Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Taking care of each other in Oregon

 Having visited all of the places on the Pacific coastline that had been recommended to us, we were now ready to return to the mountains. Of course there would be a few more places where we needed to go first, along the journey inland to the Cascades. There were clearly some people that we had to meet and some lessons that needed to be learned.

Our first ride, a mother and her two teenage daughters whose names I don't recall, kicked off this leg of the journey, taking us from Cape Perpetua to the town of Waldport. They were vacationing in between these two locations in Yachats, and didn't mind helping us and going out of their way to Waldport. We knew that we could hitch inland from Waldport or Newport, but it was a matter of finding a motel first. If Waldport didn't offer us a place to stay, we would continue north to Newport.

 We stopped by Ancient Light, a metaphysical shop in Newport, to search for a fleece or a coat for myself, since autumn was arriving and the temperature was dropping. I would need this piece of gear in the mountains. They had nothing of that sort but the owner welcomed us in for awhile to chat.

 Not finding a place to lay our heads there, we had to proceed northward to Newport. 
We crossed a bridge over Alsea Bay to hitch from the other edge of town.

View to the west of the Pacific Ocean.

Sea lions and harbor seals resting on an island below.

 We crossed the bridge, admiring the spectacular views, and made it to the other side, where we stuck out our thumbs and waited patiently. Then along came two women from Colorado, a mother named Valerie and her daughter. They were searching in the area for a house to buy and were currently staying at an apartment in Newport. 

Valerie and her three children together had made the decision to uproot themselves from Colorado and move to Oregon on a whim, having faith that they could make a living there. Valerie had quit her job in Colorado and was still searching for employment in Oregon, meanwhile dealing with opposition, fear, and concern from family and friends back in Colorado. They just didn't understand the situation. I'm sure that it was stressful for them, as it is for anyone who takes that leap, but Valerie intuitively felt that Oregon was where she and her family needed to be. Most certainly we met these people for a reason. After meeting us and learning of our lifestyle, Valerie remembered to have faith and persistence in what she believes in, even though others may not approve. Freebird reminded her to always follow intuition, for that will never lead you astray. If she must do this, she needs to go forward with it despite others' lack of understanding. As Henry David Thoreau writes, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

Arriving in Newport, Valerie expressed that she would love for us to stay in their apartment, but there was no room with her son sleeping on the couch. She and her daughter gave us a tour around the town and the local state park, introduced us to the town's best restaurants, and pointed out their apartment complex. Then they dropped us off at the front door of America's Best Value Inn. Out of true concern, Valerie gave us her phone number in case any issues would arise.

The manager of the motel, Rick, greeted us with a warm, genuine smile. We booked a room there, requested a fan to drown out the noise, and within minutes, Mike brought the fan to our room. He was thrilled to meet some crazy backpackers, someone just as crazy as himself. He told us of his love of "coast surfing," swimming in the frigid waters of the coast no matter what time of year. To protect himself from the impact of the boulders and cliffs, he would wear elbow and knee pads and a helmet. By doing so, he was able to reach the remote areas that he preferred, away from all of the crowds. There he would typically encounter some harbor seals, who would curiously look at him as if he were from another planet!

The following morning we were served a continental breakfast of all sorts of fresh, baked goods from a local bakery. We met a family there who were heading to, of all places, the small town of Petrolia, California for the wedding of their daughter. We asked them to say hi to Sam for us. Surely they would see him in the town where everyone knows each other. It would be no surprise if he were attending the wedding ceremony as well.

Mike and Rick allowed us to check out of our room late, then permitted us to use their guest computer. Meanwhile, Mike was seeing all the guests off, unlike anything I have ever witnessed at a motel. This man cared about every single person there. When it came our turn to leave, Mike gave us two Ziplocs stuffed with homemade granola bars that were on their breakfast bar and gave us directions to the best hitching spot along Highway 20. We could see such sincerity in his eyes, like our well-being was the most important thing to him, and we could feel his sadness at seeing us leave. 

Mike left us with the words, "Now you two take care of each other." Wow... those heartfelt words struck me to my core and left me in tears. Taking care of each other and sincerely loving each other... that's what it's all about. Mike's words not only reminded me how to treat everyone, but the fact that the statement was especially directed toward me and Freebird reminded me that I needed to treat him better, to actually be his friend. I felt shame as I realized how selfish, dishonest, and unloving I had been to him, yet he still loved and looked out for me anyway. I really needed to hear those words from Mike. How grateful I am to this day for that wake-up call.

A hitcher's sign found in Toledo, Oregon.
A man and his three-year-old daughter drove us from Newport to Toledo. She picked a hat off of the backseat to make room for me to sit beside her. We conversed very little and giggled together at times. We really didn't need words to feel the connection. When she and her father drove away, I could see her through the car window, waving goodbye.

We took a break at Dairy Queen to have some lunch, and then returned to the road. Colin and Nathan picked us up and drove us to Corvallis, along the way sharing some of their stories. Nathan has hitchhiked over 1000 times, mainly to find transportation to work each day.

Following them, a woman drove us from Oregon State University in Corvallis to I-5. We walked down the off-ramp, since hitching is illegal on interstates, and stuck out the thumb there.

Tony pulled over on the side of the ramp and let us get into his truck. Initially, he was noticeably apprehensive of us, but he became trusting when Freebird just simply said, "We're cool." Before us, Tony had only picked up one hitchhiker ever, so he was understandably a bit nervous. He was on his way to a construction site to set up roadwork signs, so he could only take us as far as Lebanon. 

Tony is a former Marine, and he said that people like Freebird and I are why he became involved with the military. He wanted to preserve the Americans' opportunity to live whatever lifestyle they choose. Hearing of our adventures, Tony envied us and wanted nothing more than to quit his job and leave society behind. We asked him if he had any children. He beamed as he talked of his beautiful 15-month-old daughter, remembering what matters most to him in the world.

A dog watching us hitch out of Lebanon.
At Lebanon, we ate dinner at Jack-in-the-Box. Then we had a long stretch to walk to reach the other side of town. Freebird wasn't feeling well, and remembering Mike's words to us, I agreed with him that we hitch within the town instead. We waited a long time. The first offer was rejected because the driver was smoking a cigarette in his truck. After him came Rocky, who was giving his friend and co-worker, Dan, a ride home. They lived in Sweet Home.

We arrived in Sweet Home as the sun was setting,  the alpenglow ablaze on Mount Jefferson in the eastern horizon. Wanting to return to the wilderness, we tried to get a ride out of town and reach the PCT at Santiam Pass before nightfall. To us a stuffy room with potentially-noisy neighbors and light pollution streaming in the window was not ideal. A few drivers stopped for us, but no one was travelling that far. With no other choice, we "moon-walked" across town in search of a motel.

That night we met Daniel, at a small, hole-in-the-wall motel. From first glance, we didn't want to stay there, but intuition advised otherwise. And it was because of Daniel that we had to be there. He was diagnosed with a "learning disability" and was fired from 10 different workplaces, until his father, the owner of the motel, hired him. He patiently taught Daniel, who is now able to completely run the business when his father isn't around. It was so touching to hear of Daniel's success because one person believed in him. We were led to Daniel so that we, unlike the majority of society, could encourage him, like his father, and acknowledge that there's nothing wrong with him.

The following day, at a thrift store across the street from the motel, we found the perfect fleece jacket for myself, which I would be extremely grateful for that night! That's another reason why we had to stay overnight in Sweet Home. Freebird purchased it for me and then treated me to lunch at the gas station down the road.

Next began our attempt to get out of town. We waited along the road for over an hour, but no one would pick us up. We had instantly received an offer from a bus driver, part of the town's public transit system (impressive, considering we weren't standing anywhere near a bus stop), but we refused, aspiring to find a ride that would take us farther out of town. But as we didn't move an inch by the second time the bus stopped for us, we finally accepted. We had no change to pay the fare, so we were allowed to ride for free. Getting a ride to the edge of town at least might make it easier to hitch. This new location at least did provide a nice change of scenery, as we soon discovered.

The end of the bus route at beautiful Foster Lake.

We walked along the edge of the lake and read some informational signs about the nearby Cascadia State Park before returning to Highway 20. Here we stood for the entire afternoon and into the evening, trying to keep our packs, full of perishable groceries, in the shade. To our left was the "Welcome to Sweet Home" sign, taunting and mocking us, seeming to tell us, "You'll never escape!" And to our right was The Point Restaurant, enticing me with its home-cooked goodness. I tried to not think about food, but I kept imagining that this place must have some really outstanding pie.

 Finally, in desperation and growing hunger, we gave in and walked over to the restaurant for some dinner. Clearly we weren't going anywhere soon. Their food did turn out to be very exceptional, especially the desserts. The best part of all was the marionberry cobbler!

After that wonderful respite, we returned to the highway. Again, we waited for what seemed like an eternity. We wondered if we would have to stealth camp nearby or take the bus back into the black hole that is Sweet Home. Then, we spotted a woman in the parking lot across the street with her dog and watched them with curiosity. There was a suspicion that we might be riding with them. The woman called over to us and asked where we were going. Was there really a person there, talking to us? At first I felt like we were in the middle of the desert, looking at a mirage. Freebird yelled back, "Pacific Crest Trail!" She then instantly invited us over.

We quickly became acquainted with Mary, who had read Cheryl Strayed's book, Wild, and had met the author in person. She was eager to get to know us as well and to hear of our adventures. Mary definitely has an affinity for backpackers, so much that she was willing to take us the 50 miles to Santiam Pass, even though she lives in Sweet Home. First, she needed to fill up on gas. We returned to the town for a few minutes, and I was a bit haunted at the sight of this place again! Although, I did feel some relief to know that we weren't stuck there. Mary refused to accept any gas money from us, but rather, tried to give us money! (A little side note: she failed then, but kindly purchased some artwork from me a few months later.) The tank now filled, we set off for the PCT.

Xena sitting beside me.
 I dozed off for awhile, and when I awoke, I learned that Mary offered to take us on a few side trips before leaving us at Santiam Pass. The first was Sahalie Falls, part of the gorgeous McKenzie River.

The beautiful, blue water of the McKenzie.

 Before returning to Highway 20, Mary wanted to show us one more place - Clear Lake.

How Clear Lake was given the name - the bottom is easily seen. 
This sunken tree gives an idea of how deep the water is around the dock.

Mary, Freebird, and Xena.
From Clear Lake, we drove straight to the frigid and windy Santiam Pass (I'm so thankful that Freebird purchased that fleece for me!). We exchanged contact information with Mary, who continues to keep in touch with me to this day.

Mount Washington and two of the Sisters to the south, as seen from Santiam Pass.
Everyone we met the past few days, from Cape Perpetua to the Cascades, have been absolutely wonderful. God worked through each person in their own unique way to remind us yet again of what true happiness is - that we love, that we put aside our own selfish desires and sincerely feel compassion for each other. No matter what they did, the lessons learned along this journey from every single person have been greatly invaluable. The actions expressed by everyone with whom we crossed paths were all echoes of what Mike said to us with heartfelt words in Newport.

"Take care of each other."

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