Keg Hunt and Odd Job Cash in Leavenworth, Washington

I woke up in a trailer in the barn, still blissed out from the night and day before. I'd come to Washington to see a girl, this was brief and beautiful, but simply not meant to last or even properly get started. She was gone, I was packed up and walking down a dirt drive to the road, leaving someone's farm who I'd never even met.

All the same, I was in Washington, and it was beautiful just as well. On the map I'd seen a town called Leavenworth right smack in the middle of the state. I knew nothing about it, it didn't seem close to anything, it's just where I needed to be. My thought was I could make camp by night and get some writing done by day, perhaps spending a week or more there in such fashion. Leavenworth had something different in store for me, plans are rarely as interesting as opportunity.

Once at the main road I waited for the free island bus that went up and down Whidbey Island, it didn't come, a passing biker informed me that today was Sunday, the bus didn't run on Sundays. No matter, I stuck my thumb out and got a ride from a passing Thai woman who took me up to the main town.

From there a Navy guy and his visiting mom saw me hitching, they gave me a ride to Deception Pass, a beautiful overlook of the water from the bridge there. I wandered through the woods for an hour or so on a hiking trail, then to another around a lake where I considered camping, but instead just had a snack and headed back to the road.

I caught a ride from a chilled out guy there who was considering making some changes in his life that he considered was getting to boring, he was a home builder, "I have to start living outside of the box, hell I've just spent my life just building big boxes".

He got me to the town of Everet where I began walking, eventually ending up on a bike path where I took a seat for a minute. A guy with on a bike with a dog came and talked to me for a minute, he had a motor that he'd rigged on his bicycle and told me a bit about his plans of designing better ones, he'd been selling kits in town.

I kept walking from there, getting back to the main road again and catching a ride with a couple guys who filled me with energy drinks and dropped me off on down the road a little ways. It was an easy going day, really, beginning with the soft bliss of a spring love hangover and easing into a meander to a soft destination through beautiful scenery. I didn't have to go there, anywhere, by any time, but I was still moving through the serene day loving it all.

Walking, singing, spinning and dancing on down the hill along the road, thumb out and back trotting whenever a car came passing, soon running down the hill to hop in the next car that decided to pull over for me. A nice woman gave me a ride to the next town, still glowing I caught another ride straight away after getting there.

The guy who picked me up was named George, a friendly local happy to give me a lift and save me some walking. We cruised along, pausing at his house so he could drop some things off, then at the gas station for beer, then by his brothers for a pinch of pot. By this point we were getting along and he offered to let me stay at his place for the night.

It also happened to be mothers day and he was off to have a dinner at the house in the hills, so I joined him. We cruised up the mountain, passing a great waterfall and arriving at the great house. I met his talkative mother and girlfriend too, walking along the river, taking in the views, feasting on pork and enjoying the whole scene.

We wound up back at his place by night, in the morning he gave me a ride out to a junction a good ways. Before dropping me off he stocked me up some extra food and supplies, even a great big knife and some fire kindling. I've been very lucky to encounter some of the friendliest, generous and interesting people during my travels.

As if things weren't already going well, next V picked me up. He was a long haired musician and contractor of sorts, on his way to Leavenworth to go to a job site for a couple days or so, "for some good old fashioned work". He was mildly irked about a couple guys who'd flaked out on him who were supposed to help clear some big brush piles, but there was at least a couple other guys who would make it.

We cruised over the mountain pass, another great drive, talking about his twelve piece band among other things. As we got closer to town he offered me a days work the following day, given it was OK with the woman who owned the property, a hundred bucks for helping deal with the wood piles. With no plans I had no reason to turn it down, sounded like a good time and beer money to me.

We exchanged numbers and he dropped me off in town, saying he'd call me later to confirm whether or not he'd indeed need my help.

With a nose for good beer, it didn't take long to stumble upon the brewery just a few blocks away. They specialized in German style beers, although having many American styles too, but the German deal was par for the town. The whole town was Bavarian themed, almost ridiculously so. One day they'd just decided to do it, to attract visitors, they'd made ordinances along the lines of "all signage must be in Bavarian font", so even the Safeway, McDonalds and Starbucks had Bavarian themed signs out front. It sort of felt like walking through some Disney made town. It seems corny, because it is, but this town was really about the outdoors and beauty, the place had good beer and tight knit locals.

I ordered a beer and talked to the bartender and another girl sitting down for a beer. I got to asking them about places to camp nearby, they started pointing at different spots on the map, soon I was set with a few good ideas. I also inquired about what I'd seen written on the chalkboard, "Keg scavenger hunt".

They'd hidden a keg somewhere in the area, each day of the week, starting conveniently on this day, there would be a different bar you would have to go to, upon ordering a craft beer the bartender would give you a clue to find the keg. Yup, this was happening.

I went and actually got some writing done after my beer, then scarfed down a pork sandwich made from the last night's leftovers, then headed to The Loft, that nights beer bar with a keg clue. I happily sipped my beer and thought about the clue given to me on a fortune cookie style piece of paper, it read, "nasiKelt is where it Got started, literally A namesake that's Dear to both you and me".

I got talking about that, homebrewing and beer in general with another guy at the bar and the bartender in between glancing up at the Lakers game. As the game got closer to the end more and more people will filling in what was initially an empty bar. I was in the mix, noticing the girl from the brewery earlier, getting passed shots from other people, talking to one guy about a bratwurst and beer spot he'd opened nearby in town, even getting pulled in for a shotski. A shotski is just a winter ski with five shot glasses glued to it, so five people tilt it back to do their shots.

My phone rang in the middle of all this, it was V with the good news, "She said it's OK, so do you wanna come help?", I happily agreed, "Great, meet me at my motel in the morning and we'll drive out to the site", he told me. I finished up whatever beer I was on, grabbed my pack and headed out into the night. Down the main road less than a mile I found a spot the area the girls had told me about, I tucked away there and camped for the night.

By early morning I was waking up to a view of snow up in the mountains, soon heading to V's motel. He was up and ready to go, we went to a cafe to meet Dennis and his son James, the two other guys who'd be helping for the day. We loaded up a big breakfast, V picked up the tab and soon we were cruising down Icicle road towards the property.

By the edge of the driveway pointing up into the mountain there was another truck hauling the wood chipper we'd be using. V and I went up first, followed by Dennis and James in the their big truck and the other with the wood chipper. That truck got stuck going around a tight turn, but Dennis managed to wrestle it out with his gear, and soon we were down at the property.

It was a beautiful spot nestled there in the mountains, the woman who owned it was with her dog and seemed really chill. In no time we were firing up the chipper, I spent the day in non-stop motion, throwing the bigger logs in the chipper and clearing out some of the several piles of trees and debris, constantly impressed by how beautiful the spot was.

We all headed back towards town after the day, V passing me a hundred bucks in cash straight away. We paused at a nice spot on the river along the way for a wind down bowl. By the time we got to town V offered me a second day's worth of the same, as well a bed in the new motel he'd checked into. I gladly accepted, first order of business being to hop in the shower to wash a few pounds of dirt off myself.

Dennis and James were in the room next door, we all sat on the balcony enjoying a few beers, then talk of dinner. It turned out that V had gone to the same place I'd gone to, The Loft, the night before, arriving just after I'd left having received his confirmation phone call. We decided we'd go eat there.

I was happy enough for the beer selection, but the food was amazing too. Dennis announced straight away that the meal was on him, we all happily gobbled it down. V laughed as I began getting nods and hellos from the bartender and others who were filtering in, "You sure make friends quick". I did feel right at home in this town already.

They were all just about ready to go, I had just ordered another beer and said I would stay out to finish them and then head back. Ryan came in, the guy who'd been the only non-employee when I'd initially come in the night before, we'd been talking about beer and the keg scavenger clue.

"Did you get the next clue yet?", I asked him. The night's bar was across town and at this point I wasn't going to make it. He seemed reluctant, but decided against that, and passed the clue over to me so I could take a picture. We talked about it a bit as I finished my beer and some other familiar faces came in. I was just about to go when the bartender passed me a rum and coke, "Made the wrong drink for someone, you want it?", yup, so the night went on just a bit longer, finally wandered back to the motel where I fell straight on to the bed and into sleep.

We got up early, got some motel breakfast and then headed back to the site. We talked about a different strategy, the chipper seemed inefficient. We got back to doing more of the same for a bit, but soon Dennis was using the big machinery and moving stuff around and creating a new pile. There was just about nothing for me to do at this point, eventually V told me I could just relax, the big machinery was getting it all done. I wandered around, checked out the river, then soon we were all ready to go.

V gave me a hundred bucks again anyway, despite the much easier day, we paused at the river again for a smoke, then said some goodbyes to Dennis and James who were heading back home to the coast. I'd really enjoyed the two of them, laid back and very good at their jobs.

V had to head back to the coast as well, but decided he'd get me a beer at the brewery and chat for a second, he just had a water. Right away a girl from the other night who worked at the brewery came up and chatted for just a minute about a few things from the other night.

"You really do know the whole town!", V said, I just laughed. We talked for about half my beer, I thanked him and he thanked me and then he had to split.

Backpack by my feet, I sipped my beer pondering it all, I was on my own again now, free for whatever, perhaps all this writing I'd been thinking about. Thoughts of that would soon be washed once again.

Two girls came smiling up to me inquisitively, "Hey! Are you traveling?", they asked. They'd come from a group of half a dozen people a couple tables over.

"Yeah!", I smiled, "I just hitchhiked over the pass from the coast a coupe days ago".

"You're a hitchhiker!?", they said excitedly, "So are we!", they quickly told me about how they'd hitched around together for some time. My immediate thought was how incredibly easy it must have been for them (and it was), they were both vibrant, pretty, full of energy and still just laid back enough. Amy had a warm smile, blonde hair and the understanding eyes of an old friend. Riley was wearing pink rimmed sunglasses, she was petite and a wanderer through and through.

"What are you doing in town here?", they asked. A good question, one I was still pondering, I just told them what I'd done so far with V. My beer was soon empty and we talking about grabbing another drink, coincidentally they were thinking of heading to the Mexican restaurant down the street, I was also aiming that way since they'd had the third keg clue.

I sat down with the whole group, getting beer, tacos and my next clue, ever closer to this keg. In the mix of dinner they offered to let me stay with them, Riley even picked up my tab. The whole crew was living in Vail, they'd come to Leavenworth to enjoy the week, Amy's parents lived in town, it's where she grew up.

A case of beer and back to the house, all sitting around the fire in the backyard by the river. Stories flew back and forth, another great night on the go.

In the morning they offered to let me stay another night and relax the day, no need to lug my bag around and camp again. I sat in the sun with Amy and Riley a while longer swapping hitchhiking stories, but then headed into town on my own. I cruised by the brewery to see which bar was giving out the next clue, then waited for it to open while contemplating the previous clues.

I got there just five or ten minutes after it opened, ordered my beer and got my clue. "Has anyone else been in?", I asked, mostly just making conversation, I knew they'd just opened and wasn't too sure if anyone except me knew about or gave a damn about finding this keg in the little town.

"There's been a few just before you", she told me. Damn, I had to move fast. This last clue was making things fall into place. I gathered it was under a bridge, that much was certain. I downed my beer and headed for the park nearby, looking under every bridge through the woods and across the water all over the place, clues still rolling around in my head. Finally another clue clicked, an ice wall, I was fairly certain I knew where it wall.

I ran out to Icicle road and hitched a short ride, then another, both in the direction of the property I'd been helping at. I hopped out at the start of a hiking trail, quickly running down the trail and coming across the bridge. I searched below on both sides of the river, twice, three times, there was nothing. The clues had basically spelled out that the keg was under the bridge between the rock climbing face where this trail lead and the iced waterfall across the street.

I hiked shy of an hour all the way to the climbing face, no bridges up there. I came back down, checking under and around the main bridge again, still nothing. I went across the street and climbed up the ice fall, no bridges to speak of. I was perplexed, although thoroughly impressed with the beautiful scenery and hiking I'd just subjected myself too. The clues made it seem so certain that it was under the main and initial bridge I'd checked.

Confused, I hit the road, hitching a ride back to town with a couple who'd just been hiking. I went straight to the brewery where I sipped a beer, talking to the bartender trying to get more clues, but she knew less than I did.

Eventually I headed back for a nice night back at Amy's, I'd have to wait for the final clue to come around the next day.

In the late morning I had Amy, Riley and others on board, our mission was to find this damn keg, no with the benefit of their car to cruise around. We knew the next bar, but it didn't open until late afternoon. We spent a couple hours before that driving around to every damn bridge in town and checking underneath, we even went back to the bridge I was so certain it should be, thinking maybe they weren't actually hiding it until the day the last clue was given out. Nope, not there.

Finally we headed to the bar, ready for it to open. We were just a minute or so late, a guy came screaming past up from out of the bar, he was after it! We ran in and ordered a beer, getting the clue and chugging the beer. This last clue only further confirmed that it was the bridge I'd thought, but there was a note about the registration box in the parking lot.

We raced back to the spot, some of us down to the bridge, some ripping into the box. The box lead to nothing, the guy who'd screamed past us was already under the bridge scratching his head. It wasn't there, nothing in the box, all of us stumped.

At this point I called the brewery, "Has someone found the keg?", and someone had. Damn again, I couldn't believe it.

We drove straight to the brewery, "Where was it?", I asked. It was under that damn bridge. The bartender pointed me to the guy who'd actually hid it, I told him how I'd checked there yesterday and had a lot of fun doing it. He ended up getting us a round of beers, it was their first time trying this scavenger hunt and he was stoked we were into it.

We found out later that some local guys had gotten Thursday's clue early some how, snatched up the keg, then come Friday they posted up in the final bar to sit and laugh at all of us frantically coming in for the last clue. We ran into them later in the night, I recognized them, they'd asked us what the contest was all about as we were chugging that final beer, acting as if they had no idea. Bastards.

We spent the night having a good time anyway, tasting wine and drinking and snacking. I even took the one guy up on his offer of a free brat from the new place along with a liter of beer. Eventually I headed back for one last night with the girls in Leavenworth. Even though I didn't get the keg first, I'd made a couple hundred bucks, spent the week drinking great beer, eating good, exploring and making some new friends. Writing, not so much, but these words still get written eventually. In the morning it would be off to Bend, Oregon for an entirely new chapter, the road goes on forever.

May 13, 2012 to May 19, 2012