At home, a typical September Sunday morning usually consists of church, with the occasional play of hooky to watch a Giants football game on television. They are always slow moving and relaxing and comfortable, which made this Sunday morning in Bend feel just like home. After getting the chance to catch up on some sleep, Allison and I curled up under a blanket on the couch and talked about nothing.
Oftentimes being a guest in someone’s home creates a kind of pressure on both sides where both parties want the other to feel comfortable and happy. But there is a special kind of magic when you can just sit and exist and not feel like a guest at all but rather a member of the family. Allison and I talked about our plans for the day and lazed around a little bit longer than we probably should have, but it gave the day a perfect start.
Around 11:00 we went to Jackson’s Corner, one of my favorite places from the last trip I took to Bend (which you can read about here), where I once again got The Cristo, the French toast sandwich I’d been dreaming about ever since. This time I remembered to take a picture:
From there we went to the Lava River Cave, where I got to sport my first winter coat of the season as we walked through a mile long underground lava tube. Mike, Allison and I walked side by side, shining rented flashlights into the pitch dark, making jokes about what it would be like to get stuck down there, while all silently agreeing it would probably be the worst thing ever. We walked up close to the damp, textured formations on the walls and in the dirt, having a constant stream of “I can’t believe this exists right alongside us” moments. By the time we were back up the 150 stairs that lead into the cave, the sun felt as hot as it looked bright and we hobbled our way back to the car, still in awe of what we’d just experienced.
One thing I’ve come to learn about Bend is that with its easy access to breweries, there’s always a bar or restaurant close by to unwind with a cold one. So after our trek through the lava tube, it was only fitting that we head to Atlas Cider Co. to have a drink and watch some late afternoon football. I ordered the apricot cider and Allison ordered the pineapple mango cider, both of which hit the spot perfectly, and we each helped ourselves to a bag of free popcorn the pub offers in the back room next to the arcade.
We were all in between bouts of hunger, wondering what we should do with rest of our evening. But as we sipped our ciders and munched our popcorn, we decided the best plan was least related, in other words it consisted of tacos, cinnamon rolls and wine.
For the tacos we went to ElSancho, where Allison recommended everything and I settled on carne asada and carnitas. For the cinnamon rolls we went to the grocery store where we braved buying ingredients to bake them homemade, the results of which were everything we hoped for. And for the wine we went home, where we uncorked the bottle in the refrigerator, turned on the Emmy’s and let another good day come to a close.
At 4:15 a.m. my alarm went off and my eyes blinked slowly open. Waking up seemed impossible, unbearable, illogical, but somehow I dragged myself into the bathroom, turned on the surface of the sun grade light, and brushed my teeth.
It was 6:00 when I got to the airport, and everyone seemed to be thinking the same thing as me: why the hell are we here this early? followed closely by: because the adventure ahead will be worth it.
I boarded my first flight, and almost immediately after my butt hit the seat, my eyes closed. The flight attendant walked by and tapped me on the shoulder, informing me that while I was more than welcome to sleep, I was also sitting next to the emergency exit. Me and the other three people sitting in the row were required to audibly agree to our responsibilities in case of emergency, but judging how fast the lot of us fell mouths open asleep after take off, I’d say the plane was pretty lucky they didn’t need us.
On my second flight, I was sat next to a man who immediately pulled out a laptop and began furiously typing. I pulled out my copy of The Glass Castle and read the last few chapters, all the while feeling my stomach begin to churn and my fingers begin to fidget.
The first day of any vacation is the hardest for me. Expectations run rampant through my mind, promising to be let down. I knew my best friend was waiting patiently for me on the other side of this flight and I worried that the stories I’d been waiting to tell her wouldn’t be interesting or exciting enough. What if the distance between us had made us grow apart? What if this trip wasn’t everything we’d been hoping it would be?
The captain came on the intercom and announced our initial descent into Redmond, Oregon, and for a split second I wished I could stay on the plane forever, free from all the responsibilities to satisfy, impress and succeed that awaited me on the ground. But before I knew it, the wheels hit the pavement and the plane rolled to a stop. I walked through the terminal to the baggage claim, knowing there was no turning back now.
When I stepped outside, I saw my best friend, Allison, waiting by her car, her dog Jersey’s head poking out of the back seat. A wave of relief washed over me as we made a series of nerdy jumps and squeals to close the distance between us and initiate the hug we’d been waiting 6 months for.
“How are you?!” she said, and her voice in my ear was a startling reminder that she was no longer a text message or an email or a late night notification on Instagram, she was a living breathing person that I call my best friend, and we had finally been reunited.
“So we have an interesting afternoon ahead of us,” she said once I got in the car.
“Tell me more.”
Being a producer for a news station in Bend, Oregon, and the girlfriend of an anchor for a rivaling news station, Allison had been challenged to race her boyfriend—and fight for her channel’s honor—in a heated, balls out, tricycle race.
We stopped by her house for a quick change of clothes, she squatted and mimed tricycle riding motions to ensure she’d chosen a good pair of pants, and then we drove into town, where the Bend Oktoberfest—sure, it was September and we were a bit confused, but we won’t talk about it—was in full swing.
Beer steins were in every hand, pretzels crumbs were on every face and there was one very bold man sporting lederhosen. We took a seat on the bleachers that sandwiched the 200ft tricycle course and, alongside Allison’s boyfriend Mike, stared at the incredibly small tricycles, wondering how on earth either of them would not only fit aboard, but operate them in a way that would lead to success.
The first heat of racers left the starting line, giving life to every fear we had. Grown men leaned and wobbled and one woman let out a terrified squeal. Allison and Mike shared a glance, then took their places in line, fitted themselves with a helmet, and shrugged at me with a “here goes nothing.”
In the end, neither of them came out on top. While Allison finished in a close 2nd place, Mike’s long legs proved to be his greatest enemy and a resounding reminder that he was in fact an adult trying to operate a children’s bike. We all shrugged a collective shrug, then agreed that pizza was the obvious next step.
Mod Pizza, which is a build it yourself Pie-ology/PizzaRev equivalent, proved to be the ultimate right choice for our lunching festivities. I ordered a chicken, corn, tomato, red onion and feta masterpiece, then allowed myself to be tempted by the “no name cakes” that sit next to the cash register.
Tip: Always get the No Name Cake. It’s like a freshly made Ding Dong that your taste buds need.
Back at Allison’s house, we took a seat on the couch and let the conversation start flowing. We covered the topics that sat just below the surface, shared a few current music obsessions, and looked out the window at the impending fall weather.
At 5:30, we drove over to see Mike’s 6 o’clock show, where he Ron Burgundy-ed Bend’s latest news. Allison and I sat off camera, a mere 50 feet from him, in fold up chairs. She watched with trained eyes, all too familiar with the format and production of a newscast, and I sat with my hands in tight fists, worried I might accidentally scream or sneeze or pass out and ruin the show.
Afterwards, the three of us drove out to The Bite in Tumalo, which is essentially a corner street park converted into a homey picnic area with food carts, a fire pit, corn hole, and a bar with a ton of beers on tap. We all ate at Ronin Sushi & Japanese Grill, which, bottom line was delicious, but listen to me and listen to me now. Do yourself a favor and order the Bento Box with the Japanese fried chicken. Listen to me when I tell you that anything else is a mistake. Listen to me when I tell you that while I’d previously never heard of Japanese fried chicken, it’s also safe to say I was previously living a dark and dingy life. Also, from the bar, I’d recommend the Atlas Blackberry Cider, it tastes like the mature, has-their-shit-together-cousin of red wine.
Once we were thoroughly full, though not even close to finished harping on the magic that is JFC—Japanese fried chicken, a.k.a the new, improved and as far as I’m concerned ONLY colonel of protein I’d like to associate with—Mike headed back to work to prepare for the late show and Allison and I went to McMenamins.
Now, if I had a way to explain McMenamins briefly, I would, but I feel as though that would be both dishonest to you and a disservice to McMenamins. On their Facebook page, they tag themselves as related to pubs, breweries, historic hotels, concert venues, wineries, distilleries, coffee roasters, movie theaters, golf, and spas, and honestly that should tell you everything you need to know about this place, which is that you’ll probably never know everything there is to know about this place.
Allison took me through an outdoor cigar lounge and into a building with dark carpet and wood paneled walls.
“We’re going to find the secret bar,” she said, “but first you have to find all the other secret rooms.”
I looked up and down the hallways, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, then I looked back at her.
“The only clue I’m going to give you is blue light,” she said.
And while I’d love to be the spiller of all secrets, Internet, this is the only clue I will leave you with as well. Just know that it is actually a great clue and that there are hidden doors among the wood paneled walls that lead you into rooms like this:
As well as a hidden bar that will give you some major speakeasy feels upon discovery.
I’d like to say I Sherlocked my way through every puzzle and celebrated with a beer at the top, but unfortunately a handful of people in front of us ended up giving away a bunch of the secrets. So after checking in at the secret bar, we made our way back down to the car and over to Bonta Gelato. Allison and I both got waffle cones full of goodness—I recommend the Vanilla Bourbon Pecan!—and cheers-ed to the first day of our adventure.
It was another early morning to start another long day of driving, and with the events of Saturday still looming in the far back corner of our minds, we figured it was only logical to start our day with Starbucks.
Unlike Friday’s departure from Vegas, the drive out of Bend didn’t involve buildings shrinking out of sight in the rearview mirror. It was more of a peek-a-boo. A now you see it, now you’re back in the middle of nowhere type deal.
Fortunately, the drive out was beautiful. The highway cut through a lake, thus sandwiching us between still, glassy surfaces that reflected the slow moving clouds overhead. Green surrounded us. I almost felt out of place amongst the flourishing trees and plants and seemingly endless grass.
About three hours into the drive, we made our first stop for gas, figuring you could never be too safe. And while I won’t bore you with the details of what made getting gas at this station a minor struggle, I’ll share with you the accidental lesson we took from it.
Amongst the frustration, my sister, who was doing most of the grunt work (i.e. getting out to pay for the gas), made the statement, “I hate this 10 minutes!” I, of course, started laughing, so much that I nearly honked the horn with my face. When my sister returned however, she clarified the statement, making it less hilarious and more meaningful.
“You hate this 10 minutes?” I said between laughs.
“Well yeah, I don’t want to say, ‘I hate today’, because it’s really only these 10 minutes that have been bad, the rest of the day could be great!”
Resulting tip: if you have a bad part of your day, don’t assume the whole thing is a wash.
Over the next few hours, we made a new friend in the form of the Snake River. As we made our way through Oregon towards Idaho, the Snake River ran alongside us, constantly making us “ooh” and “awe.” When we started nearing the border (which is also known as “Onion Country”) the land got flat. Trees became rare and mountains ran out into the distance. Seemingly every patch of land was freckled with cattle, some of which moved so slow (or not at all) we thought the Idaho-ians may have planted them there for good looks.
After officially crossing the border, our (no longer lonely) highway turned into an actual freeway, which brought me more joy than I would have expected. There were speed limit signs, there were billboards, there were the occasional brake checks from surrounding cars, it felt like home.
We stopped for lunch at Subway, then stopped for gas, where we met arguably the nicest man in the world. He pumped our gas for us, which is not uncommon outside of California as we’d come to find out, and asked us about our day and our trip. My sister and I were both in agreement that he was, as stated previously, the nicest man in the world, but it was hard to tell if this was true or if we were just so used the cold attitudes in Southern California that any motiveless kindness seemed unfathomable.
Side-Tip: If you’re passing through a town you think might offer a good souvenir, but don’t know where to look/what to get. Find the town’s Wal-Mart and grab yourself a hat. Not only will it make you fit in for a low price, it will also hide the fact that you’ve been sitting in the car for 8 hours and your hair is greasier than a fried Twinkie.
As a whole, Idaho looked mostly the same. We sped down its highways gawking at the (real or fake?) cows and horses and the snowy mountains far in the distance. If I were to describe it in two words, I would probably have to say its “unmistakably Idaho”, meaning that if you blindfolded me, put me on a plane, drove me out into the middle of Ida-nowhere, I’d probably be able to identify the state. If you’ve been to Idaho, maybe you know what I mean. It just feels like one of those girls in high school that knows who they are now and who they’re going to be later. Idaho is Idaho, and I’m a fan.
Upon entering Utah, we did what anyone (and by anyone I mean only us) would do: we took a side trip to see the World’s Largest Fishing Fly!
If you’ve seen this post, you’ll know that I’ve made it a mission of mine to see all of the World’s Largest Roadside Attractions (or as I call them: WRLA’s), so when I heard we’d be passing right by the only WRLA in Utah en route to our 3rd stop, there was no other option but to pay it a visit.
Some tips if you ever decide to visit a WRLA:
It will probably be in a very strange, very random and not-always-easy-to-stop-in-front-of location
You will undoubtedly receive strange looks from people while you’re taking a picture in front of it
You should definitely ignore all those looks
Always buy a souvenir when available.
The World’s Largest Fishing Fly is in the parking lot of a flea market. There is no sign, or souvenirs, and my sister and I got the attention of a number of passing cars as we took pictures in front of it.
Here I am totally caring what they think:
After our 5 minute, yet totally worth it stop at the Fishing Fly, my sister and I cranked out the last hour and a half of the trip to reach our friend Mel in Park City. It was just about sunset when we pulled up to her house, so we spent the next few hours talking, laughing, eating Taco Bell, and watching Friends. And like our two stops before this, Mel’s house instantly became a haven for us. We felt welcome and loved and thankful to be there, but most of all, we were excited to see what adventure this next leg of the trip would bring us.
Sweet, sweet, Bend. You are cold, but you are a place. People love you. People! You have people. And houses. And food. Oh Bend, I love you.
On Sunday morning Allison, my sister and I got up slow and made our way over to have brunch, which proved to be nothing short of a gift from God. We went to Jackson’s Corner, a local treasure, and I ordered “The Cristo” which is essentially a French Toast sandwich made of dreams and fairy dust, and a big ole pint of milk because: strong bones.
From there we headed to Cascade Distillery, which is located in the neighboring town of Sisters, where we proceeded to try just about everything they had in a very small amount of time, leaving us all feeling relaxed and warm and thankful for one another.
Tip: if you ever find yourself at the Cascade Distillery, tell them Kim sent you. They’ll probably say Kim, who? And then you can tell them about this blog post and Kim, the person who wrote it, which probably won’t ring any bells with them, because I don’t think I even told the guy my name. Then, after you realized I’ve completely pranked you, order the Wild Roots Raspberry Vodka with cream soda, it’s the best drink I’ve ever had in my life.
For the rest of the day, we did nothing short of living. On the way home from the distillery, as we all collectively frowned at the grey, rainy skies, we decided to flip mother nature the bird and have a great day with a tropical twist. We stopped at the store and got junk food, cranberry and pineapple juice, and Malibu rum, then spent the rest of the afternoon drinking, playing board games and laughing loud and hard.
That night, we went to Deschutes Brewery for dinner (where I’d highly recommend the pretzel and the 3-cheese pizza) and then headed back to the house to watch a movie. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that after dinner we all felt a little fat and bloated and kind of regretful, but mostly just happy and 100% willing to do it all over again.
The next morning had a little bit of an earlier start. Unlike my sister and I who were playing hookie for the remainder of the week, Allison had to work, so we headed over to Strictly Organic, a local coffee shop chain, to film a segment for the daytime talk show she produces.
Every Tuesday, they have a segment on the show where they interview customers in the coffee shop, in the hopes of getting a taste of the diverse population of Bend. They tape the segment on Mondays, and since we happened to be in town, my sister got to be one of the interviewees.
Here she is having a totally miserable time making her television debut:
It was super fun! Much more of a casual conversation rather than a stiff on-camera interview, so if you ever happen to be in Bend and have an adorable blonde with a headset come up and ask if you want to be interviewed for Central Oregon Daily, say yes! You won’t regret it.
Once we were wrapped (yeah, I know TV terms), the three of us headed over to another local favorite: Sparrow Bakery. It was packed, which is always an encouraging sign for a first timer, and lived up to the hype. I ordered an Ocean Roll, which is arguably the best pastry I’ve ever eaten, and had a girl walk up to me just to say, “you look great today!” So even though it was only 9:45, with carbs and a compliment bubbling through my veins, I already knew it was going to be a great day.
Just before lunchtime, while Allison was hard at work preparing for the 3pm show taping, Natalee and I took the time to hike Pilot Butte. It’s nothing special, just a mile and half of breathing fresh, central Oregon air, with a 360-degree view of its beauty from the top, no big deal.
Here I am totally wishing I wasn’t looking out at this majestic part of the world:
At 3 o’clock, we came back to watch Allison’s show (which she crushed) and then headed home around 4:30 for some solid lounging.
Tip: The Pacifier is currently on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, see it. If you have seen it and (like us) have forgotten how incredible it is, go watch it.
For dinner, we went to a place called “The Lot” which is a collection of delectable food trucks and a tented, heated-bench, seating area. We spent about 30 minutes devouring pad Thai from “Thailandia”, all hinting but not expressing how sad it was that we were leaving the next day. But rather than harp on what was to come, we enjoyed what we had now, which proved to make the sting the slightest bit duller.
Even with my best attempt to go to bed relatively early, the 6:00 alarm I set for Saturday morning still hurt…a lot. I hobbled around the dark room, hearing Cory’s words ringing in my head, “is there a reason why we’re awake right now?” Only this time I knew the answer was “yes”, because today, we were driving to Bend, Oregon a.k.a Stop #2.
My sister and I were on the road by 6:45, and with most of Vegas (including Cory, Amanda, and Ashlynn who were staying behind) still asleep, we saw it shrink in our rearview mirror relatively quick. I was first up on driving duty, so my sister curled up in the passenger’s seat and fell asleep, and I put my iPod on shuffle and watched the highway open up in front of me.
The world was quiet in those first few hours. Only a few cars peppered the road with us, and the only sound I heard besides the low hum of the radio was the light rain that rattled against the windshield. I sang lightly along to the different songs coming through the speakers, sometimes breaking to let my mind wander and create and question and think, and my sister slept, allowing herself to recharge, both from the two days in Vegas, and all the exhausting work days before that.
At about 12:00, we stopped for gas, and I found a t-shirt in the minimart that explained a lot about the last 5 hours of my life.
As it turned out, that road (otherwise known as U.S. Route 50) that had almost no one on it, that road that was so quiet and serene and yes, now that I think about it, quite lonely, had been nicknamed “The Loneliest Highway in America” by Life Magazine in 1986. Needless to say, I bought that t-shirt, obviously. I felt like it described me as I truly was in that moment: heroic.
Spoiler alert: this is where things started to get a little…less heroic.
In the hours leading up to the t-shirt discovery, my sister had started to feel a little car sick. And while I’d hoped the stop at the gas station would give her body a break, when we hit the road again 15 minutes later, she looked just as distraught, but insisted we keep moving.
Fast-forward 45 minutes.
There we are, sitting side by side. My sister appears calm, possibly even feeling better, when suddenly her face makes 3 major shifts in expression.
Calm ➡️ queasy ➡️ panicked ➡️ terrified.
Let me explain.
The calm was mostly denial, which led to the honest queasiness, which made her quickly proclaim, “I’m going to be sick!” which led to the panic of puking in her lap, which caused her to roll down the window and stick her head out, which led to her quickly pulling it back in looking terrified because her prescription sunglasses had flown off and hit the pavement.
It is here that my look matched hers, causing me to make a U-turn in the middle of the (empty/still lonely) highway, and drive back a hundred yards or so. We then spent a solid 5-10 minutes wandering down the side of the road, her on the pavement, me in the bushes, trying to locate these glasses, which, against all odds, we did!
We then got back in the car, slightly traumatized, yet neither of us blind or covered in puke, so we took that as a win and carried on.
About 5 hours later, after the events of the afternoon and a few key gas stations lay behind us, we realized we were low on fuel. And by low, I mean exponentially low. Throughout the day, every highway proved to be just as empty and lonely as the first, thus making pit stops few and far between. So when my sister’s car notified us of the mere 39 miles we had until empty, and a quick 360 look at our surroundings suggested we’d find little more than a snake and a sketchy trucker named Bob in that distance, we pulled off and turned to technology for help.
Spoiler alert: technology did little to quell the bubbling panic attacks.
A gas station? It asked. Sure, how’s one 130 miles away? Terrible, thanks.
Mind you, we were still a solid 3 ½ hours from Bend, a.k.a our second destination, a.k.a home to my best friend, Allison, who was anxiously awaiting our arrival, and had no interest in hearing about us getting murdered by a sketchy truck driver named Bob after running out of gas in the middle of a remote Oregon highway.
“Wait, I found one that says it’s 12 miles from here,” my sister said just as I was about to consider crying as a solution.
She’d forewent Apple Maps and went straight to Google with a blunt cry for help: “GAS STATIONS NEAR ME.” This had brought up Rome Station, which supposedly sat on the other side of hill in the (not quite but might as well have been) opposite direction of where we were headed.
Recap: we only had 39 miles left of gas, so if Rome Station was a bust, we’d waste 12 miles, and possibly put us somewhere even more worrisome than our current location.
To try and counteract further destruction, my sister made a phone call:
“Rome Station,” a man’s voice said on the other line.
“Yes, hi, are you really a gas station?”
“Good, I’ll be there soon.”
The next 12 miles were almost completely silent. We both kept our eyes on the road hoping, praying something would appear in the distance. At one point the navigation said, “2 miles to go” and with still nothing in sight, I was sure we were just going to find a guy standing on the side of the road with a phone and years’ worth of anticipation to finally say, “You just got pranked!” At about the half-mile mark however, a building materialized seemingly out of nowhere, with a sign out front that read “Rome Station.”
It was old school. We parked our car next to a gas pump the 60s left behind and walked into the café/store combo to find one guy talking on the phone. It was undoubtedly the same gentleman who, 12 long miles ago, had answered a very important question, and when he turned to face us, I wondered both if he knew it was we who called him, and if we looked as desperate as we felt.
Thankfully, he proved to be polite and normal and completely lacking the grimy requests, murderous tendencies, or persistent meth offerings crime shows had prepared me for. So after we filled up, we said our thank you’s and left without having to self-defense murder the guy with the high heels we had in the backseat. I also bought this magnet to commemorate one of the most terrifying hours of my life. So all in all, it worked out.
A few hours later, after post-traumatic/12 hour drive delirium had completely set in, my sister and I entered the town of Bend to the styling’s of Aaron Carter (a.k.a a road trip staple) and we spent a half hour describing our day to Allison and her boyfriend, Mike, who looked at us the way I imagine I would look at us if I heard the story rather than told it.
That night as I lay down, I thought of all that had happened since the last time I had lay down. Was that really only 24 hours ago? Was I even the same person I was then?