"Wind in my hair -
Shifting and drifting -
Mechanical music -
Adrenaline surge -

Well-weathered leather,
Hot metal and oil,
The scented country air.
Sunlight on chrome,
The blur of the landscape,
Every nerve aware."

-- 'Red Barchetta' - Rush, from 'Moving Pictures' 1981


somewhere, under a rainbow...

I did not sleep well, as it seemed like the people in the room above us were ballroom dancing all night long. Then at 4:30 am I was awakened with a start by a huge thunderclap. The car was outside our open window, with only the tanneau cover over the cockpit. I jumped up threw some clothes and shoes on and ran outside to assess the situation.

Dark clouds wrapped around the western sky and lightning played on the higher points. It was certainly heading our way. I hopped in the car and pulled it around to the front of the hotel under its awning, and began the battening of hatches (or application of duct tape as the case may be.)

Sure enough, the heavens opened up and buckets of rain started falling. I went inside to the lobby and asked the front desk clerk if she had any idea how long this would last. Her reply: "why is it that people always ask me that?" OK, whatever.

I woke Nick up and got ourselves packed. We hit the road in the rain, but sure enough it started to break as we left Sandpoint. We voted to keep the top up as it looked like it could rain for a while.

Sure enough it did. We entered Washington, our home state, at Newport. It rained on and off for quite a while. We kept our eyes open for somewhere to eat breakfast, but Nick rejected them all for some reason or another. I just kept driving. We were now on Washington Highway 20. This would be, for the most part our entire route home. We live a short drive south of WA 20, and it is the northernmost route across the state. It also is one of only five ways through the Cascades:

  1. The Columbia Gorge on WA 14 on the north shore of the Columbia River.
  2. US Highway 12/WA 410 near Mt. Rainier
  3. I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass
  4. US 2 over Stevens Pass
  5. WA 20, aka "The North Cascades Highway"
I also picked 20 because it avoids, for the most part, the hot dry lowlands in the center of the state. Finally, the views through the North Cascades are spectacular. This part of WA 20 though, from Idaho to Tonasket I have never driven, so I had no idea what to expect. From Newport it heads north through a pine forested valley down the Pend-d'Oreille river to the town of Tiger. From Tiger it climbs over a pass and drops down to Colville. The traffic was light, to non-existent, and the only problems we had were some on-and-off rain, a short construction delay, and Nick's growling stomach. Our little battery operated music system (an Apple iPod and some speakers, really only usable with the top up) even found on a random playlist of 800+ songs one of history's best driving songs: "Red Barchetta" by Rush. I had to drive a little faster for that, but since the road was pretty wet I didn't let my emotions overpower my good sense.

We dropped down into Colville, and stopped for gas. I asked the station attendant for a breakfast suggestion and he told me about a place called Minnie's Cafe on 2nd street. Nick & I drove over. Nick was *hungry* and ordered hashbrowns *and* a cinnamon roll. When it arrived it was even BIGGER than the one he had yesterday! This is the cinnamon roll that ate Seattle! It was bigger than Nick's head!

He had a few bites of the roll, cleaned up the hashbrowns, and cried "uncle." The Monster Cinnamon Roll kicked his ass. We asked for a box in defeat, paid our bill and headed out to drop the top on the Jag. Nick wasn't keen on this idea as he still suspected rain, but my sense of direction understood where we were headed more than his and I saw puffy white clouds and blue skies.

Oh yeah, we made another time-lapse movie... this one from Sandpoint to Colville.

A few miles west of Colville we crossed the "great river of the West" the Columbia at Kettle Falls, WA. Then up and over Sherman Pass towards Republic.

Contrary to my intuition we did run into a little rain, but so long as we were moving, and it was just light sprinkles, we stayed dry.

In Republic we ran into that scourge of Summer driving: The Construction Delay. Actually two. First as we were driving through the middle of town we encountered a crew who had the whole street torn up. One of the workers conversed with the driver of a Subaru in front of us, obviously giving directions as there was much arm waving and such. Then he asked us if we were headed towards Tonasket - we answered yes, and he said "follow him" pointing to the Subaru. We dutifully follow the Subaru as it drove around. He wandered around for a while then stopped and waved us around... we pulled up alongside and he asked "Are you going to Tonasket?" We answered yes. He then asked how to get around this construction and I replied "The guy told us to follow you!"

Needless to say the guy in the Subaru missed some important directional tidbit. We passed him and dead-reckoned our way back to highway 20. Then as soon as we got there we ran into yet another construction delay. This one had about twenty-some cars and trucks queued up and waiting for a pilot car. We waited for about 30+ minutes, with several folks getting impatient. A truck driver, who was already late, was stalking about looking really steamed.

Finally after what must have been close to an hour the pilot car arrived and we all took off like a group of grade schoolers following their teacher to the library... except this time it was cars and trucks being lead through about 20 miles of freshly oiled asphalt. "Oil!" Oh no... the Jaguar! Needless to say I was less than thrilled to drive over such a surface, but given where we were there wasn't much alternative. I just tried to stay out of anything that looked too fresh, hang back from the car in front of me, and tried to drive on the paved shoulder wherever possible.

The fun part came when we cleared the construction zone and the E-type made very short work of passing the whole queue. It took about 8 or 9 minutes, anywhere from one to five cars at a time... zooooom!

We lope along, heading towards the now seemingly mythical Tonasket. I begin to notice something now, which is that every middle aged guy in a minivan or pickup truck goes way faster when this car is the only other one around. I'll come up behind them at 65 or 70, and they'll speed up from 55 to 80 or 90 if I get close enough to pass. I don't really know why. I'd half expect this sort of behavior from young "boyz" in wing-and-sticker festooned Hondas, but not Dad in the Caravan. I'm OK with letting somebody play rabbit for me... I have a radar detector and *really* good brakes, so they'll be the ones getting the ticket, not me. Case in point, as we drop down out of the mountains a guy in an ancient beater pickup pulls out ahead of me on a long straight stretch... He's ambling along at about 45 when I roll up behind him and after I see him glance in his side mirror, a big cloud of smoke comes out of his tailpipe and off he goes, racing ahead. I hang back and pace him. I watch as he pushes the pickup to the edge of the envelope on this twisty, downhill road. When I'm in my daily driver (a VW) and I see somebody rolling up behind me I get the heck out of their way.

We arrive in Tonasket, pick up US 97, and follow the Okanogan valley south towards Omak & Okanogan, where WA 20 splits off continuing west. US 97 is a great route, contouring down the east slope of the Cascades, through Washington and Oregon, eventually terminating in I-5 at Weed, California. But we are not heading that way today, we are going west... home.

Up and over another pass, this one at Loup Loup, and we drop down to Twisp. Nick announces he needs lunch, so we start looking... nothing meets his approval in that town so he loses and I get to pick in the next one... the wild-west themed tourist trap of Winthrop. Thankfully it is a weekday, so the crowds are relatively thin, but even so the place is packed... it takes a while to find a parking spot, much less one in the shade, but we finally manage to get one. It isn't shaded, so we put the top up and hang towels over the windscreen. We walk across the street to the burger joint whose wild west name escapes me at the moment. We both order (surprise!) burgers, and I start downing massive iced teas to hydrate and cool. I also walk over to the car and get out a pair of shorts for both myself & Nick and we change in the men's room. Oooh nice and cool now. The Jag draws quite a few admirers while we are eating. A high percentages were men my age and slightly older, walking around it with their teenage sons pointing out this and that. It makes me smile. The E-type was one of the attainable "supercars" of our childhood, and it is always cool to see such a blast from the past. I always point out such machines to my sons too... GTO's and Super Birds, 912's and Healeys... etc.

We polish off lunch and hit the road up the Methow Valley, gearing up for the run over the passes of the North Cascades Highway.

I pull over in a shady spot between Winthrop and Mazama and prep the timelapse setup. For the terminally curious, I am using an Apple "iSight" cam, which is designed for video-conferencing, and has a swivel head about the size of a C-cell battery and a great assortment of well-designed stands. One fits perfectly on the dash. It is quite visible in many of the in-car pictures. The software is "Evocam" from Evological Software. I use the software to run the "chuckcam" at work. Anyway, I adjust the settings to capture more frames per minute, and plan to run it all the way home. The file will be a bigger download than all the other timelaspe shots, so be patient. It is worth it though.

All ready, we begin the climb to Washington and Rainy Passes. The road is one of the more spectacular drives in North America, rivalling in my opinion the Sea-to-Sky Highway in British Columbia, and the road in Alaska from Anchorage down to Homer. I'll just let the pictures speak for me:





Nick is pointing to something amazing, but the gearshift knob is in the way, sorry!



Watch the time-lapse here.

At Rockport, on the Skagit River, we swing south, towards Darrington, and home. For some reason, my aim is completely off, and I never manage to capture the glory of Whitehorse Mountain or Three Fingers on camera... I only get sky, or the bill of my cap, or blurred trees. Go figure. You can see them here, as they are right up the road from my house, I have photographed them many times. Three Fingers is visible from my road as it is in many ways our "front yard."

I *do* get a nice shot of Prairie Mountain near Darrington with a moonrise above it.

We arrive home, and honk the horn as we pull up the driveway. Both of us wear huge smiles when the house comes into view. I pull around back and open the garage door, and pull in. Sue must have heard the rumble of the big straight-six XK engine, as she comes into the garage shortly after we do. I hand her the camera, and she snaps a shot of the two of us, looking bedraggled, sunburned and windblown, but very happy to be home.


Final stats:

The only real surprise for me was how much rain we encountered. In hindsight I attribute that to our route, which preferred mountain travel over the hot, drier Great Basin routes favored by the Interstates. Those hot dry valleys are that way because the sun soaks up all their moisture and then deposits it on the higher elevations. It has also been an amazingly dry summer and we picked the week that saw the first significant precipitation since early June.

The other "troubles" we had were trivial. Namely that I forgot the AC adapter for my laptop at my office, and relied on a DC adapter that ran off the Jaguar's "Cigar Lighter" (I guess Sir William Lyon thought real men didn't smoke cigarettes)... and I used that as sparingly as possible. It was a constant source of worry for me through the whole trip (along with my horrible luck at finding Internet access!) As any owner of a British car from the later half of the 20th century will attest, the electrical systems are probably their greatest weakness. Stressing them is not a good idea. Every time I had the laptop or the radar detector (required for some states, let me tell you!) plugged in for any length of time I had one eye gazing at the amp-meter waiting for some signal of doom. Thankfully true doom never came, though we did have a couple of weird swings of the needle that kept me vigilant.

The things that I already knew, but were confirmed for me:
The world is pretty simple when you are nine years old. It was a real joy for me to spend so much one-on-one time with my son. When I was in Missoula for that brief hour online a friend instant messaged me that "Nick must think this is so cool." I replied that I think Nick is enjoying himself, but probably won't realize *how* cool this is until he is much older. My father did similar "cool" things with me when I was a kid, but when you are a kid, almost everything is new to you, so you don't really grasp what is extraordinary until later, when life provides you some perspective. I look back now on some of those things I did with my Dad, and I realize now that they were fundamental to the formation of my character... but back then, it was just my Dad dragging me along on something. Funny how time alters perception. When Nick and I were waiting to pay our bill at our lunch stop in Idaho Falls, I gave him 50 to drop into a toy-trinket machine. It was one of those ones that looks like a water tower with an elaborate Rube Goldberg path the trinket follows down to the dispenser at the bottom. To me it was spare change and a waste of it at that - I thought Nick would get about 15 seconds of entertainment from it. To my slight surprise, it entertained him for the rest of the day... a little plastic alien in a tiny spaceship... he played with it all the way through that long dry straight stretch of road towards Salmon - and again when we weren't stopping to read signs about the history of the Lemhi Valley and central Idaho. That is what I meant by life being simple when you are 9... a few years younger and your attention span is too short to get any milage out of a trinket, a few years older and you are too "grown-up" to be entertained by a little plastic alien.

At no point in our entire trip did Nick complain about being anything but hungry, and that was soon satisfied. Never once did those family roadtrip words of doom leave his mouth "Are we there yet?"... "When will we get there?"... "I'm bored." Some of that had to do with what I said above, but I think most of it had to do with the attitude I started this story with, and formed the core of our "plan." No Interstates, No Generic Meals, No SUV/Minivan. Yes, being in this unique machine made it a ton of fun for me, but when you are a kid, I think the novelty is not so apparent. Nick had no idea what sort of throttle response I enjoyed, or how good it felt to work my way through the gears. In some ways I think he would have preferred to go in the Jetta... he would have been able to sleep with comfort, listen to a radio, and have a more quiet environment to play his GameBoy. I think the key here is that he was in the front seat, and I did what I could to involve him so he wasn't just cargo. Interstate Highway driving makes us all cargo... rushing from one generic place to another. Interstates are great if you are in a hurry, and your destination is more important than your journey. In this case the opposite was true, this trip was all about the journey.


I hope you enjoyed this story as much as we did living it. The next one is coming in about a month when my other son, Chris, and I are doing a two-day tour with a local Jaguar club. Then, later my Dad and I will be driving in some rallies... maybe on in California, and certainly one in Florida (the Forza Amelia) in the winter. See you then!

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