Rainer Jenss and his family are in the midst of a yearlong around-the-world trip, and they're blogging about their travels here at IT. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts here.
I am a big fan of Michael Palin for two reasons. First and foremost, I love Monty Python. But perhaps my favorite work of Palin's comes not by way of his comedy, but for the series of travel documentaries he produced for the BBC over the past 20 years that feature him traveling Pole-to-Pole, Around the World in 80 Days, and Full Circle. What I'm particularly intrigued by is that he makes it a priority to travel over as much physical landmass as possible during each of his journeys and whenever possible, does so without the use of aircraft. His objective is to capture the true essence of what lies between different geographical locations, gaining the perspective that distance, space, and time provide.
In retrospect, watching these programs probably helped influence our decision to travel around the world for a full year, without stopping or coming back home for the duration, as much as anything else. As a frequent business traveler, I have taken my fair share of cross-country flights from New York to the West Coast, and noticed that rarely do passengers look out the window or know where they are during the roughly six hours on board the plane. Instead, we get in our seats, sleep, eat, read a book, work on our laptop, or watch a movie and then BAM - we step out into a different city thousands of miles away that still speaks English, and has plenty of Starbucks and copies of USA Today. Frequent flier is really a more accurate term for who we are and what we do. After all, a true travel experience provides you with a sense of place, something a cross-country flight just can't capture. Never before had I had the time or opportunity to do it the Michael Palin way, until now.
For the last six weeks, I've blogged about our family's cross-country trek that took us through 18 states (and two provinces in Canada), covered 7,600 miles, and didn't find us in a single airport. We witnessed incredible scenery, met warm and friendly people, and experienced the country in a way too few people get a chance to do, along one continuous trail from one coast to the other. As a result, I don't think any one of us will quite look at a map of the U.S. the same way again, or board a plane without appreciating the distances they cover and landscapes they fly over. So as we drove into Seattle six weeks after we left home, we celebrated the fact that we had now officially driven across the country, and there was still so much more to see and do.
The Pacific Northwest has always been a place I've felt connected with. When I traveled to Seattle, it was usually for business, so I rarely had the opportunity to expand my activities beyond meetings and client entertaining. Now with the family in tow and plenty of time, I could finally explore much more of what the area has to offer. As it turned out, this could have been collectively our favorite part of the U.S. trip so far; Seattle certainly offers enough to keep families busy and entertained. We felt almost obligated to visit Pike Place fish market, and apparently, so did almost every other tourist in town that weekend... it was packed! We also went to the Seattle Center, where we decided to spend our money on the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame instead of going to the top of the Space Needle for a quick view of the city and Puget Sound. The following day, we easily got tickets for a Mariners baseball game at beautiful Safeco Field. Unlike in New York, this park sold salmon sandwiches and Thai food at the concession stands, much to Carol's delight. But it's beyond the city limits that offered us what is truly unique about the Northwest.
At the strong recommendation of friends and people familiar with the region, we were told the San Juan Islands are a must; It didn't take long to see why. The ferry ride from Anacortes (90 minutes north of Seattle) to Orcas Island was one of the more scenic and relaxing boat rides we've ever taken. Using TripAdvisor as a resource, Carol booked us at the Buck Bay Bed & Breakfast for 4 days, just enough time to take in all that the island had to offer. If you want to capture what makes Orcas Island so lovely, it's important that you do it at a relaxed pace. The bohemian vibe and artistic community gives the island its laid-back charm. The B&B doubles as a lavender farm, and the boys where just as content to hang out at there as they were to go to explore any of the rocky beaches or hike along the many trails of Moran State Park, which features Mt. Constitution and its magnificent 360 degree views of the Cascades, Seattle, the Sound, and British Columbia. But no family vacation to the San Juans would be complete without going out to see the family of orca whales that inhabit the water between spring and fall.
Finally, to put what we'd accomplished in perspective, there's the story of Dave, our guide who took us sea kayaking out of Deer Harbor. Upon learning that we had just driven all the way out to Orcas Island from New York, he told us that last fall, he and his girlfriend cycled across the country as well, covering roughly the same route we had just traveled. I probably can't appreciate the intimate experience he must have had traversing this vast country, just as I couldn't have imagined driving cross-country just a short time ago. But while the idea of such an experience is indeed intriguing, after hearing about how he had to ride through a snowstorm in the mountains of Montana, I expect we'll stick to the car for now.
Photo: Stephan in a lavender field, by Rainer Jenss