In late September 2015, I decided it was high time for a road trip to discover, or at least glimpse, the wonders of Oregon and pinot noir. The best way for me to get a sense for a region is to visit, see the landscape, meet the winemakers, and taste the wine. Otherwise, it’s just abstract and academic. Additionally, as someone who grew up on the east coast with only occasional visits to the west, the Pacific Northwest was a great geographic and sensory unknown. Road trip plus Oregon is an itch that simply demands to be scratched.
I was excited to finally witness this sublime countryside. The sprawling and rolling hills, the open prairies and vineyards of the Willamette dotted with trees, the sun kissed golden fields, now bare after another growing season.
The drive itself, at about eighteen hours, would traverse four states: Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Oregon. Even the seemingly endless expanse of otherworldly terrain would be a scenic splendor I looked forward to experiencing. Plenty of time listen to every podcast and extended concept alum my iPod would serve up.
Passing beyond Fort Collins into Wyoming, the civilization of gas stations, motels, offices and services, dwindled to the occasional warehouse and heavy industry factory. Eventually there was nothing but empty land – an empty horizon of yellow and brown Earth under an ever endless blue sky above. Cheyenne led to Laramie, which led to… basically nowhere. America has a hell of a lot of empty land.
We become so familiar with our everyday world- the same scenes, the same roads and structures. To simply venture off and experience new vistas and unknown scenery is a very refreshing change. You owe it to yourself. Do a road trip, you’ll be glad you did.
Stopping for gas is an unavoidable and routine interruption of the journey. You get to stretch your legs and take a breath of fresh air. You can get your sunflower seeds, overly peanuts, Ho-Ho’s, Big GULP! or Slim Jim – whatever is your gas station snack of choice.
It’s also tempting to reflect on the philosophical significance of such service areas, only to realize how banal and uninspiring they actually are. Fluorescent lights keep the “hot dogs” warm. One liter of Mountain Dew is On Sale! And free coffee and donuts for truckers. Don’t forget your camouflage baseball cap, a helping of Wing Dings and a refill of antifreeze. Take a piss in the putrid, godforsaken toilet, and try not to touch anything.
Another enjoyable benefit to long road trips is the opportunity to review and listen to all your favorite extended concept albums. Although I have many bootleg recordings of the original 1981 tour of The Wall, I listened to the official live version start to finish, and it was glorious. The Wall was one the first lps I ever owned as a little nine year old, and it will forever remain a part of my identity. To hypnotically trance out to Another Brick In The Wall Pt 1, and then blast the guttural gyrations of Young Lust as you blaze across a featureless landscape at 90 mph – ah, I mean, 65 mph of course – is an exhilarating thing.
Of course, you might prefer Tommy, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Tales Of Mystery And Imagination by the Alan Parsons Project. It’s up to you! Either way you will have all the time in the world to reflect on the meaning of this album or that, and remember when you first heard this song of that, or any other facet of your life that comes to the surface.
The drive would take two days, mapped by Google and approved by me. The midway point was Twin Falls Idaho, where I determined to be several rv campgrounds. This would be my overnight, for which I was prepared with my tent and sleeping bag. No need to spend seventy five dollars on a grubby Motel 6 when I can live off the land on my own terms.
I called my mother from the car and updated her of my plans. She was excited and surprisingly supportive, and suggested I treat myself to a nice dinner in Twin Falls since I was sleeping in a tent. Can’t disagree with that. The only problem however, is that a “nice meal” may not be possible in these parts. There only seem to be chain restaurants and gas stations.
Setting up camp was straightforward enough, although I nearly didn’t make it. There can sometimes be many miles between exits, and approaching empty, my car limped to the exit on fumes. The little orange light had illuminated many minutes ago… Moral to the paragraph, pay close attention to your fuel needs!
I ended up at a franchise spin off that was a notch or two below Olive Garden. I had some kind of pasta alfredo with chicken that was nearly inedible. The waiter disappeared forever, even though there was only one other party in the whole restaurant. The funny thing about these faux-restaurants is that even the waitstaff knows how bad they are. When he finally returned and asked how everything was, I couldn’t even fake it. I just said “it’ll have to do,” and he chuckled and walked away.
Camping was – pleasant. I had my tent, which I sort of knew how to set up. I had a cozy sleeping bag and a toothbrush. This time of year it wasn’t too cold yet. The only thing I needed to fear was the imaginary zombies or extraterrestrial creatures that would swarm me when I wandered out to pee in the middle of the night.
Day Two involved…more of the same. I fueled and coffeed up at the service station a mile away and adjacent to the highway. They’ve got this shit nailed to a science I say. There was however, a van full of Chinese refreshing themselves, and I couldn’t help but wonder where they were going, and what kind of a trip they were on that would take them through this barren landscape of America.
This is trucker country. This is where truckers do their mighty thing. They are everywhere. most of the traffic is trucks, the truckstops are mostly trucks, and all the services that line the highways are geared towards truckers, and general long distance travelers. It’s kind of cool in a way, this vast, subtle structure of support for transporting our Legos and refrigerators around the country.
The next big decision would be navigational. At the Oregon border, I could either continue on I84 to the Columbia River and head west through Portland and then down to Willamette, or I could divert early and head west across the open expanse of southeasthern Oregon, pass through Bend, and towards Salem, my destination. I decided on the latter, and it was the right choice.
In and through southern Oregon, this stretch of landscape was very impressive. At many points I wanted to stop and go running out into the open hills and pretend I was living out a scene from a 1960’s science fiction film. But then my goal oriented adult self overtook my childlike wonder, and I would just say “Fuck it” and keep driving.