Sorry to be so late with this folks, I have a small problem with mental blocks. Sometimes when I get into my head to do something, my subconscious develops an even stronger urge and need NOT to do it. It is the same unexplainable force that has both keeps me from dying my hair that beautiful shade of orange that I’ve wanted since seeing the 5th Element and that has totally destroyed my credit rating.
Regardless, here it is now: My Labor Day Weekend Road Trip With My BFFF, Sunshine.
This picture was taken on highway 101, perhaps the most amazing piece of road ever created by man. It stretches north and west out from the city of San Francisco like a crow’s foot wrinkle on the eye of part time actress that never made it in L.A. and headed to NoCal to try and blunt out the bitterness with all that dank bud.
I’d met up with my partner in crime, Sunshine, at her and her husband’s house in Los Gatos, CA a day and half earlier. In the past I’d always aspired to road trip alone. Even the most amazing of people can begin to grate on your nerves if you spend twelve hours a day confined in an aluminum coffin, racing across country side. I knew Sunshine would be a perfect navigator, and I say navigator because I would be trying my best to get her out of the driving seat. She has a black hole foot, which is the only material I can think of off the top of my head that is both heavier and denser than lead.
Sunshine and I met around six years ago while previewing bands for the wedding of mutual friends. We quickly became close. Her being among the only select women in New York unafraid to tell me what a jackass I can be, all the time, and myself a regular Joe who appreciated the company of a six foot, leggy blonde with and even leggier personality. As I skated along from one doomed relationship to another, all increasingly inane, she was the constant voice of, “I told you so.” How can you not want that around?
After her marriage last year to one of my favorite guys on the planet moved her across the country, we both went through serious withdrawal. Somehow whining about needy women doesn’t translate over IM, who knew. Fortunately, her husband was willing to part with her for a weekend and our trip was set.
We would experience the Pacific Northwest on a shoestring budget of both time and money. No plans, just road. Just the way I like it.
We left Los Gatos and sped through San Francisco, over the Golden Gate and up the through the hills. There’s a moment, as you come over the last crest and see the Pacific for the first time that you realize that this road, so perfectly named as an introduction, route 101, is the perfect place to start anything. The tightly pitched curves force you to slow down and notice your surroundings. Each hill and turn offers a different view of the same perfect body of water. Fog collects in the dips and bends like lint in God’s pockets. Windows down. Sunroof back. Breathe.
After a while, the ascents and drops around impossibly beautiful bluffs and cliffs became a meditation replete with Yogic breathing. A deep inhale as we crested another vista, an exhale in expletive as we greeted the ocean again, “Holy Shit,” “Motherfucking WOW.”
We made our first stop at a coast bound eatery name Nick’s.
I did a little dance.
We ate bacon burgers topped with crumbly local Bleu cheese and washed it down with a glass of white wine. I would have feared we’d slip into food coma were it not for the excitement that the beginning of our adventure was generating. We were slated to spend the night in a cabin owned by Sunshine’s uncle in Mendocino. We figured we could make it there for sunset. We were right.
If you’ve never been to Mendocino, go there. Now. Or, get stoned and go to Martha’s Vinyard. The buildings are the same and you could trick yourself into thinking you’re on the West Coast if you smoke enough.
We sat on a bench and watched the sun go down. I wanted to play something Peter Gabriel-ish, you know, something very “up with the world, let’s preserve it!” There is something unquantifiable in seeing the sun set over the ocean. Something we miss here on the East coast. For us, we see the sun come up over the ocean, it defines our day as coming out of the void, allowing us to make something new every day. Out there… well your day ends in the ocean, you were given land at the start, you were given foundations and things already made. Seeing the day end over such a vast, uncontrollable expanse sets you at ease. It allows you to realize what you can and cannot change. I think this is why people out there have the reputation for easy going natures.
Once the sun went down we headed into town and towards the closest bar. Our friendship has and always will be based on and around the consumption of alcoholic beverages in mass quantities. Sunny drinking her Vodka Cranberry and me drinking whatever swill is closest to my hand. We settled into the local bar and began drinking in earnest.
We met the first of many travel friends. A pair of brothers down from Alaska, heading towards San Francisco, on what I can assume was the longest coke run I’ve ever heard of. One of them was on leave from a tour in Iraq. A soldier home for two weeks from combat and he’s looking for blow in the gayest city on the planet. Kind of says it all about the state of the war, doesn’t it?
This was taken after a string of funny events. I’d been bitching all day about my hair, how it was getting unmanageable and annoying. As we were standing around outside, warming our fingers on a pair of cigarettes, a squat little NoCal cougar came out and said that she absolutely loved my hair. AND my ass.
Seriously. You’ve got a great ass and a great head of hair. What a bizarre but amazingly satisfying set of compliments. Look at how smugly content I look. LOOK.
In honor of that kind lady we made plans to head to Cougar, Washington. Then we kept on drinking and passed the fuck out. Day one down and almost out of California.’
I was still on Eastern Standard Time and was up with the sun. Sunny on the other hand is notoriously hard to wake up. Pillows thrown, mattress jumped on and loud noises made were the orders of the morning. We grabbed some coffee and tea at one of those annoying BoBo coffee houses that didn’t die when grunge went under and had become some sort of community center for homeless hitchhikers.
We headed off towards the coastal road and up into the northern reaches of California.
I could bore you with flowery language about the millions of times we stopped and stared at the beaches and Goonies rocks all along our route, but words will not do them justice. The entire distance was strung with beauty.
However, the spot we stopped for lunch was beyond words.
Trinidad. A natural harbor overshadowed by a massive tidal rock nestled between looming cliffs peppered by homes. Year round homes. People wake up every single day and this is the first thing they see. I wondered if the beauty becomes commonplace over the years… like how those of us in New York soon forget about the majesty of the sky scrapers and only see them as big hulking blobs of steel that block the sun’s heat and channel the wind. Is it possible to become so comfortable that you forget that almost nowhere in the world is as amazing as this place?
Fortunately we were soon to be reminded of what a normal town looks like. We were headed to Coos Bay, Oregon.
But first, a glamour shot:
Here we are sitting at one of the 4.5 million scenic view points along 101. Immediately after this we grabbed dinner at tiny fish and chips shack in the middle of a boat parking lot in Port Orford. By dinner I of course mean a magnum of the cheapest white wine known to man. Then it was off to sunny and gorgeous Coos Bay.
Ok, it was actually overcast and fairly ugly.
Coos Bay is one of those drive through towns that inspires pity for the residents. Burned out and empty factories, slummy motels, more strip clubs than churches and more fast food joints than libraries by a margin of twenty to zero.
But the motel had a POOL! Which we shared with a redneck family having a combined tooth count of under a hundred. Two uncles, a mom and two little girls all wearing tee shirts in the pool. What is that all about?
Refreshed and achingly sober, Sunshine and I headed out into the night to grab a few drinks at the front desk suggested sports bar only a few blocks away.
Living in New York you forget just how cheap it is to drink in other parts of the country. If booze were as cheap here as it is in Coos Bay, I’d be a slightly more raging alcoholic. I put down my credit card and we powered through close to ten rounds of hard liquor all the while buying shots for a few of our new friends. The bill was under sixty dollars. With tip. How is that possible?
Anyway, here’s the first guy we met that night, Travis:
Travis was the bar’s short order cook. He opened up the grill again just so we could have mozzarella sticks. This of course made Sunny excruciatingly happy and he became our new best friend. He was only 24 but had a ton of hard life experience. Odd jobs that he couldn’t keep because he ends up hating everyone he works with. The kind of humorously unaware self loathing that drives you to hate your home town for apparently no reason.
He told us one story about him being with a moving company and having to drive to Atlanta. When Travis was down there he was, and I quote, “Totally amazed at how many black people lived there.”
He then when on to say, “It was so bizarre, it was like… like I was the minority. I felt like everyone was watching everything I did. The other driver and I got lost walking around and started feeling very afraid for our lives.”
The ironic and enlightening features of this quote notwithstanding, I laughed and said he was a trooper for making such a perilous journey. Though I wonder if I should have said that his experience better equipped him to sympathize with tribulations of ethnic minorities around the world, or would that have been too many syllables?
Before long we’d moved on to bar games and I did my best not to entirely suck at pool. Though when I didn’t suck for a few games in a row, the drunk midget townie implored me to arm wrestle him, where he roundly beat me (it wasn’t even close) much to the cheers of all onlookers. Even Sunshine said, “Hey, at least you’ve got nice hair and a great ass.”
By that time she’d made a few dozen more friends, all male of course, as anyone with a set of balls on them and a pint or two in their blood stream is drawn to Sunny like a fat junebug towards a big blonde bug zapper.
We decided to keep one of them, a local kid named Chris and his girlfriend, April.
We traded stories about small town childhoods, getting out of town and our cross country travels. When the bar was starting to close down, he suggested we head off to the local karaoke joint.
The karaoke joint he took us too, as far as I could tell, was located in the Coos Bay town hall building and was completely illegal. It was one in the morning and packed to the vents with drunken rednecks belting out country ballads and honky-tonk hits. Sunshine and Chris traded hats, her slouch cabbie hat for his black, probably skater logo emblazoned, but possibly slightly racist, baseball hat.
We were completely sauced. Chris jokingly called some guy’s singing gay and it nearly started an uprising. All of his friends, his wife and the town bike, a plump little tart named Amanda, came up to us in succession to vouch for his heterosexuality. Never mind that Amanda had overheard Sunny talking about the song, “I Kissed A Girl” and made a bee line to us to let us know that she likes hooking up with girls.
More beers down, zero songs sung and an hour later we stumbled out of there with promises to hang next time we were in Coos Bay. We made our way back to the motel and crashed. Hard.
Why do these sheets make so much noise?!
The hangover was brutal.
It was almost noon.
Sunshine was sick.
We needed to get on the road.
The Continential Breakfast was definitely only Provincial.
Day three started off rough. Very rough. We were in pain and we needed to move. Slowly but surely the room was cleared, our things packed, well all of our things except for one of Sunshine’s bags, which we would have to come all the way back for two days later.
People talk a lot about not driving drunk, but no one ever scolds against the dangers of driving hung the fuck over. Like, seriously, man. I was chain smoking Camel Lights and sucking down Red Bull and water like it was… water. Brutal morning. Absolutely brutal.
But since we knew that we’d be taking a lot of pictures, we cleaned up and put on smiles.
I call that one, “Morning Wood.” Clever, ain’t I?
More coast, more perfect beauty all over the place and it was lost on us because we’d drunk enough to kill an entire family of Germans, my future family of Germans, to be precise.
By lunch we pulled into Depoe Bay, OR.
Apparently it’s the whale watching capital of the world. Bullshit. We sat for about two hours at a fancy little restaurant overlooking the ocean and I didn’t see one fucking Willy tail. Who decided they get to call themselves the Capital? I saw more whales in Coos Bay, ifyaknowwhatimean.
Feeling the grips of food coma and the hangover madness closing in around us, we made a bee line for Cougar, WA. That meant driving straight through Portland and into the forests surrounding Mount St. Helens. This took about five or six hours. We took zero photographs.
Just this one:
This was the motel we stayed at in Cougar. We came, we saw, we fell asleep by ten. Jesus we’re lame. I remember passing out to something like Law and Order: SVU. I dreamed about being bad-touched by a woman priest played by that hot brunette they’ve got on there. So it wasn’t really bad touch… I don’t know.
It was jarring to walk outside into the chilly morning air and realize just how different this world we’d stumbled into was from the seaside views and vistas we’d been enjoying for two days. In just a few short hours we had left Oregon and wound up in the shadow of Mt. Saint Helens. Our morning drive would be spent drooling over mountainside lakes and massive pine tree covered slopes.
As we snaked up towards the great dead volcano the weather turned cold. Snow was falling as we reached the highest points. My now ridiculous fear of getting sunburned was replaced by layers of cotton against the sleet and chill.
We never made it to the top, clouds and fog obscured even a view of the once dangerous peak. Reluctantly satisfied we decided to head south again, towards Oregon. Back to Coos Bay, the scene of the crime, to pick up Sunshine’s forgotten bag of… and this is true, hair stuff. Okay, there was other important stuff in there, but all I remember her mentioning was her comb.
We spent the next few hours making up serious time. We hopped on a few major roads to speed our way towards Coos Bay. West Central Oregon is amazing, full of lush rivers, the Umpqua, for example, where you can imagine children learning to fly fish next to fathers on their days off. Massive fields and valleys tucked between rolling hills and demi-mountains.
As we neared Reedsport I yanked the car across a lane of oncoming traffic and skidded to a stop screaming:
For some inexplicable reason I never consider a road trip a success until I’ve seen some sort of wildlife. It’s inexplicable because you generally don’t want to see any wildlife when you’re behind the wheel. Wildlife when you’re behind the wheel either means roadkill or a wrecked car. But that’s my rule.
I’ve also never seen an elk up close and personal before. They’re basically deer, only bigger, furrier and more awesome. If you look closely at the picture you can see that those two elk are butting heads. We watched two elk butt heads! It sounded like someone slapping together two of those carpeted boxes that you might sit on in a community theater class, the type of class where seating is seen as something representative of the outside world and detrimental to the neutral studio space needed for an effective community theater class.
The sunset was fast approaching and we’d spent almost the entire day speeding towards Coos Bay, which we reached just as night came. Sunshine’s bag was retrieved in short order and we spent about five minutes tossing around the idea of getting in touch with our local friends.
No thanks. Places to see and miles to drive and we definitely couldn’t handle another night like that. We hit the road like it called our mom a hooker and took the fuck off. Eventually we found a sleepy town with a still open grocery store, picked up some snacks, got a room and pigged out to the soothing sounds of basic cable.
I awoke with one thing and one thing only on my mind.
Situated in southern Oregon, this natural wonder would be our highlight of the day, but I’ll get to that later. First we had a couple hundred miles to drive, and breakfast, don’t ever forget breakfast.
I think sometimes that I only really got into taking these trips so that I could travel to more smoking friendly states simply for the simple pleasure of lighting up a cigarette immediately after finishing off a lumberjack special, just the way I used to when I was a wee little boy. None of this, “oh, I’ve got to have a smoke, I’ll be right back,” bullshit. No, a great breakfast needs a smoke right away. Pound that coffee, light up and the waitress comes right over with a hot pot to make sure you enjoy it and start your day off right. Our nation was built on that tradition. You think the great cities of America were built on limp wristed pantywaists sipping green tea and flipping to the gossip section before heading to their work site? Fuck no. It was two eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns, two cups of coffee and a cigarette. Unfiltered.
Unfortunately, Oregon doesn’t allow smoking indoors, so so much for that. But the diner we ate at DID have 24 hour Keno, so at least that’s something.
We headed East, hard and fast towards route 138, the North Umpqua highway. This lush, rain fattened river snaked next to our road for what seemed like days as we headed ever upward towards our destination. This was camper territory and we often got stuck behind mammoth RV’s and their trailers. After we began seeing turn offs for waterfalls, we realized we might be missing something amazing.
That’s when we stopped at a sign for Watson Falls. As soon as we pulled into the parking area I began my best Arsenio impression, “Now you may recognize him as Officer Joe from the “What’s Goin’ Down” episode of “That’s My Mama.” Give it up, for Jackson Height’s own… Mr. Randy.. WATSON!”
I may have done that six or seven times.
Watson Falls is located about seven billion feet up a ten million mile trail. Okay, so it probably wasn’t that long, but it definitely felt like it. All those America-building cigarette breakfasts do not make for a very cardio friendly body.
So here we are taking a break:
But man was it worth it. The waterfall itself comes careening out of a lip several hundred feet up and plummets into a lush, moss filled basin. All around is this new moist life and behind is a view for miles of the places we’d been.
Fortunately, the walk down the hill was much easier, and I’d regained enough energy to work a gas pedal. We were only an hour away from something I’d been looking forward to seeing ever since I spent a few months in bed with a broken hip and read every single one of my parents’ National Geographic collection.
Crater fucking LAKE. Look at that shit. A couple thousand years ago it was a bad ass volcano that just up and blew the fuck up. Like Peter North style, all over the face of southern Oregon. What was left was also similar to a guy, post orgasm: An empty shell, willing to accept anything. In this case it was snow melt and rain water, which accumulated over the many eon into a lake the color of Drano.
See that mini-mountain in the middle? That’s called Wizard’s Island. I talked to Sunshine for twelve hours about how I was going to build a wizard’s tower on Wizard’s Island and how I would name it Davethanc and have goblins and shit in there.
I think she stopped listening to me at, “I’m going to-”
This is us after we climbed over a fence and out on a precipice five hundred feet above the lake. We passed a sign that said, “falling may cause injury or death.” No shit. Thanks for the sign, dickwad.
We spent a few hours just gazing at this, literally the high point of our trip, several thousand feet above the sea level we’d been cruising just a few days before. Sights like Crater Lake are the real reason I road trip across the United States. Places like this exist here, at home. Wonders of nature so amazing that they must be experienced, seen in person, to be believed in.
After having had our fill, we began the final leg of our trip. Back into California, a small stop in a small town to get stoned and watch Pineapple Express, which was awesome, and then a munchies filled night rehashing our adventures from the sides of our beds.
We arrived at San Jose airport early the next morning, with plenty of time. Time enough to hug and kiss and wish we had weeks more to explore other places. But we had lives to get back to. Sunshine had her impossibly cute town and impossibly awesome husband. I had a job to return to to quit. None of these things involved megalithic sights or coastal drives or nights getting drunk with townies. These things are too beautiful to make into a real life, they need to be driven through and remembered in the blur that your speed caused them to be seen in.