Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wild West Wrap Up


Hello and welcome back my fellow travelers. I know you have long since come to believe that your humble Book Traveler dropped off the face of the Earth never to be heard from again. But here I am, back in the saddle again, and ready to wrap up the final installment of this long delayed
Western Sojourn Extravaganza.

Now, you may ask, what on God's green Earth have I been doing all this time that has kept me from regaling you with stories from the Blogosphere? Well, I could stretch the truth and say that the ring finger of my left hand was badly mauled in a vicious squirrel attack, which left me unable to type the letters w, s and x...but I'm sure you ould find thi to be quite the hitty e cuse.

Nope, the only defense I can offer is that I just haven't been able to get around to it, which is really no excuse at all. Be that as it may, rest assured that this behavior is all now completely in the past (well, most of it anyway). As you've been able to bear with me, we now return for the final, heart pounding installment of this long delayed chapter of my incredible Western Sojourn, leaving the past behind to forge our way fearlessly onward... into the past.

Luckily, as carefully outlined in my previous post:
with a prodigious memory, copious notes, ample photography and a rapacious (or at least rapier) wit, I am now fully geared up to complete the task and share with you the exciting final chapter of the journey on which I embarked lo those many, many months ago. And don't worry, I'll soon be following up with more tales from the road.

Let me please reiterate
that the fact you are still here to read and enjoy these entries is a testament not only to you as an individual, but to the outstanding qualities of your superior character and intellect. For this, I applaud and thank you! - BT


Wild West Wrap Up

I definitely feel it. 3 weeks worth of wear and tear is catching up. When I finally woke on this, the final full day of my Western Sojourn Extravaganza, I was unable to extract myself from beneath the feather comforter until well after 8am, more than two hours behind schedule. Even at that, another hour or two of sleep would have been nice, as I still felt a little like a well chewed piece of beef jerky after two days of exertion and imbibing in Bend.

Be that as it may, there's no rest for the weary and once up, we gathered ourselves quickly, hopped in the Jeep and made our way into the brisk, crystal clear morning. It was an extreme misfortune that due to the lateness of the hour I was unable to enjoy a final breakfast at Milo's. Instead, it was a trip through the famed Golden Arches drive-thru for a delicate repast of Sausage McMuffin and McHash Browns, washed down by a tall cup of scalding McCoffee (with a secret ingredient reminiscent of well-aged dirt).

Having spent the bulk of the trip roaming the hills, mountains and valleys of the American interior, I was looking forward spending this final day of the Sojourn taking in the stunning beauty of the Pacific. We were on our way to Astoria, Oregon, the quaint Pacific port town famous as the setting for "The Goonies", "Kindergarten Cop" and "Free Willy". Oh yes, and as the turnaround and over-wintering point for the Lewis & Clark expedition, a distinction one finds mentioned rather copiously at various regional venues.

It was a stunning morning as we set out from Portland. To the east, Mt. Hood stood motionless against an azure sky, while to the north, the flattened, smoldering remains of Mt. St. Helens loomed a distant menacing shadow.
We opted to take scenic route 30 to the coast, starting north along the banks of the Willamette River then turning west to parallel the mighty Columbia as it carves its way through the coastal hills to the pacific.

While not as stunning as the famed Columbia River Gorge to the east, the pastoral hills, valleys and towns along this stretch of the river have a unique beauty all their own.
At several stages along the drive, the road rises high above the valley floor providing incredible views across the river to Washington State. As you draw nearer the coast, the vegetation grows ever denser, becoming a thick conifer rain forest matted everywhere in thick layers of hoary moss. I gather it must it must rain here on occasion (understatement).

Roughly half way to the coast, traffic came to a sudden and inexplicable halt. Looking ahead, the line of stopped cars, buses, trucks and RVs stretched into the distance and people could already been seen getting out of their cars and loitering about the highway. Not a good sign.

Having waited long enough to turn the motor off and get out of the Jeep, we were pondering our next move when a vehicle coming the other way informed us and our neighbors of a terrible accident about a mile or so up ahead. State troupers were estimating cleanup would keep the road closed 4 hours or more. When we heard, a few minutes later, that a medevac helicopter was on the way, that was our queue to seek an alternate route.

Luckily we turned around and, following a series of small roads through the forested hills, were able to feel our way back down to the highway on the other side of the accident in about 20 minutes. We were doubly lucky in that the entire region became an impassible parking lot later that afternoon. We heard later reports that 4 teenagers were killed when their SUV lost control passing another vehicle and veered directly into a van coming the other way. The driver of the van was also killed and a passenger was in critical condition. Horrible. I thought of my friends in Denver who lost their son in a similar accident four years earlier. A sad and tragic day.

Above: Looking East Along Commercial St., Downtown Astoria.

Upon reaching Astoria after this disheartening detour, my fellow travelers and I rekindled our spirits and epicurean enthusiasm with a light lunch replete with a local brews at Astoria's famed Fort George Brewery + Public House. Located in a hip refurbished factory along Duane St. in the commercial heart of town, Ft. George offers a superb selection of great daily lunch and dinner specials from their chalk board menu, backed by a singularly diverse selection of their own unique and satisfying home brewed beers. NICE!

Above: Fort George Brewery + Public House a great place for lunch, dinner + brews!

After lunch, we drifted out to wander around the center of town. Astoria sits on a small hilly peninsula jutting into the river roughly 5 miles east of where it empties in to the cold Pacific. The downtown strip, situated along the northern edge of the peninsula, is a scenic, hippie gentrified port town that still retains vestigial reminders of it's rustic heritage. Steep, tree covered hills garnished with rows of quaint Victorian homes rise above downtown, providing a scenic backdrop to the rustic street scene.

Above: Godfather's Books & Espresso Above: Godfather's Espresso Bar

Much to my surprise, these quaint and inviting streets offers a fun selection of interesting shops and venues including a couple of independent new and used bookstores perfect for a afternoon's perusal. Our first stop was Godfather's Books and Espresso at the corner of 11th and Commercial Streets.

Above: The painted ceiling tiles above Godfather's Espresso bar are worth the visit .

Godfather's has been a staple of the Astoria book scene for over 15 years. Besides offering a robust, if not totally unique, selection of new and used books, this diamond-in-the-rough makes for a singularly interesting visit simply for the character, and cast of characters, found at their colorful Espresso Bar. Grab a book, order your favorite hot beverage, and settle in for some interesting conversation with the local proletariat. The painted ceiling tiles above the bar are worth the visit alone.

Above left: The beautifully restored Liberty Theater, cultural hub of Astoria. Above right: The hills above downtown.

Just a block east along Commercial St. and half block up from the beautifully restored Liberty Theater is Lucy's Books at 348 12th St. This adorable new and used indie has been serving the needs of Astorians for over 11 years. Owner Laura Snyder has a great little selection of titles tailored to her local customers, in a cozy, well lit store that offers a great second story reading loft for the kids.

Above left: Lucy's Books storefront, just a half block up from the Liberty Theater. Above right: Lucy's Books interior with the Kid's Book Loft above.

Lucy's plays host to a full calendar of local and national authors and as stated on their website: "We are lifelong readers and advocates of old-fashioned, small town interactions, in other words, conversation! Hence, a real, live bookshop downtown". A great little place to exercise your love of books with fellow kindred spirits.

Above: View over downtown and the Astoria-Megler Bridge from Column Park. Cape Disappointment can be seen the distance and beyond that, the Pacific Ocean. The shores of Washington State lie directly across the Columbia River, here over 4 miles across.

It was already late afternoon by the time we hopped back in the Jeep and headed up the narrow, Victorian lined streets above downtown to Column Park. Here atop of the highest hill in Astoria is the famed, 125 foot high Astoria Column. Built in 1926, the column offers a sweeping panoramic view of the entire region for those willing (and able) to ascend the 164 steps to the top.

Above: The Astoria Column (left) and the view east up the Columbia River (right).

Pulling ourselves away from the splendid views of Column Park we hopped back in the Jeep and headed west over the Young's Bay Bridge and south along the Oregon Coast Highway to the seaside resort town of...Seaside. This somewhat typical coastal resort town is much like any you find across the US, with the somewhat notable exception of frequent inclement weather and an inhospitably cold ocean.

Above: The view south from Astoria Column. Youngs River is in the foreground with aptly named Saddle Mountain rising on the left.

Proof yet again that people will frolic near the ocean regardless of the conditions. Northern Oregon is certainly no exception. In fact, Seaside is one of two coastal resort towns in the area. The other is the famed Cannon Beach just a few miles to the south. Both resorts are intersected by the Sunset Highway, providing easy access from Portland, roughly 2 hours to the east.

Above: View of Saddle Mountain on the way to Seaside via the Youngs River Bridge.

Even today, the sun became obscured behind a chilling, thick ceiling of brooding gray as we approached the coast, and this was in the warmest part of the summer. But if you don't mind the relentless pounding of north pacific winter storms accompanied by bark-stripping winds and drenching rains 7-8 months of the year, with ocean water temps in the low to mid 40's, then this is the place for you! We watched the local surfer populace glide along the wind-textured waves for a while before saddling up for our return to Portland.

We headed back through the thick rain-forested mountains via the Sunset highway. Once away from the coast, the low gray clouds gave way to a stunning and cloudless afternoon, the orange sun casting a late day glow over the pastoral farm lands of the interior valleys. A fitting and beautiful end to my final day on the road.

On the way back to Portland, we stopped off for dinner at McMenamins famous Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, 20 minutes west of Portland. After a robust meal it was back to the home of my gracious hosts in Portland, where we enjoyed a few final glasses of wine together before returning to my room to pack for the early morning flight, just hours away.

After 3 weeks on the road, the flight back to Philadelphia offered a welcome opportunity for sleep. The drive to the airport the next morning proved uneventful, the security line was short and we set off right on time. The flight was smooth and in fact, were it not for one final episode, our story would have reached it's conclusion.



However, particularly for those of you less than enamored or even fearful of flying: a brief, final coda I hope you'll enjoy:

As I said, the the flight proved smooth and uneventful. We were on time into Atlanta, where I was to have a layover and plane change. The second flight to Philadelphia boarded right on time and all seemed well. I was buckled in to a window seat near the rear of the plane as we pushed back from the jetway.

Once away from the terminal the plane stopped on the tarmac whereI heard the metallic whir and whining crescendo of the left engine starting up. This was soon followed by the same metallic whir from the right engine. It was during this process that a sudden loud POP! came from the rear of the plane, much like a large firecracker or small electrical explosion, whereupon the entire plane went instantly dark and silent. The engines, even the little fans above the seats, everything stopped working amidst utter silence.

Needless to say this proved somewhat unsettling. A low murmur rose from the passengers as we sat in darkness awaiting word from the flight crew. After about 20 seconds or so, emergency lighting dully illuminated the darkness, but still utter silence. After two very long minutes or so, it was apparent that a tug was pulling us back to the gate. Great!

After reaching the gate, lights, fans and gentle music returned. The flight crew came on the intercom to announce that a transformer used to start the engine had blown. This was a common problem we were assured, and we would be back on our way in 20 minutes or so once repairs were completed.

As you can imagine, the duration of the flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia was spent harboring visions of transformers popping at 30,000 feet, the darkened plane plummeting silently, minute upon minute, to the earth below. Suffice it to say the alcohol concession did quite well on that flight. I couldn't have been happier when the wheels finally touched down in Philadelphia.


In Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed our Western Sojourn together. We traveled from Denver and Boulder through the Rockies to the Tetons and Yellowstone. From Wyoming down through Salt Lake City and the land of the Mormons, through Moab, Aspen and the front range of Colorado Springs. We enjoyed the splendors of the Pacific northwest from Portland to Bend and from Astoria to Seaside. There were mountains climbed, near misses with bear and buffalo, geysers witnessed and many a great meal and hearty libation. Through it all we visited nearly 40 independent bookstores and met a ton of exceptional people who daily dedicate their lives to books. I can't say enough about the dedication and commitment of this most diverse group of booklovers I met along the way. Many of the stores I visited along my two thousand mile journey have been around for decades, and there's no hiding the fact that everyone involved harbors a deep and abiding passion for books and literature. We can only hope that in this age of Kindle, e-readers and Google, that these stores, who's passion and commitment have so far withstood the test of time, are not relegated to the footnote of history. Thanks for coming along, I've enjoyed having you, and I hope you stay tuned for more Book Traveler reports from the road. -BT

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