After staying up fairly late packing, we set our alarms for 6AM on a Friday morning. We planned to be on the road before 7; the rule being that I, of course, would be the first long distance driver if we were going to leave at such an hour.
When both cell phone alarms blared forth their songs, I lay in bed, staring at the window until 6:30. Then I got dressed. Then I nudged my boyfriend awake so that we could pack the car. It was still dark as we moved the pile of our stuff in the living room into his car.
It was at or perhaps after 7 when we hit the road! To go to my house, a mile away, because I'd forgotten my camping chair. Not only did I retrieve my camping chair, but I spent an extra ten minutes combing through my apartment looking for some Claritin-D for my boyfriend, whose allergy symptoms were not relieved by whatever he got at Walgreen's. [For my non-local readers - do you know how when you go to buy certain OTC allergy medicines, like the ones that work really well, you have to go to the pharmacy counter and fill out a form? Well, Oregon has taken it even farther, in that you can't buy those drugs without a prescription. Because you might be making meth.]
I returned to the car with my camping chair and a few other odds and ends that I "needed." After stowing them in the car, I triumphantly presented the Claritin to my boyfriend. But I was not met with the glee I expected.
"I forgot my iPod," he said miserably.
"Oh...well, that's okay! We don't need music! We have the radio! We have the audiobook I brought! We can talk to each other!"
These charming alternatives did nothing to cheer him. "Can we go back to my house, please?"
So finally, about a 7:30, we arrived at Jim and Patty's, the cafe and bakery we had chosen partly because I'd heard good things about it, partly because it was on the way, and partly because it was open before 7am, the time we had planned to hit the road.
So sometime between 7:30 and 8, we hit the road! Equipped with Pig Newtons and Donut Muffins and two travel mugs of Stumptown Coffee, we began to drive east!
A few days earlier, we'd studied the map from AAA and considered the different routes that the agent had recommended. When I'd dreamed of previous trips to the Painted Hills, I'd also dreamed of taking Highway 26, the Mount Hood Highway. My first job in Oregon involved going to Mount Hood National Forest, so I have happy associations with the Mount Hood Highway. It brings back both the happy memories of the work I did that summer as well as feelings of freedom. I dreamed of taking Highway 26 through the forest, to the other side of the Cascades, to places I'd never seen before.
Here, I was going to write about the different names given to Highway 26, such as whatever it's called when it stops being "the Mount Hood Highway," but I am having trouble finding that information. When I find it, I'll fill you in! In any case, I have always loved these different names for the road; I love that roads have names out here. They are descriptive, informative, and to me, romantic. I read those names and dream about what might be on the sides of that road.
However, in winter (which I've heard described here in Oregon as starting as early as August and ending as late as the end of June), Highway 26 is a different story. But it wasn't a story I knew for sure. I had a vague idea that during certain times of the year, such as "winter," which included months I never thought of as "winter," the highways over the Cascades would be too snowy for the drive to be safe. We might need tire chains, or worse, the roads might be closed. I fretted, and suggested we take a longer, L-shaped route, such as I-84 East and then south on any of the north-south highways that connected to I-84 east of the mountains.
But my boyfriend insisted on Highway 26. He wanted to go that scenic way as much as I had in the summer.
"But you'll just sleep in the car!" I protested.
"Not the whole time. I'll be looking out the window." He reminded me that we had tire chains, should we encounter snow. We then agreed that if the snow was too heavy, the agreement would be revised -- I would pull over and we would switch drivers. He, the Coloradan, would drive through any heavy snow.
I do know how to drive in snow, you may protest, those of you who know me from the East Coast. However, I know how to drive in snow in New Jersey, where the roads get salted. They don't use salt on the roads out here, and that is why I am afraid to drive in the snow in Oregon.
So we set out on that route that is so familiar to me. We drove through Gresham and Sandy, on to Welches, home of the "happy bathroom." (Remind me to tell you about that someday.) I was happy in these familiar places, surrounded by tall, green fir trees.
East of Welches, I started to notice snow on the sides of the road, but the road itself was clear.
Once we got past the road to Timberline Lodge, things started to change. I soon realized that roads I expected to be two-lane (in each direction) were not. No signs informed drivers of this, no "Lane Closed," no orange cones. There was just snow covering what used to be lane. In some places, this wasn't gradual or obvious; suddenly, there was just no more lane to drive in. In some places the lane was really the shoulder of the highway.
Several cars left us for Highway 35, but we were not alone on 26. There was no passing lane to assist those who were impatient with my slow driving, but I didn't care. I was going to go at my own pace, because all I could see was this:
Finally, at about 2pm, we made it to Mitchell and the first of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument that we'd visit that weekend. The sun was in the sky and all was happy. We made it to the Painted Hills.