If you’ve somehow missed this fact, I will share it again: I love living in Oregon. I absolutely love everything about it. I especially love the random Saturdays when Brandon and I set out to explore. With no real destination in mind, the chance of getting lost, or stuck, and/or ending up nowhere in particular is great, but what is even more certain is that we will have a good time.
Thus, on a rare sunny winter day, we set out with the vague notion that we would find Golden and Silver Falls. Which we never actually found. What we did find in our meandering exploration was a completely deserted Loon Lake.
With the campground and all facilities closed for the season, we had the place to ourselves after finding a spot to park and walk in on foot.
I’m still not sure whether or not we were technically trespassing, but we did not see anything strictly saying we couldn’t be there. I mean we were not camping. Plus, Brandon likes to bend/break the rules every now and then.
Even though the sandy beach that is there in the summer was pulled in, presumably to prevent loss of sand due to increased lake volume, there was plenty to see. We hiked, we saw a waterfall, we scoped out the best camping sites for the next camping season.
It was an absolutely lovely day that we didn’t have to share with anyone else. The normally crowded campground was still and quiet. The lake, so busy in summertime, gave us an unobstructed view of its beauty. Sydney was free to roam and run to her heart’s content.
And, as we continued to drive around, aimlessly finding somewhere else to go (and finding ourselves driving down a rather potholed gravel road that probably isn’t intended for Honda Civics), we stumbled upon this:
2016 was quite a year. It was a year of excitement and adventure, a year full of exploration and fun both across Oregon and in all new places. And it was a year that ended in the most perfect way possible, a much needed day full of the simple things that make life worthwhile.
A day of walking hand in hand along the beach with my love.
A day spent watching Sydney run up and down (and up and down and up and down) the sand with abandon, playing tag with the waves.
A day to appreciate the unparalleled beauty of the Oregon coast, often feeling like the only two people in the world as we listened to the waves and noticed the details of the nature surrounding us.
A day where we got to enjoy the freshest of fresh seafood.
A day when it was easy to find gratitude for each other and the life we live.
A day, and a year, that ended with a sunset that seemed like it was meant just for us.
There are a lot of things I love about traveling. One of my favorite things is the food, something that was readily apparent from the number of food centric activities that we enjoyed during a single day in Seattle. I love trying new foods, exploring the culinary culture that is unique to a place. For Brandon’s 30th birthday trip, this meant eating some form of seafood pretty much every day. I was totally okay with that. This trip we ate at a mix of favorite spots and places recommended by others. Not a single meal, not a single bite of a single meal, disappointed. The following are some places you should definitely check out if you find yourself on Bainbridge Island or in Portland.
Harbour Public Housewas our first true vacation meal. Within walking distance of our VRBO, we had a nice stroll through downtown Winslow and along the water to the pub, which serves what I would best describe as gourmet pub food. Although with dishes like fried calamari and seafood and mussel curry, calling it pub food is a bit of an understatement.
Mora Iced Creameryis a “can’t miss” stop, even when it’s 40 degrees outside. With flavors ranging from the familiar to the more creative, there is certain to be something for any taste. And if you just can’t make up your mind, sample to your heart’s content until you find that perfect flavor, or combination of flavors. Or, hypothetically, if two of you want to order the same flavor, you can keep trying the various options until someone gives in and decides that the other person can have the chocolate peanut butter. Because you can’t order the same thing. Obviously.
J’aime Les Crepes is a small creperie that was recommended by a friend. With options from sweet to savory, the authentic French crepes made for a delicious and not-too-heavy breakfast. The thin, subtly sweet crepe was the perfect counterpart for veggies, cheese, and a hint of pesto sauce.
Manor Houseis the on site restaurant at the Inn at Pleasant Beach. It was the ideal spot for Brandon’s birthday dinner and probably the biggest splurge of the trip. The setting was intimate and romantic, just where I wanted to be on a cool, rainy night.
After perusing the menu, we started with cocktails and the out of this world manila clams. Despite the fact that we were in a super fancy restaurant, I was sorely tempted to lick the bowl clean.
We each went with the 3-course Chef’s Tasting Menu with wine pairings. The tasting menu had multiple options for each course, so we had a selection of dishes to share. Although really I think I could have eaten more of the clams and been perfectly content.
Our last food stop before leaving Bainbridge Island was Doc’s Marina Grill. Because we needed to get one more seafood fix before leaving the island.
Back in Portland, we had a second birthday dinner at our favorite, favorite spot, Le Chon. I have written about this restaurant before because it is, after all, our favorite. But I really can’t get enough of this place. And one birthday dinner really isn’t enough.
On the last morning of our trip, we managed to check another spot off my Oregon bucket list while eating delicious donuts at Blue Star. These are considered by many to be the best donuts in Portland. Blue Star utilizes a brioche dough that takes almost 20 hours to make, which is done with only the best ingredients. And then they top the donuts with creative and delicious flavor combinations, like blueberry bourbon basil and orange olive oil. These are donuts gone upscale.
And with that, our days of eating dessert for breakfast and clams every other meal were sadly over. At least for this trip! I loved planning Brandon’s 30th Birthday Break. Even more, I loved getting to spend a week celebrating a new decade of his life. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Brandon turned 30 and it was a thing that needed to be celebrated, celebrated with all the fun things and adventures that could possibly fit into a single week. And so I planned and obsessed and refined and expanded. The end result was an incredible week in Washington.
I previously shared the places we stayed, but that was only the beginning, the background against which all the other pieces could fall into place. And oh what pieces they were.
To begin, skydiving. You may remember that the details of this trip were a complete surprise to Brandon, who discovered what was next as we went along. That was how we found ourselves having this conversation over a lovely breakfast on a rainy Sunday morning in Olympia:
Me: So you’re probably wondering what we are doing in Olympia.
B: Well, yeah. I can’t remember ever mentioning a desire to come to Olympia.
Me: It’s more about the proximity to what we are doing today than actually being in Olympia. You remember that time you said you wanted to go skydiving? (picture a slightly maniacal smile slowly forming on my face)
B: (worried silence)
Me: Yeah, I think it was when we were in Hawaii or something. You said you really wanted to go skydiving. So you’re going skydiving today. I have reservations for you this morning.
B: You keep saying “you’re going skydiving.” Don’t you mean “we’re going skydiving.”
Me: (worried silence)
B: I’m not going to go skydiving by myself! I only want to go if you go with me. If we die, we die together!
Me: Ummm…. I hadn’t really planned on joining you. I mean, the cost is so much more for two people.
After several minutes of somewhat tense negotiation, it was determined that if, in fact, Brandon was going skydiving today, so was I. As we discussed the impending “fun” we would be having, we halfheartedly bemoaned the weather and “worried” that perhaps the rainy day would prevent us from jumping.
As we both kept pretending that we actually really wanted to skydive, we made our way toward Skydive Kapowsin. I think we were both secretly relieved when the worsening weather meant that it was not a good day to jump out of an airplane.
Hiding our relief, we began forming a Plan B. Fortunately, it just happened to be the weekend for Bainbridge Island’s Wine on the Rock. The weekend event is a coordinated effort among the handful of wineries on the island featuring tastings and charcuterie at each stop. We bought our tickets at the first vineyard we visited, Eleven Winery.
After enjoying the wine and live music offered there, we took our souvenir wine glasses and the handy event map and began making our way down the island, stopping at several vineyards and wineries along the way.
Not only were the wine and food fantastic, we got to learn about the unique wine industry and culture of the island, which is shaped by the rainy and cool weather (read: we drank lots of white wine).
Our favorite was a perfectly tart raspberry dessert wine we purchased at Perennial Vintners. In fact, as I type this, we are planning to open it up tonight to serve along side creme brûlée (I am weirdly excited about breaking in the kitchen mini torch) to celebrate Brandon’s hard work refinishing the original hardwood floors in my house. Seems like a worthy event for the wine! We did not quite make it to all the vineyards, one of us had to drive after all, but it was the perfect way to spend our first day of vacation. And I think we both enjoyed it more than we would have enjoyed skydiving.
Good thing Sunday was such a relaxing day. Because the following day was anything but, in the best way possible. Monday was Seattle day. With our VRBO chosen partly for location, we were able to get an early start that day with a brisk walk to the ferry. We spent the day exploring Seattle by foot, as evidenced by the new record I would set for steps according to my FitBit.
We began our day in Pike Place Market, stopping by some of my favorite spots.
Which pretty much means we spent the morning eating food. Lots of food.
After thoroughly enjoying the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of the market, we made our way toward the Pacific Science Center.
Unfortunately we did not have time to see the entire museum, but Brandon was especially interested in the special Sherlock Holmes Exhibit. The exhibit provided a history of the Sherlock Holmes series, including some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original manuscripts. There was information on the science of crime solving during this point in history and on the fascination with crime present culturally that provided a background for the novels.
The central part of the exhibit was the opportunity to solve your own crime using the tools of the time. Although probably not targeted entirely toward adults, we both had fun following the clues and solving the mystery.
From there, we made our way to Orfeo, the meeting place for our Savor Seattle Gourmet Seattle Tour. This would be my third tour with Savor Seattle and like the previous two, it did not disappoint.
But first, we had to stop for cupcakes. We arrived just a bit early for the tour, so when we asked about somewhere nearby to grab a quick drink, our guide recommend Yellow Leaf Cupcakes. Because if you’re going to drink water, you might as well have a pancakes and bacon cupcake to go with it.
Back at Orfeo, our tour began. The focus of the Gourmet Tour is the food culture of Seattle – the focus on fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable foods. At each stop of the tour, we got to sample varying ways that Seattle restaurants live out these goals with a selection of small plates and Washington wine pairings. And it was delicious!
Following the tour, we were somehow hungry for dinner. We returned to Brandon’s favorite stop from the tour, Von’s, for more of that sourdough pasta. And more drinks. When it’s your birthday trip, you get to do what you want.
For further proof, here is a video, yes a video, of the coolest drink ever: video_31093318625
Our last major stop of the day was the Space Needle. Finally ready for a break from all of the eating, the Seattle icon was the perfect spot to finally put our feet up for a bit. With an unbeatable view of the city, we suddenly became the obnoxious couple kissing at a landmark. I know, I know, but there was Brandon and the romance of the city lights and the relaxed satisfaction of a day spent enjoying delicious food and drinks. I couldn’t not make out with him.
After that, we slowly made our way back to the ferry. We stopped at a bar or brewery here or there as caught our fancy. By the time we made it back to the ferry, it was late and we were exhausted. Which probably explains (some of) the following pictures.
It was one of my favorite days ever.
Tuesday was Brandon’s birthday. We used his birthday as an excuse to be lazy. To relax. To enjoy the hot tub to soothe our aching feet. We checked into the Inn at Pleasant Beach and simply enjoyed the beauty of the day and each other’s company. I know taking a day to relax can seem like a waste while on vacation, but I’ve learned that a day like this makes the rest of the trip so much better. We ended the day with an unparalleled birthday dinner at Manor House (more on that to come).
Wednesday was sadly our last day on Bainbridge Island.
We made the most of our last morning before heading toward Portland. While our time in Washington may have been about new experiences, we used our time in Portland to revisit some of our favorites. Dinner at Le Chon is always a highlight. And one of Brandon’s favorite spots is Ground Kontrol – arcade by day and arcade and bar by night. He usually beats me at everything. Except Tetris, I dominate at Tetris. And a late night in Portland is not quite complete without a stop by Voodoo Donut. Because it was a weeknight, there was hardly a line at all!
And then came Thursday. The last day is always the hardest, especially when the days ends with your love flying away for work. But we made the most of it. After breakfast, we spent a leisurely morning at the Japanese Gardens, lovely despite the ongoing construction.
Our last stop of the day and the vacation was McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove. We booked massages for the afternoon at Ruby’s Spa and spent the time before and after in the warm soaking pool. It was the perfect end to a perfect week together.
But I’m not done, yet. I have more to share about food and the places you should definitely eat should you find yourself in Bainbridge or Portland. Because I have not already talked enough about food.
Sometimes I can be a teensy bit of a perfectionist. Like when I’m deciding upon the layout for my master bathroom addition (just ask Brandon) or when I am creating a menu plan for the week. But none of that compares to how obsessive I can become when planning a trip. Recently that was taken to a whole new level. I was not planning just any trip; I was planning Brandon’s 30th birthday. It had to be perfect.
Because if it were perfect he would know just how much I love him. Because I wanted him to begin the next decade of his life knowing that the best is yet to come. Because if I’m going to take an entire week off work it better be awesome.
After considering the countless options of where to go, I eventually settled upon Washington. I know, I know. It’s hardly my usual far flung destination. And it was, after all, Brandon’s 30th birthday. But this ended up being the perfect option for several reasons.
First, there were no airplanes involved. It had not been my year for airplanes. With delays and misplaced luggage and looooong days of rescheduled and redirected flights the norm over the previous months, I did not want to risk the stress of that for this particular trip. That, obviously, meant going somewhere within driving distance.
Second, Seattle is one of my absolute favorite cities and I wanted to share it with one of my absolute favorite people.
Third, Brandon loves the people in his life with a generosity and loyalty I admire daily. Choosing Washington as our destination allowed us to fit in time with friends and family, without which Brandon’s 30th birthday could not have been perfect.
So Washington it was. Specifically Bainbridge Island.
I had found the perfect location to celebrate Brandon’s new decade of life. What next? This really gets at my planning process. Typically, when determining where to go, I either jump on a good travel deal or, if I have somewhere specific in mind, I book airfare first because this is often the most expensive and/or least flexible aspect of the trip. On the one hand, wanting to go everywhere can be challenging because, well, everywhere is a big place. On the other hand, when the right opportunity comes along, it is easy to say yes. All that aside, not having to worry about airfare (thank goodness) on this particular adventure (see above), I was on to my (usual) next step – where to stay.
There are generally two approaches to booking a place or places to stay on a trip – either it is a central part of the vacation experience and thus choosing a beautiful or unique, and often more expensive, property with amenities is a priority or it is simply a home base from which to explore, often meaning that nondescript but affordable lodgings in convenient locations become most important. In short, either the hotel matters or it does not matter. Generally, I lean somewhat toward the former approach, although spending hours of research in order to find the little known budget hotel or rental option in a great location with some character is my idea of a good time. For this particular trip, I wanted everything to be flawless and that included the places we stayed.
I knew I wanted to spend at least one night at the Inn at Pleasant Beach. In fact, this inn is overwhelmingly the reason why I settled upon Bainbridge Island rather than Seattle as our primary destination.
You may recall that I stayed there once before and absolutely fell in love. It is, hands down, one of the loveliest and most comfortable places I have ever stayed. It seemed like the ideal place to stay for Brandon’s actual birthday. But only for one night because the inn is rather expensive and I am not a “real” doctor and don’t make real doctor money! Don’t get me wrong though; staying there is worth every penny. The Inn at Pleasant Beach has everything one could want – a gorgeous location on the water, beautiful and cozy rooms with unbeatable attention to detail, and a friendly staff.
No part of me regrets splurging on a night here. And let’s be honest, I say it was for Brandon, but really, it was for me. Although this was his favorite spot, too.
With one night of the trip taken care of, I needed to find another place to stay on Bainbridge Island for a night or two. I wanted somewhere within walking distance of the ferry (so that we could come back from Seattle without worrying too much about how many glasses of wine we enjoyed with dinner), something affordable, and, preferably, somewhere with style. Little Rabbit Studio, which can be booked through VRBO, fit the bill exactly.
An impeccably decorated studio next to the owner’s home, we both loved our stay here. Again, it was all about the details – the bottle of wine and sweet bread left for us to enjoy, the weather forecast written on the chalkboard, the umbrella to borrow, the books and pamphlets of local attractions. It was such an easy place to stay.
The details reflected how much everything else about the studio was carefully curated and on point. We loved the hot tub, the perfectly outfitted small kitchen, and the location.
I would stay here again in a heartbeat.
That was initially the plan – a couple of nights in Little Rabbit Studio and perhaps a couple of nights at the Inn. But of course, plans evolve. Because I love Brandon and wanted his birthday trip to reflect that love. Not at all because I am an obsessive perfectionist who sometimes gets out of control and starts making plans bigger and bigger.
I decided that I wanted to add a night in Portland so that we could eat at our favorite restaurant. Plus, Brandon gets a little stir crazy in the car and this would break up the drive from Seattle to home. In a super complicated decision-making process, I chose the subtly wine-themed Hotel Vintage because I love Kimpton Hotels and we had not stayed there before. Like I said, super complicated.
This was another absolutely perfect stay. From the gorgeous lobby bar to the slightly edgy décor to the birthday gift greeting us in the upgraded room to the complimentary wine hour, we enjoyed every minute of our stay.
Can you tell that I love the details?
And then, there was my last edition to the itinerary. After decided that Brandon really needed to go skydiving for his birthday, I booked a night at the RL Hotel Olympia. This was a night when location and a good price were my priorities, but the recently remodeled hotel was a nice bonus. Despite a late arrival, it was a nice, quick stay that put us in the perfect spot for the plans of the following day.
I know not everyone sees hotels as a splurge-worthy aspect of a trip. And honestly, if it were between not going somewhere because I could not afford a nice hotel and going somewhere and staying somewhere less than luxurious, the latter option wins every time. Assuming it is clean and safe. Those are my minimum criteria (ask anyone who has ever stayed in a less than clean hotel with me, I don’t do well). But sometimes it is fun to live it up a little and enjoy a fancy hotel, especially to celebrate a special occasion.
With the hotel situation mostly settled, I could move on to the details – what to do and, perhaps my favorite, where to eat. More on that to come.
For those considering a similar trip, our itinerary ended up looking like this:
Day 1: Drive to Portland. Have a birthday party in Portland at Brandon’s mother’s house with friends and family who live in the area. Drive to Olympia, Washington, getting in really late and slightly irritable (just keeping it real).
Day 2: Wake up. Inform Brandon that he is going skydiving. Have Brandon insist that if he is, I am to. Feel secretly relieved when we are unable to skydive because of weather. Drive to Bainbridge Island and move on the Plan B for the day. Check into Little Rabbit Studio.
Day 3: Spend the day exploring Seattle and spend our second night at the studio.
Day 4: Happy Birthday Brandon!! Welcome to the thirties, which has, thus far, been the best decade yet of my life. I can only hope the same for him. Reluctantly check out of our rental and feel quickly consoled after checking into the lovely perfection that is Inn at Pleasant Beach. Spend the afternoon relaxing before a delicious birthday dinner.
Day 5: Drive back to Portland, where we stayed at Hotel Vintage. Have a fun evening in Portland that included dinner at our favorite spot.
Day 6: More Portland fun before I had to drive home and Brandon had to fly out for work.
When I last left off, Brandon and I were in the middle of our weekend trip to Bend to celebrate our first year together, the first of what will hopefully be many years together. I had fully intended to share the weekend in a single post, but some things are too big for that. I am so thankful to love and do life with someone who can fit so much living into a single weekend.
And I love that, even when we are away on our adventures, we still find ways to incorporate the routines we love when we are home. For instance, one of our favorite things to do on the weekends is to go out for brunch. Unfortunately, one limitation of Roseburg is that there are approximately two places to go. It is a wonderful change of pace to do one of our favorite things in a place with a few more options.
Saturday we began the morning with breakfast at Riverhouse’s onsite restaurant, Currents. I really cannot think of a better way to start a morning than drinking a blood orange mimosa and eating huevos rancheros while sitting next to a river on a sunny day across from my favorite person. Well, maybe the day would be slightly better if that river were in Europe and not Oregon, but only slightly.
It may seem like a lot of food, but really we needed the fuel. I promise.
As you may remember, at the beginning of the year we had also spent the weekend in the Bend area. One of our favorite things that we did that weekend was take a cave tour. We toured the only cave in the area, Boyd Cave, that is open in the winter. The other caves are hibernation habitats for bats and are closed beginning in the fall. Brandon really wanted to see some of the other caves while they were open over the summer.
And that fact – Brandon wanting to go caving – leads me to this: sometimes, I wonder how we are together. Like when he wants me to watch shows about cars with him (which I do, because love) or when he convinces me to do things that require a hardhat. Sometimes we have very different definitions of fun.
Our first stop was Arnold Ice Cave, which is one in the system of lava caves that are sort of, technically, but kind of not really, open to the public. You see. People are terrible and do things like throw parties and leave graffiti in the caves. Which adversely impacts the cave habitat. Therefore, many of the signs marking directions to the caves have been removed to prevent people from finding them. So yes, in the summer most of them are not barred shut (a few are shut all year, although with Wanderlust Tours there are some tours that give you access to these otherwise completely closed caves – we had a great experience with them in January), but you have to do a bit of sleuthing to actually find them. And then drive down a gravel road or two.
Arnold Ice Cave, thus named because it was once a solid sheet of ice inside (and I imagine still is in the winter months) and at one time was even mined for ice to sell in the nearby city. We could tell that there had been some infrastructure in place. For instance, there was a parking lot of sorts along with the remains of a staircase inside the cave.
But any infrastructure was either no longer maintained or had even been actively destroyed. But that just means it is even more fun, at least according to this guy:
The descent to the mouth of the cave was reasonably steep and required a bit of scrambling. The cave did not go really far back. Although I can only take Brandon’s word for that because I got a bit stuck on the climb in because of short legs. And perhaps some unwillingness to further risk life and limb.
It was a fun spot to explore, though, and it was interesting to see how the cave, despite being in the same cave system, was distinct from the one we crawled through earlier in the year.
We initially planned to return to civilization and explore Lava River Cave, part of the larger Newberry National Volcanic Monument. It was, after all, on my Oregon Bucket List. Unfortunately, we were thwarted by white nose syndrome and honesty. White nose syndrome is a fungal growth that affects bats and is believed to be carried from cave system to cave system by human activity. The syndrome is deadly to bats. Who need to not die because they kill mosquitoes. Save the bats! Because Arnold Ice Cave and Lave River Cave are in different cave systems, we couldn’t bring anything into the cave that had been worn in another cave unless it had been washed. We could have lied when the nice ranger asked us about previous cave activity, but that would have just not been cool.
So on to an as yet unformed Plan B. After a bit of googling, we settled upon the short drive to Smith Rock State Park, which was also on my Oregon to do list.
Oh. My. Goodness. This place was beyond, beyond words. And the pictures come nowhere close to doing justice to the immensity of it all. I can’t even.
To get to Smith Rock requires a walk down into the canyon. Which was rather pleasant if one could ignore the pressing thought that what goes down must come up and that getting back to the car would require a painfully steep and not exactly brief hike back up the trail. Once at the bottom, there are many ways to explore the park.
One of the most popular trails, the 3.8 mile Misery Ridge Loop, is one that we would love to return and hike. Like, I must return and hike that trail one day. This day, however, we had nonnegotiable (because there was no way I was missing out) dinner reservations for which we were getting all dressed up, so we contented ourselves with walking along the River Trail.
Of course, by the time that we got back to the top, we felt like this:
Although hiking is usually our activity of choice, Smith Rock is a hugely popular climbing spot. It is also a popular spot for crazy people. As we pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car, we noticed someone slack lining across the canyon. I was on my way to pay the $5 fee for parking, so I excitedly asked Brandon to hurry up and take a picture of the crazy person walking across a death defying drop into the space between really tall rocks on nothing but a too thin piece of rope. I was sure this was a unique sight that must be captured on camera immediately to document the insanity before the person either fell or crossed to the other side. After all, there could not possibly be more than one such crazy person in the park.
The thing is, this was not an isolated event. The entire time we were there, we saw people doing this. Smith Rock must be some type of magnet for adrenaline junkies with no proper sense of danger.
As much as we would have loved to explore longer, as I mentioned we had dinner reservations. At Brickhouse. It was so delicious last time, that we knew we had to eat there again.
Of course all of this, the amazing food, the even more amazing company, would pale in comparison to how the dinner ended. To fully appreciate this, you must understand that I am an Arkansas Razorback fan. In my family, watching Razorback football on Saturdays is second only to going to church on Sundays. At any given family gathering, at least 50% of those in attendance will be wearing Razorback red. This is not a thing that is taken lightly. Sadly, since moving to Oregon I have not been able to see much SEC football. That is why I hardly paid attention to the TV in the corner of the bar of the fancy restaurant where we were eating a sophisticated dinner, attention lovingly focused on one another as it should be during a romantic anniversary dinner. As I polished off the last of my coconut shrimp (because I’m not so sophisticated that I leave perfectly good shrimp on the plate) I happened to glance up and then return my attention to Brandon because we were, after all, on a date. And having your date stare at football the entire time is obnoxious.
But then I realized what I had seen. Of all things, THE RAZORBACKS WERE ON TV!!!
With all apologies to Brandon, who handled the situation with much grace, I became rather distracted. I was disappointed that they were losing to TCU, but thrilled to be watching the game. And then, with seconds left in the game Arkansas tied it up!!! I mean just picture this. I am all dressed up, in a nice restaurant, celebrating my one year anniversary and it is all I can do not to stand up and call the Hogs. As one overtime became two became a Razorback victory, I was inhibiting all kinds of noises that would have been entirely inappropriate. I would say that Brandon became acquainted with an entirely new side of me that evening. He even put up with the post-game texts between my brothers and me. Oddly, it was just so perfect. Of all the things and of all the days.
Because I was hyped on adrenaline by then, the only thing we could do was go back to the hotel and order dessert at the lounge. Because I so needed to add sugar to the mix.
It was another perfect day and the trip was not over yet.
Remember the Lave River Cave that we couldn’t see the day before? We returned on Sunday to visit there before heading home.
It has definitely been more developed than other caves in the area, but for good reason. The mile-long lava tube is the longest continuous lava tube in Oregon. The bridges and stairs at the beginning get you over the uneven and steep parts rather painlessly and then the cave continues on, the floor flat and alternating between sandy soil and rocky areas. In order to explore, you must have some type of light. We brought our own headlamps, but lanterns are available to rent if you don’t happen to keep headlamps in your trunk like Brandon. But really, who doesn’t keep headlamps in their trunk? It gets completely dark quite quickly and although the walk for much of the cave is relatively flat, there are unexpected rocks and dips in the floor that have probably caused a sprained ankle or two.
I think Lava River Cave is certainly worth a stop. Plus, it’s two miles of walking in what is essentially perfect climate control, even when it is hot outside. With temps in the 40s, you will want to bring a jacket, but it is actually quite pleasant. It was the ideal last stop before the drive home.
Brandon planned the perfect weekend. And then the last minute changes in plans and the unexpected surprises made the weekend even better. I look forward to many, many more adventures together!
I was never one to make New Year’s resolutions. I mean, I appreciated the idea, but it was just not something I did. But as 2013 changed to 2014, I found myself resolving to have a better year. And I did. As 2015 transitioned to 2016, I resolved to be grateful, making the most of every day while being open to new possibilities. And I believe I was generally successful, those resolutions in many ways leading to me meeting and falling in love with Brandon.
The beginning of this year, though, felt a bit different. As I began 2014 and 2015, all I could see were the possibilities, the potential of all the things that could happen in the course of the year. Equal parts scary and exciting, those were years where I did things like move across the country and take a last minute trip to South Korea. But as 2016 began, I felt a subtle shift, an almost imperceptible nudging at the edges of my mind. Now, as I look back on the year, I think what I was perceiving was that this was, perhaps, the end of something. Somehow, after this year, life would be more settled, my (carefully) impulsive decision making would need to be curbed, and my life would become simultaneously smaller and yet bigger, too, I think.
And that’s why I believe, without fully knowing why, I quietly resolved to simply go. My half-formed idea was that at least every other month I would take a trip. It didn’t have to be far or long, but I wanted to take at least six trips over the course of the year. I think I wanted to fit as much travel and adventure as I could into a single year (while also working full time, living far away from family, being responsible for a dog who is rather emotionally needy, etc.).
With that idea in mind, these are the places I went:
January: We rang in the New Year in Bend and enjoyed a weekend getaway to the coast.
February: Brandon and I spent Valentine’s weekend in Portland before I took a solo trip to Iceland later in the month.
March: My aunt came to visit and I got to show off Oregon.
April: I think I actually managed to stay put, other than some local hikes (or attempted hikes…).
May: This month brought an amazing birthday trip to Hawaii! And let’s not forget, my first camping trip in several years.
June: We camped and got to share the amazing Oregon summer with my parents.
July: I attended my first music festival ever – the Cape Blanco Country Musical Festival was a weekend of camping, music, and friends.
August: I bought a house. I think packing and moving and, you know, buying a house, pretty much ruled out going anywhere for a few weeks.
September: Brandon and I celebrated a year together with another trip to Bend. At the end of the month, I flew to Arkansas for my annual roommate reunion and to see family.
October: I took a work trip to North Carolina. It was my first time in North Carolina and I got to catch up with some old friends. And eat Southern food. It was a great time.
November: We celebrated Brandon’s 30th birthday with a trip to Washington (details to come, I promise!!).
December: This was, other than April, possibly the least exciting month of the year.
If you were counting, that was a grand total of twelve trips, an average of one per month. That number doesn’t even include the weekends when I hosted company, a full count of the camping trips, or the many single day adventures we enjoyed. Whew! I feel tired just thinking about it. 2016 was a great one!
Yes, this year may have been the end of something, the last of its kind in my life, at least for now. I have LOVED this year, the adventures, the new places, the lightness and carefreeness of it all. And most of all, getting to do so much of that with Brandon. I do feel sad about leaving this behind sometimes. And scared and excited. But the end of one thing means the beginning of something new. The next season of my life will be its own kind of adventure I imagine, full of unexplored territory and beauty and sometimes pain. But most of all love. A love that encourages me to let go of the past and move into the future. And although I will miss this phase of my life – it has been one of the best – I think I’m ready for the next one. Maybe there won’t be quite so many faraway trips and the weekend getaways will be less frequent, but I am guessing there will be some great surprises in store. Here’s to 2017. Here’s to new beginnings.
Fair warning: This could get mushy. Proceed at your own risk.
We had a lovely summer: hot afternoons spent floating the Umpqua River or relaxing half in and half out of the river’s pleasantly cold water, weekends of camping and hiking that were over before they began, my first music festival, and, most of all, falling even more in love with this man whose adventurous and fun-loving nature had pushed me out of my comfort zone and whose kindness and substantial love created a safe place for me to be myself. This had been the most absolutely wonderful summer of my entire life. I even managed to buy a house and move into it almost exactly two years to the day after arriving in Oregon. It was simply perfection.
But the summer, as do all good things, ended. September snuck in with its subtly cooler nights and a hint of frantic energy as the world around us returned to routines and regularity. We could not let the summer end without one last hurrah and our one year dating anniversary provided the perfect excuse. Our destination a secret until almost the last minute, I anticipated our weekend away and reminisced on what a summer, what a year, it had been.
Brandon planned a weekend full of the things we most loved to do – appreciating beautiful scenery, preferably by foot, having adventures with at least a slight possibility of injury or death, exploring new places, eating an almost embarrassing amount of mouthwatering food, and most of all, spending time together.
We began the weekend with a stop by Crater Lake. A place I have visited and written about multiple times since moving to Oregon, I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing the unbelievably blue water and incredible views to be found in the national park.
We arrived right at lunchtime and decided to eat lunch in the lodge restaurant before setting out to explore. The lunch was delicious, especially considering that Crater Lake is in the middle of nowhere and that bringing in supplies cannot be the most straightforward matter.
After lunch, we set out to explore a bit of the park.
At this point we needed to burn off at least part of our lunchtime calories with a hike. Plus, the day was absolute perfection with blue skies and sunshine for days and a temperature in the low 70’s. It was the kind of day that makes you happy simply to be alive to witness it. Such a day should never be wasted indoors. After considering our options, we settled on Watchman Lookout Trail.
It was short enough, less than a mile to the top, to easily fit with our other plans for the day. Plus, it was challenging enough to feel like an actual hike, not just a walk, with a steady uphill climb, but the switchbacks were not so steep as to make you regret your life (I’m looking at you Garfield Peak). And then there were the views.
The hike offered open views of the surrounding scenery with glimpses of the lake. Once at the top, which is an old fire lookout (hence the name of the trail), there is an unparalleled view of Crater Lake, the kind of view that makes it hard to breath because it is so beautiful.
It is moments like this, where I am in a place almost too beautiful to be believed, arm in arm with the man I love, that gratitude comes most easily. It presents as a sense of overwhelming joy that tangibly wells up inside of me until I am full of emotion, inexplicably crying because I am so perfectly, so undoubtedly, happy.
What a way to start the weekend!
After Crater Lake, we headed toward our ultimate destination for the weekend, Bend. As you may recall, we had started the year in Bend amid the snow and the cold. Brandon wanted to return in the warm weather and while the caves were still open for the year.
At the last minute, the vacation rental he had reserved for the weekend fell through. The silver lining of that is that we ended up staying at Riverhouse on the Deschutes.
As an (obviously relevant) aside, the Deschutes is the major river in this area of Oregon. Thus, there are many places and things with Deschutes in the title, much as you find with the Umpqua River in Roseburg. Although my southern accent is generally not too noticeable, when I pronounced Deschutes, my accent was not just present, but entirely unmistakable. Which meant Brandon took every opportunity to have me say “Day-shoots.” Apparently my elusive accent is both endearing and quite funny.
But back to the hotel. It was lovely. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, with understated design that fit with the hotel’s overall modern-with-a-hint-of-rustic feel.
Here is the point when I would normally tell you about the amazing dinner we had after settling into our hotel. You know, the usual unique spot with locally sourced food that we tend to frequent when we travel. However. Upon consulting some of our usual sources for finding the previously mentioned type of restaurant, I happened to notice that there was a Johnny Carino’s nearby. Brandon had never been to Carino’s and I had not been since I moved to Oregon. In that moment, I knew that if I really loved him, I would allow him to have Italian nachos in his life. And by allow, I mean freak out and demand that we go to Carino’s for dinner despite all of the other amazing options available in Bend.
So perhaps our day did not end on a typically “gourmet” note, but it was pretty much a perfect day full of beauty and love and, yes, delicious food. I can’t think of a better kind of day and this was just the beginning.
Those who know me well know that, at times, I have a tendency to forge ahead with a plan despite obvious contraindications. One could generously call this determination, but in reality it is simply stubbornness. Not one of my best traits. A perfect example? My “determination” to hike at Twin Lakes.
First attempt, April: I knew that it was probably a little early for the road to the trail to be open for the year, but I thought I would check it out anyway. I got about halfway up the 9 mile gravel road to the trailhead before running into snow, convincing me to turn my car around. I hadn’t exactly had good luck with driving in snow in the recent months.
Second attempt, late May: I had given the snow 6 weeks to melt and it was a nice warm day. Surely this time I could make it to the lakes. Weeellll, maybe not. I managed to make it a little further than last time before hitting the snow. One moment, I was slowly making my way up the gravel road, the next, I was driving in this:
I again attempted to turn around, but this time was not so lucky. In the process of turning around, I managed to slide backwards and get stuck in the ditch. That’s right, for the second time in 6 months, I had managed to get stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere. Except this time I was alone.
After several panicked moments involving imagined ways to harness Sydney to pull out the car and perhaps a few curse words, I pulled myself together and began figuring out a plan. I was beyond thrilled to note that I happened to be in a miracle-pocket of cell service (I’m not exaggerating when I say that is a miracle). Given that I did not have to hike myself out of there, my first plan was to call my boyfriend, who was working in Alaska, which was obviously helpful. He didn’t believe me, which is apparently becoming a trend when I tell him things like “My flight was cancelled and so I’m landing in Eugene instead of Medford” and “Hello love, I know you’re working, but I’m stuck in the snow and don’t know what to do so I’m calling you and trying not to cry.” I texted him a few pictures to assuage his doubts. Despite my love and confidence in him, you’ll be shocked to know that he couldn’t actually help me from far away in Alaska although to be fair, he called everyone he knew to see if anyone could come try to pull me out. I then began investigating other options, like calling a tow truck. While that would be an option, it would be an expensive one at almost $500. I then contacted my insurance and learned that I had roadside assistance. Apparently getting your car towed out of a random ditch on a snowy mountainside is considered “roadside assistance.” Relieved that a tow truck was on its way, Sydney and I settled in to wait the couple of hours it would take to get there.
Once the truck arrived, it was a relatively simple matter to get my car unstuck. And the tow truck driver was considerate enough to hold in his laughter at my predicament and to follow me to ensure I made it safely back to the main road.
My car was a little worse for the wear, but I was otherwise unscathed.
However, I was no less determined to visit Twin Lakes.
Third attempt, July: This time, I ensured we would be able to access the trail and I took along my two favorite hiking companions – Sydney and Brandon. This time, I actually made it to the trailhead.
From here, it is about a mile to the first lake, a lovely mile with lush green fields and panoramic views.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around the two lakes, jumping into the cool water with its soft, ashy bottom for a swim, and simply relaxing in a beautiful place.
We may have enjoyed swimming, but Sydney wasn’t such a fan.
This was another perfect Oregon summer day. A warm, sunny day, spent hiking and swimming and exploring a gorgeous place with my love. It just took a few tries to get there.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of adventure, it was the age of relaxation, it was the epoch of new experiences, it was the epoch of familiarity, it was the season of sunshine, it was the season of snow, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going direct to beautiful nature, we were going direct to misery. In short, we were going camping.
Summer 2016 was going to be an amazing summer. Brandon was home, we had already kicked off the summer with a trip to Hawaii, and we lived in Oregon, the land of gloriously sunny and not horribly hot summers. This would mean months of hiking and floating the river and barbecues. And let’s not forget the ultimate summer activity, camping.
Here’s the thing about camping: my confident assertion that it is something I enjoy is somewhat undermined by not having actually camped in approximately a decade and the fact that when I had previously been “camping” I hadn’t actually been the one doing the work of camping. Sure, I had slept in a tent and cooked s’mores over a campfire, but I had never been the one to put up said tent or build the campfire over which marshmallows were carefully roasted. Despite this, I reassured Brandon that I both loved camping and that I absolutely would do my share of the work.
Thus, with Memorial Day weekend in front of us, we loaded up the car and the pup and headed out to Hemlock Lake. Located in Umpqua National Forest, the campground is basic – up a gravel road in an area without cell service, the handful of $10 a night campsites consist of flat areas with fire pits and tables along with access to drop toilets.
Determined to prove that I could do it, I happily set up the tent as Brandon unloaded the car. This was the kind of place where you had to bring everything you needed because the closest place to purchase anything was at least an hour away.
After settling into the campsite, we do what you do with a weekend in the woods. We fished, we hiked, and we sat by the fire playing cards (except neither of us could remember any card games and the lack of Internet service meant we sort of had to make it up – the key is to “remember” another “rule” at the right moment).
In my quest to demonstrate that I was not high maintenance and could contribute in a meaningful way to the camping experience, I believe I was generally successful.
Only two things came close to defeating me. First, the morning. I had a couple things going against me that first morning – the cold and the lack of coffee. Although it was almost June, there was still snow on the ground in spots and the mornings were quite cool.
I blame what happened next on being inadequately caffeinated and the slight disorientation of sleeping in a tent for the first time in years. Brandon was already up and about, building a fire and, most importantly, making coffee. I was warm and cozy in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of the day beginning in the forest and thinking of how lucky I was to love someone who makes such good coffee. That’s when the realization hit me. I was not going to be able to stay warm and cozy in my sleeping bag. Suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of leaving the comfort of my sleeping bag to then take off my pjs in the cold and put on equally cold clothing, I did the almost unthinkable. I asked Brandon – who had not only managed to get dressed like a real adult but then had started to do helpful things like make a fire – to warm my clothes over the fire. Let me repeat that. I, who had insisted that I liked camping and would not be high maintenance, asked my boyfriend to warm up my clothes before I would put them on. Bless the guy, he actually did it. And he did it with minimal scoffing. Not only that, after handing me my now warm clothes (and yes, they felt lovely, thank you very much), he suggested that I come sit by the fire and drink coffee while he cooked veggie breakfast burritos. Like I said, bless him. In case you’re thinking I’m a total slacker, I did do the dishes.
The other thing that almost defeated my attempt to be a camper was the mosquitos, mosquitos so abundant and so hungry that no amount of bug spray could stop them. The worst was when we salvaged wood for the fire from the slash piles (because who needs to bring wood when you can spend hours finding it and chopping it to the right size with a somewhat dull axe?) and when we hiked.
At one point in our hike around part of Yellow Jacket Glade Loop and up to the overlook on Flat Rock Mountain Trail, there was probably a solid half mile of a steady uphill climb when our choice was to keep going at the expense of being able to breath or to get bitten by hundreds of mosquitos, which would swarm relentlessly the second you stopped moving. We chose to keep going. I think Brandon was reconsidering the relationship by the time we got to the top, even when we got to pause and enjoy the incredible view. I may never know the full extent of his loathing because we couldn’t gather enough air to say words. That view, though.
Finally, after realizing we had over a hundred mosquito bites between us, we declared defeat and left a day earlier than planned to enjoy the last day of the long weekend with luxuries like showers, flushing toilets, and clothes that don’t need to be warmed over a fire.
Despite the challenges, I did enjoy my first foray into Oregon camping, although perhaps I was not quite as helpful as I had led Brandon to believe I would be. Regardless, he was willing to give it another shot, which we did a few weeks later along the coast. This time, we stayed at an Oregon State Park campground, Sunset Bay.
Oregon Parks does an incredible job developing and maintaining campgrounds throughout the state. Online reservations are almost a necessity in the summer, but a little pre-planning is worth it. This was camping I could do – electricity, running water, showers, access to stores.
We even got dressed in real clothes and went out for sushi one night. Because we could.
Thankfully, there were no mosquitos and the weather was perfect for hiking and spending time on the beach. We even bought firewood this time, so compared to Hemlock, it was practically like staying in a luxury hotel.
And you can’t forget the peace that comes from having nothing better to do than sit and watch the sunset with the man you love.
But Brandon didn’t want me to have it too easy. So we gathered sand shrimp to use as bait in fishing for surf perch. This is an activity that involves wading into the swampy sand of low tide and using a plunger-like device to pull up wet sand and then spew it out, hopefully with a shrimp or two in the mix that then must be picked up WITH A BARE HAND and thrown into a bucket.
Then the things, things that have poky feet and claws, must be picked up out of the bucket to be used as bait. One of us had a good time. One of us was mildly disgusted and made occasional whimpering sounds. I’ll let you guess which one I was.
Sydney, however, was in her happy place.
The last day we were there, Brandon suggested we go for a hike. Being somewhat tired from sleeping in a tent, I shared that a nice walk would be fine, but nothing too crazy. We had already been fishing and taken a hike along the coast the day before, after all. Sure, he said with a subtle gleam in his eye that I apparently missed, I have the perfect spot in mind. Nice, relaxing walk? I’ll let you be the judge.
He did try to make up for it by writing messages in the sand and showing me pretty views, though.
The final verdict after actually camping? Despite the inherent challenges and discomforts, it is something I enjoy. And something I continued to do throughout the summer. While I might have a preference for a campsite with amenities like running water, it is good to know that I am truly capable of roughing it a bit now and then. Well, I am as long as I have my coffee. Everyone’s got their limits.