By on March 29, 2008

beauty-spot.jpg“You’re free to go.” With those hackneyed words, the Goldendale police officer returned my license. They were the very same words I’d heard in my head just a few hours earlier. At one-thirty last Sunday, my older son Ted called: “If you can drop Will [(his brother) here by three, we can take him back with us to Portland for a few days.” Cabin fever was at 103. The ninety minute deadline to pick a destination and pack the xB was just the tonic I needed. Time to head for… (flings open the atlas)… Wenatchee!

That’s literally how long it took to pick the apple capital of Central Washington as the fruit of our road-trip desire. It’s a sparsely populated town in the high desert, with lots of canyons and two-lane highways leading to its unknown charms. Will groaned. “Why don’t you guys go somewhere cool, like Las Vegas?” Let me count the ways…

I guess we’re just kinda’ anti-social; I don’t know how else to explain it (especially to a sixteen year-old). But I find the idea of spending days inside windowless spaces packed with thousands of other folks completely unappealing.

I suppose I could only fall back on that other hackneyed expression “it’s not about the destination; it’s the journey.” If you’ve ever been to Wenatchee, you know that old chestnut still has meaning. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…

Anyway, Wenatchee was just a convenient point on the map some four hundred miles away. That is, if I had stayed on the main roads, which I rarely do. Sharing a road with other drivers is about as enjoyable to me as a shoulder-to-shoulder cocktail party at a dentists’ convention. Driving is strictly a recreational sport for me. It’s why I live in a small city, walk, ride a bike and don’t get on the freeway for weeks on end. I’m spoiled for deserted roads.

The trip started with country roads. I quickly fell into that preferred meditative state of restful alertness.

We took I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge. It’s one of the rare exceptions in the interstate system: it doesn’t detour away from the real scenery. One spectacular waterfall after another spills down the brooding, snow-tinged black basalt ridge overlooking the river. The xB’s popemobile picture windows offered unobstructed viewing pleasure.

By Hood River, I was ready for the solitude of the Washington side. As we crossed the vast waterway on an antique iron bridge, the flying toaster darted side-to-side on the narrow steel grating like a rabid squirrel. Was this some time-tested device to keep the drunks from crossing the state line? I was too busy trying to stay on my half of the empty bridge at fifty to notice the 25mph signs until we were almost across.

I sort-of passed this first sobriety test, but flunked the next, when I turned unto Hwy 141 instead of 142. Rather than shortcutting across open country towards Yakima, we now plunged headlong into the rapidly darkening wooded wilderness of Mt. Adams. I finally admitted the error of our— OK, my way some twenty miles later. But I really, really hate to retrace my steps.

Sure enough, the map showed an unmarked thread of a road arcing towards our intended general direction.

An hour passed. We hadn’t encountered another car. The narrow blacktop dove down into one deep twisty narrow canyon after another, coming up for air (the road and me too) to shoot across a high plateau, until the next canyon… and so on. Working the xB’s sharp steering, lusty little engine and tightly-spaced gears, an unformed memory from the distant past kept fluttering across my mind, like the owls in the headlights. Suddenly it took shape: an Alfa Gulia sedan from the late sixties.

The boxy and airy body with tall vertical windows, the bus-like rake to the tiller, the rasp in the exhaust, the firm and bouncy ride, the touch of torque steer… the brave little Toyota linked me to the Alfa. O.K, I have a healthy imagination. Anyway, on these remote back roads at night, I was happy enough that my steed originated in Toyota City rather than Milano.

After an hour of night-time Targa Florio driving (without a navigator to call out the distances to the next curve), I wasn’t totally sorry to approach the hamlet of Goldendale (pop. 3760). I coasted down to the general vicinity of the 25mph limit, and rolled half-way through the sleeping town. Again, we never encountered another soul.

Suddenly, flashing lights appeared out of nowhere in my mirror. What the…! Did someone see me hit triple-digits back on the last straight and call it in?

“Good evening sir. Do you know why I stopped you?”

Yes, yes. I was speeding. But deep inside, I hadn’t a clue.

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20 Comments on “Autobiography: Road Trip to Wenatchee...”


  • avatar
    UnclePete

    Another wonderful story Paul. I feel the same way as you – if I can find the back roads to get somewhere, that’s the way I go. It’s even better when I can ride the motorcycle; you can get into quite a zen-like groove in the twisties on a bike.

  • avatar

    I’ve been to Vegas and I’ve been on I-84. I’d take the rural beauty to tacky Vegas anytime.

    John

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Paul- You should be nominated for sainthood- this site would die from lack of readers if not for your entertaining missives. You must live damn close to me, because I too, wander past Crown Point at a moments notice, but usually on the Old Columbia River Highway. Anyway, keep it up, and thanks.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    Reminds me of some of the road trips I would take in Australia. I could drive for hours and not see another car. Beautiful scenery… rolling hills, forests, beaches.

    On those infrequently used roads, they only bother to pave a one-car wide strip down the middle. So on the rare occasion when you encounter another car, you both have drive on the gravel a bit.

    *sigh* they were awesome trips.

  • avatar

    the thing to do in vegas is head up to the valley of fire. last time I was there we took a day away from the city, rented a z4, and made a day of it at the valley and the dam. awesome.

  • avatar

    (we didn’t have the $1500 for the lamborghini)

  • avatar
    CliffG

    We do have some nice out of the way roads here in Wash., the mountains around Wenootchee have some splendid gravel stuff if you like that kind of thing (i.e. have a car you don’t care THAT much about). Also, we have no real crime here so that allows all of our police forces to spend time on speed traps on I-5 at 8:30 on Sunday mornings, cops sitting on a very lightly traveled windy ex-urban roads looking for sport bikers, cops in Ephrata* etting angry about people going 60 in a 50 zone, that kind of thing. So, hey, welcome to our state!

    *Ephrata: Middle of nowhere, take a left, there it is…..

  • avatar

    Great story. Washington state is home to some of the best 2-lane highways in the country. Oregon has some great roads too.

    I’ll be returning to the Gorge this summer a couple of times in vintage car rallies (The Run To The Gorge & The Monte Shelton Northwest Classic) but for a taste of driving on the Washington side here is some (Sorry RF VERY minor hoonage-100mph alert) video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpXeMt7LYR8

    My 13 year old son (now 18 and embarrassed by this video) is the overly enthusiastic cameraman & narrator. ;)

    –chuck

  • avatar

    I coasted down into Wenatchee from Stevens Pass, on my bicycle, on the way from Seattle to Boston, nearly 33 years ago. Then an hour or so along the river, then up another set of switchbacks for several hours to the top of the plateau.

    Great story.

    Chuck, the video is a riot! Nice to put a face to your name.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    chuck,

    Loved the video. Your son so reminded me of Ted (Edward on TTAC) at that age, advanced verbal development and all. Beautiful car, and what a sound! Thanks for sharing.

  • avatar

    Paul you make me envious with your tales of glorious drives out west, but it’s worth noting that there are some gorgeous drives in the east. The best may well be skyline along the top of the Appalachians in Virginia (I think it goes into the ‘linas but I’ve never been further south on it than near Charlottesville VA). Constant twists, and constant gorgeous views, great hiking if you feel like stopping. Good slightly in the off season, so that there’s no traffic.

    I live in Boston, and my best friend in Albany NY. I often go out Rt. 2, and cut up into southern Vermont at the Connecticut River. The ride from the border until you get to the Troy-Albany-Schenectady area is very nice, and the way I drive it’s 3.5-4 hrs instead of 2.5.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    David, I’ve made that wonderful drive all the way to the Smokey Mts. twice; the first time in the Corvair: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/auto-biography-12-training-wheels/

    It was late fall, and back then the Blue Ridge Parkway (after Skyline Dr.) was practically deserted. It was the first and one of my all-time favorite pleasure drives.

  • avatar
    Dinu

    Fantastic prose Mr. Niedermeyer! Thanks again!

  • avatar
    Andy D

    great read, Paul. Just got back from a 680 mile shake down cruise for my newest 528e. I travelled from just south of Boston to the Baseball Hall of Fame via Hartford. The trip revealed a few minor issues I hope to correct before a 2k mile cruise to N. Carolina Memorial Day weekend. The last few jaunts have been taken with my eldest son as a co-driver.

  • avatar

    Paul,

    the Corvair story is wonderful. and I definitely agree about the barn.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Possible question of the day down the road: What is your favorite scenic/speeding/urban/winding route? I’m always looking for some new routes for the next road trip!

  • avatar
    Queensmet

    I love the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are few “tourist” roads to beat it.
    I live in Northern New York. For those of you who are thinking Westchester county, think again. About 500 miles north of NYC. Yes it is still New York. Drving around here is great. There are no interstates for 90 miles and there is always a road that goes somewhere you have never been before. Paul I know exactly how you feel.

    theflyersfan
    If you are on teh East coast, Try NY Rte 73 from I 87 to Lake Placid. Not very long, but sure has some nice turns and climbs in it.

    Oh yeah, and if you are ever in Alaska, take the road to Eagle. The soutern part isn’t much, but the part of the road as you apporach Eagle is where you can disappear off the side and never be found again is a treat.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    optic :
    March 29th, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    the thing to do in vegas is head up to the valley of fire. last time I was there we took a day away from the city, rented a z4, and made a day of it at the valley and the dam. awesome.

    Valley of Fire or the closer Red Rock are great as long as it isn’t summer. Then you can catch a show or just party at night. Vegas isn’t all bad.

    For a great drive, I really enjoyed driving Hwy 242 between Sisters and McKenzie Bridge, Oregon. The Oakville Grade between Napa and Sonoma Counties is pretty fun as long as you don’t get stuck behind a slow poke. The road from Hwy 101 to Shelter Cove, CA is nice and winding with plenty of rolling green sceenery, just make sure you have very good brakes for the last very steep section down into Shelter Cove. Because it is fairly winding with passing lanes, Hwy 29 between Callistoga and Middletown, CA can raise the adrenaline some.

  • avatar
    Wolven

    Since I’m a native son of Wenatchee, I gotta question the “high desert town” part. We live in a valley, right on the Columbia river and the foothills of the Cascade mountain range. It’s called the Wenatchee Valley. Now, 20 miles east, and I agree, you’re in the high, flat, boring, constantly windy desert known as the Columbia Basin… more appropriately known as “hell” by us Wenatcheeites. As for Washingtons fine police forces… yeah, we’ve got some of the most prickly you’d ever hate to run across. But you gotta understand, after CA, Washington is the biggest Communist state in the union, and striving mightily to be the biggest period. Traffic fines are just one of the less imaginative ways the government here steals our money.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Wolven: I stand corrected. I tend to think of “high desert” generically, anything east of the Cascades, where its dry and sunny instead of wet and soggy.


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