After a few months up in Tacoma at school and even more months back in the good old United States, you could say that I’m pretty well adjusted. Obviously, dreams of France pervade my daily life, but fortunately, the way I learned to take advantage of life in Paris and beyond has vastly improved Tacoma life. There’s a lot to see in this town, and even more in the surrounding area, so I’m trying to eat, see, and try it all.
The greatest sign of adjustment of course, is the itchiness to get out and do something else. After two months of Tacoma and school, a life dominated by reading, writing and escapes only as far as the bike could take me, I desperately needed to peace out of suburbia and re immerse myself with nature. Thank god for fall break. More of a long weekend than a true vacation, fall break offers students gone crazy from quasi-imprisonment in the library a breath of fresh air and a chance to reorient before the tidal wave of academia that comes in the month of a half in between the break and thanksgiving.
School is about structure, organization and schedules, so when Daniel and I set off on our outdoor adventure, we actively avoided that nonsense. A quick glance at a map told us to go to Norway Pass, north of Mt. St. Helens, and a quick glance in the pantry said car camp so you can eat more food. So we loaded up the portable grill, some brats and other delicious food, camera gear, every type of outdoor shoe, and sleeping bags into Daniel’s mommy van and headed south. Tacoma of late had been covered in a dense fog, thick enough to drastically increase the desperation to leave, and the fog didn’t let up for an hour driving south on I-5. But when we turned east and stopped to buy some local apples, the farmer said give it a mile and we’d see sunny skies. He wasn’t kidding as a quick drop in the road initiated a serious hallelujah as the sun shone strong and we leave the dreary gray behind.
After an impromptu photo sesh of a sweet bridge with a cameo from Mt. Adams, we headed into the curvy forested roads of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Gifford is our new hero, an active conservationist before the term existed. Out of cell range and not sure exactly which road to take, we knew we were doing it right. It began to get dark as we decided to take Forest Road 26, a tiny turn off the from the larger main road. One lane nearly the whole time, 26 was a winner, at times covered by a beech tree tunnel, at others on a risky cliff. Eventually, we came to a large pullout with a valley on the right side overlooking some mountains. Home for the night. The moon had been full just one night before, so we barely needed lights as we feasted on sausage, pasta, rye whiskey and bell peppers. I had chosen three spices at random, and the herbes de Provence, garlic salt and Yemenite curry orchestrated a surprisingly complex and delicious culinary symphony. The moon illuminated the landscape in an eerie way that, awash in moonlight, seemed reminiscent of the moon’s surface itself.
After a long sleep well earned after a hard bought of school, we awoke to mountains with toothpick like tree carcasses scattered about, evidence of St. Helen’s destruction. Coffee, pb and j, and bananas, and the fresh mountain in the air were all the fuel we needed to get hiking. Our trail head was just a mile down the road and we set off in shorts and t-shirts, a rare gift in Washington’s October. The landscape was far from what is to be expected in this state, instead of thick greenery we had dead tree trunks, foliage in a vast array of fall colors, and exposed rocky ledges. But that wasn’t all. The higher we hiked, the more mountains we saw. First came Adams, then Rainier, finally St. Helens. What a trio! Every step upward brought about a better view, Helens hiding behind a ridge until we hit the pass. Climbing ever higher, the autumn colors began to be dominated by snow as we neared the low summits of Mt. Margeret and Mt. Whitier. But it was fall break, and summit fever was replaced by a strong urge to chill so we packed it down to relax by the lake.
Driving slightly out of the woods, we stopped in the small town of Randle for some middle America logger burgers (cheese and bacon!) at the Huff and Puff, a small shack with a giant EAT sign up top visible far away on the road. Cheaper than anything in Tacoma, they were grilled on the spot and delicious. From there we headed up to White Pass for another view of the south cascades, then down another forest road that followed Summit Creek to a sweet campsite in a dense forest along the creek. The next day was started off with more gourmet camp food, a trek along the creek and some near camera loss on a steep ridge. But we overcame and sat in the bliss of hot sun and tall trees. We may have driven there, but we thrived in the wilderness and the solitude nonetheless.
More school calling, we reluctantly headed home, but not in any rush of course. A trio of well chosen stops made it worth while. First we pulled down a forest road to a perfect secluded river spot, lush with fall trees reflecting in the water, deer tracks and falling leaves. Next we took a small unmarked road that cut along the boundary of Rainier National Park that turned out to be the coolest road ever; curvy, well paved, along a river and sneaking a perfect view of Rainier’s backside. Finally, we stopped at a recreation center for a picnic in the sun. The parked had a little climbing tower to screw around on, to make sure all of shoes got some use and we got a bit more exercise.
The correlation between nature and civilization was stunning, as soon as we hit the outskirts of the first big town, the sun disappeared into another thick fog that didn’t let up until we got home. Its not a great blanket to live under, but at least we’re revitalized, mountains, trees, lakes, streams, isolation. The portrait of nature we were exposed to was a perfect getaway.