Those of you who have been following my Musings column over the past many months know that my husband Bill and I treat each other to surprise trips for our birthdays. “The Adventures of Syl and Bill” is my whimsical moniker for these excursions. And you have heard me laud the magnificent and incomparable beauty of America, this land we call home. I have raved about mountains in the mist, breathtaking waterfalls, sunsets over oceans, gardens of rainbow colors—all visual desserts that create unforgettable images.
However there is something I haven’t emphasized enough, and that is the people we meet along the way. Fellow travelers. And this is the perfect column to bring them into the spotlight.
It was my turn to plan Bill’s birthday, and I was wracking my brain to concoct the perfect getaway. I had reviewed my secret file, surfed the Internet and was still in a quandary. Until I was saved by the bell.
Ring-ring! Out of the blue, it was my good friend Joyce on the phone—and to the rescue. Joyce and John are our fellow steamboat enthusiasts who we met on a river cruise 15 years ago and have remained in touch since. Her mission? Would Bill and I like to join them on another steamboat adventure, this time on the Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon? I jumped through the phone with a yes heard ’round the world. This would be perfect, as Bill had talked some years ago about this particular adventure. And how lucky could I get? Joyce volunteered to plan the entire trip!
So off we went on a flight to Oregon, Bill having no idea of our destination. However, when we arrived in Portland and met up with John and Joyce, it was the icing on this birthday cake. Bill was elated.
So this foursome toured around Portland and Vancouver for a few days, highlighted by a visit to Powell’s City of Books, a block-long haven of books whose claim to fame is being the largest independent bookstore in the world. We visited Pittock Mansion, a 46-room mansion and now a prominent tourist attraction. We stopped at Crown Point Vista House, a 55-foot tall octagonal masterpiece of architecture on the edge of a cliff. And we trekked through the snow to visit Timberline Lodge for a spectacular lunch as we watched skiers brave the elements.
But the lure of the American Empress, our true destination, called to us. All aboard, and we were off for yet another fabulous paddlewheel steamboat cruise, again with our friends and fellow steamboaters John and Joyce.
There was never a dull moment. This particular cruise passed through eight dams and locks on the way to Lewiston, ID, reaching the river’s elevation some 730 feet above mean sea level. Bill was fascinated. Our course continued along the trail of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with stops in such colorful places as Astoria (Oregon), Stevenson (Washington), The Dalles (Oregon) and Clarkson (Washington), places we had never heard of but central in the patchwork of Americana. Imagine, if you will, witnessing the raising of the huge American Empress steamboat 72 feet to the upper level of the river at the Bonneville Locks! It was an awesome experience.
Especially memorable was a visit to the Western Antique Air and Auto Museum, where we found the largest collection of still-flying antique aeroplanes and still-driving antique autos in the USofA. No badge of courage, though, for us. When we saw the antique aircraft used for visitor flights, we immediately opted for a cruise around the museum in a 1930 Chevy convertible. With all four wheels on the ground!
As we traveled upriver, this brave foursome went ashore at each port of call, and what a delight. We strolled through the charming little towns right out of storybooks and dined at local eateries, chatting with the extremely polite townspeople who were eager to share their pride in their portion of America. Everyone should experience and relish this warmth and hospitality because it is what makes our country unique.
So, we celebrated another happy birthday for my sweetheart.
And now, I tip my hat to the beauty of our country, and bow to the people who bring it to life. Traveling to other venues and sharing in unfamiliar cultures enriches our souls and fills our hearts with appreciation. The friends we have made along the way, friends like Joyce and John, bring to life the values we need to refresh. We are, indeed, one big family, and nothing I can think of makes it any more apparent than sitting at a table in Wherever, USA, chatting with absolute strangers to learn that what makes us different is what makes us all alike. It is the people who bring it all to light.
And to life.