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Physical State of Matt #2: OREGON

Dropping just one state south, Oregon was my next stop. I moved to Portland three years ago with my ex. It was, after a combined 31 years in LA, an opportunity for a fresh start - something new, more low-key, closer to nature where we could take long, secluded hikes while the dogs ran free.



Portland felt familiar to me - like if Ithaca were a real city. I got the liberal politics, all four seasons, the gorges and woods, but also professional sports, gorgeous bridges, big name live music, and cultural events - all without the small town ennui. Of all the places in the world, right now Portland feels most like home, and I will miss it.



From Olympia, I had originally planned to hug the coast all the way down to Coos Bay, but decided at the last minute to add a hike to my drive.


SILVER FALLS STATE PARK


An hour’s drive from Portland, Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park is home to The Trail of Ten Falls, a 7.2 mile loop that takes you by (shocker!) ten breathtaking - and very different - waterfalls.


Over millions of years, the water of Silver Creek eroded the sandstone beneath the basalt layer creating pathways behind four of the ten falls. The Civilian Conservation Corps widened these paths and made them safe for visitors, making this loop one of the most memorable hikes you can take.



I had hiked this trail twice before. This 50 state trip is about doing new things and seeing new places, but The Trail of Ten Falls is my favorite hike in the world so far, and it felt like a fitting bookend for my time in Oregon.


The first time I visited Oregon was Thanksgiving 2012. I had been meaning to see Portland for a while - it sounded like a place I'd click with, and it turned out it was. I had intended to spend some time camping in the surrounding area, but it was 40 degrees and torrential rain poured most of the week I was there. 


(Yes, this is Matt from 2012)


I hadn't made any firm plans for the trip, deciding to wing it. Somehow, I ended up on the Trail of Ten Falls. I had been dating my ex for seven months, and I texted her selfies, gushing about how spectacular it was. The day was cold and drizzling, almost no one else was on the path.


Several years later, when my ex and I first began discussing the possibility of moving to Portland, we visited together and found our way back to this same hike. It was early summer, a bright and sunny day. Salmonberry bushes lined the path with an abundance of tart orange fruit.


(not my photo)


This walk was cold and drizzly. I ruminated on my time in Oregon as I trudged the muddy path. I had certainly had my ups and downs, my victories and defeats, but I wouldn't trade any of it. Eleven years prior during my first visit to Oregon I had found this loop almost by accident. Now I was walking it again on my way out of the state, to return...I don't know when.


EUGENE


I had heard so many wonderful things about Eugene over the years. It’s a cute college town with lots going on, surrounded by nature - similar to Ithaca. I’d been to Eugene a couple of times previously for a concert and an OU football game, and to be honest I hadn't been all that impressed. Once again, this stop was a total dud. Every hotel within many miles was booked for a huge country music concert. I ended up severely overpaying for a crappy motel just off the highway.


(not my photo)


The plan had been to go to Crater Lake the next day on my way to Coos Bay but after several days of storms, all the roads up the mountain were completely shut down. That evening I got a recommendation to check out the nearby Belknap Hot Springs, which sounded good. The next morning, I found a line at every breakfast place in town, so I just left and went straight to Belknap. 


After a beautiful drive through the Willamette National Forest, I arrived at the resort. I paid the day-use fee, changed into my swim trunks. and walked out to the springs. I then discovered that the hot springs were basically a tepid swimming pool in the woods. Not sure what I'd been expecting, but it wasn't that.


(not my photo)


COOS BAY


I hugged the coast south down to Coos Bay, which was to be my home base for the week. The small cities of Coos Bay & North Bend border one another and create an area referred to as the Oregon Bay Area. The 101 took me through town along the bay, past the Oregon Chip Terminal, which is a 6-acre pile of wood chips 100 feet tall. It's a facility for the export of wood chips, and a major contributor the local economy. My cute little Airbnb was just a short way further, overlooking the bay.


(not my photo)


My second night in town, I had dinner with my friend Kevin's brother Darin, his wife CeCe, and her mom Peg. For more on the personal significance of Coos Bay see my other post.


The meal that Darin prepared was out of this world. Elk tartare made from an elk his friend had shot, pork chops from his friend's local farm, homemade bourbon glaze, and a caesar salad. I had expected the Elk to be gamey, but it wasn't at all. The pork was much more like red meat than any pork I had ever had. It looked, cooked, and chewed like a great steak. As someone who was with a vegan for eleven years, I was in carnivore heaven.


DAY TRIPS


I took a short drive one afternoon to see Shore Acres State Park which is known for its beautiful gardens and views of waves crashing against the rocky cliffs. The rain was non-stop so I opted against touring the gardens, but I couldn't resist a dramatic display of nature's power.



On what turned out to be my last day in Coos Bay, the sun finally came out. I took advantage of this to visit Umpqua Dunes. Visitors come here to ride ATVs and other vehicles through the shifting sands. I found part of the parking lot flooded from the rains, but the golden dunes shown brightly in the morning sun.



I didn't have enough time to rent an ATV before I had to get back to my computer for meetings, but I did spend some time on the beach. As I sat there, breathing deeply with my feet in the sand, it occurred to me that I wasn't going to see the ocean again for quite a while. My current path winds me through most of the middle of the country over the next several months. I won't get to the Atlantic Coast until fall, so I soaked it in while I could.



CRATER LAKE


With a depth of 1,949 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, the second deepest in North America, and seventh deepest in the world. It was formed 7,700 years ago when a powerful volcanic eruption collapsed the 12,000 foot tall Mount Mazama in on itself. Several smaller eruptions over the following couple hundred years formed cinder cones, only one of which made it above water level, forming Wizard Island.


The lake has no inlets flowing into it and is filled by snow and rain alone. The absence of silt and sediment flowing into the Crater Lake gives the water its striking blue color which is most visible in the summer.


(not my photo)


The Park Service closes Rim Road from November to June due to the snow, but they keep the road from Park Headquarters to Rim Village open when possible so visitors can get a view of the lake and access some snowshoeing trails. Seeing Crater Lake was an absolute must. The initial plan was to visit the weekend before Coos Bay, but days of snow closed the road to Rim Village. The road was open again and my revised plan had me visiting on the way from Coos Bay to Twin Falls, ID.


Once again however, fate attempted to thwart my plans to see Crater Lake. A big executive from an important account was in Portland and asked if I was available for breakfast over the weekend. I'd been trying to get this meeting for months, and I haven't told clients I'm on this trip, so I said "yes, of course" then shuffled my schedule around to make it work.



I packed and drove that night to Shady Cove. I stayed at the Maple Leaf Motel, which was the closest to Crater Lake I could get. I set my alarm to get an early start with the plan of watching sunrise at the lake.


Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not a morning person so, true to form, I got a later start than I had intended. I would arrive at Rim Village 45 minutes or so after sunrise, which still sounded fine.


As I got closer and closer to the park small patches of snow began appearing along the edge of the road. "This is it?" I thought to myself "What a big fuss over nothing." But before long as I pulled into the park, the piles of snow that the plows had pushed to the side of the road were four feet tall. By the time I reached the top of the mountain they were over ten.



The winding road up the mountain was icy and slow going. I had brought chains along, so I wasn't worried, but they are a pain in the ass to put on and I was hoping I wouldn't have to. Thankfully, the ice had been diminished somewhat by salt and textured by the chains of the plows and I was able to get to the top without them.


Supposedly, Rim Village was open, but you couldn't tell by looking around. No cars were parked in any of the lots and the only other living being I saw was a lone park worker digging out the public restrooms. I drove until the road dead ended and parked where the sign instructed me to - in the middle of the road.



Snow obstructed my view of everything except a large building with ten foot icicles hanging off the eaves giving off Overlook Hotel vibes. A couple of tracks led over the snow drift along the road so I followed them.



As I crested the hill, my breath caught in my throat. Crater Lake lay before me, larger than life, clean and twinkling in the morning light. An expanse of pristine snow led up to a viewpoint with a steep drop off. Entranced, I walked up to the edge and plopped down in the snow, taking it in - I had it all to myself.



It was at that moment the sun peeked out from behind the top of the mountain to my right, lighting up the snow around me and sparkling off the lake. I had accidentally timed everything perfectly. When I say this is one of the most stunning sights I have ever witnessed, it's not hyperbole. I had a spiritual experience out there, all alone on the snow.



Afterwards I had a quiet, pensive drive all the way back up to Portland. I enjoyed a chill evening, had my meeting, and drove directly to Twin Falls the next day.



Despite having lived in Oregon for nearly three years, I hadn’t explored much of it south of Salem, and I'm glad I did. This week was an opportunity to make good on an old promise, walk my favorite trail, and to make some new indelible memories. Next Stop, Idaho.


Yes, and…

Matt

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