Long drive into absurdity

It started out well enough, our bags stuffed to the gills, some fresh homemade granola bars and drinks up front with us, needing to get gas but we had enough to get out of town and over to the cheap gas station, about 30 miles out of town. It was obvious to anyone alive that it was a pretty windy day—too brisk to say, picnic in the park, but not so bad you worry your dog will blow away on a walk. Well, hindsight tells me now that if it was that windy in town, it was two or three times that bad once we were clear of any buildings to slow it down. I got quite the forearm and biceps workout as I battled to keep the car on the road.

tumbleweed

tumbleweed

 

 

Next up were the tumbleweeds. Now then, let’s take a minute to explain tumbleweeds. Recall the theme from High Noon if you want to, sure, but I’m talking about something much less romanticized and rather more pure irritation. These were once scrub brush, small brown and green plants that grow in a clumpy cluster and huddle up on the rolling hills that surround the narrow roads. Summer came, and they flourished. They hailed the good times with regular downpours of rain, told themselves to put off making strong root systems, and just enjoyed the good life. Fall came and went. They were totally unprepared for winter. And then, the winds started. The rain didn’t go that deep into the ground. They started drying up. Panicked, they tried to consult their neighbors, only to discover whole groups of them that were now dead or dying.

Or were they? For it is such that nature decrees that any scrub brush bush that dies is sent to live again as the Undead Plantage. Humans call these tumbleweeds. They’re pushed along with no chance of fighting against the breeze, they thrust themselves under parked cars, roll down and up hills, hurtling themselves at the thin traffic on Highway 12 like it could be their last big event on this earth. They are like unwanted rodents—where you see one tumbleweed, there are hundreds.

They came at us from every direction. They lined up and assaulted the car like kamikaze Rockettes. Susanne informed me that I was the only car on the road attempting to dodge them. I can’t help it if a good portion of my childhood was spent playing Frogger on various gaming systems (Intellivision’s version kicked Atari’s ass!). We looked to our right at a fence that had heretofore never made sense to us and realized it was a tumbleweed-catching fence. There were literally thousands of them self-shoved into every part of it. In some sections there were so many new arrivals could jump the fence, wagging their tumbleweed fingers at the farmers who’d tried to keep them out, victorious in their zombification of the landscape. A couple particularly large ones (in fairness, they may have merged with other dead shrubs to form super-tumbleweeds) threatened to take out the car, and Susanne didn’t seem to mind that I worked to avoid those. A few of them were totally unpredictable and sort of spun in the roadway, instead of hightailing it from one point to another.

How we drove from desert wind storm to blizzard, I’m still not sure, although I have been assured I was in the same state. This microclimate thing is insane. No sooner had we left the foothills of eastern Washington than we started approaching 2,500 feet in the Cascades, getting ready to drive through the Snoqualmie Pass. And let me assure you that right now, this very minute, as I type this on Monday, March 16, at 9:25AM PDT, it is snowing in the Snoqualmie Pass. Yesterday, it was not just snowing. Yesterday, it was blizzarding. There were big, wet flakes that stung as they hit you. I know this because all non-4-wheel-drive cars were required to put on snow chains before they could go through the pass. Not that there were any state troopers to enact such a requirement. But everyone pulled off to the side, marked for such an event. We couldn’t get our chains to fit because clearly our tires have gained a lot of weight since Christmas. I keep telling them they need to drop a few pounds, but why would they listen to me? Fully an hour later, soaked, numb, and very, very bitter, Susanne (mostly) and me (a little) had gotten the chains on, and we were off—except the chain up area is 20 miles ahead of the actual pass. Given that the car wouldn’t drive over 25mph with the chains on, it was a long time before we actually made it to the pass. The pavement, all along the way to the pass, was wet but clear. So we more or less vibrated to the pass. And the hours trailed by, tick tock, tick tock.

Now we were in the national forest zone. Still snowing hard, had the defroster working, the windshield wipers, Susanne drying out her feet since her sneakers had soaked through in the slush. Surely we’d see snow-covered conditions now. Nope. Three more slow, anxious, vibrate-y miles later, we were in the actual pass. Thank goodness we had snow chains! Right?

Wrong. There was a little slush on the road, and NOTHING ELSE. Fully 90 minutes after the big slow down to put on chains, we realized we’d been had by the Washington State Department of Transportation. Sure folks, it was snowing, but all of the uh, traffic was keeping the roads clear.

We pulled over with every other frustrated motorist, and unhooked the @#%@#^% tire chains. And a friend in Seattle told us that it had been sunny since 11AM that day, where he was.

You can imagine how happy we were to hear that, 6 hours after we’d left Walla Walla.

So Walla Walla gets its laugh on us again, always causing some kind of calamity when we try to leave the city limits. It’s how it keeps its population of 30,000, I suppose. It’s like one great, big Amityville Horror, and the tumbleweeds are the evil flies.

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  1. Me Versus Spider | Trans/plant/portation - March 13, 2012

    […] of them extremely poisonous. We’ve got rattlesnakes out here too, because we’re in dry tumbleweed territory. The snakes, however, don’t hang out in corners of our home—other than a […]

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