Day 5: Saturday, December 31st. Total Miles for This Day: 608.6. Total Miles for the Trip: 3162.8.
It was hard to believe when we awoke on this morning that by the end of the day, assuming no major catastrophes, we’d be home together at last.
The feeling was thrilling, but we had some obstacles to overcome as well. For starters, we still had a long way to go mile-wise, and we were still living life with a check engine light hanging over our head. Second, we knew that Oregon had seen some serious snowfall in the past week. The weather was clear for our trip through, but as far as I could tell, some areas required you to have chains in the car as a just-in-case. We were off to another Auto-Zone, where we dropped $80 on chains we planned to return but wound up keeping (for now). Another stop at Starbucks, and we were on our way for the last leg of the journey.
Once again I was grateful we had waited for morning to continue. Continuing on north of Redding took us through some incredible, breathtaking mountain scenes. We had great views of Mt. Shasta.
The pace and attitude of other drivers was on the other end of the spectrum from the rest of our time in California, too; here everyone moved safely, respectfully, and peacefully. As we continued on, the scenes just became more and more spectacular; Northern California was otherworldly. We passed mist-covered fields with rolling hills and trees with flowing nearly-white tendrils; it was like something out of Tolkien. These weren’t the absurd groves of the I-5 corridor in Southern California, where endless rows of identical trees looked like disturbing inorganic machines; these were real farmlands. I was smitten.
Poor Fritzy wasn’t entirely recovered from his respiratory issues, which was sad for him but hilarious for pictures.
We stopped at a rest area in the mountains of the extreme north portion of California to take pictures. Since our time was limited and we very much wanted to make it home to ring in the new year, we opted to make that our last stop for scenic purposes. I made it count.
A few last images of California from the road…
And then we passed into Oregon, still marveling at the incredible mountain views and the green-green-green that was beginning to show up, a welcome contrast to the desert scenes we’d spent so much time in in previous days.
But around halfway through Oregon, something changed. The hazard of knowing you’re hours away from your destination means that those hours play a cruel joke on you, stretching out so that you look at the clock after you’re sure you’ve been driving for 30 minutes, only to see that barely 10 have passed. What?! Stephen, fix the clock. Also, invent teleportation.
Furthermore, days of driving on mostly straightaways had yielded to the most windy-ass mountain roads I’d ever driven on. In Northern California, at the beginning of the day, it was “Oh! How lovely!” But in the middle of Oregon, in the waning daylight hours and a persistent Pacific Northwest drizzle, it was, “I CANNOT DRIVE FASTER THAN 55 WITHOUT GETTING MOTION SICKNESS AND/OR A TICKET, I CANNOT PUT CRUISE CONTROL ON, I CANNOT ZONE OUT.” In short, I was a crank-pot. We were both feeling pretty antsy and tried to listen to some stand-up comedy on Stephen’s computer to relax and distract ourselves, but I was watching every sign with eager, frustrated eyes. Portland, 117 miles. Portland, 113 miles. Portland, 110 miles. We stopped taking pictures.
The pleasant surprise came from the fact that I had no idea where Portland actually is in relation to anything else (“I’m not a geography major!”). All my life I’ve imagined it smack in the middle of Oregon. So when we finally got there—and if I’d been in a better mood, I’d have wanted to explore; even the bridges were beautiful!—I despaired. It was already after dark! We still weren’t even in Washington! How on earth could we possib-
And right there, smack in the middle of my mounting tantrum, we crossed into Washington. I wouldn’t have even realized it if I hadn’t seen good ol’ George’s silhouette start appearing on the route signs.
Public Service Announcement: Portland is right at the tippy top of Oregon.
This was … a huge moment. For both of us, I believe. Without getting too sappy, I’ll just say that crossing into the state where we were about to begin our lives together was momentous. For months my wailing refrain had been, “We’ll never live together!” This was sad when the time was so far away that it indeed felt like it would never arrive, but as our trip drew closer, it had morphed into a running joke with us. As we crossed into Washington, Stephen said something to the effect of, “We’re here.” “We’re not there yet! We’re never going to live together!” I whined back. But even I couldn’t stop smiling.
Unfortunately, Bellevue did as Portland didn’t and located itself right in the middle of the state, which meant that even after crossing the border, we still had another 2+ hours of driving. We spent the time fantasizing about the Papa John’s pizza we planned to order as soon as we got in. We grabbed a few snacks and drinks at a convenience store to avoid having to get in the car the next day for a trip to the grocery store (as it turns out, man can live on potato chips, pizza, and Pepsi alone) before making the final push up I-5 to I-90, and from there, finally, mercifully… to home. The car was unloaded, the pizza was ordered, and Inception was watched for the billionth time. We rang in 2012 in the best way possible: together.
Fritzy finally got over his sneeziness after we’d been settled for about two weeks. My car’s check engine light turned out to be related to “insufficient coolant temperature”—but this seems to have been an error. The battery, as I previously mentioned, lasted until the car sat unused for a week in cold weather. I STILL HAVEN’T CHANGED MY OIL EVEN THOUGH I SHOULD HAVE RIGHT AFTER THE TRIP; I’M SORRY, DAD.
It took me two and a half hours to write a first draft of this tale, using more words than total trip miles. Photos came from my cell phone, my Fancy Nikon, and my little Sanyo camcorder.
I still can’t believe we did this, and I can’t believe that—a few minor inconveniences and anxieties aside—we were so incredibly fortunate to not have any real difficulty. It was, as several people told me it would be (and as I tried to convince myself), a fantastic adventure. It looks as though we’ll be making a similar (BUT SMALLER) trip this summer… but that’s a story for another day!
Thanks for reading!