Northwestern Adventure

The past is a water under the bridge and the future is a distant sun on the horizon of our imagination. I got that one from the certain smartass book I recently read. Such a nostalgic realization. But we all need to accept that before we move forward, or northwest, in my case.

The reason why I’m writing about a water and a sun is that a distant sun on the horizon is exactly what I see now from my tiny window, although all the bridges and nostalgic waters are covered up by the sea of clouds under my airplane’s wing.

Hours ago I said all my goodbyes to Wildwood, its people and streets, moments and memories. Leaving my hot summer destination behind I’m headed northwest. It’s a breezy evening in September 2015 and I just witnessed a great view of Philadelphia’s downtown right after the take off. The sign Alaska Airlines covering the tiny plane windows just underlines my adventurous intentions. I secretly wish a pilot will change his mind and take us to the place which stands for his employer’s name. All the way up north, to the land of the vast wilderness, untouched and raw nature, mountain peaks covered in snow with bears hanging around. As many who have watched the movie Into the Wild, or read Jon Krakauer’s book, I’ve been thinking about going to Alaska to feel the same rebellious and dangerous excitement or desire to be “out there” in that pure and wild nature, the same as Chris McCandless had before he walked into the northern wilderness and never came back. I see a countless number of stars on the night sky over Alaskan mountain ranges, but as I’m about to fall asleep in wolfs’ howling the lights are turned on waking me up with an announcement to fasten my seatbelt because we are going to land in Seattle in a couple minutes. That’s when I realized the pilot didn’t change his mind. Maybe next time…

Six months ago, after my decision to come back to the US for the Work and Travel program one more time, a scrolling on the America’s map up and down, right to the left, became my favorite activity when writing my master thesis. So you can imagine how much time I spent with it. I’m lucky to say that I’ve seen and experienced a lot out of America’s most popular wonders and its culture. Places like New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Niagara Falls, Las Vegas, San Francisco or Grand Canyon are proudly listed in my traveler’s journal and I always like to recall my memories from each of them. Also I already knew that I’ve found a boundless pleasure in traveling alone and this year’s trip I’ll make it by myself. I wanted to do or see something special and without big crowds. For some reason my biggest desire is not to put a picture of me with Grand Canyon’s background on my Facebook’s cover photo anymore. As I kept scrolling the map up and left simply looking for some green spots I suddenly stopped and pointed my finger at a blue dot in the middle of nowhere when Google popped up a stunning picture of Crater Lake in the state Oregon. That was it, the plan was made. Eventually I added up more places such as North Cascades, Mt Rainier and Mt Hood into my itinerary with Seattle as a starting point, packed my backpack, camera and Into the Wild book and left headed northwest longing for an adventure.

I spent a day hanging around Seattle’s parks and the Space Needle, an obscure monumental building standing above others on the city’s splendid skyline. Nervous mood from renting a car and driving it just by myself was washed away when I got out from the downtown and parked it by Gasworks city park to take some pictures. Need to hurry up, the plan to get to North Cascades National Park before the dusk failed way to soon. But I’m finally on the way.

Almost brand new Volkswagen Jetta was speeding up on the Interstate 5 North as I became more confident on the road. The last and necessary stop before entering the woods was a sleepy Walmart in Arlington to buy a camping stuff and some food. Cheap food, to be precise, also the cheapest tent, cheapest matt and the cheapest sleeping bag. The last item turned out to be a terrific mistake just couple hours later. Then after a lonely night ride around 10pm, about 4 hours behind the dusk plan I camped in Goodell Campground, built my tent and lied in an euphoric feeling that my long awaited road trip became true. A temperature around 0°C was making fun of my Walmart sleeping bag but the breathing a fresh mountain air delivered an instant happiness that warned me up enough to survive this cold night.

Early morning sun rays revealed a cool picture of Skagit river right behind my tent with a forest in the morning mist. Packed my camp and headed down the road ready for the all-day hike on Sourdough Mountain. Here comes the moment what I was really waiting for. Enjoying this steep climb surrounded by autumn trees and mountain views I met only two people during 8 hours. Best hike I’ve ever done (haven’t done that many anyway) awarded by awesome landscape view on Ross Lake and snow covered Cascades peaks from the top of 1800-something meters. Not saying I’m some pro level mountain climber but I think this is exactly the feeling what forces those guys to climb the highest peaks on the world. Beyond all spectacular views there is something liberating in this unpolluted air. I’d call it freedom. And an absolute silence. Here, on the top of the world (not literally) I tend to think about all this. About life and death and what matters and what not. So let me put some deep thoughts in. I believe we all have a chance to change something in our lifes. Either you’re doing something you don’t want to do, but which is necessary, like school or job, or you’re facing some rough circumstances what are basically out of your control, like health issues or family relationships, there is always a possibility to set back and learn. And then to fight. For me I chose to fight against an uninspiring picture of working on my professional career and settling things down for the rest of my life. Of course, this picture might occur sooner or later in my life, but I decided that its time didn’t come yet. I chose to travel (and work along the way). Ah, feel a cliché in the air in what I just said? You’re right. Just one of those who can afford it… Not quite, it’s not that expensive as most of us think. The heaviness to leave something behind and to get out of the comfort zone are the real costs. Anyway what a money question has to do with all those priceless feelings we’re facing when we choose the way we love? You won’t be able to earn enough money to own stuff or to have a nice retirement? Come on, I bet you will regret things you haven’t done and could just because of worrying too much about money. And the life is too short to regret things. That’s the cliché number two.

The death of our dreams lies in our certainties. Because we don’t want to see life as a grand adventure, we begin to think of ourselves as wise and fair and correct in asking so little of life. We look beyond the walls of our day-to-day existence and we hear the sound of lances breaking, we smell the dust and the sweat and we see the great defeats and fire in the eyes of the warriors. But we never see the delight, the immense delight in the hearts of those who are engaged in the battle. For them, neither victory nor defeat is important, what’s important is only that they are fighting a good fight. (Paulo Coelho – The Pilgrimage)

The descent was pretty fast as I was jumping down from the rocks into the valley. It was already late afternoon and there was only a little chance to get to Lake Wenatchee at some reasonable time. So I drove as far as possible. I took the scenic Highway 20 carved between Cascades ranges and even though the day was quickly turning into the night with no plan I had to stop many times to stare at the great lookouts along the way. Some roads are just to good to pass. As soon as the Jetta came out of the mountain clinch a cute western looking town suddenly appeared in front of us. I stopped there for a dinner what I thought I truly deserved after the hike of my life. No more skyscrapers or fancy restaurants. This was America in its 60s or something. But the town called Winthrop was just about to show me how traveling can be unexpectedly rich.

Surprisingly I found a Wi-Fi and after a short counting of hours of driving until some good destination I decided Winthrop is charming enough to spend here the night. My full stomach happily agreed. At a huge local holiday park and campground I saw only one tent and a guy who helped me to find the office turned out to be his only resident. His name was Andrew and as he revealed his story I recognized a tough guy and a great world traveler currently realizing his dream to ride across America on a motorbike. I wasn’t hungry but just had to accept his offer to try a bear meat that he got two days ago from some hunters in Montana. Bear sausages, what a fancy supper. Despite my hike and ride fatigue I agreed with Andrew’s another idea to hit a local pub and show our presence in the town. To skip beers and vodka shots, here we are, sitting by our tents with an open fire, cheap beer cans and two new local friends who also weren’t happy that the pub shut its doors down at midnight, while Andrew plays the great hits with his guitar, the biggest and most valuable item he carries with him. All under a beautiful warm night full of starts. And since Washington state is marijuana-friendly we are smoking and I’m drunk. Winthrop? Anyone ever heard of it? From now on I will definitely remember this unexpected encounter for a long time, that’s for sure.

The following morning, hangovered, we said a short goodbye with Andrew and went on our ways. He was about to enter Seattle that day and I was headed south. If I wanted to be on time with my trip I needed to speed up again and drive something over 350 miles into the Oregon’s woods. So I did despite my protesting headache. I intended to find the Lost Lake what I particularly added to my itinerary for its image on Natinal Park Quarters coin standing for Oregon state. Through the vast lands and fields of Washington state to arising trees of Oregon I drove the Jetta closer and closer to majestically standing Mount Hood above its National Forest. I reached the Lost Lake, which wasn’t now that lost anymore, at dawn accomplishing my longest ride of the trip. Next morning I took the quarter picture and went on. In all this stop was worth it and after leaving the mountain in the car’s back mirror there was now nothing more between me and the dreamed Crater Lake. It was still a long way to go and except Starbucks and McDonald’s pit stops there is nothing much to write about. The reason why I was enjoying the junk food was mostly for a Wi-Fi connection to undevelop more of my Google Maps and to post my Oreginal picture from the Lost Lake. Nevertheless, more and more I come to the realization that all this posting and social networking is sort of fake. It must be pretty clear that it is not pictures from a camera or a smartphone that make the moments count. It is experiences, memories and stories what may be shared if there is anyone to listen them. The word “share” has lost its meaning and it’s been misunderstood from our Facebook false reality. However bad I feel about this I’m struggling as well, not to be so desperately dependant on social networks. We should share more in the real life, that’s it. We all know that, but don’t act on it. So turn off the Wi-Fi, or keep reading.

It was a beautiful day and the woods just revealed the big wonder. There is some historical background so I think it’s good to know that no meteorite created this huge hole in the earth. Yet there was a volcano which erupted thousands of years ago and caused this circle-shaped over 500 meters deep crater before it was filled with a sky-blue water. I struggled when I was trying to enjoy the views without taking out my camera every two minutes. Later on, unfortunately, I found out that the nearest campground is full, but I wouldn’t pay 25 dollars for a tent site anyway so I was forced to move further down about some 20 miles away to camp at free snowpark spot. “Free” was a real equivalent for what I got – “Nothing”, but a silence was included which is kind of priceless.

Walking around the lake on the next day was just amazing and offered stunning views from different angles. From a small encounter with the American family at one of the lookouts I got a phone number so we met up for a sunset by the lake at the same day with ciders and sweets and leftovers of all kinds. It was a nice time to share travel and also life experiences with each other. And it’s about that, about what a traveling has to offer. Meeting people is not meant to expect some benefits in the future as many of human connections are about. I won’t meet the family again and still, eating and chatting in the sun’s decline was the very best expression of having a good time when traveling at that particular moment that I wouldn’t exchange it for anything else in the world.

At the third and the last day with the lake I hiked Mt Scott something over 2700 meters and finally got a picture of the whole size of the lake from the one place. Glad and blessed I’m ready to move on, now back towards Seattle because there is only one night left until my evening departure the day after. The Jetta did a good job but couldn’t make it further than to town called Kalama sitting right next to IS5 North. There I truly appreciated a hot shower and restrooms. Another thing about traveling, sometimes just these two things can make you so gratefully happy, haha. Things that are so usual and common for us that we rarely appreciate them. Not to mention the millions of people on the world who don’t have this kind of luck of having a hot shower. Sometimes I think that we are trapped in a civilization vacuum without a chance to realize how lucky we are.

My trip is coming to the end so at the last day I stopped in Mt Rainier National Park to get some fine views of another lonely mountain, then headed straight back to Seattle where I returned the car, handed out my camping stuff to a homeless guy on the street hoping it might be useful instead of trashing it and took the airport bus.

The decision to visit the northwest of the United States was a great deal and it allowed me to do and see things that I dreamed of. And again – “It is a possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” (Paulo Coelho)

So I go on to keep fighting a good fight and to live my trevolta dream. Then I can tell my kids something interesting when the time comes.

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