the northwest corner
While we were in Wyoming I got a call with the sad news that my grandma had died. We had to return to Minneapolis within a few days for the funeral and, being in the middle of nowhere, flights to Minneapolis were neither frequent nor cheap. The best flight we could find was a round trip from Seattle. This worked because Seattle was in our itinerary anyway but it meant we had to skip Glacier National Park and Banff. After seeing the Rockies, Tetons and mountains of southern Montana, these are two places that we absolutely need to come back for.
We drove from Butte, MT to Seattle in a day. The first half of the drive through Montana and Idaho was beautiful but not the most relaxing experience. The interstate is a series of sharp curves and high passes through the rugged and sparsely populated mountains. It rained the entire time and much of the road was under construction, making us feel pretty lucky to finally coast down into the Spokane Valley. Along the way, we found Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to be especially beautiful with its green mountains rising out of a winding lake. Interstate 90’s unexpected descent into the Columbia River gorge in central Washington also provides a spectacular view. Late Thursday afternoon we crossed Lake Washington and hit the Seattle skyline. Carla’s friend Alicia and her fiancée Ming live in a loft just north of downtown and were kind enough to host us that night and the following Wednesday. They took us out for some excellent pasta in their neighborhood that night; it felt great to be back in a real city after all the camping, hiking and rural motels.
The next morning we parked the car (leaving it for the first time in nearly two months) and flew to Minneapolis. It was good to spend some quality time with my parents, sister and friends but it would have been better under other circumstances. I was able to see and introduce Carla to many uncles, aunts and cousins I hadn’t seen in years.
First thing Monday morning we were again bound for Seattle, with our sights set on camping in British Columbia that night. At the border we learned that it was a holiday weekend (“British Columbia Day”) and all of the municipal campgrounds on the way up to Whistler were full. We would have to wing it. We stopped in Vancouver for some outstanding soup dumplings before finding the Sea to Sky highway. British Columbia was in the middle of a drought at the time, making the weather hot and dry for our entire stay. There was not a cloud in the sky that afternoon as we wound along the coast. The drive itself was easily among the most beautiful on our trip, with steep mountains and rock faces rising to the east and a long ocean inlet following to the west. We stopped at a beach with a particularly scenic view and a now-familiar “Campground Full” sign. Carla decided it couldn’t hurt to ask about availability. The attendant gave us a sly look and responded, “You want to camp tonight? I just had two cancellations but don’t take too long. I can have these sold in five minutes.” An hour later we had our tent set up on this truly amazing beach, our wallet only $16 lighter. That night we made sandwiches and drank a bottle of wine while watching the sun set behind the mountainous islands to the west. Somehow it seems that our best days almost always fall on a Monday.
The next morning we drove the rest of the way up to Whistler, deciding to look for a campsite earlier in the day this time. We eventually found a site with no services in a mossy redwood forest. It was strange to be as isolated as we were, and the seemingly topless trees made us feel even smaller, but these qualities were as welcome the next morning as they were intimidating that night. After pitching our tent we finished the drive up to Whistler (Carla and I had never been) and were suddenly in the middle of a resort town. It was like a cross between the X Games and Disney World. We decided to see the area by bicycle and rented low-end mountain bikes. There are countless trails around Whistler and we were only able to take a few but it was fun doing a little off-road biking on the easiest of dirt trails. After dinner we raced the sunset back to our tent and turned in early. I woke up early the next morning to the smell of dewy evergreens and walked around the nearby river. The forest was peaceful and I was now sad to leave the wilderness for the cities of the West Coast. It might be a long time before Carla and I are able to camp again.
// road trip to date: 32 states, 1 federal district, 5 Canadian provinces, 12,700 miles