September 25- 27, 2023.
One thing I really wanted to do in this summer of Oregon travel is to drive the entire coast from one end to the other. We decided to travel north to south from Astoria to Brookings, in one go. Since we had to make a stop in Portland for some van stuff, we scheduled our coast tour to begin as soon as the van was out of the shop.
On the drive to Astoria, rain and wind pummeled the van. The sky grew dark, and we rolled into town late in the evening. I had booked a hotel for two nights so we’d be able to explore the town, so we parked the van and crashed in our room. Despite the forecast for the week looking pretty bleak, this was our one shot at the coast. So we went.
I woke up to partly cloudy skies and mild temperatures. After picking up coffee for a local shop, I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and go for a walk. Astoria is a quaint and beautiful town, with a trolley trail that turns into a paved bike trail along the riverfront. Not technically on the coast, Astoria borders the yawning Columbia River just as it enters the ocean. From the trail, I could see the Astoria-Megler Bridge. This impressive structure, completed in 1966, spans 4.1 miles across the Columbia River. Prior to the bridge, a ferry system carried goods and people across the water. As we’d learn on this trip, the ability to easily travel down the Oregon coast is a fairly recent phenomenon. I felt grateful to have the opportunity.
The weather held, so I kept walking. The gulls, late summer wildflowers and sea lions kept me company. I breathed in the sea air, something that brought me right back to childhood. Growing up in Rhode Island, we were on the water all the time. But having lived in the desert for the last seven years, I felt a real longing for the sea. There’s something healing about the salty breezes, crashing waves and moody clouds.
I walked further, pressing my luck during this unexpected weather window. I decided to run some errands while I was out and about, which took me miles from the hotel.
As I hurried back, the first drops of rain began to fall. Then, they called all their friends. Eventually, my shoes, socks and pants were thoroughly soaked through (notice how rain jackets just funnel water onto your pants?) so I accepted my fate and walked straight through all the puddles. I arrived at the hotel, sopping wet, with a backpack full of supplies for the week.
After eating lunch and changing into dry clothes, Aaron and I headed to the Heritage Museum to learn about Astoria’s history. The exhibits were interactive and fun; we enjoyed participating in all the little activities and flipping up the question doors. There was even a place to guess the animal track by stamping the shape of the track near the name of the animal. The museum covered information on native tribes, European settlers, the evolution of modern cookery, prostitution and gambling. At the time, a temporary exhibit titled “Blocked Out: Race and Place in the Making of Modern Astoria: told the history of redlining and the homogenization of Astoria’s population by pushing people of color out. The historical photos throughout the museum showed a wide diversity of people who used to live and work here, but most were forced to leave through violence, social marginalization and legal statute.
I left feeling better about gaining a better understanding of the history and worse at having to reckon with our horrific and unjust past. I grieved not being able to know the people who once lived here. I wrestled with what to do with that knowledge. Step one: learn the things, step three: justice. What is step two?
Our hotel experience in Astoria was so heinous, we decided to leave very early on our last morning. (If you’re headed to Astoria and want to know what to avoid, message me.) We drove through relentless wind and parked at a public lot overlooking the beach. Aaron got hooked up to Starlink and I bundled up for a boardwalk stroll to Controversial Coffee. With Queen blaring from the speakers and a queer hall of fame on the back wall, I thought, ahh this is a great space to drink coffee and paint.
I’d read about this coffee shop ahead of time, learning that they provide free food and beverages to anyone who is unable to pay. While I was in there, I overheard a couple interactions between the barista and unhoused people who came in for a bit of sustenance and positive human connection. I loved how compassionate and humanizing these conversations were; in stark opposition to how unhoused people are treated and framed in most media. I happily contributed to the donation fund collected to help support this mission. It felt like one of those “step two” actions that would immediately have an impact on a marginalized community. As one of their Facebook posts says, “When did caring about others become so controversial?” I then understood the meaning of the coffee shop’s name.
As I completed the last of three paintings for the $20 Art Show, I headed back towards the van. The weather took a turn for the better, so I took off my jacket and shoes and walked down the sandy beach instead of the boardwalk. Watching the pelicans fly overhead and feeling the warm sun on my face, I felt at peace.
After work, we drove to a fish market Cannon Beach to pick up crab cakes to make for dinner. Then, continuing south on highway 101, Aaron said “we’ve got to stop here!” I looked up to see a sign for Hug Point. We veered into the parking lot for an apropos hug break and then walked down the short path to the beach. There are few things more special than a good weather day on the Oregon coast. We took a short beach walk, did a few handstands and scouted the bases of rocks to look for critters. It’s important to take these leg stretchers for your body and soul when you’re road-tripping!
Our day ended at Nehalem Bay State Park. A couple of friends invited us to join them on their camping trip. I reserved the campsite just across from theirs and we rolled up in the evening to say hello. They had a nice propane fire pit going under their RV awning, which was a nice place to huddle up and chat. Aaron gave a van tour and I got to see the inside of their rig. It was so fun to catch up, swap travel stories and share the joys of being on the road.
For dinner, we feasted on crab cakes and settled in for a rainy night.