Friday, July 3, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

Curt had the day off work today so we decided to kill it at the ocean.  We left Newberg around 10:30 a.m., van loaded with all the necessities to survive a day at the Oregon coast. 

We headed out of town on the main highway but quickly realized that traffic to the ocean was heavy on the Friday before a long weekend.  I double-checked to make sure we had our map and we made an impulse decision to navigate our way to the coast on the road less traveled.

While Curt was driving, I pointed to a lime green line on our map of Yamhill County.  He glanced briefly at the map as I explained that lucky for us it would drop us off in Carlton where we could pick up Meadow Lake Road to cut across the Coastal Range.  We both were a little confused when what appeared to be a main road on the map turned to gravel then dead-ended into a paved, but single lane "road."  We followed it up a long, steep hill and topped out in the circular driveway of a Mediterranean style, salmon-colored mansion with views of the vineyards and the coastal range.  

Confused, I re-checked the map.  Oops.  Upon closer examination I realized that the green "road" on the map was actually the zip code divider and not really a road at all.  Talk about feeling like an idiot in point 2 seconds!  We retraced our steps, found a real road that appeared to lead to Carlton, and verified my navigating skills by following the big blue road signs that said, "Carlton - 5 miles ->."

By the time we reached Carlton (a mere 12 miles from our house), Paige was already claiming a need to use the toilet, Alli was asking "how much longer," Curt was grumbling about how things never go according to the plan in his head, and Katie and Grant were fighting about the angle and positioning of Katie's reclining captain's chair.  

We questioned our decision to take the road less traveled but forged ahead when we saw the green street sign claiming ownership of Meadow Lake Road.  The two-lane, narrow road lacked shoulders of any kind and we quickly discovered that it's primary purpose was for logging.  As we began winding our way through wine country and into the base of the Coastal Mountain Range, I caught a whiff an all-too-familiar smell.  Dusty, our dog who was supposed to outgrow her car-sickness, had barfed all over the back of the van.  Since the road had no shoulder, we had to wait until we found the last remaining driveway in Yamhill County to pull over.  

While Curt cleaned up dog barf, I helped Katie and Paige attempt to pee on the side of the road.  Both experienced stage fright and were unable to complete their task which led to mounting frustration on my end.  When I went to check on the progress of the dog cleanup, I busted Curt "checking the air in the tire" and peeing on the side of the road.  At least he didn't let stage fright get the best of him.  We both started laughing and climbed back in the van, in better spirits, but not that much closer to our final destination.

Sweet Meadow Lake Road.  How it wanders.  And zigs.  And zags.  Through the deep forest.  Past clear cuts where loggers have been and past signs where they will eventually be.  The people who designed the road should be shot.  It switch-backed up the Coastal Range forever and ever amen, steep drop offs on my side of the van with very little room for error as Curt inched us up, down and around at the rapid speed of 20 mph.  About 10 miles up the pass, Grant, Alli and I started turning green and Dusty lay like a limp noodle where her barf had once been.  Paige complained alternately of being hungry and having to pee.  

We finally crested the summit and started heading down the other side, but the road never straightened out.  Curve after curve after curve after curve.  We stumbled upon the actual Meadow Lake in all it's breath-taking glory and stopped to get a picture.  Found the Nestucca River that meanders parallel to Meadow Lake Road.  Came across the spot in the road where we got stuck in January and giggled at the absurdity of the "main road" turning to gravel for a 3 mile chunk.

It normally takes an hour and 30 minutes MAX to get to the ocean from our house.  When that time had passed, it was noon and we were still wandering slowly down Meadow Lake Road.  We decided to stop and have our picnic at one of the four campgrounds that were touted on the map.  We pulled into the "parking lot" which was really just a part of the road that was wide enough to have a small shoulder and parked in front of one of the fallen logs that were being used as the separator from the parking lot to the campground.  The "campground" was actually a small clearing in the woods with the Nestucca River boxing it in on the other side.  A solitary uni-sex outhouse sat on the front part of the clearing.  Three picnic tables were cemented to the ground and the rest of the clearing was full to the brim with as many tents as you could possibly imagine squeezing into a confined space.  

As we walked down the dirt trail to the outhouse, all activity in the campground stopped.  People dropped what they were doing, turned and just stared.  I have never felt so unwelcome in all my life.  No one said a word to us.  They just glared at us and we tip-toed toward the outhouse.  The only noise in camp was the incessant bark of a small, yappy dog who started barking the second we began unloading from the van.  Curt finally mustered up the courage to loudly say, "It's okay.  We're just going to use the outhouse and grab a quick lunch."  The campground inhabitants breathed an audible sigh of relief and life resumed around camp.  

We all held our breath, plugged our noses, and dashed into the nasty outhouse to relieve ourselves  then climbed back up the path to the van.  We used the fallen logs as our picnic table and stood on the side of the road to eat our lunch.  That stupid dog barked the ENTIRE time we were there, determined to drive us away and let us know that we were not welcome in the bush league campground.

We piled back into the van and the road soon turned back to pavement.  We eventually got to Beaver, Oregon (yes, that's really the name of the town) and happily said buh-bye to Meadow Lake Road.  We drove through Cloverdale, "Oregon's best kept secret," and past The Dory where we ate last January.  The closer we got to Pacific City, the closer we got to the ginormous cloud that was covering the coastal towns.  

By the time we pulled into Bob Straub State Park, we'd been on the road for 3 hours.  Double the time it would have taken if we'd stayed on the main drag. We shivered at the 20 degree drop in temperature, but rejoiced in the fact that it wasn't windy so at leas the sand would stay put and not travel an extra five miles when the kids fling it everywhere.  The sky was gray and the whole beach was enveloped in the cloud that just would not dissipate. We loaded the stroller with all our gear, the kids grabbed their sand buckets, and we climbed the sand dune to access the beach.  

The next three hours flew by.  It was warm enough that the kids actually ventured into the frigid water but cool enough that I had an excuse to wear my new sweatshirt from Sunriver.  We watched the kids shriek and scream as the waves crept up and froze their toes and legs.   We laughed out loud as Dusty sprinted up and down the beach, stopping often to throw herself onto her back and roll around like a psycho dog in the sand.  It was as if she was trying to give herself a doggie massage and fur exfoliation.  Curt and I broke out our softball gloves that haven't seen the light of day in way too long.  We chucked the ball around on the beach and tried to avoid nailing any of our kids or the dog.  

Curt decided to make "the best sand castle ever.  A sand castle that would kick all the other sand castles' butts."  He worked feverishly for the next 30 minutes and begrudgingly accepted the kids' "help."  Grant and Katie unearthed a "literal crab heaven - like where they go when they die.  We must have uncovered enough crab body parts to re-create an entire crab colony."  They used their new found treasures to adorn Curt's sand castle and I assured them all that their sand castle was indeed the best sand castle on the beach.  

We headed back up to the dunes and confined the kids and Dusty to an area small enough that they could actually hear our voices on the wind and then camped out next to a piece of driftwood on our picnic blanket.  We listened to the sound of our children's voices floating on the wind, dug our toes in the warm sand and let the ocean waves lull us into the most peaceful state of relaxation.  We finally forced ourselves out of our quiet time and started the process of heading home. 

We pushed our way through the deep sand and up the dune to return to the van.  Stopped at the Grateful Bread Bakery for a cappuccino and some chocolate chunk cookies that were still warm from the oven.  This time, as we pulled onto the road that would lead us home, we chose the road more traveled and that has made all the difference.  An hour and 15 minutes later, we were home.

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