Monday, September 07, 2009

The Flat VI Or, The Honeymoon is Over II

Our new apartment is super-cute (thanks again to our new friend, Christine, for her frank and judicious help in locating a suitable domicile). We've even found room for nearly all of our kitchen implements and stemware.

We were quite at home - and probably more ensconced than we'd realized - in Connecticut; and it's been more than a little unsettling to try to learn to navigate the vagaries of shopping for groceries and ordering coffee in our new surroundings. Aside from being unspeakably hip, our fellow Portland residents are admirably socially conscious and environmentally responsible. The streets are mobbed with cyclists and practically all of what's on offer in restaurants and our spectacular new grocery store is local, fair-trade, and organic; the city farmers' market is a vast thrice-weekly happening. We've been pleasantly humbled to find that so many of the leftist political positions we strove to adhere to back East are practically centrist here. Of course, sometimes, we Oregonians just go to the beach.

Before we get too settled, we thought it best to quantify the roadtrip experience that got us here:

  • Days on the go: 18
  • Miles under our belts: 4,118
  • Blog posts: 10
  • Locales in which we spent at least one night: 12
  • Nights spent in the tent: 10
  • Pictures taken: 449
  • Postcards sent: 16
  • National Parks / Monuments / Lakeshores / etc. visited: 7

We’ll be spending the coming months acquainting ourselves with the brewpub capital of the world (incidentally, Portland boasts the highest concentration of microbreweries anywhere, with 32 pubs in the city and 38 in the surrounding area) and the many regional totem pole sites. We may share a few new recipes and travel experiences around the Pacific Northwest, but for now, thanks for reading and come visit us in Stumptown!

More pictures of our exciting adventure in Oregon, so far, are available here:

Monday, August 31, 2009


Dodging crazed cyclists (boy, have we seen a lot of those) and bighorn sheep (ditto!) , we pushed off at first light from East Glacier and climbed the Going-to-the-Sun road, over Logan's Pass towards the west side of the park. We rolled through the remainder of Montana, northern Idaho, eastern Washington and over the Columbia River into our brand new home state.

This last leg of our trip was not without its own excitement. Our route followed the final portion of the original Oregon Trail through the Columbia River Gorge, which was thickly dotted with kite- and windsurfers. Rather thrillingly, our view of Mount Hood was intermittently obscured by the thick smoke of a huge wildfire that was burning near the town of Mosier. Undaunted by these inevitable hazards of western life, we glided into Portland by sunset, in plenty of time for a large salad of mixed greens and several pints of local beers at one of the many bars and clubs frequented by our tattooed, bearded, and bespectacled neighbors (and that's just the ladies).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

We're your huckleberries

Glacier is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the American National Park system. But in fact, our Canadian friends share in its glories; Glacier partners with Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park to form the world's first and only International Peace Park, which is also recognized by UNESCO as a particularly glorious part of the world's longest undefended border (our trip brings the grand total of World Heritage Sites we've chronicled here to 27, out of 890). Part of what makes the park(s) so special is that it/they is/are awfully remote. Most of the tourists who make it here are dedicated outdoorspeople, as one must be even to begin exploring the vast, steep, cold, moose-dominated, grizzly-harboring wilderness. The highlight of our visit was a seventeen-mile hike to Iceberg Lake and the Ptarmigan Tunnel, the latter reached by an ascent of nearly 1000 feet in about two miles. We were quite pleased with ourselves for not collapsing into a helpless heap on the side of the mountain to be devoured by ants and buzzards.

The culinary headline in Glacier is the wild huckleberry, a small blueberry-esque berry that is a favorite of grizzlies, especially when the great bears are in hyperphasia in preparation for their winter hibernation. The roads around the park are littered with restaurants and stands selling huckleberry-flavored everything, from jam to beer. After Tam choked down an only-just-mediocre huckleberry milkshake in Missoula, we stuck to snacking on the raw thing along the trail between intermittent grizzly-startling clapping and singing. The aspiring gastronomic etymologist will be interested to note that early American colonists, upon encountering the native American berry, misidentified it as the European berry known as the "hurtleberry," by which name the Yankee fruit was known until, through generations of slightly sloppy pronunciation, it became known as the "huckleberry." So, there you go, Mr. Finn.

More pictures of our exciting adventure are available here:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The soggy, foggy, cloud-shrouded Tetons

Our time in the Grand Tetons was brief (it turns out we're fair-weather campers), but the clouds broke enough for a peek at the peaks, after a hearty western chuckwagon breakfast of sourdough pancakes in Moose, Wyoming.

We split via Idaho for the surprisingly hip town of Bozeman, Montana, where we dried out our tent and our socks, and sought professional help for our trusty laptop after a dramatic hard drive crash - many thanks, Professor Science! (All of our material possessions have been falling apart on this trip; so far we've endured a frizzled computer, holes in our hiking boots, multiple car repairs and a flat bicycle tire - all of which, however, allows us to attest to the handiness and helpfulness of those who live under Western skies.) A prime rib dinner and a judicious tasting of some local microbrews with appropriately Montanan names (Moose Drool, Big Sky Trout Slayer Ale) has us feeling restored and ready to scale the glaciers.

More pictures of our water-logged adventures are available here:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hang on to your pic-a-nic baskets

For starters, most of Yellowstone lies within an enormous volcanic caldera. The charming geysers, hot springs and geothermal pools that have inspired so many picturesque postcards also serve to remind the savvy tourist that the whole place is fixing to blow again at any moment. Couple this potential for large-scale geological catastrophe with the more immediate likelihood of being gored by bison or mauled by a grizzly bear (Hey Boo-Boo!), and it quickly becomes clear that by setting off on an apparently innocent jaunt into the famous first-ever national park, we were taking our lives into our own hands.

Intrepid as ever, though, we steeled our nerves and set off west from Rapid City, through Deadwood Gulch, down the stunning Ten Sleep Canyon and at last to the historic Old Faithful Inn, just as the sun was setting and the namesake geyser was erupting. We just made our dinner reservations at the hotel’s main dining room, where we continued our commitment to menus of trout and wild game. (Laura was deeply impressed with the massive columns of twisted pine that hold up the inn itself. She's decided to hide away in the rafters and spend a long, thoughtful winter there someday, and is working on the problem of access to supplies of food, wood, whiskey and long philosophical tomes in various foreign languages.)

The park itself is enormous (over two million acres, bigger than the state of Delaware!) and we scrambled for four days just to scratch the surface of the myriad sights to behold. Indeed, we struggled to take in the vast wilderness, dissolving into incoherence time after time as we witnessed the massive geological and biological forces of the immense, untamed landscape. We covered all of the standard ground: geyser-gazing near Old Faithful, peering over the edges of the park's Grand Canyon, trying to look stoical in the face of sulfurous odors at Mammoth Hot Springs, and sitting in traffic while bison, elk and moose loped down the middle of the road.

We are pleased to report that, upon entering Yellowstone, we spotted a license plate from the great state of New Mexico, bringing our grand total to fifty states, plus the District of Columbia, and nine Canadian provinces and territories. The search continues for a roving pickup truck from Prince Edward Island...

More pictures of our exciting adventures are available here:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who's bad?

Ahh, the Badlands! ‘Hell with the fires out,’ as one early explorer had it, and for us a landscape reminiscent of the moon, with gunslingers peeping around from every corner. Luckily, we had our American flags and slingshots ready, as well as our camera.

A brief turnoff in Rapid City afforded us the opportunity to have another car part replaced (at this rate, we’ll have a whole new vehicle by the time we get to Oregon, each spark plug a treasured memento of a different stop on our travels). Fortunately, we also got the opportunity to sample some local brews at the Firehouse Brewing Company, which makes a particularly delicious beer called Smoke Jumper Stout. Tam, perhaps homesick for New Orleans in all these American wanderings, had his with some gumbo.

Then to the Black Hills of South Dakota, where there once lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoo-oon...We camped in Custer State Park, where we encountered herds of bison on the way to the bathroom each morning and witnessed traffic jams caused by the meandering of antelope and big horn sheep.

The Black Hills seem to have inspired quite a number of endearingly loony engineering projects. There’s Mount Rushmore, of course, but there’s also a wildly improbable scenic highway created by blasting hole after hole out of the huge rocks and building a road that proceeds entirely in terrifying hairpin turns and rough-hewn log bridges. Part of it leads to a succession of enormous granite columns known as the Needles, which the equally insane descendants of the aforementioned crazy engineers like to climb. We stood by and gawked at this evidence of generations of eccentric enthusiasms.

We ate a dinner of locally snared rainbow trout and recently roaming buffalo at the Custer Game Lodge, where Calvin Coolidge once brought his family and staff for a summer White House retreat. The next morning, feeling quite au fait with the ways of the West, we took to the road once more. Next stop: Yellowstone!

More pictures of our exciting adventures are available here:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Paranoia Strikes Deep in the Heartland

Crossing the Mississippi felt like a milestone, particularly since the landscape flattened into western farmland almost immediately and the road began to stretch out in front of us perfectly straight for hundreds of miles. We put the pedal to the floor, watched the amber waves of grain roll by, and fantasized about joining the ranks of rosy-cheeked farm families who live in big white houses surrounded by even bigger red barns.

But our drive through America's heartland was also disheartening. At the edge of every cornfield we passed, signs indicating which patented, genetically-engineered strain of maize was under cultivation reminded us that this iconic farmland also helps constitute the ever-growing industrial food complex. Those of our devoted readers who know us personally have already tired of our endless strains about, you know, eating “food, not too much, mostly plants,” as per Michael Pollan. Two years ago, upon returning from our travels abroad, we pledged in this space to endeavor to seek sustenance that was local, organical, and seasonally available. In Connecticut, that means eating a great many parsnips (Tam's favorite!), but it also meant delighting in getting to know the farmers at New Haven's City Seed Famers Market in Wooster Square and trying new ways of preparing their wares. Without dwelling on the myriad infuriating ways in which so much of America's food is - quite literally - manufactured, we can attest to the great pleasure to be had in seeking out sustainable and ethical food sources and connecting with a local food economy. So, with many a regretful sigh and a disapproving shake of the fist, we abandoned our pastoral fantasies of presiding over acres of tasseled corn. (Other daydreams about chucking the rat race to produce small-batch foie gras/goat's cheese/ farmhouse ale in a stunning rural setting remain intact.)

Thankfully, a pair of detours afforded relief from our pangs of self-righteousness. The first of these was the Jeffers Petroglyphs, where flat red rocks bear the faint traces of drawings scratched into the granite five thousand years ago. After a great deal of squinting, peering and gesticulating, we got the hang of it and began to point out turtles, arrows and thunderbirds with no trouble at all to the other baffled investigators surrounding the rocks.

The next stop was at the Pipestone National Monument, a quarry considered sacred by American Indians who used the red stone found there for carving peace pipes. We watched an expert drill holes into the stone in preparation for its new role and Tam contemplated purchasing one to go with his totem pole, before deciding that right now, acquiring a couch for our new love nest takes precedence. Plus, the car was jammed with provisions for our first camp dinner - potatoes, rainbow carrots and onions mixed with a little diced salami, roasted in the embers of our campfire and flavored ever-so-slightly with pine smoke.

More pictures of our exciting adventures are available here: