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Day 20: The Day We Never Stopped Driving

SeaTac, WA to Mt. Rainier National Park to Redmond, WA all the way to Lolo National Forest, Montana

semi-overcast

Today we managed to wake up early to start one of the most beautiful drives in Washington: all the way around Mt. Rainier National Park and back. After a quick breakfast, we managed to make it to the gorgeous mountain wonderland by noon. That meant we had plenty of time to stop and take pictures at almost every viewpoint we saw.

The first hour took us through huge forests, the endless layers of trees visible due to the mountainous terrain. Even hundreds of feet up, the land was thick with evergreens. The treeline was only broken when we passed sections destroyed by the logging industry; swatches of trees clean-cut by the thousands, leaving the area devoid of any wildlife . Man-made deadzones in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. I can only hope they'll stop before the entire forest is a tree graveyard.

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While we pulled over often, a personal favorite "scenic viewpoint" we hit was one with an enormous natural rock wall that had indents for passerby to climb (if they were brave!) Those who made it highest even graffitied their highest point out of pride. My friend Christian tried it freehand, but I made him stop before he got as high as the now infamous "Summer" who currently owns the highest spot on the wall several yards up.

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At one of our stops, we came across a huge dam off in the distance that we wanted to explore. Despite our attempts to get to it, we never got a closer look at the thing. But our journey did take us past a slew of gorgeous rivers and lakes, each more beautiful and unique than the last.

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The further up we climbed, the colder it became. We traded our rich forest landscapes for barren plains, and by mid-afternoon we had to don our winter coats to brave the elements. We stopped at this huge scenic viewpoint at the end of the Mt. Rainier park area where I saw a girl walking along a guard rail and wanted to check out what she was doing. It was a good move -- she had found the best view!! From where we were, we could see miles in every direction, with rolling yellow hills leading to the mountains beyond. I couldn't stop smiling.

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As we reached the end of the day, it was time to conquer the "Snoqualmie Pass." The long stretch of highway would take us back towards Redmond, WA so we could say goodbye to our hosts and pick up packages we had delivered to their residence. It was at the highest elevation we'd be at the whole day, and suddenly it was freezing! Luckily we weren't going to be stopping much on the way to Redmond, so the snow and ice was a beautiful bonus rather than a concern.

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It was sunset when we got to Redmond -- the perfect time to pull over at a lake park nearby and photograph the view. The colorful homes right on the water were definitely stunning, but I found myself photographing more of the local fowl than the waterfront properties. A pair of ducks had caught my attention and I chased them until it was dark while Christian impatiently tapped his foot and begged me to please stop taking pictures so we could get going. I still think it was worth it.

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We got to our friends' place shortly after leaving the park and choked out our final goodbyes and thankyous behind the tears. We had spent almost 5 days in the Seattle area, the longest I had spent in one area my entire trip, and it was the first time I left a place feeling a tinge of regret rather than excitement. I have a feeling we'll be back here one day.

With heavy hearts, we ventured east. We planned on camping in a National Forest in Idaho just outside Washington state, so we decided to take a short break when we hit Spokane, WA (about 4hrs out of Seattle) because we were told it was the last big city with food and amenities before the long stretch of forests we'd be driving into. We got there around midnight and made sure to fill our water bottles to the brim and stock up on a healthy diet of fast food (the only places open so late) before hitting the road again.

Our good luck unfortunately didn't follow us past the Washington border. As soon as we got into Idaho, a thick fog rolled in that made it impossible to see more than a couple feet in front of the car. We drove a steady 10mph and used Google Maps to see where the turns on the road were (until we lost signal), desperately searching for signs telling us if we were even on the Coeur d'Alene National Forest grounds. But there was no way we'd be able to find a safe place to camp in this weather, and I don't even know if I would've wanted to -- the tall and thin trees loomed over us and creepy ghostly beings darted along the sides of the car (deer? monsters? I'm still not sure).

After much too long, we found a rest stop on the side of the road where we could pull over to recover from the tense drive and figure out where we were. While Christian got cozy with the maps inside, I made us a pathetic snack and boiled some desperately needed coffee. I barely remember it, but I even got some spooky shots of the fog rolling over the moon.

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The rest stop said no overnight parking or I swear I would've slept right there and then. It took all my willpower to force my body to turn on the car and move forward. The fog didn't let up until we hit the Montana border at sunrise. We had driven straight through Idaho and hadn't even seen it! We pulled over as soon as we got signal so we could figure out our options, and I hate that I was so tired because the view of the fog rolling across the mountains at sunrise was my absolute favorite view of the entire trip. I tried to clumsily capture it while half-awake, but my photos can't do the moment justice.

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Fortunately, while we were stopped, we found out that we were right next to the Lolo National Forest which allowed dispersed camping. We pointed the car towards an area marked as a campground on the map. Of course, the path led us along an old logging road that was muddy and covered in potholes almost as big as my Toyota Yaris. The abundant deer along the pathwere moving faster than my car. We had to drive a few miles down this treacherous path (at about 5mph, slowly dodging the largest holes) and when we reached the end of the path, we found the campsite wasn't there anymore. We had to go all the way back.

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It was almost 9am. Not about to look for another place to safely sleep at this point, we drove back along the path until we found a somewhat secluded area just off the road meant for logging trucks to park. We weren't sure if it was legal or safe, but at this point it would be more dangerous to continue. We parked, shoddily blanketed the windows to block out the sunlight, and finally let our eyes close by 10am.

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Posted by aswoger 19:01 Archived in USA

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