Today was Martin Luther King Day, which to us means a free family day. Last night, Curt and I carefully charted our hour and fifteen minute trip to Pacific City, Oregon, a spot on the Oregon coast that we have heard great things about but have yet to visit. We got up this morning, packed a picnic lunch, towels, blankets, hats, mittens, gloves, layers and layers of clothes, boots, extra shoes, extra outfits (down to undies) for each kid, stroller, kites, camera and cell phone (both with nearly dead batteries), three or four maps, our dog and our kids, and pulled out of the driveway. We stopped at Starbucks and headed out of town on a perfect "winter" day with blue skies, bright sunshine and expected highs in the 50's. I couldn't help but wonder what the weather at the coast would be like and if it was worth the gamble of leaving a glorious day in Newberg and trading it for a day at the coast where it is notoriously cold, gray, windy and rainy.
On the drive over the coastal range, we talked through our expectations for the day. Hopefully Paige would nap in the car and that would buy us a couple extra hours at the beach. Enough to maybe have dinner at the coast? (my suggestion). Curt wanted to head home late-afternoon and take a less-traveled but more direct route over the mountains back to our house. It promised to be scenic and he didn't want to miss the view by driving in the dark, plus he already set meat out for dinner. We settled on his plan and watched as the pieces fell into place. Paige conked out right away and we gleefully watched the thermometer in the van INCREASE instead of decrease. By the time we pulled into the Bob Straub State Park at Pacific City the temperature read 62 degrees on January 19th!!!! The skies were radiant blue without a trace of a cloud. The waves boomed in the distance and the dead grass on the sand dunes danced in the wind that was perfect for flying our kites.
We opted to picnic in the car before unloading, to avoid dragging our lunch up, then down, the sand dunes to the beach, and it gave us the added benefit of enjoying our lunch without sand exfoliating our teeth as we chewed. When lunch was over, like a bunch of circus clowns, we began piling out of the van. 1-2-3-4-5-6 and Dusty makes 7! We made the kids layer up with sweatshirt over sweatshirt over winter coat over hats with gloves and rubber boots. They waddled up the sand dune and rolled down the other side. The waves were magnificent and they crashed against a huge rock out in the sea with rolling hills and mountains hemming us in. We found some really cool driftwood and set up camp.
The kids have been to the coast enough times to know that if they immediately get wet the rest of the day is miserable and cold. They glanced briefly at the white-capped waves and then set to work. There were trails to blaze, wood to gather, holes to dig and imaginary damsels in distress to save. Curt dug out his kite, hiked to the top of the dune and spent the next hour happily flying a two-handled bird kite. He steered it out toward the water, then back and over his head. It zoomed and whizzed through the sky and I couldn't help but laugh at his instant transformation to a little kid enamored with a new toy.
Dusty, always the socialite, ran out to greet a family walking by. When I chased her down, I met Crystal, who had so many facial piercings that I lost track after I counted five. Super cool tattoos peaked out from her sleeves and I was intrigued to meet her equally tattooed husband, Dan, and their very un-eclectic looking kids, Hayden (5) and Eli (3). We spent the afternoon with them, combing the beach for shells, laughing as the waves drenched the kids pants and almost took Eli's shoes out to sea, digging in the sand, and collecting a pile of driftwood large enough to make any pyromaniac jump for joy. If only we had brought stuff to make fire. After four blissful hours on the beach, we all decided to pack up and head for home.
At 3:15 p.m., we double checked our route on the map and pulled out of the parking lot. We followed Highway 101 up the coast to Beaver, Oregon. We stopped at the local gas station to buy some gum and triple check our route, then turned right on Meadow Lake Road to head back over the mountains. An orange construction sign said, "Road work ahead - expect 30 minute delays." Curt looked at me and said, "Maybe we should just turn around." The day had been so delightful that I said, "No. You really want to try this route. I'm always up for an adventure. Let's go." So off we went. Out of Beaver on a winding, two-lane road, at the base of the coastal range. We died laughing when we saw a "No Dumping of Any Kind" sign and kicked ourselves for not stopping to take a picture to frame for the guest bathroom. We made dumb jokes when we saw the "Dip" in the road sign and the "Don't even think about parking here" sign on some private land.
As we began to climb the mountain, we stopped laughing and started soaking in the beauty. The winding road wove through a heavily wooded forest and followed a mountain river that rushed and roared over huge boulders and fallen trees. About five miles into our ascent we realized that the road was so narrow and old that it didn't even have white lines painted on the edges and it alternated from running along the river's edge to rising above it with steep drop-offs on the shoulders. It was so curvy we never went over 30 mph and the more we climbed, the more debris we noticed in the road. Three weeks ago, the entire Portland area and coastal range were socked with the biggest snow storm in 40 years which was followed by massive flooding, mud slides and devastation. Most east/west roads to the coast were shut down as crews worked to remove fallen trees, mud slides and excess water from the roads. It was a major mess and one of the reasons we waited three weeks to head to the coast. We quickly realized that Meadow Lake Road was not high on the clean-up priority list and it looked like the locals had come through with their 4-wheel drive pickup trucks and their chain saws, cutting the fallen trees in half and shoving them enough to the side of the road that one car could go through. We oohed and aahed over the the damage and drove slowly and carefully around the fallen trees in the road.
All signs of human life disappeared and we watched the temperature steadily drop. 56, 52, 48, 42, 39, 36 degrees and then the snow appeared in the patches of road that were sheltered from the sun. We kept trying to revive our dead camera battery and managed to capture a few pictures of the stunning landscape. We were about 15 miles into our climb when we saw the sign "Pavement ends - 1/4 of a mile." We thought it certainly couldn't mean OUR road. Not Meadow Lake Road - the course over the mountains that looked so large and full on the Oregon State map, but 1/4 of a mile later, our two-lane paved road, turned to a two-lane mud road. We stopped at a "campground" (an outhouse, two picnic tables and a place to pitch a tent along the river) for a potty break and a quick check of the map. Yes, we were on the right road and heading in the right direction. It looked like the pavement should pick up again in a few miles. So we loaded our circus clowns back in the van and continued up the muddy road, dodging fallen trees and patches of snow. As we rounded a corner, we saw our first mud slide/avalanche. A huge mountain of mud and rocks that pulled away from the steep slope. It took up an entire "lane" of our road and we gasped in wonder as we observed our first mud slide.
Two miles up the road, the pavement reappeared and Curt and I started breathing easier. WHEW! That was quite an adventure, but we were on our way to civilization. As a joke, I glanced at my cell phone - almost dead and not even one bar of coverage, but why would there be when we were in the middle of nowhere in a lush forest paradise? Our relaxation lasted about 30 seconds. We rounded another corner and knew we were done. Snow. About 8 inches of it. Covering the road. Packed down with a thick layer of ice. The road was elevated about 10 feet from the raging river and we slipped and slided through the rutted tracks in our tw0-wheel drive mini-van. We kept praying for traction and God answered, but as we slipped up the slope, we saw the trees. Several small trees, laying across the entire road, blocking our way and forcing us to apply the brakes. We skidded to a stop, in the middle of a two lane road and surveyed the situation. Tree after tree after tree lay across the road that was enveloped in thick ice and snow. Clearly the locals hadn't been this far up the mountain and the road was impassable. We were at a wide spot in the road and it was evident that every other vehicle had used this as the turn-around point. We peeked in the van windows at our four kids, boots and sweatshirts off, our wimpy, but adorable dog, and we started praying.
Curt got in the van and tried to turn around, but we were stuck on a patch of ice. I'm a wimp and wore my snow boots to the beach, so I got out and started rocking the van while he gunned it, but we stayed stuck. Fortunately, four cars happened upon us within minutes. Their passengers got out, surveyed the damage and agreed with our consensus that indeed, the road was impassable. They helped me push the van over the hump of snow we were stuck on and then we all used the wide spot in the road to carefully turn around and head back down the mountain.
Two and a half hours later, we arrived back at the same gas station in Beaver, Oregon. It was almost 6 p.m., the kids were starving and Curt and I had somehow managed to maintain a spirit of adventure through our ordeal. We stopped at the "No Dumping" sign and took a picture and nearly wet our pants laughing at how funny we thought it was. We decided to backtrack along the path we'd come and stop at the ONLY restaurant we'd seen for supper. When we drove into Cloverdale, "Oregon's best kept secret" we laughed in delight as the sign for "The Dory" restaurant came into view. We parked next to the only car in the parking lot and the circus unloading began again. 1-2-3-4-5-and 6, because we left Dusty in the car. We walked into the very old establishment and said hi to the one waitress and the one 80 year old customer sporting a very large cowboy hat. Curt quipped, "We're so glad to be in Cloverdale, Oregon's best kept secret. Got any good food?" We hemmed and hawed over whether we should sit at the counter, with it's spinning chairs, the red-vinyl booths or the table with the lazy susan's. We settled on the table and commenced to try to keep the kids from spinning the condiments off the lazy susan and getting them to stay in their chairs and not race around the empty restaurant.
We gorged ourselves on very greasy and very fried french fries, chicken, burgers, corn dogs and cod and rehashed our day's adventures with mouths full of greasy goodness. When we'd had our fill we loaded back in the van for our final excursion. We headed out of town AGAIN and this time took a well-traveled highway over the coastal range to our house. Our hearts swelled with love as we listened to our four kids try to out-sing each other and Chris Tomlin on "Jesus Messiah" and giggled over how our "little" outing had morphed into such an exciting and full day. We most definitely will head back to Cloverdale for dinner at The Dory on our next trip to the coast.