Sunday, May 09, 2010

Gone Coastal, Part One - The Road

You may recall reading the chronologically-challenged Part Three a few weeks back.


I needed to get out of the city.

Which makes me realize how much being out West has changed me. The most densely populated state in America must be a fading distant memory if I think that a place as spacious as Portland—where streets only wide enough for one car are still unbusy enough to be considered two-way—is a city to be gotten out of.

After a winter that defied every warning I'd received about the Pacific Northwest, a cold front moved in. The week in which March ended and April began was gray, cold, and wet. Regardless, we planned to go to the coast; going to the Pacific Coast, at least in Oregon, is not going to the beach. You don't go for sun and swimming. This coast is gorgeously bad weather; it is rocks, wind, and fog. This coast is drama.


Our first coast trip was foiled by winter snowstorm warnings in the mountains and hurricane force winds on the coast itself. Not taking the hint, we planned a second trip for the following Monday. The trip began with coffee and pastries from Grand Central Baking Company. I had a rhubarb tart. It was the most perfect rhubarb tart you can imagine. But enough about the tart; this story is about the road.

US-26 will take you to the coast, to US-101, the same 101 that people talk about driving on in California. First, you cross the Willamette River on the Ross Island Bridge, and you find yourself in downtown Portland. Some poor signage misleads you about which lane you want, and if you're lucky, you find yourself on the freeway that 26 becomes. The freeway begins by taking you go through the suburbs, which fade into farmland. Here, US-26 (with its aggravatingly slow speed limit of 55mph) divides flat fields stretching toward the sky in either direction. The freeway ends; abruptly it becomes one lane highway as gradually, trees become more frequent in the landscape. The road plunges into darkness and stays there for quite some time—through several state forests and the Coast Range mountains.

It was here, in the mountain forest, that my need for a break in routine became apparent. I had done something very much out of character. I had done something downright reckless.

I had left the Portland Metro area without filling my gas tank.

This is how we found ourselves climbing the Coast Range in Clatsop or Tillamook or Whatever State Forest, with the gas gauge waving, like an antenna of crushed insect, just over the red "E."

"It's okay!" I told Julianna, artist and Adventure Monday traveling companion. "I have AAA."

Then we saw that pieces of the thick, gray sky were falling in our path. Gently but steadily, snowflakes drifted among the blackish green trees and onto the hood of the car. The gas gauge continued its desperate and frantic waving.

"It's going to be The Donner Party!" Julianna exclaimed.

To Be Continued...

The Whole Story
Part One - The Road
Part Two - The Elderberry Inn
Part Two and a Half - The Coast
Part Three - I Paid Seventy-Five Cents for This Story

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