You’ve had the bones of our summer vacation – the bright lights on warm summer nights revealing the shadows of majesty in the theater. But there were other moments too.
The journey from Mt. Rainier (more or less) to Ashland usually takes about 7 and a half hours – if you stick on I5, go 70 and don’t stop. But it’s not what you would call a lovely drive (at least not until about Roseville). It had been years since I’d been to the Oregon Coast, and none of my memories of it are strong. So I decided this was an ideal time to rectify that.
It took us quite some time to get from Kelso/Longview to the water views on 101 in Oregon. Once we did, winding slowly behind lumbering RVs, the fog rolled in and there were few and dangerous views of the roiling waves below. Then, at one, we just stopped. Parked. Got out of the car and walked.
I had warned Adam not to expect sandy beaches. My (dim) memories were of rocky shorelines and dancing from dry-foot-fall to dry-foot-fall among the tidepools. But much of the Oregon coast line was sandy and lovely. This beach had large pebbles, then small pebbles then sand. There were uncompromising rocks erupting from smooth beds, like bullet holes through stop signs. We walked around a cape, carefully and quickly, to avoid the waves. We wanted to linger longer, but the pounding surf would soon make our retreat impossible. We stood, looked, listened, enchanted. I have long thought that the West was underlauded in stories and song. These coasts and mountains and forests deserve a rich, deep mythology. Those fogs should hide legends and rumors of legends. Those peaks should be shrouded in many names, mysteries and prophecies. And on this day, the waters of the Pacific, throwing themselves upon the unrelented shores of New Albion, were truly mystical.
But all stories come to an end, so we climbed back up to the car, rolled down the windows, and kept on. 101 jogged inland for a bit – more dairy farms than mystical rocky outcroppings – before lurching back out to the coast. We found a good radio station playing classic rock and roll, ignore the hours and miles in front of us, and sped onward.
An hour or so before dark, we stopped again. The northern fogs had lifted, and only the salt spray obscured the coast line. The beach where we stopped was a long one, with summer cottages redolent in childhood coming-of-age stories perched along the bluff, ending with a lighthouse that looked like the painted background on a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. We climbed down through scrub to the deserted beach. The water snuck up, like the serpent in Eden, to entice us in. Quickly shoes were discarded and jeans rolled up past the knee, and we stood touching the majesty of the unfettered ocean.
That half hour spent there, feet sinking into sand, waves crashing into us, eyes towards the sunset, was one of the most magical I have know. There we were, in love, together. We held hands before the eroding power of the Earth, strong together. We laughed, watched and exhaled our shallow breaths. It was with great reluctance that we finally put our shoes back on and climbed back up the bluff.
All was well with my detour (carefully negotiated with the help of Google maps with my husband who-does-not-love-road-trips) and I regretted not a minute of it. But it was 7 pm and we had between five and six hours of driving left in front of us. I was well rested, experienced and not too worried. With the last light of the long Western twilights, we turned onto Rt. 38 to Rt. 138 for the last haul to our rest.
It should be mentioned, at this point, that I am an extremely experiences mountain-road-night-driver. I learned to drive on mountain roads in the dark – usually while it was raining and I was super tired. I regularly came home from the theater in Seattle at 1 am when I was in high school. The roads I drove on were car-commercial-curvy with no lights. I remember some nights where the only point to the headlights were to be seen, not to see, since the lamp of the full moon offered more illumination than the paltry output of the forward lights.
I have never, in my life, seen a blacker road than I drove that night. There were no towns or outposts. There were no lights at the tops of hills. The moon was a memory, perhaps never to return. The stars were up there, but hidden and dimmed behind a high mist. The world was shrunken and swallowed to whatever dim advice came from my headlights, and my reflexes entirely guided by staying between the yellow reflectors and the white reflectors. We were far from rest or guidance and tiring fast – and in elk country. We were the only souls fool-hardy enough to be braving that stretch of highway in the dark. The road followed etching of the Umpqua River through the mountains, gleaming in starlight to my right, but beholden to the urgings of water (which are not the straight lines of men). Translation: it was curvy and windy and unpredictable, as well as dark. I do not believe two hours driving has ever left me as worn and weary as that two hours did. By the time we ceased our digression and made it back to I5, I gratefully passed the keys over to my husband.
But really, look at this road and note how green and unamended are the mountains through which it passes! (101 to 38 to 138 to I5)
We did make it safely, of course. And then we commenced our time in Ashland, returned home by way of Crater Lake (oh most patient of husbands!), went pontoon boating with the family and then returned, in stages, to the flat coast.
This is, sadly, the last report of my vacation that you will get. There’s one more story to tell, but I think it shall come from memory instead of journalism. But as a parting sweetener, I offer you these pictures!