The Road Revisited

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

How Crazy Do You Have to Be to Swim in Melted Snow? I Can Answer That....

Driving through the Yakima Valley was like Eden with cars. Pregnant fruit trees drooped under the weight of pecans, apples, figs, apricots, peaches and cherries, and the ground nearly exploded with tomatoes, peppers and root vegetables, all bursting forth in delicious colors. The radio harbinged a hail storm and for a moment I thought it had caught a far-away frequency, as the sun was drenching the entire valley in a cozy glow of copper. Then I saw the steel-gray clouds ahead, over the mountains, right where I was headed. "Well, at least I have another hour of yay."

I bit into a peach and the juice dribbled down my chin, onto my shirt, onto my hand, down my arm, onto the seat and onto the steering wheel. It was as if the juice was lying in wait, just below the skin, for the perfect moment to pounce on every surrounding surface. With sticky fingers and messy face I waved at the immigrant workers in the fields. "I hate that you're here, but thanks for the peaches," I whispered through a smile. They gingerly waved back.

As I climbed into the mountains that cradle Leavenworth, my destination for the night, I called my little brother. "Tommy, guess what! There's, like, a tundra in Washington State!" (For the record, we of the DelMarVa peninsula consistently refer to Washington State as "Washington State", because it is Washington State and not Washington, which is not a state.)
"Wow. I thought it was just pine trees."
"Yeah, me too! Well, there's pine trees now, but earlier it was just grass and wheat fields. But it's beautiful here! So are you still with that girl, the brunette?"
"Uh, no, you didn't hear what happened? Well, she was at work...."
Being on the road means getting all the family news second-hand and two weeks late. I'm still getting re-used to that.

After a few minutes I interrupted him. "Tommy, hold up -- there's all these... white rocks on the side of the road! I think it's... quartz? Have you ever seen big piles of quartz on the ground?"
"Seriously, I can't figure out what... that... is it snow?"
"Is it snowing?" he asked.
"I didn't think so. It was hot in the valley. I guess it's just... OH! Sweet god, it's HAIL! Whoa!"
"Did it hail there?"
"Yeah! There were these big ugly clouds earlier and, man, these things are huge! I'm glad I wasn't around, or I'd be driving home in a bucket of bolts! Wow! Honey, you could take some of these to the driving range!"
"You're a nerd."
"Yeah, well, you learned from the best."

We said goodbye just as a monstrosity of an RV flew past me, NASCAR-capped man at the wheel, tribal arm tattoo resting on the window. Apparently he was transporting a small army and a year's worth of rations inside, because whatever didn't fit in the cabin was strapped to the top -- badly. The lid flew off a 10-gallon tupperware box, followed by paper plates and napkins. The highway behind them looked like a ticker-tape parade. I sped up and caught them at a red light. I rolled down my window and tried to flag them. The driver looked at me in disbelief, then guiltily at his wife, who leaned over him and glared at me, finger a-flying. I think she may have even spit at me as the light turned green. I didn't stick around to find out, gunning my 4-cylinder lawn mower engine and leaving the monolith in the dust, yelling, "I hope your Dale Earnhardt Jr. collector's cups blow all the way to Missouri!"

Pretty soon I was reaching the outskirts of Leavenworth. Already slight traces of Bavaria were cropping up along the highway -- hand-painted pictures of bodiced women and over-alled men dancing under fig trees drawn larger than life on barns, and the tell-tale dark trim decorating white buildings. Entering Leavenworth itself was somewhat surreal. The local Safeway was not made of brick and concrete, but white terra cotta and wood, with a sign spelled out in pretty script rather than the store logo. The entire front of the building was painted with flowers and vines. So was the Subway, so was the 76 station. I made a right towards the KOA -- my last resort at that hour of the evening. I was less than thrilled with the idea of a campsite that cost the same as a motel, but at least most KOAs have a pool and a hot tub.

This one was no exception. Like every KOA it offered many amenities and like every KOA it offered campsites the size of a matchbook and like every KOA it charged thirty dollars and like every KOA it berated you for not having the KOA membership card. I never get the card, because I'm afraid of being tempted to stay at KOAs more often than only when completely necessary. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing the matter with KOAs per se, but personally I'd rather stay in a state park and not have to fight with as many McMansion RVs and their endless supply of wires and cables laying across the roads. Not to mention the inhabitants of said RVs.

The office-cum-camp-store-cum-gift-shop-cum-ice-cream-parlor was amass with people. There was no real line, and a man with four kids in tow got mad at me for "cutting". They rented their go-karts (yes, go-karts, which drive on the same roads as the cars, much to my "enjoyment".) I paid my fees, was handed a map, and told to pick out a site on the far side of the grounds. The tent sites themselves ended up being slivers of dirt on the edge of a cliff. I settled on the largest one. "Where am I supposed to pitch my tent?" I wondered, since the picnic table took up more than half of the site itself. I was starting to feel the old, familiar foul mood come over me once again.

I parked, staying in the car for awhile, debating whether or not to actually pitch the tent underneath the cloudy sky. The ground was still a little wet from the day's storm and I decided to sleep in the car. The neighbors across the road, RVer's, were staring at me. I could see them in the rearview mirror. "What are you staring at, dammit! Haven't you ever seen a woman traveling alone?" Granted, the fact that I'm a solo girl with Maryland plates in Washington State (not Washington) draws some long glances. For whatever reason, it pissed me off unnecessarily. I knew deep down it was only because I was annoyed at the size of the campsite and having to pay so much for it. Still, I didn't know why the littlest things could upset me so much.

I waved to my neighbors as I finally emerged from the car. There was a large family with a gaggle of children in one RV site and three middle-aged adults in the other. I waved and gave a meager smile as I packed up my laundry and headed down to the laundromat. I waited ten minutes for my turn in line at the counter to get some quarters, then threw a load in the washer and dropped in the change. Nothing happened. I went back to the line again, dreading having to ask the over-worked ladies behind the counter for more help, as they didn't seem very in the mood to be accomodating. Luckily, the manager, a sweet lady with short blonde hair, offered to kick the machine into gear -- literally. "You just have to kick it sometimes!" she explained, giving the washer a good punt. Her sweet smile ebbed my annoyance almost completely. For as quickly as it comes on sometimes, it goes away just as quick when people are friendly.

The washer now working, I walked past the pool crowded with children, floaties, noodles, tubes, and parents and immersed myself in the hot tub. Ah, the hot tub. After a day of driving, it was well worth it. Not quite worth thirty bucks, but worth something. I laughed to myself, remembering the night a year ago I had spent in a hot tub in Keystone, South Dakota, just one in the motliest of crews: myself, a 22-year-old firefighter from Louisiana, an 11-year-old boy, his 15-year-old sister, their father, a young Hispanic couple, a 40-year-old biker dude, and a 51-year-old man in the process of a bitter divorce. We were all soaking and chatting when a vicious thunderstorm snuck up on us. We tried braving the rain until the lightning sent us racing for the bathrooms, wide-eyed. Giggling, I wondered where they all were now.

But after awhile, the spa made me really hot. Cooling off in the pool was out of the question -- all I could picture were chocolate bars that weren't chocolate bars. I was going to jump in the shower.... but the Wenatchee River was right there.... hehehe. The sun had just slipped behind the mountain as I made my way down to the rocky bank. The current was strong, the water frigid. For a moment I wondered if I was insane. I was, but I kept walking, slowly, into the ice-cold water. The river was really just mountain run-off, just melted snow. My thighs blushed pink, then my belly, then my forearms as they rested on the surface. "God, this is freezing!" I whispered, but thought about the swimming hole in Cassadaga last summer. Diving into the cold water had been an adventure in itself, an action that became this entire journey personified. Was I crazy to leave behind the cushy job with the great benefits package to live income-less in a car? Just as crazy as I would be to swim in melted snow.

A mother walked her four small children down to the bank. I could hear tiny voices over the rush of water. "Mommy, that lady! Look at that lady!"
"I see her, honey." She called to me, already in up to my chest. "I can't believe you're in that far!"
"Neither can I!"
"Well, you might as well go in all the way now, huh?"
"Yeah, guess I should," and with that I dunked my head under. The frosty water surrounded me, rushing past my ears. I let my feet float up and the current carry me about ten yards down-river. "First down, Johnson." Then I grabbed onto a rock and swam with all my might to get back to the starting point, visions of Kristen in Utah dancing in my head. "We've already had about four or five deaths this year because people underestimate the current!" I didn't want to be that statistic.

All in all, I was in the water about ten minutes. I liked lifting my feet above the surface and laughing at my magenta toes, then putting them back in the water, which felt honestly warmer than the summer air. But when it became painful, I got out, and walked back up the steep hill to my campsite, toes still pinker than my bathing suit.


At 11:04 AM, Blogger Adrienne said...

i'm thinking of moving to cleveland next year. have you been there? any thoughts?

At 11:42 AM, Blogger SpangledAngel said...

I only have six words for you:

Do it, do it, do it.

I love it there! I have friends there that can show you around! It's fabulous!

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