Driving Interstate 84 westward into Idaho and down into Oregon is a trip. Just when you think flat ground is near comes another twenty-mile death spiral. There is absolutely no way I would attempt this again — in either direction — before April 1st due to snow and ice and the probability of chains needed on many sections. I was lucky this time — in a Florida car, no less — to dodge weather both in front and behind me.
After an uneventful night in Boise, Idaho, at the most bland Travelodge imaginable, I got on the road early and rode the roller coaster highway down into historic Baker City and into spectacular mountains covered in white powdered sugar. Baker City is out in the middle of bloody nowhere but that’s probably is why it’s there in the first place.
Continued down some of the steepest interstate grade I have ever seen to LaGrande and Pendleton, OR — again, not to be ventured in the winter unless you love taking your life in your hands with a huge number of trucks on icy 6,000 ft downgrades.
I finally hit the Columbia River about dusk — could Portland be far away at this point — and then endured miles and miles of charming military waste dumps. Finally became too dark to drive and I was getting loopy. I wound up at a crazy truck stop called Biggs Junction — I know it does sound like a candy bar — but I sat in my car and watched a trucker/hooker/tourist/cowboy show straight out of a John Water’s movie until I made the wise decision to snooze at a convenient motel.
The Gorge is completely black at night, curvy, head-on traffic, and not where you want to be when exhausted.
Next morning, I wanted to see the spot where Louis and Clark passed the Chinook burial island — reportedly where many natives were entombed in canoes — something like 47 or so — silently perched up on rocks overlooking the river. It’s called Sepulchar Island visible from Memaloose State Park east of The Dalles.
Another few hours and I was entering Portland once again in rush hour traffic but happy to be home after over 4,000 miles, nine states, and twelve days. Hard to believe I started in tropical Florida and made it to Oregon without major surface snow issues involving snow tires or chains. I was lucky. My original plan was to drive I-10 Florida to California, then I-5 north, to avoid the possibility of bad weather, but Santa Fe was too nice to miss and it seemed logical to continue north.
I think what I learned on this trip was to not count miles but each day just go as far as possible without losing control. It’s an odd feeling when you are driving solo how far you can push yourself; there are just certain points where you can’t go any further.
There were a couple of moments I do not want to ever repeat — one being the windshield washer fluid (in a FL car, no less) not being antifreeze and suddenly completely freezing over the entire windshield in high alpine Wyoming truck traffic going 80 mph — the other entering Denver dead-tired and getting stuck on I-25 downtown in mega traffic and totally a shaking mess.
Coffee does not wake you up; it magnifies exhaustion. And those five-hour energy bottles wreck your sleep for the next twenty-four hours. Lessons learned.
So, Portland is entering Spring and the long winter rains are hopefully soon over. It was an excellent time to get the hell out of Dodge, but time to get back to work albeit with a sun tan.
Thanks much for the great number of friends and family who helped make this journey possible. There is a certain sense of accomplishment in perseverance. The best, of course, is remembering it all — one city after the next — and getting ready to go back to my favorite places again. Perhaps traveling the country solo is better not in a car heavily loaded with furniture at the end of winter, but good memories none-the-less.
Namaste Portland. Safely home in one piece. I don’t even want to think about the laundry, mail, or the refrigerator, just s-l-e-e-p…