Tag Archives: Idaho

Riding off into the sunset burns my retinas

To say I’m sick of driving would be to trivialize everything I’ve seen on my journey across the continent and back, would be to make too much light of the 8,600 miles of the trip, in which I’ve encountered everything from:

  • tiny baby bunnies
  • crystal blue boiling pools of adulterated water that are fueled by the unseen middle of the earth
  • exasperated parents who look like they’re questioning the entirety of their lives
  • all manner of coffeehouses and espresso shacks that dot the West like freckles
  • at least 50 species of birds—sparrows, swallows, hawks, eagles, kingfishers, vultures, quail, turkeys, hummingbirds, and more
  • barns and rural structures in all stages of their life cycles
  • blue-collar men who all looked dazed and stressed, no matter where I encountered them
  • lightning bugs outside a greasy spoon diner in Pennsylvania
  • long moments of coasting down from mountains just after fighting to get to the peaks
  • many, many anti-abortion and anti-Obama billboards
  • tired front desk hotel staff

All of these people, animals, and situations were notable enough that they left their impressions on me. I don’t know their stories, except in some rare instances in which we had time to converse. Like an unfinished painting, I’m left wondering about all of the open canvas and what could be drawn on to fill it in. Perhaps some of these things will get worked into a story or other over time, or my memory will do that thing I hate and blur different events together in its quest to find patterns and meaning. But that tendency is why I write things down—then I retain the edges of each experience.

That said, I am loathe to sit behind the wheel of the car right now, even to go set up Internet in our apartment or buy bread. I’m sure that this hatred will fade, but hopefully I’ll remember that I don’t particularly enjoy driving 3 days in a row for 12 hours a day.

We rolled into Walla Walla on Friday evening, having come through the evergreen forests along the waistline of Idaho. Sister cities Lewiston and Clarkston, watching each other from across a river and state boundary line, seemed small and a bit bedraggled, the road infrastructure not seeming to lead to any important point in either place. We opted to get some drive thru food, knowing how close we were and not wanting to take any more time at a pit stop. Finally, at long last, the wheat fields, close to harvest, signaling that we were almost back. I’d gotten so used to driving into the sun that I didn’t need to put on my sunglasses anymore. Around this turn and that, we swirled around the low mountains, revealing the last inkling of daylight and then burrowing into dark indigo again, weaving through what must have been a tapestry of bold colors, if only we’d had a bird’s eye view.

A bird’s eye view, I realize, is precisely what I’ve been interested in finding this summer. Something to help me understand my time in Walla Walla and how to get through the next portion of it when it inevitably sneaks up on me this winter. I’ve asked a lot of questions about who, what, how I am and I’ve enjoyed the funny moments, for sure (the leaky tub dripping into the kitchen below, not so much), but I do still feel the need for some larger perspective.

Maybe it’s all a big joke, a set on Laugh In that I haven’t realized is still being performed on a sound stage in southern California. Maybe I just need more time to elapse before I’ll come to the punchline, or the Big Reveal. In the meantime, we’ve reached Seattle, and wow, is this town a hoot. All this bluster about saving the planet but everyone chain smokes. Aren’t our lungs part of the planet, people?

I think this is going to be interesting, this fall.

Enter ye springs of heat

I have been dreaming of sitting in a hot tub for months now, knowing that we’d planned it for the first leg of our cross-country journey. Having spent a week in Radium, British Columbia, last summer, I had some expectations about what Lava Hot Springs would be like in Idaho. It’s actually the first set of expectations I’ve ever had for Idaho that didn’t involve either potatoes or white supremacists. And while I’m sure that’s not entirely fair to a state that hasn’t actually done anything to me personally, I have driven by Disciple Way in the northern part of the state, and it made this Lebanese boy rather nervous.

Our original plan was to leave early today, the day after we vacated our house, but the thought of getting up at 6 in the morning to drive for seven hours was just overwhelming. I didn’t think we’d manage it, actually, or if we did, we’d be off on the wrong foot, all cranky and overtired. So we caught our second wind yesterday and drove as far as we could until it was time to turn in. Well, logistically speaking, we had to figure where we’d be likely to find safe and decent accommodations, so we identified that it would be either Baker City or Ontario, OR. We pushed it and made it to Ontario, which made Walla Walla seem like a veritable metropolis.

The front desk of the Holiday Inn was happy to tell Susanne that this was a full-service hotel, I suppose because it had a “Tap Room” and a sit-down breakfast available at the Country Kitchen. We had hit the big time. As it was, we were excited to get out of town quickly, so we pulled into a Burger King and got breakfast: two crossanwiches, two orange juices, one water, one coffee. I drove away as Susanne popped open her orange juice, the iPod humming with some catchy pop song dittering along. My coffee was way too hot drink for a while, so I looked for some OJ.

“Oh no, they only gave us one,” she said, looking around.

I eyed her small container expectantly. And I was astonished at what she did next.

She saw me seeing her juice box and rushed to get her mouth around the straw so she could finish the last sip! Yes, she raced to finish the juice!

I drove with my jaw hanging open.

“I really wanted that juice,” she explained, as if articulating her awful behavior would somehow provide impunity. I muttered something about sending an email to Burger King.

lava hot springsAfter five hours, we rolled into Lava. It wasn’t nearly as pristine as Radium, but at least it didn’t have any kitchy fake Bavaria presence. We quickly changed into our bathing gear and the warmth was all around us. Susanne and I positioned ourselves in front of two hot water jets. The joy was indescribable. After 20 months in Walla Walla, a week of constant packing, and months of anticipation, we were here, our feet floating in 104 degrees.

On the other side of the pool, an interesting conversation emerged:

Older woman who identified herself as a beekeeper: So what is it you do?

Guy who had been chatting up everyone at the springs: I was a stockbroker for 30 years.

Beekeeper: Oh. So I suppose you haven’t been doing very well in this economy.

Asshole stockbroker: Oh, this is when people make the most money, actually.

Beekeeper: And how well do you sleep at night?

Asshole stockbroker: Oh, I sleep fine.

We decided we liked the beekeeper, who also took the guy to task over saying the mortgage industry collapse was all the fault of poor people who couldn’t afford their houses.

Afterward, we started driving again, through valley system after valley system, cutting through five or six rows of mountains. As soon as we would get used to one style of mountain—say, tree-lined—we’d round a corner on a pass and would then befall a new style, like snow-capped rocky outcroppings. All above us, clouds and sky. The sky is so big out here, actually, that just standing on the bottom of the canopy one can see entire weather fronts, rolling this way and that. When lightening strikes it gives all of itself away, from the start to the terminus, and for 50 miles around, everything is bright, just for a few seconds.

Finally we drove along Stateline Road that divided Wyoming from Idaho, and I’ve never seen anything as informal as that boundary. It’s not like the state line between Washington and Oregon is lined with armed guards or fences, but there are signs denoting the two states’ territories, and oh, road lines. This was a rung or two up from a seasonal road, and it was barren of all markings, as if each state were refusing to spend money on painting the surface. Unleashed dogs ran around on the shoulder, and buildings that had been abandoned long ago had also at some point given up their ghosts and just crumbled to the ground. It was a rural brand of poverty that made me realize a little better how many Americas there are in one big country. And all that mountainous beauty amid such a dispossessed people. When we finally came across rich houses with four-car garages, I sensed my own frustration at the inequity.

million dollar cowboy barWe motored on, driving under a ridge of a T-cell storm, the rain literally on one half of the car, and pulled into Jackson Hole. I’m not sure where the tourists are form who visit here, but there are a lot of tourists. It was late enough that most of the shops and tourist-boutiques (read, fake nice things) had closed for the day, but we wandered in to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, or perhaps I should say we sidled up to it. Sure, sidled is better. Susanne and I ordered up a buffalo and an elk burger from the window and watched a local band belt out some country music. I still can’t see country folk and not think they’ll have Southern accents, but I’m trying.

Then it was time to turn in. We’ve got some exploring of the Grand Tetons tomorrow. I wish I’d never realized that “teton” is French slang for boob. Crazy French trappers.

The loooong state of Montana

Eastern Montana and Western Montana are like old friends who don’t get together so much anymore. As we drove past a 60-mile long Indian reservation (and wow, the US Government really did give them some of the worst, most untenable land in the country), there were a lot of flats and a few rolling hills, the sky reaching down all the way to the horizon. I noticed that a funny thing happens when it does this. It seems to change color, kin of in a hazy way, kind of dusty, kind of purple, kind of Photoshopped. Fascinating to someone who’s only seen sky, buildings, and ground.

Eastern Montana gradually gives way to what can only be described as the Old West, in what eventually comes across as the west’s version of people who still want to live in the old Confederacy. At least they echo each other to me. We saw more mountainous terrain, the CR-V climbing up some 4,000 feet of elevation, and the towns became more frequent and more populated. I also started to see a preponderance of Lounge/Casino/Restaurant establishments, sometimes three or four to a town that had only one general store or grocery. As we made our way west, we started hitting the Rocky Mountains which, shockingly, have a lot of rocks. I’d actually never thought about that! We drove through a mountain pass on our way to Missoula, which was something like you’d see in a spy flick: curvy two-lane mountain road, mountain on one side, balance-beam-wide road (which are 4 inches across, by the way), and cliff. Don’t these people believe in guard rails? Holy shit, we could drive right off into the river below, people! Where is the local chapter of MADD?

(Editor’s note: pictures of all of this are on Susanne’s camera, so when we have a chance we’ll edit this post.)

Missoula was nestled in some of the mountains, down in the valley. Were this California or anywhere on the East Coast, there would be tons of houses up in the hills as well, but the people out west here have a shitload of space, and they’re not anywhere near to using it up yet. And it’s kind of in clumps that are like mercury droplets that haven’t merged together yet — town droplet, space space space, town droplet, etc. We saw as we were driving down, a huge thunderstorm several miles away. The only time I’ve ever seen a storm and not been it it is from the window of a plain, so again, the sky is huge out here. We drove down to our hotel after 10 hours of driving through Montana, only to find that their power had been out for two hours. We gave my friend Anna a call and met up with her for dinner at a local restaurant, and chatted about grad school and crazy people. Ah, it almost felt like home!

The next day we drove through the rest of Montana — how could there be more? — and through Idaho into Washington State. More scrubland, more wheat fields, the start of long lines of wind energy mills, along the tops of the hills. They almost look over you as you go by, far away automatons that could someday descend into town and chop us all into little pieces. So be nice to your neighborhood wind mill, people!

The drive on the last day was only about 6 hours, which for us is a breeze now. The last leg into Walla Walla takes us by a paper mill on the Columbia river which I swear is manufacturing spoiled broccoli, because that’s what it smells like. not spoiled spinach or spoiled anything else green vegetable. Or even spoiled artichoke, which I have personally drunk in the awful form of Cynar, an Italian liquor to avoid AT ALL COSTS. Definitely broccoli.

We rolled into town and showed up at the college to collect the keys to the house and sign the lease. And here is where things went more than a bit downhill. Next post for those details, because I really have to include pictures with that.

But hey, we made it! Final mileage count, 3,550. 27.2 miles per gallon, so we bought 130 gallons of gas, and at an average cost of $4.80 per gallon, that comes out to $625 in gas. We saved a bunch on hotel costs, though, spending three nights for free at various relatives’ homes, and only spent an average of $120 on hotels the other nights. The best shower was at the casino in Niagara Falls, which was a dream. The worst was the little motel in Saskatchewan, but even that was preferable to the disgusting cavern called a shower in our present house. Let’s just say we spent $150 yesterday at Target buying cleaning supplies…

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