After the sponsored DTour to Australia, we had a choice: go home or keep traveling. We opted for the latter and found ourselves in New Zealand for an extra two weeks of adventures, this time all on our own. We flew into Auckland, rented a car, and set out to see as much as possible on both islands before catching a flight home out of Queenstown. Here's how our improvised roadtrip went down.
We quit our jobs and went on a roadtrip in the summer of 2012. Unfortunately, we forgot to film most of the trip because we were focused on taking photos, so the video is lacking a lot of what we did. But it's a fun video nonetheless.
Alas, after seven full weeks on the road, we arrived in Woodbridge, VA, at Kristen’s parents’ house, marking the official end of our cross-country roadtrip. It was a fantastic vacation, an impromptu whirl around the contiguous states, visiting family, friends and lots of beautiful, scenic views along the way. Here are some stats to put it into perspective.
49 days 11,559 miles 25 state lines crossed $1718.65 spent on gas 19 nights sleeping in a tent 5 nights in a hotel 15 National Parks visited 1 parking ticket 0 speeding violations
The first thing we did was reunite with our two kitties who’d been under the careful care of Kristen’s family. To celebrate our homecoming as well as Carolyn’s 24th birthday, we set out to shop for some quality dinner ingredients, which was tough in this neighborhood. (We suppose beggars can't be choosers?) After failing to find humanely-raised chicken at Food Lion (boo), we walked out and drove further down the road to Harris Teeter. Stocked up for the evening, we returned eager to let loose in a kitchen! The celebratory feast consisted of grilled chicken, sweet potato and coconut milk mash, and a delicious strawberry goat cheese salad with balsamic vinaigrette.
For dessert, Gary made a chocolate cake with rainbow chip frosting, with big “24” candles on top. Few things evoke childhood memories like rainbow chip frosting...
It’s always bittersweet when a trip reaches its end. For us, it seemed like we’d been gone for about a week. We couldn’t have asked for a better return. And we can't wait to hit the road again, whenever that may be.
Kristen is lucky enough to have family in the beautiful city of Bozeman, Montana, which is where her mom grew up and most of the family has remained. Who can blame them? It is a stunning outdoorsy town which has maintained a lot of the historic sites and neighborhoods that make it a gem. Plus, it’s perfectly located a few hours from, arguably, the best national parks in the country: Glacier, Yellowstone, and Tetons. Also, the weather started changing for the better the closer we got to Bozeman, such that when we arrived we were greeted with a warm sun. Our first stop was Grandma Ruth’s old house, which is where Kristen’s mom grew up, and is just down the road from the elementary school they attended (which now is home to artist studios and galleries, we’re told). If and when that house goes on the market, we’d consider buying it - no joke.
We unpacked our stuff into Kristen’s cousin’s house, set up the tent to air out and cleaned up and got ready just in time to get together with the rest of the family. Loren finally got to meet Aunt Roxie, Uncle Jack, (cousin) Jess, her husband Carl and their two adorable kids, Annie and Eric, and enjoyed dinner together on Bozeman's historic downtown strip at Bacchus Pub.
Kristen ordered her standard fish and chips, while Loren got to enjoy a burger with avocado and bacon. We also splurged and ordered moscow mules, delicious cocktails with vodka, ginger beer, and lime. It was great catching up with the family, and they gave us some insider tips on other good spots to check out in the area.
Once we got home, we were all a bit sleepy. We stayed up long enough to catch the tail end of Obama’s DNC speech, and then retired to bed, happy to be inside and under a down comforter!
Even with intentions of waking early, we slept in a tad and had just enough time to have coffee and some homemade molasses oatmeal bread before riding the family cruiser bikes down the street to Roxie and Jack’s house, a quaint bungalow that they’ve restored beautifully. Roxie, Jess, and the kids had to head over to MSU to meet with an entomologist to identify a spider they'd found in Roxie's basement (turned out, their fears were warranted: it was a hobo spider, which delivers some nasty venom known to cause necrosis)!
From there, we rode to the Cafe Francais des Arts, where we enjoyed another caffeine boost and split a crepe with egg, ham and onions (sans fromage). To wrap up our Main Street tour, we made a quick stop at the Vargo’s Jazz City & Books store (no photos allowed) and then a trip to The Co-op grocery store to stock up for the road.
By the time we got back to Jess’s house, it was much later than we’d planned for. We had a bit of fun with the kids on the trampoline, and then hugged everyone goodbye. We hit the road, thinking what a great place Bozeman seems for raising a family. Yep, we could definitely live here!
Thanks so much for having us, Jess!
We packed up our camp as quickly as possible, to minimize exposure in the 30-degree rainy cold weather. Leaving our campsite without even making breakfast, we made one last stop at the St. Mary’s visitor center, where we confirmed our suspicion that the weather across the park was equally dismal. So we cut our stay in Glacier a bit shorter than expected, and set out hungry, cold, and eager to land in a breakfast cafe.
We were out of luck. Passing through Browning, a small and rough-looking Reservation town, there was nothing. By the time we reached the next town, over an hour later, it was lunch time and we desperately needed something. So we stopped in Choteau and got a much needed but not great lunch - no photos necessary.
Continuing south, we stopped in Augusta, MT, on a recommendation from Kristen’s aunt. Wishing we’d held out on lunch til here, we thoroughly enjoyed the Latigo and Lace store, with its cappuccino bar and wide variety of schwag for sale, including ceramics, furs (a bit depressing but still impressive), paintings, books, and more. We could’ve spent hours here, but hopped back onto the road toward Bozeman, where we had a fast-approaching dinner date with Kristen’s extended family.
Well past the halfway point of our road trip (working towards a Sept 15 deadline), we knew we had to get to our next big destination as quickly as possible. That meant, unfortunately, that we could only spend a couple of hours in super cool Seattle, which probably has a lot more to offer than we could manage.
We took the ferry from Bainbridge Island into Seattle, and immediately hit up Pike Place Market. An incredible year-round indoor market, Pike Place has dozens of fresh farmer stands, fish vendors (including the famous fish throwers), and artisans. It was late afternoon by the time we arrived but crowds of people still filled the walkways. We’d move to Seattle just to have daily access to this amazing market.
We were itching to try some fresh seafood, so we strolled into Lowell’s, a 3-story restaurant and longtime Pike Place fixture. Kristen ordered her standard fare of Fish n chips, while Loren couldn’t resist trying Seattle’s famed dungeness crabcakes and veggies. Both dishes hit the spot.
Even though we aren’t great lovers of Starbucks, we had to stop in at the flagship location, just up the street from Pike Place. We were baited into trying the “clover” brew machine for one Pike Place coffee, and decided to compare it with the regular-brew. There was certainly a difference - clover was much more bold - but all Starbucks coffee seems characteristically dark and possibly over-roasted in flavor. The flagship Starbucks was a really nice space, but we couldn’t dawdle. By 7pm, we were on the road continuing east as far as we could make it.
Around midnight, we’d arrived at the Idaho state line, and made a desperate call to the Hampton Inn, where we got a government rate room and happily arrived 30 minutes or so later in Coeur D’Alene. Yes, it was a bit of a splurge compared to camping, but after 6 straight nights of tent sleep, we could use the comforts of indoor life. It gave us the chance to do a bit of laundry (that’s right, Kristen did all of the laundry by hand in the bathroom sink, not realizing that there were laundry machines that took a few quarters near the lobby) and utilize more wifi before hitting the hay around 2am.
We awoke early to scavenge the complimentary breakfast pickings multiple times, stocking up on bananas, apples, oranges, hard-boiled eggs, yogurts, and teas, before continuing Northeast to our most awaited stop: Glacier National Park.
Even though it wasn’t initially in our plans for this trip, we’d heard great things about the Olympic Peninsula, a wild section of incredible rainforest, mountain and coastline in Northwest Washington. How could we miss out on that? We joined back up with 101, the first time since California, and soon realized that we’d hit the jackpot with weather: blue skies, warm sun - this isn’t the Olympic Peninsula we’d thought we’d encounter.
Without a clear plan of where we’d try to reach by nightfall, we started following the brown signs towards a Big Spruce tree, and were pleasantly surprised by the heavily wooded two-lane road lined with full-bloom blue hydrangeas that opened up to a small town strip and a magnificent lodge, at the edge of Quinault Lake. Practically entranced by the beautiful 1920s-era structure towering above us, we walked into the main lobby wide-eyed, snapping photos here and there, and made our way out to the back lawn which was dotted with Adirondack chairs looking out to the beautiful lake. If we’re ever looking to splurge on lodging, this seems like a perfect place. We glanced at a window sticker that proudly proclaimed the lodge had been rated as one of the “Best Places to Kiss in the Pacific Northwest”. Duly noted.
Driving around the small town, we decided we’d already seen enough incredible trees, so we turned back to 101 and made our way to a scenic beach turnout. We left the car at the roadside and paid a visit to the amazing expanse of smooth-stone and driftwood beach, a small hike through the wooded buffer from the road.
Finally deciding that we needed to hurry up and get to a campground, we anxiously walked into a ranger station asking about the status of the camps in the park. Her worried look didn’t put our minds to ease, and we took her recommendation (which fortuitously jived with the recommendation we’d received from a friend) to get to the Hoh River Campground as soon as possible. From there, it was strictly business. We drove a few loops of the campground, noting that some of the spots amazingly boast river access, before claiming one of the few remaining sites.
We needed to get some cash in order to avoid grossly overpaying for our site, so we again got into the car, unknowingly needing to drive another 45 minutes before reaching the next grocery store and ATM. We were losing sunlight, but Kristen got her wish of touring Forks. That’s right, the same Forks from the Twilight books. We grabbed groceries at the same store Bella shopped at, we drove by the Forks Highschool (the wooden sign which was replicated for the movie), and we drove by “Bella’s” house, which wasn’t the same from the movie but still photo-worthy. Armed with cash, wine, SoCo, and a couple of food items, we made the trip back into the forest to our home camp.
Unfortunately we’d run out of sunlight, so we didn’t get the chance to do any hiking that night, but we did get to make a yummy dinner. We reheated our Pok Pok chicken wings over the fire while roasting foil-wrapped yams (purchased at the grocer in Redwoods Natl Park), in the fire. Once they were soft to the touch, we pulled the yams out and mashed them into a pot with half a can of coconut milk (from Trader Joe’s in Corvallis). The combination of sweet potato/yam with coconut milk is Loren’s signature dish, which has become a staple in our home, though this marked the first time we’d tried the fire-roasting technique. Worked perfectly.
After dinner, we put the rest of the can of coconut milk on the fire grate and let it heat up. Then, we added some hot coco mix (courtesy of the hotel in Sedona), and passed the hot can back and forth for a sweet, silky, warm dessert drink.
The next morning, we were determined to get a hike out of the Hoh area, so we left our campsite on foot to do the mile and a half Nature trail, lamenting that we couldn’t do the 18.5 mile hike to the Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus (maybe next time...). But what we saw was enough to get us excited about the area. We learned about the different phases that the riparian rainforest ecosystem goes through, with winding riverbeds changing, literally paving the way for certain kinds of trees to initially thrive, which are then replaced by the towering Douglas firs and Western Hemlocks. It’s interesting to think about the different phases of growth that forests go through, which take decades upon decades to transpire. We as humans have such a warped sense of time; when we see forests of Ash and Cottonwood, they seem permanent, don’t they? But everything in nature is constantly changing, always.
As we left Olympic and drove through the northern peninsula town of Port Angeles (yes, also from Twilight) we realized we’d made our first big turn East, marking the end of the West-Coast portion of the trip.
Portland, Oregon, the city that takes great pride in its weirdness, was a must-visit city on this trip, even though we’d both been a couple of times previously. This time around, we decided that we would focus on sampling the great food Portland has to offer, thanks in part to an article we’d just seen in the latest Bon Appetit. Plus, we really only had an afternoon’s time to spare.
Our first stop was lunch at Cultured Caveman, Portland’s first paleo food cart, something Loren had read about a few times and was dying to sample. If you don’t know, paleo is a way of eating that is modeled on our ancestors’ diets, which excludes grains, legumes, dairy and excess sugar, and instead focuses on veggies, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, healthy fats and some fruit. We ordered three different menu items for some variety, including a small kale salad, bacon almond dates, and sweet potato fries with homemade ketchup. Super tasty and healthy.
After posting a photo of the cart on Instagram, Loren found out that it was International Bacon Day. This was fun news (for us, every day is bacon day), and we’d already had bacon in two meals by that time: we cooked our breakfast eggs in bacon fat, and we’d had delicious bacon-wrapped dates for lunch. Our excitement about the official Bacon Day was echoed when we told the paleo food cart owner, from which a quick foodie conversation ensued. On her recommendation (albeit not paleo at all), we set off down the street for a splurge at a little ice cream shop called Salt & Straw.
They have a cool handmade look and feel, along with really unique flavor combinations rooted in seasonal, local ingredients, and the whole shebang did not disappoint one bit. We got one scoop of the guest Chef’s special, a kaffir lime and lemongrass ice cream with fish sauce caramel (salty-sweet bliss for Kristen), and a scoop of the honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper for Loren. Sooo yummy.
Next we headed to the Nob Hill neighborhood (why are all cool neighborhoods called Nob Hill?) for a pick-me-up caffeine charge and a chance to blog. We sat at the little cafe called Fat Straw, which specializes in bubble tea and bahn mi. We would have loved to try the bahn mi but only had room for beverages and wifi. We each got a cup of flavored iced tea, which they make with coconut milk (dairy-free!). Kristen promptly spilled half of hers on the floor, after which fierce blogging ensued.
The Portland food tour continued at a popular Thai place called Pok Pok and which we read about in Bon Appetit. Pok Pok is nestled a few miles from downtown in a more residential area that seems to be an up and coming neighborhood. Even at 5pm, we were quoted at a 1hr 45min wait, which we weathered while sipping cocktails at the restaurant’s bar across the street, called Whiskey Soda Lounge.
We were super intrigued at their list of tasting vinegars, and the cocktail Loren adopted as his poison had tequila with Som honey drinking vinegar, fresh-squeezed grapefruit and lime. It was super tasty. Kristen’s drink was called Khing & I, made with Mekhong (Thai whiskey), lime and ginger syrup.
We were notified that our table was ready just in time to save Kristen from ordering another drink, so we went back across the street and sat down to a delicious dinner. The unique plates are not your normal Thai dishes, but deliciously different creations that are inspired by Thai street-vendor fare, Chiang Mai (Northern) cuisine, or Burmese cuisine, to name a few. The server explained most menu items are meant to be shared, so at his instruction we felt okay about ordering three plates: a duck dish, a pork belly dish, and the most popular dish: the spicy fish-sauce chicken wings. Even though we’d only just begun to scratch the surface after half an hour, we were both stuffed, so we packaged up the wings and felt good about leaving Portland before overdoing it.
But... We caved, and couldn’t pass up one last stop along our Portland culinary extravaganza, this time for dessert. Voodoo Doughnuts is a super-hipster Portland mainstay (its tagline is “good things come in pink boxes”), which has become a tourist destination; when we drove by their flagship location near Burnside Bridge downtown, there were at least a hundred excited patrons lined up down the sidewalk (similar to Georgetown Cupcake in DC).
Luckily Kristen remembered that they have a second location. We ended up waiting in line for a shorter amount of time than it took for us to decide from the dozens of doughnut kinds. We eventually settled on two: one chocolate cake doughnut with pink frosting, topped with coconut and peanut butter; the other a large rectangular doughnut topped with maple frosting and bacon. (Yes, bacon! Remember, it was International Bacon Day! We were just doing our part.) Mmmm, sugary fried gluten, so unhealthy but so delicious! We could only handle a few nibbles each, and then re-wrapped them, adding the package to our cache of leftovers for later consumption. It’s kind of ironic how healthy the day started off, but how easily we slipped off the bandwagon into progressively more unhealthy splurges. Well, you only live once.
We had our eyes on our next big destination, Olympic National Park, so we drove into the night, crossing into Washington state, and eventually found ourselves a campsite at Lewis & Clark State Park for the night. It was pretty standard, though we swear a nearby campground neighbor may have been the lead singer of the Kings of Leon - some guy was belting songs out so confidently and perfectly, we sat back and wondered if it could be him. Though, our next-door neighbor wasn’t quite so happy: their 10-ish-year old son comically said, “Quiet down now” in a southern accent just loud enough for us to hear.
Eugene offered us two things we desperately needed: coffee and wifi, courtesy of a cafe called Perk. Afterwards, we drove around a few neighborhoods, and once we didn’t get that warm cozy feeling from the town, we made a snap decision to head north to a campground near Corvallis, rather than stick around and have dinner in Eugene. (Sorry, Eugene. We’ll give you another chance someday.)
We barely got to see Corvallis but what we saw, we really really liked. We paid a visit to Trader Joe’s to stock up for the night, before driving to the nearby Mary’s Peak, where we were by now confident that we’d find a camp spot. And we were right! We were the second group into the 6-spot, tents-only campground. We cooked some of Trader Joe’s pre-marinated tri-tip steak with some roasted veggies. Another campfire cuisine success, and we even had some steak leftover for breakfast!
Boy did we need a hot breakfast the next morning. It got pretty chilly that night, probably low 40s, and the steak and eggs certainly hit the spot. We chatted it up with the ranger who came around, and he recommended the views from the top of Mary’s Peak (the tallest peak in the Cascade range), which we’d already planned on doing before leaving, but about which we were now even more excited.
Even though it wasn’t a totally clear morning, we were able to see the amazingness of Mount Hood and several other peaks. Apparently on a really clear day, you can see for about 500 miles. Other perks of the hike: it felt great to have a morning hike to get the blood flowing, and enjoy the warm sun at the top of the peak.
From lava fields to thick forests, Central Oregon seems pretty wild. We were also starting to resemble wild things: it’d been a handful of days since our last shower (in San Francisco)... we were in desperate need of some running water. On a whim, Loren pulled the car off the scenic road along the Mackenzie River at Silver Creek Boat Landing, with a semi-formed idea of bathing in the water. We changed into our swimsuits and hobbled down the boat launch to the shore where we tested the water. Frigid. Kristen was the first to dunk and Loren quickly followed. There are few things that take the wind out of you like cold water. It was instant relief to step out of the water, where we sudsed up while shivering. The second time into the water to wash off the soap didn’t seem quite as bad but it was still worth it to keep contact with that water to a minimum!
Now that we were clean and wide awake, Loren noticed some plentiful blackberry thickets, and went to town gathering as many as he could. These were perfect, big, ripe blackberries.
We ended up with at least a pound (filling both camping mugs we had) which would’ve cost at least $10 back east at Whole Foods, and immediately put them to good use by mixing them with sliced banana, cottage cheese (from Redwoods National Park grocer) and honey (purchased in Sedona). Best lunch yet. Central Oregon, you’re too generous!