Week THIRTEEN

Glacier National Park: mountains, trees, and an ever-dwindling number of glaciers.
I don't have a good caption for this. Oh, I wish I was an Oscar Mayer weiner...
It's not all mountains. Some of it is lakes.

I have confirmed it as an empirical fact that country people are bigger than city people. Taller, heavier, more muscle mass. If you took a random sampling of seven Montanans– men, women, children, the elderly– and compared them to my seven closest friends in California, they would easily outweigh us by half a ton. What I'm saying here is that any random collection of Montana natives could get together and form a football team that would have the best defensive line in NFL history. So Montana, get yourself a football team. You could join up with Wyoming and the Dakotas if you need more people.

On the morning of the 9th we had to check out of our hotel because they were already booked up for that night, so we moved two miles south to a less popular motel. If you're ever in Kalispell, we recommend lunch at the Montana Wheat Deli & Bakery. They're only open until mid-afternoon, but the sandwiches were good enough that we ate there on two consecutive days, and they aren't made by a bunch of damn hippies, either.

We spent the day in Glacier National Park, a geological phenomenon that must be seen to be believed. We didn't see as much wildlife as at Yellowstone (though we did see some mountain goats and Columbian ground squirrels, and heard rumors of a bighorn sheep sighting), but if you like tall pointy mountains, it doesn't get better than Glacier. The western part of the road winds through some lovely forested land, but it's not until you get to Logan's Pass that things become really dramatic. The Sun Trail path goes by an unbelievably picturesque lake, but it is also the windiest place on earth. (Nitpickers will say that the windiest place on earth is Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but I've been both places, so I think I should know.) Although the visitor centers were crammed with people, the park road itself– the poetically named Going To The Sun Road– had thankfully little traffic. Here's my advice for SUV owners driving on the Going To The Sun Road: trade in your Excursion for a Mini Cooper, if only for one day. This road is not wide enough for two sport utility leviathans to comfortably pass, and you make the rest of us nervous. Even those of us in thirty-year-old, seven-foot-wide cars made of actual metal think you drive a dinosaur, with all the steering control that implies. The inherent menace you pose to other traffic is exacerbated by narrow roads, and this is one of the narrowest roads in America. It's hard to enjoy the scenery when you never know what kind of twelve thousand pound truck is going to zip around the next blind curve, knocking you off the road and down the cliff to your extremely scenic death.

Driving back from the park to Kalispell, we passed one of those drive-thru safari park things, this one featuring bears. "Your Car Is The Cage!" said the billboard outside. Thinking this over carefully, we decided not to visit the park in a convertible.

Now that's a state sign: large, colorful, on the right side of the road.
The busiest store in Bonner's Ferry, Idaho.
A picture of a hawk. Bree, this one's for you.

Idaho, the state I can't get enough of. Idaho, the state we would visit five times. Idaho, whose spindly northern arm holds the very heart of the redneckiest land in America. A lot of people associate rednecks with the south, but I'm here to tell you, the vast land between Kootenai National Forest and the Cascade Mountains will make your hair stand on end. Images of Deliverance will run through your mind: sooweeee!...sooweeee! Nonetheless, we couldn't have been happier to spend the day in northern Idaho, because according to our favorite television station (The Weather Channel) it was 102 degrees in Redwood City that day.

I was lucky enough to spend the early part of the morning wondering why the Harley Davidson rider outside our motel window felt the need to rev his engine in the parking lot for twenty minutes before finally going away. The Motel 6 shower delivered a light misting, providing just enough moisture that if you scrubbed vigorously with your towel, you might dislodge some dirt. After another fine lunch at the Montana Wheat Deli & Bakery, we set out for Bonner's Ferry, Idaho, and from there, south to Coeur D'Alene. This town's name is far too fancy for a state that mentions potatoes on its license plates. In Coeur D'Alene we passed a sign for the Apple Barn which advertised "Fresh" Fruit. The word fresh was in quotation marks. Do they mean for you to imagine the exaggerated wink accompanying those quotation marks? Hey buddy, wanna buy something... "fresh?" Maybe they're the same people who want to sell you "real" beef.

From C d'A, we took the interstate to Spokane, Washington, keeping a sharp eye out for the Washington state sign marking the border. See, when you're visiting all 48 states, you like to know when you reach a new state, and we wanted to take a picture of the sign. Idaho has large, eye-catching, full-color signs on every road that crosses the state line, no matter how remote, but not Washington. Washington has self-esteem issues. Not only is their puny little sign two-color, but they put it on the wrong side of the road. Tip for Washington state: highway signs go on the right. If you don't want people to know they've entered your state, just don't bother with the sign at all. I can't blame them; southeastern Washington is a wasteland of high desert scrub brush, with none of the beauty or cosmopolitan culture associated with the North Cascades or the Seattle area. Washington might like to pretend that you're really in the 51st state of West Idaho. But they put up a pathetic little sign anyway, in the median, and made me get off the freeway and backtrack into Idaho– that's number five– just to get a picture of their stupid sign.

It's a cute name, but this town doesn't really merit a sign this big.
The Columbia River, and the home stretch.

It was somewhere in southeast Washington that Dirk observed that "man lives on instinct, potatoes, and indifference," and I think we all see the wisdom in those words. There was a frightening drifter-type at the Denny's where we lunched, and I don't think it was a coincidence that we saw him again at a nearby gas station, standing with a group of bikers, one of whom was wearing an Illuminati jacket. Secret and powerful things are clearly happening in Spokane. We headed toward Walla Walla, because if you're in southeast Washington anyway, where else would you head? It turns out that Walla Walla is a really, really small town; so small, in fact, that you'd never have heard of it were it not for the funny name and the eponymous onions. On the way we stopped in a town called Rosalia to look for a restroom, and it being a Sunday afternoon, there was only one business open in the entire town. It was a poorly lit bar where a gathering of six or seven obese middle-aged women and men were drinking beer and watching NASCAR. It was also the kind of bar that not only has ashtrays in the bathroom, but in the actual stalls, so you can smoke on the toilet.

I used to think South Carolina had the most ominous anti-littering signs, because they threatened potential litterers with prison, until we got to Washington. The highway signs there simply say, "Litter And It Will Hurt." Somewhere in the remote areas of Washington state, the local constabulary is beating litterers with a rubber hose.

Just west of Walla Walla, we followed the Columbia River into Oregon, the forty-eighth state of the trip. We had officially been to every contiguous state in America. We allowed ourselves a brief "whoo-hoo." The Shark had rocked all of America, and we were less than a week from home. First, though, came a stop in The Dalles, and dinner at Burgerville. Outside Burgerville, local youths gathered, slapping their knees and laughing. I don't know why a boisterous knee-slapping amused them so, but it did. At any moment I expected someone to put on a straw hat and start playing the spoons.

Mt. Hood towers above the surrounding flatness like a granite pimple.
So blue... so blue.
Later, the crater filled up with smoke.

In a burst of gustatory creativity, we returned to Burgerville for lunch. Two notes about Burgerville: this is the only fast food joint I've ever seen staffed entirely by women, and the walla walla onion rings there are huge. You could wear one for a hat. It would protect your whole head from damaging UV rays. Burgerville also had a bulletin board covered with photos of classic cars; it turns out we had missed The Dalles "Neon Nights" car show by just two days. What hurt even more was realizing that the Neon Nights entertainment was a concert by The Romantics and Loverboy. Seriously, Loverboy. As in, everybody's workin' for the weekend. And you probably thought they broke up.

We drove directly south to Crater Lake, a lake which redefines the word "blue." As we circumnavigated the crater (left when a volcano lost it a long, long time ago), it began to fill up with smoke from a nearby wildfire. The flag at the entrance to the park was at half-mast; according to the ranger, it was because two employees had been killed that week. We never found out how or why.

From Crater Lake, we drove past Klamath Lake to Klamath Falls. Driving past the lake at dusk is not recommended. If you've ever driven through a field full of bugs, hundreds of them smashing against your windshield every minute, you know what that's like. Now imagine that instead of little moths and mosquitos, those bugs are all dragonflies the size of your index finger. Exploding on your car. The disgustingness of this cannot be overestimated. When we pulled into a gas station just past the lake, a minivan pulled in behind us to clear their windshield of shattered dragonfly carcasses. They were horrified when they realized we had just driven through the same storm of giant kamikaze bugs with the top down. They thought we'd have dragonflies in the car. They needn't have worried; every bug in our path was either pasted against the windshield or jammed firmly into the headlights and grill.

Oregon was on fire.
California. Ooh, yeah.

All night we'd debated whether it was wise to take Route 199, which ran southwest from Medford to Crescent City on the coast of California. The problem with this route is that 199 ran directly along the southeast edge of the Biscuit fire, the largest wildfire in Oregon history. Compounding our concern was a report that temperatures in Medford would be in the triple digits that day. After a lot of head-scratching, we finally determined that there was no way around the heat, and that any route other than 199 would add at least 150 miles between us and our destination, Redwood National Park. We would brave the fire. Or at least, drive reasonably near to it.

First we had to go through Medford. The "time & temperature" readouts at local banks told us it was 107 degrees, making the heat there second only to Death Valley. Reports later would put the temperature in Medford at 111 degrees. The irony is that it was thirty degrees cooler right next to the half-million-acre fire than it was in Medford. By the time we got to the coast just two hours later it was in the mid-50's. It was hard to dress for the weather that day.

On the way past the fire we drove through the town of Selma, where a large, fancy, artistic, hand-painted sign advertised "Sweet Cron" for sale. One sign you just can't spell would be that the word "corn" is beyond your reach even if we spot you the "c." Or maybe they were selling sweet cron, and I shouldn't be so quick to judge. Selma was very close to the fire line, and the smoke was very thick, and slightly orange, but we never saw any flames. So at this point I would like to commend all the firefighters who kept Route 199 open, thus saving us at least a day's worth of driving. I suppose they also saved lives and homes, which is nice too.

Crescent City hotels were filling up rapidly when we arrived at 6:30, and we got the last room at the Super 8. The Fisherman's Restaurant provided a disappointing dinner. If they're just going to cook the steaks well done anyway, why do they taunt you by asking you how you want it cooked? Is this just for demographic research, like when the hardware store asks for your zip code? What would happen if I asked for it well done? Perhaps a nice piece of carbon that was once part cow? At one point a family consisting of a man, a woman, and a seven-year-old boy entered the restaurant, bathing everyone inside in their radiant wholesome family goodness, so much so that it circled all the way around wholesome, lapped itself, and continued right on into creepy. I can only describe them as a hybrid Mormon/Amish/Stepford family, the woman wearing a bun and a head scarf, the little boy so unbelievably white and blonde as to be nearly albino. Their pickup truck was parked outside, with an actual hound dog in it. They eyed us warily through the window as I patted their dog's head, as if somehow we were the weirdos.

We traded Oregon smoke for California fog.
Hey kids! Did you know that when your mom puts banana on your cereal, it's really one of these slugs? It's true!

The forest rangers at the Redwood National Park visitor's office in Crescent City were terribly friendly and helpful, but the trail they recommended we take was a four-hour round trip. Apparently they looked at us and thought, "serious hikers." We skipped that trail in favor of the half-mile trail at Mill's Creek, where we encountered the legendary banana slug. From there we went on to the Trees of Mystery, where they charge you $14 a head to look at redwood trees when you're already in a redwood forest. They did have some pretty messed-up trees, though, and giant Paul Bunyan and Babe statues. It was the third giant Bunyan we saw, and the most anatomically correct Babe.

Another trail from the Trees of Mystery took us to Hidden Beach, where we saw a sea lion frolicking in the surf. Or maybe he was drowning– it's kind of hard to tell the difference sometimes– but it seems unlikely for a sea lion to drown.

We stayed in Fortuna and had dinner at Big Louie's Pizza in Eureka. They had three video games at Big Louie's: rally car driving, deer hunting, and bowling. They have a video game about bowling. Clearly, people in Eureka don't play video games for escapism. Later on at the hotel, we saw chuck wagon racing on television. I know you think I'm lying, but I'm not.

The Avenue of the Giants.
The Shark versus the Drive-Thru Redwood Tree. I feel the Shark won a moral victory.
Route 1 along the California coast.
The final mileage.
The final route.

It takes the Eternal Treehouse half an hour to make a sandwich. Not a fancy sandwich, like a Monte Cristo or something, just a regular cold turkey sandwich. But you have to give them credit for at least saying right up front on the menu cover that they're slow. And it was a good turkey sandwich. Outside the Eternal Treehouse, a biker wanted to buy the Shark, but we still needed it for one more day. Specifically, I needed it to take me to a Taco Bell, where a total stranger told me that she can't pee if there's anyone else in the room, not even her husband.

Taking Route 1 down the California coast, there was yet more construction, but with a twist. It seems California road workers are smarter than the average bear. While workers in 47 other states are standing in front of construction sites, laboriously holding up "Stop" and "Slow" signs using their arms, the California guys have hit upon the idea of simply propping the sign up in an orange cone. A job that previously consisted of holding up and rotating a sign has been reduced to just rotating a sign. This is why California is the birthplace of all progress.

The final day was a relatively uneventful matter of cruising down the coast, listening to our XM radio and enjoying the familiar sight of the Pacific Ocean breaking waves against the rocky edge of California. At one beach turnout a hitchhiker asked us if we were going south, to which Dirk replied, "yes, but we don't want to give you a ride." With any luck the hitcher appreciated the refreshing honesty. It was dark as we approached the edge of Marin county, and the Dead Kennedy's "California Über Alles" came on the radio as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. We navigated through the city and onto the highway that would take us home, and when we got to our exit, we kept right on going. Since part of our trip had been to visit old homes– in New York, Virginia, and other places– and it seemed fitting that we should take a drive by the old apartments. But more importantly, when you've just finished a 48 state road trip of nearly nineteen thousand miles, there's only one restaurant that can satisfy your hunger, and that restaurant is Weinerschnitzel.

After the celebratory dinner of chili cheese dogs, we finally drove home. We pulled into the driveway just before midnight with 18,939 more miles on the odometer than when we left. We got out and walked to the back of the car to retrieve our luggage. The trunk was jammed shut.

THE END