In 2005, my family spent six weeks living in Whistler, British Columbia. My dad and brother flew, but my mother and I drove an SUV full of everything we’d need including four suitcases, three computers (remote work, ftw!), three pets, and one litter box.
This is the story of Sherra and Ashley’s Cross Country Adventure.
Spoiler alert: things get REAL WEIRD in Colorado.
Note: The following is directly from my journal of May 2005. Click on any of the photos in this post to see larger, captioned versions.
Day 1: St. Petersburg, FL to Nashville, TN
Today’s drive was rather uneventful, but considering how many times I’ve made the drive from Seminole to Nashville (I’d guesstimate more than 20), I didn’t really expect anything exciting…
The best part of the whole drive was watching the animals’ reactions. The dogs were basically cool, enjoying their freedom in the small area we made for them. They could look out the windows and lounge in the sun, or sit in my lap and fart on me, which is always pleasant.
Oreo, however, was not nearly as receptive to the idea of traveling for hours in the car. I think she thought we were taking her back to the vet like we did two days ago (also known as the lady-who-sticks-things-up-her-butt), but after about an hour in the car, Oreo realized that we were not headed for the vet’s. She got out of her carrier because I had inadvertently left it unlatched and she was roaming the car, howling at the passing cars and rolling scenery. Where are they taking me? I’m sure she wondered, thinking we were crazy to even consider hauling a cat on such a road trip. But she finally calmed down after realizing that no, we were not stopping and no, we were not letting her out.
Day 3: Nashville, TN to Kingdom City, MI
We didn’t make it on the road till after 11 but once we did, we drove through Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri. We only made one real stop – St. Louis. We got out – yes, with the animals! – and visited the Archway to the West. I had no idea it was so big. I don’t think Oreo enjoyed it as much as the puppies did.
Day 4: Kingdom City, MI to Glenwood Springs, CO
Missouri doesn’t have a lot going for it aside from the St. Louis arch.
And then we come to Kansas. No wonder Dorothy wanted out – its boring! The wizard of Oz is the most interesting thing to come out of Kansas and its fictional.
I suppose the other interesting thing that Kansas has to offer is tornadoes. Thankfully, we saw zero. But the winds I had to drive through were 45 mph, and reminded us of hurricane winds. Very difficult to keep the car on the road.
So when does this get interesting? After 100 miles or so into Colorado, we started to notice the incline of the roads and saw some mountains. Colorado was absolutely beautiful. We made it to Denver’s rush hour by 6 and got out of Denver only to realize we still had another 150 miles to go before we reached Glenwood Springs, our goal.
My cousin is working on a job with a bunch of guys in Glenwood Springs; My dad had already called ahead and arranged a hotel for us, and our plan was to go out to dinner with Jon and his co-workers.
After getting settled in our room, Jon met us out in the parking lot with his “extremely drunken construction worker friends.” Turns out that Jon is the youngest in the group and the only one sober. He drove to the steak house, we followed and when we got there, we met Tim (the drunkest), Elmer (very loud, Harvey Fierstein-esque voice but the reddest of all red necks) and Dean (lumberjack beard and the most civil of the three). Jon was whispering his apologies which my mom and I shrugged off. This would be interesting.
Basically, dinner was loud, raucous, drunken (except for me, my mom and Jon), and so so funny. Drunken construction workers are fun! I had to sit next to Elmer who was the raunchiest, loudest, and the biggest asshole of the three. Tim kept putting money in the jukebox picking old country and Jimmy Buffet songs and Dean remained respectable the whole evening telling us about his baby chihuahua and his two grown daughters. Elmer kept his hat and Elvis glasses on the entire time.
We came to discover that Elmer was from Nashville and that’s when my mom started questioning him about what high school he went to, and try to figure out where he lived, etc since she grew up there too. She finally just asked him his last name and as soon as he said “Fox” my mother exploded, leaped out her chair, OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG, slapped the table and tried to regain control of her breathing. We stared at this mad woman, wanting to know what the hell was going on.
When they came back, after much pushing and prodding, we finally got to hear this story:
My mom and Elmer knew one another 15 years ago when my parents were having our first house in Donelson remodeled. The guy who did a great job on their kitchen was Elmer Fox. My parents tried befriending him, they went to concerts with him and all sorts of things. But when they had to take one of the guys to court for screwing them over with the remodeling, Elmer was forced to testify against my parents in court, claiming that they were so crazy they made his beard fall out.
So, 15 years and 2000 miles away, my mother meets this guy again at dinner.
Day 5: Glenwood Spring, CO to West Yellowstone, MT
The drive through the Rockies was awesome. I’ve never seen anything like it. We were thousands of feet in the air; the highest we ever were was over 11,000 feet I think. Driving north through Colorado took us to Wyoming, another gorgeous state (who knew?) where my mother got a speeding ticket. ☹ So much for that radar detector we have…
In northern Wyoming, we had quite an adventure, or rather a few hours of tedious, stressful fright. Our plan was to drive through the Grand Teton national park because of how beautiful it was supposed to be. And directly after the Grand Teton national park is Yellowstone. We both wanted to see Yellowstone since neither of us had been there. It was around 6 when we got out of Jackson Hole (just before the Tetons) and we had a decision to make: Do we keep driving and see what kind of hotels we find or do we stop? It was still kinda early and on the map of the Tetons were a few different lodges we could stop at. And if there was nothing there, then surely Yellowstone would have plenty of places for tourists to stay. So we kept on driving.
The Tetons were indeed beautiful. But we saw no lodges. And bam, we were out of the Tetons. Oooookay. What next? In between the Teton park and Yellowstone was maybe a mile of land and NO hotels or stops or gas stations or anything of any sort. And Yellowstone was a good 2 or 3 times the size of the Tetons. It’s a good thing we filled up on gas.
Then it started raining.
Inside Yellowstone from the south entrance, and past the first main road, the road forks left and right. Each of those forks end up meeting again in a full circle where the road forks again forming another large circle, ending in another straight road that takes you out of the park of the north entrance. The west entrance is on the western park of the first circle, about 20 miles west past Old Faithful. The east entrance is about 20 miles east of the 2nd circle. The north, west and east entrances all led out into Montana, our next goal.
The first road takes you through a portion of the park with lakes and mountains and trees. Lots of trees. Only these trees aren’t the kind you’d expect to see at Yellowstone. They are all DEAD trees. We don’t know when the fire occurred, but that’s the only explanation for the MILES and MILES and MILES of the tree graveyard. It’s the saddest and creepiest thing we have ever driven through.
At one point, something very exciting occurred. THE LARGEST DEER we’ve ever seen was in the middle of the road. My mom slowed, slightly freaking out. It looked at us and then mosied back into the woods.
Before we reach the first fork, there is a side road that supposedly takes you to a whole tourist lodging area. We thought we’d look there since it was now after 8 and we were so tired and ready for bed. But as we drive up the side road we notice that all the buildings have covers over them, no lights are no, NOTHING is open! I looked at the informational pamphlet we picked up at the entrance to the park and found a listing of the lodges and found out that only ONE in the entire park was open this time of year. Nothing else opens until June!!
It was now getting colder, the rain was getting worse and we were both a little creeped out being in this empty park, with no lights, no people, creepy dead trees and giant eerie lakes covered in partial ice.
At the fork, we decided to fork left, towards Old Faithful. The only open lodge was located near the geyser; we hoped that it was pet friendly. Finding the lodge in the dark was a challenge due to the wet and windy unlit roads. But we did. I went inside, hopeful because it was busy and alive looking. I asked the girls at the front desk, “Please tell me that you take pets!?”
“Why yes we do.”
YES!!!! I turned around to go get my mom when another question occurred to me.
“Wait…. do you guys have any rooms?”
“No. we’re full.”
Fanf***ingtastic. They gave me a list of hotels at each entrance to the park, saying most of them were pet friendly. So how far is it to the north entrance? Over 2 hours. What about the west entrance. Under an hour. Fine. I ran back in the rain to the car, told my mom the joyful news and we headed on our merry way to the western entrance.
During our 45 minute drive through the west end of the park, we saw countless more dead trees, more creepy lakes and another moose eating grass on the side of the road. That totally freaked us out because we couldn’t see it at first and as we are driving down the road I noticed something moving out of the corner of my eye and then my mom yells IT’S A MOOSE.
We finally made it to a little log cabin type of town, full of tourists and hotels! Our first choice was even pet friendly. So after walking the dogs and calming the cat and showering, we decided we were awake enough to watch a movie and fell asleep after midnight.
Day 6: West Yellowstone, MT to Spokane, WA
The drive through the rest of Montana into Washington was beautiful. But due to our late night romp the night before, we didn’t even leave West Yellowstone till after 11. We made it to Spokane by dinner time, and stayed a little north of the main part of the town, eating dinner at a Village Inn.
We went through three states today – Montana, Idaho and now Washington. Tomorrow we will drive 4 or 5 hours to the Canadian border and drive the remaining 4 or so hours to Whistler. A whole day ahead of schedule!!
So far we have driven more than 3000 miles and nearly died in a national park. Time for food!
Day 7: Spokane, WA to Whistler, BC
More driving! Yay!
We made it to the border around noon and expected it to be a hassle because when my parents have crossed it from Seattle into Vancouver, they were held up for over an hour and always got the asshole to deal with. So, whatever Podunk village we were in, there were NO cars, NO line, a small little hut we pulled up to where an older man came out, asked us where we were going, where we came from, why in the world would we drive from Florida to Whistler, did we have any firearms and did the pets have their proper rabies paperwork? We were out of there in less than one minute.
The drive through Canada was slower because not only was their speed limit only 100 kmph (i.e. 60 mph), but the roads were all podunky 2 lane roads that curved and swerved up mountains and made it difficult to get any speed at all. We saw at least 50 people at different times on bikes, trucking up those mountains. Tons of them, in spandex and helmets. Within an hour of being in Canada, Canadians seemed healthier than Americans.
Podunk town after Podunk town, and then we came to Osoyoos, their “beach” town. We could see it as we came down one of the mountains. In this gorgeous valley, with three or four lakes, lots of little houses and motels, it was AMAZING.
As we drove up out of Osoyoos, up another mountain, maybe 5 miles later, as I’m winding up the path, we see this little old lady dragging a shopping bag behind her. She was walking DOWN the mountain to go to Osoyoos to do her shopping! Unbelievable.
The drive to Whistler from Vancouver took about 90 minutes. 45 minutes to Squamish from the north side of Vancouver and 45 minutes to Whistler from Squamish. The drive is as always beautiful and I was excited to be getting home. I had been kinda snappy during the day since I was sick of being in the car, but here we were, at our goal! No more hotels! No more driving! I get my own bed! Yes!
We are here!
I grew up taking road trips. Most of them were from Seminole to Nashville, a 12-hour trip we made several times a year to visit my mom’s family. When I got my driver’s license not only could I help my mom out with the driving on these treks, but I could go on trips with my friends.
Road-tripping seems so quintessentially American, to me. Whether its packing up to move to a new state, driving a few hours to visit a friend, or taking a trip just for the adventure of it, Americans see nothing unusual about jumping in the car and hitting the road for long stretches of time. When my dad and I took a week-long road trip around France (just a few months after this adventure), people told us we were crazy. “Why not take the train? We have an excellent rail system in Europe. Or fly! Ryanair is very cheap.”
Trains might be ubiquitous and airfare might be ridiculously affordable in Europe, but flying is the worst (you can often get somewhere just as fast by driving), and trains are better but tight connections and lugging your own luggage around can get stressful. Then there’s the fact that with a road trip, you are in control of your own schedule. You can go when you want to, stop as often or as little as you want, there are no packing limitations or strangers’ babies crying in the back. A road trip puts the act of traveling back in your control. It’s a little piece of freedom.
But put all the freedom and room for luggage aside. Trains and planes are often the more efficient way to travel, yet both options defeat the entire purpose of the exercise. A road trip is rarely about the destination.
The six weeks we spent in Whistler were unique and memorable in so many ways, but getting there was just as unique and memorable. 55 hours is a long time to spend with anyone, and even though we got on one another’s nerves and had stressful situations (the moose, the speeding ticket…), that time my mother and I spent together is more important than where we ended up.
Postscript: One last observation… In 2005, I thought it was sooooo cooooool that I could edit together home movies in iMovie on my laptop while hurtling down the highway at 80 mph. But every time we had a question, every time we wanted to know how many miles to our next stop,or what kind of crop was surrounding us, or what the population of Denver was, we had to CALL someone to have them google it for us. To keep from annoying the people we’d call (my boyfriend, my best friend, my dad), we’d make a list of all the questions we had and call only once or twice a day for information. To compare to a more recent road trip my mom and I took with my husband and a friend, every question was immediately googled by three people.