Saturday, August 11, 2007

Day 2: Chelan

Our heart-stoppingly fabulous vacation tale continues:

We arrived bright and early the next morning to pick up our tickets for the Lake Chelan river cruise, billed as 'a relaxing and scenic inland voyage along one of Americas deepest natural freshwater lakes'. It lived up to it's advertising 100%.

Now there's a pro and a con side, though...Eastern Washington just doesn't have that varied a natural landscape. Outside of town what you get is sky, hills, rocks, dead grass and sagebrush. Go a little higher, add the occasional Ponderosa pine tree. Now add a really long lake to that and you have a perfect description of the larger part of the Lake Chelan cruise.

This is not a trip you'd ever want to subject a small antsy child to, since the boat only poops along at 15 mph, and the lake is 55 miles long. You spend about ten hours on board, round trip. Neither is this a trip you take expecting to have your shit blown away as you round every bend by dramatic natural beauty. That's Alaska. It's farther north. This is a cruise you take to meditate in the sunshine, to enjoy the restful motion of the rocking vessel, and to swill the booze you've smuggled aboard in pop containers.

Lake Chelan is genuinely beautiful, though. The water is pure and clear as blue glass. We did not see one piece of trash-not one! Anywhere! This is probably because most of the countryside surrounding it is absolutely barren of human presence. Not entirely so- there are a few huge, beautiful private estates, forested lakeside campgrounds, trailheads and two tiny towns around Lake Chelan which are only accessible by boat or air.

Stehekin is the small town at the very end of the lake. We spent 90 minutes there, and it was nice. Worth ten hours on a slow boat to see? Depends on whether you had planned to stay longer than 90 minutes, I think. There's several nice lodges, lots of places to camp out, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, pack mule excursions, all kinds of water sports, float planes and helicopter would be an amazing place to spend a honeymoon, for sure.

We had a drink and a sandwich in the main lodge, wandered around the town, saw the little museum, some pioneer cabins, a gallery and a gift shop...roamed around the lakeside, took pictures. Like I said, nice.

I guess a large part of the Stehekin allure is being cut off from civilization. There are no roads. Not even forest service tracks. All the waste is cargoed out and incinerated uplake. All the groceries and other supplies are cargoed in. Theres no electricity, landlines or cell service. A few cars, no gasoline. No internet. No police, no doctor. There's one satellite phone.

See, the Biker grew up that way (his dad was stationed near the artic circle...they were completely cut off for three solid months every year, in the winter, in the snow, in the PITCH DARK, as a matter of routine) so the novelty value of isolation has kind of worn off, for him. It isn't his idea of a good time. Me, right about the time I'd finished the last page of the newspaper I'd start gnawing the bark off the trees and all crying and chucking hatchets, riding around full tilt boogie on a stolen jet ski wearing a bra on my head like a pirate hat. So no.

Because August is forest fire season, we sailed downlake with a crew of 60 backcountry firefighters who were dropped off halfway up the valley. Most of these guys were barely old enough to shave. I understand there's some decent money to be made chopping firebreaks, but once we got a look at what these poor bastards had to go up way. I'd sooner finish my business major.

The fire had been started by a lightning strike. It began in the bottom of a remote valley completely encircled by steep,dry hills. When we passed it going uplake it was burning pretty well but still limited to the valley floor. What smoke there was, was white, which means moisture, and helicopters were overflying us regularly carrying huge dump buckets filled with water to pour on it.

When we came back it was a different story. A wind had been blowing steadily all day, and when evening came it suddenly became stronger. As we watched, the whole valley went up like an atomic bomb. A column of red flame, roiling with with black, rocketed straight up out of the center of the hills, taller than the peaks of the surrounding mountains. Everyone on the boat went silent. The smoke turned heavy and brown and boiled up all around it like a volcano. The wind carried it across the sun, which faded to a bright circle, and the smoke tinted light turned the whole lake bronze.
It was an awe inspiring, majestic, satanic thing to see, and I never want to see it again.*

As we drove back into Wenatchee we decided to grab some pizza. The first place we entered seemed not to be staffed, so after mooching around hello-ing towards the kitchen we shrugged and went elsewhere.

The place we settled on was some Pioneer-themed western pie barbecue type of place, with barbecue. As we entered the door, the first thing that greeted us was a huge, hand-carved wooden bas-relief depicting a severed pioneer head. It had wild blowing hippie hair, a full beard, and an extremely manic expression in its eyes.

So far, so good.

We had some average, edible food, which arrived frequently and in large portions. Why my Western barbecue sandwich was passed through a panini grill was never explained. An inexplicable baked object arrived mid-meal. I was suspicious. The Biker ate it. He said it was good, and tasted "like a puck-shaped baked bread of some sort."
Wagons, milk cans and old kerosene lanterns gathered dust on the faux shed-roof over our booth. In the waiting area two life-sized Pioneer rag dolls, an elderly man and woman, sat on a bench wearing authentic dead pioneer clothes, staring at the overpriced hot sauce on sale near the cash register. From where I sat I could see them whenever I glanced up and frankly this played with my brain.

We went back to the room and watched some Food Network for awhile. Then we hung around by the pool looking good, wandered up and down the parking lot (also looking good) and fed our leftovers to a feral cat that jumped out of a barbecue as we walked by it.

Thus concludes day two. Only two more days to go!

*the firefighters were fine. they never even saw the fire; the fire manager had declared it uncontrollable earlier that day and sent everyone out. so instead of risking their lives they all got a free camping trip on the lake, plus wages!


  1. No Internet?


  2. A forest fire, a severed pioneer head and a mysterious baked cool is that.

    I dont like the sound of all that cut offness , i would be on the jet ski behind you with my underpants on my head , singing in taiwanese (well ok , pretend taiwanese) with a balloon whisk syuck in each ear like cool alien antenna :-)

  3. mj: tragic and unnatural, isn't it?

    beast: enforced isolation? hey, idle hands (and minds) are the devils workshop, folks. *revs jet ski engine, adjusts beast for better reception* hang on tight, buddy; we're gonna find the mothership if it takes all damn day!

  4. How lovely! enjoying your little travelogue.

  5. You should come to Scotland and vist Inverie on LocNevis. It's only accessible by boat or two days hike across a blasted wildernesss.

    It boasts the Inverie Inn, probably the best boozer on the face of the planet

  6. I like to take my isolation in "modified" portions.And right now, I could handle a large portion of your vacation spot. Hold the forest fire, please!

  7. Question: Was biker's dad stationed in Barrow?

  8. Woo-ee, that fire sounds like a sight to be seen. Amazing, powerful and terrifying. And hey, it broke up the slow boat trip!

    I want to hear more about the fifties-style hotel with the fat cat. Did you go to the drive-in for a malted? Did the biker wear a DA?

    Don't bother - I know with all those magic fingers you did some "necking" and "petting".

  9. You still aren't telling us about all of the Sasquatch. I think that they have learned to start the fires and get rid of all the Rangers.
    Then they can go into town.

    That cruise sounds excellent but here is the rub..
    the less people that know about it the better.

  10. I quite often mysteriously bake things - it's not hard - however no-one has yet offered to eat one.

    Lovely hols FN.

  11. Mooning people NEVER gets old

    ( ! )


    ****runs off sniggering****

  12. garfy: now that i'd enjoy. what sounds really cool is the 'blasted wilderness'. is that a pejorative blasted, or a detonation blasted?

    dinahmow: you just got back from Paradise, now come on!

    gale: Unalakleet was one. it was an FAA station in the middle of nowhere. also Bethel, and some other one way up north. other than the winter months he liked it.

    danator: Fat cat stayed in the office and ate cheezburgers. Barbecue cat lived in the barbecue by the pool and inspected all the rooms with the maids.

    homoE: we saw him at Wal-Mart buying a pair of cargo shorts.

    ziggi: i wanna go baaaaaaack!

    beast: you weirdo; get back to work!

  13. I go more for the big cities for vacation rather than country - too many places near here to be alone, I'd rather see things and hear noise. (as if there was nothing to see here in Vegas)

  14. Anonymous1:11 PM

    You could have been t.. t.. trapped out there for weeks Ms FN! I am glad you escaped.

    I am worried about the empty Pizza place... maybe you missed a trick there. You could have taken over, made pizza and walked off with the takings for a night?

  15. Joe: I was in Vegas yeeeeeeears ago with my mother and saw Kathyrn Kuhlman. and lots of eucalyptus trees. and a Kentucky Fried Chicken place. so yeah. You need to visit Seattle! it's the Anti-Vegas!

    muttley: we did think about returning, backing up to the delivery entrance with the whip and emptying the contents of the walk-in into it. pizzas for life!(sounds like a gang motto, doesnt it? southside!)