This log recounts my 3,153 mile road trip across the USA with my friend, Thomas King Tandy, IV or TK, from Charlottesville, VA to Portland, OR that took place from September 1-9, 2015. TK had recently been accepted into the Masters of Public Health program at the Oregon Health Sciences University and the purpose of the expedition was to help him relocate there. The circumstances that led to my agreeing to drive him across the country were as follows: 1) He did not have a driver’s license, 2) He has a sweet young dog named Cali that complicated travel arrangements, 3) He had a bicycle and boxes of personal items that needed to go with him, 4) the adventure of a cross country road trip intrigued me and, finally, most importantly, 5) TK is my friend and he needed help. The initial seed of the idea actually came from my wife, Cathy, who could not stand the thought of flying Cali in the dangerous cargo hold of a jet. At first, the idea seemed ridiculous, even impossible, but after careful consideration of both my upcoming commitments at work and being away from home for an extended period, I made the offer to TK and it was accepted without hesitation. Although we did not follow the exact same route as Meriwether Lewis and William Rogers Clark on our westward trek, our respective expeditions both originated in Charlottesville, VA and ended in Oregon and we covered much of the same territory in between. Both were also rooted in the spirit of discovery since neither TK nor I had ever embarked on such a journey before. The title of this story also pays homage to one of my favorite movies, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
For those of you who know me, it should come as no surprise that the planning for the trip began in earnest with every conceivable detail being thought through well in advance. One major concern, a priori, was keeping the driving times each day to something that I could manage, approximately 8-9 hours per day. As the trip coincided with the Labor Day holiday, it was also crucial to have campsites reserved in advance to avoid having to search for an available spot after a long day of driving. Cathy did an extraordinary job of selecting campgrounds that were spaced out appropriately to meet these boundary conditions. A second concern was having a spacious vehicle for all TK’s personal items, our canine companion, and for all of the camping gear required for the trip. My plan was to rent a midsize SUV one way, leave it in Portland, and then fly back to Charlottesville. I initially rented a Ford Escape (67 ft3 cargo space), as well as an 18 ft3 waterproof canvas car top carrier. However, just before our departure, TK estimated his cargo load at about 70 ft3. This did not include any of my gear. Accordingly, I upgraded the vehicle to the larger Ford Edge SUV (73 ft3), yet I was still worried about space, particularly Cali’s comfort. On the day of departure, I asked the young woman at the Avis rental counter about the possibility of getting an even larger SUV, such as a Ford Explorer (80.7 ft3).
Given my prior rental history with Avis, she upgraded us at no additional cost. The vehicle was exceptional in every way, comfortable, spacious, and loaded with lots of high tech goodies including a superb Bluetooth compatible sound system and, importantly, a camera located on the stern to be used as an aid for backing up, since the rearview mirror’s vision was blocked with cargo.
As with all of the
vehicles I have ever owned, she needed a name but we were undecided. The name would have to wait until Sol 2. Note: The days in this log are referred to as “Sol” in tribute to the novel “The Martian” by Andy Weir that we listened to often with much amusement throughout the trip.
The overall plan was to take 6 days to reach Portland, with a few pre-selected side trips that did not involve veering too far from the planned travel route. For camping, we chose State and National Parks that had some character rather than large commercial operations such as KOA. Breakfast and lunch were generally simple meals: Albemarle Baking Company granola, Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, accompanied by wonderful French press coffee made from Trager Brothers beans that TK kindly prepared each morning for breakfast, and various meats and cheeses with lettuce on whole wheat tortillas for lunch. In the evenings, we took time to prepare delicious and hearty meals over the campfire. TK enjoys backpacking and brought along a sack full of MREs that he would offer up from time to time as a suggestion for meals, but I would politely decline. I am sure that if one is out in the middle of nowhere with minimal equipment on hand that these “just add water” meals would seem like haute cuisine after a long day of hiking, but this was not our situation. Craft beers and high end bourbons were the drinks of choice to be consumed while preparing dinner, as well as to be enjoyed by the fire each evening. For entertainment in the car, we relied upon the very eclectic collection of tunes loaded on my cellphone, audio books including the aforementioned “The Martian”, “My Family & Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, as well as the BBC radio production of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s 10-book murder mystery series featuring detective Martin Beck. We also played games like “Casserole” where you take turns continuing to build on and recall an ever growing list of ingredients that one would use to make a casserole, keeping a tally of license plates from every state that we encountered, and random inquiries based on the question “Would you Rather…”. There were also plenty of excellent conversations and numerous stories to while away the time.
Upon reaching Portland, I had reserved a house in the Alberta Arts District in the northeast quadrant to serve as a home base from which to explore the city and take care of any immediate business related to the move into his apartment, and also to box up and mail back all of my camping gear to Virginia. As an added bonus, our mutual friend Will , who is living in Seattle, agreed to drive down and join us in Portland for a couple of days of silliness.
The story that is about to unfold herein is based on my own retrospective recollections & ramblings, convolved with those of TK that were taken mostly from the first person narrative that he scrawled as the journey progressed. Direct quotes from TK are denoted in italics. I will begin the journey with 2 quotes, one from Mark Twain and one that is often attributed to Twain, but the real author is unknown. Both I think are quite à propos for our journey:
I have found that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them. Mark Twain – From Tom Sawyer Abroad.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Author Unknown.
The day before departure, we stocked up on some provisions that would carry us for the first several days. We also stopped by Beer Run to fill up a couple of growlers for the trip. TK chose the Troeg’s Hoppy Amber and I picked one of my favorites, the Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ pale wheat ale. I also paid a visit to the new Timbercreek Market, a local farm to table butcher shop, and selected two very nice NY strip steaks that were hand-cut especially for us.
We agreed to depart early the next morning from the townhouse where TK had been staying for the month of August. I arrived at approximately 7:00 am and, after the final packing, we were ready to depart by 8:00. TK decided to leave 3 boxes behind, as they took up too much room and arranged to have them shipped out by his friend. TK was feeling a bit under the weather with a persistent dry cough but otherwise in good spirits. The cough was a parting gift from the farewell parties at my stomping ground at St. Maarten Cafe.
Shortly after leaving Charlottesville, I missed the exit for I-64W near Lexington, VA and discovered the error after about 30 min when I began to see signs for Roanoke, VA on I-81W. I was involved in telling a story, something that I did often throughout the expedition. It was not the first time over the years that I had missed this exit and it’s safe to say that it will not be the last. Rather than doubling back, TK fired up the GPS on his phone and assumed the role of Navigator which lasted for the rest of the journey, leaving me to the tasks of piloting the vessel and telling my stories which I hoped he didn’t mind. I didn’t mind. David’s stories would turn out to be both incredibly amusing and amazingly eclectic. He says he worries about running out of stories…. Impossible. In addition to being the Navigator, TK had multiple other roles including keeping me awake, and serving as the scribe to record the events each day in the book that we dubbed the Captain’s log, for obvious reasons. I am indebted to him for this because, without these scribblings, the document that you are now reading would not have been possible.
The first side trip that had been planned for the day was lunch at Hillbilly Hot Dogs located on the bank of the Ohio River in Lesage, WV. It is extremely difficult to adequately describe this place with mere words and thus I recommend studying the photos that we took. When the weenie stand opened about 15 years ago, it was nothing more than an old school bus that had been converted into a hot dog stand. But over the years, various ramshackle additions have been tacked on and a dizzying array of random junk has been piled up all over the place. There are signs painted and graffitied on the walls, tree trunks, and every other conceivable surface with assorted hillbilly sayin’s and there is even a wedding chapel! Besides having a decent weenie, and that is what they call them there, one claim to fame is that they were recently featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives”. Because of this, they are now World Famous and it is not unusual to have to wait an hour or more to place your order. Thankfully, we were there during the work week and did not have to contend with a line. The specialty of the shack is a monstrous weenie called “The Homewrecker” which is a 15”, 1 lb all beef weenie loaded with jalapenos, sautéed peppers & onions, nacho cheese, habanero, chili sauce, mustard, slaw, lettuce tomato and shredded cheese on a humongous bun.
If you eat it within 12 minutes, you get a free homewrecker t-shirt. The current record holder is a man named Ron Cash Clark. If you beat his record of 2 min 34 sec, you also get the monster weenie for free. TK had decided that he would at least score a free t-shirt and vie for the record himself if at all possible. It was not to be. He said that this was partly due to the abundance of onions that were loaded on it that would surely result in a gastronomical catastrophe, but mostly due to the $19.99 pricetag. Twenty bucks for a hot dog? Really? TK ending up getting a spicy grilled hot dog (yum) with a side order of jalapeno poppers (gross) and I had the West Virginia Dog that had chili, mustard, onions, and slaw on top (yum) with a side of ranch garlic fries with bacon bits (yum). We sat at a picnic table outside with Cali and scarfed down the weenies along with bottled water.
Our bellies sated, we headed off for our next stop, Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY. Buffalo Trace is renowned for its limited release Pappy Van Winkle line of bourbon, but they also make a number of other high quality bourbons under different labels. The distillery was Cali-friendly so she was able to accompany us into the room where we had a private tasting of several of their brands. We tasted the Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, and the Bourbon Cream (sort of like Bailey’s). Both of us liked the Eagle Rare so we bought a bottle of it, along with some oak-aged bitters. As we were departing, the ladies in the gift shop wanted to give Cali a special treat. Unfortunately, they discovered that the dog ahead of Cali was privy to the last pressed corn mash dog biscuit, but due to her lack of comprehension of the English language, she was not overtly disappointed.
Given the fact that we lost about an hour as a result of my missing the exit earlier in the day, and we were still quite some distance from our first campground, we elected to skip a side trip to Louisville, KY
We had planned to visit an eccentric and eclectic roadside attraction called “Jerry’s Junk”. Seriously. It is a local man’s yard filled with assorted junk from everywhere. Not your usual junk, but strange random items that somehow go together, in an almost artistic way. We also planned to stop at the cemetery where Colonel Sanders, of KFC fame, and Charlottesville’s own George Rogers Clark, father of William Rogers Clark, of Lewis & Clark fame, are buried. In addition to siring William, George was one of the principal founders of Louisville.
We continued to press onward and finally reached the Indian-Celina campground in the Hoosier National Forest around 7:30 pm, just in time to get camp set up before dark. The main concern here was the presence of the dreaded pine bark beetle that was killing many of the trees in the forest. We had been warned not to pitch our tents directly underneath large tree limbs in case they were to fall during the night and crush us. Great… Actually, the bigger menace here was the daddy long leg infestation from the arachnid breeding ground in our campsite. Spiders everywhere…. On a more positive note, the campsite was fairly large and had both a picnic table and a fire pit with a grill surface that could be swung into place over the embers. The routine for setting up camp each day involved pitching our tents, unloading needed supplies, pouring a beer, and getting a campfire started. The gathering of firewood and its ultimate ignition were tasks that TK handled exceptionally well. He abhorred the idea of purchasing a neat bundle of firewood, instead opting to trundle off into the far flung woods and drag back impossibly long dead branches that would be fed into the fire throughout the evening. Unaware of the full extent of his pyromaniacal penchants prior to the trip, I brought along fire starter bricks, dryer lint (at his suggestion), and a bottle of lighter fluid, just in case. For the record, I acknowledge my own very well documented pyromaniacal bent but it was a relief to cede that responsibility to someone else on this trip. With beers in hand, and full smiles, we set up camp quickly and began dinner preparations. Dinner this night consisted of the grilled NY strip steaks from TimberCreek Farm and Yukon Gold potatoes that had been roasted with olive oil, sea salt, black pepper and smoked Spanish paprika in a foil pouch over the coals until tender. To accompany the meat and taters, we prepared a simple salad of lettuce, tomato and cucumber drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. We finished the evening with a bourbon by the campfire and then retired to get some rest for the next leg of the journey.
We awakened early and enjoyed the breakfast du jour of ABC granola with yogurt and French press coffee. TK proclaimed that this granola must be crack-infused because it is addictively delicious. I concur. After breaking down camp, we were ready to hit the road by about 8:00 a.m. This became our target time for departure during the rest of the journey because it allowed ample time to sleep and made sense for being able to leverage the early morning daylight to make things easier to see when packing up the vessel.
Soon after our departure, we realized that we had not yet named the Explorer. We toyed with various famed explorers in history, but ultimately settled on Queen Anne’s Revenge, the vessel commanded by the notorious Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard the Pirate. The exact reasons for this selection were not recorded in the Captain’s log, however it gave me the perfect opportunity to use my outrageous and well-honed pirate accent at every opportunity. It also afforded me the chance to regale TK with the story of the infamous pirate party that was held in my backyard in Charlottesville in the early 90s that, to this day, continues to be the benchmark for themed parties by all who were in attendance.
Lest there be any doubt remaining about my piratical tendencies, may I present to you the “Pirate in a Previous Life Award” that was once bestowed upon me by my peers. Such a high quality trophy should be all the evidence one needs to prove that my pirate credentials are bona fide!
The first side trip planned for the day was to venture into St. Louis and pay a visit to the Gateway Arch, the iconic symbol of westward expansion after the Louisiana Purchase by Thomas Jefferson. Due to a great deal of construction in the park around the monument, and in the interest of time, we elected to not get out of the car, but to do a “pass by” to provide an opportunity to capture the requisite photo and then get quickly back on the interstate. For miles & miles along the Missouri interstate near St. Louis, we repeatedly spied, and were constantly amused by, a billboard for a personal injury law firm by the name of Brown & Brown that featured one of the lawyers wearing a pirate eye patch. Oh my God, you can’t make this shit up. Alas, shortly after leaving St. Louis, in Williamsburg, MO, we suddenly heard a loud roar and a furious flapping sound coming from the car rooftop carrier. I glanced in the rear mirror to see if there was anyone immediately behind us when, all of a sudden, one of the bright blue ground cover tarps that had been neatly folded up and stowed in the carrier, was ripped out, still folded into a perfect square, and landed in the middle of the highway behind us. We quickly realized that it would be highly dangerous, and most likely impossible, to retrieve the tarp but we knew that we had to stop immediately and secure the carrier before we lost any more of our precious gear. Unfortunately, pulling over was not an easy task because there was very little shoulder and a steep drop off into a ditch. Moreover, the Queen Anne’s Revenge is not a small vessel to be trifled with. With much trepidation, I edged the vessel as close as I felt comfortable to the side of the road and TK clambered up one side to inspect the situation. It was determined that the root of the problem was that, upon packing that morning, I had neglected to use the padlock to secure the two zippers where they met on the carrier seam allowing the highway wind to unzip the carrier and the tarp to escape. Thinking the problem was now solved, we continued on our way but I immediately noticed that something was still wrong because the aerodynamics of the Queen Anne’s Revenge had noticeably changed and I felt as if we were being buffeted more severely by the wind. Within minutes, another more ominous howling sound emanated from the carrier and we immediately took the first exit off the highway to do a more thorough inspection in a safer environs. Lo and behold, the bitter highway gods had more in store for us because the carrier had somehow filled with air like a parachute causing the zipper to pull away from its attachment to the canvas over a length of approximately 20 cm, making it impossible to keep air from entering the void, and thus rendering the carrier susceptible to further damage as well as permeation by the elements in the future. Arrggh…. After weighing a limited number of options, I produced a length of paracord rope that was in my camping gear and we proceeded to encircle the entire carrier with multiple rounds of cord until it was trussed as tightly as a Christmas goose. It proved to be effective, but also a major pain in the neck, because it had to be unsealed each evening upon arrival and resealed each morning before departure.
With the repair made, we continued on to our next destination, Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue in Kansas City, MO. I absolutely adore smoking meats for hours on end over a low fire, and I had been told repeatedly over the years, by people that I trust in such matters, that this was THE place for barbecue. With appropriate skepticism, TK and I both agreed that this claim required verification. We arrived about 4 p.m. and proceeded to the counter to place our orders. TK ordered 1 lb. of pulled pork barbecue and potato salad and I ordered ½ lb. of ribs and baked beans. Because we had Miss Cali with us, rather than eating at Bryant’s, we opted to take the food out and drive 2-3 miles to Boulevard Brewing Company where we found a pleasant dog-friendly outdoor seating area with tables where we could chow down on the barbecue and sample a beer from the tasting room. I selected the Heavy Lifting IPA and TK chose the Midnight black pale ale. We were surprised and disappointed to learn that Boulevard does not fill growlers because one explicit purpose of this stop was to restock our beer larder. Oh well, we still had bottled beer available, as well as the bourbon, and we would simply resolve this problem somewhere down the road. We took our pints out to the patio and began sampling all of the barbecue and the various fixin’s. As heralded, the barbecue was indeed excellent, however not appreciably better than the best we can get back East, including in my own backyard. Nevertheless, we enjoyed it immensely and we ate until we could eat no more and then set off on the next leg of the journey to Waubonsie State Park in Hamburg, Iowa.
The 2 hour drive from Kansas City, MO to Hamburg, IA was pleasant, the only issue being the soporific effect of the barbecue and beer that we had just consumed. The landscape in northeastern Missouri was relatively flat and dotted with large farms.
We arrived at Waubonsie State Park at approximately 7 pm and we were both ready for some relaxation after the stresses of the day, especially the tarp incident. Our campsite was located on a strip of land abutting a forest. As soon as I opened my car door, I was instantly attacked by an enormous swarm of small bugs that nearly blinded me and caused me to choke. I realized that the bugs seemed to be coming from the nearby woods. Adding to the unpleasantness, there was an RV with a generator parked directly across the small road in front of our campsite. I was surprised to see an RV so close to our campsite because I had specifically tried to avoid them when mapping out a site in advance. Glancing around the area, it was obvious that there were plenty of unreserved campsites away from the epicenter of swarming insects and droning generators. I attempted to contact the reservation center by phone to ask about switching campsites but I found that there would be an additional fee involved. Bah Hamburg! Invoking the Spirit of Blackbeard, we surreptitiously relocated to a new site in the center of a large grassy area, away from all of the aforementioned annoyances, and immediately began to set up camp while there was still daylight remaining.TK immediately went off to gather firewood and we soon had a raging bonfire to enjoy. We discussed making dinner but decided that we would simply eat some of the leftover pulled pork, ribs and sides, of which there were plenty, from our earlier stop at Arthur Bryant’s. In time, it seemed odd to not be cooking something over the fire and so TK produced a pound of bacon that he had brought along in the cooler and he began frying up the entire pound in a cast iron skillet. Soon the wonderful aroma of frying bacon was wafting throughout the campsite. Cooked to perfection, with just the right combination of crispness and chewiness, we pretended as if we had not eaten pork in a while and scarfed it down with abandon, saving some for the next day. After dark, the sky was ablaze with stars and we had a clear view of the Milky Way. It always amazes me how incredible the night sky appears when you are away from the light pollution of the city.
After awakening from a good night’s sleep, we partook of the usual breakfast, broke camp, and embarked on what would prove to be the most grueling leg of the journey– fucking Nebraska. Unfortunately, TK’s cold virus was full on at this point and he had been reduced to swigging cough medicine out of the bottle and swallowing Nyquil capsules. Nevertheless, we both knew what lay ahead on this leg of the expedition and we tried to steel ourselves for the arduous drive across the entire state of Nebraska in one day. Although we thought we had some idea of what this would be like, the true depth of the monotony of driving for hundreds of miles across a vast, flat, cornfield-studded landscape was unimaginable. On the far eastern side of Nebraska, we passed through Nebraska City. It is here that our path diverged from that of Lewis & Clark for a while. While we were proceeding almost due west, their expedition followed the river routes in a northerly direction through the Dakotas, before turning west. Our paths would merge again later in the journey. Our first planned stop of the day was at a Whole Foods Market in “cracka-lackin’ mo fuckin’ “ Lincoln, Nebraska to replenish our vittles and pick up a few necessary ingredients for meals during the second half of the journey. We purchased guacamole, salsa fresca, green bell pepper, avocados, whole milk mozzarella cheese and spicy Italian sausages. We also bought 2 six packs of local beers, a mango IPA from Empyrean Brewing Co., and an oatmeal porter from Zipline Brewery, both from Lincoln. Provisions in hand, we were soon back on the road again.
After what seemed like an eternity, in reality only about 4 hours, we arrived in North Platte, NE, proud home of the Bailey Railroad Yard, supposedly the world’s largest. Seizing the opportunity to break the drudgery of the drive, we left Cali in the car and entered the visitor’s center to purchase tickets that would allow us to climb the Golden Spike Tower to get a panoramic view of the massive railyard. With tickets in hand, we were told to have the souvenir ticket punched by a bespeckled old woman named Dottie who was seated in a chair against the wall outside of the gift shop. Tickets punched, Dottie instructed us to sign the guest book and rattled on about the museum, the Walk of Flags, and other “be sure not to miss” attractions that our tickets entitled us to see. She told us that the 7th floor of the tower had an open air balcony that afforded the best panoramic view for taking photographs, whereas the 8th floor had a collection of railroad memorabilia and a guide posted there to answer any questions. About this time, I noticed that a couple brought their dog inside and so I asked Dottie if the museum was “dog friendly”. We were concerned about Cali being left in the car with the early afternoon sun beginning to warm things up. Surprisingly, Dottie did not have a clue as to whether dogs were permitted inside. As she tottered off to inquire, 1 or 2 other dogs scurried into the museum. Taking that as an affirmative, we thanked Dottie and went out to retrieve Cali. When we returned, nanoseconds later, Dottie did not remember us and asked to punch our tickets and for us to sign the guest book. Dottie, oh Dottie….. After we assured her that we had already completed the drill, she instructed us to watch a brief 3 min video, already underway, before climbing the tower. We stood and watched the documentary for a few moments and learned of the generations of North Plattians who had spent their entire lives working in this rail yard in various capacities. Fully educated, we rode the elevator to the 7th floor balcony and gazed out at the miles and miles of multiple train filled tracks and engine houses. I really love trains and it was indeed an impressive sight. Nevertheless, I am skeptical about their improbable claim about it being the world’s largest rail yard. Surely there must be rail yards at least this large in other countries, like in eastern Europe or China, that depend more heavily on railroads for transportation of goods and people than does the USA. After photographing the scene from the 7th floor, we ascended to the 8th floor where we were met almost immediately by our tour guide, a man named Rodney. Rodney told us a few stories about his family and pointed out some of the other curiosities and oddities in the environs around the tower, including a corn maize (Ha!) and a “punkin’ patch”. There was also a field of a special multi-colored corn, which I assume is for decorative purposes because I personally do not find the idea of eating purple corn particularly appetizing. Yellow? Check. White? Check. Yellow/White? Check. Purple? Not so much. Rodney informed us that most of the corn in the endless miles of expansive cornfields that we drove past is grown for animals, not humans. I cannot imagine that all that corn is being consumed by animals. More likely, the corn growers are being paid farm subsidies to grow corn and by God they are going to grow it. What the hell else is there to do in Nebraska after you’ve solved the corn maze?
The next stop in the tourist mecca of North Platte, NE was at the vacation home of the Wild West showman, Buffalo Bill Cody, called Scout’s Rest Ranch. The ranch house is a lovely Second Empire style mansion built for him in 1886 as a place where he could relax when he was in the area. It is nestled on a well-manicured lawn with shade trees and various outbuildings such as a spring house and, of course, a corn storage room with mill.
TK and I walked around the grounds a bit and took a self-guided tour of the house that contains Buffalo Bill’s furniture and tons of memorabilia from his life. There were guns and furs and decorated leather cowboy outfits worn in his shows. The house is pretty cool and looks like Buffalo Bill just stepped out for a minute. We both enjoyed the tour.
After the tour, it was time to have some lunch before getting back on the highway to be confronted once again by the unending hellish visage of corn, corn, corn. We decided to have a picnic sitting out in front of the barn on a thick carpet of dark green grass under a crabapple tree bearing reddish yellow fruit. We made wraps stuffed with prosciutto, turkey, leftover bacon, cheddar and goat cheeses and lettuce and smeared with Dijon mustard. Orgasmically delicious! A babbling brook nearby interjected our conversations with pleasant gurgles in the lulls between mouthfuls while songbirds exchanged boasts at whim, making for a very pleasant picnic.
On the road again, we set our sights for the West Lake campground in the Red Feather Lakes area of the Roosevelt National Forest, just over the state line between Colorado and Wyoming. We chose this site because it was in the general area where I knew the drudgery of the drive had to end and, importantly, because they accepted reservations. In the initial planning stages, our first choice was actually on the other side of the state line in Wyoming, a beautiful place called Vedauwoo campground. Sadly, Vedauwoo did not take reservations and so we opted for the CO site instead, just to be sure that we had a spot to land at the end of a grueling day. When we were about 90 min away from West Lake, we began to experience our first sustained rainshowers on the trip. Accordingly, TK checked the weather forecast for Ft. Collins, CO, the closest “metropolis” to West Lake, and discovered that strong thunderstorms were predicted for West Lake, beginning about the time that we would be arriving and continuing on throughout the evening. We did not have any type of dining canopy under which we could gather to prepare dinner and hang out and, even if we did, it would have been terribly unsafe due to the risk of being struck by lightning. He also checked the forecast for the area around Vedauwoo and found that, although there was some rain in the forecast, it did not appear to involve thunder and lightning and we felt that we could manage with our rain gear. We had to make a snap decision – soldier on for another 90+ min to West Lake and face almost certain suck ass conditions or take a huge risk and venture to nearby Vedauwoo, not knowing if we would have a campsite available when we arrived, a situation that I had so carefully planned to avoid. However, at this point, I was completely sick of driving and borderline despondent. OK maybe that is a bit hyperbolic, but I definitely wanted nothing more than to get out of the car, set up camp, and nurse a bourbon on the rocks with bitters until I could completely erase the corn imagery from my brain. And, as my “World Famous” chili was on the menu for tonight, we would need to be able to build a fire in order to heat it up, and so the decision was made to set our sights on Vedauwoo and hope for the best. Being the ace Navigator, TK also managed to locate a few backup campgrounds in the general vicinity of Vedauwoo which afforded me some relief in case we got skunked there. In Cheyenne, WY we stopped to refuel the Queen Anne’s Revenge and visit a local microbrewery to refill the growlers that had been empty for far too long.
We discovered Freedom’s Edge Brewing Company and were delighted to find that they had a chili-infused ale on tap that we thought would be the perfect accompaniment to the spicy chili that awaited our palates. The second growler was filled with their IPA, just because. Cheyenne appeared to be a hip western town that I would have liked to spend more time exploring.
We arrived at Vedauwoo with light rain showers and were greeted by an absolutely stunningly B-E-A-U-tiful landscape. It is an insanely scenic spot that is a world class favorite for rock climbers due its magnificent steep stone hill formations that resemble stacked cottonballs. We raced up the hill and around the bend and quickly located a perfect open campsite. Score!!!!
One of the first sights upon our arrival was a moose, believed to be female – no rack (wait a second, that doesn’t make sense!), wandering next to the road leading up to the camping area. A moose – how cool is that! It was meant to be. A few moments after our arrival, Ranger Rick drove past our site and I flagged him down to ask about the weather forecast for the rest of the evening. Although the rain showers had stopped and the sky appeared to be clearing, in an ominous voice he warned that more rain was on the way for the evening and the next morning. Damn, not exactly what I wanted to hear and it seemed at odds with what we were witnessing as the clouds continued to dissipate. Still, rather than ridiculing Ranger Rick’s forecast outright, we decided to not tempt fate and hope that the weather gods would take a liking to us and spare us from misery. I rushed around unpacking the car while Cali chased chipmunks and harassed other campers, mainly Canadian rock climbers, and TK set off on his appointed rounds to gather chaparral for a campfire. The terrain was rough and the task was complicated because much of what little wood was available had already been burned in a previous wildfire. Even the wooden split beam fences around the camping area were heavily charred. As I was going about my duties, I could see TK way off in the distance scrambling up and down hills collecting wood. Sure enough, within a very short time, we had another wonderful fire ablaze and we began preparations for dinner. Fortunately, this required little more than locating a clean pot and simmering the chili until it was good and hot. I made the chili a few days before we departed using my top secret recipe and froze it, allowing it to thaw slowly in the cooler as we traveled. I love to make chili and I have actually won “The People’s Choice Award” at a number of local chili cook-offs. The name of my competition chili is “Sam & Ella” chili, the name being derived as a tribute to the great singers Sam Cooke & Ella Fitzgerald.
However, if you say the name of the chili quickly, it takes on a more onerous connotation vis-à-vis food preparation. In short order, we were enjoying piping hot bowls of smoky chili combined with the chili infused ale, a most satisfactory pairing. I am pretty sure that TK liked the chili as evidenced by the fact that he consumed 3 bowls while emitting the kind of guttural grunts and inhalations one makes when enjoying something both spicy and temperature hot. After dinner, we were treated to a spectacular sunset and, as the evening progressed, the cloud cover completely disappeared and the Milky Way blazed like an astral inferno above our heads. I will never forget the intensity of the stars that night, unlike any night sky I had ever observed in my life. I wish that I had my telescope on the trip because it would have been the perfect opportunity to do some deep sky gazing. Oh well, next time… After a few beers and a bourbon by the campfire, and the worst part of the drive behind us, we decided to call it a night. It was a bitter cold night at Vedauwoo with temperatures in the upper 30s and a constant wind. I guess that is to be expected at elevations > 8,000 ft but I was unaware, until just before retiring for the evening, that TK did not have a sleeping bag with him on the trip. He had one in Charlottesville but, in the mad dash of the final pack where 2-3 boxes would not fit, one of the boxes containing his sleeping bag was left behind to be shipped later to Portland via FedEx. I offered him an extra pair of thermal long john’s and a spare ski hat that I had brought along, but he stoically refused. We share a stubborn streak, so I completely understood, yet I was concerned for his well being, especially given his continuing bout with the cold virus.
From the outset, this day was noteworthy because it was Cali’s first birthday! Cali was the most extraordinarily wonderful canine companion on this expedition. There is always some uncertainty when traveling with an animal, but I knew from a previous trip that she did not seem to mind spending time in the car, although this trip was surely going to be a test.
Although we had fashioned a cubby hole where she could lay flat behind TK, she wasn’t satisfied with this arrangement. She preferred to alternate between being stretched out in the middle of the rear seat with her head on the center console between our seats, or wedging herself into the most unlikely and uncomfortable looking mass on the floorboard amongst various a sundry items behind my seat. We would hear this loud scritching sound as she clawed her way through obstacles in order to make a nest. She truly was a remarkable companion on the trip and it is abundantly clear how much she adores TK.
It was an incredibly beautiful morning with the amazing backdrop of the rugged rock formations at Vedauwoo being backlit by the rising sun resulting in a typical Wyoming inferno of red, beige and orange rocks ensconced by pink scarlet ribbons of clouds. We both took time to walk outside the campground to admire the landscape.
After breaking camp, and casting aspersions on Ranger Rick’s lack of weather acumen, we embarked on the next leg of the journey. Before departure, we iced down a bottle of champagne in anticipation of drinking a small toast upon crossing the Great Continental Divide later in the morning. The planned drive was much less daunting than on the previous day because the terrain had finally changed from one of flat, wide-open fields to rolling hills with more interesting scenery and our spirits were high. I was amazed at how little traffic we encountered over the past several days. Sometimes we went for long stretches without seeing another vehicle. We also saw very few police cars out on the road, which was especially surprising given that it was the cusp of a major holiday weekend. The lack of traffic was particularly pleasant for me because it gave me the chance to view the beautiful landscape without worrying about other vehicles nearby.
About 2 hours after leaving Camp Vedauwoo, we crossed the Continental Divide, just west of Rawlins, WY. The Continental Divide is the principal hydrological divide of the United States, where all of the rivers on the west side of the divide flow into the Pacific Ocean, whereas all of the rivers on the east side flow into the Atlantic. When one thinks of the Continental Divide, one usually associates it with rugged, mountainous terrain. TK and I had been encouraged by friends in Charlottesville to climb to the top of some craggy spot and piss off into opposite directions as some sort of ritual to mark the occasion. I suppose TK would have chosen the westerly flow pattern, and I the easterly. In any case, the portion of the Continental Divide that we encountered is called The Great Basin, part of the Red Desert. It is an interesting geological oddity because all of the water, what little there is, that hits the ground either sinks into the desert soil or evaporates, never reaching either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. I’m sure that we could have built a case for peeing in the Great Basin but, after seeing the flat, wide open terrain with no real place to pull over, it would have been a logistical challenge as well as an extraordinary site for passing motorists. Ergo, we opted to continue onward and save the champagne for our destination later in the day. Bonus: Because the Great Basin is an oval, we crossed the Continental Divide a second time as we continued west! Unfortunately, this was an equally exposed position, so our thoughts of having the pee race of the ages was once again stymied. West of the Great Basin, the landscape transitioned from a large flat desertscape to one punctuated by bare rocky outcroppings that would pop up from nowhere.
Our first stop of the day was in Rock Springs, WY to refuel. After exiting the interstate, one of the first gas stations that we encountered was the Kum & Go. Of all the possible names for a company, who in the world selected this one? It sounds more like an adult video store than a place to fill up your gas tank.
While wending our way back to the interstate through “downtown” Rock Springs, we passed by a business with a huge sign proclaiming it to be the “World Famous Astro Lounge”. Wondering what could possibly make this lounge “World Famous”, we turned to Google to reveal the mystery. Evidently, it is a strip club of such repute that several of the dancers are listed on Homewreckers.com! We made our way back to the interstate and pressed onward. We had only one side trip planned for today and we were looking forward to an early arrival at the next campground with plenty of daylight and a lake for swimming. Being a daily swimmer in Charlottesville, I was missing my morning ritual.
The main side trip for the day was to be a visit to Devil’s Slide, an unusual rock formation near Croydon, UT. We planned to drive up and get out of the car to take a few photos. However, when we reached the destination, there was no way to get to it. There was a “scenic viewing area”, which means a small place to pull your car over, but it happened to be blocked by an eighteen wheeler that was parked there taking up the entire pullover lane! In a flash, we missed it and there was no turning back. Here is what it looks like on Wiki-Pedia. Based on our experience, we rate it 1 out of 5 stars.
As we continued on in Utah, we passed through several areas known for high winds and saw our first tumbleweeds sailing across the highway. These areas are also known for frequent dust storms, including “dirt devils”, which we also witnessed swirling across the dusty fields. The windy conditions in this part of the country are perfect for the generation of electrical power and we passed numerous fields of windmills.
Just north of Ogden, UT, we saw the hazy smoke filled air that resulted from the plague of wildfires that had recently erupted in many of the nearby states, including California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Wyoming and parts of Colorado.
Given that many of these fires were blazing in close proximity to our planned campsites on the last several days, we were a bit concerned, not only about the immediate fire danger, but also from the resulting poor air quality as well. Fortunately, we did not experience any difficulties related to the wildfire situation.
We arrived at the Lake Walcott Recreational Area in Minidoka, ID in the early afternoon. This was one of the larger, more organized campgrounds that we had encountered thus far with lots of activities available for visitors including a Frisbee golf course, volleyball, and the lake for boating and other aquatic endeavors. Unlike the past few days where we arrived in the early evening, this time we got there in the middle of the afternoon and had to “check-in” with our camp hosts. The hosts were a retired couple from South Dakota who roam around the country playing “host” at various state park campgrounds for a month or two before moving on to the next location. Although they seemed outwardly pleasant, it quickly became apparent that they had, and enforced, “rules, rules, rules” here. They ran down a long list of rules, especially noting that we had to keep Cali on a leash at all times. We assured them that we understood and parked the car in a lot near our site.
Our site was located right on the edge of the lake and required us to haul in our gear rather than having on-site parking as we had become accustomed. Fortunately, it was no big deal because the parking area was very close to the campsite. Unfortunately, as we were unloading our gear, Cali had been left to race around and explore the immediate area. Magically, out of nowhere, our hosts appeared on their golf cart and reiterated the warning about keeping Cali on a leash and indicating that the official park ranger would give us a ticket if he observed her off-leash again. They also took the opportunity to inform us that we were not allowed to “gather firewood” as we had done at all the prior locations. I immediately sensed TK beginning to bristle at the notions of keeping Cali leashed, and his inability to assuage his innate yearning to scour the immediate countryside for dead wood with which to build the nightly inferno. I placated him by offering to purchase 2 bundles of firewood that were sold by the camp hosts and simultaneously conned the hosts into agreeing to deliver them to us on their golf cart. By assisting the man in loading the cart, sorry I didn’t get his name, he was especially generous and we ended up with a sizeable stack of well-seasoned and split wood for $10 which seemed to please TK. After setting up camp, TK took Cali for a run along the trail that winded through the campground in an effort to work off some of her pent up energy and tire her out. Upon their return, and with plenty of daylight remaining, we decided that it was finally time to take a plunge into the lake. Anticipating that the water temperature was likely to be quite cold, we decided to head for a small floating dock that we had discovered close to our site where we could jump in quickly rather than unpleasantly wading into the water from the shore in front of our campsite.
We donned our swimsuits, stripped off our shirts and made a mad dash for the dock, intending to launch ourselves into the frigid water. The dock pulsated on the surface of the water as we ran across it causing the water below to come squirting up through the cracks between the slats, the sudden icy cold spray catching us off guard and causing us to slow down and reevaluate our plan. During this pause, we noticed a duck swimming around. In a Monty Python-esque voice, I exclaimed “Beware the Minidoka duck. While it may appear harmless, ignore it at your peril. Its razor sharp beak can rip the flesh off the limbs of unsuspecting swimmers in one fell swoop.” The next potential hazard, and this one was all too real, was a triangular headed snake swimming in close proximity to where we would have landed had we taken the plunge. After a moment of reflection, the swim was cancelled for the day. Besides, we were not in the designated swimming area, which we decided probably existed for a reason, and we had already broken enough rules for one day. Thwarted in our attempt to go swimming, we returned to the campsite, built a raging fire, poured ourselves a beer, and began making preparations for the dinner that we had planned for this evening – deep dish Chicago style pizza cooked in a cast iron skillet. TK had first suggested the idea back in Charlottesville and, because I really enjoy extreme cooking challenges, this one intrigued me for days leading up to our departure. Making pizza is another love of mine and one that I take very seriously. One challenge was to convert the standard issue charcoal grill that is found in many campsites, the rectangular kind that stands on a pole with an adjustable grate, into an oven. Accordingly, we brought along a large roll of extra heavy duty aluminum foil and used it to encase the top and sides of the grill and created a flap front door that could be lifted up to allow access. A pile of burning wood embers was then placed in one corner of the “oven” to bring it up to temp. I had made the flour & cornmeal pizza dough in advance, along with a fresh tomato sauce, before leaving Charlottesville and frozen them. The cold temperature inside the cooler kept the yeast from reactivating and it remained dormant until we allowed it to rest on the picnic table whereupon it came alive again with great vigor. We chopped up some green bell pepper, onions and tons of garlic slices and placed them in a foil packet over the fire embers to soften while simultaneously grilling 2 spicy Italian sausages. The dough was then spread into the well-oiled cast iron pan and placed into the now hot “oven” to prebake slightly. This is not a step that I typically do when making pizza but it is also not unusual for this style of pie. It apparently keeps the sauce from infiltrating the bottom crust and making it soggy. When ready, the crust was covered with thick slabs of whole milk mozzarella cheese, a layer of the fresh oregano-infused tomato sauce, the vegetables with garlic and thin slices of the grilled Italian sausage. A generous sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano covered the surface and the pie was then ceremoniously slid into the oven. Another challenge was the timing because I had neglected to bring along my trusty Thermopen instant thermometer so we were going blind as to the actual temperature inside the oven. I checked on the pizza a few times by peeking into the door flaps but saw little progress being made and determined that my constant checking was likely allowing the heat that had built up inside to escape. I decided that it would be best to just leave it be for about 20 minutes and hopefully the cooking would commence. In the meantime, we broke into the Knob Creek Single Barrel bourbon that we had purchased at Whole Foods back in Lincoln, NE. Cue impish grin. When I checked on the pizza 20 min later, it was clearly done but unfortunately the side closest to the fire got a bit darker than I had hoped. Not burnt mind you, it just went to the dark side. No matter, given the circumstances of the crude oven, and lack of any kind of control over temperature, it turned out just fine. In fact, it was awesome and we hungrily and happily wolfed it down. Lesson learned, next time I will turn the pan at the halfway point. After dinner, we sat at the picnic table drinking bourbon and listening to Tom Waits for a while. The neighboring campers all went to bed very early and, even though it was not all that late and the music was barely audible outside of our campsite, we did not want to be “those assholes” so we began shutting things down. Earlier in the evening we had been warned by our hosts about the presence of “aggressive raccoons” in the area, and so we took preventative measures by dragging all the trash and leftover vittles up to the car to secure them for the night. Around this time, out of nowhere, the wind began to increase noticeably with sudden large gusts. There was no rain, just a strong unrelenting gale punctuated periodically by even larger squalls. We discussed the possible need for additional stakes on our tents. I pulled out a set of special heavy duty tent stakes that I had brought along on the trip, placed them on top of the picnic table, and went to bed.
As Mark Watney in “The Martian” would say, “I am so fucked…” For the events that transpired in the early morning hours of Sol Five, I think it is best if TK provides the narrative that he penned at the time in the Captain’s log:
Woke up to complete confusion. Cali is going apeshit trying to squeeze out of a non-existent hole in the entrance to my tent, running around in circles in the Viking Longhouse seeking an exit and whining. I hear David fumbling with his tent. I let Cali out and then David calls over asking for help. Help? With what? David says, “I can’t find my door….” What?…. “I can’t find my door.” During the night, David’s tent had blown over 90°. This meant that he was now sleeping on his entrance.
Now, from my perspective. I awakened feeling a bit groggy from the plethora of bourbon consumed the night before and I really had to go take a leak, like at that moment. After opening my eyes, I was staring at a fabric covered tent pole just inches from my face. Unlike TK’s “Viking Longhouse”, my tent is tall enough that I can normally stand up in it. I had no idea what had happened and couldn’t find a way out of my predicament. I was trapped! Furthermore, to make matters even worse, my air mattress bladder was completely deflated and my urinary bladder was about to burst. I called out a few times but TK was snoring and I got no response. I lay there for an impossibly long time until I thought I detected some movement in TK’s tent next door. I called out again in a plaintive voice, “Help…..Help…..” and Cali answered my call. After TK righted my tent allowing me passage from the entrance upon which I had slept, I glanced over at the picnic table and there they were, mocking me, the special heavy duty tent stakes that I had brought along for just such an occasion. Curses!!
This morning we were both moving rather slowly. I blame the bourbon. I don’t know if the overindulgence was due to our early arrival at the campsite that allowed more idle time, a rebellion of sorts against all the rules, rules, rules or perhaps just the excitement of getting closer to our destination with many miles now behind us. Oh well, sometimes it is best not to over analyze such matters because they happen to us all at one time or another. The truth is that we had a really great time but there was a price attached to it that we were now going to have to pay.
I wandered off to go sit on the floating dock and wait for the sunrise while TK used up the last of the camp stove fuel to brew a fresh pot of French press coffee. He kindly brought me a mug of hot coffee and we sat on the dock and sipped our coffee and watched the sunrise. We were perfectly situated to watch the sun crest over the distant mountains and swath the lake and bordering cattails in an orange mist. We were unusually silent, whether from the sheer magnitude of the sunrise or from the incomprehension that follows a bourbon night didn’t matter. Got to give us credit, late to bed, early to rise. We watched a heron catch a fish while another heron was perched in a tree above us. Both gave us angry squawks as they flew off – such indignant birds.
We needed sustenance to tame the angry gastric gods and so we fed them with the soothing yogurt, granola and apple offerings to which they had become accustomed. After breakfast, I began searching for my reading glasses. Up until this point in the morning, I did not have a need for them but I was beginning to go through my daily ritual of rounding up all my personal belongings such as glasses, wallet, car keys, etc… I typically kept them in the net bag on the sidewall of my tent, or sometimes they would still be in the pocket of the shorts that I had worn the day before. I looked in all the usual places, tent, shorts, car, duffle bag, etc…, to no avail. I was beginning to get a bit worried because I can no longer see anything at close range without the aid of some magnification. As I was wandering around the campsite in search of my glasses, I glanced down and there they were, half-buried in the thick layer of ash and dust next to the campfire. Big relief! They probably fell out my pocket at some point during the evening when I was sitting by the fire. For what happened next, I will turn the story back over to TK:
He started to put them on and I could only utter a Noooo…. before they were on his face. He wore the biggest shit-eating grin you have ever seen and he said, “What, they seem to be working just fine!” The glasses were caked in campfire smut and, seeing this on this God-forsaken morning, already with its own peaks and valleys, the sun barely cresting the horizon, we both doubled over in laughter. High point.
After breakfast, we took hot showers in a very nice facility and then packed up The Queen Anne’s Revenge. We set sail around 9 am, only an hour later than our usual departure time. Not bad, all things considered.
Our first stop of the day was at Shoshone Falls, a large waterfall on the Snake River near Twin Falls, ID that is claimed to be 45 feet taller than Niagara Falls. The falls are located inside a state park that requires a $3 entry fee. When we were waiting behind another car at the check-in gate, we saw a sign mentioning below normal water levels. Furthermore, I overheard the Ranger in the ticket booth talking with the driver in front of me about the water levels. It dawned on me that the severe drought that has been occurring in much of this part of the country might indeed be having a serious impact on natural wonders involving water and was unsure if it was really going to be worth the $3 admission fee. When it was our turn to pay, I asked the Ranger about the situation and he said, “What, you came here to see water? Ha Ha”. He then assured us that it was well worth it so we ponied up the cash and ventured on into the park. Boy was he right! The falls were magnificently cascading from 2 stages at the main point, then a smaller fall medially. There were 2 other smaller falls on the other side of the canyon. There were houses perched on a hill overlooking the falls. I can’t imagine living there.
We went on a short walk with Cali along a rocky trail around the lip of the canyon. There were signs posted warning folks to watch out for their dogs and others signs memorializing dogs of owners that had not heeded that advice. For real. It was a sheer drop off into a deep canyon with precious little to stop someone who might, for example, trip on a loose rock on the trail and begin to fall. But hey, we survived the great Minidoka windstorm of September 4/5, 2015 – we are invincible, bwaahaahaa! As we trudged along the trail, we witnessed a flock of canyon birds precariously perched in the sand and stone. We called them “blue footed boobies” even though they bore no resemblance. We arrived at various scenic overlooks with all-encompassing views facing back towards the falls. We bought a postcard to send to the bistro and set off again.
Next up, Balanced Rock in Buhl, ID. It is really off the beaten path, and GPS is not always reliable in these parts, but my trusty Navigator prevailed yet again. ’I don’t know what to say. It is rock that is precariously balanced on its last tendon connecting it to Earth. I expect that one day we will learn that the rock is no longer balanced. Good thing we have a photo from its glory days!
After winding our way on a small road back to the interstate, it was on to the next destination, the Wall of Pennies in Mountain Home, ID. You may be asking yourself why anyone would give a damn about visiting the outside wall of a bar that had been turned into a piece of folk art by some local artist to draw some modicum of attention to their small town.
Well, it’s because we had waterproof contact cement and pennies and nothing else to do with our time. When I say that I was prepared for this trip, you must believe me. Before you cast aspersions on us for defacing the artwork, rest assured that the artist himself invites others to add to the mural, at least on the wall below it. There was a plethora of pennies that previous visitors like ourselves had glued there, many of them forming crude drawings, like a bunny rabbit for instance, or spelling out messages. You are supposed to make a wish before gluing your penny to the wall. If some jerk in the future removes your penny, then they have to grant you your wish. I’m not sure how this is enforced but, with the permanent water-proof glue that I brought, it was unlikely to be removed anyway so I’ll just have to get my wishes granted in some other way. As we stood there staring at the various vacant spots to which our pennies could be affixed, I looked over at TK and he had an impish grin. “So”, I said, “Have you found a spot for your penny?” “Yes”, TK replied. “I am going to add a penis to that poor kid’s rabbit.” And so we glued both of our pennies to the rabbit forming a not-so-anatomically-correct erect penis. It was great. Go ahead and remove it, you’ll just have to grant our wishes. Ha ha ha…. We high tailed it out of there before anyone noticed, like kids running from an egging.
Returning to the car, I began backing out of the parking space on the city street. As mentioned earlier, the vessel had a rear view camera that TK continually admonished me for not using when backing up. Use the force…, he would intone in a Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi accent, every time I started to back up while swirling my head from side to side trying to find a clear visual opening a midst all of the boxes and other detritus filling the vessel. I am quite technically adept but the perspective from a rear view camera is not something that I am used to when piloting a vessel such as the behemoth that I was in command of on this expedition. I can see how this technology could be extremely useful when backing out of your driveway when there are a bunch of punk-ass kids on skateboards scuttling around in the street behind you. But as a routine means of assisting with parking, I’m just not there yet. Besides, the goddamn camera was blocked by TK’s bicycle on its rack. So there is that…. Give me a break. Still better than that chiropractor’s regime you followed every morning.
Up to this point in the day, we had not eaten since appeasing the Gods at breakfast. We were still feeling a bit off from the activities of the previous evening and were uncertain about what our stomachs could handle. However, during one fuel stop, TK purchased a bag of Chex Mix because, he said, “I was in the mood for pretzels”. Now, if someone is in the mood for pretzels, why would they not buy a bag of pretzels? I posed this question and I don’t think I ever got a satisfactory answer. THEY DIDN’T HAVE PRETZELS! I CHECKED MULTIPLE TIMES! THIS WAS THE ONLY THING IN THE ENTIRE STORE THAT CONTAINED PRETZELS. OK, so there was an explanation. Moments later we stopped at a local upscale grocery with ALL IT’S AMAZING PRETZELS and picked up some freshly ground beef, 2 thick slices of bacon, in-store made buns, and jalapenos. Back on the road, I was feeling a bit peckish at this point in the day, and craving a salty snack, so TK offered me some of the precious Chex Mix that he had been devouring as we drove along. I reached into the bag for a handful and, by chance, came up with a mother load of pretzels! “Hey!”, TK shrieked. Oh well, the next time I tried I got a handful of some kind of gross corn squares that reignited a Nebraska flashback so I guess it averaged out in the end.
Later in the afternoon, we stopped again to refuel at a truck stop kind of place in the middle of nowhere. Across the street we noticed a food truck with an outside dining canopy and picnic table. It was obvious that this was a truly authentic Mexican food truck, not one of the hipster kinds of trucks you see around Charlottesville with increasing regularity. On the back of the food truck door there was a sign written in Spanish that read “We open when we say and close when we gone”. If there was anything that would make us feel better, it would have to be a super good and authentic burrito! We looked over the menu that was written on a slanted board and glanced about at the other patrons who were either pigging down their food at the picnic table, or milling around smoking cigarettes and talking on their cellphone while waiting for their to-go order to be filled. At the picnic table sat an extremely large man and woman who were intently focused on eating their giant combo platters. No words were exchanged between them, nor did they even glance up from their plates for one solitary moment. Eyes fixed, lips smacking. While TK and I were still assessing what to order, the large man got up. Hmmm…, I thought to myself, I guess they’re done now so maybe we can grab a seat at the table. No such luck. He walked back to the food truck window and said that he was going for a second round. Unbelievable! By this time, I had watched the food truck folks prepare a burrito for another customer and I was astonished at its sheer massiveness. TK and I agreed that we both wanted “The Aztec” burrito that contained grilled steak, chorizo, beans, melted cheese, and grilled hot peppers and onions, but we decided that we would ask them to cut one in half so that we could share it. With no chance of getting a seat at the picnic table any time soon, we took the burritos back to the car and ate them there, with a very jealous Cali looking over our shoulders and watching us intently with every bite. OMG, it was so incredibly delicious that I was in a food coma for the next several hours. Just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, TK burned the roof of his mouth on the first bite but, even so, I do not think it ruined his overall gustatory experience. There was one unexpected oddity in TK’s half of the burrito – a solitary pea. We pondered the meaning of the lone pea hidden inside the burrito, conjuring up stories of good fortune, like finding the baby in the King Cake at Mardi Gras, but ultimately we came to the mundane realization that it was probably just a mistaken ingredient. How it got there, God only knows…
Completely sated, we were on the road again. We decided that it was time to make a stop in Boise, ID in order to fuel up the Queen Anne’s Revenge and to fill the empty growlers. Things were looking up – thank you Mr. Aztec Burrito. Following a Google search, we selected Payette Brewing Company and easily found a parking spot right in front. According to the hours posted on the door, they should have been closed but it was apparent that there was a bustling crowd inside, probably a change in hours due to the holiday weekend. We went inside and tasted several of the beers that interested us and fittingly chose the Outlaw IPA. TK normally likes brown ales but their version he described as “watery”. On the other side of the parking lot was a business called the “Reuseum: Scientific, Industrial and Government Surplus”. Without going into too much detail here, suffice it to say that I am a huge geek from way back with an extensive background in electronics from a very young age. I still have an enormous box full of old radio components and television test equipment from when I was in middle school, or even earlier, that I have been carrying around over the years through multiple moves to different states. I just cannot part with it. Anyway, I digress…. Walking into the shop, my jaw immediately dropped as I was surrounded by the most fascinating array of items, any one of which would have been way cool but, all together… I had to catch my breath and steady myself and begin exploring the aisles that were crammed full of exciting bits of history. There were vacuum tubes, transistors and transformers and coils of every size imaginable, spools of multi-colored wire, motors, signal generators, control panels, flight simulators, all juxtaposed with gas masks and radiation protection suits! Holy crap, this was some kind of mecca for me and I knew immediately that there must have been a reason why we stopped there. I’d like to think that maybe the penny penis that we glued to the rabbit earlier in the day had been discovered and removed, bringing me good luck, but this was not the explicit wish that I had made so it must have simply been divine provenance. TK wrote, “David nerded out real quick, he, at some point, has used or owned half the place. He might consider this as a retirement hobby.” With some reluctance, I realized that the time had come to finally bid farewell to my garden of fantastical gizmos and rotospatospotospooters and, with a tear in my eye, we set our sights for the next campground.
Not long after leaving Boise, we crossed the state line and, by God, we were in Oregon! We soon arrived at the campground called “Farewell Bend State Park” that is situated on a major U-shaped bend on a modestly sized reservoir formed by the Snake River. It gets its name from the settlers on the Oregon Trail that passed right through there. As they continued west, leaving behind wagon wheel ruts that are still visible to this day, they bid farewell to the Snake River that had been their companion for many hundreds of miles. Our campsite sat high on a hill looking down on the river. Feeling much rejuvenated from all of the fun, laughter and exciting things that we saw during the day, we went about the usual chores of setting up camp. Even though it had been a full day, there was still plenty of daylight left. We took Cali for a walk down along the river and threw a stick for her and watched as others fished from the bank. TK made his way through a tall stand of marsh grass, motioning for me to follow, but I remained on the rocky shore. When asked why, David casually mentioned snakes. Taking extreme care, TK followed Cali’s lead and continued through the marsh. When he got to the other side of the stand, I called out to see what he found. His reply, “mud”. Anyway, it was great just being outside, next to a beautiful river and surrounding scenery and having the opportunity to move around and get a little exercise after being cooped up in the car. Unlike the gestapo at Lake Walcott, no one seemed to care if Cali ran around as long as she was not bothering anyone. In fact, she was a big hit with several campers who passed by, including our neighbors, who were doting all over her. The one downside of our last night of camping was that, because of all the recent wildfire activity in the area, open flames, such as fire pits or candles, were prohibited by the State for the foreseeable future. Oddly, this did not include charcoal fires, which is puzzling to me if you’ve ever seen TK light up a grill after dousing the briquettes with a combustible liquid. With the grill fire blazing, we began to prepare for dinner while sipping on the last of the Eagle Rare bourbon and listening to Parker Milsap. We fried up the bacon slices in the cast iron pan over the fire and then caramelized sliced onions in the bacon fat, while roasting the jalapeno peppers directly over the flames until charred. Lightly formed burger patties were seasoned with sea salt and black pepper and grilled to medium temp and topped with cheddar cheese, melted under an aluminum foil tent. After gently toasting the buns, the cheeseburgers were topped with the bacon, caramelized onions, strips of roasted and peeled jalapeno peppers, slices of fresh avocado, and topped with the remaining salsa fresca. The burgers, we dubbed as the “Farewell Bend Burger”, were delicious! With no campfire possibility, we retired early to get a good night of sleep before the final leg of the journey. Tomorrow, Portland. The future awaits.
It was a bitterly cold evening last night. I awakened early and took a hot shower, avoiding a slug that was crawling on the shower floor. Our camp neighbors told me that they heard fox and coyote roaming around in the vicinity of our campsites during the night. When TK and Cali arose, I asked TK whether they heard anything but apparently Cali was so cold in the night that she started shivering and TK had to wrap her up with a blanket into a Cali burrito and, with the exception of a prolonged 2 am pee, they both slept through the nocturnal visit. We broke camp and, because we had used up the last of the camp stove fuel yesterday, planned to make a quick stop for our morning coffee fix in the closest town in nearby Huntington, OR. We drove into Huntington on historic Hwy 30, the route of the Oregon Trail. As we pulled into the main part of town, we spotted a café on the corner in a historic-looking old building. The café was called Howell’s Café & Streamliner Lounge. Definitely a local’s kind of place. We walked into the center of a dimly lit dining room with an old-style counter and swivel stools from which emanated that distinct, wooden, old timey smell. The room was devoid of patrons and staff and we thought that perhaps it was not open yet. As we were turning around to leave, a young woman appeared from the back. I asked the waitress, who we soon learned was Dottie 2.0, if we could get some coffee to go and she began filling 2 large styrofoam cups with coffee. Recognizing us as wayward travelers, and after first apologizing for being “nosy”, she wanted to know all about what we were up to and where we were headed. When TK mentioned that we were heading to Portland, she rolled her eyes and began to tell us about how weird the people in Portland are. Now anyone who knows anything about Portland understands that this is in fact a true statement, however they also know that Portlanders relish this truth and wear it as a badge of honor. Dottie 2.0 became increasingly chattier and began punctuating her conversation with curse words. She admitted that she was a hick and that once, when she was visiting relatives in Portland, a completely nude foot race had occurred. She described other examples of perceived weirdness but eventually realized that none of her excoriations were having the intended effect. Quite the contrary. By this point, we knew that we were not getting out of that café anytime soon, so we sat down on the swivel tools, asked for refills, and continued to engage her in conversation. Her next topic du jour was to explain that one of her passions in life is pie-making and that she had plans to make more than a half dozen different pies later that day. Apparently, there is an annual bicycle tour that passes through Huntington over the Labor Day weekend and the café always set up a pie table on the sidewalk so the riders can enjoy a slice of homemade pie. Dottie 2.0 said that one of the pies was to be a pecan pie which caught my attention because it is one of my favorites to both make and to eat. I mentioned this to her and she looked surprised and perplexed that a man might know something about making a pie. Perhaps as a test, she asked me whether I preferred light or dark corn syrup in the recipe. Suppressing a scoff, I informed her that I used neither, preferring instead to use maple syrup. Dottie 2.0’s eyes widened and, for the first time since we sat down, she was utterly speechless. In this awkward moment, I imagined short circuiting wires with showers of sparks exploding inside her head as this novel concept swirled around and finally sank in. When she finally regained her ability to talk, with a bit of unease she commented that it sounded interesting and she might give a try. We both agreed that, whatever the ingredients, the texture of a good pecan pie is all important. Life lesson: custardy not soupy. The conversation then drifted towards her personal life and she told us about her boyfriend and the fact that she was a grandmother. I guess it was her turn to blow our minds because it did not seem possible that someone her age, most likely in her mid to late 30s, could be a grandparent. I looked at TK and said, “I am not a Grandpa…yet”. At one point, I got up to use the restroom that required navigating down several hallways, past the kitchen and storage closets. When I came out of the restroom, I made a wrong turn and ended up in another very dimly lit dining room. I realized immediately that this was not the right room and as I swung around to reverse direction, a large hairy man with a long white beard who was seated in the middle of the room sipping coffee, wished me good morning in a low, gravelly smoker’s voice. It scared the bejeezus out of me and I jumped back because I had not seen him and wasn’t prepared. After rejoining my party, it was time to get on the road and so we bade Dottie 2.0 farewell. Later in the day, I wondered if she made that pecan pie with maple syrup. If she did, I hope that she used real Grade A maple syrup, not some horrid artificial “maple” syrup that is really just corn syrup with chemical colorings and flavorings added. If she did the latter then I could just imagine her taking a bite, shaking her head, and smugly saying to herself that she didn’t see what all the fuss was about because it wasn’t any different from her own World Famous pecan pie. Alas….
Earlier in the morning, I had seen an information kiosk in the campground with a poster announcing a special covered wagon encampment that was going on this day at the Oregon Interpretive Center, a museum dedicated to depicting life on the Oregon Trail. It was on the way and sounded interesting enough to warrant at least a quick stop. The Center was located about 5 miles off the interstate, nestled at the top of a steep hill. We parked and wandered over to where there was a group of 4 or 5 covered wagons and people dressed in period costumes. They were setting up for the day and I was chastised by a woman in period dress for taking her photo while she was pushing a modern day metal cart of supplies. I assuaged her by promising to photoshop the cart out of the picture when I got home but she was not amused.
There was a huge ox hitched to a post that caught our attention and provided a nice photo opportunity. At first, we described the ox as non-plussed, but seeing that the ox appeared to be anxious and stressed, and being advised not to get too close to the horned beast, we decided he was definitely plussed. Unfortunately, some of the other visitors did not receive that admonition and moved in close to the animal for selfies. TK and I had to turn away, not wishing to witness a goring that thankfully did not occur, at least in our presence.
Back on the road, we passed signs for the Pendleton Underground Tunnel. Consultation with Google informed us that this was an underground city built by Chinese emigrants who had come to work on the railroad. They were often persecuted and sometimes killed by cowboys and so they built an underground city where they could hide and engage in all manner of business, both legal and illegal.
As we continued traveling westward, we were soon greeted by beautiful snow-capped mountains and an increasing number of forested hillsides as we headed west.
Approximately 100 miles east of Portland, we veered off the interstate and went back to following historic highway 30, the route of the Oregon Trail, with its many twists and turns. David was thrilled to put his driving skills to the test. To pass the time, we modified the casserole game to one where the theme was, “I am going to Portland and I am bringing…”. TK won this round with the final list being: bourbon, nuts, sake, elephant, trinkets, salad, dingo, ostrich, hemp, pole, ear o’corn, Nutella, apple, electric razor, runaway, yodeler, rock, keg, gem, mango, oilcan, and net. I am sure my loss in this round can be attributed to being distracted by having to focus my attention on the winding nature of the road…. There is no other explanation.
At long last, we arrived in Portland in the early afternoon. TK had previously made an appointment with the rental agency to stop by for a brief orientation, and to sign the lease and pick up the keys, so we headed there immediately. Our friend Will contacted us earlier in the day and was planning to meet us at the apartment at about the same time that we were scheduled to arrive. While TK was inside looking over and signing the 50 page (!) lease, Will showed up. Will is a mutual friend from Charlottesville who moved to the west coast in April ’15 to attend a full immersion computer coding academy in Vancouver, BC. After completion of the course, he moved to Seattle to begin a job hunt. Not being sure of exactly how long TK was going to be preoccupied with business, Will and I cracked open a cold beer from the cooler and started getting caught up while standing on the curb next to the car. Soon afterwards, TK emerged and we located his new abode and unpacked all of his belongings, leaving them in large piles in the middle of his living room. We had our priorities after all.
Afterwards, we headed over to the Airbnb house that I had rented in the Alberta Arts District, a lively area known for lots of good shopping and restaurants/bars. The owner had a lovely private backyard that was only accessible through a dining area/sunroom, with three small wooden chairs surrounding a wooden table tucked neatly into the wall. The house had three bedrooms. David took the downstairs, while Will, Cali and TK slept upstairs, an area approached through a narrow stairwell with an old victorian-style landing. The owner had a nice garden which we would utilize later, complete with eggplant, chili peppers, roma and grape tomatoes and some very young swiss chard. Included in this backyard was a sunken firepit and hanging wicker chairs on a raised deck topped with a pergola. There was also a raised hot tub and the whole complex was surrounded with a tall, private wooden fence. After unpacking our things, and allowing Cali some time to get comfortable with her new surroundings, we summoned an Uber car to take us to a brewery/restaurant called Breakside to begin the evening. At Breakside, there is a sign posted that proclaims that their only rules are to enjoy where you are, who you’re with, and what’s on tap. Unlike at a certain campground that shall remain nameless, we would have no trouble obeying these rules. Inside, the brewery was crowded and very loud with an energetic vibe. I ordered their IPA (duh, are you sensing a pattern yet?), TK got a dark lager, and Will had a passion fruit sour beer. We put our name on the waitlist for a table for dinner and found a spot to drink our beers at a picnic table outside that we shared with some other friendly folks. The patio was pretty nice even though it bordered the street. They had half kegs suspended above the crowd with planted flowers that were illuminated with soft lights that were useful, as the sun was setting quickly. Before long, our names were called for dinner and we were seated in a back room away from the maddening crowd. TK generously offered to treat Will and I to dinner and we graciously accepted. TK ordered the Ahi Tuna Boco (it sucked!), Will had the lamb burger (which he said was good), and I had a dish, recommended by our server, that was a fried chicken curry. It was pretty good, what there was of it, and plenty of it, such as it was. Regardless, we thoroughly enjoyed the comradery, and Will and I were most appreciative of TK’s generosity. After dinner, Will and TK discussed what was next. On this particular evening, being very pleased with the successful completion of the journey to Portland , I wanted no part of the decision making process. None of us were driving and so I would simply let TK and Will chart the course for the evening and let the chips fall where they may. We took an Uber car to a place called Saraveza, which describes itself as a “Hip spot with a vast selection of bottled & on-tap craft beers, savory pies & hearty Midwestern tavern fare.” The walls inside were filled with all sorts of Midwestern kitsch, none of which made much sense on its own, much less together. Taxidermied animals juxtaposed with other miscellaneous schwag in a quasi-nightmarish carnival of mayhem. I’m pretty sure that there was a clown too but it is here that things began to get fuzzy. Two rounds of shots and a beer later, we clambered into another Uber car and headed back to the house. Before long, a champagne cork flew across the room and, teary eyed and borderline maudlin, toasts were made to our friendship and to new beginnings. Very soon thereafter, completely hammered, we all crashed. Normally, I would rely on TK’s notes to help me reconstruct the minutiae from the previous day but, in this case, they were of little help as he had updated the log before going to bed and his writing was unintelligible. So says the narrator.
Bleak situation. Where am I? I am sideways on a king-sized bed. Coffee, I need coffee. Three French presses later, I can deal with this. Cali, I need to feed Cali. Done. I walk outside and David is awake rocking in the hammock. I get him coffee and take Cali for a walk looking for eggs. Took me a whole 45 min to find a co-op where I could buy eggs for $6.99/12. Ridiculous. Eggs obtained, went home.
With the availability of eggs, I decided to make a frittata. Will peeled potatoes, I prepped eggs with pepper, garlic, jalapeno. Best frittata ever. David continues to outdo himself in his culinary exploits.
Although it was a bit of a rough start following the shenanigans of the previous evening, the coffee, which the host had generously supplied in a much fancier stainless steel operation, and hearty breakfast that we shared allowed us to rally and we discussed what was on tap, so to speak, for the day. We eventually found our way to the Japanese Garden, part of the Portland Botanical Garden. The day of our visit happened to be the last day that the garden was open for the season and therefore a respectably sized crowd had shown up to walk through the serene, meandering paths and enjoy a time of inner reflection while gazing at peaceful Japanese plantings, statuary and fountains. Despite plenty of signage asking visitors to “stay on the path”, at various times we would get behind groups of very slow moving people and it started to annoy me. Will and TK had somehow managed to get out in front of the clot of tourists, while I was relegated to shuffling along behind the slow-moving sea of humanity. Again, for those who know me personally, it was an unfathomable situation. I pondered what to do about it because, given the narrowness of the demarcated path, there was no way to physically get around them. It was at that moment that I spied an opening. While technically not “on the path”, it was indeed a path with a break in the foliage and a dusty trail leading off in a direction that would afford me an opportunity to take a shortcut and bypass the obstacles in my way. Although severely frowned upon, I shamelessly took the opportunity and darted off down the “alternative path”, only to find myself standing in the middle of the main “Zen Garden”, a special garden with small stones that had been carefully manicured into a swirling pattern of concentric circles and whose aesthetics were seriously altered by my footprints as I lumbered forward before realizing my situation. As Rick Perry would say, “Oops….”. TK and Will were standing at the rail of the viewing area for the Zen Garden watching all of this unfold. They overheard the other visitors standing nearby saying “Look at that man”, and “Oh my God”, and “What the fucking fuck”, and “that asshole!” IT WAS SPECTACULAR. I couldn’t stop giggling and snorting, and I got a very rude look from a very attractive late 20 something. I admit, I truly rue the episode in the garden but I am thankful that it happened on the last day of the exhibit because any damage that I might have caused was witnessed by only a small subset of visitors who had neglected to take the opportunity to visit the garden earlier in the season. And besides, I am a spiritual person and I believe that Buddha certainly understood that “to err is human” and I fervently hope that I did not do any irreparable harm to my soul or its place in the universe.
After making insensitive jokes such as “the path is only a guideline” and “I take staying on the path metaphorically”, we headed to the Rogue Brewhouse because the sobriety was oppressive and was affecting my decisions.
The beertender at Rogue was an eccentric and loveable character named Tyler, a Philly native and a genuinely good gentlemen with an excellent sense of humor. Rogue had 4-5 IPAs on tap in a series brewed with the exact same components, but with increasing ABV. Tyler gave us an entire flight of the IPA lineup to share and discuss. We all liked the one that was in the middle, about 7% ABV.
Tyler also advised us of the huge “garage sale” of merchandise that was going on at the brewhouse over the Labor Day weekend. All merchandise, including bottled beers, was drastically reduced with a case of 24 oz bottled beers going for about $20 instead of the usual $80. One of the reasons for the “garage sale” is because they overbrew with no available bottles. I was not in a position to take advantage of this remarkable sale because there was no economical way to get the beer back to Charlottesville. TK and Will, however, had no such limitation and so Will bought a case of a chipotle ale (in an OREgasmic bottle) and TK bought 2 cases, a Scotch Lager and the Hazelnut Brown, which was luckily never opened. In addition to brewing beer, Rogue also operates a distillery. Tyler gave us small samples of their gin that had a very unique and delicious piney flavor profile. We purchased a bottle of the gin and an interesting cucumber watermelon citrus mixer that they also make. Before departing, we asked Tyler where we could purchase a good steak, anticipating having a backyard cookout later that evening. Tyler pointed us to a farm to table restaurant/butcher shop called the Laurelhurst Market, much like Timbercreek in Charlottesville, and off we went. The meats there were beautiful but all of the beef steaks were on the order of $25/lb. Yikes! The thick cut, bone-in pork chops however were only $8.50/lb and we unanimously chose this option and purchased 3 large chops.
We then drove back to the Airbnb house to spend the rest of the late sunny afternoon and evening in the backyard, enjoying all of the amenities that it offered: hammock, hot tub, corn hole, fire pit and, thankfully, the high privacy fence. Without a doubt, this house was meant for us. Will and TK immediately began making gin drinks with the Rogue gin, cucumber & citrus soda and fresh lemon juice. Drinks in hand, we headed for the hot tub to relax for a bit before beginning the dinner preparations. After basking in the hot tub for a while, we got out and Will located a maul and began splitting logs in order to build a fire in the pit. He was standing in the yard,swinging a maul over his head and crashing down again and again until the logs had splintered. Will soon had a nice fire roaring in the pit and we located a round grill surface from a dilapidated and unserviceable Weber kettle grill that was collapsed under the deck. We propped up the grill surface on some rocks in the firepit and now had a perfect place to grill our pork chops when the time came. While all this activity was underway, I went inside and prepared a rub for the pork chops consisting of a paste of garlic, fresh rosemary from the garden, finely chopped jalapeno pepper, sea salt and black pepper. I first rubbed some olive oil onto the surface of the chops, followed by the savory rub that I had created. While the pork chops were resting at room temperature, Will & TK launched into a corn hole match.
Will “might” have won 2/2 games against yours truly. Eventually we were all hungry and so the chops were grilled, alongside Will’s “bathing suit” that was unceremoniously drying by the fire, right next to the pork chops. In addition to the chops, we made a salad out of small cherry tomatoes and some chard from the garden in the back. We continued to drink copious amounts of the beers that had been purchased earlier in the day at Rogue. At some point, Will made the decision to go out in search of “The Devil’s Lettuce”. He wandered off and we didn’t hear from him for quite some time and I was beginning to get a bit concerned. I don’t know how but he did. The first of two bars he visited resulted in a girl spiking his drink with liquid THC. Undeterred, he went to the next where he was pointed to a small grocery store. Upon walking in, two gentleman were leaving and the store owner was accusing one of stealing something. The friend paid for the stolen item and they went around the corner. Will asked the grocer about getting some weed but he was too pissed off to have to deal with more drunk people. Will left and ran into the two who had been in the store. The really drunk one had weed, of course, and so the the “exchange” was made. Eventually he returned, mission accomplished. I have not smoked weed in almost 40 years but had already decided to make an exception if the occasion arose during the trip. It did and so I tested the waters and it wasn’t a bad thing. At some point, we moved the party inside, listening to music and pretending to watch some movie on television until we all crashed.
The morning started off very, very rough. As usual, I was the first to get up. I glanced at my image in the mirror and my eyes looked like 2 piss holes in the snow. I stumbled zombie-like out the back door and collapsed into the hammock, rocking myself with one foot on the ground. At some point, TK joined me, followed later by Will, who had opted to sleep on the couch. We all felt rotten. As the morning crawled by in slow motion, I braced myself for the tasks that had to be completed today: Vacuuming up all of Cali’s hair that was matted into the carpeting of the Queen Anne’s Revenge and boxing up all of my camping gear to be sent back home by Federal Express. Will located a car wash nearby and the 3 of us set off to accomplish the first task. Thankfully, the car wash had a very powerful vacuum. I started up 2 vacuums simultaneously and TK and I got to work while Will wandered off and returned a few minutes later with a sandwich. There was quite a bit of multi-colored bug splatter all over the front of the car and so I went ahead and gave her a quick wash. Afterwards, we decided to find someplace to go for brunch that involved a Bloody Mary. Will located a placed called the Eclectic Kitchen, however after being seated outside and perusing the menu, we learned that they did not have a liquor license and we rapidly, yet politely, excused ourselves and walked down the street to the Almeda Brewery.
Almeda is best described as a nanobrewery with a capacity of about 2 bbls. Inside the cavernous room, we sat next to each other at the bar right across from the brew kettle where the brewmaster was hard at work on a batch of beer. There was the wonderful aroma of fresh wet hops in the air following the boil. I ordered their IPA while TK and Will opted for spicy Bloody Marys which they nursed for the rest of the time we were there. I had a cup of their World Famous crab bisque and a Caesar salad, Will had a bowl of the bisque, and TK ordered the tacos with fresh mango salsa and avocado. After eating something, I felt much better but I really, really needed a nap. Unfortunately, there was still more to be done. We went back to the house and I began reconstructing the cardboard boxes with packing tape that I had brought with us and packing them up with everything that was to be shipped. While I was working on this, TK disappeared with Cali to go take a nap and Will departed to return to Seattle. I searched for the closest Federal Express drop-off location and found one nearby in the neighborhood. I loaded up the boxes and headed out only to discover that this location was not a real Federal Express drop-off spot, but was a privately owned packaging store. The Hobbit like woman behind the counter told me that they could not accept the 2 large boxes that I had unless they had pre-paid mailing labels attached. With no easy way to resolve this, I searched again online and found a Kinkos that was not too far away that would do the trick. Getting there was easy, but there was absolutely nowhere to park. I did not have any means of hauling the 2 boxes without hurting myself. Being in no mood to be inconvenienced in any way, I decided to double park on the street with the emergency flashers blinking and I drug the boxes one by one into the Kinkos. After a short wait, the boxes were on their way back home. Hooray, I did it! The last thing that needed to be done was to buy something nice for Cathy for all of her love and support with this whole operation. Earlier, I had asked Jill, our host at the AirBnb house, about local shops that sell cool, funky jewelry that my wife loves to receive. Jill responded, “Lucky Gal!” and gave me the names of several places that she liked. One was a shop run by the artist herself, while the other one sold things by multiple artists. I opted for the latter to give myself more variety from which to choose. I wandered around in the shop inspecting all of the various options but I kept circling back to this one bracelet that I knew that Cathy would adore. I purchased the bracelet and headed back to the house where TK was still napping. While waiting for TK to awaken, I contacted a cardiologist friend of mine who did his training at the University of Virginia, but had moved with his family to Portland about 10 years ago. He has an active research program and I thought he would be a good local contact for TK. He was delighted to hear from me and invited TK and myself to his house after work to chat and share one of his favorite Portland area pinot noirs with us. TK soon awakened and I offered to take him out shopping for a bed for his apartment. I figured that if we found something, we might be able to get into the back of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. We might as well take advantage of the behemoth while it was still available. We looked online and found a Mattress Outlet nearby and trekked off to see what we could find. We walked inside and we were the only customers. The gentlemen working there was friendly and not pushy and showed TK a number of mattress models and options over a range of price points. We asked about delivery and he said that they used a 3rd party delivery service that cost around $80. After a brief pause, and sensing that he was about to make a sale, he offered to throw the delivery fee into the deal and said that it could be delivered the very next day. Done. I called my friend and told him that we were finished with all of our tasks and he gave us directions and instructed us to go straight to his house, a beautiful modern home on a hillside. From the street, the 2 car garage sits 4 stories above the main house that cascades down the hillside. We were greeted at the door by his lovely wife who immediately cracked open the pinot while reminiscing about the last time we had seen each other in Charlottesville. A few minutes later, my friend arrived home from work and within seconds began whipping up a fresh batch of homemade guacamole. What a great guy! We met their teenage daughter who was about to begin a violin lesson at their home and so the four of us went out on the balcony to enjoy the wine, guacamole and other hors d’oeuvres that were already out on a table. Their property backs up to the Portland Botanical Garden and the view from their balcony looks down on a forest. It was a beautiful evening and I was finally feeling like myself again. Having the food and a little wine, and being in the company of such good and thoughtful friends, was just what I needed. My friend and his wife took an instant liking to TK, as I knew they would, and offered to help him in many ways such as introducing him to influential people at the Oregon Health Sciences University where my friend works, and where TK will be attending graduate school, as well as offering to help find a desk and other furniture that TK needs for his apartment. I felt really happy knowing that TK had someone that I know and trust that he could turn to in Portland if he needed anything. During our conversation, we mentioned that we were going to find a restaurant to share a last dinner together before my departure the next day. TK’s mom had recommended a place called “Tasty N Alder” that she had visited on a past business trip to Portland. When me mentioned this restaurant to our hosts, they both enthusiastically agreed with this selection and encouraged us to go there. Being only 5 min away from their house, we decided that it was a good choice. Tasty N Alder is a very popular restaurant described as New American cuisine. It is crowded every night with a long waiting list. If you are willing to eat at the bar, then you can usually get a spot in fairly short order. We arrived and put our names on the waiting list for a table but notified the hostess that we would also be happy with a spot at the bar should one open up prior to our table being ready. TK ordered beers for both of us while I went to wash up. Not long after we got our beers, we saw a man paying his tab and there were now 2 empty seats at the end the bar that we stealthily moved in on. The menu at Tasty N Alder is all locally sourced and changes daily depending upon what ingredients are available on any particular day. The food is served tapas style where you can order several small plates to share, adding additional plates at any time. We started with grilled Spanish octopus and “Josh’s Meats”, a Tora Bravo charcuterie board containing a pate, as well as a number of other delicious thinly sliced meats with toast points and a dollup of a dark mustard. We also ordered a Wagyu beef carne asada dish that was delicious. After we finished dinner, I took TK back to his apartment because I had a very early flight the next day. We said our goodbyes at the car and, as I drove away, I looked back and he and Cali were out on his balcony waving farewell. I was suddenly filled with an intense sadness with the realization that the adventure had come to an end. I returned to the AirBnb and went about getting myself organized for the trip home the next day and tidying up the place. When all was in order, I went to bed.
I was awakened by my alarm at 4:30 am, took a quick shower and loaded up the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Unfortunately, despite being completely exhausted, I slept poorly and was awake most of the night, getting only about 4 fitful hours of sleep. I left the house around 5:00 am, topped off the gas tank, and made it to the airport in good time. The car rental agency was onsite and I had no trouble whatsoever in returning the vehicle. After checking my bag, I proceeded to security and stood in an agonizingly long line. Up to this point, I had not had any coffee which I desperately needed. Just before passing through the whole body scanner, I reached into my backpack to stuff my cellphone, wallet and other personal items from my pockets inside. As I reached into the backpack, I sliced open a deep gash on my index finger from the cutting edge of the packing tape dispenser that I had brought along to seal up the boxes of gear. Within seconds, blood began squirting out of my finger and there was nothing available to ebb the flow. Instinctively, I put my finger in my mouth and placed the backpack on the conveyer belt. Unable to stand the taste of blood any longer, I began squeezing the wound shut as I passed through the body scanner and waited for my backpack to emerge from the other side. Suddenly, I saw a stern looking TSA agent holding up my backpack and approaching me in a very serious manner. He asked me a few questions, one of which was “Do you have a lantern in here?” I did in fact have the body of the lantern inside with its glass globe bubble wrapped. Thankfully, I had left the propane fuel tank behind with Will, but I didn’t ship the lantern with the other camping gear due to its fragility. I don’t know what the big deal was but, when I answered affirmatively, he said “OK, that’s fine”. The whole time I was being interrogated, I was bleeding like a stuck pig with blood dripping down onto the floor at my feet. Once I was free to go, I raced to the men’s room and washed the cut with soap and water and wrapped my finger with a paper towel compress to staunch the flow of blood. I probably should have gone back to mop up the mess at the security gate but I was now focused on just getting some coffee and finding my gate. Not a good start to the trip home. The first leg of my trip from Portland to Atlanta had an on time departure and the flight was mostly smooth except for the last 30 min outside of Atlanta where we ran into some unsteady air with heavy turbulence. I was supposed to have a short layover in Atlanta, but the second plane was stuck at its previous location in Chattanooga, TN with mechanical issues. The airline kept delaying the flight from ATL to CHO by 30 minute increments until we were now more than 2 hours behind schedule. I was really at my lowest at this point, mainly because of the lack of sleep, but also with the stresses of negotiating the vehicle return and various airport hassles, and of course because of the injury to my finger which, although no longer bleeding, was beginning to throb. I tried to keep my spirits aloft by thinking about being home again with Cathy and our dogs, Lucy and Zoey. I missed Cathy so much throughout the trip. I kept thinking about how much she would enjoyed this or that and thought about what kind of road trip she might like if we were to go on one in the future. It probably would be very different than this one. The frontal system that caused the turbulence on landing in ATL was also in play in the Charlottesville area, maybe even more so. The person sitting next to me on the plane was, like me, uncomfortable with the situation. Every time the plane would lurch up and down, we would both raise up grabbing our armrests. When the wheels were finally on the ground, I heaved a huge sigh of relief and bounded for the baggage claim area where I was met almost immediately by my beaming wife. It felt so wonderful to be back home in her arms again.
It has been 2 months now since our cross country expedition ended. During this period, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect back on the trip and what it meant to me. At the end of the prologue, I cited 2 quotations. With respect to the one from Twain, I can say without question that despite many long hours being cooped up together in a car slogging across thousands of miles of interstate highways, each new day was filled with a spirit of adventure and a whole lot of good humor. I’ve reflected more upon the second quotation. I am very thankful that I made the decision to take this journey with TK and Cali. A cross country trek is something that I had always wanted to do, but just never had the opportunity. Twenty years from now, I will be very pleased with having made that decision because it was an epic adventure that I will never forget. In the words of one of my best friends, the expedition gave me an upsurge in my pioneering spirit.
I asked TK to share his thoughts and reflections for this epilogue. His comments follow with my interjections written in italics:
How does one write an epilogue that can summarize the events, lessons and proceedings of a story that he was not only involved in, but also helped shape? My days since David left have been….. exciting. Not many people have the chance to move across the country and I consider myself one of the lucky few who have been able to do it with a true friend.
Once during our travels, we were in Missouri, I asked David if he collects anything. I told him how I collect shells and organic ocean debris, and I currently have calcium carbonate/ fossilized remains over six animal phyla (echinodermata, mollusca, chordata, arthropoda, brachiopoda and porifera) from Maine to Costa Rica. Ahem, and you call me a nerd! His response was that he collects friends, and while I sat pondering this, I tried to reason out this man’s ethics. Here he was, at great personal and financial cost (he used Amex points he could have spent on a nice exotic vacation with Cathy) exclusively transporting my dog and I across the nation. Would this be Kant’s Golden Rule and the subsequent manifestation of his absolute view of good and evil? How about Kohlberg with his communitarianism views? I couldn’t pinpoint it. Over the course of the trip I realized exactly what it was; true, unadulterated, Gloverism. Nothing like Kant or Kohlberg. Although I am without a doubt in the rationalist camp, I am better described as a contemporary Eudaimonist, but, for the record, I prefer the Dao of David. And besides, everyone knows that Immanuel Kant was a real pissant and was very rarely stable…. For the uninitiated, let me enlighten you. Gloverism is the ethical philosophy, popularized by the influential text called the Captain’s Log, that through a selfless act enables an individual to reach his potential. The teachings of Gloverism (add to personal dictionary, I think so) involve a series of didactic personal experiences entwined with a one on one purposeful misinterpretation of the Socratic method, with splashes of equal parts Tom Waits, amazing food, smooth bourbon, eclectic beer, and delightfully self-induced miserable mornings punctuated with recollections and rebuttals of the previous night’s discussions. Inquiries for prospective student applications are currently being evaluated, though not necessarily accepted at this time.
The shining moment for me was Vedauwoo, the campsite that shouldn’t have happened. For those indoctrinated with Mr. Waits, this was when Big Joe Phantom 309, when the moon was holding water, came to our rescue.
David never complained on this trip. Seriously. Not once. The closest he ever came to it was, “I do not think I can do it”. I will not fault him for “fucking Nebraska” because it a universally held belief that Nebraska is the worst. When we were finishing up the leg the day after Nebraska and he heard the news that it was going to rain in Colorado, our designated and reserved camping site for that evening, he looked crestfallen. We really did not have the gear to make it through a rainstorm comfortably, especially since we had already lost a tarp. The executive decision that followed was one of the shining moments of that trip. The moose greeting us, the rock formations, the sunset and early start sunrise were completely worth any sacrificed good luck karma. Vedauwoo for me was the pinnacle of my trip. Chili with Chipotle beer? Check. Mango IPA craft brew with semi-charred chaparral? Check. Rock formations imbued with every shade of pink and orange and firelight red you can imagine? Check, check, check. Park ranger wrong about a shitty forecast? Bingo. Honestly it was just one win after another, and while it was the coldest evening of the trip, and I had no blanket or sleeping bag, I could not have been happier.