Well since our disastrous day at Oregon Caves we’ve managed to get north and east through Washington (the state, not the city!), Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa, Illinois, and into Missouri! It’s meant long hours in the car but we’ve needed to make up some time seeing as we’ve only got a few weeks left before we are home again.
The day after Oregon Caves we took a scenic drive over to Crater Lake, one of Oregon’s famous landmarks. The drive was beautiful. It takes you though the Oregon Cascades National Forest and on either side of you are hundreds of thousands of tall, full green trees, mountains and rushing rivers. It’s quite a slow drive though too as the road winds up and down over the mountains but it’s worth the time and effort. As we got higher and nearer to Crater Lake, in the distance we noticed that all the mountain peaks were covered in snow – not something you expect to see in June!
Driving has been a major part of our trip since we first picked up our caravan in Australia, but every country has been different with its own unique look, road system and rules. For example, in Australia, the roads are wonderful. If you are driving up the east coast, there are really only one or two main motorways you can take, which have 2 lanes, the other roads are what we would call A roads and have one lane. None of these roads are ever busy, it’s amazing. It’s like no one ever goes anywhere. In fact, most of the vehicles you see on the road are travelers’ vehicles and you know this because they have one of the following names on them – Britz (like ours), Juicy, Traveler’s Autobarn, Maui or one of many others. It’s wonderful, there are no traffic jams, no suicidal 19 year olds in their chavved up Renaults and no crazy commuters, strangely enough. The other brilliant code of conduct they have over there is that if the person in front of you thinks they are driving too slowly for you, they just pull over and let you pass. And vice versa, if you are in a heavy caravan and you can’t quite get to 40kph like everyone else, you just pull over and let everyone behind you pass – very friendly. The basic road rules and the side of the road you drive on are the same as in England, except that their speed limits and distances are in kilometers and not miles. The scenery is wonderful too – blue sea, golden beaches and beautiful plant life. You won’t get lost as long as you know that if you are heading north you will always have the sea and beaches on your right and if you are heading south the beaches will be on your left. That’s how you know you are going the right way, and that is how Australians will give you directions! You don’t need a sat nav either, just a good map and a good map reader and you’ll do fine.
New Zealand is similar. Hardly any traffic anywhere, they have one main road per island, per east and west, and no one really seems to be going anywhere, especially in a hurry. Distances and speeds are in kilometers again and as long as you have a map you’re fine. It’s very hard to get lost in New Zealand. The scenery again, is beautiful and you are constantly surrounded by mountains, green grass, rivers, lots of sheep and when on the coast, stunning beaches and blue ocean.
The USA is far, far different. There are far more cars, or trucks I should say, on the roads than we’re used to. It seems that normal sized cars aren’t good enough for 99% of the American population so everyone seems to be driving around in ugly, gas guzzling, space taking trucks, hummers and SUV’s. You feel like you’re driving a go-cart around them all, it’s terrifying sometimes! One reason for this is that gas (petrol for you Brits) is so cheap. Check this out. In the UK it costs, what, £30-£40 to fill up your tank? Same in Australia and New Zealand. In the US it’s about £15! Therefore, all these massive tanks on the road are actually quite cheap to run, despite the repercussions they have on the environment. However, on a positive note, it has meant that we have spent a much smaller fortune on gas during our time here in the states.
The other type of vehicle constantly taking up road space are the motorhomes and caravans. You’ve all seen Meet the Fockers right? Remember the motorhome Robert de Niro drives? They are all over the place here, especially with it now being in the summer holidays and everyone is on vacation (which annoyingly is jacking prices up all over the place for us!). Similar to Australia as well, a lot of the American population actually live in these things and just spend their retirement driving around the US. Granted, there is a lot to cover and see in the USA but very frequently I just want to stop someone and tell them there’s a big wide world out there just waiting for them to visit. Ridiculously, something like 70% of American’s don’t even have a passport! OK, apart from the felons and the obese, I just don’t understand it.
Americans also drive a lot crazier than the Australians and New Zealanders and take no prisoners when in a hurry. We’ve seen far too many near misses and actual crashes for our liking and so try to stay as indiscreet as possible. Our first car that we picked up in Florida was a Kia Rio, a disgusting gold one too! Not something you would call “cool”. It’s not perhaps something we would choose to buy ourselves but it was serving its purpose, that is until a warning light started flashing and we had to trade it in for a bright red Ford Focus, which is much better. It feels safer and is much nicer to drive too. Plus it has California plates so we feel more ‘cool’. But when you’re driving around 5 hours a day for 8 weeks and 15 thousand miles (the equivalent of 25 round trips from London to Land’s End and back), you need something comfortable. There are only two good things about driving around the USA. One, they use miles and not kilometers and two, the constantly changing scenery around you. We’ve gone from boring, marshy Florida to freeway hell Texas, from red rock desert in New Mexico, to brown arid desert in Arizona, from scenic, ocean side California to the forests of Oregon, and being surrounded by green fields and snowy mountains in Montana and Wyoming. It really is a treat to have such beautiful things to look at for the numerous hours a day we drive!
Although saying that, driving in the USA isn’t always fun. They have some crazy road systems going on with no less than 6 different road types. In the UK we have motorways, A roads and B roads, nice and simple. In the US they have interstates, freeways, state and provincial highways, county roads, the list goes on. Plus one interstate can have up to 600 exits because they are so long! Thank god we’ve had a sat nav otherwise we’d still be trying to find our way out of Florida. Plus, Jane (our sat nav voice) has had us in stitches many a time. In the UK an instruction may be simply “Take exit 4 onto M3”. Here Jane would say “Take I-80 to exit 546, up ramp, to right onto I-35”. It’s just a jumble of words, numbers and pink lines on the screen while you try to navigate your way around the numerous trucks and motorhomes all around you!
They also have this great rule that you can turn right on a red light, which is fab if you hate traffic lights. I just hope that we forget all these new rules and laws when we get home, or we could find ourselves with no licenses at all!
So, back to Crater Lake. While driving through the National Park as we got higher, the snow got deeper and deeper. We stopped a few times to take photos and throw a few snowballs and then arrived at the top overlooking the lake. The lake is there because thousands of years ago a volcano erupted and collapsed, leaving behind a massive crater which eventually filled with water, creating Crater Lake. It’s like a huge pit, 50 miles wide, filled with gorgeous blue water and surrounded by snowy peaks and rock. It’s not a lake in the sense that you can take a boat on it or sit on a beachy area on the side, you can only drive around the top rim and stop to walk to the edge and look over to take photos, but it is incredibly stunning and unique. And very cold I might add!
After Crater Lake, the next day we went on a scenic drive day, taking a chance that a famous road, that closes in winter due to snow, would be open. The McKenzie National Recreation Trail takes you up through the Cascades and the Willamette National Forest and takes you high up on mountainous, windy roads through the forest and connects to the apparently hair-raising Old McKenzie Highway, but unfortunately it was still closed so we had to take a detour, which took us up through the Mt Hood National Forest where we saw the staggeringly high and snowy Mount Hood, and up to Portland. On the way to Portland, right up on the border between Oregon and Washington is the Columbia River Gorge and the Historic Columbia River Highway which we took, taking in the various waterfalls, cute villages and awe-inspiring views.
When we arrived in Portland, we found a motel and ventured out into the city to take a look. First we went to Powell’s City of Books which is apparently the biggest bookstore in the world but then decided to go back to our motel. It’s not a nice city, when you compare it to the likes of San Francisco, Dallas, Vegas etc. Every doorway and street corner has a homeless person in it and lots of shops and buildings are shut down and derelict. It’s still suffering from its drug days and needs a few licks of paint and some money pumped into it before it’s a nice place to live or visit! Trust me!
I’ve talked about places and the drives, but not about the people. It seems that there are 3 types of size in the states – fat, obese and anorexic, although clearly that’s just for the rich and famous. Having falling prey to it ourselves, we are acutely aware of why American’s are so large. Food. Now it doesn’t take a genius to work that one out, but until you’ve spent a long amount of time here you won’t really realize what effect it has on you. Like rats in England, in the States you are never more than 10 feet away from a fast food establishment. Once you’ve tasted that first burger, it’s hard not to want one every day with the choice that is on offer. There’s McDonalds, Burger King, Fat burger, In and Out Burger, Jack in the box, Wendy’s, Sonic Burger and Applebees, and that’s just some of the big names here, imagine all the little burger joints and diners on offer. Then you’ve got KFC, Popeye’s, Arby’s, Red Lobster, Chilies, I-Hop, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Waffle House, Cheesecake Factory and thousands more constantly on offer. Whether you are walking down the street, driving on the freeway or just watching TV, you are permanently having food shoved in your face and down your throat, literally. You just can’t escape food. Supermarkets are amazing too. Compared to UK supermarkets, the fruit and vegetable sections are tiny. Plus, you never ever see any of it in American’s trolleys, and the piles of fruit etc never seem to go down! Most of the supermarket is taken up with freezers of readymade meals, frozen pizzas, burgers, breakfast meals, ice cream and other terribly bad things for you. Plus, you’ve never seen such amazing bread and pastry products on offer. How a nation can think of so many donut variations is beyond me!
Our problem while here is that it’s too hot during the day to keep a cool box in the car and we’re never sure whether our next motel will have a fridge so we’ve been living on fast food and microwavable tinned food for the last 7 weeks. We can’t wait to get back to ‘normal’ food! Although, saying that, it may take a while to wean us off burgers, pizza and corndogs!
So with all this in mind, please don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize us when we return! We’ll be the chubbers in the corner with a burger in one hand and a donut in the other!