Way Out West

Well, we are finally landed up in south-western Idaho, or northeastern Oregon, depending on what time of day it is and what the heck we’re doing. We are staying in Ontario, Oregon but going back and forth between Parma, Idaho, so if I seem a little confused, that’s why. If we jogged much further west or north we would be crossing back and forth between Mountain and Pacific time, so I should be glad we’re at where we’re at.

It took us four days to get here. Fortunately they were relatively easy travel days; about nine hours in the car per day. That is not as awful as it sounds. John’s Honda Ridgeline truck is exceedingly comfortable – leather seats, plenty of legroom, storage for everything, XM/Sirius satellite radio, six-disc CD player – and we manage to keep each other occupied as we drive along. The first day out is always kind of dull. We didn’t get going until nearly noon, and didn’t stop for anything except gas once along the way before we ended up in Brownsburg, Indiana (just west of Indianapolis) for the night.

The next morning we got an earlier start, after a quick compli-mentary breakfast at our Hampton Inn motel which, coinci-dentally, was pretty nice. In spite of the breakfast, John had to stop at the local White Castle and get himself some sliders. Longtime readers of this blog will remember two years back, when we made a similar trek west and also stopped in Brownsburg for the night, and also got White Castle burgers the next morning on the way out. In fact, this photo is a lot like the one I took of John on June 5, 2007 (you can look at it if you want by clicking on the June 2007 archives to the right).

Personally, I don’t get the attraction of White Castle burgers – to me, they taste like meat-and-onion flavored sponges. I took one bite and that was enough. But John always has to have them. It’s a tradition when we’re out in this part of the country.

Continuing westward through Illinois, we lost an hour as we passed into Central Time. Things got flatter and flatter as we drove through Iowa. We pulled into a rest stop for a quick break as we drew closer to the Nebraska state line, and upon coming out of the restrooms, were startled to hear an alarm bell going off. There were no signs explaining the alarm, and other travelers were standing around in puzzlement. Someone wondered aloud if the alarm was a tornado warning. John and I shrugged it off, got back in the car and continued west on I-80. We hadn’t traveled more than a few miles when the sky began to look reeeeeally ominous:

We could see lightning striking the distance. Before long, big fat drops of rain began spatting against the windshield – hard. We kept on going. The sky got darker and the rain got heavier and harder, eventually coming down so hard that we could barely see the road ahead. We pulled onto the shoulder and hit our emergency flashers (many other drivers were doing the same) and waited. After a bit the rain seemed to let up, so we got back on the road. I don’t think we went more than a couple of miles when the big fat rain turned into penny-sized hail. Again, we pulled onto the shoulder. If there had been any substantial wind I would have been nervous. Eventually the hail tapered off and became rain, and we started off once again, eventually driving out of the storm.

We crossed into Nebraska, checked into our motel, got a bite to eat and then went to visit my sister Anneliese and her family. Niece Johanna had just graduated from high school the day before, and Niece Eileen from college the previous month. All four Kennedy girls were home for the summer. This photo is of Johanna, Amanda and Caitlin; Eileen was otherwise engaged with her beau, Steve. We shared the remnants of Johanna’s graduation cake and generally whooped it up for a couple of hours, then went outside to show off John’s truck and say our farewells. The “saying of the farewells” always takes at least another half hour. This is Liese and Craig, looking like they’re giving John a hard time (they weren’t), but what’s fun is Eileen and Steve in the background. They had been snuggling on the hood of the red car, and appear to be smiling sheepishly after coming up for air. We’ll be stopping with the Kennedys again on the return trip, and will, I hope, have pictures that are actually taken in daylight.

The next morning we continued west on I-80, traversing Nebraska, which is pretty darned flat until you get into the westernmost portion, where things start looking a bit more interesting. John and I stopped at the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, which is a big arched thing that stretches across I-80 near Kearney, Nebraska. We passed under the arch but had to continue several miles down I-80 before we got to the exit ramp – and then had to double back down a service road before we pulled into the parking lot. We got out of the car and I had a brief cuddle with a big fiberglass bison before heading toward the monument entrance.

We were greeted by extremely friendly “pioneer” folk as soon as we got near the door – but the $10 admission fee was off-putting, so we opted out of touring the monument. Instead, I bought a refrigerator magnet and squished a souvenir penny for our collections, then John and I went outside where there was a bridge across a nearby canal. The canal has been stocked with giant black Japanese koi, which is, of course, very Nebraska. It was a little surreal. However, there was a handy machine on the bridge stocked with koi food, and for 25 cents you got about a dozen pea-sized nuggets. We spent about 75 cents on fish food, which we then doled out to the grateful koi. I was interested to see one fish lurking near the bank that was clearly not a koi, and clearly not interested in the koi food. The koi, however, went nuts for the stuff. This is John feeding the koi (the north end of the Archway Monument is visible behind him), and these are the koi having a koi feeding frenzy:

We fed ourselves on sandwiches from the cooler, then got back on I-80, passing into Wyoming and stopping for the night in Rawlins, about halfway across the state. The next morning we continued west, amusing ourselves by learning Italian from a CD program (“Vedo una macchina bianca!”), listening to an audio version of Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, and playing Punch Bug. (I have decided I suck at Punch Bug. Our current score is 64 to 33, favor of John – of course.) As we approached Green River, Wyoming, we picked up a stone chip in the windshield courtesy of a passing truck. From Wyoming we moved briefly into Utah and picked up I-84 east of Salt Lake City. As we traveled north of Ogden, yet another angry sky loomed up on the horizon:

Fortunately, this storm simply contained rain and no hail, but there was a LOT of rain. As the storm passed by, we saw cars coming to a stop ahead of us on both sides of I-84. Water was boiling down the hill on the far side of the highway, filling the culvert and ponding across the eastbound lanes, the median and the westbound lanes. The culvert on our side of the highway was also filled to the brim and spilling into the fields beyond. There had been a collision between a small car and a large truck, but fortunately everyone seemed okay. I’m guessing the flash flood was at fault.

As we crossed into Idaho, most of the rain had cleared off. We passed through Boise and then over the state line into Ontario, Oregon, where we checked into our hotel and got a bite to eat. This morning, we drove back into Idaho to Parma, the location of the MGM Ironman Three-Gun match, which John will be shooting starting tomorrow. I waited patiently for a couple of hours while John wandered over the range, getting a look at some of the stages (I know, this is a lot of jargon – it will all be explained in a subsequent post). Then we took a drive around the Snake River Canyon area.

There are a lot of small towns, wide fields and spectacular scenery along the way, but we also saw an awful lot of closed businesses and empty houses for sale. We stopped for a late lunch at a place called Boy’s Better Burger, where I saw this sign taped on the counter. It isn’t the first sign of this type we’ve seen since arriving here. Its reluctant stinginess made a sobering contrast to the generous and sprawling landscape around us.

One comment

  1. Paul

    Tell John Best of Luck and don't shoot yourself in the foot. Also too many sliders causes poor shooting, John ought to know that. Safe journey back home.

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