The Wells Go To Washington
We decided to get an early start, so we grabbed a caramel frappe from McDonalds and left Eau Claire around 5:30 a.m. It concerned me that two of the four kids were stuffy and sneezing, but we hoped for the best and pushed on. We had barely made it out of the starting gate before a suicidal bird decided to use our van to do its best Kurt Cobain impression.
Our first rest stop was at a tiny convenience store in the middle of nowhere. I was excited to discover the existence of Grape Vines. Being a big fan of Red Vines, I was eager to try this long-lost relative of the Vines family. Unfortunately, they did not live up to my expectations. I can see why more stores don’t carry Grape Vines; they taste like grape-flavored children’s cold medicine.
Prior to learning that Grape Vines are not fit to carry the Vines’ family name, I asked Dawn to alert the world of their presence, via the Foursquare iPhone app. Since Dawn acts as navigator on road trips, it probably wasn’t the best idea to divert her attention from the map. Fortunately, she realized I had made a wrong turn and was headed to Iowa before we got too far off course. Her faith in my navigational prowess shaken, Dawn vetoed my impromptu plan to take us several miles out of our way to visit a town named “Wells”. I vowed to someday return and investigate what lies within Wells’ mysterious borders.
At our next stop, Dawn spied something on the front of the van. The Seppuku Sparrow had embedded itself in the grill. Since I have a strict ‘no hitchhikers’ rule, I extricated the feathery carcass with the aid of couple of sticks fashioned into crude chopsticks. The kids were not pleased that I had killed one of God’s creatures. I tried explaining that the one-armed man was actually the guilty party, but they weren’t buying it.
We reached Wall, South Dakota around dinner time and decided to grab a bite to eat at Wall Drug. I nearly dumped our two trays of food on my way back to our table. In hindsight, I wish I had. To say the food was bad would be a gross understatement. My cheeseburger resembled a science experiment gone terribly wrong. It was actually melting. Not the cheese, mind you. The burger. It was oozing grease and various unspeakable toxins. I’m of the opinion that all meals served at Wall Drug should come with a t-shirt that reads, “I ate at Wall Drug and all I got was this explosive diarrhea.”
Our stomachs lecturing us on poor life choices, we took our leave of Wall and made our way to Mt. Rushmore. Apparently, seventeen hours on the road is too long, as evidenced by the twins’ meltdowns under the disapproving glare of the granite presidents.
We cut our excursion to Rushmore short and left to find a motel for the night. Our search took us through the historical town of Deadwood. It turns out that Deadwood is South Dakota’s version of the Bermuda Triangle. We left Deadwood and drove for twenty minutes only to re-enter the town from where we had started. I felt like we were in the movie “Groundhog Day”. Cursing the clever city planners who had designed the surrounding roads to demoralize tourists into becoming permanent residents, we eventually found our way out of the Deadwood Vortex.
Finding a motel with vacancy turned out to be equally frustrating. Out of sheer desperation and exhaustion, we settled on the first place that had an available room. I suppose we should have realized that any establishment named “Tony’s Motel” was unlikely to have five-star accommodations.
Our dive of a room was uncomfortable and quite possibly the scene of several murders, but we were too tired to care. We dragged our weary bodies into the unnaturally hard, squeaky beds and attempted to get some sleep. Faith had other plans. Her cold was bothering her and she spent a good portion of the night whining, crying, complaining, and sneezing. Combined with the 3 a.m. penance demanded by my cheeseburger abomination, our first day of travel ended on a less-than-restful note.
We were pleased – and a bit surprised – to have not been killed while we slept at the Bates Hotel – I mean, Tony’s Motel. Unfortunately, the two healthy kids and I all caught the other kids’ cold. We had a brief family meeting and decided to press on, unless our colds worsened along the way.
I started the day with another large caramel frappe from McDonald’s. They are 680 calories of liquid crack and I’m pretty sure I’m going to need a twelve-step program and a personal trainer when we get home.
We were pretty tired of hearing, “Are we there yet? When will we be in Washington? Where are we going now? How long until we do something fun?” So we instituted a no questions policy. It was only marginally successful in stemming the tide of constant inquiries. Distracting the kids with movies turned out to be a more effective tactic. It also lead to some comic relief. While watching The Little Mermaid, Abbie and Caleb had a conversation about the size of King Neptune’s family. Because they were both wearing headphones, it got a little lost in translation.
Abbie: “He has seven daughters.”
Caleb: “That’s not that much. I only have two dollars.”
Abbie: Nods happily in agreement.
We crossed the Wyoming border and decided to visit Devil’s Tower. The gift shop was a treasure trove of old west memorabilia. Being a fan of the old west, I tried to convince my traveling companions that we should abandon visiting my family in Washington in favor of heading to Tombstone, Arizona. Caleb was on board with the plan, but everyone else was appropriately disgusted with my lack of family loyalty. I tried to sway them by suggesting that we might get to see a recreation of the gunfight at O.K. Corral, but to no avail. To my credit, I only pouted for a dozen miles, or so.
We passed through Cody, Wyoming, on our way to Yellowstone National Park. Every time we are in Cody, I’m tempted to just stop driving and put down roots. If I ever get the opportunity to choose a retirement location, Cody is a strong contender.
Yellowstone was the highlight of the day and, so far, of the trip. We saw six bears, a beaver, a fox, various elk and deer, one condescending park ranger, numerous projectile-pooping buffalo, and a swarm of monster mosquitoes that attempted to abduct our children.
It was dark by the time we made the 81 mile trip through Yellowstone, so we decided to buck the odds and try to get a room right outside the park. Apparently, our previous night’s accommodations had earned us some karma credit because we were able to secure the last available room at Yellowstone Village Inn. The rooms are beautiful, spacious, and comfortable. I swear I heard a chorus of angels singing when I opened the door.
I am currently writing this blog entry from the comfort of our king-sized bed. I’m seriously considering handcuffing myself to the frame and refusing to leave.
In the unlikely event that my family can get me out of my new found Shangri-La, we should be able to reach Washington by nightfall.
Days 3 & 4
I was eventually coaxed away from my king-sized nest o’ comfort by promises of cake. I’m here to tell you, the cake is a lie. I did get a caramel frappe though, so it wasn’t a total loss.
Day three of our trip was fairly uneventful which, when traveling across the country with four children, is generally a good thing.
We stopped at a rest stop just east of the Rockies where the kids discovered a community of friendly prairie dogs. There were dozens upon dozens of them and they would come right up to the kids and eat out of their hands. Occasionally, they would even climb onto the kids’ laps or shoe tops. It took me quite a while to tear the kids away from their new friends and load them back in the van. I half expected a prairie dog stowaway to accompany us to Washington.
We reached the Washington border around dinner time and a familiar weight settled on me. I love The Evergreen State, but it carries quite a bit of baggage for me. Estranged friends; an ex-wife and her family; the small town where I grew up, with its ghosts and mixed memories. Leaving the security of home to return to my old stomping grounds is always a bit of a doubled-edged sword. Dawn was ready with some comforting words of wisdom however, and managed to relax me a bit.
When we reached eastern Washington, I decided to look up a family that had played a pretty pivotal role during my late teens. Thanks to the Internet and my iPhone’s GPS, I was able to locate their somewhat hidden property. Unsure of how I would be received after all these years, I chickened out at the last minute and steered us back to the interstate.
One thing I’ve noticed since being back in Washington is the increase in the hippie population. The last time we were here, a few years ago, the hippies had just begun their migration from Washington’s southern borders. Now, it appears they’ve mounted a full-fledged invasion. Being fairly well-versed in the tactics necessary to combat a zombie invasion, we found a safe place to set up watch for the night, I Am Legend-style. I figured the principles of hippie combat were largely the same, since hippies are basically just zombies in tie-dye. Our precautions paid off and we made it safely through the night.
Day four began with my now customary frappe and a trip through the Bavarian village of Leavenworth. Nestled in the shadow of the Cascade mountains, all the businesses in Leavenworth have been fashioned with old, Bavarian-style storefronts that give the entire town charm. If you’re ever out this way, I highly recommend driving through.
Leaving Leavenworth, we proceeded through the Cascades, by way of the beautiful Stevens Pass. Waterfalls, rivers, trees, and amazing rock formations accompanied us through the mountains.
The beauty of the mountains was quickly forgotten when we proceeded to get lost in Everett and waste an hour trying to find our way out of the traffic-congested city. Eventually, we escaped and made our way on to the ferry that would take us across the water to Whidbey Island.
We found it a little curious that our ferry ride had an armed Coast Guard escort. We’re told they were running routine drills. Regardless, I guess we should be grateful that the Washington state ferry system is in no immediate danger from Somali pirates.
We eventually reached Coupeville, the small town where I was born and where my sister’s family lives, in what used to be our grandparents’ home. It was wonderful to see everyone again: my mother, my sister and her husband, and my two-year-old niece, Sydney, whom I hadn’t met before.
I still wasn’t entirely convinced that they were an upgrade from the lure of Tombstone, Arizona, but Sydney changed my mind in short order. She is a ball of adorable, wrapped in a candy shell of cute. She instantly won her cousins over and they all had a ball playing together. Sydney may not be Doc Holliday, but she can be my huckleberry any day.
We took advantage of our first non-travel day by sleeping in a bit and getting off to a lazy start. Once we did finally make it out of our hotel room, our first order of business was finding a car wash. After cleaning away the remaining evidence of our bird hit-and-run, we met up with my sister, brother-in-law, and niece.
We spent the majority of the afternoon at Whidbey Island’s beaches, where we skipped rocks, built driftwood forts, collected sea shells, and turned over rocks in search of crabs. You can take the boy out of the island, but you can’t take the island out of the boy.
In between visits to the beach, we stopped at the cemetery where my grandparents are laid to rest. It was my first time visiting my grandfather’s grave. Unlike my previous visits to pay my respects to my grandmother, I felt a sense of peace, seeing both of them together again. It had been far too long for both of them and picturing their reunion makes me smile.
We finished off the day with dinner, dessert, and some downtime back at my sister’s place. Back at our hotel, I finished The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1) before turning in for the night. Very good book. Highly recommended.
We had a busy schedule planned for day six, so we got up early, repacked the van, and met up with my sister’s family.
Our first stop of the day was to visit my daughter from my previous marriage, whom I hadn’t seen in ten years. I think I’ll refrain from sharing the details of the visit. I’m going to be a bit selfish and keep that memory for myself.
After our visit, our little caravan continued on to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, where we spent the remainder of the afternoon. To be honest, the day was a bit of a blur. I vaguely remember seeing a hippo and doing immature things to a bronze statue of a snow leopard. As the day wound down, we said our goodbyes to my sister’s family and began our return trip to Wisconsin.
We spent the night just outside of Spokane. We might have made it farther if not for the fact that Washingtonians seem to have an aversion to using their headlights and their gas pedals. Throughout our stay in Washington, we were consistently driving five miles under the posted speed limit while being surprised by ninja vehicles as they leaped from the shadows.
Day seven was all Montana.
I’ve decided that the rest of the United States is just a suburb of Montana. It is the state that never ends. Not even unhealthy amounts of Red Bull, Sugar Babies, and Godsmack could compete with Montana’s expanse of sleep-inducing highways. After about the fourth time I nodded off, I finally conceded that perhaps it would be safer for all parties involved if Dawn did some of the driving. There’s a joke there somewhere, but Montana has rendered me incapable of lucid thought.
Our final night of motel-living was spent in a tiny town on the Montana border, called Wibaux. My first thought, upon hearing the pronunciation, was, “Wibauxs wobbaux but they don’t fall down.” If you get that reference, congratulations; you’re old.
Having just finished the slimiest shower I hope to ever encounter, I’m now going to attempt to find a wireless signal strong enough to post this blog entry. With any luck, we’ll be home in time to sleep in our own beds tonight and wash away the Montana residue in our own shower.