THE TEXT FROM my mom saying she had just come home as the ambulance was leaving with my dad marked the beginning of nearly two years of my growing familiarity with Interstate 5.
That was March 2017.
My dad had fallen down the indoor stairs in my parents’ home in the San Francisco Bay area. He’d completely shattered his right ankle. This injury would require three surgeries.
While this wasn’t the hip fracture that so often leads to a sharp decline in an older person’s health, it has had the same effect.
In 1991, the decision to leave my home state was a relatively easy one. But like many decisions of that time in my life, I have had to live with the consequences.
Being nearly 1,000 miles from my parents was great when we were all in good health and the distance was a buffer when my grandparents and those of their generation passed away.
However, as my parents are aging, this distance is not great or buffering. Instead, it has become a burden.
To put it in numbers, during the first drive down to help after my dad’s fall, my 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee turned 300,000 miles near Drain, Ore.
Just the other day, it passed 350,000 miles on its original V8 engine.
Yes, in one and a half years I have put 50,000 miles on my car and big chunks of that happened as I drove to and from my parents’ home.
In the past, I have made this trip once a year with my kids to see their grandparents.
Interstate 5 seemed predictable there was never an issue.
But in the past year and a half, I’ve come to learn that this major transportation freeway has its limitations.
For example, during my trip down in the earlier part of September, I was halfway through Oregon when I heard on the radio that I-5 was closed in California due to wildfires.
Frankly, I didn’t believe it.
Nearing the Oregon border, the blue sky was infiltrated by smoke.
Mount Shasta, which usually rises proudly into the sky south of Yreka, was nearly lost in the brownish haze.
I kept going because all the big trucks were going and if anyone is going to know highway conditions, they are.
Sure enough, partway through the Siskyou Mountains, there was a detour that took all of the I-5 traffic, two lanes in each direction, and put it on a two-lane highway.
The detour highway drove through pine and fir forests that in some ways reminded me of the West End.
Having been trained in the ways of logging since marrying a logger, I could recognize logging roads and equipment.
I could identify the log types on the log trucks and I knew a chip truck when I saw it. I think I even saw some vine maple hiding in the underbrush.
When the detour hit a small town with a population just over 3,000, I instantly recognized the logging town of Burney as Forks’ California counterpart, right down to the log yards and mills on the outskirts of town.
Though the detour transformed my 14-hour drive into more than 19 hours, this logging detour made me feel not so far from home.
I have since driven through the burned area that closed I-5.
There were still spot fires visible in the dark and the sight during the day made me pray earnestly that the forest around my home doesn’t end up like that.
I simply shudder at the thought of what I would have left if such a thing did occur.
Usually, I leave my home between midnight and 3 a.m. to do the drive in one day. Long ago, I used to go through Port Angeles and the Hood Canal to get to I-5 just past the Tacoma Narrows.
But that was before my very unfortunately deceased father-in-law Randy Kraft, a log-truck driver, educated me that in reality, it’s faster to go down the coast through Aberdeen and Rochester to grab I-5 by Centralia.
I trusted him, as truck drivers know the highways, and of course, he was right.
Portland dictates when I leave, as there is really no good time to navigate the traffic through there.
Driving the tangled web of bridges, overpasses and underpasses does seem to be easiest in the darker hours of the morning, though.
Coming home, there is a sign on I-5 in Washington that reads “Seattle 120” and I know exit 88 is coming up. Though it takes just shy of two hours to get to Seattle from this sign, it takes me three and change to get home to the West End.
Once my Jeep’s tires are on Highway 12 and heading northwest, I begin to relax.
In the past six months, I have made this trip four times and inevitably, clouds get thicker as the roads lead north. Wet pavement makes me almost giddy and rain is a relief after hundreds of miles with just dry grass lining the roadside.
My husband usually has a kiss and a bottle of red wine ready for me when I arrive home.
My dad’s health is steadily declining and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
I sincerely believe it is a privilege to be in a position to help the two people who helped me so much and the long drives give me lots of time to be grateful for the time with my dad that I do have.
Zorina Barker has lived on the West End for most of her life. She is married to a Forks native who works in the timber industry. Both of her kids have been home-schooled in the wilds of the Sol Duc Valley. She can be reached at 360-461-7928 or [email protected]
West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.
Her next column will be Oct. 16.