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Summer of Travel - Idaho Sandwich

After driving over 2,000 miles and exploring beautiful Banff, I took a little downtime, first in northern Idaho and then in southwest Idaho. But of course, I had to squeeze some adventuring (and more driving!) in between.

Sandpoint, Idaho

If you know me at all, you know that I'm a planner. I have no trouble plunking down a large chunk of change to commit to an awesome adventure, even if it's more than a year away like I did with Patagonia. And since I work from home, I want to get the best AirBnB possible that fits my criteria and is in my budget. Sometimes I book those seven months in advance. 

But once in a while, plans change and I find something completely off the cuff. For example, back in November 2020, I had booked a second floor place in Asheville, NC, but I realized my poor dog was too old to handle those stairs. So, at the last minute, I opened AirBnB, added all my filters, and looked to see what was available somewhere midway-ish between Enfield, Maine and Pass Christian, Mississippi, and I ended up in the wild and wonderful and totally charming town of Lewisburg, WV. I loved it.

This year, I was planning on going to Seattle for five days between Banff and Rainier, but my company decided at the last minute to prohibit all travel that was not directly customer related. I had planned on working in our Seattle office and having the company pay for my hotel and parking. Since that wasn't something I wanted to pay for on my own, I needed a plan B. 

Enter a tiny house in Sandpoint, Idaho on the serene Lake Pend d'Oreille. I never thought I'd be spending a few days in northern Idaho and never thought I'd stay in a tiny house, but it was quite nice. Sandpoint is a charming town with a lot to offer in terms of recreation and a good vacation spot. They have a great running/biking path, a community forest, a city beach with paddle board rentals, a surprising number of great restaurants, and forests and wildlife refuges all around. There are active grizzlies in the region, so I ran with bear spray, but I loved having the trails to myself. And the lake shore has many spots where you can simply pull over and hop in. It's not overregulated with tags and zones and all that nonsense. It was too cold for me, but lots of other people were enjoying it.

Pend d'Oreille literally means “earloop” or “hangs from ears” in French and was given by voyageurs after members of the Kalispel Tribe who wore dangling shell or bone earrings (source). But as language goes, it gets muddled over time and the meaning lost, so there is a town on Lake Pend d'Oreille named Ponderay, which is a poor pronunciation of the French lake name. I got a kick out of that. It reminded me of Ronceverte in West Virginia, which means green brier, but since there was already a town called Greenbrier...

As for the tiny house itself, the one I stayed in was nicely decorated, surprisingly well stocked indoors and out, and I loved that it had a rooftop patio with a hammock and plants. It was also up on a hill with an epic view of the lake and the people whose property it was on had goats and horses. It was a great place to relax and focus on work for a few days. That said, now that I've had the tiny house experience, I know it's not for me. Every tiny house is different, of course, but in this one, I had to essentially crawl up to the loft area to go to sleep (you couldn't stand up there), there was a composting toilet (no thanks), and the living room area needed another chair and maybe a coffee table. Also, if you were taller than about 5'9, I don't think you'd be able to stand upright in the shower. So, cool to try for a few days, but I'd need at least double the space for full-time living.

Mt. Rainier, Washington

After my first Idaho stop, I drove a ridiculous amount of miles for just a three-day stay with friends at Mt. Rainier, but it was worth it. The drive was flat and boring most of the way, but what was cool was seeing Mt. Rainier pop out of the horizon from a full 144 miles away. That seems insanely far. I drove around the park on a gorgeous day and got closer views of the mountain, plus I drove through this beautiful forest road - that has lots of dispersed camping - on my way to the rental. 

Three friends and I stayed in a geodesic dome in the town of Eatonville. While the tiny house was $60/night (after taxes and fees), this place was $550/night. So it's a good thing the house came with a lot of amenities - like a coffee bar, supplies to make s'mores, two firepits, a hot tub, trail snacks, and a super clean interior. Eatonville itself is a cute town with several good restaurants. It's about an hour from the Nisqually entrance of the park.

We hiked in the park on Friday and had perfect weather for it. The next two days were overcast - be warned if you go to Rainier that you should plan on a week to make sure you get in a few days where you can see the peak. But overcast on Saturday was just fine by us because Saturday was the main event. 

The reason we gathered in Rainier was for our annual Vacation Race half marathon (2018 Zion, 2019 Yosemite, 2020 Glacier (didn't happen), 2021 Saguaro). The race was fun! I did way better than expected given how little training I had done, and Vacation Races always does a fantastic job organizing. The course was probably the easiest of the ones I've done with them so far, so it's a good option if you're a beginner to half marathons. The girls flew back on Sunday, so we didn't get as much hiking in as usual on these trips, but it was great to see everyone and enjoy copious bottles of wine and good grilling and hot tubbing time. Worth the drive! 

And bonus - on my way back to Idaho, I stopped in Yakima to see a cousin who I haven't seen in almost 40 years! I essentially know him only through Facebook, so I appreciated having some time to hang out and talk to him and his girlfriend about their lives in a part of the country I know so little about.

Boise, Idaho

And finally, back to Idaho, which apparently has two time zones. The north was in Pacific time, while Boise is in Mountain time. It was good to be driving east finally and not have the sun beating down on me in the driver's seat the whole way. 

I had another modest yet charming rental, which included Squirrel World! The owner had set up a playground for squirrels and filled it with all kinds of buckets with peanuts to encourage the squirrels to run around. The backyard also had a tiki bar and several seating areas. I really appreciate when people with small properties make the outdoor space highly usable and comfortable. And though it was nearly 100 degrees most days, sitting outside in the evening was pleasant.

I was in The Bench neighborhood, which was quiet and had great access to anywhere I wanted to go in the city, though I didn't go out much. I mostly lived a normal life. I met up with a couple people I know in Boise, ran along the Boise River Greenbelt (yes, in 100 degrees. It's a dry heat!), checked out the downtown, and went to the gym. 

Boise is somewhat on my list of places I'm considering for longer term living, so it was good to get a taste of it and pick the brains of people who have been living there a long time. I'm not sure Boise is for me though. On the plus side, it does have great access to trails all around the city, it's not overly crowded, it has good mountain access, and mild winters. But it reminded me a lot of Winston-Salem in that it felt like a giant suburb and not really a city. The politics are also quite conservative and at the gyms I went to, the instructors were underwhelming. They - and the students - didn't really seem to take the workout seriously, which isn't the vibe I want. I won't say Boise is completely off the list, but it's not near the top, especially being one of the country's most inflated housing markets.