The next morning we're up again for a brief breakfast and departure. Kriab and I have spent a good amount of time talking about music, Italian rapier, Eugene as a place to live, adventures to be had in the area and now, suddenly, it's time to part again. It's always something of a shock visiting a friend you haven't seen for a while and remembering how important this person is to you. How you've become such good, but separated, friends that whole months or years might go by between even talking with each other, and then you have an hour or an afternoon. There are no words, really.

I take a last long stare around. Even aside from the enjoyment of a friend, it's been a nice place to stay. Odds are, though, I'll never stand in this same spot again. We pack up the car, bags at a time, slam the trunk, head back in for a few things we've forgot, say good-bye again, and then drive off.

We want to stop in Portland and so push through the Williamette Valley (I think that's the right name) straight for it.

Arriving, we get lost in a confusion of streets and then end up asking for directions out the car window as we search for Powell's books. It's not too hard to find being that it's a used book store the size of a city block: the largest independent used book store in the world. Flavia and I plung into it and are immediately separated by competing interests and the profusion of volumes. Want to bake? Here's a set of shelves with 10,000 cookbooks. Travel? Enough books to fill a house. Crafts? It never ends. Sci-Fi? Still depressingly limited. It's as though the entirety of Hay-on-Wye has been compacted into a single building.

After the bookstore I get directions to the Renovo bikeshop, we collect Matt, and make the drive… which promptly pulls us into a part of town where you feel, in a very soft way, as though you might be axe-murdered at any moment. But, sure enough, tucked into a little warehouse we find it: the workshop of an aerospace engineering who decided to build wooden bicycles. The frames are things of varnished beauty, and shockingly light. Alas, none are tall enough for me to test drive.

After the shop, we get on the interstate to head out of town.

And mere moments later, pass a hitchhiker. Naturally, I have to stop. He's a 19-year-old from the San Diego hitchhiking his way to the Rainbow Gathering in Montana and, being new to hitchhiking and vagabonding, looking to “earn his chops” on the road.

Just across the river I stop for gas. As I'm reaching for the pump a cheery voice stops me, “Let me get that for you!” The lady proceeds to fill it up. “Thanks! No one's done this since I was a child.” “No worries, hun.”

As we continue North, it becomes apparent that we don't have a lot of time before the car is due in at the airport. I'm kind of keen on stopping at Rainier, but nervous about missing the deadline. But, as it happens, neither Matt nor our hitchhiker have ever seen snow. I grip the wheel with determination: “We are going to get you to some snow!”

Matt has maps on his iPad, but has had the good grace not to use it most of the time I've been driving. He pulls it out now and calls out the turn. A few minutes later, we're speeding (literally and figuratively) down a narrow highway towards Rainier which, though massive, is hiding in clouds. The road curls and winds through woods and foothills in a frustrating slow manner. Occasionally, taller heights will peak through the clouds or an eagle will fly out of some pine trees and tear at your breath.

Eventually we come to the last small town before the entrance to the Park. I crank the wheel and we fly into the parking lot, de-car, and jog to the food stand: I'm famished, though Flavia and Matt seem to be doing fine. On the way to the food stand, we pass packs of people wearing Patagonia and Arcteryx and all manner of brightly-coloured, well-fitted, expensive outdoors gear and cramponed boots. There are more of them in the food line, but we don't stick around because it is horrifically expensive. We pass the climbers again, drive back to the petrol station, pick up some cliff bars, and then drive into the park. The roads are narrow, but mostly empty, so we're able to climb upwards at a good clip. But we still don't have a lot of time to get the car back…

The journey up is marked again and again by strikingly beautiful views and hairpin corners. Whenever there's a good view, I slow down so we can admire it, but never stop. The road curves into the folds of the mountain and you're left wondering how anything can be so steep and simultaneously so big. Finally, we get up to the area on our map labeled “Paradise” where they said there'd be snow and, indeed, there it is. Matt's ready to walk out onto it with the sandels he's been wearing perpetually since we picked him up; I stop him, “You really will want shoes.”

And those are the first steps.

We've no sooner got onto the snow than a couple of sledders come hurtling past. Matt and our hitchhiker borrow the sleds and run up and up the slope as everyone shouts advice from below. Flavia looks at me and says, “I really can't believe they've never seen snow.” “Have you?” “Oh yes, we have it on the mountains in Italy.”

Sledding done, we continue up the slope. It's foggy and visibility is limited; I'd personally be happy to go just far enough that we can't see back to the lodge.

We work our way up the slope, discovering a snow cave and a deer in the process. Some little while later we crest a ridge and have a view out through the fog and cloud into the valley. The lodge drops below the local horizon. Having made it far enoguh, we all turn and run straight down the gradient, our feet sinking in past our ankles with each exaggerated step, whooping.

And then we shoot down the mountain, though taking a stop to see a waterfall on the way. The trek out to the side is along a muddy path and, at the end, the spray of the falls rises in puffs and waves, soaking us as a rainbow hovers doggedly over the little gorge.

We take a last breath of the air and a last look at the mountain, and get back in the car where a faint smell of rubber indicates that the brakes have been at work. At the base of the mountain, we rocket along past the town and all of its climbers and out onto the “highways”. Flavia charts a route using our crappy map and we follow it, easy past other cars as sunset drenches the highway.

We arrive at the airport just three minutes late, a lapse which the car company forgives.

While we've been driving, Matt's been working on finding a place to stay. And he's been successful: a male couchsurfer writes back to say that he already has four Dutch girls staying with him, but that Matt and Flavia can squeeze in if they'd like. Generously, he offers to give our hitchhiker and I lift into Seattle as well. When he shows up, we pack his trunk, squeeze in, and drive first to downtown where he's told the Dutch girls he'll meet them. We wait to see if they'll show. With him, there are now four guys in the car and the atmosphere's become somewhat testosterone-laden; I feel a bit sorry for Flavia as the Dutch girls are discussed. They don't show, so we drive out towards the university, where I'm heading.

Our hitchhiker's looking for a park to camp out in for the night and our new host excitedly extolls the merits of the long one we're driving past. He drives up to it several times and then keeps going. Then he leaves the park behind and drives over to the university talking a blue-streak about how to get there from the park, though you can be nearly certain the hitchhiker will simply ask someone the same thing on the street in the morning. 3/4 mile later we get some late night burgers by the campus and then there's an awkward pause as all of us, except our host, understand that the hitchhiker really would have preferred to be dropped off at the park. He coughs and asks; our host seems to blink and then realizes that of course this is the logical thing to do. I say good-bye to everyone as we head that direction and we make plans to meet up over the next few days (though, as often happens, we get pulled in separate directions and it never does happen).

And then I'm alone and on foot, on the same street by which I first arrived here three years ago and, fortunately, there's still a friend waiting.




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