395 North
The southern part of this trip was largely a retracing of a trip we took a year earlier, during Daveweek '95 festivities: Minden, Bend, a loop up to the Columbia, Mt. Shasta. The top part, though, was new territory for us, Washington east of the Cascades. We did it in a rented Taurus -- loved the cargo space, hated the driver's seat. David's goal was not to use the I-word but in the year since we were here last, the Internet's visibility has grown amazingly. Every small-town newspaper has a Web site; even the car dealerships display URLs.

Saturday, the Lodge to Minden, Nev.: The dog taxi took Abs to camp in Gilroy first thing in the morning, a 150-mile round trip. We picked up the rental car, loaded up, and were on the road by about 11:30. Most people had done their long-weekend escape the night before, so Highway 50 to Tahoe was a cruise. On Kingsbury over to the Carson Valley we had our first look at the big fire set a few months earlier by moronic teenagers playing with gasoline and a lizard.

What a comforting feeling to cruise into Minden seeing all the No Vacancy signs and to know we have a room, and comped, even.

The back entrance into Carson Valley Inn is pathetic on any weekend afternoon: a lobby full of wedding participants who never seem happy. This time a new bridegroom was in a screaming match with two of his guests, and someone's mother was dressed in black. As much as we love CVI, it always makes us wince to see advertised the wedding package that comes with "cake for two."

It being Sa-tongue-day, David was pumped up for tongue night at the golf course. Always concerned that we not offend our hosts, he ate two servings of soup, one from his bowl, one from Su's. But there's no fooling the canny senior waitress. "You do not like the soup, eh?" she asked Su. To make up for trying to put one over on her, David ate two tureens of lamb tongue, and wondered if he could order a third to go.

Back at the casino, Dave played $50-200 a hand for a few hours and ended up breaking even. The kind of play that gets us free rooms on short notice on a holiday weekend ...

Sunday, Minden to Lakeview, Ore.: It was probably a mistake to drive to the West Shore on a weekend like this, but D's parents were camping at Sugar Pine Point and we had told them we'd take them to lunch. The five miles from Tahoma to Highway 89 took us about half an hour.

We had figured on Alturas but the whole town was full up. (Someone told us later it was the firefighters.) So we did an extra hour north to Lakeview. Heading past Goose Lake, we were behind a couple guys riding in a towed car. They got busted by two motorcycle cops on the south edge of town.

Lakeview had no problems in the vacancy department. The only place full was Hunters Hot Springs, which I still wouldnt mind staying at some day. I heard somewhere that they have a mini-museum of stuff from the Spokane World's Fair, which would have fit thematically into our trip. At the Skyview, we paid $80 for what should have been a $40 room. The fair being in town, we decided not to quibble, and indeed the place did rent its last room that night.

David had pushed for Mom's Diner, but we settled on El Aguila Real. We shoulda gone for Mom's, despite the bad punctuation on her signs. The Mexican meal started with "Sangria? Never heard of it," and went downhill. Cycle Oregon was to hit town the next week, and the guy at the table behind us was describing exactly what sort of free massage he would give any cyclist who got in the way of his truck.

Great local paper: Front-page stories about a local couple who had worked at security guards at the Atlanta Marriott during the Olympics, and two teachers who attended a seminar to learn "to drive the Super Information Highway." Big two-column wedding photos. Social column that lead with item on Alice Smith, former school cafeteria cook, who went to Ashland with a friend and saw three Shakespeare plays.

On her five miles along farm roads the next morning, Su saw many quail and no other joggers. You could tell the locals weren't used to such activities: Driving by, they'd look at Su, then look behind to see what was chasing her. Actually, more often than not there was a dog at her heels. It always worries me when all the dogs in town look the same; sooner or later they're going to be inbred down to psychos. The Lakeview dogs tended toward Australian shepherd/border collie, though they all seemed fairly sane so far.

Monday: Lakeview to Kennewick, Wash. From Baker to Pendleton this retraced a drive we did out of Bend a few years ago. It's really nice territory -- Su keeps saying her dream job is to drive a Fed Ex truck in the high rolling plateau of the south-of-Pendleton sector. This time we were a week before the Round-up so we could have stayed in Pendleton, but we hadn't been wowed by it the time before. (Cimmiyotti's, a red-plush underground steakhouse, is worth a stop, but the Red Lion was pretty depressing and it still looked like the best of the bunch.) So we headed up to the Tri-Cities (Hanford, Kennebunkport and Bosco, or something like that). Our room was on the Columbia River and very cheap -- the place was deserted on this Labor Night, except for railway men laying over in the UP lounge.

Tuesday: Kennewick to Spokane. The road rose from the Channeled Scablands to a more forested area around Spokane. We were in town soon enough for lunch in the big Milk Bottle before we picked a hotel abutting Gonzaga University on the Spokane River. The big Native American museum has shut down, but we had a nice walk through the campus and looping back through the Expo site and downtown. Our dinner in an old mansion west of downtown -- very reminiscent of Hy's Mansion in Vancouver -- would have been nice except for absolutely abysmal service. Zero stars for Patsy Clark's. It rained a little the next morning as Susan ran along the river.

Random Spokane observations:

David Day: Spokane to Sun Mountain. This being the 395 North trip, we continued on that highway to within 25 miles of the Canadian border, then (because we had firearms) veered west. Kind of cloudy and rainy all day, but a really pretty drive. Lunch at the Whistler in Tonasket, where they have a burger called the Whopper. The diner was all aflutter about the new ice cream product they'd just added to the menu, a soft-serve cone with a hairnet of "flavor ribbons" -- pina colada, tutti-frutti, mocha, bubble gum, blue.

As we entered orchard country, noxious weeds replaced red-light running as the topic of the admonitory public service signs. "Eradicate Noxious Weeds -- It's Your Responsibility." Diffuse knapweed is the No. 1 villain.

A short foray into the Cascades brought us to Winthrop, a too-cute former mining town that now draws tourists with a strip of false-front old-timey Western establishments. Quick U-turn and back to the Sun Mountain Lodge, every bit as gracious and cozy as the town was irritating. Our room had a great big view of the mountains and the little dirt roads out to remote cabins. The dinner more than made up for the previous night: great service, great food, and David got his Silver Oak cabernet. After dinner, he opened the presents we'd been carrying for 1,000 miles.

The next morning Su had the best run of the trip, on the network of trails the resort maintains. (In the winter, it's a big cross-country ski destination.) The return brought her up past the stables, where Boomer the muddy stable dog (another border collie) gave her an enthusiastic greeting. It is credit to the staff that nobody looked askance at the pawprints on her shoulders when she returned to the lodge.

We seriously considered staying a second day. It would be one heck of a drive to Bend on Friday, but we went as far as making sure we could get a room for a second night. Finally we decided to head out and get some extra time in Bend, with a promise to return to Sun Mountain. This decided, we locked in the last free nights with reservations in Welches and Mount Shasta.

Thursday: Sun Mountain to Welches, Ore. This driving day could have been much shorter, but not just a little shorter. Meaning there was no place, really, between Wenatchee and Welches that looked like a good place to spend the night. Yakima? No. Goldendale? Nice-looking place on the river, but no smoking. Hood River? Done that, a few times, never been really satisfied. So we did a big drive that put us in good position for an early arrival in Bend.

The morning's route was beautiful and strange. Miles of stone cairns every hundred yards or so lined the Methow Valley highway south of Carlton. (The valley's web site reflects the same whimsical humor.) Entiat had a cliff that bore painted class years from 1921 on, the older ones simple black-on-white blocks, the newer very elaborate, all requiring some sort of climbing rig. Chelan looked very European, a town dominated by a long lake right down its middle. And we saw lots of the aluminum stockpots on fenceposts, apparently something to do with electricity, that we had been seeing since John Day. (David actually stopped so Susan could check one out. "Open it!" he called from the safety of the car, but it had a sign saying DANGER pressure must be released before opening.)

Lots of apple orchards. Who eats all those? Do they go mostly for juice? I guess if this is where all the nation's apples come from, there's enough demand but boy there were a lot.

Lunch at a truck stop in Ellensburg, then along the Yakima River, which even on a weekday drew dozens of men in high-prowed dories flyfishing during the midday hatch. Flipping through the radio we caught the tail end of our road-trip theme song, Hank Snow's "I've Been Everywhere." Graffito spray-painted on a corrugated warehouse in the town of Thrall: "Hill is a liverlip goose." Ah, small towns, where even the insults are innocent. We were not held in Thrall. Unfortunately, we were held in Yakima. We stopped at a grocery store off the freeway and it took us about an hour to figure out how to get back on the road. Yakima, it must be said, has some great neon. We snapped this rodeo girl, but we missed my favorite, outside Sport City Restaurant Cocktails Cigars: a duck hunter spinning madly and firing wildly, neon dashes bursting from his rifle barrel.

It was 8 o'clock when we got to the Inn at the Mountain in Welches, in the shadow of Mount Hood. (Why not the Timberline? All no-smoking.) We got the handicapped room -- very odd, especially the bathroom. Nice little porch with a view of the swimming pool, and the little cats cavorting. (Dave sat out there and had some birthday cognac and smoked the Double Happiness cigar he received to commemorate going part-time for a year.) The whole place has an oppressively Scottish theme, plaid and thistles everywhere. David ordered me not to make any Stone of Scone jokes in the presence of the management. Place caters to golfers, too. Maybe one day I'll understand the appeal of golf. OK dinner, OK run the next morning on berry-lined roads back into the hills.

Friday: Welches to Bend Short drive, as we'd planned. As soon as we got out of the forest we started seeing smoke plumes from the many wildfires that had been burning in the area for several weeks. Also saw:

Before we checked in at the Riverhouse, we grabbed some pizza and drove out China Hat Road to our favorite natural shooting gallery. This area had been blackened by a fire a couple weeks prior, 17 homes burned. It had been high desert to start with, but it looked particularly desolate now. We kept seeing what we thought were smoke plumes; it took us a while to realize most of them were huge spinning towers of dirt, kicked up by the wind now that all the ground cover was gone.

David sighted in the Ruger he got for Christmas; Su sat in the car and read. A good time was had by all.

Our normal drill: Happy hour at the Riverhouse, dinner at the Pine Tavern, nice run the next day. Besides Vancouver, B.C., Bend is the best town Su has found to run in.

Saturday: Bend to Mount Shasta Warning: They take their cinnamon rolls seriously in the Pacific Northwest. Su had been hankering for one since Spokane, and she finally ordered one for breakfast at the Riverhouse. Honest to God, it was about 8 inches on a side. Tip: start from the middle. Or, as Marion Steade would say, "Eat the meat out."

Before we hit the road we stopped at China Hat and did a bit more shooting, this time with the handguns. The .357 is still a joy, the 9mm is still a flake.

Heading south into LaPine (by the way, we've been on Highway 97 for about three days at this point), we saw another smoke plume. This one was definitely too big, too black, too roily (as opposed to spinny) to be a dirt plume. There, at a Texaco on the main drag of LaPine, a mobile home was fully engulfed. The doors were open, which I took as a good sign the occupants had gotten out. The whole town was standing along the street watching as four frantic volunteer firefighters came to the realization there was not much they could do. A burning trickle of gasoline from the mobile home was inchingtoward a pickup parked 10 yards away, but the heat was so intense -- even from three times that distance -- that nobody could move it.

A familiar drive to Mount Shasta, a familiar room at the Treehouse, a familiar dinner at the Piemont. David loves the food at the Piemont; Su loves the decor and the atmosphere, and the fact that David loves it, but boy that menu leaves no wiggle room. Pasta, big meat (never appealing at the end of a steakhouse-intensive trip) ... well, heck, here's a dinner salad. Which turned out to be a massive version of the antipasto plate, mostly marinated beans.

A plate-of-shrimp moment the next morning while hunting cinnamon rolls: A day after she watched "Great Balls of Fire" on TV in Bend, Su heard Jerry Lee's "Breathless" on the grocery store Muzak. A song we don't hear twice in a year, and now we hear it twice in two days.

Sunday: Mount Shasta to the Emerald Lake Lodge Hot. That's about it. I got spoiled by that crisp fall weather -- even wore a sweatshirt out running at Sun Mountain -- and now it's 100 degrees in the valley. Interstate driving, which we had thus far eschewed. The last drinks in the ice chest, Garrison Keillor on the radio instead of Paul Harvey. Thoughts of work sneaking into my brain. Get to bring the doggy home, that will be nice. And the lodge is not a bad place to come home to when it's time to come home.