Day Five: Walla Walla, WA to Missoula, Montana (Lotsa clouds, but no rain thanks)

Oh how the mighty have fallen.  I thought we were on the path to earlier starts every monring and then today we slipped back an hour…  At least we checked out of our hotel before 11AM.

The roads leading east out of Walla Walla are nicely maintained for the most part and driving full speed among the rolling hills of this farm country is an exceedingly pleasant endeavor.  If you’ve ever seen the opening credits of the movie Toys with Robin Williams, you’ll know what much of our journey this morning was like.  At one point I described driving these roads as surreal and dreamlike.

Along the way I kept trying to point out things to Peter.  I don’t know where he was looking or what he was doing, but he kept missing the stuff I was pointing out.  I saw at least two Pheasants and a couple of Ravens as well.  These are LARGE birds, and they kind of stand out.  I saw the ravens from a mile down the road and knew they weren’t just crows because they were so big, but when I directed Peter’s attention to them, he never even saw them.  <shakes head>

(Editor’s Note: Tim shouldn’t get high on drugs and not share. That’s all I’m saying. I think I would have seen the bird with the purple head and gold if it REALLY existed. Perhaps we’re driving too long without taking a break…)

Most of the roads we traveled on early today were of the two lane “country road” variety.  This means we had to contend with other motorists who were slower than us along the way.  However rather than being moments of frustration, these were opportunities to let slip the reins on our cars to pass slower travelers with alacrity.  Few things can compare with the exhilaration of acceleration.

Rolling green, brown, and sometimes red hills eventually gave way to pine forested mountains that started around Spokane, Washington.  It’s surprising how quickly things transitioned and before long we passed into Idaho.  One highway led to another, and that one to the next and so on.  We drove through Cour d’Alene, Idaho and on up into the mountains and across the pan handle of Idaho.  We started seeing snow on the peaks and it was cold and cloudy at this point.  We had a minor worry that we might even get snowed on at some point.

Not long after we started seeing snow along the highway, Peter got a pretty big surprise as he rounded a corner while going up a hill.  Just outside the entrance to the Cour d’Alene National Forrest, a big rig was stopped in the middle of the road.  Peter had to drop anchor to keep from running into the ass end of the truck and was even more surprised when he realized the guy wasn’t just going very slow but wasn’t moving at all.  As I went around the disabled truck I noticed in my rearview that the driver was trying to get it started again, but wasn’t having any success.

A couple minutes later we drove through the high mountain pass we’d been climbing toward and headed down the other side.  Not five minutes had gone by when Peter was again surprised by a car on the road doing something one wouldn’t expect.  A tractor was driving down the side of the highway in the tall grass being followed by a car with its hazard lights on.  The car wasn’t driving on the shoulder, but was instead in the slower of the two east bound lanes.  Peter once again had to drop anchor or risk rear ending someone else.  Why this joker wasn’t on the shoulder instead of in the lane I don’t know.  I do remember seeing a sign at some point today instructing drivers not to drive on the shoulder, but I thought that was only for one small section of the road and not a general rule in Idaho.  If someone knows different please correct me.

For the longest time after we came over the pass, it felt like we were going downhill.  Then I pointed out to Peter that it looked like the river we were driving next to was flowing up hill.  It took a bit of perspective shifting to understand that even though we’d come over a fairly high mountain pass, we were in fact still going UPHILL even though from my perspective in the driver’s seat, it seemed like we were going down.

The pan handle of Idaho isn’t that wide this far north, and before long we’d crossed the border into Montana and the speed limit increased to 75 MPH in most places.  Problem is, they were doing road work on several parts of the highway and kept bringing us back down to 45 MPH for long stretches.   They have these interesting “x” shaped crossings in the median of the highway where they move traffic from the east bound lanes over to the west bound lanes that have been narrowed down to one lane from two.  They use these to bypass areas where road work is happening, then move everyone back to the correct side once you’ve traveled beyond the construction zone.  It’s quite clever, but still annoying to have to drop your speed so much.

View Larger Map

No matter the low speeds on some places, 75 MPH the rest of the way got us to Missoula well before sunset.  Surprisingly when we started to come down from the mountains, the temperature started to climb rather dramatically and by the time we reached Missoula it was almost 80F where it had been in the upper 40’s to low 50’s most of the day.  More surprising given that it looked like a pretty large thunderstorm was moving in over Missoula.   We got checked in to our hotel and headed to dinner at MacKenzie River Pizza Company.  Interesting menu, and some good food, but I’ll let Peter blog about that.

Peter’s Happy Food Corner: MacKenzie River Pizza Company

When we finally arrived in Missoula, MT, the nice man at the counter at our Best Western recommended a delicious, yuppie pizza place next door. Having driving all day, a short walk and something not too compllicated suited us just fine.

Upon arriving, we’re met with the “Try our new pulled pork nachos!” sign. Since we tend to believe and obey signs (Just like all the speed limit signs between here and California) we quickly decided that this was a good move. Upon arrival, we immediately asked for nachos.

Now for those of  you who followed our New Zealand blog, you already know. Tim Jones is a International Expert on delicious Nachos, so we were suitably intrigued by the idea.

And we were not disaapointed. Although not California style nachos, these were unique and very tasty. They “crisp” the cheese onto every chip (The chips must be super-absorbant, because they weren’t at all greasy) and the pulled pork was really well prepared.

So after these wonderful nachos, we were really looking forward to our pizzas. Tim had ordered the “Hot Hawaiian”, with chicken, bbq sauce, jalapenos, pineapple and bacon. I had ordered “The Stockman”, which is the meaty, meat pizza. Strips of steak, sliced sausage, pepperoni and bacon, under cheddar cheese.

Sadly, the pizza wasn’t as good as the nachos. Think of it like really good frozen pizza. Nothing to write home about (although obviously I am…) but inoffensive.

We were 1 for 2. Would the dessert break the culinary tie?

After the pizza, I hedged my bet and went for the apple cobbler with ice cream. Tim, forever the optimist, took a risk on the mud pie. This being a risk because Tim is also a connoisseur of mud pie/kona pie.

Neither of us was disappointed. My apple cobbler was good, but the Columbia Valley Farms vanilla bean ice cream was amazing! And much to my shock, Tim rated his mud pie the second greatest he’s had.

So 2 for 3, we headed back to our food comas, ready to rest our weary bones and sleep in our mega comfy beds. Note: The morning after I must declare the beds at the Best Western Grant Creek to be the most comfy beds, ever! I want to load it up in the back of my MINI and take it with me. 🙂

Okay, off to Gardiner, MT, and Yellowstone park…

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