Goodbye, Portland! Hello, America!

After a year of planning and a good solid month of packing, cleaning and prepping we are finally on our way!

OK, wait, so let’s back up a bit.  Who the hell are these people (Todd and Jill) and why are they doing this? Where are they going and what do they plan on doing exactly?  All very good questions.  Questions even our close friends and family have asked.  OK, maybe not “who the hell are these people?”, except perhaps as a joking exclamation after some drunken public dancing.

Who?

Todd and Jill are a couple of Portland 30-something “kids” who work on websites and take photos and draw. Although Portland is “where young people go to retire” (as that show says) they actually worked for quite a while making websites for people. They made a lot of great friends in Portland and like it a lot, except for the weather 9 months out of the year.

Where?

The final destination for this trip is Vermont, where Todd and Jill are getting married at the end of July. But before they get there they are going to take their time driving across the country, and see as many national parks and other cool things as they can.  The original plan was to drive through Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota, but because of weird, cold, wet weather up north they are now planning on going through California, Utah and Colorado.  After that: who knows!

What?

Whatever they want! What ya gonna do about it!?

Why?

So why are they driving and not flying like sensible people should?  Well, because this is only the beginning of a bigger adventure! Todd and Jill have rented out their house in Portland and won’t be back until Spring 2012.  After they get to Vermont and get hitched, they’ll be free to travel around the East Coast in the “go bucket” (Todd’s nickname for the car) and have extended stays in places like New York, Massachusetts and New Orleans. Nothing is set in stone yet, but you see: the possibilities, they are endless.

How?

Now this is just getting ridiculous. You really need to ask that? I think we covered pretty much everything.  If you really need to know more, you could always drop Todd and Jill (ok, enough third-person) us a line with the fancy pants contact form.

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Bye, house! :(

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And here we go…

We packed possessions into the garage and shipped what we couldn’t fit into the car and headed south to Bend, OR. With a visit with Jill’s parents we then made last minute preparations before the official start to our cross country adventure. Here is a time lapse mess of that. You can also watch it a bit bigger here!

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A weekend (and a little more) in Bend

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Crater Lake

UPDATE: I’ve switched this up to be a gallery instead of a single image. Click here to open the gallery!

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Day one on the road

To start off our big adventure we stopped in Crater Lake — our first National Park! We bought our $80 annual pass, which will pay for itself after about 4 parks. We’re planning on hitting at least 5.

Crater Lake was gorgeous. It was the first time I had ever seen it with snow still piled up on the side of the roads and around the rim. You couldn’t get to the good viewpoints without hiking over a bit of snow. White snow and blue, sunny sky? Can’t go wrong with those conditions at Crater Lake.

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Southern Oregon visit

I lived in Ashland for several years while in college, and in Medford for a couple, too. It was great to see the places and people again!

Here’s a little gallery of photos from Rogue Gorge, Medford and Ashland.

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Shasta Lake

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Northern California

From Mt. Shasta to Lake Oroville! Click here for the gallery.

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Camping in Stanislaus National Forest, just outside Yosemite National Park

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Peeing in the woods, and other tales

Tonight we’re camping out in the middle of nowhere. Well, not exactly. We’re actually just outside of Yosemite, in the Stanislaus National Forest. We couldn’t find a camping spot at any of the campgrounds near Yosemite (and the only first-come first-serve campground IN Yosemite was full by 8 AM) except for one at an RV park for $60.

We saw quite a few people camping just off the road towards Hetch Hetchy so we asked some kids and sure enough – dispersed camping is legal in Stanislaus. We pitched our tent, I prepped myself for the necessity of peeing in the woods, Todd made us some peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and we drank some beers to celebrate not paying $60 for a campsite in a big field next to a handful of RVs.

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Yosemite Breakfast

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Yosemite

We (sadly) spent only one day in Yosemite National Park. But it was awesome! Click here to open the Yosemite gallery!

UPDATE (7/18): Fixed the link so it’s showing the correct gallery now (not Mono Lake).

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Sunset at Mono Lake

Just after descending from Tioga Pass in Yosemite through the Sierra Nevadas, we saw the most amazing sunset at Mono Lake.

Click here to open up the gallery.

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Go Bucket, Jill and the Sierra Nevadas

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Tool cool for this website…

Hi everyone – sorry for the lack of updates lately. Turns out, this whole updating-on-the-road thing is HARD.  Especially with the amount of photos we take.  Keeping camera/laptop batteries charged is hard enough, but blocking out time to download photos from the cameras, find a wifi connection, upload photos to Flickr, and create blog posts for them… well, it’s been impossible to keep up.

We actually decided to get a hotel room tonight (in Lone Pine, CA), check in early afternoon and allow ourselves time to catch up with photo processing and updating the blog before heading through Death Valley and Las Vegas tomorrow.  But we also had to do laundry. And clean/reorganize the car.  And of course, take more photos.  Here it is 10:00 PM and we’re far from being caught up.  We’re planning on getting up around 3:00 or 4:00 AM to get through most of Death Valley before dawn.  So it’s past bed time.

So while we had planned on updating the site with photo galleries, sketchbook drawings, comics and lots more journal posts while on the road, we may have to just stick with single images here and there (while updating the route on the map as well). We’ll come back later once we have more free time and fill in the blanks with galleries and legit blog posts. Is that cool, everyone?  I hope so.

Here’s a shot of the hotel we’re at tonight. Nothing fancy but the cost of the room sure hurt when we’ve been used to camping for $0 – $30/night! But they had wifi and laundry facilities, and we don’t have to worry about breaking down the tent in the morning so we really can’t complain.

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Everyone is jealous. We’re in Lone Pine.

Try and contain your excitement and jealousy! We spent a full afternoon and evening in the bustling town of Lone Pine, California. It’s famous for being the shooting location of several old western movies. But we fell in love with it for it’s single-stoplight charm, clean-ish but overly expensive hotel rooms and grocery store carrying Tillamook Cheddar Cheese.

View the photo gallery here!

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Go Bucket of Death

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Death Valley

This morning we woke up before dawn and drove across Death Valley, trying to make it to Las Vegas before the temperature got up to 110 degrees. Death Valley is such a unique place, and we only saw a very small percentage of it; I’d like to go back and explore a bit more, though maybe in the spring or even winter!

The drive in or out on the west side is pretty demanding on a car as you have to drive over a few steep passes. There are signs that instruct you to turn your A/C off so your car doesn’t overheat, which must happen quite a lot (our A/C is broken at the moment so we didn’t need to worry about it). But after the passes, as you drive east, you go down the steepest, straightest road I have ever been on. It’s extremely rare to be on a road that steep that isn’t in a mountain pass. You just go straight down down down down down down for the longest time. Pretty amazing! The Valley’s not too bad itself. :)

Click here for the photo gallery.

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Jill and Todd’s Broken Air Conditioner Adventure

Back in Chico, CA we stopped to get some cash out at the ATM for camping. When we stopped we noticed a loud WOOOSHHHHH sound coming out of the air vents. It went away when we turned the air off, so we just the air for a while thinking, “hey, whatever that weird sound was? Maybe it’ll just fix itself!”

Well, the WOOSH sound stopped. But so did the cold air. Our air conditioning was broken. On the second official day of our adventure. Now it’s a REAL American road trip!

We ignored it for a few days. We just drove with the windows down through the hottest parts of central California.

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Las Vegas

We got to spend some time with Todd’s cousin Melanie while in Las Vegas. She was kind enough to let us stay at her house since we had to wait another day to get our air conditioning fixed. We got dinner and drinks out on the town and got to act somewhat civilized for the first time in a while!

After getting our A/C fixed we headed out into the desert once again towards Zion National Park.

Click here for the gallery.

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Spot the fianceé

Where do you think she is?

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Angel’s Landing

There’s a hike here in Zion that goes out to a point called “Angel’s Landing”. So-called because it was originally thought that it was so inaccessible, only angels could get to it. You’d have to go up one nearly vertical canyon wall, up the side of a rock “fin”, and across the fin’s narrow spine to get to the top. The “Angel’s Landing” statement was seen as a challenge to the trail builders. So they created one of the most amazing trails in all of the National Parks, and possibly the world. Switchbacks, chains and stairways chiseled right into the rocks help you get to the top – it’s not for the faint of heart, people scared of heights or anyone averse to doing a bit of rock scrambling.

When looking at the list of hikes to do in Zion, Angel’s Landing was immediately appealing to me – it seemed like an experience we’d always remember. But would we be able to do it? I was a bit doubtful and nervous at first, thinking we might only make it to “Scout Lookout” (which still has an amazing view) and stop before the most intimidating final half mile. Well, we’d just see when we got there.

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Zion

Zion is amazingly beautiful. We did two hikes: Emerald Pools on the first night (where there were frogs that sounded like goats. We hiked back in the dark, and almost missed the last bus back to our campsite) and Angel’s Landing the second day (see the previous blog post). We wanted to hike up the Narrows but it was closed to all hikers due to high water. We are definitely coming back to do that sometime! There are still a lot of other hikes left to do as well. We also did a quick sunrise trail run right before leaving for Bryce.

Click here for the photo gallery.

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The Queen, the Canyon, the Breakfast

Up early at Bryce Canyon, trying to get some sunrise shots from Sunrise viewpoint. We were a bit late though; the sun had already come up, and according to Todd the best light would be before the sun rose. So there’s always tomorrow!

Yesterday morning we were up at dawn as well, to go for a sunrise run down the Pa’rus trail and see the first sunlight on the West Temple, Sundial and the Altar of Sacrifice. It felt good to run again, though my legs were definitely feeling a bit sore from the Angels Landing hike the day before!

Yesterday afternoon we arrived at Bryce, scooped up one of the last first-come first-serve campsites, set up camp and went out for a hike.

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Bryce Jumpers

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Bryce

We spent about two days in Bryce, hiking three of the most popular, “must-do” trails; and we also were up for the sunrise twice. Bryce is an amazing place for sunrise because of the way the sunlight reflects off the red rocks down into the canyons. The whole Bryce amphitheater looks like it’s glowing from the inside out.

We loved Bryce! Such a unique place, with great hikes that turned our socks and shoes a nice shade of orange.

Click here to open up the photo gallery.

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Grand Staircase/Escalante

Highway 12 between Bryce and Capitol Reef is probably THE most beautiful and interesting stretch of highway I’ve been on. If you are ever in the area, do not pass it up.

Click here for a few photos.

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Capitol Reef

One quick half day in Capitol Reef: two awesome hikes, one awesome pie. We almost decided to skip Capitol Reef, but I’m so glad we went. We would have loved to have had more time there to explore. It’s definitely on our list to see again! Todd said hiking the Grand Wash narrows here *almost* made up for having to miss the Narrows in Zion, which is saying a lot!

Click here to see the photo gallery.

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Goblin Valley

Originally we had planned to camp in Goblin Valley, but because we spent so much time in Capitol Reef, we got there too late to get a campsite. So we had to drive another 50 miles to camp in Green River, then backtracked those same 50 miles to come back to Goblin Valley the next day. But I’m really glad we did! We had a great time climbing the rock formations and exploring little canyons.

Click here for the photo gallery.

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Moab Recap

Hi ho from Mesa Verde, Colorado! We just set up camp at a nice little secluded campsite here and have a little bit of downtime before bed. We’re eating hot dogs from Pendleton, while drinking Pendelton whiskey!

We had a great time in Moab. We spent THREE whole nights there, in the SAME campground. That’s definitely a first for this trip. It was nice to have a place to come “home” to, where our tent was already set up along with our mattress and sleeping bags.

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Moab Gallery

Here is the complete gallery of photos from our 3 1/2 day stay in Moab, Utah.

Click here to see the photo gallery.

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Time for Some Good Old Fashioned Archaeology!

Enough canyons! Let’s look at some old, human-made stuff! Let’s go to Mesa Verde!

Mesa Verde is the first and only national park dedicated primarily to preserving a man-made archaeological site. This park visit was fascinating, educational, and — dare I say it — a bit spiritual. Though perhaps saying “an experience with grand feelings of interconnectedness” is more appropriate than “spiritual”.

Ancient Puebloans (also referred to as “Anasazi”, which means “ancient enemy” in Navajo) lived in the region of Mesa Verde from about 550 to 1300 C.E. But it wasn’t until the late 12th century they moved from the top of the mesa near their farms, to the cliff dwellings that Mesa Verde is known for. The cliffs offered them shelter from the elements, and also helped to preserve the remains of the dwellings so that we can see and learn from them today. (thanks Wikipedia).

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Sand Dunes Sunset

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Mesa Verde

Behold! More photos from our visit at Mesa Verde. View the photos and be transported! Woosh!

Click here to see the photo gallery.

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Great Sand Dunes

The full gallery of photos from our visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park!

Click here to see the photo gallery.

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From Dunes to Dodge

Greetings from Kansas! Exhilarating Kansas! We’ve officially entered the Midwest. Our trip has definitely entered the second stage. Stage One: See amazing National Parks. Stage Two: Drive as quick as you can through the corn.

Before crossing into Kansas we spent one more night in Colorado after Mesa Verde, camping at our ninth National Park of the trip: Great Sand Dunes!

After crossing the Continental Divide on Highway 160, you come out onto a flat area of high desert and farmland. Off into the distance is another range of mountains. Veer to the north. After a while, you see something strange ahead:

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Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center

A little diversion on our way through Kansas. We didn’t actually pay to go into the museum, but there is still a lot to see in the lobby!

Click here to see the photo gallery.

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Piggyback in KC

My knee was bothering me for some reason so I asked Todd to give me a piggy back ride. Which he did, but not after whining about it first. Sheesh! Get over it.

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Kansas City

Kansas city, in all her glory.

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On the Banks of Big Muddy

What’s the perfect way to end a drive across Kansas? A stay in Kansas City of course! The BIG city! Well, it’s definitely the biggest city we’ve seen since Las Vegas.

We stayed here two nights, enjoying some time off of the road and in a real bed, and also partaking in some great “city food” as well as some good old fashioned BBQ.

We came into town a couple days ago after driving six hours across the rest of Kansas. It was a pretty uneventful drive, made more entertaining by listening to the audiobook for “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” by Bill Bryson. It’s a memoir of his childhood growing up in the midwest, so we felt like we were really “THERE,” if you know what I mean.

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The Best Trail Mix

Melted, then re-hardened M&Ms in the trail mix. Aw yea. The best.

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Drive-By Arching

It was impossible to find parking due to a Fourth of July festival and airshow. So this was as close as we got.

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Gourmet KOA Dinner

Richmond, Indiana.

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Oasis in Columbus

Man, we’ve seen a lot of corn the last couple of days. And freeway. Lots of freeway. We’re kinda tired.

Yesterday we were in the car about 10 hours from Kansas City to Richmond, IN. We spent the night in an almost-deserted KOA (funny, most people didn’t want to stay at a KOA on the Fourth of July, where fireworks were banned). We had asked a local the next morning where we might find a good breakfast in town, thinking he could recommend a local diner or something. But all he talked about were chain restaurants (after he told us how big a catfish he’d caught the day before).

So we hit the road, pulled up Yelp and looked up some breakfast in Columbus, the next major city we’d be passing through. Yelp never steers us wrong. We found an amazing little coffee shop in a cute neighborhood, called Katalina’s Cafe Corner.

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Cleveland!

Dig that sweet Cuyahoga glow…
Where the jet set swing with hepper cats
Shop at Higbee’s then we’ll hit the Flats
I say, Cleveland, hello!

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Cave of the Winds

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Enter and Exit Through the Gift Shop

Before we left on our big road trip, we watched a PBS series on the formation of the National Parks. Niagara Parks was held up as an example for what might happen to Yosemite were it not put under the protection of the National Park Services. According to the documentary, “[b]y the 1860s, the country’s most famous natural landmark, Niagara Falls, had already been nearly ruined. Every overlook was owned by a private landowner charging a fee.” Although it’s now a state park, and you only have to pay for parking to get to most of the overlooks, I couldn’t help but wonder how Niagara Falls could be different (better) if it had been preserved as a National Park early on.

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Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls! We’ve been there!

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Almost There…

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We made it! We made it! Vermont at last!

The last few days of freeway driving were pretty dang trying. The landscape didn’t really change at all from eastern Kansas to eastern New York. Once we got off the freeway and into the little towns and rolling farmlands north of Albany we finally got some new views – a breath of fresh air for sure!

This was my first encounter with the toll thruway in New York. For west coasters (or folks from anywhere else without toll highways), you get a ticket when you get onto I-90, and depending on how far you go, you pay a toll when you get off. From Buffalo to just west of Albany it was about $8.00 if I remember correctly. You want to avoid getting off the freeway until you reach your last stop on the thruway – I’m not sure if it actually makes it more expensive, or if it’s just a hassle to stop at the toll booths more than twice – so they have these service stops where you can get gas, coffee, food, etc. but you’re actually still “on” the thruway. You can’t go anywhere else, and you can only get to the stop from the thruway. For most people that’s probably not very exciting, but it was a fascinating experience for a transportation geek like myself. :)

Service stop in NY state

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