Never say never is my new mantra! If you had told me 50 years ago, or even 10, that we would travel across the states in a trailer, I’d have belly-laughed. I’ll admit that in the last couple of years we had “entertained” the idea of purchasing an Airstream for our first cross country trip. However, after sticker shock and reality checking, we instead set out in my Prius (really practical, you might say) for our 5-week adventure.
So, who or what is Silver Streak? She is the vintage (as in 1972) Airstream “Land Yacht” we purchased sight unseen from friends of our daughter, Emily, and son-in-law, Andy in Seattle. In late June, we got a call from Emily saying, “we know you’ve given up on the Airstream idea, but our friends are moving to London and have to sell their Airstream and the car that tows it – just thought I’d mention it…” Of course she sent a video, inside and out and from all angles and we were hooked. Andy spent several hours with the owner going over her personality, the ins and outs; for good measure, they took it camping for a weekend with baby Connor followed by another eager tester, older daughter, Carrie, her husband, Phil, and 2-year-old Greg. All proclaimed she would be a great buy and loving new member of the family. So, what could innocent loving parents do but make an offer!
We haven’t looked back! Labor Day found us flying to Denver for our annual visit to Steamboat Springs with two other couples, driving to Ketchum, Idaho via Jackson, Wyoming for Ron’s annual “men’s outing”. That left me to fly to Seattle to spend 5 days both babysitting for Greg (mom and dad took an anniversary weekend away) and to help with baby Connor whose mom was traveling for a few days. Ron appeared the day before we needed to begin our travels home (time sensitive because of a business dinner in Aspen and opening night of our wonderful Portland Symphony Orchestra). Andy met Ron at the airport and drove him directly to the storage unit for the Airstream – total emersion was the best way to commit! After learning the ropes of hooking up and feeling for the first time the impact of towing (and making wide right-hand turns), Andy and Ron sent word they were about to arrive in front of Carrie and Phil’s house so we could go out there and stand in 3 adjacent car spaces! The rest of the afternoon was spent going over again the pre-tow, the tow, and the post-tow procedures, equipping and provisioning, and then just mustering up courage for our early morning departure. The kids were great, very helpful and loving as we pulled of North 48th Street, Seattle, on Monday, September 15, 2014! Ron at the wheel, Sally almost immediately warning of a wider turn onto Meridian – alas, not soon enough and over the curb we went. However, nothing damaged other than our egos and off we lumbered to 50th and then on to I-5 South. Our adventure had begun!!!
October 1st, five weeks to the day from when we left, we arrived back at October Farm. Almost 8000 miles of road lay behind us and many adventures. The trip home was something of a blur as we moved for the first time to the Interstates and made some miles. Large and small cities skipped by Fargo, North Dakota (supposedly lovely along the Red River but you couldn’t tell from I-90), Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland ( all in one day). Then came Erie, Buffalo, and the Mass Pike. We could smell the flowers. We saw our first Maine license plate on 495 in northern Massachusetts. Before we knew it we had crossed the Pisquataqua River and were back in Maine, then home..
Unloading the Prius was a big job. This car has amazing capacity
We will have more time for reflection on this trip in the days ahead, but a few observations: this a truly vast and impressive country. To say we have fertile plains is an understatement. They go on from Western North Dakota all the way to western Ohio. With the ubiquitous dinosaurs of irrigation, Americans are still doing an incredible job of growing all the essentials: corn (aka ethanol), wheat, soybeans, sunflowers being the most prevalent.
Beyond the plains in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho there are vast prairies filled with cattle, beautiful mountains, expansive lakes and mighty rivers. In short, we may depend on our cities and their surroundings for much of our industry, but make no mistake, the soul of America is in places like Medora, North Dakota, where Teddy Roosevelt earned his spurs.
Turning East from Yellowstone was a symbolic move. All of a sudden we feel as if we are on the clock. We are back to the Interstates, trying to make time so we can get back by the end of September. This makes for longer days and little of the meandering that has made the last four weeks such fun. Nonetheless we did take a small diversion yesterday to visit the Little Big Horn Battlefield- where we remember that George Armstrong Custer was carried away with white man’s hubris and got his troop massacred by the Lokota Sioux, led by Chief Sitting Bull.
This is the cemetery at the Little Big Horn. It was raining, cold and entirely in keeping with the unfortunate heritage of Custer.
Much more fun was discovering a wonderful small town just across the Montana border in the North Dakota Badlands, Medora. Medora, all of 103 persons, has a special place in our history as the spot where a young Theodore Roosevelt spent the better part of four years experiencing the last days of the “Wild West”. TR said later that these were the most memorable days of his life. He gained an appreciation of the American West and the importance of maintaining something of the unspoiled heritage.
We stayed at the Rough Rider Hotel, a surprisingly well-appointed and delightful place. The Hotel, in keeping with TR’s insatiable intellectual as well as physical curiosity, has a sizable library with his works and several other volumes about TR’s life and career. Medora is also the home of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park- covering the area TR ranched in this period. This is his original “ranch”.
Amid clearing skies today we checked out the Bully Pulpit Golf Course. listed as one of the top 100 public courses in America- who would ever find it? Then we were back on I-94 heading east through Bismarck, Jamestown ( childhood home of good friend Bart Holaday, who, in an amazing coincidence was flying in as we passed through), and on to Fargo, just at the Minnesota border.
Once out of the Badlands, North Dakota is vast plain with seemingly endless wheat and soy bean fields, just now in full harvest mode. We saw little of the extraordinary oil field development in northwest North Dakota. However, we saw all manner of new, powerful pickup trucks on the road( passing us) and testament to the new wealth that is sweeping the state.
We had heard much about Bozeman. Sally had been through the town briefly when she worked at Yellowstone one summer between freshman and sophomore year of college. Ron’s impression of Bozeman came from the 70’s cult classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, Robert Pirsig’s ode to seeing every problem as opportunity and Bozeman as a place where respect for craft was the ethos. Well, Sally and Ron have grown up and so has Bozeman. It is not the small, funky town we remembered. It has gone a bit sprawling and has real upscale pockets, particularly along West Main. It is the home of Montana State University
But MSU is apart, south of town, and has none of the feel of U of Montana at Missoula. Bozeman remains a happening place with all sorts of fishing and outdoor activity, particularly given its positioning as a principal gateway to Yellowstone National Park, just an hour south. Nonetheless, pound for pound, Sally and Ron prefer the more intimate, less polished look of Missoula, with the Clark Fork River wandering through downtown and the University just a walkway across the river.
We did take the opportunity in Bozeman for staging float fishing on the Yellowstone River north of the Park. It was a lovely day on one of America’s great rivers- the longest un-dammed river in the country, running from south of the Park, through Yellowstone Lake in the Park and then north across almost the whole length of Montana to flow into the Missouri just over the Montana border in North Dakota. Lewis and Clark did part of their epic journey on the Yellowstone, and much of the look and feel of the river remains today.
Then it was off toYellowstone National Park itself. What a treasure, immense, varied, beautiful. We understand it is a tourist nightmare in the summer, but it is delightful in late September.
One of the most impressive views is the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River as it goes through what is known as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Biut the river also has its quiet side, best shown at daybreak near Lake Hotel
We had a wonderful two, almost three days at the Park. Sally relived old memories from her summer at Lake Hotel. We would have stayed a bit longer but rain and snow came, closing the pass we were going to take out of the Park. We had to backtrack north through Gardiner, MT and then turned east on I-90. After almost four weeks of relentlessly heading west, we were now heading toward the morning sun.
In his 1960’s “Travels with Charlie” Steinbeck wrote that he liked many states but that he fell in love with Montana. We have gotten some of the same feeling in our first days in big sky country. We started in Missoula, home of the University of Montana- known to all here as “the Griz”
Missoula is a lovely small city set along the Clark Fork River, named of course for William Clark of Lewis and Clark, who came through here in 1804 after their successful navigation of the great falls of the Missouri. It is a college town, with a bike path along the river, separating the U of M campus from the main town. It was a beautiful day and many students were out biking, running, and generally enjoying the sunshine. We, too, took to rental bikes and did the circumference of the town, stopping at a little gem, Le Petite, for a scone and coffee/tea.
Teddy Roosevelt is also commemorated here for his work in conservation in this area.
From Missoula, we headed north to explore Flathead Lake, the largest fresh water lake west of the Mississippi. The lake is quite spectacular and feeds, through Kerr Dam, the beginning of the Flathead River. The Gorge that the dam and river form is worth a detour.
We ended the day by traveling up the east shore of the lake to the town of Bigfork. Bigfork has developed into quite an artistic and cultural community and the small downtown was bustling. After an evening here we left for the trip south down the Swan River valley looking for our first Montana fly fishing! Stay tuned.
Leaving Stanley we headed to for northern Idaho’s big city on the lake,Coeur d’Alene. En route we stopped for the night in Moscow, home of the University of Idaho Vandals. The UI campus is lovely and really gives the character to this small town. Why ever was it named Moscow?
Our plan for Coeur d’Alene was to play some golf. We started with Circling Raven, one of Idaho’s top ten courses, located on an Indian reservation just south of Coeur d’Alene. It is a lovely course set partly amid rolling wheat fields and partly in pine forest. Strong wind and showers added significantly to what was already a challenging course.
But this was just warm up to the gem of northern Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Club with its famous “island green”. In a magnificent setting on the northern shore of the 25 mile long Coeur d’Alene lake, the course is a visual delight- flanked by lots of lovely pines, beautifully kept with lots of special touches . It is a gem. Like a beautiful woman with just a touch too much makeup, it is almost too precious. The island green is truly an island, approached by boat after the 150 yard shot across the lake. With the 25 miles of lake stretching behind the green, the visual effect is shooting at a postage stamp.
Ron managed to put his first ball into the lake. Sally calmly stuck her shot on the green. Both agreed this was a place to come back to.
Then we bundled into the Prius for the late afternoon drive to Missoula, Montana.