#4 Crossing the West
We are rolling down the wide plains of Eastern Oregon on Interstate 84, headed towards Portland, our destination for the next few weeks. The wide and glorious Columbia river is on our right as we descend into the hippest city of them all. A week ago we were in Kansas with Ramsey, Erin and our new grand-baby Fiona. It’s taken us 6 days to get here!
Our trip across the western expanse has it’s precedents. We are not pioneers by any stretch, but traveling in December through Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Oregon I recommend NOT taking a Conestoga wagon as the pioneers did. It’s a big, cold, lonely place out there. I was very happy to check into a motel room in Pendleton Oregon last night. (free WiFi! Warm breakfast! A bathtub and two lovely soft queen beds!!) This was not an option for our pioneer counterparts.
The trucks, the winter weather, the intermittent WiFi, the lonely towns, the long distances were extreme for an easterner like myself. The compensation came in the expansive vistas, the slow but sure progress, the daily bird walks and the overnight in Lucy and Kirk’s almost level driveway in Salt Lake City. Lucy served us a gourmet Swiss Raclette dinner on the porch, and we dressed in Kirk’s extra ski clothes and covered ourselves with blankets as we toasted our gruyere.
Lack of WiFi made it difficult to predict conditions but our van kept us warm when we had to pull off the highway during a snowstorm in Idaho. We spent the night next to idling trucks behind a the take-out window of a Burger-King. Then there was the night spent on a very cold side street in Gunnison, Colorado after a trip up snowy Monarch pass. It certainly made us sympathetic for truck drivers and the people that live in some of the small towns we passed. There is a lot of America suffering out there. The one place of prosperity, where the road was in good shape and the town was decent, was next to the Tyson meat packing plant in Western Kansas. That must have been why that county was on red COVID alert. Oy.
But what did we expect? It’s winter and we are driving a remote northern route. We don’t want to drive at night, so as the shortest day of the year approaches it means we don’t get very far, especially when stopping for scheduled zoom meetings and daily birds walks. It’s not exactly a vacation, but hey, it’s not sitting at home.
The good news is when you pass the state line into Oregon WiFi picks up and things start getting hip. There are towns like Baker City, whose main streets seem to have been preserved intact from the 50’s with cool shops, breweries and interesting restaurants (currently dormant due to Covid). We visited Crow’s Shadow, a printmaking studio on the Umatillo reservation that works with Native American artists from around the country, and we stopped in at the fabulous Pendleton woolen mills and got a blanket that completes our Van Life statement.
We made it! Portland is reliably mild and damp this time of year. We are living comfortably in the van and taking meals with our new pod; James’ brother Patrick, his wife Felicity, and their kids, Helen and Norris. The driveway is nice and flat, with a busy bird feeder right outside the window. Score!
Sadly I got the news that my Artist’s Residency in January has been cancelled due to the California Shelter-in-Place order that extends through January 9th. Bummer. Mantra: stay flexible, like everyone else.
Happy Holidays and thanks for reading.
Stay safe and warm,
Heading up Monarch Pass, Colorado: snowstorm ahead.
Bird walk in Grand Junction Colorado.. not so many birds
Lucy and Kirk’s House in SLC, with AM Coffee Delivery! Thanks Guys!
Idaho heading towards the Burger King parking lot
We made it!
Baker City Oregon.. Retro hip, covid quiet downtown
Not shown.. breweries and restaurants closed due to Covid.