Seattle, WA to Yachats, OR / 370 miles / New Year 2017
A few days before Christmas, I woke up and did what I had been doing first thing every morning for the past month, I checked the weather in every town along the Pacific Coast from Seattle, WA to Monterey, CA for as far into the future as I could see. I wanted to get on the road as soon as possible. I’d been in Seattle for nearly two weeks already and I was beginning to feel the effects of sitting around, lazily smoking too much pot, eating too much delicious heavy food, and not getting enough sleep. I was feeling soft and it worried me. The road will chew up soft and lazy like a dog chews on a marrow bone. Not to mention the fact that the holidays are a perpetual waterfall of booze, and my patience was growing thin with the prospects of the possibility of yet another evening of breathing another holiday stranger’s heavy beer breath, while having the same conversations I’d already had with the strangers before, for days on end. Having the opportunity to spend time with some of my closest friends in town between the monotony was a huge silver lining. The holidays are different when you don’t drink. Quite frankly, they kind of suck, and they go on for far too long. It’s the same night on a loop over and over again from Halloween to New Years. Yeah, yeah, humbug. Get over it. So by the time Christmas morning came around I was putting on my best holiday cheer face while running down my mental checklist of things that needed to be taken care of before hitting the road.
My somewhat flexible goal from the very beginning was to be underway sometime between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. As it would turn out, I wouldn’t be left with much of an option. In the span of time between my planned departure there was only one day that looked somewhat comfortable for travel before the next wave of winter was due to sweep back through the Seattle area. I packed up my things, purged a few more items from my luggage, and started to prep the bike. I took it for a little test drive around my old neighborhood to make sure everything was running as smoothly as possible. To my disappointment, it wasn’t. At the end of a night of visiting with some old buddies I went out to warm the bike up for the ride back to where I would be staying for the evening. The old Suzuki started just fine, and then, died. I tried again. Same scenario. I tried again. And again. And again. I thought I had flooded it in my haste to get the show on the road, so I waited. I went back inside the house and shot the shit a little more and counted down the minutes while mentally running through all of the possible issues I could be coming up against. It was 1:30 in the morning and at this point I hadn’t slept a full night since leaving Bend weeks before. All I really wanted, more than anything, was to get my ass to sleep. I walked back out and started the whole sequence all over again from the beginning. Same outcome. Eventually I walked to where I needed to be, defeated and frustrated.
I woke up the next day and pawed over the bike, top to bottom. I called a local mechanic and ran through my situation and he gave me three possibilities. One and two I could handle. The third was a possible disaster. After a lot of bullshit whining and complaining I started to take the old bike apart. I started with the tank and moved my way through the fuel system as far as I could without knowingly royally screwing myself. When it was all said and done, I did an oil change for good measure, cleaned the fuel tank, petcock, vacuum and fuel lines, cleaned the carburetor and jets, re-adjusted the fuel to air mixture, fiddled with the idle, and re-fueled with some high octane gasoline. The moment of truth came and I knew I had covered all of the bases that I felt comfortable with.
Choke on, kill switch flipped, clutch in, ignition . . . LIFE!
It ran better than it had since I picked up the little monster months before. I did a little happy dance and threw my leg over for a few hot laps around the old neighborhood. Oh baby, did it sound good! I ran it up and down the old potholed streets and giggled my ass off. I was seeing Seattle in my rearview mirrors and I hadn’t even packed my bags yet. I said my goodbyes, secured the luggage and all of my layers, cleaned my goggle lenses, and took off for the coast.
I took it easy at first to make sure everything was running smoothly and was balanced correctly. Once that little chore was satisfied I jumped on I-5 south and made a beeline towards highway 101, my planned route down the Washington and Oregon Coasts. One hundred miles and a few hours later, I rolled into Grayland State Park on the Washington coast and set up camp. I was beat. Like I said, I hadn’t slept a full night in weeks. That night, even though the mercury dropped to nearly 28 degrees fahrenheit, I slept hard. The next morning I woke up to heavy winds and sheets of rain, but being on the road with no agenda has its perks. I got up, made a cup of tea under the vestibule of my tent, pulled out a book and read. Looking back it’s like that day never even happened. I spent a full twenty-four hours in my sleeping bag reading and napping and smiling to myself. These are the days that fill my soul. The rain continued throughout the day and into the night and the cold grew deeper. When I woke up the following morning the tent was covered in ice and my motorcycle was equally covered in a thin layer of frost. This would be my first test.
By the time I had finished packing everything up my fingers were rosy red and tingling with the bite of frost. The heated grips I had installed were looking less like a luxury item and more like a necessity. The bike fired up without hesitation and I mounted my luggage. As I left the park I could see frost on every surface that wasn’t moving. The puddles in the road were held captive under thin sheets of ice. I picked my way along at a cautious fifty miles per hour for about thirty miles before I decided that what I needed was a hot cup of coffee, two eggs, and two strips of bacon, with some dry rye toast to soak it all up. When I pulled into the diner, in a small hiccup of a town I’ll probably never remember the name of, I was greeted with whispers and chuckles as I plopped myself into a booth at the back of the restaurant. It felt good to be the oddball stranger. The food came and the watered down coffee warmed my bones.
Back on the road I set my sights on Cannon Beach, Oregon. I knew there were off-season cabin rentals there and I was not feeling ambitious enough to camp out in the forecasted sub-freezing temperatures for another night. As I pushed south the weather cleared up and the roads dried out. By the time I reached the bridge into Astoria, Oregon the reality of the scope of the trip I was on had become very real. I was a big ball of nerves and pure joy. The smile on my face was beginning to hurt my cheeks. Eventually I pulled in to Cannon Beach, found a cabin for the night, dumped my gear, and went for a walk. I thought about my childhood heroes, the Goonies, and enjoyed a hot cup of drinking chocolate with a nicotine gum kicker while I sat and watched the ocean and the tourists do their thing. When the sun set I retired for the night with a box of crackers and a few apples. I stayed up reading and munching on my light dinner well into the night.
The next morning I was quickly reminded of why I had decided to rent the tiny cabin. I rolled out of my sleeping bag, wrapped myself in a flannel shirt and daintily tip-toed my way to the bathroom at the foot of the bed. My breath was coming out in hot clouds of steam thick enough to hide what was right in front of me. I sort of giggled at the state of my frozen equipment as I relieved myself and started going over any possible plans for the day. I knew I wanted to move on soon, but I would have to wait for the world around me to thaw itself out first. I unpacked my little backpacker stove and brewed a boiling hot cup of instant coffee as I slowly packed everything else up. When all was tidied and the coffee was ready I popped in a nicotine chiclet, slid into my boots, and walked out onto the porch to survey the scene. Again, a world covered in ice. I feel it’s necessary to mention that I have camped out on the Oregon coast many, many, times, in every season, and I have also spent countless nights camped out in the snow and ice of the Cascades during the winter, but for some reason, the cold has never jarred me the way it did that morning. I wanted to turn around and crawl back into my sleeping bag and wait for spring. Everything was covered in a thick layer of frost. And what wasn’t covered in frost was covered in a menacing sheet of ice. It had rained lightly the night before and it seemed as though everything that had been touched by the rain was sporting a sexy new candied glaze. Including the road.
So I waited.
Eventually the sun started to peek out over the trees in the east and began to melt most of the surface of the road. The bike started up just fine and the bags were slung over it and secured as the single cylinder thumped itself to life. It is a ritual I am starting to love more and more with each passing day. I am forced to take a back seat to the weather and enjoy the morning in a way I seldom do. I tend to wake up grumpy. Always have. I’d usually rather keep sleeping or be woken up with a mouth hug and a hot cup of black coffee sometime just before the afternoon. But I’m an adult and I hear those days happen less and less as the years tick by. I’m resisting that reality for now. Anyways, the silence and the cold and the ritual of waking with the sun, brewing a crappy cup of instant coffee on a one-person stove, and watching the world wake up slowly around me as I pack up my things, brings a kind of joy that absolutely nothing else in this world can provide. I watch frost turn to water and soak into the ground as my coffee cup empties and then refills one more time. I see leaves turn themselves towards the sky as the sun starts to kiss them good morning. I wipe the dew from the seat of my new best friend and companion as I turn the engine over and listen for any errant knocks or ticks. Then the bags go on and I pull winter gear over my normal protective riding attire. As the idle calms down and finds its rhythm I strap on my helmet and gloves. I check to make sure my pockets are all zipped up. And then, I plant my left foot on the peg, stand, and throw my right leg over the saddle. Kickstand up. First gear. A quick flutter in my belly and a twitch at the corners of my mouth, and I’m back on the road.
Leaving Cannon Beach behind me was un-ceremonious. Any romance of the morning was completely gone once I turned south again on the 101. The surface was atrocious. The frost may have melted near the beach, but there was plenty to be found in the shade that covers the bulk of the highway in the pre-noon hours. It was damn cold. The frost sat in patronizing piles on the edge of the road and the ice covering the puddles I passed all felt like a collective middle finger pointing up at me. I told myself I’d only go as far as I was comfortable with and that there was no good reason to push beyond what I knew I felt safe traveling over. I managed to let my body relax enough to dance with the oncoming curvature of my path. Eventually the sun reached its peak and I was moving with considerably less caution, enjoying my time in the saddle once again. My original plan was to stop near Newport at Bullards Beach Campground for a few days and enjoy a sandy New Year’s Eve walkabout, but the weather had taken to smiling at me and I decided that I should push on and take advantage of the warmth while I could. The weather report that morning was less than promising for the days ahead and I knew there was little time for dilly-dallying. After a quick stop to refuel and to choke down a Red Bull, I decided I would shack up in Yachats for two nights. There was talk with the gas station attendant of snow on the way and my suspicion that I had heard thunder somewhere in the distance was confirmed by a man dancing with a sign in front of one of the local marijuana dispensaries I felt compelled to investigate. Once again, the race against nature would be on. Feeling refreshed from my infusion of neurotoxin provided by my sugar free energy drink, I took off for what is by far my most favorite place on all of the Oregon coast with a sense of purpose and jittery excitement. The place I want a pinch of my ashes dropped after I kick the bucket one day. The place that feels a lot like home and has forever sunk its talons into me. The often sleepy little town you can drive through in three and a half minutes.
I pulled in and booked a room that consisted of a comically compact “desk”, one window, and a bed at the Drift Inn. The first thing I did after undressing my companion and stowing my luggage in my tiny lodging, was go for a ride, naturally. After a day of packing gear down the Coast Highway I could feel that “Kilgore Trout”, the name I have given my motorcycle, wanted to get out and run without an extra seventy five pounds of crap slung to its ass. We sprinted to Devil’s Hole and then back through town all the way to Waldport, tempting a head on collision with the oncoming storm, turned around before the bridge and sprinted back into Yachats as the air around us started to change. It smelled like rain and it felt like snow. A deep cold was moving in and I was grateful for a quick lap before the slop descended on us.
That evening I enjoyed a hot meal at the inn and a quiet night in a cozy bed. I woke up the next morning to the sound of hail and waves crashing violently into the estuary at the south end of town. I walked to the Green Salmon and ordered up an oatmeal scone and a very large coffee to go and returned to my room. It was New Year’s Eve. I would spend the day alone, writing and reading, and enjoying the opportunity to spend a full day in my underwear, in a tiny room, in one of my most favored places on the planet. That evening, after sunset, I picked up a small fish sandwich and a ginger ale from the fish n’ chip spot across the street and ate a few mushrooms. After I finished my sandwich and felt the fungus beginning to do its thing, I laid on my back with the lights off and the window open and listened to the waves roll in and out. I chewed nicotine gum and reflected. I thought about life on the road. I thought about how lucky I am to have the opportunity to choose this life I have. I thought about what might come for me down the line and if I would have to wait out more of this winter before moving on or if I was going to get far enough south with enough speed to outrun the next shot of snow and ice. I thought about my nieces and how spending the holidays with them filled me with more love and humility than I could ever ask for. I laughed at the fact that every time I think of them when I am alone I get tears in my eyes. I wondered if they would grow up to be adventurers and indulge in things far off from tradition as well. I thought about my friends back home and across the globe and what sort of trouble they may be getting themselves into. I smiled contently at my current solitude and feeling of my brain bobbing in a pond of mild hallucinogens. Eventually, I fell asleep thinking of the significance of the calendar rolling over into a new year. Tomorrow would be just another day, but sometime during the night the world would be expecting some sort of magic to happen that would allow many of us the freedom to feel as though we could start all over again. I smiled at the idea as the snow started to fall and the spirits of my past crept in through the open window and visited me. I was exactly where I wanted to be.