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Riding Washington's Highway 2 with Beginner's Mind

Riding Washington's Highway 2 with Beginner's Mind

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Not long from now, I will jump in a car or hop an Amtrak and head east toward the Methow Valley (by way of Wenatchee if by train) for the sole purpose of tasting perfectly balanced ciders brewed by my friends Mary and Eddie at the boutique cidery they’ve been dreaming of.

Not just dreaming, but working their arses off  to create these past several years, tilling the soil, grafting scions, building their orchard. With heirloom libations, salted cider caramels, delicious Jersey Butter and other appley delights Mary will develop (because she can’t help herself), I have a feeling Nonesuch Cider will lure a lot of people east of the Cascade Mountains.

Until that vision is fully realized, however, friendship and a truly spectacular drive is more than enough to make me hit the road between Seattle and Methow (the teeny town and the pristine valley of the same name). Particularly when the road I hit is US Highway 2.

I've traveled a lot, and to my mind, Highway 2 (U.S. Route 2)  is the most beautiful drive in Washington State, winding as it does up and past funky little towns, through protected forest land and over Stevens Pass before eventually spilling into resplendent Eastern Washington.  

Bridges over Skykomish River.

Bridges over Skykomish River.

I’ve been driving this road for 30 years, through four years of college, through several romances (it’s a romantic drive), through marriage and bringing up my two children. The gentle meandering ride, with mountains rising on either side, the Skykomish river raging or trickling nearby depending on the season — all of these are part of the Highway 2 allure. But so too are the little stops along the way, the pull-over moments that have become traditions.

As I pass through the “big” (by US 2 standards) city of Monroe, I stop for two things I literally never eat unless I’m traveling this specific road. A Super Big Gulp from 7-11 (I'm pretty sure this tradition that started on a road trip with my last college boyfriend). And spicy Doritos, a tradition added by my son. If he were with me know, he’d be supremely happy to see me red-mouthed and crunching away. I tossed the Big Gulp, I have to admit. I'm just too old for all that sugar.

Not quite a corn snake....but found at Reptile Zoo.

Not quite a corn snake....but found at Reptile Zoo.

A few miles east, I make a pit stop at the Reptile Zoo which opened in 1996, a year after my daughter was born. There are so many cool creatures here, so much to explore with people who truly care about the scaley critters they share. I know when my son’s reptile-adorning girlfriend arrives from England this summer, this stop on Highway 2 is at the top of their list. I think it was here at the Reptile Zoo, among the lizards and snakes, that my daughter decided she wanted a snake for a pet.

Unable to get a snake at the pet store near our house, she and her dad returned home with an iguana and a book all about caring for iguanas. Turns out iguanas do best with their own bedroom. They can grow to 15 feet in length.

Not quite Iggy....but found at Reptile Zoo.

Not quite Iggy....but found at Reptile Zoo.

“Iggy” as he was quickly, sadly named, went back to the store, despite my daughter’s tears and protestations. In the one day she had him, she “looooovvvveeeddd Iggy” the iguana. Soon after we were able to placate her with orange corn snake. That too was a short-lived love affair, ending with the snake escaping somewhere under the house. Maybe it’s still there, large and brooding near the sump pump. Or, he might have been eaten by one of the house cats.

Further east to I stop at the Wayside Chapel, known to my kids at the “pause, rest and pray” stop.

Who could pass this up? The Wayside Chapel in on many lists of quirky must-stops, including  Quirksee .

Who could pass this up? The Wayside Chapel in on many lists of quirky must-stops, including Quirksee.

I'm not religious — although over the years I’ve definitely come to believe there is something higher than myself in charge of most things — but this tiny church has been here for as long as I have been driving this road. Longer. According to some reports it was built and dedicated in 1962, but its hard to get that confirmed. And, it’s impossible not to stop. I've stopped here in sun and rain and snow. One of my favorite photo Christmas cards was made here after I drove out in the freezing cold with a heavy snow  to snap my garden gnome peeking out the tiny chapel door as forlorn cows shivered in the background.

I “pause” this time at little chapel to meditate. Right now in my meditation practice I am focusing on the concept of beginner's mind — that is reminding myself to see each thing new, as if for the very first time, as a beginner.

I close my eyes and recall the very first time I stopped here. It was my first year of college. The chapel was cute and quaint and quirky. I felt light and laughed at the notes left on the pulpit. At the time, I was religious, and I may have even prayed in this chapel.

Returning to beginner’s mind that first joy of discovery returned, as did the curiosity. The notes on the pulpit were gone but the graffiti was fascinating. I looked at the steeple anew, took in the verdant pasture behind the chapel as if I’d never seen it before. And it did become new. I noticed the wood of the fence, the house in the distance.

Beginner’s mind. How I want to live in that mind.

Continuing forward up toward the mountain pass, I stopped for a cup of joe at the Cup of Jo espresso stand in the little town of Sultan. Sultan comes right before the town of Startup. When the kids were young we used to call this place Giddyup. I can almost hear them laughing the backseat. Beginner’s mind is that -- the joy of a child seeing, laughing, discovering, singing, teasing.

The road rolls on, past the state salmon hatchery on the left and the railroad on the right. Fish and rails define this state, its industries as well as its tribal history. And this road and its trains are part of the my history with my kids. I can't recall the number of trains we stopped to watch when Aiden was small or how many times we made the trip to Gold Bar for one of our favorite hikes — up the Wallace Falls Trail. Or whether we ever missed the annual sojourn to Stevens Pass to touch the first snow.

Ah, but here I am tripping down memory lane. Can I see it all with beginner's mind? Take this road in as if this is my first drive on Highway 2 and I am not 52 years old; that I am instead a baby or a toddler or child still full of wonder and anticipation; a child asking:

“Can we stop and throw rocks?”

“Can we get ice cream in Sultan?”

I laugh at all the signs along this road, the funny names of things, wondering what lead some place to be named Pickle Farm Road, Goldbar, Sultan, or Startup.  As the car moves forward on the almost empty expanse (a truck rumbling by now and then), cottonwood fluff flies through the air. It almost looks like rain as I move under steel bridge girders and pass by the tiny not-quite-town of Index where the old index Cafe used to make the best darn pie in the world, especially in berry season. No pie today. But I pull over and in my beginner’s mind I can very nearly taste it. Blueberry on a buttery crust that melts like air in your mouth.  

So much green

So much green

There are so many colors of green along this road I'm not sure all of them have names. They shine and shimmer as the light hits them from different angles and as the asphalt twists along like a snake or a lazy bee. The scene is both evergreen and ever-changing, it is wetland and dry land, rocky riverbed and blue sky, lush pine and stripped aspens. My heart rises up in the colors around me and it feels a bit like I am flying through the green with the only noise being the thrum thrum thrum of rubber on asphalt and whomp whomp whomp of wind through the open windows. My phone is in the trunk. There are no pings from devices, no booting sounds from computers or background radio or television talk -- all the distractions that make me forget that green is alive and well and right outside most of the time. It’s there if I would just look up look up from my devices and see.

A sign “Money Creek Road” flows by. I remember the trip when I read out that name to my daughter, then 5 or 5.

“Is that where money comes from,” she asked.

“I wish!” I told her.

So easy to go to memory, even when trying to open to beginner’s mind. I am not sure if, as we age, we can truly see what we have seen before as if we’ve never seen it. But I do notice that today it feels possible. I look at the Money Creek Road sign and ponder a creek flowing with money. Maybe made of leaves, maybe made by little squirrels grinding away in a forest mint.

When I arrive at Stevens Pass, I get out to touch the snow. Not much up here in May, but enough to touch. It is cold, my beginner’s mind notices, before it starts tripping back to watching my young kids sliding down bunny hills in inner tubes at a chalet nearby!

Beginner’s mind is hard to hold onto!

Over the pass, I careen downward toward Leavenworth, Washington’s perpetual Christmas town with its Bavarian themed buildings, foods, Nutcracker Museum and taffy stores. Just before town, I pull off at the The Alps Candy shop overlooking the Wentatchee River. We have lots of rivers in Washington and this drive from Seattle to Methow Valley highlights several of them.

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If you love sugary confections The Alps is the place to stop. It’s got everything from homemade fudge to taffy to many old time hard candies. And they make a mean peanut brittle. How the store stays in business I don’t know, but it does. It’s been here as long as I have.

Which way to the pretzel??

Which way to the pretzel??

I make the Bavarian Bakery in Leavenworth, an hour or so from my friend Mary’s farm and cidery-to-be, my last stop on this ride. The big doughy salted pretzel is delicious, reminding me of my middle and high school years in Germany where these pretzels were served every Friday. But just as quickly I close my eyes and feel the salt on my tongue and roll the velvety crust in my mouth. It is so tasty it must be the first baked pretzel of my life.

Beginner’s mind works. It is wonderful. The sun is shining hot on my face. My tastebuds are singing. I am learning I can carry my memories right along side my beginner’s mind. Beginner’s mind adds depth and color and smell and taste to all that I’ve experienced before. It renews.

I can’t wait to travel this path again.

A Walk on the Water: The Perfect Puget Sound Afternoon

A Walk on the Water: The Perfect Puget Sound Afternoon