Warm weather adventures

Well, I guess if we wanted to test our systems for a long trip, yesterday was a good test. We got an early start and were on the road with a full tank of fuel around 8:30 am. It was 78 degrees when we left Mount Vernon. It was 88 by the time we got to Everett. After seeing temperatures in the 90’s we topped Stevens Pass at 88 degrees. There is just a bit of snow left at the top, but it is melting quickly. The temperature got hotter as we descended. At the rest stop before Leavenworth it was 94 degrees and 104 at Wenatchee. When we stopped for lunch at Coulee City it was 108 and it stayed that hot for the rest of the drive across Eastern Washington. It was still 108 at Spokane and 106 at Coeur d’Alene, where we stopped in the late afternoon at Wolf Lodge where we had a reservation 388 miles in high temperatures and everything went well. The engine and transmission temperatures never got out of the normal range and the air conditioning worked well. Wheel bearings stayed inside of normal temperature ranges as well. The new tires held up well to the heat. It looks like we’re properly outfitted for the trip.

Of course traveling with a camper is taking time to repair the camper. One of the slides on one of the drawers needed to be repaired. Fortunately, it has happened before and I had a spare part on hand.

It took a while for the air conditioning to cool down the camper. I cooked supper outside to keep the inside pool and by the time we took a short walk in the evening heat, the camper was comfortable inside. By 9 pm or so things had cooled off enough that we could turn off the air conditioner and open the windows. As we sat outside talking, we could hear the other campers discover that they didn’t need their air conditioning and the campground quickly became quiet and sleep was no problem.

These temperatures are unheard of around here as well as at the coast. Normal June and July high temperatures in Coeur d’Alene are in the 70’s. We saw lots of folk trying to cool down in rivers and lakes and the campground is full of people wearing shorts and tank tops. That’s not my style, but I have been wearing a big floppy hat and staying in the shade.

We grew up near the mountains and are used to being able to escape the heat by going to the high country, so it seems strange to have such high temperatures in the high country. I used to be able to show people snow year round by driving up into the mountains. I keep thinking of that lonely snow bank at the top of Stevens Pass. The pass isn’t very high - just over 4,000 feet, but there is usually snow there into early July. And the last time previous to yesterday that we drove over the pass was in early November when there were a couple of feet of snow on the ground and the roads were slippery.

I know that anecdotal evidence isn’t what scientists are looking at when they teach us about global climate change, but this much heat this early in the year is impossible to ignore. Whether or not it is evidence of global warming, it is dramatic. Usually when high temperature records are set it is by a degree or two, not ten degrees. And this particular heat wave is lasting longer than usual as well. The duration of the heat wave means a lot of stress for vulnerable people. Because the Pacific Northwest is not among the warmest parts of the country, there is a lot of housing, including most affordable housing, that has no air conditioning. While we can open up the house we are renting and use fans to vent the heat, many apartments don’t have any cross ventilation. That means that their occupants suffer much more during the hot days. People who have no homes are even more vulnerable. Skagit County, where we live, has opened up four air conditioned public buildings to serve as cool shelters for those who have nowhere else to go.

I don’t know how it is working for the folks in the mountains. Fortunately, it cools off pretty well at night in the high country. It is down to 76 degrees as I write. That is comfortable for those who are outdoors, but the forecast is for more high temperatures throughout the week.

When I began my ministry in rural North Dakota, I used to joke about some of the conversations I had with people about the weather. In a community of farmers and ranchers, the weather is always a big topic. I don’t know how many people told me, during my first years in North Dakota, that the current weather was “unusual.” In the summer they would say, “It is unusual for it to be so hot.” In the winter they would say, “It is unusual for it to get so cold.” I decided that there wasn’t a “usual” day for North Dakota weather. On the other hand, part of what made our ministry in that place successful was that I was comfortable going down to the city cafe and drinking coffee with the ranchers and talking about the weather. I used to comment to seminary colleagues that graduate school teaches ministers about theology, history and biblical studies, but not about how to teach those subjects to North Dakota sunflower farmers. In order to do that, you have to know how to find the guys out in the barn working on their machinery, how to climb on a combine without stopping it, and how to talk about the weather. One morning, as a joke, I started counting church members in the local coffee spot. I discovered that we had a quorum for an official church meeting had we wanted one. If you want to serve people, you need to go where they gather naturally and you need to talk about the subjects that are important to them. When you make your living from the land, the weather is important.

A quick note to regular readers: On my website there is a short blog called “The Adventures of Edward Bear.” It is a place-by-place record of our travels that I publish for our grandchildren. If you are interested in knowing where we are when we travel, you can check it out.

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