Jun 22, 2009

The Great Pacific Northwest Odyssey Part I

I must preface this travel story by saying that prior to embarking on The Great Pacific Northwest Odyssey, I planned on three things being of vital importance: A GPS device (Google Maps within my blackberry), cruise control, and a half ounce of the chronic (which almost got us into huge trouble). In hindsight, all three have been absolutely crucial in making our long drives tolerable. It blows my mind that eight years ago, when I first became a travel junky, I had no clue what a GPS device was. And kids today have no perspective into the world that was once was, where you had to match a street sign to a point on a map. How times have changed.

The Odyssey started on June 22nd, 2009. We left early in the morning from Placerville, CA and embarked on a 12 hour trek across the state of Nevada. It turned out to be a beautiful drive. I didn’t realize that the northern half of Nevada was so elevated. Yes, you’re driving in a desert. However, all along your sides there are peaks and hills, and you can tell that you are well above sea level. Highway 80 is very desolate in the middle of the state, although you do come across more little towns than I thought.

After crossing the state line into Utah, you immediately notice a change in topography. Gone are the peaks and desert. Instead, out of nowhere are the infamous salt flats of Bonneville. I can see how racers like the Indian set speed records here. There are nothing but miles and miles of flat salt lands all around you. We took a pit stop to see how the earth felt. The ground is firm yet soft at the same time. It’s like a hard-packed beach. As the sun sets, a purple hue surrounds us, with the earth white from all the excess salt. It really is a breathtaking scene.

Our journey the first day ended in Mormon country: Salt Lake City, Utah. We were very exhausted the first night, and realized that there are not a lot of places open in this surprisingly big city. The consignor recommended the Red Lion Hotel across the street, as the place had a lounge that served drinks and food late night.

This is where we met a trio of gay men who would make the folks in the Castro proud. As flaming as they get. Very friendly too. They told us how the city’s tolerance towards gays and other minorities has improved drastically over the years, although there is still a high level of conservatism in the city. We ate a good meal consisting of turkey with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables along with corn chowder. Crashed hard that night.

The next day we checked out the Mormon Temple, and while we knew the city had a strong Mormon presence, it still can catch you a little off guard. They’re very friendly, but also different in a way that’s hard to explain. We toured the Temple’s square, and then got on the road, heading north.

After getting a little lost, we found the place we were looking for: Antelope Island State Park. The hotel concierge recommended the place for hiking. It’s an island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. At first we had decided on camping there, since from a distance it looked beautiful. However, upon reaching the island (via a seven-mile causeway), you get a rather creepy feeling. The marina is practically empty, and so is the campground. Not to mention the island itself has a very isolated, desert-feel to it, and we noticed an infestation of bugs. After driving around for a while and checking out come of the island’s local inhabitants, including bison and antelopes, we cancelled our camping plans and decided to head back north. On to Idaho it was.

The second we crossed state lines into Idaho, everything suddenly turned green. The state looked beautiful. Lush hills all along us, really a beautiful site. After being tempted to check out a place called Lava Hot Springs (which was 11 miles off Highway 15), we settled on a small city called Pocatello. There isn’t a whole lot to see there, but we got a pretty good room at the Holiday Inn to crash for the night. We went to Sandpiper Restaurant, where they serve this really good bread with a delicious garlic, parmesan cheese and olive oil sauce. Really good prime rib. Not the best, but really good.

On to day three. We took the long, scenic route to Jackson, Wyoming. First we drove through some Idaho farmlands, taking in the remote beauty, then drove alongside the Palisades Reservoir, which starts with the biggest dam we’ve ever seen. You know, the type that, if it erupted, would cause some serious, serious damage. After driving for a few hours, we ended up in Jackson Hole.

The town is a tribute to the wild, wild west. The city’s sidewalks are made of wood, and in nearly every souvenir store there are stuffed bears, moose, deer, etc. Hunting and wildlife look to be the name of the game here. It has a fun atmosphere, and you can tell this would be a great place to visit during the winter. At least one of the local ski resorts looked to be connected directly to the town. We stayed inside what is arguably the stylish Motel 6 I have ever been in. Completely remodeled look, the room looks more fitting for a W Hotel than a Motel 6. Then again, I was dropping $100 to spend one night in a Motel 6. Welcome to Jackson (Hole), Wyoming.

That night we ate at a restaurant called The Gun Barrel Steak & Game House. Crazy place, it used to be a taxidermy museum before they converted it into a restaurant. I went with the Elk Chop. Fantastic piece of meat. KerryLynn I think enjoyed her chicken. All in all a fun, unique restaurant experience.

We got up early the next morning to check out Yellowstone National Park. What a beautiful place it is. To get there we first drove past an amazingly stunning set of mountain peaks called the Teton Range. The tallest peak, Grant Teton, rises nearly 14,000 feet in the air. Amazing beauty. Shortly after passing the range and accompanying national park, we entered Yellowstone.

The park is breathtaking for its mountains, forests, fields, and abundance of geysers and springs. They’re everywhere. Naturally, I wanted to touch one to see how hot it was (not scolding) and some bitch started yelling at me, threatening to report me to the park ranger. I naturally first called her “Mom” then told her to go ahead, that I’d just deny everything. She went off ranting and screaming, a classic scene if you were a spectator.

While we saw a peculiar breed of deer I believe called a Pronghorn, plus saw a lot of Bison, including an entire herd camped right by the freeway, the one animal I really wanted to see a lot of were absent. No fucking bears. Bummer. We did see Old Faithful (a major tourist trap, but still a cool site) and a really cool area of springs called Artists Paintpots, which included a wild variety of bubbling springs and mud. It was our favorite part of hiking in Yellowstone.

We stayed in West Yellowstone that night, eating at a restaurant called Bullwinkle’s Saloon and Restaurant. I ordered the Chicken Wellington, which was amazing. Chicken wrapped in some kind of ham, baked inside a croissant and topped with hollandaise sauce. Good shit. The next day we got on the road after leaving our motel, Al’s Westward Ho Motel. We drove through some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen, and found out after stopping at a local café for breakfast that we were in Big Sky, Montana. This is a place I have to come back to someday. Amazing whitewater rapids, and you can tell it would be a blast to be here in winter riding down the mountains.

We ended up in Missoula, Montana, where my old friend John resides. It’s a fun college town, loaded with kids who go to the University of Montana. I guess the locals go apeshit over their Division II Grizzlies football team. Because we were exhausted from traveling so much, we stayed an extra day to recoup. I took this time to go with John to a local beach alongside the Blackfoot River. We got some sun, drank tallboys, smoked some chronic, enjoyed the scenery, and caught up. I could see why he decided to move here and hide out from the world.

The journey next took us to Spokane, Washington. AKA Spokompton. At least that’s what John, and pretty much anyone who hates Spokane, calls it. To be honest, outside of the nice neighborhood and house that my friend James and his beautiful family that we were visiting live in, I wasn’t that impressed. It was like Bakersfield upgraded a notch. Or Sacramento downgraded a notch. Pretty ghetto.

It took us what seemed like forever to leave the city limits heading north. And this is where things got really interesting. Upon arriving at the border, the border agent, after asking us a few questions, decided to have me pull my car over so they can fully inspect it. I guess telling the agent that I was unemployed, had only $40 in my wallet, and planned on staying in Canada for two months was a bad idea. And boy was the ensuing experience an enjoyable one (can you sense the sarcasm?).

The half ounce of chronic has been widdled down to a little over an eighth. Not wanting to give it up, I hid the stash inside a sock, and then stashed the sock inside one of my sneakers. This was KL's suggestion, and you'll soon find out how brilliant of a suggestion it was. I hid the pipe in another sock, inside the other shoe. What I forgot about was the ashtray, of which its contents included a lot of roaches from at least the past six months. The border agent wasn’t too thrilled about that discovery.

To make matters worse, KL didn’t report her pepper spray and taser gun during the initial interview, so when she told the agent that she had them both in her purse, the agent got even more riled up. He asked me if I had a bag of weed in the car, since my backpack and car “reeked” of “dope”. I told him no. I was planning on telling him, if and when he discovered the stash, that it was left there from months ago during a camping trip. I had told him that the roaches in the ashtray were from a long time ago and that I completely forgot about it (which was all true, for the most part anyways). They went full-bore into our stuff.

Amazingly, despite going through all our luggage, bags, and all compartments within the vehicle, the border agent somehow overlooked the shoes. Score! He did tell us that we could have been fined $1000 for both the contraband and roaches, in addition to having my car impounded, but he let us off with a warning. Despite our trip being delayed over an hour, I couldn’t help but feel completely ecstatic at our escape.

The next few hours consisted of driving through the Canadian wilderness, and I couldn’t believe how many trees we’d passed. Also noticed a strong Russian and Ukranian presence in the Canadian border towns. Hours of dense forest within canyons and mountains. Truly an amazing site. Day seven concluded in the Canadian city of Kelowna.

We didn’t spend much time there. Slept, got up, and bounced. It’s a random city, Kelowna. Beautiful lake but congested and not a whole lot going on. A bartender there told me that locals hate it while transplants love it. Makes sense. On the way to Vancouver, we stopped at a hick Canadian town called Merritt. Serious cowboy country. The whole drive there was a vertical climb, although the elevation of the town is supposedly under 2,000 feet. Odd.

Among the bug massacre on my windshield lies a trend: Lots and lots of blood.

The drive from Merritt to Vancouver was probably the most beautiful I've ever experienced. For what seemed like two hours we continually descended into the craziest valleys while massive snow-covered mountain peaks surrounded us. Completely surreal. We stopped and had lunch in a town called Hope that would be the capital of Earth if there was a nuclear holocaust. We finally got to Vancouver, where we relaxed in our posh hotel room the first night, 21 floors up.

This was my fourth visit to Vancouver, but I was still a little surprised to be able to handle the tour guide reigns fairly easily. On the tenth day of our Odyssey, we took a walk to the Amsterdam Café, hoping to score some more of the chrondo and roll a couple up. To my surprise, some ganga dealers who used to operate out of an office next door were replaced with a second marijuana café (they don't sell weed, just provide a place to smoke while serving food and beverages). This place charged a $5 entry fee but offered patrons use of volcano vaporizers. The guy there told us we could easily find some green at a gathering that was taking place in downtown Vancouver.

The gathering turned out to be a full-on rally supporting the legalization of cannabis. July 1st is apparently both Canada Day and Cannabis Day. There were people selling marijuana, hash, pot brownies and pot cookies everywhere. Naturally I picked some up, hung out for a bit (Vancouver is hands-down the weed capital of this hemisphere, Amsterdam of course being the weed capital of Earth) then headed back to the Amsterdam Café.

We hung out for a bit, and even stopped at the new place next door to roll one up. After falling into a mental stupor, we walked west to rent bikes and ride through Stanley Park. If you’ve never done this before and plan on going to Vancouver, I highly recommend taking a couple of hours out of your day to do this. It’s like bike riding through a life-size postcard.

Our 11th and final day of the Odyssey took us on a ferry ride to a shithole town called Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The ferry ride is beautiful, with views of snow-capped peaks descending directly into the ocean (I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen this). The drive is simply amazing, true beauty lies in Canada.

After driving for some four-odd hours, and a combined total of over 3,000 miles, we arrived at our destination on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We indeed saved the best for last.

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