Adventures in Grit: A Washington State of Mind

Fourteen years ago this month I packed all of my belongings into a 9-passenger conversion van and moved across the country from Minneapolis-St Paul, MN to Seattle, WA. This is the furthest distance I’ve ever moved and one of my last one-vehicle moves. It was also a little more adventurous of a drive than the more-than-I-can-remember-to-count road trips I’ve taken across the country.

Along the way my sister and I decided to listen to a book on tape (yes, an actual tape) and Dean Koontz’s Intensity certainly provided interesting ambiance while we slowly drove past hundreds of deer along the lonely Montana highway at dusk. There was a memorable bathroom break that we nervously laughed our way through and it’s the only time I’ve ever been glad to see a gun rack on someone’s truck--knowing that they would make sure the deer they hit wouldn’t have to suffer for much longer. We couldn’t miss an opportunity to drive through Glacier National Park (Happy 100th birthday National Park Service!), so the full van made the trek up Going-to-the-Sun road to reach Logan Pass at an elevation of 6,646 feet.

The adventures after arriving in Seattle have been interesting too. I’ve had some amazing and challenging experiences working alongside disadvantaged and resilient humans:

  • AmeriCorps volunteer managing the crisis line at a Domestic Violence shelter
  • working with adolescent girls in a residential treatment facility
  • street outreach for homeless individuals experiencing severe mental illness
  • harm reduction / housing-first for homeless chronic alcoholics
  • managing a housing program at a Community Mental Health agency

I’ve had some exploits in education as well, on a bumpy 10-year plan for finishing my Bachelor’s degree and then going back for my Masters in Public Health at the University of Washington’s Executive Program while simultaneously working two jobs.

And I’ve spent a lot of time finding outdoor adventures across WA state. Hiking, camping, and boating my way around the mountains, forests, beaches, ocean, lakes, rivers and streams. It wasn’t until recently, on a trip for Koné Consulting, that I spent any time exploring the city of Spokane on the Eastern side of WA state. I’ve driven through Spokane quite a few times en route to get somewhere else. Once, with my sister (yes, her again) I told her I would drive from Seattle to Spokane and she could drive from Spokane to Coeur d’Alene, ID; so ignorant of that side of that state that I didn’t realize my drive would be four hours and hers would be 35 minutes.

There are some similarities between Spokane and Sioux Falls, SD - where I spent the first 18 years and 2 months of my life, and at the time I couldn’t move away from fast enough. When I tell people I’m from Sioux Falls, they say the same thing I said about Spokane – “Oh, I know where that is… I’ve driven through”. Both cities are located on Interstate 90 (the longest transportation artery in the country) and have rivers and falls cascading through their downtown corridors that the cities are respectively named after. They also share humid continental climates (aka insufferable) defined by large seasonal temperature differences - hot and humid summers and cold and snowy winters. After doing some further research, I learned they also have similar costs-of-living and demographics, with 87% of the population being White.

Having stated all of those logistical similarities, it is mostly the feel of these cities that piqued my interest. They feel gritty, both because of being dry and dusty this time of year, but also because there is a sense of courage and resolve. In addition to observing this through the giant slip-and-slide created out of construction materials in order to survive the 95-degree heat, I also sensed this… mostly through my taste buds. Through eating THE most memorable burger (with shitake marmalade, foie gras aioli and Oregon White Cheddar) from a Chef whose short figure packs a major punch on the plate like a tenacious pioneer woman leading the way to what’s good. And through drinking one of the tastiest cocktails (bourbon, aperol, ginger liqueur, apple bitters, soda with a gran marnier float) which transported me to where no cocktail has gone before. These two restaurants are clearly and boldly determined to offer something elevated and yet simultaneously comforting.

I can’t speak to the courage and resolve of Spokane without mentioning the professionals and providers I encountered through my work in assessing the Behavioral Health system in WA state. These are passionate and dedicated individuals, who much like my social worker sister, who still lives in Sioux Falls, are working hard every day to provide the best possible services to those most in need with the limited resources that are available. You all, and your grit, have my respect.