Meg and I had both been to Wyoming (separately) the previous summer, but further north, driving across the state on I-90. We both fell in love with Wyoming and were happy to return. So, while most of the drive that morning of Day Five didn't yield any interesting stories, it gave us many delightful, scenic miles of sightseeing from the car.
We had a bit of an adventure trying to find a Wal-mart or souvenir shop that would sell Wyoming sweatshirts, so that we could publicly declare our love for Wyoming every time it got cold. Our search took us to the main street of a really weird town. I can't remember if it was Rawlins or someplace else. There were souvenir shops and gift shops, all places that seemed likely to carry Wyoming apparel, but they only had expensive college sports team sweatshirts. The buildings in the town were old, in disrepair, and the streets were dusty. I bought SPF 30 chapstick to protect me from the wind and dry heat. But no sweatshirt. We tried to find a Wal-mart using Elsa, the GPS. But she has difficult navigating west of the Mississippi, perhaps even west of the Delaware. Elsa led us to dead ends, one-way streets on which she told us to go the wrong way, and roads that didn't exist. She directed us to places that we weren't sure whether they were dead ends or very dusty continuations of the road, because many of the town's roads were "unimproved," the West's fancy term for "dirt road in a populated area."
At a rest stop, we saw prairie dogs, which I'd never seen before in my life. We stopped for lunch, the cold remains of our delicious Laramie pizza, at a rest area in Evanston. There, we saw a herd of bison in a fenced-in area right next to the rest stop. I took one and a half rolls of film that were pictures of Wildlife Seen at Rest Areas.
We procrastinated, eating lunch slowly and taking photos of the bison, because Evanston is the town just before the state line. It was with longing in our hearts that we bade goodbye to Wyoming and continued west into Utah, the state where we'd eventually bid I-80 goodbye in exchange for the northwest-bound I-84 that would take me to my new home. I had been to Utah in 2008, when I drove from Page, Arizona to Las Vegas with Zion National Park as a detour. What I had seen of Southern Utah was stunning; I was reassured by thoughts that I'd see something similarly scenic in Northern Utah. But I was wrong.
The Utah I saw from I-80 was severely disappointing. It was hot. The interstate was crowded. The speed limit was slow. Large signs with religious sayings loomed menacingly over us. The sky was cloudy. I saw nothing scenic, just gray skies, gray rocks, gray roads, and gray suburbia. I bet it was even in stupid Utah where I learned that the chapstick I'd gotten in Wyoming was lifeguard chapstick, so I'd been walking around all day reapplying, unaware of the fact that I was further cementing what appeared to be opaque white lipstick onto my face.
It was nothing like the Utah I'd expected; my disappointment was perhaps compounded by my unwillingness to leave behind both Wyoming and I-80, the same I-80 that I'd grown up within twenty miles of, learned to drive on, and for five days had spent hundreds of miles and many hours on.
But I-84 welcomed us and took us to safety, to Idaho. The crowds thinned. Traffic ceased to be. The speed limit rose back to a respectable 75 mph. Colors other than gray became visible. The scenery grew interesting again. The concentration of religious billboards along the freeways thinned to what one would expect in rural America; although far from absent, they far from saturated the roadsign landscape.
My first time to Idaho, in 2008, had begun and ended in the middle of the same night. My memory of Idaho looked a lot like the picture I took of wall art in the Bye and Bye bathroom and wrote about later. I looked forward to adding to those memories.
Look at the scary bridge! Before I became a resident of Portland, a city divided from Washington by the Columbia River and itself by the Willamette, I had an irrational fear of driving over bridges. Not so irrational that I never left New Jersey; perhaps "illogical trepidation" is a more accurate term.
We crossed the scary bridge, of which I've only shown you maybe one fifth, en route to Shoshone Falls. We arrived just in time for a thunderstorm.
Unfortunately, none of my pictures include any epic lightning. Just fog and clouds. Called the "Niagara of the West," Shoshone Falls is actually higher than the real Niagara Falls. I thought that this was surely the place for me to find my Idaho shot glass. Yet as we waited in line at the kiosk selling souvenirs, the woman working behind the counter snapped at a child, and I belligerently refused to buy anything from her. Filled with sour feelings, none of the shot glasses on display felt "right" to me. To this day, I do not have a shot glass from Idaho, the eastern neighbor of the state I call home. I have been to Idaho twice, and still haven't found the right match.
From Shoshone Falls, we went back to I-84 and Idaho's capitol city of Boise. It was a city that would unexpectedly win my heart.
In Boise I found the things I like about hipster Portland, with an even smaller small-town feel and a relaxed atmosphere. Basque bars, cafes, and restaurants were of surprising abundance. Boise has the United States' second largest popular of Basques and the world's fifth largest. Following the recommendations of Let's Go, we ate dinner at Gernika.
Gernika was weird. It was one of those places where you're supposed to seat yourself, but there's no sign telling you that, so if you're not a regular, you stand in the doorway for awhile feeling awkward. Our server, when he graced our table with his presence, was rude. I ordered the paella, which Let's Go recommended. They were out. They were out of that and of anything particularly Basque except for cider and croquetas. My chicken sandwich with roasted red pepper did not seem particularly new or exotic. Meg had the croquetas. I ordered Astarbe to drink. This forced the rude server to speak more than three sentences to me. He came to the table with a bottle of cider and a small glass.
"Have you ever been here before?" he asked.
When I told him no, he demonstrated the proper way to pour and drink Basque hard cider. One must pour the bottle in a flourishing motion, moving one's arm from the glass's level up, up, up as high as possible, and back down. This, the server informed me, is what gives the cider carbonation.
It was very difficult to do this without pouring cider all over the table. You can guess what I did. Over and over again.
After dinner, we walked around the city. Suddenly, blocks of Basque restaurants and pubs appeared. Let's Go had only written about Gernika. They seemed more inviting than Gernika, with outdoor seating and chalkboards advertising $2 kalimotxo, and I felt a twinge of regret that we had not gone to one of these for dinner instead. I planned to return to Boise for kalimotxo and better Basque food someday. I wanted to explore the city more and find the Idaho shot glass of my dreams. But since that evening, I have never returned to Idaho.
It was still early, and we still had energy to drive. We continued west, passing pricey hotels near the state capitol and less expensive hotel in Nampa, only half and hour from Boise. Half an hour from that, we crossed the state line and got a hotel room in Ontatio, Oregon. I was almost home.