June ended with our great friends the Trapps and a family reunion for Lena. Jane dropped us at the airport for our 2019 adventure on the 28th of June.
Up until a day or two before, the kids thought we were flying to MN to see Oma and Grandpa, but by the time we made it to the terminal they had all figured out Portland was our destination that morning.
After a smooth flight we hopped into our bright blue Dodge Ram extended cab and headed south out of Portland with a stop at a new eatery called the Public House in Olympia, OR.
Next stop, Crater Lake! We had planned to go there on our RV trip, but "the snows" comes early and stay late and by the time we’d made it to OR, it was too late. The general rule for the Kolb Big Country annual trip is that we need to be going to a new place + experience for all of us. Crater Lake was a bit of an exception because Melissa was there as a child. She had ‘magical’ memories and WOW, did it meet and exceed what she had described as we crested and had our first view of the lake and Wizard island!
And the snow…..it's the real deal. We arrived on the last day of June! Crater lake AVERAGES 43 FEET of snow a year with the record being 73 feet in 1932 and 21.5 feet of snow on the ground in 1983!
Crater lake is a National Park and has an amazing lodge that is owned by all of us fortunate US citizens. The lodge’s history is very interesting full of fires, safety issues and rebuilds. The latest remodel was completed in the 1990s. Each year the lodge opens for reservations at a specific date and time and the 71 rooms are instantly booked for the short season. We unfortunately had not settled on Crater lake as our destination at that time. There is no waiting list and after many calls and conversations, Melissa had determined the only way to get a room was if you happen to call after someone cancelled a reservation. So for a handful of weeks she dutifully called….nothing. We made other arrangements, planning to drive in and out the same day (there are no other places in or near the park unless you camp). A week before our trip, she called and heard the same thing “sorry, all booked” but…..then God must have decided give a wink because while she was on the phone, the online reservation system suddenly showed an opening! We grabbed it and it sent us a confirmed email!
We hiked around the lodge and watched as the lake put on a light show in all colors as the sun set.
The view from our room was humbling and the lodge great room is majestic. There is a restaurant but with reservation challenges and mixed reviews, we had decided to pick up a charcuterie spread from the Public House market. We enjoyed our goodies from the Public House market by the fire. We were shocked how most other guests retired quickly with the sunset and we had front row seats to the massive hearth.
The next day we awoke well ahead of Mr. Golden Sun. The light show put on was well worth the price of admission.
The kids noticed this crazy device in the hallway by the lobby. The girls had never seen a pay phone! We put in our quarters (yes, it was more than 1!) and after many unanswered call (no one recognized the caller ID), Aunt Elyse picked up and we were able to wish her a good morning.
We packed up our room and did one small hike to burn off energy before we departed for destination #2.
On the drive out we stopped to check snow depth.
We arrived in Bend, OR a few hours later. Bend sits on the eastern side of the Cascades, has the Deschutes river running through it. Plus it has the wonderful high-desert weather to enjoy your time outside.
A few weeks before we had happened across the Pedago electric bike dealer in Carmel, IN. We noticed they had both a tandem and a “stretch”version that could seat two 12 year old girls! The Bend Pedago could not have been more kind and helpful as they gave us the safety training and helped us load our transportation for the next couple days into the RAM.
After checking into the Riverhouse on the Deschutes hotel, we immediately hopped on the bikes to explore the city. While en-route to no particular destination, we encountered a team of friendly bikers who could obviously tell we were not from around those parts. They asked where we were headed and we told them ‘just exploring any suggestions?’ ‘Well yes, as I’m sure you know Bend is known for our breweries and one of the greats is having their summer festival. Follow us!’ At speeds that were a bit uncomfortable and across ’short cuts’ behind buildings, over curbs, and through a couple lawns, we arrived safely at “Crux Fermentation Project”. After enjoying sunshine, music, food, face painting, and limited libation sampling, we biked back to the River House, changed, and did a speed bike (heavy use of the electric motors) to make it to 5:30pm mass.
The next AM we loaded the bikes early and headed Smith Rock State Park. We parked the bikes in Terrabone and biked the countryside to the park. Once there we surveyed the hike options….and made a choice to hike what turned out to be aptly named “Misery Ridge”! The hike itself wasn’t misery, but one of us forgot to use the facilities and we ended up sprinting the last 1.5 miles as a family;)
The Monkey Face
We loaded the bikes back up and headed to Camp Sherman where we unloaded and after a few challenges finding our bearings on the pine forest roads, headed north to Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery located off the Metolius River.
There was a mile+ uphill on that trip and the e-bikes earned their keep for sure. By this time we were sold on electric bikes! You can travel uphill at 15 mpg with 3 people and exert average pedal effort!
We drove back to Bend and decided to bike to the famous and scenic Bend Brewery located on the river. Yard games for all!
We told the kids if they arose at sunrise we could get in one last ride before we had to return our bikes to Pedego. We left from the River House and biked north to Tumalo State park. We had the entire park to ourselves and despite the flash rain storm made the most of our last hours in Bend.
We returned our chariots to Pedego and hit the road to Portland. It was time for our next adventure!
We all awaited eagerly for to board the Empire Builder that would take us from Portland to St. Cloud, MN.
We had rented a “Family Room” on the train which meant we had a private room and jig sawed beds to sleep. But after talking with other passengers and Amtrak employees, Melissa had determined it is a race if one wanted to obtain a set of seats in the two story viewing car! So we made sure we were the first out on the platform and split up with JAK and I heading with luggage to car 2830, room 15, and the girls racing to the mid-train viewing car. They of course won that foot race and planted themselves.
The train departed Portland at 4:45pm on July 1st and was scheduled to arrive Oma and Grandpa’s in St. Cloud, MN at 5:19am on July 3rd. So 2 nights and 1.5 days of train life to enjoy. Along the way the train makes around 25 stops. The journey begins by heading north up to Vancouver, WA and then turns east hugging the banks of the majestic Columbia river just in time for sunset.
When you reserve certain types of seats/rooms on the train, your meals are included. For us, much of fun of "train life" revolved around the excitement of setting our meal times with our porter, making our way to the dining car which was a 5 minute walk across 10 or so moving cars, and then ordering off a menu with fun and friendly hosts.
The sleeping quarters are tight for 5 and constant rocking and occasional jerk remind you that you are on a 100 year old mode of transportation that now travels at 80mph. But we were so thankful to have our family room and knew how fortunate we are to be able to travel in such a manner. There were other 2 person private rooms in our car and while we shared a bathroom and shower with them, we hardly ever saw our car mates.
When the sun arises you are somewhere between Sandpoint, ID and Libby, MT. Unfortunately the windows of the train were all quite dirty so the pictures don’t do justice to colors and majesty of that morning view.
We had a family photo taking contest (Anna won), played cards, read books, attended our 3 meals in the dining car, had a wine-and-cheese sunset, and even hopped off the train a couple times in places like Havre, MT. As the sun went down we entered one of the handful of states the kids have never been when we crossed into North Dakota! That western edge of ND is beautiful and we were gifted with another great sunset.
One thing we learned en-route was that the Amtrak, as a passenger train, takes second priority to any travel conflicts with the sister company Burlington Northern hauling freight, and very seldom arrive on-time. Our train was no exception as we had a couple hour delay the first night at one of our stops. This worked out in our favor because it meant Grandpa did not have to pick us up at 5am!
We said goodbye to our porter, grabbed our bags, and no sooner had the sadness of knowing our 2019 adventure had come to an end sunk in, we were embraced with big hugs by Grandma and Oma! It wasn’t the end, it’s the start of the next year of adventure and experience!