Day Fifty Six: A Mother of a Day: Idaho, Montana

Events of Sunday, May 10th, blogged Sunday, May 17th

The old dude was right, it did get very cold that night. And was still chilly in the morning. But the campsite was beautiful and not a bad place to sit and write a few postcards over oatmeal.

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And there was a nice trail running along the river that we could hike along after breakfast.

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Today/that Sunday (I am terrible with my tenses when I’m writing from the future) was Mother’s Day here in the U.S. For those that don’t know, I lost my Mom, who was my best friend and an amazing woman, very suddenly five and a half years ago. And while I have thought of her often on this trip, and missed her, and longed to share it with her, and imagined her reactions to certain things, today hit me like a ton of bricks.

Mother’s Day is always a tough one for me, not just for the ever present mentions of moms, but more so because we had developed a tradition over the last years of spending the day together browsing various nurseries and garden centers so that I could buy her plants with which to fill her garden. And those were always some of the best times. Anyhow, I had foolishly thought that I could “hide” from the occasion this year – off in the middle of nowhere with few reminders. But, once again, I was wrong. And floods of memories came back on that riverside walk.

I pulled myself together and loaded us back into Marigold, as it was time we were off on our way to Montana. Driving out of the campground, these happy little fellows ran up to escort us down the road.

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We were driving along and I knew the Montana border was not too far down the road, so I was trying to be vigilant, but suddenly I saw signs for Kellogg, and I was CONVINCED that Kellogg was in Montana (I was assuming it was the Kellogg of cereal fame, which is actually based in Michigan, which is not at all Montana, but does start with the letter M). (Side Note: This Kellogg was founded by a gold prospector whose donkey wandered off one morning and he found it near a large lead outcropping and built the town up around it. The city motto is LITERALLY “Founded by a jackass and inhabited by its descendants.”)

Anyhow, as I was SURE I had missed my chance to take a photo of the Welcome to Montana sign (which I have tried to do for every state I pass through), I decided to pull over at the nearest opportunity to check where indeed I actually was. Luckily there was a McDonald’s just off the freeway, and I knew that was somewhere I could park for a bit without arousing suspicion. And for whatever reason, all the sad feelings came back and suddenly I found myself crying in a McDonald’s parking lot. Which is a rather pathetic position to find oneself in. But my dear friend Allyson happened to call about then and managed to cheer me up a bit, and I looked around and decided that if one had to be crying in a McDonald’s parking lot, at least it was one with an excellent view.

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I have no idea why the flag was at half mast, but I decided it was for my mom.

Onward to Montana!

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Montana has a colorful, yet near illegible Welcome sign, that they have curiously posted above the highway, rather than off on the side as almost every other state does. Nevertheless, I got my photo.

Montana lived up to the hype I had been given as yet another in a long line of scenically stunning states.

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Alas, Annie has become a bit jaded to it all by now.

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I faced another directional dilemma. Originally, I had blocked out two days of time at this point of the journey to potentially visit Glacier National Park, weather depending. Glacier is supposed to be magnificently beautiful, but it would be two hours out of my way in each direction to get there, and, as it is located in the mountains of the far north, the main road through it would only be partially plowed. My other option was to visit the closer, but less iconic, town of Hot Springs, where there was rumored to be a cool old motel from the 30s that had mineral water baths in the rooms.

I kept wavering back and forth, even using an app on my phone to flip a coin. Finally I realized that I would basically have to drive through Hot Springs on the way to Glacier, so I decided to stop there first and see what sort of vibe I got. As soon as I pulled up outside Alameda’s, the motel, I knew this was where I needed to be.

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The place had the feel of one of those endless summer days spent in the country with nowhere to be and nothing to do. It seemed like a place where time slowed or maybe even stopped. And I could definitely feel the healing energy. When I went in to register, and saw a photo of the late Alameda, I knew I had chosen right.

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While that was the image I had in my head of what the proprietor of this establishment should look like, the current, self-described “live in gardener and manager of the month” was another matter entirely. He was of an indeterminate age somewhere between 29 and 47. He was tall and lanky with filthy looking white guy dreads, dime-sized dots tattooed beneath his eyes, those horrid spacer earring things, and was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts that were an identical dirt tan color and/or had never been cleaned. He was an interesting dude who apparently grew up in Maryland, then moved to Hollywood, then came to Montana and found himself employed in a position for which he had zero previous experience, but was ready to move on, and thought his next stop might be moving to Ecuador to help deliver babies. Of course he’d never actually been to Ecuador before, and I’m guessing baby birthing requires some sort of minimum cleanliness standard, but shine on crazy diamond!

I wish I had his photo, but there was no way to get one without arousing curiosity. Later in the day, as I was sitting on the porch reading my book, he came over and offered me the “single woman traveling alone free glass of wine special” along with the opportunity to come watch him walk a low-level tightrope he had strung across the property, but I demurred.

Instead I took a tour of the town, which seemed to be both stuck in the 1930s and not to have turned a profit since then.

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The bakery that all the reviews of the motel on TripAdvisor said I HAD to try was vacant and for sale.

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I even stumbled across a sad and depressing version of a Campervannie.

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The vibe in the town was doing nothing to improve my mood, so I retired to my quarters which were brimming with old timey charm and included a cute kitchenette with tiny old refrigerator, lounging area, breakfast nook, and huge soaking tub.

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But my favorite spot by far was the wide front porch surrounded by trees and shrubs, with comfy chairs to sink into and let the chirping birds and shining sun work their soothing magic.

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Day Fifty Five:You Say Potayto, I Say Potahto : Washington, Idaho

(Events of Saturday, May 9th, blogged Sunday, May 17th)

In hindsight, taking a room over a restaurant (especially one that serves breakfast) MAY not have been the wisest decision. The music and pan rattling started around 7AM. And then the diners (did I mention there was outdoor seating) arrived and showed little to no concern to my attempts at slumber above their heads.

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And then people started walking noisily by my door. I assumed it was other guests going to and fro, but it certainly seemed a lot more commotion than four other rooms should create. And then there was all KINDS of hullabaloo and clatter, and I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter…

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When I finally collected myself enough to move past annoyance and into my sheer love of parades, I went down for a closer look. Apparently this is the annual 49ers Parade, celebrating the gold rush that actually happened here in the 1860s, NOT 1849, but why quibble over details? There was plenty of Western flourish, from the coonskin caps, to the real Wells Fargo stagecoach.

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It was all very small town Americana, good clean fun. And there was quite a turnout!

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After the parade wound down I spent a little more time strolling the streets and soaking in the ambiance. I have to say, even if the town is playing up the Old West angle for the benefit of me and my ilk, I had never really thought of Washington as being Western Western, you know? So it was somewhat eye opening to realize that it had been.

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And then. Oh, and then. So, I was in the Emporium pictured above, and I saw a sign indicating that they had local(ish) ice cream made in the Oregon Cascades. I’m all about eating local, AND I’m all about ice cream, so this seemed like a perfect fit. And then I saw on the Flavor List that they had Licorice Ice Cream! Now I am a big fan of black licorice from way back (my Dad taught me that the black jelly beans were the best), but I had never even dared to imagine such a thing as licorice ice cream! It had to be mine! So I asked the nice gentleman at the counter, who informed me that he only had a limited flavor selection as the season hadn’t really started, and could he interest me in a nice butter pecan? I went rambling on about how cool the very idea of licorice ice cream was and he mentioned that he did have it, but it was back in the deep freeze and hard as a rock. I just kept yammering away asking what color it was and other nonsense, in no way fishing for anything, just caught up in the excitement of it all (yes, you read that right) and I must have finally worn him down, because he goes off to the back and after some grunts and sighs returns with my very own dish of creepy black licorice ice cream!!!

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After all that, it only barely tasted of licorice, but it was still darn tasty!

With ice cream in my belly (I didn’t share this time), we set off for a long, long day of driving east across Washington, with the only firm plan to try and make it to Idaho before nightfall.

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Washington was gorgeous: rolling green mountains, steely gray rivers bubbling alongside the highway, more cows grazing in long stretches of farmland, tall pines…

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And onward we drove, not even stopping for lunch, I just ate my Gere-A-Deli bowtie pasta from behind the wheel…

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At last! Idaho (save the jokes Walsh)! And new and improved potato loving bugs for the windshield!

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If possible, Idaho bumped the scenery volume up to eleven. And the air just reeks of freshness.

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Once in Idaho it was the small matter of finding a place to camp. There didn’t seem to be a lot of options nearby, and the section of Idaho we were passing through was rather narrow, and I really wanted to notch another state on my “slept there” belt, so it was important not to drive too far east.

I found one RV resort which shall remain nameless, but its Yelp reviews urged travelers to drive just 8 miles further up the road for much more pleasant accommodations. So we drove onward down a twisty dirt road which led us to…

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Maybe this guy could explain where the moose disappeared to…

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It was a little haven of peace and serenity, and even if the showers hadn’t been turned on yet for the season, and there was no hope of a cell signal, and the cute old dude who puttered around on his ATV informed me it would dip below freezing, it was nestled by a crystal clear babbling brook, and it would be home.

(Side Note: In attempting to come up with a title for this blog, I Googles “Songs about Idaho,” and found a page informing me that, should I want to WRITE a song about Idaho, possible topics could include: trout, lentils, timber, and mining. Someone get on that.)

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Day Fifty Four: EastBound and Down: Washington (Orcas Island, Anacortes, Winthrop)

(Events of Friday May 8th, blogged Saturday May 16th)

Side Note: I’m going to just come right out and say it. I’ve been slacking. For most of the trip I’ve only not blogged when lack of proper online connections forced me to do so. But -in this installment (Spoiler Alert) I end the day in a hotel with WiFi and don’t blog. And the last 24 hours in real time I have had internet and not blogged. Maybe it’s knowing that there’s no way I’ll catch up before the journey ends, maybe it’s weariness, maybe my inherent laziness is finally rearing its head. Who knows. But I am failing you and I am sorry. I hope you will be able to accept the oddness of the final entries being written once I return home.

But enough blogging about the blog-let’s get to the good stuff. Which is DEFINITELY NorthWest Washington.

As much as I hadted to say goodbye to Orcas, unfortunately we had a ferry to catch. And by some miraculous coincidence, with zero planning on my part, I pulled in to the ferry lot JUST as they were boarding-ZERO wait time! AND I was able to score a prime window “seat”. So I could hang in Marigold with Annie and still have great views.

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The ferry docked in Anacortes, and, depending on how well you know me, you may or may not be shocked to learn that I IMMEDIATELY went BACK to Gere-A-Deli and ordered the EXACT same things I had ordered previously. (Expect the Thai Peanut Chicken Wrap, which had been the special of the day, and for which I substituted a “Low Cal” Turkey Sandwich, which sounds mundane, but was, again, scrumdiddlyumptious!) And no trip to Annacortes would be complete without a Bigfoot sighting.

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Properly fortified, we set off for the final leg of our journey-and pointed Marigold eastward towards home. Passing through yet more standard issue lovely scenery along the way…

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Along with kooky roadside motels…

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And random tiny churches across from RV parks?? (It seats nine.)

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And then, just when we least expected it, Washington decided to bring out the big guns, North Cascades National Park, which hadn’t even been on my radar!

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Ummm…. mindblowingly gorgeous natural scenery anyone?!

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Seriously, it was like all of a sudden I’m in some Alpine wonderland!

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Even Annie was impressed.

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OK random national park I was only tangentially aware of, I am duly and most thoroughly wowed. They even had SNOW!

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Coming down from the altitude and still reeling from the loveliness, we could only wonder what could possibly be around the next corner?

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WNTHROP! Winthrop was around the next corner! I may have neglected to mention it at the start of this entry, but, as I had originally planned to travel to Vancouver after the San Juans, and then time constraints through a wrench in that itinerary, I was now heading east from a different starting point, and one that also allowed a little more time flexibility. So I decided to throw caution to the winds and just head in an easterly direction with no intended destination or planned route. As you can see so far, this experiment did not disappoint, and Winthrop was just another delightful surprise!

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Winthrop is like the Old West town of your imagination-all false fronts and cool fonts and old timeyness pouring out of every nook and cranny. Of course I should have realized it was all a little TOO perfect. Upon doing some digging, I uncovered the fact that the “Western-ness” is actually played up to attract gullible tourists (ahem) and was in part modeled on the Dutch village, Solvang, that I visited in California.

In truth, it WAS originally an area that Native Americans called home-digging for roots and picking berries along the creek. Then, in the late 1800s some traces of gold were found in that creek, and ALLL then white people started pouring in. The town was officially “founded” by one of them, a Guy Waring, who, for reasons I have yet to discover, named the town after Theodore Winthrop who was a Yale graduate, published author, and one of the first Union soldiers killed in the Civil War, so actually already dead before he could receive this honor, and never actually set foot in the area. Details.

Another friend of Warings, Owen Wister, was also an author, and wrote The Virginian, which is considered to be the firsdt Western novel, after he spent some time in Winthrop.

Anyhow, once the mines played out around 1915, the town went basically dormant until the 1970s, when the road from the Cascades was being built, and the locals decided they needed to do something to get folks to stop. And it worked by gum!

(Side Bar: I’ve just remembered a cute story I had wanted to mention about Anacortes. So, I was in the bookstore (naturally), and a gentleman came in to return a book. It seems he had special ordered the volume, and then when he took it home, he realized he already owned it. Now he wasn’t trying to get a refund, as he put it, it was “his mistake.” He was trying to donate the book back to the store gratis. He refused to take no for an answer! “I insist you keep it as a donation, dadgummit,” he exclaimed! That’s just how folks roll in Anacortes.)

But back to Winthrop. While the Western ambiance may be a bit faux, it was still full of all kinds of cute artsy shops and friendly locals.

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The town’s fiorst watering hole, the Duck Brand Saloon, was originally built by Guy Waring in 1891, but it was damaged in a fire and afterwards turned into the Town Hall. There’s a new Duck Brand Saloon now, and it may be inauthentic, but they make a mean strawberry lemonade.

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The Saloon also operated a small five room hotel over the restaurant. One with a view of Main Street and all its goings on. It was late in the day, and I was tired and hungry, so I ordered the grilled salmon (I couldn’t leave Washington without having at least one piece of salmon) and debated searching out a campsite, or just heading upstairs to the comfy bed, WiFi, and hot shower. I’ll make it today’s cliffhanger as to which one I chose…

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