If Road Trip 1 was about the need to drive, then Road Trip 2 was most definitely about beautiful views. Rather than being the goal, driving was instead the tool necessary for us to inhale the views I had been sighing over in photographs for the last few months.
After an extended flight via Philadelphia, we landed in Seattle the hire-car pick-up spot. It’s probably no real surprise that I’m not a particularly city-friendly person.
Yes, I have lived in Melbourne and spent time in various cities around the world, but the truth is that I prefer being absolutely awed by the wonder of nature; whether it be mountains, water, bush or desert, as opposed to eating expensive food surrounded by glittering skyscrapers and the whirl of traffic. So it stands to reason that we only dallied in Seattle long enough to collect the hire-car before driving east on Highway 2 towards the hills of Leavenworth, a German-influenced town pulsing with Labor Day long weekend tourists in its many bars and sausage gardens.
What surprised me about the surrounds of Seattle and Washington State was the level of deep green. Deep green pine trees leaned everywhere, across the islands of Seattle, through the hills, extending all the way to the horizon. It was all around. Punctuated only by roadside signs for salmon jerky and legal weed. And the occasional smiling backpacker looking for a ride.
Seeing the backpackers filled me with a kind of nostalgia. Perhaps it’s symptomatic of too many viewings of Reese Witherspoon in “Wild,” or otherwise indicating how short my memory is following our Big Backpacking Adventure when the husband and I were still uni students. Bunking down in dodgy European hostels, stress fractures in my feet from the ridiculous weight of my pack, looking for food for at least 30% of the day… it was the Australian uni students’ dream. After those 3 months, I vowed that I would never traipse around like a hungry overgrown tortoise or stay in a shared bunk-room ever again. What was it I liked about backpacking again? Perhaps it’s the independence. The feeling of movement, not unlike the sensation I was chasing with Road Trip 1. Although ironically enough, we were somehow more prepared as backpackers than as honeymooners – we pre-booked all of our hostels and had a planned itinerary (as in, which city do we need to get to today).
Which brings me to Road Trip 2. Due to the ease of US travel, we aimed to drive with a similar philosophy to that which we followed for Road Trip 1. No need to pre-book any hotels or strictly plan the driving route. The north-west however, proved to be slightly trickier than the south-west. With the goal of becoming absorbed in the wonders Glacier and Yellowstone parks, we were somewhat restricted in the towns that we could stay in, and there was a greater risk that if we just turned up, we may have found ourselves sleeping in the back of the hire car. Not that big a deal really. If you can’t find a hotel, you either sleep in your car, or you drive on to the next town. Unless you’re planning a hiking extravaganza in the wilderness of the most popular parks in the United States. So Road Trip 2 was perhaps not as fancy-free as Road Trip 1 – the husband and I did spend time browsing hotels on the laptop between watching afternoon (and morning) episodes of Law & Order SVU, and where the towns showed little availability in the limited hotels, we did, somewhat sensibly perhaps, decide to pre-book.
After sun-shiny perfect weather in Washington State we crossed over into scenic Idaho then continued east into the vastness of Montana towards Glacier National Park. I had been reveling in pictures of Glacier for the last two years and was hungry to be there and absorb it for myself. Yet, the day we arrived; the cloud crowded in and as we entered the park with the hundreds of other late-season tourists, the cloud intensified, and the rain came pissing down. Visibility was almost non-existent. My longing to see great lakes dwarfed by impressive mountains was shattered on day one.
The rain didn’t last however, and into the next day, we found ourselves eating warm convenience store breakfast burritos with the sun warming the windscreen of the hire car.
After leaving Glacier and the great plains of Montana behind we over-nighted in a highway hotel in Great Falls (“what are you doing HERE?”) and headed east to Red Lodge. We were aiming to beat the snow which was threatening to fall therefore closing Beartooth Highway. Shivering in our shorts and Birkenstocks, we made it to the top of the pass and continued down into the magical arena which is Yellowstone. It is impossible to describe the magnificence of that landscape – with its rushing waterfalls, vast forests and pink-turquoise steaming geysers. The landscape struck me, and I acknowledged my own amazement – Yellowstone was not supposed to be my favourite place, yet somehow, for Road Trip 2, it was. Despite the absolute excess of tourists (I thought this was meant to be quieter end-of-season?) the forest fires and the cloud which threatened to turn the whole park into Glacier Round #2, the beauty of Yellowstone was perhaps in the unexpected, and the ease with which one could pull off onto the side of the road and simply inhale the scene.
Perhaps the other unexpected element of Yellowstone, was the snow. The magical flakes which floated down from the sky on the second day, erasing all concerns of sunburn that I had had only the day before. Although it blanketed the hiking trails and covered the sky with clouds leaving little else to do but drive to viewpoints and avoid slipping
on the icy boardwalks, its beauty could not be denied.
And so, with a few more forests hikes, a few more craft breweries and a few more mountains, Road Trip 2 came to an end – I admit, with a few expensive meals and cocktails in the city of Seattle. The head is already starting to plan Road Trip 3 (the Pacific Coast versus the Appalachian Trail?). Too soon to tell…