Mount Rainier is the largest active volcano on the west coast of the United States, and one of the largest mountains in North America. On clear days it dominates the eastern sky of Seattle and it has become a living symbol of the Pacific Northwest. MRNP is our fifth national park, established by President William McKinley in 1899, and it was the first national park created from a national forest. We had visited the park once before, but it had been sixteen years since we were last there. So we made sure to include some time on the mountain in our itinerary for this trip.
Due to time constraints, we had to decide on one area of the park to focus on. We were approaching from the east, so we decided to head to Sunrise, which is the highest point on the mountain reachable by car. Mount Rainier makes its own weather, and a common saying in the Pacific Northwest is "I hope the mountain comes out today", which refers to the fact that the volcano can often be shrouded in clouds and fog. Unfortunately for us it had decided to hide itself away on this day. We reached Sunrise and while it initially seemed that the fog may burn away, it never happened. We wouldn't set eyes on the great fire mountain until the next morning, from fifty miles away, when we left our campground in the National Forest and were greeted by a panoramic view of both Rainier and its infamous southern neighbor Mount Saint Helens, which last erupted in 1981 (the effects of which are still visible in the area).
Not far into the morning drive we passed a large tent city, which called to mind the homeless camps back in Seattle. These tents, however, temporarily housed firefighters from all over the United States who had come to battle the epidemic of wildfires currently burning all over the West. I said a few prayers for these brave men and women, heroes all. The rest of the day's seven-hour drive was filled with gorgeous scenery that passed by our windshield at a steady clip. We passed through Yakima Canyon, The Columbia River Gorge, and the breathtaking Northern Idaho Range.
By early evening we had reached Missoula. We got checked in to our motel and took a drive through town to scope out the stadium area and assess potential parking spaces for the next day. It became immediately apparent that Pearl Jam fans had invaded this small college town. Once again we saw a tent city, this time it was the diehards camping out for the next morning's GA line. We drove back out to the Interstate and had dinner at a chain restaurant (gift card) and then back to the room to crash.
We awoke on show day to terrible news. Glacier National Park, where we had planned to spend the next few days, was on fire. The popular Going To The Sun Road (a high mountain road...you know I love those) was completely closed on the west side of the park. We knew our plans would be changing. We tried to take our minds off of the tragedy by heading to the brewery next door to the motel, but the lines for service were long, due to the number of fans in town. So instead we bought some beer at the Conoco station across the street and drove to the University District to tailgate before the show.
The concert this evening was also doubling as a benefit fundraiser for Montana Senator John Tester (bassist Jeff Ament grew up in and still maintains a residence in the state, and is active in Democratic politics there). The band had arranged for a Rock-The-Vote rally to be held outside the stadium during the afternoon. We watched a few of the local bands, grabbed a few beers, and got in line for the 10 Club Pit. The end of the line stretched all the way around the stadium, so we were pleasantly surprised once we got inside to still get a spot on the rail in front of Mike McCready's side of the stage. We made friends with our new neighbors and settled in to await showtime.
The band hit the stage a little before 8:30 PM, with Vedder sporting a snappy Evel Knievel style leather jacket in tribute to the legendery Montana daredevil. This concert was a bit more subdued than most Pearl Jam shows, due to the political nature of the event, but they still delivered a lengthy set featuring some rare tracks that hadn't been played in a long while ("Songs for the serious collector" as Eddie would say). They stressed the importance of the upcoming election, and Vedder said he hoped that Montana could set the record for youth voting. I wasn't interested in the politics...I often disagree with the band's stances and I can't vote in Montana anyway. I was just there for the tunes. There was also a touching moment where Jeff's parents came onstage to congratulate him. In the end, it was another transcendent show, and in a gorgeous setting to boot. And that's all it needed to be.
As the night wound down I wished that we could see more shows on this tour, but our concert chips had all been cashed in. At least we had the rest of the week ahead to visit more stunning locales. That should ease the post-show withdrawals a bit.