Monday 18th August 2:00 a.m Ridgefield, Washington, USA
Old MacDonald had a farm.... E...I...E...I...O... and on that farm he had three horses, eleven burros, three llamas, five cats, four rabbits, three geese, nine ducks, fifteen chickens, two pet mice and a visitor from Australia. The farmer is Brent, my host from Yacolt, Washington. His 'farm' is not a working farm as such; really just a home with lots of pets. Almost all of the animals mentioned above have been rescued animals and all except a few of the ducks and chickens are greeted by name. Brent lives with his wife Merrell in a tiny one bedroom cabin that was passed down from his parents. They have a new house under construction just a stone's throw away, but their contractor hasn't been seen for a while!

I only had a few hours' sleep at Tammi's in Centralia. The days have been slipping by, and I'd fallen behind with my journal. It was four o'clock in the morning by the time I finished, and I was up again at seven. Tammi insisted on force feeding me pancakes until my sides hurt *yum yum* before she and Chris drove me south to Woodland. Woodland was the nearest town to Brent's place, and Tammi and Chris were headed to Portland for the day, so it was all working out nicely. I wandered to the nearest pub, and called Brent from there. He would be in to pick me up, but not for some time as he had to drive his wife to work in another town first. "No worries," I assured him, "I'm in a pub. I'm not in a hurry." In fact, it took me a couple of cups of coffee before I felt like sampling one of their draught beers.

I stared at every new arrival through the front door. "Do you know what he looks like?" the barmaid asked.
"No idea!" I laughed.

But my hosts always know what I look like, and Brent recognized me as soon as he walked into the bar. Of course, it could have been the fact that I was the only person under sixty and not wearing jeans and a checked shirt! Brent is just over fifty, I guess. He retired some years ago, and when I asked how he managed that, he said it was due to not having joined the 'consumer culture' that most people belong to. He spends his money wisely and buys the things that he needs, not the things that the media tells him he needs. 'Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?

It was another hot day, and Brent thought I might like to go for a swim in a local swimming hole first. He thought right. I've not been swimming at all on this trip so far, unless you count that quick dip in icy Lake Kluane in the Yukon, and this was a perfect day for it. The water was still cold here though. I jumped straight in and pretended it was warm, but Brent trembled in knee deep water for a long time before he made the leap. *hee hee*

The local swimming hole. Brent said he's seen kids jump off this bridge. Talking to the animals.

Brent's wife Merrell works in nearby Battleground. Yes, you read correctly. That's the name of the town. It was named after a famous historical battle that almost took place here. The soldiers and the local Indians had been building up to a showdown and if there had been a battle, this town is where it would have been, but they settled their differences and there was no battle. After we fed and watered all the animals, Brent and I drove into Battleground to pick Merrell up from work. Merrell is learning to drive, but isn't real confident yet. She's from the Phillipines and didn't drive a car for the first time until quite recently.

Hayden, the young burro. Mt St.Helens, viewed from just near Brent's home.

Having grown up in this area, Brent was keen to show me around. The following morning, I tried to call my next host in Ridgefield to let them know I wouldn't be there till the afternoon. Brent had a whole list of places he wanted to take me; an historic fort, an old airfield, a Chinese buffet!! Before Merrell went to work, the three of us dined at a great Chinese restaurant in Vancouver- not Vancouver, Canada; there's a Vancouver down here as well. Vancouver was Brent's home town, so we drove past the house he grew up in and the Dairy Queen he would visit as a kid. We went to the restored Fort Vancouver, which was quite interesting, and drove past the beautiful old mansions that were once the homes of General U.S Grant and his mates.
Fort Vancouver. Cannon, Fort Vancouver.

Brent said it was no problem to drop me at Karen and Ron's place in rural Ridgefield. It was only a few miles out of town; in fact if you've been following my travels on a map, you'll see that all my stops have been quite close together. Brent left me with a carton of fresh free range eggs as a gift for Karen and Ron. It was only 5:00p.m. but Karen and Ron were already tucking into their dinner. They said that on weekends, they don't follow a schedule; they just eat when they're hungry. It looked delicious- big thick pork chops and veges- but I was still full from four plates of Chinese food just a few hours earlier. Ron greeted me with a cold beer, which was much appreciated after all my sightseeing on such a hot dry day. He plopped another bottle in front of me when the first was nearly was done. That was when I looked closely at the bottle, and learnt that Double Bale Imperial Pale Ale was ten percent alcohol! Then it was time for an afternoon nap.

Siesta time.

Ron asked me if I wanted to go for a ride on a rollercoaster. I wondered if I'd heard him right, and took another look at my beer bottle. Karen needed some groceries and Ron and I were sent on a shopping mission. He said we would take the 'hot rod' which I assumed to be the grey mustang I'd seen in the backyard. It was dusty and kind of plain looking, and didn't really look like much of a hot rod, but I didn't say anything. As we wound our way through the network of country backroads, Ron asked me if I knew anything about Mustangs.
"I was chased by a cop in one of these cars in South Carolina." I said. I knew they were quite quick, powered by a five litre fuel injected V8 motor in what was basically a mid sized vehicle. Ron assured me that the cop car probably wouldn't have been quite like this one. He smiled.

Our shopping list was short. Animal crackers, cottage cheese and beer; just the essentials. On the return trip, we took a different route. "Remember I mentioned a roller coaster?" Ron asked. I said I remembered but wasn't sure what he'd meant. We rounded a curve and ahead of us the road plunged deep into a valley and then rose and dipped in a series of small hills. My head snapped back violently against the headrest. The wind buffetted loudly through the open window, and then my stomach rose and fell. I gripped the handrest and before I could decide how terrified to be, my stomach rose and fell again. I looked at the speedometer and then at Ron. He lifted his foot a little and relaxed his grip on the wheel. There were a couple more ups and downs that still brought out the butterflies. I was gasping for breath. Ron smiled "That'll be courtesy of the supercharger" he said. We drove around a little more, quite enjoying the vehicle's enormous amount of torque, but when the supercharger belt flew off with a loud whizz and a cloud of smoke, Ron pointed the Mustang towards home. The roller coaster ride was over.

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