Entire Route So Far
As I mentioned in this morning’s blog post, we were awakened in the middle of last night by the sounds of something calling. I awoke too late to recognize the sounds, other than to note that they appeared to emanate from the middle distance and had a certain amount of echo to them, and that they were disturbing in some way. I wasn’t aware that Chatchai had also been awakened but he told me this morning that he had heard the sounds too, and been frightened by them.
I woke up for good just before 5 AM. It was already daylight out and quite cold. I lay in my sleeping bag and tried to get back to sleep until about 6:30, when I gave it up for good and woke Chatchai. We broke camp and left just before 7 AM. I decided to take a different way out, which was really the way we should have taken on the way in, because we reached a paved road within just a few miles and were able to follow it all the way back to 101. D’oh! The paved road started at the summit of the hill we were on, Mount Hebo, at somewhat over 3000 feet. I saw a bunch of towers and we went up to have a look around. It seemed like there would have been a pretty good view, but everything was still shrouded in fog and we didn’t feel like waiting around. Within 20 minutes, we were back at sea level on 101, and by 8 AM we had arrived at the Tillamook McDonald’s, where I posted this morning’s entry. The Internet connection was slow, and while I futzed around with it, Chatchai took the car to be washed, because it was truly filthy. In the end I got my text posted, but almost no photos, and managed to kill an hour. After Chatchai asked me “are you ready yet?” for the seventh time, I gave up and packed it in. On the way out of town we passed the Tillamook Creamery, source of some pretty delicious ice cream.
A word about technology — it is failing me. The cellular Internet out here is spotty at best, and when I do have data, it’s often roaming onto other networks so the amount of data I can use is severely capped. When I do find wifi, it’s often slower than the cell phone. Even my satellite radio isn’t working right because of all the tall trees. It’s almost like the Universe is conspiring to force me to unplug and be more present in the moment. Challenge accepted. Incidentally, why is it so hard to find a good GPS tracking program for the iPhone? The one I’m using comes close, but it doesn’t always get my location correct, and it only records a position when it seems to feel like it. But the other apps I tried just silently crashed in the background, after otherwise performing flawlessly. Sigh. I guess it’s better than nothing, which is what I had before.
We proceeded on up the coast to just south of Astoria, where we stopped at a Costco for our last chance at cheap Oregon gas, and I hunted unsuccessfully for a jacket. One peculiarity of Oregon is that it’s against state law to pump your own gas. Weird but true! From the Costco, it was just a couple of miles to Lewis and Clark National Park, so we made a brief detour to Fort Clatsop. There was a nice little visitor center and museum there, and supposedly a replica of the old fort from the expedition. However, I failed to find the fort and, honestly, it was only a model, so I wasn’t too upset. While there, though, I saw a picture of the Astoria Column, so we went there next.
The Astoria Column is a 125 foot tall, round column built in the 1920s on a hill overlooking Astoria. It has a long mural wrapped all the way around its exterior, and a narrow (and frankly dangerous) metal spiral staircase inside, leading up to the observation deck. Passing others ascending or descending turned out to be both awkward and somewhat perilous, as the inside party has nothing to hold on to and nothing to arrest their fall should one get started. But the views from the top were well worth it, encompassing Astoria, the Columbia River, and across to Washington state. The observation deck was refreshingly free of safety features and there was nothing to stop you from dropping your camera or iPhone straight onto the heads of other tourists directly below. I held my iPhone tightly with both hands and felt a bit vertiginous. I stood for a few minutes, gazing out across the Columbia, listening to the heaving, gasping, and puffing noises wafting up from the staircase below. To raise funds, the gift shop at the base was selling little paper gliders that kids would toss off the top, and to my surprise, some of the gliders would drift and circle for several minutes before finally coming to rest in trees, on rooftops, on random passersby and (a very small number) even on the grass at the bottom of the column. When this happened, I saw several kids run down the stairs, collect their gliders, and run back up to the top to launch them off again. Ah, youth. I think most of us adults counted ourselves lucky to have made it up once.
I really like downtown Astoria. It has a cool, unpretentious, slightly rundown and funky small town vibe. It bills itself as the oldest city west of the Mississippi. There are an inordinate number of breweries, art galleries, restaurants and the like. Even a running trolley car! Also, some pretty cool older Victorian houses. Chatchai has been complaining about my American food so we got some Japanese downtown. The place turned out to have good hibachi and really fast wifi, so I capitalized on the opportunity to upload photos. After lunch we wandered around downtown and I took some more photos. I passed by a realtor’s office and noted that houses and land are quite affordable. For now, anyway. I will put Astoria on my short list for when I’m finally done with California.
With that, we bade farewell to Oregon and crossed the Columbia on a very tall green bridge. I was shocked to see how economically depressed the Washington side was. In contrast to Astoria’s pleasant and picturesque shabbiness, the towns on the northern side of the Columbia featured housing that was literally falling apart. Houses with caved-in ceilings, houses that didn’t appear to have been painted in 40 years (although it’s hard to tell in the Pacific Northwest, with all the rain). We even saw one house that apparently had burned down just that morning, along with the car out front. There was basically nothing left of either. The utility crews were out working on the power lines. I’m not sure what went wrong but the Washington side has definitely seen better days.
Gradually, the blight gave way to seemingly endless, mostly featureless forests. Now and then a sign would tell us when these trees were planted, or remind us of all the good things that a well-managed forest does for the country, or caution us that only we can prevent forest fires. We made our way around the Northwest corner of the Lower 48, and had dinner at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort inside Olympic National Park. I had the elk burger. It was quite tasty and juicy. We had wanted to take a dip in the hot springs, but by the time we were done with dinner, the pools were only going to be open for 30 more minutes, and $15 each for the privilege seemed a bit dear. It was a blow because neither of us has had a bath since Saturday morning, three days ago now. And, to add insult to injury, both campgrounds were completely full. So, we sadly and stinkily made our way about 15 miles back out of the park and took refuge once again in a national forest.
Tonight’s campsite is once again among towering redwoods. Chatchai is relieved because there are several other parties here tonight. This campsite wants paying so we stuffed $9 in an envelope and hoped for the best. Unlike the last two nights, where it was first hot and dry and then cold, we’re in a low-lying rain forest now, and the mosquitoes are out. I’m sure this is but a preview of what awaits me further north. I hope it won’t be like the family camping outings of yore in South Carolina, where the mosquitoes were so gorged with blood that they literally splattered when we swatted them. Inside this tent tonight, though, the mosquitoes are at bay, it isn’t too cold yet, and all is right with the world. The rushing white noise of the nearby creek should lull me to sleep in no time. Some famous Latin poet once remarked that there’s nothing better than being safely ashore during a storm at night, imagining all the sailors out on the storm-tossed seas. It’s kinda like that, but with mosquitoes instead.