Knowing What We're Up Against

Author’s note: A nearly complete draft of this post has been sitting around for over a year now—other things have really taken priority and I got out of the weekend writing groove. I’m publishing this on June 2016 but backdating the entry with a little bit of renewed vigor for telling this story. Next up will be a bit of a catch-up summary to get us as close to current as possible!

Let's Just Go

We’ve come to expect a certain level of spontaneity in our visits to the cabin, and even through our planned trips were conservative and our first trip wasn’t anticipated until early April, the combination of finding the couch early (and needing to transport it) and wanting to check in on the cabin after most of the winter was over led us to make a trip in February. We knew it would be far too cold to stay at the cabin, so we booked two nights at a motel in Wenatchee an hour away.

While we were at it we decided to tackle the laminate flooring—a simple project that would go down easily in a rectangular space—and, if we had time, start in on the rough electrical work. It had been nearly six months since we’d last been up there, so we knew that this would also help us refamiliarize ourselves with the project and see what we’d be up against as the year progresses.

The challenges on this trip manifested themselves nearly immediately. As soon as we arrived in the afternoon we noticed some water damage right in front of the door, underneath the rug we’d left there. A little bit of mold had formed but dried out, and the casing around the door was showing some moldy spots as well. We immediately dried everything out as much as possible and cleaned out as much surface mold as we could find. My best guess is that a few inches of snow accumulated along the door sill and gradually melted into the cabin. Note to self: Caulk the joints, paint the casing, and install a storm door before next winter to prevent that from happening again.

Muddy Efforts

We left that first evening just after sunset, and it was getting dark quickly. As we turned a left-hand corner in the dirt road to start climbing the ridge on our way back to Wenatchee, the truck stopped moving and the tires started spinning. In this particularly shady spot, a patch of remnant snow had been slowly melting throughout the day, turning this upward curve into a muddy patch. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll reverse to the dry spot, put it in four wheel drive, then get through without issue. Oh, how I wish that had been the solution! It turns out the 19-year-old truck’s four wheel drive wouldn’t engage, and despite several approaches, the front wheels would sink into the mud and lose all traction each time. We’d emptied everything out of the pickup bed when we arrived at the cabin, so there was no extra weight to help out, and the boulder-strewn embankment on either side of the road limited our options.

In the growing cold and darkness, I was starting to lose my mind. I’d had a little bit of experience off-roading in the past, but without four wheel drive, I was at a loss. Visions of being stranded at the cabin for the night with no heat and no food started racing through my head as the adrenaline started pumping. There had to be a way to get through this. The embankment to the left was full of sagebrush but free of major boulders, so I tried a few times to steer the truck up there where I hoped the wheels would be able to grip. Unsuccessful, I had to reassess, and started walking back down the road to see if there was another route.

The straight stretch leading up to the curve had a bit of mud itself, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the turn. I had an inkling that speed and momentum were going to be the answers, so I backed the truck down the road about 200 feet where I’d have a straight shot at accelerating. Gingerly pressing on the accelerator, I worked us up to about 15mph and veered up the embankment. No dice. I took a moment to breathe, convinced myself that this could work, and backed down the road again, but about twice the distance. Justin offered to sit in the truck bed and offer at least a little more weight, then we started the ascent one more time. I pushed it up to at least 20mph, though naturally I stopped looking at the speedometer as I approached the curve. I veered high to the left, keeping my foot steady on the pedal to prevent the traction from giving way. Just as we hit the muddiest spot I let up on the gas slightly to coast through it on momentum, then picked it back up again. I yelled back to Justin, “I’m gonna keep going to the top!” and he rode out the bumpy road another 1000 feet to the ridge’s crown. Success!

Let’s Power Through

On top of a hairy escape down the mountain, the hotel room situation left a lot to be desired. The rooms were too warm, Zeus was afraid of the stairwells and barking incessantly at other dogs, and basically we didn’t sleep well. We nearly said “screw it” and high-tailed it home the next day, but ultimately agreed to head back up to the cabin and finish the work we’d set out to do.

Throughout the day we laid down laminate flooring and started on the rough electrical work for our future solar-powered circuits. Fun fact: 9mm bullet casings found on the property make for great wall spacers! Justin was particularly concerned about the mud bog we’d traversed on the way out the day before (I tend to default to an “It’ll be fine!” attitude, for better or for worse), so we headed out much earlier in the afternoon to head back up the ridge before the snow melted off too much. We sailed through without issue and made the 45-minute drive back down into Wenatchee.

19 vs. 19

The next morning we started our trip home and it was as if I’d completely forgotten the stresses and worries of the previous two days. “Let’s try going home along Highway 12,” I suggested. "It’ll be fun and scenic!” I argued. Justin relented. U.S. Highway 12 cuts around the south side of Mount Rainier through the Cascades from Yakima, Washington to I-5 about halfway between Vancouver and Olympia. The initial leg of the trip to Yakima was familiar, then we cut west and started climbing. And winding. And winding some more. The two-lane highway felt like it was built out of necessity more so than design. Narrow shoulders, sharp curves, and winter-weathered pavement distracted us from the handful of epic views of Mount Rainier along the way.

Then just as we came to White Pass, a small ski resort at the summit of the highway, an idiot 19-year-old anxious to go snowboarding decided to turn left immediately in front of us when he shouldn’t have. As I slammed on the brakes, Zeus fell forward against the back of Justin’s seat, and the front right corner of the truck clipped the back right corner of the kid’s mom’s car. We were fine, he was fine (though beside himself as a result of his first accident), and the little damage to our 19-year-old truck's bumper and fender was hardly noticeable compared to the busted up bumper on this mom's Subaru. 1996 GMC Sonoma, 1; 2012 Subaru Forester, 0. Twenty minutes later we were back on our way to uneventfully finish out what had become the worst cabin trip yet.

On the To-Do List

  1. Fix the truck’s four-wheel drive.
  2. Should the need arise, pay for a nicer hotel in Wenatchee.
  3. Never take the Highway 12 route again.