Road Trip Part 4: Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado…


Sunday September 2:
I left Spokane before my hosts had woken up. I left them a note and a book as a donation to their English seforim library. I had brought along a few seforim to learn from on my trip, one of them was a book called Chassidic Masters by Aryeh Kaplan. I felt that it was an interesting relatively cheap book that could give its users valuable insight into who the founders of the Chassidic movement were. Since many of the folks visiting chabad of Spokane were likely to hear about the Baal Shem Tov and Alter Rebbe on many occasions I felt it useful for them to be able to read about their lives and some of their more famous philosophies. I grabbed some leftover cake and made my way quietly out the door.

I felt kind of sad to leave such nice people who had provided me with an awesome shabbos experience, but I was also excited because the last time I was in Washington was about 5 years ago and I didn’t stay long or see much. My first time in Washington was spent driving through to British Columbia, we did spend time at Mt. St. Helens and a shabbos in Seattle, but I wouldn’t say I saw much. Things were going to change, I thought to myself as I jumped off the interstate at a sign that said Grand Coulee Dam.

I love engineering feats especially dams and bridges, I always take a detour in order that I can check out a dam and may even take a tour if offered. The Grand Coulee Dam would be impressive to most, but to me, it just didn’t work out. I quickly left disappointed and headed towards the Cascades, I guess the Hoover Dam is so huge that everything fails in comparison to that. I would love to see the Three Gorges Dam in China if I had the chance. I have been to the Hoover Dam 3 or 4 times and each time is exactly the same, holy crap its enormous.

Spokane is in the desert and contrary to my ignorant east coast beliefs it does not always rain in Washington, in fact over half the state is desert. For about the first 200 miles or so, until you reach the Cascades, it is bright sunny and dry, I have no idea if the political tendencies of the state are due to weather, but it seems that the wetter and greener it gets the more left wing it gets. Until you hit the rain forests of Olympic and then it reverts back to radical right wingism.

Washington is full of fruit farms as well, not only Apples but all kinds and like New York they have a pretty large wine industry. I passed by huge crates stacked very high waiting to be filled by illegal immigrant fruit pickers. I pulled off the road and went to a fruit stand and bought two huge white peaches. I immediately ate the first one, upon the first bite I realized what treasure I held in my hands. Those peaches were the best peaches I had ever had, boy am I glad I made a bracha.

Washington is also similar to New York in that you can sense a certain location where the influence of the large coastal cities is felt. In New York a similar thing happens around Ulster and Dutchesss counties, these are the two counties furthest away from the NYC that still have much of its mannerisms. Like so in Washington, the instant I passed out of the desert and into the Cascades I could feel the pull of city people, it may have been the way they drove or the fact that I had just been stopped in traffic for the tourist town of Winthrop, but I felt it instantly and I didn’t like it one bit.

While driving through this canyon of towering cliffs that rose 2000 feet, and pondering all the traffic, I remembered that it was Labor Day weekend and that is why there was so much traffic. It seemed like every car was loaded with some sort of roof rack 75% with bikes and the rest with kayaks. Multitudes of cyclists hogged the shoulders and suddenly the traffic ceased and I found myself gazing up at the greenest lush slopes I had ever seen, then I saw two towering triangle peaks with snow on them and waterfalls cascading all over and I had entered the Cascades. I stopped for a few pictures and tried to find a hike to get me farther into the mountains. I came around a switchback and saw a bunch of cars parked on the shoulder by a trail head parking lot. I really didn’t feel like hiking with people, I turned around 5 minutes later thinking that on Labor Day weekend everything is crowded and this trail must be short and nice if it’s so crowded.

Blue Lake was the name of the trail and after 2.5 miles and 1000 feet of elevation gain I realized why. I passed through lush forests with huge old growth cedars and then small meandering streams, and finally a few scattered wildflower meadows, until I reached Blue Lake. Blue Lake was beautiful, it was this glacial fed lake that was bluish-green and had huge rock piles rising thousands of feet out of it. Snowcapped mountains towered beyond those and at the bases of everything was green, green grass meadows interlaced with flowers, truly breathtaking, if not for the scores of people that were disturbing the peace. I sat and marveled the lake for a bit before heading back down.

I then continued my tour of the Cascades and started looking for a free campsite, which I would learn is nearly impossible in popular national parks. The Cascades are a beautiful mountain range, they are very jagged and require climbing skills and ice gear to ascend them. They are also incredibly green, and they are filled with lush rainforests on the western side. Multiple unnamed waterfalls cascade down from the cliffs, and there are some huge glacial lakes that give the park a feel like that of Banff or Glacier.

My knees hurt for some reason so I opted to find a campsite rather then find an evening hike. The canyon or valley I was driving through is called the Skagit River Valley and it is interlaced with dams, old depression era dams that are beautiful to me for some reason. I took many pictures, I then found a free campsite, really a pull off that would do and took my bike for a ride up the canyon on the shoulder of the main road.

As I was riding up the shoulder I came to a tunnel, there was a button I could push to make some lights flash to warn drivers or cyclists in the tunnel, I have seen this feature on the Pacific Coast Highway in Oregon as well, it is such a west coast thing to do. Well the lights in the tunnel were non existent and half way through it became pitch black with a small window of light coming from either end, scarred the hell out of me, because I couldn’t see anywhere but straight. Luckily no cars came in, on the way back however, it was worse due to the fading light and clouding up of the skies.

In the general store I was told by the locals that they smelled rain, something that folks in western Washington can do, so I opted out of my campsite which was without a tent. This is why having just a backpacking tend stinks, because mine is not free standing and I need to stake it, I cannot just set it up on pavement, and therefore need relatively soft ground, hence my having to pay for a campsite this night.

I let it b e known that $12 to set up a tent was piracy, to the national park ranger manning the site, she was kind of cute actually and if I knew how I would have hit on her, and tried to get her back to my 2 person tent which could barely fit me. So far this is the only time I have paid to sleep on the trip, I try to do it all for free, and when I resign myself to try and find a hotel I only sleep in one if I am sick or its under 30 bucks.

The Campsite was crowded with weekend campers, it was a white trash/redneck festival. Big dually tire trucks with campers on the back, folks sat at their campfires drinking bear and talking loudly, my neighbors had their truck radio tuned to the local country station until 9:30 at night. I hate to say it, but that was the best night of sleep I had so far, even though the money thing bugged me.

Monday September 3:

I woke up refreshed and decided to go do another hike in the Cascades, I drove up the road a bit and made sure the hike was through some rainforests. I chose a lake once again and this time hiked the Pyramid Lake Trail which was 1500 feet of elevation gain in 2.1 miles, not very long at all, considering any decent hike into anything in New York costs at least 5 miles each way.

I got my rain forests all right, tons of them and they were beautiful. I hiked past huge trees covered in moss with all sorts of bugs buzzing about the air, it hadn’t rained the previous night but it felt like it due to the humidity and dampness in everything, it was a rain forest though. I hiked past some little streams that made the area even more green and then I reached the lake which was tiny, but perfectly clear with a great reflection of snowcapped pyramid peak in the back round. Most of the other folks on the trail had seemed disappointed with the hike, I however liked the forests so much I hadn’t even cared the lake was more like a puddle.

I hiked back down and started heading west toward the coast, I still hadn’t made up my mind weather to go to Seattle, Vancouver or Victoria. I didn’t even feel like being in a city, but my stomach pleaded with me for its sake. I decided going through the border on a holiday weekend would suck so I stayed clear and decided to head out over the coastal area. I stayed on Route 20 west until I hit the Port Townsend ferry, which was $22 due to my bikes on the roof, I removed them an d threw them in my wagon, instantly I saved $11. I waited for the ferry and marveled at the coastline and birds flying all around.

The weather had changed as I went west, it went from partly sunny to dense grey clouds that threatened rain at any time. I also noticed that there appeared to be an espresso stand at every possible place they could place one, the common joke in New York that there is a Starbucks on every corner does not compare to the amount of espresso western Washington must drink. There were all these mini drive through ones that stood like a newsstand would look like in New York.

I sat on the ferry and donned my windproof fleece, well worth it since it got real windy and called. I talked some guy on the boat about the weather and realized that it would be gray like this almost the whole time I stayed here in the west. The ferry went to Port Townsend which was a wealthy, trendy coastal resort type town with a beautiful refurbished historic district and nice stores. I walked around a bit and took some photos of the stores. I then continued up the coast and eventually to Olympic National Park where I would spend the night.

The traffic was heavy as I drover past a bunch of state parks, I was driving over this bay and I saw something I had not seen in a few thousand miles. I saw frummies, that’s right a woman in a sheitle and a man with the baseball cap walking across the bridge.

I then drove towards Port Angeles and scrapped the idea of going to Victoria alone, I think the town would be enjoyed with someone better then solo. I kept onward until it was nighttime and found pull off near Olympic, I set up my tent and hopped in as it began to mist and drizzle, my sleep sucked for some reason and I just lay awake, waiting for morning as it rained steadily.

Tuesday, September 4:

I woke up in the rain and immediately rolled my tent up and hopped in my car, it wasn’t too cold, just a depressing rain and gray that seemed to hang over everything. I drove passed very large moss covered trees. I drove all the way to the coast which would have been enjoyed if not for the weather, I just kept going making a few small stops, I had to get out of the weather, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was actually getting depressed by the weather, I understood the need for all those espresso stands, the weather made me very dreary and tired. I stopped at the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic, marveled at this huge freakin Cedar Tree that kind of reminded me of Sequioa National Park and its huge trees and then I left the coast, I headed due east to try and get out of the weather.

Once I hit Seattle suburbs I knew I couldn’t step foot in the city, there is something to be said about hanging out alone in rural areas. It does something to your soul, I couldn’t stand to see malls and shopping plazas, the traffic got to me, I ran as fast as I could to get back to the woods. I rarely visit cities on trips, I find most cities to be the same, full of similar stuff and similar people. Seen one you’ve seen them all. With few exceptions, notably New York, New Orleans and San Francisco, I don’t take an interest in most cities for a vacation at least, if I have to go for shabbos, fine. I would be in Boise this coming shabbos, because I needed a place to stay.

I drove towards Mount Rainier, as I drove east the weather began to clear it brightened up and stopped misting. The clouds broke up and glimpses of blue and sun could be seen. It wasn’t quite sunny, but it was trying. I stopped in a bike shop and asked if he knew of any trails, he pointed me up the road about 25 miles to forest service road 73. I really didn’t feel like riding, just sleeping, but I knew it would cheer me up.

To say it cheered me up would be an understatement, to say that it was some of the coolest riding I have ever done and was super fun and I got ride through old growth rain forests by a rushing river of gray water would be much better. Not only did it get me out of my funk, it brought me to new levels of riding experiences. I passed under and next to towering trees, around massive stumps and watched the mysterious river that was gray. I also met up with two riders and chatted with them for a bit, one of whom was from Madison, Wisconsin. The trails name was Skokum Flats and apparently it has been written up by mountain bike magazines and is one of the more famous places in Washington to ride.

One of the riders recommended a free campsite and some more trails to ride. I hopped on over to the free campsite which was real freaky because it was back in the woods and there were these 200 foot high trees blocking all the moonlight out. I set up my tent then read a book for a bit. I had a great nights sleep and felt very refreshed the next day, ready to ride some more of the surrounding national forests.

Wednesday, September 5:

I woke up from a great sleep to find that the sun was out full blast, I thought about it for a bit and realized that this was the first time I had seen the sun in 3 days. I was overjoyed and after a breakfast of a couple of protein bars I set out to find some more trails. I rode the one the two guys from yesterday had recommended and after a couple miles it ended, I was frustrated and couldn’t find another trail so I rode back and hopped on the same one from last night. It was awesome, even though it was the same trail.

I then started droving towards Mt Rainier, which from the distance I was at appeared to be no more then a monstrous block of ice reflecting the sun to the extreme making it glare in every direction. After paying 15 bucks and being told that the old national parks passes which let you into all the parks for $50 a year were not made anymore I began the ascent up the road to the mountain.

The scenery changed from low lying old growth forest to tundra and alpine meadows, it was a beautiful transition until I reached a point where the mountain and all of its glory was in full view. One should remember that unlike Colorado which contains multitudes of fourteeners(14,000 foot mountains) Washington has only one, and this one is surrounded by tons of mountains that are much shorter making it appear freakin huge. Well it is huge, and it contains tons of glaciers as well, which give it this very powerfull allure of mountaineers and other extreme folks.

The road to the main viewing point is called Sunrise, and at the top you are greeted by wildflower meadows and grassy slopes leading up to rock and eventually ice. Many hikes lead off from this area and with no time wasted I picked one and was off. Unlike the east coast, one need not hike to far to achieve what they want, solitude and scenery. In the east coast you must hike at least a couple hours for this. I merely hiked 10 minutes and was atop this long ridge that gave me commanding views of the glaciers and rocky crags that surrounded this huge edifice. I hiked all in all about 6 miles to this fire tower overlooking a huge valley. I passed by a couple of very clear blue lakes and most of the time stared at the mountains with awe, and marveled in the smooth grassy meadows that surrounded everything giving it an almost gentle feel to it all.

After getting back down I munched on a can of rice and beans and my buddy a shot glass, I have no idea what the allure to collecting shot glasses is, but he wants them and Ill get them for him. I decided to continue east, so as not to leave so much driving for erev shabbos.

While driving away from the mountain I discovered this beautiful mountain lake that made for some very nice pictures with the mountain in the back round. I then continued downhill and was amazed at the geographical change that took place almost instantly after going over the pass.

I had come from snow capped mountains, rain forests and meadows, and was greeted on the opposite side by bone dry desert. Sage brush and dead trees dotted the sandy hills and tumbleweeds blew across the road. It was a stark contrast, as I drove futher it got amazingly flat and the land resembled more like something of the southwest then Washington. I drove past Hanford Reach, which is this preserve of 200,000 acres of desert with low lying hills rising from the flat as an ironing board desert. I decided to camp here beneath the clear skies. I found a sandy pull off and threw down my pad and bag, I then sat awake for some time listening to the howling coyotes and gazing at the amazing display of stars that was to be my blanket for the night.

Thursday, September 6:

Sleep was decent and a awoke to a blazing sun and clear skies. I drove on east slowly in no particular rush and marveled at the difference of the land between what I had seen a few days ago and not too miles before. It was desert with all its glory, dusty forgotten towns no speed limits and windmills giving life to the land.

I entered Pullman Washington and went to the library to use the internet. The town was relatively active and trendy and I realized that a university was there real quick. After I was finished I drove over to Moscow, Idaho which was home to the University of Idaho. I stopped into a bike shop and chatted with the guys there. Bike shops are funny places, when its not crowded you can literally chill for hours just shooting the shit and talking about bikes, bike parts, riding and stories. I got some directions for the best trails in the area and headed over to Moscow Mountain.

I was real tired and didn’t feel like riding, but I figured how often do I get to ride in Idaho, so I mounted my bike and began the long ride uphill through some high desert forest mountains to get to the trails. I finally found some sandy single track and began to ride up some more. There were many lumps and jumps and even some log rides so I looked forward to blasting down after riding up. I rode for over an hour uphill and started some slight downhills. It was pretty scenery so I didn’t mind my burning legs and sweat drenched helmet. The I stopped for a traditional chill and headed back, screaming down the hill and jumping after little lip in sight.

After getting my bike back on my roof, I headed south on US highway 95 which would take me to Boise. I reached the edge of one of the most amazing valleys I had ever seen and dropped into the Snake River basin where Lewiston Idaho was located. The west is interesting because unlike the east, any town with over 10,000 people is huge. Lewiston is one of the largest towns in Idaho with only 35,000 souls. I also stopped into this bike shop which said sale and chatted with the very friendly guy in there. He said there were 4 bikes hops in town.

I then drove through this beautiful canyon along this rushing river which had many fly fisherman in waders standing mid river. The canyon was very cool and in many places white sandy beaches were the norm. I found a beautiful place to camp a long a fast section of the river, the sun was just starting to go down so I walked a bit down the river and sat on a flat rock with a good book, life is good. Sleep was real good, and the stars were real nice as well.

Friday, September 7:

I love Fridays on road trips, no matter how crappy the day is, I can always hope for a bed and a warm meal. I drove into McCall, which had money according to the bike shop guy in Lewiston and he was right. I also took his advice and turned down Warren Wagon rd to find his trail which he said was great. I stopped a fellow mountain biker and asked her where the trail was, she handed me her book and after a quick glance some friendly bike chat I was off down what was one of the nicest roads I have been on in a while. A huge lake was on my right and complete with its sandy beaches and mountains in the foreground made for some nice driving. The speed limit was 45 and it was one of those roads that was real fun in third gear.

The lake ended and in its place was a winding river with beautiful shores and tall pine sticking out of the white sand that seemed to be everywhere. I came to a sign that said the road was closed ahead due to fire; I kept driving until the end and turned around. The mountains all around me were scarred from forest fire having stunted blackened trees all around made it quite eerie, but beautiful at the same time.

I turned around and started making my way towards Boise, when I got into town which was pretty big, I had heard around 300,000 in he city itself, I went downtown to wander a bit before going to the chabad there. The Rabbi called me and gave me directions he seemed pretty friendly, always a good thing. Downtown Boise was very nice, they had some tallish buildings and some trendy shops, I stopped into a thrift shop and looked at their books. Then I drove to the chabad, as I was driving I saw four black kids, the first I had seen in weeks.

The chabad family lives in one of these culdesac style developments with nice names which probably signify everything they killed in order to put this house in the desert with lakes near it. I parked outside and went in with the flowers I had gotten them. I met the Rabbis wife who was very friendly and she offered me some food, to which I readily accepted. She told me that they had a whole crew staying with them. There was one guy on business from Detroit and 4 Israeli kids road tripping around the west. I met them all and they made it an interesting weekend.

The food was amazing, this Rabbi Lifshitz originally from Cincinnati really knows how to cook, especially make dips. He had a whole bunch of homemade dips. Pesto, curry, tomato, pickle, and olive paste, also some charrif I didn’t bother with. The shortage of challah created problems but all was heeled when the main course of fried chicken, sweet potato kugel and luction kugel was brought out to my drooling self.

I noticed that out of the 4 Israelis, the only one who actually ate anything was the girl Adi, who was with them. Of course me the tactless one had to say something, first of all I thought she was kind of cool so I figured she could take what I was going to say and second I thought it was a compliment. I said “man I like a woman who knows how to eat” and she was really eating up a storm, even dropped her knife on the floor. I am also a violent eater when I am hungry. Her 3 partners in crime were barely making headway on the chicken, while she had a whole plate of food going into her stomach. My roommate for the weekend made a comment like, that sure aint a way to compliment a girl.

Motzoi shabbos I watched the movie Shooter with my roommate and then we went to the 1:30 in the morning slichos with the rabbi. The four Israelis left for Reno and we went back to go to sleep.

Sunday, September 9:

I awoke the next morning from a deep stupor from the smells of pancakes being fried up downstairs. I quickly davened and then chowed down on some great pancakes and listened to Avraham Frieds Yiddish classics, very good music by the way. I then bid my farewells to a very nice family and promised I would be back on some of my travels. I began to drive towards Utah, about a hundred miles in to the drive I decided I hadn’t gotten enough sleep and just began to get more miserable as the day wore on, I just hit cruise control and tried to lose myself in the music, I crossed state lines and began to plan out my route into Colorado.

I got off the highway and went through Provo Utah which is a very fancy town, I then hopped on US highway 40 which ended in this traffic jam which signaled me to turn around and find another way. I was tired, and wanted to go to sleep. I decided to go towards Moab, where I would ride the most famous mountain biking town in America the next day, maybe that would cheer me up. I drove towards Price, and ended up finding a nice slab to sleep on by a closed weigh station.

Monday, September 10:

Its surprising what a great nights sleep can do to someone. I woke up in a great mood and was excited to be in Utah, which is still one of my favorite states. I have spent much time in Utah and know it pretty way. I made my way to Moab and once again like always was dumbfounded at the beauty of the slick red rock that surrounds the area. I chose a trail called Gemini Bridges and began the ascent up a red earthed road, that was made for jeeps, ATV’s and mountain bikers. The thing about Moab is that there is really no single track, but hundreds of jeep roads which provide very technical riding and great views.

This was my first time in Moab that it was under a hundred degrees, in fact it was just 84. I have been in Moab 4 other times and every time I have suffered through the ride. Last time was a couple years back when I rode the famed Porcupine Rim Trail, basically a 10 mile downhill after a shorter uphill ride. I went through a hundred ounces of water and ran out, but I needed more and almost fainted, when I hit the Moab Spring where everyone fills up on ice cold mountain water that comes from a faucet out of the rock.

The trail I chose was very sandy in places but the views were like no other. I haven’t been around here for a couple years and every time I cheer for more. I love the southwest, only problem is the heat, the lack of rain and cool nights are great for open camping, but the days are sweltering, always causing issues. I walked around to the multiple bike shops in Moab looking for deals and began the long haul into Denver. I drove into Colorado and the temperature dipped. I once again was amazed to find I hadn’t gotten sick of mountains and the huge ones in Colorado are awesome. I ended up camping at this picnic area outside of Gunnison which had no sign banning overnight camping like most do. In fact there was this slab of concrete next to a picnic table which was flat and comfy. Once again I had a great night sleep.

Tuesday, September 11:

I woke up from my sleep and gathered my things, I was going to Denver today, I was going to eat some restaurant food and get to see my best friend. It was real cold out and after putting on pants and a sweatshirt and davening I began the drive. I would take my time but I wanted to get to Denver and it was a bit cold out for riding.

I drove to the town of Salida and wandered around the historic district. I went to the used book store and bought some great stuff, I love the used bookstores in the west, because people tend to read the adventure books a lot, and those are my favorites. I then hit the road and went towards Leadville, the highest city in America at over 10,000 feet above seal level. Once again I went into a thrift shop and found a great book to add to my collection. I already read 3 books on this trip and had plenty of more reading to do when I got back home. I like the bumper sticker that says “fight prime time read a book.” That should be my motto with my anti television stance.

I drove down towards Denver and slowly started seeing thicker traffic and more luxury cars then I had seen since Chicago. I drove past signs that said “Truckers its not over yet 6 more miles of sharp curves and steep grades”, it was weird seeing those signs. I drove out of the mountains and into the vast valley known as Denver, a huge western city on the straddling the end of the Great Plains and the beginning of the Rockies.

I followed my directions and wound up at the East Side Kosher Deli on Elm street on the east side of Denver. I had stayed in Denver once for shabbos several years back on the west side which is the yeshivish side and the ghetto side. This time I would be hanging out with one of my best buds who just moved here and lives on the east side, the nicer side apparently. I sat down in back of the deli at a nice table and ordered some ribs and savored every bit of them. I then went out back and made a few phone calls and waited for my buddy to show up. When he showed up I ended up eating a second meal consisting of a pastrami and corned beef sandwich. Oh and by the way while I was eating my first meal I heard a Jewish version of the Ghostbusters song- pretty crazy eh.

So I guess this is the end of my road trip even though I am in Denver for Rosh Hashanah and still have about 1800 miles to drive back to where I live. Fact is I have to be at work next week and I usually drive very fast back. Since it is Tzom Gedalia on Sunday I may just end up leaving Saturday night and pulling an all nighter through Kansas and Missouri.

I want to thank everyone for reading along and living vicariously through me. Now that I have a digital camera I may be able to document more of my adventures which tend to happen every day, with you.