(In this post, I will describe the second week of my (still ongoing) road trip. The first week was covered in my previous post, where I described my sights and adventures as I passed through California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. In the second week, that I describe below, I travelled through Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. For a quick Google summary of my route for the first two weeks, click here.)
Day 8 (July 7), Park City, Utah to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
I had asked AM (the lover) a day or two earlier if she would like to fly in to Portland and go to Crater Lake with me over the weekend. Got an email from her in the morning. It was a yes.
Which meant, instead of doing Utah — Wyoming — Montana– Washington state — Oregon, I should now be doing Utah — Wyoming — Idaho — Oregon in order to reach Portland in time. Washington state and Montana will need to wait.
I spent the morning socializing with a bunch of math people at the Park City conference I had rudely crashed. I even attended a math talk!
Then it was time to go shopping in order to restock on supplies. Wouldn’t want to be caught camping in the wilderness without food and water, would I?
Finally around 2 pm, I started driving northwards. The destination for today, Grand Teton National Park.
The drive was through beef country. Expansive prairies and few people. Finally, from a distance, I spied the Teton range.
If you ever get an opportunity to visit Grand Teton, you should grab it with both hands and feet. I had been there once before and was utterly charmed by the pure natural beauty of the place. Everything is picture perfect. Looming above the valleys and lakes and river is above all, the imposing Grand Teton mountain.
There’s something about this mountain. It’s incredible rugged beauty will overwhelm the first time visitor. This is a peak that gives no quarter and expects none.
I had planned to stay at a motel just outside the park (the map seemed to suggest that the best choice was Jackson, a mere 5 miles south of the entrance) and then drive in to the park and take sunset pictures. But when I arrived at Jackson and asked the attendant of the first cheap-looking motel what their cheapest rate was, he informed me it was $99 plus tax.
Swallowing my shock, I drove over to the nearby Super 8. The manager informed that the rate would come to $149 plus tax.
Wow! Never till today had I encountered a Super 8 charging more than 70 odd dollars.
I thanked the manager and informed him I was looking for something really cheap. As I was leaving, he stopped me.
“You know, just so you stay, we will give you a really really incredible deal. This is a special, dont tell anyone.”
He wrote down on a piece of paper: “99 plus tax”.
“No thanks, still too high”, said I and walked out, this time for good.
“Well, your best bet is to camp then!” he hollered after me.
So camping it would be. By now I had realized that Jackson was actually the famous Jackson Hole, renowned ski resort and vacation town. No wonder everything was so darn overpriced.
I drove into the national park and started looking for a campground. But then I caught a glimpse of the Teton range, and the Grand Teton in particular, and started taking pictures.
The mountains were particularly gorgeous around sunset.
I set up my tent fairly late; it was a beautiful spot near Jackson lake next to warnings about grizzly bear presence. Cooked some dinner and then went to look for internet in the moonlight.
If it sounds like I had gone crazy, the fact is that most motels and lodges in this part of the country have free unencrypted wifi. So, you can just drive to the parking of one of them and log on.
On my short night drive to the parking lot of the Signal mountain lodge, I encountered several deer-in-the-headlights, including one that refused to move and I had to screech to a halt so that I don’t run the thing over. Finally I reached the lodge area, found the desired wifi, checked my email etc. and returned to the tent around midnight. It was a full moon and I had a most beautiful sleep, alone under the perfectly round moon and the twinkling stars, next to the lake and amidst the bears.
Day 9 (July 8), Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming to Rupert, Idaho.
I woke up to a beautiful day and sat by Jackson Lake reading a novel. It was Kundera’s The unbearable lightness of being. It was the only fiction book I had packed, the others being either math or economics/philosophy (examples of the latter: Friedman’s ‘Capitalism and freedom’; Nozick’s ‘Anarchy, State and Utopia’).
On the other hand, it is hard to classify Kundera’s book as pure fiction. One could say it is a novel of ideas, but that term is rather vague. In any case, I cannot recall the last time I read a book that I liked so much.
I could try to review it, but I’d be a failure. Some things are just too great, and touch you too personally, to attempt a real review. There are not too many things like that in my life. Bitter Moon among movies. The Great Gatsby among novels. Hardy’s apology. To an extent, Carmen. And some stuff by Mozart. But all these were a while ago. Carmen was relatively recent, but that was more aesthetic appreciation than the fire of intellectual touch.
And now Kundera.
Among novels of ideas, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Fountainhead are the two that have touched me most intensely. The Fountainhead, Rand’s greatest fictional work, is essentially about individualism. Kundera’s novel: well it is hard to define what it is about; but it intoxicates as heavily and is as true, though in a very different sense. One could perhaps say it is about life and human existence and the choices inherent therein, or one could simply say it is about love, but neither of these are very accurate.
There is a line from this book …: “No one can get really drunk on a novel or a painting but who can help getting drunk on [examples of musical works].” Well, for me at least, this novel itself is a counter-example.
Anyway, let me not get carried away. Some day I’ll write a post on what I fancifully might call libertarian existentialism. That day is not today. Today it is about Day 9 of my trip.
So I lay beside Jackson lake and read this book. It was pretty close to being in paradise.
Finally I got up, had lunch and started driving. It was an uneventful drive (Idaho is boring) and around eight, I stopped at the little town of Rupert and checked into a motel.
I tried going for a run but my attempt was thwarted by the many dogs (every house had at least one, and they were unleashed, and they all barked like crazy as soon as they saw me).
I did some math before going to bed.
Day 10 (July 11), Rupert, Idaho to Pendleton, Oregon.
I started driving relatively early and headed towards Oregon. On the way I stopped at a Starbucks and read my novel for a short time while sipping an iced latte. Then I stopped at a Subway and picked up lunch. I stopped at a rest area and filled up water. Around 3, the sign by the freeway announced that I was entering the state of Oregon. To celebrate, I stopped by a restroom to pee.
It was then that I realized I don’t have my wallet.
Thankfully, I still had my laptop and the rest area claimed to have wireless internet. Using the saved credit card number of my browser, I succeded in buying twenty minutes of online time. I opened google maps and searched for the Subway where I had stopped an hour and half ago. I found their number and called. No, said the sandwich artist on the phone, they hadn’t found any wallet.
My wallet was gone.
Imagine, for a moment, the incredible consequences of this discovery. Not only would I be unable to get to Portland now to pick up AM the next day, I would not be able to go anywhere in a long time. Without my wallet, I had no credit cards. I had no cash. I had no driving license or id of any kind whatsoever. And there was no one I knew within a thousand miles.
In any case, staying there was useless; so I turned around and drove back into Idaho.
Then I decided to check the fuel indicator. It was basically empty. I would barely be able to drive another thirty miles. I was in the middle of nowhere in an incredibly desperate situation and had no money to buy any gas that would get me out of there.
It was a remarkable series of fortuities that saved me that day.
Fortuity one: Quarters. A few miles into Idaho, my panicked brain suddenly remembered something of immense significance. In order to do laundry at Denver, I had been forced to enter a twenty dollar bill into a change machine, which had in response spat out eighty quarters. Surely most of them were still in my backpack? Yes they were.
I dug my palm into my backpack and after a few attempts found the expected handfuls of coins. I drove into the next gas station and dropped about forty of those coins on the desk of the lady at the cash counter and asked for fuel. I don’t know what was more interesting, her utter disbelief or my intense exuberance.
Now that I had enough gas to go about a hundred miles, I started thinking. Maybe, just maybe, I had called up the wrong Subway?
Fortuity two: An atlas that shows rest areas.
I had bought a fat atlas of road maps the other day. It also had some other cool features. For instance it showed the location of rest areas. The significance of this was that I had stopped at a rest area shortly after I had bought my sandwich at the Subway. I carefully perused the map and realised with a huge relief, that I had indeed called the wrong Subway the first time around.
Fortuity three: Super 8.
Now that there was still a chance my wallet was not gone, I drove on. Then I spied a Super 8 motel just off the freeway. I exited and entered their parking lot. As expected, there was some wifi, and it was free!
I searched google maps again (with my now superior knowledge of my lunchtime coordinates) and found about eight Subways around that region. Hell, which one had I gone to?
Fortuity four: Best Western.
I tried to imagine how my Subway looked. There was some motel next to it. I closed my eyes and tried to remember its logo. Was it a Best Western? Probably.
I now tried to search for Subways next to Best Westerns. This time Google did not fail me. There was a unique possible location.
I called them.
They had my wallet.
I will not try to describe the extent of my relief. Instead, I will merely say that I drove back ninety miles as fast as I could and picked up my wallet. Then I drove all the way back to Oregon again. I kept driving and driving till it was about eleven in the night. I stopped at some small motel in the little town of Pendleton and slept better than I have had for a long while.
Day 11 (July 10), Pendleton, Oregon to Portland, Oregon.
I woke up and left for Portland around noon. It took about three hours to reach the city. I checked into the hotel I had reserved and then went walking for a while. The motel was in a great location; smack in the middle of downtown.
I went to the airport and picked up AM. We had a wonderful dinner at a seafood place by the river and then came back to our hotel.
Day 12 (July 11), Portland, Oregon to Crater Lake, Oregon.
We woke up early and started driving towards Crater lake. It was a place I had longed to visit for years and we were both very excited.
About an hour into our drive, we stopped at the college town of Eugene to get some breakfast. Eugene has this reputation of being a very hip place, but the morning was cloudy and mildly dreary and there was hardly anyone on the streets. For a while we thought that Eugene’s hipness was exaggerated. But those fears vanished once we entered a cafe to get breakfast.
It was full of the hip crowd. People who would fit in perfectly in the coolest parts of Berkeley or San Francisco. The place itself was full of signs exclaiming their commitment to organic/local produce/vegan/fair-trade/universal brotherhood/world peace etc. And the coffee was so good.
We lounged around for an hour, enjoying our coffee and breakfast and making fun of hippies. Then we left and continued our journey towards Crater Lake. It took almost four hours to reach it.
Often enough, when you have heard many great things about a place, the expectations are so high that you end up disappointed. Crater Lake met my expectations. It was as beautiful as billed, and its waters looked, as we had heard, unbelievably blue.
The reason for this blueness (and this is what makes this lake unique enough to be designated a national park) is the lake’s amazing depth and incredible purity. The lake basically fills the entire crater of a huge dormant volcano and is almost two thousand feet deep at parts. And because there are no inlets, the water is just pure melted snow.
It was an enchanting place in every way.
We hiked down to the surface of the water and enjoyed the sights. Then we came back to our camp-site and made a fire.
As the sun went down, we cooked some dinner in my little stove. The canned soup tasted so good! Eventually, we retired inside our tent .
Day 13 (July 12), Crater Lake, Oregon to Portland, Oregon.
After waking up and packing up tent etc, we had lunch and then went for a longish hike to the the top of a peak at the rim of the crater.
The views of the lake were gorgeous along the trail. In fact, the view in every direction was spectacular. Verdant pine trees, layered ranges that dissove into the clouds. I am lost for words.
After having lunch at the top, we hiked down to our car and finally left crater lake around mid-afternoon. It was pretty late when we returned to our Portland hotel.
We decided to walk the city for a while and then went into a bar. We devoured a lot of excellent food at happy-hour prices and drank some good beer on the tap.
Then we came back to the hotel and drank some wine. AM and I had had a wonderful couple of days but she had a flight out the next morning to Berkeley. As for me, I was going to go to Seattle where I would spend a day with my friend J.
Day 14 ( July 13), Portland, Oregon.
I dropped off AM at the airport very early (5:30) and then came back to my hotel.
A little after, she called. By a strange coincidence of heavy congestion at the check-in counter and a broken security metal-detector, she had missed her flight. Now she was flying out the next morning.
As a result we had one more day together at Portland. I picked her up from the airport (and called up J and informed him I would not be able to make it to Seattle till the next day). We rested for a while and eventually left to see the city.
It was a long, loungy, beautiful day. We walked (and occasionally took the free bus) to explore downtown Portland. We spent a couple of hours at a coffee-shop and did some math. We played scrabble in a park next to a pretty fountain.
On the subject of coffee-shops and parks, Portland has lots of both. It is in fact an incredibly European city. You know what I mean? Plenty of public utilities. Tramways and buses that are free in the downtown area. City halls. Large squares and lovely fountains. A nice riverwalk. Cafes strewn all over the place. An air of cultured sophistication.
Overall, there were things about Portland I loved (coffee-shops, bars, parks, architecture, culture, jaywalking, proximity to mountains), things I had mixed feelings about (the free downtown bus rides and other signs of large public spending, the fickle weather) and things I hated (the preponderance of one-way streets, the occasional air of righteous hippiness, the everywhere-signs warning of heavy fines if you don’t wear a seatbelt).
Like the city of Portland, the state of Oregon also left me with mixed feelings. It is a beautiful state, and has many nice features, but they mess things up by their annoying meddling. The speed limits on most roads, including freeways, are too low (this is true everywhere in the US, but Oregon is particularly bad). The most common sign on the freeways are those that warn of heavy fines if you didnt wear your seatbelt or put on your helmet. Oregon also has some bizarre laws that exist virtually nowhere else. For instance, it is illegal here to drive into a gas station and self-fill gas into your car; here the attendant at the station must do it. If you decide to fill your tank yourself and a cop spies you, you can be slapped with a $500 fine. Apparently, Oregonian legislators think you are too dumb to safely fuel your vehicle and thus you (and your children!) must be protected from attempting to do so. I am serious.
I once used to think of Oregon as one of those ruggedly individual libertarianish mountain west states (like Colorado or Wyoming or Montana) but nothing in my trip seemed to support that. I mean, it does have better assisted suicide laws than anywhere else in the States. It has fairly liberal drug laws. But if you come to Oregon expecting an overall enhancement of your freedom to deal with your body and property in any manner you deem fit, you may be disappointed. (Your better bets are Colorado, Montana and New Hampshire). As I earlier observed in the context of tobacco, Oregon’s apparent libertarianism is an accident. Oregon is a nice state, but it not a particularly free one. At best, it is free only in some ways that align with European style liberalism. It is much like the Bay area that way.
Anyway, enough about Oregon’s political identity. I’ll go back to talking of our day in Portland.
It is a blissful experience to explore and walk about a pretty city for a whole day when you have no worries or deadlines.
The coffee-shop we spent some time in had such wonderful latte that we ordered it again. The roadside Greek cafe had super-tasty food. We walked by the fountains and the river. The scrabble game was exciting. Dinner was at a really good fondue restaurant.
We came back and finished the left-over wine from the previous night. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day.
So that was week two of my trip. The next day, AM would depart and I would drive (again alone) to Seattle, and from there to Montana. There will be another (final) update in about a week!