Alaska, Day 4

Twelve hours on the road today, bringing us to Whitehorse, YT. Lots of rain and clouds through the Canadian Rockies, plus a little bit of snow. The clouds were breathtaking, though; I snapped a few photos, but they’re really not sufficient.

Photos below. I’m going to bed.

So… Alaska


A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend some quality time on the road, visiting the western US, seeing some neat things, eating some decent food, and just overall taking the chance to decompress from a busy life. At the end, I speculated what the future might hold, a roadtrip to Alaska, or perhaps a Cannonball Run.

Continue reading “So… Alaska”

Road trip 2010, the aftermath… final thoughts and random statistics

Well, Kyle is back at work, and I’m home in the greater Madison area. I arrived around 4am this morning, after a 12+ hour drive up from Murfreesboro.

The full trip, in bullet points because Google Maps has a maximum of 10 destinations (who knew?):

  • Madison, WI
  • Horse Thief Lake Campground, South Dakota
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • Farragut State Park, Idaho
  • Seattle, WA
  • Seaquest State Park, Washington
  • Portland, Oregon (biscuits!)
  • Redding, California
  • Santa Rosa, California
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Murfreesboro, TN
  • Madison, WI


Random Statistics:

  • vehicle driven: 2005 Honda Accord coupe (manual)
  • miles driven: 6,761
  • gallons of gasoline: 213
  • average cost of gasoline: $2.82, with a high of  $3.30, and a low of $2.55
  • average mpg: 33.57, with a high of 39.72 and low of 28.86
  • burgers consumed: 3, including the stunning glory that is an In-N-Out Burger
  • biscuits consumed: 1
  • money won playing blackjack: $10
  • bears seen: 0
  • moose seen: 0
  • oxen seen: 0
  • buffalo seen: 2

There’s not much to say, now that it’s over. I got exactly what I needed out of this trip; the opportunity to see parts of the country that I’ve never seen, and a much needed opportunity to relax (as much as I can, anyway). Pictures will, of course, be posted once they’re developed.

What’s up next? Alaska, perhaps, or maybe my own personal cannonball run.

Day Six & Seven… that long drive home

We woke on Day Six to Vegas. Despite our desire to get on the road, I felt it important that I at least try my hand at that activity that the city is known for, if for no other reason than to be able to say that yes, I gambled while I was in Vegas.

So, after about 30 minutes of blackjack on the casino floor of Excalibur, I had accomplished my goal, with the added bonus of having earned lunch money.

Meaning, we had to find lunch, and what better place to eat than the classic western US burger joint of In-N-Out Burger. This being my first In-N-Out experience, all I can do is quote those infamous words of Jules Winnfield: “That is a tasty burger.” Fresh ingredients, quality beef, fries cut on location… these people known their business. I can get a solid burger in Wisconsin too, but I’m glad I took this opportunity to experience In-N-Out.

After my burger experience, we left to head back home. Total drive time from Vegas to where I dropped Kyle off in Murfreesboro: 31 hours. We figured the best thing to do was to drive straight through and arrived Saturday evening, just in time for dinner.

For me, this trip is mostly over. I’ll be heading back to Madison tomorrow, with a brief stop in Chattanooga to see a friend. I’m tired, and if I were smart (I’m not) I’d be sleeping by now, so my final thoughts will have to wait until later.

Day five, update

Minor change in plans; lunch in Santa Rosa was excellent, but then instead of Carson City, we headed straight for Vegas. Arrived around 1am, and checked into our room at Excalibur.

I’ve never made it out here to Vegas, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. With my nocturnal tendencies, I can appreciate the 24/7 nature of the city itself, but since I’m not much of a gambler, don’t drink, and am terrified of strip clubs, I’m not really sure what there is to do here. We walked the strip after we checked in, just to do it, but we’ll be leaving tomorrow morning. Like Seattle, I’m glad I can say I visited, but that’s all this will be. A visit, then back on the road.

Day Five… biscuits, Oregon, and the Pacific Coast

Having arrived at Seaquest State Park well after dark, it’s a bit disconcerting to wake up to a forest that distinctly resembles a scene from Jurassic Park. Ferns were absolutely everywhere, and I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised to see a Velociraptor or T-Rex come around a tree, as angry and hungry as we were for breakfast. I saw the movie. I know how this works. I suspect we’re lucky to be alive.

Our first stop, after packing up and leaving Seaquest State Park, was Portland. I’m a big fan of Food Network in general, and a show called Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives in particular, and while the host, a blonde surfer wanna-be with an affinity for flip-flops and shorts, can be obnoxious at times, I can’t help but appreciate the theme: seeking out unknown, hole-in-the-wall type restaurants. As part of my research in preparation for my current trip (an entire list of restaurants that have appeared on DDD can be found here), I came across an episode that showed off Pine State Biscuits, and since Kyle and I are both big biscuit fans, we decided to make a point of stopping to check it out.

Even Kyle, a renown biscuit snob, was impressed. We both had the same biscuit sandwich; egg, cheese, and buttermilk fried chicken. I sprung for a side of hash browns and a cup of what turned out to be the absolutely best sweet tea I have ever had, bar none, outside of Tennessee. The biscuits themselves were large, flakey, buttery, and delicious. The buttermilk fried chicken was excellent, with just enough spices in the breading to bring that needed flavor. The egg was perfectly cooked. Kyle wasn’t overly impressed by the hash browns, but to me, they were as good as any I’ve ever had. I got plenty of pictures, and as soon as they’re developed, they’ll get posted. Try to keep the drool off your keyboard and screen.

Our breakfast pains sated, we moved on to the west coast. My original goal for the trip was to drive as much as possible along the coast, but once we hit US Highway 101 via Highway 6 and Tillamook (Oregon residents, you’re welcome for my contribution to your state treasury; no need to thank me), I realized that between the slow nature of the popular US 101 highway and the rain, there was no way we were going to make California in anything resembling a reasonable amount of time. Sadly, we only were able to take 101 down to Newport, then had to pick up Highway 20 over to Interstate 5 for the rest of our drive. I was disappointed to have to give up on the coastal route so quickly, but it just wasn’t going to work out. That’s ok, though. Now that I’m a bit more familiar with the drive, I’ll be able to plan better next time.

Interstate 5 took us down into the People’s Republic of California, where we’re stopped for the night. After four nights of camping, and a longer day of driving, we grabbed a hotel in Redding for some much needed electricity and hot showers that don’t have to be shared with frogs or instects.

The plans for tomorrow? Lunch in Santa Rosa with a friend, perhaps some time in San Francisco being all touristy, then east towards Carson City. We’re pretty much as far west as we’re getting on this trip; it’s time to start heading home.

Day Four… there’s something fishy about Seattle

Based on a hot tip from some friends, our our inital target of exploration for Seattle was Pike Place Fish, part of the infamous Pike Place Market, and only yards away from the first of a very minor chain of coffee shops. PPF is known for it’s fishmongers who have a penchent for throwing fish to each other, then waiving the fish in the face of whatever poor market-goer happened to be standing nearby, all while yelling some kind of mysterious code phrases. PPF was facinating, and fun to watch, and the rest of Pike Place Market was pretty neat too. I got a brocure for a small shop that makes their own pasta that I plan on trying, and I was shocked at both the quantity and low cost of fresh flowers. Both Pike Place Fish and Pike Place Market were worth the trip into Seattle.

However, as to the rest of Seattle… let’s just say that after days of traveling at reasonable speeds, through areas that have a far more reasonable population density, Seattle was miserable. I’m glad I visited, but that’s all it will be; a visit. Seattle is offically off my list of places to live.

After Seattle, we picked up Interstate 5 south, down to Mt St Helens and Seaquest (sadly, no, not the TV show) Washington State Park for the evening. The weather is surprising humid, but nowhere near as cold as the past several nights. I think I prefer the cold, even if Kyle doesn’t.

The plans for Day Five? Biscuits at Pine State Biscuits in Portland, then off to the Pacific Coast Highway.

Day Three, and into Day Four… the Yellowstone Bear Myth, Montana, Idaho, and Washington State

I’m going to go ahead and just say that Grand Teton national park was failure. There are bear and wildlife warnings EVERYWHERE, but did we see a bear? Not one. Not even a moose. I would even have been willing to settle for some kind of large bird of prey. Kyle says we saw elk, but I don’t believe him. Had I known this was going to be such an issue, I’d have dumped our bottle of honey on the tent of a noisy family a few sites down from us, just to draw a bear or two out. The closest thing we saw was the very angry squirrel that bombarded my tent with pinecones, and I’m pretty sure that was the same one that attacked us at our campsite in South Dakota. When we entered Yellowstone, on our way to Montana, we received a big yellow notice that there are bears around, and we should be careful. What a farce. Even the bear boxes were empty! Not. One. Bear.
Also, let me talk about firewood for a second. We’re camping, and while we do have a camp stove, we also have been doing some cooking over a camp fire whenever possible, as well as using one for heat in the evenings before we go to bed (we had frozen water in the morning at the Tetons; it’s pretty chilly). I’m well aware of the rules regarding the transportation of firewood, but if a national park is going make us buy firewood from them, at $5 a bundle, then I darn well expect it to be thourogly dried and seasoned. There is no excuse for green firewood. They have a nice monopoly going, but that’s no reason to slack off. Common, people get on it.
The next step on our drive was originally going to be the Sawtooth Mountains, but it turns out that it’s only a 5 hour drive from the Grand Tetons, and that simply is not far enough in one day. I wanted to check out Montana, so we pointed the GPS towards Seattle, via Yellowstone and an obligatory stop at Old Faithful. Yellowstone, as I already mentioned was devoid of wildlife, but Montana… simply unreal.

Before I start on about the drive through Montana itself, I also have to say that I had some of the best Mexican food I have ever tasted. We stopped just outside of Yellowstone, in a little town called West Yellowstone, to grab some food before moving on. I, of course, went straight to the internet to see about finding someplace decent to eat, while Kyle takes the old fasioned route: he gets out of the car, walks into a sporting goods store, and asks a local resident, who promptly listed off half a dozen decent restraunts in the area, but in the end, points to a bus 30 feet down the sidewalk. Said bus turns out to be what our friendly local considered the best Mexican food in town, and he wasn’t kidding. Madison, Wisconsin has many great restaurants, but is sadly devoid of genuine Mexican food; apparently, I have to drive 1700 miles to find it. Oh, and they even serve genuine Mexican Coca-cola, made with real sugar.
Montana was, quite possibly, one of the best road and driving experiences of my life. Fantastic speed limits, combined with roads that define the word “rural”, running along, around, between, and over mountains that I might have logically known existed, but never really been able to grasp the sheer magnitude. We must have spent three hours on minor back roads, simply flying along. Eventually, we picked up Interstate 90, and headed into Idaho. Seattle was a bit far to make it on that day, so we just hunted down a state camp (Farragut Idaho State Park) for the night. Nice enough camp, as far as I could tell, though we did roll in right as it was getting dark.
The goal for day four? Seattle. I need to see a man about a fish.

Day two, the aftermath…

Well, we arrived at the Grand Tetons unscathed and incarcerated, despite our flagrant disregard for posted speed limits. Google Maps must be enjoying some high-grade recreational narcotics, because it decided to route us through back roads for a significant part of our drive. I won’t complain, though; those back roads are exactly what I needed for this trip. We successfully cut our 90 minutes off the drive (and more), like we wanted to, and did it through what is some of the must amazingly beautiful parts of the country I’ve ever seen.

The down side is that even though we cut all that all that time off the drive, the Jenny Lake campsite was full. Jerks, all of you, for taking our camping spots. We had to grab a site several miles away, and while it’s not bad, nor is it the campground we had originally wanted. Ah well, that’s how things go.

Day Two…

Arrived at Horse Thief Lake campground late last night, only minutes ahead of sundown. Sadly, even the mighty Verizon Wireless network was lacking at the campsite itself; I managed to get one text out, between the random bouts of No Service. I’m not surprised, though; it was pretty far out into the Black Hills; we even had to drive past Mount Rushmore to get to the camp.

The drive was pretty much what one might expect from a straight 12 drive (cutting a good 90 minutes off the Google Time for the drive); Minnesota is tedious, and while South Dakota is unbelievably beautiful, it was also just pretty much a long stretch of highway. “Magnificent desolation” is the best way I can think to describe it, and yes, I’m fully aware that that has also been used to describe the moon. There will be pictures forthcoming, but they don’t do it justice. Simply unreal.

We packed up early this morning (when I say early, i mean EARLY; we were out of the campsite by 10am), and headed out toward Jenny Lake Camp in the Grand Tetons. Projected drive time? Approximately 9 hours, via Google, which means we’re going to do our best to cut at least an hour off that. I’m currently posting from Highway 16 West, somewhere west of Mount Rushmore, out of the Black Hills National Forest, and into Wyoming. Huzzah for mobile internet.

Current music selection: Boston Greatest Hits.

Pictures should be posted sometime today!