USA Road trip-On we go in Oregon
Some general and not so general observations about our six month trip up to now.
Decisions and time come into the equation on a daily basis and so many factors make it difficult to decide what to do today. Will we travel inland to Portland or go up the coast to Seattle; will we stay an extra night at Sunset Bay or move on knowing full well that we have hardly touched sides in the Coos Bay area? And so it goes, not always agreeing but decisions have to be made often on the spur of the moment; will we turn off to another view point or fruit stall or press on to find a camping spot? In the last two State Parks, we literally got the last camp spot – but then if the worst comes to the worst we can always rough it at Motel 6 or the Best Western!
It is Sunday night at 10pm in the campsite (the last one available), I am meditating on the events of the day. Audrey has showered and turned in and so I enjoy a cup of coffee with the starry night sky bright above-obviously a different one to the one we see in the southern hemisphere. A couple of satellites blink their lonely path across the sky and now a plane moves also, with flashing lights, towards Portland in an N/W direction, visible but not heard. The camp is largely silent with an occasional cry from a child perhaps having a bad dream and calling out for reassurance in this strange environment. The sea waves breaking on the shore are a mere whisper and the local lighthouse gives its particular fog horn cry to give directions to the many fishermen who ply their trade along the Pacific Coastline.
Since arriving on the Western Coast we have heard a fog horn every night from our campsites- fog being a part of the environment- just like the many black crows that screech out their harsh call as they compete for scraps in the camp sites, especially in the early morning – but now are silent. The Sea Lions and California Seals that live on the rocky outcrops call out periodically and in the city of Newport some miles away, you can occasionally hear the distant wailing of a patrol car siren as another offender is pulled over, reminding one of the highway that is never far away and the efficient law system.
I chuckle quietly as I remember how Audrey and I battled to put up the tent earlier in the evening when the wind, that has now died down completely, was still gusting strongly. The trouble with our tent is that it is large enough for our two blowup mattresses and deck chairs and camp table to fit in. As we assemble this shelter made up of light weight poles and parachute material it begins to think that it can become a hot air balloon and take us with on a journey. While I am hanging on for dear life Audrey is looking for anything with weight to ballast it down, our suitcase doing the job quite nicely once she has thrown it into the hot balloon wannabee.
That reminds me that it was at our previous camp site at Sunset Beach in Charleston where the first successful hot air balloon crossing of the USA, by Malcolm Forbs of New York, started on the 4 October 1973 and finished in Virginia on 5 November of the same year. I can imagine the headlines in the Oregon News for September 2, 2009.’ELDRELY COUPLE FROM SOUTH AFRICA COMPLETE FIRST TENT FLIGHT FROM SUNSET BEACH, OREGON TO LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA IN RECORD TIME!’
After successfully mooring our hot air balloon, I mean tent, near our paid for camp site at South Beach, we found that it was now strategically placed half way up a sand dune, making a good take off point for a hang glider, but not great for sleeping. So we loosened the moorings and dragged our reluctant tent down to level ground where it resumed its status that it was actually designed and constructed for as a tent!
With our long trip and somewhat limited funds it is obviously important to make every penny/dollar/rand count and so we have discovered some money saving strategies. Wood at the camp grounds sell at $5 for a bundle and if you add that to the cost of two pieces of steak $12 and the bread/salad stuff it becomes quite an expensive meal, in fact we can do much better at a salad bar/buffet. We also cannot help converting those $5 into rands and then wood, at R40 a shot, somehow seems a bit expensive and specially in a country where we have just travelled 3000 miles through forest after forest- in fact nonstop forest! In most forest areas they thin out the smaller trees and then burn them to make forest fires less of a problem. Anyway most people use about 60-70% of their bundle and then pour water over the coals once they have finished braaing. If you get to a campsite early enough, you can usually gather enough wood from surrounding unoccupied camp sites to save R40 on your evening meal.
The trouble with this theory is that while we vowed to get to campsites early in the afternoon we have found that this is actually impossible! Once you have packed up by 9.00 at the earliest, travelled even a short distance (50-150miles) and stopped at every view site, visitors centre, historical marker, little or big town, shopped to buy bread, ice and fruit, the afternoon is fast receding into early evening and there is now no suitable camp site for at least the next 50-100 miles, often on a side road to the one we are travelling. When I then, in desperation, go out to look for wood with Audrey’s headlight on (so my hands are free) all the campsites are selfishly taken and yesterdays wood has been added to today’s bundle and is burning happily for someone else who doesn’t really care about our plight or the price.
Today however, we discovered a great way to save a few important $’s. Matilda has been getting rather grubby since her last wash at the Mitchell’s and this morning I gave her a bucket bath in the camp ground before most other campers were up. She still did not look too good and so when we got to Cascade Locks on the Columbia River in the Columbia Gorge area, we noticed that the sprinklers were not only watering the beautiful green lawn but also some of the parking area. All the locals, in spite of being in a supposed recession, missed this opportunity to get a free car wash by leaving this area open. While we spent an hour or so at the beach and small boat harbor and information centre for this area, Matilda got a good rinse. I did have to turn her around after a while so that both sides got their share! Tonight we can splash out with something extra to celebrate and Audrey even noticed that Matilda was smiling.
Other ways of saving a couple of dollars here and there include: 1. Picking you own fruit and berries in camping grounds – first check if this is okay or do after dark if not sure (just joking!).
2. Swim in stream, river, dam/lake or sea and save on shower fees were applicable.
3. Read newspaper at library or McDonald’s.
4. Have flask of boiling water to make own coffee at view point.
5. Pick up pens dropped in car parks or collect from counter at local bank when drawing money – and on you can go!
All these have risks as I found out while climbing up a bank to pick some plumbs and stepped in a gopher hole nearly breaking my ankle – cost and discomfort will outweigh saving on fruit according to calculations Audrey did on her calculator.
Yesterday we travelled on the highway past Portland, Oregon and it was an impressive sight, this very green city on the Columbia River with its many acres of parkland and Impressive buildings and bridges. We are camping in Ainsworth State Park on the Columbia River about 30 miles East, with strong historic links to the famous Lewis/Clark expedition. The camp ground has a stunning view of the mountain, with St Peter’s Dome rising above us. Last night we had our best steak so far on the trip and I did buy wood for $4 from the local ranger who came around in his John Deere 2x4, 4 wheeler, selling bundles of wood. The young people who work in these State Parks do a multitude of tasks including cleaning the bathrooms, selling the wood, mowing the lawns and settling disputes between campers and other campers and between campers and themselves. In the larger camps they have camp hosts and volunteers to assist them, but here in the smaller camps, they seem to do everything and I must say they do it well and cheerfully!
We can see Washington State across the river and will be making our way towards Seattle in the next few days after we spend some time in Portland. On our way through we did manage to top up our e-mail connection at Best Buy. Up to now we have been battling to do so because of lack of follow up service for Virgin Mobile along the way.
On the birding front the coast was pretty quiet with mainly Sea Gulls and Cormorants present as the waders were still up north and would only return in a few weeks time. As we moved inland things improved and a visit to a Tualatin River Wild Life Refuge near Portland proved very profitable with Audrey spotting an American Bittern from the visitors centre, using their their scope. This was only the second Bittern the manager/ranger had seen in two years, as they mainly skulk in the reeds. We also saw/ photographed and identified a couple of LBJ’s and our first American Kestrel that looks almost exactly like our SA Rock Kestrel. Then as we sat in the RV Park having supper we heard and then saw our first group of Canadian Geese flying past on their way south. Tonight as we watched the sun go down over the Columbia River several groups flew in and started feeding on the Duck Weed, providing us with a sound and sight display that will stay in our memories for a long time. The sunset was also spectacular and I enjoyed a pleasant swim in the river while Audrey collected a couple of stones (which I think are Agates ) on the beach. We also spotted a Western Blue-bird with its beautiful colours on the way to the river.I identified several birds we photographed including a Dickcissel and Black Phoebe. No wonder we have trouble identifying the little brown jobs with their strange names – thank heaven for cameras and computers!
Yesterday (Thursday) and today have been declared catch up time. We are catching up on rest, photo downloading and sorting into folders and reading. Audrey also did some creative re packing of Matilda. We bought a copy of Ambrose’s book, “Undaunted Courage”, about the Lewis Clark journey and I am reading about their arrival in this area at present. This makes the experience so much more meaningful for me. We may take a drive to Hood River this afternoon - Hood Mountain is the only place in the USA where you can ski all year round.
Tomorrow we plan to spend the day in Portland and then go to worship there on Sunday before moving on to Seattle. After another swim at Cascades Locks we did a brief trip into Washington State across “the Bridge of the Gods”, to the quaint little river port of Stevenson where we watched some folks windsurfing and saw our first barge coming down the river carrying scrap cars and what looked like wood shavings.