Getting My Griswold On – Day 1: Spokane, WA

Miles traveled today: 375.3
Total miles traveled: 375.3

Entry # 1 in the chronicle of my twelve-day trek across a good portion of America kicks off in an air-conditioned Howard Johnson’s Inn in Spokane, Washington. It’s late but I’m pretty wired, having just finished dinner (a roast beef sub from a local sandwich shop called Jimmy John’s). Today was a hectic day; I was on the go from the moment I woke up until…well, now. It feels good to relax.

As the first half of the day raced by, I quickly realized one thing: I should have started packing much sooner. With an hour to go before my departure, I had an empty suitcase, and I was still burning CDs, for crying out loud. Hey, with all this driving ahead of me, I cannot stress enough the importance of having plenty of good music to while away the hours. I googled “road trip music” and loaded a couple of CDs full of Steppenwolf (Born To Be Wild), Sammy Hagar (I Can’t Drive 55), Golden Earring (Radar Love), The B-52s (Roam), Johnny Cash (I’ve Been Everywhere), and – well, you get the picture. Really good driving music. I finally finished packing, loaded the car, and shuttled the kids to their mom’s house.

At 2:22 exactly, I hit the road, pointing my car east, the general direction I’ll be traveling for the next week. The first song I heard to kick off my journey was Holiday Road, Clark Griswold’s anthem from the original National Lampoon’s Vacation and, in my opinion, the ultimate road trip song. I immediately got into the spirit, singing along and enjoying the scenery. My journey began on the Washington side of the river, driving through the Columbia Gorge until I reached the Bridge of the Gods and crossed into Oregon. From there it was a few hours driving down I-84 before I crossed back into Washington. Mountain formations gave way to dry, arid steppes and eventually just a whole lot of empty farmland. While driving through this desolate stretch I was struck with an overwhelming disbelief that I am really doing this, and I felt proud of myself. Not everybody would hop in the car pretty much on a whim and take a solo trip through a wide swath of the country like this. I love the impulsive feel of the whole thing.

What I did not love were the scraggly-looking hitchhikers thumbing for rides in Oregon. I passed a few of them, and they all looked homeless. The last guy grabbed his crotch in a rude gesture as I went flying by. Considering that he resembled Charles Manson, I’m thinking my decision to continue without stopping was wise.

A little while after I passed through Ritzville, Washington the landscape began to change. Barren farmland gave way to pine trees and firs. My GPS unit told me Spokane was less than ten miles away, but I found that hard to believe – it still looked like I was in the middle of nowhere. And then, suddenly, there it was, looming on the horizon. Spokane is the second-largest city in Washington and the third-largest in the Pacific Northwest, behind Seattle and Portland. It’s much more impressive than I ever imagined – it’s got trees and hills and rivers and a funky downtown, and reminded me a lot of home. I arrived at my motel a few minutes past 8:00, and even though I was hungry, I wanted to get out and explore before the sun went down, so I checked into my room and got back into the car. I headed down to Riverfront Park, about a ten-minute drive from where I’m staying, on the advice of the friendly motel clerk. I parked the car and walked around this gorgeous park, site of the 1974 World’s Fair. I crossed a suspension bridge over the incredibly fast-flowing Spokane Falls and marveled over the beauty of the area as the sun sank below the horizon, finally heading back to my room – regretfully – as dusk descended.

Despite 5.5 hours on the road today, I easily could have gone farther, which bodes well for the rest of my trip as this will be the shortest travel day. And it’s weird; I’m still in my home state, so in a sense it feels like my trip hasn’t even really begun. However, the Idaho border is just twenty miles away, and tomorrow I will be traveling across Montana. Montana! Now, that sounds a little more exotic. My plan is to hit the road early – shortly after 6:00. Hope I can sleep tonight!

Here are some photos from today.

Sydney, preventing me from packing - the suitcase was still empty.
The beginning of my journey: looking east toward the Columbia Gorge.
The Bridge of the Gods - it costs $1 to enter Oregon.
The middle of Washington is pretty boring.
Civilization! Spokane, Washington.
Spokane Falls. It was amazing how turbulent this water was!
Riverfront Park in Spokane - site of the 1974 World's Fair.
Sunset over Spokane, Washington. The sky was absolutely gorgeous!
Clock tower in Spokane's Riverfront Park.
The obligatory self-portrait (at dusk), proving I was there!

Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

34 thoughts on “Getting My Griswold On – Day 1: Spokane, WA

  1. Good to hear that you’re having a good time so far!!! And BTW Jimmy Johns is not “local”, you can find them on pretty much in all college towns!


  2. Whoohoo! How I’d love to be exploring the USA. Or at least another part beside Guam!

    “I was surprised, as always, be how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
    — Jack Kerouac (On the Road)


  3. Sounds like you got off to great start, but poor Sydney didn’t want you to leave! When we pull our suitcases out, our dogs now get excited, as they think that means they are going somewhere too–which they usually are. Both dogs lived with us in Vietnam and Haiti. Looks like Sydney wants to see Cleveland! Happy trails! Look forward to more updates!


  4. Yaaaaaaaaay…you’re on the road; trekking!

    AWESOME photos, Mark! WOW!

    And I’m laughing at that shot of Syndey sitting on your suitecase, because my cat Jerry use to do the same thing whenever I would prepare to go somewhere!

    Looking forward to reading more! Be safe, bud!


  5. Montana is “exotic” to you?? lol I’m glad you’re getting out more Mark 🙂 Now, aren’t you glad I warned you about not picking up hitch hikers???


  6. Congratulations on the beginning of a great road trip. Great pictures. You ought to have the challenge of marking every city you visit with a thumbs-up photo of you and a local (say, a waitress, a store clerk, or a person at the park). Too awkward? Therein lies the challenge. 🙂

    Songs for the Highway”
    “She Drives Me Crazy” FYC
    “Where the Streets Have no Name” U2
    “Bad Timing” Blue Rodeo


  7. Ha! Before I read the caption, I was like, “Why did Mark put this picture of the road on here?” LOL.

    I LOVE the shot of Spokane Falls, that is the coolest and so beautiful. Looks like you had fun trekking around the park and seeing the fair grounds. All the shots look amazing. I’m so excited for you and can’t wait to hear about the rest of your road trip, especially Montana. You may inspire next year’s vacation! That is, if I can afford one. Guess who got her ER bill from her fractured nose at Circus World? ME!!!


  8. Safe travels, Mark!

    I love Spokane — it’s quite the quirky city. My best friend lives in Coeur d’alene, ID, so I routinely fly into Spokane’s airport. The city is somewhat backwards in many places, then more progressive in others. It always feels schizophrenic to me…

    Sorry you visited Jimmy John’s. Good bread, but yucky meat. We have lots of them in Reno. 😦

    I’m a fan of Renee Davies’ suggestion above — it could be your “a local a day” challenge. Hmmm…on second thought, that just sounds seedy…


    1. Yeah, a bit seedy…maybe I should stop and take a photo with a different hitchhiker every day instead! I won’t give them rides, mind you…just pose with them.

      I enjoyed my roast beef club sandwich from Jimmy John’s. It was a step above your typical Subway, at least.


  9. I’m so going to enjoy taking this road trip with you. The kids and I took a trek across the country back in ’87. Had I been smarter about the whole thing, I would have taken pictures along the way…but since I wasn’t…oh well. Since my chances of going on a long road trip are pretty much zilch, I will now live vicariously through you and your photos and your blog. Stay safe there Mark…and stay away from the pretty hitchhikers too…they can be just as bad as the scraggly ones you passed.


  10. Would you mind if I used some of your pics of Spokane (numbers 6-9) as reference for an ink drawing? I live in Spokane, but am housebound due to illness, so I can’t get down to the parks to draw.


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