Part 4: bangin' around the Northwest
first leg to Hybridfest
Part 2: local Wisconsin tourism and slightly beyond
Part 3: South Dakota, Black Hills
Part 4: bangin' around the Northwest
Part 5: meandering east toward Denver
Part 6: doing tech at Denvention (aka Worldcon)
Part 7: the journey home
|Now I was really into come-what-may mode, which could also be read as "homeless and living out of the car" -- without any particular destination other than the west coast somewhere and what still felt like plenty of time at my disposal. Especially since I expected the density of waypoints and things to go gawk at to be a little lower so I could make more distance. Sure, I could have easily spent another week tooling around the Black Hills seeing more stuff, but it was time to cover more ground and traverse that remaining third of the country.|
A popular attraction in Wyoming is Devil's Tower, featured in "Close
Encounters". This isn't it, but is fairly near the same area and gives the
idea of how many of the hills around here look -- vertical walls, and lots of
rock-fall piled up underneath.
This is one of many one-handed shots taken out the car window on the fly while rolling. The optical image-stabilization in the G9 [and many of the newer point-n-shoots] absolutely *rocks* for being able to capture almost postcard-grade pictures in that situation.
The window tint actually helps a little sometimes, possibly acting as a
polarizer, and once the black level is pulled back to something reasonable
in post the colors and detail snap right into place. But sometimes the window
adds annoying internal reflections of stuff inside the car, so it's a bit of
a crapshoot. For side shots, sometimes an option is to just open the window
first but there isn't always time!
Unlike Minnesota, northeastern Wyoming does *not* seem to have gotten the clue about renewable energy. I began passing lots of these, and in fact had never seen one in person before. There didn't seem to be any close enough to roads to go take a closer look at, though -- all scattered haphazardly around in mostly trackless fields, seemingly isolated.
|If it's not oil, it's other dead dinos. The black line just under the horizon is a coal train, probably rumbling off to a power plant where most of its load would be burnt by tomorrow.|
|And a short time later I spotted the source of said coal. Gack. I'm sorta surprised they located this so close to the interstate [or vice versa] and let people see the open-pit fugliness.|
|South Dakota is sort of middle-ground, but Wyoming can probably be thought of as truly Western and that seems to include certain characteristics of how things are constructed. I began seeing cattle guards on almost every highway ramp and several side roads, whose "wings" link with the omnipresent barbed-wire fences and continue their lines across roads so that cows stay on the correct property. This was another new thing to my experience, and I soon learned to angle the car very slightly going over them to have the right and left wheels hit the bars at different times and avoid that brain-shaking BRAAAAP!|
|The first delicate hint of Real Mountains ahead finally appeared out of the late-day haze. But there wouldn't be any real climbing for a while yet -- if you look sharp you can see how the road bends to the right in the distance. I-90 just cuts through a corner of Wyoming and then heads north toward Montana, and here's where it turns away and runs along the foothills to avoid the big ridge.|
Heading more north put this slightly strange-looking sunset on my left.
The baseline elevation had risen to about 4500 feet at this point, and with the car still mysteriously keeping the battery level lower than usual it made the warp-stealth glides much more tricky to hold. As soon as battery current crossed the slightest bit positive, the engine would start injecting again. Having the nice instant-response analog current meter is essential in this situation.
And it didn't help that whenever I stopped and got out briefly, more of those damned biting flies managed to wander into the car and made it even more interesting to try and hold steady-state running conditions while reaching down to slap them off my legs.
Night fell around the same time as I crossed into Montana, and I noticed I was
getting near a town called "Crow Agency" which I figured has something to
do with the Crow Indians. I pulled off into a little rest-stop for a routine
coffee exchange. The facilities looked a little sketchy, and in the restroom
there was all this badly-written graffiti referencing "crips".
Oh. Right. Crips and Bloods and all that. It's not just an inner city thing.
Indian youth gangs, formed because they have a lot of pent-up frustration and nothing else to do out here in the often poverty-stricken middle of nowhere. About all there seemed to be for miles around was this place, and one of the omnipresent casinos up the road a little. Everything beyond was dark.
I got my mugful of coffee, noting that the people staffing the place were very likely native-american -- certainly not a problem in itself, and I do feel for the Indian nation as a whole because of all the abuses and injustice over the years, but here I was definitely an outsider, a tourist. And possibly a mark. I was back outside sitting in the car and poking around on the GPS, looking for the next likely area that might have somewhere to pull off for the night, when a battered minivan pulled in next to me, trailing a ragged streamer of duct tape which was no longer helping hold up the back bumper. The kid driving it looked over at me and started giving me some kind of song and dance about how he had just run out of gas and had no money, basically trying to scam a couple of bucks off me. Ran out of gas? He just DROVE IN with this POS minivan, that doesn't sound like out of gas to me. I played dumb and he finally wandered away toward the building, and shortly came back and drove the van over to the fuel island and appeared to be pumping gas into it.
Sorry, this isn't how you build your town's credibility as a worthwhile waypoint.
I snagged a picture of the van's plate in case any trouble developed later, and then hightailed it the hell out of there. Put about another hour of I-90 in between them and me, not quite making it to Billings, and then found a random rest-stop to pull into and sleep. But I was still feeling a bit paranoid -- I had just gotten into Montana, how much more of this kind of crap lay ahead? Were these local kids the type to cruise through highway rest-stops late at night looking for travelers to mess with? Despite this, I managed to sleep okay. Some other folks came in shortly after I did and hauled armloads of tents and air-mattresses out behind the picnic pavilion, so I figure if they were cool with sleeping here then I was probably okay too.
|Bozeman MT seems to be all about refineries and fuel industry.|
|Farther through the state I saw several of these, and unfortunately didn't manage to get a picture of the ones seen earlier with the sock out at a significant angle. But by and large, it ain't kiddin'. Something about the layout of the surrounding hills tends to channel wind in strange ways here.|
|So why, I was wondering, was I only seeing cellphone towers if anything on said hills?|
|On a fuel stop, I talked to a couple of folks who were coming back from a vintage car rally over the weekend. This guy said that he actually gets about 23 MPG out of this absolutely mint Bel Air and its refit of a modern engine with EFI.|
|I was rather surprised to see an occasional hitchhiker. We *never* see these back east anymore.|
|More Real Mountains finally loomed in the distance, with snow on them even. That's what "Montana" is supposed to mean -- mountainous, right?|
|But many of the hills going by were the typical lower stuff. That's not a road angling up the face, it's a reflection from the cable across my dashboard.|
|The major hallmark of Butte, MT seems to be a huge strip mine.|
There may be hope for Montana yet, though -- this is next to where they're
just building a new rest stop, and presented yet another one of those "prius
with windmill" photo ops. Not a particularly large unit, but shows that
someone was thinking about it.
A friend looking at a preliminary set of these pictures said "you just like posing your car, don't you?" Yeah, well...
|Now I'm all for supporting the rail industry too, but they've gotta get that carbon footprint under control...|
More typical hills, with one of those alien landing pods streaking toward
earth to land behind them. See, here's PROOF that they're here among us!
[Yes, it's just some schmutz on the windshield, but I could see certain publications really glomming on to something like this...]
This was taken entirely too late -- I was so surprised I didn't even think
to grab the camera right away. First the silver Prius drifted past me, and
then a tight little knot of bikes came up behind us, very fast and very loud,
doing like 85 in the left lane in an absolutely unwavering 2 x 3 formation and
quickly thundered past other Prius too.
They were Hell's Angels. The genuine article. Perhaps they were headed here?
Unfortunately, they were almost lost in the heat shimmer by the time I zoomed the camera all the way in and took what I could. But without the optical IS, this would have been completely unusable.
|As the day wore on it started to feel like more and more of a challenge to actually get out of Montana without going stark raving mad. It's a very big state, and I wasn't even doing its whole length since I had entered from the south via I-80. After Butte, I-90 heads up a bit farther north than I wanted to go, and it was time to play on the backroads again so in Missoula I got off the interstate and made a quick stop at a store for some food supplies. Then I got onto Rt. 12 to go over the Lolo Pass and head southwest toward Idaho that way.|
It was only about 2000 more feet up to the pass, the Idaho state line [whew!],
and the visitor center at 5250 feet [click the sign to see it]. On the ascent,
signs warned of "no services for the next 90 miles". I was still doing okay
from the tank-up at the station where I spotted the Bel Air, so I didn't worry
about it. Right after the visitor center, the road starts downward and just
Notice something else we've got here? *Trees*. It's all national forest land. It was nice to get back into some real woods for a while.
A *long* while, in fact, and it was quite the run. This part of Route 12
really is ninety miles or more of endless bends, closely following the Lochsa
River which adds to the headwaters of the Clearwater River's middle fork
later -- all down a fairly gentle slope the whole way. Lots of
just-barely-loaded engine run states alternating with zero-current warp
stealth, still somewhat limited because of the altitude, trying to stay in
those peak efficient ranges and predict how to glide into the tighter curves
coming up. And of course where to safely lose any bogeys that snuck up on my
six in the meantime. Overall it was a descent, but not quite steep enough for
really long no-fuel-burnt stretches.
What this mountain road really required was absolute, undivided attention. Lots of bikes were out enjoying the bends too, and there was one heartstopping moment when a big Sofacade was coming at me leaning well across the centerline [probably because *he* wasn't paying attention for a moment]. I dove for the side a few feet and probably saved his life, and I'm not sure he even knew it. Between watching for rockfalls on blind curves and trying to avoid decapitating errant motorcyclists with my A-pillar and keeping the gauges in the right spots at the same time, it made for an interestingly busy afternoon.
I didn't manage to spot any moose, despite the signs to the effect that I could have.
Ninety miles takes longer than you think when you're down to 35 MPH in the
frequent twisties and stopping once in a while to take a breather and actually
enjoy the scenery. A couple of hours later as the sun was starting to lengthen
the shadows in the valley, I pulled off to try and let more built-up heat out
of the car and took the opportunity to go slosh my sweaty self off in the
One thing I discovered on this trip is that a "sponge bath" wipedown with a damp rag can be an acceptable substitute for a shower, if all that is needed is to get the worst of the sticky off before going to sleep. It can be done quickly in a gas-station restroom, but here it was much nicer to hang out at the riverbank, listen to the water babbling over the rocks, and cool myself and the car down for a while.
I don't think I was at the same pull-off shown in several of the pictures in a thread about motorcycling this stretch -- the road and river look similar but the background hills don't quite match up, and I think I would have noticed a sign like that near where I was parked if it had been there. With the way the road winds repeatedly back and forth and hugs the river, there can easily be stretches that look almost alike.
It was getting late in the day and already a bit dim in the deeper valley
recesses, and I started thinking about where to stop. I was also a bit
lower on fuel than I anticipated, which was starting to worry me a bit since
it looked like there was still quite a chunk of Rt. 12 left to go. But I
realized that I had already gone past several National Forest campgrounds
along the way, any of which would probably be fine for the night if any more
of them came along.
I pulled into one called Apgar and found that it was unattended registration, that simply wanted me to drop $8 into an envelope and pick a spot. But all I had was twenties and I didn't want to overpay, which in hindsight was really unfortunate because it would have been an absolutely *gorgeous* spot to overnight -- deep trees, right near the river with its steady white-noise lulling me to sleep. There was apparently nobody else in it who might have been able to make change, so I wandered out again and continued on, rounding rocky outcrop after rocky outcrop and watching the gas gauge drop from two "pips" left, to one, to ...
Well, then I suddenly came across the tiny town of Lowell, that isn't even listed in the GPS database, but there's a gas station there. Overpriced at $4.60-something, of course, as any "last gas for X miles" sort of place would likely be, but I threw a couple of gallons in [which I don't like doing because it somewhat screws with my tank-to-tank recordkeeping] and it gave me some peace of mind. With that I could make Lewiston and the WA border if I had to, but now I was into the idea of using those NPS campgrounds.
Unfortunately, the next and *last* one along this stretch was completely full. But a guy in its spot #1 who evidently spends much of his summer there told me that there were actually some *free* RV spots near the back of the city park in the upcoming town of Kamiah. He was also intrigued by the car and we chatted about hybrids and energy for a bit -- the usual story played out here: strike up a conversation, hand off a flyer, etc -- but I still needed a place to sleep.
It was then a choice between going back to the other campground with my newly-obtained change or making more progress, and I opted for trying to find said free spots or failing that, just some random parking lot to pull into. As dusk began to fall I saw one or two RVs in the riverside pull-offs that really looked like they were fixing to bed down for the night, but I was concerned that if I did the same and they knew/had something I didn't, I'd have park rangers rapping on my windows at 1 in the morning. Having seen some oddly complex park permitting structures in other places, I had no idea what the local restrictions might be. And Kamiah wasn't that far ahead by now.
One learning experience on this trip was that just because a town is listed on a map or in the GPS, doesn't mean it's actually got any *resources* for people traveling through. There are a few dots with names by them that look the same size on the map, but for each one it's a total crapshoot if there's even anything recognizable as a town there other than maybe a couple of houses, let alone a gas station that's open. A little more thought about where to fuel up is definitely needed out here where distances stretch much longer than back home, with considerably less civilization and infrastructure in between. So I had no idea what I'd find in Kamiah, or if I would even know when I was in it.
Well, it actually turned out fine -- Kamiah is more like a real town than some
of the other on-paper hamlets that I blinked and missed as I went through, and
has paved streets and a couple of gas stations with convenience stores and a
large bridge over the river coming into it. Such modern luxuries! Sort of
puts Presho to shame. It's large enough that once I got there, it took a
little poking around and help from a nice elderly lady strolling around the
neighborhood streets to finally find the city park and sure enough, the guy
back at the campground was completely right about the RV spots. The sign on
the power box here spells it all out.
There weren't any showers that I could see, but another pass with the wet rag took care of that need while I let the remainder of the day's heat out of the car. I found a working spigot near the picnic pavilion where I could brush my teeth and rinse the rag out. The restroom building was locked up for some reason, but as I tucked in for the night I dealt with that issue using the plastic sports bottle I have that's clearly labeled "NOT for consumption!". It's nice being relatively self-sufficient on the road.
I spent a little while on the evening ceremony of moving various bits of data around between electronic devices, and then hit the sack. I was brought half-awake by one brief pass by a police cruiser around 2am, but it appeared to be a routine check of the park and my presence didn't seem to raise any eyebrows even if I wasn't a hulking Winnebago.
|At this point I was out of the national forest region and well clear of the Rockies' "continental divide" main ridge, and down to around 1200 feet. The next morning brought a fairly rapid transition into some different kinds of hills, as the trees mostly disappeared again. I was still following the river but the road was straighter and there was room for farms along the flatter bottom-land. The elevation was still steadily descending [as it must, or the river wouldn't flow!] but so slowly I couldn't tell in terms of how the car was operating.|
The surrounding hills possessed a certain ... *immensity* to my eye, a quality
of "bigness" and depth that the camera probably doesn't really capture ... not
so much due to height but more likely just because of their bare and sort of
bulbous appearance. It's hard to describe. A few roads wind their way up
them to houses planted here and there along the ridges and knobs, looking very
small up at that height and distance.
This one is near where Route 3 joins in, perched amusingly on a convenient mound, and appears to be built like a little mountainside castle.
I finally made it into Lewiston, got gas for real, and found that where the
Clearwater joins up with the Snake River, the town has built a nice little
park and path system on the embankment.
As I was lining this shot up, a strange little buzzing from behind caught my attention and I swung around to see that an ultralight was flying up the line of the river toward the hills, so I waited until it drifted into the frame before firing.
I had descended to about 800 feet ASL by now, just touching the WA border. It was interesting to watch the growth of the waterways here. The Lochsa I had followed all the way down Rt. 12 springs into being somewhere right around Lolo Pass, and builds in size all the way down to eventually join the Clearwater for real. Here all of that contributes to the Snake, which is a fairly significant stream, and all that dumps into the massive Columbia which I would reach in a few more hours.
This serves as a roadside sign for a 4x4 shop in western Lewiston, and was too
amusing an opportunity to pass up. I backtracked a little for this shot.
There's actually no drivetrain under this monster, it's just for display. At this point my car was probably dirtier than some of the trucks that come into this place, having been up its share of dirt roads over the past two weeks, with a thick carpet of dead bugs on the front.
This also shows how the directionality of some mud tires is intended to pull material in toward the center and thus try to ride the vehicle higher up, whereas the "forward chevron" of my Hydroedges is intended to split standing water away from the middle and bite down to bare road.
Rt. 12 loses track of the river at this point, and a little way out of
Lewiston I found myself on a long upward haul right back to 2700 feet. As
I churned my way up this the surrounding hills seemed to be getting a bit
lower, and farther on I pulled briefly into a rest-stop that appeared to be
at the top of the ascent. And then a very strange realization hit me.
Other than the gentle gully I had just come out of, there were NO visible terrain changes all around me. I was sitting on a huge, table-flat plain extending as far as the eye could see and carpeted with many more of the wheat fields that I had been passing all morning. The wandering gully went down into this behind me.
|So those big, rounded hills and mounds for the last 100 miles weren't technically hills at all, they were the sides of huge channels cut into prairie by a spidery network of ancient rivers. Some still have water flowing at the bottom, but some have long since gone dry and are now filled with rivers of wheat. And that's why all the hilltops look such a uniform height -- because *that's* the terrain baseline and I had been below it all morning. Suddenly I had much more perspective on the landscape I was crossing. I'm sure all this would be immediately obvious from the air, but as a tiny metal-carapaced insect crawling on the surface it took a bit more thought to get the big picture.|
|As I pushed onward a few real hills began to spring back out of the landscape and turn into rolling terrain, which in conjunction with a substantial headwind made it somewhat cumbersome going at times. Most of these pitches don't daunt the wheat farmers, who plant the fields just about anywhere no matter how things are slanted. I saw several places where crops would flow right down to the lip of a rocky outcrop and continue on around and below it. The farm equipment seems to have adapted to slopes, shown by this combine which can just angle parts of itself to follow the land but keep other parts upright.|
|In fact, this entire area is clearly a "breadbasket" of sorts -- all about food supply. Here's a truckful of corn ears trundling past a grain processing plant, and this sort of scene was repeated many times from town to town along the way.|
|And we haven't forgotten our other underlying theme here. I spotted this one near Dayton, ID.|
From time to time I would also spot tall columns of smoke billowing up into
the air from some sort of brush fire, but never got near enough to find out
what was burning. I assume it was from controlled burns to clear out fields
or dispose of cuttings. In the process of trying to chase one that looked
feasibly nearby I jumped a short distance off 12, and was trying to dead-reckon
my way through some backroads toward it without a detailed map. This more or
less failed, and I was stopped by the side of a backroad considering further
pursuit or just giving up, and then I happened to look a little more closely
at the horizon.
And sat there dumbfounded for a while, forgetting all about the fire.
You'll need the big picture to really see it; I was evidently looking at a piece of the Stateline project.
With the memory of what I had seen in Minnesota and then plodding through
four more states without seeing much in the way of renewables, to suddenly find
*hundreds* of turbines lining the horizon was, as before, really inspiring. I
resisted a strong temptation to get off the highway and go find one of the
roads up to them, because at this point it was getting on in the day and I
had a lunch date to make. But there are many better pictures of this to be
had by googling for "stateline windfarm".
What's odd about it, in retrospect, is that the Livescience wind map doesn't show this as a particularly strong area, only meriting a "1" on their speed scale. But Iberdrola evidently knows the reality because here were the turbines, peppering the hilltops for miles and lazily waving their huge arms around in a sort of unidirectional synchronized-swimming dance. But as I was discovering for myself, feeling the car being buffeted around, there's hardly anything lazy about it -- with the force of the wind howling up the Snake River valley like it does, there are some *serious* zoobs being produced out there.
It's also interesting that several rows of the turbines are down behind the crest of the hill, suggesting a fairly smooth laminar flow of wind *over* the bare bump, to form a little boundary layer on the backside, and landing squarely into the blades.
My time constraint was to make it to the Kennewick area in time to meet up
with Billy for
lunch. He's one of the top hypermilers in the country, well versed in the ways
of the Honda Insight, and also flies and loves to talk about maps and terrain
and energy usage as it relates to all that. We met up at a Wendy's in Pasco
and nattered about a lot of this stuff for a couple of hours; it was a nice
little reference point, since talking to someone I already knew from Hybridfest
and some of the forums helped bring a little reality back into a world that had
been taking on quite a few surreal aspects to my narrow little New England
mind. With him I could vindicate my complaints about the tailgating truckers,
who we agree are still in the wrong despite being more or less a constant
throughout the journey thus far, and get reassurance that no, I probably wasn't
going to do all that well MPG-wise the rest of the way toward Portland because
of the headwinds. Well, with high fifties to 60 under my belt this far, he
agreed that I was doing decently well for a Prius on highways with hills and
that I'd probably kick butt upon eventually turning back east.
After lunch he headed back to work and I dropped southward out of Kennewick on I-82, crossing the Columbia twice in the process, and thought I was about to settle in for a longish run to Portland.
Except that right after crossing the second bridge toward Hermiston I
slightly upstream of me and felt compelled to go up 730 a little way to check
it out. There's a nice little park on the downstream side, from which the
second picture was taken.
It's mostly about hydro power -- not a particularly high head and no intentional lake behind it, but definitely a lot of water volume and power available. This is only one of five or six such hydro dams down the length of the Columbia. Clearly, Washington and Oregon have had a significant clue about renewable energy for a while now.
What I find rather astonishing is that I was only at 385 feet elevation at this point, and that the river only has that much head to flow all the rest of the way across the state to reach sea level, about 260 miles from there, *and* supply a few more hydro dams' worth of power. That's like a 1:3500 rise over run, and a real eye-opener as to just how little pitch it takes to make water flow a long distance, and somehow it stays for the most part within its banks the whole way. Then again, crossing the Mississippi at 800 feet and considering how far that water would continue to flow presents a similar picture, but I didn't think about it back then.
I think the white SUV was some of the dam's security people, who I'd also seen down by the park and although they didn't come after me, were probably wondering when I'd quit fooling around up here and leave.
I found my way to I-84 and began the next westward leg, but pulled off for a
brief moment a while later upon realizing what the land around me was like.
It was "western land". Like in the movies, just sans cactus up here. No trees and sun-baked, with stiff, prickly grass and a few scrubby little bushes. Having only ever seen this in media, now I had the chance to go see what it's really like. It is definitely a hostile environment -- I put on shoes to wander into it, keeping an eye out for the fabled scorpions and rattlers and stumbling slightly over the many rocks underfoot that the spiky grass grows up around, and picked up one of these Canonical Western Rocks to examine. They are usually covered with strange-colored lichens and have a conglomerated but porous appearance, but not like volcanic pumice since they're fairly heavy. Slightly inspired by my Rapid City host's hobby, I added one to the small collection of "rocks from other places" that was beginning to accumulate on the floor of the car. I've been told subsequently that it's mostly sedimentary from ancient seabed, like the Badlands but with a somewhat different composition.
I took a gander at the plants; everything felt sort of dry and rough and thorny and half dead. I found that the pale, broader-leafed stuff has a very strong spicy odor when the leaves are rubbed. Almost like ... sage. Sage? Why does that sound fam... oh, of course! This is *sagebrush*!
Yes, it was all completely new to me. It also had me wondering how anything manages to live in this environment at all.
|I kept rolling down I-84, now paralleling the Columbia River. I spotted a few smaller windfarms up on the Washington-side hills, looking like little toy pinwheels against the grandeur of the landscape, and not surprising to see because as Billy had warned me, the wind coming up the valley is usually strong and steady and makes for a good location. At this point I, the car, and the whitecaps all over the water were totally agreeing with him -- the relentless headwind was decidedly taking its toll on my progress. I was turning 2000 RPM to just barely hold 55 - 60 MPH, a level of engine power output which would usually take me along much faster than that.|
|The haul through this stretch was made additionally arduous by the fact that the pavement was rather rough. But I found that if I hung toward the right of the lane just out of the "truck ruts", the ride was a bit smoother. This is unusual, since it's usually the other way around with the flattest pavement down where countless tires have rolled over it. With my MPG average rapidly heading south, I gave up on trying to push any harder against the wind and road and figured it was just going to be a long grind into Portland. And of course most of the other traffic was flying by in the left lane, completely oblivious to how much energy was being expended in the process.|
|Then I came upon this fellow, who was setting a very stately pace just slightly slower than I was already going and I thought, okay, here's my perfect excuse to stay slow. I bled off a couple more MPH and dropped in behind him, still at my usual 5 or 6 seconds behind since hypermiling != drafting, meanwhile wondering if this was just a temporary condition and he was going to speed up and take off. He didn't, and for all I know had the truck speed-limited to 58, but aside from that I soon determined that this was also a fairly clueful driver. He didn't tailgate, left plenty of leeway for incoming traffic, and was generally setting a fine example of how trucks *should* operate on the highways. I will say that overall, despite the little industry barbs like "Sure Wish I'd Finished Training", the "swifties" seem among the better-behaved guys on the road, maybe a close second to Wal-mart and those USA Truck folks.|
|My "swift boat" carried me for the next three hours, all the way to Portland. If I was getting any distant wind shielding effect from the trailer at all I couldn't tell since as the road bent back and forth the wind came from different directions. Just look at the tree on top of the little rise next to the truck, for instance. The driver could always see me behind at a safe distance and I was sort of doing rear-guard action for him by keeping other cars off his tail. He probably wondered what the heck I was up to since this was probably very atypical behavior from a 4-wheeler, or maybe he didn't even notice. But between keeping that spacing and tracking his minor slowdowns on the hills, ridge-riding, deflecting traffic from the rear and continuing to fight the cross-gusts, it all took quite a bit of my attention.|
Nonetheless, I could see that the Cascades and river valley going past me
are absolutely stunning. Billy was also right about how the climate and
environment changes across the ridge, which basically occurs through the
Columbia River Gorge park area and happens almost on a knife-edge. I
literally rounded one particular bend and suddenly there were many more trees
on the slopes, and it kept building from there as the sagebrush and crunchy
weeds rapidly yielded to elegant stands of pine. Yay, I had my real trees
Right as I passed a sign for I-5 north to Seattle, it started to rain. How appropriate. Overall I had been fairly lucky on weather over the past days; Billy had mentioned how it had been uncharacteristically cool and clear over much of Washington in the past few days, albeit with rather variable clouds this particular afternoon.
I landed at a little motel in Longview for the night, down to 40 feet of elevation and about 30 miles shy of Mount St. Helens which was next on the tour list. In doing a little more trip planning I had already decided that I wouldn't have enough time to go all the way out the Olympic peninsula northwest of Seattle, but there seemed to be plenty to see around where I was and then toward the south. I was already wishing I had another two weeks to go driving and hiking around this whole area, but I had to limit myself -- so this would be a quick trip up to the volcano and back, and then the Pacific would be within striking distance.
The next morning I set off, taking "the five" up a short way to 504 which is the more northerly route into the St. Helens area. [And finally had a TAIL wind for a while.] Seeing a sign for an "ERUPTION surround cinema" tickled the cynicism meter a little as to how much of a tourist trap this was going to be, but it turned out that there wasn't too much of that.
|I went in a little way and stopped for gas, giving a fresh start on a tank average, and then started the real climb up toward the crater. Along the way there were several stands of these incredibly regularly-shaped pines -- and by that I mean a symmetric spray of branches placed at exactly uniform distances up the trunk, looking almost like artificial holiday trees. I was told later that they're most likely Noble Firs, and most likely human-planted and not natural growth. Every so often I did pass a sign showing a date, which I assume indicates when a given grove of trees was started.|
|Fairly soon the valley below the volcano came into view, full of the mud flow from the eruption. Some growth has started here and there on it, but for the most part it's still barren.|
|Farther up the road passes closer to the mud flow, where it's easy to see how much of the previous forest got buried. Presumably the stream was always there in this valley but has now had to find itself a new route through all this.|
|The Johnson Ridge Observatory can handle a lot of visitors, with fairly huge parking lots and even on this cloudy day had quite a few cars in it.|
|Much of Mt. St. Helens itself was shrouded in cloud that morning, but the blasted moonscape below it is pretty evident. Remember, it's 18 years after the fact now. This is looking at it from the northwestish, showing the northern side which is pretty much the direction it blew up.|
*All* the trees got flattened by that explosion, and new growth is having a
tough time getting going. I wandered along the trail away from the parking
area a little way, but as tempting as it may have been, I wasn't going to
make an all-day hiking trip out of this.
The twisted aspect of the dead trunks is something I saw all over the northwest, not just up here -- it's apparently something about the way many of the pines grow, possibly influenced by wind, which we can't see until they die and the bark falls off.
|A closer shot of the caldera. Since the initial blast, more activity has pushed up a substantial mound of new material in the middle. I guess they don't refer to that continued upwelling as an eruption per se, but you wouldn't exactly want to plant your homestead there.|
|Only when I was *leaving* and fairly far down the approach road already did the top of the mountain finally deign to peek out of the cloud layer. I hadn't realized it is actually that much higher!|
|I pulled into the same gas station I had tanked up at earlier, and this pretty clearly shows the last part of the downhill run. I started at 460 feet and ascended to 4200 and back down, clearly way outside the limits of what the regen braking can deal with which is about 600 vertical feet at best and on the way down, there was a good amount of B-mode going on to help bleed off extra energy. But it wasn't all one big hill; there were various stages of up and down and opportunities for a little more subtle state-of-charge management, and overall I didn't do too badly here.|
I headed back through Longview and crossed back into Oregon over the Lewis
and Clark bridge, toward Rt. 30 which would take me to 101 and the coast.
Many things around these two states refer to Lewis and Clark, the early
non-native explorers thereof. Lewiston has a companion town Clarkston right
next to it, for example.
The wood and paper industry has a strong presence around the Columbia riverbanks. Another hallmark of the whole area is the prevalence of little drive-in espresso bars. They're everywhere, either as part of existing stores and gas stations or as little standalone shacks in parking lots.
One thing remains constant, though: many drivers around here are just as aggressive and obnoxious as everywhere else. It's not just the coffee. I even had someone yell "you're in Oregon, buddy!" at me as I managed to finally thumb him off my butt on a wide open, four-lanes-plus-turn-strip boulevard through one of the towns. Like that somehow makes tailgating acceptable? I think it was somewhere around this area that the working sub-title to this whole trip occurred to me.
|At 5:30 PM local time that afternoon, I finally touched the Pacific.|
The "electric beachbuggy" declined to come into the salt water.
I was amazed, and consider it a very lucky happenstance just for the purpose of chronicling the journey, that I was able to get the car this far out on the beach. I had no idea what to expect in terms of coastline topology. But this is an area where the sand is very flat and firm, giving very little risk of getting stuck. Behind the car is the road out to here; I came past a sign near the dunes listing some rules for driving on the beach and saw that people were out here in generic non-4-wheel-drive minivans and sedans, so I figured it was okay to proceed.
|Someone farther up the beach was having absolute tons of fun on some sort of cart pulled around by a large parasail.|
I decided I simply had to post my "reaching the west coast" shot to the forums
that night, and found a campground a few more miles down 101 that had wireless
internet access. Most of them do by now, in fact, and I'm getting the idea
that some sort of internet hookup has become one of those mandatory things
that anyone in the lodging business must offer just to maintain their own
credibility. I still think that's pushing it a bit in the context of
*campgrounds*, but I guess the RVers who basically live there all summer
need their net fix.
The Wifi at this place wasn't very strong and I had to physically move up closer to the office building to pass packets, but I got on long enough to post the picture and then returned to my little tent-site at the back. There were cows on the other side of the perimeter hedge, which kept mooing fairly far into the evening. In contrast to all of the weather thus far, it was also fairly chilly that night -- down to about 45 degrees, but I didn't hang the screens and tweaked the fan speed down a touch and managed to stay cozy without firing up the engine for heat.
|This place wanted $22 for a no-hookup tent site, which other than the patently exorbitant KOA pricing [investigated at one point and promptly boycotted for the remainder of the trip], was probably the highest per-night for similar accomodations I'd seen to date. But upon doing a little trip-planning earlier and noting an almost solid line of campground icons down the coast in the GPS database, I realized that this whole area is one of those Destination Spots and they can all basically charge what they want. Aah well, still a lot cheaper than a motel.|
Plenty of good reason that people like this region, though. It's gorgeous.
I got going the next morning with no aim other than to simply go south on
"the 101" as it's called and see where I would wind up. [Back east, the "the"
is generally omitted for numeric references, but left for names like "the
Pike" and "the GS Parkway".]
The visual rewards began coming thick and fast, as many overlooks and pull-offs are provided near the scenic spots and it's much easier to stop and look around than, say, on a no-shoulder state highway in the middle of farmland. A light mist kept rolling over everything off the ocean, making shafts of light down across the road from the trees on the east side.
|Sometimes the road is down near shore level, and sometimes it's way up on the cliffs. Some of the overlooks are not for the vertigo-prone.|
There are many scenes like this along the Oregon coast, with various rocks
and foliage just barely clinging to them, mostly or fully detached from the
shoreline. Some have houses perched on them, but none right by the water.
One hugely beneficial thing Oregon has done is to make it state law that nobody owns any part of the actual beach. It is all a public resource, so you don't get rich fat-cats building waterfront mansions and fencing off large parts of the beach for themselves so nobody else can enjoy them. This was absolutely the right thing to do, for Oregonians and anyone else happening to pass through too. I'm sure the increased tourism traffic far more than makes up for what they could collect in property tax on privately-owned coastline.
|All of it is very windswept, in an obviously consistent direction. I didn't see any turbines on the hills above, though...|
|At one of the pull-offs, a local expressed interest in the car and my being all the way out there from Boston and we got to chatting, and while on the subject of the coastline's rugged beauty he mentioned that I should stop and see Depoe Bay which claims to have the world's smallest and one of the best-protected boat harbors. A little later I found myself in the middle of said town, and just across the bridge pulled into a convenient parking spot to get out and wander a little.|
The harbor entrance is through a *very* narrow and turbulent channel,
requiring a bit of boating skill to make it in and out.
As I stood here I realized that it was a moral imperative to get out to where the orange arrow is.
And here we are, with a view of some of the bridge structure. There are
plenty of other pictures of this to be had with a little creative googling.
(Actually, if one looks at the picture filename numbers it's easy to detect that the shots were taken in a different order, but it's more fun to make the story flow better this way. There are quite a few groups of shots throughout this yarn that got conveniently reordered like this, in fact...)
|A view to the north from there, showing a fairly rough surf as it hits the shorline rocks. Someone I showed these shots to later pointed out that while standing out here, I had some chance of being smacked from behind by one of those "sneaker waves" that rolls in higher than the others and goes over the seawall. While there was a little water on the lower part I walked over the tall part was dry, and I did consider that as I was walking out and figured the chances during my brief stay were pretty low and/or the tide was down.|
I continued on down 101, passing any number of those typical "shoreline road
scenes" albeit in this case made a bit hazy by shooting through the sunlit
101 overall is in fairly good shape, but showing a bit of wear here and there as it's fairly heavily traveled and freely used by trucks and RVs too. There were a few single-lane construction/repair areas where traffic had to wait and be gated through in one direction at a time, causing a bit of backup. Let it be said that high gas prices are NOT killing the RV industry, because they were everywhere. From the biggest bus-chassis behemoths and 5th-wheels pulled by fullsize diesel-snorting dually pickups, to tiny pop-up trailers and the occasional Vanagon, this is Vacationland and at least for the moment, lining a few oil execs' pockets with $4 and up gas isn't going to put a damper on some people spending their summers as they love to.
I was amused by a couple of Harleys that killed their engines and coasted slowly along in one of the construction backups, though.
|Maybe when some higher price threshold is reached -- $5? $8? -- more people will begin paying attention to some of the other things they can do, too. Here's a great example, only requiring a little thinking ahead. These early warnings of a speed limit change are becoming much more common to see on secondary highways. 101 with its normal limit of 50 or 55 goes through quite a few towns, just like numerous other non-limited-access highways everywhere else. The in-town speed limits often come down to 25 MPH, and usually do so through a couple of steps down as the town is approached. Highway departments have taken to placing these outside of where the lower limits actually take effect, and I usually find that I can get into a long glide from about the point where I see these, match the new speed limits as they arrive, and thus completely cease using any fuel all the way into and much of the way through the town.|
This is why I actually *like* construction zones, too. A moving car [let alone
a truck or RV!] represents a lot of energy storage in the form of momentum,
and it's the storage medium that requires no lossy conversion to expend in
achieving the desired effect, e.g. to move the vehicle further down the road.
With plenty of warning given far enough out like this, the driver can take all
the advantage of that built-up energy and squander as little of it as possible
by heating brake parts. But so many drivers, particularly the ones behind
those of us who are trying to be sensible about these things, just don't
understand. They will not gain any perceptible advantage by trying to make
instant speed changes,
especially if they wind up stopped at a light in the
town. Thus, there is no reason for them to be aggressively trying to push
through these slowdown regions, and yet they do it all the time anyway. It's
the same on the interstates -- a construction lane drop, with warning signs 2
miles out and huge blinking arrows, and they still feel compelled to cling to
my tail all the way into and through it. Or even when I'm heading off a ramp
from the right lane. It makes absolutely no sense, and is one of the things
that makes some people afraid to plan and execute efficient speed drops like
this because they think they'll "get run over".
Which is complete BS. As stupid as many drivers are, they generally don't ram their cars into those ahead out of sheer spite. Think about it this way: when ALL the traffic slows down in a jam, is there any sense in a driver somehow resenting the idea that all the cars ahead are slowing down out of necessity? Whether it's one car ahead or a hundred, what's the difference? Answer: none. But there's this meaningless tendency for people to think that being closer to another vehicle somehow gets them through stuff like this faster, and driver education and licensing infrastructures in this country have utterly failed to reinforce the facts of the matter.
In one of said towns I did a quick grocery stop, as part of an ongoing effort
to avoid spending the whole trip as a fast-food junkie. Not being particularly
fussy about elegant dining, I'd pick up some fruit and deli and yogurt and
the like and keep it in a little mini-cooler tucked in the back, actually one
of those thick styrofoam boxes that meat or medicine gets cold-shipped in.
As I pulled into the parking lot I spotted this big blue bus at the far side
of it, with part of a glittery circus hoop visible through the window.
Which had me really confused for a minute, since I have some friends from back home who had embarked on their own cross-country trip earlier in the year in a big blue ex-schoolbus to bring their traveling circus act on the road -- except I thought they had returned home by now, especially since I had *seen* their bus sitting in a side yard a couple of weeks before I set out.
Well, this is a different blue bus. Here's about as much as I could get
of the interior's ceiling up through an open side window.
I wandered into the store, and it wasn't hard to spot the bus occupants. Turned out to be three guys doing more of a traveling kids' carnival rather than a circus act, and weren't ranging quite as far afield. And I don't think they were burning WVO. But there are definite similarities, and it was fun to chat with them and describe why I had been so confused by their bus for a bit.
|101 doesn't necessarily hug the coastline all the way down, but wanders a mile or two inland sometimes through villages and farms. Or what's left of them, in some cases.|
I had been seeing many trailers with ATVs lashed down to them on the road with
me, and a while later I found an explanation. A signed pointed toward
and I got curious, followed a short access road toward the shore and fetched
up behind a guy on a 4-wheel going very slowly along the pavement because
of his paddle-tread tires which, as some offroading mag put it once, give
"the world's worst highway ride". I loafed along behind him until he turned
off into a sand path and suddenly gunned it into a snarling beast and shot
away. I entered a parking lot full of many more trailers and people loading
and unloading and driving all sorts of buggies back and forth, and had to go
see what the draw was.
Well, it's clearly a dune buggy and ATVer's paradise, which goes on for *miles* along the coast. Gone were the craggy rocks and weird little islands, now it was all just a rolling sea of sand in front of me.
|Very soft sand, in fact. To walk up to here I had to slog up the mid-distance slope from the parking lot, which involved lifting each leg about a foot and a half to clear the surface and as I took each step, having it slide right back down to yield an advance of about two inches. It took a while and a lot of work just to walk up that short hill, but it was okay as it felt rather warm and nice around my toes. The view from the top was worthwhile to see what the area is all about -- at least these days while gas is still cheap enough to keep the buggies rolling...|
|Farther down the coast I came to Coos Bay and crossed over its graceful cantilever bridge, which immediately so appealed to me in an artistic way that I managed to snag this picture from the approach road.|
|It's also graceful from the inside, in a very cathedral-like fashion.|
This is a little bit of a diversion, about logging. With all those nice trees
around, the wood industry is a big thing in these parts. The industry has
wised up quite a bit over the years and no longer indiscriminately denudes
hundreds of square miles without making up for it somehow. But obvious
clear-cut areas are still somewhat disturbingly visible on the hills, and I
don't remember how I found this out but when certain types of firs are
harvested, notably Douglas, it *has* to be clear-cut as the more favored
selective-cutting methodology doesn't work well in that case. Some conifers
don't like the shade or humid environment under the remaining canopy from
selective cutting and some do, so seedling replanting for these works best in
the open clear-cut patchwork until the new growth gets going.
[For a real eye-opener on just how extensive this is, move to the area in Google Earth and start zooming in. That "grainy" appearance is from the thousands of clear-cut patches.]
|In any case, the roads are full of log trucks, 101 being no exception. This one was down by the side of the road; I talked to the driver [who I think I woke up from a snooze as I came up to his window], and he said "don't know, the motor just went haywire". He already had help on the way and didn't seem too worried about it -- all in a day's work for him, I guess.|
|The trucks can basically become as long as needed for the logs they're carrying; the parts slide and the rear half joins the front in a coupling underneath where the articulation point is and the air hoses stretch to fit. This makes the logs bridge across the pivot point, and even though the forks can also pivot to accomodate curves that probably means the logs still shift against the forks a little. I had to dodge a certain amount of wood and bark detritus around the area, and I'm kind of surprised they don't drop more of it.|
When the truck is empty, that whole rear half gets piggybacked on top of
the tractor to make a less cumbersome vehicle for the return trip. A crane
is needed to do this, but they are present near the source of the wood and
in the yards where it eventually goes so it's no big deal to reconfigure
the trucks back and forth all day.
Don't tailgate one of these bad boys, or you might get a big steel battering ram right through the windshield before any other part of the car makes impact.
They're also pretty scary when fully laden and barreling at you down a
two-laner, or coming up behind. Most of the drivers seem reasonably
circumspect, realizing they're sharing narrower twisty roads, but as in
any other branch of the industry you get a few stupid and aggressive ones.
With no convenient trailer numbers, if the opportunity to get the company name
off the cab door is missed there's almost no other recourse.
If this one hit something, that top log would sail right over the headache rack and keep going!
It was a little harder to find a campground that night, but a brief side-roads
loop off 101 turned up an RV park where they were happy to take me in and
didn't try to charge me chump-change to use the showers. In fact the
proprietress and I got to chatting in some depth, about my trip and the dunes
and whatever else, and I mentioned my still-vague intent of just heading down
101 into California. She maintained that if my schedule would allow it, I
absolutely must must must go see Crater Lake, a place she considered totally
awesome [in so many words, if I recall, and note that I was still in Oregon].
She didn't have tent sites per se, as the park was geared entirely toward RVs, but put me in a full-hookup slot and only charged me $15 or something. The place wasn't anywhere near full, so I guess any business is good business. I retired to the little mobile office to do some more trip planning, and after squinting at the maps a bit I decided that yes, Crater Lake was a little closer than I thought and thus an easy and minor route-change, and gave me a much more certain destination than randomly noodling down into NoCal and then wondering what to do next. Besides, my deadline for getting to Denver was looming much larger and I had already likely seen many of the prettier parts of 101 so maybe it was time to turn eastward anyway. With the decision now made and most of a route laid in for the morrow, I hit the sack.
Go to Part 5: meandering east toward Denver