On the Road Summer 2021 Day 16 Chihuly, Seattle & Olympic National Park

Far from the Madding Crowd – Day 16



Washington State Highway 20 continues to run west along the Skagit River and that’s the direction I was heading. Just before Marblemount, twenty miles out from my campground in the North Cascades National Park, is a sign on the right for the Alpine RV campground with a laundromat for public use. Exactly what I was needing just then. There were just a couple washers and dryers but only one other person was doing his laundry; he was using only one of the dryers and was just about finished. He ignored me, a resident I figured. I ignored him too.

I keep a container of quarters in my car, but it was about due for replenishment so while the clothes were in the washer, I knocked on the manager’s door and asked if he’d like to swap a twenty for a portion of his treasure trove. He was amenable.

I took advantage of the time to clean out my car. Even sheets and pillowcases were in the wash. I gave the down comforter a hearty shake and let her get some fresh air while I swept and wiped, polished and shook. I keep a canister of natural oil scent in the car, so once the bedding was all back on, clean cloths and clothes folded and replaced and everything was shiny and happy, I gave a little spritz, turned on the music and hit the road. I swung into the convenience store in Marblemount, which I found a welcoming place and picked up a couple choice items, that is, a couple IPAs. The cashier was animated and kind and sold me a couple postage stamps. She even had a international ones which was good because the post office across the street was closed and did not have a postage vending machine in the lobby. The food truck in the parking lot advertised fresh pulled pork sandwiches, but they didn’t have any and I was feeling just quirky enough to not want an Italian sausage just then, even though I’d waited in a car line for a stupid amount of time for such a small place. Too bad as I’d pictured myself at a picnic table overlooking the river having a sandwich with a cold beer. As it was, I simply enjoyed the scenery on a somewhat empty stomach. I was heading toward Tacoma to see the Chihuly Bridge, which means going through Seattle. This posed a bit of a quandary to me as I’d never seen Seattle and had friends from another lifetime, actually two other lifetimes, who might be fun to visit there, but something about the traffic streaming from the City… it was a Saturday, something about all of the traffic and COVID made me shy away this time. I hope there’s another chance. Actually, I think I’d like the night life there on a weekend night with an energizing date. How edgy weekends felt before COVID. The edginess now is of a far different sort.

Not far from Marblemount the Sauk River begins, running south from the Skagit River and that’s where route 530, a short cut to Seattle begins as well. I was happy to read in a Wikipedia article that it is a National Wild and Scenic River. I confirmed this on the US Department of Agriculture Forest service website. The Forest Service is responsible for ensuring the protections under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, that is, that they retain their free-flowing condition, their water quality and their special character. It’s not the strictest of protections as the forest service balances interests when it comes to development and as we all know, that can be a slippery slope. The upside of their flexibility is that they retain the authority to protect areas from overuse and development and their laxness in so doing can certainly be questioned, if nothing else. The Wikipedia article has a nice photo of this section of the river which I refer you to as I didn’t stop to take a photo during this stretch.


If you use Wikipedia, you should support it. They ask so little and deliver so much. I appreciate the non-commercial contributors in the way I appreciate medical personnel in the front lines. And to a lesser but still significant degree, helpful store personnel. Actually, anyone nice.


I was also happy to read that fly-fishing is good on the Sauk River. That’s a good indicator of a river’s health. And it’s romantic.


In Darrington, I ordered a take-out meal from Dos Agaves. It was exactly what I wanted, and I was looking forward to finding that picnic table. The Sauk River continued south here, but 530 turned west and I soon found myself traveling along the milky white Stillaguamish River. I love how mellow the colors of the waters are here, soft jade or milky white. I used to be disappointed when I came upon a muddy river. But I will never look at a muddy river with anything but awe again, thinking of what it carries, what changes it is part of.


Lest I forget to note: Only two miles out from Darrington is a farm on the left where in August anyway you can buy organic blueberries. I bought a generous basketful for only $5 and they proved a delicious snack over the next day and a half.

A white river : the Sillaguamish

I had my meal and not quite my fill of scenery before hitting Highway 5 and the nightmare that would be: Seattle traffic. It was bumper to bumper for so long that it seemed like there must be an accident or a football game, but there wasn’t. I got off once to get gas, which was priced about five times higher than gas prices as I’d recalled them. Prices had been getting progressively higher as I headed further west, but now I was simply confused. I regretted getting off, finding myself ensnared in traffic, making a turn I didn’t want to and spending an inordinate amount of time just trying to get back to the road I needed to on to get out of there without even making it to a gas station. The red lights took longer than it takes a person to sing the Star-Spangled Banner very slowly four times, and there was either somebody outside my window panhandling or a group of furious protestors shouting. This wasn't the Seattle I'd long dreamed of visiting. Through the confusion of heavy traffic rumbling, horns blaring and angry shouting I was able to discern the protests of a group of anti-vaxers, though if you examined their posters more closely, some of the members qualified their position: they weren’t necessarily opposed to vaccinations, just the fact they had to get them. What good was it doing anyone to protest this on principle? There are plenty of cases where civil liberties are being eroded for no valid reason. Direct your energy toward those. The country was indeed splitting into two camps. I’d finally lost my patience being courteous to those of subpar intelligence and now just wished they’d all die. Preferably from COVID. Or poor diet. Getting back on Highway 5 South was more of the same aggravation and getting gas became a long nightmare. There must have been thirty pumps at the station I was finally able to navigate through traffic to enter. The sheer number should have been reason for hope. Except that there was a line at every single one. And it wasn't a great neighborhood. Maneuvering for a spot required a melding of creativity and caution one had to get just right, or possibly be shot. I creeped into what appeared to be a promising line. And waited. I edged closer when the first car at last pulled away. And closer when the next car at last pulled away after the driver shopped awhile in the convenience store and returned ever so slowly to his banged-up vehicle. There was just one car between the pump and me now. I watched as the woman ahead of me pumping gas acted out a litany of bizarre and dramatic behavior. She was on her phone as her tank filled as well as having a side conversation with no one in the passenger seat. After fifteen minutes of this nonsense, I would have left if I could, but I was blocked in too tightly. At last, she returned the nozzle to the pump and got into her car. But she didn't leave. I watched for her back lights and she actually made a few false starts. Like she was truly about to leave. After each time though,  the lights would go dark and she’d leap out of her vehicle and hop toward the gas pump, appear to examine it and then get back in her car. My hopes soared and plummeted. Soared and plummeted. I was tempted to get out and see what was going on, but I felt like she, in her own special was was daring me to react, so I didn’t. 

Finally she actually pilled away. Exhausted, I tapped my credit card and placed the nozzle in my tank only to find that the pump didn’t work. I’d have abandoned the entire pursuit but the pump was holding an open purchase on my credit card in what looked like a place where the next person, probably in a monster truck with two tanks would be stoked to find free gas. So I made the trip into a convenience store. I opened the door to a scene you’d only see in a ridiculous comedy: the one with an ostensibly endless line serpentining through the huge store to one manned register.

It’s okay. I eventually made it to Tacoma. It was quiet, pleasant. A small-town Sunday quiet, with a culture offering culinary delights and the opportunity to slip into a cool art museum, and probably other satisfying diversions I didn’t see on my walk from the parking lot below the art museum to the Chihuly Bridge. I needed a small, quiet artsy town just then to restore a modicum of faith in humanity.

I only know a little about Dale Chihuly's career, but his colorful glass sculptures steal my attention each time I come across one. I once lived in South Pasadena, a short walk to St. Pete Beach and just down Gulfport Boulevard to St. Petersburg where Dale Chihuly has a glass blowing studio as well as a super cool museum within walking distance of an equally cool fine arts museum, fantastic restaurants, the Salvador Dali museum and not far from where the Florida Symphony Orchestra plays, as well as around and right down the block from Studio 620. As I stood directly under one of his chandeliers in the Chihuly museum there, the showcase of the small room, I was vaguely aware that the vibrant colors of the hand-dyed cut-out felt scarf I wore were a perfect camouflage of his work. Several people exclaimed as they entered the room and I found myself in a photo op. I was proud Chihuly fans found me "one" with his sculpture. And each time I’ve come across one of his works in a public space, like the tall red glass reeds in the reflecting pool outside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, I fill with joy. So, I wanted to see his Bridge of Glass in Tacoma. It's a pedestrian bridge and walking across it took me into his world. 

Even more fascinating was realizing after that it was a foreshadowing of my coming days, like having a dream the night before.


Many of his works there were modeled on the sea life I would discover in the intertidal pools or, in the case of the myriad jewel-like grasses, see washed up on the beach. The lighting through the bridge's ceiling of vibrant glass sea sculptures was lovely at the end of the afternoon.

I relaxed on the bench under the bridge’s dome and just regarded the colorful, imaginative vases in the glass case lining the wall across from me. I left when I was satiated. Tacoma was a relatively easy town to navigate and I found that the hell on Highway 5 was just about over.

I didn’t keep very good notes about where I slept that night. I only now recall being very tired driving down an unpaved road toward an ostensibly legit campground. Darkness was fast descending as I tunneled through the woods. But I got a case of the heebeegeebees before reaching my destination, and with much consternation turned around. It may seem silly to pay heed to such ethereal warnings, but who knows, I can’t discount the astonishing fact that despite my impulse to live on the edge I’ve made it this many years. Soon thereafter I found a site with no vibes, pulled over and was deep asleep within minutes. Another velvet night immersed in the susurrus of crickets and the quiet calls of frogs and night birds. 

In the morning, I woke, availing myself of one of the emergency tasty canned coffee drinks and swerved back out onto the highway, ready to explore the many wonders of Olympic National Park.