Friday, November 22, 2013

Nov 22 - The Gorge and Mt. Hood

November 22 was a Friday. Coincidentally, it was also a Friday 50 years ago, the day John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas. For me, that date will rank right up there with the 9/11/01 WTC attack as a permanent memory. Even though I was only 12 I can remember much about that day... the weather, the somber mood of most people, the nearly constant TV coverage, and the way most people were glued to their sets all weekend long... trying to understand... trying to make sense of it all.

Our day started out along the Sandy River in Troutdale Oregon where we hooked up with a portion of the old historic Columbia River Highway. Now set aside as a tourist and scenic route, this was the first real road through the Gorge. Built between 1913 and 1922, it was, and is, a significant feat of engineering and must be driven to gain a real appreciation of the accomplishment. There are only a few sections of the old road that are preserved; much of the original was sacrificed to the second Columbia River Highway during the 40s and 50s, which evolved into present-day I-84.

We stopped at Vista House at Crown Point for the famous overlook of the Gorge... and were almost blown away. Literally. And it wasn't the view that was the cause. During Winter months high-pressure systems often set up over the east side of the Cascades; at the same time low-pressure can persist on the west side. When air rushes from the high-pressure to the low, and the Cascade Mountains get in the way... the channeling effect of the Gorge concentrates that air flow into a relatively small space... and high winds are the result. We later heard reports of gusts over 80mph up there today... which might explain why it was so danged hard to walk (honest, dear reader, at that point I had nary a beer yet). One had to hang onto stout metal railings to brace against the variable gusts. About the time you think you've got it down (walking in a 50 mph wind) an 80mph gust comes along and, well, upsets everything. Over the years we've experienced some pretty good breezes up there, but today was a new one for us.


A ways further up the Historic Highway we stopped at Multomah Falls, a popular tourist stop for many transiting the Gorge as it has it's own on/off ramps from I-84. Last Spring my Grandson Ryan and I hiked to the top of the falls in one of those outdoor "bonding" opportunities with the younger generation. Today we didn't hang around here long either; just long enough for a few pics of the falls and a quick tour of the Lodge.

Next up was Hood River. If the Gorge has a cultural "Capital", Hood River is it. A small town (5,000??), it has an artsy, counter-culture, affluent vibe that feels pretty good. Wind surfers flock here to take advantage of those persistent Gorge winds. Other constituents of the vibe are a collection of wineries, a craft brewery, galleries, orchards, music shops, board shops, trendy eateries.... all in the shadow of Mt. Hood, a mere 25 miles to the south.

It was lunch time. We found the pub/restaurant/tasting room belonging to Full Sail Brewing and soaked in a mostly liquid lunch of fine craft beer to replenish precious bodily fluids and electrolytes so important to vigorous life.

Our easterly course changed to southerly as we picked up OR-35 and started the climb up to Mt. Hood. From Hood River to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood (our destination) is an elevation gain of almost 6,000 feet over about 30 miles. The road follows Hood River (the river, not the town) for a good portion of the route. Away from the Gorge the winds subsided too... and the day was bright, sunny, and warm-ish for late November. The views of the mountain, it's peak blanketed in fresh snow, were one of the things we were here to get re-acquainted with. I suppose if I lived up here, had a great view of the peak from my cabin, I'd eventually stop seeing it the same way. But I don't, and I still thoroughly enjoy being up here... being on the side of this still-venting and potentially active volcano.

From the community of Government Camp at 4500 feet and at the summit on US-26, there's a road called Timberline Highway that continues ascending all the way to Timberline Lodge. I've written before about Timberline [here] so I won't get into all the history and design of the place. But it's been a couple years since we've been here and it felt good to get back to one of the places in Oregon we find so enjoyable.


There was enough snow that skiers and snow boarders were swarming the hill despite it's "not officially open" status. From 6,000 feet, views of the surrounding landscape are spectacular on sunny days; the neighboring peaks of Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters to the south rise like far off islands in a turbulent Cascade "sea". We wandered around the lodge renewing old memories, recalling historic facts and trivia, and carefully performing our official inspection. The old place is holding up well. We settled at a window table in the Rams Head bar, with full view of the mountain. From there the peak is three miles away horizontally and one mile vertically. Bright sun on the ultra-white snow made viewing a squinty, almost hurtful, experience... at least until the eyes could adjust. We lingered, we talked, we pondered; we love being in the Northwest.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

November 13 - Boardman Oregon to Portland

Being along the Columbia during cold months often means you'll wake to fog. Thick fog. The kind that'll make you wonder where you are... 'cause there are no visible references. Your memory is all you've got to go on. It can feel like a dream if you let your imagination run free.

They said it'd start clearing about 10am, so we lingered until we convinced ourselves that it may indeed be improving... and we were back on I-84 by a few minutes after 10am. About 20 miles later it clearly was starting to clear. Another 20 miles, just as we dropped down into the Columbia River Gorge, just as we wanted visibility to savor one of the great drives in the USA, the fog was gone. The rest of the way to Portland was clear and sunny... and "gorge"ous. Aided by low sun and long shadows we were entertained with scenic eye-candy until we reached Portland. The road through the Gorge, even though it's an Interstate Highway, is curvier than a swimsuit model and almost as delightful (except, some would argue, the Gorge ages better than a swimsuit model). I set the cruise at 50 and let those with places-to-be or those on commercial treadmills pass as they needed.

We discussed our options and decided to book a month at one of our regular RV parks in the area. Recall our situation: sometime in the next few months we'll have the opportunity to buy into an Escapee Coop Park, Timber Valley, here in Oregon. Because we're so close to the top of the list we have the right to rent a site there on a monthly basis until our spot comes up. This RV lot will eventually become our home base. We considered stopping here in Portland for just a week... for the closer access to family and re-connecting with the grandkids for a few days, and then moving the bushouse down to Timber Valley before Thanksgiving. But we're in no hurry so made the decision to keep the whole circus together, right here in Portland/Vancouver, until mid-December at the earliest.

Also on the agenda is Amtrak-ing back to the Midwest to pick up the truck camper and make the run out here all over again. No decision on that one yet... and the TC will remain "on ice" in Wisconsin until we can work it in.

With the 160 (or so) miles today, we traveled 2176 miles in 6 days of driving. This is a record for us... a record we're not particularly proud of and wouldn't have done if it weren't for the potential for tough wintery weather along the way. We found a good weather"window" and slipped through it unscathed. Except for the wind, which we just dealt with the best we could, it was enjoyable, instructive, and... and... we're happy we're here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

November 12 - Mountain Home Idaho to Boardman Oregon

With a short 300 miles planned for today as well as a westerly time zone crossing we fooled around this morning and did not get an early start. We did however get the circus on the road some time after 9am. After loading up a tank of fuel it was back on I-84 westbound, through Boise, across the Snake River (again) and into the high desert of eastern Oregon. More and more it was beginning to feel good... familiar... like a welcoming home territory... a place I know like the back of my hand, yet, perhaps, really don't know at all. That's right, this is Oregon. And right over there, across the big River Columbia, that's Washington. This is the land we called home for about 8 years in the 80s and 90s... the place we raised our kids, explored, beaches and mountains and high desert. We visited places like Crater Lake, I climbed to the top of Mounts Hood and Helens, let the kids run free at the coast, taught them to ski on the mountains, poked our noses in here and there. But if there's anything we've learned in the past 6 years of our "sabbatical", is that we've only scratched the surface. It was the Cliffs Notes version, the survey course. And now we desire to experience more of it in depth, do the graduate level version. Why? Just cuz. We're really hoping the little camper, once it gets here, is as up to the task as we are.

Weather today was good when we started but deteriorated some as we moved into Oregon. A "disturbance" was predicted to bring a 40% chance of rain, but the whole thing was to diminish as the day wore on. At least "in theory" it was a 40% chance, but "in reality" it turned into a 100 percent chance... something that never happens to me when sitting at a blackjack table in Vegas. Between La Grande and Pendleton the wipers were clearing a light rain all the way.

We landed in Boardman Oregon, at the Boardman Marina and RV Park. We're hard on the banks of the Columbia and enjoyed a sunset light show during a "happy hour" walk up the shore.

It's good to be home.



A last glimpse at the Snake River.

Campsite along Columbia River in Boardman.

Monday, November 11, 2013

November 10 - Little America Wyoming to Mountain Home Idaho

Got down to 25f degrees last night which means the furnace got a workout, as did the batteries that power it. But we managed and got a good nights sleep. The early setting sun this time of year has me thinking about bed (and sleep) at ridiculously early hours... especially when we're in boondocking mode. I can fight the urge for a while but eventually surrender when bed becomes the warmest and most comfortable spot in the house. As a result I'm sleeping, sometimes, by 8 or 8:30. Of course, that means I'll be awake early... turning up the heat... making coffee. But when our goal is to "get there", that's not all bad either. For the most part, we've been able to manage.

The other two times we've been through this way we left I-80 and took US-30, the old Oregon Trail route, up passed Kemmerer, Montpelier, and Soda Springs... and then up to Pocatello before catching the Snake River for the trip downhill to Portland. For something different today we stayed on I-80 and were treated to a spectacular drive through a couple historic canyons. It was new territory for us.

The route of the first Transcontinental Railroad is the route of today's I-80. It was the most logical path for heavy rail traffic to traverse the mountains between the flats of SE Wyoming and the Great Salt Lake Basin... some 3,000 feet lower. The upper portion is called Echo Canyon which ends in an abrupt split about half way down the mountain. At that point, I-80 goes left and down into Salt Lake City, and I-84 goes right and down into the Ogden area. The first Transcontinental Railroad took a right turn toward Ogden, and so did we.

This lower canyon is Weber Canyon (I think). In spots, it's barely wide enough to contain the river, two lanes of Interstate Highway, a narrow local road, and two rail lines. It didn't seem like the whole canyon floor was more than a couple hundred feet wide.

The morning sunlight perfectly lit the canyon walls and produced dramatic shadows that enhanced things even more. It's a small section of roadway that we'll always remember.

Once down to the Ogden area it was back to the humdrum of Interstate travel. But we both felt as if we're entering a new phase in our trip. Crossing into Idaho and getting to the Snake River meant literally that we've arrived in the Pacific Northwest. The Rockies and the high country were behind us. In a small (very small) way, we felt a sense of what those early emigrants must have felt when they made it to this point.

We arrived at our destination, Mountain Home Idaho, mid-afternoon. Miles today (and I'm not fudging anything here), was 400. In four days we racked up 1,676 miles and only have about 500 to go... which we'll break into two days.

We're parked at the Mountain Home RV Park. It's a modern and nicely cared for place operated by some of the nicest workampers we've run across. We've been here once before and thought it'd be a great spot to take a break. We booked two nights and plan on sleeping in tomorrow. There'll be a few chores, a trip to the grocery store, but mostly it'll be a day to vegetate.

I've also added a few photos to the posts of the last few days. If you have a chance, check them out. And, as always, our complete photo albums are here... at http://picasaweb.google.com/thomhoch

Saturday, November 9, 2013

November 9 - Sidney Nebraska to Little America Wyoming

Decided to take a break from the string of 400 mile drives today so we stopped after 395 miles. Considering our before 8am start we were done by a little after 3pm. We're parked at Little America Wyoming, one of the smallest and busiest towns for it's size I know. We've been here a few times before and always park in the same area in front of the restaurant and store, but away from the hustle and bustle of the place. There's no RV park or campground... no sir... no madam... every time we stop for the night at Little America we blacktop boondock... just find a spot, park, and hop in bed.

We're a little early for bed, although tired enough from the day. The common thread of the last three days has been the relentless headwinds and this big old flat-sided bushouse doesn't exactly cut through the wind like an F-16. Really, quite the opposite. It's literally like pushing a billboard down the road sideways. Driving is a two hand, two strong arms, and two sharp eyes affair... and don't take those eyes off the road for a second. 9 feet of vehicle in a 12 foot lane provides very little wiggle room as the wind does it's thing. After 400 miles I'm done. Time to park and enjoy the finer things in life... like a double bourbon on the rocks with my sweetie by my side. (Yes Sue, I'm relaxed now.)

Little America is like the big America... only smaller. There's a post office here... a gas station... a restaurant... store... motel... and, perhaps best of all... no Walmart or other irritating big box store. I assume you could live and vote here. You might even be able to run for office. If I were Mayor I'd set up a toll booth at the ramp off I-80 and charge a buck for every vehicle that passes. Considering the remoteness of the place most people would still stop for a tank of gas or a free 50 cent ice cream cone. In any case, we'd have some additional revenue to help keep the place going.

There ain't much to report about Wyoming today. The highlight of the trip was the gradual ascent to the 8640 foot Sherman Summit, the highest point anywhere on I-80, and the not-so-gradual descent into Laramie. Some dramatic and interesting country for sure.

The plan is to continue our string of 400 mile days tomorrow, after which we plan to take a break. We'll be through the area of greatest concern and can slow down a bit... relax even more.




Friday, November 8, 2013

November 8 - Shelby Iowa to Sidney Nebraska

Another 400+ mile day is in the books... our second in as many days.  It might be a good idea to explain our urgency... the rush to get from the Midwest to the Northwest in just a few days.

That explanation boils down to this:  it's mid-November, Winter is closing in, the entire route is between 41 and 45 degrees north latitude, and there are a couple mountain ranges that will have to be dealt with... and an elevation of about 9000 feet. We're trying to hit a window of relatively calm weather along our 2200 mile route before all hell breaks loose... as it certainly can (and will) any day now. So our motto is "git while the gittin's good". Those who linger will certainly pay the price.

All that said, we got another early start as the sun rose over Shelby this morning. Strong southerly winds were brisk and buffeted the bushouse as we passed through Omaha and around Lincoln... enough wind to make driving tough but not enough for us to give up and throw out the anchor. As the morning wore on and we neared Grand Island and Kearney, the wind eased considerably for an hour or two, and then reversed direction and gusted out of the north most of the way to our destination, Sidney Nebraska.

Sidney is the home office of Cabelas. Their complex here includes a huge store, a huge office building, a large RV/truck parking area, and a full service RV park. Seeing as how it's getting cold again tonight (upper 20s), we opted for the RV park ($17 after discounts for 30amp electric). We might be getting soft in our old age.

The route today was all I-80. Total mileage was 435. We're positioned to take advantage of good weather tomorrow for the apogee of our dash... 9000 feet, the highest point on I-80... located just east of Laramie Wyoming. From there, as they say, it'll be all downhill.

We did stop for about an hour today at The Great Platte River Archway Monument, which is built over the top of I-80 at Kearney.  Kearney is almost exactly half way between New York and San Francisco, and over the years so much American history passed this historic outpost on the prairie.. the Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Trail, and the first transcontinental railroad are all right here. Although a bit pricey at $10/head for old geezers like us, it's a well done set of walk-through dioramas and exhibits that span from the days of old Fort Kearney in the mid 1800s to today. The Monument has struggled in recent years and it's future is in doubt. We're hoping those responsible can find a way to keep it alive... and keep the story of those early emigrants alive too.

Missouri River at Omaha

The Great Platte River Archway Monument


Thursday, November 7, 2013

November 7 - Beaver Dam to Shelby Iowa

Hey, we're on the road again.  After almost 6 months it feels good to be moving, that's for sure.

Yesterday we moved the bushouse off the RV pad at the farm and onto a temporary one-night "stand" nearby. The truck camper took the bushouse's place on the pad... and went into "cold storage". It'll sit there... unused, winterized, loaded and ready to go... until we return and retrieve it about a month from now. (more on that later).  Considering the 24f degree temps last night, the bushouse easily rumbled to life at first light this morning, raring to go. If I didn't know otherwise I'd say it was as anxious as us to hit the road. The only unforeseen issue was a frozen tv batwing antenna which cold-welded itself to it's base... no turning... no dropping... and us not going until stowed.. The steady rain of the previous few days and the hard-freezing temps combined to make life a little interesting... especially if you're the one who had to crawl up onto the roof, negotiate the full 40 x 8 ice skating rink up there, and free the problematic antenna.

Before 8am the wheels were turning. An early-ish start was needed to keep a burning ember of hope alive that we'd make my planned 400+ miles before the sun set. The route was an easy one... US-151 through, around, or near Madison, Dodgeville, Platteville (all WI), Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City (IA). Hop on I-80 west, circle around Des Moines, and head for Omaha... but we stopped for the night in the little town of Shelby Iowa. We found an electric plug-in at a motel/RV park near the Interstate to help fend off another night of 20f degree temps. And that's where I'm writing this post.

Tomorrow will be more of the same.

In my last post I discussed our plans to first take the bushouse out to Oregon and then return to Wisconsin, probably in December, to pick up the pick up (get it?) and camper. My first thought was to fly back. But smarter people than I thought it might be cool to "rail" back.  That's right, Amtrak. The "Empire Builder" has both Vancouver Washington (about 10 miles from our daughter and son-in-laws house) and Columbus Wisconsin (about 10 miles from family in Beaver Dam) included on it's list of stops between Portland and Chicago. And not only that, a cross-country passenger train trip has been on my bucket list for years. This has the makin's of a very cool trip.


Cedar River near Cedar Rapids Iowa