Saturday 16th August 3:00 a.m Centralia, Washington, USA
I woke early but Bill was already gone out for the day. Wow, he really doesn't spend much time here. He'd left a message for Kim and I to meet him at MacDonalds in town. He has a group of friends who mostly drop in here every day, it seems. Well, he was happy to have a real Aussie to show off to his buddies that morning, and of course as always I loved the attention. Bill loves a joke, and particularly enjoys taking the mickey out of Kim. When I told him about the challenges people had sent me, he said he had a challenge for me right there.
"Take her with you," he gestured towards Kim, "I'll give you a hundred dollars for every state border you take her across." He shook with laughter, and Kim looked like she'd heard the joke before. I thought it was funny!

Kim was off to visit a friend in Seattle, so gave me a lift as far as Tacoma. After eleven years, I was back travelling on the abomination that is I-5. That's local jargon for Interstate Motorway 5, a great black scar that tears through the states of Washington, Oregon and California. I'd much rather travel down the scenic coastal route, but my invitations are from Centralia, Woodland, Ridgefield, and Portland- all located on I-5. From where Kim dropped me, I got a lift with a truck driver called Troy. He wasn't in a truck though; he was driving a tiny Ford Festiva. When I told him about my trip, he said he might be able to hook me up with a place to stay on the Oregon coast, in an area where I don't have any invitations. He phoned his Mum and asked if she'd like a visitor from Australia. I could tell by the conversation that Dixie wasn't real well. It turned out that she may have had a mild stroke; she's waiting on test results. Still, she told Troy to go ahead and give me her phone number. How cool is that? Troy said he and his brothers would often bring home hitchhikers when they were kids, and Dixie had always welcomed strangers into their home. Is anyone else starting to get the idea that there are a lot of really great people in this country?

Troy dropped me at an on-ramp outside Olympia*hitchhiking is illegal on motorways, but tolerated if you stick to the on-ramps* and it wasn't too long before I had another lift, this one all the way into Centralia. The driver's name was Dave, on his way home from work. He's a designer by trade, but with the slowing economy has been forced to take on building work. In the meantime, he's renovating his big old house in Centralia. He asked me weherabouts in town I needed to go, but I didn't know. My host's name was Tammi and I had her phone number. I'd have to call her. He said I could use the phone at his place which was quite close to downtown, so I went with him. Now when I said his house was big and old, I mean it was real big and real old. He showed me photos of the house from when he bought it a few years ago; a derelict building, partly damaged by fire and totally unliveable. The place is still a work in progress, but Dave has extended it and converted it from an eight bedroom house to a two bedroom wonderland. He has a commercial quality kitchen with top of the range appliances, the main bedroom has a walk in wardrobe the size of a small apartment, there's a sunken formal dining room, a casual dining area, and a lounge and library decorated with furniture and artwork that he's picked up on travels around Europe. Upstairs is Dave's own theatre, complete with overhead balconies on three sides. It features pillars he purchased from the set of Stephen King's movie 'Rose Red'. When it's finished, the theatre will seat fifty people. The house has seven fireplaces. Do I need to continue?

Dave, in his theatre.

Tammi came over straight after work. I insisted she take a look around Dave's house, and she was as impressed as me. Tammi lives and works just up the street from Dave's place, actually lives in the same building as the medical centre she works in. I guess that makes for a pretty short commute, but try blaming your Monday morning tardiness on the traffic when you just live upstairs!

Wouldn't you know it; I'd turned up in town just in time for the local State Fair. I'd never been to an American State Fair before, and was kind of curious to see what all the fuss was about. Tammi's friend Chris came over and the three of us headed to the fair, with Tammi promising me an elephant's ear. I didn't like the sound of that at all, but I smiled weakly. Turns out an elephant's ear is a large deep fried snack, smothered in butter, cinnamon and sugar. Delicious, and healthy too I guess??

Tammi shouted me an elephant's ear. Walla Walla Shoestrings- tasty fried onions.

I guess that was my favourite State Fair ever. There was a really good photography exhibit, all sorts of super healthy deep fried food, llamas you could pat, and of course racing pigs! That's pigs, and we couldn't miss out on that. We took our big elephant ears and grabbed a seat for the show. The betting is free, which is just how much I could afford to gamble. I took a 'bet' on the yellow, in the inside lane. It was a sure thing, I reckoned. Out they came, and you've never seen four little pigs run like that. They could run down a greyhound, I swear. After the race, the compere gave away the secret; the pigs are racing for a prize- a soft serve ice cream with an Oreo cookie! Naturally, my pig won so I scored myself a blue ribbon emblazoned 'My Pig Won". But that's not the end of the story. A lucky ticket number was called and of course it was mine. What do you think of my prize cap? Pretty damn cool.

We stopped for one beer on the way home at the beautiful historic Olympia Hotel. The brews its own specialties, so we all tried their 'ruby'- a soft, slighly sweet beer infused with a hint of raspberries. What a very civilized way to top off a night in Centralia, Washington!