Ever wanted to get away from it all only to find yourself surrounded by all the all same faces? This summer vacation experience a road trip out of your comfort zone. This week we follow two gay boys as they embark on an excursion of their own.
London, Los Angeles, Paris, New York -- sure, these are great gay destinations, but for some of us there is no replacing the adventures encountered on the open road. Follow Daryl and Rob as they cruise the west coast, looking for trouble.
After following the herd to Provincetown last July 4th, I decided to capitalize on my brother's wedding in Boise, ID this summer and do a road trip around the Pacific Northwest. Lucky for me, one of my best friends, Rob, was willing to fly up from Los Angeles to accompany me on the lengthy undertaking. Read on for my daily journal!
July 1 (11 p.m.)
Traveled approximately 70 miles.
After dropping the wedding party off at the airport, I picked up my friend Rob around 5. He handled the first surprise of the trip pretty well -- our means of transport. The Sela family's maroon Volvo had been a luxury car when we first bought it. After 14 years of being passed from one family member to the next, "luxury" is the last word that comes to mind. It doesn't help that it is covered in dead bugs, dust, and now completely packed with luggage from two gay boys embarking on a nine-day trip. For the most part the car runs well ... minus the air-conditioning, which hasn't worked in years and wasn't really a concern until it hit 95 degrees in Boise today.
But Rob is as low-maintenance as I -- as long as the car runs and the windows and sunroof go down, we are ready to rumble.
Our first stop would be dinner, so we drove into downtown Boise to check out the medium-sized city. Like many Western towns, Boise has experienced urban sprawl with most people now living on its outskirts, but the older brick buildings and tree-lined streets downtown have been preserved. There are a number of shops, restaurants and bars scattered throughout, and the Bitter Creek Alehouse (246 N. 8th St; 208/429-6340), with its patio and impressive menu, is the most inviting. After experimenting with a number of different brews from throughout the Pacific Northwest we had an amazing dinner -- we shared the flash-fried squid as a starter and for mains Rob had the mango-marinated salmon while I had the specialty BLT.
Afterward we tried to check out The Balcony, a nearby second-story gay bar, but it was too early for the boys to be out and getting late to start a road trip. We didn't get a proper sampling of the city's gay nightlife, but if the men are anything like the bronzed, young jocks who surrounded us at dinner, I think it would be safe to say one wouldn't be disappointed.
Still, the point of the trip (and this article) is the adventures one encounters when you hit the road and it was time to leave civilization.
Our destination for the first leg of the trip is Missoula, Montana, but we aren't in a rush, so we took Scenic Highway 21 through the Boise National Forest. Within minutes of leaving the city we were climbing the surrounding mountains -- one of a handful of vehicles we would see all that evening. Our cell phone coverage was (and is) gone and the only stations on the radio play either classic rock or country. Still, as the road winds up further and further into the dry mountains, as the air begins to cool and the sun begins to set I find myself at ease.
Rob and I chat aimlessly, catching up on old times when suddenly a deer darts in front of the car, causing me to swerve and hit the brakes. Now, with my heart-racing and darkness surrounding us, my fingers grasped tightly around the wheel, we continue our slow zig-zag ascent, headed first towards a small town called Lowman, which according to our map is surrounded by a series of small campgrounds.
Upon arrival we discover that Lowman doesn't really qualify as a town as there aren't any discernible stores or restaurants. From Lowman we took a small byway that connects Highway 23 with the distant Highway 55, but after three miles, in almost complete darkness, we settle on Deadwood Creek campground. We erect our small tent and build a campfire while munching on beef jerky and I can guarantee you after this long night we will be hitting the sack soon enough.
July 2 (5 p.m.)
Traveled approximately 315 miles.
We are almost to Missoula now, and what a day it has been.
As we fell asleep we could see the stars twinkling in the sky above -- when we awoke at dawn, we discovered two handsome kayakers putting in at the roaring river which wrapped around our campsite. That's the great thing about the outdoors: Not only is it naturally beautiful, but it attracts the hottest, fittest men to play in it.
While consulting a guidebook, we discovered our byway was famous for its water sports (no, not those kind) and a series of natural hot springs, starting with Pine Flats campground two miles west of us. We quickly packed our things and drove to the neighboring campground. After a half-mile hike along Deadwood Creek, we were lucky to run into a local who directed us to the best spring. It did require wading through freezing, waist-deep water for a few minutes, but it was worth the trek (and not just because the well-built Rob had to strip down to his briefs to do so).
The water comes pulsing out of a multicolored, mineral-stained cliff approximately 50 feet up, creating a natural hot shower in addition to a small thermal pool. After rinsing off under the cascading water we stretched out in the natural bath, well above the river's surface. Other than the occasional oblivious kayaker, we were completely alone and free to relax for an hour.
Afterward we continued our journey north, back on Highway 21 through the beautiful mountain ranges, much more welcoming in the light of day. After a big breakfast in Stanley, Idaho's only eatery, Mountain Village Restaurant (208/774-3317) just off the highway, we continued on Highway 75 to Highway 93, which finally led us directly to Missoula, the town in which I went to college. Along the way we passed many natural beauties, as well as some significant historic sites.
Road trips are a great time to discover adventures, but also a good chance to get to know your friends. Rob grew up in a Mormon family, while I grew up a strict Catholic. Neither one of us actively practices our religion any longer, but the influence it has had on our lives is immeasurable. Still, we seem to have come out pretty comfortable and confident in ourselves, and as a result have thus far been great traveling companions.
Which is important on days like today -- we spent five hours driving.
July 3 (11 a.m.)
Traveled approximately 0 miles.
One of the keys to a successful road trip is connecting the dots between friends, providing ample time for catching up as well as free accommodation. Debbie, one of my best friends of many years, agreed to host Rob and me during our stay in Missoula -- despite being days away from delivering her fourth child!
Since it was a Monday night in a smallish mountain town and given Deb's condition, it was predestined that our stay here would be mellow. After BBQing with her husband and having drinks on their deck, we turned in early, fully aware her children would be waking us at the crack of dawn. Being from Catholic and Mormon families, Rob and I are used to being surrounded by kids.
In the morning we checked out the University of Montana, my old college campus, at the base of Mount Sentinel and bordered to the north by the Clark Fork River. Midway up the side of Sentinel is a giant white "M," accessible by a steep switchback trail. It's a short hike, but the climb is rigorous, and both Rob and I were out of breath by the time we reached the massive letter.
For those with more time, I suggest following the dirt path alongside the Clark Fork east from campus about a half mile until you reach a trailhead on the right. This switchback trail is longer than the "M" trail, but more remote. Eventually, it leads you to the top of Mount Sentinel and breathtaking views of Bitterroot Valley far below.
Our final stop before hitting the road is Break Espresso (432 Higgins Ave, 406/728-7300), a beautiful coffee shop in the heart of downtown. Not only are there great coffee and pastries, but the shop has free wireless Internet and conveniently near some of the town's best shopping.
Don't let our mellow night fool you: This mountain town is actually home to a large gay community. While Montana is a highly conservative state, Missoula is strikingly liberal, due in large part to the university. Most any other night, I would be sure to stop by the gay bar, AmVet's (225 Ryman Street, 406/543-9174), whose clientele tends to be a young and athletic mixture of gay and lesbian.
July 3 (11 p.m.)
Traveled approximately 340 miles.
We journeyed out of Missoula on Interstate 90 -- the speed limit through Montana is 75 miles per hour, so we initially made great time on today's journey.
When we reached the western edge of Idaho's panhandle Rob and I decided to stop at Coeur D'Alene Lake to go for a swim. Two miles off of I -- 90 on Sherman Avenue we found Coeur D'Alene City Park, which featured a public beach, bike trails, a basketball court and a multitude of other recreational opportunities.
It was another 95-degree day and the park was jam -- packed with men and woman enjoying the sun, sand and water. Most of the guys were undoubtedly straight, but I must say that I have never seen so many hot young men in one spot as I did on that small beachfront. For better or worse, nearly every guy there could have stepped straight out of an advertisement for Abercrombie and Fitch. It's amazing how even straight guys in remote parts of the country are feeling pressure to look good.
Afterward we made what was meant to be a brief stop in Spokane, when our worst fear was realized. As we were driving the city streets looking for an exit to I - 90, smoke began pouring from beneath the hood of the old Volvo. We quickly discovered that there was a slow leak somewhere in the cooling system -- so as long as we kept our eye on the coolant level and topped it off with water, we should be fine.
The east side of Washington state is dry and flat and other than the occasional grain silo or barn, the terrain is a bit monotonous. But by the time we got back on the road, the sun had begun its long, dramatic descent and the landscape was transformed into a colorful work of art.
Approximately halfway across Washington the terrain is interrupted by a steep descent into a gorge through which the Columbia River flows. The small town of Vantage is perched on the rivers western bank, and it was near here that we planned to camp in a remote state campground three miles south of Vantage, but Willie Nelson is performing tomorrow night at The Gorge, an amazing natural amphitheatre located nearby.
As a result we had to pay a $30 fee to pitch our tent behind the town's only motel -- not exactly the natural setting we were hoping for. But that's another thing about road trips -- you learn to make the best of bad situations. After a six-pack of beer shared around a roaring campfire, who cares where you are, so long as you have a place to rest your bones.
O Canada, indeed!
July 4 (11:30pm)
Traveled approximately 135 miles.
Well, our Fourth of July sure did end with a bang!
We woke up later than usual -- and by "late" I mean 9:30 instead of 7. I was feeling fat so I talked Rob into joining me on a run along the Columbia River. Since the city of Vantage consists of only 8 buildings, within minutes we were all alone on the road headed south along the river.
I have been a competitive runner most of my life, so it wasn't long until I ended up on my own, intending to reach the Wanapum State Park campground three miles away. I have a tendency to get carried away with my runs sometimes, forgetting that I'm not a 22-year-old college athlete anymore -- when I reached the campground it was nearing 90 degrees, exhausted, and only half-way through. By the time I got back to the tent, Rob was already showered and ready to go.
Our short drive took us over the Cascade Mountains, which separates the dry eastern side of the state from the green and famously "wet" western side. What most people don't realize is that summers in the Pacific are generally amazing -- little precipitation, no humidity and tons of sunshine.
In Seattle we had a late lunch at The Broadway Grill (314 Broadway East, (206) 328-7000), an institution on Capitol Hill, the city's gay-borhood. At 85 degrees it was a perfect day for salads and mojitos on the patio while watching some of the city's cutest citizen's stroll along Broadway, the Hill's main street.
Since much of Seattle is surrounded by lakes, it's good to know people with a boat. Matt and Wade, two good friends of mine, are just such a couple. They invited me and Robb to a small BBQ where we wiled away the evening, chatting up cute gay boys while drinking beer and watching a mob of boats head out to Lake Union, where the main fireworks display takes place.
After the big bang on the lake Rob and I were ready to paint the town red, but the Volvo was seeing a different kind of red. In the midst of Fourth of July traffic we once again overheated. This time, as I poured water into the cooling system it became clear that the problem was not going to be resolved quite as easily. Due to the holiday, there were no tow-trucks immediately available so we cabbed it back to my friend Doug's place where we were staying and crashed.
July 6 (3 a.m.)
Traveled approximately 140 miles.
Doug woke me at the butt-crack of dawn so he could drop me at the car. Lucky for me, it hadn't been towed. I tenderly drove it two miles to a Volvo specialist who promised to resolve the issue by days end.
Originally we had wanted to travel to Vancouver, Canada early that afternoon, but when road tripping you learn to expect the unexpected. We used the incident as an excuse to spend some quality time in Seattle, my hometown of 4.5 years prior to moving to NYC.
Despite the location, Seattle's waterfront has never been anything more than a tourist trap. Recently, between Myrtle Edwards Park and the north end of Alaskan Way, the Seattle Art Museum opened Olympic Sculpture Park. It features work from some of the world's top artists, and while the landscaping hasn't quite grown in yet, the park is awesome to behold.
Afterward, my local friend Anthony played chauffeur to me and Rob. We went to a late lunch at Joey's (901 Fairview Avenue, (206) 749-JOEY), an upscale yet low-key restaurant located on Lake Union. We were lucky enough to score seating on the deck overlooking the lake, and spent a couple hours sitting in the sun drinking margaritas and chatting.
At 5:30pm we went to pick up the car, only to discover that it wouldn't be done until tomorrow. Frustrated, we left the auto shop and headed to SeaTac airport, an hours' drive away, to rent a car in order to continue our drive to Vancouver.
In the end, we didn't arrive at our hotel in Vancouver until 11:30 that night. After last night's fiasco with the car in Seattle, we decided we must go out!
We met my friend Andy out at 1181 (1181 Davie Street, (604) 687-3991), a chic new lounge on Vancouver's gayest street. Unfortunately it was dead (on a Thursday?!?!), so a small group of us headed over to a large dance club called Celebrities Night Club (1022 Davie Street, (604) 681-6180), which is typically gay but was hosting a straight party that night -- strike two.
Finally we scored a big hit at The Odyssey (1251 Howe Street, (604-689-5256), the city's oldest nightclub. Jam-packed with cute gay boys, the venue has a large outdoor patio, a massive dance floor and some of Canada's sexiest go-go boys (on Thursday nights they strip naked and perform in an elevated glass shower stall). Some of the locals mock the venue because it is so old, but when it comes to a good crowd, The Odyssey has never failed me.
July 7 (12 p.m.)
Traveled approximately 0 miles.
We woke up this morning with the worst hangover yet still in good spirits from our big night. Rob had to do some work today, so I met Andy for lunch in Yaletown, a trendy neighborhood featuring some of Vancouver's best shopping, dining and boozing. With ample forewarning regarding its consistently slow service, we ate sushi at Bistro SAKANA (1123 Mainland Street, (604) 633-1280). The menu featured your standard combination boxes, but the food was excellent, regardless of how hilariously incompetent the wait staff was.
At the hotel Rob still hadn't returned from his errands, so I next went for a long run along Vancouver's fantastic waterfront. Unlike Seattle, the city planners made much of the city's waterfront a massive recreational park for the pleasure of all who live and visit. A bike trail wraps for miles around the heart of the city. Along the way I passed basketball and volleyball courts, sandy beaches a wading pool -- eventually I reached the massive 1000 acre Stanley Park. There was so much to see along the way that I ran ten miles before I realized it.
That evening, Rob and I once again joined Andy and his boyfriend, Mark, for dinner at The Boathouse Restaurant (1795 Beach Avenue, 604-669-2225). We sat on its massive second-story patio which overlooked English Bay, watching the sunset, drinking microbrews and sampling the delicious variety of seafood.
Afterward, we repeated our bar crawl, once again starting at 1181 (packed on a Friday!) and finishing at The Odyssey (more hot, nude go-go boys and dancing till 4am), but in between we stopped at Oasis Cocktail Lounge (1240 Thurlow Street, (604) 685-1724). One of Vancouver's older lounges, it attracts a more mature crowd, but we still had a great time as Andy knew one of the bartenders who did his best to get us drunk.
Apparently he succeeded, as at the end of the night I found myself consuming one of the most disgusting, unhealthy, yet crazily delicious snacks I have ever come across. Poutine is a Canadian dish consisting of French fries covered in cheese curds and brown gravy that is surprisingly delicious.
Then again I grew up in a home where meals were prepared in a microwave -- something to consider before you try to stomach this Canadian delicacy.
July 8 (2:30 p.m.)
Traveled approximately 140 miles.
After two nights of partying we left Vancouver around noon on Saturday and headed south towards Washington. Originally our plan was to spend a few hours that afternoon kayaking around Seattle's extensive lake system, but Interstate 5, which connects the two, had other plans for us. Typically a trip between the two large cities takes 2.5 hours -- we were on the road for nearly 5 hours! The wait at the border was excruciatingly long and traffic in Seattle was at its worst.
In the end I did manage an hour of kayaking (from Moss Bay Rowing Club at 1001 Fairview Ave., (206) 682-2031) before once again meeting up with our Rob and Doug, our Seattle host, for dinner.
For our final meal, we went to my favorite restaurant in all of Seattle, Machiavelli Ristorante/ (1215 Pine St., (206) 621-7941). This small, triangular shaped venue has been serving up some of the best Italian food in the city for many years. As a result, it is packed every night of the week. Since they don't take dinner reservations be prepared to wait up to an hour for a seat, which is perfect if you aren't in a rush as Machiavelli has an equally pleasant bar.
Afterwards we went on a short bar crawl, hitting a number of cool joints, most notably Purr Cocktail Lounge (1518 11th Avenue, (206) 325-3112), Seattle's most popular gay bar. The venue is nothing flashy and the layout of the service area makes it difficult to get a drink, but it's the bar where you're most likely to find the city's hottest boys, and they were in full force on Saturday night.
And so, after one final big night out, my big gay road trip has come to an end. I'm sitting here on a plane back to New York City, typing out my final entry as we fly back over I-90 towards Missoula -- retracing in an hour what took us 8 to drive.
It was sad saying bye to Rob -- when you spend 24 hours straight with someone for seven solid days, you develop a bond that few people can relate to. That's one of the benefits of a road trip though -- not only do you get to explore places you've never been, but you get to see sides of friends that would otherwise remain hidden.