Monday, August 30, 2010

The Ongoing Adventures of Gil and Rebecca!

For those of you still alive and reading out there in bloggopia, stay tuned for upcoming narratives about:

* the building of a fence, with amazing interactions with our eccentric neighbors!
* a trip to the Oregon State Fair!
* a trip to the coast--one of us went surfing!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Two Maps Which Illustrate A Point

This map shows the most direct route from my house to Rebecca's, most of it on I-80. Google estimates it was about 2,800 miles and would take about 48 hours of continuous driving.

This was our actual route. 6.75 weeks on the road. 8,434 miles total.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The End (for now)

From the Davenport Hotel we loaded up Ulysses for his second to last push, a four hundred mile jaunt to the Olympic Peninsula. Did you know that Eastern Washington (like Eastern Oregon) is actually a desert? I didn't, but now I do. We got stuck in traffic driving around Seattle, but we made it safely to the Lake Quinalt Lodge after 9 hours in the car.

The buzz around town was that campsites were hard to come by in Olympic National Park, so I woke up very early the next morning and drove 16 miles out a gravel road to ensure that we got a site at the Haven Creek campsite, which was basically deserted. But at least I got to take a nice drive through the morning mist. Our campsite over-looked the Quinalt river and was surrounded by huckleberry bushes. (Note: did you know that huckleberries are one the most cherished food sources of the black bear, many of which make their home in Olympic National Park).

The author sampling some of the native huckleberries.

Olympic National Park has a couple of different things going for it. It advertises itself as being three parks in one. There are the glaciated peaks of Mt. Olympus, which we didn't see (we've seen some glaciated peaks already). There are several temperate rain forests, where enormous spruce and fir trees grow hundreds of feet into the air and everything is covered with moss and lichens; our campground was in one of those, and we went for a long hike into one on our second day in Olympic.

Light through trees on the Enchanted Forest trail.

Lunch by the Quinalt River.

Crossing a bridge over a creek on our way out.

There are also pristine beaches with forests running right up to their edges. We woke up early on our third day and drove three hours North to the Mora campground by Rialto beach. It was a good thing we got up early; by the time we got there (about 9:30 a.m.) there were only four sites left. On our way North we drove through Forks, WA, which we learned (about the time we arrived and started seeing vampire-related kitsch and advertising everywhere) is Twilight country. (What the hell is Twilight firewood for chrissakes!) We managed to avoid having our blood-sucked on our way to the beach.

Now the East-coaster in me has this vision of the beach: it's hot; it's crowded; millions of pounds of human flesh coated in sunblock are splayed out, exposed to scorching ultraviolet light; children build sand castles while small dogs try to remove their bathing suits; scantily clad teenagers walk and oggle and flirt; perhaps a band plays on the boardwalk. (We saw exactly this beach on Tybee Island on the fourth of July.) The beach in the Olympic National Park couldn't have been more different. It was cold. The people on the beach (and the beach was far, far from crowded) were all dressed in north face; many were carrying backpacks; a few people were camping. It was cloudy and gray (finally some Northwestern weather!) and enormous drift logs crowded the highwater mark on the beach.

Starfish in a tide pool at Second Beach.

The author getting ready to dip his feet in the Pacific, marking the end
of the transcontinental journey. It was very, very cold.

Self-timer on driftwood, Rialto Beach. The literature says that
driftwood logs in the surf can be "dangerous weapons that kill."


I am writing this from Vero Coffeehouse in Eugene, Oregon, a few blocks away from home. We arrived yesterday evening after a surprisingly grueling final day of driving from the Olympic Peninsula in Northwestern Washington. Who knew there would be so much traffic surrounding Portland and Salem? But we arrived, safe and sound, almost seven weeks after we left DC. We came 8,434.4 miles on this journey. As the crow flies from my house in Takoma Park to Rebecca's house in Eugene it's about 2,500 miles. Ulysses is in dire need of an oil change; he sounds like a 1967 VW Beatle. But he got us here and is resting peacefully in the driveway.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

BEARS! And the most beatiful place on earth...

I have written before about Rebecca's fear of bears. We have slept with bear spray, with knives, and for the last few nights in Glacier, with a Kryptonite U-Lock by our sides. We have walked down trails making all sorts of ridiculous noise (humming, singing, whistling, clapping, talking loudly), and we have tried to be conscious of where the wind was blowing to and from. We have been mindful of bear indicators--scat, fresh tracks, tree rubbings, and places where bears might feed (they are crazy about huckleberries and elk/moose carcasses).

Two days ago, 10 minutes into our ranger led hike up to Iceberg lake, we saw a bear. And not just any bear: a grizzly bear. (Or "Griz" as Ginny West, our faithful and much beloved Ranger referred to her.) And not just any grizzly bear: a cinnamon colored griz with not one, not two, but three cubs, which we learned from Ginny was extremely uncommon.

Now if you study the photograph you will see the trail we were walking on in the lower left corner of the image, and two insanely adorable (and much darker brown, almost black) cubs frolicking behind the bushes. The cinnamon griz was aware of our presence (as soon as we saw her all 20 of us clumped together and then backed the hell off), but didn't seem all that concerned about us. She ambled over the hillside, snacking on vegetation, guiding her cubs. She moved towards us several times, even coming onto the trail in our direction, causing us to clump further together and back further off. One of her cubs stood up on the trail on his little hind legs and stared at us with adorable animal curiosity. The cub looked like a prairie dog.

Ginny was on her radio, talking to the bear patrol down in the valley, advising them of the situation at regular intervals, and there was something profoundly comforting about the radio. Perhaps it was the notion that if the bear decided she was really hungry, a helicopter would shortly be on its way to pick up our scattered remains. After 15 minutes or so of intense bear watching (you would be amazed how easy it is for a very large brown bear to disappear behind a shrub and then reappear 20 yards closer to you), the bear and her progeny wandered down the hill. And that was it. We kept on moving up the hill to iceberg lake. News of the bear spread fast, and a couple of other hikers who had started out on the trail that day by themselves joined our group. By the time we got to the Lake, we had picked up another 8 hikers.

The lake itself (the destination of our hike) was the headland of an old glacier, one of the 150 or so that used to grind away at the mountains here 100 or so years ago. There are 25 glaciers left in the park. Most of the rangers here talk about when not if the glaciers will disappear. Interesting tidbit: the park isn't actually named for the glaciers themselves; it's named for the glaciated mountains that were left by the retreating glaciers. The lake was about 34 degrees, and there were large chunks of ice floating in it. And when we got to the top of the trail it was raining pretty heavily, and at 6,000 feet or so it was very, very cold. But none of those things stopped a group of teenage boys, egged on by their moronic uncle Chuck, from taking a dip. Ginny quipped: "I really don't want to have to lead a rescue."

I forgot to mention that Glacier is the most beautiful place on earth. The Blackfoot Indians, who originally sold the land that would become the park to the US, called the mountains here "the backbone of the world." And there is something very apt about the name.

A view of the valley from the high-line trail on our last day.

A view of the mountains on our way in on the Going-to-the-sun road.

Sunrise from our campground at St. Mary's.

A few other things of note about our time in Glacier. We saw the Johnson family (again), and they took us out for a fine dinner at the St. Mary's lodge(I had elk and bison chili), then we roasted marshmallows and watched the stars. The whole "big sky" Montana license plate is exactly true (although we're not sure the sky in Idaho is any smaller). The sky here is huge, and at night the sky is a dizzying array of blinking majesty and shooting stars and the milky way is perfectly visible. Our necks hurt from staring up for so long.

We drove the Going-to-the-sun road, which is also aptly named. As the story goes the laborers who built it in the early 20th century dangled off of cliffs on ropes to blast it out of the sides of the mountains. It offers some pretty amazing views of the valley and some amazing vertigo. On our way into the park we crossed the continental divide (for the second time); on our way out we crossed it again (for the third and final time on this squirelly adventure). There was a long, long line for photographs of the divide on our way out of the park, so instead of posing (again) we just took a picture of the line. We also passed the 7,000 mile mark and expect to hit 8,000 before we land in Eugene.

On our way out of the park we ran into a group (I almost wrote "flock") of wild mountain goats. I was surprised at how cute they were (I have eaten goat in Greece, and the Greek goats always seemed scraggly and scruffy and dingy and much less cute than these).

Baby goats are heart-breakingly cute.

I don't care for the whole "a picture is worth a thousand words" cliche, but if that's true then actually seeing glacier is worth a thousand pictures of it. Here are four more.
Coming down from Iceberg lake.
Self-timer on the high-line trail (note: we passed a man walking back on the trail who said: "This is not the trail for an acrophobe.")

Ice-cold lake and a clouded peak.

Peaks and waterfalls from the Highline Trail.

We're lounging it up in the Davenport Hotel in Spokane; on to Olympic National Park today. We should be in Eugene on Friday.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


We spent three night in Idaho. I hadn't ever been to Idaho before, so it existed in my mind as a flat, nebulous, vaguely mid-western state covered in a thick shellac of potato fields. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Sure there are many potato fields here (also wheat and sugar beets and alfalfa for hay), but there are also many, many mountains and big clear rivers and rolling desert foothills.

We started in American Falls, a welcome first stop after our days in the woods. We spent a lovely day with Neil and Marita, Rebecca's paternal aunt and uncle. They are building a house on, or really, in a hill just outside of American Falls, ID, about four hours east of Boise. The house uses a lot of reclaimed materials (check out the vaulted ceilings made of old grain silos) and will use a variety of sensible and ecological means to heat and cool the house. Rebecca and Marita and Neal did quite a bit of architectural talk during our extensive house tours--at least the part we could through walk because the tile had just been laid.

We went for a swim at the Indian Springs pool, which seemed like something out of a Norman Rockwell print. The pool was partially fed by a spring (thus the name) and the water flow through the pool allowed them not to have to use much, if any chlorine. Marita went down the water slide ("The lifeguards said it wasn't just for kids!"), and Rebecca and I floated around in a giant inner tube (after I accidentally kicked her in the head while capsizing it). Neil, who grew up in American Falls, gave us a tour of the town, complete with the old grain elevator poking its head out of the water of the reservoir. American Falls was one of the first towns ever to be relocated because of a dam engineering project.

The next morning we got the complete tour of the house (the tiles in the kitchen were done curing), went out and saw the Family farm, and then we set out to Massacre Rocks State Park to see the wagon ruts from the old Oregon Trail (you know, since theoretically this trips ends with us in Oregon). To get to the ruts, we walked under the interstate, and found ourselves for the first time ever standing between the two parts of a divided highway.

From there we cruised west to Boise, where my cousin Bo, his wife Gretchen, and their two kids Lyla and Henry live. We had a great time in Boise; we rode around the neighborhood with the kids; Bo and I went for a mountain bike ride, and Rebecca drove over to Middleton to check out Ben and Brenda's new restaurant (Ben and Brenda are Rebecca's cousins; lot of cousins in Idaho). It's been a long time since I've seen Bo (Lyla was a year or so, and Henry was still in utero), so it was good to catch up. Lyla is now six, and Henry is four. It was too bad we missed Gretchen, who was in Spokane on business, but since Eugene is only a day's drive from Boise I will be seeing much more of them in the near future.

We took the scenic route from Boise to Missoula following the Lewis and Clark trail up the Lochsa River and then over the Lolo Pass. It was a long, twisty and beautiful day of driving, following rivers the whole way (the Salmon, Clearwater and Lochsa). To our west was Hell's Canyon, which skirts the Oregon/Idaho border, and to our east was the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, one of the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48.

We are heading out for two nights in Glacier National Park, then on to Washington and, in a little less than a week, Oregon.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


We've made it to civilization after four days in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Coming to you live from the side of a hill in gorgeous American Falls, Idaho. I have never been to Idaho, and I feel right now like I have missed something great and powerful about the American landscape. Anyway. I'm sitting in a Subaru piloted by Neil, Rebecca's uncle, on the side of a hill near an old Ford Explorer that has a transmitter for internet.

There is really too much to tell you about our four days in the wilderness, and I don't want to keep everyone hostage in this car while I go on and on about our adventures with Bison (cause traffic jams), bears (generate anxiety but are generally hard to come by), boiling rivers (hot spring + cold river = awesome), long hikes into pristine wildernesses (Hellroaring creek, Lamar valley, Inspiration point), running into some fine Field folk in the Mammoth restaurant and then in our campground, and roasting donuts.

Instead I will give you 10 photographs, with captions, to try to capture something of the majesty we saw during our time in the woods. The photos here are presented in chronological order.

This is the boiling river, just inside the park boundary. We loved the experience (half of your body very hot, the other very cold) so much that we went twice.

A mineral deposit terrace around the mammoth hot springs. Side note: right before we went up to see the hot springs we saw a bunch of elk grazing outside of the gift shop and then ran into Dale and Carrie and Carl and Walt Johnson.

Self-timer taken on the Specimen ridge trail, above the Lamar valley. On this hike I actually got Rebecca to sing (or hum, really). We were trying to make noise to keep the bears away. Note that you will not see a single picture of a bear included here. We had bear spray, but no bears.

Did you know that the Yellowstone river had a grand canyon? This is it. Side note: there's this trail called Uncle Tom's trail that goes down about 3/4 of a mile to see the lower falls (it's basically straight down, and quite an invigorating hike first thing in the morning). We got quite a workout descending into the canyon.

I decided only to include one photograph of Bison, though we took many. There are many, many bison in Yellowstone, and they are easily viewable from (and on) the roads. The bears, however, are much less visible.

This is a view of the Hayden valley. Yes, there are bison in this picture, but what interests me is the game trails you see at the bottom of the picture leading into the valley. River's pretty to.

This is the Yellowstone river early in the morning. This was one of our last views of the river. Rebecca took a bunch photos of it with her fancy camera.

We crossed the continental divide on our way to the Tetons. We will cross it at least two more times before we get to Oregon. In other news: did you know that Idaho, where we currently sit, shares a border with Oregon, where we are headed? Next stop: Boise, then Montana, then Washington, then...Oregon.

A view of the Tetons from the trail we hiked up to Inspiration point. That's Jenny lake off to the left.

We found this creek on our way out, and lounged around by it, and I went for a swim and then took this arty photograph.

We survived our first adventure in bear country without a single encounter with a bear, but we will have many more opportunities when we hit Glacier in a few days. The sun has set here in Boise, and we're going to head back down the mountain to Neil and Marita's home-made house (about which more later) for a good night's sleep.