Great American Road Trip (08/2009 – 09/2009) [Part 2/3]

2009 December 8
by Jon

THU 09/03/09 – MON 09/07/09
Written 10/12/09 – 10/29/09

Thursday, September 3 - we arose at 6:30 as our hostess Sigrid headed out to work with her dogs. As I’d showered the previous night we got ready to go almost immediately. When we departed we discovered that it had rained overnight, though we hadn’t heard it. All of West Seattle was blanketed in a layer of mist that brought out snails by the dozen:



We packed up the car and headed out down toward a place Sigrid suggested for breakfast, the Alki Bakery along the shore:


Day 06 Stop 1 - Alki Bakery, West Seattle, WA
Daily total distance: 1.5 miles

Though it was already 7:30 on a weekday, it seemed as if Seattle was just waking up. We settled into the bakery and ordered our food. Becky got a delicious egg and cheese sandwich on a croissant and I opted for an awesome sweet roll:


Breakfast at the Alki Bakery

Probably the best breakfast we had on the entire trip. Becky noticed a mini Statue of Liberty peering into the Puget Sound across the street from where we sat:



Not sure why Alki has their own little Statue of Liberty, but I’m glad they do. Certainly the land mass surrounding it is more pleasant than Jersey City, NJ at least.

We headed on out of West Seattle (long-time home of Eddie Vedder, apparently) and up to Warren Magnuson Park along Lake Washington:


Day 06 Stop 2 - Magnuson Park, Seattle, WA
Daily total distance: 17 miles

Though it was rush hour on a weekday, traffic wasn’t bad at all and we made the 15-mile trip there across Seattle with very little trouble, arriving at about 10 minutes after 8. We parked along the shore and started walking north. Though Seattle famously gets a bit more rain than Boston (not a dramatic understatement: they really do only get slightly more rain than us East Coasters) the ground was covered in wispy, brown grass. Before long we came upon an old abandoned lakeside hut:


Salmon in the Shower

Salmon in the Shower

Whether that’s faded writing from the original business or well-done but aged graffiti we’ll never know (unless I Google it, I suppose), but we weren’t there for Salmon in the Shower anyway. We pressed on to the end of the park, where the people-walking section ends and a rather glorious dog park sprawls out to the north and west. Beyond that was our goal, the A Sound Garden installation, famous for inspiring the name of Pearl Jam. No, wait, Temple of the Dog. Or was it Alice in Chains? I forget. One of those bands from Seattle.

When we got there we presumed we could simply walk through the fencing, but were greeted with this:


Damn warblers

The art installation is on NOAA property, you see, and apparently access is restricted. And by “restricted” they apparently now mean “forbidden.” We could only long for it at a distance:


The Soundgarden hates us

It was looking California, but we were sure feeling Minnesota.

Initially I blamed nesting warblers for the breakdown in public access to one of our nation’s most grunge-worthy historical sites. I had no evidence for this but it seemed to fit. However, Wikipedia seems to suggest that access was restricted after 9/11 and that – if we were to get in at all – we’d need to “check in” and get visitors passes at the NOAA main offices a block away. Which sounds totally not worth it for frolicking amongst a big-ass sculpture and also about as tenuously rationalized as my choice of warblers as scapegoats. So, NOAA, I don’t think Chris Cornell is together with your plan.

Alright, I’ll stop now.

Despite the setback, we still got a great feel for Seattle. I mean, hell, huge-ass dog park, that’s good, right? And it just seemed a very relaxed and easygoing of a place, so we weren’t all that upset. We had one more stop to make, though, a couple miles down the road in the Freemont neighborhood:


Day 06 Stop 3 - Freemont, Seattle, WA
Daily total distance: 23 miles

Though Freemont is an artsy neighborhood with any number of attractions for us Young Folks, the one and only thing we came for was this guy right here:


The Freemont Troll

The one and only Freemont Troll, one of the most awesome pieces of urban art in existence.


The Freemont Troll

The Freemont Troll


Like all pieces of outdoor art – especially those in [shall we say] “high traffic” areas like underneath bridges (Becky said she saw a homeless dude sleeping behind the troll’s head) – he is slowly but surely decaying, though, as a result of weathering and vandalism. So we were glad we got a chance to see him and talk to him while he was still around. He said he’s sick of people saying “they look like big, good, strong hands, don’t they?” but otherwise he’s in good spirits. We left him a small child to eat and went on:


The Freemont Troll likes eating children

It was past 9:00 already and we were expected in southern Oregon that evening and so we decided it was best to hit the road. We didn’t have any trouble getting out of town on the highway south through Tacoma and so we cruised out of the Puget Sound area, stopping just outside Olympia to make a pit stop before heading toward Portland:


Day 06 Stop 4 - Olympia, WA
Daily total distance: 92 miles

We pulled off at Exit 102 off I-5 South around 10:20, taking a quick breather before the road straightened out. We continued south from there, crossing the Columbia River for the second time as we entered Oregon around noon. Unfortunately, we also hit inexplicable traffic right around then, too. For some reason, Portland had abysmal traffic that day at noon on a Thursday. Not sure why, but it didn’t give us a great first impression of Portland. Of course, I’m sure Portland is a city best viewed from outside a car, so I’m willing to give it another shot, I just found it interesting how stark a contrast we had in terms of experiences between Seattle and Portland, even though they’re strongly linked together in my New England mind.

The traffic forced us to re-consider stopping in Portland proper for lunch and instead we decided to keep going until we were clear into the suburbs to the south. We wound up stopping at a Wendy’s off Exit 283 in Wilsonville about a half an hour after having hit Portland:


Day 06 Stop 5 - Wilsonville, OR
Daily total distance: 220 miles

Knowing I was going to be subsisting on Hippie Grub for several days, I opted for a bowl of chili and a Baconator, for which they proceeded to ignore my request for no mayo, as is their wont at Wendy’s. Glad to see some things are the same no matter where you go. I guess.

This is all not to say things were without entertainment value there, though. There was this lovely sign in the bathroom instructing one to wash one’s hands in order to receive spaghetti:



There was also this guy outside dancing like he had ass in his pants:



Two things were evident when we observed him violently stomping the yard as we picked through the lunch hour rush back to the highway: 1) “We Like to Party” by the Vengaboys was playing on loop in that suit and 2) they were actually paying him in Ecstasy. Gotta find work where you can, I guess.

We pressed on down I-5, exiting in Eugene at 2:30 to make our way westward toward the Pacific Coast Highway, US Route 101. This, it would seem, was easier said than done. The route we chose was Oregon Highway 126, which seemed like both the most logical choice and also the one recommended to us by the resort’s website. Turns out that Oregon Highway 126 was an enormous den of extreme road work posturing and engineering, though, at least as of early September. The narrow road was often brought to one lane and, when it was, we’d have to wait for flaggers to let us go during alternating traffic. At one juncture we were actually stopped for 15 minutes. Not moving. Just sitting there while I pondered how far we would be right then had we decided to get out and walk. Oh, and when that wasn’t happening we were stuck behind a never-ending series of slow-moving RVs and trailers piloted by geriatric campers. It was, needless to say, beyond frustrating. Fortunately, we knew Becky’s parents would get stuck in the same trap coming from Eugene’s airport and so we weren’t tearing all our hair out. We finally hit US 101 at 4:00 and stopped for gas and a much-needed pit stop in Reedsport about a half-hour later:


Day 06 Stop 6 - Reedsport, OR
Daily total distance: 395 miles

All this is not to say that the Pacific Coast Highway was not without its charm once we got there. For one, it was mostly two lanes and towns were few and far between so traveling was much faster. And also there was this guy:



I mean, who doesn’t love gigantic two-story inflatable bears kicking the shit out of salmon? Communists, that’s who. And we’re no commies.

After narrowly missing our turnoff to the resort, we got there with little other else trouble at 6:15, literally seconds after Becky’s parents arrived:


Day 06 Stop 7 - Port Orford, OR
Daily total distance: 475 miles

This caused a bit of head-scratching on our part as we were behind Becky’s parents by a solid 15-20 minutes a couple hours previous to our arrival. Now, I was driving hard but not terrifically fast. As it turns out – Becky’s mom later told us – it was because her dad was driving too fast that we had caught up with them; he’d gotten pulled over in Port Orford not a mile from the resort for doing 38 in a 30. Of course, having been raised in local yokel rural New Jersey where cops have nothing better to do than clean deer guts off the grills of SUVs and pull over people for pedantic speeding charges, I was doing 28 in said 30. Becky’s dad, though, has been out of the US for a long time and most recently in Greece where everyone drives as if the country’s traffic laws were written by Sammy Hagar and Jason Statham. Whatever happened, though, we were both just immensely relieved both that we weren’t the cause of a hold-up and that, after 6 days and nearly 4,000 miles of travel, we’d made it to our final and most important destination, WildSpring Guest Habitat for Becky’s brother’s wedding:


End of Day 06
Cumulative total distance: 3800 miles

Whew, that’s far. Now, we were told initially there’d be a rehearsal, but that fell through due to the late arrivals and wasn’t all that necessary anyway, so we just got to our cabin and made ourselves at home:


WildSpring

I quickly fell in love with our cabin. It wasn’t much – just a front sitting room, the bedroom and a bathroom all totaling maybe 300 square feet if that – but it had a very comfortable bed, a mini-fridge and a little TV with a VHS player and, most important of all, it was all ours. In that extent it was totally worth the price. It was decorated really well, too, but I opted not to take many pictures of it both because I don’t want this to entirely turn into an advertisement for WildSpring and because we quickly unpacked our bags and threw stuff all over the place in a manner that would please George Carlin, thereby making it look not nearly as fancy. But needless to say, even though it was the most expensive accommodations we’d have on our journey (by nearly a factor of 2 above the second-most expensive), it was also the nicest we’d enjoy, so it was quite welcome.

After relaxing for a while we decided to make use of the remaining daylight and wandered around the couple of acres on which the resort sits in the redwood forest taking pictures:


WildSpring

WildSpring

WildSpring

WildSpring

The mighty redwood forest was so offensively beautiful as compared to our dirty, crunchy forests back home that it was hard not to be impressed despite the occasional bit of New Age detritus that makes its way into every view. Before long Becky’s brother and her sister’s boyfriend caught up with us to tell us that dinner would be served in a bit in the main cabin up the hill:


WildSpring

We said we’d meet them there soon, right after we had a little bit of fun:


WildSpring

WildSpring

WildSpring

Along the Pacific

Along the Pacific

When there was no longer enough daylight creeping through the trees to allow for photography we headed up to the main cabin and joined the rest of the family there, including Becky’s brother’s fiancee, Nicci, her brother Chad, his wife Danielle, and their two exceptionally patient children. I say “exceptionally patient” because, as we were waiting for the food to finally be ready, even I was starting to get a little punchy as I started to mess with the resort’s various pieces of alternative medicine healing junk interspersed with their supply of board games:



This was no fault of the resort’s; Nicci and Chad had decided to make grilled pizza for everyone and had severely underestimated how long it takes to make grilled pizza for 10 people. We finally got fed at about 8:30. Good as I’d been nursing several delicious Oregon micro-brews on an empty stomach up until then and was really hurting for some food. About an hour later everyone headed back to their cabins: we were tired from the day’s drive and most everyone else was still on East Coast time. And so we picked our way back to our cabin in the tree-shrouded dark:



It was then that Becky discovered the cabin had a large fish fossil on the table:



I promised her she could get her own fossils later for being good and leaving it (she would, on Day 12). I took a nice, relaxing shower and curled up with the Kindle before turning the lights off around 10:30. Though the drive down was quite frustrating at points I was glad to be there and looked forward to getting some more time to relax and recharge before heading back East. That night I got the best sleep I’d get on the entire trip. Good, as though we weren’t traveling the next day, we still had a full day ahead of us.

Friday, September 4 - the day of Becky’s brother’s wedding. We slept gloriously the night before and woke up well-rested at 7:00. Showered and got breakfast up in the main cabin, where the owner, Dean, was still setting up for the morning. A word on Dean: have you ever seen Johnny Got His Gun? Donald Sutherland plays Jesus and Dean looks – and sounds – exactly like him in that role. Needless to say, this man tooling around, cleaning dishes and setting out various bran cereals while one toasts a bagel is a little strange.

We headed out on our own back north up US 101 a bit after 8. We had things to take care of, you see. The first thing involved the fact that we were to be on the road for two weeks but only packed a little over one week’s worth of clothing to save space. So, I dropped Becky off at a laundromat in Bandon, about 40 minutes north of Port Orford:


Day 07 Stop 1 - Bandon, OR
Daily total distance: 28 miles

I know it seems silly to drive all the way to another town to do laundry, but there’s reason behind it: there isn’t all that much to Port Orford and, while it has a laundromat, it, too, is kind of barren. This one was well-stocked and right next to a grocery store in a small strip mall, so at least Becky could go buy some snacks for the road for our trip back while she waited on the wash.



Exciting, I know. To top that off, I continued driving up the coast another half an hour to Coos Bay to make my 9:20 appointment to get the Prius serviced. After 4,000 miles it was in need of an oil change before I put 4,000 more miles on it, and I wanted to make sure it was in good shape otherwise as well:


Day 07 Stop 2 - Coos Bay, OR
Daily total distance: 52 miles

There wasn’t much to Coos Bay Toyota, that’s for sure. Whereas I normally drop off my car for servicing at Bernardi Toyota in Framingham near my work – one of those mega-dealerships that services 100 cars a day – this one was more of a small, family deal. There were about four guys working there and, when I arrived, I was the only customer. That said, they got my car turned around in a bit over a half an hour, where Bernardi takes upwards of 90 minutes every time, so I guess the individual care matters. I leafed through a 6 month-old TIME Magazine while waiting (I’d given Becky the Kindle as she had to wait longer) and before long a nice, soft-spoken gentleman completely unlike anyone I’d ever met who works on cars came out and said I was all set. Not bad at all.

Before heading back to pick up Becky I decided to get the Prius washed to clean off the several pounds of bugs that had accumulated on the front grill. I noticed a car wash in Coos Bay not three blocks from the dealership and pulled in. I expected a chain-smoking high school dropout to accept $10, push a couple buttons, and shove me on out. Instead these two teenage girls diligently scrubbed the front end while I sat there awkwardly waiting to go through. I wasn’t exactly sure if I was supposed to get out or what but in the end they didn’t even give me a chance to tip so I just sort of pulled away feeling I’d somehow underpaid by giving only $6 for actual effort put into cleaning my car. Oh well, at least it was clean.

At about 10:30 I returned to pick up Becky in Bandon just as she had finished the laundry. We went over to the grocery store to pick up some more delicious Oregon microbrews – some to offer up to everyone, some to keep in our cabin’s mini-fridge – and then headed back down to Port Orford to get lunch. From what we could tell there were two restaurants in all of Port Orford open for lunch and we decided on one on the northern end of town that looked to be the more decent of the two based on the outside. Inside, though, it looked like a greasy-spoon, dingy sort of diner. Oh well, a meal’s a meal.

After standing around awkwardly for a while – there was only one other table of people in the whole place aside from us – a middle-aged, fisherman-looking dude came up and said, “hello” from behind the kitchen counter. And that’s it. Not “take a seat anywhere” or “one second please,” just “hello.” Finally, after some more stilted conversing with another guy who emerged from the kitchen we sat down on our own. He came back out before long and gave us menus. This, at least, worked out. I had a “chili baked potato,” which was actually a pile of chili mixed with chopped pieces of baked potato. It had all the appeal and presentation of prison food, but at least it was cheap and we couldn’t much complain.

During our meal the same guy who took our order came in from outside, pointed at us from across the restaurant, and announced in a booming voice, “MASSACHUSETTS.” As if he were ferreting us out as interlopers. I hesitantly agreed and he wheeled around to the other table of people and informed them that they had a flat tire but he was trying to help them fix it. At which point the whole experience had officially gone from “unusual” to “surreal.” I tried to finish as many chunks of greasy potato-chili I could before calling it quits and at some point our check arrived. I put out a card as we were running low on cash. And waited. And waited. In this time another couple came, sat down, waited, and left. Captain Flat Tire appeared to have just pissed off. Ultimately we decided to pool what little cash we had left – barely covering the tab with a more-than-generous tip, given the circumstances – and got the hell out of there ourselves, thinking, “well, at least we won’t have to ever go back there.” Oh how wrong we were. More on that later.

As for right then, it was only a bit after noon and we knew that back at WildSpring it’d be all quiet; the rest of the family had gone off to have fun in our absence for the day before the wedding. We’d later find out that the girls went horseback riding on the beach and the guys rode dune buggies. While we were doing laundry and getting an oil change. Humbug.

Fortunately there were things for us to do, too. Like climb up Battle Rock, just across the highway from WildSpring. We walked down to it along the muddy shoals:



We then grabbed hold of protruding roots and climbed up the rock itself to look across the ocean:



Behold, the majestic Pacific! Tragically, Becky leaned forward too far to take a picture and fell off the rock:



Fortunately, she survived, but her amnesia from hitting her head caused her to live out the rest of her days in a driftwood shanty she constructed along the beach:



After a few minutes of that, though, she got tired of having amnesia and so we decided to go back to our cabin and take a nice nap. Around 3 we woke up and climbed into the hot tub for a while as we waited for everyone to return. It was no dune buggies, but relaxing in a hot tub viewing the Pacific? Not so bad for a Friday afternoon:


Hot tub

After hot tubbin’ for a half-hour or so we sneaked up to the main cabin where they were already setting up for the wedding, grabbed the Indiana Jones VHS trilogy from their movie cabinet, went back to the cabin and spent the rest of the afternoon sipping beer and watching Temple of Doom. After six arduous days of driving across country, it was just what I needed to relax and recuperate before the drive back.

Around 5 o’clock there was enough motion outside that we deemed it a good idea to get dressed for the festivities. About an hour later everyone started milling around in their finest as we prepared for the ceremony:


Becky's family

We all headed up to the main cabin where we were to be seated on the porch facing the ocean (in between the cabin and the hot tub for those with good spatial orientation). When we arrived we were greeted by this:


Offerings

The idea is, you give a blessing to the couple by picking one of the following: feathers for loyalty, rocks for strength, corn for fertility, dried apricots for sweetness or seashells for… uh… heart? I forget. Upon picking out a blessing for the young couple, one is supposed to walk forward, say a short prayer, place the blessing in the bowl, and ring the gong:


Me hitting the gong

Becky hitting the gong

Becky was clearly better at it than I was. We took our seats and waited for the bride to arrive.


View of the Pacific

Program


To bless the guests (all about the blessings, I guess), the groom was supposed to light a bundle of sage to be waved in front of each individual guest. The task of the blessing – as well as that of keeping the sage lit – fell to Nicci’s nephew, who took his task more seriously than I would have at his age. Or my current age. Ah heh.


Keeping the sage lit

Keeping the sage lit

Sage-ing the guests

Sage-ing the guests

After several false starts related to boutonnieres falling off and the music not queuing properly – all of which were laughed off by the groom and (as-of-yet unseen) bride – the ceremony finally got underway:


Bride and FoB entering

Wedding ceremony

Bride and groom

Wedding ceremony

Wedding ceremony

Wedding ceremony

Ring exchange

After all the preliminary blessings and gong-ings and sage-ings, the ceremony itself was actually quite simple and sweet and before long, Mike and Nicci were married. We headed inside to wait for the reception to get going:


Jo[h]n

It happens so often it’s sort of like I have an alter-ego. Ah well. As far as the groom and the bride, they had some time alone before pictures and the reception:


Bride and groom after the wedding

After the wedding along the Pacific

After the wedding along the Pacific

Can we get the sun to set over the Atlantic? Please? That’d be awesome. Thanks.

After the requisite round of family photos we sat down for the reception in the main cabin, just big enough to accommodate everyone, the caterers and the photographer. There was some delicious lamb, some great Napa wine, some decadent chocolate cake and a very worn out pair of continental travelers by the end. Mike has excellent taste in music, but what he listens to most isn’t perfect for partying and dancing the night away, which was just fine by us as we could barely move. It was really nice to just sit, eat, drink, and enjoy ourselves.

At the evening’s end we crawled back to our cabin, popped in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and drifted off to sleep around 11. It was by far the most relaxing day on the trip – despite those nagging chores in the morning – and couldn’t have come any sooner. We had one more full day of enjoying ourselves in coastal Oregon left before we started the trek back to the East Coast.

Saturday, September 5 - we slept in for a good, long time, the longest we slept on the whole trip. Didn’t wake up until around 8:30 and meandered our way up to the main cabin for breakfast about an hour later. Most of the family was there already and there was an entire spread set out for us: the same one we saw just getting set up the previous day. Though I was still bloated from the previous day’s meal I tried to pack in what I could, figuring that a) I didn’t know when lunch would come and b) I was on vacation so I could do what I wanted so nyah.

It was raining. A sort of thick, big-dropped rain that had a sense of permanence to it. Not quite Cusack Rain but close to it. I brought up my laptop to cruise the Internet, check up on whatever I’d missed and grudgingly pay my bills while we tried to figure out something to do. We all just sort of hung there, waiting for some sort of decision on action that none of us were making, as if we were physically trapped there by the rain, even though the cabins were only a couple hundred yards away. Finally, around 11 we headed back to our cabin and decided to head out to the nearby cemetery with Becky’s dad and brother.

Now, there’s not much to Port Orford – it’s only about 1200 permanent residents – but there were certainly some interesting former residents:


Jesus encased in amber

This woman was memorialized with Jesus encased in amber. Later I planned to extract his DNA and clone him by using the genome of an African frog to make up the gaps but Becky told me that was a bad idea after having seen a documentary about it once about 16 years ago.


See ya!

Normal graves are boring. It’s way better to adorn your grave with yourself driving an AMC Pacer along with a quote that seems like it was left on the cutting-room floor from “Stairway to Heaven,” all topped off by a non-sequitur “SEE YA!” Truly a god among men.


Apparently not gone, either

“Gone but not forgotten” and, if the ground giving way is any indication, not very much “gone,” either. Though I didn’t get a shot of it, nearby there was another grave covered in an eight-by-six cement slab. Apparently the good people of Port Orford are aware of the zombie problem and have taken precautions. Good to know.


He rode a bear

Finally, there was that. Now, of course, this begs the question: was riding a bear once his eternal claim to fame or did Ase-Boy ride a bear as his regular means of transportation? Did he park it in a garage next to his loving, mindful but patient wife’s mid-sized sedan? Did he hitch it outside of saloons on a post along with horses, leading to predictably bloody hilarity? Did Needles pull up next to him at a stop light and rev his engine and call him “chicken,” to which the bear stood up, roared and frightened away the early 90s-alterna-funk ne’er do well? I sure hope so.

The rain was abating but not quite done for. We next went out to the docks in town to look for a restaurant for dinner. The only one there was too small to accommodate our entire group, but we did get some good pictures of the fog rolling off the jetty as the storm passed:


View of the harbor in Port Orford

View of WildSpring from the Pacific

Abandoned ship engine


That last one is our album cover (yes, I know South Park did it). Clearly I am the bassist as I have been instructed to look away so as to not ruin the shot with my face. Good to know one’s role in life.

By the time we returned to WildSpring it had completely stopped raining and the sun was actually daring to peak out from the clouds. It looked like we’d have time to enjoy outside after all! As Becky’s mom was interested in going horseback riding again we decided to shoot for that. After a number of unsuccessful tries, we finally got hold of the woman who runs the ranch that does it and inquired about doing a ride at 2:00, to which she replied that due to the rain she had not done a ride yet that day and could do one at 1:00 if we so chose. Awesome. We immediately jumped in the Prius and drove out to the ranch just outside Bandon, near where Becky had done laundry the previous day.


Ranch in Bandon, OR

Horses

The woman who ran the ranch was a real no-nonsense, salt-of-the-earth type who seemed unsurprised by anything. I suppose when you take novices out on 1200-pound animals who are behaving well mostly because they want to you have to keep a level head. While she settled up the payment Becky went to talk to the horses:


Becky and a real horse

They said that they were horses. Before long we were joined by another family of middle-aged folks and we all got saddled up. My horse was named Misty, I think, but that’s not a very dignified name for a horse so I’ll call her Horse from now on. Having only ridden horseback once in my life before – 13 years ago – I was barely more than a novice, but I at least knew the worst thing one can do when jumping on the saddle is be hesitant. So I threw myself up and on and felt quite impressed with myself.


View from my horse

Then I realized I was sitting 5 feet off the ground on a living, breathing animal whose inaction on the ability to render me severely injured and/or dead is hinging upon the fact that if she did she wouldn’t get a horse-treat. Which, y’know, is both exceptionally humbling and also gives me an immense amount more respect for rodeo cowboys. I carefully stammered, “this is really high.”

Horse Lady muttered “it isn’t that high” in the same gruff tone with which she delivered every statement. Oh Horse Lady, does anything faze you? Then she told me to tighten my reins for the first of what would be about 20 times. I guess I need to work on that.

When everyone was mounted up we headed down to the beach. Like driving a moving truck there’s a steep learning curve and I found myself feeling much more comfortable after about 10 or 15 minutes when we completed the short trot down to the shore. I decided to snap a couple of pictures while I was moving once I felt confident I could do so without dropping the camera:


Becky's mom on a horse

Becky on a horse

When we got to the beach Horse seemed to want nothing more than to be in front. I had to perpetually give her little tugs to hold back lest I get too far ahead of Horse Lady. It was like driving with the parking brake on all the time. Becky’s horse, by comparison, started off slower. Her view mostly looked like this:



Before long she urged her horse forward, though, and caught up with me:



As you can plainly see, the scenery was positively gorgeous. Don’t get me wrong, Southern California, your beaches are nice, too, but this was really something, what with the rocks jutting out from the sand and looking like a car commercial from the early 70s. In a good way:


Shoreline on the Pacific

It inspired Becky to get in touch with her Mother Earth Goddess Earth Mother:


Becky connecting with Mother Earth Goddess

After about another 15 minutes of riding on the beach we reached those rocks and Horse Lady instructed us to line up for pictures:


Becky, her mom and the tour guide

Me, Becky and Becky's mom

Me, Becky and Becky's mom

Me, Becky and Becky's mom

On the way back the horses all picked up the pace and what took 15 minutes out was covered in 10 on the way back. Horse Lady explained that this was because the horses knew that they’d get fed when they got back so they were in a rush. She also told me much of her life story, about how she’s always lived out west and had horses. I felt like explaining how I lived in the third most densely-populated city in the country wouldn’t be appropriate. Though from the Prius with Massachusetts plates she probably pegged me for a city slicker. And then told me to tighten my reins again.

Becky was enjoying herself much more once her horse picked up the pace:


Becky having a fresh moment

It was like the opposite of a not-so-fresh moment, she told me.

We dismounted back at the ranch and bid our horse-friends farewell. But was that the end of our animal adventure for the day? Hardly! Next stop was the “safari” wildlife park a bit down the Pacific Coast Highway from where we were. It didn’t look like all that much but since we’re on a hot streak of vacations with zoos we decided to give it a shot. It wasn’t too expensive, either, and we were able to buy ice cream cones full of feed. Just in case one doesn’t know how to properly dole out the feed they offered instructions:


Do not close fingers

…as well as helpful tips in case of an emergency:


Discard feed if overwhelmed

Becky and I saw the feed cups for what they were, though: an opportunity to re-create the cover art for Pet Sounds:


Becky Pet Sounds

Me with animals

We walked on to peruse the rest of the park:


Becky and stair goats

Becky and llama

Becky and llama

White tiger

Tiger

Not much to the place but it was a nice diversion, certainly, and it really jumps out at you in what is otherwise the middle of nowhere along the coastal highway in southern Oregon. We weren’t quite done yet, though. On our way out we noticed a technician holding out a baby opossum for people to hold:


Becky with a baby possum

Me with a baby possum

Possums are one of the ugliest animals in existence. Baby possums are undyingly cute. And also incredibly ugly. At the same time. Not sure how that works.

Just as we were turning to leave – again – another tech came out with a lion cub. However, a swarm of people surrounded it before we could really get a good look and it became quickly evident that the lion cub was a total attention whore. Figures. His name was probably Simba, too. Enjoy it while you can, sucker. Ain’t no one gonna want to pet you when you’re looking like you want to eat kids for lunch.

We got back to WildSpring around 4:30. On our way back we pointed out the greasy-spoon restaurant we’d eaten lunch at the previous day and suggested to Becky’s mom that we not eat there. We then went back into our cabin to watch the rest of Last Crusade after receiving word that Mike had chosen a restaurant for dinner that evening and we’d be eating around 7. One guess where we went. Yep, you got it.



The service in the evening was better than it was the previous lunch-time, which is to say “mediocre” instead of “horrible.” I got something simple: some nice calamari and a sandwich. Not bad. Most, though, got that pasta listed above. Like eight of the twelve of us. Which would have been fine except that, when it arrived – slowly but surely – it came on a plate the size of a spare tire and soaked in approximately 4 pounds of alfredo sauce. I assumed they simply had a 55-gallon drum of the stuff back in the kitchen because I don’t see how they were able to supply us with that much. In other words, we could have ordered one of those plates to split between two people and still had leftovers. No one’s serving looked more than modestly dented at the end, even with my help. You’d think the waitress could have warned us, “our pasta dishes are enough food to kill a man if dropped from a height of more than several feet,” but there we were, swimming in a sea of shrimp-encrusted alfredo sauce and all feeling that uncomfortable bloat one gets from eating too much creamy food. Of course everyone was leaving the next day so leftovers were out of the question, too. But, on the plus side, I had a couple delicious Flat Tire ales, so it wasn’t a total loss.

We returned around 9. Some folks had resolved to have one last go at the hot tub and, tempting as it sounded, we decided to roll ourselves back to our cabin and call it a night. I dropped off some of the local beer we had purchased the previous day with Mike for all to enjoy at the hot tub and Becky signed our cabin’s guest book:



Do you like it? I wrote it myself. William Carlos Williams ain’t got nuthin’ on me.

We decided to cap off the out-of-order Indiana Jones trilogy by winding down the night with Raiders of the Lost Ark before turning off the lights and heading to sleep. The next day we’d check out of our cabin and commence our long journey back East. It was going to be an adventure for sure.

Sunday, September 6 - we woke up a few minutes before 7, showered, finished packing our things and shoved them out into the car. After that we stopped by the main cabin for one last breakfast before departing. Everyone else had super-early flights and had simply stayed up the night before leaving several hours earlier, so it was just us and our Donald Sutherland-looking friend Dean left. Which, y’know, was something, at least.

We finished packing up and bid farewell to our cabin and to WildSpring at 8 AM as the early morning sprinkles started to become rain in earnest. We wound down the Pacific Coast Highway through light traffic and little to no construction as the rain slowly let up, hitting the California border at 9:15. And I do mean “border” as in, “there was a guard there who asked us pointed questions.” Like, “are you carrying any fruit?”

I hesitantly offered to the short but stern uniformed woman that we had a handful of apples. She asked me where I got them from and I replied they were from Oregon. She deemed this acceptable and allowed us to continue as we scratched our heads. Never mind the fact that when I last went to Canada I had less of an ordeal at the US border, I’m just curious from where a small bag of apples would be illegal to bring into the Republic of California along a non-Interstate coastal highway from Oregon. I’m guessing Utah, because, seriously, screw them.

We had thought about driving off through the redwood forests, y’know, maybe going to that tree you can drive through, but as it turns out that was south of where we planned on breaking from US 101 and so we looked for somewhere else interesting to take a morning break. We found it just short of 100 miles from where we started – Trees of Mystery outside Klamath, CA:


Day 09 Stop 1 - Klamath, CA
Daily total distance: 98 miles

Trees of Mystery is an absolutely shameless tourist trap. It has a trail going into the redwood forest, a sort of gondola lift going up the mountains, and a big honking gift shop attached to a local Native American museum of… local Native American stuff.



In other words, there were renditions of The End of the Trail absolutely everywhere you looked. Well, everywhere except a few key places. For one, not only did they have two penny machines, but also a dime smasher! Now that’s quality! Oh, and they also had a three-story statue of Paul Bunyan:



What’s impressive about Paul Bunyan is that the statue talked. An unseen man-behind-the-curtain with a not-nearly-deep-enough voice called out to tourists from within the statue. It was clear he wanted desperately to offer them a playful ribbing – especially the cabal of bro-dudes who walked up to the statue as we were departing – but he had to remain cheerful and G-rated.



The same could not be said for his companion, Babe the Blue Ox:



Yep, Babe the Blue Ox has big blue balls:



I can assure you that the good people of Trees of Mystery did ensure to paint all 360 degrees of Babe’s Big Blue Balls. One must assume that the task of painting said Big Blue Balls – which, given the nature of the weather there, must be done at least once if not twice per year – must fall to the junior-most member of the Trees of Mystery staff. I sincerely hope that whoever has had to fulfill the role of balls-painter put that on his or her resume.

We continued on down US 101, through more redwoods, onto a stretch of highway, and finally reached the point where we would break off to head toward I-5. But first we stopped for lunch in Eureka, CA:


Day 09 Stop 2 - Eureka, CA
Daily total distance: 165 miles

We stopped at a Chinese food buffet – appropriately enough called China Buffet – around 11:30. Wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad, either, and it was definitely quick and easy, which is all we could ask for. Plus we wanted to vary our food as much as possible on the road and this was probably going to be our best bet for Chinese on the whole journey. More on that on Day 14.

We got back on the road and got on the windy adventure that was California Route 299 at 12:15. Which wound. And wound. And wound. For nearly 150 miles. It was probably not the fastest way to reach I-5 from the coast, but it sure was an adventure. Every time we passed a lumbering RV it seemed like we were going to be driven off the road, down the mountains and into a catastrophic premature end to our trip semicolon lives. Which happened about a dozen times. Character-building. When we finally – graciously – reached I-5 outside Redding a bit after 3:00 I stopped nearly immediately to stretch out a bit and allow the circulation to return to my knuckles:


Day 09 Stop 3 - Redding, CA
Daily total distance: 315 miles

At this point Becky took the wheel and guided us down through Northern California all the way to Sacramento, whereupon we discontinued our southward travels – reaching the southernmost point we’d hit on the trip – and picked up I-80 East. Northern California is a pretty place. I wouldn’t mind living there if the whole state weren’t bankrupt and also insane. We stopped shortly after hitting I-80 at exit 102 around 6:40:


Day 09 Stop 4 - Sacramento, CA
Daily total distance: 485 miles

Since it had been almost a week since we’d eaten at a Westerny Western restaurant we stopped at the Back Forty Texas BBQ.



Now, I’d never heard the expression “back forty” before so maybe someone out there can enlighten me. I know of the expression “back nine” with respect to the latter half of a golf course, but I don’t know if the two are related. Maybe they are and everything’s just bigger in Texas; maybe there they play 80 holes of golf instead of 18. Who knows. Point is they had good pulled pork and also this guy:



I’m sure they were mass-produced for $1.20 apiece but I kind of wanted to take it, clean it up and sell it on Etsy for $80. He looks so happy.

From Sacramento it’s actually not that far at all to Reno. It is, though, a picturesque drive over the mountains into Nevada:



Around that point we passed over 7,000 feet and the poor, East Coast-tempered Prius started to protest. Fortunately we wouldn’t pass through that elevation too often – only twice more on the trip – but it seemed to be the magic point at which the air became thin that the tiny little engine had trouble getting enough air. Becky was able to take a picture there because we were going maybe all of 52 mph despite flooring it. That, at least, makes sense for why many folks drive large trucks out there. That said, though, the trip down into Reno is a short one upon passing through the mountains into Nevada and we arrived around 8:30 with no more difficulties:


Day 09 Stop 5 - Reno, NV
Daily total distance: 605 miles

Upon arrival we immediately parked on the street close to Virginia St – Reno’s version of the Vegas Strip – and saw whatever sights we could that weren’t closing quickly:


The saddest place on Earth

A word on the famous “RENO” sign: it is flanked by two hotels. One of the two is now shut down. This sort of sets the tone for Reno.



Walking up and down Virginia St was quite the experience. Our primary objective was to get Becky the several squished pennies that were all available within a one-block radius. As she ran around and did that I took some more pictures:


Circus Circus

Creepy clown

Pictures that will haunt my dreams forever. Now, given it was 8:30 on a Sunday, but the whole area was getting abandoned, save for the normal dregs of humanity shuffling about and… an odd number of crunchy hippy-types rolling through in beat-up RVs covered in a fine, white dust. Huh, weird. I tried to figure that out but I was too distracted by the array of souvenirs available. I had vowed to get my sister the tackiest thing I could find there but I had to back off on that and get her something middling instead as Reno, it seems, could do tacky in a league far above anything I ever thought possible:


Stay classy, Reno

Stay classy, Reno. Stay classy.

We headed off of Virginia St after that and to our hotel – the Grand Sierra Resort, the only Vegas-style mega-casino in Reno. Even it looked sadder than Vegas, but then, when we were there it was before the recession had fully hit so maybe Vegas looks sadder these days, too. There were yet more of those dust-covered young folks waiting in line checking in along with a healthy number of their vehicles crammed into the parking lot. It’s then that it finally hit me: Burning Man. It had just gotten out and what we saw were the participants spilling out of the Nevada desert and back toward home. What we saw were those who had to leave a touch early and had opted for a hotel and a shower beforehand. In other words, they were the slightly-less-irrational amongst those who attended the annual gigantic orgy of art and, as such, were actually quite easy to deal with. I hypothesized that we slept so well that night due to the hotel being quieter than usual as they all looked beyond exhausted and probably just wanted to shower and sleep and didn’t cause the usual disturbance we might be privy to on any other day from the Grand Sierra’s normal clientele. Nonetheless, the ever-present dichotomy of white people with dreadlocks encrusted in a white powder and the normal date-rape frat dudes indigenous to Reno was enough cognitive dissonance to make my head spin.

Fortunately, there weren’t too many of the latter. Or… of anybody, really:



You don’t think of the recession as hitting douchebaggery but it does. We saw it.

We got up to our room at 9:45, failed to get ice to cool the beer we’d brought with, and headed out again before long. A half an hour later I had fulfilled my destiny by getting my 2009 In-N-Out Burger fix:



Excellent. We brought it back to the room and stuffed ourselves with it while settling in. While we were there I was expecting it to be devoid of Burning Men, given In-N-Out’s dearth of vegetarian options, but sure enough there were about a dozen of them chomping down on slabs of cow while we pulled through the drive-through. I guess spending a week in the desert amongst crazy artists makes you want a burger really, really bad. I can totally respect that.


2009's In-N-Out Burger run

Seriously, if they had In-N-Out in the Northeast I’d be 350 pounds now. And very happy. It was a fitting end to the day and a good way to celebrate our first successful day of being back on the road:


End of Day 09
Cumulative total distance: 4610 miles

Around 11:45 we headed to sleep, a good, solid night’s sleep. Good, as Day 10 would prove to be the most trying day on the entire trip.

Monday, September 7 - we woke up a few minutes before 8 and decided to get up and get going out of the hotel as soon as we could. As depressing as the casino was at night it’s nothing compared to how sad it looks in broad daylight. We left about an hour later among trailers from Burning Man that mostly looked like this:


Burning Man trailer

And occasionally like this:


Burning Man... Hummer... Alien?

Yes, a giant alien pod-thing being pulled by a Hummer. Your guess is as good as mine.

Our first stop was not far at all out of town – the new Scheel’s Sporting Goods in Sparks:


Day 10 Stop 1 - Sparks, NV
Daily total distance: 7 miles

We had a bit of trouble finding it as the address it lists on the website was not recognized by my GPS as it was for a local feeder road to the new shopping that had been built to purpose and hence was not there in 2004 when my car’s software was programmed. We persevered and found it, though, arriving around 10 after 9, shortly after it opened.

Why – you might ask – would we go out of our way to go to a sporting goods store on a cross-country road trip? This is no mere sporting goods store! It has a Ferris wheel inside! But that’s not so special. But it also has a Ferris wheel with creepy hand-carved statues of Presidents adjacent!



That’s either Teddy Roosevelt or Wilford Brimley. For those counting, this makes the third collection of life-size statues of Presidents we saw in the course of our journey. I don’t know how you can possibly see more America than that.

Here we see smallpox-plagued fish-eye George Washington:


Pock-marked Washington

…and Zombie Woodrow Wilson:


Becky emulating Zombie Woodrow Wilson

FDR is, of course, a staunch supporter of the Do Not Touch Party:


FDR has a lot to say

You can’t hear it, of course, but the voice track that went with him featured a deep, booming male voice totally unlike the recordings we’ve all heard. That and the fact that they apparently thought he looked like Alec Baldwin rather amused me. Becky, though, was a big fan of Cowboy Reagan:


Becky and Cowboy Reagan

Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Truman studies hard to be a good President by keeping up with all the news:


Truman reads the Blank Times

That they didn’t think it important that he be reading an actual newspaper is rather telling. Nothing, though, compared to poor Ike, who had seen better days:



The real treasures, though, were the two Presidents that were not immobile statues but rather animatronic renditions that spoke their most famous lines through creepy latex faces around the clock as they slowly moved from side to side. Here we see the exercise in the uncanny valley effect that is Thomas Jefferson:


THOMAS JEFFERSON

Nothing, though, compares to the very first statue we saw when we walked in – Recreational Tanning Lincoln:


Lincoln has a superb tan

[The real] Lincoln’s cartoonish face made him an easy target for animatronics, but, unable to let that be, they elected to portray the man as if he had lived right there in the Nevada desert his whole life. Perhaps this is a sort of cosmic balance achieved with the pale pallor of the Obama wax statue we saw on Day 4.

So, as you can see, it was quite worth the trip. Oh, and did I mention Mount Taxidermy?


Beck in front of Mount Taxidermy

I think I did.



Yes, that’s right folks, an entire two-storey fiberglass mountain covered in taxidermed animals. Because – as we saw in London and as we would continue to see the next day in Denver – if you’re going to taxiderm one animal, you might as well do another 240 while you’re at it. That seems to be the unwritten rule. The good folks of Scheel’s Sparks, Nevada take taxidermy seriously, though, and sought to create every scenario one can imagine a hunter might encounter in the wild… of the, uh, desert, such as flying wolves!:


Beware of flying wolves

…and commando deer!:


Commando deer

Oh but they’re not all show for sure! After all that I’m sure that you, too, dear reader want to go out and buy 17 guns for yourself! They’ve got you covered! More guns than you can shake yet another gun which they will be happy to sell you at! Big guns! Bigger guns! Guns for girls!


Just what every woman in the greater Reno area wants!

And, of course, for VIP customers, Premium Guns:


Premium guns only

Please note that, yes, it is nearly impossible to take a picture there without getting a part of a taxidermed animal in-frame.

Truly a magical kingdom if I ever saw one. We went down to the taxidermy-free in-store coffee shop to grab something light to eat and then got back on the road out of Reno and back East. Along the way we noticed a steady stream of vehicles leeching out of the desert and home from Burning Man:



Or at least we’re reasonably sure that’s where the short bus labeled “Fire Muse” is coming from. We played a game of seeing how long it took us to find the last car we saw coming from Burning Man. I believe the winner was a small RV we spotted in Iowa some 2,000+ miles and 2 1/2 days later. As for then, though, they were a welcome distraction to what was otherwise an incredibly mundane drive through the Nevada desert on I-80.

We made our lunch stop shortly before 1 PM in the only town on the map within a 60-mile radius, Battle Mountain:


Day 10 Stop 2 - Battle Mountain, NV
Daily total distance: 220 miles

There’s this unique effect I didn’t completely appreciate until we went out West: towns and cities on maps don’t necessarily represent their true size; in fact, it’s entirely dependent upon the local population density. For example, Somerville – population 78,000 – and sometimes even Cambridge – population 110,000 – quickly fall off the map as you zoom out from Boston. Battle Mountain, though, by virtue of being in the middle of nowhere, is still proudly there, welcoming you in from afar. Which gives the impression that there’s stuff there, of course. In reality, what’s there is the following: a gas station, a McDonald’s (which also appeared to have the only public restroom in town) and the letters “BM” rather unfortunately scrawled across the mountainside so as to be visible from space:



This may or may not be related to the bathroom in the McDonald’s. Of course, you can guess where we ate lunch. Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose, and it certainly seemed like it would be a haul until we hit the next town, and who knows what they’d have – if anything – when we got there, so McDonald’s it was. I have this thing where I’m opposed to the ubiquity of American brands – especially for restaurants – overseas because when one is traveling the whole point is to be out of one’s comfort zone, and McDonald’s is the prime target of my rage in that regard and, as such, I try to avoid it even on domestic travels. However, since it was – by all appearances – our only option I had to suck it up. Food the next day would be much better.

As the drive was not taxing at all I took the wheel again through eastern Nevada, apparently populated by Scandinavian Star Wars fans:



This was all and good for about an hour until, going down a hill, I leaned over to change the radio station and drifted into the left lane. There wasn’t another car I could see for a mile in each direction so that wasn’t the issue. But, as I checked my rear-view as I adjusted back to the right lane, I saw a police SUV about 10 feet behind me. I instinctively hit the brakes and he put his lights on. Fantastic.

I went through the whole ordeal and explained that I was checking the radio and that was all. At the time – since we’d just crested a hill – I was actually going below the speed limit so that wasn’t an issue. As my paperwork was in order and we seemed genuine he let me off with a talking-to. He mentioned he’d been to Boston before and said it was pretty. I said I thought out there was prettier and that living in a city with 20,000 people per square mile you learn to value wide open spaces. He said he understood and that he was originally from Salt Lake City. Yep, we weren’t even in Utah yet and already we’d been pulled over by someone from there. It helped to set the stage. Becky suggested that, upon seeing my tiny Commie Car with plates from the Godless Northeast he presumed we were attendees of Burning Man and hence I was swerving while in the process of doing a rip from a dashboard-mounted bong. While he didn’t approach our car with that much suspicion I’m certainly not ruling out the possibility that he profiled us as Damn Dirty Hippies.

I’m a firm believer in getting back on the horse you just fell off and as such I continued to drive until we hit the border, crossing into Utah as we entered the Mountain Time Zone and 3:50 became 4:50. We immediately stopped in the border town of Wendover, UT:


Day 10 Stop 3 - Wendover, UT
Daily total distance: 400 miles

There was a bit more to Wendover than Battle Mountain, as its Nevada compliment – West Wendover – was centered upon providing casinos and gamblin’ to all the good folks of Utah who might not happen to be all that good sometimes. We took the opportunity to switch up and Becky took the wheel in through the Salt Flats:


Utah Salt Flats

Which are remarkably: 1) full of salt; and 2) very flat. Who would have guessed? The thing I didn’t know about the Salt Flats is that they are enormous. I thought it was just one or two square miles, but the suckers go on for about 80 miles! 80 miles of nothing but:


Utah Salt Flats

They really do genuinely make one feel like being on another planet. Since the road’s straight as an arrow and there’s excellent visuals for miles in every direction it also makes for quick traveling. Becky probably averaged 82 the whole stretch, the fastest we’d go in the little underpowered Prius for an extended period on the entire trip. This got us to our next stop 100 miles further down the road in good time and we arrived at the shores of the Great Salt Lake a bit before 6:30:


Day 10 Stop 4 - Great Salt Lake, UT
Daily total distance: 500 miles

We entered what according to signs and Google Maps was a state marina. There was also this sucker, though:


From the shore of the Great Salt Lake

It was called “Salton” and after thinking about it for too long I surmised that must be a limp portmanteau of “salt” and “sultan” as it is vaguely middle-eastern in design. Go back and read my commentary about the taquiera we ate at in southern Utah in April 2008 if you need more of my thoughts on how the whole state seems to white-wash foreign cultures until they’re bland enough for its button-up conservative people, but this seemed to bear that out. We didn’t go inside as we were quickly losing daylight. There was a sign outside the parking lot that said something to the order of “parking lot closes when gift shop closes.” This initially gave me pause but as they didn’t indicate when that was and there were upwards of a dozen cars in the lot still and numerous folks dotting the beach, I surmised it must be no earlier than 7 if not just an empty threat and we walked on down the long, salt-encrusted shore of crunchy sand.


Walking to the Great Salt Lake

Along the way I spied the bleached skeletons of a couple of birds preserved in the salty sand:


Dead birds on the shore of the Great Salt Lake

Definitely not a typical beach experience to say the least. The bed of the Great Salt Lake is – not surprisingly – very shallow and as such it was quite a long walk out from the parking lot to the actual shore. As we got there we heard a rustling sound, sort of like those “rain sticks” sold in New Age Natural Consumer Crap stores in suburban malls. As we looked down we saw these buggers:


Sand fleas

Sand fleas. Or at least I think that’s what they are. Flowing in waves of thousands as we walked. Needless to say I kept my shoes on. Braver than I am, though, Becky pressed forward into the lake:


Becky frolicking in the Great Salt Lake

She had to walk what seemed like about 100 yards in to get up to her waist:


Becky frolicking in the Great Salt Lake

When she finally got there she frolicked as best she could as I watched on:


Becky frolicking in the Great Salt Lake

Becky frolicking in the Great Salt Lake

Having satisfied herself by taking a dip in the Great Salt Lake and deciding that the sticky, stinging water need not go over her head to qualify for having swam in it, she headed back and we started walking back to the car. It was growing close to 7 but we still saw a dozen or so folks along the beach and so we figured we were safe. As we got past the shore a man informed us, “if you’re parked in the lot they’re locking it now and they say it won’t be open again until Wednesday.”

Which was nice of him. I stared down the distance back to the parking lot – about 500 yards, I figured:


The parking lot we nearly got locked into

I thanked him quickly and broke into a sprint. Becky held back as I could wait for her outside the gates if need be since she didn’t have shoes on at the time. I didn’t have time to pause and wonder what in the name of God was going on and raced toward the Prius, my lungs straining and each breath gathering a coppery hint of blood in the back of my throat. As I neared the car I saw I was not the only one in a rush to leave: two more couples – middle-aged folks in trucks with Utah plates – were also in a hurry to get out. I queued in line out between them as we waited for the people gruffly standing at the gate to open it again to let us out. I checked the time on the car’s clock as I passed: 6:55. A full 5 minutes until their presumed closing time and they were already in a rush to lock as many people in as possible without so much as a warning except that passed on by a good Samaritan. What the hell, Utah.

I pulled over after getting out and Becky got herself re-organized as I caught my breath. I looked around: there was another lot adjacent to the Salton lot, outside of the gate area. It wasn’t clearly visible – nor marked at all – from where we had entered and seemed to be where most (but probably not all) of the folks still on the beach had parked. There was a curbed grass median separating the two that a pickup truck could navigate in a pinch but my low-clearance Prius would seriously struggle to get through. Oh, and this was all some 20 miles out of Salt Lake City with no other signs of humanity in sight in any direction. Meaning if we got locked in the best we could have done was call 911 on my cell phone and hope the SLC Police took pity on us and helped us get out. If I didn’t have a cell phone? Totally boned. Way to be, Utah, way to be.

I was so incredibly on-edge that I drove into – and then out of – Salt Lake City without so much as looking for signs for restaurants. I didn’t particularly care to. By the time I finally calmed down we were over halfway to Wyoming and I decided that I could not stop until we had left Utah, for fear we’d somehow get trapped again. As the sky darkened we reached the Wyoming border at 8:20 and stopped several minutes later outside Evanston, WY:


Day 10 Stop 5 - Evanston, WY
Daily total distance: 600 miles

We got dinner at a Friendly’s-like family restaurant called JB’s. Seemed simple enough and it was. That said, it was then that I felt more than ever that we were Not from Around Here. Maybe it was the excitement back in Utah putting me on-edge but we seemed to gather more stares than I thought was entirely appropriate. Was it the way we dressed? Was it the fact that we were married but didn’t have 7 kids? In a back room a group of men and one boy who – despite his large stature I estimated to have been about 15 – were all seated together, dressed in what was definitely not normal cowboy clothing. They all looked like they worked at a historical re-enactment village and had just gotten off work. Many of the older men had enormous beards and wore leathery hats and rough tunics. If they were actors then they sure were dedicated to their craft to be wearing that clothing off-hours. I wanted to ask what they were all about – some crazy Western church thing? Who knows – but I felt we stuck out enough as it was.

After finishing dinner we hit the road for the last stretch out to our hotel – a Quality Inn in Rock Springs, WY:


Day 10 Stop 6 - Rock Springs, WY
Daily total distance: 700 miles

The drive in the dark across western Wyoming was tough but we made it, checking in around 10:30 with no troubles. As it was more motel than hotel we got to park right in front of our room’s door, too, a welcome perk after such a long and at times frustrating day:


End of Day 10
Cumulative total distance: 5310 miles

The room was perfectly decent and quiet, too. The Internet didn’t work, but that didn’t bother me all that much. Everything seemed fine until we tried the A/C. You see, it was quite stuffy in the room. So we turned it on and turned off the lights to go to bed around 11. Two things became obvious: 1) the A/C was not making the room any cooler and 2) it was really loud. Remember when I said we got a surprisingly good night’s sleep in Reno and that we’d end up needing it? This was why. Needless to say, it wasn’t a great night’s rest and a rather fitting end to what was hands-down the most trying day of our entire adventure. Fortunately Day 11 was just around the corner and was going to be fantastic and one of the best days. Still, despite all the troubles, I can’t say I didn’t have fun on Day 10. Sure, we might have gotten pulled over in Nevada, nearly marooned in Utah, and stuck with a broken A/C unit in Wyoming but it was still a great experience; it still all made me feel really alive and happy in a way. And really, really looking forward to reaching Colorado.

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