West Coast Road Trip – Portland to San Francisco: Part I

Date of trip: June 13, 2019 - June 23, 2019

This was an epic one. From Portland to San Francisco, our west coast road trip spanned 10 long days and over 1,000 miles (Thank you for driving, Chris!) It included five nights of camping–our first time spending more than two nights in a tent together.

To make a sweet thing even better, we got to visit FRIENDS on this trip. Thank you, Abby and Austin, for hosting us in Portland, and thank you Bridget and Mookie for joining us on the tail end of your adventures in the PNW! We left with freckled cheeks, sandy sleeping bags, a bounty of California cheese, and a whole lot of sunset pics.

As I sit down to write, the little moments are the first I want to remember. Out-singing each other in the car (Lights, in true fashion), the nervous butterflies of capturing the best of a fading golden hour, the roar of the beating ocean, standing under the mighty, skyward soaring redwoods, feeling so small, and wondering with slight hesitation about being stalked by a mountain lion (I don’t miss that last part).

We moved too quickly to get homesick, and while we were entirely grateful to finally make it home, we still find ourselves a bit homesick for the coast.

Trip Itinerary

  • Day 1: Portland
  • Day 2: Cottage Grove, Loon Lake, Oregon Dunes, Bullards Beach State Park
  • Day 3: Bandon Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, (Natural Arches, Whaleshead Beach, Harris Beach State Park)
  • Day 4: Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor (Cape Ferello, Natural Bridges Cove, Indian Sands)
  • Day 5: Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Patrick’s Point State Park, Trinidad State Beach

On the brink of the excursion, Heather kindly brought us to the airport. A delayed flight left two hours later than scheduled, and we struggled to sleep on the flight out. But by midnight, we made it to a sleepy Portland where we happily spent the night at an airport hotel.

Day 1

In the morning, I was treated to a bagel sandwich in bed, thanks to Christopher.  That morning was our time to run errands – Target, REI, and the liquor store, to be exact. Afterwards, we sat on the patio of Khan San enjoying our first Thai meal of the trip. We got some IPA’s from Backwoods Brewery and picked up a cheap tripod for the trip (which, we never did use).

Abby and Austin, London roommates of sorts, had just moved to Portland and were graciously hosting us for the evening. In good time, we found them at their beautiful apartment in the Pearl District.

Feeling “under the weather”, Abby asked Austin to join her for a quick doctor’s visit, leaving Chris and I to explore their brand new apartment complex and fend for ourselves with the most high tech of apartment keys. While they were gone, we spent most of our time figuring out how to lock the door.

When they returned, we sipped on some gin and bourbon, and got dinner. Austin and Chris did a lot of talking–mostly Austin, which was to be expected (missed you, boo!). Abby, my sweet Southern Belle, thank you, thank you for the hospitality and to the both of you, congratulations on the baby! (I forking knew it!) (Also, shame on me for not taking any photos of us!)

Day 2

On our second morning, we bid Abby and Austin farewell, got a pastry breakfast and coffee at Austin’s local cafe suggestion, and drove south.

Our mission for the day: meet up with Bridget and Mookie and set up camp in Bandon, Oregon–with unknown adventures in between. The two hour drive south through the Willamette Valley felt a bit like home, a familiar drive from the year before. As expected, we sang in our best screamo voice to Lights, blowing on our too-hot-to-drink coffee.

It was in the Safeway in Cottage Grove, Oregon, where we found our travel companions. Hugs on hugs in the dairy aisle. Bridget and Mookie had just packed up their life in Oregon after a four month stay where Mookie had taught a semester at the University of Eugene. Our timeline of life events and excursions aligned and our big dreams to travel together were finally coming true.

Their young pup, River, yawned and stretched his paws when we opened the back end of their white SUV to fill the cooler. River had grown into a very dark and handsome, gangly teenager since the last time we had seen him. Obediently perched atop his doggy bed, he accepted our love scratches with a tail wag.

Mookie’s eyes lit up when Chris suggested walkie-talkies–and the rest was history. We stood at the foot of the checkout lane at Bi-Mart, ripping into the packaging and inserting fresh batteries. “Cherry Bomb to Snowflake,” Bridget smirked as we left the store.

We also bought a deck of cards, a cribbage board, and catch phrase. That afternoon, we drove west along Highway 38 passing pastures, farms, and the Umpqua River. We stopped at Bradley Vineyards in Elkton to sample wine, catch up, look at the map, and make a game plan.

Searching for something interesting to see along the way to Bandon, we took the winery’s suggestion to stop by Loon Lake, where the young Sommelier described a beach. However, our expectations fell a bit flat when all we found was a tiny corner beach taken up by patrons of a nearby campground. We opted for a secluded grassy spot near the water where Bridget swam and the rest of us sunbathed (No, I searched for a blue-tailed creature I had spotted while the guys soaked up the sun).

Onwards we drove through Reedsport and Coos Bay, stopping only to pee and eat McDonald cheeseburgers. As we neared Bandon, we stopped first at the lighthouse and sand dunes. River had a ball.

Our campsite at Bullards Campground was blustery. Where it lacked in seclusion it made up for in location and amenities (really nice toilets and showers). The five of us jumped into Cherry Bomb (our red rental car, remember) and drove off to the nearby beach. It wasn’t the one I was looking for but River frolicked nonetheless.

That evening Chris and I were treated to zesty fireside tacos fixed by our veteran camping mates. When we set up the cribbage board, Mookie was less than enthused to find his deck of cards was a Pinochle deck.

Through the banter and whiskey, the four of us ate up the rest of daylight attempting to learn Pinochle. Bridget patiently, bravely described the rules, while two of us (no need for names) proclaimed our distaste for sustaining attention for new games. Then came the best quote of the day from Bridget herself, when she said something like, “Don’t blow it, it’s not that complicated.”

I think she meant, “Don’t overthink it.” Eventually we did stop overthinking things (and thinking about anything at all), and warmed up with some whiskey by the fire.

Day 3

In the morning, I took advantage of the warm, clean showers. From my stall, I could hear two young girls next door whispering and giggling. Suddenly, one raised her voice, “Abby, I didn’t look at you!” Abby defended herself, “I’m not looking!” Yeah, Abby. You’ll have boobs one day, don’t worry.

In pursuit of Bandon Beach, we packed up the campsite early. The morning was gloomy and windy. The wind was forceful and bitter, like the kind in Iceland. It blew us sideways as we got out of the car and peered over the cliff side to the beach below. Mookie was kind to lend me a windbreaker (again, Chris told me I wouldn’t need a jacket, and I believed him).

He also was kind enough to make us a roadside, oatmeal breakfast with complimentary coffee. We dined at a nearby picnic table, Chris and I marveling at the set up. We even had brown sugar and granola! Fueled and ready to go, we explored the beach on our own. Eventually, the sun broke through the clouds, giving color to the beach.

Following coastal highway 101, we stopped a couple times at scenic pullovers to take in the sea stacks, make PB&Js, do some ninja kicks, and climb a rock or two.

We were headed south to Brookings, and our first planned stop along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor was a secret beach (which is not so secret, really). I still don’t know what trail was the right one, but after a couple backtracks and eagle scout teamwork, we found our way to the water. The beach sat at the base of a sunny cove. Bridget and I climbed the wooded edge of the cove, finding a not so private spot to pee. In my haste, I did pee on my ankle and shoe. It was worth it.

After resting, Mookie and River returned to the trails to run it out. Bridget, Chris and I took an accidental detour on our way back up and found ourselves at the road, north of where we had parked. We walked along the road single file, hot and tired, and me personally trying not to think about finding human remains (Thank you, Crime Junkie and My Favorite Murder, for instilling new fears in my adult collection of scaries). Luckily, we only had a 15 minute jaunt back to the car, and never did spot any crime scenes.

That evening we set up camp at Harris State Park. It was equally as private (not very) as Bullards campsite, but I personally loved the company. If any trouble came trodding through in the middle of the night (you know, bears, mountain lions, coyotes, crazy drunk uncles or even Bigfoot), said creature would definitely want the snoring sausage next to us and not me.

We took showers, played catch phrase and ate a delicious chicken stir fry dinner, thanks again to Mookie and Bridget. So actually, we didn’t really go camping. We were basically staying at the best hotel around.

That evening we jumped in Snowflake with Mookie in the driver’s seat. We were searching for the sun and something beautiful to stumble upon. We pulled over every couple of miles including the natural bridges and Indian Sands. Each time, though, we felt underwhelmed with the views or discouraged by the hike. At Whalehead Beach we watched the waves and sand crashing into each other. I stayed back, hoping to find treasures among the driftwood, but honestly just struggled to find a way over the stream.

In the end we drove back to the campground, where we drove straight down to Harris State Beach. It was there, glowing red and orange behind the silhouetted haystacks that we found what we were looking for.

A crowd of families had gathered, setting up chairs as if waiting for fireworks. It was the sunset they came to watch.

The colors brightened with intensity as the sun dipped, leaving a perfect gradient of blue, turquoise and lavender over the waves.

In good time, I walked back to the campsite and joined the gang in one last bonfire. Our conversation about the full moon, in all its glowing glory, turned into discussions on Goosebumps stories, childhood memories, personalities and then somehow glass blowing and our favorite trees. Because that’s how it goes.

Day 4

This was the morning we had to say goodbye. After a hot skillet of eggs, sausage, cilantro and avocado, we took one last photo together (thanks for Bridget’s quick thinking and photo skills). River was having a hard time transitioning. “Pen, River,” both mom and dad patiently repeated. He avoided eye contact and hovered on the ground. We patted ourselves for finally making the joint adventures happen. “Longer, next time,” we agreed. We hugged and bid the trio farewell on their drive back to Eugene.

It was a clear, breezy morning. We wandered a trail near the campsite and made our way to another beach. Massive waves crashed into the shore. A grandfather watched his grandson chasing seagulls, a shell clenched in his small hand, his squeals a bit drowned out by the wind rattling in our ears.

Despite the sun, the air was chilly enough to cover up. An older couple from the south asked for their picture to be taken. The man, with a full beard and baseball cap, was very kind and talkative. We lingered a bit longer than expected, connecting on the fact that we were going the way they had come, to the Redwoods and vice versa.

On our walk back to the campground for lunch, I followed the strangest sighting:  a grey squirrel had another furry creature in its mouth, clinging to the mama squirrels head. Every time I got near enough to see, it ran up the path and stopped to look at me. We did this for about five minutes, and not once did the squirrel dart off into the woods. SHE had places to go! (I guess if Chris could carry me like that to make things go faster, he would…)

That afternoon we had lunch and rested. I hadn’t journaled yet, so I took the opportunity of Chris napping to do so. Mid-afternoon we became antsy, wanting to explore but not knowing where to start and knowing the sun was still too high for serious photos. We took off, anyways, and took a hike around Cape Ferrell. The hike ended up at the actual lookout, which we could have just driven to, and we decided to just take the road back to our starting point to save some time. Not a memorable vista but a nice hike.

We decided to go back to the natural bridges, but this time in pursuit of the trail that leads you to the SPOT. You know, the spot where every Instagrammer goes to get THE shot–with the natural stone arches standing tall over bright blue waves.

From my research, the path that lead to the spot was in reality dangerously steep. Not wanting to get caught in the dark on a steep cliff side above the ocean, we decided to do this next. And really, I probably wouldn’t do it again. Even Chris was nervous, with a heavy backpack making it hard to balance his weight.

We found the trail with no issues and climbed carefully down until it quickly became steep, dusty and narrow. We could see the beauties down below, just over the edge of the cliff. There were trees surrounding us, wedging us on the narrow path. The path then opened onto one of the bridges and we scooted low along the ridge to a broader landing. In a hot second, some burly kid came barreling down the path behind us. We were right under the sun, and on top of the water. Straight ahead was the shot.

I couldn’t enjoy myself, though, with policing Chris to stay near me and the burly man walking all over the place giving me a heart attack and asking us if we’d seen a banana slug yet. And then he said goodbye, that he was going to try to cross the narrow straight ahead of us and climb up the OTHER side of the cliff.

Chris turned to me and mouthed, “Look away.” YEAH. I fucking know. I was a freaking noodle as I turned to the sea. I sat solidly on the stone and thought all the good thoughts of beautiful blue waves and rainbows and peaceful nothings until Chris said he was safe and it was over.

The sun cast dark shadows on the arches, and blew out the color of the water and trees. It was a scene for our eyes only. We breathed a heavy sigh of relief when we had made it back up safely, and saw the burly man had as well. We could have died for those mediocre pictures, but we didn’t.

And in the end, it wasn’t the Instagram spot that filled our souls. It was through the sketchy, scraggly, dead forested path that led to Indian Sands where we died and went to golden hour heaven.

We galloped around, exclaiming to the other from afar that we’d need to come back in a few hours and never leave. Chris found a tiny black sand beach, nestled in a wide, rocky crevasse suspended twenty feet over the waves. “What is this place?!” he asked the universe, he stretched his arms out in question.

We lingered, and after some time, hunger grew in our tummies, but luckily Chris knew exactly what we needed–another Thai dinner. Just a 15 minutes drive south was the town of Brookings, where, in all our dusty, sweaty, tiredness, we dined on red curry, fried rice, and IPAs.

And just as we had the first time we returned to Indian Sands where there was no one but us. We packed our headlamps for the way out and started down the sketchy path we had attempted with Bridget and Mookie the day before. There was no greenery, just a massive hole in the path which made no sense at all. But past this part of the hike, the views from the northern side of the loop opened up, spreading out over the waves and northern beaches. We walked through tree tunnels along the path, stopping bit by bit to take in the expanse. And then we went wild.

After a frenzy of adrenaline and camera-ready glee, my battery flashed at me. In a moment of panic, I gasped and said I needed to run back to the car. “How could this happen?! How come I didn’t look at my battery charge, why didn’t I have a backup with me”, and so on, came the questions out of Chris’ mouth. It was too far to turn back, he said (insert the scream that Ilana does when she and Abby are denied breakfast bagels during Abby’s last weekend in NYC).

He was forgiven, however, when for the rest of the precious evening light, he shared his camera with me when mine eventually did die.

When the sun finally dipped below the horizon, we scrambled up and down the sand, covering our faces and our cameras from the wind gusts, trying to catch the last of it.

We were exhausted at this point, running on adrenaline. We knew the path back would be pretty dark but as we neared the edge of the dark forest, and took one last look back at the pastel ocean, we were not emotionally prepared for what would happen next.

It was a quick transition out of the light and into the dark. This path had been too creepy to transverse in the daylight with Bridget and Mookie, let alone here and now. We turned on our head lamps and quickened our pace. Too soon, we were wondering where the path had gone, trying to use the light of both our headlamps and our phones to see our feet in front of us. We started up the hill, but the woods closed in on us and we were scrambling over fallen trees and helping each other unhook from clawing branches. It was pitch black beyond the glow of our lamps, and in the distance I heard a tree branch crack. “When do mountain lions hunt???” THIS IS MY WORST NIGHTMARE, I screamed inside. Being LOST in the WOODS at NIGHT.

I don’t know about Chris, but I had depleted every bit of energy earlier in the day and now that the happy juices were also gone, I was running on pure fear of wild, unruly animals (or ghosts, the big hole in the ground, the giant spiders that almost ate Harry and Ron, and other unexpected, unsafe things–I don’t have anxiety, you do!) I moved my legs as fast as I could, with my heart beating out of my throat and sweat dripping off every part of me. We scrambled up and up, clearly no longer on the path. After a few minutes (no, it was like forever), we could see a soft glow of light shining through the trees up ahead on the crest of the hill. We made a bee line for it and the moment we leaped over the parking barrier, I bent over to catch my breath and looked behind me. I remember looking over my back at least once more as I dragged my noodle legs across the lot to our car. “FUCK that.” I heard myself say as we got in the car. “Good call on the head lamps,” Chris said with wide eyes.

Despite experiencing complete exhaustion from the longest day of the trip, it was a warm night and we did not sleep well (sorry, there was no happy ending after our Blair Witch Project, nightcap experience). But the good news is that it was all worth it and we’d do it all over again for these glowing pictures.

Day 5

I woke up the next morning to a clean tent and freshly made coffee. Chris was ready. We packed up and rolled out of the campgrounds slowly, as to not hit the many small children who were taking their morning bike ride. A very small child, with all the socially appropriate awareness in the world, waved and grimaced apologetically at us, “Sorry!” as she dove out of our way. “Did she just…” we looked at each other.

Before leaving town, we stopped at the biggest superstore in the world, Fred Myers, for some fruit and snacks. Off we drove, through the salty coastal haze, waving goodbye to Brookings.

It was high time to cross the border into California. As Chris was wondering aloud, we saw the sign for Crescent City, CA. Uncharacteristically, we didn’t have strict plans for the day and we stopped at a visitor center, and even asked the volunteers to give us ideas. They put us in front of a woman who was clearly in charge of everything hiking. She took out two maps and started drawing lines with a blue sharpie, “This trail is fairly flat.” I told her that I would be on nothing but flat, safe ground that day (I was a walking zombie).

One of the most memorable moments of the trip for me was that morning. We followed the backroads into a very inconspicuous entry into Jedidiah State Park. The first few minutes of the drive were underwhelming and I remember saying, “These trees don’t look that big.” The words had slipped my lips with naïve understanding and no more than a minute later, we were rolling slowly under the greatest canopy of giants we’d ever seen. Simultaneously, we dropped our jaws with a “woooooooooow” cranking our necks to see the forest. The road turned to dirt, the greenery lining the road turned pale from the dust. For four miles we swerved deeper and deeper.

At the end of the road, as we had been led was Stout Grove. We meandered the wide paths in awe of the giant, red trees skirted by ferns and clovers. We followed a path that followed the shallow river but eventually turned around to return to the grove. The sun was high, casting a million shadows and sun spots over the grove, breaking my heart because we would not be able to return at a better time. This was for our eyes only.

Afterwards, we drove over the river (and literally through the woods) to Simpson-Reed Grove, the eccentric, messy sister to Stout Grove. We dined roadside on a dehydrated meal then took to the trail, again in complete disbelief over what we were seeing.

By two in the afternoon we drove out of the park and back south, past wild, windy beaches, sand dunes and more vistas. The scene became more rural, with RV parks, seaside cottages, wind swept trees. The road went back and forth between running through a wooded ridge to winding around seaside cliffs. We passed through a small town that words can’t explain. Though, Chris tried, “We just passed the gas station from the movie where Milla Jovovich is trying to find gas but there’s nothing left to civilization.” That was correct. It looked like zombies were about to break through the boarded up windows and chase us down the highway. The land flattened and we passed prairies and lagoons. Elk were grazing in the distance.

Soon after, we arrived to Patrick’s Point State Park, the heart of northern Cali’s redwoods. The campground wound up to be far more secluded and minimal compared to the other two. As we pulled into the grounds, signs about bears and mountain lions caught my attention. Chris looked at me looking at the signs, wondering which face off would be worse, “Let’s drive past these…” Chris said speeding away. We set up shop and rested (Ali obsessing about where to take photos that evening and Chris actually resting).

The brilliant man that he is, Chris suggested a groundbreaking idea for dinner–pizza. We rode the seaside drive into Trinidad, a quaint town just a bit south of the campground. The pizza place was a hole in the wall, and luckily we got a table. We were happy to enjoy a warm, served meal, even if the pizza was just okay. And because this was a vacation, afterwards we crossed the street and joined everybody else who was standing in line for some ice cream. I don’t even remember it. We ate it too fast.

We walked up and down a chilly fisherman’s pier, and then along a small rocky cove that looked out at a bay of anchored, swaying sailboats. Tired of the elements, we parked at the far end of Trinidad beach and sat there, out of the wind, the sun warm on our closed eyelids.

And because I couldn’t bear to relax for more than a minute, I got out to stand on the sand dunes and watch the waves sparkle in the sun. The silhouettes of a woman and her dog floated back and forth in the sand. (What is this, a Nicholas Sparks romance novel? I’m not kidding. It was so beautifully cheesy).

I was sure that the beach I wanted was just beyond what I could see. We drove around and ended up at a small park, where we hiked one way and then another, eventually finding the trail down to the beach. It was an oh-so-worth it moment of being lost–the trail bursted with lavender reeds and ferns and wildflowers. I barely got outta there to take photos of the sunset.

We ended the night downloading images and journaling from inside our sleeping bags. It was then I noticed the feeling of slight content acclimation to the bedtime sounds of the forest and the modest comforts of tent sleeping. What a powerful reboot it came to be.

Stay tuned for Part II of the trip where we ditch the tent and found glorious sleep with an Airbnb in Point Reyes, the most beautiful light above the cliffs of Sea Lion Cove, and some weird ass shit in San Francisco.

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