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Coast Or Mountains? I Can’t Choose…

Coast or mountains? I can’t choose…

I really like mountains and I really like the ocean. So how do I drive down from Seattle to San Francisco? Do I follow the coast along the beaches filled with driftwood, big rocks and sea lions or do I drive inland and follow the range of volcanic mountains? I guess I had to zigzag and do both. During the four days I spend in Seattle you could always see this beautiful icy peak of a mountain called Mount Rainier in the distance (most notably when the Blue Angels stunt team was flying in front of it). The hiking is supposed to be great there  and it is not too far away so that’s where my first stop was going to be. Well… Getting four nice weather days in Seattle is apparently extremely unique and when I drove up to the mountain it was cloudy. I was hoping for the same effect as in the Olympic National park where it was cloudy at the bottom but nice on the top. I drove up the mountains and put on my hiking gear. The hike wasn’t very good, you couldn’t see anything through the clouds and the bit of rain at the parking lot turned into a proper pouring further up. I made it a small loop and decided to camp on the mountain and try again the next day.

Waiting turned out to be a great bet. Even though it was still a bit cloudy the views were great. I could see the snowy peak with the glaciers coming down on the sides, pretty blue mountain lakes and fields of alpine flowers. I extended the hike a few times to walk a bit further for another viewpoint but had to turn around eventually because I hadn’t brought enough food and water for a full day hike (also the clouds came back so I didn’t feel too bad about it). The campsite for that night was another case of infamous great advertising that I’m getting more and more used to. I wanted WiFi to make some calls to plan with my co-travelers for the second half of Mexico. The campsite advertised they had WiFi but it was too slow to even read the news. It got even more annoying when it turned out that the already expensive campsite charged extra for the showers… Evil! Time for me to start getting used to cold showers!

Mount Rainier hike

Mount Rainier hike

South of Mount Rainier is another famous mountain: Mount Saint Helens. The volcano that erupted 1980 and caused massive damage in the area. Driving into the park there were signs with “Volcano evacuation zone” and “Volcanic blast zone”. Not sure if this more or less worrying than the tsunami signs in Alaska… The landscape goes from flat up the steep rocky edge of the crater. There are only young trees and bushes. Sadly enough the road was a giant construction site with long waits. It took me an hour extra to get up and another extra to get down. So I ended up not having time for a hike. Also the only cloud of the day was covering the peak of the volcano all day.

Mount Saint Helens

Mount Saint Helens

With all the nice nature you’ll almost forget about cities. So on my way to the coast it was time to stop in Portland. A fun city to walk around with interesting book stores, bars and parks. I could take a tram to town from a station close to my campsite. I got all excited about all the trams and buses . It looked like a great city for public transport. Until I tried to head back again in the evening and our tram broke down. It took the transport company 1.5 hours to get us a replacement bus. This bus then only had place for 2 more people on it so I had to use my Dutch public transit skills to not have to wait forever. Luckily the tram did have decent air conditioning because the temperatures had gone up to 35+ degrees. I stayed another day at the Portland campsite (they gave me a a parking spot for half price) for a very welcome lazy planning day.

The coast! The Oregon coast should be less hot than the inlands and quite pretty.So I drive up from Portland to the first viewpoint at a lighthouse… and I see only fog…. 1km inland it is all sun and blue skies but not at the actual coast. It was a very weird fog. Somehow the weather managed to be dry hot but foggy. I wondered multiple times if it really wasn’t a forest fire or something. Apparently this is a normal phenomenon around here but I still think it is weird. I stopped at some more beaches and spend quite some time at Sand Lake beach where I sat in the dunes out of the wind enjoying my book and watching the people fish and kayak. One thing I had forgotten was that it is weekend  and summer holidays now. Also everyone seemed to have gotten the memo that the coast was the only part with survivable temperatures. Result: the first ten (10!) campsites I stopped at had zero space. Not even some overflow parking. Very different experience than a few months ago when I often was the only person around. Pro tip:  head a few kilometers land inwards and there will be plenty of space and much cheaper. My neighbors were a retired couple from Hawaii (driving with Hawaiian plates) who invited me for dinner and beers.

Sand Lakes Beach

Sand Lakes Beach

With all the driving the last evening to find a camping spot I had not really seen much of the last bit of coast. The town of Newport was only a bit back and supposed to be a nice old town with a pretty beach. So I headed back up to have another look. After this my last stop on the Oregon coast was a travel tip that I was given on my second campsite (4 months and 25000km ago!). Back then driving down the west coast seemed like a very very distant future which would probably never happen, but now I was actually there! The tip: Sea Lion Caves, a cave in the coast that has a whole colony of sea lions living in it. You can access it only via an elevator after you pay 14 dollars. A huge tourist trap but I did not want to miss my first travel tip. Turns out the sea lions weren’t even in the cave and where hanging out outside. This clearly was a sign that I should leave the touristy, busy coast for now. I randomly picked a road inland but it turned out to go through a really cool canyon with loads of waterfalls and steep cliffs. It’s always nice to find good spots without looking for them.

Sea lion caves

Sea lion caves

The one inland stop I did not want to miss in Oregon was Crater Lake. A volcanic crater filled with the bluest water I’ve ever seen. On the way to the lake I got distracted by some pretty stops. I did a short hike up to a waterfall and had lunch at a nice lake. Then the Crater Lake volcano rose up in the middle of the flatland. The drive up was very steep and got me to a new highest driving point of my trip at 2400m. It was also extremely hot with 40+C. I use my phone for navigation and music. But it got so hot behind my windshield that I had to build a small sunscreen for it from the park newspaper and put it in my fridge to cool down whenever I was at a viewpoint. You can drive around the whole crater and hike to some viewpoints. Weirdly enough, even though it was 40C there were still patches of snow in the crater. Supposedly the snow on the roads often doesn’t disappear until July! After a day of great views and some short hikes I headed down to the park campsite. My plan was to drive back up for some sunset views. The campsite was huge! And completely booked out… Not a single spot. So instead of sunsets I got some more driving to do.

Crater lake

Crater lake

The hot day with steep hills had once again made it clear that the van wasn’t doing well. I’m still losing quite a bit of oil every day. Also the van has been making some terrible rattling noises that keep getting worse. For a while already it has been rattling whenever I turn sharply. But it is now so bad that one of the ladies at a construction site on Mount Saint Helens could hear it from the outside… Then there seems to be another rattle whenever I drive at low RPMs… The secondary battery discharges in no time. Every evening it complains that it does not have enough charge to run my fridge, even if the battery was fully charged at the campsite the night before. As a nice finishing to all these problems I now also got some black smoke coming out of the exhaust on the steep uphills. It’s so bad that I can not only see it in my outside mirror when I aim it at my exhaust but I even see it through my inside mirror through the window in the back. I really should no longer ignore these issues hoping they will all magically disappear. If anything they’ll only get worse and more expensive to fix. First thing tomorrow morning I will try to find a VW garage. Let’s hope it’s only going to be days and hundreds of dollars bad, not weeks and thousands…

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This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. awesome stories! 🙂 its probably too late for that, but you should head down towards coos bay and drive that bit along the coast to redwood NP – its beautiful rugged stony cliff coasts with some small towns in between. Kinda like big surs grunge brother 😉

    Take care! 🙂 cheers

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