I never appreciated what existed north of my home state of California. A land of incredible vistas, black sand beaches, and abundant wildlife. The coastline connecting Washington to Oregon to California has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been — and I’m not one to make that statement lightly. Part of what has taken me so long to write about this Highway 101 road trip is not knowing how to describe a stretch of land that needs no explanation. Thankfully, my trusty camera is here to fill in the gaps where I’m left speechless.
After the mattress catastrophe and spending a few nights in a town known for its tweakers, my dad and I hiked a few miles in Mt. Rainier National Park before looping down the Highway 101 along the coastline of Oregon.
Sometimes, the best road trips are ones with itineraries led by gut feelings over guidebooks. This was definitely one of those scenarios.
“I thought you were the travel writer?” My dad asked whenever we were lost and lacked direction on things to see.
“Yeah. Well, this is how I travel.” I’d respond.
If only I’d read this guide to the Pacific Coast Highway in advance…
With no fixed plans, we drove straight down the Highway 101, stopping at whatever turn-off looked interesting and hiking wherever there was a trail.
These are just a few of the moments that stood out the most.
The Highway 101 Road Trip
The Highway 101 extends over 1,500 miles long, spanning from Southern California to the tip of Washington, merging with El Camino Real and the Highway 1. If you want to embark on a west coast road trip that covers all of the coastal towns, this would be the route to take.
The Impromptu Pot Shop Stop
I come from a (mostly) conservative family. Think gun-toting Republicans wearing Make America Great Again hats on their way to church. Don’t know what to buy them as a gift? Anything with Ronald Reagan’s face stamped on it will do.
The few family members who’ve strayed from this conservative archetype completely swing the other way. Think hula dancing surfers living on a tropical island, who spend their days carving tikis, rescuing cats, and befriending strangers.
I love them all, and wrote my college application on how I’d make a level-headed politician or reporter someday because I come from such a
crazy diverse family. We’re kind of all-or-nothing. Except for my little sister, who is the only vegan in the world with the word handgun scribbled on her Christmas wishlist.
You can imagine my surprise when the marijuana shops on the side of the road piqued my dad’s curiosity.
“Should we go and look inside?” he asked.
Is this a trap? Is he trolling me? I’m 25 years old. Can he still ground me?
We walked into a small building that was probably a gluten free bakery or Tutti Frutti franchise in its former life. Now, it’s selling the state of Oregon’s latest legal hot commodity, marijuana. The inside was painted top-to-bottom with a mural of a pirate ship.
A girl jumped out from behind a wall and shrieked, “Like the paint job? He did it!”
She pointed to a white guy with dreadlocks.
“Can I see your I.D.?”
I left mine in the car and was plopped on a chair in the psychedelic waiting room. My dad reluctantly handed his over and they escorted him into a back room with jars of the devil’s lettuce inside. I peeked through the open door and saw a menu featuring doobies for $7 a pop. (I have no idea if that’s a good deal or not.) Other items listed included Borderliner Xtrm, Cheese Quake, Blue Shoe Sour Diesel (I’m more of an unleaded 91 girl myself…), Chemdawg, Rip N Wreck, and Medi-Haze. I’m not sure what those meant and suspected my dad didn’t either. Reviews on leafly.com say things like, “there was a comprehensive flower selection…” So there’s that.
The Magician’s Walk
At approximately stop #40 out of 97, we drove atop a hill overlooking the ocean. The blue sky warmed our skin and we could see whales surfacing down in the water.
A couple in their late 60s pulled up next to us on a Harley Davidson. The wife clung to the back of her husband, her hands weaved into the stitching of his leather jacket. They smiled at us. Together, they had a full set of teeth.
“Is the weather always this good?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, in Oregon, this time of the year, it’s great!” the wife replied.
My dad and I picked a path and trekked down, hoping to get to the beach for a better glimpse of the whales migrating past. Sure that we’d find somewhere to turn off and walk down, we kept going. After about thirty minutes, I regretted not changing out of my flip flops and into real shoes. Huge mushrooms grew from the trees surrounding us, and it felt like we’d never pass another soul — despite being just a few hundred meters west of the highway. It was a tiny glimpse of the Oregon Coast Trail and I’d love to see more someday.
After an hour or so, it seemed obvious that we’d never reach the beach and would have to admire the sea from an elevated vantage point instead.
As soon as we turned back towards our car, the weather changed. Mist rolled through the trees, completely blocking our view of the sea and anything more than a few hundred feed in front of us. The forest was wrapped in a magician’s cloak.
Now you see it, now you don’t.
By the time we were back at the truck, the ocean vanished. We drove through thick fog for the next two hours — appreciating any peeks at a sunny sky just a little bit more.
We stopped at the side of the road where a herd of elk stood in front of a home. I have an inkling that the elk were raised for slaughter but for the sake of the story, let’s pretend this herd was in the wild.
The elk ignored the sound of cars flying by as they grazed. Wanting just one shot of the gargantuan creatures looking at the camera, I let out a yelp to grab their attention. The females looked up at me, then went back to mowing the grass with their teeth.
I let out another yelp.
Suddenly, the buck looked straight at me and started huff. He took a few steps towards me. I didn’t point the camera at him in fear that he’d see it as a threat.
I took a few steps back.
I was already a safe distance away, still on the side of the road, but the buck never broke eye contact.
Okay. Thanks dude. I got my picture so you can go back to trying to woo the ladies and whatnot.
I thought of all the idiots that die every year doing stupid things, landing themselves chapters in the Darwin Awards — a book series I know very well. I used to be addicted to reading about all the dumb ways that people die as a sensitive young child, an obsession that no doubt explains why I’m so disturbed. Getting skewered by an elk (are they even aggressive?) would certainly warrant my own page. I could see the headline, “Moronic Tourist Impaled by Elk While Taking Sub-Par Photograph.”
I ran back to the truck.
Sea Lions at Play
It looked like a melee down there — a kerfuffle of splashing, barking, and spraying.
A large sea lion swam up and caught the rest of the pack by surprise. They barked and scattered for a few seconds before regrouping.
A pair of two adults and their pup broke free and made their way towards the waves, the pup swimming faster than its parents to catch the wave’s momentum.
Human or animal, the love of surfing is universal.
Of course, in between these stories of our Highway 101 road trip were hours spent together clocking miles onto our rental’s odometer, talking about nothing while talking about everything. Those moments are truly the ones that can’t be depicted, forever locked inside my memory.
If you like this type of post, you’ll also enjoy The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk: The Things I Couldn’t Put in a Guidebook.