From Ennis we continued North to Montana’s capital, Helena, and arrived under thick, gray rain clouds. Being a Sunday, most of the stores in the little town center were closed, and it seemed like maybe Helena was not much worth seeing. We wandered into a little pedestrian-only shopping area, and before long the sun made its first appearance of the day and suddenly Helena seemed like a much nicer place than it had only a minutes earlier. It’s amazing what a difference the weather can make.
We decided to take advantage of the break in the weather by taking a little hike up Mt. Helena, only a short drive from downtown. From the slope half-way up the mountain we could see for miles and miles, which meant we were able to watch the storm clouds roll in from the distance and the hazy curtain of rain slowly move closer. We retreated to the car just ahead of the rain and managed to stay mostly dry. Having seen as much as we felt we needed to of Helena’s sights, we continued on and spent the night in Missoula, a nice little university town.
From Missoula we went back to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Having passed through there briefly on the way to Yellowstone and finding it quite charming, we thought it might be a nice place to stay a couple of nights, giving us a non-driving day to get some work done, relax, and see the town. We checked into our first proper RV park of the trip (previously we’d only stayed in KOAs, state/national parks, and the occasional hotel). We felt a little like Gulliver in Brobdingnag as we pulled our little minivan in amongst towering RVs, some of which were towing vehicles as big as ours. We got the distinct impression that some of the RVers were looking at us sideways and didn’t entirely approve of our presence.
The RV park was right on Lake Coeur d’Alene, so after dinner we wandered down to the road to a floating restaurant for drinks and dessert. We really liked it, and the view was lovely.
We wanted to spend a night in town at Coeur d’Alene, so the next day we checked out of the RV park. We spent the day in town, sat at a coffee shop for a while working, went for massages to ease some of the knots from too much time in the car, then checked into a motel and got some more work done.
The next day was not a great one. Nothing really bad happened, but it was one of those days where it feels like every little thing that could go wrong, did. Here are some of the highlights (er… lowlights?):
- Woken up at 4:30 am by large work truck doing who-knows-what in the parking lot for over and hour (beep, beep, beep, wrrr… beep, beep, beep). Took quite a while to get back to sleep.
- Re-woken up at 8:00 by pounding that sounded like someone was going to break through the wall at any minute. It turns out the motel neglected to tell us that they were re-roofing, and the indifferent manager barely even apologized when we complained (“Well, the roof needs to be re-done”).
- Were blocked into the motel parking lot by a city painting crew.
- Cancelled the hike we planned because of the weather.
- Tried to eat muesli for breakfast, only to discover our milk had gone off.
- Had to try three different towns along the I-90 in order to find a place that served non-fast-food breakfast.
- Going through Spokane, took a wrong turn and ended up driving an hour in the wrong direction, had to backtrack.
- Stopped for gas and to wash the van. A gust of wind blew away the receipt with the code for the car wash.
- Finally back on track after more than 2 hours, traffic ground to a halt because a truck carrying bee hives (without the bees) hit an overpass and lost a bunch of cargo in the middle of the tiny back-highway.
In the end, it took us 8 hours to do the 4-hour drive to Leavenworth. The good news is that the following day was so good that it more than made up for it.
Leavenworth is a little town in the mountains that dealt with the loss of both its mill and the train line by turning itself into a Bavarian village-themed tourist destination (like Kimberley, BC, only bigger and nicer). You may be asking, “what could be better than that?”, and the answer is this: they had an accordion festival starting the day after we arrived.
Thursday was beautiful, sunny and warm with a nice breeze to keep it from being too hot. We started the day with coffee and strudel, then went to the town center for some the beginning of a whole day of free accordion performances. We watched for a while, then wandered the town a bit. We went to an artisan salami maker (smoked paprika salami and an aged red wine salami–so tasty) and the cheesemonger’s shop (yummy aged, smoked gouda) and put together a picnic lunch which we ate in the river park while watching the Wenatchee river roll by. While we ate, a deer strolled casually past within a few feet of us. Picnics don’t get much better.
Other highlights of the day included visiting an artisan chocolatier, more free accordion music, wandering the town some more, sampling the wares of the local brewery, eating the best bratwurst we’ve ever had, petting the goats that live between our hotel and town, and an evening accordion concert in the festhalle.
Friday we went for a short hike outside Leavenworth, then continued on home. We now have less that two weeks to finish off packing up the house and a few last preparations, then we leave for the real deal. We really can’t wait. This trip has really proved to us that we can do this trip and still get work done, and that we can actually live pretty comfortably out of our van.