Travel Tales: Yachats and Beyond, Part 5

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Shopping in Newport

Upon reaching Newport, I went straight to the Historic Bayfront District. I had it in the back of my mind throughout this trip that I would try to find some nice little gift to send to my Mom for Mother’s Day. I had been to the Bayfront once before, and I remembered it being a good place to shop for artsy-craftsy things. Mom likes that kinda stuff.

The Newport Historic Bayfront has the look of an old fishing village, and to some extent it still is one. There is a marina with a bunch of fishing boats and a huge fish packing facility. Mostly though, this area is now a tourist attraction. Much of the old architecture is still there, but the buildings have been converted into shops and restaurants.

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Moving in and out of gift stores, I found myself surrounded by families once again. This time though, I saw beleaguered parents dealing with screaming, whining, misbehaving kids at every turn. Maybe being alone ain’t so bad.

Anyway, I found a nice pottery coffee mug with the image a sand dollar on it that seemed right up Mom’s alley. I figured I could pair it with a bag of beans from one of Portland’s great coffee roasters. Mom loves good coffee.

With Mother’s Day taken care of, it was time to get dinner.

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Sea lions enjoying a day in the sun.

 

We need to talk about Mo’s

Mo’s is a chain of family seafood restaurants that originated in Newport in the 1940’s and now has several locations along the Oregon Coast. I had seen their restaurants plenty of times, but I’d never tried one. I had been walking around the Bayfront for quite a while at this point and had noticed a some very nice looking places to eat. But as I when I left the shop where I bought Mom’s gift, I found myself right next to Mo’s and figured it was time to give this place a try.

They actually have two locations in the Bayfront District – their main restaurant (which apparently is the original) and a smaller one right across the street they call their Annex. I went for the Annex, because it didn’t look as busy.

The dining room had big windows offering nice views of the bay from just about any table. That was the one nice thing about the room. It was a small, boxy place where the sound reverberated around in a way that was irritating. Just a noisy, crowded little room.

They were able to seat me pretty quickly, but then I had to wait a long time before the waitress came around to take my order. That’s fine… they were busy… I get it. I ordered the blackened red snapper, which came with a cup of “Mo’s World Famous Clam Chowder,” which the company brags about on the sign out front.

Clam chowder it one of my favorites foods, but I am admittedly picky about it. I feel it’s one of those dishes that is best kept simple. Lots of nice big pieces of clam, some potatoes, and a well-seasoned broth that’s not too thick or floury. That’s it. Some places try to put all this other stuff in it and you lose the flavor of the clams.

I waited a pretty long time to get my cup of chowder. (Again, I get that they were busy, but how long does it take to ladle some soup into a cup?) It finally arrived and I took my first taste of Mo’s signature dish. And I have to say – “Mo’s World Famous Clam Chowder” – is not actually clam chowder at all. It is potato and bacon soup. Very tasty potato and bacon soup, no doubt. But it ain’t clam chowder. I mean, if there were clams in it, I couldn’t find them.

I was barely two spoonfuls into my world famous potato and bacon soup, when the waitress brought me my entree. That’s a little amateurish if you ask me. Everybody knows they’re supposed to time the cooking so that the customer can finish the appetizer before you bring them the entree. I nearly said something about it, but I didn’t want to delay things any further.

I took a bite of the fish. Apparently the chefs at Mo’s think overcooking fish is the same thing as blackening it. It was dry and bland. The so-called blackening spices added nothing in terms of flavor. The whole point of blackening fish is to give it some heat and spice. This missed the mark completely. The mashed potatoes that came with it were okay, and added some much-needed moisture to the plate.

So to sum up my first experience with Mo’s – mediocre service, “world famous clam chowder” that does not taste like clams, and overcooked fish, all served in a noisy, crowded little dining room. Can someone please explain to me why this place is so popular?

The Home Stretch

Leaving Newport, I decided not to make anymore stops along the coast. It was getting late and there was still a long way to go to get back to Portland. I didn’t want to be driving sleepy going into the home stretch.

I continued north on Highway 101, enjoying the scenery as I passed through Depoe Bay. Things slowed down as I got into Lincoln City. I’ve noticed that people always drive a lot more slowly on that stretch of the 101. I’m not sure if that’s because they’re worried about getting pulled over for speeding or because they can’t remember where their hotel is.

Lincoln City is one of the larger coastal communities. It is home to the Chinook Winds Casino Resort, a very popular destination. I’ve been inside the casino several times, mostly because it’s a convenient place to stop and use the bathroom. I’ve been tempted to play a little craps, maybe a few hands of blackjack, but never have.

A little further north, and I turned onto Highway 18, taking me back inland towards home. At first, it’s another mountain pass.  The curves are gentler, but it’s still a fun drive. It eventually leads out into a long, boring stretch of road, through a flat, boring landscape. It’s the kind of road where you can easily lose track of how fast you’re going. Consequently, I got a speeding ticket there about five years ago.

According to my insurance agent, it’s due to come off my driving record this month, which will finally make my premiums go down. Which would make this a really bad time to make the same mistake. I set the cruise control for 55 mph and marveled at how slow that really feels when you’re passing through the middle of nowhere.

About halfway between Lincoln City and Portland is the city of McMinnville. It’s a mostly suburban community, but with a bustling downtown area, featuring charming early twentieth century architecture. It is also home to McMenamins Hotel Oregon. They have live music every night in their Cellar Bar. I’ve played there a few times myself. It’s a great venue for a solo act; a very intimate space where you can really connect with the audience. I decided to pop in and see who was playing.

I parked in the middle of downtown and wandered around for a bit. No matter how many times I’ve been to the Hotel Oregon, I can never quite seem to remember which corner it’s on. I found it eventually (thank goodness for smart phones) and made my way downstairs. I grabbed a table, ordered a beer, and started scribbling in my journal while being serenaded by Billy D. I got there just in time for the start of his final set. He played some brilliant blues on his acoustic guitar and regaled the crowd with some classic 60’s tunes. It turned out to be a perfect way to cap things off.

It took me about another hour to get home. I rolled into the driveway at around 11:20 pm. And yes, the front of my car was heavily  coated in the remains of splattered insects. A mere fourteen hours after I washed it and it already needed washing again. Ah well. Live and learn, I guess.

All in all it was a great little day trip. Looking back on it this week as I’ve been writing, I am struck by just how much there still is for me to explore out there on the coast and places beyond. I hope you’ve enjoyed my little travel tale. I’m going to start writing about some other topics this week, but there will be more travel stuff in the future, I’m sure.

Keep exploring.

Travel Tales: Yachats and Beyond, Part 4

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The Beach

When I was a kid, my family used to take vacations in Ocean City, Maryland. It was the classic northeastern American beach town. An unapologetic tourist destination boasting a massive boardwalk lined with attractions, carnival rides, and places to eat. The smell of Alaska Stand french fries and Coppertone sun tan lotion. Kids building sand castles. Grown ups sunbathing. People of all ages splashing around in the water.

When I was a teenager, my Dad started taking my brother and me on trips down to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Dad liked it because it was quieter and less crowded. It did not have all the tourist attractions of Ocean City, but the beaches were perfect for swimming and hunting for sand dollars.

As an adult, I got to know the beaches of Los Angeles. The biggest difference between LA and East Coast beaches is their size. The shear distance from the place where the sand begins to the place where it meets the water is enormous. In some areas, like Santa Monica, the beaches are busy and touristy like Ocean City. In other spots, like Manhattan Beach, they are quiet and more refined, like the Outer Banks.

I used to walk on the beach a lot during my latter years in California. I would stroll along that space where the water comes just up to your ankles, carrying my shoes in my hand. This became a meditative experience for me. The strong and steady presence of the Pacific Ocean had a way of clearing and quieting my mind. One of the heartbreaks of moving to Portland was knowing that the ocean would no longer be right down the street. So now, whenever I go to The Coast, I make a point of taking at least one walk along the Pacific’s edge and reconnecting with that feeling, even if only briefly.

As I approached the city of Newport, I knew that I would soon be close to South Beach. I’d never been there, but I’d heard it was nice. In planning this trip, I had circled South Beach as my spot to stop and commune with the ocean. There was a nice big parking lot for it, right off Highway 101.

Beaches in Oregon have their own distinct nature that sets them apart from their East Coast and Southern California brethren. Stretches of sand serve largely as punctuation between the rock formations and majestic cliffs. Touristy boardwalks would be out of place in this environment. The water is freezing cold, so people don’t go in and swim much. In fact, everyone you see is fully dressed, often in their cold weather gear. This is no place for a swimsuit.

Most of the activity takes place on the sand. People fly gigantic kites. They make bonfires. They fish or dig for clams. Mostly they relax and take in the beauty of it all.

I found a parking spot. I took off my shoes and socks, and walked barefoot across the grassy area that preceded the sand. A tall ridge stood between me and the beach, with a worn path leading upward through the reeds and tall grasses. I made my way to the top of the ridge to see the Pacific stretched out before me.

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A strong wind from the north intimidated me a bit as I trudged my way across the beach. I would not be deterred. Looking down at the miniature dunes, I was reminded of the aerial shots of deserts you sometimes see in movies. A thin layer of sand was being blown across them like a tiny sand storm.

Little bits of shells. Scattered pieces of driftwood. Charred remains of bonfires past. I paused by an old log and rolled up my pant legs.

When I made it to the wet sand at the water’s edge, I stood patiently waiting until a wavelet reached out and encircled my feet.

“Hello, old friend.”

I turned my back to the wind and started walking along the wet sand, the frigid water periodically rising up to touch my feet again and again. I listened to the sound of the waves, the sound of my own breath. For just a moment, all thoughts left my mind. All the stress and anxiety I carry with me floated away. I felt a sense of peace and tranquility that I have only ever known when connecting with nature in this way.

I do not know if there is a God, but I am also not willing to declare that there is not one. When I was a child, I believed the teachings of the church I was raised in wholeheartedly. With time and age, I have learned more about the world around me. I’ve learned more about the nature of organized religion. The only conclusion I can come to is that if there is a God, not a soul on this Earth truly knows who or what that is.

I find it both hilarious and lamentable when I see people of faith arguing, sometimes warring, over whose religion is “right.” It seems to me that they’re all talking about the exact same thing, just using a different set of metaphors to describe it.

In recent years, I’ve become somewhat enamored with the sort of new age notion that regards the Universe as God. The idea that God is not a separate entity from us, but rather the collective energy of all things great and small, swirling around together in the vast cosmos. I like this idea. It suggests that God is something we are all a part of. It implies that we all share a certain level of responsibility for its care and well-being.

As I stood there on the beach, my quieted mind offered up a new thought – maybe this is God. Not a being, but a moment in time. Me, the sand, the ocean, the wind, my awareness of it all.

This quiet. This calm. This feeling of connectedness.

God is this.

I allowed the water to slosh around my feet one last time before starting the trek back to the parking lot. As I crossed over the ridge, a group of children came running past me from the parking lot, their parents lagging just slightly behind. As I crossed the grass, I listened to a man speak calming words to his very excited dog, who was straining against his leash.

I got to my car, popped open the liftgate, and grabbed the towel that was waiting there for me. I sat on the edge of the tailgate, cleaning the sand from my feet.

A couple standing at a nearby car appeared to be arguing about something. A family car pulled into another spot. Its doors swung open and another very excited dog came bounding out. This gave me a smile. A teenage boy emerged from that same car with a shovel in his hands. I wondered if he was here to hunt razor clams.

When my feet were clean, I put on my socks, put on my shoes, unrolled my pant legs.

I took a deep breath.

I resumed my journey.

Travel Tales: Yachats and Beyond, Part 3

Luna Sea at Lunchtime

If there is one thing I’ve learn in my eleven years of living in Oregon, it’s to never trust my first instinct when pronouncing the name of any town, river, or street. Locals can spot an outsider by their inability to wrap their vocal chords around names like Willamette and Multnomah. Seemingly obvious names like Aloha and Couch are unexpected verbal land mines. And nothing will get you a stern talkin’ to from a native like mispronouncing the state name itself. (The last syllable is pronounced “gun,” not “gone.” Oooo, Oregonians hate it when people get that wrong!)

When I first visited the charming seaside town of Yachats nearly a year ago, I knew better than to believe the voice in my head that was saying “YACK-ets.” In fact, it is pronounced “ya-HOTS.” #themoreyouknow

The Oregon Coast is dotted with small towns like this one. As you drive along Highway 101, after several miles of little more than wilderness, you will suddenly pass by a row of shops, restaurants, and public parking spaces. As it abruptly vanishes in your rear-view mirror, you’ll realize, “Hey, that must have been Manzanita. Sure seemed like a nice place for the two-and-a-half minutes I was there.” Such a place is Yachats, OR.

One day in August of 2018, I was making my way south from Newport, when I decided to pull over in Yachats and look for someplace to have lunch. I have to say that one of my ongoing complaints about the Oregon Coast is how weirdly difficult it can be to find good seafood. But I discovered a real gem at the Luna Sea Fish House.

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On that first occasion, I ordered the steam clams, which were excellent. I couldn’t help glancing around the room though, and noticing how good some of the other dishes looked. In particular, a guy at the table next to mine was enjoying a basket of fried shrimp and chips that looked amazing.

Now… I’m not saying that I purposely made an effort to be in Yachats around lunchtime just so I could try those shrimp… but I’m not not saying that either. (Truth be told, I often center my travel plans around where I would like to eat. Hard to imagine why I’m overweight.)

It was a nice day, so I took a seat on their covered back patio. I didn’t need much time to look at the menu. Here’s how the basket came out…

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A three hour drive for fried shrimp? Totally worth it!

The fries were fairly ordinary fries. The little cup of coleslaw was nice, but nothing special. The piece of toasted bread that came with it seemed like an unnecessary afterthought. But the shrimp. Oh great googly moogly, the SHRIMP!!!

Six big, plump, fresh tiger prawns cooked perfectly, with just a thin layer of crispy batter. (There is a special place in hell for restaurants that serve you fried shrimp that appear to be big, until you bite into them and discover a scrawny little excuse for a crustacean hiding in a thick wad of breading.) These were definitely worth the trip.

The wait staff could not have been friendlier. The restaurant had that vibe of a place where people actually enjoy working there.

I noticed some of my fellow diners feasting on whole dungeness crabs. Turns out, Luna Sea has their own boat that they use to catch the fresh crabs they sell. Hmm. I might have to go back yet again!

Oregon Rocks

The west coast of North America was formed millions of years ago by volcanic activity that created an array of enormous mountains and a foundation of rock that lead all the way down to the ocean. Waves pounded away at the rocky edges of the continent for millions of year, carving out patterns and creating shapes. As a result, the rock formations that line the Oregon Coast are the stuff of fantasy movies and fairy tales.

One such place exists at Yachats State Park. I stumbled upon it last year, while hunting for a parking space. I paid it another visit on this trip. The pictures below are from both visits. I will let them speak for themselves.

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Standing on the rocks, I had a bittersweet feeling. I was happy to be in this unique and beautiful place, but I was alone. Around me, I saw families, couples, and friends enjoying this spot together. I suddenly realized that it never even occurred to me to invite anyone to join me on this adventure. I just did it alone, as if there was no other way to do it. This, for me, is a pattern.

It is difficult for me to reach out to people, and over time I think it’s become my habit to simply not bother trying. This is partly the introvert thing, but I think it is also a self-esteem issue. Whenever I consider reaching out to a friend, there is some part of my brain that believes I would only be “bothering” them or “imposing” upon them. I have a hard time trusting that people want to hear from me. That people want to hang out with me. The thought of reaching out is usually accompanied by a fear of rejection.

So I end up doing a lot of things alone. In some ways, it makes life easier. Mostly though, it makes life emptier. I don’t really understand why I behave this way or how to change it. I hope that writing honestly about these things and sharing them may be a way to help me understand myself better.  That is partly why I started this blog. Anyway, thank you for indulging my little moment of introspection.

I tooled around Yachats for a little longer before hopping back in the car and heading north on Highway 101. About fifteen minutes into the drive, the car in front of me suddenly signaled a left turn in a place where there was no road to turn onto. I glanced to the left to see where she was heading.

Oooo, scenic overlook! Don’t mind if I do!

I followed suit and snapped these:

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When I got back on the road, I quickly realized that the large formation I had just photographed to the north was Seal Rock. I’d seen it on the map last time I was down this way, but hadn’t bothered to stop. The entrance to the state park came up almost immediately on the left, so I made another impromptu turn.

I assumed this would be another overlook, offering a better view of Seal Rock.  At first, it appeared to be just that…

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… but I quickly discovered a path through the trees…

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…which gave way to a trail…

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…leading all the way down to the beach…

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…and the big rock itself.

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A placard in the park explained that as the name implies, seals do enjoy congregating at this particular rock. Visitors are urged not to disturb them. Apparently seals only come to land to rest, digest food, give birth in spring, and keep their pups safe. The slightest sign of danger can scare them away, disrupting their natural cycle. Huh. Now I know stuff about seals!

I hoofed it back up the trail (it seemed a lot steeper going up than it did going down) and headed off in search of my next discovery.

Travel Tales: Yachats and Beyond, Part 2

Fun On The Freeway

The first stage of my journey required me to take I-205 south to I-5 south to route 34 into Corvallis. If that sounds a little boring, that’s because it is. Luckily, the car provided some entertainment for this leg.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been the kind of person who loves to play music in the car and sing along while driving. I’m not sure when, how, or why this happened – but in recent years, I’ve stopped doing that. The new car has such a great stereo that it’s inspired me to return to my old ways. It’s been a welcome change.

So I was rolling down the interstate, singing at the top of my lungs, and having a great time. (I did discover that my voice has gotten a little out of shape, since I haven’t been performing much lately either. I need to work on that.)

The other surprising source of amusement came from Mazda’s radar cruise control system. Maybe this technology is old hat to most people. I’m probably late to the game here. But remember, I drove my old car for over nineteen years and there have been quite a few innovations in that time. My old car had cruise control, but I never used it, because I thought it was dumb. It kept the car moving at the speed you set, but highway traffic rarely moves at a steady pace, so what was the point? You keep having to work the pedals anyway to adjust to other cars around you.

But this new system is like some Jedi shit. There is a camera and a radar unit embedded at the top of the windshield, where the rear-view mirror is attached. It uses these to monitor the traffic ahead of me and adjust accordingly. So if I set the cruise control to 70 mph, it will maintain that speed unless the car in front of me is going slower than that. In that case, it automatically keeps pace with that car.

He slows down, I slow down. He speeds up, I speed up. He changes lanes, leaving open road in front of me, the car bumps back up to 70. Some other car snakes in front of me, the radar locks on and starts pacing that car. All without me ever touching the pedals.

It’s fucking brilliant! I was geeking out so hard on how well it works.

I reached the Corvallis area around 11:00, where I made a pit stop. I filled up the gas tank, used the restroom, and had a quick snack before pressing onward.

I’d never been to Corvallis before, but I knew it by name. It is home to Oregon State University. Passing through, it reminded me a little of the small college towns I’d seen years ago while visiting friends who went to school in Virginia.

There was only one road leading west out of town. It was one lane in both directions, with a bunch of traffic lights. There was a long line of cars on it in front of me, all of them driven by people who apparently take the concept of speed limits a lot more seriously than I do. It was stop and go traffic, with the go part being frustratingly slow. It was the first time on this trip that I was in danger of losing my patience. I was still trying to get to the fun part of the drive and this was like being line at Disneyland.

Luckily, when the turn came to get off this main road and onto the twisty-turny one that runs through Siuslaw National Forest, I was the only driver who took it. While all those other cars were still waiting in line, I was on the fast track to Splash Mountain.

I turned off the AC, opened the moon roof, rolled down the windows, and let some fresh air and sunshine in. Things only got better from there.

Into The Woods

I think people who have never spent time on the American west coast have certain misconceptions about it. When most people think of this region, they think of LA, San Francisco, and Seattle. They assume these cities define this part of the country. But the truth is, the west coast is mostly rural.

Oregon, Washington, and California are three enormous states – each of them big enough to be its own country. In all that real estate, there are only five major cities (I’m counting Portland and San Diego), with a bunch of smaller cities and towns scattered about. Most of the land out here is comprised of farms, ranches, wilderness areas overseen by the National Parks Service, and uninhabitable areas like mountains and deserts. Drive twenty miles outside of Portland in any direction, and you will find yourself in the middle of farmland.

After leaving Corvallis, it took about half an hour to get to the national forest. Throughout that part of the drive, it was mostly idyllic pastures, accented by the occasional rustic farm house. I often wonder about the people who live in those houses as I zip past them. Beautiful as this part of the country is, I can’t imagine it’s an easy life out there.

It was also at this time that I noticed the first big bug splat on my windshield.

(“Oh… right… bugs. I’m probably gonna get a lot of that on this drive. Maybe I should have waited until after this trip to wash the car. Hmm…”)

I apologize for not having any pictures of this area. Honestly, I was having so much fun driving that it never even occurred to me to stop and take some. My bad. I will do my best to describe the scenery.

Oregon in spring is lush and green all over, dotted with wildflowers in pink, orange, purple, and yellow. This is amplified in a big forest like the Siuslaw. Leafy ferns blanket the roadsides. Tall trees stretch to the sky, their branches extending overhead. At times, it was like barreling through a naturally-formed tunnel of plant life. The road ran parallel to the Alsea River, giving way to gorgeous riverside views as I rounded the curves.

Speaking of the curves, the CX-5 performed as advertised in those twists and turns. The handling was smooth and easy. I never once felt out of control, even in the tightest of hairpins. I used to white-knuckle it on roads like these, but now I felt like being a kid zooming around on his Big Wheel.

For most of the drive, there was a white Toyota pickup truck following me. I guess he was happy with the pace I was keeping, because he kept a safe distance the whole time. (I hate it when someone gets right up behind you on these narrow one lane roads.) A couple of times, when rounding an especially tight turn, I glanced in the rear-view to see how he handled it. Whereas I was able to stay in my lane with ease, he kept swinging out past the center line as he rounded the curve.

“Glad I didn’t buy a Toyota,” I said to myself.

(Seriously Mazda, gimme a call. We can do business.)

As I exited the forest, I noticed a shift in the air. It was that colder, denser air that you feel when you’re close to the ocean. I knew I was getting close. Sure enough, I soon crossed into to the seaside town of Waldport, with the mighty Pacific on the horizon.

I turned left onto Highway 101 and continued another eight miles to Yachats, OR.

I will pick up the story from there in my next installment.  To make up for the lack of visuals, here is one more gratuitous car photo:

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Even covered in bug guts, this is still one fine-looking automobile. #wannabecorporatestooge

Travel Tales: Yachats and Beyond, Part 1

 

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The Idea

About a month ago, I bought a new car. It’s a beautiful 2019 Mazda CX-5 in deep blue crystal mica. I had held on to my previous car for over nineteen years, so having something brand new has been a joyful experience. Fair warning –  I will gush about the CX-5 quite a bit during this post. I am doing this because (A) I really do enjoy driving it and (B) I’m hoping word of this blog will find its way to the good folks at Mazda and they will offer me a sweet sponsorship deal.

(Be on notice corporate America – I can be bought!)

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Hello, sexy!

 

Last Tuesday while at work, I started thinking about the approaching weekend. Forecasts were predicting gorgeous weather. I didn’t have any plans, but figured I should get out and do something fun, when it hit me. I should drive to the coast!!!

The Oregon Coast, at its nearest point, is about a two-hour drive from Portland. While I usually prefer to book a hotel in one of my favorite spots and stay for a night or two, it’s not uncommon for Portlanders to just drive out for the day and come back that same evening. Saturday was looking like a perfect day to do just that.

I am most familiar with the northern-most stretch of the Oregon Coast, from Astoria down to Newport. That area being the closest to Portland, it is well-traveled terrain for me. I like to drive along Highway 101, making stops here and there to explore. The last time I was out that way, in August of 2018, I pushed further south, all the way down to Coos Bay. I was eager to revisit that area, so I decided to start my trip by heading straight to either Florence or Yachats and then make my way north. I pulled up Google Maps and started looking for possible routes, with a goal towards finding a certain type of road.

Between Portland and The Coast, there are mountains. This means the roads you take to get there can be very twisty-turny in places. I had these roads in mind as I was shopping for my new car. I wanted something with all-wheel drive (the last few winters have been brutal here), but I didn’t want a big truck.  I researched smaller SUV’s or crossovers, as they’re sometimes called. Of all the cars in this category, the CX-5 was hailed be reviewers as the most fun to drive. They said it felt more like driving a sports car than an SUV. The notion of a car that could keep me on the road in snowy conditions, while also being a blast to drive through those mountain passes, was a big selling point for me.

I scanned the map for a road that would put this car to the test.  The twistiest-turniest road I could find ran from Corvallis down to Waldport, just north of Yachats, right through the middle of Siuslaw National Forest.

Jackpot!

A plan began taking shape.

The Plan

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I am a planner by nature. I am constantly thinking through my game plan for the hours, days, weeks, months ahead. Preparing for any kind of travel plays into this tendency in ways both helpful and maddening. On the one hand, it’s good to have a clear vision of what I want to do and how I’m going to do it. On the other hand, I can drive myself a bit nutty worrying about all the little details and stressing out about making the “right” decisions. There is hand wringing and second guessing galore.

Am I sure this is really what I want to do? Am I sure that’s really where I want to go? How much money will this end up costing? When will I find time for stuff like laundry and grocery shopping? Long drives can be tiring. Will I have enough time to rest before going back to work on Monday?

These are the kinds of thoughts that wriggle their way into my brain.

And then there are all the what-ifs. Whenever I leave the house for a significant period of time – even if it’s just out and about here in town – I inevitably end up tossing what I call “contingency clothes” into the car.

What if it’s colder at The Coast than I’m expecting? Should I bring a warmer jacket? Maybe a sweater?

Warmer jacket and sweater get tossed in the car.

What if I decide to stop at one of the trailheads in Siuslaw and do some hiking? Should I bring some different shoes?

The odds of that happening are slim to none, but the possibility occurred to me, so hiking shoes get tossed in the car.

I know I’m gonna wanna walk on the beach somewhere. Should I bring a towel? Maybe flip-flops?

Okay, this one actually makes sense. I always make a point of walking on the beach at some point.  Having a towel to wipe off the sand before I get back in the car just makes sense. Plus, ya know, Douglas Adams. Towel goes in the car. (I later discovered that I forgot the flip-flops. There’s always one thing I forget.)

Anyway, by the time my head hit the pillow on Friday night, I had it all figured out. I woke up Saturday morning, had some breakfast, showered, and got dressed.  I threw my contingency clothes in the car, along with some granola bars and jerky for snacking. I had one stop to make before hitting the road.

The car was in need of a wash and I wanted it to look all sleek and shiny for this trip. A bit vain of me perhaps, but what the heck. A quick trip to the Washman Car Wash at NE 82nd and Glisan was in order. As the automated brushes did their work around me, I set the trip odometer and put one of my favorite playlists on shuffle.

I rolled out onto 82nd in my clean, shiny new car at 9:21 am and began the day’s adventure in earnest.

Marvel Movie Madness

 

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So right out of the gate, I’m gonna deviate from the introversion thing and take a minute to comment on the big movie event on so many people’s minds this week, mine included.

Despite their popularity and record-breaking box office numbers, I am aware that many people out there don’t give a shit about Marvel movies and are probably tired of hearing about them. I get that. There have been plenty of pop culture phenomena over the years that I have tuned out completely. (I haven’t seen a single episode of Lost or read a single Harry Potter book, and I don’t plan to do either. Fight me.) But I have to say, I have totally geeked out over the Marvel Cinematic Universe since its inception. As opening day of Avengers: Endgame approaches, let me see if I can summarize what impresses me about the MCU for those wondering what the big damn deal is.

It seems hard to believe now, but when Marvel Studios announced it was going to start making feature films, most people scoffed at the idea. They did not own the film rights to Marvel’s most popular characters.  Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four had all been sold off to other movie studios years ago. Iron Man was not a well-known character to non-comic book readers. Characters like Thor and Captain America were considered too hokey for today’s audiences. Not many people thought this was going to work.

And it might not have worked if Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. hadn’t nailed that first Iron Man movie. Perhaps the brightest thing in that movie, in terms of Marvel’s long term success, was the post credit scene featuring Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. That scene introduced the idea that these Marvel movies were going to be connected. They were going to take place in a shared universe. This was not only a bold move creatively, but a brilliant marketing ploy. People who might not have been that interested in seeing Thor or Captain America were willing to give those movies a try, knowing that they were pieces of a larger puzzle that would eventually lead to the Avengers.

And personally speaking, that is exactly what drew me in. I went to those early movies, because I was curious to see how this shared cinematic universe thing was going to work. I quickly got hooked.   Of course, some movies were better than others.  They got progressively better and more inventive with time. Throughout the experience though, I have been very impressed with how well Marvel has managed to juggle all the elements of the MCU and how nicely it all fits together.

(And before you say it, yes, I know there are continuity issues here and there. I know there are things about the timeline that don’t add up. Anybody who fixates on that stuff is just being a killjoy.)

Consider for a moment how many film studios have tried to create their own versions of what Marvel has done – some of them with far more famous characters to work with – and have failed.

Lucasfilm’s attempt to broaden Star Wars beyond the Skywalker saga has been met with mixed reviews at best. Warner Brothers’ DC Extended Universe was so ill-conceived that they’ve more or less abandoned it to focus more on individual movies. And The Dark Universe was…   a thing that Universal Studios tried to do with its monster movie franchises…   apparently. (Boy, did that one die fast!)

Avengers: Endgame will bring to a conclusion the broad story arc that began eleven years ago with Tony Stark getting captured in the desert. Twenty-two films have played a part in that larger story, while each telling an individual story of its own. No one has ever attempted anything like that before. The fact that the first studio to even try got it so right in so many ways is indeed an impressive feat. Whether you love it, hate it, or are indifferent to it, there is no question that the MCU is a unique accomplishment in cinematic history. And that’s worth a moment of recognition.  (Just in case the millions of dollars they’re about to make this weekend aren’t enough.)