I had called ahead for a taxi to pick me up at 4:45 this morning (they guessed I was going to Logan), and they called, and arrived, a bit early. Luckily I was ready (I had no appetite for breakfast at that hour), and even managed to stay awake all through the rainy drive. Still a good number of people on the road. Small wait for an auto check in kiosk, and then a long wait for security - lots of people flying out around 6:30, it seemed. I was there around 5:20, picked up a naked juice for my breakfast and boarded soon after getting to my gate.
The group of three sitting near me, but split up, asked me to trade with the lone woman in the row behind. She was actually all by herself and I was slated for the middle seat in my row, so I was all for it. I had a really good vegan breakfast (mashed potatoes mixed with veggies, formed into a patty and lightly fried, it was spiced with tumeric and cumin I think) United still gets my vote.
The flight was on and off bumpy, I stretched out and slept for a bit though. They played Spiderman 2 and The Terminal, didn't watch either (first futzed out), but read Kushiel's Avatar most of the way.
Got to SFO and called Amy, she would leave then (10:15am) to come and meet me at the Firewood Grill in the International Terminal. I walked over, it's a nice new terminal, very high ceilings, wide corridors, I didn't feel at all cramped waiting for her in the hall across from the grill. It was counter service at that time of the morning, so we went up and she treated me to lunch (and she got parking validation out of it :) ). We had a good chat, though my left ear was still plugged from the descent into SFO (oh, so painful, stupid cold). It was good to see her again before she takes off to Houston.
I walked back to terminal 3 - since I was going through Customs and Immigration in Vancouver there was no need to quarantine me in the International Terminal I guess. I was in that peculiar state of desperation that a person with a streaming head cold reaches when they're on their last few tissues and about to board a plane - I tried to call Cris to have him bring another box of tissues to the airport when meeting me, but couldn't get through. I got a window seat this time, with no one beside me, so it was a relaxed ride, even though I was rationing my tissues. The captain pointed out Mt. St. Helens under our right wing, and I was on the right side to see the smoke rising from the centre of the crater - I could see the broken lip and the bump in the centre, it was great.
I had a bit of a wait for my bag in Vancouver, but the nice woman at Immigration untangled my sleep deprived story of our road trip without suspicion and let me into my home country. Cris was waiting for me and we headed to his apartment - he was driving his new car. :)
I got in touch with my sister after her class, we agreed to meet at The Naam, and I emailed Marc to let him in on the plan. I took a shower and then hit a grocery store on 4th street so I could get some tissues with lotion and allergy pills. We passed Zulu records, but even with time to kill, avoided it so that our wallets wouldn't get drained. The grocery store was across from a series of shops: meat, veggies, books, bread, fish - we wondered why we don't live here. :) No reservations were taken at Naam, so we lurked for a table after browsing a magazine store. I bought a copy of Magnet for a Tom Waits interview from the nice clerk, he was reading in the window nook when not serving us.
Marc arrived first after we were seated, and we tried to brace the tippy table, but there were some spills as we all got settled. Sue and Jake arrived just after 6:30 and we were complete. Sue brought a candle holder as a belated housewarming present. We chattered away for a good 1.5 hours, world politics, geography, movies, books. Jake had a group of friends that was also going to be eating there, so we cleared out at 8 and lost him to them. Pointed out the car that we're going to drive across country and said our goodbyes.
We went back to the apartment, read for a bit, trying to shift time zones, and was asleep around 10pm.
Woke up at something like 6am, but managed to doze a bit until 7, then just got up. Cris made me breakfast (cheese omelette), we ate with his dad, sipped OJ (my throat wasn't nearly as raw this morning, the naked juice yesterday had burned going down), and made tea. Cleaned up the bedroom and brought two loads of stuff down to the car. His dad came down the second time (he'd bought us bottles of water for the trip) to buzz us out of the garage, and we were off at 8:48am, with Cris driving.
We had a quick drive to the border, it's only about an hour away, but we had a 20min line up once we hit it. They waved us in to sort out the importation, the officer was pleasant and glad Cris had all the papers in order. They did the appraisal through cars.com, it came out higher than expected, but they let us through, so 2.5% on an unexpected few thousand more wasn't too bad (I suspect that the mileage was a bit low in their estimate). We pulled over to a gas station so I could use the facilities and Cris could call all and sundry to let them know we'd made it across the first hurdle. Verified directions to Brady's in Seattle and took a picture of Cris and his car, and we were off south.
The clouds were amazing, caught like cotton batting in the conifers on the hill sides, low but layered. I was fascinated and attempted to take a few pictures from the moving car. It was raining on and off through the mountains but it tapered off as we hit the city. We made good time to Seattle, arriving just before 1pm, our projected time. Brady and Jen were ready for us, plied us with hot apple cider, and gave us a tour of their lovely house - high ceilings, open plans, deck, back yard, greenery all around, with a cherry tree in the front yard. I finally noticed the ball python and the corn snake in their cages in the living room, but they didn't come out to play so I was fine just knowing that they were staying in one place. Gabriel couldn't make it, but Thomas and Alison showed up at around 1:20 bearing spicy shrimp kebabs, blue cheese potato salad, and veggie burgers. Brady put a salmon steak on the bbq, Thomas and I chatted on the back deck, catching up and breathing in the damp west coast air. I missed that smell. We moved inside to eat, and got to see the two couples finding commonalities and making plans, it was nice to bring them together. We had to leave around 3pm, so we said our goodbyes and hit the road, looping down to I90 direct instead of from I5. I took a picture of our starting point in the tunnel and the bridge we went over as we were leaving Seattle. We were on our way east.
Lots of mountains, clouds, rivers and trees as we went over the Snoqualmie pass, but once we reached the top, the landscape changed dramatically: tumbleweeds! Scrub brush dotted dry hillsides and the rain stopped. We crossed over a bridge and climbed up the other side of the Columbia river valley walls and stopped at Wild Horse Monument to take pictures and stretch our legs. Great view from there, with dusk just starting.
The sun went down as we continued on the way. We stopped for gas and I talked a bit with the friendliest attendant I've ever encountered. The washroom around the side was odd, the first stall was missing the door but it was other wise fine. I took over driving, and we used the seat position memory functions to set the seat configurations for quick adjustments when we changed drivers. There was one point where the road just rose up over a gentle hill to the horizon, ruler straight. Lots of semis on the road, not many cars until we got near to Spokane. We drove through, to our Holiday Inn Express on the east side of the city, just after 7pm, and walked into a lobby decorated for halloween. Got our room and freshened up a bit before heading downtown for dinner.
We had to circle a bit for parking, apparently Spokanites eat at 8pm as well. We were able to get a table at the Catacombs pub with a minimal wait. It was below an historic hotel site, in the former coal room. Wood stove, brick walls, wooden accents, and large metal chandeliers shaped like a wagon wheel. Dinner was okay, we didn't get the oktoberfest special, but bruschetta and pizza and tiramisu. We had leftovers, so we saved them for lunch tomorrow.
Back to the hotel, I was barely awake enough to put on pjs and collapse in bed, and fell sleep at 10pm, book in hand.
Woke up at 6am, tossed a bit and then got up and went downstairs to use the whirlpool and pool. Bliss - I soaked and pummeled out my driving aches. The floor was rough red brick and the pool was faced with blue tiles with a stylised flower design, reminiscent of the thermal baths in Budapest.
I went back up to the room to take a leisurely bath, then ran down for hot cinnamon buns from the free breakfast buffet. Then typed this up to today - had been too tired at night to do this yet. Plans to go to the Satellite diner for breakfast, then Fresh Bountiful Food for road trip supplies and hit the road to Gardiner Montana, stopping for the night just before Yellowstone.
Cris tried to get a day shot of the sign with "hamburgers by the bag full" as I drove us into downtown Spokane, hopefully it wasn't too blurry. We got to the Satellite diner as it opened at nine, we were the only customers until a couple of counter people came in. Very high ceilings, art on the walls, with an exposed kitchen, it reminded me of Medici in Chicago a bit. Had french toast and cream cheese - no fresh fruit to recreate the Milestones dish - and tried a bit of Cris' gravy thing - oh the starch. The bathroom didn't latch, must less lock, so I just washed my hands. Back onto I90, headed east, with me driving, skipping the grocery store as I don't think it was open yet.
We dipped off the highway at a bookshop with a billboard advertising 100,000 used books - I found the next volume in the "His Dark Materials" series, and again found a bathroom with no latch nor lock. No receipt for my book, very laid back staff, a view of the mountains out the front door of the shop, and it was located on the single street of the town. We were in Idaho for about an hour then began the trek across Montana. It rained a lot that first bit, and was quite mountainous, I was tightly gripping the wheel all the way. We picked up groceries in Missoula, grabbing bagels and apples and granola to stock the car. We ate leftover pizza for lunch, in the car. We stopped in Deer Lodge Montana to go to the Old Prison Museums and gawk at the 120 antique and classic cars in the auto museum. We got to Livingston, Montana at around 6pm, turned out we'd crossed into Mountain time so we were an hour behind, but ah well. Had a lovely dinner at the Livingston Bar and Grill - a painter had moved from California out here and his work adorned the walls - I liked the one of bison hunkered down on a snowy plain. The seared scallops were great but they'd scattered walnuts over the greens and cranberries, and I ate one by mistake - luckily, I had an allergy pill on hand and it was a mild reaction.
Drove for another hour, off the highway now, on a two lane road south to Gardiner, at the northern entrance to Yellowstone. The two lane highway was posted 70 mph for daylight, 55 for night, so Cris took it slow. We saw deer by the side of the road, flashing into view as our headlights hit them. The hotel was right on the highway, we checked in and crashed around 10pm again. I was a bit freaked out by the three stuffed elk busts guarding the entrance stairs by our room - they were huge.
We slept a bit later today due to the time change, until 7:30. Got dressed and checked out then hit the Yellowstone Mine restaurant for breakfast, as it was attached to the hotel. The blueberry pancakes were okay, but were a bit dry and needed the syrup. Turned out that the darkness last night had hidden the mountains right behind the hotel, they were peeking out of the mist this morning.
We went around the hotel and found that those mountains were in Yellowstone. We paid our $20 car fee and began the trek toward Old Faithful. We got to Mammoth Hot Springs first, and saw female elk grazing on the grass around the welcome center and general store. We didn't stop, but pressed on to Norris. We wound through gulleys, up mountains, and it started to snow. 20 miles or so, we wound along a two lane road, past the twin lakes and beaver lake and swan lake, and saw Canada geese hanging out on the water. By the time we got to Norris, snow tires were required, so we took the side road to hit the Steamboat Geyser (impressive even at minor eruption) and emerald sulfer pond. I took a quick bathroom break at a hole in the ground surrounded by a shack - the snow was seeping in, it was chilly - and then we headed back to Mammoth Hot Springs before they closed that raod. The east entrance was closed, we'd already figured we'd have to backtrack, but the road past the north east entrance was closed as well, so we totally retraced our steps to Livingston. Which was worth it as we got to see what we missed last night. We stopped at the Mammoth Hot Springs first to take pictures, and watched a woman play "look at me" by walking over the dangrous ground to dip her hands in the hot spring as her husband ignored her. The hill was sculpted into terraces, a miniature recreation of that scene in "Chronicles of Riddick" when he's jumping from ridge to ridge. But mostly, the landscape reminded us strongly of Middle Earth - hi, we're big geeks. :)
We'd seen bison by the side of the road yesterday, today was the day of the deer. Also saw some proghorn antelopes, and some resting bull elks just inside Yellowstone. Lots of sheep and cows, and some lamas bounding along a hillside. As it got darker, we had to stop twice for pairs of deer to cross in front of us.
We were a bit behind, so as we got back to I90 at 1pm, Cris made up peanut butter sandwiches for us to eat as I drove us onward. It was spitting a bit, but cleared up as the day went on, and we saw huge vistas opening before us. We saw the first signs for Wall Drug. Lots of spots where they could close the road down in case of storms we guess. We were away from the West Coast and entering the West. I was trying to get us to Devil's Tower before it got dark, but I just barely made it with some light in the sky to see it silhouetted against the deep blue. It was very spooky. An owl lofted across the road at one point as well. Cris drove us back and through to the end point of the small highway that we took to angle off and back to I90, till we reached Spearfish. We ate at the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant (the family dinner place across the street had no cars in its lot, so we peeled out and went across the street to the other establishment that had advertised on I90), and it was pretty good - lots of golden dragons and phoenixes chasing pearls on the ceiling. Finally made it to Deadwood, and wound through the kitchy cowboyness and tourist trapism of it to our Super 8. We were informed that the pool and hot tub heaters were on the fritz, but that the casino was open 24 hours. Ran back to the car twice (forgot water, then my camera), and then wrote this up.
We woke up later yet again, but had time for a shower and were checked out by 9am. The desk clerk recommended First Gold for breakfast, we packed up the car and headed back down to Deadwood. We circled a couple of times, passing Gold Dust, Gold Diggers, etc before finding First Gold. I had the 79 cent breakfast - it was decent: two eggs, toast, hashbrowns. I put a dollar in one of the slots - there casinos everywhere, it was like Vegas lite dropped into the wild west - and squandered my couple of quarters payback in a second macine.
I could see the bones of a old west town under the gloss of a tourist trap, but I had to squint really hard.
We drove up the steep slope to Boot Hill, the Mount Moriah cemetery, and saw the reseting placing of Wild Bill Hickock, and Calamity Jane, and deer browsing on the hill by the parking area. We stopped in at the grocery store for more apples and water, and Cris got a new pair of sunglasses to replace his forgotten ones. His regular glasses should be Fedexed to Chicago by tomorrow - they were forgotten in Spokane.
Back through the town and on to Mt. Rushmore. It took a bit to find the right way, as we took a Streets and Trips "shortcut" through a windy side road in the Black Hills National Forest that wound around a train track, crossing and recrossing it. The surrounding conifers were really beautiful though, and we saw lots of outcroppings of stone, most incorporated into farm fences. Once we hit the town at the bottom of the mountain, Keystone SD, most likely approaching from behind the carvings, we saw lots of "Rushmore View" type names on the hotels but no carvings. We finally spotted the signs and made it up there, paid for parking, took a few pix. Lots of man made stone structures obscured the peak from casual view. THe flags of each state, four to a column plus the union entry date carved into the side supporting the flag, marched up from the visitor centre to the view point. Nice view over the start of the flat lands from up there too.
Back up toward I90, spotting turkeys by the side of the road. We stopped in by Beautiful Rushmore Cave for a tour which kept extending from the advertised hour due to people being added to the group as we were paused at the first room. The ribbon calcite formations were cool, trailing along the ceiling, though I was getting claustrophobic by the end. We saw a few columns, and lots of broken formations that were handled by the first wave of unsupervised spelunkers. They pointed out unaugmented caves leading off from the worked trails, requiring squeezing through small openings to get to further caves.
We were back on I90 for about an hour, then turned off at Wall Drug for lunch. I took a picture of the stuffed bison since I was bummed I'd not seen any yet beyond the few by the road side - we weren't able to cross the northern route in Yellowstone were herds were supposedly lurking. Then it was down along the Badlands bypass on 240. That was $10 I didn't mind spending for the car pass, it was wonderful. We saw big horn sheep, and Cris spotted a rabbit. We stopped often to take pictures, winding along the rim and down among the striated sandstone. We got a good view of the flat plains awaiting us. There was a huge formation that looked like the perfect location for an evil overlord's dark castle. Patches of grass grew on the flat tops of some of the cliffs, and we walked out on overlooks with cliffs plunging down to the plains far below us.
Cris finished up his tank of gas around dusk, and I took over for the last 200 miles. We switched to cds of This American Life and Neil Gaiman reading his stories and it worked wonderfully to keep us alert on the long straight stretches through the plains. We passed a camel with a herd of horses (*blink* was that a camel?), and some antelopes.
We finally made it to Sioux Falls around 10pm, checked in, then went out to Granite City Brewery for food - appetisers only since the kitchen was closed by then, but they were filling. We watched the last inning of game 6 of the Sox vs the Yankees on the tvs dotting the eating area, and saw the Sox win. The whole crowd at the bar cheered. Drove back to the hotel, and wrote this up before collapsing into bed.
Sioux Falls still smelled like manure this morning, which was explained as we soon passed a sign for the stock yards. We packed up and went downstairs to eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Our waitress kept stopping and asking us if we needed anything without actually facing us, she'd stand with her shoulder to us. Food was okay, I made up tea. We were a bit late getting on the road (every day was slotted to start at 9am), I started up the car at 10:12am. I had a quick trip back to the highway, and we popped in the Feynman lectures, and a Gaiman CD. Also listened to the cd of Greatest American Non-required Reading. We started off with radio though (MPR as we quickly passed into Minnesota), as Cris forgot to put the cartridge into the player. We passed some baby lamas soon after Cris took over, and the cuteness was unstoppable. We stopped at a rest area to load the cartridge, again for gas in Rochester, and Cris drove from there. We passed over the Mississippi into Wisconsin and the geography changed from the flat plains to one with many more trees, and rolling hills. We were in the east, with a shocking increase of traffic. I'd taken miles to pass a lone car in South Dakota, after taking a half hour to catch up to it.
We took a detour off of I90 at Wisconsin highway 12 and found the Hustler cheese shoppe. We got some fresh made cheese from the shop associated with the cheese making factory. It was a nice detour, on small roads, though we got caught behind a school bus letting off high school students at one point - but it was a shorter wait than the train that cut us off in Wall with another train not moving until the first cleared.
We called Jordan as we approached Madison at 5pm, and again as we got into Chicago and hit traffic. Traffic and tolls were heavy, it was disconcerting to see after two days of very very light traffic. We made it to her place, went out for sushi at Blue Fin and ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery, back at 10pm, brought up her new futon and made up our futon and headed to sleep early.
Found out that the Boston Red Sox won game 7 and are going to the world series. Boston is going to be nuts, and my office is right behind Fenway Park.
We walked up the street to the Chicago Historical Society. There was a neat photography exhibit of the works of Declan Haun, he'd covered a lot of the civil rights movement. I really liked his series on Charlotte, there was one of a cat on a porch that was really well done. We browsed through the historical Chicago sections (suffrage, the original fort) and then breezed through the Teen Chicago exhibit upstairs - quite detailed and modern looking, it covered a lot of living history through interviews with people of different ages. It was close to 4 at that point, so we collected our bags and walked back to the dealership. We had a bit of a wait as someone had put down the wrong colour on the claim slip (there were tons of cars going in and out of there). Back to Jordan's and we hung out until 7 when I went down to let Krista in and Jordan came home. Jordan drove us a bit farther north to Ixcapuzalco and JV joined us after a bit. The reservation I'd made wasn't needed, there were three tables full at peak business. We had a good dinner, spiced with wide ranging conversations. I think that only Krista and Jordan hadn't met before, though JV didn't remember meeting Cris at C10, which he was working. JV had ridden over and I got to scope out his Cannondale - lots of goth sticker all over it, and I envy him his disc brakes. Back to the apartment after dropping off Krista, and Jordan and I chatted for a while, tea and clothes and gossip. I stayed up to finish my book - to 1:30am unfortunately, and paid for it on Friday.
Woke up at 8am despite staying up till 1:30 the night before, got showered and out of the house by around 9, saying bye to Jordan and the cats (her room mate's one stayed with me while I showered, for compay and to drink the running water). Cris drove us over to Lou Mitchell's on Jackson, I had a wonderful waffle drowning in cooked blueberries, plus a glass of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Cris' banana pancakes looked good too. Then he got us to a gas station, got burned on the price again (whenever it's my turn to fill up I always seem to luck out in small towns and find it 40c/gal cheaper than he does). Then I drove to Cleveland.
I stopped to make up a thing of tea, as my eyes were drifting. We listened to my new cds and the second volume of Best Non-required American Reading (we heard a long story about Coach in Berlin, OH followed a short thing about cliques by David Sedaris that was dead on). I gave Seph a call, but she was out, so we didn't detour to her place. We pulled off at Toledo and found the Erie St. Market, a permanent flea market with a small Italian deli. Got sandwiches that were pretty good and filling, and watched a woman direct two men in setting up a table selling sewing stuff - this was at 5pm, the building closed down at 6:30, I was a bit puzzled. I snapped a quick picture of the 6 foot tall frog dressed as Carmen Miranda and we were on our way.
The miles clicked down to Sandusky, the sky clear and the sun shining, and signs for Cedar Point beginning to appear. I followed them, parked in the growing crowd of cars, and spotted the Top Thrill Dragster running. We were going to ride it this time, last time we came, it was raining lightly and we were denied. There was a long line to get tickets, but the guy two in front of us gave us a 2 for 1 coupon, so we got a deal for the wait. We had pulled up around 6:30, it had opened at 6, and we had an hour wait for the ride. They were doing halloween weekends, so people were in costume, dry ice was drifting, and there were fake graves for old coasters, and skeletons dressed up as a rock band neat the Dragster.
The ride was awesome. The acceleration phase is the scariest part, it's on the level (I screamed all through this), but once you're up to 120mph you just drift up the 420 feet, nothing between you and the stars but 42 stories less of atmosphere than normal, and the plunge down was gorgeous, with a gentle twist. I was able to relax and go with the flow and it was euphoric. Worth the 1.5 year wait. :)
It was 8:30 by the time we got back to the car, I continued driving, on 2 to 90 and then up to the hotel Intercontinental Suites in Cleveland. Annoying kids in the lobby ended up being on our floor. We were at the end, it seemed insulated enough (it was). Nice big room, but only webtv or dial up for internet access. We ate a snack in the restaurant - arugula salad works well with baby tomatoes, asparagus and artichoke hearts. Then wrote this up before taking advantage of the big bath tub and the Lush bath bomb I'd been hoarding for this night. The view outside the window was less than inspiring - two parking garages. Home tomorrow, but it's a long long day.
Cris drove us to Buffalo, and there were lots of colourful autumn leaves on the trees lining the highway. He pulled us into the Anchor pub and we got wings at the "original home of Buffalo wings". Despite getting the medium hot ones, they were pretty mild, but good. I got us turned around (aka lost), and we went through Lakawanna before hooking back up on I90.
We left Buffalo around 2pm, I drove through to 5:30, and pulled into a service area as it was getting dark. We grabbed ice cream and Cris got coffee, we ate in the car before leaving the parking lot as we got cups instead of cones. I managed to direct us around the Albany detour so we didn't have to stop for toll booths, and we finally crossed the border into our last state, home in MA at last. A driver cut us off. Cris went back to Boston driving techniques and got us home safe. We listened to 2 CDs of Poe as read by Vincent Price as we wound over the hills of western Mass. We pulled up at the house just before 10pm, looked at each other, breathed sighs of relief and kissed. The sense of surviving a fun ordeal was remarkably similar to the feeling I got as we coasted to a stand still at the end of our ride on the Top Thrill Dragster. We ploughed our way through the piled up mail, unloaded the car, called parents, and wandered aimlessly a bit. We declined to drive further and skipped a birthday party in Quincy, but we're okay with that.
Home at last, 5000km, 8 days of driving, and 13 states (and one province) later.