“Portland has the worst air quality of any city in the world.”

That was an Internet headline on Sunday, Sep. 13.

Of course, COVID-19 has kept me and Bradley from socializing much since March. Now, the smoke from the wildfires raging on the West Coast forced us to stay indoors. So when a friend in Montana called and offered us a cabin to stay in for the coming week, I did not hesitate.

That afternoon we packed, and the following morning we were on the road. This was not going to be a short trip. Non-stop driving time was 12 hours, with the door-to-door distance from Portland to White Sulphur Springs, MT, nearly 800 miles.

Bradley and I debated between taking the SL55 and the 1971 Jag V12 coupe.

It was a short discussion. As romantic as the notion of taking the Jag was, I simply wanted to hedge my bets by taking the most reliable car possible, and that was easily the Mercedes. It had already proven itself on a trip to Yellowstone earlier in the summer.

While luggage space was not plentiful, we maximized it by assuming we would not have the top down, giving more space in the trunk. Further, we were able to pack light as we were not camping out and there is a washer and dryer at the cottage.

We got an early start on Monday. Our destination was the historic Davenport Hotel in Spokane, WA. That’s an easy 351 miles, and five and one-half hours of driving.

As Bradley’s middle school is conducting all classes online, he had to take his morning classes with a computer perched on his lap. Luckily, we had good internet service in most of the Columbia Gorge.

As you might expect, the 2004 SL55 loped along easily with the cruise control set to 80 mph. Considering the $25,000 I have “invested” in the car, it is a marvel of modern engineering. (We classic car guys think a 16-year-old car is nearly new.)

The climate control works perfectly, and the aftermarket Apple CarPlay nav system was faultless.

Our habit on the road is to eat takeout so we don’t burn daylight. This time lunch was a Panda Express in Richland, WA.

Bradley has gotten very proficient at fueling the AMG. I think when a kid starts putting gas into a car it is a first step of the rite of passage to becoming a gearhead.

While not as smoky as Portland, the air even in Washington continued to be hazy.

We arrived in Spokane in the early afternoon. The Davenport is a majestic hotel. The lobby is very “old school.”

We were in for an unexpected treat. Our good friend Mitch Silver, of Silver Auctions, has his headquarters in Spokane and he invited us to see his offices, his collection and take us to dinner.

In the 30 years I have known Mitch, we have never spent more than a few minutes together. We generally cross paths at his auctions, which is his day job, so he is always busy.

Bradley and I toured his vast display of memorabilia. He explained that the only difference between a collector and a hoarder is the illusion of organization.

Our start the next morning was delayed as Bradley had two classes to attend. That, plus losing an hour as we changed to Mountain Time, made for a long day.

The drive to White Sulphur Springs was over six hours, and nearly 400 miles. The cottage was an hour further, much of it at 30 mph on a gravel road.

We listened to variety of podcasts, and he watched YouTube videos and texted with his friends. By the time we got to the cottage it was 8 pm and we were beat.

While the air in Montana was hazy, it was nothing like the soot we had been breathing in Portland.

Our drive back four days later was a marathon. Or maybe another half-marathon. Even though we again broke up the trip with an overnight in Spokane, it was still 12 more hours of driving and 800 miles.

My appreciation for modern sports touring cars continues to grow. They are quiet and comfortable while being sporty enough. Yet for trips like this, fully autonomous cars can’t arrive too soon.

As we entered the Columbia Gorge, the air began to clear.

When we arrived home, the view from my condo balcony was normal. That is to say, deliciously clear. I look forward to taking my bicycle out tomorrow and exercising, something that wasn’t possible five days ago.

Were the four nights at the cabin in Montana worth a 1,600-mile drive?

I would say yes. First of all, the combination of the ongoing pandemic and the smoke made me feel trapped. Second, Bradley and I got to spend time together, and created more priceless memories.

Further, rather than sit home frustrated, we were proactive in our search for clear skies.

We were fortunate to seize such an opportunity. When our friend issued the invitation to visit, within 30 minutes we had decided to pack the car and head out. We had transformed five days of waiting for the skies to clear into an adventure-filled week.

7 comments

  1. Hopefully, you and young son , saw some wildlife while there ? Every visit I have made there was accompanied by the sight of spotted owls swooping down at night or deer grazing… nature is quite different in Montana then Oregon …. glad you just “did” it ! RW

  2. hope you are keeping your collection of cars out of reach of the “peaceful protesters” in Portland. I think a few days of not watching your city destroy itself would certainly be a good thing even if it was only for 6 days.
    Stay safe

  3. What a delightful essay. Thanks for sharing. Just the vision of you and your son venturing out of the smoke and into a relatively clear sky is refreshing to imagine in these times.
    I’ll use the collector Vs hoarder line being a hoarder myself.

  4. Great essay, thanks for sharing. It sounds like quality time with your son and he didn’t miss school. Hopefully he didn’t need a lot of help and asked a lot of questions you didn’t know the answers to. That happened all the time with my daughter. My 4 years of college from the 70’s didn’t help me much.

  5. I literally laughed out loud at the assertion of organization being the difference between collecting and hoarding!! Thank you for that – good laughs are a rare item these days…

  6. Next time you come through the Gorge give me a heads up. I would invite you to visit us in Underwood, WA. I am a longtime fan and subscriber. We live in an old farmhouse overlooking the Gorge and own and operate Pearblossom Vineyards. Our current rolling stock at the Underwood house includes a 2004 Mercedes C32 AMG, as well as a 1969 Ferrari 365 GT 2+2. I love reading about your drives around the PNW as it is so familiar.

  7. Just got back from a similar trip with my younger son Jason Took my 7 year old M5 (F10). This was an anniversary trip since we picked this car up at the Welt and toured the eastern part of Germany on the autobahn 7 years ago, Starting on 9/11/20 we traveled from Southern Ca. to Medora N.D. , spent 2 days at T. Roosevelt N.P. then returned home. Passed thru White Sulphur Springs and many other notable places including the trifecta of Big Sky Mon., SunValley Id., and Sundance Utah, Had to skip Bend and Northern Ca. due to the fires. I have several sports cars I could have taken but the big Bavarian sedan was ideal for this trip. Like you, I had serious health issues last year (six mos. of chemotherapy) and the road trip represents as close a return normalcy as is possible in the country’s crisis mode

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