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

When Riley died, I died too. I lost interest in everything. I didn't want to travel anymore and considered my trip over. I was in a holding pattern. I retreated into my shell, and read Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross and other books that deal with grief and death and a possible afterlife. Through an apparent act of divine providence, my very good friend Dan had already made plans months ago to meet me in Portland, Oregon on May 6th. I was going to move the Snail there and be settled into new Portland digs, but I couldn't pull it together enough to move on my own, so I picked him up at PDX and drove back down to Eugene. With his moral support, we packed up the rig and moved up to Portland together, where I had found a small, rustic campground in Corbett (Crown Point RV park) on the Historic Columbia River Highway - away from the congestion and traffic of the city.

Dan's presence distracted me from thinking about Riley, and we explored Portland's nooks and crannies. The city reminded us of Cleveland, with its numerous bridges and river and we got a clear sense of the distinctive neighborhoods that give Portland its unique personality. It is clearly a casual city, the opposite of glamourous, even a little crunchy-hippie-ish, with sandals, beards, and yesterday's clothes adorning the people. Getting around by bike and being environmentally-conscious and neighborly is a big part of the collective consciousness here. People looked happy and healthy. The Saturday Market, on the west bank of the Willamette River, was a colorful fiesta of beautiful hand-made items and delicious food . The Rose Festival, also held on the riverbank was the largest, most impressive carnival I had ever seen - complete with a giant ferris wheel and a seemingly well-cared-for exotic animal exhibit that would rival any local zoo.

For a big city, it's certainly got it's share of congestion, and the drive east on Route 84 into the Columbia River Gorge was typically stop-and-go traffic. In fact, trying to get around during rush hour was never a good idea. The traffic was just ridiculous. Better to kick back at Powell's Books – a City of Books – the largest independent bookstore with a labyrinth of shelves to get lost in. Then, wander outside and find your way to one of the many, many food carts that feed the people here. I'm not talking about a lone hot dog guy on the corner. I'm talkin' whole blocks of food carts serving up fresh-made everything - some were even decked out with covered seating areas. Any ethnic food you can think of is available - including Peruvian, Bosnian and Czech. Of course, you could always get a slice of pizza too - but it'd be no ordinary slice - it'd be organic artisan. A day is never complete without a stop in a local coffee shop and Portland's Stumptown Coffee is the best.


Drive the Historic Highway when you are here. Forget about I-84. The interstate ruins the gorge experience. On the Historic Highway, you get an elevated view, a shady meandering 2-lane road, and many places to pull over for a quiet view of the expansive gorge. The scar of the highway is often hardly even noticeable from this route. The Vista House and Multnomah Falls are certainly worth a stop, but it's hard to get away from the crowds there. The Bonneville Dam and Fish Hatchery are also worth a visit, and not as crowded. There are giant sturgeon there as big as sharks or dolphins. Dan and I ended our tour of the gorge at Hood River, where we had a couple of cold pints at the Big Horse Brew Pub, in the sunshine on the deck at the top of the hill overlooking the town. Hood River is a mecca for wind-surfers, but this wasn't the season for it, so there wasn't too much color on the river that day.


After Dan had left, I took a trip up to the Seattle area to visit my brother and scout out some possible places to camp. My brother is a paragliding pilot and took me on a tandem flight at Tiger Mountain. I had been paragliding before over the blue water of Hawaii and absolutely loved it. This time, though, something about being over hills and spikey pine trees was a little unsettling and I actually felt a little motion sickness. He's an excellent pilot and it's an exhilerating experience to be comfortably seated and floating/flying above the earth. He's also an ER doctor, so it's an extra bonus to have him around when partaking in potentially life-threatening activities. The paragliding community is a great group of people and it's always fun to be a Tiger Mountain groupie. It's enchanting just to watch the pilots and their multi-colored wings riding the thermals and dancing in the sky.

I stayed long enough to join a group camping/white-water rafting trip on the Wenatchee River. We camped in a primitive remote site in the mountains just outside Leavenworth and spent a day on the river. It was the best rafting experience I've had. This was the first time the raft I was in actually hit huge rapids and dove through tremendous walls of white water, almost cleaning out the entire contents of our raft (us). Great fun.


I also had a chance to scout out Port Townsend as a place to camp. There's a campground at the Port of Port Townsend - right on the water and right at the edge of town. Sites are a little cramped, but you can't beat the location. Definately a place to come back to. Port Townsend reminds me of small New England port towns with an artsy/outdoorsy flair.

Back in Portland, I took another road trip sans trailer and packed Peyote and some comfortable sleeping gear in the car. I drove down to Brookings to scatter some of Riley's ashes into the Pacific and around Cape Ferrello and Lone Ranch Beach, our favorite spots. I wanted to remember our time together there and express my gratitude to the area for giving us such wonderful memories. Peyote and I slept in the car at Sporthaven Beach for two nights, listening to the pounding surf at our doorstep. On the way back, we took the coastal route and I decided that I needed to spend more time near the healing properties of the Pacific Ocean. As we passed through Seal Rock, I noticed an RV campground right on the ocean and decided to bring the Snail there next. It was the central coast of Oregon. I had spent time in the northern corner and the southern corner, so it seemed fitting to spend some time in the central part of the coast. I still wasn't quite ready to leave the state.

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All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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