Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pacific Northwest - Day 7-8

I took the long way home. North, first, to Yelm (Washington), and then east along mountain roads. Yelm is as tiny of a town as you'll find. It also is the current residence of one Terina Jex Holmes, a friend and sister missionary with me back in good ol' Bordeaux. The problem with visiting Terina is she reminds me how bad my early Alzheimer's has become. For example, she reminders everything whereas I remember nothing.

We looked through her mission scrapbook, at photos of missionaries and members, investigators, villages, cathedrals, rivers, towns. It was a nice stroll down memory lane and the things I had forgotten she was quick to remind me of. Terina is as entertaining as ever, happy to point out the elders who were particularly unpleasant, her desire to strangle them seemingly as fresh as it had been 8+ years ago. Suffice to say, I laughed a lot.

I said goodbye to Terina and her two cute children and began the long, long, long drive back to Utah. At least there were forest and lakes and viewpoints for the first half. I grabbed a hotel at the border of Washington and Oregon and then drove the longer, uglier way through east Oregon and Idaho. I stopped at Shoshone Falls again and hiked along the canyon, eating fresh cherries, before the final stretch. Then a cop pulled me over for going 66 in a 55 zone. I had hoped to get through the trip without a ticket...and I did. Granted, I told him I was speeding because I had to use the restroom, which wasn't totally true. But dammit, it worked. He said, "this one's on me," and off I went.

It's good to be home. I know it'll only be a matter of days before I go stir-crazy again (the curse of unemployment) but for now I have scratched that itch. Despite all the beauty I saw in the PNW, when the Wasatch mountains came into view on the I-84, I felt strangely grateful. These are my mountains. I've hiked them, boated their lakes, and I see them filling the skyline every morning out my window. I gotta say, they're great.

Trip Stats:
• driving total - 2,200 miles (40+ hours)
• hiking total - at least 20 miles
• hostels endured - 3
• hostels that were haunted - 1
• waterfalls viewed - so many
• podcasts listened to - 30+
• hitchhikers - 1 picked up, 1 passed on account of large holes in his sweatpants

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Pacific Northwest - Day 6

I've decided to alter my plans. The Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, the place I thought would be my next destination is 5 hours from Seaside, making the inevitable trip home even longer. I don't think I can face that much driving. My little car does not have cruise control and my right foot is angry with me. Sorry rainforest.

So Instead, I drove around the northern tip of Oregon, crossed the river back into Washington, and headed east towards Mount Saint Helens.

Ape Cave is a lava tube formed long ago by Helens' eruptions. I've been in a lot of caves (spent a night in one in college) and have walked through a lava tube in Hawaii so Ape Cave wasn't a totally new experience. But it was still pretty cool. Wish I had brought a better flashlight instead of the tiny, half dead one I found in my glove box. The weak light made things a bit slow going, but every once in a while someone would walk by with a lantern and I'd leech off their light for a bit. Much of the time I didn't hear or see anything but the dripping of water from the ceiling and the scraping of my shoes on the rock. I kept thinking of the movie, “The Descent,” and the cave creatures. With a little bit of stage makeup, some false teeth, and a practiced lurch, someone could have a lot of fun down there.

And here's a photo of the entrance. And that's all for now.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Pacific Northwest - Day 5

I picked up a hitchhiker on the highway south of Seaside. "Did you pass me yesterday?," he asked, as he settled into the passenger seat. "I remember this little blue car." He was right, I had passed him, but was on my way to the hostel and couldn't stop. This time I did.

We exchanged names, but I forgot his a minute after he told me (as I am wont to do). He looked to be in his late thirties, unshaven, and not exactly smelling of flowers. As we drove down the highway he noticed my bags and clothes strewn about the back seat. "What's your journey?" he asked. I told him and he told me he was headed to Northern California to try and study Botany. For a while we talked about plants. Then about the towns we passed between stretches of wet, green forest and the ocean.

"How long does it usually take?" I asked him. "Before a car will pick you up, I mean."
"Sometimes right away. Sometimes as much as a day or two." He said.

I dropped him off at Pacific City, an hour or so later. As he got out into the drizzling rain, I handed him a twenty. "I could use this," he said. "God bless you."

It kept raining. I sat in a parking lot at Cape Kiwanda hoping it would let up. The wind was strong and waves were crashing against the shore. A large sand dune led to the top of the cape. My friend Jessi had told me I needed to hike to the top, that the view was straight out of a postcard. It kept raining. Sorry, Jessi.

I headed north again, taking the route off the highway, nearest the shore. There was a turn off near another cape with some hiking trails. I put on my jacket, pulled up my hood, and started the 5 mile hike in spite of the rain. As soon as I entered the forest along the cape, I was blanketed in fog. The tall, mossy trees kept the rain mostly in check, and I could hear the surf breaking against the cliff, but couldn't see it. About a mile in, the trail reached the rim of the cliff, and the fog suddenly let up and I sucked in my breath. The ocean was a jewel, frothing along the cove a couple hundred feet below. I kept my eyes on it, tramping through mud and puddles before the trees closed up like a velvet green curtain with the occasional torn patch offering peeks. The trail finally ended at the edge of the cape, dropping off sharply to the water, seagulls circling far below. The wind was howling. I edged my way under the safety barrier, out onto the end of the rocks. It felt a little like falling, with the wind full force against my face and arms. I gripped the rock and clenched my teeth. I was scared sick. That's why I did it.

Not only is Tillamook awesome because of the cheese, the city isn't so bad either. I can't imagine what it'd be like to live there, or any of the surrounding towns. I guess all the amazing forest and coastline would become mundane after a while, but it certainty wasn't to me. I took the Tillamook Cheese factory tour and enjoyed a bunch of free samples. Extra Sharp Chedder = yes.

Next stop was Canon Beach, best known for Haystack Rock – a giant monolith just off the shore with tide pools leading up to it. I saw a lot of rocks like this on my drive, but one so up close, beautiful and towering... double yes.

I'm staying at the Seaside hostel again for tonight. I strolled the boardwalk at sunset which was bustling with people. There were swing sets right on the beach. Swing sets on the beach! Triple yes.

And I'm beat. Goodnight blog.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Pacific Northwest - Day 4

It was in the downpour and the drizzle that I did my best to navigate the streets of Portland. I hear the public transportation system is great there, and I suppose it would have to be with all the one-way streets and severely limited parking. Sick of the car, I spent some time walking downtown and along the waterfront, getting rather soggy, but in good spirits. Highlight of my time was browsing Powell's Books, which fills a whole city block. The place is HUGE and the selection is amazing. I picked up an old edition of a Ray Bradbury short story collection for a few bucks.

I decided not to spend the full day in the city. I figure I'll go back another time and explore it with company. Instead, I headed to Seaside, a small coastal town. Wonderful place. The hostel is set up like a motel, but with multiple bunks per room. It was still cold and rainy, but the beach was great, filled with broken sand dollars and crab shells. Everywhere I stepped, crab shells. They crunch when you step on them in an pleasing, addictive way, much like popping bubble wrap. I couldn't stop crunching them.

I have more I could write, but it's getting late and my roommates are old men who doubtless don't appreciate the clacking of the keys. Tomorrow will be a day of sea towns and beaches. And hopefully cheese.

Pacific Northwest - Day 3

All morning, all afternoon, waterfalls. The Historic Columbia River Highway has got more waterfalls than it knows what to do with. Most can be seen right off the highway, but a few require a bit of a hike. Multnomah Falls takes the cake. It's the most famous and also the most touristy (with a restaurant and gift shop) but for good reason. It's impressive enough in a photograph, but staring at it close up with the bright green foliage, and the bridge is all kinds of wonderful. I did the steep hike to the top, which left me struggling for breath, but the view looking down would have caused that anyway.

By the time I was done inspecting every fall I could locate, my body was all shaky with fatigue. I hadn't slept much the night before, what with the bikers waking up earlier than should be legal and waking me up with them. So I decided to take a break from hostels and grabbed a hotel room near Portland. Then it started to rain, and the wind picked up and soon it was full-on storming. Can't say I was upset to be snug in my room, watching it all drip down the windows.

I caught up with the job search, which has been become a steady routine of applying and having my efforts sucked into the black hole which is the internet. Did get this email, however, from a summer job I applied for in Switzerland:
We have received an overwhelming amount of applications and unfortunately the position was filled today. Your portfolio is great, and to be honest the work we have to offer on this project is too junior (and quite dry) for someone with your talent. As we do like your style very much - we are keeping your portfolio on record for future projects. Hopefully we will have the opportunity to work together in the future.
That was very nice of them -- BUT, I don't think I would have cared if the work was dry. They were paying free flight, free housing and a stipend for a summer in Switzerland. At least they got back to me, which is more than I can say for everyone else, even after a great interview (ahem, ABC4, ahem).

So the search continues. But for now, Portland awaits.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Pacific Northwest - Day 2

This place is strange. Like, horror movie strange. I'm in an old abandoned school. Well, I suppose not abandoned. More like repurposed. Now it's a hostel. A creepy, creepy hostel. The one in Boise was homey and quaint. This place is not quaint by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe it has to do with the location – Bingen, Washington, just over the Columbia river, a toll bridge separating it from the Oregon border. Bingen is a village of hics. I don't mean to be judgmental, but let's be honest: we're in hicsville. Stained wife-beaters, missing teeth, mullets, the works. There isn't much to the town but gas stations and dusty shops selling brick-a-brack. And the hostel.

The hostel. Old lockers line the dark hallways, interspersed by creeky doors. I'm convinced that it is only a matter of time before I see long dead school children roaming the halls, singing playground songs in a minor key. When I see them, and I most certainly will, I must convince them not to take their vengeance out on me. I am but a weary traveler, and am in no way responsible for whatever gruesome death befell them. "Listen kids," I will say. "I know your tortured spirits want peace. But.. quick! Look over there!" And then I will run.

The other guests in the men's dorm are part of some kind of bicycle thing. They keep asking me if I'm here for the race. No I am not, I tell them. Unless it involves running from ghosts. The dorm room is divided into separate alcoves with bunk beds. The light doesn't work. The bathroom, down the hall, looks ready to collapse. "You're going to have to let the water run for about five minutes before it gets hot," the guy at the office says. He is bearded and friendly. I don't think he owns a chainsaw.

It's late now and I'm sitting in the lounge, which has an outside entrance, around the corner from the dorms. There are tables set up like a diner, some kind of bar surrounding a couple refrigerators, and an antique kitchen. Sure, it isn't the relaxing end to a long day of driving like I had hoped, but it will do. Today I drove. I drove and drove and drove, stretched my legs, and drove some more. Eastern Oregon is like the worst parts of Idaho and Utah--just miles and miles of scrubland. But things get better as soon as I-84 hits the southern edge of the Columbia river. Then it's all water, and trees, and canyon walls that make for a great show out the windows. I stopped by a museum with all kinds of interesting (and not so interesting) information on the river. Apparently a lot of Indians got screwed over when they built the dams. Surprise!

Below are a couple scenic shots. Tomorrow I hit the waterfalls. My camera will be busier.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Pacific Northwest - Day 1

I'm sitting in a living room in a hostel just west of Boise. I just spent the last 40 minutes talking to Judy, the only other guest at the hostel tonight, and didn't notice the sun disappear behind the highway. It's quiet except for the noise of the fan and the chirping of birds which haven't quite given over to the chirping of crickets. Judy is in the kitchen, books strewn across the table, a highlighter in her fist. She's from Twin Falls, spending two weeks in Boise for a crash course in Real Estate. "People don't think this is the best time to go into housing," she tells me. "But it's what I want to do."

I stopped in Twin Falls, Judy's future house-selling territory, in the afternoon to stretch my legs and grab a bite to eat. I can't say I know anything about the town, or the area, but I assumed there had to be waterfalls nearby. (Maybe two? That bear a striking resemblance to each other?) I was more than pleasantly surprised when, after following a few brown signs, I caught a glimpse of Shoshone falls. “Niagara of the West” a sign near the lookout proclaimed. And it was impressive, if not quite on a Niagara caliber. I spent an hour staring at the rushing water, walking a few trails along the canyon, and taking a photo for an Indian couple and a sweet grandmother in a colorful robe.

If you're going to jump in your car and hit the road, these unexpected gems along the way are really what make the trip. This is my first time doing it solo, with no particular destination or end point in mind, and I have to say I don't hate it. There's something great about not having anyone to please or a schedule to fill. The only thing I really need to worry about is the never ending job search. And I have nights for that. Thank you, wifi.

Tomorrow I hit the Columbia River Gorge. More updates forthcoming.

Photos (top to bottom):
1. a bridge somewhere east of Twin Falls. Almost ran off the road when I noticed how high up I was. Had to pull over and photograph.
2-4. Shoshone Falls.
5. Hostel Boise, cozy and cheap. Can't go wrong.