The Continental Divide

That right there is the longest floating boardwalk in the world, at least according to the sign at its entrance.

She finds this hard to believe –the very longest? in the entire world? what about all those floating boardwalks you see in movies set in places like Indonesia and the bayou and swampy places like that?– but she was willing to go along with it anyway, since a) it seems like an innocuous-enough boast, and b) she’s lazy.

Her youthful companion and she happened upon the world’s longest floating boardwalk after a 400-mile day in which they traversed Route 2 from Alberta to Montana and into Idaho.

When they crossed over the Montana/Idaho state line she stuck her hand as far forward on the dashboard as she could and proclaimed that she had reached Idaho before her youthful companion. The youthful companion, who was sleeping, did not respond.

She did, however, wake up shortly thereafter to proclaim that she was hungry for a Wieners of Waterton wiener. She had partaken of a wiener from Wieners of Waterton two days before, along with a side of sweet potato fries with ginger-wasabi sauce, and now could not get them out of her head.

“Wieners of Waterton is 300 miles ago.”


For a moment, the driver considered turning back and retracing the drive to Waterton, where the wieners were waiting. That this idea didn’t strike her as all that farfetched is in itself the beauty of a road trip. But there were miles to go before they slept, and wieners are not, after all, an uncommon foodstuff.

Foodstuff is the singular of foodstuffs, in case you were wondering.

“There might be a Wieners of Sand Point,” she informed her youthful companion, and her youthful companion agreed.

They stopped at an historical site (did you notice the “an” before the historical there? while it is grammatically correct, it sounds wrong; please know that she knows that) on the Continental Divide so that she could read all the historical markers placed there. The youthful companion remained in the car, as she was “sick of history.”

When she got back in the car she informed her youthful companion that she and her sister Oatie, while spending the summer out west, had once peed on the Continental Divide.

“Why?” asked the youthful companion.

Good question. It had something to do with half-Pacific, half-Atlantic, but that’s all she remembers.

On they drove. While her youthful companion slept she played several songs five or six times in a row so that she could get her fix without driving the youthful companion insane. Enormous trees rose up on either side of the road –what kind of pines could these possibly be?– and fly fishermen waded out into the current. This was A River Runs Through It country.

On the outskirts of Coeur d’Alene she realized that it was a much bigger town than any they’d been in the past week. 44,000 inhabitants. A small city. A small city with a big strip leading into and out of it, motels and casinos and tire places and five mattress stores and endless fast food.

The sight was exhausting and a huge wave of sadness came rushing through her. She didn’t want to be anywhere near a strip, a city, or traffic of any kind.

In another week she would be driving back into a real city of ten, twenty, thirty times as many inhabitants as Coeur d’Alene. The thought of the cramped streets and alleys and the choked freeways was unbearable. She tried to shut her mind down and focus on the beauty of her surroundings. Mountains. Rivers. Lakes.

Right into the city center they drove, and parked by an enormous establishment that looked as if it might a giant hotel of some kind. They were making this road trip on the fly, with no reservations anywhere.

“Maybe we should stay here, at this giant hotel-looking thing,” she said to her youthful companion.

The youthful companion looked doubtful.

“It’s too fancy.”

“Let’s just check it out.”

They parked and got out. They examined their car: so many bug carcasses were flattened against the front that the paint color looked visibly different. They and their vehicle had become mass murderers during the course of their road trip.

The giant hotel-looking thing turned out to be, shockingly, a giant hotel. They wandered down to the water, which is where they encountered the start of what may or not be the world’s largest floating boardwalk.

“Let’s traverse the length of the world’s largest floating boardwalk!” she said to her youthful companion.

“Ugh,” said the youthful companion.

“Ugh? Good Lord, what’s wrong with you? How often do you get to walk the length of the world’s largest floating boardwalk?”

The youthful companion sighed and trudged out onto the boardwalk. It truly was long. It weaved back and forth among boats and docks, all gated and locked, winding its way toward what, far in the distance, must surely be the entrance to the giant hotel.

“Let’s sneak through that hole,” she suggested to her youthful companion. “We’ll cut off at least a hundred yards.”


“Come on!”

But the youthful companion flatly refused. Good Lord. This was the world’s longest floating boardwalk, not some New York City club with velvet ropes. Had she unwittingly raised someone not willing to break the slightest of rules? Surely not.

But it was true, at least in the case of the world’s largest floating boardwalk. They shuffled along behind a group of tourists walking in that obnoxious let’s take up the entire width of the floating boardwalk way.

Her youthful companion was wearing socks with newly-acquired Birkenstocks. Yes, socks with Birkies, decades and decades before she would turn sixty. Or even forty.

“What are you, a hippie?” she asked.

The youthful companion smirked and made no reply. She is what she is, this youthful companion, and if that means part hippie, so be it. That is one of the many great things about this particular youthful companion.

Finally, the end of the world’s largest floating boardwalk was reached. Up some stairs, a traverse across a deserted pool deck, down some more stairs, and into the giant hotel, where a very nice man named Ron informed them that yes, there was indeed a room available, with a balcony and a view, and that while it ordinarily cost $499, he would be happy to give it to them for $249.

She looked at the youthful hippie next to her. What did the youthful hippie think? The youthful hippie was not happy with the idea.

“Too fancy,” she muttered.

How great this was. Positive reinforcement on many levels. She herself is chameleonic, which means that she is perfectly at home in a long gown and heels despite her diner upbringing. But when push comes to shove she’ll choose the motel with free wifi! free breakfast! over the giant hotel with his ‘n hers spa every time.

It does her heart good to see that apparently the youthful companion has inherited this choose-the-blue-over-the-white mentality.

Which is how they ended up at the Ameritel, with its complimentary 30+ item breakfast buffet, its guest laundry, its 24/7 free coffee and six kinds of tea, its in-room microwave, mini-fridge and coffeemaker, and its kingsize bed.

You would think that with a kingsize bed, which is pretty much the size of a football field, the youthful companion would manage to stay in a far corner, but that was not the case. No. For most of the night the youthful companion managed instead to sprawl over three-quarters of the kingsize bed. Is this a common trait among hippies?

In the morning they got up and partook of the large breakfast buffet. She made herself a make-it-yourself waffle and was approached by an older woman who wondered how those waffles were.

“Not as good as you can make at home,” she said, “but pretty damn good nonetheless.”

The woman was greatly intrigued and asked for step by step instructions, which, as someone who had successfully made a make it yourself waffle, she was happy to provide.

Three young men came shuffling tousleheaded and barefoot into the breakfast room and proceeded to make their own waffles. Each one forgot to flip the waffle iron and had to be instructed to do so. Each smiled and thanked the waffle instructor.

She watched the young men and made up stories about them for her youthful companion. They were college students on a cross-country road trip. No wait, they were college students with summer jobs as rafting instructors and they had decided to live in the Ameritel for the summer. Why not, given the 30+ item breakfast buffet?

She thought of the summers that she herself had spent out west, heading there jobless and finding a job and a place to live so that she could hike those mountains and wake up to that clear crisp air.

The youthful companion took a shower and washed her long river of black hair. Always terrified of blowdryers, she nonetheless decided to brave it. The sound of the blowdryer emanates from the bathroom at this very moment.

Soon they will get back in the car, destination west. At some point soon, they will have to turn back. They will have to begin the long drive to the city in which they live. Again the wave of not-wanting washes through her. She doesn’t want to go back. She wants to live out here.

She tries to convince herself that the feeling is a passing one. That once she is actually back in the city, she’ll be happy to be there. But that doesn’t feel like the truth.


  1. Joe T · June 20, 2011

    In our quest for weiners, you didn’t spot Anthony Weiner by any chance, did you?
    I am also fascinated with the fact that you and Oatie peed on the continental divide!! That is hilarious! I love reading your adventures.


  2. Hope · June 20, 2011

    Ah, the feeling of not wanting to go back is familiar. At least you get to go back with someone who seems like a lovely youthful companion/part hippie.

    I love the humor here.


  3. Jonathan · June 21, 2011

    I’m always delighted when I check in and read some of your magical prose, Ali.

    Fond regards from Midd ’82!


  4. diane · June 21, 2011

    makes me want to leave the sanctuary of my summer island, jump in the car with my own youthful companion (daughter, not pool boy) and head west to anywhere.


  5. Kris · June 22, 2011

    This rings true in so many ways. I’m enjoying the tales of your journal with your youthful companion.


  6. Gabrielle McGhee · June 22, 2011

    Yes, the humor. I am smiling ….


  7. oreo · June 24, 2011

    i would not in fact assume that a youthful companion would remain in a far corner of a king size bed, as my youthful companion is two feet shorter than yours and already quite adept at commandeering the king so there is not a single unoccupied adult-sized space remaining. horrors to think how large and sprawling he’ll be at her age if he keeps growing like this! but won’t i be happy to have him sprawling anywhere near me, dreading the day i don’t have to worry about having my own space.


  8. alison · June 25, 2011

    Oreo: same here.
    Hope and Gabrielle and Joe and Kris and Diane: thanks! My youthful companion and I do not want to come home.
    Jonathan: wow – so good to hear from you! Maybe I’ll see you at reunion next year.


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