Welcome to the final installation of my PNW road trip series!! The beginning of an end, AKA the moment where we catch a glimpse of the final destination and quietly slide it under the bed alongside our plans to stop eating sugar and drinking during the week. We made the most of it, indulging in midnight van shenanigans, lust-worthy donuts, and 70s motels.
Before this trip, I knew Seattle as the place where Tom Hanks went to feel very melancholy. It looked both wet and romantic, like the sort of place you would go to escape to with your lover when you were both faking sick or having a Moonrise Kingdom episode. If I lived in Seattle, I'd spend the winter huddled up at home, pouring wine into a fat pot of soup. Summertime would be spent lounging on the beach in a gray sweatshirt.
Ariel and I plotted an entire day in Seattle, beginning with the Pike Place Market. Pike Place is a feast in every definition of the word; there are baby chocolate cheesecakes, tubes of lavender honey, tortilla chips, Washington apples, blood orange vinegars, ponchikis, freshly shucked oysters, small cups of green tea, wax-wrapped smoked salmon, and pickles. The people are just as diverse, with toddlers sucking on crusts of sourdough and old women tucking fresh cheese in their canvas bags, nestled alongside a box of water crackers.
We walked through tea shops and a whiskey distillery that looked like a guerilla advertisement for flannel. In the evening there was demolishing Brooklyn-style pizza at Delancey, spying on swing dancing classes, and falling asleep on the ferry ride home. If our beanies and ponchos did anything to make us look like Seattle locals, the vibe was quickly wiped away by the amount of times I said, "WOAH, LOOK AT THAT." I also took several pictures of strangers.
Seattle to Portland
Driving to Portland from Seattle was bizarre. Often times when I'm on roadtrips, the landscapes will start to remind me of past places; I've seen bits and pieces of Virginia in California, New York in Tennessee, la-de-da, etc, etc. And I know that sounds weird because "Uh, Amanda, the United States has more stuff than the menu at the Cheesecake Factory," but it does and just trust me on it. The drive to Portland had that effect—the vastness reminded me of the 5 or driving through the flatter parts of Virginia, but then there would be a giant mountain rising in the distance. Just one.
Portland was like that too; nature was everywhere! Our first morning we sought out to find a hike, and were able to find one at Forest Park only ten minutes from our host's Victorian-style home. Like aforementioned parts of Oregon, it was green and alive, wet yet refreshing.
After our hike, we considered ourselves good and exercised, and well in need of a donut. We went to Blue Star Donuts, a Portland favorite with options such as Rosemary Basil, Pistachio Piña Colada, and Valhorna Chocolate Crunch. It was hard to settle on just one, and even harder to turn down the caravan of food trucks that stretched outside the street.
Before this trip I couldn't help but wonder, "Will Portland match up to Portlandia's stereotypes???" And in some ways, yes. The weather was abnormally gorgeous, and the streets of Downtown Portland were packed with families and strange bikes couples and clowns. It might have been an exceptional day, due to the weather all, but Ariel and I wondered, "Does anyone here actually have jobs??" Maybe they all work as clowns and donut-sellers.
One of my favorite parts of traveling is crashing on other people's couches. We stayed with Drew, an ex-boyfriend's best friend (which could have been awkward but we're all grown-ups here). After he got off work, the three of us met an Asian-comfort food restaurant, where we had Sapporos, pumpkin curry, dumplings, and some very spicy things that I cannot remove. On the other side of our table, two very tall Asian men ate from a package of double-stuf oreos. The children behind us drummed with their chopsticks and a girl's night out shrieked from the next room.
In the evening, we talked about our astrological signs in Drew's car-turned-sometimes-a-house. He's well-traveled, and before moving to Portland studied art in Cincinnati and backpacked through the California mountains. The three of us laughed in that van until we cried; glossing the windows with the heat of our breath as if we were two horny sophomores.
"Thank you so much," Ariel and I repeated as we stretched out over the spare mattress later that eve.
"It's no problem," Drew said. "I remember what it was like to be a traveler. I know how important a warm bed can be."
Portland to Redding
When you're traveling alone, you often wake up deep with introspection. It's strange to wake in a new place every morning, and you must gather your bearings upon peeling back the blanket. But traveling with Ariel wasn't like that; when I woke up I knew exactly where I was, feeling excited and nurtured. The morning we left Portland was the eleventh day of our journey, and we were learning one another's patterns. She was the better driver, I was good at finding restaurants. She could calm me down if I could get us a place to sleep.
And that day to Redding was reserved purely for driving. There wasn't much to do in Redding, and it was to be the only night we would stay in a hotel. After eight hours of driving, this was a welcome site.
If I had a Sound of Music-style list of favorite things, hotel rooms would near the tippy top. They're one of the coziest places in the entire world, offering fresh sheets and individually-wrapped bars of soap. You can make subpar coffee without leaving your room! There is wi-fi! There is a lobby with occasional cookies! It's Disneyland!!!! (That is, for someone who really likes to not clean/not make the bed/eat a dinner of vending machine snacks and cheap booze/watch sex and the city reruns.)
And the only thing better than a hotel is a 70s-style hotel, especially one called the Thunderbird Lodge. There's just something about a neon sign off a California highway that makes you feel like you've made it. We ditched looking for Redding's top restaurant for the simplicity of walking across the street to a sports bar $3 Bud Light. We ate Newman's Ranch dressing on a bed of romaine, white bread painted in garlic butter, and watery chili. It was fucking delicious.
Because by that point, and maybe for most of the trip, it was never about finding the best donuts or the famous tasting. It was about trying something new and kind of scary with a friend. I've done a lot of road trips alone, and while that has its own rewards, there is little to rival mutual excitement over hot water and cheap beer.
Ariel and I embarked on this trek out of shared mindset for adventure, which ultimately fueled us to hop around the various states like a non-murdering Thelma and Louise. We divided the wheat thins, gas prices, and days of DD-ing up as amicably as we had offered one another drunk pizza rolls in our college days. We were SO ABUNDANT, and not with things (you gotta travel light when you're in VW bug), but with memories and gratitude.
That night, we walked across the rainy street and nestled into the warm, white hotel sheets to watch Netflix and cuddle. We didn't have the wisdom of a Redding-native, but for the night, it was perfect.
Redding to Solvang
At this point the roads began to feel familiar. We were migrating back to Southern California, and greeting all the diversity along the way. In this last leg, we saw fields of farmland, vineyards, mountains, snow, cacti, Joshua trees, rain, rolling hills, fog and even a volcano. It was like Mother Nature looked down at us and shouted, "DID I MISS ANYTHING?? ARE YOU SURE? WELL JUST IN CASE..."
Our hosts that evening were my good friends, Kaitlyn and Dave, and Dave's parents Molly and Rick. It was a Sunday eve, and we ate cozy food: cornbread, chili with red beans, and chocolate. After the dishes were placed in the washer, the four us kids sipped wine while laying by the fire, and fell asleep before 10.
Solvang to LA
And we came back! All in one piece and slightly freaking out because our jobs were no longer to find hikes and restaurants and use hotspots, but to drip slowly back into the real world where we had to remember the correct day of the week. We were fat with memories and wine and McDonald's Egg McMuffins (which we ate more than twice or three times on this trip...). *cue angel emoji*
Do you remember feeling slightly bummed when you came back to 3rd grade after a week in grandma's Floridian condo? Yeah, that feeling came back. Because when you're out venturing the unknown, it feels as if anything is possible. The days feel longer because there is no routine, only surprises.
Maybe I like road trips because it's not very hard to feel curious. Curiosity is fear's playful best friend, the one who encourages you to eat the snail or drop your number on that guy's table. When you're bombarded with new thing after new thing, the fascination with the unknown triumphs fear. Nothing can go wrong because you never had time to create expectations.
I won't forget that feeling of curiosity on that first night when Ariel and I pitched a tent in the rain. I remember thinking, "Are we going to be able to get this tent up in this storm? With hardly any light?" Turns out we could, and it made that final snuggle all the cozier.