How much does it cost to get out of here? Gas, obviously. Gas is expensive. But there are three of us in the car to split the tank: myself, Lisa, and Nick. Everything else we bring from home. The Subaru is crammed to the gills with all the tools of the weekend warrior: tents and down sleeping bags for the still-frosted night, coiled ropes and racks of gear, a coffee press, a stove, fuel, spices, pale ales, one amber tinted bottle of whiskey, camera gear, layers of jewel toned polypropylene.
It's downpouring as we merge from 1-5 onto I-90 East; the heavy, wet rain makes it seem as if the city is whimpering. Even at 9:30 at night, the traffic is chaotic. My psyche has completely unraveled. I did the neurotic packing thing, the gleeful excitement thing, the last minute what-if-we-go-hungry-seizure in the grocery store thing, the hysterical, uncontrollable laughter while driving thing, and completely depleted my personal reserve of energy before leaving the city limits. I generally become a bit unhinged when granted a weekend pass to the wilderness, but this particular occasion was made considerably more manic because I just- no less than 24 hours ago- returned home from Vermont, via a long and uncomfortable plane ride against headwinds. I think the changes in time and climate were throwing me.
We stop in Rainier Valley to pick up Lisa's forgotten sleeping bag. I traipse inside to say hello to her roommates, enjoy a little tumbler of bourbon, one ice cube, and fork over my keys to Nick. He takes them and tucks me nicely in the back seat where I fold up, seat belt fastened, between two gear bags and a fuel canister. Jetlagged and booze warm, I begin to gently melt away.
I know enough about night driving to know this: it's one of the few times that physics is evaded. Time and space lose their stronghold on reality as you press forward in the dark at 70mph. This is even more true when you're a passenger, and I'm not often a passenger, least of all in my own car. I'm like a tourist back there. I don't really know where I am and I only sort of know where I'm going. The last time I went to Vantage was eight and a half years ago, when I was a freshman in college, and I seemed to arrive there by magic. I asked fewer questions when I was 17, and packed lighter. I just remember falling asleep in the back of someone's car and waking up in the desert.
As we leave the city behind, darkness deepens but the rain keeps slashing down. Rough road conditions make the car rumble, and it's very warm inside, and dry, like this little protected bubble rolling down the pass. And then Nick, he may as well have fed me a tranquilizer: he puts Rusted Root on the CD player. African drum trip, Ecstasy, Send me on my way. This was the first Cassette Tape I ever owned. I wore the film strip down to threads, playing it over and over on my Walkman as I ran, alone, through the overgrown logging roads on my property, miles from anyone, flat chested, twelve years old, a happy kid but an isolated one, and impatient. I was decidedly blessed with a wild and free childhood but I knew- knew- that my grown up self would run even wilder and I could not wait to get there.
The interior of the car is ecstasy. The only thing keeping me awake- barely awake- are the statistics of traffic mortality. Inclement weather and tricky roads and the facade of immunity that can overcome a driver- dad studies these things for a living and has made me acutely aware of this- the ubiquitous terror of automobiles. Furthermore, it feels like 3am in my mixed up brain, and I'm convinced that it really is 3am, so every twenty minutes I'll startle myself awake, horrified that Nick has fallen asleep at the wheel and we're all dead.
He's not asleep, of course. It's only midnight, Lisa and Nick are talking in the front seat. I can only make out the sharp S sounds from their conversation. Lisa says, "Lina, calm down, we're awake." She takes my hand in hers and its warmth pushes me over the precipice and into sleep. Real sleep.
I wake up in the desert. The crowded camping area below the Feathers are quiet, curled in their tents and trucks, gearing up for one of the first days of the outdoor season. John and Diana have waited up for us; we find them nearly passed out in camp chairs around the glowing red fire pit. I fumble for the door handle and fall out of the car onto the dust. As usual, I become instantly awake and chirpy when I get a breath of fresh air. "So sorry to keep you waiting." I stand up, brush off my legs. "We left the city a bit later than planned."
The others set up their tent and I arrange myself in the back of the car with the seats laid flat. I with my head on the pillow, I can just press my toes against the back windshield. It's 1 in the morning in the desert, early April, and I sleep like a champion. In fact, I'm the only one out of the five of us who can sleep. As I'm dreaming (warm rocks, silver bolts, espresso shots and Hometeam) a wind storms bellows into the gorge like a silver Amtrak Passenger train. It whips out of nowhere and wrecks havoc on John and Diana's tent, pressing the fabric walls against their faces. They give up quickly and bed down in their Impreza. (Picture trying to find a suitable sleeping position inside a large snail. I speak from experience.)
Nick's tent, impossibly well-rigged (NOLS training, don'cha know) stays afloat but rattles like canvas sails on a doomed ship. Meanwhile, safe inside metal and fogged glass, I am rocked lightly back and forth. I sort of remember clambering out to pee in the early morning and nearly getting launched off of the earth and spit into orbit, but that could be merely a fantasy.
Lisa wakes me up in the morning when she jumps onto my head, fighting against the wind to pull the car door shut. "OH My GOD." She rakes the tangled hair out of her eyes. "This is ridiculous! Can we even climb in this?" "Oh sure." I say, veteran that I am. "If it's not raining, we can climb in anything."
Then I look out the back windshield and see John in his puff-ball coat, tumbling away as he tries to reach the safety of my car.
"Well, never mind." I tell her. "Not in this."
We are five people cramped into the back of a car, too stubborn to return to the city, watching tumbleweeds zoom around like angry, truncated snowmen. The simplest things become excruciatingly difficult. Example; Lisa getting dressed:
Regardless, we're here for two days, we want to climb, we really do, and we're starting to get hungry. What would you do?