Do you remember as a kid, going door to door, dressed in something ridiculous – maybe a ghost or a Ninja Turtle? That’s what I thought, you probably do. I don’t. In the mid to late 1980s, when I would have been at peak-trick-or-treating-age, our mother was deep into a fundamentalist christian conviction. Halloween, All Hallows Eve, was off limits. No tricks. No treats. Lights out in the house. Oh shoot, that family down the block was out with their kids before sundown. Our mother would ignore them at the door. They’d keep knocking.
During the era where our father was care taker for a cabin on a lake that was about 30 minutes away, for several Halloweens in a row, we would put Betsy our basset in the basement of the house, pack up the minivan and head out the cabin. On the way, we would stop at the video store to rent a movie, there was a pizza place next door, so we would pick up pizza, well. One year, I distinctly remember our father renting the 1986 classic, Iron Eagle – the first in that franchise, the movie featured Louis Gossett Jr. The cabin did not have a resident television, so, we would bring an early 1970s, portable black & white television. The TV was all sorts of fancy – it had both UHF and VHF. We would also bring our VCR. How else were we to watch a movie? We did not have a Betamax player.
By 10:00pm, the pizza was gone, and the movie was over. Was it safe to the return to town?
Looking at back on this era, it seems ridiculous. Why did we have leave the house? Would have ignoring the one or two early treat-or-treaters been a feasible option? Likely, but abandoning the town which was clearly in the tight grip of satan was what my mother thought was reasonable and not ridiculous.
It certainly makes for those laughing moments with my sister; I sent her a text this evening, do you remember watching Iron Eagle at the cabin, 29 years ago? She did.
When I get the travel itch, I guess I scratch it hard. Where I am right now? I am in Nags Head, NC. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is just two and a half miles from the hotel. The Atlantic Ocean stretches out from the patio on our room. I am traveling, again, with my sister.
Back in April, when I was in North Carolina, for a conference/symposium in Chapel Hill, I did the sane thing of visiting my sister and her husband – they live 3.1/2 hours from Chapel Hill – one way. During the time I spent with the two of them, my sister and I came up with the idea that at the end of the summer, the two of us should take a long weekend, and head to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The end of the summer would be the 2/3rd-point of her husband’s Navy deployment — it would be good to see family. As we rolled in the summer, plans firmed up, dates were set, and tickets were purchased.
Monday of the week arrived, and it hit me – I was going to be traveling, again. Didn’t I already visit the Pacific Ocean and seven other states – with 6,000 miles of driving – just in the last two months? It’s cool, I would be flying to the North Carolina. And then driving 3.1/2 hours to Nags Head. For a second there, I thought I might not get to drive.
The flight from Minneapolis to Charlotte, NC, was uneventful. I happen to get a seat in an otherwise empty row. Window seat, over the right wing. Coffee, a cookie, a quick snooze. The internet on the flight was not working, and I was unable to check the weather. Douglas-Charlotte (CLT), as the airport is known, is getting be known by myself. Like Haneda in Tokyo or LAX in California, I have passed through CLT enough times to begin to get the layout figured out in my head. Land at the D concourse, head to the E concourse – or the other way around.
Earlier in the week, my boss had joked that I was feeling spunky when I made an off the cuff comment about the catering of an event on campus being garbage in a box. Maybe I was spunky. In Charlotte, at my departure gate, an announcement came over the intercom: We need three to five individuals willing to give up their seat New Bern; we’ll fly you into Jacksonville, NC; we’ll also give you a $300 voucher. Done.
I have always wanted to switch flights mid-trip. It’s nothing wild, it’s a change in plan, and I’d get $300 – nearly enough to cover the cost of the tickets for this trip. Or, it’s essentially free tickets to venture back to North Carolina, once my sister’s son is born.
A quick call to my sister; sure, I can pick you up in the Jake. Great, that’s what I was hoping to hear. Voucher and new boarding pass obtained, I wandered to the gate the flight to Jacksonville, NC, would be leaving from. I wonder if my luggage will get forwarded to Jacksonville? Whatever. That’s what a credit card is for – I’d just buy a few new cloths and toiletries if it came to that.
As the pilot of the flight joked, we spent more time on the ground in Charlotte than we did in the air to Jacksonville. On the ground in Jacksonville, I quickly checked the airline’s Track Your Bag feature in their app; my luggage was in New Bern. I filed a report with Missing Baggage, and Meg and I would head back to her house; I was told at Missing Baggage that the luggage would need to be sent from New Bern back to Charlotte and from there, to Jacksonville. It might be on the 5:05pm flight; we’d swing by the airport once more before heading to the Outer Banks.
Before heading back to the airport, I picked up some cloths at a couple stores. At the airport, I was told that the luggage was on its way to Charlotte, and would eventually make its way to Jacksonville. We left instructions to have the luggage delivered to my sister’s house; we left for the Outer Banks.
We rolled into our hotel in Nags Head, after dark. We had picked up some groceries at a Harris Teeter we passed on the way to the hotel. A bit of cheese, some apples, and sourdough bread. There were two party buses parked in front of the hotel. A large number of people from, what I gathered was a wedding rehearsal dinner, poured out of the hotel and into the buses. Meg remarked that she never could figure out the appeal of party buses. Me neither.
I was tired. I had been up since about 3:00am Minnesota time; it was close to 11:00pm North Carolina time. The hotel was somewhat stuffy and the antihistamine I took shortly after arriving in our room was clearing my nose — and it was giving my brain and body the compelling argument that sleep was what was needed. I nodded off.
I awoke in the morning to the room flooded with bright light. The sun was up. Eight hours of sleep later, it was time to get up. Once up, we headed to Sam & Omie’s for breakfast.
We had looked up breakfast places before heading out – there was a tried and true institution of the South – Waffle House, in Kill Devil Hills, as well as Stack’em High Pancakes and So Forth; there, of course, are others and places like Duck Donuts.
Sam & Omie’s was busy to say the least. When we arrived, the place felt over capacity. There was a line just to get our name on the list to get a table. Waitresses kept asking us if we could move aside so they could get back to the kitchen. With our name on the list, we stepped out to the porch to wait.
The porch contained a slow, revolving cadre of other tourists. Very sunburnt tourists. There was a group of five from New Jersey, a family of four from somewhere south of the Mason Dixon – given their accent. The folks from New Jersey were called into the restaurant; their seats were quickly filled with more, sunburnt individuals.
“Jay? Is Jay out here,” the restaurant matriarch yelled. No Jay, she moved down the list. A couple more names, and she yelled out Meg’s name. We were in. She yelled out the general location of our table and waved her hand in the general direction of where it was located. To the right of the cash register, along the wall.
Meg ordered something with scrambled eggs and “lots of vegetables”; I ordered a flapjacks and coffee. I debated for a moment whether to go Carolina low-lands and order “breakfast shrimp” (shrimp and grits), but opted for a trusted favorite.
Breakfast was good – nothing spectacular, but it was tasty. Meg and I chitchatted as we ate – figuring out where to head next. Wright Brothers Memorial or Hatteras Lighthouse. We picked the lighthouse; it was a bit over an hour’s drive south along the outer banks. I drove.
We passed over bridges and drove passed sand dunes. Many, many cars and trucks seemed to be parked just off the road. Best as we could tell, these folks just park and walk over the dunes to the ocean side or the sound side. Many vehicles had fishing pole holders off the hitch receives; “Salt Life” bumper stickers on the tailgates. They were probably fishing.
We parked in the lighthouse parking lot, and stepped out of the vehicle. My glasses immediately fogged up when the air-conditioned-chilled lens met the hot, humid air outside.
We wandered into the gift shop. I have the long standing (9 years!) tradition of getting patches from the places that I visit. We were in business — the gift shop had a Cape Hatteras National Seashore patch.
To the Lighthouse!
Tickets purchased and the requisite notice of the temperature, humidity and heat index from a park ranger, and we started the walk to the lighthouse. There was a group of kids in front of us, when told about the weather conditions, replied, “It’s cool, the lighthouse has air conditioning, right?” No it does not.
The lighthouse is pretty much just a very tall structure that could be seen by shipping passing by. It’s the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States. It has no furnishings, but has a staircase that spirals up to the top.
Built in 1803, it marked one side of shoals that was to be avoided by seafarers. Just off of the shore, the warmer Gulf Stream from the south mixes and meets the colder Labrador Current churning the sand creating the shoals.
The structure now sits on a different spot from where it was originally built — it was moved in 1999, nearly half a mile.
It was hot and humid, was to be expected in the Carolinas, in August, on the coast. Mid-way up the lighthouse, there was a park ranger with defibrillator kit, just in case. The entire structure is 210 feet tall, but you’re not able to go to the very tippy top. A park ranger said it was roughly the equivalent of going up twelve flights of stairs. But, you know, there really is not a set definition of the length of a flight.
Getting up to the top was a workout – particularly in the heat and humidity. But, there was a breeze at the top, and the view was spectacular. A slight haze could be seen out at the end of the horizon. Looking out the east, you can see the second light station that was built in 1868 – now under private ownership – just at the edge of the horizon.
Going down the lighthouse steps was much easier than going up. We headed back to the vehicle, got in, cranked the A/C and headed north – back to Nags Head.
Towner, Rugby, Minot. Where was I going? Some where in north central North Dakota, that’s about all I really needed to know. The trip was four months away. It was early April, and I was in North Carolina, in the Triangle, for work, but had managed a side-trip to visit my sister and her husband on the coast, near Jacksonville.
My brother-in-law’s grandfather was to turn ninety years old in August. Due to circumstances outside of his control, my brother-in-law would be unable to attend the birthday. My sister, on the other hand, intended to attend the festivities. She loves the grandparents. I, too, would be attending the birthday party. Who was going to be at this party, again? I think I met the grandparents – once – at Meg & Bruce’s graduation.
I’m not entirely sure who initiated the conversation. Myself, volunteering to attending the event, or my sister asking me to attend. Maybe somewhere in the fuzzy middle. Maybe there was not really an ask whether Meghann would want me to go with her, and maybe there was not really me making an explicit volunteering. I honestly cannot remember.
Where did I just say I would go in early August, was it Towner or Rugby?
Plans firmed up somewhere in early summer. Meghann would fly from Raleigh, NC, to Bismarck, ND. I would drive to Bismarck, and we would then drive to…where were we driving to, again? Two or three hours north of Bismarck, maybe. Near the Canadian border? Close to the border?
August seemed to have arrived, as did the trip. Shortly after noon, I was on the road. Didn’t I just drive through Bismarck, less than a month ago? Yes, yes, I did.
I tend to have, what I consider to be a minimal needs plan. An MNP is something that has the least number of steps required to have an event be successful. It is something akin to the Minimally Viable Product of software development and project management. It is not that I am against details and minutia,. When I am driving, there usually is little need for me to do things like plan my exact stops for fuel or food, or even figure out the the fastest route between points A and B. Beverages and food get packed in a cooler in the car, the car tells me when is likely going to be in need of fuel, and Google Maps finds me a decent route. All I really need to think about, and it is often a brief thought, is when do I need to leave, to be at the place I need to be at?
12:00pm on Friday, August 5th, is the answer to that last question. Basically, I needed to be to the Bismarck, ND, airport by 7:00pm. It’s a 6.1/2 hour drive with 30 minutes built in for fuel and bathroom breaks. Five miles over the speed-limit; I would get there with a nice cushion of time. A couple cold Bragg’s vinegar+juice drinks in the cooler, a few snacks, and Gareth Emery‘s album, Drive: Refueled, on my phone, I headed out. The track, Long Way Home, seemed fitting; I pressed play and headed westward.
Meghann and I pulled into the driveway of her brother-in-law’s house in Bismarck, close to 7:20pm – Meg’s flight had been slightly delayed. Her brother-in-law had nicely offered us a couple rooms at his house for us for the night. I still really did not have a clear picture where we were going to be driving to the next day. North. Towner, maybe Rugby. Why were staying at this house? It was an incredibly nice gesture, allowing us to stay at his house. Sleeping on an air mattress felt very early-twenties-college-esque.
I was the first to wake in the house. Other guests had also showed up later in the night. Meg’s brother-in-law forgot that he had also told some friends from out of town that they could stay at his house. It really did feel like I was back in a shared-college-house. I ducked out for coffee and returned to find the house still a sleep.
Once Meg was up and called some of her in-laws who had a better idea of where things were going to take place and when, we knew we had the morning the kill in Bismarck. After breakfast we headed to the capitol grounds for a walk – Bismarck’s annual Capital A’fair arts & crafts festival was taking place.
After enough wandering, we headed out. Meg was on the phone a bit with her in-laws. Two aunts might be in Garrison. We headed to Garrison.
Miscommunication. The aunts were going to be Minot. We were in Garrison when we found this out.
Garrison, North Dakota, is a small town. A small upper midwestern town. Like many upper midwestern towns with water supporting fish, fish that tourists like to catch & eat — the town has a large fish statue. Garrison is located just north of the east end of Lake Sakakawea. Other upper midwest towns that one could happen upon a giant fish statue include Bena, MN – they are home to a diner shaped like a muskellunge, or the fiberglass walleye in Kabetogama, MN, or, not to be outdone, Garrison, MN, also has a large walleye statue similar to its neighboring state’s Garrison. Most places that have waters that contain walleye fish, will also have signage and statues proclaiming that place to be The Walleye Capital of the World. Not to leave Wisconsin out, in Hayward is home to the North American Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. A giant muskellunge statue can be found there.
We headed to Minot to meet the aunts at a McDonalds for coffee. Driving to Minot, I kept thinking of a book that I had read a long while ago, Big Mutt, by John Reese. It takes place in the North Dakota bad lands – which were just to the west of where we were driving. The book has nothing to do with visiting family in North Dakota. It’s just one of those odd memories that gets triggered periodically by place.
The aunts recalled meeting me at Meg & Bruce’s graduation – years ago. I probably did meet them, but that graduation was a month prior to one of those hard turns in life – our father having a stroke. It is like when I think of around Thanksgiving 2014. I immediately think of our grandmother, Clarice, passing away. However, two days prior to Clarice’s passing, I was best man in a wedding; that fact rarely crosses my mind. Those perceived larger events tend to over shadow those seemingly smaller ones. I’m sure I met the aunts, they remembered me. They gave Meg some old family photos; gave each of us a hug, and we were on our way.
Towner. That was where we were going. The festivities were in Towner, ND.
A family, in general, is odd to an outsider. It might even be weird. There is nothing wrong with this. Every family has that relative, maybe it’s a cousin, or a cousin’s spouse that gets talked about in hushed tones. You know what went on with them, but you still act like you are ignorant. Maybe there is an uncle who hugs just a few seconds too long. Every family has these characters. Some characters are just perceived to be stranger or weirder by outsiders than other characters in the family. Every family is a bit of a community, even if the members of this community are scattered around the country. The birthday party went off without a fuss. Meg and I, not being much of meat eaters, managed to eek out a meal of pasta salad (we eat around the pepperoni), potato chips, and mixed fruit. Many tributes were raised to the birthday boy; he is much loved within the family.
I am not sure how long we were actually in Towner. When a few people left, Meg took the cue that it was time to head to Rugby – the nearest town with a hotel. Rugby is a twenty minute drive east from Towner. When we pulled into the hotel’s parking lot, the sun was still hanging a bit above the western horizon. We were in the hotel for a short time. At 8:30pm, I ran to a store in town to pick something up for Meg. That was about the first time all afternoon and into the evening that I actually knew the current time; the store closed at 9:00pm, but it was just across the road.
The next day, Sunday, we had a small window of time to get in some small town attractions. Rugby claims to be “The Geographic Center of North America.” I immediately started to wonder how this was determined. Was a map used? What was the projection of the map? Would the center be different if the projection was Albers Equal-Area Conic Projection versus Robinson Projection? What is different with this center from the Geographic Center of the Nation, in Belle Fourche, South Dakota?
In addition to the Center monument, which just happens to be in the parking lot of a souvenir shop, Rugby has the World’s Tallest Salesman Exhibit. It was closed, because it was Sunday and still early in the day.
I started to think about these road side attractions as we drove out of Rugby. Next stop: Silva, ND. Yup, another road side attraction. This time, it was a bank vault in a pasture. You see, Silva, ND is a ghost town. There are a few buildings remaining of the what used to be the town. Down a dirt road for a few miles, a left down another dirt road, and we had arrived. Before leaving the hotel, I had read about Silva. It was originally home to Cliff Thompson, the World’s Tallest Salesman. As it turned out, Cliff only lived in Silva until he was seven years old. He eventually ended up in Portland, Oregon where he practiced law, presumably as World’s Tallest Lawyer. Like many small towns, a certain segment of that town’s populace build a cottage industry around the hometown hero who, often, has moved on from that town. Some towns’ heroes have long passed away, like Cliff Thompson, who died in 1955. Other town heroes are still around – like Bob Dylan – who is claimed by my hometown of Hibbing, MN. Small towns are like families, a bit weird to outsiders, but perfectly normal to those that reside within them.
Back to Bismarck where I dropped Meg off at the airport. With Long Way Home streaming from my phone to the car’s stereo, I headed home. I stopped at two more small town attractions, both fitting into the same category of World’s Largest of certain types of bird. In Steele, ND, you can find the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane. And, in Rothsay, MN, you can find the World’s Largest “Booming” Prairie Chicken. Sadly, the prairie chicken statue does not “boom.”
Small towns and families are weird, but, hell, you cannot help but love both of them.
The rest of southern Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, and part of Minnesota lay in front of me. One more night in a hotel – somewhere western South Dakota, two more days of driving.
A significant part of the remaining was high desert and shrubland.
I really did not meet anymore characters along the way. Outside of Idaho Falls, I turned off the interstate and took US Highway 20. Near Sugar City, it was a right Idaho 33 – heading east.
The altitude as I approached the Tetons began to creep up.
Forest fires near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, made the air smell like the old days at the cabin my family used to caretake.
The valley the Snake River flows through and the greater National Park of Grand Teton was teaming with traffic and tourists. Some, quickly pulling over to get a photo of an elk or snow covered peak of Grand Teton. The elevation, the way that the Snake River bisects the region, even the peaks of the mountain struck me as being like that of another park I had visited a few years ago: Tombstone Territorial Park in Yukon Territory. Tombstone, though, was Alpine and tundra terrain without another human for miles and miles and quite cold – snow was still on the ground. Grand Teton National Park was quite warm, teaming with people, and hazy from the nearby forest fires.
Out of the mountains and back into high desert and shrubland. The remainder of Wyoming was mostly two lane highway – much like Montana 200.
A stopover in Sturgis, South Dakota for the night, and I was home early evening the next day.
Andy and Jen got married. But, I ended up late to the ceremony at the Pacific Bonsai Museum. I did manage to get there in time for their vows, but that does not explain why I was I late. I also did not get a single photo from the wedding or the dinner afterwards. When going to festivities and the like, I tend to travel light – the Nikon or Pentax are not brought out, and instead I default to my iPhone. My iPhone stopped accepting a charge, and subsequently ran out of battery late in the afternoon.
But, I should really back up a bit first. On my way home from the rehearsal dinner, I had called a friend, Josh – he’s from my days in Duluth, his father-in-law was my first manager at the University Minnesota Duluth – Josh and his family are now living outside Seattle in Edmonds. I was to have breakfast with him – 7:00am, Saturday morning in Edmonds. With the wedding in the evening, I had the day to kill. Being somewhat averse to planning when I am road tripping, I figured I would see what came my way throughout the day. Federal Way, where I was staying at a hotel, is about an hour from Edmonds (without traffic). My body, still on Central Time, was perfectly happy getting up at its usual 6:00am Central Time…just that, it is 4:00am on the West Coast.
I rolled into my friend’s driveway, in Edmonds, 15 minutes early. There was little activity and light traffic through Seattle. There was a for sale sign in the front yard of the house. He answered the door in his underwear – he was bacheloring it – the rest of his family was back in Duluth visiting family. After he ducked into his bedroom to toss a shirt and pair of shorts on, he gave me a quick tour of the house. Sitting down for coffee in the kitchen, the topics of conversation ranged from the real estate in the Pacific Northwest to our days when we briefly worked together in the same department. Talking about this and that, his phone rang – it was his realtor, was the house available for showings today? He said, yes, a bit more discussion and he hung up. He turned me and asked, care to join me today – sailing on Lake Washington? With his need to be out of the house for the day so it could be shopped to prospective buyers and my need to kill a day’s worth of time before the wedding — sailing seemed like it would do nicely.
But, first, breakfast. Downtown Edmonds, a stretch of 5th street is closed on Saturday mornings for the farmers’ market. We found a place to park, and walked to the Rusty Pelican Cafe. Good coffee, good food. We wandered through the farmers’ market and back to the car.
Sail Sand Point, the sailing club/school and boat yard did not open until 11:00am. It was not nearly 11:00am. Josh figured, to kill time, getting the oil changed in his Subaru might be helpful. The car was overdue by at least a thousand miles. He put oil change into Google Maps. We headed to the first place. I stayed in the car while Josh stepped out to ask. He returned quickly and dropped a string of expletives – it was unclear whether the shop could get the car in today, but if we left it, they might be able to look at it in the next three hours. Three Hours?!? There was sailing to get done! Off to the next shop. Grease Monkey, in Seattle (near the University of Washington) – in and out in fifteen minutes. Sail Sand Point (SSP) was just minutes to the east, but we were still nearly an hour early – we headed there anyway.
The SSP office was open, and there was a sailing refresher course about to commence – three Hobie Waves had been brought out. The young fellow leading the course said that we could join in with him and the rest, but we would have to wait for the manager to arrive if we wanted to check out a boat for ourselves.
We decided we could wander the boat yard until the manager arrived.
There were a number of Zodiac boats, many, many Hobie Waves. We wandered over to the Hobie 16s. Josh quipped toward me, let’s find one that doesn’t have the trampoline torn all to shit. We checked over a number of them. A few had frayed trampolines, one had loose drain caps on the pontoons. We settled on one – boat number 11. The trampoline was in alright shape, the travelers seemed to be in working order, the mast was good, too. The manager still had not showed up – so, we wandered the boat yard a bit more.
We spotted a goofy looking yellow boat. Rough on the edges, it looked homemade. searunners.net was written on the pontoons. The tiller was held together with pieces of inner tube. Parts of a bicycle were fixed in the mid-section of the boat. Josh recognized right way what the purpose of this boat was created for: Race to Alaska. 750 miles, no motors, no support, all the way to Alaska. First prize: $10,000 (according to their site, second prize is a set of steak knives; sticking with the clear Glengarry Glen Ross reference, I assume third prize is you’re fired). R2AK (as it is known) goes from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska. This particular boat we were looking at was Team Sea Runner’s boat for 2015. There are some great photos of the team and boat in an Outside Magazine article. We spotted the manager driving up; time to check out boat number 11.
Josh dropped off his car keys at the front desk and signed out number 11. We put on lifejackets and headed down to the yard to get wheels under the boat and get it into the water.
Out on the water, there was great wind. We looped out into the lake, toward the end of Sand Point. Josh would periodically call out that a gust was headed our way – a hidden shadow could be seen pressing against the water – speeding toward us.
I generally sat forward – working the jib halyard and travelers. If the jib was making noise with the wind, I was not doing my job. Josh worked the mainsail. We would hit a calm off of Sand Point, drift around and jibe – heading back toward land. I lost track of how many loops we did.
On several of the loops, Josh would cut across the wakes of boats pulling knee boarders. The wakes would push us – Josh kept yelling, surfin’ boat! surfin’ boat! On one of these cross-wake maneuvers, we cut close to a speedboat, the pontoons of our boat cut deep into the water, water rolled over the trampoline and the two of us on said trampoline. I suspect my iPhone got a bit wet in my pocket. We headed back to shore and took out a smaller Hobie Wave.
By 3:00pm, we were back to Josh’s house. I needed to get going back to Federal Way – Google Maps was showing nasty traffic through Seattle. It was going to take at least 90 minutes to get back. That put be at the hotel at 4:30pm, and I still needed to get out my wet cloths, shower, dress, and get to the Bonsai Museum.
Google Maps with its use of the GPS component in my phone is a battery hog. About 60 minutes into my 90 minute drive, I realized that my phone was not charging – there was very little battery left. In fact, my phone was actively rejecting the charging cable. Plugging the charger in would result in a message on the screen about the cable not being an acceptable cable. Four percent battery left. One percent. Shutting off.
Thankfully, my car had in-car GPS. Unthankfully, a person is unable to change or set the destination of the GPS while the vehicle is in motion. I was running late, and the address for the hotel was on my now dead iPhone. I think I remembered the way back to the hotel.
Between the traffic through Seattle and my sort-of-knowing-where-the-hotel-was-located, I got to the hotel with 15 minutes before 5:00pm. Shit. I kept thinking of Andy and I blasting up and across British Columbia with nothing more than a tourist-stop paper map that had been folded so many times, the creases had torn and the map was in pieces. I could make it to the hotel and then the wedding.
Now, we are back to where I started this story. Andy and Jen exchanged vows. It was a lovely wedding. The dinner was great, too. Andy and Jen wanted breakfast for dinner, so, the main meal was that of waffles and assorted waffle-related-add-ons.
Before I left the wedding party, Andy told me to stop by at the house the next morning. I had left the Monte Dolack card on the front seat of Andy’s truck as I left the wedding; Mirage was now hanging on their refrigerator. Coffee, chatting, then a quick jaunt over to the hotel where Andy’s parents and other relatives were staying, more coffee and a slice of zucchini bread. Those of us from Minnesota strangely self-segregated into our own little group. It was time I headed out onto the road again.
I headed south to Portland, Oregon; stopping along the way at a cell phone store to have my phone looked at. The sales person unbent a paperclip and used it to fished a lot of pocket lint from the nooks and crannies of the phone. I neglected to tell the sales person about the potential for water having met my phone the day before. None of his business. The interstate seemed vaguely familiar. It was, after all, the the same road that Mike and I had driven when he and I went to Seattle in 1998. Driving south on Interstate 5, I thought of Mat Kearney’s song “Coming Home (Oregon)“. I was not chasing down a dream, I was just headed to Oregon with its evergreens and caffeine.
Arriving at my aunt and uncle’s house, each time I have visited them – this being my four or fifth time – it’s just a snapshot in time. The amount of time I spend there is so fleeting. When I first visited in 1998, there was grass in the backyard and there was a hot-tub. Similar, again, two years later. A little different the next time I visited while I was attending a convention in Portland in 2003 or 2004. Three years, I stopped in at their house while in Portland. The backyard was a bit different, less grass, the hot-tube was gone and was a vegetable garden. As I pulled up the driveway, I noted a grouping of bushes just beyond the grass of the front yard. Vehicles changed, as well. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, my uncle had a Nissan or Datsun small pickup; this visit, a Ford Ranger. The Camry that Mike and I drove to Portland from Minnesota was long gone.
It was great to visit with my aunt and uncle. Not that we are particularly close, but with Clarice, my grandmother and Mike’s mother, now having passed, Mike no longer has a strong reason to come back to Minnesota. Visiting when I am there way is a chance to connect with what few close-relatives that I have.
We went to dinner – just the three of us – at some place in Portland. I actually, for the brief amount of time it took to get to the restaurant, did not pay attention. I have no recollection of the restaurant’s name. I just recall having grilled salmon and a salad (without the bacon dressing) and for dessert, a slice of the richest blackberry cheesecake I could have ever imagined. After dinner, we went back to the house and played a game of Rummikub. Reggie won. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I spent the night at Mike & Reggie’s house.
On the Road, Again.
Can’t wait to get on the road, again. I was up early the next morning. I did not sleep well. I think it was part antsy and impatience about heading to the coast in the morning – I wanted to get going, and part night after and night of being slightly on edge while sleeping in a strange or different place than my own house and bed.
The drive to the coast and Cannon Beach was the same as my previous four or five times there. The windy, hilly road through the Coast Range to Cannon Beach seemed familiar. Arriving in Cannon Beach, I parked in the same public parking lot I did in 2013. I walked down the same set of stairs at the end of west 2nd Street – onto the beach. I had the beach almost to myself. It was cold – I could see my breath. There was a marvelous, cold, salty wind coming from the ocean. The tide was still somewhat low, having been at the low mark around 6:00am – it was now 9:00am. I wandered the beach for a time, taking pictures of waves crashing and seagulls walking on and flying close to the beach. By 10:00am, a few shops had opened up. I grabbed a hot Americano at a coffee shop, and wander the town a bit. Cannon Beach, for me, would be a marvelous town to live in. I would simply need to get used to tourists. Though, at the moment, I was a tourist. A stop at a shirt shop for something-Cannon-Beach for Melissa, and a swing through the grocery store; it was time was to head east. I had made it as far west as I was going to make it on this trip. Coffee, photos, souvenir, food – check, check, check, and check. Twin Falls, Idaho seemed like a rough target to target for the day’s necessary travel. Nine and a half hours – 650 miles – plus stops for bathroom breaks and photography, I would also be passing back into Mountain Time, and therefore losing an hour. Maybe eleven and a half hours (with the timezone change). I swung through Seaside, Oregon, to fill-up with gasoline, and east on US Highway 26. Good bye ocean, good bye Cannon Beach.
Portland passed in the rearview. I stopped at the wayside rest to get a few photos of Multnomah Falls. Through the Cascades along the Columbia Gorge and back into the rain shadow on the east side. Dry and hot. Much warmer than west of the Cascades. Wind turbines dotted the horizon across the river – either the Columbia or Snake.
I had never been in southern Idaho, let along anywhere south of Coeur d’Alene. I have seen the panhandle – or passed through it; when we took the Empire Builder to Portland in 2004, those tracks actually head to the north of Coeur d’Alene – through Bonner’s Ferry and Sandpoint. The southwestern part of Idaho was new to me. I had mistakenly thought that southern Idaho would be vast vistas of potato fields. The smell of french fries on the air.
It is mostly high desert. In the lower valleys, you will pass fields of potatoes and other crops, but in the high country, it is dry and barren – few if any trees.
I kept driving. I pulled over at a vista-lookout. It was nice to stretch my legs and take some photos. There were two cars parked near me. A woman and a little girl stepped out of one of the cars, they looked around. The woman began speaking to the girl – in German. I think they were talking about me. When I heard the word Minnesota, it was a dead give away. They were talking about me.
Excuse me, sir, where is Minnesota? The woman asked me as she looked at the license plate on the Subaru.
I replied with, Miles or Kilometers? She said she actually lived in Portland, so, miles would be fine. Roughly 1,700 miles to the east of Portland – at least that is the distance I will need to drive to back to St. Paul, where I live.
She thought on that for a few seconds, and replied with, We’re driving to Boston, so, St. Paul is over half way to Boston, then?
The others from the other car were now getting back into vehicles. I bid the woman and the girl, AufWiedersehen, and I got back into my car.
Twin Falls. Could I make Twin Falls before sun down? I called Melissa to find out if she could find any hotels in the Twin Falls area that were not too expensive. Supply and demand for a place with clean sheets, an interior door (e.g. not a motel) and under my “acceptable rate for a room” dictated to that question a solid no. Melissa found, in Twin Falls, nothing under $250 a night, most were more. There seemed to be a few motels, but expanded her search into the surrounding towns. Jerome, Idaho, had rooms available at a few hotels. The rates were acceptable, too. Melissa booked a room. I continued to drive east. Boise came and went. I remembered that the woman who spoke German at the vista-view had mentioned to the little girl that they were stopping in Boise for the night. That’s just six and a half hours from Portland. They certainly were not going for distance or going for speed. Six and a half hours of driving in one day? I was targeting 9 to 11 hours each for the drive back to Minnesota, and I thought that was “going light” on time and miles traveled.
The exit for Jerome was approaching, and the sun was going down. A couple wrong turns, and then a U-turn, and I found the hotel off of an unlit, recently paved road. The hotel was new. By this point, I did not care. I needed to stop moving, wind down, and get some sleep. With the sun now down, the air temperature dropped. It had been near 90 but it was now down into the 70s. It was nice. I headed to my room in the hotel.
Now and again, I go venturing. Some times by train, sometimes by plane, but more often, automobile. West coast, east coast, the Bible belt, back to the Iron Range, northern Europe, Canada, Japan or Vietnam. I tacitly wander. It feels good to have a place to call home, though. But, for short periods of time – I like to wander. As a kid, our family would drive from Hibbing, Minnesota, to Longmont or Boulder, Colorado, now and again. My mother’s sister and her family lived there. The drive seemed impossibly long. Spread-out over two days, we would spend the night in Nebraska – Grand Island or North Platte. My father was, and often still is, impossibly impatient. In the 1980s, with the National Maximum Speed Law (NMSL) still in place, being in a vehicle as my father pushed it – a Chrysler minivan or Ford Bronco II – up past 70 mile per hour seemed fun and exciting. He was beyond irritated when he was pulled over for speeding.
Traveling, as a child, with the exception of a circle tour around Lake Superior in the early 1990s, always involved traveling to family. In 1998, a month before my 18th birthday, my mother’s brother, Mike, needed to get a 1997 Toyota Camry from Hibbing to Portland, Oregon. The car had been my grandfather’s. It was still traveling with family, but it felt different. One way or another, I convinced my mother that I should be allowed to go with Mike. I’d be helping by being able to drive. To add to the how the hell did I manage that category, I secured a one way ticket back to Minnesota from Portland. I’m not certain who actually paid for the ticket.
Using MapQuest to plot our route, we printed off our travel plans, packed a bit of food and headed west. Hibbing to Glendive, Montana, is about a nine hour drive. No cellphone – we used pay phones along the way if needed or a phone card. Mike and I switched off driving midway in North Dakota. For a seventeen year old who had never done any long-haul drives before, four and half hours behind the wheel was tough. Glendive to Wallace, Idaho (where there is a Bordello Museum and a silver nugget “as big as a steering wheel”). Similarly, we switched driving midway. From Wallace, thru the the Columbia River Gorge into Portland.
Four years earlier, NMSL had been fully repealed. A boon for states’ rights proponents. Montana, shortly there after, enacted a during-daylight speed limit of “Reasonable and Prudent” (little did I know that “Reasonable and Prudent” would be struck down later that year by the Montana Supreme Court for being “unconstitutionally vague”). A seventeen year old me, no parents, and an uncle with a known wild streak riding shotgun — hell yes, I was going to see what that Camry could do on the open roads of Big Sky country. I nearly panicked when I passed a Montana highway patrol. He was clipping along at 90 miles per hour; I was doing 105. He did not care, 105 must have been Reasonable and Prudent enough for him. On this trip, I saw an ocean for the first time in my life. The waves and tide around Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach. Seattle with Pike’s Place Market, the Monorail, and the Space Needle. It was a cornucopia of things-Pacific Northwest.
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Two years later, my sister had just finished her undergraduate academic career, and would be starting her doctoral academic career in the fall. She wanted a road trip. Replace wild-streak-uncle with high-energy sister, and replace 1997 Camry with a 1998 Dodge Stratus (“forest green” no less), and needing to drive back to Minnesota instead of flying – the trip was exactly the same, just different. Even with “Reasonable and Prudent” no longer in play, we still drove fast. Meghann, tells the story of slowly waking up from napping in the passenger seat, having the sensation that we were “moving quickly,” realizing that I had a cassette tape in the tape deck – playing Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” – in her version of the story, I’m singing along with the music; she glanced at the speedometer – 100 – and calmly asked me, “Are we going 100 miles per hour?” Putting on a thick layer of bullshit and likely channeling our late grandfather, Charlie, I quickly dismissed the question with, “No, no, it must be the angle that you’re looking at the speedometer.”
Wallace, Idaho, the Columbia River Gorge, Seattle – Pike’s Place Market and the Space Needle – all the places that Mike and I had ventured – Meghann and I were now seeing these same places. Speeding through Montana on the way back to the Midwest, we passed through clouds of birds with the Stratus. Stopping in Fargo to drop Meghann off at her apartment also afforded a trip through a car wash to remove bird bits.
Between the time Meghann and I ventured out to the west coast and the near present, there was plenty of travel. Melissa and I drove several times to New Hampshire and the East Coast when my sister was residing there. A drive to North Carolina over a long weekend to pickup a dog. Train trips to both coasts – Melissa was able to see Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock in person. And of course, the somewhat epic trip that Andy B. and I took to the Arctic Circle (or Andy’s version). That trip took a similar path as previous westward trajectories but took a hard right in Bozeman, Montana and nearly 2,500 miles to the northwest into Canada.
Aside from driving up to the Iron Range to visit my parents and work on things on the familial land, road trips have been sparse since the Canadian & North Carolinian venturing. In April, I made the drive from New Bern to Chapel Hill, NC (and back) – but this had a similar distance and time to that of the drive from St. Paul to the Iron Range.
Earlier in 2016, word from Andy B. (now living outside Seattle) was he and his long time girlfriend were going to be getting married. I looked at plane tickets – it would have been the sensible thing to do, but that perennial itch to drive somewhere crept into my consciousness. Maybe I should drive solo to Seattle? I started to look at routes. I will reiterate that the sensible thing to do would have been fly, spend nearly six days in the Seattle/Portland area and split the remaining single-day’s amount of time for sensible, efficient air travel.
I did not do that.
I set my sights on Great Falls, Montana for the first night, and Federal Way, Washington (just outside Seattle, where the wedding would take place) the next day. I left St. Paul at 4:00am on a Thursday. The first four hours to Fargo, North Dakota, seemed to go quick enough. SiriusXM in the car, ample music on my iPhone. Entertainment options were covered. No using MapQuest this time, either. I believe I had at least three GPS enabled devices with me. Jamestown, Bismarck, Dickinson, a stop near Belfield and Medora at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and its Painted Canyon.
Heading west, you gain an hour for each new time zone. Great Falls, like the rest of Montana, is in Mountain Time. I rolled into Great Falls around 8:30pm local time. Getting to Great Falls involved taking Montana Highway 200 for 350 miles, starting from Glendive. Two lanes stretching out in front of you, just a ribbon of road dropping off the horizon miles ahead of you. This road reminded me of the Dempster Highway in Yukon. A lonely strip of road, few if any roads that crossed it. Very few other vehicles. Unlike the Dempster, there were a few towns along the road. Circle and Lewistown. Little towns that reminded me of the Iron Range. Pickup trucks, four-wheelers and abandoned gas stations. Great Falls had the feeling of Jacksonville, North Carolina. A military town – Malmstrom Air Force Base to the east. Jacked up trucks with out of state license plates, pawn, tobacco and vape shops. It was still a nice little city. There was a festival of some kind going on in Broadwater Bay Park.
Up and out and on the road by 6:30am the following day. Great Falls was waking up. Traffic was light. Instead of the predominate direction – west – that I had been taking, it would be south for a short time. Helena, the state capitol of Montana was my first stop of the day. I needed to pickup Andy & Jen a card – something from Montana, as Montana is where they both went for their undergraduate degrees (in Bozeman, but I was not headed through that city) as well as that’s where they met each other.
The distance of Hibbing to Duluth, Great Falls to Helena is about an hour and twenty minutes. It was still early, but prior to my departure, I had looked up gift shops in Helena. General Mercantile. It markets itself as a Gift Emporium, Espresso Bar & Tea Room. It opens at 8:00am on weekdays. It fit the bill for me. I perused the many shelves of chotskies and eventually found my way back to the cards. I picked out a nice card, printed in Missoula, with a print of Monte Dolack’s “Mirage” on the front side. An Americano from the espresso bar for me, a card for to-be-weds, and I was on the road once again. Helena and part of the city that General Mercantile was located in, felt sort of like a Minnesota river town. A larger version of Cannon Falls, Hastings, or even Lanesboro. Onto the Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana and Idaho.
The panhandle of Idaho is just mountains. The interstate is a series of curves, inclines and declivities. The exit for Wallace zipped by, as did Kellogg and Smelterville, Coeur d’Alene with the lake that shares the same name. Post Falls where the northern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene drains into the Spokane River.
Comparing eastern Washington and the part west of the Cascades is a juxtaposition of both climate and way of life. Eastern Washington could only be more different if they decided drive on the left side of the road and go full-metric. But, they will not. Eastern Washington is ranch land with near desert conditions. The politics of the region fit more with that of the panhandle of Idaho than that of the western part of the state. West of Spokane, and you will find vast, open stretches of country and road. Along the sides of the, you will see hay bales stacked high – covered with tarps. I passed numerous Trump for President signs, as well.
About eights hours from Great Falls by way of Helena, the landscape starts to change over from browns and tans of the rain shadow of the Cascades into the greener foothills and slopes of the Cascades. Thru Snoqualmie Pass, and the interstate widens out to three lanes then four lanes heading west.
Onto Washington Highway 18 near Snoqualmie, WA, heading southwest to Federal Way. Melissa had called me earlier in the day to say that the hotel in Federal Way that I would be staying at had called and informed her that they had upgraded my room to a king suite; I guessed they needed my original room for a block of rooms for large grouping of people.
I checked into the hotel and dragged my camera equipment, backpack + laptop, food cooler, and suitcase up to my room. A quick shower, a change of cloths – I had been wearing the same thing for the past two days – and I was off to the rehearsal dinner in Issaquah, Washington.
The highlight of the evening, aside from seeing Andy’s parents (who no longer live in Hibbing, but instead, live in South Carolina) and watching people play Kubb, was watching Jen & Andy saw off a log with a two person saw. It was symbolic of what a marriage will be – two people, working in tandem, trying to tackle life’s challenges. Two days, 1,700 miles of road, driven solo, and I had made it to my destination. The wedding would be the next day, in the evening, at the Pacific Bonsai Museum.
My parents generally do not travel out from their house after dark. On the Iron Range, where they live, in late December, it gets dark rather early. This means it is rare for them to leave their house after 4:30pm.
A few weeks ago, Melissa and I traveled up to Hibbing; my sister was in from North Carolina. I can’t remember the exact reason, but after dinner and after sundown, we all ventured thirty-minutes north to the familial land. Overcast, but not too cold, it was grand to be in the taiga at night. We stomped around a bit, and then headed back to town.
After that bit of post-sunset pioneering, and several days later, my mother got the idea that she wanted a bonfire, at night, on or very near the winter solstice. She dropped the idea of me coming there for a solstice fire via email…many times.
I ended up taking the twenty-first off from work; hound-Henry and I drove up on the twentieth. The fire was not exactly on solstice – we had it after dark, on the twentieth – but it was close-enough for my mother. The morning of the twenty-first, we returned to the woods to survey the remains of the fire and to pickup a memory card from a trail camera.