The Columbia River Gorge
Emily is up before dawn. The car, she’s relieved, is intact, but she’s out in the rain in pajamas feeding the parking meter. This so we don’t get ticketed or towed before breakfast. And we do want breakfast. And coffee.
One last leg, just a couple of hours driving, backtracking a bit up the Columbia to Hood River, will finish the trip. We’ve been in Oregon less than 24 hours, and by end of this day she needs to get moved in and somewhat settled, because at 1pm tomorrow she has a staff meeting for the new job.
She hasn’t met her roommates yet. Seems best for her to do that without Old Dad hanging around. I need some transportation to get around in and to get back for the flight out on Wednesday, so she drops me at the rental car lot near the airport and heads off.
Portland looks worth exploring. There’s an Apple Store downtown where I can get supplies, use the wifi and make arrangements for places to stay for the next couple of days. While there I make contact with Doryman, who turns out will to be passing through on his way to Port Townsend to sell a boat in a few days. What luck! We arrange meet up in Portland before I have to catch the plane. Bruce of Terrapin Tales is in the area, too, but sadly can’t get away from work.
By mid-afternoon I’m heading back up the highway through the gorge. What a difference daylight makes. It’s, well, gorgeous. This side of the Cascade Range is a temperate rain forest, and like Seattle, it always rains here. It runs off the mountains in waterfalls, 77 on the Oregon side alone, and I can see several from the highway, even across the river in Washington. All the water makes the landscape unstable, though, and the mountainsides tend to collapse with alarming frequency. A mudslide has destroyed a bridge and part of the highway. Knowing this I opted for the extra insurance on the rental car, and am glad of it – dump truck sized boulders are jumbled on the shoulder.
In Hood River the sky clears some, and yet another rainbow appears. I’ll see at least one every day I’m here. It’s a nice town, only a little larger than Scottsville, with more of the niceties like breweries, restaurants and coffee shops. In the summer the population expands fourfold – Hood River is the “windsurfing and kitesurfing capital of the world.” With warm dry air to the east and cool wet air off the Pacific to the west, this gorge becomes a reliable wind tunnel. Weather patterns slosh back and forth through the slot cut by the canyon through the mountains. It blows one direction in winter and reverses in summer. One night a gauge on top of the ridge registers over 100mph, which is not unusual.
I found a place to stay via airbnb on the edge of town, in the home of the fire chief. This is convenient, since Emily will be looking for him soon. She’s certified as a wild land firefighter, and wants to sign up for the on-call list. He plans to drop in and meet her at work, and does a few days later. He and his wife are nice folks, with a big friendly Great Dane who really, really wants to play, and a couple of donkeys like big dogs in the pen out back.
Emily and I arrange to meet on the river after her staff meeting. It is raining again. Guess she’ll have to get used to that. Hood River, the river, which flows from nearby Mount Hood, the volcano, flows into the Columbia right in town. The volcanic sediment forms a long bar out into the river like a beach, and seems a good place to meet. I can see her coming from about a mile away.
The river is foggy, the sky gray and dripping, but none of that has dampened her spirits. She seems happy.
She’s sharing a house with three other kids her age. Two guys: One is a kite surfing/wind surfing equipment tester who travels from Canada to Mexico with the seasons. The other is a ski instructor. The other girl is a helicopter pilot who flies fires in the back country, search and rescue, and tourist gigs when she can get them.
Emily also has a good friend here already, a guy she met last summer when she and Amanda were hiking the John Muir Trail. He’s a good guy, a middle school science teacher, and we’ll all meet up later for pizza at a local brewery.
The next day is kind of brief and bittersweet. I only have a couple of hours before heading back to Portland. We drive south to get a look at Mount Hood. Up on the high ridge the sky clears and there’s a great view of the mountain. On the way back we catch a glimpse of the other two volcanoes in the trio – Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.
And then, oddly, that’s it. Hugs and goodbyes on the street in the middle of town. She looks small as I drive off, if all grown up. Waves and a big smile, walking down the sidewalk, already feeling at home. Within minutes I’m on the road again, on to Portland and home.
On the edge of town I notice the total trip odometer has rolled over 3000 miles. What a long, strange trip it’s been.
Total Trip Tally
- States Seen: 14
- Total Distance Traveled: 3004 miles
- Drive Time: 3 days 15 hours 3 minutes
- Starting Elevation: 487 feet
- Ending Elevation: 7 feet
- Peak Elevation: 8076 feet
- Lowest Elevation: 1.6 feet