Across the border / "On the Oregon of Species"

Trip Start Mar 22, 2012
Trip End Aug 06, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Oregon
Monday, April 16, 2012


Canada and the UK - I've found in the past three weeks that there's been many examples of (near) parallels between the two countries, which illustrate how although we're both English-speaking, 'Western' etc etc, there's certain aspects of this shared culture that we approach rather differently. Anything from pronunciation to advertisements, but for me and my tendency to spend all my money on tickets, one of the most interesting concerned late nights and strobe lights  - live music!

Back in the UK, nearly every gig I've been to in a medium-sized venue (I'd say that's anything from a few hundred to a couple of thousand?) has certain set rules. Don't get me wrong, I love the UK music scene and would never blaspheme against it, but this time, Canada wins. The venue was called the Commodore, and it was an old ballroom now converted into a venue for live music, although the basic layout was still the same - to the point a waitress comes around and takes drink orders, saving you from going to the bar - score! I think the capacity was near 1000, and even though it wasn't sold out, it was full enough that it seemed so. And here come the main differences - even though it was this full, there were no bouncers at the front ready to rip off your arms at the slightest misdemeanour; there was nearly always pot smoke in the air; the soundsystem was clearly being controlled by a member of Spinal Tap (up to 11, geddit?); and the headline band / Band of Skulls didn't come on till sometime between 10.30 - 11. Back home, even in a venue this size, it seems most bouncers would rather staple their balls to their forehead than let anyone within a metre of the stage. Most shows are finished by 10.30 - 11 and the sound never seems to be quite as loud as it should be. Smoking a joint isn't punishable by death (yet...), but they're defnitely not as liberal about it. I know there's probably many other background factors to all this, and most of the stuff is done for safety and convenience, but on the surface, a show like this every now and then is what it should be - raw, free and loud. Although the Canadians do share one approach with us - it seems that at any music venue across the world, one thing must remain constant - shite, expensive beer!


My last full day in Vancouver, and once again the sun had retreated, and the rain was pissing down. I didn't actually notice this until I had got up, got my stuff together and headed out the apartment, planning on going to Lighthouse Park in North Vancouver. I took a couple of steps into the rain, and my mind was made. I felt I'd done and seen enough in the past three weeks to not feel like I was 'wasting' a day by staying in, and walking around in the incessant drizzle wasn't how I wanted to remember my last 24 hours - as much as I was told that's the best representation of Vancouver weather!

Instead I spent the day playing guitar, reading and looking up stuff for the US. Stephen and Christine came around early evening as Matt was getting back from work, and we had a couple of drinks before heading out for some food as a 'bon voyage' from the three of them. We decided on a place a couple of block from Matt's - The Union - which had recently opened and they'd heard good things about. It was a sort of bar / restaurant serving an 'Asian fusion' menu, and so we enjoyed our noodles and Vietnamese pork whilst watching the first Canucks play-off game in the background - best of both worlds! After a last goodbye to Stephen and Christine - which for the record, I could've happily put off for a few more weeks if I didn't have other plans! - me and Matt watched the end of the hockey game, then I bedded down for my last in night in Canada. Thoroughly fed, watered and thinking about what an incredible 3 weeks it had been, I was well asleep before I could even start dreading my 4.45am wake-up. Ignorance is bliss, eh?


My train left Pacific Central in Vancouver at 6.40am, but apparently I had to be there at least 30 minutes prior to this. Luckily, it was only a few blocks away from Matt's, so he gave me a lift down. Bleary-eyed and barely awake, we said our farewells (which I also wish could've been delayed!), and then I headed for the departures. When they handed me the border declaration forms, I then understood why I had to be there 30 minutes in advance - combined with the tapering queue and customs, I'm surprised we left only 10 minutes later than scheduled. I had no hassle getting through, although they did take my fingerprints and eye scan. Although I had been told this was probably going to happen, it was still a little unnerving, knowing you're now in 'the system'...

The journey was a direct train from Vancouver to Portland, Oregon, passing through Seattle and also the entire state of Washington. Supposedly it was going to take just over 8 hours, although somehow we actually arrived early. We snaked out of Vancouver heading south, through suburbs and industrial estates, before edging towards to the coast. About an hour into the trip we reached the US border, where we stopped for about 20 minutes whilst 5 or 6 border guards came aboard to check forms and passports. There were apparently no issues. as we carried on with nothing but a bruised ego - as the last guard hopped off the train he made a quip about the previous night's hockey game (Vancouver lost to LA), recieving a volley of chuckles and snorts - the type of laughter that translates into English roughly as 'cheeky bastard!'. The rest of ride was spent meandering along the coastline through seaside resort towns and landscapes, interspersed by gliding through Seattle, before reaching Olympia and then curving inland for the remainder of the journey towards Portland. We arrived sometime between 2.30 - 3pm, and I knew Nick wasn't going to be here before about 5ish, so I took a seat in the waiting room and, err, waited... It was an interesting place to hang around for a couple of hours though, as the station bulidings were obviously made in the days of the railroad boom - meaning marble floors, tall ceilings and gilded, solid signs hanging over the archways, altogether emanating a cool, elegant atmosphere. I also got talking to a Kiwi guy named Brody, so in what seemed like no time an hour or more had drifted by. Nick must've got there about 5ish, and we loaded up his truck with my bags then made a break for the coast.

We got to Seaside late evening and pulled up outside Nick's humble abode, which he shares with his girlfriend Alli. They met in Colorado a couple or more years ago, then moved over to Oregon last year - not that you'd guess. From the front their place looks like a small, but very pleasant, beach house, with maybe an open-plan kitchen / living-room and a bedroom out the back. But the house has actually been extended on twice (prior to them living here), so it's like a Tardis. There's the old beach house part, then a big living room out the back, 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and with a decent sized yard - yet everywhere seems to have just the right amount of everything in it. No room feels cluttered, or too bare. It seems like a near-perfect equilibrium has been reached, or to me at least! Alli got back just after we did, so it was sweet to finally meet her and put a face to the name. We then filled the rest of the evening with beer and cards, and rum, which led to conversation spiralling on into the night. Many more to follow!


Nick & Alli both have early starts - Nick works as an arborist (tree surgeon) for a small local company, and Alli works at the bakery in one of the supermarkets in town - and so on Friday I was up in my own time. I spent the morning Skyping some of my dearly-missed faces from back home, which was sweet, and then I made for the beach.

Seaside is your classic seaside resort town (its officially a city, but with a population of less than 6,500, I'm going with the first option), and there's many features that you'd find in similar locations across the Western world. There's the main area of town, with a couple of dominant hotels and the requisite souvenir shops; dozens of aparement complexes and campgrounds to cater to the swell during the summer months; the sprawling amusement arcade; and then the endless, sandy beach, held at bay by the promenade. In this respect, it instantly makes me think of Barmouth. Yet where Barmouth - to me anyway - seems a little grotty and past its former glories, Seaside appears to have retained the coastal charm that has been drawing out the inland population since the early 20th century. Of course I'm going to say that as I'm a visitor here and not to Barmouth, but aside from that novelty aspect, once you leave the main area of town - 'Broadway' - you enter an idyllic, pastel-coloured world full of all sizes of wooden and timber beach houses. There's newer ones made of all materials, but a large amount of them look as if they've been here for decades, slowly being renovated and extended - like Nick & Alli's. Many have reclaimed pieces of driftwood arranged in the garden, or old fishing nets and buoys draped through the trees. This part of town has a chilled, 'let's-go-for-a-walk-on-the-beach-barefoot' vibe going on, and if the waves and swell were a little more choppy, I'm sure the already present surfer population would swiftly multiply.

Nick & Alli's place is only a street of two from the dunes, so I wandered down to the sands before heading north towards town and the inlet further on. The sun was playing hide-and-seek between the clouds, but the wind apparently wasn't invited as he came storming in off the waves. It was temperate enough to lay down on some weathered piece of driftwood for a while and doze under the bustling skies, after which I headed back down the beach and then the prom towards home. I got back pretty much the same time as the others, after which we soon headed out to a restaurant / burger joint in town for dinner. Burger maybe - but no pint. Its a mixture of feeling humbled, wanting to laugh and being a little pissed that greets me when I realise that I can't drink in bars or buy a beer for like a month! Though as I was to see in the shops, I could - if I so desired - buy handgun or shotgun ammunition. Each country to its own I guess!


Nick has the weekends off, but unfortunately Alli has to work most Saturdays, so today was time for Nick to take me for a drive before the three of us heading off together on Sunday. We left late morning and made our way inland a little, where we stopped off at a  waterfall and to see where Nick's based with his work. From there we headed up to Astoria, a nearby harbour town, and walked up the hilltop column which gave all-around views of the neighbouring coastline, and also depicted (through murals) the discovery and exploration of the area. We got a burrito for lunch, which we drove down to enjoy in the dunes. Nick then let me give his truck a spin (its a proper boy's toy - see picture!) through the sands and the mud, before coming back to Seaside to meet Alli as she finished work.

The sun was making a real effort to shine, so in the afternoon we put up a hammock and badminton net in the back yard (garden) and cracked open the first few beers. As we all had Sunday off, we then decided that BBQ, more beers and a beach fire sounded like a good way to spend the twilight hours. We grilled some steaks and some veg on the front deck, before gathering our jackets, flammable materials and rum and dragging it all to the tideline. Being just prior to the main season we were the only ones on the beach as far as we could see, with nothing but the low glow of the town behind us and the lapping, black waves beyond the sand. We drank, we talked, we sang, and then we were joined by a couple of their friends later into the evening - and we carried on with the same ritual. I think it was around midnight when we retraced out tracks across the dunes towards home, and it wasn't long after before we were flat out in our beds. A true day of West Coast living as far as I'm concerned! 


Sunday we rose gradually from a (minor) rum slumber, and then piled into Alli's 4x4 to go exploring down the coast. First they took me to the small town (again, technically a city...) around the headland to the south of Seaside, known as Cannon Beach. We took a walk across the sands towards the Haystack, a towering, gargantuan chunk of rock just out from the beach, and a local landmark of sorts. We drove on to one of the next coves for another wander, where a couple of waterfalls flow directly out of the trees and onto the beach. This was obviously a hot-spot for surfers, as they occupied nearly every spot on the pebbles and upper beach - sunbathing and tending to boards, grilling lunch and scouting the waves. From there I was treated to seeing Nick & Alli's secret spot, a stunning viewpoint sheltered among the trees just off from the highway, looking up and down the coast as well as out across the waters. To be honest, you could crash off the 101 Highway along this coast at any point, and aside from your overpowering terror of blood loss or broken limbs, you would most likely still have a magnificent view. You just can't get away from them here!


The two of them were back to work on Monday, and once I was up and realised the weather was shit I decided to get on dealing with the few threads that were still keeping me grounded in the real world - like student finance. By mid-afternoon I'd sorted most of that out and written up some blog, and was going to head out to the beach for some fresh air just as Nick & Alli got home. We ended up chilling at the house for a couple of hours, during which they told me we'd been invited round to a friend's house for dinner. We took a quick detour on the way there to see their home-grown beach shelter, before driving round to Eric & Cherise's. And man, I was in for a treat. Not just grilled steaks - grilled elk steaks! Nick was saying he's had tried elk a couple of times since he's been here (elk is like a big wild deer), and that although it is sold in the shops, usually if you get invited round to a friend's place it means they've either killed it themselves, or they've been given some of the meat by another friend who's done the same. So either way, it seems to add to the flavour knowing that (maybe) this fine slice of muscle and flesh was not reared in a restricted space, but was using its muscles to their full potential and tearing through the forest - well, until it was shot... Circle of life?

We worked off the excellent meal by taking a stroll down the beach (that's all I do on the West Coast - no complaints!), and then returning to theirs for dessert, which Alli had specifically made at work - and chocolate fudge cake is never unwelcome. All in all, a fine spread, and we came home and crashed feeling more than satisfied. No washing up as well - winner, winner chick... ELK dinner!


Due to only a minor job arising at work on Tuesday, Nick's boss gave him the choice of a day off, which he kindly accepted so he could take me touring again. We got up in decent time as the weather forecast had said the morning was meant to be better, and drove north again towards Astoria, stopping off for a breakfast bagel.  Nick had then planned a more energetic encounter - Frisbee Golf. Seems like all of a sudden I keep discovering new ways that people have utilised the apparent never-ending novelty and ingenuity of this simple plastic disc - Ultimate Frisbee in Vancouver, now golf down here. I guess they're popular all over the world, but for some reason I've never come into direct contact with them. But then again, not that it matters that much for basics - who doesn't know to throw a Frisbee?

Frisbee Golf is pretty self-explanatory. You have as many different types of disc as you like (we just had two each), but Nick said he's seen people in some places carrying what looks like a record case / bag, containing a whole range of discs for varying weight, distance and accuracy purposes - there's always one that turns a bit of fun into a competition, eh? There was nobody else there today, but for something that sounds like a made-up game, it's obviously established enough to warrant its own 'course'. It was on state parkland, and the course was a couple of fields, a creek and a patch of woodland pockmarked with 9 'holes'. The holes are actually little metal contraptions, with a central pole and then a surrounding bowl, and balloon-like structure of chains to stop the disc and drop it into the bowl. The rest of the rules are like golf, but obviously this isnt taken quite as seriously... We played a couple of rounds which was great fun, then stopped off on the way home to do some shopping. Fred Meyer is like their equivalent to Tesco, and this one was a Tesco mega-extra-super. It has groceries, homeware, electrics, clothes, garden store and jewellers. Oh, and guns, obviously. Doritos - beep! Loaf of bread - beep! 12-bore shotgun - beep! I know you have to have all the checks and licenses etc, but still, seeing real rifles and handguns on sale in aisle next toy swords and BB guns is a little bit fucked in my eyes!

Its now about 5ish and we're chilling at the house, they're making spaghetti for dinner so life is good. Got a couple of days to explore some more by myself then we're taking a little road-trip / camping trip this extended weekend. Back on Sunday then off to San Francisco for a few days on Tuesday! Hope you're all well and having some good weather, and that your interest levels are still present! Peace & love xxxxxxxxx
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