If you talk about doing something for long enough, you reach a point where you either have to see it through or let it go. The fantasy of driving from my home in California to the top of Oregon and back with my closest friend was one of those things. We’d tossed around the idea for a couple years, but kept missing our chance due to timing, distance, and financial means. So when a window opened up in late summer where it seemed like our last opportunity to make it happen for the foreseeable future, I finagled my way out of work, she booked a flight to meet me in Santa Barbara, and we pieced it all together in under a week.
We packed my car full of snacks, camping necessities, and attire for any weather, and took off the morning after she arrived with minimal expectations and only the skeleton of a “plan.” The agreement was if I drove most of the way, I could stop to take photos as frequently as I wanted as long as we stayed on track. As it turns out, driving 2000 miles in 9 days, usually in 5 to 9 hour stretches, doesn’t allow for much frivolous exploration. Nevertheless, I sought out every opportunity to freeze time and catch a handful of fleeting moments during this whirlwind of a trip.
By some streak of luck, someone I knew only briefly and hadn’t seen in well over a year generously opened his door to us and let us crash for a night in San Francisco, before making the next leg of the trip to a very special place I booked for us off the grid in town neither of us had heard of called French Gulch. I knew we would need somewhere to stay between the Bay Area and Southern Oregon, and after several hours of digging through the Internet, I happened upon the Airbnb of camping and bought us a night on someone’s property in the middle of a forest with a waterfall all to ourselves.
All we knew prior to arriving was that there would be a dirt driveway to get to the actual campsite and that a 4WD was recommended, but not required. I’m just stubborn enough that despite her hesitation, I demanded we go in my 2WD sedan anyway. In reality, the driveway was a bumpy, winding, single-lane dirt road including many hills, two narrow bridges over a creek, and an unforgiving cliff. And, of course, we arrived as the sun was setting, losing any cell reception miles before reaching said road, without another soul in sight. My car may or may not have almost gotten stuck going up the cliff, but 45 minutes at 5 mph and one panic attack later, we reached our destination and indulged in a 5-star meal of PB&J’s before passing out from exhaustion. The next morning, we awoke to the sound of rushing water and walked out of our tent-home to bathe in our private paradise.
I could have easily stayed right there forever, but it was only day 3 and we had more places to check off the list. We drove up to Ashland, Oregon, where we swam and showered in some hippie mineral baths – which left us smelling like sulfur, but at least we were clean – and grabbed sandwiches at a co-op where a mixed bag of free spirits were juggling and playing mandolins out front. We weren’t there more than a few hours, but got a good glimpse of the storybook town before heading further north to Eugene. My best friend from high school invited us to set up camp on her floor for a couple days, giving us a personal tour of the hidden gems she’d been collecting since moving there. We arrived in the midst of the late summer heat wave, so we spent most of our time reading and resting by the river with a family of ducks under the shade of the ivy-covered trees.
It’s never easy to part ways with someone you hardly get to see, but we had hit the halfway point of our allotted time and hadn’t yet reached the peak of our journey. Our next stop was Portland, the only place where we had booked formal accommodation. Neither of us mind roughing it, but it was nice to have a real bed for a couple nights before heading home. We caught up with some friends who invited us over to play video games and ate a lot of good food, and I managed not to take a single photo in the city, but we were pointed in the direction of a place with good nature just over the Washington border. We spent our last afternoon wandering around Paradise Point State Park, soaking up as much sunshine and clean air as we could before packing up the car again.
Our last stop in Oregon was a toss-up between Crater Lake or the Oregon Coast, and while we both really wanted to see the lake, it was peak tourist season, so we opted for the coast. It was overcast and especially gloomy, which fit our mood since it was day 7 and we were both running on fumes. Living out of a car with another person and being in a constant state of motion takes its toll, even when that’s part of the fun.
We spent most of the day driving aimlessly down the edge of the state, stopping off a couple times to get some personal space and stretch our legs. Because we picked our final stop the morning of, we hadn’t yet found a place to stay. We were losing daylight quickly, our cell service was patchy, and every campsite or motel we drove by was fully booked. Finally, after I don’t know how many hours of looking, we found a $20 campsite with vacancy and had just enough time to set up our tent before it was dark.
In an effort to conserve both time and energy, I picked the first car-camping spot we saw – unlucky #13. My friend wasn’t sure about it, but I told her it would be fine and dropped her off with our stuff before looping back to go claim it. There was a sign at the payment box that a woman had gone missing in the area, which was only moderately unsettling, but we hastily got our site set up and drank Cup o’ Noodles and tea for dinner with the soothing sounds of our camp neighbors drunkenly yelling and blasting Eye of the Tiger just beyond the bushes. We looked at each other and burst into a delirious fit of laughter about how perfectly ridiculous everything was, and despite the eerie feeling in the air, we cuddled up in our tent and tried to sleep – with both hammer and knife within reach, just in case.
What could have ended like the plot of a horror story turned out to be a delightfully uneventful evening, and #13 wasn’t so unlucky after all. The next day we packed up at sunrise and I drove us 9 hours straight to Berkeley, stopping for one last sandwich in Ashland and a quick hi and bye to Mount Shasta, before yet another generous friend welcomed us into his home with a bed, a warm meal, and incredible company.
We spent the last of our money on some CD’s for the road at Rasputin and naughty vegan food at The Butcher’s Son, before dragging ourselves down the final stretch back to where we started. When we got home it felt like we had hallucinated the previous 9 days into existence, and the next morning she was on a plane back out of state. Nearly a year and a half later, I’ve finally processed everything; as chaotic as the trip was, if given the chance to do it over again, I would do it all the same – only maybe with a 4WD.