Day 1: I Don't Know Where I'm Going
I got home & packed my bag: a single backpack with one outfit for a warm climate, one for the cold, sunscreen, a swimsuit, & my passport (just in case). Cabo for a day sounded nice, or perhaps Calgary, maybe Fresno... I wanted to be prepared for any & all possibilities. Bag packed, I sat on my bed & checked flight totals for the afternoon for Colorado Springs departures. The flight to Houston didn't look very promising, but the flight to Denver had two open seats, so I listed for that flight, & headed back to the airport.
The TSA checkpoint was calm & I got through in a jiffy. As per the standard, they checked my hair (yes, this happens every single time I fly) & my cargo side pocket -- completely uneventful other than that. I checked in with Heather when I got to the gate & she was ready to assign a seat in the CRJ-200 to Denver. I got an Exit Row seat, seated right next to another coworker who was hired with me back in December. She's a nervous flyer, which made for a really entertaining fifteen-minute flight through the bumpy Rocky Mountain air.
When I landed in Denver, I headed straight for the large monitors that beckoned me with a glowing warmth. I read down the city list A to Z, making a mental note of the places that sounded the most interesting. Bozeman. Calgary. Eugene. Fresno. Kalispell. St. Louis. I have been studying the Calgary-area the most diligently, as Jasper National Park & Banff National Park have been on my wishlist for ages. I had literally one minute to list for that flight to Calgary & check-in before the cutoff mark -- so I hurriedly did both, praying that the airport WiFi connection would power through with light speed. All was well... except for the check-in in the airline app. I shrugged, but continued marching with purpose to the assigned Gate B48, refreshing the app with every single stride I took. Much to my surprise, no one was standing in line to board, which meant something must be going on, as boarding was scheduled to have already started. I approached the Gate Agent with my Passport, advising that I had just landed & the app wouldn't permit me to check-in. Literally, this woman was the sweetest Gate Agent. She looked me up in the system, swiped my Passport, & I was listed. Heck. Yes.
I sat in the boarding area for a few minutes, doing quick research about rental cars & weather, deciding if Calgary really would be the best option for me. The rental cars were about triple the price for same-day reservations as opposed to reservations made in advance, plus my Canada National Parks Pass was at home. Then I started weighing in the pending mechanical delay for the fuel pump. And then I was reminded of when my coworker, Adam, tried going to Canada for a day trip & he was denied access into the country (I don't know anyone who travels internationally for one day; apparently, neither did their airport police). Was all of this a sign that I should list for another flight instead? I wrestled with that question fervently. I suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), so when an exciting prospect presents itself & is then practically immediately withdrawn, I question my reasoning skills. With only one full-day to spend, I wanted to make sure I wouldn't be stuck in some airport jail cell.
I stood up & approached another set of screens. Fresno. I have friends there that I could stay with if car camping wasn't an option, & the airport is only a 1.5 hour drive from Yosemite National Park. That prospect sold me on the idea, so I listed for the flight & checked in before cancelling my itinerary to Calgary. All was well again, until I began the rental car search for Fresno, where I was again met with overpriced boxes on wheels. I started to pace the terminal at this point, wondering if I should fly to one of the main hubs like Chicago or Houston so I could have more destination options that included exotic locales like Bali or some city I couldn't even pronounce in the Dominican Republic. In all honesty, I knew that I wanted more than one day to explore Yosemite. The National Park trips I take are ones that require more prep & planning than throwing one outfit in a backpack, so I decided to look again at the list of cities. Eugene, Oregon stuck out like a sore thumb. My aunt, uncle, cousins, & grandma live near there, & the pictures my mom took when she last visited were astounding, so I checked the boarding totals. Wide open, with eight open seats in First Class. DONE. I listed for the flight, cancelling the Fresno departure as I made my way down the terminal to Gate B52. The moment I entered the boarding area, the Gate Agent was paging me (AKA butchering my last name) for a seat assignment. I laughed while cheering him on, & he eventually figured out how to properly say it over the mic, which was both embarrassing & hilarious. I was awarded my First Class listing & assigned in seat 1D, a coveted window seat, in a row all by myself. Me thinks flights to Eugene should be a regular occurrence.
I called my aunt & left her a voicemail, apologizing for the last-minute plans, but eager to see if we could get together for at least one night while I was in town. I booked my rental car on the plane while the other passengers boarded & I sipped my orange juice (which eventually turned into a whiskey & coke). Again, the rental cars were overpriced, but being that it was a same-day reservation, I knew it would be ridiculous. YOLO. Click. Click. Done.
The flight took off without a hitch & the Flight Attendant began lunch service: a chicken salad, with a bowl of fresh fruit, & the most incredible cookie. If you're just joining me, I hate fruit, so I graciously declined to eat the colorful bowl of grapes, cantaloupe, & pineapple. I drank a glass of orange juice prior to departure, so that counts as my fruit intake for the day, right? Right. We flew over the Cascade Mountains & my jaw dropped seeing the various peaks poking through the thick clouds. That's just one more reason to love flying: getting to experience the mountains from a different point of view than when breathing heavily on a trail, praying for a summit beer.
After landing in Eugene & signing my life at least partially away for the rental car, I approached the Eugene Information Desk clerk with an eager smile. "Hi, I only have about 36 hours here, what trails would you recommend I tackle?" The clerk laughed at me before showering me in trail maps & recommendations. With solid information & a haphazard plan, I stepped out of the terminal & into the West Coast air. A chill shivered through my body. The weather was way cooler than in Colorado Springs, so I walked just as briskly as the air to the vehicle. I revved up the engine, turned the heat on low, & hit the road. Where to first: the coast or the forest? Tough decision, but I decided on the coast so that I could watch the sunset. Lucky for me, I passed a Goodwill on the way & was able to purchase a warm sweatshirt & a blanket for car camping, all for less than $10.
I continued west, where I encountered dramatic cliffs & a drive through the clouds. While the sunset was barely visible through the fog, the air carried a bit of mystery in its wake. I took one of the many pull-offs along Highway 101 to take in the view of the ocean, the expansive terrain, & Heceta Head Lighthouse. Upon exiting my vehicle, I was greeted by a giant seagull who had no concept of personal space. I quickly forgave him though, as he posed for a few free portraits & he was absolutely darling.
I took some shots of the lighthouse, being careful not to rest too close to the cliff's ledge. The strong wind & my easily-distracted-photographer-brain make for a dangerous combination on the coast. But, when I mustered up the courage to look over the edge of the cliffs, I was greeted with an even more pleasant surprise: a whole bundle of sea lions. I had never seen these animals in their natural habitat before, & I could hardly believe my eyes or ears, as a few of them barked above the waves. I was totally floored by the experience.
The sky was getting darker & I knew my time was running short to experience the coastal trails that I was planning to see. As much as I wanted to watch the sea lions & seagull for the remainder of the evening, I was drawn to keep driving until I reached Cape Perpetua, which boasts over 26 miles of trails along the highest point of Oregon's coastline. The start of the trail led me to some of the gnarliest tide pools I had ever seen. Actually, to be fair, these were the first tide pools I had ever seen. I must have sat among the waves for at least an hour, watching & listening in complete contentment.
My thoughts gave way to pondering about how the ocean is such a captivating phenomenon, & I wondered what makes it so. I know so many people who love the ocean as much as I love the mountains. I know so many people who can sit & watch the waves for hours like I just did. I wonder if it's the waves kissing the shore, like a true never-ending love story, that keeps us coming back. I have seen so many love stories end, sometimes right in the middle of a chapter. I think it's rather soothing to know that the waves always return to the shore, & that the shore remains there, always waiting patiently for that return. Or maybe it's just the sound of the waves crashing over other waves, like a chaotic but melodic symphony. The only white noise that is strong enough to overpower the distracting thoughts that prevent us from being able to enjoy the here & the now. Or maybe it's a metaphor for change, for new things to come, & for old things to disappear. Every wave having the ability to wash away those markings of our pasts that need to be refined by the bits of sand being carried in its curling surf. As if every wave --
I snapped out of my thoughts when a family came down the stairs at Devil's Churn, two children laughing & squealing with delight as they approached the tide pools. We exchanged greetings with one another & I watched them explore the rugged terrain. One of the children was in a yellow raincoat, which was a beautiful contrast. I almost asked the mother if I could take her child's photograph, but I declined. Looking back now, I wish I would've just asked, because I can still picture that little child in the yellow raincoat. Sometimes photographs stay alive in the mind & not on film or digital files as precious keepsakes. I then began making my way back inland so I could get a bit of a head start towards Williamette National Forest, which was about two hours from my current pin on the map. I stopped in a small grocery store for rations, where I picked up my typical food supplies that included the ingredients for cheese sandwiches & chips. You know, like bread, cheese, & chips.
I drove about forty more minutes before the exhaustion started to play its round of cards, a full house. I pulled in to another grocery store parking lot, in a town whose name I can't recall, & tucked the rental car in a corner spot garnished with green bushes on the driver's side.
Day 2: Over the River & Through the Woods
I slept like crap. That Goodwill blanket was less than effective, although still better than nothing, at keeping me warm. I woke up a few times shivering in the night, just to turn the car on & blast the heat for a few minutes before turning the car off & drifting off to sleep again. The sky was grey & yellow when I woke up to start driving again, sometime around 7:00 AM.. I needed to fill up on gas before hitting the road again, & what luck, there was a gas station right beside the grocery store. I pulled in, swiped my card, & started pumping the gas... well, okay, I thought it was pumping gas. After putting in a whopping five cents, the pump turned off without warning. No blinking lights or alarms sounding, it just turned off. Sweet Lord. Did I just break pump number seven? I better get outta here....
Apparently, it's illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon, which I learned thanks to the other out-of-towner who happened to pull in & inform me of this crazy rule. Who knew. If a gas station is closed in Oregon, guess what. It's closed. You aren't getting gas. Period. While I was thankful I didn't break the pump, I was also a little frustrated that I couldn't just pump my own gas & get on with my day like the other 90% of America. And then in the distance, I saw a little glimmering beacon of hope for my despair: a Dutch Brother's Coffee. I needed a little gas in my tank too apparently. I resolved to get a coffee, use the McDonald's across the street for a bathroom, & drive onward until I found a gas station that was open. Which I did, about ten miles further down the road.
Praise hands, they were open! Not only did they have maps & trail recommendations, they also sold lapel pins & patches. Score. I took my handfuls of pamphlets back to the car, where I narrowed down each of my options, taking into consideration trail distance & trail difficulty with how many hours of daylight I had remaining. I opted for the Koosah & Sahalie Falls Trail, which also connected to the Tamolitch (Blue Pool) Trail. The first trail was a 2.3 mile loop that was easy to navigate & traverse, as the trail was very well maintained. The bonus was when I heard the falls from the trailhead parking lot. I immediately knew that I was in for something magnificent.
As I began losing myself in my thoughts, I heard more thunderous waters. I was practically running towards the sound when I caught myself on the wooden fence above Koosah Falls, a 70-foot waterfall spectacle. This hike was full of so many rewards with such a minimal amount of effort that I was beginning to feel a little guilty.
I checked my watch to track the mileage, having a rough idea of how many miles of trail I had to cover before getting close to the pool. For the entire duration on the trail, I only met a handful of people, some who were walking, others running, & other on bikes. Little pebbles of doubt as to my direction on the trail swelled in my mind. Maybe this isn't the right trail, I thought, but I continued wandering. I crossed bridges made of tree trunks & slipped to my knees in the mud more than once. I couldn't help but think about how this trail reminded me of the real world, of real life.
The trail reminded me how we make decisions every day, thinking we are on the right path, only to be swallowed up by our mistakes or regret later, & walking away with nothing more than a lesson learned. Or how we trust ourselves in taking steps towards a certain goal or vision, even when we can't see them directly, while holding on to nothing more than our hope to achieve them. Or how sometimes, we will take any road, just to see where it leads, because we need a change or a new beginning. I can say with confidence that I have been in each of those scenarios over my lifetime, which only made this trail more enjoyable for me to experience.
I felt the trail's incline in my legs & glanced towards the trail ahead when I saw a myriad of colored raincoats in the distance. I hurried a bit faster & saw groups of people eating lunches & drinking hot beverages, with each small group of people keeping to themselves. I am not quiet when I run into other people on the trail, so I tried engaging in conversation only to be met with silence. Sometimes, people think they have enough friends, so they don't bother to return my attempts at polite conversation -- which is perfectly fine by me, I smiled & carried on my merry way to the edge of the trail. And I got my first look at the Blue Pool.
The photographs & videos I had seen before this trip didn't accurately capture the magnitude of the pool. I hardly noticed its sheer volume until I saw the trickles of ant-sized people exploring the grounds below me, dipping their toes or fingers in the pool slowly. I later read that the pool maintains an average temperature of 37 degrees fahrenheit. At first glance, the pool seems relatively shallow, but I learned it actually reaches a depth of 30 feet. As someone who is mildly freaked out by wild water, I decided this wasn't the kind of water I wanted to take a full dip in. I admired the view for quite some time before making my nearly three-mile return trip to the parking lot. I wanted to squeeze in as many waterfalls as I could before sundown, & there were two more that I had on my must-see list.
After returning to my vehicle, I drove towards the Twin Sisters Wilderness via Highway 242 to explore Proxy Falls. The trail actually revealed two waterfalls, classified as "Proxy Falls" & "Lower Proxy Falls," both of which were beautiful spectacles in their own right. To reach these particular falls, I had to navigate through lava fields & dense forest in an easy 1.6 mile loop. The lava fields were something new that I had previously never encountered before, but the solidified lava looked like regular rocks covered in green moss. If you ever find yourself in this area of Oregon, make the quick trip to these forests to explore. I was so pleasantly surprised by the beauty here that it literally stopped me in my tracks when I got my first views of Proxy Falls.
Lower Proxy Falls was a bit difficult to navigate through, as I had to stomp through parts of the river, climb rocks, & shimmy up fallen trees to get a clear view of the falls. All in all, absolutely worth it. Evening was nearing, & I knew I had a significant amount of ground to cover to return to the airport in a timely manner, so I hit the road back towards Eugene. The drive itself was spectacular. The sun danced through the clouds & created shadows through the vibrant forests that encircled the roads along my route. I still can't believe how green the environment was that surrounded me. I certainly still dream about it.
Day 3: Returning Home
The morning of my flight, I re-packed my bags by putting my smelliest clothes at the very bottom of my pack. Security wasn't open when I arrived inside, so I took to the women's restroom for a Huggies Baby Wipes "shower" & an attempt at taming my frizzy-haired beast. I checked the flight totals, where it looked like I would be sharing the 12-man first class cabin with just one other person. The Gate Agent was awesome, incredibly polite & well versed in his gate announcements -- so well versed, in fact, that I thought it was a recording. I was awarded my upgrade & made my way on the aircraft, where I sipped a mimosa while the other passengers boarded. A short while later, breakfast was served, & I devoured every bite. I drifted off to sleep until I was woken up by the welcome announcement of the flight crew. "Ladies & gentlemen, welcome to Denver." I stepped off the plane & blinked, thinking that perhaps my entire Oregon experience had merely been a dream.
Megan Elizabeth is a storyteller based in Kalispell, Montana. Take a peek at her blog & portfolio, drop her a line, & follow her story on Facebook & Instagram.