Monday, September 12, 2011

Day 8 - Monday August 29, 2011

Day 8

3139 miles done
476 miles to go!
Medium coffee $1.75
It's our last day of the road trip. I'm relieved we've made it this far, happy to have slept last night, sad that it's almost over, and scared as hell of what comes next. I’m so grateful to Anna for coming with me on this trip – we’ve laughed so much together and turned a potentially cramped and boring week into the ultimate adventure. I have to admit, even though I had to drag her away from every person she encountered and struck up conversation with, I’m glad she did it. People were so unbelievably friendly everywhere we went on this journey – and sometimes I wondered if it was because they felt our excited and curious energy and were opened by it. There is nothing like connecting with strangers on the road, and sharing moments that you’ll both remember for the rest of your lives.

A landscape taken straight from Twin Peaks rolls pass our windows, as we drive through Coeur D'Alene National Forest. Obama’s ARRA money is hard at work as the highway frequently turns into two-way streets for construction. The sky in front of us is looking darker and Sofia wonders if it really will rain everyday in Seattle.

Welcome to Idaho, the sign switches by the last state before we enter Washington state, once we get there we can add 13 states and and a visit to Canada to our trip report. We pull in to Wallace, ID and immediately meet a freaky David Lynch character. "I’m Diana, Wallace's Wolf lady," she slurs, and invites us to see her chained up hybrid wolf dogs, as she tries to draw us a map. She misspells every word and we decide to head straight out of town, secretly wishing we had run into the log lady instead... so much more peaceful.

The landscape continues to change, climbing up and down fir-clad mountains, to swiftly change in to vast prairie. We stop at the Colombia River viewpoint and learn about the petrified wood forest on the other side. All of a sudden we get a glimpse of what is to come... at a rest stop we see a sign declaring proudly MOUNT RAINIER (at a distance). We squint but can't see it yet.... we continue on. The sun breaks through the clouds, a heart shape is formed as if to say "Welcome Sofia, you will like it here"

Seeing Mt. Rainier for the first time, it hits me in the gut. It's beautiful and majestic. Right now it also feels like a symbol of my unknown and challenging future. It sits in the distance, tangible and waiting, and then the next time I look up it has faded behind the trees. I’ve arrived at my destination and this is where my true journey begins. How am I going to make it happen? Am I following the right path? It seems so random, ending up here. But the mountain is there - I've seen it with my own eyes now, and all I can do is start climbing….

Two-lane highways turns into three and then four lanes, the city is near...traffic gets heavier and we are there. Seattle or  Bust - we made it! 3652 miles down and 0 to go!

For more pictures from day 8, check out the slideshow below!!

Day 7 - Sunday August 28, 2011

Day 7
2816 miles
8 am departure
6 days of travels hit us like a ton of bricks, a sleepless night brought on by the Chech republic booze party in campsite 254 did not help either.

No coffee in sight and a quick look on the map of Yellowstone made us realize the Morfar Coffee index salvation was 35 miles away at Mamouth Springs. Sights that the afternoon before thrilled us to pieces could barely move us. We pulled into the Artist Paintpot and almost did not make it out of the car...slowly like zombies we walked  through a landscape that looked just like we felt. Everywhere we heard the sound of eluding coffee pots boiling only to realize it was small geysers and mud holes boiling, the sulfur smell gave us vague remembrance of breakfast eggs gone bad....

Next stop the Norris geysers provided us with a rainbow landscape from an odd Sci fi movie.. beautiful but surreal. Despite our state of delirium, we struck up a conversation with Nate the Park Ranger. A dream job he wanted since he was 6 years old, the salary is swell $15/ hour and makes it really easy to pay of those college loans. A quick bye and we stumble back to our car.

A bison grazing on the side of the road stirred us enough to move us out of the car to snap a few more shots... How we ever completed the 35 miles to Mamouth Springs will forever be a mystery.

The Mammouth Spring general store provided us with the much needed caffeine relief and after stocking up in coffee at the incredible price of $2.18 for a small cup, life slowly returned to our bodies. We decided to part ways with Yellowstone and head out of the park. A group of people with binoculars on the side of the road alerted us to some form of animal sighting. Sure enough 3 wolfs where wandering the hills.. The wolf sighting completed the count of big wildlife sightings. Bye bye Yellowstone, we will be back, 1 day visit doesn't even scratch the surface of the magnificent sights that the park offered.

My lead foot sparked to life as we crossed into Montana. The speed limit sign flashed by 75 mph for cars and 65 mph for trucks...

Even though our car is loaded to the hilt as a truck I am pretty sure we are still classified as a car. Rt 89 a two way road cutting through the heartland of Montana, pedal to the metal and I was still getting passed by trucks pulling horse trailers. The speed demon in me silently sighed..."I could live here". 

Big Sky here we come.. A landscape forever changing, vast meadows with grazing horses and cattle, roaring mountains full of wilderness. An outdorsman person's mecca. A quick pitstop in Bozeman, Mt fulfilled our organic needs, then back out on I 90. Sofia snored as I zig zagged up and down the mountains. Smoke from the wildfires that licking the mountains around Missoula, MT filled the air.  Finally our destination in sight, a room in an actual house awaiting us, courtesy of Marcia, a dear friend from New Hampshire.

Walking into that house, I realized how good it is to be home. Even if it's not my own, there is something about a home that a hotel room and a campground can't hold a candle to. I felt myself relax more than I had in 7 days. I felt grateful for family, generous people, stillness, and a safe harbor. And I would be kidding you all if I didn't mention gratitude for a shower - my, my, how stinky we were.

After removing everything that had grown on our bodies during the past fe w days and putting on clothes from the beginning of the trip that now seemed fresh,  we set out on a wild goose chase trying to find the Big Sky Brew pub at Sausage Seth's suggestion. Torey, a new roommate of Marcia'a and a fellow New Englander who had arrived a week earlier from Pennsylvania, was only happy to practice her weeklong navigation skill and to share some New England jokes, able to say "wicked" without getting crazy stares.  After many wrong turns, we realized the pub was closed -  it was, afterall, Sunday evening. We settled for the next best thing, Flathead Brew Pub. Conversation flowed easily;  was as if we had known Torey all our lives as we shared cross country road trip stories, hiking tips and photos. Hers from Mt Murango Tanzania, ours from Cascade Canyon, Grand Tetons.

When we arrived back at Marcia's place, satisfied from a local Amber ale, grass-fed Montana beef, nice salty fries, and fun conversation, we were greeted by the homey smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and popcorn. Torey's roommates were home and they were as welcoming and friendly as  we had come to expect in the west. We shared brief life summaries, learned about river floating, ate some cookies, and called it a night. Well at least I did. While I closed my eyes to dreams of bears chasing me through the streets of Seattle, Anna stayed up until midnight, daydreaming about her future as a dude on a Montana ranch, just like Torey's brother.

For more pictures from Day 7, check out the slideshow below!

Day 6 - Saturday August 27, 2011

Day 6
2690 miles
We woke up after a restless night at Colter Bay Campground. I thought Anna had slept well in our tent, seeing as how she'd been snoring and whistle-breathing while I spun in my sleeping bag like the Tasmanian devil,  but since she could recount how many times I had gotten up to pee (twice) and could imitate my shushings of the neighbors, I guess she didn't get that much sleep either. Thank god for caffeine and adrenaline.

We restocked our food supply in the seriously gourmet camp store that could rival Philbricks in Portsmouth.  Despite the influx of tourists... The Morfar coffee index is still  holding strong - 1.89 for a large!!! We got bagels with cream cheese, granola, cheddar cheese (they only have the gross orange kind - no seriously sharp cheddar in these parts - so much for the rugged hunter image), apples, and yogurt, and then ran back in for a bag of ice and a big sugary cinnamon bun. Cuz that's the Swedish way. We ate on a log bench with a view of Grand Teton herself and the sun streaming through the pines, and felt ready for a new day of exploring the wild west.

And whaddaya know, within 15 minutes we had  our first wild animal encounter of many to follow;  a mama bear with her cub ran across the road 10 feet behind our car on the scenic route around Jenny Lake! High on Bear adrenaline we arrived at Jenny Lake for the quick ferry ride across to enjoy a scenic waterfall and gorgeous viewpoints. We met people of all sizes and shapes and from all parts of the world. Some were prepared with Bear mace to fight off any encounter, while others carefully tried to climb the trail in their high-heeled sneakers. We never made it up to 10K, but the Cascade Canyon in the Grand Tetons was amazing. Careful research (a 2 second chat with a ranger) had made us to decide to hike in past Inspiration viewpoint and to follow the Cascade Canyon. In an ideal world we would have stood on the dock that day at 6 am in the morning ready to complete the 14 mile roundtrip hike up to Lake Solitude, but instead we settled for a 7 mile loop and oohed and awed over the beauty around us, checked out the moose and the baby brown bear cub that was sleeping on the mountain hill. Okay, so we didn't actually see this bear cub, but Anna took enough shots of his supposed whereabouts that she'll be able to spot him with a little zooming on the computer at home. Same diff.

"Hur mår du" (how are you in swedish) comment passed us and intrigued we set out to investigate. On a pebbled shoreline along the river we caught up with Jeff and Guy, two old college roommates gone wild on a "man-cation". Anna chatted with Guy and found out both he and his wife were radiologists, which may explain how they could afford to fly directly into Jackson Hole from Tuscon, Az via Salt Lake City. I started my conversation with Jeff by asking him if he and his buddy were married, to which he replied "I'm straight but I have no problem with gay people. Ya are what ya are." As it turned out they are married, but each to a woman. Jeff and I discussed the Haves and the Have-Nots, that is  what life is like if you have children vs what it's like if you don't. He has 3, I got none, and we decided it's a crazy idea to have them but still a fine choice. Everyone was a winner in our heartwarming, spontaneous chat about life. Then he asked me for my number. Just kidding!!!!!!! After parting ways we caught up with them again, sat another while together on the side of the trail, and discovered we were all born in '69. Anna and I were delighted to inform them of this after Guy told us he was going through a midlife crisis that we wouldn't understand because we were MUCH younger. Happy for our growing kinship, we formed the Four 69'ers Club, shared a round of hugs, and followed the trail in opposite directions.

A few fat raindrops and giant gray cloud formations over the mountaintops heralded a gathering storm as we made our way back to the boat. Still only threatening as we got to the parking lot, we passed a guy slicing a summer sausage on his truck bed. " That looks yummy," I said hungrily, and he immediately turned and offered us some. While we tail-gated with our newest buddy Seth, the storm hit the mountains and we got the fireworks show of a lifetime. Chain lightning ripped from peak to peak while we screamed and laughed on the sidelines, still dry. Seth gave us some tips on what to do when we got to Missoula (a brewery and a skanky bar - he's 24), and the rain came down Wyoming-style - big, warm, and certain.

As if this weren't enough for one day, we still had the evening in Yellowstone ahead of us. A short drive north and we were already at the southern entrance to the park. Anna flirted with the hunky, bearded, 20-something Ranger at the gate, flashed her park pass, and in we drove. More ridiculous vistas along the road in, which is also the Rockefeller National Highway and a mere medium of transportation for the lucky locals. Every corner yielded new beauty; the rushing Yellowstone River tossed itself through deep red canyons, evergreens stood behind birches, and the blue sky welcomed all of us. Suddenly Anna hit the brakes and turned onto a dirt road - there was our first geyser, bubbling up from the Earth with a constant puff of white, sulphury steam. Just like she'd read about in the American Cowboys and Indians books from her childhood bookshelf in Sweden. Freakin' wild.

The geyser area was crazy and gorgeous. We walked on boardwalks winding through the moonscape of this thermal phenomenon. Mini volcanoes burst forth water at 200 degrees and small holes in the clay bubbled up like giant clams in a horror movie. We asked a Swiss couple to take our picture and they did so happily. They were the first ones to ask the question of the day: "Did you see the grizzly?" "WHAT GRIZZLY?," we screamed, and they told us that around the corner was a grizzly bear chowing on a freshly killed elk. We freaked out, glanced around at the boring geysers, and ran for the car.

Sure enough, there was the Ranger along the road, herding tourists towards the feast. A group of about 50 people, most of them fat middle aged men with lenses hanging down to their knees (also called "Compensation Lenses"). The bear was there, 2 or 300 yards away, napping next to his kill, his belly full of elk steak. A Ranger stood and answered questions while he repeatedly reminded wandering Facebook photographers to stay back behind the line.

All of a sudden Swedish words are spoken, surprised and pleased to finally encounter my own nationality  I am instantly engaged in rapid swedish conversation  with Seth, a fellow Swedish/American from my alma matter Lund University. Sofia yawned and decided for once not to take the opportunity to display her flawless Swedish, instead she quickly immersed  herself into a deep conversation with Seth's partner Jared.

As we are walking to our car, people started to yell "he is moving", we turn around and se the grizzly slowly strolling over to the river, quenching his thirst after his feast, he demonstratively turns around to be sure that all we can see is his giant behind.... Yes grizzly we get it you mooned us.... Then the grizzly delivered his final punch... He sank down on his behind and a shriek was heard from the four year old that had his binoculars glued on the grizzly " he is pooping" !

For more pictures from Day 6, check out the slideshow below!

Day 5 - Friday August 26, 2011

Day 5
2,382 Miles
10:45 am 
Morfar's coffee index is still good. $3 total for full egg and bacon breakfast including coffee. Later a the gas station we bought some refill at the cost of $1.19!for a medium coffee

Our late start was due to some excitement from the drive the night before, ... Jay was right, we did see antelope yesterday evening - a whole family of them, big-eared and sweet eyed, standing like statues next to Rt 18W. What dear Jay Red Hawk forgot to mention, however, were the prairie fires- and we ran straight into one of those. What a new, western smell those prairies held for our New England noses, accustomed to brine, coffee, green grass and exhaust. We didn't realize the smokiness of the prairie air was in fact smoke. After passing a few black patches of the normally gold colored grass, we wondered if these were controlled fires, perhaps for fertilizing the grounds. We quickly realized that was not the case when we saw flames licking the road. Sofia quickly stops and gets ready to turn around as I am clicking away with the camera. She does not want to die from smoke inhalation I just wanted to gun it and go pass it, a judgement I made based on all the cars that passed us coming from the other side. We chatted with a hot rocker dude on a Harley, he shared Sofia's concerns about the inhalation but decided to go for it, we followed his example.

This trip has been about the stories of the people we met. It is amazing how people just open up and spill their hearts out with the encouragement of genuine curiosity and a kind smile. Tears were welling up in our breakfast waitress Jenny's eyes as she told us that today was the first day she put her 6 year old son on the school bus. The bus left at 6:15 in order to get him to school by 8:30. She worried that he might wonder of while waiting at his layover where he waits for bus number two. "He is a good kid, nothing faces him, rattle snakes, horses you name it, he just might get impatient". It turns out they live on a farm 25 miles outside Casper, WY with no running water and a generator for electricity. This has some of the authorities worried and they feel she endangers her child and are trying to force her to move to more civilized places. not easy when she as a breakfast waitress earns more money than her carpenter husband.

Andy was the bartender at  Plaza Hotel. 17 years of service. He just finished his first 100 miles bike ride he told us as he simultaneously tended to the increasingly intoxicated Texan barfly. Casper's claim to fame is that Dick Cheney was born there. He recently attended his High School reunion that was hosted at the hotel we stayed at...

Sofia noticed that many of the people we met had bad teeth. My response was "teeth are expensive" this was especially true for our hostess, with the mostes in this case not teeth. Her broad smile displayed one brown front tooth and diagonal across it at the bottom was another tooth. the rest of the mouth was filled with dark weird looking stumps. She liked my camera and shared that her brother is working on an oilrig in North Dakota, 2 weeks on and 2 weeks of.

We finally peel out of Casper to be met my an ever changing landscape of rolling hills. We pass small towns like Highland, population 10 and elevation 5998. Wow, imagine living on top of Mt Washington and have everything around you be flat. We stop in Kianna, population 44 and elevation 5430, a cute variety store owner try to sell us Indian Necklaces and a variety of bits for our imaginary horses. The postmaster  had been to the East Coast and actually seen the White mountines. Compared to the Tetons they are like this and he made a wavy motion with his hand. "It's nice,' he said. "You can keep it".

We stop for lunch at Wind River, a fly fisher mans mecca with a stream that could have rivaled any of the ones pictured in the movie "a river runs trough it". The sun is baking and  the water is inviting, the fact that no one would fine us $10000 for a swim made us peel of our clothes for the first river swim of the trip.... Refreshing

The landscape quickly changes and more and more trees shows up, we slowly climb over Tobawago pass at 9200 feet and get our first glimpse of the Tetons. the view is breathtaking. Every turn just reveals more and more of natures beauty as we finally makes it into the park. Hungry and tired we pitch our tent and then go in search for food. it turns out the park offers gourmet restaurant and our meeger camp dinner turns into a feast on bison filet with a demiglace and haricoverts... Who knew such amenities existed in the wild!

For more pictures from Day 5, check out the slideshow below!