We arrived in San Francisco that afternoon, and were exhausted. I had searched for a good campground area to stay near town and found one about 20 miles out. We set up the tent and got “cozy” with our neighbors. They were a young, ‘hipster’ couple who had made an awesome stew for dinner. As tired as we were from this long drive, we didn’t have it in us to cook at all that evening. This was excellent stew, with beans and beef, if I recall, and we were beat after a good meal and putting up our accommodations for the evening
We had some plans for our time in San Francisco, though most of them involved seeing landmarks and trying some of the more famous local “bistros” and cafes around. The next morning we were up bright and early, even before the sun was peaking through our tent, and were packing up to spend the day in town. I think I’d gotten way too used to waking up at this time of the day. It was starting to become second nature now.
A Golden Gate Kind of Morning
As many people who have tried to get a view of the Golden Gate Bridge on a summer morning are aware, you cannot see it through the fog. We mistakenly didn’t really think this through when heading to the Presidio (the forested area on the side away from the bridge). Once we arrived, we were greeted by a pretty lousy view of a fog covered bay. This can be beautiful in itself, as the supports were jutting out from the fog rolling over the bay that morning. Yet, we wanted to see more of the area in the sunlight once the fog had dissipated, so we decided to park and take a break near the pavilion in the Presidio for awhile.
I sat and read a book on a bench while my boyfriend biked around the park area some. By about 8:30am, however, the fog had gone and we were able to capture some great pictures and see the amazing view of the bay. This really is a great area to visit and it’s awesome San Francisco has preserved the Presidio and kept it from being developed. It’s a beautiful location for a park and adds a ton to the city’s charms.
Exploring the City and Its Quaint Charms
There’s a lot to do in San Francisco, whether you want to see the “Full House” house, or want to take a trolley up the winding streets to find a quaint cafe to sit and stare into the bay. You could spend days just enjoying the many parts of the city and what it has to offer.
We stopped at a cafe in the historic district after hanging out at the Presidio for awhile, and had some “specialty” coffees, which ran upwards of $7 each!. Well worth it however, even after our money was getting stretched by the trip we were on. Afterwards we took a trolley up to the museum to see an exhibit I had heard about being in town, Monet. It was excellent, had a lot of paintings I hadn’t seen before even when I was in France as this was the travelling collection of his in the New York Museum of Art.
We didn’t have a ton of plans after this, so we decided to hang out in some of the local areas throughout the day. There is a whole lot of different places, shops, boutiques in San Fran to explore, and we decided to spend the afternoon there. Tomorrow we were going to head off to Yosemite and see the national park, likely camping there for the night.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on our first day in Portland with quite a leisurely pace enjoying what the city had to offer. This was a small city, relative to attractions, so most things involved parks and seeing the amazing views in the Pacific Northwest. The forest cover was indeed exceptional around the area, and Oregon is a truly beautiful place. The next day we decided to go to our next destination, which was San Francisco, prior to our move into the Western desert states, like Utah and Nevada. We didn’t want to go all the way to South California as that was out of the way of many other locales.
The next morning, after a long night of sleep mind you, was excellent. A beautiful sunrise broke through the window of our tent as we had made camp the night before at about 10pm. I love the early mornings when you’re camping out, there’s really nothing like it. It’s not only beautiful, but quiet as well. It’s a very different feeling waking up and knowing that you can take as long as you want and leisurely begin your day. We had a plan today to go into Portland and checkout some of the many “hipster” hangout spots, such as the cafes and stores. There was much to see still in the city.
We stopped at a cafe in town, that was quite nice. Lots of “exotic” styles of coffee, with “lava salt” or strange finishings to the cup. I had a well flourished cafe latte, which was incredible. We struck up a conversation with a guy who was from the area and asked him how he liked living in Portland. As with the rest of the people we had met up to this point, he spoke nothing but praise about the area and the culture of the city. Definitely a great place to live! We stopped at this strange local shop after the cafe that had a lot of fetuses in jars from different animals, and strange stuff on the walls (like wild boar heads). Certainly a unique place!
At around 2pm we headed out from Portland bound for San Francisco. This is a pretty long trip, for those thinking about doing it yourself. We knew we’d arrive by about midnight, so I called and arranged a campsite on the outskirts of the city in advance so we could just show up and camp and then start the exploring the next day. This was a long trip, it took us about 10 and a half hours to arrive. We always tried to make the best of the trips from one location to another, stopping at local shops and diners along the way. This trip was no different.
On the way south we encountered a lot of small towns with their own unique things going on. Whether those were American folklore, tourist traps or just beautiful views, this was one of the best parts of the trip to this point. Northern California is beautiful. We stopped at a diner about 5 hours in for dinner and traded off driving duties. I picked up the wheel and continued the rest of the evening. In the next post, some of the things we saw and did on the journey will be talked about along with our first day in San Francisco.
For those that know me well, I doubt it will come as a tremendous surprise to find out I really enjoyed Portland, and the culture and people were right up my alley. However, before I dive into that I will pick up from my last post. After our bike ride we went back to the car and continued on to the diner. The lunch there was great, I had a sausage and egg sandwich, which was completely homemade (the best!) on brioche. Something was so satisfying about that lunch after the ride and the mediocre breakfast we had. After a solid hour relaxing and enjoying our food it was back on the road again, with our sights set on Portland.
We had only about an hour of our drive to the city left, so needless to say it went by pretty fast after that breather. We hit Portland at about 11am and the sun was shining this time! We stopped at our camp ground for the night and made sure we got our spot for that evening. This was on the outskirts of the city, where numerous campgrounds were available as it turned out. We stopped in a nice wooded area which had loose dirt filled plots all staked off with rocks around the perimeter. It looked like a really great spot to spend the evening later.
After getting that all squared away, we continued on into a place we had heard about from our friends: the Columbia River Gorge. We drove into the scenic area and decided to take the longer ways around. Wow, this place was gorgeous. There were tiny waterfalls lining the side of the roads and gorgeous woodlands around. We stopped regularly getting out and hiking into the brush to see more waterfalls (and often being greeted by spectacular views like the ones in the picture here).
This was one of the most beautiful places we visited on our entire journey around the US, and it deserves to be seriously talked about. I recommend the Gorge to anyone travelling in the Portland area as it’s just breathtaking. The scenic highway climbs up the mountains and gives you spectacular views of the ocean, trees, and covered woodlands. It’s really a one of of a kind experience.
After the Gorge
After we finished up at the Columbia Gorge we headed into the city to check out a few watering holes and obscure places we had heard about. We stopped at a coffee shop that also had a laundromat attached to it, inside of all places. This was quite strange, but as it turned out, was more or less just how a lot of things in Portland are. People are out and about, and biking around constantly. Along with this, they do a lot of more “hipster” things, like drinking coffee on their Apple laptops, while their clothes are in the washer.
Portland is a city full of smart, educated people and the average level people live in the city appears to be quite high. It’s not necessarily that people there make a lot of money or something, but more they live a certain “upper middle class” lifestyle with technology, good clothes and love to socialize. After the coffee shop we hopped over to have lunch and a beer at a nearby pub and tried out some of the local brewed beers. They had some great choices, lots of IPAs of course, and we relaxed for a few hours. What happened after will be covered in our next post, as there was more to come with our experiences in Portland.
After a great afternoon at the museum we headed out to Kerry Park. This park is on the outskirts of the city and offers some stellar views of Seattle. It seemed like the clouds may roll away for a bit this afternoon, so we were hopeful we’d have a nicer afternoon than morning weather wise. We had plans to bike around the park a ways, but it was not really feasible to do so once we arrived as Kerry Park is rather small, and a bit smaller than we predicted prior to arrival. Going up the hill, we instead walked around the park and took in the city views. It was a very pretty location, and we wound up having snacks on a bench and looked out over the city.
This was a great way to close out the day, on its own, but after about 2 hours in the park exploring and enjoying the views, we decided to head into the city with our friends for a bar/pub crawl and check out some of the watering holes. Unfortunately off the top of my head now I don’t recall any of their names, but the beer selection in Seattle was excellent at every place we went. They were all incredibly delicious and locally made beers. This had been one of the things my boyfriend wanted to explore most during this cross country trip, the local beer varieties. This is not something we had a lot of time and exposure to until this point, having been camping and in national parks for much of our trip so far.
There are a lot of great local beers and bars in Seattle, and this was without a doubt one of the better parts of the trip for us. We drank until around 11pm and then headed back to our friend’s place to sleep off the bender and a day of travelling around the city. Our friend was a huge help, and it was awesome to spend two nights in a real bed and use a real shower. The next morning we got up early, said our goodbyes, and continued on.
Onward to Portland
Riding out from Seattle at about 7:30am, we headed to Portland. This was a fairly short drive, at least compared to the Western plain states we just passed through. It took us about 3 hours to get there from start to finish. The Oregon coast was incredibly beautiful on this drive, however. About half of the way there, we stopped and biked around the coastline for about an hour and stopped and got lunch at a local diner afterwards. As many of you may know, I had been using a particularly effective HCG drops treatment to help me lose weight for some time during this trip. I used HCG to help me burn fat, during exercise, and also build up leaner muscle. I had been on this diet for much of the trip, though I wasn’t following the normal super diet protocol as I was using it build muscle instead of burn just fat.
As a result of being on this protocol, I tried to avoid too strenuous of activity on a daily basis, unless I had a lot of calories to offset the fat burning properties of using HCG. So we limited our time that day, since we hadn’t exactly eaten very well all day, to maybe 30 minutes to 1 hour at a time. After about an hour I was exhausted and we needed to find real food to eat for lunch, not campfire food. So the diner was welcome relief. However, Portland is where we were headed, as we had heard nothing but good things from friends about it. As a little bit of a “hipster” ourselves, we were hopeful it would jive with our lifestyles.
Barreling over the hills of the Pacific Northwest, hungry and tired from a very long drive out of Montana, we finally saw the skyline of Seattle peaking above the horizon. Certainly was a beautiful evening, but we were both extremely tired and in no mood to “enjoy” the overcast clouds and Mt. Rainier on the horizon, though it was beautiful in retrospect. We quickly called our friend who works in the area, and had an extra bedroom we could stay, and trekked over there as soon as we could. This was about 20 minutes Northeast of the city, but fortunately it was a fairly easy drive.
I wanted to shower in air conditioning, and I wanted a home cooked meal, and I wanted to put my feet up on a coffee table for a change (the little pleasures? I suppose that’s what I craved most). I suppose I’m not cut out for long periods of time out in the wilderness, though those days were amazing in all of their own charming ways. We arrived at about 7pm PST and I thanked our hosts and hopped into the shower right away. They owned a great apartment between the Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond and the city, so it was really a great place to stay. Wow, I cannot describe how awesome it felt to shower after so long camping out and taking showers outside, with cold water, and toweling off in the wind. We wrapped up the showers, went out to a pub as a treat for our hosts and crashed at 10pm, just like you’d expect us elderly folks to do.
Our First Day in Seattle
Yeah, there’s no doubt that Seattle is overcast basically all the time. Our first day there, however, had some sun peaking through the clouds on two occasions while we were out exploring the city. Much like Portland, Seattle certainly wears its “try pants”. A city full of the socially conscience, it was a very enjoyable experience go visit the sights.
We woke up early and headed to the Space Needle hoping it wasn’t going to be too busy so early in the day. As it turned out, this was a good strategy, particularly on a Tuesday, We rode the elevator up and looked out over the city and Mt. Rainier peaking above the horizon as the sun was coming up. It was indeed a beautiful way to start the morning of this city tour.
We were lucky to have native friends in the city, as they pointed us to all of the best places to go that we likely wouldn’t have thought of if we had been there on our own with only tripadvisor to guide us. Our friends recommended we head to the museum of flight, which is apparently a really awesome place, so we headed over there after grabbing breakfast at a local hot spot (I had pancakes, which were great!). We made it to the Museum of Flight around noon, and this place was huge! There was a ton to see.
There’s tons of planes, of all types, and from all eras at this museum. Everything from SR-71s to pre-WWI planes were on display in the main building. We spent at least 2 hours inside there before trekking outside. There museum goes on and on, and you could spend a solid 6 hours there if you’re interested in learning more about aerospace. After about 3 hours checking planes out we headed back into the city for some parks, and other sights. This will be covered in the next post.
Days spent in Glacier National park were an incredible time, and afterwards we wanted to get out of the cold, damp weather outside and find some more civilized refuge. Unfortunately, it’s not like there was any close by. We were forced to trek to Washington from Montana to get to Seattle, where we had a friend who offered a roof over our head for a few days. Problem was, this was a good 10-11 drive from where were.
This wasn’t going to stop us, however, from getting there as soon as we could. So we got up very early, before the sun was fully above the horizon and packed up our camp. The boyfriend drove for the first 5 hours, but after that his back was sore, understandably. I picked up the slack for the rest of the trip. This was a beautiful drive into Idaho, but we didn’t stop anywhere as we were sick of the lack of real showers, and wanted some real food for a change instead of made over a campfire (not that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy that when we started). Civilization awaits, and I was not full of patience to wait for it to arrive.
Amazing views dotted the landscape as we drove, and I enjoyed it the entire way. Views like the one below were commonplace, and you even forget how beautiful the area is after seeing it for so many hours on end. Yet, looking back shortly afterwards I realized there was much to see here, if we had the stomach to stop during our trip. Ultimately, we both missed civilization a bit, after weeks in the brush. Missed reliable internet, and all the trappings of society. I suppose that doesn’t make us “real” outdoorsy people, eh?
Pacific Northwest, a Beautiful Car Ride I Wish I Saw More
The car ride though the northwest was amazing, and I really haven’t written much on the car driving itself. I typically hate driving, but I realized on this trip that what I really hated was traffic. Driving through beautiful terrain with few people around can actually be a fantastic, albeit tiring, experience. There’s nothing like stopping in the middle of the desert, kicking your legs out the door, and having a packed lunch on the side of the road. It’s a truly “American” experience. You can drive from deserts, to snow covered mountains, to rolling planes all in a day. There’s nothing quite like the experience of such changes in landscape. The only place I know of that offers something similar is New Zealand.
As we went over the rolling hills and hour after hour passed, fortunately only having to stop for gas once due to the nice fuel economy we got in the car at the time, we saw Seattle break through the horizon. The trip itself was great to get there, and some great music/time with a loved one, but ultimately it was good to walk into a city with restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and warm water to shower with. After almost a month in the middle of nowhere cooking over fires, and making the most rudimentary meals, having something home cooked… sounded like heaven at the time.
After a good week stint in the Badlands of South Dakota, we faced a decision. Where do we head next? Do we go to Idaho? (I had heard good things about the landscapes there) or do we head to Montana to see Glacier National Park and the surrounding areas. I had heard nothing but good things about Glacier, and the idea of passing it by on this road trip felt like a crime, as a result, that’s where we went next.
Now, it should be noted before I begin the recounting of this story that it’s by no means a short trip from the Badlands to Glacier Valley Montana. This trip took the better part of a day and the next morning to arrive there. This was the point in the trip where I began to realize just how huge the United States is, particularly the Western states. They go on and on. That’s not to say we didn’t thoroughly enjoy the drive, being with someone you’re close with when you travel always makes the road lighter and the progress more endurable.
A Beautiful June Morning in Glacier
We arrived 2 days after leaving South Dakota, relatively exhausted, so we set up camp in the first area we encountered within the park itself. After a quick meal, we slept the drive off and awoke the next morning at about. The next morning we awoke naturally quite early, with the sun this time. It was beautiful out, and you could feel that this was going to be a great day to bike. We weren’t in the best spot, so we drove a short while to the next site after packing up our gear and then hopped on our bikes. What greeted us down the road was beyond words, at least for my small brain at the time.
Have you ever been to a place, and experienced something, that pictures just cannot even get close to expressing? That was our 4 days at Glacier National. We spent the first day riding over 20 miles around mountains, lakes, and thousands of years old cut rocks. I’ve never felt so fortunate to live in America, where we have protected these locations for over a hundred years. Glacier National Park is truly a treasure to behold.
This was my first time there, but this experience really struck me at a core level. No matter how many amazing places we biked to, how many hills we climbed to see some new area, everything was breathtaking. Everything seemed right in the world every hour we spent in this place. You can call me sappy if you want, but this was a truly magnificent place to be in.
Certain times of day were the best to travel around this park, as tourists and other hikers were rare or not even seen at all. Early mornings and late evenings (before sunset) were by far the best, though it made it difficult to ensure you could get back to camp in time for the evening trips. Helicopter rides are a common tourist attraction for the park, and I’m not selfish enough to think they should stop these tours for my view. However, the early mornings were quite, and you could be introspective for hours looking out over amazing skies and from excellent locales.
We biked over to Lake McDonald on the second day, and put our feet into the waters. Brrrr, it was indeed cold, and what you’d expect from a place marked with the scars of eons of glacier movement and receding. We had lunch by the water and enjoyed one of the most breathtaking areas of the park. We biked down to the Glacier Park Lodge, thinking we may stay in for a night. However, instead we wound up outside again. The sounds and the calm were just too much, maybe tomorrow? Maybe.
After a further 3 days of trekking we decided once to stay in the Many Glacier Hotel. Great aaccommodations and it was nice getting out of the wilderness for a day. It wasn’t the cheapest place in the world, but the food was really great. We had huckleberry pancakes, a first for me, and the next morning we rented a kayak and went out on the lake nearby (I cannot for the life of me remember its name, sorry!)
All together, one of the more amazing parts of our journey across the northern Midwest, though if I were to rank locations, Glacier would be the absolute top.
Starting out this blog with a tale of my around the nation journey a few years ago sounded like the best start as any for the readers. I began my journey from Milwaukee Wisconsin, where I was at the time, and traveled west into South Dakota. There’s not much in South Dakota, and I’m sure I sound a bit predictable saying so. The journey through South Dakota was a long one, lasting about 5 hours. On the way we saw sites for the Corn Palace all over the place, and many signs for “Wall’s Drug”. We weren’t sure what this place was, if it was a pharmacy, if it was a chain of stores, or if there was just the one of them
.Along the way we stopped at limited locations, and didn’t make it even to Mount Rushmore. We had a specific goal in mind, as my boyfriend at the time and I were avid mountain bikers and the outdoors type. We made it across the state in roughly 5 hours, and hit the well-known “Badlands’. I was shocked by how far reaching and desolate the area was, but also absolutely breathtaking as well. We got out of the car as soon as we hit the edge of the area, and sat down on a hill drinking water and enjoying the view.
The Ride – Roaming Through the Badlands
Our first day in the Badlands riding was markedly excellent. We road for at least 5 hours total, covering approximately 25 miles according to my iPhone tracker. There was significant amount of time spent due to stoppages for scenery, lunch and enjoying areas we were in. The Badlands went from a grassy terrain to rocky ridges and more “desert” rather quickly as we progressed throughout the day. Still, it was a gorgeous afternoon to ride.
We decided to set up camp, rather than going to a nearby town to see if we could seek a airbnb or similar accommodation. Really though, the closest town was over one hour from where we were. On a cross country vacation, you realize how short one hour really is to drive, at least for the typical creature comforts. However, after 5 solid hours of driving, and hours of biking, we had no energy for this. We camped out in the middle of the area alone, likely no other souls within 100 miles in any direction. It’s hard to put into perspective what that feels like, but it was a challenge for me to imagine this now that I think about it again.
I’ve never really relied to heavily on needing other people around to be feel safe and secure, but at the time I was too caught up in the stars, and seeing the Milky Way so clearly above to notice how alone we were. Without rescue, without any ability to contact help (no cell signal for miles and miles), this is a truly isolating area. This can be both wonderful, if you are with someone else like I was, or harrowing. Fortunately, I had no time to worry about such things. We had fire, food, water, and a great camping location. Though there are wild animals out here, like coyotes, few really posed any grave threat to us. Fortunately, we were too tired to really care what was out there that could have potentially been a problem, we just set up our tent and bags and slept the 10 hours away. The next day… however… proved to be even better.