The Pacific Northwest

Medford, OR.
July 24. Day 1.
Driven: 684 miles.

It’s the Interstate 5, but not exactly. Here, it’s just a little two-lane stretch of road that connects tiny town to tiny town, and ultimately, metropolis to metropolis. Once you get through the hilly terrain that marks Valencia (best known for Magic Mountain, but also the town that 24 bombed to oblivion last season), there’s miles upon miles of nothingness. But there’s a certain beauty there, somewhere lost in the boredom of it all. The cornfields – or whatever they are; the vast emptiness… it reminds you how big this world still is. How much land there still is. Even if it’s out here.

Kelso, WA.
July 25. Day 2.
Driven: 338 miles.

I’m a simple person, not deep or profound in the least. I don’t think I’ve ever professed to be anything but. I just don’t have that ability to go beyond a certain level. I like bridges – in this instance, the ones over the Willamette and Columbia rivers – because they’re a measure of triumph, of man’s achievement. I like green – here, the lush forestry that marked most of Oregon – because there’s something natural and pure about it; as even the road I’m on cannot pervade the scenery altogether. And, as I told the lady doing a project for her communications class, I liked the roses at the Washington Park garden because of the colors. The pretty colors. And that’s it. That’s all it is.

Redmond, WA.
July 26. Day 3.
Driven: 326 miles.

I devised something today I’d like to be referred henceforth as “The 7/2 and 5/2 Theorem.” The rule points to a fundamental commonality of almost every sitcom ever made. First, there are either 3 or 4 easily identifiable core characters, without which the show would cease to function. Jerry, George, Elaine, Kramer. Will, Grace, Jack, Karen. Ray, Debra, Marie. Charles, Buddy, Mr. Powell. And so on. That’s your 7/2. The 5/2 refers to the 2 or 3 essential recurring characters that remain relevant in every episode, even as they are clearly not identifiable as a part of the core. The maid, mom, and Alan’s ex-wife. Eric and Cory’s parents. The Finklesteins. Marcy and Steve, then Marcy and Jefferson. Try it. Test it. 7/2, 5/2. 1400 miles in a car alone, and thus the theorem was borne.

Vancouver, British Columbia.
July 27. Day 4.
Driven: 172 miles.

There’s nothing quite like visiting a new place for the very first time. Everything you encounter just feels kind of quaint, even rustic in a sense. Maybe that’s just the Los Angeles in me. But you notice everything, from the way people drive, to how buildings and shops look, even the prices of things that you’re accustomed to purchasing. I’m a lot more unsure of myself (even moreso than usual), not wanting to make the wrong move, not wanting to misrepresent myself, my city. And when you’re in a foreign country, all of that seems magnified tenfold.

Vancouver, British Columbia.
July 28. Day 5.
Driven: 22 miles.

Things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to. There’s been an abundance of that the past couple of days. Nothing important, of course. But it does test your patience. You sit at a restaurant, stupidly waiting, while the server completely forgets to bring your change. You find out that the Storyeum, a reputably neat underground tour, went bankrupt. Attractions at Stanley Park closed because of a labor strike. You sit and wait three hours for fireworks, and end up surrounded by loud Asians (redundant) and douchebag teenagers (ditto). And you start feeling a bit lonely, both on the trip and with life in general. But you know what? You’re on break. Seeing new things, experiencing places for the first and probably last time in your life. And while that consideration of your mortality can be somewhat depressing in itself, it also makes all of this mean just that much more. So you sit. And you wait.

Strait of Georgia, British Columbia.
July 29. Day 6.
Driven: 155 miles.

My days are getting longer. Once again, I find myself writing not from the comfort of my laptop, plugged into whatever place I’ll be spending the night, showered and rested and sitting in bed. Instead, it’s 7:30 pm. I’m writing in a tiny notepad, onboard a ferry heading from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen. That’s Victoria Island and south of Vancouver, respectively. That’s also still 130-some odd miles away from where I actually need to be tonight. What is it about vacations that make people get up earlier than they would otherwise? That drives people to explore this and that for hours upon hours, to the point of exhaustion? Prior to this trip, I don’t remember waking up before 8:30 am more than once or twice since school let out. Now? Even waking up then makes me feel somewhat like a mook, like I’m wasting this precious opportunity. But I’m getting my money’s worth today. 6:20 am. And the night is just beginning.

Redmond, WA.
July 30. Day 7.
Driven: 46 miles.

Even the thought of getting in was kind of terrifying. After all, the dock doesn’t move… but the kayak does. The dock has a stable foundation… but the kayak doesn’t. The dock is a fucking dock. The kayak a kayak. You have to understand, life jacket or not, I’m probably the worst swimmer in the world. Babies included. And, next to ‘plane/car crash’ and ‘falling down the stairs,’ ‘flipping over in the ocean’ is pretty high on the list of ways I don’t want to die. But I did get in. And I paddled away from the dock. And even with the heavy swaying (at times) and ripples, kayaking is easily one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. So is this road trip. My life is pretty awesome right now. I know it. And I’m appreciating it.

Redmond, WA.
July 31. Day 8.
Driven: 45 miles.

It’s kind of funny how things work out sometimes. Over seven years ago, I went to my first Angels game – they were playing the Mariners. Thanks to traffic, we got to Edison Field a little late, arriving in the bottom of the 1st, to discover that Seattle had already put up three runs in their top half. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish that night. Today, heading over to the game at Safeco, we got there a little tardy, settling into our seats in the middle of the 2nd. The Angels? Well, they had already scored four runs in the top half of the frame (off Jeff Weaver, no less), and would go on to win 8-0.#

*I sat next to an awesome 5-year old kid named Cody, a City of Orange transplant who thought the Angels “rocked” and showed me his brand new Converses.

Redmond, WA.
August 1. Day 9.
Driven: 44 miles.

All it takes is a couple of days, and you kind of get used to a setting. You get used to waking up and seeing the same surroundings, to parking in the same spot on the same street; to brushing your teeth in the same bathroom, to being around the same people, and everything else. It’s certainly not home, but it does take you out of your game for a second, your traveling mentality. Seattle’s been a nice respite, but it’s time to move on. Again. It’s a marathon, that’s for sure. But from this point on, no matter how rugged the terrain, no matter how winded the road, every mile you travel is a mile closer to home. And though I’m barely a little more than halfway through, that makes the trip seem just a little less daunting.

Seaview, WA.
August 2. Day 10.
Driven: 384 miles.

There are some places in this world that you should be able to visit all by yourself. When you go to a national park, when you hike a little path along a stream, or something like that, you just want to take in the serenity of it all. You don’t want to deal with old people cautiously making their way around – no matter how sweet they are. You don’t want to see little kids jumping around from stone to stone – no matter how cute they are. It’s just a setting that demands a different atmosphere. Sometimes, it’s nice to think that there’s really no one else out there, to kind of pretend that you’re blending into the natural environment… even if it’s only for an hour or two.

Klamath, CA.
August 3. Day 11.
Driven: 420 miles.

They call Highway 101 the scenic byway through Oregon, and there’s no question why. Every mile of it is absolutely gorgeous. The weather fluctuates through the length of its roughly 385 miles, but it doesn’t really matter. When the sun is out, the forestry is greener than ever, the colors vibrant and beautiful. When it is overcast, the trees take on a dewy, misty quality, like something out of a horror movie. There’s just an aura about the whole landscape. Countless streams and creeks are crossed, bridges driven over. There are glances of cliffs and beaches through a few trees; later revealed in all their glory. Bicyclists navigate on the side of the road, bold enough to traverse the path all the way down the state. Towns are passed through, most small enough to retain a certain character, yet important enough to demand lower speed limits for us passerbys. There’s just so much to take in. You know how in every racing game, there’s always an alpine stage, a level that tests the capabilities of the system, a course chosen for the beauty of the environment as much as the challenge of the race itself? Well, that’s the 101. It’s the alpine stage.

Yreka, CA.
August 4. Day 12.
Driven: 287 miles.

If it weren’t for the laptop, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what month it was, let alone the day or the date. But outside, things are starting to change. For the first time since the first day (other than a short out-of-character afternoon in Seattle), the thermometer consistently reads in the high 80s. For the first time that I can remember, sections of the highway have gone three lanes wide… even if it’s only for a mile or two at a time. My California license plate, such a proud standout in British Columbia, has shifted from oddity into norm over the course of eight hundred miles. Soon, the road itself will no longer be uncharted territory. Already, in fact, portions of it seem somewhat familiar… perhaps a family vacation long forgotten.

Oakland, CA.
August 5. Day 13.
Driven: 171 miles.

Food hasn’t exactly been any sort of a priority for me the past couple of weeks. As I plan my days, where I’m going to get my meals isn’t on the docket at all. Eating is incidental, an afterthought, just wherever it happens to be convenient. An A&W near the gas station in Sacramento, a Dairy Queen when I got tired in the middle of nowhere, a hot dog on the Victoria marina. And when I’m actually going through my days, food becomes the most expendable item on the agenda. Compared to fitting in sufficient time at both Mount Saint Helens and Rainier in one day, to locating Gold Bluffs Beach after Stout Grove, and just making my way over to the Golden Gate (even for the third or fourth time) after McAfee Coliseum, stopping to eat doesn’t seem so important. That’s because it really isn’t.

Oakland, CA.
August 6. Day 14.
Driven: 26 miles.

I’m freezing out in left field. Half the bleachers have emptied in the past fifteen minutes, the same time that Barry Bonds was removed from the game. As much as I had wished, as poetic as it might have been, 756 wouldn’t come tonight. Instead, I’m left in a 1-1 game between two last place teams I could care less about. Neither side has scored since the first inning; it’s nearly three hours later and the 8th now. Meanwhile, I’m looking at a good 15 blocks to my car, and at least another 25 minutes back to the hotel. Tomorrow, I’ve got a 400 mile drive home. But it’s not school. It’s not anything mandatory or important or anything else. And so I stay. I stay, even as both teams end up scoring once in the 10th. I stay, not knowing that the 15 blocks in a bus will end up taking nearly an hour due to road closures and traffic. I stay. Even if it’s Giants-Nationals. Even for 11 innings.

Irvine, CA.
August 7. Day 15.
Driven: 420 miles (3529.9 total)

The 400 miles or so from Oakland to Los Angeles doesn’t seem too bad. It’s not. I rough it out for six hours, pausing only for gas and the Taco Bell drive-thru. There will be no more two-a-day gas stops, no more stays with Tom Bodett. No camaraderie with companion cars, or saying “Optimus Prime” in a robotic voice whenever I see a big rig. After two weeks on the road, I’m home. Home to a bath sponge instead of a towel. Free parking, sleeping in, preset radio stations, and the normal dearth of Subways. But it’s also just home. It’s not the world’s shortest river, or the world’s smallest harbor. It’s not wondering why an Abraham Lincoln memorial exists out here… then realizing that I’m driving through Lincoln City. I won’t run into the pretty girls who work in towns out in the middle of nowhere. The Canadian customs official who finds it incredulous that I have friends in Seattle but not Vancouver, nor the gas attendant in Oregon who almost yelled at me because self service is illegal there. There’ll be oranges sold on the street, not oysters. And Elk Bench Trail, Elk Prairie, Elk Creek, Elk Crossing, or just a plain sign for Elk? They won’t be around. I’m home.

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