Our Armageddon

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Woke up, had breakfast in restaurant, and loaded up truck for the getaway. Decided to drive back roads to avoid roadblocks. Rumors of fines for being on highways or for going faster than 10 mph in town. Filled gas tank and bought a spare air filter. Drove east a few miles, then turned north toward Warden. Nobody driving on the roads at all. We took pictures in middle of nowhere, us grinning and looking like dust-covered Okies. Passed a stalled camper in the middle of a rural intersection with a woman inside. She said her husband was seeking help and we should go on. She looked very frightened. Passed a police car parked in a gas station with the hood up, being worked on. We picked up a panic-stricken Mexican boy who was walking zigzag, staggering with fear, up the middle of the ash-covered road. The ash accumulation was about four inches here. We dropped him off at the overpass near Moses Lake, over I-90. Could see cars covered with ash abandoned on the shoulder of I-90.

Started north on small country road across the wheat fields. When we looked for our map, we couldn’t find it. Panic! Must have slipped out when we stopped for the frightened boy. Reversed direction. Drove at high speed (too high for ash conditions) back to Warden. Still no map. (The next day we found it in the back of the truck, where I had laid it when I helped the boy into the truck.)

Decided to try to go north using my memory as our guide. Dumb. Ash got deeper and deeper as we traveled. Finally stalled out. Just before we did, I mumbled, “I’m losing air”—meaning the carburetor. Ciel thought I meant I was losing air. For the first and only time, she showed how frightened she was. I heard this tiny trembling voice say, “I’m scared.” Stopped, reassured her, and got out of the truck to check under the hood for the problem. Found the engine compartment packed with fine white ash. Changed the air filter and swept out the ash as best I could with our camp broom. Decided to abort the escape for now and backtrack to Moses Lake before we got into serious trouble.

MIDDLE OF SECOND DAY

We made it to a trucker’s café off of I-90, near Moses Lake. Startled other refugees with our filthy appearance. We were despondent, disoriented, discouraged, dirty, and somewhat hopeless. All around us were other stranded people—sick, staring, talking quietly or excitedly, all of them nervous. Our heads were pounding, eyes burning, throats raw. On off chance I called the Hallmark Inn in Moses Lake and—miracle!—they had a room. I blew the remaining dust out of the engine compartment using the air hose at the trucker’s station, and we took off for the motel. We settled in at the Hallmark in relative comfort.

Ate in the motel: tournedos rossini and shrimp tempura. Watched news till bedtime —early. During the night we slept fitfully, got up often, and looked out on the ash.

THIRD DAY

Woke up early. TV said Seahawk football players were driving over Stevens Pass to Wenatchee to run river in rafts in spite of the ash-fall conditions in eastern Washington. This settled it. We were going out, and Wenatchee was the way to go.

We loaded the truck again. When we got on 1-90 heading west, the air was clear. The road landscape was all-white, covered with two-to-three inches of ash, cars in every position along the side, abandoned. No humanity the entire way to Route 281 turnoff. Increasing feeling of elation as we drove along through sand-dune area. Began to realize we were going to make it! Turned north on 281 to Quincy. Heard later that I-90 was closed completely about 30 minutes after we left it due to rising wind and blowing ash.

Did a lot of hollering and shouting as we dropped down into the Columbia River canyon, the Rock Island area, and on into Wenatchee. Quite a few cars and trucks now, none quite as white as ours though. By around 1:00 P.M. we were seated in dusty triumph at a picnic stop just west of Leavenworth, eating crackers and cheese, drinking wine from our special camping stemmed glasses, and toasting our successful escape from the white desolation. We had made it.