Today's thoughts

Category: Travel (Page 1 of 24)

Retirement is not without Hassles: Whew! #1401

Eight nights, seven McDonald’s, six gas stops, five hotels, two-thousand miles, and one small glitch. We were back in our apartment last night with a sense of relief – Whew! All that way to Montana and back – up steep terrain, across mountain passes, and through high desert flat lands without a single complaint until the very end. Despite its age, the trustworthy 2008 Toyota Solara convertible chugged along as planned, starting and stopping where needed. The only problem we’ve ever experienced over the years was a battery problem a few months ago. I had it fully recharged without any further issues. Yesterday, we drove in from Spokane with several stops for food, gas, and at a roadside farmer’s market. In every case, the car started right up, until the very last gas station. 

I had filled the car up with gas, and moved it to a parking spot to use the restroom facilities. As we got ready to make the final leg of the journey, I turned the ignition key and nothing happened. My wife and I were anxious to pick up our dog Tally and finally get home. Instead, we were stranded by The Dalles in ninety degree temperatures. It was not a desperate situation, we had food, several cases of wine, and a Shilo Inn next door. Fortunately, I called AAA, as I had two months ago and waited for a jump. As we sat there waiting, I thought of all the many other remote spots where we could have been inconvenienced during the course of our trip. Whew!

They told us it would be an hour wait, as I continued to get an ear full from my wife about not double-checking the battery before we left. It was going to be a very long hour! Thankfully, it wasn’t even a half hour before we were back on the road again thanks to the prompt assistance of River’s Edge Towing in nearby Hood River. Fortunately, they happened to be in route to service another car and we were in the right place at the right time. AAA to the rescue – it’s such a great service!  I’ll need to call them again tomorrow because the battery failed to recharge during the last hour-and-a-half of highway driving. We’re home and safe, but still in need of a new battery. It could have been much worse – Whew!

Retirement is not without Hassles: Journey of Life #1400

Fourteen hundred articles represents about 44 months of daily blogging. I’ve faithfully adhered to my one-a-day writing pledge from the moment I retired. In the process I’ve also written a sleazy novel and hundreds of poems. Prior to this trip to Glacier National Park, there was little to write about and the frustration showed in my rants about the Portland protests. What had always tended to be a humorous blog turned ugly and sarcastic at times. Hopefully, the time away will get me back on track. I guess you do need vacations, even in retirement. 

We’ve on the last leg of our Montana journey with an overnight stop in Spokane, Washington. We’re back at the historic Davenport Hotel for a last night of luxury. This is a very ornate structure with massive ballrooms. The dance floors are suspended from cables to cushion the feet. We attempted to take a walking tour of the facilities but most rooms were closed due to Covid-19. The same was true of the nearby Bing Crosby childhood home on the now quiet  Gonzaga University campus. Life as we know it has been frozen in time with only brief spurts of activity, like the wedding taking place in our hotel. There are pictures on the walls of lavish masquerade parties, while all of the hotel guests and wedding attendees are masked now. 

We’re five hours from Portland, where we’ll be reunited with our schnauzer Tally after ten days on the road. She’ll miss her doggy buddy, Falco, when she settles back into boring apartment life. I’m ready to get back in the home routine, although we’ll have visitors this week to break up the monotony. Day-trips to wine country and Astoria are on the agenda along with overnight guests for the weekend. With this in mind, the inflatable bed may get some use by my wife’s daughter and husband. We’ll see them again in a few weeks as we begin our cross-country journey to Florida. Overall, it will be a very busy August with stops in San Francisco, Cambria, Desert Springs, Tucson, Marfa, Austin, Mobile, Lake City, and Venice. I’ll be 69-years old and poorer by the time we cross the Florida line. Let the Journey of Life continue!

Retirement is not without Hassles: The Way Back #1399

It’s time to go home after a week away from the Portland riots. Out go the feds and in come the State Police. This will undoubtedly be the next stage of the never-ending protests. In the meantime, we’re in the peaceful mountain surroundings of Montana. However, today we start the way back with an overnight stop in Spokane. If we were in a hurry, I’d fire up Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine, but we’ll enjoy the slightly different sights of the route home. After all, the way back is all part of the overall adventure. 

We enjoyed last night’s dinner at Tupelo in Whitefish, a misplaced New Orleans bistro. The walls were filled with Cajun Country artwork including Blue Dog and other George Rodriquez works. It was a much different atmosphere than the usual decor of stuffed bears, antlers, and moose paintings. There was an out-of-place colorful giant portrait of Jim Thorpe in a uniform with a big “C” (Carlisle College, Canton, Cleveland, or Chicago?), along with numerous jazz artists and their instruments. Blue Dog was Rodriguez’s Louisiana terrier/spaniel, Tiffany, while a head carving of her guarded the entrance from intruding critters. 

I had some spicy Montana gumbo and some tasty elk meatball sliders. My wife enjoyed a Cajun combo of fried catfish and shrimp etouffee. Our picnic lunch that afternoon was in a much different setting – by the Sacred Dancing Cascade. Afterwards, a short hike led us to the banks of Lake McDonald fed by an ice-cold mountain spring. I took off my shoes and socks to freeze my toes. All three days in Glacier Park were Big Sky blue with temperatures in the low nineties. I’m glad we shared the experience and now it’s time for the long Way Back. 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Take A Hike #1398

When you don’t want someone around, you tell them to “Go and take a hike.” When there’s little else to do, as was the case yesterday, it’s exactly what we did. Some people love to hike. I’m one of those that questions its purpose. I suppose you could say it’s an opportunity to go where no one else has gone before or at least “the road less traveled.” Others might claim it’s great exercise, communing with nature. I find it boring. 

We took the Sperry Trail at Glacier National Park yesterday with hopes of at least getting to Fish Lake. The 6.2 mile route to Sperry Chalet was just too far. It was built in 1913 by Great Northern Railway people – who else would have the funds or building access at 6,500 feet (the same altitude as Logan’s Pass at the Continental Divide). It’s of course closed now due to Covid -19. Given the opportunity, only true adventurers would want to pay the price for a night of no heat, lights, or water after the strenuous backwoods hike. It took us 45 minutes to go the first mile straight-up (about 1,000 feet of elevation), dodging road apples and rocks along the way. It was just starting to level off when we started back after seeing only a babbling brook, one deer, and 6 donkeys carrying supplies. Also, hiking with a mask just doesn’t seem right. 

It was a good exercise supplement to my 3.1 mile morning run. We followed it up with a picnic on the banks of Lake McDonald, a welcome break to rest our aching knees. It was a relief to get back to our air-conditioned hotel and soak in a hot bath. Dinner was in Whitefish about 10-miles away. My wife strolled through the western-themed downtown area at the base of Big Mountain, home of the “Hellroaring” Whitefish Ski Resort. The town of less than 7,000 residents was the boyhood home of Phil Jackson of NBA fame. The step-back-in-time Whitefish Lake Country Club was our dining choice, although nowhere near the lake. After a couple martinis, walleye, prime rib, chocolate tart, and a Pepcid chaser, we were feeling no pain. 

We’ll do it all again in our last full day at Glacier National Park. It looks like another beautiful, top-down day, with little to do but another hike and picnic. Everything is closed in the park – even many of the trash cans are locked. We’ll top off the evening with another great dinner in downtown Whitefish. Sadly, we’ve yet to see the stars come out. It stays light outside until past 11 p.m. and the sun rises at 6. We would love to see a dark Big Sky, but haven’t made it yet. Too much fresh air, exercise, and alcohol to stay up late for stargazing. Maybe we’ll take a midnight hike tonight? 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Going to the Sun #1397

This morning’s run in Columbia Falls, Montana was at 3,000 feet. It was tough going with little bounce to my step. In fact, I tripped over a root on a tree-lined asphalt pathway and fell on my side opposite the cell phone pocket, otherwise I might have broken something – probably the phone. After the traditional 3.1 miles I was ready to sit down and write. We now have all the modern conveniences, including internet and phone services. The air conditioning feels great and there are two TVs in our Cedar Creek Inn suite. We’re here for two more nights before heading back to Spokane

Yesterday, we tackled the 30-mile Going to the Sun road. My annual National Parks pass enabled us to skip the entry line and there was surprisingly little traffic on the mountain. From what I had read, I was expecting a major back-up and a slow funeral procession up to the top. Instead, it was smooth sailing up to Logan’s Pass. It was also not as intimidating as I had been told with at least a short rock wall separating us from the bottomless drop. The only hassle was when we got to the lot of the visitor’s center on top where everyone was trying to find a parking spot. Plus, the trail to Hidden Lake was closed because apparently a tourist had twisted an ankle and needed to be carried out. In the patches of snow above we could see a couple of bears frolicking and some big horn sheep. 

Today, we’ll stop by a nearby deli and pick up some picnic goods. There were several trail heads near Lake McDonald that deserve some exploration. I can’t put it off any longer – it’s time to commune with nature and build-up an appetite on a dusty path through the pine trees. Maybe we’ll see a moose?

Retirement is not without Hassles: Izaak Walton Inn #1396

HELP – we are in the wilderness – no phone service and limited internet. The Izaak Walton Inn is an old railroad depot with trains running by at all hours. Also, no TV in our room and a double bed, firsts for me in decades. It’s not a cool as I thought here in the mountains either, so a marginal air conditioning system made for a sticky, restless night. We even had to make a special request for a hair dryer. This morning was the first time I’ve ever run in Montana, day #4,230 of “The Streak,” after 3.1 miles at altitude. Sadly, I couldn’t even pick-up a radio signal. All in all, It was rustic lodging at almost the same price as our 1,000 sq. ft. luxury suite the night before.

The last few times I’ve been in the state was for skiing. That was over 25-years ago, so internet service and cellular phones were not a factor. I flew into Bozeman and took a shuttle to Big Sky Resort. With this in mind, yesterday was my first time behind the wheel on Montana roads. We came in from Spokane, with an Idaho Cracker Barrel stop along the winding way. The route was hilly and green, with numerous lakes and streams. We next hit a flat stretch of wheat fields before the anticipated Glacier pine forests. The temperature was still a surprising 89 degrees when we arrived in early evening. 

Dinner on the hotel patio was pricey for frozen trout, but we did get to taste huckleberry cobbler before heading back to Unit #1 that opened with an old-fashioned key on a plastic fob. It reminded me of a Holiday Inn back in the 1960s – long before electronic locks and key cards. We’re off to drive the Going to the Sun road and hopefully find a better hotel tonight near Whitefish. We’ll be ready for a good night’s rest and some modern conveniences. 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Spokane #1395

Welcome to Spokane, Washington, home of  the 1974 World’s Fair and where Father’s Day was established in 1910 at the local YMCA. We’re in a beautiful, spacious suite at the Historic Davenport Hotel, a reward for my loyalty to Marriott Rewards. It was a curvy yet boring three-hour drive from Walla Walla. There was nothing but golden brown wheat fields to see with only a patch or two of green along the way.  It was by far the most bland scenery I’ve ever witnessed, with only a hand full of cars and a few cows to break up the monotony. 

Once we got within 30-miles of Spokane, a forest of cedar trees led us into the big city. We’re 18-miles from Idaho and 92-miles south of the Canadian border. The “Lilac City,” settled by the Spokane tribe, meaning “Children of the Sun.” Near our hotel are two impressive historic theaters, The Fox and The Bing Crosby, formerly The Clemmer, built after the great fire of 1889. Between May and October of 1925, Bing was a regular performer. He went to school here at Gonzaga University, and claimed it as his home town. His family’s house now serves as a museum, including his Oscar as Father Chuck O’Malley in the 1944 movie Going My Way.

It’s expected to reach 100 degrees today as we head towards Glacier National Park. It was already seventy-five when I hit the streets this morning for day #4229 of the running streak. I’m glad to have spent a few minutes afterwards to learn a little more about the area. I was wrong thinking it was the state capital – forgive me Olympia. There was a time when I knew them all cold, but my memory continues to deteriorate. It was frustrating to listen to the oldies station on my 3.1 mile route, knowing all the songs but not remembering the artists. Next stop after Spokane: Glacier National Park.

Retirement is not without Hassles: Bananas Foster #1394

Last night’s meal at the Walla Walla Steakhouse ended on the perfect note. We enjoyed our favorite dessert – Bananas Foster. It’s an after dinner tradition that we started over 20-years ago at Brennan’s in New Orleans where the dish originated. It’s prepared table-side, but during the last three months of isolation there’s been no table service at all. Most of our out-of-home dining has been to-go, so Bananas Foster was a long awaited treat. 

Our last bites of Banana Foster were at Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa on New Year’s Eve. Little did we know at that time how much things would change in the world. In fact, we were a group of six last night that by social distancing laws had to be divided into two tables. The same was true with all our tasting sessions. It was odd having to rotate our seats so we could have an all-inclusive conversation. We have been planning this Walla-Walla get together for over two years now and finally made it despite the challenges.

My wife and I have a full day of Walla Walla tastings today before we head to Spokane. It’s our third day of the drive that will ultimately take us to Glacier National Park. This morning I ran past the sun and eight planets of our solar system on a path laid out in perspective to their actual distances apart. It was a little more than a mile from the sun to Neptune, just beyond Uranus (not mine, ha!). When I was in school, we were taught there were nine planets including Pluto – but that has changed, along with the number of people that can legally sit at a table. It was a good way to run-off some of the calories from the Bananas Foster. 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Walla-Walla Calla #1393

“Woke Up In Walla-Walla” should be a country song. I’m in a country music mood after choosing a local radio station for my run this morning – HANK-FM. The only problem is trying to find something that rhymes with Walla – maybe “can hear the vineyards calla?” We spent yesterday afternoon at Foundry Vineyards with a six-round tasting. We also brought in food from Andrea’s Kitchen, a misplaced award-winning New York City chef’s gas station restaurant. I had a Cuban sandwich and my wife enjoyed Carolina pulled pork with a delicious corn salad. It was a unique way to end the day.

It’s a beautiful drive into Walla-Walla, along the Columbia River Gorge. However, the winding highway is not necessarily a carefree jaunt. I found myself with both hands firmly on the wheel and reluctant to enjoy the views. The plush green forests turned into brown rocks as we approached the Washington state border, so a very stark contrast in beauty. I was glad to finally get on some flat, straight roads banked by corn and sweet onion fields. 

We walked the downtown streets before an early bedtime. It was a much more relaxing atmosphere than downtown Portland. There was little traffic noise or dog duties to keep me awake. I needed to get my rest for three separate tastings today and a big dinner at the Walla-Walla Steakhouse. Also, restrooms were few and far between, especially considering that most restaurants are open only for drive-thru. I had to get creative in one situation and paid $10 for the key in another case. 

We’re staying two nights at the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel. On our last visit we explored some of the history of the hotel and surrounding community (See Post #951). As I read these comments, it reminded me of the town motto, “a place so nice they had to name it twice.” We’ll get another taste of the countryside this afternoon, returning to two of the wineries we visited before, but this time with friends and no dogs. In two days, we’ll head to Spokane and stay at another historic property, The Davenport. In the meantime, Walla-Walla Calla. 

Retirement is not without Hassles: On The Go #1392

We’re finally on the GO after weeks of respecting stay-at-home measures. We’ll cover four states over a 10-day span traveling from Oregon into Montana. The bulk of the time will be spent in Glacier National Park, utilizing our lifetime Senior unlimited pass. I can remember video shot by my mom many years ago showing off the beauty of the area. My trips to Montana have solely been in and out of Big Sky for skiing.  Also as a child, my dad drove me over the state line from Yellowstone Park so I could add another state to our family adventure. I can remember seeing “purple mountains majesty” as professed in America The Beautiful

The temperatures are expected to reach 100 degrees while we’re gone. With this in mind, I expect things will heat up with the local protests. It will be good to be miles away from the storm, with conditions a bit cooler and more mellow. I’ll enjoy the fact that there’s no plane to catch or hectic schedule to maintain. We’ll hop from winery to winery and restaurant to restaurant along the way. The scenery along the way should also be inviting while we’re gratefully On The Go. 

We leave first thing this morning, giving me little time to work on this particular post. First stop will be in Walla-Walla, Washington at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, recreating portions of our visit from last summer. We’ll then spend a night at the historic Davenport Hotel in Spokane before the last leg to Glacier and The Izaak Walton and Cedar Creek lodges. Unfortunately, the virus will keep us out of Canada and our plans to stay at the Prince of Wales, but we’ll still have lots to see. We’re looking forward to these next 10 days in the wild, as opposed to being stuck in a downtown Portland apartment. Get Ready. Get Set. Go!

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