Roadtrip to the Redwoods

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DAY ONE

oregon dunes national recreation area
samuel h. boardman state scenic corridor
clifford kamph memorial park

 

The first time I planned this trip to the Redwoods was in October. I was going to clock off after a Sunday morning serving shift and drive as far down the coast as I could make it so I could spend the two days that followed exploring the southern Oregon coast and the Redwood parks. However, life happens and plans change. Instead, I hopped on a 6am flight from Portland to New York to attend my grandfather's funeral and spend some much needed time with my family. I figured I'd be able to plan the trip for sometime in the spring. 

Autumn turned to winter, and I started feeling like I wasn't doing enough. It's as if there's this tiny little voice in my head whose sole purpose is to constantly remind me that I'm already 24 and have absolutely no idea what I want to do with my life, aside from travel. My mom, wise as she is, keeps telling me that I need to relax and enjoy being young and rootless. I know she's right, but let me tell you, convincing yourself to ignore that crushing weight of uncertainty is a lot harder than it looks. Nevertheless, I'm trying my best.

Every so often, I spiral into a depressive episode that makes dealing with the uncertainty of life harder than it already is on a good day. It began sometime in mid-January and by the time February rolled around, it was in full swing. Luckily, I've learned how to keep these episodes from spiraling out of control. I throw myself into work and I make plans and I try to be as present in the world as possible, even when I don't necessarily want to be. This time around, I decided I'd finally make that Redwood trip I planned back in the fall. I did so with the hopes that I'd return from three days on the road feeling a little lighter.

 
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I woke up on a sunny Wednesday morning eager to hit the road. Since I had three full days at my disposal, I thought I'd take the time to meander down the Oregon Coast and see some of the coastal gems I'd yet to visit. My first stop was the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area in Florence. Without a doubt, this incredible area is on my list of places to return to during the summer. The beach was nearly empty, which was surprising for such a beautiful sunny day. (To be fair, it was mid-February and a bit chilly by Oregon standards.) I wandered a bit along the coast and explored some of the trails in the area. While enjoying the sunshine, I couldn't help but laugh about how I somehow manage to end up at a beach at some point during every road trip I've taken since I switched coasts. There's something about the Oregon Coast that keeps me coming back for more, and I'm not sure I'll ever get tired of it.

After exploring at the dunes, I hit the road toward the California border. I think that one of my favorite things about road tripping is how you can witness the change of topography firsthand. When you fly, you simply leave one place, arrive at another, and suddenly everything is different. When you're behind the wheel, you can see one landscape melt into another mile by mile. The farther south I traveled, the more I noticed the subtle changes, especially along the coast. The shore was rockier and the Pacific almost seemed bluer. (How does that saying go? The grass is greener? Or in this case, the water is bluer...)

After 2 or so more hours of driving south on 101, I finally saw the sign for the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. The first time I ever saw photos of this place floating around the internet, I knew I had to make the trip. Being nearly 6 hours from Portland, the park is definitely a bit far to justify a day trip, so this was my chance to get a taste of what it had to offer. And boy, it did not disappoint. Photos hardly do it justice. There are dozens of viewpoints and places to explore along the corridor and it's such a shame that I had so little daylight left. Fortunately, I've chosen to spend at least another year in Portland so there is time yet to visit again.

 
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Anyone who is tapped into the PNW culture has likely seen dozens of photos of the iconic Natural Bridges that exist just off the rocky shore. Being a photographer, I just had to capture one of my own. I'm glad I did, because the attempt to find a good viewpoint was an adventure on its own. There was lots of climbing, lots of dodging a vine that looks eerily similar to poison oak, and lots of hoping that I didn't slip and die. (Don't worry Mom, there was room to live.) However, the climb through the trees along the rocky coast was totally worth it because I found a nice little perch to sit and enjoy the view. The sun was bright as ever, quickly sinking toward the horizon. It was quiet, aside from the waves crashing along the shore. I was alone. Perfect solitude. 

There's great power in being comfortable with traveling alone, even if only for a day or two. It's sort of magical being out in the world and having no one to rely on but yourself. You become extremely in tune with yourself and your needs, and you learn very quickly to trust your instincts over everything else. You learn how to be alone without feeling lonely. Don't get me wrong, there are moments during my solo adventures when I wish I had someone to share the magic with, but such feelings tend to be temporary. And as quickly as those thoughts come, they drift away and I am calm and content once again.

After nearly 9 hours of being on the road and exploring, I finally crossed the California border. This was sort of a huge deal to me because every state border I cross feels like an event. An achievement. The more I see and experience, the more fulfilled I am. Growing up in the northeast, the west coast seemed like this faraway hyper-chill wonderland that was inaccessible to my young self. Never would I have imagined uprooting my entire life to start over on the west coast, but here I am. This realization hit me especially hard as I became extremely aware that I was actually in California, a state I'd always dreamed of visiting but never had the chance to until now. I made it a tiny little beach park in northern California just as the sun was about to dip below the horizon. The whole park was empty; there was only myself and the setting sun. I sat on a piece of driftwood and took it all in. I can't believe I'm really here.

 
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DAY TWO

prairie creek redwoods state park
del norte coast redwoods state park
redwood national and state parks

 

I woke up bright and early to start my second day of exploring, only to hear nothing but the thundering sound of hail and pouring rain. I waited for the worst of it to pass before hitting the road, and within the hour the sun was shining again, illuminating the low hanging fog that hugged the coast. I headed south on 101 and after about 20 miles, I saw a sign for Requa Road just north of Klamath and felt the need to stray from my intended course and explore. This is often how my solo adventures go. I drive and I drive and then I see a sign and follow it. Sometimes, there's little to see, but oftentimes I am rewarded with something amazing. 

This detour did not disappoint. Almost instantly, I was met with stretches of farmland and rolling hills sprinkled with patches of fog. I continued along the road without a clue of what I might find, only to run into a trailhead for a coastal hike. What better way to start a day of adventuring than with a hike along the California coast? Still physically exhausted from my busy work week and from exploring the Oregon coast the day before, I opted for a short trek along the trail as not to put any unnecessary strain on my body. From the trail, I could see miles down the coast, where the Klamath River meets the Pacific and beyond. It was quiet, the sun was bright, the breeze crisp, and I could hear nothing but the turn of the ocean.

 
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After my short hike in Klamath, I continued south along 101 until I reached an exit for a scenic byway that meandered through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. I'm a sucker for a scenic byway (thanks, Mom), so off I went into the trees. The entire detour was a living embodiment of what I'd always imagined the Redwood Forest would look like. Let me tell you, these trees are HUGE. I mean, I knew I'd be surrounded by big trees all day but I guess my mind couldn't fathom just how big they'd actually be. The trails in this area were plenty, so I parked off the byway, waterproofed my camera, and off I went. 

Living in a small, albeit busy city, I forget how much I miss the quiet. Before moving west, my home was on a dirt road where the most background noise I'd encounter was the occasional lawnmower or hungry cow. Now that I'm so used to the constant hustle and bustle, I've become extremely aware of how deafeningly loud a quiet place can be. Thoughts drift in and out of your mind and you can't help but hear them. This, I think, is why spending time in nature can be so healing. You often have little choice but to experience your inner world and reconcile with everything you've been avoiding in your day to day. I find that every time I get lost in a quiet place, I figure something out, even if that "something" is seemingly tiny. Every experience in nature makes me feel a little more whole. A little more certain.

 
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As I continued south, the road ahead began to look less and less like the Pacific Northwest and more like something completely different. It felt like California. I drove for miles, enjoying the freedom of having no set destination, until it became time to turn around and head north again. I continued along 101 again, enjoying the views from Loleta to Klamath, where I found yet another hidden gem: a coastal dirt road in the Del Norte Coast Redwoods Park. It's easily accessible from both 101 and the Newton B. Drury Scenic Byway, and I highly recommend this little detour to anyone who loves a dirt road with an amazing view. Hell, I loved it so much I drove the loop not once, but twice, before parking on the side of the road and watching the sunset over the Pacific. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

 
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DAY THREE

jedediah smith redwood state park
the return to portland

 

When I travel, my return journey tends to be one that is characterized by reflection and realization, but this time, I allowed my mind to rest and simply enjoyed the view. I'd save my contemplation for later. Except, later never came. I returned home and went on with my life as if I'd never even left in the first place. There was no moment of epiphany. There was no feeling of growth or change. This was rather disappointing for me, especially considering that my I returned from my last solo excursion to Olympic National Park feeling so incredible and invincible. The days following my return were filled with melancholy because I came back feeling exactly the same as I did before I left. I felt just as stuck. and just as uncertain.

Now I'm beginning to think that perhaps not every experience needs to be profound, and that not every journey I take will be life changing. Maybe some things are simply meant to be appreciated for what they are. And my trip to the Redwoods was a beautiful, tiny pause in the midst of an ongoing recognition of where I am and where I want to be.

 
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