I needed a road trip. Badly. I never know where to go in the winter when the wanderlust strikes. Not the mountains: I don’t enjoy driving in ice and snow, and I was tired of cold. The Olympic Peninsula wasn’t striking a chord either, though pre-pandemic I enjoyed a day by the fireplace at the historic Quinault Lodge on the lake in the rain forest, with lunch. But the restaurant has been closed to non-guests, and the Kalaloch lodge on the coast, take-out only. Besides, it sounded cold.
When my friend, Bonnie Rae*, headed to Oregon’s Cannon Beach last week, and she said she had gone via Washington’s Route 6, my favorite road that I had never thought to take to Oregon, adventure juices started streaming through my veins.
The I-5 corridor had been socked in with chilly all-day fog for four days, the daily forecast for sun not withstanding. I was told one had to go to the mountains or the coast for sun. Well, why not the Oregon coast? And Route 6, a bonus.
I leave home Thursday morning in day 5 of fog and 31º, heading west. The Poplar Tree Farm is mysterious in the fog. I love the poplar forest. I would love to wander in it, and I’m glad it’s fenced and there are no people in it. (Note: The farm belongs to the City of Chehalis; the trees absorb reclaimed water and recharge a local aquifer. They are planted in perfectly straight rows, in every direction.)
Thirty-six miles from the espresso kiosk, I find the sun . . . and frosty farmland. The car thermometer says 29º. It’s gorgeous. I pull onto a side road and get out of the car to admire the hoar frost, which has not made an appearance at home this year. We did have snow though, so I’m not complaining.
Those who know me understand (or maybe they don’t understand, but they know) I am not a beach girl. I go once or twice a summer, stay an hour and I’m done. My heart is in the mountains. And on the road—I love the drive. Today I resist stopping for photos at the places I always stop for photos: the Willapa trail at the old railroad bridge and the picturesque Catholic church. But I do stop at the cemetery on the hill, the Willapa Hills across the valley, since I haven’t the last couple of times.
I skip the 401 shortcut at Naselle, the hypotenuse of the triangle, and go on to Hwy 101, barely cutting off Long Beach—the boring beach you can drive on. There’s construction on the bridge across the Columbia to Astoria, and it shakes while I wait my turn on the single lane around the equipment. Cargo ships are lined up on the river, heading for the Pacific, and Mt. St. Helens gleams beyond.
Following the coastline on 101, I skirt the sparkling ocean under blue sky. It seems like forever since I’ve seen the sun. The thermometer says 58º. Bonnie warned me that even in mid-week January, Cannon Beach was crowded, both the sand and the beach town, so I don’t stop, but head for Arcadia Beach. There are just three cars in the lot and one of them is occupied by a napping driver.
I stay in the car and eat my lunch overlooking the waves. It’s hazy to the south, smoke, I think, I smelled it earlier; but below me and to the north is brilliant. I head down the trail and find a mom in a beach chair, three children digging and exploring. Wow, that’s the life. Makes me want to be a homeschooled kid on a day like this.
I stand for a while watching waves come around the haystack rocks, a gull perched sentinel at the top. The waves split on the ocean side and crash back together on the beach side, each side hidden from from the other until the moment of impact. It feels like a metaphor for fractured America, the huge rock standing in for the pandemic and the philosophies of the alt right and the progressive left crashing into each other in a way (arguably) no one saw coming.
I wander on down the beach, admiring patterns in the sand and rocks. There is no distraction of shells or beach stones here, I can just roam, eyes up. The wild coastline of the Olympic Peninsula will always be where my allegiance lies, but I have to admit, this nearly deserted stretch of sand and warmth is exactly what my soul needed today.
I stay an hour, surprised that’s all it’s been. Adventure time is slower time. But I’m done. Had I brought a chair, I might have sat a bit longer with my book, but it took three hours to get here, and it will take as long to get home.
I return to Astoria and cross the bridge back to Washington. I’m taking the other route this time, along the Columbia at the beginning and end, and in the middle—via Naselle this time—through hills and forests and clearcuts to Interstate 5 at Longview/Kelso. So different from my morning route past farms, through small towns, over rivers and sloughs. I am deeply in love with the diverse geography I can get to in a day from home.
* You can view my friend Bonnie Rae’s post about her day at the Oregon Coast here. Gorgeous. And now she’s been to Paradise. Days of rain in the forecast now though.
And if you missed my latest post from the Big Dig (because I posted mid-week), here it is: Excavating a Home—An Archeological Dig, Part 8.