17) In Transit
– April 29th – May 2nd
How does it end? How could any of it end? There can be only transition, a space between the frames, a time between starting and ending and starting again. What has been left behind has been picked up again, in way of new beginnings, and for often new beginnings require a good prompting, an intentional rousing lest we slow and fade along with the waves of times past, ever slower then in momentum for catching the next thing when the timing is right. On the Coho ferry, heading north across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we looked back on six months of travel across the United States, and forward also toward our long drive home, and with it the preparation of making a tiny house for ourselves upon return. We were still 4500 kilometres from home, a distance we would travel over the next five or six weeks. And not to say that we don’t intend on exploring our travels eastward across Canada, but we must be mindful of our pace now, and present in the focus of our next “tiny” task at hand.
When we arrive back in Canada, we will be shopping around for a WiFi hotspot. This will allow the amount of online research time we will require from now until we begin building our tiny house less than two months from now, and currently at least speaking for myself I am feeling rather unprepared. We had managed to float on free WiFi for the past six months, which is not so hard depending on one’s situation and actual need for online access. More often than anything else, we could have at least benefited from some kind of GPS, as many of our past stops in fast food restaurants were only in order to get directions to here or there or wherever. Now, however, I feel the relaxation slipping, the relaxation of neither requiring the internet nor paying for it out of convenience, and ever increasingly is coming the urge to buckle down online and prepare myself for what we are about to build.
It didn’t take long after leaving Portland before we arrived in the State of Washington. I believe that Portland is, or at least was for the week that we spent there, contained within a strange moisture pocket of overcast skies, relenting only occasionally and for brief intervals. I will have to check this theory whenever I am back again. But as soon as we drove north, away from Portland and Oregon and into Washington State, the skies cleared and the clouds rolled back in dissipation to reveal an immortal blue sky, bright in its own colourful depths as the great green beyond of the forests below. We had stopped on a whim at a Visitor’s Centre when we saw a sign for Mt. St. Helen’s, an inactive volcanic mountain that we knew nothing really more about. At the Visitor’s Centre unfortunately we learned that Mt. St. Helen’s was a couple of hours out of our way in each direction, and that much of it would still be closed off due to snow and ice – the first of such encounters for us this entire winter and spring, although heading north and then east across Canada we would experience more roads closed for snowy weather.
We had obtained many maps and pamphlets and much literature on Washington from the woman at the Visitor’s Centre and decided upon exiting east shortly afterwards, towards Mt. Rainier, the second tallest mountain in the contiguous United States (after Mt. Whitney in California, which we did not see). We drove east for a little while but found a spot to sleep for the night near the small town of Morton. In the morning, we drove the rest of the way toward Mt. Rainier. Today was April 30th, exactly one day before many places would reopen after a six month winter closure. As a coincidence, our trip through the U.S. began November 1st and would end in early May, the same span of time, we discovered, that many camp grounds and parks of all kinds would close for the winter, if in colder climates. Much of this was irrelevant to us as we had travelled as such to avoid colder places during their coldest times, failing only during our first couple of weeks during our drive south from Ontario, and then a month or so later in our time spent in New Mexico in January, a cold State during winter more to do to with elevation than its latitudinal situation.
We learned, fortunately, that whether April 30th or May 1st, we were going to see the same small portion of Mt. Rainier this day – the last of its snow-trapped roads only being clear for a few months from July to September roughly. Whatever the small percentage of open roads was, we were able to make a day out of seeing Mt. Rainier National Park. The Nisqually Entrance was open and we drove into the Park heading east through the forest. Every once in a while while driving, the road would open straight in front of you, and with a view suddenly cleared of trees and hills, an ice-white giant Mt. Rainier could be seen. Each time catching a glimpse of this spectacle was as breathtaking as the last, to see something so massive laying hidden behind the foreground of common trees. Something of this size and scale the mind can’t properly understand, it is out of reach for true comprehension, and so the mind must grasp for its closest points of reference in order for one to relate to something that is in actual understanding un-relatable. There is a subtle terror that comes with glimpsing something of a separate larger scale than oneself, the recognition of meaninglessness in the notion that ours is but one world within many larger ones.
The road, which was a narrow single lane per direction, was under construction, and so every fifteen minutes a “pilot car” would escort any traffic waiting to follow it from some point near the entrance until some further point a few miles up the road, since there were workers and big machines all around the place. We had pulled over beforehand to let a few faster cars pass, but which ended up meaning we just barely missed the pilot car and had to wait around for fifteen minutes for the next one. The woman standing there with the Stop sign was friendly though, so we talked with her until finally the next pilot car came to get us, and we were first in line to go.
We continued east on Paradise Rd., passing a little bubble of hotels called Longmire. Following the Nisqually River, we passed dozens of waterfalls. A lot of snow was finally melting after another long winter on the mountain, and waterfalls were everywhere. There was a big falls called Narada Falls, which was beautiful, but there were many other falls, all over the place, most of them without names or any markings that were just as beautiful. We carried on until Paradise, where there is a large Visitor’s Centre, but which is only open on weekends and holidays, and here we were on a Wednesday afternoon. By now there was snow everywhere and people all around with full hiking gear and snowshoes. Aside from the parking lots which were completely dry, there was snow above our heads everywhere we looked. We were not prepared for a snowy winter hike, nor did we really have the time, since this was the end of April now and we were to be leaving the U.S. by early May, so we walked around for a while, taking in all of the scenery, so unfamiliar now after a winter spent largely in the warm deserts of Arizona, Nevada, and California, and then turned around and drove back. I know with some planning we could come back here some summer and spend weeks exploring it all, the park that is so large that we saw just a small fraction today.
Not long after, we were in Olympia, which had a good downtown, but where we only spent a few hours. We were making our way to Seattle, and then just slightly north to a place called Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, to see Dee Williams on her book tour. We got there a bit early, but soon enough we could see Dee setting up her area surrounded by foldable chairs in a semi-circle around her. We were either the first or second people there, saying hello to Dee briefly and telling her about our tiny house plans, but very quickly right after all of the chairs were filled up, and people were crowding in and standing in the back as well, all to hear Dee Williams talk about her new book, The Big Tiny: A Built-It Myself Memoir. Dee Williams was among the first to bring attention and popularity to her self-built tiny house, which she made for roughly $10,000 about ten years ago. It was her video on YouTube that offered our introduction to the tiny house concept, while holed up in San Marcos for four days during a freak Texan cold front back in late November (this was just before the Cadet was finally equipped with the Olympian Wave 6 catalytic heater, the unyielding cold front itself being the very deciding factor for this purchase).
As an aside, the Olympian Wave 6 is rated to heat up to 220 square feet, although I am unsure as to height measurement implied for this rating. Our tiny house will be only 160 square feet, however, about eleven and a half feet tall on the inside. I might guess that the 220 square foot rating would be for a standard eight foot ceiling, in which case, the Olympian Wave 6 will fall a bit short of heating our future tiny house, though only by a little. Our decision will probably be to try the Wave 6 out in our tiny house for the first winter. If its heat output is sufficient, then we need do nothing more in our comfortable warmth. If the output is insufficient, we will have to figure something else out. I am a big fan of the Wave 6 for its quality and efficiency. It burns at about 99% efficiency, leaving next to no carbon monoxide (we have a detector just in case, but it has never sounded), and its radiant heat saved us from about six ensuing weeks through the icy airs of New Mexico, and countless nights ever since. We bought it for something like $300 at Camping World, and I go on about it a bit more RIGHT HERE.
Quit distracting me, Olympian Wave 6. It is so much easier for me to discuss nouns than verbs. Nouns are constant, self-evident. With verbs I have to keep moving to catch them, to see where they’re going, and to name them, breath into them life. But what were we doing? We needed to cross the border, soon. This much was clear, and summed up to us quite matter-of-factly by the paranoid self-appointed heroes of purgatory situated on the Fort Erie/Buffalo border, who were genuinely perplexed by our desire to travel and explore and do rather than work and settle and be. We were not U.S. citizens, and we were of working age, so what business did we have to journey around their country on a whim, very much enjoying ourselves, and wasting countless productivity hours for the moral endeavours of others? Selfish hobos!
Before we saw Dee Williams just north of Seattle (whom we got to speak with afterwards and was really lovely!), we had driven a little bit out of our way the night before and ended up at a great pull off near Shelton. It was next to an estuary where the salt water of the ocean mixed with the fresh waters of mainland tributaries, a rather unusual environment which fostered some rare life. At night we had gone down to the water’s edge, but by the morning there was no such edge, and all of the water in sight had completely drained out of the area! This became something we would notice more and more for the next couple of days, our last couple of days in the United States, a fact met with bittersweet emotion.
We have met some incredibly interesting and inspiring people these past months, from many walks of life, and I am surprised over and over again at the generosity of others. This is an awakening to the one who seeks a connection between the Within and the Without, who practices the dying art of interaction, who gives a stranger the benefit of the doubt, who wishes to trust in others with all optimism until there is a good reason to consider doing otherwise. In these six months I have found no such reason. We met a man named Gaelon in a Lowe’s hardware store parking lot on Friday May 2nd, who seemed curious about our travels. When we came out of Lowe’s a few minutes later, we found a note tucked under our windshield wiper, which I hope he doesn’t mind me writing out verbatim herein: “If you need to stop and do some maintenance before you head back east, you are welcomed to my driveway and tools”. This act of generosity, as kind as it is, has not been completely uncommon in our experiences, and we have met many others as well as Gaelon who in one way or another reached out to us with perfect trust and brave kindness, and the impact can not be forgotten. I believe despite the infinite ways in which we fail to see eye to eye, there is a unifying and equalizing commonality in our desire to connect nonetheless, that the pursuit to understand and be understood is, though daunting, not futile.
In a few hours we were in Port Angeles, a town that seems to exist on the map because of its ominously named Black Ball Ferry Line, the one and only ferry travelling from the U.S. to Victoria, British Columbia. And before that we had breezed through Seattle rather out of time to see any of it, and then stopped at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, which had some submarines on display and was a pretty big museum which was actually free. Port Angeles, when we got there, had a cute little downtown which was comprised of a few square blocks of buildings. We parked by the water for the night, prepared to board the ferry tomorrow which would leave at 8:40am. This, I thought, will be a very long drive home.