State 19: Washington - October 19, 2017
“I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe
from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”
Genesis 7:4 NIV Bible
We woke up at a Walmart in Post Falls, ID near the Idaho Washington border. Last night was extremely windy and rainy, and even the morning sky was dark, cloudy and ominous. Today, we enter the 19th state on our cross country journey to discover America and find a new state to call home; Washington: Evergreen State. This is clearly an appropriate motto accurately describing Washington as huge swatches of the state consist of national parks, forests and wildlife preserves blanketed with pine and fir trees. In addition, the state averages 160 inches of rain per year resulting in everything being “ever green”. Even the color of The Washington State flag is green.
With no state income tax, being a seaside state, having tons of national parks, and plenty of well-paying jobs, Washington ranked high on our list of prospective candidates for our new home state. However, if Washington is to actually be considered as our new home, it needs to prove it's worth to the Cross Country Couple! Lori and I decided to dedicate 2 weeks to our exploration to the Evergreen State.
Day 1 - 10/19/17
Forecast: Cloudy Skies for most of the day. 90% chance of precipitation.
We entered Washington at it's Northeastern border at the city of Spokane in the pouring rain. Apparently, when it rains in Washington it rains and rains and rains and rains and rains and rains!!! Even when it’s not raining, the sky appears as if it is about to rain! I can imagine it gets quite dreary and depressing after a while. One of the best aspects of living in a van is if you don’t like the weather, all you have to do is drive away. After picking up a few essentials from Costco, and topping off Rosie’s tank, we departed Spokane in search of sunnier skies. We drove 106 miles South through the gorgeous rolling wheat fields of Eastern Washington to the town of Pullman. It rained the entire drive there, and it was still raining when we arrived.
Pullman is home to Washington State University, and home to the Cougar College Football Team. As soon as we entered the town we noticed Cougars were literally everywhere; cougar shirts, cougar signs, cougar towels, cougar bumper stickers, cougar water bottles and on and on and on! There were even entire stores dedicated only to selling Cougar merchandise. Almost everyone we came across was wearing a Cougar shirt, a Cougar hat or both! We drove past dozens of local businesses which had signs posted that read “Go Cougars!!!” I am all for team spirit, but the people of Pullman were taking it to a whole another level! These were the most serious sports fans we have seen on our entire cross country trip! Since the Cougars are so cherished by the people of Pullman, we decided to do as the locals do and look into attending one of their games. They had a home game that night, but tickets were $90.00 each! Seriously! $90 for college football tickets? I actually shouldn’t have said that so loud! I might start a riot, or find Rosie’s tires slashed in the morning.
After spending the past 5 months sleeping in Walmart parking lots, there isn’t much that surprises us. However, our overnight experience at the Walmart in Pullman was the most unexpected and memorable on our cross country trip thus far! When we pulled into the Walmart in Pullman we couldn’t believe our eyes! There were at least 50 RV’s in the parking lot having an all-out Cougar tailgate party! I’m talking... drinking beer, BBQ, blasting music, roaring fire pits, lawn chairs, screaming fans and the Cougar game was actually being projected on the external wall of Walmart. We have never seen such a spectacle before!
After taking a moment to absorb my new surroundings, I made my way to the customer service desk, and secured my corner of asphalt for the night. When asking permission to sleep in a Walmart parking lot, you really never know what response you are going to get. Sometimes customer service is quite rude, and other times they can be quite accommodating. The Pullman Walmart was the most enthusiastic and welcoming I had ever encountered. Not only were we allowed to spend the night, we were handed a map of where to park, and invited to like the Walmart’s Cougar Tailgate party on Facebook. LMAO!!!! Unfortunately, due to all the commotion, we were unable to fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning, and it rained all night long!
Day 2 - 10/20/17
Forecast: Cloudy Skies for most of the day. 100% chance of precipitation.
We woke up in a Walmart in Pullman, WA, and it was still raining! We drove 97 miles Southwest to Walla Walla in hopes it was not raining there. No such luck! After walking around and exploring the town for a few hours, we decided to hit the library to catch up on a few blog posts. While there, we discovered some very disturbing news about Washington, which would eliminate ¾ of the state from consideration as our new home; Hanford!!! Hanford is a decommissioned nuclear production complex operated by the US government in South Central Washington along the Columbia River. Plutonium created in this facility was actually used in the atomic bomb detonated over Nagasaki, Japan ending WW2! During the Cold War, Hanford produced plutonium for more than 60,000 U.S. nuclear weapons. The facility was decommissioned after the Cold War ended. However, decades of plutonium production left behind 53 million gallons of high level radioactive waste stored within 177 storage tanks, 25 million cubic feet of solid radioactive waste, and 200 square miles of contaminated groundwater beneath the site. Hanford represents two-thirds of the nation's high-level radioactive waste by volume! Hanford is not only the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States, it is the most contaminated nuclear site in the Western Hemisphere! Although it’s hard to imagine, it actually gets worse. The 177 tanks that store the radioactive liquid waste have been leaking 300 gallons per year into the ground and Columbia River. In May 2017, 20 feet of an underground tunnel storing nuclear waste suddenly collapsed! Clearly, Hanford nuclear waste is a decades old problem for which there has been no resolution. We were going to explore the Tri-cities of Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco, but between the constant rain and the nuclear waste, we decided we had seen all we needed to see of Eastern Washington. Discovering Hanford was extremely depressing, because we have been looking forward to visiting Washington for a very long time. There is no way in hell, Eastern Washington will be our new home!
We drove 195 miles West to Hood River, Oregon right over the Washington Border, and found a Walmart to spend the night. In case you may have been wondering, it was still raining when we went to sleep.
Day 3 - 10/21/17
Forecast: Cloudy Skies. 80% chance of precipitation.
We woke up at a Walmart in Hood River, Oregon on the Washington state border, and as you may have guessed, it was still freaking raining! Today, we will drive 67 miles West along the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway, which forms the Washington Oregon border. The plan is to cross back into Washington state once we pass the Cascade Mountain Ranges at the City of Vancouver, WA. Although it was down pouring the entire time, it was an absolutely gorgeous drive along the Columbia River Gorge, and I can only imagine how much more beautiful it would have been if it was the skies were sunny and clear. As we drove down the byway, I noticed a group of school age children in a park playing a game of soccer wearing ponchos, and admired their adaptability. Perhaps the people of Washington have become accustomed to not letting the rain effect their day.
Finally, we passed the Cascade Mountains, and crossed back into Washington at the border city of Vancouver, and were very, very, very saddened to discover it was still raining! Vancouver was a town we wanted to take a closer look at, so we spent a few hours doing some freestyle exploration. We visited the local Costco, the library, drove around the residential neighborhoods, and with umbrella in hand, we walked around downtown to get a feel for the city. In the end, we determined Vancouver was just not for us. With 160,000 people, Vancouver was too populated for our liking, and the city appeared to be a bit hoity-toity for our taste. Vancouver, WA was on our short list as a potential new home prior to departing on our trip, and we were found ourselves disappointed it did not pan out!
Next, we drove 18 miles Northeast to the town of Battleground, WA. Our first impression of Battleground were quite favorable, until we made a very unusual observation! It had more apartment buildings than in any other town we had seen on our entire cross country trip! Every road we turned town there were more and more apartment buildings! We passed 4 construction sites where new apartment complexes were being erected. We lived in apartments for many years, and have no desire to regress back to that way of life. We are looking for a new home where we can set down roots, not deal with lazy landlords, and nosy neighbors. Battleground, WA appeared to just be a place where people crashed after commuting to and from Vancouver, WA. It was a hollow soulless town, lacking culture, and it's own identity aside from it's close proximity to Vancouver, WA. We spent the remainder of the day in the Battleground Library catching up on blog posts, and then drove across town to a Walmart to spend the night. Yes, It Rained All Night Long!!!
Day 4 - 10/22/17
Forecast: Cloudy Skies for most of the day. 75% chance of precipitation.
We woke up at a Walmart in Battleground, WA to another dismal, dreary, soggy, overcast day, and I am beginning to feel depressed. If this weather continues, I am going to have to start taking vitamin D supplements, and install a light box inside of Rosie. After spending weeks driving through the cornfields of the Midwest, I realized I really missed trees. Now that I am in Washington surrounded by trees, I am discovering I miss the warm sunny days of the Midwest. Clearly, I have not found my new home yet, so I will keep on looking. I will not let anyone rain on my parade!
We returned to the Battleground Library to spend time catching up on computer work, and then drove 130 miles Southwest to the town of Aberdeen, WA. Not only was Aberdeen dirty and dilapidated, it was also the creepiest town we had visited on our cross country trip. It wasn’t as if we felt in danger, we just sensed a very dark energy over the entire town. You know that eerie sensation you get when you feel like someone is following you but you don’t know who or where they are? We felt that way during our entire time in Aberdeen.
Literally, everywhere we went in town, we felt eyes upon us! On 5 separate occasions, we caught the locals looking at us, and licking their lips like they wanted to eat us!!! Everywhere we went in Aberdeen, we felt like appetizers. It was reminiscent of the scene from the movie Silence of the Lambs, where Anthony Hopkins said “I will eat your liver with fava beans and a fine chianti”, and then makes a creepy slurping sound! I know this sounds crazy, and perhaps a tad bit paranoid and If I wasn’t actually there experiencing it firsthand, I wouldn’t have believed it myself! Unfortunately, it was already late, and there were no other Walmart’s allowing overnight parking for a 50-mile radius. We found a parking spot directly under the lights, and in direct view of 3 parking lot cameras. We slept with our knives, and bear spray under our pillow, and a baseball bat next to our sleeping bags. No one was going to eat us tonight without a fight! I think 5 days of cloudy skies and constant rain in a 76 sq. ft. van is really starting to affect us!!!
Day 5 - 10/23/17
Forecast: Cloudy Skies for most of the day. 100% chance of precipitation.
We woke up at a Walmart in Aberdeen having had an awful night sleep. Our perceived threat of cannibalism turned out to be the least of our problems. There are 2 train tracks going through the middle of the Walmart parking lot! Never in my life had I seen such an unusual and dangerous location for train tracks, and naturally assumed they were no longer in use. What is the old saying about what happens when you assume? The sound of roaring freight trains jolted us out of a sound sleep every hour all night long! Around 2:00 am, we were awoken to the sound of two men having a very loud argument about a girl right next to our van for over 30 minutes. To make matters even worse, IT WAS STILL RAINING!!! We both unanimously agreed Aberdeen was not our new home, and we continued on in search of the sun.
Lori decided to flex her Google muscle, and researched where in Washington it was not currently raining. Long at last, we finally discovered the answer we had sought! We discovered a weather phenomenon known as the Olympic Rain Shadow! The Olympic Rain Shadow consists of a small region in Northwest Washington, which experiences significantly dryer and sunnier weather than the rest of the state. While most of the state averages 147 days of yearly precipitation, the towns in the Olympic Shadow average only 16 days of rain per year! The Shadow encompasses the towns of Sequim, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, and Coupeville. I will never forget this exact moment in our cross country trip for we had finally found our dry desert oasis among a soggy sea of sand. We immediately set in a course for a 143-mile drive North to Sequim, WA where our sunny skies awaited!
Upon our arrival in Sequim, we found it was still raining. Just kidding!!! LOL!!! The temperature was a warm 70 degrees, and there was not a cloud in the sky! We parked Rosie in a nearby park, and frolicked in the grass for over an hour celebrating the beautiful weather! After catching more than a few strange looks from the locals, we decided to drive Rosie around town to further explore Sequim. Sequim, WA is a quaint town with a population of approximately 6,600, and the surrounding area has a population of about 28,000. The town is located along the Dungeness River at the base of the Olympic Mountains. Sequim also sits along the Bay of Sequim, which connects to the Pacific Ocean via the Strait of Juan De Fuca. Although the town only receives 16 inches of rain per year, it is surrounded by the subtropical rain forests of Olympic National Park. The forests consist of a wide variety of trees including, fir, cedar, cottonwood, maple, alder, pine and oak. Apparently, more lavender is grown in Sequim than in any other place in North America. While I am not a raving fan of lavender, I guess it is comforting to know there will never be short supply! Sequim features forests, mountains and the ocean, which is extremely rare and attractive topography in such a small geographical area! Sequim also had an adorable main street, and the Cross Country Couple loves a bustling town center chock full of thriving and diverse small local businesses!
Sequim has experienced an increase in population year after year due an influx of retirees seeking good weather, cheap cost of living, relaxed lifestyle, and lots of lavender! Nate and I were so impressed with Sequim, we subjected the town to further scrutiny to see if it should be considered as our potential new home. Since Nate works as a Geriatric Nurse, there were excellent and endless job opportunities due to towns growing senior population, but unfortunately, there were no jobs for me as a Medical Practice Manager in the area. In addition, there were no schools of Nursing for Nate to further his degree, and the nearest Costco was 75 miles away! Darn!!! I guess Sequim, WA will not be our potential new home, but maybe we will return to retire one day.
After a long day of driving and exploring we drove across town to a Walmart where we slept for the night.