On to big sky country

Trying a little experiment today.  I thought I’d post some thoughts before we hit the road.

We’re being lazy in our nice Best Western hotel room this morning.  Not moving particularly fast but we ARE moving at least.  The room we got was nice and the beds were more comfortable than just about any we’ve had so far in my opinion.

Today we head to Missoula.  I’ve briefly been to Montana before but not for very long.  I’m looking forward to spending a day or so in the “Big Sky State”.  I’m much more about the country side and could care less about driving through cities.

Day Four: Adventures in the Pacific Northwest

Today was already different.

Due to the effectiveness of the black out shades at the Econo Lodge City Center, I woke to almost complete darkness. Since I was clearly awake, I spoke to the darkness.

“Tim, you there?”

Tim had already gotten up, showered, and started writing yesterday’s blog, which we were too tired to complete last night. So industrious, my pal Tim!

I couldn’t be the only cause for lateness, so I got up, showered and dressed, by which time Tim was practically ready to go. However, there was a wrinkle in our little plan, which involved Tim’s Subaru and a failing turn signal.

The signal had been failing and blinking fast for two days, and a quick stop at a Subaru dealer in Salem yesterday left us without a solution. Today we’d face the peril and solve the issue once and for all, before we wandered into the unruly lands of Montana and Wyoming.

Today we went to Carr Subaru in Beaverton, where they were able to take Tim’s car right away. Fortunately for my state of consciousness, they are right near a Starbuck’s with WiFi. They said 45 minutes and 45 minutes later on the dot, the phone rings. They found an electrical short, were fixing it, and would be ready when we headed over. These guys earned some of Katherine’s delicious cupcakes!

With Tim’s car once again happy and healthy, we were on the road again.

Today we drove the Lewis and Clark trail. To most people its known as Washington Highway 14. Basically, it runs along the Columbia River Gorge, which divides Oregon from Washington.

It’s a really beautiful drive, and the North side of the river is not heavily trafficked. That makes for a far more enjoyable experience then the interstate that parallels Highway 14 on the other side. It rained a little, but all and all, not a whole lot.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to a teeny, tiny detour along the way. About 100 miles into our drive today, there was a detour. Now personally, I think the rule should be, “If we shut down a road for repairs, the detour shouldn’t be shut down for repair at the same time.” Apparently the State of Washington doesn’t agree.

So while driving on one detour, the road split again for another detour, and I kinda, sorta, took the wrong turn. This was evidenced by Tim calling me on the radio, saying, “So, you going to admit you made a wrong turn?”

Of course, I was certain that my last turn was indeed the correct one. Then I was certain that this road must go to the same place. Then finally, one or two (or six) miles later, I just had to turn around.

Other than this minor mishap, it was a thoroughly enjoyable driving day.

Upon our arrival in Walla Walla, Washington, we found a Best Western and checked in. We asked at the desk where we might find some good food, and they recommended a place called the Backstage Bistro.

This is twice on this trip that I’ve been surprised by food.

Unlike Curley’s, the Backstage Bistro looks exactly like what it is. A very high end and well done restaurant. The question is: What is it doing in Walla Walla, Washington?

Tim had this “Backstage Tender” dish, which was rare beef with a red wine reduction with mushrooms. Oh my! I had the Saint Louis style baby backs. Actually, before I get any further, I have to talk about the Spicy Asian salad!!!

Talk about a food that surprised me.

This salad looked like your regular mixed greens, but with sesame seeds. Okay, looks like what you’d expect, but it’s tossed with Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce. Which in itself is a misnomer, since it should be called the mega-tasty, spicy sweet chili sauce.

I’ll be stealing that recipe sometime soon myself.

In any case, another beautiful day on the road. Tomorrow we’re off to Missoula Montana, right before heading to Yellowstone.

We hope you’re enjoying our blog. Now leave some comments!!!

Day Three: Crescent City, CA to Portland, OR


We actually got a reasonable start today!  We were on the road early enough to stop at McDonalds for an Egg Mc Muffin breakfast!  The day started out a little drizzly but also warm.  The raindrops put me in mind of a slow summer storm that drops big fat drops on you all day but never really gets anything wet.  We ended up leaving the rain behind at the coast for the rest of the morning and the early part of the afternoon.  It rained on us most of the latter half of the afternoon, but again, the rain was very light and wasn’t doing much to get things wet.

Not long after leaving Crescent City, we started driving through the coastal redwoods.  This turned out to be about as perfect a driving experience as you might imagine.  Little traffic, good roads, beautiful weather, lots of scenic views.  For several miles we followed the course of the Smith River.  We took one opportunity to stop and get a few pictures here.

All morning the road was twisty and lightly traveled, so it was a pure joy to drive.  Eventually we passed over into Oregon and the nature of the road changed somewhat.  Oregon likes to build roads that aren’t nearly as twisty as those in California.  Even in the mountains one will often find the roads in Oregon to have long straight stretches or much wider sweeping curves.  Still fun to drive, but not the same as the roads we were on earlier in the day.

We reached Grants Pass, OR around noon, and transitioned over to I-5 North.  The 5 is more of a typical highway with few if any twists, so the rest of the day was mostly just driving through hills, farmland and the city areas of Oregon.  We stopped for lunch in Myrtle Creek and took an hour or so to stretch, and recharge before heading on to Portland.


Actually, Myrtle Creek was also a test bed of sorts. While enjoying our Grand Slam breakfasts at Denny’s, Peter posted our first blog via the iPad and his MiFi wireless device. Still a bit hacky, but if you can post from a Denny’s in Myrtle Creek, you can post from anywhere.

It started raining on us again but still just lightly.  The closer we got to Portland, the more traffic there was but we were making good time and would arrive well before sunset for once.

After checking in at our hotel we took an hour or so to rest before heading out to Powell’s Books and VooDoo Donuts.  Powell’s bookstore is so huge it fills a multi story building that takes up most of a city block and that’s not all.  Powell’s also has several other buildings dedicated to specialty subjects scattered around downtown Portland.  After convincing Peter that he didn’t need any more books and that it was getting late, we headed over to VooDoo Donuts. 

(Editor’s Note: I only bought two books at Powell’s. One of Route 66 and one by Malachy McCourt, one of my favorite Irish writers. What’s the use of driving cross country if you don’t take advantage of having a car?)

Voodoo Donuts is a little hole in the wall establishment that would be out of place among the various local drinking establishments if it weren’t for the theme.  You can get many of the normal donut flavors here as well as donuts with maple frosting and real bacon on top and even donuts shaped like little voodoo dolls or other body parts.

Even having a yummy donut from Voodoo isn’t quite enough for dinner so we headed to Kell’s Irish Restaurant and Pub.  Peter ordered a Shepherd’s Pie with Guinness reduction gravy and I had fish and chips.  Both were pretty darn tasty.  And what’s a Sheppard’s Pie without a pint of Guinness?

It was getting pretty late at this point so we caught a cab back to our hotel. 


Road Food!

One thing about going on a nice, long road trip like this, is giving yourself license to eat road food.

What exactly is road food?

It’s a few things actually. It’s anything you can eat in your car. It’s anything conducive with taking a break while driving. And most
importantly, it’s about eating stuff you can’t get at home.

For instance, as Tim and I approach Portland, my mind turns to thoughts of VooDoo Donuts. For those of you who haven’t been to Portland might not know, VooDoo Donuts is a Portland institution. Not only because of the yumminess of their donuts, but the things that make them unique. Like the fact that they can marry you there, any time of the day or night. Or that they have people (and body part) shaped donuts. This makes them a place worth stopping.

Last night in lovely Fortuna, CA, one of the locals recommended a place called Curley’s. Now when I say Curley’s, what do you imagine? A bar with hot wings? A pub? That’s what I expected. What we got when we stepped in and read the menu, we saw bacon wrapped filet mignon. A “Porterhouse” pork chop. Home made clam chowder.

You never know what you’ll find in the towns and cities across America. But if you’re open to new experiences, you may be pleasantly surprised.

That said, the Egg McMuffin I had in my car this morning was pretty tasty too… 🙂

Sent from my iPad

Day Two: San Mateo to Crescent City

Well today inadvertently ended up being another long one.  Mostly because we didn’t get on the road for real until after 2PM.  It all started the previous day when we got a late start and a late arrival in San Mateo.  This lead to a late night and not getting up particularly early.  The short version is, we didn’t get on the highway as early as we wanted.

Peter and I got up and took our time getting cleaned up and packed.  We probably should have worked harder at getting a move on, but before we could hit the road, Peter’s friend Katherine showed up.  Minor delay as we were on our way out the door, but it was nice getting a chance to chat with Katherine and thank her for the yummy cupcakes she’d made for us.  She whipped up two different batches of cupcakes for us…  German Chocolate, and Chocolate Chip with Peanut Butter frosting.  OMG!  Those are mega yummy!  Katherine has a knack for making really tasty frosting that is remarkably light and fluffy and not over sweet.

The cupcakes are great, but we had another stop to make before we could head out on the highway.  Ironically even though we had a whole bunch of fresh cupcakes we had to stop and pick up Girl Scout Cookies Peter had purchased from Zoe, the daughter of his friend Tom.  Cookies picked up in record time, now on to the road right?  Not quite yet.

Next we had to make a stop at the auto supply store.  Late on Saturday night, I noticed my right turn signal was flashing fast.  Peter suggested this might be an indication of a burned out bulb but when we checked, all we could tell was that the passenger side front indicator light seemed to be dim when it was blinking.  So before we could hit the road, we went to Kragen to try and pick up a replacement bulb.  However the guy at Kragen was less than helpful.  He indicated he thought it might be an electrical short or the flasher unit.  Not to mention I have no tools and have never taken my light assembly apart before to work on it.  That’s the last thing I was looking to do on a day where we were already getting started late.  We decided it might make more sense to try and find a Subaru dealer in Portland or somewhere along our route to fix the issue since it wasn’t completely broken anyway.

Then we had to stop for gas, program the GPS’s, and of course, have some cupcakes!  Mmmmmm tasty and delicious cupcakes!

We finally hit the road and headed for the Golden Gate Bridge.  I don’t think the day could have been more perfect for a drive and it seems Peter and I weren’t the only ones with that idea in mind.  We crossed the bridge with the intention of stopping at the viewing area on the North side.  Here we met our next big delay.  The view point area was packed with tourists!  Just finding a place for us to park took about 20 minutes and a fair bit of luck!  Park we did however and we even got some pictures of the bridge and Paul.  Glad you could make it Paul!

All the way from San Mateo, and even well along up the road we had problems with traffic.  It wasn’t until around Novato that we finally broke free of the worst of the traffic.  From then on it was rolling hills, vineyards, forests and beautiful Northern California coastal views.

We stopped in the town of Fortuna, CA for coffee.   Since it was around 6:30 already, we decided to stay in town for dinner.  One of the employees at Starbucks suggested a place called Curly’s.  He said it was up the main road and just off to the side a bit.  We figured we had our fancy new GPS’s so we couldn’t get lost…right?  WRONG!  It seems at some point in the past, Curly’s was in a different part of town and had since moved.  We ended up on a little adventure across the river and into the small community of Ferndale, CA and let me tell you, I was very glad to have the FRS radios with us!  The GPS’s had lead us on a merry chase to a closed business…nice!  We stopped and queried Google for updated information, got the new address and were soon at the right address for Curly’s.  Peter and I expected they would essentially be serving “pub food” but were pleasantly surprised to find the first entrée on the menu to be a bacon wrapped filet!  Score!  Peter even ordered a bowl of clam chowder which he reported to be mighty tasty.

After dinner we were ready to make our final push to Crescent City and our waiting hotel room.  Even with the longer days this far north, it was well past sunset.  We still had almost exactly 100 miles to go and driving on the coastal highway, at night, through the redwoods was a little scary.  The roads go from nice four lane divided highway down to two lane country roads and back again along this route.  The highway passes through the coastal redwood forest and has many tight and twisty turns to catch an unwary driver.  Driving this stretch of road during the day can be a challenge and doing it at night, when your headlights are the ONLY illumination, can be dangerous.  It was enough to get my heart pumping, especially when we would drive through patches of dense fog in among the trees that press close to the road in places.

Finally we rounded the shoulder of a hill and through some of the trees I could see the lights of Crescent City below us along the coast.  A few miles more, and we made it to our hotel.  Both of us are tired, but happy and hope to get a much earlier start tomorrow.

Day One: San Diego to San Mateo

I started the day a little earlier than Peter which gave me a chance to get up, surf the web, take a shower and generally finish getting ready for our journey.  Before we hit the road I picked up a new portable Garmin nuvi GPS and installed it in my car.  Even though my car is equipped with a GPS, there are some annoyances that I just can’t get around.  Using a portable GPS gives me some options that the built in navigation unit doesn’t.  Interestingly, the new GPS has a lot of really great new technology the nav unit in my car doesn’t have.  Traffic Information, bluetooth, an Eco Driving game and easily update-able.  It’s also nice to have GPS information at the same time that the vehicle info is displayed on my preinstalled nav unit.

Unfortunately we didn’t hit the road until around noon.  But that still gave us most of the day to drive to San Mateo.  Heading through LA is still by far the most unpleasant part of this segment and today was no exception.  Lots of traffic, lots of people acting like they own the road, lots of idiots.  I’m glad we’re past that.

Once we got started we made the mad dash from San Diego to San Mateo where Peter’s apartment is.  We stopped a few times for drinks, food and gas, but overall we really made decent time without being in too much of a hurry.  Normally I hate traveling up the I-5 but today it wasn’t all that bad, and the drive was actually quite pleasant.   Nice weather, sunny and warm.  Driving through the central valley can be nice when you drive through groves of orange trees in bloom, but it can also be quite horrific when you drive by a cattle ranch and get the car cabin full of that ripe barnyard smell.  Thankfully there was really not much of that.

We ended up having dinner in Gilroy so we could eat before it got way too late.  Nothing fancy, just pasta at Johnny Cariono’s but it was pretty good.  We finally reached Peter’s place around 10 or so.  Here we sit watching TV.  Thankfully Peter had the forethought to hop on the Internet and instruct his TiVo to record the first episode of the new season of Doctor Who.  New Doctor!  What a great way to start a road trip Vacation!  Just sorry Paul couldn’t make it!

The Peter-Mobile

I love technology! This post is being done with the iPhone WordPress app. Let’s see how it looks.

This picture was taken when I took my Mini out to Willow Springs Raceway. With my twin turbos and my little gecko feet, my Mini (“Guinness”) should make this a fun road trip.

The Tim-Mobile

My 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX. 265 HP Turbo charged Subaru Boxer engine makes it really really fast! I’ve been looking forward to this road trip for a long time! This is going to be fun!

Welcome to WanderingNerds.com!

In summer of 2009, my pal Tim Jones turned to me, Peter Reeves, and suggested a rather cool idea. How about we both buy a zippy new car, and next spring go on a road trip to Chicago?

I love a good road trip! And having driven a Toyota Prius for the last five years, I was really due for a cool new car. A car that could accelerate from 0-60 in single digits, and not roll over in a strong wind.

So needless to say, I agreed!

First, Tim bought himself a kick-ass, Subaru Impreza WRX. With a 265 horsepower turbo engine and all wheel drive, he was clearly ready for the trip ahead.

I followed by purchasing a Mini Cooper-S, with its twin turbo and a surprising five star roll rating. It’s like a Go Kart with gecko feet.

This is the story of our road trip to Chicago. We’ll be heading up to Portland, across the Northern States to Chicago, and Route 66 back to California. It should be fun.

So come along and read our stories. We think you’ll be glad you did.

Peter and Tim