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Driving the Oregon Coast

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When I initially heard people talk about driving the Oregon Coast, I felt afraid. Since it was still in the (southern part of the) Pacific Northwest, I pictured cloudy weather with rain flooding slippery roads along high cliffs that would plunge me and my car into instant death. Ok, that was dramatic, but it was alive and real in my head. I’ll also profess that I was a very nervous driver well into my mid-twenties, so the idea of completing the 364-mile journey on unstable roads felt terrifying.

All these fears were set aside after I experienced a very painful heartbreak. It happened in my early thirties, after I realized the man I was seeing never loved me after I’d invested almost two years in the relationship. I felt fooled and humiliated–intense emotions that overrode any fear I had of high cliffs and wet roads. After he cancelled a trip we’d been planning for months because he felt like going somewhere else on a whim, something in me snapped.

To get away from pain in a moment of unduly resolve, I decided to not only drive the entire coast–but do it alone. So I took the vacation days I initially booked, got in the sports car I could barely afford and literally tried to drive away from my sorrows. 

Preliminary research showed me that the Oregon Coast was split into three parts: the north, central and south. They all had various terrains and landscapes. I was driving from Vancouver, BC and just to get to the start of the coast—Astoria– required me to drive seven hours. 

On a beautiful sun-blazed summer day, I left early morning, crossed the US-Canada border, stopped at a gas station and bought myself a gigantic Dr. Pepper Slurpee from 7-11. I played addictive, peppy pop music on my car radio and instantly started feeling like myself again. Even though my heart was in pain, I was on the road, in motion. 

There is a sense of passivity and isolation in west coast culture that makes it easy to disconnect from everything. Because I was hurt, the silence of getting away from it all with only the open ocean for company made me start to hear myself. Everything I suppressed came up to the surface. On day two of the trip, I stood on a cliff close to Manzanita, and it suddenly occurred to me that my broken relationship was a symptom of my romantic patterns, not a one-off event. 

Oregon is so beautiful that almost everyone I know instantly likes it: the people are friendly in a subdued, non-threatening manner. Oregonians are more similar to (Canadian) Vancouverites than they are to (American) New Yorkers despite their citizenship. Their geography and climate bond their love for the environment, they value quality of life and work-life balance, and foster a strong commitment to wellness. With the exception of Coney-Island-like Seaside and the Tillamook Creamery which both strongly cater to tourists (and are still nonetheless fun!), the entire coast is breathtaking and quiet with salty air that fused into my curls. 

Astoria–where the Coast starts–is old. It’s the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Even walking in its’ small downtown core, you can feel the history living in its buildings, streets and simple way of life. It’s a port city and is where the Columbia river spills into the Pacific Ocean. Even the too-hipster cafe I visited had an old-world charm in its’ interior that made me want to sit and read for a little while. No e-book, just an old hardcover.

To distract myself from intense thoughts on the road, I stopped in the town of Seaside, known for its’ fairground-like feel. I bought saltwater taffy, observed families fly kites by the water, and noticed that its choppy waters–due to cloud and winds that day– gave a completely different feel of the coast. 

Arriving at Cannon Beach I stopped for the day. I stayed in a small, charming boutique hotel close to the ocean (they gave me a reduced rate since I checked in after 8pm and with no reservation). Having been assigned an elegant one-bedroom suite and decided to enjoy my evening in my hotel room. Soaker tubs with lavender oil are phenomenal after a day’s worth of driving. 

If you want to experience a mesmerizing sunset, go to Cannon Beach. I took no less than fifty photos there, and still pull them up on my digital photo album (because really, how many of us go through our old photos?). At dusk, the light hits the calm waves, glistening the water into sharp, crystal-like shapes. At that moment, I felt utter deep sadness at losing my partner, but the beauty in front of me made me believe this was the beginning of a better chapter in my life. 

The central part of the Oregon coast has many beaches with high dunes. The smooth sand looked like waves of smooth, creamy light coffee ice cream in the midday sun. I stopped driving for the day in Florence, which has a charming downtown core. 

I’d like to tell you that I stopped at every town on the Oregon Coast for the rest of my journey but it wasn’t so. When you’re driving down a gorgeous coastline–especially if you’re in a well-oiled, smooth and powerful sports car–you just want to keep going. When the roads are clear, the sun is shining with no poor weather in sight, and you keep seeing scenic coastlines that stretch hundreds of miles, you fall in love with the rhythm of smooth, high speed. Tune in to the music of your choice and you enter a state of flow. It was during this meditative state while driving that new ideas started to surface for me– a new burlesque act, an idea for a novel, and a photo essay concept. These were projects I wanted to immerse myself with when I returned home.

Relaxed Oregonians

The Oregon Coast drive actually didn’t stop in Oregon for me–it ended in Crescent City, located on the Oregon-California border. I drove through the Redwood National and State Parks, where my car spanned the length of the oldest tree trunks. It was one of the few places in the world where I realized nature could be much more powerful than humans (figuratively and literally). 

The Oregon Coast’s beaches are usually (but not entirely) too cold for a swim, but I loved dipping my feet at the very least. The cold invigorating water got me out of my head.

Did my long drive along the Oregon Coast instantly cure me of my heartbreak? Hell no. If that were the case I’d be selling tour packages to everyone needing emotional mending. But it sure gave me a head start. Overwhelming my senses through its salty air, large Sahara-desert-like sandy dunes, deep blue waves and sharp coastlines was a healthier reprieve than drowning my feelings with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

A solo road trip isn’t for everyone–but if you’re planning on unplugging from the world, driving the Oregon coastline is an appealing adventure I don’t think anyone would ever forget.

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