On the Road Again

His body perfectly positioned in front of the door, with unblinking bright blue eyes he followed my every move.  ‘I know exactly what you are up to, and you will not get away with it,’ those unescapable eyes seemed to say to me.  And so I lured him outside, with promises of frisbees and chuck-its, quickly closed the door and hurried away to Suzie Skamper and Ken with tears stinging my eyes, miles of road in front of us and one very disappointed and pissed off Rio behind us.  I have outed myself, I am one of those people who are hopelessly enamored with their dog, giving them human attributes, thoughts and feelings (I swear Rio’s ‘human’ voice sounds exactly like Stewie’s on The Family Guy).  Leaving him that day in Spokane was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do so far on this trip.  Luckily, that brutal morning has led to almost two weeks of bliss.  Seeing old friends, reconnecting with the Pacific Ocean, and remembering the routine that is Suzie Skampering has reminded us every second of every day why we are doing this trip.

Columbia River Gorge

We left Spokane and clocked an easy day heading to Sammamish, WA to reunite with Kelda, a friend from my Missoula, MT days .  We toured her and her husband’s new home, and drank PBR in the hot tub.  Just like the good old days minus the hot tub, husband, and new home.  From Sammamish onward to Seattle and two wonderful days hanging out with my brother Seth, his wife, and our friends Nick and Shannon.  We continued on the couch surfing theme and after a day in picturesque Astoria (we unfortunately did not spot any Goonies shaped rocks) we headed to Portland and spent an evening with our newly married friend’s Kathryn and Adam.  Thank you to everyone for the wonderful hospitality, its always good to reconnect and especially fulfilling to begin our journey southward again with such amazing people.

Astoria, Oregon

As great as it was to visit everyone, we were headed towards one of the highlights of our North American portion of the trip, for me at least.  The Tillamook Cheese Factory.  For anyone who knows me well, they know I can subsist very easily on a very few things as long as those things include wine, crackers, and cheese.  Any combination of the above will keep me going for days.

We came, we saw, we ate a lot of cheese.

So it was with the highest of expectations that we pulled into the enormous complex that was The Tillamook Cheese Factory.  The hordes of RV’s, whining children, and pale legged tourists should have clued us into the tourist sinkhole that is The Tillamook Cheese Factory, but I will never speak ill of cheese. We whizzed through the self guided tour, Ken marveling at the complicated machinery and I at the drudgery involved in operating the cheese making machinery, until we found ourselves at the sample line.  After sating our appetites on trays upon trays of squeaky cheese curds, sharp cheddar, smoked, cheddar, and our favorite red pepper/jalapeno cheddar we were happy.  We could leave The Tillamook Cheese Factory knowing full well we had been taken for a tourist ride, but with some small measure of satisfaction that we had shown them….we had eaten our weight in cheese.  Unfortunately that night The Tillamook Cheese Factory struck again, Ken’s increasingly worsening lactose intolerance rendered Suzie practically uninhabitable and we decided that for the good of all his cheese intake would be limited from this day forth.

Numero uno beach sunset of the trip.

The next morning we headed to Newport.  Ken got his ocean and boat fix and we walked the docks and the historic downtown remarking at the similarities and differences between this port town and our hometown of Seward, AK.  As we were looking for the Newport Marine Science Center we stumbled upon something oh so much better, the Rogue Brewery.  I am going to have to amend my above statement and add really good craft brewed IPA to the list of things I cannot live without.  Although we have been doing our best to cook only in the camper and limit our eating out to attempt to stay within budget, we could not resist.  The Rogue Nation did not disappoint.  Not only did we nosh on some incredible beer cheese soup, a kobe beef brat and sauerkraut, we also sampled delicious beer.  We strolled back to the truck fat and happy, right past the Rogue ‘garage’ sale.  Here were cases of 22’s for a mere 20-30 bucks!  After much agonizing deliberation, we decided that Suzie simply did not have room for a case of 22’s despite the killer price.  Thirty miles down the road we were already kicking ourselves and chalking this up to one of the worst decisions we might make on the trip.

Suzie dwarfed yet again.

The next day lead to more spectacular coastal driving down Oregon’s Highway 101, into California and through the Redwoods.  Neither of us had ever been here and were completely speechless and awed by the silent, older than time, majestic behemoths that are these trees.  Wandering through them felt like wandering among wise old men and women who looked down on us, silently and sagely giving their approval.  That day was also truck maintenance day.  Time for an oil change and a transmission flush, something we had been holding off on even though we knew it needed to be done.  For at least two years Ken’s 2000 Ford Ranger has made horrible grinding noises everytime it has downshifted, grrrnnnkkkkkdddd (or something along those lines).  We’ve decided that ignorance is bliss and had not investigated.  During the oil change the mechanic tested all the fluids and presented Ken with a  white sheet of paper marred with different streaks of oily/greasy substances.  Ken took one look, said ‘is your finger dirty?’ and turned back to me in disbelief.  Another piece of mechanical/car engine knowledge has been added to my tiny repertoire.  Transmission fluid is supposed to be of a clear, red, thinnish consistency, our transmission fluid was thick, black, and dirty.  Good thing Oilcan Henry’s was having a $40 off sale on transmission fluid flushes!  Amazingly after that, the truck ran like a dream.  No more horrifying grinding noises on downshift, only smooth shifts and accelerations for Suzie from now on!

That evening we rolled into Clam Beach State Park in Humboldt County, CA looking forward to some nice beach camping.  We should have know from the parking lot bordered by twelve sandy campsites and the overabundance of tie dye in sight that we were not in for a peaceful night on the beach.  It turns out Clam Beach is somewhat well known among Humboldt Countians, travelers, and everyone in-between as a sweet place to score free camping, some “nugs”, and an overall good time.  A caveat, we are not adverse to any of the above, in fact we welcome the opportunity for any of them (except for the “nugs” Mom, I promise!).  We might have been the only suckers dumb enough to actually pay the $15 dollars to park next to a sandy spot with a picnic table and a fire pit and host a bevy of itinerant backpackers, road bikers and a creepy dude in a BMW all on 30forthirty’s dime!  We were able to enjoy a fire with a couple we met from Seattle who had a really amazing homemade wooden truck camper/topper, I unfortunately dropped the ball and didn’t snap a photo before dark.  The next morning we were rudely awoken at 07:40 by some good Samaritan who was walking through the parking lot announcing, ‘It’s 7:40, time to get the train rolling.’  Groggily we looked at each other wondering what the hell he meant, and tried to roll over for a few more zzz’s.  Did not happen and we ate some breakfast and were pulling out of the lot by 8:45, just as the park ranger was pulling in.  Now the almost empty campground made sense, despite the music playing till 3 am that morning,  everyone was way more savvy then we were in avoiding ‘the man.’

Highway 1 Northern California

We are now picking our way along the incredibly windy, narrow, cliffy drop off that is Highway 1.  We thought we had experienced some beautiful coastline living in Alaska, but this highway has blown it out of the water.  On to San Francisco and LA and a few more friends, and we should be across the border into Baja in under a week!  We are really looking forward to a few days of no driving, beach time, cheap gas (almost $5/gallon in California), free camping, and dollar tacos!