The Pacific Coast; Washington and Oregon

One thing I neglected to mention in my previous post, about my spot at the Kalaloch Campground, was just how close it was to US-101.

2017-09-11-Kalaloch Campground

When I pulled into the site, I noticed a little opening that looked perfect for the tent. As I went to inspect it, I realized it was maybe 100 feet from US-101. You can see in the above picture a break in the trees, just past that was the highway. Even with 18 wheelers jake-braking down the highway, I’m a heavy sleeper. I just knew I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep if I was worried about cars spinning out of control and landing on top of my tent.

My first stop on the morning of the 11th was something I’d noticed on my way to the campsite the night before. About 5 miles north of the site was a sign for The Big Cedar Tree. It was only one-tenth of a mile from the trailhead parking lot, and it was indeed a big cedar tree.

Next on my list was the Pacific Way Bakery & Cafe, just over the border between Washington and Oregon in Gearheart, OR. Gearheart is the childhood home of the world-famous chef, James Beard, so I thought how lovely it would be to pick up some bread from this well-known bakery. What I didn’t know and found out after three hours of driving was that the bakery closed at 2 pm. I got there at 2:30. Ravenously hungry and frustrated I thought I’d try the cafe. But after standing by the host stand in this white tablecloth establishment for several minutes, I felt an air of old money snobbery that made me change my mind. I hopped back in the car and found a Taco Bell in nearby Seaside.

It’s important to note that US-101 is very curvy with fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean. So driving was a combination of mental and physical gymnastics with the commentary in my mind of “slow down slow down, curve, oooooooh pretty, no pay attention to the road!” Oregon became the first place on the road trip where I encountered aggressive drivers. I’m sure the fact I was following the suggested speed limits for curves and my out of state license plate added to their frustration. However, one of them damn near ran me off the road. Here’s how I described the encounter to my mom later that day.

Well maybe they were both California drivers. One in a beat up station wagon I didn’t think could go faster than 50 was riding my bumper when I was going 5 over the 55 speed limit. The next one way worse… I slowed down for a curve and he didn’t. And then started honking at me, so I honked back, then threw my flashers on while maintaining 40. He crossed the double yellow and flew around me honking. I honked back and flipped him off.

(My response was not the most appropriate, but I was not going to be intimidated.)

I pulled over at the next overlook (Neahkahnie Viewpoint) after the encounter to reset. It gave me a great opportunity to take some pictures of the coast with the road weaving around the mountainside.

From there it was just an hour more of driving to my reserved campsite at Cape Lookout State Park. When I arrived at Cape Lookout I was exhausted and quite loopy. I gave the woman my name, and she couldn’t find my information. After a little panic and much confusion, I realized I arrived a day before my reservation. To make matters more nerve-wracking, the campgrounds were completely booked. However, the woman came to my rescue (took pity on me?) and opened up a small overflow lot for me to camp in for the night. The overflow lot was ideally situated right behind the dunes with the ocean just on the other side. Soon I had new neighbors (you’re welcome guys!) and I headed up the dune to watch the sunset.

The next day I would be able to move to my reserved site after 2 pm. Even though it had only been a few days since I left Seattle, the white-knuckle rookie driving I’d done down the coast encouraged me to take the extra day, and just be a beach bum.

September 12th was a perfect beach bum day. I left the overflow lot and enjoyed a huge breakfast at Denny’s in Tillamook then spent some time in the Day Use area of the park while waiting for my reserved campsite to be ready. Once I set up at my reserved campsite, I spent the rest of the day on the beach reading.

I made friends with the neighbors over breakfast on the 13th. They were seasoned Pacific Coast campers with tons of great advice. The husband referred to my car as a “Nice Rig.” Both Baby (yes, named after the ’67 Impala in Supernatural) and I blushed. They also recommended I take a break from the white-knuckle driving by hopping over to I-5 in Crescent City. That recommendation from well-traveled folks made me feel better about my struggles with the curves on US-101. We also talked about their son who’d just finished a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and how flooding on the southern portion of the trail had made a difficult path even more challenging. This information would come back into my mind as I was bumping along a washed out road in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

On the 13th I was determined to get out of Oregon. I had reservations that night at the Crescent City / Redwoods KOA Holiday, 20 miles into California. The nights were turning cold, so I stopped to get a knit cap and some Cuddl Duds leggings and undershirts. Along the way, I stopped at the Heceta Head Lighthouse. When I pulled into the parking lot, there was a gentleman on a motorcycle waiting for his wife to come back from touring the lighthouse. In his saddlebag was a large, half hidden, bag of popcorn. Just behind him was a couple of big birds getting ready to make their move. I warned him that he was about to lose his entire bag of popcorn just in time as the birds swooped in. He took to making sure the bag was better secured as I made my way to the trailhead to the lighthouse.

As was a continuing theme, I got to the lighthouse after they’d stopped doing tours, but I browsed the gift shop and enjoyed the views along the trail to the lighthouse. After about 45 minutes at Heceta Head Lighthouse, I continued on my journey down US-101. I stopped briefly at the Sea Lion Caves just south of Heceta Head but opted not to take the tour because it was getting late in the day and I wanted to make sure I was at camp before dark. As I continued on, I came across one of the most regrettable things about traveling a two-lane highway during the school year – being stuck behind a school bus dropping kids off at the end of their day.

Between the curves and the school bus, my total driving time for 295 miles was about six hours. One interesting side note is the road has a number of signs that inform drivers that it is “Illegal to delay 5 or more vehicles,” since there are no passing zones on US-101, so there are designated places for slower drivers to pull over. I took use of these zones whenever possible. I don’t care for being the lead car on an unfamiliar road.

I arrived at Crescent City / Redwoods KOA Holiday about 20 minutes after the sun began to set and desperately needed to pee. Since the office was closed, I needed to grab my packet from the bulletin board, and then I rushed to the bathroom. Much to my chagrin, there was a bathroom code. I finally figured out while doing the pee-pee dance that the code was on my packet. With that issue resolved, I tried to read the map to figure out where my site was. It took a few missed turns and loops before I found my site, nestled on the curve of the camp road next to two occupied campsites. I could barely see the boundaries of my site and as far as I could tell the tent pad was right at the curve of the road. I was not having that, so I ended up having to put it on a slightly slanted part of the ground with the picnic table between me and the road.

The campsite made a lot more sense in daylight and realized where I was supposed to set up the tent was further back into the woods. It’s all good, it was still a wonderful site I’d love to go back to. Sleeping under the redwoods was really nice.

On the 14th of September I decided not to take the advice of the campers in Cape Lookout because I wanted to drive through the redwoods, and if I’d gone over to I-5 I would have completely missed one of the best parts of the Pacific Coast. But, I’ll save that part of the trip for next time.

Until Then!

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