Trans-Atlantic Travelogue #1 – Spokane, Washington, USA

Italia or Bust
Spokane, Washington
April 1, 2001

We’ve been on the road for three days. We’re four days behind schedule and over budget. We can’t hold back the ongoing sense of joy and giddiness!

Kasmira waves goodbye to Orcas

Kasmira waves goodbye to Orcas

It’s an adventure that clearly divides the world into two camps. Some people love our spirit for taking four kids and a big black dog halfway across the world, from Orcas Island (top left-hand corner of your map of the USA, with a good skip you can throw a rock and hit Canada) to Europe. Others think we’re insane for thinking that we can all live happily in a Volkswagen van and a big tent.

They’re both right, obviously.

The guy I sold my car to on Orcas sails an old schooner for a living. He used to take rich city folk on a six day tour of the San Juan Islands. He says it takes them about three days to get into the rhythm of the thing, then they never want to leave.

We were just getting into the rhythm of the thing when we had to stop in Spokane, so that I could watch some tennis on ESPN. I’m a freelance writer and one of the things I do is tennis. Sitting on Orcas one day I realized that I could work anywhere that I could plug in my modem. Why, we could be in England, or Spain, or France, or Germany, or Denmark, or Italy…so we’re going to do all of them and more.

We’ll drive all the way across the U.S. to Grandma’s house in Vermont, then down to Miami where we’ll take a cruise ship to Barcelona. I’ll be covering the ATP tennis tour which will lead us from Spain to Germany, to France, the Netherlands, England and finally Italy. In between we’ll be spending time in Denmark, the Netherlands, and God only knows where else.

We’ll hit the Dali Museum in Figueras, the Benedictine Monastery of Montserrat, the alien airfield at Carnac, the ruins at Monts�gur, and the cave village Rocamadour. We’ll hit some major tourist attractions like the Louvre and Wimbledon, but we’re mainly going to stick to the back roads and points of interest off the beaten track.

Our tentative plans call for winter in Italy, though the Greek Islands, Brittany and Svalbard are ongoing locales of seasonal consideration.

I guess I should introduce the band. There’s me, my wife Theresa, our daughters Kasmira (12), Alexandra (7) and Amelia (5); our son Myles (1), and our black Lab Blackberry (“ya big ol’ Blackberry haid” for short). We all travel well, we’ve been on the road for as long as two weeks at a time before. This trip will only run, what?, maybe 7 months longer than that.

The weather hasn’t been good for camping yet. Hopefully as we cross the U.S. we’ll be heading into Spring, though the weather maps don’t suggest so. So we’ve been spending some time in cheap motels which isn’t really what this trip is going to be about.

There’s a sense of amplification about a journey like this. Usually the girls are satisfied with taking over a hotel room by jumping on the beds. With our heightened sense of ambition and expectations they’re now running screaming through the hallways.

We don’t quite have the necessary road rhythm but we’re getting there. I was banging on the hotel door the other night. When Alexandra opened it I pretended to be mad, saying that I hadn’t yet finished developing our secret knock.

We’re just beginning, we haven’t been to any of the places we’ve been looking forward to yet. The ferry out of Orcas was beautiful, it always is. Seattle was fun, but we’ve seen the Space Needle enough times that it didn’t seem like much of an adventure.

Snoqualmie Pass

A ski run in the Snoqualmie Pass

The adventure feeling only set in as we drove through the Snoqualmie Pass. We don’t get out that way much, only a few times for concerts at the Gorge. Snow was packed four feet deep on the side of the road in places. Just gorgeous, I considered sending pictures to friends and claiming that we’d made it to the Alps. The Columbia River Gorge is a few miles further, but a thousand feet lower or so, beneath the snow line.

So far the high point of the trip was driving through the high plains between the gorge and Spokane. Darkness had set in and the northern lights (this was the lead story on the news as we pulled into Spokane) were dancing red and green in the southern sky. We love the lights, we occasionally get them on Orcas but never with so much color. It was a fantastic view, a great feeling, a wonderful omen.

“Didn’t the Indians think that the northern lights were a bad sign?” Theresa asked.

“Nah, the astrologically advanced ones thought it was a good sign.” I wasn’t actually lying because I don’t know if it’s true or not.

Good signs or not, there’s a colossal difference between living on 15 secluded acres on an island that regularly appears in National Geographic and clumping together in cars and hotel rooms. Privacy is all but nonexistent, there’s more opportunity to irritate everyone with little traits that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Small things take on a greater dimension. We’re still in the preparatory stages in the sense of arranging our packing so that we have easy access to the things we need the most. Everyone has a walkman so that they can get some space when they need it, but it’s not the same as a walk in the woods or going to your room.

Theresa got so flustered that when she heard some rustling in the corner (Blackberry) that she demanded “Where’s Myles?” fearing that he was trying to eat a crayon or was reassembling my Baseball Weekly again or something.

Turns out that she was breast-feeding him, much to the delight of the girls. As I wisely advised Kasmira, “Yes, that’s right, that’s an excellent time to show off your smart aleck teenage stuff!”

I was returning to the room from wandering around the lobby or something. I knocked at the door and no one answered. I know they’re in there. I bang a few more times, then yell for someone to come let me in.

“Are you done inventing your secret family knock, Papa?” Alexandra asked sweetly.

Tune in next week. We’ll be heading east tomorrow, towards Yellowstone (snow may again preclude camping), the big President heads in South Dakota, and to visit my little (taller) brother at the Art Institute of Chicago.

I’ve been on these roads before, but not in more than twenty years. I grew up in Europe, my parents were teachers at the schools over there for me and the other army brats. Actually I had a rather diverse experience, because my parents were in the civil service I also was able to attend the schools reserved for navy brats.

In any event it’s going to be multi-layered culture shock. First of all we won’t be on Orcas anymore, and second, nothing will be like it was when I lived in Europe in the 1970s.

It’s a grand adventure. I’m siding with the people who think we’re doing something wonderful and wild. I mean, let’s face it, we’re behind schedule and over budget even when we stay home.

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