Intermezzo - Down from the Mountaintop
August 15/Day 28.

I’m up in time to empty the waste tanks, top off the fresh water, and roll out of camp by 6:00 a.m. It’s 750 miles to Beverly Beach on the coast of Oregon, the first 1/3 of it slow-going mountain travel; nevertheless I hope make at least 400 miles by the end of the day.

While still coasting down from the high country, I notice a bald eagle sitting atop a telephone pole. Somehow the majesty of the bird seems incompatible with his prosaic choice of perch. But he’s the only bald eagle I’ve ever seen in the wild, so I guess I’m stuck with that image forever.

Half an hour later I spot a large bowl-shaped pile of sticks balanced precariously on top of a telephone pole; a golden eagle is standing on its edge, apparently feeding her chicks.

Still later, I see something that even with all my years around horses I’ve never noticed before: four or five horses are quietly grazing in a meadow, each with several small birds wandering around on their backs. Strange….

Mule deer

I neglected to mention that in Glacier I saw, quite close, a group of male bighorn sheep, a lone mountain goat, and a cinnamon-colored black bear cub rooting for grubs by the side of the road. This caused what the locals call a “bear jam,” which is when the tourists stop their cars in the traffic lane to take pictures. Several people got out of their cars and approached to within ten feet of the cub, who seemed oblivious to their presence. Mama bear, however, was sure to be somewhere nearby, a volatile situation. In each case I was without my camera. I did get a nice shot of a mule deer though.

After passing through Spokane and entering central Washington, the scenery changes drastically. Instead of mountains and idyllic lakes, the land turns into mile after mile of mind-numbing low rolling hills covered by brown grass. Not a tree, not a shrub is in sight for hours. I finally reach Umatilla, Oregon, where by chance I see a small municipally run RV park with full hookups. I just plug in the electric, not even bothering to unhitch the trailer since I expect to leave early in the morning.

All Day in a Ditch
August 16/Day 29.

The Columbia River marks the state line between Washington and Oregon. My route today parallels the river on the Oregon side, in what is called the Columbia Gorge. The highway enters the gorge almost immediately. I didn’t know what to expect but I guess I assumed the gorge would be like the steep-walled canyons scattered throughout the west. This gorge, though, is more like a deep valley, perhaps five miles wide in places and several hundred feet deep; its banks are composed of the same rolling hills I saw on top yesterday. Instead of a large swiftly moving river, there is a series of dams creating long, narrow lakes for about 150 miles. Hydroelectric power, you see.

So basically, for most of the day all I see of Oregon is from the bottom of a large ditch. I can only imagine what’s up on top; probably more of that same grass that covers central Washington. When I finally approach Portland, the hills become forested.

I’ve long wanted to visit Portland and have built up an image of a tastefully quaint smallish town, draped in lush greenery and full of weird people. In fact, they have a slogan, “Keep Portland Weird,” which was obviously stolen from Austin.

It’s unfair to judge a city by driving through it once on the freeway and pronouncing judgment on it. But laying that caveat aside…I have to say that Portland, to my disappointment,  turns out to be like any other big city, full of glossy office towers and miles of fast food restaurants. Too busy, too much traffic, too many people. Ach, another illusion punctured.



A couple of hours past Portland I reach the Pacific coast and find my campground, Beverly Beach State Park. The park is across Highway 101 from the ocean and there’s a walkway under the highway for beach access. I can’t see the water from my campsite, but I can hear the waves in the distance. The campground itself is situated among large mossy pine trees (spruce, I think.)  There’s one tree next to my campsite that’s at least 10 feet in diameter; about six feet above ground level, the trunk divides in two, as though it has legs. I think of Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings. This is a forest of enchantment, a fairytale forest where very little direct sunlight pierces the high canopy of trees—only a dappled fleck of light touches the ground here and there. At mid-afternoon, under a cloudless sky, it’s so dark in the camper I need to turn on lights to read.


I’ve always been interested that forest cultures tend to develop a mythos of mysterious unseen forces, of wood-sprites and elves, evil spirits and goblins. They see around them the forces of death and decay and how from both come regeneration. I think that because forest folk seldom see beyond the proximate trees and vegetation, seldom see a broad horizon or view the vast scope of a starry night sky, perhaps they are more inclined to belief in spiritism or animism.

Compare that to the dynamic at work for a people who experience, for generations, the limitless plains or desert, with their 360 degree horizons and unbounded skies. How might the attitudes and beliefs of the two peoples differ? Who would most likely develop a calendar? Who would proclaim that every rock has a living spirit inside, and every tree its own soul? Who would foster a belief in a single all-powerful supreme being? (No, this is not an essay question and you will not be graded.)

Well damn, there it went again. Sometimes my brain goes off on its own little riff and forgets what it’s doing. My apologies for the pseudopsychosocial blatherings.



Anyway, I’m going to like it in this campgound. I just walked down to the beach, about 300 yards away. It’s strewn with large logs that washed down Spencer Creek during severe winter storms. And it’s cold. Most everyone on the beach is bundled up in hoodies and long pants, their hands stuffed in their pockets. A stiff breeze is blowing down shore from the north. I’m inappropriate in shorts and T-shirt; after a quick walk down the beach, I hurry back to the comfort of the camper.

Speaking of walking, my heel is still in pain after that 12 mile hike day before yesterday, not to mention the 11-miler two days before that. If you’ve ever had a cramp in the arch of your foot, it feels kind of like that only directly on the heel. At the risk of self-diagnosis, the condition is called plantar fasciitis and has to do with a bundle of connective tissue that originates on the bottom surface of the heel bone. It’s usually associated with an overweight condition (!) with or repetitive stress, as in runners and hikers.


Bundled up against the August chill

Other than that, all’s well.

Before I left San Antonio, I “jailbroke” my iPhone so I can tether it to my laptop for use as an internet connection. Nothing illegal about it, but both Apple and AT&T just hate it when people figure out how to do it. Costs them $$$$, you know. I’ll upload today’s blog without pictures for the time being, as the increase in bandwidth caused by pictures could be a red flag for The Man, who would want to rearrange my cell phone plan. Shhhh!

Beverly Beach
August 17/Day 30.

Many-legged tree

Many-legged tree

It’s good to be on “shore power” again, meaning I have an electricity hookup to the camper; I’m back on the grid. I’ve lived for a month on just the trailer’s failing batteries, so I’ve been very frugal with the use of power. After dark I keep only one light on at a time. When I finish washing dishes, I turn off the sink light and move in the dark to my reading light, and so on. I take very quick “navy showers” as much to save the electricity that powers the water pump as to save water.

At this campsite I also have water and sewer hookups to further embellish my luxuries. No more worry about overflowing the black water tank or using up all my fresh water. Actually, an RV is a careful study in living a frugal, green lifestyle. I am virtually forced into it, but it soon becomes a habit.

RVs are amazing inventions once you stop to think about it. Packed into less (sometimes much less) than 400 square feet are all the amenities needed to live a comfortable life. And without property taxes!

Efficient design means every cubic foot is put to its best use. A typical RV has two separate water systems, one for “city” hookups and one an onboard tank; it has two electric systems, one for shore power and the other 12-volt batteries; it has refrigerator, stove, oven, microwave, TV, air conditioner, furnace, shower, toilet, queen size bed, closets, pantries, and room for guests. All of this in a package designed to withstand hurricane force winds while hurtling down the highway at 70 mph.

And just think of your back yard! The whole continent is yours! Two days ago outside my door was the Crown of the Continent, Glacier Park. Last week it was the geysers and mudpots of Yellowstone. Today I’m living in a rainforest that’s 100 yards from the Pacific Ocean. How can you beat that?

spencer creek running across the beach

Spencer Creek flows from the forest and fans out over the beach before encountering the ocean

This morning after drinking  a cup of coffee, I bundle up (it’s really chilly here) and take a walk through the campground—which is the largest in the Oregon state park system. Afterwards I hike a nature trail that winds through this marvelously haunting forest, then head home for lunch. After lunch I cross under the bridge to the beach, where I walk for a long while with nothing but the eternal sough of waves keeping my company.

driftwood lean-to

Lean-to made from driftwood

I note that temporary shelters similar to the one below are not infrequent sights on the beach. Possibly erected by hikers seeking shelter on their trek down the state-long Beach Trail? An afternoon's project by a vacationing family? A furtive love-nest?

Back to the real world, so-called, I drive my truck six miles into the town of Newport to have Ford diagnose the check engine light. A porter ferries me back to camp; they’ll need to keep the truck until tomorrow.

spencer creek

A 14-inch starfish made its way up the fresh water of Spencer Creek

Now, stranded in paradise, I ride my bicycle to the beach, which is flat, wide and mostly packed damp sand. I ride north up the coast against a stiff breeze, circling tidal pools and fording little creeks that run across the beach from inland hills, spreading out into broad films of shallow water on the sand as they stream to Mother Ocean. Finally, turning south, I find the wind is strong enough that if I sit upright, exposing my back to it, I can sail down the beach without pedaling.

And such is my day, no more, no less.

Stranded in Paradise
August 18/Day 31.

spencer creek

Rainforest just yards from the beach

Today I had planned to drive up and down the coast highway to visit the many viewpoints and beaches nearby. Without my truck, however, I’m obliged to remain in camp and enjoy Beverly Beach and the forest.

And why not? It’s unlikely there’s a more delightful place to be. I spend a lot of time wandering aimlessly across the broad sandy beach, from the surf’s edge to the cliffs that form a seawall a hundred or more yards to landward. It’s windy again today and only 63 degrees. When I reenter the forest the wind is obstructed by the trees, but it feels even cooler than 63 because of the deep green shady understory. The tops of the tall spruces still sway in the breeze, but all is calm below.

spencer creek

Again, Spencer Creek

Late this afternoon the Ford dealer calls to say my truck is ready and they send a porter out to the park to pick me up. The check engine light turns out to be a stuck EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) valve. I’m relieved to have that taken care of, as my biggest fear is to be marooned in the middle of nowhere with a truck problem only a dealer has the expertise to fix. (Blunt foreshadowing: this will indeed occur later in my trip.)

Tomorrow I pack up and move down the coast 125 miles to Bullard’s Beach State Park.

forest understory

Forest understory

spencer creek

Spencer Creek flows under Highway 101, which sepertes forest from beach


SUPERFLUOUS DATUM: It is illegal in the state of Oregon to pump your own gasoline. You can pump your own diesel, however. All filling stations have attendants who pump gas for you, but are happy to stand around with their hands in their pockets as you pump your own diesel. What it is about the west coast that makes people dream up these zany laws?

next: bullard's beach state park