Monday, March 10, 2008

Readers Choice Topic 7: The Drive to WSU

I know that this readers choice topic is a bit unfair to non Washington State University alumni and students. The thing is that I think it will be interesting to most people and funny to those who have done it themselves.

My parents went to WSU. My Uncle, several cousins, and many family friends went to WSU. I went to WSU. My brother still goes to WSU. All of these people have experienced the physical and mental gauntlet I am about to lay before you. If you add up moving in, thanksgiving breaks, christmas breaks, spring breaks, easter breaks and summer breaks plus a couple miscellaneous breaks, I must have made this cross state journey 6 or more times a year for 4 years of my life. I know it from memory, every turn, every cop trap, every pass. I want to reveal it to you.

As a neutral starting point I will use Tacoma, Washington as a midpoint on the I-5 corridor to start this voyage. From Tacoma in the western Puget Sound region of Washington to Pullman Washington 8 miles from the Idaho border lies approximately 300 miles of treacherous, mountainous, barren, endless miles of insanity. 300 divided by 60 mph average should lend the trip in about 5 hours, although that is a good time for the trip. I've made it in 4 hours and 20 minutes as a personal record speeding the whole way and I've heard stories of pass closure that round the trip out at 20 or more hours. No matter how you drive it, its gonna suck.

Lets review the supplies you'll need for the trip. Energy drinks, check. beef jerky, check. iPod or cd wallet, check. Batteries, check. Nicotine, check. Oil level, check. Gas, check. Chips/candy/munchables, check. A whole bunch of other peoples CRAP you're transporting, unfortunately CHECK. Okay, so now that the old family truckster (In my case a Subaru Staion wagon) is packed to the brim with stupid college cargo and slacker stinking booger picking garbage leaving in the car farting friends are all piled in lets go!

The first obstacle of the journey begins right away as you exit I-5 for the winding and windy Highway 18 off of exit 42A. Everyone wave hello to Enchanted Village and Wild Waves Waterpark as you go buy, that place is a rip off but pretty fun. Highway 18 has been under construction since the late Jurassic Period so expect some sort of friggin delay no matter what. Also, the truckers drive like madmen, the state troopers are jerks, and the cross lighting from the oncoming lanes is BLINDING so watch out. Don't speed more than 6 mph over the speed limit or you will get pulled over and no one, especially your squinty eyed friend in the backseat, wants that. If you do get a ticket, contest it and explain to the judge that a Semi Truck was bearing down on you and you had no choice to speed, this excuse has been known to work before. Tiger Mountain Summit is only 1500 feet or so but it can be a cop trap and a tricky navigation in the snow. I wrecked my subaru on the Black Diamond Road overpass on black ice early in the morning so keep you eyes peeled and pay attention you slacker!

In forty short hair raising minutes you'll merge to the major artery to interior Washington, the 4 lanes of Intersate 90. This is like merging onto the Audubon, 70 mph and cops are sparce all the way to Ellensburg. After you accelerate to a cruising speed of 80 mph (if your chariot can handle that type of momentum) you have one last chance to stop for supplies in North Bend, a sleepy yuppy town with outlet malls, overpriced gas and, on concert weekends, $9.00 cheeseburgers at fast food restaurants. Never the less when you gotta go you gotta go. I suggest the Chevron for bathroom facilities and the Taco Time is harmless. If you can keep on the road then its gonna be clear sailing for a while. You got another 30 miles to the Snowqualmie Pass. The plant life is still very northwestern evergreen and the mountains partially snowcapped most times of year.

Snoqualmie pass is a fickle foe. When you near it you'll see the the avalanche gun pointing up to the steep rocky crags and the cascading sometimes frozen waterfalls. The pass isn't actually that bad. I've never actually been stopped or asked to put on chains. But, many many unfortunate fools have. I drive a subaru and its not usually an issue. You're definitely gonna wanna slow down in the snow but in the summer you can fly right through. If you're not in a hurry take an exit, stretch you legs, and get some snacks at the cafe convenience store between Summit West and Summit Central. Sometimes that cool mountain air is just what you need to wake you up for the drive. Ok got a fresh stick of cocktail pepperoni? Lets get some driving done!

So now you're cruising down a slight incline past dried up stumpy Lake Kachess on your way to Ellensburg. You'll see the evergreen trees start to change into mountain pines. Be careful coming out of the mountains, theres a lot of State Trooper traps so keep it 5 above at the max. Cle Elum is a scary small town that will take you a half an hour to drive through so I avoid it. When I was a kid there used to be a cattle stockyard coming into E-Burg and it smelled so bad like cows and death that often times it would elicit a gag reflex upon passing. Now its gone but the town still stinks in my opinion. There are a lot of gas stations and fast food joints and unless you desperately need these things don't stop here, it'll eat up your time. Unfortunately this is the last thing resembling civilization for quite a while so you better make a decision.

After you cruise through E-Burg you start a winding gentle down grade from Indian John Hill all the way down 2,000 feet to the mighty and white capped Columbia River. This hill can often be icey or shrouded in fog. One time Kyle Dufault pictured below at graduation were driving the other way in an outer space time warp of white pea soup fog when suddenly it just opened to sun. It was like shooting out of a white cannon. At the bottom of this long hill (which you can coast in neutral to save gas) is Vantage, with two gas stations and a place to swim in the summer. You cross the bridge and at the end you exit the mighty speeding Interstate 90 for a new tumultuous nemesis of a Highway, the dreaded and treacherous Highway 26.

As soon as you exit it starts to suck. The lanes narrow, there's no median, and you start up a steep incline past the sand dunes out of the valley. Get USED TO IT, you're gonna be on this son of gun for 133 miles of hell. Now, this is freaking crucial, DO NOT SPEED coming up or down this hill of hell. There are multiple blind corners and cop traps. The cops have heard every excuse in the book and will write you a ticket, so hot shot, just slow down and save yourself a trip to some stupid hick jail. Once you escape from these costly curves it flattens out immediately. Welcome to the desert of the Columbia Basin. Its gonna get real flat and real straight for about 3 hours. Oh and trees, forget about em, its only alfalfa, sagebrush, onions, apples, and double wides for a long time.

Oh of course you'll pass through "Towns" but they're really snot globules of humanity. Royal City isn't really royal, it should be renamed Bowel City, or Bowel Movement City. Its got gas station but I always feel like I'm gonna get beaten up here so be careful. Oh and also this stretch between Royal City and the worst town in the world is laden with stinking state troopers with radar that will flip a u turn and pull you over. This usually happens when you've been stuck behind some hick in a Winnabago for about half an hour and when you finally decide to pass they clock you right as you're decelerating. But if you've made it this far you're doing as well as most. I call this point most people switch drivers if they can. Many young rookies and first time trippers will stop in the biggest armpit of a town Washington has to offer. Othello, which is a disgrace to Shakespeare's play, is referred to by me as OSMELLHOLE, OHellhole, or OSmello. I hate this town, so much. I have personally been in two different cars that have broken down here. If you break down here you're skrewed. You might as well sell you car to the local junk yard for $200 bucks cuz its never gonna make it out of their running. They know they got you and you aren't about to pay the $500 smackers to get it towed to reality. There is a couple of gas stations and a burger king but don't let that entice you. Just go ahead....slowly.

If you make it through here you've reached the Straight of Insanity, a bone chilling hour long straight away that ends in some hairpin turns sandwiched between Greek Letter Graffiti laden rocks. Again, watch out for troopers. You will see the giant barns with the "Go Cougs" spelled out in giant letters that seem to say "Keep Going, ice cold refreshments await you in the sacred city!" So you press on. Hey big deal coming up, the wonderful city of WASHTUCNA. Psych. This tiny little town is quiet and harmless. The old school gas station and gift shop is favorite stop of mine because I like to get out and stretch my legs and smell the sage brush. Also, if you notice the mile markers start counting up or down to zero depending on whether you're coming or going.

By this time the people in the car have stopped the conversation. Garbage is piling up in the car. All the pleasantries are over. You're fully emersed in each others stench. You're going on about 4 hours now and people snap at this time sometimes. Backs and butts start to ache, nerves get thin, music doesn't sound as sweet. This is a good time to put on a spacey psychedelic mix and just space out for a while. People who don't smoke start to in this barren desert as a substitute for something to pass the time. People usually fall asleep here too so if your driving try to get the shotgun copilot to watch your back unless you just slammed a Redbull and you're Jacked Up.

It almost seems unfair, but at the end of this sleepy stretch is your greatest concern for legal intervention. I spoke of a hellhole called Othello before, but I was exaggerating, read my words clear now as the sunshine of the day, DO NOT SKREW WITH COLFAX!!! They will take you downtown to the County courthouse right on mainstreet. The speed limits drops from 55 to 25 in like 100 feet so you better wake up and get your game face on. If you go so much as 3 miles over 25 in town you will be pulled over. They even have Subaru Outback cop cars for the winter. Colfax is a maindrag town and if you can avoid gassing up for another 13 miles turn right at the fairgrounds before town. This shortcut will spit you out behind the town by the hospital an you'll avoid the majority of the in bounch cop traps. These are town cops now, not troopers, whole different situation so if you get pulled over just take your medicine and move along knowing that 90% of the towns revenue comes from your little 4 mph mistake. I know a couple good folk from this town so I can't talk bad about it but I can say it sucks to drive through, its like the oracle in the NeverEnding story, you just have to get through with out fear entering your heart or those freakin bastards will shoot you with their shiny lazer beam breasts of the traffic law. Be careful as you exit town also.

Okay! You're in the home stretch 13 miles to go. Its like that last lap when you ran the mile for your first time, it aches and hurts but the end is near. And the best part is when you turn off towards Pullman the bright shining lights of an entire academic institution founded farm community and collegiate metropolis in the middle of a wheat field palouse dedicated to sub par football teams, kegs, and below average educational standards sits heaven. It glows in the night, you've made it. You're either coming home, just getting there, or, God help you, visiting. Either way there is a frosty cold refreshment waiting for you and the guaranteed insanity that is Pullman Washington.


Anonymous said...

You probably don't remember your first time going to WSU because I am sure you were too young. This hell drive you describe becomes more nostalgic the older you get. One day, and not to far off, you will make that drive again, perhaps on the way to a football game, homecoming, or to take someone there and you will forget the nastiness that could make you crazy on the drive and get that warm, fuzzy feeling that recalls when life was simple. I personally still love that drive and I am one who took 17 hours to get back to school one Thanksgiving. In fact, I am looking forward to driving it in the very near future for Mom's Weekend. Thanks for reminding me of the speed traps. Always good to know! love, Mom

Hal said...

squinty eyed friend in the back seat, what does that mean kale?

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