Brewster, Washington sits just east of and in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains. Go west and you're into them pretty quick. East of us is a desert-y bit until you get through the almost-twin-cities of Spokane and Couer d’Alene, Idaho. From there you start going over the north end of the Rocky Mountains. They're not not hugely tall up here, but the passes are typically way above the snow line. And there's lots of them.
Heading south is no better. You can go down some back roads, and eventually you hit Interstate 84 where you can (and should!) turn east or west. You could keep going south on Highway 97 I suppose, but that’s a secondary road that takes you through some pretty high country - not a good route in the winter. And the whole area was under a Winter Snow Warning.
Going east on I-84 takes you down through Boise, Idaho and eventually Salt Lake City. Also not a great way to go in the winter. Heading west on I-84 takes you through the Cascades – there’s no getting around them! Whether you cross them on I-84 in Oregon or I-90 in Washington, you’ll have to deal with the snow. The plows will be out, trying to keep the roadway clear, but there’s only so much they can do.
Getting a late start, Jacob and I headed east out of Brewster. I figured we’d hit the Grand Coulee Dam (which is an awesome “must see” even in winter) and then turn south. Which we did. As we passed through the town of Soap Lake, Jacob checked Google Maps. ”Hey, it looks like I-84 is closed!” I said no way, that never happens. But it did, and it was. I-84 *CLOSED* in both directions for the foreseeable future, no estimate of when it might be reopened. Damn.
Jacob worked out a reroute: “Well, we can take I-90 to Seattle…” Which is just what I did not want to do in the first place because that would take us over Snoqualmie Pass, which is notoriously treacherous. I mean, at only 3,015 feet of elevation it’s not like crossing the Himalayas. But Snoqualmie gets *lots* of snow, and it’s not fun when it does.
And so that’s the way we went, passing sign after sign that cautioned: “TRACTION TIRES RECOMMENDED.” And us in a car with no snows (studded or otherwise), no chains…no nothing. If the signs changed to “Traction Tires Required” we would’ve been screwed.
It was snowing like crazy as we ascended the pass. I tried following in the ruts left by 18-wheelers, but traffic was so light (and the trucks were going so slowly) that we were often blazing our own trail through a couple of inches of freshly-fallen snow. We kept seeing the plows going the other way, wondering why they didn’t dispatch some to the westbound side? We saw plenty of spin-outs, crashes and cars that just slid off the road. It was kind of disheartening, and kind of stressful. Because as careful as I was being, I knew that some idiot could come slamming into us. Then it would be game-over.
It’s stressful because not only are you driving through blinding snow, but you’re up in the clouds as well. So visibility really sucks. You can’t see anything and you can’t use your brights. Your whole world becomes that little bit of road that your low-beams illuminate. You hope that there isn’t a car spun-out and sideways to the road and that you’re not going too fast to avoid hitting him. And you can’t go too slowly, for the idiots in the big four-wheel drive pickup trucks speed along as if they’re on dry ground.
(Even as I write this on Wednesday morning, I see that I-90 is closed eastbound though the pass due to a jackknifed tractor-trailer.)
Eventually we made it without incident over the high point of the pass. Gradually we began descending to lower terrain. Then, all at once, in the blink of an eye the precipitation turned to rain and the snow disappeared. I breathed a sigh of relief. We got off on Highway 18 toward Auburn, then hooked up with I-5 southbound. Compared to Snoqualmie, driving in the rain was a piece of cake.
Hotels.com found us a Best Western with an indoor pool and hot tub just north of Portland, Oregon. Even though we’d only covered a short distance I was ready. If we’d just gone west from Brewster across I-90 to being with it would have been about 340 miles. Instead, our little sightseeing trip turned it into 415 miles.
Ah well. At least we were out of the snow.