bit, but made me want to drive too fast. At some point, and I'm not sure where it is, probably Toppenish, I got onto Highway 97 going south, and that goes through the mountains and ends up at Goldendale.
When we did this the first time, we had gotten past the snows. It was night. Penny had slept most of the way from Moses Lake to Ellensburg, and from there to Yakima, and from there through Toppenish she was awake, so we talked, admired the then-new cultural center (the casino had not yet appeared nearby) and we were amazed at the sheer emptiness of the road. The sky was clear, the moon was full, we could see very clearly with the lights off at 11pm.
This time, it was clear, except for a section after the first ridge, where I could see the rain falling from isolated clouds ... at the ground level those were sun-showers, and I drove through each of them. The mountains, especially where it turned into national forest, were less foreboding, and seemed a lot longer, and eventually I got to the ranger station that was our 'ah, we haven't driven off into Twilight Zone Forest Earth' the first time through, and from there to the other scattered signs of civilization, and gradually to Goldendale, which is off to the side and which I didn't bother stopping at.
I did, however, turn off to Hwy 14, which follows the Columbia on the Washington side, and is much less of a freeway and much more of a wandering highway. I backtracked a mile and stopped at the Maryhill "Stonehenge" where Brad and Linda and James and Penny and I had gone one day years back, and took some pictures.
There was a pair of young, clueless, probably-illiterate 20-somethings wondering why they built the thing to look like Stonehenge, if it was a war memorial. I explained to them (interrupting their speculations) that Sam Hill, the railroad magnate, had built it as a memorial after WW1, as they thought the original Stonehenge was a sacrificial altar rather than a calendar and observatory, and that it wasn't pointed correctly to work as a calendar. They grunted in dull assent and moo'ed off, eventually getting into their sportscar (red) and speeding off. I took some more pictures with the SK3 (which may end up online) and headed back, decided to go on 14 until Hood River. Some of that area is just dead gorgeous, and there's a segment of road there where Will Vinton's Claymation guys shot the "Jak Rabbit" road scenes for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (which were, of course, converted to claymation from film.)
That stretch of road, along the river, is world-class-amazing beautiful, and of course, parts of it were blocked by road repairs.
It took a lot longer than it felt like it should have for me to get home. I didn't stop for food, which was borderline stupid, but I was drinking no-carb energy drinks the whole way, and was buzzing rather intensely even by the time I got to Maryhill, but didn't really want to eat any more takeout food.
Being back in Oregon was interesting - the drivers were less aggressive but stupider. I'm not sure whether that's better. I got home at sometime around 6pm, cleaned up the 'out of the box, here's where we are, come home now' markers, fed the beasties, took a nap, made some pork chops for dinner.
The whole trip, though, any time I got in the car, it was flashback time, or emotional-breakout time. It was so bad that Wednesday night, when I went to shop for food, it happened again just driving to Winco, six blocks and change from here. I'm really not sure that's a thing I want to make into a habit.
Yesterday, I was planning to write a new note, but instead, went with Janet Roth and Vicky Geroy to Chinatown Restaurant, in Beaverton. It's new, it has dim-sum, and Vicky (who was Penny's first care receiver for Stephen Ministry) was feeling good for the first time since she had breast cancer surgery in the winter, shortly after Penny died. Last week had been Janet's birthday, but she was busy, and so we arranged to meet for this. They asked how I was doing, and when I said "Not all that well this week," of course they had to know why, so I explained that Thursdays are always somewhat crappy, and that Saturday would be Penny's birthday, and therefore I was not very happy, and I wish I hadn't had to explain it.
With fears, "Names bind them, and once they're counted and compelled, they are easily dispelled."
Not so with sorrows, I'm afraid. Naming them just calls them up, and they stay until they're exhausted, or you are. They won't go until you are completely full of them and they can't find anything else to bring up. With a fear, understanding, love, light, all will banish the fear. With sorrow and regret, time will dull their edges, but they'll stay around until they find a way to turn into something near joy, or they fester. So, I'm working on that first alchemy, because even if they're wounds that don't heal, I can't leave them to rot.
So. This has been your weekly emo hour. Or however long this took to write.