023 - PNW | part two
In other words, the Pacific Northwest or PNWonderland.
Astoria: August 15th - 16th
The last roads in Washington led us to the Cape Disappointment, which is really it's honest name, and it actually was a bit of a disappointment to us, just as it was for British fur trader John Meares back in 1788. We failed to find parking, because all the signs said no RV parking. And while we were led to another parking lot further down, we could have parked, but all the signs pointed out that one would get fined if we did not display our discovery pass or pay for parking. However after looking around for a while, there was no opportunity to pay for parking anywhere and we surely did not have a discovery pass, whatever that is. So, we made the executive decision to just accept the Cape for it's true name and keep on driving. From there we made a quick stop to look at Long Beach, and yes again, that is the beaches actual name, and as the name implies, it is very long. So long, that we could not see it's end and judge how long it actually is. We will just take the state's word for it, as we did not attempt the 28 mile drive down the official state highway to find it's end.
After driving over the long turquoise bridge, literally over the state line to Oregon (our 15th state, not including the 3 provinces in Canada), we finally arrived in Astoria, a city marked on our map for quite a while. The cute port town at the mouth of the Columbia River was definitely a good choice for a stop. We first conquered our mountain of laundry at the most high-tech laundromat we had seen up until then (credit card friendly and super fast, it's the little things) before parking Henry for free at the Columbia River Maritime Museum to explore the town. Astoria has a couple of very old, beautifully detailed buildings, standing next to updated modern and re-functioned garages and warehouses. These updated buildings now house a brewery, an incredible vintage hardware store where one can browse for hours, tattoo shops, clothing stores, and cafes.
We initially wanted to overnight at a nearby state park, however, with us coming more and more south, the parks now require before-hand reservations, as they barely have any first-come-first-served spots available, and the camping/RV crowd on the pacific coast is still going strong mid-august. So, after being turned down by the ranger, we decided to head back over the memorable turquoise bridge to Washington, and use the opportunity at the idyllic rest stop next to the Columbia River for a free overnight.
The next morning, we woke up to the surprise of boats among boats of fisherman on the water, as we got an early start to our morning in order to arrive in Cannon Beach at a reasonable breakfast/brunch hour. On the way we quickly included a stop at the Fred Meyer supermarket and Goodwill and as planned we arrived in Cannon Beach just as all the other tourists made their way to all the bakeries and cafes. Cannon Beach was another town on our list, and although we somewhat knew what to expect, we also had no idea. Judging by the myriad storefronts and matching tourists, I would most accurately describe it as a sort of Hampton's of the pacific, with much smaller houses and a more humble crowd. It is quite authentic, with it's picturesque beachy grey shingled cottages, one cuter than the other, the gaps between the houses filled with blooming flower bushes. I knew it was known for an iconic monolithic boulder at one of it's beaches, however I did not know exactly where to find it.
After exploring some of the streets we decided to just keep on walking down the main road, and we eventually steered toward the beach unknowingly, and there it was: the iconic Haystack Rock, impossible to miss. While the beach was packed with similar admiring guests, the single standing rounded boulder, with the backdrop of the beachfront properties and the wide stretch of the low tide beach, sure made for an incredible photo. But of course that was a given, because that is what Cannon Beach is known for. While the Haystack Rock creates a perfect picture, what cannot be seen in the photos is the thousands of sea birds including puffins that thrive off of this massive pebble. Upon approaching it, the screeching and bird calls get louder and louder, wings can be heard flapping, the color of the basalt gets difficult to make out in between the bird painted white.
Portland: August 16th - 18th
With the afternoon still young, we drove into Portland, my dad's birthplace, that same day. We punched in the Japanese Garden into our GPS, and as it turned out, that was quite the smart move. After circling around for a bit, we managed to find parking a little further down the hill of Washington Park and ventured out from there. We also wrote to a Boondocker just outside of the city, in the hopes of receiving an answer by the time we return, in order to have a decent overnight spot. The Japanese Garden, unfortunately required an entrance fee, so we decided to stroll through the free Rose Garden instead. And boy does it live up to it's name. Roses amid roses, rows of different colored pedals, colors I never knew where actually not dyed. From there we walked down to the hip Nobhill district on foot and after passing a few electric scooters on our way we caught on what they were for.
Portland, like Los Angeles, now has electric scooters all over town that anyone with the right app on their phone can 'borrow'. They're incredibly cheap, easy to ride, and you can just drop them anywhere as long as they are in a 'safe' and appropriate location (but I'll get to that a little later). So, of course, we quickly downloaded the apps from two different companies (Bird and Lime) that offer them, and managed to find two scooters within our proximity that were still more than a quarter full on battery. We quickly glanced at Google Maps, hopped on the scooters and crossed town to another district.
After exploring the Downtown and Pearl District of Portland, we meant to find another set of scooters. However that's when we really started to see the flaws in this system of transportation. Most scooters were either out of battery, broken, or stuck up into a tree on the corner of a street. The problem is, while these scooters are available for anyone with a valid drivers license and the app, they do not come with any liability for breaking them or assurance that they will be dropped 'accurately'. Although you have to take a picture of the location where you drop them, anyone can mess with them after, without actually logging in. And then there is of course the issue of the batteries. After the whole younger generation takes advantage of the scooters all day, at around rush hour they are drained. So checking about 15 different scooters, we accepted the fact that we wouldn't find our way back to Henry by means of Bird or Limes, so we hopped on the street tram instead. We got off just at the lower corner of Washington Park, where we stopped for two slices of pizza each at SFNP (Straight From NewYork Pizza), before returning to Henry, who we then drove out to the nearest rest area, because we never received that response from our Boondocking request.
While Portland is still a very large city (population: 640'000), it did not have us as overwhelmed as some of the others. For some reason it did not seem as noisy, it was much cleaner, greener, and we also noticed a few non-smoking zones. We even found that Portland smelled nice, but then again it is known as the City of Roses. We saw a ton of vintage stores next to unique shops, rather than all the major fashion brands. Somehow Portland does not try to fit in with the rest of the metropoles, instead it stands out for it's green, conscious, and authentic character. New buildings accent the old perfectly, all the areas we walked through felt safe, and while it offered everything a large city does, it still has a small city charm to it. We can say, Portland definitely made it to the very top of our favorite US city list.
While in the area, we decided to visit the Multnomah Falls on the outskirts of the city the next day. We of course took the scenic route over the hill of the Vista House, and while going uphill very steeply, we noticed that Henry started sputtering at a certain speed. We dismissed it again after everything went fine driving downhill and on the interstate, thinking it might have had something to do with the steep road. By the time we wanted to take the turn to the falls, we approached a road closure, directing us to the nearest state park for further info. Upon our arrival at Rooster Rock State Park, we were informed that we could take the free shuttle bus to the falls, and park Henry in their lot for only five bucks, so of course we took the offer. And so did a hell of a lot of other tourists. The falls, known mostly for their bridge in front of them, stealing the spotlight for the main attraction, were slam packed with people. The bridge had an informal waiting line, and the atmosphere just wasn't as nice when you had to share the experience with so many. So we only stuck around for about half an hour, before taking the shuttle back to Henry and driving back into the city for his overdue oil change.
We chose a very tight Jiffy Lube in the Hawthorne District, but managed to fit Henry into their garage nonetheless. From there we explored the shops nearby, the district being known mostly for its alternative and vintage vibe, we found the famous House of Vintage, and sat down at a busy corner to have a drink and nibble on some delicious appetizers. Lucky for us, the Boondockers we had contacted the previous night, had gotten back to us by then, and we were able to secure a quiet overnight spot in their driveway not far from where we were.
August 18th - 23rd
The following day, we drove back out to the pacific coast and soon noticed Henry's accelerating issue again. But because we were now in an area where garages were scarce, we tried to google our way out of the situation. We booked a night at the Cape Lookout State Park just outside Tillamook (population: 5'000), and once again got the very last spot, and this time also only because the woman in line in front of us decided to cut her stay a day short. We walked the beach, marveled over the mesmerizing sunset, and tried not to worry about our upcoming challenge.
The next day, looked very similar to the previous when it came to Henry's issue, but we figured since he was still driving fine, we were okay. And then of course there was the problem with us not even being remotely in an area where we could find a garage that would take a look at him. So, we instead checked out the Devil's Punchbowl, a large hole in the rough cliffs, overlooking the wide open pacific, a few motivated surfers, and our very first whales. We ended up just watching their every movement for quite a bit, before heading to our next overnight spot at Beverly Beach State Park.
In the morning, we got closer and closer to a little more civilized town, so we managed to find a Valvoline and explained our problem to them, hoping it might have something to do with the fuel pump that they could easily fix. After taking an overall look at Henry, and of course not being complete mechanics themselves, they ended up suggesting a complete fuel system flush for fifty bucks. And since it was our only option at this point, we went ahead with it, hoping the problem was this simple. From there, we felt like the issue was a little better, however it was also hard to tell because it only showed up at a certain speed and only when going uphill.
So, we continued our drive down the coast, stopping at the alluring and rugged Seal Rock, where the coast showed itself once again from it's most magical side. The wind blew around us, knotting our hair, the birds sailed through it speaking to each other, the seals undisturbed on a far boulder, where the waves crashed against it, splashing them every once in a while. We passed our chance of visiting the Lions Cave, with an entrance fee of 14 dollars per person, after having seen so many seals already. And before turning into our next campground at Alder Dunes Forest for the night, we stopped at a streetside foodtruck and ordered two mouthwatering burgers.
This was the spot where we initially wanted to continue inland to make it to Crater Lake National Park, however because of a nearby wildfire, the park was completely drowned by the smoke, and we decided to leave it be and continue on the coast.
With Henry's accelerating issue returning, we decided it was time to find a garage. Coos Bay was our next larger town (population: 16'000), so we quickly researched a few RV garages in it's proximity. We tried about four different garages, each telling us the same thing, that they were either short on staff or simply had no time. One garage kindly offered us a quick check with the guarantee of advice and what it would take to fix it, however not being able to fix it themselves. With a proud price of 135 dollars, that would not actually fix our problem, we decided to keep on looking for someone who could fix it in the upcoming days.
Finally, the fifth garage took us in, and the oldest of their mechanics even looked at it right away, although he was working under another car when we arrived. Mark, with his greasy hands, toothless smile, electrocuted Einstein hair, and extremely quiet voice, immediately came out, opened Henry's hood and hooked up a problem detector, figuring out where the issue was coming from. After detecting what it was and took, he gave us the option for a complete tune up which would take about ten hours, or the replacement of a few worn out parts (distributor cap and wires) over the next couple of hours, which would also hopefully take care of the issue. Trusting him fully, we decided to go with the latter, since their hourly rate already started at 100 bucks. So, right away, he compiled an overall estimate of the price, including the parts, got back into his dirty overalls, ordered the parts he needed, and began working.
After about three hours (starting at 4pm and finishing at 7pm), and half an hour for his dinner break, he closed the hood, finished the bill (giving us a discount on the parts in order to even out the extra time he used) and came with us on a quick test drive. Everything worked as it should, and we had no more issues going uphill. Hallelujah. And when we asked if it was okay to overnight in their lot, he said of course, and even pulled up an extension cord for us. What an incredibly kind, hardworking soul. We noticed that unfortunate events like these, keep reminding us of the simple and unexpected generosity that certain people offer. The manager at Canadian Tire who gave us his advice for free, the mechanics in Anchorage, that took a look at our tire for no cost at all, the guys at Valvoline, who crawled under Henry even though our problem most likely had nothing to do with their services, and now Mark, who could have easily charged us more, but went out of his way to give us a discount, after dropping everything and working overtime. Thank You.
The next day we left the garage in the early hours, avoiding the mechanics coming in for their new day at work. We continued the spectacular drive south on the pacific coastline, marveling over the soft mist luring past the rough cliffs and pushing through the heavy trees beyond. We were completely in awe over the many contrasting boulder islands, their black rugged surface appearing hard against the soft grey water, decorating the ocean like pearls, sea birds circling above, and the waves creating their game of beautiful patterns around them. Although we very rarely caught a glimpse of the sun in the Pacific Northwest, we found the weather to be perfect. The gloom and still atmosphere fits this scenery better than the clearest of blue skies would.
We concluded our time in Oregon with a sweet breakfast at a local bakery in Brandon, knowing the coffee must be good after seeing the sheriffs get their morning brew there as well. We gazed over a few more breathtaking viewpoints, continuing on the scenic corridor to Bookings, and checked in to our last overnight at the Alfred A. Loeb State Park with an electric hook-up site for only 24 dollars.
We had really anticipated the great Pacific Northwest for a while. Both of us had seen inspiring pictures from this area leaving our minds filled with curiosity and wonder.
Now we hold those inspiring pictures in our own hands, taken with our own camera, reminding us forever, of the magical Wonderland indeed.