What a Trip: An unforgettable, mind-opening loop through the Pacific Northwest

April 3

Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.

Who: Jonathan and Shirley (the author) Ruhe of Arlington.

Where, when, why: After attending a wedding in Seattle in June, my husband and I began a two-week loop through Olympic National Forest to Kamloops, British Columbia.; then to Banff; down to Whitefish, Mont.; through Idaho to the Columbia Gorge; on to Portland, Ore., and back to Seattle.

Highlights and high points: Lake Louise in Banff was spectacular — once we found it. We drove around in circles for an hour and were ready to give up when we decided to park and just walk. We followed the crowds, and it was just around the corner. As we sat enjoying the view, a Clark’s Nutcracker hopped onto the rock wall, a “life bird,” in bird-watching terms, for us. We saw some spectacular glaciers and turquoise rivers, but just as much highlights were the everyday sight of mountain goats crossing the road, mastering the kilometers-to-miles conversion, reading in two languages, local news features about fishing contests, tasting the best Italian “tootsie rolls” pasta in a noisy Whitefish spot, drinking good coffee everywhere, snagging the room with a jacuzzi right by the bed, and eating bison and salmon and huckleberry everything.

Cultural connection or disconnect: One night, we asked our innkeeper at the Flamingo Motel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, how to dress for dinner at a local restaurant. He replied that dressed up in Idaho was “wearing your clean jeans.” A conversation the next morning about what was going on in the other part of the world (Washington, D.C.) led the innkeeper to make a comment about the fuss over sequestration having a “meaningless impact on local programs.” Because I’d spent 20 years of my career involved in the congressional budget process, I couldn’t help trying to explain the reality of the law, which got a polite “hmmm” and a raised eyebrow. I didn’t try this conversation again with anyone. I’d learned a little bit about perspectives.

Biggest laugh or cry: We had one combination day from cry to laugh. We drove down the Oregon coast, which must have been somewhere behind the trees, but we only caught a glimpse once in a while. Traffic on the two-lane road was slow, and it was hot; the towns along the way offered dismal prospects for the night. We were discouraged and hungry and decided that it was just one of those days that didn’t work. Exhausted, we kept driving and finally stopped in the town of Longview, where we stumbled upon a local bistro and wine bar with no sign that had wonderful salt-and-pepper calamari, fabulous salmon Wellington and the best waitress of our trip. The next morning, at a different restaurant for breakfast, we discovered the same waitress serving pancakes.

How unexpected: One day, while visiting the Bow Falls outside Banff, my husband suggested that we escape the crowds and walk along a small stream in the distance. There off the beaten path was Buttercup, Canada’s skateboarding bulldog, splashing in the water. We’d seen Buttercup on the news the night before. It turns out that she’s famous all over Canada. She came over and shook water all over us by way of greeting. We’d met a star! Another day, in Portland, we headed to Mother’s Bistro, a recommended restaurant for breakfast. While we were eating, my husband looked up and saw a favorite cookbook on display. It turned out that the author owned the restaurant. I stopped by the kitchen, and she gave me a spontaneous hug and suggested that we take a picture.

Fondest memento or memory: A road trip isn’t just driving a lot of miles. It’s a way of thinking. We learned to discover where we were, to talk to the people who lived there, to capture memories unique to each place and to enjoy or at least experience each day without checklists or preconceptions.

To tell us about your own trip, go to www.washingtonpost.com/travel and fill out the What a Trip form with your fondest memories, finest moments and favorite photos.

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