In the summer of 2011 my friends Ed, Doug, and I took a road trip from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington. Doug was taking a new job in Seattle and Ed and I were coming along to help him move and do some sightseeing in Seattle afterwards. This was one of the very few road trips that I’ve taken in my adult life and I’ve been meaning to publish some sort of post on it for a long time now. What you’ll be getting today is the abbreviated version of both the road trip and the few days I had in Seattle before flying back to Colorado.
The morning of our departure I think we were all a little bit tired from the previous night when we had thrown a going away party for Doug but we still lurched our way out of bed and loaded everything into our two cars. Doug would be driving his jeep that held most of his stuff while I had a rental car that carried all the things that wouldn’t fit into Doug’s vehicle. We then drove to a restaurant called The Egg & I for breakfast. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about but I think it was mostly about this new chapter in Doug’s life that was about to begin. After many years of living in Colorado he was leaving the state and starting over in Seattle. Once we finished we did a final check to make sure nothing was missing from either car and then had a huddle to review the plan for the trip. On this first day we had to get from Boulder to a town in Idaho where we’d be spending the night and Doug’s jeep would be in the lead with my rental car following behind. To keep us fresh we’d be rotating who was driving every few hours or whenever we needed to stop for gas. I distinctly remember Doug saying that he didn’t want us getting pulled over by the police, so we were not to be going more than 5 or so miles over the speed limit. As it turned out, however, any time that Doug was driving the jeep we would end up speeding down the highway.
We then pulled out of the restaurant parking lot and began our journey. Once we cleared the city limits and were on the open road I plugged in my iPod and started listening to an audiobook that would last me almost the entire drive to Seattle. Doug and Ed were in the jeep and I figured there probably wouldn’t be much of anything happening for the next few hours until we stopped for a quick lunch. Of course, I was wrong. As we got close to the Fort Collins area we had a little incident where part of the wheel-well covering on the front passenger side of Doug’s jeep suddenly detached and was flailing around in the wind. I’ve written about this story in the past (see the post here) so I’ll just give the short version today. With a little quick thinking I was able to reattach the covering to the wheel well with some packing tape and later on when we stopped at a gas station I also taped up the front driver side covering just to be safe.
The rest of that first day thankfully was much more boring. I drove most of the time but rode in the jeep for a few hours in the afternoon. We steadily passed through northern Colorado, Wyoming and into Idaho. This is one of the parts of America that’s often derided as “flyover country” and understandably so, but there’s also some nice scenery, at least in the summertime. In the flatter, more open stretches of the road I could also understand why this part of the America is called “Big Sky Country,” seeing as how almost the entire the sky can be seen completely unobstructed.
Sometime that night we arrived at a friend’s house in Idaho. We had to go a bit out of our way to reach the town our friend was in but we figured the extra drive was worth having a free place to spend the night. Ed grabbed a couch, Doug claimed an air mattress, and I think I was on a recliner chair. One day of driving was over but another would soon begin.
That next morning we got up but left a little later than intended. After saying goodbye to our friends we first made our way down to Boise and then stopped there for gas and a meal. The restaurant we stopped at was right by the Boise State stadium and as we were leaving I took note of the giant posters handing from the stadium’s exterior. The posters had a photo of a player with a single word above them and one of the posters featured a player holding a sledgehammer. I don’t follow football, but I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to use sledgehammers in the game. Anyways, we then left and once again started burning down the highway. Doug wanted to get to Seattle before midnight so we needed to be moving quickly that day.
After we crossed the border into Oregon the first town we stopped at was Baker City. I wanted to put some more gas in the rental car but much to my surprise I discovered that in Oregon they didn’t have self-service gas stations. Strange as this may sound, this was the first time in my entire life I had been to a gas station with an attendant and at first I found myself kind of unsure about what to do. Obviously the situation was actually very simple and I paid the attendant for their service before we continued on our journey.
From Baker City it was a long, long stretch of highway as we proceeded first west and then north to cross over the Columbia River into Washington. Not much happened but I had my audiobook to listen to and in the early evening we reached the town a Yakima where we stopped for another quick meal. As we walked back to our cars we still had over 100 miles to go but if finally felt like we were getting close to our destination.
The sun was going down as we closed in on Seattle and it was after dark when we reached the city limits. Doug’s new apartment was in the northern half of the city, near the University of Washington campus, and as we were driving through Seattle’s streets I got briefly distracted at one point and almost had a minor car accident. If I was feeling a little tired before that incident I was certainly awake after it. Soon we got to the street Doug’s apartment was on and found a place to park. We quickly unloaded everything from the cars into the apartment but didn’t bother setting most of it up. Instead we all just found a spot to sleep and called it a night.
When morning came we set about getting everything properly set up in Doug’s apartment and once we felt we had done enough we walked over to where Doug would soon be working so that he could take care of some quick business. Across the parking lot from his workplace was a Sony Store and I spent a few minutes in there playing Infamous 2 on a PlayStation 3 kiosk that was set up inside. When Doug finished his business it was time for us to do some sightseeing around Seattle. Rather than deal with driving and finding parking, Doug called us a cab and we rode down to the Pike Place Market. The market is a multi-level building along Seattle’s waterfront that caters to locals and tourists alike. I don’t remember any of us buying anything but it was fun to check out all the food shops on the main level as well as the specialty and novelty stores in the lower level. One of the businesses in the lower level was a bookstore with popular books from years past and I stopped for a few minutes to go through their collection of Where’s Waldo books. Another store had a large wooden statue of Chief Seattle that I totally would have bought if I had the money and could somehow get it on the flight back to Colorado. Right by the Pike Place Market you can also find the original Starbucks. I didn’t go in, but I did buy some really good pork buns from a shop nearby and I also passed by a store that sold utility kilts (that is, kilts with cargo pockets).
From there we walked around downtown Seattle and eventually wound up at Occidental Square. An oversized chessboard was set up in the square and Ed, being the chess fan that he is, was watching the game that two guys were playing. I was watching with him and at one point Ed declared that one of the guys had just won. Since I’m not versed in chess strategies I couldn’t tell what had happened, but sure enough a few minutes later Ed was proven correct (as he normally is). Ed also mentioned that he really liked the feel of Seattle and wouldn’t mind living there if not for the high cost of living and wet weather. While Ed watched more chess Doug and I looked around a little more and couldn’t help but notice that many of the trees had colorful socks/leggings on them.
We then walked over to Pioneer Square Station and took the monorail to the Space Needle. On a cloudy day like that the view wasn’t the greatest from the top but it was still good. We could see the entire city from up there, including where Doug’s apartment was in the Ravenna neighborhood and all the way across Puget Sound. Back down at the base of the tower we explored the Seattle Center and came across the International Fountain, which we renamed the “UFO Fountain” because of it reminded us of an old-school UFO. At the fountain we created a simple challenge that would become a tradition for any of Doug’s friends who visited him in Seattle: you had to walk (not run) up to the fountain, plant your hand on it for a second, and then walk back without getting wet. It’s not that hard to do, but it’s a fun little game and Ed and I almost tricked Doug into take a full blast from the fountain’s water jets.
After we finished at the Seattle Center we returned to Doug’s neighborhood for the remainder of the day. There was a little more work do be done at Doug’s apartment but otherwise not much happened.
The next day Ed had to leave in the morning to catch his flight back to Colorado. After breakfast Doug got Ed a cab to take him to the airport and we said goodbye. My flight, on the other hand, wasn’t until the next day so Doug and I had a little more sightseeing to do. We first drove to Gas Works Park next to Lake Union. The park used to be the site of a plant belonging to the Seattle Gas Light Company and while there are still sections of the old plant that have been left up, the park is mostly an open grassy area with a large mound and a great view of the Seattle area. If you’re in Seattle in the summer this is a really good place for views of the city skyline and it’s also where I took my favorite photo of the trip, which can be found here.
Next we drove to the University District and paid a visit to the University of Washington campus. A lot of the buildings were open to the public and we spent a few hours walking all over the university. I don’t know how the University of Washington rates in terms of academics, but I can say that its campus is really nice and the interior of the library looked almost like the inside of a cathedral.
As the afternoon continued to advance we left the university and walked over to the streets directly east of it to get a very late lunch. We found a small pizza place and after eating there Doug felt like getting an ice cream so we went to a nearby Haagen-Dazs. There was a cute girl behind the counter and Doug managed to strike up a conversation with her but I later learned that nothing ultimately came of their interaction. This would turn out to be our last bit of wandering around Seattle that day and we returned to Doug’s apartment afterwards.
On my last day in Seattle I decided that we’d drive out to Discovery Park for my last bit of Seattle sightseeing. In retrospect this wasn’t the best choice since Discovery Park is way out at the west end of the city, so we lost a fair amount of time just getting there and back. It was a cool, rainy day (aka normal Seattle weather) and we didn’t walk all the way to the lighthouse before turning back to return to the car. In the parking lot I noticed that one of the rental car’s tires was really low and on the drive back I stopped at a gas station to pump more air into it.
When we arrived in Doug’s neighborhood we got lunch close to where he’d be starting work the next day and then it was time for me to leave. I hugged Doug and said goodbye before driving down to Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA-TAC) where I dropped off the car at the airport car rental area. A courtesy bus then took me to the airport terminal where I checked-in and made my way to the gate for my flight. I don’t remember why, but I remember thinking SEA-TAC was a really depressing airport. In any case, I found my gate and then waited until it was time to board. The journey to Seattle and the days spent there wasn’t as long or epic as my trips to Europe or Asia but it was one my first big trips after graduating college and was one of the most memorable things I did that year.