This is part of our 100 Things in 2015 challenge. Here’s the full list.
It’s that time of year again! Road trip season. We went on a big one, where which way we go at every stop is determined by pulling a labeled stone out of a bag.
Before we get to the narrative, I just wanted to plop this map in here. The new Google Maps won’t tell me how long it is, but it’s in the hundreds of miles.
As with last year’s installment, this road trip has rules.
- The direction of travel will be decided at random, by pulling it out of a hat.
- No freeways allowed after the first leg.
- The first draw can’t be west (we know the coast pretty well) or east (that was last year).
- Stop at every historical marker, interpretive trail, general roadside point of interest, or place that Becky wants to stop.
- Paper maps only for planning. We use electronic tools to find good places to eat and visit, but ye olde atlas is the only tool for deciding on a destination.
- No chain restaurants if it can be helped. Be as local as possible.
- No timetables allowed. We start looking for food when lunchtime arrives. No planning our lodgings until we know the city/town/village/cave we’re going to stop in.
…and here’s how we broke them. But only just a little.
Firstly, since we had a bunch of stuff to do around the house, and then we had a late-afternoon kid drop-off in Salem, we decided the first draw was automatically south, and Eugene seemed like a good destination. So we broke another rule, and booked an Airbnb a whole day in advance.
So it was that we found ourselves at the Izakaya Meiji Company at dinnertime, a Japanese/Country-Western restaurant in Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood. This first photo is of the Goma Ae – muddy spinach, served cold. It’s pretty intimidating when it arrives on your table, but it’s about the most delicious vegetable you’ll ever put in your mouth.
Afterward, we took a long, much-needed walk to the Red Wagon Creamery, or as it is also known, “Eugene’s Salt & Straw.” Delicious. Walk some more, drive a bit, and crash in our “weird” Airbnb.
We roused ourselves fairly early, and had the most appropriate breakfast possible for Eugene: yogurt and crunchy granola. Our first real drawing for this trip: SOUTH. We checked the map, and chose Cottage Grove for our first stop. Most of the towns on the way are pretty depressing, consisting mostly of truck stops and/or warehouses, and not much else.
But Cottage Grove is a keeper. This is mostly a drive-through town on I-5, but when you approach it on 99, you get to see its charms close-up. Among them is Buster’s Main Street Cafe, which will likely be full and have a line 30 minutes deep no matter what time of day you come by. We even treated ourselves to a ginger-beer float, which was…okay. Not Buster’s fault, you see, those flavors just aren’t meant to be together.
We also discovered that there was a covered bridge tour! Of the seven listed, we managed to find six.
Our next draw: WEST, which means Drain. The first thing to know is that it’s not easy to get there without touching the interstate, but we managed. We ended up on some gravel roads in the hills before we emerged back onto 99 in Curtin.
I’ve been through Drain a dozen times, since I have family in Coos Bay, but I never knew that it had a historic mansion tucked away behind the high school (which I also wasn’t aware existed). We spotted another covered bridge (7!) and some poke-your-head-through photo props that we couldn’t pass up.
Our next draw was SOUTH, and it was getting late in the day, so we started calling B&Bs to find lodging. We left a few messages, and started on our way towards Roseburg. It turns out the only way there without a freeway was to go further West, through Elkton, where we happened upon a lovely little winery, where we bought a couple of bottles, and made more phone calls.
We went on our way, and while stopped at a historical marker, we finally made contact with a B&B that would have us. We arrived at the historic Hokanson’s Guest House around 7, got checked in by the amiable and chatty proprietor, and strolled to the local McMenamin’s for dinner. It felt like giving up, but it was Sunday night, and this was really the only thing open. It was exactly what you’d expect from a McMenamin’s.
The next day was my birthday! Our host made a sumptuous meal with waffles, an omelet with eggs laid by his own chickens, fruit he had grown in his backyard, and lots of great coffee.
Stuffed to the gills, we set out to discover Roseburg. Turns out there was a huge exploson in 1959, which caused the entire downtown area to be rebuilt. There’s even a self-guided tour, which we had to quit just a few steps in; you had to stop every block and watch a 10-minute video in the bright sun on a tiny phone screen. Not even our list compulsion could power us through that one.
Our next draw was SOUTH, and we picked Winston, home of the Wildlife Safari! It was my birthday, so we bought tickets on a bear-feeding adventure. The bears were lazy. So lazy, in fact, that the bear we were feeding would only eat the apples thrown by the tourists if they actually landed in his mouth. I bounced quite a few apple chunks off his cheeks and shoulders. Not satisfied, I paid $5 for a cup of what looked like Cocoa Puffs, and had them licked out of my hands by four or five deer-like creatures.
We bought some
junk cheap food at the Winston Grocery Outlet, and made ourselves a trashy picnic in the park, where we drew our next direction: WEST, which meant Myrtle Point. We found our eighth covered bridge on our way! We got into town only to find that the Coos County Fair had ended two days prior, and as a result the museum was closed! Boo!
So we drew again, and got SOUTH. We settled on Port Orford as a destination, made some calls, and ended up with a room at The Compass Rose. We headed out that way, with a quick stop at a historical marker (and bathroom) in Coquille. We got ourselves checked in (the place isn’t super charming, but very neat and new, and there’s a bunny barn), then headed out to explore the town a bit. I climbed Battle Rock, which I have climbed many times as a tween on family vacations from Denver, but whose history I never appreciated until now. We stopped at the grocery store, and settled into our room for dinner and a Paul Rudd movie.
Our provided breakfast was lovely, though not fruit-grown-in-the-backyard lovely. We did enjoy coffee on the porch with hummingbirds, though.
It was at this point that we decided we wouldn’t be doing any more drawing. North was where we came from, and east and west were impassable, so that left SOUTH. We decided on a final destination, booked a camp site at the nearest KOA (yes, we had a tent, and firewood; we planned for the unplannable), and set off to see the sights between.
After a couple interpretive trails, some more impressive than others, we stopped at the biggest bookstore on the Oregon coast, in Gold Beach. It’s like Powell’s, and there’s even a rare books room. There was a short visit to a local distillery way off the beaten path near Brookings, where we bought a couple more bottles of fine things to bring home.
Then we crossed into California, and drove into the Redwood National Park. There’s a driving loop that you can see on the map, a dusty gravel road through a giant, ancient forest, and a written guide tells you the mileage to particularly interesting trees, like the hollow ones you see below. It was great.
Then we stopped at the grocery store for camp food, and checked into our site at the KOA. I talked the cashier into upgrading us to a cabin, even though we were only there for one night, and we roasted cheese brats over a campfire (and ate them with cardboard “buns”). Real living.
The next morning we packed up and headed for home, but not before doing just a couple more things. First we stopped at the Trees of Mystery. After that, we grabbed brunch in Crescent City, and then the rules-based portion of the trip was over. We high-tailed it up over the mountains to 108°F Grants Pass for gas and coffee, and onto the freeway for the long drive home. We listened to the audio version of Wigfield (as read by the authors, Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris), and it kept our minds engaged with its strangeness for most of the drive. We couldn’t resist a stop at Izakaya Meiji for just one more batch of cold, muddy spinach.
We didn’t know it then, but this happened to be our last road trip in this car! Shortly after we got back, we traded it in. Farewell, blue Subaru! We had some good times.