New beginnings

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover” Mark Twain

Drama and the return to our home State

The day began with a bang, quite literally. Mark and I were awoken before 5am by the sound of a crash on the Interstate. Did I mention that this is another campsite next to a major highway? Lisa mumbled something and returned to her usual deep coma. He and I rushed out to see what happened. The Interstate was now quiet so we expected the worst. Just opposite the site a car was facing the wrong way on the highway and another driver was already tending to the woman, who was obviously in shock but appeared to be relatively unhurt. We requisitioned a chair and blanket from another camper and waited for the emergency services to arrive. Another driver was flagging speeding trucks. The Police arrived first, as always and closed the highway. EMS next, followed by a large fire truck. The woman, still shocked, insisted that she did not need to be taken in the ambulance (obviously no insurance) so EMS left her on the side of the highway still wrapped in the blanket! Tow truck was called and within 1/2 an hour the highway was reopened. Mark spoke to one camper who said he had seen the accident while taking a piss facing the highway – my theory – woman saw man exposed and lost control of the car. Man seen hurriedly packing tent and leaving campsite, no wonder he didn’t say anything when the Police asked for witnesses.

We hung around for sun rise ++ before rousing Lisa with a freshly brewed coffee. Other campers were already leaving the site.

imageWe left CDA at about 9am, having not showered and feeling slightly rough from lack of sleep. Crossing into Washington state we left the Interstate and returned to Route 2, an arrow straight single lane road that took us to Chelan, our expensive stop for tonight. Soon after we hit the post fire haze so no sights were seen.

imageOur hotel for tonight is the over priced Lakeside Lodge, but it is on the lake with a choice of two pools for Lisa, the outside one being a strange green colour. From our balcony overlooking the pool there was more evidence of obesity at work so a dip is delayed.

Instead we went in search of lunch. I am officially on hunger strike as all my food has been cooked in the oven that they call a car, this forces them to buy me some salmon.

Talking of fish, Lisa at last went swimming and had to fight her way through flotillas of ducks on Lake Chelan. Although shallow the water was still apparently quite chilly.

imageimageWe ended the day with BBQ at one of the many wineries, luckily we sit outside and they welcome dogs. Due to the fires the night sky is extremely red, giving the full moon a very different look. I had a rare play with a one year old Plot hound, until we became entangled and I had to be consoled by him.

Tomorrow we will be travelling home through some of the areas worst affected by the fires.

Westward bound and into the heat

imageWe had dinner at the Mediterranean Grill, downtown Helena last night. They let me on the patio and provided me with water because the manager was a massive dog lover. A sudden storm came through and everyone abandoned the patio for cover inside. Needless to say, I was hurried back to the back of the car. They say the food was the best of the trip and Lisa’s favourite dish cooked even better than she could make it.

We stayed at the La Quinta for free last night due to the points that we collected on our original cross country trip. It’s my fav hotel because they welcome my kind with no questions asked and the rooms are proper hotel rooms. Alas, air conditioning.

We Saw a sign walking through town last night that said obesity is now the biggest killer in the country, having overtaken smoking. Obviously too late for the four ladies at breakfast this morning.

imageWe stopped again in Missoula and found the Saturday farmers market, beautiful sunny day, just chilled on the grass.

185 miles later we arrived in Coeur D’Alene, a lakeside resort, and larger than we expected. Before going into town we threw the tent up and found that it still hadn’t completely dried out from a few days ago, so we left it in the sun. On to the town and Mark found a beer place while Lisa trolled the shops. IPA from Wallace, just down the road and a waitress with a sense humour. Strangers constantly ask if they can pet me. It’s rather annoying to be stroked all the time but the worst is to hear a woman who commented that she thought Dalmatians are extinct! Dinosaurs are extinct!!

There is such a temperature change that I went from being able to see my breath in Yellowstone to nearly melting in the heat in a matter of only 2 days.

imageWe quickly drove around CDA before going back to camp to find the tent in the shade…hurray! So it was warm cooked beer and pot noodles for dinner tonight for them and the same old kibble for me although I have to confess they’re trying very hard to embellish it, added carrots, left over salmon dinners and I even tried potatoes for the first time. It was delicious.

The turn north

imageOne long 275 mile slog north to Helena on the I 15 today. At last we wake up to fine weather, just what we need on a boring drive. This route was pioneered by Lewis and Clark (everything around here seems to have been found by them) but the wagon trains were overtaken by the steam version and the route fell into disuse, until the Interstate was built. Even now the road is fairly quiet and we speed along at slightly above the 80mph speed limit (this is Idaho). As a result our average fuel consumption of 50 mpg is affected.

imageCrossing into Montana (speed limit 75mph) we try and find the Irish Festival and the 2nd tallest statue in the country (after the one liberty one in New York) in Bute but have no luck with either. Bute is a bit of a ghost mining town.

imageWe arrive in the state capital of Helena and stop by the Capitol building. The government must be taking the month off, either that or no new legislation needs passing. Like many other state capitals Helena is quiet imageand in parts a bit run down as they generally keep government out of the way of business. We follow the recommended tourist route to Reeder’s alley and Last Chance Gulch in the sun then pick up a club foot take out, recommended by Shawn and Scott, our neighbour who grew up in Helena, and go to the trailhead for a Mount Helena picnic lunch – too hot to go up.

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imageFeeling in need of some religion we check out the cathedral, I love god’s grass.

Yellowstone, Teton, Jackson & Idaho Falls

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We are up at 6am again and wander down to the river just as the sun is coming up. Across the narrow strip of water a mother and calf moose are grazing. Lisa will be annoyed with him for not having a camera. To give them space we walk up the river and see a beaver. Two animal sighting ticks for Mark.

We have changed our plans to try and meet up with old friends from Connecticut. The meeting didn’t happen but we head south anyway. We opt for the longer route south through the park again in the hope that we add to the animal set. No luck, however soon after we leave Yellowstone and enter Teton National Park we come across a long traffic line up. Turns out we have our wild Grizzly after all, just have to share him with 100’s of others.

imageElk horn arch - JacksonOn south, taking the scenic route – Teton Park Road towards
Jackson, ski resort in the winter, tourist destination in the summer. Quick lunch at a cafe and a walk around the square deliberately avoiding the horse drawn carriages on my behalf.

The drive from Jackson to Idaho Falls is one of the best of the trip, winding roads going high over a mountain pass, the sun fighting with sudden downpours.

Idaho Falls was not on the itinerary it is just a useful jumping off point for tomorrows drive north to Helena, the capital of Montana. We plug downtown into the GPS and we arrive at the Falls which has a strip of parkland on either side of the river, this being my walk for the afternoon. On the advice of some locals we go to a converted railway shack for dinner and sit outside on the patio. Not expecting much the food is surprisingly good but the beer awful.

Hotel for the night is a Motel 6, we have the last room almost. It was difficult to find anywhere so at least we all have a dry none canvas place to sleep. The dog treats at reception are awful so I spit them out – not exactly the glamping I was promised.

Yellowstone and Old Faithful

imageWe are up with the sunrise, the one on the other side of the thick low cloud cover. He takes a shower before the rush and then we walk up the river for a while and disturb a couple of cranes.

imageWe wake Lisa up and manage to get out of camp by 8am and head to Old Faithful hoping that we don’t have to wait for two hours for an eruption. We miss the 10am show by 10 mins so hang around for an hour with an increasing throng of tourists for the 1108 am one. I am allowed to get in a position to see it but not as close as the rest of them.

As soon as we leave the geyser the rain starts and doesn’t stop all day. We head down to Lewis lake camp where we had planned to spend tomorrow night however it doesn’t look very inviting in the rain so we decide to hunt for a hotel that has vacancies and will take me. We find one in Idaho Falls so that is where we will be after Jackson Hole. We know nothing about Idaho Falls so it should be interesting.

Apparently the place to see the animals is Hayden Valley so we head north and clock a couple of elk with well developed racks. A few bison at very close range and we almost have a full set, just need a wolf, moose and a bear in the wild – tomorrow perhaps.

We exit the park at West Yellowstone and find one of the few restaurants with a patio, meaning it is dinner for three. Our waiter is from Bulgaria. There are 25 Bulgarians working in town and we have met two of them, the other at our campsite. After dinner we retire to the camp site and sit around the camp fire with other guests until the fire is extinguished at 11pm. Rules are rules apparently.

And a river runs through it…

Yes, that would be our tent. He woke me up at 4am this morning, it was pouring outside and apparently our little blue tent was leaking. Unknown to me my bed was forming a useful foam dam. We debated waking her up but thought better of it and decided to wait out the storm which was meant to abate at 6am. Some of his clothes and my towel soaked up some of the dampness whilst her gortex jacket collected a pouchful of water. Ironic for gortex.

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After sunrise we spent a couple of hours drying out the tent and beds before packing up and leaving the Bozeman camp ground. Five miles down the road we got diverted by a sign offering a grizzly bear encounter. $14 and many photos later we had encountered our first grizzlies of the trip, with a moat and strong fence separating us. I didn’t know what to make of Jake and Maggie other than that I felt glad that they were on the other side of the fence.

We pressed on through Livingston and on to the Yellowstone Park gateway town of Gardiner. The plan was to take in the eastern part of the great loop before going to our glampsite in West Yellowstone. Park rules mean that I am hardly allowed anywhere so Lisa does the obligatory photo expeditions while we wait behind the no dogs signs. Yellowstone is a zoo, and that is not a reference to the animals, of which there seem to be relatively few. Finding the few that are visible from the road is simple, just join the traffic jam. The day’s count ended up as one mule deer and two bison(s), not the herds that we were led to believe were abundant.

Driving through alternating sun burst and cloudbursts mean that imagesome of the best views are obscured and the forecast is not promising for the next few days. Tonight though we are staying in someone else’s tent, glamping by tipi. Really just a larger version of our own tent but almost certainly water proof. The drive into the ranch requires transiting herds of cows and horses so I of course go off my head. Lisa walks up to a herd of horses and one decides to lick her jacket. They are so friendly and probably hungry following any tourists holding a bag hoping to find edibles. One horse sticks his head into someone’s car truck and refuses to leave searching for food. Don’t they get fed?

They go off to Bar N Ranch, a posh restaurant for dinner and leave me in the back of the car, feeding me the same kibble. Luck has it though Lisa walks out with a piece of salmon and a fresh warm loaf of bread so I too have a nice treat. After dinner we return to Yellow Stone Under Canvas and gather around the campfire with other tourists from Colorado, California, South Africa, England and Denmark, quite a UN.

Tomorrow, Old Faithful, something else that I will miss.

And onwards SW – Bozeman Montana

Some people must travel all day and most of the night. When I go out for my pre bed amble the hotel car park is filling and when I wake for the first of the day (6am) it is emptying.

We leave Missoula feeling that we could have spent more time there. It was a shame that we were there on a Sunday evening and didn’t even give the town a chance to wake up. Nevermind, it left a good impression nevertheless. imageFrom the wide open valley where Missoula sits we travel up through narrower valleys and across the ridge of the continental divide at 6,963 feet. The road is good and it is not an unpleasant drive. We have been told that the Lewis and Clarke Caverns are worth a visit so we make that our first destination. Of course I am not allowed in the caves so that, together with a two hour tour time, they decide to take me on a quick side hike instead. I can hear another dog who has been abandoned in the kennels barking, his howling echoing around the canyon walls. I am so pleased that they chose the nice option.

We leave the park and continue on to Bozeman. The city centre straddles Main Street, we park the car and walk. It is an active and reasonably sophisticated western city, the Montana Ale House even has the hard to find Deschutes Fresh Squeezed on tap to make Mark a very happy man. imageWe find the only other Dalmatian in town at a table there, she is far too frisky for me, or is it that I just don’t like the competition. We have words, she leaves. Apparently she is just off the plane from Norway, no wonder I couldn’t understand a word she said. Very strange that yesterday I was allowed on the patio but here, the waitress said I have to be kept off the premise. Never mind as I am only a foot from the table so am technically not in the restaurant.

It seems REI is in most of the cities/towns as they find one in Bozeman. Lisa goes in and finds the needed tent pegs to replace the bent ones as a result of the storm in Spokane.

Back at the campsite we pitch the tent, this time securely, even though thunderstorms and drizzle are in the air. Since eastern imageWashington the weather has cooled from 37c to 21c, it’s going to be cold tonight but at least two of us prefer it to the sweltering heat of the last 2 days. It will be a test to see how the blue thing survives, by far the oddest tent around – but free.

Another thing I don’t understand about campsites is their proximity to rail lines and highways. Montana is huge with a population of only one million and people travel hundreds or thousands of miles to get here. I am sure that they would put upimage with the slight inconvenience of travelling a few extra miles off the interstate to get some quiet!

One day, three states

He is up far too early to grab a shower – 5am. I go back to sleep, she just never wakes up. We go for a brief walk in a “Govnt property – no trespassers” place before heading back for a coffee and to begin the packing.

We hit the road and first head to Coeur d’Alene to rearrange our campsite for the return journey. If States can be divided by geography then we have just experienced it. From desert high plains to tree laden mountains just by crossing a line. So at last we depart Washington, good roads, to Idaho, same highway but not so good. We reach the recommended lunch spot of the imagesmall mining town, “world’s silver mining capital” of Wallace and find a street restaurant so that I can be accomodated. Not bad for a town of 926 people. There are 3 working mines and the deepest one is over 9,000 feet.image

Onwards and we quickly enter Montana, our home for the next week. Again what a difference once you enter Big Sky country. The interstate meanders up and over high passes with an almost roller coaster feel. It takes a few hours but eventually we reach Missoula, set in a broadening valley. We also forgot the time difference. The storm last night left them with a broken tent pole so they seek out a replacement in REI, no luck there though. A cheap roll of duct tape will have to do and a hope that the wind abates for the remainder of the trip.

We arrive at the hotel and I collapse in a steaming heap on the lobby floor – surely they understand – I don’t do hot.

A quick internet search reveals a downtown brew pub so we mount up again hoping that Sunday isn’t too strictly observed in the Wild West. It isn’t, and we drink, eat and drink at the Tamarack Brewing company. A couple of pints of IPA later…

A post dinner walk to the river and we find the Sunday sport imagefor the locals, load up with beer and float down the rapids to a downstream beach…fun apparently…I paddle.

Still in Washington!

The end of the second day and we are still in Washington state, albeit just a few miles from the Idaho border.

After an abortive walk for me this morning on the road we left our hosts from the BnB at 10am this morning and returned to Pybus market in search of a walk for me and a coffee for Mark. Saturday is farmers market so I am able to wend my way through the vendors. We eventually find some shaded seating next to the singer of the day, so I am left with him while she goes off in search of coffee and donuts for Mark – success of sorts.

A wheel chair bound lady tries unsuccessfully to traverse some stairs, ignoring the adjacent ramp, she falls, a crowd gathers round and 911 is called. She seems OK but an ambulance, the fire chief and the town’s largest fire truck are despatched just in case. As in wars and any emergencies here there is an over reaction.

Back on Route 2 we head north into the desert mountains and quickly climb to over 2,000 ft before heading due east on an almost arrow straight road. The ‘quaint’ towns of Coulee and Wilbur turn out to be fairly desolate so the planned lunch stop next to a very very large lake does not happen and we continue on to Spokane.

We hadn’t realized just how much wheat is grown in this state, on and on past golden fields being harvested and throwing up dust clouds to rival the haze of the fire storms of yesterday.

We arrive in Spokane and follow the signs for the River Park, apparently to provide me with some respite from my air conditioned rear compound in the car. Lisa calls it the moau (my own aircon unit). The first restaurant we approach – no dogs, so we head further into the urban park before we hit the fountain centre of Spokane. It’s so hot that most of those under 20 have gathered to immerse themselves in the falling water. We settle for an unhealthy lunch of burger but Lisa insists on a healthy salad while I wait for the flat breads but lost a piece to a small feathered sparrow who stole from her plate. Well, I have better manners than to climb up onto the table to steal food!

imageOur first campground of the trip is 15 miles to the east of the city, KOA or Campgrounds of America or the McDonalds of camping. We have a site on the perimeter away from the RV’s that litter the country – however if they have aircon then perhaps not such a bad idea. An added advantage of our particular spot is that it is right next to the rail line. I wonder if the trains run through the night? My ‘dog park’ area is a no more than 30 square feet but I dutifully comply.

There’s not much in terms of human food around here so they’re talking about having pizza delivered to the site. Perhaps I could benefit from the crust because the lettuce and carrot they brought for me have been semi cooked in the heat.

Tent up and then a 30 knot squall whips through the site, imagedevastating most of the tents. I retreat to the car while they hastily collapse our new home before stuffing it back in the car. Drama over, we start again.

One thing I don’t get about this camping lark is why would someone who has just shelled out $250k + on a super deluxe RV want to stay for a week on a site in the middle of nowhere next to a rail line. It’s an OK site if you are just passing through but not to sit in for any length of time. Us, we have a free tent, cheapy bags (I have the best memory form bed), a couple of self inflating air beds and a borrowed stove (thanks James and Becky).

Sorry guys for polluting the tent with continuous gaseous issues, must be something you fed me.

Montana … go east young man

Well this time we have set off due east … destination Montana but first we have to traverse the width of Washington state and a slice of Idaho. East takes us off I-5 and onto route 2 over Stevens Pass at over 4,000 ft. Over the divide the evidence of the largest fire, the Carlton Complex, becomes obvious, luckily for us the road reopened only yesterday however they are still attempting to minimize the northward spread of the flames.image We reach Leavenworth for lunch, a quaint Bavarian village surrounded by mountains on all sides. Perhaps a convoy of German covered wagons came through and thought they were in the Alps and decided to stay. Anyway we find the Munchen Haus, a me friendly tavern where they can have beer (non-German) and wursts for lunch. The heat is getting to me (& Lisa), it’s 37c – no place for cool Dalmatians or dark-haired Chinese image We hang around for an ice cream or two and then on the way out-of-town bump into a winery that must be tried. Perched on the hill is Silvara, a winery, where as is common here, they don’t actually grow the grapes but just blend the juice from where they can actually grow proper grapes. After 6 samples the verdict is not bad though. A comfortably seated Lisa has to be persuaded to leave but we need to wander on to the Air BNB for tonight in East Wenatchee. image We arrive at just before 4, a large house high on the northern bank of the Columbia river. The resident dog greets us – a Japanese Sheba Imu called Loki, friendly enough but he traps me in the washroom where there is a cool tiled floor so I am not minded to object. Lisa collapses on the bed, claiming excessive heat so I also decide to rest. We are directed to dinner place by the river, Pybus market. I am illegally snuck in past the definitely no dogs sign to the patio breaking countless state and local hygiene laws in the process. Everyone in the restaurant doesn’t bat an eye lid so why can’t this be the norm. Seated, Lisa discovers it’s a pizza joint, albeit an OK one. Two pizzas and one rather small margarita later it’s time for a final walk before retreating to bed.image