June 5, 2003

the ice man cometh

The last few days have been busy, busy, busy. On Tuesday (my Sunday) I went to the shop to get dialed into some new, hardcore windsurfing gear. My co-workers (who variously call me the Scribe, Arthur, and most recently and most often, Hamburglar) have been making fun of me. My sail is from ’96, it doesn’t rig right on my mast and it doesn’t have adjustable battens. My mast is about three feet too long for my sail (take that any way you wish). My car straps are for tying down motorcycles. My wetsuit is for scuba diving. I don’t even have a harness, harness lines or a spreader bar.

My board? My board is fine, though they keep telling me someone stole it out of my yard and put it up for sale on consignment outside the shop. I’m a midwest mess, and seeing as how I work at a windsurfing shop I might as well get a quiver of nice gear with our logo plastered all over it.

As I was prancing about picking out all sorts of nice things, my boss grabbed me and showed me how to update the product database for our e-commerce website. That lasted only a little while, and soon I was able to throw down for my new gear, cram it all in my car and head home. The wind was down (and it’s supposed to be down all week), so unfortunately there was nowhere to go to test out my new rig. I still wanted to get outside so I plucked my Rand McNally 2003 Road Atlas out of the closet, pointed at a small pink square in Washington that said ICE CAVES and hit the road.

The first step was the Hood River Toll Bridge, which is an incredibly narrow, green mass of steel that spans the Columbia and allows us Oregonians to leak into the backcountry of Washington. Some people call it the Singing Bridge because the road is grooved in such a way that your wheels play sweet melodies as you cross. I call it the Siren Bridge because those grooves were placed so that they would pull me into oncoming traffic, through the railing and down into the Columbia.

I filled my ears with bees wax and held on for dear life. After 2 1/2 minutes of white-knuckle terror I reached Washington. White Salmon, WA is the primo town perched on the cliffs across the Gorge from Hood River. It offers an amazing view of my town, with the hills of downtown giving way to the valleys of orchards and vineyards, resting right under the jagged tooth of Mount Hood.

Looking at the map again, I just found a town along the Gorge in Washington called SKA-MANIA. We’ll go there soon enough.

I pressed north, crossed the White Salmon River where people were all out kayaking, and eventually reached the town of Trout Lake, which rests in the shadow of Mount Adams (or would if the sun set in the north). I shot some pictures, stopped at the Adams ranger station, and continued on to the Ice Caves along a winding forest road. Soon I was the only person for miles, which was appropriate because I was near a place called Petersen Prairie. Of course they spelled ‘Petersen’ wrong, but hey, doesn’t everybody?

The caves were actually a series of lava tubes that were so arranged that cold air got trapped inside and would breed ice. I squeezed in a small crack and started exploring, but at first only found wet, cold pahoehoe. When I got closer to the far end of the cave I started finding little icy stalagtites and stalagmites, and rocks coated in bubbly ice. While crossing a flat area I broke though some surface ice and soaked my leg up to the calf.

I grabbed some stumpy stagmites and pulled myself up a ledge to explore an area that was called the Mystical Grotto. I found bits of ice and a can of Pabst. Eventually I broke off the main drag to explore a small room that had a series of thick icicles hanging from the ceiling, and when I spun around to leave I glocked my head really hard on the ceiling. Really hard. I brought my fingers up to survey the damage and they came back red, with a metallic taste. A huge bump was popping out of my head, but it never occured to me that perhaps I was near something cold that would have helped it out a little.

Worried that my explorations in icy and slippery volcanic caves could soon turn disasterous, and worried that my track record for survival in the Pacific Northwest was good so far but definitely strained, I decided I should leave. I climbed up from the caves on the official wooden staircase (that still had three feet of snow at its base ), got in the Dragon and started on the hour-long drive back to Hood River.

Evening was falling, and when I dropped out of White Salmon back into the Gorge I saw the most amazing blue gradients taking hold in the hills along the River. Looking for a good place to pull over and snap some pictures, I drove down to the Hatchery, parked on the side of the freeway and got out of my car. I went to cross the railroad tracks to get a good view, but the far side was a steep decline straight into the River. Not entirely sure I would be able to get back up the rocky slide, I stood on the tracks for a few moments and took some pictures from there. When I was finished I hopped back down to my car.

Five seconds after I left the tracks a train came whizzing by from behind.

I stayed home the rest of the evening.