Christmas 08, New Years, and a long vacation

On the day before Christmas I took a much deserved vacation that turned out to be fun and relaxing and happy. Well, it didn’t start that way. The original plan had been to go to Corvallis for a couple days to see the family, then drive up I5 to Winlock to see Erin’s family then go back to Olympia for a few days, then go up to Seattle for New Years, then spend a couple more days in Olympia, and finally go home on the 4th. Weather changed some of that. The road through the gorge to Portland was closed for days. All the other roads through Oregon to get to Corvallis were just as bad. Passes were closed, too. I could have ended up stuck in Richland for Christmas. At the last minute I had to cancel the Corvallis part of the trip. The gorge had opened that night, but it was very sketchy, and even the Portland metro area had chains required for all vehicles. My family was sad, but I wasn’t the only one that had to cancel because of the weather. The good news, though, was that both Snoqualmie and White Pass were open. Erin had gotten her car stuck in the snow, so she wouldn’t have been able to meet me in Winlock, so I decided to go through Snoqualmie, pick her up in Olympia, then go with her down to Winlock. I started the drive down there and it was hairy the whole way. I don’t think I traveled a mile without snow or water on the road. There were accidents all along the roads; cars off the side, tracks leading off the road and back on it, even a few semis in various stages of not right side up. So my white knuckles went well with the rest of the scenery.

It was when I got to the pass, though, that things got particularly exciting. It went from traction tires advised to traction tires required right after I passed the sign, and I didn’t have traction tires. I chugged along, though, and despite the conditions did ok. There wasn’t a lot of traffic and the traffic that was there was all polite and reasonable. The roads hadn’t been plowed in a while so we were making our own tracks and trying to stick to lanes but also drive safely. I made it to the peak and hadn’t had any problems yet. I put my car into a lower gear for the ride down and didn’t encounter another car for a few miles down the slope. I thought things would be great soon as I got down and out of the snow zone. The next 50 miles were anything but.

The snow was pretty high on the roads. In fact, it was deep enough that I was scraping the underside the whole way. It was soft snow, so it wasn’t going to hurt my car, but it meant that I had to push harder and had less traction. Riding in tracks helped a little, but I was still sliding around a lot. It was a barely controlled ride on a very big sled. I didn’t have to deal with a lot of other vehicles, so I stayed in the middle of the road and took the corners at exactly the right speed not to start sliding. Every second my car was telling me it was scared and barely holding on.

The scariest moment came out of nowhere. I had bunched up with a few cars, and as we came around a curve there was a semi off the road on the left and another one off the road to the right. Not completely off the road, but on the shoulder. This acted like a funnel in the middle of the curve, so all the cars had to bunch together some more, which was really bad. Since we were all slowing, too, I started to slide horizontally down the bank of the curve. I tried to keep my speed up and even it out and get back in line without doing anything drastic, and kept sliding until I was into untouched powder on the side of the road. It was high enough that it started coming up over my hood, but I was not about to give up and stop. That would have been very bad, not just for me, but for all the cars who would probably be in a similar situation behind me and have to try to dodge my stuck car. So I plowed through and kept trying to get back on the road. I think the car right behind me was having issues too because he was right in my blind spot and wasn’t giving me room to get back on the road. I assume he wasn’t in total control, because as I started to creep back his car suddenly turned and he swerved into another lane. I’d rather not think there was malice in the car behind me, but I have been wondering what was going through his mind as he saw me struggling to stay on the road and not have him hit me. Anyway, I made it back on the road and did everything I could to get my speed back up to something maintainable so that I wouldn’t stop. The whole time I never got below 25mph, but if I had lost any more momentum than I had, it would have been a very different story. Fortunately, everything turned out ok. In my rearview mirror I saw the others that came around the corner with me and miraculously there were no accidents and nobody left the road.

That wasn’t the end of the excitement. The bunch split up again and I had most of the road to myself, but the snow was just as deep and scraping my bottom, and it turned into a whiteout. I couldn’t see more than 100 feet. Fortunately, I found a car ahead of me and got to a distance where I could just barely see his taillights, and I followed him until there was visibility again. Eventually all the snow disappeared and we were almost in Seattle. The rest of the road down to Olympia was just wet and very easy. That is, until I got into Olympia, where there was at least 4 inches of packed slippery snow on the roads. I didn’t so much park on the side of the road as slide into it and resolve that since I couldn’t move it would have to do as a parking spot. I picked up Erin and we had some adventures pushing my car out and getting back on the road.

Getting to Winlock wasn’t any better. For miles Erin and I drove through pouring rain/snow, and Erin’s dog got scared enough watching the road that he hid behind the driver seat. Once we arrived in Winlock, we made it towards her parents’ house, only to be thwarted by a very steep and slippery hill. We put the chains on and barely made it there. I parked and was very glad to have made it all the way safely.

Staying with Erin’s parents was fun. We had a good Christmas party with a lot of their relatives, and a white elephant gift exchange, and some games. The next day we went for a walk in the woods and played in the snow and watched some movies. The next morning we returned to Olympia, this time in much better weather and without nearly as much excitement. Parking was still a matter of accepting where you landed more than putting the car where you intend, but I didn’t plan to move for a few days.

Monday and Tuesday Erin and I worked. I had brought my laptop with me so I was able to work from her place while she went to work and did her thing. We made dinner together, watched movies in the evening or went out to play pool. It was all very nice and happy and cooperative.

On the 31st we drove up to Seattle. We had gotten tickets for a huge party on the waterfront with 5000 people and 5 dance floors playing club, salsa, 70s, 80s, and lounge music, plus a stand-up comedy stage, and we were pretty excited. We checked in to our hotel, took a break, and got ready for the evening. We took a taxi down to a group of restaurants near the waterfront convention center and had some good sushi and bento, then walked to the party. We explored the enormous complex and did some salsa, then happened to run into Erin’s friends just as we were wondering when they would show up. The four of us stuck together for a while, but it quickly got frustrating as we all waited for the others to smoke, get a drink, go to use┬áthe bathroom, disappear for a while. With 25 minutes to the countdown Erin went to the bar to try to get us drinks to toast. After standing in line for 10 minutes and not getting anywhere, she came back, and I gave it a try. I had been watching the bars, so I had an idea where to go and how to insert myself into the throng to get to the front. I showed the bartender my cell phone with my order typed out and she laughed and gave me the drinks. With 12 minutes before the countdown, Erin and I gave up on the others and went to do what we had planned to do. We went over to the retro dance stage where there were windows looking out to the space needle. At the countdown the fireworks started, and we counted down out loud with everyone else crammed up against the windows, celebrating at the new year.

We then did our own thing for a while. We took a break at the live comedy, went to a couple of the other stages and danced a little, and managed to meet up with the others as things were starting to simmer down and lots of people were leaving. Erin got her coat, and we made our way outside to try to find a cab.

Finding a cab was tricky. First, it was raining and cold, and I hadn’t brought a jacket, and Erin was in a dress and heels, so we were a little more exposed than I preferred. We walked up to where we were before with the restaurants and saw a few taxis, but finding one that wasn’t already taken was tough. So we used the Chicago strategy we had developed and started walking in the direction we thought they were coming from. I saw a taxi that almost seemed to be hiding and made eye contact with the driver, who showed he was available. I grabbed Erin and we hopped in. Before we could close the door, another guy was talking to the driver saying he had been waiting over an hour, that he would pay more than we would, and that he wanted to share the cab even though he had four people and was going in a different direction. The driver said no and the guy cussed a little and left. Then the driver pointed out that the guy could have walked there in less than ten minutes. The bad news was that the cab was a fixed $20, about triple what it cost earlier that night. We weren’t in a position to argue, and we had a discussion about civil engineering and concrete as he zipped through traffic and did some creative driving. We made it back to the hotel safely.

The next morning we got breakfast barely in time, and didn’t really do much during the day. We walked across the highway into Capitol Hill, and ate at a nice Nepalese place called Annapurna Cafe. It was good food. Then we walked back and drove over to Chinatown to see a very unusual but decently entertaining play/shadow puppet show. After that we headed back to Capitol Hill and a place called the War Room, where we had fascinating conversations and made ourselves uncomfortable as the only white people in a room dancing to reggae. After that it was back to the hotel.

The morning of the 2nd we checked out of the hotel and stopped in Tacoma. We went to the Glass Museum, lunch, and the Washington History Museum, then drove back to Olympia. The next couple days we didn’t do a whole lot. We went bowling, we played pool, we cheated the foosball machine by stuffing wallets into the goals so we wouldn’t run out of balls and could play as long as we wanted.

Sunday morning it was time for me to return, and we said our goodbyes and ended after ten days together almost the whole time. We could easily have kept going.

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