Monday, September 19, 2011

Headin' East: One EPIC Road Trip

The Honda Element is packed and organized: all my crap in the middle and on the roof, camping gear in the back, empty passenger seat to my side, bike on the rack, Kim behind the wheel.  As Luigi says in MarioKart, "Here we go!"

West Coast
You may become aware of the fact that during my journey back east, I am quite often traveling every direction but east.  It's all part of the plan. 

So I started out driving west to get to the Oregon coast and landed in Astoria, an incredibly historic town, the oldest west of the Mississippi in fact, full of traditions and stories, as well as movie settings.  In fact, The Goonies was filmed here as well as Kindergarten Cop and Overboard.  There's a fantastic maritime museum here explaining the dangers and shipwrecks of the "Pacific Graveyard": the place where the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean merge.  Only a handful of captains are actually allowed to navigate the seas here as the sandbars are constantly shifting.

I spent about 5 hours in Astoria riding my bike through its streets, climbing the city column for the views and searching for Mikey's house, but found the Kindergarten Cop school instead.  I crossed over the Columbia River into Washington and headed up the coast to find a place to rest my head.

It appauls me that in many campsites you have to pay $20 for a spot.  Yes, you have bathrooms and drinking water, but I am on a tight budget here and I can't afford that every night!  So I pulled into a little community's beach access road (which are always a great place to crash) and put up my tent.  The beach was stunning and foggy at sunset and sunrise, and there were an abundant amount of unbroken sand dollars.  I went to bed late and hit the road early, no one was the wiser.

Olympic Peninsula
Ah the Pacific Northwest.  I read in a travel book that there are only two other areas in the world that offer similar lush tropical rainforest between coastal region and giant mountain peaks.  Those places are New Zealand and Patagonia, and I've lived in both.  Somehow I'm just drawn to this.

After the freak out of a yellow light flashing on my dashboard, I adjusted the tire pressure and found a great camping locale within Olympic National Park (I paid the fees this time; sometimes you have to pay for the pretty stuff).  I set up along Elwha River and enjoyed a little solo hike.  Man this place was beautiful and rushing water is one of my favorite elements of nature.

I packed up the next day to see Hurricane Ridge and check out the ferry schedule to cross over to Victoria, Canada.  Good thing I checked the schedule first as the next ferry was leaving in 20 minutes and the next one wouldn't be around for hours.  I scouted out a free parking spot, grabbed my bike and hopped on only to find out I needed a bike ticket.  This isn't like AmTrack, but luckily Canucks are friendly folk, so he let me on anyway. 

Victoria is caught up in Victorian style, who'd have guessed it?  It was like entering a different time period with beautiful gardens, aged architecture and even a Chinatown.  I rode to Craigdarroch Castle and took a tour (student rate!), gorged on a big lunch and hurridly caught the afternoon ferry back to US soil. 

I continued through the Olympic Peninsula, crossed over on a smaller ferry to Seattle, headed east and started to look for a place to crash.  I saw a beloved brown sign signaling a State Picnic Ground.  I followed it 10 miles off the interstate and found this great little nook off the main road.  It was 10pm and so I set up camp here and left at 7am.

The Cascades
The fog was heavy in the morning as I began to cross the Cascades.  I am heading toward Moscow, Idaho now to visit an old college friend.  It's 2 hours out of my way, but I need the company and a shower.  I didn't want to arrive too early, so I pulled off I-90 and took one last hike through the natural wonders of the Pacific NW.  The trees are gigantic, water flows from everywhere and it's GREEN!  The other side of the slope is dry and arid.  I soaked it all up one last time.

Moscow, Idaho
I arrived and was warmly embraced by Kristy and her husband, Matt.  I am so blessed to have such wonderful friends in all parts of the world!  I got the grand tour of little agricultural Moscow and it just happened to be National Lentil Festival weekend, what the heck?  My options for the evening: eat lentils, hike, Shakespeare in the Silo.  Obvious choice: Shakespeare in the Silo. 

This is why I love Kristy and Matt: they are always up for anything.  We got our seats for The Tempest and had a hard time understanding due to the poor acoustics of being, uh, oh yeah, in a silo!!! (Not a big shocker there).  After we tried to piece the plot together we commended the actors on a great performance.  I think we were the only ones there who weren't family.

Ah, the bliss of sleeping in a bed! And a shower!  I had to get a move on early to pick up Matt Fay in Spokane, WA, but first Kristy took me to see the grizzly bears on campus.  It was my first view of a grizzly, but not my last.  We hugged goodbye as I wondered when I would see her again.  Can all my friends just move to one little commune in the mountains where we can all take care of each other and grow a huge lovely garden???  Just one of my dreams...

Spokane, Washington
I drove the 2 hours north to Spokane's airport to pick up Matt who was flying in from Tahoe to move back east to Kentucky.  We actually grew up on the same street in ky and he lived in Tahoe for 4 years, and now we're both moving back at the same time.  How convenient.

We threw his stuff in the back and looked at the map.  Banff, Canada isn't too far north of us, says Matt, let's check it out.  Ok.

Banff, Canada
WHOA!  What an incredible spectacular overwhelming place.  Get there if you can. 

We crossed the boarder and headed toward the great park.  We camped just outside of it and soaked our tired bones in the local hot springs, which was really a big pool with the natural spring water being pumped into it.

The next morning we headed into the park making our way north toward Banff.  At the turn of your head there was a new stunning peak, glacier or gorge.  The Canadian Rockies are not taller than Colorado's Rockies, but for whatever reason, they look way more rugged and intense.  We pulled over for a hike at the Stanley Glacier Trailhead.  Two hours later we were in awe of an incredible glacier receding into the mountain.  We sat near a drinkable creek and ate lunch dwarfed by the presence of our surroundings.

We then made our way to Banff, found a great campsite at Two Jack Lake and headed into town for ice cream of course.  Banff is the origin of the Banff Film Festival, an awesome series of short films about adventure and the outdoors from BASE jumping to bicycling, skiing to kayaking and everything in between.  Check their website for the 2012 tour and get tickets!

Anyway, Banff is a touristy mountain town full of cute little expensive shops catering to the outdoor palatte.  We knew there was a local scene in there, just like Tahoe, and we could relate to the mountain town experience: gotta make money off the tourists but spend your days off enjoying the incredible beauty that surrounds you.  Matt and I felt strangely at home.

We headed "home" to camp, made a fire, cooked dinner and slept peacefully. 
We woke up, cooked breakfast and headed toward Lake Louise, another section of the park, to accomplish a peak hike.  Matt was ready to get to the top of a mountain so we could have some 360 degree views.  We picked Fairview Peak and got to the parking lot within the hour.  A major Canadian highway runs through the park, making driving easy.  We had paid for a park pass the 1st day, but it had expired.  A ranger was checking tickets when we got to the parking lot and Matt and I were praying he'd not notice the expired date.  Luckily, the guy couldn't read and he waved us through.  Whew!

It was a windy day as we headed to the top heeding bear warning signs.  We hit some incredible views even before the top and at the peak we had to hold on to the rocks to keep from being blown off!  It was incredibly windy, but we found a place to eat lunch and take in all the views.  Life is good.


We treated ourselves to another hot springs and dinner at a Brew Pub and headed back home.  The next morning, after enjoying sunrise at camp, we drove south out of the park toward Montana.  There was an array of wildlife on the road including wild sheep, eagles and a grizzly bear!  Yup, we saw one from the safety of our car as it crossed the road.  Beautiful.

Heading over the boarder proved to be traumatic for me.  We stopped, gave our passports, then one of the female cops started making a ruckus over the house plants I had in the car.  Apparently, you can bring American plants into Canada, but not out.  The supervisor was there dumping my beautiful plants that I had grown for 10 years out of their pots.  I was in tears and couldn't watch the needless demolition.  Welcome back to the US.

Glacier National Park, Montana
Another welcome back occured at our campsite within Glacier NP.  Matt and I had cleaned up dinner very aware of the bear danger in the area.  We had left a bottle of wine on the table and a smouldering log in the fire pit and went over to meet our Canadian neighbors.  When we looked up to see floodlights on our campsite, we went over to see what was the problem.  There was a young cop/ranger there informing us that we were breaking three laws:
     1. We had food on the table
     2.  There was a fire unattended
     3.  There was native brush near the fire (aka a poker stick)

Aghast, we apologized as he took our IDs back to the trooper car.  Were we seriously going to get a ticket from this jerk?  All my years of camping and I had never experienced this.  We are responsible campers and were treated as criminals.  We understand how to live with bears officer, we live with them everyday in Tahoe and understand you can't even leave a gum wrapper in your car for fear of a break in.  We get it!  But he didn't.  Thankfully he gave us a warning and continued on to the next site.  Unbelievable.  Give me a place far off in the woods to avoid these confrontations!

Matt and I took a long trek the next day near the Continental Divide at the Highline Trail.  We met a New Yorker tri-athlete who accompanied us.  He had this intense Garmin watch that vibrated after walking a mile and recorded his heartrate and calories burned.  We approached a patch of snow which he kept refering to as a glacier and then regretted not bringing his crampons.  I thought he was joking as we easily slopped through the summer snow.  I guess he truly was a New Yorker, but his cool little watch told us we hiked 20 miles that day.

In the parking lot Matt and I waited for the shuttle to take us back to the campsite.  We then learned it would be an hour before it came, so off to the parking lot we went to scout out a ride.  It took a few minutes, but we hopped in a car going our way and had a nice chat with grandparents from Missouri.  Thanks fellow Midwesterners!

Missoula, Montana
Southeast we headed through Big Sky Country to the college town of Missoula.  We caught up on the internet, charged our phones and waited for a call from Chase, Matt's Kentucky friend who has been working on a US bear project in the hills all summer.  We finally heard from Chase and headed out to his place on some farmland.  While there we ate Skyline Chili and watched his roommate skin a bird, hmmm.  We slept soundly on the couches after a nice shower.

Chase has been collecting bear hair from rubs throughout the region.  The hair is sent to a lab to be analyzed and help people learn about bear behavior in the area.  He was paid $23 a day.  Chase also has access to forest service roads and keys to gates.  Given this benefit, we took advantage of it by taking the work truck through Rattlesnake Wilderness to be dropped off to camp at a lake.  Chase, Matt and I went one way while Jeremy, another guy in the project, went another way to collect fur at the rubs.  The plan was to rendevous at Glacier Lake and camp for the night, then follow a decomissioned road out the next day.  Half of it went as planned.

We found Jeremy at the campsite already and got a good fire going.  I love backpacking as the skies are clear and there is no one to bother you.  We heard a rock avalanche fall into the lake at night- pretty cool experience as it echoed on for a bit.  We hung the food and got a good night's sleep.  We had no idea what we were in for the next day.

We awoke to sunshine and breakfast and took a dip in the lake to relax.  By noon we were on the trail again and went up and over the ridge only to find ourselves at a crossroad.  Chase and Jeremy had good maps and a GPS.  We'll be fine, right?  We picked a path and continued on our merry way until it ended abuptly in a dry creek bed.  It's logical to follow that, right?  So we did and that ended into a pine forest.  I put my bushwhacking pants on and we continued on through the trees.  We got to the main creek and attempted to follow that, but the crossings were difficult with widely dispersed rock.  Chase went up to try and find the trail again and unbelievably he succeeded!  I've never appreciated a path so much in my life, even if it wasn't maintained and had trees fallen all over it. 

We managed to lose the trail and pick it up again about 5 more times and wondered how many more miles we had to go.  We were all exhausted and out of water when Matt tripped and sprained a bad ankle, but like a man he picked himself up and on we went.  7 hours of hard hiking found us on the road we had been aiming for, thank God.  Matt and Jeremy were ahead and I was lagging behind with Chase when a car pulled over to give us a ride to the end of the road.  We weren't even hitch hiking, but we must have looked pretty beat up. 

We got to Morgan's house, Chase's friend, and chugged water.  Morgan was a great hostess and interesting character as she has a pet crow, chickens and dog from Taiwan.  The River City Roots Festival was going on in town featuring a Colorado band, Leftover Salmon.  Tiredly we got dressed and headed downtown.  We attempted to dance, but ended up sipping beer at a table counting how many people had mustaches and were wearing Chacos.  Needless to say,we slept well that night.

The next day we floated the main river that runs through town.  It was a hot day and we were ready to do nothing.  All of our rafts had holes, but somehow we made it to the end.  We sampled some local homemade ice cream at Big Dipper and then went out on the town for the night.  I feel we had a good taste of what Missoula is all about: a cowboy town with a college problem =).

Now we are in a caravan with my car and Chase's, all heading back to Kentucky.  We passed through Bozeman and had dinner there.  What a very cool old western town with a classic main street full of cowboys and college students.  It was getting late though and our plan was to make it to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone, Wyoming
We rolled through the entrance at 9:00pm and so didn't have to pay the park fee.  We miraculously found a camp site and were up at the crack of dawn to make it part way through the park before the crowds rolled in. 

Yellowstone is kinda a funny park.  There's an incredible amount of geothermal activitiy, hence the geysers and hot spots, and there's also a huge yellow canyon with 2 breathtaking waterfalls carving out the canyon walls.  There's an incredibly blue lake with a variety of wildlife nearby and wide open spaces as far as the eye can see.  All this is located right off the main roads.  There's really no hiking required in Yellowstone like there is in Glacier if you want to see the sights.  For this reason, there are a lot of old folk touring around taking their time and stopping in the middle of the road to snap photos.  We were trying to avoid all that.  But the upside is that if you see a whole group of people stopped at the side of the road with their high powered binoculars and huge SLR camers set up on tripods, you know something cool is out there.  We stopped at one such area and saw a dead bison being salvaged by a local pack of wolves.  Very cool.  But again, very cool at a distance.

We saw the sights and moved on through to Tetons National Park.  Luckily we got through again without paying the fee.

Tetons National Park

We were immediately overwhelmed by the views of the Tetons.  What an incredible range!  The mountains are jagged and rugged and really remind me of Torres Del Paine, Chile.  Something different happened when these suckers were formed and they left us all in awe.  Jenny Lake campsite was full, so we headed back up to Signal Campsite and found a nice little spot we stayed at for 2 nights. 

After a dinner of lentils and rice we learned about the wolf packs in the area at the camp amphitheater, then we crashed.

We awoke to a sunny day that turned cloudy as we hiked in a valley that took us behind the tetons.  Here we encountered an influx of tourists up to "Inspiration Point."  Luckily as we continued through the valley there were less and less who wanted to venture so far.  We ourselves were feeling pretty lacksidasical and so we continued a few miles in and then napped on a rock for a bit.  We did see a bull moose along the way, a pretty spectacular sight.  The things was massive and we kept our distance.  All in all we put in about 10 miles and then went south to explore the town of Jackson.

Jackson Hole is an incredible ski spot, comparable with Squaw Valley and Crested Butte.  Some extreme skiers reside in this town and unfortunately we hit it up in the wrong season.  But the town is very old west with a lot of shops and restuarants and again, we found the local ice cream spot and even enjoyed a reinactment of a showdown in the street. 

As it got later we decided to try our luck to get back to our campsite within Tetons NP.  Now remember, we had not paid to enter these parks and so we didn't have a receipt.  If you go through the gates after they close, you don't have to pay the $25 fee.  We were banking on the fact that they were closed in Yellowstone at 9pm, but that is not the case at the Tetons entrance.  We did a driveby at 9pm and saw that the booth was occupied, so we drove up the road to a second entrance closer to our campsite.  At 9:30pm, the booth was still manned.  Damn.  Matt and I were willing to pay, but Chase was flat broke and insisted we could wait it out.  So there we were on the side of the road reading wildflower and poetry books listening to the elk call out to each other as the minutes ticked by.  Finally, at 10:15pm we gave it another try.  We slowly rolled by with our binoculars to assess the scene and I couldn't stop laughing from the hilarity of it all.  Finally, no one there.  We rolled in back to our site and crashed for the night.  25 bucks in the bank.

I got up for sunrise to see the alpenglow on the face of the Tetons, then it was time to get out of WyomingSoutheast we traveled through Laramie and into Ft. Collins, CO, still caravaning.  To pass the time I quizzed Matt on atlas trivia.  What state is known as the Keystone State?  What is the capital of South Dakota?  Which state is the least populous?  Oh, Wyoming.  Obviously.

I left the boys in Ft. Collins so they could take a tour of the Fat Tire Brewery with a buddy of theirs.  I continued on to Boulder to say hello to my old friend, Kyle

Things have changed and they haven't in Boulder.  I took a quick look around and continuted south to Castle Rock, where my dad lives, passing by Red Rocks Amphitheater and listening to my favorite local radio station, KBCO.  I had memories around every corner and strangely enough I started feeling at home here too.

My dad had taken the next day off, so we had a lazy morning and went on a hike to a fire lookout at Devil's Head.  It was an expanive view of the area including Pike's Peak and we even met a lady from Cincinnati up there who told us we could buy Graeter's ice cream at a local grocery.  She was wrong.  We were disappointed.

Steve and Stacey's Wedding

My awesome friend from college, Stevo, got hitched and I was invited.  I needed a date though and luckily Bradford from Tahoe (Nepal trip and bike to San Fran) was in town for the Phish shows.  He took Saturday off and accompanied me to the wedding. 

The ceremony was beautiful perched upon a hill overlooking a ranch and mountain scene.  Steve and his groomsmen rode their bikes to the aisle and Stacey came out of the woods in her wedding dress.  I love these guys.  I cried as I witnessed their union as it was such an obvious companionship full of love and adventure.  And then there was the reception.  Bradford and I barely took a break from the dance floor.  I think we had accumulated a posse as everyone was intrigued by Brad's dance moves.  We ate ice cream instead of cake and took photos in a photo booth.  I got to spend a little time with the bride and groom and again, I felt at home.

I met up with some more friends Monday while Matt and Chase took off home.  I wanted to prolong the stay and left Tuesday morning.

I never really minded the drive through Kansas.  My thoughts run away with me and before I know it I'm in Missouri.  I called up some guys I had met camping in Oregon who live in St. Louis, they welcomed me to a beer and a couch.  I continued on through Illinois past the Albers exit 34 and then through Louisville.  It felt like I had never left as I pulled onto Buttermilk Pike.

So what an epic adventure! 

  • Miles: 4,486.4 
  • Days: 23 
  • States: 10
  • Countries: 2
  • National Parks: 5
  • Mountain Ranges: 4
  • Showers: 5
  • Tickets/Fines: 0!
 Mission Accomplished!  It was an incredible trip balanced with reliance on myself and dependance on friends and family.  There was adventure around every corner and not one night in a hotel.  We slept outside, hiked outside and took advantage of our surroundings.  We relied on ourselves and accepted hospitality from our friends, old and new.  We lived simply and simply lived.

Journal Entry, Day 23:
"You can't just stop living the 'good life' and say, ok, I'm ready to start my 'real life' now.  The good life should always be your real life."

1 comment:

Steve Zander said...

Kim - You have an amazing life.
I hope you continue to follow your heart! It seems like it hasn't let you down so far.
Hope to see you again soon!