West Coast wanderings

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

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Flag of United States  , Oregon
Monday, April 23, 2012


A couple of months ago, if someone were to ask to me how I would envisage a rainforest, I'd go for the usual - Amazonia, humid, full of exotic and deadly beings - a world away from anywhere, with no parallels anywhere else on the planet.  I'm sure some of you geography kids out there wouldn't have fallen into this trap, but I'm guessing the vast majority would have been in the same boat as me. A shame - cos its the wrong boat.

The Pacific Northwest - a widely used and general term for the area of land (and many other aspects) stretching all the way from Alaska to Northern California. Within this tapering region of North America lies - according to the WWF - the largest temperate rainforest in the world. I suppose if somewhere is a forest, and it rains in this forest, then why can't it be a rainforest? It may not be as tropical and mythical as the popular image of the jungle variety of rainforest, but it has just as much of an extraordinarily complex ecosystem, which in turn produces an awesome atmosphere to behold. Without trailing through Wikipedia for dozens of details and making your eyes want to jump out the back of your head, here is a very, very basic summary of a temperate rainforest - its a forest, in the temperate zone (anywhere between the tropics and the poles), where it rains. A lot. These occur all over the world - UK woodlands are even considered temperate rainforests, I think? - so it's not as if its something rare. But when the largest one on the planet is on your doorstep for a month or so, it'd be rude not to take a dive.

Although I guess I'd been into the forest a couple of times in Canada, this time it seemed to really be the epitome of what you'd expect. I set off about 9am from the house in Seaside, and walked a couple of miles or so up to the trailhead, which began just above the Cove, at the south end of the town. As the day was still breaking, the weather had yet to decide what to wear. I got to the trailhead in the overcast gloom, which by then the skies had decided it was time for a morning piss. But in hindsight, this is what made the trail so striking. Said walk was the Tillamook Trail, and 6ish mile ascent-descent over the headland of the same name, from Seaside to Indian Beach, a couple of miles north of Cannon Beach. The highest point was about 900ft, so the first hour or so was pretty steep zig-zagging paths, navigating mud baths and fallen trees. To some of you, it may seem puzzling that I'd choose this kind of activity as something enjoyable - but I'm sure that if any one of you took a walk though those old, old trees, with nothing but the patter of rain on the greenest of leaves and the squelch of your boots through the mud, you'd love it. It's time out, away from everything, and it gives you space to think, to breathe, and to sing as loud and as terribly as you desire. Then, as the skies finish their morning piss and open the curtains, the distant gloom becomes a warming blue; the sun filters down between the dripping branches, creating rays of hazy colours; and as you start getting those hippy vibes, the birds begin to sing. The forest is alive, and it makes you feel just as fresh.

Obviously this is all in a dash of young nostalgia - I wasn't standing in the one place for hours gawping at the skies, as much as that would have been fun. The remainder of the trail took me past a hikers camp near the top of the head, then on a descent down towards Indian Beach, with views out to Tillamook Lighthouse and the coastline to the south. I gave Nick a call when I got down there, and sat on the beach to wait. It had been a mystical, tranquil and sweaty 5 hours, yet this was only the beginning - a whole weekend of natural beauty and embracing the inner hippy was just around the corner. Start as you mean to go on!


As I've mentioned previously, Nick & Alli both work all week, so when they get time off they like to make the most of it. It seems the great outdoors is a stone's throw from so many places on this continent, and they both love getting out in the open. With me along for the ride, three's a crowd, and so we packed up Alli's 4x4 on Thursday afternoon and set our sights south. Alli had been doing some looking around online and had found a place inland, a little east of Eugene. It was a reservoir named Cougar Lake, and just next to the campsite there were some thermal hot springs. Seemed like an ideal destination for a weekend away, the weather forecast was looking up, and so we hit the road - in the pouring rain.

Due to Cougar Lake being a good few hours drive away, and the fact we were leaving late afternoon / evening, we knew we were going to have to stop somewhere along the coast to either camp or get a cheap room for the night. The latter was looking like a more perferable option, as the skies showed no sign of an empty bladder, and the thought of starting a weekend wet and cold wasn't so appealing. A couple of hours down the coast we decided to see if any of the state campsites had a hut or a yurt we could hire for the night, which would be cheaper than a room and better then the rain. We turned off the road towards a campsite named Lake Hebo, perched on the mountain / hill of the same name. We got up there to find a rain drenched campsite, but with a little oasis at it's centre - not the lake, but a covered eating area / shelter, with a stone fireplace. We decided that by the time we'd driven back down the road, searched for another campsite and then set-up, it would be dark, so we decided to pitch-up and face the rain.

State campsites are located across the entire US, and although owned by the state, are usually maintained by 'hosts', a person or couple that will live onsite in an RV or trailer. They are in charge of general upkeep as well as keeping an eye on things, in return for living on the grounds for free. These are pretty basic campsites, with spaces to pitch, fire pits, compost toilets and maybe a shelter or cooking area - but to be honest, if you're camping, what else do you need? It's also a very decent price - they charge by car per night, so for the three of us to camp it was $12 / $4 each, which is about 3.50 each. Not bad!

We ended up putting up the tent undercover of the shelter, then moving it out into the rain. The two of them managed to get a fire going, despite all the damp, even if we had to keep fanning it with a bin lid all night to keep it alight! We cooked some sausages, drank some beer, had a little rum and then made a consequent decision - there were no hosts on this site as the season was only just beginning, and it was still raining heavily. So - the tent came and joined us under the shelter. It was almost comical, this brightly coloured collection of canvas underneath this sodden shelter, in the middle of a soaking forest. But man, was it worth it! It was still raining the next morning, and if we'd been out in the rain, it wouldn't have been a lot wetter, colder and more miserable. Instead, we turned a shit night into a laugh - and from there, the weather could only get better. And get better it did!


We were up bri... well, it wasn't bright and early, cos the weather was still shite - but we were up early, and that's the important part. We had a quick breakfast before packing everything up and getting back on the road. For the rest of the morning we continued down Highway 101, which begins in Washington State to the north and hugs the coast all the way down to California. Although its not the quickest of routes if you were in a hurry, it's definitely a stunning drive - hence it being designated as a 'scenic highway'. Not that this was of much relevance to us that morning, as we were swathed in sea mist and rain clouds, and coudn't even see the ocean from the road. It must have been early afternoon by the time we finally broke through the grizzle and those beautiful patches of blue began to appear, by which time we were way inland. Like dusting dirt off an ancient masterpiece, the clouds slowly drifted away or were left behind, until all that was left in front of us was pure, azure sky. Having gone through all that rain, it tasted even sweeter, and as those first rays from the warm, warm sun begin to bake your skin, you just want to dance. The weekend has landed!

We got to Slide Creek campsite around maybe 2ish, although we weren't 100% sure if it was officially open. Like I said, the season was still on the cusp of breaking, and altough there was no physical barrier preventing us from entering the site, the toilets were locked and there was no sign of anyone else. But there were fee envelopes, so we figured that as long as we paid, no harm was being done. So when after setting up our tents et al, we heard the noise of a truck coming our way, it was a moment of 'let's hope we don't have to pack that all up again'. Turned out the guy was coming to tell us he'd just fixed the water pump, unlocked the loos and hoped that we had a great weekend. I think the first beer may have been an unspoken toast to his actions!

Seeing as it was such a gorgeous evening, we made our way up to the hot springs, which were the other side of the reservoir to us, back down the road we'd came. We parked up and found out it was actaully $6 a head, not per car - but still, that's cheap. After paying the perky couple that were acting as the attendants / ticket booth / information desk from a garden shed at the trailhead, we walked about 10 minutes up through the trees. The trail came to a small collection of little wooden buildings, which turned out to be a couple of toilets and a basic changing room. And there, just below the changing shed, was the spring. Although the spring itself was flowing naturally out of a small opening in the rock, at some point in time a decent amount of work had obviously gone into constructing the pools which it was to fill. It was done well though, using a minimal amount of outside materials, and allowing the natural rock shapes to act as seats. There were probably four or five main pools set out like descending steps, no more than a couple of metres across and getting cooler the further down you sat. We spent a very amicable hour or so lounging in the water, yet made a little strange by one guy who was obviously very comfortable in his own skin - quite literally - as the springs were clothing optional. Combined with the fact that they weren't exactly big, having a borderline exhibitionist gyrating, making peculiar purring / growling noises and repeatedly slapping his wet shirt around his neck definitely made for an interesting dynamic... But hey - as long as he's not offending anyone and he's happy, why does it matter? Different folks, different strokes.

We were back at the campsite before dusk, where we then cooked some incredible chicken wings Nick had prepared, had a few drinks, and spent the rest of the night enjoying a fire we didn't have to pump our arms off to keep alight. Compared to the pouring rain the previous night, we instead went to bed under starry skies, with no sound but waterfall on the lake trickling into our dreams. 


After two days of travelling to reach the lake, Saturday was to be the day of blue skies and beers, sunbathing and siestas. I woke pretty early with the first sign of light, and instead of going back to bed decided to go and sit down on the shore and watch the sun rise over the ridge, which was sweet. We took a morning drive to the nearest store, as we needed more ice for the coolers (and more beer), and so we thought we might as well explore for a while before heading back to the lake to catch the midday sun. We hunted for some waterfalls that were in the area somewhere, but the road to one was closed and we had no luck with the other. Instead of whiling away time in the car when we could be by the lake, we decided that waterfalls could wait, whilst picnics and cold beers could not. 

Aside from writing day-by-day, I try not to make this blog too chronological - 'We got up, we had food, we did a walk, we went to bed etc' - and instead add in some personal insight, local history or background knowledge. But for Saturday afternoon, even if I wanted to, I don't think I could do so. I probably should, but at the moment I don't have a watch, and my phone stays in my bag or at home. I only worry about the date if I have a plane to catch or a Skype session, and instead have started to work by an easier method of time management and planning - yesterday, today, and tomorrow. So on Saturday afternoon as we sat by the lake, time did its own thing, while we did ours. We ate, we drank, we swam, and we baked along with the baking ground. It was probably sometime late afternoon / early evening when we returned to the shelter of the the towering trees, where we played cards and dice, and drank more beer, before the two of them cooked up a delicious meal of steak, potatoes, onion and salad. Dusk and then night settled lazily around us, as we played more, then turned to the fire to watch the sparks fly. Without sounding too philosophical, it was supposedly a day of doing nothing - but sometimes, that's everything. To have a day where the skies are clear and the thermometer shows 27C; a day where time guides but does not lead; and a day with fine food and even better company - each aspect can be planned as meticulously as you like, but it is a rare occasion where all three come together, without coercion, to form that fabled moment - a natural, pure, beautiful day.


Even though the weather was still magnificent, the real world was calling, and so by about 9ish we were packed and on our way. Even after two days of weather like that, there was still nobody else at the site as we left, which is how it had been all weekend. Yet the benefit of driving home in this weather was that now I would be able to see all the coastal scenery in its full and dramatic glory. We actually took a slightly different inland route than on the way down, going back to Eugene but then up to Salem, before heading out to the coast and Highway 101. This meant we cut off some travel time, but still got to see much of the coast. 

Although at times it's frustrating being stuck in a car on a sunny day, after a weekend like we'd just had it was sweet to be able to lay back, kick-off the flip-flops, and watch the world go by. I sat in the back on the way home feeling very mellowed and content, still being able to drink in the landscape and the weather yet not feeling like I was missing out - I'd had a good dose. But I had room for one more, as we stopped off at a small pitch & putt course in Tillamook. It was great fun, essentially an 18-hole mini-golf, but with real greens and sand bunkers etc instead of the tacky shite you usually encounter at such enterprises. It was our last stop before getting home, and it was an ideal way to soften the blow of the weekend finally being over. We got back late afternoon, unpacked, and then really did just chill. There was dinner, TV, and then the savouring of the last few moments of a beautiful weekend, before bed and the week ahead began calling. 


Yet again, I've had a very low-key Monday, booking things for the week ahead and writing up this linguistic love child. I'm getting a bus over to Portland tonight, so I can be at the airport in time for my 10am flight down to San Francisco (California baby!), where I'm staying for a few days before coming back to Oregon on the weekend. Hope everyone is good and well, and I think some Skyping might be in order this time next week... Peace & love xxxxxxxx

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