A Hell of a Trip (So Far...)

Greetings et al from the northern tip of Oregon! Up until Friday afternoon, the drive here was more or less uneventful in an eventful sort of way... Last Friday morning I pulled out of the driveway of the home that I grew up in, pointed my car west and drove to meet the car ferry for a dull trip across Lake Michigan; I read the four hours that it took, my thoughts only punctuated by the barrage of Law & Order SVU that played endlessly in our hold; docked in Manitowoc, mine was the last car to emerge from the ship. I fired up my new Garmin (molto molto buene y'all!), keyed in an address and set off; about three hours and a scenic drive later I was pulling up in front of my brother's farm just outside of LaX, WI. The weather was very nice, not too warm, sunny and a bit of a breeze. I spent a few days hanging out on the farm, helping my sister-in-law make applesauce, playing with my nephews and relaxing for the trip ahead. Monday morning I hit the road and proceeded to Sioux Falls, SD, had lunch and then hit the road again for Rapid City. It was another great day for a drive, mid 70's and sunny; the hills of South Dakota flew by. I took in panoramic views along the way, stopping at a few turn-abouts to take in the hills in the distance and rivers in valleys. I'd thought that I would camp for the night in Rapid City, but the weather had other things in mind; the NWS was forecasting 55mph sustained winds and heavy rain for the overnight, with more gusty winds the following morning. I stopped at a McDonald's for a milkshake and some free wireless and logged on to Cheaptickets.com to scout out my available boarding options. There are quite a number of hotels, motels and inns in Rapid City; most were renting in the $50-70 range, so I decided to look for one that was near the historic downtown district, figuring that I might be able to go out for some local color (it was only about 8pm and all); if you are ever in Rapid City, hit up the Hotel Alex Johnson, an old (well-maintained) classic downtown. At $69+tax, they beat out any of the chain hotels in the city, are the tallest structure downtown (great views!) and was a great find. Sadly, there is very little which is open in Rapid City on a Monday night; I did find a small bar that caters to the college crowd though, it was a dive of a place, just around the corner from the hotel, with hip music and a crowd of mostly just 20-somethings; I drank 3 Jim Beam Manhattans for the steep price of $8 (yes Virginia, EIGHT dollars) including the tip. I asked the bar tender what they sold the most of, she told me PBR (and at 75c), a $20 bill goes a long way. I left the next morning, well rested and raring to get to Bozeman, MT. I was meeting a friend there, going to dinner and beer and back to her house for the night. The drive was uneventful, more rolling hills and sweeping views, at least until I left I-90, directed by my Garmin to Route 212. If you've never driven this road, let me tell you, the bit that makes its way through Wyoming is the very definition of boredom; I imagine this is what the steppes of Argentina look like, flat with minor ridges, cattle and sheep appearing on occasion. I could have pulled the car over, sat in the middle of the road buck naked and not have worried about offending anyone, I think I saw about 3 cars on my drive. Coming into Montana, I thought I'd pull off and get gas, but the first town had no gas station, ditto the next three...with a quarter of a tank left and 41 miles to the next town, I was getting worried. Thankfully, there was gas in the next berg, at the sole filling station cum grocery store cum gun shop cum motel. I hit town at 7pm, gave her a call and left a message. I sent her a text about a half an hour later to tell her I was going for beer. At 8pm, I'd still not heard anything, so I gave her husband a ring, he told me she was downtown to meet me, to try her cell again; I did. At 8.30 her husband called me, told me he could not get ahold of her, wondering if I did...at 9pm she called me--her phone had died. We met, proceeded to a local bar, got a drink and chatted with some of her friends. All went well, until she decided to order shots...tequila shots...I begged out, someone else got mine. Post shots, we went to another bar, I ordered a plate of food and a cocktail, more drinks were poured, and my hostess disappeared. I was handed car keys and asked to get her home...hmmm....I'm visiting, I've never been to Bozeman in my adult life, my car is parked on the main drag, my friend is ripped.... I dropped her in her car, asked if there was an overnight lot for my car, moved it, went back and proceeded to get very lost at midnight in Bozeman. We finally made it back to her house, woke her hubby up & I got to bed...sleep was blissful, until her daughter woke me at 6am with a barrage of questions. Thankfully I had not been tanked the night before, just tired, so I answered her questions to satisfaction and went back to bed. My friend slept super late, leaving me to the ministrations of her kids, house cat and dog (we all got along grand); we stopped early afternoon to get my car and move it uphill to her house. She asked me to hang out another night, see a bit of the town. I was a bit tired still, but read a book in the sun that afternoon, hung out downtown, drank some local brew and had a mini pizza, I picked up some local beer and brought it up the hill to her husband and we sat and chatted for a while. Early to bed, I was up the next morning and off to Spokane to meet another friend. I hit Spokane early in the day, about 2pm, and gave my friend a call. No answer. I sent a text, no reply. I sent a note on FB, nada. I thought that maybe she was at work or outside enjoying the gorgeous weather, so I grabbed a glass of wine at a downtown wine bar, checked my mail and waited a bit. Still nothing. Googling, I discovered that there was a park in the city (People's Park) with a ton of trails, so I switched out shoes, changed into shorts and hit the green space. I had a great afternoon, the park was a series of hills and trails running along the river, the weather was perfect. At 6.30 I decided to return to the car, check my messages and refill my water bottle. Still nothing from my friend; I was worried and sort of off-put. I tried to both text and call her again, I got a voicemail response. I paged her just for good measure. By 7.30 I'd still not heard anything, so I ate a bite and climbed back into my car...and headed out for Yakima. I spent an uneventful night in Yakima, hit the road early Friday morning and drove to Astoria, OR; 3 miles outside of town my Subaru hiccuped; the check engine light flashed on and then off. I pulled over, checked the oil and transmission and coolant--all fine. I looked under the body for any drips; all clear. I drove the last few miles into town, with one more hiccup. I called my dad (the "expert"); he told me it sounded like perhaps I had water in the gas tank, to top the tank with premium gas and call back. I did. Still hiccuping, but just at an idle and randomly while driving. "Add dry gas too," he said. I did. I drove the short drive to the campground (my destination), with hiccups all the way. I need to hit a service station, but all are closed until Monday morning...so here I sit, typing, drinking coffee and enjoying the nothingness all around. At least it's nice nothingness: the Pacific is an easy walk, as too is the Columbia River, there are dunes and abandoned military bunkers to explore, the forest is green and gorgeous (with giant slugs!) and the state park is super nice. I walked down the hill to the tiny town of Hammond this morning for breakfast, about .75 miles, it was cool, with mist hanging in the air, a pleasant walk. I had an omelet and a glass of Oregon pinot gris; on the wall next to my table there was a sign; Keep Calm and Move Forward... An omen of sorts, it's been mentioned here before. The walk back up the hill got me thinking: I've been walking everywhere, thinking I really need a bike (like most everyone here); it's one of the reasons that I chose to move to Oregon after all, great running and biking trails... I'm sitting here at the top of the hill in a minuscule Internet coffee shop, sipping a $2 cafe au lait with an extra shot (seriously, $2, including tax...), nibbling on a giant pumpkin streusel muffin ($1 more), moving forward. The trip has been sorta hellish, but it's doing wonders for evoking my calm.

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