Though bittersweet, the day finally arrived for me to leave Linda, Greg, and Pebble Beach Place. To get from there to Seattle I needed to take Hwy 106 east, which follows the south shore of Hood Canal to its termination; then north through Bremerton to Poulsbo; snake around to head southeast across a bridge over Port Orchard Bay to the north side of Bainbridge Island; drive three quarters of the length of the island to the ferry terminal; drive my car onto the ferry and enjoy a 35 minute ride across Puget Sound to downtown Seattle. All said it’s 2 to 2-1/2 hours to travel roughly 45 miles as the crow flies. Daunting, I suppose, if you’re the sort who’s in a hurry. But I wasn’t. I would take my time. I had stops to make. The day John and I visited Bainbridge Island in August of 1997 was one of our favorite days during one of our favorite weeks spent together in our lives. I intended to linger and savor the memory of it.
People have asked me what my inspiration was for a road trip and for this particular route. Several things were, but the primary ones are what I’ll focus on in this entry. In the summer of 1997, I spent two months as an intern at a large Seattle architecture firm called Callison. I was 23, and until the previous summer when I roamed about Europe under the guise (tongue-in-cheek, mom and dad!) of studying architecture, I’d not been beyond a small world consisting of portions of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Living in a city and surrounded by large bodies of water were alien to me—both were things that came with life in Seattle. My new Seattle friends were mostly single professionals in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who enjoyed cycling, sailing, world travel, outdoor sports, art, architecture, independent films, hobbies and passions, and I was often shocked to discover they were five, ten, even fifteen years older than they looked. They were young at heart and full of life! Where I came from, people in that age bracket were waist deep in mostly torpid jobs, marriages, divorces, and seemingly predictable lives with kids and even grandkids. Some were perfectly happy with their bucolic lives. Many were not and most of those didn’t realize they had a choice. That’s where I thought life was leading me, and to be honest, I’d never given it much thought otherwise. This new world opened my eyes to more of the options life has to offer.
John was 20 and had seen less than I. Until I left for the summer, we’d been living together in Lubbock, Texas. During my time away we spoke often. In those phone conversations, I shared with him the amazing places and people I was experiencing; that I wished he could fly up to spend a few days with me in Seattle and drive back to Texas together. So…he did. It was our first trip together as adults, without family, exploring a new place, discovering we could do it and that we loved it.
I remember the drive from Sea-Tac Airport after picking John up and my excitement to have him there. We would explore Seattle for a week together before our drive home. For that drive our original intention had been to follow the coast down into southern Oregon or Northern California before turning east. But the beginning of Fall semester came faster than we anticipated, and we ended up driving a more direct interior route. In the years since then, we often talked of wanting to go back and make that coastal drive someday. In the days after John’s death as I asked myself what would be the best way for me to celebrate the relationship that was Cara and John, the answer came quickly and clearly: RETURN TO SEATTLE. So…I did. And rather than fly, I drove that route we never drove but wanted to; to a destination we explored together; both of which opened our eyes and made our worlds bigger.
I lived part of that summer with Liz Follis, a fellow intern at Callison who quickly became a dear friend and soul sister. She also met John the week he stayed with me at her family’s home in the Mount Baker neighborhood overlooking Lake Washington. Boy and wow!...we awoke each morning to the most amazing view out our east facing windows; a view we shared fondly as one of our most memorable. For my return trip, Liz and her mother, Lorna, were generous hosts once again and invited me to stay with them in their new condo. That was my destination this evening after wending my way across canals and sounds and islands and bridges and ferries and downtown Seattle—to reconnect with Lizzy.
Crossing Port Orchard Bay to Bainbridge Island came with a flood of emotion. It was the first place to which I’d return where John and I shared one of our favorite days together. I drove along Hwy 305 that’s carved into dense forest and bifurcates the upper part of the island diagonally north to south. I saw the “Welcome to Bainbridge Island” sign through tears. I made my way to the ferry terminal that was our original port of entry and retraced our steps along the boardwalk. I drove our route back up the east side of the island to Fay Bainbridge State Park. I parked in the lot where John and I parked and scampered over a minefield of logs to the same beach we explored. I watched sailboats bobble in Puget Sound just as we had 14 years prior. I noted what felt familiar and what of my memories time had had its way with. I cried. I smiled. I felt John and his playful amusement…loving every moment of being back in this spot where, if I remember correctly, was the first place he ever set foot in ocean salt water. I simply remembered and was steeped in gratitude for those moments we had together.
Afterward, I went to the home of Ann and Dave who I’d met in Union, and joined their small band of neighbors and family for dinner. Dave was the environmental attorney who’d successfully represented the citizens of Mason County in their battle against the industrial incinerator threatening their community. They live in a beautiful home on the west shore of the island, and when they heard I’d be on Bainbridge, they extended an invitation. When you’re an inspired vagabond and make yourself available, good company and generosity are never far away. By the time I boarded the ferry to Seattle, it was too dark and cold to enjoy the full views from the deck or take proper pictures. Instead, I sat inside next to a spontaneous string quartet for the duration of the 35-minute ride. John approved.
I drove from the ferry straight to Liz’s house. I could hardly contain my excitement for seeing her again. We talked for hours. We had only stayed in sporadic contact since 1997, so there were years to catch up on. Conversations reconfirmed that even with the distance of time and miles we are indeed kindred spirits. The next day I joined her family’s Easter egg decorating ritual and felt as comfortable as a long lost cousin reunited. During the rest of my stay, Liz and Lorna gave me the gift of a quiet nest to return to after days of revisiting fond memories of my brother. In the years since our initial visit, anytime John and I would reminisce about Seattle, he always asked if I knew how Lizzy was doing. He totally dug her. It was great to be back.
WATCH THE VIDEO tribute of my day returning to Seattle via Bainbridge Island.
View more photos in the Roadtrip: Union to Seattle gallery