So, due to a variety of situations, I ended up with the world’s most smashed up, uncomfortable Toyota pickup truck to drive from Seattle to San Diego. Having never paid that much attention to a road map of the US West Coast I didn’t really have any idea of:
a) How far it is.
b) How long it takes.
c) What an incredible drive it is.
Late on a Friday night, I set off in a my beaten up excuse of a vehicle, filled up with gas, oil, and supplies. To put this vehicle in context, these are things it lacks:
- A radio.
- Air conditioning.
- Some of the bolts from the front seats.
- The ability to put a full tank of gas in without it overflowing from somewhere.
- The ability to open or close the drivers window, without opening the door and using a pair of mole-grips.
- Space – single cab 1T truck (SMALL single cab).
- Any form of sound insulation.
- A sense of smooth and effortless progression on a long distance drive, that many a modern car delivers with ease.
- The ability or charisma to instil confidence in its driver that it will get you where you want to go without the afore mentioned driver getting covered in oil, grease, and swearing a lot.
- A radio (really important when driving 1400 miles, so necessary to mention twice).
Things it has:
- Four wheels.
- An engine (sort of).
- A name – well I named it Rosie (all my cars have names, so it’s important to keep up with tradition).
Of I went, armed with a pair of ridiculously overpriced road maps to get me South out of Washington and through Oregon. These two small laminated maps were so expensive that when I tried to pay for them at the gas station the lady behind the till asked me if I was really sure I wanted them as they were so expensive. When I mentioned that without those maps I didn’t even know which way to turn out of the forecourt without using a compass she handed them back, but continued to ask more questions, which she then admitted to only asking so she could hear me talk some more. It turns out this does actually happen from time to time when you have a British accent in bits of America. It’s become less weird as time goes on, unless you’re talking to another guy, in which case it feels a little awkward.
Southwards, and the first navigational choice. Straight South down the main road, direct to San Diego, or take a meandering and varied route along the coastline, with significantly more miles. From a personal point of view alone, it was obviously the coastal option, compounded by my lack of faith that Rosie would actual handle many miles of highway driving without things starting to fall off.
I didn’t make it far before finding a lovely little corner of the world I could well see myself living in. Astoria is nestled in the NW corner Oregon, perched on the edge of the Columbia River which also forms the divide between states. Driving down the river road I saw a small wooden landing built out over the water, with an equally wooden bridge connecting it. As exploring and a short attention span is a key part of my personality, I went over for an explore and discovered Pier 39, the original home of Bumblebee Seafoods, and previously the base for the large cannery operation they ran from there.
With Bumblebee long gone, some of the space is dedicated as a museum to what went before, and the rest of the buildings are used for local business and a pub. However much of the redundant equipment and structure of its working days remain, along with a real sense of character and atmosphere.
The pub was my primary interest, and despite only planning on stopping for a bite to eat, a wide range of local beer and spectacular views, along with the mental musings of staying in a lovely tucked away bit of the world and living out my days with a carefree existence of low stress coastal living interspersed with world class sailing adventures did distract me somewhat from the matter of driving to San Diego.
A fast setting sun coincided with being offered another beer. I enquired whether there was any issue leaving my car overnight, or if the whole place really was a chilled out as it seemed. The answer was in the affirmative, and two beers quickly followed. When closing I was asked if I was staying locally. Very locally I replied, and then proceeded to tuck myself up in my sleeping bag in the drivers seat for a good nights sleep, while sat bolt upright (did I mention the lack of reclining functionality?).
An early start at 6am gave much opportunity for wondering around while waiting for the ‘Coffee Girl’ cafe at Pier 39 to open. An initially misty start quickly cleared to reveal a still river, and the characterful structure of the disused pier sections facing upstream.
As I warmed up (bloody cold sleeping in a car on the coast), messing around with my camera distracted me until the coffee shop opened. As I understand it, the ‘Coffee Girl’ was the original establishment which operated during the heyday of the cannery operation, and served the many workers there. A lovely slice of history that has survived the years, and as the morning progressed it quickly became busy with locals, in addition to the cold traveller who had slept in his car outside.
Breakfast done, it was time to hit the road. Overpriced maps in hand, the long drive South began. However, if the character and hospitable nature of Astoria was anything to go by, I was looking forward to what came next. Definitely a place to go back to.