Well, another themed and blogged roadtrip wrapped up. First there was the Golden Girls Tour, where I took my 75 year old mother and her buddy down the California coast. Then I tackled The Mission Mission where I attempted to visit all of California’s 21 Spanish missions. Two years ago, I embarked on The Road Less Traveled where I traversed The Loneliest Road in America (Rte 50 through Nevada, the old Lincoln Highway) and visited some of America’s least visited National Parks and monuments. This year’s just completed adventure was The Lost Coast Then Just Lost, so called because I had an itinerary for traveling up the Northernmost part of California’s coast, but after that, I was at the mercy of storms and wildfires without a clear plan. As has been my practice in the last several years, Dog was my co-pilot in the form of my female Smooth Fox Terrier, Lucy. (Alas, Oscar, my male Smoothie, is not a good traveler, so he gets to stay in Sonoma with a babysitter.) If you’ve been following along, I’ve wrapped up my thoughts at the end of every day. But there are stray impressions and bits of learnin’ that didn’t fit with a particular day’s write-up. In no particular order, I’ll list them here:
1. There really is lots of Unhomogenized America left. Routes 1 and 101 from North of Eureka, CA to Astoria, Oregon is mostly empty of all but the smallest towns and mostly devoid of fast food joints, chains and big box stores. So much so that on the few occasions where I hit towns with huge strips of crap — most noteably Crescent City, CA and Brookings, OR — it was horribly jarring. It was as if I left America of some vague time between the Victorian era and World War II to suddenly plunge into the present. You forget that American towns used to have a uniqueness to them at one time, before every burg had a McDonalds, a Starbucks, a Home Depot and a mall.
2. And a note about Starbucks. They sure haven’t penetrated the Lost Coast, and I hope they never do. Even though, from Eureka to Crescent City, I couldn’t find a decent cup of coffee outside of a sit-down diner (and being the end of the season, these weren’t keeping reliable hours.) Then once I hit Oregon, a wonderful thing happened. On every corner and around the bend of every tiny town was a locally owned coffee shack. I’m not sure what else to call them. They were housed in a wonderful collection of repurposed shells — from Airstream trailers, to shipping containers, to garden sheds, to what looked like home-made structures — and they all promised “fresh coffee” and “we grind our own beans”. To my knowledge, they never failed to deliver on those promises. I was so anxious to get my Java, I forgot to take a picture of a single one. When I get up that way again, I’m going to do a whole photo essay on “The Coffee Shacks of the Pacific Northwest”.
3. Photography is not as easy as you’d think on a trip like this. I’d wondered why every guidebook proposed a tour of the coast from Oregon DOWN. That’s because all the scenic turnouts from Astoria to Eureka are on the ocean side of the road. If you are driving North, you’ll need to cross over the oncoming lane — usually with a blind corner in front of you and one of the ubiquitous semis loaded with logs coming at you. The Columbia River Gorge road had even less forward visibility, so crossing over to a vista point was even more of a life-threatening act. Out in Eastern Oregon, there were just no turnouts and barely even a shoulder on the kinds of two lane blacktops where I was traveling. There is also not a lot of warning when a turnout is coming up. If you see one on your side, grab it. It isn’t guaranteed that you’ll find another.
4. Birds, birds everywhere. I was amazed at the bird life I saw on all legs of my trip. And I’m used to seeing healthy bird populations in Sonoma. Not that I’m an accomplished birder. I bought books and binoculars and tried to teach myself — especially after seeing the charming birding movie The Big Year. Then I watched my five-year-old goddaughter Amelia May birdwatching. If it’s a small bird, it’s a hummingbird. If it’s a large bird, she screams, “Look, an eagle!” When you don’t worry about identifying birds, you can just enjoy them and wonder at them. I saw lots and lots of “hummingbirds” and “eagles”. Some of them were even Spotted Owls, various kinds of Hawks, Kingfishers, Woodpeckers, the elusive and amazing Sage Grouse, and a bird that was new to me, the Black Billed Magpie. Otherwise, hummingbirds and eagles.
5. But clear cutting is looking like a clear and present danger. You can’t spend any time anywhere in Oregon and not realize that logging is big business. Even on the most deserted roads, there were a steady stream of semis filled with Redwood logs. Looking up at the hills, even in areas I thought were protected National Forest, I saw huge swaths of trees cut out, often on hillsides where the lack of tree coverage made the land the most vulnerable. It made me do a mental tally of all the instances where I use or order lumber, because of course, as a source for demand, I’m part of the problem.
6. My love affair with Eastern Oregon continues. It’s high plains, cattle country, cowboys and wide open spaces. The capital of it all is the wonderful town of Pendleton, home of the Pendleton Round-Up. The motto of the whole down is “Let’er Buck!” ‘Nuff said.
7. Once you hit the Oregon-Washington border, you’re in Lewis & Clark territory. As I turned Eastward at Astoria, where they famously spent a miserable winter after finally reaching the Pacific, I was following along in their footsteps. In fact, I was literally on their trail all the way out to Pendleton. William Least Heat Moon famously recreated a lot of their voyage in boats in River Horse. A little voice in the back of my head says following their land trail might be the theme of a future road trip.
8. And speaking of books, always do some preliminary reading for your trip — beyond just guidebooks. I reread, as I usually do before roadtrips, Least Heat Moon’s wonderful Blue Highways. But I also had an interesting audiobook on board, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis. If you seen any of the most famous photos of Native Americans — Geronimo, Chief Joseph, Plenty Coup, Red Cloud — chances are Edward Curtis took them. Starting in 1900, this amazing photographer was driven to document all the remaining Native American tribes, especially their rituals and traditional lifestyles. He, and most of America, thought at that point, that they were rapidly vanishing races, and he was driven to document them — and their humanity — before they were no more. Over the course of years, he lived with Native Americans, learned their traditions and learned to love and respect them. Because he was Seattle-based and worked his way East and South from there, the book tells of his encounters with tribes whose reservations I was driving through. It added immeasurably to the trip.
9. Speaking of Native Americans, they seem to be making a remarkable comeback. First of all, there are casinos everywhere. I’m not that huge a fan of gambling, but I do like the irony of the Indians selling firewater and vice to the White Man. I’ve also seen, in some instances, how casinos have brought prosperity to some reservations. For instance, on the Umatilla Reservation outside of Pendleton, the casino has funded a new tech company, a health care center and a cultural center that was one of the best Native American museums I’ve ever visited. It’s also the major employer in the area — for Native and White as well.
And a special note to people traveling with terriers:
When William Least Heat Moon was doing the travels that would become Blue Highways, he noted that he had to do little other than stand on a street corner to have locals come up and talk to him. Well, those days are over. Or they never were for a woman traveling alone. The next best thing is traveling with a Smooth Fox Terrier as any number of people will stop to ask what kind of dog that is. However, traveling with a terrier mostly means you have to bypass a lot of sights. Most National and State parks don’t allow dogs. So my travels with Lucy end up being reconnaissance missions for places I might go back to with Andy at some point.
When traveling with terriers, bring a basket muzzle. I found, especially when traveling off-season, a number of non-dog friendly places let me bring Lucy in with a muzzle on. Of course, it helped that she’s the cutest dog in the world.
Before you leave, fill up a dozen or so zip sandwich bags with a meal’s worth of kibbles. I didn’t follow this advice. I came up with it the sixth time I hauled a big heavy bag of kibble into the hotel room.
I’m sure I learned more than this on the latest tour. But that’s all I’ve got right now. Except for this parting advice: keep on truckin’. Preferably with a dog.