It’s not the end, it’s the beginning…

First, let me start by saying it has been a long time since I’ve written for myself. I’ve spent almost 20 years writing for work in some capacity or another, so writing like this, it’s going to be challenging.

But I have to do it because, for the first time in 12 years and 7 months, it’s all about me. This might read like someone who is getting a divorce, and I guess in a way you could say that. Nearly 13 years ago I took a risk on a small startup that took all of my time and energy, and in return taught me so much about myself.

Tomorrow, that journey comes to an end. And a new one begins in its place.

I’ve always had a fascination with cars, and road trips, but it wasn’t until June 2016 at the age of 37 that I got my driver’s license. A few months later I got my first car, and with that, began contemplating my first epic road trip. It was initially supposed to last a month, but because I’ve been given the freedom to do what I want, it’s going to be a 45ish day trip traveling through almost every state in the continental US, and totaling 12,000 miles of driving.

I’m ambitiously planning to document that trip here. If, at the very least, just to post pictures with a brief commentary on what I’ve seen. I have no expectations and make no promises.

Stay tuned…

The Pacific Coast; Washington and Oregon

One thing I neglected to mention in my previous post, about my spot at the Kalaloch Campground, was just how close it was to US-101.

2017-09-11-Kalaloch Campground

When I pulled into the site, I noticed a little opening that looked perfect for the tent. As I went to inspect it, I realized it was maybe 100 feet from US-101. You can see in the above picture a break in the trees, just past that was the highway. Even with 18 wheelers jake-braking down the highway, I’m a heavy sleeper. I just knew I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep if I was worried about cars spinning out of control and landing on top of my tent.

My first stop on the morning of the 11th was something I’d noticed on my way to the campsite the night before. About 5 miles north of the site was a sign for The Big Cedar Tree. It was only one-tenth of a mile from the trailhead parking lot, and it was indeed a big cedar tree.

Next on my list was the Pacific Way Bakery & Cafe, just over the border between Washington and Oregon in Gearheart, OR. Gearheart is the childhood home of the world-famous chef, James Beard, so I thought how lovely it would be to pick up some bread from this well-known bakery. What I didn’t know and found out after three hours of driving was that the bakery closed at 2 pm. I got there at 2:30. Ravenously hungry and frustrated I thought I’d try the cafe. But after standing by the host stand in this white tablecloth establishment for several minutes, I felt an air of old money snobbery that made me change my mind. I hopped back in the car and found a Taco Bell in nearby Seaside.

It’s important to note that US-101 is very curvy with fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean. So driving was a combination of mental and physical gymnastics with the commentary in my mind of “slow down slow down, curve, oooooooh pretty, no pay attention to the road!” Oregon became the first place on the road trip where I encountered aggressive drivers. I’m sure the fact I was following the suggested speed limits for curves and my out of state license plate added to their frustration. However, one of them damn near ran me off the road. Here’s how I described the encounter to my mom later that day.

Well maybe they were both California drivers. One in a beat up station wagon I didn’t think could go faster than 50 was riding my bumper when I was going 5 over the 55 speed limit. The next one way worse… I slowed down for a curve and he didn’t. And then started honking at me, so I honked back, then threw my flashers on while maintaining 40. He crossed the double yellow and flew around me honking. I honked back and flipped him off.

(My response was not the most appropriate, but I was not going to be intimidated.)

I pulled over at the next overlook (Neahkahnie Viewpoint) after the encounter to reset. It gave me a great opportunity to take some pictures of the coast with the road weaving around the mountainside.

From there it was just an hour more of driving to my reserved campsite at Cape Lookout State Park. When I arrived at Cape Lookout I was exhausted and quite loopy. I gave the woman my name, and she couldn’t find my information. After a little panic and much confusion, I realized I arrived a day before my reservation. To make matters more nerve-wracking, the campgrounds were completely booked. However, the woman came to my rescue (took pity on me?) and opened up a small overflow lot for me to camp in for the night. The overflow lot was ideally situated right behind the dunes with the ocean just on the other side. Soon I had new neighbors (you’re welcome guys!) and I headed up the dune to watch the sunset.

The next day I would be able to move to my reserved site after 2 pm. Even though it had only been a few days since I left Seattle, the white-knuckle rookie driving I’d done down the coast encouraged me to take the extra day, and just be a beach bum.

September 12th was a perfect beach bum day. I left the overflow lot and enjoyed a huge breakfast at Denny’s in Tillamook then spent some time in the Day Use area of the park while waiting for my reserved campsite to be ready. Once I set up at my reserved campsite, I spent the rest of the day on the beach reading.

I made friends with the neighbors over breakfast on the 13th. They were seasoned Pacific Coast campers with tons of great advice. The husband referred to my car as a “Nice Rig.” Both Baby (yes, named after the ’67 Impala in Supernatural) and I blushed. They also recommended I take a break from the white-knuckle driving by hopping over to I-5 in Crescent City. That recommendation from well-traveled folks made me feel better about my struggles with the curves on US-101. We also talked about their son who’d just finished a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and how flooding on the southern portion of the trail had made a difficult path even more challenging. This information would come back into my mind as I was bumping along a washed out road in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

On the 13th I was determined to get out of Oregon. I had reservations that night at the Crescent City / Redwoods KOA Holiday, 20 miles into California. The nights were turning cold, so I stopped to get a knit cap and some Cuddl Duds leggings and undershirts. Along the way, I stopped at the Heceta Head Lighthouse. When I pulled into the parking lot, there was a gentleman on a motorcycle waiting for his wife to come back from touring the lighthouse. In his saddlebag was a large, half hidden, bag of popcorn. Just behind him was a couple of big birds getting ready to make their move. I warned him that he was about to lose his entire bag of popcorn just in time as the birds swooped in. He took to making sure the bag was better secured as I made my way to the trailhead to the lighthouse.

As was a continuing theme, I got to the lighthouse after they’d stopped doing tours, but I browsed the gift shop and enjoyed the views along the trail to the lighthouse. After about 45 minutes at Heceta Head Lighthouse, I continued on my journey down US-101. I stopped briefly at the Sea Lion Caves just south of Heceta Head but opted not to take the tour because it was getting late in the day and I wanted to make sure I was at camp before dark. As I continued on, I came across one of the most regrettable things about traveling a two-lane highway during the school year – being stuck behind a school bus dropping kids off at the end of their day.

Between the curves and the school bus, my total driving time for 295 miles was about six hours. One interesting side note is the road has a number of signs that inform drivers that it is “Illegal to delay 5 or more vehicles,” since there are no passing zones on US-101, so there are designated places for slower drivers to pull over. I took use of these zones whenever possible. I don’t care for being the lead car on an unfamiliar road.

I arrived at Crescent City / Redwoods KOA Holiday about 20 minutes after the sun began to set and desperately needed to pee. Since the office was closed, I needed to grab my packet from the bulletin board, and then I rushed to the bathroom. Much to my chagrin, there was a bathroom code. I finally figured out while doing the pee-pee dance that the code was on my packet. With that issue resolved, I tried to read the map to figure out where my site was. It took a few missed turns and loops before I found my site, nestled on the curve of the camp road next to two occupied campsites. I could barely see the boundaries of my site and as far as I could tell the tent pad was right at the curve of the road. I was not having that, so I ended up having to put it on a slightly slanted part of the ground with the picnic table between me and the road.

The campsite made a lot more sense in daylight and realized where I was supposed to set up the tent was further back into the woods. It’s all good, it was still a wonderful site I’d love to go back to. Sleeping under the redwoods was really nice.

On the 14th of September I decided not to take the advice of the campers in Cape Lookout because I wanted to drive through the redwoods, and if I’d gone over to I-5 I would have completely missed one of the best parts of the Pacific Coast. But, I’ll save that part of the trip for next time.

Until Then!

Seattle – September 7 – 10

Excited to finally be on my way to Seattle, I spoiled myself with a delicious breakfast at the Leavenworth Golf Club before hitting the road. The trip to Seattle was a blissfully short one, with just one stop at a place called Deception Falls, and I arrived around 1:30 in the afternoon. Deception Falls runs directly under US-2, with a metal bridge from the parking lot to the falls. The bridge made me a little anxious, but I managed to walk over it without breaking into a cold sweat.


The “hotel” I selected was not actually a hotel, it was an apartment at the Icon Apartments (Contemporary Suites near Pioneer Square) right across the street from the Amtrak Station in the International District, downtown Seattle. After checking in, and chatting with the Property Manager about the best place to get a pedicure, I dragged ev-er-y-thing out of the car up to the apartment. The plan was to use the washer and dryer in the apartment to wash everything and repack the car. Also on the advisement of my mechanic, I had an appointment the next day with a Volkswagon dealership to have my oil changed and a safety check done on the whole car. I figured it would be easier for them if the car wasn’t loaded to the brim with stinky, filthy, camping gear.

Day 1 in Seattle

I drove to University Volkswagen to drop the car off for servicing. The team there was so thoughtful, even offering to drive me back to my hotel. I thanked them but asked instead how to take public transportation (I always think of it as the best way to see a city). They instructed me to walk to the University of Washington metro station. I headed out and realized very quickly I’d forgotten to eat breakfast. I walked into a local vegetarian cafe, as if I’d forgotten who I was, and promptly walked back out when I realized that was not going to offer me the kind of food I like. A block away I was rewarded with a Jack In The Box. I ungracefully scarfed down breakfast and continued on my way. A little over a mile and 28 minutes later I arrived at the train station where I played a very convincing local by accident to a woman visiting her daughter at the university. She wasn’t sure how to use the train, and I’d done a great job of pretending I knew what I was doing. Once I clarified I was not a local, she told me if I did nothing else, I must visit the Chihuly Garden. I thanked her for her recommendation and headed back to my apartment.

From my apartment, I walked a short 10 minutes to the infamous Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. Just before I entered the tour, University Volkswagen called to let me know my car was ready. I told them I’d head back to pick it up after the tour.

If you are ever in Seattle, I highly recommend the Underground Tour. The tour lasts about an hour and a half and is very popular, so get tickets early. The Underground tour will take you through what is left of the original city below modern-day Seattle, the history of how the original city was created, destroyed, and rebuilt, is absolutely fascinating.

I took the bus back up to my freshly oiled and detailed car and drove back to Pike’s Place Market. I would not recommend driving down there, as it’s always pretty busy. However, I was fortunate enough to find parking right across from the market. The unassuming facade did not let on that the market continued five stories down, and I only managed to explore about a fifth of that. I did enjoy a light lunch of prawns and smoked salmon at the counter of the Athenian Seafood Restaurant & Bar in the market.

2017-09-08-Athenian Seafood

Prawn Cocktail and Smoked Salmon platter at Athenian Seafood Restaurant

After dropping the car off I walked up (and I mean UP, Seattle has a lot of steep hills) to Queen Bee Nail Spa, recommended by the property manager at my hotel, to get my much-needed pedicure. From there I headed to Elliot’s Oyster House where a friend’s cousin was supposed to be working. Come to find out she’d left several months before, but I still enjoyed my oysters, scallops, and Pendleton smoked old fashioned in a packed house.

Day 2, Saturday in Seattle

Interestingly enough, Seattle was the first place I saw consistent sunshine after traveling through the wildfires. According to the previous day’s underground tour, Seattle sees rain 300 days a year. I was lucky to get 3 of the other 65 days.

2017-09-09-Seattle (1)My first stop was the gravesite of Bruce and Brandon Lee in Lake View Cemetary. There were only a couple other people there, which gave me time to take in the headstones of two talented men who were taken too soon.

From Lake View Cemetary I headed to Seattle Center for a tour of the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass. I chose to skip the Museum of Pop Culture, and I’ve been told since, that I should have gone. There’s always next time.

As I approached the Space Needle from the parking garage I was met by a man selling peace, by way of beaded bracelets. Caught up in the moment of my adventure, I bought the bracelets and added my name to the list of donors for peace. I still wear those bracelets to this day.

After a trip to the top of the Space Needle, I visited Chihuly Garden and Glass and was not disappointed. Seeing these beautiful delicate pieces made from multi-colored glass, suspended from the ceiling, set up as displays, words cannot begin to describe it, and I don’t think my pictures do it justice.

2017-09-09-Seattle (23)After almost two hours at Chihuly, I bought a round-trip ticket on the Seattle Center Monorail, a fun, short ride from Seattle Center to  Westlake Center. I didn’t head straight back, instead, looking for a Sprint Store to take advantage of the lifetime warranty on my (now) cracked screen protector for my phone. The folks at Sprint were nice enough to explain I needed to go to the manufacturer and provided me with information on the closest store, but I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.  2017-09-09-Seattle (22)I hopped back on the monorail to Seattle Center, back to the car, and back to the apartment. After a couple hours of relaxing, my next stop on my Seattle list was up. Just a couple blocks from where I was staying was the Seattle Pinball Museum. You buy a ticket, and you get to play as many pinball games as you want from the machines set up in chronological order. I easily spent over two hours there. Dinner was a quiet (as in I was the only diner there) place called J Sushi. I closed the evening out by enjoying a dance-off during a festival in the International District.

Day 3 – back into the wild

On the recommendation of the bicycle adventurer I met in Montana, the plan was to take the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge and drove the north side of the Olympic Penninsula. This would be my first time driving onto a ferry, in a trip full of firsts. I drive up to the ticket gate and the gentleman asks me which ferry I’m taking. I stammer, uh, I, it starts with a B? Of course, there were two (Bainbridge and Bremerton). I picked the one that sounded right, and really hoped I’d selected the correct one. He had no time for my ignorance. Luckily, I had. On the ferry, I watched a man and his dog relax in a most unusual way (check out the picture below), and as we approached Bainbridge Island the Olympic Mountains came into view way off in the distance.

2017-09-10 (3)Once on Bainbridge Island, I headed northwest to the beginning of route 101. Lunch was at the Next Door Gastropub in Port Angelos, an hour later I desperately needed coffee, so I stopped at the Hungry Bear Cafe in Beaver for a cup to go. From there I made my way to the Kalaloch Campground, and finally, I was on the Pacific Coast, looking out over the ocean, just under a month from leaving the east coast.

Leavenworth, Washington – A Pleasant Surprise

When I last left you, readers, I was cranky because I woke up in Steamboat Rock State Park believing I would end the day in Seattle. I was tired of cold food (due to the campfire restrictions caused by the wildfires) and ready for a couple days of no driving. But instead, I needed to kill one more day because my reservations were for the 7th of September, and I’d already gone through quite the process just to get them changed to that. So, I put on my explorer hat and decided I would not let this get me down.

2017-09-06-Steamboat Rock State Park (3)

The sun rising over Steamboat Rock, through the haze of wildfires miles away.

I drove down to the public access beach, which sits in the shadow of the rock formation where the park gets its name. Steamboat Rock rises 650 feet up out of the Banks Lake, a reservoir south of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River.

Gehrke Windmill Garden

I left Steamboat Rock State Park and headed back the way I’d come the day before for two quick stops, even though my destination was in the other direction. One was the Gehrke Windmill Garden, something I’d bookmarked from Road Trip USA. Sitting in the middle of a parking lot on Hwy-155, the garden is a collection of whirligigs and windmills protected by a tall fence and made even more bizarre by the haze that still hung thick in the air.

Grand Coulee Dam

The Grand Coulee Dam was built as part of FDR’s New Deal and is one of the largest concrete structures in the world. After being awed by the Hoover Dam on a previous adventure, I wanted to see how the Grand Coulee Dam stacked up. Take the Hoover Dam and multiply it by three, at least, to get the width of the Grand Coulee Dam.

Leavenworth, Washington

After a quick tour of the Grand Coulee Dam Visitor’s Center I began my journey west to Leavenworth, another location I found in my Road Trip USA book, as part of “The Great Northern” route. Leavenworth reinvented itself in the 1960’s as a Bavarian village. Only 130 miles from Seattle, I was originally just going to drive through. However, since I had the extra day, I made Leavenworth my destination for the day. When I arrived in town, I spoiled myself by reserving a cabin at the local KOA, using my handy KOA app. I found a great parking spot on Front Street, where pseudo-chalets line the street. It was time to eat, and some quick research told me Munchen Haus was the spot to be. I gorged myself on a bratwurst, German pretzel, and potato soup, and finished it off with a delicious “Icicle Dirty Face Ale.”

2017-09-06-Leavenworth (1)

I explored the little shops along Front Street. I picked up a book full of pictures and stories about teardrops and tiny trailers, aptly named “Teardrops and Tiny Trailers.” At the end of the street, I found a local distillery and coffee shop. Blue Spirits Lake Chelan had a bottle that caught my eye; espresso flavored vodka, distilled using local glacier water and American grain. The shopkeeper recommended I drink it on ice with orange zest. I needed something to decompress with, so I picked up a bottle and headed to the Safeway that was on the way to the campsite.

A brief tour of Front Street –

If you’ve never stayed at a camping cabin, it’s important to mention, they do not come with linens. I dragged in my sleeping bag and pillows and decided I needed a refreshing dip in the KOA pool. The cold water made my aches more apparent, but the hot shower after melted them away. I meandered back down to my cabin and cracked open the bottle of vodka and the “big ass shot glass” I bought at a gas station in Montana (because why not?). After a few glasses, I slept like a baby in my little cabin.

September 7th I woke up ready to get to Seattle but needed sustenance first. I picked the Leavenworth Golf Club for breakfast where I had  German sausage and eggs, hash browns and English muffin, and coffee, while watching a bottle blond mom down a number of Mimosas, early on a Thursday morning. I wouldn’t expect any less from a golf club.

Seattle was absolutely awesome. Tune in next time!

New Orleans – I Miss You Already

We arrived in New Orleans on Friday, March 16th as a belated birthday present to my apprentice traveler. While I’d only briefly visited the city years before, it clung to me like the swamp moss that surrounds the Crescent City, the Big Easy, Nawlins.

In the hustle and bustle of the airport, we picked up an unexpected additional fare going in the complete opposite direction from us. The cab driver assured me it would cost no more than the $37 flat rate from the airport, so we settled in for an impromptu sightseeing tour as the other passengers were dropped off. Naturally, once they were dropped off the fare agreement suddenly changed, that is, until he learned I would have none of that with a gentle “Sure, we’ll pay what you charge, but I’ll be contacting the cab company and the airport afterward.” His tune quickly changed.

Once we turned down one of the cross streets of Bourbon Street, my apprentice’s eyes finally lit up. Here was the New Orleans she was excited to see. Revelers wandering the streets with oddly shaped and oversized containers of a red drink, beads around their necks, hooting and hollering at partiers on the balconies for more beads. We checked into Hotel St Helene, just two blocks south of Bourbon Street, changed and headed out for dinner. The walk to supper took us out of the Quarter to the revamped warehouse district with the promise of fresh Louisiana oysters. Seaworthy delivered. We ordered two each of the Lousiana Gulf Coast selections (six in total), and I found a local IPA to try, the Wayward Owl Clean Slate IPA. The main course consisted of the Seaworthy Roll, a take on a crawfish po’boy, for me and a burger for my companion.

We walked the hearty meal off by heading back toward Bourbon Street. There we stopped for two frozen Hurricanes. My travel companion pointed to a fridge behind the counter where little sauce cups with lids held a red liquid and asked: “What are those?” I responded, gleefully, those are jello shots! So, of course, we ordered them. We continued on down Bourbon Street with our hurricanes in our hands and a buzz from the jello shots. Finally, sometime after midnight we headed back to the hotel and crashed hard on a very, very comfortable bed.

Saturday; the day of 20,000 steps

Although we barely got five hours of sleep, we woke up ready to explore the old city. Fueled by the second most famous coffee brand of New Orleans, Community Coffee, we headed east. Jackson Square was just two blocks east of the hotel, and home to St. Louis Cathedral. The square was alive with street performers and vendors peddling voodoo dolls and paintings of the city. We tried to go into the cathedral, but they were just starting a private event, so we agreed to come back. On the south-east side of the square is the world famous Cafe Du Monde, but the line was already well out of the door and down the block, so we trudged on. We were heading in the direction of St Roch Market, a 20-minute walk when we stumbled across the French Market and outdoor bazaar. Tummies growling we decided to get a “snack” before heading on to St Roch. The snack ended up being gumbo for my companion, and a gator burger for me. We then perused about half of the outdoor bazaar before making our way to St Roch Market. I was a little disappointed at how small the market was, but we found a lovely spot in the back of the market, with a bar, to enjoy a couple drinks. The bloody mary I had was exceptionally spicy (in a very delicious way) and garnished with green olives, pickled green beans, and okra. I decided to give okra another try and then was reminded I really do not like it. I don’t mind it in gumbo, but by itself, it has a slimy aftertaste I just can’t get over. My companion enjoyed an iced coffee drink or two, and then we headed on to our next stop.

Aart Accent Tattoos & Piercings “Yeah! It Hurts”

My companion researched this spot for a couple permanent mementos of our trip. What we did not know was the cultural significance of this place. We were informed while waiting for our turn, that we were in the oldest tattoo shop in New Orleans AND the first tattoo shop opened by a black woman. An interesting tidbit from this article says “When Gresham opened her shop, there were a total of five female tattoo artists in the U.S.”

Wow, just wow. So, when I sat down to get my ink, I asked the gentleman “How long have you been working here?” and he responded wryly “oh, only a short time… about 22 years”. I looked at him, there was no way he was old enough to have been here for 22 years. But he says Jacci is his mother, not by blood, but because she took care of him when he needed it most. So, not only was I getting ink in such a historic place, but her son was doing the work. I was blown away. We swapped stories, and I begged him to come to DC because my next piece has to be done in DC (because it’s an homage to my hometown, and it just wouldn’t be right to get it anywhere else), but I want him to do it. I told him he would always have a home in DC, as a kindred spirit. I also asked him, as a local;

“What is one thing you recommend we do?” 

His first response was, listen to Jazz, and his second was “Get a Hand Grenade from Tropical Isle, but only get one.”

So, as we walked back to Bourbon Street, freshly inked, we decided first to drop off my camera bag (I’d taken no pictures with my camera, but a lot with my camera phone), and then come back out. Except instead of heading to Tropical Isle on Bourbon, we headed to the waterfront. But first, we had to eat. Our last meal was the “snack” at the French Market, and we had already clocked over 10,000 steps. I picked the Chartreuse House, just on the corner from our hotel, and an old haunt of Tennessee Williams. We ordered an obscene amount of food, including my travel companion’s first muffaletta which was the size of her head (the second half of it made a great breakfast in the morning). After dropping the leftovers off at the hotel, we headed down to the waterfront to walk off the food. We admired the big paddlewheel steamboats with their loud horns and meandered along the waterfront until we got to The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk where we did some old-fashioned shopping. After we were done, we hit a vendor in the food court to get ourselves some Hurricanes to go (when in Rome) and headed back to our hotel. We decided to take a brief rest on some benches in front of the water when somehow I managed to puncture a hole in my styrofoam cup still nearly full of Hurricane. We sat there while I “beer bonged” the cup for a little while, then figured out we could wrap the cup in one of our plastic bags, so I didn’t drip it all over myself while we walked. As we made our way back, we stumbled across a Saint Patrick’s Day parade coming down Decatur street. So, of course, we stopped, danced, cheered, and got ourselves some beads (without any of that flashing you hear so much about.) Once again we fell into bed after midnight and slept soundly for a whole five hours.

The Lord’s Day

2018-03-New Orleans St Louis Cathedral

I am not a religious person. However, I have respect for the beliefs of others, so as my Catholic traveling companion timidly asked me if I would be okay going to Mass at St Louis Cathedral, I said of course! We arrived about 20 minutes before the 11 am Mass giving me an opportunity to take some pictures without being disrespectful. The service was beautiful, and my companion got a real treat as the homily was given by a retired archbishop. After the ceremony, she spent some time in the gift shop, and I spent that time photographing the cathedral from Jackson Square.

We then made our way down to the waterfront for our own paddlewheel steamboat tour on the Creole Queen. For an extra fee, we added the lunch buffet to the trip, since we were going off a quarter of the muffaletta each. Oooo-e was the meal good. Jambalya, Gumbo, Rice & Beans. We stuffed ourselves silly while listening to an excellent guide named Wendell tell stories about New Orleans and the Battle of New Orleans. Oh, and the Hurricanes at the bar were delicious. They add a little extra to the top. A thirty-minute ride down the Mississippi takes you to the Chalmette Battlefield, where you get off the boat and learn about the battle from a National Park Ranger. When the horn blows, everyone gets back on the boat to head back to port by the Spanish Plaza.

 

After the tour, we walked up Canal Street with the intent of visiting Lafayette Cemetery, just like I had years before. I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I was to find out the only way to tour the cemetery these days was with a guide and a fee. Although, I do completely understand. Tourists, and drunk ones at that, don’t have much respect for the dead, and this is the only way to keep the oldest cemetery in New Orleans protected. So, we headed back to the hotel to relax for a couple hours and take a load off our throbbing feet. And… sadly… pack for our departure the next day.

Then it was time for one last jaunt on Bourbon Street. We started at Tropical Isle, to get our Hand Grenades, on the rocks, as I’d had enough of frozen-drink-brain-freeze. They were delicious and potent. When I looked up the ingredients after taking my first sip, I understood why our friend at Aart told us to only have one. Ingredients included gin and grain alcohol. But, not one to go down without a fight, I had two. It was a Sunday night, and Bourbon Street was still full of people in St Paddy’s day green and beads. We found a fun bar, apparently called Famous Door, where we posted up to enjoy a band, and people watch. Sometime during the evening, a woman came in with a digital camera on a “selfie-stick” followed by a guy with a video camera. She pretended to have fun, dancing around and whatnot, and then picked up a random Hand Grenade cup off a table as if it was hers and acted like she was drunk while recording. I’m guessing she’s one of those Instagram influencers, or whatever they call themselves. After about five minutes of this, they left. What a shame to pretend to enjoy life, instead of actually enjoying it.  Speaking of enjoying life, the bartender was selling something in a big novelty syringe, so my companion went to find out what it was. It was more jello shots, three in one syringe, so of course, she bought one and we shared it. We then found ourselves at Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo, where warning signs told you that if you took pictures inside your soul would be cursed. With trinkets in hand, I noticed above our heads was an original fence from the movie set of Interview with A Vampire, but getting my soul cursed was not worth the picture. Somehow, I was hungry again, so after a couple miscues with closing restaurants, we found a carryout and got too much food for a reasonable price. Once again, well after midnight, we limped back to the hotel, scarfed down what we could of our food, and got another five hours of sleep.

Monday, Sad Day, Fly Back Home Day

Monday we woke up with the intention of finally getting ourselves some Cafe Du Monde and finishing the second half of the French Market Bazaar. Surprisingly (maybe not?) the line for the cafe was again down the block, but this time we found the carryout counter and got two iced Au Lattes and beignets. While perusing the bazaar I saw a booth where a man had set up his books, and a tv playing his video of train hoppers. I was intrigued, so began talking to him about his adventures. Brian Paul Brightdawn traveled with train hoppers and hobos and turned it into a documentary called “The CURE for the CRASH,” and then later a book titled “Book Safe Glacier – How The Rails Became My Rehab.” So of course, I had to pick his brain about publishing, traveling, and anything else he wanted to share. I could have talked to him for hours, but we had a plane to catch. So I picked up the book and the DVD (my traveling companion insisted I put my wallet away, as this purchase was an investment she wanted to make) and we made our way back to the hotel to pick up our luggage.

On our way to the airport, I received a text from Southwest informing me that the first leg of our return trip, from New Orleans to Nashville, had been canceled due to what I would later find out were numerous tornados in Alabama and Tennessee. Understand that my rookie traveler and I had previously shared some hairy travel experiences, and I was starting to believe we might be cursed. But I kept a level head and followed the prompts to select a new itinerary. This one gave us a direct flight back home. Relieved that we’d seen such fortune, but still wary until we were actually on the plane, it was time for bloody marys at the airport bar. I kept checking our new itinerary and got the notice the plane was to be two hours delayed. With an attempt to stay positive, I reminded both of us, that would still get us back home two hours before our original flight plan.

Finally, after a quick nap near our gate, we boarded our plane and blissfully made it back home safely.

With so much left to explore of New Orleans, I’m eager to go back. Crawfish season is starting soon, but after that, it gets disgustingly hot and humid. So I may just have to wait until Fall.

September 5, Part 2; The Most Extreme Grilled Cheese

After spending an hour amongst the Buddhas I continued west to my first real taste of mountain driving in the tiny stretch of Idaho between Montana and Washington. I suppose I’d been meandering up in elevation without too much thought, but as soon as the “Welcome to Idaho” sign appeared it was straight downhill along a road I now know is closed during the winter. Almost three hours from leaving the Buddhas I skidded into Coeur d’Alene to grab lunch at Meltz Extreme Grilled Cheese, another spot mom found as she was acting as my travel agent. I was really worn out from the mountain driving. I remember being a space cadet and a mess as I walked up to the counter to order. I ordered a grilled cheese on sourdough and a dipper of tomato soup. Man, it was good. I wondered why I never thought to use sourdough for my grilled cheeses as I slowly ate and stared into space.

2017-09-05-Meltz Extreme Grilled Cheese

With two and a half hours of driving ahead of me, I got gas, added air to my tires, and grumpily got on the road. My next stop was Steamboat Rock State Park in Washington. I turned onto Coulee avenue as it was getting late, and my GPS told me I arrived. It looked more like a parking lot than a state park, but I couldn’t think straight. I walked into the convenience store (as a sign told me to do) to get my campsite and the lady behind the counter explained I was not yet at the state park and gave me instructions on how to get there.  I continued on, over a couple causeways and along an inlet called the Devil’s Punchbowl before seeing the sign to turn in for Steamboat Rock State Park. The park ranger was very accommodating of my exhaustion (which translated into a sort of babbling) and I finally got to my campsite. With summer officially over, there was only a handful of other campers, including a couple hiding their grill behind their RV, shame on them. I ate one of my pigs in a blanket and cracked open a cold beer.

That night I got a slow exposure shot of the full moon, tinted yellow from the continued haze of the wildfires.

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The next morning I woke up to a chorus of coyotes off in the distance. Oddly enough I found that a pleasant way to wake up, most likely because I knew they were too far away to cause any trouble.

And then grumplestiltskin kicked in. I woke up excited, knowing I would be in Seattle by the end of the day. Then I realized it was Wednesday, September 6th. I’d only moved my Seattle reservation up by one day, to Thursday, the 7th. Man, oh, man was I cranky when I realized that. I’d been good at being flexible throughout the trip, but I really wanted a few days of not driving and not camping.

But I wasn’t going to let that ruin my day. But, my trip to the Grand Coulee Dam and Leavenworth will have to wait until next time. Instead, I leave you with a drive through Steamboat Rock State Park.

September 5 – Part 1; Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

September 5th was a long day.

I wasn’t going to leave the area without going to the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, an hour north of Missoula. Through some research, I found my breakfast spot; Paul’s Pancake Parlor in Tremper’s Shopping Center in Missoula. I was amused by the decor; all decked out in Jamaican colors. If you ever visit Missoula, I highly recommend breakfast here. I had my corned beef hash breakfast, with a side of biscuits and gravy and ordered pigs in a blanket to go. I figured those would hold up cold (I wasn’t wrong) since I probably wasn’t going to be able to light a grill again until after Seattle (also not wrong).

With a very full belly, I headed north to the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in the Flathead Reservation. I pulled into the empty parking lot and marveled at the stark contrast of the buddhas against the smoky sky. After a quiet and contemplative walk around the buddhas, I noticed a small gift shop and enjoyed a brief spiritual conversation with the lady inside. I picked up some of their local lavender and a book by Pema Chödrön titled “When Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times.” The book spoke to me because the author suggests moving toward painful situations, instead of attempting to bury them. Considering what I was going through, I could use all the advice I could get. I also picked up a small Buddha statue to put next to my VW bus from Field of Dreams on my dashboard.

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“Your enemies will never make peace in the face of hatred, it is the absence of hatred that leads to peace. This is an eternal truth.” ~Buddha

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“The one who has conquered himself is a far greater hero than the one who has defeated a thousand times a thousand men.” ~Buddha

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“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

Because the garden was so moving, I’m going to leave the rest of September 5th to another post. I implore the reader to take some time to meditate and find peace.

I will leave you with this video that really shows how thick the smoke was between Flathead reservation and my next stop.

Until then…

Missoula, Montana

Before leaving the Towsend / Canyon Ferry Lake KOA, my new friend recommended I stop at the Avon Family Cafe on my way to Missoula. She said they took good care of her and the food was delicious. A warm home cooked breakfast seemed like just the right thing since this is what I woke up to.

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The winds and haze at Towsend / Canyon Ferry Lake KOA

I was going off the directions Elizabeth gave me, “just before you turn right on MT-141, Avon Cafe will be on your left.” I drove right past the unassuming little barn and had to double back. She was right, the food was worth it. I had my favorite breakfast; corned beef hash, eggs over easy, hash browns and an English muffin.

From Avon, I took MT-141 N to MT-200 W, just barely skirting a closure on MT-200 near Lincoln, due to the wildfires. Two hours later I approached Missoula. My first attempt to get into the city was thwarted by a confusing turn, and I ended up on I-90 E. One of the many interstates I was trying to avoid. I took my next exit and doubled back (for the second time that day) to make the correct turn. I checked in at the City Center Motel and asked the woman at the front desk for recommendations on food and drinks. She recommended several places within about a half a mile of the motel, perfect walking distance. Before heading out for dinner, I called the management company for the hotel in Seattle to move my check-in date forward one day, not realizing I’d lost two days from my travels because of the fires in Glacier. I’ll come back to that later.

Walking through downtown Missoula was like being in a post-apocalyptic world. People were walking/riding bikes with masks on, and the smoke hung so low and thick in this valley town. I saddled up to the bar at Tamarack Brewing Co and gorged myself on poutine, and a big ribeye steak washed down with some delicious Montana craft brew.

Meanwhile, someone (ahem, mom) was trying to convince me to take the extra time to go to Vancouver to try to stalk the “boys” from my favorite show, Supernatural, who were actively filming the upcoming season. Maybe I’m not as brave as I proclaim. 😀

I’d love to revisit Missoula. It seems like a lovely town, with so much more to do than I gave it time for.

Until next time…

 

Yellowstone on Labor Day Weekend

I woke up the morning of September 3rd to my first chilly morning. It was 50 degrees when I woke up, and I was delighted to have packed warm sleepwear. On the agenda for the day was a drive back through the Grand Tetons into Yellowstone to see Old Faithful.

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When you’ve been on the road for several weeks, you don’t think about what day, or weekend it is until you’re in a caravan of cars and RVs inching along. What’s more American than to spend Labor Day weekend in a national park or two? I didn’t mind the slow pace, it gave me time to take in the view.

Into Yellowstone from the South Gate

Along the drive, through Yellowstone, I came across Lewis Falls and took a quick break along with the other visitors to scurry across the road and take pictures of the falls.

2017-09-03-Lewis Falls

I made it to the parking lot for Old Faithful about 45 minutes before the next scheduled eruption and realized I grossly underestimated its popularity. The parking lot was packed. Not a single parking space to be found. So I left Old Faithful for another trip and continued my drive through Yellowstone. Not but a couple minutes from the Old Faithful parking lot I came across the Black Sand Basin. This time I found parking and was rewarded with geysers and deep rainbow colored hot spring pools.

My Drive Through Yellowstone

(and the Parking Lot of Old Faithful)

Into Montana

I crossed into Montana through the West Yellowstone gate. I pulled over to stretch my legs and discovered Quake Lake. The lake was created when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in 1959 caused a landslide and natural dam to form on the Madison River. You can see the tips of the (now dead) pines sticking out of the water, and the story is fascinating.

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When I pulled over to an Exxon in Three Forks, MT to get gas and snacks, I realized just how thick the smoke from the wildfires had gotten. The sun glowed through the haze like a scene from a post-apocalyptic world.

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With amazement and anxiety, I continued on to my stop for the night at the Townsend / Canyon Ferry Lake KOA. I was headed toward the fires, not yet close enough to see anything other than the smoke.

At the KOA, there was only one other tent camper. Everyone else was in RVs. I pulled up to the site to find Elizabeth and her dog Bonnie, chatting with a couple of other campers. I soon learned she was biking across the country to the east along a similar route to the one I’d just driven west. Just to be clear, we’re not talking a motorcycle, we’re talking a pedal bike, with a small trailer for her camping gear, and a place for Bonnie to sit when it was too dangerous for her to run alongside Elizabeth on her bike. I joked with her about how I thought was roughing it as I pulled out my air mattress, blankets and two pillows for my tent.

Due to the proximity of the campsite to the wildfires, and the dry, windy weather, campfires and camp stoves were prohibited. So dinner was cold leftover hot dogs from the grill at Jackson Hole and beer while Elizabeth and I had a deep conversation about the state of the education system in the U.S. and swapped suggestions for sites to see along our respective trips.

A Change of Plans

The next morning I went to the camp store for a free hot cup of coffee (the morning winds were cold!) and a couple smokes out on the porch out of the wind. The colorful manager laughed as folks drove down to Canyon Ferry Lake with their fishing boats in tow, only to come back shortly after when they realized the wind was too much to handle on the lake. When I told her I was on my way to Glacier National Park to drive Going to the Sun road, she handed me the awful news that the park closed just that morning as it was in the heart of the wildfires. My first thought was to the camper I met in Mitchell, SD who was camping in Glacier as we spoke. My second thought was to the campsites I’d already reserved. I was really hoping they would take mercy on me and process the refunds even though it was less than 48 hours from my stay since campsites near Glacier are more expensive than any of the other places I’d stayed along the way. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case, and I decided my life was worth more than the $100 loss on the two sites. I changed my plans and decided to rent a hotel in Missoula, only a few hours from Towsend, so I could regroup and figure out how I was going to adjust reservations in Seattle, and the rest of my trip. Note, in most cases, I didn’t make reservations until a couple days before, if at all. However, Seattle I’d booked before I left DC because I saw a great deal on a place downtown.

For those curious a few days later I did hear from my camp friend from Mitchell. He managed to escape unscathed. I will make it to Glacier National Park, and I will drive Going to the Sun Road.

More about Missoula, and missing days, in my next edition…

Thermopolis, Wyoming and Hot Springs State Park

When I initially planned The Great Roadtrip, Thermopolis, WY was not on the list of destinations. As a matter of fact, I expected to drive down from South Dakota to Colorado and Utah. However, once I got to Iowa, I knew I needed to make some changes to my route. I learned on that first leg of the trip that five hours of driving, plus setting up and breaking down camp was really the maximum for a single day if I wanted to enjoy my trip. The drive to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado from the Black Hills Forest in South Dakota was 6 hours on the interstate, another 7 hours to Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The helpful staff at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Sioux City South told me about the Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, which was on the way to Yellowstone.

On the morning of August 31st, I headed out from the Buffalo KOA for a beautiful short 2ish hour drive to Thermopolis. I planned to stay there for two nights, so I’d have a full day of not driving. I picked a cute hotel in downtown Thermopolis called the Roundtop Mountain Motel. When I got there, the front office was closed, so I drove down a few blocks to downtown Thermopolis looking for a place to eat. On Broadway (the main street through town) I found the One-Eyed Buffalo Brewing Company. Lunch was deep fried cheese curds, a kraut dog with onion rings, and a Ring of Fire black IPA. I’d never heard of a black IPA, so I had to try it. It was so good I asked for a growler to take home.

I returned to the hotel and checked in, asking for recommendations on where in the Hot Springs State Park I should go. The suggestions I received would be put to use the next day, but on this day I headed back to the room, worn out from just 11 days of traveling. Besides, the last preseason game for my football team (the Redskins) was soon to start.

I slept exceptionally well and woke up ready to spend the day relaxing. I walked down to the Thermopolis Cafe, enjoyed a massive breakfast and headed back to the hotel to capture the scene in this post.

 

From there it was time to explore the Hot Springs State Park. I packed my bathing suit and a towel and drove over to the park that was only 2-miles from the hotel. I tried to follow the directions I received from the woman at the hotel the night before, but I really should have written them down. I drove around lower half of the park, finally thinking I’d found the place she was talking about. The state park has three hot springs “parks” within it. The one she was referring to was called the Tepee Pool, but I ended up at the State Bath House, I later found out was right next door to the Tepee Pool.

The State Bath House allows you to enjoy the hot springs completely for free, an agreement that stands today from when the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes gave the hot springs to Wyoming. The tribes insisted that the springs remain accessible to the general public without charge. There is a time limit of 20 minutes, due to the risk of prolonged exposure to the high temperatures of the springs, but after 2 hours you can come back. After the most relaxing 20 minutes of my entire trip, I changed out of my bathing suit and headed out to “kill” two hours so I could come back to the State Bath House. There’s a driving loop that goes up into the rest of the state park where a large herd of bison roams. A wayside sign in a gated area meant to be a safe place to go when bison are near taught me these beautiful beasts weigh over 2 tons, and can run up to speeds of 40 MPH. I continued to drive the park looking for bison and finally spotted a herd in a secluded area of the park. Staying on the road, I drove as close as I felt comfortable and quickly snapped some pictures before rolling the window of my car back up and driving along.

It was challenging to spend 2 hours in the park, but just when my time was up, I headed back to the State Bath House. This is when I saw the Tepee Pool right next door. Feeling slightly foolish I headed in to check it out. A small fee (I think it was $12) gave you access to indoor and outdoor pools filled with the hot springs water, not as hot as what you find in the State Bath House, and a few hot tubs where the water is comparable to the State Bath House. I spent another hour at the Tepee Pool before heading back to my hotel. After washing up and doing some light repacking of the car, I walked down to One Eyed Buffalo for dinner. This night’s dinner was pretzel sticks, spinach artichoke dip, and jalapeno poppers with a Peach Blonde Ale (or three) to wash it down.

 

The next morning as I was packing up to leave I met a delightful woman with quite a story to tell about overcoming hardship. It’s not my story to tell, but it was one of those stories that breaks and heals your heart at the same time. She was also insistent that I visit a pow-wow at the Wind River Reservation. She was kind enough to call the reservation to find the time of the pow-wow, but unfortunately, it was later in the evening than I was prepared to be on the road for. But, I will find a way to see a pow-wow one of these days! Lastly, she pointed out that the haze I thought nothing of was actually from the wildfires 500 miles north in Montana.

I did drive through the Wind River Reservation on my way to the Teton National Forest and the Jackson Hole / Snake River KOA. My campsite was down by the river and required an escort. Because to get down to the river sites, you had to drive down a narrow dirt path at a 10ish degree angle (maybe higher?). It was completely worth it because my tent pad was indeed right next to the river. Sleeping to the sound of the river just continued to calm I picked up in Thermopolis, even if I had no idea how I was going to get back up out of the campsite. The air was beginning to get thinner in Jackson Hole even though it’s a valley because it’s still approximately 6,000 feet above sea level. I managed to adjust within a few hours, in part thanks to the fact that the bathrooms were up the hill from the campsite.

 

After a night on the Snake River, it was time to navigate through the Labor Day holiday crowds to explore the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.

Until then!

Pausing for Cunningham Falls

I’m taking a break in my journaling of the Great Road Trip to talk about a more recent adventure.

2018 started out in the middle of nearly 3 weeks of subfreezing temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic, a place that generally has mild winters. To top it off, I started 2018 with a massive cold (maybe the flu?) that had me laid out for at least a week. When I heard rumor of a 67-degree day, even with rain in the forecast, I knew this was my chance to get outside. A recent article from Capital Weather Gang intrigued me into opportunities to see frozen water on warm days.

I selected a park I’d only been to twice, and not in many, many years. Cunningham Falls is just west of Thurmont, MD. While the falls themselves are in the Cunningham Falls State ParkCatoctin Mountain Park, part of the National Park Service, borders the Falls just to the east. Instead of taking the direct, approximately one hour route up the interstate, I opted for, as I often do, the scenic route estimated at just under 2 hours.

Of course by the time I reached Catoctin Mountain Park I had to use the restroom something fierce, so I stopped in the Visitor’s center that is just before the turn for the Cunningham Falls State Park. This is where I learned there is an approximate 3-mile round trip hike to the Falls from the national park. However, because I wasn’t sure how my stamina would hold up after the cold, I opted to use the state park trail, a mere 1-mile out and back path. There was an entrance fee for the state park side, but I’m always okay with paying a nominal fee for the upkeep of wildlife areas.

Barely two minutes into my trek I was already gasping for air. Good grief! The cold really took it out of me. However, I’d regained some of my lung capacity on the way back, and I know a few more short jaunts like that, and I’ll be good as new.

The creek was still mostly frozen, but the falls were raging. After 30 minutes of fussing with the tripod and my camera settings, I finally learned how to take those “soft” waterfall shots I’ve seen in famous photographs.

Catoctin Mountain and Cunningham Falls are two of the most popular parks in Maryland. Thanks to the season and the day of the week, I saw less than a handful of other people. I’d love to go back and hike more of the trails, but I don’t think I’ll be as lucky with the crowds as I was yesterday.

Yesterday the high temperature in Catoctin was 67, today it’s barely 30 degrees and currently blanketed in 3 inches of snow. I’m glad I took my shot to get out.