The Great American Road Trip II - 14 - Running Down an Interstate
At around 9:30 this morning we heard a loud tapping sound outside our fifteenth-floor window. Startled and curious, we opened the curtains to reveal a gigantic seagull which had perched himself on the ledge. We saw a close-up gull yawn as well as a good look at how gulls prune themselves.
It was raining - one of the many themes of our journey - so we left the hotel around 11:00. Our first stop of the day was Vancouver's famous Stanley Park, which would have been a very nice place to spend a day had we had a day to spend and had it not been ridiculously rainy. Due to the conditions we found the notion of parking and walking around horrid, and so we contented ourselves with the many views afforded from the car seats.
The only thing that we thought was worth possibly getting out for was a section of the park that includes a sample of all the plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays with appropriate quotes alongside. However, none of our maps designated the location of this area and no one we talked to seemed to know exactly where it is. My mom and I got out at one point to see if we could see something inside a section, but it turned out to be a section with benches and plaques dedicated to members of the Canadian Air Force. We were wet, but not miserably so, so we decided to forget finding the Shakespeare quotes and move on to our next stop of the day.
Our goal: reach Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the minor league Vancouver Canadians, alive.
I'm proud to say that we succeeded - but only barely.
Like many cities, Vancouver has a mess of one-way streets, lanes that people just randomly decide to park in, and nutty bicyclists. However, no one told us that they were going to throw ridiculous amounts of traffic on top of that. It felt like rush hour but it wasn't even lunchtime - I suppose it's just always like that.
A little after noon we arrived at Nat Bailey Stadium, where we gave the folks there the standard introduction of us being minor-league pennant collectors. We ended up talking to their community relations manager, who gave us free pennants and gave us a tour around the ballpark. Our knowledge of baseball history and our previous experiences at stadiums around the country pleasantly surprised him, and he intimated that he gives tours to a lot of people that have little-to-no knowledge about baseball.
The tour took us about an hour but we learned quite a bit about how the Vancouver operation works. Originally a triple-A team, that team skipped town a few years ago to move to Sacramento. Short-season A ball moved in, which is better for the city considering its consistently damp climate. The new management poured a lot of TLC into the old stadium and, while its age shows, it does not have a very run-down feel.
The popularity of baseball in Canada, at all levels, rises and falls with the successes, real or perceived, of the Blue Jays. Little League enrollment was at an all-time high in the 90s when the Jays won the World Series on Joe Carter's famous home run, and has increased within the past year due to the amount of money the Jays have spent to acquire good players. Within British Columbia, baseball has become just as popular as hockey, which was highly surprising to hear.
We left "the Nat" shortly before 1:00 and finally - thankfully - escaped from Vancouver's traffic southbound to the US border. A little after 1:30 we had made it to the border, where there is something called the "duty free shop" - a surprisingly upscale establishment right along the border that has some sort of tax exemption. We bought enough things to burn up our remaining Canadian currency while there, but we nearly didn't go in due to what appeared to be tire shredders blocking the entrance. Fortunately for us this was an incognito vehicle counter and we did not have to get new tires.
Just after 2:00 we re-entered the Uniter States at the northern terminus of Interstate 5. (Our passports made it easier than the debacle of getting back from Toronto two years ago.) We got to new scenery almost immediately, with beautiful yellow bushes in full bloom along the highway as well as more than a little bit of fog. We made good time, but unfortunately that meant we got to the detoured portion of the road due to the recent bridge collapse.
We spent the better part of an hour stuck behind a smelly truck on a two-lane road through Mount Vernon. The main culprit behind our slow speed was an incredibly short stoplight in the middle of town. We crossed over the Skagit River on a very rickety bridge similar to the one that had collapsed, but we made it over sans plunge and within short order found ourselves on I-5 again.
By 4:00 we had arrived at our next destination amid increasing traffic: the city of Everett, home to the Everett Aquasox, which are in the same league as the Canadians. They only had small pennants even thought they advertised large ones, but we bought one anyway. (The folks there seemed nonplussed by the tale of our road trip and, overall, weren't very friendly.)
A little after the pennant chase we got gas and a few tacos (I did not have any but my dad reported mediocrity). The traffic through the middle of Everett is horrendous and we barely got back on I-5. The southbound traffic was not as thick as the near-standstill northbound, but about as soon as we caught sight of the Space Needle, it slowed considerably. We inched our way through the city like a sloth bathed in molasses, but we eventually were able to get into Seattle and parked opposite the Space Needle.
Our trip up into the Needle was quite fast - faster than Toronto's CN tower. They took our pictures (which they then tried to sell to us), but we posed by holding our hands up around Yoder the Duck. We got the most we could have gotten out of the photographer lady: a small grin. Within minutes we were up inside the Needle - which is 50 years old this year - and looking down on the beautiful Seattle skyline and landscape.
The main viewing area is carpeted and includes a small wine bar and a few interactive screens. You can go down a few steps along the outside rim, which leads down to a circular viewing area outside and, while reinforced with steel bars so you can't fall out, affords some great views. We walked all the way around before the wind got us really cold, so we decided to head back down. (We might have stayed for a few minutes longer but there were a couple of shrieking babies in the vicinity.)
On the way down we asked our elevator operator about an interesting greenhouse with what appeared to be a large piece of artwork inside, right next to the Needle. She told us that it was an art gallery for a fellow who does sculptures in glass. Curious, and with some time to kill as the traffic cleared out, we headed on over. Our tickets from the Needle netted us a discount and we spent a number of minutes gazing in wonder at the intricate sculptures. I don't think I can explain it very well, so basically think about thousands of blue glass tentacles sprouting out of a pole that's well over ten feet tall, flared out at the bottom and a little on the top, with glass sea creatures on the bottom. This was one of the more interesting sculptures - until we got to the one in the greenhouse, which we'd seen from the Needle. This one was a vast network of flowers reenforced by steel and anchored into the ceiling by poles and strong, thin threads.
A little before 7:00 we rolled out of the parking lot and had a fairly easy time navigating out of Seattle, which, due to its inhabitants, bay-based geographical location, climate, and unexpectedly steep hills, reminded us a lot of San Francisco. Our route took us directly by Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, but they were playing a game and the parking prices were exorbitant. (The fact that they were playing a game accounted for the amount of southbound traffic we ran into and the relative emptiness of the Space Needle.) We decided that, since we were there, we'd just save some money and order the pennant online upon our return home.
I-90 begins just outside the stadium, so we had the distinct pleasure of being on the beginnings of not one, but two different Interstates in one day. The eastbound traffic was light as we crossed onto and then off of Mercer Island. We soon entered into the Cascade Mountains which featured, near their peaks, wispy clouds. We eventually ran right into a cloud ourselves and had to engage the wipers when the mist hit us.
We then saw flashing lights on a road sign and tuned in to the DOT's AM radio station. We listened and learned that they were going to do some rock blasting along the side of the road from 7:30 to 9:30. We were under the impression that this was not a guarantee - that this was only a possibility - but we rounded a corner near a lake and with moments found ourselves in a dead stop.
No - this was not a dead stop. This was the deadest of stops. The kind of stop where people turn their engines off and get of their cars.
Well, we needed the exercise, so we hopped out and started walking around. My dad and I heard from a group of truckers that we'd be stopped until 9:30, so we planned on a long night. We called the hotel to make sure they knew of our predicament, and they seemed very familiar with the blasting delays along the road. With nothing else to do, we walked along the shoulder about halfway up the line from our car to the first car in line.
We talked with a lady from Boise, who told us about her neck of the woods and told us that Craters of the Moon was "very creepy." (Sounds like our kind of place.) After that, we kept on walking up past some unsavory-looking characters until we got about a half-mile from the car.
At which point, of course, the cars at the front of the line turned their engines on.
Then they began to move.
It was a race against time trying to get back to the car before it was rear-ended as the traffic began to roll. I ran at a pretty good clip without being bothered by the altitude, but we still almost didn't make it. We barely all got in before we had to crank the engine on and put the hammer down to keep up with the truckers who wanted to make up for lost time.
So I suppose I can mark "race to a car that's parked on an Interstate a half-mile away" off my bucket list.
A few minutes before 9:00 we got out of the heart of the Cascades as we traveled into Washington's more arid eastern portion. The terrain was like a prairie that hadn't been stretched out - while significantly flatter than the Cascades they were by no means flat and continued their lumpiness alongside the road.
At 9:13 we got to Ellensberg and pulled into an IHOP for dinner. IHOPs are, of course, not our first choice for food, but given the time of day and the fact that we only wanted something edible, it tasted delicious.
After a very filling meal we waddled back to the car and got to the hotel, where we checked in as my dad told the tale of the I-90 backup with the kind of humorous embellishment only he could come up with.
Tomorrow: We sleep in after a ridiculously long day. We won't stay in Ellensberg another night, but the next leg of the trip won't consist of the kinds of long days we've recently had to endure.