When I was growing up, I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to paint stunning landscapes, the kind where the viewer asks themselves, “Is that a photograph?” Then I learned I could produce even more realistic images by just taking photographs. In an effort to improve my skills, I signed up for the Photography 101 wait list at my local community college. I was worried I would not get in the class, but then all three people in front of me were hospitalized after the same balloon accident.
Our first assignment was to take a landscape photograph in our local area and show it to the class. I decided to take a few photos of Mount Rainier, which was clearly visible from just about anywhere. Unfortunately, it turned out the zoom was broken on my camera, so I decided to drive closer to the mountain. My car was overdue for an oil change, but I always waited until the oil burned away, refilling it when the light turned on, so I was not concerned.
I left the city in my tan 1990 Ford Tempo, my camera belted into the passenger seat, and headed south to Mount Rainier National Park. Due to my crippling fear of freeways, I spent several hours on country roads, passing through farmland and forest. At one point in my journey, I nearly hit four cows and a small horse before realizing I had left the road and was driving in a field.
Not far from the park border, I ran out of gas for the first time on the trip. It was a long walk to the nearest town, and there was not much chance of catching a ride in the middle of the forest. I walked along the road in the early afternoon, enjoying the rain that had started the moment my car had stopped. As I rounded a bend, the mountain was before me in all its majesty, towering over the forest like a mighty king of old. My camera was in my car, where I had left it strapped into the passenger seat, so I continued on my quest for gasoline.
I arrived in town an hour or so later and purchased a gas can and two gallons of gasoline. I did not feel comfortable asking anyone for a ride, so I walked back to my car. The return journey took considerably longer, as the can was heavy, and I was out of shape. I had not been to a gym since my first attempt at college, when I would spend an hour a week reading a magazine while sitting on a weight bench.
The keys were on the front seat of the car, but I had left the window open just enough to grab the keys with a hooked stick and push them onto the floor. This had not been my intention. As the rain continued to pour, I tried all the door handles and attempted to hit the unlock button with more sticks. Finally, with a word of apology to my faithful car, I shattered a back window with a rock. After pulling away any shards of glass, I crawled through the window and over the seat. Digging through the small forest of sticks, I found my keys, which had slipped through a small hole in the floor and onto the ground below. The hole was inherited from the previous owner, who had jumped the car into a rock pile.
I emptied the gas can into the tank, started the car, and was on my way. Without further mishap, I reached the gate to the park. I had left my park pass in my other jacket, but thanks to a wrong turn down the exit road at the gate, I managed to bypass the pay station.
Navigating the winding roads up to the mountain has always been a bit difficult for me, but thankfully I had my insurance card, and the damage to the other vehicle was slight. I was now missing a headlight, but there were several hours of daylight left, and I still needed my photograph.
Not far from the Longmire lodge, I found the perfect spot. The peak of the mountain stood against a patch of pure blue sky, the snow shining in the light of the afternoon sun. I grabbed my camera out of the passenger seat, but when I tried to take a photograph, I realized there was no memory card in the camera. I began rummaging around in the back seat, tossing aside my backpack, the jacket with my park pass in it, a few unpaid bills, and a dozen cheeseburger wrappers, before I found the card plugged into my laptop, under an old pair of boots.
I loaded the memory card into the camera and took one of the most amazing photographs anyone has ever taken. After confirming the picture of my car was in focus, I took another photograph, this time of the mountain. My quest had been a success, though there was still the small matter of getting home.
Leaving the park was easy enough, but I ran out of gas again several miles from the gate. I had left the previous gas can by the side of the road as a gift to some future traveler, so after my walk to town, I had to buy yet another can. After emptying the can into the tank, I drove to town and filled up the tank the rest of the way, something I had neglected to do the first time.
I headed north without further mishap, aside from the incident with the moose and the drapery, but that is a story for another day.