Great Westward Migration, Part 4

Day 6. The last 350 miles of a 2,400 mile journey, cutting right through the center of our new home state. 

We'd crossed into Oregon the night before, staying just over the border. The run through Idaho had been a blur, a crawl through constant road construction, giving us plenty of time to see farm after farm after farm. It wasn't bad, really. The hardest part of the drive was still ahead of us - a boss battle against a friggin' mountain before we could claim our reward.

We also had to call an audible in Salt Lake City and change our route. The plan had been to go from SLC to Reno, spend the night there and then head into Oregon from the south. There were plenty of sites to see along that route - the salt flats, Reno, Mt. Shasta, the town of Weed, and, most importantly, a dear friend in Medford (where they also, conveniently, have In-N-Out Burger). The problem was that this would have added a lot of time and taken us through even more problematic mountain routes. Also, after five days of driving, we were pretty much the walking dead, kept alive on a slow drip on coffee and sugary snacks. So we cancelled lunch plans, cut up through Idaho instead, and buckled down for the final push. Crossing the "finish line" into Oregon felt amazing. Then we found the closest motel, grabbed a celebratory (and legal) smoke while walking the dogs, and collapsed.

River beside the highway, foothills ahead.

River beside the highway, foothills ahead.

Forest fire smoke outside of Bend.

Forest fire smoke outside of Bend.

The final day was a tour right through the center of our new home state. Whenever I thought of the Pacific Northwest, I imagined mountains, big trees, and cold rocky beaches. But all that comes on gradually. Eastern Oregon is largely farmland and, if you're not going through Portland, the highways become two lane country roads. Every few miles, I was tempted to pull over and sit beside one of the low, winding rivers, or stop and catch a view as the road wound through scattered foothills. Those got bigger and bigger as we went on, the road twisting ever upward.

As we reached the center of the state, the open spaces of farmland became increasingly bordered by forest. You can see the clear-cut of logging on the distant hills, but we also passed plenty of new planting. Renewable resources for the win.

We also passed forest fire camps, with a particularly large tent city of firefighters outside of Bend. My sister lives in L.A., so I'm used to thinking about wildfires in the context of California. In Oregon, there are fire warning signs everywhere and, even after a few weeks, we've gotten used to checking the fire danger like most people check the weather. Once we were in the house, there were two weeks of smoky skies. No strenuous exercise outdoors (not that I was doing any anyway), keep an eye on the community Facebook page, and hope some silly teenagers decide against playing with fireworks this weekend. 

Eventually that first fire faded into the rearview mirror and we were into the forest. This is what I'd been imagining - towering, old trees with green as far as the eye can see. But remember that boss battle that I mentioned? 

The descent down the mountain was terrifying. Bobby and I had also separated since I needed to go to the landlord's and pick up the keys. We were on the same route, but I had to overshoot by two towns to get to their office. The plan was for me to get ahead and have the keys, while Bobby kept plodding slow and steady in the Uhaul.

The last time I was comfortable opening the camera while driving.

The last time I was comfortable opening the camera while driving.

I did not get ahead. I got sweaty. White knuckled. The highway was still one lane in each direction, winding its way down the mountain at a grade so steep that, by the end, the recommended speed was 25 MPH. Keep in mind that Bobby and I are from New Orleans - essentially the opposite of a mountain. There, Monkey Hill was a sight to see, a proud local landmark standing a comparatively towering 30 ft. above sea level. Now we were careening along mountain roads at elevations above 3,000 ft.

Thanks to the fire, there was plenty of truck traffic and plenty of locals in pickup trucks who made no secret of their impatience, speeding past on the rare occasions where it opened up into a second passing lane. All the while I'm thinking about Bobby in the truck, teetering around those curves. Cell service had been spotty throughout the day and, of course, this was a part of the trip where even satellite radio abandoned me. The last 45 minutes or so were the worst. And this was The Way from Bend. How many times would we have to do this terrifying drive?

[Bobby would like to weigh in on this leg of the journey: "FUCK, FUCK, FUCK."]

So this is the state I was in - teeth grinding, phone not working, dogs on high alert. Then I came around a curve and things started to level out. The image is frozen in my head: the wide, lazy arc of that last turn, a lake opening up to my right, glittering in the sun, the sudden calm that washed over me. We had to be close, right?

We had found the house almost by chance, had checked out the neighborhood on Google Street View, but we really knew little about the town. This lake... this couldn't actually be it, right? Was my phone signal back? What does the map say? And then I saw it, right in front of this gorgeous expanse of blue water... ENTERING SWEET HOME.

Circled back a few days later to recreate that first glimpse of home.

Circled back a few days later to recreate that first glimpse of home.

"Sweet Home Oregon-ah!"

"Sweet Home Oregon-ah!"

Aptly named, right? We didn't have much of a plan when we set out to find a place in Oregon. A good friend lives in Eugene, so we based our search in that area. Thanks to Craigslist, we came across plenty of scammers, people who would claim to be out of town and ask you to mail them money in exchange for keys. We came close to getting a place in Salem, but lost out to another applicant right at the end. In moments of desperation, I would expand the search out to the surrounding areas. I found a tempting but impractical off-the-grid cabin, cottages on the coast, and even a "Mongolian-style yurt" with a recording studio and baby grand piano. During one of these searches, I found a cute one-bedroom + bonus room that had just been listed a few hours before.

I'm not usually one for taking chances, making snap decisions, rolling the dice. Technically, when we left Virginia, there were two days when we didn't actually have a place to live. Luckily, I'm also incredibly neurotic, so I had lists and form letters and saved searches, as well as an apartment complex that knew they were our backup and called to check in on a weekly basis. So we rolled. I was in contact with our new landlord and we signed the lease electronically in Denver. (I also had to find a Bank of America in Denver to make our security deposit, which is a less fun story involving downtown construction traffic, the one and only time that Trevor decided to get carsick, and a very nice parking meter maintenance man who let me park in a spot down for repairs and kept an eye on the dogs while I ran inside. Thanks, sir!)

But it all worked out. We made it, the house is cute and comfy, and the dogs are grateful to no longer be in constant motion. In fact, today marks one month since we arrived in our new home town. I have plenty to say about Oregon so far, and plenty more pictures, but this installment has rambled on for a while now, so I'll save that for next time. Also, now I'm thinking about that drive again. Might need to go have a drink or something.

One thing I can already say, though, is that we absolutely made the right decision. Taking a chance is worth it when it means finally taking control of your life. 

Rest your butt. Watch the sunset. Hell yes.

Rest your butt. Watch the sunset. Hell yes.