It was 1993 and the girl told her boyfriend of 6 months – “I am going on a road trip to celebrate my 21st birthday.” Having never been out of the state, the boy worried about her traveling alone. After looking at the planned route, he offered (i.e. felt compelled) to accompany the girl on the road trip to “keep her safe” – how chivalrous! As they looked at the map (one of the girl’s favorite things to do) the route expanded from two states to three, and added a foreign country. The new itinerary left Sacramento, California and traveled north to Vancouver, British Columbia. The boy had never been beyond California state lines, and had never driven a stick shift, so this was very exciting for everyone but him. You see, the boy likes security.
Like any good explorer, naïve girl was prepared. She bought bulk packages of bottled water, a case of Snapple and lots of food! She also borrowed a bunch of camping equipment from her folks. In fact, all of this “preparation” weighed down her already tired VW Jetta until it scraped the pavement with each speed bump. She assured the safety conscious boy everything would be fine. He made sure she had AAA and they forged ahead.
First stop was breakfast at a diner just 45 minutes out of town. It was early and the restaurant was quiet so they got a huge corner booth all to themselves! Naïve girl scooted around to the crook of the seat, as far back as possible to get the best people-watching perspective. The centerpiece of each table included an empty glass carafe as part of the restaurant’s seasonal orange juice promotion. Tempting as OJ sounded, they chugged coffee with their Grand Slams to power up for the long drive to the first adventure – Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. When the cheery waitress came by the table offering “a fresh pot of coffee kids?”, they eagerly accepted. As she poured, the waitress gently tapped the glass bottom of the coffee pot on the display carafe which, somehow, shattered the bottom of the pot. Naïve girl couldn’t escape from her paparazzi perch in the corner booth before the “fresh pot of coffee” poured onto her bare thighs. There was nothing the chivalrous boy could do – honest.
For the next several hours, the young explorer drove her overloaded Jetta north on I-5 with bowling ball sized ice bags on her thighs. The boy navigated and kept watch for signs of shock – or at least tried to see how to drive the stick shift. By the time they arrived at Crater Lake, the girl’s thighs were awfully cold, but not blistered. The boy’s knuckles were white, but things could only get better, right? Well, despite borrowing a tent from her parents, the girl failed to borrow the tent poles. This made tent set up interesting but, fortunately, not impossible.
After “stringing up” camp, it was finally time for dinner. Thankfully, as part of being “prepared”, the girl had recently purchased a brand new, small BBQ from the grocery store and just left it sealed in the box for packing efficiency – how smart! Well…until the boy asked where the tools were to put the BBQ together. Tools – huh?? Luckily, the boy was resourceful and put the BBQ together anyway by using the parts as “tools”. The girl thought she heard grumbling, but the boy insisted it was wild animal noises coming from the forest and he would protect her. Yeah! The grill was put together and it was time for their first camping dinner! Bulk sales are such a great deal. Dinner was hamburgers – a cylinder of frozen patties that came 15 to a package! The boy is pretty sure the patties were 98% fat given the shrunken patties and grease fire in the new BBQ which, not surprisingly, had no drainage holes. Luckily a forest fire was avoided…barely.
It was a brisk evening, and the sleeping bags were looking cozy and inviting. Cozy lasted ten minutes. After a fitful night, the boy and girl tore down camp at 4 AM having slept very little and frozen a lot. The sleeping bags, and sagging tent, were not warm enough for the climate, despite the insistence of the girl’s wise father. To this day, the boy thinks the absence of the poles and cold bags was a test. Thanks, Dad.
After hitting the road and continuing north, naïve girl got to spend her 21st birthday just outside Seattle. They celebrated by going out to dinner where she ordered her “first” drink with alcohol – and was not carded. What a letdown! Naïve girl tried to force her ID on the waitress, who seemed uninterested. Oh well, at least the drink was tasty. Alas, the boy is younger and was not yet of drinking age. He celebrated with an iced tea, no lemon – so adventurous. As a birthday gift, and to comply with the law, the boy offered to drive back to the hotel. First, though, he needed to learn to drive stick – which he did in the parking lot of the grocery store adjacent to the restaurant.
After exposing boy to the sights and sounds of the far-off, primitive land known as Vancouver, British Columbia (they have clean water and everything!), the young explorers started their return trip southward. After staying overnight near Seattle, the boy was particularly excited to make their way to the Mount St. Helens visitor center. He’d seen some photos of the center in a junior college design class and heard it was an interesting place to visit. After seeing a “Mount St. Helens – This Way” sign off of I-5, the pair exited the freeway, only to get stuck in traffic on the single lane road leading out to the volcano – gotta love road construction.
The explorers tried to be on their best behavior, but honestly, no one likes sitting in traffic. After several hours, many cassette tapes and even a discussion of preferred baby names (which is kind of creepy in hindsight), the explorers arrived at the Mount St. Helens parking lot. It was a nice lot, with a handful of parking spaces, many trees and a ranger booth. When they asked where they might find the visitors center, the kind ranger said all they needed to do was head back out to I-5, go down a couple more exists, and follow the signs. You see, the visitors center was on the other side of the mountain.
Like anything intangible, a good relationship needs to be tested to see what it’s made of. Well, that experience was a test. They passed, and can laugh about it now (I think).
After making their way back out to the interstate, they realized it was starting to get late and they would not have enough time to see the visitors center after all. They had reservations at a bed & breakfast in Grants Pass, Oregon the next night and needed to find somewhere to stay on their way down south. The boy didn’t like not having lodging reserved for that night, but there must be a hundred hotels off of I-5. No worries.
Ya’know what? You’d be amazed how popular square dancing is. In fact, it seemed that every RV the pair passed on I-5 had a square dancing related sleeve covering the spare tire mounted on the rear of the vehicle. Guess what else? They actually have entire square dancing festivals in Oregon in late June, and (what appears to be) thousands of people come from (what seems to be) all over the world to attend. Well, guess where they stay? In hindsight, the Northwest Hotel Association (if it exists) should have just hung a “Sorry, no vacancy” sign across southern Washington and northern Oregon.
Eventually the explorers found a hotel room barely an hour north of Grants Pass. It was not the best accommodations, but it was something and there was a convenience store across the parking lot. It had already been a long day, and the futile drive toward the St. Helens Visitors Center was a distant but still painful memory. Before settling in, the explorers do-si-do’ed over to the store and bought some cheap beer. It wasn’t exactly the quality of naïve girl’s “birthday drink” at the restaurant, but it would have to do. Funny thing is, the clerk at the convenience store asked for her ID. Guess you never can tell.
The next day the explorers made their way to the bed & breakfast in Grants Pass. Neither one of them had stayed in a B&B before, or since. Maybe it is because they were the only young, unmarried couple there, but staying at a B&B is an unnerving experience. It’s like paying to sleep at your grandparents’ house. Nice hosts, good food, and just enough guilt that you don’t feel like you are on vacation. Are you supposed to make the bed? They tell you to leave your breakfast plates on the table, but do they mean it? It’s like some passive-aggressive psychological experiment to evaluate how well-mannered you are. Anyway, before leaving the explorers signed their names to a tablecloth that doubled as a guest list. If the B&B hosts ever read this, please know that that nice young man and woman ended up getting married, so you can update the table cloth to give them the same last name. I think we’d all feel better.
This happened 18 years ago and we still remember it like it was yesterday. For the record, the girl is Tiffany and the boy is Ben – and, although there were some unexpected twists on that trip, had it been a “normal” vacation we would not be smiling as we write this. After leaving the B&B, we made our way back to our homes in Sacramento. Over the next 15 years our separate homes became one, moving around northern California and, coincidentally, settling in the Seattle area. There were many adventures, big and small, along the way.
When the time comes, you take little with you but memories. We hope to use this blog to capture old ones and create some new ones – and smile along the way.