(The end blog of my epic recent drive from Florida to Oregon.)
Driving Interstate 84 westward into Idaho and down into Oregon is a trip. Just when you think flat ground near comes another twenty-mile death spiral on black ice with more truckers than is humanly possible.
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 really heavy weather both in front and behind me.
After an uneventful night in Boise, Idaho, at the most bland Travelodge imaginable, in fact the place looked like a brothel, 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. Baker City is one of these places that beckons you in due to its historic beauty but the idea is to get this wagon to safety in Portland as soon as possible. I did go in for a quick little drive around and it was charming. Another time, Baker City.
I 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. This is, how do I say, stressful.
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 faintly glowing in hazy skies. Finally became too dark to drive and I was getting loopy; I wound up at a crazy truck stop called Biggs Junction — it does sound like a candy bar — but I sat in my car for an hour 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.
Wish I had a camera handy as a tall macho trucker jumped out of his cab in a long feather-trimmed negligee (I’m serious) and strolled into the bright Subway fast food area at 2am.
When I awoke the motel manager I said “Holy cow that truck stop has some wild late night scenery” and he said “Yep, I hear that several times an evening.”
The Gorge is completely black at night, curvy, head-on traffic, and not where you want to be when exhausted. Don’t do it.
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. Some western dude later erected a huge marble obelisk to himself just visible to the right of the tree below; you have to wonder.
Another few hours and I was entering Portland once again in rush hour traffic but happy to be home after over 4,700 miles, nine states, and twelve days. Hard to believe I started in tropical Florida and made it to Oregon via the northern route 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 — though a crap shoot — 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 — truly one of those moments you don’t ever want to repeat — the other entering Denver dead-tired and getting stuck on I-25 downtown in mega traffic totally a shaking mess.
I learned coffee does not wake you up; it magnifies exhaustion. And those five-hour energy bottles wreck your sleep for the next twenty-four hours. There comes a point where the human body demands a meltdown and if you’re smart you listen.
So, now Portland is entering Spring and the long winter rains are hopefully soon over. Can’t say I miss four solid months of that. 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 without snow tires 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…