I woke up to an invitation to go a street parade in Seattle. I declined, because ‘the mountains are calling’. I grabbed a few essentials and peeled out. First stop: gas. Second stop: Walmart in Puyallup for bottled water. Third stop: Ranger station at Mt Rainier National Park.
Wherever you are in Washington, and especially in Tacoma, you are bound to catch a glimpse of Mt Rainier. You can’t miss it. It doesn’t tower over everything, so much as it appears between buildings, trees, through bridges, and at the end of an open road. It is an inescapable landmark. Today was the first time I’d ever actually approached it.
Highway 410 is a two lane, yellow lined, black top, mountain pass. It zigzags around the base of Mt Rainier, connecting Enumclaw in the west with Yakima in the east.
I’ve been on a couple of weekend road trips with a few of the car guys back in Australia. We’d drive a big loop on the Great Alpine Road, over a mountain range in Victoria. It was always a weekend of fun driving, road side repairs, and camaraderie. on those road trips, when you get higher into the mountains, the line markings turn yellow. I always loved that moment, and the yellow lines themselves. They are very American, and signal that you’ve made it up into Alpine territory. I was dreaming of coming to America for the yellow paint on the road.
All the way up, I was stuck behind soccer moms in their minivans, and a doing-less-than-the-speed-limit PT cruiser. I overtook the slower cars, one by one, at high speed. The FR-S’ sixth gear is perfect for cruising, fifth and even fourth are really for passing. In one swoop I passed a couple of trucks and slow guy hauling a trailer. It was exciting. I bet they all think I’m a total jerk.
Two older Nissan coupés were pretty lively, passing slower cars and keeping up with me. We stopped together at the ranger’s station and had a quick chat. The leader had a pretty banged up little car he had been working on. The spark plug wire had come free, which is why he hadn’t been able to keep up completely. I took off before their group did, and it’s probably better we went separately. I was enthusiastic enough throwing the FR-S into corners, without needing any extra encouragement.
This was a solo road trip anyway. I’d come up here to go driving and hike up some kind of peak. Whenever we were on camping trips in high school we would do these ‘solo’ things. Basically you headed out on your own into the wilderness for a couple of hours. Just to spend time alone. You weren’t allowed to talk to anyone, and you just sat there and wrote stuff down. I think I needed that solo experience today, and that’s why I chose to go driving on my own, rather than go to Seattle with friends. The passenger seat still felt empty.
I chose a twisty road, which was incredibly fun. Even the hairpin corners were a blast to pull out of in second gear. I didn’t go too hard because I’m still running the engine in (less than 1000 miles), and I don’t know the limits of the car, so it’s not worth pushing it so soon. I did get stuck behind a slow truck on the straightened out stretch to the top car park. At that point it was all scenery anyway, so I didn’t mind.
I took some photos of the car at various points. I climbed up a snow capped mountain peak above the car park. Certainly not the tallest peak around, but it had a pretty awesome view over the mountains and of Rainier. Climbing up was hard work, climbing down was a matter of falling gracefully. I also realized just how far my cowboy boots have travelled with me.
Coming down I was stuck behind a slow VW and a motorcyclist who had a bad habit of breaking all the way through corners. It didn’t matter though, I peeled off at one point to a campsite, and took some more pics of the car with Rainier in the background.
Driving home involved a quick stop at Mickey D’s and a lump of traffic that carried me all the way back to Tacoma. I snuck a good look at Mt Rainier in my side mirror coming home down River road.