Red Wedding

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My weekend began with Ali. On the 3:45 train home from Palo Alto, I spent the first ten minutes of the journey on the phone to AirBnB, trying to get some money out of them (long story). As soon as I hung up, the man in front of me turned around in his seat and asked if I was British. He did not stop talking then for the rest of the ride. Ali is a 40-something year old man from Egypt, with tanned skin to match his heritage and yellowing teeth from his smoking. When I told him I was on my way to a wedding, he was quick to congratulate me. Explaining it was not my wedding, he was surprised! “When will you marry?” “Ha ha, never?” “But you are beautiful!” More laughing on my end, so flattering! Turns out Ali was on his way to the airport same as me, though he was only going to buy duty free cigarettes, not to travel anywhere or meet someone. Camels were his brand of choice that took him halfway up the Bay. Since he wasn’t sure which station to get off at, I explained the bus I was going to use and he said he’d be happy to do that and follow me off the train. No problem! He then challenged me to a thumb war and we played until Hillsdale. Hmmm…

Ali had a cigarette lit before we were off the platform and walking in the direction of the bus stop. A few streets before mine (I didn’t want to give away my address) I stopped and showed him the way. I was exempt from going with him directly because I had to go home and pack. We exchanged numbers just in case he had trouble and off he went down the street as I jumped on my bike and rode through the back streets to get home.

By the time I’d packed and was walking out the door, Ali (pronounced “al-hey”) hadn’t managed to find the bus stop. By the time I got to it, he stumbled upon it also. His lit cigarette was now accompanied by a can of coke. So we waited for the bus together, but Ali told me of a friend of his who could come and pick us up, take us to the airport. His friend called and I gave him directions (knowing full well there was no way I was getting into a car with these strangers) and he was hours away with traffic so the bus it would be!

We hopped on the 398 and sat at the back with two other homeless people and chatted as we drove north up the highway. He was curious about my ability to fix cars and told me about one he’d bought that didn’t pass smog, we had plenty of stories to swap. At the domestic terminal, I gave him a hug and wished him luck as he said “see you when you get back!”

SFO felt such a familiar place after I’d spent 7 hours here a few weeks before waiting for a delayed flight. That meant the next hour or so went quickly! It was a tiny plane taking me and 100 other people to Spokane, WA and the seats were the biggest I’ve experienced! I shut my eyes as soon as the plane rose above the thick marine layer and they stayed closed for the rest of the journey except for a quick peek out at the sunset glow.

10pm we landed and I picked up my mid-size SUV rental car, a Kia Sorento, and pulled up freecampsites.net. Oh, it had been so long! Happily, there were options very close by which meant there’d be no tired driving. My first option was the NorthQuest Casino only ten minutes away. The sliver of a yellow moon rose above the just-barely-glowing horizon as I pulled into the carpark riddled with RVs, caravans and trailers. “Ahh, my people!” I yelled to myself as I picked a spot where I could do sneaky pees behind the car. It had been too long between boondocks. Now for the interesting bit…. I set up camp in the back of the Kia. I was surprised to find my air mattress fit diagonally across the car easily. The imaginings I’d had of curling up into a ball weren’t to be! After wandering into the casino to use the facilities I snuggled into my sleeping bag and had a great sleep, windows cracked just a little to let the cold northern air creep in.

I woke early thanks to the 4:30am sunrise but I was comfortable enough to snooze for a few hours before emerging. My immediate neighbours had abandoned me but most others remained. After a quick visit into the casino and a bottle shower out the back of the car, I was right to go. Clouds hid the sun making for a cold wedding day.

From Spokane (“spoe-can” not “spoe-cane”), I was heading to Rossland, BC and specifically Red Mountain. It was only a three hour drive if I went direct, but I hadn’t visited this side of Washington before so I had some exploring to do! After getting my new favourite breakfast of an açai bowl into my belly, I followed the Spokane river west. It was typical, beautiful Washington. Everything was green and though the sun wasn’t out, the deck chairs furnishing the many private docks along the water looked inviting.

Just before heading north, I came upon Long Lake Dam. It was no Hoover, but considering it was built in 1915, it was nothing short of a piece of engineering art! At the lookout, I disturbed a family of eagles with a mansion of a nest built atop a pair of sturdy power poles. Excellent pick of a location if you ask me! The baby eagle chirped and chirped for his Mum and Dad to return, but they didn’t want anything to do with me. I could see one of the parents perched at the tip of a tree in the distance, keeping an eye on me from his post.

I left the river behind for a while and drove through small towns with farmland in between. It wasn’t like the endless flat square patches of Saskatchewan, but rolling green hills with tall trees lining them, red barns in all states of disrepair, scrap yards with beautifully aged old Pontiacs and tractors and steeply pitched roofs to handle the thick snow of the winters.

I was on the main highway for only a few minutes before I veered off again, navigating by the paper map someone had left behind in the rental car. At Gifford I met up with the Colombia River and continued north. Being a summer weekend there was plenty of action on the wide river and it’s banks with speedboats and fishing boats dotting the water.

Eventually my touring had to end as I approached the Canadian border. Never excited about the prospect of border crossings, I anticipated what would come next. This was my first time back in Canada after my brief stint in Banff and Jasper at the end of the Astro year. There was no “hello”, “how’s your day” per usual. The immigration officer took my passport and asked where home was. “America now!” With a dry roll of sarcasm on his tongue, the officer questioned why, if I lived and worked in the US, why i had a travel/work permit for Canada. I explained that was from another time. Passport back in hand, off I went. No “enjoy the wedding”, nothing.

Rossland was only minutes outside of America so I happened upon it quickly. After a quick look through town I realised I’d made a big mistake. There were mountain bikers everywhere. Of course there was! Red Mountain was a ski resort, derr!!! Bugger. FOMO overwhelmed me and I was kicking myself for not driving straight up to hire a bike and get a morning ride in. I picked up a trail map for a look (as if that would make things better) then drove up to Red Mountain.

There was a few rows of cute winter houses at the base of the mountain along with the main lodge at the base of the ski lifts. It was a gorgeous green slope that extends steep and high right out from the lodge. I found the wedding spot easy enough thanks to the garden-esque archway that stood at the edge of the deck with chairs arranged suggestively before it. This was going to be a beauty, the sun was starting to come out and everything.

With a couple of hours to kill, I went for a wander into the forest, starting down the mountain. Water trickled along by the trail and the few wildflowers that were out had their brightest colours on show. After steering away from the road, I found myself in a new housing development with some really cool architecture mid-build. As I walked around the back of the complex, I got onto a dirt road and happened upon some riders heading out to the trails. FOMO again. I wished them a happy ride then found myself following them on foot.

I sauntered up “Redhead” and marveled at the features that had been built along it. I got my fix in other ways, just walking these trails and imagining the riding helped to assuage my FOMO.

I found a couple of Rob-like structures in the forest that seemed suitable considering it was his wedding day (Rob built and lived in a treehouse for two terms of his university). When I popped out of the forest, I could see people mingling around on the deck of the lodge.

As I got closer, I tried to find my friend Rob in the crowd and he was unmistakable with a big smile on his face. I found him and gave him a big hug right after I mistook his brother Dave for his other brother Jake. Rob was super excited (as you would be) and we found Jake so I could finally get my official invitation. With that in hand, it was time for me to leave the well-dressed people and go try make myself look like them!

At my car, I dolled up (as much as Astro Chick can) with a dress and a bit of mascara and head back up the mountain to join the party. I got to catch up with Jake, I met other members of Rob’s family and a lot of Theresa’s (the bride) extended family. The sun was completely out by the time we took our seats anticipating the ceremony to come. Thankfully, a bottle of sunscreen appeared and was passed around. Then it started. Rob walked down the aisle with his Mum and she got the tears going early. With Rob under the arch, each of his groomsmen came up to him and performed fist bumps, high fives and hugs. The girls followed in bright-coloured dresses that lit up against the green backdrop. When Theresa appeared with a parent on each arm, the smile Rob had had on his face the whole afternoon disappeared for the first time to be replaced with emotion of the purest form, he was about to marry his best friend.

The two joined under the arch and Sue led a beautiful ceremony that had Rob and Theresa written all over it. The crowd got involved at every step and Jay Jay (Rob’s devoted dog) performed his job as ring bearer perfectly. The sun shone through the whole ceremony, with white fluffs of cotton floating like light snow all around us just emphasising the moment. Rob and Theresa were married! And we’d all been lucky enough to witness it!

After a group photo the party got started. We had drinks out on the deck and I spent a lot of time catching up with the guys I used to work with at Tesla. It was good to hear the stories of my old employer, though not all of them were good. Just as it got chilly outside, we all filed into the dining hall and took our seats. I was placed suitably next door to the Tesla table but sat with Rob’s university mates which was good fun. Turns out one of them owns a Honda Odyssey so we had plenty to banter about.

The food was hearty, just what everyone needed and the wine flowed quickly. Rob’s siblings made light work of MC’ing, keeping everyone in fits the whole time and the speeches from the adults were heartfelt. After dessert came dancing, Rob with his pants rolled up and barefoot like the hobbit he wants to be. After dancing came the poutine bar and slowly the party started to break up. When I heard “hot tub” I followed along to the Ram’s Head Inn with the University lot and we drank cold beers with our bodies in the (nearly scalding) hot water. It was so easy to chat with Rob’s mates, how could it not be when we’re all brought together by this amazing guy?

By 2am we were out of the tub and while there were still a few sitting by the fire inside, I was at my limit and graciously accepted the bed offered to me by Rob’s Mum – not the first time she’s given me a place to stay!

Thank you Rob and Theresa for such a good time, I know you both put a lot of work into your day, and you made everyone feel welcome and happy to be in your company. You’ve got a lot to look forward to. As Rob said, “Grow old with me Theresa, the best is yet to come”.

When I woke up, I swear I hadn’t moved from my original sleeping position. I’d set an alarm but I didn’t need it, the sun was beating through the skylight above me telling me to get up. I snuck past the boys and girls sleeping in bunks near me and met Jay Jay at the bottom of the stairs.

His face said only one thing, “Where’s Rob?” I had a quick shower, gathered my things and quietly snuck out after retrieving Jay Jay who’d run out the door first chance he got looking for his master.

The cool mountain air was a relief to walk out to, it was a gorgeous day at Red Mountain, a perfect follow up to the events of yesterday. I wasn’t in a rush to get back to Spokane for my flight but I didn’t muck around either. After consulting my map, I headed for the border. No issues with customs, I actually had a conversation with the guy about Stanford University! I got myself a croissant at a supermarket and proceeded down the main highway. I was treated to more typical Washington countryside that you couldn’t help to imagine dressed up in white for the winter.

I didn’t make many stops this time and ended up at the airport around lunchtime where I shamelessly packed up my mattress and sleeping bag just as the Avis person came over to check me in. A theme I’m getting used to, when I entered the airport I saw my flight was delayed. Only a couple of hours this time so I wasn’t phased. I had some lunch and found a comfy single-seater couch in a Starbucks where I did some writing and people watched. Ali provided some entertainment also with some interesting messages and a voicemail asking me to please buy some duty-free cigarettes that he would pay for when he picked me up from the airport. I don’t think I’ll be responding to Ali anymore, sorry mate.

I was happy to manage a 20 minute nap curled up in the single-seater and may have drooled a little onto my shirt in the process. By the time I got over the grogginess of sleep I was at my gate and boarding.

I sat down next to a guy who was reading a book so I asked, “Watchya reading?” For the next two hours we talked non-stop. Zac is is a recently-graduated chemical engineer from Santa Barbara who goes into the mountains as much as me and has traveled the west side of the States so we had plenty of chat material. We talked about our jobs, our adventures (most of which overlapped with each other) and the joys and plights of living in California. We had a great time though neither of us got to read any of our books! Thanks for a great end to my weekend Zac, see you in the Sierras!

Now sitting on a bus home, I can’t believe the thought of not being involved in this weekend even entered my mind when I received Rob’s invitation. Friends and experiences like this are beyond cost and logistics, it is such a privilege to have had the time with everyone.

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