Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Home Sweet Home

Well we finally made it home! I was sad to see Oregon go but I guess vacations never last, that's what makes them vacations. Dan and I promised each other (and our friends) that we would be back soon, at least to visit, although who knows where our future may take us. We really enjoyed it out there....

Our flights home weren't quite as easy as we had hoped. Both were delayed, the second one (from Denver) - having waited already for our first plane to land and for us to make the transfer - was then stopped for over an hour on the runway waiting to be de-iced and have a clear shot to take off amongst the long line of departing flights. On the plus side, we got complimentary drinks as a result.

Waiting to be de-iced in Denver
We ended up not arriving in Hartford until close to 1am, which meant we didn't get home until well after 4:00 since we had more than two hours' worth of a drive back up to Bristol. The worst part was the weather: torrential downpour (did we take Portland with us?) with some sleet and freezing rain. Yuck. At least we were still on West Coast time. Plus, Dan's amazing uncle packed us up some more delicious goodies for the homeward trek which helped keep us awake and alert.

Of course, Wednesday is my day to take care of the horses at the barn so after only 2.5hrs of sleep Dan and I had to be up and on our way. It definitely took some work to get out of bed (and I'm an early riser!), but I was excited to see Charlie. Luckily (or not?), the harsh rain had continued through the night and it was still downpouring with hurricane-like winds which meant the horses were staying in, i.e. much less work for us (no turnout or filling outside water buckets).
Disgustingly gross paddocks...and only getting soupier :(
The first thing I did when I got to the barn was give Charlie a big smooch. He seemed very happy (surprised?) to see me and immediately stuck his nose out the feed opening in the wall to nuzzle my face. What a sweetie :) His feet look good, I was pleased to see. He had gotten them done the day we left on our road trip so I hadn't seen them before we left (they weren't cheap so they'd better look good!).

As much as I missed Charlie, I was super tired and my work schedule today had been changed last minute so I didn't have a minute to spare; Dan and I finished barn chores in record time and then jetted home for a quick shower before I headed off to work...for my 9 hour day. :( I made a strong tea to drink on the way and then also stopped for a grande latte at Starbucks, definitely the reason I survived haha.

Tomorrow and Friday are also full days of work (my attempt to compensate for taking so much time off). However, I do have a 3-day weekend so that should definitely pan out to some quality Charlie-time. Now I'm running on borrowed steam having reached my 2nd (or 3rd?), wind but I'm sure as soon as my head hits the pillow I'll be out. It's nice to be sleeping in my own bed again, even if it means having a purring Charlie-cat smothering your head all night and licking your eyelids. That's love.
Charlie snuggling with Dan

Road Trip (Day 4 of 4): Nevada and Oregon and the weekend after

Our last day of travel dawned (thankfully) clear and sunny. There wasn't much to see town-wise as we coasted through Nevada heading north, even the rest stops were just outhouses instead of real buildings, but the sunrise and light on the valleys and hills was breathtaking.

Entering southern Oregon we encountered vast stretches of open range where cattle were allowed to freely roam and graze. These stretches, which were labelled with signs that said "Open Range next 102 miles" definitely were devoid of human habitation and we often didn't see another car for 45 minutes at a time.

As we continued onto Route 78 we entered the most beautiful mountain pass I have ever seen. For several hours we traveled up and down these mountains, completely alone and without seeing anyone else beyond the random truck. We even got to see some herds of antelope just chilling on the side of the road (see video). It was breathtaking (and the pictures don't do it justice).

Finally we reached the mountain town of Bend, Oregon where we stopped in at Deschutes Brewery for a quick tour and tasting (one of the best brewery tours I've ever had, actually) before continuing on to our final destination: Eugene. There, after 3100 miles, we were finally able to deliver the little car to Dan's cousin and enjoy some time relaxing.

Final odometer reading for the trip: 3146 miles!
For the next several days we hung out with them, visiting the local microbreweries this region is famous for, eating great food and exploring a bit. On Friday we traveled to Newport, OR for their annual Wine and Seafood festival, after which we spent the night in a yurt: Oregon's permanent version of a camping tent (no running water but it was heated and had electricity). Although it poured that day and night, the next day we actually got a few hours of sunshine so we took advantage of it by taking the coastal route up to Portland to check out the beautifully rugged coastline that Oregon is famous for. We also stopped in at the Tillamook Cheese Factory where we got some delicious cheese samples and ice cream.

Our yurt
Yummy samples at the Tillamook Cheese Factory
The sun came out!
Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach
Sea anemones (Haystack Rock)
Huge mussels!
Can you believe these starfish?!
Panorama of Haystack Rock

So beautiful
 A short video of Haystack Rock:

On the way to Portland we had picked up some fresh Dungeness crab from a roadside vendor (Dungeness crabs had just come in to season) so that night we had a delicious seafood dinner. At this point in our trip we met up with my good friend who is attending med school in Portland. On Monday the weather was once again unseasonably nice so we went on a hike to Multnomah Falls before meeting up with Dan's cousin again at McMenamin's, a local country-club-type establishment, for some good food, locally brewed drinks and to watch the Oscars.
Dan and me at Multnomah Falls
Me and my friend, E

Over the next two days we also got a chance to check out some of Oregon's famous food trucks and local sights, including the tram (like a big gondola) which connects the med school on the top of the hill to the downtown area and several shopping areas. Neither of us could believe that it was our last day and we definitely were not looking forward to heading home.... 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Road Trip (Day 3 of 4): Nebraska, Wyoming and Nevada

On Tuesday morning we woke up at 4:30am so as to have a good start on the day's travel and so were up and out well before sunrise. Along the way we had planned to see a couple of notable landmarks including a tree than seemed to be growing right out of the middle of a rock and a giant head of Abraham Lincoln at one of the rest stops.

Tree (in a treeless landscape) that is apparently growing right out of solid rock.

Abraham Lincoln, Laramie, WY

By midday the scenery was definitely transitioning to more plains with mountains in the distance. The highlight of my Wyoming scenery tour was seeing several bands of wild horses, one of which was right next to the highway, as well as a herd of antelope. Unfortunately, getting your camera out and taking a clear shot while going 75 mph is not easy so I have barely any photodocumentation. 
Wild Horse Band #2 of 4 that we saw, and one of the only ones I got a semi-decent picture of...the first ones were literally right next to the fence, but I completely forgot that the wild horses were in this area so I was too caught off guard to snap a shot before we passed them by and the rest were much farther from the road.
A third larger band, silhouetted on the horizon line

Lots of oil drilling in WY
We also discovered that gas stations out west offer Regular 85 octane gas instead of Regular 87 (so instead of 87, 91 and 93 they had 85, 87 and 91). We only realized this after a couple of "regular" fillups. Ooops! I'm sure it impacted our gas mileage a bit but at least it wouldn't kill the car, and now we knew for the future. At least we didn't make the mistake of filling up with E85, the ethanol-based fuel for FlexFuel cars!

Entering into Utah we started seeing a lot of the flat-topped buttes this area is famous for and as we continued west the scenery became more and more mountainous as we neared the Rockies. These buttes really do look like someone lopped the top off a mountain. It's strange because they seemed to spring up out of nowhere, everywhere else remaining completely flat and barren. When we passed next to some of them you could see the striations of the different red layers in the rocks, which was very cool.

By the time we reached the Rockies we were ready for a scenery change and boy did those mountains deliver! Coming down out of Salt Lake City, Utah we encountered a horizon that looked just like the Coors Light can. Breathtaking! We stopped on the side of the road to look at the Great Salt Lake as well but it was pretty foggy as that winter storm was starting to roll in so no real good pictures of that.
Rocky Mountains

When we reached the edge of Utah and Nevada we came upon some of the most surreal stretches of land I've ever seen. There was a two-lane road in each direction separated and surrounded by completely flat, very slightly flooded plains which made it feel like you were driving out into the middle of a vast expanse of open water. Devoid of any kind of trees or brush, with the only landmark anywhere you looked being the fog-shrouded mountains in the distance, it was a bit creepy. The fact that these mountains never seemed to get any closer nor the scenery change at all even after driving dead straight for 45 minutes to an hour only added to the illusion. The only break from all of this was a random Tree of Utah sculpture just chilling on the side of the road. Weird.

Finally we reached a pull-off in the middle of the Bonneville Salt Flats, which was to be our last scenic stop for the day. Apparently this area is the concentrated salt remains of a huge Paleolithic lake that used to cover the entire area (and is the reason why we were traveling for so long through such a flat basin). Now the remaining salt lies in a concentrated 30 square mile patch anywhere from a few inches to a foot or more deep. In the summer it is actually completely dry (although it was slightly wet when we saw it due to the higher water tables throughout Utah right now) and there is a pure white salt desert as far as your eye can see. They actually do all the official record time trials across the flats because they are so smooth and uniform. I wish we could have seen it during a drier time so we could have walked out on the flats themselves but you can still see all the salt collecting at the edges and accumulating on the rocks. When we were there, if you looked down into the water, all you saw was a ground of salt. Pretty cool.

When we reached the other side of the salt flats we had crossed into Nevada and figured we'd stop soon for the night. We had noticed a small band of snow on the weather radar but it was a thin band, maybe 20 miles wide, that was projected to only drop an inch of snow so we didn't think much of it. Also, we were traveling against the direction of the storm so we figured we'd have to deal with it for 15-30 minutes and then we'd be clear. What we didn't count on was the fact that Nevada highways are not lighted and you're literally out in the middle of nowhere most of the time; the exits are at least 30 miles apart so once you make the commitment to take the highway you're kind of stuck.

The snow started out with thick and wet flakes, which didn't stick to the ground but made visibility very poor as the headlights reflected off of what looked like a solid wall of snow. We were fine going slow with our hazards on and hugging the right side (there was no shoulder), but the trucks that shared the road were not so kind. At one point we almost got run off the highway by an ignorant trucker who was determined to take his half out of the middle while continuing to go 60mph so we decided to pull over at the first exit we saw and wait for the visibility to improve.

After about 30 minutes the snow appeared to let up a bit so, assuming that meant it was almost past, we headed back on the highway. As luck would have it we ended up behind a couple of plows. This was a good thing because although the going was slow, no one could blow by us and pass them and we were driving on freshly plowed pavement. We figured we'd follow them as long as possible and, if it got dicey, we could just follow them off an exit. Slow going, but very safe. Unfortunately after about 10 miles they must have reached the edge of their range so they pulled off in a turn-around and went back the other direction, deserting us in what was now about an inch or two of piling snow on the highway and 30 miles from the nearest exit. Awesome. Since there was nowhere to go but forward, not even a shoulder to pull off on, we had no choice but to keep going. Finally we reached a truck pull-off and, feeling very stupid for trusting the local radar, pulled over to evaluate our options. At this point the snow was starting to drift and stick; plus the trucks were still being jerks since they were heavy enough to drive just fine.

Following the plows
After sitting at the pull-off for a few minutes and consulting our GPS we realized there was a rest stop 9 miles up the road and a town exit about 4 miles before that, so if we got nervous we could pull off there. Rather than wait for it to worsen, we decided that since there was hardly any traffic now we were better off trying to make it to a more stable resting point. Honestly we felt perfectly safe to drive, it was everyone else we were worried about. When we approached the town exit conditions were difficult to see but not super slippery so we opted to push on to the rest stop. Of course, keeping in line with our current luck for the evening, the rest stop was one 42 miles! Seriously!? Of all the rest stops we'd encountered this entire trip, this was the only one that was closed. Now we were getting nervous. It was near whiteout conditions by this point with nowhere to pull over and the snow was getting colder so it was blowing and drifting onto the roadway making things slick. With no other choices, we had to press on. I put on the flashers, kept it in low gear and hoped for the best.

It felt like forever but miraculously after about 30 minutes the snow suddenly lessened, then stopped completely and we were back up to 75mph as if nothing had ever happened. Not even a flake on the road! I was incredibly drained after driving through all of that and we were both really ready to make it to the hotel and into bed. Not only was I mentally exhausted from the stressfulness and extreme concentration needed to drive in the snow, but the difficult weather also added several hours to the total time spent in the car that day (which was already one of our longer days). Winnemucca, like every other town in Nevada, was a cheesy casino town with sketchy lights and even sketchier motels, but luckily our hotel (while nothing special) was at least clean and secure (although the host at the desk was a dead ringer for Milton from Office Space, kinda amusing). After two quick showers we went right to bed, looking forward to starting our final leg of the journey the next morning and hoping our bad luck would have run out by then...

Winnemucca, NV