Open Mouth, Insert Foot

You know how sometimes, occasionally, once in a blue moon, I have a tendency to stick my foot in my mouth and end up in an awkward situation?

Oh, boy. A couple of days ago really took the cake.

It started with a group text from a number I did not recognize. I assumed they’d entered my phone number by mistake, and decided to have a little fun with them. After all, I never miss an opportunity to screw around with telemarketers. The text read,

Hey, girls!!!! This is Ashley. My family is SO excited to host you guys!!! There are 11 of you so make sure you come ready to have some fun and meet some new people!!! We will be going to the football game Friday night and it has been getting CHILLY, so make sure to pack warm clothes! We will be doing a shower sign up, some will have to shower in the morning and some the night before! Can’t wait to see you all tomorrow!

I responded,

Can some of us shower together?

Ashley answered,

Hahaha, your killin me. :) We can talk about all the logistics when you girls get here and figure it all out. :)

My follow-up:

OK. Is anybody bringing pot brownies? Please say yes…

Her answer:

I’m gonna go with a hard no on that one!

I decided to end the charade at this point, after taking one last stab at her.

Funsucker. (Just kidding…this is a wrong number. Enjoy your get together, ladies.)

And she wrote,

Great…bunch of highschoolers coming for a leadership conference…lol you suck! My bad!

And that is when the whole thing dawned on me. Audrey was going away to a leadership conference with a bunch of high schoolers the next day. They must have inadvertently entered my phone number on the group text instead of my daughter’s. Well, shit! So I messaged her back privately, apologized, told her I meant no harm and never made the connection, and thanked her for hosting. Luckily, she was gracious over the whole thing, said she was glad it was a parent and got a good laugh out of it once the truth came to light.

Audrey, on the other hand, was mortified. We texted her last night to see how the conference was going, and she said great, except my text was the first thing that was brought up when she arrived.

Err…sorry…

It’s simultaneously horrifying and hilarious. I’m sure there won’t be any long-term damage to her psyche, but if so, I’ll pay for her therapy sessions. I promise.

I really do blame those telemarketers. The calls have only picked up in frequency, and every time I block a number, they switch to a new one. I don’t know what to do, so usually I mess around with them. A few days after the eclipse some Canadian pharmacy was trying to sell me Viagra and I concocted this tale about how I’d been out staring at the sun and had burned my retinas out and asked if the pill bottles were written in Braille perchance, and when the guy on the line said you can easily tell them apart because they are colored blue, I said, “Well, that’s all fine and good, BUT I’M BLIND!!!” And he hung up on me. The nerve! At least my coworkers got a kick out of the whole thing.

Moving forward though, I’m going to have to be very careful, I s’pose.


You’ve probably surmised that we got back from our trip without incident. Which is true, other than the massive rock chip on my windshield, an unwanted souvenir from a gravel road in Montana. My car is currently in the dealership because the check engine light came on yesterday, only on a Mazda it’s called the “engine system malfunction” warning indicator and that freaked the hell out of me for a few minutes. I assumed my car was either about to burst into flames or the engine block would fall out or something. I’m hoping it’s no big deal, but we shall see. By the way, Mazda, you might want to rename that something far more innocuous.

The Monday that we left Rapid City, we detoured through Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills to check out the fall foliage, and it was nothing short of spectacular. And then, quite unexpectedly, we ended up hiking two miles to a waterfall on a trail covered in a light snowfall from the day before. Gorgeous!

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We made it as far as Butte, Montana, where we holed up for the night in a crappy Day’s Inn. Got home the next day around 4:00. Breaking up the drive into two more equal portions like that was much easier than the long 15-hour haul across Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming the Friday before.

Now we’re all settled back into our regular routine. It’s been showery and cold, but this afternoon the sun has broken through the clouds and it’s turned into a perfect Autumn day.

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Make a Change

The timing of our trip was pretty fortuitous. Yesterday was devoted to exploring the Black Hills, and the weather could not have been more perfect: sunshine, a deep blue cloudless sky, and a temperature in the low 70s. Today was grey and rainy and it never climbed out of the 40s. We didn’t care though, as most of the day was spent either in the car or indoors.

We drove downtown this morning and stopped by Harriet & Oak for a light breakfast. We’d ducked in there yesterday for a cup of coffee and decided we had to come back again today, it was that good. I even splurged and got a caramel macchiato, the first time in years (literally) that I had such a fancy (read: sweet) coffee concoction. It was smooth and creamy and came decorated with an oak leaf. To die for. I had it with a sweet potato and sage scone that was also delicious. This place is right up my alley and again, kind of reminds me of Portland: funky vibe, tatted/pierced staff, indie rock soundtrack, and a VW Bus parked right there in the middle of the coffeeshop. If I were a local, I’d frequent the hell out of the place. 

After breakfast we walked around downtown a little bit, but a light rain had begun falling and the wind was blowing briskly, so we did not linger. Instead, we drove around to check out a bunch of houses Tara had found on Zillow, just to get a feel for some of the neighborhoods around town. We learned that we really like Black Hawk and west Rapid City. Actually, there were a couple of nice houses in east Rapid, too. Only a couple of Tara’s listings were in areas that did not appeal to us.

We finished fake house shopping around noon, and decided to drive back into the Black Hills to check out Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City. They make fruit wines and have won all kinds of awards for them. I’m not normally a fan of fruit wines, but we sampled 10 different varieties between the two of us and pretty much loved them all. Which explains how we both spent over $100 on bottles.

Once we were finished going into debt on wine, we drove back to Rapid City to grab cheesesteaks from Philly Ted’s, at the insistence of our friend Kara, who visited the area once and swore by them. Oh, on the drive, we actually saw some snowflakes in the air, a reminder that winter arrives early in this part of the world. Anyway, the cheesesteaks: they were good and totally hit the spot, but honestly, there’s a place in Portland we both agreed does them better. (Grant’s on Sandy Blvd. if you’re interested.) We ate them in the car speeding down I-90 east toward Wall and our next destination, the ever popular tourist mecca known as Wall Drug. Bought the requisite souvenirs and spent a couple of hours there, bummed that we didn’t have enough time to hit the Badlands, which are just a few miles further down the interstate. But I’m telling myself this isn’t a big deal, because we have crammed a LOT into the two full days we have had here.

On the drive back to Rapid City, my gas gauge warning light came on. Somehow, in all the excitement, I hadn’t realized that I was in danger of running out of fuel. Oops! We were sweating it for a few minutes, because on that stretch of highway there is a whole lot of empty prairie land; you can go for miles and miles without seeing any sign of civilization. Luckily we found a gas station in one of those podunk little towns where you wonder what the hell people who live there do for a living. Or for entertainment. Or how they even manage to pry themselves out of bed every morning when they’re out in the middle of freaking nowhere. Then again, I suppose that could be a draw. In any case, we filled the tank and made it back to town no problem. We actually had one glorious hour to kill in the motel before heading out yet again. I spent it writing most of this blog post and uploading pics. Man, social media sure does require stamina. No wonder I’ve had so little sleep these past few nights.

For our last night in Rapid City, we made dinner reservations at Dakotah Steakhouse. We wanted to finish our visit in style, and we did just that. If whiskey cocktails and breaded walleye fingers and prime rib and savory mushroom bread pudding are your idea of “in style.” The meal set us back $101, which by Portland standards is a steal. Yet another plus for RC. (By the way, gas here is ridiculously cheap. It’s $2.18 a gallon. And it’s amazing how quickly you adapt to a new reality. When we pulled off the interstate for our emergency fuel-up in New Underwood and paid $2.43 a gallon, I complained about the expense. Never mind that gas cost $2.89 a gallon at the 7-Eleven down the street from our apartment complex.)

Other observations: the city has a vibrant and surprisingly robust food scene. It’s far more diverse than I expected. We did not have a bad meal here. And while I wrote yesterday that there were no parking meters, I was wrong. We found a few. But get this…

They’re actually “donation stations” that raise money for helping indigent people down on their luck. We fed them some change, and every time you put a coin in and turn the knob, a little “thank you” flag pops up. Is that not the best thing ever?

Also, the newscasts are very different here. When we arrived Friday night, the sportscasters devoted most of their broadcast to recapping the local high school games. And they did it in poetic verse. Seriously. A word-for-word example: “Trevor Pullman shows off some nice moves/all you hear from the crowd are cheers and not boos/the Belle Fourche Broncs would get the stop/here they go again with time ticking off the clock/Tate Hofstedder with time in the pocket/passes to Jackson Tindle, look at that rocket!”

The wholesome earnestness is off the charts, folks.

I love it here. I do.

And yesterday at the farmer’s market, we spotted a pickup truck in the parking lot sporting Obama and Hillary bumper stickers. This may be a red state, but there are pockets of resistance, which brings me hope.

Tomorrow, we begin our long journey back home. Neither of us is looking forward to the drive, but we’re breaking it down into two manageable segments, so we won’t end up stuck in the car for 15 hours either day. So, bittersweet that it’s coming to an end so quickly. We both really enjoyed this getaway. It’s safe to say that Tara digs it here too, which means…we’ve got some things to figure out.

We’ll just leave it at that for now.

Tomorrow’s plan is a little up in the air. We know that we are driving through Spearfish Canyon to check out the scenery and fall colors. Tara brought along a rod and reel and had planned on doing a little walleye fishing at the reservoir, but we may scrap that idea. It just depends on how we feel (and how cold it is).

I won’t update from the road tomorrow. There won’t be much to say (“we drove…we drove some more…”) and I’m sure we’ll be dead tired anyway. I’ll catch up with you all in a few days instead, and promise to respond to comments (and read your blogs) then.

Adios for now, Rapid City…

Today’s Theme is Buffalo

Before our South Dakota trip, I had one goal: to see a buffalo up close.

Also, to eat buffalo. That part was easy enough: I ended up having buffalo, in one form or another, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner today.

Seeing a buffalo? That was a little trickier. It was looking like a bust three-quarters of the way through the Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park. In the end, we saw upwards of 50 buffalo, some of them literally close enough to touch. And I’m a writer by trade. When I say “literally,” I mean, they were right there, just a few feet away.

But first, our day.


After 4 hours and 21 minutes of sleep Thursday night and a 15-hour drive, I was hoping to catch up on some zzz’s Friday night. But I woke up naturally at 5:30, and was too excited to fall back asleep. It was our first day in South Dakota, and we had a full slate of activities planned. I was excited and raring to go!

We showered, got dressed, and headed into downtown Rapid City nice and early. I love how compact the city is in comparison to Portland, and how simple it is to navigate and get around in. Portland’s population is 639,000, and Rapid City’s is 72,000. The difference is striking. A few initial observations: there aren’t homeless people on every corner like back home, traffic is practically nonexistent, there are no parking meters, and the city is clean.

Also, we did not have to wait in line an hour for brunch. We actually walked into Tally’s Silver Spoon and were seated right away. I ordered the buffalo hanger steak and eggs, with hash browns and whole wheat toast. Breakfast was delicious, and the coffee was especially good. Afterward we walked around downtown for a bit, making a beeline through Art Alley, a funky area of legalized graffiti and murals, then checked out the farmer’s market. It’s small, maybe a tenth of the size of our market back home, but charming nonetheless.

Then it was on to Mount Rushmore. Tara had never been, and even though I have seen it many times in my life, it had been six years since my last visit, and I was excited to show it off to my wife. She was impressed, but you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be. We walked along the Trail of Presidents for some up close views, and made the requisite purchases from the gift shop before leaving. Dear family: hope you enjoy your souvenirs.

I crammed a lot into my visit back in 2011, but regretted not hitting Custer State Park, so I made it a point this time to visit. The drive up there was stunning: the fall foliage in the Black Hills was explosive, the aspen leaves a smorgasbord of yellow and gold amongst the green forests of Ponderosa pine. The timing of our trip was perfect, as the autumn colors are surely at their peak this weekend. It seriously couldn’t be any prettier.

The main point of our trip to Custer State Park, though, was the aforementioned buffalo. They are notoriously abundant throughout the park, so I figured we’d have no problem seeing them. But for the first 45 minutes of our drive along the Wildlife Loop, they were nowhere to be found. The weather was especially beautiful today, clear skies and temperatures in the low 70s, so we decided all the animals were sticking to the cool shade of the surrounding forests and resigned ourselves to the fact that we wouldn’t get to see any. And then, near the end of the loop, we pulled over to the side of the road to photograph some prairie dogs, when a buffalo emerged from the woods. It was followed by another, and then another, and before we knew it a herd of at least 50 of them had wandered down into the field no more than a hundred yards away. We were joined by throngs of onlookers, all of us busy snapping pictures with our cameras, as the bison drew closer and closer. And suddenly they were right next to us, crossing the road and wandering right up to our cars. It was a breathtaking sight, as we were practically surrounded by dozens of these magnificent yet fearsome beasts.

After watching them for close to an hour, we decided it was time to move on. We’d planned on doing a little hiking and it was getting late, so we pushed on, driving down the Needles Highway to the Little Devil’s Tower trail. This part of the Black Hills is especially spectacular, with stunning granite pillars that resemble castle-like formations rising from the forested countryside. Because we got such a late start we limited our hike to about 2.5 miles, but what a hike it was nevertheless. Very different from our hikes back home, which are all ferns, moss, and waterfalls. A cool wind blew through the hills and the aspens put on quite a show. My only regret was that we didn’t have more time to explore. Quite frankly, I’d like to hike the shit out of this area. There is so much to see!

But the sun was racing toward the western horizon and the hour was late, so we retreated to the car and drove back to Rapid City. Stopped by our motel room to freshen up, then headed back into downtown for dinner and drinks at Murphy’s Pub and Grill. I’d read positive reviews on Yelp, and sure enough, the food did not disappoint. The fried pickles wrapped in prosciutto and mozzarella were the star of the show, but my open-faced buffalo meatloaf sandwich wrapped in bacon, stuffed with portobello mushrooms, and served atop a slice of sourdough bread certainly did not disappoint. Best of all, Murphy’s makes a really good Bloody Mary, so I can rest assured that should we end up moving to South Dakota my cocktail needs will be met.

Tomorrow we are checking out some neighborhoods in and around Rapid City, scoping out houses and apartments, and planning a drive out to Wall Drug. We’ve got some other stops to make, and then a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant. It’s sure to be another busy day, and look at the time: already 11:00. I’d better get to bed!

Bloomington Because of Monday

Is planning a vacation seven years in advance overdoing it? I hope not, because I’ve already got my sights set on a future road trip. My destination? Bloomington, Indiana. April 8, 2024.

If you’re wondering why Bloomington, it’s because of Monday. Not to sound overly dramatic, but that day turned out to be one of the most memorable of my life.

Let’s just chalk it up to eclipse fever.

I’ve always had an interest in astronomy. As a young boy, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut – though I’m not sure I wanted to fly around in a spaceship so much as drink a lot of Tang. One of my first-ever college electives was an astronomy class. I quickly dropped it because, holy shit, who knew so much math was involved?! I just wanted to look at stars and maybe learn the names of a few constellations other than the Big Dipper. I guess the intricate math shouldn’t have been such a surprise. It’s pretty amazing that scientists know, down to the second, what time an eclipse will occur 100 years in the future. Half the time, I can’t even remember to turn the oven off after baking something.

Lame.

So as August 21 approached, my excitement grew exponentially. My mom picked up eclipse glasses for us about a month ago, and I remember thinking, thanks…are we actually going to need these? I knew we were missing out on the path of totality, but did not realize we would still get to experience 99% coverage in Vancouver, WA. Which, it turns out, is still pretty incredible.

I was actually getting annoyed with a few Facebook friends who were rather blasé over the whole thing. I don’t understand how anybody can brush it off as “not a big deal” considering an eclipse is something that occurs very rarely. I mean, this was the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years. How is that not a huge deal?! Woodrow Wilson was in office and automobiles were still a novelty, but hey, to each their own, I guess. I do appreciate that some of these less-than-enthusiastic people admitted to being surprised by how much they enjoyed the event, so in the overall scheme of things, it’s all water under the bridge.

I was so jazzed I was having vivid eclipse dreams the night before. And when I woke up a few minutes after 5:00 I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t, so I got up, showered, made coffee, and fired up the laptop to do some work from home. I knew I was going to be away from my computer for a couple of hours and didn’t want to shirk my responsibilities. Not that this was an issue; my boss told me later there was no need to be working at 6 a.m.; he’s happy as long as I get my work done, which I appreciated.

I headed out the door a few minutes after 9:00, just as the eclipse was getting started. I decided to walk to the park near my apartment complex. When I arrived, people were already set up in chairs and on blankets, some of them with cameras and tripods. Not a lot of people; there were maybe a few dozen folks total, which was perfect as I didn’t feel like dealing with large crowds. I slipped my eclipse glasses on, glanced up at the sun…

…and was blown away.

There was only a small sliver missing, but even that was impressive. I had never seen a crescent-shaped sun in my life before, at least not in person! It only got better over the next hour, as the moon steadily ate away at the sun, bite by bite. It was the first time the moon actually looked three-dimensional, I realized. Like an elementary school science project – just this big round ball in front of the sun.

Totally trippy.

I actually managed to take a couple of halfway decent photos with my Android phone, using the eclipse glasses as a makeshift filter. I mean, they’re not great – they wouldn’t even rank in the top 1,000 best eclipse photos – but so what. The real treat was seeing this in person.

Why is there a banana in the sky?!

About 20 minutes before the peak of the eclipse, it grew noticeably colder. I read afterwards that some areas experienced as much as a 15-degree temperature drop. That’s when the light took on a very strange quality. It never got completely dark, but was comparable to dusk, in a washed-out sort of way. Weird, because the trees were casting typical mid-morning shadows, but they were dull. The best way to describe it? Like the sky was a sponge, and somebody squeezed most – but not all – of the water (in this case, light) out of it. I became aware of the birds in the trees chirping, and even managed to spot a couple of stars in the sky. My arms were covered in goosebumps, and that was only partly due to the sudden chill in the air. The whole event was mesmerizingly surreal, seeing just a tiny sliver of the sun like that. A truly awe-inspiring experience. And all I could think when it ended was, I want MORE!

That’s where Bloomington comes in. It’ll be in the path of totality on April 8, 2024.

I mean, there are plenty of other places we could go. Like Austin, Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland, or Rochester. But I’ve actually been to Bloomington, and found it to be a nice, quiet little town with lots of cornfields, fireflies, and a really good Mexican restaurant. It should be a lot less crowded than those other cities, and depending on where we are living at the time, might not be all that far away.

Time to start planning!

Dogs and Pigs

We went to an anti-Trump rally disguised as a rock concert Saturday night. And it was great.

Even casual Pink Floyd fans should know that Roger Waters is one of the most political and outspoken musicians in the business. When he performed “Money” and the video screen behind the stage cut to photos of Trump Tower and the Taj Mahal, it wasn’t exactly shocking. But that was merely the beginning. There was no doubt who he was referring to when he sang “picture a leader with no fucking brains” in his new song “Picture That,” followed soon after by a choir of schoolchildren who discarded jumpsuits for t-shirts with the word RESIST midway through “Another Brick in the Wall.” He was really just getting warmed up, though.

The real fun came in the second half, following an intermission. A series of giant projectors split the Tacoma Dome in half, and images of Donald Trump surrounded by KKK and Nazi propaganda filled the screens. Ol’ Roger really let loose then, turning 20 minutes’ worth of “Animals” tracks (Floyd’s most underrated album, in my opinion) into a crusade against tyranny and oppression. “Dogs” and “Pigs” have never sounded more relevant (“big man, pig man/ha-ha, charade you are”). Even the infamous flying pig got into the action; one side featured an image of Trump’s face with dollar signs in place of eyes declaring “I won!” while the other was emblazoned with the slogan PIGGY BANK OF WAR. The monitors continued to show images, such as that of Putin holding a diaper-clad baby Trump. Let’s just say subtlety is not Roger’s forte. It was a spectacle unlike anything I have ever seen, and given my political views, a message I could appreciate.

Nothing subtle about Roger’s message.

Oh, yeah. There was music, too. And it was good! 80 percent Pink Floyd classics, the rest tracks from Roger’s new solo album. Great setlist, focused mostly on “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Animals,” and “The Wall.” If you’re a rock ‘n roll fan, this is one concert to cross off your bucket list. Unless you’re a Trump supporter, in which case you’ll probably walk out in disgust.

To each their own.

We drove all the way up to Tacoma for the concert because Tara is a huge Roger Waters fan, and there was no Portland show initially. He did end up adding one, months later, but by then we already had our tickets. It gave us a good excuse to explore Tacoma a little bit, meet up with a longtime blogging friend in person, and visit with family. We finally got to check out the Museum of Glass, which pays homage to Dale Chihuly and other glass artisans from around the world. It was a really cool exhibit, and we got to see the Hot Shop where they were working on new pieces. If you’re ever in Tacoma, I recommend a trip there.

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Kind of a whirlwind trip, but we packed a lot in, and the weekend actually felt extra long because of all we did. The only downside was the hot weather. It was in the 90s in Tacoma and a solid 100 when we got home late Sunday afternoon. I was a little worried because all the traffic lights along Mill Plain Boulevard were off and the businesses lining the main thoroughfare were dark, but fortunately our apartment complex was on the right grid (in other words, the one not affected by the blackout) and our central A/C was keeping things nice and cool. Whew!

The Roger Waters show was actually our second concert of the week. Wednesday night, we went to see The Shins at the Edgefield amphitheater. We’d seen them once before, in Bend shortly after Tara moved out here in 2012, but our memories of that evening are a bit sketchy because we got a tad drunk. And by “a tad drunk” I mean totally blitzed. It was by far the most inebriated I’ve ever been in my life, which is a shame because I really didn’t enjoy the concert like I should have. We made up for that this time around, limiting ourselves to just a couple of drinks each. It was perfect weather for an outdoor concert, right around 70 degrees or so, and because it was the summer solstice, the sky wasn’t even completely dark yet when we left. We really enjoyed ourselves, even though we had to go to work the next day. And lead singer James Mercer is so damn affable, he told the crowd how excited he was to be performing for his hometown, when just a few hours earlier he’d been mowing his grass. Then went on to explain that he doesn’t even have a riding mower; he was literally pushing a little self-propelled Honda across the lawn. It doesn’t get more down to earth than that.

James Mercer, a few hours after mowing his lawn.

In other news, we are planning a road trip to South Dakota! Though my idea of moving to Rapid City may have started out as a lark, it’s gathering traction. The more we research, the more sense this makes for us. I know my mom isn’t thrilled over the idea, but there are a lot of pros, most of them centered on cost of living. Plus, Rapid City was ranked #16 in Livability’s Best Places to Live last year. It may not be for everybody, but it might very well be for us. We shall see. We’re going to head out there over the long Columbus Day weekend in October.

Just a quick explanation on why we are considering bailing on this part of the country: we were prequalified for a loan, but the amount we are eligible for is considerably lower than the price of the homes we are looking at – and the disparity between the two continues to grow every month. The housing market is so bullish right now, listings are being gobbled up within days. I’m even hearing of bidding wars taking place. So while you might pull up a Zillow listing and see that the estimated monthly mortgage payment is, say, $900, that would be based on a huge down payment. We’ve crunched our own numbers and would be looking at a figure double that amount, which would be very difficult to swing. It puts more and more homes out of reach. Now, if we were to buy a comparable home for $115K less, we wouldn’t be nearly as strapped. Obviously a lot depends on the job situation, but it definitely makes the idea worth exploring.

Who wouldn’t want to get the most bang for their buck?

Rubber On Wood

The low growl of a diesel engine rumbles to life and then idles, the steady deep-throated purr of a cat. Footsteps echo across a dock, rubber on wood, followed by the metallic clang of cargo being loaded. The plaintive cry of a gull fills the air.

Astoria is waking up.

We pull back the blinds to reveal a fog bank drifting down the Columbia River. Green bleeds to gray as the fog blots out the Astoria-Megler Bridge, turning it into a smudge that disappears into the ether. We wander down to the hotel lobby, bringing back steaming hot cups of a locally roasted coffee. Ray LaMontagne is playing on Spotify.

We are waking up, too.

The day is full of promise.


Astoria has long been a favorite spot of ours, but we’d never actually stayed there. When we decided it was high time for a weekend getaway to the coast, our first inclination was to head down to Newport or Lincoln City as we usually do, but we found a good deal in Astoria and figured, why not? We’d originally planned on going last weekend, but the weather looked dicey – this is the winter where anything goes in Portland – so we ended up delaying our trip a week.

Friday we worked a half-day, then hit the road around 1:00. The drive to Astoria was rainy, and the Columbia River was really high; some of the small towns we drove through on Highway 30 were practically flooded. Luckily, just as we pulled into town, the rain stopped and the clouds broke. Our hotel, situated right on the water, did not disappoint.

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I’d have loved to have taken advantage of the deck, but it’s just too cold in February to sit outside. So we drove into downtown Astoria and wandered around. Checked out a couple of stores, bought some fancy vinegars, nuts, and mustard from a Fancy Vinegar, Nuts, and Mustard store, and then ducked into Inferno, an upscale bar overlooking the river, for cocktails. The place was very Rat Pack-y, dark and clubby with Sinatra playing over the loudspeakers, and specializes in infused liquors. I tried a Manhattan with cherry vanilla whiskey, and followed that up with a pineapple tequila soda. Both drinks were smooth and delicious, as was Tara’s pear vodka press. We had a nice, relaxing time watching the cargo ships pass and the full moon rise.

We were tempted to stay at Inferno, but there was a dive bar within walking distance of our hotel, and we didn’t want to worry about driving after we’d been drinking, so we headed over there for the rest of the evening. The Portway Tavern was everything a dive bar should be, and a few things it shouldn’t be (karaoke), but we had a great time. The drinks no-nonsense and got the job done, the food was pretty good – especially the chowder – and while we didn’t have a view of the river, we did get to hang out with the locals, which is always fun.

Saturday was a lot of fun, too. After a lazy morning lounging around the room with Bloody Marys, we headed over to Pig ‘n Pancake for breakfast. We drove up to Long Beach, Washington next, and ended up walking six miles along the paved Discovery Trail that parallels the beach. We grabbed a late lunch at Castaway’s – chowder, steamer clams, and oyster shooters – as well as a couple of cocktails. It was getting late now and we wanted to catch the sunset over by the Peter Iredale shipwreck in Fort Stevens, Oregon, so we drove over there next. Unfortunately, the sky was mostly overcast and there were quite a few people with the same idea, but despite the clouds I got a couple of pretty good shots. 16711680_10211878220779864_2617787077505098621_n

By now we were pretty exhausted. We’d been on the go all day, as evidenced by the 18,661 steps my Fitbit told me I took, so instead of a dinner out at a nice restaurant as originally planned, we kicked back in the room and ordered a pizza. We had a very chill evening listening to music, drinking, and reading. Who says you need to go out to have fun?

Today we’re going to grab breakfast somewhere and then head home. We should be back by mid-afternoon.

Ohanapecosh, By Gosh!

I have, in the past, lamented over the fact that technology is taking over the world. I’ve mentioned how I wish we could go back in time to those carefree days where a “smartphone” was considered one that had buttons to push rather than a rotary dial, and a “web domain” was simply the home of a spider.

I take that all back now. Technology is good.

Tara decided last week she’d like to go camping for her birthday. Great idea! I love camping, too! You know who else loves camping? Every single freakin’ person who lives in the Pacific Northwest. At least in months ending with “e”, “y”, and “t”. It’s impossible to get a last-minute reservation this time of year, at least over the weekend. You can reserve a spot six months in advance, and I have a sneaking suspicion most of the really good camping spots are taken five months and 30 days early. So, no camping, right?

Not so fast. Turns out some campgrounds set aside a limited number of campsites on a first-come, first-served basis. One of those, Ohanapecosh (fun to say!!) Campground, was located smack dab in the middle of Mount Rainier National Park. A little research showed that 40 of their 188 spots were non-reservable. Perfect!, I thought, and devised a plan to make my wife’s birthday wish come true. I would take Friday off, leave the apartment super early, make the 2.5-hour trek north, and grab a spot for the weekend. Tara, who had an optometrist’s appointment at 2 PM, would leave afterwards and meet me there.

This was an excellent idea. In theory. But so were asbestos and sub-prime mortgages. I failed to take into account just how many people would show up early trying to find spots of their own, so when I arrived at Ohanapecosh (so fun – try it!!) shortly after 10 AM, I was shocked and dismayed to see the following sign.

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My first, optimistic naive thought was, they must be referring to the reserved sites, which have been full for the past five months and 30 days! But as I entered the campground and circled through the G and H loops, where the first-come, first-served sites are located, I found every last one taken.

Before I’d left, Tara had asked what our backup plan was. “We have no backup plan!” I told her, before adding optimistically naively, “And we won’t need one!”

I drove through a second time, but came up empty again. Just like that, it appeared our fun weekend getaway was getting away. And I realized the folly of my ways. Summer weekend, gorgeous weather…in retrospect, the possibility of finding a camping spot last-minute seemed like a fool’s quest. Still, I was so determined to make it happen, I tried to will a spot into existence.

Amazingly, this worked.

Unwilling to concede defeat just yet, I parked my car at the visitor’s center, grabbed a folding camp chair from the trunk, and set out on foot, hoping that a walk through the campground would somehow yield better results. When I reached the 38th out of 40 possible spots, I found an empty site. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, convinced I was hallucinating or the whole thing was a mirage, but there it was: a deserted campsite, free* for the taking.

*Actually $20 a night, if we’re being technical.

I set up the chair to stake claim to the spot (per campground instructions) then practically ran back to the visitor’s center to pay for two nights and clip my receipt into place, breathing a huge sigh of relief and thanking my lucky stars. I can only assume that the people who’d had H5 had just left, because the site was not available the first couple of times I drove past.

Once the campsite was reserved, I could relax and enjoy the rest of the day. It was 11:00 and Tara wouldn’t arrive until after 5:00, so I headed up to the Sunrise Visitor’s Center and hiked the Mt. Fremont Lookout Trail, a 3.4-mile roundtrip jaunt that crosses a ridge line to an abandoned fire lookout tower with stunning views of Mt. Rainier. The sky was brilliantly blue and cloudless and the snowcapped volcano, one of the tallest peaks in the U.S., stunning. The only drawback was the crowds (not really a surprise, given how full the campground was).

Mt. Fremont Lookout Trail.
Mt. Fremont Lookout Trail.
Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier

After my hike, I drove back to the campground, arriving around 3:30. Aside from the camp chair, the only other thing I had was a paperback novel, so I settled in and started reading Ian McEwan’s Atonement while the tall fir trees danced and swayed in the breeze. It was damn near perfect for a little while…but then my fellow campers began trickling in and starting fires, and the smell of cooking food reminded me how hungry I was. By 5:00 I could no longer concentrate on my book, and anxiously started looking for Tara’s truck.

This is where the lack of technology bedeviled me. There is no cell service in that part of the park, and I had not been in touch with Tara since walking out the front door at 7 AM. She didn’t even know for sure whether I’d been able to find a spot, but we’d agreed in advance that I would drive into Packwood and call her if that happened. I started wondering what would happen if she’d been delayed or never showed up for some reason, which led to a feeling of downright helplessness. I have never missed cell phone service so badly. I’d expected her around 5:30, and when she hadn’t arrived yet by 6:30, I really started to worry. Fortunately, she showed up a little before 7:00, right before full-blown panic could set in.

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Once she got there we set up camp and got down to the important business at hand: booze. OK, that and enjoying the weekend, which turned out to be wonderful. We hiked, we cooked good food, we enjoyed amazing scenery, and we relaxed.

Ohanapecosh Campground.
Ohanapecosh Campground.
Silver Falls
Silver Falls
The wildflowers at Mount Rainier were on point!
The wildflowers at Mount Rainier were on point!
Mountains. Trees.
Mountains. Trees.

Oh, and we didn’t get eaten by a bear, which was another plus.

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So in the end, Tara’s birthday weekend was a success. We are already planning a return trip to Ohanapecosh (it never gets old!!) next summer.

But you can bet your ass we’ll have reservations next time. Five months and 30 days in advance.

Make it Snap-E!

The camaraderie with friends this past weekend was nice. We caught an amazing sunset Friday night. Enjoyed some great food and tasty beverages. Soaked our cares away in a hot tub. But the best part about our weekend getaway to Ocean Park, Washington?

I found Snap-E-Tom in a local grocery store and picked up a few cans!

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OK, “a few” might be an understatement. I think 39 is a perfectly reasonable number considering this stuff is harder to find than a Muslin woman wearing a Trump 2016 button. You might remember my obsession with this product; it dates back to last summer in Park City, when I picked up a can in a grocery store on a whim. One sip and I was hooked. Unfortunately, I didn’t take that sip until after we’d gotten back home; otherwise I’d have loaded up the trunk in Utah ’cause, as great as Portland is, they are not a Snap-E-Tom-friendly town. And yet, there’s Pabst Blue Ribbon up the wazoo. Further proof that injustice runs rampant in the world.

We were able to find Snap-E-Tom in Ely over New Year’s, but Ridley’s only had 13 cans on the shelf. Naturally, I bought them all, but have been hoarding them like crazy ever since [see: Muslim woman, PBR, injustice].

What’s so great about Snap-E-Tom, you might be wondering. It’s sort of like V-8, right? And that shit’s a dime a dozen. Well, yes, it is sort of like V-8…only a bajillion times better. Must be all the sodium. It’s got a great little kick, too. I heart the stuff [but you already knew that].

Fast-forward to this weekend. We rented a beach house in Ocean Park, Washington because we had friends visiting from Sacramento (hello there, Heidi and Ross!) and Oregon (yo, Chris!) and wanted to take them to the Astoria Wine, Seafood & Crab Festival. [It might actually be the Seafood, Wine & Crab Fest. Or the Crab, Seafood & Wine Fest. Or the Wine, Crab & Seafood Fest. I’m unclear on the exact order of things. Considering all the fermented grape juice vendors there, it might actually be the Wine, Wine & Wine Fest. I’d Google it but I’m feeling lazy.] In any case, we were having a grand ol’ time. The house we rented was a beautiful remodeled older place with hardwood floors, a spacious kitchen and dining room, and a hot tub. Score! We spent a good number of hours drinking, eating, listening to music, laughing, and swapping stories. Caught a magnificent sunset Friday evening. Did the whatever-it’s-called-Festival Saturday. That evening, after a dinner of braised short ribs that were to die for (Ross: recipe? Please?), Tara ran out of beer, so I walked to the local Thriftway to grab her some more. And decided, what the hell, they won’t have it, but I might as well check the beverage aisle on the off chance that this small barely-a-bend-in-the-road coastal Washington town might sell Snap-E-Tom.

Imagine my surprise when I found the stuff on the shelf. I’m embarrassed to admit this, guys, but I actually squealed. Might have uttered something like “sweet baby Jesus!” too, drawing stares from the other late-night shoppers. I didn’t even have a cart because I was just there for a six-pack of Bud Light, but I grabbed every can I could find, piled them in my arms, and made my way to the checkout stand.

“You sell Snap-E-Tom!” I said to the cashier, my voice positively oozing excitement.

“Yeah,” she replied, oddly not sharing in my jubilation.

“You don’t understand,” I continued. “This stuff is impossible to find back home!”

“Great. Paper or plastic?”

Some people just don’t appreciate their own good fortune. I staggered back to the house (all those cans of Snap-E-Tom were heavy!) and burst through the door. “You’ll never believe what I found!” I told our guests. Heidi, Ross, and Chris were about as enthused as the Thriftway cashier, but Tara at least recognized the momentousness of the occasion. She squealed, too.

And now we can stop hoarding Snap-E-Tom, because next time we are running low, I know where we can find more!

It’s just a short 5-hour round trip away…

 

Muddy and Bloody

Last week, I told Tara, “Hey! We should drive to the Oregon coast for the day!” It had been awhile, and she was down. But somehow that turned into, “Hey! We should drive to the Oregon coast, get shitty drunk in a dive bar, and stay the night!”

Priorities, man.

This was not a decisive plan from the start, but it morphed into one thanks to beautiful springlike weather and some rather tasty Bloody Marys at a sports bar in Garibaldi called the Hook, Line ‘n Sinker.

But first we had about five miles of mud to slog through.

The warmer weather and bountiful sunshine convinced us to go hiking. After some deliberation, we settled on Cape Falcon, a coastal hike just north of Manzanita, Oregon. A friend recommended it to me last year, but I had not yet been. It sounded like a decent enough hike; about 4.5 miles round trip with a fairly level trail, only 160’ of elevation gain, and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Somehow, I overlooked the part in the online trail description warning of muddy conditions in the springtime.

In any case, we left home early, and were on the road by 8:30 AM. Arrived at the trailhead shortly after 11:00, after killing some time watching the waves at Hug Point. It didn’t take us long to encounter the aforementioned mud; what started out as occasional puddles soon turned into a swamp. Gamely though, we pushed on.

Muddy Shoes

The mud that coated our shoes and covered our pants? Totally worth it for the killer view at the end.

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That’s Neahkanie Mountain, which I hiked to the top of back in October. Tara and I took a respite at the end of the trail, marveling over the magnificent beauty and stunning fury of the Pacific Ocean.

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End of the Cape Falcon trail.

And then we turned around and retraced our muddy steps. Our destination? Garibaldi, a charming little coastal town 10 miles north of Tillamook. I like Garibaldi because it’s small and quaint and not exactly a mecca for tourists, but it’s got the essentials. By that, I mean decent accommodations and not one, but two, dive bars.

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Smokestack in Garibaldi, the last remnant of the long-gone Whitney mill.

We whiled away the hours chatting and drinking at the Hook, Line ‘n Sinker. I even indulged in some less-than-healthy food, including fried mushrooms, a bacon cheeseburger, and sweet potato fries.

And of course, a few of these.

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Afterwards we hit the sauna and hot tub. The next morning we took advantage of the hotel’s free breakfast, which was a step up in quality from most, before hitting the road for the two-hour drive home. It rained the entire way and low clouds obscured the peaks of the Coast Range. It was a different sort of beauty, but no less stunning. We got home and binge-watched eight episodes of The Walking Dead.

All in all, a brief but fun weekend getaway.

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Beautiful and Treacherous

We are back home today. Smartest move I ever made? Taking the day off. I knew we’d want a chance to recuperate. What I did not expect was for the city to shut down thanks to a surprise snow and ice storm yesterday – one that made the long drive back both beautiful and treacherous.

We left Boise about 8 AM, figuring we’d have a leisurely, uneventful 7-hour drive back home. Shortly after, we got a message from my mom. She said it was snowing back home. This was unexpected, but I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. Probably just a few flakes that would melt as soon as they fell.

I was wrong. Portland/Vancouver ended up with 1-2″ of snow – not a lot by most standards, but remember, this is the Pacific Northwest. We’re wimps out here. It was enough to wreak havoc on the city.

The weather on our drive grew progressively worse as the afternoon wore on. The Blue Mountains were icy, and we started seeing a lot of wrecked cars on the side of the road. We made it over the mountains – whew! – but Interstate 84 was no better in the flatlands. In fact, that too was really slick, especially as we neared the Columbia Gorge. Cars were spinning out left and right, and we were crawling along at 40 mph. Our traffic app showed lots of wrecks and a very slow drive, so we decided to take a chance and cross the river to the Washington side at Maryhill. This turned out to be a great idea; State Route 14 is a winding two-lane road, but there were very few cars and it wasn’t nearly as icy as the interstate had been. Soon, it started snowing; before long, it was coming down fast and furious.

Our snowy drive home.
Our snowy drive home.
We saw lots of frozen waterfalls along the side of the road.
We saw lots of frozen waterfalls along the side of the road.

Half an hour from home, the snow turned to sleet, and then to freezing rain. That really made things slick! We finally made it home around 5 PM, about two hours later than expected, after stopping to grab a pizza and a few items from the grocery store. I figured once we left Ely we wouldn’t be seeing any more snow, but…surprise! There was actually snow on the ground the entire way from Ely to Portland. 840 miles of a pristine winter wonderland. Love it! We are going to remember this drive home for a long time to come.

Our trip was short, but a lot of fun. We celebrated Tara’s grandparents’ 60th anniversary on Friday with an open house. People were stopping by all day long, and we had quite the spread: roast turkey and ham, deviled eggs, black eyed peas, smoked trout, chicken wings, and a variety of dips and salads. I even got in on the action and made guacamole. By mid-afternoon I was feeling cooped up and decided to go for a walk, but I forgot just how cold a windchill of 0 is. Halfway through my ears were throbbing in pain and I started to worry about frostbite. As in, genuinely, paranoid-my-ears-were-going-to-freeze-and-fall-off, worry. So I booked it back home to thaw out.

Saturday we met up with friends for breakfast downtown before taking a drive out to the coke ovens about twenty minutes east of Ely. If there is such a thing as a “tourist attraction” in this tiny Nevada town, the coke ovens are It. Originally we’d planned on staying until Sunday, but decided to leave a day early so we could break up the long 13-hour drive into two days. We hit the road about 2:30, stopping in Twin Falls for dinner at Chili’s, and then pushed on to Boise, where we spent the night. Followed, of course, by our crazy drive home.

So today, we’ve got nothing planned beyond kicking our feet up and relaxing. It’ll be back to work tomorrow. But, hey – at least it’s a short week!

Here are a few more pics from our trip. Feel free to click and enlarge so you can FILL UP YOUR SCREEN WITH PHOTOGRAPHIC GOODNESS!!!