The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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Astoria, OR

I got to Astoria just in time for the Fisher Poets Gathering that happens each year during the last weekend in February. I had heard great things about this event when I passed through here in October, and made a mental note to come back for it. Fisherpeople gather from all corners of the country to share their stories, poems and songs about their maritime life. It's a pretty big event for Astoria, and deservedly so. It's great entertainment and offers meaningful insight into the lives of those with ties to the maritime life - and it all takes place in one of the oldest working waterfront towns. Apparently, this is modeled after the Cowboy Poetry that happens in places where the cowboys are. Three major venues in town have simultaneous line-ups, which makes it hard to choose where to spend your time, but I decided the Wet Dog Cafe had the best ambiance, with an awesome view of the Columbia River, and a cozy crowd. Good stuff - put it in your calendar for next year! (BTW - the Wet Dog has a fine selection of craft beer, but I don't recommend the food)


Being in Astoria also made it somewhat convenient for me to participate in the 2009 Women's Leadership Conference of the Inland Northwest, where I was generously invited to be on a panel of women whose workday and/or commute were non-traditional. I guess in some ways I am breaking traditional assumptions of how you can maintain a professional career and still live creatively...and maybe in some small way, helping to blaze the trail for others.

So I left the trailer in Astoria, packed up Riley and Peyote in the car and drove the longer-than-I-thought distance to Spokane.

The conference was very well organized by a group of volunteers from the region's institutions of higher learning and was incredibly inspiring. I am extremely grateful to the great group of women who made arrangements for me to be there, and who put together a thoroughly current and thought-provoking conference for women of all ages. It was an honor to have been a part of it.

I was only in Spokane for two nights, and it was still very much winter there, with freezing temperatures and dustings of snow. Diana, one of the organizers, cheerfully showed me around the beautiful area that Spokane is. I can only imagine how nice it must be there in the spring and summertime. Perhaps on my way back East, I'll be able to stop in to say hello again.

The route I drove to get here was through the Columbia River Gorge and eastern Washington, which is nice for the first 4 hours. Then it gets really empty and barren for the last 4 hours. For a change of scenery, I decided to take I-90 back, which goes over Snoqualmie pass then skirts around Seattle. Of course the day I was passing through would be the day a tremendous white-knuckle blizzard was also passing through and white-out conditions had us all driving 5 mph and still sliding all over the place. Very glad for my 4WD and the careful driving of all my fellow drivers. Also glad I wasn't towing the trailer. If I was, I would have pulled over, made some hot chocolate and waited it out.


Astoria is where, in 1805, the legendary duo of Lewis and Clark finally reached the end of their trek when they found the Pacific Ocean, after floating down the Columbia in dugout canoes. They spent a terribly cold and rainy winter at Fort Clatsop, patiently boiled seawater for salt, and were essentially the first white people to settle here for awhile. Did you know Merriweather Lewis had a trusty Newfoundland dog along with him for the entire journey? Seaman the dog! Yes, it is true. Lots of very interesting Lewis and Clark historic sites to explore in this area and across the river in Washington too.

Winter, it turns out, is not the best time to visit, but it is where I was, and I didn't want to drive south again. Also, staying in places that offer a monthly discount in the off season is particularly economical. And besides, I really wanted to explore the Pacific Northwest for an extended period of time and experiencing it in the winter was part of the deal I made with myself. The weather was crazy every single day - sunshine and white puffy clouds, downpour, hail, solid overcast - all within hours. Very difficult to plan an afternoon of hiking or biking when you need gear for all four seasons.

Despite the petty complaints I had with the weather, I really love this town. The first place I went to ended up being my favorite place to work - The Coffee Girl, on Pier 39. This place has been around since the cannery was active on this pier, when there was a real coffee girl who served coffee to the cannery workers. They've got outdoor seating for when the weather is nice and awesome views of the Columbia.

The waterfront is, in fact, littered with restaurants, cafes and brewpubs, all with gorgeous views of the river. One afternoon while having lunch at Baked Alaska, my fellow diners and I saw a whale spouting not far from the pier. Apparently, this is very unusual - for a whale to venture this far upriver.

There is a wonderful paved trail that spans the entire water/cityfront, which is great for walking or biking and exploring the downtown area.

Other favorite places I discovered: The Blue Scorcher Cafe - delicious fresh organic vegetarian food and sweet treats. Great place to be, except it's not on the water. Astoria Coffeehouse - stays open later than the other coffee shops, has wifi and a decent menu of real food. Bowpicker Fish & Chips!!! I've been on a quest for the best fish & chips ever since I tasted Leo Burdoch's in Dublin. I gotta say, nobody has topped them yet, but Bowpicker comes in a very close second. They serve only the freshest albacore tuna, and it's all prepared and served from the pilot house of an old bowpicker boat that is now "on the hard" across from the Columbia River Maritime. Since it was off-season, their hours were sporadic. But come summertime, you can bet they've got a line around the block. Don't miss this place!


With 14 dams between the Pacific and Idaho, the Columbia River is nothing like what it once was, when Lewis & Clark experienced it. Now, it is essentially a series of lakes. It is a major shipping route with regular traffic of oil tankers and cargo ships from exotic places, en route to Portland, Oregon and even idaho.

The Columbia River is also notorious for its extremely dangerous bar that ships must cross when they enter into the river from the Pacific. Only a very small group of elite pilots can pilot the ships through this treacherous bar that is always shifting. It has cost many people their lives and has sunk many a ship. The Columbia River Maritime Museum is a great place to learn about the river's history, including the treacherous bar as well as the fishing and canning history. Definately worth the visit.


It's different from Brookings here - you can DRIVE on the MILES of open beach! The towns of Seaside and Cannon Beach are more touristy with lots of shops and hotels, and the beaches do not have the peace and tranquility that I found the Brookings coast to have. There are many more people, and it doesn't have the seastacks, nooks and crannies and secret hideaways of the southern coast. Still nice, though. Riley sure enough liked it.


There's an Eagle Sanctuary on the east side of town. I went there with my binoculars and didn't see any eagles. So I went home to take Riley to the county park down the road, and whadya know - I got my first official bald eagle sighting. He swooped in front of me, over the Skipanon River, then landed in this treetop.


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All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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