Day 1: Portland to Boise

Distance Traveled Today: 430 mi
Total Distance Traveled: 430 mi out of 2,050 mi (21%)

It’s the people you see that make a trip more than just a series of pictures seen through the window of a vehicle. It’s an older man with his wife in a Burger King at The Dalles, he dressed in a Jack Daniels jean jacket and a cowboy hat. It’s the friendly-looking older gentleman wearing a tan flat cap I ordered my coffee from at the Starbucks in La Grande. It’s the Denny’s waitress in Ontario who exclaimed loudly (and presumably unironically), “You’re killing me, Smalls!”

Traveling through eastern Oregon, you get a tremendous sense of pervasive poverty. Everywhere you look there are trailer homes, and occasionally stick-built homes, but also in disrepair. From the interstate you see buildings which evidently used to be stores or gas stations, but now stand empty. If some towns dried up because the interstate passed them by, these are towns which dried up in spite of the interstate. As Samuel Johnson wrote to Hester Thrale, “The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” It seems like it would do a great deal of good if everyone in Portland could get an idea of how this other half of the state lives.

It rained as we left the Portland metro area, but was dry as we went east, although the sky remained mostly overcast. The overcast skies, along with the short November days, meant that nightfall came quickly. Somewhere southeast of Pendleton, around 4:30pm, probably around Durkee or Pleasant Valley (although I cannot tell for sure), there was a vast plain to our west, with snow-capped mountains rising in the distance, and it looked as if a watercolor artist had done a blue-gray wash over the entire scene. It was a bleak scene, although at the same time it reminded me of the Misty Mountains from the Lord of the Rings.

There was fog west of Nampa, Idaho. We were forced to speed down the unfamiliar interstate, trying to stay in sight of the ghostly taillights of a semitruck far ahead of us, its lights our only hope of knowing where the road was. The highway signs were unreadable until just before you passed them. And then, the fog was gone.

We are now at a motel on the outskirts of Boise, Idaho. Our plan tomorrow is to continue our drive on I-84 into Utah, getting on I-15 just south of Ogden. We will then take I-15 to US 6, just south of Provo. US 6 will take us to I-70. Hopefully by tomorrow night we will be in Denver, which will put us at 61% of the way to St. Louis, Missouri.