So, we meet again.
I have much to say in some ways, and very little in others. But let me just start straight away by telling you that I am currently sat typing this at the dining room table of my best friend, AJ, while listening to and watching the rain hammer down outside the window next to me.
Everything is lush and green and full of life, and despite the current downpour, I can clearly see warm sunlight on the horizon over yonder, which will be sure to reach us soon. I am at present fully enjoying England in a season I haven’t seen here in some time – summer.
For those of you who are aware that I was to be coming home this month for a spell, I have actually arrived a few weeks early, flying out from Spokane, Washington rather than Chicago as planned. As my last blog entry was written just as we left John Day, slap bank in the middle of the Oregon countryside, you might be able to gather from this that I am somewhat behind in my writing; something which is unfortunately fast becoming a trend for me.
For those of you who blog, you may be like me and suffer from the ups and downs of lack of creativity or just plain interest in writing. I’ll admit I’ve hit one of those spells right now. Currently, life seems more important to be just getting on with, rather than trying to record it for posterity. I’m sure I shall get over my current hump at some point, and right now I’m just going to try and push on with this entry and see what happens, after all I have six pages of notes to type up to get myself current.
But right now I really am considering my options for the future and deciding if I want to take a break from writing and try to just focus on traveling, giving my attention to the journey itself. I just don’t know. As I’ve said, my writing buzz seems to come and go and by next week I might be able to churn out tons of words, who knows?
Anyway, let me relate a couple of days from our travels across Oregon, a few days which make me smile for all the right reasons.
When last we met Loops and I had left the town of John Day and we were continuing our voyage towards the Pacific Ocean, and specifically for an evening stop in Bend. I have more than enough already filled your eyes and ears with descriptions and video footage of the road we are traveling, Route 26, so I think sweet, short and to the point will serve right now – Oregon continues to provide opportunities to fill me with a bit of joy in my heart and a smile on my face. Truly this state is just a treat for me.
And today turns out to be a spot-on mix of watching, as the delightfully picturesque world passes by through my rather large motorhome windscreen, and getting out and about in it.
It just so happens that a minor detour from our road brings us to the Thomas Condon Palaeontology Centre within the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Not being a professional scientist, but instead a person who has watched Jurassic Park a few times, the moment I see or hear the word palaeontology, I can’t help but think of dinosaurs. And so, well, that’s slightly what I expect to find inside.
Ah, but let me now tell you, apparently palaeontology actually refers to the study of ‘fossilised animals and plants’, so that encompasses a whole lot more than just a T-rex or two. The centre is most definitely worth the trip if you are interested in natural history, of the fossilised variety.
The interior is laid out in a natural timeline of the local area, an area where many plant and animal fossils have been discovered and studied since 1865, covering a period of forty million years. There are about six or seven sections, each containing an artists impression on the wall of what the landscape would have appeared like in the named era of time, a written description of the environment and what plant and animal communities would have been present, what has changed since the previous period, and finally there are a selection of fossils specifically from that era for you to study. The layout makes it very easy to understand how the environment developed over time and what species came and went and why.
There is a large display at the end of the time line sections explaining the theory of evolution and how fossils can be used to demonstrate how species have evolved over time, before finally leading out into the foyer area where there is a viewing window into the working fossil lab as well as examples and descriptions of equipment and processes used to excavate and study fossils – highly interesting!
Not only is the centre first-rate for learning (and free!), but when you walk outside you are faced with the surrounding hillsides from which a number of the fossil discoveries have been recovered, giving you a real sense of adventure about the place. It is also silent out here. And I do mean silent. One of those ends of the earth silences; no-one would ever find you out here type silences. Again, this somehow lends an undiscovered sense to the area, that there is still plenty out there in the hills to search for and find.
Onwards we go! We still have a long drive ahead, more scenery to go all dreamy over and excitement abounds for me personally because on tomorrows drive we will officially cross the Pacific Crest Trail. That’s right, the PCT hiking trail is intersected by our driving route and the best bit of news is that there is a trailhead with a parking area large enough for us, so I will finally be able to set foot onto the PCT – a much anticipated moment!
We however first must get into Bend and to the Elks Club to spend the night (not much to report about it really) and wait out the thunderstorm that has suddenly appeared at the end of our cloudless and sunny day. We make it just in time, backing in and turning off the engine just as massive gusts of wind appear out of nowhere with rain and lightning soon to follow. We are especially excited because we’ve arrived fairly late in the afternoon and there is only a single hook-up spot left, which apparently another RV has literally just vacated. We of course jump into it, however we later discover that although it’s a first come, first serve location, there was another RV parked in their second car park dry camping and waiting for a spot to open up. The owners though had gone out for the whole afternoon and not been around when the other RV left. It’s a bit of a ‘one of those situations’ where you feel a little awkward, but at the same time the system is what it is. As we’re only staying a single night, we try not to feel too guilty about it and fully enjoy our 50 amps.
It’s worth noting that on arrival here in Bend, we have really hit a mountainous section of Oregon. Full snow-capped summits abound all around the town.
Driving in and out makes me feel all kinds of giddy over seeing those rugged pure white peaks; we’ve now made the jump from Route 26 to 20, a road we will be taking all of the way to the ocean, but equally as pretty as its predecessor.
The following morning I can’t wait to get on the road, I am practically bouncing in my seat as we drive. I am keeping my eyes peeled for our pull off today – I don’t want to miss the chance of seeing the trail! No worries on that front, there is a nice big sign directing us up to the Willamette Forest trailhead and plenty of room to park the bus with a full turning loop.
I step out of the bus and into the clear, warm, fresh air and breathe deep. It smells of wilderness, freedom and hiking. Loops opts to stay put for his lunch while I take my stroll. It’s not even that I intend to walk far; it’s just that I have this deep longing to see the trail which still niggles in my mind as another potential thru-hike attempt.
I wander over to the small picnic area and find sitting there – a PCT thru hiker. He has his pack open and is rummaging. He brings out a huge food bag and proceeds to eat a number of things from it. My heart aches a bit. Really, honestly, I can’t explain it to you. All I can say is that if you’ve ever hiked or attempted a thru hike, you’ll understand the ache. It’s like a rush of all of my 8 months of hiking memories hitting me all at once. Seeing this hiker and instantly being able to recall that feeling of relief upon seeing a bench to sit on and knowing you can kick off your boots for an hour and gorge on calories after having scaled countless mountaintops that morning, and maybe even take a nap right there on the side of the trail. No rush, just enjoying the contentment of a hard hiking job well done that day. It makes me miss every camp where I sat and made dinner and laughed with friends and strangers alike.
I don’t talk to the hiker; I just mill about and sneak a couple of stares. Shortly he’s joined by a couple of trail maintainers and I head over to the trailhead to dip my toes.
The trail here is virtually sand, a light-coloured volcanic sand almost. It’s soft and slightly slippery to walk on. But here I am, walking on it. I’m on the PCT! The trail here is stunning. Breath-taking. I am in a forest, but a dead forest. It has a striking beauty to it nonetheless. All of the tree trunks are a bright metallic silver, made almost blinding in the light, smooth and devoid of all leaves or needles. What has caused their demise I do not know. There are some downed trees which are burnt. There has been a fire at some point. Contrasting this death and destruction, the floor of the forest is fully alive and vibrant. Groups of deep green clumped grasses sprout forth from every spare patch of ground, along with tall stems supporting large white flower heads. They are most unusual, there is almost a small fanned collar of tiny individual blossoms and protruding from this is the central cone of the flower. The air is filled with scent which hits me every time the gentle breeze blows past. And as the backdrop to all of this, Mount Washington, a snowy behemoth patiently presiding over his realm. I’m in love.
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make us happy. Truly happy. And this, right here, does it for me.
Of course I can’t stay here, not right now anyway. The ocean awaits us today and finally the chance to see the western shore of this country!
I make my way back to the bus feeling light and free of my cares, revelling in the joy I’ve found here. Back in my co-pilot seat, Belle roars to life and we chug our way up and over the mountain pass and back down through a number of picturesque low lying towns. There is evidence of lumber production everywhere here, whether that be a fresh cut woodland we pass or the timber trucks that rumble past us, loaded down with half a forest. We finally roll through smaller fishing villages set back from the sea, the weather now having changed from sunny with cloud to a rather dreary overcast afternoon. Through the trees to our left, I can now and then grab glimpses of the ocean, but it’s not quite what I expect.
Being me, I have this preconceived idea of the Pacific Ocean, for you see it all the time on TV in shows based in California; bright sunshine, clear blue skies, a sparkling bright blue and gold glittering ocean with white sands and people laughing and having fun in the sun. What I’m currently looking at seems a bit grim, maybe the setting for a drama with serious overtones and maybe even a murder. But let us not get away from this very important point – we are here. We have made it from the east coast all the way to the west, from one ocean to another, crossing the USA.
And that is pretty darn awesome.
And just top off this rather supreme day, Loops has scored a superb overnight parking space in a layby overlooking the ocean.
This will be my view from the window here this evening….
A view of which I can see from any window on the left side of the bus, including while lying in bed. If I throw open the windows (which of course I do) I can hear the continuous sound of the breaking waves on the rocks below (even when I get up at 4 am in the dark I can see and hear the waves, which for some reason I find really disconcerting in a way, I mean it’s not like I expect them to stop at night or anything, but can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of the sea constantly moving even when the sun goes down and it’s pitch black).
And if this all wasn’t enough, standing in the sea mist and scanning the water with my binoculars, what do I spot? No less than a spray of water, forcibly shooting skywards – for certain the breath of a whale from its blowhole. I simply can’t believe it. I am now just giddy with excitement and spend the next 45 minutes searching the sea for more signs, but none are forthcoming.
“Not to worry”, a local tells me. According to him it is grey whale migration season, where the whales make their way north along the coast to feed and breed in the summer. “More than likely you will see others”, he informs us. What a treat to look forward too!
And with that, we take ourselves into the local town to avail ourselves of local seafood fare and settle in for an evening of listening and watching the ocean.