No more than thirty seconds away from the trailhead, the most horrifying sound came from the rear passenger wheel, or thereabouts. I stopped, got out, looked underneath for a rock or a branch or a visible sign of damage. Nothing. I got back in the car, thought maybe I could creep forward, see if the sound returned. The car refused to budge. The wheel was locked, the brake pad (I'm guessing) fused in place, the front tires trying to drag it, kicking and screaming, but it just wouldn't move.
It was six in the evening, and we were way out of cell phone range. Luckily, a nice guy--Alan from Eastlake, a proud Obama supporter and owner of many cats--was heading down just after us. He stopped, and was glad to take us down to Quilcene, where we'd figure out how to get some grub, a tow, and a ride home.
Two outta three ain't bad.
Alan had to stop for gas at a little station in Quilcene. I got out to call my folks, asking if they could come down from Redmond, across the Hood Canal bridge, taking the scenic route. They said they could. When I hung up, a woman driving a Chrysler 300 pulled up at the adjoining pump.
"How do I get back to I-5?" she asked. "I'm lost. I took a wrong turn somewhere, and I've been driving through all these mountains. I'm scared to death of driving in the mountains!" She wasn't joking. I told her that the slowest, but easiest way, was just to keep going south on 101 and hit I-5 north in Olympia. No turns, no bridges, no confusion.
"Thanks," she said. "Also, do you know where the gas cap door release is on this thing? I can't find it."
She stepped out of her car, and I sat in it, looking in vain. Eventually I thought, maybe it doesn't have one. Sure enough, I pulled open the door with my hand. "Thanks again," she said.
I thought for a second. "If you're going back to I-5, through Olympia, that's right where my wife and I are headed," I said. "My car's broken down in the mountains, and I need to get back there. I know it's an imposition, but could we ride down with you?" I could then call my folks, saving them the trip. Plus, she'd have someone to give her company and directions, just in case 101 South proved too baffling.
She hemmed and hawed for a moment, said she'd think about it. "It's not just me, you should meet my wife," I said, calling Melissa over. The woman seemed a little less anxious, but then went over to Alan, asking him if our story was true. Of course it was, he said, telling her how picked us up and brought us into town.
"Okay," she said, and went into the station to pay for her gas. Alan waved goodbye to us and drove away. Inside, though, the woman had a change of heart. "I'm just not comfortable," she told my wife, who was about to buy some snacks for the ride. "If I knew you, I don't think I would worry about it. But I'm a single woman, driving alone." (And we're so intimidating and criminal, my wife thought.)
So, she drove away, leaving us to walk into Quilcene proper, looking for food, deciding that it was probably best that we didn't ride down 101 with a woman afraid of mountains.
Eventually my folks arrived, rescuing us from the heat and the approaching darkness. (Actually, we stayed cool in the Olympic Timberhouse, hearing all about Dino Rossi's recent visit from enamored locals.)
The car's still up in the forest, since, for liability reasons, I had to be present as it's towed, and there was no way to get back up to it before dark. Monday it heads to a junkyard. Too many years of brake problems, many involving mysterious leaks. This summer, I've gotten used to walking and taking the bus around town. This is an omen: it's time to make the Andersons a one-car family.
But I'm not going to stop driving in the mountains. I'm not afraid.