Entering the month of May meant we had survived eight months of nomadic living; no permanent place to lay our head at night, always in search of the next great camping site and a return to the basic needs and wants of life. Some people ask us what our favorite place has been while others ask us how we’ve survived that long in a tiny camper without killing each other, both very valid questions!
We were lucky enough to catch up with many friends in April and this continued into May as we headed to Portland. We spent a few days with a friend there who just happened to have an extra apartment! We also made a side trip to catch up with family for a few days in Colorado and Oklahoma before heading north… to the last great frontier… Alaska! But first, we must cover May.
Total May Cost: $4,044
Total days in the camper: 21
Total days out of camper: 10
Cost per day: $130
States Visited: Oregon, Washington… and British Columbia, Canada!
Total Miles: 2,400 (+ 4,600 side trip)
Our expenses were higher in May as we prepared for our northern exposure and made a fun side trip to catch up with family we hadn’t seen in five months. To lessen the impact of the extra mileage on the 4Runner, we rented a car in Portland that was more comfortable and had much better gas mileage. This paid off as in total we drove almost 5,000 miles in ten days… I’m sure the rental car company wouldn’t have agreed to our $18/day if they knew we were driving that far*. We saved a lot of money on campsites because we stayed with our friend in Portland and also stayed with family for a few days. I broke out the side trip costs just so they don’t distort the other categories too much, but I like to keep all expenses in the totals just so you have a realistic expectation of what this trip will cost us (with surprises and all). Here are the details:
The best part of Oregon – which is a similar theme to our entire trip – was catching up with friends who we hadn’t seen in a long time. In Portland, we caught up with a former co-worker and friend from my Accenture and HP days (when I actually had a job). He moved his family to Portland a few years ago from Houston and really likes his new city, so we were excited to see it… and also excited to use his extra apartment which he hadn’t rented out yet! He let us stay in it for as long as we wanted, but our need for tortured travel meant we only stayed two weekends on either side of our extra road trip.
Let’s talk Portland first. Sure, there are shows making fun of it like “Portlandia”, but it actually does a decent job of pointing out quirks of the city’s inhabitants. It’s full of nice and interesting people.. and yes, things like four people stopping at a four way stop and waiting for an hour as they all try to wave the other people on really could happen here. But don’t let the niceness fool you, we also talked to people who had friends lower themselves off the main bridge in town to block the oil company (I believe Exxon) from disembarking on their mission to explore and map oil in the Arctic Ocean. These are people who are nice for the right reasons!
We really loved our friend’s neighborhood in Portland, the Sellwood area. It was obviously designed in a different age when houses were neighborly instead of compound-y. The front porches were active with friendly chats and only a few blocks away are some of the famous Portland food carts. You can walk down to the river with a large public park and even an amusement park, or catch up with neighbors at “share square”, a designated street crossing where each corner involved sharing: a tiny library, neighborhood bulletin board, small playground and a hangout area. It also helps to be there in the right time of the year, there was some rain, but it was offset with beautiful sunny days that highlighted the streets full of flowers. It reminded us of our former beloved neighborhood in New Orleans.
We parked Penny Lane and the 4Runner in Portland while we made a quick side trip to Oklahoma to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Sure, it’s hard to call a 28 hour drive a ‘side trip’, but with a rented hybrid including satellite radio, we enjoyed it! We also stopped on the way back in Boulder to spend a few nights with family there. It was nice to have real showers and real beds for a while, but the north was calling and we returned.
As we continued on, we left Portland and headed into the interior to explore some of the state and national parks. We first headed into Bend to see what the city was all about. I previously discovered a love for Deschutes’ “Black Butte Porter” beer and when I found out they were in Bend, that became a must visit. We spent an afternoon sampling beer and food before heading to their brewery and taking a full tour. This was on a workday (I think Tuesday) so let’s say it was for scientific taste-testing and to make sure I agreed with company standards. It passed.
We based at a state park south of Bend and spent four days exploring the area. We first went north to Smith Rocks State Park and watched as the landscape which had already turned from the sub-tropical rainforest of the coast, to a drier mountain climate in Bend, change again to an almost desert like landscape of Northeast Oregon. Smith Rocks State Park is centered around desert mountains and is a world renowned climbing site. We headed out on a 5-6 mile hike with Lucy and little did we know, would become very important in someone else’s day.
As we rounded a corner on the steep ascent, we saw a lady with a big dog standing next to the trail. The dog was out of control, so we stalled a bit hoping our mountain selfies would give her enough time to move on. It wasn’t for our own safety, but more because we don’t always know how Lucy will react. Sure, we think she’s the best dog in the world, but after she penned a little dog earlier in Oregon, we have been a little more careful!
Okay, I guess I should tell that story first – we were hiking with her on a leash, when a little Jack Russell, off-leash, came charging at us from down the trail. We’ve adopted the approach of unleashed dogs are calmer because they’re not in “protector mode”, so we let go of Lucy. Lucy met charging little Jack like a Patriot missile, but Little Jack is apparently a little Napoleon as his owners told us afterwards, and Lucy wasn’t going to cower to his demands as she’s ten times bigger. Instead, she quickly flipped him on his back, penned him down and probably used some dog words not appropriate for the blog. We removed her and since we were in Oregon, the owners profusely apologized and refused to lay any of the blame on Lucy, even as we insisted it was partially her fault! Such nice people.
So yes, we’re sometimes hesitant with her, but back on Smith Rocks, the lady wasn’t budging. We headed up and as we approached her, we could see the fear in her face. She was dog-sitting for friends who were climbing the mountain and the large German-Shepard mix had taken control of the hike as it kept jumping at and scaring her. She asked if she could try walking with us and we agreed, hoping the wise and calm nature of Lucy would calm him. Instead, she growled at him and he submitted to the wise old lady. She continued along with us as we realized they would become new participants in our day. It was cool though, because it kept Kujo under control.
We ventured down the mountain and agreed to part ways as she could see her friends climbing and figured they would be down soon. We broke off the trail and had lunch while Lucy cooled off in the river. As we continued on, we could hear an obnoxious barking which echoed down the canyon and shortly after we saw the owner standing next to it. It was then Jocelyn realized it was our friend again. Kujo had totally taken over and our friend’s last resort was to tie him to a nearby tree and panic… she broke into full tears as she saw us coming. I’m not always good with hints, but I guess this one was clear enough. We told her we’d get Kujo back to their campsite so she could tie him up and wait there for the owners. I took his leash and he challenged me with a nip and bark – and Lucy nearly broke her leash away from Jocelyn trying to get over to him, but I got him back under control with some Cesar-like mind tricks**. We led him back to the campsite with no issues and a relieved (and soon to be quitting) babysitter found some peace.
Our next day trip was to Crater Lake National Park. We kept the camper at the state park in La Pine so we wouldn’t have to drag Penny Lane on the five hour round trip South. From previous research, we knew most of the park was still closed due to snowed in roads (even in mid-May!) but we still wanted to see the lake. As we approached the Rim Village, we saw parking lots boxed in with snow 15 feet high and crammed with cars and tourists excited to see the lake. We found a spot and hiked up the snow hill to see the view. It was a gorgeous deep blue panorama with reflecting clouds and a snow-covered crater.
It’s here I steal some content from the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He visited with his son and said something was wrong the place. It was just too perfect – like humanity had never been there. He said it would be better if they piled some beer cans around the rim or maybe even a giant beer can pile in the middle. We caught our view and spent just as much time watching the other tourists swarming the sides before heading back to their cars and checking Crater Lake off their list, just as we did.
The only bad from May was our own damn fault. It was the lack of respect we gave to Washington. Maybe it was due to exhaustion caused by nine months of nomadic travel or maybe because we were getting excited for the last leg of our trip, but either way, we didn’t do Washington justice. The highlight is we stayed at casinos for five nights – which meant free stays – and since we had free stays, we of course had to gamble.. and guess what, we actually won on slots and craps! I much prefer losing because then my appetite for gambling is gone for a while, but it’s nice to have some income when you don’t get income.
We did see Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington and enjoyed some camping near it, but much of the park was still under snow. We headed to Olympic National Park afterwards but the casinos were kinda far so we didn’t do much exploring in the park. Actually, we drove to the national park campsite but didn’t have cell phone reception, so instead we opted for the casino which had free electric hook ups! It was also cold and rainy since we were back on the coast, so we weren’t having much of it. We hopped the ferry to Whidbey Island and stopped in Bellingham to stock up for our final northern leg. Our grocery expenses were higher due to this stock up, but the investment will surely pay for itself as we experience the much more expensive shopping in Canada and Alaska.
We’ve seen our share of poverty as we’ve traveled the US, and unfortunately the closer you are to Native American reservations, the more noticeable the poverty becomes. We saw this throughout the Southwest as well as up through California and Washington. But the extreme poverty wasn’t limited to reservations.
One of the more unsettling impoverished towns was Aberdeen, Washington. As soon as we rolled into town, we noticed things weren’t quite right. Our visit to Walmart was full of faces that seemed to tell stories beyond our comprehension, and driving through downtown made it more noticeable. The few buildings that weren’t boarded up housed government and social services. After a Google, we learned it used to be a thriving logging town, but after federal regulations made logging more difficult, business dried up. I’m not sure what happened as there was still lots of logging in Oregon and parts of Washington, so maybe there was more to the story than just that. The town is now plagued with poverty and opioid addiction, which doesn’t lead to a happy ending. It’s the same story playing out in many places in the US.
We ended May on a high note as we crossed the Canadian border and checked into the Sheraton in downtown Vancouver. I still have hotel points, so we decided to spend two nights resting and soaking up as much hot water, wifi and tv as we could. Lucy did well as an urban dog forced to use sidewalks as a bathroom and riding elevators 27 stories… she’s so refined.
We made it to Canada. It almost feels like we did this entire trip just so we could make the last drive into Canada and Alaska. The unknown challenges and dangers were outweighed by the possible thrills and experiences, so the trip was a go. Google Maps said it was 48 hours of driving to Anchorage, so we rest and make it our mission in June.
*Okay, I have to admit it. I was actually upgraded to a nicer hybrid for an extra $8/day… usually I’m the King of don’t-try-to-upgrade-me, but I did some quick math to determine it was worth it… even though a little piece of me died.
**Actually, there were no Cesar (the dog-trainer) mind tricks, I instead used my mom’s old farm trick, stepping on his back feet when he tried to jump on me. He didn’t like that, but it got him under control!