Saturday, September 8, 2007

From Portland to Hell

Fountain in City Park, Arlington Oregon
Taken 9/6/07

After yesterday’s extremely long post, today’s will be relatively brief. Also unlike previous posts, this will cover a couple of days on the road.

Faithful readers will recall that I went to bed Wednesday night, with my car still in the shop and a rented Kia Sorrento sitting outside my motel room in the Hollywood District of NE Portland.

Thursday morning I woke early, feeling rested, and was able to get some writing done. Concerned about travel time and not having the car, I decided to pack up the Sorrento and be ready to go as soon as I heard from Jennifer at Swede One. My absolute deadline for getting out or staying another night was 11:00 a.m., although the folk at the Banfield Motel have always been very good to me, and this time was no exception.

When 10:30 came and went with no word about the car, I tried calling the shop myself. Every time I called I got the answering machine. It must have been a madhouse there. Finally, with the Kia fully loaded, I locked the room, turned in my key, and headed out figuring that if nothing else, I could just sit in the parking lot while waiting to transfer all my bags.

Arriving at Swede One just before noon, I found that, indeed, the office was terribly busy. My car, on the other hand, was almost completed, and was just going through the final checks. There were no major mechanical problems with the car, but if I was to drive 10,000 miles, I’d probably want to get new tires. A quick call to Roemer’s Tire Factory in Missoula where Russ assured me that if I had the car to him by 12:30 on Friday, he’d have new rubber on the car that afternoon.

At 12:30 Thursday, I had a clean car, loaded and fully ready for the trip, thanks to the good folk at Swede One, and I hit the road headed home to Missoula. Rather than take the back roads, I chose my “fast” route: I-84 from Portland to east of Umatilla, I-82 from that point to Kennewick, US 395 to Ritzville, and I-90 to Missoula. I’ve driven this route so much that I could probably do it in my sleep—which is a good thing because once behind the wheel I felt incredibly tired.

Troutdale Oregon is at exit 17 from I-84 east of Portland, and is known primarily for its outlet mall, its relatively cheap gasoline ($2.54/gallon), and for a small but historic downtown where I have enjoyed great lunches in the past. Stopping for lunch again, I tried a place that was new to me, Siam Sushi (Yes, I know), where I ordered lunch combination C: sushi and chicken pad thai. That meant seven pieces of sushi, pad thai, and something else I couldn’t recognize, but seemed to be some sort of grilled chicken, all served in a large bento box. It was all very good, if a somewhat unorthodox combination, and I’d recommend the restaurant to anyone passing through the Portland area.

Leaving the restaurant, I saw a woman on the street carrying a small chocolate dog that I mistook for a MinPin. Turns out it was a Chihuahua, but lovely, and I introduced Gypsy to the woman and her dog before getting in the Volvo, turning on Paul Theroux, and heading east on I-84.

The trip home was uneventful. Even though I kept feeling as if I were falling asleep, somehow I made it all the way home, stopping only a few times. The first was at Arlington, Oregon where Gypsy had a pee and poop break and I took a few pictures in the city’s waterfront park.

I stopped again at Kennewick for dinner, but didn’t go to my usual Mexican place. Instead, because I was really feeling a time crunch, I stopped at my new favorite fast food burger place, Carl Jr’s, where I ordered a traditional six dollar burger and a orange creamsicle shake. Did I mention that I’m still wearing the black leather kilt? Even in Kennewick, no one said a word, or even looked at me strangely. You can read my impressions of Kennewick at

In one of those “timing is everything” moments, I looked to my right as I entered I-90 and saw what would have made a spectacular sunset shot. The sky was pink and pale blue, and there was a large brilliant orange semi-circle around the setting sun. No place to pull off and capture it digitally, so I had to chalk it up to what my friend Carl calls AFS—which is shorthand for Another Sunset. (You can fill in the F word.)

On I-90, I pulled off at Coeur d’Alene to get a large iced tea, and then again at Fourth of July Pass to rid myself of the iced tea and let Gypsy out for a bit. One more stop along the St. Regis River in Montana, and then clear sailing all the rest of the way home. Of course it was dark by the time I reached Spokane, so if it weren’t for the messages I’d received from Gary, and the highway reader boards all warning of Extreme Fire Danger, I wouldn’t have realized that I was driving through a landscape that looked like hell. Literally.

I pulled up to the Missoula house at half past midnight, and immediately went to bed. Friday morning I rose early, climbed into the hot tub, then started pulling stuff out of the car. I had some errands to run, and had the Volvo to Roemer’s in time for my 12:30 appointment. Choosing to stay and wait, I saw several friends come in, and I figured that if I sat there long enough, I’d see everyone I know in Missoula. Roemer’s is that good.

If I got off cheaply at Swede One (the bill was half what I was expecting), the tires I bought at Roemer’s made up the difference. But then my life is depending on those tires. I’m not interested in pinching pennies with this much driving ahead of me. Still the bill was over $200 per tire, so in the past two days I’ve spent around $1300 just on the car—and that doesn’t include gas. Living in a city with a good rapid transit system begins to become very appealing.

For some reason, Volvo specifies a very high torque for the lug nuts on my model of car. Most Volvos have their lug nuts torqued at 60-80 foot pounds, but my model requires 105 foot-pounds. Twice I’ve had a tire come off, or threaten to, because tire people didn’t torque the nuts sufficiently. This is the only car I’ve ever had that happen to, so now I’m probably obnoxious when talking to tire people. I insist that they check, double check, then check again to make sure my tires won’t come off the car. Russ, Shane and the guys at Roemer’s were very careful to do exactly what I asked, and even suggested that I take the car out for a 15 mile drive and then bring it back and they would recheck the torque. That’s how I got to see hell for myself.

Recently burned hillside
Evaro Hill, US Highway 93, Missoula County Montana

Taken 9/7/07

Evaro Hill is where US 93 heads north from Missoula to the Mission Valley. The road itself is about 10 miles west of Missoula, and is the most heavily traveled highway in the state of Montana. I first drove out I-90 to the Wye where US 93 turns north, and drove up to the top of the hill. The burnt land came right down to the roadside, and there were places were smoke was still rising from the ground. Gary had told me that the highway was closed earlier because of the fires.

Having seen that devastation, I took the frontage road to Frenchtown, the next town west of Missoula. The fires there had burned out of the forests, through the grasslands, and again, the burnt land reached all the way to the Interstate. This is an area with a lot of new, expensive construction, and the pattern seemed to be new homes, surrounded by very wet, very green lawns, which in turn were surrounded by burnt earth. I certainly would not have wanted to be the new owner of one of these homes, trying to save my investment while fire was raging all around me.

Scorched earth from recent fire activity
Taken 9/7/o7 in Frenchtown Montana

Say what you will about global warming, but I’ve been coming to or living in western Montana all my life. There have been years, 1962 comes to mind, when the fire season was terrible. But those years were in the minority until recently. Since 2000, we have had three years when the regional fires were so intense that the street lights in Missoula stayed on all day—there was so much smoke in the air. Three extreme fire seasons in seven years is a bit much for my taste. This year the smoke was preceded by a month of 100+ degree temperatures, another extreme that western Montanans aren’t used to. It could well be that the only reason the temperatures finally dropped is that the sun couldn’t get through the smoke. Things are not the way they used to be.

While in Frenchtown, I took a couple shots of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. One of the older churches in the area, and on the historic register, this church is another example of just how fiery Frenchtown can be. Local legend tells of the time that the bishop in Helena excommunicated the entire congregation of St. John the Baptist. Why would he take such a drastic step? Well, it seems the parish tried to lynch their priest. I have no idea why, but it does seem that with all the troubles the Roman church is facing these days, maybe other parishes would like to revive this practice. Oh, I probably shouldn’t have said that.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church
Built 1884
Taken 9/7/07 in Frenchtown, Montana

Back home to pick up maps, travel and camping guides at Triple A, and on to Roemer’s to have the torque checked one last time, then home to write up the long post about Portland.

This morning, sitting in the hot tub, I saw Orion in the sky and that told me that it was time to pack up and head out. So, as soon as this gets posted, I’ll be packing the car and heading for Helena, White Sulphur Springs, Harlowtown, Ryegate, Roundup, Forsyth, Miles City, Baker, and eventually Pierre. Mapquest tells me that it’s 14 hours from here to Pierre, and I’ll break that into two days. Whether I camp at Roundup or at Forsyth remains to be seen, but you can count on hearing all about the drive either on Sunday or Monday at the latest.

So for now it’s Cheerio, Pip-Pip, or as we used to say in Scottish Dancing Circles, TTFN.

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