“Can you keep an eye out for cars up the road?” he said, “I really gotta avoid these potholes.” I dutifully obliged and fixed my eyes down the narrow, dusty trail, shaded by a canopy of Douglas Firs and beset by a steep, imposing bluffs on one side and an even steeper dropoff on the other.
“Car!” I yelped, barely loud enough to be heard over the blaring trap music and the roar of the V8 engine. Nonetheless Erik quickly looked up and squeezed the car as far to the right as he could, just in time for a Nissan Pathfinder to creep past at a glacial pace, its driver staring out bug-eyed beneath a weathered grey baseball cap.
He had good reason to look nonplussed. Every day dozens of cars traverse this unpaved stretch of the Mountain Loop Highway, but not too many of them look like this:
A 1995 Pontiac Firebird TransAm with rear-wheel drive and extra-wide track tires. So low to the ground it’s like riding a picnic blanket. This vehicle made about as much sense on that Forest Highway as Mike Pence cutting the ribbon on Seattle’s newest gay bar.
But I wasn’t remotely concerned about that. I wasn’t the one driving.
Erik was one of the few Seattle friends I didn’t get a chance to visit during my last stay in Washington, and my trip sorely suffered as a result. Every hangout with Erik ends up being an adventure in the truest sense of the word, and this was no different.
I arrived at his house in the Seattle suburb of Woodinville about two hours late – the horrendous Seattle traffic had again thrown me off – but it turned out to be okay because Erik himself was still topping his TransAm off with fresh oil. It took about maybe another two hours to reach the Loop, during which time Erik took every opportunity he could to show off the spine-curling velocity of his vehicle.
“I do this almost every weekend these days,” Erik said of the Mountain Loop Highway, and I have to say I can’t blame him. This 52 mile Scenic Byway, comprised of both paved and unpaved stretches, meanders through deep woods and breathtaking rivers in the heart of the Cascades.
And somehow, against all physical logic it seemed, the TransAm performed reasonably well on those rough, curving roads. There was just one catch: we had to take potholes extremely seriously. Even one small bump could ruin the suspension, which meant that for certain stretches Erik had to slow down to a crawl in order to navigate the unruly surface. Hence, the comparatively less important task of making sure we weren’t killed by oncoming cars was delegated to me.
Potholes and befuddled SUV drivers proved to be surmountable obstacles, but then we came across this:
Apparently a mudslide had taken out part of the road. This is one of the dangers of the Cascade Mountains (it was only four years ago that a massive slide in the nearby town of Oso destroyed 49 homes and killed 43 people).
No amount of daring or ingenuity was going to get us out of this jam; there was no choice but to turn the TransAm around and head back.
By the time we got back to Woodinville it was dark, and by the time I got back to my Airbnb in Rosburg it was well past midnight. In retrospect I might have misjudged the inconvenience of choosing a base so far from my Seattle friends, but it was also the coolest place I’ve stayed thus far on my trip, and perhaps during all of my time road tripping across the country. Here are a few pics:
My neighbors were pretty chill too:
I love the Pacific Northwest. I love the imposing pines, the majestic mountains, the humble weather and the comparative lack of sprawl. I lived there for four years and even though I accomplished very little while during that time period I don’t regret a minute of it.
As much as I dig the scenery, I mainly go back for the friends. These are people who for God knows what reason chose to connect with me during a very uncertain, ignorant, and difficult period of my life (indeed, as strange as it sounds, my college years were probably filled with more anxiety and self-pity than my current state of adult orphanhood). Each of the friends I’ve hung out with throughout this trip touches a unique part of my soul and I’m always richer for having spent time with them.
Even if I wasn’t blogging, even if I was dead broke, even if the entire drive looked like Central Nebraska, it would still be worth visiting them.