On the Road in Oregon and Washington

Every trip begins with an idea and a plan to make it happen.

The idea: See as much of the Northwest as possible in two weeks.

The plan: Hit the road and figure out the details later.

The result: 3652 miles driven, 19 gas station stops, 30 eggs eaten, and 1 plastic Walmart folding table purchased.

PT 1: Unpredictability in Oregon

What happened next (3 visits to the Pacific Coast, 8 north and south trips on I-5, and 4 trans-Oregon drives) could only have stemmed from the least planned and most unpredictable trip I’ve ever taken.

Adventure and unpredictability can manifest negatively. It is not always wonderful to have no idea what is going to happen next. As Clouds and I had both experienced car malfunctions that had caused the premature end of a trip in the previous months (Hers a major engine failure via oil leak, and mine a minor window regulator malfunction) we were both on edge about our lack of ability to predict a potential third adventure-ending vehicle malfunction. That uneasiness never disappeared and we were both grateful to go to sleep each night without having to deal with a flat tire, dead battery, busted oil pan, or worse that day.

It is not always wonderful to have no idea what is going to happen next.

I expected to see a lot of cool places, but I didn’t expect to spend much of the time making connections and understanding my relationships with so many people as well. There were scores of conversations with the legally required gas pump attendants in Oregon, grocery store cashiers, and occasionally fellow travelers - this trip included many coincidental interactions with people who I may never have met otherwise. After driving down a long snow-covered dirt road to a boat launch on Davis Lake in the Cascades, we met Ryan, a Missourian out for an adventure with his brown Weimaraner. Ryan was moving slow, saying he ‘wanted to stick around in the beautiful places for a while’. When Clouds and I loaded the car back up to get on the road again the following morning, Ryan remained right in his folding chair perched by the frozen lake. The US Forest Service allows for 14 day stays on National Forest lands, and Ryan liked the beautiful spot on the lake he had found and intended to stay for as long as possible.

 

Unknown to us at the time, that would be the best campsite of the trip. How did Ryan know he has stumbled across possibly the best campsite in Oregon?

However, this was a road trip. So on we drove. Due to our utter lack of a plan or direction, we were able to instantly change and choose destinations based off of the previous days’ driving experience.

On day 3, Clouds and I spent the large part of the morning getting lost along the logging roads of Western Oregon while desperately looking forward to reaching the ocean.

SBOregon-03550.jpg

We ate dinner along an classic stretch of coast. Stopping at a road pullout, dinner was completed with a cloudy sunset, a nauseating instant Asian rice dish, and a lost Californian.

The Californian parked behind us in the pullout on a busy section of US 101, near Cape Perpetua. She stumbled out of the car, asking the drivers of a vehicle with Maine license plates for directions. She didn’t have cell service so Waze couldn’t navigate her all the way back home to Sacramento and shock appeared in her eyes when Clouds swiftly pulled out our map of Oregon. Despite its old-school appearance, the map never failed to show us the route when we lost cell service. Soon, we got her oriented and on the way to I-5.  Ironically, this Californian desperately had somewhere to go but didn’t know how to get there and we had a map but no idea where to go.

Despite its old-school appearance, the map never failed to show us the route when we lost cell service.

That evening, we further embraced the unpredictability of our trip and decided to head back to Portland rather than spending the night in a dingy yet overpriced campground on the coast. To some, this decision may have marked the trip a failure. As a matter of fact, in the first week only two nights were spent camping. Yet, without a predetermined plan, there was no need to spend hours of each day looking for a place to sleep when we could continue our mission of seeing as much of the Northwest as possible while sleeping in a house near Portland.

Cape Kiwanda

And so the trip continued. A few day trips to Cape Kiwanda, Mt. Hood National Forest, Foster Lake, and Sauvie Island, each destination planned right in the moment.

 
 

Adventure doesn’t have to mean searching in vain for a crappy place to sleep (although sometimes it shakes out that way). Adventure is fundamentally the inability to accurately predict the outcome of trip. By that measure, this trip was a successful adventure in the purest sense as we never had any idea quite where we were going but we saw a whole lot of Oregon.

In perhaps the only planned move of the trip, I dropped Clouds off at the airport after a week and pointed my wheels back toward the wild and desolate eastern edge of the state.

PT 2: Tough Conditions on the Olympic Peninsula

By day 10 I was sitting in a coffee shop in La Grande waiting for a friend Jake to give me a call back. Two weeks before, we discussed meeting up in Walla Walla on the 19th and heading to Idaho for some backpacking. However, after a few days of camping in Oregon’s high desert, snow flurries and temps cold enough to freeze my toothpaste warranted a change of plans.

Jake was in Seattle. A meetup in Olympia the next day would be conducive to a trip around the Olympic Peninsula. Yet, meeting in Olympia would also mean a full day of driving across Oregon yet again. So, once again, I fueled up and hit the road.

It didn’t start to rain until the middle of our first night on the peninsula. From that moment on, it didn’t really stop. At first it was beautiful, and maybe even a little fun. The low cloud cover sinks into the Olympic mountains, giving them the moody glow so famous to the Pacific Northwest.

When we awoke the second morning and pulled on yesterday’s still-damp clothes, Jake and I looked at one another and neither of us were particularly interested in standing out in the rain for half an hour to cook. We threw all our perpetually wet gear in the car and decided a diner breakfast would be the move. As ridiculous as it may seem in America, diner breakfasts are actually pretty scarce on the Olympic Peninsula. Probably because people are pretty scarce on the Olympic Peninsula.

We moved west to Rialto beach, then ducked south and east into the Hoh Rain Forest. I was very happy I packed a rain jacket.

After a few days of cold and wet camping on unprotected pullouts we split the $22 fee for a campsite on the beach, crossing our fingers in the hope that a mind-boggling sunset might peek out through bursts of driving rain, hail, and brutal winds just south of Ruby Beach. That night our optimism was unrewarded and I stopped taking photos. There is little that is more demoralizing than two soaked dudes lying in the back of a car at 6pm, having eaten a cold, wet dinner in cold, wet clothes trying to avoid the prospect of going to sleep in a cold, wet bed.

 
 

Despite days of cold and damp weather, Jake and I were able to experience the Olympic Peninsula in its most raw form: harsh, unforgiving, and most importantly, uncrowded by summer tourists. It still seems like a pretty good deal to me.

 

 

Soon enough, it was time to point the wheels east once again and cruise home to Walla Walla. Many great experiences were had, lessons learned, laughs laughed, etc etc. This trip may have been a little unremarkable, but it was certainly not easy. This trip was the most unpredictable, stressful, tiring, cold, wet, and wonderful trip I may have ever been on. And hopefully it was just the beginning.