The West is tied to water. People, trees and crops across southern Washington are literally attached to the major rivers of the Columbia and the Snake that weave along the state. Without these sources of water, the Palouse region and the neighboring scablands would be barren, regardless of the quality of the soil. In contrast, once the Cascades are reached the open lands of central and eastern Washington are gone, steadily replaced by a thicker and thicker weaves of evergreens. First Ponderosa Pines and then Douglass Firs and Western Hemlocks dominate the landscape and give testament to the amount of rain these areas normally receive.
My cousin Mary-Kate, and her husband Phil, also live just outside these paths in Issaquah, and it was such a delight seeing her wonderful family as they brought us to their town’s salmon fish hatchery. It was great seeing Luke and Natalie run down to the river to show the boys the salmon swimming upstream and then bring us over to the fish ladders and tanks of the hatchery. Just two weeks earlier, Luke and Natalie’s school had their annual salmon festival at the start of the run and their infectious enthusiasm was still at a high.
We continued to learn a lot about salmon throughout our time in the Northwest, from Amir’s work inspecting commercial salmon boats coming back into Puget Sound, the continuing restoration of the Elwha River’s salmon runs after its two dams were removed, to our wonderful walks in and talks with Park Rangers at the Olympic National Park Headquarters and the Hoh Rainforest. Just like wolves, salmon are the keystone species to this entire ecosystem directly feeding over 100 different animals and insects and thereby influencing and supporting this region’s amazingly rich biodiversity. It all seemed to come full circle when Vicki joined us in a visit to Wolf Haven, a reserve south of Olympia that cared for a variety of North American wolves, and the tour discussion turned to trophic cascades, keystone species and the importance of both salmon and wolves.
A few people are still curious as to what really happened to our bikes the first day of our trip, so I thought I would clear that up for anyone still wondering. Let me backtrack a little to August to help put the story in context. Did I mention that things were a little busy?
Our shipment from Dubai was scheduled to arrive at my parents towards the end of the summer, so Ryan and I knew we needed to head down to Connecticut right after camp finished. In addition to collecting the gear for our cross country trip, we had to store the rest of our 61 boxes. (Yes, you read correctly, that was 61 different items shipped from Dubai. I truly have no idea what exactly is in all these boxes and am even more positive that there is nothing we need in those boxes, but they are now nicely tucked away in my loving parents’ attic.) We also needed to buy a generator, complete Ethan’s 1st communion with a family gathering and bonus Willie Nelson concert, and attend the fantastic wedding of Amy and Rags’ in the Berkshires. But this was all trivial to our most important responsibility which was to connect the camper van to the fifth wheel hitch that had just been newly installed onto our brand new, (to us), F250 turbo diesel 6.7, (note the new trucker talk lingo). Then, more importantly, we had to practice driving the colossally large Bumble/Careyvan duo before we left, and, oh, did I mention also get a license plate for the Careyvan too?
And then there were some additional details like finishing up some interior decorating of our new “deluxe” home, which is, in reality, the first home we ever really owned (perhaps not exactly the home our parents had imagined for us twenty years ago when we got married but a start none the less!). Then, we had to get it classroom ready, store all the new gear, clothes and food, and of course, find a way to bring our mountain bikes, a key component of how we wanted to explore the west. On that last note, we had called around to a few places trying to find a welder that could attach a hitch but no one was either free, able, or willing. We had tried to buy a bike attachment online but the order was backordered and would not be available for several weeks. We were starting to run short of time to our planned departure date of September 1st which was being strongly adhered to by my dear, sweet, and very determined Ryan. And so with some dutiful Google research, Ryan bought the components necessary to attach our bikes to the Careyvan the day before our departure.
Bright and early the next day, Ryan attached the new bike rack and then started working on unrolling the awning with Biff. (It got conveniently stuck open the first time we opened it.) I followed up and started trying to fit the four bikes on the bike rack with the help of Ethan. If you’ve ever done this before you would appreciate that it is no easy task to try to fit four different sized bikes onto a bike rack. Ethan would lift one on, I would try the next, we would both lift another one together, we would rearrange and try again. Good times. Several hours later, bikes attached, awning retracted, and all systems loaded, we jumped into the Bumble/Careyvan combo to begin our first 10 hour drive to Cleveland. We were feeling pretty good, everything seemed to look really solid, and even Biff reviewed the system and gave us the thumbs up. Five hour later after driving through the bouncy, windy roads of Vermont into New York we made our first official gas stop. It did not take long before we rounded the back of the Careyvan and discovered there were no more bikes on the back of the Careyvan. It was that quick. Instead we found a bedraggled bike rack tilting unsteadily at a forty-five degree angle to the ground, with several of the straps missing. Since all of our bikes had been nicely locked together, they had a quick death getting ripped off the rack in one fell swoop somewhere along the highway in VT or NY. NY State Trooper McDaniel officially sealed the deal with a police report of our four lost bikes tragically taking place on the first day of our transcontinental homeschooling family gap year. Knowing I would one day find this comical, I did take some pictures to remember the event…….
So, it felt like life had come full circle as we spent three days with John based out of his house, getting a chance to see him in his new job. It was not too long ago that John was coming over to our house for lunch breaks as a high school student, and while I suppose that means we are getting older, it feels good and rewarding all the same to see connections made as teachers form into meaningful friendships. Which segues nicely into our next destination which took place in Daniel, Wyoming.
Sixteen years ago Ryan and I had left our first teaching job at the Verde Valley School to head to Malaysia and had not seen our former friends and colleagues Kevin and Amy Warren since we left. And yet, it is reassuring in the best of ways to be able to pick up right where we left off, and the Warren’s warmly welcomed us in to their beautiful home located in the high plains of Wyoming. As Grant and Ethan both mention in their blogs, Kevin gave them the time of their lives showing them how to be cowboys and according to Grant and Ethan, the current plan is for us to move to Wyoming and buy ourselves some horses.