Category Archives: road trips

Road trips are at the core of our adventures. These stories take us back to our roots, where it all began traveling across country and sharing what we find.

Twists And Turns Of The 1

With the ubiquitous scent of cypress and eucalyptus wafting through the open car windows, we mounted the 1 in Sausalito just across the Golden Gate Bridge and began our twisting climb toward the southern edge of the northern California coast. It had been a hard six weeks and even after planning this trip for several months, I wasn’t convinced my timing was right. I had already postponed it from the week before after fighting to make it fit into my calendar. As bad as my timing was, I wasn’t going to simply skip it. I just wanted to be in Northern California. Even if it wasn’t convenient for my career.

At 5 a.m. we woke, drove to Detroit metro, caught our flight and flew west. By 11: 30 a.m. we were landing in San Francisco on a perfect California day. At 12:30 p.m. we were in our car and headed north out of the city. By 1:10 p.m. we were making the turn off 101 and onto the 1 on a sunny summer Saturday afternoon in a single file parade of cars, vans, and motorcycles, each with seemingly the same idea in mind. It didn’t matter how many were in our parade. We were here. It was now. For the first time heading north in California, I was the passenger. This never happens. I am always the driver. I’m never the passenger. I’m always the one behind the wheel catching snippets of scenery between darting glances ahead, at the dividing yellow line, the sharp edge of a shoulder-less road, at the oncoming cars. I am never the one with her head on a swivel soaking up the scenery ahead, to the right and to the left noting odd signs, unique buildings, changes in the landscape and terrain, seeing people who don’t see me, a voyeur in a car. From the turn east off the 101 I was instructed to sit back and enjoy the ride and this trip was already amazing.

We climbed. As we climbed, we joked. Can you imagine riding a bike on this? The first biker passed us wheeling in the opposite direction within minutes of our comments. Then a group of three, then a couple. Then a mature woman who’d dropped her husband to attack the winding climb in her own zone. All moving from north to south on the narrow two lane road with no shoulder, no barriers, no promise that the next motorist behind them wouldn’t ‘go wide’ on the next blind curve they’d emerged from, not see them, and not hit them. I caught my breath more than once watching man, bike, car and road co-exist. The stunning determination of the cyclists whom I knew, knew what challenges they faced in the road ahead. How…? How. Again, I was amazed.

“This is incredibly like Ireland,” I murmured out loud, “save driving on the right hand side of the road.” I had once complained that the worst thing about Ireland was that it isn’t attached to the U.S. so we could get to it on the weekends. I realized now that maybe I was wrong. Maybe a piece of Ireland had been here all along and I just hadn’t known it.

As we emerged from around a curve, I sighted the ocean for the first time from the 1. It rose up from the end of a long valley between two mountains in a Vee of gray blue. “There it is!” I pointed and scrambled for my camera to get the shot that disappeared as fast as it had appeared. “Crap! I lost the shot.” I huffed, letting the camera and my hands drop to my lap, only to raise them again around the next curve when the view returned from a slightly different angle. I soon understood that these shots and that phrase would recur over and over for the next four-and-a-half hours. I settled back in my chair, watching. Waiting for the next missed shot and scheming my rebound strikes. We weren’t 20 minutes into this trip and I was captivated.

The road curved due north. At this point in the drive, the road is close, tight on either edge. The terrain is close. The land is steep and falls sharply on the west side of the road down into rocky crags to the ocean and up away from the water on the east side. I wondered if I could live here, thinking of the winding mountain passes in eastern Vermont and New Hampshire where suddenly towns pop up around tight hairpin curves. White church steeples with fresh black tiles topped with bright white crosses penetrate the evergreen blanket of the landscape to indicate that humanity lies ahead. No, I couldn’t live here, even with the expanse of the ocean opening up between each winding detour in the road that dents into the land and then snakes back out to the sea. The trees hover too thick. The walls of the mountains are too close. The absence of unfettered views. I couldn’t do this every day even if today I need it. Today I need the closeness of this place, my companion, and my thoughts. I need to be wrapped in the place that I am. Insulated, and for the first time in a very long time, wholly in the moment that I am. In this place on the 1, that is all that there is. This moment, my companion Stu, our car, this road, this terrain, the ever present scent of eucalyptus, the ocean, and me. There were no other things. There is no other place. There is just here. Just now.

I watch the road. I narrate the scene for Stu and he drives with two hands on the wheel and two eyes riveted to the winding narrow pass of road. I check myself from suddenly pointing and exclaiming, “look at that!” so as not to distract him. As we pass each new road leading to ocean access and beach entry off the 1, the other cars have begun to fall away. Past Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, the outlook at Gull Rock, the marsh and bird watchers at Kent Island, past Five Brooks to our first stop at Olema the traffic in turn reduces. At Olema, we stop as the few cars ahead of us turn inland. Olema is slightly inland too.

We park in the center of town, find our way to a long narrow restaurant and sit in the back garden under a pergola under the sun that is sliced into strips by the white lattice above our heads, tucked into a garden that is neither cool nor hot. The sounds of the road erased by the flora. People around us talk in quiet relaxed tones and we order our lunch. Two fish tacos, a plate of grilled oysters on the half shell with pesto glaze and assorted cheeses and crackers. For me, an iced tea. For Stu, a Laganitas Pale Ale. There we linger. The food is good and we savor it slowly, and when it’s done, we step back out on to the small space between the restaurant and the road. I duck into a deli for some chocolate, Stu waits outside talking to a man in his mid to late 60’s, a cyclist, about biking the 1. When the conversation ends, we mount our trail again toward Point Reyes Station and on along the edge of the beautiful Tamales Bay still nestled into the land and tucked into the road. I dub this section the Killarny section of the trip after the Ring of Kerry area in Ireland south of Tralee.

At the end of Tamales Bay, the world opens into broad pastures and the happy cows of California begin to dot the landscape. I watch as ranches begin to appear. First one or two, or three. Then five or twelve as we continue to move north. Horse farms and riding stables appear. I watch with both awe and jealousy as I realize that these bovine residents have the best views of any of the inhabitants of this land. I could live here where the angle of the land eases into plateaus of long, broad expanses of both ocean and ground. I could live here where the flora starts to change from cypress to thick pine and redwood. I could live here. Through the towns between Marconi and Elk, I think with the whimsy we allow ourselves when we completely let go, I could live here.

As we pass through Elk, I start to recount all of the places I’d found on Google Earth for us to stay the night; recognizing them from their signs and the websites I’d visited. We are nearly half way to our final destination and my driver is feeling the fatigue of a long flight and a challenging drive, a good meal and a delicious beer. I remind him that he’s only done it for three hours. I did it every day for seven days in Ireland. “Buck up mister. We’re almost there.” He bucks up with a smile and grips the wheel with new conviction.

We start talking more and sightseeing less. We talk about our friends that we love. We talk already about our next trip together. We talk about our kids and our work and the U.S. Open and the Tour de France. We talk about the music on the radio and about earthquakes and forest fires as we come upon a group of fire fighters battling a small blaze along the side of our narrow road that was surely not a controlled burn as nervous looking residents look on.

I remember with an “Oh, yeah. There is that here in California too…” The road opens again and we watch the houses on the cliffs in a private community that seems to stretch on for miles and wonder who lives there. We talk about a for sale sign that says, “1.5 miles of ocean front property and weigh the pros and cons of a property of that kind. I settle on the fact that morning walks with the dog would be utterly amazing. Our mid-point destination nears, but before we get to our hotel for the night and the plans we’ve made for the evening I have to take pause. I am glad we came against the odds of our impossible schedules. I am glad we came this specific route instead of driving with only our final destination in mind up the 101. I am glad I am here with Stu and I am content as I have ever been.

We stop at a light on the edge of Fort Bragg where I can’t hold it in anymore. It has been building up in me from the moment we mounted this amazing road 4.5 hours earlier and I just have to say it.

“If we turned around and went home tomorrow,” I say turning to look directly at him. “This trip up the 1 was totally worth it.”

Stu smiles, the light turns and he drives on.

orgiginal photo credits: Creative Commons -Attribution - Johnathan Miske & Dileep Eduri

The Road More Traveled

Seattle, Quincy, Portland, Eugene and back.  892 mile loop.  This has been my routine for several weeks in a row .  133 gallons of gas, over 50 of hours behind the wheel, countless suicidal bugs washed off the windshield and an oil change.

Monday finds me leaving Seattle’s busy metropolis along and racing to work in a little patch of farm land in eastern Washington known as Quincy.  Posted 70 MPH,  I90 is one of those interstates where you can set the cruise control somewhere above the speed limit and go. I pass through dense Ceders and Douglas Fur climbing up to the Snoqualmie Pass that divides the state into east and west.  Descending from the 3,022 feet crack in the Cascade mountains, the thick rain forest gives way to stately Ponderosa Pines, eventually thinning out into groves of windmills towering a hundred feet over the scrub and sage brush.   Olfactory senses that once enjoyed a hint of cool pine are now accosted by hot dusty dung.  The smell of money to ranch owners everywhere in eastern Washington.  The land becomes flatter and flatter until you can see for miles in any directions.

Temperatures race to the high 90s quickly with the summer sun filling a cloudless blue sky.  The warm air lingers as the sun leaves and a lavender moon dominates the dark night.  The little town of Quincy shuts down by 10:00pm with only one yellow blinking traffic light to remind you, you’re still in town.

By Friday the week’s work is done and it’s time to aim the car south for Portland (that’s Oregon, not Maine).  The old state highway cuts through Washington’s cattle country, orchards and endless fruit stands. This is a much more relaxed journey.  Seldom used gravel roads shoot off the highway every mile or two leading into the country side.  The hills offer endless opportunities to explore if you choose to take any of the gravel spurs.  The highway twists, turns and climbs the Cascades but the parade of RVs and trailers in front is going to keep it under 50 mph.  There is little reason to rush.

Rest stops are the modern equivalent of desert watering holes.  Scattered along a ribbon of pavement, rest stops offer views of geological wonders, picnic areas, a place to stretch your legs and the opportunity to relieve yourself of the 64oz gas station coffee concoction you grabbed an hour earlier.

While concrete and steel has replaced camels and sand, the modern day desert oasis remains a gathering place for travelers.   Some folks are hurriedly driving from one place to the next.  Others are slowly traveling across country taking in all the sights and sounds the country has to offer.   And on any  giving Saturday in fall you will find cars decked out in college colors and banners as travelers race to college campuses around the country to support their favorite NCAA gridiron team.

Dropping into Oregon I follow the Columbia River west down the gorge.  The Dalles, Bonneville Locks, Multnomah Falls, Rooster Rock, the list of amazing sights goes on as the sun drops low on the horizon.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 24×7, the Original Hotcake House serves some of the best breakfasts and burgers anywhere.  My mom would have referred to this as a greasy spoon…  I call it chicken-fried-sausage-gravy-chedder-hash-brown love. This will kill you; but what a way to go…  The eggs are healthy, right??!!

Anyone who know me, knows Oregon Duck football is a big deal. This brings us to the Eugene portion of the loop. There is something special about being at a college football game.  Tailgating, rowdy student sections, ESPN trucks sending live broadcasts into the heavens, general fan mayhem and a chance to reconnect with with friends every fall makes the stand still traffic on I5 bearable.

If the calendar says  Sunday it must be laundry night.  This is after heading back up the I5 corridor to Seattle.  Tonight  my head will rest for the first time in seven days on my own pillow with all the familiar sounds of home.  Monday starts it all over.

For anyone who loves the open road, this is the golden triangle.  Dense forests, mountain passes, high plains desert, wide open gorge, beautiful sunsets  and college football.  Every time there is something different with new people to meet on the road that is more traveled.

Dreaming of the Road Less Traveled

Sometimes the desire to take the road less traveled comes in a moment when you can’t take the road at all.  Your only option is to imagine the trip for another day. This morning was one such occasion. The day was perfect for a road trip. It was not too hot or too cold. It was not too bright or too cloudy, and everything in view seemed as if it were as it was meant to be. I was traveling east on I-96 at dawn in Michigan heading toward Detroit when the desire to just keep on driving washed over me. I get it. I was already driving, so…?

To me, there is driving and there is driving. We drive to get where we need to go. That’s driving. Then we drive for the sake of the act of driving, for the sake of the road, and for the sake of what is possible when we are on the road. That was the kind of driving urge that hit me. I started to think of the highways that triangulate the state of Michigan and how in a relatively short amount of time I could take them all. Then I started to feel light and free. As the notion of the route unfolded in my mind, I realized the very real therapeutic value of such a trip and it became more than an urge. It became a need; a bonafied desire to hit the road.

Michigan has a relatively uncomplicated highway system that has a deliberate design toward getting goods and people from one end to the other efficiently. It starts with I-96, which stretches from Muskegon to Detroit, passing my neighborhood at its midpoint. Moving eastward, I-96 becomes one of my favorite roads, I-696. A cement royo cut through the base of the northern suburbs of Detroit, 696 is like a raceway for drivers who love a fast ride through a four-lane cement tunnel of over passes and narrow on and off ramps that look like stairwells designed to dispense new obstacles in the paths of the drivers already on board.

I remember the day that I-696 opened. I was so excited for it that I scheduled a meeting in Sterling Heights that day so I could be one of the first to drive it. I got up early and left at 6 a.m. It was a clear sunny day and when I hit 696, there was no one in front of me. It was just me and that beautiful new 4 lane track tunneling through SE Michigan. Acutely aware of its raceway design, I abandon all concern for the number of police cars that might be strategically hidden on those narrow merge ramp-wells and opened up. By the time I hit the first Dequindre Rd. exit sign, I was cursing at 120 mph with no one in front of me and no one in my rearview mirror. I chalked that drive up as one of the best days ever. It was beautiful. I am an hour and 5 minutes into my trip.

Where I-696 meets I-75 it becomes the bottom left angle of this equilateral triangle route I was dreaming of. I-75, is the grandfather of highways in Michigan; making I-94 the great and decrepit uncle. I-94 being too far south from my goal, was not a part of this open road fantasy, but I-75 was elemental with its Bi-polar attitude towards drivers and its role in moving traffic through Michigan. At this point, I-75 is narrow-minded and unforgiving. He is begrudging in his willingness to let vehicles pass along his corridors. Unpleasant and congested he dares one to mount his pavement and accept the challenge of navigating him. It is a challenge worth taking. The prize is reaching the point at which he opens up smooth, wide and passable, where the air changes north of Flint and you sense that you’ve just progressed across a new parallel where the air is clearer and cleaner and the views immensely more scenic. I-75 ends at the Mackinaw Bridge 4 hours north, where the apex of the triangle can be found. I stop and take in the view of the straights and recall the countless trips my gram and grandpa took us on across to Mackinaw Island when we were kids contemplating my route west to where 31 leads down the beautiful west side of Michigan. I won’t follow 31 immediately though because there is a better way.

There is M-119, arguably the most beautiful highway in the state. For a moment, I drop down I-75 south toward 127; the highway that dissects the state and the triangle of my route splitting it in two equal parts, until I pick up Levering Rd. to M119, the Tunnel of Trees. M 119 winds narrowly and delicately for more than 20 miles along the north east shore of Lake Michigan through Harbor Springs, around Little Travers Bay and into Petoskey where it meets 31. I am 7 hours into my trip, only because I stopped for lunch in Mackinaw City, Cross Village, Harbor Springs, or Petoskey to relax, refresh and watch the water for a moment while I stretch my legs. Along M-119 the curve are as succulent as a young woman’s body draped in a thin veil of leafy lace. Around which one is most likely to confront a cyclist, motorcycle, or narrow hidden drive.

31 is the left angle of the triangle. It too is lovely in the way it weaves through countless small, quaint northern Michigan harbor towns. This is the toughest part of the trip as it is nearly impossible not to stop at every single one or stop at an intriguing road side stand filled with pies, jams, or organic produce or bitter cherries in between. Like M-119, 31 is a narrow two lane highway that requires deft attention to the wheel and the road when the desire is to watch the view all the way to Muskegon, where I-96 meets me again. There are no 120 mph stretches here. I am now 11 hours in to my dive.

At 7:00 p.m. I arrive home, only because I stopped for a half an hour to pick up dinner. By now I have taken I-96 from end-to-end, and I have consumed the majority of the lengths, if not all of the lengths of the others as well.  I have seen every corner of the state, save the southern border and traveled more than 600 miles. I’ve crossed the Zilwakee Bridge and seen the waters of the great lakes, but mostly, I drove. As I enter my home, no one the wiser, I imagine my family asking how my day was. I imagine myself smiling and telling them, “It was perfect.”

Tomorrow, I ride.

1,000 Mile Turn Around – The Road Trip

Why take a road trip from Tigard, Or. a little suburb of Portland, to the northeast corner of Idaho, turn around and drive back?  Why drive a thousand miles in two days?  Because we can… and this is where Kevin found a tool needed for his bamboo fly rod making company.

For people who enjoy the open road, a road trip seems to uncrinkle the mind and give the brain room to breath.  It’s been awhile since my brain has had the space it needs to stretch out and consider the meaning of life.  This is my chance.

It’s Friday noon.  Kevin has the Land Rover packed and a little utility trailer hitched up for the long journey.  One last look around the rig, double check the trailer and lock the garage before pulling out into traffic and starting this road trip adventure to a place well off the beaten path.

It always seems the longest part of any road trip is getting out of town to where the road opens up and traffic melts away.  This road trip is no different.  The flashing traffic sign reads accident nine miles ahead. A mile later we’re at a stand still on the interstate. Cars, trucks and 18 wheelers packed tightly, turning the highway into a parking lot as far as the eye can see.  Every once in awhile we roll a few feet before applying the brakes again.  We could bitch, honk the horn and pound the steering wheel like a few around us or we can relax, chat and accept the fact that we’ll be on the road a couple of extra hours tonight.  Avoiding the road rage option we choose the latter and settle into our seats for the wait while we catch up on each others life.  An hour passes as we finally crawl past the wreckage, tow trucks and clean up crew.  Once again we are at cruising speed as our journey starts its ascent of the Cascade mountains.

The Cascades divide east from west and the Columbia River defines the line between Oregon and Washington state.  1,243 miles long and pushing millions of gallons of water from Canada to the Pacific the Columbia cuts a long, wide, meandering path.  Interstate 84 follows the Columbia river through little towns long forgotten by the timber industry, past huge hydro power plants, along cattle ranches and over some of the richest salmon and steelhead rivers that feed into the Columbia.  The gorge cut by the river over millions of years is now creating a new kind of farming community.  Miles and miles of giant, white, streamlined windmills towering above the road with100 foot blades reaching out to grab the wind as it rushes down the gorge.  The propellers spin hypnotically as we continue on our way east.

West of the Cascades the scenery is wet and green with tall Ceders and lush farm land.  As we drive further east the land becomes drier and brown, covered in wheat and scrub grass. Crossing the Columbia into Washington state we’ve adjusted our heading to a more northerly direction.  While our compass heading may have changed the only visible difference is the maximum speed limit as the long flat highway take us closer to Coeur d’Alene, ID., our destination for the night.

With no trees in the way, we can see for miles as the line between grey overcast sky and brown land blurs at the horizon. We pass field after field of recently plowed rich earth with small sprouts of green that foreshadow the bounty to come in the next few months.  Into the darkness we drive, approaching Spokane followed by the Idaho boarder. Sometime around 9:00 p.m. we find a home for the night.  An economically oriented (nice way of saying cheap) motel with the basics and several dining choices within easy walking distance to stretch out the cramps in our legs.  The trailer and rig secured, our gear all stowed in the room, we eat and drink joining the locals playing pool and darts at a uniquely Irish sports bar.

It’s morning and driving in northern Idaho is an extremely rewarding experience.  Ponderous Pines,  snow covered hill tops, lakes, flowing creeks and wild life everywhere.  Years ago little towns like Sandpoint may have only had a  gas station, local grocer, bar, local hardware store and a Sears. These days art galleries, antique shops and Starbucks fill the main drag through town. Stopping the coffee and free WiFi at Starbucks is an oasis offering a chance to top off our caffeine levels and check emails before the final push north.

The reason for this road trip is to pick up a 1940, Sheldon 11″ thread cutting metal lathe.  500 pounds of metal tooling love perfect for turning bar stock into fly rod ferrules and custom real seats.  Northern Idaho is a place where self-reliance is highly prized so the people there take care of the tools that take care of them.

When we arrived in Moyie Springs, a stones through from Canada and a few miles from the Montana boarder , George was holding court behind the gas/laundry/grocery store.  George is the king of Moyie Springs when it comes to buying and selling stuff for his friends and neighbors in northern Idaho, including an old lathe.  Gathered around George, several of his followers hang on his every word and do his bidding as he sends them off to fetch tools, or have them pick through boxes, cataloging items that could be sold on eBay.  All the while George pontificates on what’s wrong with city people, how no one should pay taxes, or that government is taking away your rights and your ammo.  But give George credit he is a survivor.

With the help of a tractor,  tow straps and a few of George’s minions, a piece of Sheldon history is now resting securely in the little utility trailer.  Of course there are still a dozen or so stories to listen too as George continues to negotiate and up sell us an antique lamp, case of .22 ammo, the odd tool and of course handmade pipes made from deer and elk antlers.

Aiming the Land Rover onto the highway we begin the long journey back to Portland.  Each time we stop, we check the trailer and straps to ensure the 500 pounds of iron love hasn’t shifted.

Until now we’ve been ahead of the rains.  Looking into the sunset we see thick grey haze ahead, watch as the outdoor temperature falls and start to count the rain drops hitting the windshield.  Like a precision Indie pit we pull off to the side, engulf the trailer in a plastic tarp and secure it with countless bungee cords of all shapes, sizes and colors.  The storm can’t dampen our spirits no matter how many state lines remain to be crossed.

The rain is hitting the windshield in sheets as we come down off the Cascades in the dark.  Glare makes it impossible to see the dividing lines and the rig hydroplanes as Kevin hugs the shoulder of the Interstate.  Although this nerve-wracking section does dampen the conversation we quickly pick it back up as the highway leveled off and the street lights of the big city bring back visibility to the dividing lines.

Kevin and I talk about the things most good friends do: family, kids, jobs, our last big fishing trip together and our next big fishing adventure together.  We’ve known each other forever. Of course over the years life has taken us our separate ways.  He served in the Air Force and raised a family. I moved my family all around.  But we’ve always manage to come back together every so often and pick up our friendship as if the miles between us and years on the calender don’t matter.

I recently learned about Dunbar’s number and how people only have five to seven relationships that can be counted on no matter what.  The are the relationships where the other person will drop everything to help you out.  You can stop by without notice and they set an extra dinner plate and make the bed without asking why.  You’ll lend them money and never ask for it back…  those kinds of relationships.  Kevin is definitely one of the guys in my Monkeysphere.

It’s a little after midnight as we pull into the driveway, disconnect the trail and unpack the Land Rover.  A 1,000 miles in two days to retrieve a piece of equipment older than either of us and a long over due chance to catch up.  Oregon, Washington and Idaho are amazing areas to explore even if it is done looking out the windshield on the interstates. As long as it’s done with a friend.

Race Cars, Dreams and The Open Road

It’s hard to tell when wander lust first imprints itself on our soul. Maybe it starts with a favorite childhood story about a faraway place or a family road trip that sparked the desire to roam. For me it all began with the Vista Cruiser. 

As early as I remember, my family had an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon. From the impressionable age of five and for the next ten years my brothers raced quarter midgets. This meant summers were spent traveling cross-country in the Olds to nearly every state in the union, my dad often driving through the night to get us to a quarter mile race track. At the races, my brothers and I would sport white, pit crew jump suits with cool blue side stripes. My brothers would then don full leathers in 100 degree heat and race for the next two or three days.

While the boys raced, I discovered America. By day, I explored deserts, Mt. Rushmore, the Rocky Mountains, Smokey Mountains, Ohio River, Mississippi River, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas and the Colorado River. By night driving across the immense empty spaces of the central plains I laid face up gazing toward the sky through the angled glass of the back window. Speaking astronaut with my brothers, we watched the stars; often falling like rain in the sky. When we tired of staring off into space, we peered into the edges of the pitch black two lane highways in Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming as hundreds of eyes stared back at us. We spied bob cats, coyotes, rabbits, mule deer, skunk, fox, and raccoon. We were the generation dumb enough to get out of the car for a closer look at a road side bear in Yellowstone on our way to old Faithful. We were children in a then child un-friendly Las Vegas where we peeked through the well-guarded, adults only doors of the HoJo to watch Willy Nelson perform to a room that seated less than 50.

These summer pilgrimages, wrought with overheated radiators, truck stop meals, pit dust and little kids driving fast pint sized cars imbedded in me the desire to drive… freely exploring the open road. The races took me to places where people were not like me and I liked them anyway. It born in me the need to see places that aren’t home, exploring and comparing them to what I know as familiar. These days as I continue forward in my travels around the world, I can’t help but look back to where the desire to explore started, at the Pigeon Inn where a little oval shaped ¼ mile track expanded my world by thousands of miles.

Happy Trails To Me

First let me say… Hula Betty’s idea of roughing it is a room at the Four Seasons. Her idea of a hike to the top, is riding the escalator at Nordstrom and a cook out involves a waiter and sommelier. But sometimes it’s good to be treated like a king.

Evidently, I recently hit a birthday milestone. For this momentous event Hula Betty pulled out all the stops. No she didn’t have a dirt road named after me… better. No she didn’t have congress declare it a national holiday… better. It didn’t involve a tattoo shop or the words “long travel suspension”. Hula Betty took me on a road trip down memory lane and beyond.

Growing up in Portland, I would grab my tent, sleeping bag, fly rod, a sack of beef jerky and point my Baja Bug toward central Oregon. You can see I have a long history of packing up and taking off for parts unknown in search of adventure. Hula Betty took this theme and spiced it up a bit with her own style…

The sun was shining in a bright blue sky when we left Portland. Instead of the rugged Blue Bunny we’re cruising down I5 in Hula Betty’s rig, Toyota’s much more luxurious big brother. It’s the middle of the week and rush hour traffic is now pulling into their parking spots leaving four lanes of I5 commuter free. Music up load and the sunroof open we’re sailing (we’ll leave it at sailing so as not to incriminate ourselves here) down through Salem before turning east toward the Cascades of central Oregon.

Cruising alongside the Santiam river, Hula Betty endures my recital of each memory that is triggered by a bend in the river, a tree filled with fishing hooks or my favorite rest stop… Ok she liked the rest stop story since we were a couple of Starbucks into the morning by now. Passing Gates, Detroit, and Lost Lake we climb toward the mountain pass. Cresting the pass, dense Cedar and Douglas Firs give way to Ponderosa Pine forests that provide peekaboo views of jagged peaks and blue sky. The charred remains from the B&B forest fire a decade earlier still litter the mountain sides. The burn scars remind me how fragile the area is. But Mother Nature is resilient and beneath charred matchsticks is a new carpet of green with young saplings reaching up to the sun that now reaches down to them through the once dense canopy.

Just past the burn, after pulling off highway 20, we slow down to a crawl as we wind our way down to Suttle Lake. I’d seen the lake from the highway and driven by hundreds of times but never before stopped. As a youth, my budget could squeeze out enough for gas, camp site fees and a few flies with nothing left for luxuries like a cabin or even a hot meal. Back then Suttle Lake and its resort were beyond my reach.

Hula Betty had made all the arrangements and she spared no expense for me (or at least she said it was for me). A deluxe suite at the with it’s own fireplace, big feather bed requiring a step stool to climb up into, plush terrycloth robes hanging in the closet, complementary happy hour on the deck overlooking the lake and a sunset painted orange and pink with wide brush strokes… this is luxury I can get behind. The lodge will be base camp for the next few days while we relax and explore the area.

Sisters, OR. is a small artist community nestled between Suttle Lake and Bend, OR. When I say small community… traffic that was zooming down the highway is forced through this speed bump of a town creating a parade of campers, trailers and car-top-carries down main street that grinds to a halt every time some old cowboy decides to cross the street. I’m pretty sure kids cross back and forth just to see how far they can back up traffic… anything to keep the kids off drugs. As you would expert from an artsy commune, Sisters is filled with shops, peddling everything from artisan quilts to country antiques and of course the obligatory, newly expanded two location (across the street so they can watch traffic stop) log furniture store.

We wander the streets, explore the shops, stop traffic a time or two and pass the day chatting with shop owners and other visitors who apparently don’t have real jobs either or they are not willing to let their jobs get in the way of exploring the road less traveled. And in this little alpine ashram is Jen’s Garden. Jen’s Garden is a five course, culinary adventure that takes us from appraisers, fish and meat course to salad followed by a decadent dessert choice. The meal is designed so that you can eat through it and still come out the other side without loosing conscious. To help take the sting out of selecting the right bottle of wine to match this culinary diversity Jen’s Garden offers a five glass pairing of different wines selected to complement each of their courses.

I love dinners that last for hours… you get to focus on the person across the table and have a conversation that is more than a couple of grunts in between mouthfuls. We eat our way through the courses laughing and talking about the past, present and future before finally making the 20 minute drive back to the lodge, counting a dozen or so deer we catch staring into our headlights.

Fly fishing is a passion I’ve flamed since before I could drive. On our Arctic adventure I managed to cast a line to chrome bright salmon as well as arctic char. Look in the back of my rig and you will usually find a small duffle bag of fishing gear and a fly rod. The Metolius River with it’s skittish Rainbows, Dolly Vardens and crystal water has long been my spring creek of choice and remains a favorite destination.

Only 15 minutes past Suttle Lake, Camp Sherman, which sits at the head waters of the Metolius remains frozen in time with few exceptions. The only store here sits just past a few vacation cabins and marks the start of several state run camp grounds that dot the next several miles of river front. The antique gas pumps outside no longer deliver fuel but this little general store is still part grocery market, part post office and message board and part fly shop. Although these days the store’s wine selection is starting to bleed into the back where they keep the hand tied green drakes and #2 grizzly hackles, stepping inside, always transports me to the fabled shores of Lake Woebegone.

The upper Metolius is barbless hook only fly fishing with a well managed, healthy population of wild fish including a run of Kokanee that make their way up from Lake Billy Chinook. The head waters of the Metolius gush out from a crack in the mountain with amazing consistency, creating one of Oregon’s premiere spring fed fisheries. Ten miles or so below the head waters, as the river picks up volume and speed is the Wizard Falls hatchery.

Like pickers to a yard sale, I am drawn to fish hatcheries. It dates back to the first one my dad took us to on some long forgotten road trip to the Sierras or was it upstate New York. I still grin when I see a nickle gumball machine filled with Purina fish pellets and watch the water erupt as you toss a handful to the frantic schools of fingerlings. Even Hula Betty is cracking a smile at my boyish enthusiasm, watching the brood stock sip at the surface as I drop one pellet at a time from the observation deck to the giants circling below. And while not as enthusiastic as me, Hula Betty is clearly struck by the beauty of Wizard Falls… even if the falls are more swirling shades of blue and white foam than actual falls.

Allingham bridge on the upper Metolius has always been one of my favorite fishing holes. Quiet during the week, on weekends this little bit of water is fished hard and the native rainbows that live here are well schooled in the ways of detecting the differences between artificial art and real life. The run below the bridge is cold (40.7 degrees to be exact), clear, calm and about four feet at its deepest. The surface of the run, while glass like, is covered with transitioning currents that go in several directions at once making a drag free drift all but impossible. A smarter man would surely pass this run by for easier pickings, except that with the rhythmic consistency of a waltz, fish are quietly sipping the surface exposing their nose and flashing white as their mouth opens to draw in a caddis fly riding on the surface tension.

Walking into the water with only a pair of hiking shorts, I am stopped dead in my tracks as every blood vessel below my knees constricts at once in a painful reaction to the icy water. Slapping my thigh a couple of times to encourage the blood to flow and mask the agony I am experiencing at the thought of going in further, I muster the courage to inch my way into the current until the water is lapping at my belt. The clear water gives me a magnified view of the blue color my toes are taking on as I stand there tying a number 18, deer hair caddis to the end of a 7x tippet. Scanning the current, I begin to zero in on the steady rise of a fish focused on the surface. Cast after cast I lay the artificial a foot or so ahead of the feeding query, only to have the current drag it away.

This game of cat and mouse (not sure if I’m the cat or the mouse) goes on for several hours. I move up stream a foot or two and then back down in an effort to find an angle at which I can float my line without causing the fly to wake across the surface like a jet ski. Inevitably I scare down the trout, only to see another take its place a yard or two away.

The fly landed softly and floated six inches before disappearing into the dimple left behind in the surface as a trout mistakes my presentation for the real thing. Lifting the rod high, I set the hook and realize I’ve lost all feeling below the waist as I try to maintain a vertical stance, while working the slack in order to get the fish on the reel. Every fly fisherman will tell you the sweetest sound in the world is the click of the drag as a fish pulls out line in an attempt to put distance between the two of you. Even a small fish on a light line can make a reel sing a cappella more sweetly than any church choir.

A chorus or two of the reel later I am gently removing the barbless hook from the corner jaw of a bright 12 inch native. Releasing him back into the water I watch him dart quickly to freedom in the current below. Two more times I play out this epic battle before heading back to the resort to put on dry cloths and meet up with my dinner date who by now is relaxing with a glass of wine on the lodge’s deck.

While Camp Sherman remains mostly unchanged from my youth, the rustic little Kokanee Cafe and its renowned chef are newish, the cafe has only been there 20 years and change comes slowly to my memory. Inspired by their selections and our culinary adventure the night before, we decide to chart our own course through their menu. Chatting with our server Bell, we explain that we will be ordering several different selections over the next few hours, sharing some and individually indulging in others. Bell seemed to light up at the idea, making it a point to compliment us on our “European style” of dining and then shares stories of her and her husband’s local dining adventures with us. Throughout our evening the tables around us fill, empty and fill again. One group of 70 something women, provide entertainment as we eavesdrop on their shouting (note to self, when I get old carry spare hearing aid batteries). They discuss their adventures in town, grandkids and the men in their lives.

Hula Betty and I continue to work our way across the pages of the menu as the candles burn down. We argue the merits of a mountain cabin verses a beach cottage trying to settle the age old debate between lake, river and beach front property. Our conversations continue and the wine flows until close to closing when we finally thank Bell for helping make this night special and come to grips with the cost of ordering this way. Half a bottle of wine in hand (and a couple of empties left behind) we return to base camp and a waiting fire.

After three nights of rustic luxury, the next morning we leave central Oregon behind with its lodge, plush bath robes, artist community, fine dinning, fly fishing and spectacular sunsets. Hula Betty has taken me on adventure that started down memory lane and then explored a whole new set of roads in central Oregon. If it is true that girlfriends try harder… Hula Betty definitely attained girlfriend status with this birthday surprise.

Day Tripper Diary

Sure 5,000 mile road trips are amazing… But if you remember to look, a trip around the corner can be just as much an adventure. The other day we went out to scout locations for a video shoot. Looking around at local state parks, old run down buildings, city alleys, or any funky looking place.

Really just an excuse to get out, roll down the windows and feel the road. Somewhere along the way we started to see the same old places in a new way.

If you ever want to make a stir… roll into a Jeep dealership, park your FJ Cruiser square in the middle, hop out with a camera and start snapping pictures of their blow up Hula Girl on the roof. But a 30 foot tall hula girl… Really, what are the chances. And of course we introduced them to Hula Betty.

Shellfish abound on the beaches around here in the northwest and when the season is open, families come together for harvest. Wandering down by sound, we found families, everyone from kids to grandmas, working the beds.  I sat there for what seemed like hours, just watching them dig, listening to the gulls and thinking how this same scene was playing out on coasts all around the world.

Some cities are separated by tracks.  We live on the other side of the sound. The trailer park we call Kitsap County. For decades it was only vacation cabins and the Navy base.  Things on this side of the water have changed over the years but the shipyard waterfront is still an anchor for visitors with its museums, docks, restaurants and shops… stray from the boardwalk and you find out just how long a hangover lasts from a no-growth policy instituted in the 80’s.  The water front has perked back up but there is still a long way to go.

The county is richer for growing up around the base.  The richness of the area does not appear in housing values or car dealerships but in the cultural diversity that surrounds most any port town.  Drive through Bremerton or Silverdale and the faces you’ll see reflect all the continents of the world.  Sailors have always traveled to exotic ports around the world, fallen in love and settled down with their families back here when their discharge papers came through.

Between here and there is Green Mountain. Weaving through 6,000-acre working forest is 13 miles of trails mostly used by mountain bikers and horseback riders.  A gravel road will take you most of the way to the top where a short hike delivers amazing views.  No one really uses the road, which means it’s a good opportunity to slowly meander and look for bear and dear who call the woods home.

There is a horse camp halfway up Green Mountain that offers a few camp sites on a first come first server basis.  It’s a dry camp with a couple of holes in the ground for outhouses. This is the kind of camping I enjoy… Rant coming so you may want to skip to the next paragraph: I’ve always thought of camping as getting away from it all and simplifying life, even if it is only for a weekend.  But RV travelers pay top dollar for the hookups these days, camping is big business. The places I used to enjoy in my youth were just a flat spot at the end of long dirt road.  The nice ones had a hand pump for potable water. These secluded spots now have blacktop, yellow lines, electricity, showers and firewood for sale with only one or two tent sites stuck in between the trailers. There is nothing wrong with RVing and I know all things change…  However, when I hear how state parks are closing because they can’t afford the up keep, I wounder if returning a few of them back to a more rustic, pack it in/pack it out, no frills setup wouldn’t help a little with the budget woes.  Of course the campers who leave behind their garbage and feel the forest is their personal junkyard don’t help any of us.

We didn’t find a location that quite fit the bill… but the day provided the break we were looking for… quiet places, rolled down windows and the feel of the road.

Back To Our Road Tripping Roots

One of my fondest memories growing up was a road trip where Dad piled the family in the station wagon, you know the one, with fake wood on side and drove the long way from Oklahoma to Saskatchewan, Canada.  By long way I mean we saw Disney Land,  Wall Drugs, San Francisco, and  Glacier National Park along the way as we zigged and zagged our way north.

I remember driving late into the night, sitting up front with Dad while Mom, Bother and Sister were sacked out in the back.  That was back in the day when you could fold the seats flat, through pillows and blankets down and sleep without worry of seat belts getting in the way as you drove 80 down the highway.

We drove through death valley in the middle of a summer heatwave with the windows down.  Not because we didn’t have air conditioning but because Brother would complain about a headache if the air conditioner was on.  At some point we found ourselves in the middle of a cow pasture with bulls looking longingly at our sexy green station wagon.  There was driving through chicago where Mom was convinced we would be car jack and some little country town where camped over night in the city’s park.  The switchback roads took us over the continental divide with Mom screaming each time the wagon got near the guardrail and she could see down the cliff edge.

We saw Four Corners, Carlsbad Caverns, the petrified forest, Mount Rushmore, the redwood forest and countless little caves (Dad was really into caves that trip).  I learned to fly fish in Yellow Stone.  We wandered through curio shops each time Dad stopped to get gas, spent hours playing road trip bingo and bedded down in KOA camps most nights.  Sister celebrated a birthday on the road with one little candle in a store bought cupcake.  Bother and I fought in the back, Sister cried and Mom yelled while Dad just kept driving.  This was a family road trip that only the Griswold’s could appreciate.  Yet it remains on of my best childhood memories…

I recently drove over the Cascade Mountains to the little town of Quincy.  I’ve made the trip a couple of times before but this time I was in no hurry.
Having left at O’dark thirty I was well ahead of schedule as I reached the mountain pass and decided to take a detour and see how the sled dog trails were holding up after the recent weeks of snow.

The lot where the guys with snow machines hang out was empty covered in a several inches of snow and ice.  Motoring around through the lot and around the corner to the sled dog lot, I found a lone trailer with a picket line of dogs resting in the morning’s light.  Striking up a conversation with their owner, as he stepped out of the trail, he was eager to tell me about each and everyone of the dogs like a father bragging about his son’s law school graduation.  He explained where he had picked up each dog, it’s personality and where it fit on the gang line.

We exchanged ideas on dog trailers and shared the reasons why we loved the solitude of the trail. The conversation’s volume was soft and low, as if somehow it would be wrong to break the morning calm with our voices.  We continued our
conversation as he dressed the dogs and readied them for their first run of morning. Within seconds of the last dog hooked up he was waving good bye and dashing down the trail behind a handful of four-legged athletes.

Don Quixote of La Mancha tilted at windmills.  These days heading east toward Quincy the windmills generate power, standing out more than ever like hulking giants, towering above the land, armed for battle with their giant swords.

On the east side farmlands fill the landscape and winter fields lie waiting for spring.  Washington’s rich land sleeps through the cold winter following a cycle that has repeated itself a million times before we arrived. But it is the high-tech world that brought me to Quincy and I would now trade in my drive line for a set of hard drives.

I tell you those stories so that I can tell you this one…

Driving to the market this morning I caught myself thinking how much I love a good road trip and realized I’ve never really had a bad one.  It doesn’t seem to matter the destination.  The one thing that has been consistent is how I approach the journey…  Eager to see what is around the next corner, ready to take an unexpected turn and a heart wide open to everything that the road has to offer.

Pre-function… Or Road Trip To The Road Trip

The great thing about road trips is they never really begin or end. And though on the last great road trip team I am the son, in life I play a father for two great kids. Today I drove down to Portland, Or. with my boy. We made the trip to see our friends at Metal Tech who are doing several mods on the Toyota FJ Cruiser. I will tell everyone about that tomorrow. But coming into town a day early gave Boy and I time to kill and for Boy there is no better way to deal with time than by tearing up a skate park.

Those who know skateboarding have heard of the Burnside Skate Park. Famous around the world for the skaters who fought the man and the skaters won. In 1990 skaters cleared away the bottles, cans and trash to put up a few transitions right on the concrete pillars of the Burnside Bridge. Over time skaters added in more transition and bowls until in 1992, the city recognized that under the Burnside Bridge was a city skate park. One of the most unlikely places for a park, it sits beneath the bridge in the industrial area just east of down town with trucks and forklifts moving all about. The skate park looks as sketchy and underground as its surroundings. This is exactly its appeal and since it was built by skateboarders, it reflects what skateboarders like to skate not some municipal engineers idea of skating.

Boy loves to skate Burnside whenever we drop into Portland. The thing we have discovered about the Burnside skate park is that you never know… and you don’t. What does that mean?

It means sometimes you will run into friends that moved out of the state and made a pilgrimage back just to skate Burnside. Sometimes it will be pouring down rain… this is Portland remember… and Burnside skate park is the only dry park filled with every skateboarder in town. Other times you have the whole park to yourself, the only sound is the constant drown of tires hitting the expansion gaps in the bridge above and you thrash around the transitions.

This time, with the rain threatening, Boy made a few warm up runs in an empty park. After a ten minutes of soulful skating and solitude, a van pulled up. This weren’t no ordinary van, it pulled into the lot like… like a prom queen yelling look at me in the middle of the home coming parade. The van was wrapped with graphics front to rear displaying earth, wind and fire, the three elements of life. When the van stopped next to the park’s quasi entrance, out poured a bunch of pro-skateboarders from team Element, including Chad Muska, Levi Brown and Tosh Townend. These were real skateboard pros. The type of pros who skate each day on a dozen new boards, have their pictures in magazines and posters. They have their own camera crew filming them for the next “Lords of Dog Town”, and they make personal appearances at shopping malls and skate-centers hawking decks, trucks, wheels, shoes, shirts, energy drinks and anything else marketing experts feel they can get young teenage boys to buy.

But today the pros of Team Element were at Burnside just to skate. Just to spend time at Burnside as regular guys who love skating with their friends. And today, Boy was one of their friends who they would hang and skate with.

Watching Boy skate is always exciting as he throws himself into it with everything he has. Today was no exception and having
several of his heroes applauding and encouraging him made it that much better when he stuck the landing.

And if you’re ever in Portland, Or. on the east side under the Burnside bridge look for some of the new feature the skateboarder are adding. A continual work in progress, skateboarders are always looking for new challenges in their sport. Whether it is jumping the great wall of China or traveling city to city in the team van, at the end of the day these guys still remember it is fun to skate and hang out with you friends.

Bonus feature: Here is the Element skate session video  (unfortunately Element took it down). Look for cameo appearances by Boy and the rig.