We spent a great final four days in LaConner before hitching up the Airstream, saying goodby to Esmeralde, and heading home. We left the boat in the care of the folks at Tomco, who would go through our punch list, make a few tweaks we requested, and pack her up for her truck ride across the country. Final goodbyes — to the people, the town, and our favorite new hangouts — and off we rolled on a grey, drizzly, quintessential PNW day.
By the time we hit the road, we were good and ready to Get.Home. As the saying goes, we could smell the barn.
The first day was difficult. There was a fair amount of stress involved with getting off the boat, organizing work, re-packing the truck and Airstream, and taking care of a myriad of tasks around LaConner and Anacortes. Once in the truck and headed east, we were both edgy and a bit frayed. We could sense the end of the adventure, ready to get home but not wanting it all to end. And we had a loooooong drive ahead of us.
We had decided to take the northern route home, which was also the most direct route. The first day took us across the Cascades, over Stephens Pass, and through the bizarre Austrian-ish mountain town of
Leavenworth, where we maddeningly got stuck behind some kind of bike tour event and crept along at 8 miles per hour for about two hours. By the time we were done with that bottleneck we were quite finished with scenic roads and sightseeing, and simply did whatever we could to make tracks.
Our first night was spent in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where we desperately need to relax and unwind. I searched for a restaurant that looked inviting, and that also had a place to park the truck and trailer, as well as take a good walk with the dogs.
Surprise surprise, the first thing I identified happened to be an Anthony’s — the same restaurant we had enjoyed in Anacortes and Seattle.
Who knew?! It was one last connection to the fun we had enjoyed in Washington. We were pleased.
We sat at the kitchen bar and chatted with the very friendly head chef, who had been brought in to open this particular restaurant after helping to open several of the restaurants in Washington. It was the perfect solution to a long and challenging day on the road. And there was a Cracker Barrel nearby, where we threw out our anchor for a quiet night and a good sleep.
The next day, Saturday, we continued in the drizzle and rain, and up across Lookout Pass at 4700 feet and the Montana border. The views should have been lovely; we saw nothing but fog and rain, and the remnants of the winter snow-pack that was quickly disappearing.
As we dropped down to lower elevation, the sky began to clear and the drive was beautiful. Finally: we had broken free of the grips of the PNW weather pattern. By early afternoon it was 88 degrees. We pushed on into Wyoming. The scenery changed constantly, and was impressive. The driving was easy, with good roads and little traffic. It was tough passing by so many national treasures without stopping: Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons. And many more. We began to relax, but continued to push for home, making it as far as Buffalo, WY for the night, where we found a convenient KOA campground after dinner at the Bozeman Trail Steakhouse, a locals spot, a bit of a dive, but friendly staff and an easy supper. A 690 mile day: we were tired.
We got a relaxing start the next morning – Sunday. Driving through Wyoming was easy and beautiful, and we clicked off the miles. The big surprise of the day was finding ourselves in the midst of coal country. The Wyodak Mine, essentially started in 1918, is the oldest continuously operated surface coal mine in the US, and stretches for miles and miles along both sides of Route 90.
We continued along Route 90 past Thunder Basin National Grassland and looped north into South Dakota around the Black Hills National Forest. The Badlands beckoned — we could see it in the distance — but we pushed on. Smelled the barn, remember? Indian reservations spread out to the north and south: Pine Ridge, Cheyenne, Rosebud, Yankton, Lake Traverse. Cities that we all know of, but until now meant little: Sioux Falls, Rapid City. South Dakota was beautiful, pleasant, and even relaxing on this beautiful sunny spring day.
The easy drive teased us forward. We crossed into Minnesota before dark, and didn’t stop for dinner until we reached Albert Lea, due south of Minneapolis, at 10:15. Too late for a local spot, we found a convenient Applebees that was still open and offered easy parking, then headed a few miles away to a WalMart for the night. A long, productive day, 730 miles. We were tired.
By mid morning on Monday we crossed the mighty Mississippi River and into Wisconsin. More names that now meant something: LaCrosse, and then the university town of Madison. And then Chicago. We had precisely ZERO interest in getting mixed up in the urban quagmire, especially with the Bambi in tow, so we grit our teeth and pressed through the suburban traffic on 290 and 294 around the city, then into Indiana which to our surprise was the absolute armpit of our trip. Mile after mile after mile of terrible roads and endless construction, entire sections of highway closed with traffic routed onto gridlocked surface roads. We couldn’t get out of Indiana fast enough – and it took ForEver.
Ohio was a breath of fresh are after Chicago and Indiana. We could move again, and set our sites on our old friend from our trip in the fall of 2016 to the Airstream factory: the entertaining Quaker Steak and Lube restaurant outside of Youngstown. After a long, 800-mile day (791 miles, to be exact), we spent the night at the same Cracker Barrel we had stayed in previously. For the first time since leaving the Panhandle of Florida in mid-February, we were back in territory we had traversed before.
Tuesday, May 9. Day five. The last day of our trip. We dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:30 am, after getting to bed after midnight. It was only 30 degrees outside and I shivered as I walked the dogs around the parking lot. We were at the door of Cracker Barrel for breakfast when it opened at 6:00, and were on the road by 7:00. Six hundred miles to go. Route 80 out of Ohio and across the length of Pennsylvania was familiar and beautiful. New Jersey. New York. Connecticut. Rhode Island. The Jamestown Bridge. Narragansett Bay.
13,137.3 miles since leaving home on Bruce’s birthday, January 24.
5:24 in the evening.
52 lovely sunny degrees.
Home. There’s no place like home.