Road Trip Round Two

Published: 06/03/2020

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After five weeks in Washington with Rhiannon's family we figured it was about time to come home. Rhiannon's lab was opening up in another week and we'd already hit up all our favorite hikes multiple times. It was a really amazing time up there. We saw so much wildlife: a salmon jumping out of the Skagit, Elk right across the river, Bald eagles so close I could see their white head clearly, some snakes, some massive spiders, a bobcat (or maybe a lynx?) which ran across the street in front of our car and a millipede. We went kayaking down the river four times. The highlight was when Rhiannon asked if I could go under a tree branch and the tree knocked me over. Before we got to shore so I could get back into the kayak we floated by the pickup point so we had to go all the way to Rhiannon's dad's in Concrete (yeah the city is called concrete. I guess that's where they used to make it). Here are some selected pictures of us hiking, kayaking and hanging with the dogs. Note the "So" was cut off in the first picture.

For our return trip we acquired a tent since sleeping in the car turned out to not be very fun. We also decided to make a stop in Portland to see my sister who lives in Oregon. We left on Friday after our various meetings and got to Portland around five. Somehow even at 3 pm in a global pandemic Seattle was trafficy. The drive was uneventful outside of stunning views of Mt. Ranier and other mountains. We stayed at McMenamin's Crystal Hotel. We walked around downtown and the river park and got Thai food at the food truck market. The downtown had a weird dystopian vibe. No one was around but there were lots of tents in the streets. The few people we did see were all wearing masks. There were a lot of people hanging around the park having fun though. And even at 7 pm during a pandemic there's a line at Voodoo donuts.

The plan was to meet my sister at Wah Gwin Gwin falls and drive together to Chinidere Mountain for a short hike. The drive through the Columbia river gorge is simply stunning. The mountains and the river are so beautiful. Our hike started at Wahtum lake and went for about two miles to the top of Chinidere Mountain. I was worried it would be cloudy but we had a panoramic view of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. The last time I did serious hiking in the Pacific Northwest I had the misfortune to only see clouds from the top of Paradise, Pilchuck and Sourdough so I think this is the best view I've ever had from the top of a mountain.

With that we were on our way. The Columbia River Gorge continued to be stunning. It was a windy day and we could see white crests on the waves from the road. There were a ton of wind surfers as well. Eventually 84 left the river and we headed towards Idaho. The landscape was dusty and windy. Once or twice the car seemed like it was going to be pushed into the other lane.

On our drive we listened to some podcasts. We listened to Lex Friedman's interview with Noam Chomsky. I don't think either of them necessarily have great voices for podcasting. It was often hard to hear exactly what Chomsky was saying. I'm mostly familiar with Chomsky from his politics so it was interesting to hear this interview which was more focused on linguistics and artificial intelligence. When it was Rhiannon's turn to drive she played some short wave, a science npr show. We learned about plate tectonics, bear hibernation and dark energy.

We made it to Anderson Camp in Twin Falls, Idaho. Originally we were going to stop in Boise but we were feeling pretty good so we decided to go a little further. We dropped $25 in an envelope in a mailbox and pitched our tent. We practiced once in the backyard so we were experts. It was extremely windy all night. Actually it was only light wind according to my phone. It was really loud through the rain cover though. It was better once we took it off. I spent all night worried the wind would blow the tree we were next to over and onto us. I don't know what it is about camping, it always makes me nervous.

We got up at 5:30 am, collapsed the tent and rolled out. We listened to a Reply All about a man who heard a song he recorded and posted to YouTube at a Kroger, Brian Vs. Brian. It was left pretty unresolved but still pretty interesting. I learned a lot about where all that music comes from. Then we started a Stuff You Should Know about amazing animals. The first story was about Mike the Headless Chicken. I had heard about him before but this time I learned the important fact that Mike still had most of his brain. Sort of takes the mystery out of it.

The drive through Utah and into Wyoming was amazing. I sort of ran out of adjectives for a while and just pointed to various rocks, mountains and hills and said 'Wow' and 'Nice'. It was a pretty nice trip. I'd share some photos but the out of the window driving photos aren't great. Out of Salt Lake City we got the direction to continue on 80 for 877 miles which I think is the longest direction I've ever gotten. Later we decided to go through Iowa instead of Missouri to go by a convenient RV park so we actually stayed on 80 for an additional 347 miles.

On the drive there were some nice new Coronavirus messages and other assorted road signs:

Four miles from Laramie, WY we had a minor accident. There was a busted tire on the highway. It was kind of spread over both lanes but the bulk of it was in the left lane. I saw it too late to react well. Unfortunately I saw the scraps in the right lane which would probably have been fine to go over first and I was distracted by how the pickup truck in front of us was maneuvering so I ended up going right over the tire. We pulled over and called AAA and 911. A tow truck got to us pretty quickly and said really just the fender was busted. He got down and just cut off the bits that were rubbing against the tire. I asked about the front vent which looked off and he just took it out. He said we should be fine to drive to town. He recommended we just hold up the remainder of the fender with some zip ties which a nearby repair shop could do. It sounded like a good plan and he drove off. A little while later the police came and cleared off the tires about a mile back and then came down and made an accident report for us.

It was actually really lucky that this happened right by Laramie and not 100 miles between anything like could have easily happened. There happened to be a Toyota dealership right there. It wasn't open on weekends so we checked into the Marriott across the street and explored for a bit. Laramie is actually the home of Wyoming University. We walked around the campus and some small parks. We ordered some food to go and ate in a gazebo. We took showers for the first time in a few days and finished Midnight Gospel. In some ways it was sort of a nice break and a beautiful little town. Our time in Laramie was pretty nice:

On the tree notice: "1924 First Female Governor in U.S.A. From Wyoming". Are they saying that in 1924 the USA had their first woman governor and she represented Wyoming? Or she was born in Wyoming and represented some other state? Or its the first time Wyoming had a woman governor? Thanks to the power of Google I believe it refers to Nellie Tayloe Ross who became governor of Wyoming after her husbands death in 1924. Seems like she really stole Ma Ferguson's thunder who actually won an election in 1924. Neither of these woman were governor in 1924 though. According to wikipedia Ross was sworn in January 5th, 1925 beating Ferguson by 15 days. Interestingly Ferguson's husband was also governor before her, though not directly before. Instead of dying he got impeached and prohibited from holding office in Texas.

In the morning we went over to the Toyota right when it opened. They seemed to think we could just remove the fender, complete our drive home, and then have it repaired in our home city. A new fender would have taken two days to arrive and we didn't want to wait around forever so it sounded like a good plan. The service worker didn't come right out and say it would be fine. But we chalked up his beating around the bush to some kind of liability concern, packed up the car and were on our way. Also somehow they didn't charge us anything for this. I guess all they did was remove part of our car but it still seems like we should have paid them something.

Just after Cheyenne 60 miles down the road one of our skid plates came loose and started dragging on the ground. We got off the next exit, assessed the situation and decided to drive 10 miles down to a small town that had a repair shop. Once there we explained our situation and a girl about our age got under our car, attached some zip ties and said we were good to go. I guess it was just some zip ties but again they didn't seem to want any payment. It really seemed like the type of interaction where money should have exchanged hands.

At this point we were a little nervous about the state of our car but on we went. Most of our listening energy was focused on the sounds of the wheels and the road and the wind. Every little creak and bump was vaguely alarming. Our plan for that day was to stop in Lincoln, NE. I called some state parks but unfortunately they were closed for camping until June 4th. So we just missed that. There was an RV park and campground right off a Lincoln exit though. Nebraska was sort of boring. Much less interesting than South Dakota. It is best described as Iowa part two. Though there was this one beautiful overpass.

As we were driving, Lincoln set a 9 pm curfew. Since our eta was 9:05 this made me a little nervous. But there weren't other options and we ended up having no trouble getting to the campground. I guess curfews exist to give the cops some pretext to harass people in the city center. Not to stop people from camping. The campground was really nice. There was a small stream right by it and it had very clean bathrooms. It also had a giant chess board and a pool. But we had no time for fun and games. Straight to bed and a 6 am start.

Some quick complaints about the Google Maps app:

On our last day we finished the podcast about amazing animals. We learned about Wojtek the bear and Bamse the dog, two adorable war heroes. We also listened to Elon Musk on the Joe Rogan Experience. It seems like an important cultural moment. I didn't realize JRE was a live show. Musk said he got texts from friends asking what he was doing as soon as he took a hit of Joe's blunt. We finished off our listening with the two most recent Anthropocene Reviewed. We learned about Monopoly, Academic Decathlons, You'll Never Walk Alone and Jerzy Dudek.

About 40 minutes after Indianapolis in the home stretch to Columbus there was an accident and some major traffic. Here Google maps seemed really dumb. It suggested we go far south almost to Cincinnati or far north through the middle of nowhere to avoid it. But one can just get off the exit beforehand and drive on country roads for a few exits as well. It's really confusing to me why this wasn't the suggested route. Anyway that's what we did but we got on the highway a little early because Google Maps didn't realize how long the traffic was either. But it wasn't too bad and an hour later we rolled into Columbus. Our preferred exit was closed, I think because of the protests, but we were able to get off on the next one.

I'm pretty happy to be home. I tend to lose control of my diet and exercise when I'm at someone else's house for any length of time. And its nice to be back with all my usual stuff. Though I did bring my keyboard and computer and some math textbooks I carefully didn't read to Washington so its unclear if there were any important possessions I didn't have access to the whole time.