July 27, 2003

Going Coastal

Ok so like. We’re back from stuff and stuff. On Friday my parents and I went to Mount St. Helens and hit up the north side, where everything went kablooie. Lemme tell ya. That mountain went kablooie. Where there used to be a cute little snowballed peak there is now an angry ampitheatre with a smoking lava dome. All the hills, within miles of the mountain, are covered in smashed dead trees all pointing in the same direction. A huge valley is filled with a solidified stream of mud, miles across and a hundred feet deep.

And what’s happening on the cliffs of that valley? People are paragliding. It’s like parachuting, only backwards and I want to do it. They set up their gliders (which look like directional parachutes. They call them gliders, not sails, not kites… even though much of the terminology and banter overlaps with windsurfing and kiteboarding) wait for a gust and run off the edge of the cliff. And float back up. And are soon spinning around in the air hundreds of feet above the cliff. They’ll stay up in the air for hours at a time, spinning in thermals to maintain altitude. To land they just hit a spot, jog across the ground and quickly depower the glider.

When a tandem flight lands it looks like a horse trotting out of the sky.

We made a move for the Coast. At the Cathlamet grocery store I saw the Weekly World News boast, CROP CIRCLES APPEAR ON WHITE HOUSE LAWN. FBI, CIA AND NASA BAFFLED!

I didn’t believe it for one second. What I found most baffling was that each agency was simultaneously baffled by the same thing. Wasn’t the whole point supposed to be that government agencies didn’t share information very well? That each would independently come to the same conclusion on the White House crop circles is preposterous. The sudden concurrence of opinion makes it wholly impossible to take the story seriously.

We spent the night camping at the Cathlamet marina and I slept out under the stars. My parents slept in the tent and fought the Air Log, a terrible inflatable mattress that bucked you off every time you shifted your weight. The eternal smell of summer woke us up in the morning. Two-stroke engine exhaust, musty boat canvas and lakeside funk. The tide had gone out and yellow finches were eating the muck in the tidal flats.

We drove through Astoria and reached the Coast, which was huge and salty and sandy and amazing. We pointed the nose to the south and ended up at the Tillamook Cheesery. There were a lot of people who were so large they should not have been touring a cheesery. We thought that they should put up signs that said, YOU MUST FIT THROUGH THIS SLOT TO TOUR THE CHEESERY.

“Hey, no fair pushing him!”

We went as far south as Florence, and spent the night at a hotel right on the ocean. In the morning we jetted out through the Coastal Range to Eugene, paralleled the McKenzie River into the Cascade Range, and fell out of the mountains into the desert town of Sisters. We skirted the very edge of Bend and headed north to Mount Hood, peach orchards and Hood River.

There were other things. They are details. I learned that Columbian white-tailed deer actually look like holsteins. I saw the sun set on the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life. I cut my feet open scampering across young (400-year-old) lava fields near Belknap Crater. I saw every mountain in Oregon that peaks out over 10,000 feet (South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister, Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood).

And I found out that no matter what it is, it doesn’t work when it gets sand in it.