The White Suburban

I can post this now the car has been returned in one piece.

image 1910 from bradism.com

In January I made a reservation for a "mid-sized SUV" for three weeks of driving between the towns and the trail-heads of the Pacific Northwest. I'd expected a Ford Explorer, like the last time I'd hired a car in the US. Or maybe an ironic reunion with a Jeep Patriot after ditching my right-hand drive version a year earlier.

"We'll upgrade you to something more comfortable," the car-wrangler told me at the SEATAC rental car garage. This was the first sign something was wrong. Unless there are tips involved, when a service person says they're doing something for you it almost always means that they're doing something for themselves.
He handed me a key and said "Take the white Suburban."

I'd never heard of a Suburban before, but if you have you would know where this is leading. I was already nervous about interstates and national park navigation and driving on the wrong side of the road. What I didn't need was the biggest American car ever built. (An incorrect assumption, but that's how it felt at the time). 6 metres long, over two metres wide and nearly as high, the Suburban would have been big and wide enough to fit the old Jeep in the backseats. (Almost)

The Suburban in its natural habitat.

The Suburban in its natural habitat.

I requested an alternative vehicle from the car-wrangler, I.E., the midsize SUV I'd originally requested. The manager got involved. This was apparently not possible. I'd come at the point in the day when all they had left was Suburbans. It was true. There they were, dotted, unwanted, among the empty car parks.

I had to make a decision. I mean, it was just a car, I rationalised. Thousands of Americans drove chonking units like it daily. My anxiety had to be getting the best of me. So I agreed to take it. We loaded our suitcases into the trunk and I slowly, gently got it down the ramps of the parking garage and, sooner than I'd have liked, onto the highway.
It was there, at 65 miles per hour, I quickly realised I was out of my depth. The slow lane constantly turned into an exit lane, and I was forced to merge, maneuver and keep straight this titanic on wheels. A Jeep Patriot passed me, and it looked so small, like a red handcart spied out the window of an aeroplane. Nobody honked at me, but I felt closer to death than ever before. I reached over to squeeze Vanessa's hand but the car was so wide I could only reach as far as the second column of cup-holders between us.
The steering was sensitive, the V8 engine roared, but the Suburban weighs three tonnes. The hour of driving it took to get out from Seattle's web of freeways passed mostly in silence, some swearing, country music on the radio.

By the time we reached the outskirts of Aberdeen, and my first American freeway parking lot, I was beginning to feel more comfortable with the Suburban. For starters, there were helpful safety features, like lane assistance guidance to vibrate the seat when you drifted into other lanes, and extra mirrors to provide visibility of all the parts of the road you couldn't see because of the girth of the ginormous chassis. Features that, you could argue, wouldn't be necessary if the Suburban had been built to normal proportions. But they helped, and driving almost became... Enjoyable.
Then I had to park it. There are more fun things to do than park a Suburban. Vanessa was very helpful.

Once I had the hang of the dimensions, the cruise control and the fuel consumption, the Suburban was, I guess, "comfortable." And as it accompanied us on drives through temperate rainforests, up mountains, along rivers and to misty beaches I realised that maybe the car was also out of its comfort zone of city streets and fast-food chain drive-thrus. Without the Suburban I would never have made it to the top of Hurricane Ridge, or the snowy vistas of Paradise, nor the canyons of Mt Hood and the trails of the Olympics.

image 1912 from bradism.com

image 1913 from bradism.com

image 1914 from bradism.com

And it hit me, as I reached the summit of the final ridge of our last hike - my unconditioned ankles tender from the climbs, my office-worker skin scratched and weathered, the remnants of a hundred spiderweb strands clinging to my hat - that I was a big chonker out in the world too. I was oversized, but getting it done in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.

image 1915 from bradism.com

I was also a white Suburban.


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My Entry About Being Killed By A Bear

Plaster casts of bear prints from near the vending machines at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor's Center.

Plaster casts of bear prints from near the vending machines at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor's Center.

A few months back I was shopping for the upcoming trip to the Pacific Northwest. I stood in the camping store's dressing room, checking the fit of a merino shirt and the realisation suddenly hit me: This was the shirt I would be wearing when I was killed by a bear.

It wasn't the first premonition like this that I'd had. My new hiking boots were also the ones I'd be wearing when I was killed by a bear. My new hiking pants would be the ones I would soil when the bear's claws ended my life. Funnily, the previous marino shirt I had been wearing in the change room was also the shirt I would be wearing when I was killed by a bear. (Seriously, merino shirts are amazing for hiking.)

It may seem a little ironic to worry about bear attacks when I come from Australia and go into the ocean regularly. There shark attacks happen regularly. In Washington State you can count the number of bear attacks in the past fifty years on two hands (assuming you haven't survived a shark attack in Australia).

Why is it our nature to assume the worst? Does it help us prepare for the unlikely? I did learn the rhyming mnemonic for how to react to a bear's aggression. And I whistled occasionally as we walked, letting my boots crunch and thud a little louder than they needed to.
Or, are these kinds of fears a reflection of our ingrained narcissism? Why would a bear want to kill me? How would surviving a bear attack affect my character arc? Would hiking in the Washington wilderness have been less fun if there hadn't been at the edge of my perception the constant threat of bear attack?

When my nineteen days out of the city over, and presuming nothing would go horribly wrong in the Portland Zoo, or the San Francisco international departures terminal, I was a little disappointed to not even have seen a bear. On the plus side I hadn't been gored and eaten, but on the minus, there was no good journal entry in that.

Too busy napping to even try and kill me.

Too busy napping to even try and kill me.

I wasn't killed by a bear, although I did get stung by a wasp when closing a hot tub cover. My instincts had proven to be wildly inaccurate. I'd lived on the edge and enjoyed it; death gives me no hints to its schedule.

Spicy Brown Mustard

image 1907 from bradism.com

This was Spicy Brown Mustard. It added flavour, salt and moisture to dozens of tuna, chicken and turkey sandwiches across Washington and Oregon these past weeks, all while never needing refrigeration on hikes or highways. You deserved better than to be tossed, half full, into a garbage can 50 miles out from Portland. But that's how you went out, because I need that free space in my suitcase for three boxes of cereal and longnecks of IPA.

American Sausage

Today's holiday breakfast was a 1100 calorie sausage holding in some eggs and tomato. There were some slices of toast, a beetroot pattie, and some onion in there too. I did pat that sausage down with some paper towel...

image 1905 from bradism.com

Luckily I followed this up immediately with about 9 kilometres of alpine hiking where I burnt around 1100 calories. Hiking at altitude is great because you get in less oxygen and (some science later) burn off more breakfast.

image 1906 from bradism.com

The air temperature up Mount Hood was around 4°C but the inclines kept me warm. The sky was crisp and the mountain air pure, but every time I exhaled I smelt only sausage. (It tasted great)


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Castaway

image 1899 from bradism.com

How I looked after four days without internet...
And another week of holidays with internet.

image 1901 from bradism.com

We stayed in Sol Duc Valley - world wide web dead-zone - the past three nights and, surprisingly, I did not miss the internet all that much. It's not like I prepared with much offline content. I just did lots of hiking, listened to an audiobook, sat in hot-springs and drank $1.49 cans of craft beer from the resort store to get through.

By my second day offline, woodland creatures were literally visiting me.

image 1900 from bradism.com

This morning I ate breakfast at a waterfall. Eventually we emerged from the valley to free motel WiFi and a bunch of notifications that were almost all completely dismissable. What is the value of the internet, really?

Posting pictures of breakfasts at waterfalls I guess.

image 1902 from bradism.com