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Getting There: The winter gear you need as you climb Sherman Pass on your way to Thanksgiving dinner

November 19, 2018

Not much is known about the first Thanksgiving, despite the myths we’ve built up around the holiday celebrating gratitude, friends, family and fall.

But we do know it was attended by people who traveled a long way.

The 53 pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony who made it from Europe to the American lands of the Wampanoag people were the only ones to survive the arduous journey on the Mayflower. Nearly half of the 102 people who began the journey died of disease or starvation.

Don’t be like one of those unfortunate pilgrims. Here are some ways to prepare for the journey ahead.

The AAA estimates that 50 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving. The vast majority – about 89 percent – will drive. Something is bound to go wrong, so the Washington State Department of Transportation has a handy winter driving guide that lays out the basics. Drive slow. Give yourself extra time.

But what should you carry in your car, other than that turkey strapped to the roof?

WSDOT recommends a full tank of gas, first aid kit, cellphone charger, water, snacks, extra winter clothing, jumper cables, tire chains, flares, an ice scraper and a flashlight.

That’s great, and they’re right. But can we get more specific?

Yes, and the New York Times’ Wirecutter team has the answers. Wirecutter is the newspaper’s product review site.

First, since tires are the point of contact between you and the road, its important they’re working. In other words, not bald and inflated properly. The team at Wirecutter recommends getting a tire pressure gauge and inflater, in case flatness strikes far from a gas station. A Wirecutter “staff favorite” is the Accu-Gage 60 PSI with its “easy-to-read dial, rubber gauge guard and handy bleed valve.” As for inflaters, they have a couple recommendations, but it may surprise some winter motorists that a floor-standing bicycle pump works just fine. Ten pumps equals one psi.

Next, when your battery dies and you’re in the middle of nowhere – and there are lots of middles of nowhere in the Inland Northwest with no other cars around – jumper cables are useless. Portable jump starters, however, are not. Wirecutter recommends the Weego 22s.

“It’s about the size of a smartphone and features warning lights and a loud alarm that together tell you if you’ve hooked it up incorrectly,” Wirecutter reports. “Its reverse-polarity protection (meaning it won’t work if you have the cables hooked up incorrectly) prevents any unsafe discharge of power.”

Finally, ice scrapers. We all have our favorite, or at least we all have one we got on sale last time we realized we didn’t have one in the car. But Wirecutter likes the Hopkins 80037. A lot.

“Its sharp plastic scraper blade is just flexible enough to conform to the curves of windshields,” Wirecutter writes. “Its telescoping handle measures five feet when fully extended, enough to reach all the way across the roofs of most SUVs and trucks. And its combination brush-and-squeegee head sweeps away both powdery and wet snow without scratching paint.”

How poetic. Not to harsh on the fine product reviews, but we have something the denizens of the East Coast do not. Namely, mountains.

There are 15 paved mountain passes in Washington state and all have sensors or cameras on them maintained by WSDOT.

Any time of any day, you can check the road condition and temperature, see if chains are required or if the pass is open at all.

The five most viewed of those passes – Snoqualmie, Stevens, Blewett, White and Manastash – all surmount the Cascades near, unsurprisingly, Seattle.

But the state’s highest pass, and among the least traveled, is north of Spokane, deep in the heart of Colville National Forest. At 5,575 feet high, Sherman Pass is named for Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman himself was named for the native Shawnee warrior and chief, Tecumseh, who led a large multi-tribal confederacy in the 19th century in an effort to establish an independent Indian nation.

Tecumseh’s vision collapsed with his death in 1813. Some seventy years later, Sherman would pass through northeastern Washington twice, in 1877 and 1883, leading to the highest of the state’s passes being named for the famed general.

Both times, Sherman visited what was then called Spokan Falls.

In 1877, he rode into town with a small escort and met with James Glover, one of the city’s early white settlers and the so-called “father” of Spokane.

“The little community put its best foot forward,” according to the book “Spokane Story” by Lucile Fargo. “The General and other guests were entertained at lunch at the Glovers.”

It was summer when Sherman visited, so his journey was easier than it could’ve been. But these were the days before pavement, and surely the trip was hard. During this first visit by Sherman, in 1877, the town had just built its first gristmill at the falls as well as its first hotel. On his second trip, the fledgling town was booming, with the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway two years before and the discovery of gold, silver and lead the same year Sherman returned.

Over lunch at the Glovers’ in 1877, however, Sherman got down to business. His trip was long, and he was surely grateful for the meal, but this was no Thanksgiving. The federal War Department had decided to build a military fort somewhere in the area, and Sherman was scouting for locations.

The man who had been named for a Native hero delivered his assessment.

“There the Civil War hero stoutly asserted that there were no good Indians and that the settlers should be prepared to fight at any time, since troops could not always be at hand,” Fargo wrote.

At that, Sherman left.

Hearing his words while knowing the source of his name gives little to be thankful for. But driving the scenic byway today to Kettle Falls, just 26 miles from the pass, may instill gratitude again, as the rich land passes by with few other cars to distract from the view.

Long before Sherman’s visit and hateful words, the land around Sherman Pass was so bountiful it drew tribes from around the region.

“Many tribes harvested the bounty, coming from as far away as Montana and Yakima during salmon runs,” according to the U.S. Forest Service website on Colville National Forest. “Tribes met each year at Kettle Falls on the Columbia River to fish and trade. Travel routes were worn into the ridge tops by centuries of yearly migration to the area.”

That harvest, and those migrations, led to something more for the region’s indigenous people.

“A rich spiritual tradition was interwoven with resource harvest,” according to the Forest Service. “Many tribes welcomed the fish back to the river each year with a First Salmon Ceremony. Young people entering adulthood pursued vision quests in the mountains. The First Salmon Ceremony is still celebrated at an intertribal powwow at Kettle Falls each year, and modern young Indians spend days alone in the wilds of the mountains seeking to connect with their spiritual roots.”

If Thanksgiving is about the harvest, and if we truly want to celebrate peaceful gathering, then the tale of Sherman Pass before Sherman is one to be thankful for, one that should be told over the dinner table, or from behind the wheel as you pass over the storied mountain roads of Washington state.

Got a transportation question? Write nickd@spokesman.com.

Flying for turkey

If you’re taking to the air to get anywhere this holiday, the people responsible for airport security have some similar advice as WSDOT: leave early. Get to the airport two hours before your flight is scheduled to leave.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration, Thanksgiving travel picked up on Friday when more than 7,300 passengers were screened through the TSA security checkpoints at the Spokane International Airport. On Saturday, 6,000 travelers were.

Here are the predictions for the week ahead:

Monday 6,000

Tuesday 6,300

Wednesday 6,500

Thursday 3,500

Friday 5,000

Saturday 6,400

Sunday 6,700

Nationally, TSA expects to screen a record 25 million travelers between Friday, Nov. 16 and Monday, Nov. 26, a 5 percent increase over last year. At Spokane, the busiest times at the security checkpoint are from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., and from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. There’s also afternoon rush between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Frank’s bus gambit

Beginning Oct. 1, Spokane developer Jim Frank gave everyone who lived or work in his downtown development, Kendall Yards, a free bus pass.

In a recent post on LinkedIn, Frank said his experiment giving every resident and worker in Kendall Yards a free bus pass is off to a good start.

“In the first month the Kendall Yards/West Central transit pass program drew over 1500 rides,” he wrote. “We think that is a great start, and we are learning loads about the barriers to transit use that need to be removed.”

Planes, buses and annoying people

Speaking of flying and taking the bus, Genfare, a fare-collection system company, did some recent surveys on the most annoying behaviors of travelers.

According to the survey, on a flight the top five most annoying things to happen are getting your seat kicked, a crying baby, body odor, a talkative passenger and inattentive parents.

Survey respondents said the most annoying behaviors on public transportation are talking loudly on the phone, body odor, playing music without headphones, taking up seats with bags and not giving up seats for the elderly.

State patrol is looking for you, bad driver

Another year, another Apple Cup, another time for state troopers to teach people how to drive safely.

Through Nov. 25, Washington State Patrol will be conducting emphasis patrols as folks make their way across the state for Thanksgiving and the Apple Cup in Pullman.

Troopers in Spokane, Whitman, Adams, Grant and Kittitas counties will be looking for speeding motorists, distracted or impaired driving and other dangerous driving.

So stay sober, stay off your cellphone, stay awake and go slow.

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