the sky at the end of the interstate

When Kate asked if I wanted to join her on a road trip back to her homeland, Montana, I eagerly accepted. Montana and Vermont are both places which I’ve heard only extremely positive things about. I was only too glad for the chance to determine the veracity of these claims for at least one of the two states for myself. It wasn’t a super planned and exact trip. Which doesn’t bother me, though it did leave me feeling under prepared. The evening before found Sunita and me in Portland at the concert of the exceptional LP. We didn’t return home until 2:30am, a mere two and a half hours before Kate and I were scheduled to depart for Montana. Kate graciously took the first shift of driving while I stole a bit more sleep. In hindsight, we didn’t listen to a second of music during our drive either way. Kate came prepared with audiobooks and podcasts, and we spent our hours listening to those and conversing.

We arrived in Kalispell mid-afternoon and met up with her dad Lee and his wife Lisa at Flathead Lake. And what a splendidly large and lovely lake it is. They took us out on their boat to Wild Horse Island, where we had a leisurely hike and saw an impressive amount of wildlife. For the millionth time in my life I was told “ohh, this is unusually good weather for here.” ‘Unusually good weather’ meaning sunny and warm. This coming from people who didn’t grow up in Florida where ‘sunny and warm’ is equivalent to ‘boring, overdone, and way two centuries ago.’ I am cursed by ‘good weather’ following me wherever I go. Only Portland seems immune to the curse of my eternal sunny presence. Anyways, digressing here, it was a pleasant day. Upon our return the sun turned golden and the skies filled with the beautiful purples and pinks distinctive of this area. What a gorgeous place. We closed the evening with dinner at a local brewery.

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Kate had a cornucopia of potential plans for our trip. The following day we headed to Glacier National Park with Kate’s mom. I pulled one of my infamous car trip narcolepsy routines, so I can’t speak much for the way there. But once we arrived we did the spectacular Highline Trail. There we spent several hours amidst awesome views and more fuzzy critters. We tried an energy bar made out of crickets that Kate had gotten for me to try. It was surprisingly delicious. After our strenuous day we spent the evening with giant Greek salads and several episodes of Pushing Daisies. Exertion begets happy laziness.

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Our third day took us to the Polebridge Mercantile where we bought inexcusable quantities of huckleberry bear claws. We ate them slowly in the tiny place that is Polebridge. We agreed to take it easy after our hike the day before and wound up spending a few hours at Lake McDonald. Kate and I had another lovely dinner with Lee and Lisa. I tried some elk, which was delicious and nearly vegetarian-ending.

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The last day was a half day. Kate got her hair cut by a friend and then we had pizza. And then we drove off with our car loaded with freshly picked pears ready to become honeyed pears. We stopped in Spokane for the evening and stayed with a friend of Kate’s, and then picked up again early the next morning. It was a good road trip. Montana has me impressed.

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a gouda day

This was my second encounter with the giants of the Redwood Forest. And yet again, I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time among them. I feel I could spend ages soaking in the silence and antiquity of those redwoods.
Traveling with a dog can present issues when you want to do a lot of hiking in national parks and such. We did find an unpaved road closed off to cars where we were allowed to take Jedi. He was happy to sprint through puddles and sniff lots of plants and be outside of the car for a little while. It was raining pretty intently, so we got wet. But it was a nice walk.

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We traveled on, pulling off on the coast and preparing some Annie’s for lunch. Well, Sunita did the preparing. I ran back and forth to the edge of the water and let the freezing water wash over my happy-to-be-free-of-winter-layers feet.

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Other than the redwoods, day two didn’t involve any hugely touristy events. We arrived in the well-kept little city of Santa Rosa by early evening. Here we visited two places where our coworker, Molly, used to work. One of which was an Irish pub called Stout Brothers. The vibe wasn’t quite the calm-and-buzzing pub atmosphere I’ve come to love in Ireland, but it was a cool place and it made me happy.

Our sleeping options in Santa Rosa were…nonexistent apparently. We sought out a truck stop, which turned out to be just a gas station. Then we drove for awhile without finding anything promising. So Sunita ended up just driving to Fairfield, where we would start the next day at the Jelly Belly factory (her stop, not mine). We pulled off on a not-so-busy side street and found a not-too-bright-yet-not-completely-unlit spot to park. It’s funny, there aren’t too many circumstances in which you look for poorly lit places at night, particularly as a woman. But when you are sleeping in a car, not having bright lights flooding in is very appealing. Plus, sharing the car with a [as my dad put it] ‘slightly aggressive dog’ is a pretty compelling way to allay any fear. When we awoke in the morning, we found ourselves parked across from a fleet of postal trucks. After the Jelly Belly factory, it was straight to San Francisco. Unlike my previous visit, it was a blue sky, sunny day.

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We parked the car as close to the Golden Gate bridge as possible, which wasn’t very close at all. But there was a really nice trail system that led to it. Once there, we met up with Sunita’s friend Gregg and took a stroll in the sunshine. All the sun and walking brought on some fierce appetites. We found a restaurant specializing in various grilled cheese sandwiches and naturally ate there. I was, after all traveling with a cheese whore. However, we were running short on time, as the real event of the day was within minutes of commencing. We speed-walked (I speed-walked, they continued their strolling) to the unmistakable blue and yellow striped Grand Chapiteau that houses Cirque du Soleil.

I first was properly introduced to Cirque by a Wwoof host’s son who was obsessed. We watched , Varekai, Alegría, Fire Within, 20 Years Under the Sun….Finian had seen each dozens of times before, and I didn’t fail to match his enthusiasm. Ever since then it has been a goal of mine to see a show live. The one we were to see was Amaluna. I was not disappointed. It’s amazing to be in a room of such awesomely talented and practiced people. Being there is a hugely different experience than watching it on a screen. I loved feeling the floorboards thump as performers ran past me in the aisles, hearing the focused breathing of the balancing goddess, just being immersed. I’m definitely glad I got to experience it, though I think the only show I’d pay so much to go to in the future is Varekai, which is my favorite.

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But Cirque Du Soleil was not the end of our evening. My friends Valerie and Alex met up for dinner with us in Palo Alto, where they now live. We went and had delicious hummus, and then just spent a few hours chatting at their place. We slept again in the car, beside a park a few streets away from their house.

first the familiar

Our latest road trip commenced accompanied by the crooning of ‘California’ by Phantom Planet. Because ‘California, here we cooooooooooooooome’ was precisely the agenda. With the next eleven days free, we packed ourselves, Jedi, and an awful lot of Annie’s mac n cheese into Sunita’s Subaru and headed down the coast.

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In our little corner of the country it was a typical greyish, wettish day where the passing evergreens are tall, layered silhouettes. Varying shades of dark against a luminescent grey sky. My favorite kind of day, especially for driving about. We had a few stops scheduled before our endpoint for the day: somewhere near the redwoods in northern California. A few unplanned ones snuck in along the way, as is wont to happen on all good road trips.

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Astoria is a must for Sunita and me when we’re passing anywhere nearby. We dropped by The Rusty Cup, which is a tiny, lovely coffee shop I had discovered a few weeks prior with my friend Lola. I had a Pumpkin Pie Chai Latte (possibly the best warm beverage I’ve ever had?). And since we were in Astoria, we made a visit to the Goonies house. From there we could hear the sea lions of Astoria out near the water. So naturally we went and said hello to them. However, our real stop in Astoria was the Fort George Brewery, where we grabbed a growler of pumpkin beer to go.  Soon after we came to Tillamook, whereby we purchased a plethora of cheese which was intended for the making of copious grilled cheeses.

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Instead of driving the efficient, time and gas saving route, we took the scenic, beautiful, coastal 101. A sacrifice well worth the reward. The harsh waves of the Pacific Ocean are a dramatic contrast to the flat, calm waves of the Gulf of Mexico I grew up with. My eyes can’t take in enough of the giant swells fighting towards the shore. I am also very unused to cold beaches. I’ve never been partial to the warm, salty water in Florida; it feels like swimming in urine. But the cold, unobstructed wind that frequents the beaches here at this time of year is admittedly difficult to get used to. No matter, I still adore it. The ocean will never cease to captivate me.

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Through research I discovered that camping anywhere close to the Redwoods is a spendy experience. Consequently, we had thought to car camp in Crescent City. But seeing as it’s a thoroughly sketchy city, and we wanted to get a bit closer to where we planned to hike the following day, we passed it by. Without regret. Instead Sunita found a large pull-off peering over the ocean and we slept there. It was raining heavily (a welcome change from the continual mist Olympians mistake as rain), and the wind was tumultuous and intense. I slept fitfully, with mostly-sleepy-but-slightly-wakeful worries about the roof box flying off. However, upon waking it was still in place, and we weren’t flooded or windswept into the sea.

Sunita and I have a sort of routine where she awakens obscenely early and starts driving and I wake a few hours later when the sun decides it’s a good time to start the day. She does most of the driving for two reasons: partially because she enjoys it, and partially because I’m a horrible driver (which I finally got her to admit on this trip). I, therefore, have been deemed the permanent DJ. Jedi’s role is to attempt to climb into the front seat as often as possible, despite being reprimanded every single time. And making the car smell with his intense farts. And that’s a lot of what comprises our driving stretches.

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perpetua

Sunita’s mother came to visit from the east coast. With a spare few days we scrounged up, we all piled into the car (‘the car’ being Sunita’s, since mine is the epitome of finicky) for a mini road trip. Our destination was Cape Perpetua, Oregon: home of so-called Thor’s Well. I say so-called, because apparently until recently no such title existed and that particular parcel of land was no more fantastic than any other. It gained recognition when a photographer named his photo of the seeming hole in the ocean ‘Thor’s Well’. And then flocks, droves, multitudes of people appeared at the visitor center in Cape Perpetua and asked where to find Thor’s Well (I suspect this popularity is widely due to Pinterest, but who knows?). Meanwhile the poor people of the visitor center had no idea what this ‘Thor’s Well’ business was about. Anyways, it’s now a thing, and while it isn’t listed on the maps of the area, it is pretty widely recognized.

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Sunita found a campground for us literally across the road. I am usually quite fond of camping. But this campground in particular is an exceptional place. One of the most charming settings ever. We had our own private walkway into our campsite, which was set just alongside a small stream. The other sites were just as spectacular. I could probably live in several of them quite happily.

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My dad’s thirty-year-old tent made a resurgence for the occasion. It is old and smelly and leaves your hands a powdery grey after set up or break down, but I am rather attached to it. It traveled painstakingly in pieces with my Birthright Backpacking crew whereby it was featured as our wet, but much appreciated home in the middle of Bruges, Belgium. And it sheltered us after one of two failed hitchhiking days on the trip, somewhere in the middle of Sweden. It also embarked on the Mosa Lina road trip, where it perched near the rim of the Grand Canyon. Someday I will spend actual money and buy a new tent with cool features (lightweightness!) and not a weird moldy smell and actual functional waterproofing. But for now, I am happy to lovingly use this one as my outdoor quarters. Well…except for when we use Sunita’s two-person tent….which we didn’t in this situation because we had three people and a dog. A large dog who is really keen on sleeping on top of people.

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After setting up camp, we did a short hike to see the view of the coast. The view was perhaps more spectacular than Thor’s Well itself. Which is proven, apparently, by the fact that I don’t have any actual pictures (at this time) of Thor’s Well. Umm…so…yeah. We arrived too late on our first day to see it properly, so we had to wait until high tide at noon on the following day. We spent a while watching and taking pictures, but it never really got as epic as I expected. It was cool. Just not as fancy as some pictures would lead you to believe. I assume some days are better than others. But, because of this, we were able to get much closer than we had expected. The three of us sat for ages just watching it fill and overflow with water and then just as quickly suck back down and release again into the ocean.

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A chunk of time was devoted to taking a successful jumping photo, of which this is the closest we came. With all of our giggling, and Sunita’s mother’s lack-of-being-impressedness, we deemed this an entirely appropriate and acceptable photo.

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On the way home we stopped in Astoria for dinner at St George Brewing Co, which I learned from one of my customers has truffle pizza. Unfortunately due to a series of tragic events, truffle pizza was not acquired. Next time, however, truffle pizza will be mine.

aspen trees♥

“Soo….” Sunita said one day, “how would you feel about taking a trip to Colorado?” I felt favorable. So we requested time off, got our things in order, and set out late on the night of July 11th. Sunita drove us into Oregon and we found a place to park and sleep just near Multnomah Falls.

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We were off again before the sun arose. Before we hit Colorado, we made a stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, because why not? America truly is unique: in its array of vast, unique landscapes. There is a huge section of space in this country that consists of rocks ranging from black to red that are practically weightless, and the blackest dirt you’ve ever encountered. It’s just there. Setting silently, watching the skies change day by day. And you’d never know, if it wasn’t a Google-able National Monument. A National Monument with a name as intriguing as Craters of the Moon. I felt the same way about the Grand Canyon. Within a five minute walking distance from the ledge there is nothing more than trees and dirt. What must it have felt like to come upon that scene, for people who didn’t know what lay before them?

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Our time in Colorado was relaxing, fun, and delicious. The drive from Boulder to Chris and Lauren’s (friends whom we were staying with) in Nederland was gorgeous. And I think we were both well impressed and enamored. We were there to surprise Chris for his birthday, and I feel his birthday was well-celebrated. We had top notch food at several local restaurants and Lauren made tasty birthday treats.

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Sunita and I put great effort into trying to climb a fourteener, but for various reasons (getting lost [well, taking the path less taken {in other words not marked}], afternoon storms, crazy unreachable-by-not-an-enormous-truck roads…) didn’t succeed. The hikes we did manage were beautiful, though, and a welcome substitute.

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We also spent a day exploring the exceptionally adorable town that is Ned.

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Before departing Colorado we stopped at Georgetown for a short visit with an old acquaintance of my from Florida. Our time with Michelle was brief, but surprisingly eventful. Just minutes after arriving, her neighbor introducing himself to us, and introducing our four-leggeds, I watched said neighbor go head-over-handlebars on his bicycle. It looked disconcertingly comical, forced, make-believe. He glanced the curb, and then his head was smashing into the ground of Michelle’s front yard. I ran out to see if he was okay, and found a very deep, gushing wound in his forehead. Anyways, he refused to be taken to the hospital, and after another neighbor arrived with bandages, Sunita, Michelle, and I continued on with our lunch plans. More delicious food (I’m so proud of Colorado and their cuisine), and a tour of little Georgetown. I love interacting with anything that people are passionate about. Our walking tour was filled with so much affection for that place and all of its intricacies.

And then on to Utah, land of Sunita’s bouncing enthusiasm. There was a span of seven or so minutes where ‘Moab’ was uttered probably sixty or more times. We were bound for Canyonlands, but encountered a thunderstorm. We pulled over and slept beneath heavy rain and a lightning show against the desert landscape. Morning came early. But sunrise was a brilliant event in such an awesome place.

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We tried to take jumping pictures, but we kind of failed. Many times.

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After Canyonlands we stopped for lunch a superb lunch at Peace Tree Cafe, and then continued on for a drive-through of Arches.

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And then homeward!

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less like soup and more like heaven

So I forgot to mention that on the way to Ohio Corvin’s check engine light came on. Again. After just being fixed hours prior in New York. My parents insisted upon switching cars. Which we did, gratefully. But it was sad to pull out of my grandma’s driveway and leave Corvin pitifully, brokenly behind. But my parents’ car is much fancier. Volume control on the steering wheel, a CD player that works 100% of the time, seat warmers (not something I enjoy, but still), an honest to goodness clock, and admittedly much more room. Luxury. So Corvin was soon all but forgotten. Well, that is until we were about ten miles from Cassie’s family’s home and we filled the tank of our new vehicle. I think my heart changed its rhythm as the dollar signs increased. Little Corvin had been averaging about $27 per tank on the trip so far. My parents’ reached $66. I was not impressed. But I reminded myself 1) that their tank was larger, and 2) that we were incredibly lucky to even have a vehicle at this point. Thank God for my overwhelmingly generous parents.

The very blue house in Batavia became quite full when our party of four merged with the usual six residents. Between receiving numerous gifts and much adoration from the two youngest, and catching up with Beth, whom I’ve not seen for several years, our arrival stood in stark contrast to the past several hours of driving. I’ve realized road trips are a good balance of calm and [hopefully] uneventful stretches of driving past miles of gorgeous scenery, and periods of concentrated and vivid interaction with the people where and with the places in which you arrive. I appreciate both, but what I really appreciate is their harmony.

The events of Chicago (or, in my mind The City of Revolving Doors) sadly did not mirror Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as planned. But I still very much enjoyed the day. The Sears (or Willis, if you insist on being current) Tower was skippable in my opinion. Especially after just having been on the Empire State Building. But, whatever. The Bean in Millennium park was enchanting, however. I could have stayed and regarded it for hours. We stopped at a grocery store/vegetarian cafe called Kramer’s, which was a great decision. I’ve had this vegan Cuban sandwich in my mind for months now, seeing as Cuban sandwiches are the only form of pork I enjoy, and are the main situation in which I actually miss meat. But I haven’t gotten around to actually realizing this idea. Well Kramer’s beat me to it. Their Cuban sandwich was good, but I still think I can do it better, and I plan to.

There were non-food related events between lunch and dinner, but they weren’t especially noteworthy, so I’ll move right on to Gino’s. It had happened four or five times that when I mentioned the word ‘Chicago’ in relation to our itinerary, people responded with “go to Gino’s!” And so we did. Despite the fact that for the majority of the trip I’ve reduced myself to two meals a day, I consider both my vegan Cuban, and my deep dish pizza worthy investments. Not to mention, our server Dane! was one of the best waiters on the planet. We skipped out on the comedy venue we had planned on going to that evening in favor of spending more time at Gino’s and also stopping by the very fancy Grand Lux Cafe for Cassie’s dessert. By then we were exhausted. Three out of the four of us slept on the train ride back to Batavia.

Chicago Ginos

I really like the aesthetic of Chicago. It has interesting tall buildings and a lot going on, but it has a lot of space. Just walking through, there are pockets of air and sky filled places, the streets feel wide, and the people walking about don’t resemble some sort of human sardine run. It is has a sense on non-oppressive muchness.

My favorite part was the Tribune Tower. I started noticing these odd pieces of rocks here and there that didn’t seem to belong to the smooth facade. There were engravings of place names beneath each protrusion. As I walked along, I realized that these were collected from famous structures from across the world and then displayed in the walls of this building. It was fascinating. I think I can safely say that the Tribune Tower is my favorite structure in the US. I love that it wasn’t even an intended destination of our visit, we just brushed past it. You can’t even begin to imagine all that you’ll encounter on any given day.

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nyc bridge

So despite the car being out of commission, we made use of our extra time in NYC. Mr. and Mrs. H came home and gracefully provided excellent food and loads of patience and support. We consumed toxic levels of sugar. I got married. We pretended to go to Boston up until we reached the bus station (poor, deserted Boston pizza tour, someday I will attend to you). We got a cookie cake and split it amongst the four of us in Central Park. We pawned off the last piece, which simply read ‘sexy’ to some passersby. I vomited my quarter of said cookie cake. We walked the Brooklyn Bridge. At long last Corvin came back to life, and we set off once again.

My parents just happened to be in Ohio while we were passing through. Which was about as exciting for me as anything else on the trip, since I now see them only a few times per year, living on the other side of the country and all. Ohio mostly involved catching up with extended family, since I now see them only once every few years. There was a small family dinner for my dad’s side, and the traditional huge family dinner for my mom’s side. I got to meet my new, twin first cousins once removed. I got to visit my grandma before her open heart surgery. Great quantities of pumpkin bread were consumed, and my grandma sent two loaves with us on our journey, loaves which were greatly enjoyed and appreciated. We also made multiple trips to Swenson’s, which is now one of two situations in which I will consume meat of my own volition (the other being homemade Cuban sandwiches). One of our trips was the midnight walk. Which is a bit odd, since Swenson’s is a drive-in ‘lights on for service’ restaurant. But we claimed our parking spot and consumed our amazingbestintheworld burgers and milkshakes happily.

OH Swensons