MY FORTNIGHT’S ROAD TRIP ON THE ROADS OF OREGON

How about Oregon?

I would have liked to go to Alaska – but it’s coming up – or the Midwest – but to see what? or just to spend 10 days in Cape Cod to be super quiet – but where’s the change of scenery? The call of the American West has gotten the better of our prevarication. Finally, when we decided on a destination, it was Oregon.

To locate you, Oregon is in the north of California, and in the south of the state of Washington (with the city of Seattle), the most famous city of Oregon is Portland. Oregon is known for its forests, waterfalls, volcanoes and its beautiful Pacific coast, but that’s not all there is to see, and so much the better, for having had rain and cold at the beginning of a road trip in the “Pacific Northwest” of the United States, I wanted warmth: perfect, in the east of the state, there is a desert and a big canyon, literally a big and deep canyon.

Oregon

Oregon is also crossed by a famous hiking trail, the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), mentioned in Sheryl Strayed‘s book Wild. And rubbing myself for even a few hours on the PCT (to say piciti) made me want to, just to pretend to be a real hike (hiker).

But I didn’t really know all this before I left: I prepared very little for this trip and to tell the truth, I advise against preparing so little. I boarded the plane with a guidebook to read, and I spent the six-hour flight watching TV. Having an idea of what we’re going to see and do creates an enthusiastic anticipation of the trip, and I’ve been neglecting it this year because of “I’ve got a lot of work to do”. Before leaving, 3 nights were, fortunately, already booked: 2 on our arrival in Portland, then the night before departure. The rest was to be decided. It’s a way of travelling that leaves quite a lot of freedom, a priori, but also focuses attention on the question of “where are we going to sleep tonight” every day.

How much did that road trip to Oregon cost?

Unlike other years, I did not keep a precise count of how much this trip cost us: I was lazy enough to collect every receipt. I guess it cost us about $4,000 for two for a little over two weeks. Here’s an idea of how the expenses are distributed:

  • For the plane, well it depends of course on the place of departure and the desired comfort (stopover or not) Portland is a relatively expensive destination from Boston, more expensive than its (relative neighbors) Seattle and San Francisco.
    Cost: approximately $420/person round trip (if done 1 month in advance, end of July)
  • The lodging: on the cheap side of the force, we did quite a lot of camping, but less than last year… the camping night varied between 0 and 13$ per night (without shower or flush toilets); of course, camping is still a certain investment before leaving, Manu likes to have fun with camping geek equipment; we also had the opportunity to make nice hotels, whose price varied from 90 to 300$ per night (on average 150$)
  • For meals, I like the freedom of having enough to make salads and sandwiches ourselves on picnic tables, doing the shopping once at the beginning of the trip; to store all this in the car, we have 2 small bins, and a soft cooler for anything perishable. But we like to treat ourselves when we have the opportunity with restaurants and outings, especially when we were in Portland, which is known for its good restaurants. Alas, unlike in other years, we did not find a place to eat a baked rib-eye potato, despite the amount of cows seen in the pastures and small villages “in their juice” crossed.
  • The car rental is also a big budget of the trip, we hold on to our 4×4 with high clearance to be able to go on all possible roads, the most bumpy and inaccessible: no Ford Mustang for Instagram photos, we prefer a Jeep of Mac Gyver (contemporary version). With insurance, it cost about $500 a week. Compared to other years, we didn’t have the $300 abandonment fee, having picked up and dropped off the car at the same rental agency in Portland. As always, gasoline is cheap in the United States, except in the far reaches of the countryside, where there is sometimes only one pump for every 50 miles.
  • Once there, you have to add the price of the activities: there is of course the annual national parks card ($80), a state parks card, and all the crazy outings possible – skiing on Mount Hood, buggying in the sand dunes, kite surfing, etc. Even more than anywhere else in the West, Oregon seemed to me to be the state of the outdoors. We like to hike, and that’s usually for free.

What are we gonna do for 80 hours in the car?

We drove 80 hours, for 2,700 miles, or 4,350 kilometers. The car was almost new and quite white at the start, and the dusty roads soon made it (including us) quite dirty.

So… we look at the landscape, we talk, we get bored and then we listen to music but mostly podcasts and audio books, it changes playlists, repetitive in the long run.

I plan to recount the stages of the journey over the coming months. While waiting for a more complete account, here is an overview of the 10 stages of this trip in Oregon (with mini-incursions in neighbouring states).

Step one. Portland!

I couldn’t wait to make up my own mind about this town that people either love or hate.
Did Portland live up to its promise of coolness? I’ll tell you about it in a future issue. I didn’t visit the city like I do when I’m in travel guide mode, so we opted for the bike ride solution. Just relax.

Where to sleep: I had booked a hotel in Portland before leaving, which turned out to be a hybrid between the AirBnb formula and a hotel, and it was not bad at all, in Chinatown, a stone’s throw from downtown. Lots of homeless in the morning and evening, which gives a sketchy look to the neighborhood, but totally ok for 2 nights. I’ll talk about it soon in the article dedicated to Portland!

Step two. Columbia River Gorge and its waterfalls along the roadside

Only 36 hours in Portland before we hit the road. The first stage is a scenic route in the heart of a gorge, with multiple stops where you can admire waterfalls, directly on the roadside. It’s beautiful in the pictures… but way too crowded for my taste. There are thousands of people (at least) at each stop, the car parks are full, people are everywhere on the paths, it’s so touristy that it spoils my fun. NEXT!

The evening stop : we would have had the option to leave at that time for 3 days on the PCT (the famous hiking trail) but I found that it was maybe a little early in the trip… around 6:30 pm, the motivation at half-mast to look for a campsite in this too touristic area, I look for an Airbnb at River Hood, and a chick answers me within 5 minutes. The AirBnb has a beautiful view of the volcano we would like to explore the next day: perfect!

Step three. Hiking on Mount Hood

What do you know exactly about Mount Hood ? The ranger looked skeptical when we told him we wanted to hike around this volcano. And finally, we walked 20km in one of the most beautiful hikes of the American West I’ve ever done (I write these words at altitude, in the plane, I have awesomeness running through my veins). I still overestimated my abilities for this first step which went up, down and up a lot: I was fooled at the end. We also met a lot of PCT walkers: skinny, very tanned, hairy and bearded and slightly smelly ...

Where do we stop? supreme indulgence… we treat ourselves in the sublime historic Timberline Lodge**, at the foot of the hike. The jacuzzi and sauna, then the fondue by the fire would almost make me forget the aches and pains that already threaten the whole back of my body.

Step four. A brief stroll through the impressive Smith Rock…

We’re driving south. Ultra scenic route, we cross snowy mountains, flowery meadows, rivers, ranches, canyons… The landscapes transition to aridity… We arrive at Smith Rock: a sort of orange wall at the foot of which a river flows. On the walls that fall steeply, climbers climb (innovation of this trip, Manu had bought binoculars, I feel like I’m 75 years old when I use them, but damn it that it’s practical). But the aches and pains of the day before got the better of my motivation: we watched, had a picnic, and then we set off again. It sounded a little like Zion Canyon. Get this: it was wow.

Evening stop: We camp in the evening in the woods of Ochoco, not far from the Painted Hills. Manu makes a fire. It’s the first campsite of the summer!

Step five. The painted hills and the John Day area

Let’s the road trip begin!

I had been told it was beautiful, my contradictory spirit doubted it. I was wrong. It was beautiful. Really unique.

The painted hills are strange: their appearance in the rocky landscape is surprising. Suddenly, a well rounded mound is streaked with bright colours in ochre tones. We had had the opportunity to cross painted hills, notably in the Death Valley and the Petrified Forest in Arizona. The geological explanation will (perhaps) take place in the article dedicated to this place.

The evening stop: we searched a lot in this area, and yet there were a lot of choices (probably the reason why we couldn’t decide). We entered two campsites: a wild one that we thought was really dumb (on the side of a road), and a wild one on the side of a lake where a “Bible camp” had gathered. With their pickup trucks and American flags, I panicked. We ended up in a standard motel in John Day**, where a biker troop was doing a road trip in a big Harley Davidson.

Step six. East of Oregon: Hell Canyon

Ah, dramatic names! They are there to condition us to love a place, letting the imagination wander. The canyon of Hell is framed by the Devil’s Mountains, the Devil’s Farm, the Devil’s Tooth… Atmosphere.

The Hell Canyon, on the border with Idaho, is mostly the deepest canyon in North America (I thought it was the Grand Canyon or Gunnison in Colorado, but I was lied to). We fell in love with this two-night stopover where we met a slightly crazy ranger who ran the 40 miles around Mount Hood in one day (see above mention of the super hard walk). We also ran into a bear at the campsite. Wild camping. Camping in the nature. Alone. With the bear. Like no big deal.

The 2 nights in the canyon:

  • Camping: Big Bar Area 4: an island of greenery on the Snake River at the bottom of Hells Canyon. Great wilderness camp! That said, the animals also really like this place, we spent the night hearing the fish jumping in the river (or I don’t know what other aquatic animals jumping) and the hind with delicate hooves. And of course, the Boogie Man who’s scary at night.
  • After the day of exploration by car and the night at the campsite, we were super dusty, and not having found a cool campsite (understand: far from everything), we took a hotel, a lodge again, super soothing on the edge of a lake in the village of Joseph, at the foot of the “Oregon Alps”.

Step seven. East of Oregon: the Alvord Desert and the Steens Mountains

It’s the second big holiday crush (or it’s already the third). I loved this stage because it took a lot of driving to get there, and when we got there, we didn’t pass anyone except a cowboy in his huge truck. We drove on a flat (a dry lake) covered with salt, saw toxic hot springs, did a mute hike, and passed a gas station at the end of the world. It was hot. Pure road trip.

2 nights in the Alvord desert and the Steens mountains:

  • Camping at Mann Lake, we were all alone, finally with 50,000 animals circling around the tent all night, but a good site on a lake that was almost dry at the end of the summer.
  • It became a pattern almost in spite of us during these holidays, we alternated camping nights and hotel nights (for the great despair of Manu who would have liked to camp every night… I was happy with the alternating comfort). We would have loved to stay at the Historic Frenglen Hotel but it was sold out! We slept in a cabin resort.

Step 8. The blue of Crater Lake

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and we reluctantly left Eastern Oregon. After last year’s desert road trip, I think this is the kind of place we both prefer on a road trip…

We head back to western Oregon: to more popular and well-known places, with the state’s national park, Crater Lake, known for its Harpic Gel blue. That said, the first impression of the lake was very mixed: we had been promised (in the park’s presentation film) the Super Wahoo, but when we arrived at the edge of the lake, the lake was enveloped in smoke and fog, due to two nearby forest fires, and the lack of wind to clear the view. No visibility on the lake, we even thought we’d go back! Finally we stayed, and everything rose, we ended up seeing the beautiful intense blue that makes the reputation of the place, and we even went on a boat trip, to take some time.

Where to sleep? It was too cold for camping (5°C at night), we took the last room in one of the huts. The room had no interest in itself, but it had the advantage of being located inside the park: convenient to be ready early the next morning.

Step nine. Incursion in California: Redwoods Park, giant sequoias

We leave Oregon to go a little further south: to California, to see a beautiful forest of giant redwoods, called redwoods, for their red bark. A welcome addition because trees are beautiful (yes, trees are beautiful). The Redwoods Park was very busy, especially since it was a long holiday weekend, Labor Day.

Where to sleep? We did wild camping and the first (and only) bivouac of the holidays, at Camp 44, along the path called “Les Grands Arbres”. We checked in with the ranger that morning, it was free, and in the wilderness, that’s a big YES.

Step 10. Along the coast of Oregon…

It’s already almost the end when you get back up Route 101 (pronounce it one-o-one to be taken seriously). We drive along the Pacific coast in a south-north direction, which is not very convenient for the stops at the viewpoints, which are on the other side of the road. Lighthouses, beaches, cliffs, sea lions, big waves… the road along the Pacific Ocean is magnificent, and has nothing to envy to Big Sur.

Where to sleep: We went to a great hotel where each room is decorated on the theme of an author, that’s my second favorite book of the holidays! I had spotted this hotel in the Green Guide of the North West of the United States but when I arrived late, I doubted that there was room left (there are only 20 rooms), and there miracle of The Hotel Room: the receptionist tells me that someone has just cancelled and that the JK Rowling room is available. We go up to see her, the chick even gives us a price when we haven’t asked for anything, and I say: all righty. There were plenty of cosy places to read, facing the ocean, the room was glorified by the little sorcerer, and breakfast was divine.

Is it over already? On the last day, we continue along the coast to Cannon Beach… a beautiful seaside resort reminiscent of the East Coast with its little brown shingle houses on the beach, and then we go back to square one, Portland, just for an afternoon and evening. We go back to REI (yeah REI) to return the almost empty gas bottles and the camping equipment we don’t want anymore, and then after a last restaurant (it’s time for the diet), we go out to listen to music at Mississippi Studios, we make friends with 3 girls with whom we talk about politics, marijuana (legal in Oregon) and Paris (I love it!).
In the evening, we spend a very small night in a tiny little house: we rented a tiny house! The departure for Boston is chaotic, since the plane is 5 hours late.

Did I like this trip? Yes! I found this unique Road Trip feeling again… hiking in wahoo settings, scenic roads, the isolation of some timeless places, the heat… Nights at the campsite in dreamy settings, and nights in seaside hotels or in the mountains, the waffle machine in the motel, beers by the campfire under a black starry sky. In short, a varied trip, rich in emotions and talking about it, writing about it, makes me think that yes, it’s well and truly over, and it’s already part of the memories of travelling to the United States.

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