Road Trip

In Search of Dreamtown USA

July 10 - 14, 2006

Dave Svilar, Jill Wolverton


Magnificent sunset from the Wamihaspi/Winter Spire ridge.  Looking towards Silver Star and the Wine Spires.

Where to live?  Conveniently, courtesy of my never-ending subscription to Outside Magazine I had received their annual "Live Here, Now."  Since Jill and I were leaving on a road trip to find our own hot town I found this decidedly convenient.  Our objective was the eastern side of the Cascades, mostly scattered with tiny towns best known for their isolation and conservative politics.  The past four years living in Colorado had irreversibly spoiled me to the benefits of clear skies, a rare commodity west of the Cascades.  Cresting the range has always illicited a light-hearted feeling.  Perhaps nowhere else in the country is there such a stark contrast in such a short distance for the traveler heading east-west than in Washington state.  No more gridlocked traffic.  No more blank, gray skies.  No more oppressive, overgrown, jungle-like growth that obscures what would be astounding vistas.  Stepping to the east side of the Cascades is like .... a cloud lifting.

Nothing gets my nose running like the allergy-inducing overgrowth of Western Washington.  In addition, the weather forecast was for gloominess, so Jill and I packed our rucksacks, hopped in the Toyota and headed east searching for our Dreamtown.  Of course, the first stop was not an actual town, but Washington Pass and its superb red-hued granite.  We saddled up at the Blue Lakes Trailhead and made a short hump to the ridge beneath South Early Winter Spire's trade route.  An unforgettable sunset on the same ridge where I had made a debut as a male model, followed by a pleasant climb on South Early Winter Spire capped off the first two days of the trip.

"Are we there yet?"  Jill gives me an expectant look.  "Just wear your tennis shoes, there won't be any snow."  Sorry Jill.
Jill dresses appropriately for one of the pinkest sunsets I've ever seen.  And, of course, no matter how warm the sunset Jill will find a way to be cold.
It's hard to care much if your girlfriend is cold when a bag of Mom's cookies awaits. 
Pure ecstacy.  This shaggy goat licks my salty urine.
Jill shows her stuff on the South Early Winter Spire's South Buttress (get all that?).

3rd Night

"Davey.  I really need a motel tonight," Jill proclaimed weakly from the passenger seat.  Not being one who likes to spend money on a place to sleep I gave it some thought.  We had been in the mountains for two days, ran to Colchuck Lake in a downpour, and had been keeping clean by bathing in the local rivers.  I looked over at Jill.  Her normally spunky ponytail was caked to the side of her face while her abnormally large dimples were filled with pine needles and other debris.  How much was I willing to go for a night of luxury?  One more look at Jill and her pathetic state and an unusually generous amount popped into my mind: $25.  I remained optimistic as we headed through the Central Oregon night. 

Finally an outpost with overnight accommodations.  I passed the lavish Super 8 looking for the filthiest dump in town.  Our only hope was a joint adorned with blinking neon lights and cockroaches crawling out from beneath the doors.  Pleasant, I thought.  My hopes were quickly dashed, as the motel clerk dressed in a soiled wife-beater finally emerged from the backroom of the lobby through a door of dangling beads.  Through a puff of smoke he announced his price of $47.  Negotiations persisted with a little help from a AAA card and a sob story about the financial difficulties of being a teacher to no avail.  Jill's disappointment was obvious, but when we awoke the next morning from our camp site next to a Wal-Mart semi-truck we were both glad to have saved the money.

At this point our search of dream towns had taken us from Anacortes through the Methow Valley (Twisp, Winthrop, Mazama), south through Cashmere and Leavenworth, and finally a brief swing through Cle Elum.  The trip had begun with high expectations, but a pall now hung in the reeking cab of the Toyota. 

Instead of inspiring visions of a white picket fence and joyful toddlers playing in the backyard, our trip to this point had instilled a sense of utter failure.  Not failure in terms of finding a town, but failure on my part in the bigger game of life.  Following a day with a realtor in Leavenworth I realized that not only could I not afford a home in Leavenworth, but I also couldn't afford even a small house in a town that rhymes with Papsmear (Cashmere).  I was slowly, and not so subtly getting the feeling that life was passing me by.  Following college I really had believed that I had pulled a !#@!.  In almost seven years since college I had managed to work less than half the time while taking trips to Asia and Africa, being a ski bum, and generally enjoying a life of few obligations.  When friends had done responsible things like get jobs or buy houses I had quietly laughed to myself, "silly fools.  You have to go to work for five days just to take care of your house on the weekends."  Me?  I prefer to live with my parents, and spend my days as I choose.  However, the tables now appeared to be turned.  Even if I found my dream town I couldn't afford a house, and just to rub salt into my ego's wounds I couldn't even put my sweet, loyal girlfriend up in the Cockroach Inn. 

Speaking of which, why is she even riding in this truck with me in the first place?  I started examining my worth as a man: no job, no money, no hair, no life.  Truly the antithesis of what any woman in Jill's position desires.  To compound matters my influence was slowly eroding her self-worth.  Before dating me Jill was a young woman on the rise: magna cume laude double techie major from St. Thomas, collegiate track All-American, manager of a telecom business, and proud owner of a beautiful house in Seattle.  Since that time Jill has become a renter, sometimes unemployed sometimes working albeit for a fraction of her past wages.  Even worse she awoke on July 13, 2006 in the back of her boyfriend's truck camped at a truck stop.  I had to accept the inevitable truth.  I had grown up to be a loser.

Realizing we couldn't afford Papsmear, er .... Cashmere, we headed to a town renowned for its expensive real estate, Bend, Oregon.  Don't be fooled.  Just because Jill bathes in rivers and dates bald losers doesn't mean she doesn't have some yuppie tendencies.  She instantly fell in love with Bend.  I too found it charming, and was even more pleased to discover that houses were actually cheaper here than in Leavenworth.  We enjoyed a day of sipping lattes and talking about the evils of capitalism.  If only we had brought our shiny laptops we could have lived like a complex and sophisticated Bendite.  Of course that would be temporary, because after a lovely run on a trail paralleling the Deschutes River we horrified Bend civilians at the local park by stripping down and bathing in the river.  We followed this act of barbarism by sleeping outside of town on an abandoned logging road. 

Our run to Colchuck Lake.  This is what happens when you get a new digital camera: lots of pictures of exciting things like running.

So, what is the verdict?  The conclusion on me being a loser was easy.  Determining a dream town is a little tougher.  In fact, I will go out on a limb and say there is no such thing as a dream town.  No place will ever be perfect.  Too expensive, too far from family and friends.  Too many rednecks.  Too many yuppies.  Not enough jobs.  Poor schools.  Except for sky-high real estate Bend seemed like the best fit with its bounteous trails and superb high desert terrain.  For 320 days of the year it would be the best fit.  However, when the weather is good there is just no place like home.  Nothing in Bend can compare to a sunset in the San Juan Islands or a yawning crevasse in the North Cascades.  Bend would be good for most of the year and Anacortes would be incredible for 50 days of the year.  Same conundrum facing a major league batter: do I hit for average or swing for the fences?

The trip seemed to produce more questions than answers.  Ironically, upon arriving back in Seattle a local newsstand provided an ironic answer.  Pictured on the front of Money Magazine was a happy family walking along Fort Collins' Horsetooth Resorvoir.  The caption?  America's #1 best town: Fort Collins, Colorado.  My current place of residence!

-written September 2006

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