Last night was another successful night car camping. So it was cold, I woke up at least once an hour shivering and didn’t get the best sleep ever-but it was fine. It always makes me happy to save $ and that’s exactly what I thought about a bunch while tossing and turning (as much as you can in the front seat of a car) last night. I’d so much rather be uncomfortable for a night or few in between my house stays and save $ on accommodations so I can spend that $ I save on things that mean the most to me; Food and time with people.
I came into Portland yesterday on a sunny and average chilly 65 degree summer day for this area. (Brrr…where I’ve been living for years, August is typically 95-100 and lots of humidity.) As usual, no plans, not knowing anyone, but always having a few notes about food and someone who knows someone who might live there. I really don’t even look at the paper maps I have (I don’t have any detailed ones anyway), you all know I don’t have a GPS. I swear every time I enter a city unplanned like I did yesterday, I just follow where the roads lead, where are tall buildings are, or where something looks interesting, and I always end up exactly where I need to be. I rolled into Portland, pulled my car over to park for a minute and look at notes in my book and turned out I was exactly where I’d wanted to go. The rest of the day worked out perfectly. I stood in line for 45 minutes with the usual lines of patient, excited, treat-lovin’ crowds at Voodoo Doughnuts:
I met a funny and sweet mom and daughter from Florida, we all took lots of photos and laughed about all the flavors. A guy walked out right before we got in the door with bacon on top of his doughnuts. Yes, bacon:
I got a Captain Crunch and an Old Dirty Bastard. (Chocolate frosted with OREO and peanut butter drizzle.):
With thoughts of having just a few bites or half of each, I then proceeded to hose them both. Sooo yummy. I felt high as a kite and happy for an hour or so, then definitely was moaning later. That was a bit much, even for me. (As I sit here and write this now, I am a glutton for punishment and thinking about going back for more after breakfast today…)
I drove, wandered, toured a bit more after that and through the amazing speed and power of social networking, I found myself having a beer, salad and sharing a huge plate of tater tots with a stranger Katie a couple hours later. (Try to follow this one and be as amazed as we were how it all worked out; I post something on Facebook that I was going to be in Portland. A friend of mine Temple who lives in Virginia, whom I haven’t seen in about 2 years and barely spoken with as life has kept busy for both of us, sends me a message back about Portland, then a message to Katie- who she knew from work in Boston like 10 years ago. Katie just happened to be in Portland for one night, for work training, and only a few blocks from when I was parked on the side of the road in my car no less where I have just sent the message from my laptop to Temple. My phone rings; “Hey Diane! It’s Temples friend Katie. I’m in Portland tonight and we should totally grab a beer!” Me; “Great! I was just about to go check out Rogue, want to meet there? See you in ten? And then there we sat chatting away at the bar having a grand old time for the next 3 hours like we’d been friends for life.) So, so fun. I love those random connections. (Thanks Temple!) Here’s my choice pint of a camomile infused brew. That was one delish beer:
I’ll trade a bed for some fun company, a couple of yummy doughnuts, and a delish beer any day. I couldn’t have had a better day if I’d planned it all out. I met interesting and fun strangers, toured the city, ended up spending barely any money but had good food, and I fell asleep happy. What a great day in downtown Portland.
After almost 32 years of life, 8 years of waiting (I hit 49 states 8 years ago), lots of daydreaming, 4,685 miles of driving, a bunch of nights of car sleeping in places like Ft. St. John, BC Canada and Teslin, Yukon Territory (map those places-whoa) and some serious heart, I have made it over the border of my 50th state.
OH HELL YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Because I am ready to jump out of my skin with excitement, I’ll have to circle back around to more midwest and Canada later. (Lots to share on those spots too!) Onto to AK arrival for now…
I left Madison, WI at lunch time on Wednesday 8/4 and was at the “Welcome to Alaska” sign by Sunday morning 8/8. 2,906 miles I clocked alone in about 3 days and through some of the most desolate, unscathed land you could imagine. If you asked me to do that again right now today I’d look at you and ask you if you were freakin’ nuts. I have to laugh. That’s exactly what some locals and other tourists I have met so far have said to me when I’ve told them how I got here. Did I mention I didn’t plan this drive at all? I don’t have a GPS, had no idea what it entailed and I didn’t even really look at a paper map until I stopped at a AAA office in Madison. The lady at the counter whipped out some maps, drew a line in green highlighter on the road they “recommended if you are driving to Alaska.” I said thanks and just followed the green highlighted line without questioning it. Thanks lady at AAA. You contributed to me seeing some of the most indescribable sights I will ever see in my lifetime with your green line.
This is the first time I am getting enough internet signal to blog in 4 days and after all those miles. To say that since my last full post my mind and heart have gone to a different place than they’ve ever been before and I have seen things I that’ve blown me away is an understatement. Watch out world I am now video happy! Here’s my first one ever after a good “Holy bleep!” I almost just ran into a bunch of buffalo. Not my hottest look ever, but I am convinced that Ben the lumberjack will love me anyway:
The day after the buffalo, I get to the border. It was FREEZING. Not that I thought it was going to be the tropics here, but in case you were wondering Alaska is NOT warm in the summer. Here I am at the border!:
I continue through U.S customs and similar to the officer entering Canada, this one looked at me alone in my Honda Civic like I was off my rocker. I opened my door to get my passport out of my trunk and didn’t think about the fact that you are not supposed to do that so he practically pounced on me. OOPS!
I then have a dance party in my car singing out loud; “I’m in Alaaaska, I’m in Alaaaska!” I’m so exhausted I feel high at that point. I pull over in the tiny gold rush town of Skagway and take a moment. (Keep in mind I have done ZERO research about this town before coming.) I drove around for a few minutes and follow signs to the ferry. This is where I go from high as a kite with excitement to (pardon the expression) bitch-slapped in 5 minutes. Not only did I walk in thinking I could buy a ferry ticket and there would be departure times all day which was wrong, but I had missed the one ferry for the day and I also found out the $150 ticket I thought I needed was actually $600. I wanted to cry and puke in the same instant but was too tired to do either. As I put my head on the counter in shock I think the 2 guys working thought I was about to have a nervous breakdown. I just started laughing. That delirious, are you effin kidding me, I haven’t slept in days, I’m going to have to sleep in my car again, that $600 will wipe out my bank account, what the hell have I done and what the hell am I going to do and oh this is just perfect laugh like I absolutely belonged in an insane asylum.
I manage to stumble back to my car. That’s when I decided to do make yet another video to confess at how much of a doofus I am for not planning anything before just showing up to a place across the country like a puppy dog ready to play:
I thought after that point it’d be a good idea to go for a run. (I mean really? Oh the things we do when we are delirious.) So I did. The guys at the ferry sales counter had told me there was a shower at the marina for the public. After my drizzly cold run I was all about a skeevy marina shower. At .25 for a minute and a half, that was the best $2 and 12 minutes in a shower I have ever spent. Here was the fancy spot. Let me tell you it felt like the Ritz Carlton after driving almost 3k miles and being filthy for 4 days:
An early afternoon shower and nap in my car after a run was just what the doctor ordered. Blanket covered and clean, I was out. Set the alarm for when the ferry sales office opened and went in to gulp- buy the ticket. Making my best attempt to not freak and chanting my new favorite “trust the process” (this one will go down in history Astro.) I drive the whopping few blocks of Skagway looking for a burger and beer joint. This was the only thing I had really envisioned/planned on for the first day getting here; Pony up to a bar, grab a local beer, chow on some good grub and blog away hoping a random local would be up for a chat and to be my first road character. My first and envisioned beer and grub time turned out so much better than I hoped:
Meet Judy and Allen. Before I could even fully get out of my car to check out the Bonanza Bar and Grill and a few other spots, I hear behind me; “Blue Lollipop Road?! Well that sounds fun!” And the rest is history…
I chatted with brother and sister Allen and Judy for about 30 minutes there on the street. They were super friendly and funny. Vacationers making their way wandering town like me. I told them about BLR and that I was going to check out a couple places to eat and try to get some work done and we went on our separate ways. I walked into Bonanza and it didn’t strike my mood so I walked a couple blocks and into the Red Onion Saloon:
Wouldn’t you know it, it was packed and there were Judy and Allen, they already had a chair pulled up for me and waving for me to join. Locals, Alaskan brewed beer and even free snacks. That night was a silent auction for a local daycare. The cruise ships had left port so the three of us got a good taste of what a summer Sunday night in Skagway town of 500 was like. Fantastic. We toasted to that:
The summer ale and food was delicious and company was even better. Judy is a nurse who lives in the Seattle area and Allen in construction in Billings, Montana where they both grew up. We spent hours and hours talking and laughing. They were sweet and generous and bought 2 rounds of beer before they’d let me pay for one and later Judy bought us all dinner. Turned out they were on the same ferry as I was so we planned to meet up in the morning. We spent the entire 8 hours on the ferry together chatting and laughing more. Judy has a daughter my age and is about to be a Grandma for the first time. Allen got in a motorcycle wreck about 20 years ago and broke is neck and back and never even had a surgery and is walking around totally healthy to this day. (He and I talked a lot about life and appreciating time and how fortunate we are to come out of rough stuff smiling on the other side. I think our meeting was meant to be:) It was like we knew each other for a lifetime. They were the most honest to goodness people I could have met and spent time with.
Judy wanted to get a photo of me in front of the map so she could take my story back to her office and I wanted them to jump in with me too so I could post it here:
Of course I wanted a photo of all three of us outside too. (Yes! That is a GLACIER behind us!!!)
We gave our hugs and said our good bye’s after getting into port, but not before Judy made sure to remind me to call her when I get to Washington so we can meet up. She even offered a place to stay. I think we will all be friends and stay in touch for many years to come. Thank you for a wonderful time Judy and Allen! I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip here!
There’s still more to the start of my Alaska stay; I head straight to the house I’m staying at my the port. Cousins of a friend of mine. Total strangers and just come on in and stay as long/as many days as you’d like. (It’s amazing how willing strangers are to host a weary traveler.) 10 minutes into my arrival they are asking me if I’m hungry and what can they get for me. Just when I start thinking about a way to not be a rude house guest but ask if I can have a shower and go to bed at some atrociously early hour like 7pm to catch up on a weeks sleep, they say; “Oh you have to join for a Tongan experience tonight. A feast at Vinny’s sisters house!” (One of the gents I’m staying with is Tongan, the first person to graduate college in his family and they have been celebrating his awesome accomplishment for the past few days.) Thinking I’ll sleep when I’m dead because how in the world could I say no to that? An hour later I’m at the home of a huge family grandma and grandpa too, meeting his siblings, and a crew of the 34 total grandkids and being welcomed with open arms. (What?! is this happening? So cool I’m thinking.) I meet and chat for a long time with the only other non-family member Emily who seems she is part of the family after years of friendship. She is about my age and of all places about to move from here to Washington DC for a job. I joke with her that we could’ve coordinated our schedules had we know each other and traveled back and forth together. The littlest of grandkids cozy up to Emily and I while we chat on the couch and we snap some photos. (I hope to post them but haven’t asked parent permission yet, so stay tuned.) A couple hours and all the “Aunties” working feverishly in the kitchen later, the feast and I am talking feast is done. I am told; Go go! Guests are always first! I eat and eat as grandma keeps telling me to get more. this is the culture, we eat! she says.
As I sat there will a full belly on the couch after dinner is done, watching some of the family members play cards while a crew of the males practice their Polynesian dance outside for their dinner and cultural event they are going to be putting on for the cruise ship guests, I just think to myself somebody pinch me. Now this is what life is all about, there is no mistake in where I am or what I am doing, and this is exactly why traveling is so incredible. What a perfect welcome to Alaska and way to celebrate my accomplished goal. Imagine this. I’m invited over again tonight for another feast This time celebrating Emily’s new job and departure from the west. I must wrap up here now so I can stretch my belly in prep for plates of food.
I am still weary, behind on work and blogging, no idea where life goes after Alaska, but I will never replace this summer, these memories or regret the occasional discomfort during this process. I have never been so un-worried in my life. My heart is on top of the world. I’ve come to Alaska to honor my friends and I’ve found myself. If that’s not some strong mojo I don’t know what is.
For someone like me that gets excited by the tiniest of things (especially when traveling) it’s killing me that I can’t stop every 20 minutes and share the next funny, ridiculous or crazy story or photo from Canada. Then again, I’d never get to my destination if I did that and I can’t exactly power up in a bail of hay or a tree. I can however power up in a local diner and look like such a fish out of water you may as well paint my face with; “I’M NOT FROM HERE IN CASE THAT WASN’T PAINFULLY OBVIOUS FROM WHAT I’M WEARING AND THE FACT THAT MY VEHICLE IS THE ONLY ONE PARKED IN THE LOT THAT’S NOT COVERED IN DIRT AND A HUGE TRUCK!!!”
The waitress at the place I’m at definitely used a half bottle of Aqua Net before she came to work this morning. She gave me the twice over like who the hell do you think you are? when I first walked in, but after camping out looking like a complete idiot with my camera and laptop chords all over I think she’s starting to warm up. (I think she feels sorry for me. HA!) She looks like she wants to say something like; Hey sweetie, put that stuff away. We don’t do that around here. Instead she keeps filling my white ceramic coffee cup with that bitter but somehow delicious coffee you get in these places on the road. I am listening to a table of 4 gents behind me gobbling their breakfast. They’re all wearing work jeans with hats, and talking about guns, grizzly bears, loggers, safety hazards and what “they” are doing to the highway these days. Perfect. I’d expect nothing less. There a special place in my heart for people and places like this that are just like the movies and the whatchya see is whatcha get. It’s exactly like where I grew up and will never lose it’s charm or special place in my heart.
Although this quite different from my last Saturday breakfast of fancy-schmancy brioche french toast with fresh berry compote. at Marigold Kitchen in Madison…
…I love it just the same. And I wonder why I can’t figure out what I want to be when I grow up:)
Now three days have passed with no shower and I am so good at rigging my car for sleeping privacy I’m like the firefighters who teach new moms how to strap in the baby seats. After my initial, OUCH- how the heck did I sleep in that position for the last few hours? feeling when I woke up this morning, I had my first thought of Ok Diane, you might be getting a little offensive. That was quickly followed by a, meh- who cares. I don’t really smell that bad, even if I did I really wouldn’t care right now, and besides, this is becoming a game for me. I did think I might get a hotel one night between WI and AK but now? Hell no- I’m fully testing patience and creating the makings of my second longest run with no shower. (My finest record to date is 8 days.) Also, I might be able to charge Honda a huge consulting fee someday when they beg me to help them design the BLR inspired super road-tripping-pimped out convertible sleeper car. My current Honda is like a test lad.
Ooh! A few other gringos just walked in. More out of place travelers like me. Time to order some eggs or something that will not have words like brioche or compote involved , chow down and hit the pavement. (At least I hope it’s paved.)
*Thanks to Al for Windy City fun as usual. Feasting and catching up continues to be fun year after year. Who would think two girls could clear a table at Osteria like this at lunch time?
*Thanks to JW and Nelsy. I’d expect nothing less than a tour of another house renovation, a 4-wheeler show and a beer with some pizza. Good old Kaiser’s Pizza & Pub in Gurnee, Illinois. Here’s a photo from the walls for your archives:
*The final midwest thanks goes to Bill and Julie for my Wisconsin Capital area burb stay. Holy cheese-fest and gorgeousness!
Love you guys. It’s was great spending time and feasting with you all!
Here’s another ditty! My second road person named Jack!
Jack works at a place called Ian’s Pizza. I wandered into Ian’s randomly during a late afternoon last week. I was greeted by the friendliest chatty young guys you could hope for as a first time customer walking into a place. This isn’t the typical pizza joint that the staff half mumbles hello and chucks your pepperoni slice at you. These guys were great sales people, knowledgeable about all the ingredients and aware of everything/everyone that was there. I chose a slice covered with pesto and fresh tomatoes and they informed me that the pesto was made from fresh basil that came from a farm in northern Wisconsin. They offered to make any kind of slice I wanted or add any additional toppings on my slice but I stuck with my initial choice and it was fabulous. On my way out the door I spotted this guys t-shirt that said “Get your mac on” and then realized one of their pizzas was actually mac n’ cheese pizza. Whoa. I introduced myself and asked what his name was and if I could take his picture to post here and he happily agreed. He then grabbed a slice of the mac n’ cheese to pose with:
I paid another visit to Ian’s (different location) late night a day later with some friends. Even though my second time round the place was swamped with stumbling wasted college kids and the line was 20 deep, the staff showed no signs of annoyance or frustration. They were again smiley, helpful, efficient and cranked out the hot slices accommodating every customer perfectly with exactly what they wanted. I grabbed a few slices so we could try the bbq chicken, the mac n’ cheese, and another pesto tomato. All delicious.
I’m a huge fan of Ian’s. Not just because of the yummy pie, but because of the fantastic, friendly service and overall vibe of it. The staff all clearly love their jobs and they sell a quality, fresh product. It’s a pleasure for a foodie like me who’s on the road, eating food in all kinds of places, to watch a well-oiled machine of kick-ass food and service. I’ve found you usually only get one or the other, not often both. Ian’s covers it.
Go Ian’s and thanks to Jack and Tyler at the State Street location. Keep smiling and doing what you’re doing!
Some long time friends of mine moved to Madison abut a year ago. A perfect stop on the way to Alaska to see their new home and catch up. Another friend from back in VA happened also to be visiting this weekend, and yet another in the group of our old pals is in town for work so it’s a big ol’ reunion of fun. We all went to The Old Fashioned in Capital Square for lunch yesterday. The place was packed and staff was friendly. This is where we ordered fried cheese curds for an app. (Yeah, I know. I have blown any kind of balance in my diet during my stay in Wisconsin. Talk about an all-out cheese fest. I’m glad I can still strap on my running shoes and pound the pavement from anywhere for free.) Here’s my sandwich:
Grilled cheese with cheddar, swiss, hickory smoked red peppers, cukes and tomatoes. This was one of the best fancy grilled cheese sandwiches I have ever had. The fresh local veggies stuffed in there put it in that category. It’s such a spoil to have fresh produce included in what you order in a restaurant. The melty cheese and butter help too of course. As if I wasn’t full enough after that sammy, I had to grab one of their enormous chocolate chip cookies to go. I couldn’t resist! They had plates and plates of these coming out fresh all over the bar area on plates for self-serve. When the bartender said; “That’s one American dollar please!- and help yourself!” I wanted to kiss him. It was delicious. The chocolate chips were still warm and melty as we gobbled it up.
I highly recommend this spot if you’re up for lunch out when you visit Madison. The prices are more than reasonable and every last thing coming out of the kitchen looked delicious. The kind of lunch stuffing that you need a nap after. Good food, full belly and catching up with old friends sure makes for a spectacular Friday afternoon!
This reminds me to thank everyone again who has gifted me Nutella for my trip. I have a Costco-sized jar in my car now from my last stop. I think I need to start talking about how much I love apples and porches, then maybe that’s what people would gift me and I’d eat more fruit and have fast fancy cars to drive…ha!
Nah- I’ll take the Nutella.
I’m dedicating todays morning post to my cutie patootie small fry pal Libbie. She is the daughter of my friend. Before I left VA we had a couple ice cream dates. Apparently she has been asking “When is Diane coming back so we can go get ice cream?” Talk about my kind of buddy! Here is a photo of her at one of my favorite places for a sweet treat called Bev’s. Don’t you just want to squeeze this adorable this face?
If you are a chocolate lover out there, I’d love to post a great photo of yours like this if you’d like to send one to me. If you have a recipe for something chocolate-y you’d like to share, send that, or maybe share a chocolate spot somewhere I can check out in my travels? I’ll take it all and keep posting about the de-lish spots I find too.