Cross-Country 1999

After graduating Princeton, I took a job in Santa Barbara, California. My good friend Ryan decided that it'd be enjoyable to take a cross-country road trip. We had nearly a month of time and all we knew was that I needed to end up in California and that I wanted to visit a friend in Seattle. So aside from knowing we were to take the North passage, nothing was solidified. What ensued was weeks with an atlas, lots of gas, some sketchy motels, and lots of car trouble.

We started off heading across the Midwest, stopping off in Chicago to meet up with a friend who never actually was there. The Midwest is highly overrated, although I must admit the Corn Palace was an uplifting sight. The moment that we reached the rolling hills of South Dakota I was already feeling better. Our first national park stop was the Badlands with their multicolored mud and otherworldly formations. Even though it was darn hot there, we went out for a bit of hiking and a drive. We then headed on down to the Black Hills for an obligatory patriotic stop at Mt. Rushmore and to tool around Jewel Cave.

The caves were cool, but soon I was to see something I'd never seen before...the Rockies. After driving across the expanse of eastern Wyoming, the mountains slowly rose up from the horizon. And they were beautiful and purple in the sunset. We then stopped off in Yellowstone and got to walk around the amazing geysers and other formations. We did a short hike up through the Elephant Head trail to look at Yellowstone Lake and went up to a viewpoint where we could see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We left going south adn saw the Tetons. No other mountains I've ever seen have quite matched the splendor of the Tetons. They rise up so quickly out of the land and let you know how tall they really are.

After a brief stopover in Jackson Hole where a Pakistani executed an oil change, it was time to romp up in Glacier NP in upper Montana. Even though it was the middle of summer, parts of Glacier were still snowed in! Hiking around Lake Josephine I remember hearing the booms of the rangers blasting the snow off of trails. Going To The Sun road was clear, however, and I got to dirve on my first road that was placed where the powers that be really didn't intend a road to exist. Waterfalls went over and under the road as it weaved along the walls of a magnificient canyon.

From there, we split off to go to Seattle and visit Peter and Maria. Driving through Eastern Washington the weather was just as hot as New Jersey, so I used the AC in the car. The engine ran a little hot, but I figured it was supposed to. We pressed on and made it to the city on the sound. We chilled out in Seattle for a day and then decided to visit Mt. Rainier. Remember that oil change by the Pakistani? Well, he apparently forgot to put the drain plug in securely. On our way up the mountain, the oil decided that it had put up with enough of my smack and leaked out of the engine. The engine happily overheated while Ry was out taking a picture of the mountain. So I did the standard overheating procedure and then tried to roll it down the mountain to cool it off, which didn't help. The car broke down, and we were now on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere near Mt. Rainier.

We met many interesting people on the side of the road that day. There was this guy in a Jeep that stopped off and declared that being broken down was a bummer and invited us to go to his cabin in the woods and fish and drink and stuff. We declined. We also met a Jehova's Witness with whom we started fiutzing with the fuses in the car to try and get the radiator fans to kick in, which they weren't. After snapping a fuse off with his Leatherman, he gave us some copies of The Watchtower and left. Then we met Buzz...our tow truck driver. If you ever want to meet some real characters, I highly recommend you get broken down by Mt. Rainier.

Then...we got towed to Hell on earth...Yakima. Yakima's an old town that used to have its economy based upon canning fruit. It's close to Indian reservations and is pretty much close to, well, nothing. And we got towed there. There was a Chrysler dealership in town where we met our pal Mike. Mike was the intermediary between me and the mechanic fixing my car. I think he was gay. Poor guy...being gay and stuck in Yakima. Anyway, this was when we found out about the oil drain plug. Turns out that was all that was wrong with the car...except...remember that fuse that broke in the last paragraph? Well, it turns out that it wasn't supposed to break. Even though it costs only like $1.50 for the fuse, the closest one is in Utah or somewhere and they'll have to get it shipped. It'll take three days to get it and fix the car. We spent a day in Yakima and were bored out of our minds, even though some skanky Mexican women gave both of us the bigeye. So Ry and I decided to hop a bus and go back to Seattle. Anything could be better then Yakima. Makes sense. After spending time in Seattle and doing the touristy things like visiting the Space Needle, we hop the Greyhound back to Yakima. Then we go back to the dealer, assuming we could pick up the car. Well, turns out the people in Utah shipped the wrong fuse. They have to order it from the East coast and it's going to take another three days. OK, this was about the last straw. We were going to be stuck in hell. While walking down the street though, we passed a used car dealer that had a Talon on the front of his lot. We bought the fuse off of him and gave him some change, had the fuse put back in the car. We got a clean bill of health from Mike (and some suggestive glances...) and got back in the car and headed on back to Mt. Rainier. After all, we had to at least see it after all of that.

We then decided that we wanted to go visit Crater Lake. Well, one day after getting the car repaired on our way up to Crater Lake...the car overheats again. Once again, we're 100 miles from the nearest major town. F this. My car hates me. But again, we got to meet colorful people in the middle of nowhere. We had a long conversation with this great lady construction worker, the one who radioed for our tow. It was from her I learned that the problem we were having was that these newfangled cars had all of these electronics in them. She said that it sounds like a stuck thermostat and we should try to short it, but of course we had no clue about the crazy Japanese wiring. Unlike her old Dodge where she could "stick the co*ksucker in the mo**erfucker and the thing would run". We got towed to Eugene and, wouldn't you know it, yup, it was the thermostat. Finally having competent mechanics we got the thermostat replaced and the mildly cracked radiator patched and went on our way.

By now we had run out of time. I had to be at work in 2 days, and Ry's plane ticket was booked. So we had to abort our great travels through the West and hightail it to Santa Barbara. Somehow through all of this crazy garbage we managed to remain good friends, a feat which amazes me to this day. We even have taken two long road trips since then and hopefully are still counting. You'd think we'd learn, but I guess we're just gluttons for punishment.

10/24/04 I recently found an old, long letter I had written with much more detail about this cross country trip. I hope you enjoy reading it. For me it brought back quite a bit of memories!

The Photographs

This was really the first time I'd ever done a long trip and tried to do landscape photography. Looking back on the pictures I took, it definitely shows! Some of the film was heat damaged, too. Kind of a funky of these days I may try to do it on purpose. I had my old Miranda camera and a strange mixture of Kodak and Fuji film...and a roll of highly overexposed TMax. Click on "Next" in the upper right to begin.

To jump to one of the specific parks along the way, click on the links below: