I have never been accosted by the rain as much as I have on this trip. I once loved rain. From the safety and comfort of familiar shelter I could curl up with a hot beverage and appreciate the percussive qualities of every falling orb. But now I am soaked through, a sour, half-drowned cat floating grumpily down the rushing river that is our path, on a tiny piece of overpriced camping equipment known as a tent. But the cost of doing anything else is too high for us. We are simple drudgery-minions of a capitalist society, with no jobs and a long trek ahead of us. People like us would be wise to budget themselves $10 a day at the most. The dent in our respective budgets was compounded when we sprung a leak in our last tent and had to stay in motels until it was replaced, but, honestly, we are also greedy and lazy, and we like hot, delicious non-instant coffee. That adds up, my friend.
No matter which way I cut it I am having a hard time wrapping my head around how I agreed, all those months ago, to leave the comfort of home and go camping across the United States, STARTING with the Pacific Northwest in early spring. Some people might call that stupid.
I suppose I just wanted to see something beautiful.
We decided to leave the mountains of southwestern Oregon for the coast. At this point, I had lost my debit card and some of my sanity, and had still not gotten the hang of staying warm at night. I was wearing five layers, including the famous and extremely outdoorsy “base layer” of outrageously expensive wool leggings, and socks whose thickness make even boots a bit snug. But it was all a part of the uniform that I would wear for days at a time. Boots, leggings, socks, sports bra, t-shirt, long sleeved shirt, sweater (or two), leather bomber jacket (plain cold weather) or raincoat (icy rain weather). Every damned day. I was desperate for sunshine, in a way I had never been desperate for sunshine in my life. I had once prided myself on loving the fog and wind and damp of the Sonoma Coast, that I could walk around it in a t-shirt and jeans, with no shoes, like a boss. Too much sun– too much clear sky– made me feel suffocated and closed-in upon. Give me storm clouds! I might shout. But that was then. After losing my phone yesterday and sleeping in a torrential downpour that woke me with dreams of drowning all night, I was momentarily maddened by the discovery of no hot water at the campsite showers. Cry? Scream? Cry? Scream?
In all the brochures for tourists, Oregon’s coast looks like something the gods would set up in order to sell planetary property. “And over here,” they would say, parting celestial curtains to some prospective buyer/goddess, “We have the Oregon Coast of the Northern Hemisphere.” Gasps, all around. Western Oregon, especially, is a jewel that makes so many other U.S. terrains hang their dry, unsightly, barren heads in shame. Every stop on the coastline is a vista. Even the tidal mud holds an effortless beauty many muds could only dream of. At one point I was drawn to several viewpoints along a trail at once; like a dog who was on its first visit to the sea, I stood staring idiotically at the center point, ripped in two by my own limited visual capability. And I have to admit, even in the rain, this coast leaves me at a loss for words.
Every place we’ve camped, mountain or coast, there have been flora and fauna in abundance, including carpets of nodding daisies and clouds of excitable sparrows darting through the sunset for their dinner. There are so many strange and wonderful places. A kind and enthusiastic hunting and fishing couple hailing from Alaska recommended Beckie’s Cafe in Prospect. After much deliberation, we decided to take the recommendation and we entered what we later discovered was described as a Twin Peaks experience. Everything was made out of logs. There were 13 kinds of pie. (And yes, the food was great.) When we left the mountains we decided to follow the lighthouses up the coast, each one a startling and beautiful beacon in the midst of so much dangerous beauty, and each with a story to tell. We came upon a place that billed itself as Oregon’s Prehistoric Garden, a bizarre and wonderful tourist attraction that sits in a rain soaked nook in Humbug Mountain. Life-sized replicas of dinosaurs painted in garish colors are set amongst the ancient strains of fern and tree that cover Oregon’s coast, flora whose foliage holds more memories than the entire human population put together. There appears to be a unique affinity for exotic wildlife, and stores intended to help with the upkeep of snakes and large cats pop up in every town we’ve been in.
And yet there is a uniformity and undeniable emptiness that I first noticed on the coast of Northern California, that echoing feeling of things being not quite right. The amount of homes and properties and businesses for sale is overwhelming. I don’t know if this has to do with a depleted fishing industry, or mounting environmental threats. There will be strings of oceanfront properties like a fire sale edging the roads. In one town, a paved street leads you out toward a lagoon, splitting into ten perfectly laid driveways with no houses at the ends. A ghost town with no town.
But there is more to see. And more to eat. I must mention a thing about breakfast food, my most favorite of all of the foods. I have dubbed Oregon the Breakfast State. I love breakfast food in all of it’s unhealthy glory, the pinnacle of which is squishy, thick french toast with an over-medium egg and two pieces of bacon, all drizzled in syrup. Nothing fancy or organic or GMO free or healthy. The roadsides of Oregon from the mountains to the sea have perfected this meal and I have taken great comfort in those times when I felt I could afford such a luxury (which, at around $6.95 is not too bad, really). It sure as heck beat the bejeesus out of this breakfast:
The road goes on tomorrow. I am thankful for all of the people we’ve met along the way who smiled when we told them of our journey. Not one person has said, “Are you NUTS?” as I thought they might. No one has said one discouraging thing at all; everyone, in fact, has said they wish they were going. They wish they could leave their warmth and safety and familiarity, and head out into the rain to go, go, go. “Anywhere,” is what they say. I guess I will quit my complaining (for today) and head back to that beautiful, rain-slicked road, one foot in front of the other.