Home > Uncategorized > All day in a ditch

All day in a ditch

August 16/Day 30. The Columbia River marks the state line between Washington and Oregon. My route today parallels the river on the Oregon side, in what is called the Columbia Gorge. The highway enters the gorge almost immediately. I didn’t know what to expect but I guess I assumed the gorge would be like the steep-walled canyons scattered throughout the west. This gorge, though, is more like a deep valley, perhaps five miles wide in places and several hundred feet deep; its banks are composed of the same rolling hills I saw on top yesterday. Instead of a large swiftly moving river, there is a series of dams creating long, narrow lakes for about 150 miles. Hydroelectric power, you see.

So basically, for most of the day all I see of Oregon is from the bottom of a large ditch. I can only imagine what’s up on top; probably more of that same grass that covers central Washington. When I finally approach Portland, the hills become forested.

I’ve long wanted to visit Portland and have built up an image of a tastefully quaint smallish town, draped in lush greenery and full of weird people. In fact, they have a slogan, “Keep Portland Weird,” which was obviously stolen from Austin.

It’s unfair to judge a city by driving through it once on the freeway and pronouncing judgment on it. But laying that caveat aside…I have to say that Portland, to my disappointment,  turns out to be like any other big city, full of glossy office towers and miles of fast food restaurants. Too busy, too much traffic, too many people. Ach, another illusion punctured.

A couple of hours past Portland I reach the Pacific coast and find my campground, Beverly Beach State Park. The park is across Highway 101 from the ocean and there’s a walkway under the highway for beach access. I can’t see the water from my campsite, but I can hear the waves in the distance. The campground itself is situated among large mossy pine trees (spruce, I think.)  There’s one tree next to my campsite that’s at least 10 feet in diameter; about six feet above ground level, the trunk divides in two, as though it has legs. I think of Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings. This is a forest of enchantment, a fairytale forest where very little direct sunlight pierces the high canopy of trees—only a dappled fleck of light touches the ground here and there. At mid-afternoon, under a cloudless sky, it’s so dark in the camper I need to turn on lights to read.

I’ve always been interested that forest cultures tend to develop a mythos of mysterious unseen forces, of wood-sprites and elves, evil spirits and goblins. They see around them the forces of death and decay and how from both come regeneration. I think that because forest folk seldom see beyond the proximate trees and vegetation, seldom see a broad horizon or view the vast scope of a starry night sky, perhaps they are more inclined to belief in spiritism or animism.

Compare that to the dynamic at work for a people who experience, for generations, the limitless plains or desert, with their 360 degree horizons and unbounded skies. How might the attitudes and beliefs of the two peoples differ? Who would most likely develop a calendar? Who would proclaim that every rock has a living spirit inside, and every tree its own soul? Who would foster a belief in a single all-powerful supreme being? (No, this is not an essay question and you will not be graded.)

Well damn, there it went again. Sometimes my brain goes off on its own little riff and forgets what it’s doing. My apologies for the pseudopsychosocial blatherings.

Anyway, I’m going to like it in this campgound. I just walked down to the beach, about 300 yards away. It’s strewn with large logs that washed down Spencer Creek during severe winter storms. And it’s cold. Most everyone on the beach is bundled up in hoodies and long pants, their hands stuffed in their pockets. A stiff breeze is blowing down shore from the north. I’m inappropriate in shorts and T-shirt; after a quick walk down the beach, I hurry back to the comfort of the camper.

Speaking of walking, my heel is still in pain after that 12 mile hike day before yesterday, not to mention the 11-miler two days before that. If you’ve ever had a cramp in the arch of your foot, it feels kind of like that only directly on the heel. At the risk of self-diagnosis, the condition is called plantar fasciitis and has to do with a bundle of connective tissue that originates on the bottom surface of the heel bone. It’s usually associated with an overweight condition (!) with or repetitive stress, as in runners and hikers.

Other than that, all’s well.

Before I left San Antonio, I “jailbroke” my iPhone so I can tether it to my laptop for use as an internet connection. Nothing illegal about it, but both Apple and AT&T just hate it when people figure out how to do it. Costs them $$$$, you know. I’ll upload today’s blog without pictures for the time being, as the increase in bandwidth caused by pictures could be a red flag for The Man, who would want to rearrange my cell phone plan. Shhhh!

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. The Other Brian
    August 16, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    While I would much rather be on the trip myself, reading about it is still something to look forward too each day.

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