Friday, July 3, 2009

June 21: Hingham, Massachusetts

The next morning was significantly cooler than it had been since we were out west, and we were happy not to need constant soda refills as we drove. We made our way through Maryland, Pennsylvania (where we had our last peanut butter sandwiches of the trip), New York, but -- much to Emily's dismay -- we just barely missed New Jersey. Louisa promised her that she wasn't actually missing anything.

Finally arriving in Connecticut, we were very happy to be in New England. We stopped at Dunkin' Donuts for some iced coffee to celebrate being in our homeland again. We had finally stopped sweating, and we were finally able to find radio stations other than Christian or country.

Instead of going straight to Emily's house, we were invited to dinner at her brother's house to reunite with her whole family. He and Emily's sister-in-law served us delicious Portobello Parmesan and we had our choice of several different pies and cakes. Emily's family grilled us on our trip and asked us if and when we would be finishing our blog. Soon, we told them.

Once back at Emily's house, we unpacked the car and threw ourselves on the couch. We looked through the 1000 pictures we had taken (a selection of which is now available on Facebook) and sat back to watch Ocean's 11 and reminisce about our time in Las Vegas. In the morning, Louisa's brother would be coming to meet her in Boston and they would be eventually heading back to Maine.

We had driven about 8750 miles, seen 8 national parks, passed through 28 states, listened to "Poker Face" approximately 600 times, and the trip was finally -- but sadly -- over.

June 20: Vienna, Virginia

Upon waking, we decided we needed a complete breakfast -- we were tired of dry cereal and peanut butter and jelly. So we headed over to the Waffle House across the street, where we figured we could be immersed in the culture of the area.

The breakfast was delicious and the experience was well worth it, but before we knew it we had to head off. The drive took us through Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, which were very pretty but almost as hot as the Midwest had been. We managed to finish the book we had been reading, though.

We even decided to embrace the country music that seemed to be on every radio station. We had avoided it our whole trip, though it seemed to be the most popular genre in every area of the country but the northeast. However, we finally realized that if so many people liked it so much, there must be some reason to listen to it. Besides, Louisa had become slightly obsessed with (embarrassingly enough) Taylor Swift's "Love Story" over the course of the trip.

We weren't entirely disappointed by the country music genre. While we probably won't start listening to it daily, we did enjoy the stories the singers told. We could definitely relate -- with the notable exception of what may have been our favorite new song, "There is No Arizona." We were quite sure that there is an Arizona, and that we had been there just days before. Other than the blatant lie that song told, we felt the other songs were very real.

We finally arrived at Louisa's aunt's house (this time on her dad's side), where we had some delicious avocado and tomato sandwiches. Louisa's aunt and uncle showed us a route back up north that would help us avoid the horrors of the 1-95 corridor through Philadelphia and New York. After some more conversation, we all headed to bed. Before we fell asleep, however, we enjoyed some Spanish-language television, which is another of our new favorite genres.

June 19: Jeffersonville, Indiana

After some huge and sweet Long John doughnuts that Louisa's Uncle Jay picked up for us (after a request from Louisa's mother), we headed into Kansas City to walk around the Plaza.

We arrived just before most stores opened, which we were slightly surprised by since we were used to starting our days at 6. Soon enough they opened their doors, however, and we did a little browsing before meeting Louisa's aunt for lunch.

After some slight confusion when Emily was given the wrong menu and thought Louisa was ordering a pizza with chocolate chips on it, we had a pleasant and delicious lunch before continuing east.

Our next destination was Louisville, where Emily's mother had graciously allowed us to use some of her Marriott points to book ourselves a room. We were surprised to find out that the hotel was actually in Jeffersonville, Indiana, right across the river from Kentucky. Although we would be traveling all the way across southern Indiana, we would still have to go into Kentucky and back out again to get to our hotel.

The drive there was rather boring, as we were very hot and eager to get to our air-conditioned hotel room, complete with shower, bed, and tv. We did manage to find the best gas station store, however: QT (or QwikTrip), which has 32 oz. soft drinks for 49 cents. And believe us, we needed all 32 ounces to deal with the heat.

Arriving at our hotel after dark, we were pleasantly surprised to see fireworks across the river in Kentucky, welcoming us to the region. We decided we were too tired for the pool and went to crash on the bed with the Topsy's popcorn Louisa's aunt had given us. We were desperate to channel surf.

It was a nice, relaxing night.

June 18: Liberty, Missouri

We woke up bright and early for a fast-paced walk to a nearby coffee shop, where we sat outside and enjoyed the sun and some conversation. After saying goodbye to Louisa's aunt and uncle, we started the long trek to Kansas City.

We were mildly surprised to find out that the eastern half of Colorado is much like Kansas: flat and quite boring. Where were all the mountains we had been promised? Apparently we had already passed all of them on the way to Denver. We quickly realized we were in for a long, long day.

Not only was the day long, it was very hot. The thermometer in the car topped 100 degrees. While we turned on the air conditioning occasionally to cool down the car, we mostly kept it off and the windows up to save on gas. We'll just say that it was a very sweaty journey.

Luckily it was broken up with an interesting stop in Kansas. We had seen signs for a prairie dog town with such attractions as a five-legged steer and live rattlesnakes. We decided it was worth a try.

The stop was weird, to say the least. While it was definitely a prairie dog town, with prairie dogs running everywhere, it also had piglets, goats, lambs, coyotes, foxes, and even an albino peacock. We did see the five-legged cow but didn't stop to stare for very long, as we both wanted to look away immediately. It was definitely an experience, and how we will both remember Kansas.

When we arrived at Louisa's uncle's house (catching a pattern here?) outside of Kansas City, we ate some of Louisa's aunt's delicious guacamole while looking at family photos, mostly of Jay and Carole's adorable grandson. After some Starbucks ice cream, we went to bed.

June 17: Denver, Colorado

We awoke in the Holiday Inn Express parking lot, sweaty but happy that there had been no police interference during the night. Since we hadn't seen any signs of a free continental breakfast, we decided to head straight to Arches National Park to do a little hiking and sightseeing.

At Arches we stopped at the visitor center to use the bathroom, and we saw a couple dozen people sitting outside in lawn chairs. Since nothing but the bathrooms were open yet, we were a little confused -- was everybody waiting impatiently for the gift shop to open? Then we realized the real reason these sleepy people were waiting wrapped in sleeping bags at 7:00 in the morning: they were waiting to reserve campsites. So that's why there hadn't been any left when we arrived the previous evening at 7:00 pm.

We wanted to tell everybody that the Holiday Inn Express parking lot was free and didn't require waiting in line at dawn, but we decided to go check out the arches instead.

After admiring the landscape and looking at several amazing geological features while driving through the park, we arrived at the site of our hike. We planned to walk out to see the Delicate Arch, which you probably know as the arch on Utah's license plate.

After leaving our fellow hikers in the dust (literally), we made it up to the viewpoint, where we found only one other family. Everybody else in the park was still waiting for a campsite, while arrived at the top before the sun got too hot and before all the other tourists got in the way of our photos. It was beautiful.

After some more picture-taking as we left the park, we headed off to Denver. The drive through the mountains was breathtaking, and we passed many ski resorts and just a little bit of snow.

Arriving in Denver, we decided to check out some of the sights before heading to Louisa's uncle's house. We stood on the step of the Colorado State House that is exactly one mile above sea level, and we walked around downtown for a little while.

We then surprised Louisa's Uncle John at work, and then drove the few blocks to his house where we could finally relax. After a nice dinner of quesadillas, John's wife Catherine came home and introduced us to the wonders of So You Think You Can Dance, which may be our new favorite show during the Gossip Girl off-season.

After deciding that since we wanted to vote for all the contestants we might as well not vote at all, we went to bed.

Monday, June 22, 2009

June 16: Moab, Utah

Another early start had us cruising towards Bryce Canyon. Once we arrived, we put on our hiking boots and got ready to take in the hoodoos. We picked what was advertised as “the best three-mile hike in the world.” Not having done all the three-mile hikes in the world, we can’t officially say this is true, but it would definitely be hard to beat. The beginning of the hike was particularly fun – especially since it was downhill. We explored the various rock formations and were very glad it was slightly overcast and still relatively cool. We got our exercise at the end of the hike when we had to climb back up the canyon. Due to confusing signing and our lack of a trail map (we left it in the car) we almost descended once again into the canyon. Thankfully we were skeptical about going down after having just climbed back up and we managed to find the appropriate path back to the car.

We left Bryce a little sweatier than we had started and began the drive across Utah towards Arches, opting for the slightly longer but more scenic route. Utah impressed us with its immense volume of exposed rock and apparent lack of towns, people, and soil. We drove through Capital Reef National Park, hoping to find some orchards overflowing with fruit as our guidebook had advertised. Instead of the Garden-of-Eden-like conditions we had hoped for, we found a few trees and more rocks. However, they were very beautiful rocks and I’m sure if it had been the right season the orchards may have seemed more inviting. We also got to see some petroglyphs, which were very cool.

We continued driving, stopping to explore a cave along the side of the road, and reached Arches just after 5:30. The campground at the park was full so we had to find another option for sleeping. We drove into Moab and Louisa was struck with inspiration: we could find an unobtrusive corner of a hotel parking lot and sleep in the car there! As we drove into town we scoped out which parking lot seemed best and settled on the Holiday Inn Express.

We went out to diner at a nice Mexican restaurant, where we both feasted on delicious fish tacos, and then wandered up and down the main drag of Moab, indulging in (and belatedly celebrating Louisa’s birthday with) some ice cream. We killed time until it was dark and then headed over to the Holiday Inn Express.

The plan worked flawlessly except for the fact that it was sweltering hot and a few mosquitoes came in through the cracked windows. Nevertheless, we awoke the next morning rested and ready to check out Arches.

Friday, June 19, 2009

June 15: Kaibab National Forest, Arizona

We woke up the next morning in Vegas, not really fitting the description in the song “Waking up in Vegas,” which was slightly disappointing. Instead, we hopped right in the car and headed out of Nevada.

Our first stop was Zion National Park, where we took the shuttle bus through the canyon and stopped along the way to check out the sights. We took a hike along the river – and eventually in the river – at the end of the route.

Where the trail ended, we took off our hiking boots and walked through the Virgin River, stopping along its banks to eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we had packed. After hiking around several more river bends, we turned around and headed back to dry land, where we walked back to the shuttle bus in our bare feet.

After Zion, we drove south into Arizona (and back an hour, since Arizona does not recognize daylight savings time), where we went to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We took some pictures, trying to capture its vastness, but most we just walked around, staring down into it, trying to find the bottom.

We found some spots on the porch of the lodge, where we ate some pizza and waited for the sunset. Unfortunately, it was overcast, so while the sky changed color slightly, it wasn’t much of a sunset.

Before it got completely dark, we headed out of the park and into the Kaibab National Forest, where you can camp anywhere for free as long as you are ¼ of a mile off the road. It was unclear to us how this worked, since there was no parking but there were signs that said not to drive over the meadows, so it was dark by the time we found a road to a trailhead that we could drive up. About a mile up the road, we found a place to pull off. Once again, we decided to sleep in the car, as there was no even ground around, and it was too dark to set up the tent anyway.

June 14: Las Vegas, Nevada

The next day was a very relaxing one for us. We slept in later than normal, and after breakfast we headed into downtown Pasadena. One of our first stops was 21 Choices, a delicious frozen yogurt shop with huge servings – and the beginning of an incredibly unhealthy day for us. At least we got in some walking, since we also stopped in Johnny Rocket’s for some onion rings.

Our next stop was In and Out, which we had been told over and over we needed to visit before we left the state. Since their vegetarian option was a hamburger without the meat (in other words, bun, lettuce, and tomato with the special sauce), we opted for just French fries instead (don’t worry, parents, we usually eat better than this).

We did have some fruit back at the house before we headed off in the late afternoon for Las Vegas. For the first time on the trip, we would be staying in a hotel. Well, a motel actually – a Howard Johnson’s to be specific. It was advertised as only one block off the Strip, but we would soon find that blocks on the Strip are a lot longer than they should be.

First, however, we took a half-hour break in our room to channel surf and relax. It was nice to be on our own for once, but we were eager to hit the town.

It was a long walk into town, however. Once we made our way from the small-time wedding chapels and nude clubs to the big casinos, though, it was worth it. Though both of us are twenty and not quite old enough to gamble, we walked through some of the casino floors and watched people chain-smoking at the slot machines and were kind of glad not to be a part of that. The blackjack tables, however, did tempt us, as we both had read Bringing Down the House and wish we could count cards.

Fortunately, we were able to partake at Chipotle (it was Emily’s first time there and Louisa’s second – neither was disappointed). It was delicious, of course, and made us desperately wish for a location in Providence.

Afterwards, we watched the fountain show at the Bellagio and started our long walk home. There was apparently a wedding going on in the chapel in our hotel when we got back, which ruined our plans to do the one thing we actually were of legal age to do in Vegas (there was also the slight problem that we didn’t meet anyone we really wanted to marry). Instead, we went straight to bed.

June 13: Pasadena, California

We woke up early the next morning to another delicious meal: homemade apricot and strawberry jam on sourdough toast, as well as cherry-banana smoothies made with cherries pitted by Will. With his swim meet starting in just an hour, he needed a healthy, filling breakfast so he could win.

We wished him luck and packed up the car. Emily tried to get out of the driveway as Bill and Peter watched, waiting to wave goodbye as we drove around the corner. Embarrassingly enough, it took her at least five minutes to get out, by which time Bill and Peter had already left to go back inside to get ready to cheer Will on.

On the road again, we quickly got to Monterey, where we walked down Cannery Row and ended up at the aquarium, where we watched the seals sun themselves on the rocks but didn’t go inside. We moved on to Carmel, where we walked along the beach and watched the dogs play with each other in the surf. We looked at the beautiful houses on our way back to the car, trying to figure out how we could arrange to live in them.

Next we headed inland, where we drove through the Salinas Valley and stared openmouthed at the acres and acres of crops growing there. We drove for a long time without seeing any spot to pull off and have lunch, though we did have a close call when we almost exited onto an army base, which didn’t look too inviting.

Instead, we got off in San Miguel, which had a mission, so we figured it must have some civilization. We sat on a bench on the main drag and made ourselves cucumber, spinach, and cheese sandwiches. We got some strange looks, both for speaking English and for our strange dining choices. At one point we heard a bell ringing and turned around to watch a man pushing an ice cream cart come out from behind a house. We were too stunned to buy any. Instead, we went inside the corner store and got some cold drinks before leaving San Miguel, realizing we didn’t fit in at all.

We finally made it back out to the coast, arriving in Pismo Beach where we caught a glimpse of the ocean and stopped immediately. At first we were a little put off by the long line at the bathroom, where we changed into our bath suits, and by the fact that the only people in the water were surfers in wet suits. However, as soon as we got into the water we realized that everyone else was just too used to the sun (the day was a little windier than normal, apparently, and not too much of a beach day for the locals). The water was wonderfully refreshing, and we could have stayed there all day if we didn’t have anywhere to be that night.

After a failed attempt in Santa Barbara to find frozen yogurt (which we were told we had to eat while in California), we made it too LA – and the sun immediately disappeared. LA and its surrounding communities seemed to be covered with one giant cloud, which apparently had been hanging around the whole month of June.

We found our way to Pasadena, where we went to our friend Jenny’s cousins’ house. Jenny is staying there while doing an internship, and her family had graciously allowed us to crash there for a night. We met her cousins and watched the Sex and the City movie while enjoying some delicious vegetarian chili Jenny’s uncle had made.

June 12: Lafayette, California

In the morning we woke up and sneaked out early before anyone could notice that we weren’t the Roberts family and that we were not very legit campers. But not before Emily got extremely lost coming back from the bathroom. Louisa would have sent out a search party if she had even noticed that Emily had been gone for an abnormally long time.

Finally Emily stumbled back and we made plans to stick our feet in the water before finding some hot chocolate or coffee at a bakery to warm us up. We found a rocky beach that was painful to walk across, but the walk back was less so once we stepped in the water and they got numb.

We made our way further down the coast, looking for a coffee shop that was open. We noticed some people standing outside a small store and parked the car, finally ready to satisfy our hunger. We went to the door and found that it was locked – and not to be opened for another two hours. Someone else drove up to stand with those milling about on the sidewalk, but we were not invited to join their hang-out sesh so we drove away again.

The drive back inland was once again mountainous and slightly terrifying for Emily, who was once again in the passenger seat, hanging on for dear life as the tires squealed (only once….)

However, once we entered wine country, we found a cute café where we enjoyed delicious blackberry scones. Louisa had organic coffee (with organic milk and sugar) and Emily had freshly squeezed orange juice. She was immediately inspired to start squeezing oranges herself in the Ratty (our dining hall at school).

Back on the road, we quickly made it to Lafayette, where Louisa’s uncle, aunt, and cousins live. No one was home so we dunked our feet in the pool, taking a small break from our fast-moving lifestyle, and then headed to the BART station so we could take the train into San Francisco.

When we stepped out of the train, we found ourselves inexplicably in a mall. It was lunchtime and we realized that we hadn’t eaten, so Louisa introduced Emily to the wonders of Jamba Juice, which served as our meal.

We were scheduled to meet Louisa’s friend Griffin outside the giant Forever 21, but since she wasn’t due for another 20 minutes we decided to head inside to check out the clothing options while we waited. We sneaked our Jamba Juices past the security guard at the entrance, who was busy texting, but we were almost immediately kicked out by another employee as soon as we started looking at the bathing suit selection.

We chose instead to walk around the block for a while, as we were pretty sure we could not get kicked off of the sidewalk.

Once she arrived, Griffin took us down to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we checked out the touristy shops, making our only purchases in the candy store. After taking some pictures in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, we headed back uptown, munching on our candy.

In order to get to Chinatown, our next destination, we had to climb up and down a huge hill – we wished we hadn’t left our hiking boots in the car. However, the hike was worth it, as we found some very cheap souvenirs – including $2 t-shirts. Unfortunately the “Escaped from the psycho ward at Alcatraz” t-shirts weren’t in our size.

After saying goodbye to Griffin, we headed back to Lafayette. Louisa’s cousins, Will and Peter, were adorable, as always, and Will immediately put us to work whittling sticks into spears. He also showed off his saw and axes, while Peter dressed up like a cowboy for our benefit.

Dinner was barbecued shrimp, pasta, and salad – absolutely delicious. If anything, Louisa’s aunt Melissa’s apricot tart was even more delicious, made from the piles and piles of fresh apricots she and the boys had gotten that morning.

After a very filling dinner, we were forced by Will to go swimming with him. Will was preparing for his swim meet the next day and showed off his talent. He also organized a diving competition for us, as well as a hold-your-breath competition. The results were quite even. Peter ran around collecting mud from the garden the whole time.

After a tour of the boys’ room, we helped tuck them into bed and headed down the poolhouse, where we would be staying (just like Ryan!!!).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 11: Russian Gulch State Park, Mendocino, California

Rising with the sun, we continued down the coast (after clearing up the mystery of the country music loving park ranger). The Oregon coast was as beautiful as we remembered from the night before. We took in the views until California where we had to go though an agricultural inspection at the border. They tried to take our avocado since it apparently had scale pests. However, the guard took pity on us and allowed us to keep the avocado once we assured her we were planning on eating it that day for lunch and thus it wouldn’t be getting too far into the state. They didn’t inspect our cucumber. Apparently they don’t host scale pests or other undesirables.

California was very welcoming (in our whole time in California, we saw at least 3 California Welcome Centers, only one of which was anywhere near the border). Our next destination was the Redwoods. Again, signage was unclear. Adding to the confusion was the fact that the Redwoods is a series of state parks, not one cohesive national park. Also, our trusty guidebook travels up the coast rather than down it, making all of its recommendations a little confusing. We tried to drive along the scenic Coastal Drive where seals and sea lions apparently like to hang out. We didn’t see any seals or sea lions and the road was closed halfway through. We almost accidentally visited a state prison since that was our only other option at the fork in the road. We almost missed the sign that said in large letters “Not a through road!” and then in much smaller font the important fact that it lead to a prison. We turned around and headed back to 101.

We drove through the northern parks, pulling over sporadically to check out some very large (shocking, we know) trees and ending up at Prairie Creek Visitors Center. We parked, checked out a trail map and decided to have lunch. We ate our avocado, cheese, cucumber and spinach sandwiches on a bench since you had to pay $6 to enter the picnic area. Who knew?

Finished with lunch and ready to hit the great outdoors, we headed into the woods. We started with the Revelations Trail, which was nice and short and had informational plaques throughout, instructing us on how to use our various senses to enjoy the forest. Then we attempted to start our real hike. We had a little trouble finding the trailhead but we eventually headed out on the James Irvine Trail. We didn’t see any of the advertised waterfalls but it was still an awesome hike and definitely the best way to experience the Redwoods. The forest was quiet except for a few mosquitoes, which seemed to follow us on our hike (we tried to trick them by stopping for a second and then running ahead – mission unsuccessful). Highlights on the hike – apart from the trees, of course – included some large slugs, caterpillars, moss and wildflowers. Louisa suffered a minor injury, scraping herself on something. It was lucky that we were almost back at the car since there was a surprising amount of blood for such a small injury. She washed it off and put some Neosporin on it. Thus far she hasn’t shown any signs of gangrene or other such maladies.

We got back in the car, invigorated from our hike, and continued south. We stopped at an intriguing stand on the side of the road. It turned out to be a shop of chainsaw carvings. Their carvings had won several chainsaw-carving competitions in Oregon so we knew they were legit. We didn’t purchase anything but we took a couple of pictures.

Back on the road, we took the turn for Highway 1, which Louisa’s uncle had recommended us. Immediately we started driving through what felt like a slalom course. It was mountainous, up-and-down hairpin turns for about 30 miles. Louisa navigated them with poise while Emily clutched the seat secretly and hoped Louisa didn’t notice her unease. We made it out alive and were rewarded by spotting whales almost as soon as we pulled out of the trees onto the coast. Needless to say, we pulled over and watched the spray from their blowholes for a while. We didn’t have binoculars so we couldn’t see much else but still, WHALES!

We continued down the coast, taking in the views until it both began to grow dark and we started to feel starving. Louisa’s uncle had recommended Mendocino as a stopping point for the night so we made that our goal. We got to Mendocino a little before 8 and discovered that people there must not eat. The one restaurant we found was a bit pricy for our tastes and formal for our attire. After cruising the town looking for alternatives, we decided to head back a few miles to Fort Bragg, where we had seen quite a few restaurants that looked like they would actually allow us through its doors.

We decided to stop at a Mexican restaurant since the windows advertised “Burritos,” and that enticed us. The burritos we ate were as filling as we expected, and as we needed. We paid the check right at sunset and decided to rush out to try to catch a glimpse of it over the ocean. As we walked out, we passed some people sitting at the bar watching the NBA finals. Though there were only about 10 seconds left in the game, and it was a close one, we decided to skip it for the sunset – which turned out to be a great decision since LA won and the men sitting at the bar were probably Lakers fans. And you can guess how we feel about the Lakers.

Unfortunately, on the short drive back to the State Park where we planned to spend the night, our view of the sunset kept getting obscured. By the time we reached the entrance, the sun had disappeared under the horizon. However, this did mean that we could enter the campsite under the cover of nightfall, our preferred method.

Though the sign at the booth said that the campsite was full, there was no guard stationed there so we decided to sneak in anyway. There were, in fact, several open sites, though after parking in one we found a small sign that said that it was reserved. There was no sign of life, however, and the night before had been reserved as well, so we decided that the Roberts family probably wasn’t coming to claim their site.

It was very dark by this point, so we decided not to bother setting up the tent, especially since we would be getting an early start the next morning. Walking to the bathroom, however, we felt very lame, as all the other campers were sitting around fires beside their sturdy tents, sharing ghost stories and drinking beers. Back in our sleeping bags in the car, we read some of the bedtime story we have been reading aloud to each other instead. (We’re too embarrassed to tell you what it is, however.)

Once again, it was an early night.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Apology to the Fans

To all the fans out there, we’re very sorry for the slow and sporadic updates. Our adventures have kept us very busy and we’ve been staying in many locales sans internet access. However, as our trip draws to a close we will hopefully be able to catch up, slowly but surely.

Check out a couple of new posts below, and be prepared for more in the next few days (we'll try to do some typing as we cross the desert).

June 10: Lagoon Campsite, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Oregon

We got another early start and headed towards Portland (Oregon, not Maine, though Maine’s Portland is the original). It was an uneventful ride until we got to Portland where we discovered that Oregon is very unhelpful to drivers. Many essential signs were missing and the area we were exploring was full of one-way streets (nothing new to us Providence dwellers) and it was impossible nearly everywhere to make a left turn. We felt a bit like Zoolander.

In Portland we walked around the Rose Garden (after an impressive hillside parallel parking job by Louisa), which was in bloom and thus beautiful. Louisa took a plethora of pictures. We took the scenic route back to the car and then got lunch at a rotating sushi bar. Then we headed to Powell’s Books, a gigantic bookstore which is very user-friendly (unlike the roads! we’re still not over it). It shelves the used books alongside the new books and is enormous. We could have spent all afternoon in there. However, we didn’t want a parking ticket and thus had to head back to the car. We decided to stay a little longer, got some delicious gelato, and did some window-shopping.

After Portland we headed to the Oregon coast. It took us quite a while to get there since we hit a little traffic. We made a supplies run at Safeway. We got some good deals (and the Safeway card that is a prerequisite for said deals) including spring themed Oreos, which have yellow filling, spring shapes on one side and are cheaper than normal Oreos.

Restocked, we continued toward the coast. The drive was worth it once we got there and were able to see the lovely coastline. We found a pretty beach and pulled over to make dinner. We had tried to pick one whose parking lot was fairly close to the beach since we wanted to bring our camp stove down and make some soup on the beach. It was a bit more of a walk than we were expecting but worth it. We even ran into a couple taking wedding photos on our way down to the water. We found a circle of rocks and a big piece of driftwood and set up operations. After a mishap in which Louisa spilled a good amount of lentil soup onto her jeans, we had the stove going and were heating up our dinner. We sliced up one of our avocados and had a delicious meal, which we finished with some of our recently acquired spring Oreos. We washed the dishes in the public bathroom and headed south in hopes of gaining a little more distance.

We drove until it was almost dark. Conveniently, the sun doesn’t set until close to 9pm. We pulled into a campsite that looked good. There was no one manning the entry way so we just pulled in, found an empty spot and made ourselves at home, opting to sleep in the car rather than set up the tent. We chose to ignore the $20 fee since there was no one to collect it and we would be leaving bright and early. Emily’s subconscious got the best of her that night. She dreamed that a park ranger had pulled up, blaring country music and demanding payment. In her dream, Emily remained “sleeping” in the back while Louisa forked over the campsite fee. Upon awaking the next morning Emily asked Louisa, “Did that guy really came by last night?” Louisa had no recollection of the event but checked her wallet nonetheless to make sure. No money was missing. Emily was just crazy and maybe a little paranoid.

June 9: Seattle, Washington

After a very healthy breakfast we hit the road nice and early. The eastern half of Washington surprised us, containing far more flat fields and cows and potatoes (we went through the county that produces the most potatoes in the United States) than we expected. Erika and Daniel Spokane told us we had to take a dip in the Columbia River while we were out here and gave us detailed directions to a good spot for river entry. Unfortunately, we managed to not even see the exit and thus had to try to find river access on our own. We pulled off the highway right after crossing the river and made a pit stop at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park. The interpretive center was closed but we still got to see some petrified wood. The dip in the river was less successful. We found a boat ramp and approached the water there. It was very rocky so we only made it in up to our ankles but the water felt nice and had we made it to the suggested location we’re sure we would have enjoyed it.

After a few hours we had reached the mountainous, pine tree filled landscape we had been led to believe comprised the entire state of Washington. Along with pine trees and potatoes, the first policemen showed up in Washington. We had made it across the majority of the country without seeing a single cop; however, in Washington we saw several. The most intimidating by far was the one dressed in all black, posted up against his black police car, hidden at the bottom of a hill around a curve and aiming his radar gun at the oncoming traffic (luckily we weren’t speeding so he couldn’t spring into action and chase us down).

We got in touch with Louisa’s father’s old friend from college who graciously welcomed us to his home and his city: Seattle. After a few close calls with pedestrians, Emily managed to successfully park the car and we began exploring. We grabbed lunch on the waterfront. Louisa had clam chowder (not as good as Maine’s) and Emily had fried clams. We then walked towards the Seattle Mariners Stadium since the area around it was supposed to be nice. One would think that a giant stadium near the waterfront would be easy to keep track of. We managed to lose it. So we took a nice stroll along the industrial port alongside the freeway. After a few minutes we realized our mistake and remedied it.

Back on track, we explored the area around Pioneer Square, stopping in a thrift shop, where we both made some nice but cheap purchases. While exploring we discovered that in Washington all traffic laws are taken seriously, not just the speed limit. Jaywalking was also a big no-no. We were shocked when people waited to cross an empty street merely because the light was not in their favor. Then we went to the Seattle Public Library, by far the coolest library we ever been in. We checked out the children’s section (which included individual gaming stations and child-sized bathrooms that we were not allowed to enter) and then adventured upstairs. There we found all sorts of good spots for working (for a very brief moment Emily even wished she had some homework just so she could do it there).

After the library, we got our retail fix by poking around an upscale shopping area. Then we went Pike Place Market and decided we wanted to buy everything: produce, fish, kitschy souvenirs, and amazing fresh cut flowers. One fish seller was particularly popular since rather than blandly handing you your purchase and sending you on your way, the packaging process involved shouting and tossing the fish and a little fancy footwork. They also had a monkfish on display. One fellow Pike Place frequenter even suggested that we go play with the monkfish. We declined. He persisted. We declined again.

After avoiding touching the monkfish we decided to buy some flowers for our hosts of the night: Jamie and Celeste. Flowers in hand, we met up with Jamie and headed out to West Seattle. We took the scenic route and thus got several nice vistas of the Seattle skyline. We also got a taste of the neighborhoods along the water. Seattle was proving to be much beachier than we had expected. After a wonderful dinner we walked down to the beach to watch the sunset and ran into some of Jamie’s friends from the neighborhood, further acquainting ourselves with West Seattle life.

Back at the house we got some recommendations about what to see from Jamie and Celeste and realized there was far more to see than could ever be seen (at least on our schedule). After some brainfood (ice cream) we called it an early night so we would be ready to hit the road the next morning.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June 8: Spokane, Washington

This morning we got off to a leisurely start, sleeping in (relatively) for the first time on our journey. After a filling breakfast of Special K, we recreated our time in the Ratty by doing the crossword. It was Monday so it didn’t take us too long.

Then it was off to the ranch. First we met the horses: Playboy, Sandy, and Dino. We even fed them oats and brushed their hair. Louisa tried unsuccessfully to befriend Playboy, who was the wildest, but alas, her horse whisperer skills were lacking.

We relived Maria’s childhood for a while by searching through her old bedroom and finding much memorabilia, including her old diary and old school pictures, which were a definite highlight. Unfortunately we cannot post them online for the world to see.

Driving back, we had our first car mishap – but luckily, not with our car. AS soon as it left the dirt road, Maria’s car started making a high-pitched squeaking sound, and when in reverse, seemed to be dragging something on the ground. Though we all have extensive car mechanic skills, we could not find the source of the problem and just drove home. Luckily the sound stopped.

After a delicious lunch of grilled cheese we were on the road again. Montana lasted a while longer, becoming more mountainous and rainy.

Just before reaching Idaho we stopped at 50,000 Silver $, originally a bar but now a motel, gift shop, casino, and restaurant as well. And there really are 50,000 silver dollars on the wall (though we are just taking them at their word—we didn’t actually count). We meant to just stop in for a bathroom break but ended up indulging in some huckleberry ice cream as well.

We continued through Idaho, though just for a little bit (though a very beautiful little bit) and entered Washington. Fun fact: Washington is the only state so far that puts their “Welcome to…” sign on the left side of the highway instead of the right, which almost caused us to miss photographing it.

Soon after crossing the border, we reached Spokane (whose pronunciation we debated for a bit), where we were staying for the night. We met Erika and Daniel Spokane, who warmly welcomed us into their home. The dog was cold at first, but gradually warmed up to us when we all went to play Frisbee in the park. She is a great jumper.

For dinner we had a delicious falafel salad and tomato soup and some great conversation with Erika and Daniel. We even had strawberries and pound cake for dessert!

We all decided to call it an early night (as always) since they have to work in the morning and we have to make it to Seattle!

June 7: Three Forks, Montana

Louisa woke up at 5:30 the next morning and immediately started laughing. Emily poked her head out of her sleeping bag and sleepily asked whether she was being laughed at. Louisa simply pointed at the windshield and Emily popped up immediately. It was completely covered with snow. We decided it was still too early in the morning to deal with a snowstorm in June, and we went back to sleep until 7:30.

When we reawoke, we got out of the car for a few short minutes to wipe off the windshield (funny, we had forgotten to bring a snow scraper) and then hurriedly jumped back in. Just had the park ranger had warned us, it was 28˙F. And still snowing.

Luckily, Yellowstone looked beautiful in the freshly fallen snow. The trees were dressed in white, as were the buffalo. We took a long meandering drive through more of the park, stopping to look at some more interesting geological features. When we arrived at Old Faithful, we found out that the next eruption was predicted to happen at 10:24 ± 10 minutes. We decided to go warm up in the Yellowstone store while we waited. While we were warming ourselves in front of the fire there, we realized that we were the only idiots in the whole park who didn’t think to bring parkas on our June vacation.

We waited for Old Faithful to erupt in sweatshirts, huddled together. When it finally happened we could barely see a thing. Everything in our field of vision was the same color: the snow (which was still falling), the sky, the steam, the plumes of water. It perhaps wasn’t as cool as it could have been on a clear summer day, it definitely was an experience in and of itself.

On our drive out of Yellowstone we saw a grey wolf, which made Emily’s life, as well as many more buffalo and deer. We would even venture to say that the wildlife looked even cooler in the snowstorm. However, even the buffalo looked like they were shivering.

On our way out of the park we entered Montana. We had only a short drive to our friend Maria’s house in Three Forks, and we were happy to see the thermometer rise as we descended out of Yellowstone.

Once in Three Forks, we took a tour of the town with one of its natives. Maria showed us a dead snake, the golf course, the rodeo grounds, the grocery store, the saddlery, the rope swing, and more. Louisa was very excited to go to Headwaters State Park, which marks the head of the Missouri River, and which has an exhibit on Lewis and Clark. We even ran into some of Maria’s friends who were very excited to learn that we were from the East Coast. We pretty much felt like celebrities.

We cooked up a delicious lasagna, complete with lemon zest and cinnamon (Maria’s recipe), for dinner. Then we hit the town, Three Forks style. For an authentic Montana experience, we hung out with Maria’s friends and heard many interesting stories about their town and its inhabitants.

We were very happy to go to bed in real, warm beds when we got back home.

June 6: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

We had wanted to do some hiking in the Badlands the next morning, but when we got back on the road (after waiting for several more bison to cross it), we found that it was too foggy to see anything. Luckily we had driven the whole length of the park the day before and got to see most everything, as well as take some great pictures.

Instead of hiking, we went to Wall’s Drugs in nearby Wall, South Dakota, which we had seen advertised on billboards the whole length of the state. Starting with “Wall’s Drugs: Only 355 More Miles,” these billboards had gradually become more and more enticing, and we were eager to try some of their homemade doughnuts and 5¢ coffee (especially after the long, cold, wet, sleepless night we had had). Wall’s lived up to its expectations. The doughnuts were absolutely delicious, and the coffee was worth well more than the five cents we paid for each cup, but that was not all that Wall’s had to offer. A tourist Mecca in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota, Wall’s had so much that it probably would be possible to live there.

We considered buying such things as knives, cowboy boots, and chaps (the guy sitting next to us while we drank out coffee was wearing a pair), but finally Emily settled on a cowboy hat. We both also got a free Wall’s Drugs bumper sticker and card – these make it all over the world, as photos lining the walls prove.

Once we crossed over the border into Wyoming, we stopped in Gillete, the energy capital of the state. We saw seemingly endless trains, each car filled to the brim with coal, as we entered the small city. The purpose of the detour into Gillette was to find a Laundromat to dry Louisa’s sleeping bag and pillow, which were hopelessly soaked through. We got to live some real Wyoming culture as we sat in the Laundromat watching men with mustaches and cowboy boots fold their laundry.

Our next Wyoming stop was Buffalo (the second city of the name on our journey, as well as our new favorite animal), where we ate lunch next to Crazy Woman Liquor Store. We also saw a drive-thru liquor store in the same town. Then we set off into the mountains on our way to Yellowstone.

At first the road through the mountains was impossibly treacherous – so foggy that we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of the car. But it quickly cleared up as we got higher, and soon we were seeing snow-covered peaks rising up in front of us. Then the unimaginable happened: it started snowing. We jumped out of the car at a look-out point and had a man take a picture of us among the snowfields, wet snow collecting on the brim of Emily’s cowboy hat. Little did we know what was to come.

The temperature quickly rose as we descended through the mountains, and soon we were traveling through sunny, flat, most empty Wyoming.

When we got to the entrance of Yellowstone, we asked the park ranger for a weather report since we were wary of staying in the tent again if we were only going to have a miserable repeat of the night before. The ranger laughed nervously as she told us that the low was predicted to be 28˙F, and she gave a sad smile at our stunned faces as we drove away.

We drove through some of the park, looking at the beautiful scenery and wildlife and marveling at the steam that rose out of the ground at random places. We found our campsite but didn’t even bother setting up our tent, resigning ourselves to a night spent in the car.

We set out on a walk through some hot springs, and decided to make ourselves some hot soup when we got back. It was just our luck that it started pouring as soon as we got in the car to head back to our campsite. We stayed in the car and made peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches (a welcome change from peanut butter and jelly) and then curled up in our sleeping bags after failing to complete even one crossword puzzle. We reluctantly cracked a couple of windows and quickly fell asleep.

June 5: Badlands National Park, South Dakota

We drove all the way from Wisconsin to the Badlands in South Dakota. Enough said.

We left Oconomowoc (Louisa loves saying/writing this word as much as possible) at around 6:30, after some of Diane’s delicious blueberry muffins. Wisconsin lives up to its reputation as a cheese-obsessed state, though we didn’t actually eat any since it was very early in the morning.

After crossing the Mississippi (and briefly trying to understand the difference between the Mississippi and the Missouri), we entered Minnesota. Minnesota had a lot to offer. Such as the SPAM Museum. Which made the two of us, both vegetarians, very desirous of a spamburger or other such creation.

Instead of SPAM, we went to the A&W drive-up restaurant and ordered root beer floats. It was very cool to sit in the car and have them bring out our drinks for us. They were very well made, too – as they should be, considering root beer is their specialty.

In South Dakota, we found that all of the rest stops in the state have giant stone tipis (this is the South Dakota spelling of the more commonly known teepee). Very cool. One even had a Lewis and Clark information center, which was unfortunately closed when we got there. But we got some great views of the Missouri River from the look-out point.

After long, flat (slightly boring) South Dakota, we were ecstatic to see the Badlands rise out of the prairie. We had sprinted the last section of the marathon, since we (erroneously) thought we had to be there at a certain time, so when we arrived at the entrance 6 minutes ahead of time, we had to stop the car and calm down from all of our excitement. Our first national park.

The Badlands were beautiful and rather unexpected in that section of South Dakota. The road through the park goes along what is called the “Wall” – the enormous rock formation that the park was created around. The sun had started to set and the different layers of rock looked amazing in the changing light.

Our campsite was at the other end of the park, off of a long dirt road. On the way there, we saw two buffalo just chilling by the side of the road, and we hurriedly jumped out to take pictures. Little did we know that we would be having many even more intimate encounters with the animals over the course of the next few days.

When we arrived at the campsite, we saw that there were already several other tents set up, so we quickly found a spot and started setting up ours. After we hammered in most of the stakes we realized that we would be sleeping right next to a huge pile of buffalo dung. It was much too cold and windy to move, however. We joked about buffalo coming to visit our campsite while we slept.

The night, our first camping experience, was a bit of a disaster, to say the least. Though we went to bed early, neither of us could sleep because the wind was flapping the tent very loudly. Both of us had a very restless night, waking up to strange sounds. Louisa woke up at little after midnight in a puddle, but since there was some sort of hurricane going on outside, she couldn’t bring herself to move to the car.

When it finally was 6 in the morning, both of us were very happy to get up. We had been waiting all night for the morning, and Louisa was curled up Emily’s feet, trying to find a dry spot. We gathered up our belongings, hoping to only make one trip to the car, but we immediately dropped almost all of it when we unzipped the tent and found two buffalo hanging out in the campsite. Emily decided to be brave and head over to the bathroom but almost had to stay there when one of the buffalo eyed her and started walking towards her. Later we would see a video of a girl getting gored by a bison – something we were glad we didn’t see before we woke up next to several.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

June 4: Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

Our day in Chicago involved a lot of walking. We are tired just thinking about it. But the weather was nice and it was good to stretch our legs for a bit.

We started off by walking from Kristina Chicago’s apartment to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Since we arrived well before they opened, we stopped for breakfast and to look over some brochures we had collected.

The museum was great – very contemporary. The two main exhibits going on were of works by Olafur Eliasson, which blew consistently confused us and our eyes (in a good way), and by R. Buckminster Fuller, which made us wish we lived in pod houses.

Next we walked down to Millennium Park to enjoy the sun and plot our next step. We decided that we needed to have deep-dish pizza, which – though you would think it would be easy to find in Chicago – took us a lot more walking to get to. We figured that meant we could eat more pizza.

The pizza was delicious and we took a meandering walk along the lakefront to digest. When we ended up at the Field Museum, we found out that it was free admission day (!!!) and we headed in. We were there until the museum closed and we still didn’t even get to half of it – we will have to return some day.

After another long walk and bus ride back to the car, we headed off to Wisconsin. There was surprisingly little traffic coming out of Chicago, since we were only catching the tail end of rush our. The two-hour drive went by in a flash. Nearing Norm and Diane’s house (Emily’s brother’s in-laws) Louisa saw that longest building she’d ever seen, as well as the most trucks in one place – all at a Target shipping facility or something of the sort. Unfortunately, as she stared out the window with her mouth gaping open, Emily was talking obliviously on the phone and missed the whole thing, which she will forever regret.

June 3: Chicago, Illinois

Waking up to find the futon intact, we set out early in the morning for Niagara. Unfortunately, we were led wildly astray by the GPS, which was taking us to Niagara Falls credit union instead of the falls themselves. The twenty-minute journey took about an hour, as we hit every red light imaginable. However, we did get another great tour of all that Buffalo has to offer.

Niagara Falls was big. There was a lot of water. We beat the system and parked on the street for free instead of paying $10 at the parking lot. They had some cool pictures in the visitor center of when they de-watered American Falls in order to study its geological structure.

We would have loved to drive through Canada, and that’s what the GPS really wanted us to do too, but unfortunately we were not allowed into the country as passport laws had changed just days before. So we are also going to have to skip Tijuana too, to the relief of our mothers.

The drive to Chicago was green, sometimes flat, sometimes hilly. We found that: New York has the best rest stops. Ohio does not accept EZ-Pass. Indiana has very few exits.

On our way, we took a detour into Cleveland where we had a picnic and briefly visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center. We also spent a lot of time starting dumbfounded at the lake, marveling at how big it was.

As we approached Chicago, we got in the Chi-Town spirit by listening to some Kanye. We also almost died (last year Chicago had almost 600 caskets) when we were sandwiched in between a semi and a concrete wall, with another semi hot on our tail.

Kristina Chicago, our couch surfing host, led us through a maze of wooden stairs into her very cute apartment. We called it an early night so we’d be ready to hit the town the next day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June 2: Buffalo, New York

After a brief and pointless dentist appointment, and a supply stop, we headed west yesterday morning. As expected, the drive was rather uneventful – the first rest stop we went to was even called Blandford Rest Plaza. There were many hills and many trees, but we could tell that the landscape started to flaten out the nearer we got to Buffalo.

Buffalo held all sorts of excitement for us – at least in comparison to the drive. It was site of our first experience with couchsurfing. We had spoken to “Jennifer Buffalo” (as we called her) briefly on the phone, after a few emails earlier in the week, and she simply gave us her address and told us the house was open and to make ourselves at home when we arrived.

Luckily, one of her roommates was home when we arrived, and he gave us some suggestions for what to see in the city. But first we took a short walk around the block to stretch our legs and check out the plethora of hair salons in the area. Unfortunately, absolutely nothing was open, as it was already after 6.

It was a struggle to get downtown, as Buffalo signage is a bit unclear, but finally we found the famed “Theatre District.” We only saw one theater. There were many teenage bikers and several empty, or close-to-empty, bars. We may or may not have also been conned out of five dollars. No big deal. Hopefully it goes toward our karma fund.

After seeing everything there is to see in Buffalo, which did not take us long at all, we returned to Jennifer Buffalo’s house and chatted for the rest of the evening with her and her other roommate. While watching TMZ we realized that Emily needs to seriously brush up on her knowledge of celebrity gossip. And Louisa probably needs to read Twilight, since she felt a bit left out of the vampire conversation.

Since we were planning on an early start, we soon headed off to bed, preparing ourselves to brave the lopsided futon that may or may not catapult us out. (Don't worry, we survived the night.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

June 1: Cumberland, Maine

The eve of our departure.

We are sitting on Louisa's bed. The car is half-packed. The blog is created.

It's been just a few days since we officially decided to take this journey, but we have had it in the backs of our minds for months. Maybe even years. Things are coming together frantically, but at the moment we aren't actually doing anything to further preparations. We are simply basking in the imminent promise of adventure.

Our itinerary, which is subject to change, involves a long and uneventful drive to Buffalo (no offense to upstate New York) tomorrow. Apparently there's a Ben & Jerry's at every rest stop on the road we're taking. So we're not anticipating a very eventful day (aside from the last-minute packing and shopping that will inevitably need to be done).

From there, we will continue west, eventually making it to Seattle. From there we will head south along the Pacific coast until we get to L.A. (or maybe Tijuana if we can get this passport mess sorted out). Then we cut east. Back through many national parks and then through what Emily calls the "bread belt" of the United States. While nobody else knows what that means, she's sure that it refers to the southern midwestern area of the country. Whatever.

Tensions are already high. We are both already wondering whether we will still be friends in three weeks time. We'll see!