We quickly headed out of Crescent City, eager to get to Portland and explore Oregon— land we had never seen in or outside of a vehicle. By this point we had basically seen the entirety of California— from the coast to the desert, Redwoods to LA (San Diego I am coming for you). Oregon had only lived in my mind as a mossy fairytale land covered in lichen and waterfalls. And there was Portland—and rain. Previously my only brush with Portland came from a couple of blogs I used to read and—more than anything else—Portlandia. Basically, I drove in with a couple handfuls of information about hipsters and rain. The unknown. The best part of any trip.
Our first stop was at The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium. After driving 6 hours through forest covered mountains, we needed a peculiar place to stretch our legs. It was a small place with its’ walls covered in odd news clippings, photos, and facts about spontaneous combustion. You can walk into a brain or experience the ‘buried alive coffin’ simulation. But mostly, you can just feast your eyes on a bunch of strange memorabilia and enjoy the ambience. The photo of the dollhouse below is the only photo I took—aside from an iphone photo or two— here or anywhere else in Oregon. We entered a time warp where we put down our phones and soaked Portland way, way up. We moved fast and our days there blurred into one- yet we managed to spend an afternoon napping in the park amidst the drinks and shopping and eating. We sampled local beers at a Taproom that first night, with our van parked close by in a $5 lot. Afterwards we stumbled into The Big Legrowlski, a bar and venue heroing a favorite movie of ours. We laughed out loud discussing our favorite scene (Donny’s ashes in the wind) and ordered White Russians at the bar, thinking about the universe and how it always delivers exactly what we need on these trips. The doors of the venue swung open to reveal a rap show in the adjacent room—think ICP meets Strange Music at an open mic. Tattoos, grills, white men in do-rags. The universe with a sense of humor. We finished our drinks and decided to try our luck at sleeping in the van in the middle of the city.
The next morning we quietly climbed into the front seat and drove to the nearest truck stop for cheap showers. We had made it through the night without any break ins or knocks from the police and felt pretty untouchable. And sweaty. The luxury of a bed on wheels. After showers we headed to Pine State Biscuits to soak up the booze with the locals. We made it to Powell’s, the “largest used and new bookstore in the world” and wandered the aisles for what seems like hours. A copy of My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem stood out to me on a shelf and I threw it in my bag with little to no context. Another gift from the universe.
Knowing our time was coming to an end with my curiosity still skyrocketing, I grabbed a copy of a small book called This is Portland: The City You've Heard You Should Like. We read it over ramen a couple blocks away and discussed our exit plan. Though we would have loved to stay for days, we had miles to cover and little money to spend.. Not to mention the longing for the open road over the busy streets of Portland. Most people’s eyes get very wide when I tell them the distances we travel in a day or two; the time behind the wheel or in the passenger seat. But we have both grown to love the winding roads that weave us through the landscape and the meditation it brings to drive for hundreds of miles without stopping. No people, no traffic, no problems. Except of course, when you break down on the side of the road. All problems.
After spending an evening an hour outside of Portland, overlooking Mt Hood over a windy lake with the loudest, greatest free views anyone can afford, we started our journey to Boise, ID. But, we only made it to La Grande.
Waking up at the loudest freest most scenic campground, our first plan was to stop by a mechanic before getting to Idaho. We had noticed a loud noise that crescendoed as we made turns. The mechanic told us we were low on power steering fluid and found a slow leak below the dash. He was kind enough to top us off at no charge and we hit the road for Boise, relieved for the small problem/small solution. Twenty miles later as we putted around the mountains towards Idaho, the van completely died as we descended a mountain. I slowed down and fumbled for the hazards, tapping the brakes down the mountain and trying to stay calm. We stopped and parked as far from the road as we could. And waited..and turned the key…and waited..and tried again. Once I realized she wasn’t going to start, we looked to our phones- no service. My anxiety rose as we climbed out of the van, on top of the van, down the road with zero bars. Another round of what-the-hell-do-I-do-now with the urgency of rock paper scissors. It was clear Lucy didn’t have enough juice to start especially after aggressively trying to turn it over ten times. I surveyed the options as I watched the cars fly by. Our only hope: strangers. If we can’t call, we had to get someone to pull over, and I wasn’t about to play damsel in distress for an hour under the hood. I heard Celeste in the distance, ‘can you hear me now?’ as I cut a bag into a large rectangle. I grabbed a pen— the only thing in the damn van that could make a mark— and did my best to write ‘NEED JUMP’ in big enough letters to read. A few seconds later I was standing behind my van holding the sign above my head, reluctantly looking into traffic pleading for help and simultaneously hating every single thing about the situation. Ya know, multitasking. Not five minutes into this glorious ritual, a truck began to slow down and pull over. Celeste was just beginning to climb the hill beside the van, barely connected to her insurance agent, looking for better service. I called her down.
The man’s name was Chase, and after the jumper cables didn’t do the trick, Chase began helping us troubleshoot. He drove a diesel himself and also had every tool you could ever need, which really completed my collection of a small phillips screwdriver, a flathead, and a recently purchased pair of pliers. Finally he ruled out everything he knew how to fix and looked at me and asked , ‘Have you ever been towed?’ like he was asking me if I had ever done the safest, easiest, a-caveman-could-do-it task. He says something about a rope and how I will have to be the brakes. The rope is pretty short. Are you comfortable doing this? I nod confidently and get behind the wheel. Then, the van is moving down a mountain and my entire body tenses with every inch. He was using hand gestures to communicate: a fist for step on the brakes, a waving hand for letting off. For six miles we wound through mountains and finally exited for La Grande, OR screaming as we flew around the exit ramp. We broke free as we pulled into a parking lot had to be pushed into a spot. Chase left after gathering his tools and offered a ride to Boise. We declined and watched him go. The adrenaline was high, the situation was still unresolved, and it was Saturday evening.
In the parking lot of O’reilly’s Auto Parts, we continued to problem solve. Because who else was going to handle this. We added more diesel, oil, charged the battery, googled, called people who may know. Just when we were getting used to the idea of being stuck in La Grande until Monday, a couple of guys pulled up in a car and asked if we needed help. Steve and his brother spent the next few hours working on my van, which news to me, is a pain in the ass to work on. Not once did either of them show it. When the van didn’t start that night, they came back in the morning to help for a few more hours, changing a fuel filter and the fuel pump. Finally the van roared to life and I swear had I been standing I would have done a backflip. I looked at them at said ‘Did you just fix my van!’. I paid them back for the parts they bought and a little more, though they asked for nothing in return. After meeting their pets we had heard so much about, we shook hands and got back on the road. really.
As we laid awake in the Oreillys parking lot the night before, we acknowledged how lucky we had been that day and all of the days prior during the trip. How privileged we were. Though we are told every single time how many sickos are out there, we consistently meet good people. But it isn’t just luck. It’s also privilege.
We made it to Idaho and stayed in a nice campground near the Shoshone falls, where we had coffee the next morning, before heading to Moab.
Photographer on the road