Okay, so it starts with a plane ride, but then switches to several surface segments. Maybe not Flyertalk orthodoxy as trip reports go (although I remain in awe of Loose Canon's Tours of Duty) but it was a trip and this is a report, and it was fun...
Even though it was Easter Sunday, the AS lines at SEA were horrendous; it was the second day of spring break for numerous school districts in the area, and AS was doing a booming trade in taking munchkins and already-tired looking parents to various Disney destinations in Florida and California, not to mention older munchkins going to places where they speak Margarita. The MVP/First Class check-in line was almost as long as the others; in fact because of fewer kiosks open, I think it moved slower. No matter, we had plenty of time. We were to depart from the north satellite at SEA thus the Board Room was out of the question, so we made it through security by and by, and rode the train to the satellite, there to wait 30 min. for boarding.
The view of the Olympics from the gate was stunning - crystalline air and snow-topped mountains - just another day in Paradise. We boarded the new-looking 737-800 efficiently, flight completely full, and pushed back only a minute or two late. Had to queue a bit for takeoff, then zoomed off to the south and into the clouds for a minute, then turned left past Mt. Rainier rising above its private cloud tops.
We followed I-90 most of the way to Ellensburg, then vectored a little more northerly, out over bare and barely-green wheat fields.
Dig-e-players were handed out and breakfast was served around the Idaho panhandle - an omelet filled with Alaska Airlines cheesy goo (which appears in a variety of other dishes) or a Spanish frittata - isn't that an oxymoron? - accompanied by some fruit, some ham, a bun, and a Psalm.
The movie selection was okay, but I'd seen most of them except some kids' movie. Borat, by the way, is even less funny the second time. I read my book for the most part. (I have become a big Harry Turtledove fan - alternate history.)
The clouds disappeared around an hour out of Seattle and we had fine views of frozen Rockies, plains, prairies, and cities, including Minneapolis right below us. Hit clouds around Michigan, we were served some warm nuts, then presently descended, bounced around on the downwind with a view of Manhattan, and landed in sunlight at Newark, ahead of schedule. Our bags came promptly (clearly AS contracts ground services at EWR) and we were in and out of the Hertz counter badda-bing, as they say locally.
Road Trip, Newark to Seattle.
The exit from EWR to I-95 is signposted with the assumption that you want to go to Manhattan and not Philly, so we nearly ended up in the Holland Tunnel instead of the NJ Turnpike; a detour through some paint-challenged Newark neighborhood finally got us going the right way on the right freeway, and we headed off to my late father's home in Montgomery Township PA.
(A note on the purpose of the trip: My dad passed away a couple of months ago and in the course of cleaning out his home we set aside some personal effects of value to me, but too fragile to ship confidently, and way too bulky to take as checked or carryon bags. Thus we decided that I and my brother-in-law - he on his spring break from his teaching duties - would fly to Philly, rent a car, and drive ourselves and said effects back across the country. He could use the break and I could use the company. I used a B of A AS $50 companion coupon for two one-way FC seats for the price of one, we kissed our wives farewell and promised not to ingest too much cholesterol on the road trip, and flew to Newark, which was the closest airport to my dad's house served by AS.)
We got to the house and rendezvoused with the family friend who has served as the local factor for my dad's affairs, got the car loaded with the cargo, and went off to a late meal of a most excellent Reuben at the equally excellent Pumpernick's deli on SR 309, checked into the Courtyard across the road, and conked.
Monday, April 9
Road trip Day 1 - Montgomery Twp PA to Springfield OH via PA 309, I-78, I-76 and I-70. Distance traveled approximately 520 miles.
We had to make a stop first thing in the morning, so we weren't really on the road until after 9. The weather was sunny and cold, and we made pretty good time, stopping at a mall somewhere near Harrisburg for Starbux and a muffin, through the Appalachian foothills and various grand tunnels, and then stopped for lunch and gas at Breezewood. Breezewood, for the uninitiated, is a notorious half-mile gap between I-76 and I-70 where voyagers must endure motel hell on surface streets to make the connection. The many service stations and Bob Evanses have lobbied to keep it that way, making Breezewood one of two places where an Interstate highway uses signalized surface streets, and making "breezewood" a known term within highway planning circles, as in "you go through the breezewood between Route 65 and Route 73."
We crossed the Ohio River at Wheeling WV and roared across an increasingly cloudy Ohio. Hello and Goodbye Columbus, then turned off I-70 and down a mile or two to US 40 at West Jefferson OH (east of Dayton) in order to get to Henry's Diner before it closed.
Henry's was the first of our "Roadfood" highlighter-marked stops. It's a former gas station out in the middle of farm country that was converted many years ago to a café. While the food is good in a very Ohio way (everything comes with gravy, or so it seems) the star attraction is the pie, with several types made daily. Décor is Bicentennial curtains and ads for local farm equipment vendors; there's newspaper spread over the floor of the men's room to make cleanup easier; and our waitress said she liked working at Henry's much more than her previous job, that of guard at a nearby prison. Dinner was roast beef and stuffing, served with coleslaw, price $5.95. Dessert was apple pie a la mode, price $1.75. Oh. My. God.
Then back up to the freeway and into a motel in Springfield (Days Inn Suites IIRC) where we called it a night.
Last edited by Gardyloo; Apr 23, 07 at 3:11 pm..
Reason: Moved Henry's back to its rightful venue.
Road trip Day 2 - Springfield OH to Des Moines IA via I-70, I-74, I-80 and various surface roads. Distance traveled approximately 620 miles.
We were on the road by 7:30, fueled only with motel coffee and a banana from the "continental breakfast" spread offered by the lodgings. Our goal was to hold off on a real breakfast until we could get to Indianapolis and another "Roadfood" target, Shapiro's deli, which we found easily around 10.
Shapiro's is unusual for a "kosher-style" deli (meaning treyf is on the menu as well as meat/dairy combos, e.g. a Reuben sandwich) in that it's set up with a cafeteria line rather than menu service. Otherwise, it's huge, spotless, has a great take-away counter, the best café coffee we had on the trip, and absolutely wonderful food. Great, fab place, and well worth the 20 min. detour from the freeway. We bought bagels and a pound of corned beef (at the current, not former price) for later consumption in the vast bagel-free zone that lay ahead, and were back on the road by 11 or so.
We left Indiana in our wake and roared across central Illinois to Galesburg, just east of the Mississippi. My wife and a co-worker have occasional business dealings in Galesburg (co-worked used to live and work there, and his wife at Knox College) so a quick look-around was non-negotiable. It's a pleasant town, but we didn't stay long since the weather looked increasingly threatening, and we had to leave time to seek out a dead musician in Davenport.
We crossed the river and made our way to downtown Davenport (one of the Quad Cities) so that brother-in-law (henceforth BIL) could see if anybody knew who Bix Beiderbecke was. (Bix was a famous jazz trumpeter who left Davenport at his earliest convenience.) The visitor center unloaded a couple of pounds of Bixalia on BIL, who grooved to scratchy home-copied CDs of Bix et al most of the way to Des Moines. Oh, en route we stopped for a burger at the Machine Shed restaurant just off the freeway, recommended by a Fodors correspondent. Too much food as it turned out.
By the time we got to the outskirts of Des Moines it was raining and sleeting and looked like nighttime during rush hour, so we found another freeway-side motel and called it a day. Dinner was half a bagel and some most excellent corned beef in front of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on the motel TV. The forecast said snow.
Wednesday April 11
Road Trip Day 3 - Des Moines IA to Chadron NE via I-80, Nebraska Rt. 2, and US 385. Distance traveled approximately 610 miles.
And behold the snow did fall upon all the cars and all the peoples of Des Moines, and upon all the peoples of Iowa and upon their brethren in far Dakota and near Minnezota, and it was white.
About two inches on the ground, not really sticking to the roads, but nasty and cold. The TV and internet forecasts said it would likely snow 6 -10 inches along our planned route north to Sioux Falls, so we concluded as we left town to the west that we’d stay on I-80 into Nebraska, then cut up to I-90 before the Black Hills if conditions warranted, or in the worst case continue on to Wyoming and cut north on I-25. That meant missing the Corn Palace in Mitchell SD, but it wasn’t a Corn Palace kind of day anyway.
The snow continued to fall most of the way to the Missouri. We stopped for a late breakfast at a roadside café where we joined nine or ten farmers and a couple of their wives who were drinking coffee and kibitzing and coping with weather cancellations of card clubs and visits from GPS vendors (for tractor installations.)
By Omaha the snow had stopped and we made good time to Lincoln, where we got off the freeway so we could get a latte and also get lost for a little while. Drove past the Nebraska capitol building, which I believe was architected by the same firm that did the Empire State Building and the marvelous YMCA complex in Jerusalem, which the Capitol closely resembles.
At Grand Island we stopped for a (quite awful) lunch at an otherwise promising-looking truck stop, where we looked over or map and plotted the rest of the day. It looked like we could cut quite a few miles off our planned journey to Deadwood if we took Nebraska Route 2 through the Sand Hills, so that’s what we did. It was one of those inspired choices one stumbles into now and then.
Route 2 crosses some of the emptiest areas I’ve encountered in the lower 48. Not central-Nevada empty, but pretty close. But beautiful – rolling hills (sand dunes) clad in sagebrush and high-prairie grasses, the occasional cow or antelope, a couple of small towns with gas stations and grain silos, but precious few cars and even fewer folk, save a few cowboys drinking coffee at a truckstop. The sun even came out. The only sign of civilization for most of the route was a procession of miles-long trains, each with a couple hundred hopper cars full of coal, heading east to keep the lamps lit and make the globe warmer.
SR 2 connected to US 385 at Alliance NE, but any hope of making Deadwood that night was long dispelled, so we stopped at Chadron, the last town in Nebraska before the South Dakota line. Checked into a comfortable enough Best Western, and was given a key to a lovely room with only one negative trait, that being the unhappy occupant of said room when I opened the door with my card key. The counter person didn’t sound British, but displayed characteristic British hotelkeeper behavior when she paused to assess how the error could possibly have occurred, before getting an empty room for me. (Long ago I went through a hellish patch of “What’s the problem and who’s to blame?” incidents at the hands of various UK hoteliers and concluded that they’d all been taught that the assessment of fault was more important than customer satisfaction in cases of apparent screw-up.)
Dinner was at a totally packed Mexican restaurant (Angela's) on the main drag downtown. Very, very good, and that's just the tequila. Food was decent, too.
Road Trip Day 4 - Chadron NE to Butte MT via US 385, US 85, and I-90. Distance traveled approximately 715 miles.
It was clear and very cold when we hit the road at 7:30. Right at the South Dakota line we ran into a fog bank that looked as if it could easily become freezing fog, not a pleasant thing to drive through. Fortunately, by the time we stopped for breakfast in Custer (note - the unfortunate general has a lot of things named for him hereabouts) the fog had cleared and the going was easy.
The Black Hills were still pretty snowy, but there wasn't anything on the road except a little ice on the shoulders here and there. The scenery got better - old abandoned shacks and things on the roadside, Crazy Horse's head emerging from the rocks - as we approached Deadwood.
BIL had never been there, but we just did a drive-through, as the town appeared deserted, with the only things visible in the numerous casinos being large gents in suits standing in the windows waiting for gamblers. Good luck with that. The entrance to the Mount Moriah cemetery (where you can visit the side-by-side graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane) was shut and snowy, so we gave that a pass too.
On up to the junction with I-90 and into Wyoming, then through Gillette where we saw the huge open-cast source of all the Nebraska coal trains. Stopped for a coffee in Sheridan, where Buffalo Bill's house/hotel was having its foundation replaced, then roared into Montana. We stopped briefly at one of the Crow "trading posts" next to the entrance to the Little Big Horn battlefield, but declined to fork over the $10 for a car entry fee as it was still a little snow-covered, it was getting on into the afternoon, and we'd both seen it - him once and me at least 3 times, and we doubted if it's changed too much. However, it remains one of the most evocative sites in the country in my opinion, so if you're in the area…
The goal for the evening was the Land of Magic steakhouse in Logan, around 30 miles west of Bozeman. The plan was to find someplace to stay near Logan so we could waddle into the motel room reeking of beef and whisky, should it come to that (heaven forefend.) As it turned out, there's no place to stay near Logan, unless sleeping under a freeway bridge or in an empty boxcar is your idea of a good night.
Thus the whisky part of the waddle plan was nixed. The steak part - well, that was just fine.
The Land of Magic is a half mile or so from the bottom of a freeway exit road that says "No Services." It's a ranch-style building with a big parking lot full of pickup trucks. Enter under the antler racks, turn left into the bar with permanent Christmas lights, four guys drinking Bud Light at the bar while Tim McGraw sings and ESPN replays. We are seated by the waitress/bartender who calls everybody "hon."
The meal is served: Mini-loaf of fresh bread, "relish" plate with somewhat limp veggies and ranch dressing dip, chicken rice soup with way more chicken than Campbell's packs, green salad or shrimp cocktail, then a 25-ounce Porterhouse steak accompanied by a "twice-baked" potato. The steak is not overly tough but not butter-tender either; just the right degree of resistance in fact. Plenty of steak sauces available but none needed. Totally delicious and not finish-able. Oh, then ice cream with chocolate or caramel sauce. Price $25. Waddle time.
We leave at last light, and then drive through an amazing sunset and twilight into Butte, where the Hilton Corporation awaits.
Friday, April 13
Road Trip Day 5 - Butte MT to Seattle WA via I-90. Distance traveled approximately 595 miles.
Another icy early start, but now we're in the home stretch and we make good time into Missoula, where we fortify ourselves with a latte (no food needed after last night) not far from the University. Missoula is a very attractive college town, well worthy of a longer visit, but it's close enough to Seattle that one can come for a three-day weekend if one chooses, so we get back into Dobbin and make for the Pacific time zone.
Which we hit crossing Lookout Pass into Idaho, then down through Wallace and the economically depressed mining area around it and past Lake Coeur d'Alene into its namesake city. Another nice place albeit in danger of being overly cute-ified at the hands of the boomers. Through outlet mall hell at the state line, and into the loving, waiting embrace of a Washington State Trooper who informs me I was going well over the speed limit (sign discreetly posted behind a broken down semi?) Then he sees my Washington driver's license and looks again at the NY plates on the car.
Sigh. "Well I still have to write you up, but I'll make it for 5 over. That'll save you major bucks."
(Code: "Appeal this.")
Grumble, grumble… Welcome home, pilgrim…
I poke through Spokane obeying the ridiculous speed limits, then back up onto the flats west of town and through wheat country to Ritzville, where we stop for lunch. The Circle T downtown (a fave spot - road food heaven) is shut with some paper on the door - oh I hope not - but Zip's drive-in is open and still serving great burgers, so all is not lost. I can't believe we're eating beef again.
Onward past George (WA) and down the Gorge walls to the Columbia River - last big water we'll traverse. Through Ellensburg and up into the Cascades, still snowy and quite wintry at the summit, the ski areas looking a bit forlorn. We descend into the Snoqualmie Valley and the Seattle suburbs, where spring is at least 3 weeks ahead of anywhere else we've seen crossing the continent. Through Bellevue and over Lake Washington, through the tunnel that says "Seattle - Portal to the Pacific" - and we're home.
Five days instead of five hours. It's nice to see the country from the ground once in awhile. Highly recommended.
Oh, I should mention there are some excellent turnoffs too, if you have more time. Chicago, for instance. Memphis. Yellowstone. Quite a few, actually.
Programs: LH SEN, SPG Platinum, Flying Blue Platinum
What a fantastic report !!
I had the opportunity to “help” US based family move cross country from NJ to sunny CA almost 13 years ago. I was working in the Chicago suburbs during one of my college summers and got the call asking if I wanted to drive one of their cars to CA ?
I managed to drag my trip out for 9 days, absolutely loving the peace and quiet of being on my own for the first time in a few years. One of the memories that has stuck with me was the changes in landscape that I encountered during the trip – most Europeans have limited exposure to the US and can easily develop a stereo typical image of what your country has to offer. But I could not get over the rolling green hills of Tennessee, the sheer desolateness of highways in northern Texas, the phenomenal colours in New Mexico, the torrential rain in Arizona, the 7 / 8 lane highways in and around LA and of course the splendour of the Golden Gate bridge in SF.
Nicely done with a good idea for the telling detail and "felicitous phrase".
You mentioned Breezewood, PA as "a notorious half-mile gap between I-76 and I-70 where voyagers must endure motel hell on surface streets to make the connection." It's also where all road traffic headed north and west from DC and Baltimore has to come to a near-stop to navigate the traffic lights, cheap motels, mediocre restaurants and trinketerias before connecting with the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The best analogy I've heard compares Breezewood to second base in the game of baseball. You don't want to stop there, but you usually have to.
What a fine read this was, tinged throughout with an engaging sense of humor no doubt borne of substantial life experience. I would certainly pay to read your book, should you ever write one and/or if you haven’t already.
Ironically, I spent yesterday driving North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore from Beaufort to Kill Devil Hills (Wright Bros. Memorial), and today read your report whilst flying from Raleigh to Miami. It made me want to parachute out, take time for a quick burger (or more likely a pulled pork sandwich at some Billy Bob Barbecue joint in this neck o’ the woods) and drive the rest of the way to Florida.
That was fantastic. After reading Day 2, I stood up and took off US map on the wall and traced down your path. I felt like riding with you guys. I did a lot of cross-country trips and believe me getting a speeding ticket, after all the expenses, is a real bomber...well, just a note of consolation, it goes back to your state's coffers...hehehe but at least you got home safe and I could almost see how you felt just being home again. Condolences to the family and eternal peace to your late dad.