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14 July, 2009

Backroads: 23 and 141

Last time I was talking about Skate Creek, but what I didn't say was that getting there took a while. From Olympia you can go through Yelm and up the Nisqually to the flanks of Rainier, then turn down Skate Creek Road (aka Road 52) to reach the Cowlitz at Packwood. Or at least you can when it's open, and this year that happened a week or so after I traveled, so it was back-track and waste an hour.

No prob, though, since I got to see more land. I like to vary my routes to avoid monotony, traverse more terrain, and keep the terrorists guessing.

Not long after I had to go to Trout Lake, which normally means hopping on the freeway down south and following the Columbia up to Bingen before hooking back north. But I figured it would be more fun to abandon the interstate (the governor wouldn't want me going into Oregon anyway, even if the up-river trip is faster on that side), so I hightailed it east on route 12.

Not soothed enough on this beefy two-laner, it was south on 131, where the soothing embrace of a conifer canopy closed in. Then Forest Road 23 beckoned, narrowing further and further until pavement petered out into gravel. Washboard and some loose gravel, but not ever bad, no back-tracking. Two other vehicles in an hour of driving. I got out and played solitare in the road for a while, but eventually the stakes got too high for my cheap self, and I moved on.

And even though it was too cloudy to see Mt Adams, I could feel it. A mass to the left, glacial waftings from time to time.

Then after a while there was a bridge, and pavement, and before I could adjust, I was in the rat-race of downtown Trout Lake. Then it was time to work. 9AM and 4 hours driving already behind me.

Uneventful as the drive down had been, after work it seemed like a good idea to take 141 from its Trout Lake headwaters down to the Columbia, maybe get something to eat. Pushing 5PM and 12 hours of driving and struggling to beat the machine drill already behind me.

141 takes you down the White Salmon, a beautiful river. Not a narrow valley, enough room for cows and orchards. In the north, there are lava outcrops, a treat for pahoehoe lovers like myself. Locals probably feel beset by outsiders sometimes, but there are places with far worse infestations of urban vacationers and second homers. Cheap gas in BZ Corners, where transportation signage designers have decided a hamlet should be labeled "Congested Area," as if it were a phlegmy bronchial tube, like Newark.

Right above Husum, there is a very cool optical effect. You see some trees along the road and a mountain behind them. As you continue and the trees get closer, the mountain rapidly shrinks.

And then as you approach White Salmon, the Columbia Valley comes into view, and Mt Hood on the other side. Exquisite. Which may explain why most of the rich people live up there, and the riverside town a stone's throw down (not that rich people literally throw rocks at the proletariat anymore) has a different name (Bingen), a different sewer system, and has cornered the local market on abandoned and industrial real estate.

And that is the end of 141. Taking 14 along the Columbia is a fine trip, but that's another post yet to be born.

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