The first challenge of the Elbe Hills Challenge was getting there.
Laurie, Otto's new owner, had agreed to haul our horses (and my fat butt) the five-plus hours over White Pass. We got a very late start because of some drama she's having getting her new property fenced. Luckily, Heather, Heather's mom and the baby had hit the road a couple hours before, knowing that they'd make more stops because of the infant—and also because I had warned them about the limited number of campsites.
Laurie and I got the ponies loaded up shortly after noon and burned rubber toward Yakima. We were still in the greater Prosser-Mabton-Sunnyside metroplex when we got a call from Heather: White Pass was under construction, with one-way traffic and up to two-hour delays. She and her mom had elected to take Chinook Pass instead (though they were calling us from the base and hadn't actually gotten into the pass yet). Heather just wanted to give us a heads-up so we had time to make an informed decision.
Well, semi-informed anyway. The last time I went through Chinook was 1999 or something, and it was foggy both in reality and in my memory. I couldn't remember if it was trailer-friendly or not. Laurie didn't know either. But on our side is the fact that she has done some commercial hauling and believed that she could take a trailer anywhere she could take a car. We decided it would be better to take a chance on Chinook than to sit with the horses for hours in 100-degree heat at the base of White Pass.
Personally, I think the scenery was worth a few hairpin turns and some long stretches of steep up-and-down. (But then, I wasn't driving.) Also, when we reconnected with the White Pass road near Packwood, we saw a long line of cars backed up down the highway—Yay! We made the right choice!
During the course of this little adventure, I had been studying a state road map and found a seasonal road that went from Packwood to Ashford—a road that might cut 20 miles off our drive. A very nice man at a gas station in Packwood confirmed that the road was indeed paved and trailer-worthy. And we found as we drove it that the scenery was just a bonus. It was basically lined with camping areas the entire way. Gorgeous forest and mountain streams.
We rolled into camp in fading evening light to find the tents already set up at a primo spot right next to the registration table, across the road from the meeting shelter. I have to admit, this location made me a little giddy. Not only that, but our fellow Walla Wallite, Dean Hoalst, was coincidentally in the same area and had arrived not long before us. Team Walla all vetted in together as the last rays of daylight filtered through the trees.
I skipped most of the ride meeting in order to set up my camping accommodations, but I heard it was short and well-run.
I more or less collapsed onto my air mattress and proceeded to my customary eight hours of tossing and turning prior to a ride. The facts—that we were going only a short distance, we weren't competing, and I didn't have to ride naughty Otto—didn't help my pre-ride nerves as much as you might expect.