Day Nineteen – Thursday, September 30: Journey’s End

I never really planned to drive almost a thousand miles in one day. But it happened. You’ve heard of road rage? I chalk this up to road fatigue. I just wanted to get home and honestly, once I start driving with only that one thought in mind, it’s pretty hard to stop.

By now both my wife and I were heartily sick of being crammed inside the confines of our Honda, and not because it’s a small car. Given a hundred foot Hollywood stretch limo, I think we would have felt the same. Nor did it matter much what was rolling past our windows anymore. It could have been the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, and the Great Pyramid one after the other and I doubt we’d have cared or even stopped to take a picture.

In Southern Idaho

(In Southern Idaho)

This is not a good attitude to have and I did my best to overcome it as we left Rock Springs and drove relentlessly westward, but this part of Wyoming does nothing to alleviate such a feeling. Bleak, barren, alkali hills bleached of all color and life were all we saw for the first hour or so. Rarely have I seen a landscape more devoid of interest. All you can do is drive on and hope it improves, which it did about the time we re-entered the northeast corner of Utah back into red rock country. But these weren’t the desolate desert rocks of Moab. There were plenty of trees and other life as we took I-84 and hooked around to the north of Salt Lake City, doing the SLC bypass yet again!

Once through the Wasatch mountains we sped north on I-15/84 heading for Idaho. South central Idaho is yet another huge swath of expansive, open country with little to recommend it unless you’re a farmer or really like your nearest neighbor being several miles away. As more and more folks flee these isolated rural areas to the urban centers of the country, especially the younger generation, these farms and small communities are becoming not only grayer, but virtually an endangered species. It makes you wonder who is going to be left some day in the not too distant future to grow our food and raise the animals. Will we end up importing all of that from China, too?

I-84 slashes across southern Idaho through Burley, Twin Falls, Mountain Home and on toward Boise, and we blew past every bit of it like the devil was a car length behind us, stopping only for gas. Not long after passing through Boise and Nampa, the only true metropolitan area in the entire state, we hit the Oregon border and took a break at a rest stop in the town of Ontario.

In retrospect, we probably should have called it a day here or shortly afterward, somewhere in Oregon. But we’d made excellent time to this point and this was where my road-trip-fatigue-I-just-wanna-get-home syndrome really kicked in. I predicted (too optimistically, as it turned out) that if we kept pushing on, we could make it home only an hour or two after dark. I’d driven this stretch of freeway a couple of times before, and to my mind there was no compelling reason to stop and waste another night in a motel room when a few more hours driving would bring us home, essentially trading the short term discomfort of a very long day’s drive for the benefit of reaching our own bed. In the end, that probably wasn’t a good trade-off.

Field and Stream in Colorado

(Field and Stream in Colorado)

So on we drove, through the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon, which is a lovely area and an entirely different sort of mountainous terrain from either the Rockies or the Cascades. It’s more arid, the Ponderosa and Lodgepole pines a bit more sparse and widely spaced, the forest floor less densely carpeted than the lush, wet, tangle of brambly undergrowth I’m accustomed to in western Washington. This is a forest you could actually walk through without benefit of a marked trail or a machete.

After passing through La Grande I-84 climbs to a high point of 4,193 feet, then gradually descends until reaching a well known section called Emigrant Hill, famous for it’s steep (for an Interstate) 6% grade, two tight switchbacks in the westbound direction, and the fact the east and westbound lanes are at one point separated by a distance of two miles. What you also get in the westbound direction is a commanding view of the lowlands and city of Pendelton in the distance, and, if you time it right like we did, an amazing sunset. I may have seen more spectacular sunsets in sheer brilliance of colors or brightness, but this one was special for how long it lasted. Being westbound helped to prolong the beauty all the way to Hermiston.

Watching the blazing orange ball of the sun fading to a rosy glow as it fell behind the rolling hills and the azure sky deepened to violet would have been the perfect end to our long, long journey. Unfortunately, life only works out that way in the movies. In real life, we had another three hours left to drive. As night claimed the sky about the time we crossed the Columbia River back into Washington, that next three hours threatened to extend into an ordeal of aching backs, cramped muscles, and saddlesore butts that would never end.

But make it home we did at last, 979 miles and fifteen hours after we’d left Rock Springs that morning, a one-day marathon of driving I plan never to repeat. Looking back at the overall trip now, of course, we can laugh (and groan) at many of the mistakes we made along the way, try to learn from them, and realize that we’ll make other mistakes in the future as well. Just, hopefully, not the same ones.

So how do you sum up a trip that encompassed so much in terms of distance traveled, sights seen, experiences enjoyed (or endured) and memories made? I guess I see it in many ways as a microcosm of life – a lot of stuff you might do differently if you could, but in the end that’s all part of the ride, too, and the journey really is just as important as the destination.

The highway never ends...and neither do our travel adventures!

(The highway never ends…and neither do our travel adventures!)

Final question, then. Would I recommend this same trip to anyone else? Well, I can give you two answers for that. If you haven’t seen any or most of these places, I’d say absolutely. But would we do it again? Let me put it this way. Next time we visit New Orleans, we’ll be flying.

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