Portland, Oregon

November 2, 2002

This is our sixth week on the road and winter has officially caught up to us. It’s hard to imagine that not too long ago we were in shorts on the coast of Connecticut. Now we spend our days dressed like the Michelin Man to stave off the sub-zero temperatures.

On Sunday we left Deer Lodge, Montana and drove up to Missoula to find a Kinko’s. We’re getting pretty familiar with the Kinko’s and Internet cafes across this fine country. After another successful web-posting session, we continued north to get us closer to Glacier National Park. It turns out the sky here is HUGE! It ain’t called Big Sky Country for nothing. Our drive took us into the Rockies and into the night. We skirted dramatic Flathead Lake and found a hotel in Kalispell.

In the morning we eagerly watched the weather to see what was heading our way. Glacier National Park only has one road going through it and it’s possible it could be closed due to snow. There was a storm heading our way that was supposed to hit around noon, so we piled in the car and closed in on the mountain.

The closer we got to the park the more ominous the mountains in front of us seemed. Sheer cliffs shot up from the valley floor disappearing into clouds. This is a serious National Park. We passed through the entrance gate and had the park to ourselves. At the visitor center we found out that the main pass through the park, the Road to the Sun, was in fact closed at the top. Bummer, we were looking forward to this drive. Our consolation prize was that we could drive up twenty miles or so and see some views of the peaks. The road set off into the forest winding around the shores of Lake MacDonald for a few miles. We kept pulling over because things were so beautiful. On the rocky shores down by the water we skipped stones and after a few tries Tiffany got one to skip five times! Alex got up to eight!

We continued up the curvy road into the mountains, driving into the clouds. We got to where the road was closed and decided to hike for a while down one of the trails. Of course we were thinking about bears the whole time because there’s warnings everywhere that THIS IS GRIZZLY COUNTRY. We trotted off down the trail through the snow singing songs so we wouldn’t surprise any creatures. Snow began to fall. Before we knew it, it was coming down in huge thick flakes and our footprints behind us were almost completely covered. We stood for ages watching the perfect flakes land and then melt in our hands. We’ve never seen such perfect snowflakes. With the forest all to ourselves the only things we could hear was a distant stream through the trees and the snow landing on our jackets. We were literally in a winter wonderland.

We returned to the car to find it covered with an inch-thick blanket of new snow. The drive back down the mountain was a drive through a different world. Everything was now covered. We stopped by the lake to watch the flakes disappear silently into the water. Back at the visitor center we picked up some postcards. The backcountry looks amazing here. This is definitely a place to come back to in warmer weather.

We left the park and drove on north through the Montana countryside as the sun went down. Snow continued to fall, and by the time we entered Idaho we were driving in a blizzard. We could barely see the road through the thick flakes illuminated by our headlights. We were only driving about 30mph, but with the wind in our faces the snow raced past us. It felt as if we were flying through a sea of stars at hyper-speed toward the center of the galaxy.

We entered Canada and found a little hotel in Creston. We settled in for the night with a gale-force wind whistling outside.

On Tuesday we continued north toward Kootenay Bay where Tiffany’s family used to own a cabin. It’s been fifteen years since she’s been back, but her face lit up with recognition as we got closer, "There’s the Glass house!" Recognition soon gave way to doubt though, as each driveway off into the trees looked like every other. Where’s the cabin? Is it even still here? She knew it used to be next to an Ashram, but now nothing looked familiar. We finally asked at the Ashram bookstore and the woman there remembered Tiffany’s father and pointed us in the right direction. The Ashram had bought the Kurtz cabin years ago and has since incorporated it into their grounds. We walked down to the small home amongst the trees and the memories came flooding back. The cool waters of Kootenay Lake spread out before us, the sun shone down and Tiffany was back in 1979.

In the afternoon we took the ferry across to the other side of the lake and drove up to Ainsworth Hot Springs, another Kurtz family tradition. The air outside was at zero degrees but the water in the pool was wonderful. After soaking for a few minutes we braved the cold air and walked up to the Hot Pool and the Caves. The Caves are a natural rock formation that cut back into the mountainside in a horseshoe arc. In waist high water we walked in to this dark and steaming place. The walls and ceiling dripped hot water down on us from hundreds of tiny stalactites. It’s really an amazing sensation. Then we took the plunge into the Cold Pool, which is an icy 4 degrees! That hurt. Then before our lungs froze it was back into the hot water for more stewing. We finally walked out of there on legs like rubber bands. We haven’t been so relaxed in ages. We drove back down around the lake to the town of Nelson and found a hotel and some dinner.

On Wednesday we checked out of the Viking Motor Inn after a cold morning walk by the lake. In town we spent some time in a great arts and crafts store, then bought some organic cookies at a café next door. This town definitely does some things right. At the café they accepted barter bucks, a form of "currency" based on time rather than money, so someone could do an hour of yard work for a neighbor and receive and hour’s worth of barter bucks to spend at the store. Or a couple hours of house painting in exchange for a couple hours baby-sitting. We’ve heard of this in other small towns, and it seems a wonderful way to knit communities together and trade some skills.

We left Nelson and drove south out of Canada. The border guards at the crossing were a pair of miserable people who take their job way too seriously. They treated us like criminals, taking our keys as they searched through the back of the car and scrutinized our papers. We realize they have a fairly thankless job, but that’s no reason to take it out on us for actually enjoying our lives. We drove on into Washington State not sure we were happy to be back in our home country. Our murky spirits faded in the background with the mountains and we entered the dry planes on our way to Spokane. There we met up with Alex’s friend Chris, a hopeful screenwriter and poet taking pot shots at our unconscious culture. He graciously put us up for the night and showed us some of what Spokane has to offer.

On Thursday we met up with his father at a local diner for breakfast and Chris talked him into taking a look at a squeaky fan belt in our car. Chris’ father is quite the master mechanic and it wasn’t long before he was up to his elbows in our adventure-mobile, tugging and tightening. Within minutes we were noise-free and felt like we had a new car.

We spent the afternoon driving to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho where we thought we could take a gondola ride up the mountain. The drive took us east along I-90 and Alex was re-living memories of his bike trip along this same route all those years ago. After an hour’s drive we found the gondola shut down for repairs, so we turned the car around and returned to Spokane. Coming back into town we spotted a movie theater. It’s been weeks since we’ve seen a movie so we jumped out of the car and saw the first thing that was showing - "The Transporter." We actually had a ton of fun with this movie that barrows from every other action movie you can think of, but does it in such a fun way and doesn’t take itself too seriously at all. After this we ate Tai food then bought some Halloween candy just in case any trick-or-treaters stopped by. Back at Chris’ there were no costumed kids, so now we have all the junk food car snacks we can handle.

On Friday morning we once again packed up the car and hit the road. Saying goodbye to Spokane we drove south into Oregon, our last state before the last state! Our drive took us along the Columbia River in the footsteps of Luis and Clark. From here it’s a few short miles downstream to the Pacific Ocean. With Oregon to our left and Washington across the river to our right, dry grassy planes gave way to dramatic canyons complete with big horn sheep. We made a brief stop at Maryhill, where in the early 1930s a recreation of Stonehenge was built on a bluff overlooking the river. Odd though it sounds, this isn’t as cheesy at the Corn Palace. This Stonehenge was built as a WWI memorial and walking amongst the towering stones gives a great impression of what the Salisbury Plain looked like 5000 years ago (minus the Columbia River that is).

From here we entered the Columbia River Gorge and were met with lush forests and spectacular waterfalls. We hiked around Multnomah Falls and watched the ribbon of spray unfold into a frozen pond at its base. The water here falls in a thin strand over 500 feet, and wind turned it into a liquid pendulum. The whole column of water would sway slowly in one direction, then slowly back, dousing hundreds of icicles clinging to the cliff face. As the light was fading we drove up to Rooster Point for some dramatic views of the whole area. The Gorge is known for its incessant winds and our car was buffeted by the gale. When we stepped outside we were almost blown off the cliffs. The lights of Portland beckoned from below so we ventured on into town. We found our way to (college friends) Aaron and Lisa’s new house and were greeted by a very pregnant Lisa. That night we ate at O’Conners in Multnomah Village and caught up on old times and marveled at the changes to come in all our lives.

On Saturday morning we ventured into a funky part of town and had crepes for breakfast at an authentic French cafe. We poked into some of the shops up and down the street and found the conveniently located Powell’s annex for some great used books. "Road to Perdition" was showing at the Baghdad Theater, an old movie house where every other row of seats has been removed to make room for long tables where they serve beer and pizza. We had pretty low expectations for the movie but ended up liking it much more than we thought. Combine low expectations with great food and local brew and we came away with a wonderful evening. For desert we found our long lost friend Jamba Juice and began getting re-acquainted with our West Coast ways.

Now we settle in for a few (hopefully) relaxing days in Portland. Tune in next week for the final push south into California and onto familiar surroundings!



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