Ultimate Road Trip

Greatest Hits

It’ll take a while for this trip to truly sink in. It was everything you could expect from a journey like this and more: joyful, heartbreaking, rewarding, frustrating, challenging, inspiring, spontaneous … the list goes on.

In an effort to process the adventure, Ryan and I sat down on our last day and tried to hone in on our “greatest hits.” These are the people, places, and things we’ll treasure the most, but really. The whole trip was spectacular.

To start, some trip stats:

  • Days on the road: 56
  • Nights camping: 37
  • Miles driven: ~5,800
  • Miles run: 113.4
  • Miles hiked: 120.15

Best Hike

We expected to climb a lot more than hike on this trip, but clearly from the mileage above, we gained a great appreciation for walking in the woods—particularly backpacking. We agreed that the best hike was to Two Medicine Lake in East Glacier. It was 12 miles of very little elevation and meandering trail that took you through all sorts of environments, including a huckleberry patch. We encountered a hoary groundhog and ptarmigan mom with her chicks along the way, and the view at the lake itself was stunning. A close second was Delta Lake, since the first time we attempted it, we got hailed on in the gnarliest fashion, and the second time (when we actually made it to the lake), we encountered a grizzly on the way down. Honorable mention goes to our backpack in to Crevice Lake, since it was our first time backpacking together and the lake was also stellar.

Two Medicine Lake
Delta Lake
Backpacking in Yellowstone

Best Run

While a lot of our runs consisted of roads and paved bike paths, it felt like we should still mention a couple we liked. Running up and down Ryan Road was a great run, since it took you down, down, down, then up, up, up. It was exactly 3 miles and an excellent workout. Similarly, the Mosier Plateau Trail took you up, down, up, down and back again. The views at the top and bottom of the Columbia River were solid and this also really got the heartrate up—in a good way.

Best Beer

We had to distinguish between best beer and best brewery/pub, since they don’t always align. We sampled many beers on this trip, and although we sometimes kicked ourselves for it, it was never egregious. We only really drink a single beer in a sitting, maybe two if it’s a Friday or Saturday. In any event, the best beer we tried was in a random pizza place in Bend: Jeremiah Johnson Honey Weizen (Great Falls, MT). We both love hefeweizens and you could really taste the honey. The best “basic” beer we got was Sneaky Weasel by Balderdash Beer (Vancouver, BC)—a crisp lager with good flavor. And the most unique beer was hands down Más Boss West Coast IPA, which we got at Boss Rambler Beer Club (Bend, OR). This was most unique since we got it topped with a frosé float.

Honorable mentions go to some specific styles: the Tamarack Brewing Keylime Radler (Lakeside, MT), which was sold to us as a margarita radler; Roadhouse Brewing Wilson IPA (Jackson, WY); and Iron Goat Slam Dunkel (Spokane, WA).

It should be noted that pretty much all of these beers are from different states!

Best Brewery / Pub

Another very stiff competition. The winner has to be 3 Bears Brewery in Banff, though. Not only was the beer solid, the chicken sandwich we got was out of this world and came with waffle fries. The atmosphere won out, with an open air ceiling and plants hanging all around us. Plus, we’d just finished three days of hard backpacking. Still, we’d also like to recognize Grand Teton Brewing Company in Victor, Idaho, for its unpretentious vibe and delicious beer. We sat in lawn chairs at sunset and ate tons of free popcorn, after being drenched by rain and hail.

Honorable mention goes to Stagecoach, which was a lively brewpub on Teton Pass with lots of solid beers on tap and excellent street food.

Munchin popcorn at GTBC

Best Food

This one was not a competition at all. Hands down, Capones in Coeur d’Alene was the best food we ate. I mean, we ate there twice, it was so good. We ordered only Guy Fieri suggestions, including “sweet hot” boneless wings and a Philly cheesesteak. I could eat those wings for the rest of my life.

That said, we want to shout out Fire Tacos in West Seattle, since it was likely our best food pick without Guy’s guidance. The birria nachos and churros we got were maybe the best we’ve ever eaten. Honorable mention goes to Dump City Dumplings in Bend, as those dumplings were so unique and tasty.

Birria nachos at Fire Tacos

Best Pastry

I think it’s funny that we ingest so many pastries, it was necessary to included them as a category in the Greatest Hits. The best had to be the pecan sticky bun from La Baguette in Revelstoke. We got it twice as well, it was that life-changing. Second is the huckleberry bearclaw from Polebridge Mercantile outside of West Glacier. Though it had gotten a little rain-soaked, it held its claw shape and its integrity. Honorable mentions are split between us: for me, it was the bee sting bun I got at The Daily in Bozeman, which was like a cream cheese-filled, almond- and honey-topped round croissant, and for Ryan, the almond poppy seed croissant he got at Morning Glory Cafe in Eugene.

Pecan sticky bun on left
Speaks for itself

Best Coffee Shop

We drank a lot of coffee on this trip, both in and out of shops, as a way to fuel our work. We’re always looking for the best coffee shop “vibe,” and that’s ultimately how we chose the winners in this category. Number one is Coeur d’Alene Coffee Co., which had multiple fireplaces and lots of couches and nooks and crannies to work in. Runners up are Treeline Coffee Roasters in Bozeman—a hipster, botanical vibe—and Sisters Coffee Co. in Sisters, Oregon—a homey, log-cabin vibe. Both were absolutely hopping when we were there, which speaks to their reputation and popularity.

A shout out to Redpoint Climbers Supply, which is really a gear shop first and a coffee shop second. The employees there were straight chillers and they hooked Ryan up with free drip coffee while I was out and about.

Best Song

We are always trying to accumulate new tunes, and it was no different on this trip. The song of the trip is probably “no song without you” by HONNE, which we listened to endlessly. We are very fond of HONNE, especially their songs “Day 1” and “Me & You.” (Fun fact about HONNE, since I’m a music geek: “honne” is a Japanese word that means “true feelings.”) A close runner-up is “cool with it” by brb.—I recommend “your love” and “move” by brb. as well. Finally, we have to call out “Adventure” by Russ. It’s off his new album, released while we were on the trip, and is just fitting.

Honorable mention goes to “Lil Boo Thang” by Paul Russell, also released on the trip and sent to Ryan by our friend Geo.

Best Podcast

Though we listened mostly to music, podcasts were definitely a welcome change of pace. While we couldn’t recall a ton of super noteworthy pods, we did especially like “Why can no one agree on the truth anymore?” a Modern Wisdom podcast in which host Chris Williamson interviews Eric Weinstein, a mathematician, economist, managing director of Thiel Capital, and a podcaster. It will blow your mind.

Best Town

This one was super tough, since we can appreciate virtually any place we go for its charms. We decided to split the category into mountain towns and “town towns.” Of the mountain towns, we liked Victor, Idaho, and Banff, British Columbia, best. Victor was tiny but had some exceptional little spots, and Banff, though crowded with tourists, is just stunning. As for “town towns,” Bozeman, Montana, was one of our faves for its variety of activities and eateries, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for its food, climbing, water, shops … everything!

Downtown Banff
View in north Bozeman
View over Lake Coeur d’Alene

Best Sport Route

The majority of our climbing was bouldering, but we still did enough sport to call out some routes. Our favorite areas were definitely Smith Rock in Bend and Rattler Gulch in Missoula. Of the routes in those places, we liked Cat Scan (5.11b) in Smith (though we were absolutely roasted by the sun) and Fashion Disaster (5.10d) in Rattler. Cat Scan had great crimps and committing moves, while Fashion Disaster had the most variety of moves, including laybacks and a dyno.

Ryan on Fashion Disaster
Smith Rock

Best Boulder

We definitely think the V5 we did at Tubbs Hill in Coeur d’Alene (uncreatively named “Tubbs Hill #4a“) was the best problem; it had a sweet overhanging roof that felt like you were tackling something in the gym. We also just loved a lot of the bouldering areas we hit, generally. Tubbs Hill was the best due to its proximity to the lake, but we also liked the Overhangutang boulder in Bozeman (so wide and had a variety of levels on it), Grohman Boulders outside of Nelson, BC (right above the train tracks, overlooking the town), and the Empire Boulders outside White Salmon, Washington (in the most magical, quintessential PNW forest).

Tubbs Hill bouldering
View from Grohman Boulders
Empire Boulders

Best Campsite

We slept in everything from designated campgrounds to glorified parking lots, and by the end, felt pretty good at sleeping anywhere. Our favorite campsite had to be Curtis Canyon outside of Jackson, Wyoming. The road to get to our spot was so gnarly and you had to really work for it, but the views of the Tetons the whole way were insane. Sunset and sunrise were excellent, the latter especially since it included cinnamon oat Kodiak Cakes. In second place is Ryan Road outside of West Glacier, since it was not only beautiful, but also offered great running. And finally, we have to highlight our spot outside of Green River, which offered a top-notch sunset and some solace after a very hard week: a broken phone, the passing of my dog, and work stress.

Curtis Canyon
Ryan Road
Green River

Best Animal Encounter

I don’t think either of us really considered all the wildlife we’d see (minus preparing for bears with mace), but wow. So many animals. Over the course of the trip, we saw a bear, elk, deer, bison, wolves, marmots, pikas, snakes, lizards, rams, sheep, eagles, hawks, ptarmigans, a hoary groundhog, and even a woolly caterpillar. The best sighting had to be the bison in Yellowstone, since we were absolutely flooded by a herd of them flanking all sides of the car. However, stumbling upon a grizzly bear while hiking was also a sick experience, mainly because it taught us exactly how to handle such a situation, and we handled it well. We’d be remiss to not highlight the wolves, too, since we woke up at 4:00 a.m. two days in a row just to spot them. While tiny in the frame of Ryan’s binoculars, it was still so special to see them.

I also will give an honorable mention to the ptarmigan mom and her chicks on the Two Medicine Lake trail, since we got to sit and watch them for several minutes, so close we could reach out and touch them if we wanted.

Further Reflection

While we each learned particular things about ourselves individually, we learned some lessons together that we’ll carry with us. These lessons weren’t new nor earth-shattering, but the trip hit them home.

First, always be flexible. We never got upset about the changes of plans, the inclement weather, the availability of friends and family, because we always wrote our plans in pencil. We’re highly logistical people, constantly reordering our to-do list to optimize our efficiency. This tactic served us well over and over, and because we’re so prone to changing plans, it almost seems like the first plan will never be how things play out. We have more empathy for others who change plans as a result, too.

The second lesson is always having open and honest communication. It doesn’t matter who you travel with; if you’re on the road for two months and see that person day in and day out, sharing close quarters, you’re going to get under each other’s skin. For the most part, we did not bug each other too much, but there were certainly moments where it felt like we weren’t understanding each other well. The more we pushed ourselves to confront one another when things didn’t feel right or fair, as well as learn to agree to disagree sometimes, the better our relationship became. Moreover, we learned to give each other space by creating space for ourselves— sometimes running separately, going for walks alone, breaking off to call loved ones. It’s a tricky balance, but by the end, we had struck it decently well. 

This trip was challenging for us both week to week, for different reasons. The biggest challenge for me was having to grieve while on the road; I was completely separated from familiar people and places when I lost my dog, then my job, then my grandmother—all in the course of a few weeks. I struggled to process these losses tremendously and admittedly haven’t fully processed any of them. Ryan, for his part, thinks the greatest challenge for him was having to watch me endure these losses and try to support me as best as he could. Grief shows up differently for everyone, which makes it challenging as a friend to know exactly how to show up for those grieving. While the loss of a dog was difficult for Ryan to empathize with, as he’s never owned a pet, he was enormously helpful with coping with the job situation. Both of us were taken aback by how it all transpired, and it led to many rich conversations about the meaning of work. By the end of the trip, I think we both improved our approach to this complicated course of events: I tried harder to reach out to others to avoid putting the full emotional, care-taking burden on Ryan, while Ryan developed more grace for my weepy ways as he came to understand my position better. 

There were aspects of the trip that surprised us. As mentioned, we never expected to hike so much—and hike more often than run or climb. We learned that all the hiking really made us “mountain tough.” While we weren’t as fit as usual since we weren’t lifting or going to the rock gym, our functional fitness skyrocketed. We weren’t affected by all the scrapes and bumps and bruises we acquired while trekking through rugged terrain. We were absolutely cranking miles with 30-pound packs on our backs. We became more durable, generally—to heat, cold, rain, wind. 

We also had no plans to spend time in Idaho, and ended up loving Idaho most. Victor and Coeur d’Alene were some of our favorite spots, and we spent several days in both. 

We realized we’re not city people. We felt so uncomfortable in Spokane that we left after 24 hours, and we didn’t even get out of the car in Portland. I remembered how we similarly struggled in San Francisco last fall, too. In all instances, we’d felt sort of weird, decided to go for a hike instead, and felt immediately better. The one exception to this rule was Seattle—we had a great time there. I think it’s because not only did we do a lot of exploring by bike, but also we had friends to direct us where to go. 

Looking back, we’re also kind of shocked at how much we accomplished in every National Park. We did double hikes and fully explored the surrounding towns. We made that pass worth it! 

What would we change? Not much, honestly. Obviously we’d have fewer rainy or smoky days, but we didn’t get hampered too much by either. Ryan would have the car set-up a little more organized and dialed, but given the time we had before leaving, it worked pretty well. I think I would take back times where we ate out at chains or settled on mediocre food—there was so much GOOD food to be had, why waste calories and money on stuff that we can get any time or isn’t that appealing? 

Things we’d do again? Is it a cop out to say “the whole trip”? Really, we are still a little floored about how it turned out. We’ve discussed doing the whole thing over every 3-5 years. The next time we do it, we’d like to go in reverse. We’ll head toward Arizona first, to Sedona in particular, then work through parks in California. And hit more hikes and waterfalls in the PNW!

The interactions we had on this trip were 99% positive. We tried to pick the funniest conversation, but it was hard to choose. The old man at the Apple Store in Spokane; the gentleman at the natural spring outside West Glacier; the Canadians who ran down the Delta Lake trail with us in the Tetons; the liquor store owner in Revelstoke; the man named Bones in Mansface Liquor in Green River. There’s one interaction I never wrote about but STILL cracks Ryan up, as it’s something that only would happen to me. 

In Jackson, while checking out the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, a woman came up to me. She had clearly had a few drinks and was quite animated. 

“Excuse me, sorry. Could you take a picture of me and my husband?”

“Of course!”

“OK, great! The thing is, we never have any candid photos and I really want this to look natural. He’s in the bathroom right now, and I’m hoping you can get a picture of us here, with the bar sign in the background, without him noticing.”

“I will certainly try my best…”

I walked about 15 feet past their table and turned around. It already looked so choreographed. She had her seat side by side with her husband’s and had arranged everything on the table. And she was staring right at me. There was no way I was going to be unnoticeable. As I tried to figure out a way to hide myself a little, someone at the bar took the seat next to Ryan (who was trying to stay as uninvolved as possible), and the woman freaked out. She was gesturing wildly to me that SOMEONE TOOK YOUR SEAT!!! and I kept waving her off to assure it really did not matter to me. She got so upset about it that by the time her husband returned, she spilled the beans immediately and told him how I was going to get a photo of them but someone had TAKEN HER SEAT!!! Ryan was laughing mercilessly at me. I don’t know how I get into these situations so often, but it seems to be a pattern. 

The bad interactions, on the other hand, were few and far between. We frequently got suspicious looks at bars since folks seemed distrustful of Colorado licenses, plus our licenses look different since we’re two years apart and the style changed during that time. There were the jerks who honked on the dirt road in Green River where we were camping, at 3:00 am. And there was a dude on a longboard who cursed out an elderly couple when they refused to take a flower from him. 

There are a lot of things we’ll miss. Ryan admittedly will miss pooping in the woods (just feels natural now). We both will miss sleeping in the tent and waking up to new views and places every week. I will miss Ryan singing to me every morning, to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine,” a song with the first lyrics always being “Her name is Sarah…” We’ll miss the coffee in the morning at camp and crawling into the tent at night, the sound of rain on the roof, the crisp mountain air. 

That said, we’re glad for some things to be over. For me, I got sick of all the shenanigans to keep devices charged all the time. Ryan got frustrated at times by trying to make workspaces outdoors function well (mostly just in the rain). It’ll be a welcome change to not worry about where we’ll shower or do laundry next, and we’re looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family we’ve sorely missed. 

We want to thank a lot of folks for their support during our journey.

To Amaury, thanks for taking us out in Aspen before the journey began and letting us crash under your standing desk.  

To the Atencios, thanks for letting us join your Vail vacation by having us out to dinner, letting us stay overnight, going fly fishing, and making us homemade waffles. 

To “Captain” John Mastrangelo, thanks for hosting us at the front end of the trip when Ryan’s phone malfunctioned and Chowder was in the hospital, and on short notice. 

To Landon, thanks for meeting up with us in Missoula and for the climbing, beers, and camping. It was so great to see a friendly face after weeks of being out!

To Uncle Carey, thanks for hosting us in Mosier, feeding us dinner, letting us play with Bella, and having all the lively conversations. 

To Tara, thanks for hosting us in Eugene and being down for BLTs and face masks, showing us your favorite spots to eat and drink, taking time at the bookstore to explore, and just being a magical human being overall. 

To Jenna and Jake, thanks for not only treating us to gourmet food, but also saving us the worry of where to go the night before our early flights. We are indebted to you for letting us leave our valuables at your house and giving us a safe place to stay before leaving. 

Thanks to our families for trusting us to figure things out and being a support from afar throughout; to our friends who checked in and friends who took our calls. It would be difficult to name each and every one of you, but please know how much we appreciated hearing your voices and reading your texts and emails. It made us feel less far from home. 

And last but not least, thanks to YOU, the reader of this nonsense, whether it was every single post, just the first and last, or some in between. I have always loved to write for my own enjoyment, and it means the absolute world to me that anyone cares to read my writing. To know that my words may have had a positive impact on even one person brings me immense joy. 

Until the next errantry!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All's Well that Ends Well

September 21, 2023