With no plans to head back to Canada any time soon and keen to leave Portland, I set about planning the trip. The road trip I’d been planning in my head for years. Northern California, San Francisco, the Redwood forests, Yosemite.. The trip that gave me the motivation to learn how to drive in the first place.
At such short notice I don’t have many options accommodation wise. Bolstered by the news that most campsites should hold back spaces for walk-ins through the summer, I head to Next Adventure in search of a tent. My new home for the next seven days.
I miss out on an almost new bargain by seconds, leaving me with a choice between a brand new one for $60, or a risky $20 one from the bargain pile. The guy behind the counter helps me unravel it as we both stare in amusement at the sad excuse for a tent on offer. A triangular sheet, with a stick to hold up the front, and a single peg for the back. I cave and go with the brand new one, my meagre budget blown on a single item.
Tent sorted, I rent a car from the airport, and spend the rest of the day working out which roads will be the most scenic, trying to figure out if my phone will have enough signal to be useful as a SatNav. It turns out it definitely is not enough, and I’m glad later when I give in and pay for the luxury to calm my nerves. I’ve heard there are apps you can use as well, maps.me being one, which will work just as well. But I’m yet to test them out.
I had 7 stops in mind; Crater Lake, Sacramento, Yosemite, the Sequoia park, the Redwoods, Cape Kiwanda, stopping at anywhere and everywhere along the way. Over two thousand miles, seven days, with nothing but a giraffe to keep me company.
The drive to Crater Lake
On the first morning I make it to the airport early, hoping to pick up a small, economic car to take me on my way. For perspective, back in Scotland I drove a tiny little red Citroen, with a 0.9litre engine. It was useless on a hill, or on the motorway, or basically anywhere, but I loved it anyway. My little Felix.
But here, they like their cars big, like really big. The first thing they try to put me in, a gigantic 7 seater dodge minivan, is never going to work. I stare at him for a while, trying to explain I’m driving alone and if they want the car back in one piece I’d be better in something a little smaller. He wanders off, leaving me trying to imagine how I’m going to cope parking the thing. I’m almost resigned to the idea when he returns, they’ve managed to find a Jeep. Perfect.
I sit in the car confused for a full 20 minutes trying to work out where all my indicators, lights, and wipers were, before I even attempt to set off. It turns out everyone is right, automatics are incredibly easy to drive. When I finally make it out the airport I head straight to Walmart, stocking up on food, water and finding the all important sleeping bag. It even comes with a warning that it might give me cancer, which was kind of them.
At this point I’m so late by my schedule and getting anxious that I decide to skip the detour via Mt Hood and drive straight down the I5, before cutting across to Crater Lake. I have no idea where I’ll be staying tonight, hoping naively I’ll find space at a small campsite I’ve marked on the map. But this is the first time I’ve ever set out without much of a plan. I’m not good when things aren’t structured in some way, with at least a rough plan of where to go and how to get there. As the day wares on I don’t seem to be getting any closer to the lake, the Sat Nav displaying 3 hours to destination for what feels like the next 3 hours.
A quick stop at the side of the road and a view toward Diamond Peak, in the Cascade Mountain range
By now the American has messaged to say hello. All talk of visiting in a fortnight seemingly forgotten. I’d like to say it doesn’t bother me, I know I trust him, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little hurt. I sit unsure whether to give in, knowing at the same time, feeling stressed and uncertain he’s the only person I really want to talk to. But before long I’m in the dead-zone, no data, no cell reception. Not even enough to find my location. With no idea where to go, tired, I park at the side of the road and give in for the day.
Making camp after a long day of driving
I spend the first night on the back seat, seat belts digging in to my back, turning to get more comfortable and falling off the seats instead. I want to stretch my legs, to spread out. My ankles ache, swollen from the bites I’ve managed to attract during a brief walk in the dusk. But I’m here, made it. I find one of the beers I’ve stowed in the boot, warm now, and toast myself. A tiny part of me regretting turning down the chance of company as night falls and I’m alone hiding in the boot of a car in the middle of nowhere.
I wake with the dawn. Pack up my things, top up my water, and drive on to Crater Lake. The park has a road which loops round the entire crater which you can drive round in summer, depending on the snow melt. The East rim was still shut in mid-July when I visited, so I only ever managed to drive the short section on the West side. But even this has spectacular views. I can’t believe I almost missed this – don’t let anyone kid you it isn’t worth the drive.
Pictures from the rim – Formed after a volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, today the caldera holds the deepest lake in America with the most incredibly clear water.
On the road in to Crater Lake
Sacramento and a Volcano
For the second night I have a bed booked at HI in Sacramento leaving me to enjoy the day without thinking about where I might end up. I leave the State Park, joining the interstate and crossing the border in to Northern California. The green forests I’ve enjoyed in Oregon, turning to sand and rock the further south I drive. From the road as you drive in to Northern California down the I5, Mt Shasta stands proud in the distance, the road meandering through the desert before passing through the town at its base. I stop here for a much needed break and some food, the lure of the mountain too hard to resist.
I drive the remainder of the journey to Sacramento on the highway, it’s not the most interesting road, and the rest stops become few and far between the further south I drive.
Sacramento is a peculiar sort of place. Where the new town meets the old, an area trapped in a previous time. I have my first taste of salt water taffy, they’ve lured me in with the offer of a free sample and now I’m buying a handful of the stuff in every flavour imaginable. I stumble across some peculiar artwork outside the courthouse. Fish and what might be a cow? dressed in hats and shoes with random money bags lying around – at first I honestly thought it was a bag of sh**e. Awks. Before ending up back at the hostel. The place is dead, but I’m happy enough with the luxury of a shower and a real bed for the night.
600 miles down, only 1,400 to go!