Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Chinook Fest 2017 - Road Report

I inverted the road and festival reports this time around, in terms of their writing and posting. The festival was so great, the organizers and festers so nice, I didn't want to color the reader's opinion based on our travel adventures. And it was an adventure... at least getting there was.

The Set-up
Here in the States, we celebrate "Labor Day" as the last long weekend of a typical Summer. It is often the last-gasp for those looking to maximize their sunny season. Boo and I celebrated with a weekend on the Oregon Coast. While this post isn't about that, it is important in the greater context. We didn't get home from the beach until after dark on Monday, and we decided to leave for Chinook Fest the following Thursday night. This prevented any last-minute test flights of the bus, and restricted time for general packing. Actually, we packed Monday night as clothes we took to the beach went through laundry cycles.

Our other prep-work was similarly haphazard. Most of our camping gear had been stored in the bus, so packing the rest seemed easy. In truth, it was, except for forgetting the french press. In the end, that didn't matter anyway since we also forgot coffee. Boo pre-cooked a bunch of chicken, getting up in the middle of the night Wednesday to complete it.

Almost Not a Departure
This summer has been historic in terms of wild fires across the western US. While news people have been highly focused on the hurricanes in the southeastern US, we have seen over 1.5 million acres burned across 6 western continental states. There are more burning in western Canada and Alaska. Those who don't live here may not know how widespread it is. It's bad. You can smell smoke most days, and see orange skies with a red sun many days. Thousands have been displaced, uncounted animals (both wild and livestock) lost, homes destroyed, etc. As we plotted our trip, elevation climbs were secondary to genuinely open routes from home to fest and back again, trying to forecast where the fires and smoke would go so we could make the round trip at all. I found this US Forestry Service Beta site where smoke forecast models can be run. Once you get past the scary fires part, it's really very cool.

This story starts like so many of our get-outta-Dodge stories: with simply getting home from work. Boo had to work a little late, so she hit typical rush hour traffic, delaying our departure a little bit. The gas and grocery stop wasn't too time consuming, though we doubled back home for a few things.
In fact, between the traffic delay, gas, groceries, final packing and the double-back, the sun had set before we got on the road around 8:30PM. We drove through downtown Beaverton and got onto OR217 North and saw our temps start to climb. Again. Since we hadn't hit normal temps, we pressed on, but I kept my eye on the gauge.

One Exit at a Time
By the time we got to the Sylvan exit, we had crossed over 194* and I had to pull over. No sooner did I start pulling off than the temp started to drop. We pulled through the intersection at the end of the ramp and onto the on-ramp before pulling to the side. We idled and watched the temp drop down to 185* (the temp the thermostat is rated) and then settle there. There was no backing up; in order to head anywhere, we needed to get back on the freeway. So, we nosed onto the on-ramp, and elected to just go one more exit (to the Oregon Zoo) and turn around. Maybe we could find a spot to vagabond.

From the Sylvan on-ramp, the highway goes downhill, and the temps didn't move. So, we kept going. The made it through the tunnel and onto I-405 North without issue, though the temp started to climb again as we turned onto the Fremont Bridge. We stayed right, thinking we could just take the Kirby Street exit and camp in front of my brother's house. But the temp started dropping again, so just before the exit started to fork off of the highway, I drifted left, back into the slow lane. We continued north onto I-5. As we approached the Interstate Bridge into Washington, the possibility of making it to Chinook Fest started entering our thoughts. We talked about what the best route would be: over the reportedly very steep White Pass on US-12 or through the potentially toxic smoke in the Columbia Gorge? Hapy answered by raising his temp, so we turned onto Washington State Route (SR) 14.

Smoke on the Water
Once on SR-14, Hapy and I settled into a rhythm. I wouldn't push him too fast, and he wouldn't raise his temperature too high. We followed the Columbia River past the I-205 interchange where the highway narrows to 2 lanes (one each direction with a pair of yellow lines down the middle). By now, it was after 10:PM, but the road was still quite busy. The major interstate (I-84) on the Oregon side of the river was closed from Troutdale to Hood River, and the last open river crossing until the other side of the closure was the I-205. This increased traffic held with us until Hood River, and then almost everyone turned off to I-84. We stayed. And we were suddenly alone.

As we traveled East, we could taste the smoke in the air, but didn't really see it until after Hood River. The wind had been blowing east, so the massive wild fire which was so close was not really perceptible. Once past Hood River, though, we found that we needed to put surgical masks on so we could breathe more easily. With masks on, we navigated the twists and turns of SR-14 as well as ascending / descending the summits. The smoke created an eerie fog-like space, changing perceptions of time and speed. With our speeds lowered for visibility, Hapy stayed below 192* and we didn't need to pull off to let him cool. Hapy was happy and keeping him cool wasn't a constant affair. Just East of Wishram, we turned North onto US-97, passed through Goldendale and entered the Yakima Indian Reservation. As remote as SR-14 felt after our fellow travelers turned south, we felt completely isolated now. The hour grew later, and while conversation was lively, we were both growing tired. So, as we entered Toppenish we saw the always-open Branding Iron Restaurant and pulled in for a bite.

Not Toppenish. More Bottomish
It was well after midnight by the time we stopped, and there were 2 cars and a semi in the parking lot plus our bus. The service at the Branding Iron was fast and friendly, the food was good, and more than we could consume in a single seating. Being 1 in the morning, and the only place open in Toppenish, strange people came and went while we were there. The waitress explained about the homeless, and about the serial drug users who will try to get a handout. With Toppenish being such a small town, I was a little surprised, but I guess meth has made it everywhere now.

As we were leaving, Boo suddenly became ill. We were out of the restaurant and heading back onto US-97, so we just kept going, and chose to follow the hospital signs. We found a small E/R clinic just off the main road. After a bunch of tests, and a couple of hours, they prescribed antibiotics for an infection, gave her one to start with and sent us on our way. It was 4:15AM. We had actually spent more time in Toppenish than we had spent getting there. With the gates opening at 8 and an hour left in our drive, we chose to keep going as long as we could.

Naches, WA
We entered the town of Naches just before 5:AM. We thought we would see a place to camp along the way, or at least a place to get Boo's prescription, but we found neither. At the far edge of town, we pulled into the Forest Service Ranger Station and parked under a tree to take a nap. Hapy had been a champ getting us this far, and we only had about 30 minutes further to the festival grounds. We zonked very quickly and awoke without prompting at 8:10. While wild fare smoke seemed to be increasing around us, we fired up Hapy and drove the last few miles out of cell-phone coverage to a festival that had eluded us for the last time.

As much as the drive there was an adventure, the drive home was relatively uneventful. We filled up with regular Diesel #2 as a stop in Naches that gave Hapy sporadic fits and starts, but his temps stayed relatively predictable. When they got high, we pulled over. That happened quite a bit, especially through the Yakima Indian Reservation. We stopped for lunch and a prescription pick-up at a Fred Meyers in Yakima. We hit heavy traffic east of Stevenson because of the I-84 closure, and watched the traffic lighten as we passed I-205. We left the festival after 1:30 and arrived home around 8:30 after just one extended stop, and a handful of pull-overs for Hapy cool-downs.

We thought we were going to vagabond in Portland. Then, we spent 3 hours in the E/R. The fact that we entered the gates at all was a miracle. Boo was incredible, between over-work, under-sleep and fighting an infection, her constitution amazes me.

As to Hapy, I talked to lots of fellow car folks at Chinook Fest. The consensus is that my thermostat may be sticking (replace it), but my radiator is under-powered for the amount of heat I ask it to shed. I will look into replacing it with a new high-performance radiator. You know I'll post about it when I get it done. One closing point: we got just over 33MPG round trip.
As always, thanks for following along. More to come...

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