We were only back for a week. Our time on vacation had stoked my longings for a little more elbow room to roam. I turned my attention toward Eastern Washington. I had not spent much time there, but it was hotter in the summer, colder in the winter, and a lot roomier than the area of Western Washington where we lived.
I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the western part of the state. Land and home prices there were a fraction of what they are in the areas we have lived on the west side. I had sent my wife link after link to so sites with houses and land near towns with names like, Tonasket, Wakunda, Republic and Kettle Falls. I told her I would love to at least have some vacation land there. Her reply was always an encouraging, “Look me up when you get back.”
Before our vacation to Colorado and Utah, we had begun to explore more of Washington than we had before. It had been nearly 9 years since we had done any real adventuring. We started by going to the Olympic Peninsula. I had lived in Washington nearly 30 years and had never been to the rain forest. My wife grew up here and she hadn’t either. So we went. It was great. It was sort of the primer to our next trip. The long one.
After a day or two of resting up from our vacation in Colorado, I suggested that we continue to explore Washington by going to Winthrop and Republic. These were both well known as old western type towns, set in the wide open of Eastern Washington along Hwy 20. Hwy 20 was well known as a lovely drive through the high Cascades, and was also known for being closed half the year due to snowfall. Instead of her usually dismissal of all things eastern, my lovely bride agreed with an almost disturbing amount of enthusiasm. What was going on here? Such a turn around from one known for being quite consistent can chill the blood.
Whether it was her unsuspected survival of the desert heat in Utah and Colorado, or something else, Angie was as interested in our trip east as I was. We both had the spirit of adventure coursing through our veins. We also had this shared sense that we were still in the process of following some Divine cookie crumbs that were leading to somewhere we hadn’t even imagined.
The following weekend we headed east on Hwy 20 from our rental home on Whidbey Island. We stopped in the town of Newhalem, just at the western base of the Cascade Mountain Range. They had a small park with an old steam train engine in it. It was amazing and refreshing that this engine was open to the public to climb on, in, and over. All the levers and valves still moved and the bell could still be rung from the cab. Rather than allowing the fear of liability to keep people away, the local government let the warmth of personal responsibility free people to touch and experience this rare artifact of a bygone age up close and personal. The boys loved it.
The drive over the Cascades was breathtaking. There were lakes and waterfalls everywhere. One could easily see why the road was closed for much of the year. There were steep sides and rock avalanches all along the roadway. At one point there was a pull out on the side of the road littered with rocks and a few small boulders that had recently fallen from the hillside above the road.
The road wound down the steep mountain range into a valley much like the ones I had grown up in. There was a bit of hazy smoke from wildfires in the Canadian wilderness, and a large firefighter camp on the side of the road. The road ran along a swiftly flowing crystal clear river and into the town of Winthrop. Winthrop is what everyone sees in their mind when they think of Old West. The sidewalks were wooden and most of the buildings constructed back in the mid 1800s. We had coffee and the boys had their lunch sitting on stools made from real horseback saddles. Old west style.
We left Winthrop and went to the town of Omak, where we rented a motel room. In Omak was an amazing western store. It was like a farm and ranch, tractor supply and sporting goods store all rolled into one giant supermarket of cowboy coolness. I am not a store person, or a shopper, but even I enjoyed being in there.
We drove over to Republic. We only had a few hours to spend before we needed to head back west. It was odd. It wasn’t as old westey as Winthrop, but it was definitely from the same mold. The entire downtown was 1890s. While hot and desert like the surrounding hills and up to the edge of town was thick with Ponderosa pines. The highway went right through the center of town. It was wide with plenty of parking on each side. Being Sunday, it was nearly deserted, which was a big change from the west side where everything is expected to be available 24 X 7.
Republic in the year 2018 reminded me of a town I had lived in growing up in the 1960s, called Rifle Colorado. Rifle is now much bigger and quite modernized. Republic, not so much. Oddly I felt like I was coming home. Everyone we met was friendly, welcoming, and very hospitable.
When we stopped to eat, Angie was using her phone and some local publications to see what house and land prices were like in the area. I was excited to see her looking with great interest and joy at the seemingly affordable land prices. While I still had a bit of a longing to own some land, I had felt the imperative for the last couple of years to buy a home. While not quite ready to be put out to pasture, I am getting a little long in the tooth to be renting. Social Security and my small pension would never be enough as a renter, but as home owners we could live quite comfortably if I got to the place where I couldn’t work.
We had been turned down in all of our recent attempts to get financing to buy a home. I really didn’t want he to get her hopes up, but I was so very pleased that I wouldn’t be alone if one day I was able to acquire land east of the Cascades. It would take a miracle to be able to get a home, but it was a miracle that my Norwegian descended wife actually liked it here, 85 degrees and all.