We recently embarked on our second family road trip—the first since our trip to California in 2011. The primary purpose of the trip was for my wife to attend the wedding of a growing-up-time friend, with secondary purposes of seeing other old friends and the attempt to convince me that Washington and Oregon were better, prettier places to live than Utah. I learned a few things on this trip:
- Even the older kids got sick of DuckTales the Movie after the youngest wanted to watch it several times.
- Our Kindle Fire HD is a godsend. The only downside is that we only had one to share among three children.
- The same city names are repeated in many states.
- Driving a long way is still not that fun, but we had no diapers to change this time. Huzzah many times!
Thursday, September 25
We headed out after the older kids got home from school, having planned our first night’s stop in Boise. Our daughter was under the impression that we would stop in Salt Lake City for dinner at the Olive Garden, and was a little dismayed when I told her that it wasn’t in the cards for that night. I told her we’d find some night during the trip, assuming there was an Olive Garden to be found somewhere in our various destinations. We ended up stopping at Del Taco in Ogden, which (Ogden) is closer to home than I thought, and the kids got some of their energy out in the play place. Afterward we continued on our way, pausing for gas outside of Twin Falls, and eventually stopping in Nampa, Idaho at a Shilo Inn. We, the parents, were both tired and cranky and determined to spend as little as possible on hotel rooms during the trip. After our first night, we decided that was a stupid policy. The beds were uncomfortable and the neighborhood a bit sketchy, but we were too tired to care by then.
Friday, September 26
The smell outside the hotel in the morning was quite unpleasant. We loaded up our van and found a nearby grocery store to buy some water and paper bowls and plastic spoons and milk, then found a park to sit in to eat some cereal and doughnuts. The kids had a good time at the playground for a bit, and then we headed back on the road. As we crossed the border into eastern Oregon, I began to humorously (and sarcastically) remark about how green Oregon definitely was compared to Utah, which caused much eye-rolling by my wife. We stopped in Baker City for gas and some lunch at Dairy Queen. Our older boy was pleased at the prospect of a hot dog, while our younger one ordered some chicken strips—something he ordered at every meal possible, since he’s such a picky eater (that we love, of course). The pairing of Dairy Queen and Orange Julius is a plus, as it meant I got to enjoy a Berry Pomegranate smoothie.
We continued along I-84 until it split off to head to Washington state. We stopped near the border for a bathroom break and then again at the Wild Horse Monument near the Columbia River, just off I-90. We took some pictures and enjoyed the beautiful view overlooking the Columbia River, and then continued on until we reached our destination of Wenatchee. As we drove the countryside became more and more beautiful, with lots and lots (and lots) of orchards. We found our hotel, a room in which the wedding party had generously offered us for two nights. It was a definite step up from the Idaho stop the previous night. We unloaded our baggage and set out for some foodstuffs. We ended up at the Olive Garden on the east side of the Columbia River, where we enjoyed a nice meal with a really nice server, at the end of which the elderly couple next to us unexpectedly picked up the check.
We left a tip for the server and then went to thank the couple, who told us we were raising a nice family, God had blessed them their whole lives and now they were happy to be able to share some of that with others. After we thanked them again, as we left the restaurant to get back in the van, I remarked to my wife, “I’m sure glad I opened the door for those guys.” I also need to remember to buy young people’s dinner when I’m old, assuming I retain some sort of non-crankiness. We headed back to the hotel for some sleep.
Saturday, September 27
This was the day of the wedding. We had some breakfast in the hotel room while the kids watched cartoons, and I was baffled at the cartoons these days. Eventually we left for Leavenworth, somewhere outside of which the wedding was to be held. We stopped for gas in a small town outside of Wenatchee, and I headed into a grocery store next door for a small jug of milk. I also found Dr. Pepper and Orange Crush flavored licorice, so of course I had to buy some of that, as well. The countryside continued to be very beautiful during the drive, and we stopped at one of many fruit stands to buy some local apples, peaches, and a pear.
Upon arriving in Leavenworth, we did not have the exact address of the lodge where the wedding was to take place, and my wife frenetically attempted to get in contact with someone who was in the know. Eventually we got it, several miles into the country outside of Leavenworth. We worried that we might be late, but we ended up early, as it turned out. After dropping my wife off for the festivities, I took the kids a few miles farther down the road to Wenatchee Lake State Park. We had some snacking in the back of the van with the tailgate open, including some of our recently acquired apples, chips, milk, bread, and licorice, and then set out for a little walk in the forest around the campground where we were parked.
Within just a few minutes we discovered a very large rock that the kids wanted to climb. I worry entirely too much, as I expect many parents do, and cautioned them many times to be careful. Of course I was the one that ended up getting hurt. I took a few pictures of the kids up on top of the rock, then climbed up myself to join them. The top had a few crevices, and my foot got caught in one for a moment and I lost my balance. Thinking I was about to fall, and in an effort not to take my youngest son, whose hand I was holding to steady him, with me, nor to drop my dad’s camera he had lent us, I ended up twisting my ankle and limping about somewhat painfully for the next few days. I was sad to cut the excursion short, because the kids were having a great time, but we had to head (slowly) back to the van and from there back to the lodge.
The wedding had ended and foodstuffs were now being enjoyed. The kids went in with their mother, and got to play with their cousins, who had also made the trip up from Utah, while I sat in the car, relaxing and playing on my phone. My wife brought out one of her friends to meet me and chat for a while, and eventually we packed everyone back into the van and headed back to Wenatchee.
The kids were dying to swim, and I hoped the hot tub would alleviate some of the pain in my ankle, so we spent some time at the hotel pool. Our family loves to go swimming, so we had a good time. Afterward, we still needed some dinner and ended up at Jack in the Box. The last time we had eaten at a JitB was on our California trip, which the kids didn’t remember, and I only remembered because of the chocolate milk that got spilled all over on that occasion. The children ordered breakfast items for dinner (well, the older two did; the youngest got chicken strips, of course) and raved about how wonderful it was and how we needed to eat there every day now. I got a chicken and rice bowl. When we ordered, one of the workers heard me and came up to the person taking our order and said, “No chicken bowls after 10!” It was 8:45. Must have been a long shift.
After dinner it was back to the hotel for bed. The kids asked for a little more cartoon watching, but Cartoon Network isn’t exactly kid-friendly at that hour.
Sunday, September 28
Sunday morning we left Wenatchee and headed for Seattle. We had a nice drive through some more beautiful country. We met up with an old friend of my wife’s and spent most of the day walking (and me limping) around a few blocks of the city.
After finding a parking place, the first stop was a small coffee shop for one of the boys to use the bathroom. Then we headed up to Pike Place, where we wandered a bit through the various fruit stands, taking pictures and buying a small carton of golden raspberries, which I’d never seen before and were very good. My daughter loves raspberries almost as much as, or possibly more than, me, and ate the majority of them. We had lunch at a little place called Three Girls Bakery, where the sandwiches were quite delicious. I had a turkey cranberry sandwich on some sort of heavenly wheat bread. I’m not sure what the others had because I was so focused on myself and my yummy sandwich. Actually, our daughter had tuna, the older son had ham and cheese, and the younger son had chips and then fell asleep on my lap.
After lunch we wandered more around Pike Place, including seeing some fish throwing and visiting a small shop that sold mostly small wind-up toys. There was also a quilting shop, outside of which sat a folding chair with a sign taped to it, declaring something along the lines of “Seat for bored husbands or other disinterested family members.” Should have gotten a picture of that one. We then stopped in a chocolate shop, one of which apparently is also in Provo, Utah, for some treats. The kids tried some candied apples while I had some rocky road ice cream. I’m convinced I got the better treat.
After some more wandering, we stopped at the same coffee shop as earlier for another bathroom stop, and the kids got some hot chocolate. There the following conversation took place:
Older son: “Dad, what if people think we’re drinking coffee? That would be crazy.”
Me: “You’re kids. I think they’ll know you’re drinking hot chocolate.”
Him: “But what if they think we’re tiny grown-ups?”
Me: “That’s a different problem, I guess.”
After the kids finished their hot chocolate we headed back to the van, where we said our goodbyes to my wife’s friend. We then drove to Tacoma, stopping on the way to eat at Jack in the Box again for dinner, but this time without the breakfast items. After dinner we drove the rest of the way to Tacoma and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. It was definitely the nicest room overall, for the mere fact that it had a pull-out sofa bed, so for one night we didn’t have to cram all three kids into one bed.
Monday, September 29
Monday morning began very dramatically. We got up early so that we could try and make the ferry to Vashon Island, where my wife spent some years of her childhood. I loaded up the van while the rest of the family went down to the breakfast area of the hotel for a quick bite. Our daughter had a minor meltdown that lasted for a good portion of the morning because she forgot her pear from Wenatchee in the hotel room fridge. We had already checked out and were running late for the ferry, so we left the pear, much (much) to her chagrin.
We missed the ferry by a few minutes, and tensions built as my wife was now unhappy. We decided to just wait for the next one, which was due in an hour or so, and so wandered through a nearby park. There were ducks swimming to look at (but not feed, by threat of fine, apparently) and some botanical gardens. We spent too long taking pictures of flowers and so missed the next ferry as well.
By this time it was too late to wait for another ferry and still make our lunch appointment with another friend of my wife’s, so we just drove around, killing time for a bit. We arrived at the restaurant where we were to eat a little early (and it was in the same parking lot as the Jack in the Box we’d eaten at the night before), so we took the kids into a nearby GameStop to keep them entertained for a few minutes. We walked out 20 minutes later with Pokemon cards and mystery Mario and Link figures. (The Mario series figure turned out to be Donkey Kong.)
Lunch was at a place called Round Table Pizza, which is apparently a chain, as we saw a few others on the drive, though I’m not sure if it was a local chain or not (and I’m too lazy to look it up). It’s a buffet-style place with a pizza bar and salad bar. I settled on just salad, while the kids enjoyed both. After lunch we got back on the road, heading for Portland for yet another friend meet-up. We stopped for gas somewhere along the way.
Upon arrival in Portland our first stop was Voodoo Doughnuts, which is apparently famous, I guess. We met my wife’s next friend there and enjoyed some baked goods. Being a man of simple taste, I got a plain maple bar. The two older kids decided that a doughnut with bubble gum flavored frosting was the way to go, while the youngest wanted a chocolate frosted one. The doughnuts were all a good deal larger than the ones we normally get at the grocery store, and my young son stared wide-eyed at his when he got it, exclaiming happily, “Is all that for me?!”
After doughnuts we visited Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland, which is a very large, very cool bookstore. I would have had more fun, but I was feeling very grumpy from my ankle still hurting and so the wonder was a bit lost on me. I’d like to go back another time. We then had dinner at Noodles & Company and tried to find our way back to the freeway (which took a while). We ended up staying the night in Salem at the La Quinta Inn.
Tuesday, September 30
The wife and kids grabbed some breakfast in the hotel and we packed up our things and headed out. We decided to head for the ocean so the kids could see it; the last time was when all but the oldest were too young to remember. Our other objective for the day was to see a covered bridge, of which there are apparently many in Oregon.
We stopped at an A&W restaurant south of Albany, just off of I-5, for lunch. It’s hard to beat their root beer. After food we headed west until we hit Corvallis, then turned south for a ways until turning west on state road 126 toward Florence. We queried Google Maps for the nearest covered bridge, and it told us there was one about a mile off of 126. When we reached the turn-off point, we were greeted first by a sign that said, “Gate 1000 ft.” After reaching the gate another sign declared, “End county maintenance.” That sounded ominous.
We found ourselves on a narrow dirt road that we followed for a little more than a mile with no sign of the bridge. As we drove a bit farther we saw a pickup truck coming from the other direction. We waved the driver down and met an older couple with a dog. We asked if we were anywhere near this supposed covered bridge, and the man said that it was another mile or so down the small road, where we then had to drive through it and end up back on 126. We thanked the couple and kept driving, and sure enough, we made it to the bridge, which went over the Siuslaw River. It seemed where we stopped was a day-use recreational area, so we let the kids out of the car for a bit and they had a great time on the river back running around and throwing rocks in the water.
The older couple showed up again and started chatting with us, telling us that the small road we had driven on was part of the old stage coach road, and a little about the surrounding geography. Eventually we got the kids back in the car and started west again. We drove through the covered bridge and wouldn’t you know it, it was literally right off the main road. Google had led us the unnecessarily long way around, but at least we got some nice scenery and conversation and river play out of it.
Speaking of scenery, it was gorgeous all along the main road. There were many, many green trees, which delighted my wife to no end.
When we arrived in Florence we stopped at an auto parts store for some glass wipes to clean the inside of the van windows. We were mistakenly sold standard cleaning wipes instead, which needless to say, do not work well on glass. There was a Fred Meyer in the same parking lot and we stopped in there for a minute to get some actual glass wipes, plus another jug of water. We then stopped for gas, where I learned that you do not get to pump your own gas in Oregon (or New Jersey, apparently).
We headed north up highway 101, having earlier hoped to stop at the Sea Lion Caves, but by this time they were almost closed, so we opted just for a beach visit. We found a wonderful little beach just a bit north of the Sea Lion Caves, right before the Heceta Head Lighthouse. The kids were delighted to get out and play in the sand and shallow surf, and explore the small caves. I found it quite peaceful, staring out into the ocean and watching the waves crash against the rocks as the sun was coming down. As the tide was coming in, we didn’t get to stay as long as the kids would have liked, but they still had a lot of fun. We also got a lot of sand on us, and so it was lucky I had bought the water jug earlier so we could use it so clean our hands and feet somewhat.
Once the sun was almost down we began our trip back east, intending to stay in Eugene for the night. When we eventually got there it was quite late for anything decent to be open, food-wise, so we stopped at a Carl’s Jr. to get some food for the kids and then went on to a hotel, with my intent being to hopefully find us parents some better food after settling in. We stayed at another La Quinta Inn, and after getting everyone into the room queried Google for some decent food that would be available so late in the evening. Alas, all I could locate was a Subway.
It was easy enough to find the Subway, following Google Maps, but due to the many one-way streets I got quite turned around on the way back to the hotel, including missing the turn to the road the hotel was on, which required taking another five or ten minute detour to get back to where I was. I grew quite frustrated and even accidentally ran a red light when turning left. Finally I made it back, we had our sandwiches, and then went to sleep.
Wednesday, October 1
This was to be our last (very long) day of our trip, as it was our intent to make it all the way back to Utah. Rather than driving back eastward from Eugene till we got to Idaho and return the way we came up, we opted to drive down to Grant’s Pass, across the bottom of Oregon, and down through Nevada along I-80. This turned out to be more interesting than we expected.
It took a couple of hours to get to Grant’s Pass, where we stopped for lunch at Dairy Queen. The older two children got some sort of ice freeze drink with their meals, but the youngest was insistent on a smoothie—that is, of course, until he saw what the others got. I went up to get him his own, digging through my pocket for change to pay the sales tax on $1.99, when the cashier told me the total was $1.99. Praise Oregon’s lack of sales tax, at least for that moment.
After lunch we filled up the gas tank and began our journey eastward. We noted that, at least this year, southern Oregon seemed to be quite a bit dryer than the northern part of the state, and thus “browner,” which is to say much greener than Utah. We eventually stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break and to get some water bottles for everyone. My wife and I each independently noticed that the gas tank was about half full, and thought maybe it should be filled, but there would be another place to fill up soon enough. We neglected to mention our thoughts to the other, and regretted it later, but had we filled up then, we wouldn’t have had our next experience, which was almost running out of gas in the middle of nowhere.
As we travelled east, Oregon began to look more and more like Nevada. We stopped a couple of times to take pictures of the sun setting in the vaguely mountainous desert, because it was pretty. The fuel gauge was starting to get pretty low, but signs assured us that a town called Denio was close enough to make it to without running out of gas.
We reached Denio to discover that it was devoid of gas and we were definitely not going to make it 80 more miles to Winnemucca. Our phones’ data coverage was pretty spotty, so I ended up calling 911 and spoke to the County Sheriff’s Department, asking where the nearest gas was. We were informed that Winnemucca was the closest. Of course I had gone about five miles in the other direction of Winnemucca to get to Denio in the first place, so there was that plus 5 miles back that I had wasted.
I decided to drive as easily as I could, hoping to get as close to a gas station as possible before being required to walk, and hoping that any gas station I walked to was open so I could buy a gas can in which to store the gas. The other option as presented by the Sheriff’s Department was to call a towing service and request they bring some gas out, which would probably be not cheap. I started driving 55 mph, hoping to make the fuel last as long as possible. Further querying of Google indicated that there was a gas station about 75 miles from our current position.
We crept along for what felt like forever, and about 15 miles before we were supposed to hit the alleged gas station the fuel warning light came on. I figured we had another couple of miles and then I would be walking at least part of the way. But lo and behold, we made it to the station with 0.3 gallons to spare. I pulled up to the pump, shut off the car, and got out, only to be dismayed at the sign: pump shut off. I checked the next nearest and it, too, said it was shut off. Losing hope, I walked over to the next one. No sign! Getting back into the car, I turned the key, hoping there was enough gas left to drive over to the next pump. There was.
We paid $3.99/gallon, then continued on our way. About 20 minutes later we pulled into Winnemucca, where there were of course more gas stations, and of course they were charging $0.60 less per gallon. But I digress. It was late enough by this point that there were very few food options left to us. We stopped at a travel stop for bathroom breaks and to decide on food. We ended up at… Jack in the Box. The kids settled in for food and a last movie on the van DVD player before we told them to go to sleep. I also slept after eating for an hour or two, until waking up some time before reaching Wendover.
We stopped for gas in Wendover, having learned not to leave that sort of thing to chance, and then I took over for the remaining drive home. We finally got back home just before 6 a.m. Luckily the kids were still tired, having only slept a couple of hours, so we got them into bed, carried the luggage into the house, and dropped into bed ourselves. Thus ended our family vacation.