On to part three, where to begin, where to end.
This part of the trip takes me through the redwood forests of Northern California, up the Pacific coast into Oregon. I’ll have an encounter with biscuits and gravy – yep, this is a real thing – and challenge my fear of leaving things unplanned, before returning to Portland after meeting some of the loveliest people of my short time in America.
So where to begin.
I’m back on the road again, this time in search of the coastal Redwoods. The trees which captured my imagination all those years ago, at least some good can come from those awful essays they make you read in primary school. I have no regrets with how the trip worked out, but the first four days were a rush getting from place to place. The heat was unbearable and two nights in a car and one in a ten bed dorm had left me crabby and with not enough headspace to just..be. Now I suddenly had three full days to cover a third of the distance, and everything just, slowed. I wasn’t anxious anymore, I wasn’t stressed about where I needed to be and when, I just drove and took my time, and saw the things I wanted to see.
I decide to stay in a motel again, but after how easy it was the night before I don’t bother to check if there are any rooms. Instead relying on a bit of luck, and knowing I can always sleep in the car if I have to. I’m not even entirely sure where I’ll stop for the night. And this time, I’m not even stressed about it – personally this is a huge turning point for me. Being able to not have every second of every minute planned to painstaking detail (bit of an exaggeration), anyway I feel pretty damn proud of myself.
At this point you might note I bought a tent all those days ago, but that’s safely stowed in the boot ready to be returned once I get to Portland – get ready for some amazing parallel parking 😉
The route takes you through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest before joining highway 101 on the coast. For anyone looking to do the trip this place is littered with scenic byways, unfortunately I only find this out once I’m halfway up the coast, they’re not all easy to spot.
Reaching the Pacific coast, the beaches! Seriously, the beaches. The sand was warm, the surf high, I can see why people move out here and never leave.
One of many beaches along the coast
Unlike other National Parks the Redwoods don’t announce themselves to you. Instead there are signs all along the road, easily overlooked, directing you to different trails and areas within the forest. It’s early evening by the time I arrive, following the signs to the Ladybird Trail. This place is simply stunning, magical. The evening light giving the place an ethereal glow. The crowds of the Sequoia gone, the heat of Yosemite left behind. I pass a couple of hikers, but nothing compared to the past two days. And for the first time I remember why I love these places so much.
A sense of scale
Staying on highway 101, the trees lining the road are so tall the light barely reaches the road. The coastal redwoods might not have the sheer mass of the Sequoia, their tall and slender trunks not as imposing or prehistoric, but they have a majesty which is unmatched.
Entering the forest on Highway 101
I make it to Crescent city shortly before sunset. Luck is on my side and I find a room at the Curly Redwood Lodge, a Motel built entirely from one giant Redwood tree. They’re proud of their short history, making sure to tell me how the place was built and how the tree was a special redwood with a ‘curly’ grain. It’s very sweet. I can tell my dad would love this place.
Before I get settled I head out to explore the town a little, but in true American style, I jump behind the wheel and drive around for a while. Maybe they’re on to something here.
Northern California is a whole different world to the heat of the South. Be prepared to wrap up and wear a waterproof.
Sunset from Crescent City, CA
Back in the motel I try to watch some TV, relishing the luxury. Some documentary about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the mystery, the drama! A never before seen photo has been found proving she was captured by the Japanese! Until they show the photo. It’s barely even recognisable as a woman let alone being able to identify the famous pilot. All the experts agree it’s someone else, but we can’t let that get in the way of the story. I hope to f**k this isn’t where Americans get there facts from. It would explain so much..
We might share the same language but it’s a different world out here, the same, but so different. Driving down the highway I pass a sign reminding me I’m on the path to hell. It doesn’t even have any context, no if you do this, just yep, I’m going straight to hell. I figure if that’s the case, at this point I may as well just say screw it, grab a gun, hot wire a car, rob a bank, and drive off in to the sunset never to be seen again.
Even the radio has more Christian stations than regular pop, I switch from being brainwashed by Ed Sheeran on repeat to being told how to live my life like a good Christian. Stumbling across the BBC world service is a refreshing change, ah the British accents! How I’ve missed you. Of course it had to be a program about Islamic extremists, I can’t seem to get away from religion.
The next morning I drive back down the highway, no radio this time, making sure to take the turn off to the scenic parkway. This takes you right through the heart of the Redwood forest, wonderful in itself with the added bonus of numerous trail heads taking you deep into the forest.
The mist rolling in off the Pacific is what makes these forests grow so tall
Even the clover are giant here
I get lost, as usual, a fallen tree blocking my path and so giant there’s no hope of climbing over it. I try walking around it but the trail on the other side has become so overgrown it’s disappeared from view. Too stubborn to turn back I keep walking, finally hitting a path but with no idea which way to go. Fortunately the trees in this part were numbered, but they make no logical sense, and it feels like I’m walking in circles for too long before I finally make it back to the main path.
Leaving too soon, I get back in the car and continue north. Two nights left and only one more spot on my list. Cape Kiwanda. I’d read about it in a reddit thread ‘the ultimate Oregon road trip’ or something similar. A single reply claiming it was the most beautiful place on the Oregon coast. And so I set off. Knowing I have no hope of reaching that far north by nightfall, but figuring I’ll stop somewhere quiet on the road and sleep in the car again. The temperature cool enough by now to not bother me.
The coast here is beautiful, characterised by its high sea stacks and rock formations. The sunset something else. I find a spot close to Umqua Lighthouse, taking the road which leads to the campsite and park in one of the huge lay-bys. No nerves this time, and even feeling comfortable curled up on the back seat.
Somewhere in Oregon
Coast, coast and more coast. You can walk along the entire length along the aptly named Oregon Coastal Trail.
The most striking sunset near Umqua Lighthouse, Oregon
Waking early as usual out here, I start driving to Cape Kiwanda. I’ve been told the breakfasts are amazing, I have high hopes for this small town. It should have been obvious with the name, ‘Pelican Brewery’, they offer me a beer as soon as I sit down. It’s not even 10am. By 10.30 I think I’m pissed.. (Probably shouldn’t have ordered the second one before eating.)
The breakfast isn’t exactly spectacular. A buffet, but it does have ‘biscuits’ and something they’re claiming is gravy. For anyone reading this not from North America, biscuits are basically tasteless scones (hears sighs of relief), and gravy is a rancid white sauce with bits of sausage floating in it. I make it through half the scone, willing myself to find what people enjoy about this, it’s like eating baby food mixed with dough. Someone pass me the jam please.
But the beer is good. And the view is nice. The boats land on the beach by driving at it as hard and fast as possible until they beach. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
Leaving the cape I drive through Portland and on to Salem, thinking it will be easier to get a bed here for the night. Not the Salem of witches, unfortunately.
Thinking it would be super low budget I stop at one of the many ‘Motel 6’ – they claim to be cheap but it doesn’t seem any more so than anywhere else I stayed. They do however have the most enthusiastic, bat shit crazy, delightful reception staff. I won’t even be able to do the pair justice in words.
The guest in front of me gets a fairly off hand service making me nervous in the queue, I hate dealing with mean people. But as soon as I pull out my license his expression changes and he’s off. Working out I’m from Scotland, the two of them sit reminiscing about how wonderful Scotland is. Asking me to say things in the accent everyone seems to love here. He wants to show me all his pictures from when he and his daughter visited a few months ago. Ecstatic when I guess the tour group he went on – I don’t mention I know because they used to block my way in to work every morning. Every time he goes to book me in to a room, he gets distracted and starts on another story about Scotland, how the hotel was haunted, or his daughter presenting a stick to Grey Friars Bobby. After what must be a good twenty minutes, he’s finally booked me in to a room, a good room, and for $20 less than the single person price, all for just listening to his stories about Scotland. Woo!
But now he has more stories to tell. His colleague clearly used to this rolls her eyes, tells him to shut up and let me leave before turning to deal with the next group. But now they’re interested too, ‘Oh you’re from Scotland!’, of course they’re descended from Scots, everyone here is. I remind them of their grandmother, I could say anything and they’d think it was wonderful. It’s sweet, but I’m an introvert so can I leave now please 🙂
Giving me a string of instructions they send me off in the direction of Silver Falls, a state park just 20 minutes drive from the motel. It’s nice, not Mt Hood which they’ve convinced me is too far to manage, but the falls are pretty.
The first of 10 falls on the 12km loop. Silver Falls, Oregon
I spend the evening watching re-runs of Friends. Relaxed, refreshed, the driving almost done. I stop to talk to one of the ‘Scots’ on the way to the vending machine. I’ve been caught off guard by how friendly everyone is here, in America. Back home we could easily be mistaken thinking it’s all a rat race, competitive, cut throat, a little stupid if I’m entirely honest. But even the wait-staff here seem happy, sometimes it seems a little forced, but it’s entirely different than I would have expected.
So here I am, eight days later, a whole lot of money and more than two thousand miles down. I’ve seen some of the most amazing sights, more wonderful than I ever could have imagined. Pushed myself to ease up a little on the planning, and I didn’t die or get eaten by a bear. Although I did see the most majestic Elk on the second last night, too much in awe to grab my camera before it was gone. I kind of can’t believe I’ve made it this far. Four weeks in and on my way to San Francisco next. I’ll definitely be doing this again.
Did somebody say Bryce Canyon?
Bird colonies at Seal Rock, no seals spotted this morning