Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Baby's First Road Trip

Hey! What's this?!...

...Tyler's doing an entry on Strange and Benevolent? Shocking!

Earlier this year, Sarah and I decided that we wanted to take Stella one a week long vacation in the second half of the summer. Unfortunately, we weren't sure how Stella would handle flying and driving. We definitely didn't want to commit to a, say, six hour flight somewhere, only to discover 10 minutes into it that she'd scream the whole way. And, we could easily see a road trip devolving into tears in a much similar manner.

Well, a couple weeks ago, when we travelled to Dallas to see Sarah's family, it also sort of served as our de facto test of how Stella would do on a plane. And, as Sarah noted, Stella passed with flying (punny!) colors. Anyhow, this last weekend, we decide it was time to load Stella into the car, and head across the Cascades to Eastern Washington, to test how she would do on a road trip.

Let's just say we'll probably be flying somewhere.

The happy family, ready for our frist roadtrip together! Someone looks less than excited.

Joking aside, Stella actually did really well for about the first hour and a half or so of each drive. But, after that, she would quickly become tired of strapped into her car seat (I mean, wouldn't you?), and much fussiness would ensue. It also didn't help that, on the drive there, we found ourselves stuck making a 50 mile detour.

Leaving on Thursday afternoon, we made good time over the Cascade Mountains, and passed through Ellensburg, before heading south toward Yakima. Just a couple miles after turning off of I-90, the road we were on heads up over a small pass with a view spot located near the top, before dropping back down again across the dry scrub land of Eastern Washington. Since Stella had woken up and was in need of a feed and diaper change, we pulled over to take care of these two things, and enjoy the view.

"Someday, Stella, this will all be yours!" The view where our misadventure began.

Then, as we were about to climb back into our car, another car pulled up next to us, and the woman inside explained that she was about to run out of gas, and would we mind taking her to a gas station to buy a couple gallons? Since, during our big trip, we'd found ourselves relying on the kindness of strangers more often than not, we couldn't exactly leave her there; so we all piled into our car and set out looking for a gas station.

Unfortunately, from the view point, you could only get back onto the road heading in the direction of Yakima. And, as it turns out, Yakima was not only over 20 miles away... but there were no turn offs between the view point and there. (OK, there was actually one turn off, but it was labelled "Military Road," and I'm skittish.) So, 20-odd miles later, we pulled into a gas station in Yakima, and secretly crossed our fingers that we could find someone headed back to Ellensburg who we could leave our new friend with. But, as luck would have it, the entire population of that gas station was heading the other direction. So, 10 minutes later, and 4 gallons of gas heavier, we all climbed back into our car and headed back to the view point.

"Wait, didn't we just come this way?!"

After returning our friend to her car -over 20 miles back the way we came- and with our Good Karma thoroughly front-loaded for the weekend. We were back on the road and headed to our destination: Walla Walla.

Walla Walla is the heart of Washington Wine Country and -despite having lived here my whole life- it is another in a long list of places neither Sarah nor I have been in Washington. And, what is even more impressive is that, despite having visited wineries and done wine tastings in numerous countries across the globe, neither of us had really explored the world of Washington Wines.

Some of the stunning wine country surrounding Walla Walla.

Rolling into Walla Walla well after dark, our first stop was the Marcus Whitman Hotel downtown. The Marcus Whitman is Walla Walla's most recognizable landmark (well, beyond the miles of vineyards, I suppose), and its lead bartender just happens to be my College buddy, Matt. Matt, who now lives in Walla Walla with his wife, Christina, and three kids turned out to be the perfect Walla Walla tour guide. Not only was he able to provide us with a great burgers and drinks and the Marcus Whitman; but the following day he drove us around town, taking us to the wineries he thought were producing the most exciting wines and had the best views, pointing out local sites and even recommending a great restaurant for our "date night" dinner, that evening.

Stella, crashed out after our drive to Walla Walla.

"Date Night?" You ask. Well, Christina had graciously offered to watch Stella for the evening, so we could have a romantic dinner at the restaurant Matt they had suggested: Saffron. And what a dinner it was! Gazpacho (with famous Walla Walla onions), a salad of fresh peas and spicy lettuce, a raviola served on sizzling pork belly, quail (again with a roast onion, and stuffed with their house sausage), and finally s'mores flatbread for dessert. And, more great wine, of course! Yum!

"And what about the wine?" Well, I have to admit that while I have some pride about living in a first class wine region; I've actually always had a slight prejudice against Washington wines. For me, part of the appeal of wine has always been that it originated from exotic locales. But, since returning home, Sarah and I have been increasingly indulging in our affected localvore tendencies, and -as a result- the appeal of Washington wines has only increased. Needless to say, while I'll leave the wine reviews to Sarah, Walla Walla (and Matt's suggestions) didn't disappoint. And we ended up returning home with a full case of exciting wines we tried.

Tasting Wine: Baby Style! Note the diaper bag, and Stella in her sling.

But, tasting wines in Walla Walla wasn't the only reason we'd crossed the mountains. We also come over to celebrate Ryder's first birthday in Richland. So, after one more wine tasting in Walla Walla the following morning, we back tracked to Richland, about an hour away.

"Who's Ryder?" Ryder is the son of our friends, Alex and Rachel. Alex, and his brother Brent, have been life-long friends of me and my brother. And, going back farther, my parents and their parents were all friend in College themselves. (Ryder's Grandpa, Gary, makes wine with us. And, we all try to make an annual camping trip together each summer.) So, it was fun to introduce this third generation of our respective clans. And, how did the two of them get along? Well, let's just say that Ryder was friendly enough...

"Pleased to meetcha!"

Anyhow, the rest of the day proved to be leisurely and relaxed with a picnic party at a park near the marina in Richland, followed by a BBQ at Alex and Rachel's house which lasted well into the evening, and allowed Stella and Ryder to enjoy some pool time.

Stella naps in the shade.

The following morning, we were back on the road early, and headed up and over the pass again to Western Washington. Stella, worn out by the long weekend, slept most of the way home, until finally awaking near the top of the pass. At a rest stop there, Stella's little cowgirl hat made her a hit with some bikers, but we didn't need to rescue anyone who'd run out of gas. Then it was down the pass and home to Seattle again.

This little cowgirl hat, a gift from my mom, has made Stella popular whereever we take her. Yee-haw!

All in all, it was a great trip. That said, we did learn a thing or two about traveling with Stella. We learned that it makes for a happier baby (and happier trip) when we can let her keep her little schedule, and -if we are driving somewhere- we definitely need to take our time, stop every hour or so, and not expect her to ride in the car for longer than about 3 hours a day.

Finally, I want to mention that as I type this, I'm sitting in my backyard, under the covered deck, and it is beautiful out, with temperatures hovering around 80-degrees. Earlier today, Stella and I got to lay in the backyard on a blanket, while I tried to point out passing airplanes to her. Stella, for her part, looked at pretty much everything... except the airplanes.

Additional photos here.


Brian S said...

and so it begins, Stella, welcome fellow traveler...

that pic of her knocked out on the bed is great!

Kerwin said...

She is so adorable. We love her cowgirl hat and what a great first road trip. We wish we could have gone with you! Hope we can see you all soon. Lots of love and kisses. xoxo

Anonymous said...

U R a good man Tyler Hill!
Uncle RJ