Last Day on the Road

I finally make it to Quincy.

[When we last left our intrepid traveler, she’d settled down for the night in a campsite alongside a stream in Oregon, where she sipped good coffee and listened to a light rain falling on the roof of her travel trailer. You can read about the first day of her trip here and the second day here.]

I’ll be the first to admit that although I pushed hard and covered a lot of miles on the first day of my journey from Wickenburg, AZ to Quincy, WA, I pretty much slacked off on the second day. I blame that on two things: I was tired from a poor night’s sleep and the rainy weather made driving difficult and tedious. So when I pulled into the campsite in an Oregon State Park, I didn’t really care that I’d only covered about 400 miles that day when I should have been able to make it all the way to Quincy.

But that left my third day with a very easy goal. I was only about 250 miles from Quincy and could easily cover the distance before lunch.

I got back on the road at 7:10 AM. It was still overcast and rainy and the clouds seemed to dip down onto the highway. I drove through a light mist, wondering if it would become real fog. There weren’t many other vehicles on the road, which was a good thing. There was construction at various small bridges, bringing the road down to one lane. If a bridge was on an uphill climb, whoever was behind me was forced to slow to my climbing speed, which was seldom faster than 40 miles per hour. I think the truck was more tired than I was.

After a climb to the Blue Mountain Summit, I started seeing warning signs about an upcoming 6% grade. The signs were kind of funny. The first proclaimed, “First Warning! 6 Mile 6% Grade Ahead!” The second said pretty much the same thing as a “Second Warning.” Huge signs set forth maximum speeds for trucks with 5 or more axles — the really heavy ones were limited to just 18 miles per hour. This was obviously serious business.

Before the hill, there was a turnoff for a scenic view. I could see that the clouds ended just ahead and could imagine a view from the mountain over a broad valley. I knew that if I’d been in my Honda without a 3500-lb trailer behind me and a parrot in a plastic box next to me, I would have pulled off to take in the view. But in my current situation, all I wanted was to get to Quincy and set up camp. So I kept driving.

After a “FInal Warning!” sign, I began the descent. The cloud bank ended abruptly at the top of the hill, revealing a huge area of rolling green hills. In the distance, I could clearly see the bulk of Mount St. Helens rising, snow-capped, out of the ground. A tiny cloud hovered near its summit; it might be steaming again. The view was breathtaking, but I had to concentrate on the task at hand: keeping the truck at or below 50 mph on the steep downhill grade without burning up the brakes. I passed a truck and two runaway truck ramps. About a dozen cars passed me. Then I was at the bottom, continuing northwest toward Pendleton.

You may have heard of Pendleton, OR — it’s where Pendleton blankets are made. A piece of trivia for you: Pendleton blankets were much prized by the Navajos, who commonly wore blankets as part of their clothing, in the late 1800s. The Fred Harvey Company convinced the Navajo people, who are known for their excellent weaving, to begin weaving rugs instead of blankets — so they could trade the rugs for Pendleton blankets. These beautiful, soft wool blankets can be found in just about any trading post in the west.

I’d been in Pendleton once before, during my 2005 road trip, eager to take the factory tour. Unfortunately, the factory was closed that week for vacation. (My luck.) I was not going to try again that day.

But I did need gas and I wanted to top off the propane tanks. I’d be using propane to cook in the camper and I didn’t want to run out, since I couldn’t lift the tanks to put them in the truck. I watched the highway signs and pulled off at an exit with a Shell station that had both gas and propane. I was the only vehicle at the pumps and both attendants came out to service me. (Oregon, like New Jersey, is full service fueling only.) One guy pumped the gas while the other actually cleaned my windshield. Then I repositioned my rig and one guy added 6 gallons of propane to my tanks. I was surprised; I thought it would have taken more.

Then I was back on the road again, continuing northwest on I-84. Past Hermiston, I got on I-82 northbound. I crossed the Columbia River for the first time just downstream from the McNary Dam. The water approaching the bridge seemed to boil with currents and columns of mist rose from the downstream side of the dam. The Columbia was at flood stage because of snowmelt in the mountains.

Now I was in Washington state.

The area around me had become more and more agricultural after descending from Blue Mountain. It was a mix of farm field and orchards — including what I’m pretty sure were cherry trees. Most of the Columbia River Valley is cultivated. While Idaho may be famous for potatoes, I passed a sign somewhere in Washington that proclaimed that local county produced more potatoes than anywhere else in the country. Take that, Idaho.

I made the mistake of taking directions from my GPS to get through the Richmond area. The GPS, which is set up for off-road travel, didn’t give accurate and timely directions, so I missed a turn. I wound up detouring through Benton City to catch State Route 225 north to State Route 240. This farm road (225) was narrow and wound through hills. Pretty, but not the kind of road I wanted to be dragging my rig through.

I took State Route 240 to State Route 24 to State Route 243. Along the way, I crossed the Columbia again, passed the community of Desert Aire (which features a private runway), and the farm community of Mattawa, which is also known for its cherry orchards. Route 243 followed the Columbia River and I could easily see the flooding — just the tops of the tall green trees that had been on the shore poked out through the water. Then I got onto I-90 eastbound. Twelve miles to George, where I exited for northbound State Route 281. Just five miles left.

I pulled into the parking lot for the Quincy Golf Course at 11:45 AM.

The site I’d asked them to hold for me was occupied. I didn’t really care. I was tired and just wanted to get the camper parked, disconnected from the truck, and set up. I spent the next two hours doing just that.

Now, the next morning, I’m about 80% settled in. The camper is completely set up, with both beds extended. I put both mattresses on the back bed where I’ll sleep and set up Alex’s cage on the front bed. I’ve got a full hookup here, so I’m all plugged in. This will become important when it gets hot and I need the camper’s air conditioning. It also makes it possible to use the microwave, which our off-the-grid camping makes useless. It’s weird having unlimited access to water — I’m so accustomed to conserving it, especially when I’m away from home. It was a real treat to take a good, long shower. I also put out the awning, which will give me shelter from both sun and rain.

The campground’s five hookup spots are now full. I’m very glad that I got here when I did.

2 thoughts on “Last Day on the Road

  1. An interesting read. I’ve not traveled that area, but I’d like to do so in the future.

    If I can, I prefer to drive than fly, not because I’m scared of flying, but I don’t like the whole flying experience. Sometimes too, it can be, even with today’s gas prices, cheaper to drive, and for shorter trips, often about the same time – door to door.

What do you think?