Wednesday, August 30, 2017
I wake up well-rested, thrilled that we can all squish in the tent. For an air mat that’s barely an inch thick, my body has felt remarkably supported. Why didn’t we buy these mats sooner?
Jenny has decided that sleeping with me is over-rated. She’s moved her way over to where Sarah is sleeping, squishing Dwight halfway off his air mattress. I’m more amused than offended.
The smoke that has been hovering in the air the past few days has finally started to decrease. For the first time in days, the sunrise is not singed with orange. This, coupled with yesterday‘s run and jiu jitsu, have put me and Sarah respectively in a better mood. We both express our extreme gratitude to the guys for their patience with us yesterday, grateful to feel so relaxed. I know that Ben, in particular, needs some solo time; being in close proximity for five days now – with almost no pictures to show for it and no other outlet – has frustrated him greatly. The plan is to stop in Boise this afternoon, go our separate ways for a couple hours, and come back together as a well-rested, rejuvenated team+.
But Tami and Wayne have other plans. While I am in the tent, getting dressed, and Ben and the others are out by the picnic table, Wayne approaches Ben and asks if he and Tami can treat us for breakfast. Absolutely! Schedule be damned; today’s gonna be a long haul, and the more time we can spend with these new friends, the more fun we will have, and the more prepared we will be to slog through what promises to be one of the longest single-day drives on this trip.
I exit the tent and immediately regret my choice of clothing. Because today’s drive through Oregon and Idaho will be long and hot, I figured I would be best served by wearing a comfortable cotton skirt and lightweight top. I hadn’t considered… the wind. I spend more time messing with my skirt, wrestling it into some sense of order, than just about anything else. But I’m short on comfortable clean clothes (our hope is to do laundry in Boise), so my choices are nonexistent. I just hold my skirt firmly, put Jenny in the back seat of the car, and start getting ready to go. We roll up our mats and sleeping bags, stuff our backpacks, and load up the roof bag.
We follow Tami and Wayne the 17 miles to the closest Denny’s, in the Dalles. Dwight really wants to get “honned” at some point on this trip, and he’s pretty sure the server will oblige him by calling him “hon”. The six of us – and two dogs, pointedly ignoring each other because, PROFESSIONAL – pile around the table and order coffee. Sarah and I are both thrilled that we can order fruit with our breakfast. No one calls Dwight “hon.” We eat and laugh and drink coffee and chat some more and drink more coffee. By the time someone notices the time, it’s 10:00, and we need to hit the road.
It takes us fifteen minutes to say our farewells, give hugs and well-wishes, and pile all humans and dogs into their respective vehicles. We’re well-fed, well-rested, and ready for the long haul.
The Dalles, Oregon – (campsite name redacted), Idaho
Distance: 643 (plus ???) miles (1035 plus ??? km)
Travel time: 11 hours (including stops and detour)
It feels good to be on the road. Sarah takes the wheel, while Ben takes the passenger seat. Dwight and I are at the mercy of Jenny, who alternates between scrunching up into a tiny ball and using our bodies to resituate herself. The mental map I have in my head tells me that Idaho is close by. We can have our “me-time” in Boise, maybe do laundry, and still make it to our campsite on time.
Not long after leaving Tami and Wayne, we stop at a service station near Rufus, Oregon, where we buy snacks (including a replacement for the “road Cheesies” that have gone stale from sitting open in the car for days) and an adapter to charge Sarah’s cell phone. Going to and from the station, I’m holding my skirt, because the wind keeps blowing it around, and I crack a joke about wearing totally the wrong underwear today.
Ben doesn’t have to fill the tank with gas; the station is full-serve! We haven’t seen this in Alberta in ages, and it feels quaint and charming. With a full tank of gas and snacks in hand, we pile back into the car and get ready to meet Idaho.
A sudden “pop!” startles me just a few miles after we get going. A trailer in front of us has lost a tire, and it clearly needs to be replaced. When Sarah sees the occupants of the truck hauling the trailer are an elderly man and his wife, she pulls over to the side of the road. Ben gets out and helps the man change the tire in the blistering heat. When Ben gets back into the car, he says he’s glad to have helped someone out, and was amused by how the man introduced himself by name and home state. Sarah and Ben are both impressed by the manners of the motorists on the highway. No one stops and stares, they merge into other lanes so that no one is in danger of getting hit, and they keep on going. once we see that the truck and trailer are safely back on the road, we start up the car again and continue our journey.
Oregon lasts forever. Once our breakfast has worn off, we open more GoPicnic lunches, swapping for our preferred foods, and snacking on the way. I’m thrilled that, at the next stop, the 1-foot-square box that’s taken up a ton of space by my feet will be halved. LEG ROOM!
We drive east on I-84, away from the smoke that’s infiltrated our vision and/or our lungs for days. Because of this joyous fact, Ben is finally able to get some good pictures. At seemingly random moments, he rolls down the passenger window and snaps multiple frames in quick succession.
We drive from the green (if hazy) scenery of the Dalles, past mountains, and into high desert. We pass the turnoff to where Tami and Wayne live just as it starts to get cloudy, and we wave fondly at the turnoff. A few miles later, seemingly from nowhere, we find ourselves under a cloudburst which pummels the car with rain, then quarter-sized hail. We worry about the potential condition of the car, and wonder how the roof bag is taking this first barrage of bad weather we’ve seen. It doesn’t last long, though, but it’s at this point that I realize that the chocolate bars we bought before the trip – that have stayed out of the sun in the air-conditioned car – have all melted into soupy, unrecognizable puddles inside their wrappers. It’s been an hour since the hail stopped, and we stop at a rest stop seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Exiting the car, we encounter a blazing sun and fierce desert winds. My comfortable flowing skirt is blowing in the wind, and Sarah and I each hold one side of it down while running for the closest washroom.
Hurrah! We’ve thrown out the big box! I have leg room now, and we still have snacks. Ben has checked the car and the roof bag, which have both held up nicely against the hail and rain that now – an hour after driving through it – seems like a distant memory.
We point the car eastward again, finding more varied terrain from deserts to mountains and valleys to rivers, through baking sun and further cloudbursts.
Exhausted, we make it to Ontario, Oregon, where the time jumps from 4:30 to 5:30. Just like that, we’ve lost an hour, and I’m starting to wonder if we’ll make it to our campsite on time for check-in. It’s becoming abundantly clear that our “me time” and laundry stop in Boise is not going to happen, but it’s supper time and the car needs fuel. We stop at another full-serve gas station and buy dinner at Chester’s Chicken. Our chicken is so hot that the steam makes the paper sacks rip. We walk from the restaurant, holding our sacks awkwardly to keep from spilling chicken on the sidewalk. The air is electric around us; it feels like it’s going to storm.
From the car, Ben calls the campground we’ve booked for tonight, telling them we’ll likely be slightly late for check-in. They tell us that’s no problem; if we can’t get in the main gate, we can still access the facilities from another entrance.
We cross the state line into Idaho. Almost immediately, drivers stop to look at pulled-over vehicles. At about the same time we realize the seemingly instantaneous loss of driving skills, we notice wildlife everywhere, and it’s brave wildlife. Coyotes dash across the highway, a turtle (tortoise?) risks its life in the middle of one of the traffic lanes, and more than one bird attempts to make contact with our windshield. It’s starting to get dark in Idaho as we drive past Boise, noticing a massive wind farm that we think might provide power to the city. This stretch of highway is buffeted by wind, and it feels like the car is fighting the gusts as we fight the clock, driving mile after mile through Idaho.
We stop for gas again in Carey, and while Ben fills up the car – no full-serve here! – Sarah spots an owl sitting on a telephone pole. Leaving the town, we notice a large Mormon church, which we find surprising for a town this size (apparently, population 604).
And we drive.
And we drive.
Every time it looks like we might just make it in time for our campsite closing, we have to fight some weather or traffic or otherwise annoying quirk of the road. The sun has set now, and Sarah is driving on a highway with no street lights. Music is a means to an end, providing a much-needed break to conversation (something that’s lacking at this moment). We’re all so tired that we sing “I would Walk 500 Miles” in bad Scottish accents, converting the 500 miles into their metric equivalent. A few songs later, I’m belting out “Crocodile Rock” at the top of my lungs, which prove to be rather reedy. Then I just become sad when I really listen to the lyrics of David Bowie’s “A Space Odyssey”; I’d nevver heard the words before and they make me really sad.
This drive will never end.
Sarah pulls into our pre-booked camping area thirty minutes after the posted check-in time. The gate is closed. We pull over to the side of the highway and put our heads together. As we see it, we have three options: find another camp site, walk in through the pedestrian gate, or drive in through the exit. We are so exhausted after the long drive that options 2 and 3 seem the most desirable. Ben checks the exit gate and sees that it’s clear – no spike belt to prevent us from entering. We agree to drive in through the exit, circle the tenting sites several times and cannot find our name on any of the “reserved” posts. When Sarah locates an unoccupied tenting spot, we pull over and bring down the roof bag.
I can think of few things I would want to do less than set up the tent. It’s late, I’m tired, and I just want to close my eyes. It’s a beautiful night, so I propose sleeping under the stars – for practical reasons more than a true desire to do so. The others agree readily, and we blow up our mats and unroll our sleeping bags, using the car as a buffer to protect from some of the highway noise and lights. Because we’re so close to the highway, we leave Jenny in the car for the night – much to her displeasure. I drift off to sleep almost instantly under an open Idaho sky.