Into The Wild : Part 1

When I was on my flight direction Anchorage I had no clue what I was going to do. I had no plan, no accommodation. Only a plane ticket and a rental car. The greatness of this massive piece of land made me curious and anxious at the same time.

Once I got on board of my flight I tried to close my eyes immediately and catch some sleep. Not much later a mother with a little kid on her lap comes sits next to me. The kid is screaming for dear life and kicks me the first hour of the flight but finds peace eventually. In the meantime the guy in the seat in front of me tilted his chair all the way. I need some sleep !

A few hours later we start our descend into Anchorage.

By now it’s past midnight and most shops are closed already and the car rental office only opens in four hours so I got some time to kill before I can start my journey. These are the cons of a cheap ticket but all worth it. Luckily Anchorage airport has free WIFI and pretty comfy seats to get some sleep.

I close my eyes for a bit and to my pleasant surprise I wake up a couple hours later. I am heading downstairs and pick up the rental and start my drive to Denali National Park.

Once I arrive there I buy myself a ticket for the Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake the next day. This 11 hour drive gives you a good chance to spot some wildlife and is your only way to get this deep into the park (with a motorized vehicle).

Now I still need a place to sleep for the night.

My travel guide recommends the Denali Morning Hostel nearby the park.

Once I arrive there I ring the bell but there is no one around. I notice a sign that says ‘Come look for us in the back’.

I follow the instructions but all I can find are a death silence and a tree filled with shoes.

When I return to the front office I see another guy looking for a way to check in. Not much later the receptionist is arriving with a van filled with guests who came back from the park.

I check in. Shower. Eat a cup of noodles and drag myself to bed at 7.49 PM …

Tomorrow will be a long day and I have to get up around 4 AM for the tour. Once I’m in bed I start noticing how quickly the temperature drops here once the sun is gone.

My alarm goes off and I started smiling as I was really excited for this tour. I felt well rested thanks to going to bed so early last night. I try to put my clothes on in silence and not wake up my roommates. It is freezing cold outside.

I get to my car and drive to the parking lot where the shuttle bus departs from. I booked a seat on the earliest bus of the day so I am back at a descent hour. As soon as we leave the sun starts to rise and we spot our first animals. A herd of moose cross the road like a New Yorker in Manhattan. This makes you realize that the animals rule the park and we are simply visitors.

Further down the road we also spot bighorn sheep, bears, caribous and a coyote. The bus drive takes you through some jaw dropping parts of Alaska and gives you an idea of how huge this Last Frontier is.

The weather is not bad at all but unfortunately not good enough to see Mount McKinley. The highest mountains of the USA is wrapped up in a bunch of clouds today.

A little after 5 PM the bus arrives back at the parking lot and I have still time to drive to Seward, a little town in the south of Alaska.

On my way I make a stop at the Alaska Veterans Memorial and a ranger walks up to me and asks me if I am planning to spend the night here. Knowing it is illegal to do so I told him I was on my way to Seward but he shakes his head is disbelief. I get confused and I probably look dead tired from the last couple days of intensive traveling. The confusion is complete when he asks me if I am under the influence but I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol in days. I have no clue what he is after but this is just plain awkward.

I get back into my car and noticed the ranger followed me. I started to get nervous and agitated at the same time. What is his problem ? Half an hour later he gives up and turns around.

That evening I keep driving until midnight and decide it would be better to get some sleep for a few hours. The next morning I would drive along one of the most scenic routes of Alaska, the Turnagain Arm.

The Lost Coast for the Lost Cause

Last week I was catching up with a dear friend of mine. We were reminiscing about the good old days and awesome memories we collected over the years.

One of those great memories was our road trip along the 101 (From Seattle all the way to Los Angeles)

We made stops in Washington State and Oregon (see previous posts) and saw fantastic places. But one of the most memorable moments was the day we drove to ‘The Lost Coast’.

The day started off with a visit to Redwood National Park which is known for its gigantic trees.

After a small walk we set course south and had some spare time for a little detour…

The thing with detours is… I love them ! Just leave the main road a get lost by taking side roads.

That’s how my friend and I discovered ‘The Lost Coast’.

We got of the Highway 101 and planned to drive along the Highway 1 along the coast to see the sunset.

The only thing was, we discovered it with a half empty tank and in the late afternoon.

The small winding mountain road took us through a forest to end up in Shelter Cove when the sun was touching the ocean.

By now we were also desperately looking for a gas station to fill up our tank. We found a gas sign but couldn’t retrieve the gas station. So we made a stop at ‘Vernes’. The guy over there informed us that Shelter Cove is a ‘Dead End’ and you could only drive on that part of the Highway 1 with a SUV.

That also meant we had to drive all the way back over that little mountain road. Panic was complete when the guy informed us casually that the local gas station just closed for the day and we had to return all the way with an almost empty tank.

He left us with the very inspiring and memorable quote : “Hey, at least you saw the lost coast” – He snickered and left us speechless at the entrance of the bar…

The Lost Coast… This piece of land in Northern California was named like this because it was initially meant to be part of the highway but because of difficulties of building roads through the surrounding mountain they cancelled the road plans. Resulting little beach towns like Shelter Cove to become very secluded and only accessible by boat, plane and that stupid single winding mountain road.

We gave the ocean one last big glance, crossed our fingers and drove back to Thorn Junction, our closest gas station. Not much later we saw the empty fuel indicator glow.

Outside it was completely pitch-dark.

Half an hour of nerve wrecking turns we made it to Thorn Junction and pulled over at the gas station.

We made it.

So people, please fill up your tank whenever you can and don’t take unnecessary risks, hoping the next gas station will be only a few miles away.

Visit Oregon

Oregon is underrated.

When people talk about US travel destinations they always think about Sunny California, Vibrant New York or Hurricane season in Florida.

But it’s clear to say the US has so much beauty captured in one country each with its own charms.

Oregon is filled with beautiful places.

Visit Corvallis and go strolling through the city center.

Jump into Crater Lake, one of the deepest lakes on earth.

Hike Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest mountain (but be well prepared)

Go try some beers in Portland

Make a stroll along the beach in Cannon Beach

Don’t hesitate – Crawl behind the wheel and take that drive.

You won’t be disappointed.

Just keep in mind that Oregon is one of the two states in the US where it is illegal to pump gas yourself. It’s one of those old laws  where the government decided it was not safe for customers to just get gas themselves.

Friday, Freedom, Fog, Falls … Flat Tire

To embark on the journey towards your goals and dreams requires bravery.

To remain on that path requires courage.

The bridge that merges the two is commitment. 

I saw Raine again at the airport of Seattle on a Thursday night in February.

She left the sunny weather from California behind and exchanged it for a rainy weekend in Washington State and Oregon.

From the airport we picked up our rental car and drove into the night down the Interstate 5 until we reached Vancouver, Washington State, right on the border with Oregon State and Portland. There we checked in to some local low budget hotel right off the interstate with free parking. This way we avoided the high hotel prices from Portland and an additional parking fee. Portland is only a half hour drive from there.

On Friday morning we entered Oregon.

But we didn’t drive to Portland right away.

Instead we decided to drive on one of the most scenic routes of the USA, The Historic Columbia River Highway. The scenic route starts in Troutdale and goes all the way to The Dalles. We were really excited to discover this stretch of awesomeness.

As soon as we left the Highway 30 it started to get foggy.

It was a curse and a blessing. The fog prevented us to look far around us and some lookout points we stopped at were just like we were staring at a blank wall like at Vista House.

But the fog on the empty road and between the woods made the experience so much more fun.

Until we got a flat tire.

We pulled over and evaluated the damage. We had to replace the tire with the spare donut we had underneath the car. After a little investigation and some good help of that one car that passed by and pulled over we got back on the road with only half an hour delay.

We had places to go that day.

Not much later we arrived at Latourell Falls and the fog disappeared for a bit. Latourell Falls is a little less popular then Multnomah Falls but definitely worth a visit. We hiked up to the top of the falls and enjoyed the stunning views along the way.

Not much later we arrived at the famous and marvellous ‘Multnomah Falls‘. Most of the visitors make the little hike up to the Benson Bridge which is pretty close. If you have more time and a little bit of hiking experience you can also continue the trail until the top. The view up there is magnificent and worth the effort, even if it is a series of switchbacks you are about to conquer for the next mile.

We made Multnomah Falls our turnaround point on our scenic drive and drove off to Portland for more adventures where we switched our rental car at one of our rental car offices without any extra charges and a new full tank !

Winner !!

Keep Portland Weird

When you decide to visit Portland you will quickly be introduced to the funky vibe that this city possesses and the most awesome thing you can do is embrace it with both arms.

Portland is a city for bikers and for people who adore books, music, bridges, beer and one way streets.

One of the main things to do in Portland is visiting the Powell’s City of Books, where you need a travel map to go from Archeology to Zen.

Make time for a stroll in Riverside Park along the Willamette River. If you walk passed the Burnside Bridge you’ll find the famous ‘Made in Oregon’ sign on your left.

If you are hungry from all the walking and you are up for a snack than you can get a doughnut in the popular ‘Voodoo Doughnut‘ place. You might have to wait in line for a bit until you can devour your piece of sugar.

Maybe you noticed it in the meantime… the state of Oregon has no sales tax which saves you some dollars on your shopping . Maybe a good time to by that new Iphone in the Apple Store in Portland.

For good food you can always try Kenny & Zuke’s and definitely try some local microbrews when you are in Portland.

The 101 – The Oregon Coast

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.

One of my favourite parts of road tripping down the 101 is driving over the Astoria-Megler Bridge which connects Washington State (Megler) with Oregon State (Astoria). Tell your loved one in the passenger seat to keep the camera ready!

A little bit further down south you will arrive in another awesome spot, Cannon Beach. You most likely remember this beach from the end scene of ‘the Goonies’. Go to the beach, take off your shoes and enjoy a relaxing walk along the shore towards Haystack Rock. This enormous rock is accessible by foot at low tide during summertime. The first we visited Cannon Beach in July the weather conditions were perfect. The second year we went we missed that slot by far and got soaking wet in February instead. Still a fun and very natural experience. At least we didn’t have to roll up our pants anymore.

After our little walk, we basically almost drifted back to our lodge (Ecola Creek Lodge) to get a hot shower and jumped in the car to get some late night dinner. Because it was low season the town was quickly turning into a ghost town after 9 PM.

We lucked out and got a great meal at Bill’s Tavern & Brewhouse. They were very kind to get us some food right before the kitchen closed and we got a great service and good food !

From Cannon Beach most people travel east to see the area around Portland.

Those who want to keep going along the 101 will experience some wonderful ocean views along the way. You’ll also make some stops in Tillamook, Coos Bay or Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area to get a break from sitting behind the wheel. 

The 101 – The Olympic Peninsula

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. 

Highway 101. Maybe one of the most iconic highways in the USA that runs from Los Angeles in California all the way to Olympia in Washington State, some 2500 km up north.

It’s a very popular road for road trippers from all over the world who want to discover the Pacific Coast. The most popular part might be between Los Angeles and San Francisco but Oregon and Washington have some gems to offer as well.

When you start your journey from North to South then Olympia will be your starting point. From here you make a loop around the mystic Olympic National Park which is surely worth a visit.

Travel tip : If you are on a road trip through the USA and you are planning to visit 4 or more National Parks during your trip, then I would recommend you to buy an annual park pass as this would be more beneficial. Make sure the park you are visiting are National Parks as some regional parks are not included in the pass.

Continue your trip and you will pass along beautiful Lake Ozette, a great place to stretch your legs for a bit.

A little later you will arrive in Forks, the town that got popular because of the ‘twilight’ series. It’s a little town like any other in the area but if you are on your way to Forks you should definitely turn right before you enter the town and drive to La Push, an Indian reservation with pristine beaches.

Make a stop at First Beach and Second Beach and follow the trail through the mystic forest until you reach the beach and get rewarded with stunning views.

Lake Quinalt demands another stop before you make your way further south direction Oregon State.

You will also pass through (or overnight) in Aberdeen, birthplace and hometown of Kurt Cobain.

Speechless in Seattle

Seattle is a city for people who enjoy music, coffee, books, beer and rainy days. Although most of the times I visited this beautiful city I lucked out with the weather and had some sunny days.

Looking for a hostel ? Then the Green Tortoise might be a good idea. This hostel is centrally located right across from the Pike Place Market. Visit this market to excite your appetite and witness how some jolly fishermen throw fish at each other. Stroll around here for some souvenirs and grab a coffee at the very first Starbucks right across the street. Don’t want to wait in line for an hour, well don’t worry, there are plenty other Starbucks or other coffee places scattered all over town.

The Space Needle is definitely one of the landmarks of this city. When you are there, make sure you visit the Experience Music Project Museum (EMP) where you learn a lot about several music legends and you get the chance to try out some instruments yourself in a music studio. Pretty cool experience !

A must during your visit in Seattle is an Underground Tour. This tour will take you, well … , underground and shows you the original streets of Seattle and its haunted history.

Don’t forget to try some clam chowder while you are out there. Pike Place Chowder is a great place to fill your belly with this good tasty stuff but expect there might be a waiting line.

El Matador State Beach

This secluded piece of paradise is your perfect getaway from the crowded LA beaches although this place is getting more and more attention. And I can’t blame you for wanting to bring this place a visit.

If you can, come early to make sure you have a parking spot in the limited parking area. The parking lot opens at 8 AM and closes at sunset. There is also a parking fee ($ 8.00 USD)  to pay (and you better pay it because the cops are making several stops here during the day). You can pay with card or cash at the parking meter.

Make sure to bring some food and beverages to the beach to enjoy a full day in the sun. To get access to the beach you have to descend some stairs before you set foot in the sandy beach.

El Matador State Beach with its beautiful caves and large rocks in the water is the perfect spot for a romantic date or a great place to snap some sunset pictures.

So make sure you don’t miss this gem on your drive along Highway 101