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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Iceland Part III: Siggi and the Lighthouse

We lasted 33 hours before we fell into bed in our van, exhausted but happy to be camping in Iceland at last. Our friends Ryan and LeeWhay, who had shipped their Sprinter van over a few weeks previous, were at the campground to greet us, and Rasa, Craig and their friend Michelle had shown up a bit later in the truck/camper they had rented for the trip. It seemed hard to believe that we were meeting up with them in such a faraway place. But first, we're really tired guys...

The next day we popped awake early, ready to start this adventure.


We met Siggi at the door of the Gar∂skagi lighthouse. He seemed a bit grumpy when we said hello after passing him on the walkway. At first, we didn't know he worked there, we thought he was just hanging around enjoying the view like we were. When he told us we could come in and have a cup of coffee, we politely declined after looking over the small menu posted at the door. Four bucks for a cup of coffee seemed steep, and we were enjoying the weather and exploring the old boats and historical plaques scattered around the park there. He made a comment about how Americans always just wanted to take selfies and drive off to the next waterfall, then drifted inside.

Huh. Ok.
An old fishing boat was moored in the parking lot of Gar∂skaga Park.
Behind it, the "new" lighthouse, built in 1944.
A view from the top deck of the "Holmsteinn Gar∂i"

Our friends had an appointment in town and had to leave us, so we made lunch in the van and looked at the map. Today was supposed to be a relaxed, get-used-to-Iceland day and it happened to be a bright sunny one at that. It was nice not to have a set itinerary.

"You know, why did we come here?" I asked Mark. "To see stuff and find out what Iceland is like, right?"

We tossed around that thought for a bit, and decided the perfect introduction to Iceland and its people was grousing about Americans in the lighthouse just a few yards away.

"Let's do it."
Gar∂skagaviti Lighthouse

We walked in the door and found the guy fussing with the tables and chairs. I don't think he recognized us from our initial meeting outside. We told him we'd like a coffee and hot chocolate, and with that he visibly brightened. "Oh! Good! Sit down, I'll get it ready for you."

With the price of a cup of coffee, you get a tour of one of Iceland's oldest lighthouses. Our host introduced himself as Siggi, and he lived in the nearby town of Sandger∂i. He told us the lighthouse had been built by women in 1897 to guide their fisherman husbands home from sea. It was, he said with a flourish, The Lighthouse of Love.

The view from inside the cupola.
With that, he sent us up the set of rickety ladders (God I love a country that trusts you to not hurt yourself!) leading to the roof and cupola where the light used to reside (a newer, taller lighthouse was constructed a short way inland, making this one obsolete in 1944). It was a great view, and I can imagine a fantastic place to view whales and dolphins that sometimes swim by. We took some photos and squinted in the sun and wind, then came back down for the rest of story.

Mark stands ghost-like inside the tower of the lighthouse.
The view back toward the new lighthouse.

From here, I will paraphrase Siggi:

Icelandic people are different from others. They treat their women with respect, no different from the men. There is little divorce, and women are strong and smart. Icelandic men don't feel they need to prove anything, and are happy to share everything with their wives (at this point I punched Mark in the arm). Siggi pointed out that he was a highly respected football (soccer) coach, and he had trained many winning teams for Iceland. He could have any woman he wanted, but he was happy with his wife. "Why would I want more?" (Mark received another punch).

This lighthouse was built by women because they decided too many fisherman were dying at sea. They designed it so it would have thick walls to withstand the winds, and a bright light that would guide them home. Each stone was placed with care, knowing each one would contribute to a family that would not lose a loved one.

He regaled us with stories about the Vikings (Wikings!) and how they claimed to have discovered Iceland. How did they discover a place where we were already living? They did not discover Iceland! He told us about Leif Eriksson who sailed to Iceland with his mother from Norway and became a great explorer in part by spending time here. He sailed to Greenland and hunted walrus so he could sell their skins and make money to build a ship. He told us how Icelanders like Italians, but they were full of bologna when they claimed Columbus discovered America. How could he discover a place that Leif had already discovered four hundred years before? (At this point I couldn't help myself, I told him there were some Native Americans that might have a problem with that. Siggi just shrugged and kept talking)

He told us about tourism that has become a boon for Iceland, but also a source of amusement to the locals. The Reykjanes peninsula, on which the lighthouse was built, is at the confluence of the polar waters from the north near Greenland and the warm Atlantic Gulf stream, the cold and warm currents meet right at the point. This not only causes treacherous seas, but contributes to a warmer climate with more clear days–the best place in Iceland to view the Northern Lights. He said the Japanese believe a child conceived under the Aurora Borealis will be blessed with good luck, and that before there were enough hotels built here the locals told their children not to wander around here after dark, there were so many Japanese couples trying to make luck. Now they have built a special hotel with skylights in the rooms over the beds. They call them Production Rooms. Siggi winked and smiled.


At the end of the story, Siggi got up and disappeared into the kitchen, talking as he went. "Now, there is a saying that the women in Iceland have. No matter how hard it gets, you must always remember to be thankful. You could lose your husband to the sea, but you still have your children to remember him by. You might have only fish to eat, but at least you have something to eat. Life might seem hard, but there will always be someone that needs more help than you." He walked back to us and held open both hands. In each palm, he had a small lava rock, smooth and black. "Carry this with you and let it be a reminder of everything you are thankful for. Keep it in your pocket, and once a day pull it out, remind yourself that there is much in life to be thankful for."

We took the rocks from him and rolled them around between our fingers. There was something comforting about the way they felt, this tiny bit of Iceland small enough to carry with us. We slipped them into our pockets and thanked Siggi for a wonderful time. An hour had passed, the coffee and hot chocolate was gone and it was time to say goodbye.



Back in the van, we took the stones from our pockets and looked at them again. We didn't know how much a (slightly) grumpy guy telling (slightly) tall tales in an old lighthouse could brighten our day, but we knew we were thankful he did.

Siggi and Mark inside the cafe at The Lighthouse of Love
(Next up: Camping in Iceland)


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Iceland Part II: Transportation and Food

The taxi dropped us off at the Cozy Campers headquarters, located in a neighborhood that was a strange mix of industrial and residential. The driver helped us unload our bags and thankfully, as we wheeled them into the office, a worker ran out and handed him what looked like a voucher. He seemed happy with it, so we were released from the worry the poor guy wouldn't get paid.

The office had a nice reception room with plush couches and chairs with a fake fireplace that was glowing with electric flames. Lining one wall was shelving and a small glass-doored refrigerator loaded with jars, cans and bottles of food items, some half empty. A young woman at the counter asked for our names. In case you were wondering, we knew how to pronounce them.

"Ah! Yes, here you are." She pulled up our information in the computer and printed out our paperwork. "Two weeks, returning on September 14?"

We signed everywhere she pointed, promising not to take the van off-road, acknowledging any traffic tickets or driver induced accidents were our problem, and most importantly, that we would be fully responsible for any damage caused by unsafe water crossings. Yes, water crossings. This is a thing in Iceland.

She took us outside and showed us the camper van, our home for the next two weeks. The front was a regular mini-van set up, a bench seat with room for three passengers or in our case, two passengers and all our camera equipment. The back was accessed by a sliding side door. Inside was a bench seat that cleverly converted to a bed at night, with storage underneath for pillows, feather comforters, and a bottom sheet, along with anything else we wanted to stow away. The other wall and back of the camper had a built in counter top/cabinet system where our pots and pans, tea kettle, stove and kitchen utensils/plates/cups/bowls were stored. The large cabinet across the back had plenty of room for food items. There was a small built in sink with a faucet and a small fridge wedged in there too.

The extra seat came in handy when one of our occasionally friends needed a ride.
Most of the time though, it was taken up by our camera equipment.

The interior included a couch with pillows, fridge, and even a handy map on the wall with all the major roads listed (including the roads we were banned from taking)

The back hatch opened up to reveal more storage, the water tank with easy snap connections (so removal for refilling was quick and painless), and the camper battery. The battery ran the faucet, the fridge, the cool LED lighting system that was built in to the cabinetry, and most importantly, the heater. This battery was charged when the van was running, and if it went low only took a few minutes of running the engine to top back up.

There was extra storage in the back, perfect for beer, soda and boxed food.

Water bin and electrical, simple and effective.
It all looked pretty straightforward, so after walking around the vehicle noting any existing dings in the paint, we went back inside to finish off the paperwork. After signing a few more things, and getting handouts explaining road signs that are unique to Iceland, she told us to help ourselves to any food on the shelves or in the fridge.

This was new to us, but turned out to be a common and delightful occurrence throughout our trip. Here and at most of the campgrounds, there was a spot set aside for extra food and stove fuel canisters. People were welcome to help themselves, and those that were finishing up their trip and found they overbought were welcome to leave their extras. I wish this would catch on in the States, what a great idea. Of course you'd run the risk of having people sue because they got sick, or worse, someone would decide to poison something and leave it for a hapless victim. Maybe not such a good idea in the US.

We picked up salt, some spices and condiments, oatmeal, and a packet of little tiny sausages that looked good, then loaded our luggage and free food into the van. We sat in the parking lot for a minute trying to get our bearings.

Mark demonstrates the best feature of a full size hatch door: it doubled as an awning in the rain enabling us to cook outdoors in bad weather.

Before leaving the airport, we stopped by the ATM and got some cash, and we had also purchased a SIM card for our phone. Verizon had a number of options for overseas use, but they had all worked out to be more expensive than the SIM card. We bought one that was good for unlimited data and cell use for 14 days, just enough to cover us until we got to the apartment we would be staying in for the last few days of the trip (WiFi included!). This meant our phone number was changed to an Icelandic one, but it allowed us to have the use of our phone for navigation, texting relatives back home, email, and who are we kidding, the occasional Instagram moment. I typed in "grocery stores" and Google maps came up with a few options nearby, then we were off.


We made a list before we left home, having learned a basic math lesson in Tanzania:

 New Country+No Sleep+Unfamiliar Labels=Hungry Campers

We weren't going to get caught out again! Armed with our handy list, we arrived at a Kronan Grocery store ready for quick and efficient shopping. Piece of cake!

The store looked just like grocery stores here. There were aisles for baked goods, cereals, chips, sodas. Instead of cold cases they had an entire room that was chilled, you entered through separate doors to get to the dairy, eggs and chilled meats. For the most part, there was at least some english on the labels so we could tell what we were buying. We had to guess the jam flavor by inspecting the color, and the juice luckily had the mix of fruits displayed on the label. There were some American brands—especially kids cereal interestingly enough—but most were European.

The produce area looked the same as well, except for the lack of diversity. There were piles of hot house tomatoes, bins of apples, potatoes, and some greens like broccoli and lettuce. There was very little citrus of any kind, and certainly no pineapple or mango or other warm climate type fruit, not surprising given the latitude of Iceland. What was in great abundance though, were zeros. As in lots and lots of extra zeros on the price markers.

(Photo credit: What's On)
Virtually everything in Iceland is imported. They have geothermally heated greenhouses where they grow certain vegetables, and of course sheep and some dairy farms, but everything else comes in by boat or plane. This is costly of course, and it shows up on the price tags. We stood in awe as our yogurt, granola, apples, milk and bread added up on the monitor. Throw in some cheese, a few cokes and some chips and it bumped up much quicker. We walked out with two smallish bags of groceries having paid well over $100. Guess we'll be eating a lot of PBJs on this trip.

(A word about alcohol in Iceland: Beer, wine and liquor are not sold in grocery stores here. There are separate stores, Vinbudin, that are the only ones authorized to sell it. They have limited hours and are not as plentiful as grocery stores; we mostly saw them in the larger towns. If we thought the grocery prices were high, a visit to a Vinbudin put that thought to rest: A six pack of beer was $25.00. Fun Beer Fact: it was illegal to make or buy beer in Iceland until March 1, 1989. That's right, 1989. To this day, March 1st is a National Holiday called, fittingly, Beer Day.)

Out in the parking lot, we loaded our purchases with great care, not wanting to lose even one precious carrot. It was time to take this van to its natural habitat, the campground in Hafnarfjör∂ur where our friends would meet us. On the ride over, we practiced saying the town name; Hahf-nahr-Fyor-thish. 

Or something like that.



(Next up: we take this van on the road and meet Siggi at his lighthouse cafe.)

.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Iceland Part I: Touchdown



We landed at the Keflavik airport tired and wired, ready to start this Icelandic adventure but lulled into an irritated malaise after a two hour wait for customs. Three very full flights had arrived within minutes of each other, clogging the tiny airport with a mob of tourists anxiously holding their passports open to the proper page. Two stoic and humorless customs agents were stamping as fast as they could.

Once outside the airport the cold wind slapped us into the realization we were now just below the Arctic Circle. The sun was low and very bright, something our bloodshot eyes weren't ready for since they were still under the impression it was 3am PST. After a little sleepless confusion, we found the Flybus (that had been sitting in front of us all along) and climbed aboard.

We had rented a 4x4 VW van from Cozy Campers for our two week adventure almost a year ago. After an extensive internet search, we decided they offered the vehicle closest to our needs: bedding, stove, cookware and utensils, heater and fridge, all packed in an all-wheel drive van with higher clearance for rough road driving. All this at an exorbitant Icelandic price that was right in line with all the other exorbitant Icelandic van rental places. What set them apart from the others was their offer to transport us from the airport to their shop, and also get us back to Reykjavik once we were finished with our trip. It was nice not to have to worry about arranging transportation after an all-night flight to a foreign country.

Now where is that bus? Oh yeah, we're sitting in it...



The bus trundled down the Reykjanes Peninsula on Highway 41, heading for the Reykjavik BSI (bus terminal). From there we were to catch a Hreyfill Taxi to the Cozy Camper headquarters a few kilometers away. Despite being a major tourist destination, Iceland's international airport is not located in its biggest city. Keflavik is an hour from Reykjavik, and virtually everyone needs to get to Reykjavik to start their vacation. Thus the bus ride with lots of company.


It was a pretty drive in the morning sun, views of small harbors, distant farmhouses and acres and acres of lava scrolled by as we stared out the windows. We were struck by how much this countryside looked like the lava fields of the Big Island of Hawaii. We passed an Ikea as we headed into the city, looking so familiar it seemed out of place. The bus arrived at the station and dropped us off with a bunch of other bleary-eyed passengers. We stood in the cold wind in the parking lot and looked around. The first thing that struck us was that Reykjavik, although the country's largest city, didn't seem that big. The main bus terminal is not much bigger than a small train station in the US or Europe. The second thing that occurred to us was we needed to pee, and we weren't sure just how long it would take to get to Cozy Campers.

We entered the terminal and found a row of seats with other confused passengers milling around. There was a bathroom in the corner, blocked by an automated gate. We had been warned by the guide books about this, but it still took us by surprise: in many places in Iceland you have to pay to play, so to speak. Luckily, there was a card reader to accept our (roughly) $1 each. We had stopped at an ATM for Icelandic Krona (ISK) before leaving the airport, but didn't have any change to feed the machine yet.

Feeling lighter and a bit more relaxed, we stepped out the door to the area devoted to shuttle buses and taxis. Here, we had our first lesson in the complexities of the ancient Icelandic dialect. We asked a shuttle bus driver if he could direct us to the Hreyfill taxis.

"Hray-Fill?" he looked at us like we were speaking some sort of inscrutable language. "I have never heard of this company."

I showed him the printout from Cozy Campers, where it clearly stated "Hreyfill".

"Oh!" Frayvitchl! Why didn't you say so? There's one right over there."

A shiny black Subaru was idling at the curb. In the front window, a Frayvitchl sign was glowing on the dash, only it was spelled "Hreyfill". The older gentleman got out and helped us load our luggage in the back.

"Where do you wish to go?"

"Cozy Campers please." We weren't even going to attempt the street name, so we handed him the printout with the address. "They said if we used your company they would pay for the ride."

"I hope they do." he mumbled under his breath. Mark and I exchanged looks, then shrugged. They were going to have to work it out, we were too tired to care.


(In the next post, we pick up the camper and are introduced to the fine art of food shopping in Iceland)

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Oh Deer.

We left Blair, Nebraska en route to Phoenix, Arizona (why? a story for another post) before dawn. By the looks of it, we had missed a major hailstorm just minutes before passing through Omaha. Cars were spun around, lanes were closed and emergency vehicles were lined up with lights flashing, illuminating the piles of bright white hail on the sides of the road. Glad we didn't get mixed up in that! Once clear of the big city, we were flying down Interstate 80 at 75mph, the most comfortable speed for our truck with the camper loaded.

Around 7am we always start looking for the next available coffee shop on the road. This 4100 mile road trip sometimes required extensive research to find a caffeine stop, the sparsely populated areas we were traveling through were a particular challenge. I was scrolling through the Google Maps "Coffee" search feature trying to estimate just how far we'd have to drive for a cup of energy when

BAM!

"What the hell was that?"

I looked up at Mark, his eyes wide and hands shaking a bit on the wheel. "Deer."

It was only then I realized the lower half of the driver's side windshield had a deer head-sized indentation, and Mark's lap and most of the front seat was covered with fine shards of glass. He slowly eased the truck over into the breakdown lane and moved as far as possible off the road. Unfortunately, because of the torrential rain Nebraska had suffered all year, the ground on the side of the highway was a gooey, tire sucking mess. We were off the road, but not far enough off to be comfortable opening the driver's side door so close to the traffic lane.

I hopped out and dug around in the glove box for napkins to help brush the glass off Mark's lap and the seat. We were so pumped with adrenaline we didn't realize every brush against the shards was making tiny cuts in our fingers and bare legs. After getting most of it onto the floor mats, I peeked around the side of the truck and signaled when it was safe for him to get out.

Holy shit.

It happened so fast it was hard to tell exactly what happened, but judging from the body damage we pieced it together. The deer was running from the median strip across the lanes, hitting the front quarter panel with it's chest, it's head whipping around and smashing the window. From there its body must have flipped and slammed and slid down the side of the truck, shearing off the driver's side mirror and leaving it hanging by its now useless electrical connections. The body (because I'm pretty sure it was an instant death) must have flipped around again because there was a huge dent in the back quarter panel as well, just beneath the camper. There was deer hair and feces smeared over the back side panel, brush guards of the bumper, and under the camper rail, the icing on the cake if you will.
Interstate 80, where cars go 80, and deer play chicken.

The only thing Mark remembers seeing is the deer's eyes in the windshield before it hit. I think it still haunts him today.

After calming down a little, and brushing more glass off the seat, we got back in and limped our way to the next exit, listening for any weird engine sounds, unsure if anything but the body damage we had seen was affected. Milford was the closest town, so we headed there on the advice of the nice ladies at the gas station at the exit.

Milford is exactly seven blocks long. It looked like it served the farmers in the area, having a small grocery, a small coffee shop, a small auto repair shop, a one pump gas station, and various empty store fronts. We stopped in for coffee, mostly to gather our wits a bit since we had no need for caffiene at this point. The owner shook her head as she poured our drinks, "My husband hit a deer last week. So scary!"

Head smack

Where once there was an electronic adjustable mirror, only shredded wire remains.

Seriously reconfigured quarter panel
The auto shop there had just opened for business for the day, and after expressing their sympathy told us their windshield guy only came in once a week. They said our best bet was to drive back to Lincoln and find an auto glass place there.

The deer left more than dents.

Not wanting to get back on the interstate with a damaged windshield and no side mirror, we took the frontage road the 20 miles back to the city of Lincoln. As Mark carefully peered around the smashed part of the windshield, I googled "auto glass replacement" and made my way down the list of shops, calling for appointments. The first place said they could get us in the next day. Nope! Not gonna stay another night in Nebraska, as nice as our visit had been. The next place said they could get us in around noon. Better than tomorrow! We made the appointment just as we crossed the Lincoln city limits.

Having nowhere else to go, and very nervous driving around in a damaged truck, we drove straight to Capital Auto Glass and parked in front. We went inside and asked if we could hang out until our appointment time. The guy offered us coffee, and also offered to call around for a new side mirror. Another customer in the waiting room overheard our story and offered to drive us somewhere and buy us breakfast. As we were talking to him, a delivery truck pulled up with our windshield and the shop manager told the warehouse guy to pull our truck in. They moved our appointment to the front of the line and by the time our windshield was in, the mirror had arrived and they installed that too. All in all, we drove away with a sparkling new windshield and a gently used mirror exactly one hour and thirty minutes after driving into town.

The good guys in this story. If you ever find yourself in Lincoln, NE with busted glass, call them.

Deer hit: 7:30am
Arrival at glass repair shop: 9:00am
Back on the road: 10:30am

Incredibly, we made it to our scheduled campsite in Colorado that day before sunset.


Over the last 18 years we estimate we have driven an average of 6,500 miles annually in the interstates, rural highways, county lanes and backroads of every western state and Canadian province. While we have hit a few small animals and run over a couple of unfortunate reptiles, we have never even come close to hitting a deer.


Moral of this story: If you must hit a deer, do it in Nebraska. The state might not have towering mountains, deep canyons or dramatic coastlines, but damn they have the nicest, most helpful people on earth.

We are deeply indebted to you Nebraska. We'd love to visit again, but honestly, we aren't sure our old truck can take any more hits from your hulking corn-fed wildlife.

On our way back on 80, we passed our old friend.
R.I.P.  Deer


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Eternal Questions of the Midnight Mind


My birthday is almost upon me, and honestly, I'm feeling it this year. Something about being so close to (and in some instances, qualifying for) a senior discount is unsettling.

I used to tell myself that it's just a number, it doesn't matter how old I am as long as I feel ok and can physically do what I want, but lately I've been overtaken by doubt. The weirdest worries start creeping in while I'm laying in bed not sleeping because I'm getting to the age where sleep is actually a problem and hey! that's another worry, isn't not sleeping bad for you? Here's just a sampling of what's running through my head at 2am. And 3am. Then again at 4am:

  • What if I actually succeed at losing the middle aged spread I've gained and end up looking worse? Is the fat filling in the lurking wrinkles and making me look younger?
  • How is it possible to have so many gray hairs, but the ones that are starting to sprout on my chin are my original hair color? And why do they grow so fast?
  • Is my indigestion an oncoming heart attack, or is it due to the fact I ate a cookie after dinner? And how is it I used to be able to eat cookies for dinner and suffer no ill effects?
  • How can I fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV at 8:30pm and sleep like the dead, but when I drag myself to bed at 10:00pm I'm wide awake?
  • How much money do I need before I can retire? How long will I live? And what does cat food taste like anyway?

Mark and I always argue about who will go first. "I'm out before you," I'll say, "you're in much better shape." " Oh no, I'm going first," he insists, "women always live longer than men." Now I'm starting to think, yeah, I do want to go first–I don't want to figure out how to live without Mark around–but not yet. I'm not done with life, I've got too many things left on my bucket list, which seems to be continually growing.

While I do admit parts are starting to break down a little (my knees complain a bit if I walk or run  too far, that wrinkle-filling weight isn't going away fast, even with knee-pain-inducing levels of exercise) I still feel relatively good. I haven't had any major health problems, nothing's really tripped me up yet.

That uneasy feeling though, it won't go away. It feels like something is out there that I need to do, but I don't know what it is, and I feel like I'm running out of time. Somebody needs to give me a hint, because my old brain just can't seem to come up with it.

Future retirement location?
We might be able to afford this fixer-upper when we retire.
Rhyolite, NV

I think about all my older relatives and how they dealt with this. Everyone seems to have a different approach. Mark's grandfather, who retired in his 50s and lived well into his 90s, always had the same response for the 20+ years I knew him:

"How ya doing Grandpa?"
"Mildewing"

I always know my Mom is doing ok when she responds "Functioning normally." My family isn't super expressive, but it gets the point across.

On the flip side, a few of the older relatives used to go into great, blush-inducing detail about their woes, to the point you wanted to tear your eyes out and stuff them in your ears so you didn't have to bear witness anymore. I think it made them feel better though, to get it off their elderly minds and shift the worry to someone else for a bit. That, and toward the end I don't think there was much else for them to talk about.

I have a notion that not many people have it figured out, at least that's my hope. I can't be the only one who doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up yet. I'll just keep plugging away and hope I'll stumble across the answer one of these days. And, if life turns out to have no higher purpose, then perhaps I can find happiness in knowing I did the best I could, and didn't make too many people unhappy in the process (myself included).


May you all have a successful and fulfilling April, the month of my (and many others of course)  birth.

And if you think of what it was we were supposed to be doing, drop me a line will you?


Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Oregon Coast Part II: The Campgrounds

The long beach of Cape Blanco

Oregon is a funny state.

For us, it's always been our "drive-over" state: we've crossed it in one day on our way to Alaska, Idaho, and of course Washington; we've dipped in and out when traveling in the most northern parts of California and along the western edge of Idaho. I feel bad we haven't taken the time to explore it more thoroughly because it truly is a beautiful place.

It's quirky too. As of January 1, 2018, Oregon passed a law allowing you to pump your own gas in certain areas. Yes, you read that right, Oregon had a ban on self-serve gas pumps, and still does for most of the state. And I tell you, nothing feels as emasculating as sitting in your full size 4x4 truck with 4" lift kit, winch bumper and heavy duty brush guards while an elderly woman struggles to lift the pump high enough to reach the gas filler. The state has various reasons not to allow the average citizen to pump their own: health hazard, fire hazard, and requiring proper training are a few. All I know is if all gas stations in Oregon suddenly went fully self-serve tomorrow, there would be a steep learning curve for many. Twice I saw big burly guys standing bewildered in front of the pump, not sure where to put their credit card. The elderly attendant helped one of them, gently taking the card out of the guy's hand and sliding it through the reader. She was kind about it, but I believe I saw a hint of a smirk on her face.





We were pleasantly surprised by the lack of crowds in Oregon. We were dumbstruck to find an open campsite on a holiday weekend, a feat that could never happen in California. Finding a campsite without a reservation in our home state anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day is a frustrating and discouraging experience. Unless you know where and when you want to be and have the forethought to reserve a site six months in advance, you are out of luck. Far too many people and not enough campgrounds make for a sad trip if you're not prepared to camp off the grid–if you can even find a place that allows that. (Unfortunately, there are now more restrictions on camping on BLM and National Forest lands for various reasons we won't get into here. Far too depressing.)

Oregon State Parks rely on volunteers to host the campgrounds and from what we saw, they take their jobs very seriously. There are rules to camping which most people follow on their own. Oh sure, over the years we've occasionally had trouble with people using generators during quiet hours and maybe a few groups that get a little loud around a campfire. Never have I felt more confident that our camp neighbors would be good citizens than in Oregon. We were greeted when we rolled in, handed the rules when we paid, checked on 10 minutes after setting up, and hailed every half hour by the old guy in the golf cart "just checking up on things." The place was spotless and organized and patrolled as closely as any military zone.

It feels funny to write this (being pretty close to a member of this group ourselves) but it was strange to travel in a place where the predominant population is in the "white retirement age" demographic. The lack of diversity is jarring at first. We wandered into the full campground on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, walked the loops and realized there was not one group or individual of any shade of anything but white there. And the average age of the campers, if I had to guess, was 62. An interesting development for a state that boasts the proud city of Portland, an urban area of young professionals that can out-liberal San Francisco on a good day, well known for it's free-thinkers and inclusivity (is that a word? If so they coined it in Portland).




We camped every night of the trip, a total of 6 nights in 6 different campgrounds in Oregon, and every one was run the same way. Each had at least two hosts for campground duty, and in one we counted six designated host campsites, resplendent with fifth wheel trailers, temporary fencing for small barking dogs, decorative wind socks and reclining camp chairs on astroturf rugs. While it seemed a bit like overkill, we appreciated the fact that they cared so much for the parks because it really showed. Not a spec of trash anywhere, and thoughtful hosts were willing to answer any question we had. It was a lovely experience, so much so that we wouldn't mind going back every year. Here's a rundown of the campgrounds we visited:

Alfred A. Loeb State Park

Our first stop in Oregon just outside Brookings, just on the other side of the California state line. Located along the Chetco River, it's a pretty park with river access for boats, swimming and fishing. There's a nice little nature trail loop and driving access to the river bank if you feel you must drive onto the gravel beach. Being a holiday weekend, several families in big trucks were parked along the beach and had set up umbrellas and barbecues for a picnic. It was surprisingly hot that day; once we drove even a few miles east on Chetco River Road away from the coast the weather turned uncomfortably warm.

The dogs hopped out of the truck and assumed the camping position. They enjoyed their time at Alfred A. Loeb State Park.
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park

A beautiful campground tucked in the trees in the hills above the ocean. You couldn't see the beach from there, but that was a blessing in disguise; the adjacent Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and beach was open to ATVs and the hill that separated us from them blocked the whining engine noises. There was a pretty little lake accessible by trail from the campground. After dinner that night, we walked the trail all the way around and had it mostly to ourselves. In fact, we pretty much had the whole campground to ourselves.

The lighthouse and visitor's center is a short drive from the campground. You could walk, but to my knowledge there was no trail so you'd have to take your chances on the narrow road. Same story with the beach access.

Lake Marie, accessible directly from the campground at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
There was a nice trail that ran around the lake, as shown by Hiker Mark.
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
Trask River County Campground, Tillamook County

We were looking for a campground as close as possible to our northernmost goal: the Tillamook Cheese factory. We wanted to be close enough to get there around opening time, stuff ourselves with cheese and ice cream, then dart back out to the coast to get into Cape Lookout campground before it filled up. It's a great spot along the Trask River, which actually runs along the backside of the campsites. We found ourselves the only ones there, so chose the very best spot along the river. Our only complaint was the extravagant fees they charged. The river sites were $37.83, and we were expected to add tax, and an extra $6.00 fee PER DOG. That came to a grand total of $53.58 for the pleasure of a pit toilet, water faucet (across the campground) and a beat up wooden picnic table. It was almost worth it to have the place to ourselves, but with those prices they could've offered hors d'oeuvres or something...

Our lonely campsite in Trask River Campground. It was quiet, that's for sure.

The Trask River runs through it. Pools along the river behind our campsite.

Cape Lookout State Park

This was Mark's favorite campground of the trip. Situated on a sand spit between Netarts Bay and the ocean, it's a pleasant mix of sand, trees, hiking trails and warm sandy beach. The dogs had a great time too, since in Oregon they allow leashed dogs on both hiking trails and on the beach (another California no-no in most places). There is a choice of forested and sandy dune sites, and it's a short walk to either the beach or trailheads that lead to Cape Lookout point. This park is only one and a half hours from Portland, which must have accounted for the crowds–we got one of the last sites when we pulled in at noon–so reservations during peak season are probably a good idea.

The wide beach, Cape Lookout in the distance.
The trail that leads to Cape Lookout point.
Thick forests of mussels grew on the rocky cliffs along the beach.
The sun sets as the waves rolled in at Cape Lookout beach.

Cape Perpetua National Forest

This campground is situated along a creek that runs the length of a small shaded valley. The sites were well spaced along the one road that leads both in and out of the campground (no loops). There are hiking trails up the valley to the Giant Spruce Tree and out to the coast, where there is a nice visitor's center with maps and information about the area. There were multiple natural wonders to explore there: A blow hole, tide pools, a beautiful uncrowded beach and the interesting Devil's Churn. A long crack in the volcanic rock allows the waves to roll way up the hillside until the ever narrowing crack causes the water to break and slosh around. It reminded me of the old washing machine we had before the water saving front loader models became the norm.

The base of the Giant Spruce, with Mark and the dogs for scale.

The cove and beach at Cape Perpetua
The Devil's Churn.
Why does the Devil get credit for all the cool things in nature?

There was much to find in the tide pools at Cape Perpetua

Cape Blanco State Park

Now this, this was MY favorite of them all. A beautiful campground set in the trees along a bluff that overlooks a long narrow stretch of sand. A picturesque lighthouse, so perfectly placed on the windswept grassy bluff it looked to be a painted backdrop. There was a road leading from the campground down to the beach (if you needed it, we walked down) with bluff side benches available to watch the spectacular sunset. There was also a historic ranch house there, the Patrick Hughes House, with friendly docents that were eager to give you a tour and share the history of the area. It was quiet, comfortable, beautiful, perfect. It didn't hurt that it was also warm and wind-free that day. When I am having a bad day at work I think about this place. Just writing about it makes me smile.

Our campsite was huge, and I swear, one of the twelve campground hosts must have vacuumed it before our arrival, it was so clean.
Even the roads in the park were gorgeous.
The road down to the Patrick Hughes House.
The picture perfect Cape Blanco Lighthouse.

The sun sets over Cape Blanco, making for a stunning last night on the Oregon Coast.