Mt. Rainier is around 2.5 hours drive from Seattle. However, if you don’t hike or ski then the primary source of enjoyment on the trip has to be the glorious vistas on your way to the various famous view points.
One late sunny morning, 10 of us piled into 2 cars and punched in the address to the Visitor centre of Mt Rainier. The picturesque drive starts much before you reach the mountain summit, but prepare for slow moving traffic. Invariably there will be backed up traffic along I5-S and WA-161. For us, it was painfully slow because multiple fender bender accidents enroute.
We reached the foothills after an hour, but the journey ahead, along with the winding single lane mountain roads, took up the entire next hour. Over taking is prohibited for most of WA-7 so if like our car you are stuck behind a vehicle honouring the speed limit then you are in for a lesson in patience.
Thats when it struck me, like all memorable journeys this one would have its own tests and lessons. For now, these majestic mountains want to welcome only the most deserving travellers. It’s the first test, a lesson in patience on a long single lane with low-speed limit.
Its next test is bladder control. Seriously, to find a public restroom was a Herculean task in itself. When you spot a row of colourful stationary train cars housing restaurants, that is the signal to slow down for what is my life’s weirdest restroom ever! Up ahead is freshly carved woodwork for sale and a quaint coffee and ice cream shop with local exotic flavours of Rainer Cherries, berries and coconut.
Throughout the drive, the persistent lesson of being dwarfed, not by the tall peaks, but by the never ending forests of trees as far as the eye can see. Must be used for lumber, I think to myself, seeing sections of landscape bereft of tree, covered in felled tree barks surprisingly white.
As you ascend up, you leave behind the “we”. The lesson I hear echoing through those surrounding peaks is to focus on the “I”. A lesson not heard often. To allow the thoughts swirling inside to finally take shape. Then hold them with trembling tender attention giving them the love they deserve.
In our current day and age, such a trance, often needs music to acoompany it. Are you one of those people who pulls out a phone or opens youtube on a browser everytime you aim to find that elusive frame of mind geared towards concentration. Here’s the next test then. Beware. Pretty soon your phone will lose its network signal. No signal, no songs.
But brilliant past test takers have passed on a cheat sheet for this hurdle. Download songs for offline mode. And thank me later.
In June, the river valleys running parallel to the roads have water flowing only for namesake. The river bed is pristine, rocks smooth and white to match the tree twigs scattered amongst those rocks. Perhaps a lesson in life is to allow yourself to veer from your path every now and then. To pause long enough so this beauty can be yours. Park your car, and wander off my friend.
With a 30$ entrance ticket my car finally enters the national forest park. The temperature drops, the forest cover grows thicker. Trees with moss-covered branches, balling brooks and thick forest undergrowth give way to snow peppered peaks. The test now is to avoid temptation and remain true to the quest. You could park and play in that perfect snow-covered alcove, but I promise there is more snow as you continue to drive to higher altitudes.
Its not extremely cold. With the sun out, you can be lucky enough that a light jacket is enough. By end of July this snow will melt away uncovering flowery grasslands that hold their own beauty.
Perhaps the most profound and obvious lesson of all is that the joy is in the journey. And nothing like a road trip to Rainier to teach you that. If you don’t hike or ski, as I said before, there isn’t much difference in reaching the visitor centre. Sure I got a couple of good photos, but Paradise point and Reflection lake already gave me those.
So I know that the happy peace that I found in me was still waiting patiently on the journey back if I held on desperately. I dared to hope it would remain even as we entered back into the city traffic along with everyone else on their way home.