We reached the clear-cut and thankfully there was no fog. The view of Sequim Bay and the Strait of Juan de Fuca was remarkable. Navy blue clothed the foothills to our west and northwest, turning the dark green forestlands into opaque silhouettes against the fading cobalt sky. Twinkling lights from rural farms and John Wayne Marina made the lowlands look as if eastern fireflies were visiting wee folk down below. But I was the driver and my job was to keep us on the road.
“Wow, this is beautiful,” commented our friend.
I turned the headlights on once we reached tree cover again and continued up and around the mountain. As the woods thickened, the road disintegrated. Potholes and ruts gleaming with puddles in my headlights grew deeper, wider, and more frequent. It surprised me that there was water in them. The last rain wasn’t much down where we live, and that was over a week ago. Up here though, the weather’s different. The Olympic Peninsula is funny like that. It can be sunny and windless where you’re at and yet around the corner of the next foothill there can be a sixty-mile-an-hour windstorm happening with rain to boot.
I’m used to sitting high in the Safari van. Not able to see up and around the hood and passenger side of the Impala bothered me. I was winging it, like Luke Skywalker trusting the force. If I could say “driving by ear” it wouldn’t be correct, but you’d understand what I mean, I think. Depth perception left me for younger eyes long ago. I was hoping for the best, trying hard not to bottom out or get stuck or send us hurtling down a cliff.
“Watch it! Veer left! You’re driving too close to the shoulder. Watch it!”
My husband’s acting like me when he drives. Paybacks a bitch. “Hey, why don’t you drive?”
“You’re doing good.”
Chuckles from the back seat. “You guys. You two sound just like . . .”
Bam, I hit a bump. It snuck up on me in the failing light.
I’d have rolled my eyes but they’re glued to the road. But that didn’t stop my mouth. “How come we didn’t take the truck?”
“I didn’t feel like driving.”
“I just didn’t feel like it.”
Hmm. I talk to the backseat sitter. “He didn’t want to hear me nag at him while he drove. Yep. Um hmm.”
“Hey, I see their tracks.” My husband pointed to the ground on the left section of the “Y” in the road. “Looks as if they’re going to the same spot we are.”
“So, where is this new clear-cut?” I asked. “Is it where we came up here to see if we could watch the Southern aurora all those years ago?”
“No. It’s just beyond that.”
By now the woods are thick. I said, “This is the spot where that old clear-cut was.”
“Yeah. Keep going.”
“It’s sure dense here now.”
Our dog begins to whine. Is that because she’s still young or . . . is she frightened of something she knows is out there? If all that whining is due to her bladder, she can just wait. There’s no way I’m stopping the car here.
This is the dark woods. Woods so thick you can’t walk through them. Woods so dense coyotes have a hard time navigating. Hunters don’t have a clear shot at anything. Woods where I imagine predators take advantage of prey tangled in branches. But as long as humans are stupid enough to drive Impalas at night on roads through woods like these, cougars and dire wolves will never go hungry.
This isn’t the place you’d want to be without a running vehicle in the dark of night. Sometimes, I admit to you, my readers, I freaked out when I couldn’t hear the Impala’s engine running, like when I’d take my foot off the gas to maneuver a pothole. My reaction to no noise was to gun it a little on the far side of each rut and I didn’t mean to jerk my passengers around, I was just afraid my car died. Nobody complained. Maybe they were thinking the same thing.
My husband interrupted my thoughts. “Veer to the left.”
There was a logging road that looked like it went straight up the mountain outside my window. But that wasn’t the road we wanted. His left wasn’t that sharp or steep, but it was even more rutted than what we’d already driven over. “Dang!” I said, getting legitimately stressed, “Are you certain this car’s going to make it?”
“Yes. Just drive and stop worrying about it.”
It’s a good thing our friend, who’s sharing the back seat with our sixty-five pound dog enjoys our “banter.” We’ve been married long enough to argue — a lot — sometimes.
Suddenly the woods were behind us. I was surprised to see the sky remained twilight, only a couple shades darker than when we’d first entered the woods. We were now on the southeastern side of the mountain facing Hood Canal. “The moon,” I asked, “Can you see the moon yet?”
“Not yet.” Answered my passengers.
We rounded another bend and I could make out how the road hugged the mountainside for about another mile, maybe less, judging the distance between where we were and the glimpse I got of a campfire up ahead. “Are you certain those were the tracks of our friends we’re following?”
“How do we know we aren’t following the tracks of some creepy tweakers or methheads?”
“Oh no . . .” bubbled up from the backseat.
The logging road worsened and now, believe it or not, there were headlights coming up from behind us. We were trapped.
To be continued . . .