Ed and Rachel Barnhart
Tolkien wrote: “not all those who wander are lost.” Ed and Rachel Barnhart are this sentiment sprung to vivid life. Says Ed: “As a little boy I drove my father nuts on road trips. I always wanted to ‘drive up that road’ just to see where it went.” Rachel suffered from a similar wanderlust. Her initial aspiration was to “see the world as a flight attendant”. Life had other plans, and she ended up working in banking and office management, but her desire to travel never waned. Now retired, the intrepid RVers hooked up their Alfa Gold fifth wheel on a mission to see all that God created and man constructed…and find the best pizza in the USA. From the beaches of Seattle, Ed and Rachel set their sights on Maine. From there they would turn south toward the sunshine, only to be greeted by the worst Mother Nature had unleashed in decades. Undaunted, the Barnharts headed off into the sunset, through the southwest and across the Rio Grande to the shores of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. From sea to shining sea and back again, all in one trip around the sun. This is chapter 1 of that story.
Our Alpha Gold
We pulled out of Wenatchee on Friday, April 2nd. Our adventure in the Land of Awes was about to begin, but first, we needed to get to know our vessel. We spent our first four nights at Lake Pleasant Resort near Bothell in the Seattle area. Once a gravel pit, Lake Pleasant was born after extensive reshaping and landscaping. Now this pretty little park has two small lakes and over 100 RV sites. One nice perk at Lake Pleasant is the evergreen hedge that separates each RV site, offering additional privacy.
One of our first days at the park ended at Pegasus Pizza at Alki Point. This incredible meal would be the pizza against which all others would be compared on our Quest to find the Ultimate Pie.
But our time in Seattle was not all about the food. We toured the Boeing Museum of Flight and visited a hobby and woodworking store. We also took in a play, a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Fifth Avenue Theater. Very funny!
Tuesday morning we pulled in the slides, hitched up the Alfa Gold and headed west. We had yet to decide on the initial Big Trip of our journey in the Land of Awes, so we decided to spend a little time getting to know our new home. We set up shop at Ocean Mist, a park with sites that back up to a Pacific view. Perfect place for a shakedown cruise.
When we were not getting to know our RV, we spent the time learning how to be retired. We rose whenever we woke, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and decided how to spend our days. Many days we simply picked up a newspaper and headed out to the beach. We strolled the sand and watched the birds. Some days we drove over to Hoquiam and Aberdeen to picnic by the water. One of the most unique things we experienced was the Annual Crab Races. As competitors of all shapes and sizes urged their crabs down the ramp to the finish line, we snacked, laughed and cheered them on. I had a hot dog while Rachel, without irony, munched on crab. At the end of that particular day we walked through the marina area of downtown, watched the fishing boats and climbed the observation tower. Terrific view of Grays Harbor!
On April 22nd, we headed over to Washington’s own “Bavarian Village”, Leavenworth, for the annual Musikkapelle concert. It was a special night for us considering that it would most likely be the last time we played with the band I had directed for five years, well, ever. Adding to the singular emotion of the night, my parents were in the audience. At 91 and 88 respectively, it was truly a blessing having Dad and Mom with us. And, if the night were not already special enough, Rachel and I received a traditional German award: then end of a beer barrel with a painting of Front Street and the emblem of Musikkapelle Leavenworth. The inscription read: Ed Barnhart – Musikkapelle Leavenworth – Kapell Meister – 1998-2003. How overwhelming! The icing on the cake was an invitation from our friends Doug and Anne Millar to stay with them at their beautiful German chalet while we were in town.
If you are ever up in this area, do not pass up Leavenworth. Situated 118 miles east of Seattle in a valley on the eastern slope of the Cascade Range, the town and its surroundings look as if you lifted it right out of southern Germany and dropped it in central Washington. The rugged mountains surrounding Leavenworth reach heights of 8,000 feet, but the town sits at 1,100. Winding rivers, crystal clear lakes, waterfalls and rolling hills paint an idyllic backdrop for a town that would not be out of place in a tale told by the Brothers Grimm. Main street is a row of “gingerbread-style” half-timber buildings with telltale peaked roofs. Folk art is carved into the balconies and murals are painted on the walls, completing the storybook feel. At nearly 100 feet, the blue and white striped May Pole draws the eye – and visitors – like a magnet. Other sights include the local German Bierwagen, pulled by four horses, which are harnessed with a rig handmade in Sud-Tyrol, the German-speaking region of Northern Italy.
In addition to incredible traditional German food and desserts, visitors enjoy skiing, dancing, sledding, rock climbing and the brilliant fall colors of Tumwater Canyon.
A few more days at Ocean Mist and we had the kinks worked out of the RV and our initial destinations chosen. Our first “official” stop would be in Frankenmuth, Michigan for the annual Bavarian Festival on June 10th and then Rockland, Maine for the Lobster Festival on August 3rd. Benchmarks decided, we had a few goodbyes to exchange before we headed east. Not surprisingly, at one of our “goodbyes” a party broke out.
Rachel’s former employer, Dr. Parks, arranged a surprise retirement party for Rachel at the historic Horan House. The location was perfect. All we had to do was get her there without spoiling the surprise. I explained to Rachel that the radio had said there were seven eagles in the trees between the bridges at the Wenatchee River – coincidentally, also the location of the Horan House – and that I would like to photograph them. We circled the area several times looking for the “eagles.” Finding none – of course – we parked at Horan House and slipped inside to “grab a bite.”
A lone coworker sat at a table set for many more and Rachel began suspect the ruse. Soon, other coworkers arrived and a celebration of 13 years of service commenced.
But there was one more surprise planned for Rachel before we hit the road. Casually mentioning to Rachel that I would like to enjoy a “Last Supper” in Leavenworth, we decided on King Ludwig’s Restaurant and Biergarten. Because I had played there many times with the Bob Otto Polka Pals, this did nothing to arouse her suspicions. But, when we walked in the door, seventy-five friends rose as one to offer Rachel a very happy 40th birthday. She was absolutely flabbergasted, and we had a wonderful opportunity to bid a fond farewell to so many special friends. That night, those faces and so many familiar voices raised in song have carried us along as we have traveled in the years since.
One of our last days at Ocean Mist, we had the opportunity to entertain our friends Curt and Elaine Claflin. For the entire time I directed Musikkapelle Leavenworth, the Claflins commuted from Olympia to perform with the band. We enjoyed some authentic Irish food at Galway Bay in Ocean Shores and then drove along the beach from Ocean Shores to Ocean City. It felt as if the sunset across the Pacific echoed the end of one phase of life and foreshadowed the beginning of another.
Finally, on May 7th, we turned off the water heater, battened down the hatches and left the Pacific in the rearview. This was the first day of our unforgettable adventure in the Land of Awes. There was so much we wanted to see, and, somewhere out there, the best pizza in the USA was waiting to be discovered.
Check back every two weeks to read the next chapter.